Writing is all about storytelling, and one of the wonderful gifts I got from the universe is a dad that tells great stories. Often repeatedly. Often to polite, knowing smiles and no small amounts of chagrin from those around him. In honor of the wonderful and lovable trait, I give you this: my favorite dad joke, as told by my dad during a recording of the two of us at the Atlanta StoryCorps booth earlier this year.
Happy Father's Day, padre. I believe that my family may already be numbering MY jokes accordingly.
For years, I took dance class. Pretty much involuntarily. I was the short, lumpy girl in the back line who was forced to be there to get some exercise. Ironically, I often opted to skip class and wander across the parking lot to the drugstore, where I would browse the notebooks and buy a Snickers instead. I did not love dance, but as the parent of two girls, the lure of seeing a recital featuring my little darlings in sparkling tutus wandering about the stage was too much to resist. So, when they were old enough, I dutifully signed each of them up for lessons.
My older daughter never really took to it. "I just want to be in the recital because I like the attention," she admitted to me after I signed her up for another year. Clearly, she’s a budding psychologist, if not a dancer. With my little one, however, it's a different story. I march her off to class a bit sluggishly on Saturday mornings, me with no makeup and a big coffee, her changing straight from pajamas into her leotard. I send her pony-tailed head into the dance studio, and promptly spend the rest of the hour chatting with my friends and ignoring the hallway’s broad “peeking” window covered with cheap and barely open blinds. Other, more eager parents gaze through the slats like paparazzi, and hover and fuss about whether their kids are going to get it together for the recital. They lament about why the teacher hasn't taken the time to put a video of the dance on YouTube so they can make their children practice it at home. They look at me strangely when I suggest that the best part of the recital is watching a kid who wants nothing to do with the dancing part stand on stage and wave to their mother. Me? I sit with my back toward the window and make jokes with my friends about the People of Walmart.
This week, though, my usual conversation buddies were out of town, and I took a few minutes to linger at the window and watch my daughter during class. She was standing directly next to the teacher, invariably attentive. Her hands were on her hips. Her kicked-back foot was balanced on the tip of her tap shoes. She was holding her position, gracefully, as she waited for the music. She wasn't suffering through the class with a forced shuffle-step march like I had. She was confident, and when the music started, she shook her diminutive hips right on tempo. She’s a dancer. I recognize it now, because I used to look in wonder at the slim, muscular girls in the front row of my dance class who knew all the steps. They would come directly after school and stay for hours at the dance studio, changing from one leotard to another and complaining about when they were going to do their homework as they squeezed into their toe shoes. They WANTED to be there. They LIKED it. They were dancers. In the recital, they were posed and smiling airily into the spotlight. I was in the back, frantically trying to keep my substantial beige bra tucked under my costume’s pencil thin spaghetti straps.
Don’t mistake this for a speech on low self-confidence, mind you, I was talented in plenty of other ways, but as I watched my daughter, I finally understood the joy she gets from an hour at dance. I think this is what runners must feel – the pleasure of controlling your body, of moving it and using it, of being intentional and beautiful with your muscles. This is what people talk about when they refer to the flow and endorphins of exercise. I’m not much of a running person, so I faintly recognize that feeling, mostly from spending a day at the beach or walking to lunch or eating two hot Krispy Kreme doughnuts in a row. Out of my pale and writerly loins has sprung a dancer. She’s very happy to be in class, always knows her cue, and may one day complain about her homework as she weaves the ribbon of her toe shoes around her calf. Meanwhile, I will still be the one ducking out to go to drug store, browsing the notebooks, and buying a Snickers. There’s something, though, that I can finally say that I really enjoy about dance class. When the recital comes, that beautiful pony-tailed dancer in the front row? The one who knows all the steps? She’s going to raise her face to the spotlight, smile airily, and then wave to me.
I am slightly late in sharing this for Breast Cancer Awareness month, but since breast cancer is something that more than one of the people I love has had to deal with, I don't feel the least bit bad posting this puppy right now. A month or two ago, I wrote a story about a breast cancer survivor named Makeda McLune for the American Cancer Society. In addition to being published on their website, cancer.org (you can read it here), I am excited to report that the story was picked up and published in a special breast cancer section of the Dallas Morning News.
That means this little ol' writer got to be on the Sunday breakfast tables of many people in Dallas with a story that I hope made them smile. Pretty cool!
I am excited to share my latest piece for the American Cancer Society -- a story about a lovely human who survived childhood cancer and is now helping others find the help they need to navigate treatment. A happy read for your Monday!
Childhood Cancer Survivor Lends a Voice -- and a Hand -- To Others
I was very happy to have a chance to write an article for the folks at the Muscular Dystrophy Association recently. If you have someone you know who has pain from muscle disease, go check out my piece in their magazine, Quest.
Medication, Meditation, and Movement
I just spent a week on the Oregon Coast with house full of creative ladies. That could have been a nightmare. Instead it was a dream. It was saturating. Hydrating. It plumped my brain.
A ferrous layer in the ocean rocks
means tiny red rocks all over the beach.
attractive and attracting
in little chunks and pieces.
Sometimes the water
and rounds our edges
so we will have
stories to tell
when the Na and the Cl
put us back together.
Amanda Dobbs, copyright 2015
There are so many clichés about surviving hard things in this world. Kittens on branches remind us to “hang in there.” Football coaches (and Billy Ocean) preach that when the going gets tough, the tough should get going. My personal and indelicate favorite to invoke in times of stress, and you may know from reading this blog, is “Shit happens for a reason.” Like anyone, though, sometimes I forget the “for a reason” part and have trouble focusing on anything but the shit.
We all get there. Our problems may be of the first world variety, they are still problems, and problems often consume emotional, physical, and financial resources that seem to exceed what we have to give.
A strange and wonderful part of being a writer sometimes is that it’s part of my job to ask people about their problems. This is in no way an exercise in schadenfreude for me, if I may use the $5 word; in fact it’s quite the opposite. Instead, it selfishly gives me a chance to talk to people I don’t know in situations often different from mine and explore how they spend their energy when their needs seem to exceed their resources. It’s heartbreaking, fascinating, uplifting, and humbling. It makes me understand that behind every pre-packaged, news-bite version of a story, there’s a real human who is making real time decisions about how to cope – even if my job is to give the world the short version of their story.
Last year, I wrote a piece about a woman with lung cancer. I got to reach out and reconnect with her a week or so ago and got an update on how she is doing (doing well, thank you). Re-reading her story made me think about how she was spending her energy, and likewise about how I was spending mine. It made think about how life goes on when it feels like it should stop. It made be realize that we are all winging it somedays and owning it others. It also made me realize how sometimes it takes a silly picture of a kitten on a branch to reveal a universal truth.
Go read my version of her story if you like, and see what you think. For me, it affirmed, once again, my belief that shit really does happen for a reason.
It's a lovely thing to meet a human who wants nothing more than to help make life easier for other humans. I got to do that recently when I talked to a cancer survivor named Linda and wrote a story for the American Cancer Society about how she's working to help out her fellow man (or in this case, mostly fellow women). If you have a moment, click the link below and go meet Linda. She's pretty darn cool.
I am a firm believer in karma. I think the universe sometimes hooks you up with what you need exactly when you need it, and it’s sometimes the layperson’s job to help. Point of proof: I have a friend who is going through a seriously crappy moment in her world. The details aren’t important, but what she’s dealing with is a full pay grade above a normal level of crap. When crap happens, someone should really take you out to breakfast, so one cloudy Friday morning I threw her in the front seat of my car, and out we went.
We shuffled through the normal roster of choices (diner, dreamy grits joint, Frenchy bistro bakery), and then she mentioned that a local barbecue place had just started serving breakfast. Barbecue joint. For breakfast. Well, their fried okra was up to snuff from what I’d heard, so what the hell. We parked and walked in, the brown and sticky hubcap-covered walls feeling only slightly out of place before the lunch hour, and bellied up to the counter to check out the menu. In front of us in line was a twenty something who had just placed her order. She turned to us and eavesdropped as we tore through the offerings.
A biscuit filled with bacon, egg, and barbecued brisket? Yes. A bucket of Cheddar cheese grits? Yes. A plain cinnamon roll or a cinnamon roll with bacon inside? “You want the bacon one,“ she said, and we agreed. We definitely wanted the bacon one. After much discussion, we ordered pretty much everything on the entire menu to split, and then chatted with our line mate as the counter person rung us up. “You’ve gotta try their doughnuts,” our new friend said. “They serve them warm with the doughnut holes and everything.” Already overburdened, we promised to get one next time, thanked her for her excellent menu guidance, and settled in to a booth.
My friend and I talked, drank coffee, ate brisket breakfast sandwiches, and licked our fingers clean of bacon cinnamon roll. We discussed important and traumatic things, old friendships, and the weather. Then, there was suddenly someone standing next to the table.
“I couldn’t help myself,” the lady from the line said, laying down two Styrofoam containers. “I had to do it.” She cracked one open, and inside was a freshly fried, raised yeast doughnut – still warm – with the hole perched atop the doughnut like a pearl. The contents were dripping with house-made sugar glaze that mixed with the remnants of oil from the fryer. It smelled like comfort. It smelled like love. And it was delivered, completely unprovoked, by a stranger we had met only moments before.
I like to think that I am a good listener, and I even picked up the tab for breakfast, but I doubt either of those things did as much to soothe my friend’s rattled soul as that doughnut. It was a wink from the universe just when we needed it, and a reminder that sometimes karma ain’t a bitch at all. We drove home complaining about our overworked bellies, and promised to have breakfast again soon. Then, without discussing it, we both made the same vow to the universe: We would find a stranger in need of a hot doughnut just as soon as we possibly could.
Hi. I'm Amanda. I like to write, eat, tell jokes, and correct commas (mostly in that order). I am also happy to do any of those things for you.