riding bitch

The life of a writer and survivor of loss.


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A Life Worth Living (Daily Prompt)

Yesterday, I ran into a colleague and fellow writer in the hallway at work. “I gotta get outta here,” he said, shaking his head, “THIS year.” “Me too,” I responded and raised my right hand. We high-fived each other and parted in opposite directions back to our assistant desks. 

When I interviewed for this job, my late husband Kaz had just been diagnosed with terminal cancer, and we had just become engaged. We had no idea how long he would live, let alone work. We needed another steady income, support network, all the benefits and stability that come from a regular 9-5 gig.  

The following year, as life became a swirling storm of stress, unknowns, and emotional highs and lows, my boring assistant job became an oasis. A place where things were normal, where my responsibilities were easy and banal, even pleasantly (at the time) mind-numbing, and where the stakes weren’t life or death. I was so grateful, I started baking things and bringing them to work. Even Kaz was surprised by that. I worked full-time throughout his illness until he went on hospice. Then I took several weeks of personal leave. I returned to work three weeks after he passed away. May 2014 will be my four year anniversary, the longest I’ve been at any job.

I had wanted to quit immediately. After seeing his young, vibrant life end so short and so quickly, my soul screamed for a more purposeful existence. The banal, mind-numbing routine that I once appreciated now seemed like a dead-end, and I suddenly realized everyone I worked with was miserable. But I could no more leave my job than I could lift a car. Grief was like a choke-hold, making me physically weak and mentally delirious. Depression lead to a complete lack of motivation. Even after the depression lifted, I still felt utterly confused as to what do do with my life.

I can’t say any of those reasons are why I’m still here now. Now, I’m basically biding my time, building up my arsenal and stockpiling my supplies for the day I eventually leave. Ever since the Vermont residency, I’ve been slowly but consistently making progress towards my career goals. In the past six months alone, I have accomplished the following:

Made an exploratory trip to Georgia and new contacts, completed a new director’s reel (you can see it here), took a television pilot writing class and a seminar on how to write a film business plan, continued writing memoir and received valuable notes from a trusted/respected colleague, wrote a new bio, continued developing feature film screenplay and received notes on that too, joined several professional organizations and started networking again, applied to two fellowship programs, did my taxes (early!), started Tweeting (@nivaladiva), accrued almost 2,000 followers to this blog, and almost 1,000 followers on Instagram (@nivaandruby).

Life has been hectic lately, and it’s about to get more so. I recently blogged about dating, but honestly, that’s not a priority right now. What matters most to me, other than my health, family and friends, is my career. Call me crazy, but I don’t want to work merely to pay the bills (which this job barely does anyway). I want to enjoy and be mentally and creatively challenged by my work. I want to work with people who inspire and push me to be a better artist. I also want to make significantly more money than I do now.

My finger has been on the “quit” button for some time now and pretty soon, I’m gonna pull the trigger. It’s scary as hell to think about what will happen after that. I literally wake up nights thinking: “I know how I plan to make money, but will that plan actually work? Can I make enough money?” The optimist in me says “Yes! Just stick to the plan.” The doubter in me is tied up and gagged until further notice.

In response to today’s Daily Prompt: If You Leave


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The Excitement Never Ends

It’s been a busy couple of weeks, including a motorcycle ride with my old Harley Davidson instructor and a trip to New York City for the Labor Day weekend. I’ll replay the highlights here as best I can.

My first moto ride, almost a year ago

My first moto ride, almost a year ago

To the right is a pic of the first time I rode a motorcycle on my own (not in class), in October 2012. Since it had been so long, I was pretty nervous about getting back on two wheels.

Turns out, I had nothing to worry about. Everything came back to me easily, and I remembered why I love this new sport. Riding a motorcycle makes me feel more alive than anything else. It is definitely scary, but in a way that exhilerates and keeps me on my toes. It reminds me of Kaz in a visceral way, the closest I can get to his tough but sweet energy. I used to love sitting behind him on a motorcycle. It boosts my energy and confidence through the roof.  I am now ready for the next step – buying my first bike. More about that later.

After that, I went to New York for the weekend, leaving Ruby behind for the first time and miraculously not feeling guilty about it. She stayed with a friend whom she loves, near the beach, in a house with a yard and another older, female pit. No classes, no training, she could sleep and/or play all day. She was on vacation too! And frankly, it was nice to get a break and another reminder: I am more than just this dog’s mom.

To celebrate my first few moments of freedom, I had dinner at Encounter, the spaceship-shaped restaurant at Los Angeles International Airport. If you ever have some time to kill at LAX, this place is worth checking out just for fun.

Encounter exterior

Encounter exterior

Encounter interior

Encounter interior

View from Encounter

You can watch planes take off from inside

I flew the red-eye, so the next morning I saw my father, who had driven across country from San Francisco to NYC in his now infamous, new Porsche.Porsche  At first, he said he wouldn’t let me drive it because he didn’t trust my driving. I was actually prepared to accept this, but about half an hour later, he changed his mind!Driving the porsche

Words cannot express how nervous I was behind the wheel. Not only is this car less than a month old and (as I was reminded repeatedly) worth A LOT of money, but it’s also REALLY powerful and loud. I don’t think I ever got over 30 miles per hour. But what a smooth ride. I definitely have to go visit him in SF soon to take it for another spin. Preferrably on a highway.

Once my father left, I spent the rest of the time with my sister and her family in and around Brooklyn. I was there for the re-opening block party of Sunny’s Bar, a dive bar in Red Hook that dates all the way back to the 1890s and was almost destroyed by Hurricane Sandy.  

Sunny's bar 2

I saw a performance by Syrian musician Omar Souleyman in Pioneer Works, a large gallery space in Red Hook owned by artist Dustin Yellin. I haven’t danced that hard in a long time, and am definitely now a fan of Mr. Souleyman’s.

Omar Souleyman in Central Park, 2011 [photo source: David Andrako]

Omar Souleyman in Central Park, 2011 [photo source: David Andrako]

Below are two pics I took of the large Dustin Yellin piece that was standing in the lobby of Pioneer Works. From the front it looks like a 3D statue, but from the side you see that it’s actually a multi-layered glass structure.

Dustin Yellin piece (front view)

Dustin Yellin piece (front view)

Dustin Yellin piece (side view)

Dustin Yellin piece (side view)

I had drinks in the Red Hook Bait &Tackle bar, which looks like this: 

Bait and Tackle interior

And brunch with fellow blogger Caitlin Kelly of Broadside at the Spice Market in Manhattan, which looks like this:

SpiceMarket interior

I was both excited and nervous to meet Caitlin. A) I’d never left the matrix to meet another blogger before, and had no idea what to expect from a real, live person. B) Right before our scheduled time, I discovered that I’d left both my ATM card and my driver’s license in a different purse. Yes, I had driven to the meeting, in my brother-in-law’s car.

Again, turns out I had nothing to fear. Caitlin and I ate, drank and gabbed for a total of 8 hours; the one credit card I did have covered my share of the bill; and I didn’t get stopped by the police on the way home. Very lucky indeed, since I ended up taking pictures on and around the Brooklyn Bridge.

Driving Brooklyn BridgeDriving Brooklyn Bridge 2

One screening of The Butler and marathon session of Project Runway  (all of Season 7) with my 11 year old niece later, and it was time to go home.

Unfortunately, that IS where the excitetment ends, as Los Angeles does in no way compare to NYC. Still, it’s good to be back with Ruby and back in our routine. Here’s hoping I can ride the momentum of this trip for another few months, or at least until I get a motorcycle.

[in response to the Daily Post: Tell us about the last thing you got excited about — butterflies-in-the-stomach, giggling, can’t-wait excited]

What was the last thing that got you can’t-wait excited?


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Daily Prompt: An Unlikely Friendship

A while back I blogged about my mother-in-law. Today’s post is about my father-in-law, Ray. He is my late husband’s father, and like Kaz and my own father, is African American. Unlike Kaz, my father and me, he is also deeply religious. I mention this only to underscore that, despite our different views on many topics, Ray and I have become good friends. We’ve never met in person, but we’ve talked on the phone every 2-3 weeks since Kaz passed away two years ago.

Ray lives in Florida, about 1.5 hours away from Sanford. The other night, while discussing recent events in that city and how we wish people could relate to each other in a more humane way, Ray said: “Did I ever tell you about my friend in the KKK?”

Me: “Uh, no.”

Ray: “It started in the late 70’s. I was living in Tuson, Arizona at the time and had just joined this club for racing radio controlled power boats on the lake there. After a while, I noticed this one White guy wasn’t talking to me. In fact, he just ignored me altogether. I asked some of the other members, ‘What’s with that guy?’ They said, ‘Oh, don’t bother with him, he’s KKK.’

Well, I wasn’t gonna let something like that stop me from talking to him. One day I noticed that his boat wasn’t doing too well. So I went over to him and asked if he’d considered using a different propeller. He just looked at me strange. I told him, ‘If you use the __ propeller, you might get a better result.’ Then I walked away.

The next time I saw him, he said, ‘Hey, I changed my propeller. You were right.’ And we started talking. His name was Pat and his wife had recently left him for the preacher who lived next door.

After a few weeks of friendly banter, I said, ‘Pat, can I ask you something?’ He said, ‘Sure.’ I said, ‘Are you in the KKK?’ He said he was. I said, ‘Can you tell me why you don’t like Black people?’ He said that it says in the Bible that G-d cursed man by making him Black. I asked him to show me where in the Bible it says that.

For the next few weeks, he tried to find the passage, but of course, he couldn’t. Finally he came back to me and said, ‘I couldn’t find it.’ I said, ‘Cause it’s not in there, Pat.’ He said ever since he was a boy he was taught that Blacks were inferior. I said, ‘Do you think I’m inferior?’ ‘No,’ he said. I said, ‘Do you dislike me?’ ‘No, not now,’ he said.

After that, we became better friends. He left the KKK. The night he invited me over his house for dinner, my wife still stayed up all night worrying about me. We didn’t have cell phones back then. I told her I’d be fine, but you know, she couldn’t help it. When I finally came home, she was so relieved. I told her, ‘All we did was play pool.’

A few years later, we decided to leave Tuscon and move to Florida. When I told Pat, he started crying. ‘You’re my best friend,’ he said. We were both crying. It was sad. But you know what? To this day, Pat and I speak on the phone once a month. He’s still my best friend. I would do anything for him, and him for me.”

I thanked Ray for sharing this story, and all night kept thinking about it. The next day I called him again to ask if I could blog about it. “Sure,” he said with a laugh.

Ray, this one’s for you.

[In response to today’s Daily Prompt: A friend in need]


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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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Keepin’ It Real

Did you see today’s Daily Prompt? It asks: To what extent is your blog a place for your own self-expression and creativity vs. a site designed to attract readers? If sticking to certain topics and types of posts meant your readership would triple, would you do it? I have described my blog before as a hybrid between personal expression and helpful (or at least, interesting) information. Sometimes I feel like I’m veering too much in one direction or like I should be sticking to one topic instead of bouncing all around.

After the Freshly Pressed post I wondered if I should post about grief more because that seemed to resonate with A LOT of people. Since then I’ve wondered if all the people who followed the blog because of that post have been like, Why is she talking about her puppy and job woes? Get back to the grief posts, lady!

The truth is the last couple of weeks I’ve been really emotional, not just because of the interview, not just because of my job and everything else, but because this Friday, May 3, is the two-year anniversary of Kaz’s passing. If I was only interested in attracting readers I suppose I would be mining this ‘opportunity’ but instead I’ve been posting about everything but and took one week off.

Grief is weird. Sometimes we want to face it head on, delve into it like sinking into a warm bath or free falling off the emotional cliff. Other times, we want to avoid it. If I’m honest, this time around I’ve been feeling the latter. I’ve been more focused on the future. I’m impatient to make something of my life. I feel like time is running out, not in a doomsday way but like an I’m-not-getting-any-younger kind of way.

The grief is still there, like an itch that won’t go away. Around anniversaries like this, it’s impossible to escape. Because it’s not just me, it’s all of his family and friends, their texts, emails, calls and facebook posts. Even if I wanted to bury my head in the sand, I can’t. Loss is all around me and I’m trying to navigate it with blinders on. I feel like I haven’t been honoring this impending anniversary to some extent. I’ve been aware of it for weeks but I haven’t been giving it the weight it deserves. I keep thinking I’m past certain things but clearly I’m not. Which brings me back to the blog.

In the About page I say that the blog will be reflective of my life, it’s not just about one thing and will evolve over time. It is certainely not just about grief. I guess you could say it’s about recovering from grief, about trying to pull oneself out of the muck and live again, about trying to reacclimate to the world and reestablish one’s identity after being part of an US, and about persuing one’s dreams and not giving up.

It may not be a straight line, this blog. It may be more like a winding road that has dips and peaks, straight parts and curves, but  is slowly, ever so gradually on an incline. One day maybe we’ll reach the peak and we’ll look back at the road traveled and say, ah, I get it now.


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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