Tuesday, September 26, 2017

51 Yesses

I started this blog in the summer of 2011, when I was trying to leap into myself after a heartbreak. 

The title was inspired by the following: I had said, when asked if I wanted to skydive, "No, I will never do that." After I said that, I got to thinking--how many things do I say no to without hesitation? What would happen if I started saying yes to things that made me uncomfortable or I was afraid of? 

I saw in my Facebook memories today a post from this blog that was a list of 45 things I wanted to do in my 45th year. I didn't do many of them that year, but it's a great list and I've done some of them since then. For this birthday, September 27th, 2017, I'm making a list of 51 things I will say yes to in my 51st year.  

“There are people who prefer to say 'yes' and there are people who prefer to say 'no'. Those who say 'yes' are rewarded by the adventures they have. Those who say 'no' are rewarded by the safety they attain.” --Keith Johnstone

1) Opening my heart as wide as possible
2) Making opportunities to dance whenever and wherever possible
3) Living in my body, this body
4) Sleep and deep rest
5) More face to face communication rather than social media or texting
6) The bounty of fresh produce in Merced
7) Loving my high school students
8) Examining my own biases
9) Mindfulness practice--finding space between thoughts
10) Indulging in television shows
11) Cutting my belongings down by 3/4
12) Kayaking 
13) Being in water as often as possible
14) More Sweetie Pie 
15) Writing letters
16) Digging in the dirt
17) Cooking for myself
18) Self-examination
19) Telling the truth more often
20) My service work
21) Living within my budget
22) Reading books
23) Buying new music every month
24) Riding my bicycle
25) Laughing big laughs
26) Game nights at my house
27) Keeping my evenings and weekends free of grading and class prep
28) Checking in to make sure I understand what people are saying to me & if they understand me
29) Choices that may disappoint people but are in my best interest
30) Being aware-- as often as possible--that I am a small cog in a giant universe
31) Routine
32) Following recipes as they are written
33) New fabulous dresses
34) Down time
35) Interactive online course delivery for my students
36) My own YouTube channel
37) Road Trips! 
38) Wearing dress up clothes as every day clothes
39) Letting go of parts of me that don't fit any more
40) Supporting & fighting for the safety and security of all community members
41) Gratitude for the fact I'm alive and survived all my self-harming instincts
42) Grief, where necessary for the belongings, parts of me, relationships, and places that are no longer mine or I'm letting go of
43) Flowers on the table
44) My cats & the affection they need
45) Alone time
46) Reaching out when I feel sad or afraid
47) Writing down my feelings 
48) Celebrating life
49) My individual beliefs, even if they might separate me from others
50) Time with friends that doesn't involve discussing work or rehearsing for a project
51) Hikes in Yosemite. 

Monday, October 15, 2012


“Don’t ask yourself what the world needs; ask yourself what makes you come alive. And then go and do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” - Harold Whitman

"We must walk consciously only part way toward our goal, and then leap in the dark to our success." 
Henry David Thoreau 

"Things can fall apart, or threaten to, for many reasons, and then there's got to be a leap of faith. Ultimately, when you're at the edge, you have to go forward or backward; if you go forward, you have to jump together." 
Yo-Yo Ma

“Those who dance are called insane by those who don't hear the music.” - Eddie Vedder

“Why do you stay in prison when the door is so wide open?" Rumi

It's been way over a year since I started this blog, which was born out of a heartbreaking ending to a short, brief romance. I'm on the other side of the heartbreak, now have a functional friendship with the man I was involved with and though I haven't forgotten the feelings, I'm entirely transformed from the dark place I was in that inspired me to jump out of a plane and take my first Yes Jump. For this--and for all the amazing things I was compelled to do in the wake of my sadness--I'm truly grateful. I'm grateful for the circumstances--and the pain I felt--because they drove me to a sense of adventure I hadn't embraced before. 

Now, I'm standing at the edge of many other changes in my life. I'm looking at dark places of my past and transforming them by shining light on them. I'm looking at my dreams--my desire to act in films and on stage, and my craving for a return to a life in a big city--and how I can manifest them. I'm right there ready to let my heart soar--as I take to the stage and screen, as I walk down city streets, and as I finally dare to hope again that my heart may find wings, both in these things and eventually--even if it must be slowly given my history--with a new, close companion.  

Wednesday, April 25, 2012


"When I go into the garden with a spade, and dig a bed, I feel such an exhilaration and health that I discover that I have been defrauding myself all this time in letting others do for me what I should have done with my own hands."  ~Ralph Waldo Emerson

"The best place to seek God is in a garden.  You can dig for him there."  ~George Bernard Shaw

I haven't written in here in some time--I've been living a full life and find myself in bed early, exhausted after every long day. However, it's been about a year since I first got involved with X-man, and so some of the memories and thoughts are coming up and I thought it would be good to track where I am now, how I continue to find peace with the shattered relationship through embracing life fully, through having a love affair with myself. 

My newest passion is my vegetable and herb garden. Even though I planted most of it before the crazy hail storm, it seemed the hail didn't come down on this block, so my tomatoes, zucchini, and herbs were safe. A couple of weeks later, I added more herbs, eggplant, squash, honeydew, and beans. There was a young watermelon plant, but it was quickly devoured by tiny slugs. However, I haven't seen any more slugs since then. The dirt I'm planting in is rich--old flower beds full of dark earth and worms. 

I've never had my very own garden before. I remember a boyfriend and I had a garden fifteen years ago, but it was really his garden and I was the support gardener. Before and after that, it seemed I couldn't even keep a cactus alive, though I desperately wanted to have the green thumb of my mother. 

Every morning, I walk out the front door to check on my babies--the plants in my garden. I examine each plant for new leaves and blossoms. I've been told that talking to plants really helps nurture them, so I say a brief hello--and thank them for providing for me so amply. 

The garden helps me live in time. And I still need time, I'm still like a seed that doesn't want to come up, that wants to stay under the dark soil, when it comes to romance and my heart. So maybe I need to learn to water my heart, say hello and thank you to my heart, so it will come into the sunshine and open up its leaves, will bloom and make fruit, for me. I will await these harvests. 

Tuesday, December 13, 2011


For what human ill does not dawn seem to be an alleviation? ~Thornton Wilder

The day shall not be up so soon as I,
To try the fair adventure of tomorrow.
~William Shakespeare

The sun has not caught me in bed in fifty years. ~Thomas Jefferson

I'll tell you how the sun rose a ribbon at a time. ~Emily Dickinson

You can only come to the morning through the shadows. ~J.R.R. Tolkien

My happiest summer was when I worked as a baker in far West Texas. Now, those who remember me then might have a different memory of my mood, but time and distance are the friends of memory, and I can choose to remember it as a summer of unabashed joy. Working as a baker, I had to rise when it was still dark out, turned out muffins, scones, sticky buns, and apple pies--and then went and turned the closed sign to open just as the light was coming up. There's nothing as beautiful as the sunrise in the high desert of far West Texas.

I started feeling that, even on my days off, hours were wasted if I didn't wake before dawn.

Tomorrow, I'm going to try to start waking before dawn again, just because it feels like the person I am becoming.

I need more solitude, more time with God in the mornings, more time with my pen and paper, and I want to be on the jogging trail when the day is just breaking.

(Yes, I know that "Dawn" is my name, but it's a first name I've never felt a connection to, so I'm taking suggestions for new ones. I receive compliments on the name. I do have other names--Olga is my taken baptismal name, after a great-aunt. And the children around town call my Sweetie Pie. My art students call me Miss Purple. But this is another type of Dawn and one I can discuss at a later date. I must to bed now if I'm to wake so early.)

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Contrary Action

When I was 26 years old, I had a brief, intense romance with a young man who was incredibly romantic and kind for a few weeks, and then, less kind. He soon moved to the other side of the country to attend graduate school. Instead of remembering the less kind incidents, I held on to the first few incredibly romantic weeks, and I was determined to win him back. I wrote him letter after letter, so he had a big pile of them on the corner of his desk. I also compiled a book of poetry which I dedicated to him, had bound, and sent to him as a gift. It worked. I won him back--in a way. He was determined not to be involved with someone who lived on the other side of the country, and even when I came to visit him, was not where he told me he'd be when I showed up in the rental car I'd driven from the airport. We did manage a few days of romance on Ocracoke Island, NC, but over shrimp when he told me he loved me, he followed it with, "Don't get too excited, I just thought I should tell you that as you are always signing your letters, 'All love.'" I was head over heels for him; he was determined after I left that he'd meet someone who lived near him. It was me who found someone first, someone he used to share a house with back on the West coast. He and I didn't talk for years. When he later heard I had come down with HIV, he wrote me a letter, and we had several meetings over the years, and during the first of these meetings, he made formal amends to me for how he'd treated me, though I tried to discount his actions. He's now happily married; I was invited to the wedding and chose not to go, though I'm happy for him and his wife. They seem well-matched and supportive of each other.

It's 18 years since I wrote that book of poetry I sent to him, which was called Trumpet Lessons because he was learning the trumpet when we were dating.

About a month ago, I furiously started assembling a book of poems, something I used to do regularly, but haven't done since 2006. My impetus: as a birthday gift for X-man, who had his birthday yesterday. I ended up compiling a 67-page manuscript, using selections of poetry I'd written between April and October of this year, which generally encompassed the romance and the aftermath with X-man. The poems also cover spiritual and creative investigations--struggles and joys--as well as being rooted in a wonderment of the natural world. I sent the book out to some first book contests. Though I've written several books of poetry, my attempts to publish have been haphazard, so I don't have a book out yet.

With the help of some friends who probably value me more than I value myself, I didn't bring the book or a cake or any other gift to X-man's office yesterday. I did pass him as I was driving to the parking lot on campus. He walked by and waved; I clumsily rolled down my window and yelled happy birthday, but he didn't stop to chat. I keep in mind, when I try to romanticize what happened between he and I that he didn't stop and chat yesterday. That's about all the information I should need, I think. My mind wants to twist the event, say, he was late for a meeting, etc. However, if a person really cares about another person, they stop to chat, if even for 30 seconds. They say, I can't chat because I'm late for a meeting but hello, good to see you, etc. This seems obvious to most people who've followed my romance with X-man, but to me (perpetual believer in those first few romantic weeks) what I realized yesterday not only helped me hit another layer of reality. Another layer of grief was let loose. I can admit that the grief was not over anything that I tangibly had, but for the hope I had from the joyful start of my romance with X-man.

I'd made a pact with a friend to text her instead of X-man on his birthday. I sent her a message, "Happy birthday!" And then a follow up message, "I owe you a cake. What kind do you prefer?"

She wrote me back, "Thank you for wishing me a happy birthday! That is so thoughtful and kind of you and I am so happy you are in my life. I value you as a person who cares about me because I also care about you. Thank you for thinking of me enough to offer making me a cake! You are so sweet!"

I'm just about 100 percent sure if I go back over the 1200 text messages between X-man and me, there's nothing that sincerely loving and purely sweet as the message from my friend. Thank you, friend! Reality is not easy, but eventually, my eyes will adjust to the light and it will be more beautiful than the shadowy fantasies I've been living within.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011


Believe that life is worth living and your belief will help create the fact.
William James

Every creature is better alive than dead, men and moose and pine trees, and he who understands it aright will rather preserve its life than destroy it.
Henry David Thoreau

Here is the test to find whether your mission on Earth is finished: if you're alive, it isn't.
Richard Bach
I love life because what more is there.
Anthony Hopkins

In October 1998, I was in the hospital with my then-fiancee who was running fevers of 104 degrees and had been sick for some time. I remember for months before he was hospitalized I would lie next to him while he was sleeping and try to match his breaths, the ins and outs, but the shallowness of them was too much for me to sustain. I knew something was wrong with him, but I didn't know what. I thought he was stressed from work or sick from chronic alcohol and pot use. He'd vomit every morning. We found out what was wrong with him in October. He had AIDS. Two days after his diagnosis, I received my HIV positive results via a telephone hotline. I'd paid a hundred dollars to get quick, over the phone results, and had gone to a local laboratory to have my blood drawn. I was sitting at my fiancee's bedside when I made the phone call. The room started to spin; I still remember the shade of tan of the tiles on the floor and the way they started moving. I felt like I was rising up out of my body. I rushed the woman off the phone even though she desperately wanted to tell me the things she was supposed to tell me. I didn't need to know. What I needed to know I'd watched happen to my fiancee over the last few years.

He and I had recently separated and called off our engagement. We'd each gone on holidays--I'd been at an artists' residency in Port Townsend, Washington, and he'd been camping in the Sierras when his fevers spiked.

When the doctor told his mother and I what was wrong--with my fiancee's permission--he told us, don't worry, you can't get HIV from women, meaning I wasn't to blame. I now know this isn't entirely true, although it's nearly impossible to transmit from female to male. However, his mom quickly implied that he'd started getting sick as soon as he and I started dating. We never found out the source of the virus, though it troubled me for years. He'd been with a woman whose husband had died of AIDS, but she always said she tested negative. Later, upon reflection, I understood that he had severe problems with alcoholism, drug and sex addiction, along with being a compulsive liar, so the source is really up for grabs. I am no longer in touch with this person, though we stayed together for another year. I don't know how he is, if he's still alive. I don't know how the virus came into our lives. It just happened.

Over the years, since then, I've embraced the diagnosis in a variety of ways--moving full throttle speed whenever I felt well enough--and then often crashing into deep dark depressions. At first, I was kind of relieved--this may sound strange, but it was one less ugly thing to be scared of. I would defy it, and everybody, by living life grandly. Which I did for awhile. To start with, I began teaching solo performance art and making my own pieces and running my own performance venue in downtown San Diego.

I also refused to give up my pursuit of romance. As soon as my fiancee and I finally split, I was almost immediately dating a lovely man who'd spent years working as a circus clown. We made performances together. However, I wanted too much too desperately from my romances and pushed a handful of men away over the years with my neediness. I still believe in romance and have a lot of hope in that area, but am finally trying to get right with myself and to find purpose in my life beyond loving another human being so that I don't sort of make him my end all and be all (which I've come to realize is too much pressure for any one person).

One thing I know about my life is that I should be dead. I wouldn't take the HIV medications for a really long time because I'd read such scary things about the side effects. Plus, I was just plain stubborn and thought I could beat it myself--with yoga and healthy eating. Now, I do yoga and eat pretty healthily--but I also take the medications. I let my immune system completely collapse--I had an AIDS diagnosis based on my t-cell count in 2002 and then my t-cell count continued to drop as I went on and off the meds over the next years, so that by August of 2006, I had a t-cell count of 6. (Normal range for t-cells is 450-1200; an AIDS diagnosis is anything under 200). Not only did I not die, I was never hospitalized, even though my t-cell count was at the same point my ex's was when he was hospitalized with what turned out to be the AIDS-defining pneumonia, PCP.

I'm alive, despite my best efforts at killing myself, despite my best efforts to let myself die. I helped this along with a lot of unhealthy habits, many of which I now abstain from.

But lately, I feel like I've lost my life's purpose--like I don't know what it is any more. I know that I have a strong faith in God and that my crosses to bear are my crosses and God's handed me what I can handle and He's handed me this thorn in my side in part so I can be useful to others, and in part so I can remember God. I can't help reflect on my AIDS diagnosis without thinking about the II Corinthian's passage: "But he said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.' Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me."

So here I am boasting of my weakness because it is all the more evidence that I'm meant to live.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

The Big Lonely

Acting is the greatest answer to my loneliness that I have found.
Claire Danes

An artist is always alone - if he is an artist. No, what the artist needs is loneliness.
Henry Miller

So, I'm sitting at my desk, still in my coat on from having come in from outside, from having come in from a good cry on the side of the road, a cry affirming the incredible loneliness that has increased most days since I've moved to the Central Valley. (And yet you ask, how could you be lonely with those fall colors, with those almond blossoms that make Spring a ridiculously joyful party. Bear with me, reader, there are seasons of my life when loneliness is a necessary place, a time in which I need to look into the mirror of myself for a designated period of time--every artist needs this space, this time. This may have been a prolonged period of loneliness for me [3 years]. However, it's one in which I haven't made use of the loneliness; instead, I've tried to shove in placeholders to stave off the loneliness. I won't go into all the stuff I've stuffed my life with in the last three years, but what I've always known, what I've talked about in a interviews, even, is that I need, crave, leaning into what I call the "Big Lonely"--a vast desert of solitude that's required to do the work it takes to write, which is also fine counterpoint for the big not-lonely of acting, and the super-social world of teaching. The Big Lonely is also a great chance to listen to God. Henri Matisse, one of my favorite visual artists, said, "The essential thing is to work in a state of mind that approaches prayer." Prayer of gratitude, prayer of asking, prayer of turning everything I want or think I want over to the care of God.)

So, I'm sitting at my desk, in front of a first draft of a poetry manuscript, culled from the multitude of poems I wrote between April and October, poems that celebrate the landscape of the Central Valley; poems that describe my spiritual struggles, my romantic joys and sorrows; poems that insist on choosing life even if the mind wants to twist living into a less-than-attractive option. But it's the only option. I live. I insist on living. My body refuses to give up. It hasn't given up to any of the life-threatening illnesses I am diagnosed with. The poems show that life is sometimes full of unbelievable joy, and is sometimes threatened to be overcome by darkness, but in the end, there is always life. There's always a new hope, a new journey around the bend--whether it's the hope of sensing God on a new level, the hope of a new connection with a friend, the hope of surviving another lonely night, the hope of finding lasting, loving romantic partnership, the hope of the perfection of a creative moment as an actor, musician, or writer--the hope of reaching the next goal as a singer, the hope that my fingers will grow stronger and smoother on the bass guitar, the hope that I'll feel the reality of that line of Shakespeare's from head to toe the next time I perform it, the hope I will discover a new combination of words that will delight myself and another, the hope I will open a new mind in the classroom, the hope that God makes possible.

And suddenly, the lonely has a new texture to it, it's full of possibility, it's full of worlds I'm inventing on paper, it's full of imaginary characters I'm embodying on stage, it's full of songs I haven't yet built bass lines for, it's full of kisses, of prayers, of laughter, of new weather--it's Alaska, Paris, Dublin. It's my upcoming trip to New York City, it's a party on December 17th, and it's now--it's Nick Drake playing on my headphones, it's a sense of momentum, of new, of incredible, of the pool of light on my desk in this dark office after nightfall. It's meteor showers. It's dancing, it's cereal in a bowl, the clinking sound it makes when I pour it in. It's my present skin.

"Time has told me
You're a rare rare find
A troubled cure
For a troubled mind.

And time has told me
Not to ask for more
Someday our ocean
Will find its shore.

So I’ll leave the ways that are making me be
What I really don't want to be
Leave the ways that are making me love
What I really don't want to love."

Time Has Told Me by Nick Drake