Monday, May 22, 2017

Brunch Thoughts

--Months ago, I bought a Groupon for a 2 for one brunch.  The expiration date was fast approaching, so yesterday, we met a group of friends in downtown Hollywood.  We walked to the restaurant, which meant the all-you-can-drink mimosas really was a good deal.  We stayed there for 3 hours enjoying good food, great conversation, and mimosas.

--How would our experience of worship change if we could have all-you-can-drink mimosas during church service? 

--I've thought many times before about how it would be nice if communion could be a real meal, not just a shred of bread and a thimble of wine.  I've been lucky to have a few worship experiences that were built around meals, and as I have always thought, they were more meaningful.  But were they more meaningful because they were new and carefully planned or because they were truly more meaningful?

--I realize that a real meal and ever-flowing mimosas would work better in small churches than large ones, and in different worship spaces, of course.

--As I was getting ready for our walk to brunch, I was listening to reports from Trump's trip to the Mideast.  What to make of one of the least spiritual U.S. presidents heading to the world's holy sites?  Is it a Nixon in China moment?  And what would that mean in this context?

--What will Pope Francis say to Donald Trump?  Of all the places where I'd like to be an unseen observer, that's the one I'd choose.  At least, this month.

--My New Year's goal was to have more brunch.  I'm not sure I've been very successful.  But there is time yet.

--We're almost at the half-way point of the year.  It's good to think about the trajectory of the year.  But I won't be doing that thinking this morning.  It's time to shift my focus back to work.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Sunday Travels

--On some NPR segment, I heard a commentator who had reported on Trump for many years talk about the fact that Trump wants to sleep in his own bed at night.  She talked about the campaign where Trump would make an appearance and get back on the plane so that he could sleep in a familiar bed.  I found that a very humanizing detail.  I've been thinking of it as I hear about this big international trip.

--In Books for Living, Will Schwalbe offers this insight:  "Books are uniquely suited to helping us change our relationship to the rhythms and habits of daily life in this world of endless connectivity.  We can't interrupt them; we can only interrupt ourselves while reading them.  They are the expression of an individual or a group of individuals, not of a hive mind or collective consciousness.  They speak to us, thoughtfully, one at a time."

--I am listening to On Being--on today's show, Krista Tippett is exploring the work of Hannah Arendt with the writer Lyndsey Stonebridge.   I have never read the work of Arendt.  Perhaps now is a good time to start.  Once her work seemed like distant history.    

--Stonebridge offers this insight:  "I was thinking about this this morning with the other figure who’s very important to me, who’s also a very strong Jewish woman was Melanie Klein, the psychoanalyst. And Klein had a question, which was, 'Where does evil come from?' And Hannah Arendt asked another question, which I think it’s uniquely important, which is, 'How, in modern times, is evil organized?'”

--Do all roads towards terror/evil start in existential loneliness?  One can make a strong case.

--Arendt taught George Orwell's 1984 to undergraduates at Berkeley in 1955--what a class that would have been!  I think also, of Merton teaching first year Composition . . . but I digress.

-- Stonebridge points out an essential problem, but one we don't often talk about with totalitarianism:  ". . . she’s responding to George Orwell here. She says two plus two will never make five. That’s not the problem. And George Orwell at the end, Winston’s being tortured, and he’s made to say two plus two equals five, and this is like totalitarianism makes us all lie. She said that’s not the power. It’s the fact that in a world where people are going to say it is even when they know it isn’t. [laughs] That is deeply estranging. That’s what creates those conditions of loneliness and despair. That, for her, is the wickedness of the political lie. People don’t believe that two plus two makes five. They don’t believe half of what’s said."

--During a car trip across the county yesterday, my spouse and I were talking about approaches to life, about how many people will make a stand about principles these days, and how many people make decisions based on what is right for them.  I said that it was depressing to think about that--and at the exact same time, we both realized that what is truly depressing is that so many people have no principles upon which to make a stand.

--One of my teacher friends is distressed that her students don't recognize names out of the news, like Michael Flynn.  I am more distressed by their lack of familiarity with names like Hannah Arendt, even as I recognize a whiff of hypocrisy, since I have yet to read her.

--Wherever our Sunday travels take us--to foreign countries like Trump or to philosophical explorations with Arendt--may they enrich!

Saturday, May 20, 2017

The Week in Reading

My spouse has had a dreadful cold all week--he's been spending lots of time sleeping.  The upside to this situation is that I have had time to read.  Here, in no particular order, are my adventures in reading this week:

Absolutely on Music:  Conversations by Haruki Murakami with Seiji Ozawa

I read the first 60 pages, and then I thought, this book really needs to come with a soundtrack.  At first, it's mildly interesting to read these conversations about classical recordings, but then it gets a bit boring.

I did scan the rest, and other interviews were similar.  But I did learn some information.  What stands out in my mind is this vision of a conductor getting up at 4 in the morning and spending time meditating on the musical score, meditating in silence.  I never thought about the conductor's role as much as I have with this book.  Ozawa (the conductor) gets up at 4 a.m. as does Murakami (to write).  I see writing as a solitary experience, but I didn't realize the conductor's experience had similar dynamics.

Hillbilly Elegy:  A Memoir of a Family and a Culture in Crisis by J. D. Vance

Would I have read this book if it hadn't been so much a part of the political campaign?  Likely--I do come from east Tennessee hillbilly stock myself.   But the conversations that swirled around this book during the political campaign did lead me to expect a different book.  It's not really a work of sociology.  No, it's a memoir.

As memoirs go, it's mildly interesting.  There are memoirs that explore the issue of white poverty much more lyrically, with more beautiful language--the Rick Bragg book All Over but the Shouting is my all-time favorite in this genre.  I would say the same thing if I was talking about dysfunctional family depictions.  Dorothy Allison's work is much more brutal--tough to read, but I couldn't put it down.  I didn't have a similar compulsion to return to Hillbilly Elegy.

It's interesting to think of these 2 issues in generational terms.  Bragg's work, and Allison's too, are about an older generation of white folks.  The drug of choice, and destroyer of families, in their work is alcohol.  In Vance's view, it's pain pills.

Hillbilly Elegy does a good job of describing the crisis in which so many communities find themselves.  It doesn't give any sense of what can be done about any of this--in fact, I came away with a bleakness about the prospect of lifting people out of poverty.

It is a memoir, after all.  Memoirs aren't required to create policy recommendations.  But it left me wishing for more.

My all time favorite book of the week (and perhaps of the year):

The Dark Flood Rises by Margaret Drabble

What an amazing book!  I don't know if anyone is making a list of novels about aging that must be read--if so, add this one to the list.

But it's not just about aging.  That sounds dreary--but it's funny, even as it is a brutal discussion.  She's great at showing how the passions/rages of our younger years simply melt away as we age.  Even though I'm only 51 (twenty years younger than many of the characters in this book), that part felt real to me.

The book also discusses all the floods that threaten to swamp us:  aging, global warming with sea level rise, immigration, the wars that cause immigration--but above all, aging.  But again, it's warm and funny, even as it explores bleak subjects.

My English major heart also loved this book because I felt rewarded for my knowledge of literature.  Samuel Beckett's Happy Days lingers over the whole plot (two characters are going to see a revival), and there is an absurdist element to this book.  Like Beckett, the absurdist bits are often apocalyptic--but it's funnier than Beckett.  There are all sorts of allusions to all sorts of literature and history.  But the biggest delight for me was the fact that one character is reading the work of Esther Breuer--a character we first met in one of my favorite Margaret Drabble novels, The Realms of Gold.

Much as The Realms of Gold captures a time period, Thatcher's Britain, so does The Dark Flood Rises for ours.  What an amazing book.

During the next few weeks, I'll have to spend my free time grading for my online class--so I'm grateful to have had this week of reading.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Music, Then and Now

I was saddened to hear of the death of Chris Cornell, one of the founders of Soundgarden.  He was my age.  And then, I was further saddened to hear that it was suicide.

I only own one Soundgarden CD--and that sentence tells you a lot about how old I am--to own a CD, not to download some tracks (do we call them tracks?  I haven't downloaded any music in years).  I bought it when I found it cheap, and it was a way to get a copy of "Burden in My Hand," back in those days before we could download an individual track.

I saw Soundgarden at the 1996 Lollapalooza festival--I saw a lot of great acts at that festival, including the Ramones and Metallica, but I was there to hear Rage Against the Machine.  We got up early that morning to drive to Rockingham, North Carolina for a rock festival at a racetrack.  I remember it being hot and dusty, but feeling exhilarated because we were at an important music festival.

Those were the days we would drive all sorts of places for good music:  the jazz festival each year in Jacksonville, Florida and we drove to Charlotte to see Mary Chapin Carpenter.  Some concerts were just miles away.  For my birthday one year, one of my best friends bought us tickets to see Melissa Etheridge.  She knew I wouldn't treat myself because the tickets were $35 a piece.

Now I live in a place where we have lots of great music concerts, but I rarely go.  It's a combination of not wanting to pay for tickets and not wanting all the hassles of seeing music with a huge group of people.  I'm much happier being part of a smaller group playing music in a living room or on our porch.

Today I'll listen to "Burden in My Hand" again.  I'll remember the summer of 1996, a great summer of music festivals.  And then, at some point, maybe I'll pick up my long-neglected instruments and pluck out a few notes.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Not a Good Time to Be a Special Agent

It has been a dizzying week in terms of politics.  And that's an understatement!

Each day brings more surreal news than the one before it.  One wonders where it will all end.  Once I would have said impeachment or jail, but now I'm thinking that would be much too normal an outcome.

Yesterday as I drove to work, my NPR news station announced that Russia had volunteered to hand over transcripts of the meeting with Trump.  We have fallen through some sort of hole in the rational universe and into some surreal other world.

As I've read various stories about Trump and all the people who work for the White House, suddenly I realize:  my career choices have not been that bad.  I have never had to work under such circumstances, with a boss that undercut me at every turn.  On the contrary, most of my direct bosses have tried to protect me.

In all seriousness, I have never seen such goings-on in my lifetime.

When it was revealed that Trump cavalierly shared highly sensitive information with the Russians, I couldn't stop thinking about where the information came from.  I don't mean which country, but which special agent.

While I am worried about foreign countries deciding they can't trust us with highly classified information, I'm wondering about the agents, whom I assume were deep undercover, who delivered the intelligence to Israel, assuming that they could trust that the info would be handled properly.  And then Trump just blabs it, because he wants to feel like Mr. Big Guy.
 
I'm guessing that somewhere there are dead secret agents.    I am guessing that when info is exposed in this way, the bad guys know that they've been compromised--and I'm guessing that it was info so sensitive that it wouldn't be hard to figure out who had sold out the bad guys.
 
And I'm sure Trump doesn't care--he got to be Mr. Big Guy.  And most ordinary people won't realize that secret agents are dead somewhere, just so Trump can be Mr. Big Guy.
 
Many parts of this story make me ill, but this part makes me most ill and angry.  If some ordinary woman like me thinks about protecting secret agents who are funneling important info to those in power, how does it escape the realization of people in the highest reaches of government.
 
I am glad that a special investigator has been appointed, even though I know the troubled history of special investigators.  I am tired of this chaos.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Writing Process Report

I sat down on Saturday with just a vague idea for a short story, and I finished it yesterday--which is record time for me lately.

Once I wrote more quickly.  In the mid 90's, I met a friend for lunch once a week at either her house or mine.  We had a great lunch and read each other's stories that we wrote.  She took summers off, and I had a schedule where I didn't go to school until later afternoon on Tuesdays and Thursdays.  In those leisurely days, I could write a story a week on a regular basis.

These days, it can take me months to finish a story.  Even if I have it plotted out in my mind, I often have only 15-30 minutes here and there to work on it.

I found it exhilarating to write a story more quickly--there was that thrill of discovery.  I thought I was writing about an angry poet, but maybe that poet, who made an appearance in a story told in the voice of the HR director, was someone else.

I'm writing a collection of short stories that are linked by the fact that all the characters work at a for-profit art school in South Florida and by the fact that they all have some connection, no matter how tenuous, to activism.  I originally envisioned it as an activists at age 50 collection.  I originally thought the link to the characters was their activism when they were in undergraduate school together--that idea quickly fell away.

I'll be interested to see if the stories feel repetitive when they're together in one manuscript.  But I'm not worrying about that now.

I'm just happy to keep writing, no matter what the process may be.

Monday, May 15, 2017

The Labyrinth Beneath the Playground

Yesterday my church voted to lease part of the 2 acres of our land behind the church to a preschool center.  Zoning rules in the city of Pembroke Pines dictate that preschool centers must have some green space, and the preschool will be in the shopping center to our east.  I guess that part of the design will be cutting a gate into the fence.

We used to have a playground and that fenced area still exists, without the equipment.  But the land the preschool will be leasing will be further south--right over the space where the labyrinth used to be.

We haven't had a labyrinth in years, but I can still see where it used to be--although it's getting fainter with each passing year.  I always loved having it, although I didn't walk it as often as I would have thought.  It was a target for vandals, and we talked about what we could do to make it more permanent, like planting shrubs as labyrinth lane separator.  In the end, we let the land take the labyrinth back.

The church created the labyrinth after our pastor did his dissertation on the sacredness of outdoor spaces.  I was part of his focus group, and in this way, I met some church members and became intrigued by such a church.  I was part of the group that laid out the original labyrinth.  I always thought it might come back.  I feel a bit of sadness at its loss.

I think of the labyrinth that will be beneath the surface of the playground--I wonder if the playground will have a sacredness that it wouldn't have otherwise.   Will the children look back and feel that the playground was different than all their other play spaces?

I love the symbolism of the labyrinth.  Could I make a poem out of these elements?  I'm sure that I can.