So I exaggerate a little – am I wrong to jazz up my stories? By Andrea Askowitz

This story by our teacher was just published in Aeon.co

Before 8 November 2016, I thought it was okay to stretch the truth in storytelling, especially if you were trying to be funny. Now, I’m not sure.

TrueStory was my Match.com handle. I don’t remember Victoria’s handle; what I remember is her picture. She’s wearing drag-queen quantities of makeup: gold swathes across her eyelids, blush from cheekbone to temple, and fuck-me red lipstick. She’s leaning forward, her white, fitted shirt is unbuttoned way down, and she’s squeezing her boobs together with her arms to exaggerate her cleavage. She looks like a hoochie mama.

When I tell people about the pictures, and I love to tell people, Victoria says the pictures aren’t like that. She says I’m exaggerating. But that’s the way I saw them.

click here to read more in Aeon.co..

 

 

For more on this theme, listen to Episode 27: When Is It Okay to Bullshit?

 

 

Andrea Askowitz is an author, storyteller and performer. She is the creator of Lip Service, a literary event in Miami, and her work has appeared in The New York Times, Salon and on NPR, among others. She is co-producer of the podcast, Writing Class Radio, and is the author of My Miserable, Lonely, Lesbian Pregnancy (2008). She lives in Miami, Florida.

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allison langer

Allison Langer, MBA, travelled the States taking pictures, later worked for a ski photographer, then took pictures of her friends and their babies. This was the start of a 20-year photography business. She also taught high school photography and entrepreneurship. As her students wrote their business plans, she wrote hers to create a podcast about her writing class, which is now Writing Class Radio.

How Did It End?

By Viccy Simon

Viccy Simon is a student in Writing Class Radio. She wrote this story in response to a prompt in class. 

It ended in the ICU.

It ended after I’d told my mom all the ways she’d left the world in better shape than she found it.

It ended after I’d thanked her for Halloween costumes, and birthday cakes, and for peeling the hard-boiled eggs she packed in my lunchbox.

It ended after I’d filled up my sister’s voicemail with messages begging her to come soon.

It ended after I’d thanked my mom for teaching me to drive a stick.

It ended after I’d sung all the songs Mom used to sing to me when I was little.

It ended when I was hoarse with the talking and singing.

It ended when I’d texted my sister for the umpteenth time.

It ended when I was sure my mom was sick of my voice because I was sick of my voice. It ended after I pleaded with the doctor to keep her breathing just until morning in case my sister had managed to catch that overnight flight from Arizona.

It ended after the doctor told me that he could give her more morphine but she would die sooner and I opted for later and then regretted it when the doctor had left the floor and my mom started thrashing.

It ended after my sister called from the airport and said, “I told you I’d get here and I did.” 

It ended after my sister rushed in and held my mother’s hand.

It ended before my sister said one word.

For more stories like this one and a lesson or two or three on writing, listen to Writing Class Radio, a podcast that brings you stories from our real writing class and will inspire you to get started on writing your own stories. Check our resource page for writing teachers we love,  contestsplaces to submit and more.

Bye-Bye Facebook, Goodbye

By Ariel C.

Ariel is a student in our Saturday writing workshop series at the Lowe Art Museum. He wrote this story in response to the prompt, Something You Don't Understand.

I really don’t understand how people can be posting crap on social media all day. Seriously, my Facebook feed has become littered with selfies, stupid videos of people doing dumb things, political rhetoric, trips to “exotic places”, food porn and now there is a friend of mine who thinks he is a fucking theater critic and writes these long and boring recounts of the shows he goes to see. The last one was about Hamilton. I haven’t seen it, but after reading just a little bit of his review, I’m definitely NOT interested.

I have to log into Facebook and social media for work, after all, how can you be an “influencer” if you don’t “influence” anybody. I just try to keep it simple and post only about the cool things that are happening in the tech world. I must do this so the people working in the worst profession in the world, Public Relations that is, keep us in their sights when there are client projects coming.

Sometimes when I’m posting the coolest stuff like why artificial intelligence is going to replace all our jobs with giant robots…, fucking crickets… not many people seem to care but, there are always the ardent supporters who will hit like and retweet whatever you post, even if you are sharing a picture of a gigantic horse turd. One of these days I’m going to send everyone to fuck themselves and close all my social media accounts without even a sweet tweet goodbye. I doubt they’ll miss me, after all, there is so much crap on social media already.

For more stories like this one and a lesson or two or three on writing, listen to Writing Class Radio, a podcast that brings you stories from our real writing class and will inspire you to get started on writing your own stories. Check our resource page for writing teachers we love,  contests, places to submit and more.

CLASS SCOOP

Lis Mesa, Writing Class Radio podcast student, on the write path...

Through my early 20s, I was terrified to "give in" and write. I knew the life of an artist was challenging--for many reasons--so I did sensible things like get a Master's in Management and work 60 hours a week in an upper management position in the healthcare industry. At 28, I had become so physically and mentally burned out that I had to set on hold the life I worked so hard to build.

I couldn't continue to repress my desire to write. The words burned my insides and seeped from my pores. On the morning of my 29th birthday--exactly one year ago--I signed up for a writing workshop. Since then, I've taken classes and workshops and worked with other writers. The results have been an evolving body of work that I'm extremely proud off. 

I just turned 30, and this is where I need to be. This place as a writer. Just writing. It took me so long to give myself permission to write. And now I got accepted to The University of Edinburgh to study creative writing. I'm hoping this program will offer space to write, communion with other writers and the time to improve my craft.

This summer, Lis was invited to study with Emily Witt at the 2017 Tin House Summer Workshop.

In the Fall, Lis is going to The University of Edinburgh's one-year, full-time program, which offers students the opportunity to focus in depth on their own practice of poetry or fiction and develop both creative and critical skills through a combination of weekly workshops and seminars.

 

P.S....

Andrea Askowitz of gets published in The Manifest-Station....

Click here to read andrea's full essay, Born To Run

 

Allison Langer is teaching writing this summer in one of Florida's prisons with Exchange for Change.

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allison langer

Allison Langer, MBA, travelled the States taking pictures, later worked for a ski photographer, then took pictures of her friends and their babies. This was the start of a 20-year photography business. She also taught high school photography and entrepreneurship. As her students wrote their business plans, she wrote hers to create a podcast about her writing class, which is now Writing Class Radio.

Shared Bathroom

By Kristin Connor

Kristin Connor is a new student in Writing Class Radio. She wrote this story in response to a prompt in class.

My parents still live in the house that my sister, two brothers and I grew up in. I get to go there on a weekly basis and, while my Mom has changed around many of the rooms, it’s home.

Only my older brother and I can remember the time when there were six of us sharing one and a half bathrooms. We would call out “first shower” on the way home, all of us riding from our various destinations in my mom’s navy station wagon with wood paneling. We would then race each other out of the car, into the house, and up the stairs. I was usually pretty quick and would climb into the shower, pull the curtain closed and yell “I took my clothes off!” knowing that my brother would be too horrified to dare check if it was true.

That bathroom looks totally different now, and my parents did a significant addition to the house when adding one more bathroom and enough bedrooms for each of us to call our own. But when I walk into the “new” bathroom, it still feels like the “old” bathroom. The sage green subway tiles, with a black border, and black and white checkered floor tiles always felt so cold after a hot shower. It was the place where we learned to use the bathroom and brush our teeth, but also to negotiate and to compromise with each other.

My siblings and I are all very close today, and I believe that that bathroom is a huge part of it. These days, people’s homes have huge closets with sprawling bathrooms, many not shared with another person in the house. Had we not lived in a place where we had no choice but to face each other, scratch each other’s chicken pox, wait for the head lice shampoo to take effect, and then smile in the mirror while we brushed our teeth, I don’t know that we would be so close. I am grateful for that shared bathroom, as many fights as it caused, it also brought us together. 

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allison langer

Allison Langer, MBA, travelled the States taking pictures, later worked for a ski photographer, then took pictures of her friends and their babies. This was the start of a 20-year photography business. She also taught high school photography and entrepreneurship. As her students wrote their business plans, she wrote hers to create a podcast about her writing class, which is now Writing Class Radio.

I Went to Prison

By Allison Langer

Yesterday, I drove to the Dade Correctional Institution with my friend, Sonesh. He sits on the board of Exchange for Change, a non-profit started by Kathie Klarreich. Kathie started teaching writing workshops in prison in 2009 and began the writing exchanges in 2013. Kathie invited me to the performance so I could meet some of the students I'd be teaching come summertime.  I met volunteers and supporters from UM, FIU, FAU, and Ransom Everglades. All had families and careers, and yet still made time for this program. I found out about Exchange for Change this past spring when Ransom English teacher, Josh Stone did a Tedx talk at Ransom Everglades. He inspired me to volunteer. 

I've never been to prison before, so I had no idea what to expect. I wore loose jeans, a t-shirt and sneakers, no jewelry and only mascara. My long, blonde hair was pulled back into a ponytail. There are no phones or electronics allowed inside the prison. I was told to bring only my driver’s license and a few bucks.  We cleared security, which was like TSA on steroids: shoes off, belts off, walk-through the metal detector and a thorough pat down. Then, we were guided into a large room with a giant mural of Frozen on the brick wall, rows of chairs and men in light blue scrubs. Only they weren’t doctors, they were prisoners. David Jeffers, AKA Carolina Blue greeted me. He was a lean, well-groomed 6 ft tall light-skinned black man with a sweet smile and warm eyes. I was confused. He did not look like a thug. His energy was warm, not angry. Could he work here? I looked around. All the men were in the same blue uniform. Holy shit, these are the prisoners.

Carolina Blue handed me a brochure with stories written by the inmates. He pointed out his piece. "Let me know what you think," he said.  I didn't have my reading glasses, so I said I would read it when I got home.  I told him I would be teaching there in the summer and asked him to sign up for my class. I asked him how he'd gotten here and waited for his answer. It was hard to imagine this gentle man ever broke the law. Clearly avoiding my question, he told me that he'd transferred from another institution. Then I asked again, "What did you do to get incarcerated?" He smiled...said he would have to tell me another time. The next man I spoke with, Eduardo Martinez is 37 years old. He's been institutionalized for 17 years and has a life term. He told me that at 20 years old he made some really dumb decisions. He was in a scuffle and a gun went off and someone was killed. He left behind a pregnant girlfriend. His son visits, but not often. Eduardo was attractive, very fit, had such a kind presence. Yet his arms and hands were painted in tattoos...colorful art that blended together. His eyelids had a tiny design that I could not make out.  His words were smart and he was happy to tell me his story, so respectfully, he spoke of the wife he'd met and married in prison. "Will you take my class and write that story?" I asked, and he nodded with a smile. 

After socializing from 9:30-10:30am, one by one, the men got up and told their stories. How their young 20 year-old-selves made huge mistakes. How they have matured and learned from their time. How they wished they could get a second chance to contribute to society. Make it up to their mothers.

At 11:30 am, an alarm went off, the prisoners walked outside for lineup and each was accounted for. I thought of my own children, specifically my 7 year old son who is defiant and strong-willed and hyper and easily bored. When he was 3 years old, I took him to Parent Child Interactive Therapy (PGIT). During our first session, the doctor told me that if I didn't get his temper under control he would end up like the kids she visited in Juvenile Detention. Is it just about self control? The PGIT didn't work for us. We have a different therapist now. My son requires love and patience and I require the time and the information to give him what he needs. He cannot end up here. 

By 11:45, the men were back in their seats and the program resumed. The inmates told stories that revealed their chaotic childhoods devoid of a father and infused with an often-addicted or unavailable mother. Not every one of the men came from this type of background, I suspect, but it seemed like 99% grew up in a tough neighborhood with a mom only half there. I live in Coral Gables, with good public schools, nice neighbors and a very low crime rate. I know what it takes to parent one difficult child and two other children. I have two jobs, bills, responsibilities and stress. But I am there when the kids come home from school. I can drive them to enrichment activities and sports. I can help with homework, talk about their day, cook their favorite dinner, make them feel special. I wonder what these men would have become if they'd had attention and love and a peaceful home? If their choices would have been better? It's not too late. And I believe that.

We left the prison at 2:30pm. I was drained and inspired and grateful to meet those men and to hear their stories. I have new heroes and they live at the Dade CI.

I never thought I'd say this, but I cannot wait to go back to prison!

Born To Run. By Andrea Askowitz

Bonnie Askowitz and Hillary Clinton

Bonnie Askowitz and Hillary Clinton

This story by our teacher was just published in Manifest-Station.

MY MOM has spent her entire adult life volunteering for the Democratic Party. She’s also an artist and was also very active in the women’s movement. She was the president of the local chapter of National Organization for Women and the head of the Miami Women’s History Coalition. 

 

 

 

She campaigned for equal pay for equal work and worked so hard for the Equal Rights Amendment that I can still recite the language: Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex. The amendment died in 1982. I was 14.

My brother and I grew up under women’s lib, which meant there were no distinctions between chores. There was setting the table and taking out the garbage. There were no boy colors or girl colors. I had a purple bicycle, my brother had yellow. There wasn’t even a distinction in clothes. My mom tells me that at three years old, I only wanted to wear my brother’s clothes, so in every picture from that era there I am in beige corduroys and a brown T-shirt that said, “Keep on Truckin’.”

 

Click here to read the full essay in The Manifest-Station

 

ANDREA ASKOWITZ is the author of the memoir My Miserable, Lonely, Lesbian Pregnancy and the editor of Badass True Stories. She is also the co-host, teacher and co-producer of the podcast Writing Class Radio. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, Salon.com, xoJane, Brain, Child, and other places.

Episode 29: Can You Hear Me If I Can’t Hear You?

Writing Class Radio brings you real stories from an actual memoir writing class and ideas about how to write your own stories.

Student Allison Langer loves the process of working out her shit and reading it out loud. In class, she can’t hide behind a facade. Teacher Andrea Askowitz loves thinking about writing and ways to make stories stronger. She breaks down every sentence and takes out needless words. Andrea loves the craft.

Cheryl Strayed, Author of Wild and Tiny Beautiful Things, says writing is equal parts heart and art. Andrea loves the art. Allison loves the heart. That’s what you get on this podcast. Equal parts heart and art.

This episode is about connecting through writing. It’s also about the job of storytellers to bring us into their world.

New student, Nilsa Rivera, tells a story about her fear of isolation, which stems from a very unique set of circumstances--she’s hard of hearing. She uses writing to fight that fear.

Andrea relates to Nilsa in a very small way and emails her after class, which she immediately regrets doing. In class, students (and teacher) are only allowed to give feedback on the writing, not someone’s life because whether or not a reader or listener has had the exact same experience is irrelevant. What readers relate to is the emotion. When a story is well-told anyone can relate to it.  

You will hear how Nilsa felt about Andrea’s email and more about what it sounds like to be hard of hearing.

If you love this podcast, tell your friends.

This episode is sponsored by the Sanibel Island Writers Conference (fgcu.edu/siwc/). Andrea spoke to director Tom DeMarchi. Twelve years ago he started this conference sort of like a first draft of a story. He just went for it. Twelve years and twelve drafts later, Tom has a kick-ass conference.

The Sanibel Island Writers Conference is November 2 - 5, 2017. Be there!

If you’d like your company mentioned on our podcast, please contact us. If we love your company, other people will too.

We’d like to know more about your world? If you have time, send us your thoughts on twitter @wrtgclassradio. Or on our Facebook page or email us at info@writingclassradio.com

If you want to hear your story on our show, enter our writing contest. Here’s the prompt: Write about something you don’t understand. For example, I don’t understand why nobody understands this world I live in. For contest details visit writingclassradio.com. Deadline is May 31, 2017.

Writing Class Radio is produced by Virginia lora (virginialora.com), Allison Langer (allisonlanger.com) and Andrea Askowitz (andreaaskowitz.com) . Theme music by Daniel Correa (danielcorrea.com) Additional music by Ari Herstand (ariherstand.com).

Writing Class Radio is sponsored by and recorded at the University of Miami School of Communication (com.miami.edu). There’s more writing class on our website. Study the stories we study and listen to our craft talks. If you don’t want to participate in our writing contest but still want a prompt, pick one of our daily prompts from our website or follow us on Twitter (@wrtgclassradio) where we post prompts daily.

There’s no better way to understand ourselves and each other, than by writing and sharing our stories. Everyone has a story. What’s yours?

 

Click here to listen. Episode 29: Can You Hear Me If I Can't Hear You?

 

 


 

Episode 28: Who Has Time?

Get ready folks, Allison and Andrea are hosting this episode together: an episode about time. Student Allison Langer is obsessed with the lack of time she has lately. So, in class teacher, Andrea Askowitz, gave this prompt: I wish I had more time to_______.

Andrea reads her story from class about wanting more time to work.  Allison reads a story she brought into class about wanting more time PERIOD. You will also hear responses to the prompt, I wish I had more time to _______ from students Diego Saldana-Rojas, Lis Mesa and Viccy Simon.

Allison and Andrea discuss the stories and try to figure out why people without children have no time. Ok, so maybe they have a full time job, but still.

We’d love to know how your life is affected by time? If you have time, send us your thoughts on twitter @wrtgclassradio. Or on our Facebook page or email us at info@writingclassradio.com

If you love this podcast, tell your friends.

If you want to hear your story on our show, enter our writing contest. Here’s the prompt: Write about something you don’t understand. For example, I don’t understand where my time goes. For contest details visit writingclassradio.com.

Writing Class Radio is produced by Diego Saldana Rojas,  Virginia lora, Allison Langer and Andrea Askowitz. Theme music by Daniel Correa. Additional music by Adriel Borshansky, Bluejay and Ari Herstand


Writing Class Radio is sponsored by and recorded at the University of Miami School of Communication. There’s more writing class on our website. Study the stories we study and listen to our craft-talks. If you don’t want to participate in our writing contest but still want a prompt, pick one of our daily prompts from our website or follow us on Twitter where we post prompts daily.

There’s no better way to understand ourselves and each other, than by writing and sharing our stories. Everyone has a story. What’s yours?

 

Episode 27: When Is it Okay to Bullshit?

Lies seem to be the new norm in our world. There’s probably a bumper sticker that says Lies Are the New Truth. Great bumper sticker, but it has Andrea Askowitz totally freaked out. Andrea is the teacher of the class and the host for this episode, which is about lies in stories and lies in the world. It starts with a story by a new student, Claudia Franklin, that got us thinking about truth and lies in memoir and when, if ever, is lying fair game.

Claudia’s story takes a surprising turn as she imagines what life would have been like if her father wasn’t the hen-pecked man he really was. Her story left Andrea wondering when, if ever, is trust broken between narrator and listener/reader.

Fifteen years ago, Andrea took her first memoir writing class from Terrie Silverman and has lived by and preached the tenet she learned. Terrie said, “Don’t let the facts get in the way of the truth.”  Andrea took that to mean that it was okay to exaggerate or change little facts for the sake of a bigger emotional truth.

There’s an unspoken pact between a memoir writer and reader or listener that says, what’s being shared is the truth. But what is the truth?

In 2003, James Frey wrote a book called A Million Little Pieces. The book  was distributed as memoir. But Frey stretched the truth in a few places. In one example, he wrote that he spent 87 days in jail. According to police records, he served 5 hours. A lot of people thought he lied, including Oprah.

Andrea wrote a story once about taking her wife, Vicky, to a tantric sex retreat. The story’s about how she couldn’t handle the intimacy and acted like a clown the whole time. They had to do intimacy exercises including Tai Chi, where, in the privacy of their hotel room, they were instructed to stand facing each other, perform pelvic thrusts back and forth, then arm motions with elbows in, and hands out to the sides. Andrea added jazz hands.

Except she didn’t actually add jazz hands in their hotel room. She wished she had. Instead, in the story she wrote, she added jazz hands because she thought jazz hands perfectly expressed her feelings in that moment.

Allison Langer, co-producer and student in the class, challenged her. When Andrea says she tells the truth, Allison says, “What about jazz hands?”

Before this current presidential election, Andrea would have defended jazz hands as an expression of her truth. Now she’s not sure. Because now something has shifted in our culture. Now, we don’t know what we’re getting from America’s highest office. And now with the normalization of lies no one knows what to believe.

The truth stretching in storytelling that used to be okay for Andrea, doesn’t feel as okay anymore. Now, she’s afraid no one’s going to believe her stories.

What Terrie said, “Don’t let the facts get in the way of the truth,” is happening more than ever. Especially outside of the boundaries of storytelling. No one’s letting the facts get in the way of their truth, and that feels dangerous. So, in a panic, Andrea called Terrie Silverman, to ask her if storytellers can be trusted anymore.

Terrie alleviates Andrea’s fears. She says that the rules are different in storytelling and politics. Politics are about manipulation and propaganda. Stories are about getting to a deep truth. Intentions are different. And the number one intention of the memoir writer is to get to his or her truth.

Now Andrea understands why it felt like James Frey broke the pact.  Because we question his intention; He didn’t seem to be going after a bigger truth.

Now Andrea thinks that if anything has changed for storytellers because of the lying culture we’ve been thrust into lately, it’s that now, more than ever, we need jazz hands.

When do you think it’s okay to bullshit? We want to hear from you. Send us your thoughts on Twitter @wrtgclassradio. Or on our Facebook page or email us info@writingclassradio.com

If you live in Los Angeles, take class with Terrie Silverman. Find her online at creativerites.com.

If you want to hear your story on our show, enter our writing contest. Here’s the prompt: Write about something you don’t understand. For more details visit writingclassradio.com.

Writing Class Radio is produced by Diego Saldana Rojas,  Virginia lora, Allison Langer and me, Andrea Askowitz. Theme music by Daniel Correa. Additional music by Josh Woodward and Kevin McLeud.

Writing Class Radio is sponsored by and recorded at the University of Miami School of Communication. There’s more writing class on our website. Study the stories we study and listen to our craft-talks.   If you don’t want to participate in our writing contest but still want a prompt, pick one of our daily prompts from our website or follow us on Twitter where we post prompts daily.

There’s no better way to understand ourselves and each other, than by writing and sharing our stories. Everyone has a story.  What’s yours?

Episode 26: Writing Is Therapy

Allison Langer is as student in the class and the host on Episode 26 of Writing Class Radio, a podcast for people who love and get inspired by true, personal stories and want to learn a little about how to write their own stories. 

This episode looks at writing as therapy. We look at writing as a way to understand these things we carry: secrets, pain, and shame.

Three new students share their stories. Michelle Massanet tells about a rape that she hid for 22 years and how much lighter she feels since writing about it. Lis Mesa explores getting to the real story she’s been trying to tell all semester and Jennifer Dertouzos finally talks about her brother’s suicide on the last night of class.

Allison came to class to learn the rules of writing and to get better at it but never imagine that writing down all her hidden shit and then sharing it would feel so therapeutic. Listeners will hear questions Allison has been forced to look at in her life. Things like why did she marry a man with addiction problems? Was she trying to save him? Fix him? What does that say about her? She’s also written about the difficult relationship she has with her mom, her ex-boyfriend’s suicide, her pathetic dating life, her children, her wrinkles, and her tits.

Like Allison, many new students eventually write about a trauma they have hidden and carried for way too long. There is an emotional release, and then their writing changes. The shame is lifted. They  seem free and their stories roll out.

Brene Brown is someone who has dedicated her life to researching shame and vulnerability. Her TED talks are something we suggest our first time students to listen to or watch because we want them to open up, have the courage to be vulnerable, to be seen, to be honest. Brown says, “We have to talk about shame. Life is about daring greatly.” We think writing the truth is daring greatly and we know from experience that once you’re vulnerable on the page, you feel better in life.

One of our listeners, Loree Schrager is a therapist who told us she refers our podcast to her clients. Allison spent an hour with Loree, milking her for free therapy and talking about why she recommends our podcast to her patients. She said, “When you write things down it helps you make sense of them, and get some perspective. Think about change. See a little bit clearer.”

Class can feel like therapy although we comment on the writing, not the trauma, which diffuses the emotion.

If you love our show, please tell your friends. The next contest has just begun. Here’s the prompt: Write About Something You Don’t Understand. Deadline is April 30, 2017. More details on our website.

If you’d like to participate in one of our workshops, visit our website. If you don’t want to enter our contest, but want a prompt to get you writing, we post them on our website or follow us on Twitter @wrtgclassradio where we post daily prompts daily.

Writing Class Radio is sponsored by and recorded at the University of Miami School of Communication. Writing Class Radio is produced by Andrea Askowitz, Diego Saldana-Rojas, Virginia Lora and Allison Langer. Theme music by Daniel Correa. Additional music by Ari Herstand, Montplaisier, and Misha Mehrel.

There’s more writing class on our website writingclassradio.com. Study the stories we study and enjoy our craft talks.

There’s no better way to understand ourselves and each other, than by writing and sharing our stories. Everyone has a story.  What’s yours?

 

Comment

allison langer

Allison Langer, MBA, travelled the States taking pictures, later worked for a ski photographer, then took pictures of her friends and their babies. This was the start of a 20-year photography business. She also taught high school photography and entrepreneurship. As her students wrote their business plans, she wrote hers to create a podcast about her writing class, which is now Writing Class Radio.

Episode 25: A Time I Fucked Up Part 2

We picked two winners of our first annual writing contest. Listeners responded to the prompt: A Time I Fucked Up. We got tons of submissions revealing your major fuck ups and tons revealing your little mess ups. One woman’s vacation slideshow accidentally included a naked selfie. Another woman almost killed a sheep. One did kill a chicken. And here’s what gringa Hope Torrents said to her Spanish mother-in-law on Thanksgiving. “Hoy es el dia del polvo,” which means, “Today is the the day of the fuck.”  

What we know about good storytelling is that it doesn’t matter if the mistake was big or small. The story is not as much about what happened to a person, as what the storyteller makes of that experience.

Susan Buttenweiser is the winner featured on this episode. She teaches writing in New York City public schools, in a women’s prison and in a juvenile facility. In her story about getting into a bar fight, she discovers a persistent character trait--a need to be needed. Sometimes that need puts her in danger. But she re-channels that urge into motherhood.

Diego Saldana-Rojas, our audio producer and student in the class, responded to the prompt with a story about the time he fucked up the audio at Writing Class Radio’s live show. Diego is extremely hard on himself and takes the listener into a dark fantasy about torturing himself for repeated failures. Like Susan, Diego is looking to discover what it is about him, what is that persistent trait, that sets him up for failure.

Thank you for listening to Writing Class Radio. We hope you enjoyed hearing from our listeners. We had so much fun with this contest that we’re holding another one. Deadline is April 30, 2017. More details on our website. Here’s the prompt: Write About Something You Don’t Understand.

If you’d like to participate in one of our workshops, visit our website. If you don’t want to enter our contest, but want a prompt to get you writing, we post them on our website or follow us on Twitter @wrtgclassradio where we post daily prompts daily.

Writing Class Radio is sponsored by and recorded at the University of Miami School of Communication. Writing Class Radio is produced by Andrea Askowitz, Diego Saldana-Rojas, Virginia Lora and Allison Langer. Theme music by Daniel Correa. Additional music by Andy G. Cohen, Julie Maxwell, and Rest You Sleeping Giant. 

 

This episode is sponsored by Puzzle Israel. If you’re looking for a customized tour of Israel with the coolest, smartest, nicest people, go with Puzzle Israel. Find them at PuzzleIsrael.com.

There’s more writing class on our website writingclassradio.com. Study the stories we study and enjoy our craft talks.

There’s no better way to understand ourselves and each other, than by writing and sharing our stories. Everyone has a story.  What’s yours?

Episode 21: Inappropriate in all the Right Ways: Live Show with Ann Randolph

Writing Class Radio goes live to the stage. This episode is part live show, part interview with star of our show, the award-winning, solo-performer, Ann Randolph. Allison Langer is our host.

This episode is about the importance of telling stories--not fairy tales, but the real scary, true stories we like to hide. Allison got into writing after the death of her young daughter. Writing about the situation helped her deal with the pain and get back to the job of mothering her other children. Telling that story also helped her let go of the label she cast on herself as that woman who lost a child. Listen to how she learned to get personal with her writing.

Andrea Askowitz tells the story of being rejected by a man when she was 8 months pregnant after being inseminated with donor sperm. When a man offers to give Andrea a massage, she gets excited by the possibility of finally getting laid, even though she’s a lesbian. Andrea describes the massage in very intimate detail. She also shares her shame from the ultimate rejection and how that shame disappeared when she told her story in her very first writing class.

Ann Randolph was a student in that class. Andrea feels forever indebted to Ann for laughing at her pain.

Ann tells the story of how she worked her way up to performing off-Broadway and then lost it all. Ann persists in telling her stories even after being called inappropriate or failing miserably and ending up broke. When Ann goes off mic, Allison asks Ann why she comes out on stage in costume as Shanti Lightgiver and then disrobes. Ann tells us what she goes through each time she walks into a new theater. She talks about the time she bombed and how she recovers from failure. She details her experience with producers Mel Brooks and Anne Bancroft and how her dream of being a successful performer almost came true.

Ann then takes the audience through a writing exercise, where several of them step to the mic and tell their own stories.

Writing Class Radio is produced by Andrea Askowitz, Allison Langer, and Diego Saldana-Rojas. Daniel Correa is our theme musician for this episode and the coming semester. We’re sponsored by The University of Miami School of Communication and Sanibel Island Writers Conference, coming Nov. 3-6, 2016. Thank you Miami Light Box and all the volunteers who made the show happen. Thank you to our listeners.

We want your story contest. Here’s the prompt: A time you fucked up. Give us your best 1,200 words or fewer. First and second place winners will be aired on our podcast. Deadline: November 30, 2016. Guidelines at writingclassradio.com.


There’s no better way to understand ourselves and each other than by writing and sharing our stories. Everyone has a story. What’s yours?

Comment

allison langer

Allison Langer, MBA, travelled the States taking pictures, later worked for a ski photographer, then took pictures of her friends and their babies. This was the start of a 20-year photography business. She also taught high school photography and entrepreneurship. As her students wrote their business plans, she wrote hers to create a podcast about her writing class, which is now Writing Class Radio.

Episode 23: I Fart, You Fart, We All Fart and Most of Us Deny It

Allison Langer is the host on Episode 23 of Writing Class Radio, a podcast for people who love and get inspired by true, personal stories and want to learn a little about how to write their own stories. Allison is a student in the class. She shares all the reasons why writing class is so much fun. FUN: a theme chosen because life has gotten too busy, too scheduled and way too serious.

In writing class, we laugh. We disconnect from social media and from judgement. We share our most intimate and peculiar “things” and then cry or crack up, whatever the context requires. Instead of judgement, there’s compassion, requests for more details, suggestions to make the second draft better. In writing class, we bond through story and life experiences.

This episode hopes to show the humorous side of writing class; the goofy, first draft silliness that happens when we can write as if nobody is listening.

The students you will hear responded to prompts given in class. Misha Mehrel tells us about the time he and his dad pretended to have accents just for the fun of it. Nicki Post reveals a secret: she squeezes and releases her butt cheeks all day long. Why does she do this? Listen and find out.

Allison reveals her once private and now not so private “things.” But first, Allison invites her dad and everyone who has ever dated her or anyone who plans to date her to tune out.

With just fifteen minutes left in class one evening, Andrea throws out a random word as a prompt. The word: Fart. Everyone let’s it rip: Diego Saldana Rojas, Chaplin Tyler, Nicki, Misha and even Andrea Askowitz, the teacher of the class. You’ll learn about HAFE (high altitude flatus expulsion)...a real thing. And then Andrea and Allison discuss what stories about farts says about someone’s character.

We hope you enjoy sitting in on our writing class. If you’d like to participate in a real writing class, visit our website for options all over the world including our miami workshops offered every other month. If you’d like to participate now, here’s the prompt for this episode: Write about a time when you felt free and happy. Write for 10 minutes, record what you wrote into the voice memo of your phone and send it to us at info@writingclassradio.com. Your response could air on this podcast.

Writing Class Radio is produced by Andy Benoit, Andrea Askowitz and Allison Langer.

Theme music by Daniel Correa. Additional music by Taryn Southern and other royalty-free sound.

Writing Class Radio is sponsored by and recorded at the University of Miami School of Communication.

There’s more writing class on our website writingclassradio.com. Follow us on Twitter, @wrtgclassradio.

There’s no better way to understand ourselves and each other, than by writing and sharing our stories. Everyone has a story. What’s yours?

Walking in Someone Else's Shoes Feels Impossible Right Now

Andrea Askowitz is the host of Episode 22. She talks about how writing a good story and understanding the results of this presidential election require a mammoth effort in understanding someone else’s point of view, an effort she is failing at right now. She interviews Stephen Elliott, who is the author of seven books and two movies and the founder and senior editor at The Rumpus, about the job of a memoir writer.

Stephen says that in literature, memoir and in life there are no bad guys. “Everybody is part hero and part villain. Most people know that intuitively. But sometimes in our writing we get so angry at somebody that we decide to portray them as strictly a villain. And we forget that somebody loves them. That they’re capable of love. That they do good things. We don’t look for the reasons why they do what they do. We paint them as evil and that’s just never an accurate portrayal of anybody, so it comes off as false because you’re not really exploring that person’s character.”

It is our job, according to Stephen, to strive for honesty, which is not someplace you arrive at, but a constant quest.

To get her students closer to the real truth, Andrea had them write from another person’s point of view or to put themselves in another person’s position. Chaplin tries to understand his dad by writing about a time they worked the same difficult job. Allison Langer also tries to understand her ex-boyfriend Gerald by writing letters in Gerald’s voice.

Andrea and Allison have a conversation about a time recently when Allison stepped into someone else’s shoes. She was teaching a writing class and felt challenged by one of the students. Allison was able, in the moment, to realize that the student probably just needed to be known as someone more than the way she appeared. Andrea on the other hand, has been struggling for months to put herself in her friend, Esther’s shoes. Esther spent the months leading up to the election spewing vitriol against Hillary Clinton, including arguments professing the superiority of male bosses. Andrea knows that to tell an honest story, she has to be able to really understand Esther’s motivations. But she’s not sure she can. Certainly not now.

Yaddyra Peralta, a new student in Writing Class Radio, does the hard work in figuring out why her brother, who hurt her, did what he did.

Writing Class Radio is produced by Andy Benoit, our new sound guy, Diego Saldana-Rojas, Allison Langer, and Andrea Askowitz.

Theme music by Daniel Correa. Additional music by The Mann Sisters and Kevin Myles Wilson.

Writing Class Radio is sponsored and recorded at the University of Miami School of Communication.

This episode is sponsored by The South Beach Jazz Festival, created by David New. Every act at the festival features a performer with a disability. This is a perfect sponsor for this episode because the Jazz Festival’s mission is to help people experience what people with disabilities experience. One event is called Lights Out Miami Beach, Dining in the Dark. On Saturday Dec. 10 at Nexxt on Lincoln Road participants will eat blindfolded while listening to jazz. Tickets available for all events December 7 through 11, 2016 at sobejazz.com.

There’s more writing class on www.writingclassradio.com. Study the stories we study and listen to our craft-talks. If you don’t like the prompt I just gave you, pick one of the daily prompts from our website. Or follow us on Twitter, @wrtgclassradio where we post daily prompts daily.

There’s no better way to understand ourselves and each other, than by writing and sharing our stories. Everyone has a story.  What’s yours?

 

I fell in love with a girl

By Karen Collazo     

At 35 years old, I finally know what it feels like to fall in love—and, at first sight. I’ve lusted, crushed hard and really liked, but never loved. Then Patty walked through the door of the Women’s Narcotics Anonymous meeting. It was March and unseasonably chilly that evening. It was my first attempt at socializing outside in the real world. I had just been released from a two-week spiritual journey at Orchid, the Women’s-Only Rehabilitation Center in West Palm Beach. It was my first NA meeting and my whole body was buzzing with anxious energy.

Patty casually scanned the dimly lit room, as she quietly slid into the seat across from me. Our eyes locked like two gear arrangements joining in the precise gap that was designed to connect one to the other. In that electric space between us, I witnessed a single gossamer thread glide across the room. It leapt from her chest toward mine and cast a silky web around my heart. She had pulled me in without uttering a single word. I immediately thought: I have to know this girl.

It took three months, before I worked up the courage to allow the thread that connected us to strengthen its hold. We were at a meeting, once again sitting directly across from each other. I turned around to grab an Oreo Cookie, but was struggling. The speaker of the night had started to address the group and I didn’t want to make any noise. After a few minutes I gave up. Then Patty gets up to pour herself some coffee. There was a fresh pot sitting on the table behind me. She pulled two Oreo’s from the pack and on her way back to her seat, delicately placed one on my lap. That night, I friended her on Facebook and sent her a short message: I almost didn’t recognize you by your profile photo. You are most definitely sweeter in person. She replied: Do I look tough? Because I am.

On our first date, she told me her story. How growing up her mother used to beat her in front of her little sister. Her mother had been 19 when she got pregnant with Patty. She wasn’t in love with Patty’s father so didn’t want to go through with the pregnancy, but her grandmother intervened. For the next 17 years, Patty’s mother provided daily reminders that she was unwanted. Eventually, she fell in love with another man and had a daughter that was loved and cared for the way Patty never got to know. One day, Patty’s mother is rummaging through her bedroom when she comes across a love letter from a girl, tucked inside Patty’s jewelry box. Full of rage, her mother drives to Patty’s high school. She finds her sitting with a group of friends outside the main entrance. She storms over, with the love letter in one hand, and begins shouting at Patty. She belittles her daughter in front of her friends, yanks her by the arm and marches right into the office to withdraw Patty out of school. It was two months before graduation.

Patty’s mother had every intention of shipping her off to the army, but instead dropped her off at a shelter after learning that her daughter was too young to join. Abandoned by her family at 17, she found herself navigating without a map. Sadistic sex and heavy drug use were now her means for survival. She bounced around, from woman to woman, lost in a labyrinth of false connections with mother-figures, deceptive lovers and truly fucked up individuals. She fed off their heat, one day at a time. And just like every addict tends to do, she was constantly looking for the next high, before even coming off of the one she was on. I listened intently while the netting around my heart grew tighter.

Over Caramel Macchiatos, I concluded that we were absolutely destined for one another. We both had Sun and Moon tattoos on our right shoulder blade, which as it turns out, we got the same exact year. Back in 2003, she returned to Miami, after living in New York City for two years. That the same year I moved to New York. We were like to ships passing in the night. As the night wore on, I learned that her dog’s name is Cleo and what are the chances… My dog’s name is Chloe! All her best friends were Pisces and I’m most compatible with Scorpios. The morning before we met up, she had seen an Instagram post of the New York Times Best Seller, Luckiest Girl Alive, a novel by Jessica Knoll. That night I had brought it with me to Starbucks – to give to her.

Looking into her dark brown eyes, framed by long soft eyelashes, I was immediately reminded of a line delivered by Tak, in the movie 2046: “That day, six years ago, a rainbow appeared in my heart. It's still there, like a flame burning inside me”. 

But unlike the old-timers who’d climb a mountain, find a tree, carve a hole in it, whisper their secret into the hole and cover it up with mud so that nobody else would ever learn their secret... I didn’t think once about protecting my heart, like I had the tendency to do. I wanted to tell her that very first day, that I loved her.

As a little girl, I was exposed to the prince charming archetype. Once exposed to what “happily ever after” looked like, I developed an unhealthy fervor for stories with knights in shining armors. I read all the romance novels I could get my hands on and devoured every romantic comedy starring Meg Ryan. I spent family vacations in Spain, daydreaming about my future European honeymoon with Mr. Collazo, instead of enjoying the Goya paintings that hung before me at El Museo Del Prado. I envisioned him to be tall, dark and handsome. He’d protect me at any cost and stand vigil by my side as I lay in bed dying from a terminal illness.

And yet, here I was. Consumed by obsessive thoughts of loving someone who did not come close to the image I had held onto for so many years. She was broken and her edges were made of poetry. She had a boyish gait, thin figure and Morrissey hair. I wanted to love every inch of her body with my mouth. I wanted her to know what it was like to be wanted.

I wondered how many beautiful experiences I may have missed because I never considered the possibility. Then again, perhaps there was never meant to be a previous experience of this kind. In that way, my heart would be wholly available to her—like a vacant drawer in a chest, whose purpose is not stripped by the fact that it sits empty for so many years. It just needs to be filled one day.

A week after our first date, Patty shared where she was at in her recovery, with the twenty women sitting around the small wood-paneled lounge reserved for our weekly NA meetings. She spoke about recently coming to the conclusion that relationships were not a good idea. In the past, she explained, she’d jump from one to the other, not allowing any time to heal and letting these new partnerships consume her, body and soul. And when the union reached its inevitable expiration date, the unavoidable downward spiral that followed always led her back to her drug of choice. To a room of sympathetic women, and one rejected girl, she confessed that after a recent first date, she had almost given in to this predictable pattern.

I sat silent staring at my toes. I had painted them red in anticipation of our date and the bright blue sandals I was now wearing, strapped across my pale skin, created a very patriotic combination, which I found funny. My efforts to block the words were absolutely fruitless, though. This speech was meant for me and accepting it, the knot that tied our hearts together began to come undone.

Perhaps I had been too aggressive when we sat in my car listening to “Obstacle 1” by Interpol, and I grabbed her beautiful face for a deep impassioned kiss? “She puts the weight into my little heart,” the singer croons. In that moment, she hadn’t hesitated with her mouth, but her heart must have deflated under my grip. I confessed to her that I had not been in a serious relationship in thirteen years and that I only slept around to feed a primordial need, because I thought love was momentary. In hindsight, I should have added that I thought she was different. But, I buried that secret into a hole and covered it with mud.

Before she could even finish sharing, my little blue sandals walked out of that lonely room and led me to my car. I looked back, hoping to catch her standing right behind me, but she wasn’t there. No matter, I decided, I’m going to do what I know is best: love that girl. 

 

Episode 20: Where Do I Go From Here? metadata

Writing Class Radio is a podcast of a writing class. You’ll get true, personal stories from the students in the class, plus a little about how to write your own stories. This episode is about those moments in life when you have no idea how you got here, whether to stay or go, or where to go next.

Allison Langer, student in the class and host for this episode, asks the questions most of us struggle with. Did you land that dream job that turned out to be not so dreamy? Do you wish you lived somewhere else but can’t afford to move? Do you wonder what life would be like if you could just finish school already? Have you ever reached that point when you’re not sure you want to go on at all?

Writing Class Radio teacher, Andrea Askowitz forces Diego Saldana-Rojas, our audio producer to write stories in class, then finish the stories at home. Finally, at the end of the 2nd semester, Diego did his homework. He reads his story What Next?

Allison asks Diego why he didn’t ask his former editor for a recommendation. Diego confesses that he messed up a few times and did not feel confident his editor would give him a good recommendation. Even though it was his first job, he felt like he couldn’t mess up.

Diego wonders if he should just give up freelance audio to become a bartender, a much less stressful job. He was not the only person with this question. Three other students in the class were also uncertain they were on the right path.

Nicki Post, student in the class and a regular on the podcast, tells the story of leaving city after city and starting over, which worked until she found a group of friends in Miami she didn’t want to leave.

Nicki’s stories got Allison thinking about why people leave: college, new job, marriage, divorce, failure. In Diego’s case, fear prevents him from leaving. In Nicki’s case, fear causes her to leave.

Student Missy Hernandez tells us about a time she felt she had nowhere left to go. Her mom took her to the psych emergency room when she had thoughts about killing herself.

Karen Collazo, a student in the class is in her 30’s, had the great job in NYC and was miserable. She reminds us of Noelle Hancock, who left a $95,000 writing job in NYC to scoop ice cream in St. John. Noelle wrote an essay for cosmo.com. There’s more Karen on our blog at www.writingclassradio.com.

Diego and Allison talked about the imposter syndrome? That feeling where you think you don’t deserve your job because you’re not good at it. Cheryl Strayed, author of Wild and the host of the podcast Dear Sugar Radio, said she feels like an imposter, so did Gretchen Rubin, the author of The Happiness Project.

This episode is sponsored by the Sanibel Island Writers Conference. Tom DeMarchi, the director talks about creating the conference he’d want to attend. So he invited our very own, Andrea Askowitz to teach there. More on our website. Sanibel is November 3-6, 2016.

Writing Class Radio is hosting our first live show Oct. 1, 2016 at the Light Box in Wynwood featuring Ann Randolph, an award winning solo performer and writing teacher. Details and tickets are on our website.

Do you feel like an imposter? That’s the prompt for today. Set a timer for 10 minutes, record what you wrote on the voice memo of your phone and send it to info@writingclassradio.com. Your story could air on our show.

Writing Class Radio is produced by Diego Saldana-Rojas, Andrea Askowitz and me, Allison Langer with editorial help from Sonesh Chainani.

Theme music by Adriel Borshansky. Additional music by Misha Mehrel, The Boundary Birds and Daniel Correa.

Writing Class Radio is sponsored by and recorded at the University of Miami School of Communication.

Study the stories we study and listen to our craft-talks. There’s no better way to understand ourselves and each other, than by writing and sharing our stories.

Everyone has a story.  What’s yours?

 

Comment

allison langer

Allison Langer, MBA, travelled the States taking pictures, later worked for a ski photographer, then took pictures of her friends and their babies. This was the start of a 20-year photography business. She also taught high school photography and entrepreneurship. As her students wrote their business plans, she wrote hers to create a podcast about her writing class, which is now Writing Class Radio.

Him

By Karen Collazo     

Each one of my addictions provides its own unique high. Shoplifting gives me a real sense of accomplishment. For days afterwards, I marvel at my collection of stolen goods and I’m filled with pride. I feel smart and slick and vindicated for having taken something that this world owes me. Binge-eating suppresses my anxiety. When I sit down and stuff an entire bag of Cheese Doodles down my throat, I’m focused on a specific task, with a straightforward end in sight, blocking out all the other noise. There is but one thing on my mind and that is to pick up the next doodle, and then the next, and then the next—until I’m staring at the bottom of an empty bag that is covered in orange cheese flakes. This act refocuses my attention away from the thing that is causing me to panic. Cocaine makes me confident. One bump and I’m the smartest, hottest and funniest person in that room. Another bump and my ideas are the fucking best. Sex is about control. I hold the dial between my legs and I get to choose how much pleasure you’ll enjoy. And when they beg for it, my ego floats high above our heads. I can only cum when I’m looking down at a puny man that moans for more.

From an intellectual standpoint, I understand that these are unhealthy coping mechanisms that I need to quit. These are dangerous and harmful ways to avoid life on life’s terms. But there is one addiction I have yet to share with you that I refuse to stop giving into. It is an obsession that infinitely outweighs the overwhelming need to binge-drink, shoplift, snort an eight ball of coke or eat a whole box of Swiss Cake Rolls in one sitting. It was eighteen years ago when I had my first taste. And since then, I’ve found myself time and time again leaping beyond my perverse limits for just a second of the most irresistible indulgence I’ve ever experienced. For a long time, I was confused about my desire and what it achieved for me. But now that I’ve begun my journey of recovery, I have a better sense of what it is and why I seek it out with such fervor. The one drug I won’t give up is Him.

We met late in high school. It wasn’t until the 11th grade that our paths crossed. I had gone to another school nearby, but due to a falling out with friends—after an unfortunate event at a party, I decided to transfer. I had gone from the popular preppy girl to an emotionally disturbed punk rock teen in the span of one summer, and was now looking forward to reintroducing this new poetic and misunderstood version of myself to the world. It was my first day at my new school, when a practice fire drill during fourth period Journalism thrust all the students out into the sweltering August heat. I was wearing the required uniform of the time: wide-legged Jnco jeans, a washed-out thrift store baseball tee, black combat boots, a Claire’s beaded choker and Manic Panic cotton candy pink streaks in my jet-black curly hair. A tall brunette approached me excitedly.

“Hey, aren’t you that girl from the Montel Williams show?” she asked.

“Uhh, no… I think you have the wrong person,” I said.

She laughed it off and suddenly I found myself being pulled through the crowd towards The Tree, a shaded corner across the street from the school where all the rocker kids lounged under an old pepper tree—before, during and after school. She quickly introduced me to her misfit friends as the girl she just confused for the one on the Montel Williams show and I thought: well, it could be worse. The group that had gathered was debating what to do for the weekend when someone mentioned there was going to be a show.

At the time, the music scene in our town was tiny. Indie rock bands played to small overexcited crowds, in whatever space they could find. Most weekends, kids stood around listening to live music in old-timey wood-paneled and carpeted pool halls, makeshift indoor skate parks and warehouses that housed ice cream trucks by night and future rock stars by day. You knew there was a show coming up only by the cheap black-and-white flyers that were passed out at the event you were currently attending. They were simple ads—usually listed band names like, a time, a place and a rough hand-drawn sketch of a nun bent over while a priest takes her from behind.

The first time I interacted with Him was at a hole-in-the-wall bar that was command central for the local rockers. At the time, the neighborhood was very sketchy. You had to tip the homeless guy on the corner to “keep an eye” on your car, which was parked on the side of the street. If you didn’t throw the guy a couple of bucks, he would look the other way if someone tried to break into it. The place was grungy, but the bartenders never carded and they called you “sweetheart” and “darling” when asking: “What’ll you be havin’?”

The boy was tall, skinny, pale and shy. He stood around cracking stupid jokes with his friends, but didn’t really say much else. He called me “rosy cheeks,” handed me a demo of his band and asked if I wanted a beer. He was cute and his smile was genuine. It might have been the way he threw a glance in my direction every so often, as though he was trying to make a decision, which caught my initial attention. But it was his emotional intelligence that ultimately did me in. I crushed hard for years and then he became just another addiction.

It wasn’t long after the 11th grade started that a close-knit group of us all became very good friends. We shared a common love of music and an open optimism for life beyond what we knew. We felt bigger than our town. We lived for each other and the weekends, when we would steal away and enjoy the life of a rebellious teenager's dream. We skipped school to watch scary movies that I borrowed from my part-time job at Blockbuster. We hung out on the beach. We drank beers in empty parking lots, while listening to Sunny Day Real Estate. On Sundays, we snuck into clubs, where we danced to Depeche Mode and made fun of the Goth kids. When the weather was nice, we’d pack into my two-door Toyota Tercel and drive out to my parent's beach place to get high on weed and roll on ecstasy. When any one of our parents went away on vacation, we’d take over that friend’s empty house and throw bacchanalia-style get-togethers. We were friends, lovers and family.  Young and free, surrounded by my new friends, I felt safe, understood and loved. Life had yet to burden me with the death of my parents, debt and true heartache. I was so lucky then and didn’t know it.

When I look back at the happiest point in my life, I’m transported to the summer of 1998. I’m seventeen and six of us have all drifted off to sleep, laid out across the couches and beds in my 3-bedroom house. My parents are in Cuba for the next two weeks and I have the whole place to myself. Earlier that night we had killed two bottles of tequila, a 24-pack of beer and smoked tons of pot. We danced like idiots, took silly pictures and cracked jokes at each other’s expense. The sun was beginning to rise and there was Nagchampa incense from the local Hare Krishna temple wafting through the air. Somewhere in the background, The Cure’s “Lovesong” is playing.

It’s just us two. We’re lying on my parents’ king-sized bed, which is covered in a bright sunflower-patterned duvet. The blinds are halfway open. The cool morning sun is creeping in. We’re spooning and fully clothed when he asks me to give him cosquillita to help him fall asleep. This is the first time that we are alone together. My fingers tremble as they make small circles on his back, under his shirt. I tune into his breathing and wonder if he could tell how nervous and excited I am to be lying next to him. Then, I slowly slide my arm around to his front—to lightly caress his flat stomach. His breathing remains steady, while mine becomes labored, as my fingers trace the trail between his belly button and the elastic band of his boxers. Then my pinky grazes the head of his cock...

When a junkie indulges in addictive behavior, they are always chasing that first high. There is nothing like your first. Over time, it just doesn’t feel the same and you eventually require inordinate amounts of the substance to barely gratify the intense urges that beg for relief. But every hit after your first, no matter how big, will never compare. Chasing that dream is how you find yourself hitting rock bottom. And from that place is where you can begin to recover. The problem with my addiction to Him, is that it's bottomless.

When I lived in New York, he came into town a handful of times. Beforehand, we’d make plans to see each other—texting feverishly about all the dirty things we were going to do to one another when we were finally face-to-face and alone, in my apartment. But, I never did keep my promise and left my phone unanswered for days. His presence was too much for me to handle. The two worlds did not fit on one island. I had left Miami to escape my ghosts and he was a haunting reminder of life before cancer. But on my yearly trips back to Miami for the holidays, I sought Him out anxiously. Having Him took away the stress of being back home and made visits with my extended family bearable.  

Over the years, our physical connection evolved. The sex got better, hotter, more intense and extremely depraved. While the ability to reach orgasm has always been exciting in and of itself, for me it has always been more than just sex. Fucking Him is a journey back in time—to a moment in history when I was inexperienced, full of dreams and could never imagine the battle that would wage inside and torment me for years to come. When his lips touch mine and I’m full of him, I’m transported to the summer of 1998.

Over the years, we’ve tested the limits of degeneracy by outdoing our last encounter. We’ve stayed in dirty cheap motel rooms on, driven to dangerous neighborhoods for drugs and have been careless in many other ways. When we saw each other last year, I did $200 worth of coke and Molly in one night and then we fucked for 12 hours. It was exhilarating, filled my deviant soul and took me where I wanted to go: away. At the time, I needed to be transported to that moment and place. I had just moved back to Miami and the demons I thought I had left behind were patiently waiting for my return. I wanted to run so badly, but I got high off Him instead. Then, like when I’m coming off a coke high, when I couldn’t have more of Him I lost my shit. I spiraled out of control and found myself trapped in that place all addicts succumb to when the drugs have run out and you have no more money. 

Some days, I wish that my desire would have remained as innocent as it once was; a simple high school crush. Unfortunately, it became another one of my sick afflictions and probably the most dangerous, because I've never had a bad trip. Each time I’m with Him, I reach new levels of high. Quitting Him is just not an option. Living clean would mean erasing a memory that I never want to let go. It means losing that place that once existed, where my parents will be back from Cuba in two weeks and I am safe and loved.

Transcript of Episode 18: Who is Jahn Dope? The Path from High School Football Star to Homeless man to the Great Philip Sylverin.

Subscribe to listen on iTunes, Stitcher, or click here to listen on Soundcloud.

 

EPISODE 18: WHO IS JAHN DOPE?

ALLISON: Hey you’re listening to writing class radio, a podcast where we share stories with you from our writing class. I’m Allison Langer your host and a student in the class.

Today you’ll hear a story from one of my fellow students, Jahn Dope.  His story is called dark matter. The story begins after Jahn overdoses on LSD then backtracks to childhood.

 

Dark Matter

            I remember my sister Dominique asking me, what happened to you? Why are you always caught up in some drama?  You need to protect yourself from these dangerous situations.

            I didn't have a good answer then. I just kept quiet and let her put vitamin E on the scar on my forehead I got from smashing my head through a window. I overdosed on L.S.D. I had bad trip on 15 hits of acid.

            I was born in Long Island, New York in a Haitian American family of five. I was the only boy and the fourth child. My family was the only Haitian family on Ridgewood Avenue. Both of my parents had more than one job.

             My mom Nadja worked in a Hospital, she also worked at Eaton Corporation assembling parts on a conveyer belt, and as a caterer for special events. I never met a person that did not like her cooking. Nadja was also born in Haiti and did not get far in school either. Her mother died of pneumonia when she was an infant. Her father traveled and dealt in the black market. The only pictures I ever saw of my grandfather were in a hat and overcoat pointing a revolver. The other was in a coffin.

             My dad Leon was born in Haiti. He didn't get passed the fourth grade because his Dad made him work instead. He was an electrician supervisor for a company, a cab driver, and a mechanic.

             I know basically nothing about my father's side of the family. I only saw one picture of his mother that he kept on his nightstand. The picture was in black and white and her complexion was very fair. My father didn't like that I had a dark complexion. He would ask me when I was a toddler… Why are you so Black?

            Nobody helped me with my studies. I remember going around the house looking for help. I would start at oldest or the one in charge. “Wewe.” Which stood for Wilamina, “Can you help me?” She was always on her way out to be with her boyfriend. Next was Doe which stood for Dominique, She stayed away from everyone locked in her room by herself or with her best friend. She burned a lot of incense and when she came out would send me to the store to buy Entenmann’s chocolate chip cookies. Doe said my ears remind her of them. Next was Mymy, which stood for Mayaliane. “Mymy… I need help.”

            “Not right now I'm on the phone.” She then started talking in Pig Latin. One day I found out how to decipher it on the back of the school bus. I snuck through the kitchen to the living room and under the table. I had my pencil and black and white composition book. I spied on her as I looked through the embroidered tablecloth. She was on the couch with her back to me chatting away. I found out she kissed a boy. I sprung out startling her. I said, “Ewwww I'm going to tell.” But I was just joking. She rumbled and pounced on top of me. She was five years older and stronger than I was at age 11. She pinned me down on my back and grabbed my arms. “You're going to tell what?” I laughed and said, “That you're kissing boys.”

            “You're not going to say nothing or I'm going to tell poppy you’re the one who broke the VCR.” I got mad because we already agreed that was going to be a secret. I crossed my heart and hoped to die. I caught her smoking a cigarette and kept quiet when my dad found one of them that she left out in the room we shared. I cried out! “Oooohhhhh you're not fair!” And she said, “Life is not fair.” Then she grabbed my arm and made me hit myself in my face. While she did that she said… “Why are you hitting yourself?” I started to cry because I was scared. She let me go, and I asked, “Are you going to tell poppy? Please don't I was just joking with you. I'll do anything! Pretty please. Mymy I'll do all your chores.” I was petrified of Leon and another whooping. He was so violent with his belt, and the most violent with me since I was the only boy.

            There were three kinds of whoopings… one you hold out your hands palms up and he would spank them. Mostly during some kind of interrogation of an incident. I also learned my multiplication that way. My arch nemesis was 7 times 6 or 6 times 7: 42. He'd get me every time with that one. He would start low and I would count in my head. If I was worried I’d get one wrong, I would lie and ask to go to the bathroom and count on my fingers.

            The second and the ultimate mind fuck, was the metal olive green folding chair that was placed out in the middle of the kitchen. That meant someone was going to get it when he came home. You would have to take down your pants and underwear, bend over the chair and feel his wrath. Poppy… what did I do?” I’d say as I undid my pants. He'd say, “The longer you take, the longer I take.”

            The third was the scariest, the creep up on. The whooping that was made especially for me, because I ran one day. I was four or five and after stripping off my clothes I ran butt booty naked out the room, down the stairs and out the door I went. He was on my tail as I ran out the door, but we had a big yard and he could not catch me.

            I ended up in my mother's arms and she pleaded with him to leave me alone and he did. That night he came into my room turned on the light and shut the door. He was calm but his eyes said I was in big trouble. I was trapped. Quickly, I hid under the bed. He snatched me out from under the bed and grabbed my arms tight so I couldn’t get away. He hit me repeatedly and I cried and screamed. I was frightened and in pain. I heard my sister yelling through the wall to leave me alone. I don't think he heard her. He was deaf with rage. I embarrassed him and I had to pay. I ended up passing out.

             Leon left when I was seven. You’d think life would get calmer, but it didn’t. He would come back to reprimand me. Like when my mom told him I got bad math grades. And no one was there to watch me. Wewe and Doe had left the house. By the time I was 9 years old Mymy was into boys and mom was working. My mom moved our family to Florida when I turned 12. She could not keep up with the bills and sold our house for a smaller one: a house in Miramar with a smaller backyard. Middle school was rough. I was picked on because I spoke too proper for the local kids. You talk like a cracka. I didn’t even have the clothes that were in style.  My clothes came from flea market, Wal-Mart, and my sister’s hand me downs. I would bleach the clothes if they were pink or any other girlish color. I ended up getting into fights and I won every single one! I eventually earned the other kids respect for that and my athletic abilities. When I was 14, I smoked my first joint. I stole it out of Mymy’s purse while I was looking for candy. It felt great, I forgot about all my troubles and worries. Laughing never felt so good and food never tasted better. From that point on, I was not afraid of taking drugs. When I was a freshman in high school, Wewe withdrew me from Miramar High and moved me to Naples, Florida. I ended up around rich kids and harder drugs like cocaine. When I first tried cocaine it was by accident I thought it was a crushed Percocet. Wewe had told me that if I ever did coke I would have a heart attack.  That wasn’t true. So I did it all: weed, pills, coke, and my favorite, acid.  Most of the time, I did all of them at the same time.  It only got darker from there. Because of drugs, I lost my home, a chance to host a radio show, the woman I love.

            I’ve been clean for 5 years, but I still have regrets and the scar on my forehead is a reminder of everything I lost. When I look in the mirror, I can still see it.  There isn’t enough vitamin E to clear it up completely.


The scar inside bothers me, the most.

 

Allison: After hearing his story in class, I was curious to know how Jahn’s life got darker. What did he mean he lost his home? What regrets? So we sent our audio producers, Diego and Misha to get the scoop. But, before we get to that, here’s a word from our sponsors.

Allison: For all you west coasters, I am going to be teaching a writing class at the explorists retreat in napa valley nov 3-6th 2016. I will be sharing my story of going from the impossible to the possible and there will be yoga and meditation, other dynamic speakers and workshop leaders, delicious organic meals, and other healing and motivational wisdom to inspire change in your life.

You can find more info at the bottom of our website or at theexplorists.com

And for all you east coasters, Andrea is teaching a writing workshop at the Sanibel Island Writers Conference. Andrea taught at this conference last year and won’t shut up about it.  

Sanibel Island Writers Conference, A POWERHOUSE LINE UP INCLUDING: Richard Blanco, Joyce Maynard, Steve Almond, Darin Strauss, Karen Tolchin, Steven Elliot, and Sue Monk Kidd. They are awesome, awesome storytellers and authors. And you can take classes with all of them, including our very own Andrea Askowitz.

That conference also runs November 3-6, 2016. A conference for writers of all levels.  To register, click on the link at the bottom of our website.

 

ALLISON: Welcome back. You’re listening to writing class radio. At the beginning of this episode, Jahn Dope read his story, dark matter, which gave us a little background into his life growing up. In class, when Jahn ended this story, I was like, whaaaat? What happened? I wanted so more.

But in class we don’t get to hear the answers to those questions, because the narrator is not allowed to speak after the story’s read. He’s not aloud to explain what he meant.  The story has to speak for itself.

Jahn’s story had holes, and I wasn’t sure if he was afraid to share his whole story or if he just didn’t get there in 1200 words. I wanted to know everything. Jahn agreed to meet up with Misha and Diego and share his whole story with us.

 

DIEGO: Hey guys, this is Diego. I’m one of the audio producers. You may remember Jahn from a previous episode.

Hear clip about Jahn's relationship with his mother and some background into childhood. (mother ep) I’m really mad at my mother….came from a family of 5 and she taught us a lot of traits……but she has these relationships with these random men that have torn apart our family and has thought nothing of it.

DIEGO: In that episode, Jahn told a story about his mom. In the story Jahn read at the beginning of this episode, we hear a little about his sisters and their role in his childhood.  We were curious to find out what happened in Jahn’s life during and after high school, so Misha and I decided to meet him outside of the event space he now works at.

Jahn: heyyyy…..I gotta tell these guys. Hey guys, it’s closed.

Jahn: About 95, I end up moving to Naples, Florida. You know, out of nowhere. I just go to school one day and they’re like you’ve been signed out.

DIEGO: Jahn was 14 yrs old when he transferred to a new high school in freshman year. The change was hard for him, but because he was a good athlete, he was asked to join the football team. By senior year, he was one of the best on the team and a prospect to play college ball.

One day in his senior year, he was invited to wrestling practice…

 JAHN: I was wrestling with him and he just fell on my knee. I didn’t feel too good. There was no urgent care for me. The wrestling coach was like, if anybody asks, you just fell and tripped in the parking lot.

DIEGO: not long after, college football recruiters from ball state, a division 1 school, came out to see him.

Jahn: like imagine like 2 or 3 period of class. Full hallway. I’m walking on my crutches….. hear his voice….He sees I’m on a stabilizer. I saw my coach with these two guys…you’re one chance. I ended up getting hurt. One of the rare opportunities to better my life and better my schooling was taken away.      

DIEGO: After losing his opportunity to play college football, Jahn gave up on himself.

Jahn: After that, I started to experiment more with drugs to cover up the pain and hurt to not be able to fulfill the dream I had. It was the emotional pain. I was trying to get out. When drugs came into my life, it made me feel good. And I did it to the best of my knowledge. I wanted new experiences. I wanted to escape from the mental trauma.

DIEGO: Jahn was given a spot on the football team at Methodist College, a d3 school in North Carolina, and his dad, having a desire to get back into his life, offered to pay. But toward the middle of his second semester he takes the train home for spring break.
 

Jahn: I ended up missing the train and I couldn’t get back to the school in time. I missed my midterms and got put on probation. My dad doesn’t understand that and after that, he cut me off completely.

DIEGO: After Jahn’s dad cut him off, he dropped out of school.


JAHN: well, I’ve gotta live life on life’s terms...you ain’t got a college education...I did that for a little minute. And, I worked odd jobs here and there, quit some, got fired from others for being a weekend worrier.

Jahn:  I partied on the weekend and worked during the week. This went all the way to 25. I started bouncing from couches to my sisters house and eventually I became homeless”

DIEGO: WHEN AND WHERE WAS THAT TIPPING POINT? When was it that you couldn’t balance doing all these drugs on the weekend?

JAHN: I would say the tipping point was when my sister contracted HIV from her husband. Her death and the death of my father was when I got to be a real emotional wreck. I took more chances. Things I thought I would never do, I started trying. You know. I wanted to numb myself of the whole picture. I am sorry I can’t give a clear picture of everything that happened.

JAHN: I tried stronger drugs. A lot of stuff I block out..It’s too much to deal with...in Miami…started doing crack cocaine. I started trying to sell drugs to make a living and to self medicate…to being homeless. I was never comfortable sleeping right there on the sidewalk. Being the kind of lifestyle I grew up in. it was too shameful for me to look up from a piece of cardboard ….like hey, remember me?

JAHN: I remember trying to find a nice, safe spot to sleep where nobody’s going to mess with you. Waking up to sirens. The cops saying, you’re not supposed to be here. People on the streets have mental issues. They’re not right. Everyone doing all these drugs, you can’t expect people to be right…..they are not.


DIEGO: When Jahn first started using drugs to get away from his day to day, he didn’t imagine himself becoming addicted and homeless in Miami.  What was he thinking, what was he feeling going from promising athlete to weekend raver to surviving on the streets.


JAHN: I just didn’t care anymore at that point. Everything has gone wrong in my life. This is what I might as well do. Rug gets pulled out from under me. I’ve made some regretful mistakes. I couldn’t do it anymore. I felt like I must belong here, because of where I’m at….nothing happens to you without a reason. I tried to live like a real homeless person. I learned spots to eat. Put me under their wing. This where you can eat, shower and stuff like that.”

JAHN: You know, when I tried to sell drugs. I got caught a couple of times. If you’re good, you’re going to have customers come up to you. They know this area is high drug activity and they keep seeing you. So of course, you’re going to get busted….they just come up on you.

Diego: I asked if selling was the only thing he got locked up for.

JAHN: possession, trespassing, criminal mischief, grand theft.

Diego: And it was that last one, grand theft, that landed him in jail for 180 days. Jahn would also make money by selling scrap metals, sometimes by ‘finding’ them on construction sites he’d sneak into. One day someone came asking for a favor

JAHN: some guy comes up to me a couple of days bef my bday and he’s like, hey man, I need this dolly to move some stuff. I’ll rent you a dolly, bc it was a way to make some money. He was doing it wrong, and I started showing him how to do it correctly, and the cops came. We were breaking apart this old dilapidated aluminum fence that was already missing pieces, but it wasn’t ours. I got out and was back out on the streets and I’m like, I’m here again. I started looking for a way to make some money…all the way to “There’s a way it can be done.”

 Diego: After getting out of JAIL, Jahn made a choice to change his life. He left the spot he was getting high at and walked 25 blocks to the Miami Rescue Mission.

 JAHN: “I came from that street right there. 14 down. I was deep down town and took the walk way over here. Somebody offered me a tent, a job, to get high…where was all this stuff when I needed it? It was clear I was doing the right thing. I was sick and tired of being out there...and I felt good!

Diego: Misha and I went to the rescue mission so Jahn could show us around and he immediately ran into one of his old buddies.

 JAHN: This is my friend Sam, Sam Chiver.”

 Diego: Sam and Jahn talked about their shared experience at the mission. Having to sleep on the chapel floor for the first few days and taking communal showers with people who hadn’t bathed in days and being woken up by a PA system.

 Jahn stayed at the mission for three years. He became the leader of the rehab group he got placed in and completed the program in an under a year.

 After finishing the program, he worked for the mission; placing calls asking for donations.

 In a less than a third of the time he spent homeless, Jahn sobered up and was earning an honest living.

 And if you ask him what was it that lifted him and sustained him through that transitional period at the mission?   

Jahn: the mission, god, the writing class and a book by Louise L. Hay called You Can Heal Your Life that my sister Dominique gave me. Life experiences and that book helped me get where I am today.

Allison: Jahn met Andrea when she taught classes at the Miami Rescue Mission. John showed up every week for two years. One day in our class, Jahn wrote this:

Had a chance to dig deep and work on myself. Her class helped in saving my life! Thank you Andrea and I love you for that. You helped me find feelings that I suppressed that give me the inspiration to give a shit. Plus she laughs at my jokes.

ALLISON: Jahn joined Writing Class Radio a year and a half ago. We let him use a pseudonym because of his affiliation with the Rescue Mission but he promised to come clean when he could. A few months ago, Jahn left the mission after living and working there for three years. Now, as promised, he’s proud to use his real name.

Jahn: My name is PHILIP SYLVERIN… I’m Haitian American born in Long Island. I’m a production manager and now I live here in Wynwood. (insert music here)

Ari Herstand new day in album Brave Enough.

Allison: Phil’s life has been hell for a really long time. Life is fucking hard for all of us in one way or another.  The trick is coping in a healthy way. Writing my stories has helped me get through a lot of shit.

Jahn told us that writing class was one of the main things that saved his life. I saw it first hand.  In class when Jahn wrote about the shitty things he’s had to overcome, it seemed like writing them down and sharing them with the class helped him move past Jahn Dope and on to a thriving, healthy, Phil Sylverin.

Everyone who comes to class is working through something. Are you? Are you working through something in your life? If so, we want you to share your story with us.

That’s the prompt for this episode. Write about what you are struggling with right now. Is it motherhood, addiction, your weight, aging? Write for 10 minutes quickly without too much thought and record what you wrote on the voice memo of your phone. Then email it to us at info@writingclassradio.com.

We’d love to air your response right here on the podcast.

Thank you for listening to Writing Class Radio.  

This episode is produced by Diego Saldana Rojas, Misha Mehrel, Andrea Askowitz, and me, Allison Langer with editorial help from Sonesh Chainani and Wendi Adelson.

Writing Class Radio is sponsored and recorded at the University of Miami School of Communication.

Theme music by Adriel Borshansky.  Additional music by Ari Herstand and Monplaisir. Check out all our musicians on our website. Study the stories we study and listen to our craft-talks.

There’s no better way to understand ourselves and each other, than by writing and sharing our stories. Everyone has a story. What’s yours?

 

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allison langer

Allison Langer, MBA, travelled the States taking pictures, later worked for a ski photographer, then took pictures of her friends and their babies. This was the start of a 20-year photography business. She also taught high school photography and entrepreneurship. As her students wrote their business plans, she wrote hers to create a podcast about her writing class, which is now Writing Class Radio.

Dedicated to a Warrior of Fun

By Karen Collazo          

Losing my faith happened slowly. It started when I was five years old and I couldn’t find an adult to give me a straight answer when I asked: “What happens when we die?” I was told there was this ethereal place where we are reunited with our family, under the love and light of God. My innocent mind couldn’t wrap itself around the idea of such a place, especially because during this time we had very little family in the states. We were a small family—just four of us living in Miami. My extended family lived in Cuba and New Jersey. Who were these people that we would join in heaven? How will I know who they are?

As a teenager, I was exposed to the cruel practices and unethical treatment of animals around the world, for the purposes of: testing beauty products, creating coveted and expensive articles of clothing, entertaining and feeding the population and selling prized items like ivory on the black market. I questioned God, wondering why a power so great could let such horrible things happen at the hands of children made in his own image. And what was the point of all this meanness?

As I got older, I studied other religions in hopes that I would find the one that spoke to me. Having grown up in a house with a Jewish father and a spiritual mother, we had zero traditions we practiced. We only celebrated the National holidays. If the banks were closed, we were eating lechon from a caja china, around a table made up of random friends and one-off 3rd and 4th cousins. I was never baptized and I was spared the dreadful tiny wedding dress and church procession that most of my Catholic and Christian friends were subjected to for communion. I was desperate to identify with something and was drawn to eastern religions like Taoism, Hinduism and Buddhism. But growing up in a predominantly Hispanic city, with limited resources, there was little in the way of being able to practice anything but the common religions available in the West.

I even tried my hand at Wiccan and Pagan paths. I remember being so moved by the concept that mother earth was the center of all spiritual energy. The moon and the sun were Gods. Your successes and happiness rested in the hands of your relationship with nature. One day, I was so upset after a heated argument with my mother—about getting a tattoo behind her back (with a fake id) that I picked up a Wiccan practice and spells book. I read that one way to get rid of negative energy was to sweep the floor and push the pain and hurt out onto the street. There I was, all of sixteen years old, sweeping around the house, while muttering under my breath all my arguments for why I had the right to do what I wanted to my own body. My mother was pleased, thinking that I was making up for “hurting her” by getting my Sun tattoo on my right shoulder. But I was in fact trying to clean our house of the tension.

The incident that pushed me over the edge and led me to completing turning my back on spirituality and faith was, of course, the death of my mother. Not only could I not understand why this would happen to her and to us, but the advice I received during her battle and afterwards, just did not sit well with me. As a spiritual person, my mother depended heavily on mediums, santos and advice from “the other side.” When she was frail, hallowed and sinking into the hospital bed we setup in her bedroom, the spiritual guides in our family assured us that everything was going to be okay. But it wasn’t. After eight months, several rounds of chemo and radiation and a gastric bypass, my mother let out her last breath at the hospice wing of Mercy Hospital. I felt duped. If in fact one knew the outcome, why not provide the facts as they are to better prepare those seeking comfort? Was this a question of free will versus determination?

My mother was a country girl, from Las Tunas, Cuba. She grew up dirt poor, wore shoes two sizes too small and fell in love with a man that had very big ambitions. In the end, she succeeded in getting a college degree (the first in her family), leaving a communist country, raising two healthy daughters, owned her home and travelled the world. She battled major depression her whole life by keeping busy. But when she was on a high note, she enjoyed living to the fullest. Always the life of the party, her infectious laugh could paint a smile on anyone’s face. She had just started a new diet and had lost some weight, giving her a new sense of confidence. My father had quit the business and was making an honest living, and had even quit smoking cigarettes after 45 years of going through one pack of Marlboro Reds a day. Both daughters were in college… By all accounts, life was good. So, why?

There were a lot of comforting words handed out by friends and family like business cards at a networking event. “She’s resting now.” “She’s in a better place.” “She’s watching over you.” “She’s reunited with her father.” But, I truly believed there was no such place or cause. I felt empty. Life had no purpose, but to make the most of what you had because you never know… This catapulted me into a drug-fueled lifestyle that I would later pay dearly to walk away from.

When five years later, my father died of the same type of rare stomach cancer that was not traceable to anyone in our family’s lineage, I completely and utterly let go of the sliver of belief that sat way down deep at the bottom of my heart. With my hands in the air, I surrendered to the spiritual void that I would live with, until recently. Sure he smoked cigarettes and ate mostly red meat, but there were cases of healthy, holistic individuals dying of the same disease. What had my sister and I done to deserve being orphaned in our late teens/early twenties? With no answers, I turned to drugs with more fervor than before.

A year ago, my best friend’s 32 year-old sister was diagnosed with colon cancer. This week, she passed away at home, surrounded by friends and family. She was a bright light—a free spirit who sucked the juice out of life like no one I have ever known. Right after college she moved to San Francisco and made a living by managing startups. She traveled the world, became engrossed in spiritual retreats like Burning Man and, as expected, bought into the whole organic/farm-to-table movement. She was curious, spontaneous and beautiful. This loss has affected me in ways I could have never imagined. Immediately, I was overwhelmed with grief and sadness for the loss of a friend, a little sister and the last bit of hope that God would never do this to me, and take my one last surviving family member away from me: my own little sister.

But something much more beautiful has emerged through all the pain: a tiny bud has sprung. It seems to me that our souls are all traveling through space, collecting love and light, evolving—to keep this world turning on its axis. Each life we live is a test. When our energy is first released, we may find ourselves lost. We perhaps fall prey to the seven deadly pecados. Through experience and acceptance we unlearn how to live without transgression. Once we achieve this, as soon as we learn life's purpose, we graduate.

Kristy knew that it was her time to live wild and free. Her purpose on this earth, this time around, was to enjoy what she had earned from past lives. We were so lucky to have been a part of her journey. She knew the answers to the questions that have plagued me all my life. And her parting gift was showing me the path back to faith.