Mar 3, 2014
11:35 AMHealth & Wellness
For Wife of ‘Flashdance’ Writer, Life of Privilege Also a Call to Action
Anyone who doesn’t know Lisa Hedley but brushes up against aspects of her narrative might see a life of privilege.
She’s the daughter of Robert Mnuchin, who worked at Goldman Sachs for more than three decades and went on to become an internationally prominent art dealer and principal of the Mnuchin Gallery in Manhattan, and his wife, Adriana.
Together, the Mnuchins created and owned the luxurious Mayflower Inn & Spa in arguably the most sophisticated of the affluent towns in Connecticut’s Litchfield Hills, Washington. (The Mayflower, under the latest owner after the Mnuchins sold it, is now The Mayflower Grace.)
Hedley, who once owned a Connecticut mecca for film lovers, the independent Bantam Cinema in Litchfield, launched the spa at the Mayflower and continued to oversee the sybaritic retreat for a time after the family sold the Downton Abbey-esque country house hotel that attracts folks like the Clintons.
She was nominated for an Emmy award for a documentary film, working on the project with Northwest Connecticut neighbor and HBO powerhouse Sheila Nevins—and Hedley’s husband, Tom, found enduring fame as the writer of the 1983 film “Flashdance” (a term he also coined). These days, he is executive producer of “Flashdance: The Musical,” which he is touring its way toward Broadway and stopping in Boston and Providence, R.I., in March.
The Hedleys have a home high on a hilltop in Washington, but they are currently living Palm Beach, Fla.
Pretty luxe life, right?
It would be foolish to argue otherwise—at least when that life is viewed on a surface level—but withhold any judgment that may be skipping across your synapses and rising to your lips.
Hedley has known the weight of life’s realities far more than her narrative suggests, and the fuller picture reveals her—the emblems of privilege aside—as one of the good guys.
That documentary made with powerful friends and nominated for the genre’s most prestigious award—it was entitled “Dwarfs: Not a Fairy Tale,” and it springs directly from the Hedleys’ own life, from her daughter, LilyClaire.
“When do I tell people that my child is a dwarf? Sometimes, not telling can be a hostile act. Mostly I go with a spontaneous sense of what's comfortable,” Hedley wrote in opening an essay entitled “A Child of Difference,” which appeared in October 1997 in The New York Times Magazine and can be found online. The essay continues:
On a sunny June morning my daughter lay in her hospital bassinet, sucking in her sleep, dreaming whatever it is babies dream on their third day of life.
"We think she has achondroplasia, a form of dwarfism," the doctor said without actually meeting my eye.
The word sounded sort of pleasant -- mellifluous, non-threatening. But achondroplasia forever defined my daughter as different. …
The Hedleys are living in Florida at the moment, rather than Connecticut, or Manhattan, because that’s where LilyClaire, now 18, had be for necessary surgeries, which has meant their 10-year-old daughter is in school there.
“We’re going to stick around for a while for her sake,” Hedley explains on the phone of her youngest daughter.
The Hedleys have four children in all, including two sons, and while many moms with means might be content to consider not-insubstantial family issues a full agenda, Hedley is too empowered and determined to change the lives of those around her for the better.
With behavioral therapist and educational consultant Michele Kuvin Kupfer, she has co-founded the Difference Diaries project under the umbrella of her Children of Difference Foundation (They met on the beach, got to talking and realized both had children with disabilities heading to college.)
“We are mothers who came together to make a difference,” they say on the website. “We met over a chance meeting and subsequent conversations about raising children of difference. We shared our stories as parents, laughed and cried together over the challenges and victories, the limitations and ultimately the possibilities these children face particularly as they head towards adult independence. It seemed clear to us that there ought to be a way to create a community in which the young people themselves could share their stories, narratives, experiences with one another.”
“It’s just getting started,” Hedley says on the phone, referencing stories posted about a cancer survivor and someone dealing with hemophilia. In telling these stories and others, the interactive website is designed “to inspire conversation, de-stigmatize and promote genuine understanding. This is an initiative: a step towards stripping away judgment and critique and a step towards developing true empathy.”
“There’s a real need,” Hedley says, mentioning an effort in the works to craft a “differences” curricula for schools.
The Difference Diaries is a philanthropic endeavor at the vanguard of human, civil and personal rights as they apply to the growing spectrum of 21st-century manifestations of identities—statuses that once seemed to make a person “different” but are increasingly perceived as what they always have been, which is simply other shades of normal.
If the "Diaries" effort is akin to a newborn, then Hedley’s other primary focus is still in its infancy.
It’s the multifaceted blog Lah Life, which also offers an online shop and menu of services, altogether providing a “non-nirvana, sensible person’s guide to living healthy, living luxe and living well.”
Called Lah Life, A Luxury Wellness Blog and Shop, the venture references Hedley’s work at the Mayflower’s spa but expands upon it greatly.
Lah Life, the website says, “is the source for tried and true, simple and effective ways to get nourished, energized and inspired. Here you will find stuff gathered over years of questions, study and, experimentation. These are things I have smelled, tasted, and touched. Things I have been surprised to learn, delighted to enjoy and simply been amazed by. Here you will find theories and practices on every subject from products to cleanses, from travel tips to evidence-based medical info, from ideas that inspire, to herbs and balms that heal.”
If some of that language sounds a bit feel-good New-Agey, as with judging Hedley in general, it’s not an entirely accurate take-away.
Hedley’s résumé also includes a law degree from New York University School of Law, she practiced law with a special interest in medical ethics, and she is a Master’s Degree candidate in Social Work from New York University. That type of rigorous foundation translates into an equivalent rigor and serious approach to the realm of living well.
As personal and engaging as Lah Life is, it’s built on rock-solid credentials. Hedley is a Certified Holistic Health Practitioner, a professional member of the National Ayurvedic Medical Association (NAMA), a graduate of the Kripalu School of Ayurveda as an Ayurvedic Practitioner and Yoga Specialist, certified by the Institute for Integrative Nutrition, and a Yoga Alliance certified yoga professional.
With Ayurveda as a key component (Hedley realizes the ancient healing science is foreign to many and offers a definition page online), Lah Life was launched last July.
“It’s doing what I want it to do organically,” Hedley says of Lah Life. “So far it’s working.”
She’s excited about the potential impact of lots of aspects of Lah Life, including the focus on guided relaxation and guided mediation, and Hedley advises all of her clients in be-well counseling to engage in some type of contemplative practice.
There are so many specific aspects to Lah Life’s theories and practices that they are better explored online than described here.
And then there’s the Lah Life online shop, whose products range from face and body care products to remedies and elixirs, meditation cushions and yoga mats.
“Everything I carry in the shop is something I personally love,” says Hedley, “Things like my favorite body brushes in the world, these kind of eccentric brushes made in Sweden … Those fly off the shelves.”
Among the curated items are fine art photographs by Sandi Fellman, through a partnership with the KMR Arts gallery of Washington, Conn., and a collection of items for the home sourced from Privet House, the Connecticut shop that was among the first anointed as national style-setters by mega-retailer Target in its The Shops at Target branding initiative.
For now, though, the shop comes second to the core life-well-lived mission of Lah Life. “For me it’s about helping people at the moment,” Hedley says. “I really didn’t want to get involved in thinking too commercially at the moment.”
The next step for Lah Life may be some type of interactive nature. “Whether it ends up looking like an app, or it’s something built into the site, is something I don’t know yet,” Hedley says.
When Connecticut Magazine caught up with her, she was heading to Sweden, where the European tour of “Flashdance, The Musical” was opening. As her husband guides the show, Hedley says, he’s also working on a new screenplay.
Sweden may sound tempting, and the idea of living in Palm Beach will have particular resonance with Connecticut residents who are still enduring a cold, snowy winter, but wherever she is, Hedley’s heart remains in Connecticut.
“It’s my home,” she says of Litchfield County. “It’s just the most beautiful place on earth. Our house in Washington is our family home. It’s where the photographs are. It’s where the books are. It’s where the children have grown up.”
That’s life—and Hedley is grateful for the sense of privilege she’s had in her life, which drives her (“I can’t sit still.”) to want to give back more, especially through the Differences Diaries And while that giving back may not be the same as meditation, it’s also a form of well-being, and in an overarching sense it’s, well, Lah Life.