Panorama of San Bernardino

Saturday, July 2, 2022

Paying my dues

Yesterday, someone commented that I had paid my figurative creative writing dues. And yes I have. Oh have I.

Twenty years ago, I started writing creatively while living in Houston. I hadn't written for years and had just graduated from USC Law and I was working as a corporate litigator at the largest law firm in Texas. Late night, staring out the window of a Houston skyscraper, I would write poems. They would pour out of me. It was the first time I realized that I had a writer inside of me, one that was bursting to get out. 

In Texas, that writing voice was compelled by the loneliness and despair I felt in a new place by myself and an unfulfilling job. That's not to say I regret Texas or working at the big firm because I don't. The job was a huge opportunity, one that I'll always be grateful for, and I made friends in Texas that I'll have for life.

Later, in San Francisco, with my husband who was in dental school, I kept writing. I didn't write as much because I was working long hours at yet another law firm, and when I wasn't working, I was having the time of my life. Adrian and I spent weekends at Golden Gate Park and exploring the city and the wine country areas of Napa and Sonoma. We started looking for a house to buy, the market was extremely low, and then boom, my dad died. 

It was the defining moment of my life. I totally just dropped everything and moved back home. I quit my San Francisco law firm job and moved to Colton to sleep on my twin sister's couch. I had already interviewed and accepted yet another law firm position. This one in Riverside. Yet, I knew the day I started that it wasn't for me. I still felt like an outsider. 

Flash forward to two years later. I'm desperately unhappy. I dread going into work and often leave early to write at the Starbucks down the street. My husband, who has graduated dental school by then and is studying for his board exams, catches me there one day. He knows I'm unhappy.  But we just bought a big house.

So I apply to a workshop called VONA and it changes my life. I find my writing voice, and myself. Soon, I'm interviewing for deputy public defender positions and after interviewing in Riverside, Orange County and San Bernardino, I'm hired in Riverside. It feels like I'm finally home. It is one of the best decisions I've ever made.

I keep on writing. I'm working on a memoir about my childhood and the stories come out free standing, one at a time, for over a decade. I know there's something there. I go to Macondo. People love the energy and voice. A publisher likes it too but suggests I rewrite it as fiction. 

Finally, I find Los Nietos, and this press likes my memoir as it is and suggests I lengthen it to add more chapters from a high school perspective. Those chapters and the editing and collating takes two years. I finish the final story in a creative writing online MFA program at the University of New Orleans. At the last minute, I add in my poetry (some of the same poetry about my dad's death that I wrote at the Starbucks in Ontario that Adrian caught me at all those years ago). Covid has happened and I've started a podcast and written a hybrid chapbook about public defense and punk rock. My memoir becomes a kind of prequel.  But it all makes sense. It all makes so much sense. 

So yes my dues are paid and I'm marketing the hell outta both my books. For years, and years, I prayed to the universe to give me this, so I'm relishing it. Life gives you a chance at finding your true purpose and you have to grab it when it comes, lest it slip away. And for me, this writer thing, it's here to stay.

Friday, July 1, 2022

Plus size

 I recently did a FB post about what plus size is: 

"What is plus size? Plus size is being large in everything we do. From our aesthetic and fashion to our makeup & eyelashes, to our career & social justice writing. Plus size is being conscious of the way the world will try to fit us in a tiny box. Break free baby! Plus size is everything we do to be our authentic selves. It's champagne & a party in Vegas. Wearing a leopard dress & knowing, we look good. Plus size is sexy. Plus size is punk rock."  Juanita E. Mantz JEM

"Plus size is a big laugh, big plans, and big love!!  And in this Pic, it's a white biker jacket as a blazer and really bad hair 😂😂." Amy Beth Clark-Downing

"Plus size is Hawt!"

"I grew up with elder family women who were plus size, but we didn't have that term then, and we didn't think being plus size was something negative. I admired and respected these beautiful women. And their lonjas appealed to me. Different bodies for different people, that's how I saw it, still do." liz gonzález

"Plus size is more canvas for beautiful tattoos and fun fashion!" Marika Lopez

"Plus size means no cool bathing suits or latest trends. Plus size is us then making our styles and trends. Plus size is walking in a room and people saying, “wow, she’s wearing that, so brave.” Plus size is head up and confident no one else has that outfit. Plus size is women asking where’d you shop. Plus size is taking my pants in at the hips but not waist. Plus size is hemming every fucking pair of pants bc apparently we’re not only wide but over 5’10, NOT!  Plus size is wearing it, owning the look and knowing others are talking about you. Plus size is eating that lunch and not worrying my pants are too tight. Plus size is leaving the store pissed bc the largest size on the rack is a 12! Plus size is telling the cashier, “I’m a big girl with cash, tell that to your buyer.” Plus size is asking the sales girl,” do you have anything for fluffy girls?” Plus size is the sales rep telling you, “sorry we don’t carry your size.” And you thinking, girl how do you know what and whom I’m buying for! Plus size is buying off Etsy bc the designers don’t care what size you are!! Yay, Etsy! Plus size is finding your designers and thanking them for letting you feel “normal.” Plus size is me. Plus size is learning to love myself forever." Geneva Castro'Lichtenstein




 

Tuesday, June 28, 2022

Platform

I started this blog more than a decade ago. My first post was about my humiliation at doing the sprinkler dance at a work gala. The writing is just okay. Looking back, I think it had a nice energy. And a voice. That's the most important thing in my opinion. You can learn to write and hone your craft, but the question really is whether you have something to say. A perspective. An attitude. A lens.

My blog writing has improved. Looking back at at some of my blogs, I think, wow I wrote that? But blog writing is not about perfection, it's about getting it out there. For me, I think of it like a diary aimed at an audience. It's very personal and active. 

Everyone knows that I think in song lyrics and love weaving music in. There's a whole subset of my blogs focused on music and the intersections with my life. And occasionally, I sneak in a political essay. 

Every blog takes about a half hour to no more than an hour with editing. No more than an hour because that's the point. It should be quick and easy. Breezy. 

After all these years, I've written over six hundred entries. That's 600 stories people! I've memorialized my life and I'm so glad I did. 

In my blogs, I've dealt with death, grief, infertility, weight issues, body image, pain management, forgiveness, trauma, love, mental health, my writing path, relationships and more. The one overarching theme is really about how to find your path and purpose in life.

My blog became a way for me to process. It's something I can look back on to remember how it felt. How I felt. Who I was. 

It took me years and years to build an audience. At first, I was happy if ten people read a blog. Hovering around fifty hits a month for years and years. Then, something clicked. 

Finally, I have a following. A thousand hits a month may not sound like a lot, but when it's consistent, it's enough. It's enough to know that this blog matters. Plus, my lovely micro audience is loyal, educated, creative, super literary and a tad political. My audience is people like me, inside wise that is. 

So I'm writing this to urge you all to write a blog. I'm planning on producing and teaching a class soon about audience building and how to use a blog, along with a podcast and social media, to create a platform (what I call "an identity" in the writing world). I'll announce it here and on my Life of JEM Facebook page when it drops. 

Remember that this public identity is a version of you. It's really whoever you want it to be. Be authentic and true, and always vulnerable, or don't bother. Keep something for yourself too. I call JEM my alter ego. At times, she's my better self.

I didn't start out thinking about platform. It happened organically, but it's paying off now that I finally finished and published my books. 

So think about it. And then make it happen. You can do it. Promise. 

Monday, June 27, 2022

Rough

It's been a rough couple days. I'm recovering from surgery and have been in a lot of pain. It's not unmanageable like my last surgery where I thought I would stroke out from the pain. This is pain I can grit my teeth at, and try to breathe my way through. I'm not a big pain pill person so have been using pills sparingly. Last night, I woke up covered in sweat after taking a pill yesterday late afternoon and I hate that groggy feeling. 

Back to roughness, the world is rough man. So damn rough. The US Supreme Court, in an act of judicial activism that I saw coming, did the unthinkable. Never say never. They took away women's reproductive choices with the stroke of a pen. The scariest thing to me is the idea that they will prosecute women. The next scariest thing, or maybe they're equally terrifying, is that the US world will become a place where pregnancy is coercion. These are frightening times and we will feel and see the horrifying results for years to come. 

Yet, don't lose hope. The world went backwards but we will move forward. For in these rough choppy waters, all we can do is row. 

Saturday, June 25, 2022

Feelings

I'm so angry. This is righteous anger. As a woman, as a feminist, and as a lawyer, I am appalled, terrified, heartbroken, and more. Words don't suffice really in times like these. These scary, dystopian and apocalyptic times.

I'll try to articulate how I feel.

This is how I feel. 

I feel as if the world is now irrevocably broken. Look, I know it already was broken. 

I'll say it again. In a whisper this time to myself. It already was broken. 

But for the highest court to take away a woman's right to choose. To say our body is not our own. To undo decades of binding precedent. To say there is no right of a woman to make her own decisions about her own body. It feels surreal. It feels horrible. 

Where do I go with my rage? Where do we go with our rage? 

There are so many who feel this way. 

I feel... helpless. Yet, I know I am not helpless, and we are not helpless. I am a lawyer, and a writer, one with a voice, and a pen, and a mission. 

Know this. We all have power to bring to the table. 

You see, the world is broken but we are not. So we need to mobilize and organize to be the heroes and heroines who will defend the marginalized, oppressed and persecuted. 

Because know one thing, know this, that this ruling will be used to prosecute poor women of color. Believe it. 

History has showed us what can happen, as have books, and we need to be ready to act. I feel it. The urgency. 

It's not a pleasant feeling, but it's real. It's now. So feel it. Feel it. 

Friday, June 24, 2022

The girl who sold the world

Life is so short. It is. Fleeting. Precious. 

And usually, at least for me, when I'm caught up in the day to day routine with work, it goes by like a film on fast forward. I can typically only remember fragments of my day. 

Yet, there are times when life moves slow, like now. 

Here at home, in recovery, time moves so beautifully slow, like floating on a lake, not traveling a rushing river, I linger. I have music on in the background of course. The Shins, Bowie and Queen. 

The moments come and I ease into them and am present. 

In these times, I notice the mysteries of life. The gorgeous cinematic quality to it all. The blue sky. The sun shining on me. My dogs' faces. I cherish my husband's quick kiss goodbye. His teasing me about the way I dance and I laugh after he leaves and give a tiny karate motion in the air. 

My shih tzu Frodo walks around the house, and he's doing much better this week. I sing along to Bowie as I sip my coffee. 

When it's time to feed the dogs, I sit and wait. There's no pressure. Taking my time, I make another cup of coffee. Two sugar cubes. Splash of cream. Sip. Sip, and sing.

Today, I have all time in the world.

Thursday, June 23, 2022

Ode to Coffee (In recovery room post surgery)

 Ode to coffee


Oh coffee I love you so

Let me tell you how I like you

Black and bitter warmth

Or with a splash of half and half 

One sugar cube, ok two

Down the hatch


This addiction 


Started when I was little

I would beg mom for a taste

She would hand me the mug

And I would take gulps

Until she grabbed it back

From my greedy hands 


Making herself another


That taste of Folgers, 

or was it Maxwell House

Is a hallmark of my childhood

Sitiing at our small kitchen table 

It still sustains me every morning

I drink as many as I want 


Fiending for it 


I have no kids to ask me 

for a sip. But if I did, 

I'd definitely pass my cup

To let them taste what 

smells like perfection 

At 5 am in the morning


While I write


It's the best part of my day 

Sipping my double espresso 

While remembering France 

downing those tiny cups

At my cousin's house,

devouring buttery croissants


Dip it in 


Savoring the sweetness, 

the aftertaste lingers  

Today, post surgery savoring 

my first cup in 24 hours

It's bland heaven, 

smooth on my tongue 


Probably Folgers