Tag: Intention

27Aug

The American Context vs. August in Italy

For the second time in a week, I’d found myself smack dab between the lines of Mary Oliver’s “The Summer Day.” The first time had happened the day after we arrived in the Italian Alps, after we had laced up our shoes and left the narrow walls of our hotel and picnicked on a grassy slope, butterflies tangoing with the wind around us. The second time was on our final hike of our getaway. I was stretched out in a meadow with my camera, trying to soak in as much of the place as I could before we packed up, when the miniature grasshopper sprang onto a blade of grass in front of my nose. At least I think it’s a grasshopper. It could be a cricket or a locust or a boll weevil for all I know (or, to be honest, want to know) about six-legged creatures. I did not, however, jump back shrieking in my standard Insect Encounter Dance. Instead, I watched it, fascinated and at peace while Mary Oliver filled my mind:

“Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.”

I had the time to understand her phrase “idle and blessed,” to take the ancient Hebrew lyric “Be still and know” to heart. Out of all souvenirs, that state of unhurried intention is what I most wanted to bring home with me this summer.

It didn’t even make it down the mountainside.

///

August is a quiet month in Italy. School is a purely September construct; no one is thinking of fresh pencils or new jeans just yet. Instead, everyone is in beach mode, moving through the steamed air like half-dressed anemones. Shops are closed. Utility companies are on vacation. No one here expects anything remotely resembling productivity.

Except for me.

Even here, in the warm laze of summer, I choke for want of time. It feels almost like a nutritional deficiency, this sense of depletion when I look at the clock. If I could just work out how to double the hours between eating and sleeping, I think, then I could keep up with the pace of online work, to say nothing of the dust bunnies that procreate like… well, rabbits around here. I would also settle for getting my brain to work twice as quickly or my body to have twice the energy. Basically, my aspiration is to become Bart Simpson on Squishee syrup.

///

I just started reading Tsh Oxenreider’s Notes from a Blue Bike, and I can so closely relate to her struggle to keep the slower European lifestyle within the faster American context that I want to look up from every other sentence and tell her, “Me too!” I know I don’t have a great deal of room to pine over the European lifestyle considering that I live here and all. Obviously, I’m already in the perfect place for slowing down, embracing simplicity, and savoring the little things. What’s not as obvious, though, is that I’m still operating in an American context. I am the American context. My work philosophy, my personal expectations, my tendency to view life as an emergency… all of it is part of the cultural package that leaves me rushed and harried even when everyone around me is in vacation mode.

And this is after seven years of adapting.

Clearly, I still have much to learn from Italy, but Tsh’s assurance that we can choose how we live is buoying me today. Even as I write this, we’re packing up for a few days at the beach with friends. My attention keeps drifting down to the to-do list on my desk, a wee slip of paper that carries enough weight to sink me some days. It’s already tried twice today. There are so many chores to squeeze in before we leave, and I need to remember the beach stuff down in storage, and I haven’t gotten a haircut yet, and the girls will need packing help, and my email inbox is going to seed again, and how can I sit here dallying with words when there is so much to do, so very very much, and so very little time in which to do it, and AAAHHHHHHHH?

The answer is with that little grasshopper above. I can sit here and write today (albeit distractedly) for the same reason that I could lie on my stomach photographing blades of grass last month—because I chose to do it. I can ignore the chaotic context within me and do things on purpose that give me life. I can throw my lopsided sense of responsibility to the wind. I can choose.

I know that vacation isn’t the typical setting for one to channel her inner Thoreau, but my hope is that if I can remind myself how to live deliberately when I’m kicked back on the sand, maybe—just maybe—it will stick around once I’m back home.

“Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?”

5Jul

On Our Tenth Anniversary, One Year After the Fact

[Photo of the Parc del Laberint d’Horta, Barcelona] 

On our tenth anniversary, I wasn’t sure we’d make it to our eleventh.

Admitting that out loud is one of the scariest things I’ve ever done. One doesn’t just up and say something like that; one keeps her head down and her best foot forward and her problems to herself until enough time has passed that she can preface the story with a respectable “Once upon a time…” One year certainly does not count as Enough.

As nerve-wracking as it may be to tell this to you right now though, admitting it to myself was far worse. Dan and I were catching up on The Office (Steve Carell version) at this time last year. The final season focuses heavily on a marriage that is struggling to survive the husband’s new work ventures, the wife’s new artistic opportunities, and the slow breakdown of communication over their decade-long relationship. I watched every episode in a kind of emotional stupor as our story—our work-related dreams and difficulties, our major life decisions, our inability to speak on the same page—flickered across the screen. Every line of it could have been written about us until the final episode, over which my sense of kinship with the characters crash-landed into the base of my throat. Because who was going to script our grand reconciliation? Who was going to supply us with the lines and the props that would make everything okay again?

I didn’t know if we had another year of marriage in us. By that, I don’t mean that I necessarily saw us getting a divorce, but I could no longer see joy in our future, no more easy camaraderie or neutral topics, no more uncensored breaths when the other was in the room. We no longer knew how to be ourselves in each other’s company, and if that didn’t right itself, then “husband and wife” would become no more than semantics.

I’m not ready to share all the details of our disconnect, but I will say this: Maintaining a healthy marriage while starting up a company in a foreign culture with a bureaucratic system designed by Caribbean crazy ants is… well, not im-POSSIBLE, but certainly im-PROBABLE (as our latest family read-aloud would say). Add to that a pair of children, fluctuating bank accounts, poor communication habits, and the wear and tear of so many years rubbing shoulders together, and it’s small wonder that we limped into last summer like a pair of emotional refugees.

We didn’t so much celebrate our tenth anniversary as we did survive it.

This was crushing to me. I had always thought of tenth anniversaries as milestones, gold-plated “You Are Here” signs along the paths of successful marriages. After ten years, we couldn’t fail to have our relationship figured out. After ten years, our exotic Hawaiian vow-renewal ceremony would practically write itself. After ten years… well, we definitely wouldn’t be staring down into our anniversary sangrias to avoid meeting each other’s eyes.

Expectations are the cruelest pranksters.

I opened up my computer about a hundred times that week to write a tribute to our marital “milestone”… a Facebook status if nothing else, a recitation of that annual mantra about each day together being better than the last. It was what everyone would be expecting. I couldn’t do it though. I loved Dan, but I had no vocabulary for making the daily canyon climb of our relationship sound like love. There was no heartwarming retrospect in which to package our struggle. I tried rising to the occasion, but my veins felt like they had been injected with plaster of Paris. I was alone, and Dan was alone, and the connection we still shared made our isolation all the more acute.

“I wanna turn this thing around
I wanna drink with you all night until we both fall down
‘Til we go low rising
Cause we’ve gotta come up
We’ve gotta come up”

Writing this one year later on the morning of our eleventh anniversary, I’d love to be able to say that we came, we saw, and we conquered this whole marriage business thank you very much. I’d bust into a Queen ballad while I was at it, maybe rip my sleeves to show off all those bulging interpersonal muscles I’ve developed. And truth be told, Dan and I have developed some interpersonal muscle power over the past year as we’ve fought our instincts and our habits and our expectations in order to fight for us.

But it hasn’t been a glamorous business, and we are nowhere close to throwing ourselves a victory parade. Rather, we’re more aware than we’ve ever been that marriage is not a thing to be vanquished. There is no finish line, no achievement score after which we can dust our hands off and call it a job well done. In fact, that’s part of where my thinking went wrong years ago, because success in marriage is not a destination at the end of an anniversary-studded path; success in marriage is the daily choice to connect. (You’re welcome to use that, Dr. Phil.)

The hardest truth I’ve learned over the past year is that the counter resets every morning. Just because we kicked ass at marriage yesterday (or last month, or on our honeymoon) doesn’t mean that we’ll be on the same page today. That has got to be one of the most unfair principles in the whole construct of humanity; can’t we just play the good rapport card and have it remain in circulation for the rest of the game?

No. No we cannot. That card might not even remain in circulation for the rest of the hour if our busy lives have anything to do with it.

Which is why my husband of eleven years and I have been relearning how to talk. We’ve been at it for around six months now, and do you know why toddlers need fifteen hours of sleep a day? Because learning how to talk is like running back-to-back triathlons in your own brain. Dan and I are having to rediscover when to talk, where to talk, what tones to use, and what wording will work… and then come the hows. How to bring up sensitive topics. How to figure out what’s going on behind the scenes. How to be honest without weaponizing that honesty. How to confirm that we understand what the other is saying. Lord o’ mercy. This book has been helpful in getting us started, but the work we’re having to put into using the English language is like nothing I’ve experienced since the age of two. It makes us want nothing more than to zone out in front of the TV at the end of the day, arguably one of the main ways we ended up in this mess in the first place.

When we have enough energy (and/or resolve) to go spelunking in each other’s minds instead of zoning out though, good things happen. For instance, we remember that we like each other. We remember why we like each other too. Even when our conversations delve into places that wound or frighten, we’re together in the turbulence instead of standing under our single-serving rain clouds, and as much as I hate and resist those emotionally volatile talks, it’s worth remembering that Dan is the person I most want by my side through them.

On our tenth anniversary, I didn’t have the heart to share the following photo, snapped during a small pocket of happiness on our getaway to Barcelona. It looked like a lie to me—our smiles and closeness a tableau of everything our relationship lacked. I see it differently today though. That pocket of happiness wasn’t a lie; it was a success of the small, daily variety that counts the most to me now. We were making it, one shutter click at a time. One tongue-stumbling conversation when we’d rather reach for the remote. One afternoon set aside to rediscover why my husband is my favorite kind of company. One hard-won year to celebrate, not as a milestone but as 365 of them.

10th anniversary in Barcelona

16Jun

A Vanilla Lime State of Mind

I just about cried from happiness when we found a store here in Milan with an entire Yankee Candle department. In fact, Dan snapped this Instagram of me looking suspiciously misty-eyed the moment we stepped off the escalator:

Spotting the Yankee Candle display

[Not pictured: The actual Yankee Candle display. Possibly because within seconds, I was thrusting Citrus Tango and Coconut Bay under my husband’s nose saying charming things like, “Have you smelled this one yet? What about THIS? Oo, I don’t think you’ve gotten to try Fluffy Towels yet…”

I bought a tiny tart-sized Vanilla Lime in honor of my favorite chapter of Dandelion Wine* and only after unwrapping it at home realized it wasn’t a candle at all but a “wax melt,” presumably requiring some form of proprietary decorative Bunsen burner to use. Ah well. I’m keeping it at my desk and treating it as a Bradbury-themed scratch-and-sniff. Just call me Pollyanna. (And maybe keep it between ourselves that I’ve taken to huffing wax melts while I write.)

*Do you know it? If not, get yourself a copy no later than Saturday so you can spend every day of this summer in the magic of 1920s Illinois.

I’m finding it harder than I’d expected to get into a summery frame of mind this year. Granted, summer is technically still five days away, but considering that the temperature here soared to 100° last week and people have been using the #summer hashtag for something like four months now, I think we can agree that the season is here in spirit if not in person.

I’m trying, truly. I’ve been buying popsicles and napping under the ceiling fan and playing the 2014 World Cup album while I work out, but something in me seems reluctant to switch into holiday mode. Maybe it’s the workaholic troll in my brain that never, ever thinks I’ve accomplished enough to earn myself a break. Perhaps, instead, it’s the grumpy old geezer in my perspective that always takes forever to adjust to a new setting. It could just as easily be the scaredy cat in my soul that shies away from the whoosh of passing time, or maybe it’s something else altogether, something I haven’t yet identified or learned to face.

I wrote a few weeks ago about how I was going to work on feeling my feelings this summer instead of disconnecting from myself, but that’s proving easier said than done. Everything seems so complicated once I start peeling away the layers. Something as small as a Vanilla Lime wax melt leaves me sifting through the character files of my psyche, and that’s one of the easy ones, one of the emotive cause-and-effects that I feel capable of sharing right now. Can’t I just be… I dunno, simpler? More Buddy the Elf and less Lisbeth Salander?

I suspect that one cannot become less complicated simply by wishing herself so—and more’s the pity—but I do know that meeting every complicated facet head-on is a healthier response than ignoring it and hoping it goes away. That’s why I’m here today, feeling my feels and huffing the scent of summer and guiding my perspective with plenty of hand-holding and eye contact into the present.

29May

A Summer Without Sequels

I want to blame it all on the allergies—the way my head rolls bowling-ball heavy atop my neck, the thick woolly fog obscuring my vision, the struggle to make myself see even journal entries through to the end. It would be a justified accusation too. May and June are my Kryptonite, a radiant green that sucks the energy right out of me. I could write a poem in the pollen swirled across the surface of our car.

Allergies alone, however, do not explain why I’ve spent this week clutching a to-do list like it’s a Get Out Of Writing Free card. They don’t explain my almost desperate search for distraction when I sit down at my computer (“Why hasn’t anyone shared a BuzzFeed article in the last three minutes??”) or my avoidance of quiet alone time. Allergies may have everything to do with the Visigoth rave going on in my sinuses right now, but they’re not to blame for this creative paralysis. Not solely, at least. Maybe not even at all.

Last summer, I lost myself. More accurately, I let go of my own hand, choosing soul-disconnect over the more painful parts of my reality. I didn’t know any other way to cope.

To be honest, I still don’t really know how to talk about that time. I barely wrote anything during those three months, and what I did scratch down in my journal is as jagged as broken glass. I skim the entries as lightly as I can before drawing back, cut to the quick. I’d like to blot it all out of my mind, let last summer accomplish what it started and erase me from its memory.

The fear of it is still fresh though, or rather, a fear of its sequel. We leave in less than two weeks for a vagabond-style summer, and this is enough to send my mind into a self-protective tizzy. What if time charges away from me again this year? What if I look around and can’t see a place for myself? What if I feel too much? What if the joys of ice cream and swimsuits and late starry walks aren’t enough to hold me in place?

If I lose myself again, will I be able to find my way back?

My head feels heavier than it should, over-packed with histamines and fears alike. I’ve been trying to distract myself the hell out of Dodge, but it’s not working… which, duh. In what universe is running away from heart, mind, and soul a safeguard against losing them? That’s why I’m writing this, by the way, out of a determination that this summer isn’t going to be a sequel. Shut-down isn’t an option I’m allowing myself this time around. I’m going to feel the things I feel—feel them head-on without rushing over to Facebook for a quick numbing fix. I’m going to inhabit my life, the hard parts as well as the good. I’ll do my damndest to lean into painful changes instead of resisting them (easier said than done by a power of three bajillion, but still) and to be a scientist of my own spiritual journey, and it’s just possible that I can end the summer more alive than when I started it. Allergies notwithstanding.

13Mar

Marital Work-Study

Earlier this week, two story endings collided with each other in my headspace. The first was the leave-all-the-lights-on season finale of True Detective. (Did you see it? And will you ever step foot on a nature preserve again?) Less than twenty-four hours later, I finished reading (and by reading, I mean listening to the audiobook version of) Gone Girl. If you haven’t watched or read these yet, don’t worry; my blog is spoiler-free. All you need to know for the purposes of this post is that both stories involve, to some extent or another, a marriage that is unraveling.

It’s so easy to follow the decline of love when it’s outlined in pithy narrative, isn’t it? We watch fictional spouses behave like idiots or ingrates and wonder how in God’s name they don’t see what’s coming to them. We see all the little tendernesses taken for granted and the little barbs of bitterness digging in. We groan when the unhappily married protagonist catches the eye of some young hot thing at a bar because we already know the trajectory of that eye contact, how it will brush against skin and burrow into bed before curving toward a final showdown of heartbreak. Relational cause-effect is obvious under the lens of story.

Without that lens though, out in the unfiltered single-take of reality, nothing is obvious. When I look at my husband across the breakfast table, I don’t have a camera crew helping me zoom in on the adorable curve of his grin. There is no spotlight positioned to bring out the color of his eyes, no director coaxing my perspective toward an unseen worry line, no narrator highlighting the nuances of his words. I don’t think to study him, not the way I do movie characters. It doesn’t occur to me to practice literary analysis on the open book of our marriage. It doesn’t occur to me to notice.

I’ve been thinking about that a lot this week while mulling over plot lines (and debating whether or not to set foot in the state of Louisiana again). I can see so clearly how fictional husbands and wives sabotage their intimacy, but can I see it in myself? Do I have enough perspective to spot the inattention or fierce bouts of selfishness that I wedge into my marriage?

We celebrate our eleventh wedding anniversary this summer. I’d always thought that by ten years, I’d have marriage down pat, as if it were a skill that muscle memory could take over for me. I’ve come to see that that’s the real issue though—my ever thinking that long-term love should be as automatic and reflexive as pedaling a bike.

The following Fiona Apple song has been on repeat in my head lately, my mind reverberating with her line, “You’re more likely to get cut with a dull tool than a sharp one.” Isn’t that the truth of relationships? The hard, undeniable truth that passivity is lethal in matters of love? Here’s the song, every line razor-edged with honesty (I’ll warn you that the language isn’t polite, so listen at your own discretion):


“You forgot you have to try,
you have to try,
you have to try…”

The truth is that I don’t have marriage down pat. I do have to try, still, every day. Dan and I are continuously figuring out the practical implications of that vaguely ominous newlywed admonishment, “Marriage takes work.” (Best if said with funereal voice and knelling head.) I will freely admit that I had no idea what this meant when I first got married. What could possibly constitute “work” when it came to something as nebulous and giddy as love?

On the off-chance that you’re wondering the same thing right now, here is by far the most practical definition that “work” has taken (is taking) in my own marriage: intentionality. Being present when we’re together rather than letting my mind drift. Making conscious decisions about our relationship rather than letting it slide into poor habits. Noticing my husband. Being curious about him. Paying attention to what’s going on behind the scenes of his words and actions. Considering what goes into my words and actions in response. Setting aside time to spend with him. Letting him in on what I’m thinking. Being proactive about everything from affection to problem-solving. Intentionality, intentionality, intentionality.

And goodness, is that ever an example of easier said than done. Dan and I have kids. We both work from home. We are busy (which I fully realize is code for “average adult humanoid”), and we both want our relationship to be a respite from work, a worry-free zone where we can kick our feet up in easy companionship. The last thing that we want to do most evenings is sit down at the table to hash out communication issues and try to delve into each other’s psyches. That’s when being present in our relationship really does constitute work. Hard work. Hard work that—despite my love for that man—I would really, really rather not put in most of the time. (Just being honest, folks.)

Without intentionality though, a relationship begins to slip as surely as a rock climber whose concentration has lapsed. I know this. I’ve watched it happen before in my own marriage, a marriage which started out so breezily that I couldn’t imagine a context for work within it. I’m aware there are many, many other factors that go into relationships—communication skills, compatibility, psychological elements, circumstantial ones—but this is a big one. Like Ms. Apple sings, you have to try, you have to try, you HAVE to TRY. Without effort, without the genuine inconvenient labor of being present, a marriage can crumble into the past tense.

I would rather live here in the muddy now working to harmonize my perspective with my husband’s than be an narrator omniscient with retrospect, aware of all the wrong turns we took but powerless to change our story. I don’t want this good thing we have here to slip away when [because] I’m not looking. That’s why I’m writing this post, in fact: not because I’m trying to join the ranks of lugubrious advice-givers but because acknowledgement is such a big part of intentionality. I want this down in writing, for myself as much as for anyone else, as a reminder that marriage can be hard—really hard—but that hard can also be good.

Really good.


Photo by Dalton Photography

17Feb

The Things I Forget to Instagram

On Monday mornings, I wake up slowly. I’ve always done a clumsy job shifting between weekday and weekend mindsets, and no matter how straight I aim my Sunday night intentions, I tend to wake up in a dead stall—engine cold, momentum at zero, the week’s potential out of view beyond a right turn. I’m working on showing myself grace this year, so I accept that morning pages will not get written first thing on Mondays. Neither will inspirational reading be absorbed. I will not be jumping up to hit the track, nor will I be performing sun salutations on the yoga mat I keep forgetting to acquire. The only thing I am capable of doing when I wake up on a Monday is settling back into my pillows with a cappuccino and scrolling through Instagram while I wait for the caffeine to loosen my mental gears.

Now, I love Instagram. It feels like the least needy of the social media conduits, rarely snagging at the threads of my attention with links, surveys, or political commentaries. The comment sections can get a little dicey, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen someone post a Willow-filtered snapshot to illustrate their outrage over the latest hot topic. By and large, Instagram inspires users to curate the beauty in their daily lives. People appreciate and preserve little moments through the act of sharing them, and others appreciate and share in return, and say what you will about our narcissistic culture or the ascent of selfies, but I love the whole construct. I do.

That said, I myself post photos sparingly. Part of the reason is that I want to avoid the habit of detaching from beautiful moments in order to crop and filter and caption them, but the other part is that I simply forget. It doesn’t occur to me to document the majority of my daily circumstances, even as I extract pearls of gratitude from them, even as I notice their unique and lovely hues. My “hey, I could Instagram this!” gene must be recessive.

I spend a kid-free Sunday afternoon wandering medieval streets, fingers woven through my husband’s in the most blissfully unFebruary sunlight, and forget to document a second of it.

I give the girls as a Valentine’s gift a packet of coiled paper streamers that they blow into a giant pile of pink insta-wig, but I forget to capture the hilarity.

I peek in on them as they sleep, my heart catching tight in my throat as it always does to see them so relaxed, so safe in their vulnerability, small elbows cradling beloved stuffed animals.

I look up from my own dregs of sleep to catch Dan bringing in a deluxe Saturday breakfast for me. Still, after eleven years, this.

I hang wet sheets on the balcony and breathe it all in—the Mediterranean sunlight, the quiet symphony of our neighborhood, the cypresses whisking pollen into the air and teaching the world to sneeze, our Italian way of life.

I make us this day our daily pasta. I lift weights (got to burn off all that pasta somehow!). I coach the girls with their piano practice. I dial up my sister’s sweet face on Skype. I discover that if you run out of polenta and try to substitute fine-ground cornmeal, you will end up with a pot of yellow Elmer’s glue. I switch between flip-flops and winter slippers like the uprooted Texan I am. I read Romans and Gabriel García Márquez. I cheer and groan and formulate Thoughts on the Olympics. I kiss friends on both cheeks in greeting. I use the last of the midnight blue nail polish. I kick my feet up next to Dan’s while we discuss whether we’re more in the mood for Firefly or It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. I water my “poor kid.” I burn the pizza.

Life pulls me straight into its kaleidoscope heart, and I ride the color from second to second, pattern to pattern, and each one is worth memorializing in some way. I forget to Instagram most of it though, and this finds me on Monday morning scrolling through proof of my friends’ beautiful weekends and wondering where mine got off to. It’s not that I think an instant of life has to be posted online to mean something—goodness no—but I still miss undocumented moments as if they were old friends moving out of state. How long until we lose contact? Until they stop coming to mind? Until I forget that they were ever in my life?

I’ve been afraid of forgetting ever since I was a 10-year-old journaling what I’d eaten for dinner and what I’d studied in school that day. Anne Frank’s diary made me wild to record every second of myself for posterity. Years later, I’d write at red lights or in empty parking lots because I couldn’t wait until I got home; I might forget too much.

And I do. I forget too much. Dan will try to reminisce with me about our early years together, and I’ll ask, “That happened?” I can watch the same movie twelve times and be surprised twelve times by the ending. The fingers of my mind hold memory loosely, as casually as if it were a handful of gravel, and pebble-sized bits of my life slip through before I remember that I could be documenting them.

An ongoing lesson in my life, however, is how to let go. I’ve written about it here before, how I struggle with letting good things come to an end even if they no longer have a place in my world, but I’m getting better at it. I’m learning to sink back against my trust that if a tree falls in an empty forest, it still makes a sound, and if a swath of delight cuts through my day undocumented, it still serves its purpose. Sometimes living in the moment means grasping it with both hands, a smartphone, and an armada of hashtags… and sometimes it means quietly enjoying it and then releasing it into the care of the universe. Both ways are valid. Both celebrate the beauty. (Repeat to self daily, twice on Mondays.) And it’s possible that forgetting to Instagram might just be the most Zen choice I [n]ever make.

15Oct

Nostalgia vs. The Substance of Now

We hear fireworks in the night but can’t see them. Though each boom and popcorn-crackle reverberates through our open windows, no light reaches high enough to clear the row of apartment buildings in front of us. I’d be all for shrugging off the disappointment, but my mind has already snuck down the street to our old house with its legend of a balcony. We used to stand there under the stars with the tip of my beloved Van Gogh tree beckoning the moon and watch no less than a dozen firework displays at once, the surrounding region our own personal snow globe. We could communicate with the weather from there—whisper to the first tentacles of fog slipping around church steeples, harness the green-eyed energy of summer storms, rub the golden hours between our fingers. My goodness, but I miss that view.

Once the pages of memory start turning, stoic indifference is almost impossible to keep up, and my nostalgia over fireworks and gold-tipped fog quickly turns into something sadder. The scent of heaven still lingering in my newborn daughters’ skin is a repeat offender at times like this. Could any memory possibly be more heart-wrenching after a day in which I have snapped at those same daughters for fighting over board games when they were supposed to be doing their homework, on a night when their legs seem to have grown longer than their mattresses and their hair forms sweat-tangled updos on their pillows?

Other memories stand at the ready too, each unwrapping its own flavor of longing: Firelight painting gold on the walls of our snowbound house in Delaware. Herds of zebras grazing below the hilltop where I journaled in the South African sunrise. Pecans nestled throughout a Texas-sized backyard like autumn Easter eggs. My heart blinking in delight the first time Dan met me at my front door with a kiss. Our girls (ours!) laughing past the point of motor control on the teacup ride at Disney World.

These sensory treasures are now rooted permanently in the past, and I feel what would be regret if not for the comforting sweetness in the center. I know that I’ve been at least a marginally responsible moment-enjoyer; every one of my fond memories exists because I welcomed it in person. No, regret has no place in nostalgia.

I’m still in the grip of a hollow sadness though, as though a balloon has inflated in the base of my throat, and I’m unwilling to let this be my final reaction to nostalgia either. Sometimes I feel like my truest profession in life is that of a war strategist against sadness. It targets me from so many angles, triggered by things as insignificant as the smell of oatmeal cooking or the sound of fireworks in the night. I can’t predict it and may never be impervious to its sudden charges. I can, however, fight back, so I take on my memories tonight with the biggest force of reality I can muster.

First, I coax my mind back to the present. The sum of my former lives is too much to take on at once. This is about now—this new house, still startling me with ways it is unlike our old; these precious family members sheltered inside, still startling me with ways they are unlike my impressions of them. This is about change, how I so readily dive into it without remembering how hard it always is in the end. I did it this summer, throwing myself into our move with gusto, never considering just how fiercely I would miss the familiar floor plans of the past. Now that we’re here, my heart keeps looping back on itself; it’s no wonder I find myself tangled.

The fireworks continue just beyond my reach, and I lay our former home life to rest in my mind. There were so many reasons we needed to move, issues of cost and architecture and utilities; it helps to give a slight nod to each from time to time just to acknowledge that we made the right decision. And then there’s the Van Gogh tree I so dearly loved; our landlord unexpectedly cut it down two days after I took that photo. I’d had no idea I was posting its obituary.

The tree reminds me that nostalgia is so often a revisionist history. There never were any Good Ol’ Days when all the magical elements of the universe came together at once. There was only ever the beauty and struggle of everyday life, followed by change and then by a different set of beauty and struggle. Those newborn babies I miss so much were accompanied by sleep deprival and postpartum depression. Those South African sunrises were followed by grueling days of physical and emotional labor. Those holiday nights we stood on our old balcony drinking in the display were often tense with frustration and frigid fingers due to problems with the house. The struggle was always alive and accounted for, just as the beauty is now.

I consciously turn my thoughts toward our newest version of everyday. We’re still getting used to it of course, but I can already begin to pick out the elements that will one day reshape themselves as nostalgia. Our neighbors, for one. We’re lucky enough to share this little complex with sweet and generous families who are well on their way to becoming friends. And then there’s my new kitchen, so spacious (at least by Italian standards) and gorgeous that I feel like I’ve won the culinary lottery. I will always remember this as the house where my girls grew into bona fide big kids—Sophie putting on her new purple glasses and trotting off to first grade, Natalie devouring Boxcar Children books with a reading lamp after her sister goes to sleep. This darling white writing desk is where I might actually finish the book that’s been simmering in my imagination the last ten years. This apartment is where our daughters’ childhood memories may one day come to roost.

These are the days of marathon training, walks to the bakery before lunch, pirate stories at bedtime, and family Uno championships. Likewise, they are the days of unreliable hot water heaters, occupational uncertainties, relational challenges, and tendinitis. Nostalgia won’t want me to remember the second list, but this is what gives the everyday its substance and meaning: struggle and beauty together, light and color blooming in the dark.

Acknowledging this is enough. My sadness retreats amid a shower of sparks.

Orange sparkles

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