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.

Let the Storm Rage On

4 Jan

stormUntil today, I have not written a word for over a month. Actually, that’s not entirely true. I have written some words—a line or two on Christmas cards, posts on Facebook, a few sentences here and there on Twitter and Instagram—but nothing substantial or concrete. Nothing significant.

And it’s not like I haven’t had the time to write. I’ve been on vacation for two weeks so I’ve had many opportunities to sit down and work on my novel. Instead, I chose to avoid doing any writing by deciding that I needed to purge my house—to de-clutter and clean every drawer, closet and cupboard that have been spilling over with excess stuff for far too long.

Cleaning out years of accumulated household junk is not an easy job. I was ruthless, hauling boxes and trash bags full of clothing, books and kitchen items to the thrift store. I bought an office shredder and spent hours chopping up reams of documents covered with important account numbers that could ruin my financial life if some identity thief got their hands on them. I donned my yellow rubber gloves, tied a dish cloth around my face and cleaned my oven for the first time in ten years (that Easy-Off Oven Cleaner really works!) I even stocked the laundry room with emergency food supplies and laid sandbags in the backyard in preparation for El Niño. I worked so hard that I had to swallow three Advil every night before bed because I was so sore from lifting, scrubbing, sorting and reaching.

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Sandbags in preparation for any flooding in our backyard.

When I finally finished every task on my list, my back ached and my hands were chapped and raw. I sat down on the couch and looked at my clean and organized home and waited for that blissful sense of accomplishment to wash over me. Nothing. I felt only exhaustion. I also felt depressed and guilty for not using all that free time to write.

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The view of my clean and organized kitchen/dining room from the living room couch.

I sat there and contemplated why I felt the need to avoid writing in the first place. I realized it all started after I met with an editor friend who, after reading a few chapters of my novel suggested that I needed to make some drastic changes—going as far as changing the narrative form and story line/plot in ways that I found a bit overwhelming—to say the least. It’s difficult to hear those words after putting my heart and soul into this novel for over three years.

But today is a new day and I’ll forge ahead, knowing there is much work to be done. As painful as it will be, I know it’s my time to purge words, sentences and paragraphs. It will hurt, but hopefully when I’m done, I’ll feel that sense of accomplishment I’ve been longing for.

The good thing is that the El Niño storms are lining up in the Pacific. This week I’ll be stuck in the house while the storms rage on outside, giving me absolutely no excuse to avoid writing any longer.

Now if I can just deal with those storms raging in my head and in my heart, I think I’ll be all right.

Happy New Year, dear readers!

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Happy New Year from our family to yours!

Encouraging Words

9 Nov

IMG_4512I’m almost done and I’m scared—terrified is more like it. When I first started writing my novel over three years ago, I didn’t believe I’d even complete a few measly chapters, let alone finish the damn thing. I now realize that I should’ve never told anyone in the first place. Now that I’m on the last chapter, people are going to want to read it.

Oh, god—what have I done?

Thanks to self-publishing, there’s a plethora of good writers out there who are getting their work read. On the other hand, there are also a lot of bad writers who publish as well. I follow a few Twitter sites that promote self-published novels and sometimes I’ll click on a link to see what’s out there. Sometimes I cringe at what I read—much of it is downright awful. I find myself hopping up on my literary pedestal and turning into this judgmental critic who actually takes delight in finding poorly written sentences, bad grammar and trite dialogue.

I’m better than that—right?

Deep down I know that I’m a decent writer and editor. What I don’t know yet is if I can tell a story well enough to connect with a reader and to keep them interested in the characters and the plot. I also know that like most writers, that lurking self-doubt leads me down that road of wanting to do anything but finish what I started.

Lucky for me, I’ve surrounded myself with those who believe in me. My family, my friends, my beloved writing group. The other day out of the blue, a member of my writing group sent me a text. He’s been a dear friend since high school and although we lost touch for close to thirty years, we’ve re-connected over the past three and our friendship has blossomed. At our last group meeting, I expressed to my fellow members that I was feeling a bit blue about finishing my novel and how much work I was facing in the coming months to get it ready. This is what he wrote to me:

Hey there. I just wanted to say that I’m so, so proud of you for what you have accomplished in getting your novel written. It’s a huge and massive undertaking and you’re nearly there and ready for rewrites. The percentage of people who never finish that novel (myself included) is so high as to easily discourage first timers. But you have done it, Jessie. I know there may be a little energy sag now or soon, but never stop appreciating and applauding what you have done here. It’s really quite something and I hope you will give yourself more pats on the back than disparaging remarks. There is more work to do, of course, but it’s clearly a labor of love. Please don’t forget that as you move into this next stage, you have done a wonderful and extraordinary thing. Don’t forget to appreciate yourself with as much love and consideration that you offer others. I’m proud you’re my friend and I’ve had the privilege of watching this creation from the front row!

He didn’t have to take the time to text that to me, but because of his generous spirit, he did. And with those encouraging sentences, his words managed to lift me up out of that mire of self-doubt and fear.

At least for today.

The Narrative Bug

16 Oct

BKS_l_BooksByTheFootLast night my ten-year old daughter caught the narrative bug. This was quite a surprise as my husband—the elementary school teacher—was always having to push her write anything. Isa is lucky (or unlucky and she will undoubtedly assert) to have a built in teacher at home who knows how to teach all the tricks for writing the essays needed to get you through school—or life, for that matter. The tricky part is that when it’s your dad telling you what to do, one tends to resist the help. And one also tends to whine a lot—or outright cry at times.

That was our story until last night when Isa decided to try her hand at narrative writing. Her dad gave her an old laptop and she went into her room for an hour and wrote. Now this kid has always been exposed to literature—in fact, she’s quite the book junkie. Case in point—just yesterday at school, she got to eat In-N-Out with the principal because she earned so many Accelerated Reader points (not sure if rewarding reading excellence with junk food is the right way to go, though.) Isa reads all kinds of stuff—Percy Jackson, Diary of Anne Frank, The Book Thief. She even pretends to read the New Yorker, but I know she’s really only looking at the cartoons. Her idea of a fun afternoon is to head to the library.

A book so good you can't put it down.

Her favorite thing to do.

Before bed last night, she brought the computer upstairs and asked if she could read her first couple of chapters—yes—chapters! Mind you, there were short chapters, but still. Not only that, her first paragraph hooked me right from the start. The voice of the protagonist—an eleven year old girl named Fiona Garcia (is that a great name, or what?) is so likable and funny that I can’t wait to find out what happens to her.

You’re probably thinking—get a grip, Jess—it’s just a story. It doesn’t mean Isa is going to be the next Pulitzer Prize winner in Literature (hey, you never know) or even become a published author. I guess the reason I’m so elated about Isa catching the writing bug is because I wish I had embraced writing more when I was young. To see such light come into her eyes when she talks about her story reminds me of my own childhood passion for creative writing. I remember often being told I was a good writer but as I lacked my own internal self-motivation, I allowed my writing bug to fly away. Now, over forty years later, I’ve managed to recapture that bug and although it’s often difficult, I think I’m managing to tame my it enough so that it won’t fly too far from home.

I’m more than happy to support Isa in all of her writing efforts. I will lovingly make suggestions and eagerly help with any editing requests. What I won’t do is tell her about the crushing self-doubt, fear of rejection or hitting that hard wall of writer’s block. I’ll let her discover these things on her own.

Where the magic happens.

Where the magic happens.

I’ll keep you posted on Fiona Garcia’s exploits. Or maybe Isa will. She just told me this morning that she wants to start a blog.

Oh Lord. Here we go.

The House Next Door

4 Sep

fall 5I can’t quite believe it, but they’re finally gone. A sense of peace has settled in over the neighborhood and for the first time in a very long time I feel like I can breathe again. I no longer have to close every window, turn the ceiling fan on full blast and shove foam earplugs into my ears just so I can get some sleep at night. Now I fall asleep to the sound of singing crickets, wind chimes tinkling in the breeze and the train conductor sounding his forlorn whistle while stopping at the station a few miles from my house. For the first time in years, I can finally leave the windows wide open during an August heatwave.

Living in close proximity to your neighbors has many benefits—those of which I’ve certainly reaped over the years. My kids have always had other children to play with—currently, my ten-year old daughter’s best friend lives right across the street. There are a couple of homes on our street whose kitchen larders are like a veritable corner market from which I can borrow on a never need to pay back basis—a stick of butter, a cup of rice or a roll of toilet paper are mine for the asking (Thank you, Annie and Bonnie.) Our neighbors are friendly, mostly made up of semi-ethnically diverse middle class (if there still is such a thing) productive people who all go to bed at a reasonable hour because they have to get up in the morning to go to work. Other than a persnickety, older childless couple who has managed to alienate everyone in the neighborhood, all of us get along just fine.

Enter the “Renters” as I call them. The house next door to us has been a rental for over twenty years and for the most part the tenants didn’t cause any real problems other than the occasional loud party. They kept to themselves and that was fine with us. Then the New Guy moved in.

We always made it a point to be friendly with the people who moved in and out next door and we were with the New Guy, too. We’d chat with him for a few minutes, wave from our cars and return his mail that had been mistakenly delivered to our house. Things were fine until we noticed that the New Guy and his roommates lived a little on the wild side, having an exorbitant number of parties in their backyard, and not just on the weekends. And these backyard parties were epic—with massive alcohol consumption, cigarette and pot smoking, and raging bonfires that would last until the wee hours of the morning. These people had no idea how to talk to each other in a normal tone of voice. Everything was amplified—every word communicated with a shout. Let me make it clear that they were not free-wheeling college students whose frontal lobes hadn’t yet matured—they were all adults. On numerous occasions I had to yell at them to please turn down the music and take the party indoors which sometimes worked but mostly didn’t. I even called the police a few times but didn’t want to sign a complaint because you never know what people will do when you put them on the defensive.

Then the New Guy decided that he wasn’t going to pay for his refuse or recycling pick-up anymore. He left dozens of bags of trash to accumulate and rot in his side yard and soon there were rats visiting on a nightly basis. We would sit in our hot tub and listen to the skittering and rustling on the other side of the fence as the rats feasted on an unlimited amount of delicious garbage. Before long, the rats came over to our side of the fence looking for a warm place to bed down in our laundry room. Last winter alone we trapped at least ten rats. Along with his pet rats, New Guy also had two Pit Bulls (they were actually great dogs) and a pet pig.

The New Guy also had some questionable aquaintances. He wanted to help out a friend who recently got out of prison (we figured this out after repeated visits to their house by a parole officer) and decided the best thing would be to let his friend live in a rundown trailer that was parked in the driveway. It was a pretty nice set-up—including a huge flat screen television which every evening would flicker blue light into the neighborhood along with the smell of constant cigarette smoke from the chain-smoking parolee. I know, I know—here I am sounding like a judgmental old lady who is spouting “not in my backyard” but seriously? Living in a trailer in the driveway?

The noise next door began to escalate. New Guy drove a big truck with a loud engine, but worst of all, he had a stereo woofer in his car that he would play so loudly that it actually made our house vibrate. Often I would go to bed at eleven p.m. and the backyard next door would be quiet—I’d breathe a sigh of relief and sink into a welcomed slumber only to be awakened a few hours later by loud music and people partying. How these people drank so much and still managed to go to work the next day is beyond my comprehension. As time went on, more junk began to accumulate in the front yard and the house deteriorated even more. The stress of living next door to these people was beginning to get to me.

Suddenly, there was some good news. The homeowner decided to move back in to the house with his family. The New Guy was given his evictiion notice. My heart leapt with joy when I saw the U-Haul truck parked outside one afternoon. The owner is currently fixing up the house and will move in shortly. I got to peek inside the house before the owner carted off three full dumpsters worth of trash. Let’s just say I’ve never seen anything like it before in my entire life.

I’m happy once again on the street where I live, in the house that I love and where I can go to bed each night with a sense of peace and tranquility.

And who says there are no such things as miracles?

Our Home Away from Home

28 Jul

oax 16Our family just returned from a two-week vacation in Oaxaca, Mexcio. We had a wonderful time lounging on the beach, eating the most delicious food, visiting with family and traveling up to my husband’s isolated hometown in the mountains.

Much of the novel I’m writing (which I swear to you is almost finished!) takes place in Oaxaca so it was wonderful to travel there and research even more ideas and descriptions for the book. It is truly a magical place.

The Oaxacan people are some of the most interesting, kind and generous people in the world. Someday, we hope to build a vacation home there. Ah, it’s good to have dreams…

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This is the main church in Yalalag, my husband’s hometown.

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While we were in Yalalag, we attended a wedding. This is the bride, Melina who is wearing the traditional wedding outfit of Yalalag.

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I thought this was interesting because the little girl is tied to the back of her mother with a traditional Mexicanl “rebozo” and yet the little girls is wearing sparkly gold shoes instead of huaraches.

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This is an old photograph hanging in the municipal building in Yalalag. It was taken in 1936 and shows a family standing in front of their home wearing traditional clothing. Not much has changed in 75 years (except that the town now has internet!)

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You can’t go to Oaxaca without eating Mole Negro. Delicioso!

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A painting of La Virgencita in one of the churches.

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Oaxacan chocolate is to die for!

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The fresh produce in the marketplace smells wonderful!

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I don’t think I’ve ever seen any building painted this shade of cobalt blue before!

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Dried chilies for sale in the marketplace.

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My absolute favorite Oaxacan treat: Rose flavored sorbet!

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Another stunning doorway in downtown Oaxaca.

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The inside of the Church of Santo Domingo. Awe-inspiring.

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One of the many meals served over the course of the weekend for the wedding. First the men would all sit down and be served by the women, and then the women would sit and be served by the men.

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