riding bitch

The life of a writer and survivor of loss.


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A New Lens on Life

Earlier this year I bought a used Canon 5D MII. Best decision ever. I’ve actually never owned a *real* camera, one that takes super nice photos, where you can control things. There are obviously more advanced cameras than this one out there, but the Canon 5D MII is a Very Good Camera.

Not only does it take gorgeous photos, but it also shoots beautiful video. When I lived in Los Angeles, I worked with professional camera people, and rarely shot my own footage. The fact that I can shoot video now is significant. It gives me a freedom I haven’t experienced in a long time. With this camera, I am re-training my eyes, learning a new instrument, practicing how to capture the world around me with both still and moving images.

It’s by far the healthiest move I’ve made in a long time.

Here are some still images from the past few months… I’ll post videos in the next post.


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The Key to (this) Writer’s Happiness: Organization + Routine

I think the key to happiness is… staying organized. At least, for me. I’m not one of those writers who works in a cluttered office. I like things to be neat and in their place, so I can find them when necessary, so I don’t have to think about the mess. I’m obsessed with lists, making them, crossing them off.

Lately, I’ve been taking care of things that have been on my To Do list for months. New brakes on car, repaying loans, sending thank you cards, organizing my office papers, making and showing up for doctor appointments, etc. It feels good to check things off, to not have them hanging over my head, to have order. I actually enjoy paying bills and balancing my checkbook.

I’m also easily distracted. So, routine (i.e. organized time) is my friend.

The other day on Instagram, @instarlodge (a residency center that I follow) posted the following: Louise Bourgeois was very habitual with her morning routine. She would drink a cup of tea “with some jelly straight out of the jar,” her assistant recalled. Afterwards, he explained, “she’d have a bit of a sugar high and be ready to roll.” Her morning Routine was so set and connected with her assistant she created 10 am is When You Come to Me (2006). Which all goes to say, we’re interested in your morning routine, how you set up for the day, the week. 

I responded in the comments: Wash dishes. Make coffee. Drink coffee and think while outside throwing stick for dog. Feed dog. Take shower. Dress. Review lists, make lists. Get to work.

(I forgot to add Make bed. Like, I can’t leave the house with an unmade bed.)

This basic routine rarely changes. Sometimes the dog and I will go for a walk or hike instead of playing fetch, but that’s the only variance.

In fact, the dog knows the routine so well, she doesn’t even get out of bed (on the second floor) until she hears my spoon stirring the milk into coffee. It’s like that movie Get Out, when the guy has an automatic reaction every time he hears the tinkling of a tea cup being stirred, except with the bionic hearing of a dog. I’ve tried stirring the coffee silently… but her four feet still thump-thump-thump down the stairs.

Once I tried feeding her before going outside; she looked at me like, “who are you?”

So, yeah, organization… and routine. This is my happy place (my dog’s happy place too). Because when life throws those curveballs, all that organization and routine get shattered like broken glass, and it’s so difficult to put the pieces back together, to find that steady rhythm again. Even good news can do this… but definitely bad news, stress and grief.

When I maintain my routine and stay organized, in control of things, that’s when shit gets done. My head is free to wander and roam. My writing is more relaxed and confident. I can focus on the task at hand… and I treasure this.

What’s your routine?


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Observe

It’s been so long since I’ve written here. I feel almost shy about it. But I miss writing, sharing, having my voice out there. It’s been too long.

Life is… okay. Not great. Not bad. Just okay. It’s too much to unpack in a blog post, but I’m still grappling with the loss of my brother, on top of other losses. It’s not an every day in your face kind of grappling, not something I think about consciously all the time… more of a vibration under the surface of things, compounded by other life factors.

I’d like to say I have answers. Sometimes I think, I’m an expert on loss. But I’m not really. Just because I’ve experienced it many times, from different angles, doesn’t mean I know anything… except, maybe, to be patient and observe.

My former therapist used to say that a lot, “Just observe… your thoughts, feelings, behavior, any patterns, don’t judge or try to change anything yet, just pay attention to what’s happening…”

So, that’s what I’m doing. Observing. Taking notes. Registering.

Wishing you all well, dear readers. Hope you haven’t given up on me.

I’ll write again soon. XO


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Gardening through Grief

My mother had chronic poor health her entire life, including as a child. She spent a lot of time alone, recuperating from one thing or another, often reading a book, or drawing, in her uncle’s enormous garden, which she described as a magical world of plants, birds, butterflies and critters. A refuge and sanctuary. Later in life, she would have her own small garden. I didn’t really get it when I was a child, but I did love to be out there with her. Today, I’m discovering gardening for myself, and how healing and meditative it is.

This summer was my first living in a house that I own, and my taking control of the environment began outside. I have a nice-sized yard, not too big or small, and I knew I wanted a garden.

First I did my research, and consulted gardening friends. Then I painted my garden shed (it used to be white with blue trim), and set up my first garden, a combination of raised bed for vegetables, several flowerbeds, and half a dozen pots.

I was out of town when I learned of my brother’s accident, and in those first anguished texts to friends, the one thing I asked for is that someone please water my garden.

I came home a few days later and spent that entire week trimming all the hedges that surround my property with hand clippers. I clipped every day for a couple of hours before and after work. One of my neighbors finally offered to lend me her electric hedge trimmer, but I declined, despite my hands and wrists being sore. I found it cathartic to snip the bushes manually. It was my way exerting a tiny bit of control, and releasing a little of my anger.

In the subsequent weeks, I’ve been mildly obsessive about the garden. I’m out there every morning with Ruby, checking on the plants, talking to them, encouraging them, weeding and watering them, adding support to the tomatoes, pruning their leaves.

When I’m working in the garden, I’m not thinking about anything else but the plants. I love putting my hands in the earth, the feeling of cool, moist soil, teeming with the little bugs and worms. It’s like feeling Life itself.

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I love watching the plants grow and develop. It’s a slow process which requires patience, but if you pay attention, you do notice differences day to day. Especially after it rains, which it’s been doing a lot lately. And, of course, eating anything you grow is nothing short of miraculous.

Equally fascinating is how the plants react not only to the weather, but also to different environments… some better in pots, others better in soil, and still, others, seem to thrive when next to other plants, or when they’re moved to a different spot.

My basil was near death until I moved it into a larger pot; now it’s as big as a bush. My mint was fragile and gangly until I moved it to the garden bed. Now it’s lush and healthy.

The process inspires me with hope.

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I feel connected to the plants, like we have a relationship of sorts. I sense that they have some kind of consciousness, and they like being attended to. Sometimes I gently run my fingers over their leaves, just to let them know that I’m here.

I love inspecting the flowers and herbs. This one looks like a piece of art to me. I still can’t get over how beautiful it is.

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Occasionally, I pick them and bring them inside. I send photos of the bouquets to my sister and sister in law… “virtual flowers for you.”

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It turns out there is such a thing as gardening therapy. As this article about Horticultural therapists points out, “research has shown that the flexible nature of gardening projects allows service users to feel empowered in a non-threatening space. It also helps develop nurturing skills and is thought to boost mindfulness, as well as increasing serotonin and dopamine levels.”

It makes total sense. Gardening is nurturing. Expressive. Creative. It’s also a community. I’ve made new friends, mostly older than I am, who are avid gardeners. They give me advice, and they give me plants, both (I’ve discovered) part of the tradition of gardening.

Now I have to think of what to do with my brother’s ashes, where to put them in the garden. I’m thinking of planting a tree or bush, but not sure which one yet.

In the meantime, I’m already starting to think about how I’ll do things differently next year, where I will move plants, which ones I will give away, and which ones to buy new. It’s nice to have something to look forward to.

Do you have a garden?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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Why I Don’t Kill Bugs

Picture this. You walk into your bathroom and notice a large centipede in your tub, frozen in place, perhaps because it senses you, but alive. What do you do?

Most people would smash the centipede with their shoe, pick it up with some toilet paper, and throw it in the toilet. That’s what I used to do.

Lately, however, my attitude towards bugs has changed, and no one is more surprised by this than I. That’s because I very strongly dislike things that scurry or buzz, especially in my house, but even outside. When I encounter one of these creepy-crawly-buzzing creatures I tend to react with the stereotypical “scream and jump on the nearest chair” routine, followed by the equally predictable “search and destroy” routine.

The only exception has been spiders. I don’t know if it’s a myth I once heard, or because I read Charlotte’s Web when I was a child, but I’ve always believed it’s bad luck to kill a spider.

I think the attitude shift towards the rest of the creepy-crawlies started after my late husband died. I remember going on a hike in the Santa monica mountains about four weeks after he died. It was ill-advised to attempt a hike – I was totally exhausted and didn’t make it very far.

I ended up sitting at a bench and just staring at the scenery – ducks in the water, flies and bumblebees buzzing around, a hummingbird making its way from flower to flower. At the time, I felt resentment, like why did these flies and bumblebees get to live and Kaz didn’t?

But over the years, I started marveling at anything to do with Nature, even bugs. I actually started feeling like we humans are the guests, and the bugs, plants, and animals are the hosts. Like it’s their planet. We’re just passing through.

When I moved from Los Angeles to rural upstate New York, the bugs and critters seemed more natural than people. I still screamed when I saw them in my house, but I hesitated before running after them with a can of bug spray. And I felt really bad when I killed one. That house had a mice problem, and the owner helped me put out traps and poison. One day I came home to a dead mouse floating in the toilet, which was beyond gross, but also sad. The mouse probably ate the poison and jumped into the toilet to relieve his thirst or pain. I felt terrible for it.

When I moved into my current house, I was relieved that it didn’t seem to have any major bug or rodent issues. Then, one winter’s day when all the windows were closed, a diamond-dhaped, flat, flying bug suddenly landed on my computer, seemingly out of nowhere. Normally, I would have killed it, but something told me not to.

I very gently picked the bug up with a tissue, opened the window to the freezing winter’s air, and threw it outside, wishing it luck.

I repeated this with about a dozen identical bugs (or a dozen times with the same bug, who knows) over the course of that first winter. After the third time, I decided to research the bug and learned that it was a Stink Bug, which are common in this area and relatively harmless.

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Killing a Stink Bug releases… you guessed it… the Mother of all Stinks. So, my instinct to not kill it was correct.

Since then, I have felt less inclined to kill other bugs I come across. Which brings me back to the centipede.

A few weeks ago I saw this thing in my tub.

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I immediately screamed and ran out of the bathroom, horrified and hyperventilating.

When I finally got up the nerve to re-enter the bathroom, I stood over the tub and inspected the centipede. My voice must have startled it, because now it was trying desperately to crawl out, but as soon as it got halfway up, it slid back down. It was definitely trapped.

Everything about this bug revolted me.  But I simply couldn’t kill it. Which meant I had to get rid of it some other way.

First, I tried easing a piece of toilet paper under it, but the minute I got close, the damn thing started running so fast, it was almost on my finger before I knew what was happening. I screamed, dropped the toilet paper with the centipede, and ran out of the bathroom again.

A few minutes later, I returned with a New Yorker magazine.

“I’m not trying to hurt you,” I said to the centipede. “I’m trying to save you.”

I took a deep breath, paused to open the window and the screen, then gently placed the New Yorker under the centipede. Once again it ran at lightening speed across the magazine, but I had *just* enough time to stand up and throw it and the New Yorker outside.

This same scenario happened with a black ant, as well as a spider. Apparently, my tub is a popular spot.

Then, of course, there was the squirrel who jumped in front of my car and which I quickly swerved to avoid hitting.

The deer that someone else hit, whose dead body on the side of the road caused me to burst into tears.

And the frogs.

Returning home from a friend’s house in the woods one rainy evening, my headlights picked up on movement on the road ahead. It was hundreds, if not thousands, of little frogs jumping in the middle of the road (this video shows a similar situation, though I was on a smaller country road).

It was too late to turn back, so I had to keep going… knowing that I was killing at least a few frogs. It was heartbreaking.

As was the other day when a bee stung me, and I realized that the bee would die.

Why am I telling you about these weird stories? I guess because I see a direct correlation between loss and life.

I was just trying to explain this to a friend the other day (and wasn’t terribly articulate about it). Losing people, and experiencing death up close, humbles you. Humbles me. To the point where I don’t look at any living creature  in the same way. The centipede, bees, worms, snakes, rats, mice, you name it… call me a hippie, but I will spend a little more time to avoid them without harming them.

Unless you’re a mosquito.

If you’re a mosquito, fuggedaboutit.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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Darkness, My Old Friend

Darkness. We meet again.

I call you “my old friend,” but you most definitely are not my friend. Nor are you my enemy. You are a familiar presence, a being of some sort, thrust upon me against my will in times of tragedy. At least, that’s what you seem to me now. We’ve met each other so many times that I feel connected to you in some weird way. Unlike a real friend, I am never happy to see you, and I dislike you very much. But at this point in my life, there is perhaps no one with whom I have been more intimate than you.

If you add up all of our time together, it’s longer than my longest relationship. And in those intense periods, you’ve consumed my mind, body, heart and soul. You’ve been in my blood and in my bed. You’ve seen me at my very weakest and most agonized state, heard my cries and confessions, my hopes, fears, prayers, and dreams. You know my habits, my self doubts, my anger. You know my heart, and how much I love the people we share in common.

I won’t say you took them from me. That is not your role. Your role is to fill the space that the person I loved once occupied… with darkness. You are the abyss, the cold watery depth, the hole in my chest, in all of our chests, for you descend on everyone who loved the person.

I will say that, even though we’ve met before, this time (every time) feels different. More personal. A little too close to home.

I cannot yet address too directly the still-unfathomable fact that my dear beautiful brother died six weeks ago. Or the manner in which he died – a horrible freak accident caused by a drunk driver.

On an intellectual level, I understand that the driver caused the accident to happen. On a non-intellectual, emotional, subconscious level I do not understand how the accident was allowed to happen by the unseen force(s) of the universe. Random acts of tragedy have always stumped me in this way. It’s terribly challenging to not ask Why, even more so to not point fingers at the sky.

Losing my brother was an energy shift. You, dear Darkness, are the aftermath. The messenger, the ambassador sent to inhabit our hearts and minds until we heal enough to no longer justify your presence.

What a sad existence for you, to be the vessel and bearer of so much sorrow, powerless to prevent the collective pain, eternally unwanted and unloved, watching people suffer from the loss of a love that you’ll never experience. To be nothing more than a void, into which our screams and cries and beating of chests disappear like sound waves in space, dead on arrival, no one to hear them.

The only positive thing I can say about you is that I tend to learn something new every time we meet. Reluctantly, of course. I prefer to learn these lessons some other way.

I can’t say “welcome back,” but simply hello. I have a few more grey hairs since last we met. I’ve put on a few pounds. But I’m stronger and more aware of myself than before. Also, more positive. I know that eventually the painful squeezing of my heart, the confusion and fogginess will subside. I know that the bits of my heart that were torn away will heal in time until they are rough internal scars. I know that new memories will create a distance from old memories, thereby dulling the pain of remembering my brother in a visceral way like I do now. I know that his wife and children will survive their broken hearts and thrive with his strength forever in their bodies and souls.

For now, though, all of us who loved him are going through it. For me, it’s the quiet moments that are the most difficult. It’s taken me six weeks to be able to sit at my computer without sobbing. It took about five weeks to be able to write in my journal that my brother died. Today, it’s still very hard for me to look at recent pictures of him.

But you know all of this, don’t you? Yes, you know it all.

Though I dislike you very much, I can’t say that I hate you because you are born from love. The more love, the deeper you penetrate, and the longer you stay.

And so, here we are, together again… for what will surely be a long period of coexistence. I wonder what you will teach me this time.

 


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In These Uncertain Times

All I want in life right now is stability and security, so that I can get back to my creative writing. There’s been a lot going on, including being busy at my part-time job, losing my second part-time job, looking for more work, taking care of my house and dog, keeping up with family, friends, and other social responsibilities. On top of everything, last week I was under the weather and still had to work. Nightmare!

With all these distractions and set backs, it’s been challenging to stay positive, let alone write consistently. There have been days when I’ve been lonely, sad, depressed, angry. I have questioned my life decisions: Why did I leave Los Angeles? Why don’t I write more? Why aren’t I making movies? Why did I adopt a second dog? Why did I spend  so much money on X, Y, and Z? Why have I wasted so much time?? So on, and so on…

We all go through periods like this. Periods of Uncertainty. They’re terribly frustrating, but part of life. We often don’t know what’s around the corner, or how things are going to turn out. We hope for the best, but nothing is guaranteed. Uncertainty is, in my opinion, the antithesis of creativity. It’s hard to be creative when you don’t know how you’re going to pay your mortgage.

So, what should we do? Just give up?

HELL NO.

Giving up is not an option.

But there are things we can do to make these challenging times a little more bearable:

  • *MOST IMPORTANT* Do not get down on yourself. This is the worst possible thing you could do and serves no purpose whatsoever. Instead…
  • Recognize the positive things you are doing. Every step, no matter how small, moves you closer to your goal. Remember, you are doing your best!
  • Be creative when you can. Maybe it’s a few minutes when you wake up in the morning, or before you go to sleep. Maybe it’s on your lunch hour. Find a few minutes in your day to flex those creative muscles.
  • Keep at least one regular social outlet with like-minded creative people. At the beginning of this year, I started a monthly writer’s group with a few friends, and it is literally saving my sanity right now. At the very least, this group is making me open my manuscript and review my work. I’m receiving feedback on my pages, even if I’m not writing a lot. Reading and analyzing other people’s work also flexes my writing brain.
  • Keep exercising. Taking your dog for long walks counts!
  • Take media breaks. Turn off your phone, radio, television, and unplug. Again, even if it’s just for a few minutes, it will help quiet your brain and keep you centered.
  • Treat yourself to something small. Feel good about that job interview? Go have a sushi lunch. Get a mani/pedi. Buy yourself a used book. Do something nice for yourself as a reward.
  • Bond with others in the same boat. I have a friend who is also looking for work, and we’ve been meeting up lately (often over beers) to talk about our days. It helps! We even send each other job postings, sometimes for jobs we’re applying to. We’re supporting each other, rather than being competitive.

I could go on… but you get the idea. The point is to Take Care Of Yourself. Now more than ever.

Of course there will be down moments. Feel them and move on. Don’t wallow, don’t look back, don’t stay stuck. Keep it moving, and keep it positive as much as possible.

This too shall pass, friends.