Every so often we come across a book that is a total joy to read, start to finish. That’s what happened when I read Paris Letters by Canadian Janice MacLeod. It’s a true account of her journey after growing up in small town Ontario to living an artist’s life in Paris. Upon finishing university, she embraced the Madmen lifestyle, working in middle management as a direct mail copywriter for a major advertising agency in Los Angeles. After ten years of unfulfilling peddling on the corporate treadmill, she slowed down enough to listen to her inner voice. MacLeod read Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way (which I also read several years ago and thoroughly enjoyed), tried various hobbies, did some soul-searching and started a process of extricating herself from the corporate rat race and reevaluating society’s definition of success.
Fast-forward a couple of years, and MacLeod is traveling in Europe. First stop, Paris. Sipping café crème while journaling at a sidewalk café, she finds herself attracted to the handsome butcher operating the shop across the street. The inevitable happens and a quick romance ensues. But is it the real thing? She ventures on to Rome, Scotland and England, returning to Paris and her new friend to see how things shake out. A new life takes life.
Whatever path we follow, the bottom line is we still need to earn a living to cover the bottom line. MacLeod combines her love of simple water-colour painting and letter writing and creates a personalized subscription service which she markets on Etsy. She creates regular journal-style descriptions of her Paris life accompanied by her watercolour paintings of local street scenes which she sends in illustrated letters to subscribers.
As I turned each page of Paris Letters, I found myself smiling in recognition and empathy. Who hasn’t wondered what it would be like to take her life in a different direction. MacLeod tells us exactly how she engineered her transition including re-evaluating friendships, auditing and culling her physical surroundings, prioritizing her activities and taking control of her financial future. These are all processes we may have undertaken ourselves or would like to.
I clearly recall saving for a trip to Europe during my first two years of working from 1965 to 1967. I made $55.50 per week working for Ma Bell and allowed myself fifty cents a day for lunches in the Bell Cafeteria. That bought me mashed potatoes with gravy and one vegetable with a half-pint of milk. After two years, I’d accrued over three thousand dollars and my trip also became reality. She also refers to the bad dreams she still has about deadlines and projects from her corporate days. I also have those dreams even though I’ve been retired for several years. The stress of corporate life lingers long after we think it’s been banished.
MacLeod recounts an unsatisfactory love life during her early working years in Los Angeles describing it as devoted to becoming whoever her current boyfriend wanted her to be. “If a guy was a granola-eating hippie, so was I. If he was a runner, I was a runner.” Sound familiar? I could so relate to that and even blogged about it (click here to read ‘I love me too’). Oh, the mistakes we make when we’re young and foolish.
I read every page of Paris Letters with a smile on my face. It was an inspiring and uplifting read. I whizzed through it in a couple of days, although I wish it had lasted longer. I intend to read more by Janice MacLeod. Anything that makes me feel that good is good.
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