riding bitch

The life of a writer and survivor of loss.


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Dreaming of Zelda

I recently watched the Amazon series The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. It’s about a 1950s housewife and mother who decides to try and make it as a comedian in an extremely male-dominated field. It took me a little time to get into it, but the show’s endearing quality grew on me. And I love its style. Mrs. Maisel’s parents (the Weissmans) live in a beautiful Upper West Side apartment with multiple bedrooms, bathrooms and sitting rooms, a fireplace, a grand piano (seriously, their apartment is to die for). My favorite part of their life, however, is their Polish housemaid Zelda.

Zelda does everything – she cooks, cleans, shops, answers the phone, wraps the gifts, hires extra help when needed, and probably more. The only thing she doesn’t do is drive. I’m not sure if she lives with the family, but she’s always there, in the morning to hand them their first cup of coffee and at night to clean up after dinner. She doesn’t say much, but her presence is felt. The more I watched the show, the more I noticed her, and thought about her, and started to wonder what it would be like to have a Zelda.

In my life, I’ve experienced Zelda only fleetingly, and never at full capacity. At some point in my childhood, I remember my mother hired a woman to clean our house every other week. When Kaz was very ill, a friend sent a maid service to help clean our apartment once a week, which was extremely generous and greatly appreciated.

The closest thing to a full Zelda experience was when I went to a writing residency at the Vermont Studio Center several years ago. For four blissful weeks, my only responsibility was to clean my clothes (at the local laundromat). Everything else was done for me (and the other residents). My day consisted of walking to the mess hall for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and the rest of the time writing in a private office. It was HEAVEN.

Many art and writing residencies are like this. The whole point is to provide you the time and space to focus solely on your work. It’s such a luxury.

I have a writer friend whose husband does most of the cooking, shopping and cleaning. She used to do these things when he worked, but now he’s retired and they’ve sort of switched roles. She writes all day and comes down for her meals. He takes care of the house. Luckily, he truly enjoys cooking and is very talented. It’s a beautiful thing.

In my house, there is no Zelda, or version of her. There’s only me. Before the pandemic, I had a woman come to clean my house every other week, and a dog walker come twice a week. I was working full-time and would come home on my lunch hour to walk the dog on the other days. Then I was let go. These days, the dog walker comes one afternoon a week (Fridays) and walks Ruby with other dogs, which is good for all three of us.

But if I had the money… you better believe I would hire a Zelda. Maybe more than one – like one for the inside and one for the outside (a gardener). I hope that doesn’t sound terrible – I love my house and know how lucky I am to have it. I just sometimes wish I had some help taking care of it, because everything takes so much time.

I’m fantasizing here… but if I had a Zelda, I wouldn’t have to clean the house, or shop, or do the laundry, or cook every meal, or perform any type of maintenance. I wouldn’t have to mow the lawn, or remember to take out the trash. I could sit in my office all day (writing, of course) and know that meals would be ready when I come down, the house is clean, the dog is walked, the yard is tidy, and absolutely everything is taken care of. What a dream!

This might actually be why I’m working so hard – to be able to hire my very own Zelda one day.

Then again, I can imagine having a Zelda could be a little addictive, and possibly a never-ending cycle.

Like, if I had a lot of money, I would probably get a bigger house, with land, on which I’d put a bigger garden and more animals (I’ve always wanted a horse). Eventually, I might want more than one house, or a house with a guest house. And a pool, and possibly a pond.

Who’s going to take care of all that if not a small army of Zeldas? Can you imagine? It actually sounds like a headache and terribly excessive for one person.

The irony is that, except for certain tasks, I rather enjoy doing most of the chores. I get a strange satisfaction from washing dishes, which I do first thing in the morning. It’s like starting the day with a clean slate and a sense of accomplishment. And I absolutely love to cook. It’s a hobby actually. As is gardening. And of course, you all know how much I love hiking with my dog. So, I don’t know… maybe a part-time Zelda to help with things would be ideal.

Or maybe what I’m really craving is a life partner. Someone to help shoulder the burdens of life, do the chores with, and so many other things.

If you have a Zelda, or partner who helps maintain things and makes life a little easier (btw, I’m not equating a maid with a partner), I hope you realize what a blessing it is. One day, I’ll get there.

In the meantime, I’m fine taking care of myself and my house and my dog on my own.

And to relax in the evenings, I’m re-watching the series Downton Abbey, which is, of course, completely over the top with Zeldas doing everything and then standing silently in the room pretending not to listen to your conversation (weird). But as Chance the gardener (Peter Sellers) said in the moving Being There, “I like to watch.”

Have a great week, everyone!


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A Literary Life

typewriters-vintage-retro-style-wood-wallpaper-previewA couple of weeks ago, I was walking with a new writer friend who is disillusioned with her day job. When she said she’s craving a literary life, I responded with an enthusiastic YES! And we mused on what that would actually look like.

My definition of a literary life is one where you make a living as a writer. Perhaps I’m a romantic, but a true literary life also means you’re writing projects that you want to write, as opposed to just writing for money (a combination of both is acceptable).

Examples of people who led/lead literary lives, some more happily than others: Joan Didion, Stephen King, Virginia Woolf, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Toni Morrison, Ernest Hemingway, Ronan Farrow, Shirley Jackson, and countless others.

Ironically, since the pandemic hit and quarantine life began, I’ve been living a semi-literary life, at least getting a taste of it. Being sent home to work and having a light workload afforded me much more time to myself, not to mention the general shutdown of everything and inability to go anywhere.

For the first time, I was home all day and still collecting a paycheck. My time was not entirely my own; I still had to check work emails and be available for conference calls, etc. But this took up only a fraction of the day. The rest of the time I was almost living That Life.

What does a literary life mean exactly? For one thing, it means a lot – and I mean A LOT – of time alone (the primary reason why this life isn’t for everyone).

I live alone so this is easy, but even if I had a partner or roommate, I would still need to spend a large part of my day by myself. Often I wonder if I’ll ever meet another partner who understands and is able to respect my need for long stretches of solitude.

While alone, I am mostly thinking, also watching movies or television shows,  making notes, researching, outlining, reading, talking to myself, and, yes, writing. 

When I’m IN THE ZONE, I rarely answer my phone. I prefer not to deal with people or really the world. I do take breaks but I really try to stay in the zone as much as possible and avoid outside distractions. This is the only way I can concentrate. Even then these measures are not always enough.

Sometimes I have to turn my phone and WiFi completely off. I’ve pulled back from the many volunteering activities I used to do, and, even now that things are opening up again, I only occasionally go out. The few times I did venture out, I was so quiet that people wondered if I was okay.

By no means, am I a workaholic.

I’m less confident that I’m not becoming a bit of a hermit.

I’m not sure everyone understands my behavior, how seriously I take my writing, or the countless hours necessary to write something good (it doesn’t help that I’m a slow writer).

Regardless, I’m absolutely determined to make a living as a writer… and every day I get closer.

In the past three months, I’ve managed to finish my screenplay and write two freelance articles. I’m now in the very early stages of writing the next screenplay. 

Soon, my time will be 100% my own, as my job let me go due to COVID (my last day is July 31). But I’m trying to think of it in a positive way. Like maybe this is another step towards my goal.

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Why Am I Not Writing?

I heard today on the radio an interview with someone who wrote a successful (NYT bestseller) memoir. After hearing a few excerpts read out loud, I exclaimed to myself and my dog, both of us in the kitchen, “I’m a better writer.”

It wasn’t jealousy or bitterness that motivated me. It was absolute clarity and self-awareness: I know what I’m capable of. I know that I’m good. I know, if I put my mind to it, I could write my way into the hearts and minds of millions of people.

And yet, I am not doing what needs to be done.

I can no longer blame grief. On the contrary, grief seems to be a muse of sorts. I wrote feverishly after Kaz died five years ago, and again after my father died this past February. But in the last few uninspired, exhaustive months, I’ve just been “living life.”

Oh, I’m writing… press releases, bios, web copy, articles, interviews. But that’s not me. That isn’t my voice. That’s the voice of the publication, or the person I’m interviewing, or just a blank impersonal corporate voice that we read online every day and sounds like no one in particular.

I’m trying to wrap my brain around why I haven’t been writing for me lately.

I could blame “writer’s block” but that’s not entirely true (and anyway there is no such thing). The truth is this writer’s brain is always writing – dialogue, scenarios, fantasies, entire plot lines – using real people as characters, actual events as inspiration. Maybe the difference between sanity and insanity is knowing when to take your inner dialogues seriously, and when not to.

Then again, my inner dialogues have become louder lately, which can happen when I don’t write for a long time. I start to feel less grounded… as if writing is the lighthouse and my center is the shore.

I could blame my PT job, which has been FT demanding lately.

I could blame my freelance career, which has also been demanding lately (not complaining)… and (even more dangerous) gives me the false illusion that I am actually writing.

I could blame the weather, which has been beautiful for most of the summer and therefore the antithesis to staying inside and writing. I have actually thought, “I write better in the winter.”

I could blame my dog, the ultimate joy… and distraction.

I could blame my new workout regimen, or my new obsession with re-watching HBO series like Deadwood, The Wire, Rome, Game of Thrones, House of Cards and Boardwalk Empire (drama is my thing, clearly).

All true. All bullshit.

Something else is holding me back.

Rather than self-analyze or berate, I’m writing this post to remind myself how much I love to write, how I need to write like I need air to breathe, that writing is the power that lights up my soul, and when I’m not writing that light is literally diminished.

When I don’t write, I am no one. Rather, I am just like everyone else. Time passes without meaning, without contribution, without voice, even though I am living and talking and communicating on a daily basis.

When I don’t write, something – thoughts, emotions, ideas –  accumulates in my brain, like so many marbles, bouncing around frenetically.

Writing calms me down, makes me feel purposeful, fills me up like nothing else.

A man recently said to me, “You can never know who you are if you don’t know where you’re from.” When I hear that I think not of a place, or a people, or a religion… I think of my passion.

Writing is what I enjoy most in the world.

Writing is torture, the only kind worth enduring.

Writing is power… not over others, but of expression.

Writing is freedom.

Writing is ultimate vulnerability, also the most powerful shield.

Writing is courage, love, heart, soul, music, rhythm, sex, nourishment, LIFE itself.

The only thing more powerful is Nature… the most prolific writer of all. And Nature never stops.

So, here I am… middle of the night… pleading with my inner soul…

Love yourself enough to write something every day for you.

Be disciplined and/or selfish enough to write no matter what the fuck else is going on.

Don’t ignore or be afraid of your voice, let it say what it wants and be heard.

Know that you have a story inside you that only you can tell.

And, most importantly, never ever ever give up on your dreams.