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A Lesson in Mindfulness from 2019 DSM Book Festival Author Garth Stein

DSM Book Festival Mindfulness

September 25, 2019

I have tried many hobbies throughout my life, but I have stuck with very few.

For instance, in 7th grade basketball I was benched after kicking the ball to prevent the other team from getting it. In 8th grade gymnastics I gave up my dream of becoming an Olympic gymnast when I wisely succumbed to the fact that if I couldn’t do a back handspring by the time I was 14, I likely never would. But reading? Reading has always been the perfect hobby for me. Not only is it something that I can do anywhere, anytime, but it’s something that I’m really good at. So, when I heard about the DSM Book Festival and was asked to join the committee, I was jazzed.

Planning for the Inaugural Festival

I attended committee meetings as my busy schedule permitted. I offered suggestions for content, provided fundraising ideas as expected and left the “meaty” stuff to the experts. It was fun meeting new people and seeing the progression of what I expected to be a very cool event.

However, what energized me most was being given the incredible experience to spend the day with Garth Stein, New York Times bestselling author of The Art of Racing in the Rain. Disclaimer: I had not yet read his book. I had plans to and was excited for the opportunity as the book was soon to be released as a movie narrated by Kevin Costner. How cool, right?!

Meeting Garth Stein

The festival quickly approached and I still hadn’t read the book. Oy. I crossed my fingers. Please don’t let him ask me about it! I greeted Garth in the lobby of his hotel, gave him the Kum & Go swag I promised him (because who visits Iowa and doesn’t need a Kum & Go shirt and koozie) and we headed to the festival.

Everything was going well as we walked through his presentation when suddenly, after I asked him if he needed anything else, he turned to me and said, “You need to calm down.” (Taylor Swift anyone?) Apparently in my desire to make sure he was taken care of, I had asked one too many times if he was “good.” He walked away and I settled in for his talk . . . admittedly with a bit of a chip on my shoulder. 

As expected, Garth was funny, sincere, smart and thoughtful. He engaged the audience, answered questions and was every bit the storyteller we had hoped to hear. He discussed the upcoming movie and changes he was uncertain about: Would they capture the spirit of Enzo as the book so effectively did? Would altering Danny’s conflict with his in-laws change the intensity of the situation? Was he crazy to think that a book narrated by a dog would translate to a movie narrated by a dog? The packed room was certain that it would.  

Post talk, Garth sat down to a book signing, the long line snaking throughout the atrium of Capital Square. Young and old had their books signed — both The Art of Racing in the Rain and the Enzo children’s series. Time and time again, personal stories of how Stein’s book helped individuals through tough times were recounted to me (the line patrol), as well as to Garth. He smiled for photos and smiled even bigger when he met a sweet, young boy named Enzo. My chip was starting to fade.

At the end of the signing I took Garth to print a custom t-shirt from Side Garage. Aptly, he chose “Never judge a book by its movie,” telling me that he planned to wear the shirt for the screening of the movie two days later in California. I wondered if producers would find the humor in this but realized that Garth really didn’t care. He had already manifested his own destiny. He believed in his book and he believed in Enzo.

Understanding Mindfulness

Shortly after the festival, I received a signed copy of the book. I opened the first page: “Gestures are all that I have; sometimes they must be grand in nature.” But all I could hear was Garth’s voice telling me to calm down. Clearly the chip was still there. I put the book on a shelf and walked away.

Fast forward a few months. I was asked to write about the whole experience — spending the day with Garth, reading the book and seeing the movie. I didn’t hesitate because, like I said, I like to try new things. Disclaimer #2: I still hadn’t read the book. That same day I settled in and began reading. This time, the voice had changed. The chip was gone and I was ready to meet Enzo.

Very early on in the book is a lesson about manifesting your own destiny, and the theme carries throughout both the book and the movie. I know this mantra. I listen to a Mindworx podcast about this very topic. I try to practice mindfulness daily. But I needed this reminder. I needed to be knocked down a bit to remind myself that I am in control of how I react to those around me; to experiences and emotions and dogs.

I got more out of this experience than just “hanging out with a NYT bestselling author.” I got more than a free autographed copy of the book. It may have taken a few laps but I came through the experience with a renewed understanding that I do manifest my own reactions and my own reality … that sometimes I do need to just calm down. As Enzo so wisely states, “While I cannot say that I am a master of my own destiny, I can say that I have experienced a glimpse of mastery, and I know what I have to work toward.”

I am grateful to the Greater Des Moines Partnership and to Garth Stein for this reminder and unforgettable experience and cannot wait to see what awaits at the 2020 Book Festival.

Downtown Des Moines (DSM) is a growing, vibrant community that offers the energy, sophistication, housing and attractions of a burgeoning city with a brilliant future. It’s also easy to visit with plentiful and affordable street and ramp parking options.

Emily Bahnsen

Emily Bahnsen is the philanthropy manager for Kum & Go, leading its charitable giving program. Previously, she ran the Wells Fargo Foundation for the state of Iowa and worked at the Des Moines Arts Center, most recently as development director. Emily's focus is relationship building, fundraising and helping nonprofits fulfill their missions.