Survival Lessons - Alice Hoffman

One of America's most beloved writers shares her suggestions for finding beauty in the world even during the toughest times. Survival Lessons provides a road map of how to reclaim your life from this day forward, with ways to re-envision everything―from relationships with friends and family to the way you see yourself. As Alice Hoffman says, “In many ways I wrote Survival Lessons to remind myself of the beauty of life, something that’s all too easy to overlook during the crisis of illness or loss. I forgot that our lives are made up of equal parts of sorrow and joy, and that it is impossible to have one without the other. I wrote to remind myself that despite everything that was happening to me, there were still choices I could make.” Wise, gentle, and wry, Alice Hoffman teaches all of us how to choose what matters most.

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In this nonfiction work, novelist Alice Hoffman thinks on some of the most challenging periods of her life and puts together lessons she's learned once coming out on the other side of those trying times. In her preface, she starts with the year of her cancer diagnosis, right when professionally she was feeling extraordinarily blessed and busy. Her novel Here On Earth had recently been chosen as an Oprah Book Club pick, while another of her works, Practical Magic, had a film adaptation in production starring Nicole Kidman and Sandra Bullock. As she flat out says, "I didn't have time to be ill." But cancer doesn't care what you have going on, so... ill she was. The experience led her to not only get in some "what does it all mean?" kind of deep thinking during this process of trying to get well, but also other moments in her life that brought her to a similar state of mind. Hoffman thought it might be beneficially to put it all down and create an inspiring little booklet for dark times. So Survival Lessons was born. 

 

 

Just some of the soul-strengthening ideas Hoffman offers:

 

* Find a hero figure, someone who exudes an inner strength and love of life you admire

* CHOOSE to enjoy yourself and your life. Sure, you're bound to have responsibilities that you need to address, but every so often set time aside to have a (guilt-free btw!) you-day! Yes, take care of your loved ones but also make sure you sometimes give into your OWN wants! Be unapologetically you :-)

* CHOOSE to forgive.

* Friends & Family: Choose your friends wisely, surround yourself with people who exude positive energy. Keep supportive, nurturing people close and turn away selfish, manipulative, soul-sucking people. Carefully consider the source before choosing to take advice of someone. Also, even in the midst of challenging schedules, be sure to make time for your friends.

* It's good to live in the moment but also not a bad idea to also make at least a few plans for the future! Give yourself goals to keep you mentally stimulated and motivated!

* Accept that there will be inevitable times of sorrow but choose to live in the light and allow yourself to dream of beautiful things / moments to come.

* Take risks and try new things. Make beautiful things.

* Tell your own story, in your own way, in your own time. Claim your past: Embrace, acknowledge and come to terms with your experiences. Don't be afraid to share your life story sometimes, never know who it could help -- talk with strangers, join support groups, volunteer at non-profit organizations. 

* For those emotionally struggling and in a relationship: don't block out your partner / spouse. Choose love and remember that while they might not know exactly what you're feeling, they ARE there going through it with you in their own way. They're trying to figure all this out too! 

 

If you're a member of the crafty crowd, Hoffman also includes a knitting pattern for a knit hat designed by her cousin, Lisa Hoffman. For bakers, she includes a recipe for the perfect boiled egg that she learned from Julia Child as well as the brownie recipe (requires a double boiler) of a close friend.

 

Here's a warning: Maclin's brownies will not appear perfect. They will sink in the middle. The top will crack. You'll want to throw them out. Don't. They will be everything they should be and more. They are perfect inside, which is even better than merely looking good.

 

Hoffman also includes some lovely blue-toned photographs and art images that nicely add to the calming vibe of this entire book. 

 

 

I don't think Julia {Child} would mind me giving out her secret. She was a survivor. When we worked together raising funds at the hospital where we had both been treated, I instantly wished she was my best friend. Her warmth and compassion were legend. She didn't want to talk about herself and was deeply interested in other people. She knew who she was, but she didn't know who you were, and she wanted to. Frankly, she was more alive than people half her age. Everything was beautiful to her: an egg, a stranger's life story, a battered cooking pot. 

 

This made it onto my list of favorite books I've read in 2017. It was one of those ones that seemed to find me at just the right time. In addition to sharing her cancer story, Hoffman discusses the experience of having to essentially be a parent to her mother (been there myself!). I also found myself feeling a bond over both of us having discovered the works of Ray Bradbury when we were both twelve years old. Though I've been aware of Alice Hoffman as a writer for many years, it's only been in the last couple years that I started cracking open her books for myself. She's since become a favorite of mine. It was just the cherry on top to discover we had such similarities in our life stories. Having lost my mother earlier this year, this inspiring work gave me just the heart lift I needed to work my way back to healing. Survival Lessons will forever have a place on my shelves and will likely be a book I gift out for many years to come!