riding bitch

The life of a writer and survivor of loss.


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“I Don’t Care” (A Mantra for Overcoming Fear)

Pierre, book cover [copyright Maurice Sendak, Harper Trophy]

Pierre, book cover [image: amazon.com, copyright Maurice Sendak, Harper Trophy]

Are you familiar with the children’s book PIERRE by Maurice Sendak? The story revolves around Pierre, a little boy whose answer to everything is “I don’t care!”

“What would you like to eat?”
“I don’t care!”
“Some lovely cream of wheat?”
“I don’t care!”
Don’t sit backwards on your chair.”
“I don’t care!”
“Or pour syrup on your hair.”
“I don’t care!”

When Pierre’s parents go out, leaving him alone, a lion shows up and threatens to eat him. Once again, Pierre responds with “I don’t care!” So the lion swallows him whole. Pierre’s parents return home to find him missing, and plead with the lion to give him back. The lion graciously returns Pierre, who now has a new, more grateful and caring attitude (the moral of the story).

Sendak’s brilliant book (meant for 4-8 year olds) shows us how ennui, a particular sort of disinterest in self, life and loved ones is not only rude, but also dangerous. If we don’t care about what or when we eat, whether we live or die, whether we see your parents again, whether to get up in the morning, or any of the other decisions we face on a daily basis, bad things will happen. The truth is, like Pierre, most of us actually do care. We just don’t want to deal, and so we tell ourselves we don’t care.

There’s a different type of “I don’t care”, one which (I believe) can be highly effective in bulldozing through insecurities, fears, doubts and other emotional landmines on life’s path. This mantra doesn’t mean we don’t care about our decisions or their consequences. It means we don’t care what other people think about our decisions. More to the point, we don’t allow ourselves to be affected by what others think of us.

Another way to say this mantra is “I don’t give a f—.”

Three examples of how/when it might be useful:

You go to a job interview looking, smelling and feeling good. When you arrive, you see half a dozen applicants waiting to interview for the same job, all ten years younger, wearing more expensive clothes, with straight hair and yours is curly. Take a moment, and say the mantra. Age is just a number. You have more experience. Expensive clothes does not necessarily equal better taste. Your hair will make you stand out (a good thing). Go back with your curly head held high and knock their socks off. 

You’re taking a class to learn something new or brush up on something old. Part of the course requires performing in front of peers. You let everyone else go first, and they all do great. Your turn arrives. Everyone turns to look at you. You freeze in anticipation of being booed and/or laughed at. Deep breath… then mantra. What does it matter what people think? Even if your peers were to laugh or boo (trust me, they won’t), the fact is you’re here for YOU, and the only way to learn is to put yourself out there. So, like the Nike slogan, just do it.

You’re planning a major life change and slowly making progress towards that goal. When you share your plans with friends, they tell you to do X, Y, Z instead. Some of their ideas resonate, but some of them don’t. You’re afraid of disappointing folks. You know some will say “I told you so” if your plans fail. Some are probably discussing you right now. You know what? You don’t care! Let them talk. It’s not their life, it’s yours. If they’re real friends, they’ll be there for you no matter what, and they won’t gloat. If they’re not there for you, or they do gloat, then f— ’em. 

Whatever it is we want, we should go after it. Believe in ourselves. Seek advice, and plan wisely. But remember: we know what we want and need, what our strengths and weaknesses are, better than anyone else. We don’t need anyone’s approval to be us. Fear, doubt, insecurities are part of being human. We don’t need to let them stop us from achieving our goals and dreams.

Can you think of more examples where “I don’t care” could be a good thing?


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Six Legs in the Bed

It should be no surprise to anyone that I sleep with my dog. I’ve blogged about giving up on crate training. I’ve posted a picture of her on the bed. Truth is, she’s been sleeping on my bed – and I’ve been receiving flack for it – practically since day one. My 84-year old father has been the most vocal about his displeasure, presumably on behalf of the entire family.

Him: “It’s just not right. Dogs should not sleep on beds, period.”

Me: “Why? Where is that written?”

Him: “It’s not written anywhere. It’s just common sense. Dogs are dirty and you don’t want that mess in your bed.”

Me: “But she doesn’t sleep in the bed. She sleeps on the bed.”

Him: “It’s not right, I’m telling you.”

Several months ago his tune changed slightly.

Him: “Well, it’s your bed. I guess you can do what you want with it.”

Me: “Thank you.”

Him: “But I still don’t think it’s right, and I don’t know what you’re going to do when you visit other people.”

Me: “Your concerns have been noted, and I’ll cross that bridge when I get to it.”

Of course, my father has a point. No one wants this dog on their bed.

Dirty Ruby

By now, however, she knows the routine. When we return home after playing down and dirty at the dog park or beach, she follows me to the bathroom and hops into the bathtub to receive a very thorough wash from head to toe without squirming or crying. I think baths make her feel better because afterwards she literally hops around the apartment like a gazelle on speed.

Like any little lady, she also always “bathes” herself – twice – at night and in the morning. There’s a reason why the three most common compliments she receives are: “beautiful… well-behaved… clean.”

Ruby sitting pretty

Shedding is another matter. She does leave little white hairs everywhere, but most of the time she sleeps on top of a blue blanket that I wash every week.

Rare are moments like the other night when I returned from brushing my teeth to find this:

Ruby hiding in bed

(For the record, she was still on top of the top sheet.)

Then there is the negotiation of space. I still sleep on the same side of the bed I did when Kaz was here. Ruby usually falls asleep at the bottom half of the bed, and uses my foot as a pillow. We shift in the middle of the night – me to my right side, she to a curled up ball behind my legs. We shift again in the morning – me to my left side, she completely stretched out (vertically) from one end of the bed to the other.

Sometimes she sleeps like this:

Ruby upside down

She continues sleeping while I shower, get dressed, prepare breakfast and put on my makeup. But when I enter the room with my usual “Good morning sunshine, time for breakfast,” I always find her lying on her stomach, bright-eyed, wagging her tail. I imagine she slowly wakes up to the sounds of me puttering about the apartment.

On the weekends, we both sleep in… until she gives me this look, which means it’s time to get up:

Ruby wanting to go out

I know it’s unorthodox. I know it will complicate matters if/when I start dating again (she will adapt). I also know I’m not alone. The lady who ran her Vermont daycare slept with her husband and four other large dogs (five when Ruby lived there) in the bed. And the lady featured in this 2011 New York Times article sleeps with a pot-bellied pig, two kittens and three terriers.

From that NYT article:

Figures vary, but according to a recent study published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 14 to 62 percent of the 165 million dogs and cats in this country sleep in bed with humans, with other surveys skewing higher.

Another study warns that… allowing pets to sleep in the bed can be dangerous and can spread zoonoses (pronounced zoh-AN-ee-sees), pathogens that go from animals to people… They cite instances of fleas from cats transmitting bubonic plague. Catch scratch fever is a danger, too, they say, as are various forms of meningitis, Pasturella pneumonia and other infections.

(Bubonic plague? Geez.)

All I know is having Ruby on the bed makes me feel super safe. More than anything, I find it comforting and bonding. I think she does too, as she sleeps beside me wherever I am in the apartment. As long as we’re both parasite-free, wound-free, allergy-free and disease-free, I can’t see the harm in waking up to this every day. Can you?

Ruby sleeping and smiling


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The Slippery Slope to “Dog Lady”

This past weekend a friend asked me, “You’re not thinking of getting another dog, are you?” “Well, actually,” I replied slowly. “The thought has crossed my mind to get another dog eventually, but only once I have more living space.” “When do you see that happening?” “Within the next three to five years,” I answered, adding that I’m currently focused on building the life that I want. If I end up meeting another partner, great. But I’m not seeking or waiting for that to happen before moving forward with my goals. “But that’s how you end up being a cat lady,” was the response.

For those unfamiliar, in America, the term “cat lady” has long been associated with the concept of spinsterhood, and in more recent decades, with “romance-challenged (often career-oriented) women who can’t find a man” (paraphrasing wikipedia). Perhaps in your country there is a different term, but you probably recognize the concept of the older, unmarried woman who finds love with her pets instead of a man, right? In my case, it would be “dog lady” as I’m allergic to cats.

Another friend recently told me she doesn’t like to see people using their pets as a “crutch.” When I asked her to explain what she meant by crutch exactly, she said “like when the pet is keeping them from doing things, like dating.” She also asked if I was thinking about getting another dog (apparently, a common concern), and told me it would be better if I dated a man who already owned a dog. “Then you could merge the two pets into one household.” I said, “That would be great, especially if he had a big yard too.”

The summation of these, and other, conversations has got me wondering. Should I be concerned that I’m spending all my free time with my dog instead of dating? Is she an emotional crutch? Am I becoming (the dog equivalent of) a cat lady??

While it’s true that my dog is somewhat of a child/companion/protector/project, I don’t necessarily see myself living alone with her forever. I also don’t see any rush in finding another mate. I feel like I’ve experienced the major romantic milestones in life: falling in love, living together, marriage, sickness, death. The only thing I haven’t done is give birth and raise a child. But isn’t having a dog good practice for parenting on some level? When I said that to my friend this weekend, he laughed, “I’ve seen the way you discipline your dog. Your child would probably rob me.”

I should add that my friends and I love sarcasm and ribbing each other. We might sound harsh, but it’s all in good, playful, loving fun. I really do appreciate that they want me to find love again, even their fears of me living in a house overrun with animals. I just wish they could understand that before I can entertain the idea of being in another human-human relationship, I need to get my shit together and re-define my life on my own. It’s not that I don’t want to share the joys and adventures of life with someone one day.

Or perhaps this all hogwash and I’m actually becoming a “dog lady.”

(credit: sarahleavitt.com)

(credit: sarahleavitt.com)


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He Who Hesitates is Poor

Yesterday I had a job interview, for which I took one week off from blogging and one day off from my day job to prepare. The job was staff writer on a FX Network show. In the past week I watched every episode of its 4 seasons (52 hours), read the short story on which the show is based, read half a dozen of their scripts, watched interviews and read articles about the producers, and even spoke with a former writer on the show. So how did it go?

Meh.

I wish I could say “It went great! Best interview of my life!” but that wouldn’t be genuine. It felt like it went just okay. I said some right things. I don’t think I said any wrong things. Maybe it was my imagination but there seemed to be too many pauses. Maybe the producers were tired? It was the end of the day. I was also a nervous wreck. Is it possible to over-prepare? I put so much pressure on myself, I literally forgot some of what I wanted to say. Plus, it started about 20 minutes late because the producers ran into Mel Brooks in the parking lot beforehand. Mel Brooks!!!! Tell me, how does one follow Mel Brooks? The man is a comical genius! The high of meeting him must have been exhilerating. And they came down from it while interviewing me.

Oh well. Rather than dwell on this so-so interview, I’m going to chalk it up to a learning experience. It was my first interview in 3 years, the first for a TV show. Now I know what these types of meetings are like, so I’ll be more relaxed on the next one. And I’m confident there will be more because the producers liked my writing. Whether they liked me enough is yet to be seen.

In the meantime, to lift our spirits, here are some life quotes from one of my all-time heroes, the man behind Young Frankenstein, Blazing Saddles, Spaceballs, The History of the World – Part 1 and The Producers (among others), Mr. Melvin James Kaminsky aka MEL BROOKS:

“Tragedy is when I cut my finger. Comedy is when you fall into an open sewer and die.”

“As long as the world is turning and spinning, we’re gonna be dizzy and we’re gonna make mistakes.”

“The only thing we don’t have a god for is premature ejaculation… but I hear that it’s coming quickly.”

“Hope for the Best. Expect the worst. Life is a play. We’re unrehearsed.”

“Look, I really don’t want to wax philosophic, but I will say that if you’re alive, you’ve got to flap your arms and legs, you got to jump around a lot, you got to make a lot of noise, because life is the very opposite of death. And therefore, as I see it, if you’re quiet, you’re not living. You’ve got to be noisy, or at least your thoughts should be noisy, colorful and lively.”

“Humor is just another defense against the universe.”

“Every human being has hundreds of separate people living under his skin. The talent of a writer is his ability to give them their separate names, identities, personalities and have them relate to other characters living with him.”

“Everything we do in life is based on fear, especially love.”

“My mind is a raging torrent, flooded with rivulets of thought cascading into a waterfall of creative alternatives.”

“Look at Jewish history. Unrelieved lamenting would be intolerable. So for every ten Jews beating their breasts, God designated one to be crazy and amuse the breast-beaters. By the time I was five I knew I was that one.”

“It’s good to be the king.”

“He who hesitates is poor.”


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Coming Out as a Blogger (via Freshly Pressed)

I just found out this blog is going to be Freshly Pressed. Today. Possibly in a few hours. The email letting me know was sent roughly 19 hours ago and I just noticed it (sorry, WordPress). First of all, I’m honored and flattered. Second of all… holy shit! Wasn’t I just talking about being shy about the blog!?! I guess those days are over.

Will this change how I blog? Will this be a curse like some say winning an Academy Award is the beginning of the end? (I would happily begin the end that way.) Or is this what Kaz would describe as “one of them good problems?”

Time will tell but I don’t think it will change anything. In fact, it might be the kick in the ass I need to get over this stupid shyness. After all, how will I ever be a professional writer if I’m shy about my writing? I’ve written a memoir for goodness sake. If you think I’m shy about the blog, imagine how shy I am about that. And yet, it’s something I’d still like to share with people… one day, in some fashion. Maybe the lesson here is I just gotta do my thing.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned from the entire experience of loving and losing Kaz, it’s that I cannot control a goddamn thing in this world… EXCEPT my writing. I can hardly control myself half the time but I definitely cannot control what happens in life (oh, how I’ve tried). I cannot control who reads what I write. I cannot control who likes what I write. I cannot control anything except the words on the page. And since I’m a control freak, you better believe I’m going to keep writing.

Which brings me to a phrase once mentioned in the caregiver’s support group I used to go to: Caregiver cajones. I think I just grew my blogging equivalent.

Thanks, WordPress!


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11 days in 90 seconds

It’s been a crazy week and a half, so crazy I had to stop blogging for a minute. Rather than write a long drawn out “this is what I’ve been up to” post, I thought I would just present the speed-reel version:

Thursday 3/21 – CLUTCH concert at House of Blues with Big B and his new lady friend. Clutch was Kaz’s favorite band. Two of their songs were played at his memorial. They play one of them at the show. I am crying, laughing and dancing at the same time.

Clutch

Friday 3/22 – Very hungover at work. Grateful that I scheduled the Sarah Gerkensmeyer interview ahead of time. Not grateful that I got the time wrong so it published at 8:00am in whatever part of the world WordPress is based, not 8:00am West Coast time.

Saturday 3/23 – Audition for Harley Davidson Breast Cancer Awareness campaign, which is seeking “female motorcyclists (size 6-8) who survived or know someone who survived breast cancer.” I am NOT a size 6-8 but fit the rest of criteria so WTF. At the audition, there are men and women, it doesn’t matter if you ride or not, and no one asks about breast cancer.

Ruby in car

Sunday 3/24 – Drop Ruby off at a behavior evaluation appointment at West side doggie daycare run by canine guru to the stars. Lobby looks like a hotel. Employees are overly formal and weird. Ruby passes test but I am not impressed.

Monday 3/25 – Work half day due to Passover. Yay Moses! Instead of Seder, I go home to write. My literary manager has stepped up pressure on the television pilot I was supposed to hand in 2 months ago. For the rest of the week I’m back to waking up at 4:00am, writing before, during and after work.

Tuesday 3/26 – Work half day due to Passover. Actually go to Seder this time, at a restaurant called Street with my good friend T (who has fender bender on the way). We sit at the bar. First time leaving Ruby alone and uncrated in the apartment for several hours. I figure it’s Passover, let her taste freedom too. Come home hours later to discover… apartment and puppy are fine! Elated and proud.

LA - passover at street

Wednesday 3/27 – Very hungover, tired, stressed. Consider breaking evening plans but haven’t seen this friend in 6 months. Show up to outdoor party with Ruby, who ends up vomiting 3 times in the middle of everything after eating wildflowers. Apologies all around. We leave early and both collapse at home.

Thursday 3/28 – Leave work early due to Good Friday holiday weekend. Yay Jesus! Go to El Coyote (infamous Mexican restaurant where Sharon Tate ate her last meal) to write. Manage to be productive on 3 margharitas. Write all night until dawn.

Friday 3/29 – HAND IN (very rough first draft) PILOT. Woo-hoo!
Sleep a few hours. Take Ruby to dog park, then to brunch with old college friend. Ruby chews threw her leash during meal but thankfully doesn’t run off. Go to pet store afterwards to buy new leash, then drop her off at babysitter. Spend the next 12 hours driving back and forth to San Diego with 4 other people in the car. We see a play called The Mountaintop about what Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s last night could have been like. Very good play. Worth 6 hours in cramped car with strangers. Pick up Ruby at 1:30am.

Saturday 3/30 – Take Ruby to a dog friendly beach in Santa Barbara, followed by stroll through the dog friendly Douglass Family Preserve (70 acre park with vistas of the Pacific). A beautiful and much needed relaxing day.

SB - Douglass beach trees

SB - Douglass beach - sandy dog

Taking it all in

SB - Douglass beach - sleeping dog

Sunday 3/31 – Clean entire apartment and do 4 loads of laundry while Ruby sleeps all day. Leave Ruby alone and uncrated again while I go to a Game of Thrones viewing party. Drink too much tequila. Come home to piles of poop (on the floor, not the rug). Clean it up before collapsing in bed.

Monday 4/1 – Hungover. But happy to be blogging again.


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How to be an Alpha Bitch

There is a moment in every woman’s life when she comes to understand that the only way to get what she wants is to be an Alpha Bitch. Knowing this does not make it so. She must either decide to become one or accept that she doesn’t have what it takes. If the former, and contrary to what you might think, she does not decide to become mean. She decides to become a leader. One that inspires obedience, loyalty, respect, fear and above all, love from her subject, be it man, child or beast.

Step 1 to being an Alpha Bitch is

1. Recognize that you need to be the Alpha Bitch
It’s okay to not realize it right way, as long as you realize it before the subject realizes that between the two of you, she is more Alpha than you are. Usually, this means while they’re young, still look up to you and/or don’t yet realize their own strength. Once you’ve made the decision to be the leader

2. You must decide how you want the subject to behave and be consistent in the message.
This requires a lot of foresight and energy. If you’re like me and have a set of rules for home and a set of rules in other people’s homes, it can be even more challenging, though not impossible. The trick is to be get the subject to listen to you wherever you are, and to never question your authority.

Ruby with bamboo2

3. Realize and accept that when the subject misbehaves, it’s really your fault.
This is often hard to accept because on some level we wish the subject would know good behavior instinctually. But accept it you must. No matter how good the subject might be, she will not know these behaviors inherently and must be taught what is good behavior and what is bad.

4. Always look the subject in the eye and never show fear.
Your eyes, voice and body language are all key factors. To command, you must be commanding, period.

5. Reward the subject with treats when they do what you want. Learn what is the most valuable treat.
Self-explanatory.

6. Withhold treats when the subject does not do what you want.
Ditto.

7. Learn when to withhold treats for other reasons, for example when the subject grows too accustomed to treats.
Learn to sometimes withhold treats in order to increase their value. Sometimes we learn this by accident because, for reasons not necessarily within our control, treats become unavailable for a period of time. The next time we give the treat the subject appreciates it that much more, which makes training easier.

Ruby with bamboo3

8. Follow up treats with praise.
The goal is to get the subject to behave even without treats all the time, for the subject to forget that bad behavior is even an option. The goal is for good behavior to become the norm.

9. Realize and accept that there will be exceptions
After all, the subject is what it is, and cannot be blamed for having these urges. Every now and then, let the subject blow off some steam and just be themselves.

ruby with bamboo4jpeg

10. Be patient, compassionate and loving. Don’t always be in training mode.
It’s okay to show affection, to laugh and play and indulge and spoil, to a certain extent. As a professional trainer recently told me, “Eventually, she’ll realize that everything good in her life comes from you.”


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Trying to be Zen and not Kvetch

For those unfamiliar with the Yiddish term, to kvetch means “to whine or complain, often needlessly.” Favorite use of the word in a sentence: “Is this truth I’m delivering up, or is it just plain kvetching? Or is kvetching for people like me a form of truth?” — Philip Roth, Portnoy’s Complaint. I try not to use the blog to complain but right now all I can think of are the things that are annoying me. Don’t feel obligated to read any further. I just want to get these things off my chest, starting with:

1. I’m tired. Between losing an hour to Daylight Savings Time and getting up earlier for the longer commute to puppy’s new daycare, I am seriously struggling to stay awake.

2. I hate traffic. It’s a little easier not to feel road rage when there’s a cute puppy sitting beside you, but damn does LA traffic SUCK, especially since I still haven’t figured out the best route to get to new daycare. I miss the days in Vermont when I could either walk everywhere or drive on roads with no traffic to any destination.

3. The puppy is a handful. Yesterday I had to stay home from work because she threw up five times before 9:00am. On the way to the vet, I discovered one of the seat belts half-chewed away. The vet actually came out to my car to inspect. Did she swallow half the seat-belt? Or a bone? Or a tennis ball? Not this time (thank g-d) but she definitely ate something that didn’t agree with her. Now she’s on yet ANOTHER medication, at least for the next 4 days. I love her and will do anything for her, but she is driving me a little nuts.

4. I’m crankier when I’m tired. I’m trying to get up even earlier now than before, at 3:30am, to make up for leaving the house earlier for the commute. Except I keep hitting the snooze button, so the alarm goes off at 3:30, 4:00, 5:00 then 6:00am before I finally get out of bed at 7:00. I’m sure this is driving the puppy nuts.

5. I can’t stand my job. Rather, I am grateful to have a job, income, benefits, pleasant work environment, nice co-workers, a desk with privacy and a window, and a very cool boss, but I can’t stand not doing what I love. This is what you call a “day job” – a job that pays the bills, not a job you’re passionate about and can’t wait to get to. There is no shame in having a day job. And as far as day jobs go, this one is pretty sweet (they let me go to Vermont, after all). I can’t say enough about how nice my boss is. But I’d rather be doing what I love: writing, directing, producing, working with artists, working with children, making art, making a difference, using more of my brain.

6. There is never enough time in the day. I’ve been asked to volunteer again this Saturday and feel torn. I want to help out but I also want a weekend to myself. Weekends are usually busy: puppy class, doctors appointments, laundry, groceries, cleaning, dog park. Can I squeeze in another few hours of volunteering?? If I don’t, will they think I’m not passionate enough?

7. I really miss having a partner. Besides missing Kaz’s voice, touch, wit, wisdom and everything else, I also miss having some help with life.

8. I’m not exercising enough and am overweight. Need to either get up earlier and walk with puppy, walk at lunch, or hike more on the weekends.

9. I’m not making enough money. It’s frustrating to be 42 years old and still scraping pennies to make it to the next paycheck.

10. My writing is going slower than a snail’s pace, which aggravates everything else because it feels like there’s no momentum.

Do I feel better now? Hmmm, not really. Though now that I’ve listed my grievances, I recognize that these are issues everyone deals with. They’re all within my power to change. And things could be a whole lot worse. Shame on me for complaining about all this BS.

I’m lucky to have a job, a car, my health, a beautiful loving dog, friends and family, wonderful memories of a wonderful man, a great love, a city where the sun is almost always shining and exercise almost always possible, and a blog where I get to write every day.

So, no more kvetching.