Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Zen and the Art of Robert Pirsig

I was saddened this morning to hear of the death of Robert Pirsig.  I first read Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance when I was in high school, and I loved every page.  I last read it, and perhaps for the last time, back in 2009, and I wrote this blog post, with this, the review summed up in just a few sentences: 

"And then, we come to the end. The narrator is about to send his son away, and then, just like that, they decide that neither one of them is crazy. They hop back on the bike, and we're told that everything will be just fine. The narrator assures us:  'We've won it. It's going to get better now. You can sort of tell these things.'"

How lovely for them. Just decide that the rest of the world is crazy. Just decide that you'll be fine. How very 1970's."

The depiction of mental illness bothered me the most when I read the book in 2009; I worry that if I read it again now I'd find myself disagreeing with the ideas about education.  I worry it would be the same as when I watched Fame many years later and realized that somewhere along the way I had morphed from the cool drama kid to the stern English teacher--and worse, that the cool drama kids were very troubled in ways that I didn't fully understand when I first saw the film in 10th grade.

I never read Pirsig's second book, Lila:  An Inquiry into Morals, but maybe I will.  My spouse enjoyed it, and we still have it on the shelf.

I will always be grateful to Pirsig for showing us that a novel that discusses great ideas can be a bestseller.  The story of this book's path to publication has given comfort to many a writer; it was rejected 121 times, and has gone on to sell over 5 million copies. May all our worthy yet rejected manuscripts fare as well--or even half as well!

This morning I realized that I had been spending National Poetry Month by not writing any poetry at all.  I've had ideas for poems, but I haven't actually created any.  So this morning, I wrote "Good Friday in Binderville"--I first described the idea for the poem in this post.

I am coming up to a time where I may have a bit more time to write--and even better, I've found a way to enter the short story I want to tell--let me not waste these precious windows of time that open here and there in my administrator days.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Rainy Sunday

I had a delightful day yesterday, although it didn't proceed the way that I thought it might.  At one point, I wrote this Facebook post:  "Should I be doing something different to get ready for this week's accreditation visit? On this rainy Sunday afternoon, all I really want to do is read Henri Nouwen's South American journal and Barbara Brown Taylor's "Learning to Walk in the Dark." Perhaps that's the best way to prepare?"

And that, dear readers, is exactly what I did.  I felt fortunate to have a roof over my head that wasn't leaking in yesterday's heavy rains and a front porch deep enough where we could sit and watch the rain.

Early in the day, I thought about not going to church--my spouse and I are both in that end of the term period where we just feel overwhelmed with work left to do--and then he starts a job at a new school, which requires onboarding, and I, of course, have the accreditation visit.

But we did go, and it was good, both in terms of spirituality and in terms of being needed, since some of our members were on retreat and others had trouble getting to church because of the severe weather.  I helped as assistant minister, and my spouse sang a wonderful solo during "Wade in the Water."  We counted money after church.

And then we made our way home through flooding rains.  Luckily, our house was OK, and our other car hadn't been submerged.  We made a pot of chili and ate our linner (lunch/dinner) on the porch.  And although I knew I should be grading, I decided that I'd rather get up early this morning, which I did, and enjoy yesterday afternoon, which I did.

My spouse graded his papers on the porch, but I decided to read.  I finished Nouwen's journal, which was interesting but didn't speak to me the way I thought it might when I dipped in and out of it on Good Friday.  I finished Learning to Walk in the Dark in one fell swoop; I had read it before, and it's relatively short and an easy read.

Both books both did and did not speak to me at this point in my life.  I feel like I am walking in the dark, in a time of great political uncertainty (like Nouwen's time when he wrote the journal in the early 80's).  How would I have wanted the books to be different?

Taylor's book explored darkness in a more literal way, which was interesting, but not the book of coping strategies I might have preferred.  I found Nouwen's various lack of connections from the South American communities to be more fascinating than the political situation, but he doesn't spend as much time exploring that.

Still, it was a great way to spend a rainy Sunday.  And now it's on to the week ahead.  I'm ready to see what happens!

Sunday, April 23, 2017

The Calm before the Accreditation Visit

I think of this week-end as the calm before the accreditation visit.  I've spent it by spending time with friends, getting a hair cut, and thinking about what I need this week.

Today I plan to make homemade granola bars (I posted the recipe here).  It may be the kind of week where I can't heat up left over food in the microwave.  These homemade granola bars have almost too many calories for a snack, but as meal replacement, it will be good.  I can grab a bite here and there as I race between duties.

But it may not be that kind of week, so I'll also make a casserole so that I have leftovers for lunch.

I need to get to a store to buy some essentials.  I don't have enough V8 juice to make it through the week.  I plan to drink a huge glass every morning.  When I can't be sure I'll have enough time to eat my vegetables, I'll drink them!

One of my online classes is coming to an end, which means I have papers to grade.  I'd like to get those done today.  That task will be one that I spread out throughout the day.

And while I am beginning to feel like I should sit down and read my school's catalogue and self-evaluation report again (and I might look through parts of the material before the day is over), I will first go to church.  I will hear the Good News and do some sketching and try to keep everything in perspective!

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Earth Day Snippets with Flowers

--Last night, after a delightful dinner on the porch of a downtown Ft. Lauderdale restaurant, the Chimney House, we watched a PBS show about a group of 20 somethings who live in Alabama and decide to eat local food, which they defined as being grown in Alabama.  We watched them discover how hard it is to find food (and then figure out how to cook some of it) that's grown in their state.  And then the last part of the show talked about the decline of the small farmer.

--My spouse said that the show made him want to dig up the whole yard to plant food, the way the people on the show did.  He wondered what would grow well down here.  I said, "Plants that grow well in sand and don't need cooler overnight temperatures to germinate."

--I've spent some time on this Earth Day researching whether one can take one's dead tulips that came in a pot, plant them in the ground, and have tulips for next year.  The short answer:  perhaps.  It would work out better if I put them in the fridge or the freezer for 10-12 weeks.  I'm tempted to put the pots in the cottage fridge and take them out in 12 weeks, just to see what happens.  I think I'd have a better shot at having tulips again than if I just put them in the ground and left them to their own devices.  Here's one of my favorite shots of those lilies as they started to lurch towards death on Easter week-end:



Here's the larger group of tulips:



--As I stood at my kitchen window this morning, I was struck by the beauty of the hibiscus plants.  Here's what caught my eye first, the bloom against a palm trunk:



And then I got outside and saw the blooms on the other plant, the shyer plant, the one that's overshadowed by its orange sister and the young palm tree near by:



--This week I was struck by an office scene.  One colleague sat at his desk with 2 label makers and a binder, the registrar sat at her desk with files being updated by 3 workers, and my own desk was buried under countless abandoned drafts of accreditation reports.  I've always said that I will need to spend my retirement planting trees to repay my debt to the planet--but even if I should start now, I probably can't plant enough trees to repay my debt.

--I take great comfort in knowing that the planet can heal itself.  When I was younger, rivers were so polluted that we wouldn't swim in them or eat fish out of them--and memorably, occasionally, rivers would burst into flames.  Now, in the U.S., most waterways are relatively clean.  Because of the changes sparked by that first Earth Day, now you can swim without too much fear. When I was a child, in major metropolitan areas, you could see the air you were breathing. Now, you can't.

So on this Earth Day 2017, I'll practice gratitude for the ways we've helped the planet heal.  I'll try to stay hopeful that we can stay on this course and persuade other countries, like China, to join us.  I'll continue to take care of the plants that are in my corner of the world, the tropical ones like the beautiful hibiscus:



 and the extravagantly blooming petunias in pots on the porch:

Friday, April 21, 2017

Poetry Friday: "Vow of Stability"

This week, I got my contributor copy of Slant.  Last night, I had a chance to read it.  What a wondrous thing, that a journal completely devoted to poetry is still being published.  And what a wondrous thing that it is one of many journals.

This poem came to me at Mepkin Abbey.  My friends and I talked about what it means to take a monastic vow, and we wondered how family members felt about it.  And on the long drive back to South Florida, this poem began to percolate.


Vow of Stability


Their friends wonder why
they’re happy to have their only child
disappear into a monastery.
Their communication will be limited.
Their visits will be rare.

Yet they are pleased, even relieved,
to accept their son’s vocation.
This sense of purpose comforts
them. They know their boy has wrestled
with calls of a different kind.

They know their child will be cared
for, with regular meals and a work schedule
and fatherly oversight from the abbot.
They know their child’s choices
about retirement and old age
have been made.

They have a bit of sadness
for grandchildren he will never give
them, but they know of many fine
children outside the monastery
walls who haven’t formed families
the way their son has done.

They drive back from the cloister
and spend the night in their son’s old
room, the trophies from a an athlete’s
life long over, the books about boy wizards
and detectives, a leftover Lego construction.
They whisper the bedtime prayers
of childhood and hold each other close.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

When You Can't Get to the Mountaintop

Today will likely be strange for me--not because of what is happening here, but because of what is happening at Lutheridge, my home away from home in the North Carolina mountains.  One of my tribes is meeting on the mountain for the Create in Me retreat; I can't go because next week is our accreditation visit at my school.  The retreat is 12 hours away (even if I went by plane, the travel would take at least 8 hours, in terms of getting to airports early, waiting on connecting flights and/or renting a car at the other end); I can't zip up for an afternoon the way some have in the past when they couldn't come for the whole retreat.

I've missed the retreat once before, in 2015 when my whole family went on a vacation to Hawaii.  I didn't feel left out then.  I feel a bit left out this year.

And what's present this year that wasn't in 2015:  the fear that I will never make it back to this retreat.  I'm at a very small campus, and it's hard to get away in a way that it wasn't at my old school. The retreat moves, which makes it even harder to know the future--the retreat is always the week-end after Easter, because the retreat can have the whole camp.  That's great for the retreat, but it means that the retreat will sometimes fall during a week where it's more difficult to get away--the week before Spring quarter begins, for example, which is an all-hands-on-deck time on my small campus.

But I'm trying to stay in this current moment and let the future take care of itself.  A year ago, I wouldn't have forecast my current life.  It's hard to know what next year will truly be like or the year after that.

So, although I can't be at the retreat, I'll be more intentional than usual in doing some creative work.  I'll remember that even if I can't be with my far-flung artist friends, I can be here with local friends.  I'll conserve my strength and energy for next week's accreditation tasks.  I'll do self-care.  I'll remember that life won't always be this way, and I'll try to treasure the moments of this week-end, without spending too much time mired in mourning what has passed away or worrying about what's to come.

These are good goals for any week-end!  But they're essential for me this week-end.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Nouwen at Midlife

I have been reading Gracias, Henri Nouwen's journal of his time in South America.  This morning, I got to the entry where he talks about his 50th birthday.  I did some calculations and figured out that he didn't go to Daybreak, the intentional community where he finally felt at home, until he was 54 or so.

That realization gave me such hope.  I love the fact that Nouwen was in a life-long discernment process, and that it didn't bear obvious fruit until the latter part of his life. 

Of course, I feel that way because of my own life.  In this journal of Nouwen's, I'm reading about all sorts of people who seem to be living a life more dedicated to God than the one that I am living.  And yet, with this journal, I read between the lines to see, in ways that I didn't before, that these missionary lives are full of doubt and uncertainty too.

I suspect that none of us can be sure throughout our whole lives that we're doing what we're put on earth to do--if we even believe that we were put on earth to do something specific.  Living a life in sync with our values means we must remain ever alert.

This morning's post will be short.  I've fallen behind in my online classes, so let me get some papers graded before I head off to work.