Mannequins thinking of spring

This morning for the second Sunday in a row, I woke up early, did my morning chores, then drove to the Cambridge Zen Center, where I meditated for one session before heading to Harvard Square, where I wrote my morning journal pages over a small cup of Burdick’s dark hot chocolate.

Respect art / Not art

Sitting one rather than four Sunday morning meditation sessions means your practice is necessarily concentrated. You can’t space out for minutes at a time, figuring you’ll pay attention later. Knowing you have only thirty minutes to sit following your breath, you pay close attention to every minute, saving nothing for “later.”

This, in my experience, is the difference between living at a Zen Center and simply visiting. When I lived at the Cambridge Zen Center, I quickly grew accustomed to the mundane nature of Dharma room practice, taking it for granted and not paying as close attention over time. When you live in a Zen Center, it’s easy to show up in body but not fully in mind. When you drive in from the suburbs to sit a brief half hour, on the other hand, you take care to pay close attention to that time, recognizing it as a precious respite in a sea of hurry.

Outside Warby Parker

A cup of dark hot chocolate is like this too. Burdick’s chocolate is rich, intensely flavored, and delivers a day-long buzz: a whole day of energy in one small cup. If I lived next door to Burdick’s, I might take it for granted, growing too accustomed to a mid-morning pick-me-up. Instead, a concentrated cup of dark chocolate is an occasional reward I give myself on those Sundays when I get up early and go to the Zen Center as planned: a good start to a new week, capped with something strong and just a little bit sweet.

Burdicks

This morning after sitting a single session at the Cambridge Zen Center, I slipped out of practice and walked to Harvard Square, where I treated myself to a small dark hot chocolate, just as I did several weeks ago on my birthday.

Reflective self portrait

This time, I brought a full-size notebook, tucking it in my purse so I could sit alongside the anonymous women of Cambridge: young women in pairs, chatting, and middle-aged women like me, shrouded in invisibility as we sit writing or reading over our solitary beverages. Early on a Sunday morning, men seem to venture into Burdicks only briefly to purchase coffee or chocolates to go, or they hurry in to join a wife or daughter after having accomplished the manly work of parking the car.

This, I’ve decided, is one of the key differences between women and men in our culture. Women willingly go places alone, sit alone, and are perfectly content to be left alone as long as they have a book, magazine, or notebook to occupy themselves. Men, on the other hand, need women to accompany them. A man needs a woman to pull him out of his isolation, to drag him into chocolate shops he’d never venture into on his own, and to make introductions and small talk and niceties. A man needs a woman (in other words) to do the emotional labor of socializing.

Letter writing

A lone woman–particularly a lone woman of a certain age–embraces her invisibility; she cherishes it, in fact, after so many years of being the object of others’ eyes. A man, on the other hand, needs a woman on his arm–the younger and prettier the better–to become visible, to be noticed, to make both an entrance and an impression. A lone man loitering is a threat–an object of suspicion–but a lone woman slips unobtrusively under the radar. The proverbial fly on the wall was, I am certain, female. Who better to observe and record the actions of others than a creature who is small, insignificant, and overlooked: a mousy creature, not a preening peacock.

Chocolate pigs??

There are, of course, exceptions; the differences I’ve outlined between women and men are, after all, conditioned, not innate. When I first arrived at Burdicks this morning, there was a young man sitting alone at a table across from me. Before I could wonder whether he was waiting for a wife or girlfriend, however, this young man pulled out a camera: a large SLR with a fancy lens that served to justify his presence. Snapping a shot of the delicate, dangling lights overhead–the same lights I’d surreptitiously shot with my phone, with no fancy lens necessary–this young man promptly packed his expensive camera into his backpack and left: mission accomplished.

Journal pages

When I chose a table this morning, I didn’t sit alongside this man or at the row of empty tables near him; instead, I squeezed into a single table between two lone women, one on either side. The ways that women and men behave in public are conditioned, not innate, but they are conditioned deeply. Men take up space with their backpacks and large cameras, and women (especially those of a certain age) shrink into the spaces between, our invisibility a silent, secret strength that allows us to see.

demi and large

Don’t believe Leslee‘s talk about psychoactive substances, crack houses, and chocolate highs. Yes, the newly remodeled (and reopened!) L.A. Burdick Cafe in Harvard Square, Cambridge might be “a veritable meth lab of the psychoactive cocktail that is chocolate,” but Leslee is a mere dabbler in the dark art that is dark chocolate, drinking a tiny demitasse yesterday afternoon while I downed a large. Yes, I’m a heavy user: my name is Lorianne, and I’m a hot chocoholic.

Taxi stand

While we imbibed a beverage that doesn’t need alcohol to be intoxicating, Leslee and I talked about many things, one being our similar experiences moving closer to Boston proper. Now that Leslee lives in Belmont and I spend at least four days a week (sometimes more) in Newton, we both are finding it much easier to have a social life. If I were currently in Keene and Leslee were still living in Grafton, we each would have had to drive over an hour to enjoy a cup of hot chocolate in Cambridge…and then we each would have come down from our respective cups on our long individual drives home. Instead, last night’s Burdick’s run involved me grabbing a book to read and my Charlie card, walking from J’s house to the T, and arriving in Harvard Square several chapters later, with time to spare for shopping. How perfect is that?

Passing pedestrians

I’ve never been much for night life, but it’s nice to know that when or if I want to zip into Cambridge for a large, late afternoon cup of hot chocolate, it’s an easy round-trip. On the walk back to the T after hot chocolate, more shopping, and chili, sangria, and more conversation at the Border Cafe, I was happy to know such simple pleasures are close at hand. This afternoon, J and I rode the T to an afternoon Bruins game, checked out the First Night preparations on Boston Common, and arrived back home before dark. While much of Boston is staying out late to ring in the New Year, J and I are staying close to home. After the psychoactive excesses of yesterday’s Burdick’s run, tonight’s “after dark” agenda involves a houseful of pets, a widescreen TV, and a DVD or two. The night life in Boston affords many different ways to live it up after dark.