December 2013

Technicolor hippies

Last Friday was my ten-year blogiversary: it’s been ten years and a few days since I posted my first blog entry on December 27, 2003. Part of me feels obligated to write some sort of retrospective post—some overview of what I’ve gained or attained from ten years of blogging—but the Zennie in me is leery of such talk. In Zen circles, this question of “what have you attained” is a trap: a snare designed to pull you out of the present moment by asking you to make a judgment about the worth of your past endeavors. The question “what have you attained” is a sticky lure because it’s so easy to wonder what you “should” have attained in a given period of time. After ten years devoted to a single endeavor, what do (or should) I have to show for it?


That is the snare, right there: looking back at ten years of blogging, has it been “worth” it, or has it been a “waste”? This question is a trap because it presumes we can (and thus should) “get” something from everything we do: after ten years of blogging, shouldn’t I be able to capture in a neat nutshell the thing I’ve “gained” from all that effort? But life isn’t a souvenir shop where every experience gives you something you can take with you: life is, instead, a series of liquid moments that cannot be captured or contained. Given ten years of water flowing under the proverbial bridge, exactly how drenched have I become? Instead of trying to capture, contain, or quantify the river of time, how fully have I experienced and appreciated each and every drop?


I’m amazed that ten years have passed since I began blogging: in some ways, the years have flown by, but in other ways, December 27, 2003 seems like a literal lifetime ago. Given that I never consciously planned to spend ten years of my life blogging, it seems remarkable that proceeding “one post at a time” eventually added up to an entire decade of posts.

Hanging out

On the other hand, my life ten years ago seems like an entirely different existence than my life right now. In December, 2003, I was married to my ex-husband; newly moved to Keene, NH; and stuck on a dissertation I’ve since finished. Ten years ago, I was “stuck” in more ways than one, and I needed an outlet: a way both to express myself and to make sense of the world and my place in it. I had long kept a journal, but my faithfulness to that task was sporadic, and blogging gave (and continues to give) me an accountability—an audience—that has kept me writing. It was my ex-husband who believed blogging would be a good medium for me, and he was right: my blog and my dog were the two things of inestimable value I took from my first marriage.


Reggie is now gone, but my blog lives on, having become a catch-all for both my day-to-day life and my creative existence. Many days, my blog is simply a diary, but occasionally it serves as a travelogue, scrap-book, or faithful friend who listens without advice or interruption as I struggle to make sense of whatever thoughts are rattling around my head that day. If I go too many days without posting, I feel a nudge pushing me back to it: this curious impulse to “feed the blog” has kept me writing in a way that no other trick or temptation has.

On the fringe

My favorite post from this past year was “The Marathon I want to remember” because it’s one that took me days—almost a full week—to write. Sometime the act of composing a post is a technical challenge: a problem of finding the right sequence of words to express an intended message. With my Marathon post, however, the challenge was deeply personal: how do you express a gut reaction you yourself don’t fully understand? Writing that post felt necessary; I needed to explain to myself (more than to anyone else) my response to a traumatic event in order to understand that response. When I think of the profound things that have happened in my life over the past ten years, I have inevitably made sense of them by writing and posting about them: my completion of my PhD, for instance, or my separation and divorce, my second marriage, Reggie’s death, and my decision to leave Keene and Keene State.

Hippies in furs

I’ve pondered in the past whether an exhibitionist urge underlies the decision to blog the details of one’s personal life, a question that seems almost quaint in this age of live-Tweeting and Insta-selfies. When I started blogging, social networking was in its infancy, so blogging about one’s life seemed alternately weird and pretentious: who am I, in a word, to think my daily life is worthy of a frequently updated webpage? I never wavered, however, from my sense that it’s natural for writers to write about what they know, and what subject do I know better than my own life? Nowadays, of course, nearly everyone has a Facebook account, and nearly everyone (presumably) is fascinated by the minutiae of other people’s (presumably) real lives. Perhaps I simply started ahead of the curve.

Retro hippies

In retrospect, I’m grateful to have been blogging for years before I jumped on the social media bandwagon: now that everyone can (and does) say anything instantaneously and unedited online (occasionally with regrettable consequences), I’m glad that years ago I established my own rules of what to share and what to keep secret: my own personal privacy policy. In an age where it’s easy to blurt out anything to an invisible audience, I’m glad to have a decade’s worth of practice saying things chiefly for my own benefit.

Earth goddesses

This past March, on the occasion of the ten-year blogiversary of Beth Adams’ “The Cassandra Pages,” I wrote a post pondering the “real work” (and perhaps the “real worth”) of blogging, and what I wrote then pretty much rings true now. What is ten years’ worth of blogging “worth”? Well, I’ve written (and shared) far more in the past ten years than any other, and I certainly wrote more by blogging than I would have if I weren’t. So after ten years of blogging, what have I attained? Right now, I’m writing a post I plan to share, and I hope to continue posting day-by-day, post by post, as long as it feels productive. How do I define “productive”? I don’t know, other than a gut sense that as long as there are words to say and days to say them in, I guess I’ll continue writing and sharing one post at a time, starting with this one.

The photos illustrating today’s post come from Hippie Chic, a collection of 1960s- and ’70s-era clothing that was on exhibit at the Museum of Fine Arts this past summer: a bit of grooviness I never got around to blogging.


Today J and I walked to Newton Centre, where we had lunch at Johnny’s Luncheonette. J typically has the weeks of Christmas and New Year’s off: work is slow then, with many of his co-workers taking the remainder of their vacation days. J and I typically don’t travel for the holidays, so we use this “off but at home” time to rest, take lunchtime walks, and otherwise recharge.


On our walk home from Johnny’s, we stopped at a new beer store in Newton Centre, where J bought a bottle of his favorite Belgian beer and I bought a disc of my favorite Mexican chocolate. It was a small indulgence on a day when we hadn’t planned to go shopping: a decision on a whim to duck into a store we’d never explored before.


Had J and I not stopped for impromptu beer and chocolate on our way home from lunch, maybe we would have missed the half dozen turkeys we saw foraging in someone’s yard near the intersection of Beacon and Walnut Streets: a busy stretch of road with enough woodsy fringe to harbor our local yardbirds.

And if you’ve ever wondered whether wild turkeys perch on branches rather than simply strutting like chickens, they do indeed take to the trees when the impulse strikes them. So on this second day of Christmas, instead of contemplating a partridge in a pear tree, J and I were treated to the sight of a turkey in a crab-apple tree.

And a turkey in a crabapple tree

Snow yoga

Last week’s snow has largely melted, so we won’t have a white Christmas here in the Boston suburbs. But I’ll always have this picture of a neighborhood snow yogi to remind me of snowstorms past.

Flat Stanley loves chips and salsa!

Yesterday afternoon I submitted the last of my fall semester grades, so now I’m catching up with all the things I haven’t had time for during a busier-than-usual semester. Our nephew’s Flat Stanley has been visiting from Pittsburgh, so even while I was buried in grading, J and I have made a point to take “Stanley” with us when we go out to lunch or elsewhere. Last Wednesday night, for instance, I led practice at the Cambridge Zen Center, so Flat Stanley tagged along and made friends with a Gold Guy.

Flat Stanley makes a friend

At the end of any busier-than-usual semester, it usually takes a while for me to regain my balance after weeks of deadline-chasing. Having a meditation practice helps, as do the predictable routines of my writing and photography.

Flat Stanley loves BC basketball

Now that I’ll have a few weeks “mostly” off before classes resume, I’m looking forward to spending more time writing, meditating, and taking pictures: more time, in other words, doing the things that refresh my senses by bringing me back to the present moment. Whatever your spiritual inclination, here’s hoping this holiday season is similarly restorative.

Buddha makes a friend

Office still life with artificial flowers

Yesterday I taught my last classes of the semester at Framingham State, and today I’m holding my last office hour of the semester at Boston College. This means my students are now revising a semester’s worth of essays, prepping the portfolios I’ll be reading over the weekend and throughout next week. It’s all over, in other words, but the grading.

Festive holiday bauble

In the meantime, winter storm “Electra” is forecast to dump an undetermined amount of snow and freezing rain starting Saturday afternoon, when I have plans to meet a friend for stationery-shopping and hot beverages. If you’re contemplating a week’s worth of grading, you don’t necessarily mind getting snowed in with your paper-piles…but only after you’ve fortified yourself with new notebooks, pens, and hot caffeine.

As much as I whine about my paper-piles throughout the semester, I don’t really mind Finals Week with its influx of grading. Without any more classes to teach until 2014, my sole focus between now and Almost Christmas is a blizzard of student essays, their pages as white as snow.

Symphony Hall dressed up for the holidays

On Sunday, J and I went to Symphony Hall for a Holiday Pops concert. Whereas the mood for a typical Boston Symphony Orchestra concert is staid and serious, Sunday’s Pops concert was fun and festive, with a holiday sing-a-long, a “surprise” appearance from Santa Claus, and performances of fan favorites like “Sleigh Ride” and “The 12 Days of Christmas.” (If you’ve never heard the Boston Pops’ clever interpretation of the latter, this obviously amateur video will take you up to Day Seven and its strains of Swan Lake.)

Freezing rain on crabapples

It was fun, too, to see Symphony Hall decked out for the holidays with evergreen garlands, flaming lanterns, and colored lights. This past week has been largely gray, with sleeting rain and slush instead of snow, so we’ve had to take our color where we can get it, whether indoors or out. On gray and dim days, even the smallest pop of color is appreciated: more precious than even a partridge in a pear tree.