Empowering Trauma Survivors: A Journey of Healing and Artistic Expression with Marissa Alma Nick
Marissa Alma Nick is a choreographer and author who just released her first novel called Rebel in Venus. Although labeled a novel, the book is a semi-autobiographical, powerful and honest story of redemption and an intimate portrait of friendship, the impact of trauma, the power of first love and loss.
Marissa illuminates queer experiences with an authentic perspective on emerging concerns, including trauma, mental health, sexual assault, abuse, culture and gaslighting. More than anything, it's a book about empowerment, self-realization, self-acceptance, and self-love.
Listen to the full episode here.
This episode contains conversations about situations that might trigger PTSD and emotional trauma or cause discomfort to some listeners, please consider your own sensitivity before listening.
IN THIS EPISODE:
[00:01:21] Marissa Alma Nick on what she’s most passionate about
[00:03:40] Marissa Alma Nick on her childhood and family heritage
[00:06:19] Marissa Alma Nick on when she first got interested in dance
[00:10:48] Marissa Alma Nick on being a dancer in Los Angeles
[00:12:38] Marissa Alma Nick on founding The Alma Dance Theater
[00:15:41] Marissa Alma Nick on the impact dance had on her physically
[00:17:58] Marissa Alma Nick on writing the book Rebel in Venus
[00:22:22] Marissa Alma Nick on a description of the book
[00:23:29] Marissa Alma Nick on the structure of Rebel in Venus
[00:25:29] Marissa Alma Nick on the lead character in Rebel in Venus
[00:28:00] Marissa Alma Nick on the way the journey with the therapist is portrayed in Rebel in Venus
[00:33:24] Marissa Alma Nick on how her parents reacted to the book
[00:35:16] Marissa Alma Nick on what she hopes people take away from reading the book
[00:37:33] Marissa Alma Nick on the current state of social issues in Florida
[00:42:56] Marissa Alma Nick on her physical situation with her knees
[00:45:07] Marissa Alma Nick on the advice she would give her younger self
[00:46:37] Marissa Alma Nick on her dream for herself and her dream for women
[00:48:27] Marissa Alma Nick on the mantra she lives by
[00:49:42] Marissa Alma Nick on her definition of success
[00:50:37] Marissa Alma Nick on advice she would give to a young girl or woman who wants to follow her passions
Passionistas: Hi, we're sisters Amy and Nancy Harrington, the founders of The Passionistas Project, where we give women a platform to tell their own unfiltered stories. On every episode, we discuss the unique ways in which each woman is following her passions, t to her about how she defines success, and explore her path to breaking down the barriers that women too often face.
Today we're talking with Marissa Alma Nick, a choreographer and author who just released her first novel called Rebel in Venus. Although labeled a novel, the book is a semi-autobiographical, powerful, and honest story of redemption and an intimate portrait of friendship, the impact of trauma, the power of first love and loss.
Marissa illuminates queer experiences with an authentic perspective on emerging concerns, including trauma, mental health, sexual assault, abuse, culture, and gaslighting. More than anything, it's a book about empowerment, self-realization, self-acceptance, and self-love.
This episode contains conversations about situations that might trigger PTSD and emotional trauma or cause discomfort to some listeners, please consider your own sensitivity before listening.
And now please welcome Marissa Alma Nick.
Marissa: Hi. Thank you so much for having me. It's so nice to meet both of you here.
Passionistas: We're so excited to talk to you today and we are all about empowerment. So, this book was right up our alley. We love it. We always like to start our interviews with the first question of, what are you most passionate about?
Marissa: I think it's hand in hand with mental health awareness and ending rape culture. For me, I've experienced them synonymously. So yeah, that’s it in a nutshell.
Passionistas: Why are those topics that speak to you so much?
Marissa: I used to think I was like a passionate dancer. I think just coming to terms with, my own life, my own experiences, the impact that they've had on me.
Exploring more to my own identity other than let's say, being a dancer. but it sort of was unavoidable my own experiences with my own mental health as well as my loved ones and my own experience with sexual abuse, as well as other people, so many other people that I know.
It sort of became my own way of surviving this. It was becoming too heavy, so I had to do something. And my best toolkit is in the arts. So that's sort of how we landed here.
Passionistas: So, let's take a step back. Tell us a little bit about your childhood, where that love of dancing and arts came from. And also, your parents had very interesting backgrounds, so talk about that a little bit.
Marissa: My parents put me in a lot of things when I was little. At three or four, to keep me busy, out of trouble, I think. And so, dance was like instant at three, I was very intensely passionate, focused on what my body could do.
And I think looking back on that now, like I sort of touch on this in the book too, it was sort of my own response to like some of my own childhood trauma of like finding sort of this opposition, this sense of control in my body where I didn't have it. And so that was like dance and I became best friends at a very young age.
And my parents, I'm an only child. and my mom is also an only child. And they met. She was told she wouldn't even be able to have me because she has one ovary and endometriosis, which I've also inherited. So, they live like five years without me, and then like, boom, a surprise.
And so, it's like the three of us really happens. Sort of this like Three Musketeer thing I've also just experienced my whole life with them. They brought me wherever they went, whatever they did. So, it was always, very close.
The background that you mentioned — my dad is, they're both 72. My dad was born in Cuba. His parents went from Poland to Cuba during the Holocaust. And my grandfather got into running the casinos somewhere down along the way. A survivor in his own right, became the, how do you call it, like he ran the casinos and the gambling aspect of the casinos in Havana. My dad remembers him having a bodyguard. He was un mafioso in Cuba.
And what's so bizarrely like connected is that my mom, her grandfather, my great-grandfather, The Silver Fox, he was a mobster in Florida. In fact, came out on the, I've only heard this story, but was on like the Herald in Florida, like the Top 10 Most Wanted Mobsters in Florida.
And also again, like a hustler survivor in his own right, like a typical during the depression was in Pittsburgh working the mines and he hurt himself. And so, he started running one of the stores to sell the mining tools and stuff and to make more money. Started pool, like playing pool in the back and like running games and.
One thing led to another. and so, my parents both grew up in sort of that lifestyle. My families ended up getting out of and my parents became like true children of the sixties in every way possible.
But they met like in Atlanta. And my great grandfathers actually like, worked together at one point. They knew each other. So, yep. That's that whole thing.
Passionistas: Your family kind of moves on from this lifestyle and your parents have more, more regular lives. So, you started dancing so young. Was it always your lifelong dream to become a dancer? And where and where did you study? What was the path?
Marissa: I really was that, that person, like as a child, it's like, I'm going to be a dancer somewhere in, in high school. So, I like went into the dance studio and in, in Miami we have a really strong magnet program in the public schools for the arts and also sciences. So, I started in the magnet program, at Norland Middle for, for middle school. and then wanted to go to the, the Conservatory here, which is a high school and college, new World School of the Arts.
I went there for high school, studied under dance, and also like somewhere in, in, at New World in high School was where I also found choreography. And that's when like the idea of me being a professional dancer went from like, I'm going to have my own company. Like, I'm going to do my thing. And so, I stuck with that.
Studied like more dance and choreography at, U SF in Tampa for my BFA in, in dance as well. that was four, like I felt like I had keys to a castle there. You know, like, man, college was a blessing. We had. Studios and theaters and everything for free and people and like, it was awesome. so that was great.
And then I, again, like only dancer, choreographer I ever saw. So, I went to LA out of college. I knew a lot of dancers who had gone there. and it was more of like a freelance idea rather than being in a company, which I didn't want to do. I just sort of wanted to explore stuff while I figured it out.
So, I actually lived in LA for like four or five years. and then one of the movies that I was doing switched, production from LA
to Florida, rock of Ages. I think at the time Florida was like going to do a tax break for the entertainment industry, but Georgia ended up doing it, so, yeah. and I was like, I'll never move back to Miami once I leave.
I'm never going back. And, and I was here, and Miami was just like, Super fertile with the art scene, and I knew a lot of people who were coming back here, painters, musicians, people I'd gone to high school with. And I felt very honestly, very free and safe to explore myself as a choreographer. So, I stayed and establish my company, Alma Dance Theater, which is my middle name and my great grandmother's name.
And I did that, I did that and then, and then 2020 happened and my, both my knees went, boom. And here we are. Before we get into that, tell us a little bit about the types of jobs you were doing in Los Angeles. You mentioned a movie, so what other kinds of jobs were you getting at that point? I've had two jobs that weren't dancing.
One was Starbucks in college, and I quit that once I found go-go dancing at Chick Bar, which was this like lesbian dive bar in St. Pete. And I was there Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday, and that was no more Starbucks for me. I've always like taught dance, or gig nightlife. And then in LA I tried working at Banana Republic because I was, I was not getting work at the Grove, and I got super overwhelmed.
They hired me for like Black Friday and I walked out, like I walked out. So that's, and then I, and that was the first time I tried stripping. So, I, I did, I went to The Body Shop and I stripped for a few months. So, I started getting gigs. I just didn't know LA enough to, to find work teaching consistently, like threading the needle there.
I didn't have that. and same thing back in Miami, like in between, I've always taught strip, Yeah, like it's, it's just always been like freelance is, it's such an interesting journey because to find something that's sustainable. honestly, like nightlife dancing, whether it was go-go dancing, burlesque, or stripping was always the easiest because it gives you complete autonomy with your hours.
So, I was like, oh, I'm doing auditions or a production and these are the days I have off. So those are the days I'm going to go get extra money and I don't have to like, Rework my own schedule.
Passionistas: Yeah. Because the actual, the production work and stuff is so competitive here in LA, right?
Marissa: Yeah. Yeah. I, and I dance like everywhere is just, it's so competitive, you know? I mean, everything is, and so, and there's only so many. Jobs for dance. It's one of the lower pay rates in entertainment in general. even in the nonprofit side. writing grants, it's like trying to vouch for higher pay, pay rates for dancers is like you think you're asking people to pay for grass.
It's like ridiculous. So, it's, it's challenging. Yeah. You have to love it. You know, like you got to love dance to dance professionally.
Passionistas: It feels like you have to have some kind of like starry eye dream that you're going to get picked out of the lineup and become a star. Like there has, I always feel like there has to be some other motivation for staying in that that kind of production side of the work cause. It's, it's such so taxing.
Marissa: It is. It is. And it's like, sometimes it depends too in the environment. Like sometimes in the more like conservatory environment of dance, which is also excruciatingly competitive, but you know, dancers tend to con, like I have a friend who's in his sixties and he's still dancing for companies and like, loves it and nobody knows Clarence.
Clarence is not famous. Clarence could care less about being famous. He just, He has to dance, you know? and for me it's always, it's kind. Yeah. It's like it's been both, the idea of like, fame, not so much, but like people, it's like people like the work enough that I can pay, like for my life or this, yeah.
Passionistas: You mentioned the Alma Dance Theater. So, tell us about what inspired you to start it, and what was your journey to starting that company?
Marissa: There's this company in New York, urban Bush women, and growing up they were like the only all like hardcore female dance company. And they like said a piece too when I was in college and I became obsessed and I was like, I'm going to start another female dance company too.
And that was exactly what I wanted to do, which is I wish there was more, you know. but so that was my first motivation. and I did hold back. I was like scared. It's just harder. Like I have a very good friend, a dear friend of mine, And, and, and we were like doing this at the same time.
And sometimes you notice that like a man, a man can get, grants easier or has doors opened a little easier, you know? and it wasn't happening for me like that, you know? So, I was sort of holding back and then, in 2015, both my grandmothers one had had dementia for 10 years. The other one was starting to have Alzheimer's.
They both passed away in, in the same year, six months apart. And, I don't know, like, again, I think this is how I operate. I needed something to like contrast that. And so, I just did it. Like I established the company. We did our first official show. It was called, it's, it was called Flowers. and I just started going from there.
So, I've done like three, last year was the fourth one. Four mainstay shows. I make like these 90-minute two act dance theater narrative productions that are, always about some sort of like female story, female perspective. it's always some, there's this like layer of intense sexuality because in dance, historically women were, I mean, used honestly as prostitutes.
In the beginning of ballet, that's what it was, was you dance to your ballet dance and the only people in the audience were these male patrons, and at the end they would bid on like their favorite dancer. And that's sort of like the history of like this form dance. So, I've also whether it's with nudity or lingerie, it's like this intense expression of sexuality, but also about reclaiming it and not about, feeling like it's forced onto them.
So, it's a lot about, I guess just that, yeah, reclaiming that power of like, where the history of dance hasn't always allowed women to do that. And the power of like being vulnerable, whatever the, the, the story is and. The last piece that I made was Right, became the book now, which I never thought was going to be, the book was Rebel and Venus.
I was starting this show in 2018 through 19 because it takes me a year to two to finish a piece sometimes, you know? So, and, and that was the last piece that I, that I've worked on was Rebel and Venus. And then, like I said, my knees went a lot happened in 2020 and I started writing.
Passionistas: What happened with your knees? It was just all the wear and tear of all the years of dance?
Marissa: Yeah. Oh, exactly. My meniscus. both my meniscus both, is that how you say it? Plurally, but the meniscus in both my knees to the right one first and then the left one, both while performing, requiring surgery. and you know, like a year plus worth of rehab.
It's a pretty long recovery. and it's sort of like, kind of, You know that, that year also, I think this might be jumping ahead, but I'll say it's just like how it happened was I started this show is where we were working on it. We had done like the preview performance, in November, December 2019.
And then I was performing for a separate show in December in my, my meniscus tour, and I needed the surgery, and I was in crutches. I had never had this sort of injury before, like my body. I mean, man, I've done some crazy stuff with my body and it's amazing that I've never, I had never been hurt. So, it was really shocking to realize that my body could break, sort of like, it's not invincible.
And then two weeks I was in crutches. after my surgery, my, my best friend, she, she passed away. She committed suicide. A few months. A what is it, was it like two months after that the pandemic happened? and especially in the height of it with everything shutting down, it was so unclear of where all of this was really going.
And kind of like, again, how I think I just sort of survived things. I, I had to do, I mean, I had to do something or like I was, it was not going to, like, I was going to be done myself. So, I started writing. And, and it wasn't, I didn't know it was going to be Rebel in Venus. I didn't know that it was, it, it felt the same as what the show was starting to be, you know?
But by the end, three years later, I was like, oh yeah, that's what this is. This is, this is Rebel in Venus. Yeah. It was not, it was not planned at all.
Passionistas: Tell us about that process. I mean, maybe start by telling us a little bit more about the story of the live production of Rebel in Venus, and then how you went about turning that into a book.
Marissa: The project started because I was starting therapy. I was, I had come out of an abusive relationship that was triggering while I was in it. These memories of what I didn't know then was like this childhood sexual abuse. And so, I was starting, I was just starting, therapy for that. and I tend to, the pieces that I make are always parallel with what's happening with me.
So, it's, it started there and then Me Too happened in 2018 around the same time. And that sort of, I think, shifted a lot of girls and women in a way to just, everybody started talking like a little bit. And so, the rehearsals became conversations like I, we were rehearsing three, four times a week.
Three of those rehearsals we were talking. And, and I started to record a lot of those conversations too, which ended up being used in what the show was intended to be. And so that's how the show started. It was like the first, the first the first time my brain was opening to exploring trauma and the conversation that women could have, or other trauma survivors could have around this.
And that's where the show was really going and, Like I said, this thing that happened with my best friend, where when she killed herself and what I was also starting to explore, I was also feeling very suicidal. I was deep in depression. and I started, more therapy. At that time, I was starting this treatment for trauma specifically.
So, And, my therapist actually, she in, how do you call it, suggested to me that after these sessions I write things down. and so, to be clear, I've been se like secretly writing my whole life, it was like, I would always enter the writing contest in school. And I've written my shows, but it was like secret writer.
Again, like this confidence sort of, I mean, I feel terrible saying this to myself, but it was like, you're just a dancer. Like you don't write that imposter syndrome thing. So, but I, I kept, like, I kept writing through this process and taking in information of what was going on not just with me, but around me and, I think like I lost so much that year, like my ability to dance.
My best friend. I also went through a divorce. I had an abortion. I moved; I had no money. It was so much like no work and, and, and the pandemic, that I also felt very fearless. So, like truly the first time I felt like I had nothing to lose. So, I was like fuck it. Sorry. I don't know if I can say that.
It was like just, just, I, I, I, I started to dive into it, and I shared it with somebody, and this friend encouraged me to take it seriously and sit down with an editor, which is something I didn't like really know about it. I hadn't done that. And I really think, my editor in this process, because he, he also really helped me.
Like believe in this as more than a vanity project to see it for like, what it could be to, it's not like a journal entry. And so, yeah, I, for the three years that I was writing this, I really worked closely with the editor, and I don't know if that's how it goes, but I loved editing. Like basically I would write a couple pages and we'd like sit and like read through it out loud and talk about it.
He would ask me all the right questions. He didn't make me feel like this fake writer. I expressed that I wanted it to sound a certain way, like as far as the tone of the girls and how they speak. very sort of like Spanglish, a quick read. I wasn't interested in writing this like literature perfect book and so I really appreciated him for not pushing that either for helping it nurture what it was and help it be better.
Passionistas: That's one of my favorite things about the book is that it feels like a conversation. It feels very natural and. You know, it's not the kind of book where you have to pause and look up words because it's just like you're having a conversation, yeah. So, so describe the book for people who haven't read it.
Marissa: The short description. It's a nice it is, it's a coming-of-age story. I think in total it's somebody who's learning to not outrun themselves. And I think it's also, more a, a really like, Honest portrayal of a beautiful, strong friendship. And that was also like very important to me. The, the power in our friendships, relationships, period.
And yeah, it's, it's, I think somebody learning how to also just sort of be their own hero. And at the same time, that doesn't mean that you have to isolate yourself. So, what does that mean to be your own hero and like find your tribe for of people that help you feel better and vice versa? That it can be like a, a reciprocity sort of situation.
Passionistas: I love the way it's structured, that it's a chapter where, where the two girls are having a conversation and then it's the reflection on the past that comes from that moment in their conversation. So, was that something the editor helped you figure out that structure or was that in your head when you started?
Marissa: The process, I had no idea what was going to happen in the beginning. The first year was a lot of short stories. I just had a lot of short stories all around the house. I didn't know how I wanted to thread them together. and it, it was through the editing conversations, that AJ was very, he was like, he encouraged finding a structure.
And I remember, like, I think it had a lot to do with what I was watching on tv. So, probably where I was in my own process. and I had this, I mean, I could show it to you, but we're podcasting. but I had this bulletin board and I started to, I'm a very visual person, so I started to make a post-it with each chapter and put it on the bulletin board.
And I saw, like, that's where I started to see, and I color coded it to see like what the order would be, and that's what it started to feel like, what was missing and where the inspiration really came from. also, this dialogue between Maria and Layla was a lot, a lot of, of inspired by the conversations with my editor and I, because we'd read a story we'd go through one of the stories of the past, so to speak, and then he'd ask questions and we'd talk about it, and we'd go into like off the rail conversations.
So, it's one of those life what, how is it art inspired life? Life inspires art. I'm, I know I'm saying it wrong, but it was definitely that.
Passionistas: How much of this character of Layla is in you? And she's a gay woman, so why was it important to you to have her be gay?
Marissa: That one for me was really important because so much of the book is also about her exploring her sexual trauma. And there's also, like, in, in this story for Layla, there's never this aha coming out moment. it's, it's like the one piece of her that she doesn't question. and I, I feel like I just wanted to give that to her and to myself too.
Experience that sexual trauma, especially with women, doesn't equal gay. Right. And they're two very different experiences. Sometimes they overlap, but often they don't. And so, I wanted to, to try to un-blur those lines with that. And she's also very her, her queerness is very fluid, I would say.
She dates they, them, she, she, and the, and it's, I, that was not my gay experience. I questioned everything, every step of the way. And so, it was like, I feel like that was the most, like, fictitious part of it was like, I'm giving that to her. Like she's going to own this. Like, she likes water and she's gay.
That's it. That's it. What it is. But it was, it really came down to that, that like she could be her, that her sexuality has nothing to do with her trauma. And that was a really important, thing for me to distinguish very much. I wrote what I knew. it's, most of that book is. Layla's story is a lot of my story.
A lot of the sexual trauma though, like things like that is like taken from other people's experiences. you know, there are some direct parallels losing her friend to suicide. the abortion, the divorce, The, the, the, the sexual trauma is almost very similar to mine. But again, I really tied in a lot of the conversations that I was having with my own friends and just paying attention to the world.
And what's, what's really the closest is though her battle with depression. And I really wanted to put that out there as, as much as possible. And, like, because I think a lot of times, like people who battle with depression don't feel like the hero of the story or like they have to be something else before they can be the hero.
And that was kind of, I, I was so tired of putting that pressure on myself. So, and that way I definitely wrote Layla for me.
Passionistas: Yeah. Because I think it's really powerful and, and honest that she's kind of beginning her exploration of her depression and going to the therapist and seeking help and it's not like wrapped up in a pretty package. Like, and then I went to the therapist, and everything was great. I appreciated that about the book. It was just part of the journey that's still ongoing.
Passionistas: And I think a lot of people who, who experience those things will appreciate that when they read it. So, was it hard for you? Was there any element of the book that was harder for you to dig into and kind of resurface in your own brain from your experiences than maybe some of the other topics that you dealt with?
Marissa: Yes. the, I think mostly the teen years. yeah, because it was so, it was like, that's still the time of my life that's still pretty locked away. My, like early childhood, it seems less scary and my adulthood still, like the teens were so scary for me. like sometimes I see a teenager and like, I feel like they look like a seven-foot giant walking towards me because I have so much trauma stored in my teen years.
So, it was ha it was scary for me to unlock. And I think like, just generally, being vulnerable, like not trying to be perfect. And that was hard. Like not trying to be the perfect writer, not trying to write the perfect protagonist. you know, it's definitely exhausting. I felt like I had to, I could only work on like one piece at a time because it, it does open up so much.
And you, even if it's not, like, even if one story wasn't exactly my story, And then the other hard part that I, I linked, like it was hard to go back and fix every time was, There's a couple chapters that I wrote inspired by my experience with Julie, my best friend, and so that, because that's been in such real time, something that I'm still very much healing from.
You know, some days would just like written the open like a band. I'm like, why are you doing this to yourself? But again, sometimes it was like, then she'd become like the motivating moment. So, I'd be like, If Julie were still around and she read this book, when I finished it, I would think she would like, like see herself as a hero and not the burden.
As you were starting to write and share these personal stories, did you have reservations about putting it out there and how did you get past that? The fearlessness thing, like you can, there's people who know you the best. My family my parents, my parents knew almost everything about me, except that I had been a stripper.
My mom would come in college to Chick Bar to see me go, go dance in burlesque there but like the strip club, a, a straight strip club was like, I didn't want to scare them. I don't know. It was like so even that, that was like, I knew they were going to find out about that part of me. And it was my parents more than anybody because also we never had this upfront conversation about, the, the, the trauma I had been through.
And they're my parents. So, they read that book and they knew exactly when it was me and when it wasn't. And. It was terrifying, but I think, like I needed, I, I didn't know how else maybe to ta talk to them about it, so I'm just I was so, they were the first people to read it and I was like, that was the scariest.
And you know, everybody else, it, it, I don't know. I don't have the fear. It was really my parents because I wanted them to, to understand maybe why we've never talked about it before. I wanted them to know me a little better. You know, but again, it's like my parents. So, and it's like one of my college professors who I, I referenced in this chapter about the tramp stamp, so, and who I came at like that I'm so close with.
And I still, he sent me an email and he's like, I got your book. I'm in Paris. I can't wait to get home and read it. And my first, I was like, oh my God, he's going to read this and know that that is him. And, and I was like, I don't know. Like cause because it was him and he knows me so well, so he's going to know exactly where I pulled these little facts from, and I had to just trust that.
It's like what I want the book to do is to be like a bouncing point for conversations around these things, you know? And so that's what's happening with me. Like, I can't be a hypocrite. So, like I can't do that, and I can't ask for that and not do it myself. So, it has been like that. my best friend Tommy, the one that like we've had a lot of conversations because he knew a lot about.
You know, he could, he also could tell it was about me. And so having like some real conversations. We've been best friends since we're 13 and we've never talked about this stuff. So yeah, terrifying, but very much worth it.
Passionistas: Okay. So how did your teacher react and more importantly, how did your parents react, and did it open up the dialogue with them in the way you had hoped it might.
Marissa: Yeah. my teacher, he hasn't ready yet. He's, I think, still in Paris, so I'm just holding on. Excited to get that second email. my, my parents, I, I honestly like the, the, I'm so grateful because it just opened up a lot. They, we talk to each other differently now. Like my mom calls and asks me like, how are you doing?
And then if I say I'm okay, she'll say things like, it's okay if you're not okay. Like, are you sure you're okay? Like, we didn't talk to each other this way before. and you know, the stuff that happened from when I was little to be honest, we haven't spoken about any of the abuse directly. And I don't know that my parents and I have to, because for me, I feel like I know that they read it.
We've looked each other in the eyes. They both really love the book, have told their friends about it. you know, they're so supportive and so it's like in that way I, I feel and hear their communication and I understand I. I don't, I don't know what it's like to have a child, but to I'm sure like oh, I'm 38 now and they're 72 to like to realize that something happened 30 something years ago, brings up, I can imagine so much for them.
So, I assume they've probably also had, like, they're very close, those two, they're like super love birds. So, I feel like they've had a lot of probably, I think conversations as well, probably without me even there.
Passionistas: We’re Amy and Nancy Harrington and you’re listening to The Passionistas Project Podcast and our interview with Marissa Alma Nick.
To get a copy of her debut novel, visit RebelInVenus.com. If you or someone you know is in crisis and in need of immediate help, please contact the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800-656-4673, or the National Suicide Prevention Line at 988.
Now here’s more of our interview with Marissa.
Passionistas: And what do you hope other people, not people who don't know you, what do you hope they take away from reading the book?
Marissa: I want them to see themselves in Layla and feel empowered by her. And if someone who's reading it, like I've had this response, especially from men, who have read the book, it's really, opened right their eyes to a lot of things. And it's not it's not written as this like lecture. So, from a lecture like entitled, I don't know, like, superlative place.
Like I try, I try to insert some humor. I try to make it an easy read, even if you're like a heterosexual man, you know? And so you know that, that feedback is exactly what I want. It's the, it's the conversations. It's the awareness. If you know somebody also, like I keep saying, if you read the book and you know somebody who's suffering with mental health and depression or has had, sexual abuse that you may know of, like this is a book to pass on.
So, I to, to be that. Like what it's been for, for me and my own family and friends is to be this, like one of those vehicles to help further these conversations. Because without them, we're not going to live in a world without rape culture. You know, every little girl is going to have the same story to tell year after year, after generation after generation.
And the same thing with mental health. You know, suicide is such an epidemic in our, in, in, especially in America. And the way we're talking to each other and holding space for each other and just the patience that we can have for these things, even for ourselves. So, and they're difficult conversations to have, but it's how I feel like it's how we're going to survive all of this.
So that is my biggest hope is that it starts a conversation or that somebody passes it on to somebody who they think it's going to speak to them. Yeah. In fact, in the back of the book is the sexual, not the sexual assault hotline number and the suicide prevention line too. So, yeah, that's I think, the biggest purpose with Rebel and Venus.
Passionistas: You live in Florida, and a lot of the things that you talk about in this book are under attack in Florida. So, what is that like for you and how are you dealing with that?
Marissa: I will talk about it. I don't like having to talk about it, but I will talk about it. It's, it's very bizarre, is the first word I can think of.
And so yeah, we have the book bans. We now have the six-week ban on abortion. We have the, Don't Say Gay. We have the trans bill rights. This man is very determined to create the world that he is of hate that he is trying to create. And so, it's scary. I'll be honest with you.
Especially the community I'm in, which is a very queer community, a very drag, performative community. We have text messages, because you do, like, we don't go out the same anymore, especially if you're performing, if it's a drag show or, one of my good friends, his dance company is all like queer performance, you know?
They're not, they're not sure how to bill, the Broadway show, Mrs. Doubtfire, the performing Arts Center, so, It's, it's, it's weird to even think like that, but in this book, I knew writing this book as, as the governor was in, in the position he was in and the things he was doing, I knew that the book I was writing was not going to be his favorite.
I think specifically because yes, it's very queer. Uh, story. It's also a very, there's a very specific chapter about abortion, with a very empowered ending I might say as well. and so, it's, it's, on one hand it's inspiring. On the other hand, it does, it brings a lot of anger. it's such a weird time right now as Pride Month and half the prides in Florida have been canceled.
I even like checked with the bookstore and they're so great books and books because I have the book released tomorrow and I was like, are you okay if I do read the chapter that goes into an abortion? You know, because of how, how it is here and which they are. But it is like, to even have to consider that it's a new reality that I never thought.
There are some girls that I teach, or I used to teach dance, and they're all like juniors and seniors in high school. A couple of them got the book when it was an early release here at the bookstore, and they took a picture of it. They sent it to me. They happened to be in the cafeteria of their high school.
And then they asked me, they were like, please don't share this though on social media, because they didn't want to get their school in trouble. Because of what they're being like to at the school to try to protect them, to try to protect the teachers. It's so, like, I get, it's, it's, it's so weird, and overwhelming.
Sometimes I want to run away and then the other times it's like, but I can't. You know, because who's going to make it better for these kids? You know? And they deserve, they deserve it. They deserve for it to be better than it was before. They deserve not to live in fear. so yeah. That I, I, I could pro, I could talk about that for an hour.
Passionistas: That's what I was going to ask is, do you ever want to leave? And it sounds like, yes, but you got to stay. How, well, how do you, what do you do? Do you, is there anything you can do?
Marissa: The best that I've, it's like those. I'm not in politics. I'm not, like, this is not, and I'm not, I wouldn't even call myself an activist.
I don't organize, you know? and, and I'm not always out there protesting. That's not sort of the person that I am. I think like my way of protesting is like writing the book. and so, it's a lot, it's a lot about the one-on-one conversations. You know, never say never. I know like any, and I could move out of here tomorrow, anything could happen.
But what I try to do is I stay most connected to the youth. You know, I pay attention to, like, I'm really intentional on social media because I have so many students that I taught like at, and things like in the high schools that I know, like what they're seeing when they follow me. And so being out and, and like.
Like that is possible. Keeping myself open for those conversations, sort of what I think is leading by example. you know, and even if and when I move out of Florida and the kids are all right too, like, they're so strong. There was like the kid who did the valedictorian speech and replaced the word gay with poodle.
I believe it was curly hair. That's what it was. It was like, I have curly hair and I'm like, oh my heart, you know? so or you know, Help donate. You know, when I can. Like, that's always, there's so many, organizations right now, especially for, like the trans community because of what's happened, there.
So, like donating to that or a friend who's looking to undergo their surgery, like giving to them. it's those things staying connected to my going to a drag show. Like I go to the drag show every Thursday and Sunday and like, that feels also like doing what I can until we can. So, it's things like that.
Passionistas: So, what's the state of your ability to dance given your injuries and of the theater company?
Marissa: Funny enough just three months ago I had a second knee surgery on my left knee. So, the universe is letting me know that it is time to move on from what I used to do physically. It is loud. It is so loud.
I, I like my left knee went and I, it needed two surgeries two months ago. So, I think I've, it's like that fear, fearlessness thing. It is sort of like I've also surrendered to a lot of feeling like I have to control less, that I can't control. and so, I'm just trying to hold onto that. I feel so invested in this book.
I feel also like proud of myself for stepping into this because I've always been scared to step into to writing because I had so much identity and dance and being a dancer, you know. So, it's been, it's been a process and, and a, like, it's a grieving process because I just I don't miss the idea of performing that way, but I miss being able to go into a studio and throw myself around without worrying about everything reinjuring itself, you know?
But I trust like I'm not, I'm not actively putting on any shows right now. You know? the dancers are dancing with other people. They're freelance dancers anyway. and I'm really focused in, in writing. I've, I want to, I'm, I started writing something else too. I just haven't figured out if it's another book or po possibly a screenplay.
I'm letting again, I'm just letting it happen. And it's like I, I'm such a dancer, I'm such a choreographer. I, I've, I have so much confidence there and I also feel very satisfied by all the things I have accomplished and done with that, that I actually do feel satisfied in enough to step away for a while and put all of that energy into, into writing. So that's, that's really where I am.
Passionistas: Now that you've gone through this journey writing the book, doing some therapy and looking back, what advice would you give to your younger self?
Marissa: Don't be so hard on yourself, man. First, so, so mean in there like so mean. I was so shitty to myself, like my own worst enemy and that's like been the biggest thing is just the way I speak to myself.
And also, that it's going to be okay. I don't even want to say like, don't do anything different younger Marissa, because then we wouldn't be here. but like, trust yourself, you know? It's going to get pretty rocky and wavy, but like, you're going to be okay. I feel like that's what we all have to like, learn how to do too, is like, believe that we have it in us to survive things that we never want to experience, you know?
And so, yeah, but definitely the first is just like, be nice. Like be nice to yourself. Like you're pretty great. You know, you're not this terrible thing because so much of abuse, it resonates with shame. It's so hard to get rid of. So, I realize since I'm like this little girl, I've always felt shame and not knowing what it is.
You know, so maybe also start therapy a little sooner. But you know, it's like the age I was in, like it just wasn't available that way either. So, it is what it is. Yeah.
Passionistas: So, what's your dream for yourself, for your future and what's your dream for women?
Marissa: For women it's, it's pretty simple. Like where I live in Miami, everybody's in their shorts and bikes and like little, tiny bikinis and I just want one day that a girl at any age can like go in her short shorts and bikini top and roller blades at night in her headphones and feel safe like that.
I want that, like I want that so bad. Like I, when we've done that and when like she can do that, like we've gotten, we've gotten somewhere, And I want, like, I just want to keep feeling this purpose. You know, I think I've never felt this kind of purpose before as an artist. And again, like, I didn't wish it on me, but it's, it's, it's here and it's been pretty, motivating.
So, I hope, like whatever I continue to do as an artist, whether it's writing or dancing, I hope that it helps achieve that goal that I talked about for women. Whatever I'm doing is serving that purpose.
Passionistas: What's your secret to a rewarding life?
Marissa: Man, I sound so cliche, right? My dad is going to laugh at this, but gratitude like, it's definitely like instead of complaining, taking a moment to just feel gratitude for something.
A little thing, one little thing. It has definitely helped me. I know that has been a huge shift. And just saying yes to yourself, like saying yes to yourself is not selfish. Knowing that is very, very, very empowering and can bring so much peace.
Passionistas: Do you have a mantra that you live by?
Marissa: I feel like I lean into things like in my seasons, you know?
But overall, it's, it, it, yeah, it really is that, that gratitude thing. you know, I don't have this one mantra. I mean though I do on my, I, so I have two ta, I have seven tattoos, but the two that, like, I got these two tattoos in college, they're like on my arms and like they're facing me. One says Carpe diem, which is Latin for foresees.
The day I was taking Latin in college, I thought I was the shit. And there's a chapter three was for the chapter on, autonomy. So, I think like, also like for me, like also like, am I living like for am I, am I, this sounds so extreme, but am I not being brainwashed? Am I living for myself? Does it feel sincere?
And, and be here. Be here now in this moment take the day. The other one is, which is Latin for, from possibility to actuality. So, I will say that I look at that a lot when I am not feeling most faithful. And this one I love because it's like I, it's facing me. So maybe that is my mantra. I do have a mantra. It's tattooed on me.
Passionistas: What's your definition of success?
Marissa: Failing forward. I have limited my idea to what success is in so many ways. You know, and so that holds back or, or keeps you from even. Recognizing the thing has happened, so to speak. So, and, and feel, yeah, I guess that's, that's, I feel, I really feel strongly about that feeling for like, being willing to just fail and do it again and again.
As long as you're paying attention and going just keep going is like, yeah. I, I, I saw, I can't remember her name, theist. I think it was in the Philippines. I'm probably messing it up, but she was like running in a race. It was raining and she was in last place, but she did not stop. She was like, she still ran, and she got this roaring applause.
And I was like, yes, that. So, I feel like that's like, that's success. It's just like, just not giving up.
Passionistas: What advice would you give to a young girl or woman who wants to follow her passions?
Marissa: Don't give up, but, but also it, it sounds so simple, but don't give up on yourself because the world, the, the world is still not rooting for women that way and little girls not yet.
So, every time it's like you, you say your dream, it's usually shot down in some sort of way, or it could be easier this way, or why don't you. There's so many. Why don't you instead, why don't you instead? And it's just not encouraged yet for a lot of girls and women to get messy and fail their way forward and just figure it out.
Define what, what their life is. It doesn't have to mean a child. It doesn't have to mean this type of job. It doesn't have to mean marriage. It doesn't have to mean any of these things. So, it’s really not giving up on yourself, because in my experience, the world is not going to cheer for you right away. So, like you have to really be, you have to be your own, your own cheerleader, you know?
And I think it is harder, it is harder for girls and women to, to forge their own path. I think anytime a woman defines herself for herself, that's seen as a rebellious act in general, you know? And the only way, I know how to be courageous and rebellious is believe like believing in me again, against all odds.
But and I think that's what she the young girl, that I would be speaking to. Like at the end of the day, that's what you need is yourself more than anything. Yeah. And a good friend, definitely need a good friend.
Passionistas: Thanks for listening to The Passionistas Project in our interview with Marissa Alma Nick.
To get a copy of her debut novel, visit RebelInVenus.com. If you or someone you know is in crisis and in need of immediate help, please contact the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800-656-4673, or the National Suicide Prevention Line at 988.
And be sure to visit ThePassionistasProject.com to sign up for our mailing list, find all the ways you can follow us on social media, and join our worldwide sisterhood of women working together to level the playing field for us all. We'll be back next week with another Passionista who's defining success on her own terms and breaking down the barriers for herself and women everywhere.
Until then, stay well and stay passionate.