Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘challenges’

Harvard yard November light trees fall blue sky

That time
I thought I could not
go any closer to grief
without dying

I went closer,
and I did not die.

[…]

Then said my friend Daniel
(brave even among lions),
“It’s not the weight you carry

but how you carry it—
books, bricks, grief—
it’s all in the way
you embrace it, balance it, carry it

when you cannot, and would not,
put it down.”
So I went practicing.
Have you noticed?

—from “Heavy,” Mary Oliver

I read this poem in Thirst a few years ago, but heard it read aloud this week at Morning Prayers. I listened to the words and thought, not for the first time lately, that gratitude—along with courage and books and yes, grief—can be a heavy burden to bear.

For me and for many of the folks I love, this has been a year of coming close to grief: closer and closer until we are right in the middle of it. We have navigated trauma and transition; we have wept, sometimes privately, sometimes together. We have been sustained—never doubt it—by friendship and sunshine, hot drinks and fresh flowers and occasional blinding joy.

geraniums window red flowers kitchen

But I cannot come up to Thanksgiving without first pausing to acknowledge: there has been so much, this year, to carry.

Even the good gifts this year have sometimes felt prickly, as my friend Micha put it years ago. My new job at Berklee, where I am glad to be, came at the expense of leaving Harvard, which I love. My husband has seen the end of one nonprofit he runs and the beginning of another: a professional success, but a stressful one. I have multiple friends who have navigated moves, loss, job changes, seeing their lives upended and rearranged. Sometimes it comes by choice; often it is a product of circumstances. Always, it requires summoning courage.

We carry our griefs, like other burdens, as best we can; we shift and strain and sometimes we ask for help. And alongside the heartache is the constant reminder: there is so much, in this world, that inspires thanks.

I am grateful for—among other things—the vivid sunrises out my kitchen window, and the cheery red geraniums that turn toward the light as I do. I’m grateful for pleasant workdays at Berklee, and the snatched hours I still spend in Harvard Square. I am grateful, in both places, to have found home: the one I am working to build, the other I am determined not to lose.

I’m grateful for countless long runs on the trail, for Monday night boot camps with Erin and company, for yoga in a green-walled studio, for the chance to step into my own strength. I’m grateful for good books and thought-provoking articles, and the connections I’ve made via both, online and off.

Most of all, I am grateful for the stalwart loved ones who have supported me through another year of challenge and change. Some of them are bound to me by blood or vows, but all of them are family.

If you are celebrating: I wish you a wonderful Thanksgiving. If you are carrying grief: I see you. And if, like me, you are doing both, I wish you joy and strength for the road ahead.

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

nonfiction tbr book stack

Back in March, I posted a photo of my then-teetering stack of nonfiction, some of which had been hanging around for months or (eek!) more than a year. Six months later, I’ve diligently worked my way through most of the stack.

So I thought I’d share an update, and what lessons (if any) I’ve learned.

First of all, the mere fact of a challenge was enough to make me dive in and keep at it. And I admit to a certain amount of bookworm guilt: some of those titles had lingered for years. (Several of them were gifts, which may have had something to do with it – though my friends mostly do know what I like.)

It took a little discipline to make myself reach for these titles instead of the shiny new ones that are always coming in, but I’m glad I did. Most of them were entirely worth it, whether because they were charming (Encore Provence), highly informative (Love of Country), thought-provoking (Crossing the Unknown Sea) or for other reasons.

I’ve now read 10 of the 11 books I had on the nonfiction stack at that time, and – bonus – I loved most of them, especially Ivan Doig’s memoir This House of Sky and Barbara Brown Taylor’s sermon collection, Home By Another Way. I’ll likely return to both of those, for different reasons. I didn’t finish Pigtails and Pernod, but I’m keeping it anyway: I bought my lovely used hardcover on a long-ago afternoon with Caroline in London, and I like looking at it and remembering that day.

I still need to read The Butterfly Hours, and tackle the five nonfiction books I’ve since added to the stack. So the process may start all over again. But it was a helpful lesson in reading what I’d bought (or been given), and a nice break from the sometimes frenetic pace of reading books for review.

All in all, I’m quite satisfied with my progress: now I just need to decide which nonfiction book to read next…

Read Full Post »

nonfiction tbr book stack

Like so many bookworms, I buy more books than I can read right away.

Part of this is intentional: I like having a stack of books waiting for me. Part of it’s a natural consequence of browsing bookstores at home or on vacation: sometimes I just can’t resist a good-looking book or five. And part of it just seems to happen, especially when I receive books as gifts.

I shared this photo on Instagram back in November: this was, at the time, my nonfiction TBR (to-be-read) stack. Generally speaking, nonfiction takes me longer than fiction, and I have Shelf Awareness review deadlines (and often, library deadlines) to meet each month. So the non-urgent nonfiction tends to pile up.

Six of these books were given to me by friends. The top two came from my trip to Oxford in October. Anne generously sent me a copy of her book, Reading People, when it came out last fall. And the other four I’d picked up on previous travels: one in London, three in New York.

All of them had been sitting there a while.

So when I heard about #theunreadshelfproject via my bookworm friend Leigh, I decided my reading goal for 2018 would be to make my way through this nonfiction stack. It sounded doable: 13 books spread over 12 months. (By the time 2018 rolled around, it was down to 11: I read and loved H is for Hawk and Reading People in December.)

I’ve since read three (more) of the books pictured here: Love of Country, Ordinary Light and Encore Provence. I’ve also added a bonus novel: Brian Doyle’s Mink River, which sat on my shelf for months after I bought it at McNally Jackson last winter. I’m in the middle of Scratch, and hoping to tackle Shopgirls or Crossing the Unknown Sea next.

With any luck, by the end of the year I’ll have either read all of these or decided they need a new home somewhere else. (But even if I don’t love Pigtails and Pernod, I might keep it around: it reminds me of a wonderful afternoon spent browsing the bookshops of Charing Cross Road with Caroline.)

Did you set any reading goals for yourself this year? Do your stacks tend to pile up like mine?

Read Full Post »

neponset river sky

Mostly we go as far as we dare down the Road that Leads to the End of the World, rounding every corner adventurously and expectantly, as if we were going to find Tomorrow behind it, while all the little evening green hills neatly nestle together in the distance.

—Anne of Windy Poplars, L.M. Montgomery

Since we moved to Dorchester in late July, I’ve been exploring our new neighborhood: trying out the ice cream shop and a couple of restaurants, visiting the nail salon for a pedicure or two, buying potted herbs and cut flowers at the gorgeous garden center nearby. But my favorite thing about our new area might be the walking trail that’s only a block from our house. I’ve spent many weekend hours down there already, lacing up my sneakers and grabbing my earbuds, walking along the curving green path with the Wailin’ Jennys and my thoughts for company.

My first few walks on the trail were short ones: getting a feel for the route along the river, stopping to snap pictures of Queen Anne’s lace and weathered murals, or simply to take in the views. But a couple of weekends ago, I decided to see how far the trail went. I walked for over an hour, past two playgrounds and under several overpasses, enjoying the blue sky and the warmth of the sun on my shoulders.

That section of the trail stops at a small public dock that juts out over the river, and I walked out onto the dock and stood there, breathing in deeply, smelling the marshy salt air, watching a gull or two swing through the sky. And I thought of these words from Anne’s letter to Gilbert, which my friend Caroline mentioned on her blog a few years ago: “as far as we dare.”

katie river trail blue sky earbuds

My life, these days, requires more daring than I sometimes wish it did: I am learning every day, sometimes every hour, to face the vagaries of life by summoning my courage. Some of the challenges are what I call garden-variety chaos: the busyness of emails and meetings and work assignments, delayed trains and surprise thunderstorms, tricky schedules and missed deadlines. Those make me a little nuts, but I can handle them, and laugh them off at the end of the day. But I need more daring, more bravery, for the things I can’t possibly deal with in one fell swoop: the heartbreaking headlines, the complicated politics (both at work and in our nation at large), the daily (but far from everyday) deeper challenges of work and life and love.

It felt good, on that recent Sunday afternoon, to stretch both my legs and my courage, and go as far as I dared down the trail that led east – though I didn’t quite know where it went. But I followed it to its beautiful end, and then turned around and headed home, refreshed. I thought of this a few days later when a friend teased, “It’s always an odyssey,” and I replied, “That’s how you find your way back home.”

In Windy Poplars, Anne and her neighbor, Elizabeth Grayson, go for long evening walks (as mentioned above). They walk “as far as they dare” to escape Elizabeth’s tyrannical grandmother and the schoolwork that’s always waiting for Anne back at her house. But those walks, and each other’s company, help them dare more deeply and more often. They make each other more brave.

The people I love do that for me: they push me, by their loving presence, to dare a little farther, a little deeper. We walk “as far as we dare” side by side, and in so doing, we help each other find our way. But my solo walks on the river trail help me do this, too. Sometimes it’s good to test your own mettle, to find out how far you can go alone. To give a new meaning to “as far as you dare,” and to know that you can. That I can. That I dare.

Read Full Post »

cafe lalo table berries teacup

This year, I chose gentle for my one little word. Or, more accurately, it chose me.

I’ve been choosing a word each year for a while now, and while I can’t ever predict how my choice is going to shake out, I always enjoy the process of following a word through the year.

Gentle, when it came to me, felt like a deep sigh of relief, a much-needed shift away from some frantic and critical habits I’d slipped into during a hectic few months. Also, as I said at the time, it felt like a good companion to brave, my word from 2010 which remains so important to me.

The circumstances of this year, as it turns out, have not been particularly gentle. I struggled through a record-breaking Boston winter, with bitter temps and frigid winds and so much snow. The gentleness in that season was mostly internal: nourishing myself with tea and soup, reading good books, doing lots of yoga, making an effort to dial back the criticism (often silent, sometimes verbal) of myself and others.

When the weather finally warmed up, I found myself facing another hard thing: the loss of a job I loved, and the subsequent months of networking, interviews and job hunting. That process has been, in a word, brutal. And it’s not entirely over, though I am grateful for a temp gig I’m loving, and for my ongoing freelance assignments.

With the job hunt, too, the gentleness has been mostly internal: doing my best work on a given day, and letting that be enough. Working hard to polish my resume or answer interview questions thoughtfully or compose yet another cover letter. And then taking a break, to cook dinner or meet a friend for coffee or curl up on the sofa with a book or a good TV show.

I have been reminded, over and over again, that I’m only human. I am capable, but I’m not Superwoman. I need rest and downtime and connection with the people I love. I need to ask for things once in a while. And often, I need to turn off the computer and go to sleep.

It has also been (I need hardly say) a tough year to live in this world. Headlines that provoke anxiety and terror, so many shouting matches that solve nothing, an increasing sense of the precariousness of this life. I don’t know what to do about that, except to keep lighting the candles I possess.

It’s an ongoing process, this gentleness with myself and others. But I’m glad this quiet, unobtrusive word has been my companion in 2015. I’m hoping to find a new word for 2016, but I think gentle will hang around a while, too.

Did you choose a word for 2015? If so, how did it go?

Read Full Post »

stories matter nanowrimo sticker

A story is like a giant jigsaw puzzle, a jigsaw puzzle that would cover the whole floor of a room with its tiny pieces. But it’s not the sort of puzzle that comes with a box. There is no lid with a picture on it so that you can see what the puzzle will look like when it’s finished. And you have only some of the pieces.

All you can do is keep looking and listening, sniffing about in all sorts of places, until you find the next piece. And then you’ll be amazed where that next piece will take you.”

Finding Serendipity, Angelica Banks

I read Finding Serendipity in mid-November, and this quote struck me as perfect for NaNoWriMo.

Most people (including me) start NaNo with a shiny but elusive idea, and we spend the month chasing those ideas – or, as Banks would have it, sniffing about for the next puzzle piece. Some folks work from detailed outlines, but I tend to make a few notes and then plunge in.

My first two weeks of NaNo were, shall we say, prolific. I was a little hopped up on both caffeine and words by the end of Week 1:

 

I wrote so much, in fact, that my wrists and hands (not to mention my tired brain) began to protest:

 

I slowed my pace a little during the second half of November, but I still made an effort to crank out a thousand words or so every day. My story is full of plot holes (and too much dialogue), but I’m proud to say I hit 50,000 words over Thanksgiving weekend, which makes me a NaNoWriMo winner.

nanowrimo 2015 winner banner

My novel, Pies and Plies, isn’t nearly done, and I’m not sure it will ever see the light of day. But that isn’t the point. It’s flawed in a hundred places, but I still love the premise – which came to me in a dream this summer – of a family running a ballet studio-cum-pizza parlor (hence the title).

Every time I attempt NaNo, I take on a new creative challenge. This time, I enjoyed the process of drafting a young adult novel. (I read a ton of YA novels, but I’d never attempted to write one.) This story is set in the suburbs of Boston (instead of Oxford, where my previous two NaNoNovels take place). And while all my narrators end up sharing some of my thoughts and preoccupations, this narrator, Elise, is not a carbon copy of me. That was also a creative stretch, and a satisfying one.

I don’t think I’m a fiction writer at heart. I tend to write about what I know, or more specifically, what I think about what I know, and what happens to me. But I love stories and I believe that they matter, and I love joining in this annual, gleeful, worldwide burst of creativity. And it’s so satisfying to say it: I won!

Onward to December – wherein I will still be writing, but giving my wrists (and brain) a bit of a break. Whew!

Read Full Post »

home fires masthead

It’s no secret I love a good British period drama, especially Downton Abbey, Call the Midwife and Lark Rise to Candleford. This fall, I’ve been swept up in the latest series showing on Masterpiece PBS: Home Fires.

Home Fires follows a group of women in the fictional village of Great Paxford, most of them involved with the local Women’s Institute, at the outset of World War II. The show’s marketing has centered around the ongoing feud between traditionalist Joyce Cameron and new WI leader Frances Barden, but the plotlines delve deeply into the lives of several more women: quiet bookkeeper Alison Scotlock, schoolteacher Teresa Fenchurch, stoic farm wife Steph Farrow.

Most of the women are committed to “doing their bit” and to the work of the WI: making jam from local produce that would otherwise go to waste, building an air-raid shelter for the village, raising funds for ambulances. The WI gives Frances (in particular) a purpose to fill her days. But all the characters are also grappling with other challenges: family illness, raising teenagers, financial difficulties, deep marital rifts. Several of them have husbands or sons who end up going off to fight. All of them find their lives irrevocably changed by the war, and each of them has to make hard choices over and over again.

Home Fires is a quiet show: it lacks the tense life-or-death scenes of Call the Midwife or the soapy drama of Downton. So far (the first season ranges from 1939-40), there are few massive military battles being fought. But the quietness is what I love about it. It is a show about ordinary people living small but valuable lives, who are called upon to do things they never thought they would have to do.

I am not (obviously) living in a war zone or facing the same challenges as the women of Home Fires. But I am fighting my own battles every day, and I am also mourning with the world after Paris and Beirut, wondering where it will all end. I’ve enjoyed the period detail and witty dialogue of Home Fires, but most of all I have loved watching these women as they face what comes.

Sometimes they fail. (They are human, after all.) Sometimes personal tragedy shakes them to their cores. But most often, they rise to the occasion – usually with quiet humility, sometimes with all flags flying. They adapt and make do; they find new ways to solve thorny problems. They hear bad news, and mourn, and then get back up and move forward. Together.

Courage has been variously defined as grace under pressure, the judgment that something else is more important than fear, or the simple act of seeing something through. The women of Home Fires embody all these definitions, and I’m looking forward to watching them face new challenges in season 2.

Have you watched Home Fires? What did you think?

(Image from pbs.org)

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »