March 2008


Si se puede

I hope this isn’t an omen of Barack Obama’s presidential hopes, but at Saturday night’s New England Revolution home opener, the soccer-loving contingent of Texans for Obama (clad in the stands in blaze orange) had their Si se puede/Yes we can optimism dashed by the Revs, who beat the Houston Dynamo 3-0. So much for the Audacity of Hope, at least if you’re a Texas soccer fan.

I already voted for Obama

Click here for more images from Saturday night’s soccer game. Lest today’s post be interpreted as a dig against Obama, the picture at right, snapped in the aftermath of the New Hampshire primary in January, accurately describes my political allegiances then and now.

Glen 'Big Baby' Davis rallies the crowd

Normally, if a guy the size of Glen “Big Baby” Davis got right in my face and started screaming, I’d probably have a heart attack. But when “Baby” appears in excited, larger-than-life glory on the JumboTron at a Boston Celtics home game to rally the crowd, fans don’t get scared: they get loud.

Battle of the wide-bodies

On Wednesday night, J and I watched Big Baby and the rest of the white-hot Celtics stomp the Phoenix Suns at the last home game we have tickets for this season. What I love about attending basketball or other sports events (as I’ve argued before) is the way the emotions of the game completely erase whatever worries or concerns I bring with me to the arena. Watching sports on TV can be similarly cathartic, but there’s something about being in an enormous arena with a sellout crowd of other rabid fans that works wonders for one’s stress levels. It’s possible, I’ve learned, to read student papers while watching televised sports; Stan Lombardo, for instance, once admitted that he worked on his translations of the Iliad and Odyssey while watching college basketball on TV. But grading papers or translating Greek classics just isn’t feasible if you’re actually at a basketball game. If you’re actually attending a professional or college basketball game, it would give a whole new meaning of March Madness even to try to squeeze in some work.

Like pushing a wall

The ancient Greeks, of course, were the first to argue that drama is cathartic, and the ancient Greeks were equally fond of sports: they are, after all, the inventors of the collective catharsis we call the Olympics. I suppose on Wednesday night I could have set down my grading pen in order to watch a play…but they typically don’t let you scream, swear, and stomp your feet at plays. Drama can be psychologically cathartic because you become subsumed in the emotions of others: watching Medea poised to kill her children, for instance, you might re-visit every hellish break-up or desire for revenge you’ve ever experienced. But both watching and (especially) reading plays is essentially a quietly passive act: the actors on the stage or the characters on the page are doing something, but you as viewer or reader are “active” only in your own engaged mind.

Baby takes a shot

For me, the most powerful emotions involve motion. When I have something troubling on my mind, I could sit down and try to mental it out…or I could go for a brisk walk and let my feet do my thinking. If watching a film or play offers emotional release by taking you out of yourself long enough to empathize with the concerns of fictitious characters, sporting events are equally cathartic with the added benefit of bodily involvement. No, can’t “participate” in an NBA game by jumping from your seat and taking to the hardwood to give the home team a hand…but the players, coaches, referees, and even arena security guards don’t expect you to spend the entire game completely silent and spellbound in your seats.

At least one of my sisters and several of my friends who are big-time film buffs would probably be dismayed to hear me admit it, but I actually have a difficult time sitting still for even the most engrossing movie: even my Zen school, with its emphasis on sitting meditation, expects practitioners to remain seated for only about thirty minutes at a stretch before getting everyone up for walking meditation. Does it come as a surprise, then, that I actually prefer walking to sitting meditation, and that my favorite form of collective catharsis isn’t sniffling through a sad movie but leaping to my feet to scream over a great play or swear over a bad call?

In other words, when none other than Kevin Garnett appears on the Celtics JumboTron exhorting fans to GET ON YOUR FEET…

Get on your feet!

…I am very grateful to comply. Yes, sir!

This is my day-late contribution to this week’s Photo Friday theme, Emotions. I shot the JumboTron images of Glen Davis and Kevin Garnett at the Celtics vs. Pistons game on March 5; the rest of today’s images come from Wednesday night’s game against the Phoenix Suns.

The end is near

I don’t usually snap photos while driving between Massachusetts and New Hampshire…but who can resist a truck that makes perfectly clear THE END is near? (For the record, I wasn’t tailgating: this is a zoomed and cropped shot.)

I would have thought The End of Winter was near now that a small cluster of snowdrops are blooming in their accustomed spot here in Keene…and yet, the forecast calls for some six inches of snow to drop on southwestern New Hampshire by tomorrow afternoon. Luckily I’m heading back down to Massachusetts, where nothing worse than a little wintry mix–not exactly The End of the World–is forecast for tonight. The End of Winter will arrive even in Keene…eventually.

Two for one

When I first moved to the Boston area in the early 1990s, my understanding of the city and its outlying areas was completely T-dependent. I knew the individual subway and trolley stops I used on my way from Malden to Chestnut Hill, for instance, but I didn’t know how these places connected above ground. When I started graduate classes at Northeastern, for instance, I’d take the Green Line from my Beacon Hill apartment to the aptly named “Northeastern” stop that let me off in front of campus…but it took my slow-witted self about a semester or so to realize the Orange Line “Ruggles” stop let me off on the side of campus where my office was located. It came as a silly surprise to realize a stop on the Orange Line could be so close to a stop on the Green: just one side of campus to the other! It was a realization I had to come to on-foot, leaving the safety of train or trolley to explore the neighborhood (and possibly get lost) on my own.

If you’ve been visiting Hoarded Ordinaries for a while, you’ve gotten some individual blog-stop views of the greater Boston area…but unless you’ve been to Boston, you might not understand how these individual blog-stations connect. So when I described Cambridge’s vintage Shell sign and freeway revolt mural as both being located at the intersection of Memorial Drive and Magazine Street, you might not have realized that these two landmarks really are so close to one another, you can shoot them both in a single shot.

Children...with Silly String

When I imagine ways of defacing a “Children” sign, I picture possibilities more playful than political. This sign near Newton’s Richardson Field (shown in all its spring-muddy, pre-Little-League glory at the top of this post) still shows the freeze-dried residue of a Halloween encounter with some anonymous child(ren) armed with Silly String. No matter what the season, kids will be kids.

I’m not quite as clear about the meaning of this stencil-adorned “Children” sign, also spotted in Newton.

Say what?

Perhaps in Newton, you need to be on the lookout for children who play guitar and have SARS? Or is it children (not drivers) who’d better be wary of guitarists with respiratory diseases?

I’m not sure, but this much I know: I’m back in Keene now that my spring break in Newton is over, and tomorrow I’ll be headed back to teach at Keene State. Do you think any of my students will be armed with SARS, guitars, or Silly String?

Crocus

Just in time for Easter, yesterday I spotted the first crocuses of spring, blooming along the leaf-littered edge of the same yard where I’d spotted this year’s first snowdrops. What better metaphor of resurrection do you need than the poking of fresh new flowers out of last year’s dead leaves?

Crocuses

This afternoon, J and I tackled our own portion of last year’s dead leaves: one last batch of autumn that an early snowfall had left buried on J’s yard for the winter. Raking last year’s leaves from under one of J’s shrubs, I found snowdrops blooming there, too, completely buried in leaves. What sort of faith–what kind of tenacity–inspires a flower to bloom without ever having seen the light of day?

Spring in New England feels a bit like that as you move forward toward a season you can’t completely see: “This,” you tell yourself, “is the direction I remember spring as being.” Earlier tonight, our yard-work done, J and I took a sundown stroll and remarked on all the leaf-bags we saw lined in front of neighbors’ houses: on a mild March weekend, everyone’s been out raking and bagging that last batch of hitherto buried autumn. There’s a good deal of faith–a tremendous amount of tenacity–in that endeavor, too: an unspoken hope that if you uncover the cold, winter-blanched earth, the soon-to-be-spring sun will awaken life from the dead.

Crocuses

Spring mud

T.S. Eliot said that April is the cruellest month, but in New England at least I’d argue for March. Now in March, Massachusetts ballfields are bare…and muddy. Imagine being a New England kid who’s just itching for the Little League season to start, and all you see in the place of a field of dreams is a field of mud.

Got game?

As I explained this time last year, “March madness” in New England doesn’t simply refer to the NCAA men’s basketball tournament; it refers to The Big Itch we all feel here in the Northeast as spring is in the air but not yet entirely arrived. This morning, the sun was shining and suburban birds were singing…and the temperature was hovering around freezing. Yes, we can see the ground; yes, the snowdrops and crocuses are poking tentatively out of the earth…but at any moment, we New Englanders know the weather will turn, we’ll get one (or two, or three) more snowfalls, and it will feel like January or February again, not the “spring” announced on our paper calendars.

Rhododendron buds

But, hope springs eternal, especially in spring. In the process of making travel arrangements for the May conference I’d mentioned earlier this week, J and I discovered that the 2008 ALA conference in San Francisco perfectly coincides with the Red Sox road schedule, so we’ll be able to continue last year’s tradition of seeing our hometown boys on the road (this time in Oakland), where we can actually buy face-value tickets rather than paying an exorbitant amount of money to set foot in Fenway Park.

So while Curt Schilling and Kevin Youkilis are blogging in Japan as they continue to train for the Red Sox international season opener against (yes) Oakland, I’m spending the in-between days of March looking forward to May, when the Red Sox once again face Oakland in Oakland, and spring will be here for real.

Lost, and free!

Today’s Photo Friday theme, Found Objects, has my name written all over it. Not only have I previously blogged found objects like a child’s stuffed octopus, a rain-soaked pair of glasses, and a dirty pacifier, I have an entire blog category devoted to the subject. In a world where it’s so incredibly easy to get lost, it gives me a sense of hope to think that sometimes, precious things like stuffed toys, blankets, and binkies are found.

Money grows on trees?

It seems similarly optimistic to think that someone stumbling upon a wallet in the woods would simply brace it on a branch, allowing its rightful owner to re-trace steps to re-claim it. Have I any way of knowing whether the various keys, watches, and cell phones (!!!) I’ve found in the woods over the years have ever found their way back to their rightful homes? No. But still, I hold out hope that somewhere and someday, possessors and possessions will be reunited, this wallet staying in precisely the same spot on a heavily traveled trail for several days before someone, rightful owner or otherwise, claimed it. Only a philosopher will dare ponder whether this wallet was finally found or merely lost again.

Matching pair

There’s something sad about a single lost glove bereft of both home and mate…but a matched but nevertheless lost pair is a real rarity. If you’re lost with a companion, are you truly lost? Or is a matched pair of gloves merely wandering, seeking adventure apart from any interfering appendage?

Found pacifier

Lost kitten

But if found objects like cast-off pacifiers give me hope, posters advertising the lost tug at my heart, pointing as they do to the way loved ones sometimes disappear and ultimately pass. It’s one thing to believe (on Good Friday of all days) in the God of Lost Things…but who but the most optimistic holds out hope for a kitten lost right before a massive snowfall? Whether one lost kitten makes it through another storm, shouldn’t we all find comfort knowing that someone, somewhere, believes, hopes, and prays she can?

Still lost

Love is akin to hope, so those who love truly hope deeply as well. The posters J and I spotted earlier this month for “missing Max” looked brand new, but Max hasn’t been seen since August. Is an entire season or more too long to hold out hope for a returned friend? At what point do you stop putting up posters or take down the weathered ones that remain, reminders that the lost aren’t always found? Or does a faithful friend ever stop looking, wondering, and hoping, believing in his heart of hearts that Max is out there somewhere, and okay?

If faith were enough to bring lost cats and kittens home, return wallets to their rightful owners, reconcile mis-matched mittens, and return toys, blankets, and binkies to the little ones who love them, we’d have nothing in the way of Lost and Found in this world. Instead, we live in a messy and dangerous place where we sometimes lose, forget, or misplace the things we value the most, and people who don’t know or care about the true value of our sentimental things find them as if by mistake, not knowing the love, hope, and disappointment they hold. These aren’t just lost animals and objects, you see: they’re forlorn wanderers looking for home.

Tennessee Valley Trail

I’ve spent a good part of yesterday and today–the middle portion of my spring break–tweaking my academic website. I’m presenting a paper at a conference in May, and I’m currently taking some tentative steps toward looking for more secure (i.e. non-adjunct) academic employment, so it’s good to have an “online presence” that actually reflects who I am and what I do.

This means uploading sample syllabi, fleshing out the portion of my website dedicated to scholarly research, and updating both my CV and resume (and yes, I have both: the former goes into detail about research and publications while the latter focuses primarily on teaching). All the stuff I’m tweaking, uploading, and organizing was already online, but when I moved this blog to WordPress, I also moved my website, and I didn’t immediately get around to moving, updating, and organizing these additional documents.

Deer on coastal trail

This week’s website-tweaking has also involved a strange sort of re-visiting. One of the things I wanted to re-post on my academic website is an essay I call “The Upshot,” which was the final section of the final chapter of my PhD dissertation. (I also re-posted the abridged and complete versions of my dissertation proposal in case anyone is interested in that.) “The Upshot” tells the story (in an informal and decidedly non-academic tone) of how I began, got stuck on, and ultimately finished my dissertation. In a word, “The Upshot” recounts the long, strange trip from the project’s initial stages to its completion.

In my own teaching, I typically ask students to write a final reflective piece that talks about their writing process, and I often find these informal essays to be the most insightful and enjoyable part of students’ final portfolios. How can you know what you learned until you look back on where you’ve been? In my own case, “The Upshot” is my favorite section of my entire dissertation; not only did I write it when I was (thankfully!) almost done, it’s the portion of the project that feels the most personal to me. The rest of my dissertation is me trying to sound like an academic; “The Upshot” is where I take off that formal guise and talk about what initially inspired me to start the project and what I came to learn from it.

Tennessee Cove

Re-posting “The Upshot” forced me to read it again: it’s been nearly four years since I finished my dissertation and then promptly deposited its massive, still-boxed bulk atop a bookshelf where it’s been gathering dust ever since. The process of finishing a dissertation left me feeling overdosed on academic discourse, so I haven’t wanted to re-visit my own foray into that field. And yet, the paper I’ll be presenting in May is a chapter from my dissertation, so there’s something inside me that is dipping a tentative toe into the familiar (albeit still murky) waters of scholarly prose: presumably the interests that led me to start a dissertation are still a part of me even if I burned out on the actual act of completion.

I’d initially illustrated “The Upshot” with a handful of photos I’d taken during a lonely trip to San Francisco I’d taken in the summer of 2003, approximately six months before I finished my dissertation and almost exactly a year before my then-husband and I separated. As the ironies of the Universe would have it, that conference I’ll be attending in May will take me back to San Francisco. All roads, it seems, lead me back to the same themes, the same places, and the same images, the process of pilgrimage being an out-going trip that always seems to circle back to self and home.

Needless to say, I am not in California’s Marin County this week: today’s pictures are the same ones featured in the very essay I’m talking about.

Save this spruce!

J tells me there’s a law in Newton that requires construction crews to plant a tree for each one they remove, an expensive proposition when projects involve the clearing of wooded or heavily landscaped lots. This tree-friendly law presumably explains why this spruce has been left untouched, its Christmas lights intact, while crews have torn down and are now rebuilding the house that stood behind it. Apparently it’s possible to complete a teardown without disturbing nearby Christmas trees, which suggests the trees in Newton are more heavily protected than its old houses are.

By way of reminder, April edition of the Festival of the Trees will appear in bilingual splendor at Árvores Vivas em Nossas Vidas. Send your tree-related links to arvoresvivas [at] gmail [dot] com by March 28, or use the online submission form. Spread the word!

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