Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘solitude’

It’s no secret I love a solo trip to NYC. Some of my favorite memories of the Big Apple are from weekends spent wandering the streets by myself. My last trip there, though, was kind of a failure: it was January 2020, just days after my divorce court date. I thought I wanted an adventure to look forward to, but once I was there, all I wanted was to be back home. I came back early and didn’t regret it, but I’ve been wanting to revisit NYC alone (and basically unable to do so) ever since.

I hopped down to NYC a few weekends ago for my shortest trip to date: I was there for just over 24 hours, and it was a hot, humid whirlwind. But I loved wandering my favorite tangle of streets in the West Village, browsing bookstores and drinking my weight in iced tea. Here, a few highlights:

My beloved Three Lives & Co. is in a temporary space due to renovation, but I made sure to walk down West 10th to visit their new digs. I had a long browse and a lovely conversation with Nora, one of the booksellers, and bought a fabulous compendium of essays about Manhattan.

I headed straight for Bryant Park (see above) when I arrived, for lunch and a lemonade. But once I made my way to the Jane, where I stayed, I stuck to Chelsea and the Village all weekend.

I walked and walked – to Pink Olive, to Chelsea Market (above), to various shops that looked intriguing. I popped into cafes for iced tea and took photos of flowers and street art. And I had dinner at Roey’s (the most fantastic burrata pizza), and sat outside on one of my favorite corners in the city, sipping a gin cocktail and scribbling in my journal until nearly closing time.

Sunday morning meant a long run through the Hudson River Park (the High Line wasn’t open yet, but I loved discovering a new-to-me running route). Then I had a fantastic sandwich (with iced chai) at Three Owls Market, and wandered up to 192 Books, where I’d never been.

I grabbed some snacks for the train, walked around some more, and headed back to Penn Station to catch my train home. I was exhausted and delighted, and so glad I went. The city is waking back up, and it felt like mine again.

Read Full Post »

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!

What are you reading?

Read Full Post »

When I started running, as previously mentioned, I didn’t tell anyone about it for a little while. This was mostly because I wasn’t sure it would stick. But even after I’d become a dedicated runner, I didn’t write about it here on the blog, or even talk to friends about it, much. Running felt, in those early days, both precious and precarious: something new and tentative that was all mine.

Fast forward three years and here I am spending a whole month writing about running (and if you’ve stuck with me this long, thank you). I post photos from my runs on Instagram all the time (though that is also because I’m a flower fiend and a fall-leaf fanatic). But even while I share bits of my running with the world, I mostly run alone.

I could run with other folks if I wanted to: there’s a run club or two in my neighborhood, and I can see the appeal of running in community. I do enjoy the occasional buddy run with a friend or 5K with a crowd, and my guy and I have put in a few miles together. But mostly, running is a solitary pursuit for me. I like being alone with my thoughts, my music, the wind on my face and whatever pace I feel like setting that day.

Since my divorce and the pandemic, I’ve spent more time alone than I previously ever had, and sometimes it gets to me. Sometimes solitude and loneliness blur together until I can’t tell one from the other. Some days I find myself desperate for real, in-person connection. (Thank goodness for park yoga and walks with girlfriends and, most especially, time with my guy.)

Even with an abundance of solitude, though, I still like running alone. There’s something soul-nourishing about setting out for a few solo miles, where I’m out in the world but I belong only to myself. Running has become a form of meditation and self-care in addition to exercise. And mostly, it’s something I relish doing by myself, for myself.

Read Full Post »

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.

Read Full Post »

a6481271-46a4-4da0-b2b9-874b617228a9

We are halfway through September (tomorrow is my birthday), and I’m struggling to find a fall rhythm. Here’s what I have been reading:

The Phone Booth at the Edge of the World, Laura Imai Messina
Since Yui lost her mother and her daughter in the 2011 tsunami, she has been paralyzed by grief. But then she hears about a phone booth in a garden by the sea: a place for people to come and talk to their lost loved ones. When she starts visiting the phone booth, Yui meets others who are grieving, and they form a kind of community. Lovely and poignant. To review for Shelf Awareness (out March 2021).

Windy City Blues, Sara Paretsky
I flew through this collection of short stories featuring my favorite Chicago detective, V.I. Warshawski. Many familiar characters – her neighbor, several friends – make appearances, and the cases are entertaining.

Her Last Flight, Beatriz Williams
In 1947, photographer Janey Everett heads to Spain in search of downed pilot Sam Mallory. What she finds there leads her to rural Hawaii, in search of the woman who was his flying partner and possibly his lover. Williams writes lush, satisfying historical fiction with wry dialogue, and I enjoyed this story.

Ways to Make Sunshine, Renée Watson
Ryan Hart, age 10, is juggling a lot: her family’s new (old) house, her fear of public speaking, her irritating older brother, the school talent show. But she’s smart, spunky and creative, and I loved watching her face her problems with grit and joy.

The Arctic Fury, Greer Macallister
Boston, 1853: a wealthy Englishwoman recruits experienced trail guide Virginia Reeve and a dozen other women for an all-female Arctic expedition. A year later, Virginia is on trial for murder. Macallister expertly weaves together two timelines, delving into each woman’s viewpoint and building to a few terrible reveals. Compelling, if gruesome at times. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Dec. 1).

The Switch, Beth O’Leary
Leena Cotton needs a break after blowing a big presentation at work. Her grandmother, Eileen, needs a change of scenery, too. So they switch lives: Leena goes to rural Yorkshire and Eileen goes to London. I loved watching these two women live each other’s lives: Leena dives headfirst into planning the May Day festival and Eileen discovers online dating, among other things. Sweet, warm and funny.

Evidence, Mary Oliver
Oliver’s poems have been keeping me company over breakfast this summer. This collection includes musings on flora and fauna, heartbreak and joy, and so much keen-eyed noticing. Lovely.

One Long River of Song: Notes on Wonder, Brian Doyle
I adore Doyle’s rambling joyous exuberant prose and “proems.” I once reviewed an anthology he had edited, and he sent me a lovely email about it. This posthumous collection of his essays is vintage Doyle: warmhearted, keen-eyed, sharp and sweet and compassionate.

In Praise of Retreat, Kirsteen Macleod
In our ultra-connected world, retreating is both frowned upon and immensely appealing. Macleod weaves her own story of various types of retreats (yoga ashrams, cabins in the woods) together with research and musings on retreat as a practice. Thoroughly researched and interesting, but reading this one during semi-quarantine was kind of a slog. To review for Shelf Awareness (out March 30, 2021).

By the Book, Amanda Sellet
Bookish Mary Porter-Malcolm knows all about the pitfalls awaiting young ladies who are trying to find eligible men. But when she’s thrust into the social politics of 21st-century high school, she starts to realize real life doesn’t always match the books. I loved this YA novel – Mary is both smart and endearingly clueless. Her big, loud family and professor parents were so much fun, and the dialogue is hilarious. Found at The Book Shop of Beverly Farms.

Links (not affiliate links) are to local bookstores I love: Trident, Frugal Bookstore and Brookline Booksmith.

What are you reading?

Read Full Post »

Now more than ever, I enjoy cooking, especially in the colder months: hearty soups, crumbly scones, buttery scrambled eggs (with endless cups of tea). Last July, though, I moved into a studio apartment during an unusually hot Boston summer. After weeks of takeout, stovetop huevos rancheros and ready meals from Trader Joe’s, I needed some new kitchen inspiration.

Enter Cooking Solo, Klancy Miller’s brilliant, colorful cookbook about not only feeding yourself, but enjoying it. I’ve made her risotto, her lemon pancakes, her spicy coconut-sweet potato soup… the list goes on. But more than her recipes, I love Miller’s approach: she insists, as a longtime single person, that investing the time and effort to feed oneself well is worth it. As a recent divorcée, I need that reminder on the regular.

My success with Miller’s recipes inspired me to flip back through some perennial favorites, like Molly Wizenberg’s A Homemade Life. I bake Wizenberg’s Scottish scones at least twice a month, but recently made her ratatouille for the first (and second, and third) time in years. Like Wizenberg, when I am dining alone on something that delicious, “I lick my knife until it sparkles, because there’s no one there to catch me.”

For a broader perspective on solo cooking, I turn to Alone in the Kitchen with an Eggplant, an eclectic essay collection edited by Jenni Ferrari-Adler. Inspired by Laurie Colwin’s eponymous essay (which kicks off the anthology), these pieces, some with recipes, recount the delightful, the depressing and the quirkily indulgent aspects of setting a solo table. Many of the contributors recall solitary meals (or seasons) with deep fondness, even nostalgia. Cooking for one can feel like a depressing prospect, but these books help remind me that there’s a wealth of flavor, adventure and–yes–true sustenance to be found at a table for one.

I originally wrote most of this column for Shelf Awareness, where it ran at the end of March. I submitted it before the virus hit, but it’s more applicable in some ways now than ever.  

Read Full Post »

west village window nyc pink olive

A few weeks ago, the hubs had a three-day work training that took place over a weekend. We had just moved, and our new apartment was a wilderness of boxes. Rather than spend the weekend alone, digging out, I did the logical thing: I hopped a train to New York City.

I love New York at any time of year, and I’d been there by myself once before, on a dreamy solo trip last fall. This time, I booked a room in the West Village, where I’d spent a little time but never stayed. And although the city (and I) sweltered in a heat wave all weekend, it was fantastic.

larchmont front door west village nyc

I stayed at the Larchmont Hotel on West 11th, which I heard about on Joanna’s blog (and later from Anne). The rooms are tiny, but clean and comfortable, with a certain spare charm. (Plus: air-conditioning!) And it’s super affordable.

Although I’ve done a fair bit of traveling on my own, it somehow still feels like a radical act: leaving my regular life for a few days of pure, solitary pleasure. For three days, I ate and wandered and did exactly what I wanted.

bryant park nyc nypl view

I bought a last-minute ticket to Matilda on Friday night. I ate my lunch in Bryant Park (above) nearly every day. I popped into the New York Public Library‘s main branch, also above, to see the exhibit on my favorite rapping Founding Father, Alexander Hamilton, and to say hello to Pooh and his friends.

I went to five bookstores. I went with my college friend Mary Kate to see our friend Jeremy act and sing in his New York theatrical debut. I walked and walked and walked. (And drank quarts of hibiscus iced tea, to counteract the stifling heat.)

hibiscus iced tea journal

“New York meant much more than New York,” Julia Cameron writes in The Sound of Paper. “It meant sophistication, taste, freedom and accomplishment.” New York means all those things to me, and it also means a chance to explore neighborhoods and streets I find endlessly fascinating.

I have some New York favorites now: the bookish glories of the Strand; the elegant and charming Upper West Side; the twisting streets of the Village, packed with boutiques and restaurants galore. I love a ramble through the urban wildness of Central Park, and I love popping into the nearest library branch. (This time, the Jefferson Market Library was just around the corner.)

jefferson market library tower nypl nyc

I love the way New York is always surprising, teeming with life and change, thrumming with ambition and hustle. And I love the pockets of quiet and peace, the carefully tended flower boxes, the occasional empty street. New York is all possibility, and I love stepping into its current for a few days, becoming a part of the bustle and verve.

More NYC photos and stories to come.

Read Full Post »

central park yellow flowers nyc

On a Wednesday morning earlier this month, I boarded a train from Boston to New York City. My husband was headed to a work conference in Texas, and I had decided to take a solo adventure while he was away.

When I told people about my plans, their initial response was always the same: “By yourself?”

My mother was doubtful, my sister surprised, my friend Abigail wistful. “You’re so brave,” she said. I’m fairly certain they all expected me to be nervous about spending three days in the city alone. But I could hardly keep the glee out of my voice.

I’m an introvert by nature, a small-town girl by upbringing and heritage. I’m the granddaughter, on both sides, of farmers who raised cattle and alfalfa hay on quiet green acres bordered by forests. I’m a West Texan, and I admit to loving the solitude and freedom of those wide open spaces: long gray ribbons of highway stretching to the horizon, the silhouettes of tall pump jacks and mesquite scrub against so much sky.

sunset sky west texas

I’ve come to cherish a different kind of solitude in recent years, though: the experience of being alone in a city.

I’m back at the Art House America blog today, sharing my love of being alone in the big city. Please join me over there to read the rest of my essay.

Read Full Post »

texas capitol austin tx

I recently flew down to Austin for a work conference. Translation: I found the perfect excuse to visit my home state after an absurdly long, bitter winter.

The conference was interesting and informative, but what I really loved – and, let’s be honest, the reason I went – was the chance to spend three days basking in the sunshine, wandering downtown Austin, and eating as much Tex-Mex food as possible.

austin mural waterloo records

I’d only been in town an hour or so when my friend Adam and his wife Maggie picked me up and took me to dinner at El Alma, a hip little Tex-Mex restaurant with a beautiful patio, delicious queso fundido and savory enfrijoladas. Adam and I have been friends since eighth grade, but we hadn’t seen each other for several years. There were a lot of stories to tell, a lot of talk about work and travel and where our lives have taken us (and some serious hometown gossip) to cram into a couple of hours. I left sated, both with spicy salsa and rich conversation.

The next night, Alyssa took me out for Oaxacan food at the charming El Naranjo, where we feasted on fresh guacamole, a trio of spicy salsas, and rich, velvety mole dishes.

chicken mole el naranjo

We talked for hours about travel and family, writing and books, and we shared a melt-in-your-mouth almond flan for dessert. (No photos of the flan, as it disappeared too quickly.) Alyssa and I tweet back and forth regularly, and I reviewed her lovely memoir for Shelf Awareness, but this was the first time we’d met in person.

After two full days of conferencing and networking (which included meeting Marisa, a blog friend and Austin native who was also at the conference), I was “all out of extrovert,” to quote my friend Camille. My third night in town was entirely solitary, and it was glorious.

I changed from my buttoned-up conference clothes into a casual tee and skirt, then meandered down Congress Ave. to a little shopping area on West 2nd. Most of the shops were too pricey for me, but I loved wandering in and out, soaking up the sunshine (it was sandal weather all week long).

mosaic butterfly austin tx

I did find a gorgeous pair of earrings at Csilla on Congress, and I bought a couple of gourmet treats at Con’Olio. (Blackberry ginger balsamic vinegar. Someone is speaking my love language.)

waterloo records austin tx

It’s a long walk from West 2nd to my favorite intersection in Austin: West 6th and North Lamar, which holds the trifecta of Waterloo Records, Amy’s Ice Creams and BookPeople.

amy's ice creams interior austin tx

I had time, though, so I hiked my way up there, and browsed the racks of CDs at Waterloo (wishing my music-loving husband were with me). I eventually made my way over to BookPeople, where I wandered among the shelves for ages.

bookpeople austin tx interior

I only bought two books – a heroic act of self-restraint on my part – and I got to eavesdrop on a Q&A with Ann Brashares, author of the Traveling Pants series, which I love. (She had just done a reading from her newest book.)

wahoos-tacos

At 9:00, I realized I was starving, so I headed up the street to Wahoo’s, home of mouthwatering fish tacos and – what else? – excellent chips and salsa. (I must have eaten my weight in the latter during my trip.) The bass music was thumping and the walls are covered in surfboard and skateboard stickers, and I was the only person eating alone, but I didn’t care. Every bite was so delicious.

I stopped at the Royal Blue Grocery on my way back to the hotel for a teeny carton of lemon frozen yogurt, which I ate in my room, shoes kicked off and feet up. And the next day, I hopped a plane to my hometown to spend the weekend with my family (of which more soon).

Austin, it was fun. See you next time.

katie texas capitol austin tx

Read Full Post »

Vienna memories

hofsburg-palace-vienna

Vienna was dark. And cold.

It couldn’t have been dark the whole time I was there, though I don’t remember ever seeing the sun. It was late October, when the light changes suddenly from golden to gray, and there is – also suddenly – much less of it. The only golden color came from the trees in the grounds of the Schonnbrun Palace, and from the lighted shop windows, flaring out like candles against the covering darkness.

schonbrunn-palace-park-trees

I was tired after a long solo trip from Oxford to Salzburg, where I met up with four American undergrads whom I knew only slightly. They were sweet, but their puppy-like enthusiasm soon wore on me, the quiet graduate student with a preference for low-key travel. We all shared a hostel room strewn with backpacks yawning open, clothes hanging loosely off bunk beds, late-night fits of giggles over inside jokes I didn’t quite get.

I wandered the Mirabellgarten with them, even posing for a group photo on the Do-Re-Mi steps, and I took them to the shop I knew that sold beautiful, hand-painted eggs made into Christmas ornaments. But I begged off the Sound of Music tour (I’d done it before, anyway) to sit in a cafe named after Mozart and scribble in my journal while I sipped hot chocolate. By the time we hopped a train to Vienna the next day, I was longing for some extended solitude.

We stuck together that first night and day, settling into our two-room flat, wandering around the Hofburg Palace and getting up early to tour the Schonnbrun. After lunch, we split up, agreeing to reconvene later. The others headed off – I knew not where – and I took several deep breaths, then headed off to enjoy my afternoon alone.

I wandered around the Butterfly House, then entered a spacious cafe lined with dark leather booths and filled with cigarette smoke. Patrons – mostly middle-aged men – lingered, reading folded newspapers at marble-topped tables while sipping small cups of strong coffee. I ordered a hot chocolate, stumbling over the unfamiliar German syllables, and sat there writing in my journal, sipping my drink, as long as I dared.

Later, after wandering through tangled streets, I slipped into a dark church, flickering with candlelight and echoing with the sounds of a Vespers service, just beginning. I slipped a euro coin into a collection box and lit a small tea light, breathing a prayer for my mother, who had had surgery that week, back in the States.

church candlelight vienna

When I left the church, the streets were already dark, shop windows throwing squares of light onto the pavement. Craving warmth, I ended up at another cafe, piling my shopping bags on the leather seat next to me, sipping tea and savoring both a chocolate-covered strawberry and my solitude.

Vienna is hazier than many of the cities I visited during that year in Oxford. The images are smudged around the edges, fogged by the rain that threatened and occasionally poured down from above. I don’t remember much, if any, of the history or the new German words I learned, and I don’t have clear images of entertaining incidents, or a mental map of the city in my head.

But I learned a thing or two from that grey, chilly weekend: namely, that solitude and peace can be found in the least likely places, but sometimes you have to pursue it, to ask for it. I remembered that I don’t always have to tag along with the crowd, that it’s perfectly all right to break away and do my own thing for a while, even if it means they’ll think I’m weird. (I was pretty sure this group of students already did.)

That weekend, I rediscovered the quiet joy of walking a city by myself, answerable to no one and nothing but the rhythm of my own feet pounding on unfamiliar sidewalks. And I learned one thing that did not surprise me at all: Austrian hot chocolate (Tasse Schokolade) is delicious.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »