So Legit

14 Oct

slang photoI’ve reached a point in my life where I’ve mostly become irrelevant when it comes to my fourteen year-old daughter. It doesn’t help that I had Isa when I was 42, which pretty much makes me a geriatric mother. Now, that is a scary thought for both of us. These days, I’m lucky if she even talks to me. It’s not that she’s mean, or rude (well, sometimes she’s rude)—it’s mostly that she’s indifferent about what I have to say. She will speak to me when she needs a new dress for the homecoming dance, or to tell me she has absolutely no shoes, and can we please run out to Rite Aid because her is skin is so dry that if she doesn’t GET THAT PARTICULAR FACE CREAM RIGHT NOW her face may fall off.

Mostly, what I’m having trouble with is her vernacular. I often have to concentrate really hard to understand what she’s talking about. Honestly, if I hear her say low-key, legit, or chillax one more time, I may scream. And don’t get me started on the memes:

Scene One (of many)

Isa: laughing uproariously with her phone five inches from her face.

Me: (smiling) “What’s so funny?” (This question is usually asked three times before there is any verbal response.)

Isa: “You wouldn’t get it, Mom.”

Me: “Yes, I will. Just show me.”

Isa: (rolling her eyes) shows me a disjointed video of something that moves by so fast I can’t even register what it is. I watch it three times before handing the phone back to her.

Me: (frowning) “You’re right. I don’t get it.”

Isa: (letting out an almost imperceptive sigh while continuing to scroll through Instagram) “Tol ya.”

Now, I don’t mean to diss my kid—(is “diss” still acceptable?) She’s actually an extremely lovely child who gets good grades, has a robust social life, and is wittily hilarious when we do have the occasional convo (hey, give me a little credit—I’m trying.) And if I’m lucky, she’ll open up and actually tell me what’s going on in her life. I’ve found that the best way to get her to talk is when we walk the dogs or ride in the car together. Initially, if I just shut up and don’t ask questions—the conversation will start to flow. Before long, we are legit talking to each other, and it is da bomb.

Maybe, the next time we talk, I’ll throw in a little of my own 1970’s slang. I’ll say that something’s bad when I really mean good. I’ll end each description with to the max or tell her that the situation is totally bogus and that dude is bitchen.

Then again, maybe I’ll just be quiet and let her do the talking. . .

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Isa, then. . .

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And now. . .

Friends in High Places

24 Sep

img_5986Recently, I made friends with a green Lynx spider in my garden. Which is stupid, because spiders and people can’t really have relationships. But we humans love to anthropomorphize the creatures we come in contact with, so in my mind, “Lynxie” and I were friends. I’m sure our friendship was the furthest thing from Lynxie’s mind; she probably considered me a nuisance, if not a predator, as I spent a great deal of time examining her up close.

I was drawn to Lynxie because she was spectacular: a beautiful green color with an intricate geometric design on her back. She had made her home on a large black-eyed Susan plant, as her green color exactly matched that of the leaves. After I posted a photo of her on social media, friends on Instagram and Facebook set out to discover what kind of spider she was. In a matter of hours, I knew all I needed to know about my new best friend: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peucetia_viridans

For weeks, I checked on her each morning, watching with fascination as she waited patiently for her prey (mostly bees and moths) to get close. My family got involved as well, making it a habit to check on her every time we walked by the flower bed. Soon there was an egg sack attached to the stem—and we were thrilled—babies were on the way!img_6052

Days passed, and she stayed put, but something was different: she was no longer catching and eating her prey. She began to shrink, and her vibrant green color began to fade. It was as if she was putting all her energy into her babies. I began to worry about her.

Yesterday morning, I stopped to check on my friend. She was gone. Panicked, I inspected the entire plant to see if she had moved to another leaf, but I couldn’t locate her. Did she move closer to the ground to have her babies? Had another predator spied her egg sack and thought it was a delicious hors d’oeuvre? Or even worse, was she sick of my constant scrutiny and decided to flee?

Whatever her reasons are for ghosting me, I wish her luck. She brought me and my family great joy, and I don’t regret a single moment we spent together.

Proof that her sudden disappearance has affected the entire family:

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I’m a Writer

30 Aug
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The beautiful mountains of Oaxaca

Six years ago, I sat down and wrote a paragraph. That paragraph turned into a page, then into a chapter, and finally, into a complete manuscript. To this day, I have no idea how I accomplished this. While I’d written a few short essays and even blogged semi-regularly, I had absolutely no concept of the process of putting together a cohesive narrative with an engaging plot line, vivid descriptions, and realistic dialogue. What made me think I had the audacity to publish a novel? I’m nobody—a middle-aged woman with no formal education in creative writing. A musician—not a writer.

But here I am, about to publish my first novel. April 21, 2020 is the day that Lost in Oaxaca will be released into world. Now, I’m not so naïve to believe that having published a novel will change my life in any tangible way. There are millions of authors out there, many who’ve written really good books. My little novel is just a tiny blip in the radar of words floating around in the literary universe.

But here’s the thing: Now, when people ask me what I do, I can say, I’m a writer. They’ll probably give me a skeptical look and say, Why, bless your little heart, honey. Have you ever published anything?”

“Why, yes I have,” I’ll reply with a smile. “Check out my novel on Amazon. . .”

Burn.

I may never publish anything again. I hope that’s not the case, but one never knows. But at least I can say that I doggedly stuck with something. All those years of writing, rewriting, cutting out, and revising, only to face such rejection. Seriously, in the span of two years, I was rejected or ignored by over 80 literary agents in the publishing world. But bless my little heart, I DID NOT GIVE UP.

Luckily, I found She Writes Press. Now here’s a group of women who support and celebrate other women writers—a publisher who doesn’t care that I’m a middle-aged nobody who has no marketable platform or ten thousand followers. They care about the voice of the author, and the quality of the writing. So I guess I should feel pretty good that they decided Lost in Oaxaca was worthy enough to be published.

The truth is, we women writers need to support each other. The publishing world is only one of the many places where women face adversity. Brooke Warner, the co-founder of She Writes Press, has just released a wonderful book called, Write On Sisters: Voice, Courage, and Claiming Your Place at the Table. I highly recommend it to all of my sister writers out there. It’s time we all sat down at the table together!

Write On, Sisters!

I now have a Facebook Author Page: Jessica Winters Mireles-author. Take a look and give me a Like if you would. And a new website is in the works. Don’t worry, I’ll definitely keep you posted. And I’ll apologize in advance for my incessant self-promotion. But if I don’t do it, who will?

Thank you, my dear readers for all of your support over the years. I truly appreciate all of you.

This. Is. Finally. Happening.

Terror

15 Jul

img_0494Over five years ago, when I first began writing my novel, “Lost in Oaxaca,” I never allowed myself to believe it would be published someday. Actually, that’s a lie. I did think about it—occasionally. Um, that’s another whopper. The truth is, I fantasized about it for hours on end; imagining what it would feel like to hold a book in my hands that had my name on it. To open it and see the words that I created spilling off the pages. The joy I’d feel upon seeing it on the shelf at the library, or prominently displayed in the bookstore. I could even see the line snaking around the building during my book signing at the famous Chaucer’s Book Store in Santa Barbara http://www.chaucersbooks.com/. I thought about the elation I’d experience knowing that people would be reading my story—taking a journey through a narrative that I created all on my own—connecting with my story (and ultimately me) in some intimate way.

So now that it’s happening, have I felt any joy? Nope. Elation? Not even close.

Try TERROR.

But before I get to terror, I’m going to touch a bit on vulnerability. Now, I get that most people’s literature preferences are subjective, and undoubtedly there are those who will read my book and absolutely hate it. Either because Contemporary Romance (dealing with current issues such as white privilege, racism, and illegal immigration) is not their cup of tea, or it’s because they don’t like the way I write. Or maybe they think my novel is too commercial, and not “literary” enough. Maybe they’ve already previewed the novel and disliked it, but were afraid to tell me because they love me and didn’t want to hurt my feelings.

On the flip side, there are those who’ve read it and raved about it. And I choose to believe them. The first friend I shared it with read it within two days. After she finished it, she sent me a text at midnight bubbling over with enthusiasm about how much she loved it. I don’t think she’ll ever know how life-changing that was for me (Thanks, Zip!) In any case, love it or hate it, putting my work out there for everyone to judge is definitely not easy. That pervasive voice in my head that’s been telling me my entire life that I’m not good enough is practically screaming at this point.

The terror part comes into play because I had no idea that when my book was finally done, the real work would begin. Initially, it was over three years of writing the damn manuscript. Then, almost two years of sending out query letters to agents, which were usually followed by a terse “it’s not what I’m looking for right now,” or worse, receiving no reply at all. After close to 100 outright rejections, I finally queried an Indie hybrid publishing company called She Writes Press who publish only women authors (read about them here: https://shewritespress.com/about-swp/) Thank goodness, they were willing to take a chance on a middle aged, unknown author like me.

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She Writes Press just won the 2019 Indie Publisher of the Year award by the Independent Book Publishing Professionals Group!

Unlike a traditional publisher, who I assume pretty much does everything for the author, I have to take on most of the workload myself. This is indeed frightening—although I’ve got to say that the incredible powerhouse women at She Writes Press are wonderful in holding my hand as I navigate the process. The exciting thing about publishing with a hybrid company is that I invest in my own publication for a greater share of the profits. It means hiring and working with a copy editor (truly an amazing experience), choosing a book cover design, creating an author tip sheet, website and specific social media accounts, and finally, hiring a publicist. All of this can get quite expensive on a piano teacher’s salary, but if the book sells reasonably well, maybe I can recoup some of my investment. Ultimately, it doesn’t really matter; my objective was to write and publish a novel, and that’s what I’m doing. And no matter what it costs, I’m worth it.

April 21, 2020 is my “pub date” as they say in the business (and no, it doesn’t mean grabbing a beer with a friend.) As I get closer to the big day, I guarantee I’ll be posting about it—a lot. In fact, so much so that you may become quite sick of me. I apologize for this in advance.

Thank you, my dear readers, for your continued support. I hope you’ll enjoy coming along with me on this incredible ride!

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Off we go!

 

Profound

3 Jun

img_2435Lately, I’ve been spending an inordinate amount of time sitting front of the computer, trying to think of something profound to write. This is not easy, considering the amount of distractions I face. At this moment, the dogs are downstairs barking at some felonious trespasser who is currently walking past our house. Coming from the obnoxious yipping being produced, this interloper is a serious threat to my life. Next door, the sound of the chainsaw from the tree-trimmers grates on me like the whine of a dentist’s drill. In my direct line of vision, there is a hot-pink plastic laundry basket full of dirty laundry that I was supposed to wash last night, but I fell asleep watching House Hunters before I got around to it. It’s literally hissing at me from across the room.img_5554

Then there’s that device we can no longer live without, dinging with all those notifications every few minutes, alerting me to the fact that Trump has a new hair style, or someone has now broken the all-time Jeopardy winnings record. I can’t help it—I hear the ding. I drool.

Here’s the real truth: It’s me. I’m the distraction. I don’t think I can write anything profound because in my mind, I don’t believe I have anything profound to write. This may be because I suffer from “Impostor Syndrome,” which is when a person doubts their abilities and is afraid to be exposed as a fraud. As a fifty-six year-old woman who is becoming more invisible in society as I age, my relevance fades a little more each day. So when someone praises my talents as a writer or musician, the voice inside my head immediately tells me they’re lying.

I think many of us (especially women) fight these internal battles every day. We’re always trying to keep up with this ideal that society has laid out for us—that we’re not good enough unless we (and our children) are beautiful, slim, and successful. Whatever that means. So even if we have wonderful lives with fulfilling jobs and loving families, we come up short as we compare ourselves to others. And here’s the rub: all of those perfect, beautiful women whom we’ve placed up there on that pedestal most likely feel the same way we do—unworthy and vulnerable. They’re just better at hiding it.

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What happened to that young warrior girl?

I’m really trying to change, although it’s not always easy after being programmed to view myself so untruthfully for much of my life. Coming from a generation that judged women on their physical beauty, I still struggle with my own self-image. As a product of this generation who considered it conceited and vain for a female to be proud of her own accomplishments—let alone openly praise herself, I still struggle with acknowledging that I am indeed talented, smart, and worthy. I mean, I f***ing wrote a novel that’s going to be published. This should erase my self-doubt, not increase it. Ugh.

While it might be too late to change the image I carry around about myself, I can certainly change the way I perceive others, especially in my own home. Thanks to my older millennial children who have taught me so much about my outdated perceptions of the world, I am slowly evolving. Instead of praising my fourteen year-old daughter’s physical beauty first, I now tell her how proud I am that she works so hard to achieve her success. Instead of commenting her that her shorts are too short, her yoga pants too tight, or her crop-top too revealing, I tell her that she should be proud of her body, and if she feels good in that outfit, then by all means, wear it.

It’s exhausting judging people all the time. It’s so much easier just to love them. And that goes for loving me, too. Change. What a concept.

How’s that for profound?

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The older and wiser warrior.

 

Accomplished

23 Apr
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Photo credit: Pine & Sea Photography

Throughout my life, I never really considered myself to be accomplished. Sure, I’m good at stuff—I might even be pretty great at a couple of things. But I never thought I was the best at something, until last week, when my daughter, Leah, got married.

Leah is the second of my four children—one of three daughters, and the first to get married. I didn’t have anything to do with the planning of her wedding; not only is Leah creative and artistic, she’s a skilled organizer who puts Marie Kondo to shame. Her now husband, Jeff, is a talented graphic artist, so the two of them (with some help from their talented vendors) were able to pull off a truly amazing wedding celebration without any help from me. Seriously, all I had to do was buy a decent dress and find some pretty shoes that didn’t hurt my feet. I found the dress; the shoes, not so much. Ouch.

It would take too long to list all of the wonderful details and touches Jeff and Leah included in their wedding; let me just say it was beyond anything I could’ve imagined. The venue, the flowers, the music, their vows, the brunch fare (including Krispy Kreme donuts instead of wedding cake) were sublime, in my opinion. And walking Leah down the aisle accompanied by my husband, René, was one of the most joyous occasions of my life (right up there with giving birth four times.)

What impressed me the most over the course of the wedding weekend, were my children. Leah,— it goes without saying—wowed me with everything she managed to do in preparation for the celebration. But my three other kids impressed me as well. They were kind and helpful; solicitous to Leah and her needs, welcoming to Jeff’s family and friends, and generous in so many ways: monetarily, and with their time. What touched me the most, though, was when Nora and Nino gave a toast to Leah during the reception. Standing up together, they expressed their genuine love and appreciation for their sister on her special day. Not only was it humorous, it was so heartfelt that the entire room was in tears.

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Rene, Isa, Nora, and Nino

The love that my children have for each other is inexorable. They support each other fully; they are kind and generous toward each other, they laugh uproariously together. They can always count on each other, no matter what the circumstances. Any most importantly, they love being together—along with us. How lucky are we—that our kids actually enjoy spending time with their parents?

So what I discovered at my daughter’s wedding is that I really am the best at something: being a mother. Somehow, with all of the mistakes I made parenting them, I accomplished something pretty remarkable to have created such lovely children. Perhaps Rene had a little to do with it, too—I guess I’ll have to give him a little credit.

The interesting thing about being the best at being a mom, is that it’s not all that hard. And most of the time it’s kinda fun.

Love you all so much: Nora, Leah, Nino, Isa and now, Jeff.

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Yes, there were dogs involved.

 

A Dalmatian and a Broken Heart

18 Feb

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This is not a story about a Dalmatian or a Super Bowl commercial, although they both played a part in what caused my mother to end up in the hospital with a broken heart.

My mother, Eleanor Green Winters has worn many hats throughout her 82 years of life: wife, mother of three, manufacturing company president, piano teacher and grandmother. Her most recent hat—or more fittingly—crown, is on her head now because she is the Dalmatian Queen of the West Coast.

My mother got her first Dalmatian when she was ten years old. She adored the spotted breed and had been begging her parents to get her one for months, but was always given a resounding “no.” Then her five-year-old brother, Johnny ran out in the street between two parked cars and was struck by a delivery truck. He and my mother had just had a fight during which she had yelled at him, “You’re a little brat! Why don’t you just go away and leave me alone?” She still remembers hearing the screech of the brakes. She can still see Johnny’s eyes rolling back into his head as he lay on the parkway.

She didn’t go to his funeral. Her parents believed it best that she not witness such a somber and traumatic event. They didn’t understand that she already had. My mother stayed home, her child’s mind hatching a plan to get that Dalmatian. She also simultaneously buried into her subconscious the idea that her brother’s death was somehow her fault. A few days after the funeral she cried to my grief-stricken grandparents, “Now that I don’t have a baby brother anymore, couldn’t I at least have a Dalmatian?” She got her first “Pepper” shortly thereafter.

My mother carried on the “Pepper” tradition into our immediate family. If something terrible happened, a Dalmatian always made things better. When I was seven, my three year brother, Tony was severely burned in an explosion after a neighbor boy made a homemade rocket with his father’s gun powder. After he recovered, Pepper Number 1 came into our lives. Next was Pepper Number 2, who was a bit of a terror breaking out of the backyard to roam the streets looking for garbage treats. Ironically, she was hit by a car during one of her nighttime forays and was killed. My father, not a fan of big dogs that shed great amounts of white hair, was done. A third Dalmatian was out of the question.

During my senior year of college, our family was devastated after my father suddenly died of complications from the flu. My mother was only forty-eight. She drowned her grief in gin martinis and once again hatched a plan. She found an ad in the paper offering Dalmatian puppies and two weeks later I went with her to pick up Pepper Number 3, a blue-eyed beauty with a sweet disposition. We would later discover this Pepper was completely deaf. She understood sign language and was the best watchdog we ever had.

After graduation, I married. My husband and I moved in with my mother while he attended college. We began having children and my mother began having Dalmatian litters. To date, she’s had seventeen litters and 133 Dalmatian puppies. I’ve only had four. Children, that is.

My mother’s Dalmatians are national champions and are bred for their friendly temperament. Her well-bred litters have helped change the bad reputation that Dalmatians have had for many years—that they are unfriendly and not good family dogs. Even if you are a believer in rescuing dogs and not breeding them, dogs still get pregnant and puppies still need to get placed in loving homes. My mother is an expert on the birthing process, so much so that she’s recently written a book called So Your Bitch is Pregnant: Raising your First Litter of Puppies from Pregnancy to Placement.

Mom’s got connections in the Dalmatian world, as well. Last summer she was contacted by a company that trains animals for television commercials. Previously, one of her pups had been in an H&M print ad, so they knew she was the one to call. The company ended up taking my mother’s Dalmatian, Phoebe, and Phoebe’s daughter, Fancy, who was owned by a friend. The company took Phoebe and Fancy away for ten days for training and to film the commercial. My mother knew it was for a Budweiser commercial. What she didn’t know at the time was that it was for the Budweiser Super Bowl commercial. My mother also didn’t know which dog would end up being chosen for the spot. She was told not to say anything about the commercial until it aired. And she didn’t.

Budweiser published their commercial, entitled Wind Never Felt Better on YouTube on January 23, 2019. In the world of advertising, it’s a masterpiece. Phoebe opens the spot with her ears flapping in the wind set to Bob Dylan’s classic song. Mom was over the moon to see that it was indeed Phoebe who had made the cut. The identifying spot on Phoebe’s head was unmistakable. We began to share the commercial on Facebook. Our girl was a star! Two days later a local Santa Barbara newscaster came out to the house to interview mom about the “Dalmatian from Goleta.” It aired on our local network that evening. I’d never seen my mother so happy.

The next morning, the heartbreak began.

Mom received a call from the company that hired Phoebe for the shoot. They were freaking out that our dog was on the news and that we were calling her Phoebe. On their own social media, Budweiser had referred to the dog in the commercial as “April” which is the name of the dog they own. The dog-training company was saying that Budweiser was concerned about the attention Phoebe was getting as the Dalmatian in the Super Bowl commercial. The animal training company wanted us to remove all of our social media posts. We took down everything from our own pages, but there was no way we could stop all the sharing that had been occurring on Facebook.

I’ve never seen my mother so upset. Her hands were shaking and she could barely speak. She thought that it was all her fault; that she was responsible for causing problems for the animal training company, not to mention, Budweiser. No one ever told her that she shouldn’t talk about the commercial after it aired, or that she couldn’t say Phoebe was in the commercial. She figured that since it was on YouTube, it was considered aired.

That day was a nightmare. My mother’s blood pressure skyrocketed. She had a major anxiety attack. She finally got word that Budweiser saw the news spot and were fine with it. They asked only that my mother wait until after the Super Bowl commercial aired before she talk any more about it. Even though several news organizations had already contacted her for interviews, she agreed to wait until after the Super Bowl to talk about Phoebe and the commercial.

The following morning, my mother was chatting with a friend on the phone when she started slurring her words. She had trouble forming complete sentences. We thought she was having a stroke. We rushed her to the hospital where they informed us she was experiencing the symptoms of a heart attack. We explained to the doctors about what had transpired the day before and they said it might be something called Takotsubo syndrome, also known as “Broken Heart Syndrome,” which mimics an actual heart attack. This syndrome is only temporary; it’s caused by a sudden stressful situation—often by the death of a loved one. That evening Mom had an angiogram to rule out any coronary blockages. We were relieved to learn there were no blockages and no sign of an actual heart attack.

I can honestly say that my mother was the most popular patient in the hospital that night. The doctors and nurses adored her because she has such a wonderful sense of humor (translation: potty mouth.) And she couldn’t stop bubbling about Phoebe and the Budweiser Super Bowl commercial, as well as the recent publication of her book. The cardiologist told me she was a “breath of fresh air after a very long day of surgeries.”

My mother has now completely recovered, although she still has moments of panic, thinking she’s done something terrible that she can’t fix. She’s been thinking a lot about the connection between what happened to her 75 years ago and her obsession with Dalmatians. How it’s so difficult for her handle any kind of adversity without thinking it’s her fault. Through this experience, she’s realized that she still hasn’t dealt with the deep emotional scars regarding her little brother’s death.

Broken heart or not, my mother is a strong, charismatic woman who still has much to share with the world. Her love of dogs knows no bounds, and her knowledge of the Dalmatian breed is unparalleled. She deserves all the accolades she has received.

Wear that black and white crown with pride, Mom. You are the Dalmatian Queen, and Phoebe is your Super Bowl princess.

Mom will have her book signing at Chaucer’s Bookstore in Santa Barbara this coming Thursday, February 21 at 7:00 p.m.

Happy

3 Jan

 

img_3936I’ve spent much of my life waiting for something to make me happy. If only ________ (fill in the blank) would happen, I’d be happy. If only I had________, everything would be all right. If only I could do _________I’d be fulfilled forever.

IF ONLY, IF ONLY, IF ONLY!

If and when the IF ONLY finally comes to pass (and it does happen occasionally) I’m content for a nanosecond. Then I’m right back to where I was before, hoping and wishing and dreaming of something better.

The other day my husband, René and I were driving somewhere together I must have let out a sigh. He turned to me and said, “You know, Jess—trying to be happy all the time is unrealistic. We may strive to find happiness—we may even have joyful moments here and there, but most of the time, every single one of us is struggling. And it’s okay to be sad. It’s human nature.”

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what he said, particularly because it’s frequently an internal battle for me to find constant happiness. Because I have so much to be grateful for, I feel guilty if I’m not blissful.

Of course I blame my parents. During my loosey-goosey 1970’s childhood, their philosophy was to promote an unrealistic idea of constant sweetness and light—no negativity allowed whatsoever. Happiness was a must—even if we had to fake it. All the while my poor, depressed father drank himself into oblivion every night.

Looking back on his short life (he died at 53) I understand now that he was faking it as well. While struggling daily with his ADHD and severe depression, he tamped down his creative side, trading it in for familial responsibility. I’m sure I’ve inherited some of my melancholy from him, although I’ve been lucky enough to also inherit some of his creativity. Even with all of the childhood angst I experienced, I’m grateful to him and my mother for giving me a life of privilege. I’m thankful I’ve been able to pass that good life down to my own children.

My goal for the coming year is to let go of this unrealistic idea that I must be happy all of the time. I’m going to allow myself to feel sad sometimes. Perhaps this will allow me to truly enjoy those moments of happiness that do come my way. And when they appear, I won’t have to fake it. I’ll allow the happiness fill my soul to the brim.

And when it’s full, I’ll let it spill out into the world.

Happy New Year, my dear readers. You indeed make me happy.

I thank you for that.

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This is me, not faking it.


 

 

Fierce

10 Dec
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photo credit: Kay Bess


Forty-four years ago, an insecure twelve-year old named Jessie stepped foot onto the campus of her junior high school and instantly realized the outfit her mother had bought for her at Sears was all wrong. She nervously tucked a strand of frizzy hair behind one ear before scratching at a group of pimples threatening to erupt on her chin. She felt like crying.

Her previous elementary school friendships had faded away over the summer and Jessie’s main concern that day was that she would end up eating lunch by herself. As noontime approached, her fear intensified. Then something wonderful happened. A pretty, brown-haired angel named Julie sat down next to her in English class and struck up a conversation. She invited Jessie to each lunch with her group.

It was the beginning of a miracle. A miracle that has continued to this day.

After graduation from high school, our friendships ebbed and flowed. Back then we had no social media, making it more difficult to stay in touch. We attended each other’s weddings and baby showers, but as a complete group we didn’t really bind to each other until my mother threw me a surprise 35th birthday party and secretly invited my nine best girlfriends. I don’t think we’ve ever laughed as hard as we did at that party, pouring over old yearbooks and reminiscing about our high school days. I believe it was then that we decided to make it a priority to meet up at least once a year near the holidays. What began as a dinner out eventually turned into an annual three day vacation trip.

Today we are closer than ever, mostly because of our shared history. More importantly, as we age, we find we need each other more. As our marriages end, as our children grow up and leave us; as our bodies begin to fail, we know that we can rely each other for love and support. No one knows me as well as these nine women do. We are free to reveal our true selves without fear of judgement or recrimination. Our secrets, once spilled to the group, are tucked away into the “vault” for all time.

This December, we traveled to Avila Beach and stayed in a lovely house. We had massages and facials. We cooked incredible meals together. We went on walks and bike rides together. We sang, some of us off key, some of us forgetting the words. We laughed so hard we cried.

I still find myself in awe of this unbreakable bond of friendship. When that nervous and insecure twelve year-old Jessie rears up inside my head I sometimes feel lost and afraid. But as soon as I’m with my girls, my strength returns. Because of them, I feel anchored. Because of them, I feel loved.

Because of them I feel fierce.

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Lunch together at Avila Beach, California

Dream Come True

5 Nov

oax 11

Two and a half years ago I sent out my first query letter for my novel, Lost in Oaxaca. Over the course of that time I’ve received more standard rejection emails than I can count (actually I did count them but I’m mortified to admit to you how many are clogging my inbox.) I experienced some lovely moments of hope after receiving a handful of requests from agents to read the full manuscript. Then I was over the moon when the head of a reputable New York literary agency said she was “this close” to adding me to her list. She ultimately chose to decline.

One agent said I’d written “a well-crafted novel” and gave me some helpful advice. Another said she loved the book but had no idea how to market me. I’m not famous. I have no brand. These days, traditional publishing relies so much on who the author is, or what she looks like—it’s no longer focused solely on the writing. I totally get it. What traditional agency would want to take a chance on a middle-aged piano teacher who has hardly published anything?

All hope is not lost, though. I didn’t spend five years of my life writing/editing a novel to give up that easily. I’ve decided to head in a different direction. Come hell or high water, this novel is getting published.

The exciting news is that Lost in Oaxaca was recently accepted by Spark Press Publications, a hybrid agency that selects its authors based solely on the quality of the writing. https://gosparkpress.com/about/.

I know your first thought is that this is merely a vanity press—that anyone with enough cash can get their work published, not matter how good (or bad) it is. After much research, I’ve learned that this is definitely not the case. While I do have to finance the publication, I don’t have to worry about navigating all the difficult details of publishing.  Those details most likely would have led to a mental breakdown had I decided to self-publish. Keeping my sanity is worth the cost.

I’m a late bloomer. I didn’t start writing seriously until I was in my early fifties. With a family and a full time job, I don’t have a heck of a lot of time left over to write, let alone market my novel. This might be my only chance, so I’m going for it.

Barring any unforeseen problems, Lost in Oaxaca should come out in sometime in 2020.

Watch for the movie version shortly after that.

A girl can dream, can’t she?

 

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