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Archive for the ‘writing’ Category

darwins journal scone tea

Another scene from my favorite cafe: tea, a raspberry scone and my current journal (with a note from Alisha taped inside).

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harvard yard memorial church view

One of the perks of working at a university: life slows down a little in the summer.

Of course, there are still students around: taking courses, working in the research labs, flying in for brief seminars or leadership programs. The number of high school students goes way up after Commencement, and the tour groups are out in full force.

But some pockets of campus, like the libraries, are quieter than usual. And lately, I’ve been spending some time over at Lamont Library.

donatelli reading room lamont library harvard

Lamont is one of the undergraduate libraries, located off the southeast corner of Harvard Yard, still on the main campus but off the most-trafficked paths. It’s smaller than Widener, the university’s main library, and it feels friendlier, less grand and imposing.

While Widener is composed mostly of dimly lit stacks (which stretch several stories underground), Lamont has a nice mix of shelves and reading rooms. It has lots of windows and more than a few quiet spaces where you can curl up in an armchair (or spread out at a desk) and spend a while working, reading or studying. (I’ve also seen a few students napping in the comfy chairs.)

farnsworth reading room lamont library harvard

I always stop to peruse the New Books shelf near the front desk on my way out, and sometimes I pop downstairs to the media stacks to check out a DVD. But Lamont is also simply a good place to perch for a few hours.

The air-conditioning hums quietly, the summer sun slants in through the windows, and the books, with their colorful spines, make a welcoming background for my work. And the views – especially from the third floor facing north – are quite lovely.

memorial church memorial hall harvard university

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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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