riding bitch

The life of a writer and survivor of loss.


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Dreaming of Zelda

I recently watched the Amazon series The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. It’s about a 1950s housewife and mother who decides to try and make it as a comedian in an extremely male-dominated field. It took me a little time to get into it, but the show’s endearing quality grew on me. And I love its style. Mrs. Maisel’s parents (the Weissmans) live in a beautiful Upper West Side apartment with multiple bedrooms, bathrooms and sitting rooms, a fireplace, a grand piano (seriously, their apartment is to die for). My favorite part of their life, however, is their Polish housemaid Zelda.

Zelda does everything – she cooks, cleans, shops, answers the phone, wraps the gifts, hires extra help when needed, and probably more. The only thing she doesn’t do is drive. I’m not sure if she lives with the family, but she’s always there, in the morning to hand them their first cup of coffee and at night to clean up after dinner. She doesn’t say much, but her presence is felt. The more I watched the show, the more I noticed her, and thought about her, and started to wonder what it would be like to have a Zelda.

In my life, I’ve experienced Zelda only fleetingly, and never at full capacity. At some point in my childhood, I remember my mother hired a woman to clean our house every other week. When Kaz was very ill, a friend sent a maid service to help clean our apartment once a week, which was extremely generous and greatly appreciated.

The closest thing to a full Zelda experience was when I went to a writing residency at the Vermont Studio Center several years ago. For four blissful weeks, my only responsibility was to clean my clothes (at the local laundromat). Everything else was done for me (and the other residents). My day consisted of walking to the mess hall for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and the rest of the time writing in a private office. It was HEAVEN.

Many art and writing residencies are like this. The whole point is to provide you the time and space to focus solely on your work. It’s such a luxury.

I have a writer friend whose husband does most of the cooking, shopping and cleaning. She used to do these things when he worked, but now he’s retired and they’ve sort of switched roles. She writes all day and comes down for her meals. He takes care of the house. Luckily, he truly enjoys cooking and is very talented. It’s a beautiful thing.

In my house, there is no Zelda, or version of her. There’s only me. Before the pandemic, I had a woman come to clean my house every other week, and a dog walker come twice a week. I was working full-time and would come home on my lunch hour to walk the dog on the other days. Then I was let go. These days, the dog walker comes one afternoon a week (Fridays) and walks Ruby with other dogs, which is good for all three of us.

But if I had the money… you better believe I would hire a Zelda. Maybe more than one – like one for the inside and one for the outside (a gardener). I hope that doesn’t sound terrible – I love my house and know how lucky I am to have it. I just sometimes wish I had some help taking care of it, because everything takes so much time.

I’m fantasizing here… but if I had a Zelda, I wouldn’t have to clean the house, or shop, or do the laundry, or cook every meal, or perform any type of maintenance. I wouldn’t have to mow the lawn, or remember to take out the trash. I could sit in my office all day (writing, of course) and know that meals would be ready when I come down, the house is clean, the dog is walked, the yard is tidy, and absolutely everything is taken care of. What a dream!

This might actually be why I’m working so hard – to be able to hire my very own Zelda one day.

Then again, I can imagine having a Zelda could be a little addictive, and possibly a never-ending cycle.

Like, if I had a lot of money, I would probably get a bigger house, with land, on which I’d put a bigger garden and more animals (I’ve always wanted a horse). Eventually, I might want more than one house, or a house with a guest house. And a pool, and possibly a pond.

Who’s going to take care of all that if not a small army of Zeldas? Can you imagine? It actually sounds like a headache and terribly excessive for one person.

The irony is that, except for certain tasks, I rather enjoy doing most of the chores. I get a strange satisfaction from washing dishes, which I do first thing in the morning. It’s like starting the day with a clean slate and a sense of accomplishment. And I absolutely love to cook. It’s a hobby actually. As is gardening. And of course, you all know how much I love hiking with my dog. So, I don’t know… maybe a part-time Zelda to help with things would be ideal.

Or maybe what I’m really craving is a life partner. Someone to help shoulder the burdens of life, do the chores with, and so many other things.

If you have a Zelda, or partner who helps maintain things and makes life a little easier (btw, I’m not equating a maid with a partner), I hope you realize what a blessing it is. One day, I’ll get there.

In the meantime, I’m fine taking care of myself and my house and my dog on my own.

And to relax in the evenings, I’m re-watching the series Downton Abbey, which is, of course, completely over the top with Zeldas doing everything and then standing silently in the room pretending not to listen to your conversation (weird). But as Chance the gardener (Peter Sellers) said in the moving Being There, “I like to watch.”

Have a great week, everyone!


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Knowing Yourself as a Writer

Last week was interesting. On Tuesday, I received notes from my managers on a television pilot that I’ve been writing for several months. At the end of the meeting, they asked me if I could turn the script around by Friday. “Next Friday?” I asked. “No, this Friday.” I said Yes, even though Friday was only three days later, and I was supposed to drive to NYC on Wednesday and return on Friday. I wasn’t 100% sure I could do it, but I was pretty sure… if I stayed calm and approached the next three days with focus and discipline.

To be fair, the notes weren’t extensive. Some were just tweaks, but a couple were definitely more than that. They would require research, new scenes, and new dialogue. And the whole script would need to be tweaked to accommodate these new scenes.

I started that afternoon after the meeting by going outside with my dog and just thinking about things. I wrote nothing for the rest of the day except some ideas on a yellow pad.

Wednesday morning, I transcribed the notes from the day before (I record these meetings on my phone, so I can listen to them later). I organized the notes into “easy fixes” and “not so easy fixes,” and for the rest of the day, made as many of the easy fixes as possible, checking them off as I went. In the afternoon I drove to NYC, using those three hours to again think about how to approach the rest of the notes. That night, I didn’t write. I ate dinner, watched TV with my family and fell asleep.

Thursday morning, I got up early, made my coffee (I’d actually brought my beans and french press to guarantee there would be no hiccups), and did research for the two new scenes I had to write. By mid-day I was ready to start writing for real.

Now, I don’t know how other writers work, but before I get into my draft with any structural or character changes, I first make those changes in the outline and character breakdown. I need to see the changes from a birds eye view. Only when I’m comfortable with how the changes look, feel and flow in these two documents do I open the screenplay.

So, I spent a couple of hours working on the outline and character breakdown, then another couple of hours working on the actual draft. Before taking a break to run errands and eat dinner, I printed out the script and put it aside. After dinner, I read the new draft, made notes, then spent a couple of hours that night revising.

Friday morning, I tweaked everything again, several times. I debated sending it before leaving, partly to get it off my shoulders and out of my mind, partly just in case something happened to me on the drive home – at least the draft would be delivered! But my instinct (and several wise Twitter followers) told me to wait until the EOD. Why rush?

Friday afternoon, I drove back home, arriving around 5pm ET. I still had 3 hours before EOD in Los Angeles.

Before unpacking, I printed the script AGAIN, read it, tweaked and tweaked (it was a good thing I waited). I emailed it to my managers at 7:00 pm EST.

And that was that!

I’m not sharing all this because it’s a big deal. It’s really not. But last week showed me that I am getting better at knowing for example: how long it takes me to do things, how best to approach the task at hand, how to stay organized, how to not panic, and so on.

Will the managers like the new draft? Who knows. It’s all part of the process. I’m just happy I did what I said what I would do. And happy that I’m getting better at knowing myself as a writer.

Have a great week, everyone!


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Introducing… Nellie

Hello, people! I took a semi-break from social media in order to concentrate on writing. But I’m back now and want to introduce you to someone. We’ve actually known each other for as long as I can remember, but lately, we’ve became reacquainted. Her name is Nellie. As in Negative Nellie, and she’s the voice in my head that tells me I’m terrible!

Let’s back up a sec.

First of all, I’m pretty sure everyone has a “Nellie.” I imagine artists and creative types can especially relate – maybe surgeons and airline pilots less so (I hope). But I think everyone (who is not a narcissist) has experienced feelings of anxiety, self-doubt, nagging insecurities, that “voice in your head” that tells you you’re not good enough, smart enough, pretty enough, talented enough, young enough, you have no idea what you’re doing, you should just give up on whatever it is you’re trying to do… and so on. (Any of this sound familiar?)

There are periods in life when this voice gets louder and has more control over you, and other periods when the voice gets quieter, or you’re able to ignore it better.

Like for example, when I was younger and just starting out as a writer, I was often racked with these feelings of unworthiness, even when I was receiving accolades. And in romantic relationships? Fugghedaboutit. Basically, guys were dating Nellie.

An old therapist used to try and encourage me to self-soothe by just “observing” this black cloud of swirling insecurities (I hadn’t named her yet) that followed me everywhere I went. But that felt like observing my own shadow, and often like observing my own brain, which I wasn’t very good at. Back then, Nellie actually got me to do things, nothing terrible, things like send someone too many texts, or send an email when I shouldn’t have, or get upset about things that didn’t really matter.

Then, I don’t know, things changed. Maybe it’s growing up. I know for a fact that all the losses I’ve experienced have changed my perspective. I am more driven, care less about certain things, and have tried incredibly hard to balance out my internal anger towards the Universe with internal GRATITUDE. When you’ve lost a lot, you develop an “I have nothing more to lose” attitude towards life, because… you kinda don’t. And you tend to appreciate what you still do have even more.

BUT… Nellie never went away. With all the anxiety of this past year, she’s actually had a resurrection of sorts. The difference is that now I recognize this Bitch a mile away.

Let me describe Nellie to you. Contrary to what you might imagine, my Nellie is not a chain-smoking, mascara-smudged, hard-hearted stone-cold fox. She’s the opposite. She’s a demure, cardigan-wearing, passive-aggressive, hand-wringing worrier, who likes to knit or crochet when she’s really beside herself. She loves me, or she thinks she does. So, everything she says is “out of love” and “concern.” Her main concern is that I not get hurt or disappointed.

Typical conversations with Nellie begin with her gently saying something like, “Do you really think that’s a good idea?” or “Are you sure about that?” or “Maybe you should stop and reconsider the consequences…”

When she’s feeling especially righteous and full of conviction, Nellie will say things like, “Sweetie, you know I’m saying this only out of love for you, but I really think you should consider that you’re… too fat to wear that now… too old to pursue that particular career… not quite talented enough to finish that project… ” ETC. ETC.

And when she REALLY wants to crush my soul, she’ll pause her knitting and look at me from the corner of the room with a sad but loving look and say, “Dear, I think it’s time to face up to the fact that nobody actually likes you. They’re all just… pretending.”

Oh Nellie. Bless your heart.

What I’ve learned over the years is there’s no point in arguing with Nellie. She’s always going to be there, and she’s never going to change. She is, indeed, my shadow. And just like my shadow, she is also not in control. I am.

So, knowing that Nellie is a thing, and knowing her purpose, it’s easier to deal with her. Often, I do this by lovingly telling her to Shut The Fuck Up. Or hitting the MUTE button, so even though her lips are moving, no sound is coming out.

The truth is if I listened to Nellie, I’d never put myself out there as a writer. I’d never try or start anything new. Never finish anything. Never take any chances. Most importantly, I’d never listen to my TRUE VOICE.

My passionate, wild-haired, creative, burning-the-candle-at-both-ends, work-hard-play-hard, creative spirit who is in constant motion, sometimes jumping on imaginary horses and charging ahead, sometimes diving underwater and swimming amongst the coral, sometimes just sitting quietly in meditation listening to the chirping birds and wind rustling through the trees.

My creative spirit is free, bold, loud, courageous and strong – and no Negative Nellie could ever squash it. Deep down, I think Nellie knows this, which is her insecurity.

There’s power in recognizing that Nellie has no talent of her own, no purpose in life. She’s simply a vessel for FEAR. And her fear of failure is equal to her fear of success. It’s fear that motivates her. And that’s okay. As long as that I don’t let her fear control me.

So, I don’t mind Nellie so much anymore. I mean, sometimes she gets on my nerves, and (I won’t lie) occasionally she still gets the better of me. But most of the time, I’m able to ignore her.

I yell across the room, “Not today, Nellie!” To which, she shrugs and goes back to her knitting.


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Pandemic Projects

So much of how we deal with these crazy times depends on our circumstances: where we live, whether we’re employed or not, essential or working from home, and what our family structure is, whether we’re partnered, single, with or without kids.

I happen to be single, without children. I own a house and live alone in a small upstate NY town. When the pandemic hit in full force back in March, I was sent home to work, but there wasn’t much to do, so I had a lot of free time on my hands.

Lockdown rules said we weren’t supposed to leave our homes for anything other than groceries, medicine, essential work and walking a pet. In those early days, the virus was raging through New York State, especially NYC, where my sister and other family members live. I was so sick with worry most of the time that I couldn’t concentrate on anything. In fact, I felt paralyzed.

Then my dog ran off more than once after critters (once, I actually had to circle the block in my car to find her). And this set me on a path to fence my property, which was the first Pandemic Project.

The fear of losing my dog, and the desire to protect her, was a powerful motivator. Luckily, Lowe’s was an essential business. The store became my go-to spot other than the supermarket. I set out to build an inexpensive fence in the back and front yard, mostly by myself, with a friend helping me when I needed an extra hand.

At the same time as the fence project, I started getting my garden together, buying plants, pots, soil, mulch, building beds, planting, mulching, and, of course, making countless  trips to Lowe’s. When I was working on the fence or the garden, I didn’t think about anything else. After a few hours of physical labor, I would be too tired to worry, at least for a little while. I was in my yard every single day, rain or shine, working working working. Both projects took me, on and off, about two months to fully complete.   

In the evenings, I zoomed with friends I hadn’t talked to in a long time, with family members. I watched movies. I wrote. And I started reading again.

Reading was a Big Deal because I hadn’t had the mental concentration to read a book since my brother died two years ago. The book that changed that, which I picked up two months into lockdown, was Alex Haley’s 800-page novel ROOTS. I could not put it down (more on this seminal book in a later post). After that I read the dystopian novel STATION ELEVEN by Emily St. John Mandel, about life after a pandemic. Also couldn’t put it down.

Looming over these other projects was my screenplay, which I’ve been working on for a long time and decided to finish this year. Since, lockdown forced me to be home all the time, I figured this would be the perfect opportunity.

It was rough in the beginning. Being so terribly worried about family and friends all over the country and world was not conducive to writing. But I tackled it like all the other projects, a little bit at a time. There were days when I would tell myself, “all you have to do is write for one hour.” I would set my timer, silence my phone, turn off the WiFi, and begin. Inevitably, at the end of the hour, I would want to write for another hour, and another…. Then, when I could see the progress and the “light at the end of the tunnel,” it motivated me even more.

I finished the first official draft in May and sent it to my representation in Los Angeles. I completed a second draft in July (based on their feedback), and now I’m waiting for notes that will, no doubt, lead to the next draft. Each draft gets me closer to my goal.

I guess the thing that’s helped me deal with the pandemic the most is staying busy, and staying CREATIVE.

My advice to others struggling to stay productive during these times is to:

  • Have goals, no matter how small, and work towards them
  • Tone down expectations; realize that everything takes longer than usual these days
  • Avoid negative people and toxic energy like the plague
  • Avoid anyone or anything that doesn’t feel right, period
  • Go out of your way to be kind and forgiving to yourself (and others)
  • Get outside as much as  possible, while avoiding others
  • Change the scenery if you can; go somewhere new, even if just for a few hours
  • Talk to someone, a therapist or confidant, or write down what you’re feeling
  • Read, read, read, read, READ
  • Exercise in whatever way you can, stay hydrated and eat healthy
  • Stay in touch with the people you care about
  • Limit how much you listen to and read the news; take social media breaks

What has helped you? I’d love to hear about your Pandemic Projects.

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A Literary Life

typewriters-vintage-retro-style-wood-wallpaper-previewA couple of weeks ago, I was walking with a new writer friend who is disillusioned with her day job. When she said she’s craving a literary life, I responded with an enthusiastic YES! And we mused on what that would actually look like.

My definition of a literary life is one where you make a living as a writer. Perhaps I’m a romantic, but a true literary life also means you’re writing projects that you want to write, as opposed to just writing for money (a combination of both is acceptable).

Examples of people who led/lead literary lives, some more happily than others: Joan Didion, Stephen King, Virginia Woolf, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Toni Morrison, Ernest Hemingway, Ronan Farrow, Shirley Jackson, and countless others.

Ironically, since the pandemic hit and quarantine life began, I’ve been living a semi-literary life, at least getting a taste of it. Being sent home to work and having a light workload afforded me much more time to myself, not to mention the general shutdown of everything and inability to go anywhere.

For the first time, I was home all day and still collecting a paycheck. My time was not entirely my own; I still had to check work emails and be available for conference calls, etc. But this took up only a fraction of the day. The rest of the time I was almost living That Life.

What does a literary life mean exactly? For one thing, it means a lot – and I mean A LOT – of time alone (the primary reason why this life isn’t for everyone).

I live alone so this is easy, but even if I had a partner or roommate, I would still need to spend a large part of my day by myself. Often I wonder if I’ll ever meet another partner who understands and is able to respect my need for long stretches of solitude.

While alone, I am mostly thinking, also watching movies or television shows,  making notes, researching, outlining, reading, talking to myself, and, yes, writing. 

When I’m IN THE ZONE, I rarely answer my phone. I prefer not to deal with people or really the world. I do take breaks but I really try to stay in the zone as much as possible and avoid outside distractions. This is the only way I can concentrate. Even then these measures are not always enough.

Sometimes I have to turn my phone and WiFi completely off. I’ve pulled back from the many volunteering activities I used to do, and, even now that things are opening up again, I only occasionally go out. The few times I did venture out, I was so quiet that people wondered if I was okay.

By no means, am I a workaholic.

I’m less confident that I’m not becoming a bit of a hermit.

I’m not sure everyone understands my behavior, how seriously I take my writing, or the countless hours necessary to write something good (it doesn’t help that I’m a slow writer).

Regardless, I’m absolutely determined to make a living as a writer… and every day I get closer.

In the past three months, I’ve managed to finish my screenplay and write two freelance articles. I’m now in the very early stages of writing the next screenplay. 

Soon, my time will be 100% my own, as my job let me go due to COVID (my last day is July 31). But I’m trying to think of it in a positive way. Like maybe this is another step towards my goal.

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What to Write About

First of all, Hello. I am happy to report that I am still alive, living in upstate New York with my dog Ruby, and both of us are healthy (knock on wood). I do feel slightly mortified that it took an actual Apocalypse to get me blogging again, but here we are… at home for the indefinite future, trying not to go insane, ie. the perfect time to dust off this old WordPress site and hit “new post.”

Now that I have Nothing but Time, there are so many things to write about, I don’t even know where to begin.

I could write about my first ever trip to Paris in December 2019 and how great it was, and how relieved I am that I went when I did because who knows when it’ll be safe to go back and leisurely walk around museums and eat all the things in restaurants like one does in Paris.

I could write about the new screenplay I recently completed and sent via the matrix to Los Angeles, what it feels like to wait for feedback, how I’m trying to not count the days (7 so far) or analyze what each additional day with no feedback could mean, how disappointing it is that I’m not as over this kind of angst as I thought I was, and how I’m now questioning whether I was I ever cut out for this in the first place, and what was I thinking trying to be a writer?

I could write about the trip I was supposed to take to Los Angeles (after a 5-year absence) last month that got postponed (not canceled!) due to the pandemic and how much I was looking forward to it, especially holding a reading of the screenplay with actors. I’m trying to wrap my mind around doing the reading via Zoom.

I could write about how obsessed I am with gardening and how I can’t decide whether this is a healthy hobby or an expensive distraction from dealing with my actual life and all the projects I want to write but don’t seem to be able to concentrate long enough to actually begin writing.

I could write about how, in addition to how hard it is to start something new, it’s also extremely challenging to finish anything, which is a particularly frustrating conundrum.

I could write about how listless I feel these days, and how simple things like going to the grocery store totally exhaust me,  which of course leads to my using and eating everything in the house until there’s only one cup of rice left, a few condiments and one roll of TP (donated by friends) to hold me over until I can muster the strength to go back out to the store.

I could write about how my mood has apparently become totally dependent on the weather; on cold rainy days I can barely get out of bed, on warm sunny days I am manically working on outside projects like erecting a fence around my property and painting said fence, all by myself, which is equal parts self-sufficient, frugal and insane.

I could write about how when the pandemic began I obsessively begged my relatives who live in major cities to leave their homes and escape to the countryside before the authorities closed the bridges and roads, and how, six weeks later, they finally did escape, and now they’re marveling at the relative quiet (bird chirping having replaced ambulance sirens) relaxed atmosphere and green lushness.

I could write about how my community has come together to make masks and start food bank initiatives and other do-good projects, but I feel apart from all that and pretty isolated even though I’m only three blocks from Main Street.

I could write about how it’s been 9 years since Kaz died, 4 years since my father died, almost 2 years since my brother died, and almost 28 years since my mother died, and I’m still not over any of these losses, nor will I ever be, but I’m grateful at least that my parents aren’t here to witness the madness and dangers of this current U.S. administration and global crisis.

I could write about how much I’ve grown to admire Governor Andrew Cuomo and can’t decide whether I’d prefer him to be my President, my adopted father, or my new husband, but his daily press briefings are one of the few things keeping me calm and giving me hope these days.

I could write about so many things… but for now, I think I will just say

Hello. It’s nice to be back. I’ve missed this blog, and I’ve missed you bloggers and readers.

What are you up to?

What are you writing about?

How are you doing?

Talk to me.


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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?