Paradise in Plain Sight (and a give-away)

82522Come see the garden,” my new online friend said to me, years ago. We had never met, barely knew each other through the ether, and yet here she was, inviting me to her sanctuary.

I was a New Hampshire housewife contemplating a field of granite rocks beyond my kitchen window. She was a west coast Zen priest, the rightful inheritor of a venerable Japanese garden tucked away in a suburb of LA.

What did we have in common? Perhaps it was something as simple as the belief that an ordinary life is a gift to be reckoned with — that folding socks and driving the carpool and washing supper dishes are opportunities for growth and grace. And we also shared this: a desire to fully inhabit the present moment by learning to pay attention to the ground beneath our own two feet.

It doesn’t sound like much — being quiet, noticing where you are, appreciating what you see, realizing that you already possess what you’ve been looking for because you already are everything you seek.  Of course, this kind of seeing, this kind of unvarnished intimacy with one’s self, is also the task of a lifetime. Hard work. Simple. Not simple. Endless. Worth it.

So, perhaps it wasn’t a surprise that we first “met” because our books crossed each other’s doorsteps. [continue...]

Why I write: “We still and always want waking”

photoI’ve been fascinated, over the last month or so, to read so many of my favorite bloggers’ answers to the following questions about their writing process.  (Don’t we all want to know what inspires the writers we love to do what they do?)

Today, thanks to Nicki Gilbert’s invitation, it’s my pleasure to hop on this train and try to put my own writing into some kind of context.  And it’s an even greater pleasure to introduce three fellow writers I consider among my must-reads, Jeanne Henriques, whose gorgeous photos and vivid descriptions of her ex-pat life give rise to all sorts of fantasies; author Beth Kephart, who writes about books and the writing life with sustained insight, eloquence, and passion; and Amy VanEchaute, new to the blogging world and already accruing many devoted readers at her exquisitely executed site My Path With Stars Bestrewn.

 A little background. . .

Fifteen years ago, when my two sons were small, I found myself haunted by a lack I couldn’t even name.  I had a steady editing job I could do from home, babysitting help during those working hours, a comfortable house in the suburbs, two precious little boys and a husband I loved.  A “good” life.   And yet I juggled all the balls – mothering, working, household chores, activities, socializing, going and doing and getting – with a sense I was missing something essential. As my children grew and entered school, as I got busier and our days more complicated, this inchoate longing only intensified.

One afternoon, while sitting on the sofa with my five-year-old son, crocheting mitten strings as snowflakes drifted past the window,  I finally realized what this painful yearning was: a desire to inhabit my own life more fully. Not to do more, but to be more.  To have more quiet moments just like this one. And so I began systematically, and a bit ruthlessly, to simplify our family life. I also began to write about it.  Having spent years as a literary editor, I never imagined myself as a writer.  But suddenly I had something I wanted – actually, needed is not too strong a word here – to say. I needed to remind myself, again and again, what kind of person I wanted to be and what kind of life I wanted to lead.

Writing demanded that I sit still and pay attention.  It required time, reflection and, most of all, a confrontation with my innermost self.  If I really wanted to inhabit my life, it seemed, then the best way to do it was to slow down enough to notice the details.  And then, by subtle alchemy, something inside shifted. As I began to shape words, the words I wrote began to shape me.  [continue...]

Dear Old(er): aging with grace

Helen and celery - Version 2

This is the third in a series of letters between me and my friend, author Margaret Roach, on the challenges (and joys!) of aging. I’m Old (just 55) and she’s Older (facing 60 this year). And since we’re surely not the only ones buying wrinkle creams, we decided to share our exchange with you, too. Be sure to read Margaret’s letter to me here.

Dear Old(er),

I’m thinking maybe we should come up with some new words for us.

Have you noticed that a few of our (older) readers have pointed out that, at 55 and 60, we aren’t quite “there” yet?  My guess: to them we look less like a pair of wise elders and more like a couple of adolescents who are insisting they’re adults and want to be treated as such.   No matter that our curfews these days are entirely self-imposed or that, rather than indulging in hedonistic excess, we’ve pretty much renounced all our youthful vices. The point is, if we’re old now, what will we call ourselves at 85 and 90?  (We are planning to be writing to each other thirty years from now, right?) [continue...]

present moment — and a mother’s day give-away

snowI’m still waiting for the last snow bank to melt outside the back door.  My guess is it’ll linger, grainy and gray, for another week or so.

I suppose I could get out there today and attack winter’s last frozen carapace with a shovel. If I got that mound of snow and ice all broken up and spread out on the flattened, spongy lawn, it would probably disappear faster.

Instead, I look at winter’s grimy remains and see an invitation to pay attention. The lingering, slowly dwindling snow bank reminds me once again: nothing lasts.  Even the harsh, seemingly endless winter I complained about and struggled against for months is finally on its way out, its last vestiges vanishing by the moment.

On this windy, chilly spring day, it’s too early to do much of anything productive outside.  And so, I walk around and survey the wreckage: the old front gate, broken off at the hinge, the fallen tree limbs, the cache of dead leaves in the window wells, the skeletal remains of the Christmas tree on the patio, the dead hydrangea blooms I never got around to pruning in the fall.   [continue...]

Laurie Colwin — my mentor in the kitchen & on the page

photo copy 2 - Version 2I once bought a black speckled canning pot, two boxes of Ball jars, and twelve pounds of dusky Italian plums in memory of an author I loved.

For years, I’ve suspected I was one of a few remaining Laurie Colwin aficionados, a smallish but loyal band of readers of a certain age and sensibility who still hold her close in our hearts, afford her books prime space on our shelves, and continue to make her signature dishes in our kitchens.

So it was rather wonderful, though a bit startling, to discover in the pages of the New York Times this week that I’m not alone after all. That in fact, in the more than twenty years since her death, Laurie’s following has only grown, attracting “a new, cultishly devoted generation of readers,” many of whom are in their thirties or even younger.

Turns out, Laurie Colwin is bigger than ever. Her books, never out of print, are selling briskly. Some of her most zealous disciples today were toddlers when she died in 1992. Somehow, knowing about her expanding fan base gives me hope — not only for this new generation of readers, secret romantics, and home cooks, but also for the survival of such humble institutions as tea parties, afternoon picnics, and family dinners. [continue...]