Tag Archives: pandemic

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!

Not Over Yet

19 Apr

About a month ago, I ran into a young woman who had attended Kindergarten through high school with my oldest daughter. I hadn’t seen her in years, and we chatted about how our families have been coping during the pandemic. I told her that I had published a novel that had come out right after the lockdown, and she said she’d pick up a copy at our local bookstore. I smiled and thanked her, figuring there was maybe a fifty-fifty chance she’d actually buy it.

Last night I attended a lecture at our local university (Father Gregory Boyle discussing Home Boy Industries—incredibly inspiring, by the way (https://homeboyindustries.org/) where this same young woman rushed up to me, her eyes shining with excitement above her mask.

“I was hoping I’d see you here!” she exclaimed. “I wanted you to know that the very next day after you told me about Lost in Oaxaca, I went down to Chaucer’s Bookstore and bought two copies of your book—one for me and one for my sister! I loved it so much!  I actually read it in like 24 hours, and now I really want to go to Oaxaca!”

She has no idea how much this meant to me. To be honest, I’ve been feeling a little lost myself lately. Tomorrow is the second anniversary of the launch of my Lost in Oaxaca, and I’ve been asking myself when I should stop talking about a book that’s almost two years old. Like a bride whose wedding got canceled with no hope of ever rescheduling it, I feel like the pandemic robbed me of my big celebration. I do realize it’s time to move on and dive into the next project, but this has been difficult because I’m currently suffering from pandemic distraction syndrome (I made that up, but you get it.)

I’m told that the average book has a lifespan of three years, so I guess I have approval to prattle on about Lost in Oaxaca for at least one more year. Like a proud new mother, I just can’t stop talking about my literary baby. I give you my full blessing to roll your eyes and shrug with disgust as long as you leave me a review on Amazon or Goodreads.

And if it’s not too presumptuous of me—maybe consider purchasing a copy for a friend?

Happy Anniversary, little book!

https://www.chaucersbooks.com/

Lost in Oaxaca: A Novel https://www.amazon.com/dp/1631528807/ref=cm_sw_r_em_api_i_E8XXZ79PMRATTEM09XH8

Leading the Formation

19 Jan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

With your example, we will soar.

 

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

Possibilities

12 Mar

It’s strange how we forget much of our lives over the course of time. At various ages, we are more impressionable, so the details are clearer—the smell of a new box of crayons, or newly sharpened number two pencils still fills me with the excited nervousness of starting a new school year. The scent of Coppertone makes me instantly sleepy, as it conjures up the warm sun, salty ocean water, the dissonance of scratchy transistor radios, and the sting of sunburned shoulders. To this day, when I smell jasmine or carnations, I’m sixteen again, with life stretching out in front of me, brimming with endless possibility.

Then there’s the decade when I was so busy working and raising a family, that the years passed by in a blur of birthing children, changing diapers and folding laundry. I used to think I was happy to leave those years behind, but to this day, the scent of Johnson’s baby shampoo and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches instantly makes me long for the time when my children were small.

There are years that help me mentally categorize my life: graduation from high school and college; my father’s death, when I met my husband; when I married him. All the years of my children’s births. The year my youngest was diagnosed with cancer.

And now 2020.

In 2019, in anticipation of the remarkable year to come, I had spent a good amount of time creating some pretty rich fantasies in my mind. My novel, LOST IN OAXACA was set to launch in April, 2020— a life-changing event for me, to say the least. There would be a huge book signing at our local Indy bookstore, followed by a launch party featuring Oaxacan food and drink. Friends and family would come from all over to celebrate my success. I could imagine the smell the mole negro, pan de Yalálag, chocolate and mezcal that was going to be served at the party of a lifetime.

Unfortunately, 2020 had other plans.

¡Pinche pedazo de mierda, 2020! (FYI, you’ll get that reference if you read the first page of my novel.)

The pandemic changed our lives pretty rapidly. My husband (a first grade teacher) began to teach from home—not an easy task. I started teaching piano lessons from an iPad that someone loaned me. The smell of bleach, hand sanitizer and alcohol wipes permeated our lives. We ran out of toilet paper. Two of my adult children moved home. I won’t go into the details—you know the story—you’ve lived it, too. Over time, we’ve learned to deal with our depression and anxiety.

But where my pandemic story has been one of personal disappointment, it has not been one of death and loss. While one of my daughters tested positive for Covid-19 and had to quarantine upstairs in our bedroom for two weeks, (she was asymptomatic) we did not have to deal with hospitalization or death. While I have not been able to hug one of my other daughters for a very long time, I have been able to visit with her outdoors while masked and socially distancing. I can’t even imagine the pain that so many people have endured—not being able to hold their loved one’s hand while they lay dying in the hospital. My husband lost multiple cousins and other family members to this insidious disease. Our hearts ache for the loss their families have experienced.

And while it’s not over yet, there is hope. People are getting vaccinated. My 84 year-old mother remains healthy and has received her two shots. Two of my daughters who work in health care have been vaccinated as well. My husband has received his first dose. Hopefully I’ll be eligible in the next wave.

We will persevere. Our government is finally taking care of business. If all goes to plan, we will get back to some normalcy and be able to spend time with our loved ones this summer.

The smell of blooming jasmine in the air again, and while I’m closer to sixty than to sixteen, the fog is beginning to lift, and I can once again see the possibility that life has to offer. I fully believe that after all we’ve been through, we will soon have the opportunity to create many wonderful new memories.

And they will be sweeter and more magical than we could have ever imagined.

Hang onto your copies of LOST IN OAXACA for me to sign. We are most definitely having that party someday soon— including the shots of mezcal!

Two Simple Things

23 Dec

We are born into this life completely alone; naked, vulnerable and empty-handed. Then we spend most of our lives working long and hard to accrue huge amounts of stuff, all of which is left behind when we die.

Birth, while natural and beautiful, can be a traumatic experience. I should know—I’ve been born once and given birth four times. I don’t remember my own birth, of course. But I do know that when I shot out into the world, there were people around to help me. They bathed me, held me, fed me, and loved me. And when the time is close for me to leave this world, I assume there will be people to do all of these things for me again.

If we’re fortunate, the beginning and ending parts of life are pretty much handled. It turns out, though—that the middle part of life—the part that we’re supposed to enjoy, can be really, really hard at times. We try our best to get it right, but we fail more often than not.

If this past year has shown us anything, it’s that we’ve really blown it this time. I don’t need to give you a list. As you read this, you’re waist-deep in the muck of 2020, and I’m right there alongside you. Now, I could rant on for hours about whose fault it is—some of you will take my side, some of you won’t. It doesn’t really matter though. We’re all at the bottom of this polluted pit and we need to help dig each other out.

I, for one, am exhausted from carrying so much anger in my heart over these past several years. This anger has manifested in many ways, mostly in me screaming at the television, unfriending people on social media, and using the F bomb more times than I can count. It’s weighed on me that people I love dearly see the world so differently than I do. And it also hurts to know they look at me and think the same thing.

Here’s the thing though—this pandemic has revealed to us who we really are. And much of it has been pretty horrifying. Yet, through all of the scarcity, pain, unfairness, anger, and even death, I’ve also witnessed great good—people doing what’s right, going out of their way to be kind, taking care of others, and sharing what little they have. Many of us have realized that practicing acts of kindness is so much more meaningful than accumulating all that expensive stuff.

I believe we are put here on this earth to accomplish two simple things: to help others and to give love. If we remember to treat each other with the care and love we’d give to a newborn baby—or a person on their deathbed, we’d all be so much more content.

We now have the opportunity to make real change. Let’s start thinking others before ourselves. Mostly, remember to love, love, and LOVE!        

Good riddance 2020. You’ve tried your best to take us down, but we wouldn’t let you.

Here’s to a better year ahead.  May 2021 send us all in a new direction!

Thank you to all my faithful readers. Your support over the years has meant the world to me.

The author, representing 2020 by not looking her best.

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

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!