Present Over Perfect by Shauna Niequist

Present is living with your feet firmly grounded in reality, pale and uncertain as it may seem. Present is choosing to believe that your own life is worth investing deeply in.
— Shauna Niequist

In our frantic, overwhelming, too busy world, what does a heart-centered life look like?  For each of us it’s different, of course, because it’s dependent upon what’s in our hearts, whomever and whatever truly reside there.  But it’s very likely – perhaps a guaranteed certainty – that the things we give importance to in our lives are not the same things living in the softest part of our heart.  This is the journey inward that Shauna Niequist chronicles in her book, Present Over Perfect: Leaving Behind Frantic for a Simpler, More Soulful Way of Living.  A collection of thought-provoking essays, Present Over Perfect explores the discoveries we make when we slow down, simplify, and choose to live with more grace and intention.

Sink deeply into the world as it stands. Breathe in the smell of the rain and the scruff of the leaves as they brush across driveways on windy nights. This is where life is, not in some imaginary, photo-shopped dreamland. Here. Now. You, just as you are.
— Shauna Niequist

In that most tender area of the heart, Niequst discovers, there are not numbers – the ones we exert ourselves hoping to see on a bank slip or a scale – and there is no obsession with status, with organized homes or perfect, social-media-ready lives, enviable careers and grandiose square-footage.  In that space these things cannot survive because what’s there wasn’t meant to sustain them: love was not made to give power to consumption, financial gain, social success, and external pleasures.  What brings us most fully to life is the love evoked by grace, by family and friends, love born of soul-work and stillness.  To go into the quiet simplicity of that love in many ways goes against what modern society would have us do: it’s choosing minimalism over excess, frugality over frivolity; and yet, as Niequist discovers on the challenging journey toward intention, this is the truest, most compelling road to freedom and wholeheartedness.

In her luminous, lyrical voice, Niequist sheds the layers of life that our culture piles on, uncovering something raw and wonderful underneath.  She engages the reader in her own insightful ponderings as she reacquaints herself with her unique understanding of God, of work, marriage, motherhood, and self, all seen without the trappings of the many shoulds and oughts in which we so frequently indulge.  What she reveals, as much to herself as to the reader, is the greater depth of living, the powerful connectedness and emotionality to be found down the road so infrequently taken.  And the result is a gift of insight and inspiration to the reader, an invitation for us – at whichever point in our life we might find ourselves – to follow our hearts down the lesser worn path and into the quiet vulnerability of true fulfillment and authenticity.

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Masterpiece: To Walk Invisible: The Brontë Sisters

  To Walk Invisible: BBC/Matt Squire 2016

To Walk Invisible: BBC/Matt Squire 2016

Among the many women who became giants throughout the history of literature, none appear quiet as formative as the Brontë sisters. Condemned to live as free-thinking women in a man's world, the Brontës - steadfast Emily, passionate Charlotte, and sensitive Anne - famously wrote under pseudonyms that led publishers and audiences to believe they were men, seemingly the only path available to them that would allow them to write freely and publicly. Determined to support their family and themselves, the sisters published in a way that would allow them to be taken seriously and to not be judged or shamed for their aspirations; yet, they could never be themselves. Nonetheless, their legacies have managed to carry on through history not as the brothers (presumably) Bell, but as the sisters Brontë, where they serve as beacons of quiet courage and resilience for generations of passionate women across world-changing new territory.

Written and directed by Sally Wainwright, the two-part film To Walk Invisible: The Brontë Sisters, which aired earlier this month on PBS as part of the treasured Masterpiece program, offers enthusiasts of the Brontës unprecedented access to the indomitable spirit of each sister. The film is a captivating portrait of the lives of these three visionary women and their tortured brother Branwell. A poet in his own right and every inch the haunted artist, perpetually unwell Branwell careens through his own life in a tragic spiral of drinking, adultery, and mental instability as his reverend father and three compassionate sisters endeavor to help him, each never quite able to give up on the brilliant but devastatingly troubled man. In many ways Branwell's life represents all the societal privileges the women would not be allowed. Despite his frequent scenes of public embarrassment, Branwell is nonetheless able to submit his writing for publishing, a situation that would incite ridicule on the women. Regardless of this, their love for their brother compels the sisters to strength as their resulting passion for their family, including their ailing father, ultimately illustrates in their character their powerful, capable, and deeply authentic humanity.

  To Walk Invisible: BBC/Matt Squire 2016

To Walk Invisible: BBC/Matt Squire 2016

Iconic performances by a superb cast make this drama especially unforgettable. Portrayed by Chloe Pirrie and Finn Atkins, respectively, Emily and Charlotte come to life in the way their readers have always imagined they might, while the lesser-known Anne, played by Charlie Murphy, is finally given equal standing beside her larger-than-life sisters. As Adam Nagaiti's heartbreaking Branwell rages and ravages through much of the film, the viewer finds in him what his fathers and sisters always saw, and they too never cease to hope for better things for him. In the role of the Reverend Brontë, Jonathan Pryce is characteristically enchanting as a man devoted to his children and admirably dedicated to the good qualities of each. Perhaps one of the most powerful scenes involves a revelation from Charlotte and her sisters to the Reverend, from which viewers likely won't escape with a dry eye. The rawness of their realities is captured in much the same way the sisters portrayed real life in their novels, and we love them all the more for it.

At its heart, To Walk Invisible is the story of a family, and the lengths to which these passionate sisters will go to sustain it. They never reveal their identity to their brother, fearful of his instability and aware of the fact that they had achieved what Branwell’s demons kept himself from achieving. With Charlotte as Currer, Anne as Acton, and Emily as Ellis Bell, the Brontë sisters go on to secretly publish Emily’s legendary poetry followed by such novels as Wuthering Heights, Agnes Grey, and Jane Eyre. The audience grows deeply attached to the unique spirit of each sister, relating to some dominating emotion individual to each of them. Brilliantly captured through Wainwright’s thoughtful writing, the film unveils perhaps the most intimate experience of the Brontë family that we’ve yet to know. It's unquestionably essential viewing for Brontë enthusiasts, and a powerful reminder of the empowering courage of three revolutionary women.

To Walk Invisible will be available on Tuesday, April 11th from PBS on DVD and Blu-Ray.

see the film:

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Sweet Lake by Christine Nolfi

Romance, family, and the art of being true to oneself are at the heart of Christine Nolfi’s latest novel, Sweet Lake.  Moving from the fictional town of her treasured Liberty series, Nolfi gives her readers a new piece of quaint Ohio country charm in the little hamlet of Sweet Lake, where devoted daughter Linnie Wayfair is struggling to manage the family inn after her wayward brother caused a financial calamity in the town years earlier.  Now, with Linnie finally feeling like her luck with restoring the inn is changing, a new wind finds her scandalous brother blown back into town from his lucrative Hollywood career. As if it's not enough to be protecting her inn from her brother’s heartbreaking reputation, Linnie also finds herself handling heated conversations with her parents, Florida retirees with old fashioned views of women and work. Add to the mix an untimely relationship with a handsome lawyer, and Linnie's life is at full overload.  Enter the Sirens, Sweet Lake’s own unforgettable hippy-dippy Golden Girls who delight in midnight beach romps and especially helping the good people of Sweet Lake find their way in life, and in love.  As Linnie’s story unfolds, Nolfi once again proves her unique skill for creating worlds that readers will quickly and comfortable slip into.

One of my favorite things about Christine Nolfi’s stories is the colorful way she paints her characters and how vividly they come to life for the reader.  This, combined with a knack for sentiment and chemistry between her characters, makes Sweet Lake an escapist pleasure while also reaching a tender place of heartwarming honesty.  From Linnie’s budding romance with the impossibly charming attorney Daniel Kettering to her friction-laden relationship with her brother, there’s no shortage of opportunities for Nolfi to explore the bonds of love and family, and the vulnerabilities we risk in order to see them truly thrive.

Perhaps most unforgettable are Sweet Lake’s sassy, spirited Sirens who practice “kindness given in secret,” a particularly warm and wonderful hallmark of the novel's greater message.  Whether by voodoo antics or intentional heart-to-hearts (over mojitos, no less), the Sirens are a wealth of wisdom that guide Linnie in the most delightful way.

True to her credit as a teller of inspiring stories, Nolfi vividly unravels a portrait of a small town with soul which readers will cherish the opportunity to revisit.