Ellen Burstyn's Lessons on Survival

Death, Sex & Money

By WNYC Studios

Ellen Burstyn's Lessons on Survival

Wednesday, 4 October

I talked with Ellen Burstyn three years ago, sitting on wicker furniture in her New York apartment. She told me about getting on a Greyhound bus to Dallas at 18 with 50 cents in her pocket, and about surviving an illegal abortion. And she described adopting her son, leaving an abusive marriage, and starring as a newly single mom in Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore. The role was based in part on her own life, and it won her an Oscar. "I know I’m a successful actress," she told me. "But I don’t feel I’m necessarily a successful person."

Ellen also told us about her "should-less days"—days she sets aside "where there’s nothing I should do." As she explained to me, "I have wiring in my brain that calls me lazy, if I’m not doing something. I haven’t been able to get rid of it. But what I can do is I can put in another wiring, I can put in should-less days, so when that voice goes off and says you’re being lazy, I turn to the other wiring in my brain that says, no, this is a should-less day, and I’m doing what I want."

This month, we're celebrating Ellen Burstyn and should-less days with our new Death, Sex & Money should-less day mug. Support our work by becoming a sustaining member at $8/month, and we'll send you one! Just go to deathsexmoney.org/donate or text "DSM" to 70101. 

Listen back to Ellen Burstyn's conversation with Gloria Steinem on Death, Sex & Money last year here

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