Panorama of San Bernardino

Saturday, December 29, 2018


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

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

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

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

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

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

Speaking of laptops, my screen died this week on my MAC book. I panicked. It went down right in the middle of me writing a story. Is this a sign I thought? My writing is so awful that even my computer can’t stand it.

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

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

Friday, December 21, 2018


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

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

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

It has been a long road to get here. In Houston, I had started writing poems in my first large law firm staring out my high rise window late at night. But it really started after my father died. When I found out that my dad had cancer, I was working at a civil litigation boutique in San Francisco. I rushed home for a week and cared for him. Then, again two weeks later. He died within three weeks of getting diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. I was there when it happened.

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

By the time I reached the Inland Empire law firm, I was writing all the time. My poems morphed into stories. On a lark, I sent some of my stories and was accepted to a summer writing program called VONA. VONA changed everything for me. It gave me a community. And told me that my voice mattered.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 22, 2018

It’s the Great Pumpkin Juanita Mantz

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy Thanksgiving everyone.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Morrissey and Me (Again)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, October 26, 2018

Family Matters

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, October 5, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, October 1, 2018

this is forty (something)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And will.

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Wonder Woman

I am sitting here at 6 am watching Everybody Loves Raymond and writing in a mumu and my Bowie socks. I have already picked up the house, fed and watered my dogs, made and ate my own breakfast (vegan pancakes and faux sausage) and am about to take the dogs for a walk. It got me thinking about all I do.

My job is more than demanding. I don't write about it much because it is technical, intense and at times very sad. I represent people at the state hospitals who are incompetent to stand trial and it is a stressful and surreal experience at times. Public defenders get a bad rap in the media, but everyone knows you only stay in this job if you love it. And I have been here a decade and adore my job, taxing as it is.

I also have two dogs, a writing career on the side and I serve on a magazine board as well as a nonprofit rehabilitation center board. We also caretake for my mom in law. Add in my love for music and obsession with live shows and some days, it is all too much.

This Thursday, I have a show at Pappy n Harriet's in Joshua Tree (The Breeders yeah!) and have to be at March Air Force Base at 8:30 am the next day (did I mention, back in the day, that I was the veteran's court attorney for a year?).

Then, on Saturday, I have an overnight writer's conference in Wrightwood. I have classes all day Saturday and  I am performing in a spoken word contest Saturday night (I have written the pieces but need to practice). I know, woe is me, but it is a lot. I am blessed to have these opportunities, but I think I may need to put on my Wonder Woman underoos and a cape to do it all.

I think, why do I do this to myself? But I know why.

I truly believe that life is here to live. To love. To be present and happy. And for me that means music and my writing. These things make me happy, plain and simple. And I want to be happy.


Wednesday, September 19, 2018


I had a really bad day the other day. My client's energies were off, they are PC 1368 incompetent for trial so energies are always off, but this day was worse than usual. It was traumatizing. Enough said.

After court, I was sapped. I felt a tightness in my chest. I couldn't relax. My heart was racing. My mind was spinning.

I decided to go get a quick 30 minute lunch massage at a reflexology spa and it worked wonders. I felt bad for my therapist and I groaned as his fingers took away the pain in my neck and upper and lower back. Finally, I could breathe.

It made me realize that my job is toxic in many ways. I need to learn to block but it is hard. Most people know that I am naturally empathetic. But empathy can go too far when it harms you mentally and physically. A spiritualist and writer I know advised me to go to the ocean and pick a shell and keep it in my pocket to ground myself in court. That's a good idea but I have yet to put it into practice.

What I want the most is to feel like me at work. Not irritable or stressed, but the real me. The JEM who is happy and sings out loud. But maybe I am not that person. Maybe that person is the person I want to be. Or used to be?

My goal in the next month (it's my birthday month so it is a good time for rebirth) is to be the positive energy in the world. In my world. I pledge to be happy no matter what. To find joy in the mundane and even within the institution of criminal justice.

It is after all a choice to be happy. And I choose joy.

Thursday, September 6, 2018


A phrase keeps repeating in my head, this is all an illusion. Yesterday, my phone rang and rang. My head banged and banged. I read thousands of records. I sent emails and I made my own calls.

Does any of this really matter? I mean it does as far as work. I have a calendar and cases for trial to prep. But sometimes, I think we get caught up in the minutaie. In a week, will I remember everything I did? Or will it all blend together and melt in my mind like ice cream in a bowl? Maybe Facebook is a way we remind ourselves? The minutiae becomes pictures, memes or text.

Last night, after my rough day, I sat on the couch eating cereal and watching The Great British Baking Show. My dog Frodo knew. He wouldn’t leave my side and somehow his presence made it all OK. Just his breath. His heat next to me. The rhythm of his panting and beating heart. It sustained me.

Is that what having a child is like? Being distracted by love and from mid life musings by carefree and joyful youth? I wouldn’t know. I’ve given up that dream and many others. But some still remain. My book, my writing. The need to memorialize it all.

To show we were here. I was here. Life is not an illusion if something tangible is the result. The book on your coffee table is someone’s lifeblood. All those stacks at the library mean something. Don’t they?

Saturday, August 25, 2018

I could tell

I’ve had epiphanies while in Vegas. Some things are bound to happen. I won’t be able to sleep, I’ll drink too many beers and when I yell at my husband to leave a machine, he will ignore me and win.

We saw Jack White last night at the Chelsea at the Cosmopolitan Casino. The hotel is glitzy. Lots of velvet and rhinestones. We sat at one of the bars before the show and paid fifteen bucks a drink to people watch. Well actually, Adrian’s whiskey was fifteen and my beer was only eight bucks. Only?

I expected the theater to be large but it was cozy. We had general admission floor and that was the largest part of the theater. There was plenty of room. Jack White was wearing a purple silk blouse over a black long sleeved tee shirt and a cap. He seemed to break free when he came back onstage after ditching the purple silk in the black shirt only with his dark locks flowing.

He is a guitar god. Seriously. Watching him play guitar is mesmerizing. It can sometimes be too much because I’m always craving his voice. His voice is one of my favorites. It’s quirky, passionate and true.

So when he sang “We are gonna be friends” in a slight quiver, voice breaking, while just barely strumming his guitar, the boy about brought me to tears. About you ask? OK, I admit it, I cried.

The song has always reminded me of my sisters, especially of my twin, who I walked to school with every day and we even shared a classroom in our short stint in Catholic School:

“Nouns, and books, and show and tell
Playtime we will throw the ball
Back to class, through the hall
Teacher marks our height against the wall
Teacher marks our height against the wall

We don't notice any time pass
We don't notice anything
We sit side by side in every class
Teacher thinks that I sound funny
But she likes the way you sing.”

(The White Stripes)

That is the power of music. It moves you. It triggers memories. It makes you ache and sigh and sometimes, smile and cry.

And always while singing along.

(Sans cell phone due to his no cell phone policy)

Thursday, August 23, 2018

what we eat

There is a cliche, we are what we eat. But, some cliches are cliches because they are true. I went plant based almost three weeks ago. I was desperate.

My intestinal and digestive issues had reached a crisis point. I was seeing specialists and about to be poked and prodded and tested into distress.

So I made a change. At first, it seemed insurmountable. I decided to go vegan. No meat, cheese or milk. No eggs or butter (which were my staples). Fruits, nuts legumes and vegetables only. With some protein powder thrown in for good measure.

Now, a mere three weeks later, I feel better. Not perfect, but much better. My body is still ridden with issues, mostly habit based. I run to the restroom after lunch or dinner still, but nothing happens. It is as if my body has to adjust to this new way of eating.

And I have lost weight. I feel less bloated. For me, at least, it is really about feeling good and if weight loss comes as a result of more organic and healthy eating, so be it. But I am done with the scale. If an old dress fits, I will know I have lost weight.

Here is some truth: when your mother in law tells you that you have lost some weight, you know that is more reliable than any scale.

It also feels good ethically speaking. I have always been an animal lover and to eat them has always made me uncomfortable. While in San Francisco, I was vegetarian for a spell, but ate mostly French fries and grilled cheeses. Recently, I have naturally gravitated towards toast and tea or coffee but the problem was the butter which aggravated my issues. This is about better eating. About watching what I put in my mouth.

Ultimately, I say, do what works best for you health wise. And what makes you feel good.

In your body, head and especially in your heart.

Sunday, August 19, 2018

A Country Mantz’s Daughter

Up early as usual, I turn on the television and the Loretta Lynn biopic Coal Miner's Daughter is on. It is one of my favorite movies. Seen it at least twenty times. It always brings my father's image to my mind.

I remember watching it at the drive-in with my father, John William Mantz Jr, when I was little. Dad would drive up in his ratty old pickup truck, and me and my sisters would pile out of the back of the cab where we had been hiding to save on the admission. We would take our lawn chairs out, then the blankets and finally, our double brown paper bagged homemade popcorn. We would sit and watch the first movie in silence. It was always a double feature unless the movie was a long one.

Dad loved that movie so much because he loved him some Loretta Lynn. Loretta Lynn was the first concert I ever went to. She played at the Pomona Fair.  I must have been seven or eight.  I can remember Dad being so happy to see her live. I can tell you what he wore: a pair of Wrangler jeans held up by his Big John Belt buckle, a blue denim country western shirt probably with a bolo tie, a cowboy hat and of course, his shit kicking cowboy boots.

As kids, me and my sisters dismissed country music. We liked The Go-Go's, Pat Benatar and Oliva Newton-John. But Dad didn't give up on us. He said one day we would love country. Dad was a huge country music fan. He always blasted Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson. He loved all of the Outlaws along with Patsy Cline, Dolly Parton and his favorite Loretta Lynn. It was her singing that drew him in I am sure, but also her story. She was raised dirt poor in Kentucky. He was raised dirt poor in Montana.

There was a truthfulness to all of her music. Dad was many things and true was one of them. And he was also right because now in my mid forties, country music, especially the old Outlaw stuff, is one of my favorites. And, I adore me some Loretta Lynn.

Dad, you were right. It took me many years, but I am proud to say it. I am a country man's daughter.

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Dancing in the Santa Ana Winds: Poems y Cuentos New and Selected (a review)

Dancing in the Santa Ana Winds: Poems y Cuentos New and Selected (a review)

This last weekend, I participated in my friend liz gonzález’s book launch party at the San Bernardino History & Railroad Museum inside the San Bernadino Santa Fe Depot. Her book is called “Dancing in the Santa Ana Winds: Poems y Cuentos New and Selected” (Los Nietos Press 2018). liz gonzález is amazing. And her book is sublime. She is a San Bernardino Valley native and goes back four generations.

liz's writing sparkles. It is so vivid, and if voice was measured in heartbeats, her heart rate would be off the charts. And, liz’s book is all heart, grounded in family and the geography of the San Bernardino Valley where she grew up. The craft and skill is evident from the very first page. The book defies genre. Poems and prose. Part memoir. In it, you hear the voice of liz along with her mother, grandmother, and sisters.

Her definition of Latinx is one that puts the typical stereotype on its head.  Her narrator is funny and self deprecating. Take for example this excerpt from her poem, "Confessions of a Pseudo-Chicana":

"...Mama raised us on Hamburger Helper and Macaroni and Cheese.

She never even made a pot of beans.

I learned how to make tortillas

from Mrs. MacDougall in home ec.

Mama still uses the recipe."

The book is nostalgic but unsentimental. In most of my favorite books, place is a character. And, place is everything in liz's work. California is a character and more specifically and importantly, the Inland Empire is a character. And even more specific than that, San Bernardino is a character, a city that has been long neglected from the California literary discourse. Until now. Take for example this excerpt from liz's poem, "The Summer Before 9th Grade" where she creates a narrator who is linked to both past and present, the old and the new, connecting Robert Frost and San Bernardino.

"I made a pit stop at Esperanza Market

on Mount Vernon Avenue where the butcher

wrapped up a pickled pigs' pig’s foot for me.

With my legs sweat-stuck to the plastic bench seat,

I gnawed that pata to the bone,

cooled off with Robert Frost’s poems.

The bus slanted up Fifth Street to Foothill

while I dove deep into songs of tinkling brooks

and leafless woods until my stop

at the bench on Meridian Avenue." 

To read more, you will have to buy the book and it is available on the press' website at And see liz's reading and event schedule at

 You will be blown away.

 (Excerpts from poems are from “Dancing in the Santa Ana Winds: Poems y Cuentos New and Selected” by liz gonzález)

liz's book "Dancing in the Santa Ana Winds: Poems y Cuentos New and Selected" (picture by Juanita E. Mantz)

Saturday, August 11, 2018

The night the lights went out in....

So last night at 11 pm they shut the power off. They being the electric company. For scheduled maintenance. They had told us it would last 6 hours.

Despite having been warned via email, and text from hubby, by 10:59 pm I had forgotten. I had just got home from a long day at the beach with my niece. I was about to go to sleep knowing that the next day, I had a long day ahead.

So it was 11 pm. The dogs and I were upstairs. The lights were on because hubby was with his mom up the hill and I was nervous. Reading. Eyelids wouldn’t stay open. Trying to fall asleep, and I was almost there. 

Then whoosh. The lights. The air. It all turned off in a surge. Immediately, Frodo and Chewbaca started whining. The fire alarm wouldn’t stop chirping. It was pitch black.

I tried to sleep but Chewie, who is very neurotic even for a shih tzu, refused to go to sleep. He started barking and we padded down the stairs slowly. Squinting, I held on to the banister. I couldn’t find the flashlight so I used my phone, which had a mere 22 percent of its battery life left, for light.

We went up and down at least five times. Chewie wouldn’t relax so neither could I. Then, Frodo joined in too. Up and down we went. 

By 12:30 am, I was exhausted. It was getting warm in the house already. I slept on the couch and caught 15 minutes of shut eye before the dogs woke me up again barking at the dark silence. I took the dogs outside and sighed into the sight of our darkened street. Maybe I should just drive up the hill I thought.

I couldn’t see anything upstairs so I left my pjs on and piled the dogs in the car. Called hubby. “No, go to sleep. It’s dark and windy and the cajon pass is too dangerous,” he said groggily.

I decided to get a cold low sugar lemonade. At the Del Taco drive thru, their card reader was down, so I spent 15 minutes waiting to drive by the window as they only took cash. Peering at the Jack in the Box, I decided to risk it.

“I’ll have a Diet Coke and a small fry.”

The kid passed me my fries and drink. I went home to the dark house and sat on the couch as I sipped my soda and ate my fries. My dogs sat by my feet and whined again. And again. And again.

At 2 am, another whoosh. Power back on. 

Thank you baby Jesus I thought. I had as much as I could handle. I watched Food Truck Race. And finally nodded off. 

Maybe that’s my point here. I need to stop panicking when life throws me curveballs. Because eventually, the lights come back on. 

Sometimes, sooner than you think.

Tuesday, August 7, 2018


I’ve been ruminating on why I write.

I’ve written on this issue before (see

But now, in my mid forties, I think I write because I must. When I write, at least sometimes, I lose myself in it. It’s as if I am transported back to my childhood and I hear my dad’s voice.

They don’t tell you as a child how hard life is. Maybe we wouldn’t want to grow up. Everyone would be Peter Pan. But, as an adult, I think back and understand it a bit more. That is why memoir works. Looking back retrospectively, the connections are clearer. The intersections make sense. I write to understand and discover myself. And that’s what and why I write.

Everything seemed so less complicated back then in the 1970s and 1980s. There were 5 or 6 channels on the television. No cell phones or Internet. I remember when we got a phone with call waiting. It was a big deal. Before that, you would have to call and call and get a busy signal.

My childhood and teenage years were spent outdoors in Ontario, California. Riding bikes, walking to my best friends’ houses or to the ballgame. We drank and smoked, but drugs were less common. There was a Pizza Hut that was a real restaurant with red checkered tablecloths and tiny televisions you could watch for a quarter. Drive In theaters were the Saturday night staple with my dad or a game of Rummy.

It was hard to make it as a blue collar family, but my parents made it fine for many years until they didn’t. And that’s where the story is. In how my family broke apart and came back together. How I broke down my senior year of high school and put myself back together again.

I guess I write because I’m nostalgic. I try not to be too sentimental. I’m obsessed with character. Less with plot. I think there is beauty in capturing the ordinary.

I have a line in a poem: “What some call humdrum I name bliss”.

So that’s why I write. That’s why.

Tuesday, July 31, 2018


Sunday, I returned home after a week at the Macondo workshop in San Antonio. I was a mess in the best possible way. Open, raw and inspired. I hadn’t slept really at all in two days.

The night before, I attended a party in San Antonio in a beautiful house on a tree lined street.

I learned that when you meet your idols, like Sandra Cisneros whose books inspired me to begin writing, it is best to be so exhausted, exhilarated and humbled that you are open yet quiet. Usually, I chatter, trying to fill space. It’s my own insecurity in vocal form. But that night, I couldn’t. My brain wouldn’t put the words together. Not that I didn’t try. But after literally calling a good friend I’d met the wrong name, due to my exhausted brain, I decided to retreat to a table and people watch.

The Friday night before the party, my two dear friends from Houston, Tejanas Cecilia and Priscilla, were at Macondo for the Cisneros reading and we stayed out until 4 am talking and catching up. I fell right back into their friendship like I’d never left Houston. It had been more than a decade, but it didn’t matter. It was so easy and true like all great friendships are. It wasn’t superficial conversation. We had all been through much in the last decade. Yet, we still laughed ourselves hoarse like we used to back in Houston sitting on the balcony of our apartment drinking margaritas. It was an adventure.

The adventure took a turn when we were pulled over by campus police a minute from the dorms that my friends had insisted on dropping me off at. I questioned the officer for his reason of pulling us over and became silent when questioned in return, I am a public defender after all. Cecilia was vocal too. But Priscilla stayed cool and collected and escaped with a warning. I joked after we pulled away that it was a warning based on not speeding as the officer’s excuse for pulling us over for speeding was pure fantasy. I knew our car had been moving slow and steady like a Texas tortuga.

By the time the officer let us go it was after 4 am. So I shut my eyes at 5 am and opened them two hours later. Groggy and exhausted, I wore a long dress with my pj pants underneath. Workshop was amazing. The comments on my pieces were on point. My class totally got me and liked me, they really liked me (Sally Field voice). I knew I had to finish my book. Then, after workshop, we had publishing seminars until 5 pm. After the seminars, I raced back to dress for the party.

Back to that party. Cecilia who is herself a Macondista, got to the party a bit late but once she walked in. I relaxed and caught up with her. I realized something about myself at parties, I have social anxiety and use alcohol to cover it up. Epiphany! I had always thought I was the life of the party, but maybe alcohol is the crutch I use to create a persona.

So sitting with Cecilia instead of a 6 pack calmed me. Then, I was able to have open and deep dialogue with her and others. I had a beer, but not six, and engaged. I listened to testimonials and cried real tears. I interacted. I even danced. Yes, I danced.

When Sauvemente came on, I started trying to do the cha cha, then my 80s girl came out and I began to smurf (side to side, one foot in front of the other and at end, lift foot and kick it back). Soon, I started to bob and dance like the character played by Molly Ringwald in The Breakfast Club. I couldn’t help myself. It was me. I was here. In the presence of people I worshipped and admired. And, I belonged.

Sunday, July 22, 2018

Date night

Last night, my husband and I had a date night. We used to have them all the time. Some might say our entire twenty-five year relationship, and within that our ten years of marriage this December, has been one long extended and very adventurous date. One of our goals has always been to have fun and we do. Despite being busy professionals and care taking for my elderly mother in law, we always made what we find joyful a priority.

For me, that usually means music concerts. Forty something or not, I love me an alternative or punk show. There is nothing better. Some years we would go to a show a month, sometimes twice a month. Our record was three in three days. It about killed me but it was The Cure.

The fun had stopped for a while. Like a spinning record whose owner forgot about, the music scratched a groove and came to a sudden stop. We had a death you see and it rocked my small family.

My husband was wrecked and I did not know if he would or even could recover from the death of his brother who was only 54. And I knew my mother in law would never bounce back. And as you know, with all of our trying, we have no kids to look at and say, it will all be OK.

Yet, life goes on. It’s been five months and the color is coming back into our world. It’s still grey most days but every now and then, I will see a flash of bright blue sky or green grass. My husband will never be the same, nor will his mom. I know that. Some losses you do not get over (for me, not having a child).  But you still have to get up everyday and live. You do. You must.

So I am content with small things and to be given this gift. A night in a nice hotel, some good grub and fancy craft cocktails at a speakeasy. Watching my husband smile and relax is the music my soul needs right now. And it feels good.

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

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


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


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.

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


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.

Monday, June 4, 2018

Pretty in black with pink petticoat

I went to bed at 8 p.m. last night after watching Pretty in Pink (for what is probably the twentieth time). Grumpy and irritable, I just wanted to sleep. Forty something and menopausal. Does Molly Ringwald see her youthful self on film and get depressed? Does she long for her teenage self, that skin, that hair? I know I wish I could feel and look young again if only for a day.

A memory comes barging in, one of me in a theater watching Pretty in Pink. Marveling at seeing some of us on the screen. The year is 1986. Don’t know who I’m with. But I know who I am. A preppy sophomore just morphing to punk rock girl. That was the same year I dyed my hair blue black and pierced my nose. Watching Pretty in Pink back then, I was overjoyed at the soundtrack that included my favorite music: The Smiths, Echo and the Bunnymen and New Order. Sitting in my seat munching popcorn and drinking a Diet Coke, I swooned over Duckie’s Morrissey like coif. Add in his John Lennon specs, his vests and his white scuffed Creepers and I was in love. And he loved Andie for all the right reasons. Andie’s working class neighborhood, her high GPA and DIY wardrobe made us all cheer for her. She was smart but different, like me. And together, her and Duckie were a great couple. Let's not talk about Blaine please. I am one of those who never got the attraction.

What I liked even more was how Duckie and Andie showed punk rock attitude without a mohawk. The concept (or maybe better called a theory) that every misfit/punk in the 80s looked like Sid and Nancy is ridiculous. We were all into DIY clothes from thrifting. The cheaper the better. I favored large men’s blazers with thermals and men’s boxers. Paired with a concert tee and my skull or monkey boots,I was set for school. I wore my hair in waves. My friends in my punker portion of the quad dressed just as eclectic. Tracy had her own style and straight spiked up blond hair.  She wore outfits that were edgy. Her mom would take her to the garment district, Hollywood and the Judy’s outlet (I remember buying a Houndstooth coat there) in LA to shop. We both loved Contempo in the Montclair Plaza but it was too expensive. Melinda favored tight jeans and a leather jacket. Our friend Mike T dressed in jeans and an X shirt most days. Ultimately, it was more about the music. The clothing was always secondary.

I guess what I took away from watching Pretty in Pink is that you cannot recapture youth. It exists in that moment. In that time. And try as I might as an adult to recapture that sense of wonder and attitude from that time, I can't. But what I can do my friends is capture now. And I plan on bringing some of my punk attitude and wonder back into my life. Not just through my writing but also through my attire. Next concert, I am gonna say fuck it all and bring out my Betty Page pink petticoat and wear it under a black dress and dance in my head to Psychedelic Furs and imagine 1986 all over again.

Why you may ask?

Why not?

Monday, May 28, 2018

potato salad memories

On Saturday, I did a performance piece at a literary salon and another writer asked me why I write. I was stumped and gave my generic answer: I write because I have to. But the question lingered in my mind.

Even though it is Memorial Day, I woke up at 5 am as usual. I gave Frodo his joint medicine, then fed and walked him and Chewbacca. On the walk around the block, I started thinking about my dad. Wishing he was here. And I had an epiphany (I seem to have had a lot of those lately).

The epiphany started with me remembering growing up in our house on Glenn Street in Ontario. Dad would barbecue every Memorial Day. Big thick steaks. And Dad would always make his famous mayo, mustard, pickle, egg, onion and black olive potato salad (with a small no onion bowl for our little sister Annie because she hated onions).

My sisters and I would lay by the pool all day slathered in baby oil. Me and Jackie would race laps in the pool. Annie would sit on the steps calling the winner. The boom box would blare out The Go-Go’s, Oliva Newton-John and Pat Benetar. Mom would be lingering around eating early because she usually had to waitress that night.

Dad’s friends would come over. The neighbor Gene from next door along with my dad’s red haired work colleague Johnny (who my mom hated because he and Dad always drank too much together). Typically, with or without Johnny there, Dad would drink too many Budweisers. But with Johnny there, Dad’s usual six or seven would turn into a twelve pack or maybe even a case.

Mom would be pissed off when she left for work. But drunk or sober, Dad could cook a mean steak and Jackie, Annie and I would guzzle down grape Shasta and yell at each other to pass the A-1 steak sauce. Sometimes we only had Heinz 57 or Worcestershire sauce (which Dad preferred) and we would moan, “Dad, you know we like A-1.”

Those memories are so vivid I can almost taste the T-bone steaks. And man, Dad’s potato salad was epic. While making it, Dad would wink at me and say, “The secret is the pickle juice Jenny”. My sisters and I would groan as we watched him drink the rest of the jar after splashing some on the mayo.

But you know what? Dad was right. I tried to make his potato salad this morning and it didn’t taste right until I added about a quarter cup of pickle juice. I couldn’t bring myself to drink the leftover pickle juice.

So Dad, if you’re looking down, listening or reading this in the great beyond, just know that I will think of you with every bite I take of my potato salad. And I may not have a kid to pass your recipe on to, but I have my book to be and this blog. The best part is that today I figured out why I write. Dad, you are the reason I write. It’s to hear your voice and to try and capture the memories of when you were here with me, Mom, Jackie and Annie.

Maybe I should rename my memoir “Potato Salad Memories”?

Friday, May 25, 2018

Little Red Prius

I looked at the car. It was perfect. Two weeks and a hideously overpriced Hertz Ford rental later and my car was finally ready.

The red Prius gleamed in the sunlight like a glowing orb. The paint new and rich like a cherry colored apple. The body shop had replaced the side panels and the door, fixing that which could be fixed. They had detailed and aligned it even. Like I said, perfect.

Some things can’t be fixed. Like my brother in law’s death at 54. He left a thirteen year old along with a brother and mother felled by his heart attack. I see it all. The grief is palpable. Like the taste of burnt toast it lingers.

That grief is still there after 103 days, but who’s counting? I am. I want my husband back, the one who smiles, but I have learned the hard way that you don’t always get what you want.

And who am I to put a timeline on grief? I am still grieving my own loss. The loss that broke me in half. Before and after. And, years later, I think if I was my car, I would say fix the inside, not the exterior. Open my hood and patch up my broken womb and let me have a baby Prius that cries.

Alas no. Some things are not so easy.

Yet, why does everything have to be so fucking hard?

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Ren Girl Ren

Saturday, I went to the Renaissance Pleasure Faire (“Ren Faire”) in Irwindale. It is one of my favorite things to do but this year hubby demurred. He only goes to please me and he needed a break. Instead, I made it a girl day with my twin sister and niece.

I have to admit it is an acquired taste. The Ren Faire is a menagerie of people and sights to see from Shakespeare’s jolly old England. To me, it is a magical experience if you let yourself fall into it and on Saturday, I did. I spoke in an English accent. I called people my lady and my lord. Everyone responded enthusiastically. I saw witches, elves, wizards and many a fairy. We were all play acting and loving it.

At the corset shop, I finally gave in after many years and bought a hideously expensive push up corset called the tigress with metal hooks. I already had on a flowing peacock print peasant dress and a crown of flowers so it matched perfectly. I walked around the faire proudly with my niece and sister back straight up, no slouching allowed. Then I bought my 18 year old niece a black flowered crown and a puzzle ring.

About an hour in, I saw a tall man in a spiked blond wig and thought, Labrinyth’s Bowie! I had to have a picture and while his fairy was in the restroom, I got a picture with him and talked about our mutual obsession for Starman.

About two pm, my sister and niece were tired and left. We had been there since 10 am, but I needed more Ren Faire time. Luckily, I had planned to meet a close work colleague and her niece and we walked around. Her young niece J was just as enthralled as I was my first time and I smiled when J used an English accent and begged her auntie for a hundred dollar staff (denied thankfully). We ate shrimp and chips with ale, then they threw knives. Later, J made a mask and bought some horns while I took a tarot card class. It was epic.

What I love about the Ren Faire is the freedom to be whoever you want (circa 16th century). And talk about body positive! It feels liberating to be valued for your voluptuousness.

There are people who Ren Faire and people who don’t, but I think the people who do are cool.

And while some may call us nerd girls and boys as they see us dressed as friars, wenches, wizards, fairies and wizards, I think to myself, Ren girl, just Ren.

Friday, April 20, 2018

The Music Girl

I just completed a ten best albums challenge on Facebook. Some might not take it so seriously, waking up at two in the morning debating what to post next, but they are not me.

What I realized through the experience is how much music truly defines me. I am humming a Sex Pistols song as I write this.

There are two kinds of people, music people and non music people. My mom and I are both music people although she leans toward Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash and Elvis and I lean toward The Smiths, The Cure and Buzzcocks.

Both of us start tapping our feet whenever music comes on. Seriously, my mom will just start dancing like a maniac should you play her favorite music loud and long enough (the louder the better because she is a little hard of hearing although she will not admit it). We took a three day cruise once and went dancing at the little bar on the ship that had a cover band. The band played a 50s song (what my mom calls "real rock and roll") and she started twisting so hard I thought she might break a hip.

My dad was a music person too. He loved country. He indoctrinated me by making me listen to Patsy Cline on repeat at a young age and my first concert was Loretta Lynn at nine at the Pomona Fair.

At the bar my dad owned during my teenage years, he would only have country on the jukebox: The Oak Ridge Boys, Johnny Cash, Loretta Lynn, Dolly Parton and of course, Waylon Jennings. I remember my sisters and I begging him to put the Go-Gos on the jukebox. Dad hemmed and hawed

Then, one day we came in on a weekend to clean the bar and there it was. The little card with "Our Lips Are Sealed" and the B side was "This Town". It was there. Like magic.

"Dad, give me a quarter!" I screamed. My poor dad had to listen to those two songs on repeat that whole day.

I remember my first U2 album ("War"), my favorite 45 (Billy Idol's "Dancing with Myself"), my "Grease" soundtrack 8 Track that Dad would play in this pickup truck for me, and the first time I heard a Smiths' song ("This Charming Man").

I can remember every concert from high school, what it felt like, what it smelled like, what I drank. There are too many to count. Pixies, Replacements, The Smiths, Siouxsie, The Church, The Smithereens, X and many more.

If I close my eyes, I can see my Sid Vicious and Bono posters on the wall of my bedroom. Then I can look around and see my Pee Chee folder with the Smiths and Cure in cursive in purple marker. Music triggers memories for me.

Just call me the music girl. Now go listen to your favorite song and hum along.

Friday, April 6, 2018

another day

Up at six a.m., and I think why can’t I ever sleep in? My feet hurt, my back aches, and my stomach is upset. Is this life at forty something? Aches, pains and melancholy?

What happened to joy? What happened to sitting outside and watching the sun rise? Instead, my mornings are punctuated by a list of tasks.

Wake up. Coffee. Let dogs out. Give one shih tzu his joint medicine in a piece of ham. Feed both shih tzus wet food, one by hand. Wash hands. Fill water dispenser on coffee maker and refill water pitcher that distills water. Walk dogs. Grab poop bags. Make sure the dogs poop. Always pick up said poop.

Take dogs home. Give them treats. Fold laundry. Wipe down counters. Take out trash bag which is always full. Go upstairs and take a quick shower and pray I have have clean underwear. Next, get dressed. Make breakfast: peanut butter and butter on toast with banana. Realize there is no banana left. Must go to store on way home. More coffee.

Get in car. Drive to work on 215 South. Vacillate from CNN to New Wave. Settle for Replacements set list on Spotify. Sing aloud in car. Roll down windows. Put music louder. Turn it down. Park and do makeup in car. Sing along to Kiss Me On The Bus.

Try to smile. Remind myself to stop wishing that I had a kid to drop off at school. Cry in car. Fix smudged eyeliner.

Walk to court and face the day.

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Focus pocus

People often ask me how I find time to write. But for me, writing is a kind of salve to my life. Whenever I am struggling with anxiety, it helps me to write. Whether it’s a mere sentence, an essay or a story, writing is helpful in giving me perspective. In some ways, writing has helped me become a better person, wife and daughter.

I’ve said this before, but the me on the page is at times, the “real” me and at times the me I want or aim to be.

Writing is not easy and you must focus on it to better your craft. This year, I made a pledge to rededicate myself to my writing after a year of frustrating stagnation. And, it worked. Just writing the words down seemed to create a kind of magic, as if the words created the reality. By stating my intent aloud, that I was to be a writer and focus on writing, the universe seemed to hear and respond with great opportunities. Within 4 months, I had an essay accepted to a magazine, I read at AWP (the largest writer’s conference), had two pieces accepted into an anthology and was just accepted to Macando, the most prestigious Chicano writing workshop in the United States.

Now, note that some of these irons were in the fire before I made my statement of intent to focus on my writing, such as the AWP reading and the anthology submissions. But, the Macondo application and the magazine essay were things I applied or pitched to after I made my proclamation.

What I am trying to say is that words do matter, and so do your actions. Taken together, they can create more than you ever dreamed of. Writing is witchcraft in a way and this witchypoo writer is here to stay.

Friday, March 23, 2018

Into the White

There’s a Pixies lyric from their song “Into the White” that goes, “there ain’t no day and there ain’t no night.” That’s how my last year of high school felt. All of the days and nights blended together.

Looking back, it seems like it had a trajectory. But really, I was just struggling to keep my head above water and then took on water.  It was simple; I couldn’t handle anything anymore and just gave up going to school altogether. At first, missing a class. Then a day. Next, weeks in bed. And when my mom threw water on me to wake me up, I would pretend to go to school and then go home when my mom left for the breakfast shift at the coffee shop she waited tables at.

It wasn’t a conscious decision to let it all go. Rather, It was like a slow fall off the longest cliff ever into the shallow water below.

At some point, I realized I was not going to graduate. But, I didn’t care. I had sabotaged my dreams of attending college at Claremont McKenna. It had worked far better than I ever hoped. I dropped out my senior year of high school, second semester, five units short of a high school diploma. And took my GED which I passed (during the GED test, which seemed so easy, I remembered taking my PSATs, and my language/reading comprehension score in the 99th percentile).

I didn’t cry until I saw my twin sister Jackie and my best friend Tracy walking at graduation and I had to watch them from under the bleachers. Tears falling on my cigarette. I think I used my Sex Pistols t-shirt to wipe my smeared eyeliner. And suddenly, I didn’t feel cool anymore. I felt like an utter loser and as if my life was over.

But, the funny thing is my life was just beginning. It’s common knowledge that I had a fine second act and I would go on to have great times and accomplish more than I ever imagined, while still remaining true to my punk rock self.

Yet, I’ve started having those feelings again. As if my life is over. Forty something, barren, and so much damn sadness all around me, I have to keep reminding myself, through my writing, that my third act is still to come.

And, I know through experience that life always appears the most bleak and then, the sun peeks out from behind the clouds and lights everything up.

Into the white. From dark to light.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Artist or bust

I have made a decision. I am a writer. First and foremost. To all of those who see me as a lawyer first, you’re wrong. Or as a wife, daughter, caretaker or sister, you’re wrong.

A writer. That’s me. I write to breathe. To remember. Sometimes, to forget. The high is better than anything in the universe.

There are times, I have buried things. I write to excavate them.

My childhood was me making stories in my head to escape the chaos. I became a writer then. Or maybe I was born one.

It’s only taken me a decade to see I am who I am. And I shouldn’t be afraid to tell people of my dreams. I’ve always had big dreams. Many of them came true. But this writing thing. It’s a doozy. The opposite of easy.

Yet, I can see it happening sometime soon. I’ll break away from the day to day. Give up my nine to five. Sit on my ass. Put fingers to keys. Or maybe even pen to paper.

And just write.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Eulogy for my brother in law

Note: I struggled with whether to post this but when I asked my husband, he wanted me to. This is for you Gabe. RIP.

My name is Juanita Estella Mantz and I am married to Gabriels younger brother Adrian. I have known Gabe and Adrian for more than 25 years. 

I was 20 years old when I met my husband and later his family. Albert the father, Orieta the mother and Gabriel, aka Gabe, Adrians older brother. The Pelaez family was whole back then and a small but close knit and beautiful Argentine family. Small but proud. 

And so cultured with their traditions. I was brought into their family and in fact, Gabe was not just a brother in law to me. He was my brother in heart for the last 25 years of my life. 

And the cost of being part of this beautiful family has resulted in heartbreak. First, the heartbreak of losing Adrians dad Alberto some years back and now, the unthinkable in losing Gabe. Gabe was only 54.

Losing Gabe, it quite truly broke my heart, all of our hearts, into pieces. The pieces are still there on at the floor of the hospital at UC Irvine Medical Center because Gabe was too young, his son Nicolas was too young, and it was way too soon. 

And my husband and I and his mom didnt have all the adventures we were meant to have with Gabe. It is as if a projector broke in the middle of a movie.

Joan Didion wrote a book on grief after losing her husband, the book is called The Year of Magical Thinking, and in it she says, Life changes in the instant… The ordinary instant…”

Confronted with sudden disaster,  we all focus on how unremarkable the circumstances were in which the unthinkable occurred.  The clear blue sky from which the plane fell.The routine errand that ended on the shoulder with the car in flameshe was on his way home from work, happy successful healthy, and then gone.”  End quote.

I think that quote captures how I feel. It feels surreal. Like Gabe isnt really gone, like this is all a bad dream, one we will wake up from. Like that horrible day did not really happen. It is as if he could reappear if I pray hard enough.

It truly is a mad world. That was Gabes favorite song. He would always burst out singing it and say, "I love this song" when it came on the radio. We would be laying out by the pool at the house in Oak Hills listening to the 80s station and he would start dancing and singing and we would tease him. "You like Tears for Fears?" 

But the song was prescient in that the songs first refrain says it all and is very applicable to today.

All around me are familiar faces
Worn out places
Worn out faces

Bright and early for their daily races
Going nowhere
Going nowhere

Their tears are filling up their glasses
No expression
No expression

Hide my head I want to drown my sorrow
No tomorrow
No tomorrow.

Unfortunately, Gabe did not get a tomorrow. And, that mad day, the horrible day, at issue here with GABE was Feb 13th, the day when the unthinkable happened. The day before Valentines day and one moment, it was a sunny beautiful day and Gabe was at the auto shop (Prestiege Mercedes Benz) and he was fine, a healthy man of 54. Then, the next moment he wasnt fine and after four days of fighting to stay, he would not recover. 

That instant, the ordinary instant, with a bright blue sky and all, changed my life. 

It drastically and tragically changed Gabes 13 year old son Nicolas’ life and Nicolas’ mom Sallys life. 

It changed the lives of all of his friends and loved ones. It altered the life of anyone who was close to Gabe. Everyone who is here had their life changed in the instant when Gabe left us.

And it changed the life of my husband Adrian, Gabes only brother. My dear devastated Adrian who cant even speak and can barely walk he is so full of grief. 

As is Gabe and Adrians 84 year old mother Orieta, Gabe was her firstborn, 

Both Adrian and Orieta are so devastated with grief. They have wept and wept and so I am here to say what they cannot even say. Because to say it makes it real. 

I am the voice of both Adrian and Orieta today.

But it is hard for me to breathe right now. It is almost as if I do not want to breathe because breathing means living and youre dead. Gabe, youre not here with us. And we wish you were. Oh how we wish you were here.


But is Gabe truly gone? There is an old saying, in the midst of life we are in death (Didion mentions this saying in her book as well). 

Does Gabes death end his life or does he live brightly and shine in our memories of him? Perhaps Gabe continues to live within us in the memories of his infectious laugh and smile. 

The way he would whoop with delight.  "Whooooo" he would say when we played dominoes. He was happy and confident and full of life slapping down his tile with gusto. 

Does Gabe live in the memories of his charisma and in the love he showed his family not just in words but in action. Gabe visited his mom every day and had mate with her. 

Orieta lives with us and every day I would open the door leaving for work at 8 am and there he would be. Our dogs Frodo and Chewie would jump all over him and Orieta would walk out of her room rubbing her sleepy eyes and he would say, "Mom, youre like a mummy, get up." 

Then he would sit and heat up the water for their Mate tea and pour it in the cup and they would share the straw they call a bombija and then he would toast the bread and butter her toast for her. Every morning. He never missed a day. 

And I remember when I was on vacation, I recall grumbling when the doorbell rang everyday and saying in my usual sarcastic way, I bet its Gabe, because I was sitting on the couch all sleepy with no bra on, in my pajamas… and the doorbell rang every day that week and I would open the door and there Gabe was smiling saying, "Is my mom up?"

That memory shines so bright it almost brings Gabe back to life in my minds eye. I can see him in that memory. I really can. Gabe lives there, I swear he does. And he lives here in our hearts.

And how he was with his dad Alberto. They were so much alike. Both charismatic and passionate and strong. Both Libras, both talkative and opinionated as heck (I am a Libra too so I know). They worked together for years at the shop and they loved one another.

Gabe also lives on in the memory of how much Gabe adored his son Nicolas and saw him as much as possible. Anyone who knew Gabe knows how much he treasured his son. It was really all Gabe ever wanted to talk about, his boy Nicolas. Nicolas’ mom Sally was reminiscing to me how Gabe would call every day to talk to Nicolas at 2:45 when he got out of school. 

And I remember watching Gabe with Nicolas and thinking that other than my own father who loved his daughters fiercely, I had never seen anyone love a child the way Gabe loved Nicolas. It was truly the most unconditional love I have ever seen. Nicolas is beautiful with his dark wavy long black hair and  those deep brown eyes and that Pelaez dimple. Gabe will always live in Nicolas we know that. 

But we also know Gabe was broken hearted by the loss of his son Andrew who was hit by a car many years ago and at the very least it gives me some peace to know they are together now.

Gable also lives in the memory of the relationship he had with his brother Adrian, who he helped support when the family and Albert had issues. Gabe was in high school and he became a surrogate dad to Adrian, he is ten years older than him you see. And he took on the responsibility at a young age. 

They were ten years apart but close. When we were young, Adrian and I worshiped Gabe and Sally. They would take us everywhere, Vegas, Big Bear, Laughlin (never asking us for a dime because we were poor as church mice) and I always thought they were the most beautiful couple. Looking at the pictures, I see that they were majestic and luminous. 

A couple of years back, when we lived in Hesperia, and Gabe was living with us, we all went on a cruise and we had the best time. It was me, Adrian, Orieta, Gabe, Sally, Nicolas, my mom and my twin Jackie and her husband Joe. 

And a couple of Christmases ago, we got a cabin with my family and Gabe and Nicolas came along and I just remember Gabe showing up with bags and bags of meat to prepare. Because that is how Argentines show love, through food.

Gabe also shines in our memories of him being willing to give the shirt off his own back, much to his detriment at times. So generous. And giving. 

In how big he lived, never settling for easy. Always speeding through life, much like the fast cars he loved so much, he lived big and bold, working hard to be a better Gabe. 

How talented he was with cars. Gabe could literally build a car from scratch and did. He could fix anything and he loved him a Mercedes.

Was Gabe perfect? No. But Gabes imperfections are what made him so human, beautiful and true. 

In the end, I think what we can remember and even learn from Gabe is to appreciate each moment because it might be our last. And to take time for our family and friends and loved ones. And we need to butter our mothers’ toast for them, whenever we can.

I will end with the lyrics to last refrain from the song Mad World, 

"Hello teacher tell me what's my lesson
Look right through me
Look right through me

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
I find it hard to tell you
Cos' I find it hard to take
When people run in circles
It's a very very
Mad world
Mad world."