Done Dabbling

26 Jul

writing studyA few years back, someone asked me if I thought I’d ever write a novel some day. My first reaction was to laugh. At that time, I had just recently delved back into writing after a twenty-five year hiatus of not writing a single word (actually, hiatus sounds like I was once a prolific writer—I wasn’t—the best word to describe my attempts at writing in college would be that I “dabbled.”)  Sure, writing short essays and a blog post now and then was feasible—but a novel? I couldn’t even fathom writing something that extensive.

I’m not ashamed to admit that my childhood dream was always to become a writer—I thought about it incessantly for years. I loved books so much—the smell of them; the texture of the paper between my fingertips; the way the words jumped out at me from the page; how I could easily lose myself in a story and experience someone’s life other than my own even if it was just for a short time. The library was my home away from home.

Being somewhat of an introvert, the solitary life of a writer has always appealed to me. As a young girl I created this elaborate fantasy in which I envisioned myself writing my literary masterpiece while tucked away in a cozy study with soft lighting and wall to wall bookshelves. While sitting quiet and alone at an antique desk, I would sip hot tea with honey while a blazing fire crackled in the fireplace. When I needed inspiration, I would glance up and look out through the French Doors onto my picturesque English garden where my flowers somehow managed to bloom year round. Oh—I almost forgot—in my fantasy there was always a gentle rain falling outside.english garden

That perfect fantasy never really got off the ground—with a husband, four kids, four dogs and my mother, I’m never alone. I don’t have French Doors, I live in Southern California where it rarely rains and it’s usually too hot outside to light a fire in the fireplace. I prefer Starbucks coffee to hot tea and rarely go to the library anymore because I always forget to return the books and before I know it I’ve racked up over fifty dollars worth of late fees. I read most of my books on my Kindle and I don’t have an antique desk.  I do my best writing while sitting on the couch.

But get this: I’m thirty-three chapters and almost 70,000 words into my first novel. BAM!  That’s right—I am fifty two years old and for the first time in my life I’m doing what I always dreamed of doing—I am writing a novel.

Now, who knows? My novel may very well turn out to be trite, sentimental and cliché, but then again, it might turn out to be a really great read with a real plot and interesting and lovable characters. We’ll just have to wait and see. In the meantime, I’m carving out a little time every day in my busy schedule to sit down on my couch and get a paragraph or two written down, which more often than not gets deleted the following day (I mean, who in their right mind would write such crap?) No matter—one good sentence at a time and somehow the job gets done. And I’m having the time of my life.

Who needs fire, tea and rain to write a book? Not me.

This girl is done dabbling.

 

If  you’re interested, here’s the synopsis of my novel (still untitled)

After a devastating accident permanently injured the fingers of her right hand and ended her promising career as a concert pianist, thirty-six year old Camille Childs has lived a sheltered and lonely existence teaching piano lessons out of the guest house behind her mother’s lavish Santa Barbara estate. After ten years of teaching piano to Graciela, the very talented daughter of the Mexican housekeeper, Camille finally has the opportunity to validate her teaching expertise after Graciela wins a prestigious piano competition and is about to be presented in her own solo debut recital. Not only will this recital help launch Graciela’s own career as a concert pianist, but it will also help Camille build her reputation as a master teacher and bring her the recognition and acclaim she feels she deserves.

Three weeks before the grand debut recital, Graciela suddenly disappears and Camille learns that she has left the country for her mother’s isolated village in the mountains of Oaxaca, Mexico. Against the wishes of her own controlling and alcoholic mother, Camille travels alone to Oaxaca to search for Graciela and bring her back home in time for the concert. There, during a monsoonal thunderstorm, Camille almost loses her life in a terrible bus accident, but at the last minute is saved by Alejandro, a handsome indigenous Zapotec originally from the same village as Graciela.

Despite a contentious first meeting with the spoiled and self-centered Camille, Alejandro befriends her and helps her navigate the mountainous terrain and unfamiliar culture of the Zapotec town of Yalálag, Oaxaca. With Alejandro’s help, Camille embarks on a journey of self-discovery that will change how she views the world as well as herself.

Villa Hidalgo Yalalag, Oaxaca. This is where much of the novel takes place.

Villa Hidalgo Yalalag, Oaxaca. This is where much of the novel takes place.

Signs

7 Jul

june 5 flowers 8The other morning I was in a deep funk. I hadn’t slept well because I drank a cup of coffee around eight o’clock the night before thinking it was decaf. Big mistake. I’m sure at one point or another everyone has experienced that horrible feeling when you’re lying in bed and your body is tingling and your brain won’t stop analyzing and nitpicking. I didn’t fall asleep until almost dawn.

I woke up exhausted, crabby and shrewish, just to name a few—although I’ve no doubt my family could come up with an enhanced list of unpleasant adjectives that would better illustrate my mood at the time. I yelled at my daughter, glared at my husband and worked myself into a hot mess of resentment and dissatisfaction. Good Lord—I figured I’d better get out of the house before I killed someone. I quickly pulled on my tennis shoes and went for a walk.

For a couple of miles I wallowed in my rage and discontent—everything sucked, nothing was fair and nobody cared. The grievances whirled and foamed in my head until they formed stiff peaks.

Then I ran into an old childhood friend who was visiting her parents for the holiday weekend. Over the past few years she’s been dealing with some serious, life-threatening health issues. I immediately felt ashamed. Here I was, grumbling over nothing, when she had to worry about staying alive. I took a deep breath and decided to change my thinking.

I began to feel a little better on the way back home, finally taking notice of the beautiful summer morning that spread out before me like an overflowing smorgasbord of color. I passed a house with a jumbled yard full of trailing vines, flowering pots and whimsical garden ornaments. And right there in the front yard was this sign:

be grateful

“Whoa,” I thought, stopping in my tracks. The universe had given me a sign. Literally.

Always be Grateful. Such a simple concept, yet one we often have the most trouble understanding.

At that moment I decided to spend more time finding things to be grateful about—to appreciate what I would normally  take for granted. I’ve documented a few of them to remind us that those small, insignificant things are what make our lives meaningful.

From now on, I’m going to pay attention to the signs.

My husband, Rene and daughter,  Isa holding hands while watching a World Cup Soccer match. The blanket covering Rene's legs looks like a smiling face.

A Sign of LOVE. My husband, Rene and daughter, Isa holding hands while watching a World Cup Soccer match. The blanket covering Rene’s legs looks like a smiling face.

Out of the blue, my dear friends Michele and Julie invited me to a Joan Baez/Indigo Girls concert as an early birthday present. It was magical.

A Sign of FRIENDSHIP. Out of the blue, my dear friends Michele and Julie invited me to a Joan Baez/Indigo Girls concert as an early birthday present. It was magical.

A print my son, Nino made in one of his art classes. Profound words.

A Sign of PROFUNDITY. A print my son, Nino made in one of his art classes. I will choose wisely.

My daughter, Isa and my nephew J.J. hanging out on the couch. J.J. would not be here if his older sister Gillian had lived. Isa would not be here if she hadn't survived her leukemia. Take nothing for granted.

A Sign of MIRACLES. My daughter, Isa and my nephew J.J. hanging out on the couch. J.J. would not be here if his older sister Gillian had not died. Isa would not be here if she hadn’t survived her leukemia. Take nothing for granted.

A Sign of detailed complexity. The sun shining on the bench outside my music studio.

A Sign of complexity. The sun shining on the bench outside my music studio.

A sign of continuously changing beauty.

A Sign of BEAUTY. The garden is a constant source of changing beauty.

Now it’s your turn to look for YOUR signs.

Hope

5 Jun

june 5 flowers 8It’s the last day of school for my daughter, Isa and that means summer is officially here. Even with the drought here in Santa Barbara, the flowers are spectacular this year.

Every day when I walk out the front door I’m greeted by a glorious blanket of color that wraps me up in joy even when my heart is heavy. There’s been so much sadness in our community since the shootings that took place in Isla Vista on May 23. There is still so much healing that needs to take place.

Despite this tragedy, I still believe that beauty always finds its way into our lives and somehow continues to blossom even when the conditions are unfavorable.

I choose to believe in the goodness of all people. I pray  for change. I watch for growth. And I hope for love.

And it’s all right there in the garden to remind me every single day.

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The End of Complacency

25 May

gunThe only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.  

 –Edmund Burke

I’m the first to admit that I’m complacent person. It’s not that I don’t feel things deeply—I do. It’s just that I’m a busy working mom with my own set of problems and it’s often difficult to muster up enough indignation to spur myself into action or even believe that any small act on my part will bring about any necessary change.

Over the past few years, I’ve cried my share while glued to the television screen, watching news reports of the mass killings that have taken place across our country. I’ve felt real pain and anger, and spurred on by the solidarity of social media, I vowed to do something to make a difference. But like the majority of us, I would soon move on with my life after a few days, conveniently forgetting my initial anger and frustration. After all, those instances of gun violence never really affected me personally.

Well, now it’s happened in my own backyard. Last Friday night around 9:30, as I sat talking with my husband and kids in the living room, I heard multiple sirens. Now, it’s not unusual for us to hear occasional sirens as our house is located near the 101 freeway between the ocean and the mountains. When they didn’t quit after a minute or two, I turned to  my husband.

“Honey,” I said, opening the back sliding door to better hear what was going on. “I think this is something really bad—the sirens aren’t stopping.”

“Maybe a high speed chase?” he asked.

“I don’t think so,” I said, “It sounds like a lot of police cars are headed somewhere.”

Less than ten minutes later, my nineteen year-old son, Nino’s phone rang. He is a UCSB student and often spends weekend nights hanging out with his friends in Isla Vista, the beach town adjacent to the university.

“What’s up?” he said into the phone. I watched his face fall. He stood up and began to pace around the living room. “Dude!” he shouted. “Are you f**king serious?” After a short conversation he hung up the phone.

“Mom,” he said, “There’s been a shooting in Isla Vista.” On the phone was one of a group of Nino’s fraternity brothers who had been headed home from an out of town event, but were unable to get to their apartment because the entrance to Isla Vista had been cordoned off. They needed a place to spend the night so they came to our house.

The following morning and throughout the day we learned what happened in Isla Vista: Six college students dead; the mentally ill shooter dead. We watched rambling Youtube videos, accounts from students who witnessed the horror, and what was most heart wrenching of all: a plea from the father of one of the victims begging for the violence  to stop. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HN6NBDYPuhY. I sobbed while watching that, knowing it could have been my son, Nino who was killed.

How many more people have to die for us to do something? Fighting against the NRA is virtually impossible—time and again it’s been proven that this gun-loving organization is just too powerful. They will protect their second amendment rights no matter how many of our children die from gun violence. They say, “Guns don’t kill people; people kill people,” Yes, people do kill people, and since the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School, almost ten thousand Americans have been killed by people using guns.

But why was it so easy for these killers to get their hands on guns?

The following is what Michael Moore had to say about the Isla Vista Shootings:

With due respect to those who are asking me to comment on last night’s tragic mass shooting at UCSB in Isla Vista, CA — I no longer have anything to say about what is now part of normal American life. Everything I have to say about this, I said it 12 years ago: We are a people easily manipulated by fear which causes us to arm ourselves with a quarter BILLION guns in our homes that are often easily accessible to young people, burglars, the mentally ill and anyone who momentarily snaps. We are a nation founded in violence, grew our borders through violence, and allow men in power to use violence around the world to further our so-called American (corporate) “interests.” The gun, not the eagle, is our true national symbol. While other countries have more violent pasts (Germany, Japan), more guns per capita in their homes (Canada [mostly hunting guns]), and the kids in most other countries watch the same violent movies and play the same violent video games that our kids play, no one even comes close to killing as many of its own citizens on a daily basis as we do — and yet we don’t seem to want to ask ourselves this simple question: “Why us? What is it about US?” Nearly all of our mass shootings are by angry or disturbed white males. None of them are committed by the majority gender, women. Hmmm, why is that? Even when 90% of the American public calls for stronger gun laws, Congress refuses — and then we the people refuse to remove them from office. So the onus is on us, all of us. We won’t pass the necessary laws, but more importantly we won’t consider why this happens here all the time. When the NRA says, “Guns don’t kill people — people kill people,” they’ve got it half-right. Except I would amend it to this: “Guns don’t kill people — Americans kill people.” Enjoy the rest of your day, and rest assured this will all happen again very soon.

It’s time for all of us to stop being complacent.

It could have been my child.

It could have been yours.

May Blooms

21 May

May is my favorite gardening month. So many wonderful blooms to enjoy!

And summer is just around the corner…
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The Scent of a Mother

10 May

 

mom holding me at beachWhen I was young, it never occurred to me that my mother would grow old someday. She was just my mom—a pretty woman with soft, shoulder length brown hair and a lovely smile. As far as I was concerned, she would be there forever to take care of me. If I was sick in the middle of the night, she would be there to open up the pull-out couch in the living room and let me lie down with her until I fell asleep. Every day when I returned home from school, there would be a snack set out on the table, complete with a folded cloth napkin. After helping me and my brothers with our homework she would then battle it out with us at the piano where we’d whine and cry until we learned to play the B-flat Major scale—and play it well. All this and she still managed to have dinner on the table every night promptly at 6:30.

 

Back then, I thought she was perfect. I loved the smell of her so much that often when she was out running errands and I felt lonely and afraid, I would sneak into her bedroom, open the top drawer of her dresser where she kept her bras (back then she referred to them as her bureau and her brassieres) just so I could inhale the sweet perfume of her clothing. I’d play with her scarves, try on her jewelry and try to decipher the love letters my dad wrote to her when they were dating. She was a beautiful mystery to me and imagining a life without her made my head spin.

 

My mother pregnant with me.

My mother pregnant with me.

When I hit adolescence and my world turned inward, my mother began to embarrass me with her stretchy polyester pants, orthopedic Dr. Scholls shoes and out-of-date haircut. Even the freckles on her forearms made me cringe. I hated that she drove a weird, foreign car that sounded like female genitalia (‘66 Volvo wagon) when everyone else’s mom drove an American-made car. I hated that my mother was so friendly that just for the heck of it would initiate a conversation with anyone she came in contact with. Once, when we were shopping at Sears, I accused her of being overly talkative with the sales clerk just to embarrass me on purpose.

 

My junior high school girlfriends told me I was lucky to have such a mom—that she was the “cool” type of mom—someone who had absolutely no problem answering their questions about boys and sex. At their urging, she would come into my room, sit on my bed and join the conversation.  On hot summer evenings, she’d let us go skinny dipping in the backyard pool until it was discovered that my brother had assembled the neighborhood boys in the yard of the house next door so they could spy on us through the holes in the fence.

 

Mom in the kitchen.

Mom in the kitchen.

My mother wasn’t the perfect mother—the truth is, there’s no such thing. Yet, in every single childhood memory I carry, my mother’s presence is there, supporting me, cheering me on, and loving me with her unconditional and overflowing love. This has always been my truth and more than anything, I hope that I’ve been able to pass this on to my own children.

 

Today, I think about my mother as I wonder how many more Mother’s Days I’ll have to spend with her—ten, maybe fifteen if I’m lucky. I’m sure that when she gave birth to me, she didn’t stop to think that I would grow up to be an adult and have my own family someday. She certainly didn’t imagine herself approaching eighty years old. She simply held my tiny body against her warm chest, inhaling that sweet, powdery baby smell and marveled at the perfection of me, imagining that I’d stay that way forever.

 

The other day, I saw my youngest daughter in our bedroom, holding my pillow against her face.

“Isa,” I asked, “What are you doing?”

She looked up at me with a sheepish grin on her face. “Just smelling your pillow,” she said.

“Why?” I asked.

“Because it smells like you,” she said.  “And it makes me feel safe.”

 

Mom and Isa posing with a painting done by my friend, Melani Guinn.

Mom and Isa posing with a painting done by my friend, Melani Guinn.

Spilling Over

21 Apr

spilling overFor a very long time  I carried a feeling of wanting inside me, like I was a hollowed out tree trunk and if I could just fill up that space with proof of my extraordinary accomplishments, I’d be fulfilled. As a young girl, I chose to spend endless hours practicing the piano thinking that my talent and musical endeavors would be enough to fill that void inside of me. I gave concerts, won competitions and went on to major in piano performance at a prestigious music school, only to find that the accolades from the outside world wasn’t enough—the space inside of me still felt cavernous.

Through my twenties, thirties and most of my forties, I couldn’t see that all I had in my life—my happy marriage, my four beautiful children, my successful piano teaching career—were more than enough to fill up that hollow space, but I’d been in the habit of feeling empty for so long that even having it all wasn’t sufficient to fill that void.

Looking back on all the time I wasted feeling dissatisfied and empty, all I can say now is thank goodness for old age. I finally understand that old adage, “Youth is wasted on the young” is absolutely true. It’s unfortunate that we don’t live in reverse as  I’d like to enjoy a youthful body to go along with the wisdom, patience and understanding I have now that I’m middle aged.

I’m wise enough now to realize that the center of my universe is right there within me, and my reality is only what I create in my mind and what I see through my own eyes. What I choose to think and feel is ultimately what will fill up that empty space inside of me—the approval or admiration I get from others means nothing if I don’t believe it myself.

But old habits always die hard and I realize that finding the joy and goodness in the little things in life is always going to be a struggle for me, but at least I realize that all the accolades in the world are meaningless if I don’t first feel them within myself.

Yesterday was Easter, which is considered a time of renewal for many. I spent the day celebrating with my family and friends where we did the usual things—ate delicious food, talked, joked around and shrieked with laughter for most of the afternoon. Years ago I would’ve thought of it as just another stressful family get-together—but now I see things differently. Now I see that it was a chance to spend time with the people I love most in the world, and as I felt my universe expanding with the love they feel for me,  my once hollow tree trunk spilled over with joy and gratitude.

Life couldn’t be better.

Taking a walk with Rene and Isa at dusk on Easter Sunday.

Taking a walk with Rene and Isa at dusk on Easter Sunday.

Letting it Out

9 Apr

photo (28)You may have noticed that I haven’t been posting on my blog as much as I have in the past, which I sincerely hope you don’t think is a good thing because that would be a definite blow to my already fragile ego.

I remember when I first starting blogging, I was so in the writing zone—I would post something every few days—my brain was constantly popping with ideas. After a while the posts went down to once a week, twice a month, and then finally whittling down to once a month if at all. You get the picture.

There are several reasons I’m not posting as often. Primarily, it’s because I’m spending what little time I can carve out of my busy day to work on my novel—which, I’ve just begun to realize, is going to take way longer than I thought. I’m up to twenty eight chapters with no end in sight. I never would have thought that writing a novel would consume me so deeply. It’s a very strange process where I feel like my characters are these horrible, rebellious little people stuck in my brain, fighting with all of their might to come out while gleefully taking me down in the process. I hate them at times but mostly I love them.

I’ve also stopped blogging as much because the truth is that I’ve begun to bore myself by writing about the same topics over and over. God knows that if I’m boring myself, I can only imagine how you feel. I can even hear your voices in my head: Please stop making me cry with sad stories of kids with cancer, or For god’s sake, stop going on and on about how happy you are now that you’ve hit fifty and I swear if you post one more picture of your flower garden I will come over and personally drive my car right over your flower beds. I know, right? Sorry. Even as I write this, I’m realizing that these words sound strangely familiar which means I’ve  probably already written this exact post somewhere in the not too distant past. I’d go back and read through the archives to find it, but I’m way too tired to check.

The writing process is often agonizing. Lately I find myself trapped in these moods where nothing is ever right and all I do is moan and groan and complain and try to blame it on my husband or my kids or on the hormone situation (another topic beaten to death) and then I realize that I’m most likely grumpy because I need to let something out and the way I do that is by writing and sharing it with others. Through the act of writing I feel alive and connected with the outside world and even if it’s just a photo on Instagram, a line or two on Facebook (or Twitter, which I’m only now getting the hang of) or an essay on my blog, I feel more alive after hitting  the “publish” or “share” button. If just writing a post on my blog makes me feel so satisfied, I can only imagine the high of publishing an actual novel, so I’m going to keep at it no matter how long it takes.

Talk about good timing. Yesterday, writer Elizabeth Gilbert posted this on her Facebook page and it totally resonated with me. Here is an excerpt:

I am a writer. If I have a story in me that I’m not able to tell, things will start going wrong all over my life. If I have a story in my head and I tell it, “I’ll get to you in 2015,” that story will start to rebel, start to act out, start to claw at the walls. That’s when the shit gets dark in my world. 

Because having a creative mind is something like owning a Border terrier; it needs a job.  And if you don’t give it a job, it will INVENT a job (which will involve tearing something up.) Which why I have learned over the years that if I am not actively creating something, chances are I am about to start actively destroying something. 

And that ain’t good.

I believe that readers don’t need good writers, although that’s always a plus. The truth is it’s the writers who need good readers. Someone  probably already wrote that somewhere and I should find out who it is and give them their due credit, but I’m way too tired to check.

Life can be crazy at times and I’m often too tired to do a lot of things, but I’m not too tired to tell you something important: I appreciate you for being my good reader. Because without you, I can’t share who I am, and then all kinds of chaos breaks out inside my head.

And that ain’t good.

Another shot of my flower garden. It's just too pretty not to share.

Another shot of my flower garden. It’s just too pretty not to share.

Spring in Santa Barbara

6 Mar

People in other parts of the country say we don’t have seasons in California but I beg to differ. Our seasons just blend into each other with a little less fanfare. I took these photos while out walking this morning and here is my proof that Spring has indeed arrived  in Santa Barbara.

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A Happy Ending

18 Feb

RANDOM 122Days go by when I don’t stop to remember that my daughter is a cancer survivor. I even forget to be grateful that Isa is still here with us. Sometimes it feels like the whole cancer experience was a just a tragic movie that our family acted in a very long time ago—a movie filled with fear, angst and sadness but ultimately concluded with a triumphant and happy ending.

I’m to the point now where life is so normal that I actually hear myself complaining about the weather—and this is when it’s eighty degrees outside in February. Isa is nine now, completely cured of her leukemia, growing tall and lithe; busy with singing classes, piano lessons and Girl Scouts. She’s a joyful and funny child—at that lovely pre-adolescent age when everything about life is still fun and exciting—where she wakes up overcome with exuberance as she meets each new day. The beauty of her smile is intoxicating.

This is in stark contrast to me at age fifty-one, when I don’t recognize the old woman with wiry hair and bags under her eyes who stares back at me in the mirror each morning. My body aches as I tightly grip the handrails of the menopausal roller coaster as it throws me into loop after loop of hormone diminishing mood swings, memory loss and weight gain. It would be easy to complain about it all, but I won’t. Because compared to that movie I acted in a few years back, a few aches and pains, forgetfulness, and some grumpiness are really nothing at all.

I’m one of the lucky ones. I’ve been granted the luxury of complaining about insignificant things like menopause because I’m no longer stuck in a hospital room with my daughter tethered to an I.V. line as I watch the chemotherapy wreak havoc on her little body.

There are so many families out there right now who don’t have that luxury—families who are going through what ours went through—some who have little or no hope that their child will survive. I read about them on Facebook and my heart breaks with every story because I know their fear. I know their sadness. I want to promise them it will all get better, and for some it will, but for others there will be no happy ending to their movie.

I’ve realized that when I start to complain about the unimportant things and forget that I had my happy ending, it’s time to bring out that movie and watch it over again—to be reminded that there is still so much to be done to raise money and awareness for cancer research so that eventually, every family with a child diagnosed with cancer will have a happy ending.

My husband, Rene is running his eleventh Marathon in a few weeks, and my daughter, Leah has taken it upon herself to help him raise money for the Pablove Foundation for pediatric cancer research. Here’s the link: http://www.stayclassy.org/fundraise?fcid=257002  Check it out. Maybe your small gesture is just what’s needed to help a child have a happy ending like Isa’s. A little goes a long way.

From this…

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isa on horse

IMG_0758 Isa Mireles 4-26-13 - Copy

To this.

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