An Unexpected Lesson in the Art of Living

by Nikki Mark

Bread and jam

Last month, I recorded the audio version of my memoir, Tommy’s Field: Love, Loss & The Goal of a Lifetime.  

I was hopeful the experience would teach me a thing or two about the art of speaking.  What I never could have expected was how much it taught me about the art of living.

“We’d like Jerry the studio owner to be the Director,” the audio book company told me.  “Is that okay with you?”

“Sure,” I said, having no idea what that really meant.   

But then it dawned on me at that point that I should probably practice reading my manuscript to prepare.

How do I approach different voices in the book? I wondered. What if I mess up in the middle of a sentence? What if my s’s hiss and p’s blow too much air?

Fortunately, Director Jerry called me a couple nights before our first recording session to prepare me. 

“Nikki!” he exclaimed! “I am so excited to work with you!”

 “Thank you, Jerry!” I responded, not fully understanding what sparked his enthusiasm.

“Your story really resonates with me, Nikki,” Jerry continued.  Now, I don’t tell the publishers, audio book companies or my clients about my life because it’s not their problem, but after reading your story you have to know that I lost my wonderful wife of forty years back in 2020 and your book has deeply touched me. I can’t wait to record it.”

“I’m so happy to hear this!” I responded enthusiastically.  “As I wrote this story, I could feel it healing my heart. I’m sharing it with others to help heal theirs too.”

“Do you have any questions before we get started on Monday?” Jerry asked.

I rattled a few off the top of my head and then Jerry assured me, “I’ve been doing this for decades.  We’ll do a lot of handholding and get through it. Don’t you worry.”

“Okay, Jerry,” I said, before putting my manuscript away and deciding to wing it. 

When I showed up a few days later, a man in his eighties and about my height (which most would agree is not towering) greeted me in the parking lot.

“Jerry?” I asked.

“Nikki!” he exclaimed with a warm bright smile on his face that matched the tone of his voice on the phone.

He proceeded to walk me to his studio and then caught me off guard by asking, “Do you eat bread?”  

“Not really,” I responded, noticing for the first time that he was holding a fresh round loaf of sourdough bread in his hands that looked like it had been purchased from a bakery.  “Gluten hurts my stomach if I have too much of it. I eat a little now and then.”

“I love bread,” he volunteered, and left it at that.

Upon entering his studio, he introduced me to his sound engineer and then gave me a quick pep talk about pace, staying hydrated and how to handle mistakes.  Then, like I imagine all great Directors do, he flattered me.

“You probably don’t need me to tell you what a powerful story you have written,” he said.

“Actually, Jerry, I do,” I said with a level of honesty that felt deeply refreshing. “I’ve never had a book published before, and I can use all the support and compliments I can get.”

He proceeded to show me where to sit and what to do, and after I lit a candle and got situated, we began recording.       

Before too long, Jerry bust through the speaker from his glass control room, “You’re doing great kiddo!”  

When it was time to take a break, stretch my legs and rest my voice, I walked around the studio and glanced at the artwork on the walls.   

“Jerry?” I asked, staring at a framed magazine cover with him holding a loaf of bread on it. “Did you bake that beautiful loaf of bread you brought in today?”

I peered into the kitchen where the loaf was sitting in the middle of the table like a cherished centerpiece.  

“I sure did,” he proudly responded. “I’ve been baking my own sourdough bread for over 25 years.”

“I didn’t know that when you showed it to me,” I told him.  “Now that I know you baked it, I have to try some.”

When it was time to break for lunch, Jerry toasted a thin slice for me and then surprised me again by pulling out his homemade cranberry and pear sauce that he makes every year for Thanksgiving.

“I make all kinds of jam too,” Jerry said. “Always with half the sugar than supermarket brands.”

With my eyebrows raised, Jerry proceeded to tell me that cumquat jam is one of his specialties and most highly requested flavors. “First, I cut the cumquats in half. Then I pluck the seeds out one by one before soaking and softening the fruit for two days. The entire process of making this jam takes time but it’s so worth it.”

“That sounds lovely,” I said, secretly hoping he’d bring some in the next day for me to try.

As I savored his bread lathered with the best cranberry dressing I’ve ever tasted, he proceeded to show me some recent photos he had taken on his iPad.

“I go to the Farmer’s market every week,” he said, “Look at these peppers!”

The photo was stunning.  It was nothing more than a closeup of a bin of yellow, green, and red peppers, but it was so vibrant and artistic that it looked like a professional photograph.

“Jerry, are you a photographer too?” I asked, unraveling see his many layers.

“Well, ya,” he said with humility, “I did a lot of photography and graphic design when I was younger. But this photo was taken with my phone. It’s incredible how well the iPhone photographs simple vegetables.”

Something told me that the photograph was more likely a testament to his artistic skills than the iPhone, because had I taken the same photo it wouldn’t have turned out nearly as vivid or compelling.

“But what I’m really passionate about is woodturning,” Jerry announced, with his sharp blue eyes piercing with vitality.

“What’s that?” I asked, studying Jerry’s worn but perfectly mobile hands more closely.

He showed me a picture on his iPad of a tree branch that he had scraped with special tools and molded into a beautiful wooden bud vase.

“Wow!” I said, marveling at his woodwork and impressed by all he could do.

Over the next couple of days, Jerry and I jammed through the recording of my audio book, always taking time during lunch to talk about the simple things in life that lit him up, including love and loss; food, books, and art; and even the healing potential of magic mushrooms.

“Your story has inspired me to take up yoga again,” Jerry announced. “I’m going to find a place nearby where I can take some classes again.”

“Great idea,” I said, astounded that yoga might still be possible at his age.

“I’m also thinking about reaching out to you for a good psychic medium recommendation,” he said. “I’m connected with my wife all the time and receive some incredible signs from her, but I’m curious how mediums work and think I might like to try one someday.”  

Someday? I thought to myself.  Jerry and time were clearly friends.

“There’s just so much good stuff out there!” he exclaimed, freezing me in my tracks.   

That’s when it hit me that Jerry didn’t drop into my life to simply record and share my story.  

The artist in him showed up to remind me of the many reasons to stay passionate about life.  The wise-elder in him dropped in to give a glimpse of what matters in life especially when viewed from the upper limits of it.

And the teacher in him was there to demonstrate that I can deeply miss those I have loved and lost… AND still soak up every drop of life that presents itself to us. His bread, jam, woodturning, pictures, farmers market visits and jolly laughter all proved it.

After our final lunch together, Jerry stood up, yawned and said: “You know, after lunch, preschool kids take a nap!  In Italy, the Italians take a nap after lunch too.”

Ah, yet another dose of Jerry wisdom: Life is at its best when we keep it simple. 

When my book was recorded and it was time to part ways, my eyes were strained, my voice was tired, and my stomach wasn’t thrilled about all the bread I had fed it. But none of that mattered because I had a jar of homemade “pear” jam in my right hand, a hand-carved wooden bud vase in my left, and a full heart – all because I was lucky enough to record my audio book with a man who excelled at the art of living.

P.S.  If you want to hear what Jerry and I produced together, the Audible version of my memoir is available HERE!

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