A nuanced satireboth hilarious and disconcertingthat probes the blurred lines between empowerment, spirituality, and consumerism in our online lives.
Lilian Quick is 40, single, and childless, working as a pet portrait artist. She paints the colored light only she can see, but animal aura portraits are a niche market at best. She's working hard to build her brand on social media and struggling to pay the rent.
Her estranged cousin has become internet-famous as "Eleven" Novak, the face of a massive feminine lifestyle empowerment brand, and when Eleven comes to town on tour, the two women reconnect. Despite twenty years of unexplained silence, Eleven offers Lilian a place at The Temple, her Manhattan office. Lilian accepts, moves to New York, and quickly enrolls in The Ascendency, Eleven's signature program: an expensive, three-month training seminar on leadership, spiritual awakening, and marketing. Eleven is going to help her cousin become her best self: confident, affluent, and self-actualized.
In just three months, Lilian's life changes drastically: She learns how to break her negative thought patterns, achieves financial solvency, grows an active and engaged online following, and builds authentic friendships. She finally feels seen for who she really is. Success! . . . But can Lilian trust everything Eleven says? This compelling, heartfelt satire asks us: How do we recognize authenticity when storytelling and magic have been co-opted by marketing?
|Product dimensions:||6.30(w) x 9.30(h) x 1.20(d)|
About the Author
Sarah Selecky's debut story collection, This Cake Is for the Party, was a finalist for the Giller Prize, shortlisted for the Commonwealth Prize for Best First Book, and longlisted for the Frank O'Connor Short Story Award. She is a dual citizen of Canada and the United States and earned her MFA in Creative Writing from the University of British Columbia. Her writing has appeared in the Walrus, the New Quarterly, and the Journey Prize Anthology, among many others. She lives near Toronto.
Read an Excerpt
My dearest Lilian,
Hello, gorgeous. I'm writing you from Venice, California.
I love the weird, brave, you-can-do-anything energy of Los Angeles.
This morning, I found white feathers and rhinestones scattered on the sidewalk as I walked to the beach.
I met a wise seagull at the shore. We danced in the surf together as a silver balloon, untethered, floated away in the sky above me.
Gratitude and respect to the incredible women who attended the spectacular Express Your Enlightenment (EYELos Angeles) last night. It was an honor to meet them, and to witness their transformation begin.
The EYE tour is a gathering of souls. Like-minded women who are quenching their thirst for life and love. Women just like you, who know deep in their hearts that they're meant to live a life they love, doing something beautiful and real. Women who understand that they are meant to help the world transform as they evolve into their highest, most inspired selves.
I'm sending you this special note because I know you live in the Ontario area. It's not too late for you to get tickets to Express Your Enlightenment Toronto, Lilian! I'm only coming to your city for one night: Saturday, January 9th.
As you know, early enrollment for the Ascendency Program is open. But you don't need to be an Ascendant to come to any of my EYE events! These are open to all women. And we have a few spots left. But just a few. You still have time to decide, but don't take too long.
Lilian, are we holding your seat? I want to see you there.
This Saturday night could be the turning point you've been waiting for.
Express Your Enlightenment events happen every year in different cities around the world. I don't know the next time I'll be in Toronto. This is your chance. You don't want to miss it.
Click here to register now.
See you soon, Love, Eleven
I am tempted to check Instagram, but it's still early morning. I haven't even had a cup of tea yet. Morning is sacred creative time. As an artist, I must fight the urge to look at what other people are making before I make something myself. Create before you consume. How will I use my creativity this morning?
I put the kettle on for tea. My phone makes a tinkling sound.
Define yourself. Declare your intention.
I open a coconut, apricot, and chia granola bar. It's small and sticky, and I eat it in two bites. It's delicious. Why did I eat that sugary thing for breakfast? Organic cane sugar is the second ingredient. I should have made myself a slice of gluten-free toast with tahini. Now I have chia seeds stuck in my teeth.
My newsletter is scheduled for 11:45, just in time for people's lunch breaks. I let my client list know that I have new blank cards ready in my Etsy shop. It's a dachshund set, three watercolour portraits of Millie, a dog with a turquoise aura and a goofy smile. I usually get a couple of orders when I send out a newsletter.
This apartment is a sublet. I have it until the summer, when the tenant returns from Thailand. Then I have to find a new place. Even as a sublet, the rent here is steep, and every little bit from my Etsy shop helps. I'm not sure where I'll live this summer, but I'm trying not to worry. Things have a way of coming exactly when we need them. It just takes faith and trust.
My kettle whistles. I open a brand-new box of ginger green tea and select one of the individually wrapped tea packets. I tear the top, but the paper of the tea bag is caught in the seal of the packet. I manage to rip the tea bag itself, and scatter tea leaves all over the floor. What's the matter with me?
I stop and breathe. I have a problem with negative self-talk.
Joy does not exist without gratitude.
The wind blows outside, but the plastic sheeting on the living room window stays tight. The ice has formed feathery patterns on the window. I am grateful for the pretty ice patterns, but they form so heavily over the windowpanes, I haven't been able to see outside since December. It's been a cold winter. My fingers are cracking, and I have red, sore, chapped lips from the dehydration.
I pick another packet from the box. When I open this one, the string is long and knotted, with three tags stapled to it. The bag itself is empty. I pause to text Juliette.
Me: Going to meet Nana Boondahl and Sophia now!
Juliette: Ooh good have fun
Me: Thank you SO MUCH!!
What will I say when I meet Nana Boondahl in person? I open a third packet of tea. This one looks normal, so I put it in my white-and-silver Live What You Love mug. I douse the bag with cold water first, to protect the flavonoids of the green tea leaves, and then pour over the hot water.
Juliette: You're welcome
Me: Things have a way of coming exactly when we need them!
Out of curiosity, I carefully open another packet from the box. This one contains a completely unsealed tea bag, with no string or staple. Half the loose tea is out of the bag, and this spills onto the counter when I open the packet. Why is this happening? What does it mean? There's a new moon tonight. Maybe it's in a weird planet? I look it up on my Astrofy app. Capricorn? That makes no sense at all. I check www.ismercuryinretrograde. com and the answer is yes. It doesn't go direct until January 25. Oh, great.
I place the latest staple-free, string-free tea bag on the counter on top of the spilled leaves. I arrange the knotted stringy one next to it, looping the strings and tags into an S-shape. I raise my phone over the arrangement and take a pic.
@LilianQuick> What the?! Help me, @EssenceTea! #teafail #mercuryinretrograde
I pull on leggings and a long grey sweater that covers my butt and thighs. It's comfy and warm. I hope it doesn't look sloppy. I stop myself. Live the way you love to feel. I want to feel comfortable in my own skin. I feel warm. I feel warm and comfortable as myself today. One of the best things about turning forty? I don't care what other people think. Finally, I can just be myself.
Me: I need new clothes!
Me: can you go shopping with me next week?!
Nana Boondahl is Canada's second most famous writer, after Margaret Atwood. Her poems are on every high school and college curriculum in the country. She's also the creator of Luze. This is why I love her so much: she's a successful artist, and she's a successful businesswoman. She's actually one of the only women billionaires in the world who earned her fortune without a husband or an inheritance.
Luze is a skin-correcting balm that blends with every skin tone, reduces pore size, and smooths uneven colouration. It's still an iconic beauty item after twenty years on the market. Every woman keeps a tube of Luze in her cosmetic case, guaranteed.
But truly, Nana Boondahl is a poet. I keep her most recent collection, Trees, Where the Rain Left Off on my bedside table. Her work is so poignant and lyrical. "Your Nature" is the poem I'm always quoting, though. It's an old one, a classic. Everyone reads it in high school English class. I've almost memorized it.
Taste the V-shape of your life, it starts.
I love it. I mean, I don't know what she means by the V-shape, but I also know it, deep down inside myself. There's something in my gut that just responds when I read that. I know it intensely, in a way that can't be put into language. She uses such simple words to make that feeling happen — I mean, V-shape? What is that? Nana Boondahl has a rare and brilliant mind. She's a national treasure. She must be in her seventies by now, but you can't really tell how old she is by looking at her. Her skin is flawless and unwrinkled.
Nana Boondahl has commissioned me to paint a portrait of her greyhound.
Juliette made the connection for me. Juliette knows everyone. Her site, purejuliette.com, is one of the top lifestyle design blogs in the world. She just designed an exclusive line of dishware for the Hudson's Bay Company. Juliette showed Nana Boondahl my website and some of my pet aura portraits, and apparently, she was impressed by what she saw. I'll never forget the day my phone rang and the voice on the other line said, "Hello, this is Nana Boondahl." That's all she said, at first. Like she wanted to wait a beat to give her name time to land and settle in my ears. Who makes phone calls anymore without texting first?
Me: Thank you *again* so much for connecting us! I am full of great fight!
Me: great fight
Me: I mean great fight
Me: omg autocorrect
Me: ok wish me luck I'm almost out the door!
Live the way you love to feel. I switch my phone camera to selfie mode and snap a picture. My forehead looks extra big. I delete the pic right away. I just wanted to see.
Me: Hi Yumi. Just confirming that I'll be at the studio at 9. Thanks!
I forgot to charge my phone last night, and now it only has 30 percent juice left. I plug it in to get some last-minute charge before I go. I pack a sixteen-by-twenty sketchbook and my tin of drawing pencils. I open the tin to see if my pencil sharpener is in there. It is not.
I usually work from home, but my sublet is far too small to have Nana Boondahl meet me here — it would look unprofessional. Yumi lets me use their studio when I have appointments, for a small rental fee. I can't afford to rent a studio of my own, obviously. I can hardly afford my sublet. So I have gratitude for this arrangement. Yumi's a night owl and usually sews past midnight, but the studio is empty in the morning.
I find my pencil sharpener in my desk drawer, along with a soft eraser I know I'll need. My phone blurts.
@EssenceTea>Oh no @LilianQuick! Our apologies. We're sending you a complimentary tea sampler. DM us for details.
This is why I love Twitter!
I pull on my Sorels, my heavy parka, and my red plaid earflap hat. I wrap an oversized buffalo plaid scarf around my neck three times. I am hoping for a Twin Peaks look: retro and lumberjane at the same time. I'm overheating. I feel dizzy, choked by my scarf. My stomach turns. I need fresh air. But as soon as I go outside, the cold air is going to hurt my face. I slather cocoa butter on my lips and hands to protect them, slip on fleece mittens, and brace myself. I hate winter. No! Replace that thought with something positive: I'm going to meet Nana Boondahl and her dog. On my way out, I take off a mitten and try a selfie again. My clothes look cute and hygge, but my face looks lopsided and I have bags under my eyes. I delete the pic.
The street outside is frozen and still, the light lemony white. It's so cold, it feels as though the air has had the wind knocked out of it. It's hard to breathe. My phone buzzes in my mitten.
Fleurje: Agh! Crap. Crazy day Lilian. So sorry I 4got our phone date yesterday. Can u try me tonight or tomorrow early aft?
Fleurje: It's been crazy busy. Weekdays are still flex - or there's next Monday. Would love 2 see u
Fleurje: ps sorry my messages r so long! I'm on my iPad and the screen is bigger
Me: It's ok! Yes try me tonight!
Me: no wait I forgot it's Eleven tonight! Can you come?
Fleurje: Maybe! What's at 11?
Me: Eleven Novak
Fleurje: is she self-help?
Me: no! feminine leadership
Me: lmk if you can come
Yumi stands at the door to the studio, their face red and cold. A delicate amount of light-brown stubble sparkles over their cheeks in the morning light. How do they have such perfect, poreless skin, when they stay up so late every night, drinking nothing but alcohol and caffeine? It must be good genes. Or maybe Luze. Though I doubt it, because they are such a natural beauty they don't have to wear any makeup. Today they wear a black motorcycle jacket zipped all the way to the neck, with a grey cashmere scarf stuffed in. They clutch a paper cup of coffee from Rupert's Roastery. I don't drink coffee — it raises the body's pH, and I try to keep mine neutral. The steam swirls up and out of the cup in a gorgeous twist. There's nothing like the look of a hot cup of coffee on a cold day.
"Nana Boondahl is coming today with her greyhound," I say. "Wish me luck. I'm a nervous wreck."
"You don't need luck," they say. "You're a genius."
I let out an awkward laugh. Yumi says these things to me, and I never know how to respond. "Where are you coming from?"
"Long night," they say. "There was a thing in the Distillery, and then I worked here all night. I'm going home to sleep now."
"What's the dog's name?" Yumi asks.
"Sophia," I say.
"I love greyhounds," they say. "So calm."
Yumi isn't wearing any gloves, and their fingers look white. It's so cold, it hurts my eyes to see the exposed skin. Yumi is a study in contrasts: that soft cashmere scarf wrapped around their neck, those tough bare hands gripping the paper cup.
"Your poor hands!" I say. I take the key. "Why don't you make yourself a pair of mittens?"
"It was a sake tasting event last night," Yumi says. Their breath is a white puff. They have such a nice mouth shape, with a defined cupid's bow on their top lip. Even with lip liner, I couldn't make that happen to my mouth. "I think I love sake. Does that make me a cliché?"
"Sake is objectively delicious," I say. "I think you're safe."
They hand me a brown paper shopping bag. "This is for you."
I open the handles with my mittened hands and peer in. Pale-blue cashmere.
"I found it in the pile, and it's perfect as is. It would be a shame to cut it. I thought the blue would look nice with your eyes."
I met Yumi at one of Fleurje's client appreciation wine and cheese events. It took me some time to get used to the pronoun — the stubborn habit of language. But Yumi was patient with me whenever I messed up. I am grateful to them for showing me that reality is not what I think. Everything is not black and white. Yumi simply being Yumi is a gift, and it doesn't have to be gender-specific. I'm always inspired when I see them. They're truly living Eleven Novak's Sacred Ascendency Prayer: Let yourself want what you want. I wish I was more like them.
We're so different from each other. For instance, they work best at night, I work best in the morning. They drink coffee and alcohol, and I avoid all acidifying food and drink. I hate the cold, and they complain about the heat in summer. There I go, trying to make my reality binary again! I always want things to be one way or the other. I have to keep working on this.
What would Yumi think about the Ascendency Prayer? Should I invite them to come with me to see Eleven tonight? Probably not, because it's about feminine empowerment. This makes me sad: Yumi is excluded from men's groups and women's groups. I almost ask them how they feel about this, but when I look into their eyes, my words waver, and I have to look away. Why do I feel so flustered around them? I thank them for the gift, push the key into the lock, and open the door.
"You'll need the space heater today," they say before they leave. "Last night was freezing, and it isn't much better this morning. Stay warm." Yumi is so nice to me!
It's cold inside the studio. Piles of merino and cashmere slouch around the floor, organized roughly by colour. Yumi is a talented picker — they go to warehouses every week to buy used sweaters by the pound, and Yumi has a knack for finding gems. Then they come back to their studio and sort these used sweaters into piles according to usability. They cut and discard any stained, pilled, or moth-eaten parts. Then they re-sort according to colour. Yumi designs new sweaters with these old materials, and measures, cuts, and serges together the old knits into new pieces. Since they were featured on the Arts and Makers Network, Yumi and their designs are famous now. Every sweater is one of a kind, and runs from three hundred to nine hundred dollars, depending on the design and the quality of the used wool. I could never afford to buy one of Yumi's pieces. One sweater basically equals a month of my rent.
I pull my mittens off, check my phone battery (22 percent), and hang my parka on the coat rack by the door. I move Yumi's serger, a block of plastic and chrome threaded with four tall spools of black thread, to make space on the wooden table for my sketchbook. The piles of wool will just have to stay where they are for now. Maybe they'll insulate the place against the draft.
My upholstered dog model cushion is right where I left it on the floor, with three neutral throw pillows. I plump up the pillows and arrange them in an inviting triangle on top of the cushion, and set a heart-shaped peanut butter cookie in the very centre, freshly baked by the Caninery.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Radiant Shimmering Light"
Copyright © 2018 Sarah Selecky.
Excerpted by permission of Bloomsbury Publishing Plc.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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