riding bitch

The life of a writer and survivor of loss.


5 Comments

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


11 Comments

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


11 Comments

Two Steps Forward, One Step Back

A few nights ago, the loudest BOOM I’ve ever heard in my life woke me in the middle of the night. My first thought was, “Are we at war?” It literally sounded like my neighbor’s house just blew up. My own house shook with the force of the explosion, which was followed by a sudden flash of light beyond the window curtains, like in a horror movie. Then the steadily falling rain started to pour so loudly, it sounded like it was raining in my room.

Then yesterday, during our morning stick time, the weather went from sunny to cloudy to SNOWING within fifteen minutes. Neighbors had warned me of late April flurries when I moved up here, but that’s the kind of thing one doesn’t believe until one sees it.

Well, yesterday it happened. Snow fell on just-bloomed flowers and new buds.

Strangely, I handled the cold all winter, but yesterday I shivered uncontrollably, even in the winter coat and gloves (which I had to run back into the house to get). The cold felt more painful in those few minutes than it had in the last several months. Was it because I wasn’t expecting it? Or because Nature was going backwards?

The weather oddly mirrored my own emotional state.

Last Saturday I joined a friend in the city to celebrate his birthday. The whole weekend was a vibrant rush of familiar faces, friends, new experiences and great weather. I felt alive and hopeful.

Upon arriving back home, I noticed that more flowers had bloomed, and some of the buds on the trees and bushes were now visible. The air smelled fresh and sweet. But the week went downhill from there…

Wednesday (April 22) was my wedding anniversary, which, as well as being forever etched in my mind and heart, also sets off an 11-day mourning period until May 3, the anniversary of Kaz’s passing. Four years ago we married. Four years ago he died.

I had anticipated that this week would be an emotional minefield. But I didn’t expect how many mines I would meet. Silly me, I thought I had cleared some of them already. Not the case.

I cried while throwing the stick for Ruby, while sitting outside listening to the birds, while passing a dead deer on the road, while taking a shower. I took a lot of naps, and went to bed before it was even dark out. The quiet of the countryside has felt oppressive this week, not comforting like usual.

And then there was the weather.

How ironic that it would get cold again right when everything is starting to come back to life.  The snow seemed surreal at first, and then more sinister, like a betrayal or a sick joke.

“It will get warm and stay warm eventually, right?” I asked a neighbor yesterday afternoon. “Yes,” she reassured me with a smile. “We’ll be standing out here in t-shirts soon.”

Even though the cold is only temporary, it’s hard not feel discouraged. It’s as if these cold, sad days have shaken my faith. I keep telling myself it will get better in May. Everything will get better in May.


12 Comments

Being Alone vs Being Lonely

Last time I posted about loneliness and made some suggestions on how to overcome it. I neglected to mention that just because someone is alone doesn’t mean they’re lonely.

There is not a day that goes by that I don’t think of Kaz, that I don’t miss him and wish he were here. But even when he was alive, I used to like being alone. Back then I called it “needing my space.”

One of the more difficult aspects of moving in together was that I couldn’t have my space. His apartment (like mine) was a one-bedroom, and the bedroom wasn’t big enough for a desk. So, I wrote in the living room – with headphones on to drown out the sound of the television and his video games. After a while, he started wearing headphones too, so he could play his video games at full volume. It wasn’t ideal, but we made it work.

After he died, it wasn’t totally foreign to be alone, but it was strange and very painful. Excruciating at times. I felt him with me spiritually, but that did little to lessen the void created by his physical absence. It took a long time for the pain to subside and stabilize.

After 3.5 years, I’ve grown accustomed to being alone again. I still have moments of “why isn’t Kaz here?” but being alone has become normal.

And now that I live “in the sticks,” as someone recently teased, I’m more alone than ever, in the sense that I don’t see lots of people.

But I’m not lonely. Well, sometimes I am. But for the most part, I’m not.

I think this is because I’m writing all the time. I’m extremely focused on my work, and I like that there are little to no distractions (other than the dog).

Besides my work (which I enjoy), I get enjoyment from sources other than people… things like books, movies, cooking and being outside. I’m even enjoying winter (so far). It’s a bit like being in hibernation. There’s a certain relief in not going out a lot.

When I go into the city, it’s a different matter. That’s when I get my people “fix.” But I love returning upstate to my little sanctuary.

It’s hard to explain, but I have no complaints right now. I  don’t have much money, but I’m not stressed about it for some reason. I’ve gained a little weight here, but I’ll lose it eventually. I still cry about things, but I’m not depressed. And after I cry, I’m okay. I don’t go to bed sad, which is very different than before.

I’m more grounded and secure than I used to be, more self-sufficient and content. I need less of others, and less of the material world.

In a way, it’s like I’m learning to be happy again… happy with a very simple life. It might not always be this simple, but perhaps I can carry the simplicity within me.

As I told a friend the other day, “If I can make it through this year of working my ass off, making little money, living in an isolated place, and surviving the winter… I’m pretty sure I can handle just about anything.”

Wishing everyone peace and light.

10410089_10152990950635930_6166055648441986671_n


12 Comments

Looking Back / Looking Forward

When I think of everything that happened in 2014, I’m a little speechless. It was huge for me. In the tradition of my posts Looking Back and Looking Forward in 2012, here’s a list of this past year’s accomplishments, and a few goals for 2015.

In 2014, I…

– Bought a motorcycle.

– Got Ruby registered as a Canine Good Citizen.

– Attended a writing workshop and met folks who have since become my most trusted colleagues and friends.

– Started freelance writing, a new career.

– Published a couple of personal essays, including Saying I Do, Saying Farewell.

– Got a book agent in New York City to represent me as an author.

– Quit my day job as a legal assistant.

– Became a contributing editor at Modern Loss.

– Left my apartment and Los Angeles, and drove 4500 miles in three weeks by myself.

– Moved to a rural area in upstate New York, a completely new environment and lifestyle.

– Wrote a first draft of book proposal for my memoir (working on second draft now).

– Adopted a new schedule, including getting up before sunrise to write (aka the Plath Hours).

– Developed my personal website www.nivadorellsmith.com (still working out the kinks, but it’s a start).

– Sent holiday cards to almost 75 people (more work than it sounds!).

– Signed up for a dating website (no dates yet).

– Started cooking again.

I don’t do resolutions, but I do write down a few big goals for the new year. I’ve accomplished many of my past goals, including starting a blog, adopting a dog, learning how to ride, getting paid to write, getting published, and living somewhere with more space.

In 2015, I want to…

– Sell my book.

– Get published in a major print magazine or newspaper.

– Start a video blog.

– Sell and/or produce a movie script or television series.

– Travel abroad.

I’ve spent a lot of time focusing on my writing career lately, but not as much on my film career. I see the next year or two as a period where the two will become one. My goal is to be a filmmaker who also writes books and articles.

Still up in the air is whether or not I will meet someone in the near future. In May, it will be four years since Kaz died. I haven’t been quite ready to let go yet, but I can picture it happening more now than I used to. Time will tell.

What did you accomplish in 2014? What are your goals for 2015?

Happy New Year, folks!

– Niva

 


14 Comments

What Makes a Home “Home”

Yesterday marked three months of living in my new home, and I’m happy to say that it’s actually starting to feel like “home.”

What is it that makes living quarters actually feel like that? For me, it’s a few things.

Decorating

living room art

Living room wall

The other day I finally unpacked all the artwork I brought with me from L.A. and put some of it up. This wasn’t as simple as it sounds. I now live in a 2-BR apartment, instead of 1-BR, and have significantly more wall space. Also, the living room is green, which is tricky. So, before I put anything up, I walked from room to room asking “which color theme are you?” and tried to listen to what each room told me.

The living room wanted only black and white artwork which won’t clash with the green.

The bedroom asked for the big yellow painting I used to have over my bed in L.A., and my mother’s pastel-colored artwork. It’s going to be a powerful, feminine sanctuary when it’s finished.

Bedroom wall

Bedroom wall

The hallway claimed all the rock ‘n roll artwork, including the Coop lithograph, which now hangs just outside the kitchen.

Hallway corner

Hallway corner

Coop lithograph

Coop lithograph

The kitchen and the bathroom are still undecided.

Most of the artwork used to belong to Kaz, and reminds me of him. But in L.A., every wall also held an image of Kaz. Now, only my office (the smaller bedroom) has images of him. My office is the most private room in the apartment, not only because it has two doors which I can close from the inside, but also because it’s where I do my most creative thinking, spend most of my time, and feel the most content. It feels right to have Kaz with me in this room.

There’s still a long way to go with the decorating (rugs, matching towels, TV stand, etc.), but putting the artwork up was a big first step.

Cleaning

I know it sounds like I’m getting all domestic, but seriously, once you start cleaning your house, it’s Home! The other day I spent a couple of hours vacuuming, dusting, tidying up and mopping the kitchen floor. It felt good! I’ve also decided to go to war with the critters. A clean house is the first battle move.

Candles

In lieu of no fireplace, I’ve been using candles to add, if not real warmth, then decorative warmth. Some of them are scented (nothing overpowering), and make the house smell lovely.

Cooking

Some of you may recall that, for a long time after Kaz died, it was difficult for me to cook like I used to, and this was painful because I really love to cook. Now that I live in the countryside, where restaurants are far and few between, I’m back in the kitchen on a regular basis. I’ve made Chili, Meatloaf, Quiche, Frittata, Pumpkin Pie and Ice Tea, which I heat up for hot sweet tea in the cold afternoons. Soon I will make my first soups. But my specialty seems to be Apple Crisp.

It started in late September when I went apple picking with some friends and came home with 20 lbs of apples! I made my first batch of crisp with half of those apples, and the rest of the apples I brought to friends in NYC. My mother and I used to make apple pies together when I was a kid and, to this day, nothing recalls that feeling of home to me than the smell of yummy, buttery apples wafting throughout the house.  A tip: don’t throw away the apple peel and grinds right away. You can boil them to make hot cider and/or add them to tea for flavor.

(had to go big with this pic)

apple crisp

Fresh Apple Crisp made with hand-picked apples (can you smell it??)

Traveling

The first two months of being here, I went to NYC four times (!) and Washington D.C. once. I’ve seen lots of my family and friends in the city. I even saw Kaz’s mother in D.C. But after all that visiting and traveling, I cannot express how nice it was to come home to the quiet, natural beauty and slow pace of my new neighborhood, the comfort of my own bed, and the peace of my own office.

Staying Home

I don’t know when I’ll be traveling to the city again (maybe Christmas). For now, it’s nice to just plant roots and settle in. I guess staying home reinforces the feeling of Home.

All of these simple things have helped me adjust to the new reality and feel less homesick. I’m building a new life and a new career in a completely new environment. It’s a lot. When I unpacked the artwork, it was like reuniting with old friends. A little bit of Hollywood in upstate New York. 🙂

Can you think of other things that make a place Home? Design tips welcome!


6 Comments

A Mouse in the House

I’ve been in denial for a couple of months now, ignoring the tiny pieces of evidence left on the counter tops in the morning. The odd noises coming from the kitchen in the middle of the night. When the dog wakes me up with loud barking directed at the hallway, I tell her to calm down because there is nothing there. Many a morning, I’ve cleaned the counter tops while telling myself, “It’s not what you think.”

This morning, while brewing my coffee, I decided to wipe the counter tops more thoroughly and lifted a basket that held a plastic bag of pistachios. Well, it used to hold pistachios. As I discovered just a few minutes ago, all the pistachios are gone, and the plastic bag has a small hole in it the size of a quarter. Also, there were lots of gifts under the basket.

I wiped the counter, threw out the empty plastic bag, and put the basket in a lower cupboard.

Denial, no more.

I am sharing the house with a mouse (I choose to believe it’s just one).

The question is, what now? Do I try to trap and kill it? Or do I accept that, apparently, I have a roommate? Part of me feels like I brought this upon myself by moving to the countryside, and this sort of dilemma goes with the territory. I am living close to nature. Maybe I should just be “one” with it.

Besides, as a former city dweller, I have had my share of unwanted guests, including roaches, ants and what really should have been the 11th plague – bed bugs. In comparison, a mouse seems almost quaint. Not that I want to see it. Or hear it. Or continue cleaning up after it. But I also don’t want to deal with a dead mouse. And I’m not getting a cat.

To be quite honest, I’d really rather not deal with it at all.

This past month has been crazy busy, and things are not going to let up any time soon. To mention just a few recent activities, I completed a first draft of my book proposal, met with my book agent, developed a professional website, updated my LinkedIn profile, traveled to NYC twice, flew back to California once (more on that later), spent a weekend reporting a story, and wrote my first news article (to be published). I’ve also read three books, taken my dog to the vet twice (she’s fine), went to Albany for the first time, and learned how to make chili.

In the next week, I have to read a friend’s book proposal, give feedback on said proposal, finish reading another friend’s book, write an essay, write another article, type up all my notes from last weekend and cook some dishes for Thanksgiving.

Yesterday I finally took a day off to go shopping for food and much-needed cooking supplies. Which brings me back to my unwanted friend.

Maybe if I simply hide all the food, he will go somewhere else? Is it possible to lure a mouse away from your home, which is also his home? Should I borrow someone else’s cat? Or try to peacefully live together? Is that gross? It’s hard for me to gauge.

I do have to say, this mouse seems really discreet. So far, he hasn’t dared to show himself during the day, or even at night, when I sometimes get up for a glass of water. The city mice I’ve met in the past were much more bold.

I think if I saw him, I would probably feel different about the situation. As it stands now, we are like strangers who keep missing each other, but know the other exists. Except less romantic sounding.

On the bright side, at least I’m not dealing with a bat. That would be a little too much nature in the house.

 

 

 

 


23 Comments

The Solitary Life

It’s been thirty-eight days since I arrived in upstate New York, and so far it’s exactly how I imagined it would be: gorgeous, quiet, clean and solitary. Several people have asked how I can possibly like being alone all the time. “I would go insane,” they tell me. “How do you manage not to?” (some visual clues at the bottom of this post)

First of all, I am not entirely alone because I have a dog.

Secondly, I’m not entirely alone because I take walks and pass by neighbors (everyone waves to each other up here), and sometimes we even strike up conversations. I also get out of the house for errands, events, meetings and socializing with new and old friends in the area. So far, I’ve been to a brunch, an Oktoberfest party, a lecture, a business meeting, two book club gatherings and an afternoon of apple picking, which was a lot of fun.

Thirdly, I’m not entirely alone because I go to New York City (aka “the city”) every few weeks to be with family, friends and colleagues. Soon, I’ll be venturing to New Jersey, Philadelphia and Washington D.C. to see more people. These weekend trips are wonderful for many reasons, not the least of which is they keep me on my toes. Driving in New York City is no joke.

All that said… I am definitely alone most of the time. Here are a few reasons why it doesn’t bother me.

I’m writing. When I’m not writing, I’m reading. When I’m not writing or reading, I’m checking social media, riding my motorcycle, cooking, walking, watching television, sleeping or, like previously mentioned out and about, in and out of the city and so on.

My daily schedule is broken down into blocks of time that start at 4:30 a.m. and end around 9:00 p.m. The 4:30-7:30 a.m. block is what a friend and I have dubbed the Plath Hours, after Sylvia Plath’s habit of working between four and eight in the morning, before her children woke up. We actually check in with each other via Twitter with the hashtag #plathhours. Feel free to join us if you’re interested. We don’t do it every day. Actually, the past few days, I’ve been writing at night instead of the morning. We dubbed the night writing hours #poehours.

My schedule includes a total of nine hours of writing time every week day, but I’m not writing the entire nine hours. I’m also checking email, social media, doing research, keeping up with my Modern Loss editing, and reading online journals. The point is, I’m at my computer working, with little to no distractions.

The rest of the day is broken up between playing with Ruby and regular day-to-day activities. We spend roughly three-four hours per day outside – rain or shine. I use this time to read and exercise (I’ve done both in the rain). Ruby plays fetch, chews her sticks, and explores the vast and many mysteries in the backyard. Afterwards, she sleeps under my writing desk on a bunch of pillows (rough life, I know.)

At 4:30 p.m., if I have errands to run, this is when I ride the motorcycle. Luckily, it’s still warm enough to ride. If I don’t have errands, Ruby and I walk to a nearby creek. She’s recently befriended a beautiful Doberman who lives at a farm along the way, and now he follows us to the creek. The dogs end up swimming, wrestling over sticks, and chasing squirrels and chipmunks. I’m not sure how we’ll keep up this routine when it gets cold, but I’ve thought about taking up cross-country skiing as a way to stay warm and still be outside.

A friend recently teased me that I’m living “a monk’s life.” It’s not as severe as that, but he has a point. It would definitely be nice to balance this solitary life with human company at the end of the day. I sometimes wonder what life would be like if/when I live with someone again. I’m pretty sure I will still spend a lot of time alone, in my office, with the dog at my feet.

I guess what I’m saying is that I see this lifestyle continuing on some level. Maybe I won’t live in the countryside, or maybe I’ll live part-time in the countryside. Either way, I plan to always have a place where I can be alone in a quiet, private atmosphere, and hopefully a fireplace or wood burning stove.

For now, I’m okay with things the way they are. Most of my energy is going into my work, which fulfills me in a way I haven’t experienced in a long time.

When people ask me how I like this new solitary, country life, I just smile. “It’s good for the soul.” It’s also producing results. More on that later.

woods Ruby on road to creek Ruby and Bronson2 ruby and bronson moto vista creek4 creek3 creek 2 creek happy me


4 Comments

On Fear and Faith

The other day I received a fortune cookie from my first Chinese take out here in upstate New York. When I opened it, there were two slips of paper inside, instead of the normal one. This is what they said:

Fear drives you and makes you better.

Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things unseen.

Now, I’m not one to take much stock in fortune cookies. But these two resonated with me. Fear and Faith are themes that are coming up a lot lately in my life and work.

Let’s talk about fear first.

Some people say, “oh, don’t give voice to your fears because that gives them power over you.” I happen to think the opposite – that by acknowledging your fears and staring them right in the face, you actually diminish their power over you. Once you’re sitting with your fears, you can analyze them, break them down, and figure out ways to co-exist, perhaps even use them to move ahead. I don’t believe in the phrase “fearless” – except when it comes to young children who don’t know any better. Rather, I think people learn to use their fears to fuel their passions.

A race car driver will use her desire for winning and her fear of crashing to learn how to better control her car at high speeds.

An entrepreneur will use her passion for business and her fear of failure to learn everything she can about her field.

An actress will use her passion for performing and her fear of performing to work extra hard and be more than prepared for opening night.

I don’t know about you, but I’m afraid of lots of things – too many to mention in one post – but (these days) the Big Three are: fear of failing as a writer, fear of crashing my motorcycle, and fear of the dark.

Yes, I’m afraid of the dark. I didn’t realize how much so until this recent move to rural upstate New York. I’m living in an old house which literally creaks in the night (and day). Outside it’s often windy, which sounds louder than usual because there are no other noises other than the occasional bird, critter or passing car. At night, it’s so dark, I can’t see more than a few feet ahead of me. You would think it would be nice to go outside and take advantage of the darkness to see the stars etc, but I can’t do it. I live in a woodsy area, so the trees block much of the night sky. In any case, I do not go past the front porch once the sun goes down.

I’m managing, of course. It’s not like I’m huddled in bed quaking with fear at night. On the contrary, I sleep like a rock. But I am constantly telling myself to not be afraid of the dark, the noises, the creaky house and the wind.

Fear of crashing the bike is totally rational. Motorcycles are dangerous. I know people who have had accidents (bad ones). I’m a relatively new rider and still learning. While I’m not riding in a crowded city, there are still plenty of hazards here in the countryside including gravel roads, wet leaves, deer and other critters, and of course traffic (light though it may be). There’s also my own error and lack of experience. But the only way to gain experience – and deal with the other hazards – is to get out there and practice, practice, practice. In the best conditions of course – no riding on wet surfaces or low-light. I wouldn’t be riding if I didn’t totally enjoy and want to get better at it.

Fear of failing as a writer is a big one. A writer will use her love of the written word and her fear that no one will ever read her work to practice her craft diligently every single day. Done. But even if I work as hard as I possibly can, there’s still much out of my control as far as how my work is received, and whether I can make a living from it.

This is where Faith comes in. “Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things unseen.” The only way I can keep going is to have faith that things will work out. My job is to do the work to the best of my ability — and I’m doing that. The rest is out of my hands.

Letting go doesn’t come naturally to me. I used to be much more of a ‘control freak’ and have a lot more anxiety. But these days, I am consciously trying to let go of the need to control everything – especially the things that are beyond my control. This begins with identifying what is in my control and what isn’t.

What isn’t in my control is part of a larger vortex, of which I am but a tiny part, swirling with all the other tiny parts that make up this world. I don’t approach life passively, but I do accept that on a certain level life is carrying me where it will. There’s only so much I can do to steer it.


14 Comments

Catskills: First Impressions

After a 3-week, 4500 mile road trip across the U.S.A. with my dog, I’m finally in the Catskills of upstate New York. Yay!

And OH MY G-D.

Ever since arriving last Tuesday, I’ve been in a pleasant but no less real state of culture shock. Not surprising for someone who just traveled from a city of roughly 9 million people to a town with less than 5,000. I had fantasized what it would be like to be here countless times. Now I’m here and it’s… sort of everything I imagined it would be, and a few things I didn’t.

It’s only been a few days but these are some initial impressions (and images):

It’s quiet. So quiet I can literally hear the buzzing in my ears. This is great for concentration (why I came here), and also great for sleeping. Oddly, I’ve been sleeping like a rock and waking in the middle of the night for no apparent reason. Unable to fall back asleep, I get on my computer to write (tonight at 2:30 a.m.) then go back to bed a few hours later. During the day, I’m full of energy.

It’s loud. Yes, it’s both quiet and loud… with the sound of insects, birds, wind, rustling leaves and the occasional passing car, truck or motorcycle.

It’s remote. The other day I had to drive 45 minutes (one way) and pay $2.00 in tolls to get to my bank. So much is done online these days, it might not be that much of an issue, but it’s definitely an adjustment. I’m thinking I’ll have to coordinate trips into the larger towns to coincide with other errands.

It’s beautiful. I’ll post some proper pictures later, but let’s just say I’ve had to stop the car a few times to take in some of the scenery. This is only a small hint of what’s to come.

Durham - nature 2

It’s green, so very green. I’m grateful to have arrived in early fall so I can witness the leaves turning. Right now, I’m really enjoying all the lush green.

Durham - lush green

It’s alive. Farm animals, wildlife, critters… even the dead skunk on the side of the road was interesting.

Durham - ruby looking at sheepDurham - deer in roadDurham - deer

It’s clean. I haven’t seen one piece of litter or trash — which is not to say I haven’t seen junk in people’s yards, but that’s different.

Durham - free stuff

It smells good. The air is pure and fresh. On rainy, chilly days like today the air was filled with the scent of burning firewood and wet grass. The other day I walked by someone’s house and smelled the sweet buttery scent of an apple pie baking. I actually paused in front of the window and when the lady inside looked at me, I waved. “Smells delicious!”

It’s motorcycle friendly. There are bikers everywhere. In fact, this weekend there was a motorcycle festival in town, complete with live music, spaghetti wrestling and other activities. I didn’t go. But my bike just arrived yesterday, and I can’t wait to ride!

motorcycle in durham

It’s really dark at night. The other night I drove home after dark and needed my high beams the whole time. I try not to think of slasher movies when walking at night. Actually, I try not to walk at night.

It’s friendly. Some people are quicker to talk to me than others, but those who have were extremely friendly. People have given me their phone numbers, invited me to events and introduced me to other folks within minutes of meeting.

It’s intellectual and creative. I’ve received more bookstore and library recommendations in the past five days than I have in 19 years living in Los Angeles, and heard there are many other writers and artists up here.

It’s cheap. Not only are the prices of necessities and services lower, but there are fewer opportunities to spend money. I’m not eating out, going to the movies, walking by stores or cafes. I literally haven’t reached for my wallet to buy anything in three days.

I’m excited to learn more about my new home, meet more people, and get a ton of work done.

Here’s to settling in. 🙂