For more years than I can remember, my mother used to tell me the same thing on my birthday:
This phrase, delivered with romantic sentiments and bookended with a fair bit of flowery nostalgia — her love for me, and the reverie of the unique home birth circumstances of my arrival via candlelit bean bag — has served to remind me over and over again that my life began with the miracle of an orgasmic birth.
Now that I have your attention...
My counter-culture childhood was shaped in unusual ways, beginning with a 1980 sojourn to the Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh Ashram in Poona, India. Like so many other seekers of the time, my mother was transformed by the message of Bhagwan (now commonly known as Osho) after listening to him on a cassette tape. She had reached a point of crisis in her own life and all of the stress had manifested into Bell’s Palsey, paralyzing half of her face. After listening to Osho, she felt called to meet him in person. Because I was too young to be left behind for such a lengthy time, she took me with her to India.
My first memory is running through the streets of Poona laughing. My mother was running after me, calling "Suzie! Suzie! Suzie!" but I was consumed with glee that I was too small and fast for her to catch. Darting through the crowded street, I crossed a little bridge over a small creek through a copse of trees, and saw a street vendor with a snack cart. I identified a familiar bag of potato chips and immediately knew they were delicious. I wanted them; but I also knew they were an "unhealthy food" that I wasn't supposed to eat. I lingered for a moment of longing before continuing my jaunt. My memory ends there, but my mother tells me I ran into a fancy hotel and into the lap of an Austrian woman sitting in a lobby chair before surrendering my escape. This woman happened to be named Susan as well, and since I am named after my mother, there we were -- three Suzies in Poona.
Before we left India, my mother met with Osho and became a sannyassin. Shortly after this meeting the paralysis left her face when she experienced a sort of "faith healing."
As was his custom, Osho gave my mother a new name, Ma Prem Gyan, which means "Love Wisdom." He said to her:
Because I was present at the time, my mother presented me to Osho. To this mere child of 19 months, he said, "This one needs nothing. Her name is Susan, which is Sanskrit for 'grace.' All she needs is love. Then she will be 'Full of Love and Grace.'" So on that day I was dubbed Ma Prem Susan by Osho, and given a little mala to wear.
When we came back from India, my mother shifted gears and attended the New Mexico School of Natural Therapeutics. She began a holistic massage therapy practice at home and also became a student of Oriental Medicine. In light of the recent Wild Wild Country documentary on Netflix, I feel it is important to say that our experience with Osho was not fanatical -- we never went to Oregon, we never wore all red, and the malas were just a conversational accessory. Osho was simply another source of philosophical and spiritual wisdom in the background of my childhood, not unlike Kahlil Gibran, Gurdjeiff, Prem Rawat, Eckhart Tolle, or Rudolf Steiner. However, unlike other spiritual philosophers Osho was funny and I loved his jokes. I still love listening to his lectures.
I attended first a Sikh school, and then a Waldorf school — thoroughly rounding out my alternative new age upbringing. Because my mother was always working in the other room with a client, I spent a lot of time entertaining myself with My Little Ponies, craft and cooking projects. I conceived tea party dramas for my stuffed animals. I hid my secret identity as Wonder Woman from my favorite stuffed bunny. I mothered a number of pet reptiles, all named some version of Fred. My backyard became a canvas for grand schemes: a shop in my backyard playhouse, a wash-a-person, a miniature golf course… all of which I enticed the neighborhood kids to sample. I was always drawing, inventing, creating and telling stories. I frequently slipped notes under my mother’s door asking permission to go to the park, walk to the library, or hike in the foothills while I fashioned each outing into a little narrative. I had a lot of freedom as a child, and became very independent from a young age.
I've always loved food, and was immediately entrepreneurial. At seven years old I was baking cupcakes by myself and offering them for sale. All of this was fueled by the burning motivation to save up enough money to order a forbidden pizza, coveted and rare, the holy grail of junk foods. Imagine my mother's astonishment to find her 7 year daughter, armed with the knowledge of a cupcake recipe, had rock climbed to the upper kitchen cupboards, located the necessary ingredients (improvising upon what could not be found), turned on the oven (singeing my eyebrows in the process), baked cupcakes, frosted and decorated them, built and colored a cardboard sandwich board to advertise them, and had walked around the block going door to door, making about $25 dollars in the process. How could she refuse me a pizza under such conditions? This was the mastery of my plan.
Sometimes I had a co-conspirator in these endeavors, my best friend April. Together we were hard to resist.
The 1980s feel so innocent now. It's hard to imagine a youngster wandering around in a semi-permanent state of make-believe while performing such liabilities today. Nonetheless, such reflections say something about the fluid state of imagination as well as the cunning and resource we possess as children. When given the opportunity to take risks and explore the world around us, resourcefulness blossoms. This speaks volumes about the human species.
But I digress...
After being teased and told that I wasn’t in a “real” school by other kids, I begged my mother to send me to public school. She happily obliged. 5th grade was charming, but 6th grade was downright rough. After being challenged to fights, pushed, spat on, and shoved into the lockers by older kids steam rolling the hallways, I came home one afternoon, found the number for the Albuquerque Academy in the yellow pages, called and asked them to send me an application. The Albuquerque Academy is a very special private school. Rigorous and prestigious, the Academy is known for providing endowment scholarships to qualified students. I was one such student, and attended this incredible school from 7th to 12th grade through the virtues of financial assistance. Learning that I had been accepted was one of the happiest days of my young life. During my second year there, I earned a nick name from the high school kids that some people still use:
By the time I was a freshman, I had made a reputation for myself at the Academy as a theatrical person — writing, directing, and acting in plays. I engrossed myself with the eccentric theater kids, the "Green Roomers," who wore black trench coats, had scandalous parties, and generally conducted themselves with merriment and mystique. I also competed in Speech and Debate, and spent years flying all over the country, living in hotels, learning my way around a variety of airports, memorizing speeches on the fly and winning state and national championships.
After my high school graduation in 1996 I decided to take a year off to travel before starting Hampshire College. Hampshire had a film program, and it was my hope to take my theatrical skills and apply them to the craft of filmmaking. I moved out into a little apartment and spent a year in Albuquerque working in a hair salon, dressing like a boy, and riding my skateboard around town. During the summer before college, my mother hosted another esoteric heavy weight at our house so he could give a number of presentations on something called “Human Design.” Few had heard of Ra Uru Hu back then. He sat down with me one afternoon and read my rave chart (which I still have a cassette recording of today). I didn't know it at the time because I was too young, but he told me all about myself that afternoon. It would be decades before I would understand any of it.
A few weeks later, I went to Maui, Hawaii for the rest of the summer as a final sort of fling with paradise before the wintery servitude of my upcoming education on the east coast. It was here that I met raw foods; we fell in love and have been more-or-less together ever since. It was all starry eyed life-long promises in the early days, which eventually gave way to affairs with green chile burritos, french bread and mashed potatoes -- leaving me full of remorse and crawling back to raw foods, begging for forgiveness. These days, we've come to an understanding: an open relationship that's steady and peaceful. But those early days were nothing if not fiery with infatuation. I began my time at Hampshire College by starting a “raw foods group” on campus and sparking a small revolution in the dining hall. The school was wonderfully accommodating and I was given the full support of the kitchen to nourish myself and my friends as raw foodists. They gave me food catalogues and told me to order whatever ingredients I wanted. I spent hours experimenting in the dining hall’s kitchen. However, despite this support, I simply wasn’t ready to commit to an academic environment and failed almost all of my classes ( however, I got an A in accelerated Japanese). While vacationing with my family in Hawaii during the Christmas of 1997, I told my mother I wasn’t returning to school or the mainland, and dropped out.
I stayed on Maui for three years and pursued not only my culinary interests, but my lazy interests as well. I spent a lot of time hitchhiking around the island and playing at the beach. My time in Hawaii was transformative on many levels, as it was here that I began working as a chef for health retreats. My early childhood joy of playing in the kitchen once again took flight with my raw food experiments. This began shortly after I started working as a dishwasher at The Raw Experience, a cafe owned by Jeremy Saffron and Renée Loux. We all had a lot of fun there together, and soon I was not a dishwasher, but a chef, and we had joined forces with Nature's First Law, a rogue group of raw foodists from San Diego powered by David Wolfe and Stephen Arlin. Together we created a number of raw food health retreats on Maui. I worked in the kitchen making food with Renée, and then eventually on my own. Soon, we were working with Annie and David Jubb — doing retreats with them as well.
I left Maui when I was 22, but I continued to work privately as a raw food chef for parties and classes, and occasionally as a guest chef. During this time, I also fell in love with a community of communes in the Huerfano Valley of southern Colorado. I spent a lot of time at an artist’s community called Libre, situated on 800 acres nestled against the national forest. At Libre, I made many dear friends, including Waska Lamb, who years later introduced me to the Ashram in Calabasas.
When I was 24, I decided I was ready to follow my long held childhood dream of filmmaking and go back to school. I began working on my BA at Lake Tahoe Community College, with the goal of attending the UCLA School of Film and Television as a transfer student. A woman obsessed, I maintained a 4.0 at LTCC, and much to my delight I was accepted as a Regent Scholar into the film school at UCLA in 2005. I moved to Los Angeles and threw myself into film production, editing, and screenwriting. Two years later I was the Valedictorian and graduated Summa Cum Laude in 2007 — stayin for an extra year to complete a second concentration in screenwriting. During this time I wrote my script Spin Cycle, for which I won a Samuel Goldwyn Writing Award in 2008.
Done with film school, I began the hustle that is required of everyone who wants to live in a big city, and worked as an assistant to various producers and entertainment professionals, including a stint as an assistant at The Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences. All the while, I continued to work as a chef for both private clients and health retreats, and consulted with The Ashram. It was during this time that the message of Ra Uru Hu really began to sink in, and I became much more aware of my design as a manifesting generator.
One moody evening in March at a birthday party for Alan Moyle, I locked eyes with a handsome gentleman across the room and destiny dealt me a hand. We quickly fell in love, and our son Mylo was born in 2010, changing our lives forever.
There were two soft markers in his structural ultrasound, hydro nephrosis and echo foci, and taken in consideration with my age of 31 years, the doctors told me I had a 1 in 400 chance of Mylo being born with Down Syndrome (DS).
As you can imagine, this was challenging news for a first time parent. Mylo's father and I wanted our child to be healthy. The night we were told Mylo might have DS was somber and full of tears. I had put a lot of time and energy into eating well, taking vitamins, exercising, doing yoga, etc... heck, my prenatal care was followed by both doctors and midwives! I was healthy and doing everything "right." I wasn’t supposed to have a child with special needs. So in the wake of this diagnosis, I spent hours pouring over the chat room discussions about soft markers, searching for the reassuring outcome of “a baby with two soft markers born without DS.” I found this often enough to soothe my spinning mind, but every so often I would also find someone reporting that their baby with soft markers was born with DS as predicted, and that this was totally okay -- in fact, this child was the light of their life.
I couldn’t comprehend these sorts of stories at the time.
One day my mother called me and said:
I let her words sink in, and thus officially began my journey into the practice of radical acceptance. That day, I imagined myself giving birth 400 times. This was a vivid exercise for me, as I was taking a childbirth preparation class at the time, and every stage of the birthing process had been inscribed on my eyelids. Finally, I thought to myself:
Lo and behold, on March 5th 2010, Mylo Dean Collard made his grand entrance, cancelling my plans to attend the Academy Awards (I had tickets at the time through work). I remember those first moments of his life so well: my mother, his dad, the doula, the midwives, and two very transfixed cats all watching and waiting for him to breath. His heart was beating, the cord was pumping, but he was small and floppy, mute with sleep. For whatever reason, I had no fear. I knew he would breath. We rubbed his little body and talked to him, encouraging him to take a breath. Finally he got his first kiss from our midwife Aleks. After two puffs, he sputtered online. He had all the appearances of having Down syndrome and his fingertips were blue -- so we took him to Children's Hospital Los Angeles to have him checked out.
Upon arrival to the emergency room, I witnessed something no new mother wants to see: your tiny 5 pound baby strapped down, struggling and mewling in protest to the insertion of an IV, along with various other bits of medical flotsam and jetsam — nasal canula, pulse ox meter, respiratory and heart rate leads. Mylo was, and has remained, a prime candidate for medical intervention since the day he was born.
Mylo was immediately scheduled for surgery to correct a malformation of his GI tract -- something that is not uncommon for people born with Down Syndrome. He spent the next two days under the bilirubin lights in the NICU in preparation, unable to breastfeed due to the surgery prep, while I spent the next two days living in the hospital, nursing my own wounds of childbirth, storing my milk for the moment when he could finally drink it, and arguing with the doctors about what was and wasn't medically necessary -- sometimes even correcting them when they confused his diagnosis with that of a different child (all humans make mistakes). It was a raw, primal time.
How perfect I have mused, both then and now: I have spent all my life learning how to avoid western medicine, while my child's life literally depends on it. It was not lost on me that for years I had driven past CHLA on my way into Silverlake for film shoots, lazy brunches, or parties with friends. It always seemed so ominous and sad to me that there would be a whole hospital just for kids. And now here I was, with my own medically complicated child — the exact sort of person who needed to be in such a place. Did that mean that my own life had become ominous and sad? What unfortunate path through the woods had I become lost on?
I cannot give you the blow-by-blow of the next few years — there is too much and it is squeamishly painful — so I will condense it into a nutshell, so we can get past the nutty, and see the bigger picture of the oak tree that grew from these experiences:
Mylo had four surgeries in the first year of his life while my relationship with his father imploded. I nursed Mylo through those surgeries and struggled to keep my full time job with the Academy until everything fell apart. I could not both work and care for my child in the way that he needed to be cared for. There was no daycare in my budget that could provide the specialized services he required. I found myself with no relationship, no job, no family living nearby, and no car. I went on welfare, and like many other parents, spent years with my ex sorting out our differences in court. Along the way, Mylo developed Type 1 diabetes. He was in and out of the hospital with pneumonia, or any number of other infections, and in the best possible way...
I lost my mind.
Let me clarify. I didn't go crazy, although there were some days that I felt right on the edge. I lost my mind the way someone might lose a car tailing you with the diversion of a passing bus. I lost my mind the way a girl looses a sleezy guy at a party. I lost my mind the way I once lost a pick pocket who was following me through the streets of Haight Ashbury....
Everything was so bad, my whole identity so crushed. All of my dreams and fantasies of becoming a successful filmmaker were utterly eclipsed by the harsh realities of my life. With my sense of self scattered to the winds, all that rattled through my head were sad, crappy stories about how I was a failure as a woman because I did not give birth to a "healthy child." My bandwidth went to distortion. Had I continued to think about everything that I was going through -- beyond what was required in response to developing situations -- I would have gone insane.
So what did I do? As an act of survival, I made a conscious choice to shift my attention and began focusing instead on my tactile and perceptual experiences, as a means to remain present for the needs of my baby. As soon as I did this, it was like my consciousness cracked open, and my subconscious gifted me with a series of cathartic dreams.
In many respects, it felt like all of the transcendental and esoteric knowledge I had encountered throughout my life finally began to make sense. Even though I knew these teachings, I never had any real motivation to understand them; but now the pressure of my daily suffering was so great I was compelled to find and open my inner trap door. You might say I was initiated; but not by any “master” (unless you consider my encounter with Osho when I was 2). Day after day I was all alone with my child. For all intents and purposes, Mylo initiated me.
I had very little money and could not do much. So I sent my awareness out of myself into the world around me. I would take long stroller walks with Mylo, looking up into the trees and listening only to the birds or the sounds of passing cars. I washed the dishes, concentrating on the warmth of the water and the slip of the soap between my fingers, fascinated by how my efforts could transform a dirty dish into a clean one. The scents of food and everyday smells became puzzles for perceptual dissection. When I folded my laundry, I focused on doing it as calmly and precisely as I could, savoring the warmth and texture of the garments. When I drove, I observed the passing of objects as I approached and passed, watching them grow bigger and then magically shrink into the distance behind me. I watched the way sunlight danced and reflected across surfaces, lighting motes of dust in the air. I marveled at the structure of plants, the natural world, and the phenomena of one moment giving birth to the next, the cosmic dance of cause and effect across time. I examined my own life choices and grieved for what could not be changed — and watched that grief tear through me like a dragon leaving a cave.
I did this until it became a sort of game: how much of the world beyond myself could I perceive?
This game gave birth to fascination. Fascination with existence.
I discovered a calm within my body and took up residence in that feeling. Whatever hell I might be traveling towards on any given day, I took comfort in the perfect, cozy handbasket of my form, buzzing with the joy of being alive. I marveled at my physical movements through 3D space. I began to notice the flock-like precision with which perfect strangers will synchronize the speed of their vehicles on the freeway, thrumming down the roadway in a grand urban opera; feeling the heartbeat of Los Angeles as it pulsed through its daily traffic cycles. Every day I would pick something, anything, to be grateful for and look forward to, even if it was simply walking to 7-Eleven for a candy bar. Every step I took along the way became an opening, a challenge: how much grace can I bring to this footstep? How expertly can I draw this syringe full of insulin? Mylo's medication log became a ritual for meditation. It was during this time, as all my fantasies died, that my appreciation for the beautiful reality of my life awakened, and I finally noticed the joy and peace inherent in my being that had been there all along.
It was also during this time that Waska reached out in earnest and encouraged me to finish my recipe book No Sweeter Than The Ripest Cherry. After I put Mylo to bed, I would stay up late into the night revising and designing the pages, perfecting the recipes. This project provided an outlet for everything else about my life that was beyond my control, and I will forever be grateful to Waska for his lifeline of encouragement.
We self-published the book in 2013. Later that year, my other dear friend Damian Chaparro, asked me to do the menu for Aro Ha, a wellness retreat center he opened in New Zealand in 2014. These two dear friends have both, in their own ways, recognized my talents as a chef and called them forth, providing me with a project to focus on as a means to sustain me through my darkest times.
Mylo turned nine this year, and my life is completely different than it once was. Mylo is stronger and sassier everyday, adored by one and all. He is a constant source of frustration, amusement and delight; sowing patience, inspiring, and bringing out the best in everyone he meets. I have accepted the overwhelm as a condition of my life and bow down to this benevolent pressure that has summoned forth so many diamonds within me. My inner roots have grown deep, and some days I find myself seated with such poise I cannot help but marvel at the future and the movement of my life. Where is my life taking me? Who am I becoming? What more will I have to offer in another 10 years? These are thrilling questions for me, and in some ways I cannot wait to be 50 -- to be able to observe my collected experiences and distill more truths.
I do not know what is in store for me, but I do know this: I have met myself through the experience of being Mylo's mother. His presence in my life has opened me to my own depths, blossomed me. I have learned that the great waves of life are powerful opportunities of experience, should we choose to flow with them rather than fight against them. As my mother said to me while Mylo was in the NICU on the precipice of surgery:
Fighting what cannot be changed is useless because nothing escapes the polarity of life's highs and lows. Acceptance lays the foundation for adaptation, for once you can accept a situation you can choose your response to it. If you can take comfort in the consistency of change, then you're halfway to realizing that it is always the darkest times that turn the screw and propel us forward. The exquisite entrapment I experience each day as Mylo's mother drives me into, through, and beyond myself. No other experience in my life has compelled such transcendence. I would not change what I have gone through. I cherish the openings that have been forged within me, the self love I have quested for and claimed, and the better person I have become as a mother to my beautiful warrior child.
So there you have it. You've got all the context to make sense of what you will find within these pages. We talk a lot about branding in this day and age, how to market yourself for maximum impact. As a full time caregiver to Mylo's myriad special needs, my opportunities to follow through on my creative endeavors can at times be hindered, so it’s impossible for me to have any agenda at this point beyond my own authenticity -- my first priority will always be my son. This website is my personal sketchbook, a sharing of my unique self, useful information, creativity and perspective.