riding bitch

The life of a writer and survivor of loss.


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My First “Do It Yourself” Project

I distinctly remember the first time Kaz fixed something for me in my apartment when we were dating. I practically swooned. I’d always been pretty useless at fixing things. I knew how to hammer a nail, replace a lightbulb and use a screwdriver. But anything else was beyond my capability and, frankly, my interest level. My attitude was: “That’s what men are for.” Luckily, Kaz was good at stuff like that. And I was good at cooking, so we kind of balanced each other out.

Now, as a widow/woman living alone, I’m back to square one. If I need something fixed, I have to either find someone to fix it for me, or learn how to fix it myself. Hence, this story…

It all started with a dirty, weathered, falling-apart wood shelf that was leaning outside the cafe where I work PT. I don’t know what drew me to this rickety thing, except that I really needed a bookshelf, and the cafe owner said I could have this one for free. (It was such an eye sore, I was doing her a favor by getting it off her property.)

Convinced I could do something with the shelf, I brought it home and propped it up in my downstairs hallway, where it remained for the next few months. Every person that walked through my door and saw the shelf suggested I throw it out. One friend even emailed me links to shelves on sale at Target. Another suggested IKEA. No, I told the doubters. I’m going to fix it.

Except I didn’t know how to fix it. I didn’t even own a power drill. And time was running out. The shelf unit had to be fixed outside, and therefore before it got too cold.

In early October, I secretly started asking around for a handyman. I thought living in a rural area, finding a handyman would be easy. Not so. Besides, it felt like a cop-out. Why pay someone to do something that I really should be able to do myself?

So I turned to my brother-in-law, who renovates buildings in New York City and has a full-blown workshop in his house. He agreed to let me borrow one of his power drills… and then surprised me with a power drill tool kit for my birthday, complete with drill bits, screws and a level.

my little friend

Say hello to my little friend.

A female sculptor friend of mine taught me how to use the drill. And I was all set to go.

On a chilly November morning, I dragged the shelf unit outside, rinsed it off with a hose, and lined up my tools.

tools

Needless to say, the dog was skeptical.

ruby skeptical

The shelf was so unstable, I couldn’t even take a photo of it standing up. In order to fix it, I would have to take it apart and put it back together. I also wanted to paint it.

janky1janky2The first step was to replace all the pieces of rotted wood and remove all the rusted nails. This required using the hand saw to cut new pieces of wood, and my new drill to attach them to the slats.

The dog was still very skeptical.

skeptical from afar

Once I managed to do all of this (without sawing a finger off), I was ready to paint.

ready to paintpainted slats

After painting, I had to re-attach all those boards, once again using the drill. It took me a couple of weeks because I drill slowly, I had other things to do (like work), and it rained off and on for a week. But eventually, I managed to get all the boards attached.

six boards 15 boards up

Then it rained for another week.

Yesterday was the first warm, sunny day we’ve had in a while. I woke up vowing to finish this damn shelf project. All I had to do was re-attach the other side of the shelf and touch it up with more paint. The first part proved more challenging than I anticipated. For some reason, my drill bit kept getting stuck in the wood. After a few times of that happening, and a whole lot of cursing, I put the drill aside, picked up the hammer and just nailed the thing back together.

almost there but still slanting

Once it was upright (and I’m not sure you can see in this picture), it was STILL SLANTING to the right a little, and I could move the shelf back and forth with my hand. No bueno. I quickly painted four of the extra boards I had, then drilled them into place to stabilize the whole unit (and provide a back rest for my books).

Then I re-painted . Et voila!

4 more boards

finito

Even the dog was impressed.

ruby watching in bed

A neighbor helped me bring it upstairs… and now I have a bookshelf!

Hallway before

hallway before

new hallway2

hallway now

It’s not perfect, but it’s stable and looks great in the apartment. More importantly, I built it myself and couldn’t be more proud. 🙂

Have you built something? Show me pictures of your DIY project! 


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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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The Journey of a Thousand Miles

People sometimes describe death as a “transition.” Grief is a transition too, from life with the loved one to life without the loved one. Depending on the person, it might or might not take long to learn how to function without the lost loved one, but it might take a very long time indeed to thrive again. We’re simply not the same people we were when our loved ones were alive.

I am nowhere near the point of thriving. I am functioning. I’ve been functioning at different levels for the past three years (including the year Kaz was sick), from very high, to running on fumes, to barely able to get out of bed, and now at a less-than-average level of drudgery. I have indulged much and exercised little, always telling myself I’ll deal with it later, I can only handle so much at once. Well, the time has come to deal with it. The other day I wrote about self-imposed change and trying to accomplish what was on my old vision board. If I am to change anything in my life, first I need to change myself.

Number one on my list is exercise. I need to move more. When Kaz and I were dating we used to cycle up to 30 miles every weekend. I was swimming at one point, hiking and doing yoga. But all activity has dwindled in the past couple of years. These days walking my dog doesn’t really count as exercise. Neither does taking her to the dog park. I need to break a sweat on a regular basis, get my heart rate up, make my lungs work harder, build up my stamina and strength. These shoes are the first step.

New kickls

I bought them yesterday after doing some research on good running shoes for women. Time will tell how they perform on the road, but when I tried them on they felt like walking on cushioned air. In a strange coincidence, right before I left to go buy them, the person behind the blog milerunner.me started following my blog. His blog is all about running a mile every day, no more, no less, just one mile every day, 365 days a year. I don’ t know if I’ll be doing that, or how long I’ll be running at all, but I’m already finding his blog informative and inspiring.

Number two on my list is alcohol (as in less of it). For the past couple of years, I have been drinking almost every night, not litres of vodka mind you. My preferred poison is wine. I’m also a fan of beer and lately of Jameson, the Irish Whiskey. That stuff is delicious. I don’t have a drinking problem (go ahead, roll your eyes), but I do admit that on the few occasions when I’ve tried to cut back, the longest I lasted was four or five days. It doesn’t help that on my favorite TV shows, Mad Men, Boardwalk Empire, House of Cards, Game of Thrones, everyone’s always drinking. I don’t know how many times I’ve watched Don Draper pour himself a drink and thought, “that looks good, I’m going to join him!” Luckily, three out of four of these shows are going away soon. Then I’ll only have to deal with the show about bootleg gangsters in the Prohibition era (sigh).

No wonder I’ve gained weight in the last few years. I’m not one of those women who puts a whole of stock in weight – I think how you feel is much more important. But I feel shitty, and my weight is a concern. I am 5’3 and, as of this afternoon, weigh 198 lbs fully clothed. If you saw me in person, you probably wouldn’t believe it because my body carries the weight well (I’ve been blessed with hour-glass porportions). Nevertheless, according to this chart, a woman of my height should weigh between 111 and 147 lbs. Even if I were on the higher end, that’s still 50 lbs lighter than now, and therefore a health risk.

As the Ancient Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu famously said, “The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”

How are you feeling these days? Do you exercise?


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A Vision Of The Future

Self-imposed change is possible. You have to be ready for it. You have to be committed to it. Most importantly, you have to think of what it looks like, then plan your steps to make it happen. I believe that before one can change, before one can achieve anything, one must have a vision of the future incarnation, of the goals already having been accomplished. Vision requires imagination and courage. It also requires strength.

Sometimes we don’t have the strength, physically or emotionally, to envision the future, let alone take the necessary steps. Even before we act, the vision itself requires letting go of who we are right now, possibly acknowledging the state of affairs that we wish to change in the first place. Consider the alcoholic or drug addict who envisions him/herself as a sober person, and how hard that must be. Or the obese person who envisions herself as a marathon runner. Or the grieving widow who envisions herself in a different life than what she shared with her husband.

Shortly after Kaz and I moved in together, I made a “vision board” along with a girlfriend who had moved to another state. It was a pact, “let’s both do it!” We spent the next few weekends, her in Georgia, me in Los Angeles, going through magazines and cutting out images that spoke to us. Then we glued the images to a board and tacked the board on the wall above our respective desks. She had her own home office, but my desk at the time was in the living room. When we were finished we took pictures of our boards, which had sections for physical, personal and professional, and emailed them to each other.

On my board, I envisioned myself thinner and healthier, with a baby and/or dog, a house, professionally respected and successful, experiencing adventures domestic and abroad. There were moments when I felt guilty about the board and my vision. I don’t know if Kaz ever looked at it closely, but I know he saw it. Both of us knew that we wouldn’t be able to share most of the things on my board together, because he would die before I could achieve them.

Now, three years later, I am once again looking at this board, not physically – I threw it away when he died – but in my mind’s eye. It’s always been in the back of my mind on some level, but it was fuzzy for a long time. The fog of grief is thick and long-lasting. Then certain aspects of it became clearer. Getting Ruby last October helped (she had been on the board). Starting this blog around the same time helped. The residency in Vermont also helped, but ever since, I’ve been struggling to figure out the rest, not the vision, but the path to making the vision a reality.

When I was in Vermont, one of the visiting authors said she had been a legal secretary for most of her adult life with a secret yen for writing. When she was 44 years old, she applied to graduate schools and was accepted to Iowa State University, one of the most prestigious writing programs in the country. She was the oldest woman in her class, but she persevered and ended up publishing her first book after graduating to both critical and financial success. I think about her often.

Something shifted for me after the two-year anniversary of Kaz’s passing on May 3rd. Learning that I didn’t get that writing gig, losing the play, deciding to stay in my job… all made the shift even stronger. I’m ready to make the vision on that board a reality. It won’t happen overnight. It won’t be easy. But I know what I need to do to make it happen.

Have you ever changed your life? Or are you working towards your vision right now? 


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10 Steps to a Happier Place

To make up for yesterday’s 10-bullet-points-of-kvetching post, for which I apologize to the readers and The Universe, here are 10 common sense reminders (in no particular order) of what to do when you’re down. And by you, I mean us.

1. Get Some Rest – If this means going to bed earlier, taking a nap during the day, sleeping in your car or under your desk at lunch (been there!), or asking your partner to let you sleep an extra 15 minutes, do it. It’s amazing how much better you feel when you’ve had enough sleep. Yesterday was a prime example of what happens when I’m tired. I get cranky, bitchy, whiny.

2. Have Fewer (Unrealistic) Expectations – If you’re a working adult with multiple responsibilities, if you’re a single mom (if you’re single, period), if you’re grieving, sick, or healthy and simply overwhelmed, if you’re human, then you know there are only so many hours in a day, and you have only so much energy. Be realistic. Make your To Do list as long as you want (mine is pages long) but realize you will not get to everything at once. You will get to what you can. And that’s okay.

3. Be Easy on Yourself – Do you beat yourself up about all the things you do wrong? Or the things you didn’t do, rather than the things you did? Do you compare yourselves to others and wonder what’s wrong with you that you can’t accomplish the same? Stop! This is useless energy that doesn’t help you or anyone who has to deal with you. Every person is different. No person is perfect. If it takes you longer to reach your goals than others, this doesn’t mean you’re a lazy bum. It means you’re human. And you’ll get a whole lot more done if you redirect the negative energy towards something positive.

4. Be Grateful – I know it’s a cliche, but some cliches are good and this is one of them. Even in our darkest moments, we can find something that will make us smile, if only for a brief moment. The sound of children’s laughter, the rainbow the sprinkler makes in the morning sun, the breeze in our hair, a song. Maybe it’s simply looking around and recognizing what we have instead of what we don’t, the blessings in our life instead of the curses. Again, I know this is harder said than done sometimes, but it’s worth keeping in mind. Even the unlucky are lucky in some way. The challenge is figuring out how.

5. Focus on Yourself – Not in a narcissistic way, but in a don’t-worry-about-what-he-or-she’s-doing way. Focus on yourself. The only thing on this earth that you can control is you.

6. Take Your Vitamins – Eat well, drink water, get up and move around every now and then, and yes, take your vitamins. Besides being a healthy (and these days, necessary) supplement, they can actually improve your mood and energy level. I had skipped my vitamins the last few days but this morning I took them and no lie, I feel better.

7. Be Friendly – Say hello to people that pass you by. Say please and thank you. Tip your servers. Give someone a compliment. Hold the door for a stranger. Let other cars pass in front of you. I don’t mean be fake, but little gestures of genuine kindness can make a world of difference to others and to you.

8. Watch Bad Television – Whatever constitutes “bad television” to you, sometimes it’s okay to indulge in it. Personally, I consider reality TV bad. But I admit to watching a few shows. Project Runway is my favorite. But I will sometimes leave American Idol on in the background while I’m doing other things. And more recently, I’ve been watching The Face, which is a combination of America’s Next Top Model and The Voice. Totally ridiculous but Naomi Campbell is one diva beyotch and thoroughly entertaining.

9. Help Someone – Helping others is good for them, good for you, good for the world. It can also add a sense of meaning to your life. You can never go wrong.

10. Think Happy Thoughts – I’ve always been a moody person and my mother used to say this to me a lot when I was a kid. My late husband used to say the same thing, in his own way. I couldn’t always manage it as a child or an adult, but I try and I think it’s good advice.

peace pic