riding bitch

The life of a writer and survivor of loss.


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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


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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


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Take a Journey to Joshua Tree

If you’ve been following the blog for a while, you know that I love getting away from the city to Joshua Tree National Park and the surrounding areas. I’ve written about it here, here and here. This past weekend, a national holiday here in the States, I went to The 29 Palms Inn, a motel where Kaz and I once stayed for his birthday. Quite a different experience travelling with a canine companion. For one, the motel didn’t feel quite as romantic as I remembered. I also noticed things I hadn’t noticed before, like the dozens of rabbits, lizards, birds, and hundreds, if not thousands, of ant hills, all of which Ruby gleefully pointed out to me.

We arrived just after sunset, a little later than expected but a beautiful time to view the hundreds of wind turbines near Palm Springs, part of California’s effort to use natural energy.

JT windmills

The next day we woke up a little after dawn to catch the sunrise.

JT sunrise

Ruby stared at the vista for a while. We were clearly very far from the city.

Ruby zenRuby zen2

I was a bit nervous bringing her to the desert in July, when temperatures can soar as high as 105 Farenheit. Before leaving I read some articles about how to manage with a dog in extreme heat. They all said to keep the dog out of the sun, hydrate the dog often, walk the dog only in the morning and evening, pay attention to signs of heat stroke and, if the dog is pale, apply sunscreen (dogs can get skin cancer too). I ended up taking her on a couple of early morning hikes and with lots of cold water and ice rubdowns, she managed pretty well.

We saw some amazing scenery.

JT vista5JT vista4JT vista3JT Ruby on hikeJT vista2.pgJT vista

JT tree

My city friends often ask me why I love going to the desert so much. I suppose it’s one of my favorite places to think and write. While I’m not a religious person, I have often felt a certain something while in the park, similar to how I felt at Mount Sinai in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula years back. Joshua Tree might not be as historically and religiously significant as Mount Sinai, but it contains a silent power nonetheless, and inspires a feeling I can best describe as oneness.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the name Joshua tree was given by a group of Mormon settlers who crossed the Mojave Desert in the mid-19th century. Apparently, the tree’s unique shape reminded them of a Biblical story in which Joshua reaches his hands up to the sky in prayer. All I know is it’s a special place… and not without a sense of humor.

Joshua Tree is a favorite destination for rock climbers because of the incredible rock formations, formed 100 million years ago from the cooling of magma beneath the surface. Groundwater is responsible for the weathering that created the spheres from rectangular blocks. The most famous formations include Skull Rock, which looks quite a bit like a human skull.

(source: andreea.francu.com)

(source: andreea.francu.com)

There’s also Jumbo Rocks, Split Rock, and the Hall of Horrors rock formation where someone actually fell to their death last year.

Kaz and I used to play this game of naming the rock formations we would come across. I think if we had seen this one, we would have called it Listening Rock.

JT listening rock

This one might have been Hamburger Bun Rock.

JT doughnut rock

Overall, it was a great weekend. Hot but restful. I missed Kaz, missed having a person with me, but was grateful to not be entirely alone. Ruby made a good companion and charmed everyone she encountered. She seemed content to slow down, sleep in the shade and be near me in this hot, dusty, windy, wild-looking place. Times like these I feel very grateful to live in California.

JT Ruby and me

Do you have a place of natural beauty near you?

Related Articles:

http://www.energy.ca.gov/wind/overview.html

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yucca_brevifolia

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joshua_Tree_National_Park


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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