It’s the Readers Who Make the Magic

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

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My Very First Royalty Check

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.

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My piece of the pie.

A book about gratitude is a gift that keeps on giving! http://amzn.to/2cCHgUu

Do You Feel Like You’re Being Watched?

As anyone who regularly reads my blog knows, I spend a great deal of time on my drawbridge, watching the world in minute detail. I know the routines of hundreds of people. I know who owns what dog. I know the cycles of the seasons, the migration patterns, and the angles of the sun at different times of the year. These things inspire this blog and my book.

Until today it never occurred to me that there are other people who do this—watch the world closely and quietly. I came across this article about a guy who just got a job at Target, and he writes about the things he observed on his first few days. He looks at his customers and describes them with humor and delight. I suspect that most people don’t even realize he’s observing them as he rings up their purchases.

Come to think of it, I bet there are a lot of watchers in this world besides bridgetenders. Bus drivers, security guards, waiters, cashiers, taxi drivers… Watching the world and thinking deeply about it is the best way on earth to avoid going insane with boredom. It’s also a wonderful way to learn and grow.

It makes me wonder how often I’m being scrutinized without my even being aware of it. No doubt it happens frequently. I don’t mind being studied in this benevolent fashion. How could I, when I do it all the time myself? But it makes me wonder what these observers are thinking, and what stories they write about me in their heads. It kind of makes me sad that I’m oblivious (mostly due to time constraints and shyness), because I suspect these people have some fascinating stories to tell.

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Through the Magnifying Glass by LuzTapia

Check out some of my observations in book form! http://amzn.to/2cCHgUu

 

When I’ve Made My Point, I Stop.

I never really thought about the length of my blog entries until I put 120 of them into my first book, A Bridgetender’s View: Notes on Gratitude. Then suddenly it became an issue because I noticed that some entries would fill a page and then continue on to the next page for merely one or two lines. That’s not very aesthetically pleasing.

So, should I “pad” those particular entries to make them longer, or shorten them by a few lines? When I considered either option I had an almost visceral reaction. It felt wrong to me in the same way it feels wrong when people pierce their infants’ ears. It felt like a violation.

I’ve always had a strong sense of when I’m saying too much or not enough. When I’ve made my point, I stop. Because of this, I’ve always chafed at writing assignments that have to be a minimum of, for example, 1,000 words. What if I’ve produced writing perfection at word 978? What then? Does it have less value for lack of 22 words? I absolutely hate stuffing fluff in between what I consider to be valid points just so I can satisfy some teacher’s sense of equity.

It also annoys me when a writer underestimates the intelligence of his or her readers. You don’t have to beat people over the head with your message. Just put it out there, clearly and concisely. They’ll either get it or they won’t.

Just as a good cook can sense the temperature of a steak without having to slice it open, I’ve always been able to rely on my instincts regarding getting my message across. So yeah, some of my blog entries will be a lot shorter than others. State your case and then move on. That’s my philosophy.

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I’m a Hot New Release!

Now there’s a sentence I never thought I’d utter. I’ve never considered myself to be particularly hot, and I’m definitely not new. But I am, indeed, a Hot New Release, and I’ve got the screen shot to prove it. I’m thinking of having this tattooed on my behind.

Once my very first book, A Bridgetender’s View: Notes on Gratitude became available on Amazon.com, a friend of mine suggested that I scroll down to the product details section and click on the ranking information, and ta-da! There my book was, number one in the hot new releases for its category. It even became number one in best sellers for its category for a hot minute, there. So I can now officially call myself an Amazon Best Seller. It’s ridiculous how proud this makes me feel.

And then, finally, I got to hold a copy of my book (My book. My book!) in my hands for the very first time. My first impression was that it felt heavy to me. Solid. Substantial. Are books usually this heavy? I’ve never noticed. Or maybe I’ve been reading my kindle for too long. Regardless. It’s 318 pages. Thicker than I anticipated. A lot of that has to do with the wonderful photography of Amy Sassenberg that was included. But still. It’s… real.

I’ve got to say that seeing my book for the first time brought tears to my eyes. Is this what it’s like to gaze upon your newborn baby? It kind of feels that way. I want to hold it close and keep it safe and at the same time show it off.

I feel like shouting, “See what I made?” Actually, I’m not going to lie. I’ve done that. A couple of times. And it feels great.

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A Beautiful Elephant

-That’s what my publisher/editor/coordinator/catalyst/friend Deborah Drake called my very first book, A Bridgetender’s View: Notes on Gratitude, when she announced that it was finally available for order on Amazon.com.

“Huh?” I said.

What she meant was, the gestational period for an elephant is about 22 months. That’s a long, hard, heavy load for a mama elephant to carry. But in the end… ah, in the end, what she gets is a beautiful baby elephant. And who doesn’t love a baby elephant?

We had been working hard on this book for a long time. We work really well together, but sometimes the process can be stressful. I learned a lot from Deborah along the way.

I will never look at books the same way again. I have mad respect for all publishers. There’s so much more involved than you might imagine. There’s determining content, writing, editing, layout, artwork and graphic design, cover design, formatting, website design, accounting, determining price point, promotion… all of it takes special skills.

I have to say that when my baby book was finally born, I was incredibly proud. It really is a beautiful elephant, indeed. Now I’m going to make a point of using that phrase at the end of all major projects. You have to love a new tradition.

Baby Elephant with Mother

Hiding Your Light under a Bushel

I used to be in a relationship with someone who wrote a diary every single solitary day for decades. That’s pretty darned impressive. He wants to donate it to the Smithsonian someday.

The thing is (yeah, yeah, there’s always a thing), no one will want to read it except the most steadfast historians. His diary is as dry as toast. It was an arid recounting of the facts. “Today I had eggs for breakfast.”

I used to say, “Why don’t you tell them how you felt about the eggs? Or how they tasted, or smelled, or looked?” People in the future will care about the way we perceived things, not just what we did. But no. Just the facts for him.

The readers of this diary will never know his opinion about anything, or what he thought about, or what his dreams were for the future. (As far as I could tell, he had none, which is one of the many reasons we went our separate ways.)

Even though I didn’t agree with his writing style, I knew how much writing meant to him. I think that’s why I shied away from writing when I was with him. In some twisted part of my brain, I sort of felt as though if I wrote too much, I’d somehow overshadow him. So I hid my light under a bushel. I refused to take flight. Or something.

I thought I was being kind, sacrificing for someone I cared about so as not to crush him like a bug. Sometimes the dam would burst and I’d be compelled to write an article for a local paper, and I’d always get tapped to write company newsletters and things of that nature, but I didn’t start this daily blog until a year or two after we called it quits.

I made the wrong decision. By not allowing myself to shine, I was damaging a part of my soul, and I was depriving him of the opportunity to adapt and change and grow. And let’s not overlook the fact that he missed out on knowing a really special part of who I am.

But he was complicit in my self-warping behavior. He must have seen the signs. He refused to acknowledge them or nurture them in any way, but surely on some level he saw them.

If you feel the need (or are passive-aggressively encouraged) to hold yourself back for someone, please know that that’s very unhealthy. It harms both you and the person who is acting as the wind above your wings.

Always try to fly as high as you can. Otherwise you’ll never get where you deserve to go.

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Sentence Envy

As a writer, my ears always prick up when I hear a pithy word combination or an elegant turn of phrase. All these droll fragments get stored in my mental treasure chest, to be trotted out on this blog when the spirit moves me. My thoughts may be original to me, but the way I express them is often a mish-mash of things I’ve heard from so many places that I couldn’t possibly tell you their origins.

It’s a little harder to do that with entire sentences, though, without having to own up to downright plagiarism. Take this sentence that I read in a story written by my friend Paul Currington, the leader of the monthly storytelling group I attend called Fresh Ground Stories: “In the coal mine of life my canary is always dead.”

I just have to say, it’s a rare sentence that makes me roll back my chair and exclaim out loud. “Dang! That’s good!” Okay, so I might have punctuated it differently, but that’s just my pea-green jealousy talking.

That sentence is a thing of beauty. I’m in love with that sentence. I would have sex with that sentence if I could. Dammit, why didn’t I think of it?

Moments like this are rather bittersweet. I will always remember that sentence, and how it made me feel when my eyes touched it, but in good conscience I’ll never be able to use it.

That’s like being treated to the best gelato on earth, but being told you only get to have it once. Given that option, it would take me quite some time to decide if it was worth it, if it meant a lifetime of depravation. (But yeah, in the end I’d have it. I know me.)

I will admit that I’ve also written a few really good sentences in my life. My favorite one from this blog is: “Barack Obama eats boysenberry aspic on melba toast while doing the watusi in a frothy silk kimono.”

To understand why I wrote it, you’ll just have to check out the blog entry in question.

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Your Blog Post HERE:

Usually I find commercials to be an annoyance, but there’s one for the perfume La vie est belle starring Julia Roberts that has me intrigued. It tells a story, but you can’t really be sure what the story is. That’s one brilliant ad campaign, because it makes you fill in the positive references based on who you are.

I’m not endorsing this product—I’ve never even been in the same room with it. I won’t be buying it as I’m not a perfume sort of girl. But kudos to the advertisers! Instead of making a one size fits all commercial, they’ve managed to make a many sizes fits each one sort of thing.

That made me want to do the same thing with my blog, just for today. I’ve heard many of you say that you’ve thought about writing a blog, but just can’t seem to get around to it. So here’s your chance!

In the comments below, write a blog entry. It could be about anything. (I do, however, reserve the right to delete with impunity. This is a family blog, and as head of the family I’m running a benevolent dictatorship, not a democracy.) Can’t think of anything to write? Then write the story behind the commercial above. If you don’t feel like writing an entire blog post, write a few sentences about what you would write about if you did blog.

I’m hoping this post will give people the courage to start blogging, and give them a forum to tell stories that have been wanting to see the light of day. We all have a story to tell. I look forward to revisiting this post over time to see what develops. Have fun!

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La vie est belle–Life is beautiful, indeed.

Help Me Map Out My Walk Down Memory Lane

Hi everyone! I really could use your help. I’m going to be doing several anthologies of my blog entries, and I need your opinion.

My blog is a bit eclectic. In general, it’s about stuff I think about while sitting up here on my drawbridge. So I’ve been going through old posts and trying to identify various themes that I seem to revisit, and determine which ones are my favorites.

The funny thing about revisiting past writings is that it feels similar to going through old photo albums (remember those?), or school yearbooks. The memories come flooding back and then you look up to find that hours have gone by. Re-reading these posts from years ago feels like going to a high school reunion, only without dreading some of the people you’re going to run into.

What you see below are 10 blog posts from 2012 and 2013 that I think have anthology potential. What I need to know are your thoughts on the subject. Which do you like best? What themes do you enjoy most? Are there any other posts of mine that are your favorites? Is there anything else I should be asking you that I’m overlooking?

Anyone kind enough to voice their opinion will be gratefully acknowledged in one of my anthologies, unless you prefer to remain anonymous. But please know that your insights really matter to me. I write for you!

I seem to write a lot about my insights about nature. Here’s one called A Rare Gift from a Dolphin.

Here’s an example of one of the many things I’ve written about having a sense of myself. Learning about who I am. It’s called Coming full Spiral.

Another one like that is Lightning Strikes and Other Unforeseen Events.

I also love to write about obscure things that may not have crossed your mind, and/or things that most people haven’t heard about. Here’s one called Cool Stuff You Never Knew about your Teeth.

Other times I go for the humor, as in How to Give HORRIBLE Customer Service.

Sometimes I write about travel experiences, such as Reliving the Battle of Olustee.

I like to write about trying to make a difference in one way or another, such as in The Immigration Issue in Reverse.

And I also tend to wax nostalgic, like in Those Moments.

Naturally, I have a lot of drawbridge stories to tell! When in Doubt, Blame the Bridgetender.

And I have plenty of time to come up with quirky insights and wonder about things. Where Are YOU Located?

I really hope I hear from you! Thanks in advance!

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