wake up to the very life we’re living

Our intention is to affirm this life – not to bring order out of chaos, nor to suggest improvements in creation – but simply to wake up to the very life we’re living, which is so excellent once one gets one’s mind and desires out of its way and lets it act of it’s own accord.

~ John Cage

Another beauty from First Sip.  I know, I’m a broken record, but check it out!

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Turning

It may shock some of you to hear this, but I can be heavy lifting.

I know.

Someone as melancholy as me, as attuned to both loss and sorrow?  Hard to believe.  But it’s true.

And it is getting more pronounced.  Well, to be accurate, my sensitivity is getting more pronounced all around, which means I’m more aware of both the dark stuff and the outrageous beauty. I try to focus on the latter.

But there are times when I’m swamped by all that feels difficult.  That’s not true right now: as I wrote just last week, this has been a summer full (so far) of uncommon beauty.  Of course, I also acknowledged that that patina is likely burnished by the endings and departure that lurk under everything right now.  But still, there’s a lot of beauty right now.

In the last week, though, I started noticing that the days were getting shorter again.  The nights are falling a bit earlier, and I am already aware of summer’s end even amidst all the riotous hydrangeas and hot days and beach swims. It’s as though the next season, and its accompanying darkness, is already encroaching in around the edges of the light and beauty of right now.

It’s that old preemptive regret thing, the way I can’t focus on what’s in front of me because I’m too distracted by what I can sense on the horizon. Everything is turning, so fast I can barely catch my breath: summer turning towards fall, Grace turning towards her leaving, Whit turning towards teen-hood and being a young man.  We are all inching forward on the ferris wheel and I am breathless at the view but also at what I know lies ahead.

I’m not the only person in my family who evinces this sensitivity.  On Sunday night, Whit was sad at bedtime.  It took me a while to drag out of him what was wrong (planting the seeds of another post, about the ways in which we should run into the burning building, or about how it is when those we love are at their worst that they need us the most) but he finally admitted, tearfully, what was on his mind.  It was a long list, but one of them was that “the summer’s already halfway gone!  It feels like we just got out of school!”  He was very upset. “I mean, summer is basically almost over.”  He swallowed, wiping tears from his face.

“I know what you mean, Whit.” I told him, rubbing his back.  I had no idea what else to say, since the truth is the awareness of how fast it all flies brings me to my knees on a regular basis.

With effort, I turn my face back to what’s in front of me, and take a deep breath.  My time on earth turns forward no matter what I do.  The bitter aspect of my orientation towards bittersweetness is unavoidable (so, by the way, is the sweet part).  What I can choose is where I place my attention.  So, once again, I try to do that right here.  Right now.

 

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acknowledging the good

Acknowledging the good that you already have in your life is the foundation for all abundance.

-Eckhart Tolle

Thank you to Kerry, on whose lovely blog Next Trip Around the Sun I found this perfect line.

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Around Here

Everything lately has a particularly heightened sheen.  Maybe this is because of Grace’s impending departure.  Maybe this is because after a cold and rainy spring we are having spectacular weather that we’re grateful for.  Maybe this is because of an on-and-off back pain that’s made me hyper aware of what I can do when I feel fine. Maybe it’s for a host of other reasons that have pointed a spotlight of grateful awareness onto our everyday lives.

No matter, really, why: life has a patina lately, and I feel keenly conscious of all that is glorious. And, simultaneously, of how fragile it all is, and how fleeting.  For me at least, I can’t have one of those feelings without the other.

some screen shots from Whit

Whit got a phone.  Enough said.

sunset from the air over San Francisco

I had a quick trip to California, complete with my second redeye in six weeks (two too many).  On the upside, I saw a dear friend from business school and had some powerful encounters with the sun (both setting and rising) as I traversed the country.

my sister with her children and mine, swimming in the ocean

We had a marvelous visit with my sister and her family over the Fourth.  This annual visit, which is also a celebration of my mother’s birthday, has become a cherished annual tradition for our family.  I watch as each child gets taller and sleeps later and says more interesting things, and I love everyone even more every year.

the sun on Vineyard Sound as we headed back to Falmouth

Grace played in a tennis tournament in Edgartown so we spent a sunny Saturday on the Vineyard.  Taking the ferry was great fun, as was wandering around Edgartown and having ice cream before our ride home.  My college roommate, who has a house nearby, was free at last minute to come say hi.  A regular Saturday turned spectacular just like that.

dinner at Brick in Fairhaven

Whit came home from sailing bubbling over about a pizza place he’d heard about.  We decided to go on Saturday night and, because I’m a huge dork, I called to make a reservation.  They agreed, and that was that.  We showed up to a place that is totally casual – think, you order at a counter. There was one booth open, and we bee-lined for it before noticing a small “reserved” sign on it.  Oh, I sighed, we should go over here, steering Grace and Whit to another table.  Mum, Whit hissed, it’s reserved for us. And it was.  And the pizza was delicious.

I used to write posts like this more often, and I am grateful for the reminder of life’s small good things my archives are.  I think part of why I do so less often now is that I use Instagram in this way now.  I’d love for you to find me there, and to find you!

 

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we still and always want waking

Why are we reading, if not in hope of beauty laid bare, life heightened and its deepest mystery probed?

Can the writer isolate and vivify all in experience that most deeply engages our intellects and our hearts?

Why are we reading, if not in hope that the writer will magnify and dramatize our days, will illuminate and inspire us with wisdom, courage and the hope of meaningfulness, and press upon our minds the deepest mysteries, so we may feel again their majesty and power?

What do we ever know that is higher than that power which, from time to time, seizes our lives, and which reveals us startlingly to ourselves as creatures set down here bewildered?

Why does death so catch us by surprise, and why love?

We still and always want waking.
~Annie Dillard from “Write Till You Drop”

Yet another beautiful passage from Barnstorming, one of my few absolute must-read blogs.

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Things I Love Lately & Happy Fourth

Poppy and his four grandchildren out for a dinghy ride, July 2, 2017

Happy Fourth of July!

In what has become a cherished tradition, we are celebrating this weekend with my whole family.  The small town where we spend summer weekends has a wonderful parade (you can see photos of the children at the parade through the years here).

So, today I’ll share a few things I’m loving lately.  I’d love to hear what you have been reading and thinking about this holiday weekend.

How to Raise a Feminist Son – I love every word of this piece. I often hear from people that I must be so proud that Grace has a role model of a mother with a career. I am, I say, but I always add that I’m equally as proud that Whit has the same.  This piece beautifully captures a topic that I’m not sure is getting as much attention as it should.  I want both my daughter and my son to grow up believing that the genders are equally as valuable.  Period.

Why Women of 40 and 50 Are the New “Ageless” Generation – I actually have no problem with the expression “middle age” (and I began using it, to criticism, when I turned 35 and then, again when I profiled 38).  That may be because to me that phrase does not have negative connotations but rather means, quite literally, that I am in the middle of my life (which feels like an irrefutable fact to me, as I head towards my 43rd birthday). I relate to a lot about this piece.

Lost – Grace, Whit and I started watching Lost from the start of the first season.  I’d never seen it (and neither had they).  I saw on Instagram that Heather was enjoying the same.  Riveting!  We can’t stop watching and talking about it.  Highly recommend.

June – I love Dina’s writing on Commonplace and these posts always inspire me to pay closer attention to the abundance of small good things that fill my everyday life.

I write these Things I Love posts approximately monthly.  You can see them all here.

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wonder

I tell my students this: often, the most honest stance you can take is that of questioning. The most you can be certain of is that of which you wonder.

-Tracy K. Smith

From an interview with our newest poet laureate in the Iowa Review.

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Best Books of the Half-Year

It’s become an annual tradition for me to reflect, at the year’s mid-point, on my favorite books that I’ve read so far.  Nina Badzin started this and inspired me, and I’m grateful for the touchpoint. You can see my 2016 and 2015 posts here.  I’d love to hear what you’ve been reading and loving so far this year.

My favorite books of 2017, so far:

Fiction

Saints for All Occasions, Courtney Sullivan.  I adored this book, which is about family and faith and secrets and loyalty, and have thought about it daily since I finished it.  Highly, highly recommend.  My review at Great New Books is here.

Commonwealth, Anne Patchett. I have mixed feelings about Patchett’s fiction (Bel Canto is one of my Reader Shame books – I just can’t get into it!) but I really enjoyed Commonwealth.

Conclave, Robert Harris.  I include this mostly to show you that I read a lot of books that you might describe as airport books.  Also, I have many strange interests, including the papal conclave. If those things are both true for you, this story is engrossing.

I clearly need some good novels in my life!  Put another way, I’ve been focusing on the aforementioned airport category (Grisham, Baldacci, Connelley) to the exclusion of much other writing, which I need to remedy.  What fiction have you loved lately?

Non-Fiction

Hourglass: Time, Memory, Marriage, Dani Shapiro.  I adored this book, which is, “fundamentally, about what memory means.” It’s also about long marriage, adulthood, and the ways in which our younger selves both shape and echo through us as we age into midlife. My review is here.

The Bright Hour: A Memoir of Living and Dying, Nina Riggs. Another gorgeous, gorgeous memoir, which is about a 39 year old mother facing her own death but also, and more powerfully, a vibrant, funny, glorious book about how to live. My review is here.

The Rules Do Not Apply, Ariel Levy. I could not put down this book. Levy’s writing is as urgent as a freight train, full of both candor and power. One caveat is that I found the end strangely indirect, for a book that was so much about looking straight ahead and speaking truth.  But Levy writes beautifully about being a woman in the modern world, and I highly recommend this book.

A Country Between: Making a Home Where Both Sides of Jerusalem Collide, Stephanie Saldana.  A lovely, luminous memoir of marriage, early motherhood, and Jerusalem.  My review at Great New Books is here.  I loved this but loved Stephanie’s first book,

Between Them: Remembering My Parents, Richard Ford.  This slender recollection is warm and real and I closed it feeling like I had had a truly up-close introduction to Ford’s parents.  It made me consider how Grace and Whit will reflect on the family that framed their childhood, and how they experience Matt’s and my relationship.  A fascinating, salient topic that, at least as far as I’m concerned, is somewhat ill-explored.

Insomniac City: New York, Oliver, and Me, Bill Hayes. I love Oliver Sacks, and loved this loving, intimate portrait of him by his partner, Hayes. This book feels like a long love letter to Oliver, and he emerges from its pages as lovably erudite and intellectual as I imagined.  A wonderful book.

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there’s magic in the climb

I think parenting young children (and old ones, I’ve heard) is a little like climbing Mount Everest. Brave, adventurous souls try it because they’ve heard there’s magic in the climb. They try because they believe that finishing, or even attempting the climb are impressive accomplishments. They try because during the climb, if they allow themselves to pause and lift their eyes and minds from the pain and drudgery, the views are breathtaking. They try because even though it hurts and it’s hard, there are moments that make it worth the hard. These moments are so intense and unique that many people who reach the top start planning, almost immediately, to climb again.

– Glennon Doyle

Thank you to Violet Gaynor, on whose lovely Instagram feed I found these words.

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Tradition and adaptation, metaphor and flying

I have written a lot about traditions, and how they can form the scaffolding of family life. That’s certainly true for us.  For many years our family’s calendar has been dotted with traditions big and small.  As the kids have grown, some of these have fallen by the wayside and others have shifted but remained present.

There’s both tension and the possibility of power, I’ve come to believe, in how we adapt our traditions to fit our changing lives.  Many years ago, I took Grace and Whit to Storyland for a night at the end of the school year.  It was a wonderful trip – so great that we went back the next month.  For several years we did that, and then one year we did something else (a treetop course at Cranmore) and this year we went ziplining.

We got to Gunstock on Saturday morning and signed lots of waivers.  Matt took a pass on ziplining because of his leg, so Grace, Whit and I went up the chairlift together.  As we rode to the top of the mountain, we watched some people pass on the zipline to our left.  I could not believe how high they were or how fast they were going.  I took a deep breath and caught Grace’s eye.  What were we in for?

We ziplined a short distance from the chairlift to the top of the longest, highest zipline of the course.  The kids went together, ahead of me, and I followed them. As we wound up a rickety spiral staircase to the platform I felt dizzy ad paused.

“Are you okay, Mum?” Whit asked me from above.  I nodded, but waited a moment to regain my bearings.

“I’m a little nervous, too,” he whispered to me when I reached the top. I felt the world swirl below us, and standing with my feet further apart than normal, to feel balanced, I reached for my phone to take a photo.

They got ready to go.  The lines soared away from the platform, and with a thumbs up over their shoulders, they did too.  I stood and watched them go, leaping into the great wide open, flying away from me.  The metaphor hit me over the head and I stood alone on the platform, slightly stunned and grateful at the same time.

In a few moments it was my turn.  Channeling their openness, I stood while the attendant hooked me to the zipline, and then I jumped.  And I flew.

When I arrived at the next platform, I saw Grace and Whit standing there, waiting for me, grinning.  I had tears in my eyes as I landed and joined them.  I thought back to another day, years ago, when the three of us flew.

We went to the hotel we have stayed at for so many years, had dinner at our beloved Red Parka Pub, played at the water park, and fell asleep in a small room.  There are few things I love more than the four of us sleeping in one room.

Everyone fell asleep before me, and I lay in the dark room, thinking back to the early Storyland years. They were animate in the room, I felt, and the 5 and 7 year old versions of Whit and Grace floated in my memory.  I miss those years, desperately, but I’m so glad we’ve found a way to keep celebrating who the children are – who the four of us are – right now, and to keep our family rituals alive.

As we drove home on Sunday, Grace noted that she loved our annual celebration trip, and I swallowed hard to hide the tears from my voice when I agreed with her.  Oh, me too.  It is only by releasing our grip on what was that we can fully embrace what is.  The truth of that hit me hard this weekend.  I miss the days that were, but my God, that sorrow isn’t going to get in the way of my grabbing the days that are.

This is ritual at its most powerful, I believe: a way of honoring what was and of celebrating what is.  A reminder of the sturdy underpinning of family life. A confirmation that something bigger than each of us holds us, and a plain say of love. This is who we are, Grace and Whit: a family that honors June each year, and one that trusts that when you jump off a platform into the sky, you’ll fly.

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