Born to Fail

I wanted to be a psychologist since I was a junior in high school. One day the therapist didn’t show up for a group therapy session at the mental hospital I stayed at for a month, so I ran the group. My time at that hospital was the first time I realized that I was not alone, and my optimism was helpful to others who were hurting. I decided then, that I wanted to dedicate my life to helping fucked up kids like myself.

I graduated a year early because I was bullied and bored, and started college at the age of 16. Starting at 18, I interned at a mental institution, a homeless shelter,  a child abuse prevention center, and even worked alongside the woman who counseled my mother at a domestic violence agency. I was a great counselor and advocate for all of my clients. I gave them unconditional love and I never judged them, because I had been them. I graduated at 19, with my associate’s in human services, and started working on my bachelor’s degree immediately.

I’ve come to accept that life is cyclical, sequences of peace and chaos. My life had been 16 years of chaos. I had two years of peace during my associate’s degree, followed by the second longest sequence of chaos in my life.

Since childhood, I’ve had an array of physical health problems, in addition to the gallery of mental problems I display. Just like everything else about me, my problems were not typical. Doctor after doctor had no idea what was wrong with me. They would simply attribute any physical problems I had to my mental ones, or purely side effects of the medications I was taking for them. Then, they’d take out their prescription pads, and scribble the solution to my problems.  

Turns out, the medications were just making me worse since the problem was in fact physical. At 19, I was diagnosed with Chronic Neurological Lyme Disease. Lyme Disease, also known as the mimic disease, can feel like every mental and physical illness all at once. The Lyme causing bacteria, called spirochetes, attack every part of your body they can, from your heart, your joints, your brain, and everything in between. I could write an entire book explaining how those damn spirochetes drilled into my cells and took over my life. In summation, it’s fucking horrible.

To add insult to injury, there was a scandal involving Chronic Lyme Disease. There is an abundance of literature and a film, called Under Our Skin, about how the corrupt health care system caused the Lyme epidemic by withholding information from doctors. Why would they do this? Let’s just say, it’s a lot more profitable to treat someone for Schizophrenia or Multiple Sclerosis for the rest of their lives, than to treat someone with three weeks of antibiotics for Lyme. To this day, doctors disagree on what Lyme is, and patients desperately in need of answers and relief from their agony are coming up empty. Doctors do not know how to read the blood tests correctly, so as in my case, the results are false negatives. And while the pockets of America’s most corrupt corporations fill up, brilliant minds and healthy bodies are being hollowed out and chewed up by greed.

Getting the diagnosis was only half the battle. Once these little bastards take over, they’re impossible to evict. The treatment was even worse the disease itself. I spent my entire junior year of college on antibiotics. I’ve never had chemotherapy, but I imagine the symptoms of long-term antibiotics are similar. My entire immune system was wiped out. I spent most of my time in bed or in the bathroom. So much shit and vomit came out of me that year, I’m pretty sure I was empty inside. I had migraines and couldn’t think straight. My blood pressure was so low, when I sat up everything went black. I had no energy; I felt so heavy I couldn’t move sometimes. I obviously didn’t make it to class as much as I needed to.

In between antibiotics treatments, I did alternative treatments. They weren’t as bad as the antibiotics but still gave me wicked migraines, since they were ripping toxins out of my brain. Taking off from work was never an option, but in hindsight, I should have taken some time off from school. But I had momentum that I was deathly afraid would abandon me if I stopped for a moment, and deadlines on every dream.

When you’re young, you’re in a hurry to become somebody, but you lose track of the fact that it’s the journey that makes you who you’re supposed to be.

 

As I learned about my unique conditions, Lyme disease, with a hint of TBI (traumatic brain injury), served with a side of PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder), I became interested in neuroscience.  Dr. G., the neuropsychologist who helped me get finally get the correct diagnoses, became my biggest inspiration. He had co-invented a treatment and diagnostic tool which can map a brain’s electrical activity more accurately than an EEG. My tests would all come back slightly abnormal, but after running more tests, the doctors would all conclude it’s nothing severe. Dr. G. showed me the scars carved into my brain by the physical and emotional assaults I’ve faced in my life and explained how those scars create my mental problems as well. He gave me answers, he gave me hope that I will not have to suffer for the rest of my life.

Example of brain mapping

Not only did he help me get my Lyme under control, he taught me that there are other treatments for my mental problems. I got to thinking, there have to be more treatments that haven’t been discovered yet, treatments for people like me, where medication does not work and actually makes things worse. Treatments that were more effective for everyone, treatments with fewer side effects. I wanted to help make those treatments. I wanted to discover the physical cause of mental illnesses and neurodegenerative disorders, and find a cure. We’re allowed to dream…aren’t we?

Two weeks before my 21st birthday, and the start of my senior year, my sister’s long-term boyfriend, who was like a brother to me, commit suicide. With one phone call, my life came unraveled. I spent the next two years battling PTSD, depression, and alcoholism. I also struggled financially and lost two other people very close to me tragically.  Eventually, I got back on my feet, and I graduated. I fought tears my entire ceremony, with every cheesy speech the lump in my throat grew. Words cannot possibly contain the pride I felt in myself. I understood how David must have felt, standing above Goliath’s corpse, looking at the empty sling in hand, confused and in shock of what he’d accomplished.

I applied to behavioral psychology and investigative psychology graduate school programs in California. When I opened my rejection letter, I wasn’t surprised at all. I almost expected to fail. Taking into consideration all of the things I was dealing with, I obviously didn’t have a 4.0. I didn’t have time or energy to put in the extra effort I always had to make as a lower class, disabled woman, working two jobs and an internship on top of it. Still, my GPA was the bare minimum for most grad schools.

I also didn’t have a great experience at my university, to put it lightly. It was a good school for research, but as a result, I felt a lot of teachers didn’t want to be teaching. I had a professor hide from me in his office, during his office hours. My neuroanatomy professor literally just wrote equations on the whiteboard the entire class, he never even turned around to call on all of the raised hands.

Then there was Dr. Sanchez. Lovely, brilliant, insane Dr. Sanchez. I interned in her behavioral neuro-endocrinological lab, in non-nerd terms, we studied how hormones affect behavior in rats and mice… by chopping their heads off and examining their brain. I’m pretty sure Dr. Sanchez’s interest in hormones came from her own imbalances. She was a narcissist and verbally abused her staff on a regular basis. We were all on edge every day. The air was so thick with tension, you had to thresh it as you moved about the lab I feared one of the other lab assistants was going to commit suicide, Dr. Sanchez was so especially cruel to her. I still felt confident I was doing a good job. I worked twice as many hours as I needed to show her how serious I was. I loved what I did there, minus the hostile work environment, to put it lightly. In the end, I didn’t get a reference letter, class credit, or a co-publishment for the work I did for those six months, which would’ve made me a more competitive candidate for the programs for which I applied. She was fired a few months later.

All that said, the main reason for my rejection was that according to my GRE scores, I am an idiot. The GRE is like the SAT for graduate school. I studied for two years for that test. I bought a GRE practice book.  I practiced each type of math problem and made flashcards for every ridiculous vocabulary word, such as skulduggery and vituperative. The only time I’ve ever heard half of these words was when I was with my ex-boyfriend’s family and their acquaintances. Both of his parents were lawyers. His family was one of the families in my town who were descendants of affluent English settlers. The wealth disparity between our two families goes back so far, my ancestors were stowaways on his ancestors’ boat.

The day I took the test was a damp, stormy day. Because of my neurological problems, I get horrible migraines when it rains. My head was pounding. It was autumn in New York, and nearly dark when I got to the testing center at 5:00 pm. My stomach was gurgling acid; I couldn’t tell if it was because I hadn’t eaten since noon, and had to rush from my last class to the testing center, or anxiety. On average, women have higher amounts of test anxiety, and I have more anxiety than average. Plus, this wasn’t just any test. This was the test that would decide the rest of my life, determine whether I’d wasted four years getting a useless degree because you can’t make a decent living in psychology without a master’s degree.

I was having flashbacks to taking the SAT. I had just gotten out of the mental hospital. I had diarrhea from the food, a staph infection on my ass so it hurt to sit, and diabetes insipidus from the lithium shutting down my kidneys. Plus, my brain was flooded with performance reducing drugs, and I still scored average. I know that I am intelligent, I always wondered how intelligent I’d be if I hadn’t been drugged my entire adolescence, and bombarded with stress my entire life. But I do know, drugs or not, I’m still smarter than a lot of people I know who did well on the bombastic GRE.

I ended up scoring about average on the verbal section, below average on math, and ironically, I scored in the 8th percentile on the writing section! That means I scored worse than 82% of people who took the test! If you’re reading this post, or if you’ve read anything I’ve written, I think you’ll agree the GRE is an inaccurate indicator of academic abilities. Even if you disagree, science doesn’t. The GRE, like other standardized tests, is biased. A Nature article says that graduate schools relying too heavily on GRE scores prevents women and minorities from entering the sciences. The article also says:

“According to data from Educational Testing Service (ETS), based in Princeton, New Jersey, the company that administers the GRE, women score 80 points lower on average in the physical sciences than do men, and African Americans score 200 points below white people. In simple terms, the GRE is a better indicator of sex and skin colour than of ability and ultimate success.”

It certainly didn’t predict my success in the field of psychology, since by the time I took the damn thing I had already worked in the field for six years, and helped so many people. So why the hell is it still used to determine our futures when it’s been proven for decades, that it does not correlate with success, but rather with race, sex, and socioeconomic status? 

 Although not surprising, my rejection was still devastating. I fell into a deep depression. With one letter, my future vanished. What was I going to do? Work for minimum wage forever? Maybe I should have never gone to college in the first place since I’d make the same amount, work the same jobs, but at least I wouldn’t be buried in student debt. Even more than the money I wasted, I wasted my life! Six years chasing a dream only to be shot down by some numbers on a piece of paper which supposedly reflect my integrity, intelligence, and my ability to impact others.

I could take the GRE again, retake classes to get my GPA up, or volunteer in a lab again, but all of those things cost money or take up time that I didn’t have because I was working three jobs just to pay my car payments, rent, and default on my student loans.

I always knew, because of my handicaps and disadvantages, I had to work twice as hard to get half as far as more prosperous people, and I always said I would, but I just didn’t have it in me anymore. I had reached my mental limit. I was beaten down, my energy to fight had fleeted. I had been defeated.  I had given up on dreams, given up all hope that I would ever amount to anything that I could look back at the end of my life with pride on.

I beat myself up over what I could have done differently. Maybe if I applied to more schools or different programs that weren’t as research stressed, I would have been accepted. What if I picked an easier minor than neuroscience because those difficult science classes brought my GPA down? What if I had taken a GRE prep course, instead of just doing the books? I wanted to, but I couldn’t afford a $500 prep course on top of the $200  I already paid for the test.

Maybe if I retook the GRE now I’d do better, after spending the last two years preparing impoverished, first generation, English learning, Latinos for standardized tests that are biased against them. Perhaps if I had mentioned the reason why I took two years off or explained that I was a victim of child abuse, have brain damage, and deal with chronic physical and mental illnesses, they would have judged me as an average student with average grades. But they would have seen me as the remarkable student that I am, who should have never even made it to college in the first place, who persevered through hardship after hardship and graduated, despite all odds stacked against her…But I didn’t tell them…because I didn’t want to seem like I was looking for pity or making excuses…because this very blog post is the first time I’ve ever been able to call myself disabled, and not feel ashamed.

I imagine we’re all running a race, and we’re all forced to carry different loads. My load is particularly heavy, but there are many who are far heavier than mine. The people with the lightest loads are obviously ahead of the rest of us. I might be last to the cross the finish line, but  I will finish, and by the time I get there, I will be much stronger than the ones who finished first. Who is the true winner? What is more important? The meaningless competition, the shiny trophy? Or becoming your best self?

So I made a backup plan. One thing I’ve learned from all of this, is to have a backup plan, and then have back up plans for those backup plans. And always trust your intuition. Perhaps the universe has other plans in mind for me, since twice now It’s tried to keep me away from psychology. So I decided to listen to It, and move to California anyway, but to chase my creative passions: music and writing.

The irony is I’ve wanted to be a singer since I was a child, and as passionate as I was about psychology, music has always been my true passion. But when it came time to choose a major I chose the safe route, because I figured it was less competitive and more likely I’d have a job as a psychologist than a singer. But I found out the hard way, nowadays, there’s not just starving artists, but starving scientists too. Everyone wants to study psychology. No one wants to study opera, and as good as I am at psychology, I’m much better at opera. And luckily, they care about how you sing, rather than how well you remember things and can bubble in the correct answer.

I berate myself, “You should’ve just studied opera to begin with! If you had only believed in yourself, you could have been successful by now!” Now I’m older, I’ve grown weary, and my mind is not as fertile for sprouting knowledge as it once was. But I have learned so much working in psychology for 10 years now. I’ve worked with people from all walks of life, I’ve held their hands, I’ve wiped their tears, and I’ve felt their gratitude. I’ve looked every facet of the human condition dead in the eyes. This will certainly help me become a great singer. Or maybe I’ll write my experiences and share them. It could be, my purpose is something I’ve yet to discover, but these are the experiences which prepare me for my destiny, which make me into the person I need to be to reach my potential. Until then, I suffer with dignity, with certainty that all of this suffering will amount to greatness. Because of my torment, others will flourish.

“There is a time in every man’s education when he arrives at the conviction that envy is ignorance; that imitation is suicide; that he must take himself for better, for worse, as his portion; that though the wide universe is full of good, no kernel of nourishing corn can come to him but through his toil bestowed on that plot of ground which is given to him to till. The power which resides in him is new in nature, and none but he knows what that is which he can do, nor does he know until he has tried”-Ralph Waldo Emerson, Self Reliance

 

Ophelia’s Revenge

There once was a precious, courageous, little girl. Her big blue eyes never missed a bat. She could see farther and deeper than most adults. When she would outsmart them, from deep in her belly would roar an innocent, high-pitched laughter.

Unfortunately, her laughter and her wisdom were so often muted. Her tiny toes tiptoed around the dark, treacherous place she called home, cringing with every creak, anticipating his next attack. The man who dwelled in her mother’s bed, not entirely a man, but part monster.

This little girl was a soldier. She had a sworn duty to protect herself and her younger siblings from the monster. Her mother worked long hours and a lot of overtime just to pay the bills, so she was in charge of taking care of them. She wasn’t the “typical” nurturing little girl who liked to play house. She was an awful cook, and she’d rather read a book than play with dolls, but they all survived, thanks to the little girl.

This was no easy task, mind you. The little sister seemed to rattle the monster no matter what she did, and then a whirlwind of anger would wreck the home, breaking everything and everyone in sight. Once, the beast had the sister by the throat, snickering “I will kill you!” The little girl called the police and the beast never tried that again. Something about the little girl frightened the beast, perhaps he could sense her strength…or maybe it was her crazy father.

When the little girl went to her father’s house it was like an escape, from one hell to another. Her grandmother didn’t relish children, she was cold toward the girl and her father. As an authoritarian German woman, she pushed her to do well in school. It was so much responsibility and pressure for one child to bear.

The girl was smart though. She had a way out. She dreamed of becoming a lawyer since she was five years old and her parents were divorced. The path to a better life began with school. School was predictable. The rules made sense, they were fair. There were kind, loving adults who praised her good work.  

She lived in a small town on the Hudson River, about two hours north of New York City. Beautiful Victorian houses and large farmhouses decorated the valley, and hidden in its grooves, under large pine trees, were tiny houses and trailers, like the one her family lived in.

She went to a decent school. Many of her peers came from normal homes, with two parents, without scream fests and mind games. Their parents were doctors, professors, and lawyers. Some of her peers were even ancestors of the wealthy settlers that came to the town long ago.

She was never first-chair in the band because her peers got private lessons, but often second because she spent so much time practicing. Her peers had access to better technology and materials for their projects.  Some of her peers had parents who taught at a renowned private school nearby, and they got to sit in on their lectures. They didn’t have to go home and live in terror every day, and she still competed well with them.

Of course, there were bullies too. Mean girls would make fun of her non-brand clothes. Teachers asked her how she would be a lawyer and a mother. There were scheduling conflicts and counselors urging her to take easier science and math placements or justify why she wanted to take such challenging classes. Questions that boys were not asked.

Nonetheless, she persevered, she survived childhood and she graduated salutatorian from her high school. She held close to a 4.0 average in college and passed the bar at the age of twenty-four. Her first job post-graduation was in retail, since she didn’t have any family connections, and after her law school was sued for skewing numbers on post-graduation employment rates. She eventually landed a  government job in worker’s compensation with a starting salary of 40,000, not even enough to pay the interest on her student loans.

   Now she works as a hearing officer, making 80,000, still not as much as her male co-workers in litigation. Litigation lawyers have the highest salaries and biggest bonuses at her firm, and they are all men. The females and minorities are at the government jobs with significantly lower salaries. At the litigation dinners, she is the only woman. The air smells of ego and cologne. Loud brass voices and puffy chests tower over her. She sips her drink and listens to them rating the female lawyer’s attractiveness. She feels so out of place, so violated, but she nods and smiles.

This is the status quo in her field, the delicate tickles on her wrist, the unwanted hands on the small of her back, as to escort her into a room. As if she didn’t know the way. As if she didn’t get this far without them helping her. As if she hasn’t fought more battles than they could imagine, and won, on her own! Once after winning a hearing, she hears one of her co-workers loudly professing that she had only won because the judge thought she was cute, not because she had a better argument.

She did everything she was supposed to and more. She conquered beasts in her home, in academia, and she continues to fight them after she accomplished her dream of becoming a lawyer. But she will never back down, she will never tire. She has fought all her life and will continue to fight until the battle is won. She has penetrated the walls of the patriarchy and is dismembering them from within. I am the little sister who angered the beast and Lord, I aim to be again.

This is just one woman’s story, but the more we share, the more we’ll find this is every woman’s story, and the infection runs deep, carved into the veins of society. Until the remedy is found, let our voices continue to echo out, beyond the borders that have silenced us for so long, causing a crack that will eventually tear down that wall.

Helena Bonham Carter as Ophelia, in Hamlet

“Lord, we know what we are, but not what we may be”-Ophelia

 

Feminism for All

I’ve always considered myself a feminist. Over the years my ideas, as well as society’s, about what feminism means has changed greatly, but I still proudly profess my feminism.

As a young girl, I was fixated on boys. I wanted to date boys, marry boys, make little baby boys. When I had a man, I was loyal to him, I took care of him. I thought about getting married a couple of times, thinking that would be the end of my problems. I would have someone to help me out through life, keep me safe. Like all little girls, I believed the patriarchal propaganda getting shoved down my throat since birth.

From “Yorgos Lanthimos’ “The Lobster”

As a young adult, I always considered myself a strong, independent woman. I only let guys pay half of the time, I wanted to be a doctor. I always had a boyfriend, though. My boyfriends and I would talk shit about all of my single girlfriends who were slutting it up. I’d say, “Feminism isn’t about acting like a guy, becoming emotionally inept, power-hungry, horndogs. Women should still act like women, but be pure and nurturing mothers or professional career women if they choose. And men should act more like women if they want. To hell with gender roles.” Not realizing that I was doing what women are “supposed to do,” gossip and talk shit about each other, fight with other women, and agree with men.

Nearly a decade later, half of it spent single and exploring my identity and my sexuality, my views of feminism have clearly shifted once again. I don’t believe there is any right or wrong way to define feminism. The way someone practices their feminism is contingent on his or her unique experiences navigating the world. Lately, however, I have been feeling many people trying to force their ideas of feminism on me, and spurning me if I disagree.

Ever since women were recently granted the right to think for themselves, there has been a division amongst us. Now that she has some autonomy, how should she behave? Now that she can work, what should she be allowed to make? Does anyone else wonder why teachers and nurses are so underpaid for the imperative jobs they do? I don’t think it was women making these decisions, and it still isn’t. Because the decisions we make are based on ideologies instilled in us by our fathers.

If I laugh at rape jokes, can I not say #MeToo? Even though I was a victim of sexual assault? If I objectify myself for a living, can I not call myself a feminist? Even though stripping empowers me? Even if it helped me succeed in life more than my college degree did? Am I “a part of the problem” because I didn’t vote for Hillary? What about the women picketing outside the abortion clinic, because of their religious views? Aren’t we all victims of inequality and injustice?

Dave Chappelle

I didn’t want to bring up my political views on the blog originally because I didn’t feel the communities I write for would agree, and didn’t find it relevant. I also believe people’s need to label everything and everyone has consequences. But politics, religion, sexuality, and gender are all different building blocks to an individual’s belief system. To ostracize someone because of any of these beliefs is to attack their personal freedom.

I feel identifying as a “Spiritual Christian,” libertarian, bisexual is part of the reason I  constantly feeling like a fish out of water. “Spiritual Christian” is just what I say when people ask my religious beliefs. I am both spiritual, as I believe aspects of many theologies and create my own, and Christian, I was baptized and pray to Jesus. Although, some Christians would say I’m “not Christian enough” because I believe in other entities. Trying to date in the LGBTQ community as a bisexual feels like you’re “too straight” to be considered. 

I never caught so much flack as a bisexual libertarian as I did the last election. Gary Johnson wasn’t my favorite libertarian candidate, but I really thought he could get 5% this year, which would allow the party to join the debate next election. I would obviously love for my voice to be heard, but people were attacking me, saying a vote for anyone but Hillary is a vote for Trump, and that I “wasted” my vote. After he was elected, it was like you can’t be feminist or bi and support Trump, or do anything less than despise him. (It’s not that I don’t despise him, just that I despise Hillary too). The LA Pride parade earlier this year became the “Resist March” that was “not supposed to be democratic or republican,” but ultimately became an Anti-Trump march. In my opinion, this divided the community it was meant to bring together. I see moral confusion and abhorrence trickling down from the pinnacles of society, corroding communities at every level.

2017 LA Pride marchers deface Donald Trump’s Hollywood Walk of Fame star

Beliefs are not black and white, there are gray areas. People always tell you, “Just make up your mind! Choose one!” Why must I choose one, when there are so many options? So many combinations of the two, options beyond the two you haven’t even imagined!

Feminism is something unique and personal to everyone, so why are we segregating those who don’t share all of the same beliefs? Don’t we all have the freedom to believe what we wish, without the social chastisement?

If you disagree with someone, feel free to argue with them, provide evidence for your opinions, but at the end of the debate, if they still disagree with you, that’s their right. Don’t shame them, and hate them. Don’t excommunicate them from your community. A community exclusively of individuals with mirrored belief systems will lack adequate size and strength to make a difference. It also sounds to me like a cult because naturally, people disagree on some things!

An informative Washington Post article suggests modern feminism should focus on equality, inclusion, and personal choice.  Anyone who wants to join the fight for equality should be allowed to. Period.

…But to paint a silver lining, if we are strong enough for them to try so hard to divide us, that means we are getting stronger.  

Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that”-Martin Luther King, Jr.

 

LA Eloi

Her glowing, porcelain face protruded from the brick background, then faded into the blue stage lights. Every stroke of her features, handmade with care. She hasn’t been used much, barely taken out of the box. Too afraid of damage, she’s fragile. So fragile, if you bumped into her on the street, she might shatter like china.

You see, even to hold her is to warp her unscathed skin. If she touches too much, her hands will blister and crack. Every step calluses her feet. Don’t you want her to be soft? If she has to worry about anything, or if you make her sad, or mad, crevices will carve themselves into her forehead.  And if she loses sleep, craters will nap under her eyes, endlessly taunting her. Don’t you want her to be pretty?  

She was Weena*, daughter of a famous Hollywood actress and musician. Now it’s her turn to become the star she was primed to be. She stood before us, not as a woman proudly owning her destiny, but as someone who just realized she was naked in front of a crowd. Her bones glued at the joints, she was petrified.

Her voice was beautiful. Her songs were simple but catchy. Melodic runs really showcased her expansive range. We all rocked and swayed to the feel-good beats. But there was something missing, passion.

Passion comes from suffering. What revolutionary painter or poet never had to struggle too much? I believe art has the power to transform the world. How can you heal if you’ve never been torn apart by life’s shrapnel, and then had to lick your wounds, and limp away with your tail between your legs?

Like an Eloi from H.G. Well’s The Time Machine, her environment never presented many challenges. Therefore, she knew how to enjoy life, but not overcome obstacles, endure pain. Poor Weena was paralyzed by her fear: fear of being exposed, fear of looking stupid, fear of failing. The only time she looked at ease was after her set while dancing with her celebrity friends.

Woman in yellow and blue with a guitar, by Henri Matisse

She has the disorienting beauty, decorated in ornate garments, encompassed by the faces of Hollywood’s past, present, and future elite. She even has the voice, but she lacks courage and she lacks affliction.

She has had every opportunity at her disposal, dancing then acting, now singing…but I wonder had she not, would she have the grit it would take an average person?

I always wondered what my life would have been like if I had half of the opportunities Weena has. What if my mom could have afforded the voice lessons I begged her for each birthday? What if I grew up in safe, loving home? What if I wasn’t at constant war with myself, battling the voice in my head echoing “you’ll never be good enough?”

What would I write about without my struggles? What painful memories would I channel when I performed? How could I teach lessons I haven’t learned? How could I help those who are suffering, if I’ve never suffered? How can I change the world, if I am blind to its problems?

Ironically, all of my talents would vanish with my struggles.

Just because you have all of the advantages, doesn’t mean you can cash them in, or even know how to. You may have an audience, power and influence, and nothing to say, no wisdom to share. Or in my case, have plenty to say, but no voice to speak it with, and no one to listen.  But let me just say this, I do believe in the power of passion, and the impact of endurance. 

Given the option, I’d choose adversity every time. 

*The artist’s name has been changed.

“It is a law of nature we overlook, that intellectual versatility is the compensation for change, danger, and trouble. An animal perfectly in harmony with its environment is a perfect mechanism. Nature never appeals to intelligence until habit and instinct are useless. There is no intelligence where there is no need of change.”-H.G. Wells, The Time Machine

Dream Big (Not Too Big)

Every week I drive to therapy in West L.A. I drive down Vine, through Hancock Park, near West Hollywood.  I see perfectly paved streets, no gaping potholes, no trash seeping out of the gutters, no rotting couches or mattresses clutter the sidewalks. Every lawn decoration, every palm, every petal, quintessentially placed. You do not hear the clinking and clattering of the cans the homeless push around. Mothers lull their children in strollers, not shopping carts. They do not fear as they walk the streets alone.

Each home has its own design and character, inspired by different historical fashions. The landscapes of each house are eloquently designed and maintained daily. I see the gardeners working in the yard of a house erected from the colonial South, with its tall, thick pillars guarding the entrance. I can see the horses and the slaves now. Only now it’s a Mercedes and a gardener. I guess not much has changed.

The only cars around me are pristine, shiny and new. Mercedes. BMW’s. Porches. I feel like a pitifully disguised spy, in my dirt-painted 2002 Accord. I see two girls my age getting out of a Mercedes. “They have no idea how lucky they are,” I think.

I’m not saying that they are lucky because they own a beautiful home and drive luxury cars. I’m saying they’re lucky because regardless of how smart they are or how hard they work they will, statistically, be rich and successful their whole lives. As for me, no matter how hard I work, statistically, I’ll be poor, or at least severely underpaid for someone of my intelligence and passion, for the rest of my life.

Michael Carr, the co-author of a 2016 study  showing social mobility has decreased in the last thirty years, said, “It is increasingly the case that no matter what your educational background is, where you start has become increasingly important for where you end.”  While yes, I would like to live in a home not infested with cockroaches, and a neighborhood where I don’t have to worry about being robbed, I would also like to live in a society where my potential is in my reach, or at least equally as in reach as anyone else’s.

“The American Dream” paints the illusion that anything is possible, for sons and daughters of all castes and creeds, with blood sweat and tears. It just turns out that some of us end up bleeding, sweating, and right out weeping a hell of a lot more than others.

Think about the intelligent, empathetic, hard-working people, who went to college, but still barely make enough to afford their shitty apartments. Many working two or three jobs, working seventy or more hours a week at jobs they hate, because it’s not fulfilling, and the pay is shit. Imagine the tax on one’s physical and mental health. Not only are you stressed about money, about bills and food, about stretching every penny as far as you can, but your life becomes a meaningless ritual. You become stuck in a time loop, watching less equipped but more fortunate people rise, while you sink like quicksand, taunted by the ghosts of your potential.

Imagine the tax on one’s physical and mental health. Not only are you stressed about money and meeting your basic survival needs, but your life becomes a meaningless ritual. You become stuck in a time loop, watching less equipped, more fortunate people rise, while you sink like quicksand, taunted by the ghosts of your potential.

“The Broken Bridge and The Dream” by Salvador Dali. Photo courtesy of http://art-dali.com

Ten years ago, or even two, I would have said, “One day, I’ll own a car like that, a home like that, a gardener like that.” I have quite the unrealistic, optimistic view of the world, but every now and then reality sinks in, making a sieve of my thick skin. When that happens, and I look at these houses and these people, I get angry. I get jealous and depressed, realizing the chances of me even getting invited onto the premise of one of these gorgeous estates, let alone own one, are very low…unless I’m landscaping.

If you asked me where I saw myself ten years from now, when I was sixteen, or twenty, I would have said I’d be a doctor. I would have said I would earn my Ph.D. and my M.D. and be a neuropsychologist. I would have done it by twenty-five, having earned an Associate’s degree at nineteen, and being on course to earn my Bachelor’s in psychology and neuroscience at twenty-one. If you asked me today where I saw myself in ten years, the answer would be that I have no idea, I just hope it’s more fulfilling than this.

What better proof that “The American Dream” is very much alive would there be than the story of a young, lower class woman facing unspeakable horrors in childhood, only to work her way to the top through hard work and perseverance!? Unfortunately, this is not my story. While this is someone’s story, I believe it’s disproportionate to the amount of determined, intelligent, and talented poor people there are in the America. We should be hearing these stories far more often than we do. Why is that? There are many reasons, and one of the reasons I made this blog to start talking about them. But in short…

The game is rigged, and we are all in.

 

“You got to tell me brave captain,

Why are the wicked so strong,

How do the angels get to sleep, 

When the devil leaves the porchlight on.”

-Tom Waits

Revelations

 

I thought I’d start off by sharing the humbling experience which inspired this blog.

I got these new shoes, burgundy, suede heels with straps that tie around the ankles. I just had my hair and nails done. I had been so lonely and horny lately, that I was swiping on Bumble. It’s like Tinder, but filtering out some of the uber-pervs hoping to play out their fetish fantasies on you (myself included).

I found an adorable little rich boy. I typically go for poor, chubby guys, with a little edge, and a lot of baggage, but since I moved to L.A. I’ve had to lower the bar‒a lot.

He was visiting from New York, so it was perfect. Even if the date did go well, which it definitely did not, there wouldn’t be any expectation for a second.

He called me to discuss the plans for the evening.

“Hello,” I answered, making sure to use my smokey phone sex operator voice. “So what should we do tonight?” I asked.

“We can go anywhere you want,” he replied confidently.

“Oh yeah?” I giggled.

“I have a private helicopter.”

“Okay…” I said, not knowing what else to say to that. Even when I did have standards, having money was not one of them. Bragging is actually a major turn-off for me. Especially when you didn’t work for it, you just came out of the right vagina.

He said he was just kidding, but his uncle does have a helicopter.

He wanted to meet up in Santa Monica, but I was like, “That’s too far, the Lyft will be too expensive.”

“I’ll buy you drinks all night, and pay for the Lyft home. It will be worth it,” He promised.

I suggested we go to Hollywood. He said his friend was driving, so he’d meet me there and we could figure it out.

I heard him call “Vera!” and looked up from the artificially lit sidewalk. He was average height and skinny, but toned. He had a narrow pretty-boy face, was well dressed, wearing much nicer shoes than mine. He was only a few years younger than me, but his eyes looked decades.

He opened the door of his friend’s car for me.  I sat shotgun with his friend and he sat in the back with another guy and a girl. He said “I told them we had to get a bottle since there is a New Yorker coming,” and handed me a bottle of Ciroc.

We passed it around the car as he asked me questions about myself. He pretended to be so intrigued by my answers.  Everyone in the car pretended to be interested as well, but you could tell they were the kind of people who weren’t truly interested in anything. I think they assumed just because I was pretty and well-dressed enough, that I was one of them, high class, dignified, and always looking for an excuse to talk about myself.  I felt like an imposter, but also a talented actor.  

He kept mentioning how he was moving here soon (like I haven’t heard that one before).  I could see right through him. He was so transparent, or maybe I’ve just grown wise with experience. He was saying everything necessary to get me in bed. I wonder, if he knew that all it really would have taken is the Ciroq and a cock, that he didn’t have to pretend he wanted to date me because we were both looking for one night stands, would he still have gone through the whole courtship charade.

We finished the bottle and went inside. Needless to say, I was drunk. Impressively, I only tripped in my new heels once on the walk into the club. I paid the thirty dollar cover fee, yes, I paid it. We stayed about fifteen minutes, then he called a Lyft back to my apartment, yes, my apartment.

To give you some background information, when Vera gets too drunk, she becomes “Veeda” (my name but with a rolled “r” and some sort of failed attempt at a German/Russian/Jewish grandmother accent. At this point, Vera blacked out and became Veeda. Veeda is known for puking in Lyfts. Had Vera been there, she would have reminded Veeda of this, and they would have kept dancing a little while before going home, and the night might have ended differently. Unfortunately, Vera had stepped out for the night and would not be in until the next morning.

When I woke up the next morning, naked in my bed and feeling refreshed, I began to piece together the night before. I had several “snapshots” after the club: me feeling sick in the back of the Lyft, the wind belting me in the face with my own hair and vomit, looking back at the Lyft after we stepped out, seeing the epic trail of puke exploding out of the back seat window, and him saying “I’m probably going to have to pay for that,” with this strange, disgusted, clenched-jaw smile.

Then Veeda said, “Oh, it’ll only be like fifty bucks,” stumbling with awful grace.

Art by Kimberly Kyne

A little more background, I live in a one bedroom in the valley, my roommate lives in my living room, and he had to get up very early the next morning. I know, I’m an asshole…well, Veeda definitely is anyways.

The sex was so unmemorable that I literally don’t remember any of it. All I remember is one moment where I was on my bed, his lean body standing on the edge of it, the condom drooping over his limp dick, his face looking displeased.

Out of nowhere, in the next room, my roommate yells “FUCK!”

Alarmed, he says, “Is that your roommate?”

“Yeah,” I said all nonchalant and started giggling.

I know I was talking dirty to him because Veeda is a freak, but I don’t remember what I said. I was probably saying blatant lies like, “your big cock feels so good.” It was possibly the worst date I can hardly remember. My roommate said he slammed the door as he left, around midnight.

You’re probably wondering, what the hell is the point of this story?!

The point is when I recalled the fool I had made out of myself the previous evening, I really didn’t care. This was not the first time I’d embarrassed myself in front of upper-class men and women, but in the past, I woke up in the morning with a ball of anxiety, regret, and self-loathing in my gut. This time, I just laughed at the ridiculousness of it all. I am a joke that I have been taking too seriously.

I was always trying to become someone else, rather than accepting myself as I am. As Carl Rogers said, “The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I can change”.

Sure, I can look and sound like I have class. I’ve been doing research for this role all of my life, but an act is all it will ever be. Behind the scenes, I will always be my true self. I hate pretending, I’m brutally honest. I like making vulgar, insensitive jokes. I love sex, and I love talking about sex‒a lot. Come to think of it most of the subjects I like to talk about are inappropriate, controversial, or just plain odd, as you’ll soon find out.

I can’t help it. I was born this way for the most part, and the rest I learned.

I grew up in a trailer. My mom, who is either a genius with High Functioning Autism or severely traumatized‒but most likely both, working her ass off to support her four kids with three different men along with her Antisocial Psychotic boyfriend. We have not a drop of aristocratic blood, going back as far as we know from any of my lineages. Yet, I’m still so fucking awesome.

Despite what society says, there is no “right” or “wrong” way to be. You just get penalized for being the wrong way! 

Society may not be ready to love me, but I am ready to love myself.

Epilogue:

He texted me the next morning, to my complete surprise, since I expected to never hear from him again. He told me, “They charged me $150.00 for the cleanup, so just Venmo me the money when you get a chance.” I told him I didn’t have that kind of money. He asked if I could just pay $50.00. I explained to him how even that was too much for me, as I had rent due in a few days and had to make what little money I had left last.

He said, “Well, I could be an asshole and just send Lyft your information and have you pay the entire thing. I was trying to be nice”.

I said, “You can give it to them, there literally isn’t enough money in my account. I am sorry, but I physically don’t have the money. I am out here completely on my own. I will send it when I can”.

…But I didn’t. 

“ Learning to listen in the bliss of undistracted silence and the comfort of inner humility is required for the gift of revelation.”- Carolyn Myss, Defy Gravity