August 2009


Raindrops on leaf

I’m almost embarrassed to admit how much I enjoy walking Reggie in the rain. It’s cool today, and rainy–a steady, deliberate soaker that promises to continue all day. There’s nothing violent in today’s rain–it’s not really a downpour, just methodical and almost slow: a storm that is marshaling its energy for the long haul, patient.

I didn’t get drenched on today’s dog-walk; no cars zoomed by, spraying a wall of water from curbside puddles. Instead, Reggie and I simply walked, he enjoying the fresh smells revealed only by wetness, and me enjoying today’s coolness after so many days of hot humidity.

There are far greater tragedies than having to walk the dog in the rain.

Borrowed a few paragraphs from this morning’s journal-entry for today’s blog-post, having started today’s entry with this morning’s Tweet, as is my practice. Today’s photo comes from a rainy day in July: a dip into my photo-archives.

Sunflower with bee

On Tuesday night, I submitted my last batch of online grades for the summer, and yesterday afternoon, I sent my fall semester syllabi to be photocopied for next week. This means I’m pretty much off between now and Monday morning, when my next online term begins, with my first face-to-face classes in Keene starting on Tuesday.

Hibiscus closeup

When you’re a moonlighting adjunct, it’s rare to have a weekend (much less a long weekend) when you’re not teaching somewhere. Even during the weeks between online terms, there’s always grading from last term or course-prep for next term. And even during the summer months when you’re not teaching your face-to-face students, you’re still planning and prepping: already, I’m thinking ahead to spring term, when I’ll be teaching two sections of a new-to-me class as well as redesigning a class I’ve taught (and redesigned) countless times. When you’re a teacher who gives a damn about your teaching, there’s always something that needs tweaking and re-thinking.

In the meantime, yesterday afternoon I went for a long-overdue haircut, and last night I did some long-overdue laptop maintenance, installing software updates, backing-up documents, and doing a thorough virus and adware scan: the kind of things most folks do when they have a free weekend. And today, I’m turning my laptop OFF and am headed out into a cool and sunny day: the last few days of the “hoorah” called summer. I’ll see you on the flipside.

Partly cloudy

We thought for sure the heavens would crack open with thunderstorms as we sat in Gillette Stadium watching the New England Revolution last night…and with the steamy weather we had all last week, I can’t say I would have minded. Instead, the rain held off and we were treated to a lovely panorama of partly cloudy sky.

Leafy

Today’s Photo Friday theme is School, so here is an image of the Elliot Center at Keene State College, which I’d blogged this time last year.

Line 'em up

Today I’ve been busy with my online classes, responding to Discussion Board posts and grading a batch of student essays. This weekend, I’ll work on my fall semester syllabi for Keene State, once again taking the long view as I plan the path for another academic year. It’s been hot (in the ’90s) and humid this week, so it’s hard to believe that fall semester is right around the corner, but I know better than to believe the thermometer. The empty seats I photographed in Keene State’s Morrison Hall aren’t going to stay empty for long, so I’d better be prepared for the upcoming influx of students. Ready or not, here they come.

Self portrait

My subconscious apparently is well aware that back-to-school time is rapidly approaching, as I’ve started to have teaching nightmares (again). Every summer as the new academic year approaches, I start getting nervous (again) about teaching: will I be prepared, and will I be able to handle the rigors of an always-daunting course-load?

Window peeping

With a week and a half between now and my first day of face-to-face classes, it’s still too early for daytime thoughts of crashing and burning, and I won’t get that butterfly feeling until the morning of my first class. But in the meantime, my subconscious mind has been stewing, providing two consecutive nights of teaching dreams.

In one dream, I was responsible for teaching meditation to three connecting classrooms of boisterous students, a task that literally ran me ragged as I raced from room to room shouting instructions at the top of my lungs to my talkative, distracted students. In last night’s dream, a shortage of classroom space meant I’d been assigned to teach at Fenway Park, where my delighted students had excellent seats but where I had to keep my back to the game as I tried to keep the attention of my (again) distracted students.

Appreciators

I’ve been teaching online classes all summer, so these dreams haven’t arisen because I’m out of practice. Instead, these dreams point to the difference between teaching online and teaching face-to-face. In my online classes, I don’t need to shout, and I don’t have to compete with other distractions: my students either do their work, or they don’t. In a face-to-face class, though, there are all those eyes staring at you: all those blank faces reflecting back your own insecurities. In the face of all those faces, you have to get your students’ attention, and you have to keep it. You have to wrestle with short attention spans, you have to keep students awake, and you have to keep students engaged in material they aren’t necessarily interested in.

It’s enough to give anyone nightmares just thinking about it.

Click here for a photo-set of images from Ugo Rondinone’s Clockwork for Oracles at the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston. If you want to see this same work tripped-out under the dreamlike influence of a kaleidoscopic lens, click here. Enjoy!

Bee backlog

With all the late summer flowers that are blooming these days, sometimes a busy bee has to call in for back-up.

Click here for a photo-set of Rose of Sharon flowers, with and without bees.

Ben & Jerry's "Flipped" ad

Last night on my way to practice at the Cambridge Zen Center, I took the T to Harvard Square, ostensibly to go notebook- and pen-shopping at Bob Slate. In reality, though, I simply wanted to lose myself in an anonymous throng of fellow pedestrians, as is possible in a city like Cambridge. (As true as this Ben & Jerry’s ad is when it comes to the pace of passing pedestrians, it gets its geography wrong. The throngs passing through the Harvard Square T station are largely composed of Cantabrigians, not Bostonians. So much for market research.)

Breathe - it's the only freedom you have left

Before I left for Cambridge yesterday, I had duly planned to blog, as I do most days: one of the repeating items on each day’s to-do list, in fact, is “blog.” But as I did this time last summer, this past week I’ve felt a bit of the blog-blahs. In the past, I’ve gone walking around Harvard Square when I’ve felt my Muse was hibernating; sometimes a simple change of scenery helps you see things in a new, more creative way. Or sometimes not. One of the things about both writing and meditation practice, I’ve learned, is you can’t generalize based on past experiences. Something that worked last week, last month, or last year might not work the same way if you try it again. The standard investment advice of “your results may vary” applies not only when you compare yourself with others but also when you compare your current situation with whatever happened previously. That was then, and this is now.

Art is everywhere

And yet, we continue to make this sort of comparison because comparing seems to be a deeply entrenched aspect of human nature. One of the recurring themes I encounter in the questions I field as a Senior Dharma Teacher giving consulting interviews at the Zen Center, in fact, involves this sort of comparison: “I read somewhere that you’re supposed to do/feel/experience X when you meditate, but when I meditate, I do/feel/experience Y. Is this/am I normal?” The standard answer to the “is this/am I normal” question is YES. The books say “X,” but your results may vary. It’s not that the books are wrong, and it’s not that your experience is wrong: it’s that the Present Moment hardly ever looks how you, the books, or anyone else expected.

Harvard Square kiosk

Finding yourself, again, in a situation that Isn’t What You Expected, now what? The openness of this “now what?” is the space where the Present Moment unfurls, flowers, and bears fruit. But what unfurls, flowers, and fruits today probably won’t be identical to what you’ve grown used to. What two leaves, flowers, or fruits are identical? The beauty of any walk through Cambridge or any other city–the beauty of any stroll among fast-paced Cantabrigians, Bostonians, or others–is that you never know quite what to expect. If you knew exactly what pen or notebook to buy, what need would there be for shopping? If you knew exactly what you want to blog today, tomorrow, or the next day, what room would there be for exploration, serendipity, and surprise?

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