Lounging cheetah with distant rhinos

Today’s Photo Friday theme is “Spot,” which gives me a good excuse to re-post this photo of a cheetah from the San Diego Wild Animal Park, snapped the afternoon J and I got married there last year. If you want to see some of the other wild “guests” at our Wild Animal Park wedding, you can click here. Enjoy!

Iced tea

There’s nothing like watching a ballgame on a sunny summer day to put you in the mood for some liquid refreshment, which might explain why I shoot so many photos of beverages at the various sporting events J and I regularly attend.

This is my quick, day-late contribution to this week’s Photo Friday theme, Liquid. For a photo set from the San Diego Padres vs. Pittsburgh Pirates game that J and I attended with a group of family and friends this past August, click here. Enjoy!

Restored bank teller windows

This is a detail from the lobby of the Courtyard San Diego Downtown, which is where J and I stayed on our honeymoon. Although we chose this hotel primarily because of its location, we were pleasantly surprised when we learned it is housed in the 1920s San Diego Trust and Savings building, which was beautifully restored when the bank was re-purposed as a hotel.

We never made it to the basement to explore the hotel’s conference rooms, which are housed in the bank’s old vaults. But simply hanging around the first floor lobby made us feel like a million bucks.

This is my contribution to today’s Photo Friday theme, Architecture.


I was tempted to tell you this is a photo of J sweeping me into his arms for our “you may now kiss the bride” moment, but I figured that wouldn’t fool anyone. Besides, if J had bent me over backwards for such a smooch, we probably both would have injured ourselves.


When J and I found ourselves with time to kill on our way to tour the USS Midway Museum in San Diego a few weeks ago, we had no idea there was a monumental, three-dimensional version of Alfred Eisenstaedt’s iconic photograph, V-J Day in Times Square, towering next to the ship. Entitled Unconditional Surrender, Seward Johnson’s 25-foot aluminum sculpture is exactly the kind of thing you can’t miss if you’re walking the waterfront on foot, but you probably would miss it if you drove to the waterfront and parked on the other side of the massive Midway. This is one of the things I love about exploring an unfamiliar city on foot. Instead of driving to the places your guidebook recommends, you find the serendipitous sites–the hidden jewels–that happen to be along your route from Point A to Point B.


There is, it turns out, a bit of controversy surrounding Johnson’s sculpture…and it has nothing to do with its depiction of a steamy smooch between strangers or the massive stretch of stockinged female leg the statue alluringly shows. (Yes, both J and I looked up the nurse’s dress to admire her shapely gams: the statue almost begs you to.) First, there’s the issue of intellectual property: Eisenstaedt’s famous photograph is still protected by copyright, so Johnson would be prohibited from producing another work derived from it. In his own defense, Johnson insists his statue is based upon a lesser-known photo by Victor Jorgensen that is in the public domain…but which shows far less leg than Eisenstaedt’s image.

Second, there’s controversy over the question of whether Unconditional Surrender is a “good” sculpture. In one review, an art critic for the San Diego Union-Tribune condemns it as kitsch, claiming “The figures look like something from a cheap souvenir factory, blown up beyond any reason.” In Sarasota, Florida, where another version of Johnson’s statue appears along the city’s waterfront, the chair of the local Public Art Committee says the sculpture “is like a giant cartoon image drafted by a computer emulating a famous photograph….not the creation of an artist.”

Near the USS Midway

Is the sculpture kitschy and cartoonish? Definitely. Is it historically iconic in the way that Alfred Eisenstaedt’s original photo was? Definitely not. But does either criticism mean the work doesn’t belong on the San Diego waterfront? According to the Unified Port of San Diego website, Unconditional Surrender “captures the spontaneous eruption of joy and euphoria that swept a war-weary nation when the public announcement was finally made that World War II was over.” The moment of serendipitous spontaneity that Alfred Eisenstaedt captured with his camera–the kind of crazy joy that inspires sailors to sweep pretty nurses into their arms–is itself kitschy, cartoonish, and entirely common. Celebrating war’s end with a sloppy smooch isn’t high-brow and cultured; it’s the kind of collective craziness Barbara Ehrenreich chronicles in Dancing in the Streets: a kind of Mardi Gras frivolity that isn’t serious, cultivated, or even the least bit snooty.

Given the fact that Unconditional Surrender is on loan to the Port of San Diego only until August 31, this is merely a passing moment of kitsch: the kind of serendipity you can find only while it lasts.

Lily and lotus pond

When J and I decided to get married in San Diego, we quickly compiled a short-list of things we wanted to do during the five days we’d be there. In addition to getting married at the San Diego Zoo Wild Animal Park Safari Park, we wanted to visit the actual San Diego Zoo. Given our fondness for baseball, we wanted to see a Padres game; given our fondness for naval ships, we wanted to tour the USS Midway Museum. Last but not least, we wanted to spend some time strolling the grounds of Balboa Park with its landscaped gardens, museums, and other attractions. With its predictably perfect weather, San Diego is a pedestrian paradise, and the grounds of Balboa Park are a beautiful place to wander.

Lotus blossom

This was my second time visiting San Diego, and my second encounter with Balboa Park. Years ago, my ex-husband and I took a long road-trip to California and back, and we stayed an extra day in San Diego to do laundry. I mention the laundry because that was the only reason we stayed two nights in San Diego: everywhere else we stopped on that long road-trip, we stayed only one night, always pressing on to our next destination. Somewhere deep in my photo archives I have an old picture of a much-younger me sitting on a bench in Balboa Park with a much-younger Reggie: one of a dozen pictures my ex-husband and I took in San Diego when we weren’t at our hotel doing laundry. Both Reggie and I enjoyed that day walking around in Balboa Park, the chance to walk being a welcome respite from all the driving we did on that road-trip.

Water lilies

J’s and my wedding trip to San Diego wasn’t intended as purification, “purification” being the term we use to refer to our habit of revisiting (and thus reclaiming) places we’ve previously gone alone or with our respective exes. But of course, any time you revisit a place, you are in a sense clearing the air of any old, musty memories that might have lingered there. When I first visited Balboa Park during that years-ago road-trip, I immediately wanted to go back and spend more time there: one short afternoon wasn’t nearly enough time to explore, and all those days cooped up in a car were taking their toll. In the back of my mind, when I added “Balboa Park” to J’s and my short-list of wedding-trip activities, I must have realized the place deserved an exorcism all its own, thereby transforming it from being a place I visited all-too-briefly with Husband #1 to being a place I truly enjoyed with Husband #2.

Water lily

We’ve all heard the saying that you can’t go home again, but what happens when you return to the site of a long-ago vacation, a place that certainly isn’t home? Leslee recently wondered whether vacationing in a new place is better than returning to a destination you’ve already visited…but what happens if you return with your new husband to a place you previously explored with the old? Can you purify a place without drawing unfair comparisons between “then” and “now”? One of the things I enjoyed about J’s and my wedding trip is how much walking we did: far from spending too many hours cooped up in a car, we explored San Diego on foot, walking from our hotel to Balboa Park and back, from our hotel to the ballpark and back, and from our hotel to the Zoo, Midway Museum, and waterfront and back. So many steps — so many hours spent literally on the ground in San Diego — made this trip intrinsically different from any road-trip, for we explored our various routes and destinations at eye-level and at the speed of our own feet.

Fountain and botanical building

The first time I visited Balboa Park, my main regret was that I didn’t have more time to explore there: Balboa Park was a place I missed before I’d even left. This time around, my only regret is that we didn’t get to tour the Botanical Building, as we were there on Thursday, the only day it’s closed. Someday, someday. I no longer need to return to San Diego’s Balboa Park in search of a leisurely experience I missed, and I no longer need to go there to purify the place from old ghosts and stale regrets. The next time J and I visit Balboa Park, we’ll do so in a spirit of celebration, a chance to revisit a sun-soaked landscape whose contours cradle many happy memories.

Click here for a photo-set of images from Balboa Park…or here for photos from my fist visit.

Lounging cheetah with distant rhinos

When J and I decided to have our wedding ceremony and reception at the San Diego Wild Animal Park (recently renamed the San Diego Zoo Safari Park), we figured the venue would provide a fun, informal, one-of-a-kind experience for our guests. As it turns out, we were exactly right. The Wild Animal Park’s Lagoon Overlook and Mombasa Island Pavilion were perfect for our wedding ceremony and reception.

We did "I do"

From the moment we got engaged in January, J and I knew we wanted a small, informal wedding, and since it was a second wedding for both of us, we were comfortable with trying something nontraditional. J didn’t want to wear a tuxedo, just a dress shirt and tie; I wanted to wear a dress that was white, but not long. Although we knew we wanted a ceremony that was informal and not “stuffy,” we also wanted our wedding to be dignified: getting married in Las Vegas by an Elvis impersonator, for instance, just isn’t our style. Basically we wanted to plan an event that would be enjoyable for our guests while not attracting a huge amount of attention to ourselves: something low-key, classy, and non-bridezilla.

When we narrowed our choices to some sort of destination wedding in California, we still had a lot of possibilities to choose from. California is a big state, and its liberal marriage requirements for nonresidents makes it popular for destination weddings. After spending a seemingly interminable amount of time Googling various wedding venues in California, I stumbled upon a review that mentioned the San Diego Zoo. The moment I mentioned this to J, he was intrigued: we both love animals, so a zoo sounded like the perfect setting for our nuptials. Better yet, after we investigated the various wedding packages the Zoo and Wild Animal Park offer, we were delighted to learn we could throw the kind of fun, informal, dignified wedding we envisioned without breaking our budget.


Still, as perfect as a zoo wedding seemed when we picked it, neither J nor I had ever actually been to the San Diego Wild Animal Park. Instead, we were “flying blind” as we planned our wedding, trusting the pictures on the Zoo website, our event planner, and our imaginations as we envisioned what the event would actually look like. As a result, one of the magical aspects of our wedding last Saturday was our actual arrival at the Park: the first time we actually saw the place we would be married. Planning an out-of-state wedding at a place you’ve never been before is a huge leap of faith: there’s always the possibility that you’ll arrive at your venue only to discover too late that it’s ugly, dirty, or otherwise disappointing. Happily, getting married at the San Diego Wild Animal Park was exactly as we had hoped it would be.

Sunning meerkats

I’m not sure exactly what our guests were expecting when they agreed to fly to San Diego for a wedding at a zoo, but their breathless responses after the wedding suggest their expectations were pleasantly exceeded. So were mine! While we were planning the wedding, I loved the idea of getting married outside in southern California’s fabled sunny weather, and I loved the idea of getting married next to a bird-thronged lagoon. When we arrived at the Wild Animal Park last Saturday morning, I was delighted to discover our ceremony site was even prettier than I’d imagined. The lagoon where we got married was filled with birds, both the exotic ones that belong to the Wild Animal Park’s collection (e.g. shoebills, pelicans, and nesting cormorants) as well as the wild birds that drop in to visit (e.g. night herons, egrets, and ducks). The reception site was an open-air pavilion right along this same lagoon, so we could bird-watch the entire time.

Lone stork

One of my goals for this, my second wedding, was to actually remember the event. The first time I got married, I was so busy doing all the things you’re “supposed to do” as a bride, I didn’t get much of a chance to actually enjoy my own wedding day. In retrospect, my first wedding felt a bit like a puppet-show where someone else was pulling the strings: my body was “there,” but “I” don’t remember much about the event.

This second time around, I wanted to actually be present at my own wedding: I wanted to enjoy the day, our guests, and the actual venue of the event. J and I wanted to plan a fun wedding because we wanted to have fun. It’s telling, then, that as I go through the hundreds of pictures I took on my own wedding day, I don’t have any pictures of the ceremony or reception, when I trusted others would be snapping photos. Instead, I have countless pictures of the animals J and I saw both before and after the wedding, just as I would if we’d gone to the Wild Animal Park on any other day. More than being just “our wedding day,” last Saturday was fun because J and I got to do the kind of sightseeing and picture-taking we enjoy…and we got to do it with our closest friends and family.

Ducks underfoot

In an attempt to remember my favorite moments from this memorable occasion, here are some verbal snapshots from our wedding day:

When we arrived at the Wild Animal Park, a member of the events staff was at the entrance to meet us. After officially checking us in, she escorted J, my sister, my niece, the friend who had chauffeured us, and me into a waiting golf cart which whisked us to our ceremony site. “We get to ride a golf cart,” I gushed, and then I chuckled. Apparently it takes very little to excite me!

When we arrived at our ceremony and reception site more than two hours ahead of time, nearly everything was already set up. Inside the Mombasa Island pavilion, our dining tables were set with mauve and maroon tablecloths, the bar was draped with festive animal-print linens, and a long reception table was arranged with our guest book, meal place-cards, and guest souvenirs: Wild Animal Park travel mugs for adults and large animal sipper-bottles for kids.

Immature coot

After we walked through the reception site, Keely, the event coordinator I’d frequently emailed but hadn’t yet met, was at the nearby ceremony site to greet us in a black-and-white animal-print dress as she commanded a small army of workers on a walkie-talkie. “We’ll dry off the chairs before the ceremony,” Keely explained, gesturing toward some dew that had condensed on the white folding chairs where our guests would sit. As Keely was talking, a zoo worker materialized out of nowhere with a push-broom to sweep away a puddle left on the sidewalk by the morning street-cleaning. Needless to say, the event staff’s attention to detail was amazing!

After we’d checked out the ceremony and reception venues, we were escorted to the official bride’s room in the Park’s administrative building, where we decided we’d prefer to walk around the park rather than sit and primp. The Wild Animal Park worker who had been assigned to escort us to particularly photogenic sites was bemused to discover, however, that J and I weren’t interested in posing for pictures of us; instead, we wanted to take pictures of the animals! Whenever our escort would point our a particularly picturesque scene, J and I would take a quick look, and if there were animals, we’d pull out our cameras and start snapping pictures. If there were no animals, we’d look around and keep walking. That escort is still probably scratching her head at our bizarrely self-effacing, non-bridezilla behavior. What kind of bridal couple doesn’t want to pose for tons of pictures?


As we walked around the Wild Animal Park enjoying the quiet calm of early morning, when the animals are always most active, we could overhear on our escort’s radio Keely’s disembodied voice as she coordinated last-minute details. We heard, for instance, when the florist arrived with my bouquet and J’s boutonniere, and we heard when our officiant arrived. The best update, though, was when we heard a Park volunteer radio in to report that all our guests had been checked in at the admissions gate. With our flowers, officiant, and guests all arrived, we were ready to roll!

After our private tour of the Wild Animal Park, we returned to the administration building to meet our officiant, Rev. Powers. Just as we’d booked our wedding venue without ever visiting it, we’d hired Rev. Powers without having met him, trusting the gushing recommendations of the Wild Animal Park staff. After having planned our ceremony with Rev. Powers via email, it was a delight to meet him in the flesh just in time to sign the official papers. After my sister took few pictures of a jittery J and me signing our wedding license, J and I were whisked back into a golf cart while Rev. Powers and our entourage made their own way to the ceremony.

Shoebill in profile

On that final golf cart ride, J and I zipped past the gorilla enclosure, where lines of school-children in matching T-shirts were queued after having stayed overnight at the Wild Animal Park (a program delightfully called Roar and Snore). “You’re not really married until you’ve seen the gorillas!” our escort remarked, and at the time, as we zipped by resting primates, this somehow made sense. After we’d been dropped off at a place called the Gorilla Bridge to await our cue from Keely to walk down the aisle, J and I stood in the shade looking a mite conspicuous, with J in his dress shirt and tie and me in my white eyelet dress and bright pink sunhat. As one couple walked by, their little girl looked at us shyly, finally mustering the nerve to ask if we were getting married. When I said yes, the mother urged both the girl and her brother to say congratulations, and as the family walked away, I overheard the father say to the girl, “Maybe someday you’ll get married, too!”

From here, I think both J and I kicked into autopilot, that hazy state where your body does what it’s supposed to do without your brain exactly knowing how that happened. I remember that J and I walked together toward our ceremony site then down the aisle, hand-in-hand; in a cell-phone photo a friend snapped, J and I are smiling and walking in perfect step. I don’t specifically remember walking down the aisle, but I remember seeing our gathered family and friends looking at us, and it seemed everyone was smiling and holding up cameras or cell phones, taking pictures.

Who's looking at whom?

After the excited hours leading up to our wedding, I have a handful of vivid memories from the ceremony itself. The first was the moment when I noticed Rev. Powers’ hands as he held the booklet containing the ceremony we’d assembled, and I saw he was wearing J’s and my wedding rings on his pinkie for safekeeping. The second was the moment as I was reciting my vows that a hot-air balloon floated into view, as if on cue. But perhaps the most memorable moment during our ceremony came near the end, after J and I had said our vows and exchanged rings. Rev. Powers told us to turn toward our guests as we adjusted our rings, and once again everyone raised cameras and cell-phones for the quintessential “just married” snapshot.


In retrospect, I don’t remember any individual faces in the crowd; I just remember being surrounded by a warm blur of love, like the “cloud of witnesses” mentioned in the Bible. That blur of warm, smiling faces was a vivid reminder of how blessed both J and I are to have the love and support of our close friends and family.

It was that spontaneous expression of love and support we celebrated at our open-air reception, where our unofficial animal “guests” included a night heron who perched right next to our dessert station and a shoebill who was hand-fed a mouse which he subsequently swallowed whole. As if to keep everything in perspective, toward the end of the reception one of my new nephews approached me and solemnly admitted, “The part where we had to sit still and listen was kind of boring.” True. Compared to the wild delights of an entire park full of wild animals, the solemnity of wedding vows can seem pretty boring. Luckily, we had plenty of colorful guests, both human and animal alike, to keep things lively.

Click here for the complete photo-set of scenes from our wedding day at the San Diego Wild Animal Park. You won’t find any wedding or reception pictures in my photo-set, just pictures of animals.

The post-ceremony photo of me and J was taken by our friend Fred, who used J’s camera to take pictures during the ceremony; I’ll share a link to those pictures once J has sorted through the thousands of pictures (!!!) he took during our San Diego getaway. Enjoy!

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Crouching Spider

The last time I went to the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston, Leslee, a mutual friend, and I saw Bourgeois in Boston, an exhibit including one of Louise Bourgeois’ larger-than-life sculpted spiders. The ICA doesn’t allow photography in its galleries, so Leslee, our friend, and I had to content ourselves with simply walking among and around the towering, spindly legs that filled an entire room while Leslee illustrated her post about our drizzly-day visit with images taken in the ICA’s camera-friendly public spaces.

Crouching Spider with Bay Bridge

Given that first, camera-free introduction to Bourgeois’ spindly arachnids, how interesting it was to stumble upon Crouching Spider along San Francisco’s Embarcadero last month, the absence of museum walls allowing me to take as many photos as I’d like. It’s one thing to see a work of art caged like a zoo animal inside a museum; it’s another thing to see it unleashed in the streets. Inside the guarded galleries of Boston’s ICA, Bourgeois’ sculpture cast soft, muted shadows and seemed a bit tame. “I wonder how they got this thing in here,” I remember wondering. In the shadow of San Francisco’s Bay Bridge, Crouching Spider casts a wild, snaky shade, its withered, dwindling extremities mirroring the intricate web of the bridge’s suspension wires and railing: the spider’s art echoing the engineer’s architecture. Although devised by one in the same artist, the captive spider-sculpture I’d seen in Boston seemed entirely different from the open-air one I saw along the San Francisco shore.


On Sunday, Leslee and I returned to the ICA, this time drawn by the promise of air-conditioned respite from the weekend’s blistering hot weather. Whereas last year, our trip to the ICA was my first introduction to the work of Louise Bourgeois, this weekend we went to the ICA specifically to see its current exhibit by Anish Kapoor: Past, Present, Future. If museums are to art what zoos are to animals, my previous experience with Kapoor happened in the wild, in Chicago, where I’d taken loads of photos of Kapoor’s Cloud Gate, affectionately known among its fans as “the Bean.”

Having first encountered Kapoor’s reflective surfaces in the wilds of downtown Chicago, I wasn’t sure how well they’d fare–or how well I’d interact with them–in the captivity of museum space. Leslee and I knew from ICA policy we wouldn’t be able to take pictures; I knew from my time with Cloud Gate that we’d find plenty to do simply looking at the likes of S-Curve: a shiny, sinuous band of reflective surface that operates like a fun-house mirror, distorting and disturbing passersby with its mind-bending illusions. But how quickly would even S-Curve grow old, I wondered, and would other pieces in the exhibit fail to excite, being small enough (after all) to all fit into a single room of weirdly disorienting open space?

Alongside the ICA

Even in captivity, the work of Anish Kapoor does not disappoint. Upon entering the exhibit, Leslee and I found ourselves immediately facing S-Curve, and from that moment I felt the metaphoric feet of sensory perception knocked out from under me. Upon first approaching S-Curve, I lost all sense of depth perception, a disorienting sensation that was even stronger when I viewed Brandy Wine, a shiny red disk that flips, magnifies, and distorts objects reflected in its smooth concave surface. While daring an extreme closeup view of Brandy Wine, I repeatedly checked my feet to make sure I wasn’t walking directly into the piece. Apparently I wasn’t the only person thus disoriented by Kapoor’s almost hallucinogenic illusions, as each of the more mind-bending works in the exhibit was accompanied by its own individual museum guard who made sure confused visitors didn’t venture too close.

Hall with a view

Both space and light can be deceiving; we’ve all seen those captions on passenger-side car mirrors warning that objects reflected therein are closer than they appear. But the title of Anish Kapoor’s exhibit at the ICA–Past, Present, Future–suggests the artist is playing with illusions of time as well as space. The oddest piece in Kapoor’s exhibit is, interesting, the eponymous one, Past, Present, Future being a hemispherical mound of putty-like red wax that is continuously molded, smoothed, and spattered by a slow-moving, blade-like wall. Whereas the ICA visitors I observed were inspired to move by the crazy reflections of S-curve, dancing and darting around its winding surfaces to see it (and themselves) in every available light, the folks I saw viewing Past, Present, Future were almost motionless, stunned and silent in front of its oncoming wall. Seeing the smoothed surface of where the blade had been on this swipe or the previous one, people still stopped to watch where the blade was cutting right now. Even if an installation piece is doing nothing but molding the same wax shape over and over and over, there’s something about the process that irresistibly attracts our attention: the proverbial appeal of watching paint dry.

Behind the ICA

I’m no longer the same mound of flesh-colored putty I was when I shot photos of the Cloud Gate in Chicago more than two years ago, and neither is Anish Kapoor: we’ve both been subjected to the ceaseless swipe of time’s shaping blade. Objects reflected across the concave disk of years are smaller than they appear, or larger, or imbued with an entirely distorted sense of meaning. Finding your feet beneath you, now, is sometimes the only way you can navigate in a world that throws you S curves, sculptures, and artists trained in illusion. “We meet again,” said the spider to the fly, and this blogger, like a fly on the wall, wonders where and when the likes of us all will meet again.

For more photos of Louise Bourgeois’ Crouching Spider in San Francisco, click here; for a photo set from Boston’s Institute of Contemporary Art (minus the camera-free Kapoor exhibit), click here. You can see a slide-show of Past, Present, Future here, and you can see additional photos in reviews here and here and here and here. Enjoy!

You could be living

Ever since I moved to New England over 15 years ago, I’ve noticed an interesting phenomenon. Whenever I travel to some lovely vacation spot, I realize upon coming back home that I live in a lovely vacation spot. Although I enjoy visiting and exploring the wonders in other folks’ backyards, the “Here” I find when I come back home is equally alluring and interesting.

Bay Bridge

The last time I was in San Francisco, I was unhappily married, stuck in the midst of a mired dissertation, and emotionally numb. Like Mary Austin, who walked in the deserts of southern California seeking to be “sobered and healed at last by the large soundness of nature,” I spent as much of that week as possible walking, alone. Staying by night as an invisible guest at the San Francisco Zen Center, I woke each morning before practice, slipped out to my car while other folks made their sleepy way to the meditation hall, and made my escape north of the city, where I did miles of solitary walking meditation in Marin County, the hypnotic regularity of “one foot in front of the other” being exactly what I needed at the time to return to my senses.

Bay Bridge with gull

I later wrote about that week I spent sneaking out of the San Francisco Zen Center, consistently choosing walking over sitting:

Over the course of five days in Marin County, I walked over 50 miles in day-trip long segments, walking each day until my legs ached and my sandal-clad feet were as brown as the earth. Every evening I’d return to the city to eat, shower, then sleep like a rock until morning when I’d repeat the process all over again. There’s nothing like a day’s worth of walking to tire your body and soul into deep, restful sleep; there’s nothing like a day’s worth of walking to bring you out of your academia-addled brain and back into your body, rooted to the earth down to your dust-covered toes.

Take a seat

This weekend, instead of staying at the San Francisco Zen Center, I was an almost-invisible participant at a literary conference where I presented part of the opening chapter of that once-mired, now four-years-completed dissertation, popping into a handful of sessions each day but otherwise sneaking off elsewhere. Five years ago, I used walking as an escape from the academic writing I’d grown sick of; this time around, I used walking (and the ever-present demands of my online classes) as an escape from the academic presentations that still seem so foreign to me.

How is it that professors no different from me can content themselves sitting inside all day reading papers to one another when their legs still work and the world outside beckons? In “Walking,” one of the texts I considered in the opening chapter of my dissertation, Henry David Thoreau marveled that his neighbors didn’t kill themselves from the monotony of having to sit in shops all day, “as if the legs were made to sit upon, and not to stand or walk upon.” This weekend I found myself wondering something similar. I can’t speak for other academics, but this much I’ve discovered about myself: I can’t think sitting down, much less sitting down being read to. If there’s anything of interest in the opening chapter of my dissertation or elsewhere, it’s insight I came to while walking, the sedentary writing of those insights being something that happened after-the-fact.

Transamerica Pyramid from pier

So given the fact that I live in a place just as lovely as San Francisco or other conference destinations, and given the fact that I seem constitutionally averse to the kind of mingling and intellectualizing that academic conferences deal in, I wonder whether I’ll ever find myself attending another one. One of the things I realized while walking in Marin County five years ago was that I didn’t want to live my live analyzing Thoreau: I wanted to be Thoreau, and it occurs to me that Thoreau wasn’t much for literary conferences. “You could be living in a place where people dream of vacationing,” a San Francisco real estate sign reminds passersby; “you could be living, rather than presenting and being presented-to,” I had to stifle myself from saying as I sat through the handful of academic sessions I attended each day, counting the minutes until I could escape to walk again.


I’ve settled into the conference I’m attending in San Francisco, where the hotel staff is keeping us well-hydrated with tables of glasses and urns of cold water outside each seminar room. Although I brought my laptop so I can keep in touch with my online classes via hotel wifi, the double demands of conferencing and online-teaching (and my occasional escapes to do actual sight-seeing) will keep me from blogging much through the weekend. I’ll see you when I’m able; in the meantime, don’t forget to drink lots of water.

Tennessee Valley Trail

I’ve spent a good part of yesterday and today–the middle portion of my spring break–tweaking my academic website. I’m presenting a paper at a conference in May, and I’m currently taking some tentative steps toward looking for more secure (i.e. non-adjunct) academic employment, so it’s good to have an “online presence” that actually reflects who I am and what I do.

This means uploading sample syllabi, fleshing out the portion of my website dedicated to scholarly research, and updating both my CV and resume (and yes, I have both: the former goes into detail about research and publications while the latter focuses primarily on teaching). All the stuff I’m tweaking, uploading, and organizing was already online, but when I moved this blog to WordPress, I also moved my website, and I didn’t immediately get around to moving, updating, and organizing these additional documents.

Deer on coastal trail

This week’s website-tweaking has also involved a strange sort of re-visiting. One of the things I wanted to re-post on my academic website is an essay I call “The Upshot,” which was the final section of the final chapter of my PhD dissertation. (I also re-posted the abridged and complete versions of my dissertation proposal in case anyone is interested in that.) “The Upshot” tells the story (in an informal and decidedly non-academic tone) of how I began, got stuck on, and ultimately finished my dissertation. In a word, “The Upshot” recounts the long, strange trip from the project’s initial stages to its completion.

In my own teaching, I typically ask students to write a final reflective piece that talks about their writing process, and I often find these informal essays to be the most insightful and enjoyable part of students’ final portfolios. How can you know what you learned until you look back on where you’ve been? In my own case, “The Upshot” is my favorite section of my entire dissertation; not only did I write it when I was (thankfully!) almost done, it’s the portion of the project that feels the most personal to me. The rest of my dissertation is me trying to sound like an academic; “The Upshot” is where I take off that formal guise and talk about what initially inspired me to start the project and what I came to learn from it.

Tennessee Cove

Re-posting “The Upshot” forced me to read it again: it’s been nearly four years since I finished my dissertation and then promptly deposited its massive, still-boxed bulk atop a bookshelf where it’s been gathering dust ever since. The process of finishing a dissertation left me feeling overdosed on academic discourse, so I haven’t wanted to re-visit my own foray into that field. And yet, the paper I’ll be presenting in May is a chapter from my dissertation, so there’s something inside me that is dipping a tentative toe into the familiar (albeit still murky) waters of scholarly prose: presumably the interests that led me to start a dissertation are still a part of me even if I burned out on the actual act of completion.

I’d initially illustrated “The Upshot” with a handful of photos I’d taken during a lonely trip to San Francisco I’d taken in the summer of 2003, approximately six months before I finished my dissertation and almost exactly a year before my then-husband and I separated. As the ironies of the Universe would have it, that conference I’ll be attending in May will take me back to San Francisco. All roads, it seems, lead me back to the same themes, the same places, and the same images, the process of pilgrimage being an out-going trip that always seems to circle back to self and home.

Needless to say, I am not in California’s Marin County this week: today’s pictures are the same ones featured in the very essay I’m talking about.

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