Category Archives: Book Review

Dear Me: Letters to ourselves

“Truth be told much of what is going to happen will surprise the pants off you. It will be way better than your wildest imaginings.” —Hugh Jackman

1451649673The book, Dear Me: A Letter to My Sixteen-Year-Old Self, edited by Joseph Galliano, is a collection of letters written by well-known personalities to younger versions of themselves.

J.K. Rowling, Hugh Jackman, Stephen King and Alan Rickman, to name a few. What would these people who achieved success creating work we admire write to themselves?

“It is that very foreigness, that outsiderness, that feeling of being “other” that is your power, and your mutability is the gift.” —Aasif Mandvi

I discovered all 75 letters boiled down to the same themes:

  1. Life will be a big surprise. Don’t think that what’s going on now will be all there is.
  2. The painful stuff prepares you for the good stuff.
  3. The scary stuff leads you to the good stuff, so don’t run away from something awesome because you’re afraid.
  4. Love yourself and be your authentic self. Being “other” is your power.
  5. Listen to your intuition.
  6. Love what you do.
  7. Relax. Look for balance in your life. Don’t worry so much. Chill sometimes.
  8. That person you were heartbroken about? Not worth it.
  9. Do not—ever—tolerate abuse.
  10. Partner well with friends, business partners, spouses.
  11. Have compassion for your mother, father, siblings. Cherish them. They aren’t as awful as you think, and they’re doing their best.
  12. Never stop learning and asking questions.
  13. Give generously and freely, and share your passions.
  14. Don’t worry about: zits, hair, scars, weight, clothing, sexual identity, noses or thighs or any other particular body part. Don’t let those things affect your self-esteem. You are beautiful and perfect.
  15. But do take care of your health and, for heaven’s sake, ease up on the alcohol and drugs. Cherish your physical abilities and your body.
  16. What you do at sixteen will be considered cute or sexy. If you do the same things as an adult, it won’t be considered cute or sexy anymore. In other words, embrace the passing of the years.
  17. You’ll make mistakes. Should you warn yourself to avoid them? Probably not.
  18. Believe in angels. (Okay, that was just Steve-O, but I liked it.)

“Dear Me,

If, in future years, anyone asks you to give advice to your sixteen year old self . . .
don’t.
Make your own unique messes, and then work out your own way out of them.

See you,
Alan Rickman”

I pondered how many of these themes I still could write to my adult self and how many of them require us to make the same mistakes or missteps over and over before we learn.

In the face of that, all we can do is try out best to follow the advice. Relax, do the scary stuff, learn from the hard stuff, love and listen to myself, be compassionate and welcome whatever surprising events pop up.

Maybe angels will help.

_______________

What would you write to your sixteen-year-old self? You can write and submit your own letter to http://www.dearme.org/.

 

 

Hurry up and wait, at the same time

0870709593The book, Hurry Up and Waitis a collaboration between Maira Kalman, Daniel Handler (Lemony Snicket) and the New York Museum of Modern Art. Described as an “anti-productivity manifesto,” the book combines paintings by Kalman, insightful words by Handler and photographs from the museum.

Handler writes:

“You’re supposed to stop and smell the roses, but truth be told it doesn’t take that long to smell them. You hardly have to stop. You can smell the roses, and still have time to run all those errands before the sun goes down and it’s dinner time.”

I say, stop and read this book. Truth be told, it doesn’t take long. You hardly have to stop. You can read it and still have time to run all your errands before the sun goes down.

My favourite passage is this one:

“I’m just standing still, and then suddenly I think I am waiting for something. Once I’ve decided I’m waiting it’s like I’m not standing still anymore.”

The idea of idling transformed into action by mere choice appeals to me. 

You know those times when you feel stuck? You know when you don’t know what’s coming next or what you’re supposed to do with your life?

No worries. You’re not standing still. You’re actively waiting.

So, what are you waiting for? Hurry up and wait, already.

 

Online book club: A God that Could Be Real

I read a lot.

I read for fun and entertainment, of course. Right now I’m reading the Young Adult novel The Gates by John Connelly, for instance. I ready anything by Bill Bryson, and I enjoy a good action-adventure story from time to time.

I read “Build My Brain” books too, like Creativity, Incby Ed Catmull or Outliers by Malcom Gladwell. I even read books that I know will challenge me not to throw them across the room, like . . .  anything by Richard Dawkins.

My favourite fiction book is Life of Pi by Yann Martel, and my favourite children’s book is Harold and the Purple Crayon. 

978-080707339-1Right now, a group at my (progressive, inclusive, justice-seeking, mind-stretching, spirit-expanding) church is working through A God that Could be Real: Spirituality, Science, and the Future of Our Planet by Nancy Ellen Abrams. I can’t attend the book study group because I’m not available Monday evenings, so I thought I’d give myself the Bell Canada long-distance feeling and work through it online. If some of you choose to read along, that would be wonderful.

I’ll read the first three chapters and report back in. 

 

The universe conspires with you

 

universe-coelho

I love the book The Alchemist, and I find its author, Paulo Coelho, inspirational as a writer and a human being. 

Many people don’t agree. I made a visit to the “1 star” section of the Goodreads reviews of The Alchemist and discovered myriad variations on the “What a load of tripe” theme.

Those readers didn’t fall in with the fabled story of a hero journey. They didn’t buy the life wisdoms like the one quoted above. After all, since when does everyone in the universe get what they want? And what about good people who end up suffering?

Coelho recently responded to those concerns with this:

“I realized that despite the fear and the bruises of life, one has to keep on fighting for one’s dream. As Borges said in his writings ‘there no other virtue than being brave’. And one has to understand that braveness is not the absence of fear but rather the strength to keep on going forward despite the fear.”

I think he means this: If you have the ability to complain about NOT getting what you want, then that means that you’re still breathing, and your story is not over yet. There’s still time. 

Get busy. Work hard. Stop whining, because if you don’t, all you’ll get is more of the same. Fight past all those things you fear. Don’t let them paralyze you into inaction.

If you do, you might be amazed at the machinations of the universe. 

___________________

Consider Paulo Coelho’s 25 Important Points. Read them here: http://paulocoelhoblog.com/2014/09/03/25-important-points/

3 important answers to 3 important questions: Tolstoy

three-questionsI shared the book The Three Questions by Jon J. Muth with my Sunday school class on Sunday. Muth took an original short story written by Leo Tolstoy and reworked it with animal characters to appeal to children.

In the book, a boy named Nikolai goes on a journey to seek answers to three BIG LIFE questions:

  1. “When is the best time to do things?”

  2. “Who is the most important one?”

  3. “What is the right thing to do?”

His steps lead him to encounters with a heron, a monkey and a dog. Each of these characters answers the questions in a way that reflects personal biases. The heron suggests the best time to do things arrives only after everything has been planned in advance. The dog believes the most important one is the one who makes the rules, and the monkey knows the right thing to do is to have fun all the time.

Not satisfied, Nikolai climbs a high mountain to seek the answers to his questions from a wise old turtle. When he reaches the top of the mountain, he finds the wise, old turtle with a shovel in his hands digging a garden. Knowing that a young boy digs much faster than an old turtle, Nikolai takes the shovel and finishes turning over the hard soil. When he is leaning on his shovel after the last shovel full of dirt, he hears a cry for help coming to him out of the windblown forest. He follows the sound and finds a panda knocked out by a fallen tree. Nikolai rescues her and takes her to the turtle’s house to get warm. When the panda wakes up, she asks, “Where is my child?” Alarmed, Nikolai runs back to the forest where he finds the baby panda, shivering and alone.

Before Nikolai departs, he and the wise old turtle reflect on the answers the boy has found to his three questions.

  1. “There is only one important time, and that time is now.”

  2. “The most important one is always the one you are with.”

  3. “The most important thing is to do good for the one who is standing at your side.”

Muth concludes: “For these, my dear boy, are the answers to what is most important in the world.”

Tolstoy sure was one wise old turtle.

Harold and the Purple Crayon: How we create our own world

9780062086525

Parenthood provides the opportunity for fully grown adults to re-capture childhood joys. When my children were younger, I re-captured some childhood joy when I came across the book Harold and the Purple Crayon by Crockett Johnson.

As a child I loved the simple sketches and fun story, but as an adult I appreciate the profound spiritual truths that lie at its heart.

My friend Harold begins his story in chaos, with his purple crayon scribbling all over. Then he decides he needs a moon to light his way and solid ground on which to walk. With these two necessities in place, he begins his journey.

harold-chaos

At first, not wanting to get lost, he creates a straight path for himself.

harold-straight-path

The straight path soon loses his interest, so he decides he needs a tree, and that the tree needs some apples. Wouldn’t they be delicious?

harold-apples

As soon as he has apples though, he worries that someone might steal them. He creates a frightening dragon to defend his treasure. The dragon is so frightening, it scares even Harold, so he falls backwards into the wavy ocean that his trembling hand squiggles out for him.

harold-dragon

Soon Harold is in way over his head.

harold-over-his-head

To save himself, he creates a boat, and then a sail, and then a shore upon which to land.

harold-ashore

Harold takes himself on an adventurous journey complete with delicious pies, friends, hot air balloon rides, large cities and helpful guides. The moon accompanies him on every page.

harold-guide

Eventually he grows so tired he wants to go home to bed. He remembers that his bedroom window is always right around the moon, so he draws himself his bedroom window and his big comfy bed. He crawls in and goes to sleep.

harold-at-home

This beautiful story shows spirit (the moon) and our physical world (the solid ground) created out of chaos. With the moon shining on him always and the ground solid underneath, Harold uses the purple crayon (free will, the Source, Universal Mind, whatever you choose to call it) to shape his life. He creates fun times, hard times, dangers and solutions to his problems.

I keep a copy of this book on the shelf beside my desk. When I look at the cover, it returns me to a quiet centre. It makes me ask questions: Which fearful events and situations have I created for myself? What solution can I create, or draw, to solve those problems? What positive and fun things can I draw next?

It reminds me that spirit is always shining down on me and that the ground is solid beneath my feet. It reminds me that the path my life takes lies in my own hand.

And it humbles me, because at the root of everything lies the unanswerable question: Where does the purple crayon come from?

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