It’s been a whirlwind day that started with the usual chores before dawn, followed by teaching on one campus, hurrying home to pick up Groucho for a vet visit, then ferrying Groucho home before dashing off to an evening event at the other campus: one day that’s felt like three. As I get ready to do my evening chores before starting the roller coaster ride all over tomorrow, it feels like several lifetimes ago when I went to the Zen Center last night and took a few spare moments to shoot photos of graffiti after dark: a moment of quiet calm before the start of another whirlwind week.

The Wall at Central Square

During the last week of classes, when students and instructors alike are sleep-deprived and swamped with work, you learn to accept words of encouragement wherever you find them.

Will finish on Sunday

Painters know that before you get down to work, you have to prepare your canvas. If you’re a street artist, this means painting over the work of those who preceded you, creating an empty space for your own design. Although graffiti might seem to be a hurried medium, creating a multicolored design takes time. Each layer of paint has to dry before you apply the next, so you can’t hurry the process. First you have to prepare your canvas, then you have to work through each stage to complete your work-in-progress.

The Wall at Central Square

This week is finals week at Framingham State, so I’m busy with end-term grading. I have two classes’ worth of essay portfolios and final exams to read along with quiz averages and participation grades to calculate. Every term, I tell myself I’ll finish these grading tasks early, keeping well ahead of my paper-piles, and every term, things go more slowly than I’d anticipated. It takes a while for layers of paint to dry, and it takes a while to read through a thick paper-pile.

Open door - May 7 / Day 127

Every finals week, I find myself checking off a whole list of tasks before I get settled down to the business of grading. On Monday, I balanced the checkbook and paid bills; yesterday, I went grocery-shopping and led practice at the Zen Center; today, I did laundry and caught up with my two online classes, which are at the start and middle-point of their respective terms. Just because I have a huge grading pile doesn’t mean the other aspects of my life grind to a halt: the dogs still need to go out, the dishes still need to be washed, and I still need (or at least prefer) to wear clean clothes.

The Wall at Central Square

When I first started teaching, I thought this urge to check off tasks before settling down to grade was pure procrastination: surely I was looking to keep myself busing doing anything but grading. Now, though, I’m not so sure. Just as it’s easier to paint a new work if you start with a fresh, empty canvas, it’s easier to focus on grading if you aren’t wondering whether the bills are overdue, the refrigerator is empty, or your students are filling your email inbox with confused queries.

The Wall at Central Square

These last few days, in other words, I’ve been preparing my canvas, creating a clean, clear space where I can concentrate on the task at hand. Today, I had a long to-do list; tomorrow, all that’s on my list is “grade.” Now that I can scratch “Feed the blog” off today’s list, I can focus without distraction on that looming paper-pile. Like the street artist who signed his work-in-progress “Will finish on Sunday,” I know the task at hand will be done in due time.

Be back manana

Any new project deserves a clean slate…or a freshly painted wall, in the case of street art.

Graffiti forest

For years I’ve been photographing the ever-changing assortment of street art on the Wall at Central Square in Cambridge, Massachusetts, but this is the first time I’ve ever seen an urban forest of graffiti trees there. Usually, the trees I see outlined on brick walls are painted by shadows, not by spray cans.

Tree shadow

An urban wall of bricks is a bit like a forest of trees, each individual fitting among its fellows to create a larger, stronger structure. A quick walk around Central Square on a brisk Sunday morning reveals more than a few trees finding shelter in the city, undeterred by walls and fences.

Callery pear against blue sky


Just like that, it’s the last day of November, and I’ve reached the end of another stint of National Blog Posting Month. Publishing thirty posts in thirty days seems easy enough when you start off, and it seems easy enough in retrospect…but there were days between then and now when “thirty in thirty” seemed an impossible goal.

Alfredo was here!

There are a few things I learned about blogging this past month. First, it really does help to have extra photos stockpiled for future usage. When I shot a handful of window-shopping images last December, for instance, I had no idea I’d end up blogging them this November. Rather than limiting yourself to taking only those pictures you immediately plan on using, go ahead and take the first picture, then the second, then the third. The photos you don’t use today might come in handy on a rainy day.

Second, preparation for blogging really does start the night before. If you write a rough draft of a blog-post the night before you plan to post it, you can take your time composing and revising it in your head, even when you aren’t at your computer or online. Just thinking about posting is typically the first step toward actually doing it…and actually starting a draft makes finishing that draft much easier and more likely.

The Hulk times two

Third, it’s a good idea to have at least one emergency post on hand just in case you need to post something quickly or at the last minute. There were many days this month when I wasn’t sure whether I’d find the time and opportunity to post. Even if I had something I wanted to post on a given day, I can never guarantee that I’ll make it online in time to publish a post. People get sick, laptops malfunction, work intervenes, and Internet connections get interrupted. On any given day, you might have plenty of time to write a long, detailed post…or you might have just enough time to sigh, shake your head, and envy those with more reliable schedules.

Now that I’ve officially fulfilled my NaBloPoMo commitment, I’m looking forward to blogging a bit less frequently these days. December is an extremely busy month for college writing instructors, so I’m looking forward to having some extra time each day to read student papers or do other teaching tasks rather than figuring out what to “feed the blog.” November is one of the year’s shorter months, but you’d never know that from the level of anxiety and self-doubt successful bloggers feel when considering how their journal scribblings relate to real, sharable stuff. There have been days this past month when something as simple as counting to thirty seemed entirely impossible.

Pixelated Marilyn

I’ve been to the Zen Center twice this week: first on Thursday night, when I answered questions at a Dharma talk, and again this morning, when I gave consulting interviews. On Thursday, I arrived in Cambridge early enough to meet a friend for a late afternoon chat in Harvard Square. During the time it took me to park in Central Square and then stroll down Modica Way snapping a quick set of photos on my way to the subway, I got doused by a quick afternoon shower. During the time it took me to take the subway from Central to Harvard Square and then make a quick stop at the drugstore, the rain stopped and my clothes began to dry…until the heavens re-opened in a torrential downpour. Finally, after my friend and I had enjoyed a leisurely cup of hot chocolate, a stint of stationery shopping, and a soothing glass of iced tea, the sun came out, making for a bright and brisk sunset.

In bloom

Today’s weather has been more constant than Thursday’s: it’s been sunny and summery all day long. But today’s constancy doesn’t belie Thursday’s fickleness. August is a transitional month where lingering heat waves and sudden summer showers gradually but inevitably give way to the brisk days of September. Given the August weather now, you never quite know what the August weather will be like next.

The spray-painted, stenciled, and wheat-pasted works on the wall at Modica Way are similarly fleeting. Given I’d snapped those quick photos on Thursday, I figured I wouldn’t see anything new this morning…but between then and now, the wall at Central Square has burst into bloom, last week’s graffiti being covered by this week’s. August is the season when nature seems to kick into overdrive, with goldfinches finally getting around to lining their nests with late summer thistle-down while backyard cicadas and crickets grow deafening, cramming as much volume as possible into waning days.

Check yo self

Neither schoolchildren nor their parents need advertisements to remind them that back-to-school is imminent: August itself suggests as much. Already it’s getting dark earlier, the first acorns have begun to drop, and drought-distressed trees and shrubs are getting a head start on their autumnal colors. August rain comes and goes, and Saturday night graffiti artists will surely spray-paint over any art that’s grown stale. Walking past the Same Old Wall on my way to meditate upon the Same Old Mind, I’m reminded that everything is constantly changing: the weather, the walls, and my own fleeting thoughts.

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