Archive | life RSS feed for this section

Beautiful, Inside and Out

30 Sep

Last December, I didn’t send out our annual holiday newsletter. This is unprecedented for me, as for over thirty years, I’ve always sent out a photo card showing our beautiful family of six, accompanied by a letter detailing the many accomplishments of my children. This past year though, I just couldn’t face it.

I was too overwhelmed. And a bit scared.

In 2019, some major changes took place in our family. Our oldest daughter moved back home; our second daughter got married, and our youngest daughter started high school.

And our third child, who was assigned male at birth, came out to us as a transgender woman.

Last summer, at the age of twenty-five, Cecily, who goes by Cece, realized that who she was on the inside did not match the gender originally listed on her birth certificate. For those of you who know our family and are slightly confused, I’m talking about our child whose “dead name” was “Nino.” From now on, I will only refer to my daughter as Cece, and use she/her pronouns because that is who she is, and who she has always been.

It’s so odd that for years, we perceive someone as being a certain way, and have absolutely no sense that they might be someone completely different on the inside. Society has taught my generation that gender is binary—either male or female—so we told ourselves stories about our children based solely on their bodies. We nurtured them as the gender we assumed they were, never realizing that we might not be honoring their authentic selves.

Then, when our children are courageous enough to reveal who they really are, we’re shocked. We’re sad. We grieve for the person we believe is no longer with us. We didn’t realize then how much we had to learn.

While I immediately accepted Cece as a woman, to be honest, it was far more difficult than I imagined it would be. As a perpetual people pleaser my entire life, I worried about what others would think and say about my perfect little family. I was terrified of rejection—not only for Cece, but for myself.

Societal constraints are often oppressive, and for her own survival, Cece unknowingly hid who she was—even to herself. For years she suffered from deep depression because she pushed her true self down for so long. And who wouldn’t want to hide? People can be unaccepting and unkind about what they do not understand.

Our family is fortunate enough to live in a community where people are generally well-informed about transgender folk. I’ve discovered that my kids’ generation is so much better at understanding the differences of others than my generation has been. From the moment Cece came out, her sisters have embraced her with pure acceptance and love. They are closer now than ever.

It’s not always easy, but our family is learning as we go. Our love for Cece has grown exponentially, and there’s no doubt we will continue to support her as she makes her way through life as the woman she was meant to be.

Cece is still the same person she’s always been—she’s just more beautiful now, because she’s finally able to freely show us who she really is on the inside. As for me—well, it took me a while, but I’m done keeping quiet. I’m flying that progressive rainbow flag with pride.

Ultimately, love is all that matters. I loved my child from the moment she was born, and that love has only grown deeper now that she’s given me the gift of knowing her true self. I am so proud to be her mom, and I celebrate her with all of my being.

Awareness

3 Jul

img_2055

I’ve always thought of myself as a flexible person, but the truth is, change is difficult for me. I’ve enjoyed an easy, comfortable life where I can pretty much go anywhere, do anything, or speak my mind freely without anyone questioning me. I don’t have to worry that I’ll be stopped and questioned by the police because of the way I look. My white privilege has offered me more opportunity than people of color. As a woman, there have been times in my life when I’ve experienced sexism—and even been afraid, but I’ve never been discriminated against because of my skin color.

I recently published my novel, LOST IN OAXACA, where my protagonist, a white, privileged piano teacher named Camille, travels to Mexico in search of her missing protégé. Unable to speak the language, Camille finds herself literally lost in the mountains of Oaxaca, where she must rely on others to help her navigate not only the remote mountainous terrain, but an unfamiliar culture as well. For the first time in her life, Camille is the different one. Yet, instead of encountering racism and hate, she is given guidance, care, acceptance, and ultimately love, by those who are not offered reciprocal treatment back home in her world. She thus begins the difficult process of acknowledging her privilege and opening her mind to becoming aware.

This shift in awareness is the first step in becoming anti-racist. If we allow ourselves the chance to shed a single incorrect belief in our minds, we can move on to shedding another. Then another—and so on. When we finally realize that the story we’ve been taught for so long is not true, we can make real change in the direction of equality for all. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: it’s up to those of us who benefit from white privilege to fight for those who don’t. We can’t stay silent any longer.

I know I have much work to do. I’ve been way too comfortable for far too long.

I won’t tell you what happens to Camille; you’ll have to read the novel to find out.

                           Let’s just say that nothing is ever really lost.

 

It’s on Me

9 Jun
img_1770

Graphic by Justin Teodoro

I’m white. I’m affluent. I’m privileged.

I’m also biased. I see color. And it turns out I have many racist bones in my body.

How can this be? I’m educated. I’m a liberal Democrat. I voted for Obama—twice. I’ve been married to a man of color for over 33 years. Of my four children, two identify as LGBTQ. I fundamentally believe in equality for all.

Yet I have made, and still make, assumptions about people based on race. And this means I’m racist.

I wasn’t born a racist. Society made me this way. I’ve been formally educated with unconscious bias since I was a child, when I first learned to read from books that had only white, blond kids like me in them. Remember Fun with Dick and Jane? For years I watched TV shows and movies where people of color were stereotyped or portrayed negatively. My father was an educated man, yet he openly told racist jokes at the dinner table. In high school, my friends and I made fun of gay people because we thought it was funny. We mocked people with accents. I believed the police were always there to help me—and they were—because I fit a certain demographic.

It took the murder of another Black man at the hands of the police to create the essential shift that is currently taking place in our collective consciousness. It’s not the people of color with the problem—it’s me. It’s ultimately on me to make the necessary change.

No longer will I avoid dealing with the reality of systematic racism. I will be conscious of my biased thoughts. I will think before I speak. I will stand up for those who are marginalized. I will not be afraid of alienating others because I speak out against racism.

I will learn to feel comfortable outside of my comfort zone.

I’m just so sorry it’s taken me this long to really get it. But then again, it’s not about me anymore. It’s about our Black brothers and sisters.

Black Lives Matter. Let’s keep the change alive.

Now What?

25 May

My novel, LOST IN OAXACA has been out in the world for over month, and I’m now being hit with a mild case of post-publication depression. From what I understand, it’s a common affliction for writers and other artists, who spend years working on a project, birth it out into the world, and then wait for it to be judged. There’s the initial buzz, we sell a few books, and the reviews begin to trickle in. Our hearts sing with all the positive accolades, until that one bad review pops up, and our souls are temporarily crushed. We don’t usually talk about our melancholy for fear of appearing whiny and ungrateful, but it’s there. Each day, our mood is largely dependent on our Author Central sales graph.

It certainly doesn’t help that an unexpected pandemic landed smack dab in the middle of my spring publication date, postponing my book signing until who knows when? Talk about a buzz kill!

And I did everything I was supposed to do. Leading up to my pub date, I wrote all the prerequisite articles to create buzz for my novel. Maybe it worked, maybe not, but either way, that part is over and done with. Now it’s up to me to keep the hype going. This is difficult, especially because I’m not a big fan of self-promotion. (Right now, you’re probably asking yourself, “Then why is she always posting or blogging about the damn book on social media?”) Honestly, if I could, I’d stop all this marketing stuff and get back to just writing. I loathe being that writer who constantly talks about her book, and yet I have to be, because it’s up to me to sell copies.

I figure my best bet is to offer all of you an unpaid internship as a marketing representative. If you’ve read LOST IN OAXACA and liked it, all you have to do is tell a friend about it. Or post a review on Amazon. I swear I’ll reciprocate should any of you need my unpaid marketing services in the future.

And rest assured—when this damn pandemic is under control, WE ARE HAVING A PARTY. I promise to sign each and every one of your copies. I will serve you mole, homemade tortillas, and even Oaxacan mezcal. We will raise our glasses for a toast to LOST IN OAXACA even if we have to stand six feet apart!

Thank you, dear readers, for buying my book. But mostly, thank you for being here with me all these years while I take this journey. I so appreciate all of you!

Empathy

7 May

img_1375When I was in first grade, my mother bought me an adorable culotte dress splashed in pink and green that looked like an impressionist watercolor painting. Lovely as it was, it was probably not the best choice of clothing for a first grader. Shorts connected to a dress that zipped up the back might be fashionable, but it prevented my little arms from being able to wriggle out of it in a timely manner, especially when I needed to pee.

I think you can see where this is heading.

After two unsuccessful trips to the restroom where I nearly pulled my arms out of their sockets trying to reach the zipper, I decided to wait to relieve myself until I got home after school. Five minutes before the bell rang, a sheen of sweat broke out on my forehead. I suddenly realized I couldn’t hold it any longer. Right there in front of the entire classroom, a geyser of pee gushed out of me and formed a golden pool on the linoleum floor. I was beyond mortified. Gasps echoed around the classroom. My ears burned with shame.

Then I heard a little voice: “Poor Jessie. Oh, poor, poor Jessie.”

The classroom tittering ceased. It was Bonnie, a curly-haired girl with big brown eyes and an infectious giggle. She took my hand. “Oh, poor Jessie. I’m so sorry. It’s okay—please don’t cry.”

She took charge and alerted the teacher. All the while, she continued holding my hand, even during my embarrassment of watching the school janitor come in and shake a can of absorbent wood shavings onto the puddle. When I got home from school, I took off that urine-soaked dress and threw it in the trash.

I truly believe children are born empathetic. When they make their entrance into the world, their hearts are pure. It’s only after they watch and learn from adults that some lose the ability to be kind. For a long time now, we’ve seen so much unkindness. Hostility—even hatred—has been openly expressed from all corners of society.

Now with this Covid-19 virus, life has changed drastically for all us—probably forever. There’s been so much loss and pain—so much disappointment. And yet, there are also stories of incredible empathy and kindness demonstrated by so many in our communities. Our front line healthcare and essential workers are putting their lives at risk every day to help us survive. We have seen many in our state and local governments step up and take charge—working tirelessly to give us hope that we may get through this mess sometime soon. People are donating time and money to local food pantries. Neighbors are helping neighbors. Good deeds are happening all around us.

Call me Pollyannaish, but I believe empathy is returning. We are learning to value what is truly important: family, relationships, and most importantly, love. I believe that many of our hearts are starting to default back to the pure state we were born with. At least I hope that’s the case.

Let’s all try to be like that innocent six year-old girl who didn’t point her finger and laugh or judge—but merely took the hand of her friend and told her everything was going to be okay.

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.

 

 

Nesting

3 Jan

img_0264During the past three decades, I’ve been fortunate to have given birth four times. Each time, right around a month before each birth, I would find myself knee-deep in a frenzy of cleaning that would put Marie Kondo to shame. Nothing would escape my attention. The contents of drawers would be dumped out and  rearranged with categorical precision. Closets would be cleared out, baseboards scrubbed, and lampshades vacuumed. Bags of discarded items would be carted away to Goodwill. By the end of the day, my muscles would ache from climbing up and down the step ladder to swat at the lace cobwebs hanging from the crown molding—cobwebs that I hadn’t noticed since before the birth of the previous child.

The term for this behavior is called nesting. Usually, it’s the expectant mothers who do the nesting as a preparation for the coming baby, but I’m sure some expectant fathers do it too. It’s a chance to put the house in order before the chaos of a newborn turns everything upside down.

Well, the odds are that a fifty-eight year-old, post-menopausal woman isn’t pregnant, so why is it I’ve spent the last five days manically cleaning and organizing my entire house from top to bottom? I believe it’s because I’m about to give birth again, but this time, to a different kind of baby. And I’m as terrified and excited as I was thirty years ago when I had my first human child.

The due date for my new baby, Lost in Oaxaca, is April 21, 2020. And after a seven year confinement, I am so ready to relieve myself of this heavy load and launch her out into the world. (Okay, Jess—enough with the pregnancy metaphors.)

And I’m sorry to admit that like most new mothers, I’m going to start talking about my baby a lot. You’re going to see many photos of me and my baby on Instagram and Facebook. I’ll be writing so many blog posts about Lost in Oaxaca that you’ll start wishing that I’d just get lost in Oaxaca.

Here’s the dilemma: in this current era of publishing, it’s really up to the author to be responsible for promoting their book, which means I’m going to be doing some plugging. I’ll try my best to do it well and not too often. Luckily, I have three Millennials and a fifteen year-old Gen Z to help me navigate the complexity of posting on social media, so I’m hoping that my incessant promotion will turn out to be stylish and tasteful. In any case, my youngest will grudgingly help me. She’ll roll her eyes and call me “Boomer,” but since I gave actual birth to her when I was at the ripe old age of forty-two, she kinda owes me a favor.

Oh—and by the way—you’re all invited to the christening for Lost in Oaxaca at Chaucer’s Bookstore in Santa Barbara! Book signing is Wednesday, April 29, 2020 at 7:00 p.m.

And don’t worry about forgetting the date—you’ll be getting a birth announcement in the mail.

Now, if you’ll please excuse me—I’ve got to go scrub the inside of the water heater.

 

I’d love it if you’d stop by and visit!

www.jessicawintersmireles.com

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/jessicawintersmireles/

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/jessicawintersmirelesauthor/

So Legit

14 Oct

slang photoI’ve reached a point in my life where I’ve mostly become irrelevant when it comes to my fourteen year-old daughter. It doesn’t help that I had Isa when I was 42, which pretty much makes me a geriatric mother. Now, that is a scary thought for both of us. These days, I’m lucky if she even talks to me. It’s not that she’s mean, or rude (well, sometimes she’s rude)—it’s mostly that she’s indifferent about what I have to say. She will speak to me when she needs a new dress for the homecoming dance, or to tell me she has absolutely no shoes, and can we please run out to Rite Aid because her is skin is so dry that if she doesn’t GET THAT PARTICULAR FACE CREAM RIGHT NOW her face may fall off.

Mostly, what I’m having trouble with is her vernacular. I often have to concentrate really hard to understand what she’s talking about. Honestly, if I hear her say low-key, legit, or chillax one more time, I may scream. And don’t get me started on the memes:

Scene One (of many)

Isa: laughing uproariously with her phone five inches from her face.

Me: (smiling) “What’s so funny?” (This question is usually asked three times before there is any verbal response.)

Isa: “You wouldn’t get it, Mom.”

Me: “Yes, I will. Just show me.”

Isa: (rolling her eyes) shows me a disjointed video of something that moves by so fast I can’t even register what it is. I watch it three times before handing the phone back to her.

Me: (frowning) “You’re right. I don’t get it.”

Isa: (letting out an almost imperceptive sigh while continuing to scroll through Instagram) “Tol ya.”

Now, I don’t mean to diss my kid—(is “diss” still acceptable?) She’s actually an extremely lovely child who gets good grades, has a robust social life, and is wittily hilarious when we do have the occasional convo (hey, give me a little credit—I’m trying.) And if I’m lucky, she’ll open up and actually tell me what’s going on in her life. I’ve found that the best way to get her to talk is when we walk the dogs or ride in the car together. Initially, if I just shut up and don’t ask questions—the conversation will start to flow. Before long, we are legit talking to each other, and it is da bomb.

Maybe, the next time we talk, I’ll throw in a little of my own 1970’s slang. I’ll say that something’s bad when I really mean good. I’ll end each description with to the max or tell her that the situation is totally bogus and that dude is bitchen.

Then again, maybe I’ll just be quiet and let her do the talking. . .

img_5660

Isa, then. . .

img_5637

And now. . .

Friends in High Places

24 Sep

img_5986Recently, I made friends with a green Lynx spider in my garden. Which is stupid, because spiders and people can’t really have relationships. But we humans love to anthropomorphize the creatures we come in contact with, so in my mind, “Lynxie” and I were friends. I’m sure our friendship was the furthest thing from Lynxie’s mind; she probably considered me a nuisance, if not a predator, as I spent a great deal of time examining her up close.

I was drawn to Lynxie because she was spectacular: a beautiful green color with an intricate geometric design on her back. She had made her home on a large black-eyed Susan plant, as her green color exactly matched that of the leaves. After I posted a photo of her on social media, friends on Instagram and Facebook set out to discover what kind of spider she was. In a matter of hours, I knew all I needed to know about my new best friend: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peucetia_viridans

For weeks, I checked on her each morning, watching with fascination as she waited patiently for her prey (mostly bees and moths) to get close. My family got involved as well, making it a habit to check on her every time we walked by the flower bed. Soon there was an egg sack attached to the stem—and we were thrilled—babies were on the way!img_6052

Days passed, and she stayed put, but something was different: she was no longer catching and eating her prey. She began to shrink, and her vibrant green color began to fade. It was as if she was putting all her energy into her babies. I began to worry about her.

Yesterday morning, I stopped to check on my friend. She was gone. Panicked, I inspected the entire plant to see if she had moved to another leaf, but I couldn’t locate her. Did she move closer to the ground to have her babies? Had another predator spied her egg sack and thought it was a delicious hors d’oeuvre? Or even worse, was she sick of my constant scrutiny and decided to flee?

Whatever her reasons are for ghosting me, I wish her luck. She brought me and my family great joy, and I don’t regret a single moment we spent together.

Proof that her sudden disappearance has affected the entire family:

img_6061

Terror

15 Jul

img_0494Over five years ago, when I first began writing my novel, “Lost in Oaxaca,” I never allowed myself to believe it would be published someday. Actually, that’s a lie. I did think about it—occasionally. Um, that’s another whopper. The truth is, I fantasized about it for hours on end; imagining what it would feel like to hold a book in my hands that had my name on it. To open it and see the words that I created spilling off the pages. The joy I’d feel upon seeing it on the shelf at the library, or prominently displayed in the bookstore. I could even see the line snaking around the building during my book signing at the famous Chaucer’s Book Store in Santa Barbara http://www.chaucersbooks.com/. I thought about the elation I’d experience knowing that people would be reading my story—taking a journey through a narrative that I created all on my own—connecting with my story (and ultimately me) in some intimate way.

So now that it’s happening, have I felt any joy? Nope. Elation? Not even close.

Try TERROR.

But before I get to terror, I’m going to touch a bit on vulnerability. Now, I get that most people’s literature preferences are subjective, and undoubtedly there are those who will read my book and absolutely hate it. Either because Contemporary Romance (dealing with current issues such as white privilege, racism, and illegal immigration) is not their cup of tea, or it’s because they don’t like the way I write. Or maybe they think my novel is too commercial, and not “literary” enough. Maybe they’ve already previewed the novel and disliked it, but were afraid to tell me because they love me and didn’t want to hurt my feelings.

On the flip side, there are those who’ve read it and raved about it. And I choose to believe them. The first friend I shared it with read it within two days. After she finished it, she sent me a text at midnight bubbling over with enthusiasm about how much she loved it. I don’t think she’ll ever know how life-changing that was for me (Thanks, Zip!) In any case, love it or hate it, putting my work out there for everyone to judge is definitely not easy. That pervasive voice in my head that’s been telling me my entire life that I’m not good enough is practically screaming at this point.

The terror part comes into play because I had no idea that when my book was finally done, the real work would begin. Initially, it was over three years of writing the damn manuscript. Then, almost two years of sending out query letters to agents, which were usually followed by a terse “it’s not what I’m looking for right now,” or worse, receiving no reply at all. After close to 100 outright rejections, I finally queried an Indie hybrid publishing company called She Writes Press who publish only women authors (read about them here: https://shewritespress.com/about-swp/) Thank goodness, they were willing to take a chance on a middle aged, unknown author like me.

img_5766

She Writes Press just won the 2019 Indie Publisher of the Year award by the Independent Book Publishing Professionals Group!

Unlike a traditional publisher, who I assume pretty much does everything for the author, I have to take on most of the workload myself. This is indeed frightening—although I’ve got to say that the incredible powerhouse women at She Writes Press are wonderful in holding my hand as I navigate the process. The exciting thing about publishing with a hybrid company is that I invest in my own publication for a greater share of the profits. It means hiring and working with a copy editor (truly an amazing experience), choosing a book cover design, creating an author tip sheet, website and specific social media accounts, and finally, hiring a publicist. All of this can get quite expensive on a piano teacher’s salary, but if the book sells reasonably well, maybe I can recoup some of my investment. Ultimately, it doesn’t really matter; my objective was to write and publish a novel, and that’s what I’m doing. And no matter what it costs, I’m worth it.

April 21, 2020 is my “pub date” as they say in the business (and no, it doesn’t mean grabbing a beer with a friend.) As I get closer to the big day, I guarantee I’ll be posting about it—a lot. In fact, so much so that you may become quite sick of me. I apologize for this in advance.

Thank you, my dear readers, for your continued support. I hope you’ll enjoy coming along with me on this incredible ride!

img_5621-1

Off we go!