Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The Struggling Optimist

Stitch and Frank "helping" me, as I type away, fighting for justice.
(you may notice the laundry piling up behind me. Yeah.)

Although I am always seeking hope and looking for the bright side in my writing,  I wouldn’t exactly describe myself as an optimist for I truly have my cynical side. I’ve seen the manipulation and politics behind the justice system, and know from personal experience that there are people in the world who will try to hurt you for their own gain. We’ve all watched trials where murderers walked away scot-free, and innocent people paid for it. And then of course, there was our situation, losing our slam-dunk “un-losable” trial.

But in spite of my cynicism, here’s something that brought great hope to my heart this morning: People from all over the world are signing our petition to Save Stitch. We have signatures from the U.K., Australia, France, Fiji. And the comments! My eyes welled up with tears reading them.  It’s astounding to me the goodness that is out there, and it only takes one rotten action by one person behaving badly to bring that goodness about.

This isn’t the first time we’ve experienced compassion in action. Sixteen years ago when our house burned down and we lost everything, we were lifted back on our feet by friends, family, and even strangers. Churches and synagogues held donation drives for us. It was right before Christmas, and the staff of a local hospital even hired a Santa to deliver new toys to my children. The true beauty that we all are capable of rises to the surface when disaster strikes, and it appears to me that the good-hearted folks far outweigh the bad. (Or am I just being optimistic?)

A friend posed that age-old question to me the other day, Why do bad things happen to good people? Without really thinking, I answered, Because good people are the ones who will stand up and fight.

If you think about it, none of us were born activists. It evolved from some painful experience that was so intolerable we had to do something about it.

Through this Stitch trial, I have become connected to the most amazing people in the animal rescue world. Selfless, devoted people who give of themselves, every day. I can only imagine the stories each of them has- the experiences that led them there.

It makes me wonder, is this why bad things happen to good people (and good dogs)? Is it so we can rise to the very best in us? Would we not grow and stretch and find courage otherwise?


(for more info on our case:

Friday, July 15, 2011

I'm Not Qualified for Anything, But I Do It Anyway.

Amy Ferris and I had this  conversation the other day and decided we'd blog about it together. Mine is below, and Amy's is linked at the bottom.

Every time I start to panic about money, and start looking for “real jobs”, I am daunted by how unqualified I am - for everything.  I truly am. I’ve joined every networking and job search site. I spend hours going through the job opportunities but don’t qualify for a single one.

You see, back when I was a youngster in college, I believed I wasn’t as good as the other bright young kids. I was damaged, flawed, hiding a terrible secret about who I really was -the daughter of a convict. I let that feeling overtake me, until the anxiety attacks caused me to drop out of college. So I never got a degree. And these days, you can’t get any kind of decent paying job without one. I was a college dropout with no experience, other than waiting tables. I ventured out into the world with nothing but my heart’s desires to lead me.

I had no business experience, but at 20 I started a craft business, selling at fairs and local shops.

I had no design degree and couldn’t sew,  yet at 27, I started a children’s clothing business. When I couldn’t find fashions I liked for my two kids, I designed my own. I didn’t know anything about the clothing business, but I asked. I learned. I read. And within a few years my fashions were in Fred Segal and Macy’s and in the window of Barney’s New York.

I don’t have an MBA or any music education. I can’t even read music. But at 32, when I couldn’t find anyone to put my music out into the world, I started my own record label. I ran a small ad in the local paper stating that I was doing business (DBA), and got a business license. I found a manufacturer who did small runs at a decent price. I had a friend who wanted  an “executive producer” credit, so he paid the $3000 to manufacture the Cds. I had no right to, but I put out two albums on my own record label, and got them into Tower records and selling worldwide at

I’m not a licensed teacher, have no degrees in social work. But at 37, I wanted to use my music to help kids, so I started a nonprofit, teaching music and art to teens in foster care. I knew nothing about nonprofits, how to set them up, how to run them. I found a free seminar put on by L.A. County and they taught me everything I needed to know.  I called the head of music therapy at Cal State University of Northridge, set up a meeting, pitched my idea and we shook hands on a deal. He put his faith in me based on not my experience, but my intent, my sincerity and my true desire to help. Later that year, we put on a fundraiser. I had never done a fundraiser. I had no marketing degree or experience in that arena. I bought books. I called people who knew how to do this. I took them out to lunch and asked questions. What I’ve found is that, generally speaking, people are happy to share their knowledge. We got Michael Mc Donald, Christopher Cross, Dave Koz, Karla Bonoff and Stephen Bishop to perform at CSUN, for free! We raised enough money to provide a full year of music therapy to autistic children.
All from a girl with no qualifications.

I don’t have a BA in English or MFA in creative writing. I just write. Every day. Ten years ago, I found the only writing group in town- a Senior Citizen’s community writing class. I went every week for two years, just me and all my adopted grandparents. Eventually, I wrote a book, and started a blog, and sold some essays.  And now Amy Ferris and I have sold an anthology.

Would all this have been easier with a college education? Hell yes. But just because something isn’t easy, doesn’t mean it isn’t possible.

I’m not qualified for anything, but I do it anyway.  And yet lately, I feel depressed and worthless because I don’t get callbacks from the jobs I’ve applied for, because according to them - I’m not qualified. Six months with no response. I’ve let it make me feel worthless, even though, when I think of my past accomplishments, I know rationally that’s not true.  But when life knocks you down, it’s easy to forget what you’re capable of.

I think it’s important for all of us to keep a mental running list of the things we HAVE done, the things we never believed we could accomplish: Raising a kid, keeping a marriage together, surviving disasters, landing jobs, volunteering, working, refurbishing a home, learning a skill… I mean, think back to when you were young. Did you ever in a million years think you’d _______(fill in the blank). We all surprise ourselves by doing things we  never knew we were  capable of. And yet society, and even well meaning friends and family, will try to dissuade your from following your dreams. I say f*ck that. Do what you want to do. If you’re not qualified, and have no money, and no one supports you, do it anyway!

If we limit ourselves by what society wants us to believe – that there is only one way to success, that we don’t have the qualifications it takes, that our dreams are impossible -  then we  miss out.  As far as I know, this is the only life we have, and all those “one day…” and “someday…” dreams? If you’ve hit middle age like me, Someday is Today. Right now. So do what you have always wanted to do, and don’t let anyone tell you you’re not “qualified”. 

You are here,  you’re alive,  you have dreams- that qualifies you.
Step into your full power. I dare you.
(are you listening, self?)

Please share with me today…I’d love to hear about something you’ve done in your life, that you never imagined you could. 

For Amy Ferris' brilliant companion blog "When I Grow Up", click here:

Thursday, July 14, 2011

When It Rains, It Pours.

Just as I hit the submit button on my "gratitude blog" yesterday, a pipe burst in the ceiling of Evan's room, black stinking liquid gushing through his ceiling fan and the air vents in the walls, then traveling through the air vents to my art studio.

If there is such a thing as "The Secret",  I suppose I'm not very good at it.

This is what was dripping on us from the ceiling. I hopefully asked Troy, "Am I being too Pollyanna to think we might have struck oil and are going to be millionaires?" (Oh but oil doesn't smell like this) Demolition crews are on the way to rip out the ceilings in Evan's room and my art studio. Carpets are already gone.

Troy and I were feeling very, very beat down yesterday. Depressed. And it happened to be our son Taylor's 21st birthday. (Sorry for the crappy birthday, Tay) But you know...we keep reminding each other, we have love, and we have our health. All the crap that's happened to us is just a huge hassle.  My friend Anita lies in a hospital bed fighting for her life. Now that's a problem.

So we keep trudging...through the muck. Literally.

I have no explanation except that life is just a freekin' rollercoaster ride. What can we do but make the best of it? Hands in the air everybody...Here we gooooooo....

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Evolution of a Blog

Thank you for the gift you have given me.

When I started this blog a year and a half ago, I was writing about the trials and tribulations of the writer’s life - the agent rejections, the self-doubts, the pressing urge to write anyway. Never in a million years did I think this blog would become the Dexter SAGA. Never did I imagine I would be on the frontlines of animal activism. But, like my friend Monica Holloway said to me, sometimes life taps you for a cause. You may have never seen it coming but one day there you are, rising up to a fight you didn’t know was in you. Monica is now one of the main spokespersons for Autism awareness. It certainly wasn’t what she had dreamed of as a little girl, but life, as they say, is what happens when you’re busy making other plans.

So here I am.

For anyone who is new to this blog, suffice it to say the past two years have been a whirlwind of drama (and yet blessings sandwiched in there, somehow).

Just a few weeks ago, for instance, I had an amazing miracle of a day: I was Monica’s guest at a private luncheon for Michelle Obama. I was on cloud nine. We laughed and ate and drank wine and were transfixed and inspired by Michelle. Then, as soon as I got home, still walking on air, I got an email from my attorney that our request to keep our dog Stitch during the appeal process had been denied, and now we had to appear in court to beg again. Right after that I got a phone call that the job I had just clinched (which was going to pay for my attorney) had fallen through.  For some reason, that’s how most of my days have been for the past two years. I can’t even bask in a happy moment for a full 24 hours before the next storm hits.

My life hasn’t always been this way. Thank God I’m an obsessive journaler. I can look back at the years 2005-2009 and see what peaceful, happy years they were. But 2010 and 2011…not so much. Luckily (or actually NOT luckily) this has happened to us before. 1995 and 1996 were hellish years. Our house burned down with both our businesses in it, so we were homeless, jobless, hopeless. But we made it through those times, and that is how I know we will make it through these. I learned then that when you are walking through the dark valley of your life, there is no other way but through. You may look for a way to catapult yourself over it, to fly over it, to avoid it by numbing yourself with substances or addictions…but it doesn’t work. You just have to keep trudging through the muck. So that is what we’re doing. And that’s what this blog is for me…a place to trudge through, to sort it all out in my head. If I was walking through life with all this trapped inside me, my brain would be like a hornet’s nest, full of confusing angry thoughts. But instead, you’ve given me a space to put it all out there and connect to others who “get it”.

So for that I want to thank you today. Thanks for sticking with my blog through it’s evolution, and all it’s ups and downs. Thank you for caring, for reading, for commenting to let me know I’m not the only one toughing it out right now. You have been my safety net over troubled waters, and I hope I return the favor.

You've given me a true gift. You guys rock.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Reclaiming My Yard, Reclaiming My Life

On Tuesday, I sat with my fingers poised above the keyboard for hours, but nothing came out. I was stuck. And that’s because something in my life was stuck. I looked out the window at the barren sad landscape that used to be my yard, a place Evan played and we had birthday parties and BBQs, but no more. You see, last Summer was the pinnacle of one of the worst years of our lives. 2010 - the year of the lawsuit, attacking pitbulls, restraining orders, heart-breaking betrayals, the Septic explosion (and the flies and maggots that accompanied that), our dog Brandy getting cancer (and dying), the financial catastrophes, and the horrible and shocking loss of our good friend Greg. It was Summergeddon.

Before 2010, our yard had a cute patio with decorative brickwork, and scalloped garden areas. After the septic disaster, they ripped out the entire yard to find the problem. $10,000 later we were able to flush our toilets. That’s it. And this is what we were left with.
The result of Summergeddon. We used to have jacuzzi parties here.

This used to be a garden, now hard barren earth.
We never were able to put our yard back together, as our life since dealt us one financial blow after the next, and our focus was on simply keeping our heads above water. But every time we looked at that yard, it was a sad reminder of all the pain and loss of last year.

We were sick of it, and sick of waiting until we had the money to do something about it. So I closed my laptop, and off I went with my hoe and shovel. Troy and I spent this entire week in 100 degree weather, digging trenches, dragging enormous rocks around, leveling dirt, reclaiming our yard. It’s amazing what you can do with some determination and a few bucks.

You can drag rocks off the mountain and create a zen garden with plants you already have and a $6 bag of pea gravel.

You can create a play area with two $5 bags of mulch and a couple 2x4 boards.

Play area surrounded by zen garden area and what will eventually be a flagstone pathway.

You can make your Jacuzzi look brand new with a $10 can of redwood stain and a lot of elbow grease.

Jacuzzi before
Jacuzzi after the $10 can of stain.
Reclaiming our yard meant reclaiming our life. I’m wiping 2010 off the soles of my shoes, and moving on. New life has been planted in my yard. And hopefully when I sit down to write next week, something new and fresh will take root.

Sometimes a project seems so daunting,  I think it's impossible. It's like looking at a mountain, thinking I have to tackle the whole thing at once. But I learned in therapy that you climb a mountain by putting one foot in front of the other,  one step at a time. Sometimes taking a baby step is the most powerful thing you can do, but if you keep moving you'll get there. So I just keep moving. 

Today I’m off to help a friend reclaim her life, taking my proverbial hoe and shovel with me. Together, we're going to tackle a mountain, one step at a time.

Friday, July 1, 2011

How I Got Published (in a Totally Random Way)

When I got the phone call that Seal Press had bought our anthology Dancing at The Shame Prom, I was cautiously optimistic. When I got the email, I smiled…a little. When my agent sent the contract for review, I carefully read it over and asked the pertinent questions. And when my writing partner Amy called and said, in so many words, WHY AREN’T YOU OVER THE MOON? THIS IS GREAT NEWS! I, the girl who’s always waiting for the other shoe to drop said, “I’ll believe it when I have the signed contract in my hand.”

So…here it is. The signed contract. In my hand. And after I exhaled, I started to smile a little, then a lot, and finally decided to let myself celebrate this. My husband and I toasted, and I took this picture, wanting to remember the importance of the moment.

I lied in bed last night reflecting on the journey that led me here, and I realized that nothing happened as I had planned. It didn’t go the way the “How To” books said it would, nor the way I plotted it out in my head, and maybe that’s why I didn’t quite trust it. I wasn’t in control!

I had spent a grueling six years writing and rewriting my memoir Only Good Things, never intending to publish it. I wrote it because it was in me, and I was compelled to get it out. And then, for my birthday in 2009, I took an intensive writing workshop at the home of a writing hero, Joyce Maynard. A few weeks later she asked if she could share my work. I assumed she meant with future classes, and said of course.

Months later, I got an email from a literary agent in New York, saying she had read my work and wanted to read more. I ran around the house jumping and shouting, out of my mind with excitement. Never in a million years did I think anyone would be interested in reading what I wrote. It was just therapy for me. But now it looked as though my life was on the verge of a big change.

I took that as a cue: time for me to take the helm and chart out my course. I worked my butt off, writing every second my son was in preschool, never answering the phone, letting the dust bunnies take over the house. Back and forth the manuscript went for six months, and in the interim, I read all the "How To" books and queried a few other agents as well. But this agent, she was my DREAM agent. She was the one I had to have. She was part of my “plan”.

And then the plan….crashed.

I started this blog two years ago because of the crushing (but kind) rejection I finally got from that dream agent. (that blog is here: She liked the writing, the story, but she said that ultimately, it was just too tough in today’s market to sell a memoir without a “platform” (think Snooki, Bristol Palin…) and she couldn’t take that risk.
I was overwhelmed with feelings of failure and had nowhere to go with them. So I blogged for the first time, and sent it out into cyberspace. And this amazing woman who I had just connected with on She Writes, commented on my blog. This is what she said:

HOLLYE: never ever ever give up! i am actual proof of two agents saying no to my book, one to my face, and that was hard ... and then i got a fabulous agent, and then i got an amazing publisher ... and now my memoir is out in the world and it's so frickin' liberating and scary and writing memoirs is scary scary DON'T GIVE UP. WRITE. be brilliant. be bold. fuck 'em. something amazing will happen. love, Amy Ferris

I was wowed by this new friend who barely knew me, being so supportive, and not competitive. And so I bought her book Marrying George Clooney, which I devoured. Her writing was so honest and accessible, reading it felt like having a chat with your best friend. I added Amy on facebook, and discovered that we had the same birthday. Long story short, Amy Ferris and I became the best of friends after that. We would have long talks about life, and love and disappointments and courage. We started to write a few essays and blogs together, never competing, always championing one another. And one thing we agreed on – as writers we were going to be bold, be brave, and always tell the absolute truth. We challenged each other to write truthful essays about things we had tried to hide in the past. We’d agree to put a scary, revealing blog out on the same day….and WOW- the responses we’d get were overwhelming. Mostly private messages, people would reveal their innermost secrets to us, and it became clear that everyone was carrying some degree of hidden shame, and thought they were the only one. Now we had a mission. It wasn’t about making money or getting published. We had to keep writing in this vein to let others see they weren’t alone. And as we wrote these revealing pieces, other outlets started picking up our blogs. Before you knew it I had essays published and online webzines asking me to write for them. (And all I had ever wanted to do was to blog about my rejection!)

I diligently edited and reworked my memoir all year long. Meanwhile the phone conversations and blogs with Amy continued until we realized, after seeing one public persona after the next fall on his sword with shame, this was not just a year-long phone conversation that two women were having. This was a conversation that the whole world needed to be having. It needed to be a book. We knew amazing writers who could write brilliantly on this subject. And so, together Amy and I wrote a proposal, and the agent loved it, and the first publisher we went to – the one we really wanted- bought it! (and by the way, everyone told us it was impossible to sell an anthology in this market.)

Suddenly the memoir I had just spent eight years obsessing over was not the centerpiece of my life. The “plan” I made was scrapped, and in its place, something else popped up and tapped me on the shoulder. A calling, I guess you could say.

So what is the moral of my publishing story? When I was fixated on the ONE way my writing career was supposed to go, I almost missed something that was right in front of me, or in our case, something that was always inside of us. Amy said in that first blog comment “Be bold, be brave, something amazing will happen.” And something amazing did happen. I found an amazing friend, we’re writing an amazing book, we’re surrounded by amazing writers, and I have a fucking contract in my hand!

Now that is AMAZING!

I haven’t abandoned my memoir. I still believe it will find it’s way into the world, but I also believe the timing wasn’t right, and I couldn’t push it no matter how I tried. It was a hard lesson in “Surrender 101” for me. I now understand that I can’t push a flower to bloom, and likewise, my life path unfolds at it’s own pace, in it’s own unique way. I learned to write only what was true for me, no matter what the industry, or the books, or “they” said. I learned to stay true to myself, to keep writing in the face of rejection, and to do what felt right instinctually. I still don’t have a “platform”. Let’s face it, I’m never gonna be Snooki…and that’s a good thing.