Riding Bitch

The daily musings of a writer.


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Single + Happy = Superpower

Funny how lately my (very intermittent) posts are all about relationships, because today I want to talk about being single. The topic came up yesterday when I had coffee with a relatively new widow (her husband died 2 years ago) who admitted that, while she misses her husband, she’s adjusting to her new life just fine, thank you very much. Not surprisingly, she is also an artist. So she was was already accustomed to spending large amounts of time by herself.

When the subject of dating came up, we both admitted to not being interested enough to go looking for someone. “Who has the time?” she shrugged. I agreed, “If it happens naturally, organically, and it’s easy, I’m all for it. But I’m not wasting time seeking out a partner. I have too much to do!”

It’s not just that we’re busy with our creative pursuits. It’s also that we don’t feel the need for a partner.

Personally, I’ve never been one of those people who always needs to be in a relationship. I’ve pretty much mastered the art of living alone and being perfectly content. My friend remarked that this is usually something men struggle with more than women, but I don’t know.

I know A LOT of people who are miserable alone. If they’re not in a relationship, they feel like there’s a void in their life, like they’re inadequate, and they’re lonely. Worse, like there’s something wrong with them.

I look at these people probably the same way the religious look at me – wishing they could understand and feel the amazingly empowering feeling of being single and happy. It’s like a superpower.

We all know the benefits of being in partnerships. But people don’t talk about how great it can be to be single too, especially as a woman. So, here goes.

When you’re single, you are in complete control of, and need not consult anyone else about, your time, your living space, your schedule, your finances, your body, your life. You are totally autonomous. An independent state. No discussions or compromising necessary. You want to do something, you do it. You don’t want to do something, you don’t. The only person you answer to is you.

Of course, the flip side is that The Only Person You Answer to is You! Some people don’t like that kind of pressure, they want to discuss things, get input, share the responsibilities, and so on. And I get it. When you’re single, you have those discussions with friends, family, and therapists.

When you’re single, you can focus on your passions without interruption and distraction, other than those of every day life (which can be significant). This is something I think about often.

I’ve always admired relationships between artists where there seemed to be a real symbiosis, where the artists respected each other’s work, and actually made it better. The couple that comes to mind is Joan Didion and her husband John Gregory Dunne (if you haven’t watched the documentary Joan Didion: The Center Will Not Hold, you should – here’s a review about it).

Of course, Didion and Dunne had their issues, but their partnership seems to have been one of immense respect, a partnership of equals. They were both writers. They edited each other’s work, supported and understood each other. They gave each other the requisite space to create. They worked in different ways, but also shared a similar rhythm. They spent lots of time apart, and then came together. They could exist in the same space without speaking, and they could also have long discussions. They cherished alone time, but were also quite social and threw (apparently wonderful) parties.

If I were ever to be in a relationship again, that is the type of relationship I would want. Anything less is just a waste of time and energy.

In the meantime, I’m rocking the single life and happy! I focus my energy on taking care of myself, my dog and my house, on being a good friend and a good community member, and on being as creatively productive as possible. I spend a lot of time by myself (with my dog), but I also socialize a lot, host frequent dinners, and make a point of keeping in touch with people.

I do not feel like I’m missing anything by not being in a relationship.

I had a great love, and I’m incredibly grateful for that. But now that I’m alone, I’m good (and as any of you who have followed this blog for a while, you know that did not happen overnight).

I do not need a companion to feel loved, valued, worthy, legitimate, or safe. I make myself feel those things, and in doing so I feel more powerful, more capable, and more content than ever.

There is power in the number one.


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Can One Have a Family Without Drama?

There’s no other time of year that reminds you just how single and childless you are than the Holidays. Everybody else spends the Holidays with their partner, children, parents, siblings, grandparents, and/or in-laws. Single people like myself spend the Holidays with families too, just not our own families. Oh, we might be related to the people seated next to us at dinner, but we enter these family gatherings as a guest, and then we leave. Sometimes we leave feeling sad and pining for a family of our own. Other times, we leave feeling relieved and confident that we’re the lucky ones.

Lately, I’ve been debating which of these scenarios is more appropriate – having a family of my own, or being alone. I have mixed feelings about both.

Despite having a traumatic childhood, my idea of “family” has always been a positive one. My father was a volatile man, but also loving (in his own way), brilliant and extremely witty. My mother was calmer, a good listener, a pillar of emotional strength, creatively inspiring, and also funny. I would often tell her that I not only loved her, but I also liked her, which always made her smile. Likewise, if my siblings and I weren’t related and met as strangers, I’m sure we would still be friends. That’s a good feeling.

It was also a good feeling to have a partner, to love, to be loved, to be in love. It was a beautiful experience to be supported, to laugh with someone (to be able to make them laugh), to care for each other, to be able to confide, to share the wonders of life and discover new things together, to feel like we weren’t alone in this world, to know that we had each other’s back.

Not that being in a relationship was all roses and butterflies. In fact, it had its fair amount of drama, even before my late husband got sick.

Several months into our relationship, when we’d started letting our guards down a little more, I remember Kaz saying that he considered his Home a sanctuary and that all the world’s drama should stay outside (his diplomatic way of telling me to not bring my bad moods inside). I understood this on an intellectual level, and it sounded great, but it didn’t seem very practical.

Having grown up with all kinds of drama inside the home, I thought that was normal. Not necessarily extreme rage, violent outbursts, police being called, and people locking themselves in the bedroom for days, but the open expression of unhappiness and taking one’s bad moods out on others. I actually thought that’s what “home” meant – the freedom to shake off the shackles of societal pressures and behave any way you want. What a relief to come home and just be unhappy without pretending!

Suffice it to say, I don’t think like that anymore.

Growing up, being a caregiver, watching someone slowly die, dealing with multiple losses and years of grief, as well as years of living and writing alone, has all shifted my attitude. I don’t just want drama left outside my home, I want it as far away from me as possible.

It’s strange – all the aforementioned experiences have made me less prone to worry and less sensitive to insult, but far more sensitive to my immediate surroundings. Someone can break something in my house, and I won’t get upset. But if they raise their voice for any reason, I cringe.

I don’t like emotional outbursts, I don’t like complaining, I don’t like it when someone is moody, I don’t like loud noises, I don’t like negative tones of voice, I don’t like rudeness, I don’t like it when someone talks too much, and I really don’t like it when someone interrupts my work (which feels like an invasion of privacy).

I like peace and quiet. I like rooms with doors (that I can shut). I like being alone and not having to talk to anyone. I like having my own space. I need my space. I like being free. I like not having to deal with anything other than myself, my dog, my house, my work. (I’ve written about some of these themes before: protecting my head space, living the solitary life, and being alone vs. being lonely).

All of which brings me back to the central question: can one have a family without any drama? If not, is it better for someone like me to be alone? Or is some happy medium possible? Maybe separate offices, separate bedrooms, separate houses?

This reminds me of the painters/partners Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera who lived and worked in two houses that were joined by an elevated bridge. There’s actually a term for this kind of relationship now – it’s called Living Apart Together (LAT). And apparently, it’s growing more popular.

I know couples who live in the same house and have studios/offices on separate floors or away from the house altogether. I know couples who live in different cities. And, of course, there are couples who live in the same house, sleep in the same bed, work in the same office, and are perfectly fine despite being joined at the hip (I don’t get it).

I know families who are having all kinds of problems with their children: obesity, lack of appetite, anxiety, depression, personality disorders, drug problems, and more. And more than one couple that’s heading for divorce (the Pandemic has definitely not helped).

Maybe the answer is to find someone who doesn’t create or bring a lot of drama, and is wonderful enough to endure whatever drama arises. The right person will be someone who helps make it easier, not contributes to making it worse. Because, honestly, I don’t think life is possible without any drama.

Being alone might minimize it, but it’s certainly not a shield. As we all know, anything can happen at anytime. And living apart might help, but not necessarily (and might not always be possible).

Anyway, it’s worth thinking about. I hope to one day find the right situation, the right balance between togetherness and apartness, union and individuality, freedom and commitment. It would be sweet to host our own holiday gatherings, invite family to join us, and then to be left alone again. Alone but together.

The Museum, House and Studio of Diego Rivera and Friday Kahlo (photo source: Pawel Toczynski)


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On Invisibility

In my last post, I mentioned feeling invisible sometimes. How and why does this happen?

To start with, I am the youngest of three in my nuclear family (five, including the siblings I didn’t grow up with). Apart from my mother and I, everyone else was a Leo: strong, bossy personalities. Being the youngest meant that I often wasn’t old enough to engage in the many serious conversations my family had concerning my mother’s precarious health, my father’s emotional abuse, my parents’ failing marriage, and so on. As a result, I grew up the kid in the room listening to the adults – a quiet observer.

Growing older, I would add my two cents when I could, but by this time a dynamic had been established that was difficult to undo. I would always be the youngest, least experienced, least knowledgeable. It’s not that my opinions or demands weren’t respected, they just didn’t carry the same weight.

On top of that, my father’s emotional abuse drummed into my young, developing mind that I should just sit there and not talk back. After all, what can a child say to a raging adult man? Not much. The few times I did try to speak up, I was shot down so forcefully to make me quake with fear. Thus developed the habit of accepting and even internalizing bad behavior.

Later in life, I would also (except for a brief period) be the unmarried, predominantly single, and childless member of my family. I don’t care what anyone says, but people who are unmarried and childless are not taken as seriously as people who are married and have children. Full stop.

It’s not surprising then that I get along with strong personality people, and that strong personality people get along with me. The problem is that, inevitably, these personality types act as if their lives, issues, and dilemmas are more important than mine, as if I’m there to simply listen, as if I’m not actually there.

I can’t tell you how many times people have gotten into my car, or entered my house, or showed up at some agreed upon meeting and just started talking about themselves, as if picking up a conversation that we were (not) just having. If they ask me how I’m doing, it’s only perfunctory, not a genuine inquiry into my well being. Because as soon as I answer, the conversation turns back to the other person.

When I do bring up my own issues it tends to feel like an imposition, and I rush through it, aware that the other person only has a finite amount of attention to spend on subjects that don’t revolve around them.

Then there are people who feel as if they can behave in any way around me – I guess they feel that comfortable. But they’re wholly unaware of how uncomfortable I am with their behavior, and of little to anything outside of themselves.

I don’t blame anyone for these situations. If anything, I blame myself.

The fact is around certain people, I revert to being a passive person who tries to avoid conflict at all costs. This doesn’t mean that I never talk about myself, or behave loudly, or make bold statements. But when faced with a stronger personality, I retreat.

When someone is loud, I am quiet. When someone continually talks about themselves, I listen. Sometimes I play a silent game where I wait to see how long it takes the other person to notice that I haven’t said one word. Believe it or not, some people just keep on talking.

I tell myself, it’s not worth saying anything because that’s just who they are, and they’re never going to change. When I have tried to set boundaries, or point out bad behavior, people usually become defensive, or they’ll say they hear me and then forget the next time we’re together. So, there’s no point in bringing it up.

Except years of not saying anything, not standing up for myself, not telling people to shut up and listen for a change, has caused a well of emotions to build up. I’m at the point now of avoiding certain people because I just can’t take it anymore, I won’t take it anymore, and I don’t have the energy to confront them.

Instead, I choose the company of people who do see me, who do listen, who do notice things and pay attention, who reciprocate, who are aware enough to have genuine conversations.

By the way, the flip side of all of this is that the ability to be silent, retreat into the background, and just listen and observe, can be a very useful skill – especially if you’re a writer. When people just go on and on, I take mental notes. I notice more than they ever will, more than I’d like to, frankly.

This is what makes me a good writer. And a good director.

And, I hope, a good friend.

This is also what I meant by using my “writing voice” more often.

I don’t know why, but I can write things that are difficult to say out loud. Writing helps me organize my thoughts and fortifies my soul. So, I will keep going.

PlHave you ever felt, or do you ever feel invisible?


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Ringing in the New Year – Shutting Out the Noise

I usually end the year with a post about what I’ve accomplished in the outgoing year, and what I hope to accomplish in the year to come. This year I really haven’t blogged much. I shared in shorter bursts on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, outlets that don’t require a lot of writing or deep thought, and saved what little writing time I had for my book, stealing moments here and there throughout the year.

I miss blogging very much.

Many things came between me and my writing this year. I should say, I allowed many things to come in between me and my writing. I was feeling down about it for a while, but have since come to the conclusion that this was a phase I had to go through. There were things that I wanted to do this year, and they took a lot of my time and energy.

I wanted to buy a house and establish a foundation.

I wanted to produce a successful event for work that people would remember.

I wanted to go to Israel, where I was born, where my mother is buried, where I have family and friends whom I haven’t seen in many years.

I toyed with the idea of adopting a second dog, and then did so on a whim during the busiest period of the year. I’ll post more about Gracie later. In the meantime, here she is (on left) with Ruby about four weeks after I adopted her.

ruby and gracie 1

I wanted to see a lot of art.

(Pictured are works by Louise Bourgeois, Ad Reinhardt, Ruth Asawa, and Kenny Scharf)

All these things I did, plus lots of hiking.

It was a productive year but not a writing year. In my free time, I mostly watched television, went out with friends or traveled, all good things to do but not conducive to writing.

The time has come to once and for all make writing a priority. I still have two part-time jobs, two dogs, many friends and responsibilities. But I’m changing how I approach life, how I see myself, and what I do in my free time. Starting with this weekend.

I signed off of social media and, after I publish this blog post, will be completely offline for the next three days. I’ll log in again on Tuesday morning. Save for one meeting at my house tomorrow morning, I have cleared my schedule for the entire weekend. I have no plans to go out New Years Eve. I will hike, but that’s how I clear my mind and get the dogs to sleep all afternoon.

I am sequestering myself not only to write, but also to think and get centered without the constant noise of life. There’s a coffee shop/bar just down the street, in case I get lonely. But I don’t think I will.  I am craving quiet, alone time. Zero obligations and distractions. Minimal time in my car, on the phone, watching television. As a writer, this is how I get my head straight.

I’ll report back next week. Wishing you all a very Happy New Year, as well as a safe New Years Eve. See you on the other side. xoxo

Niva today 1

 


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A New Chapter Begins

I’ve been away from the blog for a while because all I wanted to write about was how stressful house-buying is, and I couldn’t put that out there publicly while the process was happening. Well, as of one week ago, that dilemma became mute. I am officially a homeowner! And it is nothing short of a miracle.

Financially, it squeezed everything I had and then some. Beyond that, it was a huge emotional life step, one that’s honestly still sinking in. I’ve never owned a house before. The prospect of owning one by myself is daunting, liberating, and bittersweet.

I so wish that Kaz was with me to enjoy this milestone and that we were buying it together. I also know that he is beaming with pride and joy to see me settled in a safe, secure environment, great community, and with a smart investment.

My hope is that owning this house won’t be a distraction, but rather a jumping off point for (literally) the next chapter of my life. I have to force myself to stick to that, but I feel confident that I can do it.

Part of what got me through the house-buying stress was editing and writing my book. I didn’t have the mental bandwith to also blog, but at least I wasn’t totally uncreative. Writing really helped keep me focused and steady during the ups and downs of the process, which were many. I just kept thinking, “everything is going to be okay.”

Here’s to new beginnings and a new chapter in life.

 

 

the house


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31 Days of Gratitude (and Counting)

Is there anyone out there who hasn’t heard of Elizabeth Gilbert? She wrote the book Eat Pray Love, is known for encouraging meditation, positive thinking and, for a while, she kept a happiness jar. Basically, every day she wrote down the happiest moment of her day on a scrap of paper “for even the horrible days have one least-bad moment.” I admit, the first time I heard of the happiness jar, I thought it sounded… corny.

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Elizabeth Gilbert’s “happiness jar” (photo by Elizabeth Gilbert)

If I had a best-selling book, millions of dollars, a loving husband and multiple homes, I’d have a happiness warehouse. It was so much easier to think of things that were annoying/upsetting me, and all the things I didn’t have, rather than the things I did.

My attitude changed towards the end of last year. A job had run its course, freelancing was slow, and I was low on money. On top of that,  my dog suddenly needed thousands of dollars in medical care. I felt myself on the brink of a panic attack on more than one occasion. But panic, I did not.

Instead, I set up a GoFundMe campaign, pitched a bunch of story ideas, took an online workshop in a more lucrative area of writing, networked more aggressively, updated my resumes and applied for jobs.

There was one job in particular that I wanted very much. I told myself that I would be okay if I didn’t get it, and mentally prepared myself for disappointment, but I never gave up hope.

To my surprise, donations started pouring in for Ruby’s surgery, and then, the day before Christmas, I found out that I got the job I wanted. I felt so overwhelming grateful that I decided to focus on gratitude for the rest of the year.

I remembered Elizabeth Gilbert’s happiness jar. What if I wrote down every day not my happiest moment, but something that I was grateful for? I pulled out a huge glass jar that I had bought at a flea market last year, cleaned it up and set it on my desk.

my gratitude jar

my gratitude jar

On January 1, I wrote my first gratitude note. It wasn’t very profound. I was grateful for my new haircut, and that so many people liked it on Facebook. In fact, a lot of my notes over the course of the month mentioned really random things: like finding two pairs of jeans that fit.

But almost every day, I wrote about being grateful for:

  • My family, friends and colleagues… including my freelance editors.
  • My dog… and the support that people showed to her/us regarding her surgery.
  • My home… which is warm and safe and quiet.
  • My new job… new co-workers, and the volunteers who help us.

Then a strange thing happened. As the month progressed, I started feeling more grateful, more often.

On January 9, I wrote: “It’s morning, so the day hasn’t happened yet. But I’ve been waking up feeling grateful, first for being well rested, second for my lovely home. Also Ruby seems to be healing well. When I think about how much joy she bring to my life, it brings tears… of joy.”

On January 11: “David Bowie died early this morning. While I am deeply shocked and sad, I choose to acknowledge and be grateful that I lived at the same time as he did. He was a gift.”

On January 18: “It snowed overnight and I woke up to beautiful, still clean white snow. Feeling grateful for this serene winter beauty, seasons that I missed for so long. Also, today is MLK, Jr. Day. How lucky are we to have had him in our period of history.”

Two days later: “This morning’s sunrise was brilliant. I am so grateful to have this wonderful home office that faces east. I get to see the sun rise every day!!”

On February 1, I wrote a draft of this blogpost… and that night I learned that my father was in the hospital. He passed away a few days later.

When I returned home from California, it took me a while to write another gratitude note, even though I did feel grateful for many things… like the fact that my father didn’t feel any pain, that he wasn’t in the hospital for a long time, that he was surrounded by his children, and that he had lived such an active, independent life up until the end.

I was also grateful that my siblings and I got along so well, despite the pressure of incredibly difficult decisions and living together for a week. That – and the fact that my father still had all his own teeth at 86 – was something that even the nurses were impressed with.

When my late husband died, I was so angry, disappointed, confused and upset it took me months, if not years, to feel grateful about anything. This time, I could see the positives.

Two days ago, I wrote this: “It’s been a ROUGH couple of weeks, but also much to be grateful for. Family. Friends. An amazing father. New opportunities. And a graceful exit.”

It feels like gratitude grows on itself, like the more you notice, acknowledge and feel it, the more things you feel grateful for. I love my gratitude jar, and I’m going to keep filling it up, even when times are tough.

Thanks for the idea, Elizabeth.

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pops

 

 

 

 


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An Invitation to Other Writers

As some of you may recall, I published an essay on Modern Loss a couple of months ago called “Forever ‘The Girls’.” I am thrilled to announce that I’ve just become a contributing editor to the site. This is an incredible opportunity, for which I am both grateful and humbled. I’m also very excited to work with other writers.

I would like to invite you to get in touch with me if you’re interested in having your work published on Modern Loss.

Below is a little more info:

In case you’re not familiar with Modern Loss, we launched last November as an online magazine about grief and loss that is geared toward Gen X and Gen Y. Currently, we publish — in addition to more service-oriented resource pieces — short personal essays that are narrowly focused around one aspect of loss. One writer imagines watching the Kardashians with her late mother; another explains what it’s like to mourn her philandering husband; another still visits his dead dad on Google Street View. We’ve been featured in the NYTSlate, and elsewhere, and held our first live event, with HBO, in June. (You can also check out our About Us page.)

If you’d like to pitch me an idea for an essay on loss, please email me at nivadorellsmith@gmail.com. Essays can be about any kind of loss – spouse, parent, child, sibling, friend, co-worker, pet – and almost any aspect. Essays are generally 800 words but can be a little shorter or a little longer. Unfortunately, there is no pay (yet), but it will allow you to connect with more people and drive more traffic to your blog.

I take it as a fortuitous sign from the Universe that today WordPress posted this about writing through grief, including several grief-related blogs. I plan to reach out to them — and hope to hear from you too.

– Niva

 


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Getting Closer to Leaving

Believe it or not, I still don’t know when I’m leaving LA. Before I go to NY, I’m going to be working on a film (as a coordinator) for a few weeks. It’s shooting in Las Vegas, and the shoot dates have been pushed back several times due to budget and scheduling issues (normal for independent films). Right now it’s supposed to start shooting on August 11, which means I would start probably at the end of next week. The plan is to pack everything up and send my belongings ahead of me to NY, then work in Vegas for a month. When the shoot is over I will pick up Ruby (she can’t stay with me in Vegas), then head out on our road trip to the East Coast.

This state of limbo since quitting the job and before leaving LA has been odd, but not entirely unpleasant. I’ve been getting work done and making progress, also making new friends. It’s ironic that I should start enjoying LA so much right before leaving. There have been days when I thought maybe I shouldn’t leave, maybe I should just stay. But I think it’s normal to start seeing things in a new light before a big change. I know I will miss Los Angeles, and California, a lot. But it will always be here, and I know with certainty that I’ll be back either for business, pleasure, or quite possibly to live.

Another major decision I’ve made recently is to not keep my LA apartment. Subletting wasn’t really an option. It’s prohibited in my lease, and the building manager lives in the building. I could have tried a ‘work around’ but, honestly, if/when I come back to LA, I don’t want to return to this particular place. It took me a long time to reach that decision, but ever since I did, I have felt a huge sense of relief. It’s risky to give up a cheap place in an expensive city, but since I don’t know what the future holds, I’d rather be free.

So, the Catskills await. It feels a bit like an arranged marriage – even though I know it’s not necessarily forever. I pray that I like it out there. I’ve already made some contacts with people who live nearby, and have a couple of job prospects. Through my sister’s network of people, and my own small network of NY people, I’ll be meeting plenty of folks and making friends, both in the Catskills and NYC. I’m not worried about that aspect. I’m trying not to worry at all, and instead practice patience and faith.

I can’t wait for the next chapter to begin.

 


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The Solidarity of Widows

This past weekend M came to visit. Some of you may recall M from last year (I wrote about her here and here). M and I were friends before she lost her husband, but since then we’ve grown much closer. We speak on the phone every week or two. I’ve been to visit her once, and now she’s been to visit me. On her last day here, we went for a hike with L, another widow friend of mine from my old job. Then the three of us went to brunch. It was a lovely time, full of laughter and good food. Though M and L had just met, they got along like old friends.

There’s something to be said for the solidarity amongst widows. M and I discussed it on the ride to the airport. When you’re a widow, it doesn’t matter how young or old you are, what your cultural or ethnic background is, if you’re rich or poor — you can usually relate to another widow.

It’s more than just sharing a unique and powerful loss. We all come to the loss in different ways, some by illness, prolonged or sudden, others by freak accidents or crimes. Still others by suicide. We share the loss, but we also share what happens after that. We know about the guilt: caregiving decisions, life decisions, the “shoulda-coulda-wouldas”.

We know about the madness of grief, the swirling of thoughts, the sleepless nights, the constant questioning and unsatisfying answers. We know about the crazy things people say to us, the financial issues, the burden and emotional complexity of dealing with all of our loved one’s things.

We recognize and respect (and never question) widows who still wear their wedding rings, even if we don’t choose to do so ourselves. The same with widows who decide not to date, and those who do. We don’t judge each other like others so often judge us.

We understand how life changes for a widow, how it’s never ever the same. Even if a widow remarries, she will never see her new husband in the same way she saw the one she lost. It’s not a matter of “better” or “worse” — it’s an awareness that will permeate her existence forever. An awareness that might make her less prone to anger, irritability, pettiness, or might prompt her to quit her job and pursue her dreams, or to help others in need.

Her outlook on life and her priorities change. She might cut off certain people in her life simply because they do nothing for her anymore. Though grief makes her foggy, certain aspects of life become crystal clear.

No matter how young she is, she will be more mature.

M said to me this weekend, “That girl is gone. And she’s never coming back.”

I told M that I see loss like a natural disaster of the heart. Hurricanes, tornados, fires, earthquakes, tsunamis… are all an unfortunate part of nature. They strike randomly, leave great devastation in their wake and, in some cases, actually change the landscape of the earth. But afterwards, life springs anew. People rebuild. Plants grow. Animals return. Everyone adapts to the new reality, while never forgetting the past.

And widows are their own unique group of survivors.

It pains me that M had to endure what she did at such a young age (more than ten years younger than I am). We still cry over the men we can no longer hold dear, the mistakes we feel we made, all of the wasted time and silly arguments. If only we knew then what we know now. But we can both agree that there’s no going back to what was. There is only now.

There is only now.


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13 Steps to a Writing Milestone

As some of you might have recently read, the essay I wrote for Narrative.ly published last week. This was only the second time my work has been published somewhere other than on the blog, so it was a really big deal for me both personally and professionally. It also turned out in a way I never anticipated. Here’s what happened:

1 – The (blind) pitch

I’m new to freelancing, so pitching is still a new and scary process (does that ever change?). I pitched the idea for the essay at the suggestion of a friend. Usually pitches are sent as emails directly to editors. This one was an online form, which added to the “shot in the dark” feeling. When I didn’t hear back for a few weeks, I figured that was it. Then I received an email from the editor saying otherwise. My first thought was:

2 – Pitch accepted?! Holy shit.

Within the span of a few minutes I went from elation to panic and back, until I was somewhere in the middle. Of course I wanted to write the essay, but actually writing it was a different story. I reached out to my writer friends saying “yikes!” They replied with so much encouragement, I finally started to calm down. I had asked for this, and I got it. Now it was time to deliver.

3 – Procrastination Preparation

For several days I did nothing. Well, not exactly nothing. I was thinking… and reading other essays on the site… and thinking. Once I had a sense of how I wanted it to go, I started writing.

4 – Procrastination Scheduling

I tend to thrive under pressure, but there was no way I was going to self-sabotage by writing the essay the night before the deadline. I set a few preliminary deadlines so I would have time to write a bad draft, time to make it better, time to send it out for feedback, time for folks to actually read it, and time to edit.

5 – Mind Games 

The only way I could write freely, not obsess over every single word, and not chicken out was to pretend like no one would read it but me. Ever.

6 – Mind Games, cont’d

On the other hand, I was on a deadline and had certain parameters, so I couldn’t write with total abandon. A part of my brain had to remain objective. So, I took turns between wearing my writer vs. my editor hat. First I wrote to my heart’s content; then I read it as if I didn’t know the story or the writer.

7 – Feedback

I’m not at the stage where I can send something to an editor without having some other eyeballs read it (and not sure I ever will be). I sent the first draft to my writer friends, all of them award-winning, trusted colleagues. We have a joke that we’re the Shitty First Draft Club. In all seriousness, I cannot stress enough how important it is – and how fortunate I am – to have a safe place to send the first shitty draft.

8 – Editing

After receiving some feedback, I did another few passes, double and triple-checked everything, then sent it to the editor. We call this moment “thumb slam!”

9 – The Waiting Game

I admit, waiting is not my favorite thing to do, especially when it’s something important. To ward off the swirling in my head, I forced myself to stay busy with other things and told myself that even if the editor hated it, I wouldn’t get discouraged because I’m still learning.

10 – Response!

When the editor said he loved it, my heart started beating really fast. “Oh my g-d, this might actually get published.” He had a few minor changes and gave me a gentle nudge to go deeper with the essay (which I needed).

11 – More Editing, Thumb Slam #2, More Waiting

I sent the final pass, then again waited to hear back. At any point, the editor could have said, “Sorry, this isn’t going to work.” Instead, I received word the essay was a “go.”

12 – Anticipation 

The days leading up to this very personal essay going out to thousands of people, I was filled with terror nervous excitement. One non-writer friend said I shouldn’t share the essay on Facebook. Another friend told me “but that’s what Facebook is for.” I decided to only post the essay on professional pages and see what happens.

Within hours of the essay going live on Friday morning, people (who don’t know me) started tweeting me, sharing it on Facebook, and leaving the most beautiful, heartfelt comments. By noon, I decided to post the essay on my personal page. Then I sort of held my breath as… one by one, friends and colleagues shared the essay and showered my page with supportive comments, all of which totally blew me away.

13 – Conclusion

On Monday, an author friend of mine who had read and loved the essay made an email-introduction to her book agent in NYC. On Tuesday, the agent and I spoke on the phone — by the time we hung up, she was my agent.

So, there you go. From blind pitch to book agent. It was a crazy, emotional, awesome and truly humbling ride.

Now there’s a ton of work to do, and I can’t wait to get started. As The Alchemist says: “It’s the possibility of having a dream come true that makes life interesting.”

One week to freedom!