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Posts Tagged ‘resilience’

Last year, one of the joys of December in Eastie was participating in a local Christmas carol choir, spearheaded by my friend Peter and often hosted by him and his wife, Giordana. (That’s their dining room table, above, complete with pencils for marking and herbal tea for scratchy throats.)

We are all keeping our distance this year, of course, but I think Peter (and some of us) could not bear to do nothing, so we’re cobbling together a pandemic-safe carol service. We’re holding rehearsals on Zoom and planning to record ourselves singing the individual parts, to be mixed together and then released as a full (amateur) recording.

I thought it might feel sad, or inadequate: like so many things, this practice is a shadow of what it was pre-pandemic. We can’t gather in anyone’s living room, or sing together in real time; instead, we all mute ourselves and sing along with recordings on YouTube, sharing the sheet music on our computer screens (with lots of attendant technical glitches).

It is messy and imperfect and sometimes hilarious, and the recordings are hit or miss, frankly. But it’s still nourishing to see everyone’s faces, and wave hello and sing together, even if it doesn’t look at all “normal.” I am learning a few songs I didn’t know, and revisiting cherished favorites, like “In the Bleak Midwinter” and “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear” and “O Holy Night.”

These songs have layers of associations for me, long years of singing them with family or friends or church communities, all the way up to Christmas Eve. For me, the music and the community are both vital to marking the season. So despite the tech issues and the funky recordings and the wish that we could all be together, these rehearsals – virtual though they may be – are a real source of light and warmth and laughter.

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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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This January has felt years long. But it’s finally (almost) over. Here’s what I have been reading, on a whirlwind trip to NYC (I came home early) and since then:

The Henna Artist, Alka Joshi
After fleeing her abusive husband, Lakshmi has made a name for herself doing elaborate henna designs for Jaipur’s wealthy women. But the arrival of her teenage sister upends her carefully constructed world, and the secrets it’s built on. An evocative novel of a woman fighting to make her own way in 1950s India. To review for Shelf Awareness (out March 3).

Code Name Hélène, Ariel Lawhon
Nancy Grace Augusta Wake was an Australian socialite who became one of World War II’s most daring, dangerous spies. Lawhon’s fourth novel explores her career, her heroics in France toward the end of the war, and her deep love for her French husband. I’ve read a lot of stories about badass female spies, but this one is great: powerful, fast-paced, heartbreaking and stylish. To review for Shelf Awareness (out March 31).

Well-Read Black Girl: Finding Our Stories, Discovering Ourselves, ed. Glory Edim
This collection comprises 21 brief, powerful essays on what it means to be a black woman (and the books that helped shape these particular black women), plus several lists of book recommendations. My TBR just exploded, both because of the essays and the book lists. Well worth reading.

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, J.K. Rowling
This series grows with every book, and I love this one for its new elements and characters (Tonks! Luna!), and the emotional heft of the ending. (Also: Fred and George Weasley at their finest.) This sets up so much of what’s coming in the next two books, and Harry (though he is so angsty) does a lot of growing up.

Agatha Oddly: Murder at the Museum, Lena Jones
Agatha Oddly is back on the case–investigating a murder at the British Museum and its possible links to a disused Tube station. The setup is a bit of a stretch, but Agatha is a great character (I love her sidekicks/friends, too) and this was a fun adventure. Found at the Mysterious Bookshop in NYC.

Running: A Love Story, Jen A. Miller
I read one of Miller’s running essays in the New York Times a while back, and liked her voice. I blew through this memoir in one day: it’s breezy and accessible. I got tired of reading about her terrible romantic decisions, but the running parts were worthwhile.

Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy, Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant
My friend Lisa recommended this book since I am navigating lots of change (hello, post-divorce transition). Sandberg lost her husband suddenly in 2015, and this book is her account of moving through grief, plus lots of research-backed strategies for building resilience (my word for 2020) after trauma and sadness. Practical, wise and “not too heavy,” as Lisa said. The right book at the right time for me.

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, J.K. Rowling
Harry and crew are back at Hogwarts: navigating grief, worrying about Lord Voldemort and (oh yeah) dealing with the usual teenage angst. Despite the increasing darkness, this is really the last book where they get to be normal teenagers: playing Quidditch, sneaking around the castle, making romantic missteps. (So. Much. Snogging.) I also love Harry’s lessons with Dumbledore and his gradual coming to terms with what he’s facing, with so much courage and love.

Most links (not affiliate links) are to my favorite local bookstore, Brookline Booksmith.

What are you reading?

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