“Only the heart knows how to find what is precious.” –Fyodor Dostoyevsky
I am an only child growing up in the San Fernando Valley. My eyes are deep-gray and curious, two impending storms. My head is a mass of uncontrollable curls that I hate to have brushed; they are snarled, the color of tarnished pennies. The days are long, hot, a constant summer. I eat grapes from the vine that grows through a chain link fence in our backyard. Run back and forth between our house and the neighbors’ in my bare feet. Prick my finger on a bird of paradise and discover the metallic taste of my own blood.
It couldn’t have been then. Those times were far too plain. Dare I say innocent? No, it must have been later, when fame was not something that was distant, something reserved for other people. It must have been when the allure of the spotlight was right there in front of me, when it had become a part of the décor.
Wilshire Boulevard, West Los Angeles. I ride the elevator up eighteen floors. Wind through a maze of upholstered cubicles. Nudge open the door to my father’s office. He is on the phone, stacks of papers piled in front of him—loans, contracts, tax returns. The smell inside his office—leather and freshly pressed shirts—puts me at ease. I collapse into the chair opposite his desk and wait. All of my father’s clients are in the industry. To my right, a framed platinum record hangs on the wall—a client. To my left, a framed movie poster that’s been autographed by the lead actress—also a client. Sometimes we visit his clients on set or on location. Sometimes he gets invited to movie premiers and takes me along. At concerts, we pick up our passes at will-call, and security ushers us backstage. Everything about this life seems so normal that I never think to question it.
But somewhere along the line it happens. A belief hatches and takes hold. It starts out a tiny seed, but then it grows and grows and becomes something huge and immovable. And the belief is this: That in order for my life to be meaningful, I must do something big, something noteworthy, something brilliant. That everything else is only secondary. That it’s not okay to be ordinary. To be small. I carry this belief around with me, a boulder strapped to my back, for many years. It is a fulcrum, the unconscious apparatus from which the rest of my actions splay like watercolors running from their source.
I sit here now, holding this younger self of mine up to the light, the young woman who placed all of her worth, every last drop, in the hands of other people, in the external. She didn’t know then, couldn’t understand at the time, that while those things are pleasing, there is nothing, absolutely nothing, that compares to the peace of living a quiet life—my quiet life.
In my quiet life, I am alone in my bedroom arranging words on the page, an early summer wind rustling the leaves on the lilac, the cat dozing in the perfect crook of my lap. I am walking the beach with my son, our hands locked, cool green water pooling around our ankles, midday sunlight bending across the waves, shattering them into thousands and thousands of tiny beads. I am driving to the nursery after baseball practice to buy more annuals—strawberry-red verbenas, shoots of fiery salvia, tiny mustard-yellow daisies. I am digging and turning the rich black earth, planting something real, something living, something that will take root and blossom and spread.
My younger self hadn’t realized that the greatest achievements take place privately, that our true treasures are self-contained, and like geodes that have yet to be cracked open, the world can’t see what waits inside; only the rock itself knows of its secret internal cavern, glittering quietly, light burning underneath the solid shell.
I have three pretty stones that I keep beside my bed, right next to, occasionally on top of, an ever-growing pile of books. Sometimes I place one of them in the palm of my hand: the one I’m holding now is a silky Mediterranean blue, slightly larger than a robin’s egg. I close my eyes and trace its surface with my fingertips. I feel its cracks, its lacerations, in other places, where it is smooth, cool. I think about the great mystery of the human heart, its capacity for love, how easily it is wounded, and how in spite of both, it beats on. I think about my own beating human heart, and how sometimes it feels so full that it might just spill over.