Ten Cents a Blister

He was the survivor of a Nazi concentration camp. His parents and sisters perished there.

I met Robert Walker when I was about eleven years old.

I’m not sure if Robert felt sorry for me, genuinely liked me, or thought I needed a break, but he had me home for a weekend. It was a rare opportunity to spend time in the city. Living on a farm, a religious commune, my brother and I worked hard as we had next to no mechanization.

“After the camp, when the war was over, I came to Canada. I was only ten years old. The family I lived with had a farm. I was paid by the blister.” He held out his hands, palms facing me. “Ten cents a blister. I made sure I had ten blisters. I needed that money.”

Robert showed me his coin collection and his stamp collection. He demonstrated how to remove a stamp from an envelope by soaking it in water, and he explained that fingerprints on a coin are bad because the oils, over time, can corrode the metal. He took me to museums and told me of the importance of wearing a seat belt and that if you’re going to do a lot of walking, the best thing for your feet were shoes with thick rubber soles.

It was so alien to me to have someone talk to me rather than at me. I’m sure I wasn’t an easy kid to like. I smelled bad, my hair spiked in crude chops, and I could be rude and crass, as a result of having lived apart from the world.

The kindness Robert showed me stayed with me, and now as an adult I wish I hadn’t lost touch with him. I wish I’d thanked him. He opened a window to a life that was possible, one I hadn’t conceived of on my own but that had sparked my imagination. A life of being clean, eating sandwiches on a deck in the sunshine, and laughing with people who are content.

The lamp on the bedside table was still on in Robert’s guest room. I had slept with the light on throughout my childhood for the nightmares. My brother and I were told the Devil was always watching for a moment of weakness so that he may possess our bodies and claim our souls. I often dreamed of a creature blacker than night who would appear out of the dark and sit on my chest and choke me.

But that night I thought about Robert and the Nazis and all that he had lost and endured. I turned off the light. I realized that there are demons in this world more real and frightening than anything my father could conjure. And Robert showed me that even a little boy could endure a long, dark night and still be whole when morning came.

John Callaghan at Get Off My Lawn

 

 

We Survive the Night by Candlelight

Once again I have trouble believing how fast it’s gone, the holidays all the more disarming in California for the arrant summer that asserts herself into months reserved for the cold. The year draws to a close, swift like winter night. Beneath the din, the festivities heighten the loneliness for many. It’s the dissonance between the merriment in the air and their private song; the expectations of the season that descend on their Christmas, their New Year’s in a great anticlimax. It’s what I grew up with.

The less you have, the greater the pressure you feel. To spend and to have loved ones to spend the holiday with in a special way. But these burdens are a luxury for people who’ll be grateful just to quiet the growling in their stomach. This time of year is especially hard on those bedridden in poverty. In last year’s New York Times article The Invisible Child, we see a bright girl named Dasani (now 12) struggling against forces beyond her control: “parents who cannot provide, agencies that fall short, a metropolis rived by inequality and indifference. Dasani’s circumstances are largely the outcome of parental dysfunction…her mother and father are unemployed, have a history of arrests and are battling drug addiction. 

The Auburn Family Residence [is] a decrepit city-run shelter for the homeless. Dasani [the last several years was] among 280 children at the shelter. Beyond its walls, she belong[ed] to a vast and invisible tribe of more than 22,000 homeless children in New York, the highest number since the Great Depression.

Sexual predators, spoiled food, filthy communal bathrooms, vermin, and exposure to asbestos and lead were the norm for Dasani and her six siblings. They would wait in line for their prepackaged food in the cafeteria before sliding into another impossible line for access to the two microwaves that hundreds of residents share.

What breaks my heart is that the children “are bystanders in this discourse, no more to blame for their homelessness than for their existence. To be homeless it to be powerless.

Dasani was on the cusp of becoming something more, something she could feel but not yet see, if only the right things happened and the right people came along. In the absence of a stable home or a reliable parent, public institutions have an outsize influence on the destiny of children like Dasani. Whether she can transcend her circumstances rests greatly on the role, however big or small, that society opts to play in her life. School [like hers] can also provide a bridge to the wider world…Few [kids] have both the depth of Dasani’s troubles and the height of her promise. There is not much [her principal] can do about life outside school. She knows this is a child who needs a sponsor, who ‘needs’ to see The Nutcracker, who ‘needs’ her own computer. There are many such children. One in five American children is now living in poverty, giving the United States the highest child poverty rate of any developed nation except for Romania.”

What of these kids caught between the rock of their parents’ failures and the hard place of walls adorned with graffiti and mold? The hand of angels can reach in.

Though we may not be able to rescue everyone from cold, hunger, sickness, or loneliness, we can make a profound difference in so many ways. I name the stories you are about to hear the Candlelight Series after Eleanor Roosevelt who sought “to light candles rather than curse the darkness.” We’ll catch a glimpse of the hands that have lit the way for those frozen in the dark. Of people who chose to see the suffering and meet it with love, who decided they would be the right person to come along. People like the teachers and principal Dasani so desperately needs. We pay homage to those who helped us survive the night by candlelight.

I Enjoy Stripping

cake2I don’t like having more than one of anything. Feels wasteful. I mean, one hairbrush will do. My wedding dress and cake had no decorations, no ribbon or flower. Nothing. In my day-to-day, I map out the most efficient route for errands. Lose time and you lose what is irretrievable. I like to keep on the spare side of things.

It hit me that the way I relate to money and time is how I write. I aim to work each word full tilt. I love having guest writers see they can toss two, three hundred words to find the heart of their story. Of the 42 who have come through these doors, virtually all have sworn they have “cut to the bone” and just can’t reach the word limit I set. I plunge my knife, head straight for the marrow, send them the bloody remains. And yes, I laugh like Cruella De Vil. Even more stringent with myself, I stripped a short February post of a dozen words last night. It’s now cleaner, tighter. I do my best to honor the unique voice of every contributor, which is why we have had 42 different voices in the repertoire. No one has to or should sound like me. Goodness, not with the literary greats to emulate. But I believe we can apply principles of efficiency no matter what our style. Because we writers and poets love our words so much, we tend to err on the side of overstating and in our earnestness, try too hard. We all know less is more but my guests still scrounge for the anesthesia when they see the knife. I myself am a working draft. But now my biggest worry is that I’ve scared off all future guests.

Comments closed on this one.

HW, in cahoots with the Mafia

Men and Women: Another Difference

I deserve flak from my female cohorts. As a young adult, I never got the I-AM-WOMAN-HEAR-ME-ROAR hullabaloo. Why Oprah and devotees, TV shows, and pop culture rattled on about the woman with all the balls up in the air, exhausted in the attempt to satisfy diverse roles. Then I got married.

And became a mother.

The breadth of the tasks in my day-to-day, not to mention the depth, is such that I actually forget a lot of what I do. It is a great much, the littlest things one tends to as a mom.

I tore out a page of our calendar for you. I usually do more lessons, and doctor visits obviously are not a regular affair. But this day was typical in the way it packed one activity right into the next:

Breakfast
Dental checkup 45 minutes away
Lunch
Groceries
Brief playdate
Return: traffic
Martial arts
Math lesson
Dinner
DisHeS
Laundry
Prep for husband’s lunch next day

It was 6:40 when I was able to sit. Come to the computer and catch my breath – for eight minutes before showering Tennyson and tucking him in. In the past, I’ve gone on to cook two, three meals ahead for the little Foodie, find my way to the end of the dish pile, and clean the kitchen. This year, I’ve let myself write.

So I give you a glimpse of my week to share a rendition of a pretty amazing show we have going in our home.

LoungeOne day I walked into the master where I found Husband pacing. Out streamed from his mouth an uncharacteristically impressive list of To-Dos he had drawn up for the day. “…and I have to do oil change and detail the car and replace the tires pick up the timbau from Riverside mow the lawn get ready for Samba…”

*Pause*
*Slow exhale*

“I think….I’ll naaap.”

And he sank himself into the lounger with the grace of a deflating hot air balloon on landing.

Once I had picked up my jaw off the floor and my bug eyes had resumed their Asian size, I kicked him out, his laughter trailing him. The thing is, he’d meant it. The man really was going to take a siesta. It wasn’t just at my stunned bafflement but for the delight in the sweet change of plans that he’d crowed. It is beyond me. My husband is beyond me. Men are beyond me. If mothers so casually replaced obligations with sleep or every impulse, the human race would go extinct.

I Am Rich

Mom was the first to rise. I would peel open an eye to catch her brushing on mascara while Dad snored. Our one bedroom smelled of Shiseido moisturizer and the coffee that pulled her from fatigue into her day. The breakfast rice was going. I went back to sleep.

I remember the colors of Christmas. We never had a tree, for the frivolity it was and probably for the space. But the lights we did, tiny red and green bulbs a scant garnish on the rail of my top bunk. Every December I’d walk through grey snow slush to Woolworth’s with my cousins, the giant five and dime that offered everything under the New York sun. Chocolate, Maybelline with all her wares, Arrid roll-on deodorant, lines of nail polish. Instead of walking out with Christmas presents for friends and family, every holiday jaunt I would leave the store thinking, “I’ll have some money next year.” And it took me 14 years to realize next year never came. But my parents still came through.

Mom would do what she had to, ride as many subway cars as she needed to procure what her kids asked for. Resources on the state of Maine for a school project, the cheesecake I loved. One call to the restaurant where she waitressed, and she came home arms full with shiny travel books and the box from Zaro’s bakery at Grand Central. She kept our home tidy between and around the 14 hours of work; and though she could’ve better discriminated how she fed us, my brother and I were never in want of food. She asked nothing of me, not even to relieve her of dishes, except that I do my best in school. Like many of us, I grew up with no iGadget. The closest thing was Atari. Yes, I want it, Daddy. I could feel the weight of the purchase on his shoulders in the store. I got so good at the video game, I could play Froggie upside down. I lay, hair fanned out on carpet, chin to ceiling, and got the frog on the TV screen across the perilous highway whole and happy.

My mother had to wake resolute. She worked so hard I wonder if she even had time to be afraid. I sacrifice sleep not to keep clothes on my son’s back but for the gratification of my art, the joy of writing in these secret hours. Even though I’d rather do without it for spiritual reasons, it meant everything to me to be able to get our tree five years ago – not only Tennyson’s first Christmas tree but cmastreehis daddy’s and mom’s as well. One taller than we are with ornaments we never handled to help make for our boy fuller memories of tradition we never knew. We could afford something for him to decorate and bring alive into the magic of the season.

I am seeing how the question of sufficiency impacts the choices we make and how happy we are. Do I make enough, have enough? Does my child? Have I lost sufficient weight? Are my grades up to par? Is he good enough to marry? From all the jokes on the last post, is she good enough to keep? Were my parents enough? Am I smart, capable, healthy enough – for the project, job, race? Have I accomplished enough? Each question is a post, if not a book.

The resentment I held my parents to much of my life was the assertion that they were deficient. They did lack greatly in some respects but the older I grow finding it so difficult to change, the more clearly I see they didn’t have much by way of emotional resources. They did what they could with what they had. For me. Although my husband asks little of me, it is when I want him to do or be more that I become discontent. My child comes to me and expresses his grievance when I wound him but he always returns to the place of forgiveness. I am astonished to find that to him, his father, and my parents, I am more than enough. I also have deeply loyal friends. And here you all are. I am so unworthy. No need to correct me; I didn’t say worthless. You would unfollow if you knew the thoughts I spin sometimes. We don’t know one another’s unfiltered story. But this I can tell you.

I am so very rich.

The Floor I Couldn’t Reach

Elmhurst was really a town back then, not too fond of change though the quiet was punctuated by noise you’d expect of a New York city. Depending on who your neighbors were, you got the occasional Mariachi outside your window or the Mexican bass throbbing under your feet. Elmhurst housed people in boxes, brick apartment buildings that stood like giant file cabinets. Our life filed under 1D, then 5H, before we settled into the roomier one-bedroom 3F. To get from one apartment to the next, you got in another box, the elevator. The door opened to hit you with the smell of the last occupants. Cigarette, curry, musky cologne. As a little girl I was afraid of the thin black space I’d jump over to step in. I imagined somehow falling into the scary unknown.

It was a recurring dream I had as a kid. I pressed three in the elevator and hit the fifth floor, then watched helplessly as the numbers lit their way down. Past three. The door opened, but I didn’t live on first. I landed everywhere but the place I wanted to get to.

The funny thing is my house three decades later on the other side of the country is ostentatiously rectangular. Nothing to complain about with all the space I ever hoped for. But I wonder if the architecture of my childhood is why I’ve fancied homes with circular form and spiral stairs. Perhaps in such a house I would stop living the unwelcome dream. I long for progress in certain areas of my life. How I hate the offhand, “How are you?” because I’m always struggling, eyeing the place I can’t reach. I have been many things: tired, discouraged, overwhelmed, thankful, disappointed, hopeful. But never unmotivated in the blogging, never uninspired in the writing; it’s just these four walls of time. Writing is a montage of all the arts. It is painting, sculpting, dancing, singing, photographing, weaving – with words, all at once. I fill the empty draft page, my canvas of possibility. Press publish and I watch the numbers climb. I’m not deposited in some dreamer’s purgatory. Ceiling defers to sun and clouds heavy with promise, such air as I’d never tasted. This sky is the floor I could finally reach.

CloudsBlueGrey2

Money in My House

Math lesson: “Mom’s money is Mom’s money and Daddy’s money is Mom’s money.”

=======

Boy: Counting, recounting the money he earned folding laundry this month. Saving for a tablet. “$7.50. I have a long way to go to get to $200.”

Mom bites lip, looks up at ceiling. He doesn’t know she borrowed the $120 he made as a child study in a psychology program. Last year.

=======

Tonight

Daddy: “Daddy’s sad because he lost his wallet.”
Boy: “Oh, that means will be poor now.”

My Husband Threatened Me

Mr: I’ve had these thoughts on death. If I ever blogged, it would be a post. I think death is necessary because “….” What do you think, honey?

Mrs: Nod. Hmmm.

Mr: So can I guest blog on your site?

Mrs: Without missing a beat. Nope.

Mr: What did you say?

Mrs: Nope. (Writing’s not exactly his forté, as good as he is at everything else.)

Mr: Well, with the WordPress password you’ll be giving me, when you die I’m going to put up all sorts of poorly written posts with bad grammar.

*PROGRAM UPDATE*
So no one’s getting my password. I’d rather die and leave A Holistic Journey a sealed vault of aspiration than let anyone spill a careless word in it. If you don’t hear from me for three months, know that I’ve been dining with CS Lewis. I’ll be looking over your shoulder as you blog. Keep those standards up or I’ll get mad and rattle your window.

Related post Ode to My Readers

Genius

Two years and 11 months

Two years and 11 months

According to Malcolm Gladwell, behind the genius of high-achievers that leaves us awestruck you really have just 10,000 hours of practice.

Let’s see what this might look like for you as a drummer, Tennyson:

You’ve put in at least 500 hours thus far.

1 hour of practice a day, 35 free days in a year –>
330 hours
the next 5 years –>
1650 hours plus the 500 = 2150 hours by the age of 12

The next 12 years, double the daily hour –>
660 hours every year, a total of 7920 hours
plus the ones from the first 12 years = 10,070 hours by the age of 24

Unless an earthquake brings this house down or you find yourself with a single parent, you will continue to have every opportunity to play. And even in the tightest straits we will sell the furniture before we touch your drums. Every hour on the set you’ll get to exchange for more options as an adult musician. Every hour brings your dreams that much closer within reach. You easily played for an hour-and-a-half when you were five. It is up to you whether you want to hit your 10,000 sooner or later than 24. But a good idea to develop your art as deeply as you can, find its place in our world before you settle down? Keep those two hours a day sacred and you will learn self-mastery, excellence, and your happier self. We know the more we love our music, the more we love it, right? Play your joy and never make excuses. I don’t want you to end up looking on as Joe blows smoke out of his set, saying “I could’ve done that.” He just practiced longer than you.

Your biggest fan,
Mom

Your Place in the Virtual Revolution

This post is for parents, bloggers, Facebookers, anyone who’s stuck a foot out on Cyberland. In our talk about belonging, we seemed to think in terms of the social Haves and Have-nots. Many of you spoke of the self-consciousness of often feeling on the fringe. Some shared you were too fat or too this or too that to fit in, others that you never even figured out why you always seemed to find yourself on the outside. I wanted to bring to attention something that’s as right in your face as the computer or phone screen in front of you. The Internet has given every one of us the power to lead. It has made us all insiders.

It’s a new day, a global Do-It-Yourself culture everyone with online access is privy to. YouTube alone is an open platform where anyone can catapult himself into stardom and not hurt himself trying. You can post the silliest, quirkiest, most informative videos and reach thousands in the least – and make as much in dollars. My husband has had the opportunity to monetize his funky YouTube tutorial on how to make Man Kimchee (kimchee made by a man, unheard of in Korean culture. No, I didn’t edit the instructions. See? You can toss basic grammar out the window and still have a shot at good money). We all have watched publishing, newspaper, music conglomerates groan as they caved, giving up a share of the power to self-publishers and bloggers. Cyberspace has become the Great People’s Republic. Alongside the question of copyright; space, boundaries, relationships have redefined themselves yielding a new profile on leaders. Here’s a snippet of a TED Talk from Squidoo.com’s founder Seth Godin and my thoughts on the traits he believes leaders have in common:

1. They challenge the status quo. I’ve observed that high achievers in any field are always on the move, eyeing the next benchmark or creating one. They’re never static.
2. They build a culture. Leadership is less about giving orders as it is about connecting people over shared values and goals. It is the worldwide web, after all. Tribes are no longer bound by geography, no longer have to adapt to the dictate of seasons. Virtual tribes can build community across distance and time, and determine their own climate.
3. They have curiosityabout the people in the tribe, about outsiders. They’re asking questions.
4. They connect people to one another. Do you know what people want more than anything? They want to be missed. They want to be missed the day they don’t show up. Seth wasn’t clear if he meant that leaders help people feel valued or if they themselves end up missed where they leave a vacuum. But I found this a fascinating point. We want to know we count, don’t we?
5. Finally, they commit. To the cause, to the tribe.

Seth also describes leaders who have risen from the masses by sheer drive, people who outside their success are socially awkward. “You don’t need charisma to become a leader. Being a leader gives you charisma. You know, Bill [Gates] has a lot of trouble making eye contact. Bill has a lot of trouble getting a room of strangers to come around to his point of view. But now, because of the impact his foundation has had, people feel differently around him.” Interesting. People are drawn to success. Social Have-nots can actually get.

Seth points out that you don’t need permission to lead. I would add, to make a difference. “I’m not the best blogger there ever was, but I’ve been persistent at it. Anyone could’ve done what I did. But they didn’t. And we keep making the same mistake again and again where we say, Oh no, no. That’s not for me. Someone else is going to do that one. [We make] excuses from fear.” So it seems all that’s left if you hope for a voice and an audience is to deny yourself the fear and get out of your own way.

Last Sunday I hit 1000 likes on my About. A part of me finds it a pretty remarkable milestone for someone who didn’t know which way was up when she started out. If I can do this without the aid of other media platforms, you can get along farther than you think. But the rest of me isn’t starry-eyed about my numbers. Partly because I’m too tired to be impressed, partly because others out here have done that and more, partly because you quickly adjust to your new heights and press on to higher ground. Like those who’re not satisfied with just one medal, title, or mission. This last feeling is a point of transformation all its own for me because I’m not a born dreamer. I went wide-eyed as a baby blogger, seeing 200 follows on a board. And wow, how’d she rack up 75 likes? I wondered. But I’ve come to a point where I’m not concerned about the numbers anymore. They’re nice but they’ll take care of themselves. My focus is on delivering the goods and on my relationship with you. As for authenticity, at that time my About page walked itself right out of my head, decided it had to live. What in your life insists on its own breath? Give it sun and air. I plan to support my son in just about anything he wants to pursue when he’s older. But I’ll want him to stay persistent, skillful, and inimitable. Do what he wants to do beautifully, and in his own way. Leave a mark. It’s my job to provide the opportunities for him to hear what in his spirit asks to live and nurture the will for him to shoot it to the moon. The majority of us has limitations weighing on our dreams, but don’t let your self-talk be one of them. We stop making excuses for ourselves, license to achieve little, when we accept that the stars usually won’t align over our head or the red carpet run under our feet when we want to set out. We each have our pace, mine maddeningly slow most days. A dream to me feels like a painstaking tapestry of priceless minutes I thread here, braid there, working my way around this giant rock I resent that’s really just the stuff of life. We make do. Berlin isn’t the only place the Wall’s come down. We’re talking about leadership in any context but the virtual world has leveled the playing field. Take your place. Claim it. If you want to.

The Ten Commandments of Blogging

1. Thou shalt not waste readers’ time. Offer up thy readers a worthy sacrifice that they might take and be satisfied.

2. Thou shalt honor thy muse. Be prepared in season, out of season to seize inspiration when she comes that ye might write, dance, photograph, paint thy bliss. Be not caught without thy scroll, ink, pen, iGadget, camera. Thou wilt not redeem the moment the locust has eaten.

3. Thou shalt preview thy draft and spell-check before publishing that the Angel of Vengeance shall not fly over thy blog in the night.10commandmts2

4. Always speak ye the truth.

5. Thou shalt not take up the like button in vain, foremost on this blog. It is holystic ground. Thou shalt in integrity read the posts before clicking anything lest thou incite my wrath. Know ye that I see thou couldst not have read four of my brain-intensive posts in one minute. I be no fool. I do not need dross. Go ye find something better to do, ye bored soul.

6. Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s likes, nor his comments, nor her following, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbor’s.

7. Thou shalt honor thy active supporters as ye best is able. It will go well with thee and thou shalt live long in blogosphere.

8. Go ye forth and support five new bloggers this day. Show unto them kindness. Thy blog shall also be fruitful and multiply.

9. Thou shalt count the cost of brain wear-and-tear and the bloody battle against time. Be ye a good soldier of blogosphere. To blog is to accept a high calling.

10. Thou shalt refrain from grumbling when Holistic Wayfarer tarries in her visit. She is likely beset in the wayfaring, climbing cybermountains, crossing desert valleys, caught in a maelstrom of words. Forget not that she also teaches her boy how to write that he might grow up a mighty holistic blogger.

How to Succeed as a Blogger – Lighting Dynamite, Part 2

Socializing
I just finished saying in Part One that before you connect with others, you have to know and be yourself. Moving on, we see that a purpose-driven blog won’t stand alone. Because it’s a blog, not a book. If you are putting in the time to draft posts that are four, six, eight paragraphs long and are counting on one or two hands the number of likes and comments coming in or haven’t seen a rise in readership, it’s probably a good idea to step out and socialize more with other bloggers. You can write, sing, preach, journal, cry, paint your heart out but if you’re not investing in other blogs, you’re not as likely to draw investors for yours. In the world of business, you need to offer a product that is unique and consumable, something people need and want to come back for. But even generic goods will earn sales if you put in the time. It’s a simple correlation between exposure and growth potential.

Wikimedia Commons

Wikimedia Commons

Connecting
More than the quantitative aspect of blogging, though, I would like to look at the qualitative. Your zeal will ring out, only to fall flat, if it doesn’t offer relevance or resonance. I repeat something I was impatient to throw out in Part 1. Ask yourself why anyone should read, let alone follow, you. I shouldn’t have to declare I’m a writer on this blog. You should be able to see and feel it. But let’s go a step further. So what if you do? Do I seriously imagine that thousands of people week in, week out will be as involved in my struggles, questions, poetry as I am? You ought to see something of your own story here – your past, your hopes, your convictions which grow sharper in your assent and dissent. Isn’t the finest literature or visual art a mirror of human experience? Why is this so? I borrow from the wisdom of a professor who said years back: we listen autobiographically. This gem of a truth is a whole other post but keeping to this discussion, it’s good to bear in mind that people are reading and processing what you offer from the reference point of their own story. Rather, this is what they want to do. Here’s a powerful example. I assumed it was the thought of divine sacrifice that brought Casey to tears over the sculpture of Mary holding her dead Son after the crucifixion in this post. Casey clarified that she was, in fact, “very moved by the poignant imagery of being held by a loving mother” because her own childhood experiences had left her beggared in this regard. We approach a relationship, whether with a friend or work of art, through the screen of our own story. This describes the wife, reader, consumer in me. But as an artist I blog by seeking to tap a part of life that we all participate in so you can relate to me in the most fundamental sense of the word relationship. In your own blogging, you can target a topic relevant in your niche. Or more broadly, keep up the writing, dance, artwork that touches the universal longing for knowledge or intrigue in what is fantastic, beautiful, and possible. You will find more on resonance in this post Why We Read. It is not a strict dictum of blogging to give viewers something they want or can identify with but it’s understandably the ideal. Something neat can also happen along the way. Once you establish a loyal readership that comes to trust you will deliver the goods (or at least die trying), it almost won’t matter what you offer. This, from my observation of dynamic bloggers who have charmed their crowd. It is the faith of relationships, the magic when your readers want you.

Discovery
When we’re moved to action or wonder we don’t stay self-absorbed. Or silent. We express how we were affected, tell how we found a forgotten part of our heart or the door of a mental paradigm opening. It’s the relating back, our need to deepen connections. I went ahead with this miniseries largely to acknowledge the remarkable support that has made this holistic journey as transformative as it has been for me. It gets electric here sometimes. I told Casey, a new reader, that it felt like we were lighting dynamite in the conversation. We agreed it was kaboom! My generous supporters wow me with their profound, eloquent insights. Fourteen hundred followers with and without the verbal response will be two different blogs. I’d be willing to lose a piece of my stats if that were the only way to keep the extraordinary comments – no way on earth am I parting with them. My grandchildren will know me more richly and deeply for them. In sharing how my writing affected their spirit, beliefs, decisions, my readers have in turn pulled parts of me out of the shadows. I’ve discovered more of myself in the connecting. It was a blogger who folded the poetry back into my hands and told me not to give it up. And though it’s comprised only 15% of my posts, poetry has made up the majority of my Top 10. Which means that if I want to grow faster, I should put out more poems (or shorter posts). It is unthinkable that I almost closed shop in the early days. I was torn between the helpless writing and the uncertainty of blogging. “Who the hec wants to hear another mom blogger?” I grumbled at my husband. Little did I know that my readers would show me I am more than Mother, especially through the feedback on the poems I had yet to write. That yes, I can stake a place among 74 million WordPressers.

Conscious Blogging
Listen to your supporters. Just as you have to move in tune with your dance partner, cue in on their response. Observe your most popular posts. They might shape your blogging. Seeing the Black Santa garner the greatest number of comments among all my posts (until the posts on blogging came out) confirmed I was on track with a big project that’s in the works. I also discovered that I thoroughly enjoy playing Barbara Walters – to gain access to motivations and history, encourage people to spill their guts. Turns out, my readers got a kick out of the role play and the results as much as I did. So it seems my alter ego should be let out again someday.

Community
As each blogger is unique, so will each community be. This reader left a wonderful reply on Part 1. Like energies will find like energies. And this is why I feel compelled to read and comment here. It’s the reason others are compelled to read and write where they read and write. There is an energy that is often more than the sum of the parts. But it all starts with the craft, the need to expel and breathe out something that nudges us to move from us. Just the other day I visited a blog with an energy very different from the one here. The personality, the language of the blogger drew company I probably won’t. It was an active site and the group was having fun. I think two bloggers can also put out a similar post and get a different type and level of response. Your community will be its own.

There’s nothing complicated about blogging at core. To succeed, you need both the interaction and the content others want to interact with. Many of you have made me feel like the richest woman this side of heaven. But the point of this post is to serve my fellow bloggers, to help pave your road of gold.

Let me know what was most helpful. I appreciate the interest in this miniseries.

The Winning Ticket

It was a very bad year.  Although I worked full-time, I also started an online business selling clothing on eBay.  It started small but quickly grew.  As business boomed, I purchased more and more merchandise on credit for resale.  Then I got into a car accident and it all fell apart.

With a broken sternum, I couldn’t work at the online business.  The orders fell behind. People demanded their money back.  They wrote negative reviews on my seller site until eBay finally shut me down.

It was a financial nightmare.  I had all this clothing bought on credit and no place to sell it.  I was deeply in debt.  As a single mother, I kept us alive the best I could. There was never money left over to purchase new clothing for myself.  I worked in a professional setting where being well dressed was a job requirement. Eventually, my clothes looked shabby and my hair was a mess. I was stressed, depressed, and most certainly, very badly dressed!

A colleague would sometimes invite me to a high-end secondhand boutique.  I would pretend to shop but would never buy anything.  I was broke and too embarrassed to explain.  I watched her buy clothing I could never afford.  I didn’t know if she guessed I was broke or if she thought I was depressed and neglecting my appearance. She kept dropping hints that it was time to freshen up my wardrobe and look more professional.  I would smile weakly and mutter something about the clothes I liked not being my size.

Then she came to the office one Monday morning, very excited to see me.  The store had run a contest over the weekend for a $500 shopping spree.  She had entered my name in the draw and I had the winning ticket!  I was stunned by her gesture but soon my tears were flowing as I confessed my shameful secret.  She didn’t seem surprised to hear I was in serious financial trouble.

We spent an afternoon at the store where the staff members treated me like royalty.  They kept bringing out piles of clothing for me to try on.  I left the store with shopping bags overflowing with clothes, most of them perfect for work.  I was overwhelmed by my good fortune.

My friend then sprang another surprise on me.  A new wardrobe deserved a new haircut and a fresh manicure!  She had already booked an appointment with her hairdresser and another one for mani-pedis at the spa.  She insisted this was her treat.  I accepted her very generous offer and found myself transformed from an ugly duckling into a swan.

This was by far the most unselfish and caring act I had ever experienced. It is now my turn to pay it forward and help someone in need.  This experience taught me that Christmas can happen any time of year when you open your heart and focus on giving, not receiving.

Sharon Greene at 4 Times and Counting

My Secret Charm

“You have potential.”

He punctuated the words with his finger, his hefty watch jangling with each syllable. I was in my gym shorts, flanked by boys half a foot taller than I. Our teacher, Mr. Fracassi, had just run basketball drills and kept us afterwards to tell us we had something in us that could take us higher than the others.

Coming from Mr. Fracassi, this was high compliment – one step short of coronation. For a wiry nerd like me, this kind of validation outside the home was like a shot of lightning. He was the only male teacher at my grade school and also the cool one. He would sometimes drive me home in his sleek Corvette. Mr. Fracassi wore a leather jacket and sported aviator glasses. He was machismo without the bravado. In music class we sang songs from The Eagles and Supertramp instead of the Catholic hymns.

What Mr. Fracassi said anchored itself in my young heart. It echoed as an advocate for my delicate soul. While I would hear from many others about my skills and talents, they didn’t carry the weight his words did. As I continued in my school life I encountered bullying and abuse from students and teachers alike. I kept Mr. Fracassi’s words as a protective amulet. As I moved into deeper waters as a teenager and young adult, my demons began to hammer down on my spirit. The idea of having potential started to wane. I sometimes pushed aside those words of encouragement to sit in self-pity and stale wine. But his words never died.

Buried deep beneath the self-loathing and hidden mickeys of vodka and shame, there was always that light. Mr. Fracassi’s words shone in the occasional moments of clarity. I knew I had potential. I always felt the stirrings of something greater within myself, but had continued to deny it. I could sometimes hear that quiet voice of self-love through the din of ego, pain and delusion. Almost see my old teacher’s dark brown eyes looking at me, meeting me at a place inside where I was afraid to put into words what I wanted.

Neither he nor I knew it at the time, but he planted resolve in me when I was 12 years old. God spoke through him and made sure that I carried His love with me. Those three simple words have rippled out from me to others. The spark Mr. Fracassi saw in me I now see in many. When I talk to people who are suffering, I let them know that they too have potential to grow and live beyond their limited notions. I tell them they’re worth it, that they have value.

My potential was always there. I just needed someone to hold up a mirror and let me see it for myself.

Paul at Message In A Bottle

Sleeping Beauty

under a scant sun
winter throws his brume
of snow. fields lie vanquished
in lambent splendor. robed in frost,
trees stand in mute glory

under his imperial breath
creation covets the hearth
her haven, barren slumber:
a bold consummation of autumn’s bounty

the earth waits, a sleeping beauty
’til spring breaks upon the white
spell and redeems her joy.

The Real Reasons I Blog

1. To ward off dementia.

2. Stay in touch with my roots. No such thing as overworking with Koreans. Rest? Psh. That’s what the grave is for.

3. You’ve saved me money on therapy. I didn’t have to go this year.

4. I don’t want to clean. Who in their right mind would choose mopping and dusting over THIS?

5. It’s my one rightful obsession. I don’t drink, smoke, go on shopping sprees, or get pedicures. You gotta give me sOmething.

6. I can be as anal as I want and people like me for it. Go figure.

7. I’m repressed. Parents didn’t let me stay out at night. I get to party ’round the clock as the comments roll in.

8. I hand out advice on stuff: blogging, life, men and women. And all these people think I’m for real.

9. It’s my only chance at keeping up with technology. I’m terrified to tweet, annoyed with Facebook, have yet to go near an iPod, hate texting.

10. I haven’t had this much fun since…since…
*Slump* Pathetic. (Time for my next pick-me-up post)