Commonplace

seeking the story in the ordinary

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.

Today, it’s raining. The lone desk lamp throws warm light on the yellow wall. A half-eaten bowl of Rice Chex sits to my right. I can hear the faint sound of clothes turning in the dryer downstairs, the commuter train in the distance, the slick rush of cars on the damp main road just beyond the front window.

I collapse into the black folding chair across from my laptop. I exhale.

It’s like I’ve stolen these hours. These sweet, empty hours. A quiet slice of carved out space and time. Rare, fleeting, mine. The older boys are at school, the baby may be there, too—for the few hours a week he goes—or maybe he’s napping. Husband is at work. I’m alone. Or at least it feels that way.

Suddenly my shoulders tense. My mind involuntarily ticks off the other things I could be doing. Something for my husband or children. Or someone else.

I feel…guilty.

There are always more dishes to wash, a load of laundry piled high enough to demand attention, stray toys littering the house. Errands—the bank, school forms, dry cleaning…Texts and tweets and e-mails that linger in my inbox until I just want to ‘mark as read’ so the bold font will stop staring at me accusatorily. On any given day, we need something from the store. Bananas. We always need bananas.

~

I stand in line at the market, growing increasingly agitated at the small talk between the customer ahead of me and the clerk. The clerk upon whom my schedule, my freedom now hinges. A desperate helplessness sets in—that feeling of losing control over your time. Inevitably my irritation turns inward, and I silently chastise myself for not being more patient.

This is a familiar scene.

~

Early one morning, I tap at the keys when a familiar name flashes at the bottom right hand corner of my screen. A dear friend from our old town was sending me a message. It read, just wanted to say it’s always nice to see your name online early, comforting, I might add. you can keep writing, just wanted to send love to you and your boys.

Tears welled, blurring the tiny black letters until they appeared to be dancing on the screen. You can keep writing…I don’t often hear that. What it sounded like was, You can keep doing this thing that’s all yours, this thing that’s just for you.

~

Oh I am lucky. My days are filled with sons and sweatpants, milk mustaches and mac ‘n cheese. Battles are now waged out of the courtroom over broccoli and deadlines refer to Angry Birds limits, not motion filings.

But the hours that I can spend as I wish, where my mind can complete a thought from beginning to end, are too, too few. They are punctuated by naptimes, lunch preparation, preschool pickups…they are intruded upon, interrupted, cut short.

And here’s what I fear:  that one day, I will look back only to see, in the uncharitable light of retrospect, a mother distracted. Because this writing thing is a double-edged sword. Simultaneously helping me live within the moment, my senses piqued, noticing more—but also removing me from it, stealing me away, transforming me into an outsider looking in. Greedy with my time, unrelenting, always leaving me wanting more.

So I wake before first light, stealing these hours from the night. When I can sit with the quiet loneliness in the empty space of unscheduled time.

Sometimes I need to get out to clear the cobwebs of our chaotic little life from my cluttered mind.

Sometimes the road will call me to it, and I will spend some time there as the sun sets and dinner is served. Remembering that I am a whole person separate from the pieces that seem so inextricably a part of me now.

I will allow myself to travel, if only in my mind…away from my present, away from my people. Knowing full well my feet will always carry me back, my arms open wide, my ears filled with the songs of the road.

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Little

He stands perched on the top step of the hallway staircase and hurtles his soft, round body into space, trusting with full faith that my arms will find him.

Middle

His father reprimands him for toying with a fragile keyboard. Ashamed, he approaches me with his head hanging low, face contorted into a silent pre-cry. He burrows his flushed cheeks in the space beneath my chin. He fits perfectly there—the crook of my neck still his chosen retreat when the world comes crashing down on him.

Big

We take a walk on a rare morning alone together. Sometimes I keep pace beside him; sometimes I fall back, letting him lead. To see what he can see. A toss of the head, a hand in his pocket, a glimpse of adolescence.IMG_8970

Now he asks that I not stand in the open doorway as he boards the kindergarten bus. I acquiesce, while secretly looking on through the side window as he walks the concrete path.

He falls one morning, scraping his knees. Instinctively, I run to him, giving myself away. When I reach him, he’s already lifted himself off the ground. Yet still he takes the hand I offer. This time, we walk together the rest of the way.

Wordlessly, he climbs aboard to be gone for the balance of the day. Are you ok? I call after him, needing more. Squinting in the early morning light, I catch a thumbs up from the school bus window. Enough.

 ~

A shift, as subtle as it is certain. As unsettling as it is reassuring. We sway, unmoored, tossed about in time’s turbulence—our heads wind-whipped, cheeks chapped. Our feet seeking steady ground. And always weighing. When to catch them. When to let them fall.

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