2018: word, resolutions, quotes, to-do’s

It usually takes me the entire month of January to sort out my New Year goals and resolutions, and this year was no different.  Considering my hopes and plans for the year fills January with a sort of energy that I know I’d struggle to find otherwise, though, so I make no effort to change this pattern.  It just feels right to spend December enjoying the present — the tastes, smells, sounds and sights of the holidays, the time with family and friends, and the sacred Advent and Christmas rituals — and to spend the dark and dreary days of January looking forward to brighter days and considering the things I’d like to change in the upcoming year. 

After 31 days of percolation, some concern and some crossing out and re-writing, I feel oriented and committed to the word, resolutions, and to-do’s that I’ve set for myself in 2018. 

Word of the Year: Reach

As I mentioned two posts ago, it was hard for me to think of a word for the year — and of resolutions at large — because there wasn’t an obvious area of needed improvement within my life.  I’m feeling fulfilled and happy within my professional and personal life, and don’t need a dramatic increase of levity (2016) or perspective (2017) to get keep myself sane.  That’s why I ultimately decided on the word “reach” for the year. 

Because I’m feeling positively about life overall, I have the energy and enthusiasm to take what’s good in my life to the next level.  In 2018, I resolve to go the extra mile in the various areas of my life:

  • With the relationships that matter most to me
  • With my writing endeavors
  • With work: with my relationships there, and with my projects (particularly, trying new things)
  • With my character: being a bigger and better person
  • With my taking in of the world: striving to be an active, not passive, participant in life

I have been so blessed with a family that I adore, wonderful friendships, fulfilling work, the opportunity to live in a lovely city and to travel more broadly, and a wide variety of interests.  This year, I want to consciously live this one life that I have fully and abundantly, for my sake and for the sake of the people I encounter. 

Quotes of the Year:

“Accepting oneself does not preclude an attempt to become better.” —Flannery O’Connor

“For of those to whom much is given, much is required.” — John F. Kennedy

“Choose the bigger life.” — Gretchen Rubin

“We are what we repeatedly do.” — Aristotle

“Everyone thinks of changing the world, but. No one things of changing himself.” — Leo Tolstoy

“We are all just walking each other home.” —Rumi

“To be what we are, and to become what we are capable of becoming, is the only end of life.” — Robert Louis Stevenson

“Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.” — Rumi

“Grant me, O Lord my God, a mind to know you, a heart to seek you, wisdom to find you, conduct pleasing to you, faithful perseverance in waiting for you, and a hope of finally embracing you.” — Thomas Aquinas

Reach Related Resolutions

  1. Write three smart sentences about the things that I read/watch/listen to/attend.
  2. Pause before speaking unkindly.  Remember that I have a choice in what I say and that choices have consequences.
  3. Go a little deeper.  Get to know people more.  Ask better questions.  Practice conversation.  Gather advice and input.  Listen deeply.
  4. Do the things that I have been meaning and wanting to do (see 18 in 2018).
  5. Invest time and energy in creativity and pursuing writing interests.  Take pictures, submit or pitch article ideas monthly, interact with other writers, do some sort of personal writing (unpaid) monthly.
  6. Consume consciously.  Question consumption.  Delay gratification.  Only but treats with treat money (Christmas, birthday, etc.).  Try to buy used good and local items.  Cook consciously. 
  7. Think contemplatively.  Keep trying to pray.  Look for thin places. 

18 Things to do in 2018

  1. Write a narrative essay and submit it competitively.
  2. Cancel old credit cards and get a new one in my name only.
  3. Sort out medical related things (find Caleb an eye doctor and dentist, go to my PCP).
  4. Read Infinite Jest.
  5. Wear everything I own once or get rid of it.
  6. Send favorite Cheryl Strayed essay to girl cousins.
  7. Write one Thank You note per month.
  8. Transcribe quote books and organize quotes.
  9. Sort out my feelings about being a stay-at-home/work-at-home mom.
  10. Do one special thing per month (go somehwere, host visitors, celebrate a holiday or liturgical season in a particularly meaningful way).
  11. Visit a new Ivy League.
  12. Organize passwords.
  13. Staycation at the Dean Hotel.
  14. Learn about and practice DSLR photography.
  15. Monthly sibling connection.
  16. Renew passports.
  17. Go on a retreat.
  18. Acknowledge birthdays. 

 

Photo by Andrew Knechel on Unsplash

What I’m Reading/Watching/Listening To These Days

There is a special place in my heart for well-written page turners, and Celeste Ng’s Little Fires Everywhere, which I just finished, has neatly found a spot in that corner.  But unlike The Goldfinch, Cider House Rules or Ng’s debut novel Everything I Never Told You, which continue to turn themselves over in my mind long after I’ve closed their back covers, LFE will sit still in the well-written-page-turners corner, collecting dust.  The characters were believable: equally likable and flawed; the setting was well-painted and one of my favorite types (I love critical examinations of suburbia); and the plot moved forward at an agreeable pace, with just enough surprises to keep me eager to return to reading after a day of work or night of sleep.  All of these qualities made the book well worth the read (inexpensive and engaging entertainment, after all, is one of my primary reasons for ever reading), but the book isn’t memorable.

I’m 76% percent of the way through Middlemarch, which, according to the Kindle app on my phone, means that I have 5 hours and 36 minutes left to go.  A few years ago, back when we were still dating, Caleb bought me a gorgeous copy of George Eliot’s classic, which I love to look at on my shelf.  Go figure that I’ve read the book entirely on my phone, in the first few minutes after waking, when the room is still dark, and I depend on a backlit screen to do my most favorite activity of reading in bed. 

I’m listening to Animal, Vegetable, Miracle on audiobook.  With it’s one part educational, one part motivational, and one part entertaining, it’s my ideal cocktail for a non-fiction book.  Barbara Kingsolver knows how to tell a story! (And she reads it well, too, which is a plus; an audio book can be ruined with the wrong narrator.)  I’ve been shocked to learn that our “refrigerators” consume as much gasoline as our vehicles (i.e. It is estimated that the average meal in the United States travels about 1,500 miles to get from farm to plate) and that if every U.S. citizen ate just one meal a week (any meal) composed of locally and organically raised meats and produce, we would reduce our country’s oil consumption by over 1.1 million barrels of oil every week.  Now that’s onvicting!

My two podcasts of choice continue to be Happier, hosted by sisters Elizabeth Kraft and Gretchen Rubin, and Jesuitical, America Media’s podcast hosted by three young, lay editors.  They both get put on the back-burner when I’m immersed in a top-notch audio book, but I’ll listen to an episode here or there when I’m cleaning or taking a solo-walk to run an errand.  Liz and Gretchen’s approach to New Year’s Resolutions this year inspired part of mine (18 things to do in 2018).  I have a backlog of Jesuitical episodes.

Last night, we watched the Coen brothers’ most recent film, Hail, Caesar!, which was both bizarre and entertaining, as it followed a single day of a movie producer in the Golden Age of Hollywood.  It heightened my appreciation of the role of producers — they are the receptacle for complaints, the fire extinguishers, and the magical thread that holds the various elements of film production, from the acting talent to the directors to the set-designers to the gopher staff, together — as it also warmed my affection for the film industry at large.  The vibrant portrayal of a thriving production studio made me want to become much more of an avid movie-goer than I currently am. 

Choosing Resolutions

I undoubtedly enjoy writing New Year’s (or birthday, or academic year) Resolutions.  As I’ve said before, I find goal-writing to be an orienting process, and new aims and goals put a much-needed spring in my step for the drudgery of post-Christmas winter, when the days are still so long, but without twinkle lights and the promise of a holiday trip home to brighten them up.

I felt a bit wary as I wrote my 2018 resolutions, though.  For starters, I had a hard time thinking of my word for the year (last year’s was perspective).  My work life isn’t the disaster that it was at this time last year or the year before, my relationships with friends and family are strong, and my physical, spiritual and emotional health are in a good place.  Without a dramatic problem area, it was hard to pick a particular item of focus for the year. 

On top that, I was struck as looked over my drafted list of resolutions at how narcissistic they all seem.  Learn this skill, read this book, go to this place, organize this aspect of my life, try this new thing.  The end of all these goals, ultimately, is self-improvement, and for the first time ever, I felt bothered by that end.

It’s not that I don’t see the value of self-improvement.  Look, so long as we are alive, we might as well live a life that we can be proud of.  Besides, the only person I can change is myself, so I might as well put some effort into becoming a better person.  I do believe that outer transformation (of the world) begins with inner transformation.

The problem is that focusing on self-improvement can become selfish as easily as it can become transformative.  And that’s the last thing I want.  I want to live an abundant and full life, but in the pursuit of that life, I don’t want to become so wrapped up in myself that I become a god to myself. 

In short, I want to be devoted to enhancing and enriching the quality of life for those around me.  I want self-improvement to be the pathway to a life that helps me look out into the world instead of inwards towards myself, a pathway to living a bigger, not smaller, life. 

Sometimes we do the right things for the wrong reasons.  And sometimes we do the wrong things for the right reasons.  And much of the time, our wrong reasoning and wrong acting stem from a lack of reflection. 

So this year, as I go forward with my word for the year (which I did, in fact choose, after much deliberation) and my potentially narcissistic resolutions, I’m going to keep these questions in mind:

  • Is completing this goal helping me to live a bigger life?
  • Am I improving myself/my life in such a way that I will be more equipped to enhance the lives of others?
  • How am I enriching the quality of life of the people I encounter?

 

Photo by Nathan Lemon on Unsplash

Cookbook Resolution Complete

The calendar year is rapidly coming to a close, and just in the nick of time I finished up one of my 2017 resolutions: to prepare at least one new recipe from each of my cookbooks. 

I’ve loved this resolution, for a few reasons:

  1. I enjoy cooking but don’t necessarily spend a lot of time doing it.  There are so many ways to fill up free time and sometimes I end up frittering away my days off with cleaning, running errands, and getting sucked into social media and the blogosphere. This goal pushed me to spend at least a few hours every few weekends doing something that I consistently find fun and gratifying.
  2. Using the things that I own feels good.  I tend to feel inclined to declutter — to get ride of clothes I don’t wear, dishes I don’t use, or books that I don’t consult — but I’ve always resisted purging my cookbook collection; actually referring to the books has helped me justify keeping them…which makes me happy, because I love my shelf of cookbooks.
  3. Speaking of that shelf, I like physical books, period.  I like the way their glossy covers feel, I like flipping through the pages, and I like seeing a book propped open on my kitchen counter.  Pinterest and cooks.com are great sources for recipes, but it’s the tangible attributes of books that make my apartment feel cozy and homey, and this resolution gave me the chance to experience the glory of a book. 
  4. Growing and learning are so satisfying, and I have to work harder to make these things happen than I did when I was a student.  Trying new things — even just recipes — gives me that same thrill of growth that taking a class always provided. 

As I drink a glass of wine with my first ever pot roast tonight, I’ll toast to all the joy of cooking and of resolutions completed!

Human love

O Sapientia

It was from Joseph first I learned
of love. Like me he was dismayed.
How easily he could have turned
me from his house; but, unafraid,
he put me not away from him
(O God-sent angel, pray for him).
Thus through his love was Love obeyed.

The Child’s first cry came like a bell:
God’s Word aloud, God’s Word in deed.
The angel spoke: so it befell,
and Joseph with me in my need.
O Child whose father came from heaven,
to you another gift was given,
your earthly father chosen well.

With Joseph I was always warmed
and cherished. Even in the stable
I knew that I would not be harmed.
And, though above the angels swarmed,
man’s love it was that made me able
to bear God’s love, wild, formidable,
to bear God’s will, through me performed.

Madeleine L’Engle

For those of us who believe in God, we likely also believe that God is the giver of life, the ultimate source of being who breathes us into existence and sustains our lives from one moment to the next.

But a belief in a life-creating and sustaining God doesn’t preclude the fact that we rely on our fellow humans to make it from one day to the next. 

On a very basic level, our physical survival depends on the food grown by farmers, the medical attention offered by health care professionals, and the shelter provided by contractors, plumbers, electricians, and so on.  Equally important, our emotional and spiritual survival depends on the love and care we receive from our mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, spouses, friends, teachers, pastors, co-workers, and therapists, to name of a few of the vital sources of strength and hope that we turn to on a frequent basis.

I love this poem by Madeline L’Engle because, while honoring the supreme being, it captures the need we have for other humans:  “Though above the angels swarmed, / man’s love it was that made me able…”

The message this sends to me is two part:

1) The people who support us are precious, precious gifts.  In gratitude, may we turn to them and lean on their love in order to do what good we can while on this earth. 

2) We are beholden to each other.  May we be a gift from heaven to each other, by lightening one another’s loads, by warming and cherishing those we care for (and those we maybe don’t), and by putting others “not away” from us.  Even when we are dismayed like Joseph, may we choose to show love.

Fall 2017 Reading

Regardless of the official start dates of the four seasons, I’m one to consider December 1st the beginning of Winter, March 1st the start of Spring, June 1st the commencement of summer and September 1st the onset of Fall.  My mindset flips with the calendar page, and those first few weeks of the transition months are often the ones that feel most steeped in the glory of the new season. 

The magical swirl of winter is definitely in the air within our home, town, and the world-as-I-know-it-through-Instagram.  With twinkling lights on trees and temperatures that require a pom-pom hat, I’m ready to start a new column in my reading journal for Winter 2017/2018 Books.  But before then, a quick look back on what I read this Fall:

Fiction

The Fall of Lisa Bellow, Susan Perabo

The Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood

The Year of the Boar and Jackie Robinson, Bette Bao Lord

Non-Fiction

Bad Feminist, Roxanne Gay

Presence, Amy Cuddy

White Working Class: Overcoming Class Cluelessness in America, Joan Weber

I Feel Bad About My Neck and Other Thoughts on Being a Woman, Nora Ephron

Radical Spirit, Joan Chittister

I’d recommend all of my fall reads, actually.  A few thoughts:

The Fall of Lisa Bellow (a book club read) is forgettable but was enjoyable in the moment, in the page-turning way any book laced with mystery is. 

The Year of the Boar and Jackie Robinson was a re-read from my childhood and had me in tears with the poignancy that I’m sure was lost on my eight-year-old self.  Reading it also brought back cozy memories of having it read to me by my mom as I waited for the school bus. 

Presence left me with some definitive take-aways — posture matters! — and I seriously am noticing the effect that sitting up straighter, speaking more slowly, and keeping my arms uncrossed has on my feelings of empowerment in work settings. 

I read White Working Class as part of my effort to understand how and why President Trump was elected (along with Plutocracy, Hillbilly Elegy, and Atlas Shrugged) and, at the risk of sounding totally heavy-handed, this short little book transformed my thinking by helping me see how class clueless I am.  In the way great books, people and programs do, it opened me up to the other and helped me see how I am part of the problem and what I need to change about myself.  I especially recommend this book for all people in my socio-political-age demorgraphic. 

I laughed my head off through I Feel Bad About My Neck, and for added reading pleasure, I’d suggest listening to the audio book, which is read by the author.  She knows just when to pause and crescendo for all the extra effect. 

Radical Spirit has me on a Joan Chittister kick.  The book is a practical guide in which Chittister walks her readers through the Rule of St. Benedict’s chapter on humility.  What I appreciated most about the book is that Chittister doesn’t shy away from suggesting active lifestyle changes that probably most readers need to make to live more humbly, authentically and freely. 

Photo by Alfons Morales on Unsplash

Looking at the stars

We are all in the gutter.  But some of us are looking at the stars.  — Oscar Wilde

As a child, crying was usually an indicator of something negative happening in my life.  From falling and skinning my knee, to forgetting my homework and being reprimanded by a teacher, to getting in a fight with one of my siblings, the situations that sparked tears were ones of struggle.  I cried when I was sad, angry, hurt or confused. 

Somewhere along the line — maybe when I was in high school, when I began to see that words are usually as effective for expressing emotions as tears — this changed.  I still occasionally cry from grief or frustration, but more often now, my tears accompany feelings of nostalgia, hope, appreciation, love and awe.  I tear up when I read a story that demonstrates the goodness of humanity; my eyes get misty when a particularly sweet memory of my father, mother, sister or brothers comes to mind; my throat gets tight when I hear a beautiful piece of music of poetry. 

To be sure, the instances of struggle that used to cause me tears still exist.  In the world in which we live, sadness, anger, hurt and confusion are in many ways the status quo.  Maybe, along with learning that words as well as tears can express emotion, part of becoming an adult is realizing the pervasiveness of trauma, pain and suffering and implicitly acknowledging that if we let these things cause us tears, we’d be crying all the time. 

Looking around myself — reading the news, seeing a homeless man sitting on a cold stoop, talking with a grieving acquaintance — make me see that we’re in a gutter, all of us.  We are surrounded by pain — emotional, mental, physical, spiritual — and not a single one of us will get through life without suffering.  But my tears, now, remind me of the bursts of grace, the glimpses of light; the breaths of hope and the moments of joy.  My tears highlight the things that keep me going and get me through and remind me that there is meaning in life — in the good and the hard of it.  They remind me that I can be in the gutter and look at the stars. 

 

Photo by Mattias Milos on Unsplash

A sheltered life can be a daring life as well.

A sheltered life can be a daring life as well. For all serious daring starts from within. — Eudora Welty

A piece of advice that has stuck with me over the years came from one of my college professors, after I shared with him that I was having a hard time making the choice between studying abroad for a semester or staying at my home university, Wittenberg, for all of my sophomore year.  Like many decisions, this was a difficult one because I was choosing between two good options.  Studying abroad would give me the chance to experience a different  part of the world and make new friends, but I also had much to gain from remaining at a place that I knew to have excellent classes, devoted professors, and dear friends.

My professor’s suggestion: “Sometimes you don’t know what you’re missing, so it’s usually a good idea to say yes to new opportunities.” 

I took his advice, and he was right: until I was leaning over the Ponte Vecchio bridge in Florence, celebrating my 20th birthday with new friends and red wine from the corner store; until I was requesting crepes with apricot jam for dinner from my indulgent host father Gerhard; until I was sharing an order of street stand wienerschnitzel in a cozy Viennese hostel room with friends who remain close to me today; until I walked the snowy streets of Salzburg late at night, and then eventually watched the snow melt away and the trees lining the Salzach River burst into bloom; until I had these new and precious experiences, I didn’t know what I was missing.

It’s somewhat unsettling to think about the things we would have missed if we had lived our lives differently, and perhaps it’s even more unsettling to consider the other side of the coin: the things we’ve missed because we’ve taken our particular path. 

What if I hadn’t gone to Wittenberg?  What if I hadn’t joined my sorority and met Sarah, who introduced me to her brother Caleb?  What if I hadn’t taken the risk of a long distance relationship and gone to graduate school in Boston?  What if I had taken a year off between college and graduate school instead?  What if I had majored in Psychology rather than religion?  What if I had turned down the part-time youth ministry job at Our Lady of Sorrows?

Awareness of this unsettling feeling — one that has almost taken my breath away at times — has pushed me to eagerly seek new experiences and say yes to opportunities for adventure, professional development, learning, new relationships, and really, expansion of myself in any form.  For a long time this meant that I was constantly on the move, filling free evenings with social gatherings or events, free weekends with day trips or getaways, and free weeks with longer-distance travel. 

But these days I’m noticing that expansion of myself is taking a different shape: it’s staying home and filling most of my free time with reading and writing.  It’s languishing in an uncommitted weekend and resisting invitations.  It’s prioritizing time alone, and committing to putting pen to paper at least a few hours a week. 

A few years ago, this change of pace might have scared or bored me, and truthfully, there are moments now when I somewhat panickedly think, “What if I’m missing something?”  But the truth is that we’re always missing something.  Saying yes to one thing means saying no to something else.  There’s a time to say yes to outward adventure — to new situations and spaces and people and places — and a time to yes to inner adventure — new books and ideas and insights and personal projects. 

The point is to stay open and to keep saying yes to something — whether that’s an outer something or an inner something.  As Eudora Welty says, “A sheltered life can be a daring life as well. For all serious daring starts from within.”

 

Photo by Pavan Trikutam on Unsplash

Add a Time Constraint

In Option B, Sheryl Sandberg gives a helpful piece of advice to the friends, family members, co-workers and acquaintances of a person who is facing some form of adversity, whether it be grieving the loss of a loved one, struggling with unemployment, or fighting a bad diagnosis. 

When you ask how the person is doing, add a time constraint.  How are you feeling, right now?  How are you coping, today?  How are you doing, this moment?

Sandberg explains that the time constraint acknowledges that a person is going through something hard and living from moment to moment.  “How are you doing today” is a less generic question (let’s face it, how many times a day to we say to people, from close friends to near strangers, “how are you?”) and therefore it doesn’t presuppose a generic answer (“I’m fine.”). It’s a more spacious question, inviting an honest response, which makes it a kinder question, too. 

I think “add a time constraint” is a really sound piece of advice, and one that stretches beyond interacting with grieving or otherwise struggling individuals.  It also helps me to consider my perennial quest for self-improvement, my preferences, my goals, and my ability to find joy in the present moment.

For an example, when I’m occasionally asked a question like “What are your career goals” or “What are you favorite books” I draw a complete and total blank.  These questions are overwhelming, and I don’t know where to begin answering them.  However, if someone asks me “What’s a goal that you have in your professional life right now,” or “What’s the best book you’ve read recently,” I leap on the opportunity to reflect on my current situation and I am able to provide a thoughtful answer. 

I firmly believe that examining our lives and reflecting on our experiences makes for a richer and more meaningful existence.  Reflecting helps us cultivate gratitude for what’s good in our lives and make change where change is needed to improve our lives.  It helps us grapple with our challenges and rejoice in our successes. 

I also firmly believe that we need to set ourselves up to do the things that are good for us — like reflecting.  If something is too hard, we’ll put it off.  If a task is too overwhelming, we won’t begin.  Adding time constraints to reflective questions can help us examine where we are, in the moment. 

Photo by Sonja Langford on Unsplash

3 Things I’ve Learned From Nora Ephron Recently

A high school friend got married the weekend before last, which was the perfect excuse for me to drive to my hometown of Shady Grove for a few days.  I love everything about going home, from sleeping in the twin bed of my childhood to eating my dad’s ever-perfecting sourdough toast for breakfast, to partaking in miscellaneous projects with my parents (and siblings, if they are home), to the now familiar drive from Providence to south-central Pennsylvania. 

There are many times when I wish I lived closer to Shady Grove because proximity would enable me to enjoy all the benefits of home – particularly quality time with my family of origin —more often than I currently do, but taken in and of itself, I don’t mind the driving distance.  It’s actually an aspect of going home to which I look forward.  With a thermos of coffee, a stack of audio books, the heat turned up, and a queue of podcasts, I find the drive comforting, cozy and entertaining. 

On this most recent drive, I listened to the second half of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale and an episode of each of my favorite podcasts (Happier and Jesuitical) on the way to Shady Grove, and a few more podcast episodes and Nora Ephron’s I Feel Bad About My Neck: And Other Thoughts on Being a Woman on the way back to Providence. 

It would be an understatement to say that my return drive to Rhode Island was enjoyable.  I loved every single word of Ephron’s collection of essays.  She’s a witty and hysterical writer, one of the funniest I’ve encountered, and the audio version of her book was made even better by the fact that it was read by Queen Nora herself.  Naturally, she knew just which words to emphasize, where to whisper and when to pause dramatically.

I’m on a Nora Ephron kick, now, and I’m learning things in addition to laughing my head off.  Here are three lessons I’m taking away from her fantastic work:

1). The dinner party rule of four: in her essay “Serial Monogamy: A Memoir,” Ephron chronicles the cookbooks and chefs who influenced her personal cooking and hosting style, and she pays special tribute to Lee Bailey.  She writes:

The most important thing that I learned from Lee was something I call the Rule of Four. Most people serve three things for dinner — some sort of meat, some sort of starch, and some sort of vegetable — but Lee always served four. And the fourth thing was always unexpected, like those crab apples. A casserole of lima beans and pears cooked for hours with brown sugar and molasses. Peaches with cayenne pepper. Sliced tomatoes with honey. Biscuits. Savory bread pudding. Spoon bread. Whatever it was, that fourth thing seemed to have an almost magical effect on the eating process. You never got tired of the food because there was always another taste on the plate that seemed simultaneously to match it and contradict it. You could go from taste to taste; you could mix a little of this with a little of that. And when you finished eating, you always wanted more, so that you could go from taste to taste all over again.

There’s something so charming about this Rule, isn’t there?  It’s both simple and playful, and – unlike a complicated recipe or an elegant environment – easy for someone like me to adopt. 

2). The worst possible thing could turn out not to be the worst possible thing:  In You’ve Got Mail, Meg Ryan’s character Kathleen is devastated when the corporate chain Fox Books drives her small children’s bookstore – The Shop Around the Corner – out of business.  Why wouldn’t she be?  Being forced to close doors is every small business owner’s worst nightmare.  But closing these doors ends up opening a different set of doors for Kathleen.  No, I’m not talking about the relationship she develops with Mr. Fox himself; she begins writing children’s books.  This turn of events might be high on the cheesiness scale, but I do think it illustrates a true point: we don’t know what life holds, and staying hopeful and open in the face of adversity could lead to new and exciting opportunities.

3). The familiar is funny and interesting: “Write what you know” is an age old piece of advice that probably anyone who has ever written anything has heard.  Cliche as the advice may be, Nora Ephron proves that it’s sound.  She writes about the contents of her purse, her apartment building, her love-hate relationship with beauty products, parenting and food.  There is nothing – absolutely nothing – exceptional about these topics, but Ephron succeeds in crafting superb essays about them because she pays close attention to the details, and because she is so honest and open.  This is a realization worth keeping in mind, for both writing endeavors and being a good conversationalist!

Photo by Daniela Cuevas on Unsplash