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VOTE

7 Nov

Artwork by Cecily Mireles

I woke up this morning feeling more anxious than usual. I couldn’t figure out what I was so worried about until I remembered that tomorrow is Election Day.

I’m terrified for our country right now.

The other day, I had a physical for the first time in about ten years. I know, I know—how dumb is that? Especially because I have insurance and access to exceptional healthcare in my community. I rarely get sick, so I sort of developed an “out of sight, out of mind” philosophy. But now that I’m sixty and fully entrenched in middle age, I decided it’s high time for me to be proactive about my health.

Well, guess what? It turns out I have a bit of high blood pressure. I’ve never had a problem with this before, so I feel confident blaming it on the level of stress that I’ve been carrying around over the past several years. And it’s not just from the pandemic. I believe it all began with the 2016 election.

It’s been very difficult for me to reconcile that people I’ve known and loved for years have promoted a political agenda that is so vastly different from mine. The fact that they support policies that want to take rights away from the people I love is so out of my realm of understanding. It hits close to home, as I’m married to an immigrant man of color; we have relatives and friends who are undocumented—and I have daughters who identify as LGBTQ.

What if my seventeen year-old suddenly found herself pregnant? How could I possibly support legislation that would take away her right for a safe abortion? What about women whose pregnancy is no longer viable, or if a young woman becomes pregnant through incest or rape? I personally know women who were able to obtain their own abortions back in the day, yet now, years later, they support an agenda that wants to take this right away from other women! How unfair and hypocritical is that?

My head was so deeply buried in the sand that when Obama was elected, I actually had hope for all of us. How wrong I was to think that a country founded on slavery and colonialism could possible change with the election of a black man.

It was easier when I didn’t know what folks’ politics were. Before Trump was elected, I didn’t really care about others’ party affiliations. I went on about my merry way, oblivious to the fact that people close to me could actually support a man who is a toxic narcissist, con man and conspiracy theorist, not to mention a big fat liar. But somehow they did, and we’ve all been paying for it since.

But now, I must take responsibility that I was part of the problem. I can no longer wear my rose-colored glasses and think that all is fine and dandy. I must acknowledge that my privilege prevented me from truly understanding how dysfunctional we are as a society.

In the days to come we will find out in which direction we’re headed. I implore you to show up and vote for your rights.

Seriously, people—our democracy depends upon it.

VOTE.

If Only

6 Oct

I hate that I always take on the emotional struggles of others. I can’t help it—there’s this insane need inside me to chase away the burdens of those whom I love. If only (fill in the blank) or (fill in another blank) then all would be right in the universe, and then I could take a deep breath and finally relax. You’d think at sixty, I might have figured out that this is NEVER going to happen.

We are taught to believe that in order to have a fulfilled life, we must be content at all times. Like most people, I’ve been striving for happiness since I was a young girl, creating so many “if only” scenarios in my mind that I learned to ignore the little miracles that take place in front of me on a daily basis. How can I possibly look out the window to notice the changing leaves of the Liquid Ambar trees when I’m worried that my children are unfulfilled in their careers? How can I feel comfortable in my home when all I notice is that the walls need painting, or that the termites are silently eating away the insides of my house? How can I sit and drink that second cup of coffee when I should be out taking a five-mile walk? What if my daughter doesn’t get into the college of her dreams? How can I prevent her from feeling hurt and disappointed should that comes to pass?

I remember thinking years ago that “if only” I published a novel, all would be right in my world.  I would finally feel accomplished, and experience that sense of worthiness I’ve been longing for my entire life. Yeah, right.  Sure, I wrote a book, and sure, there were some really wonderful moments, but eventually my life went back to the way it was before. Now I find myself again at square one, worrying how I’m going to find the motivation to work on that second book.

Ugh. Carrying all this angst is overwhelming. And yet, how effortlessly I throw it over my shoulders every morning. How easily I tighten the straps as the day progresses. For years, I’ve shouted to the heavens and beyond that we cannot control everything that happens to us—that we just don’t have that kind of power. That it’s not about the end result—but it’s about the process? Intellectually, I understand all of this. Yet my heart will not listen.

One moment, one hour, one day at a time.

One word, one sentence, one chapter at a time.

Process equals joy.

Say it with me.

No More Explanations

25 Aug

I want to live in a world where I don’t have to explain all the time.

My oldest daughter recently became engaged to the love of her life. We spent a magical weekend up at Bass Lake, where both families gathered to watch the romantic lakeside proposal. When I relay the story to people who don’t know our family well, they ask,

“How did he propose?”

He didn’t. She did. Then I have to explain that my daughter did the proposing, and it was her girlfriend to whom she popped the question. Yes, I explain—my daughter is gay.

There’s usually a quick look of confusion, then recovery. “Oh, how wonderful!” they exclaim, “You must be very happy!”

Of course I’m happy—I’m ecstatic!

I’m elated that my daughter was finally able to show who she was after hiding for most of her life. That she found a partner who is funny, kind, and most importantly, has a wicked sense of humor that fits right into our family. I’m over the moon that my daughter’s fiancée loves and appreciates her in the manner she deserves. I’m thrilled that we live in a community where, for the most part, people accept and support that two women can fall in love and get married.

Nora and Candice after the big moment!

Yes, we’ve come a long way, but there’s so much further to go.

A few years ago, my third daughter, who is a transgender woman, moved to the Bay Area because she didn’t feel completely comfortable living in our community. While we’re more open-minded in general than other parts of the country, acceptance toward transgender folk is not where it should be. She now lives in Oakland, where no one cares which bathroom you use, what you look like under your clothes, or whom you choose to love.

Cece in her glorious rainbow color!

For the most part, it’s my generation and older that always seems to need an explanation. Why does it matter that people have preferred pronouns? Why is it so difficult to honor what people want to be called? My kids don’t care about sexuality or gender; they use “they/them” with ease. Their decision to like (or not like) someone is solely based on who that person is—not how they dress or whom they choose to love.

We need to take a lesson from them.

I’ll start with myself. I’ll let go of feeling obligated to explain everything to others. If you get it, fine. If you don’t, that’s your issue.

It’s so simple, it doesn’t need an explanation. Let people be who they are.

Love is love is love.

That pretty much covers it.

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!

The Three I’s

17 Feb

This summer I will turn sixty. It won’t be too life-changing, as I’ve settled comfortably into middle age. I love my job, my kids are nearby, and I’ve worked hard to make my lifelong dream of becoming a published author come true. I’m the first to admit that I’m one of the lucky ones.

They (and who the hell are they, anyway?) say that “sixty is the new forty,” but I’m not the only one of my women friends who would beg to differ on this. Actually, most of us have never stopped feeing like teenagers in our hearts and minds, but whether or not we care to admit it, our bodies are telling us another story as we get out of bed each morning.

Aside from the sore knees and sagging bottoms, women my age also begin to face other non-health related issues as we head into our twilight years. I like to refer to them as three I’s: invisibility, irrelevancy, and inferiority.

Let’s start with invisibility. If you’re a woman my age, you’ve undoubtedly felt invisible at one time or another. I usually experience invisibility when I’m standing in line, waiting to order my coffee/salad/donut, and the counter person, (usually a cute college guy) has been bantering flirtatiously with a young, dewy-eyed coed ahead of me in line about some party/college course/road trip for close to five minutes. He does not care one whit that I need my caffeine/ roughage/sugar fix before I collapse onto the floor. Yes, it’s true that I’m becoming more impatient as I age, (this is not unreasonable considering my time here on earth is limited) but to not even acknowledge my presence with an “I’ll be with you in a minute,” is dehumanizing and unfair. Sure, my eyelids and jowls sag, but loose skin has not affected my own extraordinary bantering ability that I’ve honed to perfection over the years. It’s not fair—I want to banter, too!

In addition to being invisible, Irrelevancy has now profoundly entered my life. No matter what I’ve accomplished over the past six decades, I’m pretty much irrelevant now. I get that no one cares that I know all the lyrics to every James Taylor/Simon and Garfunkle/Beatles song ever written, but it’s difficult to face I’m just an old boomer who has ruined the planet (seriously sorry about this) and can’t remember anything past 1989 when I had my first kid. While my adult children still adore me, they have the habit of schooling me at every turn. I can hardly utter a sentence without an exclamation of “MOM! You can’t say that!” or “Careful…” While I truly appreciate their constant and pertinent education on social issues, once in a while I’d really love to sound like I know what I’m talking about.

As of late, I also think I’m regressing somewhat, and find myself experiencing some intense feelings of Inferiority. Whereas in junior high it was an overload of hormones surging through my body that caused me to feel inferior, I now think that it’s the recent lack of hormones that has contributed to the questioning of my fragile self-worth. If I’m lucky, I only have a good thirty years or so left on this planet, and I want to enjoy every last minute. Watching my body change so drastically exacerbates those constant feelings of not being good enough, and this sucks the joy right out of my life. I want to be confident, sassy and interesting, but society is not letting me.

Wah!

Okay, that’s enough, Jess—you’re being a big baby. It’s time to grow up and stop giving a shit about what you perceive others think (or don’t think) about you. It’s time to celebrate your middle-aged self; appreciate your life experiences, and be grateful for that still-functioning body.

It’s time for a sixtieth birthday road trip. Middle-aged women need only apply.

Wine and snacks included.

Leading the Formation

19 Jan

I went to my dear friend, Corrine’s sixtieth birthday party this past weekend. Caveat: it was a small event held at a winery in Paso Robles with lots of open outdoor space and everyone got tested beforehand. It was a delightful affair, where the love for my best friend flowed as generously as the wine.

I first met Corrine when I was an anxious seventh-grader who was terrified of not finding someone to eat lunch with in junior high. Corrine swiftly took me under her wing and together with eight other girls we formed a tight girlfriend formation that has flown together through weddings, births, and funerals, for close to fifty years.

Teenage sleepovers at Corrine’s were epic, as her house in 1974 was like walking into a hippie commune. Vibrant color was everywhere— dozens of oil paintings in bright greens and yellows hung on the walls, Creeping Charlie trailed from macramé hangers, and the coffee table was actually made out of a large railroad cable spool of some sort. It was shocking to me at first— was nothing like the dull avocado and gold hues of my own house. Walking through Corrine’s front door was like walking into a magical land where Fleetwood Mac played in the background and the faint scent of marijuana smoke seeped out from under a back bedroom door. The healthy snacks in the cupboard were mostly unpalatable, but we didn’t care—711 was just down the street, and Corrine’s mom was away at work all day. As long as Corrine completed her daily chores, we had the freedom to make as many prank phone calls as we could fit into an afternoon. Compared to my tension-filled home, hanging out at Corrine’s was like Nirvana.

Corrine and I were inseparable in high school, where she was a theatre geek and homecoming princess, while I practiced the piano and crushed on the boys she dated. She had (and still has) this unique gift of drawing a wide variety of people into her life; she was so easygoing, accepting and non-judgmental that she made friends with everyone.

Corrine’s path was a bit different from mine. While I headed off to study music in college, she got married, moved to Colorado and had two beautiful girls right away. Her marriage broke up, but she subsequently had the good fortune to find the love of her life, Daniel, who became the real father to her daughters, Jaylene and Shelby. They worked hard for years to develop their successful business and make a stable life for their family. It paid off. Her children adore her, she travels constantly, and most enviously, she’s the only one in our group who has grandchildren.

If I didn’t love her so much, I’d hate her.

For several years now, the isolation of the pandemic, coupled with the widening dissimilarities in our political beliefs has caused the perfect V-formation of our girlfriend group to fracture somewhat. We are not flying in sync as we have for so many years. For me, this has been quite painful.

But as I watched Corrine’s friends and family surround her with such love during her party, I realized that I need take a lesson from Corrine—that maybe loving others without judgement is the key. That it’s in my wheelhouse to let things go if I choose— that we all are different, but we are all beautiful. Perhaps what I’ve found so unacceptable right now will not always feel so significant in the future. There is hope for healing.

As I celebrate Corrine on her sixtieth, I realize I’m right behind her. When we were twelve, it never crossed our minds that time would run out. Now we understand that we must make each moment count.

Thank you, my precious Corrine, for leading our formation with such grace and love.

With your example, we will soar.

 

Avoidance

17 Nov

For the past fifteen minutes, I have written at least ten sentences and then immediately erased every single one of them. They were terrible sentences— all of them trite, dull and uninspired.

I’ve gotten up from my desk four times; once to run downstairs to watch the cat stare out the window at the birds snacking at the birdfeeder; another to switch a load of laundry (because those sheets gotta get dry), once to pee, and finally, to bring the portable speaker upstairs so I could play some Spotify music, which I somehow believed would inspire me to write beautiful and moving sentences.

I wake each day with the purest intentions of doing what I love—and often hate—more than anything: write. Yet, for the past year I have found the feeblest of excuses to avoid doing just that. I did start writing my second novel: a shitty first draft of chapter one is actually down on my computer—yet the rest remains sequestered in my head. The story wants to come out, but unfortunately my avoidance gene has been vibrating in high gear as of late.

I’m an expert at avoidance. I’ve practiced it my entire life. I used to do it with not practicing the piano; I did it with not completing assignments in high school and in college. Maybe it’s a form of ADHD—a trait that runs in my family—or maybe it’s a learned behavior. Either way, my brain is wired to tell me that I shouldn’t bother, because whatever I do, it won’t be good enough. That I’m nothing but a big fraud.

So it’s just easier not to try.

I think many of us avoid following our dreams for this very reason. We worry about others criticizing or rejecting us. Society has bombarded us with these unreasonable expectations of what success is—how our bodies should look; what possessions we own; what we should have already accomplished in our lives. Even though most of us are savvy enough to understand the false beauty of the images we see in advertising or social media, we still compare ourselves to that impossible standard. And if we can’t reach that standard, WHY BOTHER?

If I don’t try, then no can tell me I’m not good enough. And while I’ve embraced avoidance as an easy alternative to facing the pain of this imagined rejection, I know in my heart that it will ultimately kill my creative soul.

And so I’ve forced myself to write today. I’ve pushed through the avoidance and spilled out some words, and I feel different now than when I first started. There is a tiny seed of accomplishment growing inside of me—that maybe something seemingly insignificant has grown into something more meaningful. Maybe I’m not a fraud after all—that the voice in my head telling me I’m not good enough is the real liar.

Perhaps it’s not what we accomplish that gives us the real joy, but the process of doing that gets that dopamine going in our brains. Finishing something feels good, but the pursuit of getting there is where the real rapture lies.

Thank you, my dear readers, for helping me get to where I need to go.

On to chapter two!

The view from my writing desk.

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:

Proud Mama

29 Jun

The other evening while I was on my knees digging in the garden, a woman riding her bike by our house stopped and circled back. I assumed she was there to admire my colorful flowers, as my “Covid” garden has become quite an attraction for local passersby as of late. Although she seemed familiar to me, with her helmet and sunglasses, I couldn’t place her.

“You’re Jessica—right?” she said, removing her glasses.

I nodded, still unsure of who she was.

She smiled. “My daughter went to elementary school with your son, (dead name)!”  

My shoulders tightened. Up until that moment, I had been relaxed and in my element, enjoying the early evening light with my hands in the soil. I didn’t want to have to stop and explain to this woman—a mere acquaintance from over a decade ago—that my former son was now my daughter. Hearing my daughter’s dead name, let alone saying it aloud, is quite painful for me.

“Oh, hey—hi!” I stammered. “So good to see you!” Before she asked any more questions, I decided to launch into my well-practiced monologue. “Just so you know, my daughter, who now goes by “Cece,” has come out to us as a transgender woman. Until recently, she hid who she really was, and our family is so pleased that she’s now able to live as her true self.” I pointed to the large progressive pride flag we have affixed to the front of our house. It waved at us in the evening breeze.

The woman didn’t bat an eye. “Oh, that’s wonderful!” she exclaimed. “I’m so happy that you’re being supportive. My mom tried really hard to fix me when I was young.”

“Fix you?” I was confused. “What do you mean?”

She looked right into my eyes. “She sent me away to a camp to try to make me straight. It almost worked, too.”

When I knew this woman, she had a husband and two small children. “Wait—you’re no longer married to your husband?”

“Not any more. I’ve been in a relationship with a woman for over ten years. We live just a few blocks over.”

Wow. What a surprise.

We talked for a while—reminiscing about our kids in elementary school and what they’re up to now—the “usual” mom-talk. She told me her daughter was about to have her first baby. I told her about my four daughters, all of whom identify as “queer.” Probably not a conversation we would have all those years ago.

Times are changing—not quickly enough, in my opinion—but it’s moving exponentially faster than it ever has before. My children’s generation is largely responsible for continuing the legacy of those brave people who strived for inclusivity and equal rights all those decades ago.

When people begin to open their minds, society begins to change.

It’s simple, really. We’re all part of a beautiful garden of varieties and colors. Unique and exceptional on our own, but so much more vibrant and beautiful when we are all together.

Happy Pride Month!