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Posts Tagged ‘loneliness’

It has been a strange July: hot one minute, pouring rain the next. I’m still struggling to find a rhythm at my new job – I am enjoying it, but so much to absorb! Meanwhile, here’s what I have been reading:

A Deceptive Devotion, Iona Whishaw
Lane Winslow and Inspector Darling are finally engaged – but before they can get married, they have to solve a murder (naturally). This one involves an elderly Russian countess, a pair of hunters (and former friends), and a perhaps overeager new constable. I adore this series and this entry is so good.

A Most Clever Girl, Stephanie Marie Thornton
Double agent Elizabeth Bentley had a long career spying for the Soviet Union and then informing for the FBI. Thornton’s novel unravels her story in the form of a long conversation with Catherine Gray, a young woman who tracks Elizabeth down seeking answers about her own mother. The narrative – like Elizabeth – rambles a bit, but eventually picks up speed. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Sept. 14).

New Girl in Little Cove, Damhnait Monaghan
Reeling from her father’s death and a bad breakup, Rachel O’Brien takes a teaching position in rural Newfoundland. She’s greeted with equal parts welcome and suspicion – and this story of her first year there is completely delightful. The blurb compares it to Come From Away, which I adore, and that’s true – the island’s culture shines through. Found at the wonderful Excelsior Bay Books in Minneapolis.

Take Me Home Tonight, Morgan Matson
Best friends Kat and Stevie, both theater kids at a posh Connecticut high school, head into NYC for a night of adventure. Things quickly go wrong; the girls end up phoneless (with a Pomeranian in tow) and then get separated. But their individual escapades force both of them to reflect on their friendship and other parts of their lives. Funny and insightful.

Solo: How to Work Alone (and Not Lose Your Mind), Rebecca Seal
British journalist Seal has worked alone for years – it can be hard, and also rewarding. This warm, wise, insightful book dives into the pressures and joys of working alone. So helpful and validating as I’m working on a hybrid model after 18 months of profound isolation. I’m going to check out her podcast too.

A Scone of Contention, Lucy Burdette
Hayley Snow and her policeman husband are headed to Scotland for their honeymoon (with Hayley’s 80-something friend Miss Gloria in tow). Once they arrive, there’s plenty of family drama – and then murder – to go along with the scones. I love this cozy mystery series and it was fun to see Hayley in a different setting than her Key West home. I received an early copy; it’s out Aug. 10.

Most links (not affiliate links) are to my local faves Trident and Brookline Booksmith. Shop indie!

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I rewatched While You Were Sleeping around Christmastime – which is when I usually watch it, since it takes place during Christmas week. I cracked up at all the best lines – “These mashed potatoes are so creamy!” “New Year’s Eve hasn’t been the same since Guy Lombardo died!” “I got Ice Capades!” – and reveled in the happy cacophony of the Callaghan family’s holiday celebrations. But this time, I was focused on a different aspect of the story: the loneliness.

When the movie opens, Lucy Moderatz (Sandra Bullock’s character) sits all day in a CTA booth taking subway tokens from strangers. She’s single, childless, without family since her dad’s passing, and her boss is asking her (again) to work on Christmas. Although she spends a lot of the movie interacting with the Callaghans (and trying to figure out how to tell them she’s not actually engaged to their comatose son), there are a number of scenes where she’s alone in her apartment, with her cat and the Christmas tree that broke the window early in the film. She’s so desperate for connection that she goes along with a lie, and nearly ends up marrying the wrong man just so she can be part of a family.

I read an article this winter about how While You Were Sleeping is the perfect movie for a pandemic: many of us, like Lucy, have spent the past year missing the communities we used to have (or wanted to have, or thought we were supposed to have). Lucy has never been part of a big family, but she’s thrilled to be welcomed into the Callaghan clan. She accepts hugs, chokes on Christmas eggnog, and cradles her wrapped present as the others tear into theirs; having spent years starved for community, she doesn’t want to miss savoring even a moment of it.

That scene made me well up: after I’ve spent so much of the past 14-ish months alone in my apartment, Lucy’s loneliness hit much closer to home. I have been grateful for every scrap of community I’ve found this year, including my online writing class, the few neighborhood friends I’ve been seeing, and in-person time with my sweet guy. But I have missed other connections: time with my family; in-person interactions with coworkers and other friends; the chance to build on new neighborhood relationships I had just started forming when the pandemic hit.

Ultimately, Lucy – and I – must make some choices about the kind of community that’s really worth pursuing. She decides, in the end, to tell the truth rather than end up married to a man she doesn’t love (and barely knows), even if that means losing the family she’s recently gained. As I continue to navigate life post-divorce (and as we all emerge slowly from the pandemic), I have to make choices, too. Which relationships are worth continuing to foster, and which ones do I need to let go? Was I hanging onto some connections – or the idea of them – long past their sell-by date? Where I can I find, or continue to seek, community that lets me be seen and loved?

After New Year’s, Lucy gets her happy ending – including a honeymoon to Florence with her beloved Jack. I’m hopeful, these days, that more connection is coming for me, too. But I think it’s worth remembering that loneliness isn’t limited to times of great isolation, and that we can all work to provide (and ask for) connections to those we love or those we encounter. (It is also, of course, worth remembering that Argentina has great beef, that Guy Lombardo didn’t play the clarinet, and that John Wayne was tall.)

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We’re halfway through May (!) and the lilacs, cherry blossoms and tulips are glorious lately. So are the books. Here’s what I have been reading:

The Great Belonging: How Loneliness Leads Us to Each Other, Charlotte Donlon
I struggle with loneliness, especially (but not only) since my divorce. Donlon writes thoughtfully about her own experiences with loneliness and mental illness (they are not the same but can sometimes be linked). I liked her honest, compassionate approach. Recommended on Instagram by Devi.

The Rose Code, Kate Quinn
During World War II, the codebreakers of Bletchley Park played a vital but little-known role in stopping Hitler’s advance. This propulsive novel follows three women – a whip-smart socialite, an East End girl determined to better herself, and a shy but brilliant puzzle-lover – who spend their war years at BP, and are torn apart by mutual betrayal. They come back together in 1947 to crack one last code. Quinn is a genius at compelling historical fiction featuring badass women. I loved it.

Of Bears and Ballots: An Alaskan Adventure in Small-Town Politics, Heather Lende
I love Lende’s wise, practical memoirs about living (and writing obituaries) in tiny Haines, Alaska. This, her fourth, tells the story of her decision to run for the local assembly in the wake of Trump’s election, and the triumphs and struggles of her three-year term. Thoughtful, funny and thought-provoking, and a reminder that we can all pitch in (though it will rarely be easy), wherever we are.

The Color of Life: A Journey Toward Love and Racial Justice, Cara Meredith
Like me, Meredith is a white Christian woman who grew up surrounded by “colorblind” rhetoric, which did not give her a good foundation for conversations about race. Also like me, her world changed – both overnight and little by little – when she fell in love with a Black man. This memoir charts her wrestling with her own privilege, her first years of mothering biracial sons, and her complicated relationship with her father-in-law, James Meredith. Her writing style is quippy at times, but I saw myself so often in her experiences.

The Consequences of Fear, Jacqueline Winspear
October 1941: Maisie Dobbs is juggling top-secret government work with family obligations when a messenger boy tells her he’s witnessed a murder. Determined to keep the boy and his family safe, Maisie is shocked when her intelligence work brings her face-to-face with the killer. I adore this series and this 16th entry was complex and satisfying; Maisie’s personal life has also taken some interesting turns lately. So good.

A Quantum Life: My Unlikely Journey from the Street to the Stars, Hakeem Oluseyi and Joshua Horwitz
Growing up poor and Black in Mississippi, James Plummer Jr. knew he loved science, but he never thought he’d become a renowned astrophysicist. But that’s where he is today, and his memoir tells that story: his peripatetic childhood, his contradictory persona of “gangsta nerd,” the addiction to crack cocaine that almost pulled him all the way down. Honest, vulnerable storytelling and lots of great science. Hard to read at times, but compelling. To review for Shelf Awareness (out June 15).

The Kitchen Front, Jennifer Ryan
As World War II drags on, along with rationing, the BBC holds a contest to find a female presenter for a popular cooking show. Four very different women, each with their own reasons for competing, decide to enter. A really fun story of wartime cooking and female friendship (shades of Downton Abbey/Home Fires).

Jane of Lantern Hill, L.M. Montgomery
I pick up this book nearly every spring when the world starts blooming – or when it’s rainy and raw and I need a little hope. I adore kind, practical Jane and I love watching her blossom on PEI and build a relationship with her dad and her new community. So good.

Most links are to Trident and Brookline Booksmith, my perennial local faves. Shop indie!

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My latest Chatbook arrived in the mail the other day. As usual, I tore open the jade-green envelope, flipped through the photos with a smile, added it to the growing stack on my bookshelf, and considered whether to cancel my subscription.

Since I started getting my Instagram photos printed through Chatbooks a few years ago, I’ve racked up more than 70 square softcover albums of my daily life. I loved the idea: an easy, affordable way to print the photos I was choosing to highlight anyway. And I still like the quality, and the ease and fun of getting a few photos off my phone. But every time I thumb through the pictures of flowers and books and my guy, a nagging voice in my head asks the same question: does it matter?

Since my divorce, I am a household of one: physically and financially independent. I wash my own dishes, pay my own bills, struggle to do my own meal planning and structure my days. Especially since the pandemic and my furlough, I also struggle to believe that being alone is not a lack, not a deficit. That my worth is not determined by my relationship to other people (though I do have, and am thankful for, deep loving relationships in my life).

Getting my own photos printed sometimes feels like a small declaration that I matter, and sometimes it seems like plain self-indulgence: who else is going to look at these albums? Who would care to? These photos and captions don’t matter much to anyone but me. Is that reason enough to keep spending the money? Am I overthinking this? (The answer is probably yes.)

I don’t have a good answer right now, for the photo albums or for the larger questions of how to build a life on my own. But for now, I’ll keep trying on both counts: keep snapping and posting photos of the details I notice and enjoy, and keep working to believe that my noticing counts for something. I’m not sure if I’ll keep stacking up the photo albums indefinitely. But for now, they serve as a small, tangible reminder: I am here. And I am trying to pay attention.

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One of the things I hate the most about this pandemic: it’s playing on and heightening all our usual fears.

As a recent divorcée who lives alone, one of my deep fears is disappearing: being forgotten, ignored or simply overlooked. I’ve worked hard to build and maintain my relationships over the last year, and I’m deeply grateful for my community, both local and far-flung – though the loneliness still hits hard sometimes.

Several weeks into quarantine, it became clear I was going to need more than FaceTime dates and Zoom calls to stay connected. Fortunately, several of my girlfriends feel the same, so we’ve been going on walks, either here in Eastie or along the Charles River.

I won’t lie: it’s weird not to be able to hug them, or invite them upstairs for a cup of tea. But these socially-distanced, masked walks are still feeding my soul. We get to soak up the fresh air and (often) the sunshine, trade small anecdotes about our days and/or talk about the big life stuff. Sometimes it’s work and relationships; sometimes general pandemic craziness; sometimes we dive into books or fashion. Being together in person, even from six feet apart, is seriously the best. (The longer evenings also help.)

How are you staying connected in these strange days?

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My one little word for this year is comfort. And it has been elusive so far. I feel like I’ve had to chase it, instead of finding it around every corner, the way I did last year with “brave.”

I’ve been trying hard to provide physical comfort for myself and my husband – not always an easy task during a long, cold winter. Lots of tea and warm boots and tights under my jeans; coats and knitted accessories; bowl after bowl of soup; warm desserts, like apple crumble or soft, chewy cookies. Twinkle lights in our living room. Soft tissues for our constantly leaking noses.

I suppose that has been, more or less, successful. But the kind of emotional comfort I’m after – the feeling of ease, of belonging, of finally feeling like we have a place here in Boston – is still eluding me.

I catch glimpses of it, to be sure, when we’re at Brookline singing and sharing life with friends; when we spend Sunday evenings at Ryan and Amy’s, sharing a meal and then singing some more; when I meet up with Abi and Shanna on Thursday nights. I’m starting to glimpse it in my new office, though I still feel like the new kid. And J and I have had several “friend-dates” lately with new people or couples who live close by.

Still, though, I’m struggling with homesickness. I miss wide streets and spicy salsa and running into people I know at the grocery store. I miss Sunday nights at the Donagheys’, Tuesday nights at Mezamiz with my coffee ladies, lunches with Julie and other girlfriends. When I was in Abilene I longed to leave it for new adventures; now that I’m gone, I miss it keenly, every single day.

I know it’ll always be different up here. But I’m still waiting for that feeling of yes. That feeling of knowing this is our home for a while. Getting a full-time job, and having to adjust to a whole new rhythm, threw into sharp relief how unsettled I still feel here. We are still strangers, and that is not comforting. And that kind of comfort is harder to manufacture than the physical kind.

I suppose the answer is to simply sit with the discomfort, to fall back on the practices I know will nourish me as I keep settling in, keep seeking comfort in this new place. And, of course, a cup of tea or a bowl of soup or a cozy handknit cowl never hurt anyone.

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