A friend of mine recently sent me a picture of her coffee table at her Montana cabin. At first I was a little confused. Then I noticed my book, right there, sharing pride of place with Gorillas in the Mist. Omigod. How flattering! I immediately posted that picture on my Facebook page.
That prompted another friend, in Kansas, to post a picture of my book in her reading pile, along with such intriguing books as Passage, The Only Bush I Trust Is my Own, The Martian, and Medieval Folklore. That caused another friend to chime in that my book is on her nightstand along with Selected Poems by Robert Frost, the Holy Bible, and The Complete Guide to Labyrinths.
I also happen to know that my book has made it as far as Australia, Singapore, Argentina, England, Canada, and Germany. It has developed a life of its own. My little book, all grown up, making new friends and visiting places I may never have a chance to go. That’s amazing to me.
As silly as it may sound, I’ve visited the one on the shelf of my local library more than once since it “moved in.” (Sadly, it’s always there. Never checked out. But I live in hope.) I like to see what books share its shelf. I like that it’s hanging out with books by Calvin Trillin and Rebecca Solnit.
(As a side note, holy cow, Now I have a call number! It’s 814.6 ABE. Should I get a tattoo? If so, where should I put it? Hmmm…)
I try to check out one of my book’s shelf-mates whenever I stop by to say hello. (It’s important to get to know your child’s friends.) Currently I’m reading I Think You’re Totally Wrong by David Shields and Caleb Powell. It’s very interesting, because it’s a conversation between two writers. Currently they are complaining that their loved ones rarely read what they write.
I find that comforting, because I happen to know that my very own sister, and some of my closest friends, haven’t gotten around to finishing my book. If you ask me, that’s akin to someone telling you that your newborn baby looks like a monkey. But now I won’t feel as insulted. Monkeys abound, apparently.
It’s been proven time and again in this blog that I’m several years behind trends. Don’t feel sorry for me. I get to luxuriate in that fresh, new, exciting, trendy feeling even years later, simply because, while my discovery may not be new to you, it’s still new to me. Just pretend I’m in a different time zone; one of my own making.
If you have to feel sorry for someone, feel sorry for yourself, dear reader, because you get to hear me rave about something that you’re most likely already over. Think of it as the penance you do to read my other, more current stuff. Am I asking too much, here?
This discovery came about because I was massaging my own ego. I was honored to hear that four copies of my book are now in the King County Library System, scattered in branches all around the Seattle area. Holy cow! I have a call number! Just call me 814.6 ABE.
So I couldn’t resist. I had to see what authors I was sharing my shelf with.
Omigod. Calvin Trillin? Rebecca Solnit? Seriously? I wanted to shout, right there in the library. But I resisted the urge. (I did tell the librarian at the checkout counter, but she seemed unimpressed by the enormity of it all. Buzz kill.)
But I thought that the best way to honor the event was to choose a book on my shelf (my shelf!!!) to read. So I chose Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh. (Hence, the unsatisfying encounter with the checkout librarian.)
So here goes trendy me, discovering the most amazing book from 2013. I mean seriously, if you are as out of the loop as I am and you haven’t read it, do so. Right this minute. You can finish it in one sitting if you’re motivated. You’ll thank me.
Allie Brosh has the most amazing literary voice. I constantly found myself laughing in sympathy. I understand her. I suspect a lot more people do than would care to admit it. She has humorous angst down to a science.
Her spot-on description of chronic depression and how people react to it is quite the revelation. She talks about feeling nothing as if feelings are dead fish. And people are trying to help her by saying they’ll help her look for them. But she knows where they are. They’re right here. They’re just dead.
I get that. I have felt that way on and off for much of my life. Trying to help someone “snap out of it” doesn’t work. Trying to cheer someone up doesn’t work. But after reading Allie’s description of depression, I know what I will say to the next depressed friend I have.
I get it. I’ve been there. It feels like nothing matters. It feels blank. You don’t care, even though you want to. But here’s the thing: somewhere, deep down, underneath that wet wool blanket of utter despair, you still care just enough to stay alive in that bleak, painful wasteland that you find yourself in. You care enough about the people who love you to not want to hurt them by taking yourself out. That’s something. That’s huge, actually. It’s heroic. Hang on to that.
Since publishing this amazing book, Allie Brosh has dropped off the radar, depriving us of her amazing talent. But that’s her prerogative. If she wants to be left alone, so be it. But Allie, I hope you’ll hang on. I think you are a wonderful addition to this planet. Just sayin’.
No, this is NOT a cheap attempt to get you to buy my book, although I’d love it if you would. Actually, I do manage to raise my gaze from my navel every now and again to read the writing of others. That’s how I came across this rare treat.
The Scottish Buddhist Cookbook is by Jay Craig, a new coworker of mine. It’s quirky and irreverent and hilarious on the order of David Sedaris. You get an insight into Jay’s world. He’s bipolar, and clearly many of his life choices have been made during the manic times, but he’s all the more charming for it. His coping skills, when he chooses to employ them, are really amazing. He has a very eclectic group of friends, and he is accepting of all their eccentricities because he knows he has his fair share.
What I love most about this book, aside from the frequent laughs, is that I learned so much from it. After reading it, I could build my own bagpipe from plumbing supplies if the spirit moved me. I also learned about the Fundamentalist Latter Day Saints, the ultimate way to give an ex-wife closure, kilts, Huggy Jesus dolls, how NOT to break out of a mental health facility, hoarders, and, obviously, Scottish Buddhism.
Best of all, interspersed with the fascinating anecdotes is the quintessential single male’s recipe book. Easy things, mostly for crock pots, that are guaranteed to harden your arteries in no time flat. I can’t wait to try the meatloaf, the pot roast, the lasagna, and the carnitas. However, the double deep fried Scottish eggs might be slightly beyond my skill set.
Fair warning: the language can be a bit foul at times, and if you are the least bit religiously sensitive, you might want to give this book a pass. It’s not for the easily offended. Personally, I found it equal parts funny and thought provoking. I’m not sure I’d want to live full time in Jay’s world, but it’s an awfully fun place to visit!
I was just the right age to be tortured by the Watergate hearings. I was 8 years old in 1973 and those hearings pre-empted daytime television for weeks. At that age, it felt like years. I had no idea that a gripping piece of political history was unfolding before my eyes. I thought I would lose my mind, since television was one of my primary forms of after school entertainment back then. I remember wailing, “I’m bored!!!” to my mother, and she’d reply wearily, “Read a book.” Usually I’d just sit on my swing and cry. I was such a brat.
I have no idea where I got the idea that I should be entertained at all times. It’s insane, when you think about it. Saying you’re bored is like saying you are entitled to constant pleasure. I don’t know anyone who enjoys that level of privilege. Even the super-rich have to suffer through board meetings and long flights to Australia. Boredom visits us all.
I suspect that Generation Z will have an even harder time coping with boredom, because they have so many different ways to avoid it. If they’re treated to presidential investigations (fingers crossed, here), well, there’s always Netflix. I would have killed to binge watch something, anything, I Love Lucy, whatever, back in 1973.
Nowadays I’m kind of grateful for boredom. Please, God, give me a routine, predictable day with no surprises. Because the older you get, the more you experience those moments of “un-boredom” that are exciting little tastes of hell. The death of loved ones. Waiting for medical test results. Those times when your kid drops off the radar. Political shenanigans. Work SNAFUs. That strange noise in the back yard when you’re home alone.
You’re not bored at those moments, believe you me! Not even a little bit! That’s when you realize that boredom is actually a luxury.
So boredom can visit me any time it wants. I’m always grateful for an excuse to take a nap. And yeah, okay, my mother was right. You can never read too many books.
Suddenly my blog viewer stats were spiking. What drew people here this time? I was stumped. And then I saw the e-mail from Dave Isay of StoryCorps. Their anthology, Callings: The Purpose and Passion of Work is now out in paperback form!
This is exciting because one of the interviews in this book is mine, from 2009. I spoke at a StoryCorps booth in Jacksonville, Florida about how much I love being a bridgetender, and they felt that it was worthy of inclusion in this anthology! I was really honored.
All the publicity, in O-magazine, NPR, Parade, Forbes, Time… all featuring me… this gave me a great deal of confidence. And it sent me down the path of publishing a book of my very own. A Bridgetender’s View: Notes on Gratitude is available on Amazon.com. And because I appreciated StoryCorps’ vote of confidence so much, I am donating a dollar from every book sale to them. My book is available in deluxe color edition and on Kindle as well!
So to say that I highly recommend Dave Isay’s book, in paperback or hard cover, is putting it mildly! And as he mentioned in his e-mail, it’s a great gift for young people who are just setting out on their career paths. The book is full of inspiring interviews with everyday people who managed to find their callings. Check it out!
Recently I attended a workshop with a friend. It was hosted by one of my favorite authors, David Sedaris, and the purpose was to help him with the final edit of his upcoming book, Theft by Finding, which will be excerpts from the daily diary he’s been keeping since 1977.
Talk about some mad promotional skills! He was in Seattle all week, in a theater that seats 250 people, and the workshop sold out each night. We each paid 50 dollars a pop to help this man with his next book.
Does anyone want to pay me 50 dollars to help me with my next book? Because I’ll take it. Just saying.
In fairness, this was not some dry proofreading event. He read portions of the book and basically gauged the success of those portions by how hard we laughed. And oh, did we laugh. The man is hysterical. I can guarantee that this book will join the pantheon of all his other bestsellers.
Afterward he allowed us to ask questions. And that’s why I know he’ll never read this. He said he never, ever reads anything written about himself. As a matter of fact, he allowed an author to interview him so that the man could write a book about him, and he’s never read the book. This is probably a mentally healthy way to live your life, but personally, I could never be that incurious.
David Sedaris inspires my writing a great deal. I love the way he can be forthright about his quirks. He exposes himself, lays himself wide open as a matter of fact, the good, the bad, and the ugly, for your reading pleasure. I find that incredibly charming. That’s one of the reasons I tend to expose myself so thoroughly in this blog. Let your freak flag fly!
When my friend approached Mr. Sedaris for his autograph, I went with her, and gave him a copy of my book. He actually noticed it in my hand and asked about it before I could even say anything. I told him that he inspired my writing. He was very gracious and thanked me for it.
Now I have this fantasy that he’ll peruse a few pages of it while sitting in his lonely hotel room, or while on the long flight back to his home in France. I would love to know what becomes of that book. It will probably sit on an airport bench somewhere until someone else picks it up. But the fact that one of my writing heroes even touched it, even looked at the cover, is enough to make me smile.
There comes a time in the creative process when you have to place your art in the hands of someone else. This happens with writers, painters, musicians, sculptors, and anyone else who forms something in his or her imagination and goes on to give it life. If you can conceive of something and make it real for others, and yet not become emotionally invested in it, you have no heart. I have yet to meet a heartless artist.
One of the best ways to feel immortal is to create something that will exist long after you’re gone. In that way, art is like procreation. In essence, your art is your baby.
Unfortunately, as a general rule, artists don’t get to spend years with their work before having to experience empty nest syndrome. I’m not simply talking about that moment when you sell your work and assume you’ll never see it again. I mean that point in the process where you have to rely on others. Editors, producers, managers, publicists, gallery owners. They all have a profound impact on the “life” of your “child.”
You are forced to loosen your grip. You have to accept the fact that you are no longer in complete control. Personally, I find this to be scary.
Once I had finished deciding what I wanted to have included in my first anthology, it then was handed over to the photographer, the editor, the cover designer… a whole host of people with their own unique visions of the final product. Yes, I still had influence. My opinions were sought out. And of course I had veto power. But relinquishing total control is extremely unsettling.
It took me quite some time to realize that that part of the process had plunged me into a low-grade depression. I wasn’t my best self at that point. And the irony is that I had total faith in my collaborators. I chose them because I respected their work. But it was still my baby that I was handing over. That is bound to have an emotional impact.
But like most parents, I’ve come to look upon my baby, now all grown up, and feel pride. I may not have any real control over the impact, or lack thereof, that my book has in the world anymore, but I really do feel that I built it on solid foundations. I gave it the best possible start. I watch it from a distance and I marvel.
If you have somehow managed to escape all my shameless self-promotion in recent months, here’s what you need to know: I wrote a book! A Bridgetender’s View: Notes on Gratitude is available on Amazon.com in paperback form, and soon it will also be available as an e-book for Kindle, and Amy Sassenberg’s photos will be in color in that version! This is all very exciting for me. If you had asked me a year ago if this was to be in my future, I’d have laughed.
I have learned a lot from this experience. The biggest lesson is that it’s the readers who create the magic. I used to think authors were conjuring up amazing reading experiences, and because of that, I was in awe. But I was so incredibly wrong.
Yes, the writers do the writing, and the publishers do the publishing, but their work is lifeless and inanimate if there is no one out there to read it. A book without a reader may as well be a brick that one uses to prop open a door. An unread book gathers dust.
I am lucky in that I came to this avocation at a time in our history when reader’s feedback is easy and instantaneous. People e-mail me. They contact me on this blog. They comment in my Facebook group. They also leave much needed (and strongly encouraged) reviews on my Amazon page.
What this means is that I get to share in the magic that you, dear reader, make. I get to experience your reactions. I learn how you feel when you read the book. I discover that each reader has a different encounter with it, quite often one that I hadn’t anticipated. That’s because you are bringing your unique insights to the reading experience. That’s the ingredient that only you can provide.
I can never seem to adequately express just what that means to me. I read your reviews and your comments and I get all choked up. I get tears in my eyes. My heart feels like it swells. What a gift you have given me! Thank you so much!
This first book was about gratitude, but I had no idea just how grateful I would be for you. Thank you for giving my book life. Thank you for making my words have meaning.
Without further ado, I’ll leave you with some excerpts from my Amazon reviews, so you can see why this whole process has made me so emotional. Imagine getting compliments like these! I hope you’ll consider adding your review to their number!
“Barb is ALWAYS entertaining, and whether you agree with her or not, you will likely learn something every time you read her. She will inform, annoy, and inspire you. As a dedicated reader of her blog from the beginning, I have seen many sides of her, and watched her through grief and growth. This is her best, will make you a fan, lift your spirits, cause you to recognize things in yourself you could not articulate. She is real, she is smart, she is funny. You WILL laugh out loud at some point. You will learn SEVERAL interesting things that you did not know. And you will PONDER more than one entry for longer than you expected.” –Amazon Customer
“What a wonderful book. I keep it by my bedside so I can read a chapter before I go to bed. Since the focus of this volume is on gratitude, it’s the perfect way to get your head in the right space to go to sleep focusing on the good there is in this world. Barb is a gifted writer with keen insight into the world around her. This is a book you will keep for years. Timeless thoughts about things that matter – sometimes in big ways, sometimes subtly. It’s crazy. She makes me want to be a better person just by what she shares in her posts. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll marvel at her candor. And you’ll be really glad you bought this book.” – K. Reviews
“A wonderful read. I feel like I’m looking over Barb’s shoulder as her journey through life unfolds. Her take on situations we all encounter, often unconsciously, every day, took me from laughing to reflecting on how I might deal with the same situation. How hard it must have been to pull up roots and move 3100 miles to a place where you know no one? I’m not sure I could. I grew up on the wit and humor of Erma Bombeck and some of the posts in the book remind me of reading Erma’s wonderful writings.” –Firewalker
“This is just an introduction to the refreshingly honest world of a brave woman. As she takes you along on her journey of introspection, observation and acceptance, she challenges and inspires you to open your heart and mind. Whether you agree and identify with her insights and beliefs, or not, you can’t help but be uplifted by her commitment to them. She’s an open book worth reading and based on her prolific blog entries she has a lot more to gift us. Looking forward to see where else her journey will take us.” – Lyn
When I wrote my book and created the website for it, I had to rent a post office box. I didn’t want to put my home address out there for the whole world to see. Granted, the odds of my acquiring a stalker based on a book about gratitude are probably pretty slim. (It’s hardly a controversial subject. Delightful, yes. Divisive, no.) But hey, you never know what is going to stir someone up.
But now I have this post office box, and the subsequent guilt that comes along with it. I chronically forget to check it. (I don’t like to neglect things, even if they are inanimate.) When I do get around to paying it a visit and peeking inside, it’s generally full of junk mail. I almost find this to be a relief. I’m not being rude to anyone except advertisers, and they don’t count, right?
But the other day, nestled among the discounts for the roof repairs on a home that I don’t own and the pleas that I bundle my television services when I haven’t had a TV in years, was an important looking envelope. It had probably been sitting there for weeks. It turned out to be my very first royalty check for my book. I have no idea why, but I wasn’t expecting it.
My first paid writing gig. I’ve been published many times before, in newspapers and magazines, and I have even been included in an anthology, but there was never any compensation involved. And now here was this check.
It felt like vindication; like the thing I love to do finally has value. But that’s kind of silly, because I’ve gotten so much value from the feedback of readers, and from the pride I feel when I publish a particularly well written post. The ability to express myself is also priceless. But these things are intangible. Here was this check. In my hand. Right here.
I took it home. I sat with it for a long time. I crowed a tiny bit on Facebook. Then I set about giving a fair share to those who had collaborated with me, and donated a dollar for every book sold to StoryCorps, since they’re the ones who sent me on this amazing journey in the first place. And what a wonderful journey it has been!
What was left of the check won’t even cover the rental of that aforementioned guilt-laden post office box. But just holding that check in my hand… that was an amazing feeling.
When I was younger and much more earnest, I read the book One, by Richard Bach. I’m sure I wouldn’t be quite as influenced by it now, but it was impactful then. It made my fertile imagination run wild.
The book is about quantum physics and parallel universes. It talks about how each choice you make causes your existence to split off like the branches of a tree. If you decide to get a divorce, in another universe you remain happily married. In yet another, you remain married, but are miserable. Believe it or not, I take a lot of comfort from this.
For example: Applying for a job? Nervous? Not to worry. There will always be at least one universe in which you get that job. Fingers crossed that you happen to be in the right universe this time around.
I must admit I apply this principle to romance more than anything else. My love life may be nonexistent, but if I lock eyes with someone, I can tell myself that in at least one universe, that guy will have seen me for the amazing person that I am, and he, too, will be amazing, and we’ll live happily ever after. So I’m sort of having many, MANY successful relationships right now. Just… not in this universe.
So, three cheers for quantum physics! Or no cheers at all. In this context, it hardly matters, does it? Somewhere, I’m cheering.