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Relishing the Happiness

28 Jun

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Meant to Be

17 May

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

Except that it doesn’t.

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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.

One Year Ago

21 Apr

Today, exactly one year ago, my debut novel, Lost in Oaxaca was published. I’d been looking forward to 2020 for a very long time, knowing that it was going to be a time of great success for me. After years of hard work, I would finally experience my life’s crowning achievement.

Yes, indeed—I was destined to be the queen of Indy publishing. People would flock to bookstores to buy my novel; copies would sell out in days and the publisher would have to scramble to print more books. A mile-long line of fans would snake around our local bookstore at my book signing event. I could go on and on, but I’ll spare you the gory details. The truth is, you’d never be able to imagine the vividly narcissistic fantasies I’d compiled in my mind about my 2020 literary success.

It’s truly embarrassing. I’m just thankful you can’t get into my head.

Dreams are fun, but they can dissipate quickly, especially during a pandemic. I must reiterate—my disappointments are nothing compared to what some folks have experienced in 2020. But as it is required that writers write about their feelings, I’ll not let you down.

There was no selling out of Lost in Oaxaca. In fact, bookstores sent back the unsold copies to my publisher. There was no book signing event; no launch party. ZILCH.

The reality is that even without a pandemic, my extravagant fantasies of literary success would not have come to life. After all, I’m an inexperienced, first time novelist who has spent her adult life teaching piano lessons, running a household, and raising four children. Lost in Oaxaca was never going to be a worldwide bestseller.

My publisher made it clear from the beginning: YOU MUST WRITE AT LEAST 3 NOVELS before you can expect to gain a following. EVEN THEN, you will most likely only have moderate success.

“LALALALALALALA!” I shouted, stuffing my fingers into my ears. You’d think a piano teacher of over 30 years would understand the art of listening, but I wouldn’t hear of it. I was going to be the exception.

If this damn pandemic has taught me anything, it’s that who I am is not related to how many books I sell, and that my success is not dependent on an Amazon ranking. Sure, it feels good to sell a book. But the act of writing—putting words to a page—is what brings me the real joy, and this should be my focus. I am happy and fulfilled when I write, and that’s enough.

I’m so incredibly thankful that folks have bought my little book and told me they loved it. They’ve left me so many encouraging messages and positive reviews. I am deeply indebted to Chaucer’s, our local Santa Barbara Indy bookstore, who kept Lost in Oaxaca front and center this past year. They even acknowledged that I held best seller status—at least in the category of local authors. If that’s not a modicum of success, I don’t know what is.

Hey—I just remembered that my publisher also told me that the life of a novel is around three years. That means I’ve still got two more years left to promote Lost in Oaxaca.

And two more years to come up with additional elaborate fantasies of my incredible literary success!

And you thought I was done talking about my book. NEVER!

Distracted

15 Apr

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

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

“You’re an asshole,” it whispered.

A true friend always tells it like it is.

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

Oh, you know her, too?

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

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

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

Off to clean the van!

Nah. I’ll do it tomorrow

Winning

18 Aug

When I was a young pianist, I participated in numerous competitions. I remember one in particular, where I had won my division in southern California, and was up against the winner from the northern region. The final competition took place in a ballroom at a swanky hotel in San Francisco, and I was scheduled to play last. I was sick with nerves. My palms were so sweaty that I had to wipe them on the hem of my lace dress. There was also a good chance I was going to upchuck my breakfast all over the gold-patterned hotel carpet.

I remember my competitor was a handsome young man, who played the first movement of a Brahms Sonata brilliantly. After he performed, a well-respected piano teacher I’d known for years—who also happened to be in the audience that day—looked over at me, gave me a sad smile, and shrugged apologetically. He was implying that because I was a young girl wearing a pretty pink dress, I didn’t have a chance in hell to beat this serious young man in a black tuxedo. This was the early 1980’s, and so I believed him.

As I walked up to the stage, my nervousness suddenly disappeared. I figured that if I wasn’t going to win, I might as well just go for it. I performed my piece—a contemporary sonata by Norman Dello Joio—with my total heart and soul. And it was the best I’d ever played it. Not only that, I had a wonderful time.

Here’s where I tell you that it didn’t matter if I won or lost—the important lesson being that I went for it. When the pressure of needing to win was removed, I was really able to shine. I played circles around that guy that day. My performance was more interesting, more musical, and way more exciting than his.

And here’s where I also tell you that I won that competition. I’ll never forget that teacher’s reaction when my name was announced as the winner. The memory of the surprised look on his face has stayed with me for 40 years—lasting way longer than the $500 prize money I received (and spent to pay off a huge phone bill I racked up from accepting collect phone calls from my jerk of a boyfriend—but that’s another story for another time.)

Why, you ask, are you reliving this story from so long ago? Well, it’s because I recently won another award. Not a musical one, but this time, one for my writing. My novel, LOST IN OAXACA, just won the American Book Fest Fiction Award in the category of Women’s Fiction.

Now, I know this is just a little Indy award—it’s not a huge accomplishment by any means. But since I’m just starting out with a whole new career as a writer, it feels really good to be acknowledged.

So I’ll accept this writing accolade with grace. Because the only person telling me I wasn’t worthy of winning this award was me.

And I just showed her.

http://americanbookfest.com/americanfictionawards/2020afapressrelease.html

Scroll down to the bottom of the list to see me!

Not Done Yet

22 Jul

 

img_2247From the time I won an essay contest in second grade, I dreamed of becoming a writer. I wasted a lot of years doing everything but writing, mainly because I was such an expert at avoidance and self-doubt. Sometimes, though, we are fortunate enough to hit bottom at some point in our lives, and this sends us into the direction we were always meant to go. I had that experience in my mid-forties, where I was subsequently able to wriggle out of my rusty chains of insecurity and actually start writing. And after many years of back-breaking (butt-numbing) hard work, I actually completed an honest-to-god novel. Then I even got the damn thing published.

Yay! Good for me! I should feel excited, accomplished, and proud, right?

Um, no. I don’t feel any of those things. I mostly feel sad. And guilty. Self-promoting one’s novel is never an easy task, but doing it in the midst of a devastating pandemic and one of the greatest social uprisings in our country, feels overly self-serving (even though isn’t that the point of marketing?)

But like many other writers out there trying to drum up some hype for their newly published books, I’m asking myself, how much is too much? Should I stop trying to draw attention to myself when the country is falling apart? When folks are worried about putting food on the table, getting evicted from their homes, or being pepper-sprayed (or worse) while protesting, they’re probably not going to be excited about seeing another Instagram/Facebook post of a copy of LOST IN OAXACA placed artfully next to a sweating glass of iced tea while I tout it as the next great summer read.

I get it. There are so many more important things to talk about right now. But I’ve been at this for such a long time—I’m just not ready to give up on it yet. Especially when a fricking virus cancelled my book-signing party.

I know this novel doesn’t define me—it’s only a fraction of who I am. But it is meaningful, because it’s a direct result of a major shift that took place in my own life. And I still feel the need to honor that, even if it means still talking about the book. And while I’ll try my best not to over-share, I’m not ready to shut up about LOST IN OAXACA just yet. So if you see that pretty blue book cover in your social media feed yet again, just grin and bear it—and feel free to scroll on by.

Then again, maybe you’re looking for a fun literary escape?

Have I got the perfect book for you.

 

If you’re interested in hearing more about LOST IN OAXACA, check out my recent guest spot on the NEW BOOKS NETWORK podcast.

https://player.fm/series/new-books-in-literature-2421420/jessica-winters-mireles-lost-in-oaxaca-she-writes-press-2020

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.

 

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!

Pub Day!

21 Apr

img_0874Well, my big day is here. And during a pandemic, too. When I started this blog almost nine years ago, I never truly believed I had it in me to actually write a novel, let alone publish it. Well, to hell with that woman who had so little faith!

Here’s a link to my story, although if you’ve been reading this blog for all these years, you already know it.

Thank you, thank you, THANK YOU, dear readers! You’ve been with me this long journey and I am so grateful for you consistent support. Here’s a link to my story:

Women Writers, Women’s Books

I truly hope you enjoy reading Lost in Oaxaca! 

Now on to the next book. Lord help me.