July 2014


Halcyon Lake

I didn’t take any pictures at Mount Auburn Cemetery yesterday, when Seon Joon and I walked there. But I’d taken pictures when A (not her real initial) and I walked at Mount Auburn this time last year, and I’d taken pictures when Leslee and I walked at Mount Auburn the year before that. I’m in the habit, it seems, of meeting friends for cemetery strolls in July, when it’s hot and the shade beckons.

Woman and child

I’m not alone in this regard. Yesterday at Mount Auburn, Seon Joon and I saw a steady stream of visitors exploring the cemetery on foot and in slow-coasting cars, and as we enjoyed conversation and a brisk breeze atop Washington Tower, we were joined by a quiet queue of other visitors enjoying panoramic views of Cambridge, Watertown, and a hazy Boston skyline.

I’ve written before about my history at Mount Auburn, a place I started visiting when I lived at the Cambridge Zen Center in the mid-1990s. That means I’ve been going to Mount Auburn to walk, birdwatch, sketch, and simply unwind for nearly twenty years. Seon Joon had never been to Mount Auburn, so now that she’s moved to Cambridge, I felt an odd obligation to introduce her to one of my favorite places. I know from experience that if you’re going to weather the urban intensity of Central and Harvard Squares, you need to know where to find quiet pockets of green serenity.

Beloved daughter Maria

Mount Auburn, like any cemetery, is intended as a final resting place for the dearly departed…but for nearly twenty years, it’s served me as an interim resting place, a green oasis where I’ve returned, repeatedly. Seon Joon used the image of a compass point to describe Mount Auburn: here is a known place in a sea of unfamiliar places, somewhere to plant a figurative map-pin as she navigates a new city. I like to think of Mount Auburn as being a kind of secular Mecca: a compass-point that wields a magnetic pull, the faces of its faithful turning and re-turning to this spot that beckons like a green beacon.

Yarnbombed

It’s been two years since I quit my adjunct teaching job at Keene State College, and it’s been two weeks since I quit my online teaching job for Southern New Hampshire University. This means that after having spent a dozen years in the Granite State, I no longer have any official New Hampshire ties: I now live and work entirely in Massachusetts rather than leading a divided life shuttling between two states.

Yarnbombed

I taught at Keene State for ten years, I taught online for SNHU for eleven years, and I lived in New Hampshire for twelve years. I mention these details because this summer feels like the end of an era: the end of one life and the beginning of another. Henry David Thoreau lived at Walden Pond for two years before deciding it was time to move on: he had, he said, other lives to lead. I seem to be on a slower schedule than Thoreau, needing a decade or more before realizing I’m ready for a change.

Yarnbombed

Over the past twenty years, I’ve proven I can patch together a livelihood as an adjunct instructor; now, I’m wondering what I want to do with the rest of my life outside of working. Teaching online was a great moonlighting gig while I taught full-time at Keene State, and it was a good supplemental income while I got settled into my part-time job at Framingham State, but teaching online can be grueling if you do it long-term. For the past eleven years, I’ve taught online classes year-round, taking my laptop on every vacation and checking my classes at least once a day, every day: weekdays, weekends, and sick days included. One of the benefits of teaching online is you can do it anywhere…but one of the drawbacks of teaching online is you feel like you must do it, everywhere.

Yarnbombed

Now I find myself wondering what I’d like my life to look like now that I’ve said “no” to year-round, around-the-clock teaching. In a previous lifetime when I worked for a church, one of my colleagues warned me about what she called the caring professions. Anytime that your job involves caring for other people, it’s easy to forget your own self-care. When you’re doing “the Lord’s work” at a church—or when you’re focusing on student success at a college—you feel guilty leaving your work at the office, as if it were “just” a job. But at the end of the day, that’s exactly what being an adjunct instructor is: it’s a job, and a part-time one at that. Looking back on the past decade or two, I realize I’ve regularly put my students before myself, pouring more time and energy into my job than my part-time status deserved.

Yarnbombed

The other day I brainstormed a list of things I want now that my days teaching for SNHU are over. “I want my life back” was the first thing I typed: a hyperbolic statement that popped out the instant I set fingers to keys. There are a lot of things I’ve let fall by the wayside in the past decade: I want to practice more, exercise more, and write more. I want to finish that book I’ve started then set aside umpteen times. I want to see myself as a writer and human being first and a teacher second: I want to remember that even the caring professions are, ultimately, just jobs. Now that I’ve fully crossed from one state to another, I want to settle into life in the here and now, spending less energy Earning-a-Living and more time Simply Living.

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