Archive for the ‘writing’ Category

red journal chai darwins

A good journal entry – like a good song, or sketch, or photograph – ought to break up the habitual and lift away the film that forms over the eye, the finger, the tongue, the heart. A good journal entry ought to be a love letter to the world.

—Anthony Doerr, Four Seasons in Rome

As a longtime journaler (I have boxes of old journals stowed away in a closet, and a stack of more recent ones teetering on a bookshelf), this passage from Doerr’s lovely memoir positively made my heart sing.

Happy Friday, friends. Hope you have a lovely weekend.

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Rhythm vs. routine

red journal chai darwins

It’s no secret: this winter has been driving me crazy. You know the salient facts: blizzards for days. Record-breaking cold temps. Snowbanks higher than my head, ice and slush on the roads, more snow (always) in the forecast. (We’re heading toward a new record for Boston’s snowiest winter ever.)

I don’t love the cold (or the high heating bills). But this stretch of weather – unpredictable, intense and requiring lots of cleanup after each storm – has seriously messed with my routine. It’s taken me – and most people I know – nearly two months to settle into a winter rhythm. (Since I work at a university, I see it with our students too: most of them didn’t have a “normal” week of classes until Week 5 of the semester.)

I’ve been thinking about rhythm versus routine. I have a lot of routines in my daily life – some seasonal, some perennial. Right now, the morning routine looks like this: hit the snooze button, hop in the shower, pull on a dress and fleece-lined tights, brew a cup of Earl Grey in my favorite blue mug.

Some routines, like that one, are most productive when they’re well honed and I don’t have to think about them. (I haven’t had the energy for overthinking lately – which isn’t entirely a bad thing.) And some habits are truly life-giving: that morning cup of tea, calling my mom once a week or so, writing every day, catching up with my husband over dinner. I draw deep nourishment from those practices.

Sometimes, though, I get bored with an unchanging routine. I’ll eat the same thing for lunch three days in a row and then crave something new, stat. I’ll drink the same tea for a week or more and then decide, inexplicably, that I want something different. (Fortunately, I always have a dozen or so options on hand.)

tea keep calm mug pei

I’m a musician. I love a good rhythm. I like a certain amount of predictability, of comfort, of knowing what’s coming at the end of the next verse (or day). But I want room for variation, syncopation, a little color or spice. I want the freedom to choose daffodils over tulips, ginger peach tea instead of chai, a new recipe instead of the same old meal (though I rely heavily on our menu of favorites).

Sometimes I try something new and fall in love (like going to the art museum on Thursdays), so it becomes a habit, part of my daily or weekly rhythm. I am thrilled to be back at Monday night yoga, where the instructor and the poses are familiar (though Meredith does vary things a bit from week to week).

But I like having the option for change. I get bored and fidgety if I feel like I have to do the same thing, in the same way, every time. Sometimes I break the routine on purpose, just to shake things up. I like to think of it as that syncopation, an extra beat (or pause) that gives my life a bit of pizzazz.

Is it just a fear of boredom, or does it go deeper than that? Is there something life-giving about rhythms, like a favorite song or a good liturgy? Is there something soul-sucking about routines, like the dullness of an automated assembly line? Or am I just quibbling over semantics?

What do you think?

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purple tulips

I’ve been talking about what’s saving my life a lot lately (because it’s the best way I know to get through this winter with a shred of my sanity intact). Today, I’m over at the Art House America blog, exploring how the act of naming those lifesavers can be a lifesaving act itself. Here’s an excerpt from my post:

This winter, I’m finding it worthwhile — even necessary — to name the things that are saving my life. Sometimes I scribble down a list in my journal (a gift from my sister last Christmas, and itself a lifesaver). Sometimes I take the time to write a blog post, with pictures of those purple tulips or a brave blue winter sky. Most often, I’m trading daily texts with my friend Laura, both of us doing our best to find and name the things that are saving our lives. The act of naming them often becomes a lifesaver, a welcome glimpse into the brighter side of this world. (Though sometimes — full disclosure — we also gripe about the things that are killing us. Sometimes venting can save my life, too.)

Join me at the AHA blog to read the rest. (And please, tell us what’s saving your life these days.)

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purple tulips

Last month, I posted a list of fun ideas to get me through the winter. We’ve had plenty of snow (so much snow) and frigid temps, but I’ve been working on the list anyway. Here’s an update:

  • Fill up the journal I started in early January.* Working on it (though my handwriting is truly atrocious these days).
  • Spend some time at the Harvard Art Museums. I’m going over there once a week, and exploring a new gallery each time.
  • Start hunting for a new pair of red ballet flats.
  • Invite friends over for dinner. We’ve hosted three sets of friends for spinach enchiladas and spicy chicken soup.
  • Spend a long weekend in Nashville with my college roommate and our husbands. We had a fabulous time, though bad weather delayed our flight home.
  • Knit myself something cozy. (I finished that cabled wrap.)
  • Watch some good stories. J and I finished Veronica Mars and are loving Grantchester, and I’m still watching Downton solo. (Also Castle, but I have to admit I am not loving this season.)
  • Read a couple of books for the Modern Mrs Darcy Reading Challenge. I’ve crossed off four categories already: a book I’ve been meaning to read (Beauty: The Invisible Embrace), a book published this year (the newest Flavia de Luce mystery), a book from my childhood (The Long Winter), and a book by a favorite author (Wearing God by Lauren Winner).
  • Drink lots and lots of tea. No sweat. I am on a serious Earl Grey kick.

Things that were not on my list but are happening anyway: lots of snow shoveling; many batches of Molly’s scones; several snow days; all the tulips; and fervent prayers for spring.

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bike seat cover plaid snow

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about some of the things that are saving my life this winter: blue sky, tulips for my desk, my light box, coffee dates with friends. Three days later, Anne wrote her own post about a quirky winter lifesaver – and promised to share her whole list today of what’s getting her through this season.

In the wake of a massive blizzard (and staring down the barrel of another one), I figured another positive post couldn’t hurt. So I’m joining in. Here are the little things that are saving my life lately:

  • The cobalt blue (now slightly chipped) mug that dates from my days as a barista at the Ground Floor. I’ve been drinking Earl Grey out of it every morning, and it makes me so happy.
  • The stainless-steel half teaspoon I use to scoop the loose tea. Three scoops is the perfect amount, and it’s just the right tool for the job.
  • My snow boots, which I am wearing every single day. (Sigh. But they’re warm.)
  • Glimpses of whimsy, like the plaid bike-seat cover above. (Makes me think of summer picnics.)
  • The adventures of Mrs. Tim (I’m on book 2). She is a charming companion.
  • My weekly trips to the Harvard Art Museums, about which more soon.
  • Fresh scones made from Molly’s recipe, with butter.
  • The zigzag silver ring I bought in Abilene over Christmas.
  • Lemon cuticle salve, vanilla hand lotion and coconut foot cream. (I smell like a bakery.)
  • Texts from a coworker and friend whose snarky sense of humor cracks me up.
  • Coffee with a new friend last week.
  • Instagram. I love it more all the time.
  • Cardigans whose sleeves come down over my hands.
  • Photos of my sweet nephews, with texts from my sister.
  • Taylor Swift’s Speak Now album, which I’ve been blasting when I need a little pep.
  • Norah Jones and the Wailin’ Jennys, for mellower moods.
  • The Yoga Studio app, which I downloaded after reading about it on Ali’s blog.
  • A few pages of The Long Winter every morning over breakfast.
  • Writing by hand in my current journal.

What’s saving your life these days? (And when will it be spring?)

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something good polka dot mug

Earlier this month, Anne published a post about how your feed reader can change your life. Her main argument was that reading about a topic can increase a person’s interest in that topic: she recommended, for example, adding blogs related to exercise if your New Year’s resolution is to work out more often.

While I definitely see how such a strategy could be helpful, I took the opposite approach. After reading the post, I went straight to my feed reader and cleaned it out.

Some of the work was simply long-overdue housekeeping. I follow a few blogs whose feeds had moved, or whose authors hadn’t posted in a year or more. I deleted or updated these. But then I took it a step further. If I often find myself skipping past a blog – because I’m bored with it, because the author’s voice no longer resonates, or because the tone makes me feel defensive or guilty – I deleted it too.

The Internet is a loud place, and for those of us who spend a lot of time on it – especially we who relish the odd, beautiful world of the blogosphere and social media – the voices of the bloggers and tweeters we follow become the voices in our heads.

I’ve never met most of my Internet friends in person, but if I’m reading their words consistently, their voices echo in my head with surprising regularity. Sometimes that’s a boon – as when Anne recommends a great book or Micha shares her gratitude on Thankful Tuesday. But some of those voices are often snarky or judgmental, and those are the voices I do not need to hear.

Related: as a reader and book reviewer, I love connecting with authors on social media. It’s a true pleasure to be able to tell someone directly that I love their book, and I’ve made several friends that way, like Rachel and Jennifer. But it took me a long time to realize that I like some authors better on the pages of their books. I’ve unfollowed a few authors because I’d rather spend time with their characters than with them.

In keeping with my word for the yeargentle – I’m not only trying to speak and act gently, but to make sure I’m not filling my head with voices that are sharp-edged or bitter. I welcome honesty, absolutely, and I relish the occasional dose of witty sarcasm. But meanness or snark at others’ expense? I’m out.

When I find a new blog these days and consider adding it to my reader, I pause and ask: do I want this person in my head? Because, if they’re in my feed reader, that’s where they’re going to end up.

Who are the voices in your head (Internet and otherwise) these days?

*Grammar nerd alert: I know I should have used “whom” in the title of this post. But “who” sounded catchier. Forgive me!

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katie green coat black ink

A couple of years ago, I read Barbara Brown Taylor’s gorgeous book An Altar in the World and was particularly struck by a question in the introduction: What is saving your life now? Since then, I have asked it of myself over and over again, as a kind of reset button for my life and also as a way of giving thanks.

Winter is always a tough season for me, especially in New England where the frigid temps and biting winds make it hard to get through the day sometimes. But this winter, I’ve been employing a few coping mechanisms that are saving my life. (At least until the next blizzard hits.)

yellow tulips desk

I bought myself two bunches of tulips this week: one for the kitchen table, one for my desk at work (above). They make me smile, and they’re having the same effect on my colleagues.

I finally went back to Monday night yoga, after an absence of several months. My favorite instructor’s face lit up when she saw me, and the familiar poses – cat/cow, pigeon, downward facing dog – felt like coming home.

While on the mat, I had a chance to enjoy the bright pink pedicure I got last Saturday. Catching up at the nail salon and then over brunch with my friend Kristin was a real treat – even if it was 16 degrees outside. (Hence another of my little lifesavers: fleece-lined tights.)

In the mornings, before work, I’m flipping on my light box – I’ve started carrying it into the bathroom so I can switch it on the moment I step out of the shower. I move it around the apartment as needed, so I can get as much extra light as possible. That extra hit of light, and my Vitamin D pills, make a real difference on gray days.

I am (it’s no secret) a dedicated tea drinker, and I always go on an Earl Grey kick in the winter. This month, I’m drinking the Earl Grey I bought in Montreal last year, out of my favorite cobalt blue mug, every morning.

I’m wearing cozy cardigans and dresses with my favorite green coat (pictured above), including a few new-to-me pieces culled from my sister’s closet over Christmas. Having a trendy – and generous – sister is such a bonus. (We’ve also been having long conversations via text message about Downton Abbey – she’s been catching up in preparation for the new season.)

Winter can be so isolating, but this year I am making a real effort to schedule coffee dates or excursions like the above brunch-and-pedicure date with Kristin. (It’s also on my winter list to invite people over for dinner – bowls of soup or spicy Mexican food.)


During the workday, I’m making a real effort to slip away for some chai and writing when things get crazy. Even 20 minutes of scribbling can clear my head and make a real difference in my day.

I’m reading and watching all the good stories I can: Downton, Castle, the brand-new series Grantchester, the newest Flavia de Luce mystery, Lauren Winner’s latest book (out in March).

blue sky bare branches

Finally and always: I am soaking up every bit of blue sky, whenever I can get it – and rejoicing that it’s not quite dark when I leave work now.

What is saving your life this winter?

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