Karl Reviews: Destination Simple by Brooke McAlary


Avast and ahoy!

It is less than a month to the festival, and things are getting busy at Bookmarks. Every day we get in new shipments of books to move, unpack, check, peruse, sniff, fondle affectionately, flap, repack, and organize alphabetically by author’s last name (not, as I was quickly informed, by their number of appendages descending, which is standard practice in kraken stores). How can any animal keep pace with all this work while still finding time to read and review the works of so many brilliant authors? It is a recipe for stress and twisted tentacles.

Fortunately, one of this year’s festival authors has been working on solutions to the perpetual stress of modern life for years. Brooke McAlary‘s Destination Simple: Everyday Rituals for a Slower Life is a concise guide to simplifying, slowing down, and living a more harmonious and fulfilling life.

Destination Simple advocates for adding several ritual tasks to one’s daily habits. When I first read that rituals could help simplify a person’s life, I must say I was surprised. In the Kraken Cove, rituals can be very complicated and stressful affairs that take hours to complete. At one monthly festival, for instance, kraken priests juggle clams with four of their tentacles while the other four are hard at work chopping and seasoning a kelp salad offering, all the while reciting over five hundred lines of the Old Krakonic Epic of the Waves. When officiating a wedding, a kraken is expected to do a ceremonial tap dance while tying the tentacles of the couple into an accordion knot.

In Destination Simple, however, ritual means something very different. Rather than virtuosic feats of multitasking, Ms. McAlary suggests that we should perform the ritual of “single-tasking,” focusing on one activity and experiencing it fully. This concept was entirely new to me. Usually I try to octotask, with a book in one tentacle, a pen in another, a snack in a third, the fourth and fifth typing enthusiastic comments on various social media platforms, and the remaining three absent-mindedly straightening books on the nearby shelf.

I knew I needed to find one task in my day that I could do with perfectly focused attention. Seeing that the book suggests making tea as one such task, I headed over to Footnote and asked if I might fill in as a barista for the day. The staff reluctantly agreed, and I was soon behind the counter taking orders. I contemplated the water heating, just as the book suggested, until it was pointed out to me that the water was kept at a constant temperature, and that I had just spent ten minutes staring at the dispenser. Undeterred, I poured some water into the cup, concentrating on the comforting sound it made. I added the tea leaves and watched them stain the water, then added milk and sugar, listening to the clink of my spoon on the sides of the cup as I stirred.

My state of calm broke only slightly when, as I handed the cup of tea over the counter, noticing how the steam rose delicately, the customer politely reminded me that she had ordered an iced coffee.

After this exercise, which I counted as partly successful, I turned to another of the book’s suggested rituals: selecting three tasks from my to-do list to focus on for the day. My to-do list had been expanding constantly, and when I checked it it read:

  • Read Destination Simple
    • Write blog post
  • Attend Bookmarks monthly mythological staff meeting
    • Make snacks to bring to meeting
    • Type up minutes from the meeting
  • Proofread recommendation letter for a friend
    • Leave recommendation letter in sun to dry out water stains
  • Email editor regarding changes to first volume of History of Kraken Literature
  • Make hotel reservations for cousin Kredence’s wedding
    • Learn to tie accordion knot
    • Learn to tap dance
  • Reply to fan mail
  • Go for afternoon swim
  • Call Mom in Kraken Cove
  • Festival preparations:
    • Help check in boxes of books
    • Volunteer to moderate panels
    • Print and hang flyers
    • Write passage to submit to Slush Pile Live!
    • Special order volunteer t-shirts in kraken and dragon sizes

But following the guidelines in Destination Simple, I was able to narrow the day’s tasks down to:

  • Read Destination Simple
  • Reply to fan mail
  • Call Mom

And with those complete, I can now relax, stretch my tentacles, and perhaps spend the afternoon sipping a well-made cup of tea that a customer at Footnote didn’t want.

I hope that you, too, dear readers, will make some space in your day to relax and savor the works of this year’s festival authors. They are all so wonderful, they deserve nothing less than your complete and focused attention.

Yours simply,

Karl the Kraken


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