Monday, March 2, 2015

Dolphins in the Intracoastal

Yesterday, the weather turned perfect:  bright blue skies and blazing sun.  My sister got increasingly dire winter weather alert warnings on her phone, but they were for Maryland.  We continued to play in the pool, although it's quite chilly.

Later in the afternoon, worn out by all the sun and phone, we took naps.  When we got up, some of us were groggy, some a bit cranky, and one person was ready for a walk.

We had about decided that we wouldn't go, and then we did.  We walked down to the Intracoastal Waterway, where we got to see the bridge go up.  I thought that might be the highlight.

But when we walked down to the marina, we got the real highlight.  We saw the graceful swoop of a dolphin's back.  And then there were more!  We counted about 7.

Some of the boats in the Intracoastal noticed them too, but some just kept zooming by.  The restaurants that line the other bank had some patrons taking pictures, while others seemed uninterested.  Uninterested or unaware?

It would have been easy to miss, after all.  The dolphins' backs were the same color as the water, and if you didn't notice the fin, you might have thought you were seeing a swoosh of water from a passing boat.

I thought of how we almost missed the sight altogether--if we hadn't gone for a walk, we wouldn't have seen the dolphins.  But that's not all.  If we had decided not to walk to the marina, we wouldn't have seen them either.

I thought of all the people who were there too, but oblivious.  And that led me to think about all the other wondrous sightings I might be missing as I hurry through the day.

It was good to have time to take a simple walk.  It was good to be reminded of the wonders of our planet.  I said a prayer of gratitude and a prayer of hope that I'll continue to notice them.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

There Will Come Soft Rains

We knew there was a chance of rain yesterday--a chance of rain all week-end, but never more than a 50% chance.  It's winter, and under old climate models, we don't get much rain in the winter.

We certainly don't get rains like we got yesterday.  Under old climate models, we only saw those rains when a tropical depression/storm/hurricane came through.

Yesterday morning, I thought, what's that noise?  It was about 7 and the first of the rains came through.  Heavy downpour, over quickly.

We had similar rains of varying length throughout the day.  At one point, when one of the weather sites said we wouldn't have any more rain, we ventured out.  We drove through flooded streets to get my 8 year old nephew a wetsuit.  He thought it was super cool to drive through so much water.

Some kids get Disney World, but we know how to show a boy a really good time!

On the way home, the skies opened up just after we got our grocery shopping done.  We moved both cars into the driveway because it was clear that the pumps that were installed to keep streets from flooding were not going to keep up with the amount of rain that fell.

As I said, once we used to see those rains only when an out of the ordinary system came through.  Now, it can be a typical summer day.

We worry about sea level rise, and we should.  Our house will likely be under water in 100 years.  But before that, we will be dealing with periodic flooding--and by periodic, I mean quarterly or monthly or weekly.  Along the way, we'll have to figure out how to get fresh water as salt water intrudes into our aquifers.

I titled this post after the Ray Bradbury story; I thought about using that Bob Dylan title "A Hard Rain's Gonna Fall."  Both would be appropriate. 

In my younger years, I worried about nuclear war.  I still do.  But the more immediate threat these days seems to be the changes that we've made to our planet, changes that won't be reversed soon, and certainly not in our lifetimes.

I think of that lonely house in the Bradbury story.  My house too will some day be lonely as scuba divers swim in its ruins and marvel at the folly of the great civilization that build such structures so close to the shoreline.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Ups and Downs in a Writer's Week

On Wednesday I reached out to the editor who has been in charge of assigning prayers for Bread for the Day, a devotion book.  I've been writing prayers for the project since 2011, and I've really liked that writing assignment.

Well, I won't be doing it this year, not for that project.  The editor has already assigned the prayers.  He wrote me a very nice e-mail saying that he tries to keep the roster of writers varied and thus adds 4-5 new people each year.  There are only 12 openings for writers.

I felt a sadness all out of proportion.  It's the writing job that pays least well--second to least, if we count contributor copies.  There's not a lot of exposure.  It won't lead to a great full-time possibility.

But I liked it.  And lurking in the background is that demon of self-loathing, always ready to speak up:  why did I write for the past several years only to be excluded this year?

My demon wanted to submerge me, but I dusted myself off and polished my Living Lutheran blog posts that were due by the end of this month. 

And yesterday's mail brought good news.  Back in November, I submitted a manuscript, Life in the Holocene Extinction, to the Concrete Wolf chapbook contest.  While I didn't win publication, I did win the First Runner Up title (go here to see the complete list).  Plus, I got a wonderfully supportive note.

It gives me encouragement to keep sending manuscripts out.  And so I will--there are some March contests which look interesting . . . stay tuned!

Friday, February 27, 2015

The Monastery Dog: A Brief PhotoEssay

Yesterday I wrote this post which was in part about a monastery dog. 



Here is a picture of the dog at the retreat center where visitors stay. 



And here's a picture of the dog at the labyrinth.  Does he walk the labyrinth when we're not around?



Notice that the monastic vow of hospitality extends to dogs.  Someone built this stray dog a house, complete with a welcome mat:



If it was a week ago, I'd have already been on the road for several hours on my way to the monastery. I am grateful for this place, which extends hospitality to stray dogs and wayfaring strangers and fellow monks and anyone who comes to them.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

The Monastery Dog and the Coffeemaker that Speaks to Satellites

This morning, I thought I'd write a poem about the monastery dog.  At first I felt sorry for the monastery dog.  She seemed so eager for attention.  I thought about all the children who would never be part of her world.

Yet as my week-end at the monastery proceeded, I decided that the monastery dog was lucky.  She had a never-ending supply of visitors who would likely pet her.  The monks would take care of her.  Not every community has taken a vow of hospitality, after all. She could have been abandoned to a much worse fate.

And she had vast fields at her disposal.  No cooped up back yards for her.  Her joy at racing across the grounds made me happy too.

So, did I write that poem?  No, not yet. 

Instead, as I was catching up on old NPR shows, this line leapt out at me:  "My coffee maker is texting me again."  The rest of the show talked about technology and smart appliances (meaning wired and communicative) and smart houses. 

I thought, oh great, just what I need, inanimate objects announcing their needs.  Get in line, inanimate objects.  I thought about the coffee maker, who assumes its needs should take priority, and its bleating of its needs by way of text--a metaphor for modern life, to be sure.

I thought about Mepkin Abbey and the new retreat center:



The roof is made of copper.  The guestmaster monk said that an unexpected benefit of the roof is that copper blocks cell phone signals.

All of these items converged in my brain this morning.  The quote above starts my poem:  "My coffee maker is texting me again."

And I end this way:

I dream of draping every roof
in copper to block connectedness.
Once it seemed miraculous to speak to satellites.
Now I long for silence.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Distant Early Warning Signs: Too Busy

After reading two excellent blog posts about the ways that we find out that we're overextended (Jeannine wrote this blog post on busyness and borders and the trouble that freelancers have with saying no and Kelli wrote this blog post on crashing her van which was both a metaphorical and real life call to slow down) , I've been thinking about the distant early warning signs that tell us that we're getting too busy. 

In the last few weeks, what signs have I had that I might be getting a bit overextended?

--The week I went to lunch 3 times in one week.  There was likely also a happy hour or two.  What explains such extravagance?  After all, I had brought my lunch.  But I wanted to be with work friends, to digest the news and non-news that came out of big meetings.

--More than that, I wanted some kind of comfort that I traditionally seek in restaurants.  Some people seek that comfort in alcohol or the arms of lovers or in yoga or harder work-outs.  Some people get together with friends and no food is involved:  they watch a movie or they break out their instruments or they write a movie script.  I want someone to cook for me and to clean up afterwards, and if I pay for that, then I don't feel the guilt I would feel if I was at home with loved ones doing all of that with me not helping.

--I've also been fighting off a cold.  So far, it's fairly minor, but it's a reminder that I'm not at peak form.  Happily, I'm not so worn out that the microbes can take over.  But it's a little ping in the early warning system, a little ping saying, "Hey, you're not immortal!"

--My feelings of irritability are also a sign.  Often I can drive in a serene state:  I know the driver that wants to cut me off, and I slow down to allow for an easier merge.  But lately, I've been growling more.  Never a good sign.

--As recently gone theologian Marcus Borg says, "When I stand in a supermarket checkout line and all the people I see look kind of ugly, I know that my heart is closed" (The Heart of Christianity: Rediscovering a Life of Faith  page 154). We are called to have soft, open hearts. Often, I do.  When I feel more snarly about my fellow humans, it's a different kind of ping that's alerting me to my overstretched state.

--Yesterday I got a different kind of ping, as my computer system at work kept asking for a password and when I typed it in, asking me for it again.  I called the Corporate IT folks, and it was an easy problem to fix.  Still, it reduced me to tears.  An easy to fix IT problem should not make me weep in my office.

--I haven't been as diligent about paying attention to my writing, and I need to step up my efforts to send my writing into the world.

--Actually, that above statement isn't true.  I've been paying attention to the writing that pays.  I've been good at being in contact with the editor at Living Lutheran who likes my writing:  I've been pitching ideas, and she's been accepting them, and I've been writing them.

--As with online teaching, it's good to have alternate sources of income, and those activities (writing for Living Lutheran and teaching) do fill a void, and not just a monetary one.  But they also require time, and in the last few weeks, time has felt like an increasingly absent resource.

--Some day, I expect to be a little old lady, left all alone when my friends die earlier than expected.  Like my grandmother, I will have huge vistas of uninterrupted time, and I will look back on 2015 and wonder why I complained about all the activities which filled my day.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Mepkin Sojourn in Brief

I am back from Mepkin Abbey--let me capture some thoughts before I hurl myself back into the world of work:

--Some years, the drive doesn't seem too bad.  Not this year--the miles seemed long and endless.

--Some years, the landscape has more color.  This year, the winter has been tougher, leaving not much color to be found.  I only saw one patch of pansies at the Abbey.  One year, the azaleas were still blooming.  On my last day there, I did see a jonquil, which cheered me.

--The weather was very strange--it didn't get above 34 degrees on Friday, but by Sunday, it was in the 70's.  And as I drove south yesterday, the weather forecast included ice, snow, and freezing rain--it made me want to speed up, even though I was in no immediate danger.

--The liturgy is more austere, which one might expect at Lent.  But did the monks sing the hymns more slowly on purpose, or was the organist (who wasn't there last year) one of the less-sprightly types who would slow every hymn down?

--We wondered if the monks might have a more austere Lenten diet, but it seemed the same.  We had dessert twice on Sunday, for example.  And they have a non-vegetarian option to eat each day.

--I took my laptop, but never plugged it in. 

--That's not to say I did no work.  I did read through my memoir.  It holds together well.  I was worried it might repeat the same ideas over and over, but it did not.  And I had worried that even the longest essays would seem too short, but they didn't.

--I devoured two books:  Gail Godwin's Publishing:  A Writer's Memoir and Meghan Daum's The Unspeakable, perhaps not the best book to be reading as I'm working on my own nonfiction.  Daum is an amazing writer.  Godwin is too, but her book didn't tell me a lot I didn't already know.  Still, it was pleasant, like visiting an old friend.

--I'd have been much more interested in Godwin's memoir if it had included more about her religious life.

--We walked the grounds a lot.  I saw a beautiful sunset over the river.  In all the years I've been going to Mepkin, I've never made it to the river to see the sun set.

--The moon was also breathtaking.  A tiny sliver of waxing moon.  And the first night, the stars were brilliant--the rest of the time, clouds obscured the view.

--The monastery has a dog!  She wandered in as a puppy, and apparently, it was obvious that she didn't have owners who would miss her.  So, she gets to stay.  I shall write a poem about how the joys of being the monastery dog are abundant recompense for all that she won't experience in suburbia.

--Every time I saw her running across the grounds, I smiled.  And she always seemed happy to see us.  We left the last service at the end of the day, Compline, where the Abbot sprinkles us each with water from the baptismal font.  I feel so complete.  But this year, the dog waited outside with a wagging tail--twice blessed!

--Two friends from my community college days make the retreat with me.  It's great to catch up. 

--One friend had just finished organizing a dissertation retreat for the Writing Center at the university where she works.  Perhaps hearing about the retreat explains my dream that I found out I was pregnant and my first reaction was to say, "I better get my dissertation done by the end of summer."

--My friend has said the project I need to work on getting to publication is a collection of photo essays that I've been creating since last year's trip (here's an example).  I think I still need some additional material, but her passion for this project is something I want to remember.