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Posts Tagged ‘daily life’

Earlier this month, I joined a running club – the newish, informal, neighborhood group that meets at the foot of the Golden Stairs, mere yards from my house. I’d been seeing their posts on Instagram for months now, and seen them running in a pack through the neighborhood – but I’d hesitated to try it out. I usually like to run alone, plus 7 a.m. sounded a wee bit early…plus (and this is the real thing) I hate walking up to groups of strangers. I’ve never enjoyed that moment of being the odd new person, but like so many things, it’s gotten worse with two years of isolation during the pandemic.

But. It’s spring (tipping into summer this weekend, with 90-degree temps on the way). The mornings are lighter; the lilacs are blooming; the azaleas are a blaze of pink and the rhododendrons are right behind them. And in small ways, I can feel myself opening up, too: finally unclenching after months of clinging to all things safe and familiar.

Don’t get me wrong: I still need lots of nights on my couch with a book, or morning runs by myself with the Wailin’ Jennys or Martina McBride in my ears. But some things feel more possible, less scary, than they did a year ago. I’m seeing it all around me: people are traveling again, eating in restaurants and gathering with friends. I went to the movies last night for the first time in a year. It all feels like training wheels for being back in the world, a chance to try out – in a safe context – the things we used to do and the things we want to do, and decide which (if any) we’d like to keep.

Long before the pandemic, I was telling myself a story about meeting people in Boston: that it’s hard and scary and they probably won’t welcome me anyway. This was true at my first workplace here, and I’ve carried it with me, like a stone in my chest, for a decade. It has taken years to untangle that story, and the fear still rises up every so often. But the other week, I set my alarm for 6:15, ate some granola and drank a cup of tea, grabbed my keys and headed down the stairs. Just try it, I told myself. If you hate it, you never have to go back again.

Well. I didn’t hate it – as evidenced by the fact that I got up early this morning for the third Friday in a row. I ran a 5K last weekend in the sweaty, steamy heat with some of these people – and I didn’t even mind that much when I came in dead last. I’ve run into a couple folks already in the neighborhood. And most weeks, we walk to the new cafe afterward to grab coffee and chat.

It feels like community, like connection, like finding a new way to be in this neighborhood where I’ve spent three joyful and also difficult years. It feels like pushing off with those training wheels, learning to balance again. It feels – in a sneaky, surprising way – like joy.

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Loving Working

“We clean to give space for Art.”
        Micaela Miranda, Freedom Theatre, Palestine

Work was a shining refuge when wind sank its tooth
into my mind. Everything we love is going away,
drifting – but you could sweep this stretch of floor,
this patio or porch, gather white stones in a bucket,
rake the patch for future planting, mop the counter
with a rag. Lovely wet gray rag, squeeze it hard
it does so much. Clear the yard of blowing bits of plastic.
The glory in the doing. The breath of the doing.
Sometimes the simplest move kept fear from
fragmenting into no energy at all, or sorrow from
multiplying, or sorrow from being the only person
living in the house.

April is National Poetry Month, and I am sharing poetry – with an emphasis on women of color – here on Fridays this month, as I do every year. 

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March ended up being a very full month – it included a trip out west to see dear friends in Tucson, the L.A. suburbs and (again) San Diego. Plus a hiring process for a new colleague; lots of running (still building my stamina back after having COVID); both snow and spring flowers, as is normal for March; and dinners with a few friends I hadn’t seen in a long time. Whew.

April is here now, with its blustery winds, sharp spring light and budding tulips (!), and here’s what I learned in March:

  • Sometimes granola needs an extra 10 minutes in the oven. (Jenny’s recipe is my favorite.)
  • I tried this recipe for Thai butternut squash soup – a yummy, spicy alternative to my classic one.
  • Delays can be a chance to explore – as when my Amtrak train in CA was an hour late and I wandered the main street of Moorpark. (And picked up snacks and a yummy burrito!)
  • I might be a legwarmers kind of girl after all.
  • Write it down. You’d think I’d know this, but especially at work these days, if it doesn’t get written down, it flies right out of my brain.
  • I need a bit of margin in my week – especially salient now that the pace of life is picking back up.
  • Just ask. (Still and always working on this one.)

What did you learn in March?

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A blue-walled loft bedroom in an old church converted into condos. A wide leather couch, piled with blankets, in a cramped but comfortable house. A two-level, wood-floored apartment filled with abstract art, dried rose petals, and light. And a cozy guest room in a college town that I still think of as home.

Most friendships involve a balance between space and attention, with both parties weighing the needs of the friendship against the other obligations and people in their lives. During the winter and spring leading up to my divorce, several friends gave me the gift of space in a very particular way: opening up their homes to me, whether they were physically present or not.

My essay “Space to Imagine” was published last week over at the HerStories Project! Click over there to read the rest of it, if you’d like.

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Last week, I hopped a Green Line train after work to go hear my friend Louise Miller have a books-and-baking conversation with fellow author Vallery Lomas. (I met another friend there, and we sampled treats afterward, and I hugged Louise and convinced my friend to buy her lovely first novel.)

The weekend before that, I volunteered as an usher at my favorite local theatre company and saw the excellent play The Book of Will for free. (Bonus: the witch hazel was out in the Public Garden.) And the weekend before that, my guy and I took the commuter rail up to Beverly, just north of Boston, where we ate and shopped and got caught in a snow squall, and took a long, rambling walk along the frozen beach, watching the birds and the light.

After a year and a half where we mostly stayed in our own apartments (or at least in our own neighborhoods) and/or felt safe doing mostly outdoor activities, it’s felt good to open myself up a bit again. The joy of local adventures – besides their accessibility – is the fact that they add serious magic to the everyday.

Some version of this phenomenon happens to me every spring: after curling up inside during the colder months, I love trying a few new restaurants, going for walks, planning visits to museums and generally enjoying the milder weather. Spring adds a bit of zing to life. But this year, going on a local adventure feels extra exciting. Whether that’s trying a new-to-us brunch spot with my partner, walking down unfamiliar streets or immersing myself in music or theatre for an evening, it feels revitalizing and fun.

What local adventures are you having these days?

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Winter can be a tough season: it’s cold, dark and frequently snowy where I live. This winter, I’m leaning hard into small everyday delights, and reaching for books that help me name and/or discover them.

Hannah Jane Parkinson’s witty, charming essay collection The Joy of Small Things is exactly what it sounds like: a compilation of Parkinson’s columns for The Guardian, celebrating quotidian, idiosyncratic joys. Techno music, red lipstick, night bus trips and cheating a hangover are among Parkinson’s delights, and her unabashed elation inspired me to notice my own pleasures. (I found this one at the wonderful Three Lives in NYC, and it was the perfect book for this season.)

I like cooking year-round, but am especially keen on baking in the winter. This year, I’ve reached for dessert inspiration in the form of Flour by Joanne Chang (which I’ve owned for years) and Nadiya Bakes by Nadiya Hussain, the 2015 winner of The Great British Baking Show. Chang, the founder-owner of Boston-based (and one of my faves) Flour Bakery + Cafe, delivers detailed recipes for her goodies, including raspberry crumb bars, lemon-ginger scones (with three kinds of ginger!) and the chunkiest chocolate-chip cookies. Hussain, sporting bright headscarves, showcases clever new recipes and bold twists on traditional desserts (blueberry scone pizza?!). Both women remind me that you don’t need an industrial kitchen to whip up tasty treats, though I do covet Hussain’s bright pink hand mixer.

Finally, Joyful by Ingrid Fetell Lee provides a tour of what Fetell Lee calls “the aesthetics of joy”: patterns, objects and modes of design that can enhance or inspire delight in our daily lives. Exploring harmony, magic, transcendence and other concepts, Fetell Lee shows how the physical environment (built or natural) can have a profound effect on our moods. As I wait for spring, I’ll be searching out every kind of joy–culinary, aesthetic or simply everyday–that I can find.

I originally wrote most of this column for Shelf Awareness, where it ran a couple of weeks ago.

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My one little word for 2022 is true.

It came to me in a yoga class, which makes me sound a lot more zen than I usually am. But I’d been mulling over the notion of finding a word for the year (which I do annually, in case you’re new here). Somewhere between the lunges and the triangle poses and the (masked) deep breaths, the word showed up in my mind like a deep exhale. True.

Like a lot of my words, true is more complicated than it first appears. I grew up in a household and culture that exhorted us to “tell the truth,” that championed Jesus (or a particular evangelical version of him) as the Way, the Truth and the Life. But I also – like so many of us – learned to elide the truth, to smooth it over, to swap it out for what I thought people wanted to hear. I learned to present the safe, smiling version of myself, to give the easy answer instead of the true one.

While I believe there’s value in considering both my words and other people’s feelings, I’m tired of doing that back-and-forth dance. I want to stop hiding, stop second-guessing. I want – as Rachel Shenton said in a recent episode of the Masterpiece podcast – to live a more truthful life. So true feels like a good word to keep in mind.

Having true as my word has so far looked like: admitting my limits (especially after coming down with COVID), following a few of my whims (like taking a salsa class and signing up as a volunteer usher with my favorite theater company), making lists of dreams for the short and long term, and re-embracing colorful stickers and washi tape. (And humming “True” by George Strait, because I love a good theme song and I am always and forever a Texas girl.)

Most importantly, it looks like giving the true answer, to myself and to others, instead of shrugging or taking refuge in “I don’t know.” Sometimes “I don’t know” is the true answer, and that’s humbling and healthy to admit. But often, it’s worth digging a little deeper to discover: what do I actually think? What do I want? What do I believe, or wonder about, or want to know? What am I afraid of? And how can I let the truth – all those true answers – push me forward into a braver and more beautiful life?

“It takes an effort to be clear about things,” Julia Cameron writes in my longtime fave The Sound of Paper. “It is easier and much sadder to be muddy, to never take the time to clarify our thoughts.” She notes that “Who do I think I am?” becomes an interesting question when we consider it honestly. Who do I think I am, and what might I try? How might that answer change, and how might I want to change it? “Every time we take pen to page we become more ourselves, less something vague and amorphous,” Julia says. That life – a life of greater clarity and more deep truth – sounds good to me.

Are you following a word this year? If so, what is it teaching you?

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Well, friends, it happened: after nearly two years of wearing a mask, washing my hands incessantly, getting vaccinated and taking all the other precautions we’re all used to now, I tested positive for COVID-19 a few weeks ago.

I was lucky. My symptoms were fairly mild, mostly fatigue and congestion (though I will say the brain fog is real). My employer has been generous about giving us extra sick time for isolation and recovery (though I did work from home when I felt well enough, to stave off the boredom). I felt tired and draggy for nearly a week, and I’ve still had some fatigue and a lingering cough – but mostly, I feel grateful it wasn’t much worse.

My mild-ish symptoms didn’t surprise me too much: I’m vaxxed, boosted, in a low-risk demographic, etc. What did surprise me were some of the emotions I felt. They ran the gamut from fear (what if I become severely ill?) to worry (does my partner have it too? Spoiler: he did, and he’s also fine now) to eye-rolling frustration (here we go with the isolation and counting days).

There was also abject sadness and terror at the thought of more isolation in my apartment, after spending most of 2020 and the first half of 2021 alone there. I broke down and sobbed to my mom on the phone after I got my positive results. I have worked so hard since my divorce to build a life for myself that includes community, but as a household of one with a highly contagious virus, I knew I was facing down at least a week of serious solitude.

I felt helpless and frustrated (there was nothing I could do about it), mildly outraged (but I’ve been doing everything right! The whole time!), and a little bit ashamed (I caught the virus anyway. Did I do something wrong?). And deep down, after a couple of days, I also felt a creeping sense of relief: now I’ve had it. So that happened.

In addition to all these emotions, I truly did feel lucky: my community stepped up for me, in ways both tangible and intangible. One friend dropped off groceries (and cough drops) on a bitterly cold afternoon. My supervisor called to check in on a few mornings. I went for a walk with a girlfriend who had tested positive the day after I did – which saved both of our sanity. Other friends texted; my parents called; my sister checked in on me every day. My partner and I did our best to support each other via FaceTime and phone calls, and on the weekend when we reunited in person, we hugged for minutes at a time. I felt loved and supported, even while I was physically alone.

As this pandemic drags on and on, the omicron wave has hit a lot of households in my circles that had so far managed to avoid the virus. My folks, my partner and various friends are all recovering; here in Boston we are still masking, sanitizing, flashing our vaccine cards to eat indoors and go to the gym and go hear live music (or dance salsa, in my case).

We are still here, I keep saying to my colleagues, my parents, my COVID-weary friends. I keep hearing Beth Silvers‘ voice in my head: It’s a virus, not a moral defect. Which is to say: keep doing everything you can, but testing positive is not a moral failure. It’s simply something many of us will have to deal with at some point.

I don’t have any neat and tidy conclusions, but wanted to share my experience in case it is helpful to someone here. (Beth also noted that, like childbirth, having COVID is a singular, isolating experience that creates some stuff we need to process together.) Thanks for reading, friends. If you have your own experiences/emotions to share, please feel free – I’m listening.

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Hello, friends. It is so cold – the high yesterday here in Boston was 14 (!) degrees. It feels much warmer today (we’re above freezing!), but between the cold and the endless pandemic anxiety, I’ve been struggling with the blues. At least the sun is (mostly) shining; we had a solid week of rain and fog around Christmas/New Year’s and it was rough.

I’m isolating in my apartment this week after a positive COVID test. My symptoms are mild and I have enough groceries, etc., but of course it’s a bummer. And the headlines – and their individual impacts on each of our lives – go on and on.

So, in the spirit of hope and trying to find some joy, here’s what’s saving my life this week:

  • Sunshine, as always. Even when it’s bitterly cold, these blue and silver winter days (and the sunlight pouring in my kitchen windows) are so beautiful.
  • The Twisted Tomboy shower bombs I found recently at the Booksmith – so potent and refreshing.
  • Abby Rasminsky’s gorgeous, honest newsletter – she writes so well about pandemic life and trying to find the good.
  • The teas I stocked up on in December: one batch from my beloved local MEM Tea, one from the wonderful McNulty’s in Greenwich Village, NYC.
  • Related: my favorite mugs, including an old one from Obvious State and a newish one from Flour.
  • My friend Micha’s lovely, contemplative podcast, The Slow Way.
  • Hannah Jane Parkinson’s quirky, lovely collection The Joy of Small Things, which I found at the marvelous Three Lives – exactly what it sounds like.
  • Texts and calls from my people, and a friend dropping off a bag of groceries the other day.
  • My leggy, lovely geraniums, which are reaching for the light in my kitchen window.
  • Good books, including a stack of library finds and a virtual stack of e-galleys for review.
  • Fun Spotify mixes: jazz and movie soundtracks, folk and Motown, nineties country – whatever I’m in the mood for.

What’s saving your life in these long winter days?

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How lightly we learn to hold hope,
as if it were an animal that could turn around
and bite your hand. And still we carry it
the way a mother would, carefully,
from one day to the next.

–from “Insha’Allah” by Danusha Laméris

I started 2021 with hope as my one little word. I thought, frankly, that it might be tempting fate to choose hope as my word in the middle of a pandemic, when I was unemployed and lonely and terrified of what the next months might bring. Six days into 2021, a group of white supremacists stormed the U.S. Capitol, and of course that was not nearly the end of the terrors and losses the year brought.

Hope, as we all know, is gritty and often surprising. It shows up where it was not expected, and it gleams out, sometimes, on the really hard days. It is, as Emily D. reminds us, “the thing with feathers,” and it is also often a choice. I had to choose hope many times in 2021 instead of falling into despair – instead of looking at the headlines and the case counts and my own empty apartment and sinking back into a fog of hopelessness. I did not always manage it; there were a lot of hard and lonely days. But having hope there at my elbow, nudging me, sometimes helped.

My words for each year may start out as abstract concepts, but as the days go on they become tangible, daily practices, embodied through actions and sometimes through other people. For me, hope this year often looked like the small daily stuff: washing dishes, going for a run, sending out yet another job application. It looked like walks with friends, fresh flowers, washing my face at night, making tentative travel plans (some of which I got to keep). It looked like choosing to believe good things would happen, but – critically – trying to let go of my notions of how they might happen.

I kept thinking this year of a line from Henri Nouwen, from that Advent book I love: “I have found it very important in my own life to let go of my wishes and start hoping.” Although it believes in a glad outcome, hope – Nouwen seems to be saying – is often open-ended.

Hope in hard times is, paradoxically, difficult and necessary; I am thus not done with hope, and I don’t suppose I will ever be. I am grateful for its presence in my life this past year, and I hope (as it were) to remain open to whatever it has to teach me.

Did you follow a word in 2021? If so, what did it teach you?

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