Bread upon the Waters

Feeding the Ducks by Mary Cassatt

So we cast our bread on the water, rarely knowing whom it may feed, trusting it will not go to waste, even as we watch it fade from our sight. ~ L. Michelle Baker

Overheard – biologists at lunch swapping notes RE office environment:

B1: We’ve recently moved to half-cubes. Some of us have started wearing airport-style headphones to drown out the noise. The guy next to me conducts all of his business via speakerphone. I can put white noise on underneath of the ‘phones and still hear him. I mean, seriously? Does he understand how loud you have to be for that to happen?

B2: Our office still has full cubes. They’re talking about going to half-cubes next month. I don’t know how I feel about the idea of standing up and seeing everyone in my office.

B3: I’ve gotten so spoiled! My office has a door. I shut it when I’m writing, and talk to myself to make it look like I’m on the phone.

Suddenly my soup has become fascinating. I’m keeping my eyes carefully trained on the one bean bobbing in the vegetable-tomato broth purporting to be Mexican rice. I have yet to see any rice. But at least if I continue staring I won’t be given the obligatory, congratulatory, “hey! You work from home. That must be great!”

“Yep. It’s awesome. The morning commute consists of snuffles and tail-wagging and slobbery doggie toys deposited on my feet. I do my best work in PJs with coffee, so I don’t usually shower until (insert inappropriate number here). And I very often spend the afternoon reading on my deck.

“Oh, would you look at the time?”

Not because class starts any time soon, but because I – well – I have a sudden, urgent need to leave.

I carry my tray to the kitchen window and I strap my binoculars on my shoulder and I walk-run from the cafeteria into the woods to start birding again so I don’t have the face the question I’m dreading:

“And where do you do your best writing?”

NOWHERE! I haven’t been writing ANYTHING – okay! Is that what you want to hear? I’m a writing trainer, and I can’t write! Had writer’s block for 8 months – plagued by self-doubt and feelings of worthlessness. Think about writing every day. Can’t do a thing about it. Don’t want to talk about it. Wanna bird? Wanna garden? Wanna drink?

Yes, I love working from home. I love my stupid home office with the stupid bird feeders in front of my stupid window. I love my stupid, snoring puppies. I love my stupid Sirius satellite radio that plays Little Stephen’s Underground Garage 24 hours a day. I love my stupid sun-shiny deck that’s breezy and warm and filled with bird song.

But I’m a teacher for God’s sake! I show people how to do stuff better. And without intelligent, passionate people who care about their work and who interact with me about ways to do their job better, I’m nothing. Or at least that’s how I feel.

All of the small talk and chatter and petty interactions that everyone else is desperate to drown out are the very things I am starving for. So clearly I need to do a better job of feeding myself. I know how to do that. Read more. Go to conferences. Engage with my peers. Host events. Blah-blah-blah.

But during the past week as I participated once again in the Critical Writing and Critical Thinking course at the NCTC, during my pathetic pity party on my own dearth of inspiration, while I watched writers struggling to process stacks of new information, slowly pervading my heart was what a terribly isolating experience the writing process can be.

Whether you’re outside experiencing the sights and sounds of nature, whether you are alone in a silent conference room, whether you’re in a cubicle pumping punk rock through your headphones, or whether you are in a classroom with 20 of your peers, when you’re writing, you’re alone. It’s just you – your thoughts translated into your words.

I would almost venture to say that we are never more alone with ourselves than we write, except perhaps when we dream.

I have, therefore, concluded that writing is an act of faith. Like all faiths, we must practice it continually, never quite knowing who benefits from it, hoping that somehow it will be us, but uncertain what form the good will take. So we cast our bread on the water, rarely knowing whom it may feed, trusting it will not go to waste, even as we watch it fade from our sight.


  1. WOW! If i wasn’t a fan of yours before, I certainly am now. I can completely identify with the days of pyjamas and little faith in humanity.I can also identify with those moments that you struggle to realize why you do what you do… you do because? You inspire others, and you’re fantastic at what you do. I’m sorry you got lost for a time, but i’m SO glad you’re back again! I struggle the same way, and constantly strive to keep my crazy head above water, but when I do? I’m never more proud of my accomplishments than when an editor says.. hey.. job well done!! xoxoxo Welcome home!

    • Wow Tami – thank you for bringing tears to my eyes and reaffirming my belief in the power of online communication and reminding me that doing “because” is enough. Lots of love, girl!

  2. Stanley Dambroski says

    Michelle, the bread-on-the-water image and metaphor is dynamite! Glad you’re back. I look forward to your posts.
    ~Stan D.

  3. Oh Michelle! Me too. I haven’t written anything in over a year. Before that, I tried to edit my second novel, and just couldn’t. It made me miserable, so unhappy that it was better to quit writing altogether than face another hour of failure. I don’t know if I’m going to start again or not. I’ve decided the most important thing is to not beat myself up about it, but it still makes me sad. Good luck to you – I love your posts. You are a wonderful teacher and I love hearing from you.

    • Anna-Marie, I can hardly believe it! You have so much imagination and talent. I am thoroughly ashamed of myself for not sharing my struggle earlier, if only for the fact that it might have helped, at least for all of us to know that we are not alone. But no more of that! It’s time now to feast on all the beauty and inspiration we can find, until we’re so fat that we can’t help but be a comfort to others 🙂

    • Anne-Marie… I’m working on a novel too! Now that I’m in SA, we should like support each other’s efforts! 🙂

  4. Kathy Sholl says

    I think you are an amazing writer and an extraordinary professional. Keep your spirit alive. You have many kindred spirits. kat

  5. Rachel Levin says

    Thank you, Michelle, for sharing your struggle so eloquently. You are an inspiration. I’m looking forward to seeing you in October.

  6. When I started working for a major banking corporation in downtown Dallas in 1990, half-cubicles dotted the landscape. It didn’t bother me, even though I was on the phone all day long. At my current workplace, everyone is concealed by tall cubicles, which – as an introvert – I absolutely love. I’m a technical writer by day and a deviously creative writer by night; like any good writer, I prefer my own personal space. I’m also not a people person. The more I get to know people, the more I like my dog. But, the people I’ve worked with over the years have made for some good characters and great stories. I just change the names to protect myself. Above all, Michelle, keep writing! Like I told a close friend, the story won’t write itself.

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