Monday, July 28, 2014

Social Justice Coffee Hour

I've been part of Bread for the World since the 80's.  I like their vision of social justice and the way the group operates.  I like their ecumenical, non-partisan focus on making sure the world gets fed.

A side note:  it's interesting to ponder that during my lifetime thus far, we could actually feed the world; the problem is food distribution, not food production.  And during my lifetime, that could change as climate change wreaks havoc with our planet.

Two weeks ago, I got an e-mail from the southeast coordinator of donor relations for Bread for the World.  He was going to be in town and wondered if we could meet.

I thought about my schedule.  It was one of the busiest weeks, with lots of faculty observations and faculty files needing to be completed by the end of the week.  I just wasn't sure that I could find even the tiniest hole.  My schedule before the busy week was so busy that I didn't even respond to his e-mail.

A week ago, I got home to find a phone message from Bread for the World.  It was only Monday, and already my week felt overwhelming.

But as I slept, I dreamed about my calendar and phone messages and making some time.  I woke up, wondering why my subconscious didn't come up with more inventive dreams, something that involved flying or being able to swim underwater with gills.  But I went back to the e-mail and realized that the Bread for the World coordinator would be in town through Friday.  I did have a window on Friday morning.  My window matched his window.

We met at a Panera.  We had coffee and talked about the work the group has done and about the political situation both in South Florida and across the nation.  We talked about the group's vision for the future, which still revolves around eliminating hunger across the globe.

I had thought about avoiding a face-to-face meeting because I was afraid I'd be asked for money, and I don't have much extra to give.  But the issue of money never came up.

We did talk about time and organizing alongside others.  We talked about my writing and how I might help.  Yes, these things I can do.  I did caution, "I will not be one of those people at a political rally yelling in the back of the room.  But I am willing to ask questions at a microphone."

I got back to my office to find an urgent e-mail from the organization asking me to call my representative, which I did.  I'm lucky, in that she often votes the way I'd like her to, but it never hurts for our senators and representatives to hear from us. 

Our coffee meet-up was only an hour, but it might have been the best hour of my week.  It was great to be reminded of what a group of concerned citizens can do.   I'm glad I said yes to the invitation.

I need to remember to say yes more often.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Creativity: July Progress Report

Good news and less good news on the writing front:  I've been successful with my goal of working on my memoir 3-4 days a week.  I've rediscovered the joy of crafting blog posts into essays, especially blog posts that approach the same topic from different angles.

The bad news?  I haven't been writing poems much during July.  My goal is to write a poem a week, which should be doable.

Of course, it's also been an intense July at work.  Since I've gotten so much of the work of the quarter done in a single week (gasp!), maybe I'll have more time in August.

And of course, July isn't over yet, is it?

And let me give myself credit for other creativity.  I've done a quick quilting project.  I've written numerous blog posts, some of them for pay.  I've sent out some poetry packets and gotten 4 poems accepted.  I've continued to network with other artists.

We were in a group that was coming up with great book titles.  Here's one:  It's Hard to Be a Goddess in the Corporate World.  One of us thought that was too long and voted for Goddess in the Corporate World.

I've been wondering about this as an alternate title for my memoir.  I had been circling around Monk or Marxist.  But the artist friend I was chatting with vetoed that title.  She much preferred Goddess in the Corporate World.  Let me continue to think.

Today I'm going to Michaels.  I have a variety of items to buy.  I'd like a small sketchbook.  I'd like to keep more of a daily log, as Austin Kleon recommends in Steal Like an Artist (see this post for more on that with pictures of his logbook).  The log would track what I actually did in a day, more in terms of creative projects than anything else.  I'd also like to sketch more and do a gratitude list.  And I'd like to get back to keeping track of what books I'm reading.  And my exercise.

What else?  Maybe the weather?  Why not?

I like what he says about the value of keeping a list:  "But more importantly, keeping a simple list of who/what/where means I write down events that seem mundane at the time, but later on help paint a better portrait of the day, or even become more significant over time. By “sticking to the facts” I don’t pre-judge what was important or what wasn’t, I just write it down."

And it's all in one place, unlike the various other places where I'm recording my life.  I worry about what I'm not writing down in my blog, in the My Fitness Pal site.

Let me see what happens.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Modern Food: A Report from the Grocery Store

Yesterday, I went to the grocery store in search of a big watermelon, but I wasn't sure I'd be successful--or that I'd want to pay.  A few years ago, I saw big watermelons for $25.

Yes, $25--that's ridiculous.  I thought of past decades where I could get similar watermelons for less than five dollars.   I thought of the pick up trucks loaded with melons that I used to see on the country roads of South Carolina.  Had there been some kind of watermelon blight?

Happily, yesterday I was more successful.  I got a fairly large melon for $6.95.  Still a bit much, I thought, but I wanted a watermelon that could feed a crowd.

I noticed it was seed-free, so I looked for the regular variety.  Nope, nothing.  I noticed that there were 7 big watermelons and 2 of them looked strangely pale.

My experience makes me want to go to other grocery stores.  Do any of them carry a variety of watermelons?  Or do so  many of us buy the smaller melons that stores have stopped carrying them?  Or is it a situation unique to South Florida?

There were very few melons at all, of any kind--more cut up melons in plastic containers of all sizes than whole melons.  Hmmm. 

I'm not surprised, of course.  When I'm shopping for just my household, I often buy the packaged melons.  I'm just a bit sad that the other options seem to be going away.

I was also shopping for a pasta salad, and I know that at least one person isn't eating gluten.  I thought I'd see if the store carried gluten-free pasta.

Well, not only do they carry gluten-free pasta, but also whole wheat, hidden veggie, multi-grain--and that's in addition to the wide variety of regular pasta.  And the store carries "fresh" pasta too.

We live in amazing times, in so many ways.  I can get a variety of pastas from Italy--but I can't seem to get a watermelon with seeds that I know grow in fields in counties all around me.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Grace Notes in a Week of a Crucifixion of Forms

It's been a wearying work week.  I had anticipated taking 6-8 weeks to complete a project that requires assembling faculty files.  For a variety of reasons, this week I found myself needing to do all the work in one week.

It sounds like it should be simple--just put the files together, right?  But it required faculty to complete several forms, to put the same information into a variety of formats, and to assemble documentation.  It's required lots and lots of photocopying.  Along the way, I have heard a variety of complaints about the forms and how we could make them better.  At one point, I heard myself say, "We are not tasked with creating a better form.  We are tasked with filling in the forms we have."

More than once I have thought of one of my own poems, "Conducting a Performance Review on the Feast of the Ascension."  It begins this way:

I have wrestled
with these forms—a modern
crucifixion—for over forty
days.  I spend more time
trying to coerce
the software into cooperation
than I do in assessment
of employee performance.

But let me also take note of a week of grace.  Because of the new timeline, I had to do teaching observations of two-thirds of my faculty.  It was a grueling schedule, yes.  But it was also wonderful to be reminded that while I'm wrestling with forms and copy machines, important work is being done in the classroom.

It was also fascinating to see so many classes in action in one week.  I saw threads winding their way through the classes.  I saw how one class informs another class, and how some students do retain this information and apply it in multiple subjects.  For example, I heard one student bring up the concept of the sublime in a conversation about mythology and Freud and Lacan.

This happened in a first year literature class.

The students weren't grad students studying Philosophy or undergraduate Psych majors.  No, they were your typical first year students.

Yes, typical.  I've taught in a variety of places, and I'm certain that there are more similarities between most first year students than differences.  I haven't worked at Ivy League institutions, I will admit.  But I've worked with students who come from a background of privilege and those who fled for their lives from repressive regimes--there are more similarities than differences.  I've worked with students who come from good school districts and those who come from some of the worst in the country--there are more similarities than differences.

It was good to remember that fact.  It was very nourishing for me to see that such good work is going on all around me.  It gave me hope that although I sometimes cannot perceive it, perhaps my own work supports the more essential work of the department.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

The Restorative Joys of Quilting

I came home last night simply exhausted.  I am doing the work of what I thought I'd have 6-8 weeks to do in 1-2 weeks.  It's good to get it done, but it involves a multitude of forms and lots of information needed from a variety of personalities.

I came home thinking about how to recover.  I could go for an evening swim.  I could collapse on the sofa.  I could watch TV.  I brought home the movie Gravity.

In the end, I worked on my time-sensitive quilting project and watched the movie.  I must confess, I switched between it and reruns of Modern Family.  I fast-forwarded through some of the parts of floating through space.  There seemed to be huge swaths of floating through space.

It's my fault.  It's probably better on the big screen.  I was warned.  Happily, I checked it out from the library.

I finished my quilting project and looked up hours later to find myself restored. 

And before we get too far away from Sunday, let me record a joy. 

On Sunday, I took the project to church.  After the intergenerational service, I stretched it out on one of the tables to be able to cut and pin without having to be on my hands and knees.  Several girls came over and offered to help.  They asked me questions about quilting, and I gave a quick overview.

I offered to teach them more at a later point.  One girl said, "I've got nothing planned for today."  But alas, I didn't anticipate their interest, and so I had no supplies.

Still, I let them pluck pins out of a box and "help" pin the fabric.  I talked about the prayer shawl ministry and why quilts and blankets are such a comfort.  I talked about small pieces making bigger pieces.  I resisted giving a quick history lesson.

How I love quilting, one of the art forms that truly began in the U.S.  I love an art form born out of adversity, like the lack of cloth, that shows such cleverness and thrift.  I admire all the ways that humans have reinvented the form.

We'll be quilting again at my church.  We've got a day of service projects planned on September 7, and we'll be making at least one quilt for Lutheran World Relief.  Maybe we'll gather once a quarter to work on quilts.

Maybe I'll make a quilt kit for the girls who helped me on Sunday.  They wanted to make quilts for their dolls.  I was so thrilled that children still played with dolls--and that they want to make things for them!  I left feeling happy in so many ways.

Ah, quilting:  so restorative in so many ways.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Protection and Safety

I was looking through photos from our sailing trip, and I came across one of a child wearing swim gear.  Those of us who are older may envision a swimsuit, maybe some sunscreen.

Oh no.  Children swim almost fully clothed these days.  There's a long-sleeved swim shirt to go with swim shorts.  On our recent trip, I saw swimming children with headgear.  The hat fully covered the head and forehead, with a bill, and flaps that covered the neck.  The children's exposed skin was slathered with sunscreen.

I've already had 3 skin cancers removed, so I do understand the dangers of the sun and how those dangers accumulate across a lifetime of exposure.  But I also wonder if we get so focused on some dangers that we forget to think about others.

Later on our trip, I saw those same children scampering on the side of a sailboat--no life jacket or personal flotation device.  I asked the father if the children could swim--no.

Earlier in the day, the parents had been more cautious.  But as they grew comfortable on the boat, they let the children remove the PFD as long as they kept their feet on the cockpit.  And then, it was only a matter of time before they relaxed that rule.

Which poses more danger to a child, sunlight or drowning?

But I am not a parent, and I'm not as interested in these issues as I might appear.  I'm really looking at the metaphor.

In our own creative lives, where do we need more protection?  Are we so focused on protecting ourselves in one way that we fail to see other dangers?  What are the best practices that we should be adopting?  Where have we gone slightly overboard?

I started thinking about swim gear as metaphor before the North Carolina Poet Laureate was chosen and then stepped down.  I have hesitated to comment, but I found myself disheartened by all of it.  Part of me was rooting for the less-experienced laureate, but I certainly understood her desire to remove herself from the meanness.  What ugly, ugly things people said about her.

I also see it through a lens of gender.  The ugliest things I saw were written by males.

And if I'm being honest, I thought about myself.  What if I had had a great turn of luck and gotten an honor?  People might have pointed to my lack of a book with a spine.  People might have said, "She has a Ph.D., not an MFA.  She writes about literature, not writing literature.  She's a nice lady poet, not a muscular poet, like we like.  She's much too accessible."

It takes me back to a comment that I got on a rejection slip years ago:  "Well, your poems certainly are accessible."  I heard the sneering tone.

And so, I wrote a poem.  I've posted it before, but I'll post it again.  This poem was first published in The Xavier Review, and was reprinted in The Worcester Review.


He says the poems are accessible,
as if it is a bad thing, as if loose
limbed poems spread open their legs
to anyone who gives them a glance.
Those poems don’t even demand drinks
and dinner first. Slutty poems. Ruint.

Perhaps he wants a sulky
poem, one that lets itself be petted, who pretends
to like him, but always holds a part
of itself back while he tortures
himself with evidence of his poem’s infidelities:
other people, plainer than him, who profess
to understand this poem when he cannot.

Perhaps he prefers poems that ignore
laws of accessibility, that barricade themselves behind bars
and up stairs and through perilous mazes.
After tunneling through to the heart
of the poem, he’s so disoriented
that he can’t hold his head upright.

Better yet, poems that speak a language
of their own creation; only a very
few in the world understand how the words
are strung together in this idiom.
Instead of seeing it for the dying language
that it is, he proclaims its linguistic
complexity and pretends to understand.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Haunted by History: A Floral Cure

Yesterday before spin class, we were talking about Russia and the commercial airliner shot down over Ukraine.  I said to the spin instructor, "You should have brought that 80's CD; it could have been the Return to the Cold War ride."

We're all older, so we laughed.  But I've been thinking about the similarities.  I remember in 1983 when the USSR shot down a Korean plane.  I remember the escalation of tensions; it felt like we all held our breath to see what would happen.

It seemed we all held our breath a lot during much of the 1980's.

I think of the flare-up of tensions between Israel and Palestinians; it's happening now, and it was happening then.  I think of Syria melting down into an unrecognizable state--lots of Cold War parallels there.

Lots of people wring their hands and insist that times are worse now.  That's both true and not true.  As a reader of history, I do know how quickly these flare-ups can turn into conflagrations that consume a whole generation (see World War I, World War II).  I feel edgy for that reason.

Maybe I should adopt Rachel's solution of being careful about exposure to news and social media; before she decided to take a break from the Internet, she wrote this wonderful post.

I like Beth's approach to this tension in this blog post.  I like the posting of picture of a bouquet of flowers, the acknowledgement that we will always be mourning the lost.  She gives us a quote from an ancient text:

And some there be, which have no memorial;
who are perished as though they had never been...
Ecclesiasticus 44:9

I like that she gives us beauty with the sorrow. 

And so, I, too shall post some pictures.

I don't have any bouquets, but I have seen beautiful flowers lately. 

These flowers are from our time in Maryland, at a marina in Deale.

I'm amazed that the marina takes the time to plant such lovely gardens at a facility whose sole purpose is to exist so that boats can leave.

Of course those boats do come back.  The flowers make it feel like a home, or the home I like to think I would have, if I had time to tend extensive gardens on a huge plot of land.