The work of my heart

There are mothers
for everything, and the sea
is a mother too,
whispering and whispering to us
long after we have stopped listening.
I stopped and let myself lean
a moment, against the blue
shoulder of the air. The work
of my heart
is the work of the world’s heart.
There is no other art.

~ Alison Luterman

I’m familiar with Alison Luterman’s wonderful work (highly recommend!) but I didn’t know this poem before.  I am thankful that I found it on Claudia’s beautiful blog, First Sip.

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Time folds like an accordion

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On Friday, Grace ran her first cross-country meet.  She was nervous, I was not there, and she did well.  She did really well. I met her after the meet and we went straight to the airport to pick up her dearest friend from camp, J.  J is the daughter of my old and dearest friend, Jess, who I met at the same camp, when we were 12.  Grace and J were born 12 weeks apart to the day.  Their firm friendship, independent from ours though inextricably woven through it, makes me happier than I can articulate.

While waiting to pick Grace up, I tweeted that I was collecting my daughter from her first cross-country race.  Lacy tweeted back, “This makes me teary. The colt legs, the pony tail. Late light on the towpath. Go, Graciegirl, go!” That message sent me immediately and viscerally back into the fall light with my friend, a fellow redhead, walking along the towpath, the autumn light on our head.  Then and now collapsed together and I cried, alone in the car.

Grace arrived, I met her coaches, and we headed to the airport.  As we walked in, Grace took off running, her cross-country jersey billowing behind her, her ponytail bouncing.  She’s nearly as tall as I am now, long and lean, all planes and sharp angles, full of energy and a blooming, hopeful tentativeness that is both familiar and, somehow, sad.  I took the picture above and stood, feeling like the wind had been knocked out of me, as I watched her go.  Always, they are running away.  My own cross-country days, in the woods of New Hampshire, among trees whose leaves flamed and then dropped to the ground, felt animate around me, both yesterday and a lifetime ago.  It’s her turn now.  And rather than making me sad, it feels right.  I am grateful to be here to cheer her on.  I can’t wait to go to her first actual meet and to watch her take off, as my mother did so many years ago.

And the seasons, they go round and round …

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We got to the gate early.  As I watched Grace wait for her friend I found that my eyes were brimming with tears.  When my dearest friend’s daughter walked off the airplane towards my own willowy tween, I remembered holding her as a newborn, her tiny self curled on top of my belly which was swollen with Grace.  Over and over again, memory confuses and confounds me with its power: how can that moment be so far gone, never to come again, when it also feels sturdy, still here?

I trailed the two of them back to the car, Grace still in her cross-country uniform, J carrying her own bag, their lanky bodies almost exact mirrors of each other, and thought that they are now the age that Jess and I were when we met for the first time.  I also remembered the day I first discovered I was pregnant with Grace, February 15, 2002, when the first phone call I made was to Jess.  I will never forget that conversation, my whispered, fearful question, and her warm, loving answer.  And from that day forward there were these two girls, whose lives I hope will be joined forever by what they shared even before they were born.  I imagine them when they are our age, hopefully still as beloved as they are now, and it makes me glad, relieved, breathless with wonder.

It is so much, all of it: my youth, then, her youth, now, running, the leaves turning, friendship, history, all that has happened before and is still here.  Time folds like an accordion, then kisses now and spreads apart again, and the past surfaces through the present from time to time, enriching it and reminding me of where I came from.  And always there is my startlingly tall daughter, running away, faster than I could ever imagine, her mahogany ponytail bouncing as the sun goes down.

Sometimes this life is so beautiful it is almost unbearable.

I wrote this post last weekend, but this morning it occurs to me that it nicely straddles September’s and October’s Here Year themes, time and friendship. 

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Time, and a map of what matters

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This September has offered simply spectacular sunsets

September is almost over.  The world spins on.  Aidan and I are coming to the end of this month of the Here Year, whose theme has been time.  Time is perhaps the central preoccupation of my life.  How quickly it moves, how evanescent it is, the confounding nature of memory, the inexorable, unavoidable forward movement of our days: these are the themes around which my thinking and feeling and and writing and living circles.

I hear certain quotes and passages and lines from poems in my head all the time.  I’ve written about that ad nauseum.  It’s hard to say which I think about the most often, but it might be Annie Dillard’s famous sentence:

How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.

I literally could not believe this more fiercely.  Yes, time is a zero sum game.  It is the only one this life actually has.  That’s bracing and often difficult to accept.  At least for me.  But I also have some good news: you can choose what to do with the time you have.  YES, I know: there are many things we HAVE to do that we might not choose.  Work is a big one.  I know.  I work full time.  There are many things I love about my job but it definitely contributes to the fact that on a near-daily basis I wish I had more time for my family, for my writing, for sleep, for myself.

When I look at a map of a week I see a lot of hours dedicated to work, and you might challenge my assertion here, saying “is that something you really value?” The answer would be yes.  I value contributing to my family economically, I like my work and colleagues, and it’s important to me to show Grace and Whit that I have something I enjoy doing to which my training and education contributed.  And the other hours?  They are mine.  Are there things I have to do in there?  Yes. Do I spend more time driving to and from practices than I want?  Sure.  But that reflects a value that I want to do that with Grace and Whit.  Do I spend more time doing laundry and packing lunches than I want?  Sure.  But that is a way for me to stay intimately involved in the details of my family’s life, and for me, that’s worth it.

How I spend my time tells me what I value.

Anne Lamott says that “it is our true wealth, this moment, this hour, this day,” and this is true, too.  How do we spend this wealth?  Let’s be deliberate and thoughtful about that.  Honestly, that is all I want.

Every hour of our life is a choice, a trade-off between competing priorities and desires.  We are all given the same number of hours in a day.  What do you prioritize?  What do you care about?  Where are you spending your time?In the last several years my own life has simultaneously narrowed and widened.  It has narrowed because I have substantially cut down on external (non-job and non-family) commitments.   I say no much more often than I say yes.  And even beyond commitments about my physical presence, I’ve withdrawn in a real way: for example, I spend much less time on the phone catching up with friends.But even in this narrowing my life has startled me with an unforseen richness.  It’s like I stepped into a dense forest but then I looked up to see an enormous expanse of the sky.  Somehow, in my turning inward, I have learned to see the glittering expanse of my own life.  Maybe it is not having the other distractions.  Maybe it is that is training my gaze I have opened my heart.  I am not sure.I spend my time with my family, I spend my time writing, I spend my time reading, I spend my time with a small number of people I entirely trust and wholly love.  I run at 5:30 in the morning because that’s the only time when the trade-off isn’t too steep for me.  It is very rare for me to have dinner, drinks, or lunch with a friend one-on-one.  The same is true for Matt and me with other couples.  On the other hand there are many evenings where I sit and read to the kids while they are in the tub, when I get into bed at 8:15pm with a book, and there are a great many days full of work.

Let’s all decide to no longer hide behind the excuse that we “don’t have time.”  The truer response would be “I don’t care enough to really protect the time.”  This may be harsh, but I think it’s also true.  Let’s take ownership of our choices rather than bemoaning their results.  Do you want time to meditate?  Time to go to yoga?  Time to spend reading with your children?  Well, something else has to go.  As I keep saying, time is zero-sum.

Think long and hard about how you spend your precious hours, the only currency in this life that I personally think is actually worth anything.  A lot of these decisions are made instinctively, without deliberate thought or analysis.  But that’s how life is, isn’t it?  We know what we care most deeply about, and we run towards it, chins ducked.  We protect fiercely time for those things and people and events we truly value.  And those things, people, events we never seem to have time for?  Well, that tell us something important too.

We each populate our hours differently, and our days, weeks, months, and years, are maps of what matters to us.  Look closely at yours.  Do you like what you see?

Parts of this post were written several years ago. Every word is still true.

 

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You must travel it by yourself

Not I, nor anyone else can travel that road for you.
You must travel it by yourself.
It is not far. It is within reach.
Perhaps you have been on it since you were born, and did not know.
Perhaps it is everywhere – on water and land.

-Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass

I found these beautiful lines in Sukey Forbes’ heart-wrenching and life-affirming memoir, The Angel in My Pocket.

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My Other Ex: Women’s True Stories of Leaving and Losing Friends

 

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It was a great honor to have my work included in Stephanie Sprenger and Jessica Smock’s first anthology, The HerStories Project: Women Explore the Joy, Pain, and Power of Female Friendship.  Friendship is an important subject to me (as evidence, my archives for that topic), and I loved the book, which touched on so many facets of female friendship.

Stephanie and Jessica have just published their second book, My Other Ex: Women’s True Stories of Losing and Leaving Friends, which is focused on one particularly complicated, thorny, and emotional of these facets.  The book unpacks the myriad experiences of friendship’s end.

These paragraphs, from Jessica Smock’s introduction to the book, provide a succinct and compelling summary of the project’s important goal:

“There is so much good, so much power, so much love, in female friendships. But there is also a dark side of pain and loss. And surrounding that dark side, there is often silence. Women feel that there is no language to talk about their feelings. There is shame, the haunting feeling that the loss of a friendship is a reflection of our own worth or capacity to be loved.

This book, we hope, is a step toward breaking that silence. We as women need to recognize the scars of lost friendships and make it okay to talk about them. And we must also teach our daughters how to manage conflict and emotion without resorting to these forms of indirect aggression that cause deep pain with no visible wounds. The life cycle is long, and many friendships will not last. Yet the end of something once powerful and important will bring sadness and grief, feelings that deserve to be acknowledged.”

I think the experience of losing a close friendship is a universal one.  I’ve certainly been through it.  I’ve felt deep heartache, profound guilt, and lingering loss that has stayed with me for a long, long time.  My female friendshpis are vitally important to me and the few occasions that I’ve seen one die have caused me real pain.

I love, too, what Jessica says too about helping our daughters develop the tools to both navigate friendships (many do not, in my opinion, need to end) and to honor their loss if it happens.  To celebrate the importance and life-enhancing value of female friendship while acknowledging that not all relationships last a lifetime.  I hope you will check out My Other Ex, which is full of richly layered and beautifully told personal stories.

I’m also happy to share that Jessica and Stephanie’s next collaboration is a book called Mothering Through the Darkness: Stories of Postpartum StruggleThey are open for submissions through December 1 and I hope some of you will consider sharing a story.  Postpartum struggle (what a wonderful way to describe what can be a kaleidoscope of experiences) is a topic very dear to my heart, and I’m really excited to read this next book.  I’m also hugely honored that Jessica and Stephanie asked me to join an esteemed panel of judges for the submissions.

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The telling power of shelves

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The first thing I do when I’m in someone home for the first time (or even not for the first time) is look at their bookshelves.  I can spend a long, long (probably a socially-unacceptably long) amount of time browsing the books they keep, display, and, presumably, love.  I think there is a tremendous amount we can learn from others by what books they have in their living rooms.

It’s connected to this belief, I think, that I love the rise of the shelfie.  I’ve shared a few of my own, recently and last summer (my Woolf and thesis section, and my poetry shelf).  I’ve captured the bookshelves at my parents’ house on the shore.  I have many, many more bookshelves to photograph and suspect I’ll keep doing that.  I’m often charmed by the random assortments of books that wind up together on a shelf.

Last year we had our first floor repainted and as part of that project I had to empty out our built-in bookcase and then reassemble it.  It was great fun to revisit all those books, and to decide who should sit next to whom on the shelf.  Ann Lamott next to Annie Dillard.  Classics all lined up together, their broken-in spines speaking of how carefully I read them way back in college.  A small section of anthologies I’ve had work published in.

I think often of the famous Cicero quote that  “a room without books is like a body without a soul.”  I agree entirely.  I read hard-copy books and always have, but I watch the world shifting slowly but irrevocably towards e-readers around me.  One of the primary questions I have about this is what will people put in their bookshelves, in a world without paper books?  Another quote comes to mind, this one Anna Quindlen’s: “I would be most content if my children grew up ot be the kind of people who think decorating consists mostly of building enough bookshelves.”  On this dimension I know I would please Quindlen greatly.  I come by it honestly: my childhood was spent tripping over stacks of books and to this day my father likes to crack that “home is where you keep the books.”  A fun family outing for us is a trip to a used bookstore.

For now, I’m sticking with paper.  And I’m still, endlessly fascinated by looking at bookshelves, in my house and in those of others.  What are some of your favorite bookshelves?

 

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Little daily miracles

I read a lot this summer.  I re-read some, too.  One book I picked up again for the first time in years was To the Lighthouse.  It was my copy from college, and I loved seeing the underlining.  So many passages jumped out at me, then and now.

To be silent; to be alone. All the being and the doing, expansive, glittering, vocal, evaporated; and one shrunk, with a sense of solemnity, to being oneself, a wedge-shaped core of darkness, something invisible to others.

…she had known happiness, exquisite happiness, intense happiness, and it silvered the rough waves a little more brightly, as daylight faded, and the blue went out of the sea and it rolled in waves of pure lemon which curved and swelled and broke upon the beach and the ecstasy burst in her eyes and waves of pure delight raced over the floor of her mind and she felt, It is enough! It is enough!

…there is a coherence in things, a stability; something, she meant, is immune from change, and shines out (she glance at the window with its ripple of reflected lights) in the face of the flowing, the fleeting, the spectral, like a ruby; so that again tonight she had the feeling she had had once today, already, of peace, of rest.  Of such moments, she thought, the thing is made that endures.

What is the meaning of life? That was all – a simple question; one that tended to close in on one with years. The great revelation never did come. Instead there were little daily miracles, illuminations, matches struck unexpectedly in the dark…

Was there no safety?  No learning by heart the ways of the world?  No guide, no shelter, but all was miracle, and leaping from the pinnacle of a tower into the air?  Could it be, even for elderly people, that this was life? – startling, unexpected, unknown?

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How She Does It: Brettne Bloom

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Oh, Brettne.  Where to begin?  Brettne is so many things.  Most famously, she is a supremely accomplished literary agent.  She is a partner in Kneerim, Williams & Bloom and represents such fine authors as Courtney Sullivan, whose The Engagements I recently loved.

Brettne has several books out this fall that I’m excited to read, including bloggers Erin Gates’ Elements of Style: Designing a Home & a Life, Camille Styles’ Camille Styles Entertaining: Inspired Gatherings and Effortless Style, and The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma, by PTSD expert Bessel van der Kolk.  I’m also really looking forward to Glamour book editor Elisabeth Egan’s first novel, A Window Opens, about a woman trying to have it all, which Simon & Schuster will publish next year.

Brettne is also a devoted mother, an enormously thoughtful reader, and the most gifted editors I have ever met.  I’m also honored and privileged to call her a dear friend of mine.  We talk often about the challenges and joys of juggling work and motherhood, about the books we want to read and those we’ve loved rediscovering with our children, about what it means to be a thoughtful, engaged human in a world that can devastate and amaze in equal measure, sometimes in the same day.  Brettne is a relatively new friend but she has become very dear very quickly.  I hope we’ll be close friends for the rest of our days, and am deeply grateful for her presence in my life. I was delighted when she agreed to answer my questions on How She Does It.  I know you will love her answers too.  If you want to know more about Brettne, she is active on Twitter and Instagram.

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Tell me about the first hour of your day? (I often describe mine as being “fired out of a cannon”)

Ha! That’s hilarious. Well, I’m not a morning person, so the first hour of my day is like stumbling through a fog until I’ve had my first cup of coffee. My two daughters share a room and they’re usually up and raring to go pretty early. They have a lot of energy in the morning. My husband makes breakfast for the girls and gets the coffee going while I get ready for work. We gather around our kitchen bar to eat and caffeinate, and then I get the kids dressed, coiffed, and out the door. I try not to check my email or social media accounts until after I drop the girls off at school so that I can focus on them. That was one of my New Year’s resolutions–no iPhone until 8:20am. Very hard. It’s a work in progress.

Do you have a work uniform that you rely on for getting dressed? What is it?

If I have meetings I’m usually in a shift dress and heels, or my favorite black pants, a silk tank and a blazer. And then I try to remember to throw on a fun piece of gold jewelry to accessorize. Add mascara and a smile, and I’m on my way. I have this tweed blazer from Theory that I bought eight or nine ago because it reminded me of something my very stylish grandmother would have loved. I call it my security blanket–I wear it at least once a week. On Fridays I’m often in yoga pants disguised with a long sweater on top even if I have meetings all day!

How do you and your spouse resolve conflicts about scheduling?

We try to avoid such conflicts before they happen. For example, Lawton plays soccer after work on Wednesdays, so I avoid making plans that night. He also travels a few days each month. We work hard to stay on top of our schedules so that at least one of us can be home to put the kids to bed by 7:30. Lawton is supremely accommodating; he understands that my profession is very social–I go to lots of readings and work dinners; I’m also in two book clubs and I’m involved in the girls’ school. So I’m usually out two or three nights during the week. I’m also fortunate because our phenomenal babysitter, who has been with us for five years and who is basically my other spouse, is very flexible if one of us is running late or has a last-minute obligation, which is key for us because we don’t have family nearby who can help out in a pinch–my parents are in Houston and Lawton’s are in Atlanta.

Do you second-guess yourself? What do you do when that happens?

Daily! Hourly! I feel like I’m constantly making choices between my work and my family, and I don’t want to look back on these precious years with young kids and feel like I missed out on the everyday moments. Luckily, I have a great role model in my own mother, who worked outside the home throughout my childhood and who was always fully present when she was with us. I also have a very supportive spouse and an amazing network of girlfriends from all areas of my life–including you, dear Lindsey– who I draw on for support, comic relief, perspective and inspiration. I think we’re all just trying our best to balance our various roles as gracefully as we can while accepting that we will never be perfect and that a little messiness is ok.

What time do you go to bed?

My intention is to be in bed every night by 10pm. But the truth is I’m often not asleep before midnight. So many books, so little time! I always have something I have to read for work. And then I like to read something non-work related right before bed to clear my head and help me shake out any tension from the day. Usually it’s a novel or a New Yorker article. Or Vogue. The pile of books next to my bed is my Mount Kilimanjaro. I also have this Shakespeare app on my phone that gives me a scene a day and dissects it. I often read that before bed. I know that sounds super nerdy but I find reading and/or listening to Shakespeare relaxing. One of my clients who specializes in anxiety says it’s the iambic pentameter. The rhythm is soothing.

Do you exercise? If so, when?

Exercise is my therapy. I feel my best, both physically and mentally, when I’m exercising at least four or five times a week. I’m more present at work and more patient at home if I can burn off some of my daily stresses. I also do my best brainstorming when I’m running or cycling. I recently came up with an idea for a client’s novel when I was in spin class. But finding time to exercise is a challenge. Mornings are my prime time with the girls, and my days are usually filled with meetings and reading and conference calls. Still, I try to squeeze in some form of physical activity as often as possible, whether it’s half an hour at the gym, a barre class at lunchtime, or a brisk walk through Central Park after I drop the kids off at school. I always carry workout gear in my bag just in case I have an extra hour. I wish I were an early-morning-run person like you, Lindsey! If I had you as a running partner we probably would have dreamed up the next Harry Potter series by now.

Do you cook dinner for your kids? Do you have go-to dishes you can recommend?

We have family dinners every weekend–that’s when we do most of our cooking with the girls. The kids love to help out in the kitchen. As far as go-to dishes, we like simple foods like grilled salmon, sautéed green beans, roasted Brussels sprouts, corn on the cob, rotisserie chicken, pasta. My kids love to sprinkle sea salt on their vegetables, which cracks me up. I’ve found most young kids, including mine, love pesto even though it’s green and green is usually verboten. For inspiration in the kitchen I highly recommend Jenny Rosentrach’s two cookbooks. Her recipes are delicious and kid-friendly. And her whole attitude about family dining is so sensible. On school nights, our kids eat dinner with our babysitter at around 5:30. It’s tough for me to get home in time to make a proper dinner for them, as much as I wish I could. I feel really guilty about this because I know how important it is to eat meals together; hopefully our routine will change when the girls are a little older. My mother managed to pull together a delicious dinner for our family of five every single night. I don’t know how she did it.

Do you have any sense of how your children feel about your working?

That’s an interesting question—to be honest, I’m not really sure they think about it that much because it’s all they’ve ever known. I didn’t take long maternity leaves. Now that they’re older, and books are such a huge part of their lives, they’re becoming a bit more interested in what my job entails. Then again, there are plenty of times when I have had to hide in my bathroom to make a call because the girls don’t understand that my work doesn’t always stay at the office. All in all, though, I think and hope my children understand that I love my family more than anything in the world, and that I also enjoy and value my work, and that these are in no way mutually exclusive. And I hope that in some way my enthusiasm for my work will inspire them to pursue their passions and dreams.

What is the single piece of advice you would give another working mother?

I would want her to know that there is no right or wrong choice when it comes to parenting and caregiving decisions. You have to do what feels right for you and your family. Mothers face a lot of criticism these days, particularly on the internet–I don’t feel the judgment as much in real life, but I certainly see women attacking other women online, where it’s so easy to cast aspersions anonymously. But as long as you feel like you have made the choice that works for you and you have a strong support system in place, I think you can find that perfectly imperfect balance.

And, inspired by Vanity Fair, a few quick glimpses into your life:

Favorite Artist?

I studied art in college so this is a tough one. My favorite living artist is Elizabeth Peyton. Her portraits are so intimate and compelling; it’s impossible to look away. My favorite artists of all-time include John Singer Sargent, Frida Kahlo, Pablo Picasso, Edgar Degas, Henri Matisse… I am obsessed with Monet’s giant water lily murals, which I’ve seen several times and always find breathtakingly beautiful and modern. I also saw two incredible James Turrell retrospectives last year in New York and Houston. He is a genius; his work helped me appreciate light and space in a whole new way.

Favorite jeans?

Rebecca Minkoff.

Shampoo you use?

I have very fine hair so I have an extensive collection of volume-boosters in my shower. Right now I’m trying Living Proof.

Favorite book?

Another toughie, given my line of work. Leaving aside books by authors I represent… One Hundred Years of Solitude changed my life when I was 16. That is my desert island book. My mother let me read Gone with the Wind when I was in fifth grade. Questionable decision on her part, maybe, but Scarlett O’Hara remains one of my favorite characters in literature. I am named after Lady Brett Ashley in The Sun Also Rises, so I always feel like that one needs to be on the list even though my favorite Hemingway novel is A Farewell to Arms. And it just goes on: Heart of Darkness, Rebecca, The Hours, The English Patient, The Glass Castle, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, Seabiscuit, Crossing to Safety, A Tale of Two Cities, To Kill a Mockingbird, Charlotte’s Web, Manhattan When I Was Young, the plays and sonnets of William Shakespeare…My favorite memoirs are Katharine Graham’s Personal History and Willie Morris’s North Towards Home. And of course I have read and reread every word that Jane Austen and Nora Ephron ever wrote. One of the many unexpected pleasures of parenthood is revisiting children’s literature and poetry with your kids. We are currently deep into the Little House on the Prairie series and I cannot get over her descriptions of the wide open landscape. So evocative.

Favorite quote:

“We are all works in progress.” –My mother

“Think of all the beauty still left around you and be happy.” –Anne Frank

Favorite musician?

Bob Dylan. Also, being from Texas, I grew up listening to country music, which I still love for the storytelling. We listen to a wide range of music at home thanks to Spotify.

Favorite item (toy, clothing, or other) for your children?

The pink stuffed cat my dear friend Elisabeth Weed gave Eloisa when she was born. His name is Mr. Whiskers. He’s worn beyond repair, but he’s our Velveteen Rabbit and a vital member of our family. We all look out for him like he’s a pet.

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I love this picture of Brettne’s girls on the walk to school, which she describes as the highlight of her day.  I can relate.

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The bookshelves in Brettne’s office conference room.  I can’t wait to see them in person!

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Summer: long ago & some writing

One month ago today I picked Grace ad Whit up from sleepaway camp and turned 40.  It feels like that was a hundred years ago!  Today I just want to highlight a few writing- and web-related things that happened over the summer and recently.

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This is Childhood, the book that Brain Child magazine published from our series about the various ages of childhood, is on sale this week for 40% off.  It’s just $6!  What a great birthday or holiday gift … just an idea.  I’m thrilled that my piece, This is Ten, an excerpt from the book (spoiler alert: it’s the end of the book) is on the site today and the link to purchase the book is easily available there.  I hope you will consider it!

 

photoI published Navigating by the Stars on Medium, a site I’ve come to really admire and respect.  For those who think I don’t write about Matt enough, here’s a rare example of a story all him.  It talks about our experience, a few months after we met, climbing Kilimanjaro.  I am proud of this piece and hope you like it.

 

photo(1)I was thrilled when Tabitha of Team Studer profiled me as one of her Moms Next Door.  Her interview, which includes a lot of pictures, is here.

 

 

 

Also: are you on Instagram?  I love it and even when I wasn’t writing here I was sharing photos there.  Please come find me!

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Thoughts on 40: female friends

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Didn’t know what photo to include.  I didn’t feel right posting people so here, enjoy some of my favorite flower!

Turning 40 made me reflective. No surprise here.  There is a lot on my mind.  Some of it is good, because let’s face it, aging is a privilege, and I’m aware of it, and fully thankful for the life I live and the opportunity to have more of it.  Some of it is more complicated, about regret and loss and sorrow.

Front of mind right now is my female friends. I’ve always esteemed and valued my female friendships, and I’ve written about different women who are in my life here.  I’ve also observed that certain seasons in our lives lend themselves to making close relationships, and many of my dearest friends were made during one of these times.  One of the anthologies in which I’ve been fortunate to be published is The HerStories Project, which is a complication of essays about female friendship.

Though I have always cherished my female friends, I think they are growing more and more important as I get older.

There are the old, lifetime friends, the ones I met when I was becoming who I am.  The ones who knew me before I was a grown-up.  These women are my safest place, my most trusted companions, the ones who hold the stories that are in many ways most essential to who I am.  I’m looking forward to my annual reunion with these women, which is in a few weeks.  I cherish them and I think they know it.

There are the day to day friends, the ones who drive my children to practices and take Grace’s fish when we go away and pick up our mail we’re gone.  I joked this summer about the “particular intimacy of tying someone’s son’s hockey laces for two years” and I wasn’t wrong.  There’s a particular kind of closeness I feel with these friends, a loyalty and trust, a familiarity borne out of day-to-day involvement in each others’ lives.  These are the women I share the dailyness of motherhood and of life with, and I know from watching my own mother that these can grow into deep, irreplaceable, lifetime friendships.

There are the friends I met when I had my babies.  The friends with whom I became a mother, those whose nap schedules and feeding routines and choices about solid foods I’m still very familiar with.  This time of life is unique and exhausting and spectacular and sweet, and the women who shared it with me will always be special.

My friend Allison wrote about the importance of the friends who will eulogize us, when that time comes, and I haven’t been able to stop thinking about that.  My mother’s best friend died at 49 and I watched from a front-row seat.  Mum had three best friends, who functioned as adjunct mothers for me.  They held down the four corners of the tent underneath which my childhood took place.  When Susie got sick, it was, as I wrote in an essay published in So Long: Short Memoirs of Loss and Remembrance, as though “one corner of the tent was flapping.”  Susie’s son remains one of my most cherished friends (he was in our wedding and he is one of Whit’s godfathers) and I think of my fourth mother, now gone many years, every day.  I know that my mother still carries her with her.  The passage that has come closest to capturing what I observed in my mother and her dearest friends is from Elizabeth Berg’s Talk Before Sleep:

Women do not leave situations like this: we push up our sleeves, lean in closer, and say, “What do you need? Tell me what you need and by God I will do it.” I believe that the souls of women flatten and anchor themselves in times of adversity, lay in for the stay.

These are probably the most special and essential friends of all: those will will lay in for the stay with us, those who will stand up and fight tears to talk about us if that tragic day comes, the ones who will carry us no matter what.  And the ones who will tell our children who we were.  I think I know who those people are for me, and they come from all the groups described above. They are the women who show up for me in ways big and small every day.

I’m hugely thankful for these friends, who know who they are, and that gratitude grows every day.

What are your thoughts on female friendships?  Who do you love most?  Do you think they know?

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