Diaries of The Breadman’s Daughter: Listen Up.

189291_10150108504826266_2325166_n

Girl Warrior. Listen up. Listen attentively and actively when someone is speaking to you. Listen empathically. Sympathetically. Conscientiously. Listen with your ears. Listen with your eyes. Listen with your heart. Engage all your senses. And your extra senses also.

Give all your attention to the one doing the talking. Whether they have come to pour their heart out and confide in you. Or pour you a cup of tea and all that is required is some comfortable conversation with a cookie.

Focus on the one across from you. Do not allow yourself to become distracted, diverted or drawn away. Don’t let anything trump or eclipse this moment between you. Turn off your cell phone. Close your tablet. Shut down your laptop. Turn off the TV. And tune in.

Then lean in. Look hard into their eyes. Let them know they matter. What they have to say matters. Their thoughts and feelings and fears and hopes and dreams count for something. This is important stuff Girl Warrior. Respect, regard and reverence are composed and crafted here in these everyday exchanges. These ordinary little tête-à-têtes that happen so often we take them for granted. These soulful heart-to-hearts that we assume will always be. But the truth is, they won’t. So don’t squander even one single solitary conversation by not being fully present.

Girl Warrior let the one across from you know that you have not only shown up, but you are fully engaged. And listening.

29052_398712776265_4401962_n

181568_10150394643570113_6576065_n

184623_10151175362886266_1683075344_n

197078_10150108491901266_2204483_n

268018_10150725545380113_6154068_n

285077_10150725593740113_3602708_n

303386_10150828316951266_572587530_n

10262159_10152363239375120_1297365456949369735_n

10363877_10152518277616266_7685472152881204428_n

10885271_10152462912101266_1631611982673336042_n

11692527_10152830588141266_2161410705091114231_n

190478_10150114141256568_3748468_n

Diaries of The Breadman’s Daughter: We All Want to be Liked.

IMG_1272

Last week I watched an episode of Frontline called Generation Like. It was an enormously compelling, at times inspirational, but ultimately for me, a disturbing look into the desire by teens to be “liked” on social media platforms, like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube.

On the one hand it was inspiring to see the accomplishments of some of these young social media “stars”, especially the ones with real talent. As the show illustrated, it’s a whole different world of connectivity, where a poor kid with buckets of personality, who also happens to be a crazy-ass gifted skateboarder, can achieve fame on YouTube, and maybe, just maybe, a fortune as well. This kid is a head-to-toe living-breathing billboard for Big Brands, all featured brightly on his YouTube videos. I say, good for him and all the others like him, who are using Social Media and these Big Brands to promote themselves and possibly transform their lives for the better. Of course, the darker side of all of this is that these kids are also being used and perhaps exploited. But that’s a whole other story, for another day, another blog post.

What really resonated with me in this documentary was the insatiable desire by all these kids to acquire the coveted LIKES, the currency of self-worth. There’s a wellspring of elation and euphoria if the LIKES are high for a particular post, but should the LIKE count dip, distress and despair follow. This is the tragic roller-coaster rise and fall of self-esteem and value in Social Media Land.

But here’s the rub. It’s not just teenagers who feel this way. I’m a fully-formed adult with a lifetime of experience in my rear view mirror, and at the risk of full disclosure, I understand how these kids feel. I get it. I was a teenager who was tailored made for Social Media, had it been around back then in the prehistoric days of dinosaurs and diskettes.

Truth is I wish I didn’t get it, that none of this made sense. Like the weirdness of Alice in Wonderland or Ozzy Osbourne. All this exhausting vying for attention, the begging and pleading to be noticed, acknowledged, complimented, desired and admired. The persistent popularity contest. The trendy or trending. The endless sharing. The viral. The cool. Fashionable. Commercial. And ultimately the marketable. It’s all so consuming.

As a writer, storyteller and blogger I’d be lying if I said that none of this mattered to me, that I was completely oblivious and above the fray. Yet every time I post one of my stories on Facebook, Twitter, Cowbird or Tumblr I say a small silent prayer that it will resonate with at least one person in cyberspace. And because I’m not a complete narcissistic ass, I also pray that my words will do some good. Serve humanity. Push the conversation towards optimistic, positive, hopeful, encouraging and promising places in the hearts of others.

But there are times, many times, when nothing, and I mean absolutely nothing, happens. It’s like no one is out there. There’s a moment afterwards when I feel disappointed. Discouraged. Disheartened. Dispirited. Depressed.

I feel UN-LIKED.

When this happens, I’m plagued with self-doubt and insecurity. My Nasty Nelly inside-voice shouts, “You are not now, and never will be, among the great writers of your time. You are invisible and no one gives a shit what you have to say. So shut the fuck up. Quit.”

Then I brush it off. Like the dandruff on my shoulders. Or the dog fur on my pants.

Because I can. Because I won’t quit. And because I know better. None of this has anything to do with my self-worth. Or my ability to tell a story, for that matter. I gently and kindly remind myself, that I write because this is what I love to do. This is my big fat stupendous and spectacular passion. My magnificent obsession. I remind myself that this is one of the reasons I was put on earth, at this unique and particular time in history.

So I give it another shot. I kick the can down the road one more time. I write another story. Because in the end, when I drill down to the core of what motivates me. I write because I love the art and the process and the doing of it.

These days, I’m working on not giving a shit about the outcome, or how my stuff will be received. Good bad or otherwise.

The LIKES or HEARTS or THUMBS-UP are like the extra toppings on the Sundae. Nice. But not necessary.

http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/generation-like/?fb_action_ids=10152966835316644&fb_action_types=og.recommends

IMG_2068.JPG

IMG_1276

IMG_2070 (1)

IMG_2069.JPG

Diaries of The Breadman’s Daughter: Don’t be a Hater.

IMG_3289

I hate haters.  If that’s you, then please leave.  Now.  I mean it.  Get out of here.  Get off my cloud.  Off my blog.  Off my Facebook, twitter and tumblr.  Get lost.  You’re not wanted here.

That liberating mini-rant was inspired by a Facebook post by Cheryl Strayed, who wrote a book called WILD and a column in The Rumpus called Dear Sugar. Here’s the post in its entirety because Cheryl’s a much more effective and brilliant ranter than I.

“Sometimes I’m asked how I deal with the haters. I don’t deal with them. I pity them. I don’t expect everyone to love my books. In fact, I frankly expect the opposite. (In the history of books, there isn’t one everyone loves.) But I must say I marvel at the ugliness it takes to gather one’s forces in the direction of what one loathes rather than loves–to go out of one’s way to say to a writer: YOU SUCK. So I send out a little silent non-God-connected prayer to the jackass who felt the need to share his or her jack-assed-ness with me. And then, without comment, I zap them forever from this page.”

I understand how she feels.  I’ve been lucky. Most of the reviews of my novel and the comments left on my blog have been kind.  Perplexing at times.  But generally magnanimous and insightful. Then again they’re mostly from friends, family and nice strangers.  I haven’t sold millions of books, nor do I have thousands of Facebook fans and I don’t write a column, do public speaking or author readings, like Cheryl.  Essentially I’m an invisible writer so I’m safe.  So far.  But I fear the haters are out there.

I’ve been writing since I was a kid.  It started with diaries.  If you’re a girl from my generation then you know the kind I’m talking about.  Pocket-sized, with a leatherette cover, and a tiny gold lock and key to keep a young girl’s private thoughts secure and safe. The pages were ruled and had shiny gold leaf edges. I had to write very small and neatly because the spaces between the lines were narrow and the pages no bigger than a 5×7 photograph. The diary’s compact size, however, didn’t diminish the size of my ideas, thoughts and dreams. To this day, I keep a diary.  No longer under lock and key.  Simple utilitarian Hilroy notebooks filled with some of my best writing.

Then there’s this blog. One big mother of a diary.  Out there in cyber space for the world to read.  To love.  And to hate.

The last two years spent writing this very public diary have been an interesting ride. Big eye opener. A revelation on intent, perception and interpretation.  Here’s the thing.  I’ve been sitting at my computer every Saturday thinking I’m writing sweet straightforward stories about my life, past and present.  Nothing edgy, not at all controversial.  But every now and then I read a comment left on a post and I think, what the fuck?  What’s really going on here?  What did I say that offended you so?

Take my post last year on Halloween for instance.  I thought it was just an amusing tale about how I hate that particular holiday and all the reasons why.  For anyone who has been to Northwestern Ontario at the end of October, you know what I mean.  Think of the early sixties, sad costumes cut from sheets, snow, slush, snowsuits, parkas, molasses kisses, snot streaking across your feverish face and you get the picture.  But some readers didn’t get it. Nor were they amused by my satirical tongue planted firmly in my facetious cheek.  For them, I had violated everything that was sacred about playing dress-up once a year. I was the Halloween version of Ebenezer Scrooge.  An angry fun-spoiler.

Even when I thought I was writing an deeply empathic story about the tragic death of a young boy riding his bike for charity, and how my heart broke for his mother, one person read something completely different. I had somehow insulted her.  She sent me a private message (thank God) to chastise me for not writing about her suffering. “What about me?” she essentially asked.  I was gobsmacked, and like Cheryl I zapped her from my Facebook page.

My all-time favorite head-shaker came when I read the comments to my post on “Regrets.”  Some people couldn’t handle that notion at all.  It made them squirm with discomfort. Complete strangers left their sage advice on how I shouldn’t regret anything in life. Little mini pep talks were posted to inspire me to rise from my funk of regret.  Nuggets of homespun wisdom on the virtues of living a life free of regret flooded my inbox. “You did the best with what you knew at the time,” brand of pop psychology was offered up like manna from heaven.  What I found most disconcerting about all this inspirational well-meaning advice was the judgmental and admonishing overtones.  But their comments also made me smile.  Like Yoda.  I know all that shit.  I know it and I still have regrets. I’m okay with that. So there.

The act of authentic writing is like performing open heart surgery on yourself.  Without anesthetic. You slice open your chest, rip apart your flesh, hack into your bones and pull it all out.  You have to be willing to be vulnerable.  Fragile.  Breakable.  Frightened at times. Scared out of your wits.  Where did this come from?  Where is it going?  But to write this way you also have to be courageous. Fierce.  Raw.  Genuine.  Willing to take big emotional risks.  Go to the dark and scary places of your soul. Tell the truth.

I not only write from the heart.  I give you my heart.

Don’t trash or break it.  Just because you can.  Like Cheryl said, what we write isn’t for everyone.  I don’t like every writer, story, blog, book, novel, essay, email.  How could I?  I respectfully put what I don’t like aside and seek other things to read.  This doesn’t mean that something I don’t fancy isn’t well-written or worthwhile either.  It just means it’s not my cup of tea.

One of the big reasons I pass on a lot great literature is because it’s beyond me.  It’s either written in a style I’m incapable of comprehending or I find laborious and tedious. Like reading the Bible from cover to cover as my husband did one year.  That was sheer madness to me but he found it engrossing and meaningful.  Often it’s a genre that doesn’t fascinate me.  My son loves Tolkien, for example.  I can’t get past the first page, although I do love the movies.  We both agree on Harry Potter.  I love Anne Tyler.  I don’t think he knows who she is.

Just so we’re clear here, I have many different opinions and contrary thoughts on writers and their words. And if asked, I’ll offer them. (Sometimes even without being asked.)  But a carefully considered and thoughtfully crafted perspective on any given piece is far different from a reckless and careless comment spit out like stale bubble gum.

How does saying, YOU SUCK advance humanity?  How does that make us better?  How is that comment meaningful to anyone? What does it have to do with anything?  Does it encourage dialogue and advance the conversation? Does it connect us with compassion and empathy? Of course not.  It serves no purpose.  So the only intelligent thing to do is to zap it like Cheryl does.

I’m not a super genius.  I’m not even all that smart, frankly. Perhaps wise on occasion.  I’m a work in progress for sure.  So is my writing.  I like to think it gets a bit better every day.  Just like me.

Who knows? Maybe I SUCK.  But let me be the first to say it.

Link to Cheryl’s website to learn more about her: http://www.cherylstrayed.com/

Diaries of The Breadman’s Daughter: His Mother’s Name was Bessie.

beautiful bessie

Beautiful Bessie, the Bass Man’s Mama.

I’m taking a break from the all consuming Big C conversation for just a moment to share this bit about a sweet lady, E’s Mama Bessie.  He misses her dearly, especially now when confronted by the fragility of life.

On the day before 94-year old Bessie died, she announced to her younger son Larry that she was breaking out.

Clear out of the blue.  A declaration of independence so foreign to her nature that it was unfathomable.  Disarming.

Feeble and frail. Yet in the end, so fierce in her final conviction.

“Where are you going Mom?” he asked

“To New York City!” she proclaimed.

Bessie, who had never been more than one hundred miles from her small county home.

Bessie, who as a young girl spent a week up on the mountain, just a few miles away, was homesick and fearful.  She pined for her mother.  And missed the familiar valley farmland and apple orchards.  To young Bessie, this overgrown hill was much too high and close to the sky. Too far away from her roots and the bosom of the valley bed. It threw off her equilibrium.  Left her shaken and traumatized for life.

Bessie, whose wanderlust didn’t extend beyond a Sunday drive down to Waterville for lunch with Harlan.

Bessie, who had lost most of her sight and hearing, but none of her unpredictable wit and natural intelligence. To the end, razor sharp and fully loaded with an arsenal of quick retorts.

Bessie, who lived a simple life surrounded by “her people.”  Married Harlan and raised her boys just a stone’s throw from her childhood home.

Bessie, who never strayed far.  Always walked the straight and narrow.  Found dignity in the familiar and commonplace.

Yes, this same Bessie, on the Eve of the trip of her lifetime, revealed that she was now ready to travel.

Godspeed Bessie.

Diaries of The Breadman’s Daughter: My Mother’s Hands.

Long piano fingers so elegant and lovely.

I miss Ma.  Sharing cups of tea.  Or lingering conversations on a quiet summer evening.  Laughing until we cried.  Long walks through the neighborhood.  Enjoying the pleasure of each others company.  Mother and daughter stuff.  All such lovely things that I cherish and hold dear.  But of all those things, it is her hands that I pine for.  Reach out and wish that they were resting next to mine.  Hand in hand.  Beautiful.  Comforting. Tender.  Reassuring.

Her touch was my first.  My touch was one of her last.

Her fingers were long, thin and graceful.  Pulsing with veins.  Like indigo rivers across translucent terrain.  We used to call them piano fingers because they could easily span an octave of keys.  She never played an instrument.  Except the music of her heart.

Her hands were hard working.  Dependable and strong.  They understood the connection between soap, water and a scrub brush.  A dish rag and a scouring pad.  Intimately.  Thoroughly.  Hardwood, tile, linoleum and wall to wall.  Down on all fours.  Scoured and cleaned.  Washed and wiped. Polished and shined.  Gleaming with pride.

Ma loved clean laundry.  Before washing machines were automatic, she filled her wringer washer daily.  Pulled her family’s clothes, piece by piece, through the hard rubber rollers.  Filled her wicker basket then meticulously hung the day’s laundry on the line to dry. Wooden pegs and twisted wire.  Summer or winter.  Spring or autumn.  The sparkling laundry fluttered and flew and often froze.  Board stiff long johns and flannelette nighties.  Her magical hands orchestrated it all with ease.  Held it close and let it go.

Hands that could cook up a storm.

Her hands were a sight to behold in the kitchen.  She cooked and baked.  Stirred and tossed.  Kneaded and coaxed.  Folded and cut.  Meals were prepared with tenderness.  Cookies were baked with love.  Cakes were dressed and adorned for every occasion.  Table was set.  Dinner was served.  Dishes washed and carefully put away.  Countertops glistened.  The floor was swept.  The refrigerator hummed with contentment.  Such power in those hands.

A paint brush found its place to dwell.  Between her thumb and pointer finger.  Strokes and splashes across the canvas.  Dabs and feather light lines.  Details drawn.  Smudges and smears.  Oil on canvas.  Flowers and trees.  Fruit in bowls.  The Sleeping Giant.  Artistic.  Expressive. Imaginative wondrous hands.

Her hands held books and magazines.  On topics diverse and sundry.  Her hands were eager to learn. To grasp the meaning of life.  To find the truth.  To seek wisdom.  To scratch her head when none of it made sense.

Fabric was transformed in her hands.  Curtains from calico.  Tablecloths from cheerful colorful cotton. Dresses from wool or the softest silk.  Jumpers from baby wale corduroy.  Skirts that twirled and flared.  Slacks that zipped or buttoned.  Shirts were crisp or casual.  A surprise dress at the end of a school day.  A new wardrobe to start the year.  Machine sewn.  Hand stitched.  Embroidered edges.  Guide me home.

Hands that gripped life and love and held on tight.

The exquisite hands that caressed my newborn head.  Supported me while I learned to walk.  Clasped my hand on my first walk to school.  Tended to my scraped knees.  Wiped the tears from my eyes when my heart was torn and broken.  Touched my shoulder with the language of love.  Embraced.  Hugged.  Carried.   Stroked.  Hands that gripped and held on tight.  To love.  To life.

Young hands.  Mother’s hands.  Old hands.  Grandma’s hands.  May they reach down from heaven and touch this daughter’s heart tonight.