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Posts Tagged ‘changes’

I’m 38 today. And as I have said several times in the last week – to a friend who was joking about being “forever 29,” to another friend’s daughter who started to ask me how old I was and then hesitated, to my partner on the phone one night – I am proud to be 38. If you ask me how old I am, I will tell you. No dissembling, no hesitating. It may not always be that way, but it is that way today.

I have earned every one of these years: every gray hair, every smile line, every scar both visible and invisible. I have especially earned the last three years, which have included (among other things) my divorce, some serious church trauma, a move, two job changes, a new (wonderful) relationship, and a pandemic.

Since my this is thirty-five post, I have navigated challenges I could never have imagined. I have spent most of a year in my apartment by myself (or running through my beloved East Boston neighborhood). I have dealt with furloughs and layoffs and career/identity angst. I have chosen to blow up my life (read: leaving my marriage) and start again, and I have also dealt with changes I did not choose, repeatedly. I have held so much loss, and also so much love. I have not solved nearly everything, and I am still trying to let go of the idea that “solving” anything (except the New York Times crossword) is the goal.

Thirty-eight might be middle-aged, or close to it – but as Nora McInerny pointed out recently, middle age is the goal. Growing old is the goal. I want many more delicious years on this beautiful earth, and I want to live them as fully and bravely as possible. I want to care less (much less) about what people think, and more about creating joy and loving my people fiercely, and becoming a stronger writer, runner and human. (And I’d like to do some more international travel, too, once that feels like a good idea again.)

Thirty-eight looks like morning tea in one of my several favorite mugs, scribbling in my journal before heading out on a run. Thirty-eight is still adjusting to life at ZUMIX, dealing with the constant questions and uncertainty that come with any work (but especially youth-centered work) during a pandemic. Thirty-eight is yoga classes on some evenings and walks with my guy on others, regular text exchanges with a few close girlfriends and weekly phone calls with my parents. Thirty-eight has made New England her home for more than a decade, but is still and always a Texan.

Thirty-eight is still grieving the end of a marriage and an imagined future, and also reveling in the deep love I have found with a man I never expected. Thirty-eight is on a serious nineties country music kick and mixes in some Broadway tunes and folk music on the regular. Thirty-eight is learning to hold so many tensions, to accept and acknowledge that life is often both-and, to name the fear and worry and other hard emotions and then keep going through them. Thirty-eight snaps pictures of flowers every day, reads five or six books at once, eats a ton of granola and Greek yogurt and occasionally cooks real meals for one.

The upheavals of the last few years have made it challenging to plan, or even dream; so many of my former ideas about my life have been completely wiped away. But thirty-eight is starting to dream again.

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upper west side view

Of all the late-nineties rom-coms featuring plucky heroines, adorable New York apartments and lives full of utter charm, You’ve Got Mail might be my favorite.

I saw it in the theater as a teenager, and have watched it countless times since – with my family, my girlfriends, by myself. I remember the days of dial-up AOL and the magic of finding new friends online before social media, though I am about 15 years younger than Kathleen Kelly. I once spent a weekend on the Upper West Side visiting some of the movie’s iconic locations: Cafe Lalo, Zabar’s, Gray’s Papaya, the 91st Street Garden in Riverside Park. (I did not see Joe and Brinkley, but you can bet I looked.) I still have the soundtrack on CD, and New York in the fall definitely makes me want to buy school supplies.

You’ve Got Mail continues to charm me for so many reasons: the witty, perfectly timed dialogue; the cozy bookshop packed with beloved children’s classics and kind employees; the epistolary love story (though I have thoughts, these days, about Joe Fox and his personal ethics). But the more time I spend with it, the more clearly I see what my friend Kari noted years ago: in addition to a classic romantic comedy, it is (in Kari’s words) “a moving portrait of a woman who is going through a crisis of vocation.”

Kathleen has always known she’d run The Shop Around the Corner; she started helping her mother there after school at age six, and never left. We don’t even know if she went to college, or entertained other dreams for her life. She has grown up shaped by this bookstore and this neighborhood, and she would happily go on selling children’s books there forever. But she is not given that choice: Fox Books moves in across the way, and its big-box appeal (coupled, no doubt, with rising rents and the lurking shadow of Amazon) forces Kathleen to make a decision she never foresaw: “Close. We’re going to close.”

I’ve thought about Kathleen a lot this past year, as the pandemic has upended so many of the jobs most of us believed would bring us stability and security. I was furloughed from my higher ed job last May, then finally laid off in January after months of waiting. This wasn’t the first time, though: my last few years in higher ed have been marked by uncertainty and change, including two previous layoffs and a few temp gigs. The thing I have been chasing – meaningful work that provided a steady paycheck and health insurance in an industry I thought was stable – has turned out not to be so reliable after all.

“What are you going to do now?” a customer asks Kathleen as she rings up books (and stuffs in a box of Kleenex) at the closing sale. She gives a vague but honest answer: she’s going to take some time. We see her doing just that in the last third of the movie: reading a thick novel at a coffee shop, buying plants and produce with Joe Fox, heating up a bowl of soup and sitting on the floor in her apartment to eat it and bask in the sunshine. I suspect she also must have done some grieving. She must have wondered – what now? Earlier in the film, she had wondered in an email if her life’s smallness meant it didn’t have value, or that she lacked courage. Now, that life is no longer available to her, and she has to figure out the next step on a road she never saw coming.

We don’t get a tidy resolution of Kathleen’s career story; we don’t get to see her take her next professional step, though she hints that she’s working on a children’s book. I hope that whatever she does next, it is rich and satisfying and allows her to use all that experience from decades of working at the store. I hope her previous life leads, in both good and surprising ways, to her next one. I hope she realizes how brave she truly is – as Birdie tells her, “You are daring to imagine that you could have a different life.” I hope she’s happy with Joe, of course, but more than that I hope she is fulfilled in her own skin and satisfied with the way she gets to spend her days.

My hopes for Kathleen, of course, are also my hopes for myself. (Isn’t that what we do with our heroines – see ourselves in them, and then project our own hopes onto them?) In the wake of an extremely difficult year, I am hoping – and searching – for a steady paycheck, for sure. But I am also hoping for work that gives me a rich, satisfying, joyful way to spend my days. I think Kathleen would approve.

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“Are you a morning runner?” a friend asked recently, on a rambling (masked) walk along the Esplanade. She’s the second or third person to ask me that in recent months, since the pandemic has shifted all our rhythms so drastically. I thought about it for a second. “I guess I am now.”

When I started running, I started doing it at night – after work and the long commute home, I’d grab a snack and pull on my running gear. I loved rambling alone down the Neponset river trail, even as the evenings grew longer and darker. I bought a running light at Target, and though it made me nervous sometimes, I kept running mostly in the evening for nearly a year. (I do love a morning/noontime run on the weekends, when I don’t have to squeeze it in before work.)

Two summers ago, I was between jobs for a couple of months and did a lot of morning running. When I started working at Berklee, I switched back to evening and sometimes lunchtime running – mostly because I am not motivated to get up early enough to run, shower and then commute to work before 9 a.m. But the pandemic has shifted that rhythm, along with so many others, and these days, I get up and run (after breakfast and tea) almost every morning.

There’s a lot to love about both kinds of running: for me, getting out there to move early in the day can be very satisfying, physically and mentally. I love watching the neighborhood wake up (if I’m out early enough) and the morning light on the water. But I also love a good evening run: it can shake out the cobwebs from a long day at the computer, and the sunsets over the river or the harbor can be truly spectacular.

For now, it seems, the time of day I run depends on the rhythm of my life at any given moment. Which is fitting, given that I want running to be a durable and flexible part of my life. It has to fit, and I’m willing to do what I need to do to make it fit into my days. It’s adaptable when I need it to be, but also sturdy – whether it’s happening morning, noon or night.

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govt-center-twilight

We have arrived at the dark time of year: the pre-solstice, post-Daylight-Savings season when the sun starts dipping low in the sky by midafternoon. Even after nine years in Boston, the sudden, thick darkness always catches me off guard; the fiery, early sunsets tilt my axis off-kilter. I know it’s part of the seasonal rhythm and I know it won’t last forever. But every year, it takes some getting used to.

By now I’ve developed a few seasonal tricks: vitamin D pills, lots of citrus fruit, my beloved and signature green coat. I flip on my light box in the morning while I’m getting ready in the bathroom, and at work, I escape to the plant-filled conference room as often as possible. (It’s the only side of our office suite that gets any sunlight.)

plant-yellow-leaves-pru-window

I’ve started squeezing in a few lunchtime runs again, because while I love my regular running route along the harbor walk and the greenway in Eastie, it’s much less appealing when I get home and it’s already pitch black out (and cold). But sometimes – I admit – the dark resists my best efforts to beat it back.

I’m not sure if it’s Seasonal Affective Disorder or simply my body’s very real reaction to the turning of the year. But I’m trying to strike some kind of a balance: to acknowledge the dark while pushing back on it a little bit. To breathe deeply, brew another cup of tea, and remember that the darkness doesn’t last forever.

How do you deal with the dark – literal and otherwise – this time of year?

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Charles river ribbon light Boston blue sky

The Layers

I have walked through many lives,
some of them my own,
and I am not who I was,
though some principle of being
abides, from which I struggle
not to stray.
When I look behind,
as I am compelled to look
before I can gather strength
to proceed on my journey,
I see the milestones dwindling
toward the horizon
and the slow fires trailing
from the abandoned camp-sites,
over which scavenger angels
wheel on heavy wings.
Oh, I have made myself a tribe
out of my true affections,
and my tribe is scattered!
How shall the heart be reconciled
to its feast of losses?
In a rising wind
the manic dust of my friends,
those who fell along the way,
bitterly stings my face.
Yet I turn, I turn,
exulting somewhat,
with my will intact to go
wherever I need to go,
and every stone on the road
precious to me.
In my darkest night,
when the moon was covered
and I roamed through wreckage,
a nimbus-clouded voice
directed me:
“Live in the layers,
not on the litter.”
Though I lack the art
to decipher it,
no doubt the next chapter
in my book of transformations
is already written.
I am not done with my changes.

I’d come across this poem before, but never really paid attention, until Jill Lepore read – nay, declaimed – its first few lines in a brilliant Morning Prayers talk at Harvard back in February. I looked it up immediately, and have read it over many times since.

A few lines keep ringing in my head: I am not who I was. Some principle of being abides, from which I struggle not to stray. I am not done with my changes. 

April is National Poetry Month, and I am sharing poetry here on Fridays this month, as I do every year.

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summer beach view boston

Summer is drawing to a close here in New England. The season’s heat is still lingering, but I’ve noticed a new crispness in the air on several recent mornings. My Facebook feed is full of back-to-school pictures of my friends’ children, and the students at Harvard, where I work, start classes next week.

Before we jump into my favorite season, I wanted to share a few summer scenes that have, so far, gone unblogged.

Some friends of ours – former fellow Boston transplants, who now live in northern California – blew into town over Memorial Day weekend. We spent an evening catching up over pizza and wine, in their swank 14th-floor suite (!) at the Liberty Hotel, looking out over the Charles River.

charles river sunset view boston fog

After surviving a hectic and fun Commencement season at my temp gig, I stepped aside to make room for (and train) my replacement. This photo is from my last solo day in that temporary space, on the sixth floor with so much light.

computer tulips hpac

My colleagues surprised me with a good-bye reception on my last day there. This is Wendy, our office manager, who made that (and so many other things) happen.

katie wendy books

At the end of June, I started my new job (back where I temped this winter) and was greeted by this tiny orchid, a gift from my boss.

you are here orchid desk

On the 4th of July, we headed to Fenway to cheer on the Rangers as they played the Red Sox. It was sweltering in the outfield, but fun to be there with friends.

simpsons gibsons fenway

The hubs and I sneaked in an afternoon at Crane Beach in mid-July: sun, sand and a delicious dinner afterward at Salt.

crane beach jer

I flew to Texas at the end of July to surprise my dad for his 60th birthday. We threw a party at the home of some friends and he didn’t suspect a thing, which was perfect. Then I spent three days chasing my nephews, who are so big and who both love to play in the dirt.

ryder harrison tractor

One of J’s friends from his a cappella group got married in July, and the group performed the processional music – “The Book of Love.” J also played a few acoustic songs during the cocktail hour, and then we all danced the night away. So fun.

mass whole notes wedding

I spent a lot of time on our front porch before we moved, soaking up the views in the neighborhood we called home for six years.

summer sunset view porch

We moved almost three weeks ago, and honestly, life has felt like utter chaos since then. But I did snag a lunch date with this guy one Tuesday – fresh tamales at the Harvard farmers’ market, and fro-yo from Berryline.

jer katie harvard yard

I’m looking ahead to fall: making plans, making lists, feeling ready to be more settled at home and at work. This summer has felt chaotic and hot and stressful, in a lot of ways. But looking back at these photos reminded me: there’s been a lot of beauty, too.

What have you left unblogged this summer?

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red leaves blue sky autumn

I woke up last Monday morning to a certain realization: fall had arrived, seemingly overnight.

After the snowiest winter on record, we enjoyed – even gloried in – a hot, sun-soaked summer. I hesitated to complain about the heat, because the memory of winter’s sharp cold and piles of gray-edged snow lingered in my mind. (I always hesitate to complain about heat in New England: it feels like tempting fate, because I know winter is coming.)

ogunquit beach sunset

When the heat index rose this summer, I simply slathered on more sunscreen, turned the ceiling fans up a notch, and stocked up on lemonade and ice cream. The hubs and I escaped to the beach on multiple weekends (see above), and if things got really bad, we retreated to places with air-conditioning.

But by the time my parents visited in early September, I admit it – I was ready for fall.

The temperature swung from 90 to 60 degrees while Mom and Dad were here, but we had a few more summer-like days after they left. I did my best to savor them, going kayaking on the Charles River and walking around in shorts. But last Monday, the shift in the air was sharp and sudden. Autumn is here.

kayak river light water

In response to the sudden shift in seasons, I’m enjoying – and making – a few subtler changes.

I’m sipping fall teas – cranberry almond, Cream of Earl Grey – instead of summer’s ginger peach and blackberry sage. I ordered a couple of favorite autumnal candles, and I’ve switched from my beachy summer perfume to a crisp, classic scent. I’m wearing jeans and ballet flats and button-downs. And I’m thinking about fall activities, fall reading and other things on my autumn list.

Fall in New England is so lovely every year: red leaves, blue skies, juicy apples, that energizing crispness in the air. I know we are heading toward winter, but for now I’ll do my best to savor every moment of this season.

How do you mark or observe the change in seasons?

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tulips swan boats public garden

This used to be my neighborhood, this tangle of crowded, car-filled streets packed with tourists and commuters and buildings belonging to several colleges. I used to work at one of them, in a second-floor office that opened off a squarish conference room, the view from its plate-glass window offering a tiny, narrow sliver of the Common.

Every morning, I got off the subway at Park Street, hurrying across the Common through biting winter winds and walking more slowly in spring and fall, when the trees bloomed white and pink or put on their lipstick shades of crimson and orange. If I timed it just right, the bells of the Park Street Church followed me down the sidewalk, ringing out familiar hymns, a benediction floating on the air.

After heating up leftovers in the office microwave or grabbing a quick bite someplace nearby, I spent my lunch breaks walking: browsing the outdoor lot (the sale carts) or the first floor (fiction and mysteries) at Brattle Book Shop, riffling through racks of clothes at Second Time Around, following the winding paths of the Public Garden. If it was cold or I needed a treat, I’d pop into Thinking Cup or sometimes Starbucks for a cup of hot chocolate or chai.

I ride the subway a bit farther now, four more stops across the river into the heart of Harvard Square, where I work amid another tangle of streets, in another building belonging to a different university. I don’t get to Beacon Hill or Downtown Crossing much any more; I either have to exit the subway early on my way home from work or make a dedicated journey on the weekend.

When I walk through my old neighborhood, I automatically notice what has changed. The cupcake shop on Charles St. and L’Aroma Cafe down on Newbury have both closed; the little Italian market, shuttered for two years by a fire, is finally open again. The 7-Eleven with its whimsical gold sign is gutted, empty, slated to become a Peet’s Coffee before long. My former office has moved to a different building, farther from the Common and closer to Chinatown. The storefronts change regularly, the scaffolding rises and collapses, in this city where history builds and shifts, layer on layer.

Some things, though, remain the same, appearing reliably as the seasons turn or remaining steady through all of them. The tulips bloom in the Public Garden in May, right as the Swan Boats (and the two live swans) return from their winter hibernation. The rare print shop on Charles St. fills its window with vintage maps and watercolors. The duckling statues still follow their mother dutifully, as dozens of children perch on them and parents snap photos. And the book carts at the Brattle, as always, bulge with discarded books and hidden treasures.

This isn’t quite my neighborhood any more. I am surprised by changes after they happen, rather than taking them as they come. I snatch an occasional hour here, rather than living among these streets day after day. I am a visitor, a former resident, albeit one who still carries the map of these streets in her head, the knowledge of them in her feet.

I don’t miss it as much as I thought I might. Harvard Square, too, offers endless diversion and delight, and I’ve loved tracing out the perimeter of a new area, finding my regular haunts and occasionally making new discoveries. But every once in a while, I get a hankering for a stroll through my old neighborhood. And, to quote the bar that sits just off the north edge of the Public Garden, I’m always glad I came.

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fall habits

Inspired by Rachel’s recent post about her fall habits (and Emily’s similar post – scroll down after enjoying the gorgeous photos), I’ve been thinking about the autumn habits I’m falling into (sometimes intentionally creating). I came up with two lists: habits I currently have, and habits I’d like to pick up. Here they are:

Fall habits I have:

~Switching from lighter, summery fruit teas to darker, black spiced blends (that seem to stay hot longer). I bring a cup of tea to work every day of the year, but I’m enjoying the warmth more now that I really need it.

~Making soup – for lunch and dinner – often. (My grandpa gave me his chili recipe this weekend. Yum.)

~Wearing scarves, hats, knee socks, boots, tights and fingerless gloves. (Not all together, yet. But oh, I love pulling out the cold-weather accessories.)

~Lighting fall candles – heavenly. We have a little candelabra in our (fake) fireplace that twinkles merrily.

~Starting to think about Christmas.

~Remembering autumn in Oxford, Ireland, Paris and Austria, two years ago. (See recent photo posts.)

Fall habits I’d like to have:

~Having mulling spices and apple juice on hand at all times, to make cider. (I bought some spices last night. Now for the apple juice…)

~Taking walks in the brisk afternoon air.

~Waking up early enough to not feel rushed, and not be late to work. (This is a hard one…but it’s so nice when I do manage it.)

~Spending less time (and money) browsing online and more time writing. (This is a year-round habit I’d like to have.)

What are your fall habits – or the ones you’d like to have?

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