Panorama of San Bernardino

Friday, December 25, 2020

Christmas mourning

It is one am on Christmas morning. I am wide awake and feeling stressed. This has been a hard year. The year of living in solitude.

It could be worse I know. Luckily, I have my husband and the moms here. But I am all in my head and just want to sleep. This week, I've been very bad company. I'm irritable, then jolly then irritable again.

The pandemic is just starting to hit me. Today, I feel as if I'm being pelted by metaphoric bricks. My heart hurts. And my brain.

I can still taste last night's beer on my breath. Silently in my head, I tell myself that for Christmas I will detox and exist on water and caffeine. Drinking makes everything worse. The panic that is always right below the surface with me comes welling up. 

So here I am. It's Christmas and the house is so quiet that nothing is stirring except me, this little mouse.

Merry Christmas. I wish I had joyful thoughts to make you feel peace and comfort. But all I got to give is this. Just this.

Tuesday, December 22, 2020

Alignment

Yesterday, Jupiter and Saturn aligned closer than they have in hundreds of years. The alignment was so close that from Earth they appeared to be a double planet. 

One star.

So it seems fitting that I am listening to Bowie's magnum opus of an album, Blackstar. My favorite song on that album has always been Lazarus. Bowie's words were a prescient omen. He sang, "Look up here I'm in heaven."

Bowie died two days after Blackstar's release, and just like my father, Bowie was dead at 69 years of age. 

When my dad died many years ago, I was in shock. But my dad's death made me change my life and after he died, I became a writer and a deputy public defender. I left corporate law and never looked back.

My favorite Bowie album is not Blackstar but Ziggy Stardust and my favorite song is Five Years. That song is so timely now. The lyrics are hard to listen to, that's how much they strike me in the heart. 

"News guy wept and told us,
Earth was really dying
Cried so much his face was wet,
Then I knew he was not lying".

It all seems so surreal right now. As if the Earth is on its last legs. Christmas seems at points meaningless and then at times, everything. Like the two planets aligned, it's as if hope and fear are the same emotion in the universe, to become one entity.

Maybe, I can't tell the difference anymore. Yet, I have to think that up there, where my dad and Bowie are, they know the difference between light and dark. 

So I will remain hopeful and thinking of my dad and of Bowie and while singing a prayer, I will continue to reach for the light. 



Thursday, December 17, 2020

Baby it's cold outside

It feels like a dark winter is here. The virus is spreading in California like wildfire in a dry field. It's getting closer and closer to home. 

I wake up early. I can't sleep anymore. It's as if the weight of the world is on my chest. Over and over I tell myself to be positive because I want to have faith that everything will be OK. Will it?

The things that comfort me are my dogs, the Christmas tree and soft music in the background, candles and a warm bed. I want to huddle under my blankets for the rest of the month. But I can't. We all can't. Some people have to go to work, but truth is, I don't want to go outside. 

It's too cold figuratively speaking. It's scary. Terrifying really.

They should make up adjectives for a post pandemic world. New words for a novel world.

So my friends, stay healthy and indoors, as much as you can. Appreciate the moments you have with your immediate family. Call your friends. And be safe.


Saturday, December 5, 2020

Snow globe

It's Saturday morning and I'm up at 5 am. I can't help myself. My eyes pop open. It's probably because I fell asleep at 7 pm. 

Things are in a weird dystopian phase. There's a vaccine on the horizon with a lockdown looming. I'd prefer to sleep the next month away. We all know I can't.

Thursday in court was stressful. But that is my job. My clients need me. I want things to go back to normal. Pre-pandemic, I took much for granted, from concerts to get togethers to brunch to sitting by my clients without a mask in court.

Will life ever go back to normal? Maybe not. Perhaps I have been irreparably transformed into a homebody. Is that a bad thing? I'm not so sure. 

All I do know is that I don't feel the same restlessness I used to feel at the prospect of the next three weekends inside. I am trapped inside a snow globe without snow. I look through my real and virtual windows at the world outside. I marvel at its beauty and at times, its lack thereof.

And then I snuggle under the covers and go back to sleep.

Tuesday, December 1, 2020

Hello world

Today, I realized that I need to go outside more. It's easy with remote working to stay inside our cocoons. Being snuggled inside for hours may be cozy but is it healthy? We are isolating ourselves. 

Court days are a reprieve in a way. I stress the day before, prepping my cases, and reading reports in a frenzy of productivity. Yet court is usually anti-climatic. Most of my stress is self created. I am setting a trial but it is a bench trial.

Still, I am aware that all of us on the front line are in harm's way. We still need to be careful. Watch ourselves. Protect ourselves. Practice safe practices for us and our clients. But still create a connection. I shake hands with my out of custody client and his father wishing I could hug them.

Office life has changed. I sit alone in my office memorializing my day after court. I miss walking to get coffee on my breaks. I miss lunches with co-workers and chats in the break room when I walk over to get a Diet Coke.

I miss the pop ins into my office. "Juanita, you got a minute?" 

"Of course!" I would always say waving the attorney in. I am a social butterfly by nature. I love to talk about work, as well as music, movies and television. 

My wings have been clipped.

Yesterday, I took a phone consult from a newbie attorney on a case. It was nice to hear a fresh voice. I miss that. I kept her on the phone far too long because I was craving a new human connection.

Today I have a work lunch zoom that I'm actually looking forward to! 

Imagine that?

Thursday, November 26, 2020

Thanksgiving thanks

Every year, I write a Thanksgiving blog. I've talked about how my memories of Thanksgiving revolve around my father and my remembrances of his Thanksgiving meals.

This is not that kind of piece. This has been the weirdest year: Covid, the election, working from home, starting a creative writing Masters program and a podcast. I don't really know what to say except that I'm thankful that I'm here. That my family is here. 

What I guess I could also say is that I'm still grateful, but I'm feeling sad. I will miss seeing my sisters and family tomorrow. I miss concerts. I miss interacting with people like normal.

I have a dark side people rarely see and this pandemic has brought it out. Perhaps, I will have to make a conscious decision to go back to who I was. Because the one thing I've learned is that there is always light. Always. And, it's up to us to reach for that light.

Yesterday, I took the day off and woke up early and made my stuffing muffins. I chopped celery and apples and my mind went back to my dad again. I'm still missing him more than ever.

Feeling melancholy, I responded by finishing my homework for the week and the semester. Then I finished binging season one of The Crown.

At night, my husband and I made s'mores in the cold and listened to music. The sounds of INXS wafting in the air, I tapped my feet along to the beat.

Things are what we make of them and tomorrow, I pledge to make it a good day. A good day. I'll say it again. It will be a good day. 

Now back to sleep I go. It's 3 am and what I didn't realize when I started writing this is that it's already Thanksgiving.

I am craving an expresso but will wait two hours at least to be civilized.

Happy thanksgiving my friends. Reach for the light.

Friday, November 20, 2020

Pandemic times

It is the week before Thanksgiving. The pandemic is raging through the states. Some countries and states are considering locking down. Again. California just imposed a 10 pm curfew. 

Work is surreal. I go into court and try and get in and out, but I miss the interaction with the lawyers and staff in mental health court. We are a close knit group who work in the trenches trying to help the most voiceless of populations.

Once I get home, I work some more. The work never ends. My clients need visiting which we do remotely. There are motions to write. Notes to update. Files to read. Reports and documents to review. It never ends.

But I feel off kilter. We all do. The world is in a precarious place. We are in the midst of one of the most trying times in history both medically, socially and politically.

Where will this all go? What will happen? A vaccine is on the horizon, but I fear there will be severe economic repercussions for years to come.

It is not all misery however. This pandemic has resulted in some artistic inspiration. I'm working on my last podcast of the year and finishing my first class for my MFA creative writing program. My weekends are full. I've replaced busy weekends on the go with writing.

Still, I yearn for the carefree days where I could travel and roam and see my family and friends sans mask.

Yet, gratitude is key and today I'll end with that. I'm grateful to be here writing today. The blank page is my refuge. My solace. My pen to the page is my everything.



Saturday, November 14, 2020

Rivers

As Joni Mitchell once sang, "I wish I had a river to skate away on." 

The idea of escape is something I cannot stop thinking about. I want to be in Hawaii or Cancun, Dublin, Paris or somewhere new like London or Barcelona. I want the pleasure of being somewhere where I am a new me. Somewhere I can discover new places and things. The joy of vacation. Maybe I want to be anywhere except where I am. 

It is the pandemic that will not let me go. And the election. I feel unsettled. The disquiet is in the air. It feels as if something bad is going to happen. I'm not imaging it I don't think. Perhaps many of us feel this way. 

The infections are rising and there is no avoiding it unfortunately. We can only skate away in our minds while the ice breaks beneath our very feet. I'm sorry for the morose tone. It is the only one I can find right now. 

Everything will be OK is the mantra I use to calm myself. But still, I feel uneasy. Breathing in and out, I practice my gratitude exercise, and whisper what I am grateful for in my head. My husband, my dogs, our moms, my sisters, my friends, my job, and my health. I keep repeating this to myself whenever I get anxious.  

I want to be a child again and be reassured by my dad. I look up into the ceiling and picture my father up in heaven playing cards and wish I could just hear his voice. Just him saying my name would make me feel better. But the only way I hear his voice is when I write stories about him and right now, I can't. I can't write anything but this.



Thursday, November 12, 2020

Musings

Earlier, I tried to write but couldn't. I could barely string words together. Maybe, I have too much on my mind. 

My writing process is usually muse based. I get inspired, I write a story. It's not the best way to finish a book, but I'm trying. 

Sometimes, a goal itself inspires me. I had a performance for a live show that was cancelled due to the pandemic, but it was the impetus for the last chapter of my book. Another time, I put my mind to writing about my Dad's bar and a piece of a story came out that I recently finalized for a chapter of my book.

Maybe I can use that tactic this weekend. I've decided I'm going to set a few concrete story goals and see what happens.

Unfortunately, I'm under the gun. My deadline for the final draft of my memoir is January. And yes, the book is almost there, note the use of almost. Perhaps, I'm too much of a perfectionist. The final stories are coming along. Yet, I feel as if I'm on the verge of writing a needed addition to the book. Something necessary that will take it to a higher level. 

The real problem is now that the dream is so close, I'm terrified of failure. What if no one reads my book? What if people dislike it? 

What if I disappoint myself? Ultimately, what matters most is that I end up satisfied and content with the final version. I am not a content person by nature so this could be tricky, but I'm not going to block myself. 

And then, it's on to book two, which I've started but it is kind of a secret for now. It's law related and I already pitched it to a press.

This writing thing is not a fluke you see. It's my passion. It's everything in some ways. 

So watch out writing world. Here I come.

Saturday, November 7, 2020

Democracy daze

Four years ago, I was devastated and surprised by the presidential election. This year, I voted early morning on Election Day then turned off the news. This time, I decided, I would not be hurt. I ate two donuts and went to bed early.

Waking up, I was pleasantly surprised with the results. As the day went on, the good news trickled in. By the end of day two then three, I was cautiously optimistic.

Still, I am not jinxing it. I will not celebrate until it is officially called. You can call me superstitious, but I will call myself smart.

If Biden does win, I will breathe a big sigh of relief. These last four years have been difficult. I rarely wade into politics here, so forgive me, but our standing in the world has been forever harmed. The rhetoric that has been used by the hopefully soon to be former President is dangerous and inflammatory. 

Perhaps, it is a good thing that we know now that the democracy we cherish is so fragile. That it was almost brought down by one man is terrifying. That so many stayed silent and joined him is horrifying. And I am praying that soon, very soon, this very long nightmare will be over. Then we can all heal and build new bridges.

So fingers and toes crossed, I sit and wait. 



Friday, October 30, 2020

Halloween blues not orange

Halloween blues is how I'm feeling. I am thinking back to the shows and concerts, such as Nightmare Before Xmas at the Hollywood Bowl and all the Halloween parties I've attended. My cool costumes. Sigh.

I am also thinking about how I always pass out candy with my mom. We sit outside on beach chairs with a big bowl of candy, blankets and booze. I play music and we marvel at all of the kids' costumes. She's hanging out with my twin sister this year instead.

I think of when I was little and how my dad would decorate the house.

Nothing is normal now. My reality has changed. It is a very Twilight Zone kind of life. My main interaction is on Zoom although I do go to court in person for calendar, hearings and trials during the week. Today, I have an in person hearing in court on a medication issue for a client. 

My writing career and podcasts are different too. We figured out how to bring people in virtually and most people appear by phone or on their computer. But on November 4th, my guest will be live! 

School for my MFA is all online and because I'm part time, I don't even have to Zoom. Readings have changed as well. Everything is virtual. When my book comes out next year, I anticipate everything will still be virtual and my daydreams of standing on a stage in front of a crowd may be a pipe's dream.

Yet, there is still the smell of spice in the year. Leaves are falling. The holiday movies abound. To celebrate, I may stop and grab a coffee with pumpkin flavor, just please not too sweet, before court.

I'm sure I will see people wearing Halloween masks today. The covid kind unfortunately.


Saturday, October 24, 2020

Hairdresser on fire

I am a girl who has had hair of many colors. From childhood to junior high, it was a deep brown. In 8th grade, I dyed it a purplish maroon red that shimmered in the sun. In high school, I dyed it blue black. 

After high school, my hair color varied from red to brown to black back to brown. The day I retire, I will dye my tresses pink, green or blue. Or maybe all three 

I always wore my hair curly until recently. Growing up, I had thick Curly Sue ringlets that got thinner as I aged. 

When I was young, I would dream of having pin straight hair with bangs, like Susanna Hoffs' hair, the lead singer from the Bangles. That all changed with my discovery of The Brazilian Blowout some years back. The first time I straightened my hair, I almost didn't recognize myself. 

The grey has come on slowly, little whispers of silver. Despite the modern day coolness of grey hair, I refuse to go grey. Even during Covid, I've been dying my own hair, hiding the signs of my mortality.

I use the excuse of my podcast, but really, I am a bit vain I'll admit. Plus, I love dark hair. For me, Vampire dark hair with a red lip and a thick lined Cleopatra eye is the way to go. So yes, 49 or not, I'm not going silently into the night.

Ever.











Wednesday, October 21, 2020

LIFE

Do you remember the board game LIFE? My favorite board game was always Monopoly, but LIFE was a close second. It created a life on a board and you rolled the dice and played your way through school, work, marriage and family.

My life is not exactly as I planned. I did the school thing and work. I'm a responsible, paycheck earning adult. I have two dogs, a husband and a house. But no kids.

I just turned 49 and it's been years since I gave up the child dream. But, my infertility still irks me. I feel there's another world where my two kids are running around driving me crazy in the best way. Unfortunately for me, they're not in this world and there's a hole that can't be filled. Mind you, I try. 

I have a deputy public defender job, a podcast, performances, two books I'm working on and I'm getting my MFA in creative writing. I'm so busy that sometimes I can't keep it all straight. 

But life is short and I do want to live it. Pandemic or not, life goes on. The sun lifts up in the sky early morning and sets early evening. Time goes by fast the older you get. 

For me, my goal is to just love my life as it is. I have a lot. I'm lucky. Not in everything. But still, lucky.


Friday, October 16, 2020

Nervous gratitude

I've been thinking much about gratitude. These are such strange times that it feels strange to be highlighting thankfulness. 

But I am grateful. Grateful for my job, even when I come back from vacation to a mountain of work, and back to court with too many cases on in one day. Not all was my fault, some of it was due to my own over scheduling, and the rest due to the court furlough. 

I am also grateful that I have the ability to write and speak publicly. The writing gift was one God gave me (and he let me pick my nose as the joke goes), but my public speaking and reading persona has taken years of work.

In the 90s, way before UCR and USC Law, I was attending Mt. SAC junior college. I was the editor of the school paper working full-time as a waitress to pay my rent. I had an unreliable car so sometimes had to bus it to school or beg for a ride. 

I remember taking a public speaking course and it stressed me out to no end. The teacher was tough. My boyfriend Adrian (husband now) was actually in the class with me and him watching made me even more nervous.

I did my big public speech on tarot and Wicca and dressed all in black. I looked cute but was so terrified. Stammering my way through, I remember how nervous I was. My knees were knocking I was shaking so much. My nerves were obvious. They got the best of me. The teacher still gave me a B, mostly because the speech was well written.

During my first trials as a deputy public defender more than a decade ago, I worked through my nerves again. Eventually, I lost the nervousness by focusing on the work of trial. Another trick was being extra prepared and using my humor and not taking everything so seriously. I did a virtual training for work the other day and my goal was to say David Bowie at least once. I did. 

Yet, until recently, I still got super nervous when reading at literary events. I would shake, my voice would warble. Then before a big show, a wise writing teacher taught me how to turn that nervousness into excitement through the power of intention. She told me to just keep saying "I'm excited" instead of "I'm so nervous". It works for me. I rarely say I'm nervous anymore. I'll just keep repeating to myself, "I'm so excited!" Yes, it may seem a bit creepy, but it works. 

Now with the podcast and readings, I just lean into that excitement. I look at the camera and put on a show. Plus, it's not me, it's JEM. JEM is always more confident than I am. JEM is a rock star and an attention seeker. 

For me, being virtual helps because a crowd watching me can still give me a nervous buzz. With the camera, I forget I'm on display.

This has been a long winded way to show some of the things I am grateful for: teachers, mentors, my education, my job, my family, and my life.

Oh and for the shih tzus of course. I'm always grateful for them.

Friday, October 9, 2020

Musings

It's 6 am. I'm on my phone writing this drinking my coffee. We're in a hotel suite for my birthday weekend.

It's hard with the pandemic because until now, we really haven't traveled. Just leaving the house to go to work or the store causes me so much anxiety. Yesterday, I had to breathe in and out on the drive here to calm myself. 

The pandemic has forced me to slow down and perhaps, I needed that. But, what I have realized is that I don't want to stay home all the time. I'm an adventurous person who used to go to music shows at least every month. Maybe the secret is finding the balance. Even though I'm a Libra, balance has never been my strong suit. 

So I am changing, or trying. Finding my path. Trying to see what is next in store for me while trying to slay some of my own personal dragons/demons that hold me back.

Last night, Riverside City College's literary journal MUSE had me do a live reading and writing exercise. It was so much fun. Getting to interact with students at RCC was amazing and the connection we all made with one another was inspiring. 

Getting the opportunity to interact with these students was soul sustaining for me. I was also overjoyed to interact with two of my favorite people and writers, Professor Jo Scott-Coe and Professor James Ducat who hosted and moderated the event.

During the session, I read an excerpt from a story about my Dad's bar, a bar he owned for a few years in the 80s. His bar was called "The Big O" and it went belly up, but I used the story as a springboard for a writing exercise on writing about "place". The best part was hearing everyone share what "place" they personally wrote about. That to me was where the magic happened. 

I guess I am finding my place in the community. Writing is magic but so is community. Without community, we really are all alone. I need to remember that. We all do.


Tuesday, October 6, 2020

Relaxing (in pandemic times)

When will this pandemic all end? Will it ever end?

If you had asked me in March, I would have said by the summer. If you had asked me in summer, I would have said, by fall. Now it's fall, and there's no end in sight.

There's only so much Prime and Netflix you can watch. I've binged multiple seasons of Ru Paul's Drag Race (in all of its iterations). I just rewatched Gilmore Girls (all 7 seasons and the four episode update/reboot) for the third time and I'm savoring episodes of the latest season of the Great British Baking Show.

I've worked crazy work hours and finally found a schedule. Early morning to late afternoon. 

But right now I'm on a staycation. I have plenty to do. I'm doing a Zoom presentation for a journal, I'm working on my book and I have homework. Plus I can always plan my future video podcasts. 

My dogs are estatic I'm home yet, I'm anxious. I'm off kilter. I don't know who I am any longer. What happened to me? To all of us? Is there a meaning to all of this? What am I meant to learn?

The secret I've decided is to just let it all go. All of it. Just take a deep breath I tell myself. Stop controlling everything. Just chill out. Relax.

Relax watching the bakers make pastry, relax watching Lorelai drink coffee and relax watching Emily in Paris. Relax listening to my dogs fight. Relax watching the sun rise and set. 

Just relax dammit. 



Friday, October 2, 2020

Constellations

I walked the dogs in the dark this morning. I could see the constellations in the sky. They twinkled like a beacon that was put there just for me. The stars made me sigh. I thought about how small we are in the universe.

I'd been up early writing my memories. I have a new schedule where I write early morning, sometimes beginning at 4 am. It is working. Words are pouring out of me again. I feel the universe telling me to write, write and then write some more. It helps that I'm taking a MFA workshop class and have pieces due. I work well on deadlines.

Yesterday was a bad day at work. A very bad day. By the time I walked in the door, I was slumped over with a blinding migraine. Finishing up my calendar notes from home, I ate a little then fell into bed at 7 pm.  I slept as if I was in a coma. No dreams.

My eyes popped open at 4 am. I got up. I turned on my computer. Started typing. Typed for an hour straight.

The good news is that I have next week off. I am finally taking a staycation. I plan on writing. And, gazing at the stars.

Saturday, September 26, 2020

The year of being content

I pledge starting today to be content. Happy. Grateful.

It's 1 am and I'm lying with my dog Frodo at my feet. My other fur monster Chewie is snoring.

I'm reading and writing. I just started my part-time online MFA program and even though I'm only taking one class, it is rejuvenating me. I'm happy.

Writing has always been one of my great loves. Nonfiction memoir is my genre and it moves me. Writing, reading and editing is my passion. It's so much fun. The energy of it. The brain power it requires. The focus.

I woke up at midnight tonight and started reading a book about a garden in France called "French Dirt". It was written by my writing professor. The book made me remember how much my Dad loved gardening. And it made me think of my trip to France last year.

I decided to start writing this piece to capture what I am feeling. The feeling that, for the first time in a long time, I'm content. To just be.



Saturday, September 19, 2020

My shadow self

The other day, I had a meltdown. My poor computer suffered. I screamed at her. My dog Chewie shivered watching me. My husband ran upstairs and asked, "Are you OK?" He saw that I was crying angry tears. 

The work issue was resolved eventually, but that night, I called a close adviser and she gave me a reading. That reading showed me that I still have a lot of work to do on myself.

I often talk about my best self. That I am who I portray and who I aim to be. But for me, what is in (what Carl Jung called) my shadow self? The shadow self is that self that we hide from even ourselves. Shadow work is notoriously difficult. But, it's time.

In my shadow, I know that I am angry and resentful. I want to do for others and then complain about it. I'm not always fully present. I'm critical and neurotic. I obsess. 

I say that I'm positive, but inside can be very negative. Even with my homework for my MFA program. I get it done early, but then obsess over whether it was perfect. It's not just that I'm being hard on myself, it's that I'm hurting myself. That needs to change. I need to take back my power and spiritual energy because it is draining me. This post is my way of creating the intention.

I'm so tired of not being my best self. Look, I know that I am a happy and positive person. That is me. But what the pandemic has taught me is that left to my own devices, without the distraction of running around all the time, my bad traits come out. 

Are others experiencing this?

Perhaps, I have too much time to think because although I'm busy at home all weekend editing, writing and doing homework, I'm not filling up my days running around here or there. Plus, stress creates emotional triggers that may bring out my worst qualities. And maybe, my coping mechanisms have shrunk along with my world.

Working on myself will be hard. But I will grow spiritually and isn't that the point? In the end, I hope to become a kinder, nicer and gentler person. I want to be kinder to myself and gentle on others, especially the ones I love.

Monday, September 14, 2020

It's a small world after all

My world has turned so small in ways. At the house, it's me, my husband and my mother in law. Oh and my two shih tzus. I see my best friend occasionally for lunch outside and have my mom over for a sleepover once a week.

But, my life is also bigger in some ways. I have my podcast and my online grad school which, when coupled with my more than full time job, keeps me very busy.

Although I dabble with reading for class on Wednesday and Friday nights, Saturday is my homework day. I down a couple espressos so I am extra focused. I usually start early, at 6 am. I'm only taking one class so I am keeping up. This Saturday, I started at 7 am and was finished by 1 pm. Adrian is learning not to talk to me when I'm doing my homework because I can be curt when bothered.

This Saturday, I was able to get a week ahead. All of the discipline I put into becoming an organized lawyer is paying dividends with my MFA in creative writing. I worked on the two pieces I am submitting next week for workshop and plan on letting them sit for a couple of days. 

The best writing marinates. I'll go back to them on Wednesday, them submit them early. Deadlines are calming for me. My calendar on my phone is full of them. 

I can't help but think back pre-pandemic when my world seemed so big. 

My husband and I had recently traveled to France. I can still taste the chocolate and pistachio croissants at the French bakery by my cousin's house. In my mind's eye, I picture myself walking through the Louvre, peering at books at the Shakespeare and Company bookstore in Paris and having high tea at the Ritz. 

In February, we had met all my sisters in Mexico for a long weekend and if I concentrate hard enough, I can almost hear the crowd cheering as we watched the half-time Super Bowl show at a bar with my sisters and our husbands. I miss bars and concerts the most I think.

Yet, is my life any less fulfilling? I am going for my passions. Turning toward them, grabbing at them. Life still whizzes by in an instant and you must be present and conscious to catch the precious moments as they fly by.

What I'm saying in a rather long-winded way is to gather your rosebuds my friends, however you can and however you may. Create a garden in your mind and heart. There's an old cliche that rings true here: home is where the heart is. And yours is beating right now, right where you are.





Monday, September 7, 2020

JEM's Drag

Confession time, I am obsessed with Ru Paul. I am way late to the game, I know. But I've been binging everything drag race related since the pandemic panic began.

It has helped me in ways you can't imagine. Much like how I spoke on my last video podcast with my tarot card reading friend Gina, we must have confidence to succeed in life. Much of life is visualization and negative self talk is counter productive. Ru Paul reaffirms everything I knew in my head and heart about living one's dreams. Plus, I have a huge girl crush on Michelle Visage. 

Recently, with everything I've been trying to accomplish, what I call my recent attempt to rule the world, I've been imaging it happening. I know we all want to rule the world, but I want it bad. (Had to give a Tears for Fears shout out...).

For example, I pictured myself on screen with guests, and guess what? It happened. I pictured myself looking and sounding epic. And, while everything is a work in progress, I have met my own high expectations.

Sometimes, not everything goes as planned. In producing my recent mass incarceration course for UCR, I had lighting and technical issues. I beat myself up mentally about it for about a week, and didn't sleep much. 

But then I said to myself, you know technology is not your strong suit. That's why you have a producer on your own video podcast! But maybe you can fix most of this in the editing room and we did. Of course, it helps to have people you trust to help you. And I'm buying a Zoom light for my next production at a college next month. It's a learning experience and I will get better at the technology side. Trust.

What I am saying is, know your strengths. I know that my performance side is strong but that I must work extra hard on the asthetics. Hence, every podcast, I take my time doing my makeup and hair. I'm trying to work on my weight too. 

It's my runway bitches!

The person inside of me is JEM you see. She's my drag persona in a way. Someone asked me recently if she is my alter ego. But I think she's really my best self.

JEM is the face I put out to the world. The confident identity who has opinions and a voice that the world needs to hear. 

The sad and anxious girl stays out of the frame. The negative girl hides away. 

JEM is all about love and positivity (along with music and dancing of course).

JEM is the culmination of many years of self work. She's the butterfly emerging from her cocoon. Finally. She's here. And, as a wise gorgeous person named Ru Paul once said, if you can't love yourself, how can you love anyone else?

Saturday, August 29, 2020

Life of JEM is on You Tube!

The Life of JEM live video podcast episodes 1 to 7 are up! Go to You Tube! Search Life of JEM! Or click here:

 https://m.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLEOO_QeHU-_QXclEhREibpf93Z0x3KCSF

I read a story from this very blog on every episode. I talk writing, witches, food, 80s TV, waitressing and music. I even have an episode about criminal laws and policing where I utilize my criminal defense lawyer self! 

Every episode has a theme and a guest (either in person or by phone and maybe via Zoom soon). People can also call in live to the show and talk to JEM! 

The Life of JEM live video podcast airs live every other Wednesday! 7 PM Pacific Time!

Next episode 9/23. For the live stream, add my Life of JEM FB page! 

If you're interested in being a guest, add my FB page and message me!


Friday, August 21, 2020

Life lessons

Recently, I learned a valuable lesson. Stress is sometimes self created. In my last post, I expressed how frustrated I was with starting my online MFA program. But then I realized, after meeting with my director on Monday, that I had attended the wrong orientation. 

Turns out, because I am in the online low residency program, the students are much older and most are working professionals. They all have really cool life experiences. Most importantly, there is no weekday Zoom "class". Instead, everything is online and I can do it all on the weekend. 

Plus, I'm only taking one class this first semester. My life won't really change. I may have to manage my weekend time better, but I usually write or read all weekend anyway. I've made a pledge to not take on any other new writing projects other than those I already have (i.e., this blog and my video podcast). Unfortunately, I may have to learn to say no to social engagements (which are few and far between with covid already) and fortunately, I've already cut down on my drinking. 

The most exciting aspect is that, assuming travel is allowed, in the next 2 years, I will be doing a month in UNO's summer abroad in Europe. It  is so exciting to imagine writing and taking classes in Europe with my cohort, a dream come true really. Hubby has already said he will tag along for a couple weeks. I'm hoping for Ireland!

So here's to dreams being realized. The best part is always in the journey my friends. What's your dream? Tell me in the comments! 

Don't forget to watch my LIVE video podcast of stories and commentary about my life every other Wednesday at 7 pm Cali time (I have had some cool guests). You can even call in and chat with me.  

Just add my Life of JEM FB page for the live stream, or find it on YouTube by searching Life of JEM. See you there!


Saturday, August 15, 2020

School bell

I start my low residency UNO MFA next week and had a meet and greet "happy hour" for my nonfiction class. It didn't go well. 

I wasn't prepared. I had court in the morning and had to rush in to get my computer fixed after court. I stopped at the store and grabbed chicken for dinner on the way home. Then I got pulled into the time suck that is remote working updating my cases.

My alarm went off and I yelped! The meet and greet "happy hour" was starting on Zoom in 10 minutes. I grabbed a brush, my lipstick and went to work on my hair and face and opted for my black sequined sweater buttoned up over my punk rock tee.

Once I got into the Zoom, I was a little manic. Smiling widely. Too eager. Too talkative. I was clueless about Moodle, their class online system and got a favorite book's title garbled. Everyone except another 40 something woman seemed so damn young. And they were all living in New Orleans taking a full schedule. I bit my tongue when they asked what other classes we were taking. ("None," I would have squeaked. "I'm on the 5 year plan"). All was not lost. I liked the female professor. She had friendly eyes.

Bringing my dog into the screen didn't help lessen the weird tension. Zoom is not built for meet and greet and was more awkward hour than "happy hour". 

Plus, if they say "happy hour", I want a beer and some canap├ęs. When the Zoom ended I had one last question, "What's Moodle!?" Someone chuckled then I was left all alone in the room as it closed. 




Wednesday, August 5, 2020

Somebody in pandemic times

I realized I hadn't written a blog in more than two weeks. The days are merging. At this point, I'm just trying to get through every week to the weekend.

But weekends don't really help. I used to be able to decompress. Now I just work all week and I sleep away much of the weekend. I'm so tired. Nothing is very fun except my podcast but that is every other week.

Work is hard. The anxiety of exposure is difficult in court, but perhaps preferable to working in my little bubble upstairs. In my office, I lose hours and hours lost in my caseload and when I pop out of it I see it as an exercise in futility. I keep on fighting. Fighting for my clients is the air that keeps me breathing. 

Where will I be after this is over? I'm not sure. I've seen firsthand how horrible the world can be. I can't put my blinders back on. I will be forever irrevocably changed.

Up until now, I've tried to remain as positive as I could. But, will this ever really be over?

The pandemic may have shined a light on just how fragile and hard life is. Pre-pandemic, many of us, present company included, were lulled into a false sense of security. It was entitlement. I saw how hard life was for many in my deputy public defender practice but did I feel it? I don't think I truly did until now. 

Now I feel it. I really do. 

Yet, all is not lost. I know that. Art is the answer for me right now. Writing helps me forget. It helps me to remember. It eases my mind I suppose. For that, I am grateful.

Saturday, July 18, 2020

Sweet dreams

The current pandemic has taught me some important life lessons. Life is so short. It's filled with times you would never expect, like now, but those times offer a chance to reevaluate one's life. I've had plenty of time on the weekends to ruminate on my life. What I want. What I need.

What I've realized is that I'm an artist. At my core. I'm a performer. A witchy woman. A ham. An attention seeker. A risk taker. An optimist and most of all, a dreamer.

I've also realized that my anxiety and inability to turn my mind off has a purpose. My energy can be positive or very very negative (ask my husband), but when I'm on, I'm on.

The thing I've been working on the most is visualization. I've been visualizing what I want for my future. And it is big. Like wishing on a star, I'm keeping it secret, but I see the possibilities.

As a wise woman, Annie Lennox, once sang, "Sweet dreams are made of this. Who am I to disagree?"

Saturday, July 11, 2020

The girl in the mirror

I've been thinking much on the construct of JEM. I've said it before, that you only see what I want you to see. Sometimes it's warts and all, sometimes it's fantasy. It's all true but sometimes, what I don't say or show is the most telling.

I've decided to be more open. Many would say I'm probably already too open, and delight in my over sharing. True. I do enjoy the shock value and reduction in stigma of writing and speaking about my hemmroids, my mental health and my infertility.

Today, I saw my new therapist. It was virtual. I need help managing all this. My stress and my anxiety have been overwhelming me lately and I know when I need help.

She's Latina, my age and we have much in common. She kept mirroring myself back to me. Reinforcing a positive image of my drive, my intelligence, my tenacity and my work ethic. I liked the image she saw of me, the one she kept reiterating and for a moment I believed that was, and is, me.

Maybe I need to realize that I am my better self that I think is a construct. Maybe this is me. Maybe I am a hard worker, nice, kind, smart and helpful. Too often, I focus on my negatives. I tell myself that I am self absorbed, lazy, bossy and aggressive. Instead, I may actually be focused, active, determined and assertive.

I am changing the narrative today. I am reinforcing my own self worth. It's not ever about the outside. It's about what is inside. One's brain. One's heart. And one's actions.

So at least for today, I'm letting you know this is me. Just me.

Tuesday, July 7, 2020

Amplify

Trying to conquer the universe is exhausting. I am no spring chicken. If I was smart, I would have started this whole "I wanna be a personality" thing a decade ago.

What no one tells you when you're young is that getting old is painful. My foot pain is back, hunching over my computer has created even worse upper back pain, hemmroids are the bane of my existence and my head hurts from eye strain.

Since I started my video podcast, I feel as if I am always working. I work all day at my day job, then at night, I work on either marketing my podcast, organizing it or writing my questions and copy.

But I love it. The only good thing about the pandemic is that it motivated me to record my audio podcast which would lead to this video podcast. My dreams are finally coming to fruition and to be perfectly frank, it's terrifying. I'm discovering talents I didn't even know I had. I love the extemporaneous nature of broadcasting. It's so damn fun. Best of all, it's been my motivation to work out and eat better because staying at home for Covid-19 caused me to gain weight I'm determined to lose.

No more hot pockets. No more Nutella toast. No more pancakes for dinner. No more delivered dumplings for lunch. I'm actually starting to enjoy salads. And poke bowls!

The next couple of months should be interesting. Hopefully, my circle will stay strong and healthy and the economy will bounce back.

Yet, regardless, I am grateful. Grateful for my friends, my family, my colleagues, my job, and for my clients who need me so desperately.

And most of all, I'm grateful for the chance to let my voice be heard. Amplifying my voice is everything I thought it would be and more. And it's only gonna get better baby. Just wait and see. Watch me.



Live podcast!
https://www.facebook.com/LifeOfJem/videos/273097427247826/?vh=e&d=n

Thursday, June 25, 2020

Perfection podcast

I started a live video weekly podcast. On it, I read a story from this Life of JEM blog (Yes, this very blog!) and then talk about how it relates to today. It's on Rag House Media's FB page streaming live, Wednesdays at 7 pm Pacific time. The ultra cool studio is in Ontario and I love the fact that I am reading my stories near where many of the stories take place.

The process is so creative and fun. The hard part for me are the optics. Being confident in myself and how I look is my burden but I'm trying hard to be confident and it's working. I'm making sure I look good every week. I do my hair, my eyeliner and of course, a red lip.

The talking part is somewhat easy for me.

The other hard part for me is after. Being satisfied with my production is a hard one for me. I have always been very self critical. I'm a perfectionist. Hence why my memoir has taken more than a decade.

I'm trying to take it as a challenge to be the best video podcast I can be. I really want this to morph into something big. Something special.

Every dream starts with a seed, a step and then a process. My first seed was this blog created more than a decade ago. The next big step was recording my podcasts when the pandemic hit. When I put them on audio for the Anchor app, I heard them and immediately knew I was onto something. I worked on them every night obsessively (part of the "process") and practiced my "radio voice".

Next was meeting my producer April Duran of Rag House Media. Kismet, that was easy. She was so supportive, cool, inspiring, and compelling that I decided to jump on the opportunity for a video podcast. Plus, we went to high school together, how cool is that? We are also both wanderers, she lived in Europe and I lived in LA, Texas and San Francisco. We have so much in common. And we've both got big dreams and aspirations.

So here I am. It's a dream come true. The process of the live video podcast is coming along. I'll get the structure worked out. It's not easy. But it's so much damn fun. I'm having the time time of my life.

Truly.


Saturday, June 13, 2020

New day

I sit outside listening to the birds and the twinkling of my flamingo wind chime and I ruminate on the last three months. Then, I think about about these last weeks. How change happens can sometimes be unpredictable and I am finally seeing what I hope is a seismic shift in criminal justice policies.

For far too long, I have participated as a deputy public defender representing clients in a broken system, one about which I was constantly conflicted. Harm reduction was my goal but now, I have decided to stand up and to speak out. My practice will change. It has to. Now, I will practice my feminism in my work and call for true change. I have always nurtured and protected my clients and urged for salvation rather than incarceration.

As Angela Davis said recently in an interview with Democracy Now:

"And I would say that abolition is not primarily a negative strategy. It’s not primarily about dismantling, getting rid of, but it’s about reenvisioning. It’s about building anew. And I would argue that abolition is a feminist strategy. And one sees in these abolitionist demands that are emerging the pivotal influence of feminist theories and practices."

Reading her words, it is as if a lightbulb went off in my head, and my eyes opened. My views have always aligned with this abolitionist and feminist ideology. I've always known that this criminal so called system of "justice" was anything but just. It's just recently, however, that I have found the synergy in my work and writing to articulate it.

It's also been about reading, because all writing should begin with inspiration from writers who inspire and for me, Angela Davis' words do just that.

If I can urge anything, it's to read books like "Is Prison Obsolete" by Angela Davis and "The New Jim Crow" about the racism behind mass incarceration by Michelle Alexander. The best writers are prophets and see what society cannot until decades later.

Much like how the best musicians are visionaries, these writers saw and said and wrote the truth we are seeing today. Their words will resonate. I promise you that.






Thursday, June 4, 2020

Static

Static: Defined as “pertaining to or characterized by a fixed or stationary condition” or “interference due to such (atmospheric) electricity”. (Source: dictionary.com).

Can you hear me?
Screaming in my head
Let my people go
Let me go

Saying let us go
Release everyone
From this system
That hurts us all

I used to think
As a deputy public defender
I could work within it
Now I see it’s broken

Can you hear me?
Screaming in your ear
Listen to me
Please listen, listen!

Let me do what I do
Then let me go
From this misery
Of banging my head

My ears are ringing
From the beat of cuffs
On bars of cells
Across America

Are you there?
Can you hear me?
Screaming your name
It all still remains

Excuse me
Excuse you
Forgive me
Forgive us all

We know not what we do
Or maybe we do

Monday, June 1, 2020

Testament

I am just here as a witness in these times. When a black man is held down and killed over and over and over. People are angry, frustrated, sad, and hurt that the state and systems have not been accountable and rightly so.

We have let people down. The systems are only as good as the people running them. For far too long, we have allowed others to shape the narrative. People like me, who have seen the inequities and systematic injustices on a daily basis, have not said enough. I feel as if I have not amplified my voice. I haven’t screamed loud enough for people to hear. This is my community dammit.

Because you see, as a deputy public defender, I see it. Every day. I thought it was enough to try to cure injustice one person and one client at a time. But it’s not. Micro change is important yes. And my clients need me desperately. They often have no one else.

But big change is needed. Macro change that makes foundational and structural shifts in how justice is applied. And that requires all of us who work within this system of so called justice to scream out against it. Say it out loud. Say their names. Don’t back down. Be a tireless advocate, yes, but also a political force and voice.

You see, they need us to testify to their pain so others will be able to see what we see.

We’re no longer just lawyers, we’re witnesses.

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Fantasy Island

Everything looks nice on TV. Social Media is the same. It’s fantasy, a kind of construct.

I have said before that the image I project on the page is not me. It’s only a version of me. We all contain multitudes (Whitman).

This pandemic has created tiny worlds for us all. We used to run around keeping so busy. We were all worker ants and busy bees. Now that everything has slowed down, ground to a halt may be a more fitting description, we are still and quiet. That stillness can be terrifying.

Being stuck in one’s head is a frightening experience, especially when you’re not moving. The stationary nature of the pandemic, however, can also be an opportunity for growth. For me, I’ve been working on my poetic voice, learning to cook more than just eggs, and we have (well Adrian really) been working on the asthetics of our spaces.

What I have realized is that everyone needs hobbies. And pandemic hobbies may not be the same as your non-pandemic hobbies. For example, right now, it’s very hard for me to work on my memoir, but I find blogging and poetry cathartic and healing.

I’ve also become closer to some friends by talking to them on Zoom or on the telephone (can you imagine?!). I’ve also realized how much I miss my work colleagues who have always accepted my quirkiness. Even when I get annoyed at work, and the sheer overwhelming nature of the broken system I work within, I know how lucky I am.

I guess what I’m trying to say is, go easy on yourself. And realize that the images people project are just that, images, and reach out to those you care about.

When this all passes, and it will I promise, you want to remember these times and have used them to grow and reflect. Most of all, I want to remember these times as when I helped those in need.

But like I said, be easy on yourself and if you want to be a Netflix couch potato that’s OK too. I’m part of that club. I will never apologize for binging a series with my huge bowl of popcorn (topped with real melted butter and lots of salt).

Much love to all of you who read my musings. It means a lot. I will reciprocate and I’m here if anyone needs an ear.

Sunday, May 24, 2020

On the horizon

Something is brewing up on the horizon. I’ve had this feeling before. When I get this tingle, all the way from my head to my toes, it always means big changes.

There’s something in the air. It’s not just the strangeness of the pandemic. It’s everything. The world, my world, feels as if it’s tilted on its axis. The air feels different.

For the last two months, I’ve been struggling with the pandemic, and with my workload and other’s expectations of me. Then this weekend, I meditated and prayed for it, it being my terror, to go away. For me to be able to let it all go. It worked, that fear, it’s gone. The anxiety I had for weeks in my gut just disappeared as if by magic. In its place is just a calm, a calm like still water.

Maybe it’s because I've come to the realization that I do not care what other people think of me any more. The opinion of others just doesn’t matter to me. I’ve always had a deep desperation for everyone to love me. I wanted to please everyone, at the expense of my own self. Now I’ve decided,  I don’t need to be liked. Or needed. Or appreciated.

I’ve made a choice you see. A choice to put me first. It’s not selfishness. It’s self love.

The only thing I care about now is whether I meet my own internal criteria. I ask myself, are you helping people? Are you doing your best? Are you being a good person? Are you meeting your own internal goals? Are you being loving and true?

My whole life I’ve cared so much about what others thought. Their opinion and evaluation of me was everything. This blog post is my way of saying, forget it. It’s my external bulletin board message to the universe saying, I’m me and I’m good. Screw what everyone else thinks because I don’t give a shit.

All I want is to be happy and joyful. I want to sing and dance and be my best self.

Merry. Sunny. Introspective. Outgoing. Those are just a few of my new adjective goals. Wait, add in fearless and honest. Oh and optimistic, courageous, loving, funny and kind.

From now on, I want to put my feet on the ground each morning and meet my life’s purpose.

What is it you ask?

Dear reader, that’s exactly what I am trying to find out.


Friday, May 22, 2020

Chirping

The birds are chirping so loud. Or maybe it is just so quiet that they sound loud. It is 630 am in the morning and all I hear are the singing birds and my dogs breathing. It’s beautiful. The birds sing and sing. Maybe I’m just learning to listen.

On my second tiny cup of espresso, I stretch. This is day whatever of the pandemic. There are surprises to be learned during a pandemic. One thing I’ve learned is that my dogs are spoiled rotten and also that I enjoy sanitizing the house every morning, the regimen of it, and doing laundry. Who knew?

My new organized closet makes me happy. It’s also my office so when I’m working, I sometimes take a break and look at my sequined jacket and dresses and imagine myself dancing in them again in Vegas. I remember all the Vegas trips and don’t regret them one bit. My party days may be somewhat behind me but I’ll always have the memories.

I have also found that writing poetry eases my anxiety and writing prose increases it. Why is that? Reading has also vexed me. Until yesterday, I wasn’t able to escape into a book. My mind wouldn’t let go of this anxiety inducing world to let me fall into the literary world. Then yesterday, I started reading a memoir and poof! I fell into it, losing myself for a couple of hours. It was bliss.

It’s Friday and of course, I have more legal work to do before a long weekend. I have telephonic hearings this morning and then a training (a pox on those those who plan a training for a Friday afternoon on a holiday weekend). After that, I plan to spend my weekend reading and floating in the pool. My goal is to disappear into a book and find myself while also finding truth and beauty.

Monday, May 18, 2020

Roar

Blogging can be cathartic, and it’s an effective way to bear witness. In my more than a decade of blogging, I have memorialized my joys and my sadness, my mental health struggles, devastating deaths, happy travels, my infertility, my anniversaries and birthdays, along with my successes in creative writing and my trials and tribulations as a deputy public defender. But never have I had to bear witness in times like these.

Times like these make you question everything. I don’t know who I am anymore. I’ve realized that I’m much more anxious than I knew and a lot less patient. I have obsessive tendencies, and I can throw myself into things for the greater good or into drinking and lose myself. Both are harmful. I tell myself, all things in moderation. But it’s hard. I’m self-destructive and cynical. I’m not happy. But who is?

Happiness, however, may need to be redefined. At this point, I’m grateful to have my husband, my mom and my mom-in-law in my inner circle. My mom is home in her apartment (she just got back from my twin sister’s house). I’m seeing her once a week. It’s a joy. And life with the husband, mom-in-law and the spoiled shih tzus has found a purpose and meaning that’s surprising. When I’m not binging Madame Secretary, there are deep connections to be made. Telling conversations to be had. Reminiscing about times past is what I do in my writing, but I also need to do it in my life.

For this is not me. I am not sad and frustrated all of the time. Am I? Remember? I was happy. I am happy. Maybe if I say it, it will be so. Like a mantra. I’m happy. I’m happy. I’m happy. Click my heels three times. Is it working? I feel a little better. Everything is relative.

There are days when I am still me. I rail against injustice, then blast the Sex Pistols and Buzzcocks and jump up and dance, I make funny faces, but I scream in frustration when I run out of stamps. Then, I wake up to another day and make pancakes. Pancakes are prayer for me right now. They remind me of my father and when I make a pretty pancake, I say a little “whoop” under my breath.

Small steps my friends. Bowie helps. Yoga too. It’s the breathing. Reminding yourself, you’re still here. That’s powerful.

Who will I be when this is all over? I hope I will have morphed into someone who is a bit less self-destructive, and a lot more grateful and joyful. Into a girl who knows she can do and be anything. Into someone who expresses her love in both her actions and words. Who says “I love you” without hesitation or fear to those she loves the most. To someone who is not self critical but self empowering. And most of all, into someone who always speaks and writes her truth.

I am pandemic lioness hear me roar.

Friday, May 15, 2020

Spotlight

I have the best of both worlds in some ways. I am a lawyer who loves her job as a deputy public defender and a writer. I love the performance aspect of both.

As a kid, I would always see movies in my head. I was the star of course. It never occurred to me that writing and performance are so linked. That side of me, the actress side, was never cultivated until I started performing my memoir pieces.

As a teenager, we made fun of the band and drama kids. I was too punk rock and cool for that. But a few years back, I took a theater workshop and was blown away. It was all about analyzing the script or piece and interpreting it. It’s as if a lightbulb went off on my head. I’m an actress!

My husband wasn’t surprised by this. “You want to be the center of attention, it’s always the Juanita show”, he said. I nodded. He was right. I love having a room’s attention and while sometimes I go overboard with it, I am happy I have that desire for attention because it’s motivating.

I used to let nerves get the better of me. Last year, the day of a performance, I moaned, “Why did I agree to do this piece”? My heart was racing, my palms sweaty, I was so scared and anxious. But then a wise teacher said, “Stop framing it that way, say you’re excited and use it.”

That teacher was right and recently, I have been able to be more free and open when reading. I just let go and throw caution to the wind. I even do my “voices” when podcasting.

If this pandemic has taught me anything, it’s to go for your bliss. Be powerful, and courageous.

Especially, especially I will say it again, with your art.

Wednesday, May 6, 2020

Pandemic Nation

I started reading Prozac Nation again. I’d read it years ago. Yet, I’d forgotten how desperately wrought and honest the book is about depression and anxiety. She (the late Elizabeth Wurtzel) captured it, and has been criticized for being too “confessional”. Which is bull. Too confessional is another way of saying too hysterical, and too dramatic, or what is otherwise known as being “too female”.

This whole Covid-19 pandemic has and will cause a mental health and addiction crisis that will reverberate for years to come. We are all just coping. Holding on to the life raft of our sanity by our fingernails. Dealing with the unbelievable and the unknowable and basically, trying to handle the biggest shit show ever to happen in our lives.

How are you coping? I want to know. I need help. We all do. I vacillate between working all the time to drinking on the weekend to sleeping to binge watching television. I have no balance. That is out the window friends and it may never come back.

My whole life, I’ve always felt like I was living and walking on a tightrope of sorts. It’s probably why I moved around so much earlier in my life. Lately, I find it hard to move at all. I feel as if I might fall off the tightrope into the abyss below if I take one misstep.

Even trying to cope by writing brings me anxiety. My poetry class I’m taking online stresses me out. It’s not in my lane and I fear criticism.

All of my successes seem trivial now. I want to finish editing my book, which is too close for comfort. I can’t even open the document. It seems like too much.

So my friends, if you’re listening, I hope you can see this is just me. Being me.

I’m going to end on a positive note, as I sit here at 4:29 in the morning, listening to my husband snore. And this is the best I got right now, all I got: This will have to end eventually.

And then we can all go back to living our lives of quiet desperation and hoarding consumer goods and chasing the American Dream that does not exist anymore, a dream that maybe never existed at all.

That’s all I got.


Friday, May 1, 2020

Dreaming

On my second cup of espresso, I stretch. It’s my 9/80. I’ve been working remotely but more than ever. It’s nice to have a break from my non-stop work connection. I find it very hard to disconnect from my job right now.

My phone rings constantly from the jail, Face Timing with my colleagues, Zoom meetings, Skyping, telephonic court conferences, and the never ending story of emails. I’m too connected. I worry about my clients constantly. People used to think public defenders were lazy and incompetent. Now they’re seeing, I hope, just how crucial we are and how much we care.

At night, I’m too exhausted to write. Last night, I made cheese enchiladas and fell sleep by 8 pm. I awoke at 4 am and thought, “Is this all a dream?”

Today, I am disconnecting and looking forward to laying out, listening to music (especially Bowie) and no emails or phone calls.

This morning, I listened to a live remote re-recording of Crowded House’s Don’t Dream It’s Over. Neil Finn’s voice breaks through. The words touched me:

“There is freedom within
There is freedom without
Try to catch the deluge in a paper cup
There's a battle ahead
Many battles are lost
But you'll never see the end of the road
While you're travelling with me
Hey now, Hey now
Don't dream it's over
Hey now, Hey now
When the world comes in
They come, they come
To build a wall between us
We know they won't win.”
His words reminded me that there is freedom within. Within our minds and hearts, we have the ability to transcend. Isn’t that what art is about? Art arises from space, time and chaos. My podcast that I just finished season one of was birthed from this pandemic. I’d always wanted my stories to have musical interludes. So there’s that. There’s always beauty. Always.
So for now, I will just dance and sing. And I will remember my dad today on his birthday and dream of the world when this pandemic is all over.


Saturday, April 25, 2020

Catch

One of my favorite songs by the Cure, while I love them all, is a song called “Catch”. The lyrics go like this:

Yeah I know who you remind me of
A girl I think I used to know
Yeah I'd see her when the day got colder
On those days when it felt like snow.
You know I even think that she stared like you
She used to just stand there and stare
And roll her eyes right up to heaven
And make like I just wasn't there.”
The words of Robert Smith made me mull on who I was pre-pandemic and who I am now. I have changed inside.

This whole coronavirus crisis has made me realize that at my core, my very core, I am: an artist, an actress, a (bad) singer, a poet and most of all, a writer. 
Life is so precious and so fleeting. We can spend it in a prison of our own making or we can sit the sun. We can lock ourselves in a room. Brood. Complain. Or we can use our imagination and travel to distant places using only our minds.
Luckily for me, my artistic medium of choice requires only the canvas of paper or a computer. I write to be heard. For someone to listen and care. Ultimately, I want to be liked by you all, loved even. That’s why music speaks to me so. All of my favorite singers are desperately romantic: Bowie, Robert Smith, Morrissey and of course, the crooner love song queen, Patsy Cline. 
People think just because one is melancholy that they are also not joyful and loving, but the most dark are also often the most full of light. I want to be that light filled and joyful girl I used to be. The one who thought good times would go on forever and that she was invincible. The one who existed pre father’s death and pre miscarriage and infertility, and pre pandemic.
But maybe, this new me is who I’m supposed to be. Dark, light, happy, sad and not artificial ever. True to herself and a daydream believer. Still an optimist but more realistic, knowing that life is short.
Oh it’s far too short. Too too fleeting. But it’s lovely too.

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Dystopian Daze

It’s such a surreal time that it’s almost cliche to say so.

Dystopian is a good way to think of it. I had a conversation with a friend the other day. We were discussing about how one doesn’t really know when things are dystopian because I believe most of us are optimists. We all want things to get better and visualize them getting better to calm our anxiety.

For me, I saw the warning signs right before my San Antonio AWP conference in March. It was the calm before the storm and when I returned from Texas, I did a deep dive into coronavirus and saw the red flags. I spent a week writing an article and then boom, everything went ballistic.

Everyone was out and about and then, all of sudden, the world was on lockdown. My job moved to remote court work and for the next weeks, I worked on bail motions for my clients. Trying desperately to get as many people out that I could.

Now, it’s a bit of a comedown. Still dystopian yes, but I feel adrift. My highlight of today will be working and Skyping and a non-optional vet appointment. I wonder, when will court start in person again? When will my husband’s dental offices be allowed to reopen? And most importantly (I’m being facetious but not...), when can I go to Vegas again?

I’m thinking of my dad on a daily basis, along with praying every morning when I wake up for my mom, my husband and my mom in law, and for my dogs to stay well because they are my solace.

I miss my family. I want to see my sisters, my best friends, and my work colleagues. I want life to go back to normal, even if it’s a new normal.

In return, I pledge to appreciate every minute, and every moment, and to listen to the birds and feel the warmth of the sun. I promise to love my loved ones and be a kind and benevolent force in the world.

Most of all, I vow to use my platform and voice for the greater good and to never be intimidated to say what I feel. To trust my instincts. To get another tattoo.

And to listen to music and dance. Always.


Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Wishing on a star

I always loved the Pinocchio cartoon and the idea of wishing on a star. The thought that our dreams and wishes have power is a compelling one to me.

There is so much sadness right now that I can barely write. I’ve been recording old stories on my new podcast. Memorializing my stories in a kind of audio file memorial to myself. See https://anchor.fm/juanita-e-mantz-pelaez.

I am feeling my mortality. Deeply. As our own Starman David Bowie said:

“Planet earth is blue and there’s nothing I can do.”

So where do I go now? How do I manage my sadness and grief? I have no idea my friends. I’m floundering losing myself in motion work for my incarcerated clients and trying to calm the quell of panic that is bubbling right beneath my surface.

My friend Jane died this week, she was an investigator for our office and had been publicly battling cancer. I wept knowing we can’t even have a funeral for her right now. That sweet soul deserves a funeral and to be celebrated.

But these are our times. Many tired souls will go without the rites and celebration they do deserve.

And, we will all just be here to bear witness.

My wish I suppose is that we all remember these times and when life returns, for surely this is not life right now, or at least not a good life, then we appreciate it and all live it to the fullest.

Life is fragile, especially right now. Stay well. I’m here. Stargazing.




Saturday, March 28, 2020

Strange daze

Another series of strange days. Staying at home and connected only by technology, I am grateful that I have my dogs, husband and mother in law with me at home (that’s not in order of preference). Yet, I’m missing my mom who’s with my wonder twin sister Jackie in Palm Springs.

My days fly by. I love not having to wear a suit and most days, I wear a beanie, a punk rock t-shirt, pajama bottoms and funny socks. Every morning, or at least most, I force myself to wash my face and brush my teeth, but my hair is getting tangled again.

Without the need for getting dressed, I start work very early, about 6 am most days, after downing two shots of espresso with a sugar cube. My cousin Pascal got me hooked to this combo when I visited her in France, I blame you Pascal!

Some mornings, I sit outside and watch the sunrise thinking of our trip to France. It was so lovely and we took it for granted in some ways. Not being able to travel right now has impressed upon me how lucky I was to see Paris. I remember the beauty of the French countryside and the croissants! Oui! Oui!

Working from home, I am surprisingly efficient and productive. I have emails, motions, and a big side project when I get bored by the other stuff. I take a break about noon for lunch. By three or four, depending on my breaks, I’ve put in a full day.

Yesterday, I hopped on a training at noon then realized it was not until Monday. So, I went downstairs and made brownies.

My social life is me, my husband and my phone. Last night, my best friend Tracy and I connected via Face Time and drank beers. I annoyed my household watching her and her daughter Karaoke. I sang backup while listening and gave encouragement when she sang Metro by Berlin.

Today, I don’t know what to do with myself. I have to pick up a prescription and maybe some soda waters. Life has become very insular and odd. Maybe I’ll record another podcast. I have to get dressed to make a video for a San Bernardino hard book anthology that I’m in (we are doing a virtual book launch.).

As an aside and a finale, I also need to figure out what to do with the case of spam I bought.

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

These Times

There are eerie, strange times. I am coping by losing myself in work (from home) by day and I am managing my nighttime with Netflix and NyQuil. The other coping mechanisms I have utilized are Reese's jumbo peanut butter cups and an ice cold Diet Coke. That reminds me, I am almost out of Diet Coke. I was so obsessed with buying canned items, cold medicine and cleaning products that I forgot the thing I need most. You know the world is ending when I forget to buy Diet Coke. I am trying not to drink alcohol, it will only make things worse. Instead, I will be watching American Idol drinking a hot tea.

Everyday brings more bad news. The good thing is that my sister Jackie picked up my mom and took her to Palm Springs after she caught my mom lunching with the seniors. My mom is very social and is obsessed with what's next on the menu. Also, she is an ornery 79 years old and does not like being told to stay home. Now, my mom and my wonder twin can chill out while my mom talks through movies and drinks cup after cup of coffee.

I am also editing my memoir for publication and I just published an article in Aljazeera on jail conditions with the virus (https://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/prisons-woefully-unequipped-deal-coronavirus-200310075911589.html) and am considering a follow-up. These things keep me occupied after work hours. It is difficult to watch television because everything is horrible news or fluff and neither is comforting. Even worse, I made the mistake of watching Contagion and almost had a panic attack.

The world seems so big and yet so small right now. The run on items has created community.  We wait in lines together. Wave at one another. Smile and nod our heads. No one gets too close.

Everything is closing. Our worlds are shrinking. But then you see the news and the world seems so global and we are all linked by the virus.

I am terrified for my clients in the jails, and for my own family's health and financial well-being. Yet, I know that I am blessed. I have a job that is allowing me to work from home when I can. Courts have closed in most counties and ours are likely next. I drafted a motion for a client to be released and that will be heard today. I am crossing my fingers it is granted. I am trying to make change on both a macro level (the article) and micro level (1 client at a time) at this point. That's all I can do.

Where will this go? I do not know. But what I do know for sure is that I am here. Writing and going through this with you all. Comments appreciated. Let's keep our connections going, remotely for now.






Friday, March 13, 2020

Transformation

I am stressed. Worn out. Anxious and depressed. About the virus, my clients, the world, the markets, and my family. Of course, I’m in Vegas.

It makes sense if you know me. This is our “go to” place. Where we come to decompress. Plus, it’s hubby’s birthday so I left it to him to make the call on whether to cancel. Hubby and his mom wanted to go so I said, “OK” and we piled the moms and two dogs in the Prius and we hit the road. A full car for sure.

I stayed on my phone the whole drive. I recently wrote an article on my fears regarding coronavirus in the jails for Aljazeera and it was blowing up my Twitter and Facebook. See (https://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/prisons-woefully-unequipped-deal-coronavirus-200310075911589.html).

Many people commented and responded to it. I was nervous before it went up, but after, I knew I had done the right thing.

I am happy to have said my piece. It is only opinion, my opinion and fears in my voice. It is no one else’s view but my own. What I do know for sure is that I was driven to write it. Sometimes, as a writer, there is a muse, a higher power, moving our pen.

This was one of those times.

It all started this last Sunday. I had returned from San Antonio after attending a writing conference and immediately got home and started writing and researching the virus. I researched jail conditions and health care and prior outbreaks of disease. I worked all night on the essay, ignoring my poor neglected husband who hadn’t seen me for four days. It was almost manic, but something in my heart was saying, you must do this.

I tweeted and posted a blurb pitching the piece. I received an immediate response from an editor. The next two days were bedlam. I worked a full day at work then ran home to edit the piece, falling asleep at midnight (my normal bedtime is 830 pm) and waking up at 4 am to be on Quatar time for more edits. It was exhausting, yet also exhilarating.

Then, by Thursday, it was live.

What it made me realize is that I can do anything. So while these are the worst of times, they are also transformative times because we see the possibilities in life.

The truth is that we are all able to create whatever we want out of our life. We are all magical creatures.

Stay safe, healthy and well my friends. This too shall pass.

Friday, February 28, 2020

Time Enough At Last

I have been working on a piece for a storytelling showcase. I’m on my upteenth round of edits. Even when I think, hey this is good, I’m done, I’m not. The coach’s response email of, “here is the feedback” and “more arc” is a humbling, learning process for me.

I’ll admit, finding the “arc” has never been my strong suit. Dialogue is something I’m good at along with character development. I’m adept at finding comedy in tragedy and unresolved, non-cliffhanger endings with someone frying up a pork chop for dinner.

Those are my go tos. But arc, not so much.

These last few weeks, I’ve had to do much growing, both personally and professionally. I’m learning to put my ego aside and just do me. It’s a fine line walk between confidence and arrogance and to be a writer you have to be confident in your voice and know it matters. You have to be passionate and tenacious, and seek opportunity. It’s called “putting your work out there.”

But maybe, what’s also important is growing and improving even when you’re good. That’s how you get to be great.

People often ask me, how do you do it? You have a more than full-time career as a deputy public defender. I usually respond by saying, “I use my early mornings, weekends, vacations and I don’t have kids.” (Not having kids was not by choice.)

But the truth is, and I’m wearing my heart on my sleeve here friends, I don’t have a choice. I must write. It sustains me and calms the anxiety in my brain, but I am also just listening to the whispers of my father in my head saying my name. Perhaps, it’s the only way for me to bring him back to life.

Or maybe, I have to capture my family, my friends and my life or it won’t mean anything. I know in my head that my life means a lot, I know this, I do, but I need to see it on the page and in the world at large.

There’s that old Twilight Zone episode (the title of this piece) where a man, played by Burgess Meredith, loves to read more than anything and hides at work and home and escapes into his books. I know this feeling well. The H bomb drops and in a post Apocalyptic world, the man is despondent and all alone. He is about to kill himself until he finds a library and he is overjoyed. The man has enough books for a lifetime. Then the rub. He shatters his glasses. The man cries out,

That's not fair at all. There was time now. There was all the time I needed… It's not fair!"

That’s exactly how I feel most days about writing. I fall into it and could do it forever and I don’t want to run out of time or lose my way (or my glasses). If I wait until I have all the time I need, it might be too late. We are all just blind people looking for a purpose I suppose and this is mine.

Now, it’s “time” to go work on my “arc”.


Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Showtime

I woke up at 3 am to the sound of Chewbacca whining. My shih tzu is spoiled and anxious and after 10 years together, he knows I’ll get up. I did.

We padded downstairs and I checked Facebook and an announcement for one of my favorite bands popped up. Sleaford Mods were playing at my favorite venue, Pappy and Harriet’s in Joshua Tree. The venue is amazing. It’s in Pioneertown and the feel is more small county fair than rock venue. Plus, they have an amazing restaurant with killer barbecue.

And the band. Punk meets rap meets electronic with social commentary. The lead singer Jason’s voice reminds me of the first time I heard John Lyndon sing. It was love. It is love. I know all their lyrics and sometimes they’re not easy to figure out. That guy is a master at puns. Almost better than James Joyce. Almost (there is Finnegan’s Wake ya know).

I adore the band to sum it up my friends. Like my espresso in the morning adore. They’re butter on toast for me (margarine for you vegans).

So don’t judge me, but I screamed! Then I literally jumped up and down, like a teenager. Unlike my teen years, where money was always the issue, I bought my tickets and even disregarded that it’s on a Tuesday. Mentally, I said fuck it. This is my band.

Tossing and turning back in bed, I couldn’t even go back to sleep. That’s how excited I was. I started thinking about all the shows I’ve seen, since that first Loretta Lynn show in elementary school that my dad took me to.

In high school, me and my besties went to shows as often as our pizza restaurant paychecks would allow. Yes, I saw The Smiths live on stage and Siouxsie and many others. Music is memory for me. It is life. It is happiness.

It is where I lose myself then find myself all over again. So here’s to finding myself again, one show at a time.


Friday, February 7, 2020

The seer

I have had the flu all week. It’s been wicked and my chest has been wracked with coughs. So when I fell asleep at 7 pm tonight, I was not surprised.

What was surprising was that I had the most lovely dream. I was half awake and half asleep and dreamt of my book release party. Because I was in that super special place of half-awareness, I could influence my dream. I imagined the party at a crowded venue, the reading, the restaurant after and all of my family and friends there supporting my book come true.

Imagination is everything with dreams. More than two decades ago, as a junior college student, one who had no car, no money and no prospects, I used to doze off in class lecture thinking about walking a podium in a cap and gown with all of my family cheering loudly.

No longer would I be the high school dropout, the waitress, or the loser. I would make it.

Mere years later, I walked across not one stage but two. First at UCR with an English Literature degree, and then in a red and gold cardinal gown at USC Law. From high school dropout to corporate lawyer at the largest firm in Texas, that usually doesn’t happen. But for me it did.

When the corporate law gig didn’t fit, I put a sign over my corporate litigation desk that said “IWBAPD”, short for, I will be a public defender. Within 6 months, I had a job in Riverside, and there I would stay to this day.

So while some may say I’m a dreamer, I say I’m a seer. I see it and eventually, it comes true. This time with the book party, here’s hoping it is sooner rather than later because I was sad to open my eyes tonight and look at the ceiling with blinking eyes.

I thought to myself and maybe even whispered, “Oh how I wish that was real. Oh how I wish.”



Thursday, January 30, 2020

Directions

It is 2:30 am and I am wide awake. Frodo woke me up an hour ago. He kept whining to go downstairs. I tried to ignore it, but finally padded down the stairs with him to go outside. He looked confused as he looked at his water bowl. I said, “Drink Frodo... now go outside.” The wind was howling as I opened the door.

Frodo looked at me again. I pointed. He followed my finger and went outside.

We came back upstairs and I tried in vain to go back to sleep. My brain wouldn’t turn off. I am a bit frustrated with a work issue that I need to just let go. It really has no purpose other than to cause me annoyance. Do we suffer because we can’t let things go? Perhaps. Maybe I’ll just turn my annoyance into a fiction story or a character (that is always the risk you run with pissing off a writer).

I spent last night listening to a podcast on the controversy surrounding the book “American Dirt” on Latino USA on NPR. I think the dialogue is important. Yet, similar to my work issue, I am letting it go because I have to. My own book is what’s important to me right now you see.

Maybe that’s what is vexing me. 

Maybe my anxiety over my book is what is really in the back of my mind, my decade long labor of blood, sweat and tears. What if no one wants my book? What if no one wants me?

Hmmmm. 

You see, I just want my stories out there, and they are. But my book, a novella memoir, is a whole collection, rather than pieces. It is a portrait of me. It is me. I am multitudes or contain them as Whitman once said: Jenny, JEM, Jua and Juanita. I am all of those narrators and all of my names. 

I am my stories. 

In the end, maybe I just need to come from a place of gratitude, for how privileged I am that I’m a writer, and that I get to write at all. I need to have a mantra: if you write stories, they will eventually be read, by someone. 

For now, I’m following my own directions and just padding down a path. Where it leads, I don’t know, but I’m on it. 

Saturday, January 25, 2020

Backwards

I was looking back through posts the other day and was amazed I’ve kept this blog going for a decade. It all started with a story about me and my embarrassing dance moves at a Christmas party. I did the sprinkler dance ok? Get over it.

I can see how far my writing has come. Like working a muscle, I’ve built it up. It’s flows easier now. But have I come along that far? Have I worked on my soul in the process of the writing? I haven’t really made much progress in the last decade on being nicer or on drinking less.

Don’t get me wrong, I know I’ve documented it all, I’ve been honest, pretty honest, about who I am.

There are cringeworthy blogs that I read now where I was so euphoric about the process of fertility treatments and IVF. So fucking hopeful. I feel like a fool in retrospect, and the barren and cynical bitch I’ve become thinks, you are a fucking idiot.

But at least I tried. Right? It's the same thing with this book, this writing journey and my performances. It’s not like I think I’m that talented. I do a reading and my knees chatter together like fake joke teeth, but I have something to say. I have a voice. And while my voice may not be the prettiest, or the smartest, or the most elevated, it’s mine.

Watching the show Fleabag recently, I thought, I love this. This girl is a real girl, a flawed girl and I will take reality over fake ass shit any day.

Friday, January 10, 2020

Running

Getting back to work has been hard, but oddly exhilarating. I have found more joy in my public defender incompetency work since I came back from a break.

My work routine seems comforting. My obsession with to do lists and efficiency have put me in good stead for the new year. I have a very big trial in February and I’m prepping it while breathing.

I also got involved with a creative project at work involving social media and that’s been super fun and rewarding.

Writing wise, my weekend and early morning and night gig, well that’s a crazy tale. I’ve been on a mission to finish my book which I did. There’s a draft and it’s good. Not perfect of course, but it never will be. What’s weird is that after leaving it for a month, I was able to finish my prologue in a weekend.

Here’s the rub. Being a writer is work. People do not have any idea unless they’ve tried to be a writer. And it’s not just the writing itself. It’s the writing and the submitting, and the conferences, and the readings and promotions.

Everything came to a head in January.

I had to book my trip for AWP, the huge writing conference in March of every year which I had been putting off. I finally got that done. Then, a good friend reminded and urged me to apply to the agent meetup which is due next week too. So that still needs to get done. And it will. Probably after I write this blog because I’m up at 2 am so what the hell!

Next, I am doing a group read in Venice on the 18th of the month so I had to help promote that. Then, there’s a book contest/prize that I want/need to submit my manuscript to so I’m also working on that which is due in a week.

Just when I thought I was on track, I found out I had not properly deferred my online part-time MFA program at UNO which was supposed to start this month. I had to reapply which I did last night. They let me transfer my letters of recommendation and essays so that helped. Maybe it was meant to be that I start my MFA this summer or fall because I’m running right now and barely keeping up. With my demanding job, the needy shih tzus, my husband and of course, my Netflix and music obsessions, well it’s a lot.

Life is short. I’m not beating myself up. I’m just moving forward.

I’m tired. Yet exhilarated. Life is moving and so is my writing. Working full-time as a lawyer for the most oppressed and writing on the side is a lot. But if anyone can do it, I know I can. Thank you for listening.