riding bitch

The life of a writer and survivor of loss.


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A Literary Life

typewriters-vintage-retro-style-wood-wallpaper-previewA couple of weeks ago, I was walking with a new writer friend who is disillusioned with her day job. When she said she’s craving a literary life, I responded with an enthusiastic YES! And we mused on what that would actually look like.

My definition of a literary life is one where you make a living as a writer. Perhaps I’m a romantic, but a true literary life also means you’re writing projects that you want to write, as opposed to just writing for money (a combination of both is acceptable).

Examples of people who led/lead literary lives, some more happily than others: Joan Didion, Stephen King, Virginia Woolf, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Toni Morrison, Ernest Hemingway, Ronan Farrow, Shirley Jackson, and countless others.

Ironically, since the pandemic hit and quarantine life began, I’ve been living a semi-literary life, at least getting a taste of it. Being sent home to work and having a light workload afforded me much more time to myself, not to mention the general shutdown of everything and inability to go anywhere.

For the first time, I was home all day and still collecting a paycheck. My time was not entirely my own; I still had to check work emails and be available for conference calls, etc. But this took up only a fraction of the day. The rest of the time I was almost living That Life.

What does a literary life mean exactly? For one thing, it means a lot – and I mean A LOT – of time alone (the primary reason why this life isn’t for everyone).

I live alone so this is easy, but even if I had a partner or roommate, I would still need to spend a large part of my day by myself. Often I wonder if I’ll ever meet another partner who understands and is able to respect my need for long stretches of solitude.

While alone, I am mostly thinking, also watching movies or television shows,  making notes, researching, outlining, reading, talking to myself, and, yes, writing. 

When I’m IN THE ZONE, I rarely answer my phone. I prefer not to deal with people or really the world. I do take breaks but I really try to stay in the zone as much as possible and avoid outside distractions. This is the only way I can concentrate. Even then these measures are not always enough.

Sometimes I have to turn my phone and WiFi completely off. I’ve pulled back from the many volunteering activities I used to do, and, even now that things are opening up again, I only occasionally go out. The few times I did venture out, I was so quiet that people wondered if I was okay.

By no means, am I a workaholic.

I’m less confident that I’m not becoming a bit of a hermit.

I’m not sure everyone understands my behavior, how seriously I take my writing, or the countless hours necessary to write something good (it doesn’t help that I’m a slow writer).

Regardless, I’m absolutely determined to make a living as a writer… and every day I get closer.

In the past three months, I’ve managed to finish my screenplay and write two freelance articles. I’m now in the very early stages of writing the next screenplay. 

Soon, my time will be 100% my own, as my job let me go due to COVID (my last day is July 31). But I’m trying to think of it in a positive way. Like maybe this is another step towards my goal.

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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.