“I am good, but not an angel. I do sin, but I am not the devil. I am just a small girl in a big world trying to find someone to love.”
― Marilyn Monroe
I learned of Charlotte Dawson’s death last week. I didn’t know her personally, only that she (like me) had the experience of fame in a very small town. I imagine that celebrity life is difficult anywhere, and in small communities it all feels so personal – you can quite easily bump into the person who has slammed you in the Sunday paper while grabbing your morning coffee. Charlotte’s tragic suicide took me back to a time in New Zealand when I was (for a very brief moment) regularly appearing in the media. My persona seemed to be loved and hated equally. The hate part stung, and the publicly printed words of contempt stuck like super-glue to my consciousness. It took a move to New York, three years of spiritual development and a conversation with an extraordinary Maori man on Ohui Beach to heal my broken relationship to my home country.
My very short-lived celebrity life in New Zealand lasted from about 2006 – 2008. I was a fashion designer with a store in the heart of Auckland City and had been designing for my label for ten years. I worked for haute couture designer Patrick Steel for four years before opening my first little boutique in Kingsland, Auckland with the help of my family. I had the rare privilege of having parents who could afford to support my dream of opening a shop. And perhaps on a karmic level I needed to fail as I had not earned all of my success on my own. In Kabbalistic terms, receiving without earning is referred to as ‘Bread of Shame’ and we evolve on our spiritual path by removing it.
Looking back with five years distance and 15000 kilometers of ocean between my hometown and me, I can see that the bad press wasn’t personal at all – it really wasn’t even about me. But at the time it hurt like hell. I am sure that many people would have said that I brought on the attention of the media myself – which in many ways was true. I used provocative marketing techniques to build exposure. Some of these techniques were brilliant and authentic and some were totally foolish and naïve. There are things that I would certainly do differently and other things that were an incredible expression of creativity. But the extent of public personal attacks seemed – and still seems – so totally futile.
Through so much of my spiritual work in New York I have come to see that what we judge and criticize in others, is always what we don’t like in ourselves. When we gossip and bad-mouth people it is a reflection of the parts of ourselves that we need to heal, whatever it is. Judging others is a human trait that is hard to resist (God knows I’ve been guilty of it!) but as we resist, we create the space to evolve.
Auckland is a tiny city with silent cultural guidelines that I didn’t obey … I don’t think I knew what they were until I left (the blonde and busty: beware). There are guidelines all over the place: a silent dress code in Paris, heterosexuals only in Russia … Even in New York there are certain guidelines, albeit loose (we like you liberal). It is heartbreaking to feel as though you’re not accepted by your own culture – but perhaps we all just need to find a place where we feel we fit in. While running down the Hudson River yesterday I passed a man dressed entirely in 1920’s paraphernalia with a waxed moustache and then passed another man running with headphones and twiddling a baton in his hand conducting an absent orchestra. There is no doubt that I am meant to live in New York!!
Sadly in our modern culture we have become obsessed with celebrity life. Pulling someone down (who we have often never met) gives us a momentary flash of light and instant gratification, but in the long run, it hinders our growth and causes us deep pain. If we can point the finger at somebody else, it takes the focus off having to look at ourselves. So much of the media revels in stories of politicians having affairs, child abuse cases and celebrity misfortunes – taking the edge off the writer’s own fears, fantasies and failings. But it’s sad for the public, because I think we’re smarter than that. The shitty press is easy for us to digest quickly because we don’t have to think. But if the media used their job responsibly it could be a major tool and platform for spiritual growth and multiply peace on earth.
My deepest sympathy to the friends and family of Charlotte Dawson. Sweet soul, may you rest in peace.
My Heart Sings For the Gauguin exhibition at MoMA, flowers from my love-babe, Happy by Pharrell Williams, this beautiful silk carpet from ABC Home, Housing Works bookstore and cafe in Soho, the documentary I AM