Monday, July 28, 2014

"The Paris Letters": A Fresh Burst of Wonderful

I'm pretty sure that I need to go to Paris. NOW.

I've been to Paris twice in my life.  Once when I lived in London, my roommate Deni and I hopped on the Chunnel and spent a three day weekend in Paris.  We started together visiting his brother and going to museums.  Deni got bored with that, so I continued on by myself which suited me better.  I reveled in my alone time, popping into cafes and wine stores, stumbling upon my favorite museum EVER, the Musee d'Orsay, a beautiful art museum in an old refurbished train station.  Deni and I would meet for dinner in the evenings, talking about our days of getting to know Paris in our own way.

About six years ago, my husband and I took a five day trip to Paris.  It rained the whole time.  Not just a little bit of rain, but the soaking kind.  It didn't dull our experience at all.  We walked everywhere huddled under one small umbrella, stopping for cafe creme when we needed a break.  While on top of the Eifel Tower, we saw a storm moving in and ran to the bottom narrowly missing the gusty rain as we sought shelter in a cafe.  We went to jazz clubs, and wonderful dinners, museums and parks.  We walked until our feet hurt, got lost on the winding streets and loved every second of it.

After reading Janice MacLeod's "The Paris Letters" the pull to Paris with it's beautiful parks, museums, shops, markets and different pace of life gets hard to resist.  Even more hard to resist is MacLeod's infectious creative attitude towards life.  After realizing that her face paced, LA life complete with stressful career in marketing, does not satisfy her and isn't very fun, she makes a plan to get to Paris and become an artist. How does one begin the process of getting to Paris? Follow MacLeod's ingenious plan to either make or save $100 a day.  She begins by using up the things she already has and stops the endless cycle of buying more and more.  She sells her car, her bike, asks friends to meet her for coffee instead of pricey dinners, and sells paintings on Etsy (the rest of her list appears in the back of her book).

Rather than starting her year with a thin resolution to Lose 10 pounds, she challenges herself to write in her journal every day. She never forgets the saying on the card she bought when she was 20 years old that said, "Write to learn what you know." She needed to know that she was in charge of creating her life (don't we all?).  In her wisdom from her journey to Paris she reflects that, "We must know how to design our lives. We are all artists, and each day is a canvas. Writing in my journal each day was how I redesigned my life.  I became conscious of just how much I disliked my day-to-day existence.  I would get up, react, and repeat. I had created a fast, busy, messy life. There was no one else to blame. I designed it, tried it, didn't like it, and had to erase and redesign."

How many times in your life have you felt this way but didn't do anything to change the "get up, react, and repeat" part? Maybe you are stuck right now in your daily grind and don't know how to make change.

What I love about MacLeod's book is that she used her creativity to find out how to make money by doing what she loves - writing letters and painting.  She combined those two talents and developed her Paris letters concept.  She also found love, found contentment, learned to love herself more, and learned a new language.  Not a bad year.

This book inspired me, and it was another reminder of how important writing is in my own life.  I do make excuses for how I don't have time to do it (when I have plenty of time to watch Master Chef and House Hunters and the occasional episode of Chopped).  We all have the time to do the things that will free us from the lives we created that we don't like very much.  What do you want to do that you have never thought you could do? Why not do it?

It also reminded me that traveling and getting out of our daily grind can make a huge difference.  We build routines of drudgery and don't always know how to break the cycle especially when it is a cycle of necessity or one that revolves around our children, or our spouses, or jobs that we think we need because we are too afraid to take the leap and change.

If you read "The Paris Letters" you might just get the motivation that you need to create a fresh burst of new wonderful in your own world.  And, I bet, you might just want to go to Paris. NOW.

Friday, July 18, 2014

"I Forgot to Remember: A Memoir of Amnesia": Do our memories really make us who we are?

I read memoirs to meet incredible people with incredible stories.  Su Meck's memoir "I Forgot to Remember: A Memoir of Amnesia" tells the incredible story of how at age 22 she was struck on the head by a ceiling fan and suffered a traumatic brain injury.  In her memoir, she pieces together her treatment (which seemed inadequate for the extent of injury), her life at home with two her two small boys after the accident, her marriage to her ever absent husband, Jim, and her survival without any memories and without the thinking ability that she had before the accident.

I will never look at ceiling fans the same (the day I started reading this book, my husband stuck his head under our ceiling fan in the bedroom that was recently installed to check if it was wobbling and I freaked out a bit until he moved his head away from the blades). I will also never take my intact memory or ability to learn or function in my life for granted.  Su Meck's story reminded me that we can really do whatever we want to do in our lives even when we are presented with seemingly insurmountable obstacles to success.  After her accident, Su mimicked those around her without understanding the "why" behind actions.  She would frequently have what she terms "lightening" episodes where her brain would almost do a system shut down when she was presented with too much information or things got too intense.  Sometimes these "lightning" episodes would happen when she was alone with her two boys, and even when she was driving.

As she coped with being misunderstood by her husband (who is brave for allowing his wife to share their story since he comes off as a villain in many respects), her family,  and the medical community's lack of understanding at how severe her injuries were and the extent of her memory loss and functionality, she achieved so much every day.  Even getting breakfast, lunch and dinner together for her family was a huge task for her not to mention that she went on to teach aerobics classes, volunteer in her son's classes, move to Cairo and learn how to function as a mother in a new space, and she even goes on to achieve a college degree even though she basically had to relearn everything including letters, colors, numbers, reading and writing at the age of 22. After applying to be on the Phi Theta Kappa board at Montgomery College, and being selected as an officer, she and the other members were asked to bring in a bag of significant objects to aid in getting to know each other.  Su brought her "Hop on Pop" book and explained to the group that it was the first book she had ever read. She shocked everyone when she told them she read it at age 22.

Because she opened up to that group, her life began to change again.  Being accepted by her fellow Phi Theta Kappa members helped her to see that she people needed to hear her story. Daniel de Vise from the Washington Post wrote a story about her (and eventually went on to help her write her memoir).

Although this book wasn't the best written memoir I have ever read (there are so many exclamation points in this book), but I overlooked the lack of style and graceful writing knowing that the author's incredible story of climbing her way back after a traumatic brain injury led her to write a book about her experiences in order to help others who might be suffering in silence like she did for so many years.  Su Meck's book is a great reminder for me why I love memoirs - they show me that nothing is impossible and they connect me to amazing people who I would have never met otherwise.  Stories truly do connect us to other people, and Su Meck is one person that I feel honored to be connected to after reading her memoir.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

"Save the Date": Save your time and read something else

I have attended over 36 weddings, and feel like I am somewhat of a wedding guest expert.  At these weddings, I've been a bridesmaid, a musician, a reader, a greeter, and watched as my husband was a groomsman, an usher, a d.j. or the musician.  I love being a big part of weddings, but being a guest with no responsibilities or financial obligations other than getting there and buying a gift can be pretty great, too.

A few years ago, on our flight to my best friend's destination wedding in Puerto Rico, my husband and I wrote down our memories of each of the weddings we attended either separately or together and gave them a rating.  Just recounting the love and joy as well as some of the wedding mishaps that either we as guests encountered or created lasted longer than when our plane touched down in Puerto Rico, so the entire five days that we were at the beautiful resort and attending wedding festivities, we laid on the sand or by the pool and talked about the favorite parts and our least favorite parts of each wedding.

When I saw Jen Doll's book "Save the Date: The Occasional Mortifications of a Serial Wedding Guest" on a recommended reading list for "hot summer reads," I was excited to pick it up and find a kindred spirit who has seen the wedding circuit and had funny insights into the wedding world.

I'm not sure exactly what I expected from this book, but I know that it wasn't what I wanted.  For something that I thought would be a quick, fun read, I slogged through each chapter which contains a narrative about one of the weddings that she attended.  Besides the first wedding chapter about her very first wedding ever attended as a child, she goes on to tell about her drunk hook ups, her friend drama, her designer dresses, her insights into the world of love and marriage and relationships, and her inability  to stay sober at receptions.

I found Doll's narratives shallow and sad.  I didn't find a kindred spirit or many funny moments to chuckle about or to feel connected to as I read.  I mostly rolled my eyes as she got herself into one drunk situation after another - a volatile outburst, picking fights with friends, a temper tantrum as a friend tried to pry her from a dangerous situation at a wedding after party, or passing out and waking up with a horrible hangover.  Each chapter presented another of Doll's failed relationships and it was hard for me to keep all of her boyfriends straight or to understand why any of them stayed with her in the first place.

It's not that I have never had a drunken experience at a wedding, or that I think wedding days need to be perfect.  I have attended every kind of wedding to those with receptions in the basement of firehalls, to those that are in fancy hotels.  I've been to weddings so beautiful and personalized that I cried and others that were so dreadfully boring that I couldn't wait to get to the open bar at the reception only to find that there was no alcohol available for the guests because it was against the religion of the bride's family.

Doll seems to have attended only one kind of wedding which is one that requires a certain kind of dress and heels (that she describes in each chapter with more detail than the wedding itself).  Although Doll admits to having "kind of a drinking problem" the alcohol soaked receptions that end in uncomfortable moments seem to be the constant through her wedding experiences as well.

At the very beginning of the book, Doll makes a few very important insights about weddings.  She says that "while one might assume a wedding is about them - the couple getting married - a wedding is about everyone.  It's a means through which we guests can identify and reidentify our friends, our enemies, our lovers, and those we no longer love.  Through it we see what we want, what we don't want, what we think we want, and sometimes, dangerously, that we have no idea what we want.  Each wedding we attend, in whatever role we uphold, will highlight some aspect of our own lives, reflecting and reframing the way in which we look at ourselves."  That's what I love about weddings.  Each time I go, I am reminded about the beginning of a love story.  I am reminded that I love to dance, and see my friends.  I am reminded about how much fun my family is.  I am astounded by the depths that some people go to in order to make their wedding uniquely theirs to reflect their love, and sometimes I am saddened by how much money gets thrown away on just one day for the sake of show.

In Doll's "Save the Date" she shows a soft side every once in awhile for the couple getting married, but mostly she dips into the darker side of herself.  I love when people are real and divulge their "not so pretty" personality aspects.  Where Doll comes up short for me is that she doesn't seem to be aware of the flaws she repeats over and over again.  Maybe the audience for her book are the other elite New York City socialites who go to big (and small) fancy weddings to get drunk and hook up.  I'm positive I wasn't the right reader since I found so little to enjoy in this book.

The biggest take away for me, is a reminder that I love going to weddings, and I know there will be more coming in my future since my sister in law recently got engaged. It's fun to be a guest and see the beginning of someone else's love story as I reflect on my own.  My husband and I will be celebrating our 15 year anniversary in August, and it has been more than a tumultuous ride, but absolutely worth it.  The wedding is just one day - maybe for the guests just as much as for the bride and groom, but the future for all of them is forever.  My wish for all the weddings you attend in the future - be a good guest and try to leave your cynicism for love and for weddings aside as you watch the bride walk down the aisle.  And maybe just maybe try to be conscious of over drinking as to not make a total fool of yourself.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

"The Gifts of Imperfection": A life guide

"How much we know and understand ourselves is critically important, but there is something that is even more essential to living a Wholehearted life: loving ourselves." - Brene Brown

Brene Brown's Ted Talk is one of my favorites of all time.  Her quality to allow people to feel deeply and take a hard look at the way they live their lives inspires me.  Researching predominately in the areas of shame and vulnerability helps her to guide people to a "Wholehearted Living" revolution. She defines wholehearted living as living with courage, compassion, connection, and deliberate boundaries. Her book "The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You're Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are" serves as a guide to wholehearted living and can truly change the way people view themselves and their lives.

Right when I moved to Crystal Lake, one of my very dear friends had a package waiting for me to welcome me to my new home.  Inside she had bubble bath, some tea, a cute towel and the book "The Gifts of Imperfection."  I cried a little when I got the package.  Moving is overwhelming; the most overwhelming part is how much new there is every single day.  New is great and change is important, but getting a wonderful package from home from someone who truly knows my soul made my whole week feel more normal.  My friend's package was another reminder for me to stay open and know that I will find exactly what I need, exactly when I need it if I give myself a break.

Giving myself a break is sometimes easier said than done.  My husband and I are the types of people who want to have everything completed RIGHT NOW, but after a major move to a new state where we know virtually no one, we are learning patience. Patience with home renovations. Patience with finding places. Patience with our daughters' see-sawing emotions as they transition away from everything they know into this new space, and most of all patience with ourselves.  Brene Brown's book helped me to love myself even more through our new life beginning here and recognize that loving myself is the key to success through this journey of change.

Each chapter of her book leads the reader through a series of guideposts (Letting go of what people think, letting go of perfectionism, letting go of numbing and powerlessness, letting go of scarcity and fear of the dark, letting go of the need for certainty, letting go of comparison, letting go of exhaustion as a status symbol and productivity as self-worth, letting go of anxiety as a lifestyle, letting go of self-doubt and "supposed to," letting go of being cool and "always in control"). The guidepost titles themselves were enough to motivate me, but Brown's soothing tones and down to earth approach on each of the topics through her life stories helped put everything in perspective for me especially during this huge time of transition in my life.

I don't need to be certain and being vulnerable in this new space is a given, but after reading Brown's lessons, I feel that I can give myself permission to be imperfect like when I tripped and almost did a face plant at the splash pad while trying to retrieve my 5 year old from the too high monkey bars, or when I accidentally hit the bumper of a car in the parking lot as I adjusted my GPS on my dashboard and tried to talk to my daughter at the same time.  All this new takes focus, and I am constantly reminded that I need to concentrate to achieve that focus.

There are bound to be missteps, but I feel like Brown's book gave me even more tools to join the wholehearted revolution.  I might not be perfect, but I am proud of who I am and even prouder of the person that I am becoming.

Each night as we sit down to our family dinner, my daughters, my husband and I all say our "charm" for the day ("charm" was a term that our daughter, Story, came up with when she was 3.  It means to say what you are thankful for from the day). My charms come so rapidly since we have moved to this new community.  I have so much to be grateful for - a beautiful new home, my amazing and quirky little family, friends who send me packages from home, my health, being surrounded by love and for new experiences and opportunities. Most of all I am thankful that I am beautifully imperfect and able to embrace myself exactly as I am.