Rally against racism

Yesterday there was a student-led march to protest six racist incidents on campus last semester. This isn’t the first event students have organized to speak out against racism on campus, but it’s the first one that happened when I was on campus and not either teaching or tutoring.

Silence is betrayal / End racism

I’m not by nature a march-goer. Although I attended the Unity Walk students organized after the 2016 election as well as the Women’s March on Boston Common in January, 2017, my dislike of crowds makes me a less-than-ideal rally-goer. My personal political proclivities are more introverted in nature: I’d rather stay inside and make a sign than go outside and wave one.

Rally against racism

Yesterday, however, I ignored my personal proclivities. The whole point of a protest, after all, is to gather a crowd, and a crowd needs lots of bodies. “Silence is violence,” several signs reminded us: when bigots are spewing words of hate, doing nothing speaks volumes. Even if you don’t know how to fix a problem as big and complicated as white supremacy, the least you can do is show up to the fight.

You can almost hear them saying "Carpe diem."

Today Leslee and I drove to Palmer, Massachusetts to meet A (not her real initial) for lunch, cocktails, and a belated celebration of both Christmas and my birthday. The restaurant we went to–Steaming Tender, a railroad-themed pub in a restored H.H. Richardson train depot at the center of town–was still decorated for the holidays, so we could almost imagine we weren’t weeks behind with our celebration.

Festive libations, with @insta_leslee

We’d chosen to meet in Palmer because it’s halfway between the Boston suburbs where Leslee and I live and the western Massachusetts town where A lives. In summer, the three of us alternate between meeting in Northampton, which is closer to A, and the Tower Hill Botanic Garden, which is closer to Leslee and me. But during winter months when the days are short, it’s nice to meet halfway, eat lunch, and be home before it gets dark.

Leslee, A, and I have been celebrating holidays and birthdays over food and cocktails for more than a decade. Originally, I lived in Keene, Leslee lived in Grafton, and A lived in Chelmsford: over the years our addresses have changed, but our friendship continues.

Face and spray can

Sometimes when I’m bored or feeling uninspired, I’ll page back through my journal to see what I was doing, thinking, or worrying about at a given time in the past. If nothing else, this practice is a great way of cultivating perspective, as I frequently find that something I was completely consumed by even a few months ago is now entirely forgotten and irrelevant.

Modica Way

Last September, I read (and blogged about) David Sedaris’ Theft By Finding, a lightly-edited collection of journal entries from the years 1977 to 2002, and today I rediscovered an observation I’d written in my journal while I was reading the book:

Red

I’m realizing as I read that there are two kinds of journal-keepers: thinkers and recorders. Thinkers write long, sustained entries on a given topics–informal essays on whatever deep thoughts they’re having. Recorders, on the other hand, keep a spontaneous list of whatever thoughts pop into mind as they are writing, jumping from subject to subject as their minds themselves wander.

Modica Way

Thoreau was a thinker, as am I: any given entry sounds like the rough draft of an essay. But equally intriguing is the spontaneous stream-of-consciousness produced by recorders–and Sedaris falls in this category. One minute he notes the cost of eggs at a given diner or the cost of milk at Winn-Dixie, then the next he recounts what drugs he and his sister took on the beach or the slurs passengers in a passing car shouted while pelting him with rocks.

Escape

Readers appreciate the profundity of thinkers, but they are sometimes put off by the sheer randomness of recorder-style journals. When a writer simply records his or her thoughts as they occur, it’s sometimes difficult for readers to tell how important any given item or event truly is. Is the price of gas as important as a pending real estate deal or argument with a friend?

Ghost

What non-writers might not appreciate, however, is the importance of objectivity and impartiality in writing. Most folks would be outraged by an argument or insult, but recorders cultivate a curious kind of equanimity. Viewing everything as grist for the mill allows a recorder to keep a nonchalant account of everything happening in their life. There’s no need to judge or justify what you did, what you saw, or what you thought; just write it down. What results is a refreshingly real depiction of a person’s mind, without censorship or prudery. Over the course of letting oneself think on paper, a recorder develops a sincere and fearless style. Nothing is held back because nothing is shunned.

Modica Way

Theft By Finding is at times wickedly funny, but not because Sedaris is trying to be funny. Instead, the book is funny because Sedaris is entirely deadpan in his account of absurd behavior. The down-and-out people he encounters in Chicago and Raleigh behave in absurd and ridiculous ways, and he reports what they say and what they do in a nonchalant tone as if there is nothing remarkable or disturbing about it.

Spray paint

There are plenty of people who say they’ve seen enough crazy shit to fill a book, but they don’t ever actually write that shit down. David Sedaris is wickedly funny because he simply records the absurd things he sees and overhears without judgement. The stories and scraps of stories he records speak for themselves, without the need for commentary or critique.

Cassie with chew bone

On Monday morning–New Year’s Day–we put our white German shepherd, Cassie, to sleep. She’d been diagnosed with hemangiosarcoma, an aggressively metastatic cancer, the week before Christmas, after our vet found a large mass on her spleen. When we brought Cassie home after having her spleen removed, we knew our task was to make the rest of her life as comfortable as possible, no matter how long or short.

Cassie at home

J and I have ushered too many pets from this world to the next: countless cats and now four dogs. Our commitment to stay with a pet until their final breath–to be present during their passing rather than handing over the leash and walking away–is one we both take very seriously. We’ve grown all-too-familiar with the the euphemistically named “Meditation Room” at the Angell Animal Medical Center, where families can gather on couches or on the floor while their pet slips quietly away. We know the Meditation Room and the routine that goes with it because it’s a scene we’ve repeated with pet after pet after pet. After spending so much time, energy, and worry tending to an ailing or elderly pet’s final days, suddenly they are gone.

Someone won't let me make the bed. #dogsofinstagram #cassiethedog #whitegermanshepherd

When Cassie was in surgery two weeks ago and her surgeon saw her cancer had spread, our vet called and gave us the option of euthanizing Cassie right there on the operating table. Without batting an eye, I said no. There is no need to prolong the inevitable–neither J nor I believe in extraordinary measures–but there also isn’t any reason to hasten it. After her surgery, Cassie had a good, comfortable week at home surrounded by the familiar rituals of her daily routine. Without a bleeding mass on her spleen, she felt more energetic than she had before surgery–almost as good as new–and we plied her with cold cuts for Christmas and spent a lot of time petting, brushing, and fussing over her.

Cassie at Angell

Instead of dying on an antiseptic operating table, Cassie left us at the fullness of time, after we’d spent a week consciously, intentionally loving her to death. Past midnight on New Year’s Eve, she was her usual alert and affectionate self; on New Year’s morning, she was listless and droopy, with white gums indicating an internal hemorrhage. Having discussed this inevitability with our vet–ultimately, we knew, hemangiosarcoma always wins–a difficult decision wasn’t difficult at all. Although Cassie didn’t know much less understand her diagnosis, her body told us it was time.

Euonymus in ice

New Year’s Eve is traditionally a time for taking stock. Looking back on the wins and losses of the previous year, folks with a penchant for self-improvement typically use the occasion of the New Year to make resolutions. Although I’m a sucker for self-help books, I’m not a fan of New Year’s resolutions. I’ve seen enough New Years come and go to know that well-intentioned resolutions are often broken and forgotten by February, so setting grand goals for the New Year sounds like a guaranteed recipe for disappointment.

Ice-etched

That being said, I’m a big fan of small, attainable goals. This past year, for instance, I set a goal to meditate at least five minutes every day, so although I didn’t go to the Zen Center as often as I would have liked, I am happy to say I meditated at home every single day. I also met my yearly goal to read fifty books in 2017, a goal I reached by reading a little bit every day.

Iced

The other thing I managed to do in 2017 was take and post to Flickr one photo every day. In any given year, I take far more than 365 photos: on days when I go somewhere or do something visually interesting, I might take and post dozens of photos. But on otherwise ordinary, unremarkable days, I need a nudge to take photos, and a 365-day photo challenge provides that motivation. Even in the gray days of February or the busiest days of the semester, I knew I had to snap and post a photo of something, no matter how boring or inane.

Icy aftermath

Over time, a daily photo challenge starts to feel like a personal scavenger hunt or visual gratitude journal: no matter how uninspired or bland a particular day might have felt, you have to find at least one image worth sharing. This year as always, I posted lots of pictures of pets; this year for the first time, I also posted lots of pictures of postcards. Scrolling through my photoset of “365 in 2017” photos, I see a visual time capsule of the entire year.

Icy

Because noticing is contagious, once you push yourself to take at least one picture a day, it becomes easier to take two, three, or more images. Over the course of the year, you hone your eye so it is perpetually on the lookout for Today’s Picture, and you prove to yourself day after day after day that there is always something interesting and share-worthy going on: you just have to capture it when it happens.

Reaching

So on this New Year’s Eve, I’ve decided to continue into the New Year the three habits I honed over the course of the Old. I’ll keep meditating, reading, and snapping at least one photo a day, everyday. I hope what worked in 2017 will continue to work in 2018.

Click here to see my “2017 Year in Books” on Goodreads, or click here to see my “365 in 2017” photoset. Enjoy, and happy New Year!

Robin in redbud

Every year for the past decade, I’ve given friends and family a photo calendar with thirteen of my favorite images from the previous year: twelve months plus a cover.

Snow-laden

Every December, choosing pictures for my calendar gives me an excuse to revisit my photo archives: a way to literally re-view the previous year.

Waterfall

They say that when you die, your entire life flashes before your eyes.

Spring leaves

Since I’ve never died, I don’t know whether that is true, but I can say this: it’s interesting to revisit your life once a year.

Flying

Every December when I finally take time to scroll through my photo archives, I worry I won’t find thirteen photos worthy of sharing, and every December, those worries are unfounded.

Baltimore oriole

Throughout the year, I don’t try to take calendar-worthy photos: most of the photos I take are snapped at offhand moments when I see something that interests my eye.

As above, so below

I guess you could say I’m a collector of images: when I see something interesting, I capture the moment by snapping a photo.

Carter Pond erratic

I see this year-round scavenging of images as akin to my almost-daily journal-keeping: if I want to know what I was doing this time last year or the year before, I can check my blog, journal, or photo archives.

Cattails

This morning I watched a slideshow of images from each of the past ten years’ calendars: a decade’s worth of images.

Cup and saucer vine (Cobaea scandens)

For each of these pictures, I remembered the circumstances surrounding the shot: I remembered which photos were shot while walking the dog, which were shot in the backyard, which were shot in a parking lot on my way to teach, and which were shot on my way to or from the grocery store.

Tinged

Where anyone else sees a collection of pretty pictures, I see ten years’ worth of otherwise mundane moments.

Outbound

Anyone else sees what it is the photo, but I remember what was happening outside the frame.

Holly

The photos illustrating today’s post come from this year’s photo calendar. You can see past calendar sets here. Enjoy!

Freezing rain on hydrangea

Today I’ve spent the day inside grading essay portfolios while outside, the clouds have sputtered freezing rain. Grading is always the last thing to check off my holiday to-do list: after cards have been mailed and gifts have been purchased and wrapped, final grading awaits.

Freezing rain on hydrangea flower

This year, grades are due on December 26, but I make a perennial promise to submit grades before Christmas so I can unplug for the day. I like to imagine all the other college professors (along with Santa and his elves) toiling steadily on the 23rd and 24th, a looming deadline providing focus after much procrastination.

Freezing rain on dead hydrangeas

Today after lunch, I ventured outside to take pictures of our backyard hydrangea. Grim voices on the radio warned that we might lose power, and authorities cautioned residents to stay close to home because of slippery roads. I don’t often look forward to paper-grading, but it can be downright cozy to spend the day with student papers and a bottomless cup of tea while the world outside is gradually encased in ice.