I’m sitting at a coffee shop around the corner from my childhood home. There are no small tables free, so I’m at a big communal island with a hodgepodge of other people. The man across from me, older, very black hair, serious, fiddles with his phone. The petite Asian woman on the opposite corner, scrolls through her phone too. Her hair is pulled back with a tortoiseshell butterfly clip and she wraps her arm across her chest like she’s cold. She wears all black. The man at the end wears a yarmulke and reads, I think, the Torah. The gray hoodie and leather jacket he wears over his striped dress shirt are wet from rain. He uses a white paper dinner napkin as a bookmark. There are two women right next to me, probably my age, chatting in another language. The one closest to me fumbles with a crumbling blueberry muffin.
And then there’s me. A thirty-five year old mother and writer, thinker and wanderer. I’m dressed more nicely than usual because I have a lunch across the street at the museum in a couple hours. I sip from my umpteenth coffee of the day. I was up before 5am and I need it. My daughter’s hot pink earphones are in and I’m listening to the scratchy brilliance of Mose Allison, Dad’s favorite, the soundtrack of my childhood in many ways. There are so many details I could share, but the most important one: I am here. Not just in this coffee shop on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. Not just in the rainy beginnings of Wednesday morning. Not just in these silly printed harem pants that might or might not be flattering. I am here. Present in this moment, these moments. Not perfectly present, but more present than I’ve been in a long time. Awake. Aware. In it.
This, of course, is the goal of my admittedly ambitious yearlong examination of Presence, my fondly dubbed, and perhaps foolishly conceived, HERE Year: to find a way to be here, in my life, to focus less on the past and on the future, to sit more squarely, and more comfortably, in the present moment. Those words – present moment – still make me chafe a bit. They strike me as a bit woo-woo, new-agey, flaky. I have not lost my skepticism, but it has lightened. Because my efforts are paying off, at least a bit, and I’ve felt more here, more anchored to the present moment suddenly feels like a wildly personal and very real thing. It’s been one month. At the outset, in utterly ADR-esque fashion, I vowed to explore a topic a month. In retrospect, I smile at this. My telltale hankering for structure, for order, and for control. This project, like life, will defy my efforts to contain it neatly. It will be messy and hard and magical. There will be, and there have been, moments where I say to myself: What am I doing? Why am I doing this? These questions are okay. Good even.
Anyway, I’m in danger of rambling and though rambling is something I cherish and want to never stop doing, I have only a certain amount of time to write this post and there are several things I want to share with you about this first month, my Home April, as I think of it now. The things I will share, you will see, do not fit a single category. Some are ideas. Some are questions. Some are confessions. Some are just stories that I don’t want to forget. There is no conspicuous logic to any of this, and part of me, the part of me that’s growing bigger, celebrates this. All of these bits are bits of me, of who I am Now, not Then, not When. All of these bits are part of being Here, in this shop, this rain-soaked city, this moment of my day and my life.
Bits on Home & Here
- Home is not just a place. It is place, but it is also people and ideas and memories. It is also music and smells and belongings. It is also a feeling, a feeling of warmth and coziness and being understood. It is being under covers on a Sunday morning and cuddling with pajama-clad kids on a couch. It is a story we tell ourselves, a story that is at once true and imagined.
- Home takes effort. I’ve always loved our home, the home we moved into when I was just pregnant with my youngest daughter, but over the past 3+ years, it’s grown crowded and cluttered with things – mail piles, orphan gloves, broken toys, holey leggings, chipped mugs, crap, and I never realized how much all of this stuff was affecting me until I started to deal with it and go through it and get rid of it. I’ve been working with a wonderful woman named Rachel Yehaskel from Resourceful Consultants to tackle the excess and clutter and in just a few meetings (and many hours of work on my end), our house is finally feeling peaceful. Just yesterday, we donated 15+ construction bags full of old baby clothes and toys and gear (to Baby Buggy), along with 7 bags of my own clothes and shoes that I no longer wear (to Housing Works). We still have work to do, but what a big change. I’ll be honest and tell you that I felt a bit of panic and melancholy after parting with all of these things and the memories they conjured, but now I’m feeling good, lighter, less distracted, more free.
- Over Easter, we visited my childhood country home in the Berkshires. It was a short trip, but an incredibly meaningful one. The girls ran and ran through the fields of my youth, hunted for Easter eggs, chased Mom’s dogs. My middle daughter found a four-leaf clover which I took to be a very good omen. I spent some time looking through the house and all its treasures. I found an old copy of Virginia Woolf’s book A Haunted House and tucked inside was a letter from the home’s former owner to my own dad, saying how much he wanted my father to buy the place because it was clear how much he loved it. The fact that I found this note during my month dedicated to Home gives me goosebumps. Tomorrow, Husband and I are traveling back to the house (which I admit to avoiding for a long time) with our beloved architect to see what it would take for Mom and us to restore the place and use it going forward. I have no idea whether this is something can do or will do, but just the possibility makes me happy.
- Last weekend, the girls wanted to watch a movie. I put on The Wizard of Oz. They had never seen it and I hadn’t seen it in forever. My mind raced with all the things I needed to do (I spend many many moments being less than present), but I had this thought. I want to be here. With them. And I put the computer and to-do list away and we cuddled up. The little girls were scared at points and grabbed me and hid under blankets, but Big Girl and I assured them it was okay. And it was. The movie ended, as you know, with lines that are now repeating on a loop through my head: There’s no place like home.
- I wrote a post about it earlier this week, but a reader emailed me not long ago about a loss in her life. That she took time during her sadness to write words to me meant a tremendous amount to me and I told her so. We’ve been chatting a bit and she has said that the comments that have come in have helped some; that it is good to remember that she’s not alone. It has occurred to me that telling our stories, our true and hard stories, is akin to inviting people into our homes. It involves trust and vulnerability, but the rewards are immense.
- Speaking of inviting people into my home, I hosted a wonderful Happier Hour literary salon with the hilarious and brilliant Patty Chang Anker. We gathered in my yellow living room and talked about life and love and loss and fear. We all have fears, don’t we? I know I have many and they are always evolving. Anyway, I put it together, thanks to Patty, that this whole HERE Year project emerged from a place of fear. For reasons I’m still exploring, I’ve been fearful of being here. I’m still trying to figure out why. I have decided to face my fear of being here by writing about it.
- Something that has helped immeasurably in my efforts to be more present: not drinking alcohol. A while back, I did another project (I am indeed a project girl!) called A Year Without Wine. That year was wonderful and eye-opening and I learned a ton about myself. I came away from the year with a nagging sense that drinking is not good for me. I went in and out of denying this truth, ignoring it, going back and forth between drinking a little, more than a little, nothing at all. What I’m learning this time around (since April 7) is importantly different, namely that: not drinking is GOOD for me. I’ve figured out that drinking is my keystone habit and when I stop drinking, my life brightens and good things happen. To use a word Arianna Huffington loves and writes about in her so-named book, when I forgo the wine, I thrive. Can’t wait to explore this idea more and see what my friend Gretchen Rubin has to say about this. Gretchen’s next book Before and After is about making and breaking habits.
- I am an author! I’ve obviously known this, but yesterday I had occasion to go into my daughter’s First Grade classroom and talk about my life as an author. I was oddly nervous, but the good fluttery kind of nervous. The kids were so cute and wonderful. They asked me questions about what it’s like to write and I had fun telling them that no two days are the same, that everything in life can be material for a story. When they asked what I wanted to be when I was their age (6-7), I recalled my once-answer: I want to be an artist. It occurred to me that I am an artist, that I’m doing what I always wanted to do. At the end, I gave each kiddo a tiny notebook and a New York City pen and told them how lucky they are to live in this city full of stories, that they should open their eyes and take notes. My visit to Dalton, where I spent my K-12 days, was in many ways another iteration of going home.
- A few weeks ago, my uncle died. And I felt very strange about writing about it all here or elsewhere, but then I did mention it, somewhat elliptically I think, because this is part of my life and I write about my life here. Anyway, it was sad and I went to my family’s home in South Carolina for what was an incredibly meaningful and memorable memorial service. The theme of Home very much ran through my time there.
- Writing is a kind of home for me. I’ve known this for a while now, that I am most myself, most happy, when writing is part of the fabric of my life. Days without writing are not as good as days with writing. I’ve realized this keenly in the past several days as I’ve started waking up again at the brutal but brilliant hour of 4:30am to work on my novel. These morning hours are everything to me. I sit there in the thick quiet, a dark world outside my window, sipping coffee and writing words. I lose myself, guys. Time blurs by and when I come up for air – that’s literally what it feels like – I am a happier, fuller version of myself. Interestingly, while I’m plenty exhausted on these days, I’m also more calm, more here, because I’ve written. Nota bene: the internationally bestselling author Jane Green (June’s Happier Hour author!) just sent me the most fantastic travel mug in the mail. It says (in a cute heart shape): Write like a motherf***er. And that’s just what I’m doing. My goal is to get my whole manuscript to my agent Brettne Bloom by June. It remains to be seen whether this can be done. Feel free to cheerlead 🙂
Guys, there’s SO much more. So many more things. But this is it for now. Tomorrow is a new month. And I will be back here to announce May’s topic. It’s a good one. Okay, I’m off to soak up (literally) this final day of April. I hope there’s something in this rambling ode to Home that strikes something in you and if there is, I’d love to hear about it. This project is both deeply personal and inherently universal; as I ask and learn, I want you all to ask and learn alongside me.