Thursday, January 28, 2010

Ta Da! My New Book :)

It's here!!! Well, almost. My second book, A MAZE OF GRACE: A MEMOIR OF SECOND CHANCES, has cover art, and its own page on makes me think, "Wow, this is really happening!" and do happy dances of glee in the kitchen, even when the shades are up and all the neighbors can see.

I love this cover best of all the ones I've had so far. I grew up near the beach in Maine, so that feels really right. And in the many (many) times in my life when I've felt completely off track and directionless, the beach is where I've gone to recalibrate. I'm not sure exactly what it is (I suspect it has something to do with God, what with the big ocean, the waves, and the endless grains of sand) but I always leave those times of staring out at the horizon with a sense that things really will turn out okay, even if I don't know what "okay" will look like.

So yay for inspiring beach scenes! And a huge thank you to all of you who have encouraged me that this day, and this book, would come. A MAZE OF GRACE will be out in June, just in time to read while you're on the real beach (or on a lawn chair in the backyard, pretending to hear the waves...)

A few words of shameless beach book promotion: I've learned that in the world of publishing, pre-orders are super-important in terms of determining how long my beach scene says on shelves, and whether I'll have chances to write more books. So if you're so inclined, click here to secure a copy now! (And know that if I could, I'd buy you each a puppy to express my thanks!)

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Packing my bags

I'm taking a trip on an airplane next week, and it will be the longest stretch of time I've had to read in what feels like forever. Given that I've heard vicious rumors of mean flight attendants who won't let passengers go to the bathroom for something like five hours before landing, it seems like some sort of deep distraction will be key.

Help me, blog friends! What books should I bring? I'm open to anything: novels, memoir, humor, horror (okay, I take that back...please no horror. Or, now that I think of it, stories about planes that crash...)

I did a Google Image Search for "suitcase full of books" and it turned up this picture. I think it represents Steve, pulling me away from the Borders kiosk at the airport...

Monday, January 25, 2010

Happiness Day 10: Enthusiasm

Today's Happiness Project topic is a spectacular follow up to Friday's post on Barry Manilow: Enthusiasm.

I love enthusiasm. I think it's because of my parents. My mom is the single most determined to like everyone she meets person I've ever known. If you have the good fortune to encounter her (particularly if you're a girl, and provided her oxygen tank is working correctly) she'll find some way to compliment you within the first fifteen seconds of making your acquaintance. Do your socks match this morning? My mom will cheer you on for the fine effort.

My Dad is less effusive, but still he taught me the value of enthusiasm one afternoon with a single sentence. We were driving down the road on some sort of errand when we passed one of those small sporty cars that was just TRICKED OUT with accessories. You know the looked like it had run away from the circus: florescent wiper blades, blinking lights around the license plates, rims that spun in two different directions to make the car look like it was taking off. Need I mention that the muffler had been tweaked to ensure that the engine could be heard over the booming bass from the stereo? It was quite the multi-sensory experience. I was about to make some snide comment like, "Wow Dad, I bet you'd love it if I dated that guy..." when my father made a wise observation that changed my point of view:

"I kind of envy that kid," he said with a smile. "He gets more enjoyment out of that car than I probably get from anything in life..."


As Gretchen Rubin points out, it takes effort to be enthusiastic. It requires a certain suspension of snark that allows some innocent enjoyment to seep back in to our psyche. That's my goal today: to be unabashedly enthusiastic about things I'm tempted to be too cool for. (I'll start by admitting that if ESPN covered baton twirling competitions, I'd be starring in my own sparkly version of BEST IN SHOW...)

Friday, January 22, 2010

He's Playing My Song

I woke up this morning with Barry Manilow's "Daybreak" running through my head. It reminded me of the most unfortunate gym class of my elementary school years, where an earnest substitute teacher had choreographed what can best be described as a "fabric dance" to this song, and tried to teach it to a room full of fifth graders. Not Barry's finest moment.

But it also made me realize that that is the tone I'm looking for this weekend: Easy listening. No heavy metal. No classic rock. No Fergie, Britney, or Lady Gaga. To be honest, I even need a break from folksy singer-songwriter laments I'm usually so fond of. Just some happy thoughts to a gentle rolling rhythm, a big smile, and Barry reminding me to Let it shine, shine, shine, all around the world... I mean, check out this video of Barry in concert, talking about how with everything going on the world, we need his music. To which I say: You're right Barry!!! We need you!!!

But if I see a giant swatch of yellow fabric, I'll resist the urge to pick it up and twirl it around.

(And yes, I'm slightly concerned that a week from now I'll be searching iTunes for elevator music...but I have to believe that a bit of Barry will help me bounce back, rather than regress. We'll see.)

Who is singing the soundtrack for your weekend?

Monday, January 18, 2010

Happiness Day 9: The Rules

One of the things that surprised me in THE HAPPINESS PROJECT was Gretchen's assertion that deep inside, we each have something called Heuristics we use to navigate daily life. Heuristics, she explains, are mental rules of thumb--the quick, common sense principles we develop & use to make decisions. She goes on to point out how highly personalized our individual heuristics are. Hers, for example, included things like, "Never eat hors d'oeuvres" and "I'm in a hurry." So as a general rule, she'll pass on the scallops wrapped in bacon at a cocktail party, and move quickly through her daily tasks to get to the next thing on her list. Time has shown that she's happier with her life when she follows these simple principles, rather than making in-the-moment decisions each time a choice is called for.

This got me thinking: what are my rules? It took me awhile, but I came up with three:

1. Smile at people.
2. Never get on a subway or an elevator if I have to go to the bathroom.
3. If I see plain white t-shirts in my size, buy them.

There you have it, my hard-won rules for better living. They're rather self-explanatory, so I won't elaborate :) But I'd love to add to the list. Suggestions?

What rules do you have for everyday life?

Friday, January 15, 2010

Happiness: Good Guys/Bad Guys

This week's super-fun thing: The awesome Gretchen Rubin was here in Boston doing an event for her book, and I got to hang out with her over coffee & sandwiches. My own little happiness project, right in the pub of a fine Boston hotel :)

Now Gretchen and I have exchanged enough emails over the past few months about each others' memoirs and blog posts that it almost felt weird that we were just now meeting in person. One of my favorite things in life is to meet a fellow author and discover that they really live what they write...when their "platform" is who they actually are in real life. Spending time talking with Gretchen about love, happiness, writing, reading, promotion, etc., showed that she's the real deal. So I did an extra happy dance when her event that night was PACKED, and the long line of folks waiting to have her sign their books gave hope to the idea that the book-buying world is alive and well. It's fun to see friends succeed. My one regret is that I failed to take a picture.

It made me think a bit, though, about the risk in meeting people we admire. Because there have been those rare occasions where I've had it go the other way: where I looked forward to chatting with an author whose work I enjoyed (or hearing what s/he had to say in a workshop) only to discover that s/he was a narcissist, or delusional, or just sort of mean. I try to give folks some slack in these moments--we all have days we would prefer not to be remembered by. But to be honest, these times happen so rarely (most authors really are amazingly cool people) that I haven't had much of a strategy to deal with it. It's like it sends me into the five stages of mourning: I'm shocked, and then go into denial and think "Maybe I heard wrong...", then I find myself, a week or so later, throwing his/her books away because now they just bum me out.

BUT here's my BIG HAPPINESS REALIZATION for this week: part of happiness maintenance is having a strategy to deal with disappointment when people let us down. So I'm working on one. I think meeting Gretchen helped me, strangely enough: Now I can genuinely say I'm a fan of both her and her book. I'll keep it handy (along with books by other cool author peeps) and reach for it quickly when I need to be reminded that the good guys outnumber the bad guys by a significant margin. Part of happiness, I see now, is making smart choices about what we dwell on.

Fun Question for You: Have you met an author/actor/politician/otherwise public person and had him or her exceed your expectations? Share!

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Happiness Day 8.5: Building Blocks

Inspired by this awesome post from my friend Swishygirl on life's simple pleasures, I decided to stick to this theme of passion for another day. Partly because it sounds sexy ("I'm blogging about passion today...") but more because it makes me happy.

I'm captivated by a quote from THE HAPPINESS PROJECT, where Gretchen describes her realization that, "I was happier when I accepted my own real likes and dislikes, instead of trying to decide what I ought to like..."

Do you wrestle with this? Lately, whenever I read something that says EVERYONE should do this one thing to find fulfillment/save the planet/get in shape/live forever, I've noticed that about 88% of the time, it makes me want to crawl under the bed and hide. Not because the suggestions are's just that they feel bad for me. They're mostly things I don't want to do. (And don't even get me started on the slew of "What EVERY writer must do" advice. Yikes and Ugh.)

It makes me wonder: What if we're all different? What if part of why we're alive today is to discover how we're made, and one or two creative ways of operating optimally? Seeing the picture above makes me realize that we make choices about the "bricks" we use to build each day: are they things we really love, or things we feel we should love? Obviously, we can't change everything (teeth must be brushed, bills must be paid) but most of us can change a few things, right?

I'll start by coming clean: Here are A few things I should like, but don't: Grim, meaningful books and movies. Washing out the peanut butter jar to recycle. Composting. Crocs. Skinny jeans. Actors/Actresses who are kind of shmucky in their personal lives. Dentistry. Flying. Poetry.

But more importantly, here are a few things I totally love beyond all reason: Happy ending memoirs. Sandra Bullock movies. Ugg slippers. Flannel jammie pants. So You Think You Can Dance. Disco. Crosby, Stills & Nash. Treadmills. The ocean. That my niece has requested that I come to Maine and teach her how to do a cartwheel. The Ann Taylor Factory Store. Long drives. Twitter.

And...that I'll be having coffee with the awesome Gretchen Rubin tomorrow afternoon! I'm pretty excited about that :)

Do me a favor: help me believe it's not just me! What's on your list of things you should like but don't? What do you absolutely love??? Let's reconsider some of the bricks we're building with.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Happiness Day 8: Passion & Treasure

Happy Monday! Today's Mini-Happiness Project is one of my favorite themes: Pursue A Passion. I love this kind of big-dream stuff, but (confession) I'm not always good at translating it into tangible results. And on the other end of the spectrum, I know that for some folks the whole idea of "what is my passion?" can be daunting because it's so impractical. I met a very cool woman last week who described how she's never been much of a dreamer. "When things happen in my life," she said, "it's more from me being discontent with the present than from my having a big dream for the future." It reminded me--again--how differently we're all wired; how part of any happiness project is figuring out how we work (even if it looks different from every other person we know).

Gretchen offers a great question to suss out our passions: "What do you CHOOSE to do when you have a chunk of free time?" She describes something that totally hit home for me: how she'd love to be someone who is really outdoorsy and adventurous...but the ideal Saturday morning for her is when she and her family are all inside in their pajamas, reading.

From this realization, she pursued book-related passions for a month. My favorite is that she learned online publishing technology, and made books of some things important to her: her daughter's baby book, a collection of quotes, etc. I love this! The HIT of Christmas this year for our family were photo collections Steve put together using a new program on his MacBook. They came out beautifully, and it's pretty amazing to have something so tangible to hold in your hand, about something you really care about. (Passion + Tangible Product = Jolt of Happiness) So...

Have you guys seen the ad on Blogger offering to make a book of our blog posts? How cool is that? My plan for today is to explore that. I don't think anyone else would be thrilled to have a printed collection of my blog posts from the past 3 years. But I would treasure it. And my theory is that anytime you can pick up a treasure for $30 or so, you should do it :)

How about you: Do you know your passion? Is there something tangible you can do to pursue it (you know, like a treasure)?

Friday, January 08, 2010

Happiness Day 7: Napping: A Spiritual Practice?

I've been laughing ever since last night as I've thought about this blog post. Today's Mini-Happiness Project is officially called "Contemplate the Heavens." Gretchen did this in inspiring ways: she read memoirs of catastrophe, kept a gratitude notebook, and imitated a spiritual master. It was this last one that caught my attention. When I thought of who I'd like to imitate, the main person who came to mind is my mother. She'd never consider herself a spiritual master, but she's genius about one area of life management in a way no one else I've ever met or heard of is: She naps.

Ever since she was in her mid-30s, my mom has taken a mid-day siesta. It's not optional for her--it's as regular a part of her every single day as eating dinner or brushing her teeth. People who know her well schedule around it: we don't call during those hours, or expect the UPS man to be able to deliver a package. And as a result, she is one of the few human beings I know who gets enough sleep.

So as I think about imitating a spiritual master, this is what comes to mind for me. Sleep is this key thing we all need, and yet I regularly structure my life in a way that prevents me from getting it. And I LOVE sleep--it's not like it's this onerous chore. It's FUN to crawl into a warm soft bed at the end of a long day. This afternoon I'll experiment, and see if a few moments of forbidden sleep, captured in the middle of the day, might be even better.

I kind of dig the idea of napping as a spiritual practice :)

Could you do this? Would you? What would it look like to nap for an hour after work, and then get on with the rest of your evening?

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Happiness Day 6: Purchase Power

"Buy Some Happiness" is probably my favorite chapter title in THE HAPPINESS PROJECT. It's blunt, straightforward, and unexpected (not because we don't try this all the time, but because it's so un-PC to admit it). I love that Gretchen is willing to explore the extent to which we can use currency to get us where we want to go.

It made me think of how most of us have picked up some odd little indicators that make us think, "That's what you have when you're rich." I remember one day, back when I worked for the New York Times bestselling author: We were in her kitchen making breakfast and talking about some new political development when I noticed this set of jars on her counter. They were clear, and filled with nuts: cashews, pecans, almonds. I love nuts. I'd never seen them in such profusion in one person's house. They were decorative AND edible! It amazed me to see how, as we chatted away, she'd just reach over, grab a jar, and pull out an handful. I wasn't poor at the time--I was four years out of law school--but I couldn't imagine that kind of wealth.

You can bet that the minute Steve and I got back from our honeymoon, I got a set of those little Oggi Canisters and made a little nut collection of my own. It still makes me happy.

My dad tells a similar story about seeing a wealthy aunt eat sliced grapefruit from a can when he was a boy. All his life, even though intellectually he knows better, canned grapefruit has represented wealth and even decadence to him. Strange stuff, this.

What if we can leverage these little proclivities for good? What if we can buy happiness? Last night when I couldn't sleep, I considered what other things buy me a little jolt of joy by providing that "I feel rich!" feeling: A full tank of gas in the car is strangely exciting to me (it's like, "I could go ANYWHERE!"). As is any trip to the bookstore where I emerge with a bag full of new ideas between two covers. I love having enough of the basics: underwear, soap, etc. (having extra toothbrushes on hand makes me feel more like a successful adult than my law degree ever has). And prompted by the other day's magazine exploration, I sent in a couple of new subscriptions. Magazines make me feel rich.

I'll be at an all-day conference today, so won't be doing much shopping. But I want to keep thinking about this question of how we can buy some happiness. I think it's worthwhile.

How about you: What makes you feel rich? Do you think happiness can be bought?

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Happiness Day 5: Friends

It's Friendship Day! I love this little segment of my Mini- Happiness Project. I so agree with Gretchen (and pretty much all the happiness research ever done) that investing in relationships is a great way to increase my feeling that life is on the right track.

Last year around this time, I took a test that revealed something surprising: that I'm not the most relational person around. I guess it wasn't all that strange; I've always noticed that some people are just instinctually better at recognizing those key moments when a friend needs something, and knowing exactly what to do. I'm not that girl. But I'm determined. I care a great deal about the people in my life (and, I guess, people generally). I want to deepen those bonds. And as I learned with my brief/clumsy/nonetheless successful career in high school gymnastics, determination covers a lot of ground when you lack natural ability!

My favorite part of this chapter is where Gretchen lists Four Strategies she devised to be more generous. They're highly adaptable, and brilliant:

1. Help people think big. I love doing this with the two favorite things in my life: writing and romance. Here's my deep, profound philosophy: If some people get published, and some people find great love, why not you? (Don't answer's rhetorical!) Gretchen reminded me to focus more on this sort of encouragement.

2. Bring people together. A great way to accomplish #1, right?

3. Contribute in my way. I love Gretchen's focus on how individual we are--that we need to be ourselves, using our unique set of likes and talents, for new things to make us happy over the long haul. So I won't convene a craft group, as I don't really dig crafts. But gathering friends for a fabulous author book signing here in Boston (scroll down to Jan. 13)? Or to write together here in Cambridge (more information coming soon)? Or to talk about Spirituality & Relationships (details to come)? That I can do :)

4. Cut people slack. This is a key--for me at least--to happiness. When someone is rude to me, or thoughtless, or demanding, my happiness either spikes or plummets in direct relation to how I choose to interpret their actions. Slack for others=happiness. The math really is that simple (and how I love simple math!)

This is a partial list. What would you add to it? What builds great friendships?

Monday, January 04, 2010

Happines Day 4: Magazine Fun

Oh, the irony! Today's Mini-Happiness Project is "Be Serious About Play"...and it falls on the first day of my Ann Patchett-inspired challenge to be more serious about work. Um...hmmm. I was baffled about how to bridge this gap until I came across one of the genius ideas Gretchen shares about how she got back in touch with what she really likes to do.

First, a confession: I think Gretchen's best "finding the fun" idea is "Think about what you liked to do as a child." But my answer is "Baton twirling...and pretending to accept the Olympic Gold Metal in gymnastics (allowing the metal to be placed around my neck, singing along to as much of the national anthem as I could remember, the double-hand overhead wave to the crowd). Sadly, I won't have time for either of those today...

So the great idea for fun TODAY is to explore three magazines about things I don't often (or ever) think about. I love this. It dovetails beautifully with an article in yesterday's NY Times about keeping brain function up by learning about new things or perspectives. So I'm on it. But I need your help!

I don't have time for a jaunt to the store today (and Steve has the car). So I need magazine suggestions. Currently, I subscribe to Oprah, The New Yorker, Men's Journal, and Cooking Light (if I finally remember to send them their $15).

What should I add? Gretchen read VERY diversely: an equestrian magazine about healthy horses, another about crafts, and one about spirituality. Help me expand my horizons--What are your favorite magazines? Is there something I'm missing on, say, healthy, crafty, spiritual horses?

Friday, January 01, 2010

Happiness Day 3: Aiming Higher

Happy, Happy, Happy, Happy, Happy New Year!!!!

I'm excited about 2010, feeling like good things are afoot. Like almost everyone else, I'm thinking about goals and resolutions, and how to get from where I am to where I want to be. So far, the best strategy I've come upon is something my niece and nephew taught me last week while discussing Wii Archery: When the target is a really long way away, they said, the secret is to aim higher.

Aim higher. (That's also, coincidentally, the next chapter in THE HAPPINESS PROJECT.) Me thinks it's a perfect image for 2010.

Now at first, I wasn't sure how to aim higher, given the level of risk we took on last year. How much bigger could I go than a U-Haul and a complete change of everything? But then I heard the niece and nephew discussing archery, and it all fell into place. My REAL dreams are still huge--and seemingly miles and miles away. There's no way an arrow shot from where I'm standing will even reach the target. So I need to recalibrate. Aim higher.

I'm still figuring out the specifics. What I know so far is that it will include writing everyday on a real schedule, like it's my job (thank you Ann Patchett, for pointing out that it is), and hosting a lecture/conversation series about the intersection between spirituality and relationships (because that's what my friends and I talk about all the time anyway). I'm excited for 2010. Aiming higher feels fun, rather than daunting. Hooray for that!

Want to join my little archery club? Take aim!
What are you shooting for? Lift your arrow a bit. Let's let gravity work for us this year :)