Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Birdsong and Poetry Transformations

Early in the day, on Monday, I read a Facebook post by a pastor friend:  "6:45 AM and it's still dark. It's good to pay attention, and to be grounded in the rhythms of God's creation."

I wrote this response:  "In late June, I went through a period where I'd wake up for the day at 2 a.m. Happily it didn't last long, but while it did, I was astounded at the riotous birdsong that was happening as the rest of the world slept. I'd write while the birds sang, and if it wasn't for my later in the day exhaustion, I might have kept to that schedule. I felt like I was in on a secret world, that birds get up even before monks to sing praise to our Creator!"

Tuesday morning, I tried to transform that post into a poem; here's my first draft: 

While the world sleeps
through the earliest
hours of the morning,
the birds erupt
in riotous song.

As the clock moves
from 3 to 4, the monks join
the chorus, chanting Psalms
in ancient rhythms.

My song takes up less space,
but is no less glad.
I write poems on purple
paper, a quiet plainsong. 

I actually prefer the FB post.  I tried cutting and pasting that post on the page, but couldn't find a poem rhythm.  There's something there, though, something that wants to be a poem.

I put both pieces of writing on a piece of paper.  I took the paper with me to my day of many meetings, but I didn't have a chance to return to it.  I have a vague worry that I lost the piece of paper somewhere along the way, but even if someone at the school which is my workplace finds it, I'm not concerned.  The notes that I took during one of the meetings, on the other hand, those I should keep an eye on.

I've been looking at old blog posts which have sent me to old poetry notebooks.  Once I typed up everything I wrote and sent it out.  Later, I only sent out the poems that I envisioned including in a book with a spine--that left lots of poems out.  Should I go back and revisit any of them?  What about the scraps that I've kept in the notebooks?

I'm not feeling particularly stymied/uninspired this week, but I should remember this archive of notebooks the next time that I am.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Of Debates and Cake

Once, I would have watched the presidential debate, each and every one.  Once, I recorded them (on tape!) and made my students watched them--we then discussed the elements of argument present or not and wrote analytical essays.

That woman is no longer me.  I watched 15 minutes of the debate, and once the voices went up and the talking over each other started, I called it a night.

Once, I thought I needed to watch the debates to be informed, to be a good citizen.  This election, I don't feel I need the debates to tell me what I need to know.

If I had counted on last night's debate to get solid information, I don't know that I'd have gotten that.  Where was that moderator?  I'd like to see moderators have the power to cut the microphone when rules of good debating are ignored. 

I just don't have the patience for modern life, the shouting, the refusal to listen to each other to be able to find middle ground, the shouting.

Yesterday was my spouse's birthday.  We didn't make specific plans, but I did make a cake.  I was going to go with my standard 9 x 13 pan approach, but my spouse said that layers would make it feel more special. 

I remember why I don't make cakes in layers these days; parts of the cake got stuck in the pans:



Luckily the cake tasted better than it looked.  Here's a less honest shot of the cake, from the view of the unbroken side.



I also had good publishing news--a poem accepted!  And I got my contributor's copy of Adanna--more about that poem in a later post.

Today is a day of many meetings--I often come up with interesting poem ideas on these days--stay tuned!

Monday, September 26, 2016

The Arizona Trip: With Pictures

When I remember our Arizona vacation, I will probably not remember the plane flights.  They were long, but blessedly uneventful.  Our fellow passengers were on good behavior--although I did notice a larger than usual number of dogs and emotional support dogs on the return trip, which struck me as odd.  A dog in the airplane used to be an oddity, but it's getting to be normal.

No, I will remember this, the view from the front porch of the cabin, and the disconnect between the desert I thought I would see with the actual view of ancient pines and gloomy weather:



I didn't think to take my camera with me to the nail salon, which took up much of our Wed. afternoon.  As a sociologist/anthropologist, I was intrigued, but only as an onlooker.  Happily, I thought to bring a book.  I hope I didn't seem rude by tuning out periodically.  I wanted to be supportive of the wedding party, but there were many moments when we were all separate from each other.  It was a huge nail salon.  But the wedding venue was much larger and more lovely:





I will remember the beautiful wedding, which brightened up the day that had the dreariest weather:




I came across many cultures I didn't know existed.  I had no idea that people would prefer a frostingless cake, but they do.  And it was delicious:




Most of Thursday was getting ready for the wedding, being at the wedding, and recovering from the big day.  The venue was lovely and the food delicious.  It was a great way to spend the day.



On Friday, we took a long train ride to the Grand Canyon--we saw all sorts of landscapes, which was  a treat. 



It took 2 hours and 15 minutes each way, and we didn't take any of our gadgets with us.  It was great to tune into our surroundings in this way, to pay attention, to be present:




What can I possibly say about the Grand Canyon?  Magnificent!



I was struck by the crowds at the Grand Canyon, by how many people I saw who were oblivious to the Grand Canyon, who walked beside it, punching messages into their phones.  I didn't take pictures of those people.  I didn't want to be oblivious to the world around me:



And then, all too soon, it was time to go home.  But I will remember the wonderful meals cooked in a tiny kitchen, the cooking and clean up chores shared equally, the fellowship with a family that was not biologically mine, but felt familiar:



I will remember all the different people we met along the way, the reminders as if God said to me, "There are many wonderful ways to make a life."  There was the woman on the flight from Tampa to Phoenix who had been married many years to an Air Force guy who had been working for the circus when she first met him.  She, too, worked for the circus as a fire eater.  I'll remember the young people I met who have very different ideas of a successful life--one works on a fishing boat in Alaska for 6 months to fund his time in Costa Rica for the other 6 months.  I'll remember the young people who met doing conservation work--there are more of them out there in the world than I realized.



I'll remember that canyon, the consolation of a fierce landscape.  I'll remember that the world offers many vistas, if we would but open our eyes.


Sunday, September 25, 2016

Arizona Wedding Trip: The Overview

We have just finished a quick trip to Arizona--by "quick," I mean that we were there only for a few days, not that the trip itself--that endless airline trek--was quick.

Long ago in grad school, I made a friendship with a woman from England.  She returned to England because of the better health care system and her friends and family there.  When she returned to England, she was pregnant with her older son.  This past Thursday, her younger son got married in Arizona.

Yes, once we went to the weddings of our friends.  Now we are going to the weddings of their children.  And hanging over me, the knowledge that at some point, it will be funerals that bring us together--and so, for now, I cling to the joyous even more fiercely than I did when we saw our friends get married when we were all in our 20's.

Over a year ago, when my friend told me of the wedding of her son and asked if I could come, I said, "Of course.  How often do you get to America?"  It did occur to me during our travels that it might have been easier to get to England.

Still, it was a great trip.  We went to Flagstaff, and we all gathered at a great place, Arizona Mountain Inn and Cabins.  Some of us stayed at the bed and breakfast part of the property, while others shared a large cabin (we had a room in the big cabin).  It was wonderful to have space where we could assemble and cook and catch up with each other. 

I still woke up early, so I had time to read each morning.  I'll likely write a separate post, but the book that has stayed with me longest is Lionel Shriver's The Mandibles:  2029-2047, a chilling, compelling dystopia.  I found it so compelling that as I write, I am listening to this podcast where Shriver talks about writing it.

The wedding was beautiful, despite gloomy weather.  When my spouse-to-be and I went through the required pre-marital counseling, our pastor told us that during a wedding, everyone sits there, evaluating their own marriages, and through the years, that has been the case for me.  I also evaluate the institution of marriage. 

But this trip, I was also intrigued by the immigrant/pioneer aspect of marriage--two people set out against enormous odds, often not realizing how great the odds will be, not knowing what they're actually signing up for.  My friend's son moved very far away after falling in love with the fierce Arizona landscape.  The day before the wedding, I went with a group to a nail parlor run by Vietnamese immigrants who I think were all part of the same family.  I thought about all of us, our attempts to reinvent ourselves, the bride, the various family members, several of us at midlife needing some new reinventing.

On Friday, my spouse and I went to the Grand Canyon.  We took a train there, which was one of my spouse's activities that he most wanted to do.  The Grand Canyon, of course, was spectacular.  We splurged on lunch, eating at the Arizona Room, where we had a table at the window.  We ate food native to Arizona (chili with bison, tacos with pork and chicken, and a wagyu beef sandwich, along with beer from a local brewery and wine.  It was a spectacular meal in every way.

As we sat and ate, my spouse said, "What I'm about to say makes no sense.  But in so many ways, being here feels like--"

"Being home again?"  He nodded.  I was feeling it too. 

It's rare that we go to a place and both say, "What would it be like to live here?  Maybe we should think about that some more."

Of course, it also makes not much sense to leave one place that's likely to be ravaged by climate change in the form of sea level rise to go to another that will run out of water soon because of climate change.

We arrived on Tuesday, at 6:35 p.m., as the sun was setting.  Arizona doesn't spring forward for Daylight Savings Time, so the time change was more disconcerting than it ordinarily would be.  We drove from Phoenix to Flagstaff in deep darkness.  Yesterday, as we drove back in full daylight, I realized what we had missed.

We knew it would be a short trip.  In fact, at one point, we had toyed with the idea of a longer trip, but we decided that because of work demands, we'd put that off.  In some ways, I'm glad, since our longer trip would have been partly by motorcycle, and because of a tropical storm in the Pacific, we'd have had miserable weather for riding.

Still, I'd like to get back to go to some of the other national parks and to explore places like Sedona.  As we flew over that landscape on our way back, the view was so compelling that I just stared at the window for the first part of plane trip.  I would like to explore that land further--with lots of water in my vehicle.

I felt more nervous about this trip than I do about most travels.  In part, it was because we were sharing the cabin with people we'd never met (along with good friends), with plans that were a bit nebulous.  In part, it was because we were traveling to unknown parts, with lots of connections that could have gone wonky.  In part, it's because travelling by plane always makes me anxious these days.  In part, the background noise of my life is one of anxiety.

I'm happy to report that I am still able to feel these fears and push through.  I know that I will be happy that I did it in the end, and thus, I am able to operate even with fear thrumming a backbeat with my nervous system as instrument.  I'm also aware that anyone's travel days may be limited in the future, and thus, we should seize these opportunities as we have them.

And now, for the laundry and the grocery shopping--back to old shoes and porridge, as an old saying goes (for more, see this blog post).

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Remembering the Trip to the Joshua Trees

Yesterday's post made me think about our trip to California, at the end of 2012.



The desert enchanted me, with that floor that looked like a sea bed--because it once was:



I loved the small, sturdy Joshua trees.



I loved the wind farms--that capturing of the force of the planet to give us electricity.



But most of all, I loved that fierce and rugged landscape.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Poetry Friday: "Floods and Desert Canyons"

A week ago, I was talking to a friend who was about to take a trip to Palm Springs.  I asked, "Will you go to Joshua Tree National Park?"

Her face lit up.  "That's brilliant!  We have 2 days which are free, and I haven't been able to think about what I wanted to do.  Is it worth the trip?"

We talked about why it was worth it.  I went there just after Christmas of 2012, and the place continues to enchant me.

Of course, the desert enchanted me long before I ever saw it.  I've been writing poems about the desert for decades.  When I actually made it to the desert, I was happy to see that I had gotten the desert right in those poems.

Here's one of the ones that comes to mind.  After I read Craig Childs' The Secret Knowledge of Water, I wrote the poem below, which was published in The Ledge.  In many ways, it's a love poem.  But if you read it with baptism on the brain, you'll come away with something different.  If you read it as you think about the desert fathers and mothers, maybe you'll get something yet again.  Or could it be John the Baptist talking to God/Jesus?  Or a more modern believer, talking to God?


Floods and Desert Canyons

My friends assume I’m dry
and barren. They do not know of my secret
spots, a cup of water here, a pool
collected there. An occasional visit
from you keeps me hydrated.

I boil away with my own dreams and ideas.
I blaze with words, my surfaces
too hot to touch. My pitiless gaze
burns as I survey my culture,
dream of new life forms.

You surge through my carefully constructed canyons.
In a matter of minutes, you change the landscape,
sweep away the detritus.
You carve me into intricate
forms, unconsidered before I met your force.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

A Field Guide to End Times and Our Times

I will be the first to admit that I'm the ideal reader for Jeannine Hall Gailey's Field Guide to the End of the World.  When I discovered The Walking Dead, I watched all of season 1 in a week-end.  I have strong views about the strengths and weaknesses of each of the movies in the1980's nuclear war triumvirate, Testament, The Day After, and Threads.  Some of my friends call me Apocalypse Gal, since I have calculated how to survive many a catastrophe.

As expected, I loved Gailey's poetry in her latest collection.  She has plenty of poems that imagine life after the apocalypse, most obviously in the series of Post-Apocalypse Postcard poems.  But she also makes clear that the apocalypses that will claim most of us are ones of illness and other aspects of modern life, not failures of government policies that lead to meltdowns.

Of course, there are those too.  More recent catastrophes, like the Fukushima plant in Japan, make an appearance here.  Gailey has a wonderful way of crystalizing these events into poems that give us a unique perspective on our modern life.

Along the way, she distills science lessons into unique poems.  We learn about ecotoxicology and junk science and mutagenesis and electromagnetics.  But even though I'm only tangentially schooled in these issues, and sometimes not at all, Gailey skillfully gives the reader enough information and explanation to understand the poem, but not so much that the poem sinks under the weight of it.

By now, you might be saying, "Sounds too much like homework.  I'm not reading this book."  But that would be a shame.  Not only are these poems some of the most intelligent poems I've read in years, but they're also funny.

I love the poems which twine together elements of popular culture and apocalypse.  One of my favorites was "Martha Stewart's Guide to Apocalypse Living."  Gailey perfectly captures the voice of Martha Stewart.

But most important, in envisioning end times, Gailey shows us all that we might appreciate right now, before we lose it.  The poems that end the book made me want to start taking pictures of trees or holding the hands of everyone I love. 

That's the larger message of the whole book, that we must appreciate what we have now, even as it might be slipping away.  She tells us that we will appreciate other aspects of life, whether it's a post-apocalyptic time or the time after an illness or any other disaster that might visit us.  But we don't need to wait to be filled with gratitude. 

These poems call us to a consciousness that will infuse our life with meaning.  These poems remind us that we don't need an apocalypse to come along to prove our worth.  These poems can remind us that worth can be found in a simple cup of coffee, if we would only slow down to appreciate that worth.