Posts Tagged ‘transitions’

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.


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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summer beach view boston

Summer is drawing to a close here in New England. The season’s heat is still lingering, but I’ve noticed a new crispness in the air on several recent mornings. My Facebook feed is full of back-to-school pictures of my friends’ children, and the students at Harvard, where I work, start classes next week.

Before we jump into my favorite season, I wanted to share a few summer scenes that have, so far, gone unblogged.

Some friends of ours – former fellow Boston transplants, who now live in northern California – blew into town over Memorial Day weekend. We spent an evening catching up over pizza and wine, in their swank 14th-floor suite (!) at the Liberty Hotel, looking out over the Charles River.

charles river sunset view boston fog

After surviving a hectic and fun Commencement season at my temp gig, I stepped aside to make room for (and train) my replacement. This photo is from my last solo day in that temporary space, on the sixth floor with so much light.

computer tulips hpac

My colleagues surprised me with a good-bye reception on my last day there. This is Wendy, our office manager, who made that (and so many other things) happen.

katie wendy books

At the end of June, I started my new job (back where I temped this winter) and was greeted by this tiny orchid, a gift from my boss.

you are here orchid desk

On the 4th of July, we headed to Fenway to cheer on the Rangers as they played the Red Sox. It was sweltering in the outfield, but fun to be there with friends.

simpsons gibsons fenway

The hubs and I sneaked in an afternoon at Crane Beach in mid-July: sun, sand and a delicious dinner afterward at Salt.

crane beach jer

I flew to Texas at the end of July to surprise my dad for his 60th birthday. We threw a party at the home of some friends and he didn’t suspect a thing, which was perfect. Then I spent three days chasing my nephews, who are so big and who both love to play in the dirt.

ryder harrison tractor

One of J’s friends from his a cappella group got married in July, and the group performed the processional music – “The Book of Love.” J also played a few acoustic songs during the cocktail hour, and then we all danced the night away. So fun.

mass whole notes wedding

I spent a lot of time on our front porch before we moved, soaking up the views in the neighborhood we called home for six years.

summer sunset view porch

We moved almost three weeks ago, and honestly, life has felt like utter chaos since then. But I did snag a lunch date with this guy one Tuesday – fresh tamales at the Harvard farmers’ market, and fro-yo from Berryline.

jer katie harvard yard

I’m looking ahead to fall: making plans, making lists, feeling ready to be more settled at home and at work. This summer has felt chaotic and hot and stressful, in a lot of ways. But looking back at these photos reminded me: there’s been a lot of beauty, too.

What have you left unblogged this summer?

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tulip magnolia buds blooms

Spring is still struggling to tug itself forward. So am I. Outside my writing window, it is drizzling, and my mood matches the atmosphere—dribs and drabs of depression, a light misting of malaise. What’s wrong with me is what’s wrong with spring: I am not all here yet. Some part of me is still caught in yesterday’s winter, and that chill grip on my ankle will not let go.

—Julia Cameron, The Sound of Paper

“Everything right now feels tentative, uncertain, transitional,” Lindsey wrote recently on her blog, and I felt a quiet thump of recognition when I read those words. Yes.

After a winter that did not overpower us like last year’s, I think we were all expecting an early spring. But the weather in New England – whatever else it may be – is rarely predictable.

A couple of late snowstorms (six inches of snow in early April!) and attendant cold snaps have pulled us up short, reminded us that winter isn’t quite gone yet. The evenings are longer, the light sharper and more golden, but the air still carries a bite. On most days, I’m still wearing my winter uniform of black leggings, ankle boots, green wool coat. I have been yearning for a vacation to somewhere warm, but that wasn’t in the cards this year.

During these breezy, capricious spring days, I have also been in transition at work (again): adjusting to the rhythm of a new office, six floors above the ground in Harvard Square. New colleagues, new duties and dynamics, a slight shift in work hours, a different angle on the neighborhood and the university I love so well.

I have struggled to be “all here” in this season, to live in my new-for-now reality instead of missing the one I left, or worrying over the lack of permanence. Meanwhile, various other uncertainties, large and small, keep knocking me off balance.

“We are always swept this way and that,” Jessica Fechtor writes in her gorgeous memoir, Stir, which I read last week. “We create the life we want to live, yes. Then, in return, that life creates us. We follow the tides; we have no choice. We splash about beneath the brightest of moons, then the darkest of skies, tug hard from the surface on anchors that refuse to budge, and then, if we are very brave, dive deep.”

Some seasons, as Lindsey noted in her post, feel particularly off-kilter, uncertain. And yet this is the way life is, though we don’t always realize it. We spend our days in the liminal spaces, moving from change to change. We follow the tides, as Fechtor says: sometimes floating and splashing on the surface, sometimes diving deep. I know that all these things are true, and yet I am always searching for anchors, a safe place to rest, a still point or two in a turning world.

I find it hard sometimes to look for the beauty in transition: it’s much easier to appreciate budding trees and unfurling tulips than it is to make sense of deep personal struggles. But the in-between places are where our lives take shape, and there is – I know – lots of joy to be found there.

“My job, and I do not always like it, is to imitate the season unfurling outside my window,” Julia Cameron writes in the essay quoted above. As I walk through this slow and lovely spring, I am trying to emulate the trees and flowers: to pay attention to the light, and (as Julia concludes) “to push on through the gray into greater blossoming.”

early tulips public garden boston spring

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harvard yard fall golden leaves

November is often a tricky month for me. The days are abruptly shorter after the fall time change, the long twilights of September and October suddenly snipped off like a ribbon. There’s a chill in the air most mornings, and I have to adjust to a different seasonal rhythm, the angle of the sun somehow melancholy even when the sky is vivid blue.

golden leaves sunshine

This week, though, has been one of almost unreal perfection: a glorious stretch of Indian summer, wherein (to quote L.M. Montgomery) “November dreamed that it was May.” I have spent hours in Harvard Yard, on the wide south porch of Memorial Church, perched on a bench or the concrete steps, sipping chai and scribbling in my journal or typing away at my laptop.

Every few minutes, I pause to look up as a breeze sends a swirl of golden leaves fluttering down from the trees. It’s like living in a postcard, or catching a glimpse of an enchanted forest.

harvard yard path trees light

Sometimes I think that if I watch hard enough, I can almost see it happen: the sun’s angle shifting gradually, the golden leaves falling one by one from the trees. The slow, elegiac turning of the year, the bright flaming out of orange and gold before the bare branches emerge to line the sky through the winter months.

orange gold leaves blue sky

Every year, it is a challenge for me to savor these last weeks of fall without dreading what comes after: the long, dark New England winter, which requires every bit of courage (and snow gear) I possess. I love the light, and like Dylan Thomas, I rage against its dying.

yellow leaves dormer windows harvard yard

But this week, I have felt cocooned in this quiet golden world, nourished by these bold blue skies and mild breezes and glowing, fire-bright leaves. I have stopped in my tracks so many times, looking up (and sometimes down), marveling at the colors, snapping pictures, soaking it up.


It all feels like a moment of grace, a gift. And for that, I am grateful.

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boston marathon finish line heart

Four years ago last week, the hubs and I landed in Boston, exhausted after four days and two thousand miles of driving cross-country (with the help of our friend Drew) and emotionally wrung out from so many good-byes in Abilene.

We moved into a smallish but spacious apartment with creamy white walls and scuffed hardwood floors that glowed golden in the afternoon light. We visited a tiny new church and J started his first full-time, post-graduate-school job as a therapist. And we began the long, slow process of making a home in a city wildly different from any place we’d ever known.

sailboats charles river boston summer

By now, we’ve learned a few things about life in Boston and the Northeast, including:

  • How to interpret the Boston accent, dropped ahhhhs and all.
  • The intricacies and frustrations of the subway system, otherwise known as the T.
  • The meaning of the phrase “bone-chilling cold.”
  • Related: a down coat and good snow boots are so worth the investment.
  • How to order cannoli at Mike’s Pastry (pro tip: there are no lines – just push your way in!).
  • The necessity of carrying cash for toll roads, mom-and-pop businesses (like Mike’s) and the farmers’ market.
  • The vagaries (and delights) of two different library systems.
  • How to register a car in Massachusetts, which is far more complicated than it ought to be.
  • What it’s like to live 2000 miles away from family, see them a few times a year and miss them every day.
  • How to juggle trips to exciting destinations with trips home to see said family (it’s a constant balancing act).
  • How to commute on public transportation without losing our minds. (Usually.)
  • Most of the words to “Sweet Caroline,” a Fenway tradition.
  • The location of nearly every bookstore in Boston, Cambridge and Brookline.
  • How the ducklings in the Public Garden will be dressed if a Boston sports team makes the playoffs.

ducklings beards red sox public garden boston

  • That making plans with friends is a process: spontaneity is tough in a big city when everyone’s schedules are packed.
  • There is no decent Tex-Mex food in greater Boston that I know of – so we make our own, or go to Portsmouth.
  • How to shovel snow and reserve a parking spot after you’ve shoveled it out. (Pro tip: milk crates.)
  • Semi-related: how to survive when the power goes out in February.
  • Various bits of Harvard lore – so much fun since I work there now.
  • Wildly varied, sometimes wacky nuggets of colonial history and Boston trivia.
  • The quickest routes to our beach, pictured below.

sunset beach boston ma

  • The location of the best lasagna, gelato and spicy calamari in the North End. (Sadly, the place with the best fettuccine has closed.)
  • The difficulty and the rewards of maintaining relationships at a tiny church whose members are spread across the city.
  • Related: how to live with a much smaller and uniquely precious circle of friends.
  • Many, many winter survival tricks.
  • What it’s like to stand with a city after a tragedy. (We are Boston Strong.)
  • How amazingly different life can be in a new place, even when you’re in the same country.

We’ve learned much more than that, of course – so much that is difficult to put into words, nonverbal but no less valuable and vital. This is a charming, mercurial, frustrating, vibrant, beautiful city, and living here has changed me in ways I can’t quite articulate.

Happy four years, Boston. It’s been an adventure. And it’s not over yet.

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We all have stories we tell ourselves. We tell ourselves we are too fat, too ugly, or too old, or too foolish. We tell ourselves these stories because they allow us to excuse our actions, and they allow us to pass off the responsibility for things we have done — maybe to something within our control, but anything other than the decisions we have made.

[…] It is past time, I think, for you to stop telling that particular story, and tell the story of yourself. […] There are times in our lives when we have to realize our past is precisely what it is, and we cannot change it. But we can change the story we tell ourselves about it, and by doing that, we can change the future.

The Weird Sisters, Eleanor Brown

longfellow garden radcliffe yard

I reread Eleanor’s lovely novel this spring, and this quote (near the end of the book, after one character has finally faced up to her mistakes) has stayed with me. It struck me the first two times I read The Weird Sisters, but on this, my third read, it lodged in my mind and has remained there. And only now, months later, have I figured out why.

For the first two years of my life in Boston, I told myself this story about it: Boston is a strange, difficult, often lonely place to live, full of beauty, history and culture, but far from my home and the family and friends I miss. I will have a hard time truly belonging here.

My six months of unemployment and my subsequent first job here gave me few reasons to change this narrative, even as I fell in love with our apartment and our church. I clung to Abi and Shanna, my two treasured friends who moved up here when we did, and to the few new friends we made. I also spent many (not unhappy) afternoons wandering the city by myself, but I eventually came to believe that carving out a place for ourselves here was not only difficult but impossible.

The last seven months have completely upended that narrative, forcing me to rethink the story altogether.

Part of the change is simply a result of the passage of time. After three years, we know all sorts of things we could not have known as Boston newbies: how to navigate the subway system, how to decipher the New England accents, how long it takes to get to church and the mall and the grocery store. We have library cards and parking passes, a detailed mental map of Boston and its environs. We have established a number of traditions: apple picking, July 4 fireworks, Turkeypalooza. We own down coats and CharlieCards and Massachusetts drivers’ licenses. We have built, slowly and over many months, deep friendships that did not exist before we came here.

We also know larger, intangible things: how it feels to move two thousand miles away from family, how difficult and freeing it can be to strike out on your own in a totally new part of the country. How much it costs to fly, at various times of the year, from Boston to Dallas or Boston to West Texas, and how and what to pack for those trips. How it feels to ache for the community you left, and how to do the slow work of building a new one. We are no longer as lonely as we were, and I cannot tell you how grateful this makes me.

The surprise factor in changing my narrative about Boston and New England is my new neighborhood, the job I now hold at one of Harvard’s schools and the transformation it has wrought in my workdays.

I had convinced myself, after months of experience to that effect, that Boston’s landscape of friendship might be as gray and barren as its physical landscape in winter. And though I started my new job in the dead of winter, the camaraderie in my new office burst onto my internal landscape like a garden of spring flowers.

Since February, my relationships with my colleagues have bloomed, sometimes slowly, but steadily, and they provide daily color and light where before I had little of either. The work itself is another important factor: it suits me better, personally and professionally, than my former position. And the chance to explore Harvard Square on my lunch breaks, and attend Morning Prayers at Memorial Church, is no small thing.

As a result, the story I tell myself, about both my past and present experience in Boston, is changing. I am learning to see the first two years for what they were: a challenging but valuable transition into a new city and a much different way of life. I am newly aware of how long it takes to truly feel at home in a place, and newly accepting of the ways in which I may always feel like an outsider. But I no longer assume that the people I meet will prove brusque or uncaring. I am more open to new experiences, new friends, new projects and possibilities.

I am creating a new story to tell myself. And it feels good.

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