Friday, April 20, 2018

The Forgiveness of the Flowers

A few weeks ago, I bought 2 pots of hydrangeas from Trader Joe's.  I know better than to plant them in the yard, but I've had luck keeping plants alive in flower pots, so I decided to take a chance.

Last night after a long day at work and a fundraiser afterward, I arrived home to bedraggled blooms.  I said to my spouse, "I think these flowers may be too needy for me."  Still, I brought them inside and watered them in the kitchen sink.

This morning, they're perky again and back out on the front porch.

This morning, I'm thinking of these flowers as a metaphor for our creative lives.  I've been feeling a bit bedraggled.  I haven't written fiction much since my Session 4 online class started in mid-March.  I'm writing a poem a week, but I'd like to write more.  I'm blogging, but I feel like my posts aren't as rich and developed as they sometimes are.

Some days, I have no time to water my creative plants as I'm racing from commitment to commitment.  It's good to remember that just a bit of water--reading some good materials, jotting down an inspiration, hearing about the successes of my favorite writers, planning a literary event--can make my dry leaves plump up.

Of course, I'm also aware of the corpses of plants that are on the side of the porch.  I'm aware of all the times that I brought water too late.  I'm aware of the white fly infestation that took out last year's petunias, no matter how I tried to rescue them.

And yet, even death doesn't have to be the final word.  I've noticed tiny petunia blooms in parts of the yard where I didn't plant them.  I know how many creative works have risen from what I would have thought would be the final ashes of failure.

I am missing the inspirations of the AWP conference and the Create in Me retreat.  Let me create something this week-end.  Let my creativity be watered in this way.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Creativity Update

This week has been a good week creatively--although I am aware that my definition of what makes a good creative week has changed.  Here's what it means at this point in my life:

--I've made some submissions to journals.

--On Monday, I wrote a rough draft of a poem inspired by a poem that Luisa A. Igloria wrote.  It was a jumble of images:  the body as a violin with a broken bow, the body as a swamp that hides slaves.  I knew that it was a mix of both positive and negative.  I wasn't sure what I was trying to say.  Tuesday was one of those days when I was limping through the day with pain in my feet and hips, so the ways the body changes as we age was on my brain.

--I pasted this Facebook post:

"I spent some time at lunch writing a poem. I was inspired by these lines by Luisa A. Igloria (read the whole poem here:

"Is it my body
I inhabit, or do I only haunt
a country whose maps have grown...

I played with this metaphor, the body as _______. I thought about the body as a swamp that shelters runaway slaves or a violin with a bow of exploded horse hair. More to come. Thanks Luisa A. Igloria and Dave Bonta for the Via Negativa site which never fails to inspire me in ways I didn't anticipate."

--Luisa and I are Facebook friends; she said she couldn't wait to read the poem.  That encouraged me to do some revision.

--On Tuesday, I made revisions--for me they were fairly significant, since the first draft was quite a jumble.

--On Wednesday, the poem was up at Dave Bonta's Via Negativa site; go here to read the poem.  I posted the link on Facebook.

It's one of those kinds of weeks that makes me happy to be alive and writing right now.  I may be writing fewer poems than I was 20 years ago, but I feel connected to a wider poetry community.


Wednesday, April 18, 2018

The Content of Our Character: Kindness

Yesterday was a strange day, with the reports of deaths of 3 famous person, along with the passenger killed when the jet engine of a plane exploded and broke the plane window.

I began the day hearing about the death of Harry Anderson, most famous in his role of the judge of Night Court.  As I drove home, I heard about the death of Carl Kasell, who was the voice of the news to me each morning on NPR.  And then, later in the evening, came news of the death of former first lady Barbara Bush.

As I heard people talk about these people and as I read some bits here and there, I noticed that the word "kind" was used again and again.  Harry Anderson was not only a great person on the set, but went on to be very helpful with the hurricane Katrina recovery in New Orleans, where he lived when the storm hit.  Carl Kasell was remembered as "kind down to his bones."  Barbara Bush leaves a legacy of advocating literacy, especially for adults who had yet to learn to read--a population that was rarely served until she focused on it.  She was also important in showing how to treat people with AIDS with dignity and compassion.

Every time someone famous has died, I have spent at least a moment--if not days--pondering the idea of legacy and what we leave behind.  In my younger years, I'd have wanted my legacy to be in the league of Martin Luther King:  bending the arc of history towards justice.  I'd have wanted that arc to be big and bold.  In my early adult years, I thought about my literary legacy and what I'd need to do to cement that.

Now I am older--and in an age that seems much more brutal and soul crushing.  Now I'd like to live in a world where we're all kind to each other.  I'd like us to resolve to go out of our way to do an act of kindness that's not expected, each and every day.

As I reflect on this idea, I realize that we can bend the arc of history with kindness.  It may not be as splashy as bending the arc of history with ever more impressive weaponry, but it will hurt less.  I could have one act of kindness a week go out to fellow writers--a book review, a kind note, a good word on social media--and that might take me a long way towards that goal I had in my early adult years.

Kindness is one of those marks of character that doesn't always rise to the top of a list of desired qualities.  But it's what I'll be looking for as I move from middle age to older age.  It's what I'll be emulating.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

The FEMA Interview

Last night, FEMA called me for a follow up interview on my experience applying for aid.  I said, "I applied for aid?  I remember the application with the Small Business Administration, but not FEMA."

She assured me that I had applied--and later I realized that I must have applied, because otherwise, I wouldn't have been able to apply for a loan with the SBA--one is eligible for a loan when FEMA determines that one isn't eligible for money/support in any other way from FEMA.  I was fairly sure we wouldn't be eligible, since we have insurance, and I was right.

My experience with FEMA wasn't very memorable, clearly, but the interview went on.

When we got to the question about the factor that has been most important in our inability to fully recover from the storm, tears prickled in my eyes.  I chose the best option from the list:  lack of contractor availability or lack of supplies.  There weren't any questions about inability to make a phone call for weeks on end--and I don't mean that the equipment wasn't working. There weren't any answers that talked about the exhaustion of it all.  

There wasn't an answer that said, "Realization that my retirement plans are completely untenable, and therefore, I didn't want to invest any more time and money in this house that was the cornerstone of my retirement plan.  But if we don't invest the money, we can't sell the house, and then we won't be able to develop any other retirement plan."

I finished the interview without completely breaking down, although perhaps the very nice FEMA lady sensed my quivering voice.  As she read the questions, I thought about all the people who have already left South Florida--just yesterday morning, a friend of mine wrote to say she was moving and would be gone by May 31, but she'd love to have one last dinner together.  I thought about how a storm changes the landscape:  trees destroyed, houses bulldozed, shorelines reshaped, and people who pack up and move to a place where they hope they will be safer.

As we concluded, I asked the interviewer where she was calling from tonight.  She said, "Texas."  I complimented her on her lovely accent which sounded like home to me.  I'm not from Texas, of course, but I do love regional accents from the U.S. South.

I hung up the phone and wept.

But it was a good kind a cry, the kind that reminds me that I'm carrying around a lot of pain that I don't often take time to recognize, the kind that's good to get out of my body by way of tears. 

Monday, April 16, 2018

Lessons and Inspirations from a Month of Groups

From early March to early April, I spent a lot of time in groups:  workshops, presentations, and all sorts of sessions.  Let me record a few times when I said, "What a great technique!  Let me remember this":

--At the AWP, I went to a session where it became clear that more of the audience had questions than the panel would be able to get to.  So close to the end, the moderator had each person state their question and then each of the panel presenters gave one closing remark.  I was surprised by how the questions all got answered.

This technique might be a good one even if time wasn't running out.  I noticed that it got rid of the tendency to bloviate.  We've all heard the person who stands up to ask a question, only they don't really want to ask a question, but to go on and on about their own opinions.  Having everyone state a succinct question got rid of that phenomena.

--At the Create in Me retreat, we had a group session along with times for small group discussion or silence for contemplation.  To call us back, our leader sang the simple song that he taught us at the beginning of each session. He sang it softly at first, to signal that we were at the end of time.  As each group/person came back to the group, the singing increased.  This technique allowed conversation/contemplation to come to an end without the crashing halt that can come with other ways.

--At the Create in Me retreat, we had a small worship service each morning.  There was a Bible reading, some liturgy, and some songs.  Each day, the liturgy remained the same.  I liked the repetition.  I thought about how often I've spent significant time creating a new experience for each day of a gathering.  But repetition has rewards too.

As I looked back through the notes I took during this month of meetings, I came across a writing prompt that seems perfect for our halfway point in National Poetry Month.  It comes from Amy Fryckholm during the AWP session, The Ganesh in the Room:

Open the Bible at random, and then do the same with another piece of literature, Shakespeare or Whitman.  See what emerges.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Fitbit App Woes

I have now spent more time than I would have thought possible in trying to download a free Fitbit app.  On the old laptop, I was successful in the download, but it is not equipped with Bluetooth, so it couldn't talk to the Fitbit.  On the new laptop, which does have Bluetooth, I can't get the app to download.

This situation seems a metaphor for something, but I'm already depressed, so I don't want to think about the larger meanings too much.

I'm hoping that I'll try to download the app later, and it will be fine.  Last night, the app didn't download on the first try either.

Worst case scenario, I can get a Dongle for the non-Bluetooth computer.  Who gives these items names?  A Dongle device?  Really?

I am now going to do something low tech--watering the petunias on the porch perhaps.  I have about run out of time for anything more satisfying, like writing or contemplating the larger issues of life.


Saturday, April 14, 2018

National Scrabble Day at School

Yesterday in my very early zips around the internet, I saw that it was National Scrabble Day.  I thought, I wish I had known earlier--I could have done something special for our students.  And then I thought, well it's not too late.

Had we gotten rid of the Scrabble game long ago?  I checked the closet--nope, we still had it.  So I pulled it out, dusted it off, and took it with me to school.

We have a wonderful gathering space, and not a week goes by that I'm not grateful for it.  It's got a microwave and a full size refrigerator, a long counter and sink, cabinets, several vending machines and lots of tables.  There are days I wish we had a stove, but I understand why that would be a problem.

I got to school and set up a game on the table.  I started with a word, and I wrote an invitation to the campus:

As the day went on, people added a word here and there. 

At one point, several people actually played a game.

As I put the game away at the end of the day, I reflected on the final board, with its mix of words and non-words, a board created by people who clearly don't understand the rules of Scrabble.  But it did look like a board that was created by people having fun with letters and language.

Throughout the day, I overheard snippets of conversations where people reminisced about the games they had played and enjoyed.  Even if people didn't have time or inclination to participate, the presence of a Scrabble game in process jolted them into a mindfulness that they didn't have before going into the break room.

I liked it because it was mostly unplanned and spontaneous.  Several times throughout the day, I greeted people by saying, "Happy National Scrabble Day.  Don't forget to play the game in the break room.  After all, this day only comes once a year."  People smiled as they hurried on to classes. 

I want to record these small successes as they come, especially successes that don't cost money.  We don't have the kind of student services department that larger campuses would have, a staff that would plan these kinds of events.  In future years, we may have even less of a budget for student appreciation events, and I want to remember that there are ways to improve the atmosphere that don't cost much.