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.

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.

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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Shake the machine.

It’s happened to most people at least once.  You’re starving.  You’re on your lunch break, or a break during some godforsaken symposium, or between classes at school. Your blood sugar is about 10.  You gallop your ass with the intensity of an antelope to the nearest vending machine and HOT DAMN they got those jalapeño pork rinds you geek out over. You are Pavlov’s dog. The saliva is forming. Your hands tremble at a rate that would measure about a 7 on the Richter scale.  You shove the change through the slot. Finally it decides to accept the rusty dime that you found stuck in the cup holder of your car.  You hit C7. You watch as the mechanical coil loops lazily clock wise and stops. Then … SON OF A BITCH!!! Your jalapeño pork rinds are suspended in midair, hung by a 1/18th inch section of the lip of the bag. There’s a hallway full of people and a small cluster of salivating antelopes behind you. You wonder if its a good decision. You wonder if people will think you’re crazy, but fuck that. Shake the machine. 

Shake that bastard until all the jalapeño pork rinds in it along with the barbecue Fritos, glazed bear claws, fruit snacks, and packs of double mint gum have to surrender to the force you generate and come tumbling out of their individual mechanical coils.  Shake that fucker til they call security and make sure they have to call reinforcements for your ass. Shake it until you have not an ounce of energy left, your blood sugar finally bottoms out, and they have to call an ambulance to drag your prostrate carcass out the door. Get all the other insulin deficient antelopes and dogs around you to shake it too because after all there is strength in numbers.

Keep going.  Keep shaking. Til you get them damn jalapeño pork rinds, or whatever else it is you desire in this life.

“Stay Hungry.  Keep Grindin’ ” – Barack Obama

Rosie.

And away we go …

Much of my journey to grad school has felt like this unfortunate witch at 1:09 but, at long last with a lot of hard work, blood, sweat, tears, prayers, yoga, conversations, well wishes, donated funds, donated time, and LOVE. I am FINALLY on my way. Although I’m less than two hours away from boarding the plane it still feels surreal to me.  I imagine it will for the upcoming weeks as well as I attempt to settle into my “new normal”.

I just want to take a second to thank all the friends and family that believed in me and in my talent along the way.  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again:  If I could bottle up people’s belief in me and sell it on the open market, I’d be a millionaire. I wish each of you all the love and light that you can stand.  It is my hope that everything you see in me you see in yourselves. I have amazing people in my life and I am grateful to the source of all that is that I have the awareness today to see that.  I won’t be long winded as the hardest good-byes are still in front of me: My Mother & My Son I didn’t think it was possible to love two people as much as I love them and I hope like hell that I make them proud.

Much love to any and all eyes that read this. Let my story not be apart from your own but rather living proof of what can happen when, you Harness Your Superpower™

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Rosie.

Last born twice.

Me and my Mom have this running joke about how she gave birth to me twice. It is essentially true and ironically the second birth occurred  Mother’s Day weekend of 1992.  The Thursday before Mother’s Day my 16 year-old self had decided that it would be pretty cool to take my Mom and Nana out for Mother’s Day on my own dime. The destination?  Tiffany’s, a restaurant that I had not at the time been too, that was well-known for its ribs and cheesecake.

There isn’t much I remember from that evening at dinner save for the fact that it was my Mom, my Nana,  my oldest nephew, and I that had gone out to eat … and the cheese cake.  I had ordered cheesecake for dessert, a cheesecake that unbeknownst to me,  had ground pecans baked into the crust.  Prior to eating this cheesecake, I remembered that I always felt “funny” when I ate the Little Debbie Brownies with the nuts on them that my older brother would bring me from the corner store. They made my throat itch so badly that I’d stopped eating them all together.

After the first bite of cheese cake that feeling I would get when I ate the Little Debbie cakes started only now it was about ten thousand times worse.  I immediately began to spit the cake into my napkin and told my Mom that I didn’t feel well. She sent me to the car while she paid the tab and gathered my Nana and nephew.  The last thing I remember is getting into the car, taking about 20 doses too many of my inhaler because I felt my throat closing, and then going cold. This would be my last conscious memory for two weeks.

When my Mom got to the car she found me passed out. I was sheet white and my lips were a dusky shade of purple.  Panicked and having little sense of direction, she began to drive around the city of Union, NJ searching for the hospital.  This search lasted approximately ten minutes and by all scientific logic I should have been brain-dead, but this situation would defy any logic you could throw at it.

Upon finding Union Hospital my Mom  pulled into the area on the opposite side of the emergency room. Desperate, she got out of the car flung open the doors and began to scream for help.  Her screaming, I can imagine based on her “normal” conversational octave, was enough to wake the dead and ultimately summon a hospital of doctors, nurses, and therapist to my aid.  I was removed from the car and placed on the ground as the team immediately began to care for what appeared to be a dead kid.

My mom was completely devastated as doctors explained to her my limited odds of surviving the anaphylactic shock I’d endured.  She was advised to call my family members so they could come and say good-bye to me. I was given last rites (it was a Catholic hospital I believe) and my family prepared for the worse. That evening in the waiting room, so I’m told, my Nana held a prayer vigil to end all prayer vigils. She prayed with absolute strangers for the complete healing of their loved ones even though, at least in my case, all hope seemed to be lost.  And just like that I lived through the night … and the next night.

Doctors cautioned my mother about being overly optimistic about my outcome seeing as how the odds for anoxic brain injury due to the delay in my treatment were quite high. These predictions seemed accurate when on Mother’s Day the only thing I kept repeating much to my mother’s horror was “Happy Mother’s Day” probably sounding a lot like Igor. However, over the next few days and weeks I gradually returned to normal (or as normal as I’d ever be again 😉 ).  My first memory? Waking up to a Russian woman who was trying to explain to me her open heart surgery by repeating the words “bad blood” with her thick accent and pointing at monstrous wound on her chest. Good times.

My mother is not a huggin’, squeezin’, excessive sugar givin’  sagely advice dolin’ kind of mom. There are times when I wish like hell she was, but then I think about this “second birth” and how people from the community surrounding the hospital where I’d been sick calling in by the droves to check on “The screaming woman’s daughter”.  I think about the lengths my mother went through to get me adequate care for my asthma even begging a pulmonologist who only saw adults to see me when every pediatrician I’d seen had thrown up their hands. Then I think, here I am,  a living breathing miracle over 22 years after my second birth not only alive and well, but thriving in ways I could never have imagined. Today I give thanks to my praying grandmother and a mother that refused to give up on her sickly little wheezer even during times it seemed the world had.  I love you Ma!

Rosie.

Me and the extraordinary Antoinette Rose

Me and the extraordinary Antoinette Rose