riding bitch

The life of a writer and survivor of loss.


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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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On The Road Again

Fact: shopping for a car is a nightmare, especially if you’re car-illiterate like I am. There are so many different types of cars (within each model at least three sub-sets, basic, intermediary or “all the bells and whistles”), and so many factors, like miles per gallon, hybrid, electric or regular, 4 vs 6 cylinders, 2 vs 2.5 liter engines, financing rates (APR), and so on. You must choose between buying new or used. If the latter, from a dealership or private owner. Either way, unless you’re rich, you have to haggle, something I’m terrible at.

I purchased my first car, a 2-door hatchback, at age 24, one week after getting my driver’s license, from my mother’s mechanic, an old family friend.  Still, my older brother came with me to ask all the proper questions. I had no idea what I was doing. I barely knew how to drive. Did that stop me from driving across country to Los Angeles alone? No, it did not. In fact, that was how I really learned to drive, especially on freeways. Several years and road trips to Las Vegas and San Francisco later, the hatchback died in a junkyard on the outskirts of the city.

I bought car #2, an old, clunky, American sedan, from my L.A. mechanic. When I picked up my New York City relatives from the airport, the kids exclaimed, “It’s like riding in a car service car!” It did feel like I was driving a taxi most of the time. That car didn’t even make it to the junk yard. It died on the side of the road in North Hollywood.

After that, I got a Toyota, used but looked like new, from a dealership. I drove it all over the place and took so-so care of it, but the year Kaz was sick I didn’t do much more than gas it up. The day I finally took it to the shop (after he died), my mechanic told me it wasn’t just low on oil – it had NO oil. No wonder it sounded like a lawn mower.

To its credit, the Toyota hung in there. I don’t know how long it had no oil, but apparently not long enough to completely destroy the engine. To be on the safe side, I didn’t make any super long road trips, had it tuned up regularly and said many prayers while on the road these past two years. When I got the puppy last year, she took some of her teething frustration out on the backseat seatbelts, one day giving me the fright that she had actually swallowed a portion (she hadn’t). Needless to say, the Toyota went through a lot. 

Part of the “get my shit together” quest has been to acquire a new car before my current one ends up dead on the side of the road like its predecessors. I actually started looking a little over a month ago. I didn’t want to blog about it until the process was behind me. Well, now it is.

After five weeks, dozens of test drives with all types of car salesmen using every trick in the book to try and convince me to buy, I finally found my car – a 4-door hatchback with a sun roof! This time both my father and brother helped me. I actually called my brother from the dealership before signing the papers (waking him up on the east coast), because the salesman had just pitched me an additional warranty at the last minute for “only” an extra $1650 (he advised me to pass).

The nightmare is over. I can get back to writing on the weekends, start taking road trips, maybe even go camping. The only thing is I forgot the garage clicker in my old car, so I have to drive back to the dealership tonight to retrieve it.

Do you have a car buying story/experience?

This post is part of the the Daily Post’s “Planes, Trains & Automobiles” prompt.


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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


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To Vermont or Not to Vermont

This post is a bit of “thinking out loud.” I have a big decision to make based on some recent news.

The good news is I’ve been accepted for a 4-week writer residency at the Vermont Studio Center starting in January. http://www.vermontstudiocenter.org

The bad news is I can’t bring my puppy Ruby. My day job might not grant me a leave of absence. VSC offered me a partial fellow, so it costs money. Boarding/traveling with Ruby will also cost money.  (Regarding travel, I just learned that all the major airlines except United ban Pit Bulls and other “dangerous breeds.” I guess I’ll be flying United if I go.)

To Vermont or not to Vermont, that is the question.

On this morning’s drive to work, I thought of my late husband Kaz, who used to tell me the following when faced with decisions: “Write out the pros and cons, see which list is longer.” I never actually did it though, not literally. I would think in my head of the pros and cons and end up making decisions based on emotion (to good and bad results).

This time I’m going to honor him by taking his advice.

The Pros

  1. I get to write for 4 uninterrupted weeks in Vermont. I could finish my book and/or write something new. I can also continue blogging.
  2. I have wanted to leave my day job for some time, but only if an opportunity presented itself. This might be it. 
  3. VSC is a prestigious institution and would look good on the resume (good for future residency and job applications).
  4. I would meet other writers and artists, connections that could help in the future.
  5. I would get out of LA for a stretch, another thing I’ve been wanting to do.
  6. I would get to see my East Coast family around the holidays and they would get to meet Ruby. (I would board her in Brooklyn across the street from my sister, or in Vermont, 3 miles down the road from the Center.)

The Cons

  1. Going to Vermont would cut into my savings by approximately 15%.
  2. If I don’t get a leave of absence and quit my job, that would be very scary.
  3. Certain family members would give me a hard time about quitting my job (if it comes to that).
  4. Flying with a dog is also risky and scary.
  5. I would have to figure out a lot of logistics (what to do with my apartment, car, dog, etc.) in a short amount of time. That will be stressful.

I’m pressed to think of more cons. Can you? It seems like most of them are fear-based, justifiable fear but fear nonetheless. Maybe it’s a matter of getting over the fear and taking a calculated risk? Would I be crazy for leaving my job? Any thoughts or advice would be appreciated.

Btw, when I presented this dilemma to T last night (refer to “Friday Night Frights” for who T is), she lowered her chin and looked at me as if over a pair of invisible glasses. “I don’t even know why you’re questioning it, Niva.  You’re obviously going.”

Gotta love T.