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Posts Tagged ‘attention’

My favorite colors are the colors of the sea, blue and gray and green, depending on the weather. My brother William is a fisherman, and he tells me that when he is in the middle of a fog-bound sea the water is a color for which there is no name.

—Sarah, Plain and Tall, Patricia MacLachlan

When I was a child, I read this book – slim and spare, with a pale pink cover – over and over again. I loved the story of Sarah, who comes from Maine to the wide plains of the Midwest, to be a new wife for Jacob and a stepmother for Anna and Caleb. She brings her cat, Seal, and they all learn to live with one another. The children, who have never seen the sea, listen enthralled to Sarah’s stories about Maine.

My beloved Neponset river trail, here in Dorchester, winds along marshes and brush and through several public parks, with views of water and trees (and also bridges and roads). Nearly every time I’m out there, especially when it’s overcast, I think of Sarah’s words, the rhythm of them: blue and gray and green.

Katie trail blue gray water

 

The water is sometimes blue, of course, though it’s often gray (the same goes for the sky). The grass and trees are greening up, right now, and the broken slabs of granite along the shoreline are always gradations of gray. Sometimes the sky glows pink or orange, streaked with sunset fire or smudged with purple. Sometimes, the light on the water glitters gold.

In the winter, the trail is often edged – occasionally submerged – with fresh white snow, turning the color scheme into blue and white and brown. But in all other seasons, it is blue and gray and green. The combinations shift, depending on the weather. I have run it in all seasons, in bright morning sunlight and pitch winter dark and every time of day in between, and I love noticing the changes, subtle brushstrokes shifting with the light and the time of year.

My favorite color, as most people know, has long been red – and I’ve not lost my love for a bright flash of scarlet or deep crimson. But my favorite landscape, these days, is blue and gray and green.

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forsythia gold flowers blue sky

I’m back home after two weeks dog- and house-sitting in East Boston, watching spring emerge in a new neighborhood as Phoenix the pup and I walked the streets and ran the Harborwalk together. Not surprisingly, one of the things I missed most about Dorchester was my river trail. I came home after work midweek, suitcase in tow, and immediately laced up my running shoes and headed out there. It, too, is growing greener (and bluer).

Katie silhouette trail river blue sky

I’ve been for a few runs since coming home, and on Easter Sunday, I finally ran all the way out to Port Norfolk and the second pier where that part of the trail ends. I was tired, but the sun had broken through after days of thick clouds, and I snapped a few photos of the blue water and a few wild patches of daffodils.

I remembered seeing a particular forsythia bush last spring, between the pier and the house that faces it, and so I jogged over to see if it was in bloom. (They’re late again this year – so late that they’re blooming alongside the magnolias and early tulips.)

As you can see above, that bush is in full glorious flower. There was no rainbow that day, but it felt like finding a pot of gold. And I remembered: it’s always worth looking (especially if you know where to look).

If it’s spring where you live, I hope it’s showing up in delightful and unexpected ways.

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snowdrops flowers gravel flowerbed

The calendar has flipped, officially, to spring. The piles of snow (mostly) melted while I was on vacation in San Diego, though the wind’s still got a bite, most days. But this week, I was still searching for a reliable sign of spring: the snowdrops I watch for every year.

I’ve been seeing tiny green spears – “crocuses an’ snowdrops and daffydowndillys,” as Ben Weatherstaff has it – poking out of the ground for weeks. But I was afraid they’d get frostbitten, and they did get covered up, by February’s bitter winds and an early March snowstorm. I hadn’t seen the shy white bells of snowdrops yet, though I had seen – to my relief and delight – the electric yellow and vivid red of witch hazel.

When I worked at the Ed School at Harvard, I would walk to Darwin’s down a straight side street, past a yellow house where an elderly woman could often be found reclining, apparently sound asleep, in a lounge chair in her front flowerbed. That same bed was a tangle of spring delights: snowdrops and scilla, hellebores and lilac, tiny white lilies of the valley. I made a point to stop by often, every spring, even when my daily orbit changed slightly, even when I hadn’t seen the woman for months.

That house has been under construction for a while now: workmen in boots and overalls have been gutting and sawing, replacing windows and repainting. The front flowerbed is a sandy mess, and I was afraid they’d dug up all the bulbs that have come back, reliably, every spring for so long. Or that they’d simply get buried under construction refuse and wait until next year to emerge.

crocuses march 2019

Yesterday, I slipped out of the house early, heading to Darwin’s for the first time in a while. I turned down that side street on my way from the T station. And there they were, poking up out of the gravel and rocks: snowdrops. And crocuses. And green spears that aren’t quite identifiable yet, but will be.

I suppose I should have known. As Anne Shirley says, “That is one good thing about this world…there are always sure to be more springs.” And more snowdrops. But it’s a relief and a joy to see them, all the same.

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red geranium flower close up

Delight, according to poet Ross Gay, is underrated: its very existence, the multiplicity of delights present in the world, the noticing and celebrating of said delights. (For what it’s worth, I agree with him.)

Between his 42nd and 43rd birthdays, Gay decided to capture as many delights as possible, and spin them out into a series of “essayettes.” The result, The Book of Delights, is a kaleidoscopic collection of joy–an accumulation of blessings that, piled up, create a larger enchantment.

I interviewed Ross via email for Shelf Awareness after reading The Book of Delights – the paragraph above is the first part of my review. His answers to my questions, not surprisingly, were a delight, so I wanted to share them with you. (And I highly recommend the book itself, which came out last week.)

KNG: Tell us about the inspiration for The Book of Delights.

RG: I was–this is not a joke–walking back to the castle I was staying in for the month of June in Umbria, at an artists’ residency. I was delighted, and acknowledged it. I was like, “Oh, this is really delightful!” It might have been the wildflowers at my feet swooning with bees, or the fig trees (unripe) everywhere, or the way Erykah Badu singing in your headphones usually makes things more delightful. Or the castle, I guess.

But I think catching myself in delight that day made me think it would be interesting and challenging and fun to do every day for a year. It was close to my birthday, so that was an easy form: birthday to birthday. And, too, the fact that I am always hungry, like deeply hungry, for writing about and thinking about and theorizing about and singing about that which I love.

How did you decide which delights to capture and expound upon? (You note that stacking delights is itself a delight, but at the same time, you cant write about them all!)

Today, outside my window, is what looks like a weird kind of poppy shrub–a cardinal just flipped by, and there goes her fella–which amazes and delights me, you know, because it’s January and, thank god, very cold outside, much too cold for a poppybush to be growing, whatever a poppybush is.

Then I realized I’d chucked a couple clementine peels out of the car when I was coming home from the store, and the way they landed behind the bald shrub, and from this distance, makes it look as though they are flowers on the tree, as though they are a poppybush, which they are. And one of those cardinals is so bright, looking right into this window from across the street, that he looks like a red light bulb. I mean, I don’t know. There is, along with all else, so much to delight upon, the way I see it.

I remember trying to write about things that really delighted me, but they just kind of spun out as essayettes and didn’t go anywhere. So probably I needed the delight to take me somewhere, which could mean associative wandering, or musical wandering, or digging really hard on a thing. But I guess the delights needed to offer a certain amount of puzzlement in addition to delight. They often had to make me ask why a thing delights me, which often took me far from delight–often took me nowhere I would have anticipated.

You talk about delight, and the noticing of it, as a muscle that can be strengthened, or a radar that grows more sensitive over time. Tell us about about the process of finding more delight as you went along.

I think I was prepared for a kind of scarcity of delight. To need to be scouring my life for delight to write these essayettes. And then, as I turned it on, it was like this is what Im doing, attending to my delight.

I found, with that attention, that I am often kind of delighted. And often delighted by things I didn’t realize delighted me. And that is a gift–to be like, “Oh, shoot, I love that jade plant that my student gave to me and I have spent all these years never realizing how much I love it!” Or, “I love that candy because it reminds me of my father, who could be so ridiculously sweet to us.” To do that again and again. But it took me giving myself the task of attending to and articulating the experience of delight to myself to realize that. Because, the truth is, my inclination has been kind of melancholic plus.

Delight, or at least the public celebration of it, has often been denied to black people in the U.S. Can you talk about writing a book of black delight. Daily as air?”

I think there’s a very clear desire (and industry) by some to crush the experience, or to imagine the experience, of black people into, simply, suffering and pain. Like if it isn’t pain, it isn’t black. If it isn’t about pain or reacting to or resisting pain, it isn’t black. Something like that. That’s bullsh*t, and it’s poisonous, all around. (Black pain as a salable product, a good, that’s familiar, huh?)

I’m interested in the full, weird, complex, surprising, tender humanity of my life, our lives. Which includes delight. (And I recommend Kevin Quashie’s book The Sovereignty of Quiet.)

Theres a perception that delight, joy or playfulness arent serious, or that celebrating them forces people to ignore the harsher realities of life. But your collection draws together the dark and the light, and takes joy and pleasure seriously. Were you consciously trying to strike that balance or was it more organic?

It’s a mistake to imagine that what is brutal or awful is the only thing worth talking about. Primarily because the brutal and the awful and the harsh are not the only thing.

I mean, what is the world in which the only thing worth talking about or thinking about or meditating on or studying, the only thing worthy of our fullest attention, is that which sucks? What are the results of thinking and counseling that joy–which, in my opinion, comes from the realization that we are utterly interdependent, we are utterly connected (part of that connection being that we all die)–is not worth studying? F*ck that.

I want to study the zillion ways we care for each other so that I can get better at caring. I want to study the ways we collaborate, the ways we interdepend, whether we acknowledge it or not, which we damn well better do.

Do you have advice for readers who may be inspired to start their own delight-noticing projects, or write about their delights?

I’m not that good for advice, but I will say there was something useful to me about dailiness, about making writing these delights a practice. I also think having a little time constraint was useful for me; it helped me to think in a looser, non-precious way. I loved writing them by hand, too–that helps me to think more bodily, which I think is more delightful, frankly. And then you can have these notebooks full of meditations on things that have delighted you–how lucky!

I originally conducted this interview and reviewed this book for Shelf Awareness, where both pieces appeared last week. 

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blue bikes central square Cambridge

This fall, I became a semi-regular user of Boston’s BlueBikes system, mostly riding between Harvard Square, my beloved former work neighborhood, and Back Bay, where I work now.

Even as the weather has turned colder, I’ve continued to enjoy my rides, usually along the same route: down Mount Auburn Street to Massachusetts Avenue, over the bridge by MIT and all the way to Commonwealth Avenue, down which I ride for a few blocks before docking my bike at (or near) Copley Square.

I hadn’t ridden regularly – especially in city traffic – since my grad-student days in Oxford, when I pedaled my green bike everywhere, from school to work to church and back again. Boston’s traffic (and weather) patterns are a little different, and I’m finding the whole process of riding a bit different this time around.

I’ve been taking notes, mostly in my head, most of which can be summed up as I am learning. But I thought I’d share a few of them with you.

back bay Boston brownstones sky

I am learning (again) that layering is key: if I bundle up properly, I can ride in colder weather than I initially expected. (I am also learning that I have my limits – which include snow, rain and wind chills in the teens.) I am learning to pull on two pairs of gloves, to wear sunglasses and slather on stick sunscreen to protect against both sun and wind. I am learning to carry an extra base layer, to change into at the office – because I hate that clammy post-ride feeling after you cool down.

I am trying to carry a lighter work bag (probably good for me anyway), though I’m also learning to strap whatever I’m carrying (including flowers, sometimes) into the front basket. I’m learning to pack extra snacks, make sure my water bottle is sealed, wrap my lunch in a plastic bag (it helps if the food is frozen).

Once I start riding, I’m learning how to thread my way through traffic and when to pause, in the absence of protected bike lanes. How to shrug off the occasional yells from grumpy motorists. How to signal a turn, usually not once but several times. How to avoid drains and puddles and manhole covers. The particular traffic signals and patterns along my regular route.

Back in those Oxford days, cycling gave me a new kind of freedom, and opened a different window on the city I already loved. It is doing the same for me here in Boston and Cambridge, and like so many things I love, it urges me to pay attention. To my surroundings, to the changing weather, to the buildings and trees and the view across the river, to my own body and spirit moving through the world. I can see why a few friends of mine are addicted to cycling. I just might be, too.

Any tips on riding in the city – or in the winter – for a novice?

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august break 2018 list

It’s August. How did that happen?

After a June that included 10 glorious days in Spain and a July that filled up quickly with freelance projects and other plans, I can’t believe we’re here already. I’m feeling – if I’m honest – a little overwhelmed.

Fortunately, Susannah Conway is hosting her lovely annual August Break photo project, and I’m planning to participate on Instagram (I’m @katiengibson) and here on the blog. Please join us, if you’d like – there are no real rules.

We often begin with a morning-focused prompt, and today’s is “morning light.”

kitchen window morning august light

It’s cloudy today, but the view out my kitchen window is still glorious.

neponset reflection dorchester water sky

I went for a morning run, and came upon this reflection along my beloved trail.

Happy August, friends. More photos to come.

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crocuses rock light flowerbed

It begins with the snowdrops: shy and white, pushing their way through the frozen ground when the snow melts just enough to let them through. Then the crocuses – those tiny, fierce fighters, deep purple and lavender and sometimes bright gold.

yellow crocuses open

The forsythia come next – “fountains of pale gold,” as L.M. Montgomery wrote – then the daffodils, slender green stems lit like candles at the ends. The hellebores arrive around the same time, creamy white petals giving way to earthy green. Then the hyacinths and scilla, carpeting the still-bare ground with blue and pink and white.

scilla flowers blue

The green stems of tulips start to uncurl, and they bob their vivid heads in flowerbeds and gardens. At nearly the same time, the magnolias unfurl their lipstick-pink buds, and the lilacs appear, filling the air with their delicate scent. The lilies of the valley hide under their broad green leaves, till suddenly – seemingly all at once – the tiny bells burst forth.

lily of the valley flowers

For several years now, I’ve been marking time by flowers here in Cambridge.

It’s both a reliable pleasure and an unexpected delight: every winter I start watching, paying particular attention to a few spots I know well. The air smells like snow and then damp earth and, eventually, the tang of mulch; the trees fuzz over with buds and then leaf out seemingly overnight. Every year I wonder if it will really happen again. And every year, somehow, it does.

red white striped tulips

The season unfolds in a slightly different rhythm at my beloved florist’s shop: amaryllis and anemones, daffodils and ranunculus, buckets of vivid tulips and early peonies. The lilies and sunflowers have already appeared there, though they’re not blooming in the flowerbeds yet. And this year, I’ve been growing flowers in my kitchen: first paperwhites, then geraniums.

wisteria light

Outside, right now, there are wisteria and columbines, the last of the cherry blossoms and dogwoods, the first spikes of tall purple iris. I’ve spotted a couple of budding yellow roses. And all my friends who garden seem to be on peony watch, according to Instagram.

There are many ways to mark time, of course: the alarm clock, the calendar with its dates and boxes, the annual rhythm of the academic year. We are heading into summer, which means the slow season for classes and events, though some things never stop entirely. But as we wrap up another semester, the outdoors is bursting into glorious green life: bellflowers and dandelions, azaleas and wild geraniums, rhododendrons and violets and so many others I can’t name.

violets

It’s almost too much, this abundance, after months of barren brown earth and bare branches. My eyes can hardly take it in; my soul feels sated, full of color, and at the same time it craves more. It is both ephemeral and lasting, this pageant of color and light: it changes daily, weekly, but it makes a living tapestry that endures.

pink azalea flowers

By now it’s a rhythm that lives deep in my body, my fingers thrumming with the awareness of new life, new growth. It is at once a universal and a particular kind of glory: it happens every spring, but it’s still a wonder.

Soon the calendar will flip to June, and the lilacs will go over, to be replaced by roses and peonies, rhododendron and mountain laurel. I’ll be watching for columbines in every color, for iris in purple and white and gold, for poppies and jasmine and honeysuckle, for other delights I don’t know about yet.

You can’t schedule meetings by flowers, maybe, but I’ll be happily marking time by them, all summer long.

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