May 2023


Last night I dreamed I had a brief conversation with Prince Harry. I was working at some sort of office, and Harry-In-My-Dream was passing through on some other business, so we exchanged pleasantries as you would with a colleague around the water cooler.


Harry-In-My-Dream casually mentioned that King Charles would soon be stepping down from his throne in order to retire. Once that happened, Prince Harry-In-My-Dream explained, he would return to the UK to become King.


“But what about your brother,” I asked, since Prince William, not Harry, is next in line to become King.

“Oh, he doesn’t want the job, given all the hassle,” Prince Harry-In-My-Dream explained. “William would much prefer to live a quiet life with his family and leave the headaches of the monarchy to me.”

“But is this possible,” I wondered aloud. “Can the Royal Family simply ignore the rules of succession in order to decide amongst themselves who should ascend the throne…and don’t you yourself want to live a life outside public scrutiny?”


“But of course,” Prince Harry-In-My-Dream chuckled. “When you’re King you can do whatever you’d like…and things will be much easier this way.”

Still life

There was an awkward pause, so to fill it I asked, “So, how are the kids?”

Fern forest

Yesterday, I met A (not her real initial) for a walk at Rock House Reservation in West Brookfield, MA. We’ve been to Rock House several times in the past: enough times that we recognize some of the rock formations like familiar landmarks, but not enough times that we don’t have to consult a map when we come to a trail junction and have to decide This Way or That.

Fruiting fern

We’d considered meeting at Peaked Mountain in Monson, MA, where we’d hiked in September 2018. But given a choice between a hike up a hill or a stroll in the shade, we took the road less rigorous, and that made all the difference.

Although A and I had wondered whether traffic would be heavy due to the Memorial Day holiday weekend, the drive to and from West Brookfield was uneventful, with lots of other motorists on the road but traffic never coming to a standstill. At Rock House, it felt like A and I had the place to ourselves, parking side by side in an almost-empty trailhead lot and seeing only one other hiking party from afar.

Carter Pond

Sometimes when A and I meet halfway between her home and mine, we want to try something new…but other times, we want to enjoy a familiar-enough setting where we can enjoy the scenery without worry of getting lost. Yesterday the forest floor was carpeted with Canada mayflower, pink lady’s slippers, and fruiting ferns, and A and I had ample opportunity to catch up with everything that has happened since the last time we talked.

Pink lady's slipper

Quiet contemplation

Last night I started re-reading Judy Blume’s Deenie. When I turned 50, I bought myself box sets of books I’d enjoyed as a child with the intention of re-visiting them as an adult. Although I have re-read Madeleine L’Engle’s Wrinkle in Time trilogy, I haven’t yet revisited the Walter Farley, Laura Ingalls Wilder, or Marguerite Henry books I bought myself. Like a well-stocked wine cellar, my brimming bookshelves are full of pleasures I intend to savor someday, eventually.

This summer, I’ve decided, is time to revisit Judy Blume. I reread Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret in advance of seeing the movie adaptation several weeks ago, so now is the perfect time to reread the other books in her box set.

One of the humbling aspects of re-reading childhood favorites as an adult is realizing how much you’ve forgotten. When I started re-reading Deenie last night, I realized I’d entirely forgotten the tension between Deenie and her mother, who wants her to become a model. All I remembered about the book was that Deenie is diagnosed with scoliosis and has to wear a back brace to straighten her curved spine.

It’s not surprising I’d remember that detail, since I was diagnosed with a mild case of scoliosis before reading the book. Although I never had to wear a brace or undergo any kind of treatment, I was amazed to encounter a book that spoke frankly about a condition I’d never heard of until I was diagnosed with it.

As I’m starting to re-read Deenie, I’m realizing a lesson that was too profound for my adolescent self. Sometimes life, like a malformed spine, curves in ways you hadn’t anticipated. When multiple modeling scouts mention Deenie’s poor posture, she and her mother have no idea there is a medical reason for her slouch. The first time I read the book, I fixated on the back brace Deenie had to wear; I didn’t realize then there are other ways life can curve in surprising ways.

Cardboard robot

In my first-year writing classes, I typically start with five minutes of freewriting. Since some folks don’t know where to start when they set pen to paper or fingers to keys, I use a random word generator to give students a nudge if they need it.

The fish listened intently to what the frogs had to say.

Frog fountain

Today, I realized the random word generator I use also has a random sentence generator. According to the FAQ on that page, the sentences are not computer-generated; instead, the site draws from a database of human-authored sentences. (It isn’t clear where these sentences come from, although the FAQ says it’s possible to “donate” your own sentences to their database.)

Pat ordered a ghost pepper pie.

Now serving beer and wine...with pie?

Next week, a handful of my Framingham State colleagues and I will start planning this year’s retreat for first-year writing instructors. The topic of this year’s retreat will be the impact of ChatGPT and large-language models (LLMs) in composition classrooms. Although much of the media coverage of LLMs focuses on plagiarism and cheating, I’m equally interested in the ways tools such as ChatGPT can be used ethically, as a way to kickstart (not replace) creative and critical thinking.

I used to live in my neighbor’s fishpond, but the aesthetic wasn’t to my taste.

Margaret C. Ferguson Greenhouses

Earlier this week, I heard an NPR story in which a college student described the ways he uses ChatGPT as a brainstorming tool in his academic work. In a textual analysis of The Iliad, for example, he used ChatGPT to generate possible thesis statements, then he chose a thesis he agreed with and asked ChatGPT to write an outline. Given that outline, he went back to the text to find illustrative quotes, then he wrote his own paragraphs to flesh out the argument, creating an essay that would be difficult to flag using existing plagiarism-detection tools.

Carol drank the blood as if she were a vampire.

No more interviews with vampires.

Using ChatGPT to write an entire essay is clearly wrong, but is it wrong to use LLMs to help with brainstorming, organization, or other composition tasks? I had an international student this past semester tell me he uses ChatGPT to correct the grammar of his essays, for example, and I (personally) don’t have a problem with that. Is relying upon spell- or grammar-check (or hiring an editor) unethical? What about tools such as Grammarly and auto-correct? Does every single idea in a given essay have to come from your own brain, or is it okay to use a random word generator or quick Google search to jumpstart your thinking?

The fifty mannequin heads floating in the pool kind of freaked them out.

Mannequin heads

We encourage students to ask their professors and writing tutors for help, and we know students sometimes ask their friends, roommates, or even parents to read their essays. How many brilliant essays started as thought-provoking conversations where multiple people contributed ideas? Does asking for help or conferring with peers count as cheating? If asking a human for help is okay, why is collaborating with a computer different?

I can’t believe this is the eighth time I’m smashing open my piggy bank on the same day!

Trojan Piggybank

When it comes to the impact of LLMs in the first-year writing classroom, I have more questions than answers. I know tools such as ChatGPT are here to stay, and I know this generation of students will use generative AI in the workplace of the future. Given those realities, teaching students how to use technology responsibly and transparently is more helpful than banning technology outright. Sometimes allowing (and admitting) the randomness of real life leads to something creative and curious.

Be curious!

Although I myself wrote these paragraphs (with occasional grammar and usage corrections from Google Docs), I did not write the random sentences in between.

Opening tip

This morning, after Roxy survived the night without vomiting and took several poops containing macerated bits of the leather leash she’d eaten, J and I drove to Connecticut for a WNBA game. Since we didn’t want to leave Roxy at home unattended for long, we watched the first two quarters of the game then left at halftime.


The last time J and I left a basketball game early was in November, 2014, when I was recovering from asthmatic complications from a respiratory infection. Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, I’ve often thought of that sickness, which laid me low for weeks and subsided only after a round of antibiotics and two nebulizer treatments from a doctor who told me my blood-oxygen level was so low, it was a wonder I didn’t pass out on the drive to his office.

T-shirt toss

During that years-ago Celtics game, I spent as much time watching other spectators as I did watching the players, marshaling my energy and saving my voice by cheering only quietly. These days, my asthma is well-controlled, but I don’t take any breath for granted.


When J and I left the game at halftime, the Sun were losing; in the fourth quarter, however, they rallied to win the game. Although some would argue J and I missed the best half of the game, I’d counter that we enjoyed the two quarters we saw, as well as the drive there and back again.

On the Jumbotron

Next time, we’ll stay for the whole game, health willing. In the meantime, Roxy is sleeping beside me as I type these words, happy to have me home again.

Reflective heron

On Thursday night, I went to the Zen Center to teach the meditation intro class, then I stayed for the weekly Dharma talk and Q&A. A man sitting behind me asked the Senior Dharma Teacher about his first meditation retreat, beginning his question with a sheepish admission: “It didn’t go how I expected.”

False Solomon's seal

Immediately other long-time practitioners and I erupted into laughter: yes, indeed! Retreats never go how you expected, because life never goes as expected. As the man sitting behind me described how he’d hoped the week after retreat to go smoothly with plenty of time to practice, but instead his time had been frittered away with unplanned obligations, I smiled and nodded. Been there, done (and continue to do) that.

Highbush blueberry

I submitted the last of my Spring semester grades this past Monday, then I had hoped for a gentle reentry into Summer leisure. Instead, I’ve spent the week checking off to-dos, some planned and others unanticipated.

Canada mayflower

This week I had a routine mammogram (check), scheduled eye exams for later in the summer (check), and found, booked appointments with, and completed seemingly endless new-patient intake forms for a new dentist (check, check, check). I made a list of summer tasks–so many things to clean, weed out, or organize–and I started filling my calendar with Zen Center obligations, weekend outings with J, and a July trip to visit family in Ohio.


All of those tasks were expected–things I’ve been meaning to do for months, but were delayed until the end of the semester, when I’d have more time. What I didn’t expect, however, was for the heating element on the dishwasher to die–a repair I’ll schedule next week–or for Roxy to eat an entire leather leash yesterday, necessitating an emergency trip to the vet for x-rays today. Who would expect a dog who has never been a chewer to suddenly develop an appetite for leather?


Tomorrow J and I have tickets to a Connecticut Sun game–plans we’d made months ago–but whether or not we go is contingent on the state of Roxy’s digestion. Will she vomit chunks of leather like she did this morning, meaning a return trip to the vet, or will the special food they prescribed help everything “come out in the end” quite literally?

Heron and goose

Only time will tell. In the meantime, I never expected I’d spend this morning sifting through dog vomit, looking for chewed bits of leather, and I never would have predicted that now I’d prefer to find bits of leather in Roxy’s poop instead.

Webster Woods

Today’s photos are from a short walk I took at Hammond Pond Reservation after Monday morning’s mammogram, before the week turned hectic.

Roxy sunbathes

Whenever colleagues or friends ask if I teach during the summer, my response is immediate: “Not a chance.” I teach at two colleges during the academic year so I can have the luxury of teaching nowhere in the summer. The lazy months of summer are my reward for all my working weekends the rest of the year.

I submitted Babson grades on Monday night, and I’ll submit Framingham State grades later this week. But this morning, I stepped away from my paper piles to renew my summer ritual of refilling the well by reading and writing on the patio after taking Roxy for her morning walk. It’s a cherished chance for both of us to find a spot in the sun before tackling the rest of the day’s tasks.


I taught the last of my Spring semester classes on Thursday, so yesterday I took a break from my grading piles to meet A (not her real initial) at a mall cineplex to see Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret, which was as good as the book we both grew up on.

A and I have been celebrating the almost-end of semesters with root beer for more than fifteen years, at least. This tradition is so entrenched, we selected a movie venue not because it is equidistant between us, but because it’s about twenty minutes from our regular purveyor of fried seafood and ice cream.

The movie was wonderful, and equally so was the conversation A and I had afterward. Are You There God is about many things: periods and boys and bras, for sure, and spiritual quests as well…but both the book and movie are also about female friendship.

The movie more than the book depicts the frustrations of Margaret’s mother, Barbara, who quits her teaching job when the family moves to the suburbs, and it also highlights the loneliness of Margaret’s grandmother Sylvia, who in one heartbreaking scene quietly crosses “solve crossword puzzle” from a daily to-do list whose only other item is “dust.”

Happily, by movie’s end Margaret learns the value of true rather than fake friendship, and both Barbara and Sylvia find new passions: Sylvia by saying “yes” to new love, and Barbara by (eventually) saying “no” to soul-crushing PTA tasks.

My favorite aspect of the film is that it both begins and ends with scenes of spontaneous girlhood joy. Much of becoming a woman is, frankly, a hassle, as Margaret learns when she tries on her first bra then admits she can’t wait to take it off. (“Welcome to womanhood,” Barbara knowingly intones.) But among the headache and hassle, there are moments of sweetness, whether that involves jumping into a pond at summer camp or driving an hour or more for lunch and a movie with your bestie.

Tom turkey

Wild turkey breeding season has begun, which means male turkeys are strutting their stuff here in the Boston suburbs. Unfortunately, the hen on the porch was unimpressed.

Turkey hen on porch is unimpressed

The end.

Turkey tail

Spruce strobili

Today is an indecisive day: gray and drizzly in the morning, with the sun coming out intermittently while it continued to mist, as if the devil weren’t completely committed to beating his wife.

I intended to photograph the fiddleheads in our front yard, but they’ve already unfurled into gangly and awkward almost-ferns: no longer cute and curled, but not yet fully formed and fronded.

This is how Spring unfolds in New England. There is a brief moment in April when everything seems green and fresh, then by May the ground is cluttered with cast-off maple flowers and spent rhododendron blooms: the detritus of a party getting underfoot and underway.