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Posts Tagged ‘change’

The light shifts toward summer, and so does my spirit. Flowers wake up, trees stretch their branches toward different colors in the sky. Evening walks take on new shades of hope.

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Hello, friends. Here we are, two days before Christmas, and I am feeling all the emotions: seesawing between loneliness and hope, heavy sadness and sharp, sudden joy.

On the long list of things that are different this year, my holiday traditions (like most people’s) have been upended. I’m not in Texas with my family, and I am also still figuring out life (and Christmas) after divorce. I love December and all its rituals, large and small, and this year I have had no choice but to adapt and remake so many of the traditions I love.

I wrote last week about how I put up my tiny tree, not the same as the big one we had for years, but still twinkly and lovely. Many of my ornaments remain packed away, for now, but the ones I’ve chosen all have deep and sweet associations. I cried when I found our old stockings packed away in a box, but I pulled out the snowflake hangers, and my guy and I bought new stockings, for a new season.

When J and I sent Christmas cards, we’d pick out a photo, design a card on Shutterfly, order stacks of them, then hand-address them all in one go, sitting at the kitchen table with Christmas music playing. This year, that honestly felt like too much. (I didn’t send cards at all last year.) I bought a few different sets of letterpress cards and have been addressing them in small batches, scribbling notes to faraway family and friends and sealing each one with a poinsettia sticker. The ones I’ve received are Scotch-taped to the doorframe, reminding me of the folks I love and wish I could hug.

There will be no Christmas Eve service in Texas this year, but I’ll tune into a Zoom listening party for the carol choir I’ve participated in. We won’t have a traditional menu, because we are making this part up as we go along. I won’t go running in my parents’ neighborhood or bump into friends from high school, but I’ll run along the Eastie trails I love, and wave at the few local friends I can still see in person.

It won’t look like this forever, I know. But this is how it looks now. And some days, it’s enough to simply acknowledge that it looks different, and keep on making it new.

Merry Christmas, if you’re celebrating. See you next week.

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This year, it seemed that fully half my friends (at least, the ones who post on Instagram) hauled their Christmas decorations out in early November. I couldn’t fault them for it: as my sister and others have said, 2020 needs all the joy it can get. My mom famously decorates early every year (my parents have three Christmas trees), but everyone else seemed to jump on that bandwagon this year. It made a lot of sense to me, but I just was not ready to put up my own decorations.

Decorating the tree is one of my favorite Christmas traditions: I am one of those people who loves tons of (small, white) lights, and for whom nearly every ornament has a story. But since my divorce, that ritual is a bit fraught. Last year, I had my friend Lauryn come over and help me decorate, and this year, I asked my guy to help me do it.

We hauled my little tree and assorted decorations out of the basement on a Saturday night, and assembled it on the fireplace. I strung the lights that night (he provided moral support and Christmas music), and we waited another week to do the ornaments. I sort of like the look with just the lights, and it felt like a small acknowledgment of Advent: waiting, letting the process take its time.

Last weekend, we unwrapped a few cherished ornaments (plus two new ones I bought at Albertine Press), and hung them on the tree. And we also bought stockings at Target, and hung them on the snowflake hangers I’ve had for years. Old alongside new.

I can’t erase the memories of Christmases past, nor do I entirely want to. But we are moving forward, and I’m so pleased with the effect. It’s cozy and twinkly, and since I’m home all the time these days, I get plenty of chances to enjoy it.

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It’s no secret that I am a creature of habit and stability: I drink the same tea (usually from the same mug) nearly every morning, write in my journal almost every day, buy myself flowers (at least) once a week and run the same basic route throughout Eastie nearly every day. But I read somewhere that humans need a combination of stability and novelty, and that’s also true for my running route. Sometimes, changing up the loop a bit can be just the refresh my brain needs.

When I lived in Dorchester and ran on the Neponset, this looked like circling through the hills of Pope John Paul II Park, or going out as far as I dared to the point with the wooden pier flanked by beach roses and a forsythia bush that turned shocking yellow in the spring. Once in a while, I’d turn around and run the other way, through the woods toward Milton, but not very often: I loved my water-and-sky views too much.

Here in Eastie, the beginning of my run is always the same: out the door and down the hill, down the harborwalk to the point and back. But once I finish that loop, I have choices.

I can run the length of Maverick Street and take the back entrance to the greenway. Once there, I can loop around the stadium – or go through the playground framed by locust trees (currently a gorgeous golden yellow). Once I rejoin the greenway, I can run straight down it toward home, or if I want a little extra distance, I can go the other way, up toward the YMCA, the playground and the branch library. (The maple trees along that stretch are a glorious red right now.) If I’m just not feeling it, or the skies have opened up, I can turn back through the shipyard after running the harborwalk, and head home early.

The ending is usually the same, too: either past Piers Park or through it, and then home. I love passing the same landmarks on my route: the community gardens, the houses with mums currently decking their front porches, the public art, the patches of asters (in the fall) or daffodils (in the spring). I love paying attention to the small changes through the seasons, and making small changes, as needed, to my route to stretch myself or just wake my brain up.

This is one reason I hate running on a treadmill: it’s endlessly the same. Running outside, even if it’s the exact same loop, always offers new details to see, and the light changes subtly every single day. But there’s also more room for variation in this “regular” route than I sometimes remember. Turning just one different corner can make such a difference to the morning, and it’s a good reminder: sometimes a little novelty is just the thing.

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Katie ww run selfie trail

Over the last three years, I’ve been astonished at the effect running has had on my body and mind. I am stronger, somewhat faster, definitely tougher than I used to be (and than I thought I was). But there’s another, more subtle shift in my mindset for which running deserves a lot of credit. It’s the change from That’s too hard or I don’t think I can – or even That sounds uncomfortable – to Let’s try it.

My friend Anne calls this the shift from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset (based on Carol Dweck’s book, Mindset). The funny thing is: I wasn’t thinking about growth when I decided to start running. I was thinking about wanting to stay out on the river trail as the days grew colder and darker, and figuring out a way to make that happen. I was searching for something I needed – light and space and fresh air – and stumbled onto a sport and a discipline that has become part of who I am.

I may not have been actively seeking growth as a new runner, or in starting the boot camps I tried around the same time. But the growth happened, in both cases, because I said to myself, Let’s try it.

That mindset has spilled over into many other aspects of running: going farther and faster down the trail, running my first 5K, trying out new paths at home or on vacation, even running a 10K last year. I’m not expecting myself to nail a certain pace or time (usually), and I know I can always try it again, or get better, so it’s a little easier to say Let’s try it. (And the list of things I’d like to try – races I’d like to run, places I’d like to run in – keeps getting longer.)

I’ve noticed that I struggle to apply the growth mindset to other parts of my life. I tend to think of my skills and personality in fairly fixed terms: I’m a good cook, a reasonably accomplished knitter, a tidy-but-not-neurotic housekeeper, a voracious reader. I’m pretty happy with that last one, but I wonder if I’m missing out on some growth by accepting whatever “limits” I imagine my skills have. I may never be a gourmet chef or knit a perfect sweater, but I can work to build some skills in those areas. I can say to myself what I say when I encounter a new hill or an enticing race or a new way to stretch after a run. Let’s try it. Who knows what might happen?

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I mentioned last week that I love running on vacation: it’s fun to lace up my sneakers and head out to explore a new neighborhood on foot. (I seriously can’t wait to run in NYC again.) But today’s post is about something a little different: running a new route that I know I can come back to.

For nearly two years, I ran almost exclusively on the Neponset River trail: past the marshes and reeds, across Granite Street to the parks on the other side. I went as far as I dared until the path ended, and ran my first 5K there. As long as I lived in the neighborhood, I was entirely satisfied: my daily runs didn’t need to be anywhere else.

When I started dog– and house-sitting for friends in Eastie last spring, the days were still short: I didn’t want to venture out on unfamiliar streets in the dark. So I brought my running gear to work and began doing lunchtime runs on the Esplanade. That route – close to my office, and a favorite haunt of Boston runners – has become one of “my” places to run. And as the days lengthened, I began exploring new running routes in Eastie. Those loops along the harborwalk and the greenway are now, of course, where I run all the time.

Last week, I tried out another new-to-me route: the forest path along the river in the Brighton-Watertown area, close to where my guy lives. We’d been for a bike ride or two in that area, but I’d never run that path before. I set off on a stunning morning, the Highwomen in my earbuds, savoring the light and the way it filtered through the leaves.

Running that new-to-me loop felt both normal and refreshingly new. I kept up my usual pace, mostly, but I had to pay attention to my feet (so many tree roots!). Plus, it was kind of fun not knowing exactly where the path would go. I adore my normal route and all its variations, but I didn’t know how much I needed that dose of novelty. I ran all the way to Watertown Square, where there’s another bridge over the river, and came back down the other side. By the time I reached my starting point again, I was sweaty and smiling.

If you run, or exercise regularly, do you like to switch it up sometimes?

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love-all-chalk

Like millions of Americans, I’ve spent the past few weeks doing a lot of reading, listening and processing. The murders of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor, the ensuing protests, and the waves of activism and helpful resources popping up everywhere have all been rightfully demanding my attention.

I’m a few chapters into White Fragility (“like all the other white people,” my friend Ally joked last week). I’m listening to podcast interviews with Black leaders, finding Black-owned businesses to support and following new-to-me accounts on Instagram run by Black folks. (One of my favorites: Black Librarians, which highlights – what else? – Black librarians doing excellent work in their field.)

It’s tempting to think that is enough: that exposing myself to new ideas, information and voices will root out my own biases. It will help, of course, but it is not nearly enough. I keep thinking, too, about a poem I found back in early 2016: Veronica Patterson’s “A Charm Against the Language of Politics.”

Patterson’s poem begins:

Say over and over the names of things,
the clean nouns: weeping birch, bloodstone, tanager,
Banshee damask rose.

Patterson’s poem talks about pleasant things, beautiful things: spiderwebs, apples, okra, calendula. Racism and violence are not nearly as appealing, but they are real, and we have to stop ignoring them.

If we are to face racism and work to end it, we must name it, and that means naming a host of other things: specific laws and policies that discriminate against Black people; instances of violence and murder (historical and present-day); our own sometimes-hidden biases against (various) people who do not look like us. It also means, for me, naming my own whiteness, and working to understand how it has shaped me.

In conversations with friends and family, I am trying to stop vaguely referring to “everything that’s going on.” If I mean my ongoing anxieties about the coronavirus pandemic and states reopening, I say that. If I mean the sadness, outrage and drinking-from-a-firehose overwhelm of trying to process all this new information about race and racism, I say that. Sometimes I think about Albus Dumbledore, gravely reminding Harry, “Fear of a name increases fear of the thing itself.”

I was taught to ignore or sidestep race, especially the racial identities of brown and black people, and thus to ignore racism (or insist that it had been solved). But we cannot hope to solve a problem we don’t name. So, for me, it starts (in part) with naming.

Where are you finding yourselves these days, in the work of acknowledging and working to end racism in the U.S.? I’m still overwhelmed (and ashamed at how long it’s taking me to catch up), but I’m here for the work. Let’s learn together.

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I’ve been in my new place for almost a month (how is that possible?), and it’s gradually looking and feeling like home. It’s not quite “done” yet, but we’re a long way from the initial wilderness of boxes and also the half-done state I lived in for a couple of weeks. I’m hoping for many more happy days here, but I want to remember what this first stage has been like.

The first few weeks in the new apartment have sounded like foghorns blowing over the harbor. This is the first place I’ve lived in Boston where I can’t hear the train, but I’ve traded it for the jingles and barks of neighborhood dogs, the particular creaks of this wide-plank wood floor, and those ships making their presence known.

These first few weeks have looked like a crazy mix of old and new: the dressers and bed frame I’ve had for years, with new living room furniture and four bookshelves lining one brick wall. I have a new red kettle, an old bookshelf repurposed as a bedside shelf, the stereo I’ve had since college and beloved books in a totally new arrangement. The neighborhood itself was familiar from my dog-sitting adventures this spring, but I’m learning it in a different way now.

I haven’t done much “real” cooking this summer, but these weeks have tasted like sourdough toast with butter and strawberry jam, Greek yogurt and granola in the same brown bowl every morning, and cup after cup of ginger peach tea. In the evenings, they’ve tasted like huevos or gazpacho or tacos from the Cactus Grill in Maverick Square. And sometimes, a few sips of rosé and a few spoonfuls of Ben & Jerry’s raspberry-lemon sorbet.

Since my new place looks out on the harbor, these weeks have smelled like salt and sunshine, wild Irish roses growing in the neighbors’ yard, the scent of barbecued meat drifting down the street. They’ve smelled like a lemon-rosemary candle and the clean scent of dish soap.

These first few weeks have felt like new sheets on bare skin, a cooling breeze coming in off the harbor after a hot humid day, sore muscles after lugging boxes up and down stairs and building furniture. These weeks have felt like retuning my body to a new space, reaching for different light switches and stove burners, finding the new ways this space already fits me.

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(Image via PopSugar)

My family has a deep love for 1990s romantic comedies – from While You Were Sleeping to French Kiss to the Nora Ephron classics. When my sister was unpacking my DVDs recently, she exclaimed, “You have all the good ones!”

One of my faves in this category is Runaway Bride, which I love for its brilliant supporting cast (including Rita Wilson and Hector Elizondo); its quirky small-town details (a hair salon called Curl Up & Dye!), and its best friend, the salon owner, played by Joan Cusack. (“Peggy Flemming–not the ice skater.”)

At one point in the film, Peggy and Maggie (Cusack and Roberts) are at the town softball game when Maggie spots Ike (Gere’s journalist character) approaching. “I will handle this,” Peggy says, in true best-friend fashion. Maggie snaps: “Don’t move your lips!” (They’ve already figured Ike can probably read lips.)

“I will handle this!” Peggy exclaims, through clenched teeth. “I won’t say anything.”

Lately, this is how I often feel. Whether it’s setting up utilities or hanging pictures, writing book reviews or sorting out divorce paperwork, I find myself thinking, “I will handle this!” while worrying I’m not handling it at all.

To be clear, I’ve had lots of help: my mom, my sister, several stalwart friends. But a lot of these responsibilities fall solely to me, and that can be exhausting. And the never-ending list(s) of tasks can make me feel like I’m failing at all of it.

And yet: my little apartment, full of light and books and my favorite things, is coming together. The book reviews are (mostly) getting turned in (relatively) on time. I have gas and electricity and enough food to eat. And not every decision has to be made today.

“There is nothing you’re not handling,” my therapist said the other day, her gentle eyes full of kindness, as they always are. In the midst of such massive transition, it’s worth cultivating a little self-compassion – or, sometimes, channeling my inner Peggy Flemming. (Not the ice skater.)

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gold-red-lily

It’s August, somehow, and I’m in full summer mode: iced chai, tan lines and freckles (and lots of sunscreen), stovetop cooking (when I cook anything), and all the berries I can eat. Here’s what’s saving my life, in these hot, hazy, still-transition-filled days:

  • Late-summer flowers: black-eyed Susans, deep blue and pink hydrangeas, the first dahlias, day lilies in every shade of yellow and red and orange.
  • Running into Phoenix, my little golden doodle buddy, and his person on my morning walks.
  • My friend Jen Lee’s brand-new, free YouTube video series: Morning, Sunshine. Go check it out if you’d like a dose of connection and compassion.

boston-harbor-view

  • The views out my new apartment windows: Boston Harbor on one side, the local park (usually with a friendly dog or two) on the other side.
  • My Rothys, which I’m wearing all. the. time. 
  • The silver triangle Zil earrings I bought at the SoWa market last month.
  • Texts from friends checking in on my move and transition.

iced-chai-blue-bikes

  • Iced chai – from Darwin’s when I can make it to the Square, and from the BPL or Tatte when I can’t.
  • Ginger peach MEM tea in my favorite purple travel mug, every morning.
  • Susannah Conway’s August Break photo project.
  • My favorite LUSH face mask – it’s Cookie-Monster blue and smells like citrus.

frame-up-book

  • Impulse grabs from the BPL’s new books shelf, and piles of ARCs for Shelf Awareness.
  • Morning Bluebike rides across the river.
  • Rosé and raspberry-lemon sorbet after a long evening of unpacking.
  • Eating my breakfast granola out of a real bowl.
  • Trader Joe’s veggie beet wraps, berries and cherries, yogurt, granola, hint-of-lime tortilla chips and sourdough bread. (Not all at once.)

hot-chocolate-woodcut-journal

  • Bryan Nash Gill’s “Woodcut” journals – I bought a four-pack at Trident a while ago. And good pens.
  • Colleagues who make me laugh.
  • Listening to some of the artists I heard/discovered at the Newport Folk Festival – about which more soon.
  • Having enough brain space (finally!) to make this list.

What’s saving your life these days, my friends?

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