Penny Rock Biography
Tennessee Williams, renowned playwright, wrote, “A high station in life is earned by the gallantry with which appalling experiences are survived with grace.” Williams is one of my favorite authors: insightful, near poetic in his prose. That quote illumines a large part of the paths of my life. Paths that took me into numbing tragedy on a personal level. So, I survived with hopefully a small measure of grace. My life is beautifully marked with grace notes of success as a nurse and top flight business consultant and double bass low points. Now, among many other writing/teaching projects, I am working on my book, “The Gift of Adversity.” Tragedy? Well, the brief catalog is: losing my opera-singing voice to a very mean Asian malaise, nursing in war-riven Vietnam, breast cancer survival over the past few years.
I grew up in Minneapolis, a girl of Norwegian blood, Nordic and fair-haired. When I lost my Nordic-sun hair to the cancer treatment a few years ago, I searched long and longingly for a wig to match my former hair tones. There weren’t any. Tears and laughter. I wrote a poem about that, in the phase of my life that I began writing meaningful poetry. My hair grew back. My poetry phase grew too. Then, when the poetry period was complete and I had said what I wanted to say, it sort of fell out. On occasion, the poetry returns, while other writing pursuits and altruistic service are my focuses now.
In my young girlhood I knew that I wanted to be an opera singer. The operatic voice is a marvelous instrument, and “voice” is still my favorite metaphor for conveying what I want to do in my life now as I am transiting to new places. I also wanted independence. I wanted to choose my lifestyle and my living place and have the freedom in a vocation to create those. Nursing seemed a perfect fit at that time for a young woman. To make this feasible, I joined the U.S. Army. I had a very well-conceived plan. I would get my education courtesy of the army and serve in Germany as a nurse. I wanted to live abroad, to experience northern Europe. I was promised Germany. I was packed and passported. Then, the conflict in Vietnam escalated into full-out, full metal jacket, war. I was reassigned to Vietnam.
Nursing in Vietnam was the seven levels of hell. And it touched heaven. Imagine all of the worst, most nauseating atrocities and abuses of human flesh and spirit and I was fully immersed in it. I also participated in small miracles of mending and hope, and relief. I started writing cathartic poetry in Vietnam. And many years later, in the aftermath of my own personal Vietnam—breast cancer—I went back to my poems from Vietnam. I started writing poetry again—on a yearly summering to Tanglewood, Massachusetts, in 2001. From out of a personal encounter with raw war has come my growing impetus to help individuals experience and practice peace.
I wasn’t wounded in Vietnam. But I was injured. I had climbed the opera ladder far enough to earn a seat at the Julliard School of Music. Opera singing was my cultural core. But in Vietnam, an Asian virus struck my vocal cords. My real singing voice simply vanished. Eventually I left the nursing field, and entered the health and human services sectors and that led to larger business theatres. I was in executive management and recruitment, got my MBA and discovered a gift for business executive consulting. This was a major part of my life for 20 years, offering a gist and gestalt of my philosophy of service and self-discovery to executives lost in the deserts of misperception or self-deception. For many years I was the top revenue maker for the Senn-Delaney consulting firm. My CEO asked me once how I was so successful. I told him, “I never make sales calls. I never sell anything, or promote anything. I listen. I establish a dialog. I listen more. I try to be in myself what they should be moving towards. I allow them to tell me their in-depth situation. Then I can build on that. I try to create a sense of self-perception for them.” It really distills down to states of constructive awareness for these people, and that is a large part of how I want to work with people now.
Several years ago I was diagnosed with breast cancer. It was in many ways devastating. I went through all the radical treatments, all the radical transformations of flesh: hair loss and weight loss. My own neighbor came up to me at my home and asked me when I was coming back. He didn’t even recognize me. That was an emotional grenade dropped on my lap. I speak publicly on my bout with cancer, and privately too—sometimes to strangers I recognize having cancer because of the “scarf look.” It has brought out more of my intuitive, philosophical nature. These I try to “live,” not do.
I am now again in the cocoon-to-butterfly transition time of my life. I’m launching Infinite Creation. I am pursuing my “voice” of writing, teaching, speaking, guiding and coaching. I am here to help. My life has been a crucible: formative, rather than merely informative. Infinite Creation to me means releasing unlimited potential. It doesn’t function in the constraints of time, genes or geography. People have told me that they have a natural yearning for this. They do resonate with it. And I always say that it is really not something that can be taught, or takes time. It is more of an understanding of themselves, and as they understand themselves, their mind becomes quieter. In that quietness, they begin to understand the creative process. Their own creative process. I know what mine is. I don’t know yours intimately. But I can offer the illumination of experience, empathy and intuition. Philosophically, I am a daily reflective person. It is important to me to be open, to be a receiver—available to tune into wisdom in myself and others. I don’t follow a particular school. I ask myself what insights and lessons are available. What is my best way of walking through life at this time?