Back From the Dead

Greetings, dear readers!

I am briefly resurrecting this zombie blog to tell you about my latest endeavor. I’m pleased to report that I finally followed through on my resolution to walk the Camino de Santiago. Or, at least, I booked a flight to Spain, which is not the same thing at all, but it’s a good start.

Many of my friends have asked if I plan to blog about my journey. The answer is yes, but I know I can’t possibly keep up with my usual travel writing routine. I’m told that one should carry no more than ten percent of one’s body weight on the Camino, so that means no extra luxuries like laptops or iPads. I will be blogging on my phone, which means that my entries will be short and (hopefully) sweet.

It didn’t seem fitting to write brief updates on this blog, on which I once dedicated myself to the art of writing. So I decided to create a new blog specifically for this journey. It’s called Postcards from the Camino, and you can find it here.

So, um, that’s what’s going on in my life. Oh, I guess wwthere have been a few other developments since I last appeared in your inbox. I finally learned to tango. I fell in love, and then I fell out of love. I finished the big writing gig and decided to go easy on the freelancing for a while. I went to Turkey. I got a new job.

Perhaps there will be more Creative Exfoliation in the future. For now, my efforts are more devoted to Camino training than writing. Feel free to join me if you so desire!

 

 

Musings of a Freelancer Two Days Before a Deadline

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I’m going to finish this assignment today. Tomorrow I’ll proofread, or even – gasp – enjoy a day off.

Better make some coffee so I’ll be extra-focused.

Maybe I’ll just watch one episode of “The Daily Show” while I drink my coffee.

Okay, here we go. Open file.

Step one. Abstract.

I like brownies.

Step one. Abstract.

What is that spot on the coffee table?

Step one. Abstract.

I wonder what the other authors wrote for their abstracts.

Company web site. Enter login credentials.

Page loading. Check Facebook.

Check email. Check blog feed. Check Facebook.

Company web site.

I want brownies.

Abstract abstract abstract.

What else do I have to write before Monday morning?

Oh. Crap.

That spot on the coffee table is sticky. This will not be tolerated. Where are the Clorox wipes?

Oh hello, Buck. You look like you need to have your ears scratched.

Clorox wipes are not under the sink where they usually are. But there is a spray bottle of window cleaner down there.

Well, my bathroom mirror is in need of a wipe-down.

Who is that I see in the newly sparkling mirror? Why, that’s a successful freelancer. She gets paid to write stuff.

Of course, the payment doesn’t come until the stuff is written.

Step one. Abstract.

Where are the Clorox wipes?

Hello, Facebook.

Clorox wipes are in the hall closet. Coffee table now clean. What else can I wipe down?

Kitchen counters, faucet, light fixtures, stovetop, microwave, fridge handle: all gleaming.

I want brownies now.

Better eat lunch instead.

I can’t exactly work while eating lunch. I’ll just watch one more episode of “The Daily Show” while I eat.

And maybe a quick Google search for brownie recipes.

Okay. Back to work.

Step one. Abstract.

I haven’t brushed my hair today.

Okay, so I’ll do half of the project today, and I’ll finish it tomorrow.

Step one. Abstract.

Brush hair.

Trim split ends.

Vacuum bathroom floor.

Vacuum entire house.

Step one. Abstract.

Abstract successfully articulated. Command S.

Computer crash. $%*+.

Restart.

Faaaaaaacebooooooook.

Damn, these are good brownies.

Step one. Abstract.

I’ll do this tomorrow.

'Mia is ADHD' http://www.flickr.c

Things You Might Hear While Not Sleeping in NYC

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  • a homeless man retching (repeatedly but unsuccessfully)
  • a woman forlornly calling someone’s name while wandering in loops around the block
  • a drunk man bellowing at nobody
  • two teenagers arguing
  • the rumble of a garbage truck and the crash of discarded glass on glass
  • traffic that never stops
  • a deafening boom that makes a Bostonian’s heart skip a beat but warrants no sirens

'untitled' http://www.flickr.com/photos/23094783@N03/4177375112

Stranger Than Fiction

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Yesterday I drove into the city for an appointment at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (the same hospital that, hours later, would confirm the death of Tamerlan Tsarnaev.) It was an entirely unremarkable experience – there was no detour-related traffic, no observable police presence, no talk of the attack. Bostonians walked their dogs on the Esplanade and kayaked on the Charles River. At Beth Israel, TV, Katie Couric and Debra Messing made cheerfully inane small talk about fashion on the waiting room TV. My doctor was characteristically abrupt, wasting no time on pleasantries until the end of my appointment. As I left, she awkwardly shook my hand and wished wellbeing upon my family and me. Only then did I pause to consider the things she may have seen in the last four days.

I took a meandering route out of Boston – past the Isabella Stewart Gardner museum, down Yawkey Way, and back and forth across the Charles – and soaked up the sights of the city that I have come to love so much. It was tremendously reassuring to see that not much had changed.

On the ride out west to my parents’ house, I listened to the FBI press conference at which the images of the two primary suspects were revealed to the public. By the time I got out of the car one hour later, their faces were all over the TV news and social media outlets.

Little did I know, as I went to bed last night, that they had already been identified and were on the run.

Once again, it was Facebook that alerted me to the latest developments in the Boston Marathon bombing. I awoke at 5:45, sleepily reached for my phone, and read the first post in my news feed:

Allston, Brighton, Belmont, Cambridge, Watertown, Waltham STAY IN YOUR HOMES! — MA State Police

It took a while for me to come to terms with what was happening. It was early, I was tired, and I had a bus to catch to New York City – in a few hours I would be judging at the International Championship of High School A Cappella. It was not until I sat sipping my grande dark roast in the Greyhound station that the enormity of the situation hit me. I watched television footage of a midnight shoot-out and reflected on the fact that the majority of my friends had woken up to a lockdown notice.

The bus pulled up to the station. The driver sized up the crowd that had gathered outside the station. “Any of you goin’ to Boston?” he asked. A few people raised their hands.

“Not today you’re not.”

It was a surreal day. While my friends sheltered in place, I watched the news unfold on Twitter. While I strolled down Broadway eating a raspberry swirl cupcake, Boston sports teams canceled their games so as not to unnecessarily tax Boston’s first responders.

And when I walked out of tonight’s ICHSA finals, I learned that the second suspect Dzokhar Tsarnaev had been captured. He was found hiding in a boat, concealed by a bloody tarp, in a suburb of Boston.

One of my friends lives right across the street.

Boston Bombing: My First Reaction

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I learned about the Boston Marathon bombing the way I learn about most newsworthy events these days – on Facebook. I had just hung up on a conference call for a writing project and was flipping between browser tabs when I noticed a photo that a friend had posted from the marathon. It was like any other typical photo from the race – a street shot, taken from a block away, with a few brightly-clad runners making their way around a corner. I wouldn’t have given it a second look except for the caption: “The Boston Marathon before the explosions.”

It took a moment for those words to sink in. Surely I had misunderstood. The explosions of … enthusiasm from a cheering crowd? Fireworks (mid-day?) Was it the name of some rock band I had never heard of?

I refreshed the page, and the answer was clear. My news feed declared the same grizzly announcement over and over again, with each of my friends adding their own “OMG” or “WTF?” When I saw the first reference to “limbs blown off” I felt hot tears fall on my cheeks.

I turned on the radio, and the silence of my house was pierced by the deep voice of an NPR reporter. The dogs – my own and two belonging to my parents – erupted into a chorus of barks and charged into the living room, then instantly grew somber. The three crowded around me and stared with solemn faces. Buck sat perfectly still as I crouched beside him and clutched his head to my chest.

Dogs know.

I sat back down on the couch and attempted to resume my work. Numbly, I downloaded Dropbox files and read an email, outlining deadlines, from my project manager in Baltimore. “Don’t you know that I’m from Boston?” I wanted to reply. Instead, I wrote a cheerful “Thank you!” and soldiered on with my work.

That lasted for about five minutes. I spent the next seven hours numbly scrolling through web pages and listening to the same reports again and again.

I started listening to NPR on September 11, 2001. Craving answers that were too slow to surface, I kept my radio tuned to the news station around the clock. The news reporters provided narration for my horrible, horrible dreams.

Yesterday I felt the same addictive pull towards my radio – as if by absorbing every report I could somehow glean the one piece of information that would make it all make sense.

I’m still looking. Please let me know if you find it.

 'Boston Back Bay at Night' http://www.flickr.com/photos/35375520@N07/4221854824

Cornered

Psst. Hey! I’m over here.

I’ve moved.

If you’re a subscriber, you might not have noticed anything different. This post probably showed up in your blog roll, Twitter feed, or inbox just the same as each one that came before. At least I hope it did, because I really appreciate you, dear subscriber.

I’m working on a website – a work in progress not yet ready to be revealed – so I’ve been thinking a lot about domains, search engine optimization, and other such nerdy stuff. For a variety of reasons that I don’t feel the need to go into right now, I decided that I want this blog to be known by its title (Creative Exfoliation) while I build a new web presence around my name.

So I swapped out my blog’s subdomain. This will mean nothing to my subscribers, but it also means that the readers who search for me by name are going to hit a dead end – at least until the search engines creep and crawl their way across my new subdomain.

***

I saw him last night, for the first time in months.

We were in Costco. I was in sweatpants, my hair was unwashed, and I had absolutely no plan for what to say to him. Of all of the circumstances I had ever imagined wherein I find myself face to face with him again, this was – well, it wasn’t the worst imaginable scenario, but it was on the low end of the spectrum.

I swiftly turned around and headed back down the cereal aisle while offering a silent prayer that he had not seen me. I decided in that moment that I would simply pretend I hadn’t noticed him.

But when I turned the corner I saw him again – this time he was standing next to the refrigerated section, and to my horror, he was not alone.  Gustav, Betty, Genevieve, and You Think of Something had spotted and cornered him. They were about to blow my cover. I flattened myself against a shelf and feigned intrigue over the rows of canned tomatoes – diced, crushed, whole, sauce and paste. I watched my friends shrug and gesticulate, and I strained to hear their conversation.

I heard my name. I pretended I hadn’t heard my name. I abandoned my shopping cart and walked briskly towards the cash register with my head held high. I tried my best to cultivate a “lost in thought” appearance and wished I had headphones.

“Heyyyyyyyy.” I recognized his familiar baritone even without turning around. I glanced down at the can of crushed tomatoes in my hand, and then up at him.

Only then did I realize there were a few things wrong with this scenario – one being that he doesn’t live anywhere near me, so it was extremely implausible that I would run into him in a warehouse club.

Also … Gustav, Betty, Genevieve, and You Think of Something have never met him, so how did they recognize him?

Also … I’ve never shopped at Costco before.

That was when I woke up.

The mind is a strange, strange place.

Mornings With Buck

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On Sunday morning I heard the soft click of the front door opening and closing. It was just enough noise to wake me, and for a moment I noted the wan beams of morning’s first light filtering through my curtains. I recalled that my Airbnb guest would be checking out that morning. “It’s so early,” I thought as I rolled over, retracting my toes under the warmth of the down comforter. I had not expected him to leave so soon, but I decided I had no interest in venturing out to say goodbye. I closed my eyes and immediately fell asleep.

A few hours later I was jolted back into consciousness when a low rattle of a growl erupted from Buck’s throat. I heard the front door click once again – my guest had not checked out but rather gone out for breakfast and returned. Although his departure had not warranted a response from Buck, his return was cause for action. Buck launched himself out of the closet in one ferocious leap and bounded to the closed door where he let loose a barrage of angry barks.

Even without poking my head out into the hallway, I knew that this threatening display was completely unnecessary. I calmly said his name over and over again until he quieted down, turned three full circles, and sank back onto his bed with a grumble.

It was a jarring start to my day, but it was nice to know that a large, scary-sounding dog has got my back.

***

Lately I’ve been setting my alarm fifteen minutes early each morning so we can spend a few minutes of quality time together before I begin the workday.

Near the end of Monday’s walk, as we turned the corner onto our street, he began to strain at the leash. I jerked him back in line with a solid tug, but he was unfazed. Leaning against the leash with every single one of his fifty eight pounds, he pulled me towards a parked car, lowered his belly to the ground, and crawled halfway underneath. He emerged a moment later with a grungy tennis ball in his mouth. He grinned and pranced about in circles as I lavishly praised his cleverness.

Back at home, he headed straight towards his food dish to investigate, dropping the ball in the living room on the way. I picked it up – gingerly, for it was coated in dirt and God knows what else – and tossed it down the long hallway that runs through the center of my condo. Buck scampered wildly across the hardwood floor, his feet flailing out from underneath him as he swerved, slipped, and finally gained momentum. He caught up with the ball as it crossed the carpeted threshold to the bedroom, bounced it once, and then – to my shock and awe – trotted back and dropped it at my feet.

Despite the fact that he is approximately half Lab, this is the first time in nearly ten years that he has successfully fetched a tennis ball.

Suspecting that it had to have been an accident, I once again tossed the ball down the hallway (which, at 6:45 am, ranks me among the world’s most inconsiderate upstairs neighbors.) He repeatedly returned, tail swinging back and forth, and dropped the ball in front of me.

Growing old has introduced several indignities into Buck’s life, but apparently he has picked up a few new tricks along the way.

***

I awoke at 6:00 this morning. My alarm is designed to wake me in the kindest possible way. It senses my movement and goes off when I am already in a period of light sleep, playing soothing music and the sound of gentle ocean waves. Still, the word that first crossed my mind upon waking is not suitable for publication. The soft strains of acoustic guitar were an affront to my tired ears.

I reached for my iPhone to silence the alarm when I heard Buck sigh sleepily from the closet floor. It was a long, drawn-out breath, barely audible amid the rolling waves emanating from my phone.

It was the most endearing sigh I had ever heard. It was a sigh that said “Not yet, Mom. Please, just one snooze?”

This is why my dog is the best dog ever. I was happy to oblige.

Do Not Disturb (Roeder)

Mum’s The Word

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“So we’re now three months into 2013,” remarked Gustav last night, as he deftly maneuvered through traffic on the way to our gig. “And your writing … I guess you must not miss it, since you’re not blogging very frequently these days.”

I felt a small pang of regret – the same one that I feel every time someone comments on the infrequency of my posts.

I explained: it’s not that I don’t miss it. Actually, the daily writing habit that I so diligently cultivated in 2012 hasn’t completely left me. I still sit each day with fingers poised over the keys, staring at a white blank screen. The problem is that my internal censor has been working overtime this month.

Lately my writing comes in two forms. There is the highly structured sort for which I am getting paid – the sort that involves conference calls and contracts with confidentiality clauses – and there are the scribbles in notebooks (or their digital equivalent: words hastily typed into iPhone Notes and synced across various devices.) These scribbles include lots of pro and con lists, if-then theories, and the occasional flow chart tracing all possible outcomes of carefully measured choices. They’re not particularly creative. They are the signature of a dissatisfied and restless mind.

God, readers, I’ve been in such a funk lately. You know the kind I’m talking about. I mean the oh-God-not-another-blogger-complaining-about-her-first-world-problems-and-existential-crises kind of funk. The sort that can sap one’s resolve. It’s hard to summon creative energy when you’re feeling stagnant and jaded.

Blaaaaaaaaaaaarrrrrrrgggghhhhhhh.

The only place where I’ve maintained my sense of wonder and curiosity is in my classroom – daily contact with young people will tend to encourage such habits of mind, and for them I am so grateful. I just wish that my face time with students did not represent an ever-diminishing proportion of my professional responsibilities.

But I’m not complaining. Not here, anyway. A hero of mine once taught me that classy people do not air dirty laundry in public, and if he were still here today he would surely add the postscript: especially not on the internet. It tends to just make everyone look bad.

Seriously.

Self Portrait: Hush (Roeder)

So I’ve chosen not to give my readers up-to-the minute updates about my quiet sense of malaise, just as I have refrained from writing about turmoil at work, romantic frustration, or the awkward and uncomfortable encounters with recent Airbnb guests.

Some things just don’t need to be blogged about.

Several of my students gathered today after school to tackle a project not assigned to them by any teacher. It was an ambitious and unprecedented undertaking, and it lured me away from my desk where I was creating an itemized list of evidence for the new educator evaluation frameworks. I sat on the choral risers and watched, awestruck, as they casually went about their work.

I’m not allowed to write about it. My students aren’t ready to go public with their project, and I’ve been sworn to secrecy.

So there’s another topic about which I am not blogging.

Stay tuned for a scintillating account of what I’m not eating for dinner.

On Second Thought

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I spent the last hour writing a blog post titled “Dear Angry Mom.” It was an open letter to the parent who accosted me tonight as I was stepping off the school bus at the end of a seven-hour field trip. We had never met, and she had no idea who I was. She wasn’t angry at me specifically – in fact, she wasn’t even sure at whom she should direct her indignation. But since I was the only teacher in the parking lot at 9:00, she cornered me under a streetlamp and gave me an earful.

All I could think, while she unloaded her complaints, was of how very tired I was and how badly I wanted to get home to the dog who’d been lying alone in the closet for the past nine hours. (The irony of this is that by the time I got home to said dog I was hot-headed, high-strung, and completely fixated on Angry Mom.)

So I wrote about it.

You Think of Something remarked last weekend that he’s been enjoying my recent blog posts (thanks, Y!) He says that lately there’s an edge to my writing that he finds compelling.

I was surprised, at first, to hear him say so. I’ve been preoccupied lately. The writing has not come easily. There are a handful of subjects that have taken up prime real estate in my head but that I have deemed, for various reasons, unblogworthy. Too personal, too ambiguous, too soon, too self-indulgent.

I’ve started many a blog post in recent weeks only to let my sentences trail off into oblivion. I’ve revived a cloth-bound journal, thick with dust after more than a year of disuse. Its thick lined pages contain some of my worst writing, but arguably some of my best stories. Some thoughts belong on paper.

 'Pencils and Moleskines 04' http://www.flickr.com/photos/33586091@N00/82648702

Still, I suppose it should not surprise me if Y sees a bit of an edge in my recent blog posts. I’m glad to know that the gnawing dissatisfaction that whispers in my ear and keeps me up at night at least makes for some interesting writing.

It’s also nice to know that even when I practice self-censorship there are friends out there who know how to read between the lines.

I’m not going to publish “Dear Angry Mom.” Not tonight, anyway. Maybe some day I’ll write a memoir about the complex relationship between upper middle class small town parents and the people who educate their children. For now, I’m going to keep this particular anecdote to myself – because it’s just one piece of a much larger tale that I’m not sure how to tell. Because I don’t like to think of myself as a complainer. Because I fear that sharing the story could do more harm than good.

I’ll save it for the journal. Or perhaps for You Think of Something.

An Open Letter to Mercury

Dear Mercury,

Okay. You’ve had your fun. Now it’s time to straighten up and fly right. With your influence over transportation and communication, you’re a pretty important planet in my book, and your recent retrograde shenanigans have been a giant pain in my ass.

You’ve certainly enjoyed wreaking havoc on transportation lately – there was the monster snowstorm on the day I had to get an Airbnb guest to the doctor, the missed connection at Boston’s South Station, and the traffic jam that made me late for my own doctor’s appointment. And the car accidents – my God, I have never seen so many damaged cars on the side of the road as I have this month. I will thank you, at least, for not fouling up our flight home from Paris.

Email communication has been a disaster – I really should have just stepped away from the computer this month. There have been far too many frustrating encounters with colleagues (why do people not read before firing off a reply?) That woman in New York with whom I’ve been trying to collaborate on a project – what’s her deal, Mercury, does she not read English? And then there was the friend who I inadvertently insulted via email. And that offer that appeared, quite unexpectedly, in my inbox, only to be rescinded a few days later? That was terribly disappointing.

I really didn’t need your “help” complicating discussion with that certain someone. He and I have already proven to be utterly inept at direct communication about our feelings, so I suppose it’s entirely possible that our most recent series of communication blunders is not your fault. But if you did play any role in it, please knock it off.

Oh, speaking of communication issues – the three straight days of laryngitis were a creative touch. Well played, Mercury, well played.

I’ve heard that your retrograde periods are not good times to start new projects or sign contracts. Too bad I didn’t realize that when I accepted that writing job last week. Please don’t mess this up, Mercury. I really want this one to go well.

Oh also, speaking of signing legal documents – I don’t understand why the state of Massachusetts rejected my e-filed tax return last week. I reviewed it in agonizing detail and don’t see what’s wrong with it. So I printed it out, wrote a check, and mailed it to the Department of Revenue on Wednesday, and I’d really appreciate it if you would leave it alone. And yes, I know it’s going to be doubly tempting for you to mess with it, since you also have a fondness for screwing up the mail. But you already helped the post office to misplace a week’s worth of held mail while I was in France, so can we please just agree that we’re all set with mail issues?

I’ve heard that Mercury retrograde affords us the opportunity for reflection, for revisiting old ideas and for fixing what’s broken. And God knows, with this super-annoying illness that won’t quit, I’ve had lots of time for navel gazing. I can’t say I’ve particularly enjoyed the experience – it’s not much fun to reflect on broken things that I don’t know how to fix. But thanks, I guess, for bringing a few things into focus this month. I don’t really know what I’m supposed to do with this new information, but perhaps when you start moving forward again, I will too.

Oh, by the way, – I’ve noticed that your next retrograde period coincides directly with my summer travels with AMA. Three weeks of traveling across Europe with over one hundred teenagers – what could go wrong? No doubt you’ve got some ideas. See you then, Mercury.

Yours in chaos,

Amanda

'MESSENGER Orbits Mercury! (NASA, MESSENGER, 10/07/08)' http://www.flickr.com/photos/28634332@N05/5536677560

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