Panorama of San Bernardino

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Worlds Away

In a week and two days, I will be on my way to the Macondo Writers Workshop in Texas ("Macondo"). Macondo was founded by the writer Sandra Cisneros and takes place in San Antonio. It is a group of socially engaged writers who understand a "global sense of community." See http://www.macondowriters.com.

Years before, I had seen references to the Macondo Writing Workshop (see Marquez's Hundred Years of Solitude for the origin of the name) when I first started writing again and had downloaded their application. It was onerous.

The Macondo application required you to meet a number of categories (social justice, published essays/stories and working with established writers) and I started filling it out. Soon, I realized I was far short of meeting any of the categories' requirements. At the time, I was a business litigator for a large law firm. In my head I was socially engaged, but in reality, I was a sell-out. And, my only published work was a legal article about insurance coverage. Shit.

Now, a decade later, things have changed. After years of writing and placing memoir pieces and essays in journals and magazines, I more than met their creative writing publication requirements and in my job as a deputy public defender representing the mentally ill, I am an advocate for social and legal change on a daily basis. Add in my legal writing and some encouragement to apply from a close writing mentor friend and I applied and got in.

It still feels surreal. Most days, I am still that little girl sitting on top of the roof looking down at the world below hoping my parents will stop fighting so I can slip inside and go to sleep. The Go-Go's song "Worlds Away" captures it, that feeling of wanting to escape the chaos. The chorus and last lines say it best,

"I wanna be worlds away
Apart from the day to day
I know I'll be okay
When I get worlds away
Worlds away
Worlds away

Slipping away to somewhere
In my heart
Go to a world where no one's been before
That's when I find myself
Not quite sleeping
But still dreaming
And I'm worlds away" (The Go-Go's)

In my day to day life as a defense attorney, I have confidence. I have to. But my writing persona is another matter. There is always a voice in the back of my head telling me that I am not good enough. That my work is crap. That I can't write. That my voice is juvenile. That I will never finish my book.

But sometimes, when the words flow and I lose myself in a story, it feels magical, right and true. It is in those moments that I know I am meant to be a writer.

As a little girl, I used to dream myself into stardom (much like the Judy Blume character in "Starring Sally J. Freedman as Herself"). In my head, I was a famous singer on stage with Sean Cassidy. Or an actress on The Brady Bunch. And sometimes, even a writer.

The fact that the latter dream may be coming true is incredible and makes me want to be present, To be there, in the moment, relishing each and every minute, in the very world I have created for myself from the chaos.





Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Beauty and the Beast

Yesterday at work, someone called me dedicated. I don’t take compliments well. My face got red. I hemmed and hawed, made a funny and changed the subject. Later, I thought, am I dedicated or merely obsessed?

With my work as a deputy public defender representing the mentally ill, I think I am dedicated. One has to be to do the work. You have to be able to see people, really see them. It is difficult work that I love. Some might even call it a calling. But, I don’t know if I can do the legal stuff forever.

My problem is that I love beauty. My husband was and is beautiful. My weakness for nice hotels is obvious in my lifestyle. My home is what I think is beautiful (with glossy, custom framed prints of my favorite punk and post punk rockers).

Most of all, I love the beauty of words. Words in a television show like “Anne with an E” that I just watched on Netflix. As a young college girl, it’s why I fell in love with James Joyce the first time I read his short stories in Dubliners. And beauty is why I was drawn to memoir by the humor and power of Frank McCourt’s scenes in Angela’s Ashes. Words do it for me. They make me buzz. I can still recall the first time I read the gorgeousness of Sandra Cisneros’ prose in House on Mango Street and the sadness inherent in Junot Diaz’s Drown.

Art and the magic of art is what life is about. It’s just so damn beautiful. Art makes my heart sing. Great art takes my sadness away. The loveliness of art makes me forget my infertility, all the deaths and the sadness of life. Or sometimes, art makes me remember. The best art always makes me cry. In a good way.

My love for words and beauty is what may force me to take a different path. To save myself. Because in the criminal justice system, there is no beauty. It is not art. It is a cruel and barbaric at times system. A system that makes me cry in a not so good way. It is a system I may be perpetuating by my participation.

So, I choose beauty. Love. Positivity. And most of all art and my writing. Forever and ever. Amen.

Saturday, June 30, 2018

Resilience

This has been another of those hard weeks. I am in trial on an incompetency case. My office moved buildings. Let me say that again, the public defender moved buildings.

This is the government, so I was old school this week in trial. I had no email, phone or printer. Everything was a hard copy I had printed the week before when one of the legal assistants was kind enough to let me use their cubicle (I had to print to the third floor so I got my cardio that day).

The trial while moving scenario was a test of my fortitude and resourcefulness. But when I got locked out of our new building with my purse, keys and files inside at six in the morning, I had hit my limit. As I hobbled the blocks from new office to old office on foot looking for a way in, I got blisters from my too tight shoes. I believe I literally screamed. Thankfully, there was no one on the street to hear.

It all worked out. That’s the thing, I am resilient and resourceful. My chaotic childhood and young adult years prepared me for almost everything in life. For example: walking to the park at seven years old to avoid the parental fighting, taking the bus to the mall in junior high to ditch and having to beg for quarters to get the bus home, figuring out a way to buy beer and cigs in my teens, and in high school, writing my own absentee notes and finally, throwing a kegger party and dealing with the police when my parents went out of town (finding the kegs was the hard part-see my blog post titled “kegger party”).

And the years of waiting tables didn’t hurt either. Once you’ve handled the scenario of an almost closed bar/restaurant and 50 people walking in, who you have to serve solo, you know you can do anything.

I guess what I am saying is that the biggest gift you can receive is resilience. It gives you confidence, self awareness, and most importantly, a sense of humor. And the ability to juggle a million things at once with a smile, including moving while in trial








Sunday, June 24, 2018

Doors

This morning, I saw a political ad that inspired me to write this blog. A political ad you say? Yes, for MJ Hegar. A combat veteran, a Texas Democrat and a woman. See her ad here. http://www.businessinsider.com/texas-woman-running-for-congress-used-doors-in-viral-ad-2018-6?utm_source=facebook

The ad focused on the doors that were closed to her, doors she had to kick through. She was a pilot in the Air Force and served multiple tours in Afghanistan and advocated to end the ban barring women from certain elite jobs. Her representative refused to meet with her so she decided to run for Congress. By the end, I was cheering for MJ. And, it made me think about my own doors, doors I opened that were closed.

USC Law was the door that opened the slowest. After my disaster of a senior year of high school, I took my GED and waitressed, my dreams of attending Claremont McKenna turning to dust. But something kept me going. I always knew I was smart. My mom taught me to read when I was three. I devoured everything I could get my hands on to read and soon (after an obsession with Beverly Cleary and Judy Blume), I was reading literature along with my mom’s Harlequin romance novels.

Whatever it was that kept me going, I am glad it did. My time at Mt. SAC junior college was not easy, but it was rewarding. I had to beg for rides, and schedule my classes around my waitressing job, but it was worth it. I ran the newspaper and got stellar grades. When I transferred to UC Riverside after four or five years, I thought it was as good as it gets. I could not even imagine law school at that point. I was making history in my family by being the first (along with my twin who had transferred to Cal State) in my blue collar family to get a Bachelor’s degree. My dad grew up poor in Montana and drove a sixteen wheeler. My mom was a waitress who got her high school diploma later in life. My parents worked hard. And, my parents always stressed to me that the way out was to get an education.

When I graduated UC Riverside, manga cum laude, my parents were there cheering. I wish I could go back and hug my dad and never let go. He would live to see me graduate from USC Law School. I almost didn’t apply. I aimed for a couple of low ranked local schools, and then on a lark, I decided to go for the gold and apply to USC. When I got the red and gold large acceptance envelope, I screamed.

Law school was hard. My first semester was disappointing and I remember the professor that wrote “are you stupid?” in bright red pen on one of my exams. But instead of letting his comment bring me down, it made me angry and I vowed to prove him wrong. When I managed to get much better grades second semester and As my second year, I was on my way. After making the honors literary journal, I wrote my note on law and the literary “other” (quoting no cases I focused on James Joyce and Joseph Conrad using Edward Said’s Orientalism as a lens), I knew I was close. When I graduated in the top twenty percent of my class, I knew I had won.

Then large firm practice. It sucked. I never fit in at the large Texas law firm, in fact, the largest and most prestigious law firm in Texas. Maybe I didn’t want to. Maybe I wasn’t meant to. Then, San Francisco. Again, not feeling comfortable. Not finding my purpose. It wasn’t until I moved home that I found who I was again.

As an attorney at the public defender’s office, I have to kick doors open all the time. We are the underdogs. We serve the poorest clientele who need us the most. Our job is to help them through a system with grace. My job is to protect the constitutional rights of the mentally ill. I feel privileged to have this job. It is a gift to now kick closed doors open for others.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

These are the days to remember

If you haven’t figured it out yet my friends, I will now tell you the purpose of this blog. Drumroll please...

At first glance, one might think that this blog is about the banal. Or about excess. Maybe, JEM is just a glutton for fun. A hedonist. Or perhaps she is a sucker for the past. An obsessor of nostalgia. No. You’d be wrong.

If I had to try and express it, I guess I am here to try and figure it out. What is “it” you ask? This. Why we are here, more specifically, why am I here? What is the fucking point (for want of a more elegant phrase)?

As children and young adults, we are taught to work hard and we will be rewarded. Spend your high school years studying. Go to college. Study some more. Then, more goals. Graduate school. Finally, find a job. Get married. Have kids.

But what they don’t tell you, is that it’s a game that you can’t win. If you buy into this path, what you get is a zonk. It’s as if the game is rigged and behind any door is a boobie prize.

Because, what you will find is that the best of times will be when you change the narrative. Spending your best years studying straight through is boring. You’re wasting your best years. Some might say that I wasted time with the years after taking my GED when the goal was merely survival and fun. I disagree. During my best years, I waitressed and rented an apartment with my younger sister. Our days had a pattern. We worked out at the gym, went to breakfast, and then went to work at a coffee shop. Every night, we got dressed and went out after a dinner of salsa and rice. If we had made good tips that day, we might fit in a trip to the local cheap boutique, the one with the ten dollar dress rack.

It was the 90s. The time of some of the best punk and alternative music, but (I will deny this if confronted later) we were into club music. We would go to clubs where they played mostly house, what some call electronic music. Every night was a different club. Red Onion in West Covina, Club Metro in Riverside, Florentine Gardens in Hollywood, and Mister J’s in El Monte.

Every night was a different adventure. There were drunken nights of debauchery. There were also nights where we were tired and grumpy and left after an hour, making all of our feminine prep time a waste. We had a crew of five or six girls that would go out together. My twin sister Jackie, a girl named Gina and some whose names I can’t remember.

Occasionally, my best friend Melinda and I would go to Geckos in Upland that played alternative and where Richard Blade occasionally DJ’d.

This went on for three or so years. Then, I met Adrian. We still had fun. He would take me out to Jolt in Los Angeles. And to Florentine Gardens in El Monte. On my days off from work, Adrian (who was working as a dental assistant back then-a precursor to him becoming a dentist) would bring Chinese food to the apartment and eat with Annie and I at the small table. We would drink some beers and chill out and relax. Adrian and I would go to the room and cuddle and sleep.

I didn’t go back to school until I was 22 or so. After some false starts, I excelled. I became the editor-in-chief of the college newspaper and rediscovered writing. I got straight As aside from Algebra 2 as equation math has always been my Achilles heel, but I loved Statistics (my only A plus). It took me almost five years to transfer to UC Riverside. Those years were some of the best years of my life. There was no carefully mapped out plan. I was just living life and taking classes.

Compared to the grind of general ed classes at junior college, UC Riverside was easy. The majority of my classes in my English literature major just involved reading and writing, two of my favorite things to do. Lucky for me, I wasn’t working after being fired from Applebee’s for not carding a patron when I had 13 tables by myself one afternoon. The firing was hard to take, but it ended up being a blessing because I received 250 dollars a week in unemployment which was enough to live on. I had a junkie car and no bills other than books, food and beer. I made two very good friends who were also English majors and we procrastinated together.

Once I graduated UCR, I went straight to USC Law and you know the rest. I am a reformed big firm lawyer. That corporate litigator girl almost seems like a different person, as if I lost my mind for those 6 years trying to fit my square peg of a self into a round hole. I’ve been a deputy public defender for almost a decade and I love it.

Yet, there is still something missing. I miss the wild chaos of a life on the edge. Some days, I feel like I’m just biding time until retirement and that is surely no way to live. What I have figured out is that I am a creative. Above all, a writer. Perhaps, I need to take another plunge.

And that my friends is the take from all this. Don’t plan, just live. We could all die tomorrow. Tell your kids to enjoy their youth. Use the time to have adventures. Do not make it about the money. You just might have the time of your life and meet the love of your life.

Because in the end, that’s what you will have: Memories.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Reservations

Yesterday was a rough work day, but exhilarating. Then my exhilaration (after I won a motion that needed to be won) turned to exhaustion.

Running to make my specialist doctor’s appointment in Eastvale. Telling the young doctor of my embarrassing digestion issues with pink cheeks. Listening to him telling me he would make me feel better.

Rushing to pick up tacos for dinner. Potato taco for me, beef for Adrian, and chicken for his mother.

Let the dogs out. Frodo is missing his collar. I look in the backyard, on his bed, in our room. It’s nowhere. Adrian says someone took it off him. Maybe tried to steal him through the gate and I scream at him, “stop putting negative scenarios out into the universe!”

I obsess. Where did the collar go? He had it on in the morning when I walked him. I pledge to get one in the early morning hours at Wal-Mart. I can’t let him go without. There’s no walking without his collar and what if he gets out?

When I woke up at 4 am today, the collar was still on my mind. How I collar my dogs, and myself. We think we can protect our pets and ourselves from heartache. But can we? And is the collar just another way of trapping ourselves, like all of the damn possessions we have? At first, a car is freedom, and then it is a payment. A house is a home, then a mortgage. Bills. Work. Bills. Work.

Watching an episode of Parts Unknown at 5 am, I think, I could do that. Let it all go. Travel around the world. Write about my adventures.

As long as I can bring the shih tzus.


Sunday, June 10, 2018

A dark place

This week was a hard one for those with mental health issues. First, Kate Spade. Next, Anthony Bourdain. Depression is an ugly beast I know well. It drags you to a dark place where all you can see is down.

Money doesn’t help (except to the extent it can give you resources). Neither does trying to shake yourself out of it. Instead, it is a slow climb out of a deep well of sadness and melancholy. Not everyone makes it out. I really can’t blame people because life is hard. But it is also beautiful, stunning and surprising at times.

If you had told me fifteen years ago that I would be a criminal defense attorney with the public defender and a writer traveling to San Antonio to attend a prestigious Chicano workshop (Macondo, a workshop started by Sandra Cisneros), I quite simply would not have believed it. I would have laughed and waved my hand and said, “shut the fuck up.” I had lost my passion. My writing voice had disappeared.

It was 2003 and I was a first year associate at the largest law firm in Houston in the worst depression of my life. Worse than my senior year of high school. It was bad.

In Texas all alone. Friends, but no family. My boyfriend in California. All I did was work it seemed. And I would cry in the shower every morning thinking what did I do to my life? Yes, I wanted to die. But with the help of medication, a therapist and my friends, I crawled my way out. Just barely.

If I had given in to the urge, which was strong, I never would have published my stories, written this blog, met my shih tzus and most importantly, married my husband. I never would have went to Hawaii with my hubby and tried to surf or partied in Cancun with my mom. Or went to NYC to see one of my favorite bands, the Replacements, play live. And I never would have represented the developmentally disabled and mentally ill and found my legal calling.

In sum, I would have missed all this beauty. And accomplishments. There would just be ....

I was watching Parts Unknown this morning and it gave me such a rock in my chest to see Bourdain so vibrant on the screen. Talking to punkers in Burma/Myanmar. Encouraging them to live their dream and play in New York City.  Always looking people in the eye. Talking to them. His humanity was omnipresent.

But no one knows what is in someone’s head and heart. The road is a lonely life and while we all essentially live and die alone, perhaps it was just too much solitary time in faraway places.

So friends, please seek help if you ever have those thoughts.  You are not alone.

In the end, what I have figured out from this mad writing journey is that I am not alone. You are out there listening. There are a lot of us out here who feel the sadness more than most because we are empathetic and creative. And that is our greatest strength.

So don’t give up my friends. Ever.