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Posts Tagged ‘daily life’

If you read my recent newsletter, you know: the first week of January here was dreary and grey, with mornings shrouded in mist and afternoons that looked just like the mornings. It wasn’t particularly cold (at least, for New England), but it was gloomy as a Yorkshire moor, and not in the romantic way. By Thursday I was mopey, and by Friday I was downright cranky. And on Saturday morning, I nearly squealed – or wept, I couldn’t decide which – when I woke to bright sunshine.

There’s a sharpness to the light this time of year, a sudden urgency, as though the daylight itself is trying to make the most of its limited hours. The sun’s low angle bounces off the harbor and arrows straight into my kitchen window, nearly blinding me, but its golden warmth is welcome.

My houseplants stretch toward the light, and so do I – making sure to bundle up and get out for walks as often as I can. If it’s too cold or I’ve just come back inside, sometimes I stand in the kitchen window and let the sunlight flood my cells, my shadow stretching long on the floorboards behind me, lighting up the ordinary objects that crowd my shelves. Even my silverware drawer looks ethereal, bathed in that kind of light.

For the grey days, I still have my happy lamp and vitamin D pills – and you can bet I’m outside every day, whether walking or running or simply commuting the few blocks to my office. The fresh air helps, no matter what color the skies are. But the sunlight – blazing or shy, intense or elusive – is its own particular gift. Especially on these short, dark days, I’m making the effort to soak it up as much as I can. (I’m also thinking of dipping back into Horatio Clare’s lovely memoir, aptly titled The Light in the Dark.)

How do you find light in the middle of winter?

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What Can I Say

What can I say that I have not said before?
So I’ll say it again.
The leaf has a song in it.
Stone is the face of patience.
Inside the river there is an unfinishable story
and you are somewhere in it
and it will never end until all ends.

Take your busy heart to the art museum and the
chamber of commerce
but take it also to the forest.
The song you heard singing in the leaf when you
were a child
is singing still.
I am of years lived, so far, seventy-four,
and the leaf is singing still.

I found Oliver’s collection Swan at the Booksmith this fall, and this first poem stopped me in my tracks, especially the lines about where to take “your busy heart.” As we enter a new year, I am hoping to take my heart to all those places: engaging with the world, noticing and absorbing beauty, and taking time to be in nature and be still.

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It has been a year, y’all. There’s no way a list can capture it all, but here are a few highlights from the past 12 months:

  • run miles and miles through my beloved neighborhood of Eastie, mostly in the mornings before work
  • knitted myself a pair of gloves, a cozy headband and two sets of legwarmers
  • lived in leggings, jeans, Allbirds sneakers, scarves and my green coat (see above)
  • discovered volunteer ushering and leaned hard into it
  • returned to Vermont, and adventured to western MA and the North Shore, with my guy
  • spent a couple of sweet solo weekends in NYC
  • delighted in hearing and promoting our young people’s music at ZUMIX
  • made lots of chickpea curry, ratatouille, black bean soup and other simple meals
  • drunk hundreds of cups of tea
  • spent a sweet Thanksgiving with my guy
  • interviewed several authors for Shelf Awareness
  • read roughly 230 books
  • done a lot of yoga, mostly at The Point
  • sung in a local carol choir for the fourth year
  • said goodbye to my beloved Darwin’s
  • written a couple of pieces for ACU Today
  • spent a little time in Texas
  • hosted my parents for their first joint visit to Boston since 2018
  • continued to savor my writing class on Tuesdays
  • worked the polls again, twice
  • gone to the movies alone (and with my guy)
  • helped pull off the ZUMIX Gala and Walk for Music
  • started a newsletter
  • done a “Southwest tour” to visit friends in Arizona and California
  • become a regular at the Eastie library
  • published a couple of essays online
  • gone back to some local museums
  • been to Portsmouth, Amherst and Westerly with my girl Jackie
  • taken a salsa dancing class
  • been to my first Comic-Con
  • survived having COVID
  • attended a number of outdoor concerts here in Eastie
  • seen both the Indigo Girls and the Wailin’ Jennys in concert (!!)
  • loved All Creatures season 2 and Magpie Murders
  • turned 39
  • tended geraniums, a fern, an African violet, paperwhite bulbs and cherry tomatoes
  • tried my best to pay attention, love my people and be brave and true

What has this year looked like for you?

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It seems to start earlier every year: the full-on blitz of evergreens, candy-cane decorations, tinsel and twinkle lights. Red cups at Starbucks, Santa hats all over the place, peppermint-flavored everything…the list goes on.

I’m here for the twinkle lights and the peppermint treats – and y’all know I love Christmas music and movies. But for the last several years, I’ve been edging into the season: tiptoeing, observing tiny rituals, looking for the light. It feels like too much to turn the Christmas-ness up full blast in mid-November, if I want to actually enjoy it. As Father Tim once observed, it feels like “hitting, and holding, high C” for weeks on end. As a singer, I know that is both screechy and impossible.

This year, I am taking the season in small doses: putting up my two trees, both of them festooned with lights, but not rushing to hang the ornaments. I’m taping Christmas cards around my door frame, wearing the tiny raccoon-holding-a-holly-sprig pin that was my mother’s in the ’90s. I’m listening to Christmas music when I feel like it (Sara Groves, Kate Rusby, the Indigo Girls, Vince Guaraldi), and turning it off when I’ve had enough.

I’ve been rehearsing for our annual neighborhood carol service with friends, trying to hear how the phrases should sound, relaxing into the familiarity of “Silent Night” and “The First Noel.” The music is still creaky, but it will come together. We will probably miss a cue or two, stumble over words in an unfamiliar language. And we will also create chords of beauty and longing, both from carols we know and pieces we have only learned this year.

“The light shines in the darkness,” we are told, and we hear it often this time of year. But living in the Northeast reminds me that the darkness is necessary, too. I can savor the fiery sunsets and crisp moonlit nights, while also appreciating the longer evenings. The light and the darkness need one another; neither one can exist alone.

This truth is harder to accept on an emotional level; I’d rather skip over the grief that comes up this time of year, and focus on the joy. But I know I can’t do that. Ignoring the sadness will only make it worse. Naming it, and leaning into the music and rituals that make room for complexity, is vital if I want to live honestly in – and enjoy – this season.

I do miss some of the Advent rituals of my old life: greening the church on a Saturday morning, gathering with friends I don’t see anymore, singing “O Come O Come Emmanuel” in a community that is no longer mine. There is brokenness and longing in these memories, and also joy: those rituals nourished me, for a time, and now I have to find new rituals to carry me through.

As is so often the case, there’s a metaphor here. Advent is about what happens when the old ways don’t work anymore. It is a sudden interruption, a dramatic entrance, into a world that is desperate for all things to be made new. It is making sense of the light and the darkness – or, failing that, accepting the presence of both in this world.

How are you savoring the season this year? I’d love to hear.

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For bright, bracing miles along the river on Thanksgiving morning, sunlight sparkling on the water and my favorite women of folk in my ears.

For a phone call with my parents, standing on the back porch in the sunshine, talking football and family and the recipes we were all making for the day, two thousand miles apart.

For two racks of ribs with my grandmother’s barbecue sauce, my partner’s legendary mac and cheese, the sweet potato recipe that tastes like Thanksgiving to me. For corn muffins and tabbouleh and a charcuterie board to tide us over while we cooked. For a table positively groaning with food – more, much more, than enough.

For a bike ride with my guy in the sunshine, and the love, respect and genuine affection that sustains us every day.

For the texts rolling in from faraway friends, with Friends gifs and pictures of tables and kitchens and families. For feeling held by the communities I love, scattered though they may be.

For an evening spent washing stacks of dishes and baking dozens of cookies, scrolling through Christmas movie trailers on Netflix and listening to episodes of Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me.

For tricky conversations about the history of the day: I believe gratitude is always worth practicing, but I also, increasingly, believe we’ve got to reckon with the colonial legacy that took so much from Native peoples.

For my job at ZUMIX – community, music and young people – and a fun, diverse group of colleagues who are both hardworking and kind.

For the chance to keep building a life I love, challenges and all.

If you celebrated last week, I hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving.

P.S. The third issue of my newsletter, For the Noticers, comes out this week. Sign up here to get on the list!

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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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Last week, I spent an hour (alongside some colleagues) placing red and silver sparkly macarons into cocktail glasses, along with turquoise stickers and quotes from our student participants. Days before, I brainstormed cocktail names with my supervisor. (We landed on Razzle Dazzle, Stardust, and Fancy Was My Name – sometimes, it’s nice having another Southern girl in the office.)

In the weeks before that, I wrote, rewrote and proofread program text; ordered several life-size cardboard celebrity cutouts online; maneuvered our office van through the winding streets near Boston’s North Station; and bought a fabulous pair of cascading rhinestone earrings. It all came together beautifully last Wednesday, at the aptly named Glitter and Glam version of the annual ZUMIX gala.

When people ask me what we do at ZUMIX, I usually tell them that we provide free and low-cost music lessons and other creative classes for young people, ages 7-18. And we do that, every day, at the Firehouse in East Boston. But the Gala was a chance to celebrate the broader definition of what we do: help young people discover their shine.

One of our youth musicians, Andres, bounded in two hours early, fizzing with excitement for his first-ever paying gig. Julian, sporting a fedora along with his usual funky glasses, played in three different ensembles (a fact Wendy, one of his fellow musicians, made sure to mention onstage). Angelica, rocking a slinky green sequined dress, worked the room at the cocktail party, interviewing guests for her show on ZUMIX Radio. And sisters Layla and Maya – neither one of them out of elementary school – brought the house down with their rendition of Selena’s “La Carcacha.”

I could go on, and tell you about Elia on the drums, Camille rocking both the bass guitar and her elegant blue dress, Samantha swirling around in a sparkly gown and Brandon adding a few rhinestones to his sharp suit (and playing guitar with his usual cool). And my colleagues: Ben and Chris and Brian doing double-time to get there after their other teaching gigs across town. Kadahj and Corey (both ZUMIX alumni) speaking eloquently about the impact this place has had on their lives and so many others. Esther, my supervisor, dashing around in a sequined red fedora and a light-up tutu. And Madeleine – our co-founder, executive director and the hardest-working woman I know – doing everything from setup to schmoozing to calling the ZUMIX Latin Ensemble back out for an encore.

I loved so many moments: getting dressed in the bathroom alongside the setup crew, giggling like girlfriends as we glammed up for the evening. Hugging former staff and alumni whom I’ve grown to love. Applauding my friend Roberto (above), manager at Eastie Farm and community-builder extraordinaire, as he received an award (and, later, getting down with his crew on the dance floor). Dancing with Esther to the Cotton-Eyed Joe after the DJ had finished his set. Sipping a Razzle Dazzle cocktail and snapping photos of our board and staff and community enjoying each other. Handing out light-up plastic rings to those who donated, and to any teenager who wanted one. Snagging a selfie with Madeleine as the party swirled around us. And driving back to Eastie in the van, close to midnight, exhausted but entirely satisfied.

Listen: there are all kinds of scrappy small organizations like ours, doing the work of building communities and giving young people a safe place to be themselves. We’ve made it through 31 years of this work, tied together by red Firehouse doors and ukulele strings and a whole lot of duct tape and hope. We are bolstered by smiles and crashing piano chords and a student’s look of astonishment as they land a guitar riff for the first time. We are scribbled song lyrics and sound-mixing wizardry; we are pupusas and potato chips and endless cups of tea from the office kettle. We are, also, budgets and grant proposals and donor acknowledgments and social media posts; the magic doesn’t happen without the admin grunt work, as my colleagues and I know all too well. But at events like the Gala, it all braids together beautifully, and like those macarons (courtesy of a Latin bakery in East Boston), it all sparkles.

We do provide music lessons, and theatre classes, and teach young people how to operate sound boards and create their own radio shows. But they teach us, too: how to be brave and silly and kind and fearless, how to try out new things – sometimes in front of a roomful of people – and not be afraid of what might happen. They demand honesty from us; they ask good questions; they push us to be better than we are. They ask us to build a world that is safe and creative and just. And they eat a lot of pizza – while making a lot of amazing music.

We have so many reasons to shine, Madeleine wrote in the event program last week. Gonzalo, one of our awardees, added, There is no stronger light than the one we receive from our young people. I am grateful – not just on Gala days, but every day – to be part of the string of lights that allows ZUMIX to keep on shining.

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Thirty-nine. Almost 40. I’m still amazed by that reality, especially since I sometimes feel 17 or 22 or eight years old inside. But as I say often (quoting Madeleine L’Engle), I am every age I’ve ever been.

Thirty-nine is getting up and going for a run most mornings, even when I don’t feel like it, because I know I’ll be a better person the rest of the day. Thirty-nine does her best to hydrate, moisturize, make the bed, wash the dishes – all those acts of self-care that sometimes seem boring but are actually so important. Thirty-nine does a fair bit of yoga and walking, eats a ton of yogurt and granola, drinks black tea like it’s my job, indulges in a cider once a week or so.

Thirty-nine moves more cautiously, these days, after some serious shakeups the last few years. Thirty-nine does her best to lean into the present, to be here now, living with heart and commitment, while also realizing that things can change drastically at any moment. Thirty-nine loves her current life and is starting to dream about making some changes. Thirty-nine is grateful – as a teacher of mine once said – that not only have I survived through great upheaval, but I’ve thrived.

Thirty-nine has seen her life and world shift in ways she never imagined a few years back. Some of those changes she chose and orchestrated; some came out of nowhere and left her staggering, for a while. Thirty-nine is still healing, still grieving; learning to name and acknowledge the wounds that linger longer than we think they will, while also making space for new and vivid joys.

Thirty-nine still writes for Shelf Awareness, still texts a few stalwart friends nearly every day, still loves chai from Darwin’s and flowers from Brattle Square, still reads piles of books and still needs a dose of Texas once in a while. Thirty-nine is trying, always, to live with grace and courage and wisdom. Thirty-nine knows it’s important to be both brave and kind.

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Hello, friends. It has been hot here in Boston (though I hear some relief might be on the horizon), and my workplace is still operating on a hybrid model. I like the flexibility of having a work-from-home day each week, but I can’t spend all day in my studio apartment without going a bit mad – especially when the temps are in the 90s. So I’ve been heading to (where else?) the local library on Tuesday afternoons to work.

I love the Eastie branch library: it’s airy, open and welcoming, with a cadre of friendly librarians whose faces I know now. It has air-conditioning, free wi-fi, and (of course) lots of books nearby. I bring my laptop and settle in at one of the tables, getting up occasionally to stretch or refill my water bottle. The people-watching, when I need a break from work emails, is always excellent: Eastie is truly multicultural, and the folks who use the library are multigenerational, too. There are worker bees with laptops, like me; folks who come in to use the public computers and printers; children coming in and out for summer reading programs; and lots of teenagers, who drift in and out during the afternoon.

I love both the idea and the reality of third places – those locales, neither work/school nor home, that bring people together and foster connection, as well as serving other purposes. My beloved Darwin’s in Cambridge was my third place for a long time; ZUMIX, my workplace, is a vital third place for the young people we serve. I love watching and participating in the library as a third place, too, and seeing my community thrive here.

Yes, it gets a little loud sometimes – but the presence of other people is often the whole point. I’m grateful the library is just a short bike ride away.

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