Self portrait with paper doves

On Saturday as I approached the Museum of Fine Arts, I saw a young couple walking ahead of me. It’s not unusual to see young couples walking in Boston, but what caught my eye was the young woman’s pink, pointy-eared hat. Although I’d read about the Pussyhat Project and knew knitters across the country have been making pink hats for the Women’s Marches that will take place across the nation next Saturday, I’d never seen a real live pussyhat in the wild.

Lime Green Icicle Tower

As I watched the couple ascend the stairs to the Museum’s Fenway entrance, I knew what I had to do. Although my own hat is black and store-bought, I’m planning to attend next week’s Boston Women’s March for America, and I realized it was time to come out as a Pussyhat-in-Hiding. Since my museum membership allows me one guest, I approached the couple as they stood in line for tickets, complimenting the woman on her hat and offering to get her into the Museum for free.

Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.

While her boyfriend bought his ticket, “N” and I chatted about next weekend’s march: she is knitting pussyhats to give away to marchers, and I’m looking forward to marching even though I don’t have a pussyhat to wear. You can see, I suspect, where this is going. By the time her boyfriend had bought his ticket, “N” promised to mail me one of her knitted hats, and I gave her my email address to arrange logistics. None of this would have happened, of course, if “N” weren’t wearing a pink knitted hat with cat ears that inspired me to approach her. The simple act of seeing someone in a distinctive (and politically significant) hat inspired me to reach out rather than quietly minding my own business.

Lime Green Icicle Tower

There’s nothing stopping any of us from walking up to a stranger and doing something kind: inviting “N” to be my Museum guest cost nothing but the nerve to approach her. And yet, I would have never dreamed of walking up to a stranger before November. Suddenly, the election of a man who promised to Make America Hate Again makes simple acts of kindness feel subversive and powerful, a revolution powered by knitting needles and nice gestures.

Inside the Museum, in the sun-drenched enclosed courtyard that connects the building’s old and new wings, there are artworks made by local schoolchildren in honor of Martin Luther King Day. The most eye-catching of these are quilts bearing quotations from King, each letter whimsically decorated: a chorus of colors.

No person has the right to rain on your dreams

These quotes from King seem particularly relevant in today’s political climate, when the voices of hate have grown loud and it’s easy to give up hope. “I have decided to stick with love,” one quilt proclaims. “Hate is too great a burden to bear.” I’ll confess to carrying more anger than I’d like these past few weeks, unable to fathom how some voters could choose a mean-spirited, hot-headed bully over a woman with a lifetime of experience. But this, indeed, is a burden too great to bear: as King himself exhorted, “We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.

Faith is taking the first step even when you don't see the whole staircase

So how do we move forward, regardless of the burdens we carry? Dr. King said “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter,” so what are these things? From where I sit, kindness matters, and so does compassion. Truth matters, even if some don’t want to hear it. Lending a helping hand matters, as does protecting the sick and vulnerable. Love matters, and random acts of kindness, and both solidarity and sisterhood. So next Saturday in Boston and beyond, women and men of all colors and stripes will march together for what matters: a chorus of colors, beautiful and harmonious.


Glass gallery door

Today I went to the Museum of Fine Arts: a belated birthday treat. I went to the Museum to see an exhibit of paintings by William Merritt Chase but found more interesting an exhibit on Pablo Picasso and Jackson Pollock that I wandered into by chance. That is the serendipitous nature of museums: given the abundance of riches at every turn, you can wander until you find something that speaks to you.

Pollock and Picasso

One of the things I like to do at Museums is hunt for images. This means I roam from gallery to gallery looking rather than reading: I just wander, looking at everything, not just the art. I look at other museum goers, shadows on the floor, and reflections on the wall. You might say I’m interested in observing the entire museum space: not just the art on the walls, but the habitat the art lives in. While other museum patrons are snapping photos of their favorite paintings, I’m looking for interesting views through doorways and down corridors. It’s not that I’m not interested in looking at art, but I find museum spaces to be equally interesting.

Picasso and Pollock

You could argue that my way of cruising through museums is intrinsically predatory: I’m perpetually on the lookout for images I can use. Instead of seeing paintings and sculptures as finished artifacts, I see them as stimuli. An interesting image scratches an inner creative itch. When I see interesting paintings, drawings, or sculptures, they stimulate the part of my brain that wants to think and make connections. Going to a museum is a way to feed my Inner Artist, so I circle the galleries like a vulture scavenging shapes and shadows. If I find and photograph enough interesting images, my full memory card can last me for weeks: a restocking of inspiration.

Geometric

I didn’t go to the Museum of Fine Arts at all last year: not for my birthday, and not any other time. It’s not surprising, then, that I spent the majority of last year feeling like I had nothing to write about, because I didn’t. For me, writing often starts with looking, and there’s no better place to exercise your looking-muscle than at a well-stocked museum. When I haven’t been to a museum for a while, my spirit grows lean and hungry, craving a visual feast.

My birthday trips to the MFA take me away, if only for an afternoon, to a place rich with imagery and rife with inspiration. It’s a place we all should visit more often.

RIP Prince

Without much hoopla, Hoarded Ordinaries has made the awkward transition from tween to teen:  it’s been a little over thirteen years since I published my first blog post on December 27, 2003. Because my blog anniversary happens so close to the New Year, I typically use the occasion to post some sort of retrospect on the previous year in blogging. So in honor of Hoarded Ordinaries’ thirteenth birthday, here are thirteen posts from 2016.

End white supremacy

Many people were happy to see 2016 go, given its tumultuous conflicts, violent outbreaks, and tragic losses. When I look back on 2016 through the lens of my blog, I see frequent reminders of loss and heartbreak. I blogged relatively little in 2016, averaging less than a handful of posts most months. (In September, I only posted once, which is unusual for me.) One of my resolutions for 2017 is to blog more, and considering I posted only three entries in January 2016, I’m already on-track to blog more this January than last, at least.

Bunny enjoys her lap-time

Last year began with J and me putting Bunny the cat to sleep, a sad event I chronicled in “Traveling Mercies.” In May, we put another of our cats, Crash, to sleep, and I described the now-too-familiar experience of coming home to a too-big, too-empty house in “His ninth life.” As if euthanizing two cats weren’t enough, in October we put our elderly beagle to sleep after a sudden seizure led to a diagnosis of metastatic cancer. I never got around to blogging Melony’s death: I never found (and still don’t have) words to describe the sudden, beagle-sized hole in our household.

Float reflections

Many of the tragedies of 2016 transcended the purely personal. In “A world full of swans,” I responded to the Orlando nightclub shootings, and in “The cries of the world,” I addressed gun violence by and against police. The election of Donald Trump was a development I’m still reeling from, and I described my reaction in a post titled “Aftermath.”

Stickwork

Not everything in 2016 was drear and disappointing. In August, I enjoyed a trip to the Brookline birthplace of John F. Kennedy, which I blogged in “The house on Beals Street.” In October, I enjoyed a trip to the Tower Hill Botanic Garden to see a stickwork installation by Patrick Doughtery, which I described in “Where the wild things are.”

Journal pages

Although I didn’t write much in 2016, I did meet my goal of reading (more than) 50 books, which I recorded on Goodreads. Of the books I read in 2016, I particularly enjoyed Alexander Masters’ A Life Discarded, which I discussed in “Trusting your days to the page“; Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me, which I mentioned in a September post titled “Between the book and me“; and Kerry Egan’s On Living, which I reviewed in a December entry of the same name.

RIP Bowie

Many of my blog entries aren’t easily categorized: one of the things I love most about blogging, in fact, is its random and ragtag nature. In a February post titled “As the moment unfolds,” for example, I describe the flying-by-the-seat-of-your-pants feeling I have whenever I teach a new course for the first time, and in “A grace freely given,” I describe the feeling of abundance that comes from leaving a book in a Little Free Library. Finally, in “Keep your options open,” I describe the spacious, free-fall feeling that comes in the summer when I have time to write but haven’t yet defined a topic.

Wake up and do good

For thirteen years, Hoarded Ordinaries has been a place where I’ve explored the creative abundance of writing by the seat of my pants, with or without a clearly defined topic. Here’s to another year of posts both random and ragtag.

Dome and ball

Last week, in the lull between Christmas and New Year’s, J and I took a day-trip to Springfield, Massachusetts, where we visited the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. Although many people think of baseball as being America’s pastime, I think basketball more truly deserves that honor. Invented in 1891 by James Naismith, a gym teacher who wanted an indoor game that could keep students at the YMCA Training School in Springfield occupied on rainy days, basketball is played by men and women of all ages across the United States and beyond. With nothing more than a peach basket, soccer ball, and thirteen simple rules, Naismith created a game with a now-global appeal.

James Naismith with his peach basket

On the drive to Springfield, J and I listed the reasons why basketball is our favorite sport. Basketball is interesting to watch at every level: whether you’re watching professional athletes in the NBA and WBNA, college amateurs, or schoolkids shooting one-on-one on the local playground, basketball is an engaging game. It’s an accessible sport: most schools and neighborhood playgrounds have basketball hoops, and if you live far from these, it’s easy to put a hoop on your garage or in your driveway. You can play basketball as part of a team, you can play one-on-one, or you can shoot hoops by yourself: all you need, really, is a ball and basket. And whereas other sports privilege particular body types, basketball players come in various shapes and sizes, from tall and skinny centers to short and speedy guards.

Bob Cousey can fly!

When I watch football or hockey, I can’t really imagine what it would be like to play those sports: I’m too small for the former and too klutzy for the latter. But even somebody short like me can learn the rudiments of shooting, passing, and dribbling: one of the pleasures of watching the NBA, in fact, is the glee of knowing even I can shoot free-throws better than some of the pros. Basketball is a team sport that leaves ample room for individual excellence, so there’s a certain joy that comes from watching a player who is on fire and in the zone, their shots tracing perfect trajectories and their footwork transcending the bounds of mere gravity.

In motion

Although the “Hoop Hall” in Springfield preserves objects reflecting the history and evolution of the game and its outstanding players, what I found most endearing was the basketball court on its first floor. While J and I started our visit on the third floor and worked our way down, admiring artifacts such as the game’s first shot clock and lots of enormous shoes worn by the pros, local children played on the court below us, shooting and dribbling and perfecting a game that for them isn’t about history; it’s a piece of the here and now.

Click here for more photos from the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Massachusetts. Enjoy!

Celtics' Big Three with random Bruins fans

Yesterday, J and I went to an afternoon Bruins game, but instead of taking scores of photos of the action on the ice, I took one photo in the concourse during intermission. Ever since the TD Garden added larger-than-life murals to its concourse walls, I’ve wanted to photograph the one that shows Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, and Kevin Garnett in their glory days as the Celtics’ Big Three.  Yesterday, I walked by that mural right when the passing crowds parted, and I was able to snap a quick shot of a half dozen Bruins fans standing in front of the Big Three. With one photo, I captured a memory of yesterday’s Bruins game even though that photo doesn’t show any hockey: score.

Self portrait with discarded mirror

This year I’ve decided to pursue another 365-day photo challenge. In 2017, I’m setting a goal of taking and posting to Flickr at least one photo every day–365 photos in 365 days–just as I did in 2013 and 2015. I’m already in the habit of taking lots of photos, but I tend to take those photos in spurts: some days I take lots, and some days I take none. When I challenge myself to take and share a photo a day for an entire year, though, I can’t zone out for days and then make up for lost time when I feel inspired. Instead, I have to be on-the-lookout for interesting images every single day.

Newton Centre menorah

The 365-day photo challenge provides an interesting nudge to take lots of pictures: whether you feel inspired or not, you have to photograph and share something, which means you start treating your mundane life as a kind of visual scavenger hunt. But even more interesting is the way the 365-day photo challenge forces you to encapsulate a single day into a single, quintessential picture. Given all the things you did (and all the photos you took) on a given day, which one will you select as That Day’s photo?

Conspiring mannequins

When anyone else looks at one of my finished 365-day challenges, they see a bunch of random, unrelated photos. When I look at a year’s worth of photos I’ve taken, however, I’m reminded of the story behind each one. There are photos I love, photos I think are adequate but a bit boring, and photos I took out of sheer desperation. Viewed en masse, these images capture the incremental and random nature of our lives. Some days are interesting and others boring, but all days pass just the same.

Chocolate penguins

Ultimately, the 365-day photo challenge is a kind of spiritual practice, as it forces me to make an intentional commitment pay attention to the world around me every single day. Last year, I didn’t take as many photos as I normally do, and I also spent less time than usual writing and blogging. This year, I want to kick these creative pursuits into gear, and I know from past experience that the 365-day photo challenge is a gimmick so silly, it somehow works.

Of the photos illustrating today’s post, I took the first two yesterday and the rest today. The final photo of two L.A. Burdick chocolate penguins is today’s photo, and over the course of the year, I’ll be posting 364 more to this photo set. Enjoy, and happy New Year!

Faces

Fridays are always busy:  a day devoted to an assortment of teaching tasks and household errands.  By the time I’ve picked up a Friday night pizza and unpacked the week’s groceries, it’s almost time for evening chores:  too late to do any serious work, but too early to collapse into a end-of-week coma on the couch.

Face

Sometimes I use these spare minutes to read; too often, I fritter them away online, catching up with Breaking News that seems genuinely intent on breaking us all.  I’d be much better served, I think, to turn off the news, turn on some music, and spent a spare half hour writing, stitching together some sort of sense from the tag ends of days.

Twas the night before Christmas

I recently finished reading On Living, Kerry Egan’s memoir of her work as a hospice chaplain. I took my time reading the book: like dark chocolate or strong medicine, On Living is best in small, savored doses. Each chapter describes patients Egan has met over the years and the lessons she’s gained from those encounters, and these seemingly simple accounts are surprisingly powerful.

Going places

Early in the book, Egan struggles to describe her job to a woman at a party who can’t quite understand what it is, exactly, that hospice chaplains do. I suppose the word “chaplain” evokes images that might not match the reality of the person standing next to you at a party: Egan isn’t a priest, nun, or pastor, and her book isn’t full of the God-talk and conventional piety you might expect from clergy. But that, actually, is what makes the book so powerful.

Caroling

Egan doesn’t spend much time preaching, praying, or enacting overtly religious rituals at the bedsides of dying patients; instead, she describes herself as showing up and spending lots of time listening. Egan calls this endeavor “being present,” and it seems a deceptively simple thing: surely anyone with a backside to sit on and a mouth that closes is equipped to sit and listen, but of course it isn’t that easy.

Ice cream shop

Judging from the stories Egan tells, a chaplain’s most powerful skills are the abilities to listen, empathize, and refrain from casting judgement. A good chaplain, Egan suggests, suspends her desire to jump in and fix the situations she encounters. Better than even the best advice and encouragement is a well-timed nod or genuine question that reflects a patient back upon her own lived experience: gestures that say “Tell me more” rather than “Let me tell you how it is.”

Bearing gifts

This practice of “being present,” in other words, is amazingly difficult exactly because it is unbelievably simple. “This is a real job,” Egan’s fellow party-goer asks her with a mix of hostility and incredulity, “that people go to graduate school for?” This question points to the paradox of pastoral care: the things that seem the simplest to do are actually the most difficult, many friends and family members avoiding awkward visits to the hospital or nursing home exactly because they don’t know how to act, what to do, or what to say when faced with a person who is terminally ill.

Carolers

I’m not a hospice chaplain, but I found myself nodding as I read Egan’s book, her experience at the bedside of dying patients ringing true with my experience giving consulting interviews as a Senior Dharma Teacher. When I started giving interviews, a Zen Master friend gave me a bit of advice that has proven to be invaluable. Giving consulting interviews, he explained, isn’t about answering questions; it’s about sharing an experience.

Photo opportunity

In the years I’ve been giving interviews, I’ve decided he’s exactly right on that point. The folks who come into the Zen Center interview room aren’t asking for advice; instead, they want the reassurance of knowing they aren’t alone in whatever challenge they face. Faced with a receptive listener who has reined in her desire to jump in and fix their life situation, the folks who come talk to me usually come to their own clarity and conclusions. All I do by being present is give them permission to listen to their own gut.

Band

Being a hospice chaplain, Egan explains, isn’t about being a storyteller; it’s about being a story holder. As people face the end of their lives, they are in a unique position to look back and reflect, and sometimes what they want is nothing more than a nonjudgmental person to sit quietly alongside them, ready to cherish whatever stories they want to share. On Living is a repository of these stories, and that is what makes it priceless.

DISCLOSURE: I received a free copy of On Living through a Goodreads giveaway.