Daily Bread – There will be no recipes in this blog


…but I might talk about bread. Because, LOVE.

At the risk of giving people the wrong idea, I’m going to begin with an explanation of Here A Slice, There A Slice — and it’s going to involve the Bible.

If you’re a Christian or a student of theology, you have heard of the Lord’s Prayer (Matt 6: 9-13). That line in there, “Give us this day our daily bread,” has been a struggle for me.

For me, it triggers all kinds of insecurities. What have I ever done to stand still and expect God or the Universe to give me what I need, let alone what I want? Question upon question upon question about worthiness and specialness and all kinds of crap twist my head into stupid answers that exclude me from believing I can expect to be loved and supported on such a level.

I could go into the layers of personal history that, in the past, dictated to me that I don’t have a spot in the receiving line, but that would be a waste of time because now I know better. I have always been loved and supported by the greatness of being, and this blog is about appreciating it.

For me, “Give us this day our daily bread” is too passive. Maybe that’s why I have never been able to own it. I need to participate; to interact. For some, taking action may translate into “I’ll get my own damn bread,” but that approach fails for me as well.

For me, participation begins with bearing witness. Bearing witness is more than seeing something happen and talking about it later. Bearing witness is an active state of awareness, a conscious plugging in to your mental processes to register and record multiple dimensions of an occurrence, and then sharing in a meaningful way the truth of what you experience.

For me, bearing witness becomes the act of recognizing the daily bread I’m given, and giving thanks for already having received it. This state of mind sets me up to “receive” the slices of daily bread that I know are coming tomorrow. Rather than an ask for something specific, it’s a knowing that if I just look around I will recognize the gift when I see it.

Because, this is the bread that saves my life. If you ask how I’m doing and I tell you it’s all rainbows and butterflies in my world, or use the key words, “unicorns and lollipops,” it means I’m struggling. With depression, with loneliness, with deep-seeded beliefs in my lack of value that have grown branches and limbs and tried to infect my psyche. I hack at them daily, and I get my strength from the Universe saying, “Here, enjoy this daffodil blooming in this vase. Yesterday, it was a tight bud, unsure, unsteady, nothing more than potential. Look at it today!” So I look, and I love this one thing and I wonder at its beauty, and I own that I’m being invited into the inner circle of few people who will ever see this specific bloom, and I remind myself how cool that is.

Daily, I have a chance to participate in beauty, life, joy. Daily, I can choose to lock myself away in the warm, familiar darkness — the one that lies and calls itself “emotional safety” when it is really starvation. Emotional deprivation.

For me, emotional safety comes with the sudden rush of a thousand plovers taking off in swirls across the bay. A cat sighing deeply in a patch of sun on the back of my chair. The charming nervousness of the couple at the next table over, clearly on their first date and clearly delighted in their meeting.

These are the things that happen 126 million times a day, every day, all over the world, but if they happen in your presence — when you are truly present — they are gifts of love and joy.

For me, the privilege of bearing witness is food for my soul. My hopes are that if I invite you to look at the world through my window, maybe you, too will find yourself eating up the beautiful, uplifting things that are out there just waiting to be truly seen.

I live in the San Francisco Bay Area, so one thing you can expect from me is a blog post about the borderline orgasmic experience of biting into real sourdough bread. Without turning this into a religious thing, I will also quote the Buddha, the Bible, and the Bee Gees, among others. Messages of love are messages of love, regardless of the human source.

As I sit here on a stool at a gate next to a Starbucks inside an airport, I find myself struggling with which slices of daily bread to focus on. Which do I mention? The witty comments on my Facebook post about having a noisy suitcase? The little girl and her father who just came out of the mens room, chattering away together? The laughter of the baristas sharing an inside joke? The gaggle of young girls excited to be traveling together? The way I made the TSA at security chuckle (I love when that happens).

It’s coming up on noon, and I have a full loaf to think about.


H is for Hats ~ The Happy is in the Hunting

A few months ago, a wise little birdie with lots of this kind of knowledge told my friend and fellow blogger that it would be a good idea to stockpile images that she actually owns for use in her blogs. As in, take your own damn pictures.

There were probably more, other, and better words used at the time, but I think the logic behind the advice boils down to this:

“Using stock images from the Interwebs is a bad idea,” I imagine Julia Park Tracey saying to Michelle Chouinard, “because you don’t own them, and that could be a problem.”

…a problem like: they could disappear at any moment, or you could anger the ethics gods or worse, you could piss off the owner of the image you swiped.

…so: get off your butt and get to grabbing your own snapshots from the world around you.

This is how Michelle, Romny French (yet another blogger), and I found ourselves in the “Main Street Community” of Niles in Fremont, California, exploring the quaint antique and artisan stores that area is known for.

Deep in the bowels of the first multi-room antique-peddling establishment we stumbled into, we learned the hard way that you have to ask for permission before you start taking photos willy-nilly in anyone’s store. Derp. It didn’t even occur to us that people could have nefarious reasons for taking pictures of old telephones and tea services, but they do, and small business owners get burned all the time, so ask before you snap your pix. It’s the right thing to do.

Our plan was to take pictures of randomly interesting things that popped out at us, and for the most part I was down with that… until I spotted the pith helmet in A Moment In Time. It was just sitting there on the corner of a table, next to one of those phones they used on the battlefield in WWI-ish (of which I got a ton of pictures, because it was really that cool, and since the helmet was all kinds of appropriate to the expedition we were on, I put it on.

Pith Helmet at A Moment In TimeIt didn’t really fit my head, but it fit the day and it fit my personality, and now a cropped version of this shot shows up occasionally as my Facebook profile picture and one of my avatars. Bonus.

I have oodles of images from inside this shop (oodles being the mathematical term for boatload), many of which will show up in future blogs, and some of which will be used to blackmail Romny when my writer’s wealth dwindles enough to justify a life of crime.

If they had let me wear the helmet the whole time I was in that shop (they being my friends and/or the shop owners), I would have. I was on an expedition, after all, hunting for trophies and stalking my prey in strange, new places. Alas, they thought it was weird and made me put it back.

From there, we made our way to Suda Mae Antiques, an absolutely gorgeous store with color-themed vignettes and the friendliest store owner, who happened to have a great sense of fun and helped make the day a success. She watched me try on one of the hats as we explained what we were doing, encouraged us to take pictures of anything and everything that caught our eye, and then joined in the merrymaking by picking out an assortment of very cool hats for me to strike poses in.

Bronwyn Hat (31)

Bronwyn Hat (27)

Bronwyn hat (4)

Bronwyn Hat (18)

Bronwyn Hat (34)

Something interesting happened in the middle of all this shenanigannery (shenanigannery being the ridiculous frivolity that occurs when you do something basically meh, like posing in period hats, with friends who make you giggle and snort-laugh like a teenager). Writer brain kicked in, and characters I didn’t think I could ever relate to, characters that would proudly adorn themselves in silks and velvets, feathers and beads, paisleys and polka dots, they came along to introduce themselves to my imagination and spark some playful interest.

Our little excursion to another town was worth the four hours or so of pizza-fueled wanderings in and out of antique stores. We field-tripped into environs steeped in history, bedazzled in color, swept up in texture, and unabashedly touting the aesthetics of the past, and came out of it with more than the digital images of unique and interesting things for our blogposts. We stumbled across writing prompts, bumped into character quirks, and rediscovered the elements of setting.

We were reminded of the way the air sits in the silence of a near-empty store, the poised stillness of a downtown avenue before rush hour, and the way the sun hits cement, working hard to hold back the creeping shadows of old, squat buildings settled in comfortable rows along the sidewalk.

Julia’s sage advice to go out and get visual fodder for our blogs was actually a mentoring lesson in disguise. We came back with a whole lot more than we were looking for, and I can’t wait for the next writers group field trip. I’m thinking about this destination next.

G is for Glass ~ My Girls Made Me Do It

Somewhere in 2013, I discovered glass fusion at Artistic Home Studio, and was overcome by that tremor of excitement you get when you find a new stimulant for the old creative juices.


First day: Just had to make something for my son, who was about to start his freshman year as an AHS Hornet.

Also, somewhere in 2013, my health nose-dived and I had to give up most of my clients and the part-time job that balanced out my writer-hermit life. That year was one week-long migraine after another, and I just couldn’t do it. Any of it. This was also the year of the toxic, jealous, angry con-artist boyfriend with the need to make me fat (“so no one would take me from him”) and the secret drug and alcohol problems. Between the physical pain and the constant mental and emotional push-back against Baby Huey’s evil twin, every day was a struggle.

I was trapped in an endless, exhausting battle with pain and frustration — unless I was in that art studio.

I’m a creative person and I’m a problem solver. I write, I edit, I solve puzzles, and I design spaces and streamline systems for efficiency. These are cerebral skills. The bulk of their development occurs in the mind. I have tactile skills as well, but the painting, the sketching, the doing things has always taken a backseat to the thinking things.

But being in the middle of a 5-day migraine is not a place for creative thinking, critical thinking, analytical thinking, or any other kind of thinking beyond somebody please kill me now thinking. Tapping into my head for any kind of thinking, let alone a straight 60 seconds of concentration, was like digging into a metal cavity with a foil fork. So, I had to let it go. I had to trust that it would be there, waiting patiently for me, when my brain came back to find it again.

There is a pyschological pain that comes with not being able to do what you have been wired to do, and it is more excruciating than the icepicks behind the eyeball of any migraine. When you’re a creative person, you have to have an outlet. You have to have a way to create something. Anything. That’s why working with glass is in my gratitude blog.

The way things are set up at Artistic Home Studio, I could drop in on days when my head was okay, and it didn’t matter that sometimes that was a Wednesday at 1 p.m. or a Friday at 4 p.m., or that sometimes months would go buy and I’d show up on a random Tuesday at 3 p.m. I could go when I felt up to it, and that felt like freedom — like I had a tiny piece of something that the migraines could not steal from my life completely.

I found pleasure in working with my hands, and trusting them to do the creative work with a minimum of input from my mind. They felt the shapes, the weight, the texture of the glass. My fingers drew outlines, mapped color combinations, cut, glued, and pressed into place pieces that would fuse together in the kiln in ways that would by nature not conform to my exacting control.

Melting glass does not obey like the materials I’m used to working with, and that was its own relief. Not once did I get back from the heat a perfect reflection of what I’d created in my mind’s eye. For someone whose mind hurt so much of the time, that lesson in letting go was a good one.

In retrospect, I realize I only went into the glass studio a handful of times that year, but in my memory those days eclipse the bad days, and it’s all because the joy I got from creating something with my hands eclipsed anything physical pain threw at me.

Is that the beauty of creativity? Is that why it becomes such an addiction to those of us who find that zone, that now of being, that total transportation to another state of being where creation happens? Where the dualities of angst and joy, anxiety and faith, and work and play speak in turns of shouts and soothing sighs into our very selves? Where our souls speak to our hearts speak to our minds speak to our desires speak out to the world?

Without clients to invoice or an employer to pay me, Christmas was the meanest kind of lean, and in 2013 I watched my beautiful daughters and their boyfriends, all of them with their beautiful hearts, beautifully love and appreciate my offerings of glass. A wine stopper and wine charms for my oldest and her boyfriend — so ugly I’m pretty sure they use it with a kind of hipster irony. A collection of jewellry for my other daughter, so homemade they never get worn — although I’ve been told they will be cherished for her entire life. A spoonrest in yellows with her boyfriend’s first initial in black — so rudimentary, and yet I saw it being used.

After they left my home with every ounce of anything that I could give them, in its pathetic and embarrassing lightness of substance, I lost it. The incredible weight of their love for what I’d done, their shared appreciation that it really was the thoughts behind the gifts that were going to have to sustain them, sent me weeping to bed.

The following year I said goodbye to the migraines. I dedicated that time to healing, and my client list doubled from one to two. Money was still tight, but Christmas is relentless; it comes every year, whether I’m ready for it or not. When my daughter asked for a large fused-glass bowl to display on her table, I jumped at the chance to redeem myself and honor the love and patience she, her sister, and their boyfriends had consistently given me. I went straight down to the Artistic Home Studio and learned making a bowl that size was about $300 out of my price range.

Co-owner and artiste extraordinaire JaYing Wang said to me, “Why don’t you do a bowl for her with mosaics?!?” And the rest is documented in the photos below.

One more thing: For an unrelated reason, I was missing huge chunks of skin from my right hand and a little from my left when I worked on these things. The bowl took 20 hours across four or five weeks and the platter took 10. It was slow going because, not much skin / very much pain, but it was worth it because, SO much love and SO much joy. I put everything I had into these creations (including some blood), and I think they turned out well. What I got back for myself is beyond measure.

Today, I have fresh skin, no migraines, new clients, a growing bank account, and the full understanding of the healing power of working on something creative — cerebral or tactile — for someone you love.

In the beginning, there was a glazed ceramic bowl from a second-hand store, a plain plastic platter from Target, and a whole lotta glass.

Raw Bowl and PlatterThen some work happened, just a few hours at a time, whenever I could make it down to the studio. Thirty hours of working with glass and a dab of blood here and there later, and I had gifts for my kids that were worth giving.

Bowl 1Bowl 4 Bowl 5

Bowl Finished 1 Bowl Finished 2

Platter 1Platter 2Platter for Lulu Belle


F is for the F-Word ~ I Effing Love It

There are two types of people in this world: Those who embrace the F-Word as the greatest gift to the English language since the beginning of words, and those who fear it like it’s the muggle’s “Lord Voldermort” — an unspeakable evil, that, once summoned, will spell the end of times.

Let’s test that. Have some F-Bombs. I’ma drop a few right… here.

F-bomb (7)F-bomb (7)F-bomb (5)F-bomb (7)F-bomb (7)

Holy shit, nothing happened. But it did feel hella good.

You know that age-old argument that claims people who cuss do so because they lack the vocabulary to express themselves properly? Poppycock. People who cuss understand the delights of emphasis and embellishment done with expediency. In a world where a shocking amount of adjectives are used incorrectly, we need the F-Word to tell us when something really is huge, giant, fantastic, incredible, or amazing, let alone awesome.

I say awesome 500 bazillion times a day. Without the F-Word, how would anyone in my life know when I’m talking about something truly awe inspiring, like a mountain range or a metor shower — instead of my son’s new football? There is a difference between awesome and fucking awesome. Just like there is a difference between a huge spider and a huge fucking spider. One requires a shoe, the other a blowtorch.

I’m going to take it a step further. I say, if you’re not sprinkling your sentences with cuss words, you’re probably using infuriatingly flowery or needlessly unnecessary adverbs and adjectives to get your point across. You. Are. Annoying. 

I’m just kidding. You’re probably very entertaining, but why not have some fun with other words? If you’re shy, walk on the wild side and flirt with fun replacement words; use the pseudo-bad boys for practice. They’re the ones that avoid danger, but tell you it’s their middle name.

If you’re not comfortable with fuck, use frick or frack. For example, if you’re not ready for the deliciousness in your mouth that is the full-fledged F-Word, there’s always “What the frikkity frack just happened to change the margins on this fricking fracking blog?” Safe, but crazy-close to danger.

Then there’s shiznitt, jackrabbit, jackwad instead of shit, jackass, worse jackass — still fun to say. Dickhead is a classic. No substitutions.

Although I can, and do, mind my Ps and Qs in certain situations, I do love me a good F-Fest of inserting fuck, fucking, fucker, fucked and my new favorite, fuckery, into every mutterance. They take everyday stories from dull and boring to ribald and raunchy. Pepper in some F-Word debauchery, and that Tuesday commute just became legendary.

One of my favorite things about the F-Word is that it gives me more syllables across which to spread the joy; the anger; the angst.

It’s why children have middle names — so they know they’re up shit creek when you use it to call them. Think about it. Start nodding now, because you know you agree. We all know the difference between “What are you doing?” and “What the fuck are you doing?” One’s a question, the other’s a warning. Get your affairs in order, they want to know what the fuck you’re doing. But here’s the kick, and you have to remember this: There is a difference between “I am so proud of you” and “I am so fucking proud of you.” The F-Word is a powerful positive reinforcement tool.

I throw the F-Bomb around lovingly and prolifically because I can. I am a grown-ass woman, and I can say whatever the fuck I want. Of course, I have to live with the consequences, hence the fun words around the self-righteous, but I have a choice about what comes out of my mouth. I have control over what I say, when I say it, and how I say it — and that is an amazing thing.

For those of you who post about the amazing appetizers you had at that awesome place that epic night out with your fantastic friends, being able to speak my mind my way is a fucking amazing thing.   

Growing up in my house, with my father, I lived in fear of saying the wrong thing. I never knew what would set him off. Speaking out loud when he just got comfortable with Tall Glass of Vodka No. 4; talking with my mom while I put the dishes away; answering a friend on the phone after 7 p.m.; asking about his day when he got home; or that time I was five and asked, “What’s this?” as I tugged at an envelope in his pocket, and accidentally tore it in half and opened the gates of hell (yep, still remember that episode, 40 years later).

The worst, the fucking worst, was when I chose the wrong words. I could not speak my mind. I had no voice. He came down so heavily on me, so loudly and from such height, about what I said, what I thought, how I behaved, what I believed, and what I heard, that I learned to keep my mouth shut. I learned to only speak with specific words and in specific ways that would keep me out of the danger zone.

I bit my tongue so hard and so completely for the sake of my mother’s peace and my own safety that it literally (not figuritively, literally) took me decades to learn to open it and start speaking my truth. But I have now. You know what? My childhood taught me to be a fucking diplomat, and that there’s an art to word choice… and that’s what pays the bills, so… thanks Dad?

As for me as a parent, you’d better fucking believe I taught my kids to speak their minds, colorfully, from the moment they arrived. They have always had a voice, always engaged listeners, and always had the ability to strike me dumb with their insights and ideas. Fuck yeah. 

Here’s a little tutorial for all y’all who need the practice. Holy shiznitt, I love this word:

E is for Emery ~ Everything is in a Name

Post divorce, it took me a long, long, waaay-too-long time to take my name back — probably because I didn’t want it. Legally, I had the right to return to my maiden name the minute the ink dried on the marriage dissolution paperwork. Actually, it took me about five years to make it happen.

In my mind, I had two options: Keep the name of my ex-husband, a man from whom I was working hard to disintangle myself, my life, and my reputation, or go back to the name of my father, a man who was explosive, threatening, and verbally, mentally, and emotionally abusive on a good day.

Neither one appealed to me so I decided to bring in a third option: Make up my own last name. 

(I toyed with a fourth option: Take the name of a new husband — but I’m shell-schocked and sabotage relationships before they get anywhere close to marriage, so that’s not really an option after all).

In the grand scheme of things, it wouldn’t be that hard. It would cost the same amount of money to change all my records and legal documents to a new last name as it would to change them back to the one I was born with, and I would expend the same amount of energy updating everyone in my life — maybe more, since I’d have to explain my reasoning over and over and over — so, what the hell?

I took Option 3 seriously for a while, looking for a way to honor my mother’s side of the family. These are the people who inspire me, love me unconditionally, teach me what home and family mean in real life, and make their names mean something in the world. I played with my mother’s maiden name, her mother’s maiden name, and a combination of their names, until I settled on a name that was both pleasing and made me feel more deeply connected to the women who have come before me and live and dance on the planet around me. My maternal bloodline.

Because, ultimately, I didn’t want to honor my father by taking back his name. 

He was a bully who taught me fear and anxiety, and how to slice another person into shards with words. My mother is an OG earth muffin who taught me to love my fellow man and woman, to trust in Divine Love, and to heal and uplift other souls with words.

I carried my new name-to-be in my heart for several weeks, tasting it on my lips, testing its weight in the air. I fell in love with it, and my heart raced at the idea of seeing it on my passports, my drivers license, my cell phone bill.

But then something weird happened. I plugged my beautiful new name into Google and it came back with a bunch of people with my first name and that last name. I tried my second favorite. Same thing: Other people had it! I am not used to that. No one in my entire life has had either of my first-name last-name combinations, married or maiden.

I sat there blinking at the screen, disappointment dragging my mood into my boots. And here is where I wrestled with my soul. My first name, Bronwyn, is unique where I live. It was so unusal when I was growing up that having it, and having to explain it, taught me how to be comfortable with small talk, how to open up conversations, and how to establish connections with strangers through this tiny point: What’s your name again? Wow. How do you spell it? How do you say it? How did your parents come up with that one?

I thought I hated having a different name, but it turns out I’ve finally owned it. I finally have this flirting love of it’s quirky weirdness in my hometown, where it is no longer so very weird; I think there are three of us here now, maybe four if that baby is still around.

I enjoy my first name. There. I said it. I enjoy being Bronwyn. It only took me 40-something years.

I enjoy my first name now because I enjoy being the woman who wears it. Sitting there in front of my laptop, devastated by the fact that I simply could not take a name combination so commonplace that four other people in the world might have it, I realized that the answer to “What’s in a name?” is “Whatever I make it.” And that is everything.

It was more important to honor myself than my mother’s family, who are the most loving and beloved people on the globe. Some of my cousins have married and taken their partners’ name, and they seem to be doing just fine with it. Meanwhile, I’m having a blast exploring what I want Emery to represent to the world. My name is out in front of me across social media, on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and it is up to me create what it means.

I have even brought my middle name front-and-center, despite the fact that it originally belonged to my father’s mother, a woman whose memory still ignites anger in a few of my relatives, and whose behavior with her own children makes me want to spit on her grave — even while I admire her tenacity and strength, and acknowledge that I probaby get a good deal of my writer DNA directly from her.

It turns out I haven’t taken anything back from anyone. Rather, I have staked a claim on my maiden name, and I am working it. With this old new name (new old name?), I am giving myself a directive to live my life in a way that defines my name and honors me, not the other way around.

D is for Dating ~ Keep the Decent Ones Close

Except for the man who stabbed his last girlfriend to death, the imbecile who tried to sell weed to my daughter at her grandfather’s funeral, and the racist homophobe who just started a 3-year prison sentence, I have met, dated, and become very good friends with some pretty awesome men.

In my defense, the murderer had not actually killed anyone when we dated; I didn’t know about the weed slinger’s habit or the depths of his stupidity, (and got rid of him as fast as I could); and I never actually went on a date with the bigot.

Except for those three, I am delighted to say that the men I have dated post-divorce have brought really good things into my life, and today I count some of them among my best and dearest friends.

Whether one date leads to another date leads to passion leads to romance (or romance to passion), or one date just leads to “lose my number, and let’s never speak of this again,” I have never thought of dating as a waste of time. There’s always something good that comes out of it, even if that something is just blogger fodder — like my first Life After Ex date or the time the grown-ass man I was with tried to pick a fight with the shy young Japanese woman who was just trying to take our order. Hell maketh great stories.


The great thing about dating is that inbetween the douchetroopers and the criminals you get to meet all these different men with different personalities, and most of them are just trying to do their best at being decent human beings and living up to their highest standards of manhood — and you get to see them put their best foot forward and you get to smell them in their best body spray (yum!). Sitting across from a man on a date means getting to hear about the highlights of his life, getting to sample his sense of humor, and getting a glimpse of what he cares about. If you’re lucky he’ll share all of this in an entertaining way.

If one date leads to another date leads to some kind of regular visitation or labeled relationship, there are reasons for it. If you can remember those reasons after you have parted ways, there’s a chance that you can keep some of that good stuff in your life — and that’s a good thing.

It’s so easy to let hurt and disappointment morph into anger and hostility after a break-up, but I’ve learned that keeping the door open for friendship pays off in beautiful ways over time. You want to be picky here; some guys exited stage left by the toe of your boot and deserved the ass kicking — don’t let them back in.

I think I have chosen some pretty damn good men to stay friends with over the years.

I talk to a few of them several times a year when we check in on birthdays and holidays, and I get to hear all the happy news about new marriages, new babies, and blended families, and get to share the good things that have happened to me. We are genuinely happy for each other. I may not have been the one who took the plunge with the guy, but I’m thrilled to live vicariously through him — to see wedding pictures and hear about honeymoon choices and find out how well their lives are going.

Then there are two of my favorite people in the world, one I’ve known since childhood and the other since we came across each other in a deli and decided we needed to go out on a date… and ended up talking over a 4-hour dinner. We meet up a few times a year, and our average dinner is still about four hours, while lunch is over fast at two hours. And we talk the whole time. About life, about love, about our children, but mostly about the lessons we have learned about ourselves in other relationships.

These friendships have also turned out to be safe places for shared secrets about what’s not working, not because of a need to complain, but because self-doubt and “did I do the right thing?” creep into everyone’s life — and having someone who once thought you were awesome enough to take to bed (but no longer does) say things like, “It’s okay, it’s going to be okay, and you’re okay,” is a wonderful thing. So is knowing that person will call you out on your shit.

It isn’t about not being able to talk to the significant other about these things either; it’s about having a sister-type-friend or brother-type-friend with no hidden agendas.

Maybe if I had brothers I wouldn’t marvel at such things. But I wasn’t born with boys in my life who would end up close to me by default, so I’ve cultivated brother-buddies, and I’m not sorry. I’m pleased.

It has changed the way I date. What I’ve found myself doing lately is evaluating the man I’m getting to know, the guy on the other side of the table, in terms of friendship before romance. Maybe even instead of romance. I value and enjoy the friendships I have with my male friends so much that I won’t settle for anything less from any man I date. I’m sure this is obvious to a lot of people, but I had to come by this understanding the hard way.

Except for the murderer, the drug dealer, and the racist homophobe, I actually have a knack for finding very good quality men.

Even the guy who genuinely believes aliens populated Earth and return periodically to visit, monitor, and manage us… even he was a decent person, and I’m pleased to have had him in my life for a while.

C is for Cartoonist ~ Crissy Collins Blows My Mind

Crissy Collins, comedienne and creator of the Like All Of You single-frame cartoons, has joined my writers support group and added an entirely new dimension to my life.

Every couple of weeks, I send my mom’s manpanion a stack of cartoons torn from my New Yorker desk calendar. My daughter gave it to me for Christmas, and I am compelled to share the love. Although the manpanion only lives about 30 minutes away, and visits my mom about twice a week, and we’re always crossing paths and sometimes having tea, twice a month I put the cartoons in an envelope, afix a stamp, ask my mom for his address (again), and mail them to his house.

New Yorker calendar

I do this because I know he will sit down with a cup of tea and each cartoon — one at a time — and spend long minutes engaged with it. He will study the nuances in the artwork; the faces, the body language, the setting, and even the negative space. Sparse or detailed, he will pore over every aspect of something I often dismiss as “the drawing that supports the one-liner.” And he will discover another layer to the piece, and derive a greater sense of pleasure from the experience, than I ever could.

I’m all about words, and I am realizing lately that they’re not everything. Sometimes, they’re just the beginning.

Cartoons can make me giggle, guffaw, even groan, and sometimes their message hangs out with me in my head as I move about my day, but I’ve gone always gone straight to the written commentary to get the point. My narrow-minded word-love has made me flippant. Until now.

When Crissy Collins came to her first To Live and Write in Alameda writers support group meeting recently, she talked a little about her process and how it involves writing. She was defining herself as a storyteller, explaining to trogladites like myself how a group of and for writers can serve her.

I don’t put restrictions on how the group can or will serve a writer. That’s up to the individual writer who comes along looking for connection and support. I trust in my bones that we will all end up serving each other in unexpected ways, but I didn’t anticipate how a cartoonist would redirect my work.

Crissy said she sits and writes through an entire backstory for an idea, educating herself about a character in micro-detail, from what they had for breakfast and the color of their shoes on up through the ins and outs of their relationships, to wherever their storyline takes them. If I understand correctly, she either writes around an idea or gets ideas from writing out the backstories. She then finds the thread in her character’s story that is universal among human beings — sometimes the good stuff, sometimes the bad stuff — then figures out how to encapsulate it in a few words.

Mind blown.

I know enough about not knowing enough about illustration to make no assumptions about that side of her process. That’s for another pondering. For now, it’s enough of a brainquake to fully realize there’s an intense, involved, invested process behind the creation of a cartoon that has writing (storytelling) at its core.

My mind is also blown by how oblivious I can be. “Just plain dumb” doesn’t begin to explain how I feel.

Of course storytelling is all about the storytelling! How have I never consciously thought of cartooning as storytelling? Is my cave so deep inside my own self-centered little psyche that this fact needed 45 years to penetrate my thick skull? Apparently, yes.

Ever since Crissy handed me the sledgehammer for this epiphany, I’ve been greedy for the lessons I see lined up waiting for me, like dominoes marching at me from the future. I’m playing with the challenge of minimizing words to maximize impact. In my fiction writing. Not here. This space is for fleshing out my thoughts so I can explore and own my gratitude for each subject.

It would be easier to scale Mt. Everest with an unwilling toddler than it’s going to be to teach myself to cut back on words. I love them all so much. Over the years, countless teachers, professors, and editors have quoted Shakespeare at me from behind clenched teeth, “Brevity is the soul of wit, Bronwyn. Brevity.” (I may have been 50 or 60 percent of why one editor quit her job). The way I clutter things with backstory still comes up in the feedback I get from various and sundry readers. How I managed to limit myself to 800 words a week for five years in a newspaper column is one of life’s enduring mysteries. (Although, this tangential babble is your first clue).

I’ve already learned two things from my conversations with a cartoonist. First, that brevity really can be the soul of wit, but there’s a lot of work behind it. And second, that skimming cartoons and getting to the punchline quickly has robbed me of a lot of good stuff; I’ve been cheating myself of entire stories all these years!

And, while pondering this subject, I have developed an appreciation for the way my mom’s manpanion slow feasts on a cartoon. In turn, this appreciation feeds my writing; giving readers negative space between story details empowers my process and enriches their experience.

Crissy’s cartoons can also be found on Instagram at Likeallofyou and Twitter under @likeallofyou.

B is for Bread ~ With Lots of Butter

I’m not sure how this one is going to go down. My focus for this blog is gratitude, and there’s nothing to thank my bread addiction for. This writing exercise is about recognizing the daily bread the Universe gives to me — and the power that brings to my life. Anything I talk about here has to be through the eyes of appreciation. That’s my rule.

But… while I feel like I’m dialed into the spiritual idea of bread (sustenance), I have a love / hate / hate / hate hate hate relationship with the stuff that comes out of the bakery oven and stalks me in the bread aisle, forcing me to take it home and eat way too much of it in one sitting.

bread and butter

It’s my kryptonite. That’s a cutesy way to hint at how much pain my compulsion to eat bread causes me. It gives me headaches, stomachaches, tight waistlines, big floppy upper arms, a sense of failure, a stretched out abdomen and a shrunken feeling inside. And it makes me so tired. Physically, emotionally, and mentally drained — as soon as I’m done eating it.

And when I recover, I go into the kitchen and eat more. 

Bread with butter while I wait for the toast. Tortillas with butter when the bread runs out. I can’t bring myself to put in writing how much I can eat in one session. I can speak it out loud to myself and to my friends, because I can twist it into something funny. Elicit a laugh at least in the moment. God knows what they think when they step away.

I have tried as many ways to stop stuffing myself with it, stop doing this to myself, as there are days in a year. Three years. Mind games. An elimination diet. Seeded instead of white. Homemade instead of store-bought. Banning it from the house. Eating something else first. Eating a lot of something else instead. No matter how full I am, I come back to it.

And it never delivers on its promise. It never tastes as good as I think it will. It never fills whatever I want filled. It never satisfies my hunger. But for some reason, I have no self control around bread. And butter.

So the challenge becomes: How and where and how do I treat this with gratitude?

Why do I think this even makes sense? Because, nothing else has worked. Hating it, feeling like a victim or a fool or an idiot about it, that just isn’t helping. So I’m going to sit here and try gratitude.

A few years ago I did the 30 Days of Thanksgiving thing on Facebook, and found something to be grateful for each day of the month to post about. Somewhere around the third week my ex sent me a nasty email loaded with all kinds of things that would normally knock the breath out of me and destory my sense of self for days in a row. But being in the gratitude habit, I found myself responding to him in a new way. I actually thanked him for the things he does with and for our children that I take for granted: Getting up to make breakfast for them when they’re with him; stay in touch with them by text and phone when they’re not; supervising homework; and generally being present in their lives. There was more, but the point is that sitting with these thoughts and admitting that the person who had the power to make me so miserable was also the source of a lot of the peace in my life. I do not have to worry about my kids getting those needs met when they’re with him.

It changed everything. Not only did it change how I felt about him, it changed how I felt about myself when he communicated with me, regardless of what he said or tried to say. With that email where I gave him thanks for the little things, I ended up giving myself freedom from a whole set of emotions and anxiety.

But I don’t know where to start with bread. What am I supposed to be grateful for, that I can then let go of and leave behind in the wake of a new-found freedom?

Bread is cheap food. It’s always on hand because I can always afford it. It’s fast and easy, and I can eat it without having to cook — unless you count turning the toaster on. It’s great for mopping up sauces and the end of the soup. Those are the things that are true. Those are the things I can take for granted and be grateful for. Those are the things that are harmless; indeed, they contribute to my peace. I don’t have to worry about starving, because bread is around.

The abuse happens with the lying. The sick, twisted anxiety and emotional upheaval is tied to the lies.

Bread tells me that I need to have it to make me feel better when I’m sick. Lie. Bread tells me it will tide me over until the good food arrives, then leave me alone. Lie. Bread tells me I can’t enjoy soup without toast, salad without croutons, pasta without garlic bread. Lies. Bread tells me if I indulge today, I won’t have to tomorrow — and to disregard what it did to me yesterday, and every day leading up to it because that was the past and has nothing to do with the present. More lies.

If a boyfriend or lover was cruel to me one day and told me to ignore his cruelty in the past, there would never be a chance at tomorrow.

I’m not sure I expected an epiphany, but I got one. I’m not engaging with the dangerous liar, bread, anymore. Bread’s voice in my head belongs in the box with the voices of past master manipulators that I ignore.

And there’s my gratitude.

A is for Apple ~ Apple is for Orgasm

I don’t mind being predictable. It’s sexy if you do it right. Diving into an A to Z blogging challenge with A for Apple is the ultimate yawn… unless you start thinking about the way Eve drove Adam ape bananas with her juicy offering. Firm, crisp, mouth-watering, succulent apple. Warm from the sun, cool on the tongue. Biting, nibbling, chewing. Swiping the juice from your lips with the back of your hand, licking it off the edge of your wrist as it dribbles its way to your elbow. Sweet. Tart. Moist and earthy. Organic. Orgasmic.

See? It can get pretty good pretty fast.

When I was a kid, apples were my nemesis. My mother kept putting them in my Charlie’s Angels lunchbox with hard-boiled eggs and celery. Other kids got Twinkies, Oreos, Cheetos, soda. I was jealous. Jealous and humiliated. And soooo embarrassed. My mother was weird and I was weird by association. All because of those stupid apples. I still have a love/hate relationship with hard-boiled eggs. Celery? Dead to me.

As soon as I was large and in charge of my food choices, I got large on my food choices.

I went from plenty of fruits and veggies, healthy fats, and the occasional 2-scoops of ice cream, all the way over to the dark side where a can of Pringles and a pint of ice cream became my constant companions.

Seriously, it got bad. For most of my life, even my adult life, my diet was heavy on the healthy side. Sure, I binged on bread and butter, tortillas and butter, toast and butter — any bread product and butter — but even my worst days included veggies and some kind of fruit. After all, that’s what I was feeding my kids, so it just made sense I would eat it, too.

Then a bunch of crap happened. And a bunch more. Then some different crap. Separation and divorce. Moving across country, three times in four years. Loss of network each time, loss of support, loss of career. Single parenthood. A child who chose to live with her father. Brutal dating lessons. Dead pets. Dead people. Waves of migraines, two or three every month.

In between there was all this really great stuff that happened: Freedom from a bad marriage, moving to new places, new friends, new careers, a child who chose to live with me, deliciously toe-curling sex for the first time ever, new baby pets, new babies. More new babies. Everything came with its counterweight to balance the scales.

Except for those damn migraines. They wore me down; made the bad times weigh 1,000 times heavier than the good times. And they just kept coming. Feeling bad about myself, I chose the wrong man to live with. He wanted me fat so no one would “steal me” from him, and filled the kitchen with junk food, fried food, pints of my favorite ice creams, and cheap French bread (my kryptonite).

I was self-destructing when we met, and this just sealed the deal. It took me four months to realize what he was doing, and four months to ease him and his issues (anger, jealousy, alcoholism) out of my house — and another six weeks to get him out of my life. While we were together, I shoveled anything and everything he gave me into the gaping maw in my face, and the waves of migraines came in tsunamis, one on top of the other, some lasting days, a few lasting weeks, with hardly any downtime to be okay.

As soon as he was gone, my mother struck hard and fast, and healed me with food. It became my year of eating better, feeling better, looking better. The key component was, as you may have guessed: The apple.

Unimpressed as I was by the humble apple, I started by blending it to death in green smoothies. Then, I’d sneak a slice before it went in and think, “Hmmm. That’s nice.” Before long, I was eating stacks of apple slices in front of the TV. Then I found myself snaking a couple apples on the way out the door to work — one for the road, one for a mid-morning snack. Hunger would strike and I’d paw through the Pink Ladies and Honeycrisps on the kitchen counter, saliva gathering at the thought of that first crunch.

My mother and I stalked the organic apple growers at the farmers market, hunting down the flavors and crispness to suit our different moods. At home, I’d stare wistfully at the little Fuji tree in the backyard, watching sun, water, and soil transform the handful of blossoms on each branch first into budding apple-like baubles, and then into real, round, voluptuous apples that grew larger with each day, slowly but giantly over the summer and deep into fall.

As if they could feel my love willing and daring them on, each apple on that tree developed into its own full, erotic globe, tantalizingly heavy on the branch, burnished in the sun. I swear they were crisp like apples but juicy like bruised peaches, sugary water running down my arm with every bite. I giggled with the decadence of home-grown apple satisfaction, pleasure darkened by pain when the last Fuji of the season passed my lips.

It’s been a long, strange winter, and the tree is about to bud. There will be apples to eat in November, and I’m trembling with anticipation. A is for Apple. Apple is for orgasm.

The Right Kind of Suck ~ Travel is All Good

Last week, on the last leg of my trip, I blew up my Facebook page with snarky remarks about 3-year-olds running rampant through the airport and ugly dresses in line ahead of me (blue? white? black? gold? who cares? — it all burns the same when the match gets it). I also piled on the snark about the know-it-all blowhard pontificating at full volume two rows away from me in the plane and the whistler across the aisle whom I was going to make bleed in eight bars or less, and I may or may not have posted about shaming the overly dramatic sick person behind me into silence, but I don’t remember.

Yes, I shamed a sick person into shutting up.

In my defense, if sick-face had really been sick she would have continued coughing and sneezing quietly after we shut her down, but she suddenly got control of herself. If you’ve ever had a coughing fit in an airplane or a theater, you know stopping is an impossible ask — if, as I say, if you really are {ahem} that sick. You can turn it down, cough into a sweater, hold your breath till you pass out… but stop it? No.

Notice, too, that I said, “we shut her down.” I was hardly alone. When you’re a parent, you know fake sick; and judging by the number of dirty looks and “SHUT IT”s that were hurled in her direction, that flight was parent heavy. People 15 rows away were freaked out by the energy she put into getting attention. I’m pretty sure I saw the air marshal fingering his gun with her in mind. And not in a fun, dirty way.

If she had really been sick then I, being right in front of her, would have heard at least one sniffle in the ensuing hours we were together. But, no. She was dead silent. (Oops. Maybe we killed her).

But it’s okay. I have survived worse: Navigating customs at LAX with a migraine, changing planes in the oppressive humidity of Tahiti with my parents, disembarking in Frankfurt with flu-like symptoms courtesy of the woman seated beside me, and taking the milk run / mail run flight from Emerald to Brisbane (Queensland, Australia) with just one small sick bag and a prayer. If repeated take-offs and landings in an 10-seater plane making 10+ pitstops across the Outback in the height of summer failed to destroy my love of flying, nothing will.

Side note: Tangerines taste the same coming up as they do going down.

nom nom nom

Here’s the weird part: I snark, but I enjoy. Every last bit.

The uneven clacking of my suitcase that annoys everyone I pass in the airport, having to take my shoes off at security, paying the equivalent of rent for a bag of chips, a bottle of water, and a bar of ho-hum chocolate at the newsstand, the uncomfortable seats at the gate that wobble and shake with every wobble and shake of every person sitting nearby — all of it.

I even have love for the inevitable old guy who takes eight minutes (eight minutes!) to get his carry-on stowed and move his backside out of the aisle and into his seat, causing an 85-person hold-up in lieu of letting the flight attendant help him. Love it.

Because, flying.

Because, departing. Because, arriving.

When I’m in an airport, something good is in process.

I’m going on an adventure. I’m picking up relatives. I’m heading home, to a place that flips my heart and a cat who forgives every absence. Something good is going on.

My first flight was somewhere between six weeks and six months of age, and it’s been giggles and paperbacks ever since. In 40something years of travel in the skies, I’ve never dreaded it or hated a moment of it. Even flying on the heels of bad news has a certain quality about it. Air travel has landed me at my share of funerals, but I’ll tell you what, within the sadness I can hold onto a nugget of awe and a deep sense of gratitude for the vehicle that made it possible to say goodbye in person.

Usually, however, my destination is irrelevant, because traveling is my favorite verb. Of course I’m thrilled when I get to Sydney; meh when I get to Medford. But where I end up and what I do there are separate from the journey. Even on business trips, when all I see is the inside of a taxi, the four walls of my hotel room, the four walls of a conference room, maybe the inside of a coffee shop, and probably the inside of a run-of-the-mill restaurant, it’s still good. Oooh… it’s so good. It’s somewhere else. I have traveled to get there, and in a day or two I will be traveling again to get back.

Traveling is a verb that happens in another state of mind, outside the everyday, and it happens with heightened senses. Sounds, sights, smells, they are just a little stronger, just a little more in-your-face. Sure, it can be a hotbed of suffering and indignation, but that’s all part of the fun.

Apparently, people book the Outback flights for fun now. http://www.westwing.com.au/mail-runs