"A book must be the axe for the frozen sea inside us" - Franz Kafka

“A book must be the axe for the frozen sea inside us” – Franz Kafka

I know that life is busy and hard, and that there’s crushing pressure to just settle down and get a real job and khaki pants and a haircut. But don’t. Please don’t. Please keep believing that life can be better, brighter, broader, because of the art that you make. Please keep demonstrating the courage that it takes to swim upstream in a world that prefers putting away for retirement to putting pen to paper, that chooses practicality over poetry, that values you more for going to the gym that going to the deepest places in your soul. Please keep making art for people ilk me, people who need the magic and imagination and honesty of great art to make the day-to-day world a little more bearable.

And if, for whatever reason, you’ve stopped–stopped believing in your voice, stopped fighting to find the time–start today.

–Shauna Niequist, Cold Tangerines 



The Tao of Tea

Me and my cup of Irish Breakfast. Is there any pleasure greater?

Tea … is there anything better than the assured pleasure of a good cup of tea? Bernard-Paul Heroux said, “there is no trouble so great or grave that cannot be diminished by a nice cup of tea,” and I tend to agree.

Tea is the sacred elixir of secrets. It’s steeped inspiration. In a dainty teacup or a hearty mug (such as I prefer), it holds sips of bliss, energy, repose, whatever is needed to greet each day. When tea is shared amongst friends, the tiniest details become soothing ritual and contain hidden gems. Waiting for the water to boil, waiting for the tea to steep to perfection … in a world of instant gratification, the simple act of making tea draws us gently back to simplicity, to an art practised in ancient times.

I’ll let you in on a little secret, because I’m enjoying a steaming mug of Earl Grey in the warmth of this spring afternoon and the birds are chirping and it’s quiet and I’m feeling candid: one of the things that endeared someone to me was the way they made me a thermos of tea to take on the road one morning, and they looped the teabag string around the thermos handle to prevent the bag from falling in. Perhaps they didn’t think anything of it, but that tiny gesture, to me, spoke volumes of sweet thoughtfulness.

When I see people gathered over pots of tea, I feel like I’m witnessing the true connection of souls. My thoughts on tea could possibly be labeled as romantic and sentimental, but I believe there’s pure poetry in the way we prepare our tea, magic in the warmth it spreads to our bodies and our hearts. I believe that the way each individual takes their tea reveals multitudes about the person themselves. I like my tea extra strong and of the black variety (think: English Breakfast, Irish Breakfast, Orange Pekoe, or Earl Grey), sweetened with milk and sugar, teabag in to maintain its strength. What does this say about me? Courage and resilience, tempered with just the right amount of sweetness? It’s possible …

How do you prefer your tea? What does it reveal about you?

Tea is medicinal, to the body and the soul, and an important cultural activity, from the ancient Chinese and Japanese to the United Kingdom. Clearly I’m not the only one who has waxed poetic over the wonders of tea:

The Philosophy of Tea is not mere aestheticism … for it expresses conjointly with ethics and religion our whole point of view about man and nature. It is hygiene, for it enforces cleanliness; it is economics, for it shows comfort in simplicity rather than in the complex and costly; it is moral geometry, inasmuch as it defines our sense of proportion to the universe — Kakuzo Okakura, Book of Tea

Tea is more than an idealization of the form of drinking, it is a religion of the art of life — Kakuzo Okakura, Book of Tea 

The mere chink of cups and saucers tunes the mind to happy repose — George Gissing

If man has no tea in him, he is incapable of understanding truth and beauty — Japanese proverb

Find yourself a cup of tea; the teapot is behind you. Now tell me about hundreds of things — Saki

All true tea lovers not only like their tea strong, but like it a little stronger with each year that passes — George Orwell

Drink your tea slowly and reverently, as if it is the axis on which the whole earth revolves–slowly, evenly, without rushing toward the future — Thich Nhat Hanh

You can never get a cup of tea large enough or a book long enough to suit me — C.S. Lewis

While there’s tea, there’s hope — Sir Arthur W. Pinero

There are few hours in life more agreeable than the hour dedicated to the ceremony known as afternoon tea — Henry James

A cup of Awake tea and Elizabeth Gaskell

 And now my friends, it’s just about lunchtime. After that, a cup of tea. So goes the day …

Hopelessly in Love with Spring

It’s April 18 and it looks like Christmas outside. Mother Nature, why must you have PMS? I just took Sammy for a walk and the poor thing was shivering once we got inside so I had to wrap him in a towel. I wore my winter coat and my mittens and I am going to be dusting off my winter boots for when I meet with a friend for lunch. I put away all my winter clothes weeks ago to make room in my closet for my spring/summer wardrobe.

All of those disjointed thoughts are just proof that I’m desperate, anxious, and craving spring! April showers are all well and good and make me feel cozy and British, but April snow is a slap in the face.

Anyway, I need some spring quotes and pretty pictures to chase these “post-winter blahs” away!

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“If we had no winter, the spring would not be so pleasant; if we did not sometimes taste of adversity, prosperity would not be so welcome” — Anne Bradstreet

“Every spring is the only spring–a perpetual astonishment” — Ellis Peters

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“Spring has returned. The Earth is like a child that knows poems” — Rainer Maria Rilke

“To be interested in the changing seasons is a happier state of mind than to be hopelessly in love with the spring” — George Santayana

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“If you’ve never been thrilled to the very edges of your soul by a flower in spring bloom, maybe your soul has never been in bloom” — Terry Guillemets

“Let all thy joys be as the month of May” — Francis Quarles

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“April hath put a spirit of youth in everything” — William Shakespeare

But also …

“April is the cruelest month” — T.S. Eliot in “The Wasteland”

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“The day the Lord created hope was probably the day He created Spring” — Bern Williams

“If I had my life to live over, I would start barefoot earlier in the spring and stay that way later in the fall” — Nadine Stair

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“Spring in verses, verses in spring” — Violet Gartenlicht

“The seasons are what a symphony ought to be: four perfect movements in harmony with each other” — Arthur Rubenstein

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Fill your Paper with the Breathings of your Heart

I think I’ve written more creative things these past few months than I have since my NaNoWriMo experiment/disaster. I’m being intentional about it because I have some lofty goals I’ve set to accomplish and I’m also making up for lost time.

I feel like I can really identify with this quote by Russell Baker, which was featured on my Google homepage today:

The only thing I was fit for was to be a writer, and this notion rested solely on my suspicions that I would never be fit for real work, and that writing didn’t require any.

Well, I can identify up until the last point. If anything, I’ve learned that writing is really hard work and those fleeting moments of inspiration are so hard to pin down. Sometimes I let my fear of rejection from potential publishers dampen my creativity or spend too much time agonizing over the tight-knit Canadian literary scene and what they’re looking for, certain I’m not it. Things like reading the bios of hot young writers/poets (many of whom are younger than I am!) and their extensive list of published works and creative accomplishments can be discouraging and depression-inducing.

To my writer friends out there: how do you push past these mental blocks and produce work? Do you have a controlled environment in which you write? A time of day when you’re the most creative and productive? Positive affirmations? Magic elixir that helps translate the jungle of your brain smoothly onto the page?

And that’s another thing. Sometimes I feel like all of the beautiful language is floating around somewhere, just beyond my reach. Like there’s all of these surprising metaphors and heart-stopping adjectives that I can’t grasp. They wander around in my head like phantoms and vanish when I try to write them down (nasty buggers!). I envy writers like Colum McCann and Kazuo Ishiguro who make writing seem so effortless and yet come up with the most luminous lines.

Colum McCann is also a babe, and totally belongs on my Sexy Authors list!

Needless to say, I need some encouragement. What better place to find it than from other writers?

There’s nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and open a vein — Walter Wellesley “Red” Smith

And by the way, everything in life is writable about if you have enough outgoing guts to do it, and the imagination to improvise. The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt — Sylvia Plath

I would hurl words into this darkness and wait for an echo, and if an echo sounded, no matter how faintly, I would send other words to tell, to march, to fight, to create a sense of hunger for life that gnaws at us all — Richard Wright

If there’s a book you really want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it — Toni Morrison

Fill your paper with the breathings of your heart — William Wordsworth

The pages are still blank, but there is a miraculous feeling of the words being there, written in invisible ink and clamoring to become visible — Vladimir Nabokov

Easy reading is damn hard writing — Nathaniel Hawthorne

The story I am writing exists, written in absolutely perfect fashion, some place, in the air. All I have to do is find it, and copy it — Jules Renard

Every writer I know has trouble writing — Joseph Heller

Writer’s block is a disease for which there is no cure, only respite — Terri Guillemets

Writing is a struggle against silence — Carlos Fuentes

Every creator painfully experiences the chasm between his inner vision and its ultimate expression. The chasm is never completely bridged. We all have the conviction, perhaps illusory, that we have much more to say than appears on the paper — Isaac Bashevis Singer

Writers are not just people who sit down and write. They hazard themselves. Every time you compose a book your composition of yourself is at stake — E.L. Doctorow

One must be drenched in words, literally soaked in them, to have the right ones form themselves in the proper pattern at the right moment — Hart Crane

It’s impossible to discourage the real writers — they don’t give a damn what you say, they’re going to write — Sinclair Lewis

Winter Winds, Warm Fuzzies, and the Wisdom of Winnie-the-Pooh

stepped out through the melting nights, took care in the common light

Winter’s coming and I’m craving softness and loveliness. Warm sweaters and acoustic music, feel-good books and the crackling fire, quietly productive mornings and restful nights. I’ve decorated my room for Christmas and have hung twinkling fairy lights on my bed. I’ve eliminated sugar from my diet and despite feeling grumpy and craving all of the cranberry bliss bars and peppermint mochas of the season, I feel more balanced and whole.

I’ve recently acquired VUZE and have thus far downloaded Bombay Bicycle Club’s acoustic album “Flaws,” “White Water, White Bloom” by Sea Wolf (my new favourite band of life), stuff by Said the Whale, Cave Singers, and Loch Lomond, and the Dark was the Night album. My acoustic-loving, indie-folk heart is happy. I’ve decided to get over my hatred of winter and invest in warm sweaters, leg-warmers, and moccasin slippers so the coldness won’t turn me into a grinch.

I’ve resolved to embrace winter with sweater-clad, tea-sipping arms, with enough beautiful music to get me through, a body/mind made more sane by a sugar-free diet and plenty of yoga, and Christmas cheer.

… And quotes. There’s nothing quite like a good quote to give you the warm fuzzies. Here are some of my current favourites:

Who will tell whether one happy moment of love or the joy of breathing or walking on a bright morning and smelling the fresh air, is not worth all the suffering and effort which life implies — Erich Fromm

In the midst of winter, I finally learned there was in me an invincible summer — Albert Camus

And of course, Winnie-the-Pooh:

“Promise me you’ll always remember: you’re braver than you believe, and stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think” — Christopher Robin to Winnie-the-Pooh

Don’t underestimate the value of Doing Nothing, of just going along, listening to all the things you can’t hear, and not bothering.

If you live to be a hundred, I want to live to be a hundred minus one day, so I never have to live without you.

Poetry and Hums aren’t things which you get, they’re things which get you. And all you can do is to go where they can find you.

Rivers know this: there is no hurry. We shall get there some day.

When late morning rolls around and you’re feeling a bit out of sorts, don’t worry: you’re probably just a little eleven o’clockish.

He may be a silly old bear, but he sure is wise!

Hey winter! Hit me with your best shot!

Don’t worry so much about “supposed to”

Juliette Binoche and Johnny Depp in Chocolat (2000)

We can’t go ’round measuring our goodness by what we don’t do, what we deny ourselves, what we resist and who we exclude. I think we’ve got to measure goodness by what we embrace, what we create, and who we include.

Mmmmm … Chocolat. One of my favourite things in life and one of my favourite movies of all time.

I spent this rainy autumn Saturday in an indecisive grump, torn between doing what I was “supposed to” do (finesse CV, make important appointments, work out, research different career paths, work on novel, &c.) and doing what really needed to be done on my first real weekend off in … ever (recuperate from migraine, relax sore muscles from work, rest, rejuvenate, relax, refresh, &c.)

So much cognitive dissonance. So little giving my mind a break from the constant drill-sergeant orders to do, do, do.

Sounds like a song.

And so I said to hell with it and got some dark chocolate, rented Chocolat, and spent the evening curled up on the comfy couch in my PJs with the dog and got completely lost in the charming movie which stars Juliette Binoche as Vianne, one of my female cinematic heroines (which is another blog for another time).

The end result? I am happier, inspired to write, and the headache is almost gone, which could have been healed by the chocolate or the much-needed rest, or perhaps a combination of both.

My appetite for France and all things French has also intensified to the point of yearning. Thanks a lot, Chocolat and Beauty and the Beast and The Elegance of the Hedgehog and A Novel Bookstore! Someday I will visit you, France.

That’s a promise.

More on Happiness

happiness is not a fleeting butterfly

” … people universally tend to think that happiness is a stroke of luck, something that will descend upon you like fine weather if you’re fortunate enough. But that’s not how happiness works. Happiness is the consequence of personal effort. You fight for it, strive for it, insist upon it, and sometimes even travel around the world looking for it. You have to participate relentlessly in the manifestations of your own blessings. And once you have achieved a state of happiness, you must never become lax about maintaining it, you must make a mighty effort to keep swimming upward into happiness forever, to stay afloat on top of it. If you don’t you will leak away your innate contentment. It’s easy enough to pray when you’re in distress but continuing to pray even when your crisis has passed is like a sealing process, helping your soul hold tight to its good attainments.”

–Elizabeth Gilbert, from Eat, Pray, Love