No Place I’d Rather Be

17 Jun

I normally teach Saturday mornings, but with several students out of town on vacation, I miraculously had the morning off. Not only that, I had a very generous gift card for a local nursery that one of my graduating seniors gave me as a goodbye gift. Talk about bliss! Starbucks in hand, I browsed through the colorful flower displays and went completely nuts, choosing whatever I wanted with no residual guilt about spending too much money. My trunk stuffed with color, I headed home to plant.img_1413

I started with the back patio where the zinnias were on their last legs. I pulled everything out of the pots and started over. Here’s the final result. Can you tell I’m into pink and purple these days?

Next, I tackled the front porch, where the pots have been empty for months. I think it turned out really well.

Now I’m tired. I think I’ll sit on the front porch chair and gaze out over my kingdom.

There’s no place I’d rather be than the garden. Life is good.

Ten Junes

30 May

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June is almost here and I’ve begun to feel it—that sense of giddy anticipation for the coming summer. All the signs are here—the misty fog banks that hug the coast, the scent of jasmine in the air when I open the front door; the ruffled towers of purple delphinium that sway in the offshore breezes that slip in off the Pacific.

Since I was a girl I’ve associated June with happy affairs—a long vacation from school, the prospect of lazy days spent at the beach, a new part time job—the thrill of a budding summer romance. June was always filled with a sense of endless possibility and hope.

Then in 2007, June turned on me. It became the month my daughter, Isa was diagnosed with leukemia.

Exactly ten years have passed since Isa’s diagnosis of cancer, when the perfect month of June lost its allure and became a time associated with doctors, nurses and hospitals; with antibiotic cocktails, blood transfusions and chemotherapy. When June became a time saturated with anxiety as my two year-old developed an angry rash all over her body and suddenly stopped eating because her mouth was filled with painful sores. June was raging fevers, sweat-soaked hospital sheets and sleepless nights. June was spending our twentieth wedding anniversary in an isolated hospital room watching our daughter suffer. June was thinking Isa could die.

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Isa  in the hospital on her third birthday.

But June turned out to be other things, as well. It was the wisdom of the doctors and the compassion of the nurses who held our hands, loved our daughter and reassured us that Isa would be all right. It was when our family, friends and community gave us their unconditional support through selfless acts of kindness—big and small. June was when we received that phone call from the doctor telling us that Isa had responded rapidly to the chemotherapy and was in remission.

Ten years.

In a few weeks, Isa will graduate from sixth grade. Like the jasmine that grows outside my front door, Isa has blossomed into a beautiful young girl—outgoing, smart, funny and most importantly, kind. Today she is considered cured and shows no residual effects from the chemotherapy.

As I stand on my front porch and look out at my garden, I realize the anxiety I carried for so long is gone. I am no longer afraid. Isa is still here with us and for this I am forever grateful. As summer stretches out before me, I feel only wonder for the possibility of what is to come.

June has come back to me.

 

Isa in a commercial for Santa Barbara Cottage Children’s Hospital

 

Friday Blooms

26 May

Happy Friday! Here’s a little color to brighten your day. Hope you all have a wonderful Memorial Day weekend!img_1284img_1274img_1276img_1281img_1280img_1279img_1277

Rejection

2 May

Voting and protest concept

I had no idea how hard this was going to be. Don’t get me wrong—I knew there would be rejection. I just didn’t realize how much rejection.

It’s been a year since I began searching to find representation for my novel, Lost in Oaxaca. The very first week I began the process of querying agents, I got a response from a well-known literary house in New York City. The woman who owned the agency emailed me back within a day. “I like this,” she wrote after reading the first chapter. “Send me the full manuscript as soon as possible.”

Well, that was easy, I gloated, expecting her to call me within a few weeks with an offer of representation. LOL. Or TTJTRWJ which means Time to join the real world, Jess. Eight months later, she finally emailed me back.

Dear Jessica,

I have had this for so long that it’s time for me to face up to the reality, which is that I like this but I don’t love it, and that’s why I keep putting it down and picking it up again.

I’m sorry to disappoint you, but I can’t represent something for which I have only moderate enthusiasm, and that is not something you should want either.

I feel it’s a little too romancey for my taste. The writing is good, but not spectacular. It’s a near miss, but one that I have to take seriously.

Good luck with this. Someone else might be interested, but I have concluded that I am not the right person for this.

Good, but not spectacular. A near miss. Ouch. Okay, so she didn’t love it. We all have different tastes. That’s to be expected. Someone else out there is bound to love it.

I keep a yellow legal notebook pad where I write down whom I’ve queried and the date I sent the email. When I receive a rejection, I write a big “NO” across the name. I have written “NO” forty-eight times. Really. Forty-eight times. I just counted.

I can tell that most of the rejections are form letters. I get it—sincerely, I do. Every day, these people are inundated with thousands of emails from hopeful authors like me—how can they possibly take time to respond with a personal note?

This is not to say I haven’t had some positive response. In the course of one year, I’ve had five agents request the full manuscript. After reading my novel they all graciously declined, but at least they asked to read it. I guess that’s something. Recently, I received the one and only rejection email where the agent (from another well-known New York literary agency) actually took the time to offer suggestions.

Dear Jessica,

Thank you for the opportunity to read Lost in Oaxaca. I enjoyed the detailed portraits of musical subcultures, family life, and travel experiences, and found your imagery quite engaging. I also appreciated the story’s diverse cast of characters and emphasis on inter-cultural engagement. However, this aspect of the story often felt forced and didactic. Characters like Camille’s mother felt too much like caricatures of xenophobia to be convincing, and Camille was often frustratingly naïve, in spite of her intelligence. In order to challenge readers, the story’s political aspects must be more challenging and complex. This manuscript was well-crafted, and I wish you the best of luck with it in the future.

Now, that’s concrete advice I can use. I took her suggestions to heart and have already re-worked parts of my manuscript. What I really appreciate is that she actually took the time to offer her expertise to someone she doesn’t know. That’s true professional courtesy. I think that when I do publish this damn book, I’m going to acknowledge this particular agent for being so thoughtful.

I have many good qualities but my best one is patience. Therefore, I AM NOT GIVING UP. I have sent out eighty-six queries and more than half have said NO. Some never responded. But I AM NOT GIVING UP. Some agent out there is bound to read my query and be intrigued enough to ask for the manuscript. Hopefully, that person will fall in love with my characters just as I have—and then I’ll get the phone call I’ve been waiting for.

And the rest will be herstory.

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The Miracle of Rain

11 Apr

Like magic, the rains came back this year. It’s been a very long drought, and although we’re not yet where we need to be in Santa Barbara, we’re definitely in better shape now than we have been for the past five parched years. The hills are green and flowers are blooming everywhere!

My garden is so happy!

Staying Put

28 Mar

When one lives in paradise, it’s nearly impossible to find vacation spots that compare to home. Our solution? A staycation. We explore our own community and pretend we’ve never seen it before. Yesterday, we took a drive up in the Santa Ynez mountains, had lunch downtown and took in a late afternoon movie (Get Out–a fantastic film.) This morning was breakfast at Anna’s Bakery and a walk to our local nature preserve. I am so grateful to live in Goleta the Goodland.

Here’s a slideshow of our hike this morning. Enjoy!

Now I’m off to work in the garden.

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Tiny Beautiful Things

1 Mar

I recently read the most wonderful book: Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed, the author of the best selling memoir, Wild. This lovely little book is a compilation of letters sent to the author while she worked writing an advice column for the Rumpus called Dear Sugar. My childhood friend Michele (one of my fellow creative soul sisters) recommended it to me as she understands my constant angst about trying to find happiness through creative expression.

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I needed this book right now. I haven’t felt like myself lately. Each morning when I turn on the television I want to either scream or cry at what’s happening in our country. I need to start my next novel and every time I sit down at the computer–I’ve got nothing. I stare blankly at the screen until I finally give up and log into Facebook where the political posts made me even more depressed. Just before falling asleep in bed each night, my brain manifests all kinds of wonderful and exciting writing ideas, then when I wake up the next morning, I can’t remember a single one.

The best thing about Tiny Beautiful Things is that we learn something that we already know: life is hard sometimes. We are all sad and raw and completely lost at some point in our lives. the trick is to understand that with each experience there’s a lesson to be learned. We don’t always pay attention, but it’s there.

I’m not sure what my lesson is lately. Certainly, I need to feel more gratitude for what I have. And I have so much. So I will pay attention to all the tiny beautiful things that are right in front of me.

 

 

 

Marching

24 Jan
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My daughters, Nora and Isa with my husband, Rene at the Los Angeles Women’s March last Saturday.

This past Saturday I marched. While my husband and two of my daughters drove to attend the women’s march in Los Angeles, I opted to participate locally in Santa Barbara and marched down State Street with two of my closest friends. I’ve never attended a protest march before, and I’ve got to say, it was a magical experience seeing so many people come together to make a statement. But then, I’m a white woman of privilege, and this gives me the option of feeling good about my participation. I’m allowed to pat myself on the back for taking part in this wave of change.

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The crowd in De la Guerra Plaza, Santa Barbara

It’s difficult to admit to myself that because I’m white, my life is easier than those of my family members and friends of color. I can try to assert that as a woman, I’ve been on the receiving end of sexist and misogynistic behavior, but the truth is that because of my color, (or lack thereof) I’m given a free pass to do pretty much what I want with my life. Although for almost thirty years I’ve been married to a man of color while living comfortably in liberal Santa Barbara, California, I’ve gotten comfortable wearing my upper middle-class blinders all these years. I’ve deceived myself into believing that most people are color blind.

They’re not.

We’re not.

I’m not.

The sooner we talk about this, the sooner real change can happen.

Please read the following for some valuable perspective on this issue.

From my author friend, Tracey Baptiste’s Facebook page:

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Tracey Baptiste

January 22 at 5:15am ·

This picture has been making the rounds, and making people feel a lot of things. Some think it’s an image of defiant division on a day of unity. It’s not. But I’ll get to that.

There are a lot of things about this image that I love. I love the faces of the women, the colors, the composition: the way the foreground is off to the side, and the background is centered. I love the juxtaposition of the sign and its message with the women standing behind and above it. I love that the holder of the sign is looking away, sucking a lollipop.

This image holds many ideas at once: beauty, defiance, mockery, chill, joy, power, bravery, which is probably why it strikes a nerve with different people for different reasons. It does much of what I was taught art is supposed to do: provoke, entertain, speak real emotional truth.

But there is another idea I see in this picture: betrayal.

People are hurt by this photo because “not all white women…” except that’s not the point of the sign. The sign is hyperbole. But the feeling of betrayal this woman feels, and is expressing are not.
She has come to the march with her sign, with the very women she feels have betrayed her at her back. But she has come anyway because there is a bigger cause. A bigger fight. She probably feels if it was a black issue that none of these women would stand with her as she is standing with them, but she has come anyway. And she has come with a clear communication to those around her that their activism has not been intersectional. Their calls for unity are hypocritical. But there she is.

This is not an image of divisiveness. This is an image of unity with the very people who would divide HER, despite their divisiveness.

I love this photo.

ETA: Photo credit: Angela Marie Peoples co-director of Get Equal Now

 

From my daughter, Leah’s Facebook page in response to an article in the Huffington Post: 

 http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/before-you-celebrate-the-zero-arrests-at-the-womens-march_us_588617e4e4b0e3a7356a3ee4?

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There are so many thought-provoking pieces available on the significance of the women’s march this past weekend. They all put into words what I haven’t been able to articulate over the past few days: the feeling of simultaneous joy and discomfort that refuses to settle in my stomach. Because, let’s be real: the march, a beautiful display of love, respect, unity, and progress, was also evidence of the continued issues of intersectionality (racism, classism, cis-predominant and anti-trans sentiments, ableism, etc.) that exist within the realm of feminism and women’s rights.
I just want to say…as a biracial, white-brown woman, I am used to the nausea that comes with feeling two things at once. The feeling when you are both right and wrong; both white and brown; both privileged and oppressed; both an activist and the perpetrator. But for those of you experiencing it for the first time – namely, the first-time protesters who marched on Saturday and are all of a sudden being told that your activism was only motivated by convenience and Facebook likes – listen to me. Take a deep breath. It’s okay!! You, and those who are saying these things, are both right and wrong. Yes, both. Yes, it’s uncomfortable. But you marched, or thought about marching – you’re an activist now. And to be an activist is to face your own faults, privilege, and mistakes head on, humbly, and with the understanding that just because showing up late is better than not showing up at all, that doesn’t mean that everyone has to celebrate your arrival.
I am fortunate in that my contradictions lie directly in the diluted melanin of my skin – it’s like my light-brown tone serves as a constant, visual reminder that I can have two truths at once. To my white women friends and family members, I am sorry you do not have as obvious of a cue to own your dual realities, because it is going to take so much more effort to get used to your co-existing identities of being both the oppressed and the oppressor. And I am sorry for wishing this transformation upon you because I know that being called out for your privilege is not a good feeling – but it is a necessary one, because it is truth.
So don’t avoid the articles like this one. Seek them out. Embrace the discomfort. Preach the duality of your identities to those who might not have woken up yet, but are on their way. Because we are all needed right now, at the marches, on the phones, and in the everyday conversations that change minds and promote empathy. We all need to show up, shut up, and get to work.

 

Let’s start talking.

Really talking.

Happy New Year

11 Jan
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The Mireles Family: Back row: Nino, Nora and Leah. Front row: Rene, Isa and Jessica

I’ll be honest–due to my complete lack of preparation and general malaise, I neglected to get my annual holiday letter out before Christmas. I did manage to send out a few cards, but if you didn’t get one this year, here it is. I’m sharing it on my blog because after a rough 2016 for all of us, I feel the need to spread some love.

Dear Family and Friends (and Blog Followers),

Okay, I know I’m late in getting our annual Christmas letter out this year and I’ve no doubt most of you were paralyzed with fear and dread that I wasn’t writing one. Rest assured, I will not leave you in your state of angst any longer. You may now drag yourself out from under the covers and move on with your life.

As difficult as it is to focus on the good after 2016 went flying off the deep end, my plan of action is to try my best to focus on the one thing that has the ability to solve everyone’s problems: LOVE.

Here goes:

NORA: My oldest and favorite child. I love that Nora still lives at home even though she worries that she’s too old to still be living at home. I love that she adores her job working with such amazing women at California Retina Consultants and has developed wonderful relationships with them. I love that Nora plays coed fast pitch softball and that she’s really, really good at it. I love that Nora drives a Prius and has become totally vegan and is now super healthy. I love that she’s trying to convince the rest of the family to do it too (hmmm….we’ll have to see about that.) I love that she’s goofy, funny and kind and still tolerates me and René (most of the time.)

LEAH: My second oldest and favorite child. I love that Leah is will graduate in May from USC with a masters in Hospital Administration. I love that after working a full-time unpaid internship at Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles while going to school full time, the hospital hired her for a paid position. I love that Leah wrote an incredible essay about healthcare and won a huge scholarship that paid half a year’s tuition. I love that she took a solo trip to Italy to meet up with a friend. I love that Leah and her boyfriend, Jeff come and visit us often and bring their dog Luna, who is my favorite granddoggy. I love that Leah is so funny, kind and generous to our family as well as the rest of the world. (And I love Jeff, too.)

NINO: My only son and favorite child. I love that Nino graduated from UCSB last June as an art major. I love that in July he moved to Oaxaca, Mexico to live for six months (he just got back right before Christmas which is why this letter is late—I mean, what kind of mother would I be if I took our family Xmas photo without him? I love that the minute he arrived home, he got his old job back (with a raise) and started working right away with the intent to pay off his student debt within the year. I love that he makes me belly laugh all the time. I love that I didn’t realize how much I missed him until he was home again.

ISA: My youngest and favorite child. I love that this kid is so great that sometimes I have to close my eyes and thank the universe that she’s here with us. I love that she was elected La Patera School’s student body president and when she came home from school that day, she very nonchalantly told me she’d won. I love that she does cartwheels and handstands around the house like a crazy person, plays soccer, takes piano, voice and dance lessons and does her homework without asking. I love that she begged for an iPhone and got it for her 12th birthday (and Christmas and sixth grade graduation.) I love how she laughs all the time and that she can come up with puns and zingers that put her siblings to shame. I love that I don’t embarrass her in public (or at least not yet.)

RENE: My favorite husband (so far.) I love that René comes home from work each day raving about how much he loves his students. I love that he still drives to L.A. almost every weekend to see his sister who is confined to a nursing home. I love that he yells at me to get off my phone and then proceeds to spend hours playing games on his. I love that wherever we go, he meets someone he knows. I love that he values family above all else. I love that he stops for coffee at McDonald’s everyone morning on the way to work and has breakfast with a group of homeless men. I love that even when I want to kill him, he makes me laugh. I love that we will celebrate thirty years of marriage this coming June. And I especially love that I still love him after all these years together.

ME: my favorite self. I love that I’m blessed with the best job where I teach children how to love music. I love that I got to spend several days at a beach house with a group of women friends I’ve known since junior high. I love that I finished my novel and am now trying to find an agent. I love that I’ve received over thirty rejections (really—I do love this because it will make it all the more sweet when it actually gets picked up.) I love that the five people I’ve allowed to read my book have raved about it (including Nino, who is a hard sell.) I love that my mom is still going strong at eighty. I love that my kids tease me and laughingly accuse me of turning into my mother. I love that I dote on my two lap dogs, Cody and Leo. I love that I still work in my flower garden and that it brings me so much joy. I love that our extended family spent Christmas together and had such a wonderful time.

2016 was a challenge, and perhaps 2017 will be as well, but I love that I will ALWAYS try to find the good around me. I love that I will always try to be a helper to those who are disenfranchised and looked down upon. I love that I will never stop believing that the majority of us are kind and moral people who choose to see that deep down we are all the same.

We send our warmest wish of LOVE, happiness and good health to all of you in the coming year!

HAPPY NEW YEAR!

René, Jessica, Nora, Leah, Nino and Isa (and Cody and Leo, too!)

Miracle

12 Dec

img_0612My youngest daughter, Isa turns twelve years old today. I guess you could say she’s a bit of a miracle–born to a mother in her forties whose other three kids were practically grown up when she entered the world with a lusty cry and a head full of thick, black hair. Then, when she was a toddler, this miracle girl did something even bigger: she was diagnosed with cancer and after a fierce battle, she survived. And as a family, we also survived. The greatest miracle of all is that through this nightmare of cancer, Isa taught us how to live.

Today is a special day: Isa’s golden birthday. She is 12 on 12/12. It’s also the birthday of the Virgin de Guadalupe, who is an iconic saint in Mexican culture. When Isa was going through treatment, when her hair fell out and her belly swelled from the medication, Rene took a short trip back to Oaxaca to see his family. While in Mexico City, he went to the Basilica of our Lady of Guadalupe to make an offering to the Virgincita and to pray for Isa’s life. Now, my husband could certainly win the prize for the best lapsed Catholic, but going to that shrine somehow comforted him, offering him hope during a very dark time.

Since that time, our family has made it a tradition to go to Olvera Street in Los Angeles on Isa’s birthday to Our Lady Queen of Angels Catholic Church to offer our thanks for another year with our beautiful daughter. We went last night and had a wonderful time, marveling at the beautiful culture of Mexico and deeply grateful that Isa is still here with us.

Happy Birthday, Isa!

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