One of the most fun and inspiring reads of 2014 was Paris Letters by the effortlessly engaging Janice MacLeod. If you are unfamiliar with this book (now #7 on the New York Times bestseller list!) it is the ultimate manifesto for the creative spirit. A true, real-life story about how one woman dared to dream and then dared herself to really live that dream.
In Janice’s case, the dream was quitting a corporate job in California and traveling abroad to find fresh perspective and a renewed zest for life. Not unlike Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat Pray Love, Paris Letters is an inspiring memoir of a spiritual journey that transformed one life in a 360 degree manner, but unlike Elizabeth, Janice isn’t hashing out her past along her journey – she’s finding her future – and detailing it one small step at a time.
Literally, by book’s end, you know how Janice got from point A to point P (Paris!) because she tells you specifically in 258 pages of detail how she did it with a satisfying and surprising one-thing-leads-to-another trajectory of events. Paris Letters is part serendipity, part planning, part passion and part blind-faith. Along the way, you’ll laugh, you’ll sympathize, you’ll understand. As you begin the last third of the book you’ll begin telling yourself that you know how the book is going to end and you’ll feel happy that Janice found what she was looking for. But this is a real-life story and real-life endings never dissolve into the sunset in the same tidy way they to do in a movie. Paris doesn’t become Janice’s be-all end-all, there are new adventures to be had and she eludes to the possibilities of a new life in Canada in a city that Christophe (her Parisian/Polish love!) became smitten with in the same way that Janice was smitten with Paris.
And so a move was made! This is where Ms. Jeannie picks up the story. What’s life like now for Janice post-Paris Letters, post Parisian romance, post France?
MS. JEANNIE: At the end of Paris Letters you imagine a life in Canada… a house, a lake, a garden, little Janice’s and Christophe’s… now that you are living there is your daydream still the same?
JANICE MACLEOD: Before Paris, I had BIG dreams of exploring Europe. Right now my daydreams are smaller and seasonal in theme. For example, in the autumn I dreamed of hiking along paths of golden autumn leaves. Did it! Then I dreamed of having a gorgeous Christmas tree. Did it! Now I’ve got dreams of spring and gardening on my mind. I’m starting to drool over seed catalogs.
MJ: How has your move to Calgary broadened your point of view?
JML: I’ve been pondering the idea of the pilgrimage. Life in Paris was a sort of pilgrimage because 1) I did a lot of walking and wandering 2) Everything was more difficult. Language, administration, maps… EVERYTHING. Now that I’m in Canada, everything should be simple but really the pilgrimage has just become more of an internal exploration. The outer may be easier but more intense inner work is beginning. I’m still on that pilgrimage.
MJ: For those of us who have never been to Calgary can you sum up your new city in a sentence?
JML: Four seasons of splendor inhabited by shiny, chatty people.
MJ: What are you most attracted to about life in Calgary? Has Christophe found his Paris?!
JML: Definitely the four distinct seasons is the most attractive quality of Calgary for me. Calgarians like to play in all seasons, too. They don’t huddle up in winter. They hit the slopes and polish off their skates. I’ve revisited skating. Oh how I adore skating. And I’m delighted to announce that Christophe has found his Paris! He loves the wide open spaces here. It’s big sky country. Very different from Europe which, in his view, is more cramped.
MJ: Do you think you will ever live in Paris again?
JML: Never say never. Though for now, my intention is to flourish in Canada. Now that we are settled in, it’s time to let the flourishing begin.
MJ: Recently on your blog you posted the news article about the 1920s Paris apartment discovery. If someone came across a time capsule of your space in Calgary what might they find?
JML: HA! They would find thousands of photos and paintings of Paris. I’m currently sifting through all the art I did in Paris and will be posting it to my shop. It’s a big Parisian whirlwind here in my Calgary home.
MJ: What inspires you about the view from Calgary?
JML: I live along a river here in Calgary so I spent a lot of time just staring at the river. It’s an open-eye meditation. If you’re not moved by nature you’ve got problems. Then when you drive half an hour west BOOM! There are the Rocky Mountains. Those mountains were here long before I arrived and will be here long after I leave. Knowing that helps me not sweat the small stuff and to just be grateful to behold them here now.
MJ: Do you feel as strong a need to share with people about your daily life in Canada? Is there a sense that life there is as equally entertaining as life in Paris?
JML: I haven’t shared much about Calgary simply because so much of it has been administration-focused. Do people want to know about me changing my drivers license and health card? Do they want to know about my visit to the dentist? The doctor? It’s not quite as difficult or funny as it was in France. I spent my first season here just settling in. Plus, my brain went quiet after writing and promoting PARIS LETTERS. It will take some time to restart that part of my brain and then we will be back on, entertaining the masses one blog post and letter at a time.
MJ: One of the most inspiring things about both your book and your blog is your confidence in pursuing whimsical endeavors. Is that something you find you must continuously develop and encourage or is it just a part of your natural makeup?
JML: Ah yes, I’m sure there will be some whimsical moments as I attempt to become outdoorsy here in western Canada. I write to amuse myself, so that’s likely to continue. Then if it’s good writing I share with the world via my letters, books or blog posts.
MJ: Of all the attention you have received from the Paris Letters journey, what is one of the most surprising experiences that has stemmed from the project?
JML: Two things. First, my book, the travel memoir PARIS LETTERS made it on the New York Times Best Seller list this month. I didn’t expect it at all. Total delightful surprise. Second, people who write me telling me the letter I sent them made their day. There is a lot of tough stuff out there to deal with in this world. The letter in the mail helps ease some of those burdens. I love when that happens and someone feels compelled to sent me a note in thanks.
MJ: If you were the recipient of a painted letter from anywhere in the world, past or present, where would it hail from and who would be the author?
JML: I would hope to get a painted letter from Percy Kelly, whom I learned about when I traveled through the UK. It was his painted letters that inspired my project. To get a letter from him would be dreamy, but he passed away years ago, so it would also be super weird.
MJ: What’s the next day dream?
JML: Sharing my photos and paintings. I created so much art in Paris but didn’t share it since I was busy making it. Now is my time to curate, edit, refine and share. It’s going to be great! I’m so excited to share it. There is a lot of pretty Paris art in my collection.
MJ: Just out of curiosity, did you ever meet up with Mary in Canada? [Note: Mary was a Paris Letters recipient who turned out to become penpal to Janice. She’s mentioned throughout the book.]
JML: Not yet. She still lives as far from me as my friends in California. Canada is a big country. But one day I’m confident it will happen. As fate would have it, her son goes to my mom’s dental office. Can you believe that? So I’m sure at some point we will be in the same town at the same time. If not, I might just have to make a pilgrimage to Massey, Ontario, to see for myself where all her letters to me are written.
Perhaps that meeting with Mary will launch a blog post or launch a chapter in a new book! You just never know! But there is two things that Ms. Jeannie does know for certain – However Janice chooses to document Calgary, whether it be through photographs or paintings, words or wisdom it will be beautiful and it will be entertaining just like the lady herself!
In the meantime, read Paris Letters! You will love it!
Other fascinating interviews with fabulously talented individuals can be found in the interview section on Ms. Jeannie’s blog. Stop by and take a peek here!