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Choose Your Own Adventure on World Book Day 2015

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“Begin at the beginning and go on till you come to the end,” said the King in Alice In Wonderland sequel Through The Looking Glass.

There is nothing quite like the consuming experience of enjoying a good book. The feel of it in your hands, its presence and weight appreciated and cherished. The wondrous smell of the tome, whether brand spanking new or retrieved from a dusty shelf in a second-hand bookshop. The sensation of the textured pages and the quietly pertinent sound as they turn. The way the letters and words form in paragraphs that resemble star-filled galaxies. A book is a delight to behold and tumble into like Alice down the rabbit hole.

From Alice In Wonderland to The Wizard of Oz to Around the World in Eighty Days to Le Petit Prince, Jack Kerouac’s On The Road and Alan Bennett’s A Life Like Other People’s, to Orwell’s Why I Write and Rumi’s poems, and Jean-Dominique Bauby’s The Diving-Bell and The Butterfly – a soul-floodingly beautiful work – books take us on magical trips.

They make us ponder, they inspire us, they thrill us, they haunt us, they articulate our own thoughts and remind us that time is fleeting and the world is small.

Today – Thursday March 5, 2015 – is World Book Day.

Life is a book. You are not the reader, you are the protagonist. Many esoteric traditions posit that the best way to live is to observe your life as if you’re the reader even though you are simultaneously living every sentence, every paragraph, every page and every chapter as the leading player of your own life story. It is that duality of being both fully absorbed in the action – present – with the overriding notion of being distinct from it – non-attachment.

The plot twists and turns, it rises and falls in peaks and troughs, each element informing – as Joseph Campbell put it – the hero’s journey. Without the shade, we cannot know light. In a good book even moments of seeming humdrum serve a greater purpose – to heighten the excitement even more. Oscar Wilde deemed life to be too important to be taken seriously and while the more challenging aspects of our stories may test our patience, if we experience them with grace and humour we’ll emerge victoriously in the end.

Characters come and go – some major, some minor players – but all leave an indelible impression somehow. Some of the players in my life won’t even realise how they affected me but there are so many I am grateful for, if not all, for they have made me who I am now. Interactions with others reflect the self.

How you see yourself is key. If you know and embrace your self – your true being, not your ego-driven persona – then the world around you shines those qualities back to you. If you are a protagonist who expects to see the good, the good will be what you see.

A colourful chalk-written sign on a wall I once saw read: “Our only true mission in life is learning to know and love ourselves.” If we truly appreciate ourselves, we might not be able to understand the whole world and all those in it for that is an abstraction, but we will certainly interact with our own world and the people who inhabit it – the settings and characters on the pages of our books – in a genuine and loving way.

The narrative arc swoops over as what once was the status quo is challenged and either embraced (ideally, for change is the catalyst for growth) or sunk into deeper. That is the choice the protagonist makes – whether to create the life he or she really wants or to accept their ‘lot’.

Ultimately it comes down to trust, belief, in yourself. As the Queen told Alice, you should believe that anything is possible – as long as you know what you want. She said: “Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”

Life is a book you fill the pages of. You’re down the rabbit hole. It’s spellbinding and exhilarating and is filled with opportunity and promise. Be yourself, be kind, smile always, love unconditionally and have no regrets. There’s no such thing as a wrong choice if you follow your heart. Which route will you take? Where will the latest chapter find you?

* If these words have resonated with you, I urge you to send someone who has made a mark on your life story the gift of a book that means something to you. Anonymously if you like, but with love.

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Lasso the moon

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Whenever a bell rings, an angel has just got their wings.

Yesterday I watched It’s A Wonderful Life, the James Stewart classic. He plays George Bailey, who always dreamed of travelling the world but sidelined his wanderlust to take care of his family and friends in the small town of Bedford Falls. When his guardian angel Clarence shows him what the world would have been like had he never been born, George realises that everything he ever did reverberated in the lives of those around him.

Even though George didn’t fulfil his dreams, his was still a meaningful, a wonderful, life. As his daughter Zuzu reminds him at the end of the film, “Whenever a bell rings, an angel has just got his wings.”

Earlier in the film George tells his gal Mary about how he wants to see the world, then offers to lasso the moon for her.

Later, as he makes one of his first choices to turn away from his ambitions, a phrase on the wall reads: “You can only take with you that which you give away…” like a smile, like kindness, like love.

It’s one of those films I always cry at even though I must have seen it dozens of times, just like E.T.

In Spielberg’s finest, Elliott protects his friend from outer space by evading the authorities and cycling his BMX across the moon to get him back to his spaceship so he can head home.

I cry because I’m sad that George parks his dreams but am inspired by his kindness. I cry because I’m touched by the connection E.T. and Elliott have to say goodbye to but know that he will always be “right here”, in the little boy’s heart.

It’s the winter solstice today which, like these two films, reflect the vestiges of hope inherent in life.

In the Northern Hemisphere December 21 is the shortest day and longest night of the year. At the end of the darkest hours, the light always emerges.

That’s why you should keep following your dreams. How many people give up just before the light comes? What if the greats who lived before had given up when all was dark?

Along the way, if your heart is filled with hope and emanates love and kindness you’ll get back tenfold that which you give away.

So as long as you keep riding your bike across the moon, you’ll surely get your wings. And who knows, one day you may even lasso that orb of night.

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Childlike spirit

“Every child is an artist, the problem is staying an artist when you grow up.”

– Pablo Picasso (25 October 1881 – 8 April 1973)

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CHILDREN are running around laughing as a street artist creates huge soap bubbles above their heads. They skip out of the way of them or jump up to pop them with smiles etched permanently on their faces. For them nothing else exists but this moment of pure fun.

This was the scene that I watched on the streets of Edinburgh during the Fringe (read my write-up on the world’s biggest arts festival here) this summer.

There was creativity in the air anyway thanks to thousands of writers, actors, comedians, dancers and other performers descending on the city which sits in the middle of rolling hills.

But it was perhaps nowhere more alive than in these children whose hearts were brimming with joy for the fun they were engaged in.

Creativity emanates from children. They truly know how to live.

For them the past and the future do not exist – only the now. They know no fear. They make the best of what they have. Their enthusiasm knows no bounds, nor does their imagination. They are bundles of energy operating on a high frequency. They love unconditionally. They let go. A smile is never usually far away.

When I was a kid I used to love to get on my bike and cycle with friends into the nearby countryside to climb trees and play on rope swings at the side of streams. Pretty much nothing could be finer except perhaps returning home to find butterscotch Angel Delight was for dessert.

So it’s disheartening to hear that large numbers of children in Britain aren’t connected to nature.

A new study by the RSPB found that only 21% of children between eight and 12 are exposed to the outdoors.

The charity’s head of conservation Sue Armstrong-Brow told the BBC that spoilsport adults were dampening children’s natural curiosity and love of nature.

She said: “There is definitely an attitude out there, in some cases, that nature is not perceived as interesting or engaging.

“In some cases it is perceived as a dirty or unsafe thing, and that’s an attitude that won’t help a young person climb a tree.”

She continued: “If we can grow a generation of children that have a connection to nature and do feel a sense of oneness with it, we then have the force for the future that can save nature and stop us living in a world where nature is declining.”

Nature is all about the creative force and it is that force that is inherently powerful in children and should be encouraged.

If that is lost then what hope is there?

For the children dancing in the bubbles in Edinburgh, where the magnificent greenery of Arthur’s Seat rises proudly in the distance, the force of nature is strong.

* If you’ve enjoyed reading this, please spend one day this month immersing yourself in and appreciating nature.

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EXCLUSIVE: “They kept E.T. alive,” says Dee Wallace as classic film turns 30

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ONE of Hollywood’s busiest, most talented and well-known actresses, Dee Wallace has hundreds of film and TV credits to her name.
Brilliant turns in movies such as Cujo, The Howling and The Hills Have Eyes earned her a reputation of being a ‘scream queen’.
Her co-stars have included Harrison Ford, Brian Cox and Malcolm McDowell, as well as Dudley Moore and Julie Andrews in 1979 comedy 10.
On TV she has appeared in everything from Law & Order to My Name Is Earl to the U.S. version of The Office.
But it’s her role as Elliott’s mom in E.T. that cemented Dee’s legendary status forever.
And here in an exclusive interview to mark the 30th anniversary of the classic Steven Spielberg film – which opened in UK cinemas on December 9, 1982 – Dee tells how no one realised E.T. would become the classic it has, how E.T. was kept ‘alive’ in between takes so the young cast could talk to him, why she found her overnight fame hard to handle and how E.T.’s message of love and hope resonates stronger than ever today. 
DEE Wallace’s aura is mesmerising.
Not only is she one of the most famous faces in cinema, but she radiates an innate sense of joy and love.
As a result of her open heart I feel like Elliott – whose encounter with an extraterrestrial is one of the defining moments in movie history.
We speak about metaphysics for while she’s still a working actress Dee is now also a healer. Her latest book is Bright Light: Spiritual Lessons From a Life in Acting.
Later on in our interview she reveals how E.T. – which is unbelievably 30 years old this year – was just supposed to be Spielberg’s “little film”.
“I don’t think any of us realised it would become a classic. It was supposed to be Stephen’s little film,” she said.
“I knew it the minute I read the script, what a special movie this was.
“I knew this was the kind of project that I really wanted to be involved in.”
She continued: “You just really never know what’s going to make a mega-hit. I remember saying to Blake Edwards when we were doing 10, ‘Oh Blake, this is going to be such a big hit,’ and he said, ‘Honey, if we knew what made a hit we’d have a lot more of them.’
“The audience is what decides that. You go in, you do your best and create the best work that you can.
“You hope that the audience embraces it and it certainly has with E.T.
“Would I have thought that we would still be the icon that we are 30 years after the movie was released? Probably not.”
She added: “But yet I remember saying after the opening that this is our generation’s Wizard of Oz.”
In E.T., Dee plays Mary – mum to Elliot (Henry Thomas), Michael (Robert MacNaughton) and Gertie (Drew Barrymore).
And although she was not yet a mum in real life Dee, who was then 33, admits she felt protective over her on-screen brood.
“Absolutely. It was a big family atmosphere. The kids would all play together. We’d hang out together. 
“I really felt very responsible about taking care of Drew on the set and going, ‘Ok Drew, now you know this is a scary scene but we’re just acting.’
“When kids are that young they often can’t distinguish between fantasy and reality.
“For example I went to get Drew right before the scene where we walk in and E.T.’s dying on the table.
“And E.T. was real to her. They kept E.T. ‘alive’ all the time. There was somebody working him because she’d go over and talk to him all the time.
“So I said, ‘Ok, we’re going to go and do this scene now Drew but you know it’s all pretend and he’s acting just like we are.’
“She looked at me and said, ‘I know Dee, do you think I’m stupid?’
“So I picked her up, we walked over to the set, she took one look at him and burst into tears, screaming and said, ‘He’s dying Dee.’
“That’s what I mean. They go back and forth like that. So I was very aware and of course we were all aware of never swearing on set, stuff like that.”
She added: “On most film sets you become a family anyway because you’re in such focused working conditions together for so long. Especially when you’re working with kids.”
When E.T. was released in 1982 it became an instant worldwide hit. It was the highest-grossing film of all time until it was knocked off the top spot by Spielberg’s 1993 film Jurassic Park.
Today, it is the fourth highest-grossing film of all time and a mainstay of Christmas scheduling on British TV.
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But Dee – born Deanna Bowers in Kansas – found the glare of the spotlight difficult and didn’t make the most of her newfound fame.
“I come from a relatively poor family and I had been given a lot of messages about not going too far too fast, never saying you’re good enough, never allowing people to say you’re good – all the things that fame brings with it.
“And so when E.T. came out and it was a major hit and I was an instant star, all those old subconscious messages that I had been given started coming back in and I thought, ‘Oh wow, Deanna you can’t handle this, you better pull yourself back.’ So I did.
“And I really stopped creating myself. I worked for a while but I didn’t work in the way that I probably should have been after E.T.
“I just pulled way back. And when you do that, and we all do that, whenever we get hurt or threatened or we’re in fear – any of that stuff, we are taught to shut our hearts and shut down and protect ourselves.
“In reality, it’s the opposite thing that we should be doing. We should be opening our hearts and going, ‘Ok, I was hurt but I’m not going to stop creating me. I’m going to go and create me some other way, in some other place, with some other person.’”
She added: “Perhaps that’s why this happened to me, so I’d be in a place where I could actually share that with other people and help them look at where they stopped creating themselves.”
Dee has been working as a healer since losing her husband, fellow actor Christopher Stone with whom she has a daughter Gabrielle.
She said Gabrielle, also an actress, inspires her every day “by letting me experience this unconditional love that I have for her.”
Dee was engaged to her soulmate Christopher when the pair worked on The Howling together.
He passed away when she was filming The Frighteners.
She said: “Chris and I were married 18 years, he’s the father of my daughter and he was my soulmate.
“He was my soulmate, my protector, my confidante. He’s the first one that taught me about philosophy and creating your own life.
“We just worked. We were happy when we were together and that was pretty much all the time because we lived together and did a lot of work together.
“It broke my heart when he died and I lost him. It was also terribly devastating to my daughter who wasn’t even seven when we lost him.
“But it was also the beginning of the healing work because I dropped to my knees and said, ‘I don’t want to be angry and in fear any more, I want a way that we can heal ourselves.’ And within seconds I became clairaudient and started getting messages. It just kind of spiraled from there.”
She added: “I wouldn’t be surprised if he was out there orchestrating all of it.”
Dee said the biggest lesson she’s learnt throughout her career is that the most important thing is love.
“My personal philosophy is that there’s only love and wholeness in this world.
“If we have a different perspective it’s because we’ve chosen it.
“In any moment of our life we can choose joy and happiness and an open heart. No matter what happens we have the ability to choose that.
“When you start exercising that right your whole life turns around.”
Dee said that the key was to love yourself unconditionally.
“You have to love yourself. Get up every morning and go, ‘How can I love me more?’ And we’re taught the opposite.
“We’re all pretty much taught that it’s ok if you get the love of yourself from what you do. That this is what I do so you can love me or you can respect me. “But just to love yourself just for the pure choice and joy and experience of loving yourself – we’re never taught that.
“Ergo the problems in the world right now. We don’t know how to love our neighbour because we’ve never learned to love ourselves unconditionally.
“If you can’t acknowledge your magnificence, the universe can’t acknowledge it for you.
“When you know that you are god, and you are – you are the god of you, you are the creating force of you working in co-creation with THE energy, and that’s an important part of it too – working in co-creation.
“But the energy can’t work in co-creation with you until you decide to commit to that.”
Dee aligns herself with E.T.’s central message that the journey home comes from following the heart.
“I think E.T.’s message is very very clear – keep your heart light on.
“Your heart light goes out. If you close your heart down you can’t get back home.
“And where do we always all of us want to be? We want to be in the home, in the freedom and the love that we naturally are.
“We want to live in the balance and peace and harmony that we know is possible.
“But we must keep our heart lights on and live in love.
“A belief system that goes against universal love in any way will not create the life you want.”
She continued: “E.T. is obviously a career highlight because I think when I’m lowered into the ground that’s the theme song I’m sure they’ll be playing.
“But also because it did so much for the world and it’s still doing so much for the world.
“I have a crop of brand new fans that are four, five and six that have just seen it.
“I’m just so proud of being a part of a film that affected the human consciousness as much as E.T. did.”
For now Dee is busy shooting other films and conducting her healing seminars which she is hoping to bring to the UK when she goes to the Edinburgh Festival next year.
Dee is particularly looking forward to coming to the UK because she’s a fan of British drama.
There’s one show she would love to be a part of – Downton Abbey.
“Downton Abbey is one of my favourite shows. I would love to be a part of that creative team. I would just love that.
“It’s so well acted and it’s beautifully shot.
“It’s just class. It’s real class.”
Just like Dee herself.
* For more information on Dee’s healing work and books, visit: iamdeewallace.com

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Valiant hearts

“All you had hoped for, all you had, you gave…”

Sir John Stanhope Arkwright’s (10 July, 1872 – 19 September, 1954) lyrics to      O Valiant Hearts

11/11/11. Remembrance Day. When we honour those who bravely gave so much.

A day to take time out and ponder and be grateful. A day to meditate on freedom. Freedom to be, freedom to live your life, freedom to follow your dreams.

Some years ago I was introduced to some words of wisdom by the late Nadine Stair of Louisville, Kentucky. She was asked, at the age of 85, what she would do if she could live her life over again.

“I’d make more mistakes next time,” she said. “I’d relax. I would limber up. I would be sillier than I have been on this trip. I would take fewer things seriously. I would take more chances. I would climb more mountains and swim more rivers. I would eat more ice cream and less beans. I would perhaps have more actual troubles, but I’d have fewer imaginary ones.

“You see, I’m one of those people who live sensibly and sanely hour after hour, day after day. Oh, I’ve had my moments, and if I had to do it over again, I’d have more of them. In fact, I’d try to have nothing else. Just moments, one after another, instead of living so many years ahead of each day.

“I’ve been one of those persons who never goes anywhere without a thermometer, a hot water bottle, and a raincoat. If I had to do it over again, I would travel lighter than I have.

“If I had my life to live over, I would start barefoot earlier in the spring and stay that way later in the fall. I would go to more dances. I would ride more merry-go-rounds and I would pick more daisies.”

I have Nadine’s words pinned up at home and since I first set eyes upon them I have tried to live by them. And as a result I have had some amazing moments.

The gist of what Nadine relayed is to live life to the full, embrace all experiences and say yes to opportunities; to give your all.

On a day where I’ll be wearing my remembrance poppy, I vow I’ll pick more and more daisies.

* If you have become inspired to pick more daisies after reading this then please make a donation to the Royal British Legion’s Poppy Appeal which supports those who have served or are serving in the British Armed Forces and their families. To quote the British Prime Minister David Cameron: “We all wear the poppy with pride, even if we don’t approve of the wars people were fighting in, to honour the fact these people sacrificed their lives for us.”

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