Agapi Stassinopoulos started to write a book about her mother and wound up writing one about herself. Unbinding the Heart is a collection of 32 short autobiographical stories that describe Stassinopoulos’s own journeyto self-acceptance—many of which were inspired by her mother, who died in 2000. “People who knew my mother said, ‘You have to tell her stories’—how she raised me and my sister andhow she gave us the confidence to go out in the world and beourselves,” Stassinopoulos explained one afternoon over stuffed grape leaves and grilled dorado at Periyali, one of her favorite Greek restaurants in New York City.
Stassinopoulos, who grew up in Athens with her older sister, Arianna Huffington, moved to London at 18 to pursue acting and later went on to Los Angeles. She landed several small roles before realizing that an actress’s life was not her dream. “I couldn’t handle the rejections,” she says. “I used to say Hollywood did not get me—but truthfully, I did not get me.” Her mother helped her embrace new opportunities and resist negativity. In the book, she talks about realizing that a film she had spent years producing (it was based on her sister’s bestselling biography of Maria Callas) would not make it to theaters. “I was complaining to my mother,” she recalls. “And she said, ‘Darling, change the channel.’ ”
The key to happiness, Stassinopoulos later discovered, is a process she calls unbinding: “going deep inside yourself and realizing that you are enough.” It also means staying connected to her roots. “No one [in Greece] is ever ‘fine,’ ” she says as she nibbles on strawber-ries and sips cappuccino. “If you ask, ‘How are you?’ people say, ‘I’m happy’ or ‘I’m sad.’ I grew up with that kind of cultural expression.” So did her sister, who shows up in several stories. “Arianna and I have very different rhythms,”she says. “Arianna is quick; I take my time. She’s ambitious; I’m artistic. But we love each other dearly and have one another’s backs . . .
“We both live our lives to the fullest,” she adds. “My mantra is, ‘Don’t be stingy with your energy or your love. Be exuberant. Be Greek.’ ”
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