Sunday, August 27, 2017

"Designing Your Life: How To Build A Well-Lived, Joyful Life"

"True happiness," write Bill Burnett and Dave Evans, "comes from designing a life that works for you." The two Stanford professors paired up years ago to offer a Designing Your Life workshop through the university's Program in Design, and now they've distilled the workshop into a book.

In "Designing Your Life: How To Build A Well-Lived, Joyful Life" ($24.95 in hardcover from Knopf; also for Amazon Kindle) the authors want readers to move away from a "steps-to-success" cookie-cutter approach and instead work to cultivate the skill of "reframing." "A reframe is when we take new information about the problem, restate our point of view, and start thinking and prototyping again."

So, for instance, the "dysfunctional belief" that "my dream job is out there waiting" can be reframed: "You design your dream job through a process of actively seeking and co-creating it." Find people whose job interests you and then ask questions--not to get a foot in the door but out of sheer curiosity: What sort of person does this job day after day and finds great meaning in the work?

Prototyping is about trying things out. One of the most intriguing chapters is about "being" the person with that job, adopting the mindset, aided by the interviews, of someone who is already doing the work. The key mindsets for this experiment, and for designing one's life, are "curiosity, bias to action (try stuff), reframing, awareness (life design is a journey; let go of the end goal and focus on the process of what happens next), and radical collaboration (ask for help)."

The authors debunk the idea that if you know your passion, "everything else will somehow magically fall into place." On the contrary, studies show that "for most people, passion comes after they try something, discover they like it, and develop mastery--not before. To put it more succinctly: passion is the result of a good life design, not the cause."

The authors offer wise counsel (not advice) about getting "unstuck." "Since life is a wicked problem that we never 'solve,' we just focus on getting better at living our lives by building our way forward."

Sunday, August 20, 2017

"Divine Beings: The Spiritual Lives And Lessons Of Animals"

"When I was a kid," Chicoan Cara Gubbins writes on her website (, "I dreamed of being Dr. Doolittle when I grew up. … In 2010, my dream came true when I started doing Animal Intuitive and Pet Medium Readings … bridging the communication gap between pets and people. …"

Her story is told in "Divine Beings: The Spiritual Lives And Lessons Of Animals" ($12.95 in paperback from CreateSpace; also for Amazon Kindle). In a conversational tone Gubbins describes her quest to reconcile her scientific training as a biologist (with a doctorate in Ecology, Evolution and Conservation Biology from the University of Nevada Reno) with her growing awareness of the spirituality of non-human animals.

Comparing notes with her friend Ellery, a nurse who "also happens to be a psychic that is able to talk to animals," they found when they each independently "talked to dozens of birds, insects, mammals and reptiles … asking our own questions of the animals or focusing in on our own intuitive information and awareness," there was almost complete agreement.

Ten chapters are devoted to spiritual messages shared by animals, from dogs and cats to a gray whale, snake, a bottlenose dolphin, and, perhaps most interestingly, a little brown bat. Gubbins asks the animals three questions: "What is your spiritual lesson? What is your spiritual gift? What message do you have for humans?" Each chapter presents biological information, how the animals have been portrayed in mythology, and, in some cases, a myth-busting message.

Babylonian mythology said "bats represented the souls of the dead." For bats, though, the story is about selfless "surrender to the group." "My personal message from the bats (my interpretation of their message to my own life) is to stop isolating myself, to share myself openly with friends, family and community."

The final chapter is on Gubbins' own message. "We are love," she writes. "We are all connected. We are one."

The author will have a booth at the Walk, Woof, Wag fundraiser for the Chico Animal Shelter Medical Fund, Saturday, September 16 at One Mile in Lower Park. She'll offer "intuitive pet readings" for a $10 donation to the fund.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

"Hook's Tale: Being The Account Of An Unjustly Villainized Pirate Written By Himself"

His biography is impressive. "John Pielmeier is a three-time Emmy- and Golden Globe-nominated playwright and screenwriter"; he wrote both play and screenplay for "Agnes Of God." Based in upstate New York, he has cousins in Chico.

Pielmeier keeps thinking of another, very troubled, biography, at least as presented by the Scottish novelist and playwright J. M. Barrie, in "Peter Pan," the first book Pielmeier learned to read. Barrie's Captain Hook, the pirate with the severed hand, pursued by a ticking crocodile, is Peter's arch-nemesis.

Barrie does note that "Hook" is "not his true name," which, it turns out, is James Cook, and before he died in 1940 he wrote a memoir. Serendipitously, Pielmeier finds the manuscript in an American library. It has now been restored and published as "Hook's Tale: Being The Account Of An Unjustly Villainized Pirate Written By Himself" ($25 in hardcover from Scribner; also for Amazon Kindle; see It's not quite a kid's story.

Cook is born in 1860, his father lost at sea. His mother drowns in a bathtub while he is away at Eton, and he is involuntarily "pressed into service" for Her Majesty's Royal Navy. Cook insists that the "sorry Scotsman" got it wrong about most everything, from the "jolly" Roger (named after the un-jolly captain, Roger Starkey) to Daisy the croc, Tink the fairy, Tiger Lily the princess, and Peter himself.

"Why, dear reader," Cook asks, "do you always insist on believing that sad little Scotsman, who only heard the story third-hand, instead of believing one who lived it? … I, on the other hand--which other hand, by the way, I am forced to use now to write, since my right one was underhandedly removed, leaving me but my sinister side to express my feelings--I on the other hand am writing a memoir, and cannot use the conveniences of fiction to paint a nicer, cleaner, simpler picture of how things happened."

Cook is a sympathetic character, driven by revenge, faced with the great question: Do you really want to grow up? The story is mischievous, rollicking, wryly funny, weirdly fantastic, and, yes, entirely true.

Sunday, August 06, 2017

"The Legacy Of Little Mouse The Mouse"

A deep blanket of snow envelops the Upper Ridge and the animals "underneath, in, above, beside, around, and near Paradise Lake" as the new year of 1999 is about to break upon them. Little Mouse is deep in thought.

A few months earlier, as recounted in "The Adventures Of Little Mouse," he and his animal friends used a lever to move a boulder, preventing it from crushing his house. Little Mouse realizes that the "lever principle" can apply metaphorically to nothing less than developing a full and successful life of good character.

At the same time, down Pentz Road in Paradise, Jim Barnes and his wife Nancy "were having their New Year's breakfast with their visiting niece, Shauna" (a fifth-grader), and Uncle Jim is wondering how he can convince her to join him in visiting Little Mouse (which requires the use of imaginative powers to shrink in size) so Little Mouse can present his lever idea to a real student.

The story is told by Jim Barnes himself, a retired elementary school teacher and administrator, in "The Legacy Of Little Mouse The Mouse" ($14.95 in paperback from CreateSpace; also for Amazon Kindle). The book is intended to be shared and discussed with youngsters, and the fanciful story, Shauna's inquisitive nature, Uncle Jim's encouragement, and the puzzle of Little Mouse's "contraption," will make for rich conversations.

Through sketches and diagrams by the author, what Little Mouse unveils to his two guests in his cozy mouse house is a plan for using "the human fulcrum" (health, environment, society, family, great-souled friends, and "the universal Origin and Source") to help discover TRY: "The Real You." Little Mouse's lever is easy for kids to learn but deep enough for adults to ponder.

Barnes has also created an associated coloring book as well as templates for charts and posters (

The author is skilled in motivating kids to learn more. When Uncle Jim and Shauna realize that Little Mouse's insights are expressed in a child's teeter-totter, Little Mouse "looked at two of the most astonished faces he'd seen since Bear had mistakenly sat down on a red ant's nest." A teeter-totter? Who would have guessed?