Posts Tagged ‘adulthood’

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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I love a good reinvention narrative. There’s something empowering about watching a character, especially a real person, steer their life in an entirely new direction. But some of my favorite reinvention stories aren’t necessarily 180-degree turns. Rather, they involve a series of changes (some drastic, it’s true) that lead the protagonist to become more fully the self she’s always been meant to be. 

Trina Moyles had always loved the Canadian boreal forest where she grew up, but she never expected to spend multiple summers there, spotting smoke from atop an isolated fire tower. Moyles’ gorgeously written memoir, Lookout, dives into the logistical and emotional challenges of that life of deep solitude. She charts not only the ground around her fire tower, but her own internal growth during a difficult but formative season. (This was an impulse buy at Sundog Books and one of my favorites of 2021.)

Growing up in rural Maine, Erin French spent a lot of time at the diner her dad owned, but she wasn’t planning (then) on running her own restaurant one day. French’s memoir, Finding Freedom, chronicles her journey of culinary and personal discovery, and the founding of The Lost Kitchen, the restaurant she now owns in Freedom, Maine. 

Memphis-born Elizabeth Passarella didn’t leave behind her Southern identity when she became a New Yorker. Rather, her adult life–and her memoir, Good Apple–centers on learning to reconcile the two, or at least laugh at the tension between them. In short, punchy essays, Passarella takes readers through the highs and lows of her life in Manhattan: rats in her bedroom, public marital disputes, the Rockettes, and the trickiness of navigating politics (electoral and cultural) with grace. (I forget where I heard about this one, but it made me laugh so hard and say “Amen” every few pages.) All three women write with humor and insight about the situations that have shaped them into their truest selves. 

What are your favorite reinvention stories?

I originally wrote most of this column for Shelf Awareness, where it ran this past December.

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west village window nyc pink olive

A few weeks ago, the hubs had a three-day work training that took place over a weekend. We had just moved, and our new apartment was a wilderness of boxes. Rather than spend the weekend alone, digging out, I did the logical thing: I hopped a train to New York City.

I love New York at any time of year, and I’d been there by myself once before, on a dreamy solo trip last fall. This time, I booked a room in the West Village, where I’d spent a little time but never stayed. And although the city (and I) sweltered in a heat wave all weekend, it was fantastic.

larchmont front door west village nyc

I stayed at the Larchmont Hotel on West 11th, which I heard about on Joanna’s blog (and later from Anne). The rooms are tiny, but clean and comfortable, with a certain spare charm. (Plus: air-conditioning!) And it’s super affordable.

Although I’ve done a fair bit of traveling on my own, it somehow still feels like a radical act: leaving my regular life for a few days of pure, solitary pleasure. For three days, I ate and wandered and did exactly what I wanted.

bryant park nyc nypl view

I bought a last-minute ticket to Matilda on Friday night. I ate my lunch in Bryant Park (above) nearly every day. I popped into the New York Public Library‘s main branch, also above, to see the exhibit on my favorite rapping Founding Father, Alexander Hamilton, and to say hello to Pooh and his friends.

I went to five bookstores. I went with my college friend Mary Kate to see our friend Jeremy act and sing in his New York theatrical debut. I walked and walked and walked. (And drank quarts of hibiscus iced tea, to counteract the stifling heat.)

hibiscus iced tea journal

“New York meant much more than New York,” Julia Cameron writes in The Sound of Paper. “It meant sophistication, taste, freedom and accomplishment.” New York means all those things to me, and it also means a chance to explore neighborhoods and streets I find endlessly fascinating.

I have some New York favorites now: the bookish glories of the Strand; the elegant and charming Upper West Side; the twisting streets of the Village, packed with boutiques and restaurants galore. I love a ramble through the urban wildness of Central Park, and I love popping into the nearest library branch. (This time, the Jefferson Market Library was just around the corner.)

jefferson market library tower nypl nyc

I love the way New York is always surprising, teeming with life and change, thrumming with ambition and hustle. And I love the pockets of quiet and peace, the carefully tended flower boxes, the occasional empty street. New York is all possibility, and I love stepping into its current for a few days, becoming a part of the bustle and verve.

More NYC photos and stories to come.

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When it’s all too much


My mom used to tell me, over and over again: “You can’t do everything.”

I am only now starting to believe her.

I was a super-involved child and teenager, by my own choice. Piano lessons. Spelling bees. Marching band. A student diplomatic organization. Lots of church activities, in addition to classes and homework. I treasured my solitude even then, holed up with a book or my journal, but I treasure community too, and I never want to be left out. I struggle with saying no to anything that sounds appealing, even if I know I don’t have the time or energy for it.

Since moving to New England, I’ve learned how the daily grind can wear you down, even if you work in a beautiful place, even if you love your work and your colleagues. Sometimes weekends are for travel and exploring and brand-new adventures, but just as often, they are for puttering and sipping tea, for quiet afternoons and lots of rest.

Most of the time, I don’t mind taking a quiet weekend. But it’s harder when you’ve made plans and have to cancel them, when you’ve invested time and money and you have to cut those losses because you know it would be better to stay home and rest.

We had hoped to spend the upcoming long weekend in New York – a city I love, which endlessly fascinates me. We’d bought bus tickets and booked a cute little studio apartment in Brooklyn, even made plans for brunch with a friend. But about a week ago, we looked at each other and said: Let’s stay home.

This is my husband’s last week at the job he’s worked for three years, and while he is excited to be moving on to a new organization, he is saying lots of good-byes, and those are tiring. I am smack in the middle of a busy season at work: three or four events jammed up against one another, all in the space of two weeks. Add to that a work conference in Rhode Island (for me) and the death of a relative in Texas (for my husband), not to mention all the small daily details, and perhaps you will understand: we are tired.

It felt strangely adult to cancel our plans, the life equivalent of reaching for a healthy salad even though you’d rather order a steaming plate of salty, delicious, not-so-healthy fish and chips. We lost a bit of money, but the deciding factor was taking a clear-eyed look at our lives as they are right now, and choosing what we need over what we want.

This is a small issue, I know, in the grand scheme of things. There will be other New York weekends, other chances to explore and sightsee, other adventures. We did not give up anything permanent, and this was in no way a life-or-death decision.

Still, it feels important, and grown-up: realizing we can’t do everything, and choosing not to try. Rather, we are choosing to rest and renew, so we can come back to our everyday lives with energy, grace and even joy.

Do you struggle with saying no, or with choosing to rest?

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Soon, I’m taking J to D.C. for the first time. He’s never been there, and I believe all Americans should go at least once, to wander the Smithsonians and pause at the National Mall and stand in silence at Arlington National Cemetery. And after a decade, the layers of memories from my five trips there are calling me back.

The first layer, from a quick family vacation when I was 12, is overlaid and obfuscated by images of the trips that came after. When did we go up in the Washington Monument? When did we tour Ford’s Theatre? How many times have I watched the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington? (Answer: not enough. Whatever your politics, it is one of the most deeply moving sights I’ve ever witnessed.)

My last visit to D.C. dates from November 2001, with 25 other students and my favorite English teacher, who sponsored our school’s student diplomatic team. We were representing the U.S. at a Model OAS conference, and we spent the fall semester researching current events and collecting our findings in thick black binders. We learned parliamentary procedure and explored the relationship of the U.S. to other countries in the Western Hemisphere. And then, with the rest of the world, we watched in horror as the Twin Towers and the Pentagon were hit. Underneath our shock and fear, our deep instinctive knowledge that our world would never quite be the same, was a flutter of wondering: Will we still get to go to D.C.?

moas front page

The front page of my MOAS scrapbook

Thanks to Mr. Walker’s powers of persuasion (he convinced our parents that the heightened security would make D.C. one of the safest cities in the world), we all woke up before dawn on the day after Thanksgiving, and hauled our luggage to the airport where we posed with tired eyes, a few of us holding a huge American flag. We had filled our suitcases with binders and business suits, and every one of us girls followed Walker’s advice to pack a little black dress for the Gala, held at the end of the conference. I had planned to tuck in my recipe for peanut butter kiss cookies, already the team’s favorite snack, but I forgot it, instead calling my mom from the hotel phone and asking her to dictate it to me.

We settled into a string of rooms at the State Plaza Hotel, with narrow kitchenettes and tall windows that gave us views of George Washington University and the edge of Georgetown. We were smart, articulate, well-mannered high school students – but we were also cocky, giddy teenagers, and our excitement bubbled and fizzed over like the champagne we were still too young to drink.

I have almost no photos of the usual D.C. attractions from that week, perhaps because I had walked the Mall, seen the monuments, toured the museums, before. I did love walking those familiar paths with new, dear friends, standing in silent awe at the Vietnam Memorial and looking up to read the words of the Gettysburg Address, half hidden in shadow as huge floodlights illuminated President Lincoln. I remember visiting Kermit the Frog and Dorothy’s ruby slippers at the American History Museum, and I did make a stab at a modern art museum, until I got downright bored and slipped out.

Mostly what I remember is the feeling of utter freedom, the ecstasy of being on my own, in a cosmopolitan city, with a group of the friends I loved best. My dearest friend, Jon, was the MOAS president that year, and we spent hours walking around Georgetown, just the two of us, one sparkling indigo night. I also waited for him every day after the conference sessions ended, tired and rumpled in my suit and heels, but anxious for his company on the short walk back to the hotel. The streets of D.C. pulse constantly with both history and change, solidity and growth, and we felt the city’s beat under our shoes, thrumming through the pavement, weaving itself into our bodies and our memories.

gala photo

Jon and me at the Gala, and yes, I’m wearing a little black dress.

I stepped into adulthood for the first time that week, trying it on for size like the navy-blue high heels I borrowed from my mother. I stumbled a bit, my feet aching from the unfamiliar fit, and when the week ended, I was glad to slip back into jeans and sneakers, to be a teenager again. But in that city where growth and change always agitate under the surface (and sometimes swirl above it), I caught a glimpse of what it meant to be grown up, to explore a city for myself, to walk unfamiliar streets and new neighborhoods until they became, somehow, my own.

I will go back to the monuments and museums with J, pointing out names and plaques, dates and heroes. We will visit the sites that demand a bit of awe, that mark wars and victories, challenges and triumphs, in our nation’s history. But I’ll also take him past the OAS building, down the once-familiar path leading back to our hotel. I will point out those spots too, those streets and buildings, less famous to others but vital to me. I will point them out, and I will say: There. Look hard. Do you see it? This is where I began to make the city my own. This is where the world opened up for me.

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