Lisa is seasoned in writing and the Creative process, and partners with stakeholders to grow amazing brands through web, blog content and social media platforms. She has honed her creative skills working in multi-functional marketing capacities within a handful of small management consultancies as well as prominent organizations such as Dell EMC, Sun Life International, Crabtree & Evelyn LTD, The Boston Ballet, Powersoft, Sybase and EG&G Inc.
Lisa is a lover of equine, bovine and canine; the great outdoors and an avid cyclist. She writes—her personal essays have been published in anthologies (e.g. the IPPY-awarded winning “Unmasked”), several literary journals and media outlets. She recently was awarded a month-long writer’s residency at Fairhope Center for the Writing Arts Wolff Cottage in Fairhope, Alabama based on the merit of her published work and an excerpt from “Love and Blood are the Color Red,” a book-length work-in-process about a summer she spent in Cody, Wyoming wrestling the locals to win ranchin’ chores “only done proper by a man.”
Lisa rides horses; is a fan of the great outdoors and an avid cyclist. She considers Massachusetts her home, but has lived in Connecticut, Vermont, New York State and two other planets called Wyoming and Arizona. She earned a B.A. from Regis College and an MBA from Babson College, and holds a Master certificate in Reiki.
Lisa can be reached at lisa dot demasi at gmail
The talk I presented to the Community of Fairhope, Alabama on my monthlong writer’s residency, August 2018:
Welcome to “Wine, Words and Welcome” and I love that Wine comes first in that phrase!
I’m Lisa Mae DeMasi and before I talk about the catharsis I’ve found in writing for the past 9 years, I’m going to tell you a bit about who I am and my background. I’ll be reading from a script for I am grossly inarticulate when it comes to addressing more than a crowd of three; one of the reasons why you’ll never see me give a TedX, become a TV commercial actress, or head a rally supporting an injustice in which I feel incredibly passionate about.
I hail from the Northeast. Growing up, I lived in Connecticut, Vermont, New York State and Massachusetts. As an adult I’ve lived on two other planets called Wyoming and Arizona. I have blended in pretty good in the Northeast, albeit with some trouble with principals, deans and female H.R. Directors, but definitely didn’t fare well with the blending in in Cody and Tucson.
My full time day job is working as a technical blog editor and writer for Dell EMC, one of the seven technology companies of Dell Technologies. Dell EMC specializes in combining leading infrastructure, data storage, hybrid cloud and data protection solutions for small and large businesses. A mouthful, I know. People at Dell EMC don’t have senses of humor but this particular job has redeemed my professional career and I do enjoy my work immensely.
My career path had been going in the right direction in my twenties. I was ambitious and emulating the boys in higher ranked positions, I applied and got into graduate school. I was going to lead my own company one day.
In the early summer of ’95, however, I found myself behind the wheel of a large automobile gunning it for the California coastline. I was 30, and the culmination of being newly divorced, ending an affair with an executive twenty-three years my senior, losing my job due to a merger, and flunking a graduate-level accounting exam had put me in a heightened state of fear. That’s F-E-A-R. Forget Everything And Run.
My dad had lined up a job for me working in Defense at an office in Manhattan Beach and as I drove across country, I thought about The Strand where the California blondes jogged and rollerbladed in bikinis, right there alongside the sand and the surf. Maybe I could learn to rollerblade. Wearing a football helmet and knee and elbows pads. Just to start off.
But the sand and surf and the California blondes and a vocation in negotiating contracts for weapons of mass destruction peeled away when I got an eyeful of the Rockies in Cody. I pulled over in town and walked my Reebok high-tops into The Irma and told the barkeep I was after finding work with horses, that ‘something had come over me’ when I saw those chiseled mountains. Not understanding that I was taken with the scenery, he took me for sick and said, ‘You should get some aspirin or sumthin’.’
The conversation and scene went something like this:
“Hey, City Gal. Welcome to The Irma. What can I do ya for?”
I laugh. “May I see a menu?”
“And how do barkeeps approach ya’ll back home?”
“City folk,” he scowls and slides a menu in my direction. He walks down the bar and stands in front of his only patron, a local by the looks of it.
I say, “Do you know if anyone is looking for someone to care for their horses?”
The barkeep leans over, rests an elbow on his knee and looks at me hard before answering. “You’re not just passing through?”
“Why would you assume that I’m just passing through?”
“You’re alone–can’t be on vacation. And you’ve got a look about ya that suggests you’re either after sumthin’ or missing sumthin’.”
“I was intending to pass through, but when I drove into Cody, something came over me.”
“You mean you’re catching a cold?” He nods towards the door. “Wal-Mart’s right down the street. You should get some aspirin or sumthin’.”
“No, no,” I say. “I’m not sick. I’m taken with the scenery.”
His face goes blank.
I try again, “I’m overcome by the mountains.”
He shakes his head and changes the subject. “Where ya from?”
“So ya bin to school?”
“Yeah, I finished high school.”
“I think you probably made it further than that,” he scowls. “Do you have a degree?”
“I have a diploma.”
“Yes, a little one.”
“Then, why would you want to stay and work in these parts?” He’s twisting one of the ends of his mustache. “There ain’t no college graduates around here. They wouldn’t know what to make of ya.”
“Are you saying that Cody is adverse to diversity?”
He glares at the local.
I say, “I’m on my way to California to start over, but it would be nice to work here for the summer.”
He knits his brow together. After some hard figuring, he reasons, “You mean, you’re unhappy then.”
“No, I’m not unhappy,” I hiss. “I just want to air out my soul a bit.”
I say, “Does that fall into your “after something” or “missing something” category?”
He’s proud of himself. “You got that right.”
I rest my chin in my hand and fixate on my warped reflection in a bottle of booze and think, Who isn’t after sumthin’ or missing sumthin’?
He’s not going to drop the subject. “If you find yourself in a hole, the first thing to do is stop diggin’.”
I stare into the bottle.
He says, “Seems like you’re diggin.’”
He and the local gaze at me, watching for a reaction. I trace the edges of the menu and listen to the uncanny lyrics aching into the airspace.
Every fool has a rainbow
But he never seems to find
The reward that should be waiting
At the end of the line
But he`ll give up a bed of roses
For a hammock filled with thorns
And go chasing after rainbows
Every time a dream is born
“Oh, for God’s sake,” I huff, “who is this singing?”
“Merle Haggard,” the barkeep boasts.
“It’s damn depressing.”
The room falls quiet again. Then, the barkeep grows sympathetic to my apparent ‘after or missing sumthin’-related frustration.’ He’s gonna relent to the question I asked several minutes before. “There’s not much out here for a gal outside of working in a bar and tendin’ to housekeeping.”
When I show no sign of a response because my frustration/nonsense reactor has vaporized 85 percent of its coolant and is dangerously close to melting down, he asks, “Do you do that sort of thing?”
The local, who has sought participation along the way but has been browbeaten into submission, can’t resist the moment to add his bit. He pipes in, “Behind every successful rancher is a wife who works in town. Right, Skeeter?”
Understanding why he had been browbeaten and after bidding my own disconcerted glance, I look at “Skeeter” and say, “There’s gotta be a ton of horses out here.”
“That’s a man’s work,” he scowls, breaking his normal response time by half.
“Well, then,” I say, “I can pour beer into a glass and I’ve been making my bed for quite a few years now.”
Dead air. Then, “Working in a bar can be pretty tough on a gal,” he says, shooting a quick glance at his buddy, “if she don’t know how to handle the locals.”
I shrug and then glaring at him, rest my elbow on the bar, mashing the weight of my face into my hand. He reaches inside his back pocket and takes out a can of tobacco. He twists off the top, extracts a generous pinch and inserts it between his lip and lower gum line. Then, as if he’s got a big idea, waves the can in my direction.
Wrestling around the wad, he says, “The Grin-N-Barrett Ranch out on the South Fork is always looking for housekeepin’ help.”
I perk up and my fuel rods cool down. “Do they have horses?”
He scowls, “Plenty.”
“How far is it from here?”
“It’s down the road a piece,” he says, with a nod towards the door.
No other information airs through his bristly upper lip. I bark, “Well, what’s ‘the south fork’ and how does one come by it?”
Before looking in my direction, Skeeter glances down his nose at the local and grumbles, “Well, it ain’t the north fork.”
Meltdown. My forehead crashes on the bar.
My head begins to throb and it dawns on me why people felt entitled to just shoot people in the Old West—if they stole your horse, stepped on your land or just plain pissed ya off. I could easily take this guy out for withholding information, and, for being a real pain in the ass. Them are two good reasons in which I feel entitled, and compelled, to shoot him.
I draw myself upright. The menu disengages from my forehead and plummets to the floor. “Do you have a gun behind this bar?”
I try again, “So, what are these forks?”
“Roads,” the local answers since Skeeter is continuing to keep his trap shut.
“North Fork goes to Yellowstone,” the local says.
“Grin-N-Barrett Ranch is out on the Southfork,” Skeeter generously offers, wanting to put an end to the discussion. “Head west out of town until you see the South Fork—it’s before the North Fork. Follow it for about an hour and thirty minutes…”
I think to myself, he’s really telling me where this place is now. When he’s done telling me, then I can shoot him.
“…It’s slow drivin’ ‘cause the road snakes around the river. You’ll know you’re gettin’ close when the blacktop ends. It’s the last ranch on the right before you run straight into a mountain.”
Skeeter waves the can of tobacco in my direction, this time as if he just provided me with the opportunity of a lifetime. “You can tell ‘em Skeeter sent ya.”
Won’t make a difference because you’ll be dead by then.
I debated blowing out of there to save myself anymore reactor trouble but I was so hungry and couldn’t bear the thought of risking the same banter (without a gun to expedite response time), to obtain a meal someplace else.
Before Skeeter picks up with the local again I say, “Before I head out there, how about serving up a dish of those Rocky Mountain Oysters?”
Skeeter’s face lights up for the first time. “Sure thing, comin’ right up.”
# # # # # #
Well, I made it out to the ranch and was hired on as housekeeper. In between doing laundry and making beds, I took on responsibility mowing the lawn and feeding the pigs scraps from the kitchen; weed-wacking the mile-high grass in the staff’s parking lot. Watering and feeding the cows and horses came by way of initiation in Week 3. The boys dared me to chew Copenhagen. “You think you’re tough stuff, don’t you, Daisy Mae?” The can of snuff was presented to me and I pinched out some and put it in between my gum and lip, and let me tell you, a Five-Alarm fire ensued in my mouth and spit welled up.
“She ain’t even turnin’ green.”
Yeah, I passed. And started chewing cherry-flavored Skoal a week later.
# # # # # #
I’ve written many words and chapters about that summer in Cody, but here’s a summary of my experiences, the good and the bad:
I’m standing on a flatbed and tossing flakes of hay into a paddock not far from Yellowstone on a hot and sticky August afternoon. It’s 1995 and the longhorns are meandering over. They’re magnificent beasts, donning horns that extend to seven feet from tip to tip, and hides that are ruddy and white and dirty-speckled. Their surroundings are too much to take in all at once. The sky and foothills and mountains and clouds and sage and brush. I reach for a steer’s horn and playfully give it a tug. He doesn’t like it and tries to jab me. These steers, and the horses too, teach me to live in the moment, take only what I need to nourish myself, keep me sane, hold me here far from home or where I was heading.
I know in my heart I’ll never want to leave.
My former husband is on a flight from Salt Lake City to visit me. His heart hangs onto mine, but knows in his heart of hearts, I have crippled him in hurt and needs to find another. Our meeting is a manifestation, an outcome produced by my own volition: Karma derived in Guilt. Our evening visit will end in catastrophe, my severe debilitation, which will grant him Freedom to find Another and have the babies he wanted with me with her. Blessings.
Still ahead, I will go on, amputated from my Old World, to a frontier that will bequeath more trials, not Injustice, but Justice for my Transgressions. I’ll soon find myself on crutches before a window in a rented condo at Lake Chelan, gazing at the pristine blue water, vineyards and apple orchards with a pitchfork in my heart, wallowing in the outcome of Karma derived in Guilt, my mind, body and soul trampled on by a thousand horses and a thousand steers. I will write pages and pages by hand and type prolific streams of consciousness, mourning the loss of my charges, giving birth to this writer, three thousand miles from the familiarities of home. What a tangled web we weave when we regret our former practice to deceive.
But I don’t know all this yet. All I know is what’s present: the taste of dust, the beauty and serenity of the mountains, the earthy smells of the steer, hay and sage.
The flatbed bumps through the ruts to the horses’ corral. I loved horses as a kid. I read Margherite Henry’s horsey stories until the pages were dog-eared, studied them—from Eohippus [EE] + [OH] + [HIP] + [UHS] to Assateague Island’s feral ponies—sketched them and rode wildly upon them. The horse is a universal symbol of freedom without restraint and as a spirit animal, exemplifies personal drive, passion and appetite for freedom. I’m thirty, all summer long here in Cody, a woman sprung from corporate America, grad school, and marriage, with an appetite for freedom and can’t resist the opportunity to horse around in this rugged setting. I have no fear, but F.E.A.R. got me here: Forget Everything And Run. The days unfold seamlessly one after the other; I embrace the newness of each one as if it were my first, comb the mane from Applejack’s eyes, unknot the tangles in Cutter’s tail. In my pocket, they know I keep carrots for them absconded from the kitchen fridge.
# # # # # #
The catharsis of writing. From the time I bought the memory typewriter in Cody in September of ’95 to last autumn, the catalyst for written expression finally made itself known to me. It lies herein:
At 6:45AM in the autumn of 2017 I find myself at a bar at Logan, intermittently gazing at the red lipstick staining my hefty white China cup of strong-brewed coffee and the bottles of Scotch and whiskey that gleam before a mirrored partition. A cheery, plump waitress moves about topping off coffee and taking hearty breakfast orders from men, mostly athletic types, indulging in fare not typical to their regimens: cheesy omelets, bacon, greasy potatoes, buttered toast. Music pipes in through the speaker overhead and I begin to drift, reveling in a sole trip to California for a book launch and signing. The recently-passed Tom Petty sings Only the Losers and when Neil Young’s intoxicating somber voice follows next, I swallow hard. Harvest Moon.
Michael had played the song for me in ‘98, thirteen years after the accident, in the bedroom he rented from a high school buddy after our expensive dinner date that could be described as a mix of testing the waters, reconciliation, and a shared but relaxed commiseration of the painful details following our accident, namely, my sensitive and overly protective mother separating us after a year and a half of hardly a day missed of spending time together, and the joys before it. We had met in Durgin-Park, his treat, laughed off the nervousness once we had one-too-many cocktails, seated there in the magic of the summer night air on the exterior cobblestone.
It’s only now while I languorously nurse the cup of coffee, the weight and warmth of it in my hand that I listen to Young’s lyrics, word for word. Michael had tried to convey the depth of his feelings, responsibility for my severe injuries aside, his love for me that still lived on.
But drunk and drinking more of the anesthesia intended to quell the latent ache of him, I had left the following morning in a fog—no closure, no new beginnings.
Only a week before I had been mining that core of hurt under the guise of a new day, the reasons for trying on a number of people and places—the F.E.A.R., the religion, the accidents—with writing implement and lined page. The page in my notebook reads:
The impact of loss scars the heart and you go on living your life ’cause you’re young, and have to conform, and can’t fall apart, and you don’t realize those wounds are still there, throbbing raw, the fibers of tissue meshing over that open gap of mess. You don’t realize you mask that pain with the alcohol thirty years later, that there’s a reason why you drink until the TV and the stand it rests on becomes unhinged.
You write and write and write. For seven years, straight, you do nothing but write and you’re told your writing has no depth or meaning. You keep writing because you’re still madly and blindly driven to it despite having lost all your assets and pockets are filled with nothing but dust and lint. You’re there writing, looking up the definition of a word online, fact checking, and you read, alcoholism is a well-documented pathological reaction to unresolved grief and glance down at the billionth line you just put in black and white and Jesus, the whole goddamn story comes clear.
This ‘being present,’ awakened to the loss, is a glorious gift but I can’t share it with Michael—the timing’s off. He moved on long before me, some years after our date at Durgin-Park, when his neurotic and controlling mother succumbed to a lengthy deterioration of brain cancer. He had cared for her, bathed and fed her, after years of her riding him hard, her criticism, the not living up to her expectations. It was then, when she passed, that served as his catalyst and he sought help. Intensive help. Over his father leaving him when he was three years old, his never-pleased mother, his feeling responsible for my severe debilitation in the accident, his loss of me—us. After years of growing and smoking dope, while I drank myself until the TV and the stand it rests on became unhinged, he got his shit straight.
Texting him now to say, “Jesus. I just listened to the words of Harvest Moon and understand what you were trying to tell me in Danny’s room so long ago. You know, when you were watching me for my reaction, a mutual response, some reconciliation, and hell, I missed the whole damn thing” would be ignored. Just like his not responding to my wistfully drunken texts wishing him a happy birthday and “Borderline just came on my Pandora and thinking of you” while my husband is away and occupied. Michael finally succumbed to marriage in his forties and he’s moved on. He’s told me so.
Why is it at 52 I’m learning I needed to be cognizant of every single moment since my brain could put two and two together? So I could act appropriately, deliberately? That at my mother, plagued by profound loss herself, telling me while the thirty staples cinched into my abdomen keep my guts from spilling out, “you’re never to see Michael again,” that I could have simply and rightfully defied her to save us. “No way, Mom, we love each other.”
I set my coffee cup, emptied, in its saucer, hone in on a bottle of Glenmorangie. Its orange label is familiar; its floral, rich scent, its mellow and creamy finish. Billy Joel sings Piano Man. Without making eye contact with the waitress, I wave off her pot of coffee, the want for drink. I’m having a moment here. The cost of losing Michael had been great; an ocean of Glenmorangie couldn’t drown out his memory; it never would. My grieving could only be revealed in the pale light of day, albeit with aching head, when the part of me that kept on the compulsive burying of debilitating loss clashed with the surfacing revelation of Truth-Be-Known.
Finally, I can let him go.
# # # # # #
Emphasized in my essay entitled ‘My Writing Coach in the Looking Glass: Overzealous Mentor or Moneymaker?’ that went live this morning on WOW! Women on Writing’s website, I wrote:
“Don’t stop writing. Write for pleasure, your own self-entertainment; write for catharsis. The mind and the act of getting down the words reveal truths. Hidden truths.