Monday, January 16, 2017

Steps on the Staircase

What a strange week this is likely to be, bookended by this MLK day and the inauguration of Donald Trump.  It's a good week to remind myself of my favorite quote by King:

"The arc of history is long, but it bends towards justice." 

I want to remember times when it seemed like no progress could ever be made, and then, voila, history changed in what seemed like a flash:  the tearing down of the Berlin Wall, for example, or Nelson Mandela being set free.

I want to believe that even if an administration makes changes I don't always agree with (like the changes to the welfare system in the 90's), it may work out in ways I don't expect.  And even disastrous policies aren't forever.  They may point us in a way we'd rather go.

“If you can't fly then run, if you can't run then walk, if you can't walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward.”  MLK

Over the week-end, we had a lovely Sunday lunch--we compared notes on when and where we were born.  Two of them were born in different places than their hometowns because the hometown didn't have a local hospital.  Two of them were born in different places than their hometowns because their hometown hospitals didn't have the capacity to deliver "colored babies."

We have seen enormous changes happen during our lifetimes.

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”  MLK

Four of us had seen the movie Hidden Figures, but two had not, so we couldn't discuss it thoroughly.  Still, we agreed that what we liked best about the movie was how uplifting it was.  No one was blown up.  The racist southerners were capable of change--maybe not huge changes, but change enough to open the door to more.

“Faith is taking the first step even when you can't see the whole staircase.”  MLK

Today is a day to dream big and bold visions. We could change our society. We could make it better. What would that society look like?

We have to dream that dream before we can achieve it. We have to find the courage to hold tightly to our visions. We have to face down all the fire hoses, both those of our minds which inform us of the impossibility of our dreams and those of our society, that tells us to move more slowly.

But first we have to dream. Dream boldly, today of all days.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

"Hidden Figures": A Movie that Lives Up to the Hype

Yesterday we went to see Hidden Figures--what a great movie!

I know that some people might see this kind of movie as homework--but it's not, despite its rootedness in history, in recovering a history that's been lost.  I've heard it referred to as a movie made the way that movies used to be made, and that's a compliment:  there are fully formed characters (more than one!), attention to detail, a narrative arc, and oddly, a lot of suspense, even though I knew how it all turned out.

I expected to like this movie from the angle of women's history--and I did.  I expected to like the Civil Rights struggle angle--and I did.  I kept waiting for the KKK to show up, for someone's house to explode.  It's good to remember how many of these struggles weren't the mammoth ones, but the daily ones to overcome indignities, like where the bathrooms are located.  I expected to like the Space Race angle, but how much I still like it does surprise me.

I was surprised by how much I LOVED the computer science angle.  At the beginning of the story, there's an empty space waiting for the IBM mainframe to arrive.  I loved seeing the huge computer, and more than that, the punch cards by which humans communicated with the computer.  My dad began programming computers about 1967 or so, so those big computers are part of my childhood memories:  visiting him at work, creating some punch cards, having used computer printer paper as our scratch paper.

At one point near the end of the movie, when John Glenn is hurtling across space and out of touch for a bit, an older man's cell phone went off.  I marveled at the juxtaposition--it's those very space flights that would make later satellites possible, and it's those satellites that make our cell phones possible.  I know that most people have no idea how much computer power they're carrying with those cell phones, but the average smart phone can do so much more than those early mainframes--and they take up so much less space.

It's an amazing miracle, and one that we move through our days rarely acknowledging.

I was also surprised by the aspects that appealed to my educator self; I wasn't expecting the movie to have that aspect.  The part in the movie where I sobbed the hardest was the scene in the courthouse where one character argues why she should be allowed to take graduate classes at the segregated high school where UVa does extension classes.  She asks the judge which of his legal decisions will be the one for which he is remembered.  I thought about all the first generation students who have moved through my classrooms.  I thought of my grad school self who got tired of fighting battles that she already thought were won (but in truth, were not nearly as monumental as the battles fought by earlier generations of women).  I cried, and I cheered.

As I did some Internet searching, I was happy to see that the movie was the #1 movie last week--displacing a different kind of space movie, the latest Star Wars entry.  Part of the reason why I go to see these kinds of movies is that I want these kinds of movies to be made.  I understand the industry's need to make money, although I am horrified by some of what brings in the money, specifically rape and torture films.

As I watched the movie and thought of myself and later generations of students, I did wonder how we will be replacing these scientists.  Now we don't need humans quite as much to do this computing--but we do need them to work the computers.  We do need people of vision who inspire us to go to new heights of all sorts--I'm not sure we have as many people with the theoretical competence to get us further towards the stars.

Maybe a movie like this one will be part of the solution; maybe younger viewers will see it and understand the creative joy that can come from science, math, and computers.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Self Care, and Other Types of Care

I have spent the past week eating some of the soups that I stashed in the freezer just after Christmas.  The week before Christmas, my spouse made a wonderful soup out of the ham bone (with lots of ham too!) that we brought home with us over Thanksgiving, and on the morning of Christmas Eve, I made a veggie soup.  I thought that people might want soup on Christmas Eve, so I took them to church. 

We had lots of leftovers, and we already had a full fridge.  So I put them away for later.  It's wonderful to have food in the freezer for later.

I was not always this way.  Once we had a full-size, standing freezer.  I would routinely make casseroles in double and triple amounts and freeze the extra, only to find that I never wanted them again.  I wanted to cook something new.

Those days are these days--these days, I love being able to pull something out of the freezer during these weeks when I'm not home much.  I love having soup for lunch--a soup that reminds me of both Thanksgiving and Christmas, no less.

It's important self-care.

Yesterday, on my way home from work, I heard a story on "The World" (can't find a link, though) about the British journalist who released a dossier on Trump and the Russians.  He's gone underground, but before leaving, he made arrangements for someone to take care of his cats.  There was some chuckling about a James Bond type spy making arrangements for his cat, but I found it touching.

Today, my spouse and I will do some marriage self-care.  We are going to see Hidden Figures.  He was the first to hear about it, and he said, "I'd really like to see that movie."  He only feels this way about once every three years, so I made note of it.  I'd like to see it too, for many reasons, but mainly because I want these kinds of movies to be made, and thus, I feel like I should support them.

Awhile ago, my spouse and I realized that we too seldom get out and do anything out of the ordinary, unless we have out of town visitors.  We wanted to show ourselves the same kind of care and attention that we do our out of town guests.  We're not always good at that, but we try to be aware.

Is it sad that going to a movie qualifies?  I don't think so.  We very seldom go to movies.  Today's outing feels more like a special occasion than Thursday's outing to the Irish pub, although that felt special too.

It's certainly more special than the alternative:  house care, although that needs to be done too.  For weeks, we had more food in the house than I could figure out how we would eat--but we've eaten most of it.  We need to do some grocery shopping.  The pool doesn't get our attention as much during January as it does in the summer--thus, it's got more leaves in it than I like to see.  We've got weeds coming up in our decorative areas that have river rock.

But today we will go see a movie.  We will celebrate people of vision.  It's a good way to start our MLK week-end.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Friday Fragments

It's been a long week, work days that have lasted 11 hours.  I am exhausted this morning, but it's a good way.  Let me capture some fragments:

--My campus is in good shape with our Winter 2017 start--very good shape.  I don't know all the specifics, because nobody wants to jinx it.  But it's nice to know that we're waiting to hear details of a good surprise, not the dreadful news that my last school would always deliver near the end of the first week.

--I saw the release of statistics that come out in conjunction with the Gainful Employment law.  That's the law that looks at the ratio of student debt to their earnings the first year, and programs that don't come into a certain range get a failing grade.  My old school is not in good shape.  My new school is not on the list.

--Last night, when celebrating the 50th birthday of a friend, we discovered a cool place that was new to us, even though it's been in existence for over a decade.  It's an Irish place that had good beer, and last night, live Irish music--the good kind, not the annoying kind.  It was decorated with all sorts of old books and old tools and old pottery.  It had several different areas, all of them cozy.  I'd go back to The Field Irish Pub and Eatery.

--Even though this week has been the first 5 day work week in awhile, it's been good to get back in the swing of things.  My short story about the corporate woman who may be coming to shut down the school which is the thread that ties together my collection of linked stories--it's going very well, with delightful discoveries.  My online class has not swung into high gear.  I've been getting myself to spin class.  I've gone for walks.  I've eaten more vegetables.  Yes, it's back to post-holiday life.

--But I still miss those twinkly lights.

--This week-end we have plans to go see Hidden Figures.  We will go tomorrow at 11, so as to get the cheap tickets--saves us over $5 a ticket.  It has been a long time since I felt so excited about seeing a movie.  My spouse also wants to see it--he's the one that put it on our radar screens.  That's rare, which also feeds my enthusiasm.

Here's hoping we all have a Friday the 13th that only has good luck.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Border Crossings

It is interesting to hear this morning's news about U.S. tanks moving through Poland.  I think back to the 80's and the border of east and west which played such a large part of foreign policy--I think of the TV movie The Day After--nuclear war starts on the border of east and west Germany, as I'm remembering the plot.

I think of how different populations can interpret actions differently.  The U.S. says that this troop movement is nothing out of the ordinary.  But Russia might see it differently.  And do Polish citizens feel protected or vulnerable?

I think of earlier conflicts, particularly World War II, with the German invasion of Poland launching conflagrations of all sorts.

And I do wonder how we will see borders in this brave new world we live in.  When foreign governments try to influence an election, have they crossed a border?  Are we more incensed about influencing by way of technology or by way of murder?  I'm thinking of old-fashioned coups and new fangled hacking.

As we have been zooming towards a new administration, I've been feeling some despair about how it feels like we're falling backward in time.  I've been thinking about resistance music and resistance movements.  More than once, I've wanted to say, "I just can't do this any more."

I find myself in an interesting position, especially as I think about my participation in resistance movements of the past, when I was much younger--in some ways, back then, I had more to lose.  I was surrounded by men being ordered to register for the draft (the 80's version, not the 60's version), and it was hard not to imagine them being called up to protect Central America or to fight against the U.S.S.R.  I fully expected my future to dissolve in a mushroom cloud.

Now, if I wanted, I could likely refuse to be part of any resistance movement.  I have money in the bank, and soon, I'll get my passport renewed (I was going to do this, regardless of who won the election). 

I know how to pass, how to blend in.  I have no children, no pets, no arrest record--I know how tyrannical governments of the past have controlled populations.

Yes, it would be easy to say, "I'm done resisting.  I'm going to settle into my comfortable life.  Let others fight."

But I will not.  I spent my childhood and adolescence wondering why people let Hitler get away with his actions as long as they did.  I couldn't understand why more people didn't work harder in the Civil Rights movement.

I've spent my adult years having some glimpses of answers.  When the slaughter was happening in the former Yugoslavia in the 90's, I understood how difficult it was to know what to do, especially from a distance.  And even when resistance movements take up residence in the neighborhood, it's easy to let others do the fighting.

In this time, it's hard not to feel like we're at some hinge point, like August of 1939 or Freedom Summer (1964).  Are we moving towards war?  Are we moving towards a more expansive society?  I could make the argument either way.

I plan to be part of the team bending the arc of history towards justice--keeping those borders secure.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Poetry for Long Work Days: "Dinner Desires"

These are long days at work, but I don't mind--there's work to do during this first week of Winter quarter.  I get there in the morning to be ready to greet students who are arriving for their 9 a.m. classes.  I stay until the 6:00 classes start in the evening, to be sure that all is going smoothly.  In between, I'm doing all sorts of tasks to get ready for the accreditation site visit and to strengthen the school.

So, let's take yesterday as an example.  Some of my tasks were to read a document that will be submitted for a programmatic accreditation (different than the site visit), to create certificates for our recent faculty trainings, to talk about the best way to get graduate surveys returned to us, to answer questions here and there about potential new students, and to think about the classes we will offer at midquarter, and to create a timeline for how we'll get our site visit materials ready.

I like the variety, and I like that we're building a school that has answers to community needs, a school that might last.  So many schools are not in that position.  I wonder how many small, liberal arts colleges (a type of higher ed near and dear to my heart) will still be here at the end of the century or in 2050 (not that long away).

Still, I'm bleary-eyed when I get home. This week has put me in mind of a poem I wrote years ago, before I was an administrator, before I was on a first name basis with this kind of work schedule.  It appears here for the first time.


Dinner Desires


She has microwave popcorn for dinner again.
She works late, last in the office;
microwave popcorn seems at least a seminutritious
choice. She avoids what she really wants:
the chocolate candy on her supervisor’s desk,
the stale butter cookies left over from the Christmas
party, a hot meal served on china
plates, served by the light of candles.

She has microwave popcorn for dinner again.
She tries to make it seem special
with a sprinkle of parmesan cheese.
She sips seltzer, while trying
not to think of all the ways
she thought adulthood would be different.

She has microwave popcorn for dinner again
as workers across the city settle
in for their second full time jobs.
She thinks she should plan ahead, buy
those clever dinners that she once would have disdained
as airplane food. She has forsaken
all hope of getting her work done during normal
business hours, of being home
in time for dinner.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Mepkin Abbey in June

I have been meeting 2 monastic minded friends at Mepkin Abbey in South Carolina on a regular basis since 2004.  We began our monastic exploration as we fell in love with Kathleen Norris.  One friend had already been going out to Mepkin Abbey just to spend an afternoon, and she suggested we go there for a retreat.

Back then, the Abbey rarely had formal retreats that explored topics.  But in the past year or 2, with the new retreat center, the emphasis has shifted.  Now it's harder to find a week-end where one could do an unstructured retreat with friends.

Yesterday, one of those friends wrote to ask if we'd gotten the newsletter and considered the retreat in June that will explore the power of story.  I'd been looking for week-ends with nothing scheduled, but her e-mail made me think again.

Long story short, during the course of an afternoon, we decided to do it.  I checked with my boss who said I could take those days off.  I can't take it as professional development, but I don't care.  And by then, I'll need something to help with renewal.

I haven't been to Mepkin Abbey in the summer.  I'm intrigued by how the monastery moves through the calendar year and the liturgical year, so I'm excited to try a new season.

I had been feeling a bit of despair without realizing it.  I can't go to the Create in Me retreat this year.  It will be the week-end before the accreditors arrive, so there's just no way.  I had been worried, without even realizing it, that I might never make it back to Mepkin Abbey, with so many week-ends unavailable.  I've been worried--but realizing it--that my new job will make it harder to get away, harder to see friends, harder to have a work-life balance.

I do think I will have to be aware, as we all need to be, and to remain on the look-out for ways to get these kinds of opportunities into my life.  I am happy to have a reunion with my monastic minded friends.  I am happy to return to Mepkin Abbey.  I am happy for a chance to experience a retreat that explores a topic dear to my heart (narrative!  story! intersections with spirituality!)--and it's led by a father-son team; I'm always interested in how my mom and I might lead retreats.

But mostly, I am happy that my monastic minded friend offered an invitation, and I worked my way to saying yes more quickly than I usually do.  My Epiphany star leads the way: