Amy Brenneman
Amy Brenneman

September 14, 2012

Modern Life and It’s Remedy – Part Two

Before we dive into Mr. Stills, some backstory.


As some of you know, I spent the spring in New York doing a play. It was a transformational experience for a number of reasons.


The first was performing the play itself. “Rapture Blister Burn” is a new play by Gina Gionfroddo. I found working on it challenging, stimulating, joyous, exhausting – everything I’d wanted it to be.


But another aspect was simply being in New York for weeks at a time without my family. Now, this is not unusual in many families, especially those in which parents work in the entertainment industry. Fewer and fewer projects are filmed in Los Angeles, which forces folks to Canada, New Orleans, North Carolina and Europe. Brad and I have been freakishly lucky in that regard and have spent relatively little time away from our kids. I almost didn’t take the New York gig because I couldn’t imagine being away from the kids for the end of the school year – recitals! Birthdays! Exams! – but with Brad’s encouragement, and knowing how strong the home team is, I realized that all would be well.


Which it was.
For them.


For myself, I went through a transition the first three weeks that was so intense I didn’t know if I could make it. I missed everyone. I worried for the kids. I called in constantly. I arranged play dates from 3,000 miles away. For the hours I was in the rehearsal room, I was engaged and focused, but afterwards I would wander around midtown bellowing into my Smart Phone, asking how the vocab test went. “Go out to bars!” my LA mama friends said. “If I had that chance, I wouldn’t look back!” Easier said than done. In a family we are woven into a cloth and to disengage ourselves from that cloth leaves us ragged and lost. As usual, Brad gave me the best advice. “Don’t put pressure on yourself to have a ‘good time.’ You are there for a job. You are on location. You are doing your work.”


Spot on advice. And the work he was referring to was not just the play. I was re-birthing the non-mother part of myself, the Amy from 15 years ago. Mothering (and thinking about mothering) takes up an enormous space in my head. That space was freed up. During those first, vacuous weeks, that space terrified me.


And then it didn’t.


My friend Annie Potts was a lifeline during those weeks. An actress and mother, she is a role model for me and I clung to her advice during that time. “The kids are fine. It’s you who are suffering. You deserve this. You need this. Stop crying. Think like a man” (I loved that advice. While fathers suffer while away for work, most probably don’t suffer in the acute way that guilty mothers do.) Finally she said, “You will find yourself in this, and cross over.”


I did. Cross over, that is. I began to feel myself in a way that I can’t when I’m in mother-mode. I worked hard on the play, yes, but I also ate weird foods, ran in Central Park, looked at art at the Frick Museum. But most tellingly, I let myself Space Out. I drank from the Space Out well like a parched rhino on an African plain. I let my brain wander and play. I looked at the fire escape outside my apartment building for about twenty minutes one day. I idly wondered who was practicing piano. I ambled around 86th St. There was time for directionless journeys which had no point except for me to have a date with me. I’m a good date.


My family joined me in New York for the last few weeks of the play. It was a blast, and I was still able to maintain my Space Out regimen on the subway to work. Then our family vacation time in Martha’s Vineyard, which is the epicenter of regenerative Space Out for Brad and me. Then, home. Back to shooting Private Practice, back to school for the kids, back to scheduling on Smart Phones and re-engaging with the energy of the school year. The transitions have been smooth, and I am having a good time back on PP.


So why do I get so grouchy last week?


I have not scheduled my Space Out time. And like a toddler who doesn’t get her nap, or snack, or whatever her body is craving – I become feral when my brain doesn’t play. My time in New York created an appetite for Space Out and I now know that it’s not a luxury nor that I’m lazy. It’s what my soul needs to stay healthy.


Here’s where Mr. Stills comes in.


We went to see Crosby Stills and Nash on Friday at the Greek Theater here in L.A. I’d had a frantic week in my head. Nothing catastrophic in the least. Working on PP, scheduling kids, doing homework – suffice to say that I didn’t have much time to regenerative. Typical stuff of working parent-dom. I was really looking forward to Friday. I first fell in love with CSN on “Four Way Street” when I was 17 living in Europe as an au pair (where I learned the art of Spacing Out well). I can tell you every part of that album – the jokes, the asides, the guitar licks and the blessed harmonies that only they can do. Like a girl with the Beatles, I watched my crush transfer from Crosby (singing “Triad) to Nash (he wrote “Our House” – about JONI MITCHEL, another idol) then to Stills and his heartbreaking intensity.


His son went to preschool with Bodhi and over the years Brad and I have become dear friends with Stephen and his wife Kristin. Stephen is humble, funny, self-deprecating. It is easy to forget he’s a goddamn LEGENDARY ROCK GOD. On Friday night at the Greek I remembered.


Stephen is at the height of his powers. About a year ago, I asked him how his playing was. He answered: “I’m only now playing the way I’ve dreamed about playing.” Holy shit. His expertise, playfulness, inventiveness was the tonic that I, for one, needed as an antidote to Modern Life. He created space. He celebrated imagination. And he gave his whole self, as he has been doing for 40 years.


I think if I didn’t know anything about CSN and I went to the Greek on Friday, I still would’ve been blown away. But having loved their music for 30 years, and remembering all the times it has comforted and guided me, made it even better.


Thank you, Stephen, for reminding me that I have to take time out to hear music, eat food, and Space Out for moments at a time. When I am in Modern Life, Smart Phone at my fingers, I think to-do lists are “real” and Spacing Out is frivolous. Stephen Stills reminded me that is exactly the opposite.