Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Visualizations, Then and Now

This morning, I read this wonderful interview with Sandra Beasley about writing residencies.  In my younger years it would have filled me with yearning to find a residency to call my own.  Now that I am older, I am grateful to be able to find an afternoon when I can leave an hour earlier than usual, which is my scheduled going-home time.  I'm still not sure what my new professional life will look like when our accreditation visit is over, but right now, I can't imagine finding time off for the kinds of residencies Beasley describes.

But still, a girl can dream!  And that brings me to the real topic of this post:  the way that I once yearned and hoped, and the way I need to remember to do that again.

Let's go back twenty years.  I had started writing poetry again in 1995, and by 1997, I felt I had some good material.  I started sending packets of poetry to various journals, the way I had been doing before grad school sapped me of time, money, and courage.  I felt like I was returning to my true writer self, and I was so happy to find her again.

But at the same time, I had a larger vision:  a book at some point, maybe a job that contained more teaching of creative writing than composition.  Back in those days, I would spin scenarios in my head to help me fall asleep (unlike today, when I can barely stay awake long enough to get my head to the pillow).  That year, I started visualizing myself at a future book reading, being invited to be the poet in residence at a school, holding the first book in my hand.  They were pleasant thoughts with which to fill my head, but as I look back, I see larger forces at work.

In those years, I sent out more submission packets than I have in years since--and subsequently, I got more acceptances, including my first chapbook.  Perhaps it's time to return to that question of what I'd like to see myself accomplishing in terms of my writing, and rehearsing it in my head.

But first, I think I'll visualize celebrating once the upcoming accreditation visit is done.  A month from today, our visit will be drawing to a close.  Let me imagine this scenario:  it won't be a perfect visit, where the accrediting team says, "You're perfect.  Keep doing what you're doing."  Accreditation visits never end that way.

But let me visualize that the findings are minor, leaving us to work on issues that we have already targeted as ones we want to fix.  Let me visualize that last meeting, handshakes all around, smiles upon a successful visit.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Spring Living on the Porch

We have been enjoying lots of time on the porch, and lately, my enjoyment has been shaped by knowing that our days on the porch will soon be coming to a close.  As the weather gets warmer, we'll shift to the backyard to spend more time in the pool.

But for now, the pool water is still a tad too cool, and life on the porch is still lovely; it won't be later, when the winds die down and the air feels more oppressive.

For now, I can still enjoy the beautiful petunias I bought two weeks ago:

On Saturday, we did a wine tasting:

On Friday, I had bought wine that was a bit more than I normally spend:  $20 a bottle for The Riddler (all the way to the right).  With my first sip, I thought, hmm, I don't like this any better than I do 19 Crimes ($7.97 a bottle at Total Wine, second to left).  On Saturday, I thought it might be fun to do a tasting, and since I had a coupon to use, off I went to Total Wine.

We had a bit of really cheap wine left, the Charles Shaw from Trader Joe's ($2.97 a bottle on the left).  I bought a bottle of Josh ($10.97), for the sake of comparison.  And then, we tasted.

My spouse says that The Riddler was more balanced.  I honestly couldn't tell much difference unless I concentrated.  I could tell the difference between the cheap wine and the rest.  But I'll stick with 19 Crimes.

Yes, it was a lovely week-end--here's to many more, whether on the porch or in the pool!

Sunday, March 26, 2017

A Wonderful Writing Day with Correspondences

Yesterday morning, I wrote a blog post about waking up very early (2 a.m.) and never getting back to sleep--but writing was my reward.   Later in the day, I took a picture of the tree that inspired the Annunciation poem that came to me:

Look at the two browner fronds at the bottom, closest to the trunk--don't they look like a pair of wings?

I wrote this poem:

In the early hours of this feast
day of the Annunciation, I listen
for God’s invitation, but all I hear
is the roar of a motorcycle speeding
away after last call.  The rustle
of the palm fronds in the wind,
the only angel wings today,
as I lay enfolded in the arms
of my beloved of thirty years.

As I wrote the poem, I thought about Beth Adams and the book on the Annunciation that she put together.  I decided to send her an e-mail with the poem.  My e-mail ended this way:  "I don't like it [the poem] as much as the one I wrote for your collection, but as I wrote it, I thought of you and all the various approaches to the Annunciation, so I thought I'd share it with you.  Wishing you many blessings on this feast day!"

She wrote back to tell me that she was touched by my sending the poem to her, and she wrote a bit about Mary, about the way that the Virgin Mary was more present in Mexico City, from where she had just returned from a yearly sojourn.  She talked about the little shrines to the Virgin that she saw in Mexico and that she had once seen in the countryside of Quebec, but didn't anymore.  I thought about some of the shrines that I've seen here in people's yards, something that I never saw in other parts of the U.S. South where I've lived.

Later in the day, Beth sent me a meditation that she'd sent to the group doing a quiet retreat at the Cathedral where she worships.  She included my poem, which, along with the rest of her writing, moved me deeply.  In both her e-mail to me and her meditation that she sent to the participants, she talks about finding the presence of God in the ordinariness of life.  And she perceived my intention with the use of the word Beloved, that it can mean a human who holds us, but it also means the larger God who always enfolds us in love and grace, freely given.

I spent some time with her meditation and some time thinking about Mary and my relationship with her.  When I was in college in the 80's, the issue of Mary made me angry, like the patriarchal church thought it had done its job by venerating Mary, and now it could go on celebrating the maleness that it wanted to focus upon.  But in my later years, I see so many more nuances, both negative and positive.

It was a wonderful way to spend a feast day:  early morning meditation/writing time, corresponding with a friend, exchanging more ideas, and inspiring each other.  I feel so lucky to live in this time where technology enables all of this to happen in close to real time, so that this nourishment occurs on the actual feast day, not as we exchange letters through the paper mail system.

I also corresponded with my grad school friends, upon realizing via Wendy's comment on yesterday's blog that I had gotten my King Henrys and my Thomases mixed up.  I wrote "I thought of Thomas a Becket as the priest who stood up to Henry VIII. How strange is that?"  My friend wrote back,

Well, you only missed by a few extra letters after Henry's name...🙂
And they both wound up dead thanks to a Henry.

Later, in a Facebook comment, my grad school friend corresponded with Wendy and me.  Wendy wrote "I am now thinking about all the Thomases in my Medieval/Renaissance oeuvre. Thomas More, Thomas a Becket, Thomas Cranmer, Thomas Cromwell, and of the immortalization of A Becket by another Thomas, Thomas Stearns Eliot. That's a lot of Thomases. I wonder what that says about naming and doubting and historic/literary echoes. Might be a blog post, but posting on my blog might take a resurrection of some sort. I, too, am a doubting Thomas."

I wrote, "I hope for daily resurrection--for myself, for all the blogs that are so silent, for our hurting world, for all of us . . . I love the idea of all the Thomases"

My grad school friend wrote:  "Looking at this list of Thomasas, I'd say that was a pretty dangerous name to have before the 17th century. It seems to guarantee a hideous death by warrant of the sovereign."

I thought of how wondrous it is that we know each other in all sorts of ways now.  I know Wendy through blogging, but we've never met in "real life," however we define it these days.

I also spent some Facebook time with a different group of writer friends talking about southernness and ethnic identity.  It took me back to the time when I first arrived in South Florida in 1998.  I wrote, "When I first moved to southeast Florida in 1998, I used the term "southern" to mean U.S. southeast southern, Flannery O'Connor southern. I had several years of students from places far further south who engaged me in the use of this term, including one student an older adult, who argued that my use was insulting to people in South America. I don't know that I agree, but I have trained myself to change my language, just in case, and also to be more sensitive. Once challenged by my Latin American students, I couldn't use the term the same way."
We had an interesting discussion about whether or not a Cuban is Caucasian. I wrote, "But there is an outsiderhood, an exile status, but also an outsiderhood that could be hidden, if one wanted to pass. I'll go ahead and post this, with apologies if I'm going off track here."
I also wrote about Natasha Trethewey, "I know that Natasha Trethewey has been mentioned, but I wanted to mention her again--she does amazing work exploring the issue of race in both the modern U.S. south and past centuries--if I had to choose just one poet in this particular area, she would be my choice. As someone who has lived in the U.S. South my whole life, her poems make me gasp with new recognitions and connections."
The ongoing conversation and listing of poets was amazing, in its way--that quick assembly of poet possibilities, that discussion amongst far flung people. 
It was a wonderful day, with writing weaving its way through the hours in such nourishing ways.  It's one of the joys of technology, the way it connects us, the way that I can have these conversations even when we're not in the same geographical area.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

How to Spend a Sleepless Night

Today is the feast day of the Annunciation, the day that the Angel Gabriel appears to Mary--9 months later, it's Christmas!

O.K. that's a rather flippant way to start a blog post.  Forgive me.  I've been awake since before 2 a.m. when I decided to give up on sleep coming back to me.

One advantage to being awake this early:  I've gotten some writing done!  I had been writing a story in the voice of an HR director, and I wasn't quite sure where to go with it.  At some point this week, it came to me--so I wrote for a bit, and tried to sleep again.  It was a windy night, part of why I had trouble sleeping.  I watched the wind whip the palm fronds to and fro, and I thought of angel wings and the feast day of the Annunciation.  A poem came to me, and my hip started to ache, and I knew that sleep would not be coming.

Up again:  got the poem written, the story further along, e-mails from my students answered.  I decided not to do grading--plenty of time for that while I was awake in the wee small hours of the morning. The writing was just going so well that I kept going.  I don't have those kinds of writing times often.  I'm stealing a bit of time here or there or I write out the next scene and then can't decide what to do next.  This morning, all the cylinders were firing, despite the fact that this has been a low-sleep week.

I always have fun with names, although these days I'm more subtle than in my younger years.  This morning, I figured out a last name for the Sociology professor who doesn't believe that an educator should have to be part of modern school nonsense, like planning student appreciation events.  She wants to preserve the way that higher ed has been. 

I was thinking of Oliver Cromwell, which led me to Thomas Cromwell, which made me think about Thomas a Becket, the priest who tried to stand in the way of Henry VIII's protestant reformations--and thus, the name for the character:  Dr. Becket.

I also like the echo of Samuel Beckett, since the story also has some observations about the theatre of the absurd that a school will occasionally resemble.

I figured out how to get to the end of the story, although I'm not there yet.  I haven't had that piece before today.  Hurrah!

My spouse is off on a motorcycle ride with his brother, so maybe I will get some more writing done.  I decided not to go--too windy, and I have too much to do.  Plus, I just don't have much free time--spending a huge chunk of time that a motorcycle ride would take just didn't appeal to me.  But I'm glad that he decided to go.

It's strange to have been up so long, with the day still stretching before me.  It's likely one of the reasons I sometimes have trouble sleeping--I love the feeling of a longer day, especially when I can fill it with writing and other joys.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Poetry of Exiles and Domesticity

--Are we marooned or have we arrived?  Or both?  Odysseus thoughts, listening to this episode of On Point that explores the poetry of Derek Walcott, who died a week ago.  Interesting to hear one of the guests say that Walcott never finished The Odyssey, but rewrote it anyway.

--My poetry this morning is not likely to be so lofty--I had a vision of giving the stray kitten milk in a saucer from my grandmother's china.  My grandmother would be horrified at the thought.  She was a shooer of cats, using a broom if necessary.

--And yet, I'm happy to be writing a poem this morning.  This week has been one of long days at work, leaving me tired.  And yet, it's also the kind of week where I'm grateful to sleep until 3 or 4, not 1 or 2.  One of life's mysteries:  how can I be so tired yet unable to sleep?

--I read Billy Collins last night before I went to bed.  Perhaps that explains the domesticity of my poem.  Perhaps all of my poems have transitioned to a domesticity that I don't always recognize.

--My poem ends with the main character reading the poetry of exiles on the porch while the stray kitten laps milk out of the grandmother's china saucer.  I was not expecting the bit about the poetry of exiles.  I love a poetry writing session where something unexpected noses its way in.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Let Us Eat Cake

My left foot is sore and tender this morning.  I spent much of yesterday on my feet, so perhaps it shouldn't be a surprise.  It was a surprise to spend so much time on my feet.  I spend most days at work having to remind myself to get up and move occasionally; yesterday made up for at least several of those sedentary days.

We had a corporate team on campus to look at our files and documents that we're preparing for our accreditation visit.  As a result, I spent a lot of time going back and forth between my office and the conference room to get items requested.

In between, we had a birthday cake.  "We have a lot of cake here," said one of my colleagues to a woman who just started her job with us two weeks ago.

I said, "I’ve eaten more birthday cake since I started this job than I’ve eaten in all of my adult years put together.”  That's not exactly true--my last workplace celebrated birthdays too, but only of the academic management team, so we had less cake.

It is good to be at a place with cake, although I should get up and move more often--having days more like yesterday--if I'm going to eat that cake.

I thought about how much I like my current workplace and colleagues, and how lucky I am.  As the day moved along, I thought about a possible short story, for my group of short stories that revolve around the people at a for-profit arts college.  It would be the last story, titled "The Afterlife," and it might be a collection of nuggets from people who have moved on from the school. And then, at night, I thought of the endings of classic books, something along the lines of “And I alone survived to tell the tale.” I thought of Emily from Our Town, and of all the plotlines that have characters returning from death, so desperate are they to see their loved ones again, only to discover that once they’ve crossed over, they can’t really get back through the glass that separates the living and the dead.

This morning I played a bit with that idea, but I'm very early in the process.  Still, it's wonderful to keep getting ideas--even as I do wonder how I'll know when I'm done with the collection.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Everything Old Is New Again

Last night, we watched a PBS documentary on Dorothea Lange.  It was a wonderful program.  As always, I was intrigued by the process of an artist.  As with many artists, she found fellow travelers.  One of the men she married was a painter.  Eventually, she divorced him to marry an economist, which intrigued me, given the subject matter of her photographs for which she is most well known.

Her photos, so iconic, seemed fresh to me--and much like the dystopian novels I've been rereading, sort of a scary alternate future, while also being so rooted in the Depression.  Talk on Saturday amongst educated people at my house focused briefly on whether or not we're headed for another market crash.  One friend talked about the stock market, while I'm a bit worried about the housing market down here in southeast Florida.

On Monday, I read this story about U2's special tour to celebrate the 30 year anniversary of The Joshua Tree.  My first thought was, wow, it's been 30 years.  And then I thought about the themes of that album, themes that once again seem fresh.

Last week in this story on the sequel to Trainspotting, I heard director Danny Boyle say, "As an elder of these events, all I can do is — something that we do recommend in the film, which is one of the few compensations of aging — is the realization that time isn't a straight line, actually that it loops. It's one of the few consolations available, I have to warn everybody. It does begin to loop rather beautifully, . . ."

I'm not sure that Boyle meant this type of looping, a social justice looping, where problems and issues that we thought were settled suddenly flare back up.  I thought about the quote from one of the laborers in the camps where Lange took pictures:  "Root, hoe, or die."  I worry that many of us are headed back to that hardscrabble life.

I think about the civilians torn apart by war that The Joshua Tree documents in its own way.  Here too, I worry.

In whatever new reality is racing towards us, those of us who are creative may find we are more important than ever.  Here's a Lange quote to inspire us all:  “Seeing is more than a physiological phenomenon… We see not only with our eyes but with all that we are and all that our culture is. The artist is a professional see-er.”

In this time, in all times, it's important to document--in all sorts of ways--what's happening all around us.