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Posts Tagged ‘grit’

Happy July, y’all. I can’t believe we’re here. We always seem to wait forever for summer in New England (certainly this spring dragged, for several reasons), and then when it’s here, it feels rich and fleeting. The trees are lush, the roses and daylilies are showing off, and I’m cranking up the country music on my morning runs. Though, really, I’ve been doing that for months.

I was raised on country music, as you may know (or assume) if you know that I grew up in West Texas. My hometown had a half-dozen country radio stations, and my parents had a stack of George Strait cassettes that we nearly wore out on our long summer road trips. (I shocked a colleague at Harvard, years later, by telling him – and I am still confident in this assertion – that I could probably sing, on demand, at least 50 of George’s 60 number one hits.)

George was and is the king of country as far as my family is concerned, and I love a lot of his male compatriots: Alan Jackson, Brooks and Dunn, Randy Travis, the guys who sang in Alabama and Diamond Rio. I have a soft spot for Brad Paisley (especially “She’s Everything”) and I still adore Garth Brooks. But this year, I’ve been spending my miles mostly listening to the women of country music.

I loved them all as a child and teenager: Reba, Martina, Trisha, Shania, the women of the Dixie Chicks (now the Chicks) and SheDAISY. I marveled at LeAnn Rimes (what a prodigy!) and based my high school graduation speech around Lee Ann Womack’s “I Hope You Dance.” I can still sing you most of Faith Hill’s hits from that era, and Deana Carter’s dreamy debut album takes me right back to middle school.

I’ve never stopped loving country music, but I did stop listening to it for a while. I grew older, my tastes expanded to include folk music and Broadway show tunes and so much Christian pop music (bless it), as well as jazz and big band and the classical stuff we sang in choir. I left Texas, stopped driving to work (and thus listening to the radio as often), and married a fellow Texan who was a real snob about country music.

With all that, I’ve been on hiatus from these ladies for a decade or so. But I’ve been tiptoeing back: I heard the Highwomen at Newport Folk 2019 and fell completely in love. Last spring, I loved Mary Chapin Carpenter’s “Songs from Home” on Instagram during quarantine, and a few weeks in, I went down a Jo Dee Messina rabbit hole. This winter, in the depths of job-hunt woes and loneliness, I rediscovered Martina McBride. And since then, I have been pounding down the harbor walk singing along to classics like “Heads Carolina, Tails California” and “Take Me As I Am” and “She’s in Love with the Boy” and “Independence Day.”

These songs are a particular brand of badass feminism: it wears mascara and uses (a lot) of hairspray, and it doesn’t let a man (or anyone else) tell it what to do. It celebrates grit (“I’m a Survivor”) and individuality (“Wild One”), and it champions both true romance (“Perfect Love,” “We Danced Anyway,” “Wild Angels”) and the need to leave sometimes (“Ready to Run,” “Consider Me Gone”). There are power ballads and tender love songs; there are girl-power anthems and some good old-fashioned honky-tonk. These songs reconnect me to the teenager I was, but they are helping me shape and discover the woman I am now.

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iris gumption kate winslet the holiday

I can’t remember exactly when I first saw The Holiday, but I remember the text my sister sent me after she saw it, with our mom: We found your dream house.

She was talking, of course, about the cozy book-filled English cottage belonging to Iris Simpkins (Kate Winslet), set among fields outside a quiet village near London. It has a spacious kitchen and a fireplace and so many sweet details, and those shelves lined with books. I instantly fell in love with the cottage, and also with Iris herself: smart, spunky, kindhearted and struggling to fully believe in her own brilliance. Perhaps it is no surprise that I saw myself in her.

I watch this film at least once a year, and I love Iris more every time: her romantic’s heart, her willingness to try new things (though she’s been stuck in the same loop for a while), her genuine curiosity about people. I especially love watching her pull away from the unhealthy patterns – including the toxic man – she’s been clinging to for a long time.

She has some help with this, in true rom-com fashion: a charming film composer (who knew Jack Black could be charming?) who brings her Starbucks and entertains her with his renditions of movie scores, and her elderly neighbor, Arthur (Eli Wallach), who tells her bluntly that she’s a “leading lady” but is behaving like a cinematic best friend. In short: Iris is way more brilliant and worthy than she believes she is, and she needs to dig deep to find the gumption to move forward with her life. (Arthur also gives her a long list of movies to watch, all featuring “powerhouse women” – he knows as well as anyone that we all need heroines and role models.)

Gradually, Iris begins to believe in herself again: finding her way around a new place, helping Arthur get into better shape, even throwing a party or two. I always want to stand up and cheer when she finally tells off her smarmy ex, Jasper (Rufus Sewell), toward the end of the film. “What has got into you?” he asks her, baffled. “I don’t know!” she says joyfully. “But I think what I’ve got is something slightly resembling – gumption!”

Gumption, largely inspired by Iris, was my word for the year in 2016. I had no idea how much I would need it, in a year that included two job changes, a move, and an election whose effects are still echoing in some ways. It is still an attribute I keep reaching for, in this lingering pandemic which includes (for me) another job hunt, continuing to heal from my divorce, and more solitude (and loneliness) than I ever thought possible.

I don’t for a moment believe that Iris’ new self-belief, or the new romance that came with it, solved all her problems. But I believe she’s on her way, and on the days when I emulate her and reach for my own gumption, it’s easier to believe that I am too.

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computer tulips hpac

It’s the question at the heart of every application process: what if I get rejected?

What if I do all this work on a cover letter and my resume, and the HR person or hiring manager tosses aside my carefully polished materials? What if they pass me over without a second thought, or – almost worse – what if they take the time to interview me, and then decide I’m not who they are looking for?

It happens, of course – often multiple times in every job hunt. It happens in our lives, too: not getting picked for the team, getting dumped or brushed off by a potential partner, drifting apart from or being excluded by our friends. It’s easy for others, especially those we love, to say “it’s not about you” when a person or organization rejects you, and most of the time there’s some truth to that. But no matter the type of rejection, it still stings – even if you know there were other factors at work.

Real talk: some days the fear of rejection is enough to make me want to slam my laptop closed and just stop putting myself out there for employers to dismiss. Some days the form rejections from application portals slide off my back (this is rare; I’m a sponge, not a duck), but more often, they have a bite. And it’s always disappointing when you’ve made a connection with a real person or group of people and you get an email or a phone call beginning with, “I’m sorry…”

I’ve had to work hard (and am still working) to really believe – and remember – that while rejection stinks, getting turned down for a job doesn’t mean I am not qualified or experienced. It especially doesn’t reflect on my worth as a person (more on that in a future post). It’s also not the end of the world, as my mother would say, and it definitely is a signal that I need to keep going. Sometimes, repeated rejections or disappointments have even nudged me to consider new possibilities: as a girlfriend noted last week, rejection can be redirection. (Case in point: my string of layoffs and struggles working in higher ed communications are part of what prompted me to cast my job-search net wider this time around.)

Some days, though, as my friend Stephanie noted recently, rejection just sucks and there’s no silver lining. I think it’s important to name that, too. Rejection may push us in new directions, make us stronger or simply remind us that we can get through hard things. But sometimes it’s just that: hard.

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Powerhouse voice in a 5’2” body. I’ve loved her music for years but am rediscovering her soulful ballads, badass girl-power anthems and heartfelt love songs. Strong Southern women are my truth-tellers.

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Since October, Allison and I have traded themed collections of music we love: jazz, ‘90s country, soulful female singer-songwriters.  These voices keep me company and help me believe we’ll get through.

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One of the most important things running has taught me: I can move through whatever is happening now.

I knew that, intellectually, before I started running. I knew it physically, too: I’d lugged boxes up and down many flights of stairs while moving, sweated through a challenging yoga class or two, walked until my legs were sore. And I’d survived a number of moves, losses and tough job transitions. But as a runner, the lesson is right there, on multiple levels, every time I step outside: I can and will get through whatever is going on right now. There’s no magic, or if there is, it is the durable, everyday, full-of-grit kind: one foot in front of the other.

In The Long Run, Catriona Menzies-Pike mentions that sometimes, waves of emotion will hit her from nowhere when she’s running: rage or fear or anxiety or sudden joy. This happens to me too: sometimes the emotions are related to whatever I’m consciously thinking about or working through. Sometimes they seem random, unrelated to the weather or my thoughts or how the run is going. But always, always, they pass eventually, as I keep running.

I’ve run through a few huge life shifts now: my divorce, my transition from Harvard to Berklee, a temporary stint and then an actual move to East Boston. Most recently, I’ve been running through the last seven-plus months of pandemic life. Sometimes the sadness and frustration seem endless. But sometimes it helps to be my own object lesson: to move through the air and the streets and the falling leaves, and know that I can move through whatever’s coming next.

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My one little word for 2020 is resilience.

I haven’t written about it much here, either pre- or mid-pandemic, mostly because I have been too busy trying to live it. Resilience seems an obvious choice, perhaps, for someone rebuilding after a divorce; I wondered if I didn’t need a word that sounded a little brighter, more joyful. But resilience, it turns out, is the perfect word for this crazy year, which keeps throwing us new curveballs even as we scramble to field the latest ones. And, along with several of my other recent words, resilience is a perfect companion to my running.

Like so many parts of our lives – exercise, relationships, housework, even getting out of bed in the morning – running sometimes depends on an inner toughness, a willingness and an ability to keep doing the damn thing. This morning I woke up to grey skies and misty rain (though at least it wasn’t cold), and I had to decide to lace up my sneakers and go out for a run, knowing it might be miserable at first. (It was.)

I’ve run when I was tired, when I didn’t feel like changing clothes or getting sweaty, when my hamstrings were protesting from an intense yoga class, when it was cold or dark or I was just not in the mood. I’ve been lucky so far to mostly escape injuries (knock wood), but I have also run after a few minor incidents that had me worried about the state of my body. I want to keep running for as long as I can, and that means not just running when the weather is glorious or when I feel like it. My running is resilient: it has so far survived three winters, a divorce, a move, a stone bruise and the first eleven thousand months of a pandemic. As I keep on with it, I remember that I am, too.

I started running in 2017, when I was following magic to unexpected and sometimes challenging places. Running, as you know by now, has proven to be both. I kept running throughout 2018, when my word was grit – a word applicable to running on every level I can think of. And in 2019, when my word was thrive, I ran miles and miles on paths both new and familiar, determined to thrive even though I had no idea how to navigate the collapse of my marriage and all the attendant changes.

We are two-ish months away from 2021, and I don’t know as yet what my word for the year will be. But I’m betting that whatever it is, it will resonate with my running life in some way. I’ll carry it with me, the way I carry these other words in my bones and blood, all of them invisible but vital to who I am.

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Someone mentioned last week that we are six months into pandemic life, and I had to pause a moment. Six months? On some level, of course, six months is a blink – and in other ways it has been the longest, strangest half-year ever.

With wildfires on top of the pandemic and racial injustice, and a president who seems either unable or unwilling to respond properly to any of those, it can be tough to simply move through the days. My former colleague Juliette has started saying “pandemic good” when people ask how she’s doing – a response I love for its snark and honesty. (I follow her on Twitter because she’s a homeland security and logistics expert, and also because she’s reliably, relatably human.)

Doing yoga in Piers Park the other night (under a hazy sky), I stepped one foot back into a lunge and could feel myself shaking a bit. This multiplied when we got to crow pose, which I love but have not mastered yet. But I didn’t feel worried at any point that I was going to come crashing down: I felt shaky, but strong. And it came to me: that’s where so many of us are these days.

I am still furloughed (through the fall semester) and trying to figure out both freelance work and possible next steps. I miss my family, whom I haven’t seen since Christmas. Most of my friends are adjusting to new remote or hybrid school setups for their kids, often while working remotely themselves. My guy is still working at Trader Joe’s, a job he is thankful for but which carries a risk. We are all dealing with some form(s) of loneliness, worry, isolation and fear.

And yet: we are learning, slowly, what we need to survive or even flourish in these strange times. (For me: strong black tea before a morning run, in-person time with my people as often as possible, ginger-turmeric granola, bear hugs from my guy, good books, plenty of hand lotion to counteract all the sanitizing.) We worry about how we’ll keep going, and then we get up and do it. We are dealing with tech issues and unemployment tangles and trying to get our heads around a new season and waning hours of daylight. We are meeting for socially distanced walks and bike rides and picnics in the park. We have no real answers (does anyone?) but we are doing the best we can.

Shaky, but strong. That’s where I am today, and most days. We are building resilience even as these strange days take everything we’ve got. We are still here. There is still joy, and beauty, alongside anxiety and strain. And we get up each day, make another cup of tea or coffee, and keep going.

How are you really doing, these days? I’d love to know.

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“Nineties country is my love language,” I joked last week, after making yet another reference to a song I loved as a teenager. I grew up on steel guitar and driving fiddle, on ballads meant for long road trips and hot sunny days with the car windows down. I was married for years to a fellow Texan who turned up his nose at country music, but I have never stopped loving it. And this morning, for the third time this week, my running playlist was the Jo Dee Messina Spotify station.

I’d almost forgotten about Messina until a few weeks ago, when I went digging for the lyrics to her 1998 hit single “Stand Beside Me.” Since then, I’ve happily fallen down the rabbit hole of her straight-talking anthems about love and loss and standing up for herself.

Perhaps it’s no surprise: strong southern women are my truth-tellers, which is why I’m loving Mary Chapin Carpenter’s Songs from Home on Instagram these days (and why I was so jazzed to write about Mary Gauthier when she came to Berklee last fall). This pandemic coincides with the one-year anniversary of deciding to leave my marriage, and build a new life for myself, on my own. It has been both scary and exhilarating, and I’ve needed the voices of all my heroines: my real-life girlfriends, the literary women I love, and the singer-songwriters who speak the words written on my heart.

I’m thrilled to have rediscovered Messina as part of this chorus. And as summer approaches, you can sometimes find me pounding down the East Boston Harborwalk humming along to “Bye Bye,” “Heads Carolina, Tails California” or – most especially – “I’m Alright.”

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thrive heart dish shelf

My one little word for 2019 is thrive.

I was pretty sure it would be my word back in January, when I was wrapping up my reflections on grit, my word for 2018, and wondering what was next. I kept coming up to thrive and backing away from it. I was – I am – scared of what it might mean, the choices and changes it might require of me. But it dug in, quiet but insistent, and it wouldn’t leave me alone.

In the wake of a year that required so much grit, I wanted something more vibrant, more exciting – and thrive means, variously, to grow vigorously. To flourish. To walk forward unafraid. It’s tied to courage, as most of my words seem to be, but it also speaks of growth, of new possibilities, even of joy.

This has been a year of enormous challenge and change, and it’s not nearly over. There is a lot of grief and pain, a lot of asking questions and admitting hard truths. I started seeing a therapist in March, and I’ve been writing and running and talking with my people about all those things. I’ve generally had the sense that I need to reckon with what has been before (or at least while) beginning to ask what might be next. What it might mean to thrive, in this next chapter of my life.

I finally ordered a thrive talisman heart from Liz Lamoreux in early May, and it has sat on my bedside table (in three different apartments) ever since, a gentle reminder of what I’m hoping for. Thrive lived deep under the surface for a while this year, but like the plants I love so well, it is pushing up through the soil, coming up into the light.

As you know if you’ve spent much time here, I’ve been following a word each year since 2010, starting with brave, which took me on all sorts of journeys, including a cross-country move from Texas to Boston. I’m interested to see where thrive takes me, through the rest of this year and possibly beyond.

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

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