Wednesday, September 18, 2019

NPR Nerds in Mourning: RIP Cokie Roberts

When I saw the news and confirmed that Cokie Roberts had died, I cried a bit at my desk.  The great illuminators of our time seem to be leaving us, and I feel each loss keenly.

I know, I know, I didn't really know her.  The tributes from people who did know her personally make me wish that I had known her.

I don't remember a time when she wasn't a media presence.  As I came into my own as an NPR listener, I made sure to be tuned in during her regular time slots--that was back in the pre-Internet days, where if you missed it, you missed it.  What a luxury now to be able to go back and listen to a person as often as we want.

It's also a burden, the knowledge that there's so much of value out there, and increasingly fragmented time.

What I will miss even more than Cokie Roberts' keen intellect is her way of connecting all that knowledge and explaining the relevance in a way that both highly educated people and those with limited education would understand.  So few people have that skill.

She was also inspiring.  I never doubted that she had a vision of how we could all be better--as individuals, as a society, as a larger world.  I never doubted that she had appreciation for all that our ancestors accomplished, even as she called us to continue to expand on what they had built.

I am also profoundly grateful for the doors that she opened to the next generation, my generation, that was following behind.  She showed a variety of ways of achieving our hopes and dreams.  She showed that we could have careers and families and outside interests beyond that too.  We didn't have to live within narrow definitions.  We didn't have to be constrained completely by our gender or our biology or our circumstances.

And as someone who listens to NPR for many hours a day, I am happy for all the ways she shaped that institution.  As someone who misses the way that TV news used to be, I am grateful that I got to see it when people like Cokie Roberts had a hand in the newscast.

I know that there are others who have already taken up the work that she was doing.  Eventually, if I'm still alive when they die, I will miss them too.  But it may not feel like the same kind of loss, since I came to know them later.

Cokie Roberts was always there, a calm voice, an oasis, for as long as I remember.  We need more voices like hers.  Let us rise to fill that call.

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Creative Visioning in the Voice of a Future Scholar

September 17 is the feast day of Hildegard of Bingen, mystic, herbalist, musical composer, naturalist, and Abbess. Her life was full of accomplishments, an amazing feat considering she lived in the twelfth century.  For more, see this post on my theology blog.

When the calendar returns to the feast days of amazing medieval women (Hildegard, Brigid, Julian), I fight my feelings of inadequacy.

Long ago, a wise yoga teacher told me, "Don't look at others.  It won't help you hold the pose, and it will probably make it harder."  I think I've embroidered her words, but I've captured the idea.

I would probably be more gentle with myself if I thought of what future scholars might say when they talked about me:  

She was able to keep writing her poetry, along with surprising works of fiction, as she navigated the demands of various types of day jobs:  teacher, administrator, . . .   .  She did volunteer work, often the unglamorous but necessary type, like counting the offering money after church and depositing it in the bank.  She worked with first generation students, thousands of them, offering the support and encouragement they needed to make their way in the world.  She did similar work with other groups who were at the margins of society, during a time when so many people found themselves being pushed to those margins.

Now let me do something similar, as I think about the directions I might go.  How would future scholars talk about that?  Let me do some creative visioning, in the voice of a future scholar:

In her midlife years, when so many people decide to coast, she turned her sights to different vistas.  She pursued new interests, and her work that mixed markers, words, and collage, led her in inspiring directions.  She got several certificates and degrees in theology and the arts, and did pioneering work in online retreats.  Her work in theology brought many people to a new understanding of the Gospels.  Late in midlife, she published her pioneering work that combined poetry, theology, and sketches in her singular style that would become so recognizable.  She took the proceeds from that publishing success and created her monastic community that offered shelter in a dark time and that continues to nourish so many.

Monday, September 16, 2019

Strangely Surreal September So Far

It's been a surreal week-end, a surreal week, and frankly, a surreal month.  Two weeks ago I was keeping a wary eye on Hurricane Dorian, which was chewing up the Bahamas.  Two weeks ago, I was thinking that my sister-in-law was deciding not to move here, so why make the herculean effort to get all of our personal stuff out of the cottage?

Now it's two weeks later.  My sister-in-law has moved in.  We had Bahamian Hurricane Dorian refugees to help us make the herculean effort.  I've made some progress in terms of figuring out where to put the stuff that came out of the cottage, but parts of the house look like we're in the process of a move--which, in a way, we are.

The last time we had a person living full-time in the cottage, I could see the lights of the cottage as I got in the car in the front driveway.  Since then, Hurricane Irma destroyed that fence, and now we have a fence that hides the back yard.

I don't know how long my sister-in-law will stay.  I do know that the U.S. has a problem with affordable housing, and my county has fewer units than much of the rest of the nation.  I know that our cottage is a bit small for her, and we haven't done all the hurricane repairs that are needed.  She plans to help with that effort while she's there.

I know that she might like more privacy than a back yard cottage affords.  I might too.  But for now, it's working out.

September has been surreal too, in terms of the death of musicians.  Suddenly the musicians of my youth--Eddie Money, Ric Ocasek of the Cars--are dying.  In a way, the death of musicians is nothing strange--except now they're dying of old age.

I had a similar disconnect helping my sister-in-law.  I first met her when I was 19, which means she must have been about 12.  In many ways, she still looks very similar.  It's discombobulating to realize how long our lives have been entwined.

And now, here it is, Monday again.  Time to do the bread run.  We are between classes right now, but I've let the campus know that if they've gotten used to bread on Monday, we'll still have it.

Sunday, September 15, 2019

Long Page Poetry Morning

There's a story told about Lucille Clifton--it may or may not be literally true, but it points to a truth for many of us.  Someone asked why she wrote short poems when she was younger and longer poems as she got older.  I suspect the questioner was expecting an answer that had something to do with wisdom and skill.

Instead, Lucille Clifton talked about the lives of her children shaping the short poems in terms of the amount of time she had to get thoughts on paper.

I, too, tend to write poems that are shorter.  Part of it's habitual, part of it has to do with how much time I have, and part of it has to do with ideas that run out of steam so the poem is over.  Most of my poems are a little longer than an 8 x 11 sheet of paper with regular lines.

Yesterday I wrote 4 pages.  Will it all be one poem?  I don't know, but it was an amazing experience.

I had been having a good poetry writing morning, after weeks of feeling dry and drained when it comes to writing and life in general.  Yesterday I had already written one poem and some various lines when I decided to freewrite a bit about harvest moons and harvests and elegies and prophets.  The freewriting didn't really go anywhere, but all of a sudden whole stanzas popped into my head.  I wrote and wrote--4 pages worth.  Wow.

And then I kept my legal pad nearby.  I'd do something else, and then another stanza popped into my head.  It was great.

Of course, because I was having a great poetry morning, I didn't do much with my novel or with grading for my online classes or any of the other activities I feel I need to do.  But that's O.K.

The rest of the day was consumed with getting the last of our stuff out of the cottage and helping my sister-in-law move in.  Later in the day, we ate a yummy meal together (grilled salmon, grilled burgers, assorted sides), and then we decompressed.  We took the Bahamian refugee couple home, while my sister-in-law and her friend returned the moving van.  My spouse and I relaxed in the pool and went to bed early.

For a day that at one point had promised stormy weather, it turned out to be a very good day.  And now it's off to church--there will be meetings, but there will also be breakfast and some time to sketch and some time to sit in stillness.

Saturday, September 14, 2019

What Does Active Discernment Mode Mean to You?

Earlier this week, one of my favorite pastors sent me a private message to let me know that this past summer had been her last summer at camp.  She said that she and her spouse had been in a time of "active discernment mode."

I knew that this time was not far away, the time when she announced her retirement.  Still, it was a week of many pangs, many realizations of how many "last" times are coming.

I wrote back to my pastor friend, "You said you and Pastor Tim were in "active discernment mode" this summer. I would love to know what that looked like. I have this vision of a breakfast of beautiful summer fruit, followed by writing in your journals, then a silent hike, and then a sharing of what you heard that morning. I have an idealistic vision of you two doing this all summer. But I know that there are many routes to discernment, and this retreat seems like a theme that fits with teaching people some of the ways to do that."

The next morning, I wrote a poem that explores what active discernment mode would mean to me in the best of circumstances.

Unfortunately, lately my active discernment often comes through frustration followed by weeping and gnashing of teeth and repressing the urge to throw a few things in the car and drive far, far away.  And yes, that has been my discernment message delivery system since I was about fifteen years old.

Clearly it's time for a new method of active discernment.  So, let me try an alternate approach.

When I heard my friend's news, my first thought was to write the camp to ask if they might be interested in hiring a person who would be in charge of adult and online programming.  My heart sang out at the thought of that job. 

That's a much more pleasant method of discernment than the one I usually use!

Friday, September 13, 2019

Week of Disrupted Writing Schedules and the Inspirations Contained in It

It has been a week of irregular blogging, the kind of week that makes me feel anxious that I'm not writing in the one form that I've managed to do on a daily basis.  Let me do one of those kinds of posts where I catch some threads that I don't want to lose.

--I have been writing.  I've written a few blog posts, and I've been working on my apocalyptic novel.  But most of my writing energy has gone to the various forms that we must have ready for our month of audits which will start next week.

--One of my favorite moments from work:  several of us pitched in to create a bulletin board to celebrate Constitution Day.  It turned out to be surprisingly attractive, given how little planning time we had, and how low our budget (0$) was.

--I got an acceptance of a poem that I love--I first came up with the idea in January and wrote about it in this blog post.  Often it takes longer for a poem to find a home.  Sojourners took this one, and it's a perfect fit.

--One of the reasons for my poor blogging attendance this week was my need to get stuff done in the evenings, which led to disrupted mornings.  I had a church meeting Monday night, church treasurer stuff to do Wednesday night, and last night, I did some work to get the cottage ready for my sister-in-law who is scheduled to arrive and move in today.

--I had help last night.  My friend in the neighborhood has opened her cottage to a couple from the Bahamas who fled the island literally with only the clothes they were wearing in the storm and their phones.  For more about that, see this blog post on my theology blog.

--My morning writing time was also disrupted this week because of morning schedule disruptions.  Yesterday I had a 7 a.m. appointment to get a mammogram.  I chose the very first appointment time so that I wouldn't sit in a waiting room for minutes/hours waiting.  But it did disrupt my writing.

--It was my very first mammogram.  I have friends who have been getting mammograms since they were in their 30's, but I'm following the older guidance for those of us in low risk groups:  I decided to wait until I was 50 to have my baseline mammogram.

--Yes, I know I'm 54.  Some people have thought that I was afraid of the mammogram itself.  Countless numbers of people have explained to me how it doesn't really hurt.  I'm not afraid of the squashing nature of the procedure, but I do try to limit my exposure to radiation.  But if we're honest, it's the waiting in waiting rooms, the filling out of forms, and the waiting.

--The squashing wasn't as bad as I expected.  I did find it odd to feel like I had no place to put my face in/against the machine. 

--Last night, I gave the Bahamian woman a pair of Saucony running shoes that I had barely used.  Last summer, I realized that I had loved the Sauconys that I had, so I bought 2 more pairs at a summer sale.  Earlier this year, I gave the oldest pair to a church group collecting shoes for Venezuela.  Last night, I was happy to know that my shoes fit a refugee from another disaster area.  My friend who took them in had written that she was having trouble finding clothes and shoes that were large enough.  I figured that mine would work--I have big, wide feet, as does the Bahamian refugee.  There's something about the idea of these shoes going to refugees that I wanted to preserve--not sure why.

--Last night, after we worked together in tasks to restore the cottage, my spouse and I sat at our patio table with the Bahamian couple.  We shared beverages and chatted about the storm, about home repairs, about what life was like on Abaco before Hurricane Dorian smashed through, and about the hurricane itself.  The moon was full, and we had a great breeze.  There were moments of homesickness, all of us longing for places that no longer exist.

--Let me also remember some of the images from the past few days that might weave into a poem:  a woman in a wheelchair weeping quietly in the library, small children hiking through neighborhoods with backpacks bigger than their backs, unconnected women with interesting hats walking their dogs, the Office Depot copy center that was out of ink but managed to develop work-arounds, the frustration of sending work to Office Depot but needing to spend an hour there overseeing the project (not Office Depot's fault, but the fault of the drop off person who requested spiral binding not comb binding), the strange intimacy of the mammogram process, the fact that I went to get my mammogram at the hospital where my mother-in-law was taken when she broke her hip, the intense memories I have of these places.

--I was sad to hear about the death of Anne Rivers Siddons.  Once I loved her books.  Now they seem like relics of an earlier era: sprawling novels that are so evocative of southern landscapes, with main characters who are discovering/reinventing themselves against the culture(s) of those landscapes.  If those kinds of books are still being written, I don't know about them.

--So many relics of earlier eras--my house is now full of them.

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

The Terrorist and the Sunflowers

I am later to blogging this morning--computer issues kept me from doing all sorts of writing.  But on a day when we remember planes flying into buildings, it's easier to keep computer irritations in perspective.

Today is also the anniversary of the 1973 coup in Chile, the one that ushered in the reign of terror overseen by Pinochet.  I've been thinking about Pinochet's reign of terror, about the events of 2011, about our loved ones who vanish and we're not sure what happened to them. I've been thinking about ash of all sorts. I've been thinking of all those documents incinerated on September 11, 2001. I suspect I've been thinking about those documents so that I can repress the memories of bodies. I keep thinking of the Pentagon, of taking a tour of the Pentagon when I was in grade school, of being told how indestructible that building was constructed to be--but it wasn't.

I come back to things we've learned since--that even large terrorist organizations have an HR department of sorts.  The one nugget that has stuck with me the longest is the one that Lawrence Wright told about Osama bin Laden, who flirted with both terrorism and agriculture, before committing to terrorism. He loved his sunflowers.

I understand how people become disaffected enough to leave their sunflowers behind and turn to dreams of destruction. I'm grateful for my religious heritage that reminds me of the seductive qualities of evil, that warns me not to succumb to that glittery facade.

I've written a poem about the terrorist and the sunflowers.  It's a different approach to today, and I mean no disrespect to those who died on this day, and those who continue to suffer because of that day.



Osama’s Sunflowers



The terrorist sits in his armed
compound and watches videos
of himself. He counts
his weapons and yearns
for a nuclear bomb.

The terrorist dreams of hamburgers
and the joy of a cold beer
on a hot day.
The terrorist remembers the grill
he used to have, a container
of gas used to cook,
not to kill.

The terrorist tamps
down his longing
for the sunflowers he used to grow,
their bright smiles turned
towards blue skies.
He wonders about the different trajectory
had he chosen seeds and soil
instead of flame and ash.