World Cup

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Like so many others, I loved watching the Women’s World Cup and was deeply moved by the United States team’s decisive triumph on Sunday night.  The sea of red, white, and blue and the national anthem all felt incredibly fitting at the end of the Fourth of July weekend, but more than anything, I was wowed by the athletes.

Yes, by their ferocious play.  By how they didn’t give up.  By their clear orientation towards teamwork.  I love what I read (and I can’t remember where) about someone asking one of the women what their “secret” was, and her response that “My secret is I’ve trained my butt off for 12 years.”  Amen to that.

I loved how after the win the team went and stood in front of the section of the stadium that clearly held their families.  They had tears and delight in their eyes as they danced, wept, and pointed up to their loved ones who’d been watching.  Abby Wambach kissed her wife, who leaned over so perilously I worried for a sec she’d fall.  It was abundantly clear to me that the US women wanted to celebrate first with each other (and I love all the photographs of them hugging, in huge groups) and immediately after, with their families.  I loved the way there was no drama about the way the two elder statesmen of the team were the ones to hoist the cup.  The person who won the game with her three goals (Carli Lloyd) and the big names on the team (Alex Morgan, Hope Solo) walked to the podium without complaint or hesitation, leaving the honors to the women who’d been on the team the longest, Abby Wambach and Christie Rampone.

I loved the clear dedication and loyalty I saw between each and every member of the team.  I mentioned to Grace that I loved the way the team looked communicating with their families.  She agreed, but added, “Well, I also liked how whenever someone from USA or Japan tripped each other or collided that patted each other on the back.  They just seemed really respectful.”  And how.

I’m hardly the only mother in America who’s jubilant at these newly-famous role models for our children.  My friend Kennedy wrote this on Facebook, and it brought tears to my eyes.

And now I coach my daughter, who is one of 2 million girls in the US who play soccer. Hopefully her heroes will be Carli Lloyd and Abby Wambach and Alex Morgan, who talk all about team, and sacrifice, and hard work. They are elite, awesome athletes who don’t get red cards, don’t whine, don’t dive, don’t scream or curse on TV. They play their asses off, they pick each other up, and they never stop fighting.

They are truly wonderful representatives for our country.

And now, today, they are champions of the world.

The only thing that marred the final match for me was the Robert Palmer girls who came out at the end, holding trays of medals.  After such a fantastic, triumphant celebration of what womens’ bodies can do, it felt jarring and incongruous to observe this focus on what womens’ bodies look like.  I watched the women in tight, short black dresses and high heels mince onto the field with a fair amount of shock.  I know I’m not the only person who note this.

Let’s change that, FIFA.  Grace may not be playing soccer anymore, but I’m thrilled at what these women represent for both she and Whit and for all of our children (and adults!): the value of teamwork, respect, hard work, and never giving up.  #likeagirl, indeed.

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Everyday life

I use the hashtag #everydaylife on Instagram a lot.  My goal is to convey the deep appreciation I have for my own ordinary existence.  Am I sometimes frustrated, cranky, tired, and ungrateful?  You bet.  Am I even more often thankful, aware to the point of pain, and struck with wonder?  No question.

So, I thought I’d share some of the #everydaylife moments from an absolutely spectacular three-day weekend.  For many years this has been a family weekend (no doubt driven in large part by the fact that my mother’s birthday is the 3rd).  It’s a weekend I look forward to all year.  My sister, our husbands, and our collective four children all gather with my parents.  It brings a lump to my throat to even write that, by the way.  I’m intensely conscious of how fortunate we are.

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Thursday night we arrived in time for a late dinner, and to witness my father reading Swallows and Amazons to the four cousins.  I loved this book as a child, and have vivid memories of him reading to me when I was a child (Treasure Island and The Water Babies feature most in my recollections).

Friday morning dawned clear and beautiful, and Hilary and I enjoyed a supremely special and immensely rare lunch with our mother for her birthday.  I honestly can’t recall the last time the three of us had a sit-down meal alone, together. I’ll spare you the selfie I took of the three of us leaving, but I thoroughly enjoyed every moment won’t ever forget it.

Friday night was birthday dinner, with presents and cake and candles and photographs of Nana with her four grandchildren that I prize.

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Saturday started with the small-town parade that we all love.  The children love the candy that the floats throw, we all love the music, and my favorite is the ever-dwindling number of World War II veterans in the parade.  I remember when some of them used to walk.  There was red white and blue, small waving American flags, marching bands, and homemade raspberry, blueberry, and yogurt popsicles by Grace.

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We all went out on my parents’ boat and through a series of unexpected twists ended up not joining the yacht club sunflower raft as planned but instead going out for a short sail.  The code flags that we had hoisted to celebrate the holiday ripped off the halyard.  Back on the mooring, we needed to get the halyard, which was billowing loose towards the top of the mast.  First Grace went up in a bosun’s chair, hoisted by my father and Matt. She didn’t make it to the top before we realized the block that the line hoisting her up went through as broken, and quickly she came down.  It was Whit’s turn.  About 2/3 of the way up he started shouting.  “Mummy!  Mummy!  I am terrified!”  We encouraged him to keep going, and he did.  He went all the way to the top of the mast, captured the loose halyard, and came back down again.  It’s hard to see in the picture above, but that’s him at the top of the mast.

I told him the bravest thing I thought he did was admitting he was terrified.  And then doing it anyway.

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We had dinner at the yacht club, a location which always gives me slight goosebumps and where the past glints particularly brightly in the present (it’s the location where Matt and I celebrated our wedding reception).  We watched the fireworks, breaths bated.  Grace noted the way you could see the reflection of the starbursts on the water.  Whit said he liked the ones that looked like falling stars best. I thought about how many years we’ve watched these same fireworks, at this same spot, marveling at time’s elasticity, amazed, as I am on a daily basis, at how quickly this life runs through my fingers even as I grasp at it.

We walked home and said goodbye to Hilary and her family, a farewell whose bittersweetness was tempered by how exhausted everyone was.  I woke up missing them yesterday and feel sad that a weekend I anticipate for so long is over.  Sunday was a quiet day, with sleeping in, tennis (we played singles, and it is near the end of days: Grace almost beat Matt, and Whit took two games off of me in a set), and an afternoon when Matt, my Dad, Grace, and Whit went sailing with a friend and Mum and I puttered around.

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I was sad leaving yesterday afternoon, and wistful as we drove home (slowly).  Summer is flying too quickly by, as is life itself.  Grace and Whit head to camp in only a couple of weeks, and at that point it’s incontrovertible that we’re into the second half of the summer.  As we crossed the Charles River into our home town, Matt pointed out the colors of the sky, the boathouse, and one of the Harvard houses.  Yes.  There is so much beauty all around us.  And so much sorrow, too.  Lambent colors, seen through the haze of tears.  That what #everyday life is.  It is full of beauty and gratitude and loss and memory and love.  It shimmers.

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other marvels

I have learned to release my expectations.  Sometimes, you have to be content to face east instead of west, miss the eclipse, feel the strangeness at your back, and know there will be other marvels.  You have no idea.  The world is full of them.

– Jillian Lauren, Everything You Ever Wanted

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The second half

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There is so much beauty in my front yard.  No, this metaphor doesn’t escape me.

Last Friday morning, I spilled an entire cup of coffee on my laptop.  It died immediately.  I spent the next several hours at the Apple store, then, once home, on the phone with Apple customer service because setting up the new computer did not work as smoothly anticipated.  And by that I mean it was not smooth at all.  I was particularly panicked because the computer’s hard drive was shot and the only chance I had at recover 25,000 photos and two books and a zillion essays was my external hard drive.

Thankfully, it worked eventually, but it was a long, emotional day, made harder because I was so furious at myself for knocking over the coffee in the first place.  Stupid and careless, yes.  Human, yes.

And let me say I’m aware of my great good fortune in even letting this be an issue.  Yes, I could go buy a new computer, and this is hugely lucky.  I know.  This is the definition of a first world problem.  All of what’s going on with me right now is a first world problem.

But somehow the computer, and the stupidity, and the unanticipated expense, and the overwhelming terror that I had lost so many things that matter to me just broke through some final, gossamer-thin reserve.  I lost it.

I’m just really tired. The truth is this has been a difficult half-year.  Since January there have been a parade of health concerns and unanticipated stresses in our lives.  I’ve struggled to sleep and we all know that makes everything more difficult. Everything is fine.  Yes.  Everything is fine.  But it’s felt like a slog, more than any other year I can recall.

There is still so much beauty.  I see it every day (which you can see on Instagram).  I hear poetry and quotes in my head on a daily basis, too, and they remind me powerfully of how extraordinary and rich my every day life is.  These observations buoy me; I described them in aggregate once as a sense of sturdy joy, and that’s what they are.  I bob on these swells of awareness every day.  What I’ve learned is that this can be true and I can still feel not-great.  I try not to complain, and I’m aware how miniscule my concerns are in the grand scheme of things, but the truth is I’m really worn out.  This has been a challenging 6 months.

And yet it is just life, isn’t it?  All of this.  The obstacles and the difficult days, the tiredness and the bickering children and all the ways adult life has wound more circuitously than we’d imagined.  This is life itself, and if I know one thing it’s that waiting for the challenging stuff to be over is the ticket to wasting your days.  These obstacles are life.  And as long as I can see the beauty, and bury my nose in the hydrangeas, and gasp out loud at a sunset, well, then I think I’m still doing fine.  I read my friend Tara Sophia Mohr’s post yesterday with a deep, settling feeling of recognition, identification, and thank-goodness-me-too.  This incarnation is not for the faint of heart.  No.  No, it is not.

Still, I wish a few days of ease, a few nights of sound sleep, some rest and peace.  That’s what I hope for now.  Today is the first day of the second half of 2015, and I’m ready.

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Best Books of the Half-Year

Last year my friend Nina Badzin wrote about her favorite books at the year’s halfway point.  I liked the idea, blatantly copied her, and thought it was a good idea to do it again.  So, here are my favorite books so far for 2015.  If you have read any of them, or if you do, please do let me know what you think. And I’d love to hear what you’ve been reading and liking lately.

I haven’t read many novels that have hugely struck me so far this year, but two have, and I’m recommending them to anyone who will listen.

A Window Opens by Elisabeth Egan.  I adored this novel, which made me alternately nod in ferocious identification (refusal to cut off sandwich crusts?) and tear up with profound relatability.  I will be giving this novel to many women I know who will find the protagonist, and her middle place loves, losses, and thoughts deeply moving and familiar.  I was happy to review this book here.

The Royal We by Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan.  This book is laugh-out-loud entertaining and has a hopeful, emotional core that I found touching in unanticipated ways.  For anyone interested in the royal family or who already knows and loves the hilarious voices of Go Fug Yourself, this is a must-read.  The Royal We is my next Great New Books recommendation.

Most of what I’ve read that’s impressed me so far this year has been memoir.

Ongoingness: The End of a Diary by Sarah Manguso.  This spare, powerful book touches on many topics dear to my heart: time, memory, motherhood, loss.  I reviewed Manguso’s gorgeous book in more detail here, and I absolutely adored it.

The Folded Clock: A Diary by Heidi Julavits.  This book shares with Manguso a preoccupation with the ordinary moments of our lives and with how we record, collect, and remember them.  Julavits writes simultaneously about nothing and about everything, and in so doing reminds us that the meaning of human life exists in its most humdrum, mundane details.

H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald.  I’m not at all familiar with falconry, which lies at the heart of Macdonald’s book, but it is a testament to the extraordinary, shimmering beauty of her writing that I felt I could relate to much of the story.  The word I’ve read most often in reviews of this unusual, bonfire-bright book is feral, and it is perfect.  Macdonald uses her relationship with Mabel, her hawk, to walk the line between domestication and wildness, and in so doing illuminates the way humans need both to be rooted and to fly.

Hold Still: A Memoir with Photographs by Sally Mann.  Another book which muses on the topic of memory and how we capture the experiences, both mundane and magic, of our lives.  I loved it.  Sally Mann’s prose is easy to read and musical.  Hold Still is a love letter to her husband, her children, and to the gloriously beautiful landscape and complicated history of the south.  Mann’s story reminded me, somehow, of Faulkner, and brought to mind silvery green Spanish moss hanging in trees; the south is its own country.

The Light of the World by Elizabeth Alexander.  This memoir gave me goosebumps.  Elizabeth tells the story of her whirlwind romance with Ficre, an Eritrean chef and artist, and of the year that follows his sudden and tragic death.  I loved Elizabeth’s voice, which echoes like poetry (she is a poet and an academic).  Over and over again, I gasped as I read and underlined madly.  This is a quick read but one that stays with you long after you close the cover of the book.

Everything You Ever Wanted by Jillian Lauren.  Jillian’s account of trying to get pregnant and ultimately pursuing adoption, and the first few years with her son, made me both laugh and cry.  Her voice is familiar and friendly, and the story is powerful.  I loved this book (and Jillian and I share a birthday, a coincidence I love). 

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the evanescent extraordinary makes its quicksilver

Art replaces the light that is lost when the day fades, the moment passes, the evanescent extraordinary makes its quicksilver.  Art tries to capture that which we know leaves us, as we move in and out of each other’s lives, as we all must eventually leave this earth. Great artists know that shadow, work always against the dying light, but always knowing that the day brings new light and that the ocean which washes away all traces on the sand leaves us a new canvas with each wave.

– Elizabeth Alexander, The Light of the World

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Selfie sticks at the Louvre

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Grace and my father at the Louvre.  All the selfie-takers were focused on the more famous art, and this room was deserted.

“The stick is the sword in the selfie army,” my 10 year old son observed as we walked underneath the Eiffel Tower, last month in Paris. I looked at him, laughed, and dodged another group of tourists gathering together to take a photo of themselves with the soaring steel gridwork of Paris’s most famous landmark in the background.

We were in Paris for a week. We saw the Mona Lisa, the Eiffel Tower, Napoleon’s tomb, more pieces of art and history than I can remember. We also saw dozens and dozens and dozens of people taking selfies. At the Louvre we couldn’t see the more famous works of art. We couldn’t see through the thick throng of phones, held overhead.

The people had their backs to the art. They were looking at them through the camera lens, and with their own smiling face in the foreground. Maybe I’m old. Well, actually, yes, I’m definitely old. But still, I found it shocking.

I was shocked because people weren’t looking at Paris. They were looking in the lenses of their phones. This once-in-a-lifetime experience was mediated through the lens of a phone camera. I’ve observed this before, particularly at school concerts and plays. I have been guilty of this, myself, of missing whole swaths of an experience or a performance because I was so focused on getting a good photo of it. All around me, in the lower school gym, there are glowing screens and parents videotaping a concert. Their witnessing of the experience is secondary to their recording of it. In the last few years, though, I’ve tried harder to put my phone down and to simply be here now – be here now, what my someday-maybe-dream tattoo will say, on my wrist – and trust that the memories I make are richer and more colorful than any photo would have been.

What I saw in Paris was different than what I’ve seen in the lower school gym, though. Yes, the parents and the tourists were both mediating their experience through a camera lens. But the tourists were experiencing Paris backwards, in order to make sure they themselves were in the photos.   They weren’t looking at the city; they had their back to it.

The truth is, this question felt uncomfortably close, because I’m often anxious about the solipsism inherent in writing personal essay. Is it the same thing as what I observed in the Louvre, people inserting themselves into every photo? It strikes me that it’s not. I write what I see, and my gaze is turned out, onto the world. The essays I write – and, perhaps more importantly, the ones I am drawn to reading– are insistently outwardly focused. They are about subjectivity only in so far as that is the filter through which the world is viewed.  This makes me think of the Aikra Kurosawa quote: “An artist is one who does not avert her gaze.”  When I read that passage, I think of writers and artists whose work I admire: their gaze is outward. 

What I witnessed in Paris, which made me sad, is the insistent viewing of oneself in every frame. The lens is literally turned. The photo, or the essay – and the experience – is self-reflexive. It’s about the subject primarily, rather than secondarily.

I couldn’t stop thinking about the young adults whose back was to Paris. Yes, it made me sad to see this, but what’s really going on? IS that generation insecure about their place in the world? What underlies their aggressive need to assert that they are there? Or has the culture become so self-centered that all that matters is our own experience of something, of documenting that we were there?

I’m not sure. But I do know that there’s something sad about turning your back to Paris, even if you get a great shot of your face with the blurry Mona Lisa in the background.

I wrote this piece after our March trip to Paris

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Solstice: light and shadow

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Saturday night after-dinner walk with ice cream.  The Bermuda flag is flying because the race to Bermuda just left from our town.

Yesterday was the summer solstice.  This is second to the winter solstice for me as a holy day, but it is an important one nevertheless.  The winter solstice occurs in the darkest week of the year, during the beginning of Boston’s cold, snowy months.  And yet it is somehow a more hopeful day for me than the summer solstice, which takes place at the height of light, the frenzied pitch of spring and summer’s fecundity, when the world positively bursts with potential.  I can’t help sensing, somewhere deep inside of me, that we’re now shifting back towards the darkness, towards shorter days, and from here on for the next six months we will be losing light.

That sounds pretty depressing, I know.  Particularly because I write these words while sitting in the living room of my parents’ house on the water, surrounded by books and half models of sailboats and with the ticking of the beautiful grandfather clock that lives in the corner of the room.  The clock features in my childhood memories of my paternal grandparents’ house in Long Island, and when I look up at it I sense them near.  Later in the day, I cut two peonies from a bush that my mother transplanted from her father’s garden and put them on our dinner table.  It only struck me on Sunday, Father’s Day, that it was likely not an accident that I felt both of my grandfathers so nearby all weekend.

There was some gloom on Saturday, despite it being so beautiful.  Part of that was the tangible presence of my grandfathers, who were vividly present.  Another part of it was both Grace and Whit were crabby, and more than once we tangled, tempers flared, and a few tears were shed.  It was far from a perfect Saturday.  There were raised voices, crossed arms, and hurt feelings.

Despite these shadows, the world is also awash in light.  On Friday night the four of us went to see Jurassic World, the very first time we’ve gone to a movie as a family of four, though I have taken the children to many, many movies by myself.  It was entertaining and full of messages that we discussed as we drove home.  Both children noted that nature seemed to do better when you didn’t mess with it (the movie focuses on a genetically-modified dinosaur). When we left the movie theater, around 9:15, light was still visible in the sky.  A sliver moon was rising on the horizon, and I tried to take a picture, overcome, as I so often am, by the beauty of the world.  These are the most heightened, light-filled days, and yet deep within me I’m aware of something shifting, below the reach of words or logic.

Hilary sent me a poem late last week that she thought I would like.  She was right.  I love the way this poet, who is new to me, touches on life’s ordinariness and beauty, the way she evokes the long view, the ancient vista, that essential sense of the eternal, age-old universe that throbs under my daily life and to which I feel closer at the solstice than at any other time of year.  We spin on.  The earth under our feet, the great green ball on which we live, this tiny speck in a universe whose enormity we cannot fathom.

My earthly time is sweetening from all of this, memories and ghosts and tears and crankiness as much as joy and ice cream and laughter and sunsets, I know that to be true.  It’s all a part of my life, shadow and light intertwined, even on the longest days of the year.

Solstice

Tess Taylor

How again today our patron star
whose ancient vista is the long view

turns its wide brightness now and here:
Below, we loll outdoors, sing & make fire.

We build no henge
but after our swim, linger

by the pond. Dapples flicker
pine trunks by the water.

Buzz & hum & wing & song combine.
Light builds a monument to its passing.

Frogs content themselves in bullish chirps,
hoopskirt blossoms

on thimbleberries fall, peeper toads
hop, lazy—

Apex. The throaty world sings ripen.
Our grove slips past the sun’s long kiss.

We dress.
We head home in other starlight.

Our earthly time is sweetening from this.

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beauty tinged with sadness

As for me, I see both the beauty and the dark side of things; the loveliness of cornfields and full sails, but the ruin as well.  And I see them at the same time, at once ecstatic at the beauty of things, and chary of that ecstasy.  The Japanese have a phrase for this dual perception: mono no aware.  it means “beauty tinged with sadness,” for there cannot be any real beauty without the indolic whiff of decay.  For me, living is the same thing as dying, and loving is the same thing as losing, and this does not make me a madwoman; I believe it can make me better at living, and better at loving, and, just possibly, better at seeing.

– Sally Mann, Hold Still

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Things I Love Lately

Helen Boggess – I’ve been following Helen Boggess’s beautiful work on Instagram for a while, and find myself adoring the words she shares and the gorgeous art she creates to showcase them.  I recently asked Helen to do a custom piece for me and in so doing stumbled upon this Tumblr of her work, which is a great place to lose yourself for hours.  It’s titled with a quote I haven’t heard before and which I love” “Where I create, there I am true” (Rilke).

Parenting, Not for the Moment, but for the Long Haul – I adore this piece of Jess Lahey’s in the New York Times.  I pay so much attention to the individual moments of my ordinary life here, and holding them up to the light, see their shimmer, but I also appreciate Jess’s wise and compelling reminder that the long arc of perspective is useful too.  I love her last sentence, and the way she calmly assures me that my children will be fine.  I want to celebrate their wandering, and she helps me do that.

The Thrive Portrait Project – I found Karen Walrond’s beautiful project through Asha Dornfest (who in part inspired my post last week about how everything is changing).  Karen’s project aims to photograph women over 40 and capture what it means to them to thrive in their lives.  The photographs are mesmerizing and the words are immensely powerful.  I’m in my 40s now too, and I really resonate with the concept that these can be fruitful, passionate, blazing years.

Everything You Ever Wanted – I’ve had terrible insomnia lately (not something I love at all) and Jillian Lauren’s memoir was a wonderful companion in the lonely early morning hours.  I was fortunate to hear Jillian read at my friend Aidan‘s house last month, and this book is as marvelous as she is in person: funny, warm, wise, and down to earth at the same time.  Jillian’s story reminds us that sometimes the path doesn’t look anything like we imagined, but it still gets us exactly where we need to go.

What Do You Believe In? – This post from Nici at Dig This Chick gave me goosebumps because I read it the morning after I published a post specifically about what I believe.  I also made me cry with its truth, the way it sweepingly embraces what was, what might have been, and what is.  “I believe in feeling all the feelings. I believe in big dreams and small movements. I believe in seasons, skipping stones, skiing, strawberries, saying yes, swimming, sleep, sunrise, snuggling and swing dancing. I believe what you believe. I believe in you.”

What are you reading, thinking about, and loving lately?

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

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