DYING TO LIVE …
Every little scent, sound and sentiment, stance, sorrow, sensation and surrender to all that processes through my six senses is what is brightly evident to me today.
If life passes before one's eyes at death, I am certainly dying. Each day is filled; maybe I should say flooded, with a-horn-of-plenty of memories and feelings, all crushing up against one another like colorful fruits and flowers and vegetables; some bruised, some shiny, some still fragrant and sweet; and a few, very bitter. As these fruits of my life spill out before me, I must certainly be dying.
I am dying to see my loved ones. I am dying to give them kisses, and to love them up in ways I was perhaps unable to then; when the rush and worry of growing up, and habitual busy-ness blinds one to simpler things.
I’m dying to float on the rolling waves of the Sea of Cortez on the funky "ship" of my dreamer lover, the California Rose, on Valentine's Day in 1984, rolling in the bliss and bloom of love, and longing, and California dreaming at its absolute best.
I'm dying to see my loved ones; to kiss a love long gone in Mexico, on the rooftop o our engagement villa, in the setting sun. I'm dying to splash in the surf at Manzanillo, Mexico in 1997, on Valentine's Day again, where my handsome, muscular, blue-eyed, kind-hearted love; my Knight in shining armor gets on his bended knee in the breaking waves and asks me to marry him.
I'm dying to spin around, my baby resting on my right hip, one small hand on my bare shoulder, on a beautiful spring day in Taos, New Mexico, singing and dancing to Johnny Clegg, awaiting my best friend Stacy to pop in the door, drop her bags and immediately begin dancing with me.
“We're going to live forever, Dar!” She shouts out, laughing in her oh-so-wild women style, as we move and groove to the music. Klee, my little boy, nearly one, is laughing and hanging on between us. Little do I suspect she’d be dead a few months later.
Poof! A truck, two drunks, a bridge … She disappears just beyond these 3 dimensions, just out of reach enough for me too long for her laugh, and her dance, and her joyous heart. My Stacy who is the only reprieve I have from my loneliness those years raising my baby, alone in the woods and wilds of Taos, is now gone.
The horn of plenty is so bursting full and rich with vivid colors and tastes of times slipping away, its fruits pass through my fingers, sticky, and then evaporating as I tried to linger or cling to any one of them. Old worn out notebooks, and dozens of VHS tapes litter my storage boxes, in my endless attempt to piece it all together neatly. Where is the through-line? What is it all about?
My memoir attempts to string together a time, a life, other lives, music, events, and that amazing bond called love that glues us together. And I know from all these pieces I might construct something timeless, something that might comfort someone, somewhere.
I die each day to the past, as I climb into the bounty of my present; my beautiful baby, growing, wide-eyed, full of wonder and life: my amazing supportive" love beings;" my mother and father are still here as my son grows from infancy to his teens. The enormity of natural beauty in New Mexico, and the never-ending comfort of my romping, happy dogs, Chance and Georgia engulf me and my loneliness in those early years. The cup is full as the world opens even wider to me after so much loss. I miss those days today, as all passes into the future, into the Now.
It takes 12 hours to cross the Pacific, and there are moments under the full moon, I see the deep blue mystery of this vast body of water out of the little window of the airplane; this vast unknown known world far below illumines the timeless aspects of Earth as compared to our brief lives. One feels so vulnerable in these metal and steel capsules 35,000 feet above an ocean too large to conceive. I’m about to meet more soul-connected people from other lands. I’m about to land in Fiji, Australia, New Zealand, and explore the people, food and foliage. I’m alive. My life experience has more surprises than I can imagine in store for me. From that height I have no idea the bonds to come, the magic of these new worlds and how much will grow out from them.
This year, 2016, I explore new continents, new countries, new inner landscapes of people; their homes, their secrets, their sorrows and their 10,000 joys.
There was Stacy, my muse; and my Knight in shining armor, my fiancé Jeff. My California dream man, David: all precious memories I thought nothing could replace, yet as life moves swiftly into the future life reveals more. Who knows? Is there room for one more great love?
My, aging, ever-loving parents, and my reliable brother were always a call away and comforted me once. In every new experience all my heart people linger as shadows. I grieve not being able to share my newest wonders with them now; this new adventure.
Life goes on, and on, and on, and on. Indeed, life goes on. “Mama how that life goes on …”
The fruits in my basket multiply and the horn of plenty expands as my past melts into the future which opens even more magnificently; if that is even possible. And I understand deeply that inside every beauty and wonder, live the seeds of goodbye.
Accita: impermanence... The Buddha asks we accept life as suffering. One of the causes of suffering is that nothing lasts; everything changes.
I try to adjust to loss and to abundance at the same time. One step in front of the other, along the tightrope of NOW.
I recall absolutely nothing about the book, Centering, in Pottery, Poetry and the Person, by MC Richards whose blue cover (I think) is already worn from my mauling and caressing it throughout these last semesters of college. I only know it is my bible.
Be Here Now, by Ram Das, is also assigned to us at the University of Wisconsin Dance Department as “required reading” by our new guest artist-in-residence, Bob Beswick, from the Alvin Nicolai Dance Company. Bob comes off as a snob and exudes elitism, speaking in a distinctly “eastern seaboard,” educated accent, and he gifts us yoga, meditation, pranayama and all kinds of "esoteric" things. I am both intimidated and intrigued by him. He’s with we dancers for a semester in 1972.
Sitting in lotus position performing “alternate nostril breathing,” Nadi Shodanan; on the hard wood floors of the historic, Lathrop Hall, we are soon performing asana and "simply sitting" on that worn floor, day after day.
I’m driven mad by this newness and out-of-the box fun. Journaling daily, I pour my heart through my pen’s stroke, my every thought and feeling, mostly scribing my secret love and desire for this blue-eyed, mostly out-of-reach man, along with my inspirations from yoga practice. Each day, I sit seated cross-legged; breathing in, breathing out, a tad ridged, seated tall and earnest, somewhat to impress him, and hoping too to reach some kind of enlightenment. Peeking around the room I realize I may not be the only co-ed with a huge crush on our new dance teacher. We students are mesmerized by Mr Beswick, and suddenly dance technique class is an exciting prospect every day instead of a chore.
Little do I know as I sit on the hard floor, the practice and study of yoga is to become a more than major influence in my life. Little do I suspect I’d go on to teach almost 25,000 classes, and take as many, all over the world.
Little do I imagine I’d meet Ram Das at one of his appearances in Hollywood, as well as the star of his book, Bhagavan Das, right in my own living room in Madison, Wisconsin, 40 years later, as he sips a beer and a 20-year-old, (he eventually marries,) sits adoringly at his feet. Das’dread locks are piled high on his balding head appearing as old as my diploma, hanging by what appears to be a single grey hair. He holds court from his corner on the stuffed chair swathed in robes and adorned in ancient beads. I’m not impressed. Hours earlier I attended his kirtan at a local yoga studio, and I swear I heard him saying weird made up things as he chanted. It seemed he was faking it, but I really don’t know, it was just and instinct. A yoga teacher once said that anyone who takes on a spiritual name is one of two kinds; enlightened, or a crook.
Claudia Melrose is bigger than life: real, fresh and empowering and is our next guest teacher, and artist-in-residence, in 1973, also sent by the Nicolai’s Dance Theater Company. She becomes our absolute heroine, and a big relief after Bob’s machismo and arrogance, and particularly after he runs off with a willowy red head in our class at the end of his stay. We Modern Dance students would follow her into the fires of an erupting volcano if she asked us to. She too is tall and lanky, like Bob, yet she wears a messy a mass of long natural brown frizzyl hair. In a few short weeks, she has us eating mantras out of her palms.
Our bodies are stretched, our creativity challenged, and the choreography grows to new artist heights each and every day as we move across the floors of the practice studio, and eventually onto the stage of the (pre) Margaret D’Oubler Theater the fall and summer of 1973.
“Mantra is charged with a special vibration,” Claudia tells us, our eyes wide and breath abated. “Each of you will receive your own personal, secret mantra to use in your meditations. You can never ever tell this mantra to your friends.” We totally understand.
We dancers line up with our cash to receive the special mantra, direct from the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi-to-the-stars, and to the Beatles for god-sakes. Even at 21 years old, I know I will never ever slip and tell anyone my word, my seed sound, my vibration. My little lean body quivers in excitement to be initiated into the secret society of Transcendental Meditation; TM.
One-by-one we come forward and sit on a folding chair. Claudia bends over us, her fragrant hair dusting our cheeks, and whispers our $35.00 mantra into our ears. My secret sound journeys deep into my cerebral cortex; down, down, to my Pineal Gland where it is planted, glowing like a spiritual radium seed doctors plant into the scrotum of old men with prostate cancer. I know my life is forever changed. I now have my personal precious mantra.
“I’m…I’m…I am I am I am I am I’m I’m I’m I’m… it buzzes like a bee deep at the center of my gooey grey matter, vibrating me into a higher being with every I’M.
Months go by. We meditate daily. Sometimes my friends and I climb up onto the stage of the Memorial Union Ballroom and sit cross-legged, and meditate as the “less enlightened” student body shuffle in and out.
It works. Twenty minutes, day and night, and I begin to feel relaxed, centered, and part of an elite artistic society with an infusion of the spiritual. I love TM. TM is changing me!
Now we all know how hard it is for 20-something females to keep a secret. Eventually, at a party in one of the cool “off-campus” apartments; the kind that smells of granola and adolescent body odor, adorned with leafy green plants, succulents, and sprouting avocado seeds in every windowsill; a gaggle of we skinny, bell-bottomed woman with leg hair and bare feet find ourselves once more dancing creatively on the living room floor.
My girlfriends and I are drinking a little bit of beer, maybe it is tea, laughing and moving wildly to Van Morrison’s Moon Dance, and culminating to Aretha Franklin’s, Respect; finally giggling ourselves into a pile on the dusty couch. Inevitably, the subject of our secret mantra comes around.
“Aren’t you curious about what the other mantras are?” We guiltily speak out loud.. “Awe, come-on… We can share just ours can’t we?” One of us utters.
“After all, we are best friends, … and the semester is over… We don’t have to tell anyone else.”
The thrill of the forbidden delivers chills and excitement to the skin and the heart, and one of us yells out loud, and screams. “I'M!”
Silence and shock follow: “I’m” …(pause) “What is yours…?”
We are each sobered. Wait, that’s my special mantra…
We’ve been duped by our goddess princess, guru, master, and leader, Claudia.
“Do you think everyone has exactly the same mantra? We weakly speculate.
“Yea probably.” We concur.
Phyllis Popper whose apartment we gather in this night, claims she knows one other person who told her their mantra, and "it is different," she claims defending our innocence and TM’s integirty. Whew, at least there are two…
The months fly by, and Claudia is displaced by yet another guest teacher; Al Wondar. He is the teacher who introduces us to the Yoga “Sun Salutations.” We learn to breathe with each movement and practice outdoors often in a circle that magical summer.
Five years later I experience more guru-types in Hollywood. I even take up residence in an ashram called the Siddha Yoga Dham, in upstate New York, where Baba Muktananda, which means “liberated,” resides surrounded by thousands of mostly white, upper middle-class devotees catering to his every need. Baba is considered the real deal, and a totally enlightened being.
I find my way to this Catskill Mountain retreat through a series of unfortunate and over-the-top events.
Dr. Hunter S. Thompson, my writing, travel, and adventure guru over the last year; my lover and crazy companion dumps me for a younger woman; a Saturday Night Live assistant to John Belushi. I am devastated. I am driven insane with jealousy. I feel the burn of this vile emotion, this heartbreak, this betrayal with every cell in my body.
I'd moved back to NYC from Los Angeles, somehow rented an apartment on 69th St and Central Park West, and take up the high life, where I left off in LA, with a short 3-month affair with Al Pacino. Al takes me to plays and gifts me acting books. He squires me to Brooklyn to pick fresh basil out of a friend's backyard one night, and performs Richard the II on my front steps at 3 am the next. I have passes to every show at SNL and once take my mother there to meet the cast backstage, passing up a night of dancing at a private club invited by Al and Robert De Niro. I, send two of my girlfriends instead so I can share SNL with mom. Spring delivers Hunter back into my life once again. He is staying with me supposedly editing, The Great Shark Hunt, but mostly cavorting with me and my 21 yr-old roommate, and creating all kind of chaos both at my place and at the Gramercy Park Hotel where we spend half our time. It is a wild few weeks. Hunter’d hold court wearing a platinum blonde shoulder length wig and bright pink lipstick, and operating room fatigues we'd lift from my roommate. People beg to visit and meet the good doctor, and he has them fleeing in fear and shock shortly after arriving.
Ten miles over the Hudson River my parents reside in a little apartment in a Dutch community; Prospect Park, New Jersey. I played with my Barbie Dolls a decade or so earlier in our humble rented home. I feel thousands of miles from them now, spending nights with movie stars, attending parties all over the city, and partying hard with Hunter and his ever present entourage at every hotspot in NYC in spring of 1979.
Suddenly, all this raucous fun stops when he meets his next love at a party we are attending after a Saturday Night Live broadcast. I don’t know it for certain, but I feel it. Coming back from a restroom, I pass the elevator and see them side-by-side as the doors slides open. I see pig faces grunting and snorting like plastic masks instead of their real faces. They are stunned as I am to catch them sneaking off into the night. I'm in over my head and in denial. I run down the stairs and catch them leaving. I’m screaming and crying chasing them. This is the lowest point in my life, no doubt.
Now I'm walking the streets of NYC in a grey fog looking down at the gum-stained sidewalks, tears dropping onto the pavement. I pump frozen yogurt in my Cinderella day job, and live the A-list high life in NYC at night. I appear to be winning, and I am losing. Months earlier Al let me down easy telling me I am "way too young for him" and should settle into myself, and maybe even consider therapy. He suggested I was being used by my so-called friends in Hollywood and to stick closer to my roots.
Sitting at the kitchen table of my parents’ home, I cry uncontrollably for hours and hours, days maybe, to their horror and despair. I am wailing from a broken-open heart, and I cannot stop. “Help me. “Please help me,” I kept repeating to their tears and anguished faces.
“Dar maybe we should take you to a hospital…” They suggest in their sadness. “What can we do Dar?”
For the first time they don’t blame me for my despair. I never hear dad spurt out.
Dar, I told you so..I told you these men, and these phony people would hurt you. You should have stayed here and gone to the school up the hill and studied to be a school teacher…”
No, I hear none of the statements used on me every other time I call crying, exhausted, and broke.
I’ve burned up two years in Hollywood and NYC, and am no closer to being a working actress than the day I ran across Sunset Blvd with the wind in my sails. I am a soap opera day player, and do artist nude modeling. I’ve had many famous and infamous lovers, and grand movie-star-studded moments, and here I sit, slumped over a familiar Formica table; broken completely.
Eventually I call a former boyfriend, who is well into another relationship, after I'd broken his heart by running rampant with Thompson. I ask him humbly to please help me. He’s always has a heart for me. He agrees to pay for a month in the Siddha Yoga Dham.
“It’ll be good for you baby…” He adds. “You need to go inside for a while. There’s lots of shakti up there.” One of his former girlfriends, Sally Kempton, is a devotee of Baba’s named Swami Durga. I think he gave me $400. for a month in residence.
I live in the ashram dorm with about 8 beds for the first month. I’m with the program. There’s no booze, cocaine or sex here. The celebrities come and go. I’m a good ashram resident following all the rules. I wake 3:30 am each day to the conch shell. I make my way to the huge, dimly lit, blue Meditation Hall to meditate an hour. From the blue hall, we all gather to chant the Guru Gita day after day as the sun rises. At about 6:30 am breakfast is served; a porridge piled with yeast flakes, sliced onions and exotic Indian herbs which eventually exude from ones armpits. The early hours are a strain though, and often I’d sneak back to the dorm room, which is mostly empty during the afternoons, while most perform their assigned work. I climb up to the upper bunk and collapse in exhaustion.
More than once I’d experience an eerie out-of-bodyexperience. It is hard to describe it, but resembles many I’ve had in other places during my younger years. A feeling of gravity overcomes me and pins me to the bed as a kind of “lighter body” rises. It is scary, to say the least.
One afternoon I’m overcome with the odor of cigar smoke and muffled sounds coming from just below my bunk. My lighter body looks over the side of the bed and there are four men sitting, playing cards and smoking cigars. They are drinking and laughing, seated on the rug next to my bed! One of these bearded dirty characters looks up and laughs, pointing at me, he says mockingly, “Why aren’t you doing your GURU SEVA?” They all laugh. These “men” are a bit ragged and rough, and in my room!!! As I stare at them, they continue to mock me in muffled voices. I finally realize they are each slightly transparent. My body is frozen. I’m seeing and hearing and smelling ghosts! I’m terrified.
Suddenly the door to my room opens a crack, and (I swear to God) a 3-inch Baba Muktananda walks in and waves them away. His miniature self looks up at me, turns, and leaves the room. It all dissolves. Yea…
This happens more than once; same theme, ruffians, mocking transparent men, lowlifes, repugnant cigar smoke. I’m finally driven to approach Malti, Baba’s translator, and request I tell him what I am experiencing.
Baba listens, nodding, when I am granted a minute, and waves the peacock feather and tells me to ignore the “hungry ghost world.” “They can’t hurt you, they have no power.” Malti translates. “Ignore them and meditate,” She concludes. Baba hits me with the feather and waves me away.
I find out that this ashram site, this hotel and grounds, were once a drinking, brothel, and gambling center.
I never experience an out-of-body experience again of this nature. And yet I do experience weird hallucinations, two of which I will describe here.
In the Cafeteria, there are pictures of Hindu Gods hung along the walls, as well as many photos of Baba Muktananda and his own guru, Swami Nityananda Baba (whom I’ve dream about many times years earlier.) One day, as I eat my pungent porridge, I look up, and the photos are alive. Baba is waving at me, winking. The deities are dancing, their jewels glistening. I am sure I am truly insane, or the porridge is spiked, or both. I’m laughing uncontrollably staring into the orange delicious slop, afraid to look up or see a wink or dance out of the corner of my eye. The long tables are full of porridge-eating asham residents, and here I am laughing hysterically at my bowl just like a bonefied insane person. My heart feels full of ecstasy, joy, and bliss. I can’t muffle the laughter and am concurrently full of embarrassment. Upon talking to other devotees, I discover, with astonishment, they too have had similar dining hall experiences, and other strange encounters with “Shakti”.
My second spiritual experience, if you can call it this, occurs during a 24 hour chant of Om Namah Shivaya on some special Hindu holiday. All night we chant this mantra; women on one side of the Hall, and men on the other, in a “call and response” style where the women chant it and then the men chant it and it goes back and forth like a volley ball of sound and vibration. It is an awesome experience.
Suddenly, I am lifted away right out of the hall and transported to another planet, or location. I hear the chanting in the background, but am walking around in a glorious, heavenly light-filled place surrounded by deities who are bluish, and covered in flowers and glowing. It is heavenly, fragrant, peaceful..
I ask “Where am I?
One deity, who in retrospect might be Krishna himself, tells me I am in Siddha Loka. I repeat, “Siddha Loka Land?” again laughing and giddy with this wild weird journey, I continue, “You mean like Hollywood Land?”
“Kind of,“ The kind, blue-faced bejeweled man-woman god responds… I walk among elephants and be-jeweled women for too short a time.
The next day I head to the resident library and look up “Siddha Loka” and sure the fuck enough, it is a place where myth says all the gods reside in a more refined light-body, bluish-colored state.
Eventually, inevitably, I meet a very cute guy and move into a farm in the Catskills slightly off the ashram grounds. These chilly fall days I work each day de-thorning roses, praying for a miracle, and attending satsang each night. I remain somewhat un-hinged, depressed, and leaning on yet another lover at the farmhouse.
Philip Meese is making a documentary about BABA Muktananda and follows him around the country filming his satsangs (gatherings and teachings of Kashmir Shivaism.) Philip is 24 yrs young; tall, a privileged wasp raised in wealthy Connecticut. He is gorgeous with dreamy blue eyes and long legs. His crytal clear blue eyes sometimes tear up when we talk about what I have been through. He has a big crush on me, and me him. He also has a girlfriend, 23, with long chestnut hair who is a classical pianist and visits regularly. Philip and I have an affair, but now slightly outside of our “celibacy only" requirement at the ashram.
We enjoy thrilling taboo sex; outdoors, on logs, in fields, barns, and across his editing table on top of the outtakes of Baba footage, sometimes finishing up just as his real girlfriend drives up smiling widely and running into his arms. My hurt hangs with me like a skin I cannot shed.
It is said ashram life is akin to a pressure cooker, distilling and breaking down ones’ issues. It gets hot and uncomfortable, and eventually one surrenders to truths and grows; burning up karma and samskaras (flaws). I am in the pressure cooker. We each are.
The other residents in the woods at the farm include a self-proclaimed witch who fries chicken hearts and gizzards stinking up the entire house to we vegetarians’ horror; and a tall elegant aristocrat, a Rothschild, who becomes a friend and confident of mine because we share so many people in common from LA and Aspen, where she resides. This “home” is a strange brew to say the least; particularly when Philips’ girlfriend spends the weekend.
On Halloween, Philip and I stand side-by-side walking down the aisle towards Baba’s infamous peacock feather. Baba looks up at us and pauses. I know he knows, and I project all kinds of shame and guilt into the moment. Baba grunts indifferently and waves us on.
Dad and mom decide to come up to the Catskill mountains to find out about this “cult” their daughter is involved in. I’m both excited to show them around and hopeful somehow, they might receive shaktipat, the energy transmitted to begin their process of “enlightenment.”
Dot and Cor arrive, (who knows how,) at the farmhouse with paper maps in hand. They sit down meekly in the large, drafty, sparsely furnished living room; awkward, nervous, and genuinely concerned about their daughter who is now in her late 20’s. Dad makes a comment; “Gosh, a person could roller-skate in this living room here it’s so big.” I'm embarrassed in front of Philip whose father is a powerful, world-traveling CEO who never visits. Philip tries to explain his documentary to them. My parents have no idea what he is talking about, and Philip realizes this immediately and we make plans to get over to the evening program.
Mom, Dad, me and Philip make our way to the festive ashram hall where about 700 to 800 people stand in wait for Baba's entrance, and perhaps a glance from their beloved Muktananda. I give dad and mom fruit for the satsang line. Mom refuses to take part. Dad takes a mango, or a papaya, I can’t remember. I hold a few de-thorned roses. Dad’s wearing his worn plaid work shirt, K-mart pants, and continues to mispronounce Baba’s name as “Babu.”
I intruct dad to kneel and bow, and to hand him the fruit when the time comes. Dad looks at me and is resigned that his daughter is actually off her rocker, and because he’ll do anything for me, he is with this program; as always, no matter what. Mom remains somewhere along the back wall, seated, biting her lip, I am sure.
Suddenly and un-expectedly Baba enters a side door and surprises everyone. He is in full orange robes, black slippers, and walks along with his entourage. Suddenly he stops and turns slowly in our direction against the back wall. He walks towards my dad. He stops and stares at him. The entire crowd is breathless. The huge hall is wall-to-wall people mostly made up of people and families able to live endlessly the “ashram life” due to their trust funds or good luck in life.
Any eye contact or attention; positive or negative, from the guru is regarded as an incredible blessing. Baba lifts his arm and points to my dad and breaks into a huge smile as greeting an old friend. “Bro, slap me five” is the body language and tenor of the moment. He throws back his head and utters “AH!” nodding and laughing and smiling right at my dad.
I am flabbergasted. All eyes are on this interaction. Dad looks at me and says, “Does he want something?” I explain it as a great blessing. Dad dismisses the entire thing. Baba turns away as quickly as he addressed my daddy; and continues more seriously down the throngs of people, looking at no one.
Side-by-side, my father and I walk down the aisle, a far different aisle most dad’s usually walk with their daughters. We finally get to the guru’s feet and dad bows down and offers the mango/papaya. Baba whacks him over and over and over with his long peacock feather, taking more time than with anyone else. This whacking is also considered a coveted experience. Dad is “in” here, and it is very strange. It is strange for a lifetime. Decades later dad still refers to my time with BABU as a “phase I’ve outgrown, …thank god.”
On the last day of my father’s life, 40-something years later, the hospice people take him on a stretcher out of my living room where he has been for 5 months. They place sunglasses on his face and sit him up. He looks like a movie star, or jazz musician out in the June sunshine. He gives me a high five as they take him to what is to be his death bed.
At 5 am the next morning, my son and I get the call. It is time to go to the hospice center. We arrive and see “POP” in bed and taking his final breaths.
I sit around for hours asking for a sign that he is still available in spirit.
My son and I return home. Across the entrance to our tiny humble apartment lay a perfectly intact glorious peacock feather.
Over the years we each have spotted wild peacocks on the anniversary of my dad’s passing, or feathers...
What a strange, mysterious life this is.
Om Namah Shivaya!
So here is a little peek into my memoir. I elaborate on all off these subjects in subsequent chapters, and talk much about the childhood and path I am blessed to have had.
I do not mean this as a "kiss and tell" at all. It is simply the truth of a life lived with all of its color and spectrum of experiences.
MOMMY and DADDY
Mom with her prized possession, her great ass, would make fun of her “fat-assed” or “flat-assed” or “no assed” friends at any chance she could. She often scoffed and called other women fat-asses as long back as I remember. Her rich vocabulary included other adjectives as well; referring to men often as slouches, bums, scrounges, cheap skates, crumb buns, and losers. Women were floozies, stuck up, dirty-looking, crack pots, a wreck of the Hespice, a real tomato, or a plain Jane. When she flatters men it’s; snazzy, dreamboat, smooth, sexy, or a “go-getter.” She has special names for houses and cars too; shoe box, a shit box, filthy mess, an old junk.
Mom is way colorful against the grey and cement, and boarded up mills of Paterson, New Jersey. Her clothing always has a hint of Arpege perfume, or Channel #5. I still smell her.
“You know Dar,” she’d say often. “Some women have it, and some women don’t… You and me, we have it!”
Whatever IT was, I knew it was a good thing to have.
Dorothy Sunshine Legg is the illegitimate daughter of a teenage girl, Margaret Valentine, and a 57 year-old family doctor; Dr. Arthur Legg. She is born on July 28, 1922, entering this world weighing in at 2 pounds, and blind. Margaret gives Dorothy to her own parents who raise her until her teens.
Those were the days when women without husbands were scorned, and having a child was the ultimate disgrace. Hiding the identity of the real mom happens, and it happens a lot.
My mother lived in a basement apartment in Paterson, and I suspect hidden mostly by her grandparents who were the superintendents of the building. Mom’s mode of being is always great hubris covering shame, and feelings she is not good enough; not like other people. She steers clear of PTA meetings, churches, and all other community events. She is not a cupcake-baking lady for sure. My dad attends “meet the teacher nights,” and steps in at my holy Communion at the Methodist church. Mom often says “I feel so ashamed…” or “I can’t go Dar, I have a headache, daddy will go…”
Her grandparents keep her out of school until she is 7 years old. Underweight and sickly, she’s kept in the “open air” room at PS 14, forced to nap under an open window. Never quite catching up with her peers, little Dorothy drops out of school at 14 to go to work in a sewing factory.
My va va voom mom is a survivor, no doubt. Her looks and sexuality draw a lot of attention from men, and she flaunts herself at every opportunity; even into her last days. She unfortunately gets pregnant at 17 yrs old with her very first boyfriend, telling me they never even had real intercourse. Her virginity is verified by a doctor when the man she is dating refuses to believe it is his child. Mom marries Bob Collina at 18. She met this handsome, Catholic, US Marine at an Army dance in 1941. She already despises this controlling, well educated, upper class Italian with a very controlling mother of his own who oversees her every move in the house. My brother is 2 years old when she finally flees heartbroken from what she describes as an “abusive relationship” calling him mentally cruel and condescending. My brother remains with his father and grandmother who raise him until his father re-marries and has three more boys. His second wife committed suicide.
My glamorous, vivacious, easy to laugh, free to cry, gyrating, dancing, sexy Va Va Voom mom is plagued with obsessive compulsive behaviors, compulsively worries, suffers a chronic lack of self-esteem, myriad insecurities, and a narcissism preventing her from feeling or experiencing the world around her without feeling exposed and central to all that occurs. She feels judged and self conscious, and always tries to hide the fact that she is not able to read or spell well. I have to write my own notes to the teacher when absent.
Her biological father has a family and grown children, but did indeed love her and her mother Margaret. He wrote innumerable love letters to my grandmother about his devotion to his new daughter and their “miracle baby, … their love angel.” It is rumored he cured her blindness with some herbs and salves, and was happy to give her his last name, Legg. He created a trust in her name so she could be taken care of and go to college. Unfortunately he passed away when she was just a child, and in 1929 her education evaporated in a day.
No matter where or what we did, the world revolved around my mother’s moods, her hair being perfect, her clothing fashionable and sexy. Mom never ever appears outside of the house without lipstick. She wears a Fuchsia shade; has about 10 tubes of it around, all slight variations on this unique color. I confess I wear this color often.
It could take her hours to leave the house sometimes. I learn not to nag, and develop patience for this larger-than-life goddess. She’d hold her head high, stick her chest out, and grab my hand as we walk to the car as if she were making an entrance onto a stage. I often feel like a prop and accessory
God I love this woman. I was and am forever in love with her.
Dottie, or "Dot" as her friends call her, marries a kind-hearted, hard-working, handsome Dutchman in 1947; a laborer from immigrant parents. His mother is pregnant on the boat and delivers him on American soil; first born in the USA. He is handsome with black hair and bright green eyes, very white teeth, a great build, and has a keen intelligence and appetite for books and knowledge; and a great sense of humor to boot. Dad loves reading science fiction, novels, history books, and scours the newspaper cover-to-cover, even after working a 10 hour day. He always reads to me at bedtime. Always.
Mom dreams of Las Vegas, high-heeled shoes and matching handbags, mini- skirts, and where she might go to be ogled by men. She loves the movies and movie stars; especially Marilyn Monroe whom she begins to emulate more and more as her hair is bleached lighter and lighter, and her teeth all pulled out and replaced with perfect upper and lower plates. My dad gazing at her slow transformation, into her mid-late thirties, would say; "I liked you the way you looked when I married you honey."
Dad loves fishing and being at home with us. He never misses a meal or a birthday; and showers us with cards and special messages in the cards declaring his undying love and devotion to his little family. He even takes on my brother Bob and in many ways is more of a father to him than Bob's own father. He never misses a holiday of any sort to write out cards. I becomes the norm and the family tradition for our entire lives. I miss those cards that arrived like clockwork, always with kind words and money tucked inside. Valentine's Day, Anniversaries, Easter, Birthdays and any other reason, dad wrote cards up until hospice at 88 years old. I have a hundred cards from him, and mom, with extra notes and expressions of love in every single one of them.
Mom hated the outdoors; too messy. She only loves the sun and the beach. She yearns for the dance floor, and the allure of night clubs; to be part of something glamorous. She often spoke of wanting to go to the Copa Cabana in NYC. She even confides in me that she would have loved to have been a showgirl in Vegas.
We live in a four-family house on Madison Ave in Paterson. It is an Italian neighborhood and most people only speak “Sicilian” Italian. The men work in the tool and dye “shop.” The women hang the clothing out on the lines, stir the pasta, and have lots of children. We three are taken in by these Italians because my mom finds a BFF for life in Irma Russo while working in the factory. Dot and Irma are integral to my childhood, a misbehaved duo, who influence my world for life. I love them both so much. The Sicilian clan is bittersweet because their are some cruel things that take place, mom as the target, that I elaborate on in another chapter.
My dad is utterly smitten with Dottie, whom he calls Mickey, for an unknown reason. He only had eyes for her, and me; his queen and princess.
Inside our red and tan chicken-patterned wallpapered little kitchen at 309 Madison Ave, Paterson, New Jersey, she’d often burst out singing along with the radio hits in the afternoons. She’d start dancing and grab my skinny little arm insisting I dance with her around the kitchen until we are both in a heap laughing our hearts out. She’d swoon over certain songs; “Love Letters in the Sand,” “Itsy Bitsy, Teeny Weeny, Yellow Polk-a-dot Bikini,” “Let’s Twist!,” and a myriad of sad and longing love songs. Mom has secrets. She has secret whispered phone conversations, and a secret and not-so-secret private life.
Our square plastic radio sat on the second shelf of a three-tiered utility table. This table is made of metal; the type every working-class kitchen in the 50’s had somewhere. It came in either red, turquoise or white, with stainless steel piping up the sides. This piece of kitsch held the hamster cage on the bottom rung, the radio and some nicknacks on the middle shelf, and the bird cage with our parakeets, Peepers and Yellow head, on the top.
”Come-on Dar, dance with me ... like this ... make believe you have a towel behind you and are putting out a cigarette with the toe of one foot.. and then you are twisting!” We did it over and over that summer when Chubby Checker turned America on to their hips with his huge hit “Let’s Twist Again which blasted from every radio in the neighborhood. It is the summer of 1961. I am 9 years old.
The following summer I am dancing 3 shows a day on the famous Steel Pier in Atlantic City with a troupe of child dancers from the Jaqueline Donavan Dancing School in Paterson.; Chubby Checker is the headliner, and during one show he singles me out, calling me up onto the stage to Twist with him. My dad has the camera, and this dark, grainy moment is captured on 8 mm film! Another encounter with a huge star! "Round and round and up and down we go again.. baby make me know you love me so.... everybody let's twist!"
These hot and humid New Jersey days and nights throughout the summers are glory days. Mom always perks up in summer time; a time she could put on short-shorts and tan her face and body with aluminum reflectors, wear sunglasses, and strut along the sand of the local swim holes to cat calls. She’d wear her gold lame two piece suit, and prance the beaches to the stares of both men and women; women for reasons less than admiration. Sometimes she’d throw her head back and say in a sexy, put-off way, “What are You lookin' at?” if anyone gawked.
She parades that high fleshy ass at all times; an early precursor to the Kardashian claim to fame, wearing skin tight pedal pushers, short shorts, and sheath dresses. She is the only woman on the boardwalk in Seaside Heights clomping along the wooden slats in spike heels that get stuck between the boards every other step, once the heel breaking right off remaining wedged between two boards. This single event ruins my night on the rides. I still see the heel stuck, and feel the sickness in my stomach as she takes a shit-fit in public and somehow blames my father. In all of her days she never takes responsibility for anything. We scurry back to the hotel and the night is ruined. Dad would yell at her in frustration. “Goddammit Sweetheart, why do you wear such stupid shoes on the boardwalk?”
I mean, really Dad, you didn’t know?”
I am always in her glamorous shadow as a child and young teen, even with winning many beauty contests of my own which she enters me into at any chance she finds. The first beauty contest I win is in 1952 at the tender age of 8 months old. I win first place in the entire state of New Jersey, and 4th place Nationally. My picture is blown up and displayed in the window of the prestigious Meyer Brothers’ Department Store in downtown Paterson. I think mom and dad even acquire some money. I am their little star, and their pride and joy. At 2 years old I win the best dressed girl in the Easter Parade in New York City. Betty Hutton picks me out of a crowd of 50 or more children and I am christened by my first movie star when she holds me up high for the crowd to see and kisses me on the cheek!.
Irma, my godmother and mommy’s best best friend, is her ever-present side-kick. She’s half German and half Sicilian; strong, intense, gruff and all about the guys too.
Irma and mom sew up tight-fitting skating outfits with short laired skirts, with their newest Singer sewing machines; gossiping and howling in laughter, and whispering dirty little secrets in that precious kitchen. Irma’s nickname is “Irma the Body,” after a famous stripper. Irma is married to Mikey Russo, and has two boys my age. Irma is an untamable, cheating, thrill seeking broad. Mom and Irma are inseparable for the next 75 years! They dye each others hair platinum blonde into their 80’s. Irma is still living into her nineties; drinks two Coronas a night and smokes her Benson and Hedges every day. She tells me in my last visit to her active senior apartment, "Dar, agh, I'd like to date somebody, but these guys are old men around here; they're ready for the grave already, for god-sakes."
My dad buys mom a white Cadillac convertible after she calls our car a “shitbox.” She’s sick of the 1954 red Mercury with white leather interior, and wants something “snazzy. ” Dad comes in from work one night all dirty and dusty, and places a set of keys onto the formica table. “Here ya go gorgeous!” He gloats.
Mom goes into one her her best screaming and “crying in joy” acts and throws her arms around him, and we three go see the shiny new beast. Wow; here is parked, on the dirty curb, a white with black leather interior boat of a car, long fins, and a convertible to boot new car! We are rich for sure!
Mom and I go out cruising together: her in her white Go-Go boots and mini skirt. She picks me up in front of PS 21, wearing a hot pink head scarf over her teased platinum hair, and big black sunglasses.The other kids stand with mouths a-gape.
“Is your mother a movie star?” One of the little boys asks me, eyes like saucers.
I become embarrassed, am getting bullied a bit a school, and tell her not to come to the school to pick me up. She never realizes why, and never asks. A year later I turn down an invite to a dance from an African American boy who had a big crush on me. “My dad says I can’t can’t go to a dance with a negro boy, I’m sorry” I say, without really understanding. My dad worked with many African Americans and attended their weddings and funerals. He was well loved in that community. He often encouraged me to invite underprivileged kids over for lunch, or to play. I did just that.
I really like Robert Johnson and I was just telling him what my dad said. Dad thought a date at 10 yrs old was not appropriate. Within a few days a group of Robert’s cousins and friends follow me home, and he hits me in the back of the head with a toy gun knocking me out. The crossing guard helps me up. I never go back to that school. He may have been suspended, I do not know.
We move a mile or so away to Prospect Park, New Jersey, over Christmas break, into an all Dutch community with blue laws in tact. We have the right name. It is January, 1963. We live on a hill in a 700 sq ft apartment above a home residence. Mom considers this “moving up in the world.” We rent these 4 small rooms where I go from playing with Barbie Dolls to a full-blown teenager. Mom turns a tearful 40 here.
Years later in 1968, dad buys a brand new metallic green Mustang for us. He always drives the “work car;” a shit box my mother never sets foot in. I wear a wig-like hair extension called a “fall’ (a fake hair piece in a flip to my shoulders) Off we’d drive through Paterson, onto Route 4, and along the highway to Alexanders’ Department store, the one with the huge modern art painting akin to a Mondrian on the front, and across the street from America’s very first Mall, Paramus Shopping Center. Mom and I would shop till we dropped, dragging our cache of new outfits back home to model for dad. After a few months of this he remorsefully cut up our new credit card.
As I run across Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles for the first time, heart pounding, crossing toward the Old World Restaurant, wearing skin tight navy pedal pushers, my hair blowing in the warm sun; at 25 years young, I see men gawk, whistle, and wave from their cars. I wear inappropriate clunker University type boots from Wisconsin, but I have arrived. I am on the famous Sunset Boulevard, and I am intoxicated with this moment. With $70.00 dollars in my wallet, a perfect ass, a chiseled exotic face, and boundless energy and intelligence, nothing can stop me from making it in Hollywood, nothing! After all, mom tells me,
“I have it.”
I check into the Sunset Doheney Motor Inn on the Boulevard, for a week, and have $10.00 left.I have a ridiculous optimism and trust of life and the world. Somehow I'm thinking the world will adore me as my parents do. I have one phone number in my pocket; someone I met in San Francisco who claims to be the shrink to the stars. I call him from the top of the stairway in the Old World, where the pay phone is attached to the wall. I am about to experience my first #Me Too.. shock.
A few weeks later, at a party, Warren Beatty approaches me and says, “Ya know, I’ve been watching you work this room. You walk around at a party like you’re the only woman here with a pussy.” is his opening line. Wow, this is adult talk, I think.
Huh? I am intrigued, but way wary of this notorious Lothario.
“Really?” I squeak out in a half-giggle, confidently, and still scared.
He goes on, “Are both your parents beautiful?”
So goes my first conversation with Warren Beatty whom I met briefly at Mohammed Ali’s wedding earlier that month, seated in the front row with a Producer 55+ yrs old who was trying to impress me .
Warren has a way of stepping right into your sexuality and secrets. He has to know everything… And for some reason, women tell him everything. He is a genius at this investigative style of seduction. I tell Warren things I never tell anyone, and he shares secret stories with me about many of the rich and famous in his circle. He makes me feel special before I even think to sleep with him. I feel privy to some new moral code of freedom and exploration, intimate with the beautiful people. I have arrived. I am part of the IN Crowd…Glowing, I circulate the party meeting casually all the new Hollywood players. It is thrilling!
Back in New Jersey when I visit, Mom, Irma, and many of the other “girls” in the Wednesday night roller skating club drill me about the “movie stars” I’d seen around Hollywood. seated around the newest Formica table, I hold court to their unbelieving ears with tales about dinners at Jack Nicholson’s house, sitting with Cher at a table at an awards dinner, going to acupuncture with James Coburn, Having dinner with Lauren Hutton, and meeting Sally Field.
“Do you really know Jack Nicholson? “ They are incredulous.
Jack is a New Jersey favorite; after all, this is his home state. “Oh Yea”, I’d brag. Getting up and walking around the tiny kitchen, I show off my fresh face and 105 lb muscled body and high ass, just like mommy taught me. I am sculpted flowing sexuality, 70’s style: big hair, naturally curly, big eyebrows and lips, no makeup..”
“I had my best orgasm ever with Jack,” I boast to my mom’s friends who are spitting up their drinks in hoots and hollers “Oh Dar,” my mother is even shocked and embarrassed, but I detect pride and envy. I am grown up now for sure. I am living her/my dream.
“Dar tell us about their homes..”
In the blue collar world, a big home is the ultimate achievement. A home for a woman is everything; so much so she marries a man she doesn’t like.. for the house. I become animated as they egg me on describing the Jacuzzi at Warrens house, the gates and long driveways with intercoms to let you in, the artwork, the pianos, the phones in every room, the views from Mulholland Drive; a sea of lights as I dance the night with Jack and Mick Jagger and, the then 19 yr old, Melanie Griffith in Jacks living room, looking out glass windows to the LA valley below from the God-world.
Warren’s house, still somewhat under construction then, is amazing; the electric curtains, the views, the rambling waters in the back, glass, leather, a baby grand piano' and a movie theater I view many a film in over the years. I feel so tiny in his huge bed (a bed built for 2, 3, maybe 4 sometimes…) My mom and her friends are flush with excitement. Sharing my life; bringing to her what she couldn’t get for herself becomes a lifelong chore. I share everything with her and some edited things with my dad.
I’m in with the IN crowd, I go where the IN crowd goes.. Better still, I know what the IN crowd knows... so I thought…
So why do I wake up each day so frightened? My heels were getting stuck in the slates. Besides my extraordinary looks, charisma and flirtatious genius, I had no cards to play; meaning no money or social status; no class to be blunt, and no experience of any merit in acting. As Terrance Malick, a young hot new director, takes to me with great compassion and interest warns, ”Dar, you are in a pool of sharks and you don’t know it. Get out while you can!” He’d elaborate during one of our many hours of phone calls into the nights. “You need protection. I must find that for you…” Terry is a dear friend, a best friend in those first months. We never kissed or had the slightest romantic interest in each other. It is all intellectual and beautiful. I’d make him cry telling him stories of my childhood, and he’d coach me.
He sets me up with a friend from back east, a New York City aristocrat, bohemian writer; and good guy, all around: Mr. Rudy Wurlitzer16th. So comes my first serious arranged relationship as an adult. I listen to Terry.
Ah Rudy.. Rudy teaches me so so much about everything. He is my mentor, my spiritual and mental groomer. Its true Pygmalion stuff. He is a disheveled, chain smoking, groovy, pre-hippie, beat poet kind of guy, 16 years or so my senior, who is soft and smart, kind, and upper class. I never met a real blue blood before and it is an eye-opener in every way. We talk for hours about class and the dilemmas of the class system, and about suffering and Buddhism, meditation, India, and Tibet, where he wandered for years. We go to see Louis Malle’s Phantom India at the NU ART Cinema, on our first date in his Wrent-A-Wreck car. He chain smokes all the way there wearing a neck brace and shirt with burn holes down the front. I love him right away.
Rudy introduces me to Bikram Yoga although he never practices himself. I learn about Swami Muktananda (whom I’d met and received shaktipat from a year earlier in San Francisco,) as well as dissecting the many political realities of Hollywood and the movie industry. Once he arranges for me to me the venerable Dudjom Rimpoche for a private consultation in New York City. It is a 15-minute coveted opportunity to talk to the master of the Nyingma Tibetan Buddhist lineage at the new W16th street Meditation Center. I burst out crying in that room instantly, and ask if I “would ever marry,” lamenting my old age. Dudjom burst out laughing. We then both cry, and then laugh, for the 15 minutes; a “high teaching” indeed. Tears running down both our faces. I hear the absurdity of my request. I remember the compasion in his eyes. I leave the room flushed.
[It is now 41 years later, and my only child, born in 1992, whom I never tell about this seeming unimportant incounter, is a Tibetan Buddhist scholar devoted to the Nyingma Lineage. He is under the tutelage of Khenpo Sherab Sanpo, in Minneapolis where he visits and studies in the three year program. In high school he sends away for books and begins to study the Tibetan language. The dharma is the most important thing in his life. Strange coincidence. When I tell him about Dudjom he is astonished.]
At this time, 1977, Hollywood is rife with spiritual leaders/seeks/ philosophers; all kinds of people trying to be special and enlightened. We eat at restaurants with names like “the Source” and everyone is trying out yoga. Bikram is the main man then; and there is also Indra Devi, and the Larchmont Center for Yoga which is Iyengar based. There is the 4-H Kundalini Yoga center with Yogi Bhajan at its helm. I indulge in it all!
It is a new world of movie stars, yoga masters, music, sexual experimentation, unconventional living, older men, and a city of highly creative people all drawn to the dream in one form or another. Yogananda’s Center for Spiritual growth hung on the coast off Sunset Boulevard and also at the top of Mt Washington. I walk there, praying, breathing; “show me the way..”
The new Hollywood directors are strange and modern: Altmann, Andrew Joworski, Hal Ashby, Bob Rafelson. The world is rich and exotic and I never want to go anywhere ..I am finally Home!
I sleep on a mattress on the floor in a back room in the apartment of Paula Rafelson, the then girlfriend of Bob Rafelson (director of Five Easy Pieces, producer of the Monkees and Easy Rider, and many other films.) Paula recently left the marriage to his brother (hence the same last name) to go back to Hollywood and live with her 2 yr old daughter. We have a cute little cottage on Fountain Avenue, walking distance to the famous Schwabs, where I take the half mile stroll up the hill daily to play with my scrambled eggs hoping some casting person or agent will see me and put me in something; not the best strategy in Hollywood for making it. I have no car for the first 4 months in LA.
I see strange old stars there some mornings. Once Shelly Winters, fat and old, arrives in a Moo moo. It shocks me. She is an icon to my parents and to me on the big Drive-in movie screen, the same screen I first saw Head, and the Trip in 1968 which Rafelson also directed, and Jack Nicholson stars in. I remember one day seeing Sylvester Stallone flipping through some magazines looking cagy and very short; maybe worried about his next role. Now, in retrospect; perhaps coming to a meeting there over breakfast. Everyone in Hollywood looks afraid and anxious underneath it all to me come to think of it.
People would say to me. “Ah, so you’re the new girl in town, take the ride for all its worth, it won’t last long.” Or, “Be smart, know when to hold em, and when to fold em.”
I’m constantly being coached by Bob Rafelson and Terry Malick, who have their own industry problems. Terry views me with a mix of pity, awe and hope; and Rudolf Wurlitzer, the boyfriend, comes in and out of town looking for work as a screen writer from his permanent residence in New York City. Everyone is just as afraid as I am. Bob’s house across the street from the Chateau Marmont is Hollywood Central. I am a permanent fixture there, enjoying all. There are gatherings nightly; dinners, music, fun; amazing talented people. I am in heaven.
All these aphorisms and mini advices “Fake right and move left” “Don’t fuck anyone, ever” “Stop going to parties and being seen everywhere, be mysterious” Yes, all kinds of coaching but no help to move my career as each took me for everything I spilled forth.
“Dance for the people Dar, “ my mom insists when we have company over. “Put on your tap shoes and show them what you’re learning in dancing school..” ”Isn’t she adorable?” They’d all coo.. Or, “Grind the coffee for daddy Dar,.. show daddy how you grind the coffee,” as I bounce and gyrate in front of him in the kitchen against that wallpaper. “That’s enough Dar,” he’d always say giggling and blushing.”
My hero, my sweet loyal, loving gentle father is the love of my life. I once ask if I could marry him when I grow up. Both are amused and enchanted by this sweet request.
It is at breakfast outside a very fancy restaurant, at some 5 star hotel in Maui, I overheard two Israeli producers talking about me and saying the words “wrong father, … but gorgeous..” These words stab into my stomach and at the same time I am embarrassed my father has no position of power in this world. I have no serious appeal to a potential husband, or the upwardly greedy. In college I experience similar prejudices. A female friend once innocently refers to my father as a “Dees and Dems kinda guy”.. as I hesitate to name the unnamable, his profession, which is a major question when getting to know people in college, especially in Connecticut where the girls flash those big diamonds and designer clothes; a college where the New York City girls hang together making fun of we New Joisey girls.. My dad goes from a ‘heavy equipment operator,” to a “VP of GM.” It just works.
To be wedged between the warmth and love of my beautiful parents, through thick and thin; my movie star mom and loving protective honorable father; and to break out and expand into a bigger reality was and remains a deep gash in my heart for all of my life. They are the loves of my life, and now that is somehow not good enough.. .somehow they are made fun of socially.
My God, who am I?
I am in a hurry to remake and redo it all. I have to leave New Jersey, the meatballs, the Formica, the yelling and hollering and madness. I have to explore the biggest world I can. I have hunger for the world at large.
I am now in the world my dad distinctly and kindly a warns me not to venture into.
“Stay with what you know Dar. Don’t go to college ...i f you do go just go up the street to Paterson State and live here with us. and then he'd always say, "I'll paint your room!"
He continues, “Dar, sometimes it’s best not to see what other people have, and to stay close to people who are like you and love you.”
But, I wouldn’t have any of that. I have to go, and I dive right into the shark pool making a big honkin splash!
(to be continued and elaborated on)
I’ve been moving this body for over 6 decades, starting when I began dancing lessons at 2 ½ yrs old; bones barely formed.
Always gyrating my tiny hips to any beat, cartwheeling in parks and hallways, tap-dancing up and down wooden stairs on stages all over New Jersey, coming up on tippy-toe in ballet shoes, jumping into a high “Pony-Kick” and coming straight down into a split at 16, as a cheerleader; and then discovering Modern Dance and Yoga in college. My body never stops moving.
I can be spotted doing performance art and contact improvisation in the Bart station in San Francisco; and rehearsing nude at The Legion of Honor in SF for our dance troupe, “Players of San Francisco”.
Later into my 20’s, I’m dancing and groovin’ the night away on tall sparkly high heels, at the coolest nightspots on earth; Studio 54, The Mudd Club, Helena’s in LA, Club Lingerie, On the Rox, a very private club on Sunset Blvd... and many other, happening in the moment locales.
Put on the music, add sprinkles of beautiful people, artists, actors, and movers and shakers of the time; and I’ll show up and dance for hours anywhere; my 24 yr old body twirling as the kaleidoscopic sights and sounds of the decade soak into my brain and memory. Helena’s (Helena Kallianiotes) gruff voice is in the earpiece of my phone. “Hey Darlene, I want you to come to my club tonight and dance…” She’d order without much chitchat. I’m already sliding into something revealing and dancible..
I love to dance.
Best part for me; catching the rhythms of the music…and riding them over and over again; sometimes until dawn.
The wave of the disco, and being seenera all rolled up into one big heart-racing, body-pumping, platform shoe stompin, thrill ride.
Practicing doubles at Bikram’s Yoga College of India, standing between Shirley MacLaine and Rachel Welch, I am younger and more fit thanthem, I quip as we begin yoga practice in my narcissistic blossom of youth.
Attending every yoga class L.A. had to offer through the 70’s and 80’s, I strut into life with blind confidence, all shiny and just about perfect in health, beauty, and body…
“Those were the daze my friend, we thought they’d never end; we’d sing and dance forever and a day….”
Participating in advanced aerobics alongside famous athletes, skinny show biz beauties, aspiring trophy wives; I embrace aerobics and weight training for an edge on life, growing lean and lithe weighing in at 106 lbs at 32 yrs old. I dance in Lionel Richie’s All Night Long music video; a shoot that takes about 20 hrs, and does last all night long!
Sixteen years ago this month, Inner Fire Yoga, the first Bikram Studio in Madison, Wisconsin opens. I am teaching 10-14 classes a week at 51 years old, beginning a full time job teaching yoga: doing what I love! I am still doing what I LOVE now, teaching still every single day!
Each decade takes a bit out of the body for sure. Some days I just wish I could feel the kind of muscle strength I once boasted.
This year, 2017-18, I spend limping about, and for a brief period, forced to use a cane to walk.
. Depression and despair overwhelmed me a year ago, when 3 different medical professionals inform me I need a total hip replacement; ASAP.
“You are bone against bone …” they each say studying my x-rays… (and to add insult to injury) “Your lumbar is also critically degenerated, stage 5 of 5.”
One says, “It’s amazing you can walk at all.”
I step out into the cool autumn air and walk to my car thinking, “Shit, my life is over.”
Hmm, wheelchair bound, eating to soothe, I gain 10 lbs., and live on Ibuprofen and hydrocodone in a puddle of self-pity. Then I gain another 8 lbs. because, well, who cares.
Standing Bow Pulling posture is un-doable; can’t reach down to put my palm around my ankle on the right side; much compromising my hot Bikram practice. My Power Flow is less powerful, consistently skipping the flip dogsand ungodly push-ups. Yin affords me blocks and blankets to rest into postures keeping the joints as juicy as I can. Walking is a chore, and running impossible.
I do bike, and take a dangerous (have nothing to lose) 5-hour bike ride through Rome traffic just this May, wind in my sails... horns honking; and, I can still swirl these hips in circles and do the Warrior poses. Fuck it, I am not giving up my hip yet!
I begin to study all about THR, and hear good things for the most part; but a nagging resistance talks to me behind all the testimonials. I decide to take it into my own hands and also to find someone who is as abhorrent to this “amputation of the thigh bone … metal and screw-on” replacement as I am. Just the thought of a metal shaft being inserted into my thigh bone marrow drains the blood out of my head.
I love my body and all of its myriad sensations. I love to feel the flow of lymph and blood and fluids, and even more, to direct it. I inhale light and space and exhale tensions. I love micro movements, and I nerdily study fascial connections like a cat studying the movements of a mouse. I decide I am not ready for the saw to come near to my thigh bone.
In Sicily, I walk 139 miles and defy my prognosis. It is the Sicilian sun, the air, the language and the joi de viethat moves me along each day. This bucket listtrip throws “reality” and the doctors to the wind.
Today I complete six weeks of vigilance; a 7-day fast and liver detox, and a gifted doctor of chiropractic who sees twisted vertebrae, and scoliosis that might be treatable. He goes at it with all his knowledge and skill; and I make guided changes and improvements. CBD oil, supplements, softer exercise like swimming, and I’m walking again. I feel better and way happier. I think I can put off what is probably inevitable for another few years. I hope so.
Now I add Collagen powder to nutrition dense shakes, eat a more restricted diet to reduce inflammation, and experiment with cleanses. Voila! I’m not limping on most days.
Odd thing, my both parents grew up eating canned vegetables, white bread, sodium laden Campbell’s soups, boxed corn flakes, hot dogs and spam. The most exercise my mother ever got in her entire life was to vacuum.
They ate fat and grease and processed foods. Each lived to be almost 90, cancer and hospital-visit free. It wasn’t until her 80’s that my mom ever complained of back pain. She too had stage 5 lumbar degeneration, but she was 84 already. Dad never had any pain in his hips or back. Go figure…. I remember them very vital and traveling; even taking care of my baby, and then child into their late 70’s and 80’s.
Turning 67 is both old and yet, not old yet.
I feel it, but my mind imagines sailing in the Mediterranean, running on beaches in Fiji, getting an apartment in Amsterdam, and dancing at clubs to new sounds. I imagine Standing Bow for one full minute, and maybe even Standing Head to Knee, on both sides...
Pay attention to what your body is telling you. I felt this coming on for years and did not get help. I pushed through the pain and now am undoing much; starting again; slowly.
I teach 2-3 yoga classes each and every day. I still travel to train teachers and present master classes, workshops and retreats; most times without an assistant. I’m a more compassionate, ‘understanding of body issues’ teacher now. I say, with pride, maybe a better yoga teacher even though my physical prowess is half, or a third of what it was. Meditation and pranayama are far more interesting to me than Hanuman asana, or a flat stomach, yoga butt, and, ha ha, thick hair and eyelashes.
Aging is a bitch of sorts, no doubt, and it’s also an incredible gift. Ya gotta accept that we’re all moving in that direction. One can’t see it from youth, but in age there really is wisdom, and the stark realization of just how brief life is, and just how vain and foolhardy youth is.
Everything changes; Ancitta.
The principles of yoga make more sense than ever, and the “Middle Way” of Buddhism guides me when I begin to fret.
One day I will become dust. Yes, dust; perhaps in the air of some new dance club in Beijing or NYC or LA 200 years from now. Poof! One generation follows another, swiftly go they..
My grandmother is the flamboyant flapper ( I hear,) my mother doing the cha- cha- cha looking like Marilyn Monroe, me under the disco ball and stardust, and youth at death metal mosh pits; life goes on.
Death is a constant reminder to remember to LIVE!
Keep moving; mentally, physically, geographically, and emotionally. Interact, breathe, be kind, love, give, have fun, take risks, have a glass of wine.
Trust your inner voice.
“You are never too old, too sick or too weak to start again.”
Especially when I know I am privileged enough to get a new hip when that time does come; and it will.
I am so grateful … so grateful.
Deep, Deep, DEEPak, Desert, Dreams, Dazzle, Dharma, Dancing, Delights, Drunk on Shakti; Dar is in on the way to Bhaktifest for the 6th time in ten years. The ride out, over and through the dry dusty red beige hills is stunning; the air shockingly dry.
I set out from Pt. Dume, (the far north end of Malibu) and drive down the congested Pacific Coast Highway. I stop and take some photos of the famous "Pink Villa, I lived in, and way madly in love in, decades earlier. It still sits above the highway; is no longer pink, and has a kind of sad wear and lack-luster quality; a kind of been there done that quality; or maybe its just my perception. I proceed on, half in anticipation, and half in memory lane as I get closer to picking up three passengers from various places on the planet visiting the festival for the first time. We connected through a FB rideboard.
Scooping them up in Santa Monica, at the Airport, and on Windward Ave in Venice, we four squeeze into my economy Toyota rental and head off for the vast desert, and onto Joshua Tree Retreat Center, and into the Bhaktifest..
Dharma Mittra, Mas Vidal, Mark Whitwell, Shiva Rea, Janet Stone, John Smrtic, Dharma Devi, Saul David Raye, Deepak Chopra, Krishna Das, Girish, Jai Uttal, MC Yogi, and so many many wonderful teachers and beings all gather here for 6 days of celebrating creation and the pure joy of being alive in this precious lifetime.
We are excited. Two people are from Brazil (did not know each other or plan this.) Somehow coincidences abound at an event like this. It draws people by the heart strings, by spirit... and there is always magic happening.
Vacillating between the past and present is my experience now. I walk from the brilliant talk from Jeffrey Armstong on the meaning of the Sanskrit words and take in his vast knowledge of Vedic Sciences and Arts, at the exact same time as last year, and in the same workshop hall. I then proceed to order the same dinner of raw foods and an edible flower, and sit in the same spot at the dusty large table with the same shortage of chairs. Suddenly I'm in pain. Gas filling my torso like a helium balloon. I immediately realize these exact steps from last year. .Same gas, same place, same time.. Peculiar.
The difference from last year to this year is my body. This year I am not able to participate in the physical classes. I am stricken with hip and lumbar issues. I feel sad. All things must pass; even this vehicle, this perfectly toned and healthy dance-loving, asana-craving body is giving way now as I approach 67. Yet, the wisdom teachings have me this time, which brings me to my new respect for Mr. Deepak Chopra.
I never thought much of him. I dismissed Deepak Chopra as a media star with charisma, selling out for the big bucks with that elegant accent and TV sound bites. How aweful judgement is; especially ignorant judgement. Deepak is attending Bhaktifest for the first time, and I'm lucky enough to be right up front for the Wisdom Panel. I watch him carefully and listen carefully. I admit he is brilliant, kind, present, and real. Shiva Rea also seems more centered and less "On Stage" this year. She speaks honestly and openly about her son who suffers depression and anxiety. Jai Uttal also comes into focus through my former judgements. He is such a talented musician and the kirtan is off the charts wonderful! He too is on the Wisdom Panel with Deepak and Shiva, and the conversation gravitates toward the youth and children, and how they struggle so with anxiety and depression in this messy, harsh world, no matter how much we love them. Deepak states at one point that 70% of the children under 12 in schools today will have jobs that have not even been thought of, or invented yet. How do we educate for that unknown? Give them love and freedom, and trust they will find their way. Technology is not all bad.. it will unite them and the world if we use it with that intention. Deepak means "light."
I dance and sing, and walk the dusty paths. I enjoy short wonderful encounters with remarkable people at their booths, or on a line, or a simple hug from a warm, large man at a kirtan. I lay down in the Jaganath Dome next to many other weary travelers, and am delighted by the visual journey and Hindu mythology coming to life in surround sound and visuals. My skin and feet are dusty and dry making my evenings soaking in the hot mineral baths in Desert Hots Springs even better.
This year I practice deep listening to people. I enjoy pure presence, and stop pressuring myself to "do it all," or consume as much as I can. I give up "trying to Get something." or worrying I am missing "the good stuff.".. This event is vast and rich, and everyone seems to get what they need from the experience.
Late at night after I am chanted out, I sit in the car listening to the distant chanting as I move slowly out of the grounds and back down the steep grades from high desert to low desert, under planetarium skies. The road winds and my cells feel electric through my fatigue. I look forward to hot mineral pools, and a huge comfortable bed, and most of all, to another day to live this priveledged life. I share my room with someone else I met on line and she is my perfect roommate. We share much, and are now connected.
Los Angeles is so spread out. I enjoy driving the curves and canyons, the traffic , the stars, the clothes, the shops, the coffee, the sea, and the casual elegance of it all.... I am contemplative as I reflect on a life that used to be. I feel nostalgia, shame, sadness, joy, loss, exuberance, deep sighing, excitement, love; a stillness in maturity as I look back on a life lived well and recklessly, and with pride and hope and optimism. I buy a hat. I buy a be-jeweled black velvet hat in the Malibu Colony shopping center. It is terribly over-priced. I snap it up immediately. The shop lady says "You look fabulous in that hat with your pure white hair, these just came in this morning!"
The glamour girl that is still me smiles as I plop down the new Visa guilt free.
HARE KRISHNA, HARE RAMA......
Om Namah Shivaya
Om Shant Shanti Shanti
So here I lay... on my back propped up with my pillows, staring into the light screen of my Apple, wondering why I just cant seem to sleep any more.
I haven't editted my website in half a year... opps ... and now, suddenly ... tonight, I JUST HAVE TO DO IT! Right?
OK world.. Here is what I think is happening.
I am turning 65, the calendar tells me. I have lived, and I have lived large and loud most of my life. Of course I can't just quietly turn 65, I have to fly across this round planet through time and space in a little metal can propelled by highly flammable jet fuel, over vast dark oceans, and hhhopefull arrive safely in Australia for some happenings being arranged in Noosa Heads, north of Brisbane.
Please don't judge me as a jet setting trust funder or anything. I'm not even middle class according to the stats, and I manage to travel extensively because of Yoga Karma...
Yoga Karma is what propels my world. I meet amazing people, and am on the go, staying fit and breathing, and learning non-stop. I love this world of yogis and weirdos. I love popping into a room and practicing asanas from here to "Jabib," ( a fictitious place my mom always refered to) and know that we each share this love of moving in specific ways, and probably can't ever stop doing it.
Oh, and I've tried to stop. It takes about two weeks and I am lost, sad, scared, depressed, and angry.... Gotta get back on da mat. And then, within hours I steer myself, or it steers me and something alchemical happens and all is right in the world again. How is that?
My enthusiasm and many experiments leaving and returning to yoga practice has taught me much. And that is what I love to do; teach the "much" I think I've experienced... and that is called Yoga Karma.. 40 years worth.
So Australia, here I come again. And then "Hello New Zealand" for the first time. I cant wait to meet you! I have the yoga tentacles connected to another studio there to appear and do the yoga thing. I love to just appear and give the gifts... and this is my Bliss, this is my Bliss.
I have other Bliss too; but for now, as as my eyes dry up and my body is aching to sleep, I am saying goodnight. It's been a long day of teaching.
I got some stuff done tonight. I sent flyers, and emails, and photos and and and and..... all I want to do is relax and breathe and become utterly present.
Don't we all want that..?... some mastery over the monkey mind, some mastery over that part of us that isn't quite good enough yet? Don't we all want the roar of all the things to do and accomplish to subside? I want, for one day to not feel like I am slightly behind answering my emails, snail mail, and all the tasks to get done..
Caught up.. hmm..what the hell is that anyway?
I never was comfortable with the little messes of living.. I'm beginning to see though that its always a little undone, or coming apart constantly, and to fight entropy takes a lot of energy..
On the mat, it all goes away. I have these neat little postures to focus on. I breathe and feel my pores sweating and my feet on the ground. I have mercy on myself for all the mad thoughts, desires, judgements and analyses my mind manufactures, non -stop.. I somehow through practice, practice allowing them to be while this other part of me enjoys the NOW.
So NOW .... Good night!