Riding Bitch

The daily musings of a writer.


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Talking Yourself Off The Ledge

Imagine yourself in this scenario: It is Friday night, the end of a long work week. You leave work 15 minutes late, drive 20 minutes to pick up your baby from daycare, drive another hour back to your neighborhood. A block away from home, you stop to get some beer – and realize you left your wallet on your desk back at the office – on top of a notebook which has all your personal information, including every password to every account you own. (You check your purse twice to verify this.)

Of the two miserable choices – drive all the way back to pick up these items or wait until the morning and hope they’re still there – you choose the former.

As you turn back around, you are faced with thick, Friday night traffic. The freeway is a parking lot. You take the first exit, then surface streets all the way across town, another 45 minutes. Your skin starts to itch and twitch.

Your baby looks at you questioningly. This is taking a lot longer than usual, her eyes say. I’m really hungry and tired. When can I get out of this car? She can’t talk so you might be projecting. But she does not look happy and she’s fidgeting, which is the precursor to whimpering, then full out crying.

Are you calm and collected in this situation? If so, please tell me how.

I was in tears almost the whole way. I only refrained from laying on my horn and screaming because I didn’t want to alarm the puppy further. I tried calling work but everyone was gone and there is no after-hours service. I didn’t call anyone else because I was practically hyper-ventilating. I tried to focus on my breathing but every time I thought of what would happen if someone stole my wallet and all my passwords, bank accounts, investments, email addresses, credit cards, my home address, my social security number, my security questions and answers…

Instead, I imagined what my husband would have said, because I would have called him. He used to call this talking me “off the ledge.”

He would have acknowledged that the situation sucked but encouraged me to think the best and focus on driving safely. He would have told me that chances are my stuff was still there, but IF not, I could cancel accounts and change passwords right there at the office, probably faster than someone could take advantage of them. He would have urged me to not beat myself up, and promised to make me a cocktail when I got home. “Stay calm. Call me as soon as you get to the office,” I could hear him say.

Talking myself off the ledge wasn’t quite as effective, but it did help. By the time I got to the office, I had at least stopped crying. I left the puppy alone with the windows cracked while I ran up to my desk.

My wallet and the notebook were still there, right where I left them.

When I came back to the car, the puppy was so stir crazy she jumped out and gleefully ran around the empty parking garage just as a senior executive was getting out of his Mercedes. Why was he coming back to work? I wondered as I ran after her.

When we finally made it back to the neighborhood, 3 hours after I originally left the office, I bought champagne instead of beer, and some Ben & Jerry’s.

The next day we went to Joshua Tree… where all our worries flew away in the wind like tumbleweeds.

Who talks you off the ledge? Or how do you talk yourself off?


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Daily Prompt: Turn, Turn, Turn (to Life)

In Los Angeles seasons basically vary from warm to warmer to slightly less warm to warm again. Which is to say, they are subtle. It can actually be challenging to notice the passage of time because days often look and feel the same for weeks or months at a time. One day its January something, the next it’s mid-April. Weather is an anomaly. A cloudy day is something different. A rainy day is altogether exciting and the buzz at work. The lack of weather is one less thing to worry about in the daily grind of life. But it’s also one less thing to remind us of the awesomeness of Nature.

There are seasons, however, and my favorite out here is Spring because this is when you see the most change in the seemingly changeless environment. My favorite place to witness Spring is in the desert, where the renewal of life is bolder than in the city.

This past weekend I went with some friends to Joshua Tree, not to the National Park but to the city itself. I’ve written about coming to Joshua tree with my late husband, but (other than one camping trip) we always stayed in motels. This was the first time I’ve been behind the tourist line, where the locals live and raise their children.

Joshua Tree, CA

Joshua Tree, CA

At first glance, the landscape reminds you of pictures you’ve seen of Mars. Miles upon miles of dirt, rocks and (unlike Mars) small desert shrubs. But once you go a little further, get out of the car and start walking, you discover an entire world teeming with LIFE.

desert buds

desert buds

desert fruit

desert fruit

cacti

cactus flowers

 

Desert fruit, budding flowers, rabbits, lizards, beetles, ants, snakes, pheasants… there is actually constant movement in the stillness, plentiful sounds in the quiet.

I have always loved the desert for its purity, its cleansing, spiritual quality, its mystery. There is a reason so many prophets went to the desert to think and not, for example, the beach. The desert is as close as one can get to no distractions. Time seems to slow down. 24 hours feels like longer. And your mind is free to breath.

If ever one needs inspiration that even from something barren, life can grow… that life is cyclical and ever-renewing… that there is an almighty power in this universe called Nature… it is here, in the desert at springtime.

desert sunrise

desert sunrise


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What You Are Now Enjoying – an Interview with Sarah Gerkensmeyer

What You Are Now Enjoying, a new collection of short stories by Sarah Gerkensmeyer

What You Are Now Enjoying, a new collection of short stories by Sarah Gerkensmeyer

I am so pleased to introduce you to author Sarah Gerkensmeyer. Sarah and I met during our January writer residencies at the Vermont Studio Center. Since then, she has published a collection of short stories entitled What You Are Now Enjoying and is currently making the promotional rounds. I asked Sarah if she would be interested in discussing her journey here at Riding Bitch and am thrilled she said yes! I think you’ll find a lot of information and inspiration in her answers. Be sure to read the excerpt at the end.

Q. Sarah, can you tell us about yourself: who are you?
I am a mother, writer, teacher, wife… Everything in my life feels like a juggling act at this point. Because of this, I immensely enjoy a glass of red wine and an episode of New Girl. I have always loved to write (I know that’s cliché–but it’s true).

author Sarah Gerkensmeyer

author Sarah Gerkensmeyer

Q. How do you describe your book?
From Wonder Woman as an angst-ridden teenager to ghost twins to monster catfish to the secret relationships between polygamous wives, the stories in What You Are Now Enjoying approach the familiar in unfamiliar ways, allowing us to recognize and claim the unordinary moments in our own often ordinary lives. I’ve found myself using magical realism and fabulist elements to try to tell everyday stories about everyday people.

Q. Where do the stories come from?
I absolutely love this question. And I’m thrilled to be able to answer: I’m not sure. Lately I’ve realized that this is okay–a sense of mystery and even confusion in my writing. I’ve found myself trying to talk to my students about this–how any element of the unexpected, the unknown, the mysterious is a gift to our writing, not an annoying roadblock.

Q. That’s a great piece of advice! Did you approach the book with a theme or did you find the theme as you wrote?
All of this was very much a gradual (and even surprising) discovery for me. I wrote the extremely short (and especially strange) stories that are in my collection just after my youngest son, Charlie, was born. I was desperate to return to writing but couldn’t face the huge project of my novel. And so I thought of these little pieces as a distraction and guilty form of procrastination. I had no idea that they would end up cementing together a book. But when I stepped back and looked at them, I realized that they held threads of some of the things in my other stories–loneliness and a feeling of inertia.

Q. What was the hardest thing about writing your book?
For a few years, it was trying to figure out when/if I had a book. Beginning with my time in graduate school, I over thought the project (I think only one of the stories that I wrote in graduate school made it into the book). I think I was especially self-conscious in this regard as a writer who was dabbling with surreal and fabulist elements. I had to recognize that those weren’t the things I was writing about. Rather, I was using them to write about very real and very ordinary people.

Q. How long did it take to write? Did you write it full-time or while doing other things?
This book has been coming together, bit by bit, since about 2002. I always wanted it to come together quickly, but now I’m glad that it had plenty of time to stew. I needed time to figure things out.

Q. How did you get it published?
It’s very hard to sell a collection of short stories as an emerging author. The big houses want to buy novels, because that’s what sells. Smaller presses have become a champion for short story collections, but many of them only consider submissions via their annual prizes. And so I sent my book off to a few prizes and was lucky enough to catch the eye of Stewart O’Nan, the novelist who judged Autumn House Press’ Fiction Prize.

Q. What did you learn from the experience (of writing and publishing)?
As for the writing: it will come when it wants to come. And when that book does finally come together, love it. Even if it isn’t the creature that you originally intended it to be. As for the publishing: authors are expected to do a lot of leg work these days, even at the bigger presses. I was part of an inaugural program called the Launch Lab at Grub Street in Boston. We learned how to direct our energy in ways that fit our personalities and our work. The program helped me realize that I need to find pockets of PR that feel intimate, where real conversations can occur. Because of this, I’ve really enjoyed participating on various blogs (thanks, Niva!) because this is a world of passionate writers and readers who want to have a real conversation about books.

Q. What are you working on now?
I’ve returned to the novel that I set aside when my second son was born. And I think the strange stories in my new collection really gave me the fuel to return to it with fresh eyes. I’ve done a lot of intense research on congenital heart disease for this novel. It takes place in the Northern Minnesota wilderness. There’s a pregnancy, and somebody has blue skin… Maybe that’s enough of a tease.

Q. What lessons will you apply from this one to the next one?
I’ve discovered that a sense of urgency (and even anxiety and panic) can be put to good use. As a mother especially, this has been a good thing to learn. My children, and my teaching, and all the other things I love don’t need to be set aside so that I can write. The rush (and even the anxiety) that I get from trying to juggle all of these things can be harvested and can provide an exciting sense of momentum in the stories that I tell. These things aren’t in the way of my writing. They can be helpful.

Q. How is writing short stories different (for you) than writing a novel?
When I write a short story, (especially a very short story) I know that a breath of fresh air isn’t too far off. And so I’m able to pull myself into complex and strange worlds with a great deal of abandon. There isn’t as much hesitancy as when I sit down with a longer project. And sometimes I think stories can be more immense than a novel. They can create a sharp sense of echo, or what ZZ Packer calls “resonance.” I think that’s why I’m working with a much more fragmented structure in the current draft of my novel–in an attempt to simulate that same kind of feeling that I get from a short story.

Q. Do you have any advice for other writers who are moms and/or teachers?
While I do think parenting and teaching can inspire and fuel writing in unexpected ways, I still think it’s so incredibly difficult. They aren’t necessarily completely separate things, but sometimes you do need to find a way to step into only your writing. I’ve found writing residencies (like Vermont Studio Center, where Niva and I met) to be invaluable in this regard.

Q. Last question – will you share with us an excerpt from one of your stories?
Sure! This is from the beginning of “My Husband’s House”:

I didn’t go looking for my husband’s new place until after his fourth or fifth late night visit, after a long day when the sun had set without much color. I couldn’t believe what he had told me that first time he showed up in the middle of the night in our bedroom a few weeks after he had gone missing, a living ghost. Yet the first place I tried was the river. The further you follow the river back into the woods, the further back in time you go. Kirk’s favorite noodling spot is beneath an old railroad bridge that must be at least eighty years old, a bunch of broken timbers running across the water. When I got there that night, the water was slow and not too cold. It came up to my thighs when I reached Kirk’s spot nestled into the far bank.

I stood in the dark water, my feet shifting in the silt, and continued to not believe my husband. I crouched down—the water pulling at my old blouse, seeping up its seams—and cursed him for telling lies. Reaching with my right hand, I closed my eyes and felt my chin hit the water. I didn’t believe him. But I’d been drinking, and that was enough to make me curious. It was enough to let me change my mind once everything started to happen, the tugs and the pulls and the sinking shift. I was relieved and tired when I realized that my husband had been telling the truth, that there was no way to stop what was happening. I could feel it then: all of Ohio, its towns and its churches and its roads and its rivers—this old, snaky one especially—swallowing me up.

It makes you feel like singing, like burping after a fine meal and then closing your eyes, because who cares if anyone heard.

Awesome! THANK YOU Sarah. I can’t wait to read your book.

If you want to learn more about Sarah or find out how to purchase What You Are Now Enjoying, please visit http://www.SarahGerkensmeyer.com


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10 Steps to a Happier Place

To make up for yesterday’s 10-bullet-points-of-kvetching post, for which I apologize to the readers and The Universe, here are 10 common sense reminders (in no particular order) of what to do when you’re down. And by you, I mean us.

1. Get Some Rest – If this means going to bed earlier, taking a nap during the day, sleeping in your car or under your desk at lunch (been there!), or asking your partner to let you sleep an extra 15 minutes, do it. It’s amazing how much better you feel when you’ve had enough sleep. Yesterday was a prime example of what happens when I’m tired. I get cranky, bitchy, whiny.

2. Have Fewer (Unrealistic) Expectations – If you’re a working adult with multiple responsibilities, if you’re a single mom (if you’re single, period), if you’re grieving, sick, or healthy and simply overwhelmed, if you’re human, then you know there are only so many hours in a day, and you have only so much energy. Be realistic. Make your To Do list as long as you want (mine is pages long) but realize you will not get to everything at once. You will get to what you can. And that’s okay.

3. Be Easy on Yourself – Do you beat yourself up about all the things you do wrong? Or the things you didn’t do, rather than the things you did? Do you compare yourselves to others and wonder what’s wrong with you that you can’t accomplish the same? Stop! This is useless energy that doesn’t help you or anyone who has to deal with you. Every person is different. No person is perfect. If it takes you longer to reach your goals than others, this doesn’t mean you’re a lazy bum. It means you’re human. And you’ll get a whole lot more done if you redirect the negative energy towards something positive.

4. Be Grateful – I know it’s a cliche, but some cliches are good and this is one of them. Even in our darkest moments, we can find something that will make us smile, if only for a brief moment. The sound of children’s laughter, the rainbow the sprinkler makes in the morning sun, the breeze in our hair, a song. Maybe it’s simply looking around and recognizing what we have instead of what we don’t, the blessings in our life instead of the curses. Again, I know this is harder said than done sometimes, but it’s worth keeping in mind. Even the unlucky are lucky in some way. The challenge is figuring out how.

5. Focus on Yourself – Not in a narcissistic way, but in a don’t-worry-about-what-he-or-she’s-doing way. Focus on yourself. The only thing on this earth that you can control is you.

6. Take Your Vitamins – Eat well, drink water, get up and move around every now and then, and yes, take your vitamins. Besides being a healthy (and these days, necessary) supplement, they can actually improve your mood and energy level. I had skipped my vitamins the last few days but this morning I took them and no lie, I feel better.

7. Be Friendly – Say hello to people that pass you by. Say please and thank you. Tip your servers. Give someone a compliment. Hold the door for a stranger. Let other cars pass in front of you. I don’t mean be fake, but little gestures of genuine kindness can make a world of difference to others and to you.

8. Watch Bad Television – Whatever constitutes “bad television” to you, sometimes it’s okay to indulge in it. Personally, I consider reality TV bad. But I admit to watching a few shows. Project Runway is my favorite. But I will sometimes leave American Idol on in the background while I’m doing other things. And more recently, I’ve been watching The Face, which is a combination of America’s Next Top Model and The Voice. Totally ridiculous but Naomi Campbell is one diva beyotch and thoroughly entertaining.

9. Help Someone – Helping others is good for them, good for you, good for the world. It can also add a sense of meaning to your life. You can never go wrong.

10. Think Happy Thoughts – I’ve always been a moody person and my mother used to say this to me a lot when I was a kid. My late husband used to say the same thing, in his own way. I couldn’t always manage it as a child or an adult, but I try and I think it’s good advice.

peace pic


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“Love life. Dream Big. Be positive.”

Last night I ventured out into Hollywood-land to attend a fundraiser for an organization that helps sick children make small ‘legacy’ films. I’ve been volunteering with them as a film mentor ever since Kaz died. It just so happens this is the second industry fundraiser I’ve been to in a week. The first one (last Saturday night) was for a friend’s short film, took place in her backyard and I brought my puppy. Last night’s was at the Writer’s Guild Theatre in Beverly Hills and there was a red carpet. Naturally, I came late to avoid the red carpet and sneak inside while the lights were off.

One hour into the show of comedians, singers, speeches and short film clips, there was an intermission. I walked into the bright lobby to join other attendees searching for refreshments. A filmmaker acquaintance I haven’t seen in a long time flagged me down and struck up a conversation. “How are you? What’s the latest? What are you working on?” I managed to stumble through my answers. I’m directing a play this spring, I’m writing a book, I’m trying to get out more… Then he asked about my late husband and how I’m doing now emotionally.

When I answer these types of questions in a crowded setting with only a few minutes before the listener’s attention drifts, I sometimes experience the sensation of leaving my body and watching myself give the answer. What I hear myself saying always sounds ridiculous.

“I’m doing better. You know, one day at a time.”
“Are you dating again?”
“No,” I responded. “I tried last year, but it didn’t feel right.”
“That must be so tough, to come back from something that intense.”
“Yes, it–.”

The lights blinked on and off signaling Intermission was over. The acquaintance said a quick goodbye. I turned to look for a traschcan for the coffee I didn’t get to drink, and to ponder if anyone would notice if I left now. I decided against this and returned to my seat.

In the second half they showed a trailer for a film recently made in honor of Rina Goldberg, who had Mitochondrial disease. Rina wrote this short film before she passed away at age 15, and this organization made the film a reality. The clip is amazing and beautiful. After it ends, a slide remains on the screen while they tell us Rina’s mantra: “Love life. Dream Big. Be positive.”

I begin to cry silently in the darkness. I want to hug this little girl and thank her for the message. I want her to know that I hear her and appreciate her and she will never be forgotten. We are all sitting in the dark listening to her weak voice say repeatedly, “Be positive, be positive, be positive.”

Other sick children went up on stage. One sings an Adele song. Another plays Bach on the piano. We give them standing ovations.

When the program ended and the lights came up, I headed over to the founder of the organization to give her a big hug. Several goodbyes later, I paid my valet ticket and drove back home to let the puppy out of her crate. In her groggy state, she stumbled around the apartment like a drunken sailor before collapsing in bed for the night. It was much later than I expected, but I was grateful that I had gone out. I fell asleep thinking of Rina Goldberg.

Rina Goldberg and her mother

Rina Goldberg and her mother

If you want to learn about Rina and her film, check out http://www.rinasmovie.com/PublicPages/Home.aspx


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A Reading List for Grief (Part 2 of 3)

I am sharing the books that I read after losing my husband, in the order that I read them, with a brief explanation of how they affected me. They’re not necessarily for everyone but they might interest you. Part Two compromises the books I read from six months onward. As before, the first line of the book is under each title.

Memories of My Melancholy Whores – Gabriel Garcia Marquez

“The year I turned ninety, I wanted to give myself the gift of a night of wild love with an adolescent virgin.”

I picked up this book shortly after befriending the author’s son around my birthday in October 2011. It is his father’s most recent book but by no means his most famous. That would be his earlier works Love in the Time of Cholera and One Hundred Years of Solitude, which collectively earned Gabriel Garcia Marquez the Nobel Prize for literature in 1982. The plot of Memories of My Melancholy Whores is brilliantly encapsulated in the first sentence. But it’s about something else, namely the fear of death and the re-awakening of the heart. As the narrator, a retired journalist, tries to find his virgin, he reflects on his ninety years on earth, how he and the world have changed, and what the world will be like without him. It’s a beautiful, witty, wistful, strangely romantic story that ends in a way you don’t expect.

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly – Jean-Dominique Bauby
“Through the frayed curtain at my window, a wan glow announces the break of day.”

This book is a miracle in more ways than one. The author, Jean-Dominique Bauby, had been the editor-in-chief of French Elle when he suffered a stroke that left him completely paralyzed except for his left eye, with which he blinked every letter of the 131-page book. It is as succinct as it is rich in detail. I thought of Kaz a lot while reading this book, when Bauby describes the humiliation of having to be bathed like a baby, the immense pain of not being able to speak to his children or reach out and touch them, his frustration with not being able to eat French food anymore or lay with a woman or enjoy any of the things he used to. Talk about loss. But despite all this, Bauby manages to paint a picture of hope, endurance, personal strength, and the spiritual nature of human imagination. While his body is practically dead, his mind soars. His determination to not only live life fully in his thoughts, but also express them to us, is a testament to the human spirit. After I read it, I watched the movie, directed by Julian Schnabel, and loved that too. One of the rare occasions when the movie lived up to the book on which it was based.

Everyman – Philip Roth
“Around the grave in the rundown cemetery were a few of his former advertising colleagues from New York, who recalled his energy and originality and told his daughter, Nancy, what a pleasure it had been to work with him.”

Philip Roth was my mother’s favorite author and I thought of her often while reading this book. The story is told from the point of view of a man who has just died and is trying to process this reality. He does so by reflecting on his life, analyzing the decisions he made, the women he loved, his relationship with his children and so on. It’s a story of “loss, regret, and stoicism.” Ironic, witty and sad. I liked it very much.

Farenheit 451 – Ray Bradbury
“It was a pleasure to burn.”

Most people read this book in high school. But I read it for the first time last year, partly because Mr. Bradbury had just passed away and partly because he was one of Kaz’s favorite authors. The story is set in the not too distant future in a world where books are outlawed and firemen are sent to start fires instead of put them out. I’m not normally a science fiction reader, but I couldn’t put it down and kept talking about it to anyone who would listen for months. The story resonated on many levels, not the least of which because it felt so damn plausible.

The Disappearance – A primer of Loss – Genevieve Jurgensen
“You never knew our daughters, neither did you know me as I was when they were alive.”

Ms. Jurgensen writes about losing her two young daughters, age 4 and 7, on the same day to a drunk driver… and how she recovered from this unimaginable loss. I won’t say any more than that except that this book, along with The Diving Bell, made me cry the most. Perhaps coincidence, perhaps not, but both authors are French.

If you have any book recommendations, or thoughts about the books listed, please feel free to share.

Part Three will list books that have been recommended to me, as well as quotes from some of the books mentioned.


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A Reading List for Grief (Part 1 of 3)

If you are grieving, or even if you’re not, you might want to check out some of these books. They are all fine books on their own, but it just so happens I read them all after Kaz died. I have broken the list into three parts. Part One lists the books I read in the first 6 months (in chrono order). Part Two will list the books I read in the following year. Part Three will list some of my favorite quotes from these books, as well as what I’m reading now. I’ve included the first line from each book under the title.

A Grief Observed – C.S. Lewis

“No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear.”

This book is such a classic, someone handed it to me at Kaz’s memorial. Author C.S. Lewis describes his experience of losing his wife after her long struggle with cancer. Amazon describes it as “a beautiful and unflinchingly honest record of how even a stalwart believer can lose all sense of meaning in the universe, and how he can gradually regain his bearings.” Of course, when I read it, I related to the former not the latter, so the end of the book when he describes his renewed sense of faith annoyed me. But it is a beautiful book, very well-written and accessible. Might be interesting to read it again.

The Year of Magical Thinking – Joan Didion

“Life changes fast.”

Described as “an unflinching account of the sudden loss of her husband which occurred while their only child was in a coma in a hospital, this book is considered another classic. The language is sparse, simple but expertly put together to place you in the mind of a woman who is in the midst of both a huge loss (her husband) and a huge crisis (her daughter). As she jets back and forth from NYC to Los Angeles, the story also jumps around in place and time.” Interestingly, I had the opposite reaction to this book than to A Grief Observed. I related to the end more than the beginning. It’s hard to articulate, but Didion’s writing style is both emotionally distant and emotionally powerful at the same time. I found myself unable to read more than a page or two at a time, and would have to leave the book alone for days in between.

The Alchemist – Paulo Coelho

“The boy’s name was Santiago.”

I had read this book before and loved it. After Kaz died, I saw it on the shelf and decided to read it again. Honestly, I think this is one you can read over and over and each time find something new. The story is about a young shepherd who decides to leave the comfort of his simple life in a small Spanish town in search of treasure in Egypt. Along the way he meets all kinds of interesting characters, falls in love and learns about himself and life. It’s not about grief, but about accepting change, following your passion and “listening to the signs” the universe gives you. Because it’s told in a parable, it doesn’t feel preachy. I found it very inspiring and meaningful when I read it the second time.

Man’s Search For Meaning – Viktor E. Frankl

“This book does not claim to be an account of facts and events but of personal experiences, experiences which millions of prisoners have suffered time and again.”

Kaz’s best friend had recommended this book to us during the year of his illness, but neither of us read it. After he died, I decided to see what it was about. Frankl was a psychiatrist who lost his parents, brother, and pregnant wife while he was in four different concentration camps, including Auschwitz. The first half of the book is about his experience in the camps. The second half is his philosophy on how he and others survived, which (put very simply) he says was a combination of luck and attitude. It’s a fascinating and surprisingly easy read. You might not agree with everything he says, but for a man to have gone through that much loss and still be able to see the positive in life, is really quite remarkable.

Bridget Jones’s Diary – Helen Fielding

“Sunday 1 January – 129 lbs. (but post-Christmas), alcohol units 14 (but effectively covers 2 days as 4 hours of party was on New Year’s Day), cigarettes 22, calories 5424.”

After reading those heavy books, I needed a break and read Bridget Jones’s Diary. It was highly satisfying. I laughed out loud many times. Then I watched the movie and laughed again.

If you would like to share what you read, are reading, or think we should read, please do so in the comment section.


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Looking Forward

Like I said in previous post, I don’t do “resolutions” anymore. Resolutions are promises I used to make, usually to better myself in some way. This was a common one: “I’m going to go on a diet and lose 20lbs this year.” Twelve months later, I was the same weight or heavier and would make the same resolution, “but this time I really mean it!”

Other resolutions I would make: “I’m going to read more books.” “I’m going to volunteer.” “I’m going to be a nicer, more thoughtful person.” “I’m going to respond to emails in a more timely fashion.” All fine sentiments but c’mon. We are who we are and we rarely change our personalities and habits due to our own volition. It’s not impossible, but I think more often, we change because of life events that cause us to change, or sometimes because we are inspired/affected by someone else’s life event.

One of my favorite quotes from Paulo Coelho’s THE ALCHEMIST: “When something evolves, everything around that thing evolves as well.”

I am a different woman now than I was when my husband was alive, less because I set out to be this way, more because the experience of loving, caregiving, losing and grieving him has caused me to learn, grow and mature.

Do I want to lose weight, read more, be a nicer, more thoughtful person and faster on email? Hell yes! But those are lifelong issues, in the background to everything else, not the focus.

All that to say… I do think of the year as a clean slate of sorts in terms of goals, and I do believe there is power in writing them down.

Last year I wrote down (among other things):
“Learn how to ride a motorcycle”
“Baby and/or dog”
“Blog”

I did those things, opting for dog instead of baby (for now).

This year I’m writing down the following:
“Get paid to write”
“Get published”
“More space” (meaning more physical space to live and work in)

And that’s it.

I hope to report back next year and say, “I did those things too.”

What’s on your list?


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Looking Back

The end of the year is traditionally a time of reflection. I gave up on making “resolutions” a long time ago but I do believe in acknowledging the accomplishments of the past year, and setting goals for the New Year.

Last year around this time, I wrote some general goals on a bunch of 3×5 index cards and pinned them to the bulletin board in my home office. When I packed for the writer residency, I looked up at these cards and thought, “Wow, I actually did what I set out to do.” In truth, I did more than what was on those cards.

In 2012, I…

– Survived the first year of grief, including the anniversary of K’s seizures, hospice, our wedding and his passing.

– Took a Caribbean dance class, stepping waaaayyyy out of my comfort zone to learn traditional dances from Jamaica, Trinidad, Barbados, Cuba, Belize and Puerto Rico.

– Wrote my first book and gave it to my mentor, closest family and friends for feedback.

– Went to my first ever writer’s conference (the first professional event since K’s passing) and pitched my book to strangers and agents, in addition to learning a heck of a lot.

– Applied to at least a dozen writer residencies and competitions, got rejected by most, accepted to one, and still waiting to hear on a couple of others.

– Learned how to ride a motorcycle and took my first ride on the streets of LA.

– “Faux quit” my job (i.e. expressed the desire to but didn’t formally quit because I realized it was a mistake).

– Started this blog.

– Adopted a puppy.

– Started writing a television pilot.

– Got a leave of absence from my job in order to attend Vermont writer’s residency.

– Sent out all the Thank You cards to people who helped me and K that I didn’t have energy to send out last year.

I did all of these things despite many tears, fears and doubts. And if I can do it, you can do it too.

To those of you still in the tightest grip of grief, I encourage you to keep processing, expressing and feeling your feelings. But please don’t give up on life. Your loved one would want you to keep going, keep pursuing your dreams and aspirations, and he/she is rooting for you to succeed.

For me personally, I feel almost an obligation to live the life my husband wanted for me, to do the things he can no longer do, things we talked about but can no longer experience together (in a physical sense). I am inspired by him every day to keep trying and to not give up. It’s been challenging to say the least, but his love and strength of character carries me through.

Tomorrow, I’ll write my goals for 2013.