Diaries of The Breadman’s Daughter: Look What They’ve Done to my Song, Ma.

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I don’t know what it feels like to be a woman. Crazy I know. But the truth is, I really only know what it feels like to be me. And to make matters even more ambiguous, I only know what it feels like to be me at this very moment. Like most people, I’ve been changing since the day I was born. Physically. Emotionally. Spiritually. Intellectually. In every conceivable way, I’ve changed. And so have my feelings and perceptions of myself. Ergo, the only “me” I really know is the one right here, right now, typing these words.

Lately I’ve been thinking about gender fluidity, a term I must admit I’d never heard of, until I read this bit online about Miley Cyrus, where she said that she was gender fluid. Although I’m not entirely clear on what this means, something about it resonated with me. I know, more crazy talk. Me? Miley? Worlds apart, right?

And then I watched one of her Backyard Sessions with Melanie Safka and thought maybe we aren’t all that different. Maybe no one is. Is it possible that human beings, from all different walks of life, have more in common than not? And that we all defy being defined, limited and restricted?

The pair was performing an old tune of Melanie’s, and one of my all-time favorites, called Look What They’ve Done to My Song, Ma. And in that moment, I was charmed. I had loved Melanie back in the day, and truthfully I thought she was dead. But there she was, as beautiful and quirky and amazing as ever. Watching her and Miley took me back to my bedroom floor at 204. I used to lie on my back, with my head right next to the record player, with my eyes closed, and belt out this song over and over and over. I couldn’t get enough of it.

It’s funny how things go round and round. Like that song. It came to mind a few years ago when I wrote this love song for Eric for our wedding. A very talented bluegrass musician was helping me refine and polish it. He was also attempting to teach me bluegrass guitar, which was undoubtedly frustrating for both of us. And let me stop here to say, I’m not a bluegrass musician, Eric is.

During that time, when the bluegrass musician and I were working on my song, we had very different opinions on how it should sound. To him, it was bluegrass all the way. But to me, it was a sweet little folk tune with a hint of an Irish lilt in its cadence. At one point in the song-making process we were camped in completely different worlds. But in the end, Fragile Moment landed happily in the most harmonious place within my beating heart. Not my vision going in, but exceeding all expectations when it was done.

But in the beginning, I’d come home from one of our sessions and think, ‘look what he’s done to my song, Ma.’

So there’s Melanie’s song and there’s Miley’s backyard. And then there’s me, and this gender fluidity, that makes sense on some level, despite not fully understanding. But I am intrigued. In fact, so much so, that I declared to my youngest daughter the other night, that I think I’m gender fluid.

“When did this happen?” she asked sardonically. Admittedly, a very reasonable question for her to pose, especially to me, a person who has been known to utter lots of utter nonsense but nothing of this ilk. If I could have read her mind, I’m pretty sure she was thinking, ‘what the fuck mother.’

“When I stopped having my period,” I blurted.

I don’t know what made me say that. But I do know, that around the same time, Ma died, and then The Old Man did too, and then I started to feel differently about everything. Including myself. The “me” I thought was me was being whipped and refashioned by this menopausal hurricane. I’d had the first real brush with my mortality and it scared the shit out of me. The worst thing was, much of the time, I felt irrelevant, insignificant and invisible. I loathed feeling irrelevant and insignificant. My feelings were hurt. I felt unloved by the universe. But I have to say there was something incredibly liberating about feeling invisible. I was flying effortlessly under the radar and for the very first time in my life I felt free to say and do whatever I wanted, as long as it wasn’t causing harm to others or myself.

Since my period stopped I’ve started. And like Miley, I’m just me.

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Backyard Sessions: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GX9A5vv-jOM

 

Diaries of The Breadman’s Daughter: Never Stop Learning.

Abby Gardner

Girl Warrior.  Your education doesn’t end with the cap and gown. Or the walk across the stage to collect your diploma. Truth is, it’s just beginning.

Be infinitely inquisitive, interested and intrigued by everything and everyone. Be eager to know and understand. Look under rocks. Check out every leaf and blade of grass. Peek behind curtains. Peer into windows. Pry open doors. Poke around. Pursue relentlessly the ‘who, what, where and why’ of life. Plant seeds of greatness. And pick the brains of the brightest.

Be a big thinker.

Grow your mind every day. Cultivate your intellect. Expand your knowledge. Enrich your life with new experiences. Seek wisdom in the nests of the sagacious old birds. Hunt tenaciously for truth. Let your mind wander. And wonder. Live life fully and may it be your finest teacher.

Read voraciously. Write prodigiously. Listen judiciously. Observe keenly. Ask questions. Be a perennial student Girl Warrior. Until you draw your final breath.

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Girls in Glasses

Diaries of The Breadman’s Daughter: 12 Ways to Bring Heart and Meaning to Your Work.

DSCN1378dI’m a lucky woman. I was born and raised in a small town in Northwestern Ontario at a time when career options were somewhat limited for women. Or more specifically, my vision for what I could be when I grew up was myopic. Salesgirl. Secretary. Teacher. Nurse. Wife. Mother. It was a time of women’s liberation and world transformation but we lagged behind in our town of early snows and sweltering summers. From that list, I chose Teacher, Secondary Level, with specialization in English and History. An honorable profession, but not for me, at least not back then.

Secretly, I had bigger dreams than the classroom could contain. Write novels. Tell stories. Spend my days in the presence of creative, imaginative and artistic folks. And oddly enough, to carry a satchel-style briefcase made of brown leather to work every day.

Through a series of fortunate events, that spanned the better part of a decade, I landed a job as a Junior Copywriter in a mid-sized boutique agency in Toronto. Thus began a career I never dreamed of but as it turns out was tailor-made for me.

Fast forward two decades to the West Coast to a small boutique agency nestled in the countryside where fields of green are dotted with sheep, horses, chickens and goats. It is here that I have found my place amongst some of the most talented and creative minds in Canada. It is here that I bring my heart for service, my teacher’s sensibility and a mother’s compassion and love.

I am a Production Manager.

I have had tons of on-the-job training and learning over the years. But so much of what I do professionally, and the way I work, my modus operandi, comes from my personal life and core values. There are so many, I could write a book, but here are a dozen things I’d like to share with you, in no particular order.

  1. Be kind and compassionate. Treat people the way you would like to be treated. The old adage is true. Imagine yourself in their shoes. Walk a mile in their moccasins or mukluks or Manolos. Seek understanding. Express genuine concern. Cultivate a magnanimous spirit.
  2. Treat everyone the same, from the courier to the CEO. Everyone is important and has value. Everyone has a meaningful role to play in your business. Be respectful and appreciative of what each person brings to the table, regardless of their title or station in life.
  3. See the good in everyone. It’s there. Truth is, you may have to dig deep to see it in some. While others it sits on the surface like a shiny penny. You have the power to bring out the best in everyone. But first you have to see it.
  4. Be generous with your praise. If someone says or does something you think is terrific or wonderful, remarkable or just plain nice, acknowledge it. Don’t be stingy in this area. Don’t withhold. Let your colleagues, associates and suppliers know how much you appreciate them and the work they do. Take pleasure in the accomplishments of others.
  5. Think of different ways to do things. Be innovative and creative in your approach to everything. This will add freshness to your daily routine. Be a Curious George. Say, “yes” to new opportunities and challenges, even if they scare you. Zig when everyone else is zagging.
  6. Have impeccable manners. There is no excuse for rudeness. Anywhere. Anytime. Treat everyone respectfully and politely. Please and thank you go a long way.
  7. Fear not and take risk. Fear kills creativity and it’s paralyzing. It’s that simple. Kick it to the curb every time it enters your heart, mind or spirit. Go out on a limb and extend yourself beyond your comfort zone. Don’t listen to the naysayers or the negative noise around you. Listen to the small quiet voice within that cheers you on and propels you to greater accomplishments. And if fear or insecurity does creep in, work with the confidence, faith and belief that others have in you. Remember why you were hired in the first place.
  8. Be of service and helpful. Look for all the ways you can make someone else’s job easier and more meaningful. Lighten their load. Lift their spirits. Be someone who can be counted on, trusted, relied upon, and the wind beneath the wings. The supporting actors always have the most interesting parts. Remember that.
  9. Be smart not a smart aleck. Be humble and gracious. Let your talent and brilliance speak for itself. It isn’t necessary to flaunt your credentials. There’s no need to show off or grandstand. Park your ego and let others shine. When you do, it’s remarkable how smart and wise your colleagues will find you.
  10. Extend grace in order to receive grace. We all make mistakes, for we are only human after all. First and foremost, be forgiving when someone makes a mistake, especially on your watch. Accept that things often go awry. Turn out wrong with disappointing results. Understand that unfortunate things happen, even with the best intentions, the best efforts, the best people on the project. Resist the urge to point fingers, assign blame or throw someone under the bus. Trust me, in situations like this, the people involved feel badly enough. Scolding an adult like you would a five-year old child is demoralizing and doesn’t accomplish anything. Nor does it move the conversation in the direction it needs to go.
  11. Recover quickly from mistakes. It’s not the end of the world. You’ll survive. This too shall pass. But first, own it and then move swiftly to repair things. And know this, in the end it’s not the mistake that anyone remembers but how it was dealt with. A bad resolution leaves a bitter taste that lingers in the air. Gather all your resources to help you to fix things. Remember, you are not alone. Most things that go wrong involve several people, all of whom could have prevented it from happening at some point along the process. So rally your troops. Fix it, extend your sincere apologies, learn from the experience, stop beating yourself up. And move on.
  12. Go for a walk at lunch. Take a break. Get out of the office or studio or plant or store, or wherever you spend your day. Leave. I go for a walk every day because that’s what I like to do. I love being outdoors, regardless of the weather or time of year. Walking changes my perspective and opens the window to more mindful ways of working. Helps me to see things differently, more clearly. Unclogs my brain, and possibly my arteries. It eases the stress, fosters problem solving, inspiration and new ideas. I often take an idea for a walk to see if it “has legs” or needs to be tossed. After twenty minutes on the road, I usually know. If walking isn’t your thing, then find something that is. But most importantly, remove yourself from the building. Make this a daily habit. It’s one of the healthiest and most productive things you can do in your day. It’s one of the keys to long-lasting and enduring success.

Diaries of The Breadman’s Daughter: Walking the Tightrope.

While Ma was lingering in her last weeks, and then days on Earth, I was walking a tightrope. It was surreal. Dreamlike most of the time. It was a delicate balance. How do you keep precious hope alive while you’re slipping headfirst into the long dark tunnel of despair?

The heart wants what the heart wants. But the head knows the hard cold truth. This cruel candor resided in the belly of the thin black line I traversed every minute of every one of those final evanescent days.

It was as though I was walking high above this fragile life that was unraveling. Thread by thread. Bit by bit. One piece at a time. Tiny fragments dissolving into dust.

There I was, out of my body. Looking down. A witness to my own personal heartbreak.

The line was taut. The emotions tauter. I was neither light on my feet. Nor was I nimble. There was no grace in my step. I was just there. Trying to breathe. Trying to keep it together. Whatever “it” was.

The multi-layers of tyrannizing fear permeated ever fibre and pore of my body. Suffocating my soul. Strangling my spirit. I was bound and gagged by the evil twins, anguish and anxiety.

Fear of losing Ma. Fear of life afterwards. Fear of going on without her. Fear of falling apart. Fear of my emotions and what they could do if unleashed. Fear for my family, especially my children. Fear that my heart would never be the same. Fear that I could not go on. Fear that I would.

Fear. Fear. Fear.

With each teetering step, I wondered if this was the defining one. The tripper. The one where all equilibrium was lost. The pivotal point where standing meets stumbling. The place where I falter. Then free fall.

Down. Down. Down.

Eventually, and inevitably, I did fall. It was inescapable. I couldn’t stay up there forever. I had to come back down to earth. Face the other inevitable. Ma was dying. And there wasn’t a damn thing I could do about it. Except be there.

In the end, falling was an epic relief. I would have let go sooner had I known that I had a safety net. It was there all along.

Yes, for I fell sweetly and safely into the arms of everyone who loved me.

Diaries of The Breadman’s Daughter: Today.

E relaxing by the pond with Coco and Rusty.

E relaxing by the pond with Coco and Rusty.

I usually like to keep a bit of time and distance between me and the stories I tell.  Sometimes years like I have with the Diaries of The Breadman’s Daughter.  With others, it’s weeks or months like this blog about me and E and the Big C. This is the psychological and emotional space I need to tell a good story.  It’s the way I work.

Time allows me to separate myself from the story so that it doesn’t erode into sentimental sop.  Don’t get me wrong.  I love a good tear jerker.  I just don’t intentionally write one.  I’m not here to emotionally manipulate.  It is my desire to share what I know, what I’ve learned on this journey.  At best, it may only be an enjoyable read.  At worst, a waste of time.  But if it informs and illuminates, touches a heartstring, resonates with some truth you hold dear, then I’ve accomplished more than I could have hoped for.

My story is your story.  We’re all in this together after all.  You may not have cancer, nor be married to someone with it.  You may be lucky and this disease hasn’t touched your life in any way.  But I doubt it.   That’s not the point.  This isn’t about the disease, you see.  It’s about two people and their family and friends and community.  It’s about you and me.  All of us.

Oh yes it is my dear ones.

Because we’re all human and this is a very human story.  Not a tragedy.  Although sometimes it is heartbreaking.  It is often fraught with folly.  And great big belly laughs.  Tears are shed.  Curse words are spat like mouldy grapes.  But there’s a whole lot of loving going on too.

So today, Saturday, April 6, exactly four months after my world was rocked I am going to do something I typically don’t do with my storytelling.  I’m telling you how it is now.  On this day.  No time.  No distance.  No space between me and the story.

This morning E and I were in the kitchen making coffee and chatting idly about the things we had to do today.  For reasons I’m not even certain of – maybe I was born with it or maybe it’s Maybelline – I turned to him and said the following:

“I know nothing can compare to the way you feel.  Part of me can’t even imagine.  But I just want you to know that for the people closest to you.  It feels horrible.  Awful.  Everyone expects you to feel like crap. You’ve got cancer for Christ sakes. But I feel like crap too.  I’m worried and exhausted.  I’m so depressed.”

E slumped in the chair and said, “I’m worried too.  I wake up at three in the morning and I can’t sleep.”

“Neither can I,” I snapped.

But what I wanted to say and couldn’t because he’s the one with cancer and that trumps everything: “You just don’t get it. Yes, you have the disease, but you don’t have a monopoly on feeling bad.”

“I’m depressed,” he sighed.

“Some days I feel like I’m hanging on by my fingernails.”

And that was the end of the conversation.  Maybe hanging on by your fingernails trumps everything.

There you have it.  Four months in and the truth is, we both feel like crap.  Not all the time.  The mornings are the worst.  Fortunately life distracts us.  We carry on.  Get on with it.  Try not to wallow.  Nor allow this thing to swallow us whole like a snake eating a rabbit.  Take the best part of us. We ‘do not go gentle into that good night.’

This afternoon we took our dogs for a walk around the lake.  It was good.  As we walked the trail, I breathed in the beauty of the world surrounding us.  The trees were green with newness.  Life was exerting itself everywhere. Hope filled the clouds above.  The breeze whispered sweet nothings in our ears.   You have today, it said.

There wasn’t a trace of cancer anywhere.

Diaries of The Breadman’s Daughter: This is The Man we all Love.

Sitting in the window of an abandoned farmhouse.

I have written a lot posts for all the magnificent Girl Warriors in my life.  My strong, fierce and beautiful daughters, grand daughter, daughter-in-law and the original warrior, Ma. Plus all the others, near and dear to me.  All glorious inspirational women.

I also have a son.  He is equally magnificent in my eyes.  Yet in many ways he’s a mystery to me.  A charming and perplexing enigma.  Perhaps it’s because he’s a boy and at the end of the day I must admit that I don’t fully understand the male species.

I was young when he came into the world.  So was he.  In truth, we grew up together.  He has taught me much since that wondrous day when I looked into his dark raisin eyes for the very first time.  I am eternally grateful for all the learning through the years. Even the difficult stuff.  I’ve probably learned more through those experiences than from the easy breezy butterfly days.

So many rights of passage we shared.  The holding close.  And the letting go.  All those milestones.  From the first step.  To the walk across the stage to receive his degree.  Everything in between.  Proud mother moments.  Heartbreaks and heroics.  Flights of fancy and family ties.  Unbreakable bonds.  Love is born.  And grows eternal in this mother-son relationship.

He stands shoulder to shoulder with the three other good men who I love dearly.  My strong and gentle big brother, my solid husband and my complicated father.  Each seemingly different.  At least on the exterior.  At once complex and full of mystifying layers.  Yet also sublimely straightforward and uncomplicated.  Always sincere.  Forthright.  Honest.  Kind.  They are the faces of strength, courage and tenderness in my often anxious world.

The 10 Steps to Becoming the Man We All Love:

The Old Man was so delighted with his grandson.

1. Be your own man. Authentic. Genuine. 100% bona fide you. The real thing.  Don’t be an impostor.  Nor live a vicarious life.  Grab a hold of what matters to you.  Put on your own jersey.  Strap on your own skates.   Play the game you love.  Not someone else’s.  Be an original.  A maverick.  The natural.  Always be the guileless boy who looks at the world with wide-eyed wonder.  Forever rub your hands together with glee and pure joy.  Be the spontaneous boy. And the solid man.  Work with your full range of emotions.  Express yourself completely.  Thoroughly.  Freely.  And if a tear falls. Let it.

2. Be brave-hearted.  Stand tall.  Stare down your fears.  Look them straight in the eyes.  Laugh at them.  Call their bluff.  Walk right through them.  Don’t go around.  Don’t avoid.  Face them head-on. Know that all courageous men have fears. Life is scary sometimes. For all of us.  Don’t be a victim.  Instead be valorous.  Do no shrink.   Roar.  Hoot and howl.  Feel the fear and get on with it.  There are no boogeymen under the bed.  No monsters hiding in the closet. Myths.  False emotions appearing real.  That’s all.  And always remember that you are far bigger than your fears.

My big brother with my nephew and my son sharing a cuddle.

3. Get a real kick out of life.  Have fun.  Find things that amuse and delight you.  Not just once and awhile.  But every day.  Don’t put it off for the weekend.  For vacation.  Or another time.   Play right now.  Cause a ruckus.  Bang on your drum all day.  Shake your tambourine.  Laugh your guts out.  Make a fool of yourself. Embrace happiness.  Enjoy the people you’re with right this very second.  Surround yourself with the lighthearted ones who put a smile on your face.  Take delight in every minute of this life you are given.

4. Be a loving man. And you will be loved.  Guaranteed.  More than you could ever imagine or dream. Open your heart wide and let in the love.  Don’t run from it.  Strong men have the guts to be tender.  Kind.  Compassionate.  Be a Gentle Ben.  Tom, Dick or Harry.  And remember, love isn’t always perfect.  Accept that sometimes it will hurt.  That’s okay.  Don’t let this frighten you. Don’t push it away.  Or turn your back.  Don’t give up on it. Love refines your heart and grows your compassion muscle.  Most importantly, learn to recognize love when it comes your way.  It doesn’t always come gift wrapped.  It may be completely different from what you had in mind.  Better even. In fact, the best thing that ever happened to you.

The proud uncle with his lookalike niece.

5. Find your tribe.  Your band of sisters and brothers. The ones where you fit in.  Belong. Feel at home with.  For these will be your family.  Some related by blood.  Others by the heart.  Surround yourself with people you trust, respect and enjoy.  You don’t have to always agree. You don’t even have to always get along.  But these are the faithful ones. Loyal. Steadfast. And true.  The ones who will be there for you.  With you.  By your side.  Through thick and thin. The ones who have your back.  Who pick you up when you fall. Help you find your way home in the dark.  They’re with you no matter what. No questions asked.  No doubt about it.

6. Follow your passions and the things that make you want to get up in the morning.  Jazzed and ready to go.  Have big dreams.  They don’t cost any more than the small ones. Your life will be so much richer for it.  Do the things that you love to do first.  And everything else will fall into place. Be enthusiastic.  Get psyched.  Pumped.   Gung-ho.  Embrace new ideas and ways of doing the things you already know. Be creative.  Imaginative. Take the magical mystery tour of discovery.  Go on an adventure.  Expand. Grow. Cultivate. Hone. Take risks. Embrace the failures on the way to your successes.  Learn and move on.

My son with “his lady” in Scotland on the adventure of their lives.

7. Be generous and magnanimous of spirit. With everything and everybody.  Don’t be stingy.  Don’t withhold. Don’t hang onto things.  Never covet. Give of what you have.  What you know.  Give a little. Or a lot.  But give. This isn’t necessarily about money.  Nor material things. It can be. Nothing wrong with that. If you’ve got it.  Give it.  But it’s also about giving of yourself.  Your time.  Your energy.  The natural gifts you came into the world with.  Take every opportunity to share these with others.  The more you do, the bigger you will be.  This will make you happier than anything you ever imagined.  For the more you give, the more you receive.

8. Be honest.  A man of your word.  Don’t make promises you can’t keep.  Nor intend to.  Be a man of integrity.  Honorable. Upstanding. Someone you can rely on.  Depend on.  Be the good guy who shows up.  Even in the stickiest of situations.  Know that when you shake on something that you are doing more than pressing flesh.  You are giving your word.  Your bond.  Don’t violate this sacred trust.  Respect others and you will be respected in turn.

My two lovely men standing tall at our wedding.

9. Defend and stand up for something.  Be righteous. Not self-righteous.  Find causes close to your heart.  Help those in need.  Shelter the weak.  The young.  The very old. Once you accept the challenge, don’t put conditions on who you’ll help and who you won’t.  Raise the bar on compassion.  Kindness.  Tolerance.  Embrace your fellow travelers.  Meet them eye to eye.  Carry the placard.  Wear the colors.  Pin on the badge.  But don’t force your beliefs down the throats of others. This is not a persuasive approach.  Don’t cloud the issues with misplaced anger.  This just creates mindless noise.  Be humble. Not sanctimonious.  Charitable.  Not complacent.  Be a leader when called upon.  And a follower when the time is right.  But most importantly, be a man that everyone wants in their corner.

10. Take care of yourself.  Do whatever it takes.  All the days of your life.  Not just physically.  But mentally.  And spiritually.  Do it for yourself.  And for all the people who love you.  Be active in every arena of your life.  Find your sport. Get out there and move.  Join a team.  Or go it alone.  Play hockey.  Or a round of golf.  Walk the dog.  Or chase the kids.  It’s all good.  Learn to cook and eat well. Spend time looking inwards.  Take a moment for introspection.  Meditate.  Pray.  Go for walks alone with your thoughts.  Get to know yourself.  And “to thine own self be true.”  Do these things and you will be the man we all love.