*Here is one long, twisty trip down a rabbit hole … I started writing with a bang and never finished.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
I stand from the couch and stumble to the center of my living room. My body aches from head to toe, inside and out, throbbing, per usual. I sink to my knees and sit still for an extended beat. I am sick and tired of my worn out broken record prayers to God.
“God, please help me. Please send divine intervention. I promise to try. I’ll be good, I swear. I’ll do anything. Please, God, help me stop drinking.”
I lower my hands from prayer position and use them to cradle my pulsing head. I hurt too much to cry, or, perhaps, I am too dehydrated.
I devise a plan in dead silence, not even believing myself. I have heard it too many times before.
I will not drink this weekend. I will smoke pot, because I know that Rose and her father will be smoking pot; that will be okay, but I will not drink. When we return from Sedona, if I continue to drink, I will report to HR and tell Rob Brown that I need to go to rehab. My Viacom benefits will cover the expense. I think of my boss and I feel shame; he will be confused and disappointed, worried for me. I think of spending one more day at my desk at Paramount shaking from a raging hangover with Hollywood deal-making swirling around me and I feel claustrophobic. Maybe a break would do me some good, anyhow. The inevitable looms like a concrete wall two inches in front of my face. I have exhausted all of my options. I know it, but very few people in my life have a clue.
It is 10am. I am due at Rose’s at noon. I already want a drink because I know that it will immediately assuage the nausea of my horrid hangover. The night before I was sitting on my regular barstool at a local Santa Monica bar, drinking red wine alone, when she called.
I finish my second glass of pinot noir and want to order another, but feel self-conscious about the short period of time I have been sitting here, on my usual stool, at my local drinking spot. They know I’m an alcoholic. My phone vibrates on the bar displaying Rose’s name. I pick it up, a perfect distraction to put off ordering my next glass for a few minutes. Maybe they’ll think I’m normal.
“Hey, Sicily, how’s it going.”
“All good,” I lie. “How are you?”
“Good. I just picked up four new types of weed from my friend’s dispensary, really good shit: God’s Gift, Phoenix Sun, Vortex, and L.A Woman. I hand picked them for our spiritual journey to the vortexes.”
“Wow, that sounds—potent,” I say, anxiety tickling my gut.
“I also got a new vaporizer pen, a few lollipops and a handful of candies.”
“That oughta do the trick,” I reply thinking of an off-handed comment a mutual friend, Eugene, made about Rose, whom I hardly know: Rose sure likes her weed, he said during a late night drinking binge. I felt like a kid on Christmas when Eugene suddenly remembered that Rose and her father left behind some weed and a smoking device at his house. At the time I had only met Rose and her father once, but as I smoked their weed, to compliment my already-seeing-double-drunkenness, I knew that I liked them.
“There’s only one change in the plan that I need to discuss with you,” Rose says now.
“What’s that?” I ask dismally, as I nod to the bartender’s would you like another glass gesture.
“My knee is giving me trouble, so I really can’t drive. We can still take my car and split the cost of gas, but would you mind driving the whole way? It should take about six hours. I hate to ask, but I would really appreciate it.”
The anxiety in my gut graduates from a tickle to a punch. This spiritual journey is starting to sound like a slippery slope. “Sure, no problem at all,” I say passive aggressively. “I’ll see you at noon.”
I hang up the phone and reach for my freshly poured pinot. I’m such a people pleaser, I think as I gulp unabashedly in an attempt to numb the anxiety. I have an uneasy feeling, but I keep telling myself that this spiritual journey to the energy vortexes of Sedona, Arizona has appeared in my life for a reason. It’s been too long since I’ve gotten out of L.A. Rose has offered a nearly all expense paid trip to Sedona for her aunt’s birthday. It has felt like an out of body experience planning this trip with Rose. It is unlike me to take off for a weekend with a girl I hardly know, but I have an agenda. My agenda has a mind of its own.
I flash back on the synchronistic chain of events that has led me to this pending spiritual journey.
I am slouched at my desk in the Sumner Redstone Building at Paramount Pictures. My boss is on a Transformers 3 call on the other side of the wall. The familiar buzz of his voice talking big numbers is comforting white noise. I haven’t had a drink in two days so I am feeling okay, other than the fact that I am miserable. I am cyber-stalking Rose Michaels’ Instagram page: @msroseinla. I have met her once before, five years ago. She is drop dead gorgeous. Eight years younger than I am. Dressed to the nines. Jet-setting around the country with her R&B superstar boss, PrettyBoy. Working in a state-of-the-art recording studio, where I would die to be, even though I love Paramount; I am never content where I am. Rose’s life appears like a fairytale splashed across Instagram in thumbnail snapshots. In every photo her legs appear longer, her designer dresses shorter, her tresses more luxurious, the musical stars (with whom she poses) shining brighter.
The industrial-sized printer churns behind me, signifying that my boss has printed out a document. I stand on cue, retrieve the P&L Report, staple it, highlight the name of the project: Transformers 3, walk it into my boss’s office and set it in front of him.
“Thank you,” he mouths, as always.
I sit down and resume my cyber-stalking as my boss spitfires numbers from his fresh P&L report. I ogle a photo of Rose standing in front of a recording mic in PrettyBoy’s studio. The caption reads: just recorded my first vocals! I am jealous. I am jealous that Rose is recording vocals in PrettyBoy’s studio. I am jealous that my songwriting partner, Natalie Gianni, is set to start a songwriting collaboration with Rose, without me. Rose and Natalie are in their late twenties. I am 37. I feel like a loser. They worship Janet Jackson and Mariah Carey. I bow to Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen. Maybe I am not a loser.
My cell phone vibrates from the desk. It’s Natalie calling from my apartment; she has been staying with me for the past month from Vegas while I pay her to work on a song with me. The song is called “DarkLight,” the first song I ever wrote all by myself on guitar. I am now paying Natalie and my guitar-master ex-boyfriend, Miles, to develop the song with me. I am paying them each five hundred dollars. I am paying for studio musicians, mixing and mastering. I am also paying for Natalie’s room and board while she is in L.A., and splitting the writer’s and publisher’s shares of the song equally, even though the song was fully written when we started development. I am always giving away the farm.
“Hello?” I answer, feeling weird about my stalking activities.
“Girl! I’m so excited!” Natalie gushes.
“What’s up?” I ask, afraid of her good fortune.
“Rose says I can bring you in on our songwriting session!”
Adrenaline sits me up straight in my chair. “Are you serious?” I ask, as manic sparks start to fire in my brain.
“Yes! I asked her if I could bring my songwriting partner and she said ‘yes.’ She wants to get a group of female writers together and wait till you hear the best part!”
“PrettyBoy is encouraging her to do it and says he’ll mentor us!”
“Aghhh!” I squeal in a whisper, as to not disturb my boss on his Transformers 3 call. “Oh my Gosh! Girl, this is huge!”
“This is it!” Natalie echoes my excitement.
“You know we made this happen, right?”
“We’re witches,” Natalie confirms.
“We wrote PrettyBoy’s name into “Beautiful Alone” two years ago and now we’re writing with his assistant. It’s pure manifestation.”
“We’re gonna get discovered. He told her that we should call ourselves Bitches that Write.”
“Eew!” I reply in disgust.
“I know, I don’t like it either, but, girl, who cares! He’s won twelve Grammys.”
“Right! Who cares! But, can I make one point?”
“Make whatever point you want, girl! We’re being discovered by PrettyBoy!”
“It should be Bitches Who Write not Bitches That Write.”
“Okay, well you can take that up with PrettyBoy when we’re writing in his studio! Can you leave work right at six? I told her we’d be at her condo by seven.”
“Hell, yes!” I said, “This is important.”
Gold records spinning in my eyes, I hang up the phone with Natalie and Google Terrance “PrettyBoy” Brewer.
Natalie climbs into my car parked outside of Rose’s condo for a little pre-songwriting session pow-wow.
“Should we listen to the Vortex Meditation one time before heading in?” she asks.
“Great idea, girl,” I reply, fidgeting with my iPhone to access my iTunes. “You wanna do ‘abundance’ or ‘relationships?’ I ask.
“Umm—let’s do relationships, since we’re starting a new collaboration.”
“Agreed,” I say, pressing ‘play’ on the Jerry & Ester Hicks relationships meditation.
Hypnotic music fills my Volvo, as Natalie and I close our eyes and breathe deeply, followed by Abraham’s soothing voice: “Welcome, we are extremely pleased that you are here. It is nice to have this opportunity to visit about relationships. Breathe in; breathe out. There is no subject of greater significance to you than relationships, for without others you could not be you. Breathe in; breathe out. The others with whom you share your planet are of tremendous value to you, even when you want different things. Your earth environment is large enough to accommodate all of the variety of interests, beliefs and desires. Breathe in; breathe out. Your differences are of great advantage in the stimulation of new ideas and are important to your expansion. Breathe in; breathe out…”
By the time we are finished in the vortex, fifteen minutes later, we are centered, calm and positively vibrating in unison: DarkStar Songwriting Team.
We approach Rose’s perfect Brentwood condo and punch in her code on the intercom. In the elevator, Natalie affectionately squeezes my arm, “Girl, I’m so proud of us. I’m so glad you are here with me.”
I smile back warmly, confused by my own jealous love for her, “Me too,” I say, wondering if she has invited me because she thinks she needs my lyrical ability, or because she wants to see me thrive right along side her. Our ten-year relationship has often been complicated—competitive—if not downright co-dependent; but there is no denying the love between us.
The door swings open and Rose stands before us in flesh and blood, donning designer workout attire and her tresses pulled back in a loose bun. Without a drop of make-up, she is undeniably striking, standing 5’9”, my exact height, with dark hair and eyes, opposite my coloring. Here I go comparing myself. Rose is a beauty and I feel dowdy, although, deep down inside, I know that I am not.
Rose welcomingly pulls us into her modern, ultra-feminine condo. Natalie gives her a loving hug and introduces us.
“Rose, this is my songwriting partner, Sicily Terrentini,” she says generously. “She’s a brilliant lyricist.”
Rose looks me up and down, mirroring my actions, and squints her eyes. “Nice to meet you,” she says in a tone that I can’t help but interpret as snotty.
“I’ve actually met you before. Five years ago at Disneyland,” I inform her, not at all surprised that I remember but she does not.
“Disneyland?” she asks confused, trying to place me.
“Yes, after the NAMM show. I was with Eugene. We met you and your family for dinner.”
“I’m sorry, I don’t remember you,” she says. “Eugene is like family to me,” she lets me know, in a tone that I can’t help but interpret as possessive, although I am likely projecting.
“Yes, I know,” I confirm. “He is one of my best friends. I used to live with him.”
“So, did I,” she counters.
“Yes, I know.”
“Cool,” she finishes the segment off-handedly, “Any friend of Eugene is a friend of mine! I’ve ordered Thai food. It should be here in fifteen. Do you ladies smoke?” she asks, then nods at Natalie, “I know you do,” she says, then turns toward me, “Do you?”
Natalie answers for me, “Hell, yea, she does. That’s all we do, smoke and write songs.”
“This is working already,” Rose says. “Follow me into Studio D,” she laughs loudly at her own humor and points to a piece of paper that she has taped to the second bedroom door boasting the title “Studio D” in colorful marker.
Studio D is small and dark with an immediately depressing vibe. Neon lights travel the perimeter and a lava lamp shines from the desk. It is equipped with an acoustic guitar and a keyboard, which feel like instruments that are never played. Pro-tools is up on a laptop; a recording mic is hot; and a Volcano Vaporizer warms in the corner. There is a vision board on the wall comprised of magazine clippings of Rose’s dreams and aspirations: her dream ass, her dream abs, a G-5, a dream house, Beyonce on stage, an image of Janet Jackson, a microphone surrounded by musical notes, an exotic island, etc. The room is wallpapered with affirmations: I am wonderful! I am loving and lovable! I am talented and funny!
Rose heads to the Volcano and loads a big fat bowl of medicinal marijuana from the grinder. She allows the balloon to fill with vapor and hands it to me.
“This weed is called Creativity,” she says. “I figure it’s perfect for our task.”
I take the balloon and admit, “I’ve never used one of these before.”
Rose looks at me like I’m an alien and Natalie comes to my rescue.
“Here, girl,” she says, operating the device and holding it up to my mouth, “Just inhale.”
As I inhale half the balloon, I am thinking that I simply come from a different generation of weed smokers. I am hyper-conscious of my age around these two; it is a feeling that I battle being around Natalie all the time. Now the twenty-somethinger has multiplied.
I pull away from the balloon and exhale the vapor in a slow stream and feel immediately anxious, regretful, paranoid. I have a love-hate relationship with marijuana at this point in my twenty-year smoking career, which has slowed down significantly over the past year or so.
“I’m good,” I say, and Natalie finishes off my balloon, before handing it back to Rose for a re-filling.
Natalie inhales a balloon and then I watch Rose inhale three entire balloons in a row. It is clear to me that she is not new to this act and there is a feeling of manic sorrow to her relationship with the vaporizer and the weed; it reminds me of my relationship with alcohol. Speaking of which, right about now, I would love a drink. I noticed a bottle of wine in Rose’s kitchen when I walked in and I know that a glass of it would take the insecure, self-conscious edge off; but two nights ago I got shit-faced and am trying to stay away from my poison.
The phone rings and Rose says, “Perfect timing! Thai food’s here!”
She buzzes in the deliveryman and heads to the front door. She signs off on the whole meal and I note her generosity.
The three of us sit down to a heavenly Thai spread accompanied by a roundtable conversation about where we each are in our plight in the music/entertainment industry. I am stoned, so it is hard for me to tell what is projection and what is reality, but I tap into a certain sense of destiny about our union, which is fused with a competitiveness, a cattiness, an insecurity that comes with three women coming together to accomplish a task when none of them is exactly where she wishes to be in life.
“Do you sing too, Sicily?” Rose asks.
“I do,” I reveal. “I write my own songs on guitar and sing them, but not in my collaboration with Natalie. I step aside for obvious reasons when she’s involved.”
“I can understand why,” Rose relates as we both look, rather longingly, at Natalie. “She has an amazing voice.”
“The voice of an angel. I always say that being around her makes me feel like I should never open my mouth again,” I throw out my praise with a tinge of envy, always; I can sense that my sentiment is shared by Rose, whom I have never heard sing, although I know from my Instagram stalking and her vision board that she has the desire. “Oh, to be able to sing like Natalie,” I continue. “She has been a voice for my words for nearly ten years.”
“You two are lucky to have that,” Rose says. “I wish I had a collaboration like that.”
“We co-write the words,” Natalie throws in, defending her position as a writer.
“And the melodies,” I add, defending my position as a musician.
“And now you do have a collaboration like that,” Natalie tells Rose, coveting her pending entrance into the PrettyBoy Enterprises, a longstanding dream of hers; although I must admit, I hardly know who PrettyBoy is, other than what I know from Natalie. She wants admittance into the kingdom and I want it because she wants it.
I segue, looking to Rose, “You and I have something in common,” I tell her.
“What’s that?” she asks.
“I once worked for a songwriter who mentored me, too.”
“Who’s that?” Rose asked.
“His name is Jake Easton; he wrote a bunch of songs for the Troubadours, James Taylor, Catherine Millay.”
Rose looks at me sideways and I am certain that she has no idea what I am talking about.
“I wrote a book about the experience,” I add, out of habit.
“Wow!” she says, “You really are a writer. I’d like to write a book about my life. Has it been published? I’d like to buy it.”
“Not yet,” I lament, shame stabbing at my heart.
“I think I should be a reality show,” Rose adds. “My life is amazing and my boss is my best friend. I tell Terrance everything,” she laughs. “He let me leave work early today so I could take my favorite aerobics class at the gym. He is encouraging me at this phase of my development to really go for it and become all I was born to be. He tells me that I have untapped potential.”
“Girl, that’s wonderful!” Natalie gushes, and I wonder if she shares my feeling as a pang of jealousy jolts through me in comparison of my situation to Rose’s. My boss is the EVP of Paramount Pictures. I generate the Business Affairs Agenda once a week containing every project that has been optioned, purchased, in production etc. I dream of my own novel and scripts listed on the agenda, but nobody ever helps me. I’ve been at Paramount ten years. Nobody throws me a bone. I’ve paid my dues and I’m still an assistant. On and on and on and on spins my “woe is me” rumination.
Our stoned-inhalation of Thai food has slowed down and Rose asks, “Are we ready to move this party into Studio D?”
“Girl, I was born ready!” Natalie says, and it’s true; I know she can’t wait to get on that mic.
Back in Studio D, Rose head straights to the Volcano and begins her routine of grinding, loading and filling. She shoves the balloon at me.
“I’m good, thanks,” I say, not wishing to exacerbate my anxiety.
She hands it to Natalie, “I’m good too,” says Natalie.
“Well, I’m a gangsta!” says Rose and proceeds to inhale another two balloons.
I can’t help but feel that Rose is labeling herself as a “gangsta” in order to justify a sabotaging habit that she wishes she could break, kind of like how I compare myself to Charles Bukowski in order to justify my alcoholism.
“You ladies ready to listen to some tracks?” Rose asks, when she’s finished vaporizing.
Natalie and I are always ready when it comes to songwriting.
“Yes!” we sing in unison.
Rose heads to her laptop and pulls up iTunes.
“Should we start with a couple of tracks that Terrance has already approved and suggested that we start with? Or a couple of others that I have collected from producer friends of mine?” she asks with a far-off, glazed over look in her eyes.
Natalie and I shoot each other a confused glance. Is she on crack?
“Uh, hmm,” I say with a tinge of sarcasm, “Maybe we should start with the one’s Terrance has approved.” I feel strange using his real name, instead of referring to him by his stage name: PrettyBoy. It feels like I am trying to act like I am personally connected to him, when I am not. Fame is confusing. Success is confusing. Being close to it. Feeling so far. The power-hungry pursuit. Chasing these dangling carrots. Aghhhh … I’m so tired of jumping through hoops, playing games, swallowing my talent. Can we please just write the damn song.”
“I second that!” Natalie blurts and heads to the mic. “Press play on the one he is most passionate about and let’s start.”
I am grateful to Natalie for being as driven as I am. We have that in common; when it comes to songwriting we are focused on execution.
“Is the lighting okay in here?” asks Rose.
“It’s perfect!” I say, in order to keep her on track, even though the place feels like a dank dungeon. “I love what you’ve done with Studio D.”
“Okay, cool; I just want to make sure we’re all comfortable.”
“Press play,” Natalie commands, and I can tell that she feels like I do, that we can almost touch it, taste it, feel it, and that Rose’s stoned distraction is keeping us from our destiny.
I take my laptop out and open up Microsoft Word, so that I can get my fingers moving once the music starts.
Rose presses ‘play’ and the sound of an energetic R&B track fills Studio D. Natalie starts vocalizing on the mic, random little melodies and adlibs which, of course, sound alarmingly tailor-made for the radio, and I am stung by my usual feeling of inadequacy where our collaboration is concerned; if even a word should come out of her mouth, maybe it will be discovered that I am obsolete, so I start typing whatever idea is closest to my surface: R-e-t-r-o-g-r-a-d-e.
I pull up the Internet, with the desire to spark my idea with inspiration.
“Mercury’s in retrograde,” I blurt out manically. “Feels like we’re flying backway! Here we are again trying to begin…”
“What does that mean? Backway? Is that even a word?” asks Rose with a blank stare, as Natalie immediately puts the words to her melody on the mic, sounding suddenly like a young, hip Janet Jackson, twenty-thirteen.
I read out loud from my Internet search, thinking that the strange, stagnant feel of stuck energy in Studio D, and this songwriting session with PrettyBoy’s gate-keeper assistant who has never before written a song, may be a manifestation of Mercury in retrograde:
(retrograde research starts here) “Three or four times a year, the planet Mercury slows down and appears to move backward in the sky for approximately three weeks as it orbits the sun. It’s an optical illusion, since there is forward movement, like speeding by a slow-moving train; as it recedes it appears to go backward. While delays and misunderstandings do seem to happen, there seems to be a magical trend that people and ideas return, for integration, resolution and more. As the planet of communication, Mercury retrograde tends to breed a certain level of confusion. Mercury rules our “lower” mind–how we perceive and interpret information that we receive from our environment, and how we relay that information to others. Mercury has rulership over such things as speaking, negotiating, buying and selling, listening, formal contracts, documents, travel, the mail and shipping, and so forth. All of these areas of life are affected when Mercury is functioning in a sluggish state. Decision-making is challenged during Mercury retrograde. Needless to say, it is not advised to sign contracts, engage in important decision-making, or launch a new business. Delays and challenges are more probable with Mercury retrograde. It’s a time when being careless with money, our personal information, or paperwork can be costly.
This period is best used for re-organizing and reflecting. We look at the world a little differently–through different filters–and can come up with some very important inner revelations. It may be difficult to communicate them under this influence, but not everything needs to be rationalized. Mercury retrograde periods can be times of heightened inner awareness, when meditation, benefiting from keeping a journal, reworking old plans, and reviewing past work are favored.
It is important to note that there is absolutely no reason to suspend projects or anything of the sort during the Mercury Retrograde cycle. It’s not an ideal time to start new ones or to sign contracts, simply because a change of mind is very possible once Mercury turns direct. However, it’s a fabulous time to do some “outside of the box” thinking. Acting on our ideas, however, might be best left for a Mercury Direct period.”
To Be Continued …