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Posts Tagged ‘transitions’

Hello, friends. It’s been a year this week since I was furloughed (which seems both impossible and about right). The first few months were a different kind of limbo than the one I find myself in now, mostly because I was hoping to go back to my job at Berklee eventually.

As you know, that didn’t work out, so I’ve been hitting the job hunt hard every week (or what feels like all the time) for months now. And it’s exhausting.

I’ve always appreciated the boundaries of the 9-to-5 office job: I want to have a job where I can work hard, even occasionally go above and beyond, but then I want to leave work at work. I’ve never wanted a high-powered communications director job, because I’ve worked for those folks and I’ve seen what it entails: they are always on call, nights and weekends, especially in times of crisis. Similarly, I never really wanted an all-freelance life, because of the constant hustle it requires. You’re always looking for your next gig, even while you’re juggling the ones you’ve got. And if you swap applications and interviews for projects, the job hunt can feel exactly like that.

I get job alerts from several places in my inbox, so I see them at least once a day during the week. I’m always combing job boards, talking to friends and connections about the kind of work I want, working on cover letters, trying to imagine a different life. I’ve had several interviews lately (yay!) and those require both prep and follow-up, both of which I’m happy to do (and sometimes it’s even fun). But the cumulative effect feels like a lot of hustle for (so far) not much payoff.

Several of you readers have advised treating the job hunt like a 9-to-5, and I’m doing my best to limit the hours it dominates both my time and my brain. I generally take breaks on the weekends, and during the week when I need it or when there’s something special going on. I’m trying to remember that more effort doesn’t always equal more results. But I know I’ve got to keep hustling until I find my next gig.

I’m willing to put in the work, but for today I just wanted to say: the hustle is constant. And it can be tiring.

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upper west side view

Of all the late-nineties rom-coms featuring plucky heroines, adorable New York apartments and lives full of utter charm, You’ve Got Mail might be my favorite.

I saw it in the theater as a teenager, and have watched it countless times since – with my family, my girlfriends, by myself. I remember the days of dial-up AOL and the magic of finding new friends online before social media, though I am about 15 years younger than Kathleen Kelly. I once spent a weekend on the Upper West Side visiting some of the movie’s iconic locations: Cafe Lalo, Zabar’s, Gray’s Papaya, the 91st Street Garden in Riverside Park. (I did not see Joe and Brinkley, but you can bet I looked.) I still have the soundtrack on CD, and New York in the fall definitely makes me want to buy school supplies.

You’ve Got Mail continues to charm me for so many reasons: the witty, perfectly timed dialogue; the cozy bookshop packed with beloved children’s classics and kind employees; the epistolary love story (though I have thoughts, these days, about Joe Fox and his personal ethics). But the more time I spend with it, the more clearly I see what my friend Kari noted years ago: in addition to a classic romantic comedy, it is (in Kari’s words) “a moving portrait of a woman who is going through a crisis of vocation.”

Kathleen has always known she’d run The Shop Around the Corner; she started helping her mother there after school at age six, and never left. We don’t even know if she went to college, or entertained other dreams for her life. She has grown up shaped by this bookstore and this neighborhood, and she would happily go on selling children’s books there forever. But she is not given that choice: Fox Books moves in across the way, and its big-box appeal (coupled, no doubt, with rising rents and the lurking shadow of Amazon) forces Kathleen to make a decision she never foresaw: “Close. We’re going to close.”

I’ve thought about Kathleen a lot this past year, as the pandemic has upended so many of the jobs most of us believed would bring us stability and security. I was furloughed from my higher ed job last May, then finally laid off in January after months of waiting. This wasn’t the first time, though: my last few years in higher ed have been marked by uncertainty and change, including two previous layoffs and a few temp gigs. The thing I have been chasing – meaningful work that provided a steady paycheck and health insurance in an industry I thought was stable – has turned out not to be so reliable after all.

“What are you going to do now?” a customer asks Kathleen as she rings up books (and stuffs in a box of Kleenex) at the closing sale. She gives a vague but honest answer: she’s going to take some time. We see her doing just that in the last third of the movie: reading a thick novel at a coffee shop, buying plants and produce with Joe Fox, heating up a bowl of soup and sitting on the floor in her apartment to eat it and bask in the sunshine. I suspect she also must have done some grieving. She must have wondered – what now? Earlier in the film, she had wondered in an email if her life’s smallness meant it didn’t have value, or that she lacked courage. Now, that life is no longer available to her, and she has to figure out the next step on a road she never saw coming.

We don’t get a tidy resolution of Kathleen’s career story; we don’t get to see her take her next professional step, though she hints that she’s working on a children’s book. I hope that whatever she does next, it is rich and satisfying and allows her to use all that experience from decades of working at the store. I hope her previous life leads, in both good and surprising ways, to her next one. I hope she realizes how brave she truly is – as Birdie tells her, “You are daring to imagine that you could have a different life.” I hope she’s happy with Joe, of course, but more than that I hope she is fulfilled in her own skin and satisfied with the way she gets to spend her days.

My hopes for Kathleen, of course, are also my hopes for myself. (Isn’t that what we do with our heroines – see ourselves in them, and then project our own hopes onto them?) In the wake of an extremely difficult year, I am hoping – and searching – for a steady paycheck, for sure. But I am also hoping for work that gives me a rich, satisfying, joyful way to spend my days. I think Kathleen would approve.

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We’re halfway through April (how?) and the job hunt slog continues, while the neighborhood is starting to bloom. Here’s what I have been reading:

All Creatures Great and Small, James Herriot
I read these books as a teenager (my dad loves them), but the charming new TV series inspired me to pick Herriot’s memoirs back up. I adored his dry wit and vivid descriptions of the Yorkshire Dales and their people, and I loved re-meeting characters from the TV show, like Tristan and Mrs. Pumphrey. Warm and comforting.

Flygirl, Sherri L. Smith
Ida Mae Jones longs to be a pilot like her daddy, but as a Black woman, she knows it’s a long shot. But when her brother gets sent to serve as a medic in the Philippines, Ida Mae decides to join the WASP. The catch? She’ll have to pass for white–a choice not only heartbreaking, but dangerous. I loved this YA novel with a brave heroine who’s determined to fly and struggles to find her place. Recommended by Anne (as part of a great list).

Marathon Woman: Running the Race to Revolutionize Women’s Sports, Kathrine Switzer
Switzer made history in 1967 with her Boston Marathon run–but that was only the beginning of her journey in racing, sports reporting and organizing for women’s sports. Her memoir is engaging, relatable, often funny and inspiring. I especially loved reading about the history of modern marathons like Boston and New York, and watching Switzer’s confidence grow.

The Cake Therapist, Judith Fertig
Claire “Neely” O’Neil opens a cake shop in her Ohio hometown after leaving her cheating football-star husband. But she’s dealing with not just the usual new-business-owner snags, but a mystery involving an antique ring and several local families. Both the plot and the characters were so-so. Delicious food descriptions, though.

Home Made: A Story of Grief, Groceries, Showing Up–and What We Make When We Make Dinner, Liz Hauck
Hauck and her dad had planned to start a cooking program for teens in a group home run by the agency he worked for. After his death at age 57, she decided to do it without him. This memoir chronicles her three years of cooking with and for a rotating cast of teenage boys dealing with all kinds of trauma and challenges. It’s vivid, moving and often funny. To review for Shelf Awareness (out June 8).

My Inner Sky: On Embracing Day, Night, and All the Times In Between, Mari Andrew
I enjoy Mari’s whimsical illustrations and musings on life, love, travel and grief. This essay collection digs deeper into all those themes–plus loneliness, transitions, unexpected joys and more. So apt for right now.

The Secret Keeper of Jaipur, Alka Joshi
This sequel to Joshi’s The Henna Artist picks up with her main characters, Lakshmi (the artist) and Malik (her young protege), eight years later. Malik is apprenticing at a prestigious construction firm in Jaipur while Lakshmi runs a healing garden in Shimla. When the firm’s shiny new cinema suffers a collapse on opening night, Malik smells a rat and begins to investigate, digging up old and new secrets. Joshi’s storytelling is engaging, but I didn’t like this book as well as its predecessor. To review for Shelf Awareness (out June 22).

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

What are you reading?

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Hello, friends. It’s Monday again and I’m back at the computer with a mug of Earl Grey at my elbow, watching the fog drift over Boston Harbor and pegging away at the job hunt. There are a few postings today that look appealing, so I’m making a list and diving in, while pausing to acknowledge the Groundhog Day quality of this whole enterprise – namely, search-draft-apply-rinse-repeat.

I keep thinking of that old saw about the definition of insanity. I don’t know if Einstein actually said it or not, but it seems clear to me that doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results is a recipe for at least feeling crazy.

Why should I apply to this job or that job, if the same set of actions last week garnered a rejection or (more) radio silence? What makes me think this college or nonprofit will answer my email, or call me for an interview, when most of the others have not? How do I know which job description, full of industry jargon and careful HR-approved wording, might possibly lead me to a real place with real people where I can be useful, be welcomed, make a contribution (and earn a living)?

I don’t, of course. And while it’s true that getting creative with the job hunt – going to webinars, letting friends and former colleagues know I’m looking, even writing a whole blog series about job hunting – might help, it’s also true that, for many jobs, a resume and cover letter are required. You have to go through the process: find the posting (or look at the one someone sends you), decide whether it sounds interesting, write and proofread a cover letter, go through the electronic steps to apply. You have to sit through the auto-response emails and the waiting (more on that in a later post). You have to, in short, do a version of the same thing, and expect – or at least hope for – different results.

I don’t have a neat and tidy answer for this one, except that it’s got to be done. Grit and gumption (and lots of tea) are definitely required. And for now, I’ll try to vary the process (and my cover letters) enough so that it doesn’t feel exactly the same every day.

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The light shifts toward summer, and so does my spirit. Flowers wake up, trees stretch their branches toward different colors in the sky. Evening walks take on new shades of hope.

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As the late-afternoon light shifts, I switch on the lamps, light a candle, start thinking about dinner. Transitions are hard when your whole life is in one space, but this helps. 

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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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Princess Mia, aka Anne Hathaway, via GIPHY 

Hello, friends. We’re in the middle of week 4, over here (I realize some folks might be on slightly different timelines), and I am here to tell you: I am feeling all the feelings, pretty much every day.

There’s the deep gratitude for my beautiful apartment, my cozy neighborhood, the water views out my kitchen window and the new life I have built for myself here. There’s the (sometimes uncomfortable) awareness that I am privileged to stay home, to still get paid, to continue to have health insurance. There’s the awed thankfulness for the healthcare workers, postal and delivery folks, grocery store staff, transportation employees and others who are still going to work, keeping us fed and safe.

And then.

There’s the loneliness: I miss my coworkers, my yoga instructors, and oh man do I miss my florist. I miss my friends the most. We are doing our best with FaceTime and texting, but it is not nearly the same.

There’s also the ongoing fear and anxiety: wondering when and how things will get worse, if we (the city, the nation, me) are remotely prepared, what we (I) can do, other than staying home and washing our hands. There’s the deep uncertainty of how long will this last? When will things get better? What does ‘better’ even look like? 

And there’s the sudden, surprising joy: the magnolia tree down the street is in full glorious flower, as are the daffodils. I’ve been talking to my sister more often, and checking in on friends near and far. I’ve still got a few good books on the stack. And I’m moved, all the time, by the artists and writers and musicians sharing their work generously via social media.

Everything is heightened, I said to a friend the other day: all our normal fears and frustrations are thrown into sharp relief by this ongoing crisis. It is so much to hold, every day, all at once.

I am trying (oh, am I trying) to be honest about where I am each day: write it out, text a friend, do some yoga, text another friend, cry if I need to. To admit it is hard, and also celebrate the good stuff. Like the bike ride I took with my friend Marisa the other night, or the socially-distanced chat with my friend down the hill while her six-year-old walked across the porch on homemade stilts. Like the cherry blossoms, pink drifts of beauty, and the good meals I’ve (mostly) been making for myself. The endless cups of tea in my favorite mugs. The bear hugs from my guy, extra precious because I can’t hug anyone else right now.

So that’s where we are today, friends. All the feelings, all the time. How are you?

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magnolia-eastie

Hello, friends. It’s April – though, to be honest, the days are all starting to run together a bit.

Like many of you, I’m still adjusting to the new not-quite-normal, sometimes multiple times a day. I woke up so sad this morning that I couldn’t just walk into the office and see my coworkers, or go hang out at Darwin’s, or buy armfuls of flowers from my florist in Brattle Square. (Though you can bet I will do all those and more when this is over.)

Stuck at home, there are lots of things I can’t do: go to the library, take a yoga class at my local studio, sit in my friend Chrissy’s living room and work on a puzzle together. But I am a storyteller, and I can still tell stories. So, every day this month, that’s what I’m going to do.

I need your help: please tell me, in the comments, what kind of stories you’d like to hear. And even leaving a comment at all helps: it lets me know that you’re out there, listening and reading.

Here’s today’s story:

magnolia-april

I started watching this magnolia tree last spring, when I was spending several weeks at a time in East Boston, walking Phoenix the doodle around the neighborhood in the mornings before work. I would wake up to filtered morning light and his furry face at the foot of my bed (sometimes closer if he had already decided it was time to get up). After a shower and my morning ablutions, I’d grab a banana and clip on his red leash, and we’d head out the door. (On the weekends, I grew really comfortable walking him in my pajamas.)

At the time, I’d lived in Boston for almost nine years, but had never spent much time in Eastie, this neighborhood tucked between the airport and the harbor, suspended between water and sky. I’d met Phoenix and his owner through a longtime friend of mine, and those first weekends at her house turned into two long stretches that spring while Carolyn was traveling and needed a dog-sitter. If I’m honest, I needed those weeks in Eastie as much as Phoenix needed those walks: I was sifting, agonizing, thinking and worrying, trying to decide whether to stay in my marriage or whether – though it seemed barely possible – I could walk away and start again.

The magnolia tree stands near the end of our morning walks, in the yard of a house that sits catty-corner from where I live now. I did not know, then, as I glanced up at it on our way to the park and back home, that I would be watching it bloom this spring, waiting for the fuzzy buds to open up and unfurl their white and lipstick-pink petals. I didn’t know I would pass it every time I went for a run, pausing to snap photos of its budding branches and the purple crocuses that share its yard. I did not know, yet, that Eastie would become my new home.

I’ve been watching the magnolia and its neighbors for nearly a year: the forsythia bush down the street, the budding maples with their red flowers, the unexpected patch of tulips in the shipyard, are all dear and familiar now. I’ve only officially lived in Eastie since the end of July, but it feels more like a year, and this spring feels like an anniversary. And I am grateful.

I’ll be back tomorrow, friends. Hope you’re staying well and safe.

 

 

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What a year, y’all. I say that every year, but this one has brought so much change I didn’t see coming.

Here is my annual non-exhaustive list of what has happened this year. As always, it’s a limited tool, but an interesting one.

In 2019, I have…

  • marked a year (and some change) at Berklee, where I get to write about our students, faculty, alumni and guest artists making music and doing various cool music-adjacent things.
  • moved to East Boston after spending a lot of time there this spring, and falling completely in love.
  • Related: moved into my own apartment for the first time in more than a decade.
  • run several 5Ks, one of them in a cape and one in a Wonder Woman costume.
  • run my first 10K, this summer – a triumph.
  • flown to Texas several times, once to celebrate my grandfather’s 85th birthday with the whole fam.
  • spent hours and hours on the Neponset River trail, the Charles River Esplanade and the East Boston Harborwalk and Greenway, running to my heart’s content.
  • done a lot of yoga, at three different studios: Healing Tree in my old neighborhood, Erin’s shiny new Savin Hill Fitness Studio, and The Point in my new neighborhood.
  • read more than 150 books, and reviewed 58 (I think) for Shelf Awareness. (Still the best.)
  • Related: interviewed nine authors for the Shelf, all of whom were lovely and fascinating.
  • attended my first Newport Folk Festival and had a fabulous time.
  • filled up half a dozen or so journals (and – gasp – I got rid of at least six boxes of old ones when I moved).
  • started going to therapy.
  • gone through a divorce.
  • spent many weekday mornings at Mem Church, and a few Sundays at assorted churches here and there.
  • drunk so many chai lattes, mostly from the Boston Public Library and (of course) Darwin’s.
  • bought and enjoyed countless bouquets of flowers, most of them from my beloved Brattle Square Florist.
  • taken a number of BlueBike rides across town and along the river.
  • spent a weekend in rural Pennsylvania with my friend Christie and her family – so good for the soul.
  • hosted my longtime friend Abigail in my new digs for a glorious long weekend.
  • spent Thanksgiving with my friends Joe and Lauryn, and assorted other friends old and new.
  • taken Phoenix, the sweetest mini golden doodle, on many walks through East Boston. (And cuddled him a lot.)
  • followed thrive as my one little word, to sometimes unexpected places.

What has 2019 looked like for you?

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