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

Help yourself

We’ve reached that time of year when I’m tired of photographing icicles and snow.

Snow drift and parking meter

January’s “river of stones” challenge ended a few days before another big storm left me snowbound in Massachusetts while J was stranded on a business trip. During the days J was gone and I was home alone with a houseful of pets, I taught my face-to-face classes online and ventured no further than our backyard dog-pen, my snow-buried car parked at the end of our snow-buried driveway. For the better part of a week, my days were full of teaching tasks, household chores, shoveling, and roof-raking: not exactly the stuff of interesting blog-posts.

Despite my best efforts, J came home to ice dams, a leaky porch, and a damp basement. It’s been good to have him home, and even better to have some warm weather this past weekend that cleared much of our roof more efficiently than either J or I could have done with a snow rake (although a tenacious ice dam still took down one of our gutters). Even though we know winter isn’t over yet, a spot of spring-like temperatures is enough to give us hope.

Sharing

On Sunday morning, on my way to the Zen Center for mid-morning practice, I made a point to venture behind the Harvest Co-op in Central Square to photograph David Fichter‘s summer-bright mural, “The Potluck“: a cheery scene I’ve blogged before. When you’re starved for color and sick of snow, a colorful mural on an above-freezing day beckons like a promise: someday summer will return, and eventually it will be warm and sunny enough to eat outside.

Click here for more photos of David Fichter’s “The Potluck.” Enjoy!

Cosmic kitty

Yesterday afternoon I submitted end-term grades for my latest online term…and just like that, my summer has officially started. For the next two months, I’m not teaching anywhere: not face-to-face, and not online. For the next two months, I’m officially “off.”

Green goblin

It’s been years since I’ve had a summer off: that’s one of the harsh realities of being an adjunct instructor. My face-to-face and online semesters, taught for different institutions, typically overlap, so apart from a week in the summer and a few weeks in December, I teach year-round. Because the typical semester involves a grading-grind at its end and a flurry of preparation at its beginning, having a week or two off between semesters is never enough downtime. By the time you finish grading last semester’s papers, you have to turn around to prep next semester’s classes.

This year, I made a conscious decision not to teach any face-to-face summer school classes at Keene State. Although it’s nice to have some summer income, I’ve been looking forward to a few months of not making a weekly commute between Massachusetts and New Hampshire. When I decided not to teach summer school at Keene State this year, I had envisioned teaching online throughout the summer, as I typically do…but it turns out SNHU Online doesn’t need me to teach this term. So quite by accident–in the way adjunct instructors’ course schedules are always contingent on chance–I won’t be teaching anywhere until the end of August.

Wayne Rooney & MR

When I first found out I’d be unemployed for two solid summer months, I was initially anxious: how will I pay the bills while I don’t have any paychecks coming in, and will one unemployed term lead to others? But my almost immediate second reaction was relief. I really need a break from the juggling act of teaching at multiple institutions, and two months completely off from teaching will be an unimaginable luxury. Full-time professors have their summer months to unwind from teaching, and tenured professors get sabbaticals. These next two months are the closest thing I get to a vacation or sabbatical: a time to recharge the proverbial batteries.

Given the next few months of downtime, what am I looking forward to the most? Being able to read anything I want, instead of reading stacks of student papers. Earlier this week, I finished Rebecca Skloot’s The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, which I’d started last week; last night, I finished reading Jackie MacMullan’s When the Game Was Ours, which I’d started at the beginning of the NBA Finals; and this morning I finished Jon Krakauer’s Where Men Win Glory, which I’d started sometime last semester. After spending so many months with barely enough time to keep up with my teeming paper-piles, it feels great to start and finish reading entire books.

Ca$h for your Warhol

This morning, facing the question of What To Read Next, I simply stood in front of my bookshelves until something (in this case, Malcolm Gladwell’s What the Dog Saw) said “Read me.” It’s tempting to make lists of what I “want” to (or “should”) read over the summer, but right now I’m letting my heart guide me. It’s not a matter of accomplishing anything or checking anything off a list; it’s a matter of finding something that interests, intrigues, and even entertains. During these next few months of precious downtime, I don’t want to waste a single minute trying to be too productive.

Today’s pictures come from a Sunday stroll through Central Square, Cambridge. Enjoy!

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Could use a coat of paint

They say the cobbler’s children have no shoes, and it seems the proprietors of Pill Hardware in Central Square, Cambridge are so busy helping other folks with their home improvement projects, they don’t have time to give their old sign a new coat of paint.

Pink

This week promises to be busy, but I’m still showing up at the page, still writing. It’s as if I’ve reached a point where walking and writing are such a guaranteed part of my daily routine, I know they’ll happen whether life gets busy or not.

Band-aid

Life always gets busy, so don’t postpone the important stuff. That’s one thing I’ve learned over the years–don’t wait until you have the time, because you won’t. Life’s busy-ness isn’t the kind of thing that comes and passes, leaving you a blissful break when you can get your life together. Instead, life’s busy-ness is like the coming of waves, one after another. There is no end to waves, as water by nature perpetually moves. Even at low tide, when waves recede, the water still moves and your floating leaf of a life is tossed on its surge. Don’t wait for the ebb and flow to relent. Instead, strengthen your sea-legs and learn to walk on water.

Imaginary meat

For years I spent more time not writing than writing, my notebook lying neglected when life got busy. I’d tell myself I’d get back in the habit of writing when life calmed down–next week, tomorrow, or after the next deadline. But procrastination is self-perpetuating, and next month leads to the next month, tomorrow to the next day, and this deadline to the next and the next and the next. There is no end to noisy demands on one’s time, and one’s notebook never complains, sitting silent and neglected when you fail to write for days or even weeks on end. And so gradually but inevitably you move from being a writer to being someone who wants toplans tomeans to write.

Peeling

Every day I have a long to-do list, and every day my to-do list contains the things I failed to do yesterday. But every day I walk Reggie, and nearly every day I write in my journal. Through sheer force of habit, these two things–walking and writing–have become as automatic as eating, bathing, or brushing my teeth. I’ve come to see them not as optional additions but as absolute essentials: the daily maintenance it takes to be “me.”

And so on busy days, I don’t skip writing, although I might write less than usual. But I set pen to page even on busy days, seeing that routine as being central to my productive functioning. Coffee-drinkers don’t skip their morning cup because they’re busy; they see that morning infusion as being the impetus that fuels their day, even (especially) when they’re busy. I don’t drink coffee, so my morning walks and my morning pages are my version of caffeine: the two things that get my day rolling.

Skull

I’ve given up trying to catch up; being caught up is as elusive as the rainbow’s end. If I’ll never catch up–if another wave of busy-ness will surely follow this one–there’s no use in waiting for calm, tranquil seas. Write right now, I tell myself, even as the boat rocks with the waves of activity. There will be plenty of tranquility when I’m dead, but no opportunity for writing then.

I wrote these paragraphs in my notebook yesterday morning, on a day I had time to write but not blog. For the complete photo-set of images from this weekend’s walk down Modica Way in Central Square, Cambridge, click here. Enjoy!

Modica Way

For all the times I’ve shown you the graffiti wall along Modica Way in Central Square, Cambridge, I’ve never shown you the photo-mural on the opposite wall.

I heart you

For whatever reason, I tend to focus on the color and changeability of the graffiti wall more than the monochromatic sameness of the other wall. I suppose the officially sanctioned permanence of a photo-mural isn’t as interesting or illicit as an ever-changing wall painted by street artists. Some civic-minded folks organized, designed, and then erected the mural, which commemorates the faces and flavor of Central Square…but knowing the mural is going to be there with its predictable black and white photos every time I’m in the neighborhood, I tend to ignore it. The graffiti on the other wall is unpredictable and always surprising, so the same old photos on the other wall seem tame and reliable in comparison. Although I’ve occasionally snapped photos of the other side of Modica Way, I’ve never found a reason to blog them. “If it bleeds, it leads” is the dictum of the mainstream media, and “if it’s colorful, it’s bloggable” seems to have become my unofficial policy. Images of someone else’s black and white photos always seem to take a backseat.

Faces

You miss a lot, of course, if you focus only on the colorful, remarkable things. Much of life is monochromatic and predictable: in fact, you could rightfully argue that the best things in life are tame and reliable. Colorful graffiti offers the excitement of novelty: turning the corner onto Modica Way, you’ll never know what sort of colors, shapes, or images will be there to greet you. But there’s something to be said, too, for reliable predictability. Temporary exhibits might draw us back to the same old museum, but there’s a reassuring comfort in knowing the permanent exhibits are still there, inviting us to take another look.

Rev. Larry Love (RIP)

Truth be told, the photo-mural on Modica Way isn’t as unchanging as I seem to think it is, and therein lies the true lesson of all things monochrome. Passersby have and do put stickers and Magic Marker messages on it–the most primitive form of graffiti–and someone occasionally cleans these up: the towheaded tyke pictured on the far right here is no longer labeled as a white devil, and the fellow with his thumb up here is no longer holding a flower. Impermanence does indeed surround us: yesterday’s Magic Marker commentary might be scrubbed by tomorrow. Even if the mural itself doesn’t change, the faces depicted therein certainly do: the celebrated Central Square figure of the Reverend Larry Love, a deranged but lovable fellow who wandered the streets (and occasionally directed traffic) in colorful costumes when I lived in Cambridge, died in 2001, but an image of him in his makeshift police uniform keeps his memory alive on Modica Way.

Inbound

After having unofficially participated in November’s National Blog Posting Month, I feel like I’m returning to the monochrome world of posting when and how I can. The month of November showed me that I can post something every single day if I really put my mind to it, but now that December has started, life will be less colorful (and thus presumably less bloggable) as my academic workload turns from “fairly busy” to “that time of the semester when I’m buried in paper-piles.” On the one side of Modica Way, colorful graffiti points to the creative impulse that makes something out of the blank slate of bare brick…or that, at least, paints over yesterday’s ephemera with today’s novelty. On the other side of Modica Way, a collage of decade-old (and older) photos invites the commentary of marginal marker scribbles: given what someone else saw then, what can you say today?

Last month, I spent 30 days typing words on the blank slate of an empty screen, and for the next three weeks, I’ll be writing comments on papers, my marginal scribbles seeming mundane and monochromatic compared to November’s colorful conversation. I’ll post when and how I can, even if it’s only an occasional postcard, until I come out on the other side of the current semester.

Click here for the complete photo-set from the other side of Central Square’s Modica Way. Enjoy!

Not exactly full disclosure

The Cambridge police department will gladly share crime alerts with you if you can figure out where to sign up for them.