The Twin Flame: Part 1

Posted by Joan Zen on 1/16/2016

12332_683121878370100_394035762_nJust when I thought my life has crashed and burned, I met my twin flame, Jason Hicks.

It was May 1997. I was finishing up my BA at the University of San Diego in Communication Studies and was still working at the bank job and moonlighting as the lead vocalist in a show band on the weekends at night. I’d finally left Steve, but he was still a client at the bank, so there were awkward moments when we’d see one another and we’d end up on a date or something, but they were rare and waning. He was dating his secretary who he later impregnated and forced her to get an abortion. A year later she had another child and they lived together for a while. I heard that she later became an alcoholic and a drug user and after Steve took her child away from her, she ended up dying of an overdose in 2007. That could have been me.

During that time, my mother was very ill. She was dying a slow death from anorexia and alcoholism. She developed breast cancer and had a mastectomy that year. The day I found out her diagnosis, I felt such despair. I had gotten off work, gone home, smoked a joint, had a beer, and drove to Del Mar for a band rehearsal. My eyes were blood red from the pot and tears. The band had asked me to come to rehearsal that night alone with just the musical director and founding drummer to help them break in the new sax player. They said he was 24, cute, and played quite jazzy, but they were hoping he’d be able to play the 50’s R&B licks with a little practice.

I walked into the rehearsal studio at 7pm sharp. My hair was pulled back, and I was wearing yellow, flowered bell bottoms, a sleeveless denim vest over a tank top, and my glasses with no makeup. But at 28 years old, I was in my prime, so frumpy was not in the program no matter what I wore. As I entered the space, Jason and I locked eyes. There was instant recognition. It was like, “Oh, you. Where have you been?” “Deb, this is Jason.” I think I said hi as did he. He was wearing a white Hanes t-shirt, faded blue jeans, and the lenses on his glasses were so thick that his eyes looked a bit froggy and I thought, “Oh, what is wrong with his eyes? Gosh, he sure is cute, though.” His blond hair was thick and full and his heart seemed tightly closed shut, but he looked at me with wonder and intrigue.

The next few months we worked together, maintaining enough distance to safely gauge each other in the band environment. I cannot say Jason and I became close friends right away. I was still in the grips of letting go of Steve and experimenting with living the single life again. Jason was quiet and withdrawn, which made getting to know him quite difficult. I remember calling him at the home where he was living with his father, step-mother, and half-siblings, who were just teenagers, though Jason was in his twenties. He had moved back from St. Louis to live with the family and go back to college to study Physics. Trying to get through a phone conversation with Jason was like torture; one word, one syllable answers to questions. I almost gave up on him as a potential boyfriend because I could not read whether he even liked me or not. He seemed curious, but cautious, too. I asked him once why he did not have a girlfriend, wondering if he was gay or asexual. He replied “I just don’t see the point. It’s a waste of time unless you find the right person.”

In September, I was going through a rough time emotionally. I had finally given up on Steve for good and he was well into the relationship with his secretary. I had dated a few people who were just not good fits for me and it did not go well with a couple of them. My relationship with my mother was traumatic, my roommate was distancing herself from me because I was just too emotional to be around, and I was feeling lonely and lost. I was a total workaholic Monday-Sunday, but would spend my evenings listening to R&B, smoking and drinking, and crying, while taking long baths, or writing in my journal. Sometimes I would venture out to a bar with girlfriends for karaoke or dinner. Other nights, driven by the desire to find the true source of happiness, I would muster the courage to go alone to a local Nichiren Daishonin Buddhist center for group chanting (Nam Myoho Renge Kyo), or to the Self Realization Fellowship center where I was introduced to the teachings of Paramahansa Yogananda, or the Deepak Chopra Center in La Jolla for an open meditation session. My favorite restaurant was in Normal Heights, Jyoti Bihanga, the place of spiritual teacher, Sri Chinmoy. But, without the guidance of a true master to follow, I was unable to stick to any one path or discipline. More than for a master at that time, I longed and prayed for a soul mate.

Though Jason was quiet and I do not remember having very many conversations with him, just looking at him made me feel at home. There was a calm place where I did not feel the need to talk, impress, or grab his attention. I just felt like I could be myself. One night during one of our gigs with the show band at a fancy high-rise hotel ballroom for some event, Jason had a bad headache. I remember I felt the overwhelming need to take care of him. I went to my bag and found a bunch of Advil packets and handed one to him, like a wife would to her husband. Then, I slipped out of the green room to a roof top patio to smoke a cigarette. Just a moment or two after I lit up, Jason came out on the patio. He thanked me for the Advil and asked me for a cigarette, an American Spirit Light, my puff of choice at that time. We chatted casually in the cool San Diego September evening air. It felt like I’d known him for years.

Jason and DebThe following week at the regular Wednesday night rehearsal I think I said to him, “We should have a drink sometime after a gig and chat.” He smiled and said, “Yes, we should.” I knew of a jazz bar near where our next gig was going to be at the Convention Center near Hotel Circle. Since I knew Jason liked jazz, I told him about it saying, “There’s a great place around the corner from where the Humane Society Charity Fur Ball is being held on Friday night. Wanna go for a quick cocktail after the gig since it ends early at 10pm?” He agreed.

It was September 26, 1997. The evening of the Fur Ball had come and I was feeling excited to play music and also to spend some time with a person who at that point was a bit of an enigma to me. Hell, he’s still an enigma to me. Jason was playing things close to the vest, but I could tell he was looking forward to our date when he asked at the beginning of the night, “Still on for that drink?” “Of course!” I beamed. Since our group was a preservationist 50’s and 60’s doo-wap-n-roll revue, we always dressed up in suits and poodle skirts and beehive wigs. In this case, the show was a costume ball where guests were encouraged to dress up for the sock-hop and also to bring their leashed pets! It was a gas! People were walking and dancing with their poodles, terriers, St. Bernards and spotted dalmations while wearing blue jeans and bobby socks, saddle oxfords and black leather jackets, poodle skirts, and mary janes. It was surreal. Jason and I were laughing throughout the night at the spectacle of it all.

When we finished the gig, we both quickly packed up and loaded up our cars with saxophones, amps, wig boxes, and garment bags, and drove just 1/2 mile around the corner to a small Irish pub called Kelly’s. Jason was driving an old 1972 Chevy Stepside Truck which was painted in various colors of grey, white, and primer. I was driving my 1993 Mercedes. He wore jeans and a white t-shirt. I wore a black skirt, heels, and tank top. We looked like opposites, but already acted like lovers. I loved how he did not give a shit what anyone thought about him or his choice of vehicle in a place where sports cars and mini-skirts ruled. He was always a bit of John Denver in Glam-land.

We went into Kelly’s, a smokey, dimly lit cocktail spot with a long bar opposite a grand piano encircled by a c-shaped bar surrounding it. A dozen elderly ladies and men sat at the bar, smoking cigarettes, drinking high-balls while passing around an sm-58 microphone to sing their favorites accompanied by a veteran pianist who was a human catalogue of jazz music. He could play anything. Women with thick, blue eye shadow, lipstick stained cigarette butts in the ashtrays, and the haunting sound of billie holiday tunes filled the room. We went to a corner hightop table by the front window. It was a sweet little nook, giving us a little privacy and a view of the room, piano, and the local color. When the waitress came over to ask what we wanted, Jason immediately ordered a Bombay Sapphire Gin and Tonic with a lime twist. Surprised by the grown up sound of that drink coming from this young 24 year old boy, I stuttered and blurted out “I’ll have a Manhattan” not having the faintest idea what went into a Manhattan anyway. But, I wanted to make sure not to show off my trailer park idea of a good evening spirit, a coors light over ice. My Manhattan was dreadful, and as I gagged it down, we shared a laugh over my pretentiousness of requesting such a god awful beverage in order to impress my date. I think my second drink was a gin-and-tonic, a much better choice.

As we sipped our drinks, smoked our American spirits (remember when people smoked in bars?) and listened to the grandmothers crooning out love songs of the past, Jason’s head was turned away from me as he listened. I was moved to lean over and softly, slowly kiss him on the left side of his neck. He turned back towards me and smiled. No words were exchanged. When the evening ended, we walked out to our cars sitting side by side in the lot. He asked me for a few cigarettes to help with his 40 minutes drive to North County. I gave him a few out of my pack. He stood, looking like James Dean, leaning up against the front wheel of his pickup. I leaned towards him, rested my body on his, and planted a big kiss on his lips. He was eager to reciprocate and we shared a lovely moment where all things seemed possible.


Running for my Life

Posted by Joan Zen on 11/14/2015

woman_running_awayIt’s been many months since I wrote. The diet I began which inspired the blog went off the rails and I spent the summer in my usual fashion: working way too much, drinking and eating too much, and throwing myself deeper into meditation and practice. The year has flown by and I am contemplating why I stopped writing.

I think I felt guilty for taking the time to blog about my personal life. I felt that if I had an hour to write, I had an hour to meditate, or clean the house, or spend time with my husband. And again the year slipped by while I tried to ignore the painful fact that my weight is higher than it’s ever been and I just seem to be spinning my wheels and falling apart. Are these two things related? Which came first, the weight gain or the falling apart? Is it the dharma practice that is ripping the rug out from under my feet? It is too early to say, but I keep looking back to see my steps, see where I came from and to where I am headed, and how I laid the bricks of my own house with karma.

In 1992, I had moved to San Diego from Reno, NV with my parents who had relocated there for work. Having been in a pretty bad relationship in Reno with someone we’ll call Frank for now, I was ready to make a fresh start. Unfortunately the bad relationship followed me there and there it stayed for about 8 more months until I met someone new . . . a prerequisite for a damaged person before feeling comfortable moving on. It’s amazing how someone can hold something together, even when it’s not what one wants, for fear of starting over, being alone, or dealing with the inevitable bullshit of separating debt, splitting assets, or finding a new place to live. I had to declare bankruptcy to get out of that relationship. I stayed with someone for four years whom I did not love, who did not love me, out of a feeling of obligation. Who would take care of him? How would he live? I was just the mother figure to his broken child. Years later when I saw him he admitted to me that he’d never really been attracted to me. I was just a good friend to him.

The new man was not much different than the old man, also an indication that I was replaying old tapes, looking for love in all the wrong places, and grasping at someone outside of myself to heal me or bring me the purpose for which I longed. He was a salesman and from a very male dominant culture. For his sake, I’ll change his name here to Steve. Steve was handsome, mysterious, and his business was successful. He was a client at the bank at which I worked. Every day he would come in, make his bank deposits which were sometimes quite large and full of cash and checks, and he’d flirt shamelessly with me. I was a nervous, sexually repressed 23 year old woman stumbling her way through her days, eating nothing but white rice and wheatgrass shots for lunch while chugging 40oz Coors Lights over ice every night for dinner before or after the occasional fat-free frozen yogurt. He’d make jokes, I’d laugh, and he’d leave me with the feeling that I was beautiful and special. I found out later that he did that with all the girls.

One Friday night around closing time, he had already come and gone for his daily visit. I knew that his office was very close to the branch and I got up the nerve to go check out his signature card in the file cabinet in the bank. I quickly jotted down his office phone number. Taking a 15 minute break, I went to the back room, dialed the phone. He answered. His exotic accent and voice on the line made me shiver, “This is Steve.” “Hi,” I said, “It’s Debbie from the bank?” “Oh, hello miss Debbie from the bank. How are you sweetheart? Anything wrong with my account?” I stuttered, coughed, and said, “Oh, no, I just, well, you always come in and I never get a chance to chat with you.” He chuckled, knowing from his months of seeing my blushed face when he’d wait in line and pass up the teller next to me to wait for me that I had a crush on him. I was being pretty obvious. He replied, “Yes, well, I should take you to dinner tomorrow night and we can chat more then.” I was surprised and a flood of excitement rushed through my channels. “Oh well, sure! That would be wonderful” I replied. I told him I was living with my parents, even though I was actually still living with the guy from Reno. I knew that my boyfriend worked nights as a bartender and if I told him I was going out with the girls for karoke and beers, he’d believe it and I’d be able to sneak out with this new crush and see how I liked him. Bad girl. Sad girl.

I gave Steve my address, a creepy little apartment across from a gorgeous golf course near San Diego Hotel Circle. My mom and dad lived right across the street overlooking the course though, and knowing they were so close was a relief to me in those strange years. Steve showed up right on time. I was dressed to the nines: black cocktail dress, hose, 3-in heels, big 90’s hair-sprayed do, clutch purse, bangles, lipstick, the works. In those days, though I was 150lbs, I was curvy, with a JLo butt and long arms and legs. I felt pretty sexy.

He picked me up at 8pm in a gold jaguar. He was wearing a black suit and tie. His hair was slicked back with gel and his swarthy mustache was freshly trimmed. As the sun was setting in the west, the city was alive with lights and traffic. The ocean glowed and sparkled as we made our way to La Jolla Cove’s beach town to a restaurant called Avantine. It was a cute little dinner house and bar which seemed to be quite popular with the international types. He opened doors, pulled my chair out for me, took my hand to help me sit down and look me deeply in the eyes all night long. I was love struck before the appetizer was served.

Forgetting for a night about my pitiful boyfriend working away at his job while I flirted with the mystery man, I danced to exotic music, drank expensive wine, and was kissed by the most beautiful lips I had ever felt. Waves of passion surged through me all night. I was entranced. All eyes in the place seemed to be on us. We looked like a poor man’s Alec Baldwin and Kim Basinger and when I’d catch a glimpse of us together in the mirror, I’d be stunned by the combination of our appearances.

Knowing that my boyfriend, Frank would be home at midnight, I urged Steve to take me home. We pulled up the drive way of the apartment complex just 20 feet from my door. There were bushes that obscured the car from the entrance, but just as I was about to get out of the car, I saw Frank peek his head out as he smoked a cigarette still wearing his wife beater undershirt which he wore under his black and white waiter garb. He shivered from the damp March night air and puffed furiously on his ciggy to finish it quickly. I slid down in the seat a bit and told Steve to stay put. It was only at that moment that Steve realized I was living with someone else. Bad girl. Sad girl. Steve kissed me passionately nonetheless and asked me if he could pick me up in the morning and drive me to Mexico for the day. I accepted and told him I’d be ready at 9am. My boyfriend would already be at work by that time and I knew I could get away for the day.

The next day, Sunday morning, I saw Frank off to work, rushing him out the door so I could get made up for the day’s outing with the prospect. At 9am, I sat on the couch, ready and waiting for Steve to show up. I waited and waited and waited. By 11am, I was furious and dejected. Was he standing me up? Did I misunderstand? I called his house. He answered. I asked him where he was. He replied that he had gone back to the club and spent the evening dancing with another woman and got home so late that he was too tired to go to Mexico that day. I was appalled. As I sat there listening to him, I had the sensation that there was a woman lying next to him in the bed. I asked him.”Did you go back to the club and take another woman home with you?” He chuckled, “Of course, honey, you didn’t think I had planned to go home alone, did you? I mean, you went home to your boyfriend, right?” Though I felt disappointed, something about his twisted, manipulative logic made sense to me and I felt ashamed for stepping out on my boyfriend and totally forgave Steve for standing me up.

That very day, I packed my belongings intending to move out that night. When the boyfriend came home, I was waiting for him with bags packed and stashed in the closet, sitting there quietly. I fed him dinner, let him smoke a joint, and then I broke it to him that I was leaving him. He cried, he pleaded, he begged me to stay. He yelled, he screamed, and I just said goodbye and walked out. I left my car, all my furniture, all my housewares, and moved into my parent’s living room with a handful of clothes and keepsakes. Later that night he called me and asked if he could come over to mom and dad’s condo. It was 1am. He literally got on his hands and knees and told me he’d change, he’d work on his temper and his lack of discipline, and his childish outbursts. I said, “You can change all you want, but I’ve already changed and I’m in love with someone else.” He left and though we stayed in contact, leaving Frank was one of the best decisions I ever made.

On Monday morning at the bank when he came in for his usual deposit, I told Steve that I’d moved out of my apartment and into my parent’s place until I could find my own apartment. He was happily surprised and told me he’d like to take me to the movies on Tuesday night. I’m not sure what we saw because all I can remember is that he spent the entire night trying to get into my blouse. I kept fending him off, pushing his hands away which grasped at my bra and wriggled to try to cop a feel. I was disgusted by it. We left the theatre and I was relived to be going home. Wait . . . where was he driving? He missed the turn. This started to creep me out. I felt a bit afraid. He pulled into his garage and said, “Come on in and see my house. Then, I’ll take you home.” I was suspicious, but I went in against my better judgement. I walked in, looked around at his nice little track house in little La Jolla, folded my arms and said, “There. I’ve seen it. Now take me home.” He was settling in on the couch, turning on the TV, and looking like he was a cat ready to pounce on a mouse. I remained by the entryway. “Take me home” I said again. This time, he got up and sighed and we left. It was quiet while we drove to my folks’ place. He walked me to the garage elevator and said, “Well, I hate to see it end this way, but you take care.” I was blushing with simultaneous relief and embarrassment that I might have blown it with him by overreacting, but felt safe to be home.

I do not know what possessed me to continue to pursue him after that, but the following weekend we went out on another date and the relationship started to form. One the surface, Steve seemed normal. But underneath lay a cold, heartless misogynist who had a habit of having more than one woman at a time. Turns out he was a classic gas-lighter, a manipulator, a control freak with sexual hangups and secrets. One of the first weeks we were dating, he sent me flowers at the bank. When I thanked him for them later, he told me he had to stop at the flower stand because a beautiful girl was working there. How could I take one more step into this relationship you might ask? I was damaged goods looking for the “man who could give me the worst possible time, and that’s when I made my move.” (Jessica Lange, Tootsie). I loaded all my things into his home just a few weeks after we began dating.

During the course of the relationship, I experienced a tearing down of my self-esteem that I had never experienced before then. He would bring me diamonds and take me in limos to dinner, then stay out all night at the strip club with his buddies. If I dared to complain he’d say, “Be quiet. I came home to you, didn’t I?” He threaten me then take me to Cancun. There was so many tears, sleepless nights, fights, and make ups. I developed an eating disorder because if I gained a pound, he would chastise me, even in front of his family. I began purposely throwing up almost everything I ate and taking phen-phen diet pills by prescription to lose weight. I was pale, sad, and had nightmares almost every time I slept. I’d even wake up screaming. He thought I was nuts. And I began to feel like I was. His lying was so easy to see. I saw answering machine messages from other women, phone numbers in his wallet, lipstick on his collar, and white crusty stains on his pants after his late nights with the boys when he said he was out bowling. HA! I was the classic cuckold. Every time I start to get up the guts to leave him, he’d do something wonderful….a surprise birthday dinner, an engagement ring, a promise of a fresh start. I fell for it every time. To my credit, I did move out and back in again several times over the course of the relationship, but like the mafia, he’d always pull me back in.

When I met the next door neighbors, three gorgeous middle eastern sisters, a shiver went up my spine. I knew it was only a matter of time before one of them would seduce him. After all, he was an easy target. We’d have dinner with them, play board games with friends at their home, and I could see that one of them was eyeing him on the sly when I’d look away. One week in November 1996, her phone number began showing up on the answering machine with no messages left. I think I had prayed a hundred times for him to have an affair so that I could have the strength to leave him. This was my chance.I knew the was happening, but could not prove it. I pried when we were alone, trying catch him in a lie. I knew he was already sleeping with her but I needed proof.

One night, I was leaving a bit late for a gig at La Costa Resort and he was still at work or bowling. I opened the door to see a vase with dead flowers on the step and a card written in Farsi. I knew it was from the neighbor. I went to her home and knocked on the door. She reluctantly came out huddled in a blanket. She had obviously been crying. She told me he had been having an affair with her for a month but that he was cutting it off now. She told me he was cunning, sly, and dishonest. She deflected any culpability for the affair. I listened quite compassionately for a while until I finally lost my temper, called her a whore, and stamped back to the house. I dialed my best friend’s number and she came right over to help me get drunk. I called in sick to the gig, something I had never done before, and I packed all of my things in less than an hour. My parents came and helped me move out. Steve came home as we were finishing the move out and looked somewhat embarrassed. As he turned to drive away, I lunged at the car. “Is that it? That’s all you have to say? Go away then you fucking coward!”

Though I never moved back in with him after that, he continued to toy with me for another 7 months. All in all, the relationship with Steve lasted for fours years. That love affair nearly killed me. Now that I look back, I should have realized that it ended in the way it began…with lying and cheating. Bad Girl. Sad Girl.

Who’z JoanZen?

Posted by Joan Zen on 1/31/2015

Elements Full

I was born a Debbie. I became a Joan.

In 1999, while living in San Diego with my new husband, Jason Hicks, we were playing in a 50’s and 60’s preservationist cover tribute band, the Legends. But we were dying to break out, break away from the corporate, unoriginal Southern California music scene. It was a dead end road and even then, we knew it would take our youth, our opportunities, and our creativity from us and keep us from finding our voices. Though we had just been married in 1998, I was slipping into a foggy depression from the grief from losing my mother just before Christmas 1998. There were a few breaking moments which literally propelled us out from our inertia and complacency and into motion.

Jason was also moonlighting as a sax side man in an all male original band hoping to launch into the LA music scene at the time. They were rehearsing, performing, recording, and bracing themselves for their big break which never came. As I slipped away into my depression, I also helped Jason host parties, rehearsals, and build a recording studio in our new home in North County. For a time, I think I may have convinced myself and others that I was ok. But some weight gain, too many drinks, and a regular crying habit was beginning to break up my facade and soon it would show to most of my friends and family that I was coming unglued at the seams.

So, I began writing. Jason had bought me an acoustic guitar for my birthday in February of 1998. He asked me to close my eyes and hold out my arms. Instinctively, as with most things in our relationship, my closed eyes and an open mind visualized a guitar before it was placed in my trembling arms. When I felt the weight of it there, it felt like home, though I only knew a few chords on it from my high school years when I would tote it around everywhere pretending to be an artist. I opened my eyes, smiled and gasped a breath and laughed at Jason saying “What do you expect me to do with this?” He said “Learn how to play it and write a song.” I think I laughed some more.

I wrote I Ever Never one day while Jason was at his day job as a geotechnical engineer (a fancy way of saying “dirt inspector”). Though it only had a few chords, I played the song which was written for and about Jason and sang it softly that day when he got home. He let a tear drop from his eye and said, “This is what you are supposed be doing.” Then one day he wrote a few chords on the guitar even though he did not even play guitar. He showed me the chords before he went off to work in the early morning traffic of the southern California commute, and when he got home, I’d written With You in Me about my love affair with him. “In you, I see, the me, I believe, the truth, I need, to set me free, in me, you knew, that you would, too, find the truth about you.” These two songs became the start of our first album, Intramission, but it would take several years, more tears, and a few more disappointments to force us into the change that it would take for me to find my true voice.

I’d been a professional singer since the age of 16, but having been in so many cover bands, or playing largely to get noticed in contests and showcases, I’d really continued to be a chameleon and though I had some pipes, for sure, I was aimless and lacking confidence. Though I had won almost every contest I entered, I did not feel like a viable artist. I had a huge voice, but could not tame the beast inside the vocal chords themselves. And a few years of drinking and smoking cigarettes and weed to numb out the physical and psychological pain which threatened my life itself, my voice weakened like my resolve to do anything with it. Having been a svelt 150lbs (small for me) for my wedding, I ballooned up to 200 within a few years of bad diet, little exercise, and depression. The sparkly spandex dresses were too tight and I no longer fit the mold of a San Diego singer, so I just stopped and ran away from my commitments and work by staying at home during the day while Jason worked a bad day job.

I knew I was going down hill. My husband knew it. Probably my family knew it, but having lost my mother to alcoholism and depression and anorexia, no one knew how to help me, except Jason. He knew he had to get me out of the dysfunctional living situation and the destructive San Diego scene which held memories of ex-boyfriends, bad jobs, my failures in Grad School, and my mother. He decided to move me away to the mountains. Anywhere. We went camping over July 4th in 2001 to the Wind River Mountains in Wyoming where he had spent a few years living in his early 20’s and we decided on that trip to move away from So Cal. But we still did not know where we would go and that is another story.

At a friends house while we were smoking a joint one day, we were talking about Jonezin and how hard it was to be attracted to substances like pot, alcohol, food, sex, money, and power, philosophizing about the plight of people under the sway of addictions and how if only there was freedom from that, what would it look like? I said out loud “I wish I was like a spiritual warrior like Trinity in the Matrix only a badass person who could resist the temptations of basic life, walk the talk and overcome the forces of negativity which have captured me and I could transform my suffering into a force for positive change for everyone around me. She would put the Zen in Jonesin. No longer Jonesin for anything but spiritual attainment and musical fulfillment, she would be my inner diva, my alter-ego. Her name would be Joan. Joan Zen.”

When Jason and I finally moved to the Bitterroot Valley of MT, site unseen with a 27-ft U-haul containing all of our belongings and not a clue how we would use the money we’d earned by making a profit on our house, we basically just hung out for a year trying to shake off the remnants of our old lives together and build something new. Though it took a year to do that, during that time, we started writing more songs and recording them for our debut album which we would not release until 2004.

One day while visiting the local pub, The Bitterroot Brewery where we spent most of our idle time hanging out, getting drunk with the locals, Jason boasted about how I was a hot shit singer who would blow everyone away if only they heard me play. The owner of the Brewery, Tim Bozik took him to challenge over it and asked him to bring a band in to perform among the distillation tanks to anyone who might come. It was February, 2003 and I could barely play the guitar. But Jason, having already had his three beers for the day, accepted the invitation and came home to tell me that we had a gig the next month. My voice was rough, I’d continued to gain weight, and my depression was far from gone, but I had a reason to do something about it. That same week, we hooked up with a bass player, Don Maus, and started rehearsing any 3 chord songs that I thought I could get away with playing live.

Tim Bozik called to tell us that a graphics gal in town was gonna make a poster for us and what did we want the band name to be on the ad. I told Jason, it has to be Joan Zen. I designed a graphic in green and purple lettering and sent it off to be printed. The first gig at the Brewery had about 30 people. The next one had about 75 and it grew rapidly from there. But, I had not set out to have a career again in music. I just wanted to get out of bed. And so, Joan Zen was born that year and began the long journey to waking up to herself. I was born in 1969 as a Debbie. But, I had to discover my inner Joan. The story continues.

Child’s Play

Posted by Joan Zen on 1/27/2015


I was a pliable kid, able to bend and mold myself to fit the needs of the moment. Flexible for a chubby girl inside and out, I could size up a situation and ride the inevitable wave through the most dangerous waters of life with incredible ease and determination. I longed to be resilient, though I was regularly crushed under the weight of my own sensitivity. Somehow I knew that deep inside, buried under my emotionally unstable personality lay a spiritual warrior fighting to take charge of my life. I would not find her for many years.

My ability and desire to float freely from situation to situation was a blessing and a curse. Because we moved so much when I was growing up, the inherent skills I possessed of fitting into new groups, making friends without being attached to them, and leading people to trust me came totally naturally to me. But, inside, I lacked a certain ability to really KNOW myself. I was a chameleon, a shapeshifter, an actor playing roles to get the job done, and I found myself confused by myself. Like Zoolander mugging for the camera, I’d look into the mirror and ask “Who am I?”

There were certain parts of my life which seemed constant: love of music and acting, struggle with weight issues, a mushy heart which made me cry at the drop of a hat, whether for or about someone, something, or sometimes nothing at all. One of the things which affected me the most was the feeling I got when I accidentally or intentionally caused harm to anyone or anything.

I was not a hunter, never killed an animal except one possum I hit with my car on a dark, back road on my way home. I never enjoyed seeing anything suffer, unlike some of the kids who would burn ants with a magnifying glass or chase their cats and dogs causing them terror even just in fun while playing. I took to heart when I hurt someone with my speech or actions. And I was always shocked when someone would intentionally cause me or a loved one harm.

I remember one of the little girls who I played with in one of the apartment complexes we lived in in Memphis. She was a tough girl and would beat the shit out of me any chance she got, randomly and with great fervor. Needless to say, we were not close friends. I was no naive that I could not stop myself from talking to people openly and honestly. I found out that being open and honest without having any real skillfulness could be hurtful and cause trouble for myself and those around me.

One little girl who lived in the complex with us lost her father. He shot himself right there in his home one day when she was at school. I was only 6 or 7 years old and I overheard my parents discussing it…this tragedy right here in our own apartment complex. When we got home from school one day, I said to my friend as we were getting out of the car, “That little girl’s father committed suicide.” My friend did not believe me.

I walked right up to the little girl and asked her “Didn’t your father commit suicide?” Her mother or nanny grabbed my arm and hissed “How dare you! What a mean little girl you are!” I was dumbfounded. I did not understand death at all and really just wanted to know, but had no business asking that girl about it. I can see how someone would think I was being mean. But, really, I had no concept of that and cried all night at the thought that I was perceived as being mean to that sad, little girl who was my friend.

One year, when we lived in a house on a hill, I had a bunch of neighborhood friends who went to and from school with us on the school bus. Most of them were boys, but we played with them on weekends, riding bikes, playing tag, and generally behaving like kids. One day, two of the boys from my block switched jackets – the kind that had their names embroidered on the back in gold and purple letters which were popular at the time….they looked like baseball jackets.

In our school, many girls and boys would exchange jackets if they were ‘going together’ or going steady. I asked one of the boys on the bus if the two other boys were ‘going together’ and perhaps that is why they were sharing each other’s jackets? In that moment, I do not think I was being antagonistic, or accusatory. In fact, I did not think that there was anything wrong with homosexuality if they were boyfriends, but I was more curious to know than anything. My friend replied that he did not know why they were sharing the jackets, but that they might be boyfriends.

The next day, I went over to one of the boys’ houses to play. I knocked on the door. I could see and hear people inside, but they did not answer. I could hear laughter and running as I went from the back door to the front, the side and back to the back doors to peek in to see if my friends were playing a joke on me. After a few minutes, one of the boys who had switched jackets with his friend opened the door and said, “We don’t want to play with you. You told everyone on the bus that I was gay and that’s not true. We’re not going steady! We were pretending to be secret agents in disguise! Go away!”

I tried to mutter an apology saying that I did not care one way or another and that I did not mean to say anything hurtful at all, but the door was slammed in my face before I could explain. Those boys never played with me again and I was so sad that I had hurt them with my stupidity. I found out the hard way that ignorance was NOT bliss.

Rose Colored Glasses

Posted by Joan Zen on 1/26/2015

rose Colored Glasses

I realized early on that I had a propensity to see the best in things, even if it was the furthest thing from the truth. It was shocking to feel the jolt of reality around me when it collided abruptly with my vision of how things were perceived to be in my little world. I came by part of this quite naturally. My mother was like that and in some ways, so was my father, but he was more of a realist in other ways. My mother would say of his often sunny disposition “You wear rose colored glasses, Scott and you think that everything’s always gonna be alright…well maybe it’s not!” Later in life, dad told me his response to her was that in reality it was she who wore rose colored glasses and when life did not match the view she had, she’d crawl into a bottle and become despondent. He felt that he knew how difficult life truly was and that he was decidedly happy in spite of it. I’m not sure which is true. Perhaps being part of this family meant that we all actually shared both an optimism that life would yield good results and a realization that sometimes shit comes down so hard you feel like wearing a hat.

As a child, I was a Polyanna and had an unrealistically optimistic outlook on life. I was sunny, happy, and full of joyful songs and dance. I remember always trying to get a laugh out of people, joking at inappropriate moments, playing and goofing around, and trying to make friends feel good about themselves. But, I was also ill prepared when people were unkind, mean, or when the tables were turned and I was abused by someone who I felt was my friend.

One time, my 3rd grade ogre teacher left the room during a test. Three or four students began openly cheating on the quiz, sharing answers boldly and quickly by talking out loud. I was enraged! How could the teacher leave the room and thus invite this kind of dishonesty? She returned a few minutes later, but I was still shocked at how these kids got away with cheating.

Later after class, I approached her and whispered to her that several of the children had cheated on the test and I reported which ones had done it. She smiled at me, squinting her eyes. In a baby-talk voice she asked, “Oh, are you a little tattletale? Hmm? Well, you know what happens to tattletales, don’t you? Go sit down.” I was shaking. Was I really in trouble for telling about the cheating kids in the class? After all, it was Ms Dalton’s fault for leaving the class unattended, right? What did she expect them to do? And what did she expect me to do, just sit there and let them get away with it?

When class resumed that morning, she announced, “Class, we have a tattletale in our midst. You know what happens to tattletales, don’t you?” Everyone responded in unison, “Yes, Ms. Dalton.” “Debbie, come up here.” I skulked to the front of the room, flushed and wide-eyed. She pulled out a long, peach colored piece of furry felt shaped like a tale. She forcefully grabbed me by the pant waist and took a safety pin and fastened the long tail onto the back of my Catholic School green stripped uniform pants. “Now, Debbie has to wear this tail all day so that the whole school can see what a tattletale she is. And, she has to stand on the wall during recess so everyone can see her.” Really? I was mortified.

There was a cinder block, grey concrete half-wall which overlooked the playground. It was the retaining wall for the sloping grassy area which led from the lunchroom and covered breezeway which connected the buildings. The classic punishment for those who acted out or got in trouble for things was to have to stand in one place on the wall while the rest of the school played on the swings, monkey bars, and basketball courts during recess. It was a strange, public display resembling the lining up of criminals in a row before execution by hanging. Though it seemed to be a K-12 appropriate punishment, I do not recall seeing many of the other teachers using it much. But, Ms. Dalton was fond of it and I spent more than just that day standing on the wall.

I remember we had some kind of an assembly that day. One of the older kids saw my tail and knowing Ms. Dalton to be abusive like that, offered her coat to me to wear all day. It was long and would almost cover the furry tail. I made it through the assembly without anyone really noticing my tail. Next, the recess on the wall. As I was heading out to spend the hour on the wall wearing my friend’s coat, Ms. Dalton grabbed me by the neck and yelled at me to remove the coat before I went outside. Damn! I was going to have to bear the embarrassment of having the tail fly freely in the wind while I stood ashamed on the wall.

But, I was a real ham and in order to thwart my shame and pretend like my skin was as thick as the tail I wore, I proudly stood tall and let the tail swing from side to side. I took off my green sweater, buttoned the top button on it, flipped my head upside down, and put the sweater over my head and flipped it back over like it was a head of Rastafarian dreadlocks. I swung it to and fro, brushing it off my shoulders while I did a dead-on impersonation of Cher singing “I Got You Babe! I Got You Babe” complete with over affected vibrato. Other kids on the wall were amused, but stood quietly in fear of getting in trouble. I thought to myself, “I’ll show Ms. Dalton I’m not ashamed of anything. She can’t touch me or hurt me at all!”

At the end of the day, I was relieved to have her remove the tail from my pants. She turned me around and said, “Now, Debbie, since you wore a coat and tried to cover up your punishment for being a tattletale, and you acted up on the wall and did not stand still and quiet, tomorrow you’ll have to stand on the wall again.” “But, but, but….it’s my birthday tomorrow! My mom is coming to have lunch with me! You can’t make me stand on the wall on my birthday!” I cried. But she did not care.

My mother did come to school the next day at lunchtime and we sat in the lunchroom together way longer than we should have, as all the kids had gone outside to play. I cried at the injustice of Ms. Dalton’s sentence for me, and my mother held me in her arms to console me. Finally, Ms. Dalton looked into the lunchroom from outside and said, “You’re late, Debbie. It’s time for you to get outside on the wall!” She closed the door before my mother could protest. I was surprised my mom did not make a scene, after all, she was famous for making scenes.

Making me stand on the wall on my birthday was my teacher’s ultimate punishment and it showed a willful sadistic flair that made my parents so angry that they began looking for a new school for me and Mary which we transferred to only a week or two later. I dared not tell anyone at school as I feared Ms. Dalton’s wrath once she found out. But, I told one, close friend on my last day there. I swore Laura to secrecy. During reading circle that day, Ms. Dalton repeatedly skipped me for reading out loud and I was shocked and dismayed to learn that my close friend was not so close after all and had indeed betrayed my trust by telling Ms. Dalton I was leaving. I felt so abused. I just could not understand deception, betrayal, and crime and punishment. My rose colored glasses became cloudier that year.

What’s Love Got To Do With It?

Posted by Joan Zen on 1/23/2015

Growing up with a feeling of loneliness and craving connection, it’s no surprise that I sought attention in all the wrong places, which usually translated into me being an easy target for boys looking for the perfect girl: low self-esteem and a willingness to please. I remember wanting to be liked, loved, and taken away from my crazy family life. And because I fought my weight problem, if a boy did show interest in me, I was over the moon about it. Though I felt like an adult at a young age, I shudder to recall how young I was when I had my first crush, first kiss, and first love.

Because my mom did not trust people in general and had social anxiety in so many ways, my sister and I became her best friends. Our parents took us to bars and restaurants very early mostly because Dad played in clubs and dinner houses and so we were around parties and partying behavior regularly. It was just a natural thing to go out to dinner and try to order a cocktail and get away with it. Mom and Dad always had a permissive attitude and preferred us to bring our boyfriends to dinner and drink in front of them rather than sneaking out of the house to get stoned or make out in a parked car like most teenagers do. There are pros and cons to either being too permissive or too strict as parents, so I can’t say that I regret how I was raised. Because I did not feel the drive to hide much from them, I was never arrested or given a DUI, never got in a car accident, never had an unwanted pregnancy or abortion or miscarriage, and never got hooked on serious drugs. But, I did push the limits, for sure.

I remember the first time I got drunk. I was 13 and we went to some formal holiday cocktail party with my parents. There was a champagne fountain in the center of the room. But, mom and dad were pretty busy between dad having to be on his best behavior to make sure he pleased the boss or community at the event, and mom having whatever panic attack which she masked with a few cocktails, I found myself able to easily sneak over to the mountain of stacked, cheesy plastic bubbly glassware and start sipping the sparkling wine. Surprisingly, since I passed for 16 or 17, no one even looked twice at me. I was wearing all black, my hair up in a bun, with hose and heels, a little makeup and some dangling earrings. No one said a word. Within an hour, I’d had at least 10 of those little tiny glasses, but for a young girl, it was plenty.

Mom and Dad finally figured out what was happening and whisked me away before anyone busted me. I remember going home and getting into some jammies and snuggling on the couch for the night, head in my mom’s lap. She looked down at me with a sad expression as I babbled on about whatever a drunk ‘tween babbles about and she stroked my hair, agreeing with whatever I said. I’m not sure if she was feeling guilty for putting me in adult situations at a young age or if she was worried I’d grow up to be alcohol dependent.

My first real boyfriend happened around the same time. His name was Matt and he went to school at the Military Academy in town. We’d meet up at the mall on Wednesdays and Sundays for their ‘town leave’ when they could have several hours to shop, eat out, or meet friends. The boys would ride the bus to the shopping district and meet the bus back in the same spot 4 hours later. Matt and I would sneak away from the mall and go to the local Dairy Queen across the parking lot, find a booth in the very back, and smooch. We’d literally hold each other for hours, chatting, nibbling on french fries, and smoking cigarettes. Sometimes we go to the bowling alley at the mall and play video games, or make out in the alley behind the joint. It only lasted a few months until one of his friends told me that Matt was secretly in love with my best friend, Ann. I quickly broke up with him and he dated her for even less time before it ended.

My next boyfriend was also a military academy boy named Rob (name changed). He was a sweet man…I say man because I was 14 and he was 18 – quite the age difference. He was a senior and I was in 8th grade. But, he was very kind to me. My folks would have a whole group of them and their friends come over to Sunday lunch at our home quite regularly. Mom would cook for all these long, lost, little soldiers and we’d enjoy the day at our house together. Rob was very normal, as far as my boyfriends were concerned. He was not abusive, or emotionally unavailable at all. In fact, he was very open about being in love with me. He was a little chubby, too, so he did not give me any crap about not being a skinny girl. But, my parasocial relationship with Simon le Bon was budding and I felt trapped in between being an adult and a teenager, so I’m sure I was too immature to handle the relationship. Never the less, it was a serious one in my development.

I told my mother I was staying at a girlfriend’s house for the night one Saturday that year. Because Rob was old enough and having the proper ID, he rented a hotel room in town. I got a ride over to the room. I spent the night with him there. The next day, we met up at my house for the usual Sunday meal with my family, but Rob and I were not much interested in socializing. We snuggled on the couch and told the family we were pooped. They did not find out until later that Rob and I had been intimate that weekend.

Only a few weeks later, Rob graduated and was sent back home, out of the country. He swore we’d make the long distance relationship work. Over the summer we kept in touch by phone and with cards and one visit from him. But, by fall when I transferred schools, my new mailbox at the dorm remained empty along with my heart as the hope for our love affair waned. I was angry at him for a long time after that. My heart was broken, the first of many times.

Let the Birdy Fly

Posted by Joan Zen on 1/22/2015


During my junior year of high school, our family moved from Gainesville, GA to Athens, GA. This was great news for me since I was a musician and knew that many 80’s bands were emerging out of the hip, little college town, like the B-52’s and REM. My Dad was moving his job to Athens and working on his PhD at the University there. My sister also went to school at UGA for at least a year, I think. I commuted the 45 minutes each day to school in my little, beige ’77 Toyota Celica or sometimes with my mom who was working on a Master’s degree at the college in Gainesville.

Late in the fall, I discovered by adding up all my credits that I was only a few classes shy of graduating one year early and that I had so many college credits, I’d be able to start my college career the next year as a sophomore. All I had to do was convince the Dean of my high school to let me test out of a few C.L.E.Ps (College Level Examination Plans) to get the rest of my credits and I could get out of that crazy school without having to endure one more crappy year. My parents helped me to meet with him and convince him it was in everyone’s best interest for me to finish up early. After all, I was on full scholarship, so technically, I cost them money to teach!

Reluctantly, the Dean agreed and I was sworn to secrecy from Christmas until May, unable to tell anyone that I would graduate early. It was a hard secret to keep because I really disliked so many of the girls there that I wanted to raise my birdy finger and shout a big “fuck you” to the whole school and walk out, but because I was not allowed to tell anyone about it, I missed out on all the senior rewards like Prom, using the senior stairs and entrance into the assembly hall, the senior class trip, the senior pictures and yearbook placement, and more. But, then again, who wanted to hang out with those girls anyway? Most of them were rich, spoiled, and mean. And I was ready to say goodbye to them.

Since I was already in college, getting great grades, and figured I would be staying in Gainesville to finish the 3 years of college I had ahead of me, I did not really care about the S.A.T. It seemed like it did not really matter at all. I drove my sister’s convertible Toyota Celica sun-chaser to the place holding the testing. On the way there, I smoked a big, fat joint with the the girls, while we blasted David Bowie’s Suffragette City on the cassette deck. What a time! Needless to say, I did not score well on the test, but I never suffered any consequences from that bad decision, unlike some of my choices in boyfriends.

During the spring, I auditioned for Fiddler on the Roof in the college and community theatre. I really, really, really had my heart set on playing the middle daughter, Tzeitel. In the play, she falls in love with the young, politically charged man and runs away from home to marry him. In the audition, I nailed the song performance, crying as I sang “Far from the home I love, yet there with my love, I’m home.” I looked around the room filled with fellow actors and there was not a dry eye in the house. I glanced at Ed Cabell and he stared down at his yellow pad never even looking up from writing notes to see my moment of glory. I was about 200 lbs at the time, wearing all black.

The reality was that he had already cast the show in his mind based on the size, shape, hair color, and the pairing of similar couples for the parts. I knew it. But, after seeing all of the other talent, I could not imagine who’d be able to pull off Tzeitel better than me, so I deluded myself for the week that I was a shoe-in for the role. Others who were moved by my audition told me the same thing. I believed them for a moment.

When the casting sheet was posted, I saw that I was cast in the chorus. Big surprise. But, not only was I cast in the chorus, the character’s name was Bluma. Talk about a fat-girl name if I ever heard one. I was standing in dull stunned amazement as I saw the girl’s name who was cast as Tzeitel. She was 5’3″, 100lbs soaking wet, with long, dark hair, quite the contrast to my blonde haired, chubby, 5’6″ frame. I flashed back to her audition. She was a classically trained vocalist, but her acting was as cardboard as the paper the posters were printed on and I remember being completely unimpressed by her stage presence. It was a definite moment of dejection for me and I sighed and hung my head like Napoleon Dynamite.

As I stood outside the office staring at the list still shaking my head, I saw Ed Cabell in his office and he waved his hand for me to come inside. I walked in. He jotted notes and didn’t even look up. “You know why you did not get the role of Tzeitel, don’t you?” “Yes” I spoke softly. “My weight.” “Yes, that’s right. Do something about it. That’s all.” I was dismissed. My urges told me to let my birdy finger fly at him and slam the door on my way out, but I refrained like a good little girl.

I think it was about that moment when I decided to switch majors from theatre to media and communications. I figured, if I have to spend my whole like working with assholes that hold me down like that, forget it. It was too painful. Though I did go through the rehearsals and perform in that musical, I had many falling outs with cast members and friends that year and I slipped further away from the them and into the music scene in Athens. It was my last college show in Gainesville.

In Athens, I met a musical partner, Tony, and began writing songs and performing live at some of the same hot spots like the Uptown Lounge and the 40 Watt Club where the famed REM played. It was a time which solidified my path as a musician.


Posted by Joan Zen on 1/20/2015


It’s been over two weeks of lifestyle changes so far this year and I think I’m feeling better already. Some inflammation has gone down, I feel more flexible, and I’m in quite a bit less pain overall. The diet changes have been easy in some ways and difficult in others. Living in the world where coffee, cheese, and bagels exist and trying to ignore them is a challenge, but the rewards of losing weight are immeasurable at this point.

Just because I am trying to lose weight does not mean: 1.That I am ashamed of being a plush-sized woman 2.That I am jealous of thinner people and 3.That I think that larger people are lessor people in any way. I’ve never appreciated the way people treat overweight people. Between the media and every day folks, it seems that the most acceptable form of bigotry is against people who are fat, otherwise called weightism. Let’s face it. It’s not politically correct or acceptable at all to single out people of other races, sexual orientation or religious beliefs. In fact, where the woman used to be the most oppressed class of human being, now weightism has become quite acceptable and an almost encouraged form of prejudice.

Recently in a report from Bill Maher, he was criticizing someone for bullying someone in the media. Then in the next segment, he was bashing some politician for being fat. I’m shocked that his editors did not see how hypocritical this was and that they allowed it on the air. But then again, according to Wikipedia’s definition of weightism, “stereotypes are that obese persons are lazy, lack self-discipline, and have poor willpower, but also possess defects of intelligence and character.” So what’s the BIG deal about being heavy? Why should heavy people suffer from both the obesity AND the negative stereotypes?

Battling weight since age 5, I’ve seen it all. I’ve had boyfriends break up with me saying that they could not get turned on by my body. One boyfriend’s regular joke was to say (after sex as I went for the bathroom), “You’re really beautiful….in the dark.” I’ve been turned down for parts in plays, refused necessary surgeries, been called fatso, been told I’d be cute if only I lost weight, and been told by other musicians that my weight was going to keep me from achieving anything significant in the music business. My husband, however, a REAL man, has always loved and accepted me no matter what weight I have been and has never once criticized me in any way.

The feelings of self-loathing which arise from being treated like a 2nd class citizen are a great appetizer. And since new studies show that inflammation is one major cause of depression, those who are obese are likely to be depressed. Then as they become aware of being ostracized by others for their size, they become more depressed and they eat in response in order to soothe the pain. It’s a bad cycle. Sometimes when people feel unloved, they look to fill it with something else.

If you add to the already unhealthy spiral happening here, by featuring television and movies depicting only young, beautiful, thin people, juxtaposed on screen showing characters over indulging in alcohol, drugs, food, sex, and money worship, what you get is a confused public led to the watering hole of greed and intolerance, unable to feel compassion for anyone. We are just buying the image that skinny, caucasian women are better than the rest. It’s a lie. It’s damaging to everyone. And it needs to change.

But how can it change? What would make the media start featuring larger, older, women of all shapes, sizes, and colors? In my humble opinion, we have to stop mistreating ourselves, our friends, strangers and people on TV and in films in our blogs and comments on social media. If the exploiters of the stereotypes stop making money from us, they will have to listen to us. Just look at your own reaction to someone who is fat, or too thin, or too poor, or too rich. Why do we think these people are separate from us? We are one. Period. When we think bad thoughts and point fingers at others, there are other fingers pointed back at us. We should work on our own minds first, instead of focusing so much on outward appearances.

I am not advocating being medically unhealthy. I am not endorsing overeating. I am not telling you to be fat instead of thin. I am saying “try to be happy and comfortable in your own skin.” Over the last few years as I have gained more weight, I realize how many women seem happy to see me up on stage rocking out an Aretha tune shaking my ass to the beat. I wail and sweat and shake my boobs and I scream and squeal with raw sex appeal. I think I’m sexy at any size. And if women can be inspired by my “courage” to shake my booty on the stage, then I have a moral obligation to overcome any flashes of low self-esteem and throw my nipples to the wind and funk up the world around me with love, and sexy, juicy, bold compassionate acceptance and graciousness.

My heart is as big as my butt and it needs a bigger body to contain it. But, if I can inspire others by making changes to help myself to be healthier, then I must shine the light on my weaknesses until they become my strengths. It is a process. Thank you for allowing me to write about my journey. Be kind to those who struggle . . . with anything. Just, be kind.

An Ingenue for a Day

Posted by Joan Zen on 1/17/2015


My sophomore and junior years of high school were strange and wonderful times of change for me. I was a cheerleader, on the basketball team, in a play at the college, and in advanced high school classes and was taking some college level classes, too, as I found out that college classes would count as both high school credits and college credits. I took acting, directing, English, humanities, and college psychology and sociology classes, getting mostly all A’s.

Surprisingly, Cabell did cast me as one of 8 characters in a Moliere-esque comedy called the Heir Transparent. It was written in rhyme and was delivered quicker than an audience could keep up, but I was cast as the almost silent ingenue, Isabelle. It was a thrill for me to play in a show with some very talented actors from the college and community. Though my character had very few lines until the end epilogue, it was an experience which taught me so much about having a real work ethic in theatre. The actors in the show were first rate and the pace of the rehearsals and performances filled me with purpose and excitement.

I went on a massive diet to lose the weight that Cabell asked me to lose for the role, 30 lbs, so that I would fit the 17th century garb and look the part of the lovely maiden. I think the diet was Nutri-Systems, a prepackaged food program which offered astronaut-like portions of dehydrated food which resembled and smelled much like Gravy Train dog food once water was added to it. Still, I stuck to it and got fast results. Rehearsals were nightly after school, mostly 5-6 days a week and I loved almost every minute of it. I remember the cast being relatively harmonious and supportive considering it was theatre. After all, they don’t call it drama for no reason!

Despite my troubled home life, my mom came to nightly rehearsals and sat way back in the audience to watch. She came to almost every performance, too. She was my biggest fan and even with all the problems she had personally, I always felt loved and supported. It was one of the frustrating parts about loving Charlotte. She loved so fiercely, but was so sad and it seemed nothing could help that. But she did love watching me perform. For a few years, she and I were best friends. I worked after school at her uniform shop and we’d drive home or to my practices together. We spent a lot of time together and I remember those times quite fondly now that she’s been gone for 16 years.

The Heir Transparent was good….very good. Ed Cabell decided to send us to regional and national competition as a group, which was a big deal for a small community like ours. It was in one of the Eastern coastal states, which I can’t remember now, but we traveled together and put on a great show among the region’s best talents. The top 5 of the competition would go on to the National finals and though we only placed 7th and did not go on to the finals, I felt so gratified to be in the company of some really talented people.

Being cast as Isabelle was a dream come true in some ways. I was able to be the comic relief because as beautiful as she was, Isabelle was as dumb as a post and had a lisp, all of which was somewhat hidden until the end of the show. But, the main benefit to being Isabelle was that I was considered beautiful in a time when I did not at all feel beautiful. I felt judged solely on my looks and while Isabelle was no departure from that, for once, I fit the mold. I could wear the suit. I think it helped my confidence as a performer and brought me to a place where I could accept myself as an ingenue, or leading lady…at least for a day.

But other changes were right around the corner and real drama ensued.

Album Notes: If I Only Could

Posted by Joan Zen on 1/15/2015


In taking a break from writing about all the tragedy and trauma in one life, I began thinking about the creative process which has helped to heal me over time through writing. For many years, I worked with artists writing songs in a collaborative way. Having been in almost 1/2 dozen bands from high school to present, I sharpened my skills writing poetry, creative short stories, and songs. It wasn’t until I met my husband, Jason, in 1997 that I began writing songs that I actually liked!

Our first album, Intramission, released in 2004 was my first attempt to really put something out there for the world to see the real me. I wasn’t writing to sell records or win popularity contests. I was writing and producing as part of my process, much like writing this blog now. Though the first song I wrote for the album was I Ever Never, I thought I’d go through the albums in detail, song by song, explaining the inspiration for each, printing the lyrics here, and unearthing the significance of writing the songs when I did.

If I Only Could became track #1 on Intramission because it had a strong opening and a hook that seemed memorable to those who listened to it. It was a dark song filled with electric guitars, bass and drums and is one of the more rock genre of songs that we have ever produced.

I wrote it about all the mistakes we make in friendships, familial relationships, and love affairs. There is a twisty way in which I take responsibility and point the finger in the same breath in this song. So, it is both an apology and an accusation of wrong doing. I sing “If you only knew, just what I’d been through, you’d know I did the best I could, and if you only could tell me what it is that you would do if it were you?” It was definitely a cry for compassion and understanding, wrapped up in an “I’m sorry” letter. It was a message to those I had hurt and others who had hurt me. The passionate vocal reveals the emotion behind the message.

Jason and I recorded most if it in a trailer, believe it or not. Some was done in mobile locations at friends houses in Southern California, and then was mixed in Montana. but some it was recorded in a 27-ft travel trailer on location off a generator in Pinion Flats near Palm Desert while we took time out to rest, relax, and record! My uncle, Robb recorded the solo for the song and he had the trailer rockin’ back and forth while he laid down the lead. Good times.

I hope you’ll stop by CD Baby at the link above and listen to a sample of the song and perhaps even spend a few bucks grabbing the digital download of the record and go back in time to lis-zen to our humble beginnings as Joan Zen. Tomorrow, I’ll be writing about the name Joan Zen and how it became my pseudonym.

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