The Love of My Life's Birthday: Lauren Zakrin

NOTE: After spending a few days working on this writing and planning to publish it on her birthday, Lauren scratched her cornea in rehearsal for the Tony's and has spent the past 48 hours with her eyes closed in absolutely excruciating pain.  We spent the night before last sitting in the ER, then all of yesterday getting the full medical system run around with me leading my temporarily blind girlfriend around the city as we sought relief.  So instead of enjoying her birthday, celebrating with friends or reading this expression of my love for her, she is currently curled up at my side in a world of eyeball-pain hell. 

Lauren on a hike upstate in her natural state.

Lauren on a hike upstate in her natural state.

I've failed horribly at keeping up my intention to write a public love letter each week.  Life has thrown some curveballs and The Kloons have been working feverishly on a new project.  While these are great excuses, this is pretty typical for me (though I wish that wasn't the case).  Usually an idea hits and I'm filled with enthusiasm.  Shortly thereafter, the enthusiasm wains a bit, I realize how much effort the idea will take and lack the follow through to get through the bouts of self-doubt and confusion to see the idea all the way to fruition.  Sometimes this is helpful as it allows me to "go with the flow," but most of the time my lack of discipline is the one thing keeping me from realizing that which feels absolutely essential.

Today is my love's birthday and it feels crucial that I share some words about this incredible human being.  I knew I would be writing about her at some point, but the prospect of doing so has been daunting...perhaps more so than anyone else on my list.  Our experience is so all-encompassing, this woman means so much to me...there is no possible way to begin expressing all of this via text.  So, let's just assume this will be the first of multiple entries on the wondrous Lauren Zakrin.

I really like Lauren.  And the more I know her, the more I like her.  I'm not sure what happens for other people in long term relationships, but the more time we've spent together, the more grateful I am to have her around and the more I want to keep exploring existence together.  This is not to say we don't have hard times, because we do.  We've had extremely frustrating, emotional arguments, major philosophical fights and every other kind of minor annoyance...but at the core has always been an appreciation for each other.  We keep doing our work to make sure we're not being assholes, and when we are being assholes, we apologize and do better next time.

Sitting at my computer for hours, sprawling sentences in every direction, this love affair with Lauren Zakrin has me absolutely perplexed.  I don't know where to begin.  I suppose it might be easiest to share a memory that best captures the deep sense of being at home I feel with Lauren. 

A few years ago some friends and I had ourselves a psychedelic experience...we'd all previously taken a few trips to the other side of infinity, but this muy especial journey had particularly strong thrusters that helped blast through the conventional, usual sense of identity.  Thinking back on it now, most of the day is a blur with just a few moments standing out, but as I was coming back to "normal" consciousness, I nervously asked "Where is Lauren?"  My friends let me know that she was safe in NYC and quelled the sense of worry I felt upon coming back from the deep mind.

While I don't remember many specifics from the experience, I do recall feeling like I was on this wavelike, cyclical ride moving through emotional/mental phenomena.  I remember having very direct contact with what I would later phrase as oscillating experiences of craving and aversion towards whatever was arising in the mind.  It seemed to keep happening over and over, and I had this sense that I was finally remembering "what was really going on."  In the moments when the aversion was strongest, the mind instinctively moved towards that which made me feel comfortable and I kept circling back to Lauren.  I remember knowing that all I really needed was to hold her hand and everything would be fine.  Suddenly all other pursuits felt so meaningless, desires so empty, the thing that brought me the deepest sense of peace was the love I shared with this woman.  But after thinking of her and at first feeling peace, then the mind would cling to that feeling, or would be aware that she wasn't with me and it would be agitated again.

The first thing to note about this is how fundamental our relationship is to my state of being.  Even in my most far out moments, Lauren was the source of safety and assurance I kept coming back to.  This is one of the many times in which I've been aware that my attachment to her goes deeper than most anything else.  While we've both acknowledged this truth, we've also acknowledged that it, like all else, is temporary.  At some point we will pass away, and there's a pretty good chance it won't be at the same time.  It's not fun to think about, but our awareness of this impermanence has motivated deep gratitude for the time we do have together in our current form.

This experience also served as one of the first, most clear examples of how craving and aversion can keep the feeling of peace at bay.  And it was an awakening to the way in which we can use our partners to protect us from feelings we don't want to feel.  Learning to know the difference between loving each other, and using each other to avoid troubling emotions and mental experiences has been a delicate dance, but one that we've both dedicated ourselves to.

Mitch and Lauren at home

It takes a brave, courageous being to dive all the way in to this kind of self-inquiry.  The subject can be an absolute nightmare and it's much easier for me to scroll through reddit than it is to face my demons.  Lauren has a fierce dedication to this process.  I've met few people more willing to face their turbulent nature than she is.  Having this kind of partner is both inspiring and terrifying.  She's the kind of woman who keeps a man extremely honest.  I don't get away with shit around here....and that's exactly as it should be.  To put it mildly, I am a far better man with Lauren at my side.  She inspires and demands my best efforts in all aspects of life, and her presence in my world makes doing the work totally worth it.

Our commitment to this love has required complete honesty, which is initially easy to agree to, but upon closer inspection is quite a task.  As we've grown closer over the years, our intimacy allows for less deviation with every passing second.  Suddenly the white lies and subtle distortions have become painful chasms, and neither of us can stand letting them pass by unmentioned.  And as we become more and more in sync, the smaller details become glaring issues to be addressed. 

This kind of #radicalhonesty calls for an insane amount of vulnerability and a willingness to have extremely uncomfortable conversations.  What I have learned from Lauren is that while these honest conversations are tricky to navigate and can be painful to experience, they are an extension of the love we feel for each other.  It is precisely because of this love we feel that we speak so candidly with each other; this is the best way to honor our commitment.  And with each honest conversation comes a deeper trust that we can be wholly ourselves with each other.  We've recently made a habit of acknowledging the ways in which we've been dishonest with each other, which is an oddly freeing experience.  I cannot imagine having a partner with whom this kind of depth is not available, but I also assume that what we share is quite rare.  This is one of the infinite reasons why I am so deeply in love with her.

What else do I appreciate about this woman, besides her radical honesty and intense dedication to love and self-inquiry? 

Her kindness.  She has loved me so deeply, so completely in every way that I have needed for so long.  She has watched me struggle and grow, be devastated and depressed and has always been there for me with a gentle hand.  She is insistent that I know how much she loves me; she won't leave the house or go to sleep without making sure I feel her care. This kind of support does wonders for a human.  It doesn't solve or prevent the ongoing existential crisis, but it's damn nice to have a friend in it with you all the way.

Her kindness manifests in countless forms, but one of the most dear is how she makes an effort to make my life just a little bit nicer in simple ways.  When I'm busy with work, she takes care of the laundry, when I come home from LA she makes sure the apartment is perfectly clean, when she goes to the grocery store, she'll bring home something special she knows I'll love.  This is simply her nature.

Though birthdays have lost their importance in my mind, she goes above and beyond on mine to give me gifts that express her appreciation for me in ways that mean the world to me.  This year, she gave me a series of cards with graphics and words that articulate the nature of our shared experience, reminding me how deeply she feels our connection.  As a way of continuing to build our physical home together, she gave me a custom desk lamp, which also was a way of encouraging me to continue to do my creative work.  Then there were the travel books so that we could research and decide where we wanted to go on our next adventure, and the delicious cake from Milk, which she got because she knows how much I love their Birthday Cake Truffles. 

I am a spoiled man.  And it is a priviledge to be the one she chooses to spoil.

Lauren and I at Burning Man in 2016 serving Coconut Limeade to all in our path.

Lauren and I at Burning Man in 2016 serving Coconut Limeade to all in our path.

When I met her, she was already one of the more successful artists in my immediate world, and since then I have watched her realize her dream of starring on Broadway in Rock of Ages, as well as The Great Comet of 1812.  Very few people reach this level of success in any industry, and I am telling you this woman has poured her heart and soul into her work; she is deserving of every ounce of these accomplishments.  In the case of Comet, she believed in the show so much, she turned down several jobs over the years just to stay with it on the chance that it would some day make it to Broadway.  When it finally did, she was overjoyed.  As one of the dance captains, she has invested countless hours of her limited free time making sure that she was giving everything she possibly could to the show.  In our years together I have never seen her so busy or committed to a project.

In addition to what is required for the show, she so loves her cast that she has made efforts to ensure people are connecting and getting what they need on a personal level too.  In the fall she invited the women of the cast to stay after a performance to sit and connect, to voice their feelings and support each other.  She was a bit nervous to put herself out there in this way, but she did it, made cider for everyone and came home beaming.  Watching her invest in the people around her with such an abundance of love has been so touching.  I have witnessed her step into her strength and leadership as a woman and I am proud to be the man at her side.  This Lauren Zakrin is a powerful and passionate force of nature, one that I am fortunate enough to have the opportunity to learn from.

Her passion, expressed by way of her strong opinions, deep emotional performances and yogic/body work, is matched only by her playfulness.  This wise, sensual, brilliant woman is also a fucking riot.  It is this aspect of her being that led me to start calling her 'Goon.'  Around our apartment she is a complete goofball, and as I have moved through my own struggles, she has relentlessly encouraged me to keep playing.  In my darkest hours, she will dance, make funny voices and generally remind me to laugh and take myself a bit less seriously.  This morning as we laughed and hopped about the apartment, I found myself saying, "It's like we're still kids on an endless sleepover!"  I'm so grateful to have this level of play alive and well in our aging bodies, and she is a big reason that is the case.

Our friend Sabrina, once noted that Lauren is a bit like a new-age Lucille Ball.  Greg and I started laughing immediately as the reference was so on point.  Lauren's knack for physical comedy and comedic timing is unparalleled, both on stage and on screen.  Each time I've seen her perform I've been overjoyed and proud to know her.  I sit in the audience watching her with such glee, cheering her on in my soul and celebrating her accomplishments. 

A testament to her wit and sense of humor, I trust few people's opinions on our work like I do hers.  I know she won't pull any punches, and that if given the opportunity, she'll punch up a script fast.  Luckily, she has been willing to dive into the creative process with us over and over again, and we'd be lying if we didn't acknowledge that she has been a large part of our success over the years.  In the case of our series "Switching Bodies," she didn't only star in it, she helped us write it.  I am thrilled to know that we have a lifetime of collaboration ahead.

While Lauren has been as invested in The Kloons as she can possibly be without taking my job, her support for us goes much deeper.  I remember when Ludacris' song "What Them Girls Like" came out, and I had a moment of total clarity.  Ludacris spoke for both of us when he rapped, "They don't love me for who I am, but who I'm destined to be." 

Now, this might have been because I was a broke joke living in a shitty apartment in Brooklyn, decorated entirely with things I found on the street, but I wanted a partner who saw in me the same potential that I saw in myself.  Having had the experience of dating someone who I didn't feel believed in me or my work, I craved someone who did.  To my great joy, Lauren has been that and more.  In moments when the self-doubt is so thick that I can't find my way, Lauren always looks at me like I'm joking.  Her confidence in my work with Greg and Nik has at times been stronger than my own.  I recall the first time The Kloons moved through what felt like a major setback.  She told me that she had not once questioned our ability to realize our vision and our future success was still inevitable in her mind.  Having this kind of external support is essential, and though I find it bewildering at times, I understand it as I feel the same way about her.  I have no doubt that she can, and will, work in the industry as long as she decides to do so, and will find similar success with everything else she applies herself towards too.

But her support for The Kloons has not been unchallenged.  When we first started dating, Lauren asked me, "What's your big flaw?  What's the red flag I should be worried about?"  Immediately I said something like, "My work with The Kloons.  I am committed to it beyond reason and you will be frustrated that I will put it above our relationship at times."  At least I was honest!

This balancing act has been one of the ongoing challenges, and I can say that I think I'm finally getting to be a little better about it.  For years, my schedule, and consequently Lauren's, mostly revolved around what was happening for The Kloons.  Countless trips to LA to film, last minute changes and putting things on hold until we found out if a project was getting the greenlight.  Her patience with me in this area has been an unbelievable gift.  I could not have asked for a more understanding partner, and regretfully, at times I've taken it for granted.  Ultimately, the fact that she has given me the space to honor my fierce individualism, is what makes me all the more eager to come home to her.

As the process of self-discovery plays out in both of us, I feel an immense gratitude that our trajectories along the pathless-path have headed in the same general direction, yet given us each space to explore authentically in our own way.  Having a partner to share ideas and get feedback from while slowly and methodically(?) losing one's mind is a LIFESAVER...or at least is extremely helpful when encountering challenging physical and mental experiences.  Lauren seems to have a particular knack for being solid as rock whenever I have to maneuver the delights of fear, anxiety, and insecurity.

Along with some truly transformative insights that have come over the years, there have been some devastating blows to my world.  These things seem to come together, and though they have been incredible lessons, they have been painful for a narcissistic student.  With my eyes opened more fully to the harsh nature of reality and our one true birthright, death, came some massive disillusionment.  For a while there, though my humility seemed to be on the rise, much of my charm and optimism was lost, and Lauren, my loving partner was left loving a shell of the man she first fell in love with.  Still, her heart didn't skip a beat.  And not once did I stop loving her, but with my most fundamental conceptual structures crumbled, nihilism reigned supreme as I started to flirt with Buddhism.

She teases me for reading so many books on psychology, philosophy and "self-help."  More often than not when I recommend one to her, she'll read the first fifty pages and say, "I get it, I already know this."  Then I tease her for being the great knower of all things who has surpassed the need to read non-fiction.   But there is some truth to that.  Lauren is extremely intuitive, and her compassion allows her to use that sense of knowing to the benefit of herself and others equally on a daily basis.  With me, often she'll know what I need before I do: suddenly she's soothing me with a sweet song as we wait for a table in a restaurant after noticing the subtle cues that I'm starting to get impatient and #hangry. 

As patient as she is, she's equally willing to call me out on my shit with as much fervor as it takes to reach me.  Few humans have challenged me on as many levels as Lauren has, and what's more, she has a way of doing so that I am usually quite open to.  As a self-righteous elitist working in comedy, I tend to think I'm in the right most of the time, which causes me to be fairly unwilling to entertain the idea that my head is in my own ass.  But Lauren has a way of getting me to take my guard down and consider pulling my head out for a minute, at which point I usually realize my head was in fact in my ass, and then take her solid advice.

One moment in particular stands out when I was offered a job with The Tonight Show, and was very hesitant to accept the gig for fear it would derail all of the progress The Kloons had been making.  But I was in a world of financial trouble and desperately needed to get that part of my life handled.  Though my dad highly encouraged me to take what was obviously a tremendous opportunity, he had been initially slow to see what The Kloons could be, so I took his advice with a grain of salt.  Lauren pushed on me, I pushed back, and she persistently asked me to see the benefits of taking the job and let go of the idea in my mind that it would be the ruin of The Kloons.  While it terrified me to take a full-time position that would severely limit the way I could keep working with the boys, in retrospect, it is one of the most helpful paths I've ever gone down, and it simply wouldn't have happened without her.  This is one of innumerous moments in which Lauren has helped me see past my own bias, fears or projections and step into a world of growth.  I am equally grateful to have a partner that is so wise and willing to work with me through my blind spots, as I am to feel the trust I do to accept her guidance.

I remember in a past relationship having the realization that your partner becomes your co-creator.  Each and every moment with this person, you're creating the energy, responding to the environment and it's a big fucking deal.  Even when they are not with you, they are affecting your reality.  For the connection to last, it's paramount to appreciate the effect this being has on your moment to moment reality.  In Lauren, I have found my ideal co-creator of life.  Her sensibilities and perspective compliment mine perfectly and overall she has brought a depth of richness, irreverence and understanding to my world that was previously absent.

Lauren and I in Thailand after a steam bath in a rock cave.

Lauren and I in Thailand after a steam bath in a rock cave.

The extent of this appreciation grew exponentially on our first real vacation together in Thailand last year.  While the romance and adventure of a tropical getaway was exciting, and I finally came to understand why resorts are so popular, the most wonderful thing I realized in Thailand, had nothing to do with travel at all.  While Lauren and I talked for hours in our private pool on a balcony over looking the sunset off the coast of Koh Tao, we remarked how happy we were in our simple day to day life back in Brooklyn.  The smallest things brought us huge smiles as we sat in literal paradise halfway around the world: walking to the gym in the mornings after drinking coffee together, going to eat at our favorite restaurants and just lying in bed together as we drifted off to sleep.

We've now created our first real home together, a perfect little one bedroom in Williamsburg that I would describe as an eclectic sanctuary.  Her art hangs on the walls, the plants she picked out sit on the sill and my books are everywhere.  It is quite literally a space I have dreamed of living in and I am thrilled to be creating it with her.  We are walking, talking clichés with our reclaimed wood, industrial book shelves, vintage light bulbs, mason jars, record player and a fridge full of la croix, but I don't care.  I love it.  And I love waking up each day in this home beside her.

There are already memories here when I've seen Lauren sitting working on her music, meditating, playing ukelele, making dinner, working out, baking, cleaning the apartment, dancing and I have been rapt with wonder by the absolute grace and wisdom with which this woman moves about the world.  This may sound poetic, but I am speaking literally.  Her very being has pulled me into complete presence on countless occasions as I've witnessed her giving all that she can to this very life. 

It's odd to know things without knowing them, but perhaps the most odd is how common that experience can be.  When I first met Lauren Zakrin, I knew.  I knew that we were supposed to connect deeply, but I didn't know exactly what that meant, or how it would play out.  I had no idea what it would mean to fall this deeply in love, I just had a feeling that we would.  Or that we already were.  I was drawn to her in a way that was overpowering, magical and terribly exciting.  It is self-evident even in our first meeting which was basically documented as were filming a sketch together. 

Five and a half years later, here we are.  I am more in love with this dear woman than ever before, and so grateful to have a partner that both pushes me to explore as deeply and fully as possible, and will also eat an ice cream sandwich with me at midnight when the world is simply too much.

Lauren and I at Burning Man in 2015 practicing a day of silence.

Lauren and I at Burning Man in 2015 practicing a day of silence.