The Artist and The Living Wage … (yup we actually need money.)

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I’m about a year and a half into my grand decision to abandon my solid career for my dreams. Everyone loves a dreamer, right? And because of this I have the pleasure of reveling in and mentally supporting myself with, atta-girls, “likes”, favorites and retweets, and the affirmations of minor/major accomplishments. Since none of the aforementioned goods are legal tender in these United States, I’ve dived into the bottomless abyss of student loan debt. Now, the end is in sight. The end meaning my ability to live off college loans (which has been FAR from ideal) and be as ambitious as I wanna be in my artistic endeavors. In short. Shit is about to get real and I’m about to have to hustle in ways I hadn’t even began to imagine. I am fucking terrified.

I’d watched the artistic hustle of friends over the years as I nestled securely in the bosom of my bi-weekly paycheck and did theatre as my low/no paying side gig. I admired my friends who were full time artists greatly, supported them (with actual spendable money) when I could, and doubted my ability to support myself in the same way.  After all, how could one endure the constant disappointment and inconsistency that comes with being an artist trying to make a living wage? Even Oprah supposedly has a tough time paying artists :/. This could be because despite our undeniable contribution to the culture and day to day life in this country, artists in American society are greatly undervalued. Art programming is often the first to be cut when it’s time to tighten the old proverbial belt, ironic considering  the presence of thriving artists is a key indicator of a civilized society ( … wait, now it makes sense). Nonetheless, my admiration morphed into inspiration and I eventually moved forward into a life as a full time writer.

Though I leapt into the safety net of a grad program (an opportunity not afforded to or affordable for most artists … even me). I have made a few forays into marketing my art and myself for profit. The results have ranged from moderately successful to dismal failure. The plain truth is, I’m not good at it, at least I don’t think I am. It takes a great deal of tenacity (which I have) and the ability to endure humiliation (which I don’t have … yet). Case in point:

I was visiting my old job (a place I love/d) to visit and to rally the troops for what was at the time my second crowd funding campaign (*gag*). I felt safe enough in this environment to solicit because I knew these folks, while not rich they had fairly stable sustainable income, and I knew they believed in me. All was well and I was about the business of rounding up folks interested in donating when one person, who shall remain nameless but he knows who he is, chirped in the most insidiously shady of manners …

“Oh, you’re here collecting money again.”

I immediately felt like a cheap, worthless, moocher which I know on the conscious level of “his shit not mine” was a “choice”, but nonetheless it was incredibly hard to move on through the campaign after that. Every time I’d post or talk about it I heard him in the back of my mind.

“Oh, you’re here collecting money again.”

It was excruciating fucktard macabre dance in my mind to the tune of …

BUT

I got through it, and have since done yet another crowd funding campaign (*gag*). I’m learning the business of being an independent artist, which there doesn’t seem to be a whole lot of forgiveness or support for in this crazy crazy world, but what’s my other choice? Quitting? Well fuck that. I was born to do this thing I do with words and it took me too long to figure out that it was my talent to hightail it away now. I’ll look for support where I can find it (while trying to keep a modicum of self respect). I’ll engage in employment that keeps me knee deep in what I love, and for what it’s worth I’m a pretty beastly grant writer. In short, to Mr. “Oh, you’re here collecting money again.”, your living and psychological manifestation, and any subsidiaries that may exist: Fuck you. I’m a writer. I deserve to be one, and I deserve a living wage because what I do matters. Try watching tv, movies, the news and any of the mundane activities of your everyday life in a world without us.

Ok, that was harsh. But seriously, if you don’t “get” artists being paid, it’s fine. You have a right to not care/contribute to their success, but at the very least, don’t shit on them with words or deeds. If you love artists and want to see them succeed SUPPORT them … with money. If my broke ass can do it, there’s a good chance you can too. It’s pretty easy set aside a tolerable amount of cash you can live without each week (it can seriously just be $5) take that money and donate it to a crowd funding campaign or buy an artist you know a meal or help pay for printing for a writer, buy a gift card to an art store for a painter. Little things mean ALOT and really fuel the fire when doubt enters to drain the creative process.

To those who actively support independent artist or the arts in general. THANK YOU. You make grace, beauty, and the artistic process possible.

Welp, I’m done. I hope you’ve been afforded a little understanding of what it’s really like to be on my side of the creative world and if you’re here with me: Rock On!!!

Below is a film that is essentially this post acted out in the world. It was directed by classmate and sisterfriend Carol Garlick. She’s an amazing screenwriter and human being. You will know her name. Oh yes, you will know her name 🙂

Rosie.

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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.

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.

Unrequired Love.

LIGHTS FADE UP ON:

10:35 on a lonely Friday night. Why? Because stories about love have to begin with lonesomeness, that’s why. LOIS, lonely Lois, slightly older than 30, looks like’s she’s 40. Sits at a table for two in a Chinese restaurant that’s about the size of a closet in the east village. It is Valentine’s Day, and she’s trying really hard not to give a fuck. She busies herself with things she brought along to busy herself. In walks LESTER a strapping young man, of 39. He walks over to the counter and without waiting for anyone to show up he starts viciously ringing the bell on the counter. A young but tired looking Asian man named JIN walks out. He knows this fucker.

JIN:  Udon and ox tail.

LESTER:  Indeed.

Jin disappears to the back. Lester meanders around as if he hadn’t been there a thousand times. He decides on the seat directly by Lois at her table. He makes himself comfortable by moving her shit.

LOIS: There’s another table over there.

LESTER: I know.

Lester goes in his man bag and takes out a disreputable news paper. Probably the New York Post.

LOIS: So why don’t you go sit at it.

LESTER: Because I don’t want to.

Lois watches him read for a spell then …

LOIS: I don’t want any shit outta you. I know what this is. It’s Valentine’s day, we’re in this intimate place and you are trying to strike up some convo and maybe make some type of connection. Hell, maybe I’ll take you home and fuck you on the sofa real quiet like as to not wake Mother out of her opioid coma. You’ll make promises in hushed tones about calling me the following Friday only you won’t, I’ll have to spend the evening watching Wheel of Fortune with Mother and her group of degenerate Senior Citizens. So save your rap buddy. I don’t wish to connect with you or any one else with a penis or a vagina for that matter. I’d like it very much if you would take yourself and your trashy fucking newspaper and relocate to the table that is sitting in dire need of someone to occupy it.

Lester turns the page in his newspaper.

LOIS: Now!

Lester folds his paper up and sits it on his lap.

LESTER: I don’t want to. There is a large disgusting garbage can directly to the right of that table. The thought of a discarded bit of typhoid leaping from the trash in to my Udon is simply too much to bear. If you’d like, you can displace yourself over in yon sewer, but I, don’t intend to move.

Lester unfolds the paper as Jin arrives with Lois’s order. Jin, btw, does not have an obnoxious Asian accent. He was raised in East Orange, NJ.

JIN: Shrimp fried rice, with a side of tartar sauce. Enjoy. Let me know if you need anything else. Your udon will be out in a sec.

LESTER: Fantastic.

Lois organizes herself before she begins. This is pure OCD ritual. Fork cleaned and organized, rice arranged around the plate, shrimp plucked out and set neatly on the side, the whole nine. Lester lowers his paper and watches. He’s captivated by this shit and when she’s done, right before she takes the first bite …

LESTER: That’s why.

He lifts his paper again to read. Lois sits her fork down.

LOIS: That’s why … what? From behind the paper.

LESTER: You’re single.

Lois sits her fork down.

LOIS: Excuse me?

LESTER: I mean you’re not terrible looking, a little fleshy, but that doesn’t seem to be a problem for most men these days.

LOIS: You’re a real bastard. I suppose you know that though.

LESTER: I do, and I also know the reason why you’re single is your freakish habits.

LOIS: No freakier than you sitting down next to a complete stranger when it’s clear that they don’t want you there.

LESTER: Good. We’re both weirdos with freakish habits.

Jin enters. He sits Lester’s food down with far less costumer service zest he offers him not a damn thing else and is trying to walk away when.

LESTER: Chin?

JIN: Jin. My name is Jin.

LESTER: Right. Jin. Jin, can you please get me those nice plastic chopsticks that you have?

JIN: We’re out of them.

LESTER: Well that’s awful.

JIN: I guess so.

Jin attempts exit again.

LESTER: Jin, I’ll take a diet cola.

JIN: Sure.

Jin exits. Lester puts his paper away, grabs one of the napkins Jin gave him, places his hands in his lap on top of the napkin and watches Lois eat. Her eating is laced with as much ritual as the set up for her meal. This goes on until Lois chooses to notice him watching.

LOIS: Fuck off.

LESTER: Language.

LOIS: Move then.

LESTER: We both know I’m not.

Jin comes back out.

JIN: We’re actually out of diet cola.

LESTER: Really? That’s unfortunate. Water will do then. Bottled water.

Jin exits again.

LOIS: What do you do?

LESTER: I do a lot of things.

LOIS: Your work.

LESTER: I’m independently wealthy. I don’t work. My job is to observe and participate in life.

LOIS: Hmn.

LESTER: Hmn?

LOIS: Yes … Hmn.

LESTER: My name is Lester … should you care to know.

LOIS: I shouldn’t. I could have died without knowing actually.

LESTER: And you are?

LOIS: None of your business.

LESTER: Suit yourself.

Jin comes out and sits a bottle of water on the table.

JIN: Are you still working on that?

Lois looks down at the plate of neatly dissected food and decides she wants to go a couple more rounds.

LOIS: I am.

Jin exits then re-enters.

JIN: Oh, we’re gonna be closing in the next 10 minutes. Don’t rush, but I’m just gonna be locking the door then … the holiday.

Jin doesn’t wait for a reaction, he’s out.

LESTER: It’s funny what constitutes a holiday for some people.

LOIS: I told you, no Valentines Day talk. If you’re looking to “hook up”.

LESTER: Madame, even if I wanted to hook up, you would be the last person on earth that would happen with.

LOIS: Gee thanks.

LESTER: This is not to insult you it’s just that I’m a homosexual and therefore have no interest in you sexually, although I do find your meticulous habits fascinating.

Lester finally starts to eat.

LOIS: You’re queer?

LESTER: No, I’m a homosexual.

LOIS: There’s a difference?

LESTER: There is for me. Being homosexual means that when I am sexually aroused there is a 99.9% chance that attraction to a man caused it. Queer is an identity, a political one used to seek a certain status within society. All the labels are Black, White …, I choose to not identify in that way. I seek no level of status in society. I choose to merely exist. Exist and observe.

LOIS: Aren’t you fancy.

LESTER: No, but I am at peace which is more than I can say for you. I’m not the one sitting in a hole in the wall Chinese joint on Valentine’s Day night trying to forget the fact that there’s no one who is going to have meaningless sex with me and give me a card.

LOIS: But you’re here, just as here as me. Why come out at all on a Valentine’s day night? Why not order in and find a hot twink on Grinder.

Lester pushes out a minor giggle.

LESTER: Where do you get this stuff, reality television?

LOIS: I have gay friends, I know how this works.

LESTER: I don’t dabble in Grinders or twinks. I am for lack of better wording asexual. Anal sex is a messy affair that I want nothing to do with, and love is far worse than that. A human being needs only food and shelter to survive. Nature vs. Nurture is a myth.

LOIS: And this is why you’re single.

LESTER: By choice. By a very deliberate choice. One I don’t think you’re making right now. You have friends? Why aren’t you out with them empowering your singleness.

Lois drops her gaze. You already know what it is.

LESTER:  They’re all out on dates aren’t they?

Lois sits down her fork, picks up her purse.

LOIS: Sir!? Jin!?

LESTER: I’m not picking on you.

LOIS: Of course you’re not. Jin enters.

Lois fumbles through her bag and reaches a credit card to Jin. In her haste, she drops it. Lester picks it up, looks at it and hands it to Jin.

LESTER: Lois. That’s an interesting name.

LOIS: Are you gonna tell me that’s the other reason why I’m single?

LESTER: No, I’m not. Actually I was going to tell you that there is no need to feel … down or anything about today or any of supposed things that are supposed to go along with it.

LOIS: You’re just on top of it all aren’t you? You float just above the level of feeling and look down on those who have the audacity to want anything. Like your ability to “choose” to be and stay single is something that makes you a superior breed of human. You’re just a pathetic as I am only you don’t know it. The day will come when you are old and all you will want is someone to hold your hand while you’re dying. Not only will you not have someone to hold your hand, you won’t so much as have a name to call out when you draw your last breath. I’d rather be in shitty relationships for all eternity than to be like you …

Jin enters with her credit card receipt. Lois signs it with the quickness.

LOIS:  … at least  I’m alive.  At least I’m living.

Lois slams all her shit in her bag and heads out the door. Lester watches. A long while passes as he pics over then abandons his food. Jin enters.

JIN: I need to … I need to ring you up. I gotta get out of here.

LESTER: I see.

JIN: Uh … You want a box?

LESTER: No. No, I’m good.

Lester goes in his wallet and leaves exact change on the table. Jin disposes of his plate and disappears to the back. Lester rises and stares through the front door of the shop. Jin comes back out with a dozen roses and a gift bag.

JIN: I’ll … I’ll be here later tomorrow. It’s just today —

LESTER: I understand.

There’s an awkward moment when Jin does everything but tell Lester to get the fuck out.

LESTER: I understand.

Lester steps out and takes off to the left. Jin heads off in the opposite direction.

LIGHTS OUT.

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?