riding bitch

The life of a writer and survivor of loss.


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Structure: From Frankenstein to Brando

Last week one of my mentors emailed me asking if I had sent him the latest draft of my book. He couldn’t find it and thought he’d lost it. “You didn’t lose it,” I told him. “I haven’t sent it yet.” I was a little embarrassed but also glad that he emailed me. It was the kick in the pants I needed.

My memoir has been a labor of love ever since Kaz died. I’ve been writing and re-writing, putting it down, then diving back in. It has felt a bit like a time traveling project… every time I work on the book, I am transported back to us.

Since I’ve never written a book before, I’ve given the various drafts to several readers for feedback. The most recent reader was a woman who was referred to me by a mutual writer friend. Perhaps because she doesn’t know me personally she ended up giving me some of the best insight. She said that mid-way through the draft she started losing interest and only kept reading because she had to. She said some other things too, but it was this comment that really got me thinking because I’ve heard it before (in so many words) from other readers.

The problem isn’t with the story or the way it’s written. The problem is with the structure. The story reveals itself too much too soon, instead of in a way that makes the reader want to turn the page. It’s also the actual order of events, actual persons involved, actual sources, actual dates and so on. On a certain level, this is necessary for a memoir but on another level, it’s not.

As long as I’m not making anything up, what does it matter if certain things are condensed, re-arranged, placed in a different setting, said out of context, etc? I suppose if it’s too fictional I can always call it a novel. Frankly, this is the least of my concerns right now. My main concern is for it to be a compelling read.

So, I conceived of a new structure, one that is actually more simple than what I had but also more daring. This time I swore to myself I would not get on the computer to figure it out, nor would I index card it. I would do it the old fashioned way… a paper edit.

I sat down with the physical draft, several magic markers, a stapler, and a pair of scissors and went to town. Every scene became a loose piece of paper with a title at the top. I put each scene in a specific pile, in chronological order. Then I put dots on the pages to indicate whether I thought it would go in the first act, second act, third act, etc. With my dot method, I could always re-order the scenes to their original piles should I get lost.

Then I started putting the scenes in the order I thought they should go. Only when I was satisfied that I had an order that made sense did I open my computer to copy and paste scenes so the computer draft mirrored this new paper edit. It was painstaking work.

Now, I’m going through the computer draft and refining, condensing, filling out, also very painstaking and a huge gamble. Once I do this, it will be difficult to go back. I have literally dissected the story and pieced it back together again, like a Frankenstein draft. But the goal is to keep fine-tuning it so Frankenstein turns into a Marlon Brando.

It might take a while but at least I have a vision. It’s actually been in my head all along. I just had to reach the point emotionally where I could execute it as a WRITER, instead of a participant in the drama.


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Two Years

In honor of Kaz’s passing two years ago May 3, 2011, and since I won’t be online tomorrow, I’m reposting Mountaintop, copied below. One love.

— — —

As I continue to heal from a state of heartbrokenness, I am reminded of the phrase stated by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in his last speech: I’ve been to the mountaintop.”

In the context of my life this phrase means, I have known, loved, and been loved by a Good Man.

I lost this man 3 years into our relationship (before we had worked all the kinks out), 11 days after our wedding, to a horrible disease which, coupled with a devastating motorcycle accident, was simply too much to overcome.

Shortly after he passed a girlfriend said to me, “Well, at least you’ve known love.” At the time, the pain was still so fresh I couldn’t find much relief in those words. But even on my darkest days I knew on some instinctual level that she was right.

I had experienced something few people do in a lifetime, the kind of love that makes you walk on hot coals to try and save the other, the kind of love that you read about in novels, the kind of love that makes you write love letters for a year after the other dies.

For a long time, and a variety of reasons, I didn’t always feel that I deserved this love. There had been moments when I doubted or disrespected it due to immaturity and insecurity. Just as the relationship was hitting its stride, he got diagnosed with a terminal illness and everything changed overnight. As things progressed at a deliriously fast pace, a part of me began to awaken, while another part began to shut down in order for the rest of me to keep functioning.

Once he was gone, I had a volcanic eruption of heartbreak and guilt, not uncommon for the surviving spouse/caregiver/less-than-perfect partner. Though my husband had forgiven my shortcomings, I found it difficult to forgive myself. Every time I thought of a good memory, a painful one reared up in front of it, like an eclipse blocking out the sun. It took every ounce of strength to not follow him to the other side.

Another friend told me, “Just hang in there and keep breathing.” Others reassured me that one day I would feel more grateful than devastated, more happy than sad. I couldn’t imagine it, but I also didn’t give up.  He never did and wouldn’t want me to.

Now it’s been 1 year, 6 months and 9 days since I watched him take his last breath, and I can say with cautious optimism that things are better.

I am still heartbroken. I still cry. I still talk to him, write to him, ache and reach out for him. But instead of feeling like my soul has been crushed, it more often feels lifted. Instead of dwelling on all that was lost, I think more often on how to rebuild. Instead of feeling guilty for not knowing better then, I focus on being better now.

Part of this transformation is simply Time. Part of it is all the writing and healing-work I’ve been doing this past year and a half. Part of it is the continued love and support of my family and all of our friends. Part of it is Ruby, my new puppy, who literally re-awakens and strengthens my heart every day.

So, I have been to the mountaintop. And I have seen the Promised Land. I couldn’t get there with my husband, but I have looked over and know that it exists. And in the knowing is the transformation.

Obama inauguration party 1/20/09

Wedding day 4/22/11


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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.


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Mountaintop

As I continue to heal from a state of heartbrokenness, I am reminded of the phrase stated by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in his last speech: I’ve been to the mountaintop.”

In the context of my life this phrase means, I have known, loved, and been loved by a Good Man.

I lost this man 3 years into our relationship (before we had worked all the kinks out), 11 days after our wedding, to a horrible disease which, coupled with a devastating motorcycle accident, was simply too much to overcome.

Shortly after he passed a girlfriend said to me, “Well, at least you’ve known love.” At the time, the pain was still so fresh I couldn’t find much relief in those words. But even on my darkest days I knew on some instinctual level that she was right.

I had experienced something few people do in a lifetime, the kind of love that makes you walk on hot coals to try and save the other, the kind of love that you read about in novels, the kind of love that makes you write love letters for a year after the other dies.

For a long time, and a variety of reasons, I didn’t always feel that I deserved this love. There had been moments when I doubted or disrespected it due to immaturity and insecurity. Just as the relationship was hitting its stride, he got diagnosed with a terminal illness and everything changed overnight. As things progressed at a deliriously fast pace, a part of me began to awaken, while another part began to shut down in order for the rest of me to keep functioning.

Once he was gone, I had a volcanic eruption of heartbreak and guilt, not uncommon for the surviving spouse/caregiver/less-than-perfect partner. Though my husband had forgiven my shortcomings, I found it difficult to forgive myself. Every time I thought of a good memory, a painful one reared up in front of it, like an eclipse blocking out the sun. It took every ounce of strength to not follow him to the other side.

Another friend told me, “Just hang in there and keep breathing.” Others reassured me that one day I would feel more grateful than devastated, more happy than sad. I couldn’t imagine it, but I also didn’t give up.  He never did and wouldn’t want me to.

Now it’s been 1 year, 6 months and 9 days since I watched him take his last breath, and I can say with cautious optimism that things are better.

I am still heartbroken. I still cry. I still talk to him, write to him, ache and reach out for him. But instead of feeling like my soul has been crushed, it more often feels lifted. Instead of dwelling on all that was lost, I think more often on how to rebuild. Instead of feeling guilty for not knowing better then, I focus on being better now.

Part of this transformation is simply Time. Part of it is all the writing and healing-work I’ve been doing this past year and a half. Part of it is the continued love and support of my family and all of our friends. Part of it is Ruby, my new puppy, who literally re-awakens and strengthens my heart every day.

So, I have been to the mountaintop. And I have seen the Promised Land. I couldn’t get there with my husband, but I have looked over and know that it exists. And in the knowing is the transformation.

Obama inauguration party 1/20/09

Wedding day 4/22/11