Grace Notes: Alexandra Stoddard

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INSPIRATION WEEK:
FINDING BEAUTY EVERYDAY

“We’ve paid for our speeded-up lives with a loss in the quality of our time. Our chronic lack of time has robbed us of the ability to understand that the truth of living is found in the experience of being, and that life cannot be put on hold while we’re trying to produce more.”

Alexandra Stoddard, Gracious Living in a New World
Making Choices

Thank you all so much for being excited along with me (see my previous post) about my opportunity to spend some time with Alexandra Stoddard! Speaking to Alexandra was an amazing experience I know will impact me the rest of my life! While I have always felt a kinship with her ideas and was inspired by her encouragement to find beauty and happiness in life, what really struck me after speaking to her on the phone was something more. Alexandra is able to affect others around her in a profound way because of the choices she makes for herself.

In all our rushing around meeting everyone else’s expectations, we miss many of the small details and grace notes that Alexandra is clearly in tune with. She understands the power of living at a slower more deliberate pace. Ordinary moments become more vivid because she gives them her fullest attention. This was what impressed me the most: she jealously guards her personal time and then is able to be fully engaged in giving to others. She lives what she teaches. And clearly it works for her, she is such a dear woman!

Fully Engaged in the Moment

In a day where multi-tasking is the norm, Alexandra holds fast to the benefits of what I perceive to be focused living. It is in that focused living that she is able to fully appreciate beauty and find real happiness in each task. I’m so honored that she took the time to share her insights with me personally. She understands the art of beautiful living like few women I’ve met.

The Dilemma of Connection

The first thing we talked about was the fact that she does not use computers or email. It was an interesting discussion because I feel a certain tension in myself about blogging and email. Reality is many of us are torn between both the blessings and the curses of computers. While I have felt a great sense of connection and friendship to so many through blogging, and it has brought me opportunities I never would’ve had otherwise, it has also brought about a dilemma in life.

How do I keep up with the pace? How much time should I devote to communication, and how often should I make myself available? Blogging and emailing can speed up communication and expectations to a breakneck pace. So is that pace of life and level of connection a good thing or not? And are all good things good for us? I approached the subject with Alexandra as I was curious to find out her perspective.

Choosing A Different Pace

“My life was rich and full long before computers. I don’t want to be so connected. I think computers are a mixed blessing, but mostly it is not good to be so connected,” Alexandra confided. She said that people all around her are always trying to get her to use email or computers for efficiency and speed, but she remains steadfast in her belief that faster and more communication is not necessarily better. “Too much connection is not good,” she said.

Alexandra says she “doesn’t like the idea of people having access to her 24 hours a day.” Needing to check emails many times a day, be accessible at all times via a cell phone and messages throughout the day feels like “a frantic pace of life” to her. And frantic is not the kind of life she wants. “I don’t want communication to become a burden or a responsibility,” Alexandra said. She makes the choice to live differently.

While she enjoys receiving letters from people, she wants to handle them on her own terms so that it is always a pleasurable experience. “With email, people expect instant responses. They ask more of you than they would in person or in a hand-written letter.” The demands become overwhelming and she doesn’t want to communicate all day. Alexandra doesn’t even check the messages from her website on a frequent basis. Her assistant prints them out just once a month and gives them to her in a big stack to read when she is ready.

Making Living An Art Form


Alexandra creates a time to communicate and devotes herself fully to the enjoyment of it. She often reads letters while riding the train. While others around her are speaking too loudly on cell phones and frantically handling incoming and outgoing emails as quickly as they can, she is quietly enjoying the notes and responding to some of them with a hand-written response. She enjoys the experience, the “beauty of the paper, the stamps, the colored ink.” She always uses fountain pens (except in banking or legal documents) and even writes all of her books longhand with pen and ink. The pace is slow and concentrated, but the benefits are great. She believes that “living life is really an art form. Enhancing beauty makes living more pleasurable.”

Know Thyself

She is true to herself, she knows what makes her the most effective in life. She doesn’t waiver from living the life she knows is best for her, in spite of the outside pressures to do things differently. “I cannot do what others expect of me, I just cannot do that,” Alexandra explained. It was clear to me that her focus in life is what makes her so inspiring. She lives fully in each moment, both in times of solitude and times of giving. Her effectiveness and pleasure in life supersede the lure of doing more. Yet, she has accomplished so much! I find that very intriguing and definitely something to think about!

Beauty Is A Gift

I really enjoyed my conversation with Alexandra and am deeply moved by her willingness to speak with me. Hearing her confident but calm voice reaffirmed to me that beauty is a gift that elevates each day to something more than a series of frantic activities. She reminds me that we need to make a choice in how we are going to live, how we are going to respond to pressure and how we are going to protect ourselves from a diluted existence that robs us from the real joy in living. We need to decide what is truly good for us and have the confidence to know when to say NO to even some of life’s good opportunities. Clearly her choices not only create a beautiful life for herself, but influence the world around her in profound ways. That is truly a gift.

Coming Up

I have more Grace Notes to share from my conversation with Alexandra during the week, including her thoughts on love, happiness and daily rituals! Stay tuned for inspiration from women bloggers who will give you a peek into their life and how they find beauty every day! There will be two or even three posts each day to fit everything in!

lily pad photo copyright Heather Doornink, used by permission

journal and ink from Levenger

pen from Lamy USA

related topics: The Best Things

Alexandra Stoddard’s Website

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Comments

  1. Hi Melissa, Fantastic post. I don’t quite feel the same was Ms. Stoddard feels about computers but I do feel that way about cell phones. I rarely have my turned on when out and about. For emergencies only. I can’t stand to hear someone …say while in the grocery store…chatting away on their cell phone about nothing at all. xo Lynn

  2. hookedonhouses says:

    I really should be working right now (deadline is looming), but your blog has me hooked! Enjoyed your interview with Alexandra and look forward to reading the “grace notes” to come. Thanks! -Julia

  3. Hi Melissa!

    I loved your interview with Ms. Stoddard! The reverence with which you regard her is evident in your writing.

    And I love to be reminded to notice something beautiful every single day. It’s a habit I’d like to acquire.

    Thank you for having such a terrific blog! It’s so nice to see in this ocean of blah blah blah’s.

    And thank you for the kind comment you left on my blog – come visit any time!

    Becky

  4. P.S. Every blog DOES need a dog! (I have two. :))

  5. Esther Sunday says:

    What a wonderful woman and interview. Thank you, Melissa! Love, Esther

  6. Sometimes we think we don’t have any choices in our lives, but Alexandra has shown us that you can be a successful woman in this century while embracing the gracious living of the past. Continued thanks, Melissa, for sharing your conversation. It’s a classic!

  7. Beautiful advice. I have to admit that I tend to feel the stress of keeping up with my work and then realize that I’ve spent way too much time on the computer. I feel that way about my cell phone, so generally use it only for emergencies. Can’t wait to read more and yes, the painting sold last Thurday. Thanks again for letting me use the photo!

  8. Penny, Mosaic Artist says:

    Terrific interview and post. I can’t imagine eliminating the computer or cell phone from my life, but I too wrestle with trying to step away from the computer a little more often….

    I am looking forward to hearing more….
    Penny

  9. Oh Miss Melissa – you are a legend Thank you for organising this interview for us :-)
    OFF the computer Felicity NOW!

  10. Melissa,
    Thank you for sharing your conversation. What a milestone for you. She has been one of my mentors for many years now and it is so good to see others now learning her sweet ways.
    Hugs,
    Sue

  11. How lucky you are to have had this conversation with her! How truly inspiring!

    I don’t think I could not use a computer at all – it does save me time in some areas of my life. But on the other hand it also is a time sucker if I let it be.

    I believe whole heartedly that you make a conscious choice in how you want to live and that you have to decide what is best and not be influenced by what others may think of your choice.
    Personally, I think we could all benefit from stepping away from the computer, doesn’t mean you have to give it up, there’s just so much more that life offers!

    Manuela

  12. Very interesting…reminds me that I was just reading a book where the author confessed to trying the computer for writing. She failed and returned to her typewriter. I found it incredibly amusing. The thought of banging along on a typewriter when a computer makes it so much easier made me grin. I guess, if one is willing to remain in a different time, things are calmer. Perhaps my great-grandmother found scrubbing clothes on a washboard an opportunity to think, but I’m not willing to do it. ;>

  13. I for one struggle immensely with the time I have been spending on the computer as opposed to creating…. I am trying to learn to balance it all because there are days when I am glued to my chair and that is way to often…. I have found some wonderful friends through blogging… so I now give myself an alloted amount of time to visit blogs early in the morning while I sip a cup of coffee and later in the evening when I try but dont really sit and watch tv… I am finding that to be quite boring anymore unless its a really good show or movie so I take that time to draw or hand sew or visit blogs if that is what I wish to do…

    I agree with Alexandra in that we have lost all sense of enoying our days and evenings with family …. the computer and blogging in itself can be addictive… and while most people won’t admit they are ….there have been actual studies that prove it to be so…

    People used to sit on their front porches and visit… now they sit on their chairs and play games…

    I love this post because it does put into perspective the fact that we must take time to spend with each other or doing the things we love and less time being controlled by a machine….

    Granted it is now a sign of the times… and it is both a blessing and a curse…

    Could I live without my computer ? No… however when I was away from it for four days… I really didnt miss it… I think we all need blogging breaks… its important… if not for anything else than to clear your mind…

    The biggest difference however is the fact that a lot of us use the internet for online boutiques… and with that you HAVE to be on the computer a LOT…. yes you can leave a note and tell your guests you will be going away so that anything they purchase wont be sent until you get back… but the back end of the boutique is time consuming in itself…. maintaining a web site is an every day occurance…. you have to make product…take pictures… photo edit them…..place product…. invoicing……send it… keep up PR…. keep your clients happy… taxes… constantly change the appearance and keep your site refreshed etc etc etc…. and I think therein lies the difference between just a web site or a blog and a boutique

    I love Alexandra Stoddard… I love the fact that she is such a strong influence and an inspiration to many of us…. I love this post because she does remind us to take time to smell the coffee or the roses and find the beauty that is all around us

    HUGS

    JO

  14. As someone on the opposite end of the spectrum, never far from a computer or laptop and never without my BlackBerry, I really admire the steps Alexandra has taken to guard her free time and not be available 24 hours a day. There is something special about a handwritten note or letter and the care it conveys that reminds me I should take things a little more slowly . . .

  15. Paris Parfait says:

    What a lovely post! I have many of her books – a friend introduced me to Alexandra’s “Living a Beautiful Life” in 1992 and I was hooked – and her “Grace Notes” is always on my bedside table.

  16. Melissa,

    I think that you truly succeeded in capturing the essence of the conversation that you had with Alexandra, in what you shared here!

    Just to add another perspective, I find that using the computer to blog and communicate, allows me to have more freedom of choice. I can turn the computer on whenever I have the time, and then turn it off when I am finished. I see it as a convenience most of the time, and not as a hinderance. Of course, as with anything, the computer can become a “time-sucker” in which case, it is time to back away from it and take a break.

    Great job, Melissa!

    Big hugs,
    Debbie

  17. Wow, Melissa! What an incredible and thought-provoking post. I have been mulling over these very same things, trying to figure out where the balance is, how to get more calm moments out of life, how to have it all but re-defining what “having it all” means. And making it means less of better things! Great, great post. She is such a great teacher. Will check out her site. Thanks for sharing this! xo T.

  18. What a great interview. I’m familiar with Alexandra Stoddard but it’s was a pleasure to read more about her and her perspective on things. Wonderful post!

  19. This was exactly what I needed to read today! Lately I’ve been really struggling with trying to balance the time spent on the computer with my family, my creative time and my personal time. I love blogging and have made some wonderful friends through my blog but I find myself spending more and more time online then racing to try to catch up with my real life. Reading these words from Alexandra help me to realize that I need to protect my creative, family and personal time. I know that I will never stop blogging or keeping up with friends through emails but I will start putting a limit on the time I spend online. Thanks, Melissa, for sharing Alexandra’s wonderful wisdom with us!
    ~ Lynda xo

  20. HI Melissa, I am just now catching up with your posts for the week after a rather frenetic weekend that ran right into Monday. Alexandras ideas for slowing down and finding the beauty in our communications and everyday life are clearly a much needed message, and one I hope I can incorporate into my own life. I can’t say I want to go without my computer and email! But cell phones at our house are for emergency use only. I carry one because I have children, but my family members are the only ones who have the number so if the phone rings I know it is one of them! Thanks for some great posts on beauty, I look forward to the rest of the week:>)

  21. Dear God, you did talk to Alexandra. I discovered her in the early 80s and she has been my inspiration for so many things. When my daughter turned 16, I gave her books to read by Alexandra and I was thrilled at how she took to them. I hope you said my name to her, I would be in heaven to know that she has heard my name. You lucky, lucky thing. Good heavens. I am about to pass out here.

  22. Hi Melissa, we can only say Alexandra is an inspiration and a lady. Wonderful posts Melissa, an experience for you to cherish! J & j xo

  23. I came across your blog purely by accident! AND you were talking about Alexandra Stoddard yet.

    My garden club has invited Alexandra Stoddard to speak at our local high school in April.

    “An Afternoon with Alexandra Stoddard” will be on Saturday, April 26, 2008 at 1:00pm.

    If any of your readers are in the area, please plan a visit to hear this most noted woman speak.

    Check out her website for details.

  24. I loved your interview. I still have her first book (hardcover) the first day it ever came out, then somewhere along our busy busy distracted life we loose sight. I love your blog it’s pulling me back to what I originally loved, to the person I used to be. God has placed you on the right path….I wish you were my neighbor in Miami…..lol….thanks again, xoxo3hearts/Lizette

  25. Linda/Jim's wife/dog's "Mom" says:

    Dear Melissa~
    What an inspirational read for me (and sooo many others), and what an honor & blessing for YOU to personally interview Alexandra in a “one-on-one “~~~~ that’s literally “PRICELESS!” *** I hung on to every word you so beautifully wrote, and it is obvious you certainly made a great connection with her. That she GAVE of her valuable & treasured time, to share her thoughts with you, is the very greatest “GIFT” one can give. *** I knew OF her before, but feel as if I “KNOW” her a little now, too, and that feels good… I feel rested and optimistic about trying out her oustanding, in-touch-with-who-she-is thought process!
    Grateful to you both,
    Linda in AZ

  26. Hi friend, I do appreciate Alexandra’s wise words, yet I know that reality tells me it’s a different day and age. I am challenged by her words, yet I have to strike a balance in my own life with “technology,” and the temptation of losing some of the coveted arts that I desire to keep!

    Just yesterday I sat down and “hand-wrote” a note to a gal who had encouraged me at church, a few weeks prior. It was tempting to do the email thing, but I didn’t.

    It’ s so important that I keep asking God HOW he wants me to share with others, by what means, and PLEASE LORD, GIVE ME BALANCE! I know you know what I mean …

    Great post. Beautiful words … Hugs!

    Sandys inspiring blog post..My Son Made Breakfast – the Night Before! (Crockpot Breakfast)

  27. I first started reading Alexandra’s books some 30 years ago when I would escape into a bubble bath as soon as my husband got home to supervise our boys…as you indicate, it’s another world…I hope you do get to see her in person. She’s been in the PNW several times and has drawn great crowds….

  28. I just spotted this post on your main page and had to come see. I’m reading one of Alexandra’s books right now – one of the few things in English I have in Germany. It’s such a treasure. I love reading her ideas on this post.
    Katie

    Katie at makingthishome.coms inspiring blog post..Things Are Looking Up

  29. I was so pleased to happen upon this page today. I am VERY familiar with Alexandra Stoddard. I first came upon her books during one of my lunch hour retreats to a local book store – way back in the early 80’s. I’ve been influenced by her since then and it has not stopped. I think I have EVERY ONE of her books, and I read them over and over again….her thoughts and ideas on life in general never get old. Thank you.
    lilmom

  30. Hi, I am soooo glad I found your link! I LOVE living a beautiful life and I’ve been inspired by Alexandra Stoddard’s book for years now. It’s always fun to meet new kindred spirits!

    I’m putting your link on my sidebar as I want to stay connected others who love living life beautifully.

    Joyfully, Brenda

    Brenda Leylands inspiring blog post..Keep Eating The Apple

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  1. [...] talked about! And of course, stick around because we have a full week of inspiration ahead! Click HERE for the INTERVIEW WITH ALEXANDRA [...]

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