riding bitch

The life of a writer and survivor of loss.


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When Life & Grief Come Full Circle

Finally, the whirlwind of the last few weeks is over. I was in Los Angeles for ten days, upstate with family for a few days, and again with family in NYC this past holiday weekend.

As I mentioned in the last post, the trip to LA was excellent. I saw many dear friends, made some new ones, and re-acquainted with a couple of folks I hadn’t seen in years. I had brunch with my amazing writer’s group posse, met up with my former boss and had dinner with my former film studio sisters. I had lunch with my mentor, and a business meeting with my manager to discuss a television pilot.

Then I attended BinderCon, an all female (including female-identifying) writers conference, and spoke on a panel called Death and Loss: Women Writing Out Loud, along with several other amazing writers, some of whom you might recognize.

BinderCon picIf I had to sum up the entire experience of the last few weeks in one word, it would be validating.

Being in LA confirmed certain things I already knew, but appreciated being reminded of, namely: I have a genuine, diverse and strong community of friends and colleagues there; I know the city like the back of my hand; and I always have a place to stay there. I was thanking my lucky stars every single day for these things. LA is not a place I would want to start getting to know now.

To my relief, I also didn’t want to move back, at least not in the immediate future. If I did, it would be for work, and I would want the east coast to stay the home base. It feels good to be certain of that.

Furthermore, the trip proved to me (and possibly to others) once and for all that moving to New York was a good thing. Not only have I accomplished a lot in the past six months, but also living and writing outside of the “business,” and writing more than just film and television, has made me less dependent on LA. I came back feeling more grounded and confident than ever.

Another surprise was that I managed just fine without Ruby. I missed her, but it was honestly nice to have a little break and concentrate on the matters at hand. It gave me huge peace of mind to know that she was being well taken care of by family and dog cousins. It’s good to know we have this option for the next time.

The writer’s conference was validating of both my writing and grief work. If you had told me four years ago when I was sobbing every day that I would be speaking about my grief to a room full of strangers (as a visitor to LA, not a resident), I wouldn’t have believed you. On top of that, to be in the company of such accomplished writers was a huge honor. At one point I had to pinch myself, like “I can’t believe I’m here!”

Having a

Having a “pinch me” moment.

Lastly, the trip was a significant milestone in terms of my grief. I had feared being bombarded by “triggers” the entire week – and I did have a couple of emotional moments – but in general I was more than okay. Rather than feeling tethered to the weight of my grief, I actually felt buoyed by the certainty that Kaz was proud of me. I could feel him and his pride everywhere I went.

Kaz used to lovingly call me a “soldier” after overcoming particularly difficult challenges. And that’s what I felt like in Los Angeles — like a once battle-weary soldier now returning triumphantly to the scene of battle, stronger, more focused and at peace. I am extremely grateful for him and his never-ending love, for what these past few weeks taught me, and for my current life in upstate New York.

Now, Ruby and I are decompressing, sleeping and getting re-acquainted with our humble little house and old routine. I have tons to do, including a book to finish, but I’m re-energized to make it all happen. The weather is warmer. The birds are chirping non-stop, and the flowers are just starting to bloom. It’s as if everything around is us is coming back to life with a big cry of “Onward!”

spring flowers


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Going Back to Cali, Cali

The next time I post, I will be in Los Angeles again. I’m going for a 10-day visit, at the end of which I’m participating in a 3-day writer’s conference and speaking on a panel about Writing About Loss. Before I leave, I’m being interviewed on HuffingtonPost Live (tomorrow, Thursday, March 19 at 4:00pm ET). Needless to say, it’s a very busy time, and I’m more than a little stressed.

I’m excited to go back to Los Angeles, but also nervous. When I tell people this, they don’t understand why. I’m not sure I totally understand either. I did live there for 19 years. But there’s something about going back to a place you’ve left.

Part of me is nervous that once I’m there, I’ll regret having left, like I’ll be walking (driving) around feeling homesick the whole time.

Another part of me is anxious about being asked the same questions over and over again: “How’s it going in NY? How do you like it? Are you glad you left? Are you coming back?”

I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that just the thought of being in such a big city, dealing with that traffic, makes my stomach tighten a little. I’ve basically been living in the woods for the past eight months — in a quiet, zero traffic, distraction-free, practically people-free zone. I’ve been in “writing mode,” which is a lot different than “meet and greet and speak publicly mode.” Yes, I’ve been to NYC periodically, but I stay with family in Brooklyn and tend to keep my activities local.

Another source of nerves (and emotions) is that being in Los Angeles will remind me of Kaz in a way that I haven’t experienced in a while. Living in NY, where Kaz and I never visited together and therefore shared no memories of, has been a sort of respite from all the emotional triggers that come with familiar sites in a shared geographical location. I know I will be alright, but it’s the not knowing where and when I will encounter these triggers that makes my nervous.

Finally, my heart aches at leaving Ruby behind (it was too complicated and expensive to bring her). I’ve never been away from her for this long, and am already feeling the longing. She’ll be staying with family and going to doggie daycare during the day, so we’ll both be busy. But it will be strange to be apart. Our days upstate are, if nothing else, an exercise in routine. Everything happens around the same time every day. We’re nearly always together, and she is nearly always off leash, running free.

All that said, I am looking forward to the trip, to seeing all my friends, feeling heat, going to the beach, meeting many other talented writers, getting as much done as possible, visiting the mountain where I released Kaz’s ashes and more.

A lot has happened since I left Los Angeles. Maybe going back will remind me of how far I’ve come. Maybe it will remind me why I left.

Ironically, this will be my first time visiting Los Angeles. I will miss upstate NY, but I’ll be back soon.

Looking forward to sharing the journey with you, as always. xo

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The Ghost of LA Woman

Yesterday's sunset, corner of Olympic and Arlington Ave

Yesterday’s sunset, corner of Olympic and Wilton Ave

What’s lurking in the drafts section of your dashboard?

I couldn’t resist today’s Daily Post because I only had one draft post, which was just a title: LA Woman. The idea came to me a couple of months ago while driving around, or rather stuck in traffic going nowhere fast, in Los Angeles. I heard the song LA Woman by The Doors in my head and knew I had to write a post about this place.

I first arrived in LA in August 1995, a somewhat innocent 24-year-old, eager to start her first year at graduate film school. I drove here from Philadelphia in a two-door Acura hatchback, my first car, which I had purchased one week before I left, ten days after getting my license.

First impressions of LA: it was beautiful, hot, HUGE, a labyrinth of highways and streets I was sure I would never be able to figure out. On days off I would hop in my car, which had a sunroof, and drive around listening to music, not minding if I got lost (this was before Navigation and GPS so I got lost A LOT), from Hollywood to the Valley to Beverly Hills to Route 1 by the beach. Everything seemed to sparkle and shine. I felt both as if I knew this city, which I had seen umpteen times in movies, and as if I didn’t know it at all and would never truly penetrate its mystery.

Since I didn’t know anyone, I would often go out by myself to explore the bars and clubs. It didn’t take long to figure out the best places to spot celebrities were at the fancy hotels like The Beverly Hills Hotel, The Four Seasons, The Peninsula. At the former, in the same night, I once saw Dustin Hoffman eating dinner and Barbara Streisand walked by me at the bar. I couldn’t believe it!

Over the years, I would meet many actors, musicians, directors, producers and other film folks at school lectures, various jobs and industry events. The novelty factor gradually wore off, as did the fascination with the nightlife, Beverly Hills, fancy hotels, and so on. The intense loneliness I used to feel in the first few years was replaced by a fluid sense of community, film school friends, colleagues and the few regular non-industry people I know.

When I met Kaz, who was from a D.C., the city came alive in a different way. We used to joke about our mutual love/hate relationship with LA, and love sharing those “I can’t believe I live here” moments. One time he passed Snoop Dogg in the hallway at work, and went to a party where Kobe Bryant showed up in a helicopter. Another time we went to a Passover seder at a famous director’s house with the granddaughter of an American film legend seated beside us. And many more such moments.

Since his passing, I’ve tried to redefine my relationship to the city. How long do I want to live here? Should I go back East and be closer to family? Should I hold out a little longer and see if I can get the career going? LA feels like a combination of high school and metropolis, playground and work center, a series of urban facades and breathtaking natural landscapes. It rarely feels as comfortable to me as the East Coast, but it’s home nonetheless.

These days, my favorite place to hang out is the dog park, usually with natty hair, dressed in my most tattered clothing. For some reason, Ruby loves rubbing her muddy tennis ball on my leg instead of just dropping it at my feet. I’ve even started meeting people there, and the other day I invited a friend to join me even though she’s dog-less. We sat on chairs in the shade and caught up, every now and then pausing to throw the muddy ball to Ruby.

Ah, how things change.

Thanks for encouraging me to finish this post, WordPress!


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A Warm Hello to You From California

One of my favorite sunsets,  late May 2011. the whole city lit up. #losangeles #clouds #sky #sunset #california

Took this pic three weeks after K passed away, late May 2011, from the spot where we got married at Griffith Observatory. It took my breath away then, and still takes my breath away today. I thought I would share it here with you. Can you feel the warmth?


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Little Patch of Green

I miss many aspects of my residency time in Vermont: the beautiful vistas, the quiet, the crisp fresh air, the simplicity of the one-stop-light-two-bar town. I miss being surrounded by other artists, talking about and seeing art every day, the unlimited writing time, privacy and coziness of my office, the lack of responsibilities other than my work-study dishwashing job. I also miss seeing my puppy run around freely at her Vermont doggie daycare.

Home on the ranch

Home on the ranch

She lived on a ranch where the men in the family (grandfather, father, son) work in construction and logging. Their land included 50 acres of woods and a pond, which was frozen when we were there, but in the summer the dogs can swim in it. You can see the small dock below.

VT doggie daycare dogs

When I would come to visit her, every day for 1.5 hours, we did one of two things: play ball or go walking in the woods. On both activities we were always accompanied by the owner’s dog, Izzy.

Izzy, pack leader

Izzy

Izzy was the pack leader of the daycare dogs. She literally policed the other dogs and sort of took Ruby under her wings. She was also faster than all the other dogs and could find a ball buried in 3 feet of snow. I miss Izzy most of all, especially seeing her and Ruby together.

Ruby and Izzy waiting for ball

Ruby and Izzy waiting for ball

Now perhaps you can understand why I felt some pangs of guilt for taking her back to the urban jungle of Los Angeles where our “yard” is a small cement patio.

The good news is we recently learned of an abandoned field in our neighborhood. A neighbor told me about it when our dogs were saying hello to each other.

The other day Ruby and I went to investigate.

It’s a large grassy field, completely enclosed. Apparently, a house used to sit there but was torn down for some unknown reason and nothing’s been built there since. Best of all, it’s literally around the corner from where we live. The only reason I hadn’t seen it before is because it’s not on our normal route. I was surprised that it’s as empty as it is. No broken glass, trash or homeless people. Ruby can run around freely, chasing balls and smelling all there is to be smelled.

I don’t know how long this will last. Technically, we are trespassing. But we make sure to be quiet in the mornings, and we’re not the only ones who go there. The other day we met another woman and her dog. The woman told me that the adjacent neighbors are aware of these trespassing city dogs and their owners, and as long as we’re not being loud, trashing the place or doing drugs, no one seems to care.

Vermont it ain’t, but it’s our little patch of green for now.

Ruby in field2

Ruby profile in field