Sunday, November 18, 2018

On the Road Again

Let me first start by saying that our house is not unattended.  I'm always amazed at what people publish and what they let the whole world know.  I say this knowing that people can level that charge right back at me.

I went to bed very early on Friday night, as I often do.  I was up by 2 a.m. on Saturday, on the road by 2:20.  I was surprised by how many people were still out driving at that hour, but perhaps I shouldn't be; it's just after closing time for many venues of entertainment, after all.

As I drive, I find the hour just before sunrise to be hardest.  It's not because I get tired, but because I'm tired of the dark.  It seems there's a metaphor/symbol there, beyond, "The darkest hour is just before the dawn."

I was planning to arrive at my grad school friend's house in the early afternoon, but I was making such good time that I was early.  I yearned for a cozy bakery where I might settle in and journal for an hour, but I would have been happy to see a Panera.  It became clear that I wasn't going to find either, so I came up with an even better plan.

I went to the South Carolina Artisans Center in Walterboro, SC:

I loved walking through the center and seeing the art. 

They have sparkling clean bathrooms.  The people are very friendly.  As I left, I saw this picnic table and decided to do a bit of journaling.

I'm trying to create a sketch every day:

I didn't feel like I had time to linger so I made a very simple sketch and got back on the road again.  But it was a very refreshing stop, even though it's a bit further away from the highway than I usually go.

Friday, November 16, 2018

Process Notes on a Time of Visual Journaling

Last night, my spouse watched mindless TV, and I decided to experiment with the 4 colored markers that we are using for the online journaling class I'm part of.  Some of my fellow participants are posting pictures that show amazing color saturation.  I decided to try:

My spouse went to bed early, and I decided to keep working.  I wrote a bit in an old-fashioned way--by hand.  For this online journaling class, I've been doing some writing in the sketch book, in addition to the writing that I include as part of the sketches. 

When I was done, I wanted to so more playing with my markers.  But I didn't want to do more with the above sketch.  So I turned the page over.

The colored markers that we're using will bleed through the paper. For reasons I don't understand, the black markers don't bleed through.  I made the sketch below, and the other side still looks the same:

I decided to add these words:  "I wish I believed in guardian angels."  It seems like a line that should be in a poem, so I wanted to record it here.

At some point, I'll go back through my sketches to see if I see themes emerging.  I have been drawing eyes, which makes sense in the context of this course which asks us to see what we might be trying to ignore.  I've also been creating a lot of winged creatures.  Are they angels?  Doves?  Butterflies?  Yes, some of all of it.  In the sketch above, I was going for a descending dove shape.

I'm intrigued by how some of my sketches are very different from each other.  Here is my image from Tuesday. I finished the initial image in the late afternoon and then started experimenting with black marks. Then I went to teach my Composition class. While my students worked on writing an essay, I added the lighter black marks; I was trying to make the image seem fragmented, like a glass that's shattered:

When I signed up for the class, I didn't realize I'd be inspired to make a sketch a day.  It's been amazing.  Even when I think I have nothing to say/write/sketch, something has bubbled up and often multiple times a day.

I'm enjoying the class beyond just the motivation. I really like seeing what others are sketching. We're making interesting comments, even though we don't know each other. I'm loving seeing the sketching/drawing techniques that others are using--and it's not like any of us are trained artists (at least, I don't think we are). We're all women, although the class was open to everyone. I'm not sure why it all interests me so much--well, actually, I am--because we all seem to be wrestling with similar questions (albeit in different arenas): what next?

I've been taking the Rupp book, my small sketchbook (8 x 6), and my markers with me everywhere I go, and I've been doing a bit of sketching that way. It really helps to have it all with me.

I've also been writing a poem a day since November started (the class started Nov. 4). I haven't been this prolific in ages.

What does any of this mean for the future? I don't know yet. But it's good to feel some creative juices flowing.

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Bounties of Gratitude

A week from today will be Thanksgiving.  I am so ready for a holiday--and this is my second favorite holiday.  Christmas is my favorite, but Thanksgiving is close behind.  If Thanksgiving had a tradition of sparkly lights, it might take the lead.

Yesterday, we had our annual Thanksgiving potluck at work.  As with almost every potluck, I am amazed at how much food we had.  Our school bought the turkey:  we had a tray of sliced, smoked turkey, and we bought another roasted whole turkey, which our Director of Admissions sliced--she's a pro.

It was a wonderful spread.  The cool thing about a Thanksgiving potluck is that we have plenty to talk about:  what's our favorite food, what are our Thanksgiving traditions, what's our cooking approach.

I began the day by walking our social media coordinator around campus asking people to share what they're grateful for.  She's creating a gratitude video.  By the end of my work day, it felt like a bonus Thanksgiving.

I am grateful to be in a place where we get along well enough to eat together regularly.  We're a big group, but we still fit in a single room, so we can all eat the same meal.  We still have the problem of people who already know each other sitting together, but we know each other well enough that most people are welcome at most tables.

I'm also grateful that I'm continuing with my poem-a-day practice for the month of November.  I'm also doing my visual journaling on a daily basis.  It's a bonus that I didn't expect when I signed up for the class.

Part of my success with a poem-a-day process is that I'm writing more haiku than usual.  Writing haiku always feels a bit like cheating, perhaps because I'm only writing haiku in the sense that I'm following the syllabics for each line. I'm not following the Japanese conventions any further than that.

Still, I find them useful. It's good to think in such compressed form, even though I don't particularly like the haiku I write. I like the process.

I've written before (here and here) about gratitude haiku--a variation on the gratitude journal.  Here's one about yesterday's work:

Gratitude videos
A meal shared with colleagues
Various bounties

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Embassies and Walls: Anniversaries on My Mind

Last night was another late night, as I taught my 2 Composition students and also oversaw an appreciation event for evening students.  Happily, tonight won't be a late night at work.

I have anniversaries on the brain.  This morning on the Witness program that's broadcast on the BBC, I heard an episode on the takeover of the U.S. embassy in Tehran that happened in 1979.  My family was with another family for a week-end get away at the Outer Banks, and it was one of the few times we had the TV on.  My dad saw the coverage and shook his head.  He said, "This doesn't look good."  It would be worse than we realized.  Everyone in that house that day, the grown ups like my parents, the high school kids (me), and the little ones--we all thought that it would be quickly settled.  It must be a mistake, right?  Crazy school kids taking over an embassy who would soon come to their senses--now, of course, we know it was nothing like that.

We are also at the anniversary of the wall coming down between the two Germanys that are now one Germany.  My dad was there for that newscast too.  We were cautiously optimistic, but I'm sure we both expected soldiers with guns to appear at any moment.

The world can change so radically in a single evening.  At the 20 year anniversary of the fall of the wall, I read a story in The Washington Post which told the story of the East German official who was holding a boring news conference when he announced that travel restrictions would be loosened. The journalists immediately began to ask questions, but he hadn't read the briefing very carefully, so he made it up as he went along, announcing that the changes would be taking place immediately. The journalists reported, the ordinary citizens began to assemble, and the guards at the border were overwhelmed:  "Before long, the guards at Bornholmer Street were outnumbered by thousands of people; the same thing was happening at several other checkpoints. Overwhelmed and worried for their own safety, Jäger and his fellow guards reasoned that the use of violence might quickly escalate and become uncontrollable. They decided instead at around 9 p.m. to let a trickle of people cross the border, hoping to ease the pressure and calm the crowd. The guards would check each person individually, take notes and penalize the rowdiest by refusing them reentry. They managed to do this for a while, but after a couple of hours the enormous crowd was chanting, 'Open the gate, open the gate!'

After more debate, Jäger decided that raising the traffic barriers was the only solution. Around 11:30 p.m., the decades-long Cold War division of Germany ended.

Throughout the night, other crossings opened in much the same way."

I think of that boring bureaucrat and the blundering news conference, and I am reminded that even if we have the most dull jobs in the world where we feel like we affect nothing, we still might be an agent for social change. I think of those border guards who chose not to shoot. Even if they did it for fear of losing their own lives in the chaos that would ensue, that choice changed the future.

I also think of the people along the way who prayed. On All Things Considered on at the 20 year anniversary of the wall coming down, I heard a story about a Lutheran pastor who began to hold weekly Monday meetings in his church to pray for peace. This movement spread to other churches, and soon it was a mass movement of thousands of people. Communist officials later said, "We were prepared for everything except the prayers and candles." Again, people waited for the bullets. Again, the power of peace defeated the forces of violence.

I think of other places in the 1980's, where the powers of prayer and peace defeated the powers of evil, most notably Poland and South Africa. I think of places today where I cannot imagine how peace will come.  And yet, those seeds of peace may already be sprouting.

That's the hopeful view, of course.  The ending of the Witness episode this morning noted that relations between the U.S. and Iran had never been the same since the takeover of the embassy.  We still see embassies as places that should be safe, even in places with unstable governments--that's one reason why the murder of the journalist in an embassy has the power to shock us.

Still, let me remember the hopeful elements of the anniversaries, especially for those of us who feel helpless.  We can all light our candles.  We can pray/meditate/visualize peace descending on the world.  We can be people of hope.  History shows us that the improbable may already be on the way.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

What Most Distracts/Feeds You

This morning's post may be more disjointed than usual.  I got home last night close to 9 p.m.  I needed to stay for an evening PAC meeting, and unlike last week's PAC meetings at a different campus, I stayed late to help with clean up.  It was a dinner meeting, so there was more clean up than with a coffee and dessert meeting.

As with many meetings in my life, it was a meeting more for others than for me--I already knew much of the information presented.  And my frustration with many meetings these days:  it was great to talk about possible solutions to issues, but frustrating knowing that we have so little ability to pursue most of them.  If we change a major element of a Program that's on more than one campus, we need all the campuses on board--even for something that should be simple, like a book change.

Of course, those of you in academia know that a book change is never simple, if it involves more than one person.

Yesterday I was late to our online journaling class that meets in real time once a week by way of a Zoom meeting on Facebook.  It's one of the few meetings where I wish we could go longer.

I spent the whole day thinking I would have time to sketch in response to the sketches of others and the Joyce Rupp book my online journaling class is using.  But it wasn't that kind of day.

When I got home, I was exhausted--but that too tired to fall asleep right away kind of exhausted.  I had already written my poem for the day, but I hadn't sketched (when I started this class, I hadn't realized I would feel like I should sketch every day).  I decided to make a quick sketch, the answer to the question on p. 48: "What most distracts you and keeps you from listening to the deeper part of your life?"

That image might look like I have lots of extra hours in the day.  Last night, I was wishing that I did have lots of hours in the day--part of me wanted to sleep, and part of me wanted to stay awake, writing and sketching and listening to old songs from my past.

I spent a lot of the week-end doing just that, which made me yearn for more.  On Saturday, I went looking for the original version of a Paul Simon song, I was listening to Simon's new album, which sent me on a quest for the original "How the Heart Approaches What It Yearns." I had forgotten that the song came from the One Trick Pony record. Long ago, I checked out the record from the Knoxville public library and taped it and listened to it all through the school year. Why did this song about "the bag of tricks it takes to get me through my working days" resonate so much with my teenage self?

I also went down a Muppet Movie rabbit hole.  Early on Saturday morning, I listened to this episode of "Fresh Air" where Terry Gross interviews Brian May--there's a snippet at about 28 minutes in where the Muppets do "Bohemian Rhapsody"--I haven't laughed that much in weeks.

That episode also sent me on a quest for Queen recordings available on the radio, which reminded me of high school too, which meant that I improbably finished the week-end on Sunday night, listening to the music of Chariots of Fire, many of which had clips from the movie.  Yesterday, as I moved through my endless day, I had lots of music in my head.

Today will be another long day.  I am taking days off next week--a full Thanksgiving week of vacation.  I am more than ready.

As I was trying to decide how to title this blog post, I thought about that part of the question, what distracts you.  But I also realized, looking back on this post, that what distracts me is also a component of what feeds me.  Hmm.  This journaling class is giving me lots to ponder--more than I dared hope!

Monday, November 12, 2018

Roads (Not) Taken, Dreams of All Sorts

Here is the drawing that I made on Saturday:

It was the 7th day of my online journaling class, the day when the book we're using asked us to reflect back on the first week.  We'd been writing/thinking/drawing a lot about dreams and doors.  I began with the image of a road that breaks into 2 paths, one of dreams deferred and one of new dreams.

Later, as I reflected on the image, I realized that if I look at it a different way, it could be the merging of 2 paths, if the traveler was going towards the bottom of the page.

When I created the sketch, I wasn't sure what I would put in the space of the Y of the paths.  I thought about some kind of field.  I reread the chapter, which encouraged us to think of doors.  So, I drew a door like a door I'd drawn earlier in the week:

But the door in Saturday's sketch has a Gothic arch, not a Roman arch.  The door in Saturday's sketch has a stained glass window, which the first door I drew did not:

Back to Saturday's sketch.  Do you see the winged creatures?  I think of them as butterflies.  I find the colors in their wings to be regal--it suggests vestments to me.  Do I see them as angels?  No.  But they do suggest robes.  In other words, it's churchy, but not angelic.

It's been a good first week of this online journaling class.  I've drawn more in the past week than I ever have in a week.  And I've been writing lots of poems.  I'm very intrigued to see what happens as we go into the various holiday times that will come in the remaining 5 weeks of the course.

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Approaches to Armistice Day

Pre-dawn of another Veteran's Day, cloudy, just after fierce rains have swept through. Before today was Veteran's Day, it was Armistice Day, the day that celebrated the signing of the Armistice that ended World War I. In some ways, it's not a hard holiday to celebrate. Any event that restores peace in our time is worth some sober meditation.

However, those of us who know our history may be chastened by the knowledge of what was to come. The end of World War I planted the seeds that would blossom into World War II. World War I brought carnage on a level never before seen--but World War II would be even worse.

Why is it so hard for humans to remain at peace? There are whole series of books that address this question, so I won't attempt it here. Still, today is a good day to offer extra prayers for sustained peace in our time. World War I and all the other wars of the 20th century offer us vivid examples of the horrible consequences of the lack of peace.

Those of us lucky enough to live in a land that's not currently wracked by war might think about our luck. We might strengthen our resolve to quit wasting time and to start/continue/finish the work we were put on this earth to do. History shows us that we can't always or even often count on peace. The world plunges into war for the flimsiest of reasons: an archduke is assassinated, and the world goes up in flames.

So if we have stability now, let us seize the day. Let us not waste time on Facebook, bad movies, wretched television, or any of the other countless ways we've devised to waste our freedom. Generations of humans have laid down their lives to secure us this precious liberty; let's resolve that their blood hasn't been shed just so that we can fritter day after day away.

If we haven't always done a good job of shepherding our talents, let's declare today to be Armistice Day. Let's forgive ourselves for every opportunity we haven't followed. Let's see if any of those doors are still open to us. And if not, let's rest easy in the assurance that there will be new doors if only we stay alert for them.

For those of us who are activists, we might think about how to use our talents to create a world where we practice war no more. Or maybe we want to raise funds for those who are damaged by war. On a day like Veteran's Day, it seems appropriate. We can be the voices for those who have been cruelly silenced.

For those of us who teach, we might want to think about how artists and writers might speak to current generations, many of whom do not know any veterans. On Veteran's Day, which began as Armistice Day, you might bring the work of Wilfred Owen into your classrooms. You can find some poems at this site; I particularly like "Anthem for Doomed Youth." Pair this poem with some artistic works, perhaps the works of Picasso that look at war, a work like "Guenica" (here's a site with the image). For this generation of instant access to facts and information, it would be worth discussing whether or not creative explorations enrich our understanding of war and its aftermath. Is photography and documentary film more worthwhile? Another kind of art?

For those of us who are spiritual, we could spend time today staying mindful of the older holiday of Armistice Day, and the modern incarnation of Veteran's Day. We can remember to give thanks for the sacrifices of so many who have made my domestic peace possible. We can pray for the government leaders of all our countries, in the hopes that they'll continue to avert catastrophes of all sorts, from the economic to the armed conflict to the planet destroying variety.