Panorama of San Bernardino

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Why we all wanted to be Molly

I am watching Pretty in Pink for the twenty-something (understatement) time.  Pretty in Pink from 1986 is the seminal outcast movie.  In the movie, Molly plays Andie, a punkish girl from the wrong side of the tracks who spends most of the movie making eyes at a rich button down wearing boy named Blaine while being followed around by a suspender and creeper wearing Duckie (Jon Cryer).  Andie and Duckie epitomize the style of post punk culture.  I remember seeing the movie at the theater.  I still have the unrequited wish of owning a lavender Karmann Ghia.  But, it was more than just her style.  In the movie, Andie takes care of her depressed dad (Harry Dean Stanton) and gets picked on by rich bitches and hangs in the quad with the punks.  She works in a record store with Iona (played by Annie Potts), a Siouxsie Sioux look-a-like.  Plus, Andie was smart, wicked smart.  To me, she was the ultimate smart but still cool chick.

Before Pretty in Pink was Molly's role in Breakfast Club where she played Claire Standish, aka the princess, a girl from the right side of the tracks who falls for a boy named John Bender, aka the criminal (played by Judd Nelson), from the wrong side of the tracks.  In the movie, the character of Claire opens up and evolves from a superficial popular girl to an empathetic teen girl who just wants to be loved.  This role was a risk for Molly who was originally cast to play Allison, aka the basket case (played by Ally Sheedy) but Molly brings a warmth and humanity to the princess role that is undeniable.  

And of course, before both of those movies was Sixteen Candles, the ultimate 80's movie and Molly's breakout role. In the film, Molly plays Samantha Baker (aka Sam or "Sammy Davis Baker Junior") whose entire family forgets her birthday.  I wanted to be Molly from the moment I saw this movie.  The scene on the bus with Anthony Michael Hall as Farmer Ted is classic.  The part where her grandmother feels her up ("I can't believe my grandmother actually felt me up") is hysterical and the climax is Sam getting the love from Jake Ryan.  It all starts with a note from her best friend asking Sam, aka Molly, who she would sleep with.  She names Jake Ryan, the ultimate hot and popular guy (and a Matt Dillon lookalike to boot)  Jake gets her response by using his foot to slide the note toward him when the best friend falls asleep on her desk.  Later, they meet eyes at a school dance but Farmer Ted intercedes and sabotoges them by approaching Sam with crazy dance moves.  After some comic twists and turns, Jake shows up at the wedding where Sam is a bridesmaid (her sister is marrying a guy who is referred to as an oily beau hunk). In the end, it is clear that Jake loved her all along.

We all still love Molly.  Molly is who we all wanted to be.  A girl with an edge.  A girl who bucked the expectations others put upon her.  In Sixteen Candles, no one (not even her best friend) thinks she is good enough for Jake to date.  In Breakfast Club, Claire decides to love the so called stoner loser despite what will surely be the dismay of the cool crowd.  In Pretty in Pink, Andie is the ultimate outcast and chooses love with Blaine even though he is a rich kid (although I pine for the original ending where she chooses Duckie).

And, in the end, that is why we love Molly because, at least for me, she is every girl.

Monday, November 11, 2013


When I was young, I never thought I would have kids.  I have written before that I felt I was too damaged, irresponsible and/or crazy to be a parent.  But, something about the memoir writing process of writing through my memories has made me reconsider and dare hope.  To reproduce is defined as "to make a copy or a close replica of".  That's not what I want.  I want a chance at redemption.

On Thursday, I went to the fertility specialist and we are starting in vitro next month.  I have started trying to visualize myself pregnant and have found myself saying annoying sentences starting with, "when I am pregnant..."  My poor husband has to listen to these queries which range from the cliche to the ridiculous.  "When I am pregnant will you go get me pickles and ice cream at midnight?" (cliche) "When I am pregnant will you rub my feet?"  (cliche) "When I am pregnant will you make sure the dogs don't get jealous?"  (how would he avoid that?) And finally, "when I am pregnant can you make sure I drink only Stevia flavored diet soda from Clark's?" (absurd)

There is something about saying those four words "when I am pregnant".  I never let myself say those words before.  Perhaps it was too disheartening to even try and visualize it. What if it didn't happen?  I did not want to be broken by the process of wanting.  I clearly am making progress because by saying those words I am opening up my heart to the possibility of a child.  It is similar to the way I kept calling myself a writer and writing and now a mere seven years later, I feel like a writer most days.  I still don't think I am a great writer or even a very good writer, but I write.  I try.  I put pen to page almost every day.  I have even been called a disciplined writer which can be way more important than a talented writer.

That is what I hope happens with motherhood.  That my persistence means something,  I want the opportunity to be a mother  and while I may not end up the most talented mother, I will give it one heck of a try.  I will give it my all.  Because in my life what I have found to be most true is that the things you work for and want and ask for, and sometimes even beg for, are the most valuable.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Mad World

"And I find it kind of funny.  I find it kind of sad.  The dreams in which I'm dying are the best I've  ever had."  Mad World (version by Tears for Fears).

This world of ours is crazy.  It is a mad world.  Not mad in a Mad Max kind of way, but mad in a 1984 Orwellian kind of way or maybe Animal Farm.

We live in a caste ridden society.  There are so many hierarchies in this world we call America.  There is a peasant class.  We just don't want to admit it.

This world is not fair.  You can work your ass off and go nowhere.  You can commit a fraud crime and end up in prison for ten years or if you're white collar you can end up a billionaire.

Many things make no sense to me.  How I got lucky and others did not.

I see my clients in the jails and it amazes me how we can take a person's freedom away before trial because they do not have the money to post bail.

The fact that we let bail bondsmen determine who goes free pre-trial is outrageous.  In the end, money or the lack thereof is the determining factor.  And those who are incarcerated pre-trial plead guilty to defensible crimes at an alarming rate.  We know this.  Yet, we do nothing.

Why aren't people screaming in the streets?  I suppose it is because we are used to seeing this as a society and think it can't happen to us.  We think that we are above the long or short arm (depending where you are in society) of the law.

But no one is.  We are just the lucky ones.  Or maybe we are in a Mad Max world where only the strong (in this version the rich) survive.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Hollywood (aka Hollyweird)

I am sitting in the Starbucks on Hollywood Boulevard and thinking back to the days long ago when I would come here in high school.  To Hollywood I mean, not to Starbucks.  There was no Starbucks back in the 1980's.  People consoled themselves with a thermos of coffee from home or weak coffee in a styrofoam cup from a donut shop.

My best friends and I would come to Hollywood when we were supposed to be in class.  By the time this tradition started, I had dyed my hair blue black, pierced my right nostril with a stud earring and wore black eyeliner Cleopatra style like Siouxsie Sioux.  My uniform (and looking back it was a type of uniform for the misunderstood and depressed) consisted of a concert t-shirt paired with a man's vest from a thrift store and red thermals over my legs covered by men's (striped preferably) boxers.  The cheery on top was a pair of scuffed red monkey boots purchased from Nana's on Melrose.

I would come to Hollywood with one or both of my two best friends, Melinda and Tracy.  I didn't have a car so Melinda or Tracy would drive to Hollywood.  Melinda had a 1964 white Covair and Tracy drove a small red Honda Civic, the back window of which was covered with stickers of our favorite punk bands.

I can't remember much details from the Hollywood trips, but I can recall excitement of those days.  The feeling of freedom while in the car driving on the I-10 freeway west from Ontario those sixty miles to the Hollywood 101 freeway.  We blasted the radio and leaned out the windows screaming like the teenagers we were.

It was as if the world was all ours.  We owned the universe and we knew anything could happen.  Miracles could occur.  They already had for us.  During our Hollywood trips, we met rock stars and had adventures and most importantly, bought cool clothes.

Driving here this morning (after dropping hubby off at a dental conference in Burbank), I felt none of that excitement.  On the contrary, being in my old teenage playground has made me more meloncholy than merry.  It reminds of of the Nirvana lyric, "Teenage angst has paid off well.  Now I'm bored and old."

I am here in Hollywood (or Hollyweird as Melinda and Tracy and I used to call it) to buy some pseudo 1950's rockabilly style clothing at a store called Betty Page.  The store sells reproductions of sexy dresses from the 1950's and the store has a punk feel.  It is better than buying some monkey boots which my husband convinced me I am too old to wear.

Some say rockabilly is where the goth and punk girls go to die.  I suppose this is my purgatory.

For now.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Rockin the Casbah

Just admit it.  Life is hard.  Being an adult sucks ass.

There are days I want to listen to my punk music (the Ramones, the Sex Pistols and the Buzzcocks to name a few) and post punk music (seminal bands like the Smiths, Siouxsie and the Banshees and the Cure) and dance until my head hurts to escape the messiness and mundaneness of life.

If someone was brave enough to tell kids how hard life was, teens would never want to grow up so quick.  When I was a teenager, I couldn't wait to be eighteen.  My dreams of being in college and doing whatever I wanted fizzled out like diet coke left open in the sun when I dropped out of high school at seventeen.

By nineteen, I was waiting tables and struggling to make rent on a low income apartment in Upland.

Life seems better on paper now.  I went to UCR for my English degree and graduated magna cum laude and then USC Law,  I have the pedigree I always craved as a young child.  Yet, there is something wrong.  What is wrong with me?  I know it is cliche to say life is getting me down, but it is.  This thing we call life is so boring most days.  Wake up, eat, walk dogs, drive to work, work, drive home, eat, go to sleep.  Blah.  Blah.  Blah.

I have a bad case of the blahs.

The only things that help are music, writing, and television.   Granted, television is more of a numbing agent which I admit I use frequently.  Watching thirteen one hour episodes of a new series on Netflix in three days ("Orange is the New Black") is not healthy I know.  I don't drink anymore so this is all I got.

It seems as if the universe is giving me sign after sign that I need to follow my passion for writing.  Every TV show, every radio show, even commercials, keep reminding me that life is too short to waste.

Here is my goal, I am writing it down to visualize it.  I will have an agent and my book will be published.   People will read it.  My memoir will rocket into the literary airspace and take the world by storm.

That is my dream.  That will be my life.

Fuck the blahs.  This IE girl wants to rock the casbah.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

The hardest button

"I had opinions that didn't matter/I had a brain that felt like pancake batter/I got a backyard with nothing in it/Except a stick, a dog and a box with something in it./The hardest button to button/The hardest button to button/The hardest button to button/The hardest button to button, Ah oh" (The White Stripes with lyrics by Jack White)

"Hit the button" were the words said to me.  In other words, make a decision.  What do you want?  And do you really want what you think you want?  Yes, I do.

I want to be a trial lawyer.  I want to try felony cases.  I know I can.  It's a knowing that will never go away.

I agonized over the process.  I didn't sleep for two weeks.  I have never been able to divorce my body from my mind.  My stress shows up in insomnia, stomach aches, and intestinal distress.  I wish I had the ability to not give a shit what other people think.  But, I am forty and at this point, I think I should just accept that I am a people pleaser and that I care what people think.  

The punk rock girl in me wants to shrug and say who cares if you don't like me and if you don't know me.  That kind of rebellious attitude would not work well for a professional adult at a public agency.

Instead, I did the opposite and opened myself up.  I was open, honest, truthful and raw.  I probably gave too much information about who I am.  If this was a poker game, I went all in.

The funny part is, it worked.  They like me, I think they really, really like me.

And I like me.  In the end, that is what is most important.  Really.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

The Seekers, the Fixers and the Thinkers

Whenever I think I have it all figured out, life kicks me in the ass to say, no you don't.

I am confident and sometimes, just sometimes, that confidence can make me forget that everyone has an agenda and that people's agendas don't always match.  And, if agendas do not match, what happens is that people are at cross purposes and it doesn't matter what you do, you will never meet each other's expectations.

Now, I am not going to get too specific, so whoever (or whatever) people think this conversation is aimed at, so be it.  What I am trying to say here is that my goal for the next week is to try and figure out people's agendas.  

In short, what the fuck do people want?

I know what I want.  I want to be appreciated and told as often as possible how fabulous I am.  Let's call this type (my type) the seekers of validation.  When I don't get that validation, I can turn surly and off kilter.  I think I give people this in return (hmmm, some may disagree).  I have the tendency to be over complimentary if I appreciate someone.  People are wonderful and good for the most part.  What I have learned is that this need in me and others may be difficult for some to handle or understand.  Don't you already know how much I adore you they may ask.... Yes, I know down deep inside, but I need to hear it again and again and again.  People may also misinterpret this seeking as weakness or neediness and weak we are not.  Because, in the end, all seekers, including myself, know how brilliant we are.

Others show their love through criticism. You know who you are.  Let's call these types the fixers of the universe.  These people love to tell others what they are doing wrong and think they are being helpful.  Yet, what the fixers don't realize is that this helpfulness can be taken to heart as criticism as opposed to friendly advice.  For whatever reason, I gravitate to these fixer type personalities probably because I am a hot stinking mess most days.  If not for my husband, I would wear my clothes inside out.  I guess what I am saying is that these types need to temper their criticism with some compliments and tell me how great I am (or whoever they are talking to, but shit, we all know this is all really about me).

And then, there are the silent types.  Those who just listen.  I will call these types the thinkers of the world.  I like these people because I like to talk.  The problem with these "thinkers" is that they may have an agenda and they will never voice it.  This kind of person is dangerous for me and other seekers of validation because they may use our information against us and us seekers just blab on and on never knowing we are harming ourselves in the process.  

That's all I got.  Sometimes this blog is my way of thinking out loud and trying to make sense of the universe.

Till tomorrow. Or the day after.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

A mess of things

I am a mess.  I am anxious and irritable most of the time.  I have been sober for a year come next weekend and what I have realized down my new path of sobriety is that life is hard.  There are days that make me wanna drink.  Scratch that.  I never needed an excuse for drinking.  Or better yet, a great day was as good an excuse for drinking as a bad day was.  Drinkers don't need an excuse is my point.  We drink because there is something unquiet within us that needs to be muffled and alcohol is the elixir that fixes it and makes us feel normal.

My new normal is far better than my old normal.  Yes, I am still an anxious, quivering mess who tries to be funny and confident (too hard sometimes I am sure).

And I can't take my husband's or anyone else's criticism without crying inside.  I am still that six year old girl at the front of the class craving validation.  Love me.  Yet, being sober has made me deal.  Not drinking has forced me to confront my issues in a way I never could as long as I had my German beers or a Malibu and Diet Coke in hand.

Just don't ask me to give up my Diet Coke.

Here I am world.  This is me.  Take it or leave it.  I am really talking to myself here I know...

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Big John: A Father's Day Blog

My dad had a belt buckle that said Big John.  For most of his life, Dad was a big man.  He used to drive trucks but got a job at Mayflower when we were little so he could spend more time at home.  He moved furniture for a living and broke his back most days to provide for us.  I can picture Dad in his green Mayflower uniform.  He always looked tired and his legs were swollen from all the heavy lifting and time on his feet.  

I remember Dad bringing home the oddest treasures that people would give him: paintings, dolls under glass, books and used lamps and furniture.  Most of it was junk but Dad, who was a collector by nature, loved the stuff.

"Look what they gave me girls," Dad would say to my sisters and I.  "This is a collectible."  I would usually look at it and shake my head and Dad would say in his usual resigned way, "When I'm gone Jenny this is gonna be worth big money, big money."  When he died,  we put his collection of VHS tapes, beer steins, used horror paperbacks and Readers' Digest magazines on a table for the seniors to pick through.  The stuff was all gone within minutes.

My dad died more than six years ago from pancreatic cancer that ate him away in four short weeks after diagnosis.  Most days, I have to shake myself and remind myself Dad is not here because I still feel his presence so strongly.  In my writing, it is his character's voice that I hear the loudest. I often hear Dad saying my childhood nickname, "Jenny. Jenny. Jenny."  It is a refrain in my head.

Some days, it is like channelling Dad's spirit to write.  I want to get down all the good things.  The rummy tournaments Dad would have with my sisters and I when we were little.  The Friday night movie nights at the drive-in.  The trips to the Pizza Hut with the black and white little table TVs that Dad would plug with quarters while my sisters and I watched Different Strokes with pizza sauce dribbling down our chins.

I can't memorialize it all.  I wish I could.  That is what is so ironic about life.  While you are living it, life is hard to appreciate and it is difficult to remember to tell those who live life with you how much you care and how much you appreciate them.  It is easy to forget and later much harder and bittersweet, to look back and wish they knew how much you yearn for their presence.

And, how much you wish that voice saying your name was real.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Blinded By Lightness In Palm Springs

A mere hour's drive from where I live in Southern California is a city where the sun rarely sets.  Palm Springs and its adjoining cities (Palm Desert, Rancho Mirage etc.) are a figurative and literal oasis in the middle of the low desert area of San Bernardino County.  I say low desert because I live in the high desert area of Oak Hills near Hesperia.  The best way I describe where I live to LA types is that we are on the I-15 Freeway North on the way to Vegas about forty five minutes before you hit Barstow.

Palm Springs, on the other hand, is on the way to Indio.  You take the I-10 freeway east for about two hours (disclaimer: with no traffic) from LA.  While technically in the Inland Empire ("the IE"), the Palm Springs area is an anamoly in the IE.   It is a resort town filled with golfcourses and fancy hotels and its high season hosts loads of Hollywood stars (and wannabes).

I am sitting at the JW Marriott, a resort in Palm Springs, while writing this.  The JW, as the locals call it, is lovely.  They have a man made lake that you can take a gondola ride on.  The only thing is, the crowd at the JW is very white.  When I say white, I don't mean the word white as a slur.  I mean everyone at the hotel, aside from the staff of course, looks caucasian.  It is kinda freaking me out.  At the Starbucks I looked at the people in line and thought to myself, are those two women from The Real Housewives of Orange County?  Thank god I didn't say the words out loud (as my husband will attest, I am prone to speaking my thoughts aloud without thought.)

I am not a racist, I love white people.  I am staying here at the JW with my best friend who is a white girl.  That's a joke by the way if you can't tell.  Tracy is a white girl but I wouldn't say that to defend myself against a charge of racism (or maybe I just did).  And my dad was white.  I am thus a halfer.  But what people see is my brown-ness.  I look Mexican and I think that is a good thing because I can't imagine having to worry about a sunburn.  When I was little, my other best friend Melinda (who is Mexican-not that it matters but I just had to throw that in for some reason) and I used to douse ourselves with baby oil to cook ourselves in the hot Ontario sun.  We would have contests to see who could get the brownest which was judged by the swimsuit tan line.

Growing up, my mom would take me over her friend's house and I was fascinated by the woman's ginger haired sons whose bright red hair and freckles looked exotic to me.

A Latina woman just walked by and I was about to say hi when I saw she had parrots on her arms.  She is the woman who takes care of the famous JW parrots and she was too busy to stop and talk.

I am giving myself whiplash by turning my head right to left looking for some brown people.  I guess there are just none to be had here.  I am giving up and am off to the pool to tan.  Gotta get me some color somehow.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Writing Workshop to Come-VONA 2013

In a mere two weeks, I will be on a plane to Oakland for VONA at UC Berkeley.  VONA is a week long writing workshop for writers of color.  This will be my fourth VONA.  

My first VONA experience with writing guru Faith Adiele (who wrote the memoir "Meeting Faith: the Forest Journals of a Black Buddhist Nun") changed my life.  Faith and my writing group at VONA encouraged me and motivated me to focus.  They gave me the push I needed.  After that first VONA, I gave my notice and left my corporate law firm job to become a public defender.  And, I started concentrating on memorializing my childhood memories, many of which were fragmented narrative poems but with persistence and patience these fragments became full stories.

My second VONA with Andrew Pham, who wrote the magnificent memoir Catfish and Mandala, solidified my quest to become to become a writer.  He is a Jedi master of writing and he helped me believe in myself and my writing.

Last year's workshop with Minal Hajratwala (of "Leaving India" memoir fame) made me positive that I was on the right writing track.  She gently challenged me to leave it all on the page.

At VONA, I had the chance to work with some of the finest nonfiction writers in the country and I found a community that accepted me and made friends for life.  In the writing classes, I never felt judged.  I felt supported.

This year, I am taking a writing residency with David Mura.  He appears to be a Rennaisance man/writer and writes poetry, performance pieces and memoir.  The residency is different from a workshop as it is more focused on finishing one's book.  Thus, there are no workshop classes, but instead you work one on one with the teacher.  I am reading Mura's memoir "Turning Japanese: Memories of a Sansei" and so many things in his book are resonating with me.  His quest for an identity mirrors my own and I am shaking with anticipation as I write this blog.  (Maybe it is the double expresso but I doubt it).

This year, I know I have it in me to finish the memoir I started more than six years ago.  There has to be an end date for this project because there are so many other projects I want to start.  And, I know I have it in me.

VONA 2013 here I come.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Airport musings: from the HD to Ontario to the Bay

I am sitting at the airport in Ontario, California waiting for my flight.  I am reading at Stanford today for a literary journal that published one of my stories and my stomach feels queasy.  I always get the "why did I sign up for this" feeling when I do something different.  I am having that feeling today.

I am outside of my comfort zone and inside of my comfort zone at the same time.  I am in Ontario in the Inland Empire (the "IE"), the city I grew up in, and traveling to the Bay Area where I lived for two years while my husband was in dental school at UCSF.

I didn't stay for Adrian's entire dental school tenure.  I arrived at the beginning of his second year.  I was practicing law at the largest law firm in Houston, Texas and had to take the California bar.  The day I found out I passed the California bar exam was the same day as our law firm prom and I got drunk on martinis to celebrate that I was finally free.  I left the Bay at the beginning of Adrian's final year of dental school when my dad died unexpectedly of pancreatic cancer.

When my dad died, I felt an overwhelming need to come home to the IE.  I found a job at a law firm in Riverside and stayed there for two years.  Eventually, I realized I couldn't do corporate law any longer and ended up at the public defender's office.  Adrian moved back four years ago and we (finally) got married and live in the High Desert which some call the HD.

The HD is located about 75 miles from LA.  You take the 15 freeway north toward Vegas and our area is on the downhill slide where the Cajon Pass ends.  Joshua Trees line the highway.

In the world of the IE, there are champagne cities like Rancho Cucamonga and Palm Springs and there are lower Budweiser type towns like my hometown of Ontario and San Bernardino.  The HD falls somewhere below all of these places.

I hated the HD at first, but the area has grown on me.  The air is clear and it is warm most of the year and blistering hot in the summer.  Plus, it is closer to Vegas (about 2.5 hours).  We live in a rural area on a dirt road but it is a peaceful paradise where you can wake up in the mornings and watch jackrabbits run free.  Living there helps me connect to that creative place in my soul.  And it is only an hour and fifteen minutes from LA with no traffic.  People imagine those from the HD are hillbillies or what people call river rats (those who spend every weekend at "The River").  I am neither.

These are my airport musings.  I watch as all of these people line up and wonder what they are thinking.  Are they thinking of their home towns or their journey?  Do people even reflect anymore?
They are calling us to board as I write these final words.

Time for another adventure.   Bay Area here I come.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

The Miracle

Was it Sarah in the Bible who was barren? I think so. By some kind of miracle she becomes pregnant in her nineties.

I always thought from a young age that I would be barren as well. Whether it was a premonition, or the result of my mom's stories of infertility, I don't know but here I am sitting in a fertility center.

There are days I want to stay in bed curled up in a little ball. My heart feels battered about. Does God not believe in my maternal nature? Or maybe the possibility of creating life passed me by while I was at a corporate law firm in my thirties?

My life feels meaningless.   What was the purpose of my trials and tribulations and ultimate redemption? That said, I have never been a woman who thought I needed a child to feel fulfilled. 

Until now.

Today, the doctor will go over tests with me which will show, at age 41, whether I have any eggs left. I am hoping for a miracle but my OBGYN already told me the test results were disappointing.

I am hoping for a kind of miracle. A Sarah kind of miracle. 

And I've never felt so old in my life.

Meditations while on muscle relaxers

Yesterday was a strange day. It made me realize some things I am meditating on today.

I am blessed. When the car rammed into my Mercedes on the freeway yesterday, the force was so strong that I hit the steering wheel with my chest. I blacked out for a moment.

When I woke up a split second later, chaos ensued. After we pulled off the freeway, the car who hit me took off and I was left alone in a Wal-Mart parking lot shaking uncontrollably.

But this story is not about the accident. Or about my experience with the kind paramedics and the helpful CHP (and the unhelpful Colton PD). It is not about my subsequent four hour emergency room visit.

This piece is about what is in my head today as I lay in bed, a Shih-Tzu on each side of me.

In my head is a mix of Norco induced euphoria and gratitude. It sounds cliche, but the truth is, I am grateful to be here. I am grateful that I can watch Seinfeld and Roseanne reruns and write this essay on my iPhone. I am grateful for being able to write anything at all. Not everyone can do what I do with words and I am happy to be able to express myself creatively.

Usually, I complain about living with my mother-in-law Orieta and brother-in-law Gabe. But today I am grateful for Orieta who keeps on asking me if I need anything and for Gabe who offered to help take care of my car issues.

I am also thankful for my friends who keep checking in on me. And I thank God for my job as a public defender because I get plenty of sick days and they never pressure me into coming in.

I am also grateful for my husband who kissed me on my forehead this morning and told me he loves me.

And, I am grateful for my sisters and mom who I get to talk to every day.

Life sometimes gets me down and my fertility issues have caused me a lot of anxiety lately.

Today, none of that matters because I am a very lucky girl. My plan is to say it three times every day from here out while clicking my heels in thankfulness.

I am a very lucky girl.

I am a very lucky girl.

I am a very lucky girl.

(Heels clicking)

Thursday, April 4, 2013

On being Roger Ebert

If I could I would be a movie critic
I heard an interview with Roger Ebert
He gets up in the morning
has his coffee and bagel
Watches a movie, then has lunch
Writes some comments

Then he watches another movie
Imagine getting paid to watch
Taxi Driver or Pulp Fiction
But job satisfaction and amount of income
Are inversely correlated to one another
Roger Ebert is the exception

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

The Last Time I Saw You

The last time I saw you
you were in your casket.
A mortician went over you with makeup.
You didn't look like you.

The last time I really saw you
was three days earlier.
You were watching a movie,
too tired to play cards.

We didn't need to speak,
we talked in our heads.
I could read the thoughts
in your blue eyes.

Take care of your mother
your eyes said.
It's almost time.

After I told the paramedics to stop.
After I let you go with one word.
"Should we go on?" they asked.
"No," I replied.

We had to wait for two hours
for the coroner to come
and take your body away.

And I remember,
at least I think I remember,
standing outside in the cool Riverside air
tears running down my face.

Or is that something
created in my head?
I'm not sure.

Maybe I did nothing.
Maybe I went to sleep.
And awoke the next day to begin
the planning and preparations.

What I remember most
is going to the cemetery in Ontario
to pick out your headstone.
You were cremated.

And your ashes would end up
under the headstone I paid for
with my American Express card.

Mom insisted on writing her name
on the headstone next to yours
with her year of death unwritten.
I thought it was creepy.

But I didn't have the heart to fight.
You would have wanted it that way.
No more arguments.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

A Literary Life

I am reading Carolyn See's book on writing "Making A Literary Life" and it is bringing to mind my life thus far. Have I lived a writer's life? Only in the last couple years have I focused on my writing. Yet, I feel as if I had to live a non literary life to get here.

To a place where writing is my focus and where I put my efforts. For so many years, especially when I started writing in 2006, I thought my voice had no value. It took VONA, a writers' workshop in the Bay Area for writers of color, to change that.

About six years ago, I took my first class with the amazing Faith Adiele and I was intimidated and scared. Who was I to be so presumptuous to believe I belonged in this class of writers? By the first day of class, I was a nervous shaking mess of a woman.

Fuck, I'd been to law school at USC and was never this scared. I almost left before I even began. I was terrified to open myself up to a room of strangers. To let them see my childhood chaos and the damage it had wrought on me. But, somehow I stayed and it turned out to be the most amazing experience of my life. Faith and my writing group were complimentary and supportive. It was exactly what I needed and I made friends for life.

The experience changed me. After VONA, I mutated into a different me. I decided to quit my job at a large firm and went to the Public Defender's office. I found that I still had passion for the law.

Writing memoir made me want to live a better life.

I have returned to VONA every other year since and the workshop and its group of writers and talented teachers have sustained and inspired me to keep writing.

That's the funny thing about memoir. We, as writer, narrator and protagonist, get to make our own endings by our choices in life.

Ultimately, I choose to live a literary life and write about it. And dammit, I want my memoir to have a happy ending.

Friday, March 8, 2013

The Quest for Morrissey

I have begun a quest.  A quest to interview my idol Morrissey.

If you have read my blog for long, you well know that I am obsessed with Morrissey, former lead singer of the Smiths and the man I consider the voice of my generation.  Today, I spent my day in a coffee shop working on a website for what I have deemed Project Morrissey.  This may be the best idea of my life.

I want to interview Steven Patrick Morrissey to find out the questions he has never been asked.  I don't care about the salacious stuff, gay or straight, Johnny Marr break up, etc.  None of that stuff matters to me.  I want to know what makes him tick.  What does he think of James Joyce?  How has art saved him from the abyss of depression?   What inspired my favorite songs?  How has he persevered through it all?

See  I have begun another adventure and can't wait to see how it unfolds.

Thursday, February 21, 2013


One of my favorite Beatles songs is "Yesterday". Although I was always more of a Lennon fan, there is something about this McCartney penned tune that gets me. I am always looking back, both as a person and as a writer, and yesterday does seem far away. But it also seems like yesterday.

We are our memories and I wish I had a better memory. I want to remember every moment of my life so I can put it to paper, but somehow I feel as if I'm not meant to remember EVERYTHING.

The things we don't remember sometimes say more about who we are. I enjoy writing about the absence of memory and the ambiguity of it. In the end, it is my story to tell and frame. Take my high school years as an example. There is plenty I don't remember. I don't remember sitting in class for almost four years until eventually I would leave five credits short of a diploma and take my GED.

Yet, I do remember a lot of ditching in Hollywood and Montclair. Montclair had a mall with a direct bus route from school and once we could drive, Hollywood had Nana's for monkey boots and Tower records.

I also remember a lot of sitting in the quad hanging out between classes and the smell of stolen hits off a cigarette and the dreadful feeling that high school would never end.

But end it did and not in the way I expected with my grandiose thoughts of a Claremont college education being replaced by a GED and a waitressing job (the result of me giving up and sleeping through my senior year).

Maybe that is why the song Yesterday speaks to many. It is bittersweet with regret and acceptance of the past.

And we have to accept the past right? All we have is our memories and our future path.

I didn't turn out so bad after all. It just took longer than I imagined. Imagine, now that's a great song. Told you I was a Lennon fan...

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

The Chair

My mouth is numb. Drool spills out of the corner of my mouth while my husband stands over me with a drill in his hand.

"Raise your hand if there's pain," he says in a gentle voice. I'm always in pain in the chair so I raise my hand.

"We haven't started yet," he says shaking his head. He knows I'm fucking with him.

Did I mention I hate going to the dentist but my husband Adrian, a dentist, cajoles me into regular visits. I am a horrible patient.

I get anxious and my heart pounds as soon as I sit in the chair. It doesn't matter that I trust Adrian. It doesn't matter that I know he knows what he is doing. He's a guy with a drill in my mouth.

Working on me is likewise hard on Adrian. "You're the worst patient," he always says when he gets home.

He's lucky I come in at all.

Earlier, when I sat down in the chair he told me to relax and open wide. I wanted to make a dirty joke but restrained myself. Instead, I asked him if he had noise canceling headphones. I know he doesn't. To further annoy him, I proceeded to make fun of his music. In response, Adrian made a face and took a needle and pierced my gums.

Fuck that hurt, I thought to myself as I raised my hand and muttered, "This is going in the story."

The Year

I have decided that I want to live the life of a writer, at least for a year.  Some things you just know and recently, I have had the overwhelming urge to write full-time.  My job as a public defender is rewarding but taxing.  It doesn't allow me to completely focus on my writing.

Truth is, I need a year.  Just one year to write.  To spend my days thinking up stories and writing and editing.

Is a year too much to ask?

My memoir is almost finished but it needs substantial revising and editing.  There are some holes to fill as well.  Plus, I have other books in me.  I want to write a romantic and realistic and kinda anti-romantic, love story.  I want to write a YA fiction novel.  I want, I want, I want to write full-time.  Before it is too late.

I have grey hairs spouting up on the left side of my head that remind me that life goes quickly.  I am forty plus (don't ask) and the years speed by faster the older one gets.  I think it has something to do with the proportion of time left.  To think about it makes my head hurt.  Yet, I must think about it.  I must remember that I only have this NOW, this life to live and I have my writing destiny to fulfill.

Now I just gotta figure out how to make it happen.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

The conumdrum

My conumdrum is that I am happy but not content.  I have a husband who loves me, a job I love most days and three lovely dogs (no baby, but I am hopeful).

Still, something is missing.  I wake up at four a.m. most mornings brimming over with anxiety, like a boiling teapot of a human whose mind won't turn off.  I worry about everything I said the day before and everything to come.  What am I so afraid of?  What is the worst thing that could happen?

Happiness has always been an elusive concept for me.  I have written about the sad fact that I am happiest in retrospect.  I call it the rear view mirror effect where everything seems better looking back.

Is my anxiety a sign that I should be writing full-time?

Writing keeps my monsters at bay.  On good days, writing is like channeling the spirits of the past.  On bad days, it is like trying to get the last dregs of ketchup out of a stubborn bottle.  Writing for me is always satisfying.  Like scratching an itch that needs to be scratched.  Writing keeps me sane and is much better for me than Lexapro.

The conumdrum is whether I take a risk.  Should I jump off the springboard into the swimming pool of life?  What if I drown although I know, I mean I fucking know, that I am a strong swimmer and have a great backstroke.

My life has not been easy and all the good things I have achieved have taken effort and sacrifice.  The question is how much I am willing to give up for my voice to be heard.  How much am I willing to risk of my ego, of my financial stability and of my time?

Today I make a pledge to try and think about this conumdrum at length and to challenge myself to be the best I can be.  This old girl has a lot of life left in her.  She just needs a jump.

Monday, January 14, 2013

The Mulligan

I feel like I have written this story before. Maybe it's been in my head a long time.  Or maybe I have written a varient of this story before but what matters is today.

Tonight, my mother-in-law made dinner: chicken with a green bean salad. As I bit into a green bean I said, "we should start a garden."

It made me think of my dad.  When he was alive, my dad loved his garden. It was small, maybe ten by ten. My parents' senior complex in Mira Loma allowed it. My dad grew zucchini, strawberries and tomatoes. He had always grown things.  He had planted geraniums in the front yard when we were little.

The gardening was probably related to my dad's love of food in general.  As a young child he grew up poor.  So poor that his parents put him and his siblings in an orphanage for two years because they could not feed him.  To my dad, food was comfort and love.  And by gardening he cultivated that.

When my mom and dad came to visit me in Houston ten years ago I had no idea that he would die less than four years later. I was working at the largest firm in Texas as a civil litigator. My parents took a train to see me. It took them almost three days.  Three days on a train sitting in a chair.  I don't know if I would do that for anyone.  My parents obviously wanted to see me.  Badly.  I had been working so much that I rarely came home to the Inland Empire.

When they arrived I was short with them.

"I have to work all week," I told my dad.

""That's OK Jennie," my dad replied.  "We will entertain ourselves."

And my parents were troopers.  My parents would drop me off at work and take my car and show themselves the sights.  When I got home, we would go grab dinner.  I can try and sugercoat it but the reality is that I worked too much. I barely spent any time with them. To think of it makes my eyes water and gives me a rock in my chest.

What the fuck was I thinking?

My dad got to know all my neighbors.  He got to know them more in one week then I had in a year. 

"My daughter is a lawyer," he would tell them proudly.

One night I came home and saw that my dad had planted tomatoes in my back yard.  I yelled at him.  Looking back, I know he was just trying to show his love.

One night, right before my parents left, we drove out to Louisiana together to go the riverboat casino. We stayed on the boat and my dad played poker while my mom and I sat in the bar.

If I had to do it over, I would spend the week with my parents showing them Houston and I would play poker with my dad at a table like he asked.  I would give him a couple of hundred dollars to gamble no questions asked.

And I would take back the rude words I said after he planted tomatoes in my backyard.

Life gives few Mulligans and that lost week in Houston is what I would do over if I could.

But I can't.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

How Soon Is Now

Morrissey and his (former) band the Smiths were my haven. It started in my teenage years and continues to now. I remember first seeing the name of the band spray painted on the side of a building. Guys with dark hair and long bangs wore The Smiths patches on the outside of their trench coats and leather jackets. Morrissey expressed the angst of being human.

Morrissey was able, is able, brilliant and erudite person that he is, to illustrate the loneliness of being human in song.

Even the name of his band was melancholy. The Smiths. Every man. Every band.

Morrissey has always been more poet to me than songwriter. His lyrics are beautiful in a non obvious way. For example, he deftly captures the despair of unrequited love in my favorite song, "There Is A Light That Never Goes Out" with his words "If a double decker bus crashes into us, to die by your side is a heavenly way to die."

Or look at a more recent song, "The First Of The Gang To Die" which is a eulogy of sorts and starts, "You have never been in love, until you've seen the stars reflect in the reservoir."

Or maybe, you like even more yearning which is expressed in the song, "Please Please Please Let Me Get What I Want." The title is enough I think for you to get my point.

Morrissey made my teenage years bearable. I would cradle the vinyls of "Meat is Murder" and "The Queen is Dead" like dear friends and play his songs over and over. He made it acceptable to be depressed and lonely.

I saw the Smiths live at the Palladium in high school and remember feeling overwhelmed. It was too much really. Like the people who saw the Beatles must have felt.

We have tickets to see Morrissey in Vegas next month and I am looking forward to recapturing the magic. I am more mature as is Morrissey.

Morrissey is magic to me. He inspires me to be the best I can be and who I want to be.

The Return of the Writer

I am watching 'Return of the Jedi' on cable. It is six p.m. on New Year's Eve and I am in bed. I have a slight cold and my shih tzu Chewbaca, who looks more Ewok than Wookie, is curled next to me snoring.

I watched 'Return of the Jedi' with my dad at the drive-in thirty years ago. The saga is about a brother and sister and their father.

And my story 'Movie Time', about a childhood trip to the drive-in with my father, was published today in a literary journal.

Everything seems to have come full circle. I am forty and fatherless, but my mom is still here. We have a good relationship. I have come to realize that my mom and dad did the best they could. Our childhood was far from perfect I have to admit, but my parents worked hard to provide for us. My mom waitressed and my dad worked at Mayflower Moving Company. My dad chose the back breaking work of moving furniture over long distance trucking. He didn't want to be away from us girls for long stretches. So instead he picked up dressers and sofas and used his tips to treat us to Pioneer Chicken on Friday nights. We ate the orange fried chicken with one hand while our other hand held our playing cards for our Friday night ritual of a game of rummy.

My mom and dad had uniforms. Those uniforms were as much a part of my childhood as television and fast food. My dad wore a dark green Mayflower moving shirt that was stained in sweat. My mom's uniform was a red Chinese style shirt with black pants. The shirt was stained with oil and soy sauce. My husband and I are lucky we don't wear similar uniforms day in and day out. My husband is a dentist that used to be a mechanic and I am a lawyer who used to waitress.

Our blue collar roots keep us sane and humble. We never let each other forget where we came from.

My mom never learned how to cook. My sisters and I were happy when she did a taco night which equaled ground beef in canned red sauce spooned into store bought taco shells. She was not a very authentic Mexican chef. And neither am I. My sole culinary creation is enchiladas. I tell my husband that I don't cook, I order.

My dad always did the cooking. He cooked for my sisters and I and for my mom. He showed his love through food. We may not have loved his meatloaf as kids but I sometimes crave it as an adult. My husband is similar in that he takes care of me and cooks for me. This afternoon he made pizza and wings and filet mignon is on the menu for dinner.

I have always written. As a young girl I wanted to write the sequel to Rhett and Scarlett's love story. Laura Wilder and Judy Blume were my literary idols. Now, in my forties, I define myself once again as I did as a child, as a writer.

I imagine myself as a kind of writer extraordinaire and my dreams are similar to the protagonist's delusions of grandeur in Judy Blume's novel "Starring Sally J. Freedman as Herself".

I picture myself on a stage reading to a quiet audience. They give me a standing ovation.

I shake myself awake. I am dreaming. Of times long past and times to come. The writer, the dreamer, the yearner is back.

The Medium

Watching someone die changes you. When the paramedic asked me, "Should we go on?" I had to say no.

My father had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer three weeks earlier. He died on January 14, 2006.

Writing gave me a place to put my grief. The grief started out as poems and then morphed into stories. Now a book. A book is harder.

I channel the memories like a medium when I write. I can sometimes hear my father's voice in my ear. I suppose it is a way of keeping him here with me.

My father was not perfect. He was just a guy born right after the Great Depression who grew up dirt poor in Great Falls, Montana. He lived in an orphanage for a couple of years when his parents couldn't feed him.

He loved fiery Mexican women and adored his children. And his beer. You can't forget the beer.

The writing started out as therapy, a catharsis. And now it's something more. It is a kind of quest to capture the characters of my childhood.

And to memorialize this funny thing we call life.

New Year

2013 is a new year and a new day. If I sometimes sound like a Weight Watchers' commercial it's because I am one. 2012 was the year I lost almost ninety pounds. I had the gastric the late summer of 2011, but 2012 was when most of the weight came off. I feel different. It wasn't just the weight although that was a big part of it. I wouldn't be able to pad down the hall in the mornings. My feet were too tender and it was like walking on needles. My knees were going out.

Our stairs were a problem. I kept on falling. The weight made my body out of balance.

The weight also made me emotionally off balance. I'm a mess I admit. But since the surgery food is no longer the panacea. Nor is alcohol. I have to deal with my emotion.

Like an adult.

When I was little, I thought adults were all powerful and all knowing. As an adult, I see it is all an act. We are all just pretending to be adults but are little children inside.

This new year my goal is to try and pretend more. A wise attorney once told me that pretending was at least half the game. He was right. I'm great at pretending in my work life. I love fighting for my clients in my role as an attorney. And it is a role I play well.

In my personal life, the same is not always true. I know I am a writer. But I have a problem visualizing it happening. The same with having a baby. Maybe I don't wanna grow up.

Yet I know I have to. We all do. Someday.

That someday for me, is less than a week away. 2013 will be the year of the book or the baby or both.

Heaven Knows I'm Miserable Now

There is an old Smiths song that goes "I was looking for a job and then I found a job and heaven knows I'm miserable now".

Please don't call me ungrateful. I know I have it good but life could be better.

I have a great job as a public defender. I spent years at large civil corporate law firms wanting to slit my wrists with a paper clip. It was only when I came to the Public Defender's Office that I found fulfillment representing the indigent. I love what I do. Fighting for the underdog makes me happy.

And I get six weeks of vacation and county paid holidays off.

Still I know there is more out there for me. I've been working on my memoir for six years since my father's death in 2006. His eulogy turned into one of the early stories in my book and that story is being published in a literary journal next week. I've come a long way. I've attended writing classes, week long workshops and started a blog. But still. Six years.

I wish I could spend one year writing and editing. We don't have kids so my only distraction would be my shih tzus and my mother in law (who gets up at eleven am and I get up at five am so we are set on that one).

To imagine it is to believe it can happen. I have had to convince myself that I am a writer. I am a writer. I am a writer. I am a writer. I click my heels and say it over and over.

My work has value is my other mantra. My stories need to be told. The story of a little girl and her two sisters growing up in a chaotic household with an alcoholic father and crazy mother. This is the stuff from which great memoirs are made.

I am going to keep telling myself that until I believe it.