Author Archives: catherine_hawkins

Nighttime Writing

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More than once, I remember walking down the dark stairs with a soft yellow light coming from the living room that told me: Mama’s up. It felt like the middle of the night, but it was probably just a dark early morning. What was I doing awake? Nightmares? Maybe. But often it was just the turning of my own mind, a good book that eased me both into life and out of it again, or the feeling that life was happening around me even as I slept.

I would turn the corner and see her sitting on the couch in the half-light of a small lamp. A candle burned on the coffee table, ushering in contemplation. A mug of hot tea steamed beside her. I don’t remember wondering why she was awake. I might have asked her, but what sits in my memory is curling up next to her — her book sacrificially (and I don’t mean that lightly) set aside for the curve of her daughter’s body against hers and the thoughts that came tumbling out of her mind and heart and soul.

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I am fairly certain this was before she started making me tea…

We share so many similarities, me and my mother.

I have been waking up around 3:00AM these days with restlessness in my bones. I am not one of those people whose creativity grows out of sleeplessness, nor am I productive in any tangible way when it is dark. But right now, I am sitting on my couch with a huge pillow behind my back. I have lit the candle my mother taught me created soft space, and I have a mug of loose-leaf tea steeping by my elbow. It is dark except for the candle, the glow of my laptop, and a faint light on the stairs. I can hear my husband breathing as he sleeps, the sounds of his in-and-out drifting down the stairs, making me not so concerned that I woke him with my movements.

Part of the reason I’ve been waking up is someone else’s movement. The little limbs that grow bigger every day, that seem to kick and stretch in perfect rhythm, over and over again like a drum. This is not frustration I feel. This is gratitude.

Lately, my participation in creativity has consisted of giving feedback to high schoolers’ essays, knitting one or two huge rounds of a baby blanket I semi-regret starting, and attempting to dress myself each morning despite me deep desire to crawl back into bed. No time, no time, no time. That is one phrase I am sick of watching run through my head on a tired reel. Perhaps this is why I’m waking up? There’s time now.

Because I don’t remember asking my mother why she woke up in the night, I am left to conjecture. As I approach motherhood, I am convinced it had something to do with little ones needing her constantly. What is alone time to a mother of four? Maybe she even woke herself up on purpose. Maybe she reveled in the moments of candle-lit darkness, the only ones that brought her quiet, ease, and a settling-in with herself.

And then I intrude, a little girl who never once thought: maybe Mama wants to be alone. It never crossed my mind, and she certainly never made me feel that way. She set her book or her notebook aside as though it had merely been filling time until I came down. She made me my own cup of tea. We rested awake together.

I do not yet have anyone to wander down the stairs and ask me to set things aside. I type away and am free to wonder what the future will hold.

Will I wake in the night on purpose to steal a few moments for myself?

Will I find time to write and think and be Catherine, even when most of my creative energy will be going into shaping and caring for and loving a brand new human?

Will I hold in one hand my desire for quiet contemplation and writing, and in the other welcome my child’s sleepy-but-awake body next to mine?

Somehow, I will do both, I am sure. I will learn how to work with the rhythms that come naturally, as well as create new ones that I need. I see my mother’s desire to steal away time for herself, but also her love for her children. I want both of these things.

And so, I start now. It was easy to swing my legs out of bed, to stop trying to fall back asleep. It was easy to create a warm space for me to finally put some words down.

With practice, I will be able to do this anytime, anywhere, with anyone.

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Practicing with my niece. She makes it seem easy.

 

Things My Students Say

“When did you find out? Last week?”

I smile. I am standing in front of a room full of students just before the bell rings.

“July,” I say, evening out the stack of papers in front of me.

“What?!” There is consternation on their faces.

“Why did you wait so long to tell us?” one girl asks.

[this former two-year-old can’t wait to teach her two-year-old how to garden]

When I say the word “baby,” I’m not sure how they’ll react. I’ve taught some of these students for four years, off and on. Sometimes I feel like I’m a bad habit they can’t shake — I chase them from Latin to English and back again. Part of me thinks they won’t care. What does it matter to them, anyway? Apart from an eight-week substitute and perhaps a less-energetic Ms. Hawkins Knell, not much will change for them.

But this morning when I got dressed, I looked in the mirror and thought: It’s time.

There are things you wait for patiently, the time smoothly running as you go about life. I’m not quite sure I know what those things are; they’re few and far between for me.

I wait with anticipation. I wait with a leaning-forward.

Waiting for this baby is different from any other waiting I’ve ever done. On the one hand, I want the day to come tomorrow. On the other, I push it as far away as possible. This waiting is filled with curiosity (who will she look like? what will he enjoy? will she laugh like me? will he have Gabe’s eyes?), fear (WHAT AM I DOING? can I actually handle this? HELP.), excitement (I can’t wait to show the baby the world! share all the things I love! build our family and its culture and its ways!) and doubt (I am not the person to do this).

Along with my excitement, there is so much to process, think about, worry about, freak out about.

One thing I love about my students is they didn’t express any of these things.

They expressed joy.

[I originally bought this as a joke with a student I worked with over the summer. Now, it’s feeling like a not-joke to myself.]

Here were some other gems from the day:

“Can I hug you, Miss Hawkins?”

“Now you can’t drink coffee!!” (I assured him I could, indeed, have one caffeinated cup and some decaf.)

“You have to eat so healthy now.” (Later at lunch, this student walked by me with a twinkle in his eye, nodded at my red pepper dipped in hummus, and said, “Good job.”)

“You’ll have to go to the bathroom all the time!” (This one surprised me — must have experience with pregnancy.)

 

Dirt on My Kitchen Table

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I never had an indoor plant that survived longer than a month. I remember walking the aisles of Market Basket and gazing longingly at the tiny African Violets in their foiled pots. I’m not sure how many my parents bought me over the years — at least three or four — and their purpley-pink flowers looked soft and adorable on my bedside table. For about three weeks.

We are a family that gardens, yet we are embarrassingly bad at keeping indoor plants alive. I’d say I have a brown thumb, but I don’t. At least not with every green thing. Before I went to college, my herb garden flourished, twisting and vining around the small stone walls we built. In our big garden, there were always cucumbers and tomatoes, onions and swiss chard.

Just never plants in my cranberry-colored bedroom.

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Morning glories in my old herb garden.

When I lived in Somerville, an orchid a student gave me languished in my window: too much sun, too much water, too much attention. A succulent turned brown and squishy (who knew you could kill a succulent?!). I felt like a murderer; one born of neglect as much as over-care.

[You can imagine my fear when Gabe, on our third date, walked over the bridge towards me with a big white orchid plant in his hand. I’d been known to kill before, and I’d probably do it again. I tend to connect plants and trees with certain instances; would this, too, speak doom to our budding romance?]

[Said orchid has never flowered again, but it is not actually dead. Read into that what you will.]

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I’ve been waiting for my own farm since I was six years old and read Little House on the Prairie — held it like this rosy dream in front of me, like some sort of reminder that even if things aren’t as I’d imagined, someday they would be. Somehow I would find a way to weave writing and singing and family and farming and teaching and faith in a way that would bring me my deepest joy.

Sure, I had (have?) delusions about farm life. I thought staying home every day and tending to my gardens and animals would be this relaxing, idyllic life. Even after years of tending to chickens and working in my parents’ garden, I was able to maintain the misguided notion that farming would help me escape the fast-paced modern lifestyle. Now, I still long for a plot of land, a rolling meadow, goats and chickens and bees. I want a life that connects me with the earth so that my mind doesn’t float too far up in the clouds.

[“This is life,” she said as we walked on the boardwalk along the river. “This is it.” And I realized hours later — or maybe a day — that I can’t keep waiting for things to happen. When I get my farm. When I figure everything out. When I finally stop this yearning. This is life. This is it. What do you want it to look like?]

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Plants and art make sense. Gabe’s Mitza made this for us on our wedding day, and the pottery dish is a Christmas gift from my mother.

When we moved into our new home, a condo with no yard, one of the first things we did was buy plants. After potting them, watering them, and distributing them to various sunny windowsills, I was shocked at the amount of ease and beauty they brought to my life. What is it about green things? Suddenly our high-ceilinged home was brighter, cozier, more alive.

I wish I could say that I’ve turned over a new leaf (that was unintentional, but I’m keeping it), and that every plant we bought remains luscious and full and growing. That is not the case. We have a fussy plant that I’ve moved twice, but it still isn’t happy. I tried watering it. I tried not watering it. I would sing to it if I thought that would work. We have a big palm behind our bed that graces us with its browning tendrils upon waking. What is wrong with it? I cannot guess.

Last week, my parents gave me basil, thyme, mint, and oregano after our trip to California proved too long and too dry for the herbs I had (not pictured). I drove to Lowe’s to get terracotta pots, and I couldn’t resist the little succulents leaning ever-so-slightly in their mini-pots. I’m a sucker for spider plants with their babies dangling down, begging to hang from our tall shelf. I bought more than I’d planned.

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I spent my afternoon re-potting, watering, arranging, tending.

I spent my afternoon with my hands in dirt (on my kitchen table, not in my garden).

I’m excited for the day when we will be able to have our own farm. When the plants I grow will grow food for our bellies and deliciousness for our taste buds. But right now, I am grateful that I’ve somehow kept a few plants alive, that I am able to bring to life my girlhood dream (even if it’s in terracotta pots), and that dreaming is beautiful, but it is most life-giving when it connects with the world as you find it.

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Invisible

“I love wearing sunglasses,” my mother would say, flipping a large brown pair of shades on. “I feel so invisible!”

When I was little, I didn’t know what she meant. How did covering her eyes make her feel invisible? But even more importantly, why was that a good thing?

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I’m sitting in the middle of a seminar on using ancient writings in our own work. My friend, Kate, and I are intrigued by the premise, but neither of us is so sure it applies to what we write. Regardless, the dark-haired, dark-skinned man with the beautiful British accent has us listening attentively to his quiet words. He uses terms I don’t understand, he tries to get us to respond creatively to an upsetting image of a man sitting atop a wreckage that was presumably once his home, and suddenly I am feeling a little anxious. The words I’m choosing to describe the image are not strong. I don’t know Sanskrit or Middle English, or apparently English, as I have to cross-out and write again.

I have so many questions for this man, like how do we use beautiful, interesting words but not sound like intellectual pricks? or, how has this practice informed your own work?, but I am silenced by a young woman in the back. She is perhaps a few years younger than me (or older — at this point, I have no concept of age), and her hand is popping up every few minutes. She is clearly well-educated and articulate (two things we should value), but I bristle against her neediness. I have compassion for her neediness, but I do not want to be associated with it. Her neediness represents my own deep desire to be acknowledged by this writer-thinker man, and now it will never happen.

At the end of the seminar, he leans back in his chair and says he welcomes any questions. Kate and I get up to leave. The young woman from the back hurries forward, eager with even more thoughtful questions, comments. I hear her proclaim herself a Classicist, and I realize why I feel so uncomfortable: this jostling for teacher approval reminds me too much of college, of the constant push and shove of attention-needers and attention-givers. I had chosen not to participate then, and as I leave the tiny room with the loud fan and the thoughtful seminar-goers, my questions and ideas still locked up inside me, I wonder if I missed out, both then and now.

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Saturday, I drove to our day-long choir rehearsal with the top down, a green Red Sox baseball cap on, and a pair of sunglasses. Suddenly, I knew what my mother was talking about. Invisibility, when undesired, can cause pain. Feeling unseen or unknown can pop up eight years later at a writers’ conference in an embarrassing and surprising way.

And yet, invisibility sought is power.

The ability to see but not be seen, to observe unobserved. After all, isn’t that what being a writer is all about? How could one observe the world from a stage? Or the same with artists: the artist observes the subject, not the other way around. As I drove in my unintended disguise along the highway, down the winding streets to rehearsal, I felt as though I saw everything but no one knew what I looked like. I was invisible, it was chosen, and it felt good.

It is strange to me that this same feeling can be so debilitating if not desired. In some ways, I think I imagined myself unnoticed in college, and from there, it became the case. Like I tell my students when they sigh, “No one likes me!”, there is no better way to make sure that is true than to think it. I see them separate themselves at lunch, hide away in their phones or their books, and the self-fulfilling prophecy unfolds before my eyes.

If you behave like no one likes you, no one will.

If you leave a seminar with your questions still bubbling up inside you, no one will be able to engage them.

Maybe your invisibility, then, is always a choice — sometimes desired, sometimes not, but always chosen.

An Hour a Day

Yesterday, as I was leaving school for the summer, I thought: Why does this always end with a whimper? The build-up, the high-energy anticipation of finals and graduation and students’ summer excitement dissipate, and I am left cleaning out my room, attending meetings, and, at the end of the day, wandering out of the building with the sense that this cannot be the end.

It is the end, though, and the 2017-2018 school year is over. In many ways, this year has been fraught with anxiety. Getting married is always a little daunting, but doing it in November with two days of honeymooning is perhaps lunatic. Poor Gabe had to adjust to my moods and my fears and my intense joy (although he claims none of this was surprising to him), and I was expected to jump right back into my life although it no longer looked like my life. The students never know what to call me, and my coworker says it’s my fault (“Pick one!” he teased). What I picked is too long, so the students are left oscillating between Miss Hawkins, Mrs. Knell, Ms. Knell, Mrs. Hawkins, and the poor things stutter just like I do when I introduce myself to new students.

“I’m M….” I say, shaking their hand, blinking, because if I say Miss Hawkins, I feel like I’m lying. If I say Mrs. Knell, I feel like I’m talking about someone else. Usually, I settle for something like Ms. Knell or even Ms. Hawkins Knell, and the interaction is far more awkward for people watching than it is for the new student who will forget my name entirely.

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This is the first full day of summer, and the first day of my writing challenge: write for one hour every morning. I feel like Hemingway and Woolf and all these writers I admire and loathe at the same time are sitting behind me, with typewriters, a cigarette dangling out of their mouth, and a glass of bourbon, muttering, “Come on, seriously? You’re daunted by writing one hour a day? You haven’t got the stuff.” I hear their typewriter keys clicking furiously even while the birds are singing out my open window, and I think, You’re right. I haven’t.

What is THE STUFF?

I went to a Barre class for the first time at the YMCA last night, and as I worked up the most disgusting sweat and realized the 60-year-old woman in the corner was way stronger than I, I realized that maybe ‘the stuff’ to go to a Barre class and finish without dying is the same stuff I need to do this challenge.

Maybe ‘the stuff’ looks more like writing a 5k than being creative genius.

Maybe ‘the stuff’ is the same thing that gets me up out of bed at 6:00AM during the school year.

Or, maybe ‘the stuff’ is the fake-it-till-you-make it attitude that has gotten me through many of life’s challenges so far.

If I tell myself “You’ve got this!” every morning, maybe I’ll have a slim pile of poems or a well-crafted essay come September.

There’s also the chance that what I will have is not so much a beautiful finished product but a stronger writing muscle. The ability to sit and write for an hour without stopping. The well-worked creativity that has been hiding for some time.

Either way, I don’t know how people write outside of a writing community. That’s what I emailed my writers’ group this morning as I embarked on my first hour of slow and dutiful typing. I know I couldn’t slog through the hard times without other writer friends who remind me that process and product are inseparable, and that a good dose of reality mixes well with some naive optimism.

Summer 2018 looks scary and exciting, and while I may not know exactly what to have my students call me, I do know that as a writer, I am Catherine Hawkins, and that feels about right.

Who’s your favorite?

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My students are constantly asking me who is my favorite. It reminds me of when I was little and I was convinced that my parents must have a favorite among the four of us siblings — how could they possibly love us all equally? We were so vastly different, bizarre, and needy in our young years that the idea that my mother and father could look us in the eye and say they loved us all with no holds barred seemed laughable.

Now, I tell my middle and high school students that I do not have a favorite. I mean this to the bottom of my soul, to the top of my heart, and all around. I mean it from my Monday to my Friday, from my happiness to my sorrow. I mean it from when I am angry at them to when I think there is no greater joy than hearing young people happy.

I mean it every time I say it.

Because I read these articles, hear these horrifying stories and think: that could be me.

I signed up to teach them, but really this means a lot more than I thought. It means I will help them navigate awkward social situations, I will engage their questions when I am exhausted from 18 hours of waking and walking and talking, and, I realize, it means that I would die for them. Each and every one. And that I wouldn’t regret it. And that this is what it means to love.

I love all of them, I would protect all of them, and I am sick reading these stories and praying that if this ever happens to me, I will not think twice before jumping between my curious, loving, thoughtful, funny, crazy, thoughtless, beautiful students and someone who wants to hurt them.

When I entered this field, I thought the most difficult questions I would need to grapple with were pedagogical and philosophical. I was very wrong.

Night Terrors

Before operating on a person’s brain, I realized, I must first understand his mind: his identity, his values, what makes his life worth living, and what devastation makes it reasonable to let that life end…Those burdens are what make medicine holy and wholly impossible: in taking up another’s cross, one must sometimes get crushed by the weight (Paul Kalanithi, When Breath Becomes Air, 98).

I woke in the night, anxious. I was hot, so I threw the covers off. Then I was cold, so I put them back on. I kept rolling over, trying to find a comfortable position, but my brain would have none of this sleeping thing. At 2:50, I turned my light on (thank goodness even though Gabe wakes up, he can usually fall back asleep), took a small book from the pile by the bed, and started to read.

I haven’t read in the middle of the night since I was a little girl in my parents’ home. I used to love the feeling of rebellion (who was I rebelling against? certainly not my parents, who didn’t care if I slept or read or wrote or dreamed — whatever consequences came from lack of sleep were mine and mine only), and the sense that I had found a book so good, so tantalizing, that I couldn’t sleep until it was over. My sister was a deep sleeper, also, so I never had to live with the guilt of a light in the night or the sound of pages turning.

It’s been harder to sleep through the night lately, and I’ve taken to reading or sometimes watching The Office. The soothing voices of Jim and Pam, the irritating voices of Michael and Angela, somehow these help me transcend the nighttime anxieties of why did I say that? what was I thinking? what will I do for work this summer? why am I not writing? why do I still stink at doing laundry in a timely fashion?

Reading also helps me let go of these thoughts, but instead of easing me into the comedy of a group of employees who never work, it often tricks me into thinking not about the daily worries of a relational human but into questions far beyond the capacity of a tired woman who must get up at 6:00AM.

It might have something to do with the books I’m choosing.

My uncle recommended it to me over dinner with the proper warning: “Be sure you have tissues.” I didn’t have any tissues at hand, but I thought: I have read many sad things. Sometimes I cry. Usually I don’t. So I read it anyway in the middle of the night, this tiny book with a title scary enough to make me wonder if I was being wise.

When Breath Becomes Air — at three in the morning, I read the words of a dying man (he reminds me we’re all dying but he more imminently than most). Paul Kalanithi, a neurosurgeon-in-training, a husband, a hardworking, depths-reaching, meaning-seeking 36-year-old is diagnosed with lung cancer, and suddenly, it seems the future he’d been working toward is completely altered.

Everyone succumbs to finitude…Most ambitions are either achieved or abandoned: either way, they belong to the past. The future, instead of the ladder towards the goals of life, flattens out into a perpetual present. Money, status, all the vanities the preacher of Ecclesiastes described hold so little interest: a chasing after wind, indeed (198).

I felt a strange kinship with this man I would never meet. He was full of many loves, many gifts, and like me, he had studied English AND… although his AND was biology leading to medical school, not music. This foot-in-both-worlds accounts for his visceral descriptions of the brain, of the opened body, of tumors precisely removed with deft fingers. It also accounts for a question that he seemed to have wrestled with much of his life: “If the unexamined life is not worth living, is the unlived life worth examining?” (31). In college, this question leads him to take a job at a summer camp rather than an intern at a research center, and it isn’t the only time he will choose human relationship over his so-called “monastic, scholarly study of human meaning” (31).

I was reading because I felt anxious about something I could not name, and this reading led me into questions of meaning, truth, death and its inextricable connection with life. I knew he would die — my uncle had told me and I had read the “About the Author” to be sure — yet I kept thinking: maybe he won’t actually die — maybe they find a cure, maybe he dies, but years and years later, maybe my uncle was misjudging my ability to handle intensity.

And then he and his wife decide to have a baby. She is born. She lives eight months. And he dies. He dies in his hospital bed surrounded by family. He gives his unknowing daughter a last kiss, he takes a deep breath, his breath becomes air.

Neurosurgery requires a commitment to one’s own excellence and a commitment to another’s identity. The decision to operate at a all involves an appraisal of one’s own abilities, as well as a deep sense of who the patient is and what she holds dear (108).

Suddenly, I was holding this book with this ending that felt incomplete. His wife Lucy writes an epilogue — sweet, loving, rounding out Paul’s person with authenticity — and I wondered what it must have been like to be in love with a man who was dying and writing, writing and dying, and wanting a child with him even so you could have a daily reminder that he was real, you loved him, and he died.

I was reading to stop my worrying and I had replaced it with deep sadness. Death comes for everyone, of this I have been aware since I was 9 years old and my grandfather died despite my utter determination to pray him into life, and I still do not believe it.

I still think that somehow I will defy the ultimate leveler.

And in the same breath, death feels right around the corner, closer to me than I hope most 29-year-olds feel.

In some ways, I think the worries I have about living enough, doing enough, hurry hurry hurry, all stem from this belief that death really is close at hand, and I am unutterably lucky to have lived as long as I have.

Maybe it stems from my blood clot at 22, my reckoning with if this is the end, how do I want it to look?

Paul Kalanithi did what he had set out to do: he taught me how to die, and in so doing, really showed me how to live. As his wife Lucy wrote in the epilogue:

Paul’s decision to look death in the eye was a testament not just to who he was in the final hours of his life but who he had always been. For much of his life, Paul wondered about death — and whether he could face it with integrity. In the end, the answer was yes (225).

“To live is Christ, to die is gain” — even at my best, I find this hard to fully embody.

I closed the book, put it back on the floor, and wept into my pillow. I cried for Paul, for his dreams that had to die, for his wife and daughter, for his family and friends. I cried for myself, for the husband who slept next to me, who might leave this world at any moment like a puff of smoke. I cried for my grandma and her twenty years of living alone. I cried for my students who are just beginning to wrestle with these questions of meaning and truth, and I cried for any child I might have — for the sorrow that inevitably awaits her, the pain she will without doubt experience in this beautiful and terrifying world.

I was reading to forget my anxieties, and in a sense, I did. Instead of focusing on the minute, meaningless worries, I was forced to confront the root of fear and ask myself:

How do I want to die?

Then how do I need to live?

Walking to Know a Place

This morning, I put on my cheap white Old Navy sneakers and headed out the door of our new home.

When I moved to Somerville, it was the beginning of a beautiful summery September. I walked everywhere. I quickly learned that the bike path, while not faster than College Ave, at least offered more beauty and quiet. I peered into shop windows. I wandered into a vegan taco shop (accidently) and was sorely disappointed by my cheeseless/meatless taco. I discovered I didn’t have to go to the artsy, hipster (and, ultimately, quite depressing) coffee shop in Davis, but that delicious coffee was around every corner. I learned that cutting through Nathan Tufts park was the best way to prolong a good phone call or enjoy the last rays of a setting sun.

When I moved to this new town, with its rich history and fascinating blend of socio-economic statuses and educations, it was the cold, snowy month of November. Gabe and I got married Thanksgiving weekend, and even though it was a beautiful and fun celebration (there were points in the evening when he would lean over to me at our little table for two and whisper: I wish we could live this over and over again), it didn’t leave much time for settling in. Christmas flew upon us in a whirlwind, and I was suddenly asked to split holidays and change my ideas of how things go. By the time the New Year started, I had only tried two restaurants in our new hometown, and for this pretend-Bostonian, that is shocking.

I didn’t take a single walk.

I drove to the post office, the town hall. I drove to the famed sports bar/restaurant for a buffalo chicken calzone (not even close to Mike’s). I drove to the YMCA, worked out, and drove home. I drove to the DMV and sat groaning for over an hour, only to be told that I needed to change my name with Social Security first. I gripped the edge of the counter, leaned backward and said through my teeth: “I am not mad at you, but I am very mad.”

Not only had I moved to a new state, but that state was not so sure it wanted me.

It’s taking me awhile to settle in because I’ve been confined to my car. Or I’ve been in our condo, trying to set up our home in such a way that we want to spend time here. We’ve arranged furniture, cooked new meals, cleaned the bathrooms. I’ve been so consumed with teaching and life changes, that I haven’t actually settled in.

So today, I emptied the dishwasher. I prayed. I walked downtown. I looked at the buildings I passed. I smiled at the runners (I am still in awe). I met a high school friend for coffee, and she connected me with a friend who is involved with a local church Gabe and I are considering. I drank a hot coffee and tried to explain my experience with the Church, with church, with God, in a few sentences. It felt new and interesting to do this, partly because so many times I talk to the same people who have known my my whole life, or at least my whole adult life.

I walked over the river to the library and got my library card. That’s how I know it’s official. I checked out two books, partly to show the librarian I mean business.

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As you can see, I’ve decided not to stop blogging. I seriously, seriously considered it. I went over all the reasons it may be time to move on. I had a few good ones.

But then I set up my desk.

[the imperfection of the creative process — I couldn’t resist a little filter action, though]

It is the largest desk I’ve ever had. Gabe and I found it at a thrift shop and picked it up with my father’s truck two days later. I am still not using it to its fullest potential, but I have a lamp. I have plants. I have a candle.

There’s something about this desk that begs me to write at it, just like this new town begs me to walk its sidewalks.

Discover it for who it is. Bring to it who I am.

That’s what I plan to do here, as well.

Moving On?

When do you know if you’ve outgrown something? If something that used to bring you joy and challenge and even comfort now just leaves you a bit anxious?

I haven’t written in months.

I’ve jotted down a line here and there. A scrap of a poem. The beginnings of various essays. Some journal entries (due largely in part to my short story class I taught in the fall…)

But nothing for this.

And what is this, anyway? It feels a bit naive to think that a blog is a valuable use of my time. I do not plan on being discovered this way (notice: this way), and I wonder if it’s time to throw in the towel.

You’ve had a good run. Thanks, old friend. Time to move on.

This question is all the more pressing because this blog will expire on February 18th unless I decide to continue.

Do I pull the plug and hope that something else fuels my creativity the way this used to?

[Maybe I’ll finally write on Saturday mornings without a deadline forcing me?]

Do I admit that I have had writer’s block (which I don’t even believe in) for roughly a year and a half?

[Maybe all the places I’ve been/things that I’ve done/books that I’ve read will inspire me?]

Or do I plunk some money down, embrace this place as something that will continue to challenge and grow me, and make myself type?

Jury’s still out.

But this is the most I’ve written since August, so maybe there’s hope yet.

[Photo: Gabe Knell]

The Measure of a Place

Today, I walked into a gift shop and cried.

No, let me try that again:

Today, I walked into a gift shop and teared up.

The woman behind the counter cocked her head a bit in sympathy — she’d only asked if she could help me find anything. I’d spent a good ten minutes picking something up, putting it down, and picking it up again.

“I’m moving away,” I explained, blinking.

“Oh, I’m sorry,” she said. “Where are you moving to?”

“It’s not even that far!” I laughed a little, swiped at my eyes. Ugh, internal eye-roll. “I’m just looking for something from Somerville, you know.”

“Sounds like you need something from over here.” She gestured to a box on the floor filled with artwork. I knelt down and thumbed through them. I was only sort of looking; I’m picky about art, and I don’t usually drop $35 on something unless it speaks to my soul.

But there it was, about eight or nine pictures in, a framed painting of Mike’s in Davis Square.

In it, two men in hats are sitting outside under an umbrella. A young man with his hands in his pockets saunters out (probably a Tufts student), and there is just enough hidden for me to imagine me and Sally sitting at a table over a beer and buffalo chicken calzone.

I have found this extremely hard to write about. It has something to do with the mixed emotions, the excitement, the sadness, the change. When Gabe talks about all the things he won’t miss about this place (and there are definitely some I’ll be saying sayonara to), I mostly think of things I love:

On my way to work, how the door opens to the world and I actually feel like the female lead in some romantic sitcom.

The way the light pours into my bedroom and wakes me up (sometimes against my will).

The sunset from my bedroom window, how it makes me want to write bad poetry.

The green couch on the porch surrounded by a string of globed lights, red wine, and long conversations that leave us lighter, happier, no matter how heavy the talk was.

The bike trail.

So many delicious restaurants.

Nathan Tufts park and the bench on the slope where I sat and read and talked to my mom on the phone.

Waving to the gas station owner as I walk by, his big smile. “We should respect teachers more,” he says in his Middle Eastern accent. “They are teaching our children how to be good citizens!”

Sitting at True Grounds, trying to write but mostly watching, sipping iced coffee, anonymous.

But mostly I think I am saying goodbye to the woman I was when I came here.

As I handed the woman my credit card, she asked: “How long have you lived in Somerville?”

“Two years,” I said. She looked surprised.

“But that’s enough,” she said. “I would never want to leave.”

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