riding bitch

The life of a writer and survivor of loss.


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Why Am I Not Writing?

I heard today on the radio an interview with someone who wrote a successful (NYT bestseller) memoir. After hearing a few excerpts read out loud, I exclaimed to myself and my dog, both of us in the kitchen, “I’m a better writer.”

It wasn’t jealousy or bitterness that motivated me. It was absolute clarity and self-awareness: I know what I’m capable of. I know that I’m good. I know, if I put my mind to it, I could write my way into the hearts and minds of millions of people.

And yet, I am not doing what needs to be done.

I can no longer blame grief. On the contrary, grief seems to be a muse of sorts. I wrote feverishly after Kaz died five years ago, and again after my father died this past February. But in the last few uninspired, exhaustive months, I’ve just been “living life.”

Oh, I’m writing… press releases, bios, web copy, articles, interviews. But that’s not me. That isn’t my voice. That’s the voice of the publication, or the person I’m interviewing, or just a blank impersonal corporate voice that we read online every day and sounds like no one in particular.

I’m trying to wrap my brain around why I haven’t been writing for me lately.

I could blame “writer’s block” but that’s not entirely true (and anyway there is no such thing). The truth is this writer’s brain is always writing – dialogue, scenarios, fantasies, entire plot lines – using real people as characters, actual events as inspiration. Maybe the difference between sanity and insanity is knowing when to take your inner dialogues seriously, and when not to.

Then again, my inner dialogues have become louder lately, which can happen when I don’t write for a long time. I start to feel less grounded… as if writing is the lighthouse and my center is the shore.

I could blame my PT job, which has been FT demanding lately.

I could blame my freelance career, which has also been demanding lately (not complaining)… and (even more dangerous) gives me the false illusion that I am actually writing.

I could blame the weather, which has been beautiful for most of the summer and therefore the antithesis to staying inside and writing. I have actually thought, “I write better in the winter.”

I could blame my dog, the ultimate joy… and distraction.

I could blame my new workout regimen, or my new obsession with re-watching HBO series like Deadwood, The Wire, Rome, Game of Thrones, House of Cards and Boardwalk Empire (drama is my thing, clearly).

All true. All bullshit.

Something else is holding me back.

Rather than self-analyze or berate, I’m writing this post to remind myself how much I love to write, how I need to write like I need air to breathe, that writing is the power that lights up my soul, and when I’m not writing that light is literally diminished.

When I don’t write, I am no one. Rather, I am just like everyone else. Time passes without meaning, without contribution, without voice, even though I am living and talking and communicating on a daily basis.

When I don’t write, something – thoughts, emotions, ideas –  accumulates in my brain, like so many marbles, bouncing around frenetically.

Writing calms me down, makes me feel purposeful, fills me up like nothing else.

A man recently said to me, “You can never know who you are if you don’t know where you’re from.” When I hear that I think not of a place, or a people, or a religion… I think of my passion.

Writing is what I enjoy most in the world.

Writing is torture, the only kind worth enduring.

Writing is power… not over others, but of expression.

Writing is freedom.

Writing is ultimate vulnerability, also the most powerful shield.

Writing is courage, love, heart, soul, music, rhythm, sex, nourishment, LIFE itself.

The only thing more powerful is Nature… the most prolific writer of all. And Nature never stops.

So, here I am… middle of the night… pleading with my inner soul…

Love yourself enough to write something every day for you.

Be disciplined and/or selfish enough to write no matter what the fuck else is going on.

Don’t ignore or be afraid of your voice, let it say what it wants and be heard.

Know that you have a story inside you that only you can tell.

And, most importantly, never ever ever give up on your dreams.

 

 

 


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Don’t Call it a Shrine (Living with a Loved One’s Things)

“What do I do with their things?” is one of the biggest dilemmas faced by those who have lost loved ones. At first, it might feel sacrilege to give anything away, or change anything about their closet or room. After a while, there’s this growing pressure to do something. But do what? And when? How long is too long to keep things just the way they were? How soon is too soon to change them?

The answer is… there is no answer. It’s up to the individual, and what feels right.

After my late husband Kaz died, I made the unusual move of immediately giving away some his belongings to friends and family. If someone asked for something, I gave it to them without question, and without really thinking about it.

I saw his possessions as little pieces of him, and at the time, I saw giving his things away like spreading him around, seed-like. Later, I wished I had waited and thought about it a little more, but there was no going back. And there was still A LOT of stuff left.

In the years that followed, I gave away more things – some that he had specifically bequeathed, others that I thought he would want certain people to have. For example, he had drawn several designs for a “Mom” tattoo that he never actually got. I framed the drawings and sent them to his mother on her birthday.

I tried to give his favorite clothes (especially his favorite shoes) to people I knew, but I still ended up with several shopping bags, some of which I gave to Goodwill.

Most people were supportive of my decisions, but a couple people expressed dismay. They didn’t deter me. In general, I tuned out the naysayers and drama-makers while I was grieving, and still do to this day.

Of course, I didn’t give everything away. I kept the things that meant the most to me, things that reminded me of Kaz and embodied his energy. I still have clothing, books, artwork, music, films and knick-knacks that belonged to Kaz… some of which I keep in my home office, behind my chair. I call it Kaz’s Corner.

When I Skype with people, this is what they see in the background.

Kaz's corner in morning light

Kaz’s corner in morning light

The opposite side of the office, my desk area, looks like this.

best home office pic

That framed motorcycle print is the one that Kaz had up in his office, and the Yohimbe Brothers album cover to the left was on the bathroom wall in our old apartment.

On the shelf below are more of his things, as well as my mother’s. She was an artist, so I’m lucky to have things that she made, including artwork and pottery. Below is a mug that I use to drink tea, and (in the background) a bowl that I use to hold pens. Her artwork is in every room.

While there are things that belonged to Kaz and my mom all over the house, my office holds the highest concentration. This is where I want their spirits around me the most – the place where I’m the most creative and do my best thinking.

It’s no surprise that the office is my favorite room. It’s where I feel the most like me. It’s  private and warm. In it, I feel protected, loved and safe… which gives me the wherewithall to write and live courageously.

This year I’m taking on a new job and a lot of new responsibilities, while at the same time exploring deeper issues in my writing. I’m grateful to have this safe space, where my muses and guardian angel spirits keep me company.

Please share how you have incorporated your loved one’s things into your daily life. I think it helps people to know how others deal with this.

 

 

 


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Looking Back / Looking Forward

It’s been a crazy busy fall/winter, partly because of Ruby’s injury and the fundraising effort for her surgery (thank you to those of you who donated!!). So, I’m a little late with this traditional end-of-year post, but better late than never.

Looking back… 2015 was a difficult year, but also a rewarding one. It was my first full year living in New York, and my first year working full-time as a freelance writer. Then, at the end of the year, I found myself facing several large expenses, including Ruby’s surgery and getting my car repaired after colliding with a deer in October. But I managed to overcome.

In 2015, I…

– Survived winter! No small feat after living 19 years in Los Angeles.

– Met a lot of people by being outgoing and getting a part-time job at a popular farm-to-table cafe, something I wrote about in this post. I feel very fortunate to have made a few solid friends here.

– Was invited back to Los Angeles as a guest panelist on Death and Loss:  Women Writing Out Loud workshop at BinderCon, a symposium for women writers.

BinderCon pic

– Was interviewed about my experience as a newlywed widow by Nancy Redd on HuffPost Live.

– Made over 50% of my income from freelance writing and editing.

– Applied and was accepted to several professional groups: The American Society of Journalists and Authors, Gotham Ghostwriters, The Director’s List, and Film Fatales (two groups for women directors).

– Took a writing workshop with Linda Schreyer called Slipper Camp that prompted me to write several essays (highly recommend to anyone wanting to jumpstart their writing).

– Saw my name in print four times in Upstate House Magazine.

Upstate House magazine

– Founded WriteUP New York, a collective of freelance writers living in upstate New York (email me or find us on Facebook if you’re interested in joining!).

– Took a Branded Content writing workshop with the incredible David Hochman and wrote four branded content articles that will publish on Huffington Post in 2016.

– Reported my first same-day story, about a local town that just overturned its ban on alcohol. What a thrill to report, write, file and get published within 24 hours!

– Learned how to use a power drill and built my first do-it-yourself project (I’ve since built two more things!).

my little friend

– Enhanced my photography skills, my other new hobby.

– Raised over $2500 for my dog’s surgery.

– Became one with my motorcycle with over 1000 miles of riding through gorgeous upstate New York.

motorcycle babeBut the really big news is that at the end of 2015, I got a new part-time job.

I am the new Visual Arts Director of Greene County Council on the Arts (more on that later). In this job, I’m responsible for the visual arts program and gallery at the arts council, which is located in Catskill, across the river from Hudson, NY. It’s a great opportunity for me to use all of my skills in one place, as well as to meet more people in the community, especially creative people. It’s also a steady source of income that will be very helpful as I continue to build my freelance career.

In anticipation of how busy I’m about to be, I decided to cut my hair into a style that requires zero maintenance. 🙂

New do

Looking forward, in 2016, I plan to:

– Kick ass in my new job.

– Renew my passport and travel abroad again, even if it’s to Canada (only a six hour-drive away).

– Get fit and strong with a daily yoga practice.

– Get published in more, and more higher-paying, publications.

– Write a screenplay.

Happy New Year!! Let’s ROCK 2016!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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Love = Responsibility

This isn’t easy for me… but I’d like to ask for your support with something that’s dear to my heart. My dog, Ruby, has a serious leg injury and needs surgery in order to walk properly again, and I can’t afford to pay for it without help.

I adopted Ruby about 18 months after Kaz died, within weeks of starting this blog. Some of you might remember those early posts about being a new puppy owner.

first pic of ruby

first pic of ruby, 15 weeks old

There were so many issues to deal with back then: crate training, leash training, vaccinations, getting her spayed, teething issues, barking issuestraveling issuesinfections, switching doggie daycares, and puppy classes.

It was a lot. But she was worth it.

Ruby sleeping 3

I was still actively grieving at the time, but Ruby was a healthy distraction.

She made me laugh through my tears. She forced me to go outside when I normally might have stayed in bed feeling blue. She was the best hiking companion.

birthday hike with Ruby

She helped me heal by helping to mend and strengthen my broken heart. Taking care of her gave me a purpose and made me feel strong again. For the second time in my life, I was responsible for another being.

Ruby in the morning

The responsibility that comes with loving another is no joke. Human or animal – when you love someone, and they need your help, you do whatever you can to help them.

These days, Ruby needs a lot of help. She tore her ACL earlier this year, a partial tear that wasn’t obvious right away. I’ve spent the last few months taking her to various veterinarians and physical therapists to figure out how to deal with it. They all came to the same conclusion: she needs surgery, followed by physical therapy, and 3-4 months of supervised recovery.

ruby with leg up.jpg

Ruby today, holding her injured hind leg up

The whole ordeal is going to be stressful, expensive and time-consuming. But I’m determined to get Ruby back to health.

At 3+ years, she’s much too young to be hobbling around, and it would be cruel to let her go through the rest of her life in pain. She deserves to be able to run and play and hike and swim the way she used to.

So, I’ve set up a gofundme campaign to try and raise some of the money for her medical expenses. It’s called Help Ruby Run Again. Many friends have contributed, but there’s still a long way to go.

If any of you are inclined to make a small contribution, that would be awesome. If you can’t donate, then maybe you could share the link, or just keep us in your thoughts. It all helps.

gofund.me/helprubyrunagain

I’ll be posting about Ruby’s progress in the coming days, weeks, months.

Ruby will run again, and I will run with her. 🙂

Thanks for reading and for your support.

– Niva

 

 

 


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Filmmaking vs Freelance Writing

A couple of days ago, I did a radio interview on local Catskills radio station WIOX regarding writing and the life of a writer. It got me thinking about my journey here, especially my journey from filmmaker to freelance writer. On the surface these career paths seem very different. They are in some ways… but in many ways they’re also similar.

As I’ve mentioned before, filmmaking requires a lot of:

(source: Vancouver Film School)

(source: Vancouver Film School)

  • money
  • teamwork
  • time
  • equipment

Freelance writing generally requires less of these things. There are exceptions. For example, the team of Boston Globe reporters depicted in the current movie Spotlight spent over a year writing multiple stories about the Boston church sex scandal. But for the average reporter or freelance writer working on a routine story, most assignments are handled solo with a relatively quick turnaround and require minimal equipment.

work station

Borrowing a friend’s work station over Thanksgiving holiday.

Traditional filmmaking and television also require:

  • many levels of approval before the public sees the product
  • many levels of collaboration and interpretation along the way

Journalism and freelance writing require approval and collaboration but on a smaller scale. As a freelance writer, I am usually dealing only with one person – my editor. The editor deals with his/her bosses, and they have to deal with the publisher, etc. But the chain of command is smaller than let’s say… network television.

(source: Pexels)

(source: Pexels)

This also means that your writing goes through less filters, whereas in Hollywood, once you turn in a script, it’s read by dozens of people. Even if you’re directing your own script, you usually have to answer to a lot of people before the final film hits the big screen.

Then there’s a little thing called THE TRUTH.

Filmmaking is by its very nature a recreation, presentation and interpretation of truth (even films based on true stories, or documentary films). A lot of folks would disagree on the effectiveness of journalism to present the “truth” (in the form of facts), but I think we can all agree that, in an ideal world, journalism is not supposed to be “make believe.”

Now… for the similarities between filmmaking and journalism/freelance writing:

  • Both are about STORY. At the core of all media – whether film, radio, television, print, digital or what have you – we’re all just trying to tell a good story. And the way we go about it is the same, whether it’s fiction or non-fiction, by organizing and structuring the material into something that has conflict, interesting characters, a beginning, middle and end.
  • Both start with a pitch. A pitch is selling the idea for the story before you write it. In film, the pitch usually happens in a face-to-face meeting with an executive. In freelance writing, it usually happens via email to an editor. In essence, though, it’s the same (nerve-wracking) process: we present what the story is, why it’s important to tell now, why it’s right for this particular venue, and why we’re the right person to tell it. Then we wait for the Yay or Nay.
  • (source: University Libraries)

    (source: University Libraries)

    You have to be visual. Obviously, film is visual. But these days digital news media includes just as much video and/or photographs as print. Even when its straight print, we have to paint a picture with words… we have to show, not just tell, the reader what’s going on.

  • You have to HUSTLE. I don’t know any successful filmmaker or freelance writer who doesn’t hustle his/her ass off, or didn’t start that way. You can’t be timid or shy or wait for things to happen. You have to put yourself out there 100%. I find myself being even more aggressive as a freelance writer than I was as a filmmaker exactly because everything rests on my shoulders. I’m also new to the field and need to build my portfolio and relationships with editors. So, my inclination is to say YES to almost everything (unless the pay isn’t worth it), and to literally push myself forward. It’s a little daunting, but also exhilarating.
  • You need strong communication skills. While it’s true freelancing is a more solo experience than filmmaking, you still have to be able to talk to people… and get them to talk to you. In a sense, you have to build instant trust and be able to communicate (in other words listen, not just talk). I find this very similar to being a documentary filmmaker, as well as directing actors (which is all about listening).
  • You learn by doing more than anything else. Filmmaking and freelance writing are both professions one can learn and excel at without a formal education. It might be more challenging, but it’s possible. The more you do it, the more you study on your own, and the more you study others, the better you get.
  • You have to negotiate. I was never comfortable negotiating as a filmmaker. My attitude was “that’s what producers and lawyers are for.” Well, now I’m on my own. So, if I want more money, I have to ask for it! And I do. And I get more money. Even if I get $50 or $100 more, it helps. Am I making big bucks yet? No. But I’m inching my way up, and with every negotiation (every story, really), I gain confidence.
(source: $PHPhoto)

(source: $PHPhoto)

  • Time is money. You’re never more aware of this than when on a film set. The longer things take, the more chance you’ll fall behind in the schedule and go over budget (not good). As a freelance writer, you’re working for yourself and generally getting paid a fixed rate ( per story, or per word). So, the more time you spend on a story, the less you’re getting paid per hour. As a newbie, things take me a lot longer than people who have done this for years. But every story I write, I  try to beat my “record.” Practice, practice, practice.

    (source: Pexels)

    (source: Pexels)

  • You have to market yourself. Marketing is literally the difference between people seeing your film, or not… and getting work as a freelance writer, or not. Neither profession happens in a vacuum. You’ve got to connect with others and shout your accomplishments from the rooftops!
  • Less is more. In film and in freelance writing, the more you can say with less, the better. There are time constraints in the former, and word/space constraints in the latter. The ability to be succinct is key.

I’m sure there are more similarities and differences, but that’s all I can think of now.

Hope it provides some perspective!

me in oren office

Working (and a little pale) while traveling during Thanksgiving week!

 

 

 

 


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How Do You Define Success? (aka Wishing on a Star)

starry night

Photo by Mike Cialowicz

One night in late July, I arrived home around midnight after a long shift at my part-time job. A few minutes later, I was standing on the side of the road staring up at a particular corner of the sky as the dog did her business, when a light suddenly zipped through the stars. I had never seen a shooting star before, but I recognized it immediately. The short line of light happened so fast, if I had blinked – or been looking anywhere else in the sky but that exact spot – I would have missed it. I let out a little yelp of excitement, and then quickly closed my eyes. I made a very simple wish: to be successful.

As we walked back to the house, though, I started to feel misgivings. I wasn’t sure if just wishing for “success” was specific enough. Could I amend the wish now? Or did I have to wait for another shooting star? What did I even mean by that? What did success look like for me? I thought about it for the next few days.

A couple of weeks later, people started buzzing about the Perseids:

The (Perseids) shower is visible from mid-July each year, with the peak in activity between 9 and 14 August, depending on the particular location of the stream. During the peak, the rate of meteors reaches 60 or more per hour. They can be seen all across the sky; however, because of the shower’s radiant in the constellation of Perseus, the Perseids are primarily visible in the Northern Hemisphere. As with many meteor showers the visible rate is greatest in the pre-dawn hours, since more meteoroids are scooped up by the side of the Earth moving forward into the stream, corresponding to local times between midnight and noon. Some can also be seen before midnight.

This year the Perseids were supposed to begin on August 12th. Several friends said they were planning to stay up (or get up) late to see them, but I was too tired (it was another work day). Around 9:00pm, I went outside with the dog for a few minutes of stick-throwing in the backyard, where it is completely dark but the eyes adjust. Between throws, I stared up at the sky again. Another quick beam of light suddenly shot across the sky – my second shooting star! I didn’t know if it was part of the Perseids or not, but I quickly closed my eyes again and wished for something more specific than before: to sell my memoir.

On further reflection, it occurred to me that selling the memoir would be great, but would that in and of itself mean that I was successful? Maybe finishing the memoir would be successful enough. Or maybe success had nothing to do with the memoir, or any other project. The more I thought about it, the more difficult it became to define “success.”

Everyone’s vision of success is different. One can be successful in the traditional sense (i.e. “rich and famous”) but still not feel entirely successful if other areas of life are lacking, or if one never has time to enjoy it. I know people who define success purely in terms of money – if they no longer need to work, or if they never have to worry about money, that is success. I know plenty of other people who aren’t rich or famous, but feel successful because they’re raising happy, healthy, confident children. I know others who seemingly “have it all,” but still want more.

Then I remembered a drawing that I used to repeatedly draw as a child. The image is etched into my mind.

The drawing was of a house… a red brick house with three floors, including a pitched attic. The house always had five windows, two on the first floor, two on the second, one in the attic. I always filled in each window with yellow, indicating that the lights were on. The house also had a chimney, and I always drew smoke coming out of the chimney. The outside of the house was a tidy green lawn with several flowers growing. In the corner of the page there was a large yellow sun, its rays represented by alternating long and short strokes. Elsewhere in the sky I drew several black birds, in the shape of wide “M’s”. I never drew any people. I always imagined them inside, sitting around the cozy fire, enjoying each other’s company. The drawing was my childhood image of a happy home (albeit not very energy-conserving).

Sometimes I think that drawing – what it represented – is what I’ve been searching for all my life.

Yes, I want to sell my memoir and screenplays and make films and win awards and be recognized for my art and work with amazing people and make lots of money. But all of that is simply a means to an end. Ultimately, I want the same thing I’ve wanted since I was a little girl: security, family, peace, warmth and time to enjoy it all.

And really… I have some of these things now, or a version of them. Though I don’t own it, I live in a house with two floors and an attic (no fireplace, and not brick). I don’t feel the kind of financial security I want, but I’m working towards it. I’m single but I live near family and have a dog I love. I generally do feel peaceful and warm, and I do take time to enjoy it all.

We could always have more money in our bank accounts, more stuff, more friends, more recognition, and so on. But we’re also rich in other ways right now. We are alive. We have ourselves. We have each other. We have nature. Perhaps how we treat all of the above is the real measure of success.

Dalai-Lama-Quotes-4


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10+ Tips for Rural Living

Huyck Preserve, Rensselaerville

Huyck Preserve, Rensselaerville

September 9th marks my first anniversary living in rural upstate New York after 19 years in Los Angeles. By now, the story of my moving here sight unseen has become a popular tale among friends. What I didn’t realize is how many people thought I wouldn’t be able to handle the isolation, the brutal winters, the humid summers, and so on. Who knows, there might have been a bet or two on how long I would last!

But I proved the naysayers wrong and adapted to my new surroundings well. For anyone considering making a similar move from the big city to a rural area, here are some suggestions on how to make it work:

Be outgoing 

Assuming you’re not a total hermit, the best way to meet people and learn information in a rural area is to be outgoing. Don’t be shy about asking for introductions. In the beginning, I met people through a few key introductions by people who live here, or who used to live here. I also ventured out on my own and introduced myself to folks. It helped to cast a wide net.

A new friend showing me and Ruby a fabulous swimming hole in Leeds.

A new friend showing me and Ruby a fabulous swimming hole in Leeds

Get referrals

One of the challenges of moving anywhere new is leaving behind your trusted mechanic, dentist, veterinarian, etc. Sometimes it takes years of trial and error to find these folks. When I moved to this area, the first thing I did was ask the guys at the local feed store to recommend a good veterinarian and bike repair shop. Others recommended a great mechanic, dentist, chiropractor, massage therapist, and more. The people who live here know who’s who and what’s what.

Classic car, Oak Hill

Classic car, Oak Hill

Find common ground

A new friend who also happened to move here recently summed it up perfectly: “I’m on a mission to make friends.” That means being proactive – finding groups that interest you, and activities where you might meet folks. It also means sometimes going out when you don’t feel like it, going out alone, doing things you wouldn’t normally do… basically stepping out of your comfort zone. I have traveled an hour or more to get to an event or visit a friend. It’s always worth it.

flying goat

Get a part-time job

Obviously, not everyone can do this… but I would highly recommend working part-time at a local business. Earlier this summer, I was fortunate enough to learn of a chef’s assistant position at a local farm-to-table cafe. I applied for it even though I’ve never been a chef’s assistant before, and got the job. Working at this popular local spot lead to not only meeting more people, but also learning more about agriculture, cooking and animals.

goats

Be “social”

There is an actual saying here called “being social” that describes when a person stops to chat with you before, during or after performing a service. For example, when my mechanic Bill works on my car, he chats with me and makes me laugh (his nickname for me is “California Niva”). Same with lady at the post office. Rarely do I just fly in and out of the post office without saying hello to Barbara, or us chatting for a few minutes. The last time I was there, she gave me a marrow bone for my dog. The point is, slow down and get to know people a little.

flowers in water

Be a good neighbor

Social interactions are really important in a rural area. It’s not just about making friends. People can also be resources, especially your neighbors. You might need to take refuge in their house when your power fails in a storm. So, get to know their names, say hello and good morning and have a nice day. When they wave to you, wave back! My neighbor Bob, who’s in his 80’s, and I became friends after he said Ruby could play in his fields. We’ve since had many philosophical conversations while standing in his fields. When his wife recently passed away, I baked him a pie and brought it over. I also helped him with his yard sale, and he lets me share a raised bed in his garden in return for my help with wedding and planting.

hanging clothes

Start walking

I’ve seen some amazing scenery while walking through my neighborhood and met people too. I also think there’s something good about being seen on a regular basis. Every day I pass this one farm where a dog lives that is friends with my dog. The owners and I don’t talk much, but whenever they see us coming, they let Bronson out so he can play with Ruby. Even the farm workers recognize Ruby and wave to us from their trucks as we pass.

Ruby and her buddy, Bronson

Support local businesses

This goes without saying. Local businesses remember their customers, and will greatly appreciate your business.

Be a good guest

In the country, people invite you to their homes a lot faster and more often than in the city. Any time you go to someone’s house, bring something or, even better, make something.

IMG_20150814_150612_504

Nectarine and blueberry upside-down cake

Pick up after your dog

One might think that in the country, it’s okay to not pick up after your dog. Wrong! People are really sensitive about their yards and property. I always pick up after Ruby, even in fields where no one can see us. I did, however, make the mistake shortly after moving here of throwing the bag in someone else’s trashcan. In the city this wouldn’t be a big deal, but after a few times, a woman came out of the house to ask me to stop because the bags were making her trashcan smell. Noted! Now I carry the poop bag all the way home and throw it in my own trashcan.

ruby

More suggestions:

  • Invite people to visit you
  • Travel and explore the area
  • Be nice to everyone you meet because everyone knows each other!

Living in a rural area can be a fulfilling, rich, culturally diverse experience. But just like living in the city, you have to work it!

heart puddle


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Grief’s Trajectory

There’s a part of me that is tired of grief. Tired of feeling it, tired of reading and writing about it, tired of talking about it. It’s like there’s an internal dialogue going on: one half of me saying, “Enough already. Move on!” The other half saying, “How DARE you?!”

The truth is, on a day-to-day basis, I’m somewhere in the middle.

Of course, grief is still part of my life. There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t think of Kaz; I have friends and family who are actively grieving, and I’m still editing essays about loss at Modern Loss. But my own grief isn’t as present as it used to be. The pain has gone deeper, like roots that other memories and experiences have grown on top of. Sometimes I feel guilty about this, but more often, I don’t (or try not to). I know this is what Kaz would want for me.

A year ago, when I stopped in Pittsburgh on my cross-country road trip, a friend gave me an eye reading (like an analysis via the eyes). We sat across from each other, and she looked intently into my eyes and face. Then she told me that she saw a man in my eyes and determined that this man was Kaz.

“It looks like he’s really present in you,” she told me, “more than just in your mind. His spirit is really in there. He’s really with you. He looks like he misses you and he’s thinking about you. He’s actually watching you. There is some spirit connection between he and you. I think we could have a conversation with him. Do you want to ask him something?”

“Is he angry or disappointed with me about anything?” I asked.

“Absolutely not. Never.”

“How is he doing?” I asked.

“It looks like he’s still in the place he was when he left. He really misses you. He still needs you. I see that you also miss him and that you also are missing the connection. You’re both still in that place together of missing each other, and the connection you’re having now isn’t satisfying enough for either one of you.”

“What can I do to feel more connected to Kaz?”

She asked me to turn my head to the left and right, then forward again. “He wants you to try to get your sense of humor connection back, and not think of him only in the way that he was the last time you saw him, which is really stuck here in your face. It really does matter how you view him because you can’t see him. You have to choose how you view him. It looks like what he’s saying is ‘remember me before then, let’s remember the connection we had when we had fun and when we were joking.’ Then you’ll feel more connected in a way that’s more beneficial to both of you.

“So, make more jokes and make them out loud,” she continued. “Talk to him. I’m seeing that he can actually hear you. He’s extremely present and alive in your face, more than I’ve seen with a lot of people. You were that person whom he completely relied on, and that’s a beautiful thing, but he doesn’t want that to be the only memory. He doesn’t want people to pity him, or feel sorry him, and see him as just a sick person with a brain tumor. He wants to be viewed as a vibrant man that he was. Be true to him. In the scope of his life, the short time that he was ill doesn’t represent who he was.”

The reading blew me away. Whatever my feelings are about the supernatural, the way my friend described Kaz was spot on. He definitely would not want me (or others) to only think of him the way he was in the end, or always be sad when we thought of him, or for his memory to only inspire tears and not laughter. But it still took me a long time to embrace. It was difficult to get certain images out of my head (even three years later). I actually couldn’t force them out… all I could do was live my life and try to remember other, more pleasant images and memories.

Ironically, the past few months have been so busy, I ended up taking an inadvertent break from writing my memoir and blogging – and I just lived. I started a part-time job, I met people and made new friends, I went to parties and dinners, I even joined a regular weekly trivia team. I also hustled for work, finished a huge freelance project, and wrote dozens of smaller pieces for work. So, my mind has been preoccupied with other things.

Whether directly related or not, when I think of Kaz these days, I don’t always feel that familiar acute pain. I miss him and wish he were here, but I can also think of him and laugh. When he was alive, he had an aversion to sad movies and sad stories. Now I share that desire to some extent (I still love a good cry). I want to embrace life and get the most out of it as possible.

I expect that my bog posts will shift with the times. What’s important to me is not only giving voice to the grieving process, but also showing how it’s possible to move forward and live a full and happy life after loss, and that this isn’t something we should feel guilty about. It’s simply grief’s trajectory.


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Rejection Can Be a Good Thing

Shortly after my last post, in the beginning of June, my book agent called with her response to my memoir draft. She had read a few chapters before, but this was the first time she’d read the whole thing. I was anxiously awaiting her opinion and held my breath when her number appeared on my phone. Then I heard her say, “I’m sorry to say this, but it’s not for me.” 

My heart sank into the pit of my stomach. After four years of hard work and getting my hopes up that I might actually be able to take my book to the next level, I was being shown to the door. I was crushed. 

After further reflection and lots of encouraging emails/discussions with fellow writers, I realized that she had done me a favor. It’s like when someone breaks up with you… at first it hurts, then you realize, “Wow, I dodged a bullet!” Because clearly that person isn’t the right person for you.

And clearly, this agent wasn’t the right agent for me.

When you read the Thank You’s at the end of almost any book, the author inevitably thanks his/her agent for their tireless help, encouragement and championing. Case in point: at the end of her memoir WILD author Cheryl Strayed writes to her agent, “Janet, you are my friend, champion, and literary kindred spirit. I will always be grateful to you for your support, smarts, and love.”  

A champion is someone who believes in you, will fight for you and stick with you through thick and thin. I’m sure this agent has been a champion for others (she was highly recommended to me), but she was obviously not going to be my champion. How could she be if she didn’t respond to the material?

So, I’m glad that she was honest with me. She basically set me free to find my true champion. 

The other gift, though, is that by rejecting my manuscript, she gave me a chance to make it better. The little feedback she did share with me basically let me know that the book isn’t ready yet. One could argue that just because it didn’t do it for her, doesn’t mean it won’t do it for others. I’ve had several people tell me they loved my manuscript. I also know I’m a good writer. But I’m not beyond seeing that my work could be further refined and focused. To think otherwise would be foolish. It is my first book, after all. I want to get it right!  

So, for this I’m also grateful. Eventually, when I go out to other agents, I’ll do so with a manuscript that’s gone through another round (if not multiple rounds) of drafts, readers and feedback. I’ll know that what I’m putting out there is  the absolute best it can be. 

Writing a book is hard. It takes years. There are many stops and starts, a lot of bad drafts before a good one, and a lot of rejections.

If you don’t believe me, take it from these veterans:

“This manuscript of yours that has just come back from another editor is a precious package. Don’t consider it rejected. Consider that you’ve addressed it ‘to the editor who can appreciate my work’ and it has simply come back stamped ‘Not at this address’. Just keep looking for the right address.” – Barbara Kingsolver

“Every rejection is incremental payment on your dues that in some way will be translated back into your work.” – James Lee Burke

“I love my rejection slips. They show me I try.” – Sylvia Plath

“I discovered that rejections are not altogether a bad thing. They teach a writer to rely on his own judgment and to say in his heart of hearts, ‘To hell with you.’“ – Saul Bellow

“Often, you have to fail as a writer before you write that bestselling novel or ground-breaking memoir. If you’re failing as a writer – which it definitely feels like when you’re struggling to write regularly or can’t seem to earn a living as a freelance writer – maybe you need to take a long-term perspective.” – J.K. Rowling  

For more inspiration, read the rejections of many best-selling authors here: http://www.literaryrejections.com/best-sellers-initially-rejected/

The point is, rejection is part of the game. Even if you’re not a writer – it’s part of life. But it doesn’t have to be the end of the world. Learn from it. Sidestep it. Step over it. Inspect it if you must, but keep moving forward.

By all means, don’t let rejection stop you. Don’t take it personally. And never ever give up on your dreams. I’m not giving up on mine!

Happy creating.

 

 


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On Flow and Foundation

It’s been a busy month, lots of writing, reading and thinking, the latter mostly about the future. I feel as if on the edge of a precipice, or a bridge, poised to cross over into a new life that is very slowly coming into focus, like a landscape under a receding fog.

Hudson River view

That the future isn’t exactly in focus sometimes scares the living daylights out of me. I don’t do well with unknowns, never have. But the uncomfortableness gives me the chance to practice my new resolve: to have faith, to plan ahead, to be patient (not expect everything to fall into place overnight and then get discouraged when it doesn’t), and, most importantly, to be present and appreciate the Now.

If my posts are becoming redundant with this sentiment, it’s because this period is so intensely about learning to appreciate life again, that is, to feel happiness and joy in the simplest of pleasures, and not just when things are going well. It’s when life isn’t going well that it’s the most challenging to keep that sense of gratitude and inner peace. That is the core of what I’m after, and what I’m trying to practice here, every day.

Oak Hill flats6

It’s funny how life sometimes throws things in your path that are just what you need in the moment. In my monthly book group here, someone recently suggested we read a novel called the Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami.

At first it felt a little daunting (it’s 607 pages of small print), but after a while, I couldn’t put it down. Besides being a great mystery and window into Japanese culture and history, the story felt almost like a philosophical manifesto on “flow”: when life is in flow, when it is out of flow, and when there is no flow at all, like at the bottom of a dry well.

Spring creek

For most of the story, the main character is dealing with several losses, in a state of confusion and passive. He lets things happen to him, instead of making them happen.

But he’s actually not entirely passive. Rather, he is consciously going with the flow… allowing people to come in and out of his life, listening and observing everything closely, not resisting his emotions but allowing them to be, while all the while acknowledging that his emotions aren’t him. He also spends time confronting his greatest fears (and regulating his breathing) in a solitary place, where he sometimes cannot distinguish between his imagination and reality. But by doing these things, he finds his way back to his true self, and regains the necessary strength and self-determination to take action.

Needless to say, I related to it very much.

Oak Hill flats4 Oak Hill flats5

I have written before about how loss shakes our foundation and changes us. It’s not just the loss itself, it’s how we deal with it years later, how we process and are reborn from the devastation. After loss, there is no going back, not to the person we lost, not to the life we used to lead or the person we used to be. And so we struggle to find ourselves again, and regain our footing in the new world, our new future.

This is how I feel about this period in upstate New York. Here, among the mountains, changing seasons, animals, insects, plants and endless creeks, lakes and rivers, I am both regaining my emotional, spiritual and physical foundation, and learning to go with the flow, not in some esoteric way, but literally shifting my approach to life.

I don’t mind that it’s taking some time. It should take time. This is the foundation on which the rest of my life will rest.

Creek feet