(Re)finding the Light

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When I had a panic attack right before bed in mid-November 2019, I knew something had to change. Now, I’m no stranger to anxiety. It’s loomed over me for years like a dense fog, obscuring reason and making me feel panicked in a myriad of situations. But I’ve learned how to clear the fog. I take deep yoga breaths. I replace negative thoughts with positive ones. I distract myself with a game, favorite TV show, or puppy cuddles. I tell my husband I’m struggling so we can have a conversation about it.

But this anxiety attack was different for two reasons.

Reason number one: it was completely unprovoked. I was wearing fuzzy socks, book in hand, ready to climb into bed and relax. I probably had a freshly brewed mug of tea in hand. I had exactly zero reasons in that moment to panic. But my body decided it was time for either fight or flight. My heart started hammering. Adrenaline shot through me. I was suddenly massively uncomfortable. And I was really confused about it.

Reason number two: my usual coping mechanisms didn’t work. I focused on my breathing, willing my heartbeat to slow. I sat down and closed my eyes. I told my husband what was happening. And got no relief. None. Zip. Zilch. Nada.

It was as if my mind and body had gone completely rogue.

***

You won’t be surprised to learn that this anxiety anomaly occurred during a particularly stressful season of my life.

My husband and I bought our first house together last year, and our financial situation changed significantly (homeowners, especially those in California, you’ll feel me on this one).

Our dog, Zen, was diagnosed with cancer in his foot after a routine vet appointment, which threw our lives into a tailspin of oncology appointments, impossible decisions, and difficult conversations.

My world as I knew it shifted when my best friend called and said four unimaginable words: “I have breast cancer.”

My dad fell and as a result, required shoulder surgery.

Another dear friend was dealing with important medical tests for her mother coming back inconclusive – multiple times.

There were far too many people I loved fighting battles for their health and the health of their loved ones. (Did I mention these all happened within a month of each other?)

Cherry on top, I had my own bizarre medical condition to investigate, a vein in my armpit that decided to painfully and visibly protrude like an alien ready to pop out of my skin. This required a barrage of tests since my GP took one look and went, “I don’t know what this is.” (Spoiler alert: I’m completely fine and the condition cleared up on its own, but damn, it was weird.)

It’s safe to say stress was wound tightly around me like bubble wrap encasing something fragile. It’s also safe to say I was that something fragile.

Perhaps my right-before-bedtime panic attack was cumulative stress and anxiety. Perhaps the fog had grown so dense and cold and pervasive, I couldn’t see anymore, even if the sun was trying to shine through.

Though I was relatively calm that night everything changed—my pajama pants warm and soft, my little family surrounding me, the comfort of a story in my hand—my body was raging.

Apparently, this was my new normal.

***

I was really nervous to talk to my doctor. I steeled myself and promised myself I wouldn’t cry. I vowed to keep it together.

I’ve never had anything against medication for mental health. I think it’s vital. It’s life-changing for many. It’s incredible science. So many people struggle with various issues, and personal happiness, executive function, the ability to get through a day without some sort of episode is…well, everything.

But for me, there was something pretty sinister about confronting the fact that I couldn’t control this anymore, even though I tried, and it was time to ask for help. Why is it so hard for us to do that? To ask for what we need without reservation or shame or fear?

Over the phone, I told my doctor about the stressers in my life and my newfound inability to keep my anxiety from swallowing me whole. I expressed my interest in treating my anxiety medically.

I can’t articulate how validating it was to hear the genuine compassion in my doctor’s voice. She quickly made recommendations, and her immediate willingness to help me felt like a warm hug. We talked about possible side effects, how I’d start on the lowest dosage possible and adjust, as needed. My prescription would be ready later than day. She’d call me the following week to check in and see how I was feeling. And if this one didn’t work, we’d find one that did.

When I hung up, I finally felt like I could breathe again.

***

Fluoxetine sounds like some sort of sexy element on a distant planet, but really, it’s just Prozac. And taking it has improved my life dramatically.

Fluoxetine is an anti-depressant/anti-anxiety combo and belongs to a group of medicines called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). It gives me a daily kick of serotonin, a chemical that is known to transmit messages between nerve cells, is thought to be active in constricting smooth muscles, and (here’s the important part for me) contributes to wellbeing and happiness.

I can happily report that I don’t feel like I’ve been emotionally run over by a Mack truck anymore. I have no side effects. I feel much more like myself. I smile. I crack jokes. I take better care of myself. My executive function is vastly improved. I’m not living in the fear of unprovoked or unexplainable panic attacks.

The moment I knew the medicine was working? When I opened my mouth to sing along with the radio in my car, something I hadn’t done for months. It was this tiny, mundane, seemingly insignificant thing, but for me, it was incredibly profound. Because it was a little slice of joy.

Let’s call this a comeback.

***

Inevitably, someone (perhaps even a handful of people), will tell me I’m brave for telling my story. The social stigma surrounding mental health and the medications that help it, yeah, it sucks. I’m not sharing this because I have guts; I’m sharing it because, empath that I am, I want everyone to know it’s okay not to be okay. I want all of us to feel better. And I want everyone to know it’s okay to want that for yourself, too.

***

The fog isn’t gone entirely. To be honest, I wouldn’t want it to retreat completely, even if I had the choice. Why? I still want to feel things. Every day can’t be unicorns and rainbows, because the marrow of life is sticky and complicated and difficult at times. I’m okay with peaks and valleys as long as I know where I am, who I am, and that this life belongs to me, not some chemical imbalance or misfire in my brain.

And if the sunshine is trying to peek through the fog, you better believe I can see it now.

It’s mine.

And it’s priceless.

kINKED Gets a New Cover!

kINKED

I will always have a soft spot in my heart (and my loins) for kINKED. Published by Pen and Kink Publishing, kINKED explores the intersection of ink and kink. And it just so happens to contain my story “Begin Again,” a tale that marks the first time I had the guts to publish something really, truly sexy.

Of course, a sexy collection deserves a sexy cover. And y’all, when kINKED first published, it had a cover that’ll make you blush…which proved a little problematic on good old Amazon. The OG cover is, well…visually risqué. And it made finding the collection organically via their search engine pretty difficult.

So…kINKED has a new, slightly less steamy cover. Check it out!

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And here’s a little teaser of “Begin Again”:

“When the blue door swung open, Melissa lost her ability to speak as her gaze swept over the man she presumed to be the tattoo shop owner. Warm, amber light outlined his lithe yet strong figure, his dark, unruly hair, and the tattered jeans precariously slung about his narrow hips. He wore a gray t-shirt that clung to his chest as if he’d been standing in the rain, and where cotton ended, color began. Every inch of his muscular arms were covered in radiant koi fish, dark, twisty woodlands, long-dead rock stars, and lines and lines of block letters and script.

Melissa’s fingers tingled as an overwhelming desire to sketch him stretched through her arms. As far as drawing subjects were concerned, he was her type, someone who would be more at home on the battlefield than lounging nude in the heavens flanked by angels. Well, the nude part would be okay.

Melissa reached for the pencil she routinely kept in the back pocket of her jeans. But having forgotten where she was and what she was wearing—a black pencil skirt and a sequined top—she grasped nothing but air. Coming up empty, she clutched the arm nearest her, unsure of which friend it belonged to in the moment. She was afraid if she didn’t hold something, anything, she’d reach forward to trace her fingertips along the elegant arcs of color on this stranger’s forearms.”

If you’re looking for a steamy read, you can easily search for kINKED on Amazon…or you can use this direct link.

Happy reading!

My Life in Hi-Def

Glasses

The optometrist’s voice was bright and airy. “Do you think you need glasses?”

And there it was, the question I’d been expecting. I tried to sound upbeat. “Yeah, I do.”

“Good, because I think so, too.”

***

I’ve been making jokes for years about the inevitability of my eyesight degrading. My parents have been put through their ocular paces: glasses, contacts, lasik, general eye surgery. It was only a matter of time, I joshed.

November is when I started to notice that my sight was, well, a wee bit compromised. One morning, while walking to my car to drive to work, I squeezed one eye shut and then the other, willing my brain and body to wake up. When closing my right eye, my sight remained steadfast and clear as crystal; but when I switched and closed my left, the landscape transformed into my own personal Monet. The words on the parking signs around our neighborhood doubled, and everything else around me adopted these soft, unformed edges. I stopped in my tracks and blinked wildly. I took a sip of coffee and willed the caffeine gods to get to work. Clearly, my body was not awake.

But that afternoon, the Monet remained. Though it was unsettling, I didn’t completely freak out. Honestly, it wasn’t bad unless I kept one eye open and one eye closed (and why would I do that – I’m no pirate!). Not to mention, a little over a year ago, I was diagnosed with ocular migraines. I thought perhaps this was a new manifestation of that condition.

I donned my computer glasses at work, hoping I could assuage whatever was happening with a little less blue light and a little more magnification. I hoped it would clear up by the next day.

It didn’t. So, I set up my annual eye exam appointment, fairly certain that, finally, the joke was on me. At 32, I’d likely need my first pair of glasses.

***

“You have astigmatism in both eyes, but it’s more pronounced in your right.”

“Do I have anything to worry about since it seemed to come on pretty fast?”

“No. Your eye health looks excellent. Honestly, the condition has probably been there for a while, but you’re just much more aware of it now…Do you work in front of a computer?”

“Yes.”

“That would do it.”

“So, this is all new to me. Should I wear my new glasses all the time?”

“Let me show you.” My optometrist stood up and pointed at the pyramid of black letters I’d been asked to recite during my vision test. “Pretend you’re outside. It’s bright out, you’re driving, and these are the road signs.” I had to squint to make out the text.

She swooped the hulking machine she’d used to determine my unique prescription in front of my peepers. “This is how it’s going to look with your glasses on.” The letters were so crisp they reminded me of a knife edge.

“Got it. I need to wear them all the time.”

***

“So, how do you feel about this?” my husband asked.

“You know, I’m not sure,” I said. “I mean, I’m really excited to be able to see. My vision test was sobering, to say the least…But it’s a big change. I think I’m going to look good in glasses, but…yeah, I’m not entirely sure how I feel.”

And I didn’t. At one point, I considered bursting into tears, but that didn’t seem right. This glasses thing seemed so trivial in comparison to the health issues some of my other friends were contending with at the time. Besides, I was genuinely excited to get rid of my Monet. And I’m a confident girl. I like fashion that makes a statement. I knew I’d look pretty rad in glasses.

So what was this feeling gnawing at me? Nervousness? Excitement? Anticipation? Self-consciousness? Bitterness at getting older?

Whatever the feeling was, it was there. Like a burr that had affixed itself to my sock. Very subtle, but every now and again, it would poke through and shock me.

I snuggled up to my husband and gave him a flirtatious grin. “Are you a guy who makes passes at girls who wear glasses?”

He looked at me, befuddled. “Huh?”

“You’ve never heard that?”

“No.”

“Oh man. ‘Guys don’t make passes at girls who wear glasses?’ I heard that all the time growing up.”

And that’s when I knew how I’d picked up that burr on my sock.

***

That night, my husband took me to LensCrafters. Prescription in hand, I tried on various frame styles, and the whole experience felt very similar to picking out a new pair of shades. Well, very expensive shades. Talented designer and all around fashionable guy that my love is, he brought me various pairs to try on that he felt would complement my features. “It’s your very first pair, so you should get something you like,” he advised.

Within an hour, I’d picked out some Prada dailies (because, of course, I did) and some Tory Burch sunnies. The optician took my measurements and let me know my glasses would be ready the next day.

***

I know that what follows is going to sound dramatic, but putting on glasses for the first time is a pretty dramatic experience.

The moment I slipped my new glasses on, I upgraded to hi-def. It was like putting on a VR helmet. It was my world, but not. Because holy hell, the sharpness! I could read signs more than ten feet away without squinting. Colors seemed bright, like they were about to pop. It was seriously like seeing everything around me for the first time.

I walked slowly back to my car, taking it all in. I felt like the characters in Pleasantville at the moment their black-and-white world explodes in Technicolor – full of wonder. I looked up in the boughs of these enormous trees close to where I had parked, and I swear, I could see the individual petals of every single flower amid the matrix of branches. I could see the variety of color in the blooms, from fire engine red to a deep, deep scarlet.

I took my glasses off for comparison, and the flowers turned into obfuscated, indistinct red blotches.

I snuck my new glasses up the bridge of my nose. “Whoa.”

***

I’ve been wearing my glasses for close to four months now. I joke that they catapult my personal style into “full hipster” most days, “sexy librarian” on others. I laugh when my husband and I lean in for kisses and our frames clink. I’ve had to decrease the brightness on all my computer screens, and I spend so much less time squinting.

When I forget to put on my glasses, I develop migraines, so I’m guessing I’m pretty used to them now. My depth perception, which was seriously funky when I added lenses into the mix, is back to normal. I haven’t had a single ocular migraine since I got my glasses.

And most importantly, the world around me has come into focus. I’m no longer self-conscious about wearing glasses for the rest of my life. They make me better. They sharpen everything around me. And why would I settle for anything less than hi-def?

Skits and Giggles (Or I Signed Up for Improv Classes)

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Sometimes, serendipity is more than random happenstance. And from time to time, some serious coincidence inspires you to sign up for improv classes.

A couple weeks ago, I met my friend, Jacob, for drinks at Seven Grand to celebrate his completion of Corepower’s yoga teacher training program. Amidst sips of old fashioneds, we started talking about how we both, as former dancers, miss being onstage. Jacob has found a kind of performance in leading yoga classes, which is scratching the itch for him—and he asked me what I plan to do about my craving for creativity and the stage. Since dance isn’t a viable option for me anymore, I’ve thought about doing more theater, but the time commitment always keeps me at bay.

Jacob asked if I’ve ever thought about doing improv…which got me thinking. Yeah, that could be fun. It’s less of a time commitment than traditional theater, and it would get me back onstage, in a completely new way. I helped to establish and direct an improv troupe in high school, but I never performed with them. I was always behind the scenes.

It was a brilliant idea, but, of course, life and work took over that night, and I completely forgot about it…until Friday, when the suggestion came back full force—twice.

On Friday, I attended Creative Mornings San Diego, a monthly breakfast lecture series for creative folks. The topic du jour was “Game,” and the speaker, Gary Ware, recounted his personal story about getting caught up in a career that left him exhausted and stressed, with very little room (or dedicated time) for play. One of his mentors suggested he…wait for it…take improv classes.

And it was like getting smacked with coincidence. Here it was again, this mention of improv as a constructive, fun, creative outlet. As Gary talked more and more about how improv helped him create space for fun in his life, and how it changed the dynamic of his work life and his relationship with his team, I started thinking, You know, I should really think about signing up for improv classes.

The final sign from the universe? My husband, unprompted, asked me as we were walking back to our cars if I’ve ever considered taking improv classes. Okay, universe, I hear you.

That afternoon, I looked up Finest City Improv and signed up for a seven-week session that starts in June, because clearly, I can’t ignore all these signs pointing toward improv. Here’s to challenging myself with something new, learning to think on my feet, carving out time each week to play, and listening to the universe.

In the meantime, I’ll be watching every episode of Whose Line Is It Anyway? I can get my hands on. Let’s hope I can rise to this level someday:

On Discovering My Very First Gray Hair

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This morning was marked with hilarity. I woke to social media shoutouts from my good friend, Sara, for sharing a side-splitting movie review of Tarzan with her (which, let’s face it, is really a love letter to Alexander Skarsgard’s abs). In the shower, my close-to-empty shampoo bottle omitted a noise that sounded like Donald Duck cursing. And then, while I was applying my makeup, I noticed it – a single, wily gray hair decorating my hairline. And I laughed.

I laughed at its audacity. While the rest of my red hair was slicked back, this little sucker Gray hair 2was curling every which way, reflecting the morning light like an over-ambitious star. And then I spent a good two minutes trying to get a selfie that would feature my lone gray hair and its ridiculous arc. Observe.

I announced the discovery to my husband. He came into the bathroom, where I gesticulated at it wildly, smiling and laughing. He tugged on the strand and announced, “Yep, that’s yours, not a hair from one of the dogs.” We wondered together whether more of my hair is secretly silver. I get my hair dyed regularly, so it’s hard to know exactly what’s under the dye. I stared in the mirror and imagined myself with a gray coiffure.

Hipster silver fox much?

(Note – I love having red hair way too much to dabble in this experiment, but I do wish there was a way to instantly strip away all my hair dye and see what my natural color is right now.)

As far as my little gray hair’s unexpected reveal this morning? I’m not assigning blame. This isn’t about stress or the universe being unfair. Instead, I’m celebrating that I got here.

You guys, I’ve been living the my life so hard that I’m changing the very color of my hair. Perhaps I should start telling people I’ve developed superpowers.

All joking aside, I think our societal concept of aging is pretty pessimistic and messed up. There are so many products out there designed to cover up who you are and not nearly enough messages that tell you it’s okay to change over time.

Scars, laugh lines, extra cushion, gray hairs – to me, they’re all markers of a life well lived. I don’t necessarily want to reverse those things, as long as I’m healthy and happy. I want to embrace them and recognize them and move forward, rather than expending energy trying to reverse that which can’t be reversed.

So, it’ll just be me and my little gray hair over here, killin’ it with humor and acceptance.

2017 Accomplishments & 2018 Goals

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Yes, this is how I spent New Year’s Eve 2017, and it was awesome!

Though time is a uniquely human construct, there’s something beautiful about the idea of a new year. It’s like a crisp dollar bill, fresh and full of possibility. I use the turning over of one year to the next to celebrate achievements and either reinforce or set new goals. Here’s what went down in 2017 and what I’m hoping to accomplish in 2018.

2017 Recap

In 2017, I published five pieces: one harrowingly personal essay (Shapeless), my first erotica piece (Begin Again), a politically charged (but funny!) vampire romance novella (A Taste of Revolution), and two horror shorts (He Smelled Like Smoke and The Promise). With this motley smattering of writing, I’ve realized that I’m not comfortable boxing myself into a single genre or style. I’ve embraced the fact that I write what I want to when I’m inspired to create it. And I love that approach. It seems to be working for me.  

I read 45 books this year (hitting my Goodreads Reading Challenge goal – whoo hoo! – albeit just barely). My top 7 reads were (in no particular order:

Futuristic Violence and Fancy Suits by David Wong bite somebody else

Losing It by Cora Carmack

We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson

Sleeping Giants by Sylvain Neuvel

The Dinner by Herman Koch

Joyland by Stephen King

Bite Somebody Else by Sara Dobie Bauer

rocket raccoon

 

Graphic novels I loved reading this year include:

March: Book One by John Lewis and Nate Powell 

Paper Girls: Volume One by Brian K. Vaughan 

Rocket Raccoon #1 by Skottie Young 

 

 

 

I crafted over 100 comic book flowers for my upcoming wedding.

I survived my first hot yoga class (which got up to 106 degrees, thankyouverymuch).

My fiance and I made our wedding bands. Like, mixed-and-melted-down-the-metals-and-cranked-the-metals-through-a-rolling-mill-and-soldered-them-together-and-beat-them-into-circles-with-mallets made them.

I took the stage in an amazing production of The Vagina Monologues. wookie

I learned how to hand stamp metal.

I rediscovered my love for baking pies.

I bought my first onesie and dressed up like Chewbacca for Halloween.

I did a water nymph photoshoot with one of my oldest and dearest friends.

I climbed to the very top of an exceptionally tall indoor climbing wall (six stories!).

I snuggled with an alpaca (which is the perfect way to end a list of accomplishments, right?).

2018 Goals

Read 45 books. I’m keeping this one consistent. Not gonna lie, I read some really short books on December 29th, 30th, and 31st in order to hit my Goodreads Reading Challenge goal. This year, I want to cruise into December confident that I’ll hit my 45-book goal – and then some.

Write one story or piece a month. This one is going to be a challenge. I’ve fallen out of the habit of writing regularly (it’s like I’ve convinced myself I don’t have time because I’m planning a wedding or something!) I lost a little bit of my love for writing in 2017, and I don’t know whether to blame stress, poor planning, a lack of inspiration, a lack of self-motivation, or the monster that hides out under my bed. Whatever the case may be, I want to challenge myself to meet a deadline every month in 2018 to see if I can re-spark my desire to write consistently. Whether flash fiction, a sprawling novella, or a personal essay, I need to write something every month. And I’m going to be gentle with myself. The pieces don’t need to be ready to sell or the best thing I’ve ever written. They just need to be complete.

yogaContinue to cultivate a regular yoga practice. When Bryan and I were living in Phoenix, I was really good about going to yoga at least twice a week. There’s something about yoga that makes me feel incredibly strong and incredibly calm, which I’ve found to be a really powerful combination for me. It’s also a great way to give my lower back and other chronic injuries the TLC they need. I started working toward this goal in 2017, and I’m hoping to build upon it to keep the momentum going in 2018.

Revive my blog presences. My personal blog and the blog I share with my fiance (2geekslife.com) have been grossly neglected. Again, I’ve fallen out of the habit, and I’ve also self-sabotaged a bit. There were times in 2017 when I thought my regular musings were too mundane or too boring to publish. Time to kill that self-doubt and trust that I always have something valuable or funny or thoughtful to say. Time to trust my voice.

Okay, those are the big goals. I’m sure other goals will pop up throughout the year, and I’ll go after them with vigor and an eye for self-improvement and cultivating accomplishment and happiness.

For those of you who create resolutions or set goals each year, I hope you’re off to a great start. I believe in you! Go get ‘em!

 

Until the Violence Stops

vday

On Friday and Saturday night, I was alive, on fire, bawdy, emotional, and pulsing. I was onstage, performing in The Vagina Monologues for the first time in years. And let me tell you, it felt good. Nothing is more gratifying than those bright lights and the affirmation of a crowd, proof that you’re creating great art.

But Sunday morning, as I was scrolling through Facebook, a post from a fellow cast mate ripped through me like fire hot shrapnel. “Drag performer gunned down in New Orleans East.” That’s what the headline read. When I clicked on the article and read further, I learned that Chyna Doll Dupree, the woman who’d been murdered, was a member of the transgender community. She was shot at about 8:30 pm in front of a strip mall. “Neighbors said they heard eight to 10 gunshots.”

Eight to ten gunshots.

The tears came fast and ready, and I was unprepared. I fought to keep them at bay. They dripped down the back of my throat and tightened my vocal chords.

I wanted to scream.

Less than 12 hours earlier, I had performed “They Beat the Girl Out of My Boy…or So They Tried,” Eve Ensler’s incredible monologue about the transgender experience. This piece documents one woman’s journey from her early childhood recognition of her true gender identity to trying to mask her gender identity to fit it, through a full transition and her joy of finally feeling complete…only to have her boyfriend killed in his sleep. His fatal crime? Loving someone who was “different.”

It’s a powerful monologue, and during each performance, it was hard for me to get through it. But I pushed and struggled through the difficult content, knowing that the piece is important and real and raw. I felt it was a step in the right direction, sharing this woman’s story.

Sunday morning, my feelings of celebration and advocacy dropped to the pavement, just as Chyna’s body had. We’d lost another of our own to senseless, stupid violence. Because of misplaced fear and intolerance. Because Chyna wanted to live her true life.

Chyna is the fifth transgender woman to be killed in 2017. It isn’t even March.

Chyna’s death was a sobering reminder of why The Vagina Monologues are performed every year. Survivors (and those who love them), advocates, activists, actors, mothers, daughters, sisters, and more will annually take to the stage in an effort to end the cycle of emotional, sexual, and physical violence that so many women endure in the course of their lifetimes.

We’ll recite the monologues for your sister, who had a little too much to drink at a college party and woke up with a stranger on top of her.

We’ll recite the monologues for your mother, who has endured years and years of emotional abuse at the hands of the men in her family, her community, her life.

We’ll recite the monologues for your coworker who is considered dumb or promiscuous or “asking for it” because of what she wears.

We’ll recite the monologues for women who endure rape and violence as a systematic tactic of war.

We’ll recite the monologues for the scores of girls who are taught to be ashamed of their bodies and their sexuality.

We’ll recite the monologues for the amazing, strong women who birth new life into this crazy, wonderful world.

We’ll recite the monologues for Chyna Doll Dupree.

As for me, I will recite the monologues for every woman I know who has encountered abuse. Sadly, it’s not a short list.

Participating in The Vagina Monologues this year was an incredible experience. I made new friends, forged relationships with new Vagina Warriors (both male and female), had a brilliant time onstage, and helped InnerMission Productions raise more than $3,000 to benefit Think Dignity and Break the Silence Against Domestic Violence.

And I’ll do it again next year…and the year after that…and the year after that.

I’ll do it for Chyna.

I’ll do it for you and the people you love.

I’ll do it prove I’m more than a statistic.

I’ll do it until the violence stops.