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Relishing the Happiness

28 Jun

These days, it’s not easy to allow ourselves to feel happy. Often, I don’t even recognize when I feel content—I’m so used to feeling incredulity, rage, and fear (usually in that order.) When I do notice that I’m feeling good, my mind immediately tries to shut it down—after all, who am I to feel okay when our democracy is in peril, injustice is rampant, and so many are suffering?

Maybe you can relate to how I find myself in a quandary because I’ve been feeling unusually good lately. Born with a melancholic soul, my mood tends to gravitate toward the bluer hues in life, and I’m very comfortable with the weight of sadness that has perched upon my shoulders for as long as I can remember. Maybe my recent happiness can be attributed to the three miles of walking I’ve been doing each day, or that my garden is in the height of its colorful blooms, or that the weather on the central California coast has been glorious. Now contrast that with all terrible (and I mean terrible) shit that has been hitting the collective fan lately, and you can see why I would be feeling so guilty for feeling happy.

Case in point: in the midst all the traumatic events transpiring in our country, something really wonderful occurred for me personally: I finally had my book signing for my novel, Lost in Oaxaca at Chaucer’s, our local Indy bookstore in Santa Barbara. Now, I ask you, “Who in the world has a book signing a full two years after their book comes out?”  That would be me.

As far as I’m concerned, this event was one of the highlights of my life. It really helped to have a supportive bookstore who worked to keep my book alive during a two-year pandemic. It also helped that the person in charge of events (the wonderful Michael Takeuchi) really loved Lost in Oaxaca, and led the event conversation with engaging and interesting questions. Most importantly though, having a crowd of friends and family who came to show their love and support meant the world to me.

And today I’m happy to report that a brand new book has hit the shelves: Art in the Time of Unbearable Crisis—“a sometimes comforting, sometimes devastating, but universally relatable collection of prose, poetry, and art about living through difficult times like these.” My essay, “The Artistry Within Us” is included. All proceeds from the sale of this book will be donated to the non-profit World Central Kitchen.

I hope that you will consider purchasing this lovely book featuring inspiring essays, poetry and artwork—all by women, and that it will move you and help you to cope during these trying times of strife and suffering. Please consider ordering it from Chaucer’s—let’s support our wonderful local gem of a bookstore!

As I lay Lost in Oaxaca to rest and move on to a new project, I’m thankful that my little book has done quite well for a first-time novelist. I’m going to make a conscious effort to allow myself to relish the happiness I feel for my success.

And I can’t thank you all enough for your support over the years—for reading and commenting on my blog, for purchasing my novel for yourself and your friends—and mostly, for putting up with my constant promotion.

As my very generous gift to you, I promise to stay quiet for a while.

In case you weren’t able to come and want to watch!

Meant to Be

17 May

Around this time fifteen years ago, my world came crashing down. You may already know my story— god knows I’ve talked and written about it extensively over the years: Mom of three almost grown kids finds herself unexpectedly pregnant at forty-two and gives birth to a fourth daughter, who at the age of two is diagnosed with leukemia. Almost three years of chemotherapy later, that daughter is considered cured, and life goes back to what it was before.

Except that it doesn’t.

I think about the woman I was before my daughter’s cancer diagnosis—unfulfilled, stressed, and oh, so judgmental. In my quest to be the perfect mom with perfect children, I was critical of everything and everyone around me. I wallowed in my unhappiness, preventing myself from experiencing the beauty and joy that was offered with each day. It took my baby girl almost dying to snap me out of it.

I want to go back in time and have a conservation with that young mom. I want her to know that despite the trauma she faced as the daughter of an alcoholic father, it was never her fault. I want to wrap my arms around her and tell her how incredible she is—that she is beautiful, smart and talented, and that her creativity has no bounds. That there’s nothing she can’t accomplish if she just believes in herself. I want to tell her to let go of the fear.

On June 7th, a book will come out entitled, Art in the Time of Unbearable Crisis. It is a compilation of essays, poetry and artwork exclusively by women. My essay, The Artistry Within Us will be featured. Here is the description of the book:

Art keeps good alive in the worst of times. In the face of ugliness, pain, and death, it’s art that has the power to open us all to a healing imagining of new possibility; it’s art that whispers to the collective that even in the ashes of loss, life always grows again. That’s why right now, in this tumultuous time of war and pandemic, we need poets more than we need politicians.

In response to the multitude of global crises we’re currently experiencing, Editor Stefanie Raffelock put out a much-needed call to her writing community for art to uplift and inform the world, and the authors of She Writes Press answered. Art in the Time of Unbearable Crisis—a sometimes comforting, sometimes devastating, but universally relatable collection of prose, poetry, and art about living through difficult times like these—is the result. Addressing topics including grief and loss, COVID-19 and war in Ukraine, the gravity of need and being needed, the broad range of human response to crisis in all its forms, and more, these pieces explore how we can find beauty, hope, and deeper interpretation of world events through art—even when the world seems like it’s been turned inside out and upside-down. 

Any and all royalties from Art in the Time of Unbearable Crisis will be donated to World Central Kitchen.

 

https://www.amazon.com/s?k=art+in+the+time+of+unbearable+crisis&crid=2Q1HW86SGH58U&sprefix=art+in+the+time%2Caps%2C218&ref=nb_sb_ss_retrain-deeppltr_1_15

Fifteen years ago, I never thought I’d fulfill my dream of becoming a writer, let alone publish a novel. And while I wouldn’t wish my daughter’s cancer experience one anyone—ever, it truly was the catalyst for changing me into the person I was meant to be. For this I am beyond grateful.

My youngest is seventeen now. She is everything I should’ve been at her age: proactive, poised, and confident. Fearlessly, she dives into the depths of each day, never considering how deep the water might be. She knows how to stay afloat.

And even though I spent most of my life dog-paddling in the shallow end, I was able to rise above my self-imposed limitations, and teach my daughter to swim.

Mess

7 Oct

I hate mess. Clutter is my enemy, and I spend an inordinate amount of time picking shit up off the floor. When I’m anxious, I don’t pour myself a large glass of Syrah—I run around the house with the Swiffer. The scent of bleach during a good bathroom scrub calms me right down.

Children react to trauma in different ways. I blame my boomer childhood (particularly my poor alcoholic dad) for turning me into a semi-psychotic clean freak. Like my father, I was born an introvert, and our family’s generational trauma and dysfunction only added to my need to find peace. My bedroom became my safe haven—an orderly space filled with light, plants and books. I could close my door, open the window wide, and breathe—away from the football game blaring on the television. Away from the cigarette smoke. Away from the festering rage of my dad.

Unfortunately, life is sometimes a little messy (actually a lot messy! Pandemic, anyone?) Let’s just say that over the past couple of years I’ve had to learn to be more flexible—to welcome change instead of resisting it.

Case in point: Two weeks ago, my daughter, Leah and her husband, Jeff moved in with us. They wanted to get out of Los Angeles, and try to save some money to buy their own home someday. We have the room; we love having them around. It was a win-win.

First let me mention that Leah leaves me in the dust with her masterful skills at organizing. She’s a diamond chip right off the ol’ block. But filling a dumpster of decades of accumulated crap, while combining two households is a massive undertaking. Then there was an epic yard sale. For several long weeks, the house and yard were a mess. A HUGE MESS.

I didn’t freak out. I didn’t get anxious. Well, maybe I got a little anxious. I repeated my mantra, “This too, shall pass,” while reassuring Leah that I was not bothered by the chaos. To be honest, it was difficult at times, but something my therapist said really turned it all around for me.

“You know,” she said, “You might want to consider that every open cardboard box, or every pile of stuff left out, or every item out of place—is a reflection of their love for you—that they feel safe and comfortable enough to move in with you. That’s pretty wonderful.”

That’s why we have therapists.

It is indeed wonderful. The house is put back together, and trash has all been hauled away. We are an organized home bursting with people and animals, but life is fuller than I ever imagined it would be (no pun intended.)

And should I begin to feel anxious, my Swiffer is right within reach, hanging from its very own special hook on the wall of our newly remodeled and organized laundry room, compliments of Leah.

Feeling Settled

18 Aug

I’m not even sixty yet, but lately I’ve experienced a weariness that reminds me of how I felt after giving birth. It’s my own fault—I spend way too much time worrying about other people’s problems—mostly those of my elderly mother and my four grown children. I have this ridiculous habit of immediately making other people’s problems my own.

The other day, I mentioned to my daughter that I must be a serious empath, and she gave me a look. You know that look—where your kid thinks they know more than you?

“Mom,” she said, looking me squarely in the eye, “Maybe you’re not really an empath. Maybe you’ve just spent your whole life thinking that it’s your job to fix everyone.”

Woah. My kids are definitely smarter than I am.

Growing up in a dysfunctional alcoholic family, I honed my role as middle daughter/worrywart/peacemaker at an early age. On my little shoulders, I carried the blame for the chaos and drama that permeated our family, thinking that if I did everything right, I could fix it—and life would finally feel settled.

Settled. What does that even mean?

My eighty-five year-old mother (who lives with us) recently spent three weeks in the hospital for a massive abdominal infection caused by diverticulitis. She had to have major surgery, and for a time we were worried she wasn’t going to make it. Coupled with the stress of possibly losing my mom, I had to take care of her three Dalmatians. In the flurry of getting Mom the care she needed, she neglected to tell me that her thirteen year-old Dal, Fiona, was supposed to be taking daily medication for arthritis pain. Seeing the rapid rate at which Fiona declined, I seriously thought I was going to have to call the vet to come put her down. Imagine having to tell your mother that her precious dog died while she was in the hospital! Eventually we figured it all out, and with her meds, Fiona is back to her old self.

“Okay,” I thought, “Fiona is good—now things will settle down.”

The day we went to the hospital to pick Mom up and bring her home, I was optimistic that we had made it through the hard part. But no. Ready to leave, with of her belongings stuffed into plastic bags, Mom began vomiting. It turned out that her intestines were not functioning properly (a common hiccup that occurs early on with this type of surgery, but Mom’s symptoms came much later in the process.) She ended up staying another four days in the hospital.

Definitely not settled.

Mom finally came home and is now miraculously regaining her independence. “Yes!” I thought, pumping my fist into the air, “Back to normal! Now I can finally settle down and relax.”

Not quite. More changes are on the way in the Mireles household. One kid is moving out, two more are moving in (along with two more dogs and a cat!) Household projects are in the works—the chaos ensues.

Life is always offering us lessons. There will be no settling down around here for the time being—and this is definitely something I need to learn. The truth is, I need to recognize that feeling settled is not about having peace and quiet, but it’s about feeling supported. Feeling settled is having your grown kids around to hug you and tell you it’s all going to be okay. Feeling settled is watching the reaction of my mom’s dog see her for the first time in three weeks. Feeling settled is making a face and laughing while changing my mother’s colostomy bag.

Feeling settled is accepting that I AM NOT IN CONTROL.

So I’m just going to stand up tall, hold my arms out wide, and try to catch all the good stuff that’s being thrown my way.

Here’s one example:

Distracted

15 Apr

I almost didn’t sit down to write this morning. As the queen of procrastination, I’ll pretty much do anything to avoid getting started on any writing project. These days, even the thought of constructing a simple blog post is overwhelming.

I’d already backed the minivan into the driveway with the intention of ridding it of a year’s worth of Covid-19 garbage, including my collection of discarded disposable masks that somehow all smell like a barnyard (I sincerely hope that my breath isn’t really that foul!) Then there are the multiple crumpled up Starbucks treat bags, bits of dried leaves from last fall, and enough dog hair to stuff a small pillow. I had originally looked into getting my car detailed, but the hefty price tag persuaded me that I should do it myself. So what if it took me four hours and came with the probability of straining my already sore back? As I bounded upstairs to change into some sweats and a ratty t-shirt, I passed my laptop sitting alone on my desk, its screen covered in a sheen of dust.

“You’re an asshole,” it whispered.

A true friend always tells it like it is.

Yes, I’ve been distracted lately, and there hasn’t been a whole lot of writing going on. I could blame it on pandemic-related depression (a valid excuse for many of our struggles these days), but the truth is that my avoidance of writing has always been related to my feelings of self-worth. Throughout my entire life, I’ve fought with that malicious bitch in my brain who lies to me about my abilities. And after more than a year of isolation, change, and a constant stream of worry, she has made herself comfortable in my head, soaking in a tub brimming with doubt and insecurity.

Oh, you know her, too?

My personal struggles pale in comparison to what others have been through during this pandemic, and I do realize I am one of the lucky ones. But isolation is difficult nonetheless. I miss my family. I miss seeing my piano students in person. I miss interacting with people—I want the world to see that I’m smiling at them. I’m dying to embrace people again.

I do know we’ll get through this. It’s getting better day by day (at least where I live) and even with all of my worry and distraction, I’m beginning to feel a slight sense of hope again. My family and I are vaccinated. Summer is just around the bend, and maybe, just maybe—we’ll go back to a semblance of normalcy. And when that time comes, be prepared. Because I may hug you and never let go.

There. I’ve written a few words. That bitch in my head has temporarily submerged herself under the water. She’s quiet—at least for now.

Off to clean the van!

Nah. I’ll do it tomorrow

Possibilities

12 Mar

It’s strange how we forget much of our lives over the course of time. At various ages, we are more impressionable, so the details are clearer—the smell of a new box of crayons, or newly sharpened number two pencils still fills me with the excited nervousness of starting a new school year. The scent of Coppertone makes me instantly sleepy, as it conjures up the warm sun, salty ocean water, the dissonance of scratchy transistor radios, and the sting of sunburned shoulders. To this day, when I smell jasmine or carnations, I’m sixteen again, with life stretching out in front of me, brimming with endless possibility.

Then there’s the decade when I was so busy working and raising a family, that the years passed by in a blur of birthing children, changing diapers and folding laundry. I used to think I was happy to leave those years behind, but to this day, the scent of Johnson’s baby shampoo and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches instantly makes me long for the time when my children were small.

There are years that help me mentally categorize my life: graduation from high school and college; my father’s death, when I met my husband; when I married him. All the years of my children’s births. The year my youngest was diagnosed with cancer.

And now 2020.

In 2019, in anticipation of the remarkable year to come, I had spent a good amount of time creating some pretty rich fantasies in my mind. My novel, LOST IN OAXACA was set to launch in April, 2020— a life-changing event for me, to say the least. There would be a huge book signing at our local Indy bookstore, followed by a launch party featuring Oaxacan food and drink. Friends and family would come from all over to celebrate my success. I could imagine the smell the mole negro, pan de Yalálag, chocolate and mezcal that was going to be served at the party of a lifetime.

Unfortunately, 2020 had other plans.

¡Pinche pedazo de mierda, 2020! (FYI, you’ll get that reference if you read the first page of my novel.)

The pandemic changed our lives pretty rapidly. My husband (a first grade teacher) began to teach from home—not an easy task. I started teaching piano lessons from an iPad that someone loaned me. The smell of bleach, hand sanitizer and alcohol wipes permeated our lives. We ran out of toilet paper. Two of my adult children moved home. I won’t go into the details—you know the story—you’ve lived it, too. Over time, we’ve learned to deal with our depression and anxiety.

But where my pandemic story has been one of personal disappointment, it has not been one of death and loss. While one of my daughters tested positive for Covid-19 and had to quarantine upstairs in our bedroom for two weeks, (she was asymptomatic) we did not have to deal with hospitalization or death. While I have not been able to hug one of my other daughters for a very long time, I have been able to visit with her outdoors while masked and socially distancing. I can’t even imagine the pain that so many people have endured—not being able to hold their loved one’s hand while they lay dying in the hospital. My husband lost multiple cousins and other family members to this insidious disease. Our hearts ache for the loss their families have experienced.

And while it’s not over yet, there is hope. People are getting vaccinated. My 84 year-old mother remains healthy and has received her two shots. Two of my daughters who work in health care have been vaccinated as well. My husband has received his first dose. Hopefully I’ll be eligible in the next wave.

We will persevere. Our government is finally taking care of business. If all goes to plan, we will get back to some normalcy and be able to spend time with our loved ones this summer.

The smell of blooming jasmine in the air again, and while I’m closer to sixty than to sixteen, the fog is beginning to lift, and I can once again see the possibility that life has to offer. I fully believe that after all we’ve been through, we will soon have the opportunity to create many wonderful new memories.

And they will be sweeter and more magical than we could have ever imagined.

Hang onto your copies of LOST IN OAXACA for me to sign. We are most definitely having that party someday soon— including the shots of mezcal!

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/

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