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Different Cups of Coffee

10 Aug

 

c2a98633-8524-45d7-9844-0aedd3daff88Today I found myself falling back in love with my husband. This is no small feat considering we’ve been together since 1985, married over thirty years with four children, during which time I’ve learned many things, one being that I’m absolutely capable of murder.

As most married couples, we have our certain routines. Please don’t tell anyone, but we eat breakfast at McDonald’s. Often. And there is an exact procedure that we follow with our breakfast ritual: Before leaving the house, I order my Venti Decaf Skinny Mocha from Starbucks using the app on my phone so I don’t have to wait in line (one of the greatest inventions ever created.) Then I drop Rene off at McDonald’s and head over to Anna’s Bakery where I order him a sesame bagel (double toasted), a muffin for me (pumpkin or blueberry oatmeal) and a crème-filled chocolate donut for Isa if she’s with us. We then meet up at McDonald’s where Rene has ordered scrambled eggs and his beloved McDonald’s coffee. We grab a window table and after greeting the locals, we eat our breakfast and talk.

Most times we talk about our work, our students—our family and friends. We often run into people we know (it’s astounding how many people my husband knows in our community) and have a quick chat with them. Sometimes, during our conversations we get angry with each other, usually when the topic is our children; he wants to push them and I want to defend them. Mostly, we talk and laugh. Throughout the years we’ve had some deep, philosophical discussions under the glare of those fluorescent lights.

Today was really no different than usual, except that as René spoke about his latest trip back home to Oaxaca, and how much he appreciates his life there and well as the life we’ve created together here, I realized how deep my love is for my husband. I’m so very lucky to be married to a man who is so different than I—in language, culture and background. Over the years, he’s exposed me to a world I never would have known or appreciated if I had married someone like me. And I guess I’ve done the same for him. The reality is that although we sip our coffee from two different cups, we’re drinking the same thing.

The other night, René pulled out some love letters I’d written to him when he’d gone back to Oaxaca after we first began dating in 1985. The words written by that young girl were so full of love and promise. At twenty-three, she didn’t know if he was coming back to her, but it didn’t matter. She loved him and she wasn’t afraid to tell him.

She must’ve been a pretty persuasive writer because he ended up coming back. And it’s been a pretty good life so far. We’ll see how it goes over the next thirty years.

You can find us having coffee at McDonald’s.

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Rejection

2 May

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I had no idea how hard this was going to be. Don’t get me wrong—I knew there would be rejection. I just didn’t realize how much rejection.

It’s been a year since I began searching to find representation for my novel, Lost in Oaxaca. The very first week I began the process of querying agents, I got a response from a well-known literary house in New York City. The woman who owned the agency emailed me back within a day. “I like this,” she wrote after reading the first chapter. “Send me the full manuscript as soon as possible.”

Well, that was easy, I gloated, expecting her to call me within a few weeks with an offer of representation. LOL. Or TTJTRWJ which means Time to join the real world, Jess. Eight months later, she finally emailed me back.

Dear Jessica,

I have had this for so long that it’s time for me to face up to the reality, which is that I like this but I don’t love it, and that’s why I keep putting it down and picking it up again.

I’m sorry to disappoint you, but I can’t represent something for which I have only moderate enthusiasm, and that is not something you should want either.

I feel it’s a little too romancey for my taste. The writing is good, but not spectacular. It’s a near miss, but one that I have to take seriously.

Good luck with this. Someone else might be interested, but I have concluded that I am not the right person for this.

Good, but not spectacular. A near miss. Ouch. Okay, so she didn’t love it. We all have different tastes. That’s to be expected. Someone else out there is bound to love it.

I keep a yellow legal notebook pad where I write down whom I’ve queried and the date I sent the email. When I receive a rejection, I write a big “NO” across the name. I have written “NO” forty-eight times. Really. Forty-eight times. I just counted.

I can tell that most of the rejections are form letters. I get it—sincerely, I do. Every day, these people are inundated with thousands of emails from hopeful authors like me—how can they possibly take time to respond with a personal note?

This is not to say I haven’t had some positive response. In the course of one year, I’ve had five agents request the full manuscript. After reading my novel they all graciously declined, but at least they asked to read it. I guess that’s something. Recently, I received the one and only rejection email where the agent (from another well-known New York literary agency) actually took the time to offer suggestions.

Dear Jessica,

Thank you for the opportunity to read Lost in Oaxaca. I enjoyed the detailed portraits of musical subcultures, family life, and travel experiences, and found your imagery quite engaging. I also appreciated the story’s diverse cast of characters and emphasis on inter-cultural engagement. However, this aspect of the story often felt forced and didactic. Characters like Camille’s mother felt too much like caricatures of xenophobia to be convincing, and Camille was often frustratingly naïve, in spite of her intelligence. In order to challenge readers, the story’s political aspects must be more challenging and complex. This manuscript was well-crafted, and I wish you the best of luck with it in the future.

Now, that’s concrete advice I can use. I took her suggestions to heart and have already re-worked parts of my manuscript. What I really appreciate is that she actually took the time to offer her expertise to someone she doesn’t know. That’s true professional courtesy. I think that when I do publish this damn book, I’m going to acknowledge this particular agent for being so thoughtful.

I have many good qualities but my best one is patience. Therefore, I AM NOT GIVING UP. I have sent out eighty-six queries and more than half have said NO. Some never responded. But I AM NOT GIVING UP. Some agent out there is bound to read my query and be intrigued enough to ask for the manuscript. Hopefully, that person will fall in love with my characters just as I have—and then I’ll get the phone call I’ve been waiting for.

And the rest will be herstory.

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Tiny Beautiful Things

1 Mar

I recently read the most wonderful book: Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed, the author of the best selling memoir, Wild. This lovely little book is a compilation of letters sent to the author while she worked writing an advice column for the Rumpus called Dear Sugar. My childhood friend Michele (one of my fellow creative soul sisters) recommended it to me as she understands my constant angst about trying to find happiness through creative expression.

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I needed this book right now. I haven’t felt like myself lately. Each morning when I turn on the television I want to either scream or cry at what’s happening in our country. I need to start my next novel and every time I sit down at the computer–I’ve got nothing. I stare blankly at the screen until I finally give up and log into Facebook where the political posts made me even more depressed. Just before falling asleep in bed each night, my brain manifests all kinds of wonderful and exciting writing ideas, then when I wake up the next morning, I can’t remember a single one.

The best thing about Tiny Beautiful Things is that we learn something that we already know: life is hard sometimes. We are all sad and raw and completely lost at some point in our lives. the trick is to understand that with each experience there’s a lesson to be learned. We don’t always pay attention, but it’s there.

I’m not sure what my lesson is lately. Certainly, I need to feel more gratitude for what I have. And I have so much. So I will pay attention to all the tiny beautiful things that are right in front of me.

 

 

 

Marching

24 Jan
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My daughters, Nora and Isa with my husband, Rene at the Los Angeles Women’s March last Saturday.

This past Saturday I marched. While my husband and two of my daughters drove to attend the women’s march in Los Angeles, I opted to participate locally in Santa Barbara and marched down State Street with two of my closest friends. I’ve never attended a protest march before, and I’ve got to say, it was a magical experience seeing so many people come together to make a statement. But then, I’m a white woman of privilege, and this gives me the option of feeling good about my participation. I’m allowed to pat myself on the back for taking part in this wave of change.

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The crowd in De la Guerra Plaza, Santa Barbara

It’s difficult to admit to myself that because I’m white, my life is easier than those of my family members and friends of color. I can try to assert that as a woman, I’ve been on the receiving end of sexist and misogynistic behavior, but the truth is that because of my color, (or lack thereof) I’m given a free pass to do pretty much what I want with my life. Although for almost thirty years I’ve been married to a man of color while living comfortably in liberal Santa Barbara, California, I’ve gotten comfortable wearing my upper middle-class blinders all these years. I’ve deceived myself into believing that most people are color blind.

They’re not.

We’re not.

I’m not.

The sooner we talk about this, the sooner real change can happen.

Please read the following for some valuable perspective on this issue.

From my author friend, Tracey Baptiste’s Facebook page:

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Tracey Baptiste

January 22 at 5:15am ·

This picture has been making the rounds, and making people feel a lot of things. Some think it’s an image of defiant division on a day of unity. It’s not. But I’ll get to that.

There are a lot of things about this image that I love. I love the faces of the women, the colors, the composition: the way the foreground is off to the side, and the background is centered. I love the juxtaposition of the sign and its message with the women standing behind and above it. I love that the holder of the sign is looking away, sucking a lollipop.

This image holds many ideas at once: beauty, defiance, mockery, chill, joy, power, bravery, which is probably why it strikes a nerve with different people for different reasons. It does much of what I was taught art is supposed to do: provoke, entertain, speak real emotional truth.

But there is another idea I see in this picture: betrayal.

People are hurt by this photo because “not all white women…” except that’s not the point of the sign. The sign is hyperbole. But the feeling of betrayal this woman feels, and is expressing are not.
She has come to the march with her sign, with the very women she feels have betrayed her at her back. But she has come anyway because there is a bigger cause. A bigger fight. She probably feels if it was a black issue that none of these women would stand with her as she is standing with them, but she has come anyway. And she has come with a clear communication to those around her that their activism has not been intersectional. Their calls for unity are hypocritical. But there she is.

This is not an image of divisiveness. This is an image of unity with the very people who would divide HER, despite their divisiveness.

I love this photo.

ETA: Photo credit: Angela Marie Peoples co-director of Get Equal Now

 

From my daughter, Leah’s Facebook page in response to an article in the Huffington Post: 

 http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/before-you-celebrate-the-zero-arrests-at-the-womens-march_us_588617e4e4b0e3a7356a3ee4?

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There are so many thought-provoking pieces available on the significance of the women’s march this past weekend. They all put into words what I haven’t been able to articulate over the past few days: the feeling of simultaneous joy and discomfort that refuses to settle in my stomach. Because, let’s be real: the march, a beautiful display of love, respect, unity, and progress, was also evidence of the continued issues of intersectionality (racism, classism, cis-predominant and anti-trans sentiments, ableism, etc.) that exist within the realm of feminism and women’s rights.
I just want to say…as a biracial, white-brown woman, I am used to the nausea that comes with feeling two things at once. The feeling when you are both right and wrong; both white and brown; both privileged and oppressed; both an activist and the perpetrator. But for those of you experiencing it for the first time – namely, the first-time protesters who marched on Saturday and are all of a sudden being told that your activism was only motivated by convenience and Facebook likes – listen to me. Take a deep breath. It’s okay!! You, and those who are saying these things, are both right and wrong. Yes, both. Yes, it’s uncomfortable. But you marched, or thought about marching – you’re an activist now. And to be an activist is to face your own faults, privilege, and mistakes head on, humbly, and with the understanding that just because showing up late is better than not showing up at all, that doesn’t mean that everyone has to celebrate your arrival.
I am fortunate in that my contradictions lie directly in the diluted melanin of my skin – it’s like my light-brown tone serves as a constant, visual reminder that I can have two truths at once. To my white women friends and family members, I am sorry you do not have as obvious of a cue to own your dual realities, because it is going to take so much more effort to get used to your co-existing identities of being both the oppressed and the oppressor. And I am sorry for wishing this transformation upon you because I know that being called out for your privilege is not a good feeling – but it is a necessary one, because it is truth.
So don’t avoid the articles like this one. Seek them out. Embrace the discomfort. Preach the duality of your identities to those who might not have woken up yet, but are on their way. Because we are all needed right now, at the marches, on the phones, and in the everyday conversations that change minds and promote empathy. We all need to show up, shut up, and get to work.

 

Let’s start talking.

Really talking.

Thankful

26 Nov

There is nothing more blissful than a rainy Saturday afternoon. Even better, being able to get outdoors during a break in the rain and revel in the beauty of this wet day. Even though my heart is heavy about what’s happening in our country right now, I’m choosing to set my worries aside for one lovely, quiet afternoon and reflect upon all the gratitude I have for my wonderful life.

There is a lovely park near our home that used to be a private ranch but is now a county park open to the public. Numerous hiking paths meander around a small lake filled with all kinds of water fowl. Come along and take a walk with me. Perhaps you will even be able to smell the wet earth…

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I absolutely love the vibrant red of these berries!

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Before long, these grasses will be bright green.

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The dogs (and Rene) are so happy to get out of the house!

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A new tree popping up in front of trunk of a dead tree

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Almost felt like I was in the English countryside!

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Nothing better than the scent of wet Eucalyptus!

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Stow House at Rancho La Patera in Goleta, California

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And because it’s Thanksgiving week, I can’t resist sharing a photo of my wonderful family.

Shine

9 Nov

Today I mourn for the America I thought was mine. I’ve been holding back the tears all morning long, not because my candidate lost, but because I’ve realized that the ideals I wholeheartedly believe in—equality, respect and love for others has been superseded by hate, fear and ignorance.

I came across this post by Anne Presuel on Facebook this morning and it touched me deeply. I share it with you in the hope that you see yourself as a fellow lightworker.

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“As a country, I believe we have chosen this path. As a country, we have said that we think a man like Trump can lead us into a better tomorrow.

I think we are going to enter into a dark-night-of-the-soul period now that will require ALL of the lightworkers to step up in a bigger way than ever before.

We have no choice but to go through this. And in going through this, we are going to learn as a country what love truly looks like. Because when a choice is made from a dark place of fear and hate, light must shine in order for healing to take place.

So, lightworkers, you are up to this. We can do this. The next 4 years (at least) is going to ask us to be someone we don’t even know right now. But we can do it.

I’m personally so sad that we’ve chosen this, but sometimes a deep dark-night-of-the-soul is what’s needed in order to grow in consciousness and awareness.”

–Anne Presuel, November 9, 2016

This is the start of a new beginning of light. Let’s shine together so bright that we blind the world with love.

Midlife Crisis

17 Oct

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I’ve recently decided that I’m going through my first real midlife crisis. At least I hope that’s what it is—perhaps I have another 54 years ahead of me. Whatever it is though, I’m struggling to find the joy lately.

I could blame my depression on several things:

1) No takers on my novel so far. I do have one agent still looking at it, but no word back yet. I’m savvy enough to know that for new writers trying to get published, this is not uncommon. It’s still hard on the ego, though.

2) The ELECTION. Like a looky-loo at a car accident, I’m sickened but at the same time, strangely captivated. I can’t seem to pull my eyes away from the tragedy playing out on television while eagerly waiting for another car (or scandal) to plow into that already huge pile of carnage.

3) My children are growing up and leaving me. I know this is as it should be, but shedding my role as caretaker of four is harder than I thought it would be. Thank goodness I still have six years left with Isa.

4) Getting older sucks. Menopause, wrinkles, aches and pains all remind me that while inside I’m still that sixteen-year-old girl, my body proves that she is long gone. I should have loved her more when she was around.

“White-privileged, first-world problems,” my husband admonishes me. “Get over yourself.” As a person of color, he’s allowed to say this to me. Growing up poor in Mexico, he knows about real poverty, discrimination and suffering. Sure, I’ve had my moments of pain, but fully understand I’ve lead a privileged life. After recently calculating our wealth on Globalrichlist.com. I’m actually embarrassed to admit how far up on the scale we are. I have NO reason whatsoever to complain.

Still, I can’t seem to shake this feeling of “What if?” What if I’d starting writing earlier? What if I’d made exercise a priority throughout my life? What if I’d traveled the world when I was young and had the energy? What if I’d learned to love myself a long time ago?

Hey Jess—do you want some cheese with your whine?

Okay, rant over. No one can fix me but me. I need to look for the good, so I’m off to practice some intentional gratitude.

I’ll start with a heartfelt THANK YOU for following my blog. I truly appreciate your readership.

There. I feel better already.

Just to remind myself of how lucky I am, I’m posting some photos of things I’m grateful for:

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Black-eyed Susans in the garden

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Time spent with my beautiful daughters

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My daily view of the Santa Ynez mountains

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Isa and our babies, Cody and Leo

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The vibrant color of this late autumn hollyhock.

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There are really no words to express my gratitude for my family.

The Bully

12 Aug

I live with a bully in my head who says awful things to me all day long—despicable things I would never dream of saying to a friend, let alone an enemy (if I had one.) Yet I find myself listening with rapt attention to my tormentor, choosing instead to believe the negative rhetoric when I should be grabbing it by the collar and telling it to SHUT UP once and for all. It’s like having a personal Donald Trump in my brain. Even as I write these words, Donald is telling me that I’m a terrible writer, that no one cares what I have to say—that I’m basically a DISASTER, folks.

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I’m sure my depressed state of mind can be attributed to quite a lot of recent rejection and the fact that I still haven’t found an agent to represent my novel. I was off to such a great start back in May. After querying some agents, several requested to read the full manuscript. I happily emailed my novel off to them, halfway expecting them to all say YES! Your novel is exactly what we’re looking for! Please sign with us!

Yeah, right. Instead, it was “While your writing is quite good, no one here is willing to take on your novel as a project…” or “This is not the right fit for our agency, but as the literary business is quite subjective, I’m sure there are other agents out there who will feel differently…”

We’ve all heard the stories—writers pasting up their rejection letters on the wall or keeping a file folder of rejection emails—or how now famous writers received hundreds of rejections before finally publishing that bestselling novel.

I know I’ve just begun the process of many months—maybe even years of trying to get published. As of today, I’ve received over twenty-five rejections—twenty five people telling me that they don’t want me. I know this is to be expected, but it still hurts. I will hold out hope that I soon hear from the one agent who liked my story and told me that although she had a pile of manuscripts to read, mine was on her list. She told me to be patient.

I will wait. I will keep sending out queries. And I will fight with everything I’ve got to ignore that annoying Donald Trump voice in my head.

That bully is going down.

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The Pacification

19 Apr

 

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My son, Nino is graduating from University of California Santa Barbara this coming June. He is an art major who specializes in printmaking. This week he’s having a solo art show at UCSB’s Glass Box Gallery entitled “The Pacification” which explores his relationship with his father. Since many of you won’t be able to attend, I thought I’d share some of his work on my blog.

I’m so proud of Nino for following his passion. He started U.C.S.B. as an Economics/Accounting Major and I knew this was not the path he should have chosen. Luckily, he realized that creating art is what makes him happy and changed his major. In July he’ll be off to live in Oaxaca for sixth months where he will continue to study printmaking.

Here is the explanation behind this show and some examples of his work:

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The artist, Nino Mireles

Breathe

12 Feb

I recently read the inspiring book—When Breath Becomes Air by Dr. Paul Kalanithi. It’s the story of a highly educated man with degrees in English literature and biology who becomes a renowned neurosurgeon and neuroscientist. A lover of literature and philosophy, Kalanithi writes eloquently about his family, his education, and being diagnosed with stage four lung cancer at age thirty-six.

Here’s a doctor who treats terminally ill patients suddenly facing his own mortality. Before he dies, he’s able to write this poignant book about the true meaning of life.

I guess what really resonated with me about his story was that for years Kalanithi put life on hold while working diligently to become the best possible neurosurgeon—spending hours and hours studying, researching and performing surgeries to leave his mark on the world. Yet in the end what really mattered was not his career, but his wife, baby daughter and extended family.

Why does it take something so devastating to wake us up to what’s really important? When my own daughter was diagnosed with cancer, I thought I had learned my lesson. Yet after almost ten years it’s still a struggle for me to consistently take pleasure in the little things. That darn “if only” pattern of thinking seeps into my subconscious, constantly diluting all the precious joy.

Fortunately, I have found a way to break free from these negative thought patterns—by practicing gratitude. Every day as I go about my daily tasks, I try to consciously think about how very lucky I am.

Today was full of the little things: Sleeping in because of a school holiday; breakfast out with Rene and Isa followed by a glorious walk to our local butterfly preserve. Watching the dogs romp happily through the grass, soft and green from the recent rains. Running into neighbors at the local pizza parlor and joining them for lunch and delightful conversation. A trip to the library. Little things, really—but oh, so very big.

Life is short. Be kind and show gratitude. Nurture relationships.

Revel in the beauty around you. LOVE. I will die someday and so will you.

Breathe deeply before that breath becomes air. It’s that simple.