Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Nancy Drew and the Mystery of the Pre-Drop Outs

Once again, I look at my purple poetry legal pad, and I am appalled--can I really not have written anything since Oct. 4?

Well, of course I've written something:  responses to student writing, blog posts, and more e-mails than I can count.  But no poems.

A few weeks ago, in this blog post, I read a poem written by Jeannine Hall Gailey, a poem which features Nancy Drew.  Throughout the years, I've been writing poems about fictional characters in their older ages (for example, see this blog post to see what happens to Scout of To Kill a Mockingbird).   What would happen to Nancy Drew in her later years?

A few years ago, I wrote a poem about Ebeneezer Scrooge as an adjunct professor--I thought I might send Nancy Drew back to the classroom.

This morning, I sat down to write, and the pieces snapped into place.  Nancy Drew wouldn't be teaching college.  She'd have had a teacher's certificate from pre-feminist days.  And they'd let her teach the kids that were headed to juvenile jails and drop out land--who cares about those kids?

I thought about a friend's experience teaching those kinds of kids.  She was allowed to do basically whatever she wanted, to abandon textbooks and to teach whatever came to her, so long as she kept the kids from hurting each other or the other children in the school.

I thought about Nancy Drew's friends, Bess and George--what happened to them?  Could they help Nancy Drew solve the mystery of how to reach these students?

Of course!  Bess has started a bakeshop and this generation of students, raised on cooking shows, eat up what she has to offer in the way of old-fashioned home-ec.  George, the tomboy, has gone on to become a marine biologist, so she leads field trips into various ecosystems.

Now I need to figure out how to end the poem.  I need to avoid doing what I often do--leaving the poem to percolate and never getting back to that ending.  I pledge to return to this poem tomorrow.

I shall now float through the challenges of the day, secure in the knowledge that I've written a poem and delighted in the knowledge that Nancy, Bess, and George have grown into good lives.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

What I Read During My Autumn Vacation

One of the anticipated joys of travelling is more time to read.  This year, I took Connie Willis' The Doomsday Book with me.  I read a reference to it in this post.  At the time, I was reading a different book about the medieval plague, Geraldine Brooks' Year of Wonders.  I decided to read Willis next.

But it's a big book, and I've been having trouble making progress.  However, during my time away, I devoured it--amazing what having no computer access can do.

The book revolves around time travel--a researcher is supposed to go back to a time in the medieval period before the plague arrives in England, but something goes wrong, and she arrives just in time for the arrival of the plague.

The book also revolves around the idea of disease.  The researcher is stranded because back in the current time, a strange strain of flu begins to sweep through the city.  At the end of the book, we find out that the lethality rate of the flu was 68%--not quite as bad as the 90% mortality rate of the plague strain that the time travelling researcher experiences, but it's easy to imagine that in more challenging circumstances, with lack of medicines and fluids and soap, the lethality rate would be higher.

It's a book that also has some interesting meditations on religion, especially at the end.  The time traveler talks into her recorder, even though she's unsure that anyone will hear her.  She says, "He [the priest for the village] continues to say matins and vespers and to pray, telling God about Rosemund and who has it now, reporting their symptoms and telling what we're doing for them, as if He could actually hear him.  The way I talk to you.  Is God there, too, I wonder, but shut off from us by something worse than time, unable to get through, unable to find us?" (p. 348). 

Even more daringly, Willis connects the time travel with the Christ story.  There's an interesting meditation in this passage that haunts me:  "God didn't know where His Son was, Dunworthy thought.  He had sent His only begotten Son into the world, and something had gone wrong with the fix, someone had turned off the net, so that He couldn't get to him, and they had arrested him and put a crown of thorns on his head and nailed him to a cross" (p. 366).

Both narratives also deal with the issue of hospitality, of being a stranger in a strange land, of being stranded and how we cope.  It also explores how humans deal with the unexpected and the strange, and why we panic or don't.  It has all sorts of lessons for us as we deal with the Ebola crisis--and a good reminder that flu has been far more lethal throughout history.

Willis' book was published in 1992--why haven't I discovered it before?  I think about 1994 or so, when I started to research the plague and its impact on early British literature.  I read Plagues and Peoples, but no fiction.  I read Laurie Garrett's excellent The Coming Plague, where I first heard about Ebola.  The Doomsday Book deserves a spot beside them.

Monday, October 20, 2014

What I Did On My Autumn Vacation

We have done one of our mad dashes to Lutheridge, a church camp near Asheville.  I am experiencing that feeling of tiredness and displacement, like I've left parts of myself all over the southeast.  Or maybe it's because I've been reading, and just finished, Connie Willis' The Doomsday Book, a great book about both the future and time travel back to the time of the Bubonic Plague.

Let me make a list of what I want to remember about my autumnal trek.

--On Wednesday, we were still in South Florida.  We headed over to our church, where an 18 wheeler full of pumpkins waited for our church to unload it.  Hours later, we had transformed our church's front area into a pumpkin patch.

--It is perhaps not the wisest idea to spend hours moving heavy gourds from place to place twelve hours before one drives several states to the north.  We had to stop along the way to buy some ibuprofen; it's been a long time since my back ached like that.

--We stopped along the way to buy apples--what a glorious day in the orchards!  We bought apples, cider, jams, and sweet potatoes.

--I was ready for fall colors, but there weren't many of them.  The trees were both green and brown with a touch of gold.  Did we miss the glory of the leaves?  Is it going to be one of those autumns when the trees don't remember to blaze forth?

--My spouse had a Board of Trustees finance subcommittee meeting, while I went to a retreat to plan the Create in Me retreat.  We both got lots of good work done.

--It was wonderful to be with my Lutheridge artist friends again.  It was great to be part of the retreat planning, even though I will miss the retreat in the spring.

--As we drove up and down the Interstate, I thought of all the friends who live along the way, friends whom we didn't have time to stop and see.

--And here I am, back in the land of mostly endless summer.  I have pumpkins on the porch--some traditional and some a cream colored gourd streaked with green and orange.  One of the advantages of being part of the pumpkin offload is having first chance at the pumpkins.  But I only know that it's autumn because of the seasonal decorations--and the apples in my fridge!

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Starved for Time

The days grow shorter, and so does my writing time.  I wish I had time to spend here:

Or even a length of time to spend here:

I'd love to have time to garden:

Or even just to water the plants:

Or just to have a cup of tea:

If my grandmother's experience is any indication, at some point, I may have more time than I know how to fill.  But not this month.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Creative Pursuits on the Feast Day of Saint Luke

Today is the feast day of St. Luke.  You might be saying, "Wait, don't you have a theology blog where you could discuss that?"

Indeed I do, and I have a more theological post over there today.  But even if you're not a spiritual sort, you might find all sorts of inspiration from St. Luke.

St. Luke was a writer, after all (he gets credit for the Biblical books of Luke and Acts).  He's also given credit as one of the first iconographers.  Today would be a great day to write our own Gospel that tells about the Good news that we're seeing in the world.  Or we could celebrate this patron saint of artists this way with the visual arts.

 We could experiment with a variety visual arts to see how they could enrich our mental and spiritual health. We might choose something historical and traditional, like iconography. Or we might decide that we want to experiment with something that requires less concentration and training. Maybe we want to create a collage of images that remind us of God’s abundance. Maybe we want to meditate on images, like icons, like photographs, that call us to healthy living.

St. Luke is also the patron saint of students.  Maybe it's time to plan for a class we want to take in January.

Or maybe we just want to make a beef stew; St. Luke is also the patron saint of butchers.  This NPR webpage gives a great beef stew recipe, and a link to an interview between Fresh Air's Terry Gross and the America's Test Kitchen chefs which tells how to maximize flavors in your beef stew along with other culinary chemistry wonders.

So, enjoy the feast day of St. Luke, a saint that should be dear to the heart of creative types.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Two Weeks Until Halloween!

Have you made your Halloween costume yet?  Does it require sewing?

Do you need a mask?

Perhaps a bouquet of flowers to go with a mask?

Do you need a new hairstyle?

Perhaps a painted face?

We are two weeks out from Halloween.  Hard to believe.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Pet Funerals

Our friend who rents our cottage had a bird who had been with her for 29 years.  Monday, the bird died.  Our friend feels deep grief.

I worried that I might insult her, but I sent a Facebook message with the offer to help her bury the bird in our yard.  Far from insulting her, she saw it as a gift.

Come to find out, it costs $200 to cremate a bird--shocking!  It only cost us $325 to cremate my mother-in-law.  Our friend didn't have the money for a cremation, and she wasn't sure what to do.  She was happy to have our yard as an option.

I knew that my spouse would play the violin.  I wondered if I should create some sort of liturgy.  But in the end, we kept it simple. 

My spouse had already dug a hole, which was good.  Our friend had wrapped the bird in some fabric from one of her old shirts.  I said a prayer, with references to God paying attention to the fall of the smallest bird and death not being the final answer.

Do I really believe in the resurrection of animals?  Yes, in some ways, I think I do.

Do I believe in a Heaven where our pets wait to be joined with us again?  I am less sure.  In the spirit of full disclosure, let me say that I am less sure of answers to all questions that concern Heaven.  I am fairly sure that Heaven will not be the way that most of us envision it--it's much too saccharine sweet a vision.

Once we prayed, we put the bird in the grave and replaced the dirt.  Our friend had collected a variety of natural objects, which she laid on the grave.  I offered a variety of glass objects that I collected when we were working in mosaic.

I confess that I hadn't really thought about the graveside as art project.  It made me wonder if we treat our the graves of our pets differently.  Do we feel we have more creative freedom if a pet is buried in a back yard than we would in a cemetery?

Then we sat in the twilight as our friend wept some more.  Finally she was ready to return to her cottage to try to get some sleep.

I am already thinking of some of the ways we could have had a better burial.  We could have had a reading, either from the Bible or a great poem.  We could have sung.  We could have done some sort of responsive reading.

The mercenary impulse kicked in immediately, that voice which always wonders if there's a market for any project that's underway.  I thought of a couple I know who will arrange weddings on the beach:  he's a minister, and she's a photographer, and people are willing to pay for wedding packages.

Would people be willing to pay for people to come to their homes to offer a funeral ritual for a pet?

I am thinking about the ways that funerals help us deal with death and the need to come to terms with the fact that a loved one has gone.  And even if the theology is shaky, a pet funeral may be a significant way that we can minister to those who grieve--whether we turn it into a small business or not.