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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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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5 Tips to Finding a Writing Coach Who’s Right for You

Do what you love may be the most overused advice in the career-improvement world.  A blogpost on the complexity of this directive went viral on Jacobin a year or so back, it was shared 57 thousand times on Facebook and riffed about in the New York Times Opinionator by Gordon Marino.

I know all this first hand. Once upon a time I turned my back on a half-finished MBA and a corporate job with its maddening pace and rigid hierarchy. The fact that my boss gave my job to her newly unemployed husband didn’t help. I escaped to do what I loved. In my case the passion was writing.

The act of quitting made me subversive. And that alone fueled creative expression. I mapped out chapters, the content. Figured I’d have the manuscript written in six months, employ an editor, find an agent, become a best seller, Oprah would call, the whole bit.

Four years later, I found myself gazing into my monitor not knowing whether to put a period at the end of the sentence or keep going with a comma. I’d lost my home in foreclosure, gone bankrupt, written 300,000 words, revised the body of work four times. And while I was slurping away at my second or maybe 87th Cosmo, I understood what I was really missing, a mentor. A guide. A coach. Someone who’d gone before, knew how to shape art into something saleable and would come along with a tribe of like-minded people with whom I could collaborate. I didn’t want to go back to school. What I was looking for was beyond the confines of academia. I needed someone to touch what the poet Mary Oliver called the “wild silky” part of myself and, finally, make it palatable to the world.

Mentors are necessary. Hemingway had Stein, Beethoven had Neefe. The true challenge once you know the secret lies in finding a mentor is how to find that coach who can make your passion work in the world. This is like how to find a raindrop in a rainstorm. There are thousands of coaches out there. They’re like doctors and lawyers. But here’s what I learned (the hard way): some coaches are competent, some are lousy, even soul crushers. I dropped coins in wishing well after wishing well. One wore a floral patterned dress that matched her bonnet and tried to make me into a mystery writer; another one was always throwing theories at me I couldn’t apply; one promised me the stars, took my money and then never contacted me again.

Suzanne, my mentor and writing coach.

How do you find your coach?

Here are five helpful hints for the girl or gal who wants to (or maybe has) dropped everything to do what she loves:

  1. Go with the gut. Have a bad feeling even though her website’s copy seems like a projection of everything lying dormant in your heart? That’s your intuit talking. Run. There are too many fantastic coaches out there who have integrity and know how to move you forward.
  2. She’s part of your tribe: if you see her write a post in a publication you love or show up in a group on social media with whom you share a vibe, chances are you have similar taste, so you might want to take a shot at it. I found my coach through my Reiki teacher. My coach had helped a fellow Reiki student get an agent and a book deal. She’s now distributed with Random House, has been on NPR, has speaking engagements, the whole nine yards.
  3. She has street cred and success: When I went on my coach’s website, she had testimonial after testimonial from people who had published books, made a career out of writing, had gotten bylines with top media outlets and had life changing experiences after being with her. She was also successful in her own right. An internationally-acclaimed author with lots of kudos to her name, she’s made her living writing, which is what I wanted to do and so I knew she could trail blaze a path.
  4. She gets you, every single part of you. The secret to my coach’s success is that she works in the Gateless writing method, a very specific method based on brain science, craft tools and community that moves creatives to places they’d only imagined. Through this method, she helps all of you rather than just the part of you working on your craft. That divorce you haven’t quite gotten over? Could be a barrier to next step on your career path. The trauma you suffered as a child might be the thing that needs to be coddled before you begin to really allow yourself to go big. Make sure your coach isn’t just about deliverables, numbers, list building, ideal clients and great gallery gigs.
  5. It doesn’t happen overnight: I know, this one sort of sucks. But anyone who promises you the world in thirty days or even six weeks isn’t really helping you make lasting change. It took most of us years to get here and the true unraveling and resetting can take a while to grab hold. Something magical did happen with my coach, everything my shaman has been teaching me about the process absolutely broke through, and while it felt like it happened overnight, it’s too deep and long lasting for that. Now I feel seasoned at this writing thing. But first I had to undo a lot of the conditioning I’d learned in my corporate gig.

Since working with my coach I’ve been shortlisted for prizes, published in the top online media outlets and have been picked up by prestigious lit journals, but more than that? I understand that often those who fail at doing what they loved just didn’t have the guidance they needed to learn how to soar.

What will you do today to obtain the guidance you need to succeed?

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Lisa holds a Master Certificate in Reiki. She has been publishing essays for five years on reiki, 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 to literary agents and is at work on two sequels. You can contact her at lisa dot demasi at gmail dot com.

Women Write About Sex and Intimacy After Fifty Anthology Book Launch

Unmasked: Women Write about Sex and Intimacy After Fifty is out and my work’s in it.

The editors and a number of the writers will be in Santa Barbara on Wednesday for the Anthology launch at Carr Vineyards and Winery. I’m one of the lucky ones who’s been chosen to read my essay to a crowd of women hungry for advice on rediscovering their sex drive.

My signing pen is ready!

Here’s the book description:

Women over fifty are “the invisible woman” in American culture. In a society that reveres youth – and particularly young, sexy women – women over fifty fade into the shadows. Yet, for many women at mid-life, this is a time of flowering and coming into one’s own, sexually and otherwise. Many older women love sex and crave the intimacy it provides. For every story of a harried mother who turns her husband away at night, or the older woman who long ago lost her libido, there are legions of others whose sex drives match those of men.

A recent study found that sixty percent of women fifty to fifty-nine were sexually active, that almost fifty percent of women in their sixties were sexually active, and nearly thirty percent of those over seventy were sexually active. So, why is so little attention paid to sex and intimacy among women in later life? Other than a smattering of magazine articles and some academic books, very little has been written about women, sex and intimacy. Oh, there are plenty of how-tos: advice on vaginal dryness and pain during sex and erectile dysfunction. But there is a dearth of work written by women about their sexual experiences after fifty.

This collection of essays and poetry is meant to bring sex after fifty for women into the open, to proclaim that it is important, it is natural and healthy and, for some women, it is absolutely necessary. Unmasked will surprise, inform, and–it is hoped–encourage all women of a certain age to (re)discover their sexuality.

I am so proud to be a contributor to this Anthology. Join me and some other randy women in Santa Barbara for a signed copy of the book and a celebratory glass of wine!

Lisa 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 to literary agents and is at work on the sequel. Contact her at lisa dot demasi at gmail dot com.

 

Why My Mother’s Dreams for Me Are Not My Own

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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.

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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. 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 to literary agents and is at work on the sequel. You can contact her at lisa dot demasi at gmail dot com.