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Archive for the ‘musings’ Category

And just like that, it’s October – the asters are out, the nights are drawing in and we’re nine days away from our big fundraising gala at work. Here’s what I have been reading, to cap off September:

The Littlest Library, Poppy Alexander
After her beloved Mimi dies, Jess Metcalfe moves to a tiny country cottage on a whim. When she creates a little library out of the red phone box near her cottage, Jess finds herself becoming part of the community – but can she stay there? A sweet British rom-com – I found the ending a bit disappointing, but it was still fun.

World of Wonders: In Praise of Fireflies, Whale Sharks, and Other Astonishments, Aimee Nezhukumatathil
I loved these vivid essays about various “wonders” – trees, insects and other creatures – mixed with the author’s personal experiences. Nezhukumatathil is a poet, and you can see it in her language. Beautiful, thoughtful and often unexpected.

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo, Taylor Jenkins Reid
Everyone from my sister to my book-blogging friends recommended this novel about a reclusive Hollywood star who finally decides to tell her life story to an up-and-coming reporter. I blew through it in an evening – Hollywood glamour, compelling storytelling, some well-drawn characters – though it ultimately made me really sad. Marriage was always a calculation for Evelyn, and her decisions ended up hurting a lot of the people she loved. Still a fascinating story.

The No-Show, Beth O’Leary
Three different women are stood up by the same man on Valentine’s Day – what’s going on? Is he a cad, or is there more to the story? O’Leary’s fourth rom-com follows Miranda, Siobhan and Jane as they deal with the implications of his actions. Really fun and clever; I liked this one a lot better than The Road Trip, but not as much as The Switch.

The Gilded Girl, Alyssa Colman
When Emma Harris comes to Miss Posterity’s school of magic, she finds it challenging, but things are going okay – until her father dies and she’s forced to work as a servant. With the help of Izzy, a servant girl with magic of her own, Emma searches for ways to keep learning magic. This had a fun premise but was just okay; very much inspired by A Little Princess. I loved Tom, the newsie who befriends the girls. Found at Phoenix Books in Burlington, VT, this summer.

Animal Life, Audur Ava Olafsdottir
As a historic storm approaches Iceland at Christmastime, Domhildur reflects on her own midwifery career and that of her great-aunt, who left behind a series of manuscripts musing on coincidences, birth, humankind and light. This slim novel was both odd and oddly charming; I couldn’t quite make sense of it, but enjoyed the journey. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Dec. 6).

The Wind at My Back: Resilience, Grace, and Other Gifts from My Mentor, Raven Wilkinson, Misty Copeland
I enjoyed Copeland’s first memoir, Life in Motion, and have the greatest admiration for her work. This book pays tribute to Raven Wilkinson, a trailblazing Black ballerina who mentored Copeland for several years. Copeland charts her own growth and struggles alongside stories of Raven’s career, and calls out the enduring racism in the ballet world. Thoughtful, vivid and warm. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Nov. 15).

Most links (not affiliate links) are to my local faves Trident and Brookline Booksmith. Shop indie!

What are you reading?

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Friends! It’s finally happening! After talking and thinking about it for months, I’m launching a newsletter – a slightly quieter place to share words and connection, plus links to what I’ve been reading (books and otherwise), daily joys, and perhaps a recipe or two.

Many of my favorite authors, from Mary Oliver to E.B. White to Lauren Winner, talk often about the practice of paying attention. I love the idea of being “a good noticer” – a phrase I first picked up from The Voyages of Doctor Dolittle as a child – and my newsletter will focus each month on what I’ve been noticing lately. I’ll also share links to things I’ve been reading and listening to, ideally words and music that help me pay attention, get closer to the heart of what my friend Micha Boyett calls The Really Real. 

You can sign up here to receive the first issue – coming soon! I hope you’ll join me.

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Julia Roberts. Julia Child. Julia Cameron. A writer friend with whom I’ve recently reconnected. My yoga instructor, for a few months on Saturday mornings. And the name of my ex-husband’s new partner – indeed, the only name I knew her by, for a long time.

It’s not an uncommon name, Julia – especially here in the U.S., over the past century or so. I can think of other actresses (Stiles, Ormond, Louis-Dreyfus) and I’m sure I’ve met other women with that name, over the course of my life. For months after my marriage fell apart, the name hit me in the chest every time I heard it, whether or not it was referring to the woman whose last name I still didn’t know. (I didn’t ask for a lot of details; I figured – still figure – that for me it’s better not to know too much.)

I wondered, at the time: will I hate this name for the rest of my life? Would it make my heart clench every time I heard it? The name Julie, so similar but different, inspires nothing but warm feelings in me: since high school I’ve had at least one friend named Julie, women of courage and grace and great kindness, one or two of whom are still in my life. But I knew I didn’t want to recoil from every person I met named Julia. It’s a small detail of divorce I didn’t expect, this quiet reckoning with and reclaiming of a name that took something from me.

The reclaiming has been gradual, and it’s still in progress: it began with those Saturday morning yoga classes, a dark-haired nurse named Julia standing at the front desk, greeting all of us with a smile, learning my name. She moved to Florida a month or two ago, and I never told her – couldn’t figure out how to tell her – about this role she played in my life. In addition to sun salutations and child’s poses and deep warrior lunges, she brought a pleasant association with a name that had brought me sadness and grief.

Julia is also the name of a childhood friend’s daughter. Born a preemie, she’s now preschool age, spunky and slight, always on the go, if her mom’s Facebook photos are any indication. I haven’t met this wee Julia in person yet, but she and her brothers light up my feed when they appear, as does the joy of their parents and grandparents. We were all once afraid she might not make it this far, and now I think her folks worry more about keeping up – a joyous problem to have.

There’s no neat and tidy conclusion to this process, no total redemption (at least not yet) of this name and its difficult part in my story. But I’m learning to layer the good memories on top of the hard ones, not to hide them but to remind myself it all exists; it all belongs. These women I know, or have met, or whose work has influenced me, are part of the story of that name in my life, as much as the woman whose invisible presence hurt me so much. Tiny Julia; writer-from-Maine Julia; yoga instructor Julia; the redheaded actress whose cackling laugh I adore. The chef played so fabulously by Meryl Streep in a movie I love. And the writing teacher whose books have shaped my life so powerfully – thanks, in part, to that same ex-husband, whose presence in my life will never wholly disappear.

They all are part of the story of this name. I’m grateful that now, most days, it is a story of joy – even if the pain still stings once in a while.

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Thirty-nine. Almost 40. I’m still amazed by that reality, especially since I sometimes feel 17 or 22 or eight years old inside. But as I say often (quoting Madeleine L’Engle), I am every age I’ve ever been.

Thirty-nine is getting up and going for a run most mornings, even when I don’t feel like it, because I know I’ll be a better person the rest of the day. Thirty-nine does her best to hydrate, moisturize, make the bed, wash the dishes – all those acts of self-care that sometimes seem boring but are actually so important. Thirty-nine does a fair bit of yoga and walking, eats a ton of yogurt and granola, drinks black tea like it’s my job, indulges in a cider once a week or so.

Thirty-nine moves more cautiously, these days, after some serious shakeups the last few years. Thirty-nine does her best to lean into the present, to be here now, living with heart and commitment, while also realizing that things can change drastically at any moment. Thirty-nine loves her current life and is starting to dream about making some changes. Thirty-nine is grateful – as a teacher of mine once said – that not only have I survived through great upheaval, but I’ve thrived.

Thirty-nine has seen her life and world shift in ways she never imagined a few years back. Some of those changes she chose and orchestrated; some came out of nowhere and left her staggering, for a while. Thirty-nine is still healing, still grieving; learning to name and acknowledge the wounds that linger longer than we think they will, while also making space for new and vivid joys.

Thirty-nine still writes for Shelf Awareness, still texts a few stalwart friends nearly every day, still loves chai from Darwin’s and flowers from Brattle Square, still reads piles of books and still needs a dose of Texas once in a while. Thirty-nine is trying, always, to live with grace and courage and wisdom. Thirty-nine knows it’s important to be both brave and kind.

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If you know me, you probably know that I usually have several books going at once: at least one for review at Shelf Awareness, a fun or meaty novel, some thoughtful nonfiction, a middle-grade or YA novel, maybe a memoir or some poetry. (These categories often overlap.)

I love reading this way: I have maintained for years that different books feed different parts of my brain. I’m a fast reader, and can blow through a medium-sized novel in a day or two if I want to. But I’ve been thinking lately about another kind of reading: the slow kind that creates space.

Earlier this summer, I picked up What Comes From Spirit, a collection of short selected pieces by Canadian Ojibway author Richard Wagamese. I’ve been lingering over it, reading a piece or two in the mornings, trying to let the words sink in before I dash off (sometimes literally) to start the day. It isn’t always Wagamese, of course: sometimes it’s Mary Oliver, or a piece from an essay collection, or flipping through a beloved book on writing.

I like taking my time with writing like this: slower and contemplative, with more spaces between the words. I am (generally) in no rush to finish these books and check them off a list; I find the slower pace helps them sink in more deeply. And it’s a nice contrast, sometimes, to racing through a fast-paced spy novel or YA romance.

Do you read books at different speeds? I’m curious to hear!

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Earlier this summer, one of my dear friends moved away (sniff), and we made a serious effort to soak up some time together before she left town. One afternoon in late June, she texted with a question: would I like to join her and her daughter at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum that week? Of course, the answer was yes.

The Gardner is one of my favorite semi-hidden Boston gems; it’s tucked away in the Fenway neighborhood, built around a central courtyard that’s full of lush plantings year-round. Mrs. Gardner, as the docents still call her, was an avid collector of art, furniture and curiosities, from around the world. Her acquisitions are still arranged just as she specified – in multilayered, sometimes overwhelming splendor – at the mansion/museum she called Fenway Court.

The first few times I went to the Gardner, I was overwhelmed by the sheer volume of art: there are thousands of objects, including paintings, textiles, furniture, dishes, sculptures, sketches, letters, tapestries and who knows what else. It took me a while to realize the goal isn’t to see or learn about everything: it’s to walk through and experience the total effect, the layers of history and different origin stories and artistic styles, all brought together by one woman’s passion for collecting. These days, I wander through, pausing when a piece catches my eye, but less focused on the details than on the whole.

This time was different, for several reasons: first, we enjoyed a snack at the cafe before our museum tour. I’d never been to the (relatively) new Cafe G before, but I have to say, the citrus pound cake was delicious (and felt fancy).

The three of us wandered around, starting at the top floor of the museum (for something different) and winding our way back down to the ground floor. I loved being there with 12-year-old Lucy, who noticed things I’d never have picked up on, and asked excellent questions (my favorite: “What would you want to ask Isabella, if you could?”).

In light of the current conversations around artistic objects, their provenance, and the recent encouraging trend of museums considering returning stolen objects, I also wondered about the collection at the Gardner. Where did all these objects come from? Who brought them to Isabella? Were they given freely (in exchange for money, of course) or stolen from their original homes? What happened to the people, buildings and communities who created them? I never used to consider these questions when I visited museums, but I am thinking about so many things differently now. (I am also, as ever, curious about the heist in 1990, which has never yet been solved.)

Every time I go to the Gardner, I find myself drawn to the windows in every room, gazing out onto the courtyard, which I find both restful and beautiful. (I’ve never seen the famous nasturtium plantings there, but it’s on my list for this winter.) Mostly, I was grateful to share a lovely afternoon with two women I love, in a place we all enjoy.

What local adventures are you having, these days?

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Hello, friends. It has been hot here in Boston (though I hear some relief might be on the horizon), and my workplace is still operating on a hybrid model. I like the flexibility of having a work-from-home day each week, but I can’t spend all day in my studio apartment without going a bit mad – especially when the temps are in the 90s. So I’ve been heading to (where else?) the local library on Tuesday afternoons to work.

I love the Eastie branch library: it’s airy, open and welcoming, with a cadre of friendly librarians whose faces I know now. It has air-conditioning, free wi-fi, and (of course) lots of books nearby. I bring my laptop and settle in at one of the tables, getting up occasionally to stretch or refill my water bottle. The people-watching, when I need a break from work emails, is always excellent: Eastie is truly multicultural, and the folks who use the library are multigenerational, too. There are worker bees with laptops, like me; folks who come in to use the public computers and printers; children coming in and out for summer reading programs; and lots of teenagers, who drift in and out during the afternoon.

I love both the idea and the reality of third places – those locales, neither work/school nor home, that bring people together and foster connection, as well as serving other purposes. My beloved Darwin’s in Cambridge was my third place for a long time; ZUMIX, my workplace, is a vital third place for the young people we serve. I love watching and participating in the library as a third place, too, and seeing my community thrive here.

Yes, it gets a little loud sometimes – but the presence of other people is often the whole point. I’m grateful the library is just a short bike ride away.

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This past weekend, I spent a day at Boston Fan Expo – known popularly, if not officially, as Boston Comic-Con – with my guy. He’s a comic-book geek from way back, and he and his son have been going to this event together for more than a decade.

It was my first con event ever, and I decided – after a fun but seriously overstimulating day – that it was sort of like traveling to a foreign country.

Why? First of all, it took a little effort to get there: for me, one stop on the train and then a bike ride to the convention center. G made sure to give me the lay of the land (not quite a guidebook, but close) before we went inside. But there was a lot he didn’t know, even after years of doing this, and a lot I had to figure out for myself.

Once inside, we explored and wandered. The costumes, languages and locals I saw spanned the gamut from familiar to totally unknown. I’m fairly fluent in Harry Potter, for example, and I speak a bit of Star Wars and some Lord of the Rings. But I only know a little Marvel, and even less DC (except for Wonder Woman, of course), and I don’t speak anime (or horror) at all. It reminded me of being in Spain: I could decipher some of the main language, with patience. But several of the dialects, and other languages such as Catalan and Euskara, remain totally unfamiliar to me after multiple trips there.

The people-watching, as advertised, was excellent: one vendor had a live parrot on her shoulder, and another had gone full hobbit, with pointy ears and a green Elven cloak fastened with a leaf clasp. I saw so many tattoos and costumes whose meanings I couldn’t begin to guess at, and mostly I saw a ton of folks having fun, in a world they inhabit and love.

We made sure to hydrate and take breaks, and I came away with a few fun souvenirs, including a Gryffindor keychain. I loved chatting with the locals (i.e. a few vendors) and exploring a part of G’s world alongside him. But by the end – I have to say – I was very ready to go home. We picked up tacos from a favorite local spot, headed back to my house, cracked open a new cider, and crashed.

Have you been to a con or other event like this? Did it feel like a foreign country to you?

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It started off small, as so many things do: with a job I hated and a commitment to buying myself flowers on Mondays.

My essay “Becoming the Crazy Flower Lady” is up at Random Sample Review! Please click over to read it, and let me know what you think, if you’d like.

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It’s suddenly August (how??) and between work, a couple of weekend getaways and serious summer heat, here’s what’s saving my life right now:

  • Poetry Unbound. I had missed the most recent season, but am catching up, and it’s a joy to hear Padraig’s lilting Irish voice and discover new-to-me poets.
  • Daylilies, echinacea and sunflowers – it’s hot, but these beauties (like me) are hanging on.
  • The teeny tiny cherry tomatoes I’m growing on the back patio.
  • Sitting out back in the evenings with a book and some lemonade, when I can.
  • My favorite denim shorts, my trusty Allbirds sneakers and a few new tops from a friend, which amounts to a mini wardrobe refresh.
  • Lots and lots (and lots) of water.
  • Tea, always tea: MEM ginger peach, Trader Joe’s watermelon mint, the occasional iced chai.
  • Texts from a couple of lifesaving faraway friends.
  • Planning a couple of August adventures.
  • Watermelon facial mist from Trader Joe’s, which sounds ridiculous but is very refreshing.
  • Ukulele fun at my workplace: “Ode to Joy,” Bruno Mars’ “Count on Me” and assorted other tunes.
  • Fun books: rom-coms, mysteries, middle grade, a super nerdy nonfiction book about blurbs.
  • An occasional walk to the neighborhood park to watch the sunset (see above).

What’s saving your life in these deep summer days?

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