Friday, January 22, 2021

Finally Watching "The Handmaid's Tale" on Hulu

Last night, I started watching the recent adaptation of Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale on Hulu.  I had planned to watch it when it first came out, but I didn't have Hulu then.  I decided to wait until I could watch the whole season, but by then I knew there would be more seasons, and I just felt overwhelmed.

A few years have gone by, and we now have a smart TV and Hulu.  Most nights, we still can't find much that we want to watch, which makes me sad since we have access to so much.  I've decided that it's time to start delving into quality stuff of the not-too-distant past.

I've been a bit leery of the TV adaptation of The Handmaid's Tale, for fear of the violence and the rapiness of the later seasons.  But I decided I could watch the first few episodes, so last night we watched two of them.  I think we'll watch more.  I'm impressed with how well done it is--and how many episodes of Hell's Kitchen do I really want to waste time on?

Readers of this blog know that I've been a fan of this book since it first came out.  I read it and told everyone that they must read this book.  I read it multiple times, and it holds up well through the decades.   I saw the movie adaptation in the 90's, and I thought it was fine--not wonderful enough to watch it more than once, but fine. I feel the power of the book, even as I admit that there are other Atwood books that feel more compelling to me.

Throughout much of the Trump years, I have been almost afraid to return to the novels that predicted our predicament, novels like The Handmaid's Tale and Parable of the Talents, by Octavia Butler.  But as I did, I realized that the Trump administration was nothing like the governments of most dystopian novels or of the authoritarian regimes of the 20th century, like those of Hitler or Stalin.  

Trump never had enough focus or organization or ability to plan to be able to create the kind of dystopia that Atwood presents.  We were lucky this time.  I continue to be haunted by Atwood's assertion that she didn't include any elements in The Handmaid's Tale that weren't happening in the world in 1984 or didn't have an actual happening in history.

As the Trump administration progressed, there was part of me that didn't want to watch The Handmaid's Tale for fear it would feel too real and out of a sort of weariness of feeling like I was watching something similar each time I watched the news.  There was a moment in the early part of the first episode when the child is ripped out of the arms of the woman where my alarmed brain said, "No!  Too soon, too soon!"

I'm glad I kept watching.  We'll be watching more episodes this week-end.

Thursday, January 21, 2021

Notes on an Inauguration Day

Yesterday was a day of highs and lows, as I expected, although the lows were brief.  As I was about to leave for work, I realized that Trump was about to leave the White House, so I turned on the TV.  Sure enough, there was the helicopter, waiting to take Trump away from D.C., away from the Inauguration, which he had decided not to attend.  I waited, watching, while the helicopter rose.  Some of the camera shots were amazing, including one of the helicopter and the edge of the Capitol building.

Throughout the day, I would feel weepy as I saw footage of D.C.  How I love that city!  Throughout the first 45 years of my life, my path wound back there:  we made annual pilgrimages there for my dad's reserve service week-ends and weeks, we lived near there and made trips there for cultural enrichment and to see family friends, and my parents moved to the Virginia suburbs when I was in college and lived there for the next 25 years.  I spent college summers doing social service work in the less desirable parts of the city, back when the city had the highest murder rate in the country.  We almost always went into the city when I came back as a grown up to visit my parents.

As I drove to work yesterday morning, Trump arrived at Joint Base Andrews and said his final remarks.  I was amazed when he said, "Honey, would you like to say a few words?"  I was stunned--both that he used a term of endearment that I've never heard come from his mouth before, not to his wife, not to anyone, and also because he shared the stage.

I got to my office and did some of the work of the day that had to be done.  I zipped over to Office Depot to pick up the spiral bound self-studies that needed to be in the mail by the end of the day--our Vet Tech program is having a site visit in March, and those documents need to be received by accreditors by Jan. 27.  I answered e-mails and re-set a password so that I could access the fingerprint checks for our incoming students.  I did some troubleshooting with a program chair.

In short, even though it was a momentous day, we still had work to do.  Just before I shifted my attention to the Inauguration, I made this Facebook post:  "As one administration shifts to another administration, we do the work that must be done, no matter who is in power: we shepherd the students, we write the e-mails, we get the accreditation documents ready to go, we donate to the food pantries, we check up on the people who need us, we meet the deadlines, we do the work."

At about 10:30, I got a phone call from a colleague who said, "Where are you, Dr. K?  You're missing it all!"  So I went to her office and realized that people were arriving for the inauguration (capitalize this word?  can't decide).  I watched a bit, thinking I would come back closer to time for swearing in--but I didn't want to miss the swearing in of the first woman to achieve such high office--sure, it's not the presidency, but I'll take this crumb!

At some point, one of us suggested we move to the conference room, and we did--we had a much bigger monitor, and we could spread out, so it was a good call.  Every so often the live feed would fail, which was frustrating, but we coped.  I had thought I might watch the ceremony alone in my office, but it was so much better to cheer and weep with colleagues.

I loved hearing the national anthem--it moved me more deeply, given the assault on the Capitol just 2 weeks earlier.  I am still just astonished that I'm writing these words.  Four years ago, I was expecting armed assaults, but I imagined that Trump would take the path of other dictators and start foreign wars to solidify support and power.

I loved the swearing in--tears again and again.  I loved Biden's speech.  I realize that he trotted out familiar themes for inauguration day, but what a relief to have a president who understands why these themes of unity are important.  What a relief to have a president who wants to inspire us, not divide us.

I loved the music and the musicians.  I loved that Jennifer Lopez sang "This Land Is Your Land"--a Woody Guthrie song so perfect for the day!  At one point, when Garth Brooks was singing "Amazing Grace," he turned to the camera and said, "At home, sing along."  One of my colleagues murmered, "Are we going to sing?"  And we sang softly together.

I loved the poet, although I found her hand motions distracting.  Will her poem become my favorite?  No--but no inaugural poem so far will be my favorite.  I'm always just happy when a poet is invited to be part--it sends a message that is so important to me.

I even liked the closing prayer, although including prayers in these events makes me queasy.  It's so easy to go wrong.  Yesterday's prayer seemed inclusive to me in a way that other prayers don't.

And then it was time to get back to the work of the day:  back and forth to the UPS store, getting mailing supplies, preparing the mailing, getting to the UPS store to realize I had forgotten the zip code on one of the packages, back to the office, back to the UPS store.  I was fairly exhausted by the end of the day.

I ended the day with my online Mepkin journaling group--we are all of like minds, both politically and spiritually, so it was good to be together, even though I journaled more about the events of the day than the material we were scheduled to discuss/journal.

Late in the day, I made this Facebook post:  

"Earlier today I was trying to remember if I had ever seen an inauguration in school when I was a child. Then I remembered that back then, TVs were huge and expensive and one couldn't put them on rolling carts. It was before the age of VCRs, so one wouldn't tape the inauguration so that students could watch it later and analyze it. And we couldn't stream on our computers--a computer took up a whole room, and you communicated with it by way of punch cards.

Wow, I am old. And wise."

I've spent some time this morning reading blog posts from the early days of the Trump presidency, and I was as clear-eyed as I remember, although I wouldn't have anticipated the mob attacking our own Capitol--at least not in the open, post-a-Selfie way it happened.  I am both relieved that we survived, and anxious that the next time we won't be so lucky.  Trump was fairly ineffectual, and thus, anyone paying attention could learn some valuable lessons about what not to do and what might work.

But for now, let me rest and breathe--and assemble the tools that will be needed to mend this tattered country.

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

A Haiku for Inauguration Day: Blessing and Promise and Prayer

I woke up on this inauguration day feeling just exhausted.  It's a different kind of exhaustion, in some ways.  My eyes feel dried out, my feet ache, and I'd like to sleep for a few days.  Actually, that's not true--I'd like to be in a different place where I don't feel the chores calling my name.  I'd like to be in a place where someone else has done the cleaning and will do the cleaning when I leave, and I'd like to know that person is paid a good wage.  I'd like to be in this place with good books, and I'd like the weather gods to know what I prefer from hour to hour and to deliver that.  I want a stack of books and a manuscript that's going well.  And because I know that at some point I'll feel lonely, but I won't know exactly when loneliness will strike, I'd like friends and family nearby with moods coordinated to mine.

In short, I yearn for a magical place that doesn't exist.

I thought I would wake up in a different emotional space.  I imagine that by the end of the day, I will have journeyed to many emotional spaces.  This year, I may make an effort to watch the inauguration.  I don't always, but this year feels historic in more ways than one.

I'm thinking of past inauguration days.  I have a vague memory of watching the first Clinton inauguration in 1993.  He was the first presidential candidate for whom I voted who won, but I also wanted to watch Maya Angelou.  My spouse was recovering from back surgery in 2013, so we watched the second Obama inauguration.  We also watched the first Obama inauguration.

This inauguration seems momentous in that we'll see a woman vice president.   I realize that other countries have actually voted to let women run the show, and maybe we'll get there some day.  For now, I'll take any steps towards equality that I can get, while at the same time, I'll let myself feel sorrow over the slow pace.

I'm also taking delight in Biden's slow pace towards this goal.  I'm collecting stories of late bloomers, and his story certainly demonstrates a very slow blooming.  But he's not just been sitting around, waiting for his chance to come.  This Joe Biden is very different than the Joe Biden who ran for president in 1987.  I'm hoping that he'll finally have a chance to use all his skills and talents.

This morning, I started a poem that I hope to develop as the week goes on.  This line delighted me:  complaint, incantation, or curse.  I thought about using it in a haiku for Inauguration Day.

But as I was running this morning, a different set of lines came to me:

High noon swearing in
Blessing and promise and prayer
Hinge of history

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

Haiku Exchange

The older I get, the more I appreciate the variety of my friends and all the ways we keep in touch.  I've been part of a haiku exchange with some South Carolina Low Country friends.  It began with political e-mails with a group of people, many of whom worked together at Trident Tech, the community college in the Charleston area--for reasons too convoluted to explore here, South Carolina calls all its colleges technical colleges.

I think back to that experience working at that college--one of the gifts of that school was the amazing colleagues that I had.  I have been lucky to have always had wonderful colleagues.  That may be one of the advantages of working at schools that aren't first tier schools with people who understand the stakes, people who put students first for the most part.

The political e-mail exchange turned into a haiku exchange--what a treat!  I love reading the haikus, and I love being inspired.  One woman said that she's also writing in German or Spanish, which has helped her get back to her language studies--what a cool idea!  I imagine that using haiku could help in all kinds of teaching arenas.

Her haiku about tomatoes made me think about our own garden.  We can't seem to grow a tomato of any size, but our milkweed is quite happy.  On Saturday, I wrote this Facebook post:  "When I thought of opening a cafĂ©, I confess that I wasn't thinking about serving caterpillars and ladybugs:"

I included photos of the plants and caterpillars

This morning, I created this haiku:

Tomato wasteland
milkweed blooms, monarchs visit
other species fed

This morning, my brain went back to all the ways these friends have fed me.  Our friendship deepened the year we got together to bake cookies.  The parents of one friend had a restaurant in downtown Charleston; we gathered in the restaurant's kitchen on a Sunday in December and baked cookies together and had such a good time that we did that regularly.

One of the other friends wanted more vegetarian food in her life, and she knew we were inclined the same way, so she organized a food swap.  We'd make a big batch of something and bring containers to school where we'd swap.  I can't remember if just one of us cooked each week or if we all did.

That community college fostered amazing developments.  One of our colleagues had a variety of restaurant connections, and he ran the Culinary department for the school, so he was instrumental in organizing an organic veggie co-op.  Other colleagues kept us up to date with literary and artistic developments in the larger world.

As I'm writing and reflecting this morning, I wonder why I ever left.  It's important for me to remember that the larger Lowcountry South Carolina culture was not as inclusive as it is now--and it's not that inclusive now.  I wanted to be someplace more multicultural, with a thriving arts scene.

I achieved that goal.  I didn't anticipate how the work of earning the money necessary to live here would leave me too exhausted many days to participate in the culture I was seeking.

Let me remember that lesson as I think about the future.

As I did my morning jog, with a sunrise particularly beautiful today, these lines came to me:

Sunrise painted lake
Decomposing Christmas trees
Warm breath of future

If I had to title this one, I might go with this: Inauguration Eve.

Monday, January 18, 2021

Week-end Updates

If you were hoping for an MLK post with poetry, this past blog post is a good one.  If you were hoping for some theology and/or a non-violence/social justice angle, this post on my theology blog may hit the spot.

It's been an up and down (mostly up) week-end.  Let me record a few snippets:

--On Friday, my onground intensive ended with a commissioning service for the class ahead of me that was finishing the program.  It felt strange for the experience to end at 5:45, to turn off the screen and wander around the house.  It should have been a later service that ended with a champagne reception--or a Saturday morning service where we headed out into the world with our talents.  

--Happily, I was able to refocus.  My spouse teaches a Friday evening class all spring term, and I've decided that I'm going to work on my apocalyptic novel while he teaches.  On Friday night, his second night teaching, I worked on my apocalyptic novel.  My goal is to write 1000 words a week, and Friday I wrote 1148 words.  Hurrah.

--Paraclete, one of my favorite religious presses, is creating a fiction imprint, and during my Saturday morning run, I thought about how to pitch my apocalyptic novel to them.

--After my Saturday morning run, I went to the Wal-Mart neighborhood market to stock up.  I like getting there when they first open, even though it disrupts my morning.

--Because I did the shopping, we did some cooking--and then some eating.  

--We watched One Night in Miami--excellent film.  And perfect for a week-end that ends in a commemoration of Martin Luther King's life.  Even though he wasn't a character in the film, much of the film revolves around the best ways to respond to oppression.

--Throughout the week-end, we counted caterpillars on milkweed, which is more compelling than it sounds.

--Our neighborhood friends came over late in the day on Saturday to have a quick catch up on the front porch.

--Sunday morning we went to outdoor church.  It's still tough for me, sitting outside with a mask on, but at least yesterday I didn't sweat through my mask or have my nose run all in my mask--a complicated way of saying we had perfect weather for outdoor church, which is rare.

--Because of the perfect weather, we spent much of yesterday outside on the front porch.  I wrote this Facebook post:  "This chilly South Florida day makes me want to get in the car and go look at the leaves turning color--but of course, that would be a different season in a different part of the country."

--We ended the day watching a show from the first season of Saturday Night Live, back when it was just called Saturday Night.  Paul Simon was the guest, and back then, there was a lot more music.  It ended with Paul Simon singing "American Tune," which is perhaps as perfect a lullaby for these times as is possible:

"We come on the ship they call Mayflower
We come on the ship that sailed the moon
We come in the age's most uncertain hour
And sing an American tune

But it's alright,
It's alright, it's alright, it's alright.

Sunday, January 17, 2021

Commissioning and Anointing

Much of the end of last week revolved around the onground intensive for my certificate in spiritual direction program. Because of the pandemic, we met online instead of onground. While it wasn't a perfect way to be together, it was better than a cancelled intensive, which was the response in June.

On Friday, my onground intensive ended with a commissioning service for the class ahead of me that was finishing the program. It felt strange for the experience to end at 5:45, to turn off the screen and wander around the house. It should have been a later service that ended with a champagne reception--or a Saturday morning service where we headed out into the world with our talents. 

But as we were doing the service, I thought about how it was profoundly moving in unexpected ways. As each person's name was called, we all stretched out our hands to our individual cameras--so the Zoom session was a series of boxes of hands. That approach also made it easier to find the graduate we were blessing.

And in our care packages, each graduate got a vial of consecrating oil. So even though the candidate had to do self-anointing, we were able to hold onto that element of the commissioning service.

As each part of the body was mentioned, the graduate touched the oil to the body part: "The servant of God, (name), is anointed to a ministry of spiritual direction. May your mind always be attentive to God. May your ears be attuned to the words of those whom God sends your way and to the promptings of the Spirit. May your mouth under the guidance of the Spirit speak deep wisdom that is not your own. And may your heart be centered in the love of God. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen."

In the end, it was still a profoundly moving service--just moving in a different way.  And a side benefit:  family members and friends could attend, the way they would not have been able to do during regular times for those of us coming to the campus from a distance.

Saturday, January 16, 2021

Onground Intensive, Intensively Online

Yesterday I was aware that if it had been a year ago, I'd have been arriving at the seminary campus for the first onground intensive in my journey to be certified as a spiritual director.  At the end of that intensive, I was in great spirits, ready for where the future was taking me, even as I admitted that I wasn't sure what I envisioned.

Little did I know what was about to fall on our collective heads . . .

I do think that there will be an upsurge in demand for spiritual direction in all its variations once we get past the worst part of this pandemic.  Times of plague often lead to times of change, some of it tumultuous, some of it rewarding.  I'm thinking about the Renaissance that came after the Black Death.  In generalizing hundreds of years of history into a single sentence, and all the risks inherent with that condensation, I could argue that the the 30% death rate during the first outbreaks of the Black Death led people to question religious authorities and to move in directions they would not have if there had been no plague, directions that made them more free.

But I digress.

I have spent the last 3 days, at least part of them, at the second onground intensive, but because of the pandemic, we met online.  This morning I thought, well, at least I don't have a 10 hour car drive today.  But I also don't have that surge of energy and enthusiasm that comes from time away.

I missed the opportunity to have deep conversation with people along the way.  Last year, I stayed with grad school friends before and after the intensive, and during the intensive I had great opportunities to talk with people, even though one purpose of the intensive was to explore the idea of solitude.

This year, I stared into a computer screen, hour after hour after hour.  We had some small group sessions, which were great, but not quite the same.

Also not quite the same:  the worship.  They felt more like sessions than services.  They were well done, with beautiful slides and music.  But it wasn't the same as going to the chapel with its beautiful stained glass.  And we didn't have communion.

What I missed most was the chance to be away--I missed it, even as I realized that it was much easier for me to participate online than onground this year.  Had there been no pandemic, it would have been tough for me to get away.  My request for leave was only granted early this week.

On Wednesday, I needed to be at the office, or at least I thought I did.  My school is being bought by a Brooklyn school, and on Wednesday, the new owners were visiting my campus.  So on Wednesday, I tuned in for the morning prayer and the opening remarks.  I was able to be part of the instruction sessions and one of the 2 small group sessions.  I stayed at the office so that I could tune in for Vespers.  It was strange.

On Thursday and Friday, even though I was taking leave, I went to the campus to help open it.  We only have 3 people with all the keys to open the campus, and one of them was out on unexpected bereavement leave.  Each day, I opened doors, took temperatures, answered questions, did a few tasks, and then headed home.  It was much easier to focus on the intensive at home, but still imperfect.

Throughout I tried to adopt the attitude that it was better to have an online intensive than a canceled intensive.  We were supposed to have this intensive back in June.  But I also wrestled with my feelings of disappointment.  A year ago, I thought I had found a way to be at more peace with my feelings of displacement.  This past year, I've been feeling more displaced than ever.

It's a spiritual displacement.  In literal terms, I'm rooted in South Florida:  I have a house, a job, and friends.  But in the past few years, most of my South Florida friends have moved away, and it's become clear that I can't count on my job the way I once could, and that global warming is moving much faster than I anticipated, which means that my house is in constant danger.

My spirit yearns to live in a different place, and last year, I was thinking that by working towards this certificate, I'd have more chances to get away to places that soothe my soul:  the seminary campus, Lutheridge, time with friends as place.  This year, I have no idea what's coming our way.

In a way, it could be worse.  At least I didn't enter into this program with a rigid idea of my expected trajectory--that might make it harder to make adjustments.

I've continued moving forward.  I've lived long enough to know that sometimes it's best to just keep going, even if one has lost one's nerve/faith/certainty.  I'm reminded of the advice given to those who have lost a spouse to death or divorce--don't make any big decisions leading to big changes for the first year after the traumatic event.

For at least the next year, that's the advice I'm following, even with the knowledge that I may not have the luxury of being the one making the choice.