Diaries of The Breadman’s Daughter: This Year I’ll be a Better Me. Or not.

IMG_3906I’m not big on resolutions. New Year’s or otherwise.  But I do want to be a better, kinder, gentler me. More loving. More magnanimous. More heart. More soul. More La Bamba.

And what better time to start a self-improvement regime than on January 1 of each year.

Fresh starts, heroic efforts and good intentions aside, odds are I’ll be a kaleidoscopic mixed bag of goodies and baddies this coming year. Just like last year and the year before that.  And the year before, before, before. You get the picture. For this is the enigma that makes living sweet and interesting. Irresistible and delicious. Inspiring and auspicious. I could soar with the divine Messengers of God. Or grovel in the mud with the Prince of Darkness himself. Who knows. That’s the intriguing part. The ride. The rock. The roll of this thing called life.

But let’s imagine for a moment, I was big on resolutions. Picture me sitting at my computer on New Year’s Day typing up an entire year’s worth of aspirations, desires and goals.

Categorically they might go something like this:

Spiritual:

I’ll be more spiritual. Or not. I may just float this boat into the sea of iniquity. Not intentionally. That’s not me. But I might drift off-course from time to time. I’m human.  Shit like that happens. Most days though, I’ll continue with my daily letters to God. I love these intimate conversations. They’re a bit one-sided at times but they do make me feel better. A daily emotional dump into the neatly lined pages of a Hilroy notebook is remarkably cathartic. Good for the Soul.  I’ll work on being kinder and more loving to everyone, even those who are difficult to like, much less love. I’ll pray and open the eyes of my heart.  I’ll listen with compassion and empathy. I’ll tread lighter on the earth. I’ll work on my awesomeness. Maybe even turn myself into sauce.

Physical:

I’ll be more physical. Or not. At times I’ll laze around, eat rubbish and binge-watch every season of Sons of Anarchy or Breaking Bad, even though I already did that last year.  Some resolutions are worth repeating. There will be other binges as well. Like too much turkey and cranberries at Thanksgiving. Too many bottles of alcohol-free wine. Oh, the shame of it all. But there will be redemption. I will continue with my daily practice of yoga because it still manages to keep me somewhat limber.  And without going all Zen on you, it’s a conduit to my higher self. I like that place in me. I’ll walk the winding country road during my lunch breaks. With every twist and bend there’s a brood of hens or flock of sheep that delight me, no matter how many times I see them. Similar to how I feel about my children. I’ll also keep running every morning. Learn new things from the hill. Or maybe not. It might simply be one steep mother of a hill that I have to drag myself up to get home.  Sometimes a hill is just a hill.

Family:

I’ll spend more time with my family. Or not. It’s entirely possible that they don’t want to spend more time with me. They do have lives of their own. So there’s that. Wonderful lives that have nothing to do with me. Hard to believe I know, but true. But still, I’d like to see more of them. And, this includes my extended family and friends. You and you and you. Sadly, I’m guilty of being socially lazy. I’m the sloth of the soiree. But I can do better. I vow to do better. We’ll meet in places other than Facebook. I’ll get off the couch. Turn off the reruns of SoA or BB and hook up with you dear ones. We can chat over tea in a coffee house. Go to a concert and lose our hearing. Attend a poetry reading at a used bookstore. Dance our asses off in the middle of the street. Sing our own Coke commercial. It doesn’t matter what we do. It’s about the familial connection and glue. I’d love to spend all kinds of crazy-time with you, deepening the bonds of family.  What about you?

Work:

I’ll work harder. Or not. Maybe I’ll work smarter. Or not. Truthfully, I don’t even understand what that expression means. Sounds like motivational mumbo jumbo. I’m smart. I work. I do my very best. Every day. But most importantly, I show up. That’s critical, I think. Especially when you work with other people who are counting on you. It’s a pretty simple philosophy. One that’s always worked for me.  And if you enjoy the work you do, then bonus. And if not, take a look inside. The wisdom dwells there. But first you gotta show up.

Play:

I’ll play more. Or not. I have no idea what that means either. Do I go out and frolic in the sun? Run through mud puddles? Roll around in the dirt. Fly a kite? Play Cards Against Humanity?  Join an organized sport?  Ride a bike or a scooter?  These all sound like legitimately fun things to do. I might even give one or two the old College try.  But most likely, I’ll carry on doing the things I’ve always done for fun. Write. Read. Play music. Sing in the shower. You may find these activities horribly dull. I guess at the end of the day, or year, we have to define our own fun.  And as Nike says, just do it.

Financial:

I’ll be more wealthy. Or not. Bottom line, I don’t care. I’ve never been driven by the money. Why start now? It gives me heartburn just thinking about it. I prefer to do the things that delight and amuse me.  Tickle my fancy. Capture my imagination. Challenge my status quo.  Some of those things pay fairly well and keep food on the table.  Others don’t pay a cent. But I love doing them just the same. Maybe even more. Like writing this blog, for instance. I’d be a penniless beggar if this was how I made my living. But it brings me enormous pleasure and joy. It’s gratifying beyond my wildest expectations. And if these things, these heavenly intangible things, were currency?  I’d be a millionaire. Ten times over.  And that’s good enough for me.

There you have it. Words to live by? Could be. Words of wisdom?  Possibly. Words worth repeating? Maybe not. You tell me.

Now back to reality. The big reason I don’t do resolutions is that I can’t keep them. Why would I set myself up for failure?  I can’t take that kind of pressure. Can you?

So rather than engaging in all forms of frenetic doing, accomplishing, goal setting and achieving, I choose to relax into the year. Let it unfold organically. Bask in the wonder and glory and pleasure of it all. Smell the roses and the coffee and the intoxicating aroma of life. Embrace the git and grime and messiness. Revel in the perfectly miraculous humanness.

No doubt, I’ll trip over myself along the way. But I’ll enjoy the tumble for it’s not the end of the world. A fall is just a fall after all.

I encourage you to do the same. Pursue the things that you find worthwhile. That add meaning to your life and to your tribe.  Be mindful that it isn’t always lofty or profound or life-altering. But it is essential. Take time to sit still and do absolutely nothing. For it’s in moments like these that you get to know the wonder of you.

Now go on.  Give yourself a big fat passionate hug. Tell yourself you’re beautiful. Glorious. Loving. Full of awesome sauce. There’s no one else in the universe quite like you.

Then resolve to tell someone else to do the same.

Diaries of The Breadman’s Daughter: The Attic, Hunting for Treasure and the Letter from Jerry.

The box containing the letter from Jerry.

I love treasure hunts.  And finding things I thought were lost forever.  There’s nothing like cleaning out a closet and finding some long forgotten gem.  An old photograph.  A thinking-of-you card or note.  A love letter from someone you once thought you couldn’t live without.  A concert ticket.  Recital program.  A baby book with a lock of hair and a lost tooth.

Most homes have storage spaces where certain things are put away.  For another day.  Another year.  Another time.  Sometimes these things get lost in the deep dark recesses at the very back.   And before you know it, forgotten.  Like they never existed.  We had a little attic in our home that contained such consigned to oblivion artifacts.  It was there that my addiction to treasure hunting began.

Little back story.  We lived on a street lined with wartime houses. They were all pretty much identical except for the size.  Two, three and four bedroom wooden bungalows that looked like they were built more for hasty necessity than longevity.  The big bad wolf could blow one over with a huff and a puff.  Ours was a four bedroom model, with two of those bedrooms on the second floor where the ceilings were sloped and the walls hung low.  My two older brothers occupied one of these rooms.  The other was where Ma sewed and I played by her side.

In “the boys room” there was a little door about three feet tall.  It looked like something that belonged on a child’s play house.  It’s Lilliputian size made it all the more alluring.  Irresistible. Tempting.  And I was drawn to it like a bee to honey.  A moth to light.  In my young impressionable mind it was the door to a whole other world.  Not necessarily like the one in The Chronicles of Narnia.  But equally fascinating and compelling to a small girl with a big imagination.  Truth was, on the other side of the door was just our attic.  And not like the kind you see in the movies either.  It wasn’t some dusty expansive space on the top floor of an old mansion filled with cobwebs and spooky pirate chests that groaned when opened.  It didn’t contain the magical world of Narnia with all its Turkish delight, White Witch and the great lion king Aslan.  But it was filled with family treasures.  And its own flavor of magic.  At times it could be scary.  And sometimes with a little inspiration, it could be downright spine-tingling. But it was always fun to explore.

It was dark, dry and dusty smelling with extreme temperatures. In the summer it was like the fires of hell.  You’d break into a sweat after two minutes.  In winter, it was colder than the Arctic.  You could see your breath if you could see at all.  It was pitch dark so you had to leave the door open and carry a flashlight.  The floors were uneven and creaked with ever move you made.  Slivers in stocking feet were commonplace.  There was also the odd nail that popped up out of nowhere.  The outer wall was lined with pink fiberglass insulation. And slanted so that the entire space formed a perfect right-angle triangle.  It was cramped and claustrophobic, which made moving around a challenge.  Even for a small person.  You had to hunch over or crawl on all fours.  But to me, it was the perfect size and shape.

Part of the fun of going into the attic was the fear.  Nothing filled my heart with terror quite like the scary shadows cast by the flashlight.  Ricocheting sinisterly off the fiberglass walls in the ghostly enclave within the upstairs bedroom.  Littered with the artifacts of our family’s personal narrative.  Dusty cardboard boxes filled with worn out clothes.  Old baby doll carriages with broken wheels.  Tangled webs of Christmas lights.  Battered suitcases with broken locks.  The canvas tent and metal poles.  Old hard cover books.  Stacks of dog-eared Popular Mechanics and Readers Digest.  Family Circle magazines with all the recipes clipped out.  Shoe boxes filled with old negatives of photographs taken on the Six-20 Brownie Junior.  A bulky Scrapbook containing a lock from a first hair cut, and pages of birthday cards and other childhood memorabilia taped carefully into place.  Dance Costumes stored in a McNulty’s dress box.  Old dolls with missing eyelashes and hair cut short by an amateur hairdresser.  Dime store Dishes with chips and cracks.  Bundles of metal clothes hangers.  And sundry bits and bobbles that The Old Man and Ma kept for reasons known only to them.  Treasures each and every one.  Freshly discovered foray after foray into the enchanted land.

I experience this same awe and wonder every time I re-discover the letter from Jerry.

Over twenty years ago, when I was working in a Toronto advertising agency as a Copywriter, I was partnered with an Art Director named Jerry.  We got to know each other quite well over the course of the year that we worked together.  Professional lives quite often blur into the personal in these circumstances.  We seek the universal thread that binds.  Common ground.  Connectivity.  I think it makes us better workers.  And our work better.

It was during one of our many creative sessions that Jerry and I somehow got onto the topic of mail.  I had mentioned how much I loved opening the mailbox to discover a surprise card or a letter.  But this rarely happened, I explained.  All I ever got was bills and junk mail, I complained.  I longed for the good old pen pal days, I declared.  Sigh.

My self-esteem was at an all-time low when Jerry and I had this discussion.  My marriage had fallen apart.  I felt ugly.  And not only unloved but unloveable.  Jerry listened.  I had no idea how well until a few days later.

It was a night like a hundred other nights.  I came home from work exhausted.  Rushed to get dinner started before my kids tore one another apart.  Fury induced by hunger and low blood sugar.  All three of us.  Once dinner was underway I hung up my coat, kicked off my boots and went to the mailbox.  It contained the usual things.  Bills, bills and more bills.  Junk mail from companies wanting me to buy their goods or services.  Disappointing all of it.  But in amongst the undesirable mail was a white business sized envelope addressed to me in cyan colored ink.  The kind used in fountain pens.  Or fine writing instruments as they were commonly referred to back then.  We all owned at least one.  In fact, I was given one when I departed from this agency.  And still have it as a keepsake and a reminder of another time, another place.

Just the sight of that cyan blue fountain ink made my heart beat faster.  I didn’t recognize the handwriting.  But something told me it was going to be good. No matter what. In that instant before opening the envelope there was optimism.  And hope. Elation.  My hands were shaking as I carefully removed the folded lined sheet of paper.  It looked like a page removed from a student’s notebook.  Six by nine inches.  Blue horizontal lines with two red vertical ones forming the margins.

It began “Dearest Bonney.”  You could tell that the writer had corrected the spelling of my name because the dot over the misspelling was still there.  I hadn’t spelled my name with an ‘ie’ since grade eight.  But this only added to the sweetness of the salutation.  The letter went on to say, “This may only happen once so really enjoy it.  But it’s happening because you are truly the kind of person who deserves to come home and find a letter from someone….”  The rest is between me and Jerry.  It was (and still is) the best letter I have ever received in my entire life.  I hold it amongst my dearest possessions.

Jerry and I weren’t lovers.  There was no office romance.  No secret affair.  We were just “Buds.”  Colleagues. Friends. But he gave me a gift like no other.

That was well over twenty years ago.  I have not only moved across the country, but have lived in several different houses since I got here.  Yet the letter has moved everywhere with me.  I packed it away when we left for the Westcoast.

But there’s a peculiar thing about this letter.  It keeps being found.  Over and over and over.  It’s the Groundhog Day letter.  I pack it away.  Forget about it.  And then a few years later I discover it.  All new and fresh again.  Like that night twenty years ago.  Like the treasures in our attic.  Every time I pack it away it’s in a different container, in a different spot.  This isn’t intentional.  It’s usually as a result of some sort of house cleaning.  Or purging of the past.  And with that goes the consolidation of those things being chucked and those things being kept.  The letter from Jerry is always in the “keeper” pile.  I love the serendipitous nature of discovering the letter.  The random accidental earthing of this jewel every few years.

It happened again last Saturday.  I was on the hunt for more family photographs and bits and pieces of our history when I found it.  Tucked away in a box inside a basket at the top of one of the closets in my office.  It’s an awkward spot.  Things that are stored there, are left there.  Kind of like Las Vegas.  But last weekend I was on a mission.  And the great treasure hunter in me had re-surfaced.  I had to find something good.  And I did.

In the box along with Jerry’s letter there was an assortment of random things. One of the most peculiar items was a placemat I made in elementary school for Christmas.  It looked like it was made from a white sheet.  It was adorned with two red bells, several food stains and “Merry Christmas” in my handwriting.  There was also a letter from my parent’s lawyer regarding their estate, a slide rule from high school, a golf ball, a Sarah McLachlan Surfacing CD cover, a photocopy of an American Express card cut into four pieces, a 19-year old candy rose and a combination lock.

There were a lot of other things too.  But once again I separated the wheat from the chaff.   All the stuff I described, along with the letter from Jerry, has now been placed into another box and stored away.  For the next time.  When I need to be reminded that I am someone who deserves to come home from work and find a treasure in the mailbox.  Love in cyan blue fountain ink.

Footnote: I have no idea where Jerry is today.  I don’t even remember his last name.  But I will never forget him and his wonderful thoughtful gift.

The beginning of the letter from Jerry.

Diaries of the Breadman’s Daughter: The Awesome Power in a Sweet Ride.

There were other religious influences.  They say kids are like sponges.  I don’t particularly like that analogy, for a number of reasons.  But suffice to say Bob and Square Pants, and just leave it at that.  I do think kids possess naturally open and insatiably curious minds though.  More like bottomless toy boxes that always have room for more.  Or the magicians black hat.  Rabbits and endless chiffon scarves.  Doves and other wondrous things extracted with ease.

At least that was how my young mind worked. Still does.

One of my favorite things to ponder as a child, and to this day for that matter, is God.  Such an infinite subject.  I wanted to know Him/Her. I wanted to know me.  Where I came from.  Where God came from. If God made me then who made God? I thought about that so much it made my head spin.  Still no answer. Will I ever know?

Little back story.  When I was six my oldest brother met the love of his life and the woman who would become my sister-in-law.  They were engaged for four years, which at the time seemed like an eternity to me.  Truthfully, I think it seemed like an eternity to J as well.  We both had our reasons.  I was very young and she was eager to be a blushing bride.

During those four years my brother, who once smoked unfiltered cigarettes and drove a mauve Harley Davidson, wore his black Italian hair slicked back like John Travolta in Grease and had a chipped front tooth, became a Catholic.  He did it for love. I can’t think of a better reason. My sister-in-law played an instrumental role the conversion, which was a good thing. The entire family agreed. It transformed my brother’s life, gave it purpose and made him happy, beyond his wildest imaginings.  That was my first introduction into the awesome power of God. I was a firsthand witness to a metamorphosis so rich and profound and eternal.  Undeniable.  Love taking action. All these years later, it still exists.

The Awesome Power of God Manifested in a Sweet Ride

Even though by then, The Old Man, Ma and I were attending the Lutheran Church every Sunday I still felt kind of bad.  Not quite good enough.  Compared to St. Michael and All Angels Anglican Church that the other two Musketeers attended and Corpus Cristi Catholic Church, right across the road for God’s sake, that my brother and sister-in-law were members, the Christ Lutheran Church seemed somehow second rate.  No one I knew went there.  What did they know that we didn’t? Why were the other churches up on Red River Road and ours was down on Walkover Street?  It seemed we couldn’t get anything right.

Furthermore, the Christ Lutheran Church was full of Finlanders with blonde hair, pale skin and weird accents.  The Old Man fit in nicely, being a Finlander, but my painfully shy olive-complected Italian/English mother and I were misfits.  Strangers in a strange land.  As Jim Morrison so aptly put it, “People are strange when you’re a stranger.”  That’s predominantly how I felt the entire time I attended Christ Lutheran Church.

I stopped attending when I turned 19, the year of my emancipation from organized religion.  I was very disorganized after that.

I didn’t know it at the time but I guess it was also the year I became an “Other.”