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Posts Tagged ‘one little word’

steel and rye lights sunset

Back in January, I decided my one little word for 2017 would be magic.

I’d had a year that required a lot of gumption (my word for 2016), and I wanted something a little lighter, more whimsical, for 2017. Between the headlines (which are constantly crazy-making), the months-long adjustment to a wonderful but demanding new job, and the annual challenges of winter in New England, I knew I could use some magic.

We’re (slightly over) halfway through 2017, and I found myself thinking about my word the other day. More accurately, I found myself wondering: is magic really the word for this year?

Let’s be honest: 2017 has not been an easy road, so far. It has contained a lot of beauty – flowers and good books, long walks with friends, many lifesaving encounters at Darwin’s and elsewhere – but it has also brought new and ongoing challenges. It has, in short, required a lot of grit.

Grit is a popular word in higher ed circles right now, and a favorite word of Drew Gilpin Faust, the president of Harvard (where I work). I tend to think of it in both the verb and noun forms: grit as in gritting your teeth and hanging on, and grit as in the humble but honest dirt that collects in the floorboards of a house, or gives something the texture needed to grip it.

This year has contained a lot of both kinds of grit. I’ve had to wrestle with even the good gifts, and summon all my courage to get through even the beautiful days.

roots sky book sunflowers table

At the end of her lovely memoir, Roots and Sky, my friend Christie Purifoy writes about late-summer chaos: a gust of wind scattering the kids’ chore charts, a stray elbow sending a jar of gold star stickers all over the kitchen floor. “I intended them to march in rows across our charts, but now they sparkle among the dust bunnies,” she writes. “When [my son] Beau suddenly runs through the screen door, gold stars shine from the bottoms of his dirty feet.”

That image keeps coming back to me: it seems to perfectly capture the interplay of magic and grit. They are present, side by side, in unexpected places. They are frustrating and undeniably real, glorious and utterly ordinary. They both stick to the soles of my feet and insist on their place in the story of this year. So I am letting them both in, as I walk through these long, full summer days.

We’re moving again at the end of the month, to a different apartment in the next town over. More change is on the horizon: at work, at church, in other areas. I have no doubt all of these changes will require more grit. But – I hope and am trying to believe – they’ll also contain magic. At least, they will if I have anything to say about it.

The answer to my original question, it turns out, is “yes, and.” Magic is definitely present in this year, and so is grit. I can’t separate them, and it turns out I don’t really need to. Because they are both necessary, and both – sometimes to my surprise – life-giving.

Are you following a word (or more than one) this year? How’s it going? I’d love to hear.

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magic is something you make brushstrokes

My one little word for 2017 is magic.

After a year that required all the gumption I could muster – which is to say, I frequently felt like I was hanging on by my fingernails – I wanted something different for 2017. I thought about vitality, which Ali chose for her word a few years ago, or rest, which I could certainly use more of this year.

Mostly, I wanted a word to help me live more fully into my everyday. Since I started choosing a word with brave back in 2010, this practice has become a way for me to pay better attention to my life. (Fittingly, attention was my word in 2013.)

I also wanted a word that would spark a little joy. 2016 was a hard and scary year, and I ended it completely worn out: exhausted, anxious, weary and fearful (though also deeply grateful for some good changes). There are lots of challenges ahead in 2017, I know, and I want to face them with bravery and hope: to walk forward expectant and unafraid.

All this reminded me of something Elise Blaha Cripe wrote a few years ago, when she chose magic for her word: “magic is something you make.” (The image above is from her site.)

Elise noted that magic doesn’t just happen to us, though it is there for the noticing: it often results from our choices, from the work we put in, from the way we choose to see the world. I was reminded, too, of Ali’s post from last year about making our own magic. Her post was related to the holidays, but I think it applies all year round.

Magic also feels a little sneaky, a little unexpected – like a much-needed antidote to the grim realities we’re all facing. To be honest, it also feels a little frivolous, and I wondered if I should choose something more grown-up and respectable. But then I remembered: I am always arguing in favor of the small things, the tiny, often overlooked moments that can turn a whole day around.

lamont quad light sky

The scrap of blue sky, the vase of red tulips on my desk, that first sip of hot, spicy chai in the morning. My favorite green coat, which has become my winter trademark. The pendant stamped with brave that I wear around my neck. The simple, small pleasures of daily life, and the lovely moments of connection with strangers and friends. Those “spasmodic tricks of radiance” are everyday magic, if anything is, and I firmly believe we need to notice them and also work to create more of them.

After I decided on my word, I went downtown to meet a friend one night last week. I got off the train early so I could walk through Beacon Hill, making my way down a dark, quiet, twinkly Charles Street with a cup of Earl Grey in my hand. And if I needed any further confirmation of my word, it came in this sign, spotted in a shop window: perfect words from one of my favorite writers.

presence wonder eb white

Wonder and magic are closely related, and I’ll be looking out for both of them this year. In a world that often feels fraught and dangerous, there’s still a great deal of light and loveliness to be found. I invite you to join me in looking for magic, and in making a little magic of our own.

Are you following a word this year? (I know I asked this question last week, but feel free to share if you haven’t already.)

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iris gumption kate winslet the holiday

Last January, I chose gumption as my one little word for 2016. I was partly inspired by Kate Winslet’s character in The Holiday, above – I love watching her discover her own gumption with the help of her friend Arthur.

I’ve been choosing a word nearly every year since 2010, when I chose brave and it sparked, catalyzed and helped me navigate all sorts of big changes in my life. When 2016 began, I was still in the throes of the job hunt, and I chose gumption as a way to pump myself up for the challenges I knew were coming. (As you may have noticed, 2016 also brought all kinds of challenges that I – and a lot of other people – didn’t see coming.)

Some days in 2016 – a lot of days – gumption simply meant getting out of bed and dealing with the day’s vagaries, at work and at home. But it often meant much more than that.

This year, gumption meant speaking up in meetings at work and church, contributing my ideas and asking questions. It meant carving out a place for myself at two different temp gigs at Harvard, then coming back to the first office in a more permanent role. (That was an adjustment in itself, though I am delighted to be here.)

This summer, it meant taking the leap to a new apartment: packing, moving, unpacking, adjusting to a new neighborhood and lots of resultant shifts in my routine. (It also meant heading to NYC, by myself, for three hot, humid, glorious days in mid-August when I couldn’t take the moving chaos any more.)

hibiscus iced tea journal

All year, gumption has meant sending that email, making that phone call, asking that friend to meet up, admitting that hard or vulnerable true thing. It has meant asking a lot of questions about my work (day-job-related and otherwise) and my place in the world. It has meant riding the emotional roller coaster of the election season, and bracing myself for what comes next. It has meant learning how to do a lot of new things, and it has meant summoning my courage, over and over again.

Sometimes I wondered if gumption was really the right word for this year: at times survival, or barely hanging on, seemed more accurate. But I also saw the flip side of gumption this year: the lightness and laughter that often pop up during hard times, when you least expect them.

I think of gumption as a combination of lightness and grit. And while the trials of 2016 required plenty of grit, the year also brought some much-needed levity, mostly via my loved ones. My husband, my coworkers, my friends and the children in my life (my nephews and my friends’ kids) made me laugh and helped me look for the silver linings. I may have chosen gumption as my word, but the words community and belonging (and Darwin’s) ended up choosing me.

I’m still thinking about my word for 2017, as we ease into a new year fraught with (more) challenges and change. I’ll let you know when I decide on a word, but meanwhile, I’d love to know if you have a word for 2017, or if you had one for 2016. Please share, if you like.

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katie pei beach

Several months ago, in the midst of my sixth Boston winter and a yearlong job hunt, I chose gumption for my one little word for 2016.

I’d spent 2015 trying to be gentle with myself and others – a reminder I needed frequently during a difficult year. But as the calendar flipped over, I decided I wanted something with a little more energy, a little more drive. Gumption, as embodied in The Holiday and elsewhere, tackles the tough stuff of life with a twinkle in its eye. I chose it knowing I’d need its particular combination of tenacity and spunk.

Midway through the year, I can say with certainty: I was right.

I spent the first few months of 2016 at a temp gig I loved, which gave me a safe place to land while continuing to balance the job hunt and other worries. That gig led to another temp assignment at Harvard, in a different office (literally) across the street, where I needed every bit of gumption I could muster to learn the ropes of a new place before diving into the swirl of Commencement. I don’t think I took a deep breath for the entire month of May.

Life on the sixth floor, wrangling stories and inquiries from all around Harvard, was a lot of fun, but it was a wild ride. I learned a lot of new systems and a few new skills, and I spent a lot – a lot – of time being brave and hanging on. (Longtime readers will know that brave, my one little word back in 2010, has become both a mantra and a talisman for me: I wear it around my neck and deep in my soul.)

Recently, I’ve been able to breathe a little easier: our trip to PEI and a new job (back in the same office where I temped this winter) have both helped me to feel more settled, less precarious. But I am diving into new responsibilities, and (soon) moving to a new apartment – both of which, not surprisingly, have their own requirements for gumption.

During this topsy-turvy year, gumption has come to mean both lightness and grit: doing hard things, or simply taking care of the business of life, with a bit of whimsy thrown in. It means sending that email, starting that conversation, tackling that work assignment, without taking it all too seriously. It means being brave enough to be a little silly sometimes. It means reaching across to connect with other people, even when I’m feeling shy or sad. It means speaking up when I can’t be silent any more, and it means knowing when to listen.

I have no doubt that the second half of 2016 will require yet more gumption of me. (See also: new job, new apartment and the resulting shifts in routine.) But I am also proud of the way I’ve handled the sweeping changes of the past year. As Iris (Kate Winslet) says near the end of The Holiday, “I think what I’ve got is something slightly resembling – gumption!”

iris gumption kate winslet the holiday

Here’s to more tenacity, grace, grit and spunk – more gumption – in the coming months.

Did you choose a word for this year? If so, how’s it going?

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rilla of ingleside book tulips

I’ve been thinking about Rilla Blythe lately.

Rilla is Anne Shirley Blythe’s youngest daughter, the last of the six children who grew up at Ingleside in the golden years before World War I. In August 1914, she’s nearly fifteen: pretty, pampered, a little spoiled, but still sweet. She’s never had to do many disagreeable things, apart from the occasional household chore. But when war erupts in Europe, it upends her entire world.

Rilla of Ingleside is the story of how the women of Ingleside – Rilla, Anne, their faithful cook-housekeeper Susan, and Miss Oliver, the local schoolteacher – grit their way through the dark days of war. It’s one of the lesser-known Anne books, but it’s one of my favorites. I’ve read it a dozen times, and I love it so much.

As I make my way through both winter and the job hunt, a few lines from Rilla’s story keep coming back to me.

“I finished my sixth pair of socks today,” Rilla writes in her diary one evening. “With the first three I got Susan to set the heel for me. Then I thought that was a bit of shirking, so I learned to do it myself. I hate it – but I have done so many things I hate since 4th of August [when war was declared] that one more or less doesn’t make any difference.”

When war comes, both Susan and Rilla resolve, separately but with similar motivations, to be “as brave and heroic and unselfish” as they can be. Rilla’s declaration comes with italics and drama (she is fifteen, after all); Susan’s comes with a plain, old-fashioned sense of duty. They, and the entire village of Glen St. Mary, spend the next four years adjusting to new realities and, in the face of tragedy, simply doing what must be done.

They are no saints: they get frustrated, tired and worn down, and Rilla shares her troubles with the reader as she blows off steam in her diary. Even Miss Oliver says one day, in a rare moment of desperation, “There’s nothing heroic about me today. I’ve slumped.” But they always pick up courage and go on, helped in no small measure by letters from their boys at the front, and by one another.

I am in the middle of a few long, hard struggles, notably winter (we are now in the grit-your-teeth phase) and the continuing job hunt. I have to do a lot of things I’d rather not do, these days. But often, thinking about Rilla and her umpteen pairs of socks (and the many other tasks of wartime) helps me pluck up a bit of gumption to keep going. As she says to herself on a particularly difficult evening, “I must stay here and see things through.”

I’ve written often about how my fictional heroines keep me company or inspire me when things are rough. Do you have any fictional characters (or good words in general) that you draw on when you need wisdom or strength?

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gumption style charm

My one little word for 2016 is gumption.

Since 2010, I’ve been choosing a word to focus on each year: to guide me, to lead me into new places, and (sometimes) to spark needed change in my life. If you’ve been reading for a while, you know that brave, my word for 2010, had an especially powerful impact on me. (I still wear it around my neck, and I feel like I talk about it all the time.)

Last year’s word – quiet, unobtrusive and much needed – was gentle. Throughout an often difficult year, I spent a lot of time practicing gentleness with myself and others. I was ready for a more active word for 2016, but I was surprised when gumption sneaked in.

I first read about gumption in Anne of the Island, where Aunt Jamesina teasingly refuses to define it for Anne’s friend Philippa, saying that “anyone who has gumption knows what it is, and anyone who hasn’t can never know what it is.” Even at eight or nine years old, I sort of knew what she meant. I figured gumption was a combination of common sense, intelligence and spunk. (I even refused to look it up, thinking that would be cheating.)

When The Holiday came out a few years ago, I fell immediately in love with Kate Winslet’s character: sweet, bookish Iris, who travels to L.A. over Christmas to nurse a broken heart and begins to discover a whole new life. I especially love her relationship with Arthur Abbott, the retired screenwriter played by Eli Wallach, who says of his late wife, “She had real gumption. She was the girl I always wrote.”

I’ve watched The Holiday over and over, and I always love seeing Iris discover her own gumption – through Arthur’s wise friendship, the strong leading ladies he advises her to emulate, and her budding romance with film composer Miles. Near the end, when she finally tells off her toxic ex-boyfriend Jasper, I always want to stand up and cheer right along with her.

iris gumption kate winslet the holiday

Gumption is, of course, closely related to brave – but it strikes me as a little quirky, a little bit whimsical. It seems to bespeak an inner resilience – grit, yes, but also a lightness. A quiet confidence that it’s all going to work out. A willingness to say yes to new things and ideas. And a bit of sparkle.

I’m still in the middle of some uncertainty as 2016 begins, and I want to acknowledge that, but not to be ruled by fear. I want to face each day with courage and joy, common sense and pluck. I want to savor small pleasures and dream a little. Gumption seems to embody all those things – with a wink and a smile. I’m looking forward to where it might take me.

(Print from ACDShop on Etsy. I bought it for my mother last year and might be buying one for myself.)

Have you chosen a word for 2016 (or done this in the past)? If you have a word, I’d love to hear about it in the comments.

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cafe lalo table berries teacup

This year, I chose gentle for my one little word. Or, more accurately, it chose me.

I’ve been choosing a word each year for a while now, and while I can’t ever predict how my choice is going to shake out, I always enjoy the process of following a word through the year.

Gentle, when it came to me, felt like a deep sigh of relief, a much-needed shift away from some frantic and critical habits I’d slipped into during a hectic few months. Also, as I said at the time, it felt like a good companion to brave, my word from 2010 which remains so important to me.

The circumstances of this year, as it turns out, have not been particularly gentle. I struggled through a record-breaking Boston winter, with bitter temps and frigid winds and so much snow. The gentleness in that season was mostly internal: nourishing myself with tea and soup, reading good books, doing lots of yoga, making an effort to dial back the criticism (often silent, sometimes verbal) of myself and others.

When the weather finally warmed up, I found myself facing another hard thing: the loss of a job I loved, and the subsequent months of networking, interviews and job hunting. That process has been, in a word, brutal. And it’s not entirely over, though I am grateful for a temp gig I’m loving, and for my ongoing freelance assignments.

With the job hunt, too, the gentleness has been mostly internal: doing my best work on a given day, and letting that be enough. Working hard to polish my resume or answer interview questions thoughtfully or compose yet another cover letter. And then taking a break, to cook dinner or meet a friend for coffee or curl up on the sofa with a book or a good TV show.

I have been reminded, over and over again, that I’m only human. I am capable, but I’m not Superwoman. I need rest and downtime and connection with the people I love. I need to ask for things once in a while. And often, I need to turn off the computer and go to sleep.

It has also been (I need hardly say) a tough year to live in this world. Headlines that provoke anxiety and terror, so many shouting matches that solve nothing, an increasing sense of the precariousness of this life. I don’t know what to do about that, except to keep lighting the candles I possess.

It’s an ongoing process, this gentleness with myself and others. But I’m glad this quiet, unobtrusive word has been my companion in 2015. I’m hoping to find a new word for 2016, but I think gentle will hang around a while, too.

Did you choose a word for 2015? If so, how did it go?

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