Snapshot Tuesday: family photo from Oregon Dunes

What a sweet spot on the Earth this place is – Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area.

Photo from Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area

I took this snapshot a few years ago on a family trip to Oregon and Northern California.


Friday Zen

close-up of a dragonfly from May 2013
A dragonfly – taken at last year’s RFM spring retreat, Memorial Day weekend at the Clearing in Amelia County, Virginia .

We spend a portion of each summer near my parents’ home on Virginia’s Eastern Shore. We’re next to a swamp … a freshwater seep that drains into the creek … one that provides water for frogs and dragonflies and birds. At dusk, we can sit on the back deck and watch hundreds of dragonflies feeding, aerial acrobats feasting on mosquitoes and gnats. A bit later, the frogs start to sing.

It’s a sweet spot, a small farmhouse in a soybean field just a short walk from my childhood home. How much longer will the frogs sing?  My heart breaks when I  think about climate change, about what we’ve done with fossil fuels, about a world without frogs.

But for now – isn’t this creature exquisite?

May I live as long as my grandmother … or maybe not?

This is my grandmother, on a good day! Today she turns 97 years old – in the assisted living center where she has lived for the past 10 or more years. She’s outlived two husbands, a son, and many friends. Isn’t she beautiful?


Mom says she has many bad days now. I guess it is possible to live too long, to bury too many friends and loved ones.

I’m definitely not ready for the “great adventure” that death might be, but by the time I’m 97 – I might be ready to see what’s next.

May today be a good day for my much-loved grandmother on her 97th birthday!

on being plugged in … how much is too much?

This seems important for my dissertation research, as well as my eventual teaching in media studies. Turkle argues that we need to ask ourselves if an obsessive use of social media technologies is taking humanity to a place we’ll want to inhabit.

In my research, I’ve broadened the question to include other forms of technology, like bioengineering and the use of chemicals in agriculture. What if our trust in technology is taking us someplace we don’t want to be? Seems true for farming. For a sense of community and local economies. For freedom and privacy. For civil discourse. For happiness.

Definitely an issue worth talking about. A conversation, perhaps over a meal … with everyone listening and no one texting.

I do think that most people try to strike a balance and unplug themselves occasionally … at least in our sleepy southern city of Richmond. Or maybe I just run with a more contemplative crowd – a crowd that likes to unplug, that dislikes the tether of instant communication. Seems like people I know are asking these questions. I don’t think I know anyone who sleeps with a cell phone … wonder if Turkle’s research took her outside the urban Northeast corridor?

On seeing the forest …

I’ve been in a job search frenzy for the past week or so.  Starting to lose sight of why I enrolled in an alternative, interdisciplinary PhD program in Media, Art, and Text.  Starting to think that dragging my family all over the US in search of that tenure-track faculty position is what I did this for. That was never my intention.  Never.

Pacific Ocean off the Oregon coast, summer 2011

Like the picture?  I took it this summer on our family trip – inserted here simply because I like it.  Okay, and because it has trees.  So … I never intended to chase after that elusive tenure-track position.  I’m a teacher by trade, a good one.  I’ve been working on my Teaching Portfolio this morning – adding a few things, modifying a few things.

Because I’m working on an application to teach core communications classes, I pulled up the Core Curriculum Course I designed to take another look at it.  I call the course: Obsession & Outliers, Insiders & Outsiders: Whose Story Is It?   The idea is that I use interesting course material from media studies as a Trojan horse to provide students a place to practice and improve core academic skills:  presentation skills, writing, information fluency (we used to call it research), critical thinking.

Here’s the syllabus: Obsession & Outliers, Insiders & Outsiders: Whose Story Is It?

So what was my intention in pursuing the Media, Art & Text PhD? I do want to teach at the University level – I do it well and I needed the paper credential to have a shot at earning a living wage.  I wanted to continue to improve as a writer. I’ve done that. I’m also gaining skills as an audio documentary producer. And an oral historian. I designed my own website and know enough about coding to clean up the posts on my blogs.

Oregon Coast

The forest? I’m kinda deep in the trees right now.

Applying for jobs that sound interesting and that I’m qualified to do. In places we might consider living. ‘Cause it’s the next right thing to do, sort of like getting this degree was the next right thing to do.

“Way will open” – that’s what Quakers say. Kinda like what you see in this picture, also from our summer trip.

At the start of this trail, I smelled something strong, with a twinge of ammonia. I thought it was urine.  My assumption was drunks partying and peeing in the woods, but the park rangers said that a mountain lion had been there, that the scent was hers.

There’s much I don’t know.  I do know, because I walked it, that the end of this sandy trail through the woods opened onto the vista I posted in the other photograph.  Sand dunes and small stands of trees and the Pacific Ocean stretching out beyond everything.  I was with people I love on a beautiful day, in a beautiful place.

When I looked back, I could see the forest.

watching fish swim … or are they watching us walk?

I recently traveled to California for a cousin’s wedding. I went out early with N to have some extra days in sunny Southern California. We enjoyed the days, no sunshine the whole time we were there. But the wedding was lovely, the company was lovely – extended family and cousins to hang with – and N got to go to the San Diego Zoo and to get her feet wet in the Pacific Ocean.

Actually, she slipped in the surf at La Jolla Cove and got soaked. Not exactly swimming, but a full-body dunk in a second ocean. Had to buy some clothes at the top of the cliff because she was freezing. We also visited the dirtiest public restroom I’ve ever seen, there at the top of the cliff in one of the wealthiest communities in North America.

We also went fish watching at the Scripps Aquarium in La Jolla.  Or is the fish watching me?

Scripps had an exhibit on sea horses … talk about mesmerizing and strange.  Sea horses are also hard to photograph.  I thought this photo was my best.  Might be time to upgrade the digital camera soon, especially since I’m drawn to documentary work.

how to raise a civil kid in an uncivil society

Had one of those conversations with N this morning on the way to school.  Where she didn’t like my answer to a question, so she kept talking at me in a snarky way. I finally pulled rank and said,  “I’m your mother.  When I say no, that’s it.  You can think whatever you like, but sometimes, in life,  it’s best to keep it to yourself and keep your mouth shut. Now is one of those times – you don’t get to have the last word here.”

She was furious.  Muttered some – which I pointed out was the same thing as talking back – and reminded her that the last word was mine.   Then we were at school and she was climbing out of the car, looking miserable because I had “won” and the whole interchange felt yucky and she wanted to stay mad and hate me, but still loves me, and I can relate.  The whole interchange felt yucky to me too.  But she’s nine and I can’t let her treat me that way or she’ll grow up to be a prima donna jerk who’s unemployable.

Being a mom is much, much harder than getting a PhD or teaching or writing.

On the short drive home, I thought about the messages about power she gets in school and the one I had tried to send this morning – that sometimes it’s best to keep your mouth shut and your thoughts to yourself – and I wondered if power messages are one of the things wrong with our schools and our democracy.

Then again, I was trying to teach her about respect – about treating other people with respect and not ventilating emotionally at them whenever one feels like it.  Our society could use a bit more of that basic civility – online and in lines and on the air and everywhere.

on comps and kids

The comps questions arrived yesterday around 11 am.  Writing has been a relief.  I feel a little bit like I’m snowed in – I brought in supplies from the grocery store and have no plans to go anywhere or do anything except feed myself and write all weekend.  I’ve got a rough draft of one essay done and I’m within 600 words of finishing a draft of the second essay.  Then, of course, I’ll revise until the clock strikes “deadline” on Monday morning.

Isn’t deadline a great word – invoking death & all?

It occurs to me that I could do this again – not comps, but a weekend of writing something creative without the external pressure.  I could tell my family (and the world) that I’m on a writing retreat (they don’t have to know it’s in my house).  I could start at noon on Friday and stop at noon on Monday.

The plan this weekend was for D and N to camp out at my parent’s apartment – enjoy their cable television and have daddy/daughter adventures, leaving me alone to write at home with the dog. I had been asleep about an hour last night when I heard them come in the house – N had vomited all over the sheets at the apartment and D didn’t know where my mom’s washing machine was and it was just better to bring the sick kid home.  She’s been ill all day, even running a high fever.  Needless to say their weekend plans (and mine) changed some.  I couldn’t go back to sleep right away so I ended up writing most of the night.

D’s been great – when I stop writing and put on my mom-taking-care-of-sick-kid hat, he reminds me to take it off.  It’s a dad-taking-care-of-sick-kid weekend.  He’s enjoying it.  As much as anyone enjoys taking care of a sick kid.

Well – back to writing.