Sending out thanks

I’m still feeling the joy of yesterday’s declaration of the Biden-Harris win. I love seeing the term “joyscrolling,” as people read about the excitement over this historic moment. I am feeling deeply thankful. I am sending out my thanks to the universe, but also to the people who worked tirelessly to combat voter suppression, and to make sure that more voices are heard in our democracy. And to many others who made this election and its results happen.

I’m also working on more directly thanking the group of people I connected with on my postcard and letter writing projects. I’m historically Very Bad at sending mail, especially thank you notes. (But also things like letters, emails, and even birth announcements¹. I usually send one Christmas card each year to one uncle, but rarely manage more than that.) So relatives of mine who have noticed my Postal Deficiency Disorder may be surprised to know that I personally mailed out over 600 pieces of mail to voters, and organized several thousand more. And they might be even more shocked that I am planning to send out handwritten thank you notes (or at least postcards) to the 50+ people who helped me with this project. I have finished writing 46 of them, and have only 9 to go.

So, I don’t have a lot of time to write tonight, because I need to write tonight. (Though now I’m realizing that I did just spend a fair amount of time writing this post explaining why I didn’t have time to write a post.)


¹ Let it be known that I only ever sent off one (yes, count them: one) birth announcement when Theo was born. And it was somewhat by mistake, because I had meant to wait to send that one until the rest (or at least some others) were finished. However, John saw the stamped and addressed envelope ready to go and helpfully mailed it. And then who knows what happened to interrupt the writing and sending of the rest of the pile. Here it is, over 12 years later, and I probably still have relatives who don’t know I have a second child.

April showers bring May…showers

This first day of May started out chilly and rainy. Happily, it was not raining hard as the kids and I waited for the school bus, so we didn’t need to huddle under an umbrella. As we waited, the water drops on the pine trees along the driveway caught my eye, as they have before. I tried to get some photos with my phone, but in the low light of the dreary day, I could not get the camera to focus where I wanted it. I kept trying for long enough that Phoebe asked, “why do you take so many photos of raindrops on pine needles?” I found myself thinking, “why wouldn’t I?” But I probably said something like, “because they look so cool.”

After the bus came, I had about 45 minutes before I had to leave for an appointment. The plan was to eat breakfast and take a quick shower. Instead, I went back in and got my camera and macro lens set-up, and went back outside. It was raining lightly, and my hair got wet, so I figure this is practically the same as taking a shower.

(While I may not have taken a real shower, I did take quite a few photos.)

5 photos of standpipes

Here are 5 standpipes (or sets of standpipes) that have caught my eye. Some caught my eye for their reflective shininess, and some for their weathered patina.






As I put these together, I saw that the 5 photos were neatly from 5 different years. (I had a 6th photo that was also from 2011, but it didn’t fit as well, so I didn’t include it.) Would you believe that it bugged me that I didn’t have a standpipe photo from 2012? Further, I noticed that it should have been of a weathered (rather than shiny) standpipe, in order to best complete the pattern. I actually started to look through my photos from that year before realizing that it was crazy to do so, especially given that I have more work to do tonight before bed, and it is after 11 p.m.. (This is the sort of compulsion that I’m talking about.)

all part of the process (writing about my writing)

Once upon a time, I wanted to be a writer. As a voracious reader, and avid lover of books, it seemed obvious to me that I would one day write a novel. I can’t really say at what point this dream faded, but I would be surprised if I ever got down to writing a novel. I don’t have a driving need to do so. I might some day explore writing shorter works, such as a children’s picture book. (I do love picture books.) Or perhaps something even shorter, like a greeting card. (I don’t much like greeting cards.) What I have discovered is that I do enjoy putting together words, and this blog is the place where I most like to put them together.

My friend Sarah, who currently posts at Splitting Infinitives, is a phenomenal writer, and I don’t say that lightly. I was therefore enormously flattered that she asked me to participate in a meme to explore the writing process.¹ Sarah’s way of putting words together gives me great pleasure, and the content of her writing regularly makes me think. I very much enjoyed reading her reflections on her own writing process.

In any case, she passed along these 4 questions, and I have put a bit of time into answering them.

1) What are you working on?
2) How does your work differ from others’ work in the same genre?
3) Why do you write what you do?
4) How does your writing process work?

What I am working on is a lot of academic writing. My goal is to finish my degree requirements, as well as submit papers to journals and conferences. The big thing, of course, is the dissertation, though I am not officially working on that yet. I have a few more loose ends to tie up, after which I will assemble previously constructed chunks of my research and stitch them together with a few yet-to-be completed chunks of research, then infuse this mass with my sweat, tears and lifeblood. Finally, I will run large currents of electricity through the resulting body of work in hopes that it will take on life. (And that it won’t get driven out of town by villagers bearing torches and pitchforks.)

As for the personal writing, I wouldn’t say that I am actually working on anything. Actually, that’s sort of the point. It is not work. What writing I do is for the pleasure of it.

I don’t really know what my genre is. Much as I love to categorize things, I hate to feel categorized myself. At least not into a single category. This blog in particular is a means for me to express the various aspects of my life and personality, and allows me to present myself as more than just “mother,” or “grad student,” or “feminist.” I am all of these thing and more. I explore many topics, and many forms. Perhaps my genre is “eclectic personal blogging.”

I sometimes wonder if my mind works differently than other people’s. I am constantly collecting things: facts, images, words, themes, ideas. At some point, something will trigger an idea, and my mind races to fit all the related bits with it, and display (or sometimes build) a pattern.

For example, I take a lot of photos of things in my environment. Sometimes it’s pretty leaves and flowers, but also cracks in the sidewalk and water drops on the windshield, or frozen puddles. Hydrants I pass on the street…rusty dumpsters…brick walls. Shadows, reflections, signs, clouds. Sometimes I will take a picture and it will remind me of a picture I took once before, even years previously, and I will group the photos together. Sometimes I will then seek out additional images to fill out the pattern. (I have this strange but compelling compulsion to collect things in group of at least 3. More is fine, but 2 somehow seems like only the suggestion of a pattern’s beginning.)

I don’t always feel the need to share patterns when I find and build them. Sometimes I file things away for future use. My iPhoto library contains a hive of folders with related sets. I have also been adding tags and metadata to the photos for years so that if I want to, for example, find photos that I like that prominently feature shadows or gates (or shadows of gates), I can find them. The keywords are not infinite, but somehow express my personal lexicon of imagery.

Sometimes I am similarly compelled to make a list. For a long time, I would post my Themed Things Thursday lists with great regularity. The chosen themes would sometimes relate to a nearby holiday or date, or just be inspired by a pattern I’d noticed. (Separate and distinctive things I have known or observed with some sort of feature in common: blue people or stories with peaches or fight scenes in subways.) Once my mind has caught the beginnings of a pattern, it will nag at me until I have sifted through my memories and my knowledge for things on the theme. Often, I will just jot down the skeleton of the list and be done with it. I currently have saved (in the drafts of my Mail application, to be specific) 48 partial ThThTh lists, in varying stages of completion. If I feel compelled to see the list through to a post, then things take longer. I will do some web searches, mostly to find iconic images, and I might poke around Wikipedia to flesh out a theme. Mostly, though, I don’t post those lists any more. They take a lot of time for formatting and fact checking and finding and sourcing images, and the returns on this time investment are not significantly greater than the satisfaction I get just from jotting down the list.

The process for other creative posts is sometimes similar, whether it’s for another list-form post, or one in more of an essay form, or even the occasional poem. I like to play with words and idioms, and come up with expressions that are relating to specific words. (Case in point: pants.) Sometimes I will share a set of pictures that work together to tell a story.

Along with these collections of related words or images, I will write things as the mood strikes. I write posts that help me see humor when my life otherwise seems overwhelming. (My last American Hovel Magazine post was written when I was feeling crushed by the chaos in my life and depressed by the lack of progress in my degree. I wanted to just sit in the fetal position. Writing about the mess in a way that made me laugh helped me keep going.) Other times I write stories because I want to preserve memories (of my travels, my childhood, my children). Sometimes I just want to work through my thoughts on current events.

Above all, I love to run with themes. I find my blogging the most satisfying when the themes are ongoing or recurring. It allows me to feel like I am creating something of complex and interweaving patterns: a bizarre tapestry of puns and photos and lists and pants. For this reason, my blog may be confusing to those who happen upon it. They will see a given post, and think that it somehow represents “what I write about.” But it will often be just a single thread that forms part of a bigger picture, tangled though it may be. (In case it is not clear, I also like to play with metaphors.)

I do all of my actual writing on my laptop, as well as the photo editing and sorting, while sitting in the dent I have worn in my couch cushions. The creative process, though, happens all the time. My eyes and ears are always alert for new patterns. My thoughts wander to things I want to write about while I am going about other mundane business. I might be stuck in traffic and coming up with cooking metaphors, or cooking dinner and coming up with a list of driving metaphors. I might be doing laundry and mentally making a list of shark movies. (Or doing laundry and making a list of laundry songs.)

Many posts never make it into writing, others have never proceeded past the draft stage. I try to edit well, but I am a slow editor, and sometimes I sacrifice editing in order to post. I aim to keep my posts short in words, and try to rarely exceed 500 words if I want other people to read my words.² Sometimes I will post longer things, but I accept that these are mostly written for me. It’s gravy if someone else takes the time to read what I’ve written.³

Next week, Stacie is going to take up the baton to explore her writing process. Stacie is an amazing writer, and like Sarah, has a way of putting together words that makes me want to savor them. Her writing at her blog If you want kin, you must plant kin, too, always gets me thinking. (It’s funny to realize that I actually somewhat group Stacie and Sarah together as writers whose stories, some fiction and some short memoir, have reminded me of Rumer Godden, one of my all-time favorite authors.) Stacie has been branching out into writing and drawing comics as memoir form. She has shared a few episodes of Adventures in Racism on her blog, and they are sharply witty and thought-provoking. This summer, she will further develop this project at a workshop on graphic novels. (Please check out her Indiegogo campaign to help get her out to the workshop, which is across the country from her.)

I’m afraid I have to break the rules of this meme, which asks for us to find 2 people to pass the meme onto. I am only offering up one writer for next week. (I also had trouble limiting my bio of her to one sentence. I suppose I could have done so, with an egregiously long sentence…) If anyone reading this would like to explore and share their own creative processes for blogging (or other writing), please do! I will gladly link to you and sing your praises. (Though I may not actually sing.)

¹ Secretly, I think it is because I scored points for always gushing over how much I love her writing.
² The 500-word limit is based on the maximum length of abstracts for many academic conferences. This seems to be one of the ways that being an academic seeps through my writing. Footnotes are another
³ This post is one of those excessivley long ones. I apologize for the length of this post, as I did not hvae time to make it shorter.

faking it

I’ve been taking violin lessons for quite a few years now. (I’m not really sure how to count the years, given the big interruptions. I started 11 years ago, but maybe missed 4 of those years I also don’t know how my progress in those “on” years counts, given that there have been quite a few slowdowns and interruptions.) In any case, I consider myself to be an intermediate player. Mostly, I have played classical music with my teacher. Last year, after my experience playing fiddle along with the American folksongs performed by the elementary school, I felt the urge to explore fiddling a bit more. I bought a couple of books: 1 on Celtic fiddling, and one on bluegrass fiddling. Each came with a CD. I started with the Celtic book/CD, and it was complicated enough that I decided to just stick with that. I’ve been enjoying playing songs from it for the past year or so, on my own, in addition to the classical music that I work on with my teacher. I never got around to cracking open the bluegrass book.

A few weeks ago, a musician friend of mine sent an email asking if I had any interest in taking one of the workshops offered as part of a bluegrass festival in Cambridge. I was so very tempted by the intro to bluegrass fiddling. At the same time pretty intimidated. I’d never taken a music workshop before, and have very rarely even played the violin in front of other people. I have performed in front of others now, a few times, but only after much preparation and practice. This would be going in cold.

I decided to do it anyhow.

So, today, I went to a workshop on intro bluegrass fiddling. It was a lot of fun, but a little overwhelming. It was a 2-hour course, but after about an hour and a half, I found that my stomach was empty and my brain was full. I muscled through, though. And I think I learned a lot, some fraction of which I may even be able remember. One thing that amused me was that the instructor described a lot of what he taught us as tricks, including how to play along when you don’t know the music. I’m hardly ready for a bluegrass jam, but I think I now know how to fake my way through at least one bluegrass song.

For added flavor, here is a bluegrass band playing Angelina Baker, the tune that we used for much of the lesson¹:

¹ And one which the other 3 participants all seemed to know. I felt good² that I could make the other students feel better about their knowledge by being the one who didn’t know much of anything.
² For some definitions of good
³ I’m sorry if this isn’t very coherent. I’m actually completely wiped out. It was a long day, given that I had an hour plus commute each way, and stayed for part of the bluegrass show that followed. (Which, by the way, was excellent.) And I think I am fighting off a cold. But when I commit to blogging daily, by gum, I commit to blogging daily.

bracing for the flood

Once, when I was 16, I broke a nail in gym class. The class was divided into small groups of 3 or 4, and we were doing basketball drills. The ball had made contact with one of my long, carefully painted nails and snapped the tip right off. (It seems so alien to me now, that I had invested time into the appearance of my hands, but what can I say? I was 16.) I shrugged off the broken nail and kept going. Another girl in my group of 3 had noticed me dealing with the broken nail and said, “I’d cry if I had nails like that and one broke.” I laughed. Then, before I even realized it, the tears started flowing. To all appearances, I was crying because I’d broken a nail.

The girl who’d made the comment looked embarrassed for me. I was glad that third person in my group was my closest friend, but she too looked baffled and embarrassed for me. I couldn’t explain why I was crying. I know I was lovesick for a boy who had no interest in me, and that was the explanation I gave. But really, my life had just gone through some major upheaval. It was nothing too dire. My mother had recently remarried, and had moved to France to live with her new husband. I had opted to stay in California, and finish my junior year, before joining her in France. I moved into my best friend’s house to stay with her and her family for 2 months. My sister, who was 19, moved into an apartment of her own. While much that was going on was happy, it was a stressful time full of transitions. I hadn’t even realized that I’d had tension building up until I broke a nail.

The trouble with being strong through a stressful time is that my emotions don’t actually go away. I bottle them up until I have time to deal with them. That broken nail in high school was just one such instance. I have had other equally messy and embarrassing episodes, always a few weeks after some major stress.

The past month has been a trying one. I have dealt with one crisis or ordeal after the other and kept going, because there was still more that needed to be done. I have packed my grief away and have carried around crankiness instead. Now, though, the crises are letting up. The pressure from outside is easing, and I sense that my internal pressure is still high. I can’t help feeling that the flood is coming, just waiting for the right catalyst.

I just hope I won’t make too much of a spectacle of myself.

high strung

John and I sometimes joke that the violin is the right instrument for me, being that I can be a little high strung.

When I get too tightly wound, I do sometimes snap.

It should also be noted that I have a tendency to fine tune things.

In case you didn’t see yesterday’s post, I wanted to draw attention to it. (It was the Big Thing I mentioned a couple of weeks ago.) These are some portraits of my collaborator in that endeavor.

polychromatic, idiosyncratic

Yesterday, the kids and I spent some time playing out in the front yard at my in-laws’. Phoebe had collected some pretty leaves, and I found myself joining her. Fall comes a bit later here than at home, so the big maples in the yard were still leafy and bright. I kept finding interesting individual leaves, with interesting patterns and color arrangements. Of course I had to photograph them. First individually, then in groups. Before you knew it, I realized I wanted to spread them out and arrange them by color.¹

I was channeling Andy Goldsworthy, one of my favorite artists.

I found I had to hunt around to find more of the brightly-hued freshly-fallen leaves among the crinkled older leaves, which had turned a fairly uniform shade of brown as they dried. I paced around the yard, poking at the leaves, looking for more oranges and reds. I was enjoying myself immensely.

I was somewhat startled, therefore, when a woman from across the street yelled across: “Did you lose something?”

“No,” I replied. “We’re just playing with leaves.”

The neighbor took my explanation, with a nod and a slight look of confusion, and went back into her house.

I was reminded a little of that time I probably confused (or amused) some passersby back at my house by my rather unusual approach to shovelling snow.

Do you ever confuse your neighors?

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¹ Much like I once did with tomatoes.

heat (friday foto finder)

This is the gas heater from my grandmother’s house, in the mountains of Colorado.

I took this photo in 2004. (It was years after my grandmother died, when my mother lived in the house. But in my memory, it is always my grandmother’s house.) This visit was in August, so the heat was off.

I wish I had photos of it lit, so I could show you the gas flames.

I wish I could share with you the pictures in my head of my sister and I huddled in front of the heater on cold winter mornings.

The house was an old one, with the merest nods to insulation. It had been originally built as a summer house, and then enlarged to become a year-round home. My memories of the house are warm, but in the winter most of the house was cold. The room my sister and I shared upstairs, on visits to our grandmother and for the one year when we lived with her, had a smaller gas heater in it, a wall unit that connected to our grandmother’s room next door. That heater was rarely lit, though, and mornings (especially mornings) in the bedrooms were cold. Frost-on-the-window-panes cold. I remember getting up out of the cozy double bed my sister and I shared (the bed that had once belonged to my great grandmother), climbing out from under the blankets and heavy comforter, and emerging into the chill of the bedroom. We’d rush downstairs, seeking out the relative warmth (and the house’s only bathroom). We’d sit on the floor in our nightgowns those cold dark mornings right in front of the heater, bathed in its warmth and glow. I remember leaning back against the short hallway wall the heater faced, and stretching out with icy hands or feet to warm my fingers and toes, holding them as close to the heater as I dared, my eyes transfixed by the glowing patterns of the ceramic grates and the dancing blues and oranges of the flickering gas flames.

This rather chilly post was brought to you by this week’s prompt for friday foto finder: heat. Please go see what heat others have to share.

p.s. I just noticed that my post title read “friday foot finder,” thanks to autocorrect. This makes me giggle, but I have changed it anyhow.¹

¹ Really, this needed to be a footnote.