Panorama of San Bernardino

Saturday, December 29, 2018

Cliches

I feel like I’m in a country song. Title: “Sittin in a Bathtub, Bubbles Mixin with Tears.”

It’s been a hard week, a hard month, an even harder year. 2019 has to be better right?

I practice appreciating my blessings. Name them. Beautiful home and endearing husband, stable and fulfilling career, mom, sisters, nieces, and two best friends I adore along with many other close friends. And, my writing. Be grateful for them. I am.

But even with all of these blessings, some days, only some mind you, I think what’s the damn point? Is it middle age? A mid life crisis? Depression? I’m not sure.

What I do know for sure is that life is hard. Half the time I’m too tired to do much of anything. My sleep is off so I take Benadryl before bed. Hubby disapproves, but I tell him, I need to sleep. I have to work in the morning.

Work is a relief because there, for the most part, I pretend. The distraction of court and my client’s problems are a relief from my own maudlin thoughts. Occasionally, however, I get lost in my thoughts there, picturing myself at home with coffee writing on a typewriter (I know it’s an antiquated dream but just substitute in a laptop in the daydream instead).

Speaking of laptops, my screen died this week on my MAC book. I panicked. It went down right in the middle of me writing a story. Is this a sign I thought? My writing is so awful that even my computer can’t stand it. I took a creative writing class twenty or so years ago and the teacher said my writing was extreme and melodramatic. I didn’t take another writing class for more than a decade.

The worst thing is the self doubt. I want to believe in myself. I want to be the girl who applied to USC Law on a lark and got in. But I fear I’m becoming a pessimist. My infertility, along with the deaths and sadness in my world have almost made me give up on God.

Then, a new day comes and I know that it will bring miracles at times. A forty seven year old woman trying to make it as a writer may be a cliche but cliches are based on truths. And, I may just be the one who makes it.









Friday, December 21, 2018

Changes

I’ve decided to dedicate myself to my writing.  I’m diving in. And hoping not to belly flop.

Last week, I finished my applications to UCR’s high and low residency MFA programs. It felt liberating. Like I was finally making a choice to live my life artistically. And it wasn't as onerous as I thought it would be.

I have been working on my writing for more than a decade. The writing sample was a matter of cutting and pasting stories into a single document. Asking for letters of recommendation around the holidays wasn't ideal, but I have writing mentors and teachers that I felt comfortable asking and they agreed. And, the statement of purpose is the kind of thing I relish writing. It was a joyful experience to do these things. Then came the monotonous task of transcripts. But that didn't take too long. It all felt like it was meant to be. Kismet.

It has been a long road to get here. It started after my father died. When I found out that my dad had cancer, I was working at a civil litigation boutique in San Francisco. I rushed home for a week and cared for him. Then, again two weeks later. He died within three weeks of getting diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. I was there when it happened.

His death changed me. I was devastated. I couldn't breathe. It felt like the walls were caving in on me. I moved home leaving Adrian to finish his last year of dental school alone. Yet, I still hadn't figured out that civil litigation wasn't for me and off to another large firm I went.

In Houston, I had started writing poems in my first large law firm staring out my high rise window late at night. And, after my father died, those poems morphed into stories, By the time I reached the Inland Empire law firm, I was writing all the time. On a lark, I sent some of my stories and was accepted to a summer writing program called VONA. VONA changed everything for me. It gave me a community. And told me that my voice mattered.

My fellow law firm lawyers thought I was crazy to take a week off to write creatively. They thought I was even crazier when I left the law firm to be a deputy public defender.

Change has always resulted in good things for me. Being a deputy public defender is a gift. I love to help people. In my role as a mental health court attorney, I get to save lives or at the very least help people put their lives back together.

But still, something is missing. A child would fill the void, I know, but after years of infertility and lack of success with in vitro, I also know that shop is closed.

At this point, I am middle aged and yearning for something.

That something is my writing. I have to finish my book. When my brother-in-law died recently, it changed me again. It made me realize how fleeting life is. I had a very deep conversation with my husband. We have had many of those lately, and I told him that my one regret if I passed would be not finishing my memoir. Yes, it is almost finished. But not. I have a draft, but it is not where I want it to be. And time and motivation is difficult to find.

This summer I went to the Macondo Writers Workshop in San Antonio, Texas and I was changed again. I connected with old friends and made new writing friends and met my literary idols. Standing with Sandra Cisneros in a room talking about writing made me realize I am already living my dreams, I just need to take it a step further.

And, here I am. I am at a crossroads of sorts. I could spent the next two or three years moaning and groaning that I need to finish my book. Or, I could apply to a MFA program and just complete. it. So I applied. They say you should only do writing full-time if you have to. And I have to.

I am a good lawyer. I love my job. But I know I am an even better better writer and artist. It is in my soul. I need it for me.

So, here's to a new year and changes on the way. May all your dreams, and mine, come true.


Thursday, November 22, 2018

It’s the Great Pumpkin Juanita Mantz

I’m in Vegas with my hubby and the moms. And, I’m missing my dad today.

Dad loved Vegas and would have loved to go with me to Vegas if he was alive. I imagine us sitting at the bar playing Keno together or side by side at the blackjack table. I imagine myself pointing at him and telling the table, “that’s my dad.”

We would both be up early and eat breakfast together. He would order hash and eggs or pancakes.

Dad’s gone so it’s not to be. But my mom is still here and part of writing this is to remember that and savor my time with her.

Dad also loved him a thanksgiving. Dad would cook for hours every thanksgiving. He would make a turkey, mash, a ham, potato salad and more including his ambrosia fruit salad served with orange jello. As a kid, as I have said before, I never appreciated it. But I do now.

Dad would always watch It’s the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown with me and my sisters when we were little. To me, the moral of that cartoon, if indeed there is one, it is that sometimes faith is not rewarded. But that doesn’t mean you stop believing.

And dammit, I’m a believer. Just like Dad.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Morrissey and Me (Again)

Is it weird that I only feel truly alive at a concert? More on that later. For now, let me tell you about my latest Morrissey concert.

On November 1st (which was Day of the Dead), I was up at 6 am searching the set list from Morrissey's show the night before in Ventura. As soon as my husband Adrian woke up, I showed him the set list bemoaning the fact that we had missed his Halloween show. "Look at this,” I said scowling. “Morrissey sang all of my favorites!"

At 10 am, I received a text from my husband while I was in court. "There are tickets on sale for Morrissey's show tonight for the pit at the Microsoft in LA. U wanna go?" Hell yes, I thought to myself. Then thought, double hell, hell yes.

Even though I was in court doing my usual public defender gig, I had to let go a little yelp of excitement. Joan Jett was opening for Morrissey and the Microsoft's pit was amazing. I texted back within two seconds, "Hello, of course!!!!! Love u!"

The rest of the day at court, I was the happiest girl in a criminal courtroom. I was singing and humming Morrissey and Smiths' songs under my breath all day: "Is It Really So Strange", "Sing Your Life", "There is a Light That Never Goes Out", and "First of the Gang to Die". I would also throw in a little "Cherry Bomb" by Joan Jett's first band The Runaways for good measure.

I rushed home after work, leaving an hour early to be safe, and me and my husband drove to Los Angeles. We made sure to arrive to LA by 6 pm to make sure we didn't miss the opener, the one and only Joan Jett. Joan Jett was on my bucket list. I had never seen her perform live and had loved her since junior high.

Joan Jett and the Blackhearts hit big in 1982. As a young girl growing up in Ontario who loved music, I wanted to be Joan in her tight leather pants rocking out on her guitar. My three rock sheros back then were Joan Jett, Pat Benatar and Belinda Carlisle. I listened to all of their albums on repeat and worshipped them.

After parking at the 30 dollar lot (yuck), we got a table at the Wolfgang Puck's outside the Microsoft Theater and waited for the doors to open at 7 pm. I had one beer then switched to Diet Coke. This was going to a sober show for me. I didn't want to miss any of it and I planned on being by the stage and knew I wouldn't be able to leave to use the bathroom.

What haunted me was my drunken self at Cal Jam around my birthday. I had left Foo Fighters early after too many beers and after the set, all of the remaining members of Nirvana had reunited and they played six Nirvana songs. I call it, the one that got away.

There was also a merchandise booth that was already open outside the front doors of the Microsoft and I was able to buy a Morrissey sugar skull shirt. Hubby bought the Morrissey shirt with James Dean's face (the one Morrissey would later wear during his set at Tropicali and on the Late Late Night Show with James Corden).

By seven pm, the doors to the Microsoft opened and we lined up on the left side of the building for the pit. I met a girl from the high desert who had grown up in Ontario and went to UCR undergrad like I did. We chatted and as the line began to move, I started jumping up and down in excitement.

I stopped jumping when the lady in line in front of us started screaming at security. She was pissed that security searched her bag and mentioned that she had waited on the wrong side of the building for hours to get to the front of the pit. She kept screaming and crying the whole way in. I felt bad for her. Any true Morrissey fan knows that getting to the front of the pit is serious business at a Morrissey show.

As soon as we got inside, I ran to the stage and was able to find a place right at the stage on the side. Joan Jett came on 7 pm and rocked it hard as she played all of my favorite songs: "Cherry Bomb", "Do You Want to Touch Me", "Bad Reputation", "Crimson and Clover" (which was so beautiful I teared up), "I Hate Myself for Loving You" and of course, "I Love Rock n Roll". I was screaming along to every song and I was so close that I could see her wide smile and shining eyes as she rocked out.

After her set, I begged someone to hold my space and ran to the bathroom. Adrian was sitting in the back of the pit and I exclaimed, "Oh my god, that was amazing!" We talked for a bit then, when the video came on, I knew Morrissey would be on soon and rushed back to my place at the stage.

Morrissey came on with just a little fan fare. He was wearing the same sugar skull Morrissey shirt I had bought earlier.  I was so close. I could see the expressions on his face when he came over to our side to sing. The first song he sang was a Smiths' song and I swooned and sang along to every word of "William It Was Really Nothing."  Next up, "Alma Matters" then off his new album "Low in High School" a tune called "I Wish You Lonely" which captures the sadness inherent in life with a message of resilience at the end.

I started jumping up and down in excitement again when I heard the opening strains of "Hairdresser on Fire" and Morrissey was on fire following it with the Smiths' song "November Spawned a Monster" then my favorite song off his new album "Spent the Day in Bed". I screamed when he sang "Sunny" (lamentations on love lost) and then after a few more, the "piece de resistance": Morrissey's cover of Chrissie Hynde's "Back on the Chain Gang".  It made me weep with joy that song. It's the way Morrissey sings it with such melancholy. It was the climax for me, and after, I went to stand with my husband Adrian toward the back of the pit. I wanted Adrian to hug me from the back during the show and he did and we swayed to the rest of the concert. Right after I left, of course, Morrissey bent down and shook everyone's hand in the area I had been in. But, I do not regret it because I would rather sway with my love.

The rest of the show went too quick. In Morrissey's rendition of "Break Up the Family" you could hear the nostalgia and sadness of looking back on his younger years and where he is now. Next up was his sexiest song, "When You Open Your Legs" which always makes me shiver in delight and then after a few more grand tunes, the encore of "Everyday is Like Sunday" and the Smiths' song for the ages, "How Soon is Now".

The lights stayed dim even after Morrissey and his band left the stage. I felt the downside of a concert, the minute the lights came on, the familiar stab of disappointment. It was over.

On the way home in the car, I tried to make my euphoria last the only way I knew how, by rehashing the concert and singing aloud to Morrissey's music. We hit traffic and by the time we got home to our home in the Inland Empire, it was after midnight.

After taking off my winged eyeliner and brushing my teeth, I put my head on the pillow and dreamed. In my Morrissey shirt of course.



Friday, October 26, 2018

Family Matters

The job of a writer is to illuminate the human condition, but it can lead to maudlin thoughts at times. Then, something really bad happens and you think, what was I so upset about before because this is a true catastrophe.

And, something really bad happened. Two weeks ago, my brother-in-law was hospitalized with a life threatening condition.  I raced to the emergency (my husband had to drive me because I could not drive) to support my sister Annie and her daughters. I kept praying to myself on the way, "Please God, keep him safe. Let him be OK."

Thankfully, he got himself to the emergency and they transported him to a better hospital and he is awake. But, two weeks later, he is still in the ICU. It will be a long road ahead, but I know he can do it.

It was horrible to think that we could have lost him. Horrible times like these give you perspective. Because, you only know how important family is when you almost lose someone important to you. We all get caught up in the day to day. Jobs, family, bills, and entertainment. It is easy to just forget what is really important.

It is not as if I didn't know. I had been reminded recently of how short and fleeting life can be. We lost my husband's brother six months ago and the only word I can use to describe the experience is traumatizing.

This time, we will have a happy ending. My brother-in-law Vince is strong. My sister Annie is also resilent and supportive and most of all, kind. She will be his rock. I’m so proud of how she has weathered this storm. Annie has positivity and faith. Belief is hard when bad things happen, I know, but it matters too.

Yet, still, it reminds me of how fragile life is. How we must make the most of every moment, lest it be our last. And go for your dreams. Dreams are everything.

Speaking of dreams, on Monday, I saw my twin sister’s dissertation defense. I sat in the conference room and it was like we were kids again and I was cheering her in the stands. My heart swelled for her. My swollen heart felt so big in my chest that I had to hiccup to avoid weeping. Me and my twin don’t always get along, the family chaos we were raised in permeates our relationship at times, but I love her. We are twin souls and wonder twins. And, I felt Monday was a new beginning for me and Doctor Jacqueline Marie Mantz. I thought about what my dad would say. Dad would be amazed that he, being a poor boy from Montana, has a daughter with a doctorate.

Ultimately, what I am starting to see is that family matters. It is everything. And I’m glad I have one.

Friday, October 5, 2018

it's my birthday and I'll cry (or not) if I want to

I am a big baby about my birthday I admit. I want messages, cards, presents, events and more. I was feeling a bit melancholy about this year and this particular forty something birthday. Yet, this morning when I woke up at 5 am, I felt, well, happy.

I snuggled my dogs, sang a song I made up (I always sing when I'm happy) and practically whistled as I trotted down the stairs, dogs in tow.

I even smiled as I fed the dogs which can be a taxing process. Chewie eats from the bowl, but Frodo makes me feed him his wet food by hand. This has been going on for months. I do not know when it started. One day, Frodo wouldn't eat his food so I fed it to him with my fingers and now that is the only way he will eat. This drives my mom crazy. "Why do you baby them" she mutters to me.

But, it's because I love them. My dogs' little shih tzu faces are the best thing in the world. And, they love me back, unconditionally. And while they may not know it is my birthday, Frodo and Chewie know something special is going on because for the last few days I have been decorating for Halloween.

The house looks incredible. I put a ton of witches, skulls and skeletons. We have a glowing pumpkin and I put up my Halloween dolls on the mantle. The dolls are named Pumpkin Head and Witchy Poo (basically caricatures of me and my husband) I found them at the grocery store last year in a post Halloween sale for 90 percent off.

In fact, Chewie just tried to pee on Witchypoo. She had fallen from the mantle. Instead of yelling, I shooed him away and said, "She will curse you if you do." And yes, I think Chewie understood me.

Even when the dogs started fighting over their blankets, and who was sitting on whose blanket, it didn't faze me. Nothing can. Then, when hubby came downstairs at 6 am and complained about all the lights that were on and all the noise, I laughed and made a joke about how it was going in my blog. Still smiling.

The best part about today is that I am seeing Billy Idol at a concert down the street from my house. And if that can't make me happy, nothing can.

I guess the moral of this story, if there even is one, is that today is a good day and Sunday is my birthday. Don't you forget.

Monday, October 1, 2018

this is forty (something)

I turn forty something on Sunday. I am getting all the closer to a touchstone birthday and with that closeness comes some melancholy. To combat the sadness that eased into my mind as I woke up this morning, like a fine mist breezing into my brain at 5 am,  I will try to remind myself to be grateful.

And I am grateful, truly grateful. This year has been filled with loss and sadness, but also with great moments of joy.

We lost my brother-in-law Gabe at the young age of 54. But we became closer to his son and son's mother as a result. That was the silver lining on the deep dark cloud that about destroyed my husband and mother-in-law.

Mere weeks after Gabe's death, I presented my story "Witchypoo" at the AWP writing conference. I had struggled with whether to go. Despite everything my family was dealing with, I went and met a friend I will have for life. And came back able to weather the storm of grief that had enveloped my family. It's been eight months and the fog is just beginning to lift.

And then there was Macondo. A life long dream of a writing workshop. Traveling to San Antonio and meeting my literary idols was inspiring and created a sense of purpose in my writing. I also reconnected with old friends and made new ones.  It is really something that cannot be described in words. Macondo is beyond that. It is kinship.

And I saved some lives along the way. Trials are stressful, but for me, it is about the clients. My clients are the most voiceless, and to get paid to tell their stories of mental illness is a gift from God.

See dear reader, I already feel better. Tears are brimming in my eyes as I write these last lines. But I can breathe again.

And will.