Wednesday, December 7, 2016

A Publication Unusual for Me

It is a good thing that I don't work in a publish-or-perish job that relies on steady publication of my academic writing.  Of course, if I did, I would have more academic work circulating in the world.  If I did, I would have more academic writing to be in circulation.

Yesterday, we pulled a package out of the mailbox.  I knew it was a book, but not the batch I had ordered from Amazon.  The return address was vaguely familiar, but no one I knew well enough to be sending me a holiday gift.

Lo and behold, it was the collection of academic essays about female poets and myth, Women Versed in Myth, edited by Colleen S. Harris and Valerie Estelle Frankel, published by McFarland.  I have an essay in the book, and last night I opened my contributor's copy.  Better yet, I handed it to my spouse, who immediately read my essay and pronounced it good.

I tried to remember exactly when I wrote it--I knew it was several offices ago.  Luckily I have this blog, and I was finishing the essay exactly four years ago.  Several weeks after turning it in, I wrote this blog post about the process.

Later I would revise it.  I was surprised to find out how strict the laws are about what parts of poetry one can quote and one can't.  I thought that if I gave attribution, I could quote whatever I wanted.  I had to get permission from the publisher.  That included my poems, which I thought were mine.  Nope--once they're published, particularly in book form, they are no longer mine.

At one point, I rewrote the essay taking out all the direct quotes from the poems.  My first thought was that it couldn't be done.  But then I forced myself to work my way through the resistance, and I came up with a good version of the essay.  I sent the editor both versions and let her decide.

That, too, was several offices ago.  The book has had many delays in publication, and at times, I've wondered if it would ever be published.  I've been grateful that I didn't have tenure decisions awaiting this publication.  And even if the essay had never been published, I'd have been happy to have written it.

Still, it's wonderful to hold the book in my hand.  And this will likely be the last academic essay, at least for awhile.  I don't have much more material waiting in the files, and I don't have time or the academic library to do the research that would be necessary to do much more with writing/revising literary criticism, at least not right now.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

The Gifts of St. Nicholas and Others

Yesterday at work was the day to get back to the every day and every month work of running a school:  classes to think about staffing, a department chair to try to hire, faculty development trainings to schedule, faculty files to get into shape.

But it's December, and there was also a Secret Santa program offered.  I'm hoping to avoid that.  It seems Scrooge-like, I know.  And on the day before the feast day of Saint Nicholas.

I had a friend in grad school who celebrated Saint Nicholas Day by having each family member open one present on the night of Dec. 6. It was the first I had heard of the feast day, but I was enchanted.
Still, I don't do much with this feast day--if I had children or gift-giving friends, I might, but most years, I simply pause to remember the historical origins of the saint and the day.

It's always a bit of a surprise to realize that Saint Nicholas was a real person. But indeed he was. In the fourth century, he lived in Myra, then part of Greece, now part of Turkey; eventually, he became Bishop of Myra. He became known for his habit of gift giving and miracle working, although it's hard to know what really happened and what's become folklore. Some of his gift giving is minor, like leaving coins in shoes that were left out for him. Some were more major, like resurrecting three boys killed by a butcher.

My favorite story is the one of the poor man with three children who had no dowry for them.  No dowry meant no marriage, and so, they were going to have to become prostitutes. In the dead of night, Nicholas threw a bag of gold into the house. Some legends have that he left a bag of gold for each daughter that night, while some say that he gave the gold on successive nights, while some say that he gave the gold as each girl came to marrying age.

How did we get from these stories to our current Santa Clause?  The question that interests me more is how we got from these stories to Santa Clause to the current buying frenzies that consume many of our Christmases.

Last night, I got the kind of gift I much prefer.  We headed over to a friend's house where my spouse gives a violin lesson to the daughter, and then we linger for wine and cheese and other goodies.  We spend an hour or two catching up.  Last night was especially restorative.

This morning, I've had trouble sleeping.  I've been awake since 1:30.  But in a way, that was a gift too.  I had time to read and time to write--and it was productive!  It was so productive that I decided to postpone working on grading for my online classes.

Let me end with another little-known fact:  Saint Nicholas is also the patron saint of sailors, who used to leave each other by saying "May Saint Nicholas hold the tiller!"

Here's hoping that Saint Nicholas holds the tiller on whatever ships are bringing us joy this December.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Poetry Monday: "Exercising Freedom"

I've been looking at poems from past years that I wrote during Advent, about Advent, poems that explore holiday themes of all sorts.

This year, I wrote a different kind of Advent poem.  I had all sorts of imagery in my head:  thoughts of the recent election, refugees fleeing all sorts of horror, news of wildfires in the mountains of the U.S. south, this Adrienne Rich poem, and a variety of poems posted in mid-November on the Via Negativa site.

I wrestled with the title, as I often do.  Part of my problem is that I couldn't decide if I thought the poem was hopeful or not--it's both hopeful and doomed, and I like the fact that it can occupy both spaces at once--as is so often the case with so many of us and so many events.

This past week, as I've been reading Isaiah along with other Advent texts, I've thought about this poem, which I actually wrote the week before Thanksgiving, although Advent was already on my brain.  Are the voices of the ancestors these ancient prophets?  Perhaps.  Or maybe they are the apocalyptic novelists I've always loved.  Or maybe they are the social activists who have always inspired me.

Or maybe all of it.

Many thanks to Dave Bonta for including my poem on his Via Negativa site in this post.  I always love seeing how the poems on that site influence each other, and I'm grateful for the inspiration they give me.



Exercising Freedom

"We were always
Trying to run toward each other."
                        Luisa A. Igloria, “Landscape in an afterlife
Once again, you find yourself
on the old revolutionary road
with the houses that once hid
the asylum seekers.

The long road stretches
before you, overgrown
with brambles and struggling seedlings.
You see the fires
ahead, burning cities
or perhaps the lights
of fellow travelers.
Smoke hides the mountains.

The road is lined
with the suitcases of immigrants
who abandoned all the essentials
they once lugged to a new country.

You have kept your treasures
sewn into your hemlines, heirloom
seeds and the small computer chip
that holds your freedom papers.
Your grandmother’s gold hoops dance
in your earlobes and twinkle
around your fingers.

You hear the voices of the ancestors,
colored with both reason and panic.
Go faster, they urge.
You are needed up ahead.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Insights from a Motorcycle Ride

I don't have much time to write this morning.  I'm in charge of all the church services this morning, including some breakfast, so soon I will make a mad dash to the grocery store, and then off to church!

But first, let me capture some thoughts about yesterday's motorcycle ride:

--It's been a time of less motorcycle riding for both of us.  Mistakes were made, but luckily, nothing drastic.  Still, it was not the relaxing ride of times past.

--Usually I like riding in a group, but yesterday was maddening.  We'd speed up, then slow down suddenly.  On and on it went like that.  Grr.

--It was windy.  Had my spouse not been looking forward to the ride, I'd have suggested that we cancel it--the winds were forecast to be 15-20 mph, and that's not fun on a bike.

--The ride took us through the Upper Keys, which was beautiful, as always.

--At times, I saw the new houses being built within yards of the Atlantic, with its hungry, hungry mouth.  I wondered what people were thinking.  I wondered how long they'd be able to insure their property.

--But then, I'd get the occasional view that made me remember the great beauty that surrounds these little islands.  That's why people continue to build there.

--I need to remember that when I feel stuck in my writing, I should just take a long ride, whether it's in the car or on a motorcycle.

--Just after Halloween, I started a short story with no real plan.  I just wanted to write down some thoughts about costumes.  Yesterday, I realized that I'm writing about one of the corporate women who comes down to make some important decisions about the school.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Writing the Apocalypse, Reading the Artistic Vision

Yesterday morning, I had a good writing morning, although I didn't actually write more than a few sentences.  My writing approach has changed, at least for fiction, and I'm trying to trust that it all works in the end, as it has been doing for over a year now.  I write a bit, process for days or a week, write a bit more, wait to receive more information, and so on.  This week has been a week of receiving lots of information about the character of my latest short story, along with ideas about how to use it.  I'm hopeful that I'll soon have time to write it all out.

As I was at spin class, I thought, wait, in October, I was thinking about a different story--oh no, I've lost it!  Something about an animation instructor, something about All Saints day, something about hospice chaplains and some sort of death that I hadn't fully figured out.  I got to the office and decided to read through my October posts on this blog.  Would I have written something that might trigger a memory?

Hurrah!  I did in this post--thank you October Kristin!  I read the post, and it all came back.

I spent much of yesterday immersed in a different writing task:  I've been writing up minutes of all of our accreditation document editing meetings.  Even though I was recycling chunks of writing, it still took time--along with the collating, along with the hole punching, along with the putting into binders.

It was the first time in what feels like weeks that I've had a bit of discretionary time in terms of administrator tasks--there's still much to be done, but it was good to have a day of deadlines met before moving on to the next set of deadlines that I bet are coming next week.

In the evening, I had some time to read.  I started with the Bruce Springsteen book that I've been reading for a few weeks.  And then, I did something I haven't been brave enough to do since the election:  I picked up Octavia Butler's Parable of the Sower.  In the book, I had written about the prescience of The Handmaid's Tale, He, She, and It, and the Butler book--Republican plans fully realized.

Are we standing at the precipice now?  In the Butler book, I had written a reference to the Contract with America--a huge agenda push that I barely remember now.  Will I feel the same way in 20 years about the fears we've had with a Trump presidency?

In 20 years, I'll be 71--that seems astonishing.  And yet, it seems like just yesterday that I settled in to read Parable of the Sower--which I consumed in one huge gulp--I had to know what would happen.  And that was over 20 years ago.

Last night, I flipped through the book, read a few passages, and returned to the Springsteen book.  I was at the part just before the finishing of Born to Run album.  It's interesting to read the book, knowing how it all turns out--reading the book reveals how much might have never happened if different artistic choices were made, if Springsteen had listened to one person's advice over another's.

I fell into a sleep of strange dreams, where I was writing accreditation documents and adjunct teacher Bruce Springsteen came to fill out some forms.  Today may seem just as surreal--it's a holiday motorcycle ride to support the POAT (Police Officers Assistance Trust) fund; it raises money, which helps officers and their families who need help for various reasons.  I like riding in a big group, especially with the police going along to stop traffic and give us the right of way.

I think the last time I was on the bike was for the May ride.  Today seems just as balmy--not exactly Christmasy, but I wouldn't be on a bike if it was cold.

We may end the day with a Candy Cane parade at the beach--or we may fall exhausted into bed early.  Here's hoping for good days for us all to give us sweet dreams tonight.

Friday, December 2, 2016

Friday Fragments: Advent Administrator Week

Despite long, long hours at the office, the week has zoomed by.  Some highlights:

--Last night, we took our Advent wreath to the front porch.  We lit the one candle along with some others in other candleholders.  My spouse played his violin, and I picked out chords on the ukulele, just as practice, not to play along.  I always love to see the pedestrians and cyclists, some of whom hurry along, others who look around to see what out-of-the-ordinary sound they're hearing.

--Several people now have thought my spouse is playing some kind of horn when they can't see his violin, but only hear it.  What kind of acoustics do we have on the porch?

--We came inside to watch the Charlie Brown Christmas show.  I always forget how moody and sad the show makes me.  I think of it as being composed of Linus reading the Gospel in its old-fashioned King James language--but that takes very little time.  I forget how much of the show is composed of everyone telling Charlie Brown how stupid he is. 

--Over Thanksgiving, I bought 2 tabletop trees for my office.  I have not seen any other types of holiday decorations in my new office complex apart from trees and plastic winter greenery.  No menorahs, no nod towards other holiday celebrations.

--I can now tell who has done accreditation work in the past and who has not.  The ones who have not are the ones who wail, "But I already wrote it that way--why do I have to write it again???!!!"  Others, like me, just write new chunks of text.  I remind myself not to spend too much time revising, since the text I'm working on may disappear with the next version.

--I'm also the only one on my campus who has had as much grad school as I have had--another factor in my ability to get work done on accreditation documents.  It's not the training my professors may have thought they were giving me, but there it is.

--I think back to grad school, when I said that I didn't want a tenure track job with its publish-or-perish expectations.  I wanted to do real writing, writing that would change the world.  Back then, I thought that poetry or fiction could change the world, if enough readers came to my writing, and I knew that scholarly writing usually got about 28 readers.

--Back then, I didn't know a single thing about accreditation writing.  It occurs to me that I have spent much of my professional life writing documents that are life-changing for students, even if they don't know it.  Yes, I'm casting accreditation documents in that light:  no accreditation, no degrees.  This writing matters, even if it's not the kind of writing that I thought I would be doing.

--At the start of the week, when I still had so much writing and revising to do, I saw a rainbow on my way to work--well, more like a rain column, since the colors didn't arc across the sky.  I still took it as a good sign.  I thought of all the stories of rainbows from my childhood churches.  We were taught that the rainbow should remind us that we will be safe from destruction.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Eyes on the Prize, Hands on the Plow

In these days of so many of us fretting over the future of the nation, let us take a pause to remember what ordinary citizens can do.  Today, December 1, gives us 2 movements to celebrate.

On this day in in 1955, Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on the bus to a white passenger. This act is often given credit for launching the Civil Rights Movement, but what many forget is that various communities had begun planning for the launch, even before they could see or know what it would look like.  This liberation work had been going on since the end of the Civil War, and before, during the times of slavery.

For generations, people had prepared for just such a moment that Rosa Parks gave them. They had gotten training in nonviolent resistance. They had come together in community in a variety of ways. They were prepared.

And in this way, a group of ordinary people made the arc of history bend towards justice.  We should take heart from their example.  Those Civil Rights workers faced much steeper odds than we face.

In these days of dead dictators (I'm thinking of Fidel Castro) and the distress that so many of us feel over the current state of politics--and the temptation to romanticize past decades--let us also remember that  today is also World Aids Day, a somber day that recognizes that this plague has been one of the most destructive diseases in human history. Let us remember another band of activists who worked hard to make sure that humanity vanquished this disease--I'm thinking of ACT UP, but AIDS united many groups that might not have otherwise found a common cause.

Many people idolize Ronald Reagan, but I will never be able to forget how he refused to take leadership as this disease emerged.  I am haunted by all the lives lost, and perhaps needlessly--if only . . . but history is so full of this needless loss.

It's easy to get bogged down in despair; we have survived earlier dark days, and we will survive any darkness coming our way too.

We can't know how long the struggle might be. Those of us who work towards social justice and human dignity for all are similar to those medieval builders of cathedral: we may not be around to see the magnificent completion of our vision, but it's important to play our part. In the words of that old Gospel song, we keep our eyes on the prize, our hands on the plow, and hold on.