Friday, October 24, 2014

Anniversaries: Hurricanes and Online Teaching

I have anniversaries on the brain.  If it was 2005, at this hour, I'd be up to watch the news.  For weeks, we'd been watching the progress of Hurricane Wilma.  We had just finished cleaning up from Hurricane Katrina, which hit Florida on its way to New Orleans.  We had a huge ficus tree in the back yard, and when it fell, it took up much of the back yard.  It didn't hit the house, but it did smash a shed to smithereens, along with fence line.

So we got that cleaned up and a new shed built, just in time for Hurricanes Rita and Wilma (the shed survived the tests!).  I have no memories of Rita, but Wilma was different.

I got up just before 5 a.m. and watched the news.  I knew that Wilma would come ashore on the west coast, so I assumed that it would lose power as it crossed the peninsula.  Our puny land mass didn't seem to affect it at all.  I watched the news, little imagining it would be the last time for days that we'd have power.

Some people say that Wilma was only a category 1, but I'd swear it was a 2.  When I saw all the damage, I wondered if it was a 3.  At any rate, it's sobering how much damage a strong 1 or a 2 can do.  Some parts of our county were out of power until Thanksgiving.

Let me think about a happier anniversary.  A week ago, more or less, I'd have been starting my first week of online teaching.  I didn't blog about the fact that I was teaching online until much later.  I wanted to make sure I could do it, and for a variety of reasons, mainly fear of failure, I didn't want many people at my full time job to know.

I wasn't sure what to expect, but I was delighted.  A year ago, I started a Word document.  I thought I might write a post later.

Here's what I wrote:

The students are so enthusiastic about being enrolled.  They write marvelous introductions of themselves.  They respond to my introduction of myself and ask questions (where did you get your Ph.D.?) and ask if I could post a picture of one of my quilts, which I do.

Here's my introduction:

My name is Kristin Berkey-Abbott.  I earned a Ph.D. in British Literature.  I became an English major because I love to read, and I became a college teacher because I wanted to discuss good writing with students and to help them become better writers and communicators.

When I'm not reading, still one of my favorite things to do in my spare time, I'm quilting, going to spin and boot camp class, and working on a variety of writing projects.  I look forward to the conversations we'll have here.

I remember being thrilled at their enthusiasm and at my own corresponding enthusiasm.  Happily, that thrill has not faded.  I've just started with 2 new online classes, and the students are brimming with hope and happiness to be there.  I am too. 

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Poetry Thursday: Nancy Drew as Teacher

Yesterday I wrote this blog post that talked about my inspirations in writing a poem about Nancy Drew who had grown up and gone back to teaching.  I posted a link to the post on Facebook, and several of my friends wanted to see the poem--and one mentioned Ned Nickerson, which gave me an inspiration about how to end the poem.  I've decided to go ahead and post the poem here and put a link on Facebook.

First, in the spirit of full disclosure, I should confess to being a Trixie Beldon fan.  I collected that whole series.  While I read the Nancy Drew series, I much preferred Trixie Beldon, who seemed much more spunky and independent.

This morning, as I revised yesterday's Nancy Drew poem, I wanted to find a list of the titles of the Nancy Drew books.  Not too long ago, I'd have needed to go to a library.  Now a simple search gets me to a page that lists them.  Amazing. 

At some point, perhaps I'll weave more elements from these titles before I call the poem done.  This morning, as I mulled over how to end the poem, I found the list inspiring.  I had written these lines:

She contemplates the oldest mystery
of all, why we lose
the ones we love,
how we become phantoms of our younger selves.

Below, you can see how the poem evolved differently.  I was going to end the poem with those lines.  Then I wrote what became the last 2 stanzas.  I decided that the lines above weren't necessary, and in fact, detracted.  I think that I often reveal too much, that I don't trust the readers to connect the strands.

I'm not calling this poem finished, so if you have any ideas or suggestions, feel free to let me know.  Or if it inspires you to write a poem of your own, swell!

Nancy Drew and the Mystery of the Pre-Drop Outs

Nancy Drew decides she needs new
mysteries to solve, so she returns
to school, to mold young minds.

Long ago, in between cracking cases
involving diaries or letters or maps and solving
secrets in attics and towers, she got a teaching
certificate, as ambitious women did in those days.
Now she calls the school board to see
how she might be of use.

Her credentials, old and out of date,
don't prevent her from taking charge
of the most hopeless classrooms,
the students on a layover
on their journey to juvenile court.

Given tattered textbooks and worksheets without
answer keys, Nancy Drew adopts
a different approach.  As always, she calls
on her friends.

Bess runs a bakeshop, so she teaches
the students to cook, a retro home-ec
approach.  Nancy Drew's feminist critics
would not approve, but this generation
of students, raised on cooking shows, responds
with rare enthusiasm.

Nancy Drew believes in fresh air and sunshine,
so she recruits her friend George, a marine
biologist, for ideas.  George leads
field trips to various ecosystems:
swamp walks and snorkeling and soon
some of the students are ready
for college-track science classes.

These clues to a better future don't prevent
some of her students from sneaking
away to explore more ancient secrets.
She tries to keep them focused on the future,
but she remembers Ned Nickerson
and those cars now considered classics.

She thinks Of Ned in the roadster,
and later, her love confined to the hospital bed,
immune from rescue, unable to hear
her whispered pleas.

She kisses the old locket always worn
around her neck and writes the day's lesson
plan on the white board.  At the end
of the day, she erases the smeared
lines from the board to leave a blank
space to be filled again in the morning.

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.