Friday, September 30, 2016

Black Moons and Renewed Yearnings

Tonight, we have a black moon, which is not as dire as it sounds--it's the second new moon in a month.  Down here at the southern tip of the U.S., we've been able to see the sliver of moon with a silvery outline of the rest of the moon.

If you wait until evening, however, to see if your view is the same, you won't see it.  Moonrise in south Florida today is at 6:49 a.m.; times in other places will vary.

I am intrigued by all the vaguely religious connotations that go along with a black moon:  the second coming, the end of times, and a time when spells take on more potency.

When I was younger, I was intrigued by alternative religions, especially ones that didn't minimize females--that path led me to a variety of religious expressions that we might now classify as Wiccan.  I can't remember which writer suggested that we pay attention to the phases of the moon, that we start new projects when the moon was waxing into fullness.  As a college student, of course, I couldn't time my course work that way.  But the idea has stuck with me.

I don't believe that the position of the moon or the planets has more impact on daily life than other elements.  I suspect that many of us would make better decisions if we kept ourselves nourished and rested properly, and those actions would have a greater impact than a second new moon in a month.

Still, the idea of a time of increased potency intrigues me.  If we were to cast a spell today, if we wanted to harness the power of the new moon, what would we want our spell to do?

When I was young and wrote page after page of my wishes, hopes, and dreams, I had a better sense of what I yearned for.  These days, as I race from pillar to post, I have a vision of a fairy godmother who offers me 3 wishes--but first, she'd have to get my attention.

When I was young, I said that the first thing I would wish for would be unlimited wishes.  But let's take that off the table.  And let's assume we're not in a fairy tale where we'll be granted our wishes, but in a way that teaches us a lesson--we lose 20 pounds when our leg disappears or we get a small fortune because a loved one dies.

No, let us play with this idea of wish fulfillment.  I think that as we get older, we quit thinking about what we truly want.  Many of us have had too many experiences with our dearest dreams being squashed--and thus, we decide it's safer not to dream.  We'll settle for what we have.  We won't dare aspire to more.

If you could be granted 3 wishes, what would you ask for?  What's the top wish?   What would make your heart sing?

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Faculty Development Days

Yesterday was the kind of day that was both exhausting and good.  A few weeks ago, my dean asked me to come up with some ideas for our Faculty Development day, which was yesterday.  Of course, we had no money, and not much time, since I'd be out of town the week before.  So I brainstormed some ideas and came up with a possible schedule.

I've done this before, and then there's been input and changes from others.  Not this time.  That's how I found myself running round table discussions throughout the day (the morning schedule repeated in the afternoon).

Luckily I had anticipated this turn of events, so I chose topics that interested me and wouldn't require prep time:  politics and our classrooms in election year 2016 and using social media in our classrooms.  I knew that both topics had the potential for people to go off track and talk about politics or spew about cell phones and students, and there was a bit of that.  But I was always steering the conversation back.

The election year/classrooms conversation didn't cover territory that was new to me, but the social media discussions did.  One instructor brought up the idea that we should be preparing our students to have a more professional online life so that they're ready to get jobs--I must admit that had never occurred to me.  I was thinking we'd talk about how we might use social media sites to improve learning, which we did discuss.  I also didn't anticipate that we would all have such different ideas about how to define social media--that was interesting too.

At one point, I looked around the room and thought, what a great group of people; I am so lucky to work with them.

The rest of the day was hectic--yesterday was the last day to get students admitted for the Fall quarter which starts on Monday.  So I looked at lots of Admissions packets and transcripts from other schools in the space of a few hours.

I got home frazzled, and ate quesadillas with wine.  I conked out early on the couch because I hadn't gotten enough sleep the night before. 

Today should be an easier day--we have new student orientation, but that schedule has been changed again, and I am not part of it.  Today I hope to catch up on all the work that the hectic schedule of the last 2 days has prevented me from doing.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Birdsong and Poetry Transformations

Early in the day, on Monday, I read a Facebook post by a pastor friend:  "6:45 AM and it's still dark. It's good to pay attention, and to be grounded in the rhythms of God's creation."

I wrote this response:  "In late June, I went through a period where I'd wake up for the day at 2 a.m. Happily it didn't last long, but while it did, I was astounded at the riotous birdsong that was happening as the rest of the world slept. I'd write while the birds sang, and if it wasn't for my later in the day exhaustion, I might have kept to that schedule. I felt like I was in on a secret world, that birds get up even before monks to sing praise to our Creator!"

Tuesday morning, I tried to transform that post into a poem; here's my first draft: 

While the world sleeps
through the earliest
hours of the morning,
the birds erupt
in riotous song.

As the clock moves
from 3 to 4, the monks join
the chorus, chanting Psalms
in ancient rhythms.

My song takes up less space,
but is no less glad.
I write poems on purple
paper, a quiet plainsong. 

I actually prefer the FB post.  I tried cutting and pasting that post on the page, but couldn't find a poem rhythm.  There's something there, though, something that wants to be a poem.

I put both pieces of writing on a piece of paper.  I took the paper with me to my day of many meetings, but I didn't have a chance to return to it.  I have a vague worry that I lost the piece of paper somewhere along the way, but even if someone at the school which is my workplace finds it, I'm not concerned.  The notes that I took during one of the meetings, on the other hand, those I should keep an eye on.

I've been looking at old blog posts which have sent me to old poetry notebooks.  Once I typed up everything I wrote and sent it out.  Later, I only sent out the poems that I envisioned including in a book with a spine--that left lots of poems out.  Should I go back and revisit any of them?  What about the scraps that I've kept in the notebooks?

I'm not feeling particularly stymied/uninspired this week, but I should remember this archive of notebooks the next time that I am.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Of Debates and Cake

Once, I would have watched the presidential debate, each and every one.  Once, I recorded them (on tape!) and made my students watched them--we then discussed the elements of argument present or not and wrote analytical essays.

That woman is no longer me.  I watched 15 minutes of the debate, and once the voices went up and the talking over each other started, I called it a night.

Once, I thought I needed to watch the debates to be informed, to be a good citizen.  This election, I don't feel I need the debates to tell me what I need to know.

If I had counted on last night's debate to get solid information, I don't know that I'd have gotten that.  Where was that moderator?  I'd like to see moderators have the power to cut the microphone when rules of good debating are ignored. 

I just don't have the patience for modern life, the shouting, the refusal to listen to each other to be able to find middle ground, the shouting.

Yesterday was my spouse's birthday.  We didn't make specific plans, but I did make a cake.  I was going to go with my standard 9 x 13 pan approach, but my spouse said that layers would make it feel more special. 

I remember why I don't make cakes in layers these days; parts of the cake got stuck in the pans:



Luckily the cake tasted better than it looked.  Here's a less honest shot of the cake, from the view of the unbroken side.



I also had good publishing news--a poem accepted!  And I got my contributor's copy of Adanna--more about that poem in a later post.

Today is a day of many meetings--I often come up with interesting poem ideas on these days--stay tuned!

Monday, September 26, 2016

The Arizona Trip: With Pictures

When I remember our Arizona vacation, I will probably not remember the plane flights.  They were long, but blessedly uneventful.  Our fellow passengers were on good behavior--although I did notice a larger than usual number of dogs and emotional support dogs on the return trip, which struck me as odd.  A dog in the airplane used to be an oddity, but it's getting to be normal.

No, I will remember this, the view from the front porch of the cabin, and the disconnect between the desert I thought I would see with the actual view of ancient pines and gloomy weather:



I didn't think to take my camera with me to the nail salon, which took up much of our Wed. afternoon.  As a sociologist/anthropologist, I was intrigued, but only as an onlooker.  Happily, I thought to bring a book.  I hope I didn't seem rude by tuning out periodically.  I wanted to be supportive of the wedding party, but there were many moments when we were all separate from each other.  It was a huge nail salon.  But the wedding venue was much larger and more lovely:





I will remember the beautiful wedding, which brightened up the day that had the dreariest weather:




I came across many cultures I didn't know existed.  I had no idea that people would prefer a frostingless cake, but they do.  And it was delicious:




Most of Thursday was getting ready for the wedding, being at the wedding, and recovering from the big day.  The venue was lovely and the food delicious.  It was a great way to spend the day.



On Friday, we took a long train ride to the Grand Canyon--we saw all sorts of landscapes, which was  a treat. 



It took 2 hours and 15 minutes each way, and we didn't take any of our gadgets with us.  It was great to tune into our surroundings in this way, to pay attention, to be present:




What can I possibly say about the Grand Canyon?  Magnificent!



I was struck by the crowds at the Grand Canyon, by how many people I saw who were oblivious to the Grand Canyon, who walked beside it, punching messages into their phones.  I didn't take pictures of those people.  I didn't want to be oblivious to the world around me:



And then, all too soon, it was time to go home.  But I will remember the wonderful meals cooked in a tiny kitchen, the cooking and clean up chores shared equally, the fellowship with a family that was not biologically mine, but felt familiar:



I will remember all the different people we met along the way, the reminders as if God said to me, "There are many wonderful ways to make a life."  There was the woman on the flight from Tampa to Phoenix who had been married many years to an Air Force guy who had been working for the circus when she first met him.  She, too, worked for the circus as a fire eater.  I'll remember the young people I met who have very different ideas of a successful life--one works on a fishing boat in Alaska for 6 months to fund his time in Costa Rica for the other 6 months.  I'll remember the young people who met doing conservation work--there are more of them out there in the world than I realized.



I'll remember that canyon, the consolation of a fierce landscape.  I'll remember that the world offers many vistas, if we would but open our eyes.


Sunday, September 25, 2016

Arizona Wedding Trip: The Overview

We have just finished a quick trip to Arizona--by "quick," I mean that we were there only for a few days, not that the trip itself--that endless airline trek--was quick.

Long ago in grad school, I made a friendship with a woman from England.  She returned to England because of the better health care system and her friends and family there.  When she returned to England, she was pregnant with her older son.  This past Thursday, her younger son got married in Arizona.

Yes, once we went to the weddings of our friends.  Now we are going to the weddings of their children.  And hanging over me, the knowledge that at some point, it will be funerals that bring us together--and so, for now, I cling to the joyous even more fiercely than I did when we saw our friends get married when we were all in our 20's.

Over a year ago, when my friend told me of the wedding of her son and asked if I could come, I said, "Of course.  How often do you get to America?"  It did occur to me during our travels that it might have been easier to get to England.

Still, it was a great trip.  We went to Flagstaff, and we all gathered at a great place, Arizona Mountain Inn and Cabins.  Some of us stayed at the bed and breakfast part of the property, while others shared a large cabin (we had a room in the big cabin).  It was wonderful to have space where we could assemble and cook and catch up with each other. 

I still woke up early, so I had time to read each morning.  I'll likely write a separate post, but the book that has stayed with me longest is Lionel Shriver's The Mandibles:  2029-2047, a chilling, compelling dystopia.  I found it so compelling that as I write, I am listening to this podcast where Shriver talks about writing it.

The wedding was beautiful, despite gloomy weather.  When my spouse-to-be and I went through the required pre-marital counseling, our pastor told us that during a wedding, everyone sits there, evaluating their own marriages, and through the years, that has been the case for me.  I also evaluate the institution of marriage. 

But this trip, I was also intrigued by the immigrant/pioneer aspect of marriage--two people set out against enormous odds, often not realizing how great the odds will be, not knowing what they're actually signing up for.  My friend's son moved very far away after falling in love with the fierce Arizona landscape.  The day before the wedding, I went with a group to a nail parlor run by Vietnamese immigrants who I think were all part of the same family.  I thought about all of us, our attempts to reinvent ourselves, the bride, the various family members, several of us at midlife needing some new reinventing.

On Friday, my spouse and I went to the Grand Canyon.  We took a train there, which was one of my spouse's activities that he most wanted to do.  The Grand Canyon, of course, was spectacular.  We splurged on lunch, eating at the Arizona Room, where we had a table at the window.  We ate food native to Arizona (chili with bison, tacos with pork and chicken, and a wagyu beef sandwich, along with beer from a local brewery and wine.  It was a spectacular meal in every way.

As we sat and ate, my spouse said, "What I'm about to say makes no sense.  But in so many ways, being here feels like--"

"Being home again?"  He nodded.  I was feeling it too. 

It's rare that we go to a place and both say, "What would it be like to live here?  Maybe we should think about that some more."

Of course, it also makes not much sense to leave one place that's likely to be ravaged by climate change in the form of sea level rise to go to another that will run out of water soon because of climate change.

We arrived on Tuesday, at 6:35 p.m., as the sun was setting.  Arizona doesn't spring forward for Daylight Savings Time, so the time change was more disconcerting than it ordinarily would be.  We drove from Phoenix to Flagstaff in deep darkness.  Yesterday, as we drove back in full daylight, I realized what we had missed.

We knew it would be a short trip.  In fact, at one point, we had toyed with the idea of a longer trip, but we decided that because of work demands, we'd put that off.  In some ways, I'm glad, since our longer trip would have been partly by motorcycle, and because of a tropical storm in the Pacific, we'd have had miserable weather for riding.

Still, I'd like to get back to go to some of the other national parks and to explore places like Sedona.  As we flew over that landscape on our way back, the view was so compelling that I just stared at the window for the first part of plane trip.  I would like to explore that land further--with lots of water in my vehicle.

I felt more nervous about this trip than I do about most travels.  In part, it was because we were sharing the cabin with people we'd never met (along with good friends), with plans that were a bit nebulous.  In part, it was because we were traveling to unknown parts, with lots of connections that could have gone wonky.  In part, it's because travelling by plane always makes me anxious these days.  In part, the background noise of my life is one of anxiety.

I'm happy to report that I am still able to feel these fears and push through.  I know that I will be happy that I did it in the end, and thus, I am able to operate even with fear thrumming a backbeat with my nervous system as instrument.  I'm also aware that anyone's travel days may be limited in the future, and thus, we should seize these opportunities as we have them.

And now, for the laundry and the grocery shopping--back to old shoes and porridge, as an old saying goes (for more, see this blog post).

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Remembering the Trip to the Joshua Trees

Yesterday's post made me think about our trip to California, at the end of 2012.



The desert enchanted me, with that floor that looked like a sea bed--because it once was:



I loved the small, sturdy Joshua trees.



I loved the wind farms--that capturing of the force of the planet to give us electricity.



But most of all, I loved that fierce and rugged landscape.