Archive for the ‘writing’ Category

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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shoes red leaves

It is the season of red leaves, vivid against the still-bright green of the trees around them, falling from spindly branches in Harvard Yard until they pile up on the ground, layer on layer. I want to gather up handfuls and press them in frames, paper my living room with them, slip them into envelopes and send them to friends.

It is the season of jackets and ballet flats, of a scarf in the morning and a bare neck at lunchtime, the in-between season where we squint at the forecast and open and close the windows accordingly. It is the season of crisp apples and golden butternut squash, piled at the farmers’ market alongside the last few heaps of plump tomatoes.

It is the season of bare feet and snuggly robes, of waking up early to a slightly dimmer sky each day, of reaching for the Vitamin D pills but not pulling out the light box. Not quite yet. It is the season of adjusting, of reveling in the sunshine and warmth while readying ourselves for the short dark days to come.

memorial church harvard fall red leaves

It is the season of cranberries, baked whole into bread flavored with orange zest, infusing my cups of tea along with citrus and almond. It is not quite time for the spiced holiday blends or the stout Yorkshire that will see me through the winter. It is the season of pumpkin chai and pumpkin bread and local apple cider sipped cold and refreshing from a glass or warm and spicy from a mug.

It is the season of fall events, from conferences and work celebrations to book signings and church clean-out days. It is the season of football and midterms and fresh-faced students everywhere, sporting still-new college tees and hoodies.

It is the season of juggling at our house, as my husband adjusts to a new work routine and I balance a day job with freelance gigs and try to keep a bit of mental space clear for my own writing. It is the season of a few routines – church on Sunday, Castle on Monday nights, washing the dishes after dinner, the New York Times crossword – that keep us sane and connected.

It is the season of looking ahead to the holidays, thinking about plane tickets and travel plans, about Turkeypalooza and Christmas cards, starting to make gift lists but not worrying over it yet. Two thousand miles changes the shape of a holiday season, means more planning ahead, more laying of groundwork now so it doesn’t slide into a spiral of stress in December.

It is the season of being here now, of reminding myself every day to pay attention to the light, the words on the page, the office banter and the faces of those I love. It is the season of settling into a rhythm, but also of waking up every morning with a fresh start, a willingness to begin again.

What season are you in, these days?

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tealuxe emily deep valley maud hart lovelace

Emily of Deep Valley, Maud Hart Lovelace
I discovered Emily’s story – a lesser-known classic by the author of my beloved Betsy-Tacy books – a few years ago, and now I hanker for it every fall. Emily feels stuck in Deep Valley, caring for her grandfather while her friends go off to college. But she “musters her wits” – starting a Browning Club, taking dancing lessons, befriending a few Syrian families – and gains some much-needed self-confidence. She’s a winning, quietly strong, utterly relatable heroine. I adore her, and I love seeing all my favorite Deep Valley folks (Cab Edwards, Miss Fowler, Betsy Ray herself) again.

Thirty Days to Glory, Kathy Nickerson
Kathy (a dear blog-friend) sent me the e-version of her debut novel (out Oct. 25) for review. It’s a heartwarming holiday story about Catherine, an elderly widow who longs to do something important with her remaining days on earth, and Elmer, a down-on-his-luck drunk who needs something good to happen to him. Their stories intertwine in surprising ways. Bittersweet but hopeful.

The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club, Dorothy L. Sayers
When an elderly general turns up dead in his easy chair at his favorite club, everyone supposes he simply died in his sleep. But Lord Peter Wimsey suspects foul play – especially since the distribution of a sizable inheritance depends on exactly when the general died. Wimsey is coming into his own as a detective (and Sayers as a writer) – this mystery was great fun, and satisfyingly plotted.

Emerald Green, Kerstin Gier
Since Gwyneth Shepherd found out she’s one of an elite circle of time travelers, everything has been going wrong – including her relationship with Gideon, a charming but cocky fellow time traveler. In this conclusion to the Ruby Red trilogy, Gwen and Gideon must hopscotch back and forth through time to avert a disaster and to find answers to some pressing questions. Witty, romantic and fast-paced – a fun conclusion to a wonderful trilogy. It had been a year since I read the second book, Sapphire Blue; I’d like to reread these books all in a row.

Still Writing: The Pleasures and Perils of a Creative Life, Dani Shapiro
I had the pleasure of meeting Dani when she read at Brookline Booksmith this month. Still Writing is a wise, quiet collection of musings, anecdotes and encouragement about the writing life. Divided into Beginnings, Middles and Ends, these short essays offer wisdom, guidance, humor and hope to those of us who return over and over again to the blank page. Lovely.

Wonder Women: Sex, Power, and the Quest for Perfection, Debora Spar
I found an article by Spar via Lindsey’s blog and picked up her memoir-cum-dissection of feminism, its effects, and the relentless perfectionism under which many women still struggle. Spar is president of Barnard College and a former Harvard Business School professor; I appreciated her insights on the differences between male- and female-dominated workplaces. She explores the dizzying array of options (for careers, childbearing and relationships) available to women, but I wanted more practical ideas on how to balance them. Not quite as good as Lean In, but still thought-provoking.

This post contains IndieBound affiliate links.

What are you reading?

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Oct 2013 001

My work is loving the world.
Here the sunflowers, there the hummingbird —
equal seekers of sweetness.
Here the quickening yeast; there the blue plums.
Here the clam deep in the speckled sand.

I have never met Mary Oliver, but I consider her one of my teachers.

A published poet since 1963, Oliver has written hundreds, probably thousands, of poems during her lifetime, producing more than 25 books of poetry and three books of nonfiction to date. She writes about early morning walks in the woods or along the shoreline; finding the footprints of animals in the forest or near a lake; the tension between the fleeting beauty of the natural world and its undertones of violence, death and decay. She harbors a deep love for the world we inhabit, and a deep sadness for the ways humans mar or destroy the quiet, lonely places where animals and plants live.

I doubt Oliver ever cared much for clothes and fashion, but if she did, she gave up that particular passion long ago. She has learned what is worth caring about, and what she can easily ignore:

Are my boots old? Is my coat torn?
Am I no longer young, and still not half-perfect? Let me
keep my mind on what matters,
which is my work,

which is mostly standing still and learning to be

This is what I need to learn, amid my distracted and often scattered life, amid my commute and my day job, amid the relentless pull of social media and relationships online and offline. I need to learn to pause, on my front porch or in the park or even on the subway platform, and pay attention to the
natural world, to the details that astonish.

I’m over at TRIAD magazine again today, sharing my thoughts on Oliver’s poetry. Please click over there to read the rest of my essay.

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We all have stories we tell ourselves. We tell ourselves we are too fat, too ugly, or too old, or too foolish. We tell ourselves these stories because they allow us to excuse our actions, and they allow us to pass off the responsibility for things we have done — maybe to something within our control, but anything other than the decisions we have made.

[...] It is past time, I think, for you to stop telling that particular story, and tell the story of yourself. [...] There are times in our lives when we have to realize our past is precisely what it is, and we cannot change it. But we can change the story we tell ourselves about it, and by doing that, we can change the future.

The Weird Sisters, Eleanor Brown

longfellow garden radcliffe yard

I reread Eleanor’s lovely novel this spring, and this quote (near the end of the book, after one character has finally faced up to her mistakes) has stayed with me. It struck me the first two times I read The Weird Sisters, but on this, my third read, it lodged in my mind and has remained there. And only now, months later, have I figured out why.

For the first two years of my life in Boston, I told myself this story about it: Boston is a strange, difficult, often lonely place to live, full of beauty, history and culture, but far from my home and the family and friends I miss. I will have a hard time truly belonging here.

My six months of unemployment and my subsequent first job here gave me few reasons to change this narrative, even as I fell in love with our apartment and our church. I clung to Abi and Shanna, my two treasured friends who moved up here when we did, and to the few new friends we made. I also spent many (not unhappy) afternoons wandering the city by myself, but I eventually came to believe that carving out a place for ourselves here was not only difficult but impossible.

The last seven months have completely upended that narrative, forcing me to rethink the story altogether.

Part of the change is simply a result of the passage of time. After three years, we know all sorts of things we could not have known as Boston newbies: how to navigate the subway system, how to decipher the New England accents, how long it takes to get to church and the mall and the grocery store. We have library cards and parking passes, a detailed mental map of Boston and its environs. We have established a number of traditions: apple picking, July 4 fireworks, Turkeypalooza. We own down coats and CharlieCards and Massachusetts drivers’ licenses. We have built, slowly and over many months, deep friendships that did not exist before we came here.

We also know larger, intangible things: how it feels to move two thousand miles away from family, how difficult and freeing it can be to strike out on your own in a totally new part of the country. How much it costs to fly, at various times of the year, from Boston to Dallas or Boston to West Texas, and how and what to pack for those trips. How it feels to ache for the community you left, and how to do the slow work of building a new one. We are no longer as lonely as we were, and I cannot tell you how grateful this makes me.

The surprise factor in changing my narrative about Boston and New England is my new neighborhood, the job I now hold at one of Harvard’s schools and the transformation it has wrought in my workdays.

I had convinced myself, after months of experience to that effect, that Boston’s landscape of friendship might be as gray and barren as its physical landscape in winter. And though I started my new job in the dead of winter, the camaraderie in my new office burst onto my internal landscape like a garden of spring flowers.

Since February, my relationships with my colleagues have bloomed, sometimes slowly, but steadily, and they provide daily color and light where before I had little of either. The work itself is another important factor: it suits me better, personally and professionally, than my former position. And the chance to explore Harvard Square on my lunch breaks, and attend Morning Prayers at Memorial Church, is no small thing.

As a result, the story I tell myself, about both my past and present experience in Boston, is changing. I am learning to see the first two years for what they were: a challenging but valuable transition into a new city and a much different way of life. I am newly aware of how long it takes to truly feel at home in a place, and newly accepting of the ways in which I may always feel like an outsider. But I no longer assume that the people I meet will prove brusque or uncaring. I am more open to new experiences, new friends, new projects and possibilities.

I am creating a new story to tell myself. And it feels good.

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A Bit of Earth

balcony garden 012

This was my fourth summer growing a balcony garden. And I’m feeling a little guilty about it.

My roots are on two Midwestern farms, where I spent my childhood summers watching cows graze on quiet hillsides and riding in the tractor cab with my grandfather. I spent hours shelling peas and snapping green beans into stainless-steel bowls, pulling dinner – or at least part of it – from the earth outside. I learned about how the land fed us, how in turn we tended the land. How our hard work and care, combined with rain and soil and light, produced the vegetables and meat that ended up on my grandparents’ table.

These days, the most I can manage is a row of pots on a balcony.

I’m a city dweller now, living above the land instead of on it, in a second-floor flat on a suburban street in a bustling town just south of Boston. My husband and I have yet to own any of the places we’ve lived; we are renters, tenants, temporary residents with a lease, not a deed, to our names.

There are perks to this way of living, of course: when a faucet sprouts a leak or an electrical circuit shorts out, we call the landlords (who conveniently live downstairs) and let them deal with it. But since we live upstairs and don’t own our place, the yard – the land – doesn’t belong to us.

Most of the time I don’t mind, but sometimes I wish we could have a garden. I wonder if it would help ground me, help me feel connected to the city I’ve lived in for three years but still hesitate to call home.

I’m over at TRIAD magazine today, talking about my balcony garden. Please click over there to read the rest of my essay and see Kristin’s gorgeous photos of my plants.

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Katie Gibson-6

I’m turning 30 (!) in just a few days, so here’s my last update on the list I made last September of things to do/accomplish/try/enjoy before then.

Items completed (or jettisoned) are crossed off; items begun are starred.*

1. Go back to Europe. Specifically Oxford (where I used to live). Not happening this year, between my newish job and various financial commitments.
2. Read or donate at least half the books I own that I’ve not yet read.* I’ve cleared out a lot of books. Done.
3. Go back to the Glen Workshop. Couldn’t swing it this year. See #1.
4. Visit my loved ones in Abilene. (Loved being there over Christmas.)
5. Finish a draft of my memoir. On hold for now.
6. Pay off my student loans. DONE!
7. Go apple picking for the third time. (It was glorious.)
8. Visit a place I’ve never been. (Newport, RI; the Berkshires in MA; Portsmouth, NH; Upper Cape Cod; Camden, ME; Lower Cape Cod)
9. Read 10 new-to-me classics of any genre. I’ve read 18, including Les Mis.
10. Participate in a cooking challenge with fellow Shelf Awareness reviewers. (Read all about it!)
11. Visit New York in the fall. (A weekend full of wonder.)
12. Cuddle my sweet nephew a lot. (Yes – at Christmas and in March. Planning more cuddles this fall.)
13. Conquer the snooze button.* (Still working on it.)
14. Knit a few beautiful things. (See my late winter knits.)
15. Go to the dentist.
16. Visit Canada.* (Birthday trip in the works!)
17. Reach out to two friends every week. (Social media makes this easier.)
18. Reread the Mother-Daughter Book Club series. Done.
19. Take a vacation with friends.* (Planning on this soon.)
20. Try 2 or more new recipes a month. Delicious.
21. Develop a steady, focused routine for my workdays.* (Still working on it.)
22. Re-imagine our cluttered guest room.* (Major progress.)
23. Invest in sturdy, chic black flats. Finally.
24. Eat at the food truck on the Common. Yum.
25. Get a pedicure. Ahhhh.
26. Invite friends over at least once a month.
27. Write half a dozen more essays. (I’ve written for Art House America about laundry, mending, and prayer. Now working on a series of three essays for TRIAD.)
28. Order myself a new “brave” necklace.
29. Savor the last year of my twenties. (Absolutely.)

What lists are you working on lately?

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inishmor view 3

I grew up on the plains of West Texas, under vast skies that blaze orange and golden at sunset, stretching high and blue above during the day. Those plains stretch for hundreds of miles, the view broken up only by spindly telephone poles and by curving pump jacks rocking rhythmically up and down. I am used to landscapes that make me feel small.

As a native of that dry land, though, I have little experience with bodies of water bigger than a lake or a backyard swimming pool. My first views of oceans were mostly of the bird’s-eye variety: I had flown back and forth over the Atlantic Ocean half a dozen times before I found myself standing on the edge of it.

It was a bright, blustery day in September, during the year I spent studying for my master’s degree in Oxford, England. A lifelong friend of mine was spending the semester in Galway, Ireland, and I flew out to visit him for the weekend. The day after I arrived, we boarded a ferry to Inis Mór, the largest of the three Aran Islands.

Dotted with weathered, picturesque cottages and crisscrossed with ancient stone walls, the Aran Islands – Inis Mór, Inis Meáin and Inis Oírr – float in the mouth of Galway Bay, just a few miles off the western coast of Ireland. Sparsely populated, they attract a steady stream of tourists but still remain green and quiet. We checked into our hostel, then rented bikes and rode all around Inis Mór, stopping to pick blackberries by the side of the road and occasionally pulling aside to let a horse-drawn cart pass.

Eventually, we found our way to Dún Aonghasa, a ruined, tumbled pile of stones that crowns the island’s highest hill. The tiny visitors’ center gave us an idea of the structure’s previous life as a fort, used by the islanders to protect themselves from invaders approaching from the west. We made our way out into the sunshine, eager to see the ruins and the view for ourselves.

I’m over at TRIAD magazine (run by my friend Kristin) today, writing about my experience on the Aran Islands. I’d love it if you’d click over there to read the rest of my essay.

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tea journal sunglasses

A quiet solo hour at Tealuxe. Catching up on journaling, answering a letter from my pen pal, and sipping Lady Londonderry tea (a lovely, light black tea with strawberry and lemon).

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tealuxe iced chai sunglasses

Morning at Tealuxe: iced chai and some quiet writing time.

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