Greening

I took a moment earlier today to photograph the emerging leaves and flowering forsythia in our backyard: the same photos I take every year. It is somehow encouraging to see, again, that when the spring comes, the grass grows by itself, even while I am preoccupied with other obligations.

Forsythia flowers

Yesterday afternoon, I began discussing Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me with my American literature students: the first time they’ve read it, but the fifth or sixth time for me. A good book, in my estimation, is one that wows and amazes you no matter how many times you read it. Emily Dickinson defined poetry as something that makes you feel as if the top of your head had been taken off, and this is how I’d describe the experience of reading Coates’ meditation on racism in America. The first time I read Coates’ book, it blew my mind with its blunt, unflinching honesty, and it stuns and shakes me every time I read it since.

First leaves of spring

Yesterday as I discussed the book with my students, I marveled at how much more politically aware they are than I was at their age. My students are saddened but not surprised by Coates’ account of America’s racist history, and they aren’t fazed by his refusal to offer sugar-coated hopefulness. Yesterday my students and I discussed the book alongside recent examples of police overreach, such as the shooting of Stephon Clark in Sacramento and the arrest of two black men in a Philadelphia Starbucks–and we watched a video showing parents of black boys describing The Talk they’ve had warning their sons of police brutality.

Spring green

These are not things I was aware of when I was an undergraduate. Rodney King was beaten in the 1990s, when I was in graduate school, and I blithely assumed his case was an anomaly, something attributed to a few bad cops rather than a pervasively systemic problem. My students today, however, don’t have the luxury of such innocence. They read the news and consider with clear-eyes the diminished promise of their own futures. Growing up in the shadow of the Great Recession, they know the American dream is a tempting fantasy that leads too often toward American disappointment.

Leafing

With hopes hardened by realism, my students are not shocked by the cruel realities Coates describes; they realize the world my generation leaves them is riddled by as many problems as promises. Like Coates, I don’t offer my students easy answers; I don’t have those answers, and I doubt any answers will be easy. But it heartens me to realize my students have open eyes and hearts that care, even as their youthful earnestness reminds me of the tender and tenuous first leaves of spring.

Yuki Kawauchi (center) - eventual men's winner

This is the tenth year that J and I have watched the Boston Marathon as it passes through Newton, and today’s conditions were by far the worst we’ve weathered. I’d thought the chill and drizzle of 2015 was bad, but this year was colder and windier, with temperatures in the 40s and torrential downpours that drenched the runners and kept many spectators at home.

Eventual winner Desiree Linden on left

Usually, J and I watch the Marathon between Miles 18 and 19, arriving at “our” corner across from the West Newton medical tent in time to see the last of the wheelchair runners, the elite men and women front runners, and then the Average Joes. Our regular routine is to watch the race until the street is thronged with runners, then we walk down to Newton City Hall before heading home.

Flags

Today, we didn’t last that long. After cheering runners who at times outnumbered spectators, we headed toward home and warm clothes soon after the elite runners passed. We can only hope that other spectators showed up to cheer on the later runners who finished the race despite the miserable conditions.

Running as a pack

Congratulations to all the hardy folk who finished the race (or braved the elements to watch it). In good weather, you have to be Boston Strong to run 26.2 miles. Today, you had to be stronger than the rain and cold.

Some Kinda Strong

Click HERE to see my complete set of washed-out photos from today’s Boston Marathon. Enjoy!

Propane tank-filling day. #signsofspring #almostgrillingseason

Today I went to the hardware store to fill two propane tanks: an annual ritual that marks the start of spring and the almost-advent of grilling season. Every year, I park my car by the big propane tank at the corner of the lot, go inside to pay, and then return to the big tank, where a man wearing a hat, coat, and gloves fills each of my smaller tanks in turn.

Almost forsythia

Tonight when I finally sat down to meditate, I felt like I’d plugged myself into a power source: a chance to refill and recharge. We’re entering the busy part of the semester, and on any given day, I have to juggle a half dozen different obligations: pets to feed and errands to run, student emails to answer, classes to prepare, and papers to grade. On any given day, there are more to-do’s on my list than there are hours to do them.

Leafing

And yet, all it takes for me to feel grounded and centered is the simple act of stopping: right here, right now, I make a conscious effort to do just one thing as I follow my breath going in and out, in and out. When you have a hundred and one things to do, doing just one thing sounds like an indulgent luxury, but it’s just as practical as stopping by the hardware store for propane. One’s inner stores of energy are easily depleted, but the Big Tank where you can refill is always close at hand.

Mistakes were made (and corrected)

I can’t remember the last time I used Wite-Out correction fluid. It’s been decades since I’ve used a typewriter, and Walt, the electric typewriter I used when I was an undergraduate, used correction film, eliminating the need to brush correction fluid over typos.

Spent part of Presidents' Day writing #PostcardsToVoters for @kellysmithky #kelly4ky #gotv (Want to get involved? Email Join@TonyTheDemocrat.org)

But yesterday while I was writing my latest batch of Postcards to Voters, I made a careless mistake on three cards, writing that Democrat Javier Fernandez was running for Florida’s “State Senate” instead of “State House.” So yesterday I discovered that my local grocery store does indeed carry correction fluid, and the second I opened the bottle, the toxic-chemical scent reminded me of a bygone era of caffeine-fueled all-nighters and stress-induced typos.

Five more #PostcardsToVoters for Marie Newman. @marie4congress #IL03

I can only hope the ten Florida Democrats who receive my handwritten cards appreciate that they were written by a real human being who makes real human mistakes. The campaign for Florida’s House District 114 has gotten so heated, fake people are sending typed letters to voters, trying to smear the Democratic candidate. Because of the mudslinging, one of the suggested talking points for volunteers writing postcards is “I am a real person. This is my actual handwriting. I hope you vote.”

I hope Georgia Democrats like orchids, because I'm sending a blooming bouquet of #PostcardsToVoters for Phyllis Hatcher in tomorrow's mail. #FlipGA17 #ElectBlackWomen

The whole appeal of Postcards to Voters is that it is a grassroots network of real people sending friendly, handwritten reminders to fellow Democrats in states all around the country. In an age when voters are inundated by slick professional mailings, there’s a certain charm in receiving a handwritten card from a fellow citizen. My fellow postcarders and I don’t use fake names or fake addresses: we sign our real first names, postmarks make it clear where we are writing from, and we try to add a personal touch by decorating our cards with artwork, stickers, or doodles. It’s craftivism at its friendliest.

Five Superman-themed #PostcardsToVoters for #DDD4WI. Be a hero - use your vote!

My fellow postcarders and I aren’t funded by a super PAC or wealthy donor; we buy our own postcards, stamps, colorful pens, stickers, and (yes) correction fluid, and we write postcards here and there when we have the time. (I try to write ten postcards a week.) My fellow postcarders and I are real people who volunteer to write to other real people because we think encouraging people to vote is more helpful than screaming at the television.

So I hope the registered Democrats who receive my handwritten, hand-corrected postcards recognize they were sent by someone who is only human: not a bot, not a troll, and not a social media algorithm. Mistakes were made, and mistakes were corrected. I trust Florida voters can see the humanity in that.

I’ve written about Postcards to Voters before. With a constant stream of special elections–and with the 2018 midterm elections approaching–we always welcome new volunteers who want to help turn out the vote one Democratic voter at a time. CLICK HERE if you’re interested in learning more.

Raindrops on holly

Today is what the Irish call a soft day: gray and misty, with gauzy bands of drizzle wafting beneath an overcast sky. There is no need for umbrellas on soft days: a windbreaker and ball cap are all you need, along with an antsy dog who demands walking in all weather.

Binary

On soft days, Toivo and I have the streets, sidewalks, and aqueduct trail almost to ourselves. On our way to the place of pines this morning, we saw a distant border collie herding her owner toward the dog park; on the way back, we saw a woman walking a white Pomeranian that looked like a powder puff on a leash. Overhead, fish crows called and finches twittered, and underfoot, the needle-strewn trail was damp and spongy, as soft as fog.

They say that April showers bring May flowers, a saying that suggests spring rain is tolerable only if you focus on future beauty. But on a day like today, April showers are their own reward. After months of snow, mere rain cannot daunt us. After months of snow, any precipitation you don’t have to shovel is warmly welcomed.

Angie Thomas at FSU

Yesterday Angie Thomas, author of the best-selling young-adult novel The Hate U Give, came to Framingham State for an evening talk. In both her talk and the afternoon meet-and-greet that preceded it, Thomas described how she wrote the novel, and she fielded questions from (and offered advice to) the aspiring writers in attendance.

Book group flier

In her afternoon talk, Thomas gave two bits of advice that I scribbled in my notebook as soon as I got back to my office. First, write as if you’re getting paid, and you will end up getting paid. Second, write the book you want (or always wanted) to read.

Thomas described her own childhood, when the characters in the books she read didn’t look, act, or talk like her. In order to write the book she would have loved to have read when she was a young black girl growing up in a neighborhood that made the news only when something bad happened, Thomas had work on her manuscript every day as if that were her job.

In her evening talk, Thomas offered a third bit of writing advice: finish your projects. Thomas admitted how easy it is to move onto a new project when you grow tired or frustrated with a work-in-progress, but she advised against this, arguing that your characters–your ideas–deserve an ending.

Poster - Angie Thomas at FSU

I was struck by this image of abandoned projects being like orphaned children who deserve the dignity of a conclusion. I have plenty of half-finished projects languishing on my hard drive; at times, it feels like that is all I have from all these years of faithfully writing. Whenever I revisit the pieces of a half-completed project, I see its raw promise: what a great idea, and what a promising start! But I see, too, the obstacles and obligations that stood in the way: how difficult it is to write as if it were your paying job when it actually isn’t.

In her afternoon remarks, Thomas described the process she used to write The Hate U Give. She was working full-time at a church, and she’d spend her lunch hours typing her draft, hurriedly lowering her laptop screen whenever her reverend boss walking in, not wanting him to see the sometimes-salty language her protagonist, 16-year-old Starr Carter, uses.

Angie Thomas signs my copy of The Hate U Give.

Thomas’s account of how she wrote the novel reminded me of Virginia Woolf’s account in “A Room of One’s Own” of how Jane Austen wrote her novels in the family sitting room, hiding her handwritten pages under a sheet of blotting paper whenever family-members approached. Woolf argued that no writer–no woman–should have to hide her work or squeeze it into stolen seconds–she should have a room of her own to work without distraction or interruption.

Somehow, however, both Austen and Thomas managed to finish their novels despite frequent interruptions. You might even say the tight constraints of their writing schedules left them no room to procrastinate: like the former colleague of mine who finished her dissertation during the one afternoon a week her mother was able to tend her children, both Jane Austen and Angie Thomas made the most of the scant time they had.

Angie Thomas no longer has to work for a church; she now has that proverbial room of her own that Woolf described. But Thomas freely admitted it’s taking her longer to finish her second book than it did her first. Probably the most endearing thing in Thomas’s prepared speech and spontaneous remarks was something she said during the afternoon meet-and-greet, after offering her sincere advice to aspiring writers. Don’t listen to writing advice, she urged, including the advice she’d just given.

Snowdrops in snow

This morning when I walked Toivo to the place of pines and back, the sky was full of snowflakes. April snow never lasts; even the thin layer of slush that accumulated on lawns, car windshields, and in the shade was melted by afternoon. April snow is merely a reminder that winter will leave in its own good time: on its schedule, not yours.

Toppled

April snow is decorative: a filmy veil draped across an otherwise drab scene. The snowstorms we had in March were heavy enough to wreak havoc: everywhere the dog and I walk, we see toppled trees, downed limbs, and piles of sawdust that indicate not just storm damage, but storm cleanup. Those March storms dropped snow that shaped the landscape, flattening trees and downing power lines. April snow, on the other hand, is wispy and insubstantial: something that falls and vanishes soon after contact like the ghost of a ghost.

April snow is like the snow of childhood: a nostalgic thing that is lovely to look upon but requires no sacrifice. April snow melts before we have a chance to grow sick of it, a remembered thing even before it is gone.