Amazing Grace

Back in college, I took a class on positive psychology.

It was a real course, with real lectures and readings, but assignments tended toward things like “journaling”—and organic chemistry it was not. (Favorite exercise: a sensory meditation on a lima bean, rolled against my ear.)

There are whole academic departments devoted to the field—whole rooms of publishing houses, too. And without meaning to discount them all, and the very smart people with which they are filled, it was an otherwise intense sophomore spring, and I wasn’t entirely in this for the scholarship. But: Mallomar rigor and occasional eye-roll aside, there *were* things learned and, I think, of value.

One of the first assignments I remember, is keeping a journal of gratitude. Twice a week, recording the things for which I was lately and especially thankful. There’ve been articles aplenty on the benefits reaped from the practice; and while they may not all pass muster under peer review, I really like how one psychologist describes it here—as “the habit of paying attention to gratitude-inspiring events.” Marty Seligman, by way of Mary Oliver.

It’s a habit I abandoned just as soon as the semester ended; but after a weekend spent unexpectedly in surgery, and with Thanksgiving season creeping closer, it’s one to which I’d like to return.

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And so, here’s a very first entry. Thankfulness kindling, from recent days:

This book. (And the book buddy who lent it.)

These slippers. (Cool temps; cozy toes.)

This scented candle. (Christmas in October.)

Pickleball. (That it is a real thing, and that I had a real conversation about it.)

These get-well sprigs. (And the fella who brought them home.)

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Of course, all the matter that really matters: the family and friends and happiness and (mostly) health, that have graced my life this week.

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Finishing Up

I wonder if I know enough to know what it’s really like
to have been here: have I seen sights enough to give
seeing over: the clouds, I’ve waited with white
October clouds like these this afternoon often before and

taken them in, but white clouds shade other white
ones gray, had I noticed that: and though I’ve
followed the leaves of many falls, have I spent time with
the wire vines left when frost’s red dyes strip the leaves

away: is more missing than was never enough: I’m sure
many of love’s kinds absolve and heal, but were they passing
rapids or welling stirs: I suppose I haven’t done and seen
enough yet to go, and, anyway, it may be way on on the way

before one picks up the track of the sufficient, the
world-round reach, spirit deep, easing and all, not just mind
answering itself but mind and things apprehended at once
as one, all giving all way, not a scrap of question holding back.

—A. R. Ammons

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Weekly Roundup

A few things, from across the webiverse …

The most important year.

Cambridgeport for the win.

Why we fell for clean eating.*

Beware the open-plan kitchen.

A Trump poetry contest.

Beans instead of beef.

Gotta respect our biotechs.

Listening (weeping) to this.

What really matters.

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“This Moment”
by Eavan Boland

A neighborhood.
At dusk.

Things are getting ready
to happen
out of sight.

Stars and moths.
And rinds slanting around fruit.

But not yet.

One tree is black.
One window is yellow as butter.

A woman leans down to catch a child
who has run into her arms
this moment.

Stars rise.
Moths flutter.
Apples sweeten in the dark.

From In a Time of Violence. © Norton, 1994.

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Love and light, readers,
Schuyler

*unapologetically v. pro-“squaffle”

Self-care for the non-believer

“Self-care” as this zeitgeist-y thing makes me, um, gag.

It is largely, I think, an affected iteration of “Treat yo’self,” and I’d much rather take my life advice from Donna and Tom than from a self-obsessed Brooklyn blogette.

That said, I’ve slowly come around to the idea that there is value in the concept, if not the expression—that it matters to care for yourself, with intention and routine.

In How to Be Married (which I wholeheartedly recommend to anyone getting, considering getting, newly, or not-so newly married), Jo Piazza writes about self-care as putting on your own oxygen mask before helping someone else with theirs. It’s a simple metaphor, but one that I hadn’t before considered and that I think is just so right. It frames self-care not as a choice or a twee-dom of privilege, but as an imperative. Self-care as saving—of your own self but of others’, too. Before you can care for a co-passenger (a partner; a friend; a colleague; a child), you must first care for yourself.

It’s back-to-school season now, and perhaps because I’ve spent my entire life in schools, I’ve always thought of this—more than the New Year—as a time for setting intentions. (Another gag-worthy phrase; please forgive.)

And so this week, I’ve set a few self-care goals. I’ll leave them here, on the chance you’re looking to set a few for yourself, too, and that they may serve as some small inspiration.

Rebalance the scales.

Unless you are a surgeon or a firefighter, it is unlikely that someone will die if you disengage from your work. I say this as someone who’s been known to check Outlook while awaiting vacation flights; who currently has a second window open to a PowerPoint presentation; who has a decidedly very hard time leaving work at work—on weekends and evenings and times otherwise intended for sabbatical. Intention #1, then. This year, I will try to do just that. To add a few more grams to the “life” of the work-life scales, so that when I go to work each morning, I do so refreshed and reenergized and ready to give myself wholly to it.

Disconnect.

I know that I’m not alone here, but I have a hard time disconnecting generally, too. In fact, I’ve just paused this writing to scroll through Instagram, because, you know, a post of earth-shattering consequence may have gone up after dinner. Actually, though, it probably hasn’t; and all I’ve done is activate a weary mind, and unsettle what needs quieting. Another intention, then, is to put aside all gadgety things after 8 p.m. (Barring the one that’s currently allowing me to watch The Killing, that is.) After 8, my laptop and phone will live downstairs in a drawer, and I’ll see them again in the morning.

Always (or sometimes) be moving.

I’ve heard that running does wonders, but ever since Mr. Chadwick’s fifth grade gym class, I’ve had very little inclination. Walking makes me feel really good. Calm and energized, both, and strong. It’s when I think about things—a day’s occurrences and observations; conversations had or to have. It’s usually when the “writerly muse” visits, too. I’m lucky to live in a place that lends itself to long walks; and until deep winter, at least, I’ll take one each day after work.

Water your garden.

I don’t know that there’s any such thing as one true passion, but I know that there are things that we love, that give us joy and meaning beyond our daily avocations. For me, one is writing. After months pining for my high school Harkness tables, I started this blog in the summer, when I had some time on my hands. It’s a blip in a hugely oversaturated blog market, and I doubt that anyone has been reading beyond family and close friends, if that. For me, though, it’s been really special; and while summer hours are done, it’s a space I’ll continue to nurture. I’ll post less often, but I intend to write a little bit each day. To keep watering this very tiny garden that for me has been a kind of salvation.

Homecoming

The front door of our house is in need of repair. A pane of glass, cracked in a windstorm before we’d ever even moved in.

Ditto the screen (collided with said door); the garage; the basement; the deck. And not to forget the garden that needs tending; the weeds uprooting; the leaves raking, weekly (daily?) because suddenly, it seems, it’s fall. There are things to be done and dollars to spend and hours to give in devotion to this small plot of land, and the small house upon it.

Homeownership, in a word.

Recently, my husband and I spent a week in the Pacific Northwest, a place I’d never been and to which, once, I might have clung. Cancel the flight; send for the cats. To Seattle, especially, which felt like Boston and Chicago and San Francisco conjoined and flung out into some National Park. It was young and vibrant, and the geography every bit as gorgeous as Maria Semple describes it. Mountains abutting city streets spilling out onto a Sound that, much as I adore the Long Island iteration, was something special.

It was perfect, each day imbued with friends and food and so much Pinot Noir. We played tourist and flâneur at once. We mapped out where we’d live and work and how we’d spend our days. And the whole time we were there, I couldn’t wait to be home.

Years ago, Ann Patchett had an essay in The Times, which I bookmarked then and have revisited more than once since. In it, she writes (succinctly; sublimely; oh you’re good, Ann Patchett) of her home in Nashville. “I understand the world is full of spectacular things I’ve yet to see,” she says, “but I can’t imagine any of them would satisfy me as deeply as this house.” She continues that, “Home, once you find it, presents an inexhaustible set of wonders, a world that isn’t very wide but is endlessly deep.” It is “the stable window that opens out into the imagination”; and it is good not because of the porch or the floors—however lovely they may be—but because such is the life within it.

I’ve lived in many different real estates, seven in the last five years alone. (Which, when written out, does seem like a few too many.) There’s something amazing about that transience, about being able to dream up a life in Seattle and then, actually, realize it. But there’s something to be said, too, for being anchored to the earth. For having this space to which you and your love return from work each day. Where you’ll uproot a weed but not a self; where you’ll live and make life.

There’s so much that’s inconstant—in the world right now, especially; so much to fall apart, and break your heart. And as I look out from my writing desk today, onto the deck that needs fixing (or, more accurately, tearing down) and to the burnt-orange leaves falling on it, knowing that I’ll see the same tomorrow, I’m just…really glad and grateful for that stillness. For this house which envelops this life, in all its smallness and infinity.

Weekly Roundup

A few things, from across the webiverse …

The danger of an incurious president.

How to become a writer.

Islandborn.

Good grief.

Nevertheless.

Eclipse primer.

Re-visited + re-loved.

Quarterlane.

Wearing this.

I feel a change in the weather.

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Home again. We’ve left Maine, and I’m already pining for it. (Words to bookend, here.) The sun’s coming up just a little bit later than it had before our trip; and when I opened the door this morning, it felt like something just a little bit less than summer. Whispers of a turning.

It’s not that I don’t like fall; I do—it’s my favorite season, actually. It’s just that I’m so very far from ready for this one to be over. Blinders on, then, and as far as I’m aware, the calendar stops somewhere around September 4. (Though, admittedly, I did just order myself a winter parka. A deal’s a deal.) We’re leaving soon for another Portland, and until we do, I’ll be savoring summer at home—walking each morning to the beach, reading each evening on the porch (winelight, etc.), and looking at each new shoulder-freckle like it’s some kind of miracle. Which it really is.

Happy Friday, and happy summer. May it never end.

Gone Fishin’

… and in lieu of a link pack, a poem.

LIVING

The fire in leaf and grass
so green it seems
each summer the last summer.

The wind blowing, the leaves
shivering in the sun,
each day the last day.

A red salamander
so cold and so
easy to catch, dreamily

moves his delicate feet
and long tail. I hold
my hand open for him to go.

Each minute the last minute.

— Denise Levertov

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Cliché for a reason. Here’s to {summers} {days} {minutes}, lived as if the last.

Happy Friday, readers.

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Peaks Island, c. 2014

Packing for Maine

This week, my husband and I leave for vacation in Maine, where we’ll spend too few days with people we love and an agenda of good food, good drink, and good books. Little else, I hope.

In between some necessary doings today, I started to pack our bag. It’s a small one—meant for lone nights over, I’m sure—but this is summer on Casco Bay, and I really can’t imagine we’ll need more than jeans, a few tees, and a sweatshirt between us. And as I sat there on the bedspread, folding, considering this tank or that one, wondering after those lost and longed-for shorts, I was also thinking of our last trip to Maine—and of our first, too.

Of e-mailing Matt one early Sunday morning to say that I was so sorry, I couldn’t make it to the Super Bowl party; I had met this boy, and he wanted to take me to Portland. (I know, I do. Crossing state lines with a newfound friend? But guys, I had a feeling.)

Of driving from Boston to an even colder city, north—and not thinking for a moment that Maine in February was foolish. Stopping to photograph a lighthouse. Stopping again, to eat. (Chowder at Gilbert’s, of course.) Driving back and pausing in New Hampshire for moonshine, just because. Being home in Cambridge and ordering sushi that never came—and so, White Lightin’ for dinner.* And then, months later and another, warmer drive to Portland. Farther, too, to Deer Isle and Acadia, where we loafed and (half-)hiked and thought of Boston, and of leaving it.

So much has happened since Maine, then. A new address (or five). A marriage and an anniversary. Infinite drives and fewer flights. And while Portland is very lovely, I think it’s safe to say that I’m more than reasonably excited to be there. But I am—over-the-moon-like. For the lobster. For the days that begin in loonsong on a porch and end there, too—but with beers and a sky that’s no longer fog but striations of color, and wondrous. Mostly, though, for the camerado, who made this place a place.

So Malcolm, if you’re reading, thanks for traveling with me—to Maine or wherever, then and always. Thanks for sharing your sweatshirt, too.

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*A jar that didn’t make it past our last, ruthless pre-move purge, but that I kept for so very long. Lingering ’shine-tang, be damned.

Weekly Roundup

A few things, from across the webiverse …

Obama + kids.

Everybody lies.

Dot journaling!

Best burns.

Binged on this and don’t regret it.

The mental load.

“In a world where reality has become stranger than fiction, actual books are no longer selling.”

Lives on the line.

What Texas tells us.

Counting down the days, hours, minutes.

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Happy weekend, friends. I’ll be catching up on yard work and heading into the city to see my lovely Stephanie. Also devouring these (just pulled from the oven…) and starting on some Alice Munro, after finishing this book.

So many thanks for reading,
Schuyler

Book Club: Let the Great World Spin

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(Says, “Signed,” but I read as, “So good.” Both accurate.)

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A few years ago, I kept a Word document called, “Quotes I Love Today.” It was a running list of lines gleaned from stories, poems, conversations—things read or heard, and felt.

To be more precise, this was 2013, my year of Infinite Jest and of being twenty-five; and so needless to say, it was a time of many feelings and of many words transcribed.

I tell you this because I re-opened the file last week and started typing, because I had just brought home a copy of Colum McCann’s Let the Great World Spin. (Praise to the Westport Library book sale, by the by.) Now, this was not my first encounter with the novel; I had read it when it was published back in 2009, probably along with my dad (Book Club OG; hey, dad). But sometimes, for whatever reason—your age or your chair or the café music that’s playing over those final chapters—you read something and it sits with you well, and maybe even for a while; but you just don’t feel it as deeply as you might. But then you return to it later, and it hits you with a gale’s force. And that’s what happened, here.

As any summary will tell you, the novel centers (literally*; exquisitely) on Philippe Petit’s high-wire walk between the Twin Towers. But this is Colum McCann, and of course it’s about so much more than that. War, declared or otherwise, and myriad “lesser” violences. Family, love, and loss, as they collide. The New York of summer. All the places we call home.

Suffice it to say, my Word doc has grown.

If you’d like to read on, you can find the book for sale here and here (please, not there). I’d lend you mine, but I think this is one I’d like to keep close. I hope you’ll read it slowly and someplace still, to savor; and I hope you’ll love as much as I did.

Schuyler

*See: pp. 175-197, “Etherwest.”