Archive for December, 2012

Jesse Kornbluth, of HeadButler.com, with a gift of personal peace.

Thich Nhat Hanh doesn’t use a telephone, so when I interviewed him for America Online, I had to pick him up and drive him to the office. TNH practices “walking meditation.” That is, he walks very slowly, breathing very consciously, so that every breath and step become prayers. I knew this. And walked very slowly. But not slowly enough. Every ten paces, I had to stop and go back.

That is not because I am a speedwalker, but because I’m not truly mindful. My loss. For as TNH points out:

The Buddha confirmed that it is possible to live happily in the here and the now — even if you still have lots of pain and sorrow within yourself. Mindful breathing helps you become fully alive. And when you are really there, you can touch all the wonders of life that are available in this very moment for your enjoyment…for your nourishment…and for your healing
.

This is a very happy man presenting a joyous view of life. You think Buddhism is nihilistic because it lacks a God-figure and does not offer a road map to eternal life? Well, listen to this:

This body is not me. I am much more than this body. The space of 50 or 60 or 70 years is not my lifespan. It is not true that I did not exist before I was born. It is not true that I will no longer exist after the disintegration of this body. My ground of being is the reality of no birth, no death. No coming, no going. It is like water is the ground of being of a wave. The wave might be afraid of being or non-being. But if she knows that she is water, she will lose all her fear. Nothing is born…nothing dies. Birth and death cannot really touch us. If you know that, you will be able to enjoy every second of your daily life — even if you are in terminal illness.

I take great comfort in those words. And in the notion that meditation can be as simple as a conscious in-breath, a conscious out-breath. And that the key to everything is to be wide-awake — to be “mindful.” [To buy the paperback of “Essential Writings” from Amazon, click here. For the Kindle edition, click here.]

Who is Thich Nhat Hahn? He became a monk in Vietnam at 16. He studied Zen (no, Zen is not just a Japanese strain of Buddhism), but in an “engaged” form, so, in the early 1960s, he founded the School of Youth for Social Services — a Vietnamese Peace Corps — to help his war-battered countrymen. A university and a magazine followed.

In 1966, TNH’s non-violent appeals caused him to be exiled from Vietnam. He taught at Columbia University, then founded a retreat in rural France called Plum Village. He comes to America about once a year and gives lectures in a voice so quiet and peaceful you have to lean in to hear him.

His themes resonate deeply for me:

Do not be bound to any doctrine, theory, or ideology, even Buddhist ones… Avoid being narrow-minded… Truth is found in life and not merely in conceptual knowledge…. Do not force others to adopt your views… Do not avoid contact with suffering…. Do not maintain anger or hatred… Do not live with a vocation that is harmful to humans and nature.

Dreamer? TNH is the ultimate realist. “Do not believe that I feel that I follow these precepts perfectly,” he says. “I know I fail in many ways. However, I must work toward a goal. These are my goals. No words can replace practice, only practice can make the words.”

It has long been clear to me that this peace starts with the personal — before I can help others create peace, I must be at peace within myself. Over time, I have found that TNH is the teacher who best helps me do this. Maybe you will find that to be true for you as well.

TNH is prolific. Where to start? Easy: a 163-page paperback, “The Essential Writings.”

Categories: authors, Blog, Books, Jesse's Book Reviews, Uncategorized | Tags: | 2 Comments »

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Hello English Muse readers! Karen from A Simple Cup of Tea once again. I know that everyone is very busy with the holidays but I wanted to share this lovely Mark Twain quote with you all.

The holiday season is always jam-packed with events and parties and obligations. I find myself rushing from one place to another, and this year even more than usual with my impending move. It’s so worth it to take the time to look around and identify all the kindness that surrounds us.


And the thing is that kindness is present in the small things. It does not need grand gestures or heaps of money. It can be as simple as texting your best friend to let him or her know you’re thinking about them, making your partner or parents a cup of tea, giving your sibling an extra big hug when you see them.

Happy holidays everyone!

 

Image credit: here

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Some of my favorite books as a child were literal picture books – no words, just pictures. Every time you “read” the book you make up a different story to go with the pictures.

This is kind of like that.

Yusuke Oono created a cut paper book that captures a bit of Christmas.

I love this so much, it is beautiful and delicate, elegant and festive, a perfect snippet of Christmas.

I can imagine using this book to invent a story, maybe a new one each year.

I also love how tiny it is – just a little snippet, small enough to fit in a pocket.

 

Have a magical Tuesday,

Sarah from Design Flourishes

all images from here

via My Modern Met

Categories: Blog, Books, illustrations | 4 Comments »

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Twenty-six names

Dec 16, 2012

Hello English Muse readers! Karen from A Simple Cup of Tea once again. There is not much I can say about what happened in Connecticut right now. I tried at my blog but don’t feel like I was very succesful.

So instead of rambling on in my own words I wanted to share this beautifully moving tribute that Jason Robert Brown wrote for the 26 victims of the Newtown shooting. It made me tear up, mostly because he finally puts the attention where it should be: with those lovely children and adults who lost their lives on Friday.

I hope you all had a peaceful and loving weekend.

 

Picture credit: here

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Tradition

Dec 13, 2012

December is many things for me.  For most of my twenty-four years of life, it has meant a break from school.  It means an excuse to buy those little things that remind me of the people I love and an excuse to visit the bookstore an extra time or two on the pretense of purchasing gifts for others.  And every year, when I finish classes, it means I take a little trip to my favorite bookstore and pick out something fun to read.

It’s a little out of my way, so I don’t get there too often and each visit is special.  I don’t care much for driving and especially don’t care for driving in traffic; thus, winding my way through the Highlands and up Frankfort Avenue is a little bit of an adventure in testing my nerves.  Thank goodness I don’t live in a bigger city.  When I arrive and park just down the street, I always breathe a little sigh of relief and feel a slightly childish grin creep across my face: I’m here, and I’m not leaving without a new (used) book!

As soon as I enter, I tend to forget exactly which book I am looking for and get distracted by the shelves of fiction and poetry and everything else.  On my visit last week, after I had gone to my very last class of the semester, I picked up at least ten or so books before I spotted The Tiger’s Wife on a shelf and remembered that I put it on my to-read list a year ago.  I had just enough cash on hand for one title, so with a sigh of resignation, I only bought that one book.  Thankfully, it’s been quite a good one.

Do you have any favorite places to find books?  And do you also get lost in the shelves?

 

Until next Thursday, now that I have time to write again…

Katie

(Unwritten, Untitled)

Categories: Blog, Uncategorized | 3 Comments »

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Jesse Kornbluth, of HeadButler.com, this week raving about an astonishingly great animated film.

The best holiday stories are fables. “Believe,” they instruct us. “Love,” they dare us. “Trust,” they implore us.

And the child in us — connecting with the child who inspired the holiday — responds. “Yes,” we say, eyes misting, because we so want it to be true. And because, looking down at our kids, we feel we know that it is true.

Sometimes the fables work right through the holidays. Sometimes they inspire us whenever we dip into them.

Chris van Allsburg’s classic Polar Express has that power.

And so, in spades, does “The Snowman.”

The 23-minute animated film was adapted in 1982 from the 32-page book by Raymond Briggs.

Don’t know Briggs? There’s a reason. He’s English — and he works as a freelance illustrator, book designer and writer of what are known as “children’s books.” They’re anything but. Oh, kids adore them — when our daughter was 3, she could watch “The Snowman” half a dozen times — but they function quite well, or maybe even better, as books for adults. [To buy the DVD from Amazon, click here.]

The first reason for the appeal of “The Snowman” is its deceptively simple story. A boy in rural England builds a snowman. At midnight, as the boy looks out his window, the snowman lights up. The boy runs outside. He invites the snowman to tour his home. Then the snowman takes his hand. And off they fly, over England, over water, to the North Pole.

Santa gives the boy a scarf. The boy and the snowman fly home. As the boy is going inside, the snowman waves — a wave of goodbye. The boy rushes into his arms and hugs him. The next morning, the snowman’s just a few lumps of coal and an old hat.

Did that magical night really happen? The boy reaches into his pocket and finds the scarf. He drops to his knees and, almost as an offering, places it by the snowman’s hat.

A desolate ending? Yes and no. Yes, if you get stuck on the facts: the boy’s alone again. No, if you are taken by the boy’s magical experience with a special, secret friend — he’s been given a night of exquisite sweetness that will forever be his to cherish. That’s not too deep for kids; they’ll be more fixated on the magic than its loss.

Then there is the artistry. This is not machine-driven animation — Briggs works with colored pencil. “I once kept a record of the time it took to do two pages,” he told an interviewer. “Penciling — 20 hours. Inking — 18 hours. Coloring — 25 hours. And all that’s after months of getting ideas, writing and planning.”

And the feelings in “The Snowman” couldn’t be more personal. The boy’s house? That is Briggs’s own house and garden in Sussex. The flight over the South Downs and the top of Brighton ‘s Royal Pavilion to Brighton Pier — those are old Briggs haunts.

The final appeal is to beauty. The film begins with Briggs walking across a field, talking about the snowstorm. From then on, the film is silent, except for a song. It is called “Walking In The Air,” and it is life-changing — the sequence when the boy and the snowman start to fly and the song comes in is one of the greatest moments in film. Period.

I once had a job helping several hundred people be better writers. There were two hobby-horses I rode continually: “Whenever you use the word ‘hopefully,’ you are using it incorrectly. And there is no such thing as ‘perfect.’” I was wrong. There is perfect. “The Snowman” defines it.

Categories: Blog, Jesse's Book Reviews, Uncategorized | Tags: , , | 2 Comments »

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Hi there, it’s Naomi Bulger from Messages in Bottles. Today I wanted to share with you some happy mail that I’ve been sending out to readers of my blog. I love to draw little pictures on the envelopes, and I try to make them as special as possible with string and wax seals and different things. I like to imagine what it must be like to receive something like this in the mail, instead of just the usual bills (if your mailbox is anything like mine).

I have a couple of pen pals and receiving mail from them makes my day (week, month). And in sending out these packages, I’ve learned just how many more of us out there long for the old days of snail mail. There is something so special and tangible about actually getting a real letter in the mail. Taking your time with it. Sitting down with a cup of tea and reading it slowly.

Plus, every time I send out more packages with pictures on them like these, it makes the lady in the post office smile.

Categories: handmade, illustrations | 19 Comments »

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Every year on the 8th of December the city of Lyon, France celebrates the Festival of Lights (Fête des Lumières).

It began in the 17th century – during a particularly horrible plague the city council swore to pay tribute to Mary if their town was spared. The town lives, and so does the festival in Mary’s honor.

Citizens traditionally light candles in the windows of their homes, and in addition to the religious lighting displays, there are many professional, municipal installations.

It looks like every type of light can be found somewhere in the city. From fires to huge floodlights to lasers to digital projection onto the building facades.

Not surprisingly, the festival has become a huge tourist draw, they were expecting over 4 million people at the four day event this year.

All these photos are from this year’s festival. The variety of displays is amazing.

The city is beautiful all year long, but during the festival it literally shines.

I have never been, but every year I look at the photos and sigh…

Have a lovely Tuesday,

Sarah from Design Flourishes

 

all images from the official Fête des Lumières website

Categories: photographs, Travel | 4 Comments »

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Well, it’s that time of year when our house starts to look more and more like the North Pole each day, and tonight, I plan on getting out my collection of Christmas books. So I thought I’d share a few with you…

Jingle Bells and Santa’s Toy Shop are definitely two of my favorite Christmas children’s books! In fact, this Fall I bought extra copies of each to use in some decor. (You can see the 1st of those projects, a wreath, by clicking here or over on DIYNetwork’s website.)

Christmas at the New Yorker is a fantastic collection of holiday essays that my mother-in-law got me years ago. It is one of my absolute favorite books to read on a December evening… glass of bourbon in hand, of course.

The Curious World of Christmas is a fascinating book full of little facts and stories. It’s the perfect thing to have sitting on your coffee table for guests who are waiting on dinner.

Do you remember reading The Best Christmas Pageant Ever when you were in elementary school? I loved it!

This version of The Night Before Christmas illustrated by Douglas Gorsline may be my favorite. These are the pictures & details that are vivid in my mind every time I hear the poem recited.

Each year, around this time, I pick up Little Women. The first time I read it was in winter and that first chapter by the fire with all of the March sisters never ceases to give me the coziest of feelings.

The Berenstein Bears’ Christmas Tree was my absolute favorite when I was little. I don’t think I will ever get tired of reading it. In fact, I was reminded of it again today when I read about Rachel’s family trekking through the woods in search of a tree for Sebastian.

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So now, I must ask, what are your most-beloved Christmas books?

For a little more Christmas reading, click over to Secrets of a Belle.

Until next week, xo*,
Hannah B. 

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Jesse Kornbluth, of HeadButler.com, desperately amused to have been “right” so early. [Here, just out is the TIME rave.]

Sometimes you read a book and it fills you with this weird evangelic zeal, and you become convinced that the shattered world will never be put back together unless and until all living humans read the book.

Hazel Lancaster says that in “The Fault in Our Stars,” a novel that leaps off the page and makes you think of those books in your life, and more — that this book knows you so well it reads you. That’s a pretty neat trick.

But that’s not John Green’s best trick. That one is astonishing: Days after I finished reading his book, I was still shaking. Family and friends would confirm that “The Fault in Our Stars” was all I could talk about. I hated that I’d read it because there was nothing I wanted to do more than read it again for the first time.

Two facts make this a very unlikely obsession:

1) This is a Young Adult (YA) novel — a book for teenagers.

2) Both main characters are teenagers who have cancer.

But it’s not like this is some kind of cheesy teenage “Love Story.”

It’s more like “The Fault in Our Stars” is the best novel — the smartest, most clever, most emotional-but-not-exploitive adult novel — you’ve read in a long, long time, but somehow kids found out about it first and claimed it as their own. Which they have done, big time, and in astonishing numbers. Last year, while he was finishing it, Green announced the book could be pre-ordered; it immediately shot to #1 on the Amazon and Barnes & Noble lists. And when “The Fault in Our Stars” was finally published, it opened on the New York Times list for Children’s Chapter Books at #1 and stayed there for five weeks. Three months after “The Fault in Our Stars” was published, NPR did a survey of the best YA novels… ever. “The Fault in Our Stars” came in at #4. [To buy the book from Amazon, click here. For the Kindle edition, click here.]

Why the love?

Simple as this: John Green doesn’t write teenagers. He writes smart, funny, verbal, real people who happen to find themselves in young bodies. This is fortunate, because the young — the best of them, anyway — are brimming over with Thoughts and Ideals and Questions. They… just… care. Deeply. As we used to care before we grew up and found ourselves playing games that had more to do with Success and Money than Truth and Eternity.

Yeah, but this is “a cancer book.”

No. It isn’t. Hazel, the 16-year-old narrator, is very clear about that, and she ought to know. When she was 13, she almost died, and there was that grim scene in the ICU when the cancer was joined by pneumonia and her mother asked “Are you ready?” and she said she was and her dad was trying not to sob and then — surprise, surprise — her cancer doctor managed to drain her lungs and she got admitted to a trial for a drug that didn’t work 70% of the time but it worked in her, and now she’s 16 and going to Wednesday night Support Group meetings.

Is Hazel going to tell you a story that becomes a cancer book?

No way.

“Cancer books suck,” she says. “Like, in cancer books, the cancer person starts a charity that raises money to fight cancer, right? And this commitment to charity reminds the cancer person of the essential goodness of humanity and makes him/her feel loved and encouraged because s/he will leave a cancer-curing legacy.”

She knows better. That’s because she has a favorite book — the book she‘s an evangelist for — called “An Imperial Affliction,” and in that book, the main character “decides that being a person with cancer who starts a cancer charity is a bit narcissistic, so she starts a charity called The Anna Foundation for People with Cancer Who Want to Cure Cholera.” A bad joke, but you get the idea: “Cancer is a side effect of the process of dying, as is almost everything, really.”

That attitude makes Hazel an unlikely candidate for romance, but one Wednesday at Support Group she meets Augustus Waters, who is 17 and shockingly handsome. He had “a little touch of osteosarcoma a year and a half ago,” and half of one leg had to be amputated, but he’s fine now. The only reason he’s come to the meeting is to support a friend who will, in a month, have both eyes removed.

Augustus isn’t put off by the tubes in Hazel’s nose or the oxygen tank she drags around with her. To him, she’s “a millennial Natalie Portman. Like ‘V for Vendetta’ Natalie Portman.” To her, he’s “a tenured professor in the Department of Slightly Crooked Smiles with a dual appointment in the Department of Having a Voice That Made My Skin Feel Like Skin.”

Love, in short. But it doesn’t come easily and it doesn’t happen fast. There is considerable uncertainty, in fact, given his romantic past and her terminal condition. So they talk about Magritte, Zeno’s tortoise paradox, Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. They make jokes about their friends in the world of the professionally ill: “I’ve gotten really hot since you went blind.” They share odd facts: There are about 98 billion dead people.

At last they open to one another. Their romance is epic, and then some, and they’re not ashamed to cop to it. And, along the way, they slip in terrific little truths, lines that make you reach for a pen: “You don’t get to choose if you get hurt in this world, but you do have some say in who hurts you.”

You’ll notice that I’m not saying much about what happens in this novel. A lot does, and you don’t see it coming — there is a surprise every few pages. And then you get to page 313, and it’s over. How did that happen? How did you smile so much? How did you cry so hard and yet feel cleansed and triumphant at the end? And if John Green is so good, why does he write YA novels?

Here’s the cheat sheet on Green: He’s got a huge and sincere interest in kids. He’d like to “increase awesome and decrease suck,” so he and his brother launched a web site for kids called Nerdfighters, which looks very much like a real community that hasn’t yet been discovered and ruined by media. And Green and his brother make frequent videoblogs. In one of them, he talks about the job he used to have: as a chaplain in a children’s hospital. And he recalls the wisdom of his boss: “John, don’t just do something, stand there.”

I’m sure you understand what that means. There is a time for bustling and helping, and then there is a time for standing there and bearing witness. Reading “The Fault in Our Stars” is like that. A few compelling characters, a smart plot, snappy dialogue — of course you’ll witness that. And in the witnessing of a romance that makes huge declarations and enormous promises, the book gets to you; as Gus and Hazel fall in love with one another, you fall in love with them. And when, really, was the last book you can name that did that for you?

It’s not a cancer book. Cancer books suck. This book does everything but.

BONUS VIDEO

John Green was a friend of Esther Earl, a kid who was the inspiration for Hazel. This was the videoblog he made after she died. The title: “Rest in Awesome, Esther.”

Categories: Jesse's Book Reviews, Uncategorized | Tags: , , | 1 Comment »

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Getting Lost

Dec 04, 2012

I just spent a pleasant 10 minutes getting lost in these amazingly complex drawings – intellectually I can understand that colored pencils could create such detailed images, but this amount of beauty is astounding to me.

These are from new-to-me local LA artist Art Venti.

If you are looking for a gift for the art lover on your list I would like to point you to Saatchi for holiday present needs.

You can buy original fine art or prints like this one:

or this one:

Have a beautiful Tuesday,

Sarah from Design Flourishes

 

All images from Saatchi Online (I don’t work for them I just like the art)

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Hello, English Musers!

Today I just wanted to write a quick post to let you know that Grace Coddington’s new autobiography, Grace: A Memoir, is absolutely wonderful! We were so blessed to get to go to Nashville this weekend and to hear the creative director herself. (more on that here), and she was absolutely charming. So, if you can, be sure to pick it up. It will be a lovely distraction from all the Christmas chaos, I promise!

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going back to my book!

Sincerely,
Hannah B.

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