August break

As I have for many years, I plan to take August off from blogging.  There’s a lot happening in this final month of summer: campers coming home (Whit), children preparing to leave home (Grace) and for new schools (both).  We have shopping and packing and laundry to do, as well as our final family dinners in this particular season.  It brings tears to my eyes to write that, so you can bet I’ll spend chunks of this next month in tears and morose.  But I’m going to do my damndest to live it well, to let go of my fear about what’s coming, and to pay attention, and I’ll be back in September.

I hope to see you then.

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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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