Friday, June 24, 2016

Friday Fragments: Brexit and Involuntary Severances

What a tumultuous week!  Let me capture some fragments from a week:

--The Brexit vote shocks me a bit.  The poet part of my brain that is prone to making connections and seeing symbols everywhere says, "Yes--how appropriate in a week of lay-offs and involuntary severance that we end the week with the news that Britain chooses to become a stand-alone island again." 

--Yesterday afternoon, I accompanied my friend and colleague to her exit interview where she got the information about her severance package.  She has decided to stay on as an adjunct.  I am selfishly glad, while also hoping that she eventually finds a great job and leaves the department stranded with those classes.

--My other colleague in my department who was RIFed came to my office and said, "Don't be sad."  What a great way to start an exit discussion.  She gave me a hug and said, "This is great news."  She will not be returning.  I am sad for me and the students, but happy for her.

--I have been helping friends who have had rock delivered--it gets dumped on the driveway, and they have to move it to the yard where they want it.  It's amazingly soothing to shovel the rocks into the wagon after a day of bad news.

--We worked well together--at one point, when complimented on how quickly we were reducing the rock pile, I said, "We've got a real chain gang rhythm going."

--My friends and I go to the gym regularly.  I said, "Those weight machines are the theory, and here we see the practice."

--I have sent out a few poetry packets into the world--another way of resisting the darkness nipping at my heels this week.

--This week-end will need to be a working week-end:  I have a course shell that I need to get ready for my online class which starts next week. 

Thursday, June 23, 2016

The Solace of a Good Bookstore

Yesterday was a day of lay offs at my school, including 2 from my department.  We have schools across the nation, and each school had lay offs of a variety of people, including the restructuring of Student Affairs at each school.  But I don't want this blog post to focus on lay offs.

Months ago, my friend and I had made plans to go down to Miami to Books and Books to see Chitra Divakaruni  (see this post for my thoughts on her latest, wonderful book).  Yesterday, my friend was one of the ones laid off.

We decided to go anyway, and I offered to drive.  As we made our way down to the store, I thought about all my friends from outside the area who wonder why I don't go down to Miami more often.  As we crawled along at 25 mph, I thought, this is why.

Still, we got there in plenty of time to enjoy the outdoor café and have a lovely dinner.  Yesterday I had salad for lunch and salad for dinner--ah, the salad days of summer.  Last night's salad had goat cheese, walnuts, pears, greens, and a guava dressing--yum.

But the real treat, the real nourishment of the night was the reading.  Divakaruni is a master of the reading.  She read from 2 chunks of the book, Before We Visit the Goddess, stopping at a dramatic point that would leave us wanting to know what happened.

She only read for 20 minutes, and then she spent 40 minutes answering questions.  It was the perfect balance, and most of the questions were great.  One woman asked about how autobiographical the characters are.  Divakaruni smiled and said, "The parts you like best about each woman--that's me."  She said it with just the right smile that said that she knew that she wasn't really answering the question.

Then she addressed the question of autobiography in her work.  She said that whenever she uses a person whom she knows in real life, her imagination begins to feel constrained by what has really happened in real life, so she tends to create without that framework.

She talked about characters, how it's important to have bad things happen to good people.  She talked about how she sets a goal for herself with each book so that she keeps growing.  With this book, the challenge was to write a book told in stories.

I asked about her writing process--did she write the stories in the order that they were in the book, and I said I assumed she didn't.  She said that she knew the first story and the last story, but the ones in between she crafted in a variety of order, and she wanted to avoid a strictly chronological presentation.  She said that although she knew the narrative arc, yet she was still surprised along the way.

It was a delightful night--everyone had a chance to ask their questions, and then she stayed to sign books.  A group of her students who had been chosen to study with her for one week in Miami were there. Afterwards one asked me, "Are you a writer?  Your question made me think that you are."  I said that I was, and we had a delightful conversation about writing, about linked stories, about the writer's life.

I thought about all the wonderful writers whom I have seen at Books and Books.  I thought about all the great times with friends as we've come to see our favorite writers.  I drove home, along the Interstate canyon between the sparkly skyscrapers, filled with gratitude, filled with the hope, ready to face what the daylight will bring.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Our House of Many Instruments

I grew up in a house full of musical instruments:  my mother always had a piano, and for a brief time, we had 2, the grand piano and the upright.  My sister and I took piano lessons, and my mom was usually making some money through some form of music:  piano lessons, choir director, or church organist.  There's a picture of me at age 7 blowing through a trombone.  We had my grandmother's cello, although no one played it.  There was a rudimentary bugle, more of a war instrument than a music instrument.  At one point, my sister played the flute.

I've always wished that I had done more to learn to play.  I can play the right hand on the piano without thinking much about it.  I can figure out the left hand with more time.  With even more time, I can combine them.  I wish it was all more effortless.  I wish I had practiced more in my formative years.

I now have a keyboard, but we don't use it much.  We have several African drums, and a doumbek--we've had good times through the years playing with a drum circle.  I like the energy of the group, the way I can lose myself in a rhythm.  In a drum circle, it seems there's no way to go wrong.

For awhile we had a drum kit in the living room, but we never practiced much--too noisy.  We finally sold it, and a little boy had a happy Christmas because of it.

We bought matching mandolins for a wedding anniversary, and we return to those periodically.  My husband has several violins, which he plays weekly.  We have a guitar, which we got for free when we spent a certain amount at a music store.

This past week-end we brought 3 more instruments into our house, although they are borrowed instruments:  2 ukuleles and a cello.  One of our friends at church has loaned us a cello, since his daughter has gone off to college and doesn't need it right now.  I'm hoping that we can learn if we can teach ourselves to play cello, before we make an investment.

On Sunday, my church had the first of 5 scheduled music sessions at the parsonage.  We meet at 6 for ukulele lessons, then enjoy some food, and then bring out other instruments and have a songfest.  We're going to do this every Sunday for the next 4 weeks.

Will I enjoy the ukulele enough to buy one?  It's hard to say.  If I'm going to devote myself to a stringed instrument, I'd really like to play the mandolin better.  But we'll see.

For now it's fun to meet with friends and to commit to music for a few weeks.  What will we do after that?  Will we continue to meet?  Is this just for fun?  Are we in the process of birthing some new music ministry?  It's hard to say.  We're trying to stay open to possibilities right now.

Making music makes me happy, even if I'm far from perfect.  In music, as in much of life, it's the journey not the destination, the process, not the product.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Summer Solstice 2016

Here we are at the first full day of summer.  I always think of the summer solstice as arriving June 21, but the dates can vary.  This year, yesterday was the solstice, the longest day of the year.  I celebrated in a variety of ways.

Yesterday, I woke up feeling somewhat grumpy after a night of restlessness.  The mood around the office didn't help me feel much better--lots of talk of the possible loss of ACICS as an accreditor and what the future might hold for my school, which is ACICS accredited.

My younger self would have said, "Oh, good, we can have SACS accreditation."  My older self feels weary at the thought of what that quest will require.  My mood sunk even lower.

But mid-morning, I went to speak at one of our new student orientations, and my mood shifted.  I loved being in a room of enthusiastic, hopeful, new students.  It's not a traditional way to celebrate the solstice, but I'm glad I had it.

Through the afternoon, I took care of the end-of-term paperwork--getting Math students enrolled in the next section, looking up student grades in English classes to make sure that students without pre-reqs didn't move on to the next class.

Again, not a traditional way to celebrate the solstice, this preparing for our summer quarter at school, but it felt good to get these tasks done.

As evening came on the longest day of the year, I celebrated in a more traditional way with wine and time with friends.  I tagged along with my spouse who gives violin lessons to the daughter of friends, and we lingered in the late light to have wine and catch up.

When we came back home, we sat on the porch to continue to enjoy the solstice.  My spouse has a cello on loan, and he experimented with it--the acoustics on our small front porch are amazing/almost overwhelming with both the violin and cello.  It's not dancing around ancient stone monuments or drumming as the full moon rose, but it felt appropriate.

So here we are at summer, a new season.  I have summer online classes starting next week (teaching, not taking), and it will be easy to lose the season.  Let me begin to formulate a plan:

--I will send my proposal to Eerdman's before the end of June.

--I will send out individual poem packets--my goal will be to send out 3 per week.

--I will also start sending out more short story submissions, even though many journals are closed for the summer.

--I will continue with my goal of writing 2 poems a week along with short stories.  I'd like to write one new story a month from July to the end of the year.

--I will eat more melon throughout the summer.

--I will make good use of our swimming pool.

--I will build some fires in the neglected fire pit--and my spouse will smoke some slabs of meat in the smoker.  I will make s'mores and remember why they're not my favorite dessert.

--I will walk to the beach more often.

Hmm.  With the exception of eating more melon and the one-time submission to Eerdman's goal, these are goals I could have year round--and that's fine with me.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Poetry Monday: "Improbable Blessings"

Saturday morning I realized that I had written no poems for the week--my goal is to write 2 poems a week, usually on Tuesday and Thursday.  My plan has been to use the week-end to catch up, if necessary.

I was feeling a bit uninspired, a bit blah.  So I did what I normally do: I went to a few websites to see what other poets have been up to.

My favorite is Dave Bonta's Via Negativa site.  There I found Luisa Igloria's "What can you do with day old bread?"  It's so much more than a list of possibilities like feeding birds.  I thought of bread pudding.  I briefly wanted to be distracted from my writing blahs by making dessert.

Her poem was inspired by Dave Bonta's erasure poem, "Inner city" with these lines that felt evocative:

"in the city is a city missing bread
for the swan on the water"

I thought about feeding the birds with bread, and my brain went to our post-worship service practice of dumping consecrated wine in the butterfly garden at church and sprinkling crumbs of consecrated pita bread across the ground.  And finally, a poem was born.

I briefly worried that I'd already written something similar.  If so, I can't find that poem.  I did write a poem about consecrated wine going down the drain (see this post).

I sent the poem to Dave Bonta, and he published it on his site--to read it, go here.

And then, I went on to write another poem--my weekly quota in one day!  The second poem considers our current obsession with culling carbohydrates from our food intake--what does this mean for our sacramental practices?  How does it look to countries that are so parched from drought that nothing will grow in the dehydrated soil?

Here we are, at a new week.  Let me be on the lookout for poetry possibilities!

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Favorite Father Memories

Today I have fathers on the brain, as it is Father's Day.  I realize that I am fortunate.  My dad is still alive and healthy.  My dad didn't desert the family along the way.  My dad did the best job of fathering that he could do, and he was pretty good at it. 

Today I mourn with those who are not as lucky as I am.  I know far too many people who lost their fathers much too young.

But today I also celebrate all the ways that so many of us have experienced positive fatherhood.

I wrote my dad an e-mail this morning, with some of my favorite memories of our lives together.  Here's what I wrote:

--We went to Pigeon Forge to run a midnight race.  We returned and tried to keep ourselves awake until it as time to go to church--we listened to Chicago's 16 through headphones and played chess.
 
--I was being honored at a college convocation.  Mom was coming down.  You came too, as a surprise.  I remember pulling into the parking lot in Columbia to pick you up.  What a neat surprise.
 
--You and I went backpacking together near Charlottesville--probably during my 9th grade year of high school.
 
--When I was a vegetarian cooking dinners, I made some real clunkers--you never complained.
 
--You taught me to drive and you were always very calm.  I made a turn once without slowing down, and you said, "Next time you should use your brakes."
 
--You procured a microchip for a science fair project--I won honorable mention!  In 1979, that chip must have been very expensive, and you let me take it to school.
 
--When I was in 3rd grade, I really wanted a notebook at the Auburn U. at Montgomery bookstore, and you bought it for me.  I wrote my first stories in that notebook.
 
--You asked me to help you move furniture--thus, I never had the idea that I couldn't do something just because I was a girl.
 
--You taught me a lot about music, particularly classical and jazz.  But you weren't snooty.  I remember once at the beach, you whistled "Last Train to Clarksville" as you unloaded the groceries from the car.  When I asked you about it, you said, "It's my favorite Monkees song."  And you weren't being sarcastic.  It taught me that it's O.K. to have a wide variety of musical tastes.
 
--I remember many family camping trips--another great way to learn self-sufficiency.  And I learned a lot about the natural world and history because of our trips.
 
--I treasure the weeks at the beach as an extended family.  You always made family a priority, and it wasn't until I was a grown up that I realized how many dads didn't do that.
 
--You taught me about money, and not just about having a savings and checking account--although those are very important things that you taught me.  You also taught me about investing.
 
--You also taught me a lot about how to live a life that's in alignment with one's values.  We discussed things like giving money to the church, and about why we go to church. 

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Surreal Friday

When I think about the whole of yesterday, it seems a bit surreal.  Part by part, it seems like any other work day--what does that say about my life?

Usually the Friday after graduation is low key, but I have people to hire before our summer quarter starts July 11.  Since I knew it was likely to be low key, I scheduled interviews with job candidates for the morning and a dermatologist appointment for the afternoon.

The job interviews went very well--I started the hiring process for both candidates after the interviews.  Gone are the days when I'd just write an e-mail to HR, an e-mail to the new hire, and that would be mostly the process.  No, now there are background checks and drug checks and HR orientations--and it won't happen if there wasn't a job ad on the website and an application.  Gone are the days when I could just hire a person I knew professionally.  But happily, I do not have a requirement to interview x number of candidates.

Our process is laborious, and thus, I dread it.  I forget about the upside to hiring:  I might meet new people who are interesting and creative and enthusiastic about joining our school.  That was the case yesterday, and so I felt optimistic.

I went out into the stormy midday and headed out to the dermatologist's office.  It didn't take me as long to get there as I thought it might, and I had some time to wait before they were ready.  Lo and behold, a long-time poet friend was also waiting, and we had some time to catch up in the deserted waiting room.  What are the odds of that?

I go to the dermatologist at least once a year, and usually, I have a spot or two that I mention to the doctor.  This year, I've been worried about a spot on my nose.  It's not a very visible spot, but it doesn't go away, and occasionally it bleeds.  I expected the dermatologist to say, "Of course it bleeds.  Quit picking at it.  It's a pimple."
 
He looked and said, "Yep.  Looks like a basal cell.  We'll do a biopsy to be sure."
 
He looked over the rest of me--no other spots--hurrah.
 
And then he did the biopsy.  Having novacaine injected into the nose is no fun.  And it felt really strange for the hour or two afterward.
 
If the biopsy comes back as cancer, I go back, and the doctor takes out more tissue, just to be sure.  He expects a small scar, not like the other scars from my skin cancers.  It's in the place in my nose near the opening, where it flares out a bit into the wider part of the nostril--I'm hoping it wouldn't be too visible.
 
He said, "You can have a plastic surgeon do it, but there's no guarantee that it would be any better."
 
Besides, it would be a small scar.  No need for a plastic surgeon with this one.
 
So, last year's spot was an age spot, and this year's is likely a basal cell.  Sigh.
 
Perhaps it's time to start looking for a hat--I spray my face with sunscreen, but I probably need the backup protection of a hat.
 
I left the doctor's office with a numb nose and a bandaid.  As the novacaine wore off, my nose felt odd, like whisps of hairs were stuck to the bandaid.  When I got home for work, I took the bandaid off--the wound is not too ugly, a small circle of a scab.
 
In the evening, we had a delicious burger plus a spinach salad with steak tips--beef heavy dinner but delicious, especially for a day when I hadn't eaten much.  We don't usually run errands on Friday nights--we're both too exhausted--but we needed to get pool supplies, so off we went.
 
We ended the day in the pool.  I watched the light drain slowly from the sky and said a prayer of thanks for all the blessings of the day, especially for cancers that are small and treatable.