Sunday, March 27, 2016

“How To Be Here”

The blurb for a new book is from Chico’s Aaron Rodgers: “Rob Bell has an incredible energy in his writing that is contagious. … Listing all the ways in which Rob has positively impacted my life would take up too much space; so I’ll simply say that he has inspired me to live life with a deeper level of appreciation and to love people with a greater awareness of our connectivity.”

In “How To Be Here” ($25.99 in hardcover from HarperOne; also for Amazon Kindle), Bell, a former pastor and now host of the weekly RobCast podcast (, offers, as the subtitle says, “A Guide To Creating A Life Worth Living.”

He remembers trying to write a book. “The blinking line on that blank page kept blinking, like it was taunting me. There’s a reason it’s called a cursor. We all have a blinking line. Your blinking line is whatever sits in front of you waiting to be brought into existence.”

“The kind of life you lead,” he writes, “what you do with your time, how you spend your energies—it’s all part of how you create your life.” To make his point, Bell uses Biblical stories (focusing especially on Jesus) and contemporary illustrations, all suffused with encouragement and humor, like the reference to his high school neighbor Tad, “the drummer for the band Puddle Slug (they later changed their name to Rusty Kleenex to, you know, appeal to a wider audience)….”

Bell explores (and exposes) the dead ends we find ourselves facing. How do we creatively deal with suffering, rejection, burnout? In nine sections, some with colorful titles like “The Dickie Factor” and “The Exploding Burrito,” the author proposes creating a life shaped by rest (the rhythm of the sabbath) with emphasis on the first step (“we don’t take the first step because we can’t figure out the seventeenth step”). So “start with 1.”

He introduces the Japanese word ikigai, meaning “your vocation, your destiny, your path. Your ikigai is your reason for being.”

“Try that new thing. If it helps clarify your ikigai, if it gets you up in the morning, if it’s good for you and the world, do it.”

Sunday, March 20, 2016

“Illuminate: Ignite Change Through Speeches, Stories, Ceremonies, And Symbols”

In its quarter century, Duarte, Inc., a Silicon Valley design shop (with an office in Chico for a time), has often reinvented its services. CEO Nancy Duarte realized the creation of slide presentations for companies was just not sustainable.

Her TEDx talk on storytelling a few years ago garnered a million views, and Duarte scrambled to meet the demand for new designs. Recently, the company underwent reorganization, and that process, warts and all, forms the basis of Duarte’s new book, co-authored with colleague Patti Sanchez.

“Illuminate: Ignite Change Through Speeches, Stories, Ceremonies, And Symbols” ($32 in hardcover from Portfolio/Penguin; also for Amazon Kindle) is all about the journey of what the authors call “the torchbearer.” “Torchbearers,” they write, “communicate in a way that conquers fear and inspires hope.” (A book sample is available from

Duarte is a visionary, but she admits that it’s hard to see how others might take her words. Enter Sanchez, who brings an empathetic understanding. Together they invite the leader to journey through the five-step “venture scape,” which is structured like a story. At the Dream Stage, “your travelers face a choice to stay put or believe they play an important role in making your new dream come true.”

But then comes the Leap Stage, a realization that the status quo is over. The Fight Stage means travelers must fend off opposition, only to be presented with the Climb Stage where they must gather their energy to “climb out of the pit.” The process repeats until the Arrive Stage where travelers “seize the reward you’ve promised and are celebrated for their efforts.”

All along the way, the book presents case studies of companies (from Chick-fil-A to Starbucks) and leaders who have used not just speeches and stories, but ceremonies (which “help travelers envision new behavior or purge old mind-sets”) and symbols (“visual, auditory, spatial, and physical means to create emotionally charged artifacts that remind your travelers of key moments along the venture”). Symbols can include images on a banner, bells, music, historic locations, hugs and dancing.

New dreams may be born. “When you discover a new ember,” Duarte writes, “let there be light.”

Sunday, March 13, 2016

“The Boy From The Mountains Beyond”

Lynn Elliott, playwright and Professor Emeritus of English and Creative Writing at Chico State University, published a sweet tale in 2010 that only recently came to my attention. With illustrations by former Chico State student Luis A. Santos, the book is the story of Roye, “the master toymaker,” who finds a most unlikely protégé.

In “The Boy From The Mountains Beyond” ($10.95 in paperback from Stansbury Publishing), Roye remembers when travelers would stop and marvel at the toys: “Wooden rocking horses, … puzzles that covered the floor, and puppets of all shapes and sizes—all were bought in my toyshop and placed in the wagons that followed the carriages.”

And more memories: “After evening prayers in the Carmelite Convent on the hill, some of nuns stole down to the village and peeked through the window of my shop. They giggled as the flickering candles danced over the wooden spinning tops. … Then, while the children of the village slept on Christmas Eve, I stopped at every home and placed a special toy for each child beneath the Christmas tree.”

Now, though, the shop is empty. Roye’s fingers have become unusable since he threw a village child to safety as a wagon hurled down a hill and ran over his hands. Roye and his daughter Claire, cared for by the nuns after Claire’s mother died in childbirth, face an uncertain future--though Claire’s exquisite singing brightens the hearts of everyone.

But one November day Claire disappears into the woods and Roye sets out to find her. He sees her half-empty basket. “Beside it I saw Claire’s footprints in the snow. Then my heart froze. Next to Claire’s footprints were the unmistakable paw prints of a wolf forcing her forward into the forest.”

But the yellow-eyed wolf is a guardian, shielding a small boy who had run into the woods to escape a war that had taken his parents. The boy, Trystan by name, is carried into town, and, as time passes, wouldn’t you know it? He shows great dexterity with his hands, cutting and chiseling wood as Roye guides him. You can practically feel the joy, and the gift of the wolf.

Sunday, March 06, 2016

“Peace Like A River”

I have to thank a longtime Chico friend, now living in Livermore, for recommending an extraordinary novel, a best seller when it was published in 2001.

“Peace Like A River” ($16 in paperback from Grove/Atlantic; also for Amazon Kindle) by Leif Enger takes place in the early Sixties, mostly in Minnesota and North Dakota. Enger, raised in Osakis, Minnesota, became a reporter and producer for Minnesota Public Radio. “Peace” is a story of faith and doubt, of the miraculous and the mundane, bloodshed and redemption. And, oh, the words.

It is 1962. Jeremiah Land lives with his three children in Minnesota, Davy, the oldest at 16; Reuben, 11; and Swede, just 9. Told by a much older Reuben, looking back, the story begins with Reuben’s troubled birth and an account of the first of Jeremiah’s miracles.

The baby is not breathing, despite the best efforts of Dr. Nokes. Jeremiah smacks the doctor aside; “Dad turned back to me, a clay child wrapped in a canvas coat, and said in a normal voice, ‘Reuben Land, in the name of the living God I am telling you to breathe.’” And he does.

Why was Reuben allowed to survive, plagued now by asthma? “I believe I was preserved, through those twelve airless minutes, in order to be a witness, and as a witness, let me say that a miracle is no cute thing but more like the swing of a sword. … Real miracles bother people, like strange sudden pains unknown in medical literature. It’s true: They rebut every rule all we good citizens take comfort in. … When a person dies, the earth is generally unwilling to cough him back up. A miracle contradicts the will of earth.”

Yet the story is anchored to the earth and is shaped by the snowy landscape. One horrible night, as two bullies enter the Lands’ house, Davy is ready with his rifle, and kills them both.

There is evidence that this was not self-defense, and Davy is jailed, but escapes to the Badlands. And so begins a quest to find Davy. Justice and mercy co-mingle in a story as fragile as human life and as strong as Easter.