November 2014


Office still life

My office at Framingham State, where I sit and grade papers between classes, is in the basement of a dormitory across the street from the main academic building where I teach. On sunny days, my office-mate and I typically leave the lights off, working by the glow of our laptop screens while students walk past our window, the ground striated with shadows.

This is my Day Twenty contribution to NaBloPoMo, or National Blog Posting Month, a commitment to post every day during the month of November: thirty days, thirty posts.

Student art projects

My classes at Framingham State are two hours long, so I give students a ten minute break halfway through class. While my students typically use this time to text, check Facebook, or otherwise fiddle with their phones, I use this time to walk the hallways of May Hall: a chance to stretch my legs and clear my head before teaching the second half of class.

Leaf collages

My favorite place in May Hall is the top floor, where the art studios are located. While art students diligently sketch, sculpt, and piece together projects in those studio classrooms, I walk the hallway and admire the finished projects on display: ceramic and papier-mâché sculptures, mobiles constructed from wire and paper, and colorful collages created from fallen leaves.

This is my Day Nineteen contribution to NaBloPoMo, or National Blog Posting Month, a commitment to post every day during the month of November: thirty days, thirty posts.

Gilbert the giving-thanks turkey

There comes a moment nearly every evening after I’ve arrived home from teaching, changed into comfortable clothes, taken the beagle out, and finished the last of the day’s chores: everything cleaned, put away, and prepped for another day. As I collapse on the couch, tune the TV to that night’s hockey or basketball game, and curl up with a book or magazine while J readies dinner, I realize there’s nowhere I’d rather be than in my own house, reading, while the TV recites its play-by-play like a litany and the beagle snores in her crate, content.

This is my Day Eighteen contribution to NaBloPoMo, or National Blog Posting Month, a commitment to post every day during the month of November: thirty days, thirty posts.

Cassie cuddles her chew toy

As I write these words, it’s a gray and rainy morning, and I have a spare 15 minutes before I need to shower, dress, and head to campus. The dog lies on her bed chewing her favorite bone, focusing all her attention on it as she does every morning after breakfast, as if all the world depended upon her ability to chew a simple toy.

Cassie relaxing

My classes are prepped and my bag is packed, and my journal sits on the dresser on the other side of the room, mostly neglected these past few weeks while I’ve been sick. Soon enough–tomorrow, or the next day, or the next–I’ll return to it and the simple ritual of writing four longhand pages every morning, but for now, I leave both my journal where it sits and the dog where she lies, choosing to type these words with my fingertips on my tablet, just a bit of verbal doodling before the serious work of the day begins.

This is my Day Seventeen contribution to NaBloPoMo, or National Blog Posting Month, a commitment to post every day during the month of November: thirty days, thirty posts.

WWI recruitment posters

Earlier this afternoon, while procrastinating my ever-present paper pile, I spent a half hour sorting through pictures I’d taken back in August, when J and I went to the Museum of Fine Arts to see an exhibit of World War I recruitment posters.

I want YOU

The exhibit included pieces from Britain, France, and the United States, including the iconic image of Uncle Sam pointing to viewers with the caption “I want YOU for the U.S. Army.” It was interesting to see the various visual techniques artists employed to grab viewers’ attention while communicating a simple appeal to enlist. The posters featured the usual patriotic images you’d expect from wartime propaganda, along with altruistic reminders that “everyone should do his bit” and a stoic, quintessentially British claim that it’s better to face bullets on the front than be killed by a bomb at home.

Daddy, what did YOU do in the Great War?

One of my favorite posters featured an understated guilt-trip, with a sheepish but respectable-looking man unable to answer his children’s simple question, “Daddy, what did YOU do during the Great War?” Better to face bullets on the front today, apparently, than to feel unmanned by the earnest questions of your still-unborn children tomorrow.

There was one image I shot, however, that promptly ended my procrastination and sent me back to my paper-pile. In one corner of a brightly colored poster urging young men to “serve in France” was a simple imperative to DO IT NOW.

Do it now

This is my Day Sixteen contribution to NaBloPoMo, or National Blog Posting Month, a commitment to post every day during the month of November: thirty days, thirty posts.

Frozen birdbath with fallen leaves

In New England, November is a month of all seasons. Last week, the temperatures soared into the 60s; this morning, our backyard birdbath was frozen with yesterday’s snow melt and a smattering of still-yellow maple leaves. Summer, winter, fall, or spring? There’s no need to choose in November, when you can experience an entire year’s worth of seasons in a single day, without even leaving your backyard.

This is my Day Fifteen contribution to NaBloPoMo, or National Blog Posting Month, a commitment to post every day during the month of November: thirty days, thirty posts.

Japanese maple with smudge of snow

Earlier this week, I showed you our Japanese maple tree on a foggy morning. Today brought a smudge of wet snow that clung to leaves and lawn but quickly melted from streets and sidewalks. After the sun emerged, the weight of melting snow claimed much of the maple’s foliage, leaving a bright red carpet underfoot.

Japanese maple in sun

By the time I left for campus, most of the sludgy snow had melted from my car, and I used my windshield wipers to clear away away November’s triple-threat of rain, snow, and fallen leaves.

This is my Day Fourteen contribution to NaBloPoMo, or National Blog Posting Month, a commitment to post every day during the month of November: thirty days, thirty posts.

Changing leaves

Today between classes at Framingham State, I took a quick walk around campus, venturing no further than a block from my office, where I now sit typing these words. Normally, taking a walk around the block is no big deal: normally, my midday walks are limited by time rather than distance, with at least one alarm to let me know when I need to stop wandering and resume working. But today is the first day since I’ve been sick that I’ve had enough extra energy to take even a short stroll, so walking around the block feels like a momentous occasion.

Changing leaves

This time last week, I was so exhausted from constant coughing, I had to stop and rest whenever I climbed a flight of stairs. This time last week, I ran out of breath on my way from my doctor’s parking lot to the reception desk: a distance of only a hundred yards. This time last week, walking wasn’t a relaxing, mind-clearing pastime: it was a strenuous, seemingly impossible activity that triggered coughing fits and crippling waves of exhaustion. This time last week, walking was an ordeal to be endured only when absolutely necessary.

Changing leaves

Today I had the strength to take a walk, and although it was a very short one, it feels good to be among pedestrians again. Your world grows very small when you’re unable to move under your own power. Instead of admiring the scenery, you focus myopically on distances, shortcuts, and the number of tiring steps between Here and There. When you’re too sick to walk, your body becomes an impediment: something to be dragged along rather than the source of self-sufficient power. Every day, I feel my body strengthen. On Monday, I was so desperate for a nap between classes, I laid my head on the café table where I hold impromptu office hours, not caring who saw me snoozing and drooling on my folded hands. Yesterday, I taught three classes without napping in between, and today, I took a walk.

This is my Day Thirteen contribution to NaBloPoMo, or National Blog Posting Month, a commitment to post every day during the month of November: thirty days, thirty posts.

Japanese maple on foggy day

The Japanese maple in our front yard is currently at the peak of its autumn color…but whereas last year this tree caught fire on a brilliantly sunny day, this year, it turned red beneath a veil of November fog. Sometimes maples erupt in a flash of red brilliance, and other times they smolder in a smudge of subtle color.

This is my Day Twelve contribution to NaBloPoMo, or National Blog Posting Month, a commitment to post every day during the month of November: thirty days, thirty posts.

Scooby and Groucho

Today is Veteran’s Day, so I have a rare weekday off. My ideal schedule would be to teach on campus a couple days a week while spending the other days working from home, grading and prepping for classes, but at the moment I teach somewhere five days a week. This means I direly miss the grading days I used to have when I had a lighter teaching schedule: days when I could sleep in, catch up with housework, and grade papers in a leisurely fashion, never changing out of sweatpants if I didn’t feel like it.

Snowflake lounges

Although I’ve done it for several semesters now, teaching five days a week still feels alien to me. Folks who work nine-to-five jobs have to show up for work five days a week, but they get their weekends off and aren’t necessarily required to give presentations every day. (Indeed, the number of weekday Facebook posts shared by my nine-to-five friends suggests they have quite a bit of downtime while sitting in their office cubes.) Perhaps because I’m a closet introvert, teaching five days a week is tiring: a constant drain. It feels like I constantly have to stay “on” as I perform in front of a class, without enough time to regenerate my game face.

Rocco in window

Truth be told, I didn’t become an English major because I wanted to spend lots of time standing in front of classrooms of often-indifferent undergraduates talking about commas and apostrophes; I became an English major because I like to spend time alone reading and writing. At this point of the semester, I feel starved for unstructured quiet time, even if all I’m doing with that time is grading papers. Grading, after all, is where I meet my students’ work individually, and it’s where I feel like I can make the most difference, apart from the group dynamic of the classroom. In the classroom, it’s a constant effort to keep my students entertained, awake, and engaged. The real work in a writing class, however, happens in the quiet space between an individual student and her or his writing, and that’s what you encounter when you read your students’ work.

Groucho

So this morning I slept in, and I’ve been spending the day grading papers in sweatpants, catching up with housework, and otherwise enjoying a day when I don’t have to stand in front of a classroom and talk. It feels like something I’ve been sorely missing.

This is my Day Eleven contribution to NaBloPoMo, or National Blog Posting Month, a commitment to post every day during the month of November: thirty days, thirty posts.

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