Saturday, May 31, 2014

The Feast Day of the Visitation for Moderns

Today we celebrate the Feast of the Visitation, the day when Mary goes to her older cousin Elizabeth. Both are miraculously pregnant, Mary with Jesus, Elizabeth with John the Baptist. For more on this feast day, head on over to this post on my theology blog.

I know that many of us do not celebrate feast days, even those of us who are Christians.  But this day offers so many possibilities that I cannot resist offering some suggestions for what you might do today:

--Every feast day needs food traditions, so today, I'd encourage us to nourish ourselves as if we're pregnant with a child who will go on to save the world, and thus needs a good head start. Today is a great day to eat lots of fresh fruit and vegetables. Enjoy the finest protein. Drink an extra glass of milk--but because it's a festival day, make it a milkshake in your favorite flavor.

--Ask yourself why you don't show this level of self-care every day. And be gentle and realistic with yourself. Buy some multi-vitamins for future days when you don't have time to stock up on nourishing food or when you don't have time to eat. Today is a good day to make a resolution that those days will be few and far between.
--Elizabeth was a member of an older generation.  She helped out her younger cousin.  Think about the younger generation who looks to you for similar guidance. Write an encouraging note, e-mail, Facebook post, or Tweet. Think of other ways you might serve as a shepherd for the next generation: tutoring, reading in the schools, leading a Scout troop, getting involved with a group that speaks to your heart, donating money to a group that does good work--the list is as varied as we humans.
--We've all been helped along the way, and today is a good day to think about our elders.  If those helpful Elizabeths are still alive, write a thank you note or call them to say thanks.

----Today is a good day to spend some time in discernment.  God called Mary, and she said yes.  God called Elizabeth, and she said yes.  God had a larger vision for them than they could have imagined for themselves.  Imagine that the angel Gabriel appears to you with a special request from God.  What is that request?

----We could practice seeing the presence of God, or the evidence of God's great generosity, which is all around us.   We could write down what we see, or take photographs, or record in some way the gifts that God gives us.  That way, we'll have a record for days when it's hard to remember our gratitude.

Friday, May 30, 2014

Remembering Maya Angelou

There's been so much already written about Maya Angelou; I particularly like this piece in The Washington Post by Natasha Trethewey.  The world likely doesn't need me to add my piece.

That's good, because I'm not sure I have much to say.  I'll admit that I haven't read much of her work, a stray poem here and there, an essay now and again.  My generation didn't read I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings as a class assignment, the way that later generations have.  Like many Americans, I feel I know Angelou more because of her frequent Oprah appearances than from reading her work.

Still, I felt sad at the news of her death Wednesday.  I wondered why I felt so strange:  after all, there are writers who have written works which have been a true touchstone for me.  And she had lived a full life, dying what seems to be a good death at a late age.

I feel a loss in some of the same ways I felt when my grandmother died.  What changes to society these older women had seen!  And Angelou helped usher in some of those changes.

Plus it was shocking in that she always seemed so healthy--as Di McCullough posted on Facebook, "I didn't realize I believed Maya Angelou was immortal until today."

I treasure her more for her trailblazing than for her actual writing.  She opened doors for so many of us:  women, minorities, the abused.  And I also treasure her for her fierce belief in the value of goodness.  Here's one of my favorite quotes:  "I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel."

She showed that our creative work can be a way to show kindness.  I've been struck by the testimony of so many people who were abused as children who discovered that they were not alone.  Some of us might not realize that there was a time when people just didn't talk about this ugliness, and even if they did, there weren't many resources.  Angelou was an important resource.

So, in a way, Angelou has been a touchstone for me, just a different kind.  I want my work to be a blessing, like hers has been.  I want to be the kind of light that she was.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

The Feast of the Ascension for Writers and Other Creative Types

Today is the Feast Day of the Ascension,  40 days after Easter, 10 days before Pentecost.  This feast day commemorates Jesus being taken up into Heaven.  For a more theological approach to this holiday, go to this post that I wrote for my theology blog.

Since this is my creativity blog, let me think about this feast day and what it means for artists of all sorts.

--I think about Jesus, who has already suffered death, the fate which an ascension spared for the few others who experienced it. 

It seems a fitting metaphor for our work making its way in the larger world.  We will escape death in some instances, but we should not always expect to avoid death.  Some of our artistic experiences will ascend the earthly realms, while others will be consigned to the grave; some will find resurrection from those graves, but others may not.

However resurrection and/or ascension won't happen if we're content to let our work moulder in the grave.

--Imagine it from the eyes of those who have followed Christ from traipsing around Galilee, Crucifixion, and then Resurrection.  You have just gotten your beloved Messiah returned to you, and then, poof, he's gone again.  What a whipsawed feeling they must have had.

There's a persona poem waiting to be written.  Who is this Messiah who brings us to the brink of death again and again and again?

--My inner painter wants to play with the colors and shapes of ascension.  I envision darkness at the bottom of a canvas, and swirling shapes rising up to the top. 

As I think about it, many of my canvases follow this pattern, at least in the swirling.

What are the shapes of ascension?  What are the colors?

--It's worth thinking about the earthly stuff that's weighing us down.  What keeps us from pursuing our artistic visions?  What keeps us from doing the work that we've been put on earth to do?

--In reading the Gospel for today, I was struck by the latter part of Luke 24:9: "so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high."

I love that language:  clothed with power from on high--how would we behave as artists if we believed we had been clothed with power from on high?

That language may be too theological, too non-rational, too believing in unearthly powers.  Even if we don't believe in a Supreme Being, how might we change our behavior if we truly believed we could tap into a larger power than our own?  What would happen if we acted like we were already clothed with that power?

It's an interesting mind trick, but it can work wonders.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Inspirations for a Day that Already Feels Busy

I suspect that today will be one of those days when I feel that I have no time to write.  And then I remember Leslie's post which gives great advice for those kinds of days.  She talks about the time and inspiration lost when we glue our faces to our smartphones at every free minute.  She talks about getting up to write when you can't sleep; or if you can't face leaving your comfy bed, lie there and plot the next bit of your novel or figure out where that essay wants to go.

She talks about the value of writing prompts:  "Don’t be snobby about writing prompts. There’s something about the prompt process that is especially helpful. If I say, “Write a short story in fifteen minutes,” either you’re rolling your eyes or you’re quaking in fear. If I say, “Write about snow for fifteen minutes,” you can get going. And who knows what will result?"

She also talks about starting a prompt group:  "No one manages time better than a busy person. START a prompt group yourself, either with friends or strangers. They don’t have to be professional writers, just people who are interested in writing. If you make a commitment and put a date on the calendar, there you’ll be…writing."

For most of us, we understand the value of a creative group.  If you're in the mood for an article about the power of the writing group, don't miss this one in The New York Times.  The article looks back at the Dark Room Collective, and it considers the generation of African-American poets which came after the various poetry movements of the 1960's, most notably the Black Arts Movement.

I found this paragraph particularly inspiring:  "Scholars say that what has grown from the collective is a boom in African-American poetry that’s arguably as aesthetically significant in the writing world as the work of the Beat Generation, the New York School, the Fugitives, the Black Arts Movement, even the Harlem Renaissance. Influenced by pioneers like Rita Dove, this group’s work departs stylistically from much of the black poetry that preceded it: It’s less about strife or racial identity than it is about the imagination taking wing, leading the poets to borrow from, and burrow into, history, pop culture, even quantum physics in new and surprising ways."

Think about the work of Natasha Trethewey, Nicky Finney, and Tracy K. Smith, for example.

Of course, we're not all going to change the trajectory of literature, and it's important to remember that we see these poets doing so only when we look back in retrospect.  I love the way the article ends:  “The ambition was to be creative,” she [one of the group's founders] said. “It wasn’t this grand scheme of, ‘Oh, we’re going to take over American letters.’ ”

A good ambition for today:  to be creative.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Snapshots from Memorial Day Week-end

And now it's back to work, for those of us lucky enough to have jobs that gave us the day off yesterday.  Before I say a final farewell to the week-end, let me record some highlights.

--We created a beautiful outdoor space on the front porch, with a teak table and 2 barstool chairs.  We put pots of plants--2 pots of mixed flowers, 2 pots of mixed herbs--in the arches and moved the windchimes to different hooks.  We got a citronella candle.  Yesterday, I stood on the sidewalk as the day darkened to night, and my husband sat at the table talking to his dad on the phone.  I thought, if I walked by this space, I'd want to linger for a glass of wine or a cup of coffee and a dessert.

--With our small house, it's good to have some living spaces outside.  Yesterday afternoon it turned quite hot, with blindingly bright sunshine and no shade in the back yard.  I spent most of the day outside and was feeling a bit woozy from the heat.  It was good to relax on the front porch as the sun set--good to have a shady alternative to the back yard spaces we've created.

--Yesterday morning, a group of friends was going to the beach.  Our house is on the way, so they stopped to pick us up.  Yes, it was madness of a sort, going to the beach on Memorial Day at 10:00--not a parking space to be had.  We came back to our house and had a great several hours poolside and in the pool.  Happily, our floaty toys from my nephew's visit are still around, so the 10 year old had a great time, even though we couldn't build sandcastles.

--We were with the same group of friends plus other friends on Saturday, when we all went to a wedding.  It was great to see the couple get married--they'd already been through a lot, including a near fatal car accident, in the years leading up to the marriage.  No one can doubt their vow to stay together through better or worse.

--And we were with a different set of friends from school on Sunday.  We had good food, good wine, and good conversation.

--I finally wrote a poem yesterday.  The last time I did this was May 8.  Sigh.   I resolve to write a poem at least once a week this summer.

--I took my notebook on the front porch in the morning and wrote that poem.  It was wonderful.  I like that space better than my study.

--I also worked on a Pentecost project:  wind chimes!  More on this project in coming weeks.  We have a service that combines traditional elements with arts projects; I'm leading the Pentecost sessions.  On Pentecost, we'll be creating wind chimes.

--I paid bills and put away the stuff that wants to migrate to empty, flat surfaces.  I reorganized a file box.  I put all the tax documents into a file in that box.  I strategized with my sister about a summer sailing trip.

--How lovely to have a week-end where I can get together with friends, celebrate love, eat good food, be creative, and also get some chores done.  I am always happily surprised at what a difference  a 3rd day of a week-end can make.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Celebrating Memorial Day

For some people, Memorial Day is a day to open up the beach house.  But for most of us, we're lucky if we can afford a whole week away at a place that overlooks the water.

I suspect many of us will celebrate today with a cook out or a picnic.  And many more of us will have to work.

Today, I'd like to be at a national monument, listening to one of the service bands perform.  Below is a picture taken with a much older digital camera, from the early days of digital cameras.  It's the Air Force Memorial on the grounds of the Pentagon, where one June night we heard a wonderful concert with a variety of Air Force bands.


Or maybe I'd rather be in a contemplative spot, saying a thank you.

Part of me will always be a D.C. area girl. It's hard to move around that area without being aware of the sacrifice that past citizens have given so that I can enjoy my good and happy life. Most people are familiar with the Vietnam Memorial or Arlington National Cemetery, but there are so many other places: memorial sites, statues, plaques.  Below is a memorial site in Tallapoosa Georgia; part of the site lists every member of the county killed in every war/police action of the nation's history.  It's sobering, as a listing of names so often is.

For those of us who cannot get away, perhaps we could keep our Memorial Day by reading poetry.   Here's a link to one of my favorites, "Facing It," by Yusef Komunyakaa.  There are plenty of more traditional poems and images out there.

For those of us going to Memorial Day sales, we could also make a donation to a Veteran's group or send a care package to a soldier.

For those of us doing gardening, we could make a mental trip to a veteran's cemetery and leave some imaginary flowers there.

We could say a prayer or send a wish for a future time where the world will be at peace, and we will not have to bury our fallen soldiers.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Sunday Snippets: the Potted Plant Edition

--I am inspired by everyone's Facebook posts of their beautiful gardening adventures. 

--I don't have the interest or energy--or space--for the full scale gardening that so many are doing.  But I have room for potted plants.

--My house has arches, which make great ledge space for potted plants.  You may remember last year's autumnal decorating:

--One of those pumpkins lasted until the winter until it turned into a gourd.  The last of the marigolds just died.  Time for some summer decorating!

--I took the easy route and bought gigantic pots at Home Depot that come already planted with colorful flowers--some tall, some trailing.  All the plants looked wondrously healthy.  It would have cost approximately the same to do it myself.  I like the ready-made aspect of these.  I'm slightly sad about the missed opportunity for creativity.

--I'll post pictures later.

--I also bought herbs.  How I love herbs.  They last so long, usually, and they aren't needy plants.  I hate neediness in a plant.

--People ask me why I don't have pets, and I say, "I can't even keep plants alive."  But I can usually keep herbs going for several years.

--And yesterday, I stopped by a new-to-me gardening center.  It was lovely.  I bought herbs there too.  I arrived home with a box full of herbs.  Several times since, I've just buried my face in the herb bouquet.

--I may continue to do that.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Three Day Week-ends

I got back home in the late afternoon yesterday.  We had an early steak dinner and floated around the pool.  I did my half hour of leisurely laps.  Several times, I proclaimed, "I love a 3 day week-end!"

Yes, I know that Memorial Day is more than a 3 day week-end.  I was born on an Air Force base, and I grew up around military people.  I understand the sacrifices that have made my good life possible, and I'm extremely grateful.  Perhaps I shall write more on Monday.

But today, let me luxuriate in the three day week-end that is at hand.  Let me confess that I've had a surplus of 3 day week-ends in the last few months--but I've been taking the occasional Friday off.  I much prefer a Monday off; it makes the rest of the week seem shorter.

We'll be going to a wedding today.  We'll be seeing some friends tomorrow.  But throughout the week-end, I'm hoping there will be some time to get some things done.  My desk needs some organizing.  I've still got to put away some stuff from last week-end's travels.  I'd like to buy some pots of petunias.

Perhaps there will be time for some concentrated creativity.  I've still got a poem to write to meet my weekly goal.  I need to create some altered playing cards (think collaging on a playing card) for the card swap that I said I'd be part of--due date June 1.

I'm re-reading Claire Messud's The Woman Upstairs.  It's a great book, and it makes me want to do art of assembly (as opposed to painting or sketching or working with words).  One of the artists in the book does giant installation pieces.  The other artist makes very small scale scenes in boxes, like Joseph Cornell.

In the past year, I've come across many references to Cornell, an artist whom I'd never really heard of until recently.  Is the universe trying to tell me something?

With any of these kinds of art forms, I wonder about the storage of the finished piece.  I guess this storage issue may be one of the things which ultimately drives artists to get an off-site studio.

We could take care of some house chores.  I got home last week to find the kitchen somewhat rearranged, with a teak table and bar stool chairs on the front porch.  Do we want to put some protective finish on the teak table to preserve its current look?

Perhaps I will sit at that table this week-end with my notebook.  I could drink coffee or wine and enjoy the sidewalk café feel.

I'm wishing us a sidewalk café feeling to all of our week-end plans!

Friday, May 23, 2014

Committing to a House

A year ago today, we had an appointment to see the inside of the house we would eventually buy.  I had seen an ad on Zillow, a for sale by owner ad, although the house itself had no sign.  We had several phone conversations; the house had been taken off the market for remodeling, but I was not deterred.  I asked, "What if we offered you a lower price, and you didn't have to do the work?"

We agreed that the next step would be to see the house, and a year ago, today would be the day.  I stepped through the front door and thought, I could see us living here.  I had spent the spring driving by houses and saying, "No way.  How much money do they want for that house?"  We had gone to some open houses, and I usually walked through the front door and said, "No need to go further."

But a year ago, I fell in love.  I was already enchanted even before I walked through the door, and then I decided I wanted a long-term relationship.

The house was far from perfect.  We saw it when it had no kitchen:  the previous owner had stripped it to subfloor and drywall.  I liked the idea of being able to design the kitchen we wanted; remind me of that this summer as we remodel.

My husband loved the idea of the cottage that's in the back.  I worried that we wouldn't be able to restore it.  I needn't have worried; my husband is amazing in his ability to redeem structures.

We both loved the pool in the back yard and the fact that the house is a half mile from the beach; remind me of that as the seas rise.  We both loved the fact that the neighborhood had lots of people walking through it, and that almost all of them looked non-threatening.  We wanted to be in a house and a neighborhood that would be appreciating in value; hopefully, we've made a good choice.

This week has been one where we've gotten our insurance notifications.  I was relieved when the flood insurance didn't go up as much as I thought it might when we got the notice that our subsidized flood insurance would be ending.  Our flood insurance had been so high that I'd assumed we hadn't gotten any subsidies.  When it didn't go up by thousands of dollars, I was happy--then I realized it had gone up by hundreds of dollars.

Our homeowners/windstorm was the policy that went up by thousands.  Sigh.

Each year we get our insurance, and I say, "I don't know how much longer we can afford to live here."  My spouse says, "We can afford it now."

And so we go, year by year.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Everything You Love May Be Swallowed by the Sea

Yesterday at the elementary school, my Reading Pal and I made our way through Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day.  It seemed that everyone throughout the day yesterday was an Alexander.  My Reading Pal pronounced every book not worth reading; the pictures that he drew he declared as ugly.  At work, students were confused about which classes were moving to new rooms.  I got incomplete or illegible transcript packets, and people were not happy when I requested more information.  My travels through the day took me across the path of many people who were not having a good day.

Happily, that changed by evening.  A friend of mine got free tickets to hear Jean-Michel Cousteau, son of the famous oceanographer.  My spouse and I joined her for a great meal on an outdoor patio of a restaurant, and then we headed over to the Broward Center for the Performing Arts.

We were joined by other friends and their grown up children, home from college.  We had a chance to do some catching up.  And then, the presentation started.

Cousteau didn't tell us much that I didn't already know, although he's been to much deeper depths of the ocean than most of us. 

The questions that he got kept coming back to global warming and its effects on the oceans.  He said that every time he returns to the ocean and he sees the life there, he knows it's not too late.  He said that some people have sophisticated brains and others don't, but we all have a heart, and his task is to discover ways to appeal to everyone's heart.

He excoriated modern humans for their use of bottled water; in not these exact words, he said that bottled water is a capitalist scam.  He said that tap water is perfectly fine.  He said, "I will not touch plastic."  He has developed a metal container with a filtration system as part of it that can be used 360 times; it's been tested with waters that have all sorts of contaminants and people haven't gotten sick from drinking that water that's gone through the filtration.

During the question and answer session, he fielded a question about sea level rise, and he said that people at the coast will have to move.  He looked at the audience and said, "Don't make the mistake of thinking you'll be leaving your houses to your children."  It's rare to hear that honesty, although each year our insurance goes up, a different kind of honesty.

We had parked at the Broward College garage, where we could park for free.  We walked through a festive part of Ft. Lauderdale, everyone spilling out to dine and drink along the sidewalks as music pounded from the bars.  We went to our car on the 7th floor of the parking garage and looked out at the glittering lights of tall buildings--in the not too distant future (but hopefully not in my lifetime), these buildings will be underwater.  Future generations can swim amongst the ruins.

I'm thinking of the last lines of Shelley's Ozymandius:

"'My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!'
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away."

I will spend the day thinking of a poem that combines air travel and the idea that future generations can swim amongst our skyscrapers.  Yes, I shall.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Wednesday Vignettes: Dream Jobs and Dark Spots

I want to remember a variety of vignettes, none of them deserving a full blog post of its own.  Let me capture some smaller memories of the past week:

--Last week, I had a phone conversation with a person with an MFA in creative writing.  He was looking for adjunct work; alas, I have nothing to offer.  At one point, he told me he'd looked at my CV on my website.  He said, "You have my dream job."  No one has ever called my administrator job their dream job.  When my job irritates me, I'll pull up that memory and remind myself that I have a dream job.

--Happily, most days it's a dream job of sorts for me too.  I have great colleagues, and that makes a world of difference.  I believe in the value of the classes that I oversee.

--What would be a job more closely aligned to my dreams?  What would be a job that if I applied and I was not chosen, I might cry?  A poet in residence, at a great school, with students who are passionate about writing and spirituality--and students who take it seriously.

--I have a vision of that dream job being at a theology school.  I want to be hired to be part of a rapidly expanding graduate program that looks at the intersection of spirituality and creativity.  My primary responsibility would be to explore writing and spirituality, but I would be required to team teach one class a year with an artist working in a different medium.  Yes, that would be my dream job.

--I've been doing more submitting of poems to journals lately.  What alignment of the stars has made this possible?  I feel content, sending packet after packet out into the world.  I am undistracted, peacefully sitting in my chair, creating all sorts of arrangements of poems.

--Alas, I have been writing fewer new poems in the last month.  Tomorrow, I shall write a poem!  Today I will be on the lookout for a poem that wants to be born in the morning.

--I went to the dermatologist to have a spot looked at.  He said it was probably nothing, but it's only been around for a few years, and lately, it's started changing.  He said, "Let's just take it off."  And zip, zip, just like that, it was gone.

--The dermatologist did say, "Melanoma can present a bit differently in fair skin."  Even before he said that, I'd been feeling a bit of fear.  It's been a tough cancer season for so many.  It will not surprise me if my meaningless spot comes to have a menacing meaning.

--We've had a stretch of gorgeous weather:  hot days with pleasant nights and low humidity.  It's been ferociously breezy.  We've spent most evenings sitting out back by the pool.  It's much better than zoning out in front of the TV.

--Memorial Day week-end approaches, the traditional beginning of summer.  I've begun some of my summer practices and goals already.  I want to swim a half hour in my pool each day--that's in addition to spin class and boot camp class.  I mainly want to swim so that I appreciate my pool.  I also want to drink more veggie juices.  And my ongoing goal:  to be more mindful of what I put in my mouth.

--I'd like to be more mindful of everything.  I'd like that mindfulness to help me cultivate a garden of gratitude.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Notes from a Whirlwind Week-end

When we booked our airline tickets, we knew that this past week-end would be a whirlwind.  But we predicted it would be worth it, and it was.  Let me count the joys:

--We arrived on Friday morning, and it was great to have time with my sister before everyone else (a huge extended family and friends network) arrived.  We sat on her deck and enjoyed the sun and the coolness when the clouds covered the sun.

--Something about that scene felt so familiar, and then I remembered that in a different time and place, my community college in South Carolina took one of its major vacations in early May.  More than once I travelled to my parents' townhouse in Northern Virginia and spent time on their deck, putting on a jacket, taking off a jacket, enjoying all sorts of nibbles.

--We got to go with my sister to pick my nephew up from school.

--We had great meals:  a steak dinner on Friday and burgers on Saturday.  We went to an Italian restaurant for my nephew's post-Communion celebration:  long tables with family style chicken parmesan and pasta.   Even the pizza at Chuck E. Cheese wasn't bad.

--One of the major events that we wanted to be sure to share was my nephew's first communion on Saturday.  I wrote more about that experience in this post on my theology blog.  In short, it was wonderful and the highlight of the week-end.

--Saturday afternoon, we played a variation of soccer with a mix of humans of all sorts of abilities.  Our game basically consisted of running up and down the street, kicking a ball and blocking a ball and yelling when people used their hands; it was the kind of game that had vague rules and scoring that I never understood.  I was able to block and kick.  As a person who never did well in P.E. classes, I still find it a thrill when I can "play" a group game.

--We went to pick up some friends for my nephew's birthday party at Chuck E. Cheese.  One of them hugged me like he'd always known me.  I found it touching.

--I have now been to a birthday party at Chuck E. Cheese.  It's fine with me if I never go to another one.  I could write an essay about how all the worst traits of humanity are embodied in the experience, but that would be mean-spirited, and so I won't.

--I had the chance to read 2 great books; hurrah for airline travel.  I'll likely write more about them in the coming days, but in short, these books are great:  The Snow Queen by Michael Cunningham and The Lowlands by Jhumpa Lahari.

--We had easy plane travel (thus, the chance to read).  On the way up, a group of safety patrol kids from a local elementary school were on the plane.  It was clear that they hadn't been on a plane before, and their sense of wonder made me happy.  When we took off, there were whoops of joy.  When we landed, they clapped.  Enchanting!

--On the way back, we sat next to a man working on some sort of project on his laptop about leading Jewish prayer.  Across the aisle, a man watched Cosmos with Neil deGrasse Tyson on his tablet.  We had all been able to watch a beautiful sunset as we zoomed above the surface of the planet.  I should be able to create a poem out of this.

In short, it was a great week-end, the kind of week-end we'll talk about years from now, when we're amazed that we could travel so far with such cheap airline tickets, when we'll be amazed by how far we've all come from that week-end in May.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Mount Saint Helens: A Look Back at a Volcanic Explosion

I have Mount Saint Helens on the brain--on this day in 1980, the volcanic mountain exploded. Those of us who live far away from volcanoes forget about how destructive they can be. The Mount Saint Helens eruption was a doozy.

I've been thinking about the geologist David Johnston who was on duty in a watchtower during the explosion. He died. There were photographers who died. I think of people who decided to go camping that week-end who happened to be in the wrong spot at the wrong time. As I understand the history, the mountain exploded sideways, which no one expected, and so some people were in places that weren't expected to be affected by the volcano.

More people could have died, thousands more, if the authorities had ignored the scientists and had bowed to pressure to reopen the areas they closed during the months when they knew the volcano was about to erupt.

In 2000, I listened to a variety of retrospectives on NPR. I remembered the explosion, but I was in high school and involved in dramas of my own. I didn't realize how bad it was until hearing the twenty year retrospective.

I took great hope from the descriptions of the moonscape-like atmospheres that were left after the explosion and the growth that occurred in the following years. Maybe our oceans will be similarly renewed.  History shows us that dead zones of all sorts can enjoy resurrection.

As always, ten years ago, I was inspired by the metaphorical possibilities, and I wrote this poem, which appeared in A Summer's Reading:

Thirteen Miles

My declining health, your job loss—our comfortable
life explodes. That clean mountainside crumbles.
Stress builds, and the volcano explodes.
We can see the coming cataclysm,
the moment for which we have prepared,
the disaster we thought we could avoid.
We saved money and thought we were safe,
like those folks who lived thirteen
miles away from Mount Saint Helen’s
but the mountain swallowed them whole.

The day after the volcanic explosion,
we emerge into sunshine, amazed
that the sun rose as if it was any normal
morning. The world, covered in ash, loses
its color. Tragedy paints
our world black and white. We can’t imagine
how life can continue.

And yet, life struggles on, swims towards continuity.
We have ecosystems protected deep inside ourselves,
whole worlds that we didn’t even know existed. We discover
them now that our misfortunes have blasted
away the undergrowth that took eons to grow.
In twenty years, we won’t recognize
our various, volcanic landscapes.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Celebrations: The Sacred and the Secular

This week-end, we'll celebrate 2 events in the life of my nephew.  He will take his First Communion on Saturday, and on Sunday, he turns 8.  For more on his First Communion, see this blog post on my theology blog.

Both events will be huge, in their own way.  My nephew is Catholic, so the First Communion worship service will be big.  The church is big in terms of worshipping members, and he will not be the only child celebrating First Communion.  Lutherans don't imbue the First Communion with the kind of serious celebration that Catholics do; in fact, it wouldn't surprise me if in many Lutheran churches, the event passes without much notice.

That will not be the case on Saturday.  We will go to Mass in the late morning and then go to a luncheon.  I imagine that many of us will hang out together all afternoon and into the evening.

And then on Sunday, it's time for a different kind of birthday party.  We will go to Chuck E Cheese.  My friends and colleagues who have children say, "I don't envy you."  My friends and colleagues who don't have children say, "It sounds like fun."

I'm not sure how I've gotten through my 48 years without ever going to a Chuck E Cheese birthday party for a youngster.  After all, I've known plenty of people, been friends with lots of people, who have children.

But if you don't have children of your own, you often don't get certain invitations.  After Sunday, perhaps I'll know the reason why.

I'm looking forward to this week-end, with it's different kinds of celebrations.  Will I see the sacred in the secular?  Will I see elements of the secular in the sacred?  I suspect I will--that's the kind of brain I have.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Creativity and the Creche

My morning is running away from me, so let me post here the same photo meditation that I posted on my theology blog.  It has a creativity component, so I'm hopeful that you'll enjoy it, even if the crèche scene is not your thing.

During the last few trips I've taken to Mepkin Abbey, I've noticed more crèches.  Is it because I've traveled during the very end of the Christmas season (Feb. 2, Candlemas, the end of 40 days of Christmas season)?

Or have the creators of the gardens by the gift shop simply enjoyed planting these crèche scenes in nature?

A crèche scene makes me think of so many things:  the joy of a birth, the difficulty of travel, God's glory breaking through in the world in ways that most people didn't notice.

In our creative lives, what is in us, waiting to be brought forth?  What is waiting to be born?

How can we nourish that divine spark that is within each of us?

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

A Book for Your Walks in the Dark

We have had to wait a long time for a new book by Barbara Brown Taylor, and I'm happy to say, her new book is worth the wait.  Learning to Walk in the Dark explores the ways that Christianity, and much of modern life, has prioritized the light and demonized the dark.  In this book, Brown explores the dark.

Brown refers to the literature that through the years has told us that the light is better, but this book is not a work of literary scholarship.  Brown looks at her own life history, as well as the history of the universe.   I loved the parts of the book where she explains astronomy and the passage of light through space and time.  She utilizes other sciences to explain how our bodies respond to light, but her work is not focused exclusively on humans.  There's a poignant story about a stranded sea turtle, for example.

She also seeks out experiences that will plunge her into darkness.  I found her exploration of a cave to be quite evocative.  On this trip, she finds a wonderful stone, a stone that looks ordinary in broad daylight, but quite magical in the darkness of the cave.

From this experience comes one of the central lessons of the book:  "While I am looking for something large, bright, and unmistakably holy, God slips something small, dark, and apparently negligible in my pocket.  How many other treasures have I walked right by because they did not meet my standards?  At least one of the day's lessons is about learning to let go of my bright ideas about God so that my eyes are open to the God who is" (p. 131).

Many of her experiences lead her away from organized religion, and if you've read her other works, this direction will not come as a surprise.  She says, "I do not believe I am describing a loss of faith in God here.  Instead, I believe I am describing a loss of faith in the system that promised to help me grasp God not only by setting my feet on the right track but also by giving me the right language, concepts, and tolls to get a hook in the Real Thing when I found it" (p. 140). 

I like her commentary on this loss:  "There is no permanently safe place to settle.  I will always be at sea, steering by the stars.  Yet as dark as this sounds it provides great relief, because it now sounds truer than anything that came before" (p. 140).  Like her, I find this vision oddly comforting.

She has already described a sort of sunshine Christianity that so often fails believers when the truly devastating life events fall on our heads.  She gives an alternate view early in the book:  "Meanwhile, here is some good news you can use:  even when light fades and darkness falls--as it does every single day, in every single life--God does not turn the world over to some other deity.  Even when you cannot see where you are going and no one answers when you call, this is not sufficient proof that you are alone.  There is a divine presences that transcends all your ideas about it, along with all your language for calling it to your aid . . . " (pp. 15-16).

If you are drawn to spiritual memoirs, I predict you'll find much to love in this book.  It's a great book for writers, as she approaches the subject of darkness from many angles.  A caveat:  if you're the kind of reader who cannot abide any reference to God, this book is not for you.  It's firmly rooted in the spiritual realm, but it's a spirituality that most of us will not find difficult to dwell within/beside as we read the book.

 My thoughts have returned to this book many times as I was reading it and since I finished.  It's a wonderful book, in that you can dip in and out of it without losing the thread, and I suspect it will reward those of us who return to it through the years.  We're not in a dark time of the year, in terms of the season and the sun, but go ahead and add this one to your summer reading list. 

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Mourning Colored Sunrise and Other Inspirations

This morning I was writing a blog post about the Create in Me retreat.  I started thinking about the ways that the words integrated and integrity are so similar.  It makes sense of course, and if I'd had those Latin classes I've always regretted not taking, I could explain it better.

The ways to live an integrated life full of integrity are never far from my mind.  I was talking to  colleagues yesterday, and I said, "I feel like every money-making idea I have is rooted in old media technology:  good book ideas, something like that."

One colleague is writing one of those old media books, and we talked about a different colleague who is going to part-time because he's making so much money from an app he created.  Can one still make money writing books?  There have been recent reports that make it sound like no one is reading, at least nothing on paper.

And then, this morning, I came across this blog post by Marly Youmans, which ends with this wonderful idea:  "All you lovers of reading and shapeliness in words, defy this crazy world! If hopeless, still be brave. Read better books, make better books. Encourage taste, a human achievement that used to support culture. Online or in-person, recommend what's best in the arts. Make the better world, even if you fear that you are the only person who inhabits it. Dream of a better culture, a more worthy gift to hand on to our children."

I walked to the beach with those words in my head; I watched the sun rise.  The cloud cover made it less dramatic than I expected.  I watched as the sky turned from a dull grey to a lovely violet.  I thought about Victorian mourning customs, where one could tell what stage of grief the mourner occupied by the color of the clothes, which went from black to grey to violet to lavender as the year progressed.

I thought about the sun and sky in concert every day, creating wonderful vistas which most of us will never notice.  I often feel that way about poems and blog posts, which is rather liberating.  And then, suddenly, something I've written gets attention, and it's almost always a bit of a surprise.

I'll continue writing the compositions that make me happy.  I'll continue hoping to find a gathering of readers who will also be made happy.  I'll lay the ground work and show up for the daily tasks and take the long view and see what happens.

And here's a last piece of inspiration from Michael Cunningham, who was recently on The Diane Rehm show.  A caller asked for advice for newer writers, and he said, "Don't panic."  Diane Rehm asked if he had panicked ever, and he answered:  "On occasion, which is why I feel confident that "don't panic" is good advice. Because finally, finally, the people who get to be writers have to have some knack for it, but maybe -- well, at least, as important is, you have to be the one who won't give up. The one who will just sit in the chair, and sit in the chair, and sit in the chair and write this sentence over and over and over again. And who refuses to be discouraged by rejection notes, by whatever comes your way as you're making your way."  You can listen to the whole interview or read the transcript here.

Monday, May 12, 2014

No One Sleeps at Our House

A few weeks ago, I got my contributor copy of Slant.  It's a great journal, thick with all sorts of literature.  I'm always pleased when they accept a poem of mine.

It's been awhile since I posted a poem here, so for your Monday pleasure, let me post the poem that was published in Slant.


No one sleeps at our house.
In the attic, the monks keep
their vigil; Psalms chanted
undergird the night.

The younger brother catalogs
the fish tanks and the ant farm.
The older brother conducts
experiments and charts the sky’s
passage through the hours.

The poet lights a single candle
and composes sonnets until dawn.
We can hear her counting
iambic pentameter as she paces.

One grandmother arranges flowers
and then resorts them.
One grandmother continues
her life’s project:  to attempt
every pie recipe that ever existed.

The choir performs concerts
complete with a string quartet.
We think the grass grows faster
with a musical accompaniment.

All the mothers and fathers are invited
to dance in the basement ballroom.
The bright chandeliers trick
the senses into believing time’s illusion.

And I pull the comforter close. 
I read stories from my youth:
of spunky girl detectives
with absent parents
or families on prairies
who build houses of sod
in just three days.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

A Tribute to My Mom

The older I get, the more I realize my profound luck in having the parents that I have.  Sure, there are ways we could have been better to and for each other.  But overall, my parents gave me some profound gifts that have helped strengthen me in so many ways.

Here are some of the gifts my mother gave me:

--She encouraged my love of reading.  Maybe it's my work with the Reading Pals program that has helped me understand how rare this gift can be.  Maybe it's because I'm an English major of the old school variety, but I truly think that children who don't learn to love to read will be handicapped their whole lives.

One of my earliest memories is from the early years when it was just my mom and me at home.  Our family had one car, which my dad took to work.  I remember being in the child's seat of my mom's bike and going to the library; I remember her back and the red-checked shirt she wore.  Later, when we lived in Montgomery, the public library only allowed children to check out 5 books at a time.  My mom checked out books for me.

I was allowed to read widely and deeply.  I was the "One more chapter!" kid.  It must have been irritating at times.  Now we complain about kids with their faces glued to screens; we'd love to have a kid with a nose stuck in a book.  But regardless of what's calling the attention away from what must be done, it must be maddening for a parent.  I was often allowed to read beyond the time limit.  I'm grateful for that.

--I was allowed to explore the gift of cooking.  One of the first things I made:  biscuits.  Later, I'd become a vegetarian, which my mom encouraged.  I made wonderful vegetarian meals for the whole family, instead of being the vegetarian who ate a solitary meal while the rest of the family ate burgers.

I remember a summer when we baked bread together.  We had seminarians who loved bread baking, and they were coming over for dinner.  We baked our first batch of bread, and I was hooked.

For the most part, I had free reign in the kitchen, as long as I cleaned up--another valuable lesson.  I have since had housemates who didn't mind cleaning up a mound of dirty dishes if they got some good food, but my mom taught me the value of cleaning up after my projects.

--My mom encouraged every sort of creativity.  My mom is a gifted musician.  I wish I had more of her talent.  I wish I had cultivated the musical talent that I do have.  It's not my mom's fault.  She never told me I couldn't sing--no, there were other forces in the world who were happy to do that.  She always implored me to practice the piano.  I have a friend whose mom banned piano practice during much of the day, which curtailed my friend's creativity.  That was not my mom.

We had all sorts of art supplies in my childhood home.  I remember creating a house out of appliance boxes in the garage, and my mom telling the babysitter to let me do that until bed time.  I wrote and illustrated stories, and no one in my house said it was a waste of time.

--What I love most about my mom is that she encouraged my sister and me to be the kind of woman we wanted to be.  My mom did not require me to be a girly girl, which would have frustrated us both.  I was a tomboy (do we still use that word?) and that was O.K.  And yet, if I wanted to clean up a bit, she encouraged that too:  we got good haircuts when we wanted them, and if we couldn't always make our hair behave, well, we learned to live with that.  We went to Merle Norman and the Clinique counter for make overs.  I hated the way I looked with heavy make up, and my mother, to her credit, didn't insist.

We live in the water of our culture, and we'd have liked to have been thinner, my mom and me.  We have the same pear shaped body.  We tried different diets together, but happily, when we couldn't live in those restrictions, we let it go.  My mom and dad both encouraged the pursuit of thinness through athleticism:  for a time, we were a family of runners.  There was never a suggestion that I'd hurt my reproductive system through a fierce workout, although others did suggest that.  In high school, I ran long distances, 6 miles day after day, and that was O.K. 

I am still learning to love the body I have, although it gets easier.  These days, I focus on what I can do, since so many of my friends have trouble with basic tasks that require strength and agility.  These days, as friends are being laid low by cancer, I'm grateful for my glowing good health.  I'm happy for parents who laid a solid foundation for that health by teaching me about nutrition and exercise.

I could go on and on about the gifts my mother gave me, but let me stop with these.   I am lucky that my mom has been one of my biggest fans and most solid supporters.  I have been out in the world for many decades now, and I know that many people can't even count on this basic of motherhood.  I've seen mothers who won't let go and mothers who let go far too early; I've seen people whose moms left, either by death or divorce, and I've seen how difficult that can be. 

I'm happy to have my mom still,  an example of a healthy, happy woman--one of the best gifts she gave me, that one can be a woman and find fulfillment in all sorts of ways.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

South Florida Fireflies and Other Bugs

At the end of a very strange work afternoon that capped a very strange work week, it was a relief to go home yesterday.  We made a trip to Hollywood Vine, our local wine store that carries an amazing variety of wine.  We got our provisions and came home to grill our Friday night burgers.

One of the things I love about our new house is the quiet neighborhood.  We can sit in our backyard without hearing traffic noise and stereos and neighbors yelling at their families.  The new backyard has all sorts of ambience, and of course, a swimming pool.

It occurs to me that soon I will have to stop calling it our new house.  We're approaching the one year anniversary of when we made the offer and started on this journey.

Anyway, we had burgers and sipped wine and talked.  We slathered bug spray on ourselves, since the mosquitoes are fierce at sunset.  I did leisurely laps for a half hour (my summer goal, to do half an hour of laps every day).  Wrapped in a towel, I sat for a bit longer, waiting to dry off.

And then we saw it:  a firefly! 

Those of you further north are probably shrugging and saying "What's the big deal?  I have a gazillion in my yard every night."

But before this month, I'd never seen a firefly in South Florida.  The other night, earlier this week, my spouse called, "Come here quick!"  I wasn't sure what he saw in the yard, but it was a firefly.  And then, last night, there were others.

I saw about 4--hardly the firefly show of my youth.  And the light is green, not yellow, and bigger than the firefly lights of my childhood.  They stay lit longer, instead of flashing.  Very intriguing.

I loved seeing them blinking in the lights of the palm trees. 

This morning, I could still smell the mosquito repellent on my face, so I took a sunrise swim--no fireflies this morning, and the mosquitoes stayed away.  It was a beautiful way to start the day:  a different kind of sun salutation.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Inspirations for Your Friday

It's been the kind of week where I've been eagerly looking for inspirations of all sorts.  Happily, there's plenty out there, even if I don't have as much time this week to act on the inspirations.

I loved this post on the writing habits of Pico Iyer.  I need to be thinking about how to restructure the small amounts of time I have to write and revise, those times where I can be sure I'll have that time, like very early in the morning before anyone else is up and before most stores open.

Here's an idea that spoke to me:  "Pico Iyer spends five hours at his writing desk every day. He allows himself to go online only after he’s completed this time at his desk. He is especially leery of googling for detail research as he writes because it’s easy to become caught up in one search leading to another and then to checking email. Instead, he uses “TK” as a placeholder, as a note to check a specific fact that he’s written through. When he does his daily writing, Iyer wants to keep going as far as he can in one sitting."

I do waste an enormous amount of time in Internet noodling.  I could get some time in with the memoir manuscript before I go online at all.  I could do this several times a week.  Yes I could.

If you need a writing prompt, be sure to check out this post on The Best American Poetry blog.  For those of us who have been writing for awhile, it won't be unfamiliar, but the examples used gave me a path to a poem about one of the kidnapped Nigerian boarding school girls.  I'm vaguely uncomfortable with it, as it envisions life in the jungle as freeing for a girl who hated being confined by boarding school, underwear, and shoes. 

But more than one wise person has advised that if our writing makes us uncomfortable, we may be onto something, so I'll keep pondering.

The rest of the blog has insight, too, into the work and process of the wonderful poet, Luisa Igloria.

How I wish I had time to do some writing right now.  But now, it's time to finish getting ready for the day.  This week-end, though.  I will get some real writing done this week-end.  Yes I will.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Yearning for the Cell of Julian of Norwich

Today is the feast day of Julian of Norwich, a 14th century mystic who kept herself in almost total isolation in a small room attached to a cathedral.  I've written about her before, and today, my post about her is up at the Living Lutheran site.  Go here to read it.

You may be asking why I would mention a 14th century mystic on my creativity blog.  Here are some reasons:

--Julian of Norwich wasn't just a mystic; she actually wrote down her visions.  She is likely the first woman to write a book-length work in English.

--And what a series of visions!  She gives God a distinctly feminine face, although it might not be the kind of face that attracts modern feminists.  She's groundbreaking in that way too, although I'm fairly sure she didn't set out to be groundbreaking.

--She might see herself as unworthy of being thought of as a writer. After all, she was only writing the visions that God sent her (in her eyes).  However, those of us who write know that one can utilize any number of techniques to write down a vision, even if one gives credit for the vision to someone else.  Julian of Norwich wrote those visions with amazing craft and art.

I've also been thinking about the little cell which she almost never left.  Lately, I'm beginning to feel the same way about my office.

My office is likely smaller than Julian of Norwich's cell, although unlike some of my colleagues, I do have the advantage of a door that shuts.  The door is heavy; the walls, alas, are not.  I find myself envying the stone walls of Julian of Norwich's cell, walls which would have kept out the sound far more effectively than my office walls.

If I began receiving visions, I'd assume I was going mad from the constant bombardment of sound.

Those of you who knew me in my younger years might think I'm getting my just rewards.  In my younger years, I was often the one bombarding others with sound, although the loud stereos of my youth did not have that throbbing bass beat (the thumpity thump music, as my grandmother called it).

In my older years, I think longingly of monasteries and other places where vows of silence are kept.

I try to use the noise of the modern office as a call to prayer, much the way that cathedral bells used to be a call to prayer.  I confess that I'm not very good at it.

My Lenten discipline was praying for all the angry people who crossed my path.  I had no idea how many angry people crossed my path until I began to pray for them.  Happily, they weren't angry at me, for the most part.  Still, it was rather sobering.

I'm afraid that if I pray every time I feel the flash of irritation from too much noise, I might realize how much noise there really is.  I might not recover. 

If I pray every time I feel the flash of irritation from too much noise, I might get very little else done at the office.

And here's the philosophical thought for the day:  would that be such a bad thing?

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Post Cards from the Past Two Weeks

We slept with lots of windows open last night, and around 2:30, I awoke to strange sounds:  mechanical and like someone doing a drum riff over and over.  At times it seemed close and other times far away.  I know that there's overnight work on water lines occurring nearby--could that noise be part of the process?

In any case, I couldn't get back to sleep.  I feel both rested and a bit scattered.  Let me just record some impressions from the past few days.

--Yesterday morning I woke up feeling sore.  I decided that a dip in the pool was what I needed.  And so, as the sun was rising, I swam back and forth.  It was remarkably restorative.

I need to do this more often, both swim in the pool and do the kinds of activities that are possible because we live in this house.  I need to walk to the beach and the lake more.  I need to swim in our pool. 

--I've sent out some poetry submissions--hurrah.  We're getting to the end of submitting season, the end of the academic year when so many journals shut down for a few months.  It was good to realize that I haven't been as deficient in submitting to journals as I think I have been--not as diligent as in some years, but not a complete laggard.

--My Monday night boot camp class worked out to an 80's mix CD.  When "Rio" came on, I said, "This is my favorite Duran Duran song.  I'm a little embarrassed to admit that I have a favorite Duran Duran song."

--So, I listened to some old Duran Duran on my way to work yesterday.  I've already admitted a bias, but those were well crafted pop songs.

--I wish I could do my hair and make up like those Duran Duran boys.

--I also listened to Frankie Goes to Hollywood and thought about what was sexually subversive in the mid 80's and how innocent it seems today.

--Two weeks ago, I'd have been on the road for several hours.  I'm still savoring the memories of getting together with old friends.  One of them said that she was sad that I was no longer writing novels because I had shown such improvement with my last novel (which I wrote during 2003-2004 and then finished revising by July 2005).

--Maybe I should send her the collection of linked stories that I recently put together.  Maybe I should read it myself first.  I haven't taken the time to sit and read it through from cover to cover.

--I should put together a submission plan for both the collection and the individual stories.

--When I'm thinking about publication, I'm wanting to spend the summer thinking about book-length projects.  Could I secure enough of those to make a path to a new career?  Could I have that in place by the time I need it to be?

--Our school's president has announced his retirement.  The school's stock continues to slide.  We live in interesting times.  And I'm seeing similar developments throughout the higher ed world--yes, interesting times. 

--I continue to feel gratitude for my colleagues.  Yesterday, one of them said to me that she sees my summer as a time of completion, after this recent time of rest.  She sees great success for my projects.  I hope she's right. 

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Morning Gratitude: Believing Mirrors

This morning I'm grateful for my local writing friends.  We've decided that we'll get together more often and so more to keep each other on target.

Frankly, my two writing friends seem on target already.  One woman is finishing her book of short stories based on Indian mythology and the other is working to find a publisher for her book on the sociology of creativity.  I feel like I'm the one who isn't on track.

One of my friends expressed awe for all of my projects, but I pointed out that I rarely take them to completion, which in my mind would be publication.  My friend pointed out that I'm ready.  She's said this often, and I'm about ready to believe her.

Julia Cameron, in her many books on creativity, has talked about the importance of believing mirrors.  We're all surrounded by too many messages that tell us of all the things we can't do.  Cameron instructs us to find the people who believe in us and to hang onto them.

I've found recently that I need to do more than hang on--I need to schedule time to be with those believing mirrors.  And I need my believing mirrors to ask if I'm making the kind of progress they believe I can be making.

I will be meeting with my Believing Mirror Group three weeks from today.  We will come with concrete goals that we hope to achieve between Memorial Day and Labor Day.  I'll post them on this blog, and I'll use this blog as a believing mirror too and a way to be accountable.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Entropy, Expansion, and the Beginning of the Work Week

A week ago, I'd have been driving home with the mysteries of the universe continuing to amaze me.  My view of Jupiter through the telescope was wonderful, but the Bible study, which was really more of a 2 day lecture on modern astronomy with a bit of physics, was really fabulous.

The first day was easy:  exploring the glories of creation revealed in the vastness of the cosmos.  We saw amazing photographs taken by our Bible study leader who is both an amateur astronomer and a seminary professor.  We learned fun facts, like there are more stars in the universe than there are individual grains of sand on every beach at every ocean on Earth.

We were inspired by the knowledge that our atoms are made of recycled stars.  The universe is inside each of us, and we carry with us the history of the stars and the universe.

We learned interesting analogies:  if the history of the universe is a book where every page represents 10 million years, then at this point, we've got 3 volumes of 450 pages each; the first multicell animals on Earth show up on page 100 of volume 3, while humans come along on the last line of the last page.

So, what do we do with the recently acquired knowledge that the universe is expanding?

Like me, you might wonder why this is a big deal.  You might even think that expansion is a good thing.

However, unstopped expansion is a disaster when it comes to the universe.  Science tells us that the universe will expand and expand and expand and eventually, through this process of expansion, which involves stars using up all available hydrogen, the universe becomes a cold, dark nothingness.

At least, that's what the old science would teach us.  We talked a bit about the new science of quantum physics.  We talked about science and resurrection.  Old science tells us that dead bodies can't come back to life.  New science tells us that everything we thought we knew might not be true:  particles can be in more than one place at a time, for example.  The old physics model would have insisted that statement could not be possible.

Both new physics and the Church insist that entropy doesn't win.  We don't necessarily have the knowledge and the language yet to explain it in a way that rational brains would accept, but that's what we insist.

It's good to remember that 2 day lecture.  It's good to have the mysteries of the universe enthralling me as I head to work.  It's good to have the promises of resurrection ringing in my ears.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

May Sarton: Mother of the Memoir

Today is the birthday of May Sarton.  She was first famous for her poetry, but many today might see her journals as the more important work.  The quality of personal writing, like the writing in those journals, led a generation of literary critics to take those kinds of writing seriously.  I could argue that those journals would lead to the boom in memoirs, blogging, and all those Facebook posts and Tweets that can be so lyrical.

In spite of this, let me remember my shock when I first read those journals.  It wasn't the openness about her relationships with women that shocked me.  I read the journals in the late 1990's, after all; it was a time period that wasn't as open as our current period, but I'd already been exposed to all sorts of lesbian literature by then.

No, I was shocked by the whiney nature of her entries about other poets.  I remember that she complained about how the success of a variety of poets while she wondered why her own work didn't get accolades.  I shook my head; after all, she had made a living with her writing, as far as I could see.  Why would she expend that kind of energy?

At the time, I was having weekly lunches with a poet friend, a formalist.  We talked about Sarton's dismissal of some of the best poets of her time, while at the same time, her formalist poems didn't scan--and it wouldn't have been that hard to revise them so that they did.  Her journals suggested that she wanted fame for her formalist work.  If she wanted to be taken more seriously by the literary critics of her day, why didn't she revise so that her work would be taken seriously in the forms that would have brought her that respect/acceptance she craved?

You might say that she didn't do this because she was an early feminist, working to overthrow the oppressive, patriarchal literary structure.  But her journals suggest no such thing.  She seemed to resist all the ways that the feminist movement wanted to praise her.

Frankly, I liked her better before I read the journals.  At the time I was reading, I wondered why she would allow such a manuscript to be published.

Now, of course, we're all revealing all sorts of negativity every day in all sorts of public forums.  Part of me likes the honesty and admires people for being willing to embrace every part of their emotional terrain.  Part of me yearns for a long-ago time when people didn't talk so openly.  Part of me wonders if we might have been healthier when we didn't dwell on everything for so long.

Of course, I know the dangers of being emotionally repressed.  I understand what happens we don't explore our unhappiness.  I just wish we could all achieve some balance.

And at its best, that's what a regular journaling practice should do:  help us get clear on what's making us happy and what's leaving us unsatisfied--and if we're lucky, a good journaling practice will help us discern what to do next.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

How to Celebrate May Day

May 1 is May Day and International Worker's Day, and thus, it is celebrated in a wide variety of ways.  So, I thought I'd make a list of ways that you could celebrate today, whether you're ready to be your creative self, your activist self, your worker self, or you just need some ways to feel festive.

--Make a bouquet of flowers.  If Spring has yet to come to your neighborhood, or if it's already left, buy some flowers!  Or get a plant, which will give you joy for many more weeks.

--Remember to appreciate your co-workers.  Take them to lunch.  Or say thank you for all the unsung things they do.  Send an e-mail that has good news instead of bad. 

A May Day tradition involves getting up early and leaving treats on doorsteps.  If you're usually the last person in the office, you can do a variation.  Buy a box of cheap cards and write a quick thank you--then leave the cards on desks tonight.  Or slide them under office doors.

--It's probably too late to launch a Maypole.  In my elementary school in the 1970's, we had a May Day celebration that focused on flowers and Maypoles, not on workers.  Looking back, I'm amazed that our teachers were able to rig together a Maypole.  We spent weeks practicing the weaving of the ribbons in the Maypole dance.  We had a whole Mayday festival.  Parents came.  There was a Mayday king and queen.

So, you probably can't dance around a Maypole today.  But if you have some ribbons, you could weave them together and think about what might make you happy enough to dance.

--Write letters on behalf of the unemployed, the underemployed, everyone who needs a better job.  Write to your representatives to advocate for them.  What are you advocating?  A higher minimum wage?  Safer working conditions?  Job security?  Work-life balance?

--The sun will be growing more intense in the coming days.  Yesterday as I waited to cross the street, I could swear that I felt my skin crisping a bit; I felt my dermatologist's disapproval, even as I wanted to stretch my arms towards the sky.   Buy some sunscreen to prepare.

--Update your resume.  You may be one of the lucky ones who gets to enjoy your job all the way into retirement.  But statistics suggest that you will not, and you might need to have that resume ready at a minute's notice.

--Send your creative work out into the world.  As you make your submissions, think about the ways you'd like your creative work to bloom.

--Explore the world of music that celebrates and supports workers.  This morning, I'm partial to this recording of the Woody Guthrie classic, "Deportee:  (Plane Wreck at Los Gatos)."  The song, written many decades ago, still feels relevant as it explores some of the hidden human costs of our fruits and vegetables.

--Want to know more?  The son of my friends created a compelling video that explains a lot.  Go here to see it.

--Perhaps this documentary or song will inspire you to send some money to organizations that work for worker's rights.  I'm impressed with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, which works to protect the migrant workers in the fields of Florida, but you certainly have plenty to choose from.

--Can you create something that weaves these strands together?  Here are some possibilities:  a sculpture made out of ribbons that explores the world of migrant workers.  A poem that celebrates flowers and contemplates the ways that we love some blooms (flowers) but not others (algae, cancer).  A painting that uses weaving in some ways to think about the past century of efforts to enlarge the workplace and make it safer.