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Posts Tagged ‘change’

It was November – the month of crimson sunsets, parting birds, deep, sad hymns of the sea, passionate wind-songs in the pines. Anne roamed through the pineland alleys in the park and, as she said, let that great sweeping wind blow the fogs out of her soul.

Anne of the Island, L.M. Montgomery

We are deep into November: biting winds; golden leaves gradually blowing down from the trees; crisp morning air and sharp, gold-and-blue early sunsets, or nights swathed in rain and fog. Life is full, as a coworker at Harvard used to say: there are plans to make for the upcoming holiday season, projects to delve into and wrap up at work, meals to make and yoga classes to attend and dishes to wash. (Always, always dishes.)

I’ve been thinking of Anne in the mornings, when I pull on my leggings and running shoes and head out the door for a run in the brisk air. My roaming looks different than Anne’s, but it serves one of the same purposes: blowing the fog out of my soul, setting me right for the day ahead.

The last few years, as we all know, have been so much. The pandemic and my divorce have completely rearranged the way I move through the world, the way I think about so many things. There have been grief and anxiety, loneliness and job changes, slow edging back into community and vibrant, surprising joy.

We are all, whether we realize it or not, carrying some scars from those months we spent so isolated. And everyone I know is eager for community and connection these days, though we have differing ideas about what it might look like.

Anne, too, found herself facing some shifts in her third year at Redmond; it was partly due to romantic troubles, but I think it’s worth admitting that seasons of great change also change us. Those years at college were transformative, and they also left her altered: she was not the same Anne who left the Island full of hopes and dreams, even after some of those came true. I am not the same person who moved into this studio apartment three years ago. I’ve grown and changed and struggled mightily, and all that has left me altered. I am, as Stanley Kunitz noted, not who I was – though I still love a morning run under brilliant blue skies.

November, this year, looks like some Mondays doing yoga and some Mondays staffing the front desk at work, greeting our students and parents as they come in and out. It looks like bowl after bowl of Thai butternut squash soup, alternating with chickpea curry or other quick meals. It looks like a glorious weekend in western MA with my guy, and thinking ahead to our plans for Thanksgiving. It looks like saying good-bye to my beloved Darwin’s, which is unexpectedly closing next week. It looks like sending cards (and soup, when I can) to several friends who are struggling, trying to show up in the ways I know how. It looks, for the fourth year in a row, like Christmas choir rehearsals in an old church on Sunday nights, gathering with friends to puzzle our way through classic carols and unfamiliar harmonies.

November begins the taking-stock time before year’s end, the mad rush of the holiday season and my attempts not to let it overwhelm me. I am starting to think back over this year, to consider what I might want for 2023. I am pulling out the humidifier (winter is coming) and watering my indoor geraniums, buying paperwhite bulbs in preparation for December. I am walking to work in my green coat each morning, sometimes sporting a handknit hat or leg warmers.

I am trying, as always, to pay attention and take care, to savor these beautiful blue-and-gold days as the darkness begins to set in. I am – like Anne – always doing my best to notice the beauty, and to be here now.

What’s November looking like for you, this year?

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On a recent Saturday night, I slid into a movie-theater seat with snacks stuffed into my tote bag. I sat through a raft of previews (some engaging, some decidedly less so) before settling back and enjoying the main feature, Ticket to Paradise. (This is not a review of that film, but I will say that George Clooney’s “peak dad” dance moves were hilarious, and Julia Roberts’ laugh is as wonderful as ever.)

This was only the second film I’d ever seen solo: the first was Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris, earlier this summer. I am 39 years old, and I’ve been going to the movies since I was a child, but it had somehow never occurred to me that I could go alone – or that I’d want to.

For me, one of the challenges of getting divorced – and then living alone, during a pandemic, with local friends (and my partner) scattered around the city – has been learning to do things alone that I used to do in community. My ex and I used to do grocery shopping together most weekends, for example. I didn’t mind going alone, but I liked pushing the cart through the aisles together, picking out ingredients for the meals we planned to cook that week. We always went to movies as a couple, or with friends. We had some separate hobbies and interests, but our lives, for a long time, were ultimately oriented toward being together.

That is the part of marriage I miss the most, even after three years living solo: the emotional sense, and the practical reality, of being part of a unit in this world. Now that my life is much more solitary, I’ve had to adjust my perceptions of these activities, even though I still have friends and a partner who are more than happy to ride bikes or go to dinner or attend a play with me, if the timing works out.

I’ve grown to love doing some things alone: these days, whether I’m ushering or not, I love a solitary night at the theatre. But it’s still a bit weird to me to walk into the movies alone. I’ve been trained to see moviegoing, like concerts or sporting events or church, as a social, communal activity. And while I know people attend these events solo all the time, a part of me still wonders if I’m lacking somehow when I show up without a companion.

Fortunately – at least so far – going to the movies alone has proven an unexpected delight. There’s a tinge of loneliness, sure, but I can still text my friends after the movie to tell them how much fun it was. I can eat my snacks and laugh or cry along with my fellow audience members, and enjoy being swept up in a story. And afterward, when we emerge blinking from the theater and back into our lives, I can feel proud that I took a small but brave step toward embracing this still-new, more solitary life.

Do you like going to the movies alone? I’d love to hear.

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I’m almost recovered. This is what I kept saying to friends, only half jokingly, for at least two weeks after our ZUMIX Gala, which was sparkly and musical and made for a very late night. It was beautiful and fun and entirely worthwhile – and it took much longer to get “back to normal” than I expected.

It wasn’t only the loss of sleep that required some catch-up: there’s a huge swell of emotional and mental effort leading up to an event like that, and sometimes riding the downswell (both the release and the letdown) means you need to take a minute. I was also fighting a cold, for at least a solid week afterward; one of my colleagues likewise couldn’t stop coughing; and another one came down with COVID, which is still with us no matter how much we’d like to pretend otherwise. As we tallied donations and sent thank-you letters and boxed up leftover swag, I talked to several friends who all said the same thing: recovery times, in general, seem to be longer these days.

Part of it is the exhaustion; we’d all put in a lot of hours in the weeks before the Gala, and our bodies and minds needed some rest and space, even as we looked (and continue to look) ahead to the next major project and the daily work. But I think it’s also a lingering effect of the last few pandemic years.

All of us, whether we realize it or not, are still dealing with the compounded results of isolation, fear, mixed political and public-health messaging, and (for many of us) the aftermath of the virus itself. I think differently about social gatherings now, in the wake of 18+ months of barely attending any. I cherish the chances to dance, break bread and celebrate with friends, but I also notice that I need longer to recover – socially and/or physically – afterward. My running routine has had to change since I had the virus; I’ve struggled to build back my stamina and speed. I am noticing a renewed zeal to get back to normal (or pretend it’s already here) in various circles, in person and online. And – honestly – I don’t know if pre-pandemic “normal” is the thing to aim for.

Life is decidedly not the same as it was in 2020; we have vaccines and few restrictions, and I can move about the world in a way I couldn’t then. I’m also conscious that life is not the same as it was in 2019. I am not the same; none of us are, or should be. One way I’m trying to honor that difference is to give myself (and others) the recovery time that’s needed. And if – when – it’s longer? So be it. I’m learning to recognize, and make allowances for, that important fact.

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I love a good reinvention narrative. There’s something empowering about watching a character, especially a real person, steer their life in an entirely new direction. But some of my favorite reinvention stories aren’t necessarily 180-degree turns. Rather, they involve a series of changes (some drastic, it’s true) that lead the protagonist to become more fully the self she’s always been meant to be. 

Trina Moyles had always loved the Canadian boreal forest where she grew up, but she never expected to spend multiple summers there, spotting smoke from atop an isolated fire tower. Moyles’ gorgeously written memoir, Lookout, dives into the logistical and emotional challenges of that life of deep solitude. She charts not only the ground around her fire tower, but her own internal growth during a difficult but formative season. (This was an impulse buy at Sundog Books and one of my favorites of 2021.)

Growing up in rural Maine, Erin French spent a lot of time at the diner her dad owned, but she wasn’t planning (then) on running her own restaurant one day. French’s memoir, Finding Freedom, chronicles her journey of culinary and personal discovery, and the founding of The Lost Kitchen, the restaurant she now owns in Freedom, Maine. 

Memphis-born Elizabeth Passarella didn’t leave behind her Southern identity when she became a New Yorker. Rather, her adult life–and her memoir, Good Apple–centers on learning to reconcile the two, or at least laugh at the tension between them. In short, punchy essays, Passarella takes readers through the highs and lows of her life in Manhattan: rats in her bedroom, public marital disputes, the Rockettes, and the trickiness of navigating politics (electoral and cultural) with grace. (I forget where I heard about this one, but it made me laugh so hard and say “Amen” every few pages.) All three women write with humor and insight about the situations that have shaped them into their truest selves. 

What are your favorite reinvention stories?

I originally wrote most of this column for Shelf Awareness, where it ran this past December.

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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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