Storytelling and narratives
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Books well-loved

In every work of genius we recognize our own rejected thoughts; they come back to us with a certain alienated majesty. Great works of art have no more affecting lesson for us than this. They teach us to abide by our spontaneous impression with good-humored inflexibility then most when the whole cry of voices is on the other side. Else tomorrow a stranger will say with masterly good sense precisely what we have thought and felt all the time. – Ralph Waldo Emerson, via Snarkmarket

Emerson has marked my life. On a tender afternoon in Cairo years ago, between hugs and giggles, I started bringing up one of Emerson’s passages on happiness in Self-Reliance. “Emerson once said…”, I began and Elijah stopped me with a kiss and some indignation. “Emerson once said?! Emerson? Really? Now?” A few months later, I received a hand-made card, whose pages consisted of sheet music. On one page, the following words were scribbled:

Emerson once said… I love you… 

I now know that when Emerson resurfaces in my life, I need to pay attention. And in the quote Snarkmarket selected above, Emerson perfectly describes the process of nodding enthusiastically while reading familiar truths expressed masterfully by a stranger and a kindred spirit at once. Emerson came back to me when I read Christine Mason Miller’s Ordinary Sparkling Moments: Reflections on success and contentment. 

My most beloved books are life stories: personal essays, memoirs, biographies that pierce the veil of “I shouldn’t write about this” and talk to the reader as though she were sitting across the writer at a coffee table. We sit with Christine through this book as she speaks of kindness, to self and to others, of entrepreneurship and success, of ideas and creativity, of friendship and loneliness and fear and companionship and love. She does all this with words like these:

Or these:

What most moved me about Christine’s book is that it is a book well-loved. Christine made every page. Not ‘wrote’, not ‘typed’. She created all of it: the background, the handwriting, the collages, the details behind every collage. Every mark on the page, from the illustrations to the layout to her actual handwriting, came from her. In this post on her website, she even discusses observing the printing press churn out her creation. And then after she made them, she sent them out into the world lovingly with her 100 Books Project, planting copies around the world for strangers to discover and chronicling this process of sharing a work of love.

In short, she made magic.

Every page made me want to linger a little more: First I took in the words, then I poked at the background, then I tried to identify all the layers of paint, of color, of materials, of meaning. This book made me want to love and reminded me of truths I thought I knew and lived by, but had never quite articulated myself — indeed, as Emerson said, “great works of art […] teach us to abide by our spontaneous impression then most when the whole cry of voices is on the other side.”

On a recent trip to Cuba, a beloved friend and colleague and I were talking about what our ‘one word’ would be. You know, the word that permeates and imbues all we do and all we are and all we hope to be. Hers was ‘create’, an honest reflection of her spirit, her drive, her idea-filled soul, her desire to leave something in this world. She looked at me, smiled, and said “yours is ‘love’, isn’t it?” Our words — create, love, learn and all the other words Cuba and that conversation had room for — co-exist harmoniously in Christine’s book and they find company among other words: fear, inspiration, desire, friendship, beauty.

This book made me want to return to what is true, to what I know, to what I want to learn. It made me want to make a well-loved book of my own. When the still pages of a book come alive and stir in you a longing to experience the sheer joy of creation, when they motivate you to leap and to love, then you know that you have not simply finished a book. You have made a life companion.

***

So, tell me: In which ordinary moments do you find joy?

Leave a comment and I will draw one reader at random to win a copy of

Ordinary Sparkling Moments: Reflections on Success and Contentment. [also available here]

You may also visit Christine at her site: http://christinemasonmiller.com/

The give-away will close on Friday, September 16th at 5 PM EST. 

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