I have written twelve novels. This is the space where I share my stories with the world. There is so much to say in this life, and so little time...

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

City Kids


In a transient city like San Francisco, goodbyes are frequent.

This isn't suburbia, where people are locked into 30-year-mortgages. No, this is arguably the most dynamic urban hub in America. For every hopeful young adult who thrives in the city, there are hundreds who fail. And give up. And eventually leave.

My current novel, "Cocoa or Nothing," addresses this issue.

During Callie Schneider's five-year stint in SF, she watched countless friends come and go. Her own presence in the city seemed immutable, however...until certain circumstances forced her to relocate to the East Coast.

What followed was a flood of emotion she couldn't stop, slow, or ignore. No matter how badly she wanted to do so.

The excerpt below captures Callie in one of her goodbyes. It's more sentimental than Callie would like, and far more difficult as well.

Love,
Lisa





My stomach rumbles. A small Asian waitress floats gracefully between the tables, pouring water and sliding through nearly-invisible gaps between seats. She looks like she weighs about eighty pounds. Dripping wet.

                “I’m starving,” Giovanna groans.

                “Ditto,” I agree. When I shift my weight, I accidentally knock over my shopping bag. I reach down to pick up the secondhand clothing that’s spilled out of the bag. Giovanna and I managed to find the craziest, most obscene tourist attire; my party outfit is officially complete. After only thirty minutes’ worth of rummaging through thrift store shelves.

                We order quickly, without even looking at the menu. Giovanna reaches across the table and grabs my hand. She’s always been the sentimental kind, but this time her grip feels different.

                “Ok I have to say something. We’ve had the best afternoon, and I can’t hold it in anymore. I hate this, Cal. I absolutely hate it,” she tells me, her voice soft.

                “Me too, Giovanna,” I say. I know exactly what she’s referring to.

                “Your apartment rocks. Seriously. I can’t wait to move in…but, to be honest, I would rather you stay. Please just stay,” she whispers.

                The lights overhead grow dim, as though on a timer. Behind us, someone opens the door, jingling a bell at the top of the doorframe. Even amid all the background noise and chatter in this clustered space, the bell echoes loudly.

                “I’m scared,” I finally admit. The entire restaurant grows fuzzy, until all I see is Giovanna’s wide eyes. They latch onto mine, steady and unwavering. She doesn’t even blink.

                “Are you really coming back at the end of the year?”

                “I don’t know. Maybe? I think so? That’s the plan, anyway.”

                “Then why bother leaving for a year? It doesn’t make any sense,” she reflects. “Just stay, Cal. Stay here.”

                “I have to do this,” I tell her. “It’s a great opportunity. In terms of my career, I need to be in the Orlando base. Trust me, Giovanna. This is the right thing to do. I need to be smart about this. For once in my life.”

“The city won’t be the same without you,” she says. “Who will be my comic relief? Who will say the wacky things that we are all thinking but don’t have the balls to actually say aloud? You’re the token jokester around here, Cal. You’re the free spirit and the one with no cares. We are all secretly jealous of you.”

                “Because I’m broke and lonely?” I chuckle.

                Giovanna releases her firm grip on my fingers. She places her hands on her lap, moving the tablecloth half an inch by accident. “Because you’re an adventurer. Plus, you don’t get your heart ripped apart like the rest of us. You’re independent, wild, free.”

                “Independence isn’t always a good thing,” I argue. “And my wild side has gotten me into trouble lately.”

                The waitress appears instantly; we never even noticed her approaching our table. She sets two steaming plates in front of us. Giovanna and I dive in greedily, as though we haven’t eaten in a week. In the midst of our frenzied feasting session, my phone buzzes from the center of the table. It’s a text from Ray.

                Thinking of you...since I just got to your city, he writes. How’s your night, so far?

                Bittersweet, I write back with a mouth full of Pad Thai.

Friday, January 30, 2015

Light the Match


In January 2013, my childhood dream died a quiet, unexciting death.

A single e-mail ripped my aspirations to shreds. Five short sentences affirmed my biggest fear: I didn't have the talent to compete with the greats.

Shortly after my 30th birthday, something shifted inside of me. I decided, with unwavering faith and firm resolve, to reignite the fire.

What's the worst that can happen? I asked myself, fully aware that I'd already experienced the most debilitating rejection of my literary career. I couldn't possibly be more disappointed than I'd been in early 2013. Therefore, I had nothing to lose.

I recently began my 13th novel.

This new novel differs from the others in many ways. For starters, this one appeals to an older audience. Additionally, there are no supernatural elements. In fact, it's surprisingly realistic. Although the storyline is pure fiction, many of the characters are real. They are modeled after people I've worked with, befriended, and even loved.

Below is an excerpt from the second chapter. Callie is nothing if not strong-willed. But when she sets aside her pride, she allows miracles to rise up around (and within) her.

Love,
Lisa

Cocoa or Nothing
Chapter 2

I stand up, pulling my jacket from the coat rack. “I have to go.”

“Callie, can I pray for you? Would that be ok?”

“Not now, Mackie. Sorry. I gotta go home, think this over. Clear my head.”
She hops to her feet. “I’ll call you an Uber! You shouldn’t walk home this late.”

“I’m fine,” I say with a wave of my hand. “I need the fresh air. I’ll text you when I’m home safe. Deal?”

Mackenzie places a hand on her hip. She stares at me for a second, concern radiating from her hazel eyes. “Ok. But you better text me, or I’m calling the cops.”

“Cross my heart,” I say as I open the door. “Mack, I’m so sorry this happened on your special day. You should be planning your cute little announcement shit that people always post on Facebook. You should not be worrying about my crazy life. I’m sorry, love.”

She throws her arms around my neck. “Don’t apologize! Don’t you dare! You’re my best friend and whatever we get into, we get into together. I’m by your side. No matter what.”
“Thank you,” I say softly. Then I pry myself from her embrace. “Love ya. I’ll text later.”

I step through the door and into the chilly night.

***
My apartment is one block away. I can see the “One-Stop Travel” sign that rests directly below my window, can hear the creaking of our gate as the wind whips through it. I walk past the apartment building and toward Van Ness Street.

I’m home safe, I text Mackenzie. Goodnight, love.

The lights on Polk Street beckon me. Restaurants, bars and clubs line the street on both sides.  This section of town is always busy, and tonight is no exception. Music blares from Lush, while several people linger outside of FlyBar. The distinct smell of whisky hangs in the air. I can also smell roasted chicken and curry sauce.

A line has formed in front of The Pour House. I weave around well-dressed men and women, careful not to look anyone in the eye.

I can’t stay here, I reflect as I pass these strangers. Not anymore.

My phone rings from inside my pocket. It’s my dad, calling from Chicago.
“Sorry,” I murmur aloud. “Can’t talk now.”

I tuck the phone back into my coat pocket and continue toward Sacramento Street. A homeless man staggers past me, nearly knocking me over. I step aside just as he nearly grazes my arm. The man reeks of dried-up booze and weed.

This is no city for children, I reflect. My throat closes up. I know what has to be done.


Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Passing Out


  
             
Brenda is probably sixty years old.


Her hands tremble below the weight of the tray, which is understandable. These trays hold six plates apiece and each plate is piled high with beans, rice, and carnitas. We give hearty portions here at 24th and Valencia.

I rush to Brenda’s side.

These dishes feel light in my hands.

As I pass out the plates of food, I receive various thank-you’s. They’re mostly in Spanish. I respond in my typical incoherent Spanglish, wondering whether these men can understand me. It almost doesn’t matter; the sentiment is clear, with or without words to accompany it.

Once all the plates have been delivered, I retreat to the kitchen.

While I’m washing dishes, Brenda tells me I am strong. She says I lifted those plates like they weighed nothing at all. I laugh at her commentary; she’s easily impressed. With a half-smile, I tell her I’m happy to help. It’s the truth.

But I can’t help thinking these ladies have mistaken me for someone else.

All the volunteers are older than me by about thirty years. They are kind women, with grown children and grandchildren they adore. For various reasons, they each take time out of their day on Tuesdays to serve lunch to homeless men in the Mission District. They pray together and prepare food together. They share stories, hugs and (mostly-clean) jokes.

Every now and then, they will tell me I am a sweetheart. Or selfless. Or strong.

If only you knew, I often think.

In some ways, I’m no different than the city of San Francisco: with its gorgeous skyline and iconic bridges, it seems like an urban dream. Everything appears shiny and new. The city is highly-desired and often-photographed.

But look closely, and you’ll notice the dirt on the streets. You’ll smell the rotting food and human excrement. Sure, there are some clean areas…but they are far outnumbered by the filthy sections.

A few years ago, after a string of poor choices and ill-fated indiscretions, my friend Jeff informed me that I had finally received my “human card.” I politely told him to take it back; I didn’t want it.
The Tuesday-afternoon ladies don’t know I’ve attained my human card.

In their eyes, I am an agile young thing with a heart of gold. And I sure wish this was true; I spent many years upholding that standard of perfection. I became quite good at convincing the world (and myself) that I was innocent.

But when I fell, I fell hard. Skid-marks and bruises and all.

Which is part of life, I suppose. And makes me more real. Without flaws, we are all just holograms. The pristine San Francisco in tour books and post-cards is nothing more than a glossy image on a page; the real San Francisco is gritty. Graphic. Stained.

Which adds to its character.

I cannot take back my past mistakes, nor can I justify certain actions. But I can continue to pass out plates. I can keep my heart open enough to offer love to those who seek it. I can acknowledge my flaws and allow them to bring me closer to others. Which is exactly what I plan to do.

Love,
Lisa

               

                               

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Hot Tamale


Sometimes, after six days on the road (er...six days among the clouds), a girl just wants a hot meal.

If, however, this girl is attempting to save money due to the fact that she lives in the most expensive city in the US, she may opt for the perfectly fine--although far less appetizing-- dry goods in her suitcase.

This was my life last week.

Somewhere between Denver and San Diego, I removed a package of tortillas from my duffel bag. I set it on the galley counter and ripped open the seal.

"Unacceptable!" my coworker declared with a laugh, prying the package from my fingers. "I brought an extra tamale. You need to try this! It's got roasted veggies in it."

Despite my protests, she handed me a steaming tamale. After one bite, I was certain I'd discovered my new favorite food. Yes, it was my first time eating one of the delectable corn concoctions. And yes, it was heavenly.

My coworker didn't have to be so generous. She sensed my need and rushed to meet it.

This small incident made me think.

I often ask God for huge "lightning bolt" signs. I seek dazzling, overt miracles because these are the ones which make for great anecdotes/blog posts/novel storylines.

But, in the aviation industry, every day is an endless stream of miracles.

My fellow flight attendants and I travel hundreds of miles per hour. We zip across the nation at lightning speed, yet somehow manage to cultivate (and maintain) bonds with coworkers around the country/world. Our lives are ever-changing. But our hearts are steady.

Someone we meet on a Tuesday can transform into a lifelong friend by Thursday. Our jumpseat is only a few feet wide, so we are forced to get close to (and comfortable with) each other very quickly.

Which is a beautiful thing.

The Christmas season may be vastly approaching, but I still have a Thanksgiving frame of mind! I'm swimming in gratitude. These people are truly incredible; I'm one lucky girl, to call them my colleagues and friends.

The love & support they continually offer me is nothing short of miraculous.

To everyone kind enough to share warm words, warm wishes and warm tamales: keep doing what you're doing. You are true miracle-workers.

Love,

Lisa

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Dream-Chaser


Remember the kid in elementary school who did everything right? The one who waited patiently, worked diligently and followed all the rules? That kid grew up to be a successful, stable adult.

I was never that kid.

Throughout the years, I listened to my heart even when my head screamed that it was pure foolishness. I selected the messy, colorful route time and time again...much to my parents' dismay.

Spoiler alert: I hosed myself. Repeatedly.

But I managed to brush off the dirt (and/or paint chips, muddy leaves, cupcake crumbs) each time. I just continued trekking along. Sure, some of my impulse decisions left deep scars. I don't regret them, though. Taking a year off college to serve in AmeriCorps, living abroad when I should've been establishing a career, waiting tables for years so I could focus on writing novels/song lyrics during the day...nope. I wouldn't change any of it.

This summer, I was faced with yet another "head vs. heart" decision. Unsurprisingly, my heart won; in September, I packed my bags and moved to San Francisco. A.k.a. the most unaffordable city in the US.

Brilliant move, huh?

Sometimes I walk home after a work trip and get lost amid the city lights. They're mesmerizing, inspiring, and totally blinding. Which sums up city life in general. Living in the heart of San Francisco means I'm surrounded by rich, raw talent and an endless array of artistic/philanthropic endeavors. Of course, this kind of brilliance comes at a high emotional and financial cost.

My bank account and sleep schedule can attest to that.

Then again, I took this risk knowing that failure was extremely likely. I left the simple comforts of Florida in pursuit of a wild, terrifying California dream.

And here I am.

Making it work...barely.

I don't know if I'll stay in California a year, a decade or a lifetime. I don't even know if I'll stay 'til spring.

Yet I stand behind my impractical, frivolous decision to chase after what I wanted. With reckless abandon (emphasis on the word "reckless").

Life is meant to be lived, right?

We get one long, bittersweet ride on this giant carousel of life. And I might fall off my pony but at least I know I chose the biggest, brightest, craziest one. Basically, the unicorn.

Love,

Lisa

Sunday, October 12, 2014

(Never-) Mind the Gap

 
 
 
This is a cruel world for girls.

My friend and I have ongoing debates about this subject. He insists that life is equally difficult for men.

"Grasshopper," he says, using the nickname I've grown to love, "Men face just as much pressure as women. They are subject to just as many expectations and demands, although those demands may be slightly different."

I can't understand that.

Perhaps it's true, but I have seen the way women are objectified. I have succumbed to the insane pressure to be unrealistically (and destructively) thin. I've had to teach myself that it's ok to have imperfect hair or an imperfect nose. Or a ribcage that doesn't protrude the way it once did.

In my experience, women are supposed to be mysterious and reserved. They're expected to sit back instead of taking the reins. Many books claim that women should be passive, patient, and calm. Seriously...there's a whole genre of books dedicated to making us more "feminine" by teaching us to be demure. These aren't books from the 1950's, either. They are new and popular and readily available on your Kindle.

There are a ton of rules to being a girl, huh?

Overstep a boundary, gain five pounds, or speak out of turn and you're basically ejected from the game.

No pressure.

I'm 30 years old. Most my friends have spouses and kids, but I still haven't decided if I want children.

Some days, I wonder how it would feel to hold my own baby in my arms. Other days, I fly around the country in a state of pure bliss and reflect on how thankful I am to be uninhibited, unattached, utterly free.

If  I do have a child someday, and if that child is a girl, I can promise this much: I will love her so deeply that she won't be able to resist loving herself. I'll tell her she is gorgeous, and she undoubtedly will be. Whether her hair is brown or black or blond (which doesn't seem likely, considering my own dark shade), whether she is a size zero or a size fourteen, whether she has my big Italian sniffer or one of those cute button noses I've always admired...she will be simply perfect. In her own way.

And I will constantly remind her of that.

I will celebrate her personality and her life choices. If she's shy and prefers to work behind the scenes, fantastic. If she's incredibly outgoing and Type A, that's wonderful too.

I hope she never hears the term "mind-the-gap-Mondays." Better yet, I hope she hears the term and laughs at its sheer absurdity. Because there's absolutely NOTHING appropriate or admirable about judging a woman based on the space between her thighs. It's disgusting, in my opinion. It's truly sick. Then again, many aspects of this world are ill, broken, degrading.

Fortunately, hope is not lost. Sure, this world is a tough place for a girl. I'll always believe that. However, I also believe it's possible to defy the norm. Break the mold. Ignore the negativity. Love yourself in a healthy way...and teach others to do the same.

Love,
Lisa

Monday, October 6, 2014

Hard Questions


Our first glance was years ago,
When I was new
But it wasn't til Valentine's Day
I saw you, met you, loved you.
And life flew by, that much is true...
Seemed our lives were spinning too-  
But here's our chance to start anew:
To do it all, through & through.
To travel the world, just us two.


My mother often asks me if it’s hard to date with my “vagabond lifestyle.”

Friends ask if it’s difficult to stay in touch with old buddies from high school and college.

Passengers ask me if I ever get tired. With wide eyes, they inquire whether the constant traveling ever gets too intense.

These are some tough questions. The answers are equally tricky.
Sure, Mom, it’s hard to maintain a romantic relationship when I spend approximately half the month at 30,000 feet above sea level. But when I do give my heart away, which happens every now and then, I make sure it’s handed off to someone willing to accept my unconventional schedule. See, I get to weed out the half-interested folks and focus on those truly deserving of my time. Does this mean I never get my heart broken? Absolutely not.  I’ve had my fair share of disappointments. But I’ve picked up the pieces and continued along….typically with a 150mph tailwind propelling me forward.

And yes, friends, there are times when I lose touch with old pals. It’s impossible to keep up with them on a daily basis, due to the nature of my job. But I enjoy writing letters (the old-fashioned kind, which travel via airmail and usually have some kind of colorful design on the cover). I’m also pretty good at calling/texting whenever something notable occurs. I do my best and, fortunately, I’ve selected friends who are brilliant and loyal and just altogether inspiring people. So we maintain a connection, despite the miles or months separating us.
Yes, passengers, I get weary. Sometimes I wake up in a hotel room with the blackout curtains drawn, and for a moment I can’t recall whether it’s night or day, summertime or winter. This can be draining. It can also be lonely. But those bleak moments are far outnumbered by ones filled with mesmerizing, all-consuming wonder. This planet is massive and dazzling. I’m willing to sacrifice a few hours of sleep for the luxury of exploring this gorgeous green earth. In fact, that seems a very small price to pay.

I don’t mind these difficult questions.
I’m an optimist by nature, so I will answer each inquiry with an honest yet positive response. My life isn’t always sunshine and rainbows, but there's enough brilliance to last even when the rainclouds roll in. I have a job I adore. I have friends and coworkers more amazing than I could ever describe. I have an opportunity to fly to cities I've never even heard of and meet people with backgrounds far different from my own. That's something I refuse to take for granted.

So bring on the questions. I’ll gladly share my perspective or, even better, take you along for the ride. Buckle up.
Love,
Lisa