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Posts Tagged ‘day job’

hyacinth flower daffodils leaves plants

Right now, in mid-April 2019, I am:

Watching the flowers pop up all around town – hyacinth, daffodils, late-but-gorgeous forsythia, early tulips. And keeping an eye on the budding magnolia trees. Also: this weekend I will be watching the Masters.

Proofreading just about everything you can think of, at work: event posters and programs, the alumni magazine, so many email announcements and newsletters, and various webpages.

Eating alllllll the clementines and berries, lots of granola and yogurt, Trader Joe’s tomato soup, sharp cheddar, avocado toast and whatever else I can whip up.

Drinking so much Earl Grey, chai when I can get it, and lots of water.

phoenix dog puppy

Dog-sitting for a friend in East Boston, and loving the snuggles and walks with Phoenix. Isn’t he adorable?

Running the Harborwalk there (sometimes with Phoenix) and the East Boston Greenway, when I can. I miss my river trail, but it’s really fun to explore a new neighborhood.

Reading some great fiction: Marjan Kamali’s gorgeous new novel (out in June), a fun novel about West Texas high school football, a family saga set in 1980s NYC. And Reshma Saujani’s nonfiction book Brave, Not Perfect – which is as fierce as its lipstick-red cover.

Seeing the Boston Marathon prep come to life: scaffolding, bleachers, signs and adverts, so much blue and yellow around this area of town. (I work down the street from the marathon finish line.)

Sneaking over to Mem Church for prayers a couple of mornings a week.

Listening to back episodes of All the Backlist! (and All the Books! when I have time). I’m a hopelessly irregular podcast listener, but I like catching up with Liberty and her cohosts.

Walking around Eastie with Phoenix, through the West End on some mornings, around Back Bay in the afternoons.

Wearing my winter uniform (still) of striped dresses, a scarf and black fleece-lined tights. Switching it out for jeans and a sweater on the milder, drier days. Pulling on my favorite running/yoga gear, whenever possible.

Scribbling in my latest Obvious State journal all. the. time.

Needing some new running shoes.

Getting as much sleep as I can. It’s been an exhausting stretch – a lingering cold, work craziness, general craziness – and my body is tired.

Enjoying fresh flowers on my desk, my newish Everlane backpack, the light in the apartment where I’m staying, texts from friends checking in.

Inspired by Ali Edwards’ “Currently” post earlier this week.

What does life look like for you right now?

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berklee-building

That’s not quite true. But it has felt true lately, as I’ve added podcast-hosting duties to the round of life at my new job.

My colleagues and I take turns hosting Sounds of Berklee, our weekly podcast featuring songs by and interviews with Berklee students, alumni, faculty and visiting artists.

Here are my first two episodes, if you’d like to listen. The first features Avanti Nagral, a Berklee student pursuing a dual degree with Harvard and making great music while she’s at it:

The second is a Q&A session with Cristina Pato and Edward Perez, two artists from Silkroad who came over to talk about their collaboration with some of our students, and treat us to a live performance (of bagpipes and double bass!) in the studio.

It’s been fun to explore a new medium, and record at the studio on campus. Happy listening.

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katie lin-manuel miranda interview microphone

It’s been ten days and I still can’t believe I get to say this: I got to interview Lin-Manuel Miranda.

I do not, generally, get starstruck very often. The exceptions to that rule tend to be the authors I love (like Alice Hoffman, who was very kind when I spoke to her on the phone last fall). But I am a musical theatre geek from way back, and I have spent untold hours over the past two years listening to Hamilton.

So when I found out Lin-Manuel was coming to speak at the Harvard Kennedy School (where I work), I just about hit the ceiling. I know for a fact I wasn’t the only one.

Lin-Manuel flew in for a Thursday evening to kick off America Adelante, a conference for Latino students and leaders. I begged everyone I had to beg – namely, my editors at the Harvard Gazette and my colleagues who organized the conference – to let me be the one to write the story. I’d have begged Drew Faust herself (Harvard’s president) if I had to.

All I was expecting was a seat at Lin’s keynote – a literal seat in the room where it happened. I did not dream of what you see above: ten minutes, give or take, with the man himself.

I’d scribbled notes all through his keynote, which was fantastic, then listened in as my colleague Matt interviewed him for the HKS podcast. When he turned to me with that grin after wrapping up with Matt and said, “Who are you writing for?,” I nearly lost all my words. (But I managed to recover a few of them.)

katie lin manuel miranda

I asked him first about democracy. Hamilton is the origin story of democracy, and some of Lin’s prolific activism on Twitter is about urging people to get involved in democracy today: registering to vote, calling their reps, making their voices heard. “We’re seeing such an accumulation of ordinary voices,” he said.

We talked, too, about art and activism: both are vital parts of his work. He mentioned being inspired by the Parkland students, and making “the Marvel/DC crossover” with Ben Platt of Dear Evan Hansen to encourage them. (Their collaborative song, Found Tonight, gives me chills.)

I admire Lin’s creative genius, but I also love how generous he is, how much he cares about making a difference in the world. He was funny and engaging, and even though I’m sure he was tired, he really listened to my questions and offered thoughtful answers. (And he talks with his hands! So do I.)

katie lin manuel miranda hand gesture

My favorite question was the last one I asked: “What’s the last great book you read?”

He paused – “Ooooh!” – then admitted, “I’m sort of in a prison of my own making.”

The reason? His New Year’s resolution was to read all of Shakespeare’s plays, and “I’m so behind,” he confessed. “I’ve had a busy few months!” That was the understatement of the night.

But then – then! – he waxed eloquent about reading the sonnets, and “the freedom he [Shakespeare] finds within the form.” In classic Lin fashion, he concluded, “Reading the sonnets was pretty dope.” I nearly died of English-major nerd bliss.

I’d forgotten my copy of the Hamiltome, but I asked Lin to sign my journal, and he graciously complied. The inscription, under my name and above his signature?

“See you in the room where it happens.”

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oneday hh camera photo 2017

Last week, Laura Tremaine hosted her annual #OneDayHH Instagram challenge: an invitation to document the details of our lives for one (fairly) typical day. It was a Thursday, a workday, and this was my fourth year playing along.

I snapped a lot of photos and shared quite a few of them on my Instagram, but I thought I’d also share some of them here. I like having the record each year here on the blog.

kitchen wall art curtains british flag

Morning in the kitchen: this room is the beating heart of our home. I had brought my red geraniums inside the night before, and we had also just hung those pictures. The canvas is an original by my friend Kelsey, and that watercolor/pen-and-ink drawing is from Sally Lunn’s in Bath, England.

sunrise november onedayhh

It’s no secret that I’m in love with the sunrise outside these windows: to quote Emily Byrd Starr, it saves my soul alive.

bedside table lamp quilt

That stunning Cathedral Window quilt was started by my Mimi, years ago, and finished (and sent to me) by Carol, a dear family friend. This lamp is a Target find and I love that it shimmers. And that’s my favorite worn-soft shirt to wear to bed.

katie selfie mirror onedayhh

I’m not quite bold enough to post a #wokeuplikethis selfie, but this is a pretty typical outfit: neutrals with stripes, a shot of red and the rings I always wear.

front porch view dorchester ma onedayhh

I also love the view from our front porch: the neighbors’ houses and these trees.

ivy leaves frost

First frost the night before meant that everything sparkled, including the neighbors’ ivy.

trolley morning dorchester ma mbta

It’s a short walk to the Mattapan trolley line from our house every morning.

ashmont station mbta

After a quick trolley ride, I get on the T at the end of the Ashmont line. Commuting can be a pain, but it beats driving – and I love the skylights in this station.

sever quad morning harvard yard sunshine trees

When I reach Harvard Square, I often have a little time before work. Sometimes I run errands or go to Lamont Library to write. Sometimes I walk across the Yard, admiring the leaves and soaking in the sunshine.

darwins d2 start arrow

That day, I ended up (no surprise) at Darwin’s. I perched, elbows on a green table, to sip Earl Grey and do a little writing. As I have said before, they know me there and it’s one of the great joys of my life.

hks desk rose itn computer

This is my desk (obviously), and on screen is the daily media citation email with which I start my workdays. Also pictured: my trusty water bottle, one of the million apples I’m munching these days, a perfect rose from my beloved florist.

hpac notebook tea table window

I love my Thursday morning meetings with other writers from around Harvard. Sarcasm, sanity and good stories on the sixth floor, where I once temped for four months and where I am still welcome.

cambridge common

Later that afternoon (after chai with a writer friend, lunch, more emails and some brainstorming about photos for a story I wrote), I took a walk on Cambridge Common to clear my head. The sun came out again for a little while.

ankle boots leaves

I walked through crunching leaves, talking to a friend on the phone, and exhaling. (I don’t get to do this every day but I love it when I do.)

trolley walk dark trees streetlights

It was already dark when I left work around 5:30, and even darker when I walked home from the trolley. This seasonal shift – the sudden loss of light – is hard for me.

lemon ginger tea books journal

I heated up leftover black bean soup for dinner, washed dishes, puttered and read for a while – first Hunted, and then Brian Doyle’s essays in Leaping (with lemon-ginger tea in my Oxford mug). The hubs worked late, as he often does, and came home to heat up his own bowl of soup. I went to bed early, to read a little and then crash.

begonias building blue sky

I didn’t post all the details of my day, but I’m still glad I participated. This fall has been full of so many things: some lovely, some exciting, many stressful, some heartbreaking. But it’s anchored by the daily round, which is precious in itself. I’m glad for the nudge from Laura to capture and share the details of our days – to say that “holy yes” to them which is so important.

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roxanne hks class

On a grey morning last week, I walked into a crowded classroom at the Kennedy School, caffeine firmly in hand, and slipped into a seat in the back. My day job sometimes allows me to write about the work of our students and faculty, and I’d already sat in this fall on Dara Kay Cohen’s fascinating class about sex, gender, violence, war and global politics.

My presence there last week didn’t have much to do (explicitly) with the piece I’m writing for the HKS website, though. I was there to listen to Roxanne speak, and afterward, to give her a big hug.

Roxanne and I found each other years ago, when our Internet orbits overlapped somehow. It was so long ago that I don’t remember which of us discovered whom first. We met in person for coffee when I had just moved to Boston and she was trying to decide whether to come back for graduate school (she eventually did). While our paths have continued to cross online, we hadn’t seen each other face to face in several years.

I knew a little about Roxanne’s work: research on the intricacies of victimhood, gender, violence and suffering in conflict and post-conflict areas. But this was the first time I’d ever heard her give a formal presentation. Sitting in the back of the classroom, I listened to her talk about gender and post-conflict life for ex-combatants and victims in Colombia. Like many good researchers and storytellers, she asked more questions than she answered, and I wrote down as many as I could:

Who is a combatant? Who is a victim? Is it possible to be both, and who gets to decide? How can ex-combatants, particularly women, rebuild their lives in a society that sees them as transgressive and permanently tainted? How can they grieve the complicated losses that come with leaving an armed group? Are there really flyers advertising lipstick colors for former guerrilleras? (The answer to that last one is, astonishingly, yes.)

More broadly, what happens when we leave people out of the narratives we build – or, conversely, what happens when we make room for all kinds of experiences?

Roxanne reminded me, as I scribbled down her questions in my notebook, that this is part of our work as storytellers and human beings: listening to others’ stories, making room for all kinds of narrative experience. We live in a world that rings with shouting matches, and the counterintuitive but vitally important work is often to stop yelling and listen. We all want to be heard, to be seen, to have our experience witnessed by other people. And we all carry the same responsibility: to make room. To listen. To pay attention.

After class, Roxanne had a lunch date and I had a stack of emails to answer. But we snatched a few minutes to catch up and chat – about everything from work to shoes to relationships – and hug each other tight. I felt seen in those brief moments: known, listened to, beloved. Also a wee bit smarter for having heard her brilliant presentation. And so proud of my whip-smart, wise, compassionate friend.

The whole experience made me deeply grateful for serendipity, and for the ways in which my worlds sometimes overlap – especially the ways I could never predict or expect. I’ll be carrying Roxanne’s questions forward with me this month. (And hoping for a tea date the next time she’s in town.)

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memorial church memorial hall harvard university
I was left to my own devices
Many days fell away with nothing to show

And the walls kept tumbling down
In the city that we love
Great clouds roll over the hills
Bringing darkness from above

But if you close your eyes
Does it almost feel like nothing’s changed at all?
And if you close your eyes
Does it almost feel like you’ve been here before?

How am I gonna be an optimist about this?
How am I gonna be an optimist about this?

—Bastille, “Pompeii”

I fell in love with this song about a year ago, when my husband started performing it with his a cappella group, the Mass Whole Notes. (I know I’m a little late to the Bastille party. J is constantly discovering brand-new music, the way I am always finding new books. But my musical tastes skew several years behind the times.)

“Pompeii” entered J’s performance repertoire around the time I lost my job (which happened a year ago this week). I have found myself humming it often this year, because it captures perfectly the in-between state in which I find myself.

Some things – in fact, many important things – in my life have not changed since last May: I live in the same light-filled apartment. I go to the same tiny church. I call my mother once a week, text my sister about Friends lines and my nephews, talk about golf and movies with my dad. I read scads of books and write lots of reviews. I am married to the same generous, funny, understanding man.

I also spend my weekdays in the same neighborhood where I’ve worked for three years now. Every morning, I sling the same two bags over my shoulder and head for the Red Line subway platform near my house. I get off in Harvard Square, looking up at the same brick buildings and tall, gracious towers. I head to Darwin’s for a spicy chai latte before walking to my office.

If I close my eyes – though that is dangerous when navigating a Cambridge sidewalk – I can almost pretend that nothing has changed.

harvard yard autumn light leaves

And yet.

This spring finds me working in a sixth-floor office, with new colleagues, in a temporary role. This job is different both from the one I lost last spring and the other temp gig I held from Thanksgiving until mid-March. All three roles have been at Harvard, doing communications work, but there are varying duties and projects, distinctive office cultures to navigate, constantly shifting expectations. I am a person who likes to have a plan, and the past year has made that difficult.

I have been constantly surprised by how the job hunt has played havoc with my sense of self: as an individual, a writer, a career woman, a part of the Harvard community. Previously, I had never thought of myself as a person defined by her career. But the lack of a job, a title, a defined place in a working community, has made me question so many facets of my identity and the stories I tell myself. Also, inevitably, it has caused a shift in my relationships, most notably the ones with my former co-workers. I don’t blame anyone for that; it is simply what happens when things change.

On some days, the refrain of “Pompeii” thrums through my head in a depressing rhythm: How am I gonna be an optimist about this? That question is harder to answer when I’m struggling with (more) rejection, or simply having a tough day. I don’t always know how to be an optimist about this. I do remember, usually, how to keep going forward (make a cup of tea, write another paragraph, answer another email), so mostly, that’s what I do.

On some days, though, I am able to simply be grateful for what is now: this job, this office, this paycheck. This group of quirky, sarcastic, whip-smart colleagues. This routine, which still contains so many things and people I love. This neighborhood, with its uneven brick sidewalks and colorful local businesses and budding spring flowers, that has become a part of me. This chance to spend my days doing meaningful work – even if I don’t know quite where it will lead.

Some days I teeter on the edge of nostalgia, and it’s tempting to slip inside it, like a familiar cardigan. If I close my eyes and burrow down into it, I can pretend for a moment that nothing has changed at all. But the truth – the harsh, rich, complicated, often beautiful truth – is that things have changed, both in ways I can point to and in ways I still can’t quite articulate.

For now, although I’m sure I’ll keep humming this song, I’m adopting a slightly different approach. Because after this turbulent year, I am still here. I still get to walk through the city I love – dark clouds, tumbling walls and all. It’s not always easy, but I’m doing my best to keep my eyes wide open.

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1. Get up early enough to eat breakfast at home.
2. Bring along enough reading material to last through both ends of my commute (and sometimes lunch).
3. Get up from my desk at least once an hour. (Harder sometimes than it sounds.)
4. Drink water/tea at my desk.
5. Treat myself, once in a while, to a chai latte.
6. Spend my lunch breaks on the go – walking to the Brattle, the post office, the Common, Second Time Around, etc.
7. Make tomorrow’s to-do list in the mid-afternoon slump.
8. Bring healthy snacks to eat at my desk.
9. Listen to music (sometimes).
10. Buy myself flowers on Mondays.

What are your tricks for getting through – even enjoying – your workday?

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