Rosie Perez’s new memoir tackles mental illness
Demetria Irwin | 3/27/2014, 11:38 a.m.
Sitting atop an $85,000 mattress at Savoir Beds’ chic Soho showroom, actress and activist Rosie Perez was a long way from her hardscrabble upbringing in Brooklyn.
Her impossibly deep dimples were on full display as she posed for pictures with “The Real Housewives of New York” star Carole Radziwill. Both ladies were on hand for a grown-up version of bedtime storytelling, complete with wine, champagne cocktails and fancy cheeses. The luxury mattresses at Savoir Beds are so pricey because they are handcrafted, made with only natural products (including horse hair) and require 120 hours of labor to create.
Radziwill has a plucky new novel out called “The Widow’s Guide to Sex and Dating,” and Perez just released a touching memoir called “Handbook for an Unpredictable Life.” Before the authors read their work to the eager audience that was filled with fans, friends and media, Perez sat down with the AmNews to talk about her new book.
At almost 50 years old (though she doesn’t look a day over 30), the actress and activist said it was simply time to tell her story. “I don’t really know why I chose right now to do this book. Sometimes life just happens. There are lessons in life, and you just go through it,” said Perez.
If anyone knows about going through challenges in life, it is Perez. Raised partly by a mentally ill mother, Perez was subjected to physical and psychological abuse at the hands of family members, other children and authority figures at the orphanage where she lived for a time.
“I expected the press to be a disservice to what the book is about. I understood that they would go for the sensationalism of the book and that is a great disservice to the issues of child abuse, mental illness, poverty and lack of social policies. That’s what the book is about,” said Perez, referencing the recent media attention on a portion of the book about Jennifer Lopez.
The “Do the Right Thing” actress is a mental health advocate and wants to use her book as a way to let people know it’s OK to seek help. “As people of color, sometimes we don’t get the mental help we need. We might go to a church or something, but that’s not enough. I was hit in the head repeatedly—physically, mentally and emotionally. But I understood my spirit and I honored my spirit. I understood that I was special. I wanted to be the best me I could be, so I went and got help. That’s what it’s really about,” said Perez.
“This is my truth and recollection of my truth. Everybody has a right to tell their story in their own time, and nobody has a right to question someone’s truth. Some people let me know that they were not pleased with what was written in my book. I handled it with compassion and understanding. I did not intend to hurt anyone. I was just telling my story.”
Her book certainly has some gut-wrenching moments, but there are also moments of levity, and her crisp storytelling brings many of the people and places to life for the reader. For the Savoir Beds event, Perez shared a lighter moment from the book—the night her parents met. She described the home where her parents met thusly: “The place was sparsely decorated, but it featured a few of the stereotypical tacky Puerto Rican items: a plastic-covered sofa, fake 18th century porcelain figurines that sat on a wooden bookshelf and lastly, the staple of all Nuyorican interiors, an oil rug painting of the Last Supper hanging over the plastic-encased sofa.”
Perez’s book, whose full title is “Handbook for an Unpredictable Life: How I Survived Sister Renata and My Crazy Mother, and Still Came Out Smiling (with Great Hair),” is on bookstands now.