Riding Bitch

The daily musings of a writer.


24 Comments

Missing The Clarity of Love and War

It’s been 2.5 years since Kaz passed away and though I’m better than I was early on, I’m still not back to feeling 100%. There are many reasons for this and many manifestations, but the one that keeps kicking me in the shins is my inability to focus. I am distracted by everything: music, television, food, my phone (gateway to the internet), computer (gateway to the internet), dog, friends, family, colleagues, even my own thoughts.

How to Focusby John T. Roosevelt (www.rsvlts.com)

How to Focus by John T. Roosevelt (www.rsvlts.com)

It’s more than just a lack of focus. Planning ahead in any concrete fashion is challenging, as is staying motivated.

Part of the issue is having a lot going on: full-time job, personal life, dog, film script, television script, book, blog, networking, and now a job search. I’m not working on everything at once, but the time I do spend on creative pursuits feels thin and scattered. Progress happens so slowly it’s almost imperceptible. I keep thinking of the metaphor: How do you eat a whale? Answer: One bite at a time. 

But it’s more than the whale too.

A friend recently told me, “We can only concentrate on three things at a time.” In her case, she has her day job, her personal life, a part-time job and one creative project.

Another friend is producing an independent film (extremely time consuming), while trying to get multiple other projects lined up, maintain her personal life and take care of her dog.

Yet another friend is balancing a day job, her art career, a family (including two teenagers, husband and dog), and staying connected with her artistic, professional and personal community.

Each of these women manages her time and priorities to accomplish a great deal on a daily basis, even more on a long-term basis. Each is driven by Love and Passion. I know because I used to be like them… when Kaz was alive.

In the two years before he got sick, I produced and directed three music videos, a full production of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, wrote a feature screenplay, worked for three months as an assistant editor in Mexico, and one year as a production manager in Los Angeles.

During the first half of his illness, I managed to write a spec television script. In the second half, I could only manage to write in my journal. But I continued to work a full-time day job while being his caregiver… and being his caregiver became my focus.

As I’ve mentioned before, there were aspects of caregiving that felt like  production, except this time it wasn’t a music video or film – it was life or death. This time I wasn’t motivated by ambition and creativity, but by the desire to keep Kaz alive, and us together, for as long as possible. Nothing had ever felt as important. While others resigned themselves to the inevitability of the sinking ship (including Kaz at one point), I was hell bent on keeping the ship afloat.

Of course, the ship did sink. And ever since, I haven’t cared about anything as much. I haven’t given up on my life or dreams, by any stretch. I do strive forward in my own hap-hazard kind of way. But what still eludes me is the fire-in-the-belly passion and laser focus that I felt during those days of intense highs and lows, when every day felt like a battle and a gift, and every moment agonizingly precious. Do I need life or death stakes to stay motivated? I hope not.

In any case, the new ship remains docked while the Captain struggles to chart the best course. It’s just me and my dog on this ship, and as much as she helps to keep me centered, in no way does she (or our current existence) compare to what was. Nothing could possibly compare to that.

It’s selfish to miss the days when Kaz was sick. I don’t miss them. But I do pine for the passion we felt. The clarity of purpose. The empowerment that came from being pushed to our limits and not falling apart. The inspiration of watching each other be so courageous. Neither of us had ever felt so alive or focused as in those days of love and war.

One day I will experience that clarity again. It might be the day I quit my job. It might be the first day of production on my next film. It might be the day I look into my child’s eyes. But this day will come, and when it does, I’ll be ready.


14 Comments

How To Lose “The Coat of Desperation”

It’s been two weeks since my last post. Life, class, writing, friends in town, sick puppy, and other general distractions have kept me away, but everything is good. In fact, I’ve learned some things these past few weeks from a variety of sources, beginning with director/producer Ava DuVernay‘s incredibly generous, wisdom-filled keynote address to the 2013 Film Independent Forum on Sunday, October 27 (watch full clip here).

Ava DuVernay

Ava DuVernay

If you haven’t heard of Ava DuVernay, don’t worry. You will soon. She has already made several feature films, including I Will Follow which Roger Ebert described as “one of the best films I’ve seen about coming to terms with the death of loved one;” and Middle of Nowhere, for which she won the Best Director Award at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival, the first African-American woman to do so. She recently directed an episode of ABC’s Scandal, and is slated to direct the upcoming Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. biopic Selma.

She also has a distribution company called African-American Film Festival Releasing Movement (AFFRM), whose mission is to empower Black independent filmmakers with collaborative, simultaneous, theatrical distribution in multiple markets. [I admit, I have not seen Ms. DuVernay’s films yet (I fell behind in a lot of movie/TV watching the past few years). But they are now at the top of my Netflix queue, and I will be following everything she does from hereon.]

If it sounds like I’m gushing, I am! And I’m not the only one who felt a shot of adrenaline watching this talk. Like the best words of wisdom, Ms. DuVernay’s advice on October 27 was geared towards a specific crowd (filmmakers), but also universally applicable.

She begins by encouraging the audience to live Tweet her speech. “It’s important to share what happens in rooms like these, beyond rooms like these.” She commends the audience for being there, saying it’s good to channel inquisitive energy into events, workshops, seminars and other “rooms with like-minded people.” She reminds us why Los Angeles is such a great place to be. “There’s so much you can get your hands on.”

She then cheekily explains what she’s wearing and why.  Her “directing uniform” consists of glasses, layering a thermal shirt with a hipster t-shirt (“embrace your nerd-dom”), a jacket, a hat (“don’t touch my hair”), and most importantly comfortable shoes (“these shoes are from Rite-Aid”).  In this uniform she is who she feels she should be. She also feels like this because she took off something three years ago that was preventing her from reaching her full potential.

She took off her coat of desperation

What is the coat of desperation? 

It’s the aura that surrounds you when you approach people you admire with questions like, ‘Can you help me?’ ‘Can you read my script?’ ‘Can I take you to coffee?’ ‘Can I pick your brain?’

It’s when you come from a place of ‘what can you do for me?’ instead of a place of empowerment. Taking off this coat is the only way to actually achieve your dreams and goals. But how do you do it? 

Ms. DuVernay’s advice is simple:

Stop asking people for things! Instead, tell them what you’re doing.

Yearning and Non-Action = Depressing and Stagnate (repellant)

Yearning and Action = Passion and Movement (magnet)

Stop spending time thinking about what you don’t have and focus on what you do have.

Ask yourself ‘what can I do?’ And ‘Who wants to come along for the ride?’ People want to be on a moving train. Be on the ‘yo, I’m making films’ train.

Do the work and rise above the chatter.

You don’t need to go to film school as long as you educate yourself. Watch director’s commentaries, attend workshops, read books, and make your own films.

Apply to labs, grants, seminars, etc. but don’t wait to be accepted to move forward (Ms. DuVernay never won a lab or grant and she applied to them all).

You should be thinking about what happens after the film is made, before you make it.

Failure can teach you who you are.

Best quote:  “I have more mentors now since I stopped asking for them. A mentor is someone who cares for you – and you can’t go up to someone and ask them to care for you.”

Best goal:  “I want to be old and making films like Clint Eastwood. I want to be like Werner Herzog and have so many films I can’t remember all their names.”

Sounds good to me!

Can you relate to the Coat of Desperation? To taking it off?!


9 Comments

Loss: From Nightmare to Normal

Today a friend posted on Facebook a NYT article entitled No Husband, No Friends by Charlotte Brozek with the caption “Wow. This is scary.” In the article, Ms. Brozek, a widow of one year, explains that because she and her late husband had no single friends, and because her married friends now avoid her, she feels isolated, confused and understandably depressed.

My friends headed for the hills. In the last years of my husband’s life, we had come to rely on two or three couples for entertainment, but they disappeared after he died. Were they afraid to face their own mortality, or was it that the dynamics we presented as a duo were lost with me as a widow?

This statement made me recall what another friend recently said to me: “No offense, but you’re my worst nightmare.” She was referring to my being a widow, and I took no offense at all. In fact, I totally understood what she meant. I used to be my own nightmare too, in the same way parents who lose their children personify other parents’ worst nightmares.

In his memoir A Grief Observed, C.S. Lewis describes the inevitability of death (i.e. separation) that we’re all aware of when we enter into romantic relationships, whether we’re conscious of it or not:

… this separation, I suppose, waits for all. I have been thinking of H. and myself as peculiarly unfortunate in being torn apart. But presumably all lovers are. She once said to me, ‘Even if we both died at exactly the same moment, as we lie here side by side, it would be just as much a separation as the one you’re so afraid of.’

We all know that one day our lives and our loved ones’ lives will end. Some say the words “till death do us part” when they marry, but really those words could be said upon the birth of a child or the beginning of any committed relationship where the understanding is “we will be together until one or the other of us dies.” Yet, when death actually happens, even if it’s expected, it is both shocking and agonizing to the ones left behind.
Another friend once said to me that death (nothing from something), like birth (something from nothing), is incomprehensible. Intellectually, we know that it happens and what it means. But when faced with the reality (no matter how much we have “prepared” for it), our minds cannot fully understand how it’s possible that someone can be alive one moment and the next moment not alive, and never to return. The power of this total and complete finality is what shocks the system, and it’s that finality that we hate to think about.
C.S. Lewis describes the discomfort that his widower status produced in others:
At work, at the club, in the street, I see people, as they approach me, trying to make up their minds whether they’ll ‘say something about it’ or not. I hate it if they do, and if they don’t. Some funk it altogether. R. has been avoiding me for a week. I like best the well brought-up young men, almost boys, who walk up to me as if I were a dentist, turn very red, get it over, and then edge away to the bar as quickly as they decently can. Perhaps the bereaved ought to be isolated in special settlements like lepers.
Ms. Brozek uses the analogy of Noah’s ark, where only coupled animals were saved, to describe the inherant isolation a widow can feel:
I understand Noah’s plan — the world needed two to tango in the face of an annihilating flood. But he should have designated a section on the ark for us.
Two and a half years after Kaz’s death, I’m still experiencing the awkward encounters, less so the isolation. For one thing, I have a diverse pool of friends, including couples (unmarried, married, gay, straight, with/without children) and singles. I also have no qualms doing things alone, and time has helped to reestablish my equilibrium. Ms. Brozek also writes:
Someone once said that being a widow is like living in a country where nobody speaks your language. In my case, it’s only my friends, family and acquaintances who all now speak Urdu — it’s not the whole country. I discovered strangers possess more compassion than my own friends and family. 
One of the main reasons I cherish this blog so much is that I can discuss things here that I cannot comfortably discuss with most people. This has made me feel less isolated and continues to help me heal.
So, while loss is inevitable, time and expression can help us transition from nightmare to normal. It’s hard to remember when we’re in the thick of it, but life is cyclical… nothing from something, something from nothing… in finitum.


25 Comments

On My First Year of Blogging

A year ago I literally knew nothing about blogging. I had never used WordPress before. I didn’t read blogs. I didn’t know how to build or tag a post. The idea of reaching hundreds or thousands of readers felt completely impossible. I felt like one snowflake floating down to join  millions of others. How would anyone notice me? How would I find other like-minded folks? Did I have the courage to write about my life, worries, hopes, dreams and fears? Did I have anything substantial to offer? I always thought one had to be an expert at something to blog. The only thing I felt knowledgeable about was grief. I was an expert at sobbing. Would that attract readers?

Of course, I knew other things, a little about filmmaking, a little about writing, a little less about motorcycles, even less about raising a puppy. As a result, the blog has morphed into a hodge-podge of personal reflections, memories, advice and whatever expertise I can beg, borrow or steal. You might not know what to expect from one post to the next, but hopefully that’s part of the fun.

Little by little, I have learned (and continue to learn) how to blog. I learned to stop worrying if I would be Freshly Pressed (or Freshly Pressed again) and stop hitting the Stats button every five minutes after publishing. I learned to let go of fear and just let my soul speak. I learned that blogging is more about relationships than anything else.

One of my very first blogger friends was Paula B of The Temenos Journal. She had recently lost her beloved Tim and started her blog a week after I did. Separated by thousands of miles (she lives in Canada, I in Los Angeles), we would cry and laugh at each other’s posts, and encourage each other to keep going and not give up on life. 

I met Darcy Thiel at Help For Healing who was nearing completion on her heartfelt memoir Bitter and Sweet: A Family’s Journey With Cancer when she proposed doing a few joint interviews about grief. I met DS over at Diary of a Sad Widow, who was chronicling her first year of grief in beautiful, touching, witty posts (Freshly Pressed twice). Now that she’s in Year 2, she has changed her blog’s name to “And Now For Something Completely Different.” I can’t wait to see how she and her blog evolve.

Other blogger friends this first year: Ann at RamblinAnn, who blogs about everything and nothing, all things that happen in life; LB at Life On The Bike And Other Fab Things, a fellow rider and fabulous photographer; Pete at BeetleyPete, who blogs on the musings of a Londoner now living in Norfolk; Jack Joseph’s Mom at Jack Joseph’s Mom, an anonymous blogger who chronicles her grief after miscarriage; Patti Hall at 1WritePlace, another fellow memoirist who writes about grief and life; Kimberly at Words4JP, who writes at least one poem per day; Dara at The Clear Out, whose goal is decluttering, clarifying and connecting one post at a time.

No list of blogging friends would be complete without Caitlin Kelly (also Canadian) of Broadside, to whom I was introduced online by PaulaB. Caitlin is a writer, journalist, author and teacher. She’s also the only blogger I’ve met in person (at a fabulous 7-hour brunch in New York City) so far. Among her many professional accolades, Caitlin has been Freshly Pressed six times (!) and just started a series of webinars on writing, blogging and the business of freelancing. I’m planning on taking at least one of them. If you’re interested in checking them out, go here.

But these are only a few of the friends I’ve made this year. Riding Bitch now has over 1,000 followers and 11,000 views. To the bloggers with tens of thousands of followers/views, this might seem like chicken feed, but to me it is hugely rewarding. If building a blogging community is like building a pyramid, then this year represented the foundation. We’re all helping each other build little pyramids across the blogosphere.

Blogging has been therapeutic, enlightening, entertaining and encouraging. It has helped me find and strengthen my voice as a writer. It has opened my eyes to different stories, experiences and views from all around the world. It has led to friendships which will hopefully last a lifetime.

Thank you for reading and participating. May this second year bring new opportunities and friendships, while solidifying and deepening those that already exist. I look forward to continuing to share the journey with you.

– Niva (and Ruby)

birthday hike with Ruby


8 Comments

“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?


8 Comments

Birthdays, Milestones and Peacocks

Anyone who’s lost someone knows how bittersweet birthdays can be. One often feels guilty for having a birthday at all, while our loved one will never have another. Friends and family go out of their way to shower us with attention and make sure we have plans, lest we end up alone. Of course, more often than not, that’s all we really want… to be left alone. 

But then we feel guilty about denying everyone the opportunity to show their love. We might even feel guilty because we know our loved one wouldn’t want us to be alone and moping about. We know he/she would want us to do something special, if not for us then for them.

Today is my birthday. I am now 43 years old, the same age as Kaz when he died (technically, he was 43 years and 6 months old). Soon I will be older than him, which seems very strange indeed. I always thought of him as older and wiser. Actually, no matter how many more birthdays I have, I will always think of him as older and wiser.

Three years ago we had a big party for my 40th. I wore a very tight, red dress and invited all of our closest friends, not just for me, but to see Kaz. He was still doing fairly well then. It was an incredible night, forever immortalized in the many photos that people took. For some, it was the last time they saw him looking like himself.

The next two birthdays (without him) were more subdued. I turned 41 six months after he passed, while sitting in the rain at Occupy Oakland with a friend. The event had started only the day before (October 10, 2011). We sat on the plastic-covered steps of  Frank H. Ogawa Plaza while my friend’s 4 year-old daughter stomped nearby puddles in her red rubber boots. Something about the wet, serious, anonymous yet congenial atmosphere felt appropriate. I was surrounded by people but not required to talk. Tears blended with the rain.

I don’t even remember what I did for 42. I just remember thinking, “This is how old he was when diagnosed.” 

This year I feel stronger, more hopeful and grateful than before. Not coincidentally, the blog is almost 1 year old (on October 18) and my dog’s adoption date is a week after that. When I reflect on this past year, it was a year well-lived, a year of getting my “sea legs” back, so to speak.

The puppy and I lived for a month in Vermont. I made significant progress with the memoir. The blog was Freshly Pressed, and I’ve made many new blogging friends since then. I bought a new car, and drove my father’s Porsche. I got back in the kitchen after almost two years of not cooking. I interviewed for a writer’s gig, and even though I didn’t get it, the interview taught me a lot. I have steadily trained my puppy and hope we can take the Canine Good Citizen test before the end of the year.

The future looks bright as well. I just started a Television Pilot writing class. I’ve hired an editor to cut a new director’s reel. I’m updating my resume and making plans to possibly (finally) move out of Los Angeles. I’m also planning on taking a few months off to finish the memoir. All in all, life is good at the moment. I couldn’t have said that last year, or even six months ago. But life is like that, ever changing, moving and molding, like water.

A friend gave me a birthday card with a peacock on the cover. I’ve been so drawn to this image that I had to look up its symbolism. In doing so, I found this blog post that lists several meanings and their origin.

From The Meaning of Symbols.com: The peacock is a symbol of immortality because the ancients believed that the peacock had flesh that did not decay after death… The peacock naturally replaces his feathers annually; as such, the peacock is also a symbol of renewal.

Renewal. That is what I’m feeling these days. May this year be the Year of the Peacock.

my friend's card

my friend’s card


25 Comments

My Rural Fantasy

When I first arrived in Los Angeles, an eager 24 year old film student, my life fantasy was to make meaningful, financially successful movies that would be nominated for awards and win little gold statues. (Yes, I used to fantasize about my acceptance speech. Every film student does.) These days I have a different fantasy.

I yearn for a life with fewer distractions and more opportunities to dig deep into the things most important to me, and I also yearn for a life with a lower cost of living and a lower need to earn a mountain of money. A rural environment provides all of these things. – http://www.thesimpledollar.com/why-i-prefer-living-rural/

Catskills roadEver since living/writing in Vermont in January of this year, I have fantasized about moving there. If not Vermont, then some other rural environment where there are seasons, real people, animals, open skies, long stretches of road without stop signs or lights, less traffic, and less noise. And not forever, for a year or so. Enough time to detox from 18+ years of living/working in Hollywood, finish writing my memoir (and a couple of other projects), and reacquaint myself with Me.

It could actually happen.

A friend has a spacious, sun-filled, second floor apartment for rent in a big, old house located in the Catskills area of New York State. Two bedrooms, large eat-in kitchen, plus a living room. There’s so much space, I could rollerblade from room to room. There’s so much light, there might be too much light (a problem I’d love to have). It’s 30 minutes from Albany, and 2.5 hours from New York City.

[breezyhillinn.com]

[breezyhillinn.com]

The rent is cheaper than what I pay now and includes utilities. Forget about the cost of moving there for a moment. The cost of living there would be far cheaper than living in Los Angeles. Plus my friend/possible  landlord lives in NYC and only comes to the house every other weekend. So most of the time I would be alone (with my dog), ideal for someone who wants to write all day.

So what’s stopping me? Well, money and fear.

The whole point of the move would be to focus on writing, not to spend ten hours of my day in some office, or in my car commuting to work. If I were to take a year off to go live in a small town, I would live off savings for a few months, then look for part-time work. How realistic this is, I’m not sure. When I was young, I used to do all kinds of work – shovel snow, clean yards, babysit. I even worked as a horse carriage driver, where I had to clean and tack up my horse and carriage before and after a 10-hour shift. (You know you’ve been working an office job for too long when you start reminiscing about shovelling horse manure.)

Horse and Carriage [queenvictoria.com]

Horse and Carriage [queenvictoria.com]

But I wouldn’t mind doing something completely different than what I do now (executive legal assistant), or what I’ve done in the past (production manager, assistant editor, writer/director/producer). Maybe I could be a part-time farmhand, helping to pick crops and/or take care of animals. Or I could run the cash register at a local coffee shop. Or help paint a barn. Or find a way to make money writing (gasp!).

Then there is Fear. What if I get there and hate it? What if I get cabin fever and go crazy? What if the house is haunted? What if I don’t like being alone all the time? What if I still find it hard to concentrate because now it’s too quiet? What if I can’t find any work anywhere, use up all my savings and end up homeless in the Catskills?!

I recently shared my rural fantasy with a friend who’s leaving Los Angeles soon for her hometown of Pittsburgh (for the much more noble reason of being closer to her ailing parents). She thought it sounded like a great idea, “As long as you’re not running away from something. Because if you are, whatever it is will be coming with you.”

Wise words. Obviously, if I were to really do this, I would have to think it through very carefully and come up with a ship-tight plan. Right now I’m still in fantasy mode.

For more insight into the city vs rural debate, click on this cheeky yet informative article by Heather Long and Jessica Reed at theguardian.com.

Heather’s reason #5 to move to the country:

You don’t get suspicious when people are nice to you. People say hello and “how are you” and generally mean it. You go to the grocery store and have a decent chance of seeing at least someone you know. Your doctor actually calls you back the same day you call with a concern. People don’t size you up constantly based upon your job, social status or income. Volunteer work isn’t something you do for your resume. You feel a part of a genuine community, not just one peon out of millions.

Jessica’s reason #3 to move to the city:

The entire world is (almost) on your doorstep. I don’t know about you, but it would be a shame to die on the way to the hospital – or give birth on the side of a road. Which probably won’t happen in the city. You can order anything from online stores and – miracle! – receive it the next day. Museums, galleries, libraries are easily accessible, a lot of them free. And food: enough said. Who likes to have the choice only between a grim pub serving dismal burgers or fish-and-chips and the local Subway branch at the back of a derelict mall?

Have you ever moved from city to country or vice-versa?

[apartmenttherapy.com]

[apartmenttherapy.com]


8 Comments

What’s In A Name?

It’s funny how we grow up with misconceptions. I always thought that women were, by and large, expected to change their surname once married. In fact, this tradition belongs mostly to English-language countries, including Australia, New Zealand, Ireland, India, the English-speaking provinces of Canada, and the United States. In countries like Belgium, Cambodia, China, France, Greece, Italy, Iran and most Arabic-speaking countries, women are not expected to take their husband’s last name. 

Of course, just because I grew up thinking this was the norm, doesn’t mean I planned on conforming if/when I ever married. I knew plenty of women who hadn’t changed their names for various reasons (as this article demonstrates), and had always planned to keep my own for life. It was more than just professional convenience and recognition. My birth name also held significant meaning.

When my father, African American, married my mother, foreign-born and Caucasian, in 1958, his last name was Washington, the ‘Blackest Name’ in America, according to the writer of this HuffPo article. Several years later, and to the chagrin of my father’s family, my non-conformist parents decided to ditch Washington for something new – something other than what Malcolm X referered to as a “slave name.” [Watch the first two minutes of this clip to hear him explain the concept:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SldZ-r5pHfA]

My mother took on the responsibility of inventing what would be the new family name. She did it by combining letters from her and my father’s existing full names. The 4th letter in her first name was D. There were three O’s in my father’s name, three R’s between my both of their names. The 1st letter of her last name and 4th letter of his first name was E. Both her last name and his middle name contained the letter L. Thus our last name became D-O-R-E-L-L. And I, the youngest child, was the first to have that surname on my birth certificate.

[Little did my parents know the name “Dorrell” apparently dates back to an Anglo-Norman family that shows up in history around 1066 and seems to have been originally from Ariel, La Manche, Normandy. They even have their own family crest.]

When Kaz, also African American, proposed to me in April of 2010, I explained how (and why) my parents had invented my last name, and told him I wanted to keep it when we married. He then explained how important it was to him that I took his last name. “I’m old school that way,” he said. Kaz’s last name was Smith,  the most common North American surname in 1990, 2000 and 2010 according to Wikipedia. Along with WashingtonSmith is also one of the surnames of the 74 Founding Fathers of the United States.

The entire year of his illness, we went back and forth about the issue. But by the time we married, on April 22, 2011, I could no longer deny him. When I told him I would change my name, his whole face lit up with a smile. For 11 days, we were “Mr and Mrs Smith.”

After he died, I changed my surname formally, first at the Social Security Agency, then the bank, the DMV, my employer, my healthcare provider, on Facebook. I changed it on every form of identification… except one. My passport. At first, it seemed unnecessary because I didn’t plan on traveling anywhere any time soon. Then someone told me a new bride (who takes her husband’s name) has a year within which to change her name on the passport.

2.5 years later, I just applied to change the name on my passport. But apparently, I didn’t send the proper paperwork. If I don’t send it within 90 days, they will send me my old passport back. The good news is, as I recently learned, a woman who has taken her husband’s name actually does not need to change her passport. However, it is recommended that all your identification be consistent. So, now I must decide if I should go ahead and change my passport to be consistent with my other I.D., or leave it as is. 

To be honest, I have thought about one day going back to my original name. I have grown fond of my married name, which has obvious emotional significance too, but one of my fears is that, by keeping it, I might always feel like a widow to the man who gave it to me. On the other hand, if I change it, won’t this be severing the last remaining tangible thread between us?

It’s not something I have to decide right now. But the more time passes, the more I wonder what, if anything, should I do with my name… and when.

Did you change your name when you married?


7 Comments

The Excitement Never Ends

It’s been a busy couple of weeks, including a motorcycle ride with my old Harley Davidson instructor and a trip to New York City for the Labor Day weekend. I’ll replay the highlights here as best I can.

My first moto ride, almost a year ago

My first moto ride, almost a year ago

To the right is a pic of the first time I rode a motorcycle on my own (not in class), in October 2012. Since it had been so long, I was pretty nervous about getting back on two wheels.

Turns out, I had nothing to worry about. Everything came back to me easily, and I remembered why I love this new sport. Riding a motorcycle makes me feel more alive than anything else. It is definitely scary, but in a way that exhilerates and keeps me on my toes. It reminds me of Kaz in a visceral way, the closest I can get to his tough but sweet energy. I used to love sitting behind him on a motorcycle. It boosts my energy and confidence through the roof.  I am now ready for the next step – buying my first bike. More about that later.

After that, I went to New York for the weekend, leaving Ruby behind for the first time and miraculously not feeling guilty about it. She stayed with a friend whom she loves, near the beach, in a house with a yard and another older, female pit. No classes, no training, she could sleep and/or play all day. She was on vacation too! And frankly, it was nice to get a break and another reminder: I am more than just this dog’s mom.

To celebrate my first few moments of freedom, I had dinner at Encounter, the spaceship-shaped restaurant at Los Angeles International Airport. If you ever have some time to kill at LAX, this place is worth checking out just for fun.

Encounter exterior

Encounter exterior

Encounter interior

Encounter interior

View from Encounter

You can watch planes take off from inside

I flew the red-eye, so the next morning I saw my father, who had driven across country from San Francisco to NYC in his now infamous, new Porsche.Porsche  At first, he said he wouldn’t let me drive it because he didn’t trust my driving. I was actually prepared to accept this, but about half an hour later, he changed his mind!Driving the porsche

Words cannot express how nervous I was behind the wheel. Not only is this car less than a month old and (as I was reminded repeatedly) worth A LOT of money, but it’s also REALLY powerful and loud. I don’t think I ever got over 30 miles per hour. But what a smooth ride. I definitely have to go visit him in SF soon to take it for another spin. Preferrably on a highway.

Once my father left, I spent the rest of the time with my sister and her family in and around Brooklyn. I was there for the re-opening block party of Sunny’s Bar, a dive bar in Red Hook that dates all the way back to the 1890s and was almost destroyed by Hurricane Sandy.  

Sunny's bar 2

I saw a performance by Syrian musician Omar Souleyman in Pioneer Works, a large gallery space in Red Hook owned by artist Dustin Yellin. I haven’t danced that hard in a long time, and am definitely now a fan of Mr. Souleyman’s.

Omar Souleyman in Central Park, 2011 [photo source: David Andrako]

Omar Souleyman in Central Park, 2011 [photo source: David Andrako]

Below are two pics I took of the large Dustin Yellin piece that was standing in the lobby of Pioneer Works. From the front it looks like a 3D statue, but from the side you see that it’s actually a multi-layered glass structure.

Dustin Yellin piece (front view)

Dustin Yellin piece (front view)

Dustin Yellin piece (side view)

Dustin Yellin piece (side view)

I had drinks in the Red Hook Bait &Tackle bar, which looks like this: 

Bait and Tackle interior

And brunch with fellow blogger Caitlin Kelly of Broadside at the Spice Market in Manhattan, which looks like this:

SpiceMarket interior

I was both excited and nervous to meet Caitlin. A) I’d never left the matrix to meet another blogger before, and had no idea what to expect from a real, live person. B) Right before our scheduled time, I discovered that I’d left both my ATM card and my driver’s license in a different purse. Yes, I had driven to the meeting, in my brother-in-law’s car.

Again, turns out I had nothing to fear. Caitlin and I ate, drank and gabbed for a total of 8 hours; the one credit card I did have covered my share of the bill; and I didn’t get stopped by the police on the way home. Very lucky indeed, since I ended up taking pictures on and around the Brooklyn Bridge.

Driving Brooklyn BridgeDriving Brooklyn Bridge 2

One screening of The Butler and marathon session of Project Runway  (all of Season 7) with my 11 year old niece later, and it was time to go home.

Unfortunately, that IS where the excitetment ends, as Los Angeles does in no way compare to NYC. Still, it’s good to be back with Ruby and back in our routine. Here’s hoping I can ride the momentum of this trip for another few months, or at least until I get a motorcycle.

[in response to the Daily Post: Tell us about the last thing you got excited about — butterflies-in-the-stomach, giggling, can’t-wait excited]

What was the last thing that got you can’t-wait excited?


9 Comments

Welcome to the Club

M lost her husband yesterday. She has now joined what dswidow so aptly termed “the club.” Unlike most clubs, none of these members joined voluntarily. We found ourselves here through various paths, the only common denominator that we’ve all lost our husbands or partners.  

One would think already being in the club makes it easier to talk to a new member. Yet, there is some trepidation, a defensive dam which, during the healing process, each veteran slowly built to hold back the raging torrents of her own grief. Will the new member with her fresh, searing tsunami of tears cause cracks in the cement? Will her cries of anguish unplug some of the bricks? Can we withstand the after-shocks of her collapsed world?

And what do we tell her? Who among us can say – “It all turns out alright in the end, you’ll see”? Perhaps all we know for certain (at this moment) is that there will come a day when the tears ebb, when we go back to functioning. There will be moments of joy and laughter again, as well as days of not constantly thinking of and pining for our lost one, something that seemed impossible in the beginning. We might be less certain about how to lead a normal life again, rather, the life we dreamed of when our loved one was alive.

Every woman’s dream is different, yet connected by some variation on a life with a loving partner, comfortable shelter, a fulfilling livelihood, perhaps a family. When we lose our partners all these possibilities, once within reach, suddenly get stretched back very far… to the point of not being able to see them.

After some time on the widow’s path, we think we can make them out again, faintly, on the horizon. But the path between us and them is still foggy. We move forward in this fog full of yearning that we are heading in the right direction… yet not quite sure we can trust our step. After all, the rug has been pulled out from under us already. We can still feel the bruises from when we fell into the abyss.

This is not something to tell the new widow. In fact, she doesn’t need to hear words right now. She needs someone to listen. She wants to talk about her loved one, she wants to tell us about him and their time together, things he told her, things that made him unique. She wants to gush about him, lest he be forgotten, lest she forget him, perhaps even to remind herself that he really existed, that he was really here at one point. She can still see him, smell him, remember his voice, his touch… even if these things are already beginning to feel like a dream or distant memory, to which she was the sole witness.

She yearns to interact with someone who is not grieving and therefore not crazy, at least not in the same way she feels. She aches for understanding, answers, anything to explain the inexplicable. She also wants to be alone, hidden from view, from pity, from judgement, from other people’s pain, from all the useless-heard-it-all-before advice.

All the veterans can say is: We understand. We are here for you. We won’t judge you, nor bombard you with ridiculous statements like “He’s in a better place now,” or “Who are we to question.”  We will help you question. We will help you accept the lack of answers. We will help you forgive and navigate this unwanted, yet apparently destined new path.

Hold our hand, sister. Together, we’ll find our way. 

fearlesswomenglobal.blogspot.com

fearlesswomenglobal.blogspot.com