End of Summer Beauty

29 Aug

As I sit and wait for the dermatologist to cut yet another basal cell carcinoma from my face (sunscreen, folks–it’s a must!) I’m thinking about how the summer sped by at warp speed. In contrast with last year’s scorching heat wave, this August has been remarkedly mild with cool mornings and highs of 75 in the afternoon. By the end of summer my garden is normally looking pretty ratty, but this time it seems to have sprung to life like a post-menopausal Renaissance. Everything is exploding with color and vibrancy! I’m hoping this weather pattern is an indication that La Niña is going to come through for Southern California after El Niño left us high and dry. Enough of this damn drought. Enjoy the flowers!

The Bully

12 Aug

I live with a bully in my head who says awful things to me all day long—despicable things I would never dream of saying to a friend, let alone an enemy (if I had one.) Yet I find myself listening with rapt attention to my tormentor, choosing instead to believe the negative rhetoric when I should be grabbing it by the collar and telling it to SHUT UP once and for all. It’s like having a personal Donald Trump in my brain. Even as I write these words, Donald is telling me that I’m a terrible writer, that no one cares what I have to say—that I’m basically a DISASTER, folks.

mean face

I’m sure my depressed state of mind can be attributed to quite a lot of recent rejection and the fact that I still haven’t found an agent to represent my novel. I was off to such a great start back in May. After querying some agents, several requested to read the full manuscript. I happily emailed my novel off to them, halfway expecting them to all say YES! Your novel is exactly what we’re looking for! Please sign with us!

Yeah, right. Instead, it was “While your writing is quite good, no one here is willing to take on your novel as a project…” or “This is not the right fit for our agency, but as the literary business is quite subjective, I’m sure there are other agents out there who will feel differently…”

We’ve all heard the stories—writers pasting up their rejection letters on the wall or keeping a file folder of rejection emails—or how now famous writers received hundreds of rejections before finally publishing that bestselling novel.

I know I’ve just begun the process of many months—maybe even years of trying to get published. As of today, I’ve received over twenty-five rejections—twenty five people telling me that they don’t want me. I know this is to be expected, but it still hurts. I will hold out hope that I soon hear from the one agent who liked my story and told me that although she had a pile of manuscripts to read, mine was on her list. She told me to be patient.

I will wait. I will keep sending out queries. And I will fight with everything I’ve got to ignore that annoying Donald Trump voice in my head.

That bully is going down.

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Love Always Wins

19 Jun

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It’s been a rough week for our country. There’s been so much violence and hate lately. Yet after spending time in the garden this afternoon, I feel a great sense of hope as I focus on the diverse beauty around me.

While I’ve been horrified at what occurred in Orlando, I’m in awe of the outpouring of love from all over the world. It’s evident that love is so much more powerful than hate.

We are a remarkable nation of color and we are all equally vibrant!

It’s going to be okay. Love always wins, no matter what.

God Bless America.

Waiting for the Mail

24 May

rusty mailboxMy addiction to the mail began when I was fourteen and developed a mad crush on the teenage drummer of a band who came to play at one of our high school dances. Sadly, I wasn’t there with a date, but as a member of a high school service club I was required to stay and clean up after the dance. The drummer’s name was Bob and he had feathery brown hair and a real mustache. He and the rest of his band mates wore matching peach satin shirts and tight-fitting cream-colored bell bottoms (cue Bee Gees soundtrack) and I willingly gave him my address so he could write to me. Every day for two weeks I eagerly checked our rusty mailbox after school expecting a letter—nothing. I’d pretty much given up all hope when it finally arrived—a square white envelope with my name scrawled across the front in untidy black ink. To this day, I still remember the absolute thrill of holding that letter in my hands.

Thus began my life of waiting for the mail. The college acceptance letter. The Christmas check from the wealthy aunt. The airmail letters from my husband (then boyfriend) who, after our intense three-week affair, left me to go back to his hometown in Mexico.

Although I still love to receive letters in the mail, my new obsession is all about email. Instead of running to the curb to check the mailbox for love letters, I constantly check my phone to see if any literary agents have responded to the queries I’ve sent out about my novel. Most agents tell you that it will take eight to twelve weeks for them to respond. I’ve had some responses—so far it’s been mostly No, thanks, although I have had a couple of requests to read the full manuscript. I’m hopeful someone will believe in my work enough to take me on as a client.

I suspect that this time I’ll be waiting quite a while. Good thing I’ve had lots of practice over the years.

Sorry I’ve got to go now—my phone just dinged!

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One of the many letters Rene sent to me from Oaxaca while we were apart.

Who am I?

16 May

 

dna testing kit

For Mother’s Day, my children got me one of those DNA testing kits where I have to spit into a vial and mail it in to a company who will test it and tell me who I am.

Who am I?

It’s all the rage right now to find out who you are by researching your ancestry. Many of my friends are going onto Ancestry.com to find out more about their distant relatives. Families are truly fascinating. I especially love that PBS show Finding Your Roots where celebrities learn about their backgrounds.

I’ve never really felt connected in any way to one specific ethnic group. Being born a white American I’ve always envied those who come from big families and wholeheartedly embrace their culture. My parents migrated to California from Baltimore in the early sixties and I grew up without any extended family nearby. To this day, I’ve not met several of my first cousins. Beyond my immediate family, I’ve never had that sense of belonging to a clan.

I know some of my heritage. My father was half-Italian but didn’t discover this about himself until he was in his forties, after my grandfather—the estranged son of immigrant Italians—died and his secret past was uncovered. Maybe that’s why I married a Latino man with thirteen siblings and a strong family connection—that little bit of Italian in me was crying out for some familia.

I’m intrigued to find out if there are any big surprises in my DNA—besides being part Italian, maybe I have something else going on from my mom’s side—something other than western European—something exotic.

My kids also got my husband a DNA kit. I think he’s a little hesitant to do it—probably because he doesn’t want to know how much Spanish blood is mixed into his Zapotec blood.

I guess it doesn’t really matter what we find out about ourselves. Sometime in the future, there will be so much genetic mixing that we’ll all end up looking pretty much the same.

Which is really what we all are on the inside anyway—the same.

I’ll be sure to let you know who I am when I find out.

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My Italian great grandparents, Giuseppi and Rosa Intrieri (a.k.a. Joseph and Rose Winters)

The Pacification

19 Apr

 

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My son, Nino is graduating from University of California Santa Barbara this coming June. He is an art major who specializes in printmaking. This week he’s having a solo art show at UCSB’s Glass Box Gallery entitled “The Pacification” which explores his relationship with his father. Since many of you won’t be able to attend, I thought I’d share some of his work on my blog.

I’m so proud of Nino for following his passion. He started U.C.S.B. as an Economics/Accounting Major and I knew this was not the path he should have chosen. Luckily, he realized that creating art is what makes him happy and changed his major. In July he’ll be off to live in Oaxaca for sixth months where he will continue to study printmaking.

Here is the explanation behind this show and some examples of his work:

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The artist, Nino Mireles

What Now?

4 Apr

I’ve loved books forever. As a young girl, I was never without something to read. Whether it was a library book (best smell in the world, in my opinion) my brother’s tattered MAD Magazines or the back of a cereal box, I devoured words. Books allowed me to escape into a world of my own choosing; they took me on adventures, they let me be somebody else for a little while when it was too painful to be me.

As a kid, my dream was either to become a concert pianist or a writer. I ended up pursuing music because I was pretty good at it, although I don’t think I was ever competitive enough to make it as a concert artist. Instead, I became a piano teacher. Truthfully, I’m glad I chose that path as it allowed me the chance to raise my four children while I worked from home.

My other dream–the writing dream–never did die out, though. For years I fantasized about writing a novel but never did anything about it–either I was too busy or the fear of failure stopped me before I even wrote that first sentence. That changed when my youngest daughter was diagnosed with cancer. I’ve beaten that story into the ground so I won’t rehash it, but I will say that experience was the turning point for me. The lesson was obvious: time is short so follow your passion.

I got to it. I began blogging. I published an essay in a small magazine and one in an online publication. Nothing big, but it was a start. I blogged some more. Then I sat down and began writing a novel. I blogged some more and got better at my writing.  I joined a writer’s group and shared my stuff. They liked it. Now, ninety thousand words later, I have actually finished a novel.

Now what?

Here comes the hard part. Being new at this trying to get your noel published game, it’s like I’m starting back at square one. Everyone has opinions on what to do: send out queries; find and agent; no, no–don’t do that–self publish instead! I know someone who knows someone who knows someone who can help you.

In the end, it doesn’t really matter what happens. I wrote a novel and I loved the process of writing it. I didn’t do it for the money or the glory (well maybe a little.) I did it because there was something inside of me pushing to get the story out. I did it because I couldn’t not do it any longer.

Dear readers, I thank you for hanging in there with me over the past several years, always encouraging me to keep going. I value your support more than I can ever express. I’ll keep you posted on my progress.

Now if I can only come up with a decent title for the damn thing.novel on desk

 

 

A Morning Walk

11 Mar

I almost didn’t go for a walk this morning. The rain is threatening and I felt I needed to get to work on my writing, but the dogs were looking at me with those sad, pleading eyes. So I caved. This is what I would’ve missed if I’d stayed home.

The world is a beautiful place if you go looking.

A Little Taste of Spring

26 Feb spring 2016 6

I’m wishing for dark cloud and rainstorms, but in the meantime, I’m enjoying the little taste of spring right outside my front door. Thought you might, too.

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Breathe

12 Feb

I recently read the inspiring book—When Breath Becomes Air by Dr. Paul Kalanithi. It’s the story of a highly educated man with degrees in English literature and biology who becomes a renowned neurosurgeon and neuroscientist. A lover of literature and philosophy, Kalanithi writes eloquently about his family, his education, and being diagnosed with stage four lung cancer at age thirty-six.

Here’s a doctor who treats terminally ill patients suddenly facing his own mortality. Before he dies, he’s able to write this poignant book about the true meaning of life.

I guess what really resonated with me about his story was that for years Kalanithi put life on hold while working diligently to become the best possible neurosurgeon—spending hours and hours studying, researching and performing surgeries to leave his mark on the world. Yet in the end what really mattered was not his career, but his wife, baby daughter and extended family.

Why does it take something so devastating to wake us up to what’s really important? When my own daughter was diagnosed with cancer, I thought I had learned my lesson. Yet after almost ten years it’s still a struggle for me to consistently take pleasure in the little things. That darn “if only” pattern of thinking seeps into my subconscious, constantly diluting all the precious joy.

Fortunately, I have found a way to break free from these negative thought patterns—by practicing gratitude. Every day as I go about my daily tasks, I try to consciously think about how very lucky I am.

Today was full of the little things: Sleeping in because of a school holiday; breakfast out with Rene and Isa followed by a glorious walk to our local butterfly preserve. Watching the dogs romp happily through the grass, soft and green from the recent rains. Running into neighbors at the local pizza parlor and joining them for lunch and delightful conversation. A trip to the library. Little things, really—but oh, so very big.

Life is short. Be kind and show gratitude. Nurture relationships.

Revel in the beauty around you. LOVE. I will die someday and so will you.

Breathe deeply before that breath becomes air. It’s that simple.