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Posts Tagged ‘Boston’

Earlier this month, I joined a running club – the newish, informal, neighborhood group that meets at the foot of the Golden Stairs, mere yards from my house. I’d been seeing their posts on Instagram for months now, and seen them running in a pack through the neighborhood – but I’d hesitated to try it out. I usually like to run alone, plus 7 a.m. sounded a wee bit early…plus (and this is the real thing) I hate walking up to groups of strangers. I’ve never enjoyed that moment of being the odd new person, but like so many things, it’s gotten worse with two years of isolation during the pandemic.

But. It’s spring (tipping into summer this weekend, with 90-degree temps on the way). The mornings are lighter; the lilacs are blooming; the azaleas are a blaze of pink and the rhododendrons are right behind them. And in small ways, I can feel myself opening up, too: finally unclenching after months of clinging to all things safe and familiar.

Don’t get me wrong: I still need lots of nights on my couch with a book, or morning runs by myself with the Wailin’ Jennys or Martina McBride in my ears. But some things feel more possible, less scary, than they did a year ago. I’m seeing it all around me: people are traveling again, eating in restaurants and gathering with friends. I went to the movies last night for the first time in a year. It all feels like training wheels for being back in the world, a chance to try out – in a safe context – the things we used to do and the things we want to do, and decide which (if any) we’d like to keep.

Long before the pandemic, I was telling myself a story about meeting people in Boston: that it’s hard and scary and they probably won’t welcome me anyway. This was true at my first workplace here, and I’ve carried it with me, like a stone in my chest, for a decade. It has taken years to untangle that story, and the fear still rises up every so often. But the other week, I set my alarm for 6:15, ate some granola and drank a cup of tea, grabbed my keys and headed down the stairs. Just try it, I told myself. If you hate it, you never have to go back again.

Well. I didn’t hate it – as evidenced by the fact that I got up early this morning for the third Friday in a row. I ran a 5K last weekend in the sweaty, steamy heat with some of these people – and I didn’t even mind that much when I came in dead last. I’ve run into a couple folks already in the neighborhood. And most weeks, we walk to the new cafe afterward to grab coffee and chat.

It feels like community, like connection, like finding a new way to be in this neighborhood where I’ve spent three joyful and also difficult years. It feels like pushing off with those training wheels, learning to balance again. It feels – in a sneaky, surprising way – like joy.

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It’s nearly April – and the weather is teasing us, as usual. But the books are getting me through. Here’s what I have been reading to close out the month:

Forward Me Back to You, Mitali Perkins
I love Mitali’s sensitively written novels about teenagers finding their place in the world. This one follows Kat – a tough-talking biracial girl from California who’s recovering from an assault – and Robin, a Boston boy adopted from India as a toddler by white parents. When they go to Kolkata on a summer service trip, things change in powerful ways for both of them. I could not put this down; it felt so realistic and layered and often funny. Found at Copper Dog Books last summer.

The Golden Season, Madeline Kay Sneed
Sneed’s gorgeous, thoughtful debut novel follows Emmy Quinn, a West Texas girl who makes the difficult decision to come out to her football-coach dad (and by extension the whole town) during her college years. The narrative captures my Texas – the relentless dry heat, the football obsession, the bless-your-heart church ladies and the surprising beauty – so well. Fantastic. To review for Shelf Awareness (out May 31).

Sisters in Arms, Kaia Alderson
Eliza Jones and Grace Steele come from very different Harlem backgrounds. When they both sign up to serve in the WAC, they find themselves thrown together through training camp in Iowa and in all kinds of difficult circumstances. Fascinating, layered historical fiction about Black women serving in World War II. Found at Bookmans in Tucson.

Kind of a Big Deal, Shannon Hale
A girlfriend was reading this YA novel, so I picked it up at the library and flew through it. Teenage theatre star Josie Pie dropped out of high school to make it on Broadway, but she flopped and is now hiding out in Montana. She discovers a strange ability to jump into books – which makes her (further) question her current choices. This one took some odd turns, but it’s a fun story.

A Valiant Deceit, Stephanie Graves
Olive Bright is eagerly training pigeons for the war effort – and reluctantly faking a relationship with her commanding officer. When another officer turns up murdered, Olive (of course) wants to investigate. I loved this second cozy British WWII mystery following Olive, her birds and the village community of Pipley.

The Stubborn Light of Things: A Nature Diary, Melissa Harrison
Harrison is a noticer – and this collection of her columns from The Times shares her observations from rambles in London, where she used to live, and rural Suffolk, where she lives now. Beautiful, thoughtful and wise. Found at the wonderful Book Catapult in San Diego.

Most links (not affiliate links) are to my local faves Trident and Brookline Booksmith. Shop indie!

What are you reading?

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A blue-walled loft bedroom in an old church converted into condos. A wide leather couch, piled with blankets, in a cramped but comfortable house. A two-level, wood-floored apartment filled with abstract art, dried rose petals, and light. And a cozy guest room in a college town that I still think of as home.

Most friendships involve a balance between space and attention, with both parties weighing the needs of the friendship against the other obligations and people in their lives. During the winter and spring leading up to my divorce, several friends gave me the gift of space in a very particular way: opening up their homes to me, whether they were physically present or not.

My essay “Space to Imagine” was published last week over at the HerStories Project! Click over there to read the rest of it, if you’d like.

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Last week, I hopped a Green Line train after work to go hear my friend Louise Miller have a books-and-baking conversation with fellow author Vallery Lomas. (I met another friend there, and we sampled treats afterward, and I hugged Louise and convinced my friend to buy her lovely first novel.)

The weekend before that, I volunteered as an usher at my favorite local theatre company and saw the excellent play The Book of Will for free. (Bonus: the witch hazel was out in the Public Garden.) And the weekend before that, my guy and I took the commuter rail up to Beverly, just north of Boston, where we ate and shopped and got caught in a snow squall, and took a long, rambling walk along the frozen beach, watching the birds and the light.

After a year and a half where we mostly stayed in our own apartments (or at least in our own neighborhoods) and/or felt safe doing mostly outdoor activities, it’s felt good to open myself up a bit again. The joy of local adventures – besides their accessibility – is the fact that they add serious magic to the everyday.

Some version of this phenomenon happens to me every spring: after curling up inside during the colder months, I love trying a few new restaurants, going for walks, planning visits to museums and generally enjoying the milder weather. Spring adds a bit of zing to life. But this year, going on a local adventure feels extra exciting. Whether that’s trying a new-to-us brunch spot with my partner, walking down unfamiliar streets or immersing myself in music or theatre for an evening, it feels revitalizing and fun.

What local adventures are you having these days?

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Well, friends, it happened: after nearly two years of wearing a mask, washing my hands incessantly, getting vaccinated and taking all the other precautions we’re all used to now, I tested positive for COVID-19 a few weeks ago.

I was lucky. My symptoms were fairly mild, mostly fatigue and congestion (though I will say the brain fog is real). My employer has been generous about giving us extra sick time for isolation and recovery (though I did work from home when I felt well enough, to stave off the boredom). I felt tired and draggy for nearly a week, and I’ve still had some fatigue and a lingering cough – but mostly, I feel grateful it wasn’t much worse.

My mild-ish symptoms didn’t surprise me too much: I’m vaxxed, boosted, in a low-risk demographic, etc. What did surprise me were some of the emotions I felt. They ran the gamut from fear (what if I become severely ill?) to worry (does my partner have it too? Spoiler: he did, and he’s also fine now) to eye-rolling frustration (here we go with the isolation and counting days).

There was also abject sadness and terror at the thought of more isolation in my apartment, after spending most of 2020 and the first half of 2021 alone there. I broke down and sobbed to my mom on the phone after I got my positive results. I have worked so hard since my divorce to build a life for myself that includes community, but as a household of one with a highly contagious virus, I knew I was facing down at least a week of serious solitude.

I felt helpless and frustrated (there was nothing I could do about it), mildly outraged (but I’ve been doing everything right! The whole time!), and a little bit ashamed (I caught the virus anyway. Did I do something wrong?). And deep down, after a couple of days, I also felt a creeping sense of relief: now I’ve had it. So that happened.

In addition to all these emotions, I truly did feel lucky: my community stepped up for me, in ways both tangible and intangible. One friend dropped off groceries (and cough drops) on a bitterly cold afternoon. My supervisor called to check in on a few mornings. I went for a walk with a girlfriend who had tested positive the day after I did – which saved both of our sanity. Other friends texted; my parents called; my sister checked in on me every day. My partner and I did our best to support each other via FaceTime and phone calls, and on the weekend when we reunited in person, we hugged for minutes at a time. I felt loved and supported, even while I was physically alone.

As this pandemic drags on and on, the omicron wave has hit a lot of households in my circles that had so far managed to avoid the virus. My folks, my partner and various friends are all recovering; here in Boston we are still masking, sanitizing, flashing our vaccine cards to eat indoors and go to the gym and go hear live music (or dance salsa, in my case).

We are still here, I keep saying to my colleagues, my parents, my COVID-weary friends. I keep hearing Beth Silvers‘ voice in my head: It’s a virus, not a moral defect. Which is to say: keep doing everything you can, but testing positive is not a moral failure. It’s simply something many of us will have to deal with at some point.

I don’t have any neat and tidy conclusions, but wanted to share my experience in case it is helpful to someone here. (Beth also noted that, like childbirth, having COVID is a singular, isolating experience that creates some stuff we need to process together.) Thanks for reading, friends. If you have your own experiences/emotions to share, please feel free – I’m listening.

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For leggy geraniums in my kitchen window and brilliant afternoon light.

For morning runs along the harbor and the greenway. For so much outdoor public space in my neighborhood, and a body that is strong and healthy, beautiful and resilient.

For a kind, brilliant, passionate, funny, fierce man whose love sustains me.

For a few local friends who are my lifelines, every single day.

For my faraway family, both blood kin and chosen.

For texts and calls with my girlfriends scattered across the miles. For the technologies that allow us to share in the details of one another’s lives.

For vaccines, nurses, doctors, public health officials and everyone who is (still) working so hard to keep us safe.

For a job at a neighborhood nonprofit that I love, working with good people to bring music and creative empowerment to our young folks.

For nourishing trips this summer and fall – to Texas, Minneapolis, Vermont and beyond – to explore new and beloved places and spend time with folks dear to me.

For music in all its forms: the Wailin’ Jennys and the women of country on my long runs, humming favorites in my kitchen, singing carols with others at Christmas choir rehearsal, hearing our ZUMIX students play ukulele or drums or guitar.

For good books, those who write them, and the chance to read and review them regularly.

For a place – my studio, my neighborhood, this city, my communities – where I have built a home and been welcomed into other people’s homes.

For all – as my friend Amy would say – that we have been given.

If you’re celebrating this week, I wish you a wonderful Thanksgiving.

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Last Saturday, I took my bike down to Franklin Park for the Ride for Black Lives. Since last summer, a group of us have been meeting there for monthly protest rides through the streets of Boston. The rides began in the wake of George Floyd’s and Breonna Taylor’s deaths, and they have continued (with a winter hiatus) as the racial conversations in this country have shifted, quieted and occasionally flared up again.

This month’s ride drew a much smaller crowd: a few dozen instead of the several hundred we often had last summer. It was a hot day, and there were several other events happening at the same time; people are also taking vacations while they can. More worryingly, it seems some folks have simply moved on from wanting to talk or hear (or ride) about racial justice. (Though I know showing up to an event is far from the only way to participate.)

I often wonder if what we’re doing matters: if a bike ride (or five) will make any difference in the struggle for racial equality. For me personally, it’s often important and moving to show up and hear Black people share their experiences, but these rides are absolutely not about me. My partner is on the organizing committee, so of course I show up for him, too. But sometimes I wonder if it’s worth it. If what we do matters at all.

Last week, our speakers were several young people who have worked with Bikes Not Bombs, which (among other things) trains young people in bike mechanics and leadership skills. I was astounded by their bravery in sharing with us, and their vulnerability in admitting how hard life can be when you’re a Black teenager. Their stories (and one poem) reminded me: we are riding because their lives, and other Black lives, matter.

One of the speakers talked about his experience in mostly white schools, how there are so many spaces where he doesn’t feel he can be himself. Another one said simply that his experience is probably “typical” for a Black teenager, and listed a few of the slights he’s received. And another read a poem called “Can You Hear Me?”, a river of spoken word urging us – the adults in the room – to listen to the teenagers we often overlook.

We ride – I was reminded – for them. For the students who spoke and the students we serve at ZUMIX, where I work, and my partner’s son, who leaves for college this week. We ride, and continue the conversation, so that these young people can be their full selves in a country that is theirs as much as it is mine. We are thinking about how to expand our work, starting with a backpack and school supply drive. (We would love your support, if you’re able.) We keep showing up because no matter what the headlines say, it is unjustly hard to be a Black person in this country, and that should change.

I have more of a personal stake in this than ever before: loving a Black man makes a difference, even when you already believe in justice and equality in the abstract. I am proud to stand beside my guy and the others who make these rides happen. I am humbled and honored to fight alongside them. And I – we – will keep doing the work. Which includes, but is in no way limited to, these rides.

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My guy and I love Salem, that famously witchy town a bit north of Boston. We spent a few weekends there in 2019, but hadn’t been back since March 2020, for the obvious pandemic and life reasons. But a couple of weeks ago, we decided to just go for the day – hopping on the commuter rail in the morning and coming back in time for dinner. It was, in a word, fabulous.

We started the day with iced chai and treats from Caffe Ducali (see above) and then hopped on the train. When we arrived, we did some browsing of favorites old and new: the bike shop, the comic-book shop, the fabulous consignment shop Re-find (where I always find the best stuff). We ran into an old friend of G’s and chatted a minute, then headed down the street for hot dogs. I almost never eat hot dogs unless I’m at a ballpark, but I made an exception for these:

Thus fortified, we wandered some more (stopping at Front Street Coffee for iced tea – it was hot!), then headed out on a bike ride. I love exploring new parts of familiar places with G, and we adore a good long bike ride. We ended up at Winter Island, which has campgrounds, a beach and ocean views.

We rode back to town and headed to Far From the Tree, Salem’s wonderful local cider house, for some sampling (G) and an old favorite (me). We have a cider-focused Instagram account these days, and it’s so fun to taste different ciders and compare notes.

After a ride back on the commuter rail, we ended the day where we began it: at Ducali for a delicious dinner. It was so lovely to revisit one of our favorite towns together. I want to go back (again).

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Continuing the theme of collective experiences: I have sorely missed live music during the pandemic. I wasn’t ready to go back to Newport or another festival this year (though I thought about it), but I’ve been spending a few Sunday nights soaking in live music closer to home.

ZUMIX, my new employer, is a nonprofit that offers free and low-cost music lessons, ensembles and other creative opportunities for young people. We also put on a number of community events, including a summer concert series in Piers Park, down the hill from my house. I loved going to these concerts when I moved to Eastie in 2019, and then they were cancelled last summer (like everything). So it’s been a real joy to be back.

Everyone brings lawn chairs and picnic blankets and snacks; the kids run around blowing bubbles and dancing and generally having fun. Several of our ZUMIX students run the sound board, and others provide the opening acts for our local headliners. It’s a fun neighborhood outing and a great way to (finally) be back together in person.

We’ve got a few more concerts left this month and I’m crossing my fingers for good weather – and more chances to wave at (and maybe dance with) my neighbors.

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One of the things I’ve missed during this pandemic year is collective experiences: the chance to be among a group of people, enjoying the same thing at the same time (and not through a screen). I particularly missed live theatre, so I was thrilled that Shakespeare on the Common is back this year.

My guy and I made a midweek date to see The Tempest – which we had both read in high school, but not really interacted with since then. I met him after work and we picked up a feast from BarTaco, which does delicious tacos and salsa with flavor and heat.

We arrived early and snagged a good spot with a view of the stage – though I’d definitely bring or rent chairs next time, as the ground gets hard after a while. But it was a perfect, clear evening, and we settled in to watch the cast (including John Douglas Thompson, whom I remembered seeing in Carousel on Broadway a few years back).

Both the men who taught me Shakespeare – Mr. Walker in high school and Dr. Wade in college – used to insist, I think rightly, that his plays are meant to be watched, not read. The story has so much more power (and the jokes are so much funnier) when you’re watching it unfold in real time. I had forgotten, or perhaps never realized, how much of The Tempest is about power: who has it, who ought to have it, what it means to have (or choose to give up) authority over another person, or to assert your own.

Of course there’s the love at first sight between Ferdinand and Miranda, and Prospero’s schemes to ostensibly keep them apart. There’s the bumbling pair of jokers from the shipwrecked crew, and their plot to overthrow Prospero (not very well planned). And there are Ariel and Caliban – who are treated very differently by Prospero, but are ultimately bound to him until he sets them free.

We laughed and clapped and marveled at the cast’s artistry, and savored being together. An entirely joyous experience, and a wonderful return to live theater.

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