October 2010

Evil eye

Today is Halloween and the last day of October, which means we’re on the brink of November’s National Blog Posting Month: that time of year when many bloggers make a public commitment to post something every day for the month of November. Once again this year, I’m planning to participate in NaBloPoMo, a commitment that can seem even scarier than the creepiest Halloween decor.

Floating ghoul with shadow

I participated in NaBloPoMo in 2008 and 2009, and in both cases I appreciated the discipline of making a conscious commitment to post something every day. Most months, I blog when I’m able, but once a year, it feels good to shift my blog-practice into overdrive. Making a commitment to post every day is an act of faith, a sign that you really do believe your mind is an abundant source of insight and inspiration even on days when you feel like you don’t have anything to say, much less time to say it. Making a commitment to post every day is a way of making a once-a-year declaration that writing isn’t something you do when you have enough time; it’s something you do every day, regardless.

November is a busy month for college professors–as I type these words, I have three stacks of student essay drafts to read and two online classes’ worth of end-term grading to tackle–so it’s a good time to make an arbitrary commitment to my own writing. November isn’t any more special than any other month, but NaBloPoMo forces me to act as if it were, finding something interesting to say and show even on days when the daily grind has me ground down. Here’s hoping I can keep blogging throughout the busy days of November without losing my head.


Click here for more information about National Blog Posting Month, a slightly more tame version of the National Novel Writing Month that sends so many writers to their keyboards in November.

Snowflake in his pillow fort

Nothing says “nap” like a fluffy white cat curled behind fluffy white pillows…unless it’s a cuddly orange cat buried in laundry.

Crash "helps" sort laundry

This is my contribution to today’s Photo Friday theme, Fluffy.

Fallen leaves and leaf-prints

Yesterday was unseasonably warm and humid, even as it was gray and drizzly: a thick, steamy day. In the morning I wore a lightweight raincoat when I took Reggie on his morning walk, and I was uncomfortably warm by the time we got home. Last night, after dark, I walked Reggie once more around the block, and I was comfortable in a T-shirt, yoga pants, and sandals, as if it were still summer.

Oak leaves and sky

On Tuesday afternoon, several of my Creative Nonfiction students mentioned how they dislike the word “moist,” as it evokes for them the damp, sticky feeling of sweaty flesh. For me, “moist” conjures images of cake–a tasty thought–but the word “clammy” makes my skin crawl with its suggestion of pale, soft flesh glistened over with damp.

Wednesday’s unseasonal weather was steamy, sultry, and unsettling. October drizzle is not uncommon, but those days are usually chilly; October warmth is not unheard of, but those days are usually sunny and dry. Warm, moist October days seem downright unnatural, as appealing as a clammy handshake in a crowded elevator.

Since I took no pictures on yesterday’s damp morning walk, today’s images come from a dryer dog-walk several weeks ago.

Restored bank teller windows

This is a detail from the lobby of the Courtyard San Diego Downtown, which is where J and I stayed on our honeymoon. Although we chose this hotel primarily because of its location, we were pleasantly surprised when we learned it is housed in the 1920s San Diego Trust and Savings building, which was beautifully restored when the bank was re-purposed as a hotel.

We never made it to the basement to explore the hotel’s conference rooms, which are housed in the bank’s old vaults. But simply hanging around the first floor lobby made us feel like a million bucks.

This is my contribution to today’s Photo Friday theme, Architecture.

Fall foliage with contrails

When you spend your weekdays in New Hampshire, you don’t have to drive for miles to see beautiful fall scenery; you just have to wake up and walk the dog.

Click here for the rest of my photos from yesterday’s morning dog-walk at Goose Pond. Enjoy!

Leaf and imprint

Every semester, I labor under the delusion that someday, eventually, I’ll not only catch up with work, I’ll even get ahead. Every semester, I chase my own tail, and every semester, I eventually realize (not a moment too soon) that “catching up” and “getting ahead” are illusions.

Dried hydrangea

This week once again I find myself apologizing for taking longer than I’d planned (as always!) to grade student papers and comment on student drafts. Teaching for two different institutions is always a juggling act: while you’re catching up with one set of commitments, you’re falling behind with another. At this time of the semester, I often remember my mom once saying that being a mother means that no matter how hard you try to please your children, spouse, and other family members, someone is always displeased with you. Being a moonlighting adjunct feels a bit similar. No matter how much you scurry to keep on top of your to-do list, there’s always something else to do. Working too hard is never enough. And yet in the face of the Endless To-Do List, I still harbor the delusion that someday, eventually, I’ll be Caught Up.

Neighborhood redtail

This weekend I had a proverbial moment of clarity when I realized the mantra that always got me through my busy undergraduate and grad-school semesters–“Everything always gets done, eventually”–is incomplete. Yes, everything always gets done…but it never gets done a moment too soon. The illusion that keeps me frantically scurrying through a too-busy semester isn’t the hope of getting things done in the nick of time, as always seems to happen. The illusion that keeps me frantically scurrying through too-busy days is the vain hope that if I get things done faster, then I’ll have a moment’s respite. If I could not just finish my work but get ahead, then I could catch a breather.

It’s a vain hope: that’s what I realized this weekend. I always get everything done, eventually…but I never get it done a moment too soon. I’m always, perpetually, inevitably racing down to the wire, grading papers and prepping classes and basically showing up at my life at the last minute, feeling overdue and under-prepared. It’s not how I like to see myself, rushing in and looking flustered; if I had my druthers, I’d be caught up, on top of things, and in perfect control. Instead, the Universe seems to have a different idea, perversely refusing all my efforts to win the proverbial race with time.

Pumpkin cannibalism

This past weekend was the 20th annual Keene Pumpkin Festival, where you can see carved jack-o-lanterns of all shapes, sizes, and styles. Given all the cute, pretty, and aesthetically pleasing pumpkins on display, it’s always difficult to choose a favorite…but I always seem to gravitate toward those pumpkins that are just a little bit warped.

In addition to the act of pumpkin cannibalism depicted above, for example, J and I spotted a random act of pumpkin violence…

Random act of violence

…along with one pumpkin-person who looked like he’d been in a particularly nasty barroom brawl.

You should see the other guy!

Jack-o-lanterns with odd anatomical deformities naturally grab one’s attention…

Zucchini nose

…as do pumpkins in curious colors.

Pumpkin skulls

One ghoulish gourd displayed such monstrous features, he might best be termed a “Franken-pumpkin.”


Some of the “pumpkins” at the Keene Pumpkin Fest played freely with the definition of “jack-o-lantern,” as in the case of this gourd-geous green swan.

Gourd-geous green swan

Things of beauty notwithstanding, the most creative–and arguably most warped–carved creation we saw at Saturday’s Pumpkin Festival was a gutted spaghetti-squash “baby” with a disgustingly dirty diaper.

Stinky spaghetti-squash diaper

This is my belated contribution to last week’s Photo Friday theme, Warped. Saturday’s Pumpkin Festival reportedly attracted a crowd of 70,000 humans and 22,943 lit jack-o-lanterns, a bunch of which you can see in my 2010 Pumpkin Festival photo-set. Enjoy!


The three-day Columbus Day weekend is always a popular holiday for New England leaf-peepers, so as I was driving back to Keene from Massachusetts on Monday afternoon, I encountered stream after stream of cars with out-of-state license plates leaving New Hampshire, toting canoes, bicycles, and backseats full of kids back home. The drive between Massachusetts and New Hampshire was lovely, like driving through a yellow, orange, and red kaleidoscope shot through with golden light, and I felt honored to live (at least part-time) in a place other people only visit.


It was still light when Reggie and I arrived back in Keene, with the late afternoon sun already starting to settle toward the western horizon, so I stopped by the Ashuelot River on the way to my apartment, figuring Reggie and I had enough time for a dinnertime stroll before dark. The leafy banks of the river were more colorful than the last time we’d walked there, and the park itself was more crowded, with far more locals enjoying the park on a sunny afternoon than we’d typically see on an early-morning dog-walk, when Reggie and I typically have the trails to ourselves.

It felt good to be back in Keene, good (as always) to be walking, and good to be bathed in the deeply angled, golden light of autumn, New England’s prettiest season. It also felt odd to be back in Keene and yet among strangers, as if my erstwhile neighbors were invading a place that has always felt as if it were mine and Reggie’s alone. These days, I realize that I, not those other walkers, am the outsider: commuting each week between Massachusetts and New Hampshire, I feel as if I have less and less claim to a landscape I see only three days a week, and then only hurriedly. When Reggie and I walked along the Ashuelot in September, we walked on a Wednesday morning when we had time to enjoy the solitude of the scene; on Monday afternoon, I was mindful of the setting sun and a long Monday night to-do list, preoccupied, like Robert Frost’s famous speaker, with “miles to go before I sleep.”

Virginia creeper

Walking is how I understand any landscape, whether I visit as a local or as a tourist, and these days in Keene I feel like both. Last Friday, I surrendered my New Hampshire driver’s license in return for a Massachusetts one; next, I’ll switch my car title and registration as well. Soon enough, I too will have out-of-state license plates when I venture into New Hampshire, thereby announcing myself as merely a transitory interloper in a state well accustomed to tourists. It’s been over three years that I’ve lived with one foot in two states, and it still feels strangely unsettling–not uncomfortable, but odd as I move between the alternating predictability of two different daily routines in two separate worlds. Where (if anywhere) do I truly belong; where (if anywhere) do I have the deepest roots? Or does my lack of lasting roots–my ability to migrate between two addresses, each with closets full of my things–point to the mobile nature of modern life, where our meals, our phone calls, and our personal interactions can all happen on-the-run?

Old man's beard

These are the in-between days here in New England as we transition between seasons, and these are the in-between days of my life as I migrate back and forth, back and forth, between my once and current homes. Where am I at any given moment or any given day? My home these days is perpetually “here,” wherever “here” happens to be.

The title of today’s post is one I’m particularly fond of. “In Between Days” is the name of an ’80s song by The Cure I’ve always liked, and it’s the title of two old blog posts and the implicit theme of a third.

The Wikipedia entry for that old Cure song describes its “lyrical themes of ageing [sic], loss and fear” as “not particularly reflect[ing] the upbeat tempo of the music.” Perhaps I’ve always lived, unsettled, between worlds.

You can click here for more photos of the Ashuelot River in autumn. Enjoy!

Japanese maple leaves & samara

To my eye, red wine always looks fuller and richer when served alongside white.

This is my quick contribution for today’s Photo Friday theme, Burgundy. Reddish-purple is actually one of my favorite colors, but I don’t have many photos of it. For today’s post, I dipped deep into my photo archives, finding this photo of a Japanese maple I blogged in November, 2007. Enjoy!

Pointless graffiti

I’m back from a soggy dog-walk, with raindrops falling from gray-flannel skies; Reggie is dotted with the first crop of beggars ticks. Rainy days are good for staying home and grading, which is good since I have papers to read and classes to prepare. But right now now, I’m relishing a moment of calm before the day begins, even though the day has already long begun. I hear my upstairs-neighbor stirring, and occasionally I hear Reggie breathing as he rests in a soggy spot on the kitchen floor. And when I’m quiet, there is the background sound of rain — the world’s most soothing sound. When you stop and truly, deeply listen, what do you hear?


Listening is almost always calming, even when your surroundings are noisy. The Zen Center is in a city neighborhood, so there are always the sounds of passing traffic and noisy neighbors: auditory itches you want with all your being to scratch. And yet you train yourself not to scratch that itch, returning to the inner silence of meditation rather than chasing the distraction of outward stimuli. It’s not that you drown the sound out, as there is absolutely no aspect of pushing it away. Instead, you let the sound wash over you; you let it permeate and percolate through your being, remaining passive and receptive. You let your Self be dissolved by sound until there is no Hearer, only Hearing.


But that happens only occasionally. In the meantime, while you’re still human and humbled, you struggle with sounds, choosing the ones you like and railing against the ones you don’t. You play endless songs in your head, pumping psychic quarters into your own internal jukebox so it plays and replays your favorite songs, your favorite thoughts, and your favorite fantasies over and over.

Real, actual sound — the pops and thuds and slams of the tangible world around you — shake you out of your inner trance because these sounds drown out, for an instant, the inner radio that keeps chattering, humming, and buzzing through every minute of consciousness. One sound — Ha! — cuts through every sound like a blade through warm butter. The honk of a horn, the cry of a child, the bark of a dog: these sounds are precious — psychological lifesavers — because they burst the bubble of our inner fantasy.


This is why the Evening Bell Chant insists that listening to the sound of the Dharma room bell destroys hell: the waves of sound that wash over you and the vibrations of sensation that seep to your inner core bring you back to the heaven of Here and Now, where enlightenment, change, and compassion happen. Coming back to Here and Now, you automatically leave behind the hell of both Yesterday and Tomorrow. What is either one of these but an infinitely elusive, illusory dream?

The magic of a mantra doesn’t lie in its meaning but in its music. When you chant a mantra, its words resonate down to your very bones, your body becoming a vibrating vessel of truth and light. This sounds otherworldly, but it isn’t. It’s as near as your nose, as immediate as your ears, and as tangible as the toes which tingle with every chanted syllable, alive.

Spray can

If you want to wake up, simply open your ears, and the singing Universe will serve as your alarm clock, tapping raindrops on your window to rouse you.

It is indeed raining in Keene today, but I wrote this entry last Thursday, on a morning when the sound of rain nicely resonated with the chapter on “Hearing” from Diane Ackerman’s Natural History of the Senses, which I’m re-reading with my Creative Nonfiction students. “The sound of rain” made for a good in-class writing prompt, and these scenes from Modica Way in Central Square, Cambridge make for good rainy-day visuals.

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