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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.

That Time of Year Again

4 Nov

I have my husband to thank for bringing the celebration of “Day of the Dead” into my life. This is a tradition that he grew up with in Oaxaca and always brought a great deal of excitement into his family’s life. They are a family of bakers and during this time, they baked and sold many loaves of pan de muerto or “bread of death”  which people would place on their altars honoring their relatives and friends who had died.

The Day of the Dead altar has now become a tradition in our family. During the process of setting up the altar each year, our family takes the time to reflect on those we’ve loved and lost. It’s not our intention to forget our loved ones, but busy lives often keep our minds on other things. As my husband says, “Everyone dies twice. The first time is when you physically die. The second time is when people forget you.”

Celebrating Day of the Dead keeps those we love from dying twice.

Here are some photos of this year’s celebration.

 

Love Always Wins

19 Jun

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It’s been a rough week for our country. There’s been so much violence and hate lately. Yet after spending time in the garden this afternoon, I feel a great sense of hope as I focus on the diverse beauty around me.

While I’ve been horrified at what occurred in Orlando, I’m in awe of the outpouring of love from all over the world. It’s evident that love is so much more powerful than hate.

We are a remarkable nation of color and we are all equally vibrant!

It’s going to be okay. Love always wins, no matter what.

God Bless America.

Drying Up

8 May

may 8 2015 1 may 8 2015 2 may 8 2015 5 may 8 2015 6 may 8 2015 7 may 8 2015 8 may 8 2015 9 may 8 2015 10 may 8 2015 11 may 8 2015 12 may 8 2015 13The garden has yet to realize we’re in a severe drought. We’ve completely stopped watering the lawn and it has since turned it into a crunchy plot of brown turf that makes me cringe every time I drive up to the house. I absolutely refuse to let my flowers die though, which means it’s bucket time around our house. We now have buckets in each shower to catch all the cold water that would normally go down the drain until the water temperature is hot enough.

For the longest time I couldn’t figure out why my back was hurting so much until I figured out it’s because I’m lugging buckets of water out to the yard every day.  Curse you, drought!

For those of you around the country who are experiencing hurricanes, tornadoes, thunderstorms, hail the size of baseballs and massive flooding, I apologize for complaining about a little dead grass. I humbly request that you please send some of your surplus rain out to Santa Barbara!

Autumn

21 Nov

fall 1Autumn color has arrived and all I want to do is curl up into a cocoon of quiet contemplation. And if I can’t swing that amid the chaos of my life, maybe I’ll make myself a cup of tea and pick out a good book to read. I absolutely love this time of year. How lucky I am to be able to live here.

Wishing you all a wonderful Thanksgiving filled with many happy moments and much love and laughter!

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Hope

5 Jun

june 5 flowers 8It’s the last day of school for my daughter, Isa and that means summer is officially here. Even with the drought here in Santa Barbara, the flowers are spectacular this year.

Every day when I walk out the front door I’m greeted by a glorious blanket of color that wraps me up in joy even when my heart is heavy. There’s been so much sadness in our community since the shootings that took place in Isla Vista on May 23. There is still so much healing that needs to take place.

Despite this tragedy, I still believe that beauty always finds its way into our lives and somehow continues to blossom even when the conditions are unfavorable.

I choose to believe in the goodness of all people. I pray  for change. I watch for growth. And I hope for love.

And it’s all right there in the garden to remind me every single day.

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The End of Complacency

25 May

gunThe only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.  

 –Edmund Burke

I’m the first to admit that I’m complacent person. It’s not that I don’t feel things deeply—I do. It’s just that I’m a busy working mom with my own set of problems and it’s often difficult to muster up enough indignation to spur myself into action or even believe that any small act on my part will bring about any necessary change.

Over the past few years, I’ve cried my share while glued to the television screen, watching news reports of the mass killings that have taken place across our country. I’ve felt real pain and anger, and spurred on by the solidarity of social media, I vowed to do something to make a difference. But like the majority of us, I would soon move on with my life after a few days, conveniently forgetting my initial anger and frustration. After all, those instances of gun violence never really affected me personally.

Well, now it’s happened in my own backyard. Last Friday night around 9:30, as I sat talking with my husband and kids in the living room, I heard multiple sirens. Now, it’s not unusual for us to hear occasional sirens as our house is located near the 101 freeway between the ocean and the mountains. When they didn’t quit after a minute or two, I turned to  my husband.

“Honey,” I said, opening the back sliding door to better hear what was going on. “I think this is something really bad—the sirens aren’t stopping.”

“Maybe a high speed chase?” he asked.

“I don’t think so,” I said, “It sounds like a lot of police cars are headed somewhere.”

Less than ten minutes later, my nineteen year-old son, Nino’s phone rang. He is a UCSB student and often spends weekend nights hanging out with his friends in Isla Vista, the beach town adjacent to the university.

“What’s up?” he said into the phone. I watched his face fall. He stood up and began to pace around the living room. “Dude!” he shouted. “Are you f**king serious?” After a short conversation he hung up the phone.

“Mom,” he said, “There’s been a shooting in Isla Vista.” On the phone was one of a group of Nino’s fraternity brothers who had been headed home from an out of town event, but were unable to get to their apartment because the entrance to Isla Vista had been cordoned off. They needed a place to spend the night so they came to our house.

The following morning and throughout the day we learned what happened in Isla Vista: Six college students dead; the mentally ill shooter dead. We watched rambling Youtube videos, accounts from students who witnessed the horror, and what was most heart wrenching of all: a plea from the father of one of the victims begging for the violence  to stop. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HN6NBDYPuhY. I sobbed while watching that, knowing it could have been my son, Nino who was killed.

How many more people have to die for us to do something? Fighting against the NRA is virtually impossible—time and again it’s been proven that this gun-loving organization is just too powerful. They will protect their second amendment rights no matter how many of our children die from gun violence. They say, “Guns don’t kill people; people kill people,” Yes, people do kill people, and since the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School, almost ten thousand Americans have been killed by people using guns.

But why was it so easy for these killers to get their hands on guns?

The following is what Michael Moore had to say about the Isla Vista Shootings:

With due respect to those who are asking me to comment on last night’s tragic mass shooting at UCSB in Isla Vista, CA — I no longer have anything to say about what is now part of normal American life. Everything I have to say about this, I said it 12 years ago: We are a people easily manipulated by fear which causes us to arm ourselves with a quarter BILLION guns in our homes that are often easily accessible to young people, burglars, the mentally ill and anyone who momentarily snaps. We are a nation founded in violence, grew our borders through violence, and allow men in power to use violence around the world to further our so-called American (corporate) “interests.” The gun, not the eagle, is our true national symbol. While other countries have more violent pasts (Germany, Japan), more guns per capita in their homes (Canada [mostly hunting guns]), and the kids in most other countries watch the same violent movies and play the same violent video games that our kids play, no one even comes close to killing as many of its own citizens on a daily basis as we do — and yet we don’t seem to want to ask ourselves this simple question: “Why us? What is it about US?” Nearly all of our mass shootings are by angry or disturbed white males. None of them are committed by the majority gender, women. Hmmm, why is that? Even when 90% of the American public calls for stronger gun laws, Congress refuses — and then we the people refuse to remove them from office. So the onus is on us, all of us. We won’t pass the necessary laws, but more importantly we won’t consider why this happens here all the time. When the NRA says, “Guns don’t kill people — people kill people,” they’ve got it half-right. Except I would amend it to this: “Guns don’t kill people — Americans kill people.” Enjoy the rest of your day, and rest assured this will all happen again very soon.

It’s time for all of us to stop being complacent.

It could have been my child.

It could have been yours.

May Blooms

21 May

May is my favorite gardening month. So many wonderful blooms to enjoy!

And summer is just around the corner…
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A Happy Ending

18 Feb

RANDOM 122Days go by when I don’t stop to remember that my daughter is a cancer survivor. I even forget to be grateful that Isa is still here with us. Sometimes it feels like the whole cancer experience was a just a tragic movie that our family acted in a very long time ago—a movie filled with fear, angst and sadness but ultimately concluded with a triumphant and happy ending.

I’m to the point now where life is so normal that I actually hear myself complaining about the weather—and this is when it’s eighty degrees outside in February. Isa is nine now, completely cured of her leukemia, growing tall and lithe; busy with singing classes, piano lessons and Girl Scouts. She’s a joyful and funny child—at that lovely pre-adolescent age when everything about life is still fun and exciting—where she wakes up overcome with exuberance as she meets each new day. The beauty of her smile is intoxicating.

This is in stark contrast to me at age fifty-one, when I don’t recognize the old woman with wiry hair and bags under her eyes who stares back at me in the mirror each morning. My body aches as I tightly grip the handrails of the menopausal roller coaster as it throws me into loop after loop of hormone diminishing mood swings, memory loss and weight gain. It would be easy to complain about it all, but I won’t. Because compared to that movie I acted in a few years back, a few aches and pains, forgetfulness, and some grumpiness are really nothing at all.

I’m one of the lucky ones. I’ve been granted the luxury of complaining about insignificant things like menopause because I’m no longer stuck in a hospital room with my daughter tethered to an I.V. line as I watch the chemotherapy wreak havoc on her little body.

There are so many families out there right now who don’t have that luxury—families who are going through what ours went through—some who have little or no hope that their child will survive. I read about them on Facebook and my heart breaks with every story because I know their fear. I know their sadness. I want to promise them it will all get better, and for some it will, but for others there will be no happy ending to their movie.

I’ve realized that when I start to complain about the unimportant things and forget that I had my happy ending, it’s time to bring out that movie and watch it over again—to be reminded that there is still so much to be done to raise money and awareness for cancer research so that eventually, every family with a child diagnosed with cancer will have a happy ending.

My husband, Rene is running his eleventh Marathon in a few weeks, and my daughter, Leah has taken it upon herself to help him raise money for the Pablove Foundation for pediatric cancer research. Here’s the link: http://www.stayclassy.org/fundraise?fcid=257002  Check it out. Maybe your small gesture is just what’s needed to help a child have a happy ending like Isa’s. A little goes a long way.

From this…

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IMG_0758 Isa Mireles 4-26-13 - Copy

To this.

Losing Susan

18 Jan

yellow, orange rosesHer favorite colors were orange and yellow. I didn’t know this about her until after she died—when I had to ask her family what color flowers were going to be ordered for her memorial service which I was helping to facilitate. All these years she’s been my friend and I never knew that she loved orange and yellow the best. How did I not know that about her?

For over twenty years, Susan Samuel and I have seen each other at least once a month at our music teacher meetings, recitals and musical events. Although she often talked about her family, I had never once met her two grown sons or said more than a quick “hello” to her husband on the phone. I knew that she was originally from Montana; that she was a micro-biologist before becoming a piano teacher and that she loved music. I knew that she was a brilliant, funny and kind person and that I always felt completely comfortable being around her. I knew that I loved her even though I never once took the time to tell her that. Now I wish that I had told her how much she meant to me.

Two weeks ago, Susan suffered a massive stroke. She was only sixty-seven and in excellent health. She went to her yoga class, came home at noon and was discovered unconscious by her husband later on that afternoon. That night, after emergency brain surgery, she was placed in drug-induced coma until a week later when the difficult decision was made to take her off life support. She died peacefully with her family at her side.

Susan’s memorial was held at the small church where I’m the pianist; Susan also held her piano recitals there, so her husband thought it would be appropriate to honor her in a place where she had a connection. The church was standing room only—people stood against the walls and packed the foyer to listen to the musical offerings and spoken tributes in honor of Susan. It was a meaningful and emotional service.

I had the honor of speaking at Susan’s memorial and this is a part of what I shared:

You may not know this, but we music teachers are a nutty bunch. We’re highly emotional, often insecure and have a habit of taking things personally. We can also get quite hot-headed if things don’t go our way.

It’s not our fault—we can’t help it. After all, we’re artists, and as artists our greatest desire is to bring as much beautiful music into this world as possible. Who has time for organization, protocol and good sense? Who has the skill and ability to handle all those annoying details so that recitals and events run smoothly and easily?

Well, once in a great while, along comes an artist who has all of aforementioned attributes—someone who was passionate about music AND was able to keep a level head and civil tongue, as well as a smile on her face. That artist was Susan Samuel. And to be honest, I don’t know how anything ever got done in our music teachers’ organization before she came along.

When I was nominated as president of our branch, I took Susan aside and told her I didn’t want the job. She looked me right in the eyes and said, “Yes, Jessica—you do want the job,” in that reasonable, no nonsense tone of voice which meant, you’re doing it whether you want to or not. Well, okay then. Then she invited me out to lunch to talk about the job responsibilities, and I thought, “Good. Here’s my chance to pick her brain about how she does everything so effortlessly.”

But that didn’t happen when we went to lunch. In fact, we never even discussed it. Instead, she asked me about my other life—my husband, my children; my gardening and my writing. It was the start of many meaningful conversations over the years where she would tell me about her life—that how before she was a piano teacher, she was a micro-biologist; what Montana was like during the summer; about her two brothers and their struggles; about her father’s antique car collection; about how she loved to play the piano. She especially liked to talk about her husband, Chuck and how proud she was of her two boys, Jon and Dave—and how Jon’s wife, Emilia was a keeper. Oh, yeah—and the grandson on the way. She really liked to talk about that—a lot.

Susan was always our go-to person. At one time or another, most of us in our branch have relied on Susan to give us the correct answer or word the sentence in exactly the right way. I know I’ve never once made an important decision without calling her first to ask her opinion. Last week, when I found out that Susan had suffered a stroke, I wondered when it would be appropriate for me to send out an email to the membership to let them know what happened and my first thought was: I need to call Susan and ask her what I should do.

The fact that none of us call Susan any longer is beyond my comprehension. That we won’t see her smiling face at our monthly meetings and listen to her laugh or watch her roll her eyes over something ridiculous. That she is gone leaves a huge space in our lives and I can say with certainty that our branch will never be the same again.

Susan touched us all with her warmth, her kindness, her graciousness and her humble nature. We will miss her intelligence, her wit, her funny, yet gentle sarcasm, and especially how easy it was to spend time with her. We will miss how she kept us grounded.

Yes, it’s true that we musicians are artists, and we often walk around with our heads in the clouds. Sometimes we ignore the details; sometimes we forget to be diplomatic; and sometimes we fly off the handle. But Susan set the bar for us—she showed us how to do it right; and how to do it well, and for that we will be forever grateful.

We will always love you, Susan. Rest in peace, our dear friend.

Since Susan died I have been walking around with a lump in my throat and a burning sensation behind my eyes. I realize it’s because Susan is the first close friend I’ve lost.  I know there are many profound lessons to learn from her death,  but as I’m in the midst of grieving it’s difficult to figure out what those lessons are right now. Perhaps it’s that I need to learn to live each day as my last, because it may very well be. Or that I should not be afraid to say aloud to those people I care most about the words I should have expressed to Susan: Thank you for being so wonderful. I love you. 

Susan Samuel 1946-2014

Susan Samuel
1946-2014

I’ll leave you with two poems—the first on was written in honor of Susan by a member of our music teachers’ group and the second was read at Susan’s memorial by her close friend. I believe that both capture the essence of Susan’s spirit.

What I knew of you

was warmth,

humble rays of winter sun

and solidity,

like the piano’s ivory keys.

Your music is a hand

now secured

between our shoulder blades,

your steadfast kindness

a melody

humming within our ribs.

–Linda Holland

Let Evening Come  

Let the light of late afternoon

shine through chinks in the barn, moving

up the bales as the sun moves down.

Let the cricket take up chafing

as a woman takes up her needles

and her yarn. Let evening come.

Let dew collect on the hoe abandoned

in long grass. Let the stars appear

and the moon disclose her silver horn.

Let the fox go back to its sandy den.

Let the wind die down. Let the shed

go black inside. Let evening come.

To the bottle in the ditch, to the scoop

in the oats, to air in the lung

let evening come.

Let it come, as it will, and don’t

be afraid. God does not leave us

comfortless, so let evening come.

–Jane Kenyon