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Posts Tagged ‘transitions’

Charles river ribbon light Boston blue sky

The Layers

I have walked through many lives,
some of them my own,
and I am not who I was,
though some principle of being
abides, from which I struggle
not to stray.
When I look behind,
as I am compelled to look
before I can gather strength
to proceed on my journey,
I see the milestones dwindling
toward the horizon
and the slow fires trailing
from the abandoned camp-sites,
over which scavenger angels
wheel on heavy wings.
Oh, I have made myself a tribe
out of my true affections,
and my tribe is scattered!
How shall the heart be reconciled
to its feast of losses?
In a rising wind
the manic dust of my friends,
those who fell along the way,
bitterly stings my face.
Yet I turn, I turn,
exulting somewhat,
with my will intact to go
wherever I need to go,
and every stone on the road
precious to me.
In my darkest night,
when the moon was covered
and I roamed through wreckage,
a nimbus-clouded voice
directed me:
“Live in the layers,
not on the litter.”
Though I lack the art
to decipher it,
no doubt the next chapter
in my book of transformations
is already written.
I am not done with my changes.

I’d come across this poem before, but never really paid attention, until Jill Lepore read – nay, declaimed – its first few lines in a brilliant Morning Prayers talk at Harvard back in February. I looked it up immediately, and have read it over many times since.

A few lines keep ringing in my head: I am not who I was. Some principle of being abides, from which I struggle not to stray. I am not done with my changes. 

April is National Poetry Month, and I am sharing poetry here on Fridays this month, as I do every year.
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flats red pants front steps

We moved two weeks ago, and while the new apartment is looking good (hooray!) and (most of) the books are shelved, I keep thinking: there are moments from the transition itself I don’t want to lose.

We had a stalwart crew of friends, plus perfect weather (cool and breezy). I wanted to write some of these snippets down: the beginning of a good change, one we chose and one we are already loving.

I want to remember our landlady, Maria, surprising us with a bottle of wine and two glasses as we hauled boxes up the stairs earlier that week. I want to remember her saying what our first Boston landlady, Gina, said to us when we met her seven years ago: “I hope you’ll be happy here.” (We already are.)

I want to remember the friends who showed up: Jason bounding up the front stairs at 9 a.m. on a Saturday, Kirsten moving heaven and earth to get to us after a late night, Matt and Janille walking from their house down the street, Ryan puzzling out how to fit all our stuff into a moving truck.

I want to remember how my husband and friends schlepped 24 boxes of books down one long staircase and up another, without a single word of complaint.

friends couch balcony

I want to remember how Ryan lashed a climbing rope (which he just happened to have in his car) around our two loveseats and the box spring for our mattress, and how the guys hauled all of the above up three stories, over the back-porch balcony, and didn’t even destroy my geraniums. (I want to remember dashing outside with Kirsten and Janille, to witness this miracle and snap the above photo.)

I want to remember Janille, nearly seven months pregnant, making endless trips up and down stairs at the old place and the new, filling both her car and mine with seventeen thousand odds and ends.

I want to remember standing in our old empty kitchen, amid countertops scattered with cleaning supplies and tool boxes, eating honey-glazed donuts and feeling tired but so grateful.

I want to remember knocking the bed frame together not once but twice, laughing with Kirsten and Janille, who had never met before that day but were soon chatting like old friends.

I want to remember eating pizza in the crowded new kitchen, sitting on benches and boxes, telling stories and guzzling water and saying thank you, over and over.

I want to remember Betsy and Charles turning up on our new doorstep with their month-old baby, Colette, whom they promptly handed off to me (to my delight). I want to remember how she slept, snuggled on my chest in a yellow onesie, for two hours while Betsy and Charles moved furniture and put sheets on beds and assembled bookcases. By the time they left (and J came back from dropping off the moving truck), the place was starting to look like a real home.

I want to remember my last solo walk-through of the old place: empty rooms and sunlight slanting across wood floors, and pausing in the kitchen to acknowledge: I’ve loved this.

I want to remember our first dinner on the new back porch: soup and salad from the Panera in our old neighborhood, which we ate under a gorgeous sunset sky.

jer back porch dinner

I want to remember our new neighbor, Denise, inviting us over for a drink that night, though she’d never laid eyes on us before. I want to remember the welcome we received there: Carlene plying us with food and wine, Kasia chatting to us about the neighborhood, Jude talking to us about work and life and photography.

I want to remember Emily and Adam, spending their Sunday afternoon helping us unpack dishes and glasses, pots and pans, so that we had a fully functional kitchen come Monday morning.

Most of all, I want to remember our community: helping, sympathizing, schlepping, unpacking, encouraging us every step of the way. “We have the best friends,” J said more than once. I agree: we do.

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kitchen red kettle stove

We moved last weekend, as I may have mentioned. So Friday’s August Break prompt – “where I live” – was perfect.

oxford mystery bookshelf books

It’s not really home until (some of) the books are shelved. That top shelf is Oxford and Dorothy Sayers (there is some overlap, in the form of Gaudy Night). The second shelf is more mysteries, including Mary Russell and a hefty dose of Agatha Christie.

morning light treetops

I already love the morning light out these windows. These maple trees are going to be a riot of color in the fall.

back porch geraniums

The hubs and I are both beyond thrilled to have a back porch again. We’ve been eating dinner out here every chance we get and it is glorious.

In case you missed it: I’m participating in Susannah Conway’s August Break this month.

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tree buds red brick harvard yard

It’s a grey, gloomy day in early April. I’ve stayed home from work with a bad cold, and all afternoon, I’ve been listening to the slow drip, drip of rain outside. The purple tulips in their vase on my kitchen table are growing leggy; they’re reaching out, bending and stretching crookedly, for the light that is in short supply today.

We are nearing the end–I hope–of a winter that has felt long, even though we haven’t had too much snow by our usual Boston standards. One arctic blast in December and a couple more since the New Year left our teeth chattering in single-digit temps, but those frigid spells haven’t lasted long. And the snowstorms, though fierce, have been few and far between. We even had a couple of 60-degree days in late February.

What I’m missing, in these early spring days, is the light.

I’m over at the Art House America blog today (where I write occasionally), talking about my efforts to watch for the light in this season. Please join me over there to read the rest of my piece.

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katie jer xmas 2016

  • bounced around Harvard (or a certain section of it) like a pinball, temping in two different offices and coming back to the first one for a more permanent gig, which I am loving.
  • taken countless walks to Darwin’s for cups of chai, delicious sandwiches, various other treats, and good talk with the folks behind the counter.
  • Related to both of the above: found several places where I know in my bones that I belong.
  • flown to Texas to surprise my dad for his 60th birthday.
  • moved to a new apartment in the same town I’ve lived in for six years, and navigated many shifts in my daily routine.
  • read nearly 200 books. I reviewed 51 of them for Shelf Awareness and six for Great New Books.
  • visited Martha’s Vineyard for the first time.
  • spent three blissful weekends in New York City: one in March, one in August and one in October.
  • become an obsessive (is there any other kind?) Hamilfan.
  • survived a wild Commencement season right in the thick of things at the Harvard Gazette.
  • been humbled over and over again by friends and colleagues who have helped me through transition: with advice, packing boxes, kind words, cups of tea and so much more.
  • returned to PEI for a wonderful and much-needed vacation.
  • hosted my parents for their annual visit to Boston.
  • returned to Abilene for my 10-year college reunion and a packed, nourishing weekend of time with my people there.
  • walked across Harvard Yard to many Morning Prayers services and had my spirit refreshed.
  • filled up half a dozen journals.
  • turned thirty-three and grown even more comfortable in my own skin.
  • spent my seventh (!) fall in New England, and snapped so many photos of leaves, as I do every year.
  • survived (as have we all) the most contentious election season in recent memory.

I’m frankly not sure what to say or think as we head into 2017. A friend sent me this Grace Paley quote recently, and it seems more apt than anything I could come up with: “Let us go forth with fear and courage and rage to save the world.”

Wishing you courage and peace in this new year, friends.

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red leaves green flats harvard yard

I wrote this line from Hamilton in my journal last week, sitting on a bench outside Darwin’s at lunchtime. I sipped broccoli cheese soup from a paper cup, dipping in a hunk of baguette, taking a few deep breaths under a blue October sky.

I’ve heard that line a few hundred times since May, when I started listening to Hamilton nonstop. But lately, in the middle of a full, demanding, often harried season at work and at home, it has caught my attention particularly. As I face the challenges of each day – work projects, church responsibilities, the utter madness of the current political cycle – it has resonated like a deep, echoing gong, or the deep breath before a duel.

Autumn is always a crowded time: the academic year revs up with events and classes, and I plunge headfirst into fresh assignments while keeping up with the daily obligations of my life. This fall found me adjusting to a still-new job and an even newer apartment, with all the changes both have entailed. The past several weeks have included some beloved rituals like apple picking and some other things I was excited about: a book club poetry potluck, a few dinners with people I love, an evening of glorious sacred music at a friend’s church downtown. Coming alongside all that heart-stirring loveliness have been many challenges, too numerous to list briefly and too personal (some of them) to explore publicly here.

In the middle of this fast and furious season, when heartache, to-do lists and big life questions have felt equally clamorous and insistent, I have been going quiet, turning inward, thinking hard. I’m reaching for my tried-and-true grounding rituals: weekly trips to the florist and the farmers’ market, daily walks to Darwin’s for sustenance and smiles, the weekday Morning Prayers service in a small chapel just off Harvard Yard. I have been scribbling madly in my journal, talking things out with my husband and a few trusted friends. And I am reaching for this Hamilton line, and other good words about courage, to shore me up, to fortify me.

I’ve never gone to war against an invading army, or faced down an enemy with a pistol. I’ve certainly never tried to build a brand-new nation out of a loose confederation of fractious colonies. But the story of these wild, visionary rebels is among the things saving my life these days. They were flawed, hotheaded and sometimes foolish, but they were also passionate and brave. Throughout the Revolution and the years that followed, they summoned the courage required of them, over and over again.

As I walk through these gorgeous, demanding fall days, I’m doing my best to do the same.

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ice cream cookie stripes sprinkles

Did I mention that we moved, earlier this month? And that I started a new job, not long ago? And that, perhaps, all these transitions at once (along with the usual responsibilities of daily life) might have been a wee bit stressful?

Well. In case I didn’t, I’m mentioning it now.

August has been a month for hanging on by our fingernails: unpacking the new apartment one box at a time, calling all the utility companies and the washing machine repairman, scraping together dinner from whatever’s in the fridge (which often hasn’t been much). I am looking forward to September, always one of my favorite months, and simultaneously not sure how it’s upon us already.

changes-fortune-cookie

As I wade through transition (aided by a bit of fortune cookie wisdom, above), I decided it was time for another list of what’s saving my life now. Amid the chaos, there is still a lot of good stuff – “lots of joy,” a friend reminded me the other day. “But you have to seek it.” She was right, as she usually is.

So, as we soak up these last hot days of summer (and hope for some rain), here’s what is saving my life now:

  • My daily trips to Darwin’s, for sustenance of several kinds. Chai in the morning, lunch at midday, snacks and/or fresh produce in the afternoon. And always, chitchat with the folks behind the counter. This is my place and I am grateful for it every single day.
  • A simple summer salad, which has been dinner several times recently: tomatoes, mozzarella, peaches, fresh basil and balsamic vinegar.
  • Good books: gorgeous fiction (Alice Hoffman’s Faithful), smart nonfiction (David Hajdu’s Love for Sale and Margot Lee Shetterly’s Hidden Figures), entertaining light fiction (Meg Cabot’s The Boy is Back and Rhys Bowen’s Crowned and Dangerous).
  • A scone and a cup of tea for breakfast, nearly every day. (See also: not overthinking it.)
  • The silver ring set with malachite I bought in NYC, which makes me so happy every time I wear it.
  • An ongoing text conversation with a friend about All The Things, which is a daily lifeline.
  • A standing Thursday meeting with other writers from around Harvard, a font of both useful information and witty, sarcastic one-liners.
  • Red roses from my local florist, and a clear surface to put them on.

red roses

  • Having (most of) my books shelved and arranged so I can find them.
  • Our washing machine works again – and doing laundry always makes me feel more in control of my life.
  • Pictures of my nephew, headed back to preschool, and so many of my friends’ kids who are also going back to school. I love those brand-new backpacks and gap-toothed grins.
  • Ice cream dates, with J and with friends, at the place down the street from our new apartment.
  • Photos of a colleague’s new puppy, and interactions with other friendly dogs in Harvard Square.
  • Julia Cameron’s wise words on writing and life in The Sound of Paper, to which I return every summer.
  • A couple of long heart-to-hearts with good friends. There’s nothing like being together.

What’s saving your life these days? I’d really like to know.

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