riding bitch

The life of a writer and survivor of loss.


9 Comments

Words To Remember: Lights, Camera, Action!

Ironic that today’s Daily Post is about filmmaking. If you were involved in a movie, would you rather be the director, the producer, or the lead performer? (Note: you can’t be the writer!). I actually AM a director, or at least I was. I haven’t directed anything since 2010, which seems like a distant memory.  My last project – a music video – was completed the day before my late husband Kaz discovered he had a brain tumor. Since then, I’ve been writing, but not directing. What’s the difference?

For starters, writing is solitary. Most of us write alone, or rather with the voices in our head to keep us company. Directing is something you must do with others. Like the captain of a ship or a general at war, directing requires not only interacting with real people, but also leading them. It also means “acting” like a director. 

A well-known director once told me, “Directing is at least 75% performance.” Writers usually only have to perform before they write (when they’re pitching), or after they write (when they’re on a press junket for their work), but rarely while they’re actually writing. Directors, on the other hand, are almost always “on,” whether with investors, agents, actors, the crew, producers, studio executives, festival audiences, reporters, and so on. The same director who said directing was performance also once remarked, “How in the world does one do this job without alcohol or drugs?”

Secondly, writing costs nothing. All you need is time, a computer or typewriter, or pen and paper. If you can’t afford a pen and paper, you could write on a free computer at the library and use email to save your work. Or I suppose you could whittle a stick and use blackberry juice as ink like Solomon Northup‘s character in 12 Years a Slave. The point is you can write with absolutely no money.  

You cannot, however, direct a film with no money – even if everything is donated, you’re shooting in your own home and not paying anyone,  money will be spent. There have been cases of people making films with as little as $7,000 (Robert Rodriguez’s first film El Mariachi), but still… that’s $7,000 and a WHOLE LOT of energy to call in all the favors you need to complete the film, favors worth tens (if not hundreds) of thousands of dollars.  As a former professor once said, “The cheapest way to make a movie is to write one.”

Third, the writing process affords flexibility, in the sense that you can change things. Your changes will have ripple effects, but that doesn’t mean you can’t make them. Directing, on the other hand, requires commitment to the blueprint (i.e. the script) and laser focus to keep all the moving parts together in your head (especially when shooting out-of-order). You can change things here and there, but you can’t veer too far, especially once you’ve started filming. For example, you can’t change the sex of a character, or the tone of a movie, mid-way through production (unless that’s part of the story). You have to be flexible in other ways, but not in the same ways as the writer.

So, directing requires communication, performance, money, focus, and massive amounts of creative, mental and physical energy, none of which I’ve had much of in the past few years. I’ve gone from being a caregiver to a grieving widow, and now find myself in the process of redefining myself, both personally and professionally. I’m not the same person I was before Kaz. I’m not the same person I was when he was alive, or shortly after he died. I’m a combination of all of the above and something more, something new.

I’ve been re-editing my director’s reel over the last few months, and it’s been a great exercise in reflection, like a mirror to my past. Reviewing the films I wrote, directed and obsessed over for long periods. Remembering those moments and projects about which I felt such passion. As I’ve mentioned before, it’s been challenging to feel that kind of white-hot passion again. Though I do feel myself slowly being drawn to it, like to a distant fire on the horizon of a very long night.

To answer the original question, if I were involved – when I am involved in a movie again – I will definitely be the director. Even though I haven’t done it in years, I know I still have it. I love telling stories with images and sounds. I love working with actors and other professionals, each department providing its own unique, delicious ingredient to the overall piece. I adore the editing process, which feels most like the writing progress, solitary (save for your editor), flexible, and terribly creative. There’s a reason why so many of us say, “I’ll fix it in post.”

When I get nervous about my hiatus I remember that Stanley Kubrick took 7 years between The Shining (1980) and Full Metal Jacket (1987), and even longer between the latter and Eyes Wide Shut (1999). Terrence Malick took 20 years between Days of Heaven (1978) and The Thin Red Line (1998)his second and third films respectively. They certainly didn’t stop being directors just because they weren’t actively directing.  No doubt when they returned to the director’s chair, their life experiences made them better directors.

I look forward to testing that theory. The chair awaits.

skd283023sdc


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


13 Comments

An Open Letter to M, a New Widow

Dear M,

I’m writing here because I want to get my thoughts down in some semblance of order. When we spoke yesterday,  I’m afraid our conversation didn’t live up to your expectations. “How did you get through it?” you asked. I found it hard to answer, shocked as I was by the news that you, more than 10 years younger than I, not even 30 years old, married for less than a year, are about to be a widow too.

I had just seen you and your husband a few months ago on the eve of your move up North to start a new life. When I didn’t hear from you for a while after that, I figured you were in the throes of settling in. And you were – until six weeks ago when the shit hit the fan. You said you found it too late and now he’s on hospice with days to live. I couldn’t wrap my mind around it. How was this possible? I felt silly saying, “I’m so sorry, M… I’m so sorry…” but I didn’t know what else to say. So, here are a few more words.

Contrary to your impression, I am not “the strongest woman ever.” I am the same as you. The difference is I had a little more time to deal with Kaz’s illness, 13 months to be exact, which is a lot longer than your 6 weeks.

I was also in denial most of the time. I didn’t believe Kaz was dying (as quickly as he was) until he had the seizures, ironically six weeks before the end. Then I had to accept the situation and things got a lot calmer. It stopped being a race against time and became more about his comfort and well-being. In a strange way, I think my being in denial helped me get through quite a bit.

When I wasn’t in denial, I had the equivalent of emotional blinders on. I focused on practical matters rather than on the reality that I was losing him. I pushed the reality into the recesses of my brain, consciously choosing to deal with it later. Sure enough, after he was gone, the volcano erupted.

Unfortunately, it sounds like you don’t have time to be in denial or have emotional blinders. Six weeks is a blink of the eye. Yet, some women who lose their husbands instantly would, no doubt, be grateful for six weeks. Every widow’s path is different.

As I told you yesterday (and glad it made you laugh), you can expect to cry A LOT. More than you ever thought possible. So much that it might scare you. You might think you can’t get through it, but you CAN get through it. I can’t tell you how exactly. I just know that you can – and you will.

The most important advice I can give you is to surround yourself with folks who love you, be they family, friends, neighbors, pets. Only good people and good energy. Even if you end up being alone, have these people on standby for the times when you need them. Anybody who gives you any kind of drama, or makes you feel bad about ANYTHING, avoid like the plague and don’t feel one iota of guilt. You don’t owe anybody anything. 

Your creativity might help too. When you’re feeling overwhelmed and unable to deal with the pain, try writing things down – a poem, story, memory, letter, journal entry – or pick up your camera and take pictures. Anything to direct your pain somewhere instead of letting it swirl inside you like a never-ending whirlpool.

To answer your original question, “how did you get through it” – it was a combination of the above, and it was also Kaz. I leaned on the memory of his character and his love. In the darkest moments, I could hear him encouraging me to keep going, to not give up, much the same way I had encouraged him. I knew that he wanted me to go on, that he believed in my strength, and I kept coming back to this over and over.

Keep your beloved S in your heart and mind, and he will help you too. Also, not to get all “new-agey,” but try to be open to feeling his energy around you after he passes, as he might not leave your side right away. It is my personal belief that energy doesn’t just evaporate, especially the powerful energy of Love.

I won’t give you this letter right now, it’s too soon. But I’m thinking of you. I remember how you helped Kaz and I when we were in the thick of things, and now I’m angry that you are suffering. I’ll never understand how unfair life can be sometimes. The pain feels unbearable but somehow we do bear it. As one who is further down this path of fire, I can’t tell you that it won’t hurt, but I can tell you it won’t last forever. You will come out the other side, and you are not alone.

I love you, and I’m here for you always.

Niva

[prompted by WordPress]


11 Comments

Blogging About Controversial Subjects

Thanks to everyone who commented on the last post. I didn’t respond to comments like I usually do, but I did read them and greatly appreciate your taking the time to read, consider and respond, even if you didn’t agree. For those who didn’t read, the post was about the Trayvon Martin/George Zimmerman tragedy, one could say a risky post since I usually blog about being a widow, writer, dog mom, etc., rarely about current events.

One blogger responded that writing about sensitive subjects (politics, race, religion, sex) can lead to offending and/or losing followers. That blogger is correct. Yet the comment made me think, what do we do when we feel passionately about something and it’s somewhat off-topic to our blog? This blog is a bit of a hodge-podge (‘expect the unexpected’ could be the motto). But if someone had a cooking blog, for example, then posted a political view, that might not go over well.

That said, some of the most successful writers in history wrote about extremely controversial topics (to both negative and positve consequences). The Freshly Pressed section of WordPress gives recognition to blogs in a variety of categories, including Religion, Feminism, Race, Politics, and so on. There are thousands of blogs dedicated to these subjects and others, which have large, loyal readerships even if they never get Freshly Pressed. What is it about these blogs, and the way they handle sensitive subjects, that doesn’t turn people off? How does one blog about controversial subjects?

After perusing some blogs and articles, it seems like the main piece of advice is to not to use a blog or post simply as a soap box (“This is what I believe and this is why you should agree with me!”), but to tactfully pose a point of view which readers might not normally be exposed to, or consider, otherwise (“Have you ever considered X, Y, Z?”). Humor, research, objectivity, and approach all factor in. Are you writing to people who think like you (i.e. preaching to the choir)? Or writing to a broader audience?

I used to follow a blog that mixes posts on faith with posts on writing and art. The problem (for me) was the faith-based posts seemed geared only to people of the blogger’s faith, as nearly every post (even those on writing and art) was presented though that specific prism. I tried to keep following but after a while got too annoyed. I couldn’t relate to the blogger’s point-of-view, nor was I learning anything new. It felt like this blogger wasn’t writing to me.

On the other hand, I adore the blog Love, InShallah , a blog devoted to the “the secret love lives of American Muslim women.” I’m not Moslem, but I love reading these beautiful posts and learning about the writers’ experiences, some of which include vastly different viewpoints than my own. 

Blogging is fascinating. Where else could a writer have such a direct relationship with his/her readers? Be able to exchange ideas and thoughts with people all over the world? I’m still learning what works and what doesn’t, but my goal is to always be authentic. I welcome the challenge to try and engage without offending, provoke without turning away, enlighten without preaching. I’m also aware that I can’t please everyone. As RUN-DMC said, it’s tricky.

Any experience with writing about controversial subjects?    

Related articles: 

8 100-Year Old Tips for Writing About Controversial Subjects http://www.zemanta.com/blog/8-tips-for-writing-about-controversial-topics/

Writing Controversy http://dailypost.wordpress.com/2012/05/15/writing-controversy/

10 Scandalous Authors From History http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2012/05/17/scandalous-authors_n_1524300.html


4 Comments

A Moment of Gratitude

I wanted to take a moment to say how grateful I am to have such a wonderful community of people reading this little blog. Your words of wisdom, encouragement, kindness and humor brighten my day wherever I am, whatever the circumstance. The stories and insights you share are treasured glimpses into your worlds and backgrounds, and allow me to know you a little better. Blogging can feel so random and lonely sometimes. We are like so many grains of sand or snow flakes. Yet, together we create these tiny bursts of light through connections of spirit. It’s a beautiful thing. Continue to shine bright, fellow bloggers. And thank you for shining here too. 🙂

Sunset


18 Comments

Meta Monday

It’s in my nature to obssess about new things. When I buy a new pair of shoes, jeans or anything, I tend to wear them every day until either they develop holes or the obssession runs its course. Same with music. I must have listened to Jill Scott’s Who is Jill Scott? and Lauryn Hill’s The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill at least three times a day when those albums debuted. Naturally, when I first started blogging, I checked the stats all the time, especially after I posted. I’m better about it now, although just recently WordPress updated their app for Androids. Now my phone beeps and buzzes with any new like, comment or follower, in addition to email notifications, thereby making it that much harder to ignore (I need to change a setting somewhere to minimize the noise).

Not that I’m trying to ignore the stats completely. They provide certain information that I’m still learning how to analyze. They show me which subjects appeal to readers more, which days of the week tend to get more views than others, which search terms (some pornographic) lead to my blog. They also let me know from which blogs readers come to my blog, and to which blogs people go from my blog. One of the strange trends lately is the number of followers I get over the weekend, when I hardly ever post, usually from foreign countries. I’ve also noticed that some blogs have less followers but significantly more views, and others have tens of thousands of followers but very few comments. How do we know if people actually read our blogs if people don’t leave comments?

For the record, RidingBitchblog is officially eight months old (first post 10/18/12), has 585 followers, 7,446 views (1,121 of which happened on the day I was Freshly Pressed), and 115 posts including this one. I once compared blogging to building the pyramids in Egypt, one brick at a time. I’d like to amend that statement by saying blogging is a helluva lot more fun than building the pyramids could ever have been. I’m also not quite as shy about it as I used to be, though I still don’t post on Twitter, LinkedIn or Facebook.

Thank you, as always, for being a part of this amazing experience.

Have you learned anything from your stats?


7 Comments

Hello… Is Anybody Out There?

Hello fellow bloggers and random readers! Apologies for dropping off for a week. Did anyone notice? Is anyone listening?? Forgive me, I’m feeling a bit loopy right now. I’ve been writing pretty intensely on the book for the past seven days, the goal being to send it to my mentor today. I just sent it! Woo hoo! Now, the waiting game begins. The last time I gave him the draft, a year and a half ago, he got back to me within two weeks. He also didn’t finish it (he read the beginning and the end). That draft was REALLY rough, so I didn’t take it personally. Honestly, I’m honored that he agreed to read it again. My mentor is a successful writer/director and the son of a famous author, so he knows his &#%$.

Anyway, I’ll be back to blogging after the weekend. Hope everyone is well. Looking forward to catching up on your blogs too. Have a great weekend!


16 Comments

Keepin’ It Real

Did you see today’s Daily Prompt? It asks: To what extent is your blog a place for your own self-expression and creativity vs. a site designed to attract readers? If sticking to certain topics and types of posts meant your readership would triple, would you do it? I have described my blog before as a hybrid between personal expression and helpful (or at least, interesting) information. Sometimes I feel like I’m veering too much in one direction or like I should be sticking to one topic instead of bouncing all around.

After the Freshly Pressed post I wondered if I should post about grief more because that seemed to resonate with A LOT of people. Since then I’ve wondered if all the people who followed the blog because of that post have been like, Why is she talking about her puppy and job woes? Get back to the grief posts, lady!

The truth is the last couple of weeks I’ve been really emotional, not just because of the interview, not just because of my job and everything else, but because this Friday, May 3, is the two-year anniversary of Kaz’s passing. If I was only interested in attracting readers I suppose I would be mining this ‘opportunity’ but instead I’ve been posting about everything but and took one week off.

Grief is weird. Sometimes we want to face it head on, delve into it like sinking into a warm bath or free falling off the emotional cliff. Other times, we want to avoid it. If I’m honest, this time around I’ve been feeling the latter. I’ve been more focused on the future. I’m impatient to make something of my life. I feel like time is running out, not in a doomsday way but like an I’m-not-getting-any-younger kind of way.

The grief is still there, like an itch that won’t go away. Around anniversaries like this, it’s impossible to escape. Because it’s not just me, it’s all of his family and friends, their texts, emails, calls and facebook posts. Even if I wanted to bury my head in the sand, I can’t. Loss is all around me and I’m trying to navigate it with blinders on. I feel like I haven’t been honoring this impending anniversary to some extent. I’ve been aware of it for weeks but I haven’t been giving it the weight it deserves. I keep thinking I’m past certain things but clearly I’m not. Which brings me back to the blog.

In the About page I say that the blog will be reflective of my life, it’s not just about one thing and will evolve over time. It is certainely not just about grief. I guess you could say it’s about recovering from grief, about trying to pull oneself out of the muck and live again, about trying to reacclimate to the world and reestablish one’s identity after being part of an US, and about persuing one’s dreams and not giving up.

It may not be a straight line, this blog. It may be more like a winding road that has dips and peaks, straight parts and curves, but  is slowly, ever so gradually on an incline. One day maybe we’ll reach the peak and we’ll look back at the road traveled and say, ah, I get it now.


13 Comments

Coming Out as a Blogger (via Freshly Pressed)

I just found out this blog is going to be Freshly Pressed. Today. Possibly in a few hours. The email letting me know was sent roughly 19 hours ago and I just noticed it (sorry, WordPress). First of all, I’m honored and flattered. Second of all… holy shit! Wasn’t I just talking about being shy about the blog!?! I guess those days are over.

Will this change how I blog? Will this be a curse like some say winning an Academy Award is the beginning of the end? (I would happily begin the end that way.) Or is this what Kaz would describe as “one of them good problems?”

Time will tell but I don’t think it will change anything. In fact, it might be the kick in the ass I need to get over this stupid shyness. After all, how will I ever be a professional writer if I’m shy about my writing? I’ve written a memoir for goodness sake. If you think I’m shy about the blog, imagine how shy I am about that. And yet, it’s something I’d still like to share with people… one day, in some fashion. Maybe the lesson here is I just gotta do my thing.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned from the entire experience of loving and losing Kaz, it’s that I cannot control a goddamn thing in this world… EXCEPT my writing. I can hardly control myself half the time but I definitely cannot control what happens in life (oh, how I’ve tried). I cannot control who reads what I write. I cannot control who likes what I write. I cannot control anything except the words on the page. And since I’m a control freak, you better believe I’m going to keep writing.

Which brings me to a phrase once mentioned in the caregiver’s support group I used to go to: Caregiver cajones. I think I just grew my blogging equivalent.

Thanks, WordPress!


6 Comments

Building a Pyramid (minus Pharaoh)

First of all, thank you to the people who started following the blog yesterday. Your turkeys are in the mail. As a follow up, I thought I would share a thought about blogging today. I had a moment of hesitation before publishing yesterday’s post. It was a discomfort with basically admitting that I want people to read the blog. Not that a Follower necessarily equals a Reader. As a matter of fact, if I had to choose, I’d rather you read than follow. But you get my point.

Clearly, I overcame my hesitation. And this is why.

The reason we blog is to reach people. Yes, it’s also about expressing ourselves but if we didn’t want to reach people, we would be expressing ourselves in a more private setting, not on the World Wide Web. In my opinion, the blogger who writes “I don’t care if anyone reads my blog” is either lying to him/herself or lying to you. Of course, they care. We all care. To what extent and for what reason, however, differs from blogger to blogger.

A lot of blogs are about giving advice. Some are literary, like a journal, newspaper, or book. Some are commercial, trying to sell a product, promote a business or person. People blog about art, photography, writing, yoga, religion, philosophy, politics, sex, travel, cooking, cartoons, you name it.

Then there are those more intimate blogs where people vent their feelings. I do believe some of these folks don’t care if they have 10 or 10,000 followers. Actually, they would probably be freaked out by 10,000. They’re blogging simply to release deep emotions which they can’t share with friends and family. They might not seek out followers but they probably hope to reach someone, if only to feel like they are not alone.

This blog is a bit of a hybrid. I am a widow who vents, shares and expresses herself quite honestly and intimately here. I find this cathartic and hugely rewarding. I am also a filmmaker and a writer, which means I inherently want to reach people with my art.

Put another way, I like to think of my blog as a very personal pyramid. I’m not sure exactly how big I want this pyramid to be, but I do know I’d like people to be able to see it. Not necessarily from space, but not just if you’re standing in my one-bedroom apartment either. I’m not building if for Pharaoh, but for myself. And I’m not building it alone either. You’re helping me build it. You’re the foundation, really. For if each post is like a brick, then each view, like, follow or comment is like a bit of mortar.

And while it’s true I want people to read the blog, I also don’t advertise it (other than on WordPress). I don’t twitter my posts or post them on Facebook. I’ve only told a few people I know about it. With some, I’ve only said “I have a blog” but haven’t told them the name. It’s more than shyness, I feel it would be inappropriate to solicit my friends and colleagues to read the blog.

Sometimes (like yesterday) I might yell out to the blogosphere, “Hey, I’m building a pyramid over here!” But for the most part, I’m content to simply work on it quietly and build it slowly, like my ancestors did, one brick at a time.

Pyramids_Wallpaper_wcyef