December 2004

When Gary and I went to Manhattan several weekends ago, we spent part of our first (cold) night in the city walking the neon-lit streets of Times Square. Although I’d visited Times Square before, I’d never wandered its streets at night on foot. Tonight while Gary and I celebrate the New Year safely ensconced here in humble little Keene (which does, nevertheless, drop a lit ball at midnight while marking the occasion with fireworks), over half a million alcohol-warmed revelers will crowd Times Square to greet the arrival of 2005 in properly boisterous fashion.

Although Gary’s Times Square photos are sharper and brighter than mine (and that’s sparing any comment about that first photo of Yours Truly hamming it up with a pizzeria mannequin, or Gary’s final shot of Annette and me leaving him in the dust), I cherish my snapshots for several reasons. Looking at these images, I remember how cold we were as we stood in front of the illuminated Prudential Financial marquee waiting for it to cycle through various advertisements culminating in a glowing shot of falling snowflakes. (Again, Gary’s camera captured that precise moment whereas mine did not.)

Standing slack-jawed with camera in hand like any gawking tourist, I didn’t notice all of the nuances of Times Square until I transferred my digipix to my laptop and reviewed them afterward in (warm) leisure. I chuckled to realize, for instance, that there is an Armed Forces Recruiting Station smack dab in the middle of the madness of Times Square, as this photo reveals:

And near the center of this last image, I love the red sign (visible as well as at the far left of the second photo, above, of a tourist-laden bicycle-rickshaw) that reads “No Stopping Anytime.”

At the heart of the City That Never Sleeps, Times Square is a perpetual motion machine, with taxis and tourists and recruiters and rickshaws buzzing and blurring without ceasing: moving, moving, moving. Tonight for New Year’s Eve, those of us in Manhattan or Keene or points elsewhere raise a glass to celebrate the fact that Father Time himself never stops for anyone. The ultimate rickshaw-driver, Time keeps pedaling, wheels perpetually turning, whether you’re smart enough to step out of the way or not. Wherever you and yours are ensconced, here’s hoping you’re warm, safe, and looking ahead as Time and his traffic honks and hurries into 2005.

As if photos of New York’s Central Park weren’t enough to make me miss Manhattan one week later, today I read a New Yorker article about Caleb Smith, a 34-year-old librarian who just completed a 31-month endeavor to walk every single street on the island of Manhattan.

One of the many reasons I love New York City is the fact it is imminently walkable. The first time I visited Manhattan was years ago when Chris went there on business and I explored the city while he was otherwise occupied during the workday. At first I was timid in my explorations, imagining my mother’s exhortations to “be careful” and “watch out for muggers” as I meekly entered what every cornfed Midwesterner imagines to be the national capital of urban violence: Central Park. What I found in Rudy Giuliani’s “zero tolerance” New York was a city that actually had (and I believe still has) a lower per capita homicide rate than my hometown of Columbus, Ohio. Figuring that mothers wouldn’t (willingly) walk babies in a warzone, I allowed myself to explore any portion of Central Park where I saw baby-strollers, a gauge that has subsequently led me true in solitary walks in New York, Boston, San Francisco, and Washington, DC.

I’m glad I got over my initial trepidation about New York’s Central Park since it is a delightful mecca for dog-walkers, joggers, birders, frisbee-tossers, roller-bladers, cyclists, photographers, wedding parties, and nearly every other sort of New York City denizen. If it happens in Manhattan, it happens in Central Park, so if you’re looking for a quintessential “New York moment,” the green heart of Manhattan is the place to go.

That New York is a city of walkers is apparent in the fact that on even a cold, gray December day, the Mall was peopled with pedestrians both on the move and chatting casually on benches, bundled. Even in what is probably the walking capital of the world, though, Caleb Smith’s successful systematic endeavor to walk all of Manhattan’s streets is remarkable. Sequestered in neighborhood enclaves, many New Yorkers are as oxymoronically parochial as they are cosmopolitan, frequenting a handful of familiar cafes, restaurants, and shops. During one trip to Manhattan, Chris and I stayed in Greenwich Village, so during one of my solo workday expeditions, I decided to walk straight up Fifth Avenue from the head of Washington Square Park to the base of Central Park and the Central Park Zoo, one of my favorite Manhattan destinations. Halfway up Fifth Avenue, I stopped at a card shop to buy stamps and postcards…and the shop clerk nearly had a heart attack when I mentioned that I was walking some 50 blocks from the Village to Midtown. “Fasten up tight,” he fretted as I put my wallet and change back in my walking bag, a response that summed up his attitude that venturing out of one’s known neighborhood on foot is akin to leaving one’s own country, or even the planet.

According to that New Yorker article, Caleb Smith survived only “one aborted mugging” during his Manhattan transverse: not bad when you consider the range of neighborhoods he explored. During my own explorations of presumably “funky” urban areas, I’ve found that (most) people are like bees: they won’t bother you if you don’t bother them. Although Caleb Smith’s website has re-ignited my desire to explore Manhattan on foot, the philosophy behind his quest can be applied to any city or town. Even Keene has streets I haven’t yet explored: unlike Caleb Smith, I haven’t yet sat down with a marker, a laminated map, and a plan to explore every inch of local pavement. This afternoon, though, the dog and I turned left where we usually turn right, and we subsequently walked down a short side-street I’d never yet explored. Caleb Smith might be Manhattan’s walking man, but I’m content (for now) to be Keene’s walking woman.

Mill canal

One of the wonderful things about living in Keene is being able to take day-trips to cool, funky places. I took the above picture of the mill canal in Harrisville, NH the other day during a frigid sight-seeing trip to Nelson, Harrisville, and Dublin, NH: one of my favorite short scenic drives. Today we’re off to Cambridge, MA, another scenic drive that culminates in the wonders of Harvard Square: lunch at the Greenhouse Cafe, chocolate at Burdick’s, browsing at Bob Slate’s stationers, a stroll through Mt. Auburn Cemetery…

I’m taking my camera, as always, so stay tuned for pictures…tomorrow. In the meantime, I’m day-tripping, so I’ll see y’all on the other side.

If you’re a regular reader of Inkmusings, you know that Gary recently posted a photo of the giant “Elf” ad in New York’s Times Square. Because I’m all about meta-blogging (or, more accurately, meta-blogger-ing), I didn’t take a picture of that same ad. Instead, I took a picture of Gary taking a picture. As much as blogging about oneself is fascinating in a narcissistic way, blogging about someone else is fascinating in a voyeuristic kind of way.

You have to admit that blog-reading has a hugely voyeuristic appeal. If you’ve ever felt the entirely human temptation to eavesdrop on a conversation or take a quick peek into a neighbor’s window, you know how tantalizingly delectable it can be to have someone actually invite you to peer into their private life. Although I’m not an honest-to-goodness voyeur–I don’t regularly peep into windows, nor will I rifle through your underwear drawer while visiting–I find that I typically read blogs out of a desire to know more about their authors: who is the person behind the words, what are they like, what sort of life do they lead?

So having another blogger come to visit over the holidays–and traveling to New York City with said blogger–has been an interesting experience, something like the blogging equivalent of VH1’s Behind the Music. Many times when I see an interesting photo (blogged or elsewhere), I wonder about the context of the photo: who took it, what were they thinking when they took it, and what was going on in the background? Any given photo shows a scene within a frame…and I invariably wonder about what was transpiring outside that frame.

Touring Manhattan with another digicam-wielding blogger was a double-delight. On the one hand, I didn’t have to squelch my own photo-snapping tendencies as I do when I walk around with normal (i.e. nonblogging) folks. On the other hand, I was able to see the context of another blogger’s blogging: I could see what sorts of things Gary chose to notice, what things he stopped for, what things he photographed. At times we both snapped photos of the same things; at other times I’d look in one direction while Gary looked (and took pictures) in another. Blogging is a kind of hunting, and hunting with a partner provides another set of scoping eyes. Big prey tends to attract everyone’s attention, but smaller prey can slip by unsuspected unless you have a team of hunters on the lookout.

Snapping pictures of posing tourists is easy; hunting a hunter is much more difficult. While walking the streets and museums of Manhattan with Gary last weekend, I repeatedly tried to snap candid photos of my partner-in-blogging, and I was repeatedly foiled. Like a schoolmarm with eyes in the back of her head, Gary seemingly knew (miraculously!) right when I was poised to snap the shutter on a particularly interesting shot…and he’d move, turn, or walk away right in time. Although posed photos have their place, I prefer the caught-in-the-moment variety; for all the times that Gary lent a hand when passing tourists asked one of us to snap their picture, we never asked anyone to return the favor. For all their eagerness to capture other people’s candid moments, photographers (I find) tend to be shy about being so captured. Asking a photographer to pose for a photo will likely garner a rolling-eyed smirk or a quick duck behind the closest available shielding object.

Although bloggers necessarily share part of themselves with their online readers known and unknown, each blogger defines his or her personal boundaries and comfort zones differently. Both Gary and I post our full names and photos on our blogs; my blog-buddy Kathleen, on the other hand, is careful to protect her identity online. Although I know Kathleen’s last name, the town where she lives, the place where she works, and other details she keeps veiled on her blog, I won’t share these since she herself keeps them top-secret, and I believe in protecting other people’s boundaries. I once posted a photo of Leslee photographing Kathleen photographing a row of port-o-potties, but that’s as much “inside dirt” I’ll dish (visually, at least) on Kathleen. While in Manhattan, Gary and I met up with Annette, but you won’t see her photo here: when Gary tried to snap a picture of Annette and me talking over dinner and drinks at the Empire State Building, Annette promptly hid behind a menu. Yep, I’ll take that as a declaration of boundaries, so although I’ll share that Annette was kind enough to bring chocolates and stylish enough to wear fabulous pointy-toed shoes, you won’t hear any of Annette’s martini-eased secrets from me.

Gary, on the other hand, is entirely on limits when it comes to my shutter-snapping ways. Although he shot a mild glare whenever he saw me pointing a camera his way, he never expressly said I couldn’t snap and then post pictures. Just as I posted pictures of Fred First when I met him back in November, I figure any blogger who posts pictures of himself and his family on his blog is hardly a shrinking violet: if you’re an online celebrity walking about in public, you should expect to face the attention of online fans and even paparazzi. And since I’ve already confessed my tendency to watch people’s reactions to the art in museums as much as I look at the art itself, Gary really should have known I’d be walking around the Cloisters taking pictures of him taking pictures of Medieval artworks. When you dare to blog your life, you should expect to face the consequences; when you agree to walk around undisguised with a fellow blogger…well, really, I can’t be held accountable for whatever might appear…

At the end of the trip, this was my favorite behind-the-blog photo: a sneaky snapshot taken amongst the pre-Christmas throngs at Rockefeller Center. Knowing Gary, he’ll groan when he sees this photo of himself with a candid expression and a much-needed winter hat: he didn’t pose for this photo, nor was he expecting me to take it as we nearly got separated near the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree. In my mind, though, this photo nicely sums up the mood of our trip: how many travel buddies do you have who could keep their cool in a massive crowd and muster a goofy grin when you unexpectedly aimed a camera at their mug?

Yeah, the danger of blogging a blogger is that they’ll blog you back: I never hid behind a menu, so Gary’s got a handful of pictures of me scoping the sights in New York that I suspect will be appearing soon at a blog near you. I’m prepared, though, to face the consequences: as long as bikini shots of Yours Truly don’t start showing up on the grocery check-out tabloids, I’m comfortable facing the press, so to speak. When you blog your life, you have to expect that people will want to learn (and yes, even see) more; at the end of the day, you have to decide what boundaries you feel comfortable with and then wield your digicam (or your menu) accordingly. Hit me with your best shot, G-man…and since I always carry my digicam with me, don’t forget to say “Cheese.”

    While I’m on the topic of blogging bloggers, let me offer a belated welcome to the blogosphere’s newest celebrity: Orion Eduard Cenkl, born to my former officemate, Dr. Pavel Cenkl, and his wife, Jennifer Schoen, on December 14th. You can follow Orion’s budding story on his blog, Orion Rising, which I’ve added to my sidebar list of “Personal Blogs.” Be sure to check out the photo montage of Orion’s newborn expressions as well as the wonderful picture of father and son at the bottom of this post. Congratulations, Pavel and Jen…how wonderful to watch Orion’s new life from afar.


I’m writing this post one day early because if there’s one thing that 364 days of blogging have taught me, it’s that sometimes you run out of ideas to write about…but you should blog anyway.

Yep, tomorrow (December 27, 2004) marks my one year Blog Birthday: it’s been 364 days since I sat in my empty office in an empty Parker Hall on the empty campus of Keene State College and posted my very first “secret” entry on Blogger. Since then I’ve mustered the nerve to tell folks I’m keeping a blog, started posting photos as well as text entries, moved from blogspot to three separate URLs, and now find myself, one year minus one day later, wondering what the heck I’ve learned from the experience.

I think I already stated the sum total of what I’ve learned from one year minus one day of blogging: some days you have no idea what to write, but you write anyway. The same goes for what blogging has taught me about taking and posting pictures: whether you consider yourself a photographer, and whether you think a particular scene or object is photogenic, take and post pictures anyway. In one year minus one day of blogging, I’ve learned that my idea of what is a “good” or “interesting” post or picture doesn’t necessarily relate to what others think is good or interesting. In some cases, posts that I felt were empty cop-outs–something slapped online in a lame attempt to post something on what felt like a nothing day–garnered more positive comments than posts I’d carefully crafted.

Steeple with skyscraper

This isn’t to say that I never can tell when I’ve written a good post. In recalling this first year minus a day that I’ve been blogging, I’ve determined five posts that I’d deem my favorites: entries where I clicked “save” feeling that I’d really, truly expressed what I was aiming for. In each case, commenters agreed: I’d struck a nerve. Although I’ve never hit a homerun, I have to believe that blogging is a bit like baseball. Sometimes if you keep swinging, you do the impossible: you hit a round ball squarely. And although I’ve never hit a homerun, I imagine I know something what that feels like. I imagine you can feel the reverberation of contact running through your bat and up your arms and into your spine: you feel the magical crack of contact, the thrill of that sweet spot. In a word, you know when you’ve swung and hit true; you know there’s no need to dash toward first base; you know you can stand back, jaw agape, and watch with the crowd, amazed, as that tiny white dot disappears into the heavens. This one’s going over the wall and outta the park: Ladies and Gentlemen, this one’s going, going, gone.

And so, in order of their appearance, here are my top five favorite blog entries from this past year, written without the benefit of performance-enhancing drugs (blogging without asterisks):


  • Sleeping with Strangers. It’s fitting, perhaps, that this first homerun favorite describes a bustrip to New York taken last winter, in January rather than December. I’ve referred to the poems of Walt Whitman several times in this past year of blogging, but this ode to coming and going is my favorite, with a provocative title that Papa Walt with all his physical karma would truly love.
  • On Photography. Ever since I started posting photos on Hoarded Ordinaries, I’ve struggled with the notion of photography: as an amateur shutterbug with no formal training, who do I think I am posting pictures online? I started posting pictures because far-flung readers expressed an interest in seeing my corner of the world; I continued posting pictures because I myself am a visual person, preferring to see as well as imagine the things I read about. And in “On Photography,” I think I finally (sort of) came to terms with my own philosophy of amateur shutterbugging.
  • One Art. I love Elizabeth Bishop’s poem of the same name, and as my “Sleeping with Strangers” post showed, sometimes an evocative poem can be a wonderful starting place for a blog-entry. Talking about one’s own death–either a life-threatening asthma attack or a passing suicidal impulse–is understandably difficult, but somehow the image of the ocean off California’s Point Reyes coupled with Bishop’s poem gave me the framework to tie together an admittedly rag-tag constellation of ideas.
  • My People. After all the whining I did about finishing my PhD dissertation, it only made sense to post a big self-congratulatory post (and picture) when I went through the formal ceremony that marked the end of that journey. As tempting as it was to post a brief “I graduated: woo-hoo!” entry, I wanted to post something that summed up the beginning, middle, and end of my doctoral journey: something that gave credit to where I come from as well as where I’ve now arrived. As much as graduating with the title of “Doctor” made me proud, strolling the streets of Boston’s North End and feeling a connection with my working class Italian (and Irish) heritage made me even prouder. No matter how far we go, we are our people, and this entry pointed toward that fact.
  • Separated. As much as getting my doctorate was a huge turning point, ending a nearly 13-year marriage was an even greater transition. Part of the reason I didn’t fully disclose this detail of my personal life until after-the-fact was I hadn’t informed everyone in my family of the split; more importantly, though, I wanted to wait until I felt ready to blog the break. When you make your life “public” on the blogosphere, sometimes you struggle with how and when and why to make certain details widely known, and this post marks my official “coming out” as a soon-to-be (and now officially) divorced woman. Several months after the split, the time was right to explain what had happened, and this combination of words and pictures felt like the perfect way to come clean.

Imposing facade

Looking back at my top five favorite entries, I realize they are all serious: I’ve not included any of my humorous or silly posts. I guess this says something about me as well as about my blogging: although I do occasionally post fun or funny stuff, the serious stuff is what feels “right” to me. One of the joys of blogging is the experimental nature of it all: one day you can try your hand at a serious post; the next you can experiment with a lighter, more zany voice. In a word, blogging provides a forum where you can let all of your personalities (if you happen to have several) out of the bag, each with a day and a spotlight all their own. One year minus one day later, it feels like a long, strange trip, this foray into blogging. One year minus one day later, I hope I’ll be swinging my blog-bat for many seasons to come.

The snow that fell here in Keene while Gary and I were in New York has long melted, leaving us here in southern New Hampshire with a brown Christmas. There’s a chance we’ll get snow tomorrow: the proverbial day late and dollar short. But our intrepid Santa Paws doesn’t care whether there’s snow or not: every day’s a good day if you’re a dog, the house is stocked with food, and you’ve just returned from an off-leash run by the river. Here in Keene we’ve been dreaming of a brown, furry Christmas, and we hope your holiday is equally warm and tail-waggin’.

Man Lamp

P is for Pampered

Since there is no new Photo Friday topic for Christmas Eve, I’m posting on last week’s topic, “Tacky.” In case you’re looking for last minute gift ideas for the woman who has everything, how about a handy Man Lamp? He’s bright, helpful, and conveniently responsive: the perfect gift for all your Single and Fabulous female friends.

High Maintenence (sic)

And if Mr. Bright doesn’t please, maybe the special lady in your life would appreciate a handbag that lets her Inner Bitch shine through. If a woman’s going to expect the world to revolve around her, she might as well advertise it up front. It’s all about clarity, baby: when a girl knows what she wants, what’s stopping her from wearing her heart on her sleeve or on her pocketbook, for that matter?

M is for Me!

Here’s hoping you and yours feel pampered, maintained, and tended-to this Christmas Eve, regardless of whether you’ve been Naughty or Nice, Tacky or No.

This past Saturday while Gary and I were in New York City, we went for the first time to the Cloisters.

Located in Manhattan’s Fort Tryon Park, the Cloisters is home to the Metropolitan Museum’s collection of Medieval art. In my usual perverse fashion, though, I walked the Cloisters this past weekend with an eye not so much for the art it houses but for the space it contains, the particular assortment of angle, light and shadow created by stairwell, doorway, and colonnade.

Medieval European sculptures, stained glass, and paintings, like the icons of the Eastern Orthodox tradition, are designed to serve as doorways between the mundane world of stone, glass, and pigment into a spiritual realm that transcends time and space. Through the act of looking, a spiritually minded observer can travel through light, angle, and perspective into a nether realm that defies temporal limitation.

Whether inside a museum or not, I love the look of abandoned doorways and forgotten windows, their particular slants of light beckoning with an irresistible allure. What lies behind and beyond? What souls have passed here in the past; what feet will tread here in the future?

In one of my favorite of her short essays, Annie Dillard describes a childhood memory of hiding from Santa Claus as he “stood in the doorway monstrous and bright” with “night over his shoulder, letting in all the cold air of the sky.” As a child, I too was terrified of Santa Claus and perhaps too of God, craving like all humans to be noticed but fearing to be seen, caught in my unavoidable imperfections.

Now more than ever, with Christmas looming like God’s eye over our shoulder, we grow mindful of what lies behind and beyond: after the hectic chaos of shopping and cooking and merrymaking, toward what end do we wend our days? Dillard concludes her musings about “God in the Doorway” by noting that “once in Israel love came to us incarnate, stood in the doorway between two worlds, and we were all afraid.”

These days when Love appears unannounced on our doorstep, will we be aware enough to heed or even flee? These days oblivion runs deep; these days, I fear we’ve shut our windows and barred our doors, leaving God to grow tired from knocking, his knuckles bruised and battered from our abundance of blind disbelief.

Temple of Dendur

I’ve always maintained that I was born in the wrong century, or at least born with an old soul. When other folks go to Manhattan, they shop and drink and party. When I go to Manhattan, I seek out spots of solitude, seeing the City That Never Sleeps as being an oddly fitting setting for contemplation.


Gary and I were in Manhattan for three days, and during that time I sought out three of my favorite quiet spots: the old (and old-fashioned) dioramas at the American Museum of Natural History, the wending pathways of Central Park, and several quiet spots at the Metropolitan Museum. When I refer to these as quiet spots, I don’t intend to suggest that these places are devoid of people: everywhere in New York is crowded the week before Christmas. Instead, these are places where I can pause and visit a place that it neither ancient nor modern, a place that carries spots of tranquility amidst the rushing throngs.

Bathed in light

In a city renowned for its shopping (and in a season devoted to said pursuit), I spent less than $30 on purchases this weekend, buying a $13 scarf to replace the one I lost and $15 for a set of NYC walking tour cards. In a city renowned for its night life, this weekend I imbibed something less than one beer over dinner with Annette, the winter-brisk lights of Times Square being ample intoxication for a simple soul.

Stories in stone

When you take a Country Mouse to the Big City, she spends her time seeking out things she can understand: solid stone and shadowy corners and spots of sunlight. I love the rush of bodies that is Manhattan…but sometimes being near the fire is as good as touching it. Mine is an old soul born in an inopportune time, yet sometimes in a solitary instance even an old soul comes home.

If this were Punxsutawney, PA instead of Keene, NH, if it were February 2nd instead of December 15th, and if I were a groundhog instead of a human, we’d definitely be in for six more weeks of winter.

For the first time in days, the sun is out and shining brightly here in Keene, and with the sun come the shadows. As I walked the dog around Central Square this morning, I tried to snap a picture of the sun-drenched facade of the Cheshire County Courthouse. Back in October, I posted up-close pictures of the Courthouse, but I’ve long wanted to get a photo of the Courthouse juxtaposed with the steeple of the Methodist church further down on Court Street. Today from the vantage point of the island of green at the eye of the Central Square rotary, I snapped this picture of the Courthouse and Methodist Church, but what I didn’t notice until I got home was the huge impressive tree shadow that spreads over the street like a spiderweb. If I were a groundhog in Pennsylvania (or a groundhog anywhere, for that matter), I’d be taken aback if I popped my head above ground to spy a shadow of such looming immensity.

We’re in for far more than six more weeks of winter here in the newly frigid Northeast. Winter solstice, the official start of winter, isn’t until December 21, but Mother Nature is running ahead of schedule. Yesterday our daytime temperatures dipped to 20-something degrees with a brisk wind that made it feel notably colder; this morning my hands ached with cold as I waited for my body to acclimate to walking in the 17-degree chill. These temperatures are merely chilly by New Hampshire standards: 17 degrees feels like bikini weather compared to that day last February when the temperature hit 14 below. But since temperature is a relative phenomenon, a new chill feels colder than an accustomed freeze: it just might take my body until December 21st to acclimate to winter weather.

Winter solstice is the day when the northern hemisphere is tilted the farthest from the sun: the shortest day of the year. But because winter solstice is also the day when the sun shines at the greatest slant, it’s also the day of the longest shadows, a phenomenon marked at megalithic sites such as Stonehenge, Newgrange, and even New Hampshire’s own Mystery Hill.

Without traveling to England, Ireland, or even Pennsylvania, though, I can tell you what’s afoot: the sun is low, the shadows are long, and the wind is cool and getting colder. Like Bob Dylan said, you don’t need a weather man to know which way the wind blows. Here in New Hampshire, the wind is blowing in winter, long months of it: the shadows are long and, for the next few days at least, growing.

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