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Posts Tagged ‘wisdom’

daffodils succulents florist

After the first week the girls of Patty’s Place settled down to a steady grind of study; for this was their last year at Redmond and graduation honors must be fought for persistently. Anne devoted herself to English, Priscilla pored over classics, and Philippa pounded away at Mathematics. Sometimes they grew tired, sometimes they felt discouraged, sometimes nothing seemed worth the struggle for it. In one such mood Stella wandered up to the blue room one rainy November evening. Anne sat on the floor in a little circle of light cast by the lamp beside her, amid a surrounding snow of crumpled manuscript.

“What in the world are you doing?”

“Just looking over some old Story Club yarns. I wanted something to cheer and inebriate. I’d studied until the world seemed azure. So I came up here and dug these out of my trunk. They are so drenched in tears and tragedy that they are excruciatingly funny.”

“I’m blue and discouraged myself,” said Stella, throwing herself on the couch. “Nothing seems worthwhile. My very thoughts are old. I’ve thought them all before. What is the use of living after all, Anne?”

Anne of the Island, L.M. Montgomery

I turned back to this exchange between Anne and Stella recently, while slogging through a stretch of cold, grey days. I’m fighting a head cold (as Anne does elsewhere), and my very thoughts, like Stella’s, have felt old. It might not be November around here, but biting winds and swirling snow in early April are just as depressing as a cold fall rain.

Despite my gloom, I smiled as I read Anne’s reply to Stella: “Honey, it’s just brain fag that makes us feel that way, and the weather. A pouring rainy night like this, coming after a hard day’s grind, would squelch any one but a Mark Tapley. You know it is worthwhile to live.”

I know in my bones that Anne is right: this life, with its myriad frustrations and joys, is entirely worth living. It’s full of things to savor and enjoy. But I’ve still been feeling more like Stella: “Oh, my mind agrees with you, Anne. But my soul remains doleful and uninspired.”

I’m falling back on all my tried-and-true lifesavers: daffodils for my desk, daily trips to Darwin’s for chai and chitchat, sweet clementines peeled and eaten mid-afternoon while I take a break from work email to catch up on blogs. But I’m also remembering what Stella says a few lines later: “I begin to feel that life is worth living as long as there’s a laugh in it.”

For that laughter, I’m relying on my people: my snarky coworkers, my goofy husband, the silliness that ensues when we gather around a friend’s table on Sunday nights. (Full disclosure: I’m also cracking up at James Corden’s Crosswalk musical videos and the occasional episode of Modern Family.)

When the skies are grey and the to-do list is long, I’m trying to remember: life is worth living as long as there’s a laugh in it. That laughter – even if sometimes it comes perilously close to crying – is what’s saving my life these days.

What’s making you laugh in these early spring days? (And when will the sunshine come back?)

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This is thirty-three

katie mirror larchmont

I turned thirty-three a couple of weeks ago. It was, in many respects, a completely ordinary Thursday: I brewed a cup of tea and ate a scone for breakfast, spent my commute reading, walked across Harvard Yard to Morning Prayers before heading to the office.

From there, the day unfolded as so many of them do: full of emails, tasks, small triumphs and frustrations, along with the two standing meetings I have on Thursdays. I walked many of my favorite, familiar paths through Harvard Square, from the Yard to the office to Darwin’s and back again, going about my day under a vivid, arching, bold blue sky.

The day also felt special in some ways: my husband and several sweet friends made sure I felt celebrated, and my colleagues fêted me (between meetings) with croissants and a card they had all signed. One of the joys of social media is receiving birthday wishes from friends near and far, and I checked in a few times during the day to savor those. My parents were visiting from Texas, so they treated J and me to dinner at Pomodoro in the North End.

Last year on my birthday, I was in my fourth month of job hunting: frustrated, lonely, tired, deeply sad. I hadn’t yet landed the temp gig that would lead to the job I have now, and I was struggling mightily with my sense of identity and self-worth. So this year, when a friend asked why I was at work on my birthday, I was able to tell her: coming to work that day was exactly what I wanted.

My friend Lindsey wrote a couple of years ago that her fortieth birthday was all about real life: simple tasks and routines, family dinner, daily joys. Her words resonated in my head this year as I answered email, wrote and rewrote to-do lists, talked with colleagues about work projects and politics, and slipped away to Darwin’s at lunchtime for black bean soup and chitchat with my people there. I sat on a bench outside later that afternoon, sipping an iced tea and taking deep breaths to clear my head. And I thought, again, of Lindsey’s words: more of this.

Thirty-three is a place both rich and demanding: I have responsibilities at work, church and home, which often means trying to juggle a lot of balls. Thirty-three is gradually learning to ask for help with the juggling. Thirty-three is grateful that my husband and others are willing to step up and help me – but I still have to ask, and keep asking.

Thirty-three is speaking up more often, stretching out to take up a bit more space in this world. Thirty-three is leaning into my daily routines, my trusted relationships, my work neighborhood, and treasuring them all while leaving room for surprises.

Thirty-three is reading a lot of books and blogs (always) but also learning to step away from the constant information barrage: to take a long walk with my thoughts for company, or sit outside watching the sky.

Thirty-three is more aware of this world’s heartache than I’ve ever been, and also asking what I can do to make a small daily difference where I am.

Thirty-three is doing a lot of listening, and also a lot of talking, about the big questions: vocation and adulthood, politics and faith, marriage and friendship. Thirty-three also knows that the small things can save our lives every single day.

Thirty-three is growing more confident in my own skin, more accepting of my flaws (and other people’s), more and more grateful for this rich, messy, heartbreaking, quietly miraculous life.

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favorite books 2016 part 1

We are halfway through the year already, and I’m reading at my usual breakneck pace – nearly 130 books. I talk about what I’m reading in my semi-monthly roundups, but I wanted to share the best of my reading year (so far) with you.

Here are the books I have loved the most this year. (Not all of them were published in 2016, though about half of them were.)

Book That Best Embodies Its Title: Becoming Wise by Krista Tippett. She writes with such grace and (yes) wisdom about the Big Questions of what it means to be human, and draws many other voices into that conversation. I’ll be thinking about this one for a long time. So many great, thought-provoking sentences.

Loveliest Quiet Novel: Crossing to Safety by Wallace Stegner. This gorgeously written novel follows the intertwined lives of two couples, the Morgans and the Langs, over several decades. Beautiful, thought-provoking, heartbreaking and wise. A book worth reading and rereading. (Recommended by Anne and others.)

Most Captivating Young Adult Adventure Story: Walk on Earth a Stranger by Rae Carson. I loved every page of Leah Westfall’s journey from her Georgia homestead to the gold fields of California. She’s hiding a lot of secrets (including her ability to sense gold), but she is strong, compassionate and utterly human. I wrote about this book for Great New Books.

Most Sweeping, Heartbreaking, Absorbing Epic Novel: Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry. Four words: my dad was right. I should have read this years ago, but I’m so glad I finally did. I fell head over heels for Augustus McCrae, Woodrow F. Call, and their band of cowboys and wanderers, making the journey from Texas to Montana. It’s long, but powerfully rendered in simple prose. So good.

Wisest Memoir on Faith, Seasons and Home: Roots and Sky by Christie Purifoy. I loved Christie’s honest, lyrical writing about making a home with her family in an old Pennsylvania farmhouse, and the struggles of staying put and building a worthwhile life. Luminous, clear-eyed and utterly lovely.

Freshest Take on Holmes & Watson: A Study in Charlotte by Brittany Cavallaro, which reimagines Holmes and Watson as 21st-century teenagers at a Connecticut boarding school. Charlotte Holmes is sharp, jagged and brilliant, and Jamie Watson is insightful and kind. (The dialogue is fantastic.)

Most Insightful Foodie Memoir: Stir by Jessica Fechtor, which recounts the author’s journey to recovery after a brain aneurysm, and how she found her everyday (and a lot of delicious, life-giving meals) in the kitchen. Warm, wry and beautifully written, with so many insightful lines on food, family and living well.

Most Brilliant Homage to a Classic: Jane Steele by Lyndsay Faye, whose orphaned protagonist loves Jane Eyre but is not nearly so meek as that other Jane. Whip-smart writing, some truly wonderful supporting characters and so many fantastic lines.

Best Combination of Recipe Inspiration and Food Haiku: My Kitchen Year by Ruth Reichl, which includes mouthwatering recipes, lyrical tweets and some plainspoken wisdom about a tough year in Reichl’s life.

Best Reread: Belong to Me by Marisa de los Santos, which pulled me out of a serious reading slump. Beautifully written, deeply compassionate and so smart.

Best Book About Science and Life for Non-Scientists: Lab Girl by Hope Jahren. A memoir about botany and building a life. Fascinating, sarcastic, lovely and wise.

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

What are the best books you’ve read so far in 2016?

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peony candle

I read this line last month in Krista Tippett’s gorgeous, luminous book Becoming Wise. It is from a poem by Elizabeth Alexander, and I have not been able to stop thinking about it. In the wake of this weekend’s tragedy in Orlando, it has been with me like a heartbeat, thrumming quietly but insistently through my veins.

I talk a lot, lately, about my deep love for Darwin’s, the coffee shop down the street from my office. I am there so often – for chai or lunch or an afternoon snack – that I know at least half the staff by name. Several times a week, I stand in the lunchtime line that winds around the wine racks and past the ice cream freezer, and exchange smiles and hellos with the folks I know: Al, Kiersten, Ariel, Justin. If I’m lucky, my friend Gamal is working the register, and he always has a smile and a good word for me.

I have spent much of the past year not knowing quite where I belong: shunted between different offices, learning the ropes of two temp gigs while searching for the next right thing. I am both shy and introverted, and it’s hard sometimes for me to reach across and connect with new people, especially when I’m not sure I will be welcomed. (My first couple of years in Boston were hard and heartbreaking in that way, and it’s taken a long time for me to believe that people here want to know me, or be known by me.)

Especially during this year, I’ve been grateful for Darwin’s, and for other places of sanctuary and welcome in my life. The teams at both my temp gigs are full of smart, warmhearted people, and I’m lucky to have other folks to lean on: my husband, my family, a few treasured close friends.

And yet.

Relishing, and appreciating, the existing friendships in my life can’t be enough. Not when we wake up over and over to news reports of violence and tragedy, perpetuated by people full of hate and fear of those who are different from them. I can’t let my shyness – or my perceptions about any group of people – override my simple human responsibility: to be interested in others, and to treat them with dignity and compassion.

I am straight. I am white. I can’t imagine the discrimination experienced by some of my friends who don’t fit those descriptors. But I can – I must – be interested in them and their stories. Not as tokens or examples, but as people – complicated, messy, gloriously individual.

Alexander’s poem starts out being about poetry, as the narrator tells her students that poetry is “idiosyncratic.” But it quickly becomes about the human condition: “poetry is where we are ourselves,” she says. Her voice rises until it reaches the poem’s final crescendo:

Poetry (here I hear myself loudest)
is the human voice,

and are we not of interest to each other?

Yes. We are of interest to each other. We must be, if we are going to stem the tide of hate and fear that seems to be spilling out all over the place. We must remain interested in – and delighted by, and full of compassion for – each other. We cannot afford to do otherwise.

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time to read clock mv

May is a crazy month when you work in higher education. This May is especially so, since I’m temping at the Harvard Gazette and we are in the thick of Commencement madness. (Three days to go!)

Here, the books that are keeping me sane:

Becoming Wise: An Inquiry into the Mystery and Art of Living, Krista Tippett
Tippett is the longtime host of On Being, a radio show that examines the big questions of what it means to be human. This memoir beautifully distills what she has learned from her conversation partners over nearly 15 years. Her insights are grouped into five big categories: words, flesh, love, faith and hope (which all overlap). Lots of quotes from On Being guests, who range from physicists to poets (and everyone in between). Tippett writes in luminous, wise prose. Absolutely stunning on every page. If I could give it six stars (out of five), I would.

Geek Girl, Holly Smale
Harriet Manners is a geek – a fact she mostly embraces, though it occasionally causes her great social pain at school. But when she gets “spotted” by a modeling agency, Harriet wonders if this is her chance to reinvent herself. Smart, British, wacky and so much fun. Found at Bunch of Grapes Bookstore on Martha’s Vineyard.

Thursdays with the Crown, Jessica Day George
Princess Celie, her siblings and their friend Prince Lulath end up in a different world by accident, and must outsmart two evil wizards to get back home (with a load of griffin eggs). These characters are fun and engaging, though the magic in this book didn’t really hold together. Book 3 in a series.

Pen to Paper: Artists’ Handwritten Letters from the Smithsonian’s Archives of American Art, ed. Mary Savig
This book is exactly what it sounds like: full-color scans of handwritten letters by visual artists, each accompanied by a brief essay from a scholar or curator. Engaging and unusual. To review for Shelf Awareness (out June 14).

First Comes Love, Emily Giffin
Sisters Josie and Meredith have always had a fractious relationship, made more so by their brother’s tragic death 15 years ago. Now Meredith is at a crisis point in her marriage and Josie is contemplating single motherhood. Giffin deftly explores the complex bonds between sisters and the ways we can both wound and heal each other. I’ve read three of her other books (my sister loves them) and I thought this one (her eighth) was a big leap forward. She’s really matured as a writer. To review for Shelf Awareness (out June 28).

The Forgotten Room, Karen White, Beatriz Williams and Lauren Willig
I picked up this historical novel (which shifts between three different periods and narrators in NYC) because I love Williams’ elegant, witty novels about the Schuyler family. This one doesn’t glitter quite like her others, but it’s a rich, engaging story of three women who are all connected (to each other and the Schuylers) I saw several twists coming a mile away, but there were a couple I didn’t expect. I particularly liked Dr. Kate Schuyler, fighting to make her way as an independent woman in 1944.

Fridays with the Wizards, Jessica Day George
Princess Celie and her friends are safely home in Sleyne. But trouble strikes when an evil wizard disappears and then starts making mischief in Celie’s beloved Castle. Book 4 in a series.

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

What are you reading?

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house 9 oxford uk

The Guest House

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.

Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

My yoga teacher, Meredith, read this aloud to our class on a dark, snowy night in February, as we lay on our mats in savasana (the final resting pose). Most of the time, Meredith is quiet during savasana, but when she occasionally offers words, they are good ones.

This has been (as I’ve said before) a difficult year, and so the lines about being cleared out “for some new delight” particularly struck me. But the whole poem resonated: lovely, luminous and wise.

April is National Poetry Month, and I am sharing poetry here on Fridays this month.

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modern family promo poster season 1

Recently, the hubs and I tried Modern Family, on the recommendation of several friends. We’re not big TV watchers, but we like to have a show (preferably a comedy) to watch together, if we need a laugh in the evenings. As much as we love our Friends DVDs, we were hankering for something new.

After blowing through the first season of Modern Family in less than a month, I’d say we’re hooked.

In case you’re a little behind on your TV shows (like us), Modern Family is a comedy featuring three branches of the Pritchett clan: patriarch Jay and his second wife Gloria; Jay’s daughter Claire and her husband Phil; and Jay’s son Mitchell and his partner, Cameron (along with their assorted children). They all live near one another in California, and they manage to get themselves into an astonishing number of absurd situations in every single episode. (I haven’t heard my husband laugh so hard in months.)

The show centers on the everyday dramas of family life: juggling everyone’s schedules and needs, communicating honestly with your partner, navigating the dynamics of various relationships. There are misunderstandings and fights and a few tears, especially from dramatic teenager Haley. There’s also lots of hilarity: Claire and Mitchell recreating an old ice-dancing routine in a parking lot; Phil constantly trying to be a “cool” dad.

All the characters are great, but we each have our favorites. My husband loves flamboyant, oversensitive Cameron; I’m partial to big-hearted Gloria, with her hilarious linguistic gaffes and Colombian accent (which I love to imitate). But the character to whom I relate most is Claire.

Claire is a stay-at-home mom to three kids, a hyper-organized wife to scatterbrained Phil, a classic Type A oldest child who’s always trying to keep everyone (and everything) around her from going off the rails. She expends an enormous amount of energy holding it together, but sometimes she does break down – either because one of the kids pushes her buttons or because she’s just too exhausted.

In the first episode of Season 2, after a series of crises, Phil says to a teary-eyed Claire, “Don’t apologize. I love you when you’re human.”

That line stopped me in my tracks for two reasons. First, as a person who spends so much time trying to be perfect, I suspect it was what I – and Claire – most needed to hear. And second, I think that line holds the key to the whole show. Family is about loving each other when you’re human.

The Pritchett-Dunphy-Tucker clan – like any family – doesn’t always get along. Everyone’s got rough edges and hang-ups, and they know how to drive each other crazy. Sometimes the mistakes are small, inconsequential – and sometimes they’re a much bigger deal. But over and over again, they pull together and keep on loving each other. Their humanity makes them so relatable – even though, on the surface, my family doesn’t look much like theirs.

Modern Family is a comedy – and I plan to keep cracking up at the crazy scenarios in every episode. But I’ll also keep looking for the nuggets of truth hidden amid the hilarity. Being part of a family is seldom easy – but it is a beautiful thing to love one another when you’re human.

Have you watched Modern Family? (If so, are you a fan, like me?)

(Image from Wikipedia)

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