Saturday, October 24, 2020

Creation in a Time of Pandemic

I have been beating myself up for all the writing I haven't done.  This morning, I read this article which made me feel a bit better--it's got great coping techniques.  This part in particular spoke to me:

------quote begins-----

“Allow yourself some grace,” said Dr. Danielle Hairston, an assistant professor at the Howard University College of Medicine and the director of its psychiatry residency program. “Change and modify your expectations. Everyone is not starting a new business, a new venture, a new platform, doing new research, a new diet or exercise plan during this time. I think that’s what is portrayed a lot, especially on social media.”

She added: “This country is going through a collective grief.”

The perception that we’re not doing enough, Dr. Hairston said, can be damaging to our psyches and can be a demotivator in itself. An important step of just getting through the day is to acknowledge that it’s normal and perfectly fine not to be productive or motivated.

------quote ends-----

I wrote to a pastor friend who posted the link:  "Thank you for calling our attention to this very helpful essay. I've been beating myself up for what I haven't accomplished instead of celebrating what I can still get done -- of course, this habit of mine is a pre-pandemic one, but it's good to remember that a global pandemic exacerbates the negative consequences of living this way."

I picked up my poetry legal pad today and I haven't been as idle as I think.  Plus, I went to the quilt retreat and finished one big quilt and created a baby quilt.  I've been sketching each morning.  I'm still blogging most mornings.  Why do I feel like I accomplish nothing?

In past years, I have done more:  more writing, more quilting, more sending out of manuscripts.  Of course, in past years we haven't had a plague raging across the country; in past years, I haven't been working for pay in quite the same way.

As I think about the online resources I've been reading and savoring, I'm seeing a theme.  There's this essay from Molly Spencer, about how she carved out writing space in tiny bits of time and even smaller spaces, time which finally led to a book, but it's not the process many of us want or expect, that experience of writing time as sacred (and regularly sacred and set apart).  There's this essay from Luisa A. Igloria that talks about motherhood and the PhD process.

This morning, I was hunting for a pen and fuming about not being able to find my favorites.  I thought about my quilting/sewing friends who protect their fabric scissors with a similar fury.  And then, a poem came, one based on this blog post on my theology blog.  The poem begins with these lines:  "The quilt does not strive / to change itself into a different color."

As always, I'm relieved when I can create more than three lines in one sitting.  This poem may be done, but I'm waiting to make sure there's not more.  It came rather suddenly, so unlike the poems where I've had lots of ruminating time, lots of composing in my head, there may be more inspiration waiting.

Friday, October 23, 2020

Out of Sorts as Election Day Approaches

We voted yesterday, and it felt like the most anticlimactic voting experience of my whole voting life.  I first voted in the 1984 election; I remember filling out my absentee ballot in my dorm room, feeling thrilled.  Through the years, I've voted in polling places that were in elementary schools, community centers, churches, and other types of places.  Until 2016, I always voted on election day--I loved feeling like I was part of a process that the whole nation could be experiencing.  Even the early voting that I've done has felt special--there was always a line but that didn't prevent a festive feeling.

Yesterday, we had planned to drop off our mail-in ballots at the secure box at the polling place for early voting.  We didn't count on the rain or the flooded streets, but we have a newer car that we bought knowing how often we have to deal with flooded streets.  I had thought about bringing my camera, but because of the rain, I didn't.

I wanted to bring my camera in 2016, when I thought I was voting for our first female president of the U.S., but I knew it wouldn't be allowed.  This year, I feel our vote is even more essential--but every year I feel it's essential.  Perhaps essential isn't the word.  When we got out of the car, I said, "Let's go save the democracy."  This year, it really does feel like more is at stake.

We walked to the front of the line, and I felt a bit strange about that, even though there was lots of advertising about why we should get a mail in ballot, how much easier it would be, how we could drop it off at a polling place or at an election office.  Why did I feel slightly guilty about being able to go straight to the front?

The whole process took about as long as it took to walk from the car to the building.  I've never minded waiting in line, and the line yesterday wouldn't have been anything unusual.  But with a pandemic raging across the land, it's not a good year to wait in line.

I felt a bit out of sorts yesterday, what with the rain and my spouse's grumpiness.  I felt out of sorts all day, with a vague anxiety, vague in that I couldn't attach the source of my anxiety to anything specific, or maybe I could pinpoint all sorts of possible sources of my anxiety.

I feel out of sorts this morning too.  Perhaps I am just going to feel out of sorts until election day.  Maybe it's partly returning from a great retreat where I got things done, and I'm not feeling that way anymore.  I am missing the kind of autumn one can find in the mountains in mid October.  I am missing the kind of relaxation and purpose I feel when I'm away.  I am tired of worrying about once in a decade flooding that now comes multiple times a year, tired of worrying about an education system that is imploding even more quickly than I expected it to, tired of worrying about my health and my family's health and the health of the nation, tired, tired, tired.

Thursday, October 22, 2020

Driving Through, Driving Toward

I am surprised by how many gatherings can be transformed into drive-in/drive-through activities.  The most famous example might be Joe Biden's rallies, where people honk their support.

During my great southeastern driving tour, as I was driving and tuning into various radio stations, I heard ads for drive in Halloween festivals, both the harvest kind and the haunted house kind.  It reminds me of the huge light displays that most communities now offer at Christmas.  

I also heard about how the South Carolina State Fair will be a drive through, with the quilts, livestock, pies, produce in one part of the fairgrounds and fair food in another.  No rides, of course.  The price for admission:  free!   I saw one Facebook post that seemed to say that the line for fair food was almost as long as the line for early voting.

My church does drive through communion.  Our pastor sanitizes his hands between each car.  Each wafer comes in a plastic bag and the wine in a tiny plastic glass--our pastor hands each element to the parishioners in the car.  Usually about 20 people drive through.

As our South Florida weather shifts, we're planning to have outdoor worship services for Advent.  The weather is so iffy that I would prefer to have drive up and park services.  I'd rather stay in my car, where there's shelter from the rain, heat, and bugs.

I've been thinking about how little I'm driving at night these days.  In past years, I knew which houses would have festive lights in the evening--I'd take note as I drove home from evening meetings.  This year, I only know which houses in my neighborhood have festive lights if they leave them on overnight so that I can see them during my early morning exercise.

I've been using that to my advantage.  There's one house that's put orange bulbs in the spotlights, and those spotlights showcase inflatable jack-o-lanterns and an inflatable ghost or two.  I love the way it looks, so each morning, I decide to do a 3 mile run, instead of a 2 mile walk.

This morning we drove through flooding streets to take our ballots to the early voting location.  As we parked the car, I said, "Let's go save the democracy."  Because we had mail-in ballots, we got to go to the front of the line to drop them off in the secure box beyond the door.  In August, the secure box was outside of the building.  I was glad that the secure box was not by way of drive through--and I'm sure that the election officials had thought that through and realized that having cars near the polling place was a bad idea.

And now to keep an eye on the flooded streets--I still plan to go to work, but it makes no sense to leave when the roads are in this condition.  At least, it makes no sense to leave this morning.

In terms of the larger question of when it makes the most sense to leave--still to be determined.

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Produce Stories

Happily my return to work yesterday wasn't awful.  When I'm away with my laptop and internet access, I tend to check work e-mails once a day (but only once a day) because this practice lessens my dread at returning to work.  And on Monday, while I was driving back to South Florida, my school lost internet access across all campuses, so I didn't miss much on Monday.

I brought apples for all and a jar of special apple butter for the colleagues who do so much to keep the academic side running smoothly, the ones who make it possible for me to feel that it's OK to be away.  I was happy to see a faculty member munching an apple right after I put the basket in the break room.

When my grad school friend and I were doing our great driving tour of Columbia, SC, I had decided not to buy pumpkins, but then I changed my mind.  I wondered why I was resistant to buying pumpkins when they bring me such joy, and we've five weeks until Thanksgiving--five weeks is a lot of joy for less than $20.  In retrospect, I'm happy that I did.

Here's a pumpkin story from South Florida, a pumpkin story that makes me SO glad we went back to buy pumpkins. My spouse was sitting on the porch when an older woman and a young boy (3 years old or so) came walking by. The little boy was very excited about seeing pumpkins. The woman explained that they had been on a pumpkin walk, looking for pumpkins, and they weren't finding many. She was so happy to see our house with its cheery pumpkins.  And that made me happy too.

As I drove to work yesterday, I was surprised by how many houses have now been decorated for Halloween, houses that weren't decorated a week ago.  We've got Halloween decorations and fall decorations and political yard signs, including some houses that have turned their whole yard into a work of political art.  The backdrop (the foliage, the architecture) is very tropical, so there can be some jarring disconnects.

Last night, we thought about driving through our neighborhood to see the Halloween lights, if there are any--but then the skies opened up, and it hasn't stopped raining since.  It's a rare night where I hear rain pattering against the window each time I wake up.

So, we stayed in and filled out our mail-in ballots, a less onerous task than I was expecting.  Some years we have so many constitutional amendments that the ballot is 12 pages or more.  We will take the ballots to the early voting polling place, our local library, and we'll drop them in the secure drop box.

Here's hoping that the seeds we've planted produce the outcomes we want.

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Return from Quilt Camp

I had a lovely trip back down the mountain on Sunday.  The drive itself was fairly easy, although I'm not sure I've ever seen that much traffic on a Sunday; at one point, I wondered if there was a football game or something I had missed.

I spent Sunday night with a grad school friend in Columbia, South Carolina.  She made us a delicious lunch, and then we did what we always do, we drove around the beautiful neighborhoods around the University of South Carolina campus.  So many of the houses were decorated for the season, either the season of Halloween or the season of Autumn.

Many of the houses were also decorated for the political season, and I was surprised at how many Biden signs I saw and even more for Jaime Harrison, the man running against Lindsey Graham.  We were in neighborhoods where the very wealthy live, the ones who have been voting Republican for most of my lifetime.  If there's a blue wave in South Carolina, you heard it here first. 

On our way back, I decided that I really did want some pumpkins, so we went back to the church pumpkin patch that we had driven by earlier.  They had some smaller pumpkins, and they were a good deal.  I like supporting church pumpkin patches, but there are very few this year.  I didn't want pumpkins badly enough to buy them at a Wal-Mart, plus most of those types of stores have only the very large pumpkins, along with some tiny ones.

I slept really well--of course, the morning I could have kept sleeping is the one where I need to be up and on the road.  But off I went, and I was glad that I did, because there was some serious road construction that showed no signs of wrapping up as I drove by at 5:30 a.m.  I would have probably had delays if I had waited to leave.

The driving trip up and back was easy; I feel very lucky.  I had such a wonderful time away--here, too, I feel lucky.  I had creative time and time to reconnect with friends, and I got some long-term projects done, along with some of the weekly chores that must be done (primarily with my online classes).

I spent some time marveling at how long it's been since I've been away, and even longer since I had a trip where I stayed by myself.  I know that not everyone would react this way, but I felt it was very restorative.  

I wonder what it would be like to attend a similar retreat that was focused on writing.  Would I get a similar amount done?  Would I emerge at the other side of the retreat marveling at all that I had accomplished?

My spouse also benefitted from my being away.  I got home to discover the delight of home repairs completed:  barn doors hung, ceiling fan hung, new bed frame for guest room bed assembled, furniture moved, TV stand reassembled, TV hung in the bedroom.

Should I be concerned about the fact that we're both so much more efficient when we're away from each other?  I've decided not to worry too much, and to just be grateful that we're getting anything done at all--it's a very strange time in the life of our nation.

Monday, October 19, 2020

Lessons from Quilt Camp (a Non-Comprehensive List)

--There are many ways to stitch a quilt:  by hand, by machine, in a group, by oneself, in one big push, over months or years, with small scraps (even the smallest bits that most of us would throw away) or long strips.

--Some people might not quilt because of how expensive fabric is--but I met one woman who's assembling amazing quilts out of the scraps that many of us throw away:

Here's a close up with my hand to give a sense of perspective:

--Metaphors abound!  Some of us are careful and precise, some aren't, and we can all play a vital part.

-- It's strange, in some ways, to gather as a group when a highly contagious virus with no vaccine and no cure burns across the planet.  But we've all been wearing masks for months, so it's not as strange as I thought it would be.

--I have really enjoyed having huge swaths of unstructured time to work on our own projects.  It's still inspiring to see what people are doing.  We're still able to learn from each other.

--I don't need a retreat with lots of Bible study, lots of worship, lots of planned activities.  That's good to remember.

--I can get a lot done when I don't need to get anything else done.  One of the reasons I was successful this past week-end is that someone else was cooking and cleaning.  My spouse would point out that someone else is often cooking and cleaning--but when that's happening in my house, I feel the need to help.  I feel guilty if I don't help.  If I've paid to have time away, I don't feel guilty.

Sunday, October 18, 2020

Quilt Camp Comes to an End

It's been fascinating to spend half a week with quilters.  We were 9 women, all middle age or older, plus one teenager who was doing remote schooling while we quilted.  I was the only one who quilted by hand, but that was cool--I'm used to being in a minority of people who stitch by hand.

I've been amazed as I've been quilting how many people reached out to me to remind me that I made a quilt for them.  I wish I had done a better job of documenting all the quilts I've made. 

But in a way, the quilts I've kept have been a different sort of documentation.  The one that I've been working on is made up of fabrics left over from this quilt:

Where did that quilt in the picture go?  It either went to my sister or my cousin in Kentucky.  Update:  my cousin's spouse posted a picture of the quilt that I made to celebrate their wedding, so the above must have gone to my sister.  Here's the picture of the Kentucky quilt:

I spent years collecting autumnal fabrics (along with all sorts of other fabrics).  The quilt that I  just finished marks the end point of that collecting:

As I was working on the quilt, at times it felt like visiting an old friend.  I remembered the quilt shop where I'd bought this piece or that one, the quilt show where I got the exquisite coppery swatch named "Fairy Frost," the set of fat quarters that I kept while waiting for just the right project, the times I felt flush with cash when I bought fabric, and the times when I felt like I could only afford a yard or two of fabric and so I chose carefully.

Some of the pieces were unfamiliar:

But as I worked, I started to remember.  Once I went to a fabric store at the far northwestern end of the county; it had the most amazing collection of fabrics, many of which were unlike any that I'd ever seen, most of which I could barely afford.

I finished my big quilt on Friday, which I didn't expect.  I had hoped to quilt the middle of the quilt, the part that's hard to do without a big table.  I did that and kept going.  I finished all the quilting and started on the edges, and then I decided that I wanted to be done by the evening show and tell.  And so, I did.

Yesterday I decided to start on my other project.  I almost didn't bring my bag of fabrics because I didn't think there was any chance I'd have time to work on the baby quilt that I want to make for my neighbor's son who is expecting a child in the next few weeks.  

I'm glad that I did bring it, because I was able both to start and finish it yesterday, since I had bought the backing fabric on Thursday:

It's been a great quilt retreat.  I expected it to be wonderful, and it was even better than I expected.  I'm so glad that I made the effort to get here.  Hopefully it won't be the last.