“More, better, brighter, happier, more productive”

When I got sober in the winter of 1999, I promised myself fresh flowers for my home every week, to shop, and get anything I wanted at the natural food grocer, and try to realize a life long dream of making a record.  Now that my entire coffer wasn’t going to be handed over to King Alcohol, I could funnel my new, found funds over to another large entity, a corporate establishment that has conveniently popped up all over this country, like the coffee equivalent of Micky D’s who (I hate to admit) have amazing product. My husband has nicknamed our natural food dealer “Whole Paycheck”.

When I awoke yesterday to an entirely free Saturday, I had every intention of writing something, analyzing my record to see if I needed to add to, take away from, or just leave it the fuck alone as is, and mix it. I got up, and went directly to the computer (first mistake). I have been visiting Myspace like it’s some sort of oracle that will have further instructions for me on what to do next, some opportunity might be there waiting. I’m like this with the mail as well. My husband knows not to get the mail, it’s an “understanding” we have. He knows his wife very well, and is generous with me in so many silent ways.  There might be a check from someone, there might be an invitation, SOME VERY IMPORTANT piece of information may be awaiting me.

The other day in my email, a reporter from the Wall Street Journal wrote to me. My heart skipped, it’s, it’s …..THE MEDIA trying to contact ME! All my hard work, all my dreams about to take flight………..but no, the inquiry was not about me. I am humbled at every turn. The reporter was looking for one of my friends who write a wonderful blog called “Momshells”. It’s funny. Three women who live in “Swank County” (Marin), who have much disposable income, and see clearly the ridiculousness of it all! The blog possesses many moments of beauty…..Truth be told, I was stoked for them about the Wall Street inquiry.

I think the origin of this mail, and now email obsession, was born at around the age of 6. While riding my big wheel, with my best friend across the street, I caught a glimpse of something hanging from every mailbox as far as my eye could see. At closer inspection I saw that The Nabisco Company hung free samples of corn chips on every mailbox on our street.

Though I couldn’t read much of the bag, I recognized the Nabisco emblem to be the same as the Nilla Wafers in the cupboard. I knew the company was affiliated with treats, “ding, ding, ding” rang the treat alarm. I found, and still find free samples of anything to be thrilling. The little addict in me saw hanging treasure just waiting to be horded, counted, arranged and later consumed in private, away from all siblings, parents and kitties, though I knew we were going to have to be stealth on our chip thieving mission.

Upon even closer inspection, I saw that there were coupons, something my Mom could really use. Yeah, I’ll give my Mom all the coupons, I’ll tell her we just found them in the woods….in a bag….but I was 6, and not well schooled in the art of thievery, and I didn’t lie yet, so my friend and I began to pick them off one by one, eating, and disposing of all  evidence as we went along, inside of the mailbox’s we just hit. Ever since that day, I have been looking for miniature boxes if Tide, and free disposable hand wipes, along with that big check that’s coming any day now. The Publishers Clearing House also got me all riled up, all those free stamps! But Ed never came to my door.

Instead of forming a new blog entry, or doing my short morning meditation, and conversation with…..whatever is listening, (mistake #2)I went to see if I had received any BLOG COMMENTS (I am beginning to love them as much as snail mail). I attempted to try and edit some concert footage taken of me for use on my websights. (mistake #3)

Holy Lord, what a cluster fuck that was! This was something I KNEW not to go into alone, but like any good will full, ambitious, impatient, gal who is just about to release a record into the unknown, I decided I would just see if I could learn the program in a few minutes and do it my self. Holy delusional, glutton for punishment Batman! After
an hour, or four I called my 16 year old friend, who is a movie editing expert to see if he could save me from smashing my computer against the wall.

“Sure Aim, but I can’t come over till next weekend.”


I walked away…..momentarily, checked my mail, and email again. Nothing.

Double Fuck!

Like any good forgetful, insane, stubborn, apparent lover of self imposed torture…I tried again.

Let’s just say I got NOTHING accomplished. I ignored all red flags, tried to heave every roadblock out of the way…to no avail. I paid no attention to the fact that I was nowhere near the flow. The movie editing Gods were busy with someone else. Check in later when you are in a better place, when your 16 year old wizard is with you.

Yet another lesson in the art and craft of practicing patience. Not one of my strong suits.

On days like these I have to go back to the basics. Put on Naughty by Nature’s “Hip Hop Hooray”, (a fantastic feel better song) take a long walk up a big hill, call someone else and tell them that I am insane right now. Say no to the cool Reggae concert benefit my husband and I were invited to, and ask myself…Aim? What would be the best thing for you right now? The answer arose after a couple minutes of contemplation:

Send your man off to the show, to give his support, and to have a couple Red Stripes for the both of us.  Take those reusable “Whole Paycheck” grocery bags, and spend your Saturday night alone, browsing the aisles of a place so full of abundance, it can’t help but rub off. Get the rest of “Rescue Me” season four and “Gossip Girl” as back up. I’ll watch the entirety of just about ANYTHNG, I’m a whore with my DVD viewing. Light some candles, sit at your piano, and sing those songs you just recorded to the empty room. Listen for the songs yet to come through you. Do what you love doing, for simple sake of doing it. Eat an amazing dinner, while listening to Luscious Jackson’s “Fever In Fever Out” record. Love yourself in any way you need loving. End the night with what you had originally intended: write something, and that is just what I did. I adore having date’s with myself.

Attempting to live a life of quality, rather than quantity, to practice acceptance even when I am struck by instantaneous, and scorching cases of envy, impatience, or frustration that crop up like Herpes! (all forms of fear by the way) What I need to do is stop, and look at who, and what is around me. I am married to an exceptional human being, I work 18 hours a week at an incredible school, I got to make a record, we own our cars, I have a roof over my head, and a cupboard full of food. I live like a queen……Oh yeah, and I didn’t have a hangover this morning. Wow.



In my bedroom there is a low to the ground bed as the center piece, along with one large plant who, over the years has affectionately been named Elephante’ (like Harry Belafonte). My husband Matthew and I purchased him when he had only two tiny elephant ear leaves. Elephante’ has lived and grown as much as we have over the past twelve years. He now stands 5 feet tall, with about thirty large leaves that look like something out of “Horton Hears a Who”.

We have no pets, we are renters. I am highly allergic to cats, though I had four growing up. My mother was convinced I had only a dairy allergy. We had Benji who was assasinated for reasons I sighted in a previous entry.  Dave, Phineas, and the most stupidly named pet award goes to the only female cat we ever had; Catherine.  She was a whopping bitch of a being, who scowled, hissed, and beat the crap out of any other feline friend who dared to cross her. It might have had something to do with fact that a large rotary telephone fell on her tail and chopped half of it off.

Catherine was supposedly a “holy cat” who lived on one of my mother’s guru’s ashrams in Northern California, but all that bad cat behavior got the little bitch banished. Of course, it being an honor and blessing to receive anything from Da Ava meow, meow, meow’s ashram.  Mom was honored to take her “Cat Prasad” (a gift blessed, or used by the guru).  And so arrived our new little holy kitty bitch.  The cat arrived accompanied by two escorts like a fucking rock star.
As the stumpy tailed pre-madonna made her entrance, she lived up to her reputation immediately. She had the voice of the devil.

“WHowwwwwwww….HISSSSSSSCH%@#@^#^@$ RRRRRRRrrrrrrrrrrrrRRRRRrrr”
said the devil  kitty. Benji, Dave and Phineas looked at us like:

”What the fuck did WE do? Why is SHE such a hormone?” I gave them a look like “Don’t ask me man, I’m only seven…. “

Though I am 34 four and counting “TICK TOCK TICK TOCK” goes the biological clock, (the fucker’s loud!) the jury is still out on pro –creating.  As for dog’s, I refuse to pick up a pile of someone else’s shit every day, and walk around with it in a bag, besides, all the dogs I like, snore like truck driver’s. No offence to truck drivers.

So in the mean time, loving Elephante’, and the gaggle of children my husband and I care for everyday at work, curbs my craving. That, and the fear that I will have to take a long locked up vacation at a mental facility, with all the hormonal crap that happens during, and after pregnancy, financial insecurity, loss of sleep, less sex, and a no sanity/body back gaurentee if I don’t like the little fucker…the list goes on.

So our green companion sits across the small room from our bed on a large pedestal (a kitchen bar stool), rather than a crib, by the first of three windows that look onto our driveway, a teenage apple tree, and a hand made bird house, built as a Christmas present from my brother in law Hamilton.

I wake most mornings to my husband, who I’ve nick named “The tea bearer” with a pot of loose leafed Jasmine green tea that before steeping looks like rabbit droppings. Matt and I have gotten into the ritual of drinking it in the morning, while watching the world outside begin, through the triptic of bamboo shades that cover the windows, but not the view. The light comes in through out the day creating our own private gallery of shadow art. They arrive for a little longer than a hot minute, and like everything in life they fade, and meld into another form, till there is nothing left but the outline of the pubescent tree, and the roof of bird Shangra-La.

While my husband showers, I often begin my daily conversation with God? Universal energy? The Great Pumpkin? Mother/Father Gnome? My Higher self?  My ancestors? Angel’s? Don’t know, don’t care, to what, or with whom, I am connecting to, but I know I’m connected to something. I have concocted over the years a soup that consists of all that has resonance. A practical, loving, kind of energy that doesn’t care if I swear, who loves Dennis Leary, who seems to adjust to what I need it to be, at what ever time I need it. I am in some sort of dialogue with it throughout the day, because I don’t have fucking clue, about anything, most of the time!!! The conversation usually goes something like this:

“Hey.” silence,  (my God is so quiet!)
“ Thanks for the fact that I didn’t have to get drunk last night, that I didn’t have to ____________.” (you name it, fill in the blank).

“Please help me not to be a selfish prick today, help me not to judge people with low self esteem who feel the need to pump themselves so full of Botox, that they look like The Joker (It’s become an epidemic in Marin County). Grant me what I need, not what I want, and please give me the willingness to actually mean that.” Some times the prayer is just:

“Help Me”.

I watched a documentary a few years back, that changed my perception of things. (An event to be noted, for my perception is often quite skewed) It was called “The Saint of 911”. I was put off by the title, it sounded a bit melodramatic, but in the spirit of willingness, I moved beyond any “contempt prior to investigation” as Bill Wilson so eloquently put it, and gave it my full attention.

It is the story of a sober, gay, fire, fighting priest, who worked in the FDNY at a house near ground zero. His name was Father Mychael. He gave up his life of service, on a rescue mission during the crucial, early hours after the buildings collapsed, with those other selfless people, who were willing to walk into the belly of the beast first.

He was the real deal. A Mother Teresa, a Ghandi, a Martin Luther King, a Bono? (not sure yet, images of “The Fly” character keeps clouding my judgment on that one.) He was loving in the truest sense of the word. He loved unconditionally, the person right in front of him, no matter what the circumstance, who they were, or what they did. He loved. I strive for this in my daily round, though I fail often.

I close my morning conversation with…….ya know,  God,  with Father Mychael’s Prayer:

Take me where you want me to go;
Let me meet who you want me to meet;
Tell me what you want me to say,
Keep me out of you way.

………and oh yeah, thanks very much.


Too much had happened for me to turn out a healthy, balanced, innocent thirteen year old girl. Too much of the world had revealed itself. Too many drinks drunk, too many locked psych wards visited (no not me, though that was just luck of the genetic draw) too much separation, too much death and too many rooms broken down and boxed up.

I would like to make it clear that I don’t fancy myself a victim of any of it. It is just the way things went down in my story and this is the report. 1988 brought the wrath of what I now believe was Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome. My body shut down. My ability to function in the world collapsed. I dropped to 80 pounds, my gut and back went into spasms every hour on the hour that prevented me from being able to walk for months.
I couldn’t bath myself, I could barely eat. I cried, writhed in pain on the island of the living room couch for the back half of my freshman year into the first half of my sophmore.  With the exception of the excruciating pain that only subsided when someone’s hand, other my own, was on my belly, (and did I mention that I had braces?) I was kind of ……. happy to be stranded on it.

Before any desperate need for healing, I was an escapist. I came out that way. I was addicted to soap opera’s by the time I was 5. I would watch Ryans Hope, Days of Our Lives, and General Hospital almost everyday, though later on I betrayed it for Santa Barbara. I had been faking sick since I learned that I had to get out of bed, walk to the bus stop in the freezing cold and sit in a fucking desk all day for the next 13 years of my life.  By third grade one of my teachers began to catch on, so like any good future alcoholic I “laid off” my drug of choice for a while till the heat was off me. I was addicted to my bed, my couch, roller skating, and anything on the tube. Yes, I was the last of 4 and a half children (foster brother came on the scene when I was 5 and left when I was 12) My Mom was tired.

After months of tutors, home visiting healers, psychics, massage therapist’s (both shiatsu and deep tissue) being lifted and transported by my roommate Zion who read to me, watched television with me, carried me to the bath tub and rubbed my feet everyday (thank you Zion), one of the only things that brought about an hour of relief before the spasms kicked in again, was a visit to a team of chiropractic twins, soft spoken, patient, generous, and squeaky bald. Bless my Mom she tried everything! Thank you Mom.

The thing is, I just wasn’t getting any better, but looking back there are reasons for this.

There would be brief times where it appeared that the spasms were gone for good. It would allow me to begin being a teenager. Leave the house, have a sleep over, try and catch up, but things move fast when your 14 and 15. While I was at home on couch island, the friends I had left were having “experiences” going “all the way”, doing beer funnels at parties help at big Wellesley mansions, sitting with circles of friends in large linen closets getting high off quarter ounces of horrible Mexican shwag. For fucksake I was missing out and I wanted in!

One night I slept over my friend’s house. I slept there as often as I could. I loved her. We would sit on her screened in porch for hours smoking Camel Lights. We never got in trouble because in her house there were “secrets”. The threat of there surfacing was held and used as collateral when necessary if we were given any shit from her parental’s. My friend possessed a darkness that was just as potent as her brightness. I attracted many of these kinds of people through out my life, for I posses the same.

On this particular night at around midnight my friend asked if I wanted to do some acid. She had four hits of some cartoon, covered blotter from the Dead show she went to while I was stranded. At this point I was a smoker, I drank whenever I could, and I’d smoked some pot, but ACID? What the fuck was acid anyways? I just had no fucking idea of what I was getting myself into.
“Whatever, sure.”
Was my answer.

Two hits under the tongue, and down the throat. No taste, NOOOOOOO clue what was about to happen. We parked it in her basement. Parents upstairs asleep, seventy five pound, seventeen year old anorexic sister in the bedroom next to theirs. Let’s just say the vibes in the house were heavy to begin with, there were obstacles on our journey. She lived in bum-fuck, and we had 6 cigarettes to last us between the two of us for the entire trip.

She began out journey with James Taylor. Ok I can hang with this, a little Van Morrison, all right…….I feel groovy, melted into a yellow bean bag, and a giant vat of Christmas popcorn to my right. The kind that when you open the lid it has three different sections: Plain, cheese, and my favorite of the night: caramel.

The trails began to hit. The psychedelic colors warmed the room. It all started to pulsate.
said the room.

I grabbed a piece of caramel popcorn and began a stare off with it. It had little faces all over it like in Peter Gabriels “Sledgehammer” video when the hill erupts into heads of troll faces. I looked up at the ceiling, (the popcorn kind of course) for it was calling to me.

“Amy, hey Amy”
Some kind of acid demon had come and carved millions of jagged irredesent skulls into it.
“WOW” was all I could muster.

Two hits of acid in a 14 year old 85 pound body. I hadn’t even gotten my period yet.
Gut spasms? What gut Spasms? I’ll be just fine.


Midnight gave way to morning, when I got up the courage to leave the basement and have an adventure upstairs to watch the sun rise in the living room, though I told my friend that I just had to pee. I remembered that in their living room was a bright yellow shag wall to wall carpet, with baby blue couches, floral, orange curtains, with matching chairs and pillows.

It was stunning.

I arrived at it’s threshold, the house silent. It had just snowed. It was perfect. I kneeled down on the sunny fur, and began to pet it like a lion. I fell in love.
I was in deep acid hazed communion with the color yellow, I think I was expressing my love verbally like you do to a newborn baby, all mushy and instant. I thought it was responding back to me like the whispers from the ceiling downstairs, but it wasn’t, the voice was too deep. Reality had the balls to cross me.

“Amy? What are you doing on floor talking to the rug?” inquired my friends terrifying father.

I hoped that he was aware that I knew their ugly secrets, that I could without saying anything, get him to move along with one look, like his daughter could, show him I had some collateral too.

“I don’t know” Was all I could say. I got up and went back downstairs to the basement, where things began, in rapid succession to go down hill.

“When does this stuff wear off?” I asked my friend
“It’s different for everyone,  just relax and let it happen.”

But we were on hour nine or ten, the cigarettes were gone and the scary trolls upstairs were beginning to wake from their slumber.  I was officially tweeking.

I heard the front door close, my friend’s father went on his morning run, and I made a dash for it up two flights of stairs to my friend’s bedroom. My little brain was on overload. Maybe it was knowing all the dark secrets that were held in these walls, my angry, beautiful, experienced friend in the basement. Maybe it was the water bed, maybe it was the orange colored walls of her bedroom, with a big yellow arrow wrapping around the entire surface of it. Maybe it was the acid Aim!
The thoughts became dynamic and quickened in pace. I thought my eyes were going to explode in their sockets. Can you pass out from aggressive thinking? Some with Manic Depression say yes, well you can on acid too, and I did.

Nothing worse than tricking yourself into thinking that you can just sleep it off, that it will be over when you wake up. Nothing, except waking up still tripping your face off 5 hours later.

I awoke to foul smell of scrambled eggs. I knew I had to show my face without somehow showing my pupils. I crept downstairs a peered into the kitchen. Even if you weren’t trying to come off of two hits of acid you would find the scene….squeamish.
My friend was staring into a frying pan full of gooey, runny eggs, (GROSS) and a nearly dead anorexic teenager sitting at the table trying to get a piece of quiche down, and a mother pretending that everything was just perfect. It was fucking horrifying.

Needless to say this experience put me back on couch island, though now we had cable and in true Amy form I became addicted to MTV (when they still had something to do with music). A new duo was gaining momentum that year called Indigo Girls. There single “Closer to Fine” was on heavy rotation, along with Belinda Carlisle. The GOGO’s? cool. Belinda? Not so good.

I’ll tell you about the trip to California that followed, to see the crystal wand waving, chakra measuring, witch doctor, who told my Mom that my chakras were dead.

Yes, another time I think……


Amy Penwell

On May 11th 1985, my father died suddenly of a massive heart attack. It was Mother’s Day weekend. My parents were in the middle of a separation, preparing for divorce. My sister and I were going back and forth between them. The times in between visits were growing longer and I was weakening under the seething strain of his growing absence.

Between Mom’s guru, fostering an alcoholic teen, bankruptcy, selfishness, and mental illness, my family exploded into fragments that scattered like shrapnel all over the fine state of Massachusetts. My childhood house was empty and on the market, every one living in different places, and my father decided to mention an hour before he handed me back off to my mother that he had to kill the cat. Benji had been assassinated.


Benji landed in an early grave with no warning, no crime commited, and no funeral. All that was precious and secure to me was going, going….almost  gone……….but not quite.

Five months prior to that eerie, and exceptionally vibrant spring day in May, I was prompted by a sense of urgency I can only liken to the feeling of needing to take a breath after too much time spent at an under water tea party, to move back with my father full time. It was a preview to what sort of determination I had to make something happen when I felt passionate about it. I think that children are more in tune with the big picture than most adults allow themselves to be. Call it intuition, call it psychic ability, call it Boo Radley, I don’t care, that feeling of urgency was my little gut telling me something, a gut that gave me that last five months with my father.

I began clawing my way back to him before the actual separation. It began at the inception of the ashram my Mom made me go to most weekends for the majority of my child hood.  Any time away from my father in the name of “spiritual development” was not time well spent in my eyes. After one last “incident” consisting of another Guru loving roommate trying to discipline me by ripping me a new one for climbing up to the third shelf in the kitchen, where I spotted some kind of chocolate protein drink.  I assumed it was chocolate milk powder, and at that time anything resembling a treat was forbidden. (way to fuel an alcoholic in the making!)

I was only going to take a little. No one would even notice. I had gone through my stash of candy that I kept stored in the lining of my Snoopy stuffed animal, and I was jonesing for some fucking sugar. I was even going to be all right adding it to soy milk, (dairy forbidden as well) snort it if I had to, but NOOOOOO. I got caught in the act and was treated like I was caught smoking crack.


I sat at the kitchen table with this woman all up in my mug, yelling some shit that I betrayed their trust, MEOW MEOW MEOW was all I heard. My refusal to respond with anything other than evil silence lasted through the night. I sat at the table like a dunce in the dark. My message was as loud as a bomb.  I AM DONE WITH YOU PEOPLE, LET ME GO HOME TO MY FATHER.

Nearing the darkest day of the year, I experienced a true Christmas miracle, better than any amount of elven loot. My prayers got answered.  After telling my father about the “protein powder incident”  he said yes to me living with him, and his girlfriend in a little house, in the land from once I came.

I arrived to my new life, and fell in love within moments. I don’t think I have ever felt a sense of relief like it. I still haven’t, (maybe after I got home from a horrifying acid trip with my sister. -violence, cops, awful!!!) but that is another story. I became, if for only a brief moment, an only child in a normal home, with pictures of unicorns hanging over my bed, chocolate cake for dessert, and a dog named Becca. She had a beard and mustache like Yosemite Sam, chased the vacuum around like it was the devil, and hung with me after school while I, with my allowance went to the convenient store next door and gorged on Hostess Crumb Cakes, and frosted cinnamon buns till my father came home from work. Becca was a great distraction from the fallout, the loss of all that was sacred to me, and from the reminder that only a few weeks prior… they killed my cat.

Still assholes.

While I was sleeping on mattresses, on the floors of communal guru- worshipping households, and sharing rooms with my mother, abstinent of all regularity, security, television, or treats, in the hell of home schooling, I can see now, I was being prepared for a separation so painful, that there is no getting ready. I was being prepared for the death of my father. I was learning about radical change, and steeping myself head first in my first faithful relationship. It was with music.

After the news hit on that Saturday night the 11th of May in 1985, we got in the car and drove from Cape Cod to Boston to pick up the other sybs, and made it to the mortuary in Springfield by 3am. We listened to “Pachabells Canon” for the entire trip. The next song I sought after seeing my father’s body in the mortuary that morning was “Purple Rain”.

With the first strike of the guitar chord a wave of devastation pain hit my 11 year old body like a flash flood.  That 8 minute song wrapped up everything I was feeling. The progression understood the flow of grief that was just starting to hit. For that morning it gave me a path to follow. The build and chord changes designated a place to fall apart, the time to be contemplative, to lose it, and a time to come down. When it was over and the last cello note played out, I pressed rewind, rewind, rewind. I listened again, again, again. It let me get lost. Escape. It was all I could fucking do.


I learned something from the song that morning that I have  only realized through the writing of my first album:
Quiet spaces in a song can be the best part of the song. Perfect structure can and should be broken sometimes. Giving it up is a vital service to others. Being of service is spiritual.  These things play very important role in the songs I write, and the songs I love, and the life I live.

Prince understood this, and indirectly taught me to draw upon the power of emotion without abandon, or shame and to use it creatively, match it with passion, honesty and experience, and interweave it with a composition so beautiful, and pressing, that I still put on “Purple Rain” when ever I have a hard time remembering what my fathers’ hands looked like, or begin to doubt that he was ever real.