Virtual mentors and finding your thing

Doesn't everyone dream of packing up and moving to Paris? (Raising my hand and nodding vigorously.) A few years ago Sharon Eubanks decided to do it.  Just like that she quit her job, sold her house, and moved to Paris to find her dreams. Live it vicariously with her in this TED talk where she talks about "slowing down the frantic pace of modern life to find creative energy, purposeful acts, and meaningful relationships." And she realizes in the process that you don't need Paris to get there:

"I'm on a train, it's early spring and I'm looking out the window and I see men and women out in fields and they're getting the ground ready to plant and they're trimming vines and they're getting ready for this great act of faith. They're going to plant. They're going to plant olives and they're going to put in grapes and they're going to have this harvest, which would be later on. As I look at them, I realize: I feel like that. I feel like I'm ready to do some great act of faith where I've kind of thawed out, I've kind of prepared the ground. I'm ready for it. But what is it? What is that thing? And as I thought about that conscious "I'm ready" all of the sudden--you know how the Salt Lake valley gets inversions...and then you wake up the next morning and it's just crystal clear?--it was like that. It was just crystal clear....And it didn't have to do with an exotic place. What it did have to do with was slowing down."

. . .

I have this mental list of virtual, long-distance life mentors. I draw inspiration from their examples and think of them as my pantheon of enlisted advisors, an imaginary council of women (mostly) and men who provide a wide range of inspiring examples to follow and motivation to proceed. Learning about their struggles and paths and processes helps me keep trudging along on mine. Maira Kalman, Madeleine L'Engle, Esther Peterson, Julia Child, Anne Lamott, Anna Quindlen, Catherine Thomas, Brene Brown, Louis Armstrong, Eugene England, Samantha Power, Lowell Bennion, Emma Lou Thayne, Madeleine Albright (the list goes on and on and of course includes people I know in real life, too) all have a seat at the table.

I think Sharon Eubanks might be the newest candidate. She has a really cool and meaningful job as the director of an international humanitarian organization, speaks articulately about my religion's doctrine regarding women, and just seems to be an all-around cool human. 

What about you? Who are your virtual life mentors?

"Life begins to divulge a steadier destination"

I inherited a copy of The Letters of EB White at some point. The copy I have is satisfyingly tattered, a book that my parents gave to great-Grandma Brockbank in 1977 (the inscription is on the inside cover) and then later, meandering down through the line, it was given to me.

I'll admit I've harbored a little long-held literary crush on Elwyn Brooks White. It started, of course, with Charlotte's Web and The Trumpet of the Swan. I can’t get enough of his New England wit and quick humor, his ease with sentiment and words. I knew he could write well but his letters provide this open window to his personal relationships and reveal much more of his warm soul and side glancing winks.

On Being* recently posted the following letter that re-sparked and reminded me of my EB White fangirlhood. Mr. White wrote it to his young niece, Judy, in the midst of her uncertainty about her life's path. Who hasn't been there at some point? Who wouldn't love to get a letter like this? 

"I know just how you feel, Judy. Frustration is youth's middle name, and you mustn't worry too much about it. Eventually things clarify themselves and life begins to divulge a steadier destination. In a way, our lives take form through a simple process of elimination. We discard what we don't like, walk away from what seems to inspirit us. My first job was with the United Press, but I knew within half an hour that my heart was not in it and that I would never be any good at gathering straight news under great difficulties and with the clock always running out.

Your majoring in English was no mistake, even though you do not become a critic or a publisher's assistant or a playwright or a novelist. English and English literature are the rock bottom of our lives, no matter what we do, and we should all do what, in the long run, gives us joy, even if it is only picking grapes or sorting the laundry. 'To affect the quality of the day, that is the highest of arts.' I agree with Mr. Thoreau himself a victim of youthful frustration. You seem to me a girl whose head is on straight and I don't worry about you, whether you are majoring in English or in bingo. Joe, my son majored in English for two years at Cornell, then realized that what he really liked was boats. He transferred to M.I.T., took a degree in Naval Architecture and now owns and operates a boatyard in Brooklin — hauling, storing, and repairing and building boats. Keeps him busy 24 hours of the day, and keeps him outdoors, where he prefers to be.

We've just had three great gales here and are still picking up the pieces and sawing up the fallen trees. Aunt K. is not well, and there isn't much the doctors can do for her, as her trouble is in her arteries.

Thanks for your nice letter — I wish I could write you a better reply, but your question is essentially unanswerable, except by yourself, and you supplied the answer when you said you wanted to live fruitfully and honestly. If you truly want that you will assuredly bear fruit and be an adornment to the orchard whatever it turns out to be.

With love,
Uncle Andy

*Have you discovered the wonderful radio show/podcasts/blog called On Being with Krista Tippett? The conversations and interviews with interesting people mostly center on belief (it was originally called "Speaking of Faith") and "what does it mean to be human and how do we want to live." It's a gem.

Channeling Nora

Photo: Hilary McHone in NY Magazine

Photo: Hilary McHone in NY Magazine

You know the question about who would be on your ultimate imaginary dinner party guest list if you could invite five people from any era? Nora Ephron always makes my list.  In fact, she has long been a charter member of the group of outstanding women I would like to grow up to be--or at least be like. If this imaginary group had a name it would be something like The Society of Dames of Wit and Panache. Right now I'm in early training, nothing but a pledge, a wannabe, a plebe. Give me another decade or few and with any luck I'll get there.

A few months ago Nora's son, Jacob Bernstein, published a wonderful tribute to his mom. In it, he recounts her final weeks, when even then she maintained her signature humor:

Sunday, June 24, was a pretty good day. The sun was shining, and Mom spent most of the afternoon on a couch in the front of her room, doing the crossword puzzle with Max. Binky was there, as was Richard Cohen and his companion, Mona. Amy stopped by with her husband, Alan. “We’re going to the Guggenheim,” Amy said. “Do you want anything from the outside world?”

“Sure,” my mother said. “A de Kooning.”

Another thing she requested was a pineapple milkshake, so Max brought one from Emack and Bolio’s, made from fresh pineapple. But as far as my mother was concerned, a milkshake is one thing that’s actually better with crushed pineapple. Dole.

“When I get out of the hospital, I’m going to go home and I’m going to make a pineapple milkshake with crushed pineapple, pineapple juice and vanilla ice cream, and I’m going to drink it and I’m going to die

,” she said, savoring the last word. “It’s going to be great.”

 . . .

The weekend I read the article, the boys were out of town on a scout campout so I enlisted Maddy in my quest for an impromptu Nora tribute day, complete with pineapple milkshake. Get ready, the recipe is fancy. (Can this even be called a recipe if there are only two ingredients?

1. Throw 4-5 scoops of vanilla ice cream in the blender.
2. Pour in some Dole crushed pineapple, including some of the juice. 
3. Blend and pour into glass(es). Serves two. Or one. No one will know.

So grab your teenagers, put on an Ephron movie, raise a glass of pineapple deliciousness, and deliver your favorite Ephron lines like these (extra points if you can name where these lines originated): 

  • "It was a million tiny little things that, when you added them all up, they meant we were supoosed to be together..and I knew it. I knew it the very first time I touched her. It was like coming home, only to no home I'd ever known. I was just taking her hand to help her out of a car and I knew. It was like...magic."
  • "I wanted it to be you. I wanted it to be you so badly."
  • "That's your problem! You don't want to be in love. You want to be in love in a movie."
  • "Don't you love New York in the fall? It makes me want to buy school supplies. I would send you a bouquet of newly sharpened pencils if I knew your name and address."
  • "When I buy a new book, I always read the last page first, that way in case I die before I finish, I know how it ends. That, my friend, is a dark side."
  • "When your children are teenagers, it's important to have a dog so that someone in the house is happy to see you."
  • "When you realize you want to spend the rest of your life with somebody, you want the rest of your life to start as soon as possible."

And my favorite: "Above all, be the heroine of your life, not the victim."

I realize you might not be as *cough* obsessive *cough* as I am, but just in case you are, here are a few good things for a Nora Ephron tribute day of your own: