Saturday, August 8, 2020

Saturday Snippets and the Sealey Challenge

 It has been the kind of week where I will gather some fragments and see what emerges.

--Last night I dreamed of rivers, usually rivers that were swelling their banks, and overtaking me, fast moving currents that swept me away.  It doesn't take a trained psychotherapist to interpret that dream, does it?

--I want to remember the student who was so happy at the thought of a different colored wrist band.  She said her toddler was collecting them and wearing them and was so happy when she brought him a band of a different color.  I love the idea of the toddler finding joy in this wristband which often feels like drudgery.

--As I have been collecting paperwork that shows that people have been on campus, I thought about how we're willing to sacrifice our privacy this way.  And then I had to laugh at myself.  Most people are carrying phones that are much more invasive, in terms of tracking personal information.  We have been trained.

--Today is my school's virtual graduation.  It's being launched at a particular time, but it's all pre-recorded.  There will be no cars driving by to pick up diplomas, no live feed with administrators holding diplomas out to a screen.  It's not what anyone expected when students started their degree programs, but it's better than nothing. 

--I came across this article which was the most helpful so far in figuring out which symptoms might be COVID-19, since so many of the symptoms are very common--and in people like me, often triggered by reading the symptoms:  "Why, yes, I do have a headache."

But let me close with something happier:

--I have been enjoying the Sealey Challenge, where we try to read 1 whole book of poetry each and every day in August.  Some people post a picture of the book, while others post a selfie of themselves reading the book.  I don't really have a way to do a selfie easily, so I'm trying to create a photo that has some artistic tinge or that says something about the content of the book or ties into the history of the day.  For example, on August 6, the 75th anniversary of the Hiroshima bombing, I decided on the book based on the day, and I made this photo:


Friday, August 7, 2020

Longing for School

The other day, I saw a picture of my cousin's daughter, along with the information that she's thrilled because the school board just announced that students would be back in person in schools as previously planned.  She's thrilled to go back to school.

I wrote this response:  "Suddenly I have a vision of a whole generation of learners who will go forward in life being always grateful for school, grateful for teachers, grateful for learning--maybe I'll stay in education a bit longer!"

I confess that I also said a prayer for those children heading back to classrooms.  I broadened the prayer to all of us meeting in buildings.  I realize that no matter how careful we are, we're taking a risk.  If I could, I'd keep all of us at my school meeting remotely, doing virtual labs.  But it's not up to me, so I'm trying to keep us all as safe as possible.

I used similar words the other day, when I took a phone call from a student.  He asked, "When will you let us come back to campus to have class there?"

We had a fairly long conversation, about seven minutes, about the pluses and minuses of distance education, about disease transmission, about how long we'd need to meet remotely.  Here, too, I was struck by what has changed; in the pre-pandemic times, I can't imagine getting a call from a student demanding more access to classes, demanding to be on campus longer hours.

I understand that longing.  When I first heard that my certificate program was likely to meet via Zoom in January of 2021, my first response was to fight back tears.  But I reminded myself that I was lucky to have a program that's continuing, leadership that can pivot.  It's not what I imagined when I signed up, but here we are.

And we are likely to be here longer than most of us would like.

Thursday, August 6, 2020

Transfiguring Atoms

On this day, 75 years ago, the world was about to change in dramatic ways that we likely still don't fully comprehend. On this day, 75 years ago, the first nuclear bomb was used in war.

The effects of that bomb obliterated much of Hiroshima--and vaporized some of it. There were reports of people fused into pavement and glass--or just vanished, with a trace remaining at the pavement. The reports of the survivors who walked miles in search of help or water are grim. And many of those survivors would die of the effects of radiation in the coming years.

In a strange twist, today is also the Feast Day of the Transfiguration in Catholic, Anglican, and Orthodox churches, the day when Jesus went up the mountain with several disciples and becomes transfigured into a radiant being. Those of you who worship in Protestant churches may have celebrated this event just before Lent began, so you may not think of it as a summer kind of celebration. Pre-Reformation traditions often celebrated this day in conjunction with blessing the first harvest.

I find it an interesting conjunction, and of course, I've written a poem about it.


Ides of August


We long to be transfigured in the Holy Flame,
to harness atoms to do our will.
At the thought of what they attempt,
leaders and scientists tremble.
On the other side of the planet,
people vanish into the unforgettable fire,
wisps of cloth pressed into concrete,
the only sign that they existed.

We cling to the Ancient Lie
of the violence that can redeem
us. We purge and plunge whole
landscapes into the land of ash and smoke.
The sun rises over a steamy swamp
of decimated land and decapitated dreams.

Like Peter, we long to harness Holiness,
to build booths, to charge admission.
Christ turned into Carnival.
No need to do the hard, Christian work:
repairing community, loving the unloveable.
No, we seek redemption in the flame.

We pin our hopes on the nuclear
family, small units than can withstand the fission
of everyday stresses and detonating loss.
We cast away thousands of years of human
knowledge; we forget the wisdom of the pack.
We head for our hermitages in the hills,
hoping to be transfigured into hardy-stocked survivors.


Today is a good day to think about what distractions, atomic, cosmic, or otherwise, take our attention away from the true work. Today is a good day to think about mountaintop experiences and how we navigate our lives when we're not on the mountaintop. Today is also a good day to meditate on power and how we seek to harness it and how we use power once we have it.

Today is a good time to spend with the texts for the day, to carve out some time for quiet contemplation. Go here for readings, complete with links, so that you can read online, if that's easier.

Today is also a great day to celebrate the transfiguring possibility of power. After all, not all uses of power lead to destructive explosions. Some times, we find redemption.

Wednesday, August 5, 2020

Time of Firsts, Pandemic Version

Yesterday was a day of many firsts.  We have filled in our ballots to vote by mail in the August 18 election.  I'm registered as an independent, so I don't get to cast a ballot in the primaries, but I did vote for some judges.  But more importantly, I see this as a test run for November.

I have always registered as independent, but since moving to Florida in 1998, I've always voted for a Democrat in national races.  In South Carolina, I voted for a wider variety of candidates, knowing that the Republican would win regardless.  Down here in Florida, it's been much more clear that my vote would matter, even as I haven't always been positive it would be counted, after the 2000 election debacle.

Another first:  I submitted a proposal for the AWP conference.  I've had ideas in the past, but the odds seemed so steep that I never actually put together a proposal to submit.  This year, only people who have never presented at the AWP can submit a proposal, along with everyone who had a panel accepted last year, but who decided to postpone the panel until the 2021 conference.  This year, the odds seem a bit better.

I'm glad I did.  I needed something to remind me of the kind of writer I want to be, not the kind of writer that I seem to have become.  Yesterday, I wrote the pandemic protocols again.  I have lost track of how often I have written them.  They haven't changed much, so I'm not sure why this need for periodic revision.  Who is going to be reading these protocols?

Yesterday, as I found myself once again trying to convince different types of documents into one single document, I realized fairly quickly how impossible it was, how much time it would take if I decided it needed to be possible.  I decided that we were going to scan the document anyway, so it was easier to take the separate documents and turn them into one PDF to scan.  It won't make revision easier, but maybe we won't need to revise again.  Or maybe I'll just keep stitching documents together in this way.

It's not the stitching I thought I would be doing.  Sadly, this kind of revision of documents is not a first for me, as those of you who have read my chapbook I Stand Here Shredding Documents know.

I'm participating in the Sealey Challenge, where one reads one book of poetry every day in August.  I've never heard of this challenge before, but it's been interesting to realize that I can do this.  If it means that I scroll through social media less, that's a plus.

Here's another plus that I saw on someone's Twitter feed:  "Go, go, go, poetry lovers! We’re thrilled to see all the incredible books you’ve read so far! Be sure to send your list to openpoetrybooks [at] gmail [dot] com by 9PM PT on September 1. Happy reading!"

The Sealey Challenge views chapbooks as a book for the challenge, so it's not just full length collections.  Maybe it's time for me to read my own chapbooks again.  That, too, wouldn't be a first, but it's been a long time.



Monday, August 3, 2020

Holy Resilience

I came across an interesting term last week: holy resilience. One of my pastor friends recorded a "Come to Jesus" meeting to remind us that these times are hard, but we can be resilient.  I'm using her term, "Come to Jesus" meeting, but it was really more of a pep talk.  

She mentioned a blog post that used the term "holy resilience"; I did a search and came across this post.  It's got lots of encouraging words, lots of good ideas, lots of Bible verses that address different aspects of what it takes to get through trying times.

I'll keep meditating on that phrase in the days to come.  I also decided to sketch a bit.  Here's the first version:




Later, I added more gray.  At first I thought I'd ruined the picture, but the frenetic energy has grown on me.



I kept layering colors and finally called it done:


Sunday, August 2, 2020

Storm Watching

This is not the hurricane I expected.  This is not the storm I dreaded.  Perhaps I see a larger life lesson here.

Rain patters against the windows.  When I heard that patter before dawn, I wasn't sure if it was rain or some other creature making its way in the world.  I was expecting the kind of rain band we got 24 hours ago, where the rain came in a blinding wave.

I almost cancelled my appointment with my spiritual director on Friday because I thought a tropical storm would be on top of us.  By Thursday, I could tell that I had a good chance of being able to make it to that appointment and back before the winds came and made driving difficult.  I pulled into the driveway about the time the 5 p.m. update from the National Hurricane Center let us know that we were under a hurricane watch.  My spouse was taking down the wind chimes, but we decided not to do major preparations for 12 hours, once we saw what the Saturday 5 a.m. update told us. 

By Saturday morning, we decided to wait until the 11 a.m. update to decide on whether or not to shutter the windows and pull the yard furniture inside.  My spouse put away the smaller items that could be airborne if the forecast winds/wind gusts arrived.  I started the pizza dough to get ready for the rainy afternoon ahead.

Instead, the sun came out.  I monitored the storm just to be sure we weren't surprised.  In the past 3 decades, I've seen more than one storm seem like a non-event in the morning, only to come crashing ashore as a category 4 or 5 storm by the 5 p.m. advisory.

We had pizza and wine.  I took a nap.  We listened to various versions of songs by Pentatonix.  My spouse took a nap.  I read all the 5 p.m. updates from the National Hurricane Center.  I did some writing and reading.  My spouse moved from Pentatonix to the Violent Femmes, and we discovered some great new versions of our favorite songs--and that the band is back together!  I've spent time this morning enjoying this concert.

As the sun was setting, for one moment, there was a break in the clouds, an amazing, glowing red hole to the west.  I grabbed the camera, but I was too late.  I did catch this shot, however:










And here's another common storm image, tropical winds blowing through the palm trees:




Because we had taken naps, we had a later bedtime than usual.  I finished reading Timothy Ware's The Orthodox Church, a history of various types of Orthodox Christianity, the next book for my spiritual direction certificate program.  I also made some progress on David Hamp's Sunny Days: The Children's Television Revolution That Changed America.  I am thoroughly enjoying that one--it's a great look back at iconic PBS shows for children, shows that I watched as they premiered, long ago when I was very young, before my sister was born.  I arrived at school already knowing how to read, which made my teacher dismayed, so I tried not to let her know how much I already knew.

This memory of elementary school, too, seems to explain a larger life lesson, but it's more than I want to deal with in this blog post.  

This morning, I've been baking, making the house smell like a distant December.  




I made this Facebook post:  "Yes it is August 2, and I am creating bread that has more in common with Christmas traditions than sourdough. And yes, I still have pizza dough in the fridge after making pizza yesterday. I am being profligate with my yeast! Or maybe extravagant is the the more accurate word."



So it seems that today will be the rainy day this week-end.  I was prepared to stay in all week-end, so that's fine.  There's more reading to do:  the Sealey Challenge!  One book of poems each day of August.  I have plenty of books to choose from.

Friday, July 31, 2020

The Frog Whisperer

This week may end up being one of our strangest weeks as homeowners. 

Wednesday we thought our cottage was on fire. I wrote about that in yesterday's post.  But the week wasn't done with us yet.  

Thursday morning, as I'm in the shower about to reach for my washcloth that's hanging over the shower rail, I realize that a frog is in the wash cloth, watching me. I'm not afraid of frogs, but I thought we had a chance of getting it outside. I called for my spouse to come help, and as he tried to remove the washcloth and the frog, the frog jumped away (happily, away from the shower). We couldn't find him in the house. Happily, we're not afraid of frogs, and he's not likely to get into our food, the way a rodent would.

This morning, I heard a giant thump, and I saw the frog in the living room.  It was dark, and I didn't have many lights on, so I couldn't get great pictures:




I tried to show him to the back door, but he was always a few jumps away from me.  Finally, he made his way to the bathroom:




I didn't think to close the door.  I was hoping he'd hop back out, and once again, I could try to show him to a door.

My spouse got up surprisingly early, and I told him that I had last seen the frog in the bathroom.  He said, "And you didn't shut the door?"  Nope.  

My spouse went into the bathroom.  The frog was still there, so he shut the door.  I expected to hear thumping and crashing, but instead, my spouse came out with his hands cupped.  I opened the back door, and my spouse took the frog into the back yard.  The frog immediately sounded much happier.

My spouse has wrangled many animals (mainly bugs and the occasional rodent) in our house, but never a frog.  Who knew he had these talents?

I am grateful that he got the frog outside.  I am grateful that these are the types of housing issues we have.  It could be much worse.

Now, back to monitoring the storm to our south.  Here's hoping our homeowner luck holds.