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Posts Tagged ‘attention’

lilacs flowers rain

That is one good thing about this world…there are always sure to be more springs.

—L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Avonlea

As soon as the snow melts, I’m poised and ready: watching for the first spears of snowdrops and crocuses, the first buds on the trees, the first leaves on the bushes. Spring in New England is a wonder every year, and I keep an eye out for it, snapping photos on my daily rounds of Harvard Square and wherever else I happen to be.

purple hyacinth

Sometimes I share those flower photos on Instagram or here on the blog, but this year I’ve also been sharing them on Twitter, as part of the Sunday #FlowerReport.

orange-tulips-public-garden

My friend Alyssa, a writer and professional delight-er who lives in Austin, anchors the #FlowerReport, which consists of people sharing photos of gorgeous blooms. We have “correspondents” from all over the U.S. and a handful of other countries, and I love seeing what people spot on their walks, in their gardens or on their kitchen tables.

red ranunculus table

Occasionally someone will share a shot of an unknown species and ask for help in identifying it. (I did this recently with a photo of what turned out to be tradescantia, or spiderwort.) I love the friendly spirit on the thread; the more experienced flower-spotters are always willing to help us amateurs out. And there is so much beauty.

dogwood tree brick wall

The #FlowerReport taps into one of the central refrains of my adult life: I am always trying to pay attention. It’s so easy to get distracted by my phone or my to-do list or my latest worries, but I am constantly trying to stay awake to this rich, messy, glorious, complicated world.

alliums boston public garden

This is maybe a bit easier in the spring, when the natural world is waking up and shouting for our attention with its vivid, gorgeous color. But I still need a reminder every so often. And the #FlowerReport is there like a nudge: What did you see today? Can you show us?

daffodils dachshund table

We have moved from snowdrops and crocuses through tulips and daffodils, on to lilacs, dogwoods and lilies of the valley. Now we are approaching summer, with azaleas, rhododendrons and the first few irises, peonies and roses. I love watching the different flowers appear, and it’s so much fun to share them with this little corner of the Internet.

white tulips boston public garden

If you love flowers or need a bit of beauty in your life, come join us. We’ll be there on Sunday.

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harvard yard memorial church view

It is (finally) springtime in Cambridge. The trees are blooming, the tulips are lifting up their elegant heads to the sun, the azaleas and hydrangeas are flowering. And the tourist groups are out in force.

Working at Harvard, especially during the warmer months, means engaging with (sometimes dodging) people whose purpose for being on campus is quite different from mine. Harvard is where I spend my workdays: it is the backdrop for my meetings, projects, lunch breaks, my work-related frustrations and triumphs. It is a living, breathing, complex community, comprising several thousand students and employees. But it is also world famous and storied, and certain parts of it are very public, even iconic.

harvard yard autumn light leaves

I love some of the public spaces at Harvard, such as the Yard (above), edged with red-brick buildings and dotted with colorful chairs in the summertime. The wide south porch of Memorial Church, which is my favorite place to eat a picnic lunch. The grand, columned facade of Widener Library, iconic in both design and purpose. The towering exterior of Memorial Hall (below), which evokes nothing so much as Hogwarts.

memorial hall harvard

All these images are “very Harvard” – part of the history and mythology of this place, but also integral to its everyday working life.

But one unexpected gift of working at Harvard is the chance to see and explore its hidden corners. I’ve worked in three offices here now, and visited eight of the University’s schools (and many different buildings) for interviews, meetings and events. I spent an entire semester making weekly visits to the Harvard Art Museums last year. And while the view from my current sixth-floor workspace includes several of those famous spires, I have discovered a few hidden corners I adore.

The sunken garden on Appian Way, where I spent many lunch breaks when I worked in the building next door. The exhibition room at Houghton Library, where treasures from the archives are on display to the public (but it’s dim, quiet and rarely crowded). The corner of Boylston Hall, next to Widener, which catches the most gorgeous afternoon light. The passageway between Larsen Hall and Christ Church Cambridge, where crocuses and forsythia bloom in the spring.

cambridge ma forsythia yellow spring

After three years, this is, unquestionably, my neighborhood. I still have much more to discover: Harvard is a big, complicated, multilayered place. But the physical space, the ground of the Square, grows more and more familiar to me. It no longer feels like a code I can’t crack, a walled garden I can’t open. I have my routines, my rhythms, my favorite spots for work and play. I watch the seasons change, delighting in spring flowers, autumn leaves and even the occasional snowstorm.

johnson gate harvard snow

Many of the nooks and crannies I love are technically public: they are available to anyone who is willing to explore and pay attention. But some of them feel like hidden treasure, like delightful secrets that are all mine. They are perhaps less awe-inspiring than the grand public spaces, but they hold their own tranquil beauty. They are part of the life of this place, as much as the postcard-worthy columns and towers. And they are part of my Harvard: my particular experience of this place I love so well.

Commencement is next week, and I will delight in the public pomp and circumstance, as I do every year: the banners, the caps and gowns, the Latin oration, the glorious swirl of excitement and new beginnings. But after the dust has settled and the folding chairs have been put away, you can find me hiding out in these quiet corners: relishing the approach of summer, dodging the tourist traffic, and trying – always trying – to pay attention to the beauty around every bend.

katie memorial church green coat harvard yard

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my kitchen year book pie flowers

I’ve been reading Ruth Reichl’s glorious cookbook-cum-memoir, My Kitchen Year. The book includes 136 recipes spread over four seasons, and each recipe is accompanied by a short essay. Most of the essay/recipe combinations begin with one of Reichl’s tweets, which are almost haiku-like: brief, clear, vivid renderings of her moods, meals, and where she finds herself at that precise moment.

My Kitchen Year was born out of a difficult time in Reichl’s life: the year after Gourmet magazine closed down, suddenly and unexpectedly. Reichl, the magazine’s longtime editor, found herself jobless, unmoored and totally unsure of where to go next. (I nodded my head as I read those passages: my layoff last spring induced similar feelings.)

She took refuge, perhaps unsurprisingly, in her kitchen, and the resulting book contains many mouthwatering recipes. But I loved it most for its simple, lyrical record of her journey through that year. Reichl writes with grace and honesty about feeling lonely and uncertain, about trying new ingredients and projects, and retreating to comforting familiar favorites. Her prose evokes quiet mornings at her house in upstate New York; afternoons spent browsing cheese and butcher shops amid the colorful bustle of New York City; reuniting with Gourmet colleagues for long evening meals and spending hours by herself, in cafes or on city sidewalks.

My Kitchen Year is about food, certainly, but it’s also grounded in a particular place and time: field notes from a year when food and a few key relationships were Reichl’s only anchors.

Ten years ago (!) this month, for my college graduation, I received a copy of Julia Cameron’s The Sound of Paper. My then-boyfriend (now my husband) plucked it off the shelf at our local Books-a-Million, knowing I loved books about writing and thinking perhaps I’d enjoy this one. He could not have known – nor could I – how powerfully Julia’s short essays, about writing and living and beginning again, would resonate with me.

Like Reichl, Cameron (though I call her “Julia” in my head) writes in first person, grounding her ideas in a specific place and context. She begins many of her essays with a note about the weather: a “gray, dreary, socked-in day” or a morning of blue skies and budding trees. She writes about her New York City apartment overlooking the Hudson River; the house she loves in Taos, New Mexico; the music and books that inspire her. Her ideas about building a life conducive to creativity, a rich and artful life, are broadly appealing, but they are also field notes, full of crisp sensory details. She invites us to notice each day along with her.

I think that’s how blogging and social media began: as a way to share field notes from our lives, a way to reach out to one another across the vast spaces of modern life and say, “Here I am. This is what I’m noticing today.” I have met so many wonderful people (some of whom I’ve eventually met in person) this way: through the small, quotidian details we’ve shared online, the ways we have chosen to record and remember the stuff of our lives.

I have an ongoing text conversation with a dear friend that functions in a similar way. We share small notes on of our days: traffic and commutes and weather, lunch and errands, meetings with friends and colleagues. We talk about big ideas too, and what’s making us laugh, and sometimes we share what is saving our lives. Some of it probably is universal. But much of it is blessedly particular: field notes from these specific, mundane, glorious days.

I write sometimes here about the Big Things: the struggles of the job hunt; the prickly ache of missing my family; the quiet glory of my marriage; what it means to be a person of faith. But I am just as likely, on any given day, to be writing about the small, vivid, particular things. To be sharing field notes from right where I am.

Thanks for reading. As Lindsey noted recently, there is a lot of kindness that shows up online, and I’m grateful for every bit of it here in this space.

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kent haruf novels plainsong our souls at night

Every once in a while, a book comes along that knocks me backward with its quiet power. Kent Haruf’s final novel, Our Souls at Night, is such a book: a story about ordinary people living simple lives, told in spare, melancholy, beautiful prose.

Addie Moore and Louis Waters, both elderly and widowed, live a block apart in a small Colorado town. They’ve known one another for years (though not very well), and both of them are lonely. Addie makes an unusual request of Louis: she wants him to come and spend nights at her house, lying in bed next to her, just talking.

Louis is surprised, but he agrees to give it a try, and they strike up a friendship – spending their nights in quiet companionship, telling each other the stories of their lives.

I’m at Great New Books today talking about how much I loved Our Souls at Night. Please join me over there to read the rest of my review.

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harvard yard fall golden leaves

November is often a tricky month for me. The days are abruptly shorter after the fall time change, the long twilights of September and October suddenly snipped off like a ribbon. There’s a chill in the air most mornings, and I have to adjust to a different seasonal rhythm, the angle of the sun somehow melancholy even when the sky is vivid blue.

golden leaves sunshine

This week, though, has been one of almost unreal perfection: a glorious stretch of Indian summer, wherein (to quote L.M. Montgomery) “November dreamed that it was May.” I have spent hours in Harvard Yard, on the wide south porch of Memorial Church, perched on a bench or the concrete steps, sipping chai and scribbling in my journal or typing away at my laptop.

Every few minutes, I pause to look up as a breeze sends a swirl of golden leaves fluttering down from the trees. It’s like living in a postcard, or catching a glimpse of an enchanted forest.

harvard yard path trees light

Sometimes I think that if I watch hard enough, I can almost see it happen: the sun’s angle shifting gradually, the golden leaves falling one by one from the trees. The slow, elegiac turning of the year, the bright flaming out of orange and gold before the bare branches emerge to line the sky through the winter months.

orange gold leaves blue sky

Every year, it is a challenge for me to savor these last weeks of fall without dreading what comes after: the long, dark New England winter, which requires every bit of courage (and snow gear) I possess. I love the light, and like Dylan Thomas, I rage against its dying.

yellow leaves dormer windows harvard yard

But this week, I have felt cocooned in this quiet golden world, nourished by these bold blue skies and mild breezes and glowing, fire-bright leaves. I have stopped in my tracks so many times, looking up (and sometimes down), marveling at the colors, snapping pictures, soaking it up.

gold-red-leaves-grass

It all feels like a moment of grace, a gift. And for that, I am grateful.

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astrid veronika lemonade stripes

What is it that makes us know when the summer turns? The smallest shift in the light? The slightest hint of chill in the morning air? A certain rustling of the leaves of the birches? That is how it is – suddenly, in the midst of the summer heat, you are overcome by a tightening of your heart. The realisation that it will all come to an end. And that brings a new intensity to everything: the colours, the smells, the feeling of sunshine on your arm. […]

Summer had turned. Although the weather remained sunny and warm, with each morning the air grew a touch crisper, the light a shade sharper, the evenings a notch darker.

Astrid & Veronika, Linda Olsson

I read Astrid & Veronika in late July, sitting in Harvard Yard with a cup of blueberry lemonade in hand. It’s a spare, lovely story about two women who become neighbors and help one another deal with deep grief. It is also about noticing the details, including the subtle shift in the seasons, the turning of summer toward fall.

The passage above leaped out at me when I read it, even though we were in the thick of summer, its full glorious green heat (and humidity). Now the calendar has flipped to September, and I’m noticing that seasonal shift – even though the weather is still summer-like.

Everyone I know – or their kids – seems to be heading back to school. (I work in higher ed and my circles of friends, both in Boston and Texas, include a lot of university students, professors and staff.) The blue of the sky is a little deeper, heading for that autumn blue I love so much. The sunsets are coming a little earlier, the sunrises a few minutes later. The light is sharpening a bit, the haze of summer gradually disappearing.

It has been a lovely summer and also a difficult one, in some ways. I am hoping for good things this fall, starting with a visit from my parents this week. And as I walk through these autumn days, I will do my best to pay attention, to notice the shifting light, the new coolness in the air, all the harbingers of my favorite season.

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red tulips public garden boston

 

A spring night is a power that sweeps through the crowded sheaves of blooming tulips and pours into your heart like a river.

—Anthony Doerr, Four Seasons in Rome

I took a solo walk through the Public Garden the other night, after a long, full day that included a work event and an impromptu dinner afterward with a friend.

We tucked into a corner booth at one of our favorite restaurants, over bowls of creamy, savory soup and glasses of red wine. The evening was blue and gold, with a brisk west wind. I had forgotten my jacket that morning and I was almost cold.

After dinner, I walked through the Garden alone, to see if there were any tulips left. (The photo above is from a couple of weeks ago; the tulip season is vivid and glorious here, but short.) A few bright blooms still lingered on their stalks, and I snapped a photo in the gathering dusk. But what caught my attention was the sunset light, reflected in the water.

sunset sky boston public garden

I thought of the line from Doerr’s memoir, above, written as he tried to savor the gorgeous, fleeting beauty that is spring in Rome. Spring in Boston – capricious, tricksy, full of sudden cool breezes and unexpected bursts of color – is a surprise and an enchantment every year. I’ve lived through five New England winters now and am on my fifth spring, and I am still in love, bewitched, utterly captivated by the new life around every corner.

This is a packed time of year, for me and for nearly everyone I know. Harvard’s Commencement approaches (next week); work deadlines loom. Summer, with all its pleasures and its changes from the usual routine, is on the horizon, but it’s not quite here yet.

tulips-public-garden

I am walking through the middle of all this beauty, thinking about plans and to-do lists and so many meetings. I am busy and tired and a little stressed, but I want to stay awake. I don’t want to miss it. Any of it.

I am determined to keep paying attention, to let the power of these spring nights – and days – sweep through the tulips and blooming trees, and pour into my heart like a river.

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