Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Once We Had a Fish Tank

I've been singing "Once We Had a Fish Tank" to the tune of "Brother, Can You Spare a Dime."  The original goes, "Once I had a railroad, I made it run, I made it race against time.  Once I had a railroad, now it's done, brother, can you spare a dime?" --at least, that's how I sing it in my head.

Let me see, "Once we had a fish tank, right in our wall, . . ." and then my song-making skills stop.

Yes, we had a fish tank.  It came with the house that we bought in the summer of 2013.  It was part of the wall that divided the hallway and the dining room.  We loved it when we first saw it.

My spouse has been keeping fish since he was young, but we haven't had a tank since we moved down here.  We had thought we'd set up the tank that came with the new house we bought.

But to get into it (like, to feed the fish), we'd have had to stand on a ladder.  And more worrisome, we couldn't be sure that it was watertight.  It's a big tank:  8 feet long.  That would be a lot of water spilling into the house if it wasn't able to hold water.  And because it's a narrow tank, my spouse decided that the fish that he wanted wouldn't really be happy.

We moved on to the next phase:  what to do with the tank?  I'll speed up this story.  My spouse put an ad for a free tank on Craig's List and watched the phone lines light up.  He was quite clear in explaining how heavy the tank is.

One guy showed up last night and sounded like he would take it.  His buddy showed up.  It was clear that he couldn't move it with 2 people.  They decided to wait until morning.

The next batch of people showed up:  four college guys--but not the burly variety of college guys.  They tried to move it, and then they called for reinforcements.

So, we waited and waited.  I got all my grading done for my online classes.  Finally, they showed up, along with our neighbor and his two adolescent sons.

So, how many guys did it take to move the tank?  Nine?  I confess to being unsure, because I just couldn't watch.  It took a lot to get it unwedged from the stand and the wood and the wall.  And then there was the turn onto the porch and then onto the yard.  Then my neighbor got some 2 x 6 pieces of wood to help lift it onto the trailer.

I'm still amazed that they did it.  I expected to be spending days sweeping up glass.  I wouldn't have been surprised to have an aquarium lodged in a doorway.  My morning has been very different from what I was afraid it would be.  I've had a peaceful morning of writing and making sure that my online classes are going smoothly.  Insert sigh of satisfaction here.

How will these college guys get the tank from the trailer into the house?  They were talking about a keg party where the keg didn't get tapped until everyone helped.  Ah youth.

My spouse overheard them talking about the tank becoming a "chick magnet."  I find it oddly heartwarming to think of them wooing women with a cool fish tank.  There are worse ways to woo a woman.

At one point last night, I got a glass of water for one of the college guys.  He said, "Thank you, ma'am."  I thought, I've gone from being one of the crazy college kids to being the middle-aged woman who brings water and sweeps up after the antics of the crazy college kids.

You know what?  That's fine with me.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Setting an Example for the Next Generation

--My sister sent me a picture of my 8 year old nephew flossing his teeth.  He chose the kind of floss that I use, so that he can be like me.

--It just goes to show that we set examples to the next generation in all kinds of ways.  While I hope he's also going to model my healthy behavior when it comes to other areas, I'm glad to be a model of good dental hygiene.

--I am not a careful flosser, so I floss each tooth multiple times in the hopes that I'll get the job done.  I zip through the top row, then the bottom row, then back to the top, then back to the bottom, at least 3-5 times for each row.  My brother-in-law once said that if ever they think that an imposter is in their midst pretending to be me, they'll be able to tell by the way she flosses her teeth.

--What else do I hope he emulates?  I hope he remembers how much fun it was to cook together and enjoy great meals.  I hope he remembers the times we made books together.  I hope he remembers all the other creative things we did.  I hope he remembers that we'd play a game or do an activity, even if we weren't necessarily good at it.

--I hope that he remembers us as people who say "please" and "thank you" and "good job." 

--I hope he remembers that we loved each other fiercely and never let go of that.

--My sister and nephew will be coming to visit at the end of February, if the weather permits.  We've been snowed out of February visits before.  I wonder what kinds of examples we'll set during that week-end?

--I also think of how much better behaved we'd all be if we remembered that someone is always watching and learning from the examples we set.  I shall move through the day with the thought that a youngster may be paying attention!

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Dreaming of Spring in the Garden Center

A bit of chill in the air--nothing like the rest of the country, but still, 50 degrees.  So I decided to ditch my plans to run and to stay put, working on online classes and writing projects and baking pumpkin bread.

One of my writing projects is a blog post for the Living Lutheran site, which I said I'd have ready be tomorrow.  It's about the feast day of Candlemas, celebrated on February 2.  Astute readers will recognize the collision of several different holidays from a variety of traditions:  Groundhog Day, Candlemas, St. Brigid's Day, Imbolc and Oimelc.  Many of them celebrate the turning of winter to spring.

I realize that major winter weather is forecast soon for much of the country.  Surely Spring is far behind?

Yesterday I got a taste of spring when we went to Home Depot.  We were buying shrubbery, but I was struck by all the flowers:  such variety and such vibrant colors.  What a treat.  I can't say that my eyes are starved for color:  I live in the tropics, after all.  But I don't usually see them all clustered together.  I see a palm tree here, a bougainvillea bush there, an occasional hibiscus flower, my poinsettia plant which is just now getting more red than green.

We bought our shrubbery, some podocarpus plants which took up the whole back of the car.  I felt like I was driving a forest mobile.  I had no vision out the rear window, which was oddly soothing.

I am tempted to buy masses of flowers and plant them in pots and move them all around the yard.  I think of myself as killing plants, but I don't.  They might not flourish the way they would if my spouse was taking care of them or my grandmother.  I'm the type who will remember to water, although it may take several days. I keep herbs going for years before a mysterious disease wipes them out.  I divide pots of mums and kill half of them, but half of them survive. I thought they were crowded.  I didn't realize they'd die of loneliness when I spread them out.

It's time to think about the front porch, but the pumpkins from fall still haven't rotted.  I have visions of pots of petunias, but have yet to find them.  But half of the transplanted mums survive.  For now, I'll just let it all be. 

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Saturday Snippets from a Writing Morning

--More than once, I've been revising an essay for my memoir/book of essays, and I've remembered a different version--only to find I've been revising an earlier version of an essay.  It happened again this morning.

--In a way, it's an interesting exercise, since I still also have the earliest rough draft.  Did I make consistent decisions?  Yes, I did.

--So, this morning, I said, "Kristin, this is just ridiculous.  Organize these files."  I obeyed that voice of reason.

--I also thought about this episode of the Diane Rehm show which talked about ransomware and the importance of backing up files.  So, I did that too.

--I also wrote another page of my short story prompted by a monthly word--my challenge for 2015.  This month's word:  spell.

--I thought of writing a poem based on something I found out about a friend:  she has just one knife, which she uses for everything:  cutting meat/cheeses/vegetables, spreading butter, and all the other things you'd use a knife for.  Seems it should be a metaphor for something.  But I don't know what.  I'll let that idea percolate.

--I wrote this blog post for my theology blog.  It's a photoessay (more photo than essay) that talks about how we perceive life's calling.  It's got theological language, since it's for my theology blog, but it could just as easily be talking about the call to be creative.

--All in all, it's been a good writing morning:  a nice way to start the week-end!

Friday, January 23, 2015

Poetry Friday: How We Think About the Muse

Thursday's post put me in mind of poems that I've written that address this subject of prodigals returning to practice.  Here's one of my favorite first lines of all the poems I've ever written:  "The muscles remember what the mind forgets."  It's from one of the few successful villanelles I've ever written, and you can read it here

That link will also take you to a poem that imagines the muse as Penelope, waiting faithfully for her artist who goes wandering off.  I've posted that poem several times already, so I won't post it again here.

I was thumbing through my old poems, thinking about how I think about the muse.  I don't really believe in writer's block, in the muse abandoning me.  No, it's me who doesn't make time for lunch with my muse.

In my old files, I found this poem which was never published.  I still like the images in it.  It intrigues me, this mix of fairy tales and modern science:  germ warfare and ancient archetypes!  I think I wrote it during the time when anthrax was being mailed to various people.  Still, I think it works.

The Call of the Crows

My muse leaves me a trail
of breadcrumbs. Just to be safe,
she mixes in all my favorite
kinds: the sourdough of experience, the sweet
cinnamon bread of memory, the rye
of humor, the hearty grained passions.

Alas, poor muse! She doesn’t know
of these crows that guard
me always, the caws of callous
criticism always in my ear.
They see what my muse plots
and they pluck away the crumbs
as quickly as she can scatter them.

But my muse is a crafty girl, well-schooled
in mazes and cunning escapes. She selects
cords in many colors, velvet ribbons
and festive silks to help me find my way.
The crows use these to line their nests.

Luckily, my muse is not so easily deterred.
She forgoes the subtle approach, the seductive
ways of getting my attention. She plants
landmines in my gardens of guilt,
mails bombs cleverly disguised
as friendly letters, which scatter infectious
agents of creativity throughout my day.
She infuses me with bacteria that will infect
each cell, viruses that will root in my very soul,
recombining my DNA, transforming me in fevered
fires into a woman who no longer comprehends
the call of the crows.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Prodigals Returning

This morning I ran to the beach and back.  In the interest of honesty, let me stress that although I like to think of myself running sleekly through the morning, I am a slow, slow runner.  A jogger.  At times, when I get unfocused, I suspect that I shuffle.

Still, it's a swifter pace than a walk, so I call it a run.  My goal was to run twice a week this year for at least half an hour.  This morning I ran for 45 minutes--hurrah!

I have running on the brain because I've written a post for the Living Lutheran site that considers what we can learn spiritually from our failed new year's resolutions.  The same lessons also work for our creative lives.

Here's the truth I return to again and again:  We need to start where we are, not where we think we should be. Far better to be the person who goes out for a gentle jog for 10 minutes, and then next week runs for 15 minutes, and throughout the year, adding five minutes each week. In horse training terms, we need to keep the jumps small and achievable. But we also need to keep challenging ourselves so that we grow.

In the spirit of full confession, let me also admit that I went a bit longer this morning than I thought I might because I'm going out with friends after work, and I wanted to get a head start at burning off some calories.  I figure whatever it takes to keep up my motivation is good.

Likewise, in my creative life, I use a variety of motivations.  Part of my motivation is the dream of a future where I achieve creative goals.  Part of what gets me to my desk is my desire to leave a record.  There's still an adolescent in me that wants literary and creative success so that everyone who ever rejected me will have regret--and if that gets me writing, that's wonderful.

But in the end, I write for the same reason I run:  I feel better when I do.  Long ago, when I started running in the 80's, I wanted to be Grete Waitz:  that thin, that fast.  I'm reconciled to the fact that barring some dreadful disease that strips me of my weight, I'm not going to be that kind of runner.  But that fact doesn't need to rob me of the delight of being a neighborhood runner.

Likewise, I'd like to be the Margaret Atwood of my generation.  There's still time, I guess.  But even if that doesn't happen, I've enriched my life immensely by making the attempt.

And if I get off track, I can always return.  Luckily, the muses of writing and exercise are always there waiting.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Revisiting "Selma"

I've been thinking I might go see Selma again, if it stays in the theatres for another few weeks.  I was struck by this post where the author is planning to see the movie for a third and fourth time.  I thought, right, I could see this movie again.

Why would I do that?  Let me list some reasons:

--I would go for the same reason I went the first time.  I want Hollywood to make more movies like this one, based on real heroes, not superheroes.  I want directors like Ava DuVernay to be able to make more movies.  For that to happen, the movie needs to make money.

--I need this story, this story of how regular people changed their society.  I need to be reminded that it can be done, even when the odds are long.

--I like seeing all the people in this film who look so normal--it makes me remember how rare that is in Hollywood, and how shaped we are by these film and TV depictions of regular bodies, which aren't normal at all.  But in Selma, we see actual old people.  We see heavy people.  In this interview, DuVernay talks about using extras in the movie, extras who were regular people who just happened to live in Alabama where she was filming.  She talked with such care about how much she loved the lines and creases in their faces.

--I love seeing the small towns of the U.S. South.  I love those back roads, although I realize that the rural roads represented something different to black citizens throughout much of U.S. history.

--I love the accents, although truth be told, the black actors do a better job than the white actors.  Most of the white actors get the Southern accent wrong, especially the Southern accent of the middle part of the 20th century, which was so thick as to be almost incomprehensible to modern ears.

--I miss that accent, although it drove me crazy when I was surrounded by it all the time.  Now there are days when I want to call the switchboard at the South Carolina schools were I went to college and grad school.  I want to hear that syrup.

--Now I am laughing at myself because of the idea that my schools still pay someone to work the switchboard.  But there are times when those student workers call to ask me to donate to this scholarship fund or that one, and I say yes, partly because scholarships helped me, partly because I was once that student making some money by staffing the phones--and partly because the accent makes me susceptible.

--Selma reminds me of so much of my kin, although it's the black version of my kin.  I think of the elders who spent much of their free time in church.  I think of the older generations in this movie who were so patient with the younger generations.  I think of the women who cook and cook and cook some more and get no help with the dishes--the men have important work to do, after all!

--Yes, it's not a time I'd want to travel back to or to live in.  But I might want to revisit it by seeing Selma again.  It makes me appreciate what I have and the opportunities that are mine, simply because I was born in 1965, not 1925.