A Sense Of Place

I write less and take fewer photos here in California than I did in Michigan. Maybe because any energy or time for communication or artistic expression is already monopolized in other parts of my life. Maybe it’s because I don’t need to work as hard to find beauty as I did in those long, grey winters. One sunny afternoon feels like the next, and my sense of time isn’t as rooted in fireflies / changing leaves / numb extremities / slushy roads / crocus buds.

This year I have been teaching a photography club after school. Maybe “teaching” is the wrong word because mostly I’m just handing cameras to kids and leading them rambling explorations. They climb trees, lie on the sidewalk, climb up into trees, and cluster around any available tiny leaves, unique garbage, cute dogs, and interesting patterns.

Their perspectives on the world make me more aware about my own, as I sift through the digital residue of the last few months. I’ve been in San Diego for almost three years – long enough to have routines and connections, but not to outgrow a feeling of being a newcomer. Pulling up roots can be so fast, and regrowing them so slow.

I love reading novels with a strong sense of place, and after 3 years in this place I have more senses than I have fully formed thoughts.

Cloudy May mornings.
Radio telling me about the texture of the ocean.
The bend of pelican wings above me (not quite echoed on my shoulder blade.)
Jacaranda purple pooling on sidewalks.
Palm trees bending and crackling under jet paths.
Smoke creeping over dry hills.

I can recognize the songs of humming birds & the scent of jasmine.
I am waiting for my lemon tree to produce fruit.





It snowed today – a lot! It was okay, because I didn’t have to drive anywhere. I could walk up to the street and drink coffee and watch the snow, and spend time with a stream of family and friends – some in town for the holidays, and others (like me) who were simply drifting around, bewildered at the unfamiliar sensation of free time.




It’s December but it feels like Spring. Left the windows open all night to listen to the rain.




First snow!

(And all the still-novel enchantment that is as fleeting as the fragile flakes themselves.)


The first day I had to scrape my car windows.




Day off today. Lots of grading, lesson planning, paying bills, looking into joint savings accounts, and brainstorming ways to pay for a wedding. (Nothing yet.)

My own productivity and anxieties were interrupted by the news coming in from the East coast, where Hurricane Sandy was moving in. Here in Michigan the only tangible effects were high winds, whipping around the trees and getting rid of most of the leaves that were still hanging on. I opened my window to listen to the wind, and Derrida got over her usual terror of storms to enjoy it as well.


Rain in Alicante! After a very dry winter.

Wet Paper

Back home it is probably snowing.

With unrealistic nostalgia I imagine it:
big soft flakes drifting from a silent sky.

Here it rains, where the rest of the year it never rains.
Drivers panic. Traffic jumbles. Morning commutes grind to a wet stop.
In the mountains cars are swept into ravines.
I step over the brown rivers in the streets.
Spain hunches its shoulders and advises me to wear a scarf.

In plásticas classes we make paper snowflakes.
Big soft quiet flakes melt
into the humid effort of explaining symmetry and intricate folds,
drowned in the swelling stumbling waves of English vowels.

Lopsided lace begins to drift off desks, scattering paper dust.
Children catch their breath as they creak open their creations.

My heart catches, too, somewhere among the sharp edges.
The windows have filled themselves up with blue again. I cover them in snow.


I’ve been looking too much through lenses, and the bright sun on the bright snow makes me squint my eyes and I want to twist a dial or refocus something against the glare. And the cold air is full of light, and the blue sky and the vivid shadows of black branches on white houses makes me want to open the bedroom window, but as soon as the blinds are open the light is full of cold air.

February is finally over. In the occasional balmy days (or hours) in between the blizzards, I can see a light at the end of tunnel. It’s still dark when I leave for work, but the sky is pink as I follow a concrete arc onto the Southfield freeway, with the streetlights winking out into the horizon. If I leave work on time, it’s still light out. I find myself craving bright colors like a fix. My mouth waters for the color red and open windows and the sound of melting snow and the landscape pushing brown curves up through tattered grey lace.

I am allowing myself a small morning space (though it’s technically no longer morning) to write here, drink a(nother) cup of coffee, and listen to Radiohead’s newest. I planned to finish my taxes this weekend, but it didn’t happen. I planned to unclutter my car/room/inbox/to-do list, but those might not happen, either. I am trying to open up small spaces in busy days where I can rest, because days off (or even full night’s sleep) don’t really exist on my horizons, at least not for a while.

This past Friday I took approximately 40 middle school students to the Detroit Institute of Art. The art teacher and I organized this joint trip to see a tour of “Art in the Spanish Speaking World” – but was also a good excuse to go to one of my favorite places in Detroit. I have been very anxious about this trip, which lucky for everyone turned into meticulous organization and planning. I had to cancel the first scheduled trip, due to low numbers, but then I got a grant from the museum. We filled up nearly every seat on the bus, found replacement chaperones at the last minute, squeezed in a few last-minute students, and waited over an hour for our delayed bus the morning of the field trip. Once we were finally in the museum, I turned into a hyper-aware, nervously-organized version of myself, until my dear students in my tour group learned to recognize my eye-shifting and list-clutching and reassure me: “I’m right here. We’re all here.”

I was so proud of our students. They were respectful and engaged, and mostly restrained their giggling fits (omg, boooooobs everywhere!)

DIA Field Trip!

Diego Rivera's mural - my favorite part of the museum, and the primary inspiration for this field trip.

DIA Field Trip!

Not part of the Spanish tour, but still one of my favorite pieces in the modern wing.

DIA Field Trip!

Seeing dead people.

I want to go back to the DIA soon, perhaps by myself – I have a free educator’s pass. Four years ago during the fateful weekend that I spent in Not-Barcelona, the hours I spent alone in Madrid’s art museums were one redeeming factor. It was also the most deeply emotional experience I have had with art – perhaps because I was loopy for lack of sleep or a roof over my head, but also because I could put music in my ears, wander the galleries and look at any one painting for as long as I wanted. I think this may be one of the Quiet Spaces that I so desperately need these days.

Digital Silence & Frozen Catalysts

Yesterday I didn’t leave the house. I stayed inside, in my pajamas, watching the snow fall all day (time well spent) and obsessively checking and re-checking weather reports and school closings (time less well spent, since it really just led to a predictable roller coaster of emotion.) My early morning despair at the prospect of shoveling out my car and driving 40 miles was cured by a last-minute Snow Day Phone Call. If you are not a teacher then you probably don’t know how buoyant a delight that is.

I left home fairly early this morning, and I will probably return late, so in some ways this was a normal Monday. But this kind of busyness is a luxury, because I had a snow day and didn’t spend the day in my car and classroom. So many tiny parts of today felt like luxuries: getting up with the sun, wrapping up in layers and layers and taking my backpack and camera on foot to the bus stop, leaving my car buried in snow. Burning my tongue on coffee from styrofoam at the little donut shop near my house, visiting a new Arabic grocery store, shopping for warm winter boots, listening to music on the bus and on the trek across slushy parking lots, ending up here for the last few hours: at a coffeeshop to work on my final grad project, listen to hip hop, drink coffee out of weird mugs instead of styrofoam, and watch the condensation freeze onto the window around little halos of Christmas lights. I needed a day like today.

Break is close enough to taste. My graduate final is caught in my throat. Just a few more days.

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