Snapshots From My November Commute


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Late November is one of my favorite times to bike commute.

Long shadows across Olmstead Path

There’s something about starting out crisp; covered from head to toe in wool and sporty synthetics. Just one layer to start, before December and January demand more.

Bike & rider silhouette

Standing in the acorns

My favorite little urban woods between Jamaica Plain and Cambridge are similarly dressed for cool, but not yet snow or ice. Muddy River park

Reflection on underside of stone bridge Bright yellow tree in Brookline

And fellow commuters, they’re still out there. Not yet chased to public transit.

Cyclist on Hubway bike

Rocking that Hubway like a pro

The Pines, Arnold Arboretum



I’ve long loved trees.


When I was a kid, I can remember trying to decide which I preferred: deciduous or conifer.


Well, deciduous are great because they sprout tiny leaves that grow into bigger leaves, change from green to gold or red or brown, and then fall to regrow in just a few (not that short) months.

But conifer. Conifer remain. Sun. Rain. Sleet. Wind. They are Always. Smell so good against a bright, clean expanse of snow. And pinecones! Who doesn’t love pinecones?



Aside from some weird seemingly in-betweens (looking at you, juniper; what ARE you, yew?) for which I couldn’t always identify the correct team (scientists could tell you, I bet, should you distract ’em long enough from the argument about camels), I decided deciduous and conifer had a pretty good competition going on. Satisfying in that winless way.



All these years later, I haven’t truly picked a side. Though I have favorites, like a pin oak at the edge of a church parking lot near where I live, and the Arboretum pines.


They take twenty minutes to a half hour to reach, walking, but worth it! The pines, and firs, and weird in-betweens can be found just over Bussey Hill. A collection of big, stout, expansive, narrow, prickly, soft, smooth and otherwise not-yet-discovered (by me). When I have the spare hour, I wander to see what’s new, to smell sap and tar and soil. To discover what I’d forgotten since my previous visit.




Fanfictions I have . . . WHOA



Lets talk about sex.


Let’s talk about 1997. A fresh sophomore in college, I’d been noticing a trend. My male peers -more specifically my straight-identified male peers- were increasingly expressing enthusiasm for same sex relationships. More specifically, those of women. Most specifically, women seeking intimacy with one another in the proximity of those same straight men.

Cue suspicion. Cue my late-high school feminist awakening, re-woke. Cue my BS-Spidey sense (TM), and aggravated Black girl loud-sigh+side-eye.

Cough! Fetish. Ahem. Exoticism. Male supremacist co-opting of women and women’s cultures for base, shallow titillation.

And although I didn’t hang with girls who practiced the art of sucking-face-to-garner-male attention, I do remember arguing with guys who wolf-whistled when ladyactors on the boob tube sized one another up. It was triply frustrating (and betraying) when these guys were people I liked and respected.

Leave it to dudes, I groused, to take something not about then, make it about them, and then blast you when you call them on it. Women would never behave that way, I told myself. When would they ever get the opportunity?


Let’s talk about downtown Boston, and junior or senior me. I’m walking (here! Sorry, NYC joke) and before me: two ladies, two guys. There’s some discussion, nervous giggling, but my attention is caught fast when the chortles start. My eyes light on two conservatively-dressed young men reaching to reluctantly . . . hold hands. They keep at for a few paces of encouragement on the part of their girlfriends, then drop and retreat to heteronormative safety.

Huh. Ok. Well.


Let’s talk about being a quarter of the way through Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl. I laughed to read about the young fanfic authors rewiring their favorite male characters into a relationship. That’s funny, I thought, assuming a one-off, a nod to the ebullient sexuality of teen girls. Nope. Didn’t stop there.

Finally, let’s talk about fanfiction. About a world of terms new to my 30-something self. (Shipping, anyone? Get Spock? OTP? Schmoop?) About what appears to be hundreds (thousands?) of hobby writers penning same sex smut featuring bizarre, hilarious, and otherwise unlikely pairings. (Lets side-whisper about how those pairing are largely male. Hmm. Lets read into that.) Not romance, nor erotica, but scads of smut. Enough to make the Library of Congress faint (perhaps; if the Library collects Tweets, it’s likely no innocent).

What does this tell me? I was in college for the beginning of the Internet as we currently know it, but I understand now that some of my cis-gendered ladypeers, silent in the face of dudepeers’ leering and sexist assumptions, headed back to their dorms after a dinner of butter pasta and Lucky Charms marshmallow-topped ice cream to type for hours about Harry or Scully or Dawson getting it on with overwritten Mary Sams.


So yes. Sexism. Lets talk about that. Long before I paid attention to fanzines or fandoms or fanhood, I’d heard dismissive, disgusted jokes about the Twilight-inspired fic-turned-book, 50 Shades of Gray. This ‘novel’, I was to understand on the occasions I heard someone speak on it, featured awful ‘writing’ and horrid BDSM (sorry, not gonna link to that wiki-page). Lots of it. Too much.

I haven’t read Shades (actually, I have, but a different one), but having perused the sometimes shocking virtual shelves of fanfiction (oh, no. I can’t unsee that!), I’ve begun to draw inferences and assume causation in that way so-human (animal?) and I suspect misogyny behind the loud, plentiful mocking.

There blooms the question: who owns sex? Sexuality? Who gets noticed? Upon whom are awards heaped for gender-defining (or perhaps gender confirming) research? Who writes the columns? The NYT pieces? Who develops the rules around moral code and ethical behavior?

Who designs the bras at Victoria’s Secret and then pumps college mailboxes full of circulars and come-hither coupons for instant desirability? (As long as you’re long-legged, trim-hipped, pert-boobed, and straight-haired.)

And who let loose that wily imp, the Internet, to wreak havoc on consumption’s status quo while creating a modus operandi yet to sit still long enough for anybody to get a good grasp. I’ll be the first to claim you can’t see it while you’re in it. (I’ll be the second to say I didn’t research a lick to write this opinion piece, so don’t forget to inoculate with salt.)

I’ll be the third to say: lets talk. Fanfiction . . . whoa! Lots to see (think/suspect/run from/study/celebrate) here. Stay tuned for more*.

*Hastily curated museum of grow-some-patience idioms from my ’80s/’90s childhood.

Exhibit A: But you don’t have take my word for it.

Exhibit B: You make each day a special day. You know how, by just your being you.

Exhibit D: Same Bat-time, same Bat-channel.

Meeting A Goal You Didn’t Know You Had


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Phoebe & mother on red cruiser bikes, Key West, FL

Mom & Me, Key West, Florida

As an adult, I have enjoyed bike rides with each person in my family-of-origin, independent of one another. This is not a goal I realized I had ’til it was accomplished.

I’m from a project-based family. We like to do things, collect experiences, learn, examine, uncover, understand. And we like bikes!

I remember being a little thing and my paternal grandfather’s adult-sized tricycle. The sound of bike tires bumping over a boardwalk’s wooden slats. Family mythology has it that same tricycle once ran over my mother’s foot, by accident.

I recall the thick, this-might-be-chemical-y-dangerous smell of grease and seeing bikes in bits in my back yard, old chains soaking in a pickle tub, waiting to be scrubbed silver.

Bike tour guide speaks with group

My brother & me on a Princeton, NJ bike tour

My Strawberry Shortcake Big Wheel; the red tricycle belonging to a neighborhood kid that we’d zip around on like it was a scooter ’til our backs ached; the pretty, blue Columbia that was stolen from my front porch, gone possibly a long time before I noticed. Barreling down broke-up concrete sidewalks from 8th Avenue to 7th, back around to 8th, no adult accompanying me because, as long I stuck to the sidewalk, no need. Learning that freedom can be bought at Toys-R-Us and sized up when my legs grew too long.

Place to place, and person to person. Child to sibling to parent.

On bike in Somerville, MA

Dad on Somerville Library Bike Tour

Bikes in Somerville Library parking lot

Fun in a Somerville lot with Dad and Dave

There’s nothing like that early love, or the connections it offers. The relationships it helps sustain.

Wooded road

Phoebe on a winding MA road

Whole Heart World’s End


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Whole heart world’s end. (I just wanted to say that.)

Looking through wooden slats

A few years back, we learned of a park called World’s End located in Hingham, south of Boston. Of course we had to go.

Bridge to World's End

Bench to nowhere

Of course I had to bring my camera. The good one. Film.

Dark branch, light tree

Twigs before beach


Seaweed fuzzy on rock

David on rock, World's End

Of course we couldn’t resist the tiny shells. Or the ‘lil kids, who also weren’t resisting tiny shells.

David holds up shell

Kids at World's End

And, headed home after an afternoon of exploring, of course we wouldn’t resist fried seafood, despite our thirty-year-old digestion. Who would?

Fish shack fried clams

Whole Heart . . . Rage?


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Your laundry. It’s locked in the Laundromat and you can see it, unmoving, in a top dryer. The sign on the door reads that the ‘mat closes at 8 PM. It’s 7:45 PM and you need those pants for work tomorrow. Annoyed.

You step onto the bus and realize you don’t have enough on your ride card. Crap. You fumble to find actual cash while other riders queue up behind you. The bus driver exudes distrust while you struggle to add money to your card using the ridiculously complicated system. Finally, the driver says something impatient, and your eyes snap up. Aggravated.

You walk out of the building and

  • Your bike lights have been stolen. Again
  • Someone plundered the bungees and now there’s no way to keep your basket on the bike
  • Someone tried and failed to remove your front tire
  • Your basket was ‘mistaken’ for a trash receptacle
  • You bike isn’t where you (thought) you left it

Anger. Fear. Compounding, splitting like atoms.


You’re eleven years old. You stand on a corner in your neighborhood, not doing much of anything. A car whizzes by and a young man leans out the window to holler the N word. Shocked, you pause in confusion, listening to the hysterical laugher recede as the car retreats. At first you think the slight will slide off; instead it permeates. There’s an almost audible click and you are rushed with random childhood injustices, more focused micro-aggressions against your color and gender, your own American slavery lineage, and the rush becomes a deluge, you’re experiencing not just your own but drawing from a ground spring, a geyser of . . .


I remember September 11th. I worked at a dotcom and the news of the towers, fire, and terror spread slowly around my office. As the story evolved from accident to intention, no one could concentrate. TVs came on. My co-workers stared in horror and someone said, “I don’t understand how a person could do this.”

The desire to inflict deep, unassailable pain, the planning, the getting on those airplanes, the flying –I found none of that imaginable. Horrific. Repellent. But when I looked inside myself, I realized I understand how rage grows. How it collects, fuels, feeds. I watched the country take a deep dive into that rage, post 9/11. We flailed, grieved and struck out. I wanted to go back to that conversation with the co-worker and ask, haven’t you ever felt . . .


You’re no longer you. A vessel. A conduit. You’re at service to however it manifests, whatever looks like. You’re the place where hurt and outrage and fear and grief swirl, twirl, bubble, punch, jerk, get good and mixed. Then you reach down and borrow from someone else, maybe many someones so together you can


Scare the heck out of everybody. Including yourself. Hurt somebody. Maybe yourself.

From small slights to the catastrophic, it’s there. Rage is equal opportunity. It’s rarely right-sized. It’s patient. Will wait years for you to step unwittingly. You can try to press it down, rationalize it, breathe it away but sometimes it’s just like . . .


In the next moment, your world is different.


Fanfictions I Have Loved


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Here’s where we start. As Julie Andrews states: the very beginning.


Actually, that’s not the beginning. Because the very beginning, for me, was the Fellowship of the Ring. Penny of Inspector Gadget. Martin of Redwall. Batman the Animated Series. Robotech. McGyver. Ember of Elfquest. Kung Fu: The Legend Continues. Creations not-mine which I absorbed, which became part of how I move in the world, how I view it.

Enter Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell. Book I spotted top-shelf in the Portland Oregon’s Multnomah Public Library, which I didn’t read until I checked it out during a visit to the East Boston Library. I fell into that book in a big way and this prompted me to notice the chasm of fanfiction. I leaned over the edge to peer into sparkling depths, tripped . . . and the rest is millions and millions of words read, thoughts expressed rabidly enthusiastically to whatever poor fool whomever wandered near, and ruminations as to whether I should give up all my other aspirations and go back to college to study this shocking, new (to me, but not to the world) art form.

Reading as a writer is always an interesting experience, and I’m sure I’ll have more to say on the subject, but through the lens of fanfiction, I can say I’ve discovered:

  • It’s fascinating (to me) to read what other writers like to read, and the brevity of story and excessive ample access allows for rapid exposure
  • I edit/proofread in my head as I read. Until recently, I did not realize how much I do this
  • The idea that people are going ‘home’ after work/school/child rearing/etc. to write their hearts out brings me BIG HOPE for the world. Artists are out there! My type of artists to boot (re: writers)
  • Clearly, the low bar of having someone else’s characters, concepts, and ideas to give you a boost inspires so, so many people to put pen to paper, fingers to keyboard. I’m one of those writers who feels, if you read, you can write, at least for personal enjoyment and I’ve long wondered ‘where does it all go?’ when I meet voracious readers who don’t write. I mean, words go in; gotta reappear somewhere, right (nature ≠ vacuum)? As visual art, as movement, as craft, in the business meeting, in a song sung to a child, as movies inspired-by-the-true-story. As fanfic.

Reading fanfic has prompted me to go back and revisit my younger artist-self. I learned young that, for art to have validity or be of note, it had to be original. Conversely, as I grew older, I learned nothing is original. What’s an art-maker to do, squished beneath this smothering contradiction?

I believe people embracing “transformative works” via consumption and encouragement allows legitimacy to bloom. Thus, for all of my selves – kid, teen, adult – a gate lifted, one I hadn’t realized I was living behind. I see in these works a conversational reflection: I see you/I see what you’re making/I respond/you respond. Echoing rings of ideas connecting the originator, the receptive enthusiast, and the audiences of both.

Now, I understand copyright exists for a reason. We grew it to place protections around intellectual and artistic property. I don’t have quarrel with that. This is what first shocked me about fanfiction -all that writing, all those words, for FREE, because they must be (otherwise, illegal.) And, as with much of life, when money is pulled from the equation, the outcome morphs -not necessarily into something better, but into something different, creative, interesting. Such as Captain American falling in love with Ironman. Apparently. But that’s a curiosity for another blog post.

For now, I’ll share a few of the stories that so opened my mind (all are safe-for-work, some have swearing and violence)(also, there’s intense stuff in many fics out there; be cautious/take care of yourself when reading):

What have you got against Denny’s? (Cap and Thor lured by America’s cheap eats)

Brother-friends stuck in a cabin with a sock-stealing cat (Legolas and Aragorn struggle to survive a mishap, incomplete)

Don’t hang out with Deadpool, ’cause whoa (Poor Hawkeye; yikes)

My Venn diagram will EAT yours (!!! & Ironman)

So! More to say on this subject later, particularly about gender (such as: why do the stories Phoebe spotlights here center around white male protagonists? hmmm), sexuality, voice, and themes I’ve noticed that seem to span what I’ve read. Meantime, happy reading, and watch out for the edge of that cliff. It’s a doozy.

Librarytour: East Boston Branch, BPL


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This rainy week in Boston reminds me of another rainy week.


It was fall. My partner and I had the day off and what better way to spend it than exploring the library? Particularly a new branch. Not just new to us, but new to the network.


Walk through the community garden, up the stairs, past the porch, and enter East Boston Public Library‘s spacious, one-room(ish) affair with clever, moveable elements and variety to appeal to all types of users.




Gray thought it may be outside, inside this fresh, welcoming branch is sun and surprises.





Whole Heart Greenwich


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One of the things I appreciate most about long-term friendships is that we get to grow and change together.


We’re sold the idea that friendship is telling secrets at summer camp, laughing over the fryer at that first job, playing video games in the college dorm, or drinks with buddies at the bar. Thank goodness that’s not all. I’m glad the experience isn’t so simple or static or one-dimensional.




Even when it makes me sad or wistful, I’m glad that the long-term friendships in my life have included moving boxes, commiserating over disappointments, tales of exhaustion and woe. I’m glad they’ve included the willingness to feel embarrassed, learning how and when to give space, and listening as carefully as we are able.

Our individual worlds seem so small, but when we combine forces -live our lives together- they feel large.


My Personal Political



Baby Pho, 1978

I was raised radical. You can tell by just by looking at me. Right?

When I recount my childhood, the images I share, the stories I choose: organic garden in the back yard where I ate horseradish and sucked on sugar cane straight from the earth; reading the Qur’an beneath a tree with my mother and brother; celebrating Kwanzaa instead of Christmas; my brother writing reports on important Black people in history, which he turned in to our parents; largely eating and identifying as vegetarian; listening to Islamic prayers on the radio on Sundays; my parents splitting childcare equally (or so it seemed to me); and going places and attending events that did not seem to appeal to other Black families (NJ State rock & gem show, anyone?)

I was taught character over color, over gender, but never to ignore the importance of culture. Family reigns important, but friends are family, too.

I wasn’t permitted to straighten my hair, and I can’t recall that I ever asked.


Teen Pho, 16?

My personal political is that I’m not really all that political, not in the ways I’m used to seeing/hearing/experiencing. However, to people I meet, I’m aware that it can appear that I walk my politics: it’s my hair (“how long have you been natural?” “oh, since childhood”), my wide smile, my inability to appear or to act other than I am. I speak very little code. I’m nearly the same everywhere, to everyone. I have too many opinions about too many things. Picking one side makes my heart sink with dread, because I see the other. I don’t like to leave people out, not even myself. Where people see problems, I try to look again. And again. And again until I can pull apart what I’m seeing and find the kernel of opportunity, of creativity, of solutions -maybe just-for-now, maybe for the long term.

Like most people I’ve met, I continue to search for where I fit. With my refusal to follow the paths laid out for me, I’ve been: the only girl among boys at the 3rd grade lunch table ; the only non-GirlScout at camp, rocking that windsurfing board; the 13-year-old learning how to train bonsai trees in a class of students age 30+; the sole Black occupant at the youth hostel in Dublin, tagging along with a young White couple; the single, long-standing Black employee at a dotcom; the writer among visual artists at a Failure Support Group; novelist among dancers.

Phoebe in the sun

Adult Pho, playing with light

My personal political says: go, see, connect, regret, laugh, mourn, listen, struggle, learn. It does not offer answers, but sometimes it helps me find the questions.


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