Monday, February 27, 2017

Staying on Task: A Variety of Them

When I look back at this week-end, what will I remember?

--We had several times on the front porch--it was lovely.

--At the same time, it's really warm for February--very strange.

--I did a lot of sketching and visual journaling over the week-end (see this post for more details).  Here's my favorite:



--One of my church friends floated the idea of doing something with charcoal sketching during Lent.  I usually sketch during the late service, and I think it intrigues people.  I worry that it might seem disrespectful, but it's a way for me to stay focused during the service.

--We got work done.  My spouse had more to do with his classes, but we both had plenty of tasks.  We also got work done around the house:  taking palm fronds off the roof, pruning the gumbo limbo trees. 

--I had a leftover can of pumpkin, and I did get it made into pumpkin bread before it started to grow mold.  Why does this feel like an accomplishment?  Regardless, it made the house smell wonderful.

--I got a lot of reading done.  After deciding that Margaret Atwood's latest work was not for me, I switched to Tracy Chevalier's At the Edge of the Orchard.  It was a treat--interesting plots, intriguing characters, a pioneer story--several of them, actually.

--I didn't write as much as I thought I might.  I woke up in a sloggy mood on Saturday.  And much of Sunday, I wasn't home.  But that's O.K. because I did more visual art than I would on a usual week-end.  In short, it was a good week-end, in terms of creativity.

--We finished the week-end at the parsonage with a Gospel ukulele meet-up.  As I sat in the parsonage, singing gospel songs, I thought, this is why people want house churches.  I sing better in that setting, surrounded by voices and instruments.  And it's impossible to drift off, the way it is when I'm one of 50 congregation members in a sanctuary designed for 300.

--Today is my sister's birthday.  In tribute, here's the ending of "Goblin Market," by Christina Rossetti:

“'For there is no friend like a sister
In calm or stormy weather;
To cheer one on the tedious way,
To fetch one if one goes astray,
To lift one if one totters down,
To strengthen whilst one stands."”

--It's hard to believe how quickly February has zoomed right by.  Onward to March!

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Visual Journaling 2017 (So Far)

We've had a good week-end, a catching up on tasks that must be done kind of week-end.  Last week-end was wonderful, but we didn't get much done in terms of the more mundane work, like paying bills, getting palm fronds off the roof, the tasks that come with being a teacher, that sort of thing.

But even with a chore accomplishing week-end like this one, there are soul satisfying moments.  In the late afternoon yesterday, we took a walk to the marina and walked home watching the sun set and the sky changing colors--so beautiful.

And Friday, we had time on the front porch.  My spouse played a variety of instruments while I sketched.  I was still thinking of that Trappist telescope:



And then I went back to a sketch from late January that I hadn't had a chance to finish:



I had written the word Sanctuary and sketched the railroad tracks underneath.  On Friday, I filled in the other spaces.  In later years, let me remember that I was reading Colson Whitehead's The Underground Railroad.

I started the above piece on the same day that I created this:




It was the week-end that Trump announced his travel bans, and the airports got snarled.  It was the Sunday before the 3 judge panel issued the stay that suspended Trump's plan.  The reading from Exodus had already been planned, and it seemed fortuitous.

On Friday, I also did this sketch, based on a doodling that I had done earlier in the week during a meeting:



I thought about the painting I used to do, the times I had finished a painting and still had some dribs and drabs of paint--not enough to save, but so much that I felt wasteful washing it down the drain.  Some of those small paintings that I made to run out the paint, some of those I like better than the larger painting.

On Friday, obviously I had no paint to use up, but I did finish what I wanted to get done and then had a bit of time.  Thus, the above sketch with birds and eyes.

I've also been going back to look at these entries in what I think of as a visual journal.  I started doing it in April of 2016, and I'm happy that I still continue to make roughly one entry a week.  I'd like to get some additional markers, but maybe I'll experiment with the less expensive ones that I saw in Jo-Ann's.  I like that I'm still playing with color, even if I am not in a painting phase or a fiber/fabric phase.

Today will be another day of getting tasks done--but at the end of the day, there will be ukuleles and a pot luck meal at the parsonage.  I like these days when I can live what feels like a more balanced life:  time for chores and time for creativity.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Catching February

Many decades ago, I kept a separate runner's log--2 of them, in fact.  One was fancy and spiral bound, full of inspirational photos and quotes and an essay at the beginning of each month.  One essay was titled "Catching February."  It was written by the guy who took over the project when Jim Fixx died.

The premise of that essay was that into every runner's life comes a time of February.  It's cold and bleak and downright dangerous to run in February (this was particularly true in the northern states before climate change made some winter months balmy).  The writer talked about returning the running regimen after having "caught a case of February."

On Sunday, I realized that I'm in a time of spiritual February.  Our church has had some deaths lately.  One was an older parishioner who had been in decline, so his death wasn't a surprise--but he was always in good spirits, so he'll be missed.  The other death was a bit of a shock:  a woman who fell and because of the blood thinners she was taking, she bled to death before anyone found her.  I got home and called a grad school friend:  her father, who has suffered from Parkinson's which has gotten much worse in recent years, has entered hospice care and is refusing food and drink.  On Tuesday, her father died.  Sigh.

I feel a sense of February in other ways too.  I'm feeling both disconnected from people, and worse, I'm in that phase that I sometimes experience, where I want to just finish the job of disconnecting, that "burn it down" phase.  I've been resisting this impulse by scheduling time with friends to reconnect and to remind myself that these friendships are important, that my sense of unmooring is partly in my head and partly that we're all working at different places now.

This week, as I've been meeting friends in the evening, I've realized how much driving it now takes to get together with friends.  Thursday was particularly bad--we were meeting at a Ft. Lauderdale restaurant, and I've never seen traffic  so backed up--no accident, so I'm guessing it's seasonal traffic.  As I watched the lights change from red to green to red to green with no movement of the cars, I thought, why did I think this was a good idea?

But I know why.  I need to have a life that is more than going to work and coming home to sleep.

I've had friends who said they admire my faith or my beliefs.  I explain that it's not about faith or belief.  It's about the actions that we do, and especially when we do them during these times of spiritual February.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Trappist Telescopes and Other Inspirations

When I heard about the seven planets discovered by the telescope named Trappist, I thought, what a name for a telescope!  I've spent days thinking about what a monastic order has in common with a telescope and space exploration.

Not one piece of news coverage talked about the name of the telescope, so this morning, I stopped resisting my impulse to look it up.  I had no idea the name was an acronym.  The letters stand for:  Transiting Planets and Planetesimals Small Telescope.

The Wikipedia article says that it was named in homage of the religious order known for brewing beer.  Hmm.  When I think of Trappists, I don't think of beer.  I think of vows of silence and stubbornly enduring fierce landscapes--which makes sense for a telescope.

Yesterday's poem had monastic elements, but not outer space elements:  it compared the life of a mother with a baby and a toddler to the lives lived by monks.  I started thinking about it because of a Facebook friend's post about getting up to feed the baby periodically throughout the night and how the monks get praise for this practice, but not nursing moms.

This morning, I wrote another poem, which had its beginnings last week, before the news of the Trappist telescope and the 7 planets.  The beginning of the poem came to me in an image of an older woman unpacking a box of things from her youth.  What does she find there?  A red cape.

When I sat down this morning, I wasn't sure what else she would find.  She finds a drop spindle and a pot in which she used to prepare porridge.  In that pot, she plants the apple seeds that she finds in the box.  She wears the glass slippers to church, but remembers why she put them in the box. 

This line might be my favorite from this morning's writing:  She feels her feet exhale when she sets them free.

Or maybe this line, from my short story that's written in the voice of an HR director:  "Any time I overhear the tiresome argument about whether or not an Ed.D. is the equivalent of a Ph.D., I think of the other meanings of the word 'terminal.'”

And thus concludes this morning's writing session:  off to school for an early morning meeting to discuss student success and retention and then to continue to audit student files.  But the most important work of the day has already been done.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

A Good Day's Writing

I finally wrote a poem this morning, a writing session that came easily.  Most of my recent poem writing sessions have started with an interesting idea or image and then just fizzled.

In January, that was O.K, because I was also writing a short story that went in interesting directions.  It was unexpected, and the writing made me happy.

February has felt like a more strangled writing time, with longer hours at work.  This week, as I've done fewer spin classes, I have had more success.   Something to consider for the future?

And then, on The Writer's Almanac, I read about the composer Handel (today is his birthday):  "During Lent of 1735 alone, he produced 14 concerts, most of them oratorios. He also suffered anxiety and depression, and a stroke had impaired the movement of his right hand, but he didn’t stop composing, even after he lost sight in his right eye, and then the left. He composed Messiah in 24 days."

Yes, now I'm feeling inadequate again.  But let me remember the wise words of Beth in this blog post:  "Maybe we don't know what to write or say or paint yet, in this new climate where we find ourselves. That's OK. Practice. Just get back at it. I see it like Zen calligraphy or archery: when we draw, or write a poem every day, or practice our instrument, we are preparing ourselves and honing our technique, so that when the moment comes to express ourselves, we will be ready with words or images that are true and sharp. But even more than that, we're talking about being the people we're meant to be, in spite of what is going on. Each of us needs to do whatever is necessary to be strong enough inside to get through this without losing ourselves, our vision, or our love of humanity and what is most noble about it. We have to be able to say, with our actual actions and the examples of our lives, that it is impossible to suppress or destroy the best parts of the human spirit."

Be who you are--be who you are meant to be.  Wise words.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

February Fragments: Past and Present

I haven't slept as much as I planned--my spouse has been sick off and on with a stomach bug, and last night was tough.

So let me capture some February themed fragments of thoughts:

--I won't be going to spin class this morning.  I want to be here, in case my spouse runs into trouble.

--I've been wondering if I should give up on spin class altogether.  It seems to take a lot of time, what with the drive over.  My little gym used to be on my way to and from work, but no longer.  If I didn't go there, would I enjoy the delights of my neighborhood and my pool more often?

--I feel like I've caught a case of February.  I'll write more about this idea in a later post, but it's basically my more imaginative way of saying "I feel blah."  February used to be cold and dreary, and it was tough to keep going.

--I wonder if this metaphor still holds true.  For this winter, on this side of the U.S., perhaps not.  My Facebook feed is full of people worried about the fact that their flowers are sprouting and their trees are in bud/bloom.  They worry about a freeze.  But maybe there will be no freeze.  Maybe we've had one of those rare winters when the cold weather comes early and then leaves.

--When I trained for a triathlon, back in 1990, it was just such a winter.  January and February were such mild months that it was easy to log long miles on the bike and on foot.  And I was having a tough time in grad school, with a graduate director who seemed out to get me.  It was good to have that release, which in turn gave me determination, as I was able to accomplish new personal bests in my athletic training.

--On this day in 1980, the U.S. Hockey team beat the Soviets.  The U.S. Hockey team was truly an amateur team, while the team from the Soviet Union had age, skill, and experience on their side.  I watched the game, even though as a southern girl, I didn't know much about the game.  I found it inspiring then, and I still do.  I like this reminder that underdogs can win, that amateurs can win, that even though it all looks stacked against you, a win can come at the last minute, or even the last second.

--Do I believe in miracles?  Oh yes I do, miracles of all sorts.

--I'm ready for more of them.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Dueling Banjos, Dueling Emotional States

Yesterday, while much of the U.S. contemplated Presidents with a day off, I went to work.  Our students, most of them, had the day off (our EMS and Vet Tech students have to accumulate a set amount of hours in some classes, so they had to report to work).  I didn't resent having to work as much as some might think:  I've often worked in schools where we celebrated holidays on a different schedule or not at all.

I interviewed a candidate for our TABE test proctor/tutor position that we need to staff.  I looked at faculty files and did some other tasks for our upcoming site visit.  I plugged along on a variety of projects.

We got notice that parts of our IT system would go down, but I didn't think much about it--it was the Ft. Lauderdale campus that would be affected, after all.  But eventually, we couldn't access parts of our system.  Unlike a few weeks ago, we lost internet access--but unlike a few weeks ago, I could access Word files.  I couldn't print, but I could see the files.

Luckily, I had printed some site visit materials that needed to go into binders--and so, I spent a few hours, making labels for binders, sticking them on the binders, punching holes into the reports, and putting them in the binders.  I was surprised by how much time it takes--which is why I haven't done it before.

I was also surprised by how satisfying it was.  At the end of the task, I had a pile of binders, an obvious sign of work accomplished.

After work, I had a lovely time of wine and cheese with friends, while my spouse taught their daughter to play the ukulele.  On the way home, he was able to pick out  "Dueling Banjos" on the ukulele--it sounds much less threatening on the ukulele than it did in Deliverance.  And then, when we got home, he switched to the mandolin, with every 5th note or so just a bit off--intriguing!  His version was plaintive and yearning and not like the movie at all.

Maybe it was because there was no second instrument with which to duel--how would it sound with ukulele and mandolin instead of banjo and guitar?

I had started the day feeling a bit pinched and anxious about money.  It was good to finish the day in a different emotional state.