The Teresa Jusino Experience

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Tag: Dad (Page 1 of 2)

Two Years Later: The Road to Failure, in Itself an Art

Dad and Me

Losing my dad two years ago today was both harder and easier than losing my mom.

It was harder, because I wasn’t there. I’d already moved to Los Angeles at that point, and I found out that he’d passed away on a phone call. Whereas with my mother, I got to be there when they pulled the plug on her life support and say goodbye (she wasn’t conscious, but still), I couldn’t be there for my dad, and that hurt. It still does.

It hurts especially, because of my parents my dad was the one I felt really understood me. We were the same in so many ways. My mother was amazing, of course, and I loved her so much. But my dad and I shared so many things, and they weren’t always good, but they were ours. We were both writers who were (and are) always late to things. We were both social creatures who were extremely stubborn and loved to debate a topic into the ground. We both loved travel, and music, and art of all kinds. We valued our dreams, and thought them as real as anything in “real life.” When I say “I’m my father’s daughter,” I mean it. There’s no one else’s I could be.

But in many ways, it’s because of all this that losing my dad was easier than losing my mom. Whereas my mother died with her mind in tact, and her passing felt more like a sharp tearing away, my father started petering out long before he died. As his mind started to go, shortly after my mother passed away (and apparently, she’d been covering for him in various situations, so we couldn’t tell it had already started happening), he was less and less the person I knew. My dad had entirely defined himself by his mind – talking about the value of education, reading The New York Times and doing the crossword puzzle every day, taking me to all sorts of educational places when I was a kid, and being the happiest for me when I did things like go away on Model UN trips, or go away to Dublin to study for a semester. Whereas my mom always cried, or worried out loud, if my dad worried at all he held it in. He always wanted me to know that it was okay to leave, because leaving meant learning and growing. Leaving meant change, and he never wanted me to feel guilty about that.

And that person started leaving us in 2006/2007, so that by the time he passed away in 2014, we’d already said goodbye a thousand times.

And even though I couldn’t be there, and even though I was so deeply sad that one of the people who understood me best in this world was gone, a part of me felt relief. Because knowing him so well, I knew that he would never ever want to be seen that way. My dad definitely had a lot of pride, and when he was in his right mind would never want to ask for help. So often, I wished he would. But in any case, to go from that person to the person who needs to be bathed and dressed and fed like a child…if he were himself, I know he would’ve hated it.

So, maybe it was for the best that I, of all people, wasn’t there at the very end, to see him on a hospital bed taking his last breath, looking more weak and frail than he’d ever been. He probably would’ve hated that, too. I got to see him looking more dignified. Made up, and in a suit. I got to say goodbye to him when he was more presentable. I think he might have preferred that.

Pretty much everything I do creatively, I do for my dad. (Yes, even Incredible Girl! Did you know that my father wrote a play in the early 1990s that involved a husband who wanted to engage in BDSM with his wife? Yup, he did! The apple really doesn’t fall far from the tree, I guess) Everything I achieve professionally, or pursue artistically, I do it with him in mind. Because for a million reasons he never could.

If you’d like to help me honor my dad today, plan a trip to somewhere you’ve never been or an experience you’ve never had! You can also read the eulogy I read at his wake, or give a donation to your local chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association.

And lastly, enjoy this poem from his short collection of poetry called Pillars of My Strength. He wrote these when he was only 23 and in the Air Force stationed at George Air Force Base here in California (which closed in the 1990s), and a lot of these poems are trying way too hard. 🙂 But this one, called “Tomorrow,” totally captures my dad’s personality – his drive, determination, and yes, stubbornness – in a way that remained true for him the rest of his life. It also shows that he knew what his failings were, but could never bring himself to stop fighting:

Failed have I, and well I understand, 
That in my undertakings, pride has played the greatest part. 
The road to failure, in itself an art, 
Was further enhanced by my stubborn stand.
However, even as a sun retreats unto the night
And a baby bird will try until he flies, 
So will I on prophecy rely
When a tomorrow with success will prove me right. 

I miss you, Daddy. And I hope I can be your Tomorrow.

Ramon Jusino Jr.
September 7, 1935 – April 19, 2014

THE EXPERIENCE PODCAST, EPISODE 2: DO THEY FORCE KIDS TO BE COMMUNISTS?

London 1986 - Me and the Madame Tussaud's flower girl

TJE Podcast, Episode 2: Do They Force Kids to Be Communists?

In this week’s episode of The Teresa Jusino Experience Podcast, Teresa talks “toxic masculinity,” and shares a Past Experience called “Do They Force Kids to Be Communists?”, which is the full story from which she read an excerpt in Episode 1.

Show Notes: 

Watch the live-stream of my panel at ONA15 tomorrow beginning at 3:30PM Pacific. (and participate in the conversation on Twitter during the panel by using the hashtag #ONA15future)

(This podcast is supported by Patreon)

 

The Experience Podcast, Episode 1: Introducing the Experience

Heidelberg, Germany - 1986 - Me

IT’S HERE, IT’S HERE! (Finally!)

Welcome to The Teresa Jusino Experience Podcast, in addition to my new, fancy domain! 🙂 Check it out! It’s teresajusino.com from now on, y’all! Because I’m an ADULT.

TJE Podcast, Episode 1: Introducing the Experience

In the first-ever episode of The Teresa Jusino Experience Podcast, Teresa shows you what you can expect from The Experience. She also fills you in on what’s going on with her writing, talks about why she loves Mindy Lahiri on The Mindy Project, and starts to tell you the story of the time she almost got left in Berlin when she was a kid. 

Show Notes: 

Check out my column at Beacon.

Find out more about supporting WriteGirl!

Incredible Girl online:
website
Facebook
Twitter

Follow Mike Schmidt (the composer of my awesome theme music!) on Twitter!

 

Random Sadness

Source: Kathryn on Flickr.

Source: Kathryn on Flickr.

Today would’ve been my dad’s 80th birthday if he were still alive.

My Google calendar app is set to remind me half an hour before my appointments/important dates. So, my notification went off at 11:30PM last night saying “Dad’s Bday.” 🙁 It might have passed me by were it not for that reminder, and I don’t know what made me more sad, the fact that this is the second of his birthdays that he’s not around to see, or that I would’ve forgotten were it not for my stupid Google reminder.

However, that doesn’t really explain what happened today. I worked a couple of hours this morning at TMS, but as today is a holiday, we just set up a couple of posts for the day, then had most of the day off. Great, right? I was looking forward to having the day to devote to other writing projects. Then, sometime around noon or 1PM I got inexplicably sad. I started crying for no reason, which prompted me to think of Every Sad Thing, which prompted more crying. Now, I’ve totally experienced PMS-related sadness, but this was different. I lay down, and then couldn’t get back out of bed for a couple of hours. I felt heavy, as if the whole world had landed on my forehead.

A couple of hours later, I forced myself up, and here I am. At my laptop. Yet I still feel “off” and emotionally drained and I don’t know why. I’d say it’s just my dad’s birthday, except that to be honest, I’ve been feeling like things have been a bit off-kilter for a while now. And I didn’t feel this way on my dad’s birthday last year, and that was the first one after he died. Feeling like this is very disconcerting for me, particularly because it’s no one thing. It’s everything. And nothing at all. For very legitimate reasons and for no reason at all.

I’ve just been chatting with a friend online and talking to The GF, and I’m starting to realize that this is something that has affected me for longer than I probably want to admit. After all, that seems to be the big pattern in my life: there’s always been this part of me where things will be going really well, and then I’ll just stop. That just when things get really good, either something will happen to knock me off course and I don’t have it in me to course-correct, or I’ll sabotage my own progress. And then I’ll get sad about my lack of progress. And then I’ll pull myself out of it and make strides, just to have the same thing happen all over again. I see it in my issues with food, with my finances, with my general career trajectory, with my love life. Something’s always been off and eating away at me, and I may have been ignoring it all this time in the name of “being positive” about things.

Because I’m Terry. I’m the cheerful one. That’s what I do. I’m the cheerleader who encourages and inspires other people, but can’t always inspire/encourage herself. I make jokes. I set people at ease.

And right now, my life is better than it’s ever been. I have a long-term partner that I love who loves me, I have great family and friends, I have a full-time writing job with benefits, I’ve been making contacts in the television industry and commissioned to do writing work. I “shouldn’t” feel so consistently “off” or sad or fearful. But I do, and I have.

I don’t know if this is depression of some kind, or if there’s some emotional thing I’ve never really dealt with as self-aware as I might be…I just don’t know. But I’m going to do something about it. I’m making an appointment with a therapist/psychiatrist ASAP. Might as well make use of that fancy health insurance. 🙂

(This post is supported by Patreon)

2014 Year In Review

Sure, it’s January 4th – but you know what? I was having fun on a holiday trip on the East Coast, so I didn’t have time to blog. Know what else? I REGRET NOTHING. 🙂 But for those who are paying attention, you know I do this every year, so I’d hate to leave you hanging. So, here we go…

Previous years: 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013.

Another year, another year to review! This year’s been a biggie, both in my personal life and for the world, which simultaneously became a little more evolved and a lot more insane. Two steps forward, three steps back. I suppose slow progress is better than no progress at all, huh?

May 2014.

PERSONAL LIFE:

I’ll likely remember 2014 as the year I started to tackle problems head-on, rather than ignoring them, and became more of the kind of person I want to be. I’ll also remember it as a year of a lot of change in my personal life, both good and bad. However, even when bad things happened this year, for some reason I was in more of a position to deal with things in a healthy, philosophical way. Sure, there were tears when needed, and there was even some full-on freaking out, but it all came from a healthy place of acknowledging my feelings, rather than trying to stuff them down. So, I’m grateful for that. Some highlights:

** It was an interesting year for employment. I left a day job I had for a little over a year that was burning me out and stressing me out disproportionately to what it was paying me. It was one of the best decisions I made all year. I got another part-time job that I stayed at for two weeks, because I realize that the amount they were paying me (barely minimum wage) did not warrant the money I spent on commuting. However, I did gain a long-term freelance writing client (which I’ll talk about in the Writing section below), and I continued on with a company that does work with background actors – a company that I like a lot, and my bosses there are pretty cool. 🙂 So, I’m ending 2014 with two long-term/full-time jobs and plenty of room for additional writing. Bring it on, 2015!

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** In the Tackling Problems Head-On department, I put a greater focus on three areas of my life: my health/fitness, my finances, and my emotional well-being. While I’m nowhere close to “perfect” or “done” (no one ever is), I have a better handle on things than I ever have before. In the realm of fitness, I discovered Daily Burn, which allowed me to work out more than I ever have before. I tried Orangetheory, and may be inspired to go there more regularly in the new year to work out (I’m also considering Nerdstrong and the local YMCA). I did some Couch to 5K (which I eventually stopped, because I realized that running is the most boring activity ever – to me), and I started riding my bike more, both to commute to my job, and to get to other things. In health news, I got Medi-Cal! Yay! So, now that I have some sort of health insurance, I’ve been going to doctors right and left – found a general practitioner, found a dentist (which I desperately needed after a horrible toothache ruined my experience of seeing Guardians of the Galaxy!), gyno, podiatrist…there are a couple of super-minor issues to take care of, but my physical came back completely clean, which I was really glad to hear. Especially given my family history of diabetes, cancer, and heart trouble. Whew! In my financial life, I started taking a closer look at ALL of my debt (which I’d been ignoring for years), tracking my spending, and keeping better track of the money that comes in. I’m starting the new year with a bit of an increased income (thanks, freelance clients!), and a better idea of my budget. Lastly, there’s the Emotional Well-Being front, which pretty much just means that I’ve been making time for myself to really sit with my feelings and process what I’m going through, rather than just rushing through life. Time and space are key, and I’ve been loving myself enough to give myself both in 2014, which has helped tremendously.

Dad the lifeguard

** April was a difficult month. On April 19, 2014, my father, Ramon Jusino Jr., passed away at the age of 78. This was difficult for obvious reasons. The only father I’ll ever have is gone. The parent with whom I shared the most character traits and common interests is gone. Yet it was also a relief in many ways. My father suffered from dementia that seemed exacerbated by my mother’s death in 2006. His health deteriorated, and we had to put him in a nursing home. In short, he hadn’t been My Dad for a long time, and while I miss him being on this planet, I also know that, as proud as he was, he likely wouldn’t have wanted to be seen as a helpless invalid for very long.

So, thanks to the help of my friend, Heather, and her wonderful mom, Lauren, who works for an airline, my partner and I were able to fly to NYC for the funeral. I was touched by the outpouring of support from friends and family. Friends I hadn’t seen in ages, like my friend Nippa from high school, came to the wake to show solidarity. Adam organized a dinner for me to celebrate my dad and “his greatest achievement” – me. (Those are Adam’s words, not mine) Long-time friends made it a point to be there for the wake, the funeral, and the burial, which was a military burial, to honor my dad’s Air Force service. And I took two weeks in New York to surround myself with loved ones and give myself time to grieve properly. I’m grateful for everyone who showed me love during that time – particularly Joanna and Chuck, for giving me a place to crash – and I’m glad that my mom and dad (and my dog, Scarlett, who watched over them when I couldn’t) are all at peace and together now.

Me and Heather (and my birthday flowers from her and Alexis!)

** I celebrated my 35th Birthday in July and had a great, warm night with friends. Jason and Mairghread came out with my partner and me for sushi at Midori, and more friends met up with us at Sardo’s later in the evening for beer and karaoke! It was a great time – and I was bought a lot of birthday drinks, including one from a generous guy from out of town. My little crew ended up closing the place down! Not a bad way to celebrate my mid-thirties!

My favorite photo of the night. Heather took this of me and Adam when I wasn't paying attention. Lurve.

However, my birthday weekend had another, more ill-advised component. I’d always wanted to go camping in Joshua Tree, so my partner and I drove out to camp overnight. It was beautiful, to be sure, and quiet (the quiet was what really astounded me), but between the insane heat (even at night!), the mosquitoes, and the uncomfortable car sleeping situation, we were really glad to get back to civilization! Next time, I won’t make the mistake of camping in the desert during the off-season. IT’S “OFF” FOR A REASON!

** I’ve always tried to do what I could to work toward equality in all areas for LGBT folks, but this year, with transgender people making themselves increasingly visible – what with Laverne Cox all over EVERYTHING, Transparent on Amazon Prime, and the impending blockbuster Jupiter Ascending (directed by Andy and Lana Wachowski) – it sunk in for me how often the “T” in “LGBT” has historically been either ignored, thrown under the bus, or misrepresented/despised both within and outside the LGBT and feminist circles in which I so happily travel. So, I’ve been a bit more vocal on that score. This year has ended with the tragic suicide of Leelah Alcorn in Ohio (and the subsequent removal of her Tumblr, which contained her suicide note and hopes for other transgender teens), emphasizing the fact that there’s still so much more work to do on this front – and I hope to use my platform to amplify trans voices in addition to feminist, minority, and gay/lesbian voices.

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** SDCC 2014. UGH. I’m grateful that I had a press badge, and that Jason and Mairghread were willing to share their hotel room with me, but on the whole, I could’ve done without the whole experience. There were a handful of cool moments: interviewing Nicole Perlman, meeting up with my friends Tara and Daniel, finally meeting my friend Janice IRL at the Grimm panel after years of commiserating over the demise of Caprica and the career of one Sasha Roiz, and going to SDCC’s first-ever transgender comics panel, but I spent most of the con hot and tired, standing in line, and just generally crabby about how long it took me to walk everywhere in the crowds. I’m in no rush to go back. Though I did end up at a party with George RR Martin. That was pretty cool. 🙂

2014-10-11 00.45.49-1

** The fall was all about going to see live music, and I got to see two of my favorite acts live! My partner and I went to see Pomplamoose at the El Rey theater in October, followed by going to Amanda Palmer’s book event for The Art of Asking at the First Unitarian Church in November. Both events were amazing for entirely different reasons. I’d never seen Pomplamoose live before, and going to see them makes me appreciate them SO MUCH MORE as musicians. They put on a really fun, kick-ass show, and if you ask me, I think the money they spent on their tour was money well spent! The Amanda Palmer event was amazing, because the musical performances were so intimate, and the evening was full of insightful, revealing, and nuanced discussion between Amanda, her guests, and the audience about what it means to be an artist and ask for help.

** Oh, and by the way, my boo and I celebrated our second anniversary in December, and we flew to the East Coast and spent a wonderful two weeks with our families for the holidays. It was a great way to end the year!

Chicks Dig Gaming cover illustration by the squee-worthy Katy Shuttleworth.

Chicks Dig Gaming cover illustration by the squee-worthy Katy Shuttleworth.

 WRITING LIFE:

** I was published, like, a crap-ton. 🙂 My first national print interview came out in the May 2014 issue of Latina Magazine, I had my first piece published on Jezebel in March, and an essay of mine is included in Mad Norwegian Press’ latest pop culture anthology, Chicks Dig Gaming, which was released in November! In addition to that, I was hired to write a pop culture column on a great site called Beacon, on which readers can subscribe directly to journalists whose work they love. While I’m no longer writing on Beacon, it was a great experiment, and there are several pieces up there that I consider some of my best work. Check it out!

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** One of the biggest things in my writing life also happens to affect my personal life, too. My friend and writing partner, Adam Hunault, finally made the big move to L.A, and I’m really happy about it! Not only because it’s really awesome to have one of my favorite New York peeps in town with me, but it makes such a difference in the way we work on our scripts and are able to pursue our joint writing career. To date, we’ve written two hour-long pilots, one hour-long spec of an existing show, have entered most of the major writing fellowships (getting none of them, but whaddaryagonnado?), joined a TV writing group and the IAWTV meet-up, sat down with two professional TV writers to discuss our path, and are currently in the process of writing our third hour-long original pilot. 2015 is going to be a huge year for us as we tackle Los Angeles together, and I’m very excited to get to it!

** I started my job as Blog Editor for HotPixel Post-Production at the beginning of 2014, creating content for the blog as well as managing their monthly newsletter and throwing in my two cents re: their communications/marketing whenever I’m asked. It’s a really cool gig, as HotPixel is a steady, reliable client that allows me to write about an industry I enjoy. My boss, Art, is a really cool guy who shoots straight with me and makes sure I’m taken care of. Meanwhile, as I write about the independent film scene, I’m learning a lot that I will likely apply to projects I work on. I’m looking forward to doing even bigger and better things with HotPixel in the coming year. Check out the HotPixel blog often! (and if you ever need post-production services for a project of your own…you know where to go!)

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** Work on Incredible Girl, the 10-episode digital series I’ve written based on Aurora de Blas’ short film of the same name, has kicked into high gear this year. We’ve spent this year in hardcore planning mode, working with our director, Sabrina, to hone our voice for the show itself, as well as the marketing/branding surrounding the show, we filmed teaser footage of the first two scenes, which we hope to use to raise funds for our pilot, we held a small fundraiser, we’ve done outreach into our target audience, we’ve built relationships with sponsors, and we’re slowly and intelligently building the team and the resources we need to move forward in 2015. Check out the show’s website, then “like” us on Facebook, and follow us on Twitter! Trust me, you want in on this. 😉

** In addition to the networking done with Adam, this was also a big year for personal networking for my solo writing work. I joined a rather large collective of women writers on Facebook that has continually provided resources, job leads, and opportunities to support each other’s work via live events and on the web. I’ve also formed relationships with two professional writers this year, one of whom has stepped up into a formal mentorship capacity, which I’m super grateful for. I’m looking forward to working with her in the New Year on the kind of projects I want to pursue in film and television!

2014 was a big year, full of ups and downs, but 2015 is going to be even BIGGER. I have huge plans, both personal and professional, that I’ll be telling you all about right here at The Teresa Jusino Experience! So stay tuned! And I wish all of you an amazing and fulfilling New Year jam-packed with love, fun, and good people by your side!

Teresa Homecoming 2014: So Lucky to Be So Loved

My favorite flowers in the middle of Park Avenue

My favorite flowers in the middle of Park Avenue

Despite the reason for my travels, my trip home to New York wasn’t all doom and gloom. In fact, much of it was fun, and exactly what I needed in the face of grief. Here are some of the highlights in no particular order:

Me and Adeline

Me and Adeline

** BABIES

Oh my God, SO MANY BABIES. It seems that I can’t go back to New York without there being new people to meet. 🙂 On this trip, I got to meet three new members of my friend tribe: Eli (my friend Robin’s new son), Emma (my friend Liz’s new daughter), and Adeline (my friend Jean’s new daughter). They are all such amazing babies. Eli is super-chill (except of course when he needs a nap), and Emma is SO enthusiastic about life I can’t even believe it! Adeline is still very much a newborn, so she’s not much of anything yet, except very, very cute (and tiny!). Children always manage to come into my life when I need them most, and these three were no exception. Eli and Emma kept me smiling at my father’s wake, and holding Adeline when I went to visit Jean in Croton on Hudson reminded me that even in the midst of horribleness, there’s always rebirth and hope and happiness (and so much cute!). Welcome to the world, kids. We’ll try not to wreck the world before you’re old enough to do anything cool.

Me and my sister

Me and my sister

** FAMILY

The Boy and I had an awesome afternoon/dinner at my brother’s house in Staten Island and he, once again, impressed my brother and sister-in-law. 🙂 I also realized that The Boy and my brother are very similar in many ways, which is likely why they’ve gotten along so well the couple of times they’ve met. We had an awesome conversation about religion, Neil deGrasse Tyson, the entertainment industry, and everything in between. I also got to see my lovable nephew, William, and my brilliant niece, Hannah, who is an absolute firecracker.

Oh, and the show Girls was filming a couple of blocks away, so I was thisclose to ditching everyone and going to hang out with Lena Dunham. But I chose hanging out with my family and partner instead. Because I AM A GOOD PERSON.

My accommodations at my sister's house. I rocked that Dora the Explorer quilt SO HARD. :)

My accommodations at my sister’s house. I rocked that Dora the Explorer quilt SO HARD. 🙂

After The Boy left (I stayed in NYC an extra week to decompress after the funeral), I had a fun overnight at my sister’s place, where I got to hang out with her, her husband, her visiting mother-in-law, and my awesome nieces. There was a tinge of sadness in the air – my brother-in-law’s father recently passed away, and I happened to be at my sister’s on his birthday. My sister’s mother-in-law bought a cake to commemorate the occasion. So there was a lot of thinking about dead fathers, and my sister’s house has felt a lot of loss lately.

But later in the evening, the nieces and I got together and watched the movie Frozen, which I’d never seen, and which they’d seen a million times. I really enjoyed it! But I just need to say…you can’t just TELL people that you took wedding vows. That’s why these things have witnesses. /grownup overanalyzing

I have to say, though, I wasn’t prepared to be emotionally affected by this song from the film. But as it’s partially about siblings needing to carry on after the death of their parents, can you blame me? Here’s Do You Want To Build a Snowman?

Thankfully, I know that my brother and sister will always wanna build a snowman with me. 🙂

Karaoke at The Watering Hole in NYC

Karaoke at The Watering Hole in NYC

** BIBLE STUDY (AND OTHER SURPRISES FROM MY OLDEST FRIENDS)

I’ve known Eileen and Joanna since I was 5 going on 6 and they were 8 and 4 respectively. They knew my dad almost as long as I did, so it made sense that the first thing I did when Joanna picked me up from the airport was go with her and Eileen to “our spot,” Uno’s. 🙂 We talked (and cried) about my dad, and then we talked about other stuff going on in our lives, the way we always do, because no matter how long we’re far apart, we always pick up right where we left off.

I stayed at Joanna’s new apartment, and that was a bit of a trip, as 1) it’s her first apartment away from her parents, and 2) it’s her first apartment with her new hubby, Chuck! They were both so gracious to let me stay without the slightest hesitation, making it so much easier for me to grieve without having to worry about schlepping my stuff all over town. One of the most interesting parts of staying with them was that I got to be included in what religion means to them, individually and as a couple. They have both been baptized as Seventh Day Adventists, and while that’s not my particular bag, I do appreciate the fact that they’re both so devoted. We said grace before meals, I helped Joanna at a soup kitchen at church one Sunday (which was a great experience, and I met some lovely people), and both The Boy and I were included in their weekly Bible study that Joanna hosts every Friday night. Eileen was there, as were a couple of their brothers and other friends I’d gotten to know growing up, with one or two new faces as well. I loved how laid back it was, and how much they all were invested in learning more, questioning more, and digging deeply into the text. It was interesting, too, when The Boy (who’s Jewish) was able to remind them of names and stories from the Old Testament. 🙂 They were very impressed with him! I, on the other hand, have the memory of a goldfish.

Luckily, I got to be in town for Joanna’s birthday, and her family had one of their traditional birthday BBQs on the first Sunday I was there. I was so glad, not only because I was able to be there to help Joanna celebrate, but it was also really nice to be around this huge, bustling family that has always been like family to me at this time in my life. It reminded me that I couldn’t ever be alone even if I wanted to! 🙂

Me, Vanessa, and Eileen at Martha's Country Bakery in Astoria

Me, Vanessa, and Eileen at Martha’s Country Bakery in Astoria

I got to see another old friend, too – my friend Vanessa, whom I’ve known “since the womb.” Over time, our contact has gotten more and more sporadic, but it’s always great to see her when I do! She, Eileen, and I ended up having dinner one night, and it was a wonderful night of conversation. They schooled me on the ins and outs of pregnancy (Vanessa has one child, Eileen has two), which was pretty much the most effective form of birth control ever. 🙂 We talked about relationships. And we also each talked about our plans for the future, and I ended up being hugely inspired!

Lastly, Joanna, Chuck, Eileen, their brother Carlos, Lindsay and I all went out to karaoke on my last night in town, and it was the perfect way to end my trip. We basically took karaoke over. The host loved us, and we had a blast singing everything from The Beatles to Pharrell. (Yes, I sang “Happy.” And “Roar,” which is super-hard. And Joanna, Eileen, and I teamed up to sing “Man in the Mirror.”)

These people are my foundation, and I love them all more than I can put into words.

Adam and me

Adam and me

** THE BEST WRITING PARTNER (AND FRIEND) EVER

It’s a crazy thing, but Adam has been right there for me for all of my major deaths. We were roommates when my mother died, so he was there for a lot of random crying in the living room. He came to the wake/burial/after-burial lunch, even though I’d only known him two years at that point, because he knew it was important to me. When my dog, Scarlett, died, he was there when it happened, and he helped me get it together enough to figure out what to do when I was a basketcase. In the end, so I wouldn’t have to put her out on the street, he gave me the money to cremate her when I couldn’t afford it, and even though he’s someone who’s not much of a “dog person,” he patted her head and called her a Good Dog before covering her with a blanket. And he was there for me again on this trip when I lost my dad, not only coming to the funeral and the burial, but organizing a dinner with many of my friends “to celebrate your father’s life and his greatest achievement, which as far as we’re concerned is YOU.” (that’s from the email he sent) I was so touched that he thought to do that, and was so grateful to see everyone at my favorite pizza place in Astoria, Alba’s.

Many members of my tribe at Alba's (l-r): Matt, Olga, Me, Liz B, Talitha, Holly, Caroline, Adam, Deb, Lori, Robin

Many members of my tribe at Alba’s (l-r): Matt, Olga, Me, Liz B, Talitha, Holly, Caroline, Adam, Deb, Lori, Robin

Our friendship has been all over the place over the years, but it’s never been closer than when we decided to start writing together last year. Suddenly, our dynamic made sense, and I know we’re going to create some amazing things from here on out! However, it was really great to spend some time with him just wandering around Central Park or grabbing milkshakes and talking about stuff other than writing. Because no matter what we end up doing professionally, he’ll always be the guy who helped me bury my dog.

Lindsay and Me

Lindsay and Me

** CHAMPAGNE BRUNCH

There’s a reason why New Yorkers freaked out when they thought that bottomless champagne brunches were going to be no more. Bottomless champagne brunches are the cornerstone of good stories and anything interesting happening on a Saturday morning. My brunch with Lindsay and The Boy was no exception. We went to a place called Aged in Forest Hills. The food was bleh, but the champagne just kept on coming – in pitchers, no less. (Hey, I never said it was classy champagne) Let’s just say that we got up to some champagne-fueled shenannigans and leave it at that. 🙂 I had to include it in my highlights, because it was an amazing time. It’s always a pleasure to hang out with my favorite Lindtball, and she and The Boy got along super-well. It was a fun way to end my time with The Boy in New York before Joanna, Chuck and I had to drive him to the airport later that day.

Brian and Me

Brian and Me

** DINNER IN HARLEM

It’s always touching when people reach out to you unexpectedly. When I put it out to my friends on Facebook that I wanted to see everyone, but was in no mood/condition to think about planning and scheduling, my friend Brian was one of the first people to text me, inviting me to dinner in his newly purchased apartment in Harlem. It was so great to hang out and chat with him, his place is super-cute, and he made me a wonderful dinner (complete with a great red wine he got through this wine club he’s part of). Also, I got an added bonus when he got my friend Robyn (whom I knew from New York, but who now lives in NC with her family and daughter) on Face Time for a group chat! It was so great to hang with them and relive our zanier days. 🙂

You know what wasn’t great about that day? THE FUCKING RAIN. It was torrential downpours all day that day, so I was soaked to the bone. Thankfully, Brian was able to put my sneakers in his dryer so that I wouldn’t have to leave with soaked shoes!

Holly and Olga at Alice's Tea Cup

Holly and Olga at Alice’s Tea Cup

** ALICE’S TEA CUP

I got to spend a great afternoon with my friends Olga and Holly (one of whom was off from work, the other who was playing hooky from work – I won’t say which did what!) in Manhattan, and we had a tea service at Alice’s Tea Cup, which is one of my favorite places in the world to get scones. It was a surprisingly girly-type lady day for the three of us – we’re none of us particularly girly – and a lot of fun. Tea was followed by wandering the streets of the UES aimlessly. It was the kind of lazy, aimless day with good friends that I desperately needed.

Robin and Eli

Robin and Eli

** WATCHING ROBIN BE A MOM / WATCHING ALEX BE A DAD

I’ve known Robin since I was 10, and I’ve seen her go through many ups and downs. We’ve seen each other go through a lot of sad shit, and a lot of stupid shit. 🙂 But the most amazing thing to watch during this trip home was Robin being a mom. We hung out several times over the course of my stay, one evening at her house on Long Island, and I was constantly amazed by how calm and centered she is now that she has Eli. There’s this zen quality about her now, a purposeful energy that I never noticed there before, and it was so cool to see. Watching her with her new son, I was so proud of her, and so glad to see her so at peace and happy. Eli is a lucky boy to have both her and her husband, Matt.

Meanwhile, The Boy and I went to visit my friend Alex, Liz’s husband, when Liz went to Houston on business and he was home alone with Emma for the first time. That was another revelation. Alex is such a loving, doting dad. He, like most of my tribe, is also an artist – a filmmaker, to be exact. Now, it’s difficult to be an artist these days, and life sometimes gets in the way. However, rather than using Emma as an excuse as to why he can’t make films, she’s inspired him to do the opposite. She’s lit a fire under him to create, because he doesn’t want to be the kind of parent who says coulda, woulda, shoulda. He wants his daughter to have the example of someone who did. I was proud of him, too, and he and Liz are also amazing parents.

All of this parent-watching totally confirmed my desire to have a kid. Or rather, made me want to be given a kid. Whether I’ll ever want to actually pop one out myself is still up in the air. 🙂

The Tribe in Croton: Liz M, Charlotte, Robin, Eli, Jean, Adeline, Katie, and me on the floor

The Tribe in Croton: Liz M, Charlotte, Robin, Eli, Jean, Adeline, Katie, and me on the floor

** AFTERNOON IN CROTON

I was so thrilled when my friends Katie and Liz organized a trip to go visit Jean in Croton (which is about an hour and a half outside of NYC). I had yet to see her new home (she lived in Forest Hills when I left New York), and I was excited to see her and her new baby, Adeline, as well as her daughter, Charlotte, who just turned seven. The house and the town are both beautiful, and also very Jean. She, Liz, Katie and I took Adeline out for a stroll, and we stopped for coffee at The Black Cow, then for ice cream at The Blue Pig (apparently, they love their colored animals in Croton). We marveled at the fact that, despite being in our mid-thirties and despite three-fourths of us being mothers, we were still talking about hugely inappropriate things loudly in the middle of a coffee shop. 🙂 When we returned to the house, Jean’s husband, Kevin, and Charlotte were back after having gone out, and I spent a good portion of the afternoon hanging out with Char, who is such a sweetheart. She showed me her “science lab” in the backyard, and when Liz presented her with a Big Sister sash in honor of her new sister, she decided to make a speech for all of us about how glad she is that her mommy had Adeline. 🙂 Too cute. Robin, Matt, and Eli joined us later, and it was so great to have all of us together in one spot after so long away. Not just me, because I live on the West Coast, but now Jean lives far from the rest of them, and everyone’s lives get so busy. These are also ladies with whom, no matter how far I go or how long we’re apart, I can always pick up where we left off as if nothing happened.

However, the biggest thing I realized when I was away in New York was that I actually don’t like being without The Boy for very long. 🙂 I was glad I took the extra week for my own grieving process, but I began to really miss The Boy about halfway through it, and was thrilled when I got back to LAX and he pulled up in his car to take me home.

Oh, and did I mention I ended up flying home in first class on my Delta flight when on standby? Cause I did. And it was awesome. 🙂  And exactly what I needed.  (BIG thanks to my friend Heather, and her mom, Lauren – who works at Delta – for getting me set up with a flight. I wouldn’t have been able to say goodbye to my dad without them)

I am so lucky to be so loved.

Grief is Weird

I wrote the following on 4/30/14 in my journal, but wanted to share it with all of you. Because grief is weird, and I wanted to reach out to those of you who’ve ever lost someone you loved and know exactly how contradictory, crazy, tumultuous, lonely, and weird grief can be. 

__________________________________________________________________

Me and my ever-growing tribe when I needed them most. New York, 2014.

Me and my ever-growing tribe when I needed them most. Croton on Hudson, 2014.

Never is the question “How are you?” more loaded than when you’re mourning the loss of someone you love. And it seems impossible to answer it the way you’re supposed to – gracefully, with just the right amount of solemnity and just the right amount of good humor to allow the person asking to join you in your grief without drowning them in it.

It goes something like this:

They come at you, face full of pity, telling you how sorry they are, then asking the dreaded question. How are you? The thing is, you were fine before they asked that. You’d gotten all your crying out earlier, and you’d managed to pull yourself together, and you were looking forward to seeing your friends precisely because you didn’t want to think about things like aging parents, or grieving, or nursing homes. You wanted to be normal. And then they ask you how you are, and it makes you feel guilty – because if it isn’t apparent, if they have to ask, then clearly you aren’t grieving hard enough. And what does that mean? Why aren’t you More Sad? And so you feel the need to explain yourself, like “Oh, I’m OK now, but I was devastated before,” or “It’s all still really surreal right now.” And those aren’t lies exactly, but they aren’t the whole truth either. Because sometimes you actually are OK, and you want to reserve the right to be OK, and you start to resent people who bring their sadness to you, because they want their turn to share in your grief, and you get a little pissed off and think “It’s not my fault you weren’t there with me when I was crying to myself at three A.M. Stop trying to out-sad me!”

But, of course, anger is a part of the grieving process – and you remember all the times when your friends have lost loved ones, and you didn’t know what to say, and you become immensely grateful that they’re even putting up with you and your emotional ping-pong, because they get you, and they trust in your love, and they know that this is what you need to do to process the fact that your parents are dead. They follow your lead, because they’re you’re friends – they’re your family – and every death you share reminds both you and them how important you are to each other.

Then there are the people who don’t know. The people who missed the announcement on Facebook, or who aren’t close enough to you to have been told. The employers or acquaintances who never knew your dead loved one. They ask the question innocuously. How are you? And they’re expecting the usual “Fine,” or news of your writing career, or your love life, and it’s then when you want to scream, HOW AM I? ARE YOU KIDDING? THE ONLY FATHER I’LL EVER HAVE IS DEAD, AND I’VE ALREADY LOST MY MOTHER, AND ASIDE FROM TECHNICALLY BEING AN ORPHAN NOW, BOTH MY SIBLINGS HAVE FAMILIES OF THEIR OWN AND I DON’T, SO I FEEL LIKE MY BRANCH OF THE FAMILY TREE IS COMPLETELY SEVERED AND FLOATING ADRIFT IN SPACE! AND DESPITE HAVING GREAT SIBLINGS, WONDERFUL FRIENDS, AND A PARTNER WHO LOVES ME, I STILL FEEL FUCKING LONELY BECAUSE I DON’T HAVE A “HOME” TO GO TO AT CHRISTMAS! THAT’S HOW I AM!

But you don’t say that, because that would be hugely unfair to someone who had no idea what was going on with you. So you tell them – my father died – and brace yourself for having to relive the sorrow all over again with a new person as they express their condolences days, weeks, months after the fact.

Someone who hasn’t seen me in a while asked me “How’s your mother?” when I was in New York last week. And I gulped – how could she not know? – and said “She died in 2006.” And I got to relive my grief again, on top of the new grief for my dad. Awkward.

Anyway, what I try to remember is that there’s no correct way to grieve, and no one knows what to say. There’s nothing to say. You both want to be cheered up and want to wallow in sadness. You want to remember, and you want to forget. You remember smiles, the feeling of hands on your face, laughs, fights perfectly, even as you struggle to remember exactly what your dead loved one looks like. And photographs start to feel like a lie, because they capture faces, they may even capture moments, but they don’t capture feelings, or what the people in them meant to you, and the longer you look at photos, the more your dead loved ones start to feel like characters in a story you heard once, and it seems insane to you that the story is yours, and that it’s allowed to go on without them.

At 34 years old, no human experience feels more contradictory to me than grief. But amid all the conflicting feelings there has been one constant. Love. My family pulling together and being there for each other. My friends being there for me. The Boy silently standing beside me with hugs at the ready. The sharing of happy (and hilarious) memories of my dad. Cuddles with my friends’ new babies that give me hope. So much love that it breaks my heart and mends it all at once.

My Dad

Mom, Dad, and Baby Me

Me, Mom, and Dad.

 As written and spoken at my father’s wake on 4/22/14.

My father was brave.

One of my dad’s favorite sayings was “Shoot for the moon – even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars.” This is how he lived his life, and how he taught me to live mine. My dad was someone who always pushed himself to try new things, to learn new things, to be better. Sometimes, it didn’t turn out so well. There were times when he probably could have planned better, or thought things through more – but when other people would’ve given up, or worse, not tried at all for fear of what might happen, my father tried, and in doing so, he did things that many people only dream about. He’s started businesses, published a book, traveled the world, and written two full-length plays. He did these things no matter what anyone might say about him.

My father was passionate.

He also liked to argue. A lot. He’d argue with or debate anyone about anything. Growing up, this used to annoy me, and I thought it was a sign that he was “being mean.” But as I got older, I realized that my dad’s arguing was a sign of how deeply he cared about things. About me, about our family, or about the world around him. As much as he wanted to be better himself, he also challenged others to do the same, and if you disagreed with him, you’d have better been able to plead your case. He knew that ideas worth having are worth fighting for, and there were very few things that he didn’t attack with that level of determination. Sometimes, he didn’t know when to stop and give up, the way everyone must from time to time. But one of his biggest flaws was also one of his greatest strengths. He never. Gave. Up.

My father was intelligent.

One of the things he fought with me about the most early on…was bedtime. And the thing he’d say to get me to go to bed on a schoolnight? “How do you expect to be a nuclear physicist if you don’t go to bed?” Never mind that I hated math, and and rolled my eyes at his insistence that my career involve it so much. He also always said that going to college wasn’t about trying to get a job – it’s about getting an education for its own sake. Learning for the sake of learning – knowledge being its own reward – was something that mattered very much to my dad. Something that mattered so much that he attended college, then got his Masters Degree, when he was in his late forties, well after many people would’ve seen it as a pointless endeavor. Because what Dad would’ve seen as pointless is living in a world you know nothing about, and with which you hesitate to engage.

And so, my dad spoke three languages (and knew several phrases in countless more). He read the New York Times every day and was able to speak intelligently about any topic from any section found there – politics, the arts, science, travel – he always had an opinion, and he could always back it up. My dad read voraciously, and forgot more about geography than I’ve ever learned. He knew history and how to connect it to our world today. It broke my heart when his memory started going, because my dad prided himself on his mental ability. Knowledge was his joy, and I hated to see it slowly stripped from him. The writing about which he was so passionate came less and less, and soon his talk about the very-real travels he’s taken became something his caretakers at the nursing home would humor him about until I corrected them.

“No – these are places he’s actually been and cultures he actually knows about. These are memories, not delusions. Do you know how smart this man is?”

So, if there’s a silver lining in all this, it’s that he’s now no longer hindered by the limitations of his body. He’s in a place now where he can see everything and know everything, and the possibilities for exploration and enlightenment are endless.

My father was loving.

He also had a huge heart and loved his family and friends deeply. He would always brag about his children to anyone who’d listen. He loved his wife – always being there to take care of her as best he could through good times and bad. When I was little, it would annoy me how much he wanted to hug me, or would call me over to kiss him before I went anywhere. Later, he told me that he’d wanted to make sure to be as affectionate with his children as possible, because – growing up in the 40s and 50s, when families weren’t as demonstrative about love – he wanted to make sure we knew we were loved. He was the kind of man who, rather than repeat patterns he saw in his family, tried to break them. He always talked about how much he loved his brother and sisters and all their children. He bragged about his amazing grandchildren. He made and kept friends everywhere he went, because there didn’t exist a person he didn’t want to get to know. Maybe this was the artist in him, but he was fascinated by people. Those phrases in countless languages that he knew? He’d say “hello” and “have a nice day” in Russian to the Russian waitress at the diner. He’d say “How are you?” to the Korean man behind the deli counter. Once, I even saw him say something to a guy in Swahili. And when I’d get embarrassed watching him do that, he’d say, “Nothing brightens someone’s day like being able to say something to them in their native language.”

But as fascinated as he was by new people, and as much as he loved his amazing and loyal friends, his family always came first. I remember him taking me to visit his mother, my grandmother – who was in a nursing home suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease – just about every week. To be honest, I hated going. I was young, and I got bored, and I didn’t see the point if Grandma couldn’t even remember us. But my dad always said that we had to out of respect, because we loved her. It didn’t matter that it was difficult, or that I was bored, or that he didn’t want to see his mother that way. This is what you do for the people you love. That’s what my dad taught me, and that’s what my brother and sister and I tried to do when the same fate befell him. We went to visit him often – to be there with him even though he started not to know us, even though it was difficult, even though we were bored, even though we didn’t want to see our father that way. Because that’s what you do for the people you love. He taught us that.

Dad, Me, and Mom

Dad, Me, and Mom

I’m definitely my father’s daughter. I’m late a lot, like he was, and I’m super-stubborn when arguing a point. But I also know that many of my best qualities, of which I’m the most proud, I got from him, and I’m so grateful and so proud that he was my dad. He wasn’t perfect – no one is – but he was the best father I could’ve asked for. He understood me in a way that very few people do, and I’m so, so sorry he’s gone.

But as Peter Pan said, “To die would be an awfully big adventure,” and so there’s a part of me that sees this as an exciting send-off on the greatest trip of his life. Because if anyone would see the adventure in all this, it’d be him.

RIP Ramon Jusino Jr. – September 7, 1935-April 19, 2014

My Dad Was a Writer

So, you know that I’m a writer. What you might not know is that my father was also a writer. 🙂 Apples and trees or somesuch. Anyway, back when he was in the Air Force in the late 1950s, he wrote and published a slim volume of poetry called Pillars of My Strength, used copies of which are available on Amazon as my brother recently discovered!

I bought one that is apparently “inscribed and signed by the author.” 🙂

You see, we had one family copy, but in all of our moves, it got lost. So it’ll be nice to have a copy of in the family again. Feel free to snatch up the other available copies, though! My dad’s actually a really good poet. This is his early stuff from his 20s, so it’s all sorts of “trying too hard,” but still, good. And he only got better as he got older, as it should be. Sadly, he’s in no shape to write anymore, but I’ve invited him to read at readings I’ve put together, and he wrote plays and poems well into his late 60s…he had a lot of talent, and the world should know that.

I’m thinking about doing a video series where I do readings of his poems once I get the book, so stay tuned for that! 🙂 Sometimes I think I might produce one of his plays sometime, just to get it out into the world. We’ll see about that, too…

I guess what I’m trying to say is: I’m proud of my father. He was a really good writer, and I’m sorry he was never able to pursue it the way he wanted to. I guess, in this family, that’ll be my job. 🙂

A newspaper clipping from a local paper in Victorville, CA announcing the publication of Pillars of My Strength in 1959. My dad was 24.

A newspaper clipping from a local paper in Victorville, CA announcing the publication of Pillars of My Strength in 1959. My dad was 24. They spelled his name wrong, but whatevs. 🙂

THROWBACK THURSDAY: Eff You, Space Mountain!

I mock Space Mountain. 2004.

I mock Space Mountain. 2004.

First of all, yes. There was a brief point in my life where I both dyed my hair blonde (and it turned orange three days later) and dyed my hair “Run Lola, Run Red” (that took about two weeks to turn orange). This photo was taken during one of those red-to-orange transitions.

But more important than my hair is the location of this photo. Space Mountain at Disneyworld. But before I tell you why this photo matters so much, we have to go back in time…

I first visited Disneyworld when I was eight years old, and most of it was a phenomenal time.

Except for Space Mountain. Space Mountain was The Devil.

My mom, in addition to being diabetic, also had heart issues, and so as we stood on line for Space Mountain we got increasingly worried by the signs we kept passing saying things like If you have heart problems, you shouldn’t ride this ride! My mom insisted it would be fine, and my dad was totally gung-ho. I was never a roller-coaster person, so eight-year-old me was a little nervous, but even I wanted to ride the ride and find out what it was like.

So we got in the car…keep in mind that this was 1988, and Disneyworld still had the cars with seatbelts, not lap bars (which were installed in 1989). Also, two people could fit across in the seatbelt cars, so my dad and I sat in the back seat with a big seatbelt across both our laps, and my poor mom sat up front. Since I was a little scared, my dad sat me on his lap, which you CAN DO ON A RIDE WHERE TWO PEOPLE CAN SIT IN ONE SEAT WITH ONLY ONE BIG SEATBELT! WHAT THE HECK WERE ALL THE ADULTS IN MY LIFE AND THE ADULTS RUNNING DISNEYWORLD THINKING?!

Ahem.

The ride started.

Whizzing and jostling, whizzing and jostling. I saw my mother’s white knuckles on either side of her as she clutched the sides of the car for dear life. That was while I could see, before I started slipping off my father’s lap and out from under the seatbelt to the point that he was holding onto me in a chokehold, keeping me in the speeding roller coaster by my head. I remember my left leg hanging out the side of the car and thumping on the outside of it as we turned this way and that. It was the most miserable experience of my little life. When the ride was over, I was in tears, my mother was green, and my father had this sheepish look on his face like he knew the whole thing had been a bad fucking idea. In that moment, I hated Disneyworld, and I hated roller coasters, and all the money in the world wouldn’t have gotten me to go on Space Mountain ever again.

Until 2004.

A group of friends and I went to Orlando when I was 25 (wow – almost 10 years ago. Yowza.) and my friend Katie’s parents allowed us the use of their time share. As it turns out, Katie had a similar Space Mountain experience when she was a kid, so in the interest of avenging our childhood selves, we decided that we would indeed ride our old nemesis, Space Mountain. And you know what? It wasn’t that bad!

Don’t get me wrong, I screamed my head off. But it was more psychological than because I faced any actual danger. The lap bars really squish you in there nice and tight – and let’s face it, my ass had gotten so big by 25 that there was no way I would come dislodged from that intergalactic luge.

So, this photo was taken after I faced down my old foe, secure in the knowledge that I could beat it, and mocking its ridiculous power over me for so long. Eff you, Space Mountain. You are not the boss of me.

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