Monday Discovery: Esther Bradley-DeTally

Today’s Monday Discovery guest writer is Esther Bradley-DeTally, a dynamo-lady who hails from Pasadena, California. Visit her at Sorrygnat, World Citizen. Thanks, Esther, for sharing this excerpt from You Carry the Heavy Stuff.

The best way to describe Esther is to let her do it in her own words:

Esther Bradley-DeTally, spirit and writer extraordinaire, and Puggy

Esther Bradley-DeTally is a writing teacher, creative process coach, author, community activist. She has written two books, Without A Net: A Sojourn in Russia, and You Carry the Heavy Stuff Just out is The Courage to Write, An Anthology. She is editor of this book and writing teacher to those within its pages.  The Courage to Write is published by Falcon Creek Books and is a publication of the Pasadena Public Library, The La Pintoresca branch/Pasadena READS.

Her writing is whimsical, spiritual, serious, laugh out loud funny and offers themes with keen observance of what it means to be human. Someone once said her stuff was “A refreshing read that combines a depth dimension with the tragicomedy that is life.” She is a Baha’i with a passion for making oneness a social reality, fascinated by ordinary people transcending their own inadequacies and limitations in homage to a vision.

She jumps out of airplanes to visit pug dogs, and her best times are with Mr. Bill, her husband and pal extraordinaire, family, and her inner circle of 700 friends.

Being on Watch—Second Bout With Cancer (Spring 2007)

What day do I run to? Does my twin Elizabeth think of this? Her body is a mere cipher. She’s buying the farm. How do I run to her call, “Help me, help me, help me,” which starts just after dawn and carries through the day and night? I jolt out of bed at 5:30 and run into her room, a two-second trip. Early mornings and late evenings require me, her twin. No one else can help at the moment. Bill covers the ritual of medicine doses, and Lindsey and Matthew—her son and his wonderful wife—are going to start staying over.

Liz worries about my dying alone. “Who will you have?” I reassure her, and then I fantasize my demise. I would not realize this was a religious choice reference—that she feared my acceptance of Bahá’u’lláh would hold me back. At the time, I laughed and said, “I’ll be fine.”

An Essay: I Feel It in My Bones

I always said, “I want to go out lying on a huge bed with hundreds of pug dogs over me, as I feebly say, ‘Put the last one on that space over my nose above my lips.’” So under a snuff and snort, I’d end my days. Strange is this getting older. This is going to be an essay. I feel it in my bones. Tonight, my words slough off this day of sitting next to Liz, trying to get hourly liquids into her.

I sit in her kitchen at the computer which makes its “Urr urr” noises, like a new baby. It’s quiet in the kitchen as I reflect on our life as twins. Now, we are beyond the personalities of our twin selves. We are finally down to what really matters. Like Liz, I am waiting to return home, except it’s not my time, and I’m still on earth duty, in dirt city, on Planet Earth. I want to go home to Pasadena.

“What Day Do I Run To?”

Today someone in the writing group posted a question, “What day do I run to?” What does that mean? Then I thought, this is one of my middle-of-the-night questions when I get up and think, when does it end? I, always the frailer twin, have survived heart surgeries and other stuff. It helps at night to sit in her kitchen at the computer and play with writing prompts from our CHPerc site for writers. The basic question is, “Where do I run?” “When do I run out?”

Did I tread the mystical path on practical feet? Did I hoof hard? Was I a solace? Now, it’s  just enough to realize, parts of me are like a big old watch. On what day will I stop ticking? Will it be 2:00 in the afternoon or 2:00 at night? Where will the world be then? Meanwhile, I’m on watch, and I’m writing. Here in Liz’s kitchen on a quiet Idaho night, I think of us, Liz and me. We were the survivors. We’ve always had each other—like book ends. My brother John has been missing for years, and my older sister (Meb, for Mary Ellen Bradley) died at fifty. Liz and I were it.

A Dvorak Dissonance

Meb was a Girls Latin Scholar and later an unwed mother. “Go tell Dad, he’ll understand” backfired, and she was sent away. She had the baby by herself in Quincy Hospital, but then, as she turned eighteen, she took her baby out of foster care. She married her young love and had three more kids. Her husband left her, so she became a pianist in cocktail lounges. She drank too many drinks offered by grateful customers standing by her piano in a club lounge. Life unraveled, and she ended up on the streets, in housing tenements, dying in a hospital, the same Quincy Hospital where she gave birth. She was alone, poor, alcoholic, and had emphysema. When my twin and I were seventeen, our mom died. I remember Liz and I taking the trolley into downtown Boston and answering the sales lady’s query, “Why do you have to have black dresses?”

My twin is the essence of “don’t tell,” and she never discusses feelings about family. She would tell me during last year’s radiation treatments. When she was ten, standing in our long, graveled driveway, she said to herself, “I’m on my own now. I have to take care of myself.” My mother’s alcoholism had burst out. The Twelve Steps programs were newly emerging, and the doctors would send our mother to a private sanatorium, give her shock treatment. And what about us, Liz and me? She was the sturdy one, good at sports, tree climber par excellence, devotee of “Bobby and the B-Bar Ranch” radio show and “Sgt. Preston” and his dog King. And me—softy, wimp, reader, reader, reader, pathfinder of all the childhood diseases—feeling my mother’s pain. Our early lives had a Dvorak dissonance, later transiting to the spiritual sound of “Coming Home.”

It’s a Symphony, This Life

As I await my twin’s death, I want to tell you it’s a symphony, this life. First, the sacred wounds inflicted upon the soul, and time and twists and colors and sounds, cymbals, drums, some bells and whistles of the funky kind. And the colors—fuchsia, black, gray, stripes of every hue and finally the color blue, a Mediterranean blue—an embracing veil of silken color, obliterating memories of my twin’s despair of my believing in more than Jesus. Also fading are the memories of criticism’s early work. I hope when it comes my time to pass—come to a reckoning, a passage into a final exam, a leap of gladness, the warrior path almost finished—that I be worthy to meet my Creator. I think before I go, I’ll give a final glance at a world back from tilt and furor, and I’ll catch faint sounds of a new symphony, an oratorio, celebrating unity and splendor for the human race.

For thought and action: What day do you run to? Where is your solace?  Esther and Gerry would love to have your comments here!

Retro: The Writerly Review, June 4-9

Here’s The Writerly Life in review for the week of June 4-9:

Wordle 59, courtesy The Sunday Whirl

The week kicked off with the Sunday Wordle: June 3, 2012a flash fiction piece inspired by The Sunday Whirl.

Monday Discovery was all about poetry this week: a wonderful poem by Stephen Dunn and a look at a new (to me, at least) online poetry journal: At Monday Poetry Discoveries: Dunn, PLUME.

On Wednesday: a photo essay, At a Loss for Words. I’ll let the photos speak for themselves.

Somebody You’re Longing to See, the week’s featured post, dealt with lost time and opportunities and their relationship to story.

Hambidge path, Spring 2011

And finally, Friday brought a surprise: the Lucky 7 Meme Challenge! (Thanks, E. B. Pike.) Check it out for a few lines from my WIP.

We’re not done yet: The Weekly Photo Challenge is due tomorrow! It’s a tough one.

Sneak Peek: Monday, look for a wonderful guest post from Esther Bradford-DeTally. You won’t want to miss it!

Thanks to all of you who visited this week, liked, and/or commented. The Writerly Life continues to grow and evolve. I hope you’ll come back!

7 Truths A-Waiting by Lara Britt

Today’s Monday Discovery brings you a guest post by Lara Britt, the entrepreneur of MNINBers who has encouraged and wrangled the group—she calls it “wrangling butterflies”—beyond Robert Lee Brewer‘s original My Name Is Not Bob April Platform Challenge.

Welcome to The Writerly Life, Lara!

Laura Britt

Lara Britt writes from her Honolulu home near Nu’uanu Stream. She enjoys morning strolls through Lili’uokalani Botanical Gardens and late night walks along the beach. Between times you will find her in her favorite Writerly Nooks which she catalogs in her blog, Writing Space.

Lara is the übermom to two fully-grown, adult daughters who heeded her advice: “Degrees, before children.” She is, therefore, without grandchildren, but will be celebrating the delivery of a doctoral dissertation in the very near future.

Community organizing, gardening, travel, music, art, food, and all things that give life meaning are common threads in Lara’s work. When she isn’t wrangling butterflies in her efforts to birth a community blog or raising her Klout score to stratospheric heights, Lara is working on two related mystery series and a memoir. And she still has two pairs of slip-resistant shoes in her closet.

7 Truths A-Waiting

Most writers have difficulty in pronouncing themselves authors. They usually couch self-description with softening words like “aspiring,” “up-and-coming,” and “break-out.”

You can bet these folks never worked a 14-hour shift in slip-resistant shoes.

Talk to many servers, and you will find that they are, in their real lives—whatever that means—in fact, an actress, a poet, a philosopher, a student, a singer, an artist, a creative [fill-in the blank with highest of aspirations]. Only temporarily are they inhabiting a Swiss-Miss uniform or donning a work-shirt only a Fauvist could love. The apron, only until they get their big break. The button blinking the day’s special, yeah, one day they won’t have to wear that either.

They are waiting tables waiting for their lives to begin.

You all know what it’s like to work in a restaurant. You’ve eaten at them hundreds if not thousands of times. You’ve imagined what it takes to be a server. Or perhaps for the briefest of stints, you put on the mandatory cap and asked customers if they wanted fries with that.

No, it’s not that.

The Naked Truth About Our Waitresses

You’ve seen it in the movies. How many thousands of reel feet have been devoted to the angry chef, the obnoxious customer, the hormone-crazed dishwasher or was it the busboy, the good-hearted hook…er…waitress, well, aren’t they the same thing?

No, no, no and no.

And no, in the 35 years I’ve been a part of the food industry, I have never witnessed a chase scene through the kitchen except on the silver screen.

If not that, then what?

Waiting tables is in actuality a highly skilled profession. Like teaching and parenting, there are a thousand ways to be terrible at the job and hundreds of ways to be terrific. Like many traditionally female occupations, it is underpaid and undervalued.

But it also has its benefits. Sure, schedules are flexible. Daily cash flow. But specifically, serving is ripe with benefits for writers and other artists dealing with the human condition.

Job Description: Welcoming customers, suggestive-selling of food and beverages, order-taking, order-inputing to computerized system, salad-making, food and beverage delivering, cash-handling…

Yes…technically correct…but…

Serving is live theater meets applied psychology.

And that is exactly what I tell the new servers after about a month of training when at the end of the night, after everyone is talking about tables that stiffed them, the ten-percenters, and the other horrors of the shift that just ended, I count up my 20+% tip average after tip-out.

Here is my not-so-secret recipe.

And why do I share? Because they are in my neighborhood; as the price of their real estate rises so does mine. A direct corollary applies to the blogosphere: better blogging raises all of our boats.

  • Learn Your Craft
    “Kill” the technical aspects of your job description. Carry that tray, high and fast. Learn how to multi-task. Learn how to pace the service. Learn how to manage your time. Exceed your guests’ expectations.
  • Sh*t Happens
    The more complicated the execution, the more opportunity for things to go awry. It is how you handle them that matters most. Don’t offer excuses; offer solutions.

  • Experience Rules
    Directly related to sh*t happens: People visit a restaurant, not because they are hungry. They visit for the total experience of the evening. Food is only part of it.

  • Servers Are Responsible for the Guests’ Experience
    It isn’t the kitchen’s fault. Food is only part of it. Develop that tool-bag so when sh*t happens––and it will––you can still give the guest an exceptional experience.

  • Understand the Guests’ Needs
    The guest has two sets of needs: 1) one he thinks he has, and 2) one he really has. Your job is to address the first and satisfy the latter. Sound insulting? Think different. Think Steve Jobs. He gave us want we always wanted, but didn’t know it. Great servers do this every day, all day.

  • Match-Make
    At the end of the evening, the guests should think that the person they are dining with is the most interesting person in the room, not their server. Help them be entertaining, do not make them dependent on your presence at table’s edge. No showboating.
  • End on a High Note
    No matter what went wrong, make sure the end of the night is pleasant. This is when they figure out your tip. But this is also when they make their final assessment on their choice in coming. Make them want to make that choice again, soon.

So whether you are delivering food for thought as a blogger who aspires to be an author or you deliver food from the kitchen as you await your big break, apply these seven basic tips from a seasoned professional. Stay in dialog with your guest, but stay confident in yourself. The outcome will be something you can take to the bank.

As you have guessed, these 7 tips also apply to blogging. Which one speaks to you and your experiences? What are you wrestling with? Tell us your stories in the comment section. Gerry and I are eager to hear all about it.