Awareness

3 Jul

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I’ve always thought of myself as a flexible person, but the truth is, change is difficult for me. I’ve enjoyed an easy, comfortable life where I can pretty much go anywhere, do anything, or speak my mind freely without anyone questioning me. I don’t have to worry that I’ll be stopped and questioned by the police because of the way I look. My white privilege has offered me more opportunity than people of color. As a woman, there have been times in my life when I’ve experienced sexism—and even been afraid, but I’ve never been discriminated against because of my skin color.

I recently published my novel, LOST IN OAXACA, where my protagonist, a white, privileged piano teacher named Camille, travels to Mexico in search of her missing protégé. Unable to speak the language, Camille finds herself literally lost in the mountains of Oaxaca, where she must rely on others to help her navigate not only the remote mountainous terrain, but an unfamiliar culture as well. For the first time in her life, Camille is the different one. Yet, instead of encountering racism and hate, she is given guidance, care, acceptance, and ultimately love, by those who are not offered reciprocal treatment back home in her world. She thus begins the difficult process of acknowledging her privilege and opening her mind to becoming aware.

This shift in awareness is the first step in becoming anti-racist. If we allow ourselves the chance to shed a single incorrect belief in our minds, we can move on to shedding another. Then another—and so on. When we finally realize that the story we’ve been taught for so long is not true, we can make real change in the direction of equality for all. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: it’s up to those of us who benefit from white privilege to fight for those who don’t. We can’t stay silent any longer.

I know I have much work to do. I’ve been way too comfortable for far too long.

I won’t tell you what happens to Camille; you’ll have to read the novel to find out.

                           Let’s just say that nothing is ever really lost.

 

It’s on Me

9 Jun
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Graphic by Justin Teodoro

I’m white. I’m affluent. I’m privileged.

I’m also biased. I see color. And it turns out I have many racist bones in my body.

How can this be? I’m educated. I’m a liberal Democrat. I voted for Obama—twice. I’ve been married to a man of color for over 33 years. Of my four children, two identify as LGBTQ. I fundamentally believe in equality for all.

Yet I have made, and still make, assumptions about people based on race. And this means I’m racist.

I wasn’t born a racist. Society made me this way. I’ve been formally educated with unconscious bias since I was a child, when I first learned to read from books that had only white, blond kids like me in them. Remember Fun with Dick and Jane? For years I watched TV shows and movies where people of color were stereotyped or portrayed negatively. My father was an educated man, yet he openly told racist jokes at the dinner table. In high school, my friends and I made fun of gay people because we thought it was funny. We mocked people with accents. I believed the police were always there to help me—and they were—because I fit a certain demographic.

It took the murder of another Black man at the hands of the police to create the essential shift that is currently taking place in our collective consciousness. It’s not the people of color with the problem—it’s me. It’s ultimately on me to make the necessary change.

No longer will I avoid dealing with the reality of systematic racism. I will be conscious of my biased thoughts. I will think before I speak. I will stand up for those who are marginalized. I will not be afraid of alienating others because I speak out against racism.

I will learn to feel comfortable outside of my comfort zone.

I’m just so sorry it’s taken me this long to really get it. But then again, it’s not about me anymore. It’s about our Black brothers and sisters.

Black Lives Matter. Let’s keep the change alive.

Now What?

25 May

My novel, LOST IN OAXACA has been out in the world for over month, and I’m now being hit with a mild case of post-publication depression. From what I understand, it’s a common affliction for writers and other artists, who spend years working on a project, birth it out into the world, and then wait for it to be judged. There’s the initial buzz, we sell a few books, and the reviews begin to trickle in. Our hearts sing with all the positive accolades, until that one bad review pops up, and our souls are temporarily crushed. We don’t usually talk about our melancholy for fear of appearing whiny and ungrateful, but it’s there. Each day, our mood is largely dependent on our Author Central sales graph.

It certainly doesn’t help that an unexpected pandemic landed smack dab in the middle of my spring publication date, postponing my book signing until who knows when? Talk about a buzz kill!

And I did everything I was supposed to do. Leading up to my pub date, I wrote all the prerequisite articles to create buzz for my novel. Maybe it worked, maybe not, but either way, that part is over and done with. Now it’s up to me to keep the hype going. This is difficult, especially because I’m not a big fan of self-promotion. (Right now, you’re probably asking yourself, “Then why is she always posting or blogging about the damn book on social media?”) Honestly, if I could, I’d stop all this marketing stuff and get back to just writing. I loathe being that writer who constantly talks about her book, and yet I have to be, because it’s up to me to sell copies.

I figure my best bet is to offer all of you an unpaid internship as a marketing representative. If you’ve read LOST IN OAXACA and liked it, all you have to do is tell a friend about it. Or post a review on Amazon. I swear I’ll reciprocate should any of you need my unpaid marketing services in the future.

And rest assured—when this damn pandemic is under control, WE ARE HAVING A PARTY. I promise to sign each and every one of your copies. I will serve you mole, homemade tortillas, and even Oaxacan mezcal. We will raise our glasses for a toast to LOST IN OAXACA even if we have to stand six feet apart!

Thank you, dear readers, for buying my book. But mostly, thank you for being here with me all these years while I take this journey. I so appreciate all of you!

Empathy

7 May

img_1375When I was in first grade, my mother bought me an adorable culotte dress splashed in pink and green that looked like an impressionist watercolor painting. Lovely as it was, it was probably not the best choice of clothing for a first grader. Shorts connected to a dress that zipped up the back might be fashionable, but it prevented my little arms from being able to wriggle out of it in a timely manner, especially when I needed to pee.

I think you can see where this is heading.

After two unsuccessful trips to the restroom where I nearly pulled my arms out of their sockets trying to reach the zipper, I decided to wait to relieve myself until I got home after school. Five minutes before the bell rang, a sheen of sweat broke out on my forehead. I suddenly realized I couldn’t hold it any longer. Right there in front of the entire classroom, a geyser of pee gushed out of me and formed a golden pool on the linoleum floor. I was beyond mortified. Gasps echoed around the classroom. My ears burned with shame.

Then I heard a little voice: “Poor Jessie. Oh, poor, poor Jessie.”

The classroom tittering ceased. It was Bonnie, a curly-haired girl with big brown eyes and an infectious giggle. She took my hand. “Oh, poor Jessie. I’m so sorry. It’s okay—please don’t cry.”

She took charge and alerted the teacher. All the while, she continued holding my hand, even during my embarrassment of watching the school janitor come in and shake a can of absorbent wood shavings onto the puddle. When I got home from school, I took off that urine-soaked dress and threw it in the trash.

I truly believe children are born empathetic. When they make their entrance into the world, their hearts are pure. It’s only after they watch and learn from adults that some lose the ability to be kind. For a long time now, we’ve seen so much unkindness. Hostility—even hatred—has been openly expressed from all corners of society.

Now with this Covid-19 virus, life has changed drastically for all us—probably forever. There’s been so much loss and pain—so much disappointment. And yet, there are also stories of incredible empathy and kindness demonstrated by so many in our communities. Our front line healthcare and essential workers are putting their lives at risk every day to help us survive. We have seen many in our state and local governments step up and take charge—working tirelessly to give us hope that we may get through this mess sometime soon. People are donating time and money to local food pantries. Neighbors are helping neighbors. Good deeds are happening all around us.

Call me Pollyannaish, but I believe empathy is returning. We are learning to value what is truly important: family, relationships, and most importantly, love. I believe that many of our hearts are starting to default back to the pure state we were born with. At least I hope that’s the case.

Let’s all try to be like that innocent six year-old girl who didn’t point her finger and laugh or judge—but merely took the hand of her friend and told her everything was going to be okay.

Pub Day!

21 Apr

img_0874Well, my big day is here. And during a pandemic, too. When I started this blog almost nine years ago, I never truly believed I had it in me to actually write a novel, let alone publish it. Well, to hell with that woman who had so little faith!

Here’s a link to my story, although if you’ve been reading this blog for all these years, you already know it.

Thank you, thank you, THANK YOU, dear readers! You’ve been with me this long journey and I am so grateful for you consistent support. Here’s a link to my story:

Women Writers, Women’s Books

I truly hope you enjoy reading Lost in Oaxaca! 

Now on to the next book. Lord help me.

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Book Spotlight: Lost In Oaxaca by Jessica Winters Mireles

17 Apr

via Book Spotlight: Lost In Oaxaca by Jessica Winters Mireles

Postponement

8 Apr

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Two weeks from today, Jessica Winters Mireles’ novel, Lost in Oaxaca will be released. This is a pretty big deal for Mireles, a middle-aged piano teacher who dreamed of being a published writer from a very young age.

Lost in Oaxaca was born over seven years ago, when Mireles sat down to write a paragraph about a young woman who finds herself stuck on a bus in the mountains of Oaxaca. During this time, Mireles experienced some fictitious bliss, but, like most writers and artists, faced her demons of insecurity on a daily basis. Ultimately, she was gratified that not only did she actually finish Lost in Oaxaca, but that it evolved into an uplifting story of love, adventure, and cross-cultural identity.

Mireles’ long labor of literary love was going to be celebrated with a book signing/launch at Chaucer’s, the beloved Indy bookstore cherished by Santa Barbara locals on Wednesday, April 20, 2020. No doubt the event would’ve been a huge gathering of friends and family, and Mireles would have been the reigning queen from approximately 7:00-9:00 p.m. A great lover of attention, Mireles would have certainly been in her element.

Unfortunately, an unexpected and devastating pandemic has caused Mireles’ big day to be postponed to a later date. While disappointed, Mireles realizes that her problems are nowhere near as dire as what others are facing at this current time, so she will gracefully accept her fate. She trusts that her friends will support Chaucer’s Bookstore by ordering a copy of Lost in Oaxaca for themselves, and maybe an additional copy for a friend or relative. She promises to sign each and every book should someone request it.

Mireles, a piano teacher for over thirty years, also knows that the best way to keep a business growing is by word of mouth. She is hoping that if you enjoy her book, you will spread the word by suggesting to your friends that they order a copy from Chaucer’s, who will even ship it to your house! Mireles is crossing her fingers that you will consider helping her with her publicity by posting on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram about how much you loved the book. Share away! And if you’re feeling really generous, a five-star review on Amazon or Goodreads would be greatly appreciated.

Mireles certainly understands that her book may not be everyone’s cup of tea. Some may even dislike it intensely. If this happens, she requests that the dissatisfied reader please keep their displeasure to themselves, and attempt to refrain from reviewing it in any way, shape or form.

Mireles also wants her readers to know how very much she loves and appreciates them. It’s been a long road, and while she may have hit a temporary road block, she’s bound to be on her way again shortly. In the meantime, there’s plenty of time to read these days!

You can absolutely count on Jessica Winters Mireles to keep you posted on the date of her rescheduled book signing!

https://www.chaucersbooks.com/

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The Story I Choose to Believe

29 Mar

 

img_0720Life is different now. The mundane has abruptly become meaningful. Today, a trip to the Starbucks drive-thru actually made my heart flutter with anticipation. My ten-second interaction with the girl at the window was almost exhilarating.

I don’t know about you, but my moods are swinging like I’m in a hammock when a sudden windstorm hits. One moment, I’m serene and relaxed—the next, anxious, agitated, and holding on for dear life. I try to act like everything is okay, but I can’t get comfortable in my mind, because I have no idea how long the storm is going to last. I can’t even laugh at my kids’ jokes without feeling a sense of guilt, thinking about the thousands of people suffering—even dying, from this insidious virus.

My heart hurts for the people who have lost their jobs, many of whom already live on the edge. The weight of not being able to pay their bills or put food on the table will undoubtedly make them feel suffocated with a sense of despair. I feel so sorry for all the brides and grooms, graduates, and those with upcoming birthdays who will have to cancel their celebrations.

Every day, I try my best to look for the good. And there is so much good to find! People have shown their true colors during this Covid-19 crisis. So many have stepped up—especially those who are on the front lines: the health care workers, the first responders, the food service employees. I’m so very thankful for them. They have demonstrated what true grit and selflessness is all about; they’ve put their own lives at risk to help us. In my book, they are the true Americans.

As I have, perhaps you’ve noticed that you’ve been growing closer to your family and friends—virtually or in reality. Being home has allowed you to eat meals together again, or maybe you’re sharing cocktail hour through FaceTime. The art of conversation has returned. Reading books is “in” again. We are certainly more present with each other.

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Virtual Family Togetherness!

We haven’t faced something like this before, but I have faith we will get through it. Our routines will be different for a while, and it be a struggle, but our lives will eventually go back to normal. Hopefully, when the chaos and confusion has lessened, our fear will subside. Perhaps when we are able to gather together again, our mutual joy will be the thing that is infectious.

This virus does not discriminate. It affects every single one of us. I’m hoping that this shared experience will teach us to view each other in a more positive light. Maybe—just maybe, the animosity we’ve felt for such a long time will be replaced with love, gratitude, and a deep sense of appreciation for each other.

In any case, that’s the story I choose to believe.

 

 

Change of Plans

19 Mar

 

img_0633With all that’s going on in the world today, my problems are insignificant. I have comfortable shelter, enough food, and I can try to keep my piano teaching business going by working remotely. My husband, who is a school teacher, will still be paid even though he can’t go to work. We have medical insurance. So far, no one in our household is sick. For all of this, I’m extremely grateful.

But I’m still a bit sad. I’m disappointed that after so many years of hard work, all the exciting hoopla planned in my community for the release of Lost in Oaxaca probably isn’t going to happen. At least not in the near future. The novel will still be released and available on April 21, but unless a miracle happens, my book signing at Chaucer’s Bookstore in Santa Barbara on April 29 will most likely be postponed.

I’m not the only author with this predicament. Many of my fellow debut authors are facing the same challenge: How to drum up excitement for your book when you can’t gather in large crowds—or even in small crowds? Let’s just say no crowds.

I must now come up with new ways to promote my book online. Trust me, this is not easy for a middle-aged boomer such as myself. I’m learning as I go, but it’s pretty daunting.

I’m not giving up, though. I’ve worked too hard and for too long. And it’s really not about the celebration, it’s about reading the book. And all I really want is for you to read my book and connect to my story. That’s pretty much it.

I also want to support Chaucer’s, our local Indy bookstore. If you’re so inclined, visit their website: https://www.chaucersbooks.com/ and preorder a copy of Lost in Oaxaca. They are still open! Or you can preorder a copy on Amazon if you prefer.

Maybe this isolation will get us reading again. I mean, your brain is eventually going to need a break from binge-watching all that Netflix, right?

Be safe, be well, and take care of each other. I’m sending out virtual hugs to all of my friends, family and to you, dear readers. We will get through this.

Below is the beautiful postcard designed by my daughter, Leah, and son-in-law, Jeff. Even if it doesn’t happen, I may still send them out, just to support the post office by buying postage!

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Liar, Liar

11 Feb

img_0434Writing is not fun. The people who tell you, Oh, I love to write so much that wish I could spend all day doing it are lying. Because if they had the time to write all day long, they would use every distraction at their disposal to avoid actually writing something. I know this, because I am one of those liars myself.

Right now, while I may actually be writing something, it’s not what I’m supposed to be writing. I’m supposed to be starting my next novel. In fact, I should’ve started it ages ago—or at least created a substantial outline of what I want it to be. At this point, even a completed paragraph would be good.

Unfortunately, when you complete your first novel, and it’s about to be published, it’s assumed you’ve been at this writing thing since you were twelve, and that you have a minimum of two or three completed manuscripts in the bottom of a desk drawer somewhere that you can pull out, polish up a bit, and send off to your publisher.

Insert eye roll emoji here.

I really do want to start my next book. And I actually have a general idea of what I want to write about. It’s just that it’s a sensitive subject that’s close to my heart, which makes it that much more scary and overwhelming. I’m not afraid of expressing vulnerability, but I do worry too much about what others think of me. Especially since I’m a two on the Enneagram scale (truly weird how accurate this test is) which means my personality makes me only want to please. https://www.enneagraminstitute.com/type-2.

While the topic of my next novel may not please everyone, maybe it will help others, which is also part of my personality type. So I ask myself—which is more important—pleasing, or helping? With all the hate and division going on in the world these days, I think I’ll stick with helping.

Okay I’m done. I’m posting this, and then I swear, I’m not getting up from the computer until I write an entire page. Or maybe a paragraph. Or at least one really great sentence.

I’ll keep you posted.

Lost in Oaxaca