Commonplace

seeking the story in the ordinary

One year. It’s been nearly one year since I began this blog. Since I started writing regularly. And I’m sitting here in disbelief. That it’s been a full year. That it’s been only a year.

Time is funny that way.

When I set out a mere several hundred days ago, I never could have known all the worlds these words would take me, all the lives it would bring into mine. I look at these letters lined up, marching one right after the other, created out of nothingness and brought into the world to say ‘I’m here.’ And you have responded, ‘me too.’ I am more convinced than ever that this world, this life, is a common place, one we walk through together.

My ‘blogiversary’ aptly coincides with the turn of a calendar year. I have always loved New Years. While it once meant frolicking on the streets of Philadelphia with old friends, now, more often, it involves sitting in sweatpants with a glass of red wine and the crackle of the countdown broadcast in the background. But always, wherever you are, it feels like early morning—full of promise and possibility. Reflection and reminiscence.

It is a clean slate. A blank page. Untouched, unmarred, unknown. Like newly fallen snow. Footstep-free.

There was a book I read in college that had a profound impact on me. I recently re-read excerpts of it. The Crisis of Democratic Theory by Edward A. Purcell, Jr., and specifically chapter 4, explores how the discovery of non-Euclidean geometry transformed intellectual thought. In a nutshell, non-Euclideanism proved that alternate, valid mathematical truths could exist other than Euclid’s, which were (up until that point) considered absolute.

Suddenly knowledge—about how the mind and world work, across disciplines—was no longer presumed to be a priori, or innately true (as opposed to discovered through logic and experience):

“The concept of non-Euclideanism…robbed every rational system [religious, social, ethical] of any claim to be in any sense true, except insofar as it could be proved empirically to describe what actually existed.”

“Horace M. Kallen concluded that it was impossible to discover, much less validate, any single, universal system of ethical beliefs.”

“Certainty has vanished, and there is no hope at present of its return in any form which we might recognize.” – Eric Temple Bell

At the risk of butchering the philosophy for the sake of simplifying it here:  these theorists suggest that there is no irrefutable objective reality, no single truth. Only our experience of it, our being in the world. This is all we know for sure.

Nothing is inherently right or good.

No one belief is superior to any other. Because it is fundamentally impossible to prove the truth of any of it.

Michael Frayn wrote the compelling play Copenhagen, which explores a meeting between physicists Niels Bohr and Werner Heisenberg in 1941. He has a haunting quote in the postscript:

“And since, as the Copenhagen Interpretation establishes, the whole possibility of saying or thinking anything about the world, even the most apparently objective, abstract aspects of it studied by the natural sciences, depends upon human observation, and is subject to the limitations which the human mind imposes, this uncertainty in our thinking is also fundamental to the nature of the world.”

All knowledge is subjective. Uncertainty is inevitable. It is part of the very fabric of our shared human experience; it underlies the fundamental nature of all things. It is of necessity.

And it softens, humbles us. It opens us to the possibility that we are wrong. That we know not everything. That someone, somewhere—elsewhere—sees things differently. And they are right, as we are. That we shall hold a space beside us, across from us, millions of miles away from us for others to coexist, walk alongside, perceive—in their inevitably idiosyncratic way. In the way only they can. In the way they must. And speak of it, and write of it, in their necessarily unique voice. And if there exists a kernel of commonality, of understanding, of the ability to relate, well then, coexistence. Community. Connection. These become possible.

The only truth is that there is none.

All we can know is that we cannot know anything for sure.

Jarring, perhaps. But freeing too. I’m comforted by this uncertainty. The thought that as little as I can know to be true, it is the same for you. And so we walk together. Living in the questions. Comforting each other. Lifting each other up.

It is in good company that we timidly turn this calendar page, round this corner.

We can stop searching, seeking, yearning for something else, more, different. For an answer. For some other life. For we are, right here, in this moment, all that we are meant to be.

Let’s softly saunter through this shared world of ours, unsuspecting, unassuming, open to possibility. There is only this day. Only this moment. Only our experience of it.

The blank page.

The year ahead.

Let’s simply set out and see what will be.

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*Parts of this post were inspired by my dear and talented writer friend, Barbara Mahany, and the deeply moving experience I had as part of a two-week writing group called ‘What If You Knew,’ led by Jena Schwartz.

It’s my first time. Since becoming a mother, this is the first time I haven’t had a baby.

Tomorrow, my youngest son will turn two. My three boys are all 20 months apart. When anyone turned two, there was already another baby in the house. It’s been six years of consecutive pregnancies, nursing, and newborns, without a break or a beat. But now it’s been a full year since I’ve given a breast or bottle.

And lately, I find myself looking around as if something’s missing.

I’ll accidentally happen upon the infant aisle in Target and move quickly past the pacifiers and swaddle blankets, the boppy pillows and breast pumps—but not before a lump forms in my throat. No need for them now.

I ventured into my grandmother’s basement earlier this week to retrieve Rubbermaids stuffed to the brim with baby clothes–now hand-me-downs for my nephew-to-be. I pause to finger the soft cotton hospital-issue onesie and am instantly transported. Oh it’s trite, but truly, were they ever that small?

Now, while I’m fixing breakfast for his brothers, he darts by, impossibly fast, a flash of fleece pajamas and towhead blond hair. I know those pajamas, I think. Navy blue and orange with soccer balls dancing all over the legs. They are size 2T. They are the ones that always fit the toddler waiting for me to bring home his baby brother. And my arms search and heart aches for the newborn who must, it seems, be nearby.

But I only find him.

My littlest boy. Who wraps his arms around my neck and squeezes, tight. Who sits next to me and puts a plump hand in mine. Whose soft blond hair is still wispy. Whose face, when he sleeps, still resembles the grainy ultrasound picture from before we even met.

But suddenly the clarity of his language surprises me.

And his pudgy toddler thighs fill my lap.

And he helps himself to a cup of water.

Brushes his own teeth.

Now I walk by the full-length mirror and the reflection of a baby too big to be carried startles me.

And it’s almost awkward to gather him on my chest.

Tiny, yet epic moments that were somehow missed the first two times around, or at least muted by a newborn’s urgent cries or a firstborn’s insistence.

Now there is no new person here to suddenly make this boy seem huge. And so he remains my baby.

But he will be two soon. Too soon.

Even his entry to the world was earlier than expected–four days in advance of the scheduled C-section, a burst of amniotic fluid during his brothers’ bedtime routine signaling his dramatic arrival. From the start, all of it passing us by far too fast, and ever so slightly before we are ready.

And here I am, nostalgic for the hospital’s postpartum ward—its soft turquoise and peach décor, its long, slick hallways. Trays of comfort food and shuffling, doting nurses. And of course, the tiny, pink infant alternately swaddled in the plastic mobile bassinet or carefully tucked in my grateful arms.

It’s as if I don’t quite recognize myself without a newborn.

We’ve been hurtling towards two with a sense of inevitability—an impatience almost. Because ’22’ and ’23’ months are suddenly too cumbersome to say. Because it comes, regardless.

And as my sons grow, so does the chasm between what they need and what I can give. Their world will expand far beyond this home with me in it. And me, oh with my fixation on the small—from tiny newborn hands to the simple challenges of a life with little ones to the ordinary moments of our everydays.

We are outgrowing them all.

Yes, I feel tethered by my children, but anchored too. And now, as the ties slacken slightly yet steadily, I wonder what will secure me. On a recent afternoon to myself in Manhattan, I ascended the subway steps only to arrive at a corner, disoriented, battered about by brazen passersby. Without the weight of children in tow, I come loose. Whipped about, like a stray plastic bag in the breeze. A bit lost.

Sometimes I worry when they’re gone, I’ll no longer recognize myself at all.

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I wasn’t planning to post here today, but I found myself with a quiet moment—and a sudden urge to jot down the little things I love—lately and longtime, and for which I am most grateful:

first sips of a hot cup of coffee
autumn
long walks
rustic bookcases
freshly baked bread
writing
losing myself in the nostalgia of an old letter
early mornings
fresh paper
being inside while it rains
a drive through New England
being immersed in a good book
lists
ski lodges
hoodies
holding hands
yellow candles
fireplaces
wooden bridges
cobblestone
listening to music on the open road
songs that make you swell with reminiscence
shared memories
uncommon connections
late-night conversation
comfortable silences
people-watching
windows and doors
sunsets
park benches
gloaming
rural landscapes
waterfronts
words
black and white photographs
late afternoon light
love
doubt
naptimes
going out for brunch
a box of fresh crayons
common kindness
family, here and gone
friends, old and new
you, here, reading these words
you, out there, in the world

But I’m thankful, above all perhaps, for being able to be thankful. To be here, and to have the luxury to be grateful for the small things.

“The more you respect and focus on the singular and the strange, the more you become aware of the universal and infinite.” – Gail Godwin

(with warm thanks to Lindsey Mead, on whose lovely site I found these words)

Wishing you a brief pause today to love the little things.

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One by one, the articles have come across my feed. I’m drawn to click on them all. They resonate and remind of how deep my love of walking lies. But it wasn’t until I read these words from Thoreau on Maria Popova’s beloved Brain Pickings site that I had an epiphany about why:

Some, however, would derive the word from sans terre, without land or a home, which, therefore, in the good sense, will mean, having no particular home, but equally at home everywhere. For this is the secret of successful sauntering. – H.D. Thoreau

Equally at home everywhere. Yes.

Walking is a way to get out of yourself and into the world. To diminish the distance between here and elsewhere. To shed the confines of your own mind, home, circumstances, and explore what lies beyond. It’s like reading in this way, isn’t it? A way to see what’s possible. To acquaint yourself with the unknown. To learn more about the world and your place within it.

Walking is an adventure available to all, regardless of means or circumstance. No matter how tethered or tired. There is a distinct comfort in knowing accessible beauty and wonder await just beyond your front door.

IMG_8935Walking has indeed been a lifelong love affair for me—there were jaunts to the local convenience store in my childhood beach town to procure red hots for afternoon towel talks with a neighbor; strolls along the boardwalk to art school with a dear friend in the weak early morning sun—the going always more enjoyable than the getting there.

Strangers became forever friends along a swath of Appalachian Trail; connections were discovered and deepened on a winding, oppressively hot four-day stint in the Judean Desert.

As a young adult, alone yet surrounded by city, I’d walk my weekends away along the Hudson River, or spend a stretch of unscheduled Sunday meandering through an as-of-yet unexplored neighborhood, charting a path to nowhere, stopping as it suited me.

With children of my own, I’d set out for as long as I could to navigate town with my snap ‘n go and swaddled infant companions. As my children age, our walks now modified to accommodate bikes, scooters, speed, safety helmets.

Everywhere you roam, you leave something of yourself behind and gather something of the world to take with you. I keep shoes long past their prime because I know they’ve walked with me–their soles bearing bits of where I’ve been.

The steady sensation of earth underfoot, the limitless possibility of open sky above—here and everywhere, near and far, home and away, grounded and soaring all at once. A way to be in the world without going far. At home everywhere.

*                 *                  *

Below, my favorite excerpts and articles on the reasons for and benefits of walking.

A collection of walking inspiration for you:

My favorite formula for a great walk is to give yourself a few days. Five is good. Choose one or two people you find fascinating as partners. Then move slowly through the countryside — notice and help notice. Be delighted by those you encounter — those beautiful or angry or lost or sad. Consider the hug. Ask those you meet to sing for a loved one if they tell you they once sang. Bring coffee. Share the coffee. Fall in love with a country. A person. A branch on a tree. Speak at length about lengthy topics. This is why you walk.

Walking intrigues us with its simplicity. Thomas Clark reminds us: “Early one morning, any morning, we can set out, with the least possible baggage, and discover the world.”

A Need to Walk by Craig Mod

~

That something exists outside ourselves and our preoccupations,
so near, so readily available, is our greatest blessing.

Walking is the human way of getting about.

There are walks in which we tread in the footsteps of others,
walks on which we strike out entirely for ourselves.

A journey implies a destination, so many miles to be consumed,
while a walk is its own measure, complete at every point along
the way.

There are things we will never see, unless we walk to them.

What I take with me, what I leave behind, are of less importance
than what I discover along the way.

To be completely lost is a good thing on a walk.
The most distant places seem most accessible once one is on
the road.

In the course of a walk, we usually find out something about our
companion, and this is true even when we travel alone.

In Praise of Walking by Thomas A. Clark

~

When we choose a path through a city or forest, our brain must survey the surrounding environment, construct a mental map of the world, settle on a way forward, and translate that plan into a series of footsteps. Likewise, writing forces the brain to review its own landscape, plot a course through that mental terrain, and transcribe the resulting trail of thoughts by guiding the hands. Walking organizes the world around us; writing organizes our thoughts.

Why Walking Helps Us Think by Ferris Jabr

~

Sometimes writers try so hard, strain to come up with the interesting and creative. But what if we simply stepped outside and took a walk around the block and recorded what we saw?

Let’s Go Flaneuring by Rachel Pieh Jones (from the call for submissions for a lovely series of guest posts on her site, Djibouti Jones)

~

Hope that, 10 years from now, when the chalk and bubbles have long been put away, replaced by cell phones and homework and friends with parties, and all of the other things that little ones grow into, that we, too, might take walks. Mama and child. Hope that, in the quiet of the late afternoon, we’ll wander around our peaceful streets and we’ll talk. Connect. Continue building this relationship that I’ve been dreaming of since I first felt the pull towards motherhood.

We Will Take Walks by Tricia Mirchandani of Raising Humans

~

I want them to live in the world. To be curious about other people. Who they are, where they’re going. I want them to experience true empathy and wonder. To understand what it looks like to take the bus to work. To appreciate the distinct people and paths in our surroundings. To not only be preoccupied with our own comings and goings; to be comfortable with themselves, wherever they are.

I want them to marvel at the commonplace, the everyday. To not need anything more. The landscape of our city street, these passers-by, this steady rhythm of life being lived. This is entertainment enough.

Even when the rain threatens, we walk. I will miss this city life, when the inevitable pull of convenience and circumstance takes us elsewhere. When the practical overshadows the ideal.

A Step Towards Community by Dina L. Relles

~

I always feel significantly closer to someone at the end of a walk than I did at the beginning…

I’d forgotten how easily a walk quiets my mind…

The Summer I Rediscovered the Virtues of a Walk by Nina Badzin

~

The Spirit of Sauntering: Thoreau on the Art of Walking and the Perils of a Sedentary Lifestyle by Maria Popova (quoted above)

~

Writing Prompt: For Your Journal by Amanda Jaros for Literary Mama (on the benefits of walking for creativity)

Do you have a favorite piece or poem on walking? A post of your own? Please feel free to link to it in the comments below.

Perhaps our paths will cross someday…

So lately I’ve been inspired and terrified by all things NaNoWriMo (not doing it) and NaBloPoMo (not doing that either). And even though I’m not in a place where I feel ready to tackle these, it has me thinking about the way I write, the way I blog, and oh pretty much the way I do most things. And that is: with a healthy dose of overthinking and nail-biting. I’m starting to think I’m just an old dog, but in the spirit of all the writer bravery out there this month, and because we should never feel too set in our ways to try something new or buck our fear of change, I’m going to write this post free-form, without agenda or editing.

I started tapping these words after I stepped out of the shower, droplets of water falling from my hair onto the protective case of my iPhone. I continued on my laptop, and plan to type, type, type and then hit publish. All in one sitting.

And yes, it’s scary.

Maybe I’ll discover that I’m not a good writer. That I’m really an editor. Or maybe I’m just really crafty at using a thesaurus. Or that I need another word for really. Right about NOW.

That I’ll never be good enough to write a bad first draft and go from there.

That I’ve always wanted to be the kind of writer—the kind of PERSON—who doesn’t overthink, who doesn’t care so deeply about what other people think of her, what she’s wearing, how it fits, how it feels to walk down the street in it. I’ll just be walking, living, breathing, writing. Doing. Living. Crap, I already said living. Crap, I said crap. Did you know I curse a lot? I tend to edit out the expletives. But not today. Don’t look back. Keep moving. Forward. Onward. Oh my gosh, this is liberating, freeing. Maybe you’ve stopped reading—maybe I don’t care. Maybe I’m finally letting go. Of the fear, self-doubt. All of it.

I want to be one of those people who waltzes through life, not tripping on corners and curbs. Not miscalculating her steps—not calculating them at all. Because, oh my god, who calculates steps?? I learned how to walk 33 years ago and have been doing it every day since—I should be able to do at least that without such effort.

You know the people I’m talking about, though, right? The ones who never blowdry their hair because it’s naturally perfectly straight—but they’re nice enough to whisper in confidence that they ‘wish it were wavy like yours’ when you pay them a compliment. Their clothes hang off them just so, and…is this really what I’m writing about? When left to freely roam, my mind turns to self-consciousness and straight hair? Yup. Sometimes I think about that stuff. More than I care to admit. (That’s a funny phrase. Because aren’t you admitting whatever it is, even while saying you don’t care to?)

I want to be someone who doesn’t care what others think, but gives them something to think about.

The boys will be stirring soon. Is it wrong that part of me dreads when they wake? I’m just so protective of this time—these quiet early morning hours, this peaceful house. Before a single word is spoken in the day. Before we put our mark on its placid perfection.

I’ve always considered myself an extrovert. But now I willingly trade nights out for an early bedtime so that I may wake in the pre-dawn darkness and just be. Still. A function of parenting? Writing? Change? Are we always who we innately are? Or do we evolve and grow to become nearly unrecognizable versions of our former selves?

I’ve always thought that as we age, our idiosyncratic personality traits deepen. We become more intense versions of who we’ve always been. And so. I’m slightly troubled, but more intrigued, by my elusive extroversion. By my newfound desire for quiet and solitude above all. I suppose it’s just a function of the imbalance of it in my life right now. I’m still endlessly curious about people, but lately, prefer keeping them at arm’s length. Watching, observing, taking them in, but at a distance, not summoning the energy to interact.

(Hopefully you weren’t coming for any neat takeaways or profound conclusions today. Just musings here.) This is probably a one-time thing. I feel like I’m walking down Fifth Avenue naked. Stripped bare. Don’t look! Don’t read this drivel!

But it’s good for me to be more spontaneous and self-assured—in my writing, in my life. To let go, release. To not always be wound so tight. To not always be met with ‘wow, you need this’ in the chair massage at the nail salon (guilty pleasure—scratch that, just pleasure—look at me, offering qualifiers so you won’t judge. Oh I’m hopeless.).

So today, friends, I’m not editing. Not this post. Not myself. Not any of it. The curtains are down, the red pen is at rest. This is me. Raw and real. Take me as I am. Not airbrushed, not edited. Warts, typos, and all.

Because I worry sometimes about these carefully curated online presences of ours. Because vulnerability is a beautiful thing—perhaps one of best things we can offer each other in this all-too-anonymous world. Authenticity too. The currency of imperfect me-too-moments, traded in exchange for comfort and connection, friendship and reassurance.

Even if not quite this extreme stream-of-consciousness, I may start posting rougher, lighter, less polished, more spontaneous pieces every now and then—more riffs on my day, thoughts as they come, as I have them—not months in the making, hewn, hacked, hemmed and hawed. But fresh and true.

Alright. Go forth. Be you.

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Disclaimer: The real me couldn’t hit ‘publish’ without giving this a once-over.

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