1. Barbara Keller says

    When I went out on a limb and sawed it off behind me

    I was living on Vashon Island. My little girl was four years old and we were living on welfare. Not well, of course, but surviving.

    For a lot of reasons, most of which I barely remember from 40 years ago, it was time to go. Time to move and change our modus operandi. I remember deciding not to take welfare any more mostly because I was so afraid I could not live without it. I was a young Christian and I decided I was supposed to trust God, and not take other people’s tax money.

    I had a big garage sale over several weekends and I sold almost everything, including Rosie’s crib and her legos. She still talks about her legos. Who knew they were so important? I sold my car and bought a camper, but I had no truck. I sold most of the furniture, but two large pieces of my grandmother’s perfectly preserved antiques were sitting in the almost empty living room.

    Two nights before moving day, instead of sleeping, I thought about our precarious situation and talked to God. “Well Lord, here I am, with my baby in my arms, out on a limb and it’s about to fall off. I’m doing my best to trust you. But what are we going to do? No car – just a camper with nothing to put it on, no place to live, and a beautiful table and cane back chair, but no place to put them. Help. Please.”

    I slept, and the next morning, a woman came back to my house. On a garage sale weekend, she had bought some of the other furniture. She explained that in the 11th hour her husband had agreed to buy the last two pieces for $1200. That was a lot of money for a small island town 40 years ago. Whew. So now there was money and the big pieces of furniture were gone.

    A bit later that morning the young woman who bought my car came over to see if she could help. Armed with furniture money and the Seattle classified, we crossed on the ferry, and I bought a great used Ford truck, for $1200. Guys lifted the camper onto my brand new truck. Voila. Problems, for that moment, solved. And we were out of the apartment and on our way.

    When I’m scared and feeling all alone I remember the time I was definitely out on a limb, and how God did hear my pleas and rescued me so fast and so neatly.

    • Karen says

      Wow Barbara you were a brave young mother, sounds like you made the right decision and it worked out for the best.

    • jo says

      Hi Barbara: What a lovely reminder that trusting is such powerful energy!
      Thanks for sharing your story of being a young mother who took a risk to change both your life and your daughter’s for the better.

    • Jane says

      Wow, Barbara, what a great story about Serendipity! You were open and you received what you needed. Well written!

    • says

      Barbara, you had me completely captivated, wanting to know what would happen next. I liked hearing all of the details of each moment. Thank you.

    • Magali says

      You are so brave, Barbara, to listen to your internal compass so clearly, at a time when so much was at stake. Your reflection of the fruit at the end of the limb reminds me of some of the scariest moments in my own life… your story has a universal resonance. Thank you.

    • Jenna says

      I love reading stories like that where someone has put their trust so completely in God and he’s come through for them.
      Thanks for sharing.

  2. jo says

    I always wanted to go to university but when I was young, my parents made it quite clear to my brothers and I that if we wanted to pursue an education beyond high school, it was up to us to figure out how to pay for it. We lived in a very rural area so jobs weren’t plentiful for teenagers so I did what most teen girls did at the time, I babysat and worked in restaurants, trying to save enough money to go to school.

    I didn’t make nearly enough money to afford university so I decided to go to college instead. I picked colleges that were hours from my parent’s home because I was desperate to leave the violently abusive home I had grown up in. I was a shy, broken girl when I sent off those applications but there was a deep inner knowing that leaving home would save me, no matter how daunting starting a new life would be.

    I got accepted at a couple of colleges and chose one that was about four hours from home, a small school in an area of the world I’d never been in before. I packed my things and my parents begrudgingly drove me to my new home, an all-girls residence which was only a five minute walk to the college. I remember my mother asking me if I wanted to spend the night with them in their hotel room. I declined because I wanted to spend my first night away from home in my room at residence, beginning my new life, one step at a time.

    Part of the reason I chose the school I did was that their all-girl residence had single rooms so I didn’t have to share my space with a stranger. I couldn’t imagine getting dressed for the day in front of someone I didn’t know so for a shy girl like me, my own room was perfect.

    I loved my room and even requested it again for my second year at college. By then, I had met lots of women in residence and a group of them decided that living side-by-side to each other on the second floor would be fun. They asked me to move upstairs to be nearer to them but I declined because I loved my room so much. I had the only key to it and every time I went into my room, whether it was to grab a jacket, to do some homework or to go to bed, I’d lock the door. I loved knowing that no one could come into my room unless I let them in, a profound blessing to me since I came from a home where boundaries were non-existent and my father came into my room to abuse me in the darkness of the night and I was taught that I didn’t have the right to say ‘no’ to him.

    I’d revel in knowing the key to my room was in my knapsack or in my pocket and even though I was broke, had holey running shoes and no winter coat when I was in college, I did have that key and that was all I needed. I had my own key to my own room, I was away from my parents and their anger, their alcoholism and their brittle pain.

    For me, going out on a limb meant attaining a key that opened the door to freedom, independence and the beginning of a brand new life. It’s been almost forty years since I took a big risk to begin a new life and I still love taking risks and challenging my own status quo. One of my mantras in life is repeating Anais Nin’s words; “And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.” I always find these words the nudge I need to go out onto yet another limb in my life.

    • Laura Davis says

      Loved this story and your courage. Especially these lines, “even though I was broke, had holey running shoes and no winter coat when I was in college, I did have that key and that was all I needed.”

    • Jane says

      I enjoyed your story, Jo, especially about how you chose to be in your own dorm room, with a locked door and your own key, on your 1st night. Also how you expressed the key’s importance in making where you lived a safe place to be.

    • Magali says

      Dear Jo, what a marvelous example of what it means to procure a “room of your own.” To dare to enjoy your own company, to never forget who you really are and were meant to be, what courage it takes! Thank you for sharing.

    • says

      “I was desperate to leave the violently abusive home I had grown up in. I was a shy, broken girl when I sent off those applications but there was a deep inner knowing that leaving home would save me, no matter how daunting starting a new life would be.” Wow, what an undertaking for such a “shy girl”.

      Nicely told story. Thank you for sharing.

    • Jenna says

      I love the way that you went from the importance of a physical door and key to it being a key to a new life with all that entailed.

  3. says

    I had started working as a freelance writer. I was mainly writing personal essays, and the editor told me that he wanted me to write feature articles. He said to write a list of things that I would like to cover. Out of my list, he chose my idea of writing a profile about then Oakland A’s closer, Billy Taylor.

    Billy Taylor was a tall, fiery Southern man who had been in the minor leagues until he was thirty-two years old. When he finally made the big leagues with the A’s, he was a reliever for a while, and then became the closer. He never had overwhelming stuff. He had grit. My favorite moment with Taylor occurred in a game against the Giants. The starting pitcher for the A’s that night was making his major league debut. Barry Bonds hit a home run off of him in his first at-bat and, when he circled the bases, he made the “raise the roof” gesture. That night, in the final inning, with the A’s hanging on by a thread, Taylor faced Bonds and struck him out. Then Taylor stood high on that mound and made the “raise the roof” gesture. This is why I loved Billy Taylor.

    I was a diehard baseball fan then. I was already going to spring training. This time when I went, I interviewed Taylor, the manager, the pitching coach, and the conditioning coach. Looking back, I didn’t really know what I was doing. I remember the night before, saying to my friends, “I’ve never really done this before. What questions do you think I should ask?” I was starstruck. These men were my heroes. I was intimidated. This was an all-male environment. Although I was in my mid-thirties at the time, there was many ways in which I was still a kid.

    In the end, I think these men were very polite with me. I’m sure I looked like an amateur, and I was an object of curiosity. There just wasn’t any women around. I had that odd feeling when you think you know celebrities because you’ve watched them for so long, but you’re actually a stranger in a strange land.

    So, I wrote it all up and turned it in, and initially my editor said great, and then he wrote back and said that someone who knew baseball had read it, and I was going to have to go and interview Taylor again.

    This time, I went to the Coliseum before the game. I had that giddy, almost nauseating feeling of going behind the curtain. This time, Taylor and I sat in the bullpen. He again answered all my questions. Then, after he left, I thought of a few more. I asked my contact if I could see him again. He came out a few minutes later, still trying to be the Southern gentleman, but clearly distracted and irritated. He had been in a pitchers’ meeting. They had been strategizing about the game. I asked him my questions, which no longer seemed important at all, and he answered in a cursory fashion. That was it.

    The story was never published. They held it back, and Taylor was then traded to the Mets, and that killed the piece. My editor was soon fired, and I lost my mojo. He had thought I had great things ahead of me, but, looking back, I wasn’t ready. I just flailed It made me feel foolish to having gone out on that limb.

    • says

      Dear Wendy,

      Thank you for sharing this difficult story. The details and dialogue were great. I could feel the pain of your spot out on this limb. I appreciated your vulnerability.

    • Laura Davis says

      Wendy, it’s hard to learn in a situation where it really counts, but I guess this was part of your learning curve. Please don’t be so hard on yourself. This young reporter had gumption and ambition. I give her a lot of credit for that!

    • Jane says

      Wendy, this is a great story showing your courage to go out on a limb, even though it didn’t turn out the way you’d hoped. I’m not much on baseball, and I’m glad you explained things for me.

    • says

      What courage, to go into the lion’s den to cut off the beard of the lion, so to speak, to get those precious comments that would carry you on to your next assignment. Then it didn’t happen . . . I was disappointed with you, all the way. Nicely done story. Thanks for sharing.

    • Jo Aylard says

      Hi Wendy; It’s interesting how people have different perspectives on things. I read your piece and thought you did a fantastic job of going back to Taylor for the second and then asking him more questions for the third time. Even though they didn’t publish the piece, you showed incredible moxie in going back for more information. And you met one of your baseball icons which sounded really cool. When I read your story, I very much thought it was worth going out on a limb. Like I said, just a different perspective!

  4. says

    What comes to my mind is our experience with our short sale and how our lives are on the other side after going through it. The limb we went out on was deciding to do it. You never know going in to something like that how it’s going to turn out in the end. We didn’t know if we would end up in foreclosure or if we would manage to pull off a short sale. It was the summer of 2012 when we made the decision and short sales were hard to come by back then. We didn’t fully know the different ways that going out on this limb would affect us financially. We didn’t know how long the process would take and we didn’t know what kind of life we would find on the other side. We didn’t know where we might be living and if where we would be living would feel suitable. There was just so much we didn’t know and I guess the thing that has been so absolutely wondrous is in many ways our lives are even better than I could have dreamed or hoped.

    The process of getting here was very, very stressful for our family and yet it was also really good for our family. It was especially stressful for my relationship with my husband which was admittedly strained to begin with partly because of finances. Because we decided to go through the short sale process as consciously as possible we built new skills and capacities for vulnerability and communicating along the way and our relationship is now better than its been in years as a result.

    We rent a townhome now and my son is going away to college this year so he won’t be around and it’s actually the perfect size for us. What I discovered through the process was that I really wanted our lives to align with what we most valued and we had this great opportunity to craft that. For example, I didn’t want to be paying for the upkeep of a yard that we no longer really used. Sure, we enjoyed our garden and flowers but we didn’t really need all this yard anymore. I started to really think about what was just enough for us moving into our life as empty-nesters, where I wanted to put my time and where we wanted to put our money. It was this great opportunity to not try to find and re-create the exact kind of lifestyle we were having but think about the kind of lives we wanted to be living. We were able to get focused and curtail our spending in some areas because we were not locked into certain expenses related to the house and we were able to put that money into other areas that we value more. We wanted to have a smaller footprint and be more mindful of the resources we were using in our day-to-day living.

    We tried to do this as mindfully and thoughtfully as we could manage instead of staying totally driven by fear. That’s not to say that I never felt fearful during the process because there were plenty of moments and days of this. I tried to be aware of those times when my mind was headed in the direction of fear and get myself off that course and down a more fruitful path. During that year I had a lot of practice discovering different ways to become aware of and interrupt my worry pattern. That is a great capacity to have even when you’re not going through something as stressful as the short sale or foreclosure of your house.

    I think from my perspective the thing that’s been the greatest out on this limb is I’ve just been more willing to take on things that used to feel impossible to me. I can recognize that impossible is just a feeling and that I can actually do these things; I’ve actually done several things I would never have done before so it’s really created a different kind of courage in me that I haven’t allowed myself to tap into until now. It’s this courage that is now allowing me to do what I’ve always wanted to do which is to write and to share my thoughts and my sometimes quirky perspectives on the world with others. It’s allowed me to connect more with others through listening and observing and writing about what’s going on in the world from my perspective as someone interested in the process of communicating. That’s been the biggest gift of going out on a limb. I found things that I was hoping to find but I also found things I never expected to find, and those have been the bigger treasures.

    • Laura Davis says

      Gayle, I love all the positive things you were able to weave into this challenging experience. You truly made lemons out of lemonade here and I find that very inspiring.

    • Jane says

      You really painted a great picture, Gayle, of feeling afraid, yet going forward anyway. That was taking a huge risk, but it was better than waiting for them to foreclose on you. I especially liked how you showed us things from a “glass half-full” view.

    • says

      Gayle, I loved hearing your story and how it affected all areas of your life I was very appreciative of your thoughts on mindfulness. Thank you.

    • Magali says

      You’ve done it again, Gayle. You’ve brought the lens of honesty and meaning to a difficult life transition. You`ve shown that change doesn`t have to victimize us. You are so open to understanding and growth. Thank you.

    • says

      It’s obvious that this was a HUGE event in your family’s life. You have done a good job of showing us that you don’t have to stay stuck. “I found things that I was hoping to find but I also found things I never expected to find, and those have been the bigger treasures.” There are some surprisingly wonderful fruits out there on the end of the limb.

      Thank you for sharing.

    • says

      Thanks to everyone. It is interesting how every writing prompt some how circles back to this major recent life experience (that I also happen to be writing a memoir about right now.) The weekly prompts are very helpful in taking a different angle on things as I write.

  5. Sangeeta S. says

    I’m about to go out on a limb right now. His name is Mark and the limb is thin, but the fruit at the end is the juiciest, tastiest stuff I’ve ever seen. So how do I get there? Um, play games? Yeah strike one. Oh, I know– run and then hide? uh huh, Strike two. How about just brush my hair and give it a go? Oooh ding, ding, ding, ding, ding.

    hmm, my hairbrush just broke. My legs just fell off. My brain just melted right in my head..

    I guess I still have to wait then…

    Keep waiting, Sangeeta, keep waiting..

    • Jane says

      “His name is Mark and the limb is thin, but the fruit at the end is the juiciest, tastiest stuff I’ve ever seen.” Well, I’m sitting here smiling, Sangeeta, because for me it’s exacly how you described it in your response, although I would have to change “Mark” to “Curtis.” I really enjoyed the drift of thoughts you shared.

    • says

      I love how you teased us with this piece.

      “hmm, my hairbrush just broke. My legs just fell off. My brain just melted right in my head..” nice description of an age old malady which I have never seen put quite this way. Good writing.

      Thank you for sharing.

  6. Jane says

    It was the second time my youngest child was leaving the rehab hospital. Surprisingly, she had asked me, her hated Mother, to pick her up.

    She still looked wan and skeletal, on the verge of death, which she had been. At her request, we went by the pharmacy to pick up her prescription. When we got there, she was sweating, shaking, and crying, saying she knew she could never make up for all the pain she had caused me. She needed to wait a bit before we went in. She needed a cigarette. I thought very hard before saying what I had prepared in my mind to say, just to make myself very, very clear. I was afraid that if I really dared to say it, she would run screaming into the night, as she had so many times before.

    I took a deep breath, and scooted out onto that thin limb.

    “I am so very, very glad you are alive. And what ever we have said or done that we regret, well, that’s behind us now. The most important thing in the world is that you chose to live. You chose to ask for help. You have an amazing chance, and I don’t know how to help you with that. There are people who do know how to help you with that, and I can give you my love and support, but I cannot fix that. I just. . .I just can’t. But I do need to ask one thing of you.”

    “Mom, I love you.”

    “I love you, too. But I still need to ask one thing from you.”

    “What, Mommy? I don’t know if I can, but I’ll try.”

    “Now that you’re clean and sober, now that you’re in your right mind, I need you to make me a list.”

    “A list? What kind of list? I’m not sure I’m ready to make all my amends right now. I’m so shaky, Mom.” She held her slender, delicate hand out. “See how I’m shaking?”

    “Yes. I can see that. This should be pretty simple. Just make me a list of names. I want you to make me a list, now, while you are in your right mind, of the names of the people you want to have as your pallbearers if you relapse and die from it. If I have to plan your funeral, I shouldn’t have to make that decision. I need you to make me a list. Please?”

    There was dead silence as we stared into each other’s eyes. I noticed all her black eye makeup was puddled and dripping down her cheeks. I waited to see if she would bolt from my car, or slap me, or scream obscenities at me. That’s what it had been like.

    “Wow, Mom. You really get it now, don’t you? I don’t think anyone else in the family really gets it. Thanks, Mom,” she was laughing now. “Yes, I’ll make that list for you. I’m just happy you get it, that for me, it’s really a matter of my life, or my death. I could die from this. I almost did die.”

    Both of us were in a parked car in a parking lot in the dark of night, hugging and crying and laughing together.

    We hugged for a long time, then went inside to pick up her prescriptions. That was two years ago, and today she celebrated another year of sobriety, health, happiness, and love. I love to see her at a healthy weight, with roses in her cheeks and a sparkle in her eyes, to see her engaged to a wonderful young man, to see her working at a job she loves, teaching babies and toddlers – with their parents, of course – how to swim.

    To be honest, she never did give me that list yet, but I am so proud of her and her successes. I guess it was okay to go out on a limb.

    • Laura Davis says

      Thanks for this powerful, brave story. You have me on the edge of my seat. I’m so glad you took the risk, and that what you said ended up being the right thing. Thank you for sharing this moment with us, and your daughters healing and success.

    • Magali says

      What a great story, Jane, and how well you tell it. There is no greater courage, I think, than being willing to speak the truth, at a risk to you, but for the healing of one you love. Kudos.

    • says

      I am so pleased for you that your adventure on the limb turned out so well for both you and your daughter. It’s hard to know, you just have to go for it sometimes.

      Thank you for sharing this well written piece.

    • beverly Boyd says

      You told this story really well and I found myself hanging onto every word wondering how it would turn out. The list you requested of the names of people she would want to be her pall bearers seemed particularly inspired and obvious was exactly right for her.

      Your love for each other is so clear.

      I’m glad it turned out so well. There is so much hope in your description of her life now.

      • Jane says

        Hi Beverly, and thank you. Everyone is being very kind and encouraging. Thank you. That night was really a turning point for us.. I’m sorry. I realize now that I didn’t really explain to you that I didn’t know how that would turn out either! I’d had several weeks while she was in rehab to be scared and angry and out of control and crying with my friends, and they asked me to think about from what ground was I going to try to start over. I had worried over what I really needed to say, and how exactly to say it. I practiced with friends, and I can remember that night like it’s happening right now..

        Sometimes, I have a clear picture of what I want to say. Then it is hard to type fast enough to get the words out. Other times, I find it harder to get that clear picture in my mind of what I really want to say. Am I the only one, or does anyone else go nuts with false starts, meandering sentences, and just plain blank space to fill?

        • beverly Boyd says

          Dear Jane,
          Even though you may not have put it into words, it was pretty clear to me that the conversation in the parking lot was just the beginning. I’m glad you added the the two years later update or I would have been wondering how things are now.

  7. says

    I went out on the limb in 1997 and divorced my husband of 46 years. I moved to Santa Cruz and got the job of my dreams. I answered an ad in the Good Times on May 6, which read, “Gentleman, beach walks, candle light dinners, conversation, music” I met him at the Ideal Fish Company. It was 106 degrees that day. We sat out on the deck for 4 hours. He said he lived in a Mobile Home Park, so did I, He said he had 3 children, 10 grandchildren, so did I, He said he wrote books, so did I. He said he came from a Jewish background, My Great Grand Father was a Rabbi. I told him I was looking for a companion for my Mother. He replied, “Forget your Mother, I’ll take you!”

    The rest is history. We were married on the golf course in Kauai where his family attended and again at the Gazebo at De Anza, where my family attended. He was the best thing that ever happened to me. We were 18 years apart; but soul mates. We traveled the world. He had a stroke in February of 2012 and passed in March of that year. We had 15 wonderful years together. I still feel his presence surrounding my world every day. His philosophy of life, positive attitude, deep insight into life have permeated every part of my being and also to all who knew and loved him. He was a prophet, a guru, a deep soul.

    Yes, my Mother was disappointed that I betrayed her; but in the long run, she was happy that I was so happy.
    Sometimes going out on that limb requires guts, stamina and a Hell of a lot of nerve.

    • Magali says

      What a wonderful love story, Fran! I am so heartened by what you’ve shared. My partner and soulmate is 17 years older than I, and we found each other in the latter half of life, but we are so happy and fulfilled together. How beautiful to hear your story and know what is possible!

    • Jane says

      “Forget your mother. I’ll take you!” This made me laugh! I enjoyed this snapshot of a loving relationship, and your joy and gratitude shines here. What a wonderful story, Fran!

  8. Magali says

    Out on a limb

    Of all the follies you display,
    The worst by far is your reluctance
    To make an effort, and to reach.
    Wouldn´t you like a sweet, ripe peach?

    The fruit is out there on the limb.
    You can take it, it is free.
    Be a monkey, take some chances,
    Swing from vines and climb up branches.

    If the fruit fell on its own
    It wouldn´t taste nearly as rich,
    You’d go on taking it for granted
    Even though it’s what you wanted.

    Think of cherries and their juice
    Staining your tongue a dark red purple,
    Give a sigh, let yourself moan,
    As you chew down to the stone.

    Feel fleshy mango on your palate,
    Sweet juice running down your chin,
    If you hadn´t worked to get it
    Don´t you think you would regret it?

    Salty sweat is on your brow,
    Your hands are scraped, your arms are sore,
    You’re scared the branch may snap and fall,
    But aren´t you glad you gave your all?

    No one can tell you how to taste.
    Taste for yourself, reach out your hand.
    Give it a bite, let it burst through,
    Open yourself and let it change you.

  9. says

    I went out on a limb one blustery winter day in western Oregon when my 76 year old father wanted me to take painting lessons with him. He wanted to take lessons with someone who painted the wet-on-wet method of oils taught by Bill Alexander, the old German man who painted complete pictures in half an hour on TV. Since the Alexander Art Co. was in Salem, Oregon and only about 15 miles from where my father lived it was do-able. I called and got us set up with an instructor. That first session went well and that same afternoon, back at home, I asked my father if I could borrow some of his paints and an instruction book he had so I could try painting a picture on my own. Well, it turned out pretty good and I was impressed with myself, so impressed that I took that first, wet, painting; put it in the trunk of the car and drove down to Alexander Art Co. I took the painting in my hand, being careful not to get the wet oil on me and walked into their office.

    “Do you think I could become and instructor? This is only my second painting, in my life, ever, with practice and a good teacher?” Well, they thought I could so I asked when their next certification was.

    “January 21st”

    It was the last week in September. “Do you have an instructor I could work with in order to be ready for that certification?”

    “Are you serious?” she said incredulously.

    But, I was serious. “Yes, I am!” I answered.

    “I’ll check around and let you know in the next day or so.”

    “In the meantime I will be experimenting on my own.”

    “Don’t do that, you might get into bad habits, just wait.”

    “But I could watch the tapes, my dad has been taping Bill Alexander for years.”

    “Okay, I will find you an instructor.” she shuffled me out the door.

    Well, I got that certification; then I took lessons from anyone else I could find whose paintings I liked, who was teaching. I painted all the time. Mostly landscapes and animals. I had many very good paintings and was accepted into many “fine arts shows” up and down the Pacific Coast, from Washington to California. My husband would load up my paintings, he made easels for me to display them on, he came up with ingenious ways of hanging them in my display booth which was a pipe frame covered with white plastic tarp like material. He made me a special “easel-chair” which was so complicated it took an engineer to make a blueprint that we could use to have it reproduced (which we never did).

    I was never too sure that I was a “fine artist” but we did the shows and managed to barely cover our costs. It was discouraging. I shared a loft with another artist and taught a few classes and sold nothing. We moved around, I sold a painting here and there and traded some for commodities.

    When we moved to New Mexico a friend said we should create a way for women who make things as a cottage industry could get together and sell the things they made. She was so angry that I marked down 1/2 some journal books with clam-shell boxes that I had for sale at a jurried art show here that I was her incentive. We worked hard, gathered together about 25 hardworking artist types, and finally were able to rent a gallery and we had very nice things displayed in a very beautiful way. In the 2 years that I was able to volunteer there and display my things I sold about $20. total. NOT WORTH THE EFFORT!

    I have been creating beautiful things all my life and time and time again I have tried to sell them but to no avail. I have a storage area full of many beautiful items but somehow I have sawed off the limb behind me and now that I am old and unable to teach I write. I have two books of stories, one children’s book and it is also an audio book, one book of poetry, all for sale on and on my website and I have sold none. So once again I feel like I have crawled out on another branch of the same tree and trimmed it off behind me as well.

    Now, I am writing another book. “What for?” you ask. I have no idea. I think it gives me something to say that I am doing and being the compulsive busy-work person that I am it keeps me busy.

    I am so frustrated that others don’t think my things are worth their time or their money. Surely everything is so not so bad. One of these days I will fall out of this tree completely, landing on my head and be happy to read the books others have written (which I do now, only not so much) and watch mindless TV, or like most the other old people I’ll just sit and stare into space wishing it were all over.

    • says


      I loved how you described the energy with which you learned to paint. All the dialogue there really helped paint a vivid picture. I could also feel your deep frustration about selling your art; painting, books, etc. I am inspired that you choose to continue to create.

    • says

      Hazel, I loved the voice of authority in this piece. I could tell from the onset that you had specific personal feelings on this subject, and I wanted to ask you more questions at certain points. I was very interested in what you had to say. Kudos!

    • Laura Davis says

      Thanks for sharing your inspiring creative journey with us. I love the way you found painting! Sometimes we have to just create for the sheer joy of it–not for the external recognition, which we can’t control. Your story is a perfect example of that.

  10. Jane says

    That was a great story about finding yourself as a painter. Please don’t knock yourself so much! You have sold some of your paintings, and you have bartered some, you said, so they must be beautiful to others, and not just to you. I love that you are writing another book. You have great courage, Hazel, and your story vividly showed that.

  11. MaryL says

    Tell me about a time you went out on a limb and what you found there.

    A few days after I purchased my plane tickets for a trip to visit relatives in Italy, my daughter piped up, “Ma, be sure to start worrying right now about the transatlantic flight.”

    I had to smile, because I really don’t care to fly,
    and that ocean is out there, and you are over water much of the time.
    I said to her boldly, “I am not afraid.”
    As we were flying over the Atlantic, I looked around at the 200-something other passengers and felt as if we were somehow connected.
    Besides, there was a pilot running the plane, and other staff.

    I began to realize that there were some special things that I wanted to do in my life,
    and why not start doing them?
    A few years earlier, I had started the genealogy research,
    had sent letter to people from both mother’s and dad’s sides of the family,
    and waited.

    Back in the 1970’s I recalled feeling left out when my brother
    was selected to spend his fifth year of college in Italy studying
    for his Architecture degree. I stayed home with my sisters, Mom and Dad.
    We saw my brother off on the Leonardo DaVinci, and met him at the other end of the year at the Icelandic airlines booth at JFK – this is an example or irony, I think.

    So, decades later, I decided to visit my grandma’s relatives
    on the Adriatic coast in Monopoli (Bari) Italy.
    I had never seen water that particular share of aqua.
    I had never seen a city over a thousand years old.
    I had never gone to visit people whom I had never known before,
    and come back certain that they were my true family.
    I walked into the house where my grandma was born,
    checked out the olive trees, heavy with fruit.
    We took rides to the nearby towns every evening, had pizza at midnight,
    watched the sun rise, laughed, talked, sang.

    We stay in touch, every month.
    We exchange little gifts at Christmas.
    We send pictures of the little ones in everyone’s family.

    I went out on a limb, grabbed the connoli,
    and nothing has been the same since.

    • says

      Dear Mary,

      I loved all the dialogue between you and your daughter. I also enjoyed all the one line sentences towards the end. The form that the narrative took conveyed a sense of great pleasure and accomplishment. Bravo!

    • Jane says

      What a great way to follow your passion, Mary! I loved how you mentioned the jealousy that Brother got to go to Italy, when you were younger. This is good. I could see myself on the plane with you, miles above the ocean, looking through your eyes.

    • Laura Davis says

      I loved this celebration of risk-taking and joy. Especially your ending, “I grabbed the cannoli and nothing has been the same since.” Bravo. You made me want to go to Italy.

      • says

        What Laura said. I had nearly the same words in my head when I scrolled down and there they were already written. Thank you for sharing, loved your ending.

  12. Jenna says

    Have you ever read the book Off to Philadelphia in the Morning? It tells the story of the composer and musician Joseph Parry who was born and raised in my home town and moved to America when he was 13.

    I can’t imagine what it must have been like to leave you home and friends behind.

    When I left home I didn’t travel as far as Parry did. I only went about 150 miles away from the family and friends but it was still a big change for me. I’d never really been away from home without my family. Of the few times I did go away without them on two of the occasions I was severally homesick, one of the occasions resulted in me being taken home on the second day of the trip.

    Leaving home though meant that being homesick could not be a problem as there was no turning back. I had a job. I’d rented a place to stay.

    I could have found a job closer to home but there wasn’t a huge call for software engineers in an area that was known for its coal mines, iron foundries and vacuum cleaners. No, it had to be take a job away from home and make a life for myself.

    It was a big gamble. One that paid off. It resulted in a career that will have spanned 25 years in the same industry in July. Marriage and a son have also come about from the move. I’m even still in touch with people from those first few years living in bedsits, shared flats and houses.

    And Philadelphia, well I’ve actually been there. For all of 4 hours while transiting from the UK to Vermont for work. I think it might even have been morning when I left for there.

    • says

      Well done comparison of your leaving home with John Parry’s leaving to go to Philadelphia. “It was a big gamble. One that paid off.” Yes, you gathered the fruit at the end of the limb and “And Philadelphia, well I’ve actually been there. For all of 4 hours while transiting from the UK to Vermont for work. I think it might even have been morning when I left for there.” Nice.

    • Laura Davis says

      Thanks for sharing your journey with us. I’m glad you took the risk, and it looks like you are too!

  13. Jane says

    Jenna, “only 150 miles” is still a long, long way from home for a young woman. I loved all the wonderful things that came from your bravery to take that step and make that move. And I do agree with Hazel – – what a nice way to tie it in with the other man’s Philadelphia morning. Thank you!

  14. beverly Boyd says

    In November 2010 a series of events started that propelled me into writing a book on racism from the point of view of someone who grew up in the fifties in small town northern United States, where we had little opportunity to interact with blacks and believed racism was a southern problem. I had long realized that there was a much subtler and maybe more destructive form of racism active in the culture I lived in, though it was usually not acknowledged by people around me.

    I had been very disturbed by the mean-spirited rhetoric that was part of 2008 presidential campaign: insistence on saying Obama’s Name with emphasis on his middle name, Barack HUSSEIN Obama and the inferred link to Sadam Hussein as well as other epithets and spurious remarks. The fact that this continued with even more viciousness after the election disturbed me even more.

    Without going into detail about these events (I have written quite a few thousand words about them) as I shared my writing with my two weekly writing groups I was unprepared for the their reaction to my work. From their life experience and their prospective they were critical not of my writing but of the content, saying things that felt like they were attacking. When my teachers did not step in to get the feedback, which I experienced as “pushback” on my writing, I had to defend myself saying, “You don’t have to agree with me, but please respect that this was my experience.” Still they would stop after class insisting on making me see their point of view or tell me I needed to take some workshops in “unconscious racism” or “white privilege guilt.”

    I became very fearful that if I continued on the path of writing a book and encouraging others to become part of a dialogue I might expose myself, or worse yet, my family to real danger. If this were the way my white friends received my work, would it be even worse to expose myself to black people?

    After one particularly sleepless night of struggling with my passion for the work and fear of consequences I turned on the radio just in time to hear Bob Zellner, a long time civil rights activist from Alabama being interviewed. He would be speaking at a Black History Month event at UC Monterey Bay that evening. It seemed like that there would be an opportunity to “feel the fear and speak out anyway” to an audience of strangers, some who would, undoubtedly, be black

    It was my chance to go out on the limb!

    I did in fact have a chance to speak, though admittedly I waited until the time was almost up. As I stated my conviction about the need for voices like mine to take part in the dialogue, A saw agreement among most of the audience.

    After the meeting several people, including black women thanked me for speaking out and acknowledged the courage it took. Ann Jealous, whose son was at that time president of NAACP and is a therapist came across the aisle to tell me about a book she and a colleague were writing which would include first person stories. She invited me to participate. I did in fact submit two pieces, one of which she wanted to use.

    I realized I felt very uncomfortable with her choice. The other one would have been better for my purposes. The one she wanted was well written, but after numerous revisions based on the suggestions from my classmates, it did not feel right. I had become a character in a fictional account based on my life story. I wanted to be more authentic, so a regretfully withdrew from the book. “Combined Destinies: Whites sharing grief about racism”. It is well written and I recommend it. As I read it I knew, that for me, I had made the correct decision.

    • says

      Beverly, inside I was applauding your every move. I loved the way that you kept track of yourself and took care of yourself through every step of the way. Thank you.

    • Laura Davis says

      Beverly, you went through quite a journey with this piece and your passion to write about this hot-button topic. I’m glad you trusted your instincts and made the choice that felt right to you.

    • beverly Boyd says

      Thank you Wendy, Laura and Diana and Jane for your responses.

      I had to leave so much of this journey out for a more appropriate length for this space. I’m glad you were able to “get it.” It was even more of a roller coaster than this much-shortened version.

      The book may not take form but a friend is going to help be set up a blog. Because I feel so passionate about it, I find that just talking about my project now gets a conversation started and people who are not racist will sometimes come back later and say, “Since I talked to you…or read your stuff…I’ve noticed…and usually mention some way in which they are aware of culturally built in behavior. So book or not…the dialogue has started!

      • Laura Davis says

        Beverly, that’s fantastic news! I’m so excited for you. You trusted yourself and now look what’s happening! I’m so proud of you.

        • beverly Boyd says

          Thank you so much, Laura.

          Your encouragement has meant a lot and is one of the reasons I believe I can do this!

  15. Diana says

    Bravo! Thanks for having the courage to venture our into the sensitive topic and being willing to pursue the dialogue.

  16. Jane says

    Wow, Beverly, what a roller coaster your story took me on. I was curious to hear what happened next all the way through, and when you couldn’t connect to people you spoke to “back home,” I felt delighted when you sought and found people who would listen to you and with whom you could respectfully and seriously talk about difficult topics. How wonderful that must have felt! And then to be invited to contribute your writing to the book? A lovely honor. Thanks for a fun story.

  17. says

    Recently I crawled out on a dangling olive branch and flailed helplessly. Hanging on at all would not be easy.

    Sometimes survivors of sexual abuse find each other by strategic accidents, like showing up at the same support group. This can bring people together in lasting friendships and even romantic love. Although I hate having any of this in common with lovely strangers, P, one of my partners, was also a survivor of sibling sexual abuse. When we met, it was strange to discover that, for both of us, one of the perpetrators was a brother. We weathered this for a long time and have grown exponentially from our mutual sharing and care. However, the time came when I had to face the man who did such harm to the beloved woman in my life.

    It was my father-in-law’s 80th birthday. A huge milestone. Spending time with my in-laws isn’t always perfect, but it has improved markedly over time. We have all mellowed, growing together and apart in necessary ways. Now, we hang out quietly, surveying old photos from Melbourne, and rehashing the tale of how they immigrated to Canada, with eighteen-month old P. spending most of the long ship voyage asleep under their table. I also love it when Mum and Dad poke fun lovingly at each other; each holiday, I learn a bit more about their meeting on a ship from the UK to Australia. These visits have become a good experience, feeling as close to family as is possible for me.

    Unfortunately, this time would be different. Mike, whom I met once in the early 90s, would also be there. I was twice as nervous and, yes, I still remembered his cold, clammy hand shake the first time. I wanted things as they always were but I could do nothing. I was the outsider again, a feeling which is so painful for me. He had every right to celebrate with his parents and they wanted him there.

    I dragged my feet on agreeing to go. No. I didn’t want to miss my beloved father-in-law’s birthday; just the thought of it upset me. I didn’t want to disappoint P or her mother either. “I just don’t know,” I said, mad as hell, while inside I whined like a five year old. Why can’t it just be us?

    “It’ll be okay,” P said, not convincing me a bit. I studied her for a few seconds.

    “How do you feel?” She looked tired and almost as pale as I was. We must’ve looked goth.

    “I’m a mess. Can’t you tell?” She secured the cake in a triple plastic bag. It was almost time to go.

    Come on, Terry. Be strong. She needs you. There I was pep talking myself again.

    Two hours later, we sat at the dining room table almost frantically passing food dishes to each other. I jumped up to take an extra plate–angry that neither Mike nor P made a move to let their Mum rest. When it was only the four of us, I did the same. I was frustrated that, even after talking to her, my partner still took advantage of my good nature. Even this didn’t stop me, however. Mum insisted on cooking for us and I simply could not let her keep getting up and down to serve us once we all sat down. Inside, I growled, averting my eyes, but quietly heaping the blame on Mike.

    “Terry. Terry,” he said to me. “My oldest can stand outside an apartment and, within minutes, have all the passwords in the building.” His boyish face beamed.

    “Really? Wow.” I was incredulous. “More potatoes, Dad?” I said this more uncomfortably than ever before.

    Who was I kidding? They wanted me to call them Mum and Dad. I should and want to. I find it so hard though. Addressing P’s Mum in that way, given my birth mother’s treatment of me, felt like I was insulting her.

    “He’s a computer whiz. He can do anything!” Mike added this, while sipping from a Diet Coke.

    Like hijacking your Mum’s password and breaking into her computer all the time? P. told me all about this many times and I was livid about it! “Does he respect them so little he didn’t bother to teach his kids how to treat their grandparents properly?” P. murmured. “He could correct that now,” I said, pleading with her. “Why doesn’t he DO something about it?”

    My partner’s ‘wings’ flew into the air, something I always teased her about. This was her version of standing with her pockets turned out. Hands on hips. No answers here, her flying elbows told me.

    I would’ve given anything to have loving parents. Let alone have them alive! It killed me to see any child or grandchild abuse that luck and privilege.

    “Please don’t get up, Mum,” I said. “Let me do that.”

    “Oops,” I just got the ‘look’.” P. laughed. Secretly, I smiled, knowing she would be the only one to recognize that. “She’s mad that I’m not helping.”

    I made my way around the table, pouring water in everybody’s glass from the big Brita jug. “Another beer, Dad?” His huge smile said it all, even while he held his hand protectively over his heart, which was in such bad shape, they could do nothing for him anymore.

    “You want that almost as much as that cake, don’t you?” He tried to pop the tab on the Pilsner can but his right arm shook too violently. “Can I get it for you?,” I asked, gently, careful to not sound as if he was a child.

    I had a flash of what he must’ve been like in Helsinki. He was only three and a half when his own mother died. I am so glad he had lots of sisters and aunts who raised him.

    My eyes and chest burned as I turned to face his son, the man who hurt P. “Don’t you worry your boy will end up in jail?” I could tell he didn’t. “How old is he?”

    “Twenty-five.” Mike’s expression still boasted of pride.

    He had just finished recounting a long list of the young man’s celebrated computer break-ins. I became concerned for the guy. “That’s serious business, you know. They don’t take crimes like that lightly anymore.”

    Mike looked right through me. It was as if I were transparent. I groaned as it seemed he didn’t care.

    P. sighed heavily, and began fiddling with her fork, which clanged against the white china. I was so upset, I reached for her hand–something I had never done in their presence in twenty-two long years. Until then. Her fingers were trembling. We held hands so briefly, Mum and Dad might have wondered if it happened at all. Mike knew for sure; I noticed that he watched every exchange between P. and I like a hungry hawk. Oh yes! He and his religious wife saw me as evil.

    “Our old dishwasher is broken,” P. offered out of nowhere.

    “Well, I’ve had the same dishwasher for sixty years,” the birthday boy said, barely above a whisper. His whole body convulsed wildly. I got scared. Was he having a cardiac event? Why hadn’t they told me where his nitro was by then? I needed to know. This wasn’t the moment though. Nope. He rocked with laughter. Mike and P joined in, while I sampled a bite of the checker cab cake.

    What was I missing? There it was. Light etched Mum’s joy beautifully around the hollows of her face. She gave her husband’s hand a little smack and he clung to her for eight seconds. I know because I was ticking off a count between my own breaths. I had to calm down.

    Dad took another sip of his frothy beer. “This is delish.” I watched him work his right arm, wondering if the diagnosis was still dementia and Parkinsonism. Not Parkinson’s yet.

    “Have you had enough to eat, luv?” Mum spoke to her fifty-five year old son. Mike shook his head no and I wanted to glare at him. She immediately jumped to her feet and disappeared into the kitchen. It was time for the cake so I gathered up the plates again, insistent upon helping.

    Face to face, Mum and I hugged. In that instant, my brain was screaming, How could HE have hurt her his little sister? When we released the embrace, I searched her eyes. For that matter, how could YOU disregard her when she needed you? How could any of YOU believe she was responsible? How dare HE lie about it! How could all THREE of you treat her so badly? Make light of it?

    “Thank you for this,” Mum whispered in my ear. I shuddered, feeling as if someone dumped ice cubes down my back. The gist of her real message seemed to drop like a cement brick on my foot. This was as draining for them–if not more–than what we were feeling. They had to know their son and daughter would be okay when they were gone. Did this charade convince her? I couldn’t imagine so but I gave her arm a knowing squeeze. I loved them dearly and she knew it. I wouldn’t add to their struggles or anyone’s.

    Besides, I realized, we were sincere. I was as open and accepting of him as I could be. Like when I confronted my own brother, I saw a big child. Who knew what happened to him too? Not that that would excuse the pain he inflicted. That could never happen. I didn’t want to despise him, especially if P’s feelings were changing slightly. I would always be enraged at him but it didn’t belong there. Not then. This was a celebration of their father’s life.

    “Happy Birthday to you!” We sang, while Dad’s eyes lit afire more brightly than all the candles together. Four phones appeared out of nowhere and we all snapped pictures.

    “Choc-o-late,” I said, playing a pig-headed, snorting cake monster. They stopped me just before I used my cupped hand to ‘forklift’ out a chunk of icing and crumbs.

    Please let him be here for his 81st, I begged the powers that be. I’ll droop from a dead willow’s cracked limb for them. Dad, Mum, and my beloved. They mean so much to me! It’ll be awful when there is only emptiness left. How will P and I bear it? Of course, like everything else, it is out of our hands. I succumbed to everything with no display of elbows. It was time to apply some of that Shambhala training to these very issues.

    Later, P and I held each other in the dark. We had our rough times late last year but, in those eight hours, we loved and held each other with renewed commitment and passion. All was well and solid. We did it!

    • Laura Davis says

      Terry, what I love most about this is that you convey the complexity of family relationships and all the grey areas that make you choose to act in one way, or to tolerate a difficult person, than to act in another. It’s like walking through a minefield sometime when you’re triggered, but your protagonist (you) did it so well in this complicated family drama.

      • says

        Thanks Laura. I guess it’s not so bad for a 3 am first draft. Of course, I noticed that I was sampling some cake at the table before it was actually served. :) I find this kind of story tough to write; experiencing it can make a person feel so disjointed. Happy I captured the essence. More to do.

    • beverly Boyd says

      Hi Terry
      I second Laura’s comments about how well you conveyed the complexity of this situation. In particular I think the following details did so much more than an explanation could to get the feelings and dynamics across:

      I still remembered his cold, clammy handshake the first time.

      …we sat at the dining room table almost frantically passing food dishes to each other.

      Who was I kidding? They wanted me to call them Mum and Dad. I should and want to. I find it so hard though. Addressing P’s Mum in that way, given my birth mother’s treatment of me, felt like I was insulting her.

      My eyes and chest burned as I turned to face his son, the man who hurt P.

      “Our old dishwasher is broken,” P. offered out of nowhere.
      ( consciously or unconsciously changing the subject so no one had to notice the elephant in the living room!)

      …he clung to her for eight seconds. I know because I was ticking off a count between my own breaths. I had to calm down.

      Good job!

    • Jane says

      Terry, you really made the visit to your in-laws’ come alive. I could see you carefully balancing on the tightrope, torn between blaring the truth to satisfy your own and P’s desire, and scuttling under the rug to avoid difficult areas. You’ve done an excellent job of writing vividly, portraying these relationships and the push-pull of tensions and motivations. Well done!

      • says

        Jane, I really appreciate your comments. It was hard to maneuver all of that but even more so to capture it on paper. There’s lots to edit, which I am doing now. Looking forward to catching up with everyone.

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