There are certain places that feel charged. Visiting them gives me an electrical surge, as if I have plugged in to some current. The headwaters of the Metolius River are like that. So is Short Sands Beach on the Oregon Coast. And the tunnels snaking beneath Edinburgh. And the Von Trier bar in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
The horror section at the downtown Powell's makes me feel the same way. I grew up in Central Oregon, but my grandparents lived in Portland, so every few months, we'd cram into the truck and growl over the mountains for a visit. We had no local bookstore — outside of the sad little Waldenbooks in the Bend River Mall — so the Powell's visit took a lot of time and strategy. This was our literary haul for the next two months. We had to choose wisely.
For those who have never visited, the downtown Powell's takes up a whole city block. A giant concrete split-level sarcophagus of books. There is a ghost that haunts the water fountain. An urn of cremated remains that moves from room to room, depending on space. The shelves spill ...
My sister slept with the light on until she was 27. She rightfully blames me.
I would leap out of closets with my hands made into claws. I would shut off the lights when she was in the bathroom. I would creep up behind her in a demon mask and tap her on the shoulder, and when she twisted around she would scream and then laugh and then hit me.
She had a collection of troll dolls. The ones with the bug eyes and the wild hair. And I would move them around, sneaking one under her pillow, another in her sock drawer, and when she asked if I did it, I would give her a dead-faced look and say, "What are you talking about?" One time I snuck into her room late at night and rearranged the troll dolls, all 20 of them, in a line next to her bed. When she woke the next morning she found them staring at her, one of them carrying a note that read, "BAD DREAMS," with the R and the S backwards (for trollish authenticity).
When it happens, it feels like winning the lottery. An email arrives out of the blue, from one of my publishers or a festival director or a member of a festival's staff: Would I like to come to a festival? In Canada, in Australia, in France? The answer is always yes because, the obvious pleasures of traveling to these places aside, this is what they're offering: a week, sometimes longer, when I don't have to be anything but a writer.
÷ ÷ ÷
It probably goes without saying by now that this is not a glamorous life. There are glamorous moments, but they cause a certain psychic whiplash because they're followed so rapidly by non-glamour. The most glamorous photo of me ever taken, for example, was at a charity ball in Toronto in 2010 or 2011, shot for one of those "here are pictures of people at a fancy event!" pages in one of Canada's national newspapers. In the photograph I am smiling in a long silk gown, identified by profession and by my first and middle names. ("Author Emily St. John." In all fairness, my ...
A master in the art of living draws no sharp distinction between his work and his play; his labour and his leisure; his mind and his body; his education and his recreation. He hardly knows which is which. He simply pursues his vision of excellence through whatever he is doing, and leaves others to determine whether he is working or playing. To himself, he always appears to be doing both.
His words capture one of the most enticing ideas of modern working life, which is to find some way of merging our personal interests and passions with our careers. Some people I interviewed for my book How to Find Fulfilling Work were convinced that this was the key to career happiness. Others, however, believed it was a terrible mistake, raising the dangerous prospect of contamination. You might love building model trains, but starting up a company selling them online, with all the stresses involved, could drain all the joy from your passion and make you nostalgic for those rainy Sunday afternoons tinkering with ...
Terkel's book offers his own special brand of oral history — recordings with workers from all walks of life talking about their memories and thoughts related to their jobs, each edited down to around five pages of vibrant text, with people speaking in their own voices. Between the covers you will discover the lives of steel workers and janitors, receptionists and cab drivers, professors, jockeys, stockbrokers, and dentists.
The opening lines of the introduction tell us that Working ...
"Yes!" she said, waving the book in front of me. "I'm almost done. This book has changed my life."
Hearing that a book changed someone's life is one of my greatest pleasures. I can't think of a better compliment an author could hear. Unfortunately, my follow-up question doesn't always yield a satisfying answer:
"How?" I said. Meaning, how did it change your life?
"Because it was amazing!" she said.
This is a pretty typical response, and I know I do it sometimes as well.
"Because it was just so good!"
"It was incredible!"
"I loved it!"
These are all great to hear, but none of them indicate any clues about how a life might have been changed, not that anyone owes me an explanation if I ask. Still, "This changed my life!" is pretty high praise and shouldn't be interchangeable with "This book is ...
When The School of Life launched its new practical philosophy book series, we celebrated with an event in London where each of the six authors — amongst them philosopher Alain de Botton — did a 15-minute talk distilling the most important and inspirational ideas from his or her book. We did our very best to live up to the promo poster, which promised the audience "An Evening of Fast and Furious Enlightenment."
Below you will find the video of my own talk on How to Find Fulfilling Work. In it I discuss five essential insights on the art of finding a job that is big enough for your spirit:
Confusion is perfectly normal
Beware of personality tests
Be a wide achiever, not a high achiever
Find where your values and talents meet
Act first, reflect later
As you'll see, in the middle I managed to get a thousand people talking in pairs about this question:
Imagine three parallel universes. In each you have a year to try any kind of work you want. What three jobs would you be excited to try?
Note: Rachel Roellke Coddington and Jolby will present their book at Powell's Books at Cedar Hills Crossing on Wednesday, May 15, at 7:00 p.m.
Greetings, adventurers! As you travel the evergreen roadways of the Pacific Northwest, you may find yourself in contact with many intriguing monsters. Let our book, Monsters under Bridges, be a guide as you explore the bridges of the region in your travels (or in your mind!). From Vancouver, Washington, to the beaches of Oregon, these monsters deserve your attention — and love. Why? Let's find out.
5. Monsters aren't all... you know, monsters.
We've been trained to identify monsters as a negative part of the world. They are typically a beast or creature causing significant discomfort to humans. The word "monster" itself brings into the mind images of gnashing teeth, rippling muscle-bound fur, and Charlize Theron with no makeup. Some more modern tales — Shrek, Sesame Street, and, of course, Monsters, Inc. — shed a more accurate light onto the world of monsters and what they do for humans. Your first task as a monster lover is to shake off those chains of generational prejudice and ...
How are you supposed to discover your ideal job? The standard method is to fill out lots of questionnaires about your strengths and weaknesses, take some psychometric tests, and spend hours researching various professions. Well, here's an alternative. It's an exercise called The Personal Job Advertisement, which I devised for the courses on career change I teach at The School of Life in London.
The concept behind this task is the opposite of the standard career search: imagine that newspapers didn't advertise jobs but rather advertised people who were looking for jobs .
You do it in two steps. First, write a half-page job advertisement that tells the world who you are and what you care about in life. Put down your talents (e.g., you speak Mongolian, can play the bass guitar), your passions (e.g., ikebana, scuba diving), and the core values and causes you believe in (e.g., wildlife preservation, women's rights). Include your personal qualities (e.g., you are quick-witted, impatient, lacking self-confidence). And record anything else that is important to you — a minimum salary or the desire to work overseas. Make sure you don't include any particular ...
Chefs don't have time to write. While I was working on Smoke and Pickles, I was running a restaurant — a daily regimen of testing recipes, arguing with purveyors, and greeting guests that left little time for introspection. I wrote nights mostly, battling fatigue and the impending noise of sunrise. During the day, I gravitated to tasks so deeply ingrained in the muscle-memory of my hands that I could let my brain focus on my book . The most Zen-like of these tasks was clarifying butter.
As a young chef in New York, I worked for a French guy who insisted I make clarified butter from scratch every morning. As a result, I find few things in life as peaceful as the steady, repetitive motion of that task. I can do it for hours, a hundred pounds' worth, all the while organizing an essay in my head, oblivious to the passing of time. Toward the end of writing my book, I felt like I couldn't finish a chapter without clarifying butter. It resulted in a book I'm proud of — and more clarified butter than even my restaurants could ...
Powell's City of Books is an independent bookstore in Portland, Oregon, that fills a whole city block with more than a million new, used, and out of print books. Shop those shelves — plus literally millions more books, DVDs, and eBooks — here at Powells.com.