For Brenda: or The Head Pop

Approximately three days into my decision to stop letting alcohol, drugs, and other fuckeries ruin my life, I was pretty convinced that I’d made the wrong choice. I’d joined this club where so many people had had lives so much worse than mine (or so I thought at the time). I had an education, a solid profession … two in fact … And a few coins in the bank. I was pretty sure “I” didn’t belong with “these” kind of people. Since, I was told early to look for the similarities and since the life I was living three days before was likely to have me dead or in jail, I kept coming. I kept looking. Then on November 12, 2009, in a room full of candle light and shared pain, I heard my story. It came raw, uncut, and with the wit of a PhD, beccause she was one. It was a woman I would come to know as Brenda R.

Now, Brenda and I didn’t have d.o.c or even occupation in common. What linked us is that we were both smart, and somewhere deep down felt that addiction was just another thing to be out smarted and in my case, solved via achievements. As I listened to her bitterly push through the story of her early recovery, I identified so closely with the sense of resistance she had to the process. She recalled that no matter how hard she bumped her head, she’d always go back for more. Sounded like me in a major way, and not specifically as it related to chemical addiction (it did), but also behavioral addiction and the general inability I had to get my shit together (the latter of which I can still lapse into until this day).

Brenda was a living breathing indicator that this was indeed where I belonged. I listened to her a lot in those first months. I’m not sure if she ever knew how much.  She was the raft I held on to until I looked around and realized that I was more like all of “these” people than I was different and I was able to let go and embrace the process. Brenda was a no bullshit kind of lady, and could be slightly intimidating until you got to know her and found out that tough exterior was wrapping up one of the warmest and most beautiful people you could ever meet. She was honest even when it didn’t paint her in the best light. There’s a recovery saying that goes “you can’t save your face and your ass at the same time.” In the time I spent with Brenda I saw her live this consistently, though she may not have lived it perfectly.

Shortly before I left for school Brenda was diagnosed with cancer. She fought it with the same tenacity in which I saw her fight addiction. She was weak but feeling good enough to come to the going away dinner some of my sisters in recovery had planned. At that dinner she opened up like flower. I saw a side of her I’d until that point never seen. She was gentle, open, and reflective. We’d been in one another’s lives for over three years at that point and I didn’t find out until that day about how educated she was and how much she’d accomplished in life while wrestling with the monster of addiction. Humility was definitely another of her strong suits. She sent me off with kind words scribbled in my travel journal and the gift of our shared experiences in my heart.

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I saw her for what would be the last time this past Summer. Her cancer had worsened and it was clear that every moment I’d spend with her needed to count. Once again my sisters in recovery and I gathered together to hang out, fellowship and show one another love.  We talked, ate food, laughed, and cried together  we hadn’t in a long time. Brenda, had been struggling emotionally and it’s clear in hindsight that she knew her time in this world was drawing near its end. Rather than trying to put on a brave front she openly discussed her fear of death in a way that I had never seen anyone do before. It was truly brave and made me feel an incredible gratitude for finding recovery. Through the process I’ve learned that you can face all fears in a way that might not always feel good, but it will liberate you like nothing else can. I’m not sure, but I can venture a guess that when Dr. Brenda Richardson closed her eyes for the last time earlier this week she had fought her way through to acceptance of what was to be.

At one of her anniversary celebrations I once heard her talking about the sound one starts to hear around the point of their 5 year anniversary. The sound? “The popping of your head out of your ass.” Today, I celebrate 5 years clean and if I’m still enough, I can barely hear that “popping”, that clarity that comes with time and effort. If I turn all the music off, shut the door, and get real quiet … maybe I’ll hear Brenda in her matter-of-fact tone talk about how she fell short in one way or another, but that she’s gonna keep comin’ until she gets it right. This is for Brenda, in honor of her ferocious spirit, powerful mind, and vulnerable heart. Though I’ll miss the hell out of her, she’ll live on through my recovery practice. My face will often not be saved, my ass will be wholly protected.

Rosie.

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Year One: Thank you. Thank you.

At approximately 3:05 pm on this day I completed my first year of graduate studies at NYU Tisch School of the Arts.  Almost immediately I began to feel this huge sense of gratitude  for the road that got me here and the road ahead.  I wept on the train for happy reasons this time (v.s. my in ability to tolerate one more round of “show time” on the 2 train). None of this was on the trajectory for me even 3 years ago, and even when the blips did start to show, I was very doubtful of my ability to get accepted to a “reputable program” and excel in any way.  The truth is I wouldn’t be here had I not had the kind words, good deeds, financial support, and sweeping generosity of others.

To my family: You’re the greatest. Thanks for supporting me even when you didn’t quite understand what it is I’m going after. One day it’ll all make sense.

To my friends: Your love, light and laughter keep me going on sooooo many days.  You have no idea how many times I look back on our text conversations/emails or listen to voice mails just to feel connected when I feel like an idiot or like I’m all alone in this thing (yes, this makes me weird … and a little stalkish, but you knew this about me already.)

To my classmates: My special group of comrades in the trenches, who get how emotionally crippling it can be when plot lines don’t make sense, or your protag doesn’t have a proper antagonist, or when your story doesn’t have a dramatic arc, but by god is it fucking funny. Thank you for the time spent looking at my work and sharing your opinions in an effort to help me make it better.

(and to my Tisch Asia crew … YOU MADE IT MUPHUCKAS!!!! Party up!   I look forward to growing long friendships with you all that with any luck leads to us swimming in a sickening amount of cash … that we can then hand over to the government for our student loans.)

Ok, this is getting longer than I wanted it to be and I don’t want it to come off like some douchey acceptance speech, but I do think it’s proper to stop, observe, and give thanks because I definitely didn’t make it this far on my own.

Salute!

Rosie.

p.s. If you’ve stumbled upon this blog at a point in your life when your deciding whether or not you’re good enough for … whatever … fuck that. You are. Just do it. You never know where it might take you.

and this … cause dammit it’s inspiring

Judgement Day.

I was struck by this bit of Divine insight while journalling about my meditation today and thought it could be helpful to other creatives or just human beings:

When taking critiques of our work (whatever your work is) it might be helpful to think of yourself as being an observer from the inside of your house during a powerful storm. You see and hear things you think are “good”.  You see and hear things that you think are “bad” but overall you won’t be consumed by them.  When the “storm” is gone and the notes/recommendations are given. You allow yourself time to recover from what you heard and saw, then open the door, go outside, and start cleaning. Consider the notes/recommendations as you clean and hold on to those things that you feel in your gut to be truth of your work regardless of what the notes/recommendations are. Let go and follow the bits of advice you know to be true even when your ego is telling you otherwise.

All right.  I’m done channeling.  Happy working y’all.

Rosie.

It’s Oscar season.

9/18/2013 I am not sure if I have ever been this moved to anger by anything.  I didn’t just see Oscar Grant on that screen.  I saw my brother, my nephews, [my ex-boyfriend], every black man that I have loved or thought to love.  My heart is broken into a million pieces about the cheapness of a black life.  It isn’t right.  It’s far from just and it was never meant for us … this American life.  It has served us in no tangible way.  We remain entangled, snared in our own weaknesses and short comings.  Constantly kicked in the stomach, but told to get up.  I am [resentful] at and for black men everywhere and I am choking on the words.  My fingers can’t write them and my mouth can’t speak them.  I am burning with anger.  God please help me find a way to express this to the goal of healing rather than self destruction.

I wrote that on the subway ride home the night after I’d seen Fruitvale Station.  I have not ever in my life reacted so strongly to a film.  From the opening scene, footage of the actual murder of Oscar Grant, to the last moments of the dramatic re-enactment on film I was destroyed.  I sobbed openly and out loud as if I’d seen my own son murdered. I exited the theatre and walked Third Avenue mad enough to strangle someone.  Not a White person, not the Police … anyone. Even the next morning, when I looked back on it, I still harbored residual anger.  How could any human life be so worthless? Why are incidents like this treated so nonchalantly?

These questions danced around in my head for the proceeding days. People were talking about this film everywhere.  I didn’t run across one person who’d seen it and not walked away feeling gut punched.  This is what I want my work as an artist to do, I thought, rattle the consciousness of people, and maybe … just maybe … affect change.  Surely, most people speculated, This film will do well in award season.  Even I, knowing better, allowed myself to dwell in the illusion that the power of this film and the issues it raises would have to be acknowledge by the artistic higher ups.

As we know, and should not be too shocked by, Fruitvale was summarily snubbed by the more illustrious award granting bodies (Oscars/Globes).  I could spend the remainder of this post bitching about that, citing my issues with films of inferior quality/content that were nominated, but I would be missing the point.  The lesson or I should say the reminder, at least for me,  is this: Film is film, a  subjective art form made by an endless variety of creators for an endless variety of reasons.  There are a million and two reasons why certain films, actors, and directors are (or are not) chosen for esteemed awards.  I’d lay the cost of my Tisch tuition on some of the reasons having little to do with the quality of the work. That’s neither here nor there.  What I need to remember is that if I choose to participate in this industry (and it is a choice) I must lay to the side any expectation of glory and tell stories because I want to or because on some cellular level I  need to.

Most of the time I try to tell stories that set me on fire. After all, I am a Black female writer and mother of a Black Son.  I am creating during Oscar season, and I speak not of the award, but a time when it appears to be open season on young Black Men like Oscar Grant, Trayvon Martin, Jordan Davis … etc. etc. It is imperative that these stories are told and retold as America has a nasty tendency to forget what she looks like and needs to be reminded every now and again, by bold artist unthreatened by the withholding of “head-pats” and “atta-boys”. (See: Spike Lee)

Now, I know, every film can’t be Fruitvale or Milk or a political diatribe meant to raise awareness about x to y so that z can be forced to change its evil imperialist ways, nor should it be.  I mean where the fuck would I be without Pee Wee’s Big Adventure or Dumb and Dumber ( especially the scene where Jim Carey slaps dude in the legs with the cane)  to rescue me from the madhouse between my ears and the debacle of George Zimmerman’s budding art career.  What I do want us to remember as we huddle around the television and pick apart red carpet fashion do’s and don’t this evening is that film has greater power than any one evening of pomp and circumstance can contain.  It sent me out of a theatre a screaming crying mess ready to write all that was wrong with the world.    That’s great shit.

Rosie.

Broken Shelter

Today
As I walked the two blocks I
Regularly walk
To catch the train to school.
I struggled with a
Wind broken umbrella
That I’d been holding on to
In case it rained.
It was this morning.
Raining that is.
One of those
fine annoying drizzles
Only enough to get you
Damp & frustrated.
I opened the
Broken bit of shelter
And became
EVEN MORE FRUSTRATED
As I fought to keep
The umbrella
Over my head and
The wind
From
Blowing up the flap
Of the broken side.
I slipped on old snow.
Nearly stepped in
Dog shit
And almost stumbled over a
plastic barrier
Before I realized that
The FUCKING umbrella
Was causing me
MORE distress
Than the
Piss Sprinkle of Rain
Had.
When I turned the corner on
233rd,
I saw a
MoUnTaiNous pile of trash
And promptly
Threw that mothaphucka
On top.

Right? Write.

My time at Tisch and NYC in general, thus far has lead me to some realizations, startling and otherwise. Once the apartment hunting was done (The Bronx … who knew), the classes were paid for, and the first day had, it dawned on me that I had in no real way prepared for getting what I wanted. That’s right, I’d thrown so much energy into the fight to get here that I’d invested essentially none on what I would do once I was doing what I came here to do.  Hence, I have  spent the last four weeks flopping around like an epileptic at a performance of River Dance (I’m sorry, that was horrible). Moving on.

The first startling realization was that I was the only Black one in my graduating class. (Ok, so it wasn’t that startling. I sat down the first day, looked around, I was it.) I spent the first week and a half feeling like I, as one of my friends so aptly put it ,”the future of Black playwriting was on my shoulders.” This thought served to simultaneously stroke my ego; as I pictured myself doing battle with a hyper-villainous Tyler Perry driving my mighty quill through  his coonish heart, and scare the beloved shit outta me.  “Everything I say has to be so carefully laid out, my message clear and concise.  It’s so important.”  I thought as I lay around and wrote not a fuckin’ THING. I was stuck. This lead me to my second startling realization.

I had no CLUE what I wanted to write about.  I had a million lofty ideas that seem to do nothing but dance around in my skull 24hrs a day when was in Charlotte. In New York, I dunno, I think they were chased out by the sounds of trains, screaming vagrants, and  cholo cart bells (alas coconut icee, I shall miss you this winter).  The scrap of sanity I felt I had left lead me to seek refuge in my usual avenues. I met good people, did grounding things, got sound advice, and pulled my head just far enough out of my ass to have a moment of clarity which lead me to my third realization (or I should say re-realization because it always comes back to this for me).

Nobody gives a shit. I don’t mean this in that too-cool-for-school Bronx Tale kinda way, but rather people are far too busy worrying about their own real lives  to give a shit about whether I can generate words for this outrageously expensive graduate program I chose to attend.  This is my “dream car”.  I have to drive it.  I have to provide the fuel that determines the type of exhaust I put out. I use regular gas. I’mma get regular assed exhaust, the kind people choke on and does the world little good. However, if I use the brain between my ears and keep the pen moving in my hand, I might be able to produce something I can be proud of whatever or whoever it’s about.*

The ideas have slowly but surely began to repopulate. This New York life has started to feel more like mine despite the people and places I miss back in Charlotte.  I can make a go of this I think. Right? Write.

Rosie.

*where the hell did that car analogy come from tho?

You Are Here: The Summer of My Discontent

For the last week or so I’ve been letting it all soak in (that and panicking over whether or not I’d receive a Grad Plus Loan). After nearly two years of highs, lows, breakthroughs and disappointments I am now poised to take my seat in one of the most prestigious MFA programs for dramatic writing in the world. Any doubts that I had about deserving to be here have been obliterated. Fuck. That. I’ve worked my ass off, paid dues, took praises, and people’s  slick shit talkin’. So why do I still feel like a pimply faced 16 year-old most of the time? As the old adage goes: No matter where you go there you are.

One truth that my experience thus far has drilled into me is human nature’s constant state of flux.  The irony is we seem to be born equipped to detest even the slightest changes and will often do the strangest things, e.g. self sabotaging (my go to strategy btw), to avoid it. I at times literally have to be dragged kicking and screaming into transition. Sometimes I’ll put a toe in the pool of transition only to have Jesus, Buddha, and Mohammed shove me, lovingly, all the way in.

And shoved I was this summer. Nothing, and I do me NO. THING. Has been constant since I’ve left the safety of my job, family, and friends in sunny Charlotte, NC.  I have been living a little of everywhere.  I have been jobless since July 20th. Now … in the grand scheme of joblessness, I know this is no major deal but going from knowing exactly where your next dollar is coming from for fourteen years to not knowing when the hell I’m ever gonna work again, for me is terrifying. Calculate in my baseline fear that this shit was gonna fall apart in any second and I would be headed back to Charlotte with my tail tucked firmly between my legs, and it seems that I should very well be a basket case. These are the times that I give thanks for my grounding practices.

Recovery, yoga, meditation, great friends, supportive family, arts, and culture have collectively saved my life this summer. The abundance of it to be found for free is proof for me that the universe wants to love us through the changes that we will inevitably go through no matter what we have or don’t have. More often than not this summer I’ve felt like the kid who’d ventured out to the middle of the monkey bars and lost faith that he could get to the other side. Then I’d call or text someone and find the courage to extend my hand to the next bar.  I got my heart broken. I headed to a meeting, and was off swinging again. My job hunt was essentially fruitless. I dangled wanting very badly to let go, but then I go to yoga and listen while Amy (the most amazing yogi I’ve met thus far) tells me to “root my tree”  and just like that, I am here,  on the other side of the monkey bar … only to realize that there is a playground called life that’s full of them.

The gift of my summer of discontent is my enhanced ability to thrive through unpredictability. Finding peace within while my clothes are scattered to the four corners of Newark, centering when in the midst of the realization that I may not accomplish what I came all this way to do, and taking the next required action with my hands shaking and the tears falling has served to make me ready for whatever is next. Even if I’m not, I know help is available for the Bible, Quran, Yoga Vedas, Deepak Chopra, Oprah Winfrey, and my Momma tell me so.

Rosie.

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