riding bitch

The life of a writer and survivor of loss.


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On Flow and Foundation

It’s been a busy month, lots of writing, reading and thinking, the latter mostly about the future. I feel as if on the edge of a precipice, or a bridge, poised to cross over into a new life that is very slowly coming into focus, like a landscape under a receding fog.

Hudson River view

That the future isn’t exactly in focus sometimes scares the living daylights out of me. I don’t do well with unknowns, never have. But the uncomfortableness gives me the chance to practice my new resolve: to have faith, to plan ahead, to be patient (not expect everything to fall into place overnight and then get discouraged when it doesn’t), and, most importantly, to be present and appreciate the Now.

If my posts are becoming redundant with this sentiment, it’s because this period is so intensely about learning to appreciate life again, that is, to feel happiness and joy in the simplest of pleasures, and not just when things are going well. It’s when life isn’t going well that it’s the most challenging to keep that sense of gratitude and inner peace. That is the core of what I’m after, and what I’m trying to practice here, every day.

Oak Hill flats6

It’s funny how life sometimes throws things in your path that are just what you need in the moment. In my monthly book group here, someone recently suggested we read a novel called the Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami.

At first it felt a little daunting (it’s 607 pages of small print), but after a while, I couldn’t put it down. Besides being a great mystery and window into Japanese culture and history, the story felt almost like a philosophical manifesto on “flow”: when life is in flow, when it is out of flow, and when there is no flow at all, like at the bottom of a dry well.

Spring creek

For most of the story, the main character is dealing with several losses, in a state of confusion and passive. He lets things happen to him, instead of making them happen.

But he’s actually not entirely passive. Rather, he is consciously going with the flow… allowing people to come in and out of his life, listening and observing everything closely, not resisting his emotions but allowing them to be, while all the while acknowledging that his emotions aren’t him. He also spends time confronting his greatest fears (and regulating his breathing) in a solitary place, where he sometimes cannot distinguish between his imagination and reality. But by doing these things, he finds his way back to his true self, and regains the necessary strength and self-determination to take action.

Needless to say, I related to it very much.

Oak Hill flats4 Oak Hill flats5

I have written before about how loss shakes our foundation and changes us. It’s not just the loss itself, it’s how we deal with it years later, how we process and are reborn from the devastation. After loss, there is no going back, not to the person we lost, not to the life we used to lead or the person we used to be. And so we struggle to find ourselves again, and regain our footing in the new world, our new future.

This is how I feel about this period in upstate New York. Here, among the mountains, changing seasons, animals, insects, plants and endless creeks, lakes and rivers, I am both regaining my emotional, spiritual and physical foundation, and learning to go with the flow, not in some esoteric way, but literally shifting my approach to life.

I don’t mind that it’s taking some time. It should take time. This is the foundation on which the rest of my life will rest.

Creek feet


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How Grief Changes Us

One of my first thoughts after my husband passed away (four years ago in May) was “I will never be the same.” Later, I would write in an essay “I am not the same person that I was when he died.” In my post Even Lava Cools Eventually, I described grief as “a molten, bubbling, red-hot river of volcanic lava, unceremoniously destroying everything in its path and reshaping the landscape underneath.”

Lately, I’ve been wondering, has this landscape changed? If so, how?

The most obvious change since Kaz died is that I now live in upstate New York instead of Hollywood, California. My days used to consist of driving across Los Angeles to sit in a cubicle at my day job. Today I write full-time in my home office with my dog sleeping at my feet. Whereas before I took my lunch break in the courtyard of a film studio lot, today I take my breaks outside (rain, snow or shine), where I read and throw the stick for the dog. Sometimes I look around and think, the scenery has changed. Has anything else?

In many ways, I am the same person I was when we met. I’m still an impulsive spender. I still make my bed every morning. I still like old movies, classical music and NPR. I still like the same foods. I still drive over the speed limit. I still worry about the future, though not as much as I used to. And (I think) that is the key to what has changed internally.

When Kaz was alive, it was extremely difficult for me to let go… of anything. I took things personally, worried incessantly, and was extremely hard on myself. My way of mitigating the insecurity, worry and self-blame was to try and control everything. I was a film director who also tried to direct life.

When he became sick, this desire to control everything was both good and bad. On the one hand, it made me a very efficient and organized caregiver. On the other hand, it made me an emotional wreck because I couldn’t handle the uncertainty and, frankly, lack of control that comes with illness. I had signed up for the experience knowing that he had a terminal disease, and yet did everything in my power to stop him from dying. When he wanted to let go, I tried to persuade him otherwise, even getting angry at times.

In a journal entry shortly after his death, I wrote about feeling like a failure, like I (not Kaz) had lost a battle. “My ego feels bruised,” I wrote. “How ridiculous is that?”

I was also angry. I’ve never been very religious, per se, but I do believe in a divine presence, and in those days I was mad as hell at that presence. I felt like we (Kaz, me, his parents, friends) had all been robbed, like a cosmic criminal act had been committed. It was wrong, unfair and unforgivable.

As time passed, and through the course of many discussions, reading and introspection, the anger slowly subsided and I started thinking about things differently.

I came to the conclusion, reluctantly, that there are certain things in life (like almost everything) that I – that no one can control. We cannot control what happens to our loved ones, nor what happens to us to some extent. We cannot control what other people do, or how they think of us. We cannot control the future, the past or even the present.

It was a very hard pill to swallow. There is a part of me that still finds it difficult to accept that bad things happen to good people, that pain and loss is a part of life, and there’s pretty much nothing we can do about it. But the more I accept and make peace with it, the more relaxed I feel, and the more grateful. There’s something about living with the awareness of possible destruction that makes the peaceful present even more precious.

I do still care a great deal about certain things and people. But I no longer obsess about them like I used to. I try very hard to be more present and humble, which comes easier (for me) out here in the countryside, where I’m surrounded by nature and immersed in what is essentially a very simple life. I also try to not be negative towards myself (or others) for imperfections and mistakes.

It sometimes pains me that I learned these lessons too late to apply them to life with Kaz. But when those thoughts come around, I deal with them by doing what I couldn’t do before… I let go.