September 2005


Does anyone else find a pink princess TV alarmingly disturbing? Presumably every little princess needs to stay connected to the World Outside via her own cable- and DVD-ready color television…but why must that TV be pink and purple, topped with a crown-like curlicue? Are TVs so manly and intimidating that little girls have to be gently coaxed into using them? Would a girl’s gender identity be irrevocably harmed if she were to watch a neutral-colored or (heaven forbid) blue television that didn’t perpetually reinforce the notion that Pink is for Princesses?

Although I’m far from being a Raging Feminist, I’ve never understood the segregation of boys’ and girls’ toys. As a child, I duly played with Barbie dolls…but I also loved playing with Matchbox cars. Barbies were fun because you could dress them, and toy cars were fun because you could drive them. What interested me about any given toy was its potential to be either moved or manipulated. On those rare occasions when I now find myself in a fast food restaurant, I’m often bemused by the gender-specific toys that are sometimes offered with children’s meals: inevitably the primly poseable girlie dolls look boring next to boyish dump trucks and rocket-ships with their bells, whistles, and other moveable parts.

Given the choice between a girls-only princess TV and a non-gender specific Mickey Mouse TV, why would parents choose the former over the latter? If we want our daughters to grow up as their brothers’ equals, why would we reinforce at an early age the notion that a girl can’t watch TV with the big boys? Are we so insecure about our daughters’ intelligence that we think they require products that have been dumbed-down to stereotypically girlish expectations? Spending hours in front of a TV is already mind-numbing enough; need we heighten the intellectual impact by suggesting that pink-obsessed princesses spend their time plugged in while waiting for their princes to come?

Lest you think that the cleaning crew at the Toledo Zoo is woefully negligent, letting piles of crap accumulate on bathroom counters, that’s a sculpture: a surprisingly lifelike facsimile of a heap of elephant scat complete with two (fake) dung beetles.

I’m all for taking advantage of every “teachable moment” that presents itself…and this isn’t the first educational restroom I’ve encountered. Although Henry David Thoreau never discussed in Walden what he did with his own dung–he presumably, like a bear, shat in the woods–the composting toilets at the Walden Reservation in Concord, MA have signs explaining their enviro-friendly approach to waste management. Still, a sign or two describing toilet technology is a far cry from an eye-grabbing pile of poop. Yes, I know that Mother Nature has her own approach to dealing with dung, but I wasn’t expecting to become privy to the details while visiting the privy.

In other (presumably unrelated) news…there’s shit, and then there’s sit. Dale has recently started a new comment-based meditation blog, 100 Days. If you’re interested in making a hundred-day commitment to establishing or strengthening your meditation practice, regardless of your spiritual affiliation or practice background, you’re welcome to join the virtual community that provides the site’s content: just click over and leave a comment. Although 100 Days has reached Day 14 of its lifecycle, anyone’s free to join at anytime: I joined the party yesterday after realizing that my own practice routine has recently gone, yes, down the shitter. In the face of the same ol’, same ol’, it’s high time I make an effort to get my shit together.

Yes, that’s Gary saying “Hi” from Flag City, where he’s settled in for a season or two. This picture goes to show a couple things. First, folks in Findlay, Ohio really do plant flag-colored flower beds in their front yards. Second, if you insist on jumping into the frame while a blogger is snapping a picture, you will get blogged, guaranteed.

And as for me, I’m safely returned to Keene after having weathered the 700-mile drive from Ohio to New Hampshire yesterday. Back in my cozy apartment, I feel as comfy as a nesting finch curled inside a basket-woven nest. (Click on the picture for an enlarged version.) As much as I enjoyed this weekend’s quick trip to see Gary in Findlay, including a day-trip to Toledo to visit the finches and other animals at the Toledo Zoo, it always feels great to come home. Although my frequent road-tripping seems to suggest otherwise, I really am a homebody at heart, always breathing an inner sigh of relief when I pull into my own driveway and wearily collapse into my own bed. Perhaps this is part of why I particularly like birds: no matter how far they might migrate, when nesting time comes, birds return to their home territory as predictable as clockwork.

Today’s task is to play catch-up from a weekend away. That means I have online discussion boards to check, email to read, and a pile of weekend mail to sort through. Later this morning, I’ll teach my classes at Keene State, and it will feel as though I never left, the stream of time closing around me as seamless as skin. No matter how often or how far you wander, home is always the same when you return, the usual chores and to-dos there to greet you. Today, I’ll teach and catch-up online; tomorrow, I’ll grade and do laundry. With so predictable a ritual, I might as well be a bird migrating and then nesting, nesting and then migrating. There’s no place like home, “home” being defined as much by the chores we do there as by anything else.

Today’s Photo Friday theme is Divine. I posted this pencam shot of a stained glass window panel from Boston’s Gargoyles Grotesques & Chimeras (aka “the Gargoyle Shop”) on my birthday back in January. No, I’m not egomaniacal enough to compare myself with Christ on my birthday; it just happens that I was born on the Christian feast of the epiphany, which I considered good enough reason to post a picture I particularly liked.

As much as I like to admire religious iconography (and yes, I find myself wandering churches whenever I travel even though I don’t frequent one at home), I seldom take photos inside of churches. Back when I was a graduate student at Boston College and used to spend an occasional moment meditating in the chapel in Saint Mary’s Hall, I remember a particularly obnoxious pair of tourists once coming in, talking loudly, and taking lots of photos of the place even though I was obviously sitting there “using” it. Ever since, I’ve been particularly hesitant to disturb the interior quiet of a church even if there aren’t worshippers around; somehow, simply imbibing the spiritual essence of an intentionally sacred place is enough, and taking photos seems excessive. Whether or not this self-imposed photo abstinence in churches makes sense, I had no qualms shooting a stained glass window inside an art and architectural shop.

I’ll be leaving later this morning to make a weekend trip to Ohio, so I’ll be out of the blog loop until Monday night. Until then, I hope your weekend is simply divine.

Intellectual inquiry begins with a burning question: some curiosity about the how and why of our world. At least that’s what I tell my writing and literature students. When you read, you should ask burning questions of the text, or A good research project starts with genuine curiosity–a burning question–about a particular topic.

With this intellectual philosophy in mind, I have this morning one burning question. Who or what damaged the fence surrounding the Keene State College tennis courts, and why was he, she, or it trying to get either in or out?

Had I known there were Bottle Gentians (Gentiana clausa) blooming on the banks of the Ashuelot River, I would have gone walking there sooner. As it was, the sight of new-to-me flowers in a riparian habitat I thought I knew was a delightful surprise: beauty out of the blue.

I don’t know what it is about having been alive on earth for 36 years that makes me think I know anything about the place. Bottle gentian is a surprise not only because I don’t remember seeing it along the Ashuelot last year or any other. Bottle gentian is a surprise because its pale blue flowers seem entirely inappropriate in a woods wending inevitably toward autumn: a springly flower in an undeniably summer season. The usual botanic succession features spring flowers in woods where trees haven’t begun to leaf and summer flowers in fields where sun is plenty. To see fresh blue flowers blooming over spring-green leaves in a woods where all other leaves are spent, insect-eaten, and relishing every last moment of deep green chlorophyll before losing it all is a surprise however you reckon it.

Although these pictures shout “spring,” the contradictory fact remains: Reggie and I were walking the Ashuelot because yesterday afternoon was too hot to walk a furry dog on downtown sidewalks. Two nights ago, I considered switching to flannel sheets, an autumnal nip bringing nighttime temperatures in the 40s. Last night, a thin cotton sheet was too much as I lay in bed wilting like a unwatered flower.

What will today, tomorrow bring? I’ve lived enough to know I don’t know, with certainty.

    If you’ve been following my Expository Writing students’ blogs, this week’s most popular posts are listed here. If you in the mood to surf, check out the linked student blogs on my teaching blog sidebar: yesterday I asked my students to post tentative proposals for the research projects they’ll be doing this semester, so out-of-the-blue feedback–especially along the lines of “here’s what I’d like to know about this topic”–is always appreciated.

2005-09-13a

Take it from one amazed onlooker: it takes a lot of stones, each roughly hand-sized, to make a labyrinth where once stood a lawn of grass.

2005-09-13b

Last November I blogged about the portable cloth labyrinth that visited Keene State College. After the tranquil experience of treading that winding path, I read with interest this past weekend about the new stone labyrinth that had been installed (and then dedicated on September 11th) behind the First Baptist Church here in Keene. First Baptist already has a Peace Park on its quiet grounds, so laying stones for a winding walkway to heaven seems to make sense, the practice of stopping to walk a labyrinth being an intrinsically calming, peace-inducing activity.

Naturally, walking an outdoor labyrinth is quite different from pacing the polished floors of a college Student Center. The sun was setting last night when I took my quick trip to Jerusalem and back, and the crickets were calling, having already taken up residence in the sheltering stones that mark the labyrinth’s twisting walkway.

2005-09-13c

I’ve written before about the difference between labyrinths and mazes: whereas you can get lost in a maze, there’s only one (albeit wending) way to the center of a labyrinth. The message of a labyrinth is to persevere–take the next step–keep going even if the way seems long or confusing. You will get there, and back, safely, a labyrinth seems to reassure. Take care with this next step, and peace will follow all the rest.

It seemed very natural to walk a labyrinth marked with stones of varying shapes, sizes, and colors. Just as it takes all types of people to make the Kingdom of God, it takes all types of stones to mark the way there and back. Here in the Granite State, we have plenty of rocks…and hikers here are used to following cairns–piles of stone–to find their way over mountaintops.

In the grass behind the First Baptist Church here in Keene, it’s as if one of those cairns has come undone, unraveling its myriad stones like a clew unwound. Following a line of stone, you find at the end that peace is indeed in every step, underfoot.

2005-09-13d

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