Panorama of San Bernardino

Sunday, July 23, 2017

What's the matter here?

Last weekend, we watched Natalie Merchant dance and sing under the stars at the Greek theater. We almost didn't go, exhausted from the casino the night before, but were glad we did. It was sublime. Natalie's voice was so pure and lovely. It echoed in the theater around the tall trees. It felt almost spiritual. Magical is perhaps the better word.

And today, it's 6 am and I lay in a bath pondering why we are all here. It's something I think about often, especially the older I get. I never worried about why I was here as a young adult. Survival mode does that to you. It makes surviving and getting by the only goal and my years as a waitress working her way through school were tough for sure, but they also made me resilient. There was not a lot of time, however, for self reflection. Leisure time gave me that. I'd almost prefer to be blissfully ignorant of the existence of life's questions, except for the fact that without them, my creativity would be limited.

So here goes. Why are we here? Some might say we are here to procreate. But, for me, that didn't happen. After years of trying, I've given up. I'm a very tired 45. So that theory doesn't hold water in my case. What about the idea that we are here to make a difference? At first perusal, this sounds doable. But then I think to myself, I'm participating in a broken system. I'm a deputy public defender who sees just how messed up the criminal justice system is on a daily basis. At its core. And while yes, on the micro level, I might make a difference, on the macro level, I'm a failure. Also, if we were just here to make a positive difference in the world, that would render anyone not advocating for the greater good useless. And perhaps, "good" is too relative of a term. I am sure many Republican operatives in this administration tell themselves they are there to do "good". My point is that "good" is not always right and true. Or constitutional.

Maybe we are here to have fun? In the purest hedonistic sense, maybe we are meant to take what we can out of life and run. Live life to the fullest, play hard and all that. But, fortunately or unfortunately depending on your viewpoint, I can tell you from experience that acting out that theory leaves one exhausted and melancholy.

I suppose, that maybe why we are here is to answer that very question. Why are you here? Why am I here? Why are we here? Answering that question could be one's life work and is one of the very fountains from where art and creativity springs.

So back to that concert. I can tell you this, for a split second, only a fleeting moment, no bigger than a nano second, I knew why I was there. And that was to be right where I was, listening to the voice of Natalie Merchant under the stars, while the wind whistled in the trees and the stars twinkled in time.




Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Vacation all I ever wanted

There's an old Go-Go's song called Vacation. It's all about getting away and finding oneself. Well I found myself and it's not pretty. But it's me.

The vacation I'm on with my husband and the moms, we're at an all inclusive resort in Cancun, has taught me some things.

The most important: Never choose a discount tour company for your excursion or you will end up falling in a puddle and be covered in mud from head to toe limping with a sprained foot.

Other things I've learned: I drink too much. I love to meet people. I'm overweight. I love excitement. And I can't sleep very well. And, finally, I'm clumsy. I've fallen twice literally and many times figuratively on this trip. I want to be kind, sober and fun. Instead, I've been sloppy, clumsy and inebriated.

I've also learned that I'm struggling more than I want to admit about who I am and want to be. There's a reason I haven't written for months, shit years. I write blog posts but I'm talking about stories. New stories have dried up. To say I'm in a rut creatively is an understatement. I'm sinking.

It's almost as if I know the stories are there but I feel as if my fingers can't reach them. The problem is that I'm rarely alone with my thoughts. I'm always on the phone, watching television or on Facebook or CNN or something. Anything to distract myself from the fact that I'm failing at this writing gig.

Then I start telling myself negative thoughts. Maybe I'm just not very good. Or maybe the five or six stories I've published are the best I've got in me? Yet, there's something, a little voice whispering, nagging at me, telling me I have more to give.

The high from writing is the best drug. When I write a good story, I feel buzzed. I get to editing and it's all zen. Almost like magic. It's the invisible point I find in swimming when after the tenth or sometimes even twentieth lap, it just becomes easy.

Nothing's been easy as of late. I can tell myself I've been trying to write but the truth is, I haven't been. I've been going through the motions existing. Auto pilot on a flight to nowhere.

But if nothing else, this vacation has taught me that I don't want to be a barfly on the beach. Or even a lawyer. I'm a writer, plain and simple.

And, I gotta try. I might end up covered in mud hobbled and crying for help, but if I can just do it, the rewards will be worth all the effort. I just know it.


Sunday, June 25, 2017

Everybody loves Annie

People underestimate sibling rivalry. I am watching an old episode of Everybody Loves Raymond and watching the dynamic between Raymond and his older brother Robert. Raymond is the golden youngest child and Robert, no matter how hard he tries, can never eclipse him in his parents' eyes.

Growing up, everybody loved Annie. She was the youngest and my mother's favorite. She could do no wrong. My twin Jackie and I could never compete with Annie's long straight brown hair and smile. We had short frizzy hair and crooked smiles. When Annie was around, Mom lit up. She was nicer and calmer with Annie. I think it was because Annie reminded Mom of her own mother due to Annie's passive and sweet disposition. "Even as a baby, she never cried," was Mom's constant refrain.

 Jackie was a fighter and fireball of a child and I was an outspoken advocate always arguing for our rights. Annie always just gave in. She cleaned her room and did her chores while Jackie and I made a mess and were always reading or watching TV instead of cleaning.

Annie had her own room with a lock on it (after we had killed her favorite doll, Mom got her a lock). Jackie and I shared. We had twin beds that my dad had built in. I knew this was unfair. I was the oldest by a majestic nine minutes. No matter now much I argued my point, Mom wouldn't budge. Jackie and I were twins so we had to share. That was the ruling.

Similarly, when Mom bought us bikes, there was only one cherry apple red beach cruiser. Of course, because God has a sense of humor, Kmart only had two other beach cruisers, both yellow. Jackie and I grimaced but we didn't want to wait so we got our yellow beach cruisers and for the next two or three years, the boys on the block called us the banana bike twins. We paid Annie back by ramming her pretty red bike into a tree while laughing maniacally.

Likewise, when Mom saved up her waitressing tips to buy us fur coats for winter (coats as adults that we would call the hooker jackets), there was one white and two brown. Of course, you can guess it, Annie got the white one.

As an adult, the roles continue. Family dynamics shape you more than you realize. Jackie is still a fighter and uses it professionally to her advantage standing up for the rights of special education children as a teacher. And Annie, she's a Mom and a good one. She will do anything for her kids. And that sweet disposition is still sweet but she has strength underneath the smile.

And me? I think that none of it scarred me. It was just how it was. Plus, I wouldn't have as much to write about without my parents' mistakes would I? And I probably wouldn't be a lawyer. Yet, I still think I should have won that motion for my own bedroom.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Bigmouth Strikes Again

When I was little, I would read. A lot. Sometimes a book a day. In grade school, I went through my mom's Harlequin collection (hundreds of the books with their white covers and gold insignia were in our garage in the built in bookcases my dad built my mom) in a year or two. By the end, I had a (perplexing to most) habit of dropping words like ravishing or swooned into conversation.

I was a somewhat odd child. I was also obsessed with a certain green frog shirt and feeling the marks made by watches on people's wrists. It's as if I was mesmerized by the indentations.

As an adult, my obsessions vex me a bit. I am hyper verbal and love to talk. I've learned through practice to not interrupt but it's very difficult for me. When I do interrupt now, I apologize. Court has helped in that regard because judges hate to be interrupted or talked over. As an attorney, I love oral argument. It's that time where you feel like, this is what I went to law school for. On the same vein, I am very impatient and preoccupied with timeliness. I am often early to parties. Also, I can't sleep in so often text at 5 am.

And in this era of texting, I love to talk on the phone, as well as in grocery lines with people I don't know and in the jacuzzi when my husband is trying to relax. There is something about the sounds of silence that I like to fill up. I have been known to share too much.

Politics is my recent obsession. I've been researching the 5th amendment and subpoena power as if it matters what I find. Some days, I wake up and read all of CNN's articles, then the politics section of  the NY Times and the Washington Post. It frustrates my poor husband as the light from my phone often wakes him up.

Why am I telling you all this? Well dear reader, what I realized today is that I love this blog (and writing my short stories and essays) because it is my way of talking to the world. It is my solace. It is so comforting to know that I can be vulnerable and true here on the page in a way that might be too much to handle in person. The term voice is used in writing classes to connote one's style, but I am using it quite literally here. I am speaking to you in this writing voice, just hoping that someone is listening.

Can you hear me?


Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Everybody hurts

Sometimes, I feel as if I am sabotaging everything good and true in my life because I don't know what I want. It reminds me of my senior year of high school. High school had started out well. Freshman and sophomore year I was able to put the chaos of home aside and study and get good grades. I was a preppy goodie two shoes in all GATE classes. The classes weren't easy. Yes, this was before the grueling era of IB and AP, but the classes were still difficult. My home life did not help. Most days, I had to find time to write my papers and do math homework over my parents' screaming voices in the background. It was a stressful time for them. We were losing the house after Dad's realized dream of buying a bar became a nightmare and led us into financial ruin.

Junior year began my downhill slide. I was working at Round Table and partying almost every night, even on school nights. We would drink beer from the keg after hours. Although I can't remember specifics, what I do remember is having a blast. There was little drama, our manager was super cool and my best friend Tracy and I ruled the world of pizza. Or at least it felt that way to our high school minds.

The cast of characters at Round Table was varied, like something out of a John Hughes film. There was Lydia, a chubby black girl who loved to sing and play practical jokes. She could crack us up with a lift of her eyebrows. Then there was Mark, a blond, loud punk guy who hung out with the uptight assistant manger John who never let us drink. Then there was Sean, the cool manager who let us drink after work. He was in college getting his engineering degree. There was also our buddy Chris, a freshman who looked like a brown haired Anthony Michael Hall from Weird Science. He was tall and skinny with dark hair and long bangs that covered his face Ian McColluch style. Finally, there was Tracy and myself. Tracy was blond to my brunette with blond spiked hair to my curly unruly mess of brown curls. Tracy was taller and thin, whereas I was short and round, but we both loved our new wave and punk music and wore thick black eyeliner mimicking Siousxie Sioux's makeup, our punk idol.

What I remember most is laughing all night and cracking jokes and speaking in our fake English accents and making fun of people on the phones we manned in the back for the pizza delivery lines. We would make false orders to get free dinner and sneak our friends free pizzas out the back door when the manger left to do an errand.

On Friday nights, we would stay there until 3 in the morning. The pizza place closed at midnight, but I lied and told my parents I was closing and doing side work and then going to Denny's. School suffered of course. For a time, I had dreams of attending Claremont McKenna. It was a different world that I yearned for, a place of books and education and learning, where I could put all my family drama aside. I could lose myself and create a new me. Alas, it was not meant to be. My goals shifted from school to drowning out my sorrow with a mix of Coors Lite and Strawberry Hill wine. It worked. I felt nothing. And, slowly but oh so surely, my grades slipped and most mornings, I ditched class and went to Hollywood or the beach or the mall. Anything was better than going to school hungover.

It must have driven my poor mom crazy to see me throwing it all away. I had always been a superstar in school, it was almost easy for me to excel. Aside from Math, which I worked my ass off to get a B in, I was an A student. I always loved history and English. I even aced Economics which is ironic considering my math struggles, but the core of economics was philosophy and that intrigued me, Yet, senior year, I sabotaged myself and just gave up. I stopped attending class altogether at some point, I can't even remember how it happened. My family was in free fall at that point. We were living in a rental after losing the house to the bank. To make it even worse, my twenty something half sister Barbara had died and Dad was in a deep depression. He locked himself in the bathroom with a shotgun the day he found out she had died in a car accident. Weirdly, I don't recall crying or grieving, but I do remember my twin sister's cat getting hit by a car. I cried and cried. It was probably the only time I cried that year and the only time I remember feeling anything real and true.

Eventually, it all broke down and I stopped going to school. I only needed five credits to graduate but I didn't care. I threw it all away and took my GED.

This pattern would repeat itself through out my life in different ways. I was waitressing my way through school but floating from job to job. Whenever there was stability, I somehow messed it up. At some point, my sister and I ended up in a trailer park in Pomona, a combination of bad luck, my car blowing up and me losing my job again, and bad choices. What I knew once I got there, however, was that the trailer park life wasn't for me. There was a hopelessness and desperation there. It was palpable. I worked my ass off to get out of that trailer park. I transferred to UCR and everything changed. Then USC Law.

Now, many years later, I almost feel as if my life has lived me. Those years after USC Law at the big firms I was never happy. I jumped from firm to firm mirroring the chaos of my youth. Finally, after almost 7 years and my dad's death, I ended up back home in the Inland Empire as a deputy public defender. And some things passed me by. No baby. And my writing career has stalled. Am I just biding time till retirement?

Despite all the accomplishments and successes, I'm still floundering. Disappointment haunts me and the yearning for something more is so strong. I don't know what it is. My husband Adrian is the bright spot in all of this. I am loved and love.

Yet, I feel as if I'm on a precipice looking down some days. Into the abyss.






Tuesday, May 9, 2017

I wish you could see me now

I woke up at 4 am and started crying. It felt like my eyes were leaky faucets, tears slipping outside of both my eyes until my face was all wet. My pillow damp with tears, my nose runny, I sighed.

You see  Dad, I was thinking of you. Maybe it was that poem about my childhood that I was working on in my writing group last night. Or what was a physically painful day yesterday with my chronic health issue. Or maybe it was your birthday that just passed, or maybe God, but I woke up feeling an overwhelming sense of loss. I didn't even know I could still feel that. That immensity of pain, the kind that overwhelms you in its intensity. For years, I've felt anxiety and depression and acute sadness, but I haven't felt this kind of raw pain since you passed all those years ago. Maybe, I've been numb.

And the pain awoke something in me. Something real and true. People don't always realize it, but the truest art comes from the deepest pain. All of my best stories spring from a well of sadness so deep that you could drink from it for ages. The last couple years, especially after the miscarriage, I felt like I was dried up. The reality is that I've been existing in a state of perpetual paralysis, not feeling much of anything. And certainly not feeling enough to write open and true, blood on the page and all that.

I kept thinking as I sobbed into my pillow. I wish you knew me now. To see who've I've become. I would spent hours with you. Telling you everything. And I would listen to you, like I never did. I say I wish you knew me now, but the truth is, I wish I knew you now. So I could appreciate you more. The way you deserved.

You were a great father, flawed, but fucking great. You taught me all the important things. Cards. Movies. Music. The passions of my life. But I never really got your sadness. The loss you'd experienced, losing so many people in your life so young.

But Daddy, if you're listening, I get it now. I truly do. And I fucking miss you so damn much.

I will finish my book because I must put your voice, my voice, and all of the scenes in my head on paper. And because putting pen to paper to see you, is really the only way I have left to know you now

Monday, May 1, 2017

Magic

When I was in high school, I was into Wicca. My best friends and I would go to the Crystal Cave in Claremont and look at the potions. We would buy spell books at Barnes and Noble. We were very cognizant of the price of magic. Anything negative would come back on the spell caster exponentially. We never wanted to access dark portals. We were more interested in tarot cards and astrology.

As an adult, I still believe in magic. But now, I see that magic is about intention and belief. It's about directing your energy at a goal.

This has worked out for me in my life. I've gotten almost everything I've ever wanted. Well, everything except for the baby. Sadly, my infertility could not be fixed or healed, a result of waiting too long for what I really wanted. But other than that, I am lucky. Some might say blessed. This high school dropout found a way to thrive.

Those early years, after high school and taking my GED, are a blur. I don't know how I made it through those no car, junior college waitressing years. Once at UCR, it became almost easy. I loved school and school loved me. When it came close to graduation, I decided to apply to local law schools. I wasn't into big name schools, but debated whether to apply to USC Law. It seemed like a pipe dream. My then boyfriend now husband urged me to. I would have been happy with a second tier school. I wrote my application essay on pink collar jobs like waitressing and when I got the fat envelope with the cardinal and gold seal, I knew. My life would change.

After law school, I went for the big paycheck. And after years of representing large corporations at mammoth law firms, I decided to change my life again. My dad had died and I was desperately unhappy. My job was making me sick. I would cry before work most days and started leaving early to sit at Starbucks and write. I thought about teaching or maybe even getting my MFA in creative writing.

It took a year, but I finally found a job with the Public Defender. I had to convince them in my interview to take a chance.  Yes, I was burnt out, I told them, but I grew up in the Inland Empire. These are my people and my town. Ultimately, I willed them into hiring me.

When I gave notice at my law firm, a partner said sarcastically that he didn't understand why I would want to be a public defender. I told him, in the nicest way possible, that I didn't understand how he could work at a law firm. I said I found the work unfulling and meaningless. "There has to be more than this," I said.

There was. Life as a deputy public defender is fun and rewarding. It's never boring and only occasionally frustrating. I specialize in representing the mentally ill incompetents. They are the most vulnerable of the vulnerable. My favorite part of the job is helping support other attorneys in my office with mental health questions and consults. And working with the expert psychologists.

Some people might find what I do unmanageable. And I have my bad days. But usually, I love my work. Yet, I keep on thinking to myself, is it time for another change? Or is my natural restlessness just making me think change is needed?

For now, the plan is just to let the universe guide me. I will work on my health and wellness and being kind to those who are closest to me. Life is difficult enough without trying to over control the navigation. At this point, I'm letting magic take the wheel.