The top 11 books I read in 2016

For several reasons, I recently discarded my book journal. Before recycling the notebook, I did a quick count of the number of books I read over the past year: 36. Of those, I wanted to share with you my favourite 11, in no particular order. Please note that only two of the books on this list were published in 2016. I strive to read a mix of classic and contemporary novels, but do enjoy that natural high every time I receive an email notifying me that a freshly printed, newly released book I have been looking forward to reading is on hold for me at the local library. Choosing a list of favourites is not an easy task; there were many that almost made the list, but I decided to cap it at 11. Here are my picks for this year’s favourite books:

  1. The Course of Love, by Alain de Botton

The Course of Love by [De Botton, Alain]

Alain de Botton shares incredible insight into the human mind through the story of a typical married couple. The lesson: There is no ‘happily ever after.’ Marriage requires work on both sides, but that work allows one to better understand his or her partner, making the journey of riding the ebb and flow enjoyable and rewarding. I love this book for the beautiful writing and ideas that left me with much to contemplate.

2. A Man Called Ove, by Fredrik Backman

Ove is a grumpy man in his late fifties who at first might not seem very likable, until we read on and learn his story of love, grief, disappointment, and deep longing. The short, charming, whimsical chapters kept me turning page after page and left me craving more when I finished reading the prologue. I was introduced to Backman’s writing earlier this year and he quickly became one of my favourite authors. His storytelling is delightfully funny while touching on serious subjects. Backman reminds us to take life less seriously, appreciate the ordinary people (and pets) who surround us every day, and remember that everyone has a story. A Man Called Ove reminded me, in some ways, of the film Amélie.

3. My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry, by Fredrik Backman

Another funny and heartbreaking story of love, loss, and complex relationships among people, told through the witty, quirky words of Backman. This is a delightful story of Elsa, her eccentric grandmother, and the legacy the grandmother leaves behind as she continues to empower Elsa, her family, and community posthumously. From time to time, we are fortunate to meet a person who lights up the room with a magical presence. That person does not see the world the way we do, and the stories she tells are different from ours, yet they are about the same ordinary subjects. Such people tend to change our worldview and of those around us through their fairy tales, allowing us to see the enchantment behind what at first might appear banal. This is the message of this charming book.

4. The Wonder, by Emma Donoghue

The Wonder: A Novel by [Donoghue, Emma]

A haunting, captivating story of Lib, a nurse who apprenticed under Florence Nightingale, summoned to a small village in rural Ireland to keep watch over a young girl, Anna, who refuses to eat. What at first starts as an attempt to disprove the wondrous miracle with which the religious community is obsessed soon turns into an assignment to solve the mystery of whether Anna might be a victim of slow murder.

5. Station Eleven, by Emily St. John Mandel

StationEleven

Station Eleven begins with a production of King Lear in one of my favourite theatres, the Elgin and Winter Garden in Toronto. In the midst of the play, the actor Arthur Leander collapses on stage and dies of a heart attack. Jeevan Chaudhary is a paramedic in training who attempts to resuscitate the actor. Observing the real-life drama unfolding on stage before her is Kirsten, a child actor who was greatly inspired by Arthur’s work and feels a strong curiosity to learn more about his life. Two days following the death at the theatre, the world is plagued by Georgian Flu, an epidemic that sweeps throughout the globe. Among the survivors are Jeevan and Kirsten, who separately struggle to make new lives for themselves. Read my full review here.

6. The Nightingale, by Kristin Hannah

For the past few years, I have been drawn to fiction set during WWII. I picked up The Nightingale after fans of All the Light We Cannot See, which I cannot praise highly enough, recommended this book. This is a touching story of the passions of two sisters who differ drastically yet fight their own complex battles during the war, working to stay strong for their family and refusing to give up on love in the darkest times.

7. Glaciers, by Alexis M. Smith

I confess, I chose this book for its interesting cover and also because I was looking for a quick weekend read. What I found in the pages within was a beautiful, rich, delicate story of love, loss, and hope. Isobel is a quiet librarian with a fascination for memories, both her own and those of others. In her spare time, she browses antique and vintage clothing shops in search of materials to satisfy her nostalgic longing. As with Amélie, I imagine that if Isobel and I were ever to meet, we would quickly develop a friendship born of the realization that we have just come face to face with a kindred spirit. This is by no means a ‘chick book’ and the ending is not that of fairy tales; this story is beautiful as much as it is bittersweet.

8. The Go-Between, by L. P. Hartley

The Go-between by [Hartley, L. P.]

A coming-of-age story set in the Edwardian English countryside, in the middle of a hot summer, where Leo stays with his school friend and becomes a messenger between the friend’s beautiful and sophisticated older sister and a farmer. The imagery and symbolism in this novel are powerful and haunting, leading to a climax that will change Leo’s world for ever. The beautiful writing and a fascinating story are irresistible.

9. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

This is a delightfully enjoyable epistolary novel and I did not want to put it away when I reached the last page. For several days after finishing it, I found myself wondering about the characters and creating stories in my mind about how their lives on the island continued to unfold. I highly recommend this charming book to anyone who enjoys WWII fiction with a focus on the kindness of humanity.

10. The Muse, by Jessie Burton

I enjoyed Burton’s The Miniaturist, but The Muse kept me completely enthralled. This is a beautifully written book with a carefully laid plot, rich with elements of mystery, art, symbolism, and a sense of place in London and a small Spanish village. The story presents two parallel plots, of a Caribbean immigrant in London in the 1960s and an artist in rural Spain in the 1930s whose lives are delicately interwoven in unexpected ways.

11. The Forgetting Time, by Sharon Guskin

The Forgetting Time: A Novel by [Guskin, Sharon]

The Forgetting Time is a mystery without the typical elements expected of a book of that genre. Janie is a single mother whose son, Noah, has disturbing memories of his past life. With the assistance of a researcher, Janie and Noah search for the woman whom Noah misses and slowly piece together the story of how Noah was murdered. This is a meticulously planned and very well written science fiction novel that centres on a subject that I would typically avoid. As a mother, I found this book at times challenging to read. Yet, I kept being pulled by the exploration of the subjects of love, deep connection, belonging, co-dependence and independence.

What books did you read in 2016 that you would recommend? Please leave a comment below. Thank you for sharing this blog with a friend.

On Friendship

 

It has been said that introverts tend to not have a wide social circle; instead, we hold on tightly to friendship with several people who truly ‘get them.’ I suspect that extroverts value special friendships just as much as introverts. I am fortunate to know a very special extrovert who enjoys our intimate catch-up sessions as much as she enjoys vibrant parties. She and I spent a wonderful afternoon together last Saturday, enjoyed strolling through the Art Gallery of Ontario and marveled at the awe-inspiring paintings at the Mystical Landscapes exhibit (aside: go see it if / when you’re in Toronto), then drank red wine and ate delicious Pad Thai at Queen Mother Cafe.

I cannot fathom having a meaningful conversation with a group of several people. A discussion, yes, where everyone gets his or her say, but not a deep conversation, the kind that fosters mutual trust and understanding. I believe that such conversations are essential to our well being, but there are not many people whom we truly feel that we can trust to listen and to understand, without the need to justify our emotions. They simply ‘get it,’ and if they don’t, they nevertheless accept without judgment.

I am grateful for a few such people in my life. Anne Shirley (Anne of Green Gables) might be convinced that ““Kindred spirits are not so scarce as I used to think. It’s splendid to find out there are so many of them in the world,” but I have found that they are rare and invaluable. We may not meet often in person, but when we do, it is as though no time has passed since our last tête-à-tête. One form of communication that helps to minimize the time distance is email. I am grateful for friends who don’t merely tolerate my electronic novellas but genuinely enjoy reading my updates, and I am delighted each time I open my email inbox and see their names. I long to read their happy tales and commiserate at the not-so-joyful ones.

 I raise a glass to you, mes chères amies! Thank you for being in my life.

 Is there a friend whom you haven’t seen in a while? Why not send an email or make a phone call today and plan to meet for coffee? I vow to make the time. 

Seeking enchantment

Humming songs about Thumbelina while skipping toward the patch where wild strawberries smirk as they play hide-and-seek.

Running along the rustling golden path laid carefully with delicate cascading leaves.  

Stopping to twirl now and then, silver bells of laughter playing with the gossamer leaves of the surrounding trees.

Seeking demure mushrooms that lurk behind the robes of gnomes disguised as tree stumps. 

Constructing cosy moss houses for the faeries on the floor of the lush green forest.

Wandering off the path to explore, sometimes discovering surprises both pleasant and fascinatingly spooky.

“Mama, does a witch live in the little cottage in that clearing over there? Do you suppose she’s lonely? The squirrels and birds must keep her company.”

fantasybooks

The memories of my childhood days of playing in the pine and maple forests remain strong with me to this day. I seek solace on the winding paths, allowing myself to be guided. I thirst to hear the whisper of the trees, the rustle of the leaves, to dance with the breeze and swaying willows and to stand rooted, attentive to the murmurs of the mysterious life that surrounds me. It always made perfect sense to me that the Brothers Grimm, Hans Christian Andersen, C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien chose to set many of their stories in the forest. The setting has always been enchanting and continues to enthrall. 

img_2134

Several years ago, while visiting Fussen, Bavaria with Mr. Wanderlust, we chose to walk up the misty mountains toward the quietly bewitching Neuschwanstein Castle. The visit brought my fairy tales to life before me, overwhelming my fantasies as I sought to absorb the visit with great gulps, urging the colours, textures, and smells of the castle to remain in my memory without ever fading. The building lured me within and hypnotized me. My affinity toward it is that strong. I listened attentively to the strange stories of King Ludwig II, recounted by our tour guide. Prior to visiting the impeccable castle, I had read the fascinating story behind the Fairy Tale King’s idealistic vision for the perfect dwelling, and his story spoke to me, from one lover of magical storytelling to another. Standing in the lavish rooms of the castle and admiring every carefully planned refined detail, I felt I understood the king’s passion, and I whispered as much to the walls that were silently watching the processions of tourist groups. Those walls tell wonderful Medieval stories with their murals, yet I imagined the secrets they keep to themselves, with all that they have seen and heard over more than the past century.

neuschwanstein

After Mr. Wanderlust and I reluctantly left the castle, we took a walk in the darkening Black Forest beneath an overcast autumn sky and the heavy canopy of trees to marvel at the beauty of the swan castle from different angles. I read about the Black Forest in my favourite fairy tale books, and its significance was heightened for me at that moment. I saw what Rapunzel and Sleeping Beauty saw on their own walks through the woods to collect mushrooms and berries. Shhh, don’t tell me they are fictional characters. If you have ever walked through those woods, I’m sure you were awed into stillness, allowing magic to weave its way around you, silencing your logical mind, if only for a few moments.

I continue to seek that magic every time I step onto a forest path. I wish to reawaken the enchantment, to bring back to life the fascinating stories of my childhood… If only for a few moments.

Have you ever felt such magic? Tell me about it, perhaps by leaving a comment below. 

Thank you for sharing this blog with a friend.

Don’t judge a book by its size, or why I sometimes give up on books

To save some space in my carry-on luggage while packing for a business trip, I sought a thin paperback from my pile of books to read. The majority of those books are not compact by any means, but I did find one that I was glad to fit into my small purse. “Excellent,” I thought, until two hours into my four-hour flight from Toronto to Calgary, when I struggled to stay awake. Please understand, dear reader, that no matter how tired I might be, a good book will rarely, if ever, put me to sleep. I can easily fight sleep in order to continue reading, then pay for it in the morning.

I have recently become better at practising self-discipline when it comes to my bedtime, reminding myself that sleep is more important than reading. I turn off the lights before heeding the tempting invitation of “One more chapter.” The book I held in my hands on Sunday evening did not fit into the category of great books that I could devour in one sitting, given the opportunity. I gave the book another chance by continuing to read on my return flight, but didn’t find it any better. I look at it now and wonder whether, 150 pages in, I should continue to stick with it or abandon it altogether.

I used to feel guilty about abandoning a book after starting to read and finding it uninteresting, or simply not enjoying the subject matter, plot line, or characters. I have since become more strict about how I spend my time and am selective about the books to which I choose to dedicate my hours. I have learned to abandon books, yet the feeling of guilt lurks. Do you ever feel that way?

Whenever I start to doubt whether to abandon a book or to continue reading, I revert to a few criteria points:
1. The plot is boring or not interesting to me. This is somewhat tricky. I found James Joyce’s Ulysses boring but stuck with it because, well, it’s a classic. I might need to re-read it several more times before I can fully gain an appreciation for the book.

2. The writing is not great. I love good prose and dislike melodramatic inner dialogue that seems to spin in circles for too many pages. At the risk of sounding snobby, I will also say that I generally avoid books with language that is too pedestrian and books that read like a movie script without intending to be so. When it comes to non-fiction, I am averse to a preachy tone.

3. I dislike or feel unable to relate to more than one of the characters. I consider myself to be open-minded to various views, opinions, and personalities, but some characters can be simply drab. If the plot and characters annoy me, the challenge of continuing the book becomes cumbersome.

4. The book annoys me for one reason or more. This one goes hand-in-hand with numbers 1 and 3 above.

5. The subject matter is disturbing to me. I like some suspense and crime fiction, but tend to choose the classic Agatha Christie books or those inspired by Christie. I don’t mind classic macabre fiction, but generally stay away from thriller-style books the main objective of which is often to simply be sensationalist. I am also drawn to fiction set in WWII era, but can only take so much when reading true accounts of what happened during the war. This is not because I am disillusioned in any way. On the contrary. I am a grandchild of a holocaust survivor and grew up with real stories of the horrors of that time. Rather, as an HSP, I know that for self-preservation, I must approach such material with care.

books2

How about you? Do you read every book cover to cover, or do you abandon books that do not interest you? What is your criteria for giving up on a book? Please leave a comment below.

About October

“I’m so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers.” ~ Anne Shirley / L. M. Montgomery

There is magic in October, the kind that summons creativity in its many forms. It’s in the rainy day that somehow gives us carte blanche to rest on the sofa all day on Sunday, simply lounging, drinking tea and reading, reading, reading, then closing our eyes for a guilt-free nap under the woollen blanket. The crisp morning sunshine illuminates the post-rain sparkle of the joyful pumpkins and crimson maple leaves that appear to have turned overnight — or is it just that we never before stopped to closely pay attention? It’s time to slow down and allow that swirling inspiration to land right here at the tips of our fingers hovering above the keyboard or a sleek fountain pen.

DSC_0879

I grew up in a northern climate in Belarus and enjoyed colourful autumns in my childhood, then spent 5 1/2 years in Israel, where autumn was slightly cooler than the summer, transitioning into a wet and grey winter for a couple of short months. When I moved to Canada, almost 21 years ago, I was delighted at the reintroduction to the transformation of all four seasons, how ever (too) long or (too) short they might seem to us at times.

dscn4402

And so, I continue to attune to those memories, to inhale deeply the smell of the foliage, wet after the cleansing rain. My footsteps on the confetti forest carpet-path are deliberate as I crunch the amber leaves. The changes are exhilarating, reminding us to slow down and enjoy the fleeting moments, the shorter days. Every season is beautiful in its own way.

autumn2016

In Canada, we are preparing to celebrate Thanksgiving. Wherever you are in the world, I invite you to join me in taking some time out of your day to sit outside in nature, get grounded, breathe, and fully appreciate this moment with all it has to offer.

Milestones and memories

I remember my father’s 50th birthday, when I called him from a phone booth at a gas station near a field in the south of France to send my wishes. In Toronto, it was 11:30 p.m. on Friday and my parents and grandmother were still in the midst of a quiet celebration at home, preparing to retire for the night after a long workweek. In Provence, where Mr. Wanderlust and I were enjoying our honeymoon, it was 5:30 on a crisp Saturday morning and the first yawning light of the sun started to appear. We were on our way to the meeting spot from which ‘our’ hot air balloon was to be launched. Alas, the Mistral was too fierce that day and the flight never took place. Instead, we had breakfast in Apt at a café table in the town’s square, then anxiously squeezed our way through the uncomfortably tight crowds of market shoppers snaking through the narrow cobblestone streets lined with vendors.

I also remember my father’s 40th birthday, during our first summer in Canada. His friends had arrived cheerfully unannounced with snacks and cold beer to enjoy while lounging on the balcony in the heat of the afternoon. Likewise, I remember his birthday dinners from my childhood, when my parents’ friends would arrive at our apartment and greet my father at the door with hugs, exclaiming how long it had been since they last saw each other. Then, a few of the guests would turn to me, marvel at how I’ve grown, and one man, Papa’s friend, presented me with a Mickey Mouse pencil. I beamed in delight as I realized that someone must have told him that my birthday is the day after Papa’s.

Perhaps I remember my father’s celebrations so vividly because they have always felt like my own, with our birthdays so close together. I suppose I stole my dad’s spotlight, made him share it with me, but in truth, I loved the special treat of a joined celebration. As a little girl, I was proud to walk beside him, sheltered by his tall shadow as we made our way home together after school. Our lives are different now, and my 60-year-old Papa is only a few inches taller when we stand side-by-side (see the photo above from my wedding day, 10 years ago). I continue to delight in (almost) sharing a birthday with him and am humbled today by the passing of time. Happy 60th, Papa!


Mr. Wanderlust and I have been knee-deep in home renovations. Do you want to know my secret to staying focused and maintaining a calm demeanor while spending the weekends painting the walls of our house? Audiobooks! You might be thinking, Isn’t it a distraction to listen to audiobooks while painting? It’s not very mindful, is it? Perhaps not, but given that I am not a big fan of renovations (see: I strongly dislike them), I give myself the proverbial pat on the back if I can stay fully focused on painting the walls for 15 minutes. I also sometimes enjoy listening to audiobooks while out for a morning walk, but that depends on my mood. Most mornings call for quiet and calm, with my soundtrack consisting of the chirping of the birds, the whispers of my deep breathing, and the soft landing of the soles of my shoes on the pavement. My approach to audiobooks is different from my approach to reading, but that’s a subject for a different post. In the meantime, I will share with you a few recently discovered favourites:

The Nightingale by [Hannah, Kristin]

The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah (or the audiobook)

In the recent years, I have become a fan of fiction set in WWII. The Nightingale was recommended to readers who liked Anthony Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot See, and that was my motive for choosing this book. I enjoyed the excellent narration of Polly Stone, whose French and German accents and pronunciation, and dramatic vocal changes, were very effective. I liked this book so much that I now have the hardcover or paperback version on my wishlist. This was the first book by Kristin Hannah to which I listened, and I long to read her words for myself, to enjoy her wonderful storytelling in thorough detail.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Light Between Oceans by M. L. Stedman (or the audiobook)

The Light Between Oceans is beautifully written, with a slow-and-steady narrative that effectively reflects the pace of the life of Tom and Isabel Sherbourne on an isolated island. Unfortunately, I was not impressed with the narration by Noah Taylor, though I do admire his acting work. Despite that, I was riveted by the turbulent story of Tom and Isabel through their loss, heartbreak, and lessons in love and faith.

The Husband's Secret by [Moriarty, Liane]

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Husband’s Secret, by Liane Moriarty (or the audiobook)

I was reluctant to pick up The Husband’s Secret because I generally am not a fan of chick lit. However, after reading a recommendation from Modern Mrs. Darcy, whose opinion I hold in high esteem, I decided to pick it up. I was impressed not only by the story itself and the excellent character development, but also by the narration by Caroline Lee. Moriarty’s storytelling reminds me somewhat of the style made popular by Maeve Binchy, in which the lives of many individual characters in one community become intertwined, creating a cohesive picture with a poignant message of friendship: We are never alone, though often lonely. Unlike Binchy, Moriarty’s books address heavier issues with a lightness that keeps the reader turning pages.

What have you been reading or listening to lately? Please leave a comment below.

One good word

I have been feeling tired.

Tired of the glare of the computer screen.
Tired of the buzzing phone.
Tired of hearing news stories meant to spark arguments, dividing people into groups of those who agree and those who disagree.
Those two groups can often be united in the sharing of their harsh opinion toward those who are not ready to pass judgment or choose to keep their opinions to themselves.
Can we excuse ourselves from having an opinion?
We are asked to judge, to think, to reflect, but there are subjects that do not interest me.
To think of those subjects takes more energy than I wish to expend.
Is that wrong?
Instead, I choose to direct my attention, which has been worn thin as of late, toward what and who matters most to me.
I opened my Facebook page today to read about two new topics that sparked drama among parents.
Why is it usually the women who are most deeply affected by this drama?
We feel.
We analyse.
We are sensitive.
Most importantly, we want to protect our children while creating a better world for them.
May I suggest that perhaps we should start by practising kindness?
Kindness toward ourselves.
Kindness toward others who try too hard while wondering whether they’re doing okay, feeling a bit lost, insecure, confused.
And yes, tired.

On this note, I leave you with words by the poet David Whyte:
Loaves and Fishes

This is not
the age of information.

This is not
the age of information.

Forget the news,
and the radio,
and the blurred screen.

This is the time
of loaves
and fishes.

People are hungry
and one good word is bread
for a thousand.

— David Whyte
from The House of Belonging 
©1996 Many Rivers Press

Privacy, sharing, and the role of storytelling

Earlier this week, on my Facebook page, I asked for your advice regarding the sharing of personal stories in order to relay a message or impart an important lesson. Thank you for your insights, both in the comments below the post, and in private. This question stemmed from my personal contemplation of my role as a guide who does not enjoy discussing her personal life in an open manner. I am not overly concerned about judgment, though to deny it entirely would also be false. I simply do not feel that oversharing serves an effective purpose. Instead, I feel it detracts from the experience of the learner. It has always been my opinion that the role of a guide – whether a yoga instructor or another type of mentor – is to create an experience for the learners that will allow them to explore their own experience. For that reason, I also feel that there should be certain boundaries between the client and the guide.

My favourite and most respected guides and mentors, the ones from whom I have learned and continue to learn, have been people who observe healthy limits, who share bits of stories without revealing too much, never creating gratuitous drama in the interest of shocking the public. Instead, the focus of their stories has always returned to the students seated before them, inviting those students to engage in self-exploration in order to find the answer within. The teacher is important, but the teacher’s story must never play the central role.

Then, two days ago, my worldview was rattled when my grandmother, who has always been very private about her own traumatic story of survival in a concentration camp in Germany, chose to share that story with the online world. Allow me to provide some background. I first heard a PG version of my grandmother’s account of survival during WWII when I was about six years old. My mom told me that Babushka bears a number on her arm because in childhood, she was taken away from home and held in a prison-type camp. At the time, I didn’t understand what my grandmother had done to deserve such treatment. What, indeed. With the passing years, my grandmother revealed to me additional horrific details of her experience and one day, when I was 20 years old, seated at my parents’ kitchen table, helping my grandmother to prepare dinner, she asked me to promise her to never share those details with anyone outside our family. Family stories must stay within the family, she spoke sternly. I kept my promise.

Yet, she wrote her story, in her own honest, direct words, sharing it on Facebook. I asked myself why she would choose to share her story after all these years, having always been so private about her life. Granted, she has previously spoken to groups of students about her experience, and even attended a symposium in Germany, sharing her story on stage in front of a large audience. Nonetheless, reading her words on the internet felt somehow raw, revealing. I have not yet had a chance to speak with my grandmother, to ask her why she chose to tell one small part of her story, but I have my speculations, one of which is that these stories must be told to pass on the lessons of tolerance, compassion, love, and the dangers of ignorance, of separation and segregation. The comments that she received below the post, from relatives, were affirming, thanking her for writing so candidly, for sharing with us details that are becoming lost with the survivors.

We write because it allows us to heal. The writing and speaking of our words, previously hidden beneath many layers, is cathartic. The alchemy of this sharing penetrates even deeper into the hearts of our readers and listeners as it emerges from beneath our own layers. To me, this process is raw, painful, and leaves me standing naked before a crowd, awaiting judgment. Yet, the pain of holding onto the story without sharing it is even greater. In fact, it is starting to feel risky. Within many traditions, storytelling has been central to learning.

I do not yet have the answer of how we can go about delivering an important lesson to our clients, students, and readers by sharing but without exposing too much. How can we share just enough, allowing the healing to occur while holding onto certain parts of the story that feel too private, too close to our hearts? Moreover, why is it that some of us feel the need to protect those private stories and identities while others seem to want to shout them from the rooftops? A few questions have been answered but I am left with new ones to ponder. While I continue to hold onto the notion that the teacher’s story must never be the focal point of a lesson, it is often an important method of launching into an open dialogue that fosters personal exploration within the students, shaping our future and inspiring the broader community.

Would you like to contribute to this discussion? Do you have a personal theory to share regarding storytelling and the importance of communicating our lessons through written and spoken stories? Please leave a comment below. Thank you, as always, for sharing this blog with a friend.  

The best version of myself

“Understanding the difference between healthy striving and perfectionism is critical to laying down the shield and picking up your life.” ~ Brené Brown, The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are

I greatly admire the work of Brené Brown, and specifically her research on vulnerability and the healing of our perfectionist tendencies. From where do those tendencies arise? I’m not seeking to put blame upon society or our families. It’s natural for us to encourage ourselves and others around us to strive to be better, to succeed. However, success has many definitions.

Working to achieve perfection feels to me hard-edged, rigid.  I have been shifting my focus toward replacing old perfectionist tendencies, shedding habitual attempts to be better than I was yesterday by means of grasping tighter, pushing harder. Instead, my goal and definition of success is to be the best version of myself, every day. To me, it means the inevitability of stumbling from time to time, but finding the soft strength to admit my vulnerability, to allow myself to sit with the swirling emotions and convoluted circumstances, then watch them unravel naturally, without the use of force. From this authentic place, I remind myself to get back up and proceed with the agenda, ticking off tasks as I go, allowing myself to feel, to observe, to experience, owning up to my mistakes and gathering closely the lessons that I continue to acquire. Those are the lessons that nudge me closer toward today’s goal, reminding me to forgive, to accept, and to continue working to be the best version of myself.

“Vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy, and creativity. It is the source of hope, empathy, accountability, and authenticity. If we want greater clarity in our purpose or deeper and more meaningful spiritual lives, vulnerability is the path.” ~ Brené Brown, Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead

What is your definition of success? I would love to read about the steps you have taken to heal perfectionist tendencies that do not serve you. Please leave a comment below.

Thank you, as always, for sharing this blog with a friend.

Nostalgic daydreams about Amélie

“In such a dead world, Amélie prefers to dream until she’s old enough to leave home.”

 

I was planning to write this week’s blog post about the intuitive process I use to make important decision, but this Mindfulness-based practice soon made way for my Daydreamer side. You see, dear reader, at the time of writing the original essay, I was listening to the soundtrack of the movie Le fabuleux destin d’Amélie Poulain or simply, Amélie. The waltz on Yann Tiersen’s accordion sent toward me waves of nostalgia that continued to beckon until I finally gave up my attempt to write about the original subject and gave into the temptation to allow my mind to roam (and oh, how my mind loves to roam).

Amelie3
The street from the opening scene of Amélie. I took this photo through the gold-tinted polarized sunglasses I had on me at the time to create a filter similar to the one used in the film.

I first saw Amelie in the spring of 2002 with my mom at a local budget movie theatre. I was smitten. I’m still infatuated. In Amélie I found a kindred spirit, and Audrey Tautou quickly became one of my most admired actresses. The shy but remarkably curious and passionate girl on the big screen fascinated me with her daydreams and hilarious fantastical scenarios that she wove in her head, affording her so much more comfort than she finds in the world outside. Yet, she also nudges herself to slowly explore and awaken her inner strength in order to create a real life out of her daydreams, all the while getting an altruistic kick out of helping people in her community in endearing unconventional ways. As an INFP, I was riveted by the screenplay, the dialogue, whimsical quotes, and the even more whimsically charming little flat in which Amélie lives in the Montmartre in Paris, which also happens to be my favourite neighbourhood of the city. As I sat in the dark theatre, with a wide smile on my face, I marvelled at the affinity that I felt toward this fictional character, my long-lost twin. I knew I had to find her.

Almost ten years ago, while on our honeymoon in France, Mr. Wanderlust and I dedicated an entire sunny day in late July to exploring Amélie’s Montmartre. I remain infinitely grateful to Mr. Wanderlust for his patience. After researching the movie locations online and planning our day, we started our visit at the Lamarck-Caulaincourt metro station, then visited the little corner grocery stand that transformed into ‘Collignon & Fils’ for the film (that’s me in the photo above, reading the many newspaper clippings that adorn the window of the little shop), visited Cafe des deux moulins where Amélie works, made our way to the Sacré-Coeur basilica, and even unexpectedly spotted, while strolling along rue Pigalle, the adult video shop in which Amélie’s love interest, Nino, is employed. I felt I found her there. I found Amélie.

Amelie4

When the film first made its North American debut, I was in the midst of completing my first year of journalism school. Every day, I second-guessed my choice of the field of study, and felt greatly intimidated by my assignments, which required me to step into a role of a confident extrovert. I went into that field because I enjoyed writing. Yet, each time I was expected to pick up the phone to speak with interview subjects, I wished I could run home and hide under the covers of my bed with a novel in which fascinating people went out into a fascinating world, to do fascinating things. I preferred to hide behind email than to pick up the phone and speak with a live person. Come to think of it, I still do prefer email as a mode of communication; it provides me with plenty of time to gather my thoughts and compose messages that allow me to express myself more eloquently, more carefully.

Amélie reminded me that it’s not enough to daydream and live vicariously though the exciting lives of others. She showed me that I must nudge myself, over and over again, to step outside of my comfort zone, to go out and create life as an active participant. Although I no longer need to remind myself of this message on a regular basis, I remember the shy, terrified girl who hides somewhere within me. From time to time, she wishes she could stay under the covers and not have to deal with the real world in which she lives, with the real people with whom it’s not always easy to get along. And so, over and over, I get up, take a deep breath with a long exhale, and resolve to sprinkle a bit more kindness throughout the world around me as I take sips from my confidence shake. Before long, I walk a little taller along my suburban street, with the sunshine on my face, hearing La valse d’Amélie as it plays somewhere close by. I think I will watch the film again this weekend, for the umpteenth time, to satisfy my nostalgic reminiscence.

Amelie2
Amélie’s workplace.

Is there a film toward which or a character toward whom you feel an extraordinary affinity? Please leave a comment below, and thank you for sharing this blog with a friend.