top of page

Teach me, Barbra

I have spent the last 48 hours (not consecutively, but over the course of the last four weeks) with a super star; a singer of great fame and fortune; a magnificent actor, a brilliant director and an overall force to be reckoned with.

It has been quite a thrill spending more than two days and nights with the incomparable Barbra Streisand although she hasn’t spent a moment with me!

I’ve been listening to her memoir of close to 1000 pages; the detailed stories of almost seven decades of accomplishments, as well as losses and disappointments; personal and professional challenges, the creative highs alongside the yearning, analyzing, demanding and striving for perfection.

The book is, of course, a chronology of her life; how she began her meteoric rise, the dozens of albums she made, movies she starred in, wrote, produced and directed.

But it is much more.

Because she is much more than one of the greatest singers to ever live.

Barbra shares her frustrations with the state of Hollywood, Congress, the country and the world and the actions she has taken to speak out against injustice and fund research, campaigns and causes near to her heart.

In unbelievable detail, Barbra recalls every significant relationship she has had in her life (lovers, friends, family and a number of unusual connections) and how each one has impacted her life, personally and professionally.

It was particularly fascinating to imagine her cozying up to Pierre Trudeau, getting her hair done with Virginia Clinton, (whom she called her second mom), playing tennis with Andre Agassi, having intimate moments with Marlon Brando, sitting at the piano and rewriting songs with Steven Sondheim, and hugging Shimon Perez, whom she thought of as the father she never had.

Barbra loved and was loved by a vast and varied group of staff members, musicians, actors, world leaders and of course, her beloved son and adoring husband.

She openly discusses her life long search for a father, and the ways she has tried to fill the void from having lost hers as a baby.

The fact that her mother was always critical, never encouraged her and in many ways was jealous of her success made her sadder and more insecure than anything else in her life.

I was never a Barbra Streisand fanatic although I adored The Way We Were and of course, Funny Girl. But there was something compelling about her memoir and I proudly stuck with it until the very end.

Her life has had an amazing breadth to it and strangely enough, there were many things with which I identified.

It was like a mini-course in how to live a deep, long, creative life.

Here’s what I took away from the book, which are, in a sense, reminders for the new year:

  1. BE HONEST, even when it is difficult or unpopular. The more honest we are, the more comfortable we will be in our own skin and the more connected we can be with others. Barbra lives by this rule and although it has landed her in difficult situations many times, it is her most fundamental value and her clarity about it is inspiring. Consider how it feels when you speak the truth and how freeing it is, regardless of how it’s received. Go ahead and say what needs to be said.

  2. ACT ON CREATIVE INSTINCTS, regardless of whether they can or will result in a particular outcome. Just being creative, whether it’s gardening, singing, cooking, painting, decorating or writing connects us to the deepest part of us and allows us to feel truly alive. I am ready to take on more writing projects, newly committed to being in that flow state that is both settling and energizing at the same time.

  1. DON’T WORRY ABOUT BEING GOOD AT EVERYTHING, no-one is or can be. Barbra doesn’t cook, has never cooked and has no intention of learning to cook. She is unapologetic, and at peace with that. It gives her more time to do all the things that she loves to do and is called to do. So let yourself off the hook. Move in the direction of what inspires you, rather than what bores or frustrates you. This is such a helpful reminder to me as I often look around and begin to berate myself for not doing more organizing of papers, photos and memorabilia. Maybe I can let that go. What can you let go of?

  1. NEVER FORGET THE PEOPLE WHO HAVE BEEN THERE FOR YOU, particularly those who supported you from the beginning and/or when no-one else did. Barbra demonstrates over and over the qualities of loyalty and appreciation for those who have been there for her over the course of her life. It’s heartwarming to hear that she has had the same agent for over 60 years and the same personal assistant for more than half a century. Her friendships are enduring and she has remained close to her former husbands and lovers. There’s something endearing about the constancy of her long term connections and made me want to reach out to many people in my life who were there for me, especially during hard times. Let’s all reach out and thank those people who have been in our corner.

  1. NEVER GIVE UP ON LOVE, no matter how many times it has eluded you. Barbra is a stunning example of this, having kissed dozens of frogs, (think every gorgeous, fascinating male who has lived in the last fifty years), before finding her prince, Jim Brolin in her late fifties! I too met my husband in my fifties and am so proud of myself for not giving up on love. But this advice goes beyond romantic love; its equally relevant to finding love in all areas of life, including work, families, friendships, and interests; knowing that there’s no time limit on discovering who or what we want to love. This year, I am focusing on female friendships and creating powerful, abiding relationships with women I admire and enjoy and in whose company I can be silly as well as serious. Think about a kind of love you are searching for and commit to not giving up on finding it!

  1. BE ACTIVE AND PARTICIPATE IN THE CAUSES YOU BELIEVE IN. Barbra has been a real activist, showing us how to truly make a difference. Whatever you can do to demonstrate your commitment to a cause, a political party, a non-profit, do it. Write a check. Volunteer. Attend rallies, protests, etc. I don’t know about you, but I have been in a slump in terms of activism as of late, feeling like nothing I do could possibly help when the world seems to be destroying itself before our eyes. Reading Barbra’s book has reinvigorated me to believe in the power of speaking up and out, aligning with others whose convictions match yours and taking action, no matter how small, as an affirmation of one’s commitments. She reminds us of the importance of being a citizen, the most important title one can have in a democracy. This is a year where one’s involvement is critical and I intend to work through my fears and disillusionment and do what I can to bring back civility, morality, decency and compassion.

  1. EMBRACE THE ARTS. When Barbra described listening to Maria Callas or looking at a Modigliani, I was moved to tears. I have always loved music, art, theater and literature and consider myself somewhat “cultured” but having finished her book, I want to delve more deeply into the arts. I thought a lot about my brother Mark who, before his premature death, spent thirty five years devoted to The Working Theater, bringing plays by and about working people into existence. I have a new appreciation for the work he did and the commitment he had to the theater. As I enter this new phase of life, less burdened by day to day responsibilities I vow to explore new music, theater and art and allow myself to be transported in new and profound ways by the beauty of the arts.

  1. BE EXQUISITELY YOURSELF. Countless people tried to tell Barbra what she should or shouldn’t do as a woman, an artist, a business person, a public figure. Barbra rarely listened to outside opinions, choosing instead to connect to her own instinct and intuition and follow her own path. Barbra was extraordinarily gifted, yet unconventional. She didn’t look like a Broadway star; never had a singing lesson or even knew how to read music. She felt her way through life; deeply in touch with her own personal style, sense of music, art, design, and speech. She takes responsibility when things don’t work out as desired, often blaming herself, but rarely pointing the finger at anyone else. She is comfortable in her own skin, aware of her own shortcomings (controlling, unyielding, perfectionistic) and willing to be exquisitely herself. I am drawn to her unwavering dedication to being herself and I honor how she lives her life. We would all be well served to do some thinking about who we really are, even when no-one is watching, and stay true to that raw, unedited vision of ourselves.

  1. SHARE YOUR FAVORITE FLAVOR OF ICE CREAM.. In her book, Barbra tells us regularly that she loves coffee ice cream. She talks about where she buys her coffee ice cream, when she eats it, how often she eats it and more. As someone who just finished a memoir and hopes to have it published in 2024, it struck me that if I mentioned the kind of ice cream I like, it would be the most irrelevant fact in the world. Who would care? And then I thought about memoir; not just Barbra’s memoir, but memoir in general and how much we learn from and relate to other people’s stories. Of course it’s entirely different to read about a famous person but sharing our own story can be a gift to many. We all yearn to be connected, to belong, to understand, to grow and what better way than to hear other people’s experiences; how we are different and more often, how we are the same. While I do not once mention my favorite flavor of ice cream, I share a great deal about what has made me me; the challenges I’ve overcome and the ways I’ve learned to integrate my experiences so that perhaps my readers will relate and even feel less alone. As Barbra teaches us, our DNA is 99 percent identical to every other human being’s on the planet. We are all much more alike than we are different. I want to hear your story; what makes you happy and sad, what you worry about and are moved by. We all have meaningful stories and wisdom to share and learning about one another and the human experience is the beginning of acceptance and understanding; the pathway to peace.

And so, as we wind up 2023, I will heed the lessons in this book and be open to learning more about honesty, determination, passion, forgiveness, and always, love.

Hope this year brings you joy and contentment and the world, peace.

1 view0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page