What’s In Front of Me

Time continues to move in a strange stutter-step kind of way – flying and crawling.  I’m struck by how life feels both terrifying and mundane at the same time, often in the same hour.  I’ve been thinking about how quarantine kind of feels like my regular life, but with more zoom and fear.  I can’t ever get very far away from worry about the state of the world, but if I dwell there it pulls me into a very scary thought spiral so I try to focus instead on what’s in front of me.

The two young adults I live with, who make me proud and make me laugh and occasionally make me frustrated.  I’m more aware than ever of Grace’s adult life stretching out in front of her and I feel grateful to still be near her both literally and metaphorically.

The beautiful world out the window.  My awareness of this world’s gorgeousness continues unabated.  I’m hearing and seeing things I never noticed before.

Our family home in Marion, Massachusetts.  I’m so grateful to be surrounded by such happy memories of my father there, and to see my children so relaxed and happy in the familiar space.

This mention by Emma Gannon her Vanity Fair piece about her inspirations while writing Olive I was delighted when she featured On Being 40(ish) on her Instagram book club a few months ago and I was thrilled to see this mention.  I can’t wait to read Olive.

My bearded officemate, whose presence all day every day has become very familiar, reassuring most of the time, profoundly aggravating some of it.

Instagram.  I still love it and that is not abating.

Books.  I’m still reading a lot.  Finishing Valentine by Elizabeth Wetmore and really liking it.  Next up is Jennifer Weiner’s Big Summer.

Reconnecting with friends who I’d lost touch with.  There are a few friends from various parts of my life with whom I’ve recommenced dialogue and it’s a complete joy.  I do think that one of the lessons of this time is the power of deliberately choosing who we connect with (rather than doing so by default because of life’s busy patterns).  I am deeply grateful to be reconnected with some of these special people.  You know who you are.

Our current summer cadence of quiet weekends, heavy on family time (the four of us and my mother).  We are seeing a few people outside and each child is seeing a couple of friends but still keeping close to home.  The truth is I don’t mind it.  I’m doing a lot of puzzles and drinking a lot of iced coffee.

What’s right in front of you?  Can you focus there and not be overwhelmed by the big picture of this threatened world?

 

the second half of this extraordinary year

Today is July 1st.  It’s the beginning of the year’s second half.  I’m certain I’m not alone in saying that the first half of 2020 was the most astonishing, disorienting, and scary six months I’ve ever lived.  It is simultaneously the longest and the shortest six month period I can remember experiencing.  And I feel pretty confident that the second half of this year is not going to be smoother or less eventful.  A bone-deep sense of being tired permeates my physical body.  I sleep like a rock, for almost 9 hours every night.  My legs ache walking up the stairs.  I just feel absolutely exhausted by the world.  The not-knowing is wearing on me.  There is so much uncertainty right now.  Of course it just points out – to me at least – how much of a fallacy our ordinary sense of control is.  We are never in control.  The universe has just seen fit to make that REALLY clear of late.

And yet, through it all, in this time of almost hysterical news, of fever-pitch terror and change, there are views like the one above, which is a photo I took on Friday night.  These moments remind me of my favorite book of the year so far, The Book of Longings by Sue Monk Kidd, and of this passage in particular:

…it seemed for an instant I saw the world was he did, orphaned and broken and staggeringly beautiful, a thing to be held and put back right.

Onward.

 

Around here

Mid June.  I’m sure I’m not the only person who is having the strange experience of time crawling and flying at the same time.  It’s groundhog day around here, every day, and yet time is whipping by.  March feels like five years ago.  I wonder if time will feel “normal” again and then I start wondering if there is such a thing as a normal sense of time – it’s all a fabrication, anyway.  This is a gerbil run I don’t entirely recommend.

Still reading a lot.  Read and LOVED An American Marriage by Tayari Jones and Tin Man by Sarah Winman.  I’m now in the first half of The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes by Suzanne Collins and finding it engrossing and entertaining.  I also read White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism by Robin DiAngelo which was powerful and compelling and I know I have a lot to learn.

Grace and Whit have been out of school three weeks already.  Our attention has turned firmly to the fall and we’re all desperately hoping they return to school in some in-person way.

These are my favorite masks, and Grace, Mum, and my sister Hilary are all wearing them now.  Working on a family composite of us all in our masks… stay tuned.  I’m a  mask evangelist.  Wear. The. Mask.  If that’s what it takes to get the kids back to school, aren’t we all happy to do it?  Honestly.  I don’t totally understand why we are even TALKING about this.

As I’ve discussed, I find that I can’t remember things as well as I used to.  Some of this is just middle age, and I hope it’s mostly that.  I joke around that my hard drive is full.  And I realized this past weekend one thing it’s full with. Indigo Girls lyrics.  I was listening to old Indigo Girls as I drove an realized I know every single word.  To every single song.  For hours.  That is taking up hard drive space that I’d like to repurpose for other, more important things! (no offense to the Indigo Girls, who I truly think are poets, but I’d also like to remember, for example, what I did this morning).

This is week two of my peony share from Five Fork Farms. The gorgeous blooms that I pick up every week provide me far more joy than I can express.  I’ve shared some photos on Instagram.  I just love peonies, and love supporting a local farm, too.  The photo at the top of this post is today’s batch.

Matt and I are watching Ozark. I’m really not sure.  It is SO DARK.

I’m stepping into the class correspondent role for my grad school class (with a partner).  This makes it a hat trick – I’ve now been correspondent for my high school, my college, and my grad school.  World’s biggest sucker?  You tell me.  I love my grad school section so I am happy to do it.

What is happening where you are, right now?

June first

I woke up with Yeats in my head:

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;

Things feel terrifying right now, uncertain.  I ache for my children, who face a wall of questions about what happens now, while I at the same time feel certain that this time of dislocation will make them stronger eventually.

I was touched by an email this weekend from Harvard president Lawrence Bacow to the university community in which he acknowledged these disorienting, scary times and responded with a list of what he believes.  It was beautifully written, I shared many of his beliefs, and it seems to me a good way to respond to such universal uncertainty: to return to what we know, what we trust, what is right in front of us.  So much of this time has been, at least for me, a return to what I always believed, knew, felt, and loved.  A reminder of what matters.  Of course that happens in the context of a larger fear – now our country’s deep anger and racial divisions, not just the threat of coronavirus – and I recognize just writing that is an act of privilege.

Still, it’s the only thing I know to do.

What does he believe, and I share?  I believe in the rule of law.  I believe that those who wear a uniform and have a position of power should use it responsibly and right and those who do not should be punished.  I believe in the American dream.  I believe in science.  I believe in the power of art. I believe that sometimes the greater good is more important than what we individually want, and that now is one of those times.

So I will look out the window, hear Yeats in my mind, read literature and poetry (David Brooks was also wonderful, in my opinion, last week, and he referred to the way that a training in the great traditions of art can instill empathy and leadership).

I don’t have a neat conclusion here.  I just wanted to reach out to say I’m here, I’m paying attention, I’m thinking of you.

Dear Grace and Whit

Dear Grace and Whit,

For the last week or two I’ve been thinking about the things I hope you’ll remember from this time.  About what I hope you’ve learned, or had reinforced, during these surprising and disorienting months at home.

Family is everything.  Your roots are deep.  We have sat down for family dinner for 60 plus days in a row.  Without fail.  We ordered in once, but have cooked every single other night.  Family dinner is sacrosanct to us now.  We laugh, we talk, we give each other “compliments,” sometimes we’re snippy.  I have never been unclear about the fact that the three of you, you and your father, are my absolute priority in this world.  There’s something holy about the four of us being together, just us, and that’s always been how I feel.  In a very real way this time has been a tremendous gift to me, found time together, and I hope you have been reminded of how strong our bonds are and of how firmly you are supported here.  I know we are all sick of each other.  But we’re also so outrageously fortunate to have each other, and I hope that rises to the top of your memories from this time.

Do the right thing.  It hasn’t been easy, staying at home, but here we are.  Putting the greater good ahead of our individual needs is without question the right move (frankly, always) and in this case that’s what we’ve done.  I know it’s sometimes frustrating particularly because you see other people making different choices.  But that’s our family’s priority.  As things shift, so will our willingness to tolerate risk – that’s already beginning.  I know you’re excited. But it’s important to note that for the duration of the Stay at Home order that’s what we did.  Period. We aren’t above the rules, and neither are you.

As I’ve said a million times, how you act is more important than what you say.  That’s been clear in this pandemic.

Find something to laugh about.  The humor that has come up during this time has saved me, honestly.  I love the memes, the videos, the skits.  It is possible to find humor even in a dark situation, and to do it in a respectful way.  I firmly believe that.

Keep your loved ones close.  I think you’ve seen me connecting in a renewed way with those I love most. It has been very clarifying, actually, to see who I’m drawn to in this time.  It is possible to be in close touch with people even when you don’t see them every day. Make the effort. It’s worth it.

Pay attention. The world is so beautiful. I know you get sick of my rhapsodizing about the spring blossoms and the bird song, but I swear, there’s something so uplifting about going outside and witnessing it for yourself.  And yes, you can pull your mask down to smell the lilacs.

Do your work.  Dad and I are both still working.  Hard.  So are you both.  I’m proud to see how you have both engaged in this new model of education.  I know it’s not always comfortable, and it’s far from ideal, but you’ve both impressed me with your resilience and willingness to leap in.  Thank you.

I adore you both.  I hope you knew that before, and I really hope you know it now.