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Archive for the ‘writing’ Category

The grandest lives

I lead a small life. Well, valuable, but small. And sometimes I wonder: Do I do it because I like it? Or because I haven’t been brave?

–Meg Ryan (as Kathleen Kelly), You’ve Got Mail

tea journal sunglasses

Even the grandest lives come down to a few people and places. Loved ones, your daily work, your neighborhood. I don’t mean that in a belittling way. I’ve been realizing how complete our lives can be with just the few people and activities you most love.

–Daphne Kalotay, Sight Reading

I spend a lot of time wondering about the shape of my life.

I’ve made two grand, sweeping location changes as an adult: the first, a move to Oxford to spend a year studying for my master’s degree; the second, a cross-country move to Boston from Texas with my husband nearly four years ago. Both of these moves, the kind that would mark a turning point in a novel, required more than the usual round of packing, planning and good-byes. They demanded a leap of faith, a willingness to plunge into an entirely new culture: new weather, new food, new ways of getting from place to place. The shape of my days – my work, my commute, how and where I shop and eat – has shifted each time, forming itself to the contours of my new city.

But I still wonder if my life is big enough.

I’m over at TRIAD today, musing about the quotes above and the size and shape of my life. Click over there to read the rest of my post.

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My name is Katie and I am a stationery addict.

stationery notecards

I have a whole drawer in my desk dedicated to notecards, spare pens, stickers and envelope seals. (There’s a separate drawer for notebooks and notepads.) I have a snail mail pen pal with whom I exchange long, newsy handwritten letters. And despite the fact that I didn’t manage to send out Christmas cards this year, I think handwritten notes are always a good idea.

I’ve been looking for a challenge to pep up February – since the shortest month can feel awfully long when you’re caught in the grip of a New England winter. Since Valentine’s Day falls in February, it seemed like the perfect time to write love notes – not just to my husband (though he’s definitely on my list), but to lots of the people I care about. So, this month, I’m writing one snail mail love note a day.

This project will force me to use my stash of stationery and notecards instead of hoarding them, and I’m hoping my increasingly chicken-scratch handwriting will improve with a bit of practice. And, of course, I hope my loved ones will smile when they open up the mailbox and see a note from me.

The month has already started, and so far I’m right on target. (Here’s hoping I don’t lose steam after Valentine’s Day has come and gone.)

What are you doing to make February a little brighter? Want to join me in writing a few love notes?

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shoes book harvard yard

(Remembering the days when it was warm enough to sit and read in Harvard Yard.)

The Long Winter, Laura Ingalls Wilder
Since moving to Boston, I’ve reached for this book every winter. The Ingalls family’s hard winter gives me perspective – at least I’m not living off seed wheat! – and courage to face the bitter winds and freezing temps. I particularly love the bond between Pa and Laura, and their staunch bravery (and honest frustration) in the face of blizzard after blizzard. A favorite.

The Girl Who Chased the Moon, Sarah Addison Allen
Emily Benedict, orphaned at 17, moves from Boston to her mother’s North Carolina hometown, longing to discover her family history. She gets more than she bargained for and also meets an unusual boy. I like Allen’s gentle magical realism, but I had trouble believing in this book’s central conceit. Garden Spells is still my favorite of hers.

Steal Like an Artist: 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative, Austin Kleon
A fun, fast, quirky list of creativity tips (per the subtitle). Good reminders about the importance of side projects, the potential to get ideas anywhere, and other aspects of the creative life. A quick hit of inspiration.

Meant to Be, Lauren Morrill
Type-A, straight-A Julia believes in being prepared for all scenarios. But on a class trip to London, she gets paired with Jason, a goofy, spontaneous rule-breaker who drives her completely crazy. Can Julia – and Jason – let go of the notion that “meant to be” is always what you’ve planned? A fun YA love story in a fabulous setting.

The Supreme Macaroni Company, Adriana Trigiani
Shoemaker Valentine Roncalli is finally marrying the man she loves, but juggling a new marriage and an established business proves challenging. I usually love Trigiani’s stories of women from big Italian families chasing their dreams, but this third novel about Valentine felt rushed and unsatisfying.

Links (not affiliate links) are to my favorite local bookstore, Brookline Booksmith.

I’m joining Leigh’s February Reading Challenge, so I won’t be buying any books in February (though I will be using the library). Wish me luck!

What are you reading?

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My one little word for 2014 is light.

light cafe window

I love the light. I am a sunshine girl, a sky-watcher, a relentless photographer of sunrises and sunsets.

sunset cape cod

I crave the light this time of year, when I have to augment the real stuff with some artificial light, just to get me through the short, dark days. Winter light in Boston can be hard to find – though I love those days when a brave blue sky arches overhead and sunlight glints off the snow.

I love the light – watching it, capturing it, basking in it. But that’s not the only reason I chose this word.

I want to be lighter this year – to foster a sense of joy in my daily life, rather than getting bogged down by financial worries or the daily commute. The big things in my life – my marriage, my job, my church, my family – are so good, and I want to savor them, enjoy them, embrace the light in them.

I’d like to be lighter on my feet, quicker to adapt and change course when a situation doesn’t go my way. I’d also like to lighten up on myself when I make a mistake – apologize, do my best to rectify it, and let it go.

I’d also like to be a few pounds lighter, a little leaner and healthier. To that end, I am continuing to take yoga classes and making an effort to eat something green every day.

Finally, I’d like to infuse some light into my writing – to hold it more lightly, embrace a bit of whimsy, enjoy the process rather than agonizing about the possible outcome of every piece. That’s difficult for an overthinker like me, but important.

Have you chosen a word, or made resolutions, for the year? I realize I’m a little behind the curve here, but if you’ve made any shiny new plans, I’d love to hear about them.

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In 2013 I have…

Last year and the year before that, I’ve made long (but non-exhaustive) lists of the things I’ve done over the course of the year. It’s so much fun to look back on a year and appreciate all it has contained.

coral-scarf-christmas

In 2013 I have:

What have you been up to this year? (Do you make lists like this?)

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tea journal sunglasses

Recently, I’ve returned to yoga, taking a few classes at two local studios after a hiatus of more than two years. I am definitely what you’d call a beginner yogi: I’m familiar with most of the basic poses, but in every class I encounter new terms, new twists (literal and figurative), and new ways of putting the poses together. My body is not naturally particularly flexible, and I am out of practice, so I have to be patient with myself. More specifically, I have to overcome the twin obsessions of what Natalie Goldberg calls my “monkey mind”: perfectionism and the need for validation.

My first yoga teacher, McKay, used to tell us, “There is no judgment or competition in yoga.” That statement always felt like an exhale to me, a huge relief. I repeat it to myself every time I’m on the yoga mat. The lack of competition is one of my favorite things about yoga, one of the reasons I look forward to yoga classes, rather than dreading them the way I used to dread those physical fitness tests in elementary school.

Even with McKay’s words in my head, I still find myself glancing around at the other students, or at the teacher. I’m not judging their practice, usually; I’m judging my own. Are my toes pointed in the right direction? Are my legs up high enough? Do I look stupid with my hair falling down around my face? Am I sweating more than anyone else? (The answer is usually yes.) And the question underneath all those: Am I doing it right?

Because I’m relatively new to yoga, I am only really confident of a few poses: plank, cat/cow, downward facing dog. When I twist myself into triangle or pigeon or some other more intense pose, I always automatically wonder: is this right? Sometimes the wondering continues: should I bend this way, stretch that way, lean forward or back, breathe in or out? Sometimes I’m able to quiet the inner chatter and hold the pose, simply be there, breathe through the discomfort. At other times, I glance toward the front of the room, wanting the instructor to give me a gold star, to say, Yes. You’re doing it right.

As you know if you have practiced yoga, being right isn’t the point. The practice, the very act of showing up and doing the poses, is the point. Aiming for the right form is good, of course; it stretches the muscles properly and helps prevent injury. But perfection is not the goal. The goal is to be present, to exercise your body, to calm your spirit. The goal is to do, and to be.

I run into these twin obsessions at other places in my life, most particularly in my writing. I have always been good at fulfilling assignments, and I’ve earned plenty of gold stars for doing so over the years. But now that I’m not in school anymore, now that I write mostly for myself, I don’t have anyone looking over my shoulder to tell me if I’m doing it right. I can make massive mistakes, spend hours working on sentences I’ll eventually throw away. Without a built-in system for validation, the possibilities are sometimes frighteningly endless.

But in yoga, as in writing, that lack of judgment, competition and validation provides a quiet freedom, the chance to experiment and find out how a pose or a technique works for me. There is a place in both arenas for honing and refining my craft. But for now, what I need is to turn off the judgmental voice in my head, lean into the yoga pose (or into the blank page), and practice. I need to show up, so I can do, and be – without relying on anyone else to tell me I’m doing it right (or wrong).

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I turned 30 last month, which felt rather momentous and completely ordinary at the same time. I’ve never been one to worry over milestone birthdays, but I did enjoy marking this one with our trip to Montreal, and of course, I loved the cards and gifts from family and friends.

Katie Gibson-4

For the past few years, I’ve made a list of things I want to do, try, accomplish and/or enjoy before my next birthday. I crossed off many of the items on last year’s list, but I am feeling less ambitious this year. (Besides, I’m already working on my fall manifesto.)

But I do love a good list, so here’s my fresh, new, slightly shorter one:

1. Try a new-to-me author every month, including the list of Canadian authors sent to me by a Canadian friend.
2. Knit myself a pair of cozy slippers (probably from this book).
3. Visit Nantucket.
4. Buy a go-to neutral handbag (black or brown).
5. Fly to San Diego to visit our friends who live there.
6. Go to the dentist (carried over from last year).
7. Visit Prince Edward Island.
8. Attend a carol service at Harvard.
9. Spend at least one lovely long weekend in NYC.
10. Visit a place I’ve never been. (Three of the above items qualify for this one.)
11. Get a massage (my husband bought me a gift certificate for my birthday).
12. Develop a regular exercise routine.
13. Write something I can be proud of.

(Photo by the talented Kristin.)

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