Diaries of The Breadman’s Daughter: Interview with Girl Warrior Karen Cooper.

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Today we raise our fists high and put our hands together in celebration of our Feature Girl Warrior, the wise and wonderful Karen Cooper, entrepreneur, artist, yoga teacher and spiritual guide. A courageous risk-taker, Karen first hit the local scene with her business On Canvas Art Gallery, which was the perfect setting for her Stretch Yoga Studio. It was here that she fostered a loyal, and ever-growing, following of wisdom seekers and creative devotees.

What makes you a Girl Warrior?

I have learned that if I fall I can and will get up and I do.  I have found that I can choose, that I am strong, that I will find a way to get up no matter what happens, I have learned to trust myself.  I can be flexible; I will make the best of whatever is. I know that there is help and support all around me.

You worked in the fast-paced competitive business world for years. How did you get from that to yoga teacher, spiritual guide and fine artist?

My sister died of breast cancer, she was 40, and I was 39.  That was when I chose to live life on my terms, for me, for those I love.  As a result of that choice, I found the right books (which I think really saved my life), I quit smoking (that’s when I found out that I had strength), I spent a year in India (that changed my view of the world and, opened my mind), then I found yoga and spiritual practice (and that opened my heart my mind my body my spirit) and I have never looked back.  It’s been a process, a journey, an amazing ride. It doesn’t mean that I don’t make mistakes or get scared, it just means that I find a new way to move. I will again take one step then one more and one more.

What has been your biggest challenge so far – personally or professionally?

I believe that my biggest challenge in life has been finding my self-worth, learning to believe in myself, to trust myself and finally to love myself unconditionally.  It’s taken a long time with lots of experiences and just as many mistakes, the key is learning from them.

In my younger years I never forgave myself for any mistake that I ever made and I spent my energy and time trying desperately to never make another.  I was so hard on myself.  I remember thinking that if I quit or lost my job as a District Sales Manager that no one would ever hire me again, they would surely find out that I was a fake.

What obstacles have you overcome and misconceptions have you overthrown?

I have learned to breathe, to be still, and to listen to the whispers of my heart.  This has been a huge undertaking.  My Father (God bless him) believed that a knight in shining armor would come by, one for each one of his daughters, and care for them for life, that we need not worry.  My Mother (God bless her) taught us girls how to be independent so we could rely on ourselves. As a result I had one foot in each thought process. Not to mention that I have lots of energy, and sitting still to listen long enough to hear the stirring of my own heart to find my own answers, to find my own truth, to see what is a misconception and let it go.

What would you say to your younger Girl Warrior?

Please sweetheart, be kind to yourself, don’t be so hard on yourself, you are worthy, you are lovable, you are enough.

What would you say to future Girl Warriors looking for inspiration?

Dear Girl Warriors, please above all else be kind to yourself, love yourself for all that you are with loving kindness and compassion, Live well, Love well, Be well. Find your gifts and give them, you do have gifts; remember this, with love.

Who is/are your Girl Warrior hero(s)?

My friend Karin, has survived 2 rounds of brutal cancer which has left her disabled and yet she is thriving with joy and gratitude.

Boo King, I have watched you over the years, get up from the fall, you do what needs to be done, you look after your loved ones and still manage to inspire us by living your passion.  You do the work!

My sister Sandi and my girlfriends whose love and support never fail me, who make me want to be my best self, to stand tall in this life.

My friend and yoga student Elizabeth Wellburn who has stood by and supported me all these years and has done the same for so many, who gets up from all the falls and keeps going and lives her passions and supports her community living what she believes in.

What’s next?

In November I am going to Spain for 3 weeks with my sister and brother-in-law, a trip of a lifetime.  When I get back I am planning my next big risk and challenge and adventure. I have no idea what that is at this moment but I trust it will come to me and I look forward to it.  Food and shelter for all is a big deal for me, I’d like to do some work in that area.  I believe there is a reason for everything and what we are doing in our lives right now is helping us to learn and prepare for whatever comes next.

Where do you see yourself in 5 years?

In 5 years I hope to still be alive, living my passion, walking my talk more deeply, continuing to learn and grow, to be curious and look up.

What’s your personal mantra?

My mantra, to walk more softly on this planet, to learn and grow all the days of my life, to be a light, to share my gifts.  My favorite quote, by John O’Donohue sums it all up, “May you experience each day as a gift woven around the heart of wonder.”

 

 

 

Diaries of The Breadman’s Daughter: High Anxiety and Panic Attacks.

Boo after her Sunday night bath

See the little girl in the foreground of this photograph? Looks like she’s fresh out of her Sunday-night bath with her wet hair, a white cotton towel draped over her tiny shoulders like Superman’s cape. In the background is her older brother, sitting at the kitchen table, and fully engaged in a game of cards with one of his friends. They don’t notice her or that Ma is taking their photograph. Looks like she’s warming herself by the ancient oil heater in the living room at 204. But she is not.

This little girl isn’t cold.

She is in a full-blown panic attack. Racked with anxiety. Tormented by a faceless nameless terrifying Boogeyman that pops up unexpectedly out-of-nowhere. Boo. What’s the “tell” in this photograph? Look closely and you’ll see her hand over her tummy. Look closely and you will see the fear in her dark eyes. Look closely and you will see the clenching of her distraught jaw.

In this photograph I’m nine or ten years old and just beginning a life-long battle with anxiety and panic attacks. My hand is over my tummy because my guts are churning and I feel like throwing up. I’m not cold like the photograph suggests. My teeth aren’t chattering because of the temperature in the room. I don’t shiver because I’ve caught a chill. I shiver and shake uncontrollably because my body, mind and emotions are under assault. And I don’t know why. I don’t understand any of it. I’m constantly overwhelmed with a gnawing feeling of dread, afraid of everything and nothing. My mind is on high alert, relentlessly watching and waiting for “it” to come back. I just want “it” to stop.

Eventually the immediate panic ceases. It always does. But the low-grade anxiety lingers.

It took years to fully understand this. When I was the little girl in this photograph I just suffered through it. Physical exhaustion eventually played a merciful hand. When I was a teenager I wanted to be carefree and happy like everyone else, and I continued to suffer through each attack, praying it would never happen again. Pleading with God to make it stop and asking, “why me?”

I confided in Ma of course. She understood what I was going through because over the years she too had suffered from “bad nerves.” Apparently these were the kind of nerves that required punishing. So Ma did so by dispensing Carter’s Little Liver Pills. They were the cure-all for everything back in the day. Ma found them helpful but they did nothing for me. As I got older, I started hiding the attacks from Ma because it was only making matters worse, for the both of us.

By the time my son was born, and I was in university, I had had enough. I had to figure this out, if not for my sake, then for his.

I became a student of my own physiology. I read and studied everything I could get my hands on about the nervous system, cognitive behavior, anxiety and panic disorders, psychology and spirituality, environmental factors, nutrition and physical fitness. Through this journey, I discovered that it was actually an amalgam of factors that were contributing to these panic attacks and prevailing anxiety. Bit by bit, and slowly over time, I unearthed a host of possible causes and triggers – everything from the very physical nature of the beast to the gut-wrenching emotional fabric of my life story. What I ate and when I ate it, being the daughter of an alcoholic, family shame and feelings of inferiority, extreme shyness, sensitivity and introversion, lack of confidence in social situations, hyper-creativity and an over-active imagination, intelligence and obsession with achievement, the need to be perfect, to be a good girl, to not make waves. I was tailor-made for this disorder.

But I was also tailor-made to overcome it. In addition to all that stuff, I’m also tough as nails, strong-willed, gritty, determined and optimistic. And above all else, I don’t feel sorry for myself. I stopped asking “why me” long ago. Now I ask myself, “why not me?” I’ve looked for the silver lining, the blessing in this experience and found it.

I’ve taken a holistic approach and I do the things I need to do to stay well – emotionally, physically and spiritually – by eating food that fuels my body and spirit, practicing yoga, going for long walks, reading and writing, doing work that has meaning, helping others, and most importantly, spending time with people I love and cherish. If not for panic attacks and anxiety, I doubt that I would experience life to the full depth of emotion and richness that I do today. Silver lining.

When I was in university, and in one of my deepest darkest periods of anxiety, I read a beautiful little book called Hope and Help for Your Nerves by Australian physician Dr. Claire Weekes. This book quite literally saved my life. I read it and re-read it until it was practically in shreds. It was full of practical intelligent advice and down-to-earth wisdom that I could actually do something with. I learned to desensitize my nervous system, to overcome the bewilderment that accompanies panic attacks, to change my internal conversation in order to stop the fear, and the fear of the fear, and to ultimately call its bluff.

And my biggest take-away, and what became my mantra for many years, even to this day – “shaky jelly legs will still get you there!”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Diaries of The Breadman’s Daughter: On Making America Great Again.

Me and Ma Walking in Duluth

I grew up in a border town, which meant that in a mere half-hour we could be in Minnesota. Taking a drive to “The States” was something we did on a regular basis. The Old Man, Ma and I would take many a Sunday afternoon drive down to the US border just to wander around the Border Store with it’s creaky wooden floors, endless aisles of trinkets ‘n trash, and all kinds of cheap crap made of plastic.

There was also all the absolutely stupendous candy that you could only get in America. It wasn’t like today where you can get anything from anywhere no matter how far out in the boonies you live. Back then, you had to travel 40 miles south on highway 61 and cross the Pigeon River Bridge to sink you teeth into a wondrous and unforgettable Sugar Daddy, Chocolate BB Bat, Big Cherry Bar, Turkish Taffy, and the oh-so exotic wax bottle mini drinks. Good God they were good.

By the time I was a teenager we had many trips to Duluth, or even as far south as Minneapolis. Most trips were shopping excursions, which often included my older sister and at least one of her ubiquitous girlfriends. I have fond memories of the lions and tigers at the Duluth Zoo. Once the Dag Hammarskjold High School Band did a disastrous tour of Duluth High Schools. I played second clarinet. Enough said. I also made at least one trip to Duluth with my girlfriends Terry and Suzy, where we stayed in a cheap old hotel that stank of stale cigarettes and fried onions, and met two man-boys, one of which wore a toupee. I still blush when I think of it.

I loved American small towns, American boys, American music, American movie stars, American baseball, American shoes, American clothes, American potato chips, American candy and even the American flag because it had stars, which I also loved. Yes, I grew up coveting all things American. Everything about it seemed just a little bit better than what we had. I was proud to be a Canadian girl who loved America.

I remember where I was the day President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. Mr. Ward made the announcement that fateful Friday afternoon just before our class was dismissed for the weekend. I remember how stunned and sad I was walking home from school that miserable overcast November day. I remember the excitement of Neil Armstrong walking on the moon in the sultry summer of 1969. Decades later I would fictionalize the memory in my first novel, Summer in a Red Mustang with Cookies. I remember where I was the morning of September 11 when the twin towers were brought down. The Today Show’s Katie Couric delivered the devastating news in real-time as we watched in horror as they crumbled to the ground in a cloud of smoke and ash. But like the Phoenix rising, I remember how deliriously happy I was when Barack Obama became President. The Americans had a great leader again, one worthy of our respect and admiration, like Kennedy.

And then I remember how bewildered I was almost a year ago when Donald Trump announced that he was officially running for president of the United States and that he was going to make America great again. How was that even possible? First of all, I thought America was already pretty great. I thought this had to be some kind of joke, another publicity stunt, and that he didn’t stand a chance. But now, like most of us, I know that this isn’t a joke. This is seriously scary shit. Come November, it is quite possible that we could all be saying President Trump. I choke on the words.

When I look back on the America of my youth, the America I loved to visit, the America I admired, and the America I thought would be such a cool place to live, I’m sad and overwhelmed with grief by what is unfolding on the other side of the border. Over the past few months, I’ve found myself angry, frustrated, dismayed, disturbed, troubled, worried, offended, frightened and quite frankly, disappointed, ashamed and embarrassed by all the bad behavior and empty rhetoric taking place in a country I so admired. It’s like finding out your favorite uncle wasn’t at all what you thought he was, that he actually deserved to be behind bars and not held in your high esteem.

But I haven’t lost all hope. There’s still a part of me that has faith in the wisdom and intelligence of the American people; that there are more who are good, kind and equitable than ignorant, hateful and prejudiced. There is still a part of me that believes that when the rubber hits the road, the America that I loved as a young Canadian girl is still there; that these great Americans will show the world that they are too smart to listen to the reprehensible rants of a carnival barker, to be influenced by fear mongering, and most importantly, to be duped by a spoiled charlatan with deep pockets, bad hair and a shallow devious mind.

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boo and Lorraine in a Duluth hotel room.

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Diaries of The Breadman’s Daughter: Good Faith and Libraries.

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I recently finished reading All My Puny Sorrows by Miriam Toews. Like her other novels, it too was beautifully written and a brilliant read. After I finished the book, I said the same thing I always do, “Damn, I wish I had her talent for storytelling and way with words.” Miriam deserves every accolade ever bestowed upon her. And more.

I loved everything about this book, even the puzzling double ending. But it was a particular passage on page 267 that really resonated with me. Quite simply, it blew my mind.

Here it is:

“What had she said about libraries and civilization? Because you make a promise, she’d said. You promise to return the book. You promise to come back. What other institution operates in such good faith, Yo?”

I’d like to see more promises of “good faith” like this.

Good faith that we’ll do the right thing because it is right, and for no other reason. No matter how difficult. No matter how much we rail or protest or rage against the credo or moral code. No matter how uncomfortable it makes us. We can even criticize, complain and condemn. But after all that, in the end, when the rubber hits the road, we’ll listen to the small quiet voice of our higher self. The voice of reason, truth and common decency. Do the right thing. Keep our promise. We will return the book.

Good faith that when I fall back you will always be there to catch me. And I will do the same for you. We will keep our promise to each other. We will return the book.

Good faith in the ultimate goodness of humanity, that we’re more good than bad. That somewhere deep inside each and every one of us this knowing and wisdom exists. Good faith that evil is an abomination and an anomaly. Not the norm. We will keep our promise to preserve and cherish our humanness. We will return the book.

Good faith that we are, at our fundamental core, good well-meaning folks, living in good communities with good leaders, sending our kids to good schools with good teachers, worshipping freely in harbors of safety, regardless of our beliefs and definition of God. We will keep our promise to be kind and magnanimous and neighborly. We will return the book.

Good faith that when I reach out my hand and heart to yours, that you will reciprocate. And together we will return the book.

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Diaries of The Breadman’s Daughter: Snapshot of Mel at Four.

Mel Reading Cat in the Hat

Melissa sat in the brown Rubbermaid laundry hamper hugging her knees. She was wearing her over-sized blue sweatshirt with the Dalmatians on the front and purple leggings. Her feet were bare and pale.

She had pulled the hamper out of the closet and placed it in front of the television in my bedroom. Her petite body was fully contained with only her head peering out of the top like a sprung jack-in-the-box.

I don’t know if it was something she saw on TV, something someone said perhaps. I don’t recall. But she turned to me and said, with the simple unvarnished directness of a four-year old, “I believe in God.” In that moment, I saw her ancient soul. The one that had been around since the beginning of time.  The wise One.

And in that holy moment, for it truly was divine, I was envious of this sweet wide-eyed child of mine. Because at four, she was so resolute and confident in this elusive thing called faith.

And I was not.

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Mel hugging Teddy

Diaries of The Breadman’s Daughter: A Mother’s Prayer for Peace.

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Dear God,

It’s the middle of the night,

And I cannot sleep.

The rain is pounding on the roof

And the wind is howling outside my window.

But I am safe and warm,

Comforted by my feather duvet.

My faithful dog curled up at my feet

And my husband breathing softly next to me

Our children safe in their beds

Surrendered to dreams,

Sweet sweet dreams.

Yet my heart is not at peace,

It is broken with sadness.

For out there

Somewhere in a world I do not know

In countries I’ve only seen on TV

Are other families

With mothers just like me,

Who but for your gentle grace

Live a different life.

One not privileged with

Warm safe beds to rest,

To sleep, to dream of tomorrow.

Their lives, every bit as precious as mine

Are torn apart and shattered –

By fear

And hate

And hunger

And disease

And disaster

And ignorance

WAR.

I pray for these loving mothers

And for their dear families

That they ALL

Each and every one

Have what I have

And know, truly know

What it’s like

To go to bed at night

And NOT be filled with fear

That their beautiful child,

Every bit as precious as mine,

Won’t be harmed

Or blown to pieces

By an enemy no one really knows.

God, I pray that all these mothers

Know at least one moment of peace.

And that that moment grows and grows

Like a wave across the world.

A graceful, gentle, loving wave of peace.

It begins with one moment

And grows from moment to moment.

It begins with one mother

And grows from mother to mother.

And it saves one child

And grows from child to child.

May we share this moment of peace

Mothers of the world.

Now I lay me down to sleep.

Amen.

In gratitude and love,

boo king

Photo on 2015-05-09 at 11.57 AM

 

 

Diaries of The Breadman’s Daughter: Reflections in Mud Puddles.

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I love sunny days and large blue skies. The brightness and optimism of the unblemished firmament that stretches from horizon to horizon, and takes me back to my Northwestern Ontario wonder years. No matter how bad things were on the ground I could always look up and see that immense sky, and get a glimpse of God’s miraculous hand at work. I remember it then, and still experience it now, the feeling of peace and comfort knowing that I am connected to something so big and so powerful and so utterly wonderful. What an awe-inspiring and breath-taking view.

But lately I’ve found a reason to like rain. Or more precisely, what remains after it rains. I’ve acquired an entirely new attitude towards the potholes that pepper the country road where I walk. For they are the conduit to the glorious mud puddle, my new favorite thing.

When I was a kid I liked to stomp through them in my black rubber boots. Or after a warm summer shower I loved to go barefoot and sink my toes into the soft buttery ooze. I used to ride recklessly through them on my bike. But as I grew older they became wretched annoyances to avoid. Little nuisances and painful reminders of the relentless rainfall on the West Coast from the beginning of November till the end of April. I’ve done my share of cursing after being splashed and sprayed by passing vehicles. And I am not amused by those who quip, “well at least we don’t have to shovel it.”

But about a month ago, as I was walking along the country road at lunch, I saw things quite differently. It was as though I was seeing a mud puddle for the very first time. Like I was wearing magic glasses. And instead of avoiding, I sought them out. What caused this sudden transformation of vision? Why did my perspective change? What captured my imagination?

It was one of those serendipitous happy accidents. It had been pouring miserably earlier in the day. By the time I headed out for my walk, the sun was grandstanding and showing off its brilliance. It aced the surface of the mud puddle at just the perfect angle for me to see. I mean really see something so ordinary but suddenly so utterly extraordinary. Something I’d seen a million times before. Yet at that precise moment it was as if for the very first time.

I saw a reflection. And it was a beautiful sight.

Tall and stately evergreens. Gnarled and naked Garry Oaks. Blades of grass blowing in the breeze. Cloud formations. The sun, a blinding orb overhead. Telephone poles with wires stretching like tightropes. Street signs and other directions from above.

In the past month, I have sought out muddle puddles. They have brought new meaning, joy and wonder to my lunchtime walk. I’m the crazy lady crouched on the ground snapping photos on my iPhone of these fascinating little pools of dirty water. The smallest one I’ve photographed was about six inches, the largest about six feet long. I feel like Alice in Through the Looking Glass peering into another world filled with magic and all things curious. Everything is distorted. Depth perception is challenged. Shallow one second. And bottomless the next: like I could easily fall in and be lost forever in the shimmering darkness. Seeing such gigantic things like trees and telephone poles reflected and held so spellbindingly inside something so small. The juxtaposition takes my breath away.

The most magical thing about the muddle puddles is this. Like snowflakes, no two are the same. And even the same puddle is different depending on the preciseness of my presence, the direction of the sun, how it skims the surface of the murky water, and of course the angle with which I peer into it. Standing. Crouching. On my knees. These all affect what I see.

As a writer I can usually find words to describe most things. But in this case, words are inadequate. In fact, they fail me. Hopefully the photographs don’t. I hope they have captured some of the miraculous that I have witnessed, the dirty beauty of the earth, the sky, the sun and the wind, and the surprising unpredictable moment of confluence of all perfect things.

Technical note from a completely non-technical person: all photos were taken with my iPhone 6 using the Instagram App, with the Nashville filter.

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