2016 in review: April, May, June

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Mother’s Day, May 2016

I wrote about one of my central struggles, as I parent children in the tween and teen years: walking the line between honoring their feelings and dismissing their concerns.

Yet again, a topic I keep returning to: the Myers-Briggs, and my own type (INFJ).

I read and wrote about Catastrophic Happiness, Georgia, and my favorite books at the halfway point of the year.

A love letter to anyone who’s reading: Thank you.

Matt celebrated a birthday.

I marked my 20th college reunion.

Grace and Whit finished up seventh and fifth grade, respectively.  Farewell. Alleluia.

My favorite quote that I shared:

“We don’t need great writing to tell us that obviously amazing things are amazing, just as we don’t need high-powered telescopes to tell us that the sun is warm. What we need from great writing, most urgently, is an understanding that the mundane itself—snails, fireplaces, shrubs, pebbles, socks, minor witticisms—is secretly amazing.”

– Annie Dillard

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Toward the Solstice

Toward the Solstice, 1977

The thirtieth of November.
Snow is starting to fall.
A peculiar silence is spreading
Over the fields, the maple grove.
It is the thirtieth of May,
Rain pours on ancient bushes, runs
Down the youngest blade of grass.
I am trying to hold in one steady glance
All the parts of my life.
A spring torrent races
On this old slanting roof,
The slanted field below
Thickens with winter’s first whiteness.
Thistles dried to sticks in last year’s wind
Stand nakedly in the green,
Stand sullenly in the slowly whitening,
Field.
My brain glows
More violently, more avidly
The quieter, the thicker
The quilt of crystals settles,
The louder, more relentlessly
The torrent beats itself out
On the old boards and shingles.
It is the thirtieth of May,
The thirtieth of November,
A beginning or an end.
We are moving towards the solstice
And there is so much here
I still do not understand.
If I could make sense of how
My life is tangled
With dead weeds, thistles,
Enormous burdocks, burdens
Slowly shifting under
This first fall of snow,
Beaten by this early, racking rain
Calling all new life to declare itself strong
Or die,
If I could know
In what language to address
The spirits that claim a place
Beneath these low and simple ceilings,
Tenants that neither speak nor stir
Yet dwell in mute insistence
Till I can feel utterly ghosted in this house.
If history is a spider-thread
Spun over and over though brushed away
It seems I might some twilight
Or dawn in the hushed country light
Discern its greyness stretching
From molding or doorframe, out
Into the empty dooryard
And following it climb
The path into the pinewoods,
Tracing from tree to tree
In the falling light, in the slowly
Lucidifying day
Its constant, purposive trail,
Till I reach whatever cellar hole
Filling with snowflakes or lichen,
Whatever fallen shack
Or unremembered clearing
I am meant to have found
And there, under the first or last
Star, trusting to instinct
The words would come to mind
I have failed or forgotten to say
Year after year, winter
After summer, the right rune
To ease the hold of the past
Upon the rest of my life
And ease my hold on the past.
If some rite of separation
Is still unaccomplished,
Between myself and the long-gone
Tenants of this house,
Between myself and my childhood,
Between the childhood of my children,
It is I who have neglected
To perform the needed acts,
Set water in corners, light and eucalyptus
In front of mirrors,
Or merely pause and listen
To my own pulse vibrating
Lightly as falling snow,
Relentless as the rainstorm,
And hear what it has been saying.
It seems I am still waiting
For them to make some clear demand
Some articulate sound or gesture,
For release to come from anywhere
But from inside myself.
A decade of cutting away
Dead flesh, cauterizing
Old scars ripped open over and over
And still it is not enough.
A decade of performing
The loving humdrum acts
Of attention to this house
Transplanting lilac suckers,
Washing panes, scrubbing
Wood-smoke from splitting paint,
Sweeping stairs, brushing the thread
Of the spider aside,
And so much yet undone,
A woman’s work, the solstice nearing,
And my hand still suspended
As if above a letter
I long and dread to close.

(Adrienne Rich)

I love this poem and have shared it every year on this day since I started this blog in 2006.  The winter solstice is a day that means a lot to me personally and to my family as well.

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2016 in review: January, February, March

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dawn, Harvard Square, January 3, 2016

I picked a word of the year: ease. I also admitted to having a problem with the concept.

Whit turned eleven.

I read and wrote about Shonda Rimes’ Year of Yes, Paul Kalanithi’s When Breath Becomes Air, and Aidan Donnelley Rowley’s The Ramblers,

I wrote about “contradiction as an abiding state of consciousness.”

Grace and I went to yoga together for the first time.

We went to the Grand Canyon and Sedona.

My favorite quote I shared was:

Astonishing material and revelation appear in our lives all the time.
Let it be.
Unto us, so much is given.
We just have to be open for business.
~Anne Lamott,  Help, Thanks, Wow: The Three Essential Prayers

 

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Learning to be on our own

Because Grey was a pilot, everything he said in the plane was recorded.  After his death, I was given a transcript of that recording, and so I know what my son’s last words were.
He was flying in formation, that day, with another plane.
When Grey realized something was wrong with his plane, he radioed the other pilot. “You’re on our own,” Grey siad.
Then he crashed and died.

****

I think about those words a lot. They’re a reminder.
We’re all on our own, aren’t we?  That’s what it boils down to.
We come into this world on our own – in Hawaii, as I did, or New York, or China, or Africa, or Montana – and we leave it in the same way, on our own, wherever we happen to be at the time – in a plane, in our beds, in a car, in a space shuttle, or in a field flowers.
And in between those times, we try to connect along the way with others who are also on their own.
If we’re lucky, we have a mother who reads to us.
We have a teacher or two along the way who make us feel special.
We have dogs who do the stupid dog tricks we teach them and who lie on our bed when we’re not looking, because it smells like us, and so we pretend not to notice the paw prints on the bedspread.
We have friends who lend us their favorite books.
Maybe we have children, and grandchildren, and funny mailmen, and eccentric great0aunts, and uncles who can pull pennies out of our ears.
All of them teach us stuff.  They teach us about combustion engines and the major products of Bolivia, and what poems are not boring, and how to be kind to each other, and how to laugh, and when the vigil is in our hands, and when we just have to make the best of things even though it’s hard sometimes.
Looking back together, telling our stories to one another, we learn how to be on our own.

-Lois Lowry, Looking Back

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Adulthood

I never saw the movie Boyhood.  I’m afraid to, honestly.  I worry it will be sadder than I can handle.  I remember years ago, at dinner with a friend and her husband, the movie came up.  I admitted that I was terrified about the heartbreak that would result if I saw it.

“What happens, something tragic?” My friend’s husband wasn’t familiar with the movie.

“Oh, no.  It is about the ordinary heartbreak of time passing.” She answered him.

“Oh, I see,” he seemed a little confused.

“In short, the most devastating thing of all.” I shook my head, trying not to think about it.

Lately I feel like I’m living in a version of Adulthood.  Time’s speeding by, what feels like decades in two hours.  I’m simultaneously wondering at time’s fleet passage and feeling the weight of every single passing week and month like an actual burden on my back. How can time simultaneously move rapidly and also creep by, every single moment an eternity?  I don’t know, but I’m living that paradox right now.

I won’t lie: I’m limping to the end of the year.  This has been a difficult year for myriad reasons and despite the fact that it’s also been replete with joy, right now I feel mostly exhaustion and stress and I can’t get out of my own way.  I hate complaining.  I know how intensely fortunate I am.  But I’m also worn down by worries that I can name and those I can’t, full of a bubbling mix of sorrow and anxiety that grates on me all day, every day.

I try to sleep as much as I can.  I go to yoga.  I go for walks, breathe the air, notice the sky, watch the sunsets.  I do all of these things, and daily I’m knocked almost off balance by the splendor that I see. All of that is true, and my deep awareness of all that’s good is an undercurrent even in these times that feel somewhat difficult and dark.

But I also feel overwhelmed by the demands I juggle daily.  Adulthood, again: I’m sense keenly all the ways that my family needs me, all the professional responsibilities I’m trying to handle.  More than anything, I just want this particular season to be over, and for something new to come.  And even as I feel that, it makes me uncomfortable: one thing I don’t like is living for the future, because I believe so firmly that what’s right in front of us is both all there is and where the glittering jewel of the human existence is hidden. So I feel something that I know intuitively is not what I believe, and that dissonance is uncomfortable.

I looked in these archives for the phrase “begin again,” since I hear those words in my head every day.  I don’t have a choice but to keep putting one foot in front of the other, and that not-having-a-choice is both a burden and a blessing.  I was interested to find this piece that I wrote in April 2012, a full 4.5 years ago.  Every single word resonates now. I’d forgotten about this theory, though as I read it it makes total sense.  I wonder what I’m preparing to let go of right now?  I imagine 2017 will show me.

****

…A lot of people look better at dealing with the sine curve of life, at least from where I sit.  A lot of people – and I envy them, let me be clear – seem to experience fewer moments of spirit-shaking emotion than I do.  A lot of them can describe what Easter means to their children, or admire the clear, extraordinary blue of an April sky, or witness a christening, without bursting into tears.  Hell, a lot of people don’t burst into tears every single day.

I do.

Somehow that intense emotion, that wound at the very core of my being, is bearable most of the time.  Right now, though, it feels like too much.  I am bone-tired, my emotions are worn paper-thin, my is patience frayed.  I know my life runs close to the surface, that’s not news to me.  And this isn’t news, either, this sense of being deep in the weeds and of each step being a struggle.  It is so not-new, in fact, that I have a theory as to its cause: I suspect this exhaustion occurs when I’m letting go of something, even though I’m not sure what it is yet.  Right now I’m overly aware of the cracks in everything, and I can’t see the light they’re letting in.  Many days I feel a tightness in my chest and tears pricking my eyes and a general sense of sorrow that is, for now, as powerful as it is inarticulate.

But the children have questions, and the work phone is ringing, and the laundry needs to be done.

What’s my choice, but to get up, to keep going, to begin again?

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Favorite words

We have been doing a lot of vocabulary studying lately around here.  SSATs and ISEEs will do that to you.  There’s a lot about standardized tests I do not love, but any discussion of vocabulary and words I flat-out do.

Last weekend, we had a couple of hours in the car as a foursome.  We were talking about words, and it led into a discussion of our favorite words.  First of all, let me say that talking about words with my three favorite people in the world was fantastic.  I actually think this is a great conversation starter (but maybe that only reveals my deeply nerdy personality).  I was interested to hear Grace, Whit, and Matt’s favorite words, and also to think about mine.  It’s impossible for me to pick one.  But, here they are:

Grace: onomatopoeia (long discussion ensued of buzz, and fizz, and of how one of my words is in fact also an onomatopoeia)

Whit: terminate

Matt: penultimate

Lindsey: shimmer, elegy, archipelago, phosphorescence

What is your favorite word? Why?

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reality is like radium

We are hurt; we are lonely; and we turn to music or words, and as compensation beyond all price we are given glimpses of the world on the other side of time and space. We all have glimpses of glory as children, and as we grow up we forget them, or are taught to think we made them up; they couldn’t possibly have been real, because to most of us who are grown up, reality is like radium, and can be borne only in small quantities.

– Madeleine L’Engle, Walking On Water

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Things I Love Lately

Do Not Go Gentle – this New York Times op-ed by Roger Cohen made me weep.  As in big, fat tears bouncing off my desk as I read it. His writing is glorious, but his point also resonated with me in a deep way.  I had been thinking about how I feel both sorrowful and beaten down by this year, but also a strange, sturdy sense of joy as an undercurrent underneath all that grief.  His piece helped me understand why.

Hillbilly Elegy – I finally read this book, about which I’ve seen rhapsodic reviews.  Matt just read it over Thanksgiving.  Super interesting, and the second half in particular riveted me.  I’m reminded that the United States is a vast and varied place, and that I live in one small (blue) corner of it.

I Won’t Let Cynicism Win – This piece by Mary Elizabeth Williams gutted me.  Yes, yes, and yes.  Amid all the wreckage of this year – and she describes her family’s personal challenges, as well as the ones in the larger world – there is so much grace.  I love this piece, which brought me to tears.  I won’t let cynicism win, either.

Best Books of 2016 – I love this site by NPR for its easy navigability as well as for the ways it lauds some of my beloved books of this year (Lab Girl, The Underground Railroad, Ada Twist, Scientist, The Girls).  A wonderful way to poke around some of the best reads of this past year.

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

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Darkness visible

These are the darkest days.  It is fully dark by 5pm here in Boston.  And when we wake up, it’s still dark.  The days are short, but they feel long at the same time.  Yet, strangely, I don’t find this depressing.  I have written before about my very specific memory from December 1996, working one evening at my first job in a high-rise building in downtown Boston.  I looked out the window and had this sudden, startling realization that the early darkness no longer upset me.  I noticed all the twinkling lights, and I felt surrounded, safe.

I think of that evening all the time, still.

For some reason, people are often surprised to learn I don’t find the early arrival of darkness gloomy.  I don’t.  It’s also true that I find the winter solstice a fundamentally more hopeful day than the summer solstice.  This is, perhaps, another manifestation of how hard it is for me to truly be here now: I always allow what’s coming to occlude – or at least to shadow – my experience of the moment.

I also think all the time of Wendell Berry’s lines:

To go in the dark with a light is to know the light.  To know the dark, go dark.  Go without sight, and find that the dark, too, blooms and sings, and is travelled by dark feet and dark wings. – Wendell Berry

I’ve written about darkness, and about light, a lot (2011, 2013, 2014).  I also really like that picture of candles in Jerusalem, apparently.  That was a trip full of both dark and light, and one that triggered in me the choice of my 2012 word of the year, light.

The world is dark.  But I can’t stop seeing light.  There is so much to be grateful for, and I’m simultaneously deeply aware of the ways that our ordinary lives are fragile.  2016 has not been an excellent year on any count, for our family or, to my estimation, for the world at large. And yet at the same time I feel oddly buoyed by the darkness at this time of year, alternately exhausted and hopeful, the latter beyond what’s rational.  I wonder where that undercurrent of joy comes from, while being grateful for it at the same time.

This all made sense to me when I read Roger Cohen’s editorial in the New York Times last week (with tears rolling down my cheeks).  He called 2016 “a truly awful year.”  But he also asserted that “The most beautiful times of day are dawn and dusk when shadows are long, offering contrast, refuge and form. Death is the shadow that gives shape to existence, urgency to love, brilliance to life. ”  These thoughts are lyrical and made me cry, reminding me of long, deeply-held beliefs of mine that it’s darkness that gives meaning to light, of my oft-repeated thoughts on the ways I’m drawn to the liminal, the edges of things, where dark and light bleed into each other.

They also help me understand why it is that I feel a strange sense of lightness amidst all the darkness and heaviness of this year, this season, this week.  It’s partly because I’ve learned, in my adulthood, to lean into the darkness that flits around the edges of my experience, to see the blooming and singing of which Berry writes.  It’s also because in this difficult, dark time I’m also reminded of all that is good, as Cohen so beautifully describes.  Indeed.

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We are here to witness

We are here to witness the creation and abet it. We are here to notice each thing so each thing gets noticed. Together we notice not only each mountain shadow and each stone on the beach but, especially, we notice the beautiful faces and complex natures of each other. We are here to bring to consciousness the beauty and power that are around us and to praise the people who are here with us. We witness our generation and our times. We watch the weather. Otherwise, creation would be playing to an empty house.

~Annie Dillard from The Meaning of Life edited by David Friend

Yet another beautiful passage I first read on Barnstorming

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