riding bitch

The life of a writer and survivor of loss.


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.


7 Comments

Seeing the Stars at Night

It’s funny how life turns out. I never thought I’d be living in the country. I’ve always been a city girl, the kind that screams at the sight of a roach, and jumps on the furniture at the sight of a mouse. On our one and only camping trip, Kaz found it amusing how paranoid I was in the tent at night. “What’s that? Did you hear something? Is there something in the sleeping bag with us?”

And yet, I was always trying to get us out of the city. To Joshua Tree, to Santa Barbara, to the coast, anywhere but inside the urban jungle. 10306074_10153212167690930_8118499099981483930_n When he was sick, and especially when he got depressed, one of my most frequent questions was: “Why don’t you sit outside?” “And do what?” he’d respond. “Just feel the sun on your face, the wind, listen to the birds, breathe some fresh air. It’s good for you!” But sitting outside on Hollywood Boulevard wasn’t his thing. I don’t blame him.

I often think of him now and wonder what he would say about my current life, if he would have been willing to make this kind of move to the country (probably not, his work was in the city), if it would have even occurred to us (again, probably not). 11150378_10153212167250930_9164052667769912565_n I know he would have loved the roads around here, which are perfect for motorcycle riding. He probably wouldn’t have liked the winters. But I think he might have liked the solitude. He was kind of a loner, or at least a homebody. He liked being at home, playing his video games, watching television, relaxing. He would have enjoyed how much I cook here.

Who knows. He might have been surprised by how well I’ve adapted to the solitude because I was always the social one. I still am, but in smaller spurts. Ironically, I relate to his homebody-style more now than before. 10421348_10153212167615930_3991056468008253707_n It’s hard to describe how much I love living in the country. It’s not perfect. I do miss certain things about the city, but on a day-to-day basis, I feel more content than I have since Kaz was alive.

As I write this post (the original by longhand on a yellow legal pad), I am sitting in the backyard on a weathered metal rocking chair that has a cotton cushion. I’ve sat on this chair all through winter. I call it my “outside office.”

The sun is out. It’s in the 60’s. The clouds are mere wisps. There is a strong breeze blowing, and a family of black flies buzzing around me. In the distance, the flowers that line the edges of the house have just begun to bloom. 11156179_10153212166650930_8998367947681788918_nRuby is lying nearby in the grass, her eyes half-open in that way dogs do when relaxing in the sun. This morning she was sniffing all over the yard instead of the usual stick-fetching, and I was reading a book. It was peaceful, both of us doing our own thing, occasionally looking up to check on the other. 11146263_10153212319680930_3791173026327755806_n Some people don’t want to deal with flies or dirt (which is unavoidable in the country), the wind, the quiet, and so on, just like some people prefer air conditioning to open windows in cars (I’ve always been the latter).

Apparently, there’s such a thing as Ecotherapy, which is literally contact with Nature, and it’s becoming more important as the world grows more populated and the environment continues to deteriorate. This article in the Washington Post discusses concerns that health officials have about how people in the future are going to get enough (unpolluted) nature to stay healthy. “The World Health Organization predicts that 70 percent of the world’s population will live in urban areas within 30 years.”

If I’m still here in 30 years, I’m pretty sure I won’t be one of those people. I like seeing the stars at night. 10360203_10153212167320930_1901981881794809668_n


10 Comments

A Former Angeleno’s Take on Winter

Before moving to upstate New York (and once I got here), the main question people asked me was, “Have you ever lived through a winter there?” It seemed to be the main concern. I shrugged it off, “No, but I grew up on the East Coast and lived in Vermont for four weeks in January. I’ll be fine!”

But I was a bit apprehensive.

Living in Los Angeles, a city that fluctuates between warm and hot, for 19 years was long enough to thin my blood. I became one of those people who shivered when it was 60 degrees out, and froze when it was below 50. I had visited the East Coast in wintertime, and even seen some snow in Joshua Tree Desert once, but it was fleeting (and freezing).

I tried to mentally prepare myself for winter by reading three winter-based books last fall: Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton (star-crossed lovers try to kill themselves by sledding into a tree), The Half-Skinned Steer by Annie Proulx (old man gets lost and freezes in Wyoming blizzard), and We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson (two sisters – one a murderer – struggle to survive in old, haunted, cold New England mansion). BRRRR!!!

Then the first major storm hit New York in mid-November, dumping 5-7 feet of snow on Buffalo (a nightmare). But where I live, 350 miles to the East, we got nothing.

Since then, we’ve had snowfalls of several inches and temperatures low enough to freeze an entire lake. This is pretty mild compared to what it could be. People keep telling me the worst is still to come. To which I say, BRING IT.

As it turns out, I have sort of fallen in love with winter.

10307234_10153021886995930_8356074409083247035_n 10419987_10153021886405930_1623976131222140007_n

I live in a rural area, which is different than living in a city, and if I had to drive to work, I might feel differently (to be fair, they clear the roads pretty quickly here, even the smaller country roads). But I think winter is gorgeous.

10953952_10153021886770930_1622094271489478642_n

The patterns, textures, skies and colors… I haven’t experienced it in such a long time, I’m actually fascinated by the fact that everything nearly dies, or seems to die but actually doesn’t. It reminds me of the desert in the way it’s so harsh, but still teaming with life.

back yard jewelsdrew drops

The beauty of seasons, something I used to miss in LA, is that they are literally Nature at work. They’re also a marking of time. When you live in an area that’s sort of the same every day, you can wake up one day and suddenly realize six months have gone by and you hardly even noticed.

1527112_10152986218630930_1465356333116137334_n 10898192_10152986218370930_8284661192111274408_n 10891883_10152951565790930_2187579334287320000_n 10896877_10152951565050930_184432887654704704_n 10888354_10152951564695930_4260027571666001255_n 10917864_10153000181525930_4853096471260752014_n

I still can’t handle being cold so I am EXTREMELY bundled up when I go outside. I wear at least two of everything and lots of thick cotton, wool, down and silk, which is very warm. For extra cold days, I wear a fur babushka hat over my normal hat. I look ridiculous, but it keeps me cozy even though it’s freezing. I still read outside, take long walks, hike, and do everything I did before except ride the motorcycle.

babushka hat

Perhaps the biggest reason I’m enjoying winter, though, is Ruby. We spend no less than two hours outside every day, and her joy is absolutely contagious.

10408070_10153021887225930_7365601331947303365_n 10245467_10153021887145930_583234243495321275_n 1907553_10153021886640930_6364236274526472038_n 10933909_10152986218135930_8784031189086187664_n 10929905_10152986218815930_2445680405697734858_n 10922532_10153000182075930_109576093850421471_n

The big open space above is the frozen lake, btw.

ruby in blankets

If you live in a big city and have warm clothing, I highly recommend going outside, even in the cold. Take a walk to the nearest park, river or lake, enjoy the fresh air. There are still a few birds singing. How they survive the temperatures, I have no idea, but it’s lovely to hear them.

tree lattice

I am very much looking forward to seeing spring. In the meantime, I hope you’re able to enjoy winter’s beauty… and of course, stay safe and warm.

Peace and light.


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


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. 🙂