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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.

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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.

 

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

Middle Aged Bliss

29 Aug

img_3203These days, my head is in the clouds. I’ve completely lost my motivation to get anything done. I’ll sit down at the computer to write, and the next thing I know, I’m on Facebook, sobbing over clips of returning soldiers reunited with their dogs, or the smiling faces of babies fitted with hearing aids for the first time. I’ll put on my tennis shoes to go for a walk but before I even get out of the yard, I’m busy picking a bouquet of flowers for the dining room table. If I glance at my phone to check the time, I may lose thirty minutes scrolling through Instagram or Facebook. Don’t even ask about watching CNN at the top of each hour. I mean seriously, the day will be gone in an instant.

Some days, I lie on the couch listening to James Taylor snuggling with my two dogs. Other days, I’ll spend three hours binge watching a British detective series. I crave sweet and salty snacks. I get cranky and pick fights with my husband. I press my thirteen year-old daughter for stories of junior high drama, but damn her, she’s above all that teenage gossip stuff. I long for weekends away with my girlfriends. Nothing pleases me more than having the house all to myself.

Oh, Lord. I’m heading toward sixty and I’m turning back into a teenage girl again.

Perhaps my behavior is in response to getting older. In my head I count how many more years I have left on this earth. Thirty, forty? However many, I’m afraid it’s never going to be enough. I’m having so much fun being an adult. Even though my knees ache as I climb the stairs, even though white hairs snake up out of my head like Medusa, and even though I have actual jowls, I truly love my life.

Here’s the thing: I’m so much happier now than when I was as a teenager. My body may have been perfect back then, but I was an insecure wreck, always caring about what others thought of me. Today I have the luxury of not worrying about what I’m going to do with my life because I’ve already done it! I have an awesome career. My husband adores me, my kids love me, and I have so many wonderful friends who like to go out to lunch with me.

Middle age rocks.

So I’ll take an Advil or two and plop my butt down on the couch. I’ll text a girlfriend and arrange a lunch date. Maybe I’ll daydream about my future grandchildren. And then there’s that new Netflix original movie based on one of my favorite novels (The Guernsey Literary and Potato Pie Society, if you must know.)

It’s time to watch it for a third time.

Enough

11 Jul

Every time I turn on the television, I think it can’t get worse. Then it does. I’m scared for our country. I’m scared for our democracy.

I’m scared for human kind.

I’m tired of watching clips of people treating others unkindly. I’m tired of folks calling the police on people because of the color of their skin. I’m horrified about what’s happening at the border. I’m exhausted from the anger I feel very time the president opens his mouth.

My head is about to explode. I’ve had enough.

Today, I’m taking a break.

For the rest of the day, I will try my best to focus on all the good things around me. Because right now, it’s all I got.

Here are a few photos of the things that bring me joy.

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She’s going to kill me for posting this, but I will anyway. This face makes me happy, even when it’s looking down at an iPhone screen. Oh, to be thirteen again!

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Pink, cotton candy smoke coming out of our chimney. 

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The view out my upstairs window. My neighbor probably won’t appreciate me taking photos of her house, but the color of this Bougainvillea is just so beautiful.

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My younger brother recently gave me this adorable handmade birdhouse for the garden.               I love it.

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Leo pretending he doesn’t care who wins the World Cup.

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My husband’s family at his sister’s recent memorial. No matter what you think about immigration, this is America. 

Good always conquers evil. And there is so much good to see if we just look for it. Tomorrow is another day and when I turn on the television, I’ll probably find myself angry again.

But not today. Today, it’s all about finding the good.

Maybe take a moment and find yours.

Engagement

28 Mar

img_2367As I grow older, I find myself becoming more reclusive. When many of my close friends are excitedly planning their next big trip to Asia or Europe, I prefer to stay home, puttering in my flower garden or lying on the couch reading a good book. The thought of planning a travel itinerary and lugging suitcases through busy airports exhausts me. Introverted as I am though, I can occasionally be talked into taking a short road trip. Especially when my teenage daughter, Isa uses her formidable powers of persuasion to convince me to get out of the house.

Isa chose San Francisco. Before long, the entire family had decided to go along for the three day trip. Then, a few weeks ago my daughter’s boyfriend pulled me aside during a weekend visit.

“Just so you know,” he said, “I’m planning to ask Leah to marry me. I know she would want you all there and I think this trip to San Francisco is the perfect time to do it.” He did add a caveat that he wasn’t asking us if he could marry her. After all, Leah is her own person and not our property. He knew if would go against her principles if he asked our “permission.” This guy knows my daughter well. All in all, a very good sign.

An elaborate plan was set in motion. Although we were as secretive as we could be, Leah had to have known something was up because she happily agreed to go along with every suggestion we made. We somehow managed to get her to the beautiful San Francisco Palace of Fine Arts where Jeff was nervously waiting with the ring, their two dogs, and a professional photographer. After weeks of heavy rain, the day, though a bit chilly, was gloriously sunny. We got to hang back and watch the entire event unfold. Pure magic.

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Our trip was a blast. Other than a slight snafu which included not realizing that the Airbnb we had reserved was “owner occupied” and that our hosts would not be leaving, everything went smoothly. Did I mention that our hosts decided to cook garlic and cabbage at 10 p.m. on Sunday night? And that the smell was so strong we had to sleep with the windows open? It was the one and only time I actually welcomed the frigid San Francisco air.

We took the ferry to Alcatraz, walked over the Golden Gate Bridge, and spent too much money at the renowned City Lights Bookstore. We visited the California Academy of Sciences in Golden Gate Park. We had an unbelievably delicious lunch at Nicks, a vegan Filipino restaurant in Daly City. We drove down the coast to Big Sur’s The River Inn for another lovely dinner by the water. With the recent rains the scenery was popping with vibrant color.

 

I continuously count my blessings that my children are my friends. There are no other people I’d rather spend time with. And now we are beyond fortunate to add another son to the mix. Luckily, Jeff possesses the exact amount of crazy to fit right in. And he loves my daughter, which makes him a crazy genius.

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                                Love, in all forms, is what allows us to breathe.

Congratulations, Leah and Jeff. Now, let’s plan a wedding!

One of the Lucky Ones

11 Feb

a5473b30-fd36-4183-9492-e434f9c87dc3-3513-000001ddc6b3956dThe roads are finally open again and my daughter, Isa and I took a drive through Montecito this afternoon. It was so much worse than I could have ever imagined. News stories on television don’t really show the full extent of the destruction.

Santa Barbara was hit hard at beginning of December when the Thomas Fire burned the mountains above Montecito. Then on January 9, we had a 200-year rain event where half an inch of rain came down in five minutes. This triggered a devastating mud flow. Twenty-three people were killed and many of the homes saved during the fire were damaged or destroyed by the mud flow.

While there have been numerous stories of tragedy and loss, I’ve also heard stories of the incredible generosity and kindness of people in our community. It’s inevitable that we initially focus on all the bad things that have occurred–we cry. We grieve. We get angry. Then we try to find the good.

I wasn’t personally affected the tragic events of the past two months, but lately I have felt so lost watching the suffering of others. After Isa and I returned home from our drive, I looked around my own neighborhood and felt so grateful. My home is safe and not full of mud. I suddenly felt the need to document the beauty around me.

For now, I’m one of the lucky ones. And I’m so thankful.

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One of my favorite flowers: Stock. Such a lovely, spicy scent!

 

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A caterpillar chomping on my milkweed plant.

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First tulips of the season

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Love this magenta!

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The spring garden is planted!

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Lake Los Carneros

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Happy little pansies.

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The color of Iceland poppies are so vibrant!

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Isa and the dogs on a walk around the lake.

Messages from the Universe

5 Jan
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Smoke over the Pacific from the Thomas Fire.

The universe often sends me messages. Most of the time, I’m too wrapped up in my day to day drama to pay much attention to them. Especially when those nudges seem rightfully insignificant: a slice to my finger while cooking (stop thinking negative thoughts about people, Jess—especially when you’re chopping vegetables with a sharp knife.) Or a flat tire while hurrying to get as many errands done before starting work (time to slow down, Jess—you don’t have to do everything for everyone all the time.)

Recently, I got a very loud message from the universe that had to do with my mother. A little background first: I’ve lived with my mother for pretty much my entire life. After college, when I married my husband, Rene, we moved in with her so she could help us financially while he finished his education. Eventually, we were able to buy the house from her and she stayed on with us. I won’t speak for my husband, as it can’t possibly be easy living with your mother-in-law for thirty years, but overall, it’s been okay. Our house is configured with a granny flat for her with a separate entrance and yard, so we have some privacy.

Recently, my mom had been driving me a bit crazy. Maybe it’s because as she gets older, I find her to be more hardheaded and stubborn. Maybe it’s because I realize she won’t be here forever and it scares me. Maybe it’s just hard having someone greet me every single day with a cheery, “Good Morning, Darling! How are you, today?” before I’ve had my coffee. Whatever it was, I was becoming extremely irritated with her. And if I’m honest, I’d have to say I was occasionally mean to her. In fact, I was downright nasty sometimes.

Then, at the beginning of December, while Santa Barbara was experiencing the largest wildfire in California history, my mom tripped and fell in front of the neighbor’s house while walking her dog. Now, she couldn’t just break her arm or something—she had to go and land on her eyeball. We didn’t know it then, but she had actually spilt open the back of her eye and hemorrhaged so severely that her left eye was literally being pushed out of its socket.

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My poor mother, two days after her accident and still managing to smile.

Luckily, the planets aligned for us that day. After a CAT scan it was determined there was no damage to her brain but the ER doctor was worried that she might lose the sight in that eye. We were able to reach her ophthalmologist and he agreed to see her during a break between his scheduled surgeries. I rushed her down to the surgery center where it was determined she needed an immediate operation to get all that blood out from behind the eye. Somehow, the doctors and nurses made it happen (a big shout out to the Santa Barbara Surgery Center) and they were able to save her eye.

Although she’s doing much better, my mom is still blind in her left eye. As I write this, she’s having her third surgery (a corneal transplant) and hopefully this will give her some vision back. We won’t know for a very long time what the outcome will be.

After the accident, I suddenly became my mother’s caregiver. I had to dole out medication, dress her facial wounds and make sure she ate three meals a day. I had to drive her to her doctors’ appointments. I had to hold her hand and tell her how sorry I was that this happened. I had to convince her everything was going to work out in the end.

The strange thing is that although I was spending much more time with my mother than before, I didn’t feel the least bit irritated with her. I felt only love and concern. I was so thankful it was just her eye and not her brain that was injured. I learned how much she means to me—that although we are different in so many ways, we share an unbreakable mother-daughter bond.

I guess it took a really scary, knock-down, whopping nightmare message to wake me up. Most likely this is because I inherited my mother’s stubbornness.

I think from now on, I’ll pay attention to those quiet, little messages from the universe.

Maybe if I do that, I can avoid getting anymore of those loud ones.

**Update: Mom’s surgery went fine, but the news wasn’t good. Her retina was permanently damaged and it was determined that she will not regain the sight in her left eye. I’m devastated for her, yet she’s handling it with grace and a positive attitude. Much to learn from that woman!img_1984