Archive | gratitude RSS feed for this section

Two Simple Things

23 Dec

We are born into this life completely alone; naked, vulnerable and empty-handed. Then we spend most of our lives working long and hard to accrue huge amounts of stuff, all of which is left behind when we die.

Birth, while natural and beautiful, can be a traumatic experience. I should know—I’ve been born once and given birth four times. I don’t remember my own birth, of course. But I do know that when I shot out into the world, there were people around to help me. They bathed me, held me, fed me, and loved me. And when the time is close for me to leave this world, I assume there will be people to do all of these things for me again.

If we’re fortunate, the beginning and ending parts of life are pretty much handled. It turns out, though—that the middle part of life—the part that we’re supposed to enjoy, can be really, really hard at times. We try our best to get it right, but we fail more often than not.

If this past year has shown us anything, it’s that we’ve really blown it this time. I don’t need to give you a list. As you read this, you’re waist-deep in the muck of 2020, and I’m right there alongside you. Now, I could rant on for hours about whose fault it is—some of you will take my side, some of you won’t. It doesn’t really matter though. We’re all at the bottom of this polluted pit and we need to help dig each other out.

I, for one, am exhausted from carrying so much anger in my heart over these past several years. This anger has manifested in many ways, mostly in me screaming at the television, unfriending people on social media, and using the F bomb more times than I can count. It’s weighed on me that people I love dearly see the world so differently than I do. And it also hurts to know they look at me and think the same thing.

Here’s the thing though—this pandemic has revealed to us who we really are. And much of it has been pretty horrifying. Yet, through all of the scarcity, pain, unfairness, anger, and even death, I’ve also witnessed great good—people doing what’s right, going out of their way to be kind, taking care of others, and sharing what little they have. Many of us have realized that practicing acts of kindness is so much more meaningful than accumulating all that expensive stuff.

I believe we are put here on this earth to accomplish two simple things: to help others and to give love. If we remember to treat each other with the care and love we’d give to a newborn baby—or a person on their deathbed, we’d all be so much more content.

We now have the opportunity to make real change. Let’s start thinking others before ourselves. Mostly, remember to love, love, and LOVE!        

Good riddance 2020. You’ve tried your best to take us down, but we wouldn’t let you.

Here’s to a better year ahead.  May 2021 send us all in a new direction!

Thank you to all my faithful readers. Your support over the years has meant the world to me.

The author, representing 2020 by not looking her best.

Pollyanna

1 Dec

If 2020 has taught me anything, it’s that my DNA includes the Pollyanna gene. Over the years, I’ve been known to utter: “Don’t worry, it will all work out in the end,” or worse, “There’s a reason for everything!”  As always, I’ll blame my mother for my behavior, as she pushed her be kind, and think good thoughts agenda on me since I was young enough to complain about someone’s bad behavior. If I wanted to vent, she’d immediately put up her hand. “Now, Honey—maybe so-in-so is acting that way because they’re feeling bad about themselves. They probably just need a hug!”

Mom and Pollyanna, circa 1972

Inevitably, we turn into our mothers, and I’m no exception. I’ve always been the “nice” girl, and for most of my life, I’ve put up with horrendous—even abusive—behavior from others because I felt it was my responsibility to be kind and forgiving. I even learned to push my own positive agenda—always touting how important it was to look for the good in everything.

My daughter recently called me out on my Pollyannaishness. As a transgender woman, she’s faced immense personal change in the past year and a half, and dealt with great emotional pain—pain that I’ll never have to even imagine facing. When she tears up about something someone has said or done, my first reaction is to try to make it better.

“Mom,” she tells me, “You don’t always have to try to fix things. Just acknowledge my pain. Sometimes people are just assholes. And sometimes life just sucks.”

Yes, they are. And yes, it does. 2020 has taught me that.

Now, I’m not saying it’s wrong to be positive—quite the contrary. I know for a fact that looking for the good helped me get through some very tough times in my life—especially my youngest daughter’s cancer diagnosis and treatment. And I know one thing for certain: when something terrible happens to you, the really good people show up and offer their help.

But it’s also important to recognize and acknowledge the bad stuff. This is difficult for me, because I come from a life of privilege, where I’ve always had what I need and more. And because of this, I’ve spent a great deal of time talking myself out of feeling sad, depressed or lost. And now that the pain and suffering of so many is all around me all the time, I’m having a difficult time pulling myself together. Not only do I feel guilty when I’m sad, I feel guilty when I’m happy.

Pollyanna has grudgingly admitted to me that 2020 has been a total shit storm, but as she perches on my shoulder she’s also whispering how lucky I am to be surrounded by the most amazing family and friends. Those who are thoughtful, generous, and kind, and who make me laugh even during these dark times.

Pollyanna is also insisting that things are finally turning around. She admits that we have a long way to go, but she believes that good people are waiting in the wings, ready to do what they can to help. And she also believes that good always wins in the end.

I’m gonna take her word for it.

Pub Day!

21 Apr

img_0874Well, my big day is here. And during a pandemic, too. When I started this blog almost nine years ago, I never truly believed I had it in me to actually write a novel, let alone publish it. Well, to hell with that woman who had so little faith!

Here’s a link to my story, although if you’ve been reading this blog for all these years, you already know it.

Thank you, thank you, THANK YOU, dear readers! You’ve been with me this long journey and I am so grateful for you consistent support. Here’s a link to my story:

Women Writers, Women’s Books

I truly hope you enjoy reading Lost in Oaxaca! 

Now on to the next book. Lord help me.

Postponement

8 Apr

img_0834

Two weeks from today, Jessica Winters Mireles’ novel, Lost in Oaxaca will be released. This is a pretty big deal for Mireles, a middle-aged piano teacher who dreamed of being a published writer from a very young age.

Lost in Oaxaca was born over seven years ago, when Mireles sat down to write a paragraph about a young woman who finds herself stuck on a bus in the mountains of Oaxaca. During this time, Mireles experienced some fictitious bliss, but, like most writers and artists, faced her demons of insecurity on a daily basis. Ultimately, she was gratified that not only did she actually finish Lost in Oaxaca, but that it evolved into an uplifting story of love, adventure, and cross-cultural identity.

Mireles’ long labor of literary love was going to be celebrated with a book signing/launch at Chaucer’s, the beloved Indy bookstore cherished by Santa Barbara locals on Wednesday, April 20, 2020. No doubt the event would’ve been a huge gathering of friends and family, and Mireles would have been the reigning queen from approximately 7:00-9:00 p.m. A great lover of attention, Mireles would have certainly been in her element.

Unfortunately, an unexpected and devastating pandemic has caused Mireles’ big day to be postponed to a later date. While disappointed, Mireles realizes that her problems are nowhere near as dire as what others are facing at this current time, so she will gracefully accept her fate. She trusts that her friends will support Chaucer’s Bookstore by ordering a copy of Lost in Oaxaca for themselves, and maybe an additional copy for a friend or relative. She promises to sign each and every book should someone request it.

Mireles, a piano teacher for over thirty years, also knows that the best way to keep a business growing is by word of mouth. She is hoping that if you enjoy her book, you will spread the word by suggesting to your friends that they order a copy from Chaucer’s, who will even ship it to your house! Mireles is crossing her fingers that you will consider helping her with her publicity by posting on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram about how much you loved the book. Share away! And if you’re feeling really generous, a five-star review on Amazon or Goodreads would be greatly appreciated.

Mireles certainly understands that her book may not be everyone’s cup of tea. Some may even dislike it intensely. If this happens, she requests that the dissatisfied reader please keep their displeasure to themselves, and attempt to refrain from reviewing it in any way, shape or form.

Mireles also wants her readers to know how very much she loves and appreciates them. It’s been a long road, and while she may have hit a temporary road block, she’s bound to be on her way again shortly. In the meantime, there’s plenty of time to read these days!

You can absolutely count on Jessica Winters Mireles to keep you posted on the date of her rescheduled book signing!

https://www.chaucersbooks.com/

chaucers 2

The Story I Choose to Believe

29 Mar

 

img_0720Life is different now. The mundane has abruptly become meaningful. Today, a trip to the Starbucks drive-thru actually made my heart flutter with anticipation. My ten-second interaction with the girl at the window was almost exhilarating.

I don’t know about you, but my moods are swinging like I’m in a hammock when a sudden windstorm hits. One moment, I’m serene and relaxed—the next, anxious, agitated, and holding on for dear life. I try to act like everything is okay, but I can’t get comfortable in my mind, because I have no idea how long the storm is going to last. I can’t even laugh at my kids’ jokes without feeling a sense of guilt, thinking about the thousands of people suffering—even dying, from this insidious virus.

My heart hurts for the people who have lost their jobs, many of whom already live on the edge. The weight of not being able to pay their bills or put food on the table will undoubtedly make them feel suffocated with a sense of despair. I feel so sorry for all the brides and grooms, graduates, and those with upcoming birthdays who will have to cancel their celebrations.

Every day, I try my best to look for the good. And there is so much good to find! People have shown their true colors during this Covid-19 crisis. So many have stepped up—especially those who are on the front lines: the health care workers, the first responders, the food service employees. I’m so very thankful for them. They have demonstrated what true grit and selflessness is all about; they’ve put their own lives at risk to help us. In my book, they are the true Americans.

As I have, perhaps you’ve noticed that you’ve been growing closer to your family and friends—virtually or in reality. Being home has allowed you to eat meals together again, or maybe you’re sharing cocktail hour through FaceTime. The art of conversation has returned. Reading books is “in” again. We are certainly more present with each other.

img_0647

Virtual Family Togetherness!

We haven’t faced something like this before, but I have faith we will get through it. Our routines will be different for a while, and it be a struggle, but our lives will eventually go back to normal. Hopefully, when the chaos and confusion has lessened, our fear will subside. Perhaps when we are able to gather together again, our mutual joy will be the thing that is infectious.

This virus does not discriminate. It affects every single one of us. I’m hoping that this shared experience will teach us to view each other in a more positive light. Maybe—just maybe, the animosity we’ve felt for such a long time will be replaced with love, gratitude, and a deep sense of appreciation for each other.

In any case, that’s the story I choose to believe.

 

 

I’m a Writer

30 Aug

img_5780

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.

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.

img_5552

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?

img_5196

The older and wiser warrior.

 

Accomplished

23 Apr

img_5285

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.

img_5249

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.

img_5283-1

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.

img_3974

This is me, not faking it.


 

 

Fierce

10 Dec

img_3842

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.

img_3795

Lunch together at Avila Beach, California