How Hot Yoga and a Boatload of Blood Led to a Miracle—A Goddamn Beautiful One.

The best thing you can possibly do with your life is to tackle the mother**king sh*t of it. —Cheryl Strayed

It’s early August, 9:30 a.m., hot and sticky on Saturday in the charming city of Fairhope, Alabama, some twenty miles southeast of Mobile.

I steal away from the adobe cottage that keeps me flinching in the wee hours due to its “settling noises” and take up on the sidewalk wearing a pair of CrossFit training shorts and a running bra.

It’s not exactly yoga attire, and in the modesty of the South, nothing short of conspicuous.

What can I say?

I’m from the Northeast.

Sweet Luna, a small, “feral” black cat greets me on the steps of nearby Soul Shine Yoga Studio for the third day of my thirty-day pilgrimage – a writer’s retreat –, in search of creative inspiration and, this morning, to better hone my yoga practice.

I’m holding the camera making kissy noises at Luna when vivid splats of red flash through my mind. Before I left my sometimes-creepy cottage — you know the drill — I squatted on the toilet and my maxi pad got unstuck and plopped into the bowl. Things like this happen to me all the time. I fished the thing out with my fingers, squeezed out the excess fluid and tossed it into the wastebasket.

This fourth day of heavy flow began drip-drip-dripping as I sat down into seat 34F aboard the plane at Logan, wearing my favorite white jeans and lusciously deep pink-colored panties with a wide white band that reads “Victoria’s Secret.”

I’m an open-door pee-er in the sunlit privacy of my own home but peeing in the cottage bathroom’s windowless dark keeps “Missy-the-homeless-woman,” who is known to stalk the place, from glimpsing me through the front door window. The same goes for the drummer who lives in his car in the library parking lot next door.

I rose from the toilet and put on the light. Worthy of a CSI crime scene, its white porcelain base, the rim, the seat, under the seat and the tile floor was not dotted, but wildly strewn with bright red blood. “My biology,” as I’ve come to call such things. I cleaned up the mess, thinking, Jesus, really? A voice in my head, a source of infinite encouragement, emitted a self-deprecating, resolved sigh. Not wholly due to the grossness, but because “we” thought my menstruating was done for good.

At 53, my periods stopped six months ago and “personal summers,” e.g. fling-the-covers-off-body-aflame-at-3 a.m., ensued in their wake. Honestly, with no irritability and continued and intended weight loss through cycling, running and High Intensity Interval Training, I was over the moon. My husband began finding me in Namaskarasana at sunrise, staring fixedly at the ceiling and chanting, “Dear God, at last, thank you.”

But why had the flow resumed when I was boarding a plane to take me far away for this month-long writer’s residency awarded to finish the memoir manuscript I’ve had kicking around for 8 years?

Could it be a cleansing of sorts, a divine reckoning, penetrating that dense layer of dust in the creative cogs of my mind?

A rebirth in the advent of leaving the sentient beings I love—my family and furry kids and best-girls behind?

Can’t be—because as time progresses in this creep-du-jour cottage, I’m Bugs Bunny doomed in his aircraft, twisting and turning in a tight downward spiral toward earth.

How come?

It’s the day job. It makes for a tasty morsel of distraction. Same goes for the things that go bump in the night—not the fridge’s compressor turning on and off or the central air. It’s the noises I can’t pinpoint—that banging. The dread of opening my eyes to make for the bathroom when I can’t hold my pee in one second more and fathoming the walking dead standing at the threshold with a blacked-in eye socket and the other eye barely intact, dangling down its cheek by a bloody gnawed-on thread.

The cottage is rent-free, awarded on the merit of my published writing and work-in-process but, let me tell you, everything comes with a price.

My ego doesn’t take the spooky stuff into account or the ample and overwhelming creative-crushing opportunity to get some writing done.

You’re finally here and look at you go, that little voice in my head jeers. I can’t give a fruitful response to each of the good-natured sponsors who take turns treating me to their favorite restaurant every night, all the while suppressing my question, “So, how have the women faired in a month-long stay in the cottage?”

Instead I tell them, “I’m not sure where I’m going start—revising a manuscript or beginning a new one.”

They search my face for intent, some hint of promise.

Look at you go.

I think hard on a source for creativity and inspiration: yoga.

I pinpointed the studio on the map from Massachusetts, just in case I’d need that source of creativity and inspiration. There, it’s a block from the cottage. Soul Shine Yoga.

The name of the place sunk in well. I-want-my-soul-to-shine.

Luna grows bored with my picture-taking and crosses the patio to the florist next door. I check in with the teacher at reception and step into a studio not even twice the size of our master bedroom back home and heated to ninety-three degrees. It houses no more than four mats three inches apart width-wise times four mats lengthwise, a cramped total of sixteen yogis, plus an instructor, standing.

This is my third-ever “Hot Power Hour” and I’ve learned as soon as you exert the slightest bit of energy, the obvious happens. The sweat pores out of your skin in buckets. It’s the effect I’m seeking, although against my mother’s advice. She bravely contended with my frequent acute knee-buckling episodes of teenage tachycardia known in colloquial terms as “heart attacks,” a rampant yee-haw condition in which a stress-induced event (e.g. excessive heat and humidity, exertion) tripped electricity inside my heart to a rogue electrical pathway, spiking my heart up to two hundred beats per minute.

Mom said, sympathetically, “It’ll be too hot for you.”

The instructors at this studio play a diverse mix of music, and Mary Jo leads us into subtle movements to limber our muscles, accompanied by Perry Farrell’s eerie and whiny-pitched voice singing Jane Says, a song about “Jane’s” heroin addiction and how “she’s gonna kick it tomorrow.” Jane’s Addiction’s album covers flood my mind: macabre busts and a recollection of their fantastic rendition of Sympathy for the Devil and how Farrell says he’s visited by aliens.

All this is not good for my practice, so I dismiss the lyrics and imagery for later when I approach my creep-du-jour cottage.

Mary Jo intensifies the movements. Plank, chaturanga, up dog, down dog, crescent lunge. The sweat on my body reflects the recessed ceiling lights, cascades down my nose and limbs, drips to the floor. I do not lapse into a “heart attack”; my mother forgets I had the rogue electrical pathway ablated in my late twenties. When Mary Jo takes us through a hyper-intense flow sequence including Warrior I, II and Reverse Warrior, three women in the class more than half my age (and sporting proper yoga attire) revert to child’s pose.

The voice inside my head sets a precedence. It offers words of affirmation. You’re winning, it says.

Winning?

My heart’s beating so hard it’s going to tear out of my chest, but darkness is not inking over the crown of my head and seeping into my eyes, bringing me to my knees. Back up to Warrior I, I lunge and reach my arms for the sky, my pose a tuning fork and open channel for divine intervention.

I am self-aware and my senses keen; my chest and heart uplifted. I radiate empowerment—there “ain’t no mountain high enough” to keep me from anything. My abrupt exhales and the sweat pouring out of my pores tells me I am life, a vessel. Biology. Mary Jo prompts us to transition to Warrior II and, grounding strong in my core and quads, I bend at the knee and stare over my middle finger on my extended arm, and every cell in my body is vibrating, shimmying.

They say to me, You’re rocking the intensity, sister.

The voice in my head echoes, Rockin’ it. Like a warrior.

Mary Jo eventually leads us toward reprieve—my familiar bedside prayer squat—and surprise or perhaps not during this rebirth, this cleansing, I’m called to embrace my womanhood again. My uterus contracts and expels a boatload of blood.

The maxi pad is saturated with sweat and blood and due to routine straining before the pad slipped into the bowl, mucous from my intestinal lining—major biology. Whether the pad is fixed in the right place or not, it’s not going to serve much purpose.

During Savasana, I am at ease. I think how my period after so much time is like it used to be with its heavy flow, but on this occasion without cramps or fatigue or cravings. I think how I was at “my edge” and found strength and empowerment so big and expansive it couldn’t be contained in a single moment. I think how the sweat bubbled up from my skin in bodacious beads and momentarily fatigued and depleted, I held grounded in my stance. I think about one of the T-shirts for sale on a rack near reception that reads “This Isn’t My First Vinyasa,” and smile ever so subtly.

When I leave the studio with my drenched yoga towel draped about my neck and shoulders, I bend down and give the not-so-feral Luna a scratch behind the ears, then retreat to the cottage. Thoughts of Perry Farrell and his creative renderings do not come to mind upon its threshold. I enter the place, take down the towel blocking the front door’s window, open the curtains and snap off the light in every room. I voraciously devour lunch and the words on these pages spill forth: a culmination of the bleeding, sweating, cleansing and opening; the zenith of being a woman.

It’s a miracle; a goddamn beautiful one. I brought it on, knowing yoga and the universe would serve as catalysts to open me up like a flower and weave a story derived in a fresh tantalizing experience, a wanting, a means to an end.

The bumps in the night in this writer’s cottage won’t be so scary tonight.

They’re confronting a warrior.

Thanks to Elephant Journal for featuring this essay in their Yoga section on 9/15/20!


Lisa Mae DeMasi loves all creatures great and small. She is the author of the forthcoming memoir “Calamity Becomes Her,” which will be published by Atmosphere Press in early 2021, and is at work on its sequel “Saving Tom Wilkins.” She lives near Boston, where she writes, bikes, hikes, rides horses and edits technology blogs for the CTO of Hitachi Vantara. You can contact her at lisa dot demasi dot com and follow her on Twitter and LinkedIn.

A Writer’s Gratitude for the Here and Now

I was sipping my coffee this morning; looking out at the garden, contemplating my work. The pansies are blossoms of sunshine. Butter yellow, burnt red, deep purple, pale lilac. They buoy me up and are like little gifts, each one of them.

I’ve been outputting a lot of writing as of late—developing chapter summaries for “Calamity,”  to comprise a proposal for a pitch; sending the piece I’ve written about Lady Long Rider Bernice Ende’s mission to encourage women to become more active in political, social and economic areas to various outlets (The Atlantic, The Sun, Ms.) and a collection of essays I compiled on Love, Career, Writing, and the Creatures Great and Small Who Have Enriched My Life for Ohio State Press’ Gournay Prize. And while I’m thankful to be heads-down and churning all this stuff out—the creative flow is nothing short of fantastic—and waiting to receive some form of affirmation, acceptance of a submission, a thought entered my mind: the Power of “Yes.”

It was the subject header of an email sent from Lorna Reese, editor of Shark Reef in April of 2014, indicating she was picking up my piece The Subversive Writer—my first ever published essay.

I recall the emotion in seeing that “Yes” in my email. Isolated, simple and powerful. It made my heart swell in happiness and validation.

It’s another prompt for me to keep going.

Today I’m going to keep that “power of yes” feeling close by, all day long.

From: Shark Reef Editor <editor@sharkreef.org>
Date: Saturday, April 19, 2014 4:51 PM
To: Lisa Mae DeMasi <lisa.demasi@gmail.com>
Subject: Yes

Dear Lisa,

We’re pleased to tell you we will publish your essay, The Subversive Writer, in our summer edition. Congratulations. And thank you.

We’ll contact you again as we get closer to uploading the issue. In the meantime, tell your family and friends.

Sincerely,

Lorna Reese, Editor


Lisa loves all creatures great and small. She is the author of the forthcoming memoir “Calamity Becomes Her,” which will be published by Atmosphere Press in early 2021, and is at work on the sequel. Her essays have appeared in Horse Network, Manifest-Station, Ariana’s HuffPost, Elephant Journal and several literary journals. She lives near Boston, where she writes, bikes, hikes, rides horses and edits technology blogs for the CTO of Hitachi Vantara. You can contact her at lisa.demasi@gmail.com and follow her on Twitter and LinkedIn.

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

“A mentor is someone who sees more talent and ability within you, than you see in yourself, and helps bring it out of you.” — Bob Proctor

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 57,000 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?


Lisa loves all creatures great and small. She is the author of the forthcoming memoir “Calamity Becomes Her,” which will be published by Atmosphere Press in early 2021, and is at work on the sequel. Her essays have appeared in Horse Network, Manifest-Station, Ariana’s HuffPost, Elephant Journal and several literary journals. She lives near Boston, where she writes, bikes, hikes, rides horses and edits technology blogs for the CTO of Hitachi Vantara. You can contact her at lisa.demasi@gmail.com and follow her on Twitter and LinkedIn.

How My Disapproving Mother Unwittingly Fuels My Creative Expression

Image

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 loves all creatures great and small. She is the author of the forthcoming memoir “Calamity Becomes Her,” which will be published by Atmosphere Press in early 2021, and is at work on the sequel. Her essays have appeared in Horse Network, Manifest-Station, Ariana’s HuffPost, Elephant Journal and several literary journals. She lives near Boston, where she writes, bikes, hikes, rides horses and edits technology blogs for the CTO of Hitachi Vantara. You can contact her at lisa.demasi@gmail.com and follow her on Twitter and LinkedIn.

 

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: Alone Across America on Horseback, 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 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 loves all creatures great and small. She is the author of the forthcoming memoir “Calamity Becomes Her,” which will be published by Atmosphere Press in early 2021, and is at work on the sequel. Her essays have appeared in Horse Network, Manifest-Station, Ariana’s HuffPost, Elephant Journal and several literary journals. She lives near Boston, where she writes, bikes, hikes, rides horses and edits technology blogs for the CTO of Hitachi Vantara. You can contact her at lisa.demasi@gmail.com and follow her on Twitter and LinkedIn.

 

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.

Fitz was hot and happening. He looked something like this.

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 loves all creatures great and small. She is the author of the forthcoming memoir “Calamity Becomes Her,” which will be published by Atmosphere Press in early 2021, and is at work on the sequel. Her essays have appeared in Horse Network, Manifest-Station, Ariana’s HuffPost, Elephant Journal and several literary journals. She lives near Boston, where she writes, bikes, hikes, rides horses and edits technology blogs for the CTO of Hitachi Vantara. You can contact her at lisa.demasi@gmail.com and follow her on Twitter and LinkedIn.

 

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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How My Work Was Rejected with Sarcasm Then Got Picked Up Elsewhere

How many times have you heard an editor’s rejection of your work is subjective? Especially from prominent, published writers? You know, the really really big ones?

Receiving rejection, especially over a piece we hold near and dear, is most difficult. Some editor’s feedback is simply cruel and it’s difficult to push through it, their words forming a dark cloud in the writer’s already self-deprecating mind.

There is truly only one super-negative rejection I have ever received and whenever submitting that piece thereafter (yes, the one near and dear to my heart) I hear that particular editor’s indelibly negative words as I hit the send button, dooming any future hope of publication.

Employ Constructive Feedback

I am here to tell you writers to hold fast – an editor in receipt of that 100-times-rejected piece may someday take the time to shed some constructive feedback that doesn’t shoot a hole in your heart. And Kendra, the editor of The Fiddlehead, did that for me concerning my essay Saboteur. Her feedback triumphed over the not-so-great feedback I had previously received from the editor at The Tishman Review, which read:

Hi Lisa-

We publish prose at The Tishman Review that we feel speaks with emotional depth and substance and that sheds light on the human condition. When I saw your email, to be quite honest, I could not even remember your essay and had to glance over it to remind myself of it.

There is no sense of conflict or tension that has a true stake for the narrator. I could not find a hook to draw me in. The essay is primarily about lusting after someone, and it is a play by play of how this works out. The hotel scene in particular is not very engaging.

For the reader, the friend’s behavior did not seem a betrayal but predictable. Maybe something is missing from the essay to show the friend felt the same way about the essayist or maybe I did not understand this from what is present in the essay.

However, the writing at the sentence-level is strong.

This essay is just did not a good fit for TTR but may well be somewhere else.

Stephen King was told, “We are not interested in science fiction which deals with negative utopias. They do not sell.”

I’m sorry to disappoint you.

Best, Jennifer

Now, Kendra’s feedback which renewed my hope:

Dear Lisa,

Thank you kindly for offering “Saboteur” to us here at The Fiddlehead. I found your handle on word choice made the piece (while already intriguing at its plot) extremely gripping and rich in description. I’m afraid, however, we’re not able to accept it for publication, mostly due to the overwhelming amount of submissions we receive regularly. With that said, I think it has really strong features: the characterization of Lexi, the chemistry she and the narrator have seemingly immediately, the interwoven themes of statistics and its practice. As well, its narrative is very vivid, has great word choice, and is fluid in its movement from one space and time to another. My only suggestion would be to pare back on descriptions of space, namely near the middle to end of the piece (around pages 11-12 particularly) to keep the momentum the piece gains in the first few pages. You’ve got a very strong handle on your craft, so I wish you the very best in finding this and other pieces of your work a good home.

Sincerely,
Kendra Guidolin

Don’t Give Up on Submitting Your Work

Writers, keep the faith. Push through the criticism; incorporate meaningful feedback into your work. And don’t kill your darlings! Just rework them!

BTW, Saboteur, has recently been picked up by a new literary journal. The editor advised cutting the last paragraph and I agreed, it read much better!

And take a glimpse at “JK Rowling Posts Letter of Rejection on Twitter to Help Budding Authors” here.

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Lisa loves all creatures great and small. She is the author of the forthcoming memoir “Calamity Becomes Her,” which will be published by Atmosphere Press in early 2021, and is at work on the sequel. Her essays have appeared in Horse Network, Manifest-Station, Ariana’s HuffPost, Elephant Journal and several literary journals. She lives near Boston, where she writes, bikes, hikes, rides horses and edits technology blogs for the CTO of Hitachi Vantara. You can contact her at lisa.demasi@gmail.com and follow her on Twitter and LinkedIn.

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