The Sunday Letter

The Sunday Letter | 2016.07.10

This week I did something small that was really important. I sat down with my Opa and recorded about an hour of him telling me about our family history. How he left Holland to join the Canadian military band after World War II, how he met my Nana, and how they started a family in Nova Scotia.

I think we often underestimate the importance of our family legacies. Because we’re in a digital age and everything is recorded, we figure it’s all sitting there, if we ever want to access it.

The truth is, some of the most important documents of our lives can be inaccessible when it matters. Disorganized = lost. In the case of my Opa, although all the family members have heard most of his stories, how many could re-tell it the way he did?

It was easy enough. I just set up my iPhone on a Gorillapod with a Rode smartLav and started asking questions.

We only took an hour (I’m sure I could have stayed for six, but I was on a tight schedule) and it’s something I’ll treasure for ages to come. So much so that I’m already thinking when I can go back and get more. Ask more questions. About anything. So many of our histories are still oral.

Captured within the hour was a few really good laughs too. It’s sad and hard to think about, but someday I think it’ll really mean a lot to me that I can go back and listen to that laugh when it may no longer be around.

via GIPHY

Also, Pokemon Go was released in the U.S., Australia and New Zealand on July 6, meaning situations like the one above are becoming more plausible!

I’ve already seen photos from around the world of people congregating around ‘lures’, an item in the game that draws more Pokémon to pokéstops, which are often local businesses and landmarks. Some businesses have already started capitalizing on it.

Book of the week

Paulo Coelho’s “The Alchemist” is a list-maker. Meaning it’s on a lot of people’s must-read lists and one of the best-selling books in history.

The 25th Anniversary Edition book design is pretty beautiful, I have to say. (Mel Hattie/Mel Had Tea)

The 25th Anniversary Edition book design is pretty beautiful, I have to say. (Mel Hattie/Mel Had Tea)

Originally published in 1988, the tale of Andalusian shepherd Santiago leaving home to search for his ‘personal legend’ abroad only to find it was at home all along is not an unfamiliar narrative, but it’s Coelho’s poetic verse that makes The Alchemist so long-lived.

Coelho is poetic but not inaccessible. I love how he uses simple words and phrases to lift his story, like the alchemists, turning lead to gold. I read this book in Jr. High, but couldn’t remember much of it, so it was nice to re-visit the book and give it another go.

Embedded in The Alchemist is a lot of societal critique.

Because of that, you might be tempted to critique The Alchemist itself, saying things like:

  1. “The few women in the book are underdeveloped at best. At worst, they exist only to enhance men’s lives”; or,
  2. “Santiago was only able to go on his journey because his father gave him money to leave in the first place! Santiago’s not independent! He’s just a spoiled middle-class kid!”; or,
  3. “Coelho’s philosophy is selfish and self-centered!”, etc.

And you would be right. There are a thousand ways you can pick this book apart, and because it presents itself as this high-minded philosophical lesson on life, it naturally opens itself up to debate. Some people love The Alchemist. Some hate it.

The thing is, I think that misses the point. I don’t read the Alchemist to learn how to live my life. I don’t expect it to understand and reflect all reality. I read it because it’s a beautiful book of a boy with a beautiful, human story.

Doing too much analysis of this novel is like trying to make a concrete cast of a daisy. It’s ephemeral, it’s delicate, and it should be enjoyed for what it is.

Take what is helpful and leave the rest behind.

Take breaks between paragraphs to let your mind wander.

When reading about Santiago’s quest to find his life’s purpose, it’s impossible not to stop and think about yours as well.

Even if you don’t agree with all the religious and philosophical musings that occur in the book, its core message is listen to your heart and pay attention to the people and world around you. And I think those are pretty good tips.

At the beach with friends. Thanks Lisa for being my model! Hopefully these shots can convince your parents to visit Nova Scotia. (Mel Hattie/Mel Had Tea)

At the beach with friends. Thanks Lisa for being my model! Hopefully these shots can convince your parents to visit Nova Scotia. (Mel Hattie/Mel Had Tea)

Good on the Internet

Turning rejections into wins. Fake animal facts all over Los Angeles zoo. The wizard of rice cooking. I’d love to be in this limo. First world realism. This guy explains perfectly why I love Cowboy Bebop so much. How “Pride” was chosen as the word for LGBTQ rights. These eye-bending statues.

Roxane Gay writes about Alton Sterling and When Black Lives Stopped Mattering, Kara Brown wonders “Am I Going to Write About Murdered black People Forever?” and StoryCorps show a beautiful video about a traffic stop gone wrong.

We could all have FM radio on our smartphones. Geeking out over Marc Maron interviewing Terry Gross in 2015. Then geeking out over this 2015 Terry Gross NYT piece again. Wishing someone would send me a mysterious package (but maybe after the Canada Post strike gets figured out). Posh political satire that’s no stretch to believe by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (Who just became a mom! Congrats!). Big software is the new big pharma.

And a bunch of great coffee Instagram accounts to end on a light note. It’s rainy and grey here, so maybe that’s why I also wrote about coffee this week.

And Trout! Did I intentionally match my bath mats to my cat’s eyes? Maybe. (Mel Hattie/Mel Had Tea)

And Trout! Did I intentionally match my bath mats to my cat’s eyes? Maybe. (Mel Hattie/Mel Had Tea)

Wisdom of the Week

“To realize one’s destiny is a person’s only obligation.” — Paulo Coelho, from The Alchemist, 1988.

This shot I took in rural Bosnian near where I met some shepherds. It seemed appropriate for a quote from The Alchemist. (Mel Hattie/Mel Had Tea)

This shot I took in rural Bosnian near where I met some shepherds. It seemed appropriate for a quote from The Alchemist. (Mel Hattie/Mel Had Tea)

That’s it for me! Time to go make dinner and wish this rain would stop. This weekend was a two-day rest between modules in my Masters program, but it was just chilly and rained constantly, completely destroying my will to go in the ocean. Life, she is cruel.

Let me know what’s on your mind this week in the comments.

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