moments of seeing: books!

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Sometimes, life sits you down in a chair and insists that you stay put, doing the thing you’re really meant to do.

Last winter and spring, recovering from two hip replacements and an excruciating case of post-op bursitis, I found myself facing some very long days.

The physical therapy exercises I was required to do were numbingly dull, until I had the stunning revelation that I could link each repetitive movement to my breath and call it “yoga.” Suddenly, even if I was just lying in bed and flexing my feet, I had my practice back. All it took was a change of attitude, from grudging to mindful. Breath equals connection. And with that simple truth, I was on my way, slowly healing, one inhalation and exhalation at a time.

Meanwhile, nearly two years after I first thought about collecting the essays from this space into a book, I finally had time and space to actually settle down and get to work. The long empty days of recuperation were transformed, by a small shift of intention, into a kind of writer’s retreat for one. [continue…]

how we spend our days

sunriseAnnie Dillard wrote, “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives,” a line that resonated deeply with me when I first read it years ago.

“How We Spend Our Days” is also the name of a wonderfully intimate monthly series in which writers (including some of my favorites) share glimpses of the private lives and processes behind the words we share with the world.

Today, I’m honored to be the guest writer over at Catching Days.

Please do come visit, read my essay, and say hello over at Cynthia Newberry Martin’s lovely site.  Click here.

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…]

A Religion of One’s Own

IMG_9798The first thing I did when I found out I was pregnant, twenty-five years ago this winter, was get in my car and drive to Harvard Square to buy a copy of What to Expect When You’re Expecting.  I am a book person, a life-long reader.  And so my first response to anything new or challenging in my life has always been the same: go find a book on the subject.

For a few years, as I became a mother to first one son and then another, I read my way through an entire shelf of parenting titles.  I read books about every age and every stage, about attachment and achievement, discipline and diet.

But the book that finally set me on my own path, both as a mother and as a person, wasn’t a parenting book at all.  It was a book called The Re-Enchantment of Everyday Life by a writer named Thomas Moore.

Most of us have a handful of books we consider seminal, books that make such profound, deep, and lasting impressions that we remember, even years later, exactly where we were and how we felt as the words landed in our hearts.

I was in a lawn chair at my parents’ house in Florida, savoring quiet. [continue…]

Quiet work

Remember that poster in your high school guidance counselor’s office? The one with an airbrushed photo of some generic sunrise and a caption that read, “Today is the first day of the rest of your life”? At seventeen, I really did not want to hear that.

This morning at dawn I stepped outside. The sunrise was spectacular. The first words that popped into my head were, “Today is the first day of the rest of your life.” The birds were singing like crazy. My husband was already down in the field, throwing a tennis ball for Gracie. And my heart was full to overflowing with gratitude. The first day of the rest of my life seemed like a very good reason to stand in one place for a while, watch the sun climb up into the sky, listen to the wild symphony going on outside, and give thanks for everything.

Yesterday at 2:08 in the afternoon, I hit the SEND button and emailed the last chapter of the manuscript I’ve been working on for the last year to my editor. It took a little while for the fact of that to sink in: I did it.

I walked downstairs in a daze, went outside and sat down in a lawn chair next to Steve. And then I burst into tears. The transition from writing to being done with writing pretty much undid me. There was the relief of making my deadline, of course, but it was inextricably intertwined with the despair of knowing that the finished product is so much less than the beautiful creation I envisioned in my imagination all those months ago, before I actually got down to the discouraging business of trying to translate experience into words.

While I’ve been sequestered upstairs in Henry’s bedroom, surrounded by his old Red Sox posters and various drafts and file cards, the seasons changed. I missed most of winter, and barely noticed the arrival of spring. Yesterday, with the finish line in sight, I sat on Henry’s bed with my laptop in front of me for seven hours without even looking up. When I finally ventured out into my own front yard yesterday afternoon, it felt as if I was returning home from an extended trip overseas, or was just recovering from a debilitating illness. I’d been gone a long time. Now, suddenly, with one tap of the keys, I was back. Re-entry was just a little rocky. All I could think was, “I’m done and I failed.”

My husband wiped my tears away and gave me a sweet letter he’d written in the morning, when he could see the end was near. And then he gave me Wendell Berry’s “Collected Poems,” the most perfect gift for that tumultuous moment. I opened the book and the first poem I came to was this one, called “Like Snow.”

Like Snow

Suppose we did our work
Like the snow, quietly, quietly,
Leaving nothing out.

Such solid, simple words. Such a fine thing to aspire to. I wonder why it is that we humans suffer so with our fears and doubts about not being enough. We do the best we can, give all we have to give, and then we turn a harsh eye on the beauty of our efforts.

Today, on this first day of the rest of my life, I have practiced doing my work like the snow. Quietly, quietly.