Maybe Vittoria Benzine was born when I was nine years old, writing a report for my elementary school English class about the black-footed ferret. This is the first time I can recall entering artistic flow while stringing sentences together and wondering, “maybe I’m meant to do this.”
Maybe Vittoria Benzine was born when I turned fifteen and fell in love with fashion as a means of escape from our small town in rural Pennsylvania. I began writing essays that processed my adolescent experiences through the lens of fashion trends. Leandra Medine changed my life with Man Repeller. Her weirdness was her asset - perhaps it could be mine too, rather than some vilified force I felt forever at odds with. Meanwhile, words gained more meaning as I came to contend with my first real bouts of depression, leaning on the nebulous indie lyrics of the early 2010s to understand my unhappiness.
"One day I'll appreciate the rush of blood and the washed out beat of the shore, and remember what it felt like to be alone,” Future Reflections, MGMT
Maybe Vittoria Benzine was born when I turned sixteen and began to actively consider writing a career path. That year, I counted calories in a notebook and walked to school, "practicing for New York." That was the year my AP Language & Composition teacher told me I should consider publishing an assignment I’d submitted. I accepted an internship as the Editor In Chief of a student-run magazine circulated throughout several school districts in our county. I won Prom Princess and filled three trash bags with Captain Morgan-induced vomit in the same night, turning the corner from JV to varsity alcoholic.
By all factual measures, though, Vittoria Benzine was born when I was 22, on June 7th, 2018. I know the precise date because it’s recorded in my phone’s notes - this is the moment my name came to me, one week before I achieved my first six months sober. I’d given five years of my life to alcoholism, quietly wondering just how low I could go before tapping out. My latent dreams of writing woke me up just before their potential would have truly suffered.
My family history is nestled into Pennsylvania’s Susquehanna Valley. There, the lessons we learned about America’s penchant for inequality were firmly rooted in the past-tense. Born middle class, middle height and weight, and medium length brown hair, in a middle American town of vague, quiet, conservative values, I tacitly believed that any trouble could be overcome with a bit of effort. This belief began to crack when I was denied from Columbia University, the cornerstone in my Ultimate Life Plan.
Joan Didion says it better than I could: “I lost the conviction that lights would always turn green for me, the pleasant certainty that those rather passive virtues which had won me approval as a child automatically guaranteed me not only Phi Beta Kappa keys but happiness, honor, and the love of a good man; lost a certain touching faith in the totem power of good manners, clean hair, and a proven competence on the Stanford-Binet scale. To such doubtful amulets had my self-respect been pinned, and I faced myself that day with the nonplussed apprehension of someone who has come across a vampire and has no crucifix at hand.”
Instead of landing on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, I studied in the Bronx. My resulting identity crisis and ever-increasing substance abuse proved a formidable distraction. Without questioning the psychic impact of my actions, I lashed out on a roundabout route towards survival and held fast to one faint flame in the back of my mind. Each of those blackout experiences, I posited, would make great material when I started writing again. In this way, I still regarded myself as a writer during the five years I didn’t write.
On June 7th, I was still hopelessly insecure, even in spite of the sobriety I’d accrued. My first six months sober were spent catching up on the formative adulthood lessons I’d missed - how to eat three square meals and schedule dentist appointments. I learned how to single handedly battle a bedbug infestation, only to throw out every possession I owned and move apartments. Aside from five years of bathroom stall notes saved on my phone’s app, I hadn’t ventured any attempt to access the well of emotion within me, which I still regarded as a liability.
Reiki healing session with Natalie Deryn, June 2018.
Vittoria Benzine, her name laden with sexually-charged consonants evocative of flammable chemicals and Le Tigre lyrics, didn’t see this past as pain. She saw it as strength. Through Vittoria’s eyes, my wounds turned to wisdom, and my struggles to stories. I gained a fresh self to step into. Vittoria is my regard for writing personified. She is an embodiment of the American conflation between profession and identity gone awry, a system turning back on itself. During those early days, I imagined she was my id incarnate, but as I began writing and performing the personal essays I publish from my own lived experience, this idea no longer fit.
Vittoria could never stem solely from my id because I share my writing from a place of genuine vulnerability to empower others to derive pride from their own struggles. I feel deeply compelled to help solve the world’s problems, and have furiously contemplated these problems in an effort to reduce them down to their lowest common denominator. I try to live in a state of perpetual, vigorous, and honest dialogue with life. Words are just thoughts, and I think good thoughts arise from this manner of living. Our thoughts activate existing facets our many inner-selves, who then enact material action upon the world. Each of us uniquely impacts the world’s energy. My words are the only weapon I can yield with proficiency.
Vittoria Benzine survived a relapse two months after she was born. Today, I am over two years without a drink. I have written every day since then, and through that self-exploration I have learned that I value direct, efficient language. I value a lexicon that blows acid-dripped kisses. I value unrelenting reliability, which requires not martyrdom, but honesty.
All the while, my own life story and inner dramas have progressed, as they do. My feelings are the raw material I work with. That’s the short explanation for how and why I fell in love with a married man three times my age during the Fall of 2019. It was the first time I suffered any real sense of heartbreak since I’d first quit drinking, and I rode what Open Mike Eagle calls the “white knuckle rodeo,”, shuttling silently across downtown’s bracing streets between appointments all winter long in his absence.
I careened into 2020’s pandemic thirsty for reprieve. The man came back, digitally and sonically, and I felt better than alive. It was happiness I didn’t know could exist in adult life - I thought I’d lost it forever. This relationship was the arena in which I confronted my lifelong affinity for sorrow. Cynicism, glibness, nihilism, and other old friends lost their luster. Joy, which had seemed pedestrian for an extended beat, came to feel revolutionary. Joy spits at each valid reason we have for wallowing. Joy says, “I’m gonna live anyways! I’m gonna relish making things better!”
Raise Karma Co-Founder Amna and I met shortly after I dropped the guy for good in August. Loving something I’d never held was just too hard. My religious experience -- I’d only ever uttered a ‘no’ of that blistering intensity once, years prior, the first time I quit drinking. Fate works fast after these rare instances, I realize now. This time it unleashed a tidal wave of opportunity - that which was being withheld from me until I’d hit my milestones. As Amna explained Raise Karma’s mission to empower impassioned artists to create, I finished her sentence with a revelation of my own “and if enough of us are resonating on that wavelength, it could raise the planet's vibration!”
Our eyes caught each other in an embrace.
Since then, I’ve been a little addicted to working with Raise Karma. This organization gives platforms to the artists it works with, but it also gives a platform to each of its team members. Here, on this blog, I cover the creators and topics that resonate with me. I want to share this platform with everyone I admire. By playing a role in Raise Karma’s Public Relations team, I consider myself a scribe recording this endeavor’s existence. Raise Karma has the potential to make a huge difference. After interviewing each member of the team, I can tell you personally that the collective is well-equipped to achieve its aims.
Featured performance with The Inspired Word, February 2019.
I want my growing body of work to make the case for a militant hope. I believe everyone has access to an endless well of strength. For me, this fact elicits joy, and I express that joy by inhabiting my most authentic, radiant self. I’ve spent so long regarding myself as empty, broken, not complete. I can still slip into this -- wallowing is a slippery mistress to buck. But it’s not true. I am full of enduring reserves, even if they only make themselves readily apparent along the fault lines. Getting older and surviving more has lent this resolution enhanced strength. If I, Vittoria Benzine or not, can come to understand my innate worth, then anyone can. We don’t live in a world of scarcity. We’re already full of love and laughter and fight from within. We should approach each other from this place each day.