April 1, 2013

Giveaway: The Mermaid of Brooklyn

First, I have to tell you about Amy. We met she when she was very pregnant and I was interviewing for some freelance work at Domino. Soon after, the magazine had folded, and I kept bumping into her in the neighborhood. I also kept lingering longer each time. I just liked her, and that doesn’t happen that often. She’s the kind of person you trust implicitly, whose own warmth and comfort with herself instantly puts you at ease. Plus, she’s very funny in a sweet, self-deprecating way that’s pretty much impossible to resist. Running into each other at coffee shops turned into meeting for walks around Prospect Park on hot afternoons. She’s probably one of the most natural friends I’ve made in my adult life.

I read her new book, The Mermaid of Brooklyn, in those dark days of January when I wanted to climb into bed and forget the realities of my life. The book didn’t take me far away (it takes place in Park Slope), but it managed to help me forget my troubles while simultaneously soothing them. I was intoxicated by the idea–that a gutsy mermaid slips into the body of a despairingly depressed mom. Who among us hasn’t ever wished some fiercer version of ourselves would take the reins? But that’s only one aspect of a book that ended up telling a more story more captivating and real than any fairy tale: that there is goodness in the world and fullness all around us, even when it doesn’t feel like it.

One very lucky Pink of Perfection reader will win a copy. Leave a comment by 11:59PM EST 4/4 to be eligible. Happy spring reading!

Update 4/5: And the winner is Mallory! Thanks to all for entering. Hope you’ll still go out and buy a copy or get on the library waiting list. It’s worth it!

March 14, 2013

Keeping It Simple

In the past few weeks, I’ve been reading a book about Chinese Medicine and Ayurveda that had a bit of advice that’s stuck with me: the more complicated life is, the simpler your meals should be. It was such a lovely reminder that even when much of life feels out of our control, there are small ways we can take back the reins each day.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the concept of simplicity lately. There are scores and scores of great blogs devoted to it (and its cousin minimalism), and even still, I don’t have a clear sense of what it would actually look or feel like in my life. How to live more simply came up when chatting with a friend recently, and it felt as mysterious and out of reach to both of us as a nighttime ride on Falcor. We both knew we wanted it, but we didn’t know how to go about introducing more of it into our lives.

When I asked my mom recently what she thought a simple life looked like and how I could create more of it, she encouraged me to think about the roles I wanted to play in my life. It flies in the face of what Eckhart Tolle writes about, but I think it’s kind of a clever, side-door way of getting at the heart of the question. What do you want to occupy the most space in your life? Artist, friend, mother, breadwinner, athlete, advocate, leader? You can keep your life simple, she suggested, by keeping those primary roles top of mind in the choices you make each day.

What would a simpler life look like to you? This is not a rhetorical question. Because while I feel drawn to the concept, I also feel unsure of what its real-life application looks like in a busy, messy, full, and super-connected world. I’m still working it out myself, but a simple life to me is tidy and organized, lived within my means, and low-stress. I have stream-lined systems that provide ready answers to what to wear and what to make for dinner. I have a regular routine, with time carved out for creativity and exercise, weekends filled with friends, family and nature. A simple life also has to have some whimsy and bouts of adventurous fun, or else it may start to feel too spartan. And that wouldn’t do.

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March 7, 2013

What I’ve Been Reading

Suite Francaise

In the dining room (the only place the stove was lit) and in Lucile’s room, where she sometimes took the liberty of lighting a small fire in the evening, you could smell the smoky perfume of sweet wood, chestnut bark. The dining-room doors opened out on to the garden. It looked its saddest at this time of the year: the pear trees stretched out their arms, crucified on wires; the apple trees had been cut back, and their branches were rough, twisted and bristling with spiky twigs; there was nothing left on the vine but some bare shoots. But with just a few more days of sunshine, the early little peach tree in front of the church would not be the only one covered with flowers: every tree would blossom. While brushing her hair before going to bed, Lucile looked out of her window at the garden bathed in moonlight. On the low wall some cats were howling. Beyond was the countryside, its secret, fertile valleys thick with deep woods, and pearl-grey under the moonlight.

The Mermaid of Brooklyn

Major Pettigrew's Last Stand

The Snow Child

“Dear, sweet Mabel,” she said. “We never know what is going to happen, do we? Life is always throwing us this way and that. That’s where the adventure is. Not knowing where you’ll end or how you’ll fare. It’s all a mystery, and when we say any different, we’re just lying to ourselves. Tell me, when have you felt most alive?”

Twelve Tribes of Hattie

 E. L. Doctorow once said that “writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can see only as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” You don’t have to see where you’re going, you don’t have to see your destination or everything you will pass along the way. You just have to see two or three feet ahead of you. This is right up there with the best advice about writing, or life, I have ever heard.

And you?

March 1, 2013

Forgetting and Remembering

I wouldn’t call it a health kick, because I ate three and a half slices of pizza last Tuesday night, even if it was with a side of kale. But I do find myself on the yoga mat more nights than not or watching my breath rise and fall even as I sit at my desk. I bought a cheap bottle of lavender essential oil on ebay and pour it into a hot bath with epsom salts a few times a week. And I find myself sinking into novels that take me out of myself. (World War II will put just about any set of travails into perspective.) I think what I would call it is a self-care groove. I am trying to make my home, my weekends, and the hours that bookend work as supportive and replenishing as possible.

“When there is a crisis,” a friend told me Tuesday night (before the pizza), “there’s enormous potential for change.” I find that true for myself in the past couple months as I’ve been met with emotional upheaval and stress, the specifics of which I’ll save for another day. But we all know what that feels like, in whatever form it’s taken in your own life, to be rocked to your core.

What I find so perverse about my own situation is how much I love its thick silver lining. A crisis can put everything into relief. What I care about, what’s important, what truly matters–those things stay. Connecting in meaningful ways. Cooking good, simple food. Taking thoughtful care of myself, my life, and the people in it. But whatever is toxic, draining, and inconsequential I just don’t have the energy or patience for. There’s no room for it right now. Even those words don’t quite capture the black and white sense that drives my life right now. Let me try again: life’s been edited down to my own version of the essentials. All that matters is what matters.

So what does that look like? I try a little harder to keep the house tidy so that in the evenings, when I light the taper candles in the windows and on the coffee table, there’s a real sense of calm in our home, a needed foil to whatever the day has served. I say no to social things sometimes, when I know what I need is to not spend $70 on a night out, but to make a big pot of grains for the week and climb into bed a little early. I wonder with one breath if my friends think I’ve gone boring, and with the next breath I let it go. There’s no room right now for that kind of worrying.  “It’s extremely clarifying,” my mom said to me one sunny morning on the phone. It was the word I’d been looking for.

There are times in my life when I’ve successfully done what’s best for me. As I get older, it seems a little easier (at times!) to not be quite so self-defeating. I find myself struggling a little less with the question that’s long plagued me: why is it so hard to do what’s good for you? But there’s something a little deeper going on right now. The choices I’m making feel important. I think what I’m talking about is life at its most nourishing. A walk in the park on a cold afternoon isn’t just me, squinting in the sun and navigating around slicks of mud. It feels like something more, like embodying my best self, or stepping into the flow, or doing what some part deep within me, beneath the shoe choice and the hair style and stretchy jeans, wants to be doing.

Sometimes I feel like this blog tracks my journeys as an Odysseus-like traveler, out into the world of distractions and proving oneself, and then home again to something more meaningful. I circle back to the same ideas over and over and declare “aha!” each time. But maybe that’s just the nature of navigating through this world looking for meaning. We remember what’s important, have moments of clarity, and then over time, forget again. Tara Brach said recently that there are moments of extreme clarity in life: when a baby is born, when someone is dying, when we say our wedding vows. But there are smaller moments too, like when we are chopping vegetables for a meal with friends, or when we allow ourselves a few moments before we launch into the day to sit quietly with our breath, or when we are riding the bus and look out the window and can hardly fathom the brightness of the blue sky. We remember.

There have been quite a few moments recently when standing at the cutting board in our poorly-lit kitchen I had such a contented feeling. One of those times was a couple weeks ago, when I had Monday off and spent the morning baking a cake for old friends coming over who we hadn’t seen in much too long. Peeling the apples, chopping them, listening to the low hum of the mixer beating eggs, oil, and sugar into a rich, sweet batter kissed with cinnamon–there was a sweet, steadying rhythm to it, not unlike how I felt on that walk in the bright and muddy park. Something inside our body knows, even before our heads do, when we’re on the right track.

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