Commonplace

seeking the story in the ordinary

March is neither here nor there, a push and pull, a here then gone. A time of in-between—a march, indeed.*

1 standing barefoot in the rain watching my son wave to me through the school bus window
2 sharing an inside joke
3 a cozy day of never leaving the house

4 when the early sun casts the cornfields in copper light

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5 the comforting sounds of kitchen clank-and-clatter
6 speaking your mind to friends who love you anyway
7 a nightstand of books that beckon

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8 when your spouse surprises you by coming home early
9 finally kicking that nail biting habit
10 day care teachers who greet that last-minute pickup with a smile & not a smidge of guilt
11 a movie that makes you cry
12 longer light

13 the grocery store before a storm

14 a snug snow day with everyone home
15 fierce judicial opinions
16 antibiotics
17 a night out with the neighbors

18 a conversation where you cut through the crap and start to get someone’s story

19 a winter wedding
20 the thaw

21 a smile from a stranger

22 getting away from your kids just long enough to miss them
23 take-out dinner on the open road

24 five minutes of quiet, coffee, and a window by the rising sun

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25 stoop-sitting weather
26 clicking with a kindred

27 backyard hikes

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28 when your spouse empties the dishwasher because he knows it’s your least favorite part
29 going for a drive
30 finding a good handyman

31 dancing in the rain

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*You can read more about my “good things” project and see all prior posts here.

february may have been fleeting, but it was filled with these good things*

1 people-watching in a fast food joint
2 the second the hot shower water first hits your skin

3 a hug following a fight

4 family that feels like friends
5 a beer before bed
6 looking through old love letters
7 waking from a bad dream to realize it’s just that

8 a single plume of smoke rising from distant woods

9 a snow day with dear neighbors who help dig you out of your driveway
10 the heartening messages on this church sign, a mile down the roadimg_9059

11 winding country roads under a winter sun

12 waking in the dark early morning to write
13 a sweet valentine from my sonfullsizeoutput_6261
14 a fender bender where everyone is friendly and walks away fine

15 family freeze dance after dinner

16 unexpected mail from a friend
17 finding poetry along your path on a midday walkimg_9199
18 a new piece of writing in progress
19 a quiet coffee with your aging grandmother

20 coming home after having been away awhile

21 spontaneous coffee dates with your spouse

22 driving with the windows down

23 being barefoot
24 happy hour at the neighbor’s house

25 discovering a new-to-you writer who breaks your heart

26 watching a late afternoon thunderstorm through the windowpane
27 a gathering of Muslim & Jewish women to foster unity & understanding & fight hate
28 church bells at dusk

*You can read more about my “good things” project and see all prior posts here.

It was the last day of the year, when I always try to make time more tangible, pin it down, make sense of its passing. When I grapple with what it means to be alive at this place, in this moment.

The kids were playing in the basement—the younger two still battling a cold—and I’d tinker on Twitter from time to time, marveling at how everyone, everywhere was processing the same year end. When I stole away for a midday shower, I thought of a meager way to counter the distressing uncertainty in our broken world and in my buzzing mind. Starting January 1, I would record one good thing every day. I would tweet it out with the hashtag #onegoodthing, I promised, both to hold myself accountable and to bring others in.

For these small snapshots, these shared sentiments, are the same everywhere—bare feet under a cold comforter, freshly fallen snow, a favorite song on the radio, a train platform farewell. Tiny touch points that tie us together across time and space with their quotidian truth. It’s in the commonplace that we find common ground.

I seek what I always do with this space—to doggedly, perhaps foolishly, chase the good, and shed light on all we share.


january

1 the smell of outdoor air in winter
2 a quiet drive on rainy back roads to meet an old friend
3 an interview with @Lin_Manuel on @nprfreshair during afternoon carpool chaos
4 afternoon coffee

5 antique books of poetryc1b7hsmxgaestue

6 early morning snowfall outside the kitchen window
7 an hour to write

8 the smell of wood burning

9 family time around the fireplace
10 communal moments of laughter & levity (also, puns)
11 hearing your child read a book for the first time

12 the long way home

13 farmland as far as the eye can seec2el6fpxeaexpwn
14 This quote from my youngest son: “You have to look. If you close your eyes and you miss things, it’s sad.”
15 the unnecessary kindness of a local store merchant

16 neighbors who look out for you

17 sitting safe and dry inside a car while rain splatters the windshield
18 the rumble of a train passing in the distance

19 a house quiet with kid sleep

20 nostalgia pangs
21 walking, marching, the way humans come together
22 the warm weight of a baby settling to sleep on your chest
23 your poem in print

24 getting swept up in a song that takes you back

25 striking up conversation with a stranger in the waiting room
26 wrapping your hands around a warm cup of tea
27 climbing under cold covers

28 an airport embrace

29 date night
30 the courtesy wave between fellow motorists
31 late-night conversations

Some have been shouting, some stay silent. Everything has changed, yet one day still follows the last, much like it always has.

Our burdens feel heavier, yes. But the beauty feels sharper too. Every small kindness, every gentle exchange. We are more porous somehow, risking both the scalding heat and the soothing salve of letting everything in. We have become more watchful—of our words, our ways with each other.

*

One morning in the week after the election, I woke in the dark and penned a little poem. Because sometimes a simple string of words can capture a shared moment. Because sometimes the sliver of the page is all you have space for.

I’m humbled to have that poem appear in an anthology of 100 post-election writings jointly published by The Rattling Wall and PEN Center USA. You can purchase a copy of the collection, Only Light Can Do That, here. (And below is a sneak peek of the pages with my poem.)

*

We don’t know where we go from here. We’ve taken down our lawn signs; we still work at being neighbors. I feel caught between catastrophe and carrying on.

But I zip my kid’s coat, put the coffee on, pay the bills. Buy peppers. Take long drives. Smile at strangers. Eat cereal before bed. Fold the laundry. Call a friend.

It’s still a beautiful world out there. I hope to see you in it.

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You come from the hill by the lake.

It’s dotted with wooden huts that overlook the water.

On long Saturdays, campers sit on towels stretched below the summer sun—barefooted, knees bent. Or toss frisbees, rest on the rise and fall of a kindred’s chest, seek shade.

Come nightfall, heads tilt toward every star in a midsummer sky. Then they tuck behind bunks where, swallowed by shadows, they share a young kiss.

This is the hill where you trade secrets, wage war against waning memory, bear witness to time’s steady passage. To sunrises. To moonfalls.

You will stand at the edge of this hill, sunscreened and teeth-clenched, determined to swim the length of the lake outstretched beyond it.

You will skinny-dip and dance. Wonder and sing.

This is the hill that will watch you grow.

It sits atop a winding path off Upper Woods Road. You can go the back way if you like. Take the second left onto the dirt road that leads to Equinunk Creek. If you reach the cemetery by the church, you’ve gone too far.

Twenty years ago, I met your father there.

~

That April morning you were born, we rose before the sun. Walked in crisp dark air from the parking lot to the hospital doors. “Feels like camp weather,” I said.

Maybe I should tell you about the night before. We went out for Mexican, cleaned the car. We tucked your brothers into bed. Do you know my favorite days are the ordinary ones? Your Dad’s too.

Now I wait in front of the steely doors of the Operating Room, hair netted and IV-poled, haunted that I can’t see the end of our story. Can anyone? With Paul Kalanithi’s book by my hospital bedside, I wonder: what makes a life? And how does one make it last?

On other floors in this building, people are leaving this world, and here you’ve just arrived. The sunlight has yet to touch your skin. There’s something about hospitals, I think. All manner of humans gather, reduced to their most basic needs, to getting another day, to caring for each other. A hospital is a melting pot of humans helping humans.

That day, the world narrowed to a single hallway—industrial carpeting and floor-to-ceiling windows; my only goal to walk it up and then back down.

All else fell away.

On one of your first nights—the specific smell of the postpartum ward sitting in my nostrils—the melody for “Taps” slips past my lips as I sway to soothe you.

Where we’re from is woven into our words, our world. It is the sounds we start with, the notes we forever hum by heart…

~

Our life was like a song, even before you came along.

You come from the park bench drenched in lamplight in lower Manhattan where I said yes. From dancing in the little apartment on 12th Street and no phone calls till morning.

You come from late nights cruising a hand-me-down Camry along the New Jersey Turnpike, road trips through Western New York, diner coffee, living by the water.

You come from summer camp romances, train platform farewells, mix tapes.

You come from under the boardwalk, R.E.M. concerts in the pouring rain, and New Year’s Eve on the beach.

You come from Old Friends and Bleecker Street, Feelin’ Groovy and April Come She Will.

Hello lamppost, whatcha knowin’ and the only truth I know is you.

You come from two apartments and then a house on the south side of Philadelphia, with a stoop to sit on and a park across the street.

You come from Magnolia cupcakes, study lounges off dim hallways, long dinners with old friends, port wine.

You come from fireflies and 4 AM.

You come from Bunk 53, second to last room on the right.

You come from three sons in quick succession followed by a pause.

And then you came.

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~

On our way home, we wheeled past the recovery room, retracing our steps from days—decades?—ago. You come from there too.

And while we were inside, the seasons changed. The chill was gone from the air and spring had settled in its stead. Get used to it, my girl. Everything will move just a bit faster than you might like.

We left that room behind, where we first uttered your name. Lane Marlowe.

Lane for where we’ve been, what lies ahead.

And Marlowe means “from the hill by the lake.”

We’re all from somewhere.
Where we’re going, no one can know.

But you, my girl. You come from the hill by the lake.

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Jena Schwartz

The blog formerly known as Bullseye, Baby! Visit www.jenaschwartz.com to stay in touch!

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