About Lisa Mae DeMasi

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 Technologies, Sun Life International, Crabtree & Evelyn LTD, The Boston Ballet, Powersoft, Sybase and EG&G Inc. Lisa is an essayist and a memoirist. She has been publishing essays for five years on the writing life, sex and relationships, and her love for horses, dogs and cowboy country. One of her essays appeared in the IPPY-award-winning anthology "Unmasked: Women Write About Sex and Intimacy After Fifty," published in 2017. She lives near Boston, where she rides horses and commutes by bike to her job writing and editing technology blogs for Dell Technologies. She is currently pitching her memoir "Calamity Becomes Her," a story about proving her capability on a Wyoming dude ranch, to literary agents and at work on two sequels. Lisa obtained her MBA from Babson College and was offered a full softball scholarship to Regis College in Weston, MA, where she earned a B.A. in Business Management. She also holds a Master Certificate in Reiki. In August of 2018, she was awarded a one-month writer’s residency at Fairhope Center for the Writing Arts Writer-in-Residency in Fairhope, Alabama.

Who Says You Can’t Get Married at the Barn?

Honored Horse Network picked up my “bit” on getting “hitched” with 2 horses standing in as our witnesses.

On Thanksgiving weekend I sat atop Shadow, one of the two lesson horses I ride, just outside the indoor, wallowing in the delight of being at the barn as I chatted with my riding teacher and a couple of other riders.

Getting married was on my mind. My fiancé and I had been engaged a year and chose January 10th as our wedding date but remained undecided on a venue for the eight-minute-and-seven-second private ceremony.

Our Justice of the Peace had offered to officiate at her home. But I had no attachment to her home. Or to the insides of a church. My attachment, naturally, is was here in the saddle, with my horsey peeps, surrounded by nature and everything-equine. The question came out of my mouth before I even knew what I was asking.

“Linda,” I said to my riding teacher. “Could Dennis and I get married here?”

She didn’t even know we were engaged—I wore riding gloves. Her jaw gaped in surprise. The other riders smiled on.

I said, “You know, here?

Linda recovered her good-natured demeanor in no time. But not before I asked, “With our J.P. and Shadow and Nacho as our two witnesses?”

Linda’s smile was a mile wide. “Let me check with the powers that be,” she replied.

The farm’s owners not only agreed to allowing the ceremony on the property but were thrilled at the prospect.

On a subsequent ride with my two friends, Courtney and Candace, we picked out a spot for the wedding, near the outdoor dressage arena, on the grass before a long sweeping row of cattails that tapered well over ten feet high. It was perfect.

On our wedding day, fourteen years to the day we met, Dennis and I stood before Gayle, our J.P. with Linda and Nacho to Dennis’s side, and Shadow by my own. A video camera was propped on a table, recording.

Gayle began reciting the gathering words of the horsey-themed script:

“Lisa and Dennis, after many years as a committed and loving couple, we gather at Course Brook Farm, in Sherborn, Massachusetts, a very special place where Lisa enjoys riding Shadow and Nacho, guided by her kind, patient and encouraging teacher, Linda Smith. We are grateful to Linda and the Mayo family, owners of Course Brook Farm, for their kindness and generosity.

Our purpose for gathering today is to give a new official status to the life that you share. Your lives already are tied together by a deep personal commitment; your marriage is an affirmation and acknowledgement of all that you are to each other. Marriage gives structure and security to a couple’s love. Marriage is a commitment to life, the best that two persons can find and bring out in each other.”

At this juncture in the speech, Shadow and Nacho began ferociously feeding on the frozen grass. Linda had Nacho by the reins, he was well off to the side and not particularly disruptive. Shadow, on the other hand, kept turning his hindquarters to the camera.

What was that thing that W.C. Fields said? Never work with animals or children on live TV?

No matter. I turned Shadow 180 degrees for the second time and announced, “This is going to be a very fluid and dynamic ceremony.”

There was laughter, a whinny from one of the horses in the paddocks. Gayle resumed her task and asked for our consent to one another and instructed Dennis and I to recite our vows:

“Lisa, before you, life was a chore. With you, life is a joy. I want to share in that joy with you for the rest of my life.”

“Dennis, me without you is like sky without blue. As long as there is sky, I shall be with you.”

Shadow was stepping squarely on my foot. Good thing I was wearing cowboy boots, not high heels. I nudged him off my foot as he continued to power through the grass like a fairway mower.

Linda began the reading, the foreword to Dr. Allan J. Hamilton’s book Lead with Your Heart… Lessons from a Life with Horses.

[As humans, we] insist that space represents a “final frontier.” We look out into the depths of the universe with the same naivete that the conquistadors and The Pioneers demonstrated when they faced unexplored territories. Our first instinct is to try to possess it and tame it, not to truly, simply dwell in it. We want to be “out there” rather than “in here.” We see the challenge and the struggle as existing outside ourselves rather than within.

Horses see things differently. They are large and powerful animals and can at times be intimidating up close, but they are the prototypical prey species. They offer us a practical method to see meaningful alternatives to our own voracious way of life. When we spend the time to see the world through their eyes, we can visualize a path to transform our predatory appetites. They challenge us to undertake the journey of mastering ourselves, rather than everything around us.

Teaching without preaching, horses lead by example and employ the lessons of experience. They epitomize immersive learning at its best. And they challenge us with their formidable size and strength to bring results through collaboration rather than by force. Horses have developed their own compelling models of fairness, forgiveness, and leadership. They have acquired a group identity, a consciousness not as singular beings but as members of a family, a herd. They see themselves not as individuals in the isolated context of “me” but as relatives in a family in the broader framework of “we.” And they derive a powerful and gratifying sense of inclusion from it.

Horses share resources for the benefit of the herd. They are a wise, gentle species that eschews the notion that might defines right. While stallions with their reproductive imperative come and go, the alpha mare endures as herd leader. Because they understand what it means to be hunted, horses have the most profound appreciation for the benefits of peace. They yearn for harmony, kindness, and tranquility; they crave freedom from anxiety, abuse and predation. With their nonviolent attitude, horses are a testament that a partnership based on trust is far more productive than one that relies on dominance.

I thanked Linda for her heartfelt reading. Shadow was eating the grass at my feet in such a way that his body made my own disappear; the camera was only capturing my head, a centaur in the midst of getting hitched. Nacho had stopped eating grass and was pawing the ground with his left foreleg. Was this his sign of consent?

Gayle was moving to the ring exchange. Dennis and I didn’t want wedding bands, this wasn’t our first rodeo, and I neglected to give him my engagement ring before the ceremony. I placed Shadow’s reins between my legs, a gesture that would make any true equestrian cringe, and pulled at the glove on my left hand. Shadow, sensing the loosening of the reins, moseyed after more grass.

My glove fell to the ground. I picked it up, took off my ring and handed it to Dennis. Linda was giggling. Nacho was nodding his head up and down in great big gestures. Gayle was maneuvering away from Shadow’s roving hindquarters.

Time skipped and stymied until I realized Dennis was holding the ring before my finger “Lisa, each time you put on this ring, may it remind us both of the love and joy and commitment we share.”

I regained presence of mind. I smiled to Dennis and thought, yes, this is very nice, thank you.

Gayle pronounced:

“Dennis and Lisa, you have chosen each other from among all others to journey through life together. Today, you shared with one another words of trust and loving commitment, and you consented to marriage. Now it is my privilege to say, by the power vested in me by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, but most especially by the power of your own love, I pronounce you husband and wife. You may seal your marriage with a kiss or a neigh!”

After Dennis and I engaged in quick smooch, Linda made the suggestion of a lifetime. “Let’s move the horses to the frozen footing of the dressage arena for picture taking!”

“Good thinking,” I said, laughing and leading Shadow a mere ten feet away to solid ground, where the horses behaved picture-perfect, calm and sweet and even, comical, and we stole away with beautiful snapshots that will forever seal my desire to get married in the presence of horses.


Afterword:

Dennis and I reached out to Dr. Hamilton to tell him we excerpted his introduction to Lead with Your Heart and we were thrilled to receive a note back from him!

Dear Lisa and Dennis:

Thank you for your kind and thoughtful note. I am overjoyed that the book moved you and could be incorporated into your wedding. This is a great honor. My wife (Jane) of forty-five years and I wish you and Dennis a life together filled with joy passion, and purpose.

Best,

Allan J. Hamilton, MD, FACS, FAANS

[our note to Dr. Hamilton}

Dear Dr. Hamilton,

Preparing for our equine-themed wedding last week, we stumbled across Lead with Your Heart and were moved to excerpt a significant piece of your introduction for the reading that gave context to the ceremony. We shared the story, Who Says You Can’t Get Married at the Barn, with Carley at Horse Network, who published it.

We are currently enjoying your book.

Horse Network also published The Breakthrough I Witnessed in the Healing Power of Horses, which I hope you might enjoy.

Thank you for your wonderful contributions!

Yours truly,

Lisa Mae DeMasi & Dennis Ravenelle


Lisa publishes essays on the writing life, sex and relationships, and her love for horses, dogs and cowboy country. She lives near Boston, where she rides horses and commutes by bike to her job editing technology blogs for Dell Technologies. She is currently pitching her memoir Calamity Becomes Her to literary agents, a story about proving herself capable of taking care of horses on a Wyoming dude ranch, and is at work on two sequels. You can contact her at lisa.demasi@gmail.com and follow her @lisamaedemasiLinkedIn or via her website nurtureismynature.com

How My Disapproving Mother Unwittingly Fuels My Creative Expression

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The room began to close in. The air got thick… dense. Tension seeped into my pores. I grew smaller in stature—shrunk right there in my chair before her, as if I was Alice and had just choked down a little red pill.

The topic is forthcoming, typical of family gatherings, a line of discussion of an inquisitive nature. It is terribly humiliating this line, disintegrating the little validation I feel about myself, and certainly paving the way to pulverizing any validation I someday hope to feel.

She is triumphantly sitting across from me in my brother’s parlor, her hands folded over her swollen belly on this Christmas Day.

My hands are not folded over my own swollen belly, but my ever-shrinking Alice fingers are fumbling about, trying to maintain a grip on my ever-growing glass of sherry. I wallow in thought.

It’s a terrible thing to be shrinking, I muse.

I try to convey to her, with an expression of pity, that I’d like her to cut this sort of thing out: Hand me the blue pill! Return my body back to its normal inadequacy!

She picks up on my expression, but it doesn’t stop her. Her eyes, piercingly blue, bore into my forehead, mining my mind for the reasoning that prolongs the ongoing predicament. It is the matter that seemingly sears her brain daily, upon waking.

Words penetrate the thickness.

They loom before me, big and fat and dripping with turkey gravy. She says, “Are you ready to get back into the circle of life yet?”

Here we go.

I resist rolling my eyes, suck in my breath, and feel the pressure against my insides. Time slows to a crawl.

My lungs deflate, a slow leak like a bum tire. I maintain my front, an uneasy smile, thinking I have never departed from the circle of life!

Alice and I sometimes share shrunken commonalityI am here, albeit dwindling to mere molecules in my chair—she, mother; me, daughter—amid a festive family holiday. In my book, that constitutes part of the arc in said circle.

A voice in my mind, sounding as if it’s just taken a hit from a helium-filled balloon, squeals at me: That’s not what she means.

I laugh to myself, entertained: “Girl interrupted.” Say something else…

She’s not referring to procreating or dying or even “eat or be eaten.” She means circulation as in, “Are you ready to get back into circulation yet?”

Oh yeah. “Girl reactivated.”

The topic is the one that translates to me getting a paying job, rather than continuing to “run away from reality,” with my so-called “writing interests.”

I suppose, from her perspective, four years is a long time for her daughter “to run away from reality.” It is a novel pursuit, which thus far has yielded fruit the size of a water meal. However, in these four years she has failed to realize that I’ve poured my heart, soul and angst into this self-proposed commitment. Accordingly, I’ve also sought out Reiki to induce some self-love, since I am—especially when engaged in writing—constantly and colorfully harassed and torn to shreds by my inner critic.

Needless to say, my mother is my outer critic.

In the peace of the lovely colonial room, Dennis sits in a chair to my left, and my father sits beside my mother. My brother is off in the kitchen, cutting cheese.

The question, relating to the humiliating, fruitless topic that my mother could not resist in asking one moment longer, (particularly in light of the New Year—making resolutions, picking up the pieces and starting anew, and so forth) remains there, unaddressed. It lingers, splattering the coffee table with fowl juice, tainting the sherry and the nibbles, while extinguishing the flickering light of the assorted votive candles. This “circle of life” subject deflates the holiday mood; all falls flat.

I gaze back at her, with a hint of incredulousness in my expression saying: Why can’t you support my endeavor? Why can’t you just be a nice mother?

She, of course, does not pick up on this. She has never picked up on it, despite the countless amounts of times I’ve attempted to impress my feelings upon her.

Why should I expect anything different this Christmas Day?

Although he’s sitting beside me, I don’t defer to Dennis for his unwavering sympathy, support or opinion. I keep this subject between my mother and I, leaving open the possibility and space for us to “hash it out,” so-to-speak.

The “hashing it out” (a confrontation of sorts) does not happen. As usual, any real invitation to speak candidly, openly… ends up shunned upon.

There’s no avoiding her intention. She moves the subject right along and puts the question in a more specific form, saying: “What kind of job will you look for?”

My expression sours.

The refrain in which Elton John sings “in the cir-cle, the cir-cle of life” begins to repeat in my head.

The core of me within begs to rise up and show itself—my insides, out. The scorched and glistening spongy tissue springs from my throat and slops to the floor next to the coffee table. I stare at the battered evidence, my guts, and choose to defend myself (something I haven’t dared to do since I was a teenager).

My face is deadpan, void of the four-year compounded emotion relating to my writing efforts (best described as trying to squeeze blood from a stone intermittently). I assert into the space, some distance over my scorched and glistening core—my guts—and say, “I’d like to become a successful writer.”

My mother’s expression remains unmoved, quite serious and probing.

I refrain from glancing at Dennis and keep the perimeter open and clear for fire. I hope for confrontation—for a once-in-a-lifetime candid discussion.

Dad shakes himself out of dozing at the subject matter and pushes his glasses further up on his nose. He interjects, “There are lots of teaching jobs out there. You could be a teacher. All my retired engineer friends teach—you could teach middle school or high school.”

But Dad, I don’t want to be a teacher.

Not quite to my advantage, my mother’s ears fall deaf on the suggestion, and the conversation flatlines.

I focus on the flame of a burning candle, situated in the middle of a marble-topped mahogany end table, between my father and mother. I cross my eyes silly—my forehead cramps. The funky play of light brings me into a world of my own, prompting ironic clarity.

The helium inner voice comes on the wind again—she is from a different time and a different playing field. She knows not what it means, what drives and feeds one’s magnetism for risk, leaving the known for the unknown.

The voice becomes stronger, and sloughs off the high pitch. She is the catalyst to our creative expression, you see, the thing that sates us—our subversive writing.

Anew: I am rebel with a cause, confident, triumphant even, in my own right.

My scorched and glistening guts slither up the couch and climb back down my throat to their rightful place. In a trance-like state I say, “Wait till my manuscript hits the big screen.”

My parents are stunned and wide-eyed. I can just make out their expressions in my periphery.

Nothing more is said on the matter.

= = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =

This essay was published in Elephant Journal with the title She, Mother. Me, Daughter, January 17, 2015.

Lisa has been publishing essays for five years on the writing life, sex and relationships, and her love for horses, dogs and cowboy country. She lives near Boston, where she rides horses and commutes by bike to her job writing and editing technology blogs for Dell Technologies. She is currently pitching her memoir Calamity Becomes Her to literary agents, a story about proving herself capable of taking care of horses on a Wyoming dude ranch, and is at work on two sequels. You can contact her at lisa.demasi@gmail.com and follow her @lisamaedemasiLinkedIn or via her website nurtureismynature.com.

I Met My Hero at the EQUUS Film Festival

Horse Network picked up this story on December 11, 2019.

On a hectic Monday morning just three days before the EQUUS Film Fest, I received an email from Bernice Ende, author of Lady Long Rider, informing her followers that she’d be attending the event. I was struck with disappointment. How would I be able to get a plan into place so quickly and put off work deadlines to get there?

Reading about Bernice’s adventures and her gumption to cover thousands upon thousands of miles riding by her lonesome through the wilds and cities in the U.S., Canada and Europe on horseback had made a lasting impression on me. This was a woman I wanted to meet.

My fiancé walked in the room and found me staring into space. “What’s up?” he asked.

“I’m going to meet Bernice,” I answered in a trance. “In Lexington.”

The travel plans came together seamlessly. Within minutes upon arrival to the Kentucky Horse Park, I bumped into Bernice. I was going into the Visitor’s Building; she was heading to the International Horse Museum to meet and greet and sell her books. I was overwhelmed with happiness at meeting this woman who I deeply revere.

Bernice took my hand in hers and we walked over to two mounted policewomen and as we stood there talking to them, EQUUS Film Fest founder Lisa Diersen snapped a photo.

Bernice and me with Mounted Police at Kentucky Horse Park.

Bernice and I became fast friends. She signed my book; we unpacked things for her display; I served as her ambassador when attendees inquired about Lady Long Rider. After a long day at the Fest, we enjoyed a cocktail and fabulous steak dinner at Malone’s—just her and me—and we talked and talked. About her next ride, about my own memoir, about the universe granting my wish to meet her, about people and horses and dogs we’ve loved.

Why are we drawn to certain people? Do we see a bit of ourselves in their demeanors and ambitions? Is it reverence? Admiration for those who have courage and resilience to overcome real hardship? An incredible feat we wish we could accomplish but cannot?On Sunday afternoon, Diersen discreetly informed us that Bernice would be winning the Fest’s literary contest that evening for Long Lady Rider. Bernice had a flight to catch and would not be attending the awards ceremony. She asked me to accept the award on her behalf! What a thrill!

I immediately began preparing a speech in my head for the crowd, saying how honored I was to meet Bernice in person and the big magic that brought us together. But there would be no time for speeches, no matter how short.

Bernice and I shared one last meal together at Red State Barbeque before catching an Uber to the airport. In between making her laugh, she told me that although she would beginning short rides in March, she had been thinking about laying down roots in New Mexico—where she currently resided in her trailer with her horses. That the cabin she’s loved for years in Montana no longer held appeal for her. And I shared with her that I too was seeking a transformation or breakthrough.

I walked with Bernice into the American Airways terminal, helping her with two suitcases and the padded western saddle in which she long-rides. We embraced and as I walked away, I’d already begun to miss her. Her smile, the way she laughs, the way she became quiet when she talked about the beings that mean the world to her.

When I had returned to my hotel room, I called my fiancé and the excitement of sharing time with Bernice poured out of me like Thunder Snow bolts out of the start gate. And as I paused for a breath of air, my fiancé said to me, “I’m proud of you.”

Me?

“You wanted to meet Bernice, someone you deeply admire, and you made it happen. You followed through and didn’t let anything get in the way.”

“Yeah, but, Dennis,” I said. “It’s Lady Long Rider.”

A hearty thanks to Lisa Diersen and her team for all the hard work in preparing for this year’s EQUUS Film Fest. It was truly a very special event, showcasing the many, many talents of equine filmmakers and writers, people with huge hearts who rescue abused and terribly neglected horses, and organizations facilitating the healing power of horses with veterans, the disabled, elderly and more.


Lisa has been publishing essays for five years on the writing life, sex and relationships, and her love for horses, dogs and cowboy country. She lives near Boston, where she rides horses and commutes by bike to her job writing and editing technology blogs for Dell Technologies. She is currently pitching her memoir Calamity Becomes Her to literary agents, a story about proving herself capable of taking care of horses on a Wyoming dude ranch, and is at work on two sequels. You can contact her at lisa.demasi@gmail.com and follow her @lisamaedemasi, LinkedIn or via her website nurtureismynature.com.

The Breakthrough I Witnessed in the Healing Power of Horses

This article was featured in Horse Network, November 15, 2019.

I’m all in for “anything horse.” Riding, grooming, sharing a horse’s space, stroking a muzzle emanating every fiber of love of my being for the creature, whispering sweet nothings into his or her ear.

This weekend, however, I ventured something hands-off—I audited a fundraiser for Wild Hearts Horses for Heroes, a therapeutic equestrian program for veterans. On a gorgeous autumn morning, nearly forty people came together at Indian Creek Stables in Carver, MA—veterans of the Program, participants with unreconciled childhood trauma, and horsey people with their own therapeutic equestrian programs for youth-at risk as far from home as Florida.

Twenty “auditors” assumed seats in chairs that stretched unilaterally across one side of the arena and within three sessions over a six-hour period, we observed Tim Hayes, renown equine therapeutic clinician and author of Riding Homeask twelve individuals to perform groundwork tasks with their horse-partner to attain increased self-awareness and healing over a past traumatic event.

The most moving interaction occurred when Tim asked a former combat veteran (I’ll call her “Sheila”) to pet her horse and lift each of her horse’s feet. This exercise, Tim told us, tends to “bring stuff up.”

“Sheila,” Tim said, “pick up each of your horse’s feet.”

“No,” she replied, adamantly.

The feel-good bubble infiltrating the arena burst. Tim remained close to where Sheila stood, unaffected and relaxed, standing with his hands loosely clasped across his front. His patience was a mile long. Some moments later, he began to probe Sheila for the reasons why she refused.

“I’m nervous and anxious,” she said.

“Weren’t expecting to be in front of all these people, were you?” Tim reasoned.

Sheila began to cry. The two other veterans enrolled in the Wild Hearts program looked on, their hands resting on some part of their horses’ body—neck, withers; identifying with Sheila’s emotions. My heart was breaking.

Tim nudged, “Why are you crying, Sheila?”

“I get overwhelmed when I’m faced with doing something new,” she replied. “It’s too much at once. No one understands.”

“Well,” Tim said, “We can take it slow. We’ll tackle it one foot at a time.”

Sheila stood unresponsive and still for several moments. Then, she wiped the tears from her face and reached for one of her horse’s front hooves and pulled at it. The horse lowered his head, nudged her thigh with his muzzle and lifted his foot. I exhaled the deep breath I was holding.

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What the Wrong Job Can Teach You

During the bathrobe-clad days of unemployment, this had been my fantasy—a sense of belonging and purpose. I envisioned sitting at my desk amid the office hum, sipping a cup of coffee, astutely engaged and juggling many tasks. I would be a reliable resource—the person to come to when you need a solution or when you need a laugh—a chick on her toes.

I first heard about this job when Tom, the recruiter, presented me with the senior executive assistant role at Angel Heritage Life Insurance Company in little detail and big pay. He asked if I could interview in an hour. I scrambled to make myself presentable-a quick blow out of my daringly short cut, a fast swipe of liner—lips red, eyes black—and I was off!

Tom and Angel’s elegant human resources manager, Pihu, waited for me in the lobby as I swirled through the revolving glass doors. Tom shook my hand, then disappeared; Pihu met with me briefly, her voice choppy and laced with an Indian accent. She took me to meet my prospective supervisor: a 42-year-old man from Cape Town named Fitz. He was a good-looking guy with a charming British accent. He ranked as a top salesman in the organization, affording him three residences, a flock of high-end sports cars, hand-tailored suits and fancy cologne. Impressed with my credentials, Fitz and I conversed for 20 minutes; then, he had a plane to catch.

Since Fitz traveled 90% of the time, I voiced concern about getting the details right—managing international travel is not a highlight on my resume. I’m a writer. He looked my credentials over and said he had confidence in me. He stood, slipping paperwork into the fold of his briefcase, and asked me when I could start.

A week into the job, free from Chivonn’s steady training (“do you watch Scandal?”), I began pulling 10 1/2-hour days without lunch; I wanted to get acclimated quickly. I reviewed the travel plans for Fitz to make sure all the dots connected—flights in and out of Shanghai, Singapore, Hong Kong and Dubai; car service to all points; accommodations at The Four Seasons and The Fairmount; meetings with executives in topsy-turvy time zones.

I was on top of it!

I felt so good I even let a bit of the genuine me shine through as I attempted to develop a rapport with Fitz. “GM” I said when I walked into the office. He had been looking intently into his computer screen, his brain formulating an elaborate pitch. Numbers, figures, big words, big deals. He looked up at me, half perturbed, half surprised that I interrupted him: “GM?” he repeated. “Good morning,” I said. “Morning,” he answered into his screen with his lovely voice.

I was so organized in week two, that when Chivonn whisked by my desk on her way to lunch, giving rise to the corners of my paperwork, she told me, “Chicka, you’re all over this job!”

Even if Fitz didn’t entirely get my sense of humor, I was back in the game, stressed as hell, my brain fully engaged, and there was money coming in! It was well worth the tradeoff of forgoing lunchtime hikes with my dog Sabrina, working on my memoir manuscript, hitting the gym at 5:00 and spending quiet evenings with my man—wasn’t it?

At the end of the third week on the job, I was home with a cold, dripping mucous all over the company’s laptop organizing a call in Jakarta when I got a bad feeling. A cloak of doom infiltrated my being. Then an email came in from Tom: “Call me at your nearest convenience.”

Before calling him I ducked into Fitz’s email Sent folder where I found two notes to Pihu entitled “reservation catastrophe!”

Before coming home with my cough drops and tissues, Fitz had asked me to change a reliable car service for a complimentary one. I canceled the existing reservation with its confirmation number, for the free car service that seemed vague in my opinion. “We guarantee it,” the agent told me when I asked for concrete evidence.

No driver held up a white sign marked “Fitz P” in black sharpie at the Shanghai Airport. But, the Gods interceded to save the day. Dongmei, a representative for Shanghai U for which Fitz was slated to speak, unbeknownst to either of us, arrived with a driver and a translator. Being a gracious host Dongmei transported him wherever he needed to go. Despite the fact that all his needs were actually met, Fitz sent Pihu the two emails, the first entailing the botched car service, and the second, explaining how he wasn’t expecting Dongmei and his supervening “discomfiture.”

Who uses the word “discomfiture?”

I connected with Tom and of course, I’d been canned. My heart sank and I felt the shame creeping in, the income trickling away, but then my heart rejoiced as I saw myself back at work on my manuscript and everything else that being home provided. Hell, we’d just have to hope for a Best Seller.

I texted Chivonn to tell her that I was coming in to drop off the laptop. An hour later, I got out of the car carrying bags of obvious office stuff—a picture of Sabrina, a five-pound container of whey protein, an extra pair of black heels, an African violet— and collided with my upstairs neighbor. She couldn’t have summed up the predicament more perfectly.

“Congratulations,” she said.

The day before, Chivonn had spoken into our common cube wall asking me how to spell “warp.”

“You mean like bent or distorted?” I asked. She didn’t answer. “W-a-r-p,” I said, “as in warp speed, Mr. Sulu.”

My voice carried throughout the busy sales department, over the cubicles, infiltrating the honchos in the offices with the cool frosted glass and sliding doors. The tapping on my colleague’s keyboards ceased, voices paused, just for a moment. I smiled to myself.

Did the new girl just say warp speed, Mr. Sulu?

Typing and sales pitch resumed. I wondered if anyone got me? Did anyone ever let their real self pop through—crack a joke, say anything other than oh fine, thanks? Where is the office where I can unbutton a little, or laugh or even make a mistake—and be allowed the space for connection, redemption? Next time I will find this place and it will be in a position that uses my writing skill. Now I’m on the lookout.

I worked for Angel Heritage for a total of three weeks. The job would have taken over my life, with its long hours and standby on weekends. In my short tenure, while I was counting every dollar coming in, paying gobs to doggie daycare, I was wearing down. The martinis began making a comeback, the olives bruised and moldy from June when I had stopped drinking and started exercising.

So here I am where I started, but richer in knowledge. I instinctively knew going into a job with my confidence teetering predestined a crash and burn outcome. I didn’t listen to that little voice, to my intuition. I wanted to fit in, I wanted to find the validation that comes from doing my job well and being in an environment that appreciates what I can offer. This wasn’t Angel; I knew it from the beginning—but those dollar signs and the echo of my own heels clicking on the tile floors seduced me.

The takeaways?

I am a skilled individual with good experience, but I have my own set of requisites too. Next time I will pay attention to those instincts and remember that finding a good fit takes more than simply thinking about what Fitz needs. I also have to ask myself what I need. It’s as important as anything on the job description. I know I need to have a bit of fun, develop and nurture camaraderie with my boss who can display on occasion, humility. I need to collaborate with colleagues and not feel tethered to a 4-foot area like a sheep grazing on a picket line. I want to do my job well and I want to be my authentic self—something I am particularly good at!

The day after the ax came down, I emailed Pihu giving her a broader perspective on the “reservation catastrophes.” Out of fairness to me, with Fitz’s request to switch to a free car service and the language barrier experienced with Dongmei, it’s no surprise that things got botched.

“But what’s really disappointing in these two scenarios” I wrote, “is the blame resides wholly with me. I understand Fitz’s VIP status, really I do, but when it comes down to it, we’re both human beings, aren’t we.” Period versus question mark.

Pihu emailed me back, quite graciously, calling him a “tough customer.” I read the rest of her words aloud, imitating her lilting Indian accent. “I’m sure you will excel in your next role.”

I’m going to bet on that Pihu.

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Lisa has been publishing essays for five years on the writing life, sex and relationships, and her love for horses, dogs and cowboy country. She lives near Boston, where she rides horses and commutes by bike to her job writing and editing technology blogs for Dell Technologies. She is currently pitching her memoir Calamity Becomes Her to literary agents, a story about proving herself capable of taking care of horses on a Wyoming dude ranch, and is at work on two sequels. You can contact her at lisa.demasi@gmail.com and follow her @lisamaedemasi, LinkedIn or via her website nurtureismynature.com.

The Dirty Road to Finding Writer’s Validation

The bliss in that first taste soothes my soul.

It’s six ounces of Ketel One vodka with a dribble of brine. Not the nasty liquid that comes out of an olive jar, but twice filtered brine from premium olives. This subtle saltiness takes the bite of the vodka down a notch to pleasurable, an inviting clean crispness that sterilizes my insides and satisfies the palette.

This drink and the art in making it is what symbolize the end of an arduous day, or not so arduous, a ritual nonetheless.

It’s a beautiful thing, the vodka martini. Even the word vodka sounds terribly exotic, so undeniably Russian. I’m wearing a sable hat, standing amid the tundra, my breath streaming before me in smoky condensation as I set my implements about—the cocktail shaker, ice, olives, pick, the 1.75-liter bottle that takes the support of my two hands to pour it.

I was introduced to “the dirty” when a high school girlfriend mixed one up for me during a girls’ weekend. The memory of its taste and influence to seduce my mind into peaceful waters remained dormant, however, until I hit a stretch of unbearable time, some four years later, when I had been writing long and hard without any validation or ounce of fruition.

I’d bleed all day long over the page, feel isolated having abandoned my corporate career, determined to make something of myself writing. What I found in my dear friend, the dirty, was a form of self-medication—a crutch, a reward—the delightful anesthesia that numbed the anxiety of feeling like a failure, the taking of a wrong turn.

Alcohol is the anesthesia by which we endure the operation of life. ~ George Bernard Shaw

The thing, too, that’s commendable about drinking the dirty is it gets you to where you’re going, fast. And instead of looking like a thirsty drunk, you can do the deed looking poised like Holly Golightly, long stem glass high in hand, three beautiful olives appearing larger than life through the condensation between the rim and where you’ve already sipped away.

The art, the sophistication, the ritual—its downright writerness.

I am a seasoned, one per night, quite functional vodka martini drinker. To some that may not sound bad, but I know what my physician would say and I’m staying clear of her exam room.

The margin, however, between quite functional and fully functional is a subject to be questioned. Especially since I’ve transitioned to drinking the dirty straight, aka “sans the dirt.”

Certainly, the “advantage” here is to be numbed from pain, some sort of intolerance for various fragments of life, the daily grind. The detriment, in the slightest incremental stages that’s widening the margin, is found in a loose tongue and the voracious appetite that follows in the martini’s wake; the inability to read before bed, remember little things in the morning.

The detriment, the slippery slope, is outweighing the advantage.

The latter is evidenced in my ever-expanding girth and my two arms, which now resemble loaves of bread. For the martini, the escape it brings, frees me to consume a serving fit for Pat’s defensive tackle Alan Branch. Sugar and salt begets more sugar and salt.

And chicken parm tastes best when complemented by what?

A robust red wine—two glasses worth.

But it’s stops there, right?

Nope.

With an overstuffed belly, a shot of Remy Martin in a handsome snifter comes afterward. I’ve had a love affair with food all my life, well-managed through biking my butt off, but throw in this consumption at my age, it’s gonna lead to the end of me.

Obese essayist dies of ever-consuming consumption: she drank and ate herself to death, despite what she’s thinks, not so artfully.

Shakti Gawain, a new age author, whose methods of creative visualization I practiced like a junky when I first began writing, says of validation, “When we consistently suppress and distrust our intuitive knowingness, looking instead for authority, validation, and approval from others, we give our personal power away.”

Sorry Shakti, I just can’t buy that.

I’m wired differently, tethered to the physical. I do not trust my intuition; I don’t even think I have any. I need validation to keep on.

When validation continued not to surface, I began taking in cute and furry animals until a person of well-intention adopted them. The vodka soothed my nerves, caring for the animals gave meaning to my life. I’d be hard-pressed to count the number of lagomorphs and tiny whiskered fur balls that have moved through our home.

Validation, alas, is crucial to my existence.

But, wait!

There’s a change blowing in the proverbial wind. Yes, siree! I no longer a need to anesthetize myself to endure the operation of life. I’m quitting the vodka—although I’m on the third bottle beyond the one that was to be my last.

I’m gearing up, you see.

Why, might you ask, am I “suddenly” willing to give up my dearest friend, the martini? The beautiful thing that took me away from reality; facing the endless number of untethered days ahead of me?

Because my essays are starting to get picked up. There’s the validation, the essence of what I’ve been striving for. No more crutch needed.

And you know what?

Getting published, I find, tastes as clean and pleasing to the palette as the vodka.

And, by God, it’s healthier!

It is the dawning of my intended existence.

Right now in fact I’m crafting a new essay on the writing life with Suzanne, my coach, an accomplished individual with street cred who validated my existence long before I was born and frightfully knows me better than myself.

We have a lot of things in common she and I. Except outside of writing, she’s not obsessed with the martini—she’s obsessed with yoga.

Yoga sounds so wholesome, doesn’t it?

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Lisa has been publishing essays for five years on the writing life, sex and relationships, and her love for horses, dogs and cowboy country. She lives near Boston, where she rides horses and commutes by bike to her job writing and editing technology blogs for Dell Technologies. She is currently pitching her memoir Calamity Becomes Her to literary agents, a story about proving herself capable of taking care of horses on a Wyoming dude ranch, and is at work on two sequels. You can contact her at lisa.demasi@gmail.com and follow her @lisamaedemasi, LinkedIn or via her website nurtureismynature.com.

How the Loss of this Small Creature Hit Me Big

I am looking at Sabrina. Her head is hanging out the window and the air is moving beneath her floppy ears, giving rise to them in a way that suggests her body is capable of flight. She makes my heart feel lighter, her being so free, finding joy in simple things.

The fruity fragrance from the pine trees that pass in my periphery along the road departing from the Weston Reservoir penetrates the air. A grand estate appears. David Gilmore’s voice fills the car; he’s singing “Poles Apart,” accompanied by his faithful guitar. His words are deeply personal and introspective and each line advances me to the next moment. I can see his fingers strumming each chord.

I had left the house an hour and change before, worrying about the chilly temperature, the state of the ground. If I’d be able to dig into the soil. The Reservoir, one of our favorite haunts, is where I intended to bury one of our beloved “girls” after visiting the vet.

The last three weeks had been difficult, watching her struggle, losing the ability to groom herself and topple over; her body emaciated. I knew the day was coming—when it was up to me to play God and snuff out her remaining life. It had eaten away at me, causing me to dream images of her body’s decay from the inside out. She, “Bobbin,” is a favorite among our rescued menagerie; rides atop my shoulder as I do chores around the house, a pet rat that shows me affection like any dog or cat might.

Let me interject a matter of opinion here: I am not some weird lab geek or a questionable hermit with a strange fetish. I hold an advanced degree and am attractive athlete, very feminine, hail from an affluent area, and here to tell you, rats make great pets.

Especially those rescued from a hoarding debacle.

I had arrived at the vet around 9:00, having made a shaky-voiced call, indicating my decision to put her down imminently only twenty-five minutes before, checked in and sat down on the bench in the reception area. The clinic was busy, chaotic. Sabrina put her head on my knee, a gesture that indicated, I’m here for you, Mama. Cradling Bobbin in my hands I envisioned golden light surrounding her and tried to help myself feel better by taking deep belly breathes and blinking away my tears.

Bobbin

And we all know little compares to the emotionally-charged vibe when sharing a vet’s reception area with someone who is sitting there, tears streaming down his or her face, holding their beloved pet, waiting to be called into a room where it will be euthanized.

The cat and dog people around me didn’t understand that I happen to be that person during this particular visit. “What’ve you got there?” An elderly man asked, a Yorkshire Terrier at his feet, yapping. Four other people, wanting to satisfy their own curiosity, looked my way. “A rat,” I whispered, “she’s dying.”

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No Kids, No Regrets

We’re seated by the gate at Logan, held captive by the airline’s whim, watching a steady stream of disheveled passengers walk or dash by, but the place remains stale and lifeless somehow.

Until a little princess, right out of a storybook, toddles into the seating area of our gate. She is unhurried, functions in her own dimension, immune to the chaos, the germfest, the push to get to point A to B.

Her presence casts a tiny spell on me. My book collapses into my lap. I’m drinking her sweetness in: a beautiful, clean-faced, bright-eyed little girl—a gene pool homerun.

What would my path have looked like with children in it?

Rarely do I question my decision to forgo becoming a vessel of reproduction. My goal in life was to become CEO of a wildly growing company, not wiping little beasties’ noses. I even left my husband when he wanted them. But as sometimes happens, this delightful girl seems to be showcasing my poor decision. She looks like what I imagine my little girl would have looked like had I not married my dark-haired husband of 5’7” with a 27-inch waistline, but Bob Redford.

Not to mention that I never did become the CEO of wildly growing company, and the jobs I have had have been sort of wildly unsatisfying.

I watch her, feeling that regret wash over me. She stands on sea legs between her mother’s thighs, crunching Cape Cod potato chips with less than perfect execution, savoring what makes it into her mouth. She babbles, a form of self-engagement, and randomly feeds “Kit-Tee,” a wide-eyed cat peering out from a crate on the floor.

Women of all ages watch her, heads cocked, wearing expressions of maternal yearning, remembrances, maybe regret, like my own.

I bet she still has that baby smell thing going on. You know, like puppies.

I surmise, too, that Zoe’s recently graduated from applesauce and whipped franks to adult food. And now, I think, and a disgruntled flatline my mother used to wear when I was in high school settles on my lips, her parents are giving her junk food, creating an unhealthy palate and a rhythmic type of oral indulgence.

I elbow Dennis. “If that sweetness were mine, I’d give her a hard cooked egg and fruit to eat, not crap food.”

He eyeballs Zoe for a nanosecond, nods and returns his gaze to his handheld.

I think of the other things I’d feed Zoe: Greek yogurt, kale crisps (much softer than potato chips), hummus, non-GMO whole grain crackers, organically grown vegetarian stuff.

And then, Zoe begins to choke.

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7 Reasons You’ll Love this Cat Like I Did

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It’s Friday night and I am sitting down to dinner. I want to relax, delve into an episode of Breaking Bad and savor my meal in peace. My beloved cat Jontue is gone. The salmon on my plate is safe. The soft tissue interior of my nose is not in danger of being ripped by her ferocious forepaw. My cheek won’t be swatted at either. And no one is staring at me with the intensity that could move a mountain.

I miss that someone.

That “fur person” as May Sarton said.

I first spotted Jontue in a pet store, a small kitty in a huge enclosure all by her lonesome, crying out for my attention as I shopped for cat food. I already had four at home. But this one’s eyes were pleading take me; I need love. Those eyes also said, I can love you too.

Of course you can, little cat.

A strange looking thing, Jontue was six months old and resembled a prehistoric creature with her brindled coat, fangs, and wiry tail. Exotic or not, no one wanted her. I understood this all too well. So I paid an extraordinary amount of money for the pure breed Cornish Rex because she needed a home, someone to take care of her.

She entered my life when I was particularly vulnerable and lonely; she captured my heart and I like to think I captured hers. Over the years, I’d come to know Jontue so well. She was a cat driven by instinct and visibly affected by subtle shifts of energy. She was small and silky-haired and stuck close to me at all times. She was also needy and affable. She liked to hold my head in a firm grip with her paws and lick the tip of my nose.

Jontue was my last live connection to the desert, another planet called Tucson, the barren landscape where I lived a few difficult years in my early thirties in personal chaos. She was the fifth cat I adopted during those years when I was living by my lonesome and she was like all others in this one way: they were all abandoned and unwanted.

That is, until I came along and laid claim. I adored all five of my cats. Jontue held an especially beloved place in my heart.

She was my protector, my nurse and deeply in tune with how I was feeling. When I’d cry myself silly or stare off into space feeling blue, she’d whack my cheek as if I was in a diabetic stupor. Mama, snap out of it. Caring for her and the other cats gave me the reason to drag myself out of bed at times when I was overcome with illness and depression, those heavy burdens of being human. When these feelings took over Jontue knew and she came and offered all she could: her soft coat to pet, her warm body and a purr, her kind eyes holding mine for a moment before looking away.

I’ve met many irresponsible people in my life but never an irresponsible cat.
—Rita Mae Brown, author of Pawing Through the Past: A Mrs. Murphy Mystery

Jontue even made living in Tucson at times fun. She got frisky when she had a productive #2 and frolicked out of the litter box and across the kitchen tile floor like a filly with a belly full of bedsprings. A supreme hunter, she dismantled geckos in the apartment, danced about with flesh-colored scorpions, and swatted down flying insects with incredible precision (inside the apartment). Outside, she could leap six-foot fences in a single bound. Nimble, she was! Continue reading

What Happened When I Did Reiki on My Conservative Mom

Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it. ~ Rumi

My mother and I are in her bedroom. I have the rare opportunity to administer healing energy to her, an act that will draw us together—physically, emotionally, spiritually. We are awkward about touching one another; emotionally, we don’t discuss matters close to the heart. The idea of God and a Higher Presence is strictly private.

This is the nature of our relationship, dictated by her upbringing.

Overwhelmed at the prospect of laying hands on her, I ask her to lie down on the bed. I recall when I needed her support and love—when I first got my period, the aftermath of boyfriend breakups, amid broken bones and excruciating pain—and she conveyed little.

Her convictions, tainted by my bouts of rebellion, are as big as a mountain.

I enrolled in learning Reiki with infamous Libby Barnett when writer’s block saturated every molecule of my body. Explaining the premise of the healing art to my conventionally-minded parents was like conveying Einstein’s theory of relativity in Swahili.

I read their expressions like an open book.

They figured, like my memoir writing, practicing Reiki was an escape from reality—another endeavor to keep me from returning to the workforce. But to counter their belief, I didn’t offer to demonstrate the various Reiki positions on them—I felt defenseless against their skepticism; this most recent act to sabotage their “please-just-do-the-right-thing” campaign.

On top of it, my dad mispronounced Reiki. No pun intended, he called it “wreck-ee.”

The whole notion of “healing energy,” however, must have taken up residence in my mother’s mind. For a week later, as we were getting out of the car, she asked me to do Reiki on her.

I panicked. Slithered down the driver’s seat like Bugs Bunny doomed in fighter aircraft; blurted some excuses. “I can’t do Reiki on you, Mom. I don’t have my massage table.”

“That’s okay, I’ll lay on my bed.”

“But I don’t have my Reiki playlist.”

“We’ll do it without it.”

“But, I don’t have my sage candle.”

“I don’t need a sage candle.”

“But, Mom, I don’t—”

“Let’s try it anyway.”

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