Monday, June 30, 2014

Summer Vacation: Holes in Time

I have been away for a few days; you may not have known this, because I scheduled some posts to run while I was away.  But off I went, to Columbia, South Carolina--not exactly a summer vacation hot spot, although it was hot.  I went for a reunion of grad school friends, in the town where we got our graduate degrees in a variety of literatures from the University of South Carolina.

What did we do?  We're English majors, so we did a lot of this:

My Medievalist/Shakespearean friend has an amazing capacity to create scrumptious tea parties. 

My American Lit friend (from England) has an amazing capacity to create scrumptious scones. 


And of course, there's no shortage of people who are happy to partake.  We met family members and one day, one of our favorite grad school professors joined us.

We also went to a quilter and knitters' expo.  Lots of patterns, lots of yarns, lots of cloth. 

I bought two wooden crochet hooks, but resisted the beautiful fabrics and stunning yarns.

I also had a chance to do some reading.  I devoured And the Dark Sacred Night by Julia Glass.  Why have I never read anything by this woman before?  I remember thinking about reading Three Junes especially when it won awards.  But I just didn't.  Now I plan to spend the summer catching up.  I found her writing luminous, and I loved the characters.

But the best part of our reunion was the chance to talk, to catch up, to delve more deeply.  We're all at the relative beginning of our 50's--the best question was "What do we want to experience/accomplish by the time we're 60?"  Stay tuned--I'm still working on that list.

It's hard to believe that I'm almost 50; part of the reason is that I'm blessed with good health.  I wonder how much can be attributed to the fact that I can still find the music of my youth on the radio.  Yesterday, as I drove home, I heard "Eyes Without a Face" by Billy Idol.  I got out of my car into the intensity of heat that is a summer day and thought about the first time I blistered across a Southern landscape on my way back to my beloved (then my boyfriend, now my spouse).  I had that feeling of falling through a hole in time.

In fact, that could sum up my past 5 days:  falling through a hole in time.  I'm happy that I can be with old friends and grad school professors, and we can take up right where we left off, as if it's 1990.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Our Perfect Roses and Our Lost Planets

Today is the birthday of Antoine de Saint-ExupĂ©ry, most famous to most of us for his work The Little Prince. Would we call him one of the first generation of airline pilots?  Yes, I think I would.  He loved extreme places:  the airplane, the skies where the airplane took him, the desert.

But it's with The Little Prince that he's left a mark on the world.  Ah, the classic tale of a traveler longing to return to his home planet!

I first read The Little Prince the summer after third grade.  It was the first time I was away from my parents, at Lutheridge.  I'd been to that camp before, but always with my parents.  I didn't really like the camp experience that year.  I remember feeling sad and lonely and not like the other girls--a feeling not unfamiliar to me some days, even now, and I suspect most creative types continue to feel this way throughout life.

My mom had slipped this slim novel into my suitcase as a surprise for me to find.  I loved the book, and I still feel fondness for it because it got me through a rough patch--again, a familiar feeling.

Later, I would read it in French class, both in high school and in college.  If third graders can read it in English, then it's easy enough for first or second year French students!

I seem to recall a film version, with Gene Wilder as the fox.

Ah, that fox that wanted to be tamed, that fox who showed us that the problem with loving is that we are likely to lose the ones we love--except that we've never really lost them, as long as we have our memories.

Here's a nugget of wisdom from the fox:  "It is only with the heart that one can see rightly;  what is essential is invisible to the eye" (p. 87).

May you only tame the things/people/characters/symbols for whom you want to be responsible!

Saturday, June 28, 2014

The Ones Who Pave the Way

Today is another day when Garrison Keillor has put together an assortment of birthdays and anniversaries in this web posting that made me say, "Hmm.  Interesting how all of these have impacted my life."

Today is the birthday of Henry VIII, long ago.  You might say, "Why on earth would that birth in 1491 affect you?"  To be honest, I've been more affected by the birth of Henry's daughter Elizabeth.  You may remember her as one of the greatest rulers ever, male or female--at least, that's what I was taught long ago.  We could spend a pleasant evening debating who's the best ruler in history--maybe several evenings. 

But I'm most impacted by Elizabeth's support of the arts.  Would we have had a William Shakespeare and all those other great Elizabethan writers without her, without the culture she created that supported the arts?

Or perhaps I've been more impacted by her support of exploration of the New World, although we might give future British rulers, like Charles, more credit.  As a woman who spent much of her teenage years in and around Virginia, it's hard to escape her impact.

Henry VIII has influenced me in other ways.  I think of him as one of the fathers of the Reformation, even if he began as a "defender of the faith"--the Roman Catholic faith, that is.  Still, the man went on to create the Church of England, which has influenced me, and the literature I have loved, in many ways.

Today is also the birthday of John Wesley, another great Protestant figure.  Yes, I know I'm a Lutheran, not an Anglican or a Methodist, but it's impossible to ignore the greatness of these men.  I wrote more about Wesley in this post on my theology blog.  In our focus on Wesley as a religious leader, we're in danger of forgetting that he was also a social justice crusader, an ardent abolitionist.  He helped to lay the foundation for the movement that would change the world.

It's Rousseau's birthday too.  He spent much of his life thinking about issues of inequality, issues that impact us today as much as they did in his lifetime.  His works inspired the leaders of the French Revolution, which inspired so many of the British authors I love, before it all went terribly wrong.

We might even stretch and say that those ideas affected the gay men who decided they were tired of unequal treatment and who stood their ground during the uprising that came to be known as the Stonewall Riots.  I'm a woman who believes that oppression anywhere threatens freedom everywhere, so I would have cheered those men, had I been old enough to know what was going on.

It's also the birthday of Gilda Radner, who blazed a different trail, but who made the world a little bit more free.  I'm so grateful to all those 1970's era feminists who showed us a multitude of ways to be a woman.  We think of the 60's as an era that made great strides towards freedom, but I could make an even stronger case that the 70's made us all more free than the 1960's.  I mourned her early death, because she had such creativity and fearlessness.

Yes, I realize there is still much work to do.  Much of the world's women and homosexuals and people who are different in any kind of way are still under increasing threat as they face ever more difficult obstacles.  But I would argue that we've made strides I didn't think we would see in my lifetime:  Nelson Mandela not only released from prison but elected president of South Africa, East Europe shaking off the shackles of Communism, a president of mixed race for our own country, the fact that we're almost at the point where more women get college degrees than men--wow!

Yes, all it takes is the melting of one large enough ice shelf, and our attention will turn to survival of a completely different kind.  The apocalypse that haunts me is very different from those of the past.  But still, humans have shown great dexterity in dealing with those kind of crises--indeed, it is often those very crises, from the political dramas that Henry VIII and Elizabeth handled so deftly to the French Revolution to the human rights demands of the twentieth century, that change our lives so dramatically.

When you're tired of arguing about whether or not Elizabeth I was one of the world's greatest rulers, you can amuse yourselves at dinner parties by wondering what revolutions are changing the world for future generations right now, even as we may not perceive them doing that.  What young theologians are travelling hundreds of miles, like John Wesley?  What other ideas are inspiring those who would overturn our world?  What great characters, comic and otherwise, will young comedians create in response to all these changes?  And will any of it matter, as the seas rise and the continents burn?

Friday, June 27, 2014

VBS Arts and Crafts a Week Later: A Look Back

Hard to believe, but a week ago we'd be approaching the last night of Vacation Bible School.  Before we get too much further away, let me look back to remember what we did in the Arts and Crafts room and think about the larger implications for us as artists and encouragers of artists:

Monday:  we made creatures out of Styrofoam cups, paper tubes, pipe cleaners, and decorations.

Tuesday:  we made masks, puppets, and then went back to making creatures.

Wednesday:  we decorated T-shirts with fabric markers.

Thursday:  we had kits to make a wall decoration with foam hands with Bible verses.  This didn't take long enough, so it was back to making creatures.

Friday:  I gave every child a bag that had Legos, some jewel embellishments, a feather, pom poms, googly eyes, and 2 pipe cleaners.  I thought they'd make creatures, but most of them built structures.  Many of them went into a Zen-like trance as they stacked one Lego on top of another and ignored the rest of the bag.  It was Friday, so I was grateful for the calm inspired by the Zen-like trance.

As always, I look back and wonder if we really accomplished anything at all.  Most nights, I was fairly sure the kids had fun, and we had a creative time together.  I was happy that they wanted to take a variety of every day items (cups, plates, bags) and make something new.  I was happy that everyone seemed accepting of all the art.

So what is making me feel a bit mopey?  Part of it is feeling that the kids would have enjoyed working with Legos night after night.  One of the adult helpers said, "Well, it's what they know and what they're used to.  You give them Legos, and they know what to do."

I'm both glad that I left them until the end, so I didn't have to listen to everyone beg to play with Legos night after night, and they could have the chance to play with something new.  But I'm sad that my last memory is one of Legos.  I'm also sad that Thursday and Friday saw fierce storms swirl in, so our attendance was lower.

I'll get over that sadness, of course.  In fact, I'm mostly over it now.  It was a great week, full of creative play.  I'm hopeful that the children will carry that spirit with them.

It's the larger question I have as an artist, an administrator, a church person:  how do we encourage that spirit?  How do we revive it?  How do we keep it from being crushed?

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Where I Would Have Been Two Months Ago

Hard to believe it's been two months since the Create in Me retreat--and I never really posted pictures.  Let me go back to what we'd have been doing.

I had a successful experience throwing a pot on the wheel.  I still can't tell when the clay is balanced, but I've never gotten this far with it.

I also created a finger labyrinth.  Very cool.  I do find it calming to trace it:

I led a drop-in workshop on hand piecing and quilting.  Lots of people who had never sewed a stitch before dropped by--and they were largely successful!

We had several cool worship experiences.  I love the idea of adding elements to the baptismal font, like these rocks that glow and reminded us of our Bible study that combined theology and astronomy:

But nothing quite matches the service in the labyrinth. 


It's a sending service, where we remember that no matter how alone we feel, there are others in the circle with us.  We are not alone.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Freedom Summer, Then and Now

Last night, even though I should have gone to bed early, I stayed up to watch the PBS show Freedom Summer.  What an amazing movement for social justice!  What a thrilling moment in U.S. history!

I found myself thinking about the recent accusations of voter suppression.  Having to show a picture ID is not voter suppression.  Having to write an essay on a section of the state constitution--well, that may or may not be voter suppression.  Getting beaten when you show up to register--that's voter suppression.  Losing your job--that's voter suppression.  I'm glad we're not suppressing voters in that way.

Of course, one might say, why bother to suppress voters?  So few people vote these days.  It's amazing to watch these efforts of people to get registered.  And now so many citizens don't bother.  It's a right that so few of us have had for very long--what accounts for that change?

There was a section where people read the applications from the college kids who were willing to spend the summer of 1964 in Mississippi.  In some ways, it was chilling, especially when Rita Schwerner read hers; she's the wife of the murdered trio of Goodman, Chaney, and Schwerner.  The students knew it might get bad, but they had no idea how bad it would be.

I recognize that idealism--how I love the crazy idealism of youth.  And no, I don't think it's the only way that the arc of history bends towards justice.  I think that the steadiness that comes with later life can be just as important.  And older folks have resources that most younger people don't--and I don't mean just money.

As a wild-eyed idealist activist in my youth, I watch Rita Schwerner, and I wonder what it's like to have lost your husband so young--here she is, 50 years later, still talking about him.  He's frozen in time.  I think of that Keats poem, "Ode on a Grecian Urn" that so famously tells us that it might be better to be forever young.  No one loses their idealism that way.  There's no coping with what happens as ideals and values change.

Of course, as someone who married my college activist sweetheart, I am grateful to have seen that process and survived thus far.  It is good to be married to someone who remembers our youthful passion, someone who remembers the way it used to be and the ways that change came.  It's good to have someone who will still sing freedom songs with you as the car moves across the countryside.

Here's one of my favorite CDs in that genre, "We'll Never Turn Back" by Mavis Staples:

I've seen the photo that's the cover art as part of an exhibition at the Museum of Art Fort Lauderdale--powerful!  The music on the CD is just as powerful.  I'll spend some time today listening to it.  It's got my favorite rendition of "This Little Light of Mine." 

It's good to remember what we're called to do with our lights--and it's not to sit on the sofa and watch others suffer.

If you need inspiration, watch the film (I'm thinking that this website will have it available after the show airs) or listen to the CD.  There are plenty of places that need our enthusiasm for social justice and change, whether we're young, wild-eyed idealists or idealists of a different variety.  Most of us can work for social justice without paying the kind of steep price paid by the Freedom Summer students.  We should get started, if we haven't already.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Tuesday Nuggets of Happiness

I am feeling happiness this morning.  Let me count the ways:

--I slept in this morning, until almost 6 a.m.  That may not seem like sleeping in to most of the world, but when you're a woman who routinely wakes up at 4 a.m., it's great to get extra sleep.

--I woke up to discover that my post on John the Baptist is up at the Living Lutheran site.  I read it and felt satisfied (it's been a month since I wrote it, so I always wonder if I'll see flaws or think of ways I could have done better).  Today is his feast day, and I was happy to have already created something to say about him.

--I am so pleased with my online class that comes to a close this week.  It was a Composition class, a whirlwind class that was less than 6 weeks.  Whew!  They rose to the challenge, I am happy to report.  Their final essays, which required them to turn their analytical skills towards their own writing progress during the course, made me very happy.

--I teach in an online environment where I receive the course shell.  The work of curriculum/instructional writing has been done.  Still, I have sent out e-mails with suggestions and supplemental ideas.  Some of my students mentioned how much my writing tips helped, particularly the revision tip of reading work out loud and even from the end of the paper to the beginning.   

--The fact remains that no matter who creates the teaching and how it is delivered, the hard work of digesting it all and applying it to their writing rests with the students.  And my students improved so radically.  I thought that the accelerated pace might be a liability but it might have helped.  There wasn't time to slack off and forget the lessons learned.

--But what's making me most happy is that my high school friend who has been battling cancer of the esophagus had a great CT scan yesterday--so great that they will stop giving her the chemo that's been giving her such problems with nausea.  I read that news and broke into gasping sobs.  How nice to be crying happy tears for a change.

--And then I slept a peaceful sleep for a change.  I've been having such bad dreams.  I haven't had this many bad dreams since late adolescence.  I'm wondering about the similarities of late adolescence and later midlife.  Am I at later midlife as I prepare to celebrate my 49th birthday?  In any case, what I'm experiencing now reminds me of late adolescence.  Life suddenly seems turbulent and unpredictable, with bodies spiraling out of control--that was what I experienced in high school and college and what I'm experiencing now. 

--And just now, I was able to fix a problem out at the cottage.  Happily, it wasn't a plumbing problem.  In the closet, the bar that holds the clothes in the closet came down.  I was able to unscrew the bar from the other side and move it to the side where our friend who is living there needs it.

--Those of you who are good with tools may not fully appreciate the happiness that comes from that bit of self-sufficiency.  I find it hard to unscrew screws without stripping them, so any time I can actually use a tool and it all comes out the way it is supposed to do, I feel fortunate.

Monday, June 23, 2014

A Sane Woman Dreams of Turing Machines

The title for this blog piece is a riff on Jana Levin's book title A Madman Dreams of Turing Machines.  It's one of those titles that both delighted me when I first heard it and made me sick with jealousy wishing I could come up with something so wonderfully evocative.  I first heard her speak on the Speaking of Faith NPR show (which is now called On Being); you can listen here.

On this day 102 years ago, Alan Turing was born--it's one of those births that would change the world as we know it.  He's one of the men who did the work that led to our modern computers (originally called Turing machines).

Would someone else have done the work had he not done it?  Probably.  But he did it when he did it, and so much would be different if we had had to wait for others to make the some discoveries and connections.

I have an intuitive understanding of the computer that some of my older colleagues do not.  Part of that understanding is because I have used them more.  I've also dabbled a bit with programming, way back in the BASIC days.  I went to college with people who were fearless about taking apart their Commodore computers and soldering the motherboards into new configurations.  Many days I wish I had continued down those roads.

But there are many creative paths I didn't follow.  Sigh.

Today is also the anniversary of the day when Title IX was signed into law, another development that changed my life in ways I can barely articulate.  We tend to think of Title IX as being about sports, but it was about so much more.  It requires gender equity in education, which has had all sorts of impacts that we continue to see today.

We live in a time period where more women are going to college than men--or if we're not quite at that point, we will be soon.  Even though pay rates are not yet equal, if we look at raw demographics, in my circles, it's not uncommon for women to be making more than men to whom they are partnered.

Are we all OK with that?  I know partnerships that are existentially threatened, while I know of others where the men are cheerful and happy that the bills are being paid.

Title IX has yet to change our landscape completely:  note the lack of women in the fields of engineering and computing.  Yet that might be more about our school systems than about how we treat genders.  Alas, we don't have the pre-college school infrastructure in place to train lots and lots of engineers, scientists, and computer designers.

It's strange to me that I went to school in the 1970's and early 80's, not exactly a high water mark for public education--or at least, it didn't seem to me at the time.  Yet we had computers to program back when they weren't cheap.  We were encouraged to explore all sorts of areas:  home ec, shop, art, computers, sports.  We dissected actual animals in actual Biology labs and created all sort of potions in Chemistry lab.  We took field trips to see local universities doing productions of Shakespeare and Ibsen.

Ah, the joys of the days of no high stakes testing!

I was also very lucky to have my parents.  My dad encouraged my interest in computers and sci fi and helped me survive shop class, which I had to take, despite my lack of interest and terror of power tools which has never receded.  My mom was happy to let me cook and bought any ingredients I requested--except for saffron which was ungodly expensive.  They both encouraged my interests in running, nutrition, and vegetarian cooking.  For parents born in the late 1930's, they were surprisingly free of gender role expectations.

So today I will raise a glass to Richard Nixon, who managed to accomplish much towards making us a more open society, both because of and in spite of his paranoia and bitterness.  Today I will raise a glass to Alan Turing, another deeply tortured man who catapulted our culture to a completely different place.

Today I will raise a glass to my parents, and I'll continue to wish that all kids could have parents who support and love them in ways that nurture them fully as individuals.  I'll wish that support and love and nurturing for us all, no matter how old we are.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Carpe Diem Reminders

It has been a melancholy time at work; we're consolidating into a single building, which means clearing out the other building.  I'm sad about all the furniture that can't be saved.  I'm sad about the views from the 4th floor windows that I won't have anymore.  On Thursday, I sang in the stairwell one last time--how I will miss those acoustics and the way the sound vibrated in my body.

And then on Friday, I got unbearably sad news:  Susan Pawela, my first department chair at the school where I work, the one who hired me, has died unexpectedly.  She was only 60 or 61.

She had moved to Virginia in 2007; the fierce 2005 hurricane season hit her particularly hard, and she wanted to move to a place with less extreme weather and values that were more in line with hers.  She applied for a full-time job as a university faculty member in the first year experience program--and she got it! So off they went.

I had stayed in touch a bit, but it was the kind of relationship where we'd talk every 6-18 months.  I'm glad that my last conversation with her was a good one.  It was shortly after the reorganization of our school, where I'd lost my job, applied for the new variation of my old job, and gotten it.  I was feeling haunted by the idea that I should find something more secure, but I found it hard to pull myself together enough to send materials out.  She said, "Well, I'm not surprised.  You've suffered a great trauma.  Maybe you just need to rest for a bit and discern what's next."

She often had those kinds of words of wisdom.

I will always be grateful to her for hiring me when she could have decided to just go with an adjunct.  I'll always be grateful that she allowed me to teach a variety of creative writing classes, a leap of faith on her part, since I had to create the class first.

We were also friends outside of school.  We were both interested in quilting, and we discovered others too.  We had a group that met to work on our quilts.  For years, we met once a month without fail.  It's amazing to me now that we were able to do that.  It's likely the reason that I was able to complete so many full-size quilts.

Her death has left me reeling a bit.  With people my age getting stage IV cancers and people not much older than me dying, it's been a year of tough reminders that we are not on this planet for very long.

I expected a bit of a mid-life crisis in my 30's, but then I realized that with people living longer, I wasn't really at mid-life at age 35.  Why, what with my healthy habits, I should live to be at least 125!  No need for a midlife crisis until age 60 or so.

Now I'm realizing that all my healthy habits may not mean I get to live past age 100.  The past half year with its losses has triggered not a mid-life crisis, but a piercing question:  what if I don't have the time I thought I would?  What are the most important projects to get finished while I still can?  How can I show the ones that I love how much I love them?  How can I spend more time with them and with the activities that bring me joy?  How can I minimize the things that drain the color out of life?

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Unleashing Good in the World

Well, it has been one crazy week.  It's the kind of pace that makes me grateful for my good health and energy reserves.  Happily, the craziness has been a good craziness--but one that leaves me tired.  And the fact that I've had a cold hasn't helped.

The main source of my tiredness is that I've worked a full schedule during the day and then gone to my church in the late afternoon to be the Arts and Crafts Director for our Vacation Bible School.  Calling myself a director makes it sound like I've had a vast staff and resources.  Nope.  It's been mainly me.  We had some teen helpers off and on, but they weren't self-directed.  It took almost as much effort to get them helping as it did to get the projects underway.  But at least they weren't like some of the teen helpers of yesteryear who were disruptive.

VBS is usually during a down time at work, so I've had easier days before my intense VBS nights.  Not this year.  It's been the last week of a quarter, which includes graduation.  Exhausting.

Yesterday I took a day off.  Did I sleep in?  No.  We got up at 3:30 so we could be on the road to Orlando at 4:15.  Yes, a.m.  And then we drove back to be in town for the last night of VBS.

Why did we do that?  My spouse serves on several boards of directors of Lutheran church camps.  He needed to be in Orlando for a Board meeting of Lutheran Outdoor Ministries of Florida.

We got to Orlando, found the resort where the Board and then the larger Florida-Bahamas Synod was meeting, and got him set up.  I was left on my own to enjoy the resort for several hours.  I ate ice cream for breakfast and then dozed in the shade on a lounge chair.

I also read Herman Koch's latest, Summer House with Swimming Pool.  It's a testimony to how tired I was that I put it down to doze.  It's a compelling book, with several mysteries at its center, an overarching sense of dread.  It's about the ways the body betrays us, the ways that humans betray each other, especially when it comes to sexuality.  It's kind of gross, but beautifully written.  It reminds me of The Road in that way:  a lyrical apocalypse.

Then we got back in the car and zoomed back to South Florida.  It was a fairly easy trip until we hit bad weather/rush hour traffic (at 4 p.m.!) in Palm Beach county.  We spent the night with the VBS kids and returned home to enjoy a glass of wine before falling exhausted into sleep.

I wouldn't want to have this schedule every week, but it's good that we can do it when we need to.  Our church is smaller, so we need everybody who can do it to help in some capacity--it's all hands on deck. 

Does VBS make a difference?  Does the work of a Board of Directors make a difference?  As always, I'm not sure.  I want to think so, but I'll never know for sure.

It's the same with teaching.  I teach my students to the best of my ability and then, off they go.  Are they successful?  Has my work really mattered?  I can't be sure, but if I use myself as an example, I'd say yes.  I am a better person today because of the work of teachers and camp counselors.

It's why I show up to be a VBS worker and help my spouse with his Board work that enables the crucial work of camp counselors.  It's why I go to work as an administrator, to help faculty to do their best.  It's why I teach.

It's why I volunteer for weeks like last one, even knowing that I'll be exhausted.  After all, I'll recover, and feeling exhausted for a few days is a small price to pay for the good that I'm hoping we're unleashing in the world.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Poetry Friday: Fashion Students

A week ago, I'd have been going to the student fashion show.  It was quite a different experience to the first student fashion show I attended.  The 2014 fashion show was elegant.  The one in 2008 was not.

The experience made me think about how the department has changed since my start with the school.  Back in 2002, a student could get a degree in Fashion without knowing how to sew.  I had one student disdainfully tell me that she could hire people, should she ever need sewing done.  Now the machines are high-tech, and the students get upset when they don't work.

And those thoughts took me back to a poem that I wrote and then transformed into a sonnet.  The non-sonnet version appears in my second chapbook.  Here they both are, for your Friday reading pleasure.

The Fashion Design Student Talks to Coco Chanel

There’s really no need
for me to know how to thread
a needle.  I can always hire
someone to do that for me.

Besides, I’m a little afraid
of the sewing machine.  So Industrial
Revolution.  I’m much more interested
in the metal gleam of models on catwalks.

I don’t need to know the drape
of a fabric.  I’ll recognize
it when I see it.  I’ll just strategically
slit the skirts, slip the neckline lower.

All I really need is a catchy
name, the latest icon to wear it as a logo.

And now,  the sonnet version:

The Fashion Design Student Talks to Coco Chanel

Why would I want to learn to sew?
When I need workers, to China I’ll go.
It’s depressing to make patterns on paper.
The study of technical stuff makes my interest taper.

I don’t need to understand the fabric grain or the fit
of a dress.  For interest I’ll just add a slit
here, or think about exposing skin below the nape
of the navel.  Who cares about the drape?

I don’t want to learn about the sewing machine.
So Industrial Revolution.  No, I’m all about the green.
Save your color theory for painters in a show.
The color of money is all I need to know.

All I want is a recognizable name.
My face as logo, that’s my game.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Creativity Spectrum: for Professionals, for School Kids, for VBS

I am feeling exhausted for a variety of reasons.  I've written about my cold in this blog post.  It's still with me, although I can feel it retreating.  Today my nose is mostly clear, but my throat is fiercely sore.

Of course, it might have been sore regardless.  It's been a week of Vacation Bible School, which means I've been using my voice more than usual, at higher volume than normal.

I am the Arts and Crafts director (which really means sole teacher) at Vacation Bible School, which also accounts for my weariness.  Each day this week, I've put in a regular day at work, then gone racing home where I changed clothes and then raced to church.

I have 4 batches of students.  Each batch contains 5-10 students.  It should be manageable, right?  We also have at least half as many adults, although sometimes the ratio is closer to one to one.  Again, why isn't this a manageable set up?

I've been feeling like we're just on this side of chaos.  But maybe I'm being too hard on myself.  The kids go home with creations, after all.  So what if the room looks like a rushing wind whirled through?  At the end of the night, all limbs are intact, and no one is bleeding.  You might say that my job has been done successfully.

Are they learning anything substantial?  I remain unsure.  We've had fun with pipe cleaners and Styrofoam cups and plates.  We've used fabric markers on T-shirts.  We once did more with T-shirt adornment, but we don't really have the space for T-shirts to dry--so no cool inking or glitter paint or bubbly attachments.

I think about class sizes and public schools.  School teachers have much larger class sizes.  How do they do this all day?  I go home with an aching head, and I'm only with children from 5:30-9:15, and only intensely for about 2 of those hours.  Some nights, I'm falling asleep as I'm taking my shoes off.

I think about my own school days.  My favorite arts teachers had a hands-off approach.  As I look back, I think they were probably working on their own work or battling addictions.  But I loved having free reign with the art supplies, day after day of playing with different mediums.

Would I rather have had a teacher who taught me more about perspective and how to draw a human figure in a realistic way?  Yes, some days I do.  But I more appreciate the sense of adventure that the hands-off approach gave me.  Unlike my experiences with singing, no one told me that I couldn't draw, and so, I never quit trying.

In 7th grade, I drew horse after sad horse.  I had a friend, Joy, who could draw perfect horses.  I wanted to be able to do that.

I still want to be able to do that.

Today I go to Portfolio Review and later Graduation.  That's my day job--well, my day and evening job.  Then I go to church, where hopefully I will discover that my teen helpers have risen to the challenge and led the children through tonight's project.  It's a kit, so less is required of us all.  I worry about that a bit too.  What if the project takes all of 3 minutes?  It needs to take 20-25.

Luckily there are still other art supplies left.  The kids can color or create interesting shapes out of paper tubes, plates, cups, and pipe cleaners.

I'm intrigued by how many of them like to cut paper.  Are they creating some sort of sculpture that only they can see?  Or is it the calming, Zen-like practice of repeating a motion that attracts them?  I don't know.

It will be an interesting day.  I'll begin with professional artists who are just starting off in a grown-up career.  I'll end with elementary school kids, along with some pre-schoolers.  All day, I'll celebrate the joys of art and creativity. 

There are worse ways to wear myself out.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

An Article for the Days When You Wonder Why the Humanities Matter

I am guessing that many readers of this blog work in some field of the humanities.  Those of us who teach may wonder why we're doing this work.  Lately it seems that not a week goes by when we don't read--again!--about the death of the humanities.  We're urged to push students into STEM fields where they can make more money.

As an English major from way back, I'm always glad to come across articles like this one in The Atlantic, articles that remind us of why the humanities continue to be relevant.  The article discusses a doctoral student who is finding that current brain science supports the theories of poetry that Ezra Pound articulated.

But what I liked best was the political science scholar who articulates why it's important to teach students the skills of critical thinking:  “'Politics . . . is more complex than the science side of the government department would ever even guess. It consists of our arguments to each other about what is right and what is best and what has been and what should be. To only study behavior—to measure the exact amount of the incumbency advantage, for example—is not even close to what politics really is, which is a form of moral discourse. The humanities offer the only means of accessing that moral discourse.'”

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

My Threat of a Cold

--I have spent the last 5 days hoping that I wasn't coming down with a cold.  Well, the cold is here.  Luckily, so far, it's fairly mild, by which I mean no coughing and no nausea.  I can go on with my life.

--However, I'm more aware of my sinuses than I like to be.  I'm aware of how fluids flow through our bodies.

--I am feeling like a planet that contains more water than she knew.  My head is a vast ocean that only appears to be a solid land mass.

--I'm concentrating on my cold this morning because I have such an intensive week that's underway.  Days at work, nights at Vacation Bible School.  And it's the last week at school, which means there's a graduation Thursday.  On Friday, my spouse and I are driving to Orlando, where he has a Board of Trustees meeting for Lutheran Outdoor Ministries of Florida from 9-1.  Then we're driving back to be at church for the last night of Vacation Bible School.

--Maybe my cold will be on the wane by Thursday and Friday.  Maybe it will be gone completely.

--Today I begin my day at work by meeting with writer friends who are also work colleagues.  I don't have much to report, but I do have plans.  My online teaching for the rest of the year will be better suited to getting some writing done.  I will get that draft of my memoir finished, even though despair has swamped my little boat lately.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Happy Bloomsday!

Today is June 16, and James Joyce fans around the world will be remembering this fateful day in fiction, the one single day on which all the action in the book Ulysses takes place.

Those of us on this side of Modernism forget about how revolutionary this technique was. We forget that many novels used to start on the day a character was born and trudge through a thousand pages depicting that character's life. We forget about how recently we first started using inner monologues as a narrative technique. We forget about how we've only recently begun to understand psychology and to use psychological elements to explore our characters.

Ulysses is a hard book, the hardest thing I've ever read, yes, harder than Shakespeare, harder than Tristram Shandy. Joyce did pure stream of consciousness, with no sort of architecture to help a reader. After all, if you just tuned into my thoughts, I wouldn't give you background on who these people are in my thoughts. I know, so I don't have to fill in those blanks.

I only care about Bloomsday as a sort of cosmic accident. When I got to grad school and pored over the list of classes I could take, I discovered that most of them were full. As a new grad student, I was last to register. And so I found myself in Tom Rice's class on James Joyce. What a life-changing experience that was.

I notice that several of the stories from Dubliners show up in anthologies, even first year literature anthologies. But would I have ever had the patience to wade through Ulysses all by myself? Absolutely not.

Bloomsday celebrates the day, June 16, on which all the action in Ulysses takes place, but it's also a tribute to the day on which James Joyce and Nora Barnacle (who would be his wife) had their first date. The book covers almost every kind of action that can take place in a human day: we see Leopold Bloom in the bathroom, we see Stephen Dedalus pick his nose, we see Leopold Bloom masturbate . . . and we finally get to the masterful final chapter, where Molly Bloom muses on the physicality of being a woman.

As with many books, whose scandalous reputations preceded them, I read and read and waited for the scandalous stuff. As a post-modern reader, I was most scandalized by how difficult it was. It's hard to imagine that such a book would be published today.

But what a glorious book it is. What fun Joyce has, as he writes in different styles and plays with words. What a treat for English majors like me, who delighted in chasing down all the allusions.

I went on to write my M.A. thesis on Joyce, trying to prove that he wasn't as anti-woman as his reputation painted him to be. Since then, other scholars have done a more thorough job than I did. But I'm still proud of that thesis. I learned a lot by writing it. At the time, it was the longest thing I had ever written--in the neighborhood of 50 pages. A few years later, I'd be writing 150 pages as I tackled my dissertation--on domestic violence in the Gothic. By the time I'd written my thesis, I had said all I had to say on Joyce.

The paper that I wrote, and then the resulting M.A. thesis, had some post-modern elements too.  It wasn't a work that relied on traditional literary scholarship.  I pulled resources from modern feminist theory, and I even quoted from the journals I kept as a younger woman to prove that Joyce captured a certain kind of female adolescent thought.  Looking back, I'm amazed that I was able to use my journals--but then again, my professor Tom Rice was a Joyce scholar, so perhaps it's not amazing that he'd let me use very post-modern sources--like myself, or a younger version of myself.  Very Joyceian, in many ways.

In those days of the late 80's, there weren't as many scholars doing multi-disciplinary types of analysis.  Now I imagine I'd be putting together some kind of project that would use film clips and other sources.  Of course, I'd probably need to be at a different kind of grad school.

But I digress.  How Joyceian of me!

My copy of Ulysses is at the office, so at some point today, I'll open to a random passage and see what's there.  How different it will be from that long-ago time in 1989, when I read Ulysses and Brenda Maddox's biography of Nora Gallagher as I sunbathed by the pool.  I'd soak in the sun, and then go back and work on my thesis and then sunbathe some more.

I won't have time to make Irish food, as I race from the office to Vacation Bible School tonight, where I am the Arts and Crafts director.  That, too, feels Joyceian.  If you could follow my stream of consciousness thoughts today, I'm sure they'd be a jumble. 

Sunday, June 15, 2014

A Tribute to My Dad

Last month, for Mother's Day, I wrote a tribute to my mother.  This month, let me do the same for my father.  And of course, one of the primary reasons that I'm able to write these tributes is because they were good parents as a unit, not just as individuals.

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 father gave me:

By now, everyone probably recognizes this picture, albeit blurry, as a computer part.  But I knew about computers long before many people did.  My dad was a computer programmer from way back, from the days when computers took up a whole room.

We knew about punch cards and how to communicate with the computer.  My dad helped me put together an 8th grade science project that traced the trajectory from vacuum tubes to transistors to the microchip.  He even brought one from his office, with a magnifying glass so that people could get a closer look.

The project won an honorable mention.  It was back in 1978.  Who could have dreamed how the microchip could change the world?

My dad knew, and he taught us.  The reason I'm not as afraid of computers as I might be is because of his guidance.  And happily, I never got any whiff of discrimination from him.  There was no notion that computers being for men while women should stay home and take care of kids.

I wish I had done more with the computer programming that I did in the 7th grade, when we learned to program in BASIC.  What a thrill when I wrote a program that had the computer play Hangman. 

Yes, there could have been more thrills, but I chose different paths.  The fault is mine, not my dad's.

No, he didn't give me that typewriter, although I did get a Smith-Corona typewriter for my high school graduation.  That typewriter as a graduation present symbolizes what's most important about my dad, at least for me.

He expected that I would be smart.  Many women will tell you about the societal forces, including their parents, who expected them to hide their brains so that they could attract a man.  I feel so lucky that my parents never suggested such a thing.

I also know women who had parents and other well meaning adults who told them that they needed skills because, for whatever reason, they couldn't count on men to be there for them.  I didn't get that message either.

No, we were expected to be smart because my parents had the belief that we were smart.  It's circular reasoning, I know.  My parents seemed to believe that most people are smart.  It's not like today, when it seems like every child is supernaturally gifted or deeply disabled.  No, my parents believed in a basic intelligence, and they didn't have much patience with laziness.  We had to try, really try.

So, when I came home with a C in 9th grade Algebra, we had a long talk.  They wanted to determine if I had really tried.  Did I need a tutor?  Why did I find the subject hard?  Why did I make better grades in every other subject? 

I could whine, "Math is hard."  But that explanation would not suffice.  Lots of things are hard.  That doesn't mean we give up.  It's a valuable life lesson.

The typewriter also reminds me of my writing, and all the ways my parents have supported my writing through the years. 

I got my first notebook in which I would write short stories when I was in the 3rd grade.  My dad was finishing a degree at Auburn University at Montgomery, and we went to the campus bookstore.  My sister got a tiny stuffed tiger, the AU mascot.  I wanted a spiral notebook.  I remember wanting it with an ache.  My love of office supplies started early.

My dad bought me that notebook.  I filled it with short stories about monkeys and other creatures.  I illustrated those stories.  My parents read them and took them seriously.

We've also explored great writing together.  Above is one of my favorite recent pictures of my dad reading Flannery O'Connor.  They discovered O'Connor long before I did, and they encouraged me to read her work--just one of many great authors we read together.

But it wasn't only my mind that my dad nurtured in a way that wasn't typical for every dad in my generation.  He also gave me permission to live in my body in less than feminine ways.

BackCountry Permit

My dad discovered backpacking in the early 1970's; we became a family who went on many camping trips and a few trips into the back country where we carried everything we needed on our backs.  Those experiences gave me an understanding of self-sufficiency which I still have, even though it's been years since I went on a backpacking trip.

We were also a family of runners.   There was no suggestion that running would damage our lady parts; I heard that message from others, but not from my dad.  We trained and got ready for 10K races.  We carbo-loaded before the race.  It was great family togetherness building.

But more than that, being a teenage runner gave me a confidence that I don't know how I'd have gotten any other way.  I started out unable to run a block, and then, by training and achieving incremental goals, I could run further and further.  That lesson has never left me. 

What seems impossible at the beginning is likely not impossible at all, especially if you work at it daily.  It doesn't have to be a lot of time each day, and maybe you can take a rest day each week--but if you show up to do the work, you can achieve all sorts of wondrous things.

That's one of the most important lessons my dad taught me, both directly and indirectly.  It's one I try to remember every day.   

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Saturday Snap Shots: A Hectic Week

It's been a week that feels hectic.  Let me record some snapshots:

--What has made it feel most hectic?  In a word:  work.  We had a team down to help us get ready for our mock accreditation visit in August which will help us get ready for the real accreditation visit later in the year.

One of my colleagues speculated that the approach of the full moon made the visit feel more hectic.  I said that I thought it would feel hectic if they had come during a new moon.  It's not the moon phase, it's the work and the discovering of so much work yet to come.

--I talked to a different colleague who is part of a committee for an MFA student.  We talked about his paper.  I asked what documentation style the MFA student is using.  My colleague said, "Screwed up APA."  I said, "I'm familiar with that style."  We laughed and laughed.

--I went to the student fashion show last night.  I haven't been to one of the big shows since 2008 or so.  The last show in 2008 was loud (pounding music) and crowded even though it was in a huge room in the Convention Center.  Last night we were in a hotel ballroom, which felt so much more elegant.  The clothes were more elegant too.  At the 2008 fashion show, I felt distinctly uncomfortable seeing so many of my students so skimpily dressed--barely dressed, in fact.  Happily, last night's show had no pornographic elements.

The last time I went to a fashion show, I was with feminist friends, who had plenty to critique.  Last night I was with a friend who has a passion for the costuming aspects of fashion, which made the experience vastly different.

And last night, we had front row seats, so I could see the gorgeousness of the fabrics.   How I wanted to reach out and touch those fabrics.  How I miss having my hands on fabric!

--I was sorting through my Reading Pals bag, and I found a book called Shadows.  I have no way to get it to my first grader, as school is out for summer, and we're done with the program.  But on Thursday, one of my fellow department directors brought his son to work, and I thought, hey, here's a kid who isn't already too old for this book.  When I brought the book in yesterday, my colleague talked about their week-end plans which includes pitching a tent in the back yard.

For a minute, I felt jealous.  But my week-end plans include making citronella candles in the back yard, so I'll have fun too.  We've spent the week assembling supplies.  For all the arts and crafts stores that exist, I have to conclude that there's not much demand down here in South Florida for candle making supplies.

The woman at the vitamin place where we bought the citronella oil said, "Let me know how it turns out.  Maybe I'll buy one from you."  Of course, if we're not buying supplies in bulk, we'd probably have to charge her $60 for a candle--I'm not exaggerating by much.  Why is wax so expensive?  For that matter, why is a candle wick so expensive?  Now those fancy candles don't seem like such a bad bargain.

But hopefully, having fresher citronella oil in the candle will help with the repelling of mosquitoes.  We shall see!

Friday, June 13, 2014

Thomas Merton, Adjunct Instructor

Many people today will be focused on the intersection of a full moon and a Friday the 13th.


I am much more interested in this crossing of paths, which seems much more random.  I was struck by this post on Paul Elie's blog that noted that Thomas Merton was an adjunct instructor at Columbia University’s Extension division.  As such, he could have taught J.D. Salinger.

Elie goes on to trace the many footsteps that have followed in that path, paths that might have crossed in that classroom building:  "And it’s striking that, while we [Elie and Salinger biographer Thomas Beller] were there, Eudora Welty – who had traveled to New York from Jackson for the memorial service for Walker Percy – paid a visit to the Graduate Writing Division and recounted that she had been a student in the same building, pursuing a degree in business in 1930 and 1931."

I briefly thought about which paths might have crossed mine--Gail Godwin coming to my little liberal arts college campus for a visit, James Dickey playing guitar at grad student gatherings at the University of South Carolina.  But then my brain went back to the earlier part of the blog post.

Thomas Merton was an adjunct instructor?

Of course, it was early in his life.  I can't imagine that Merton the mystic or Merton the monk was fully present in that room.  But what if he was?

Did his later students realize they'd been taught by Merton the mystic monk?  Did they go back to their freshman year notebooks and look for stray bits of wisdom?

He didn't go on to become a famous educator, so maybe he wasn't the kind of college professor who would inspire frantic note taking. It was early in his life--maybe he didn't have the choice insight that he would display later.

Maybe Merton was boring.  Maybe he stumbled through lectures.  I'm imagining that he taught literature classes, since it was the 1930's, and we didn't have the same kinds of Composition classes that we have now.  What poems would he have taught?  I'm thinking about his comments on essays.

Maybe he was like the musician Sting, who also taught school before he became famous for something else.  I remember reading the liner notes to Bring on the Night; in the note for "I Burn for You," Sting remembers setting his students to their writing tasks while he worked on songs for the gigs in his early band years.  He said that the students passed their A levels, he got his songs written, and everyone was happy.

There, too, I wondered if his students ever made the connection between the later Sting and their early English teacher.  I was early in my English teaching career and fascinated by this approach.  I, too, tried to use every scrap of spare time for my own projects.

I like these pictures of the early years of people famous for their use of language.  I need that reminder that we're all human.  Merton was not born a mystic.  He became one over the course of many decades.  Along the way, he had the same sorts of experiences as many of us will have.

It gives me hope that we're all on a path that will only make sense later, perhaps only after we're dead and biographers begin to tell the tale.  It gives me hope that nothing will be for naught, nothing will be wasted.

And if you need a Friday writing prompt, imagine Merton or Sting as your English instructor.  I had a wonderful time yesterday writing a poem from the perspective of the student in the Merton classroom.

From there, it's a short hop to all sorts of wonderful fictional possibilities.  Ernest Hemingway as your P.E. teacher, especially if you're an awkward 9th grade girl.  Flannery O'Connor teaching Home Ec, particularly in the late 1970's when everyone, boys and girls alike, took both Home Ec and Shop.

Yes, we could have fun with this!

Thursday, June 12, 2014

A New Poet Laureate

And so, we have a new Poet Laureate:  Charles Wright.  I confess to being unfamiliar with his work.  I'm fairly sure I've come across his name as I've scanned the poetry shelves and anthologies in the past 20 years. 

How unlike when Natasha Trethewey, outgoing Poet Laureate, was named.  I felt a soaring happiness.  I knew her work and loved it; I had seen her read to an audience of community college students.  She had a long question and answer session at the end of a long reading, and she took all of those students so seriously.  She radiated generosity.

It's no wonder that I haven't heard much about Wright; he's older, 79, and seems to be somewhat reclusive.  I loved this line at the end of an article about him in The Washington Post:  "For now, our next poet laureate is off to Montana for three months. His house there doesn’t have a phone, but there’s an answering machine in a shed about 10 miles away. He checks it twice a week."

I have been feeling pressure to get a smart phone; then I can tweet and text and be even more in touch than I am right now.  I love this alternate example of how to live a literary life. 

Yes, I find myself longing for space and quiet--yet when I get a stretch of quiet, I look to fill up the silence.  Hmmmm.

What would it feel like to have that quiet space carved out and then to get the call that you've been selected to be Poet Laureate?  Yes, my dream job, to be Poet Laureate of the U.S.--my improbable dream is to get that phone call.

But for now, I carry on in my regular job.  Yesterday was a day filled with lots of discussion of education and theory and practice--how to give our students what they need, from the time of admission to the time of job searching.  It's not the same kind of conversation as the ones I'd have as U.S. Poet Laureate, but the topic interests me nevertheless.

I thought of the job of college teacher yesterday as the news trickled in of Eric Cantor's defeat--to a regular college professor.  Not only that, the contender for the house seat also teaches at Randolph-Macon College.  What an interesting season that college is about to have.  I confess that I'm both mildly jealous and also happy not to be in that kind of spotlight.

The work of the school has to go on, after all.  No matter who is running for office, there's assessment work to be done and accreditation records to be kept and all the various classroom issues to keep in order.

But before I plunge back into that, there are poems to be written in the pre-dawn of the work day.  The narrative arc of our new Poet Laureate shows that this kind of daily work, accumulated over a long life, can be just as important as the Byrons of the poetry world, who write their important work and blaze off this planet early.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

June Reading Report: "The Blazing World"

Last week I went to the public library.   How I love the public library!  But I've already written posts about my love of the library (most notably here and here).  I got a wonderful stack of books.  I was able to find all of the ones I came for, which is most unusual.

I most wanted Siri Hustvedt's The Blazing World, a book I read about in this blog post written by Jeannine Hall Gailey.  It's a book about artists, about aging, about gender, about identity and masks.  What happens when an older female artist pretends to be male?  What happens when she doesn't just use a male name, but creates a living mask?  The aging female artist makes the art, while the younger male pretends to be the artist who made the art.  Intriguing!

I've been reading the book for a week, and the question that interests me even more than the gender issue is the idea of how the mask might transform the artist.  Does the art change when the artist pretends to be someone else?  To make the question even more compelling, the female artist has 3 male personas.  Or does she?

The book is presented as a collection of statements by the artist's friends/therapists/family members, artist's journals, interviews, old magazine articles, all sorts of artifacts of an artist's life--masks of different sorts!  I'm impressed with the overarching mask of an editor who has assembled these artifacts--complete with extensive footnotes in places.  It's a brilliant concept, and so far, Hustvedt is pulling it off.

And it's more than just an intellectual exercise, more than showing off.  It reads well as a narrative too, even though there's not much dialogue.  I worried it might be tiresome, but it's the opposite--it's compelling.

I'm impressed by the way that Hustvedt makes each of the documents so different.  She's mastered the voice of each character--and the voice of the type of document that she's creating.

Jeannine mentioned the book's connection to A.S. Byatt, and it does remind me of Possession, a book I loved as I was studying for my Ph.D. Comprehensive exams, but have never made my way through it again.  The more interesting juxtaposition for me is that I'm reading this book just after rereading Claire Messud's The Woman Upstairs.  That book asks similar questions about what makes a good artist.  But it doesn't wrestle with questions of gender in the same, intense way that Hustvedt does.

I hadn't even heard of Siri Hustvedt until I read about her on Jeannine's blog.  I wonder if her other books are as compelling.  I'll find out soon enough.  I also checked out a book of her essays.

But in the meantime, I've got to finish The Blazing World--I can't quite figure out how all the threads are going to make a unified cloth.  Happily, I can already tell that I'm in the hands of a capable author, so I can trust that I won't be disappointed.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Pictures from a Creativity Week

I began last week by making altered playing cards for a Create in Me card swap:

On Saturday, we got prepared for the Sunday wind chime project.  For more on that process, see this post on my theology blog.  Here are some finished wind chimes:

I like this creation that my spouse made.

We made this fish together out of odds and ends left over from the wind chime project:

This fish only exists in pictures; I didn't relish the thought of wiring it together:

An altered playing card that sums it all up:

Monday, June 9, 2014

Creativity Sunday

Yesterday was a long, but good, day at church.  We finished counting the offering only to realize that a huge storm was sweeping through.  So we stayed put for a bit.  Happily, the lunch celebration for the Confirmation group was still taking place in the fellowship hall, so the delay wasn't unpleasant.

When we got home, we looked at all the materials left over from the morning's wind chime project (for more on that, see this post on my theology blog).  We decided to go ahead and add to the wind chimes we'd already created.  We sat on the front porch and listened to the rumbly afternoon and enhanced the wind chimes.

But we still had material left.  I looked at a paint scraper and said, "It looks like a fish."  So we created a fish. 

And the shiny washers looked like scales, so we laid out another fish.  But the thought of wiring it together was more than I wanted to do; we'd already been creating for 2 hours and soon it would be time to get ready for the week ahead.  So instead, I took pictures.

At some point soon, I'll post pictures of the wind chimes and the other creative projects from the past week.

It's been a good creative week.  I wrote one poem and multiple blog posts.  I made altered playing cards--think collaging on a very small canvas of a playing card.  I made wind chimes and a mixed media sculpture (can I call it sculpture?) fish shape.  It's good to remember that I want to do a variety of creative projects--and that when I don't make as much progress on writing projects in a given week, it may be because I'm being creative in other arenas.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Camp at My House

At the end of the day yesterday, as we sat in the glow of the citronella candle, I said, "It's like we've had a day of camp here at our house."

We had several swim times, but no hikes.  We ate a great meal of a giant Salad Nicoise-like creation; we ate it in the dining hall we call our front porch.  We had a long arts and crafts period where we got ready for my project at our hands-on worship service; we ended up with a bucket of supplies and a new wind chime.

My spouse pointed out, "But we had no FOB."  Ah, FOB, flat on bunk, that time after lunch, in the heat of the day, when campers take a forced break.   You can sleep, you can read, you can write letters home, as long as each camper remains on his or her bunk.

We sat around our campfire of a citronella candle at the end of the day.  We reeked of bug spray and sunscreen.  We had the satisfaction of a good day.  We talked about art projects that we might want to pursue as the years go by.  We heard an owl hoot three times.

Today is the first day of camp at Lutheridge.  I must confess that I didn't always like camp.  I began life as a camper by being severely homesick.  Yes, I was one of those weepy campers.  My mom packed a copy of The Little Prince as a surprise.  It made me both more homesick and comforted.  It was a lesson learned early, the refuge of a book.

My later years at camp were better--no homesickness.  But they also came with their own challenges.  I always felt like the strange camper, the one who wasn't good at physical activities, the one who was convinced that she couldn't sing, the one who was striking, perhaps, but not pretty.  In short, it was like much of high school and middle school:  I found a few fellow travelers, but for the most part I felt out of place.

Now that I'm older, I simply don't care.  My body is far from perfect, but it's healthy, which is more than so many of my friends and colleagues can say.  I have the luxury of doing the arts and crafts projects that appeal to me and leaving the others alone.  I sing and hope that I hit most of the notes.

When did I get comfortable with singing?

I think back to my time as a Girl Scout camp counselor.  It was at Girl Scout camp that I learned to sing without worrying about being perfect.  I was raised in a Lutheran family of people with amazing musical gifts.   At Girl Scout camp, I discovered that a normal voice was good enough.

It was the summer after my first year of college.  I wanted to work at Lutheridge, but they filled their quota of counselors before they got to women my age.  Girl Scout camp was profoundly transforming in its own way.

The backpacking weeks were the ones that changed me.  We took everything we would need on our backs.  We were dropped off at one point and would walk to the pick up site:  three counselors and a band of girls.  We had no cell phones, no easy way to get outside help.  But it all went well, even during the trip with a ferocious thunderstorm that lasted most of the first night.  It gave me a sense of self-sufficiency and the knowledge that I was capable that has been invaluable.

I do wonder if the days of sleep-away camps are over.  Will we transition to some kind of camp-like experience that involves the whole family?  Are the days of rustic accommodations and no Internet or cell phone access already gone?  Will anyone head out into the wilderness with 30 pounds of gear and supplies on their backs and hopes for the best?  By anyone, I mean normal, every day folks, not the extreme athletes of today.

At least the campfire should survive, right?  As a species, we won't get tired of singing songs around open flame, will we?

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Grace Notes in a Difficult Week

It has been a tough week at work:  a training session that lasted almost 5 hours that repeated common-sense information (treat people with respect, don't record anyone without permission, don't have sex with people whom you supervise) that has been conveyed at other training sessions, a fight between students, a student murdered in a break-in off campus,  and other ugliness of more mundane varieties.  I haven't slept well all week, and I've felt uneasy during the day.

But let me record some moments of happiness.  It's good to remember that even in a week of unease and ugliness, there are many moments of grace.

Yesterday was the best day.  I got an e-mail in the morning from a small church that asked if they could use an image of my fabric art for their Pentecost bulletin.  Of course I said yes.

I should have asked for more information, since I've been wondering which image they'll choose.  I hope it is this one:

I met a writer friend for lunch.  I confessed to feeling that I've been in a bit of a malaise state.  I feel like I haven't quite gotten back on track after my laptop crash.  Right around that time, we had the change in office hour policy which has meant less writing time.  And then there's the "What is this all for?" feelings to deal with.

I've known this friend since she was a student in my upper level English classes in 2001.  She assured me that my life has not been for nothing.  It was good to hear her say it.

I went back to work and evaluated some transcripts.  I thought about the student who had come to see me on Thursday to explain why one course should substitute for another.  He was calm, not combative.  Oddly, we discovered that he had been at the same South Carolina community college where I taught, and we'd been there at the same time--what are the odds of that?  He talked about his military service, and the training courses he'd taken.  I thought about requiring the student to bring in the papers he'd written or transcripts from the training he'd gotten through the military.  Then I decided not to do that, to just use a course that was on a transcript we already had.  I simplified his life and mine and felt good about that.

Yesterday afternoon I took a break and read an e-mail from my current student who is taking an online course I'm teaching.  It's English 1101, a Composition class in an accelerated time frame, no easy thing.  Yet she wrote to tell me how much she's enjoying the class and to see what I'm teaching in the Fall.  I was touched, I kid you not.  In an on-ground class, I have more of a sense of how I'm doing and how the class is going.  In an online setting, it's not as clear.

And then, at the end of the day, a surprise party for a friend and colleague who is turning 60.  I had a major part to play in keeping the colleague friend busy while the party assembled itself elsewhere and then getting her there.  I wasn't sure I could pull it off--but I did!

Ah, that drama training of my youth pays off! 

So, finally last night, I slept an easier sleep.  I'm happy that I have a week-end to relax and to unwind.  I'm happy that the universe sends gentle reminders that, in the words of Julian of Norwich, all will be well.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Normandy, 70 years later

Last night as I ate a wonderful dinner on my beautiful refuge of a front porch, I thought of those English and U.S. soldiers who would have been getting ready for a very different night 70 years ago.  I said a prayer of thanks for them.

When you think of World War II, which battle do you think of as most important?  Many people would say the invasion of Normandy--but I do wonder if it's because it's the one that most people can remember by name, the one that makes it into the movies more often.  I've heard some historians say that the battle of Stalingrad was more important.  You might argue that the dropping of the bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki saved lives by making it possible to avoid these kinds of grueling battles.

On The Diane Rehm Show yesterday, I heard this startling assertion when Diane Rehm introduced historian Rick Atkinson:  "You call D-Day one of the most singular, most important days of Western civilization."

My mind instantly raced for other contenders to that title:  the most important day of Western civilization.

I also thought of all those veterans who are still alive, but not for very much longer.  I thought of modern battles, so far so very different.

I hear a lot of talk about today's generations, about how we wouldn't be able to fight the way we did in World War II.  But we forget about how malnourished the youth of the nation was in 1940, just as the Great Depression was coming to an end.  You wouldn't have looked at that generation and seen a great fighting force.  They weren't particularly special. 

People do what must be done.  If we felt threatened, and if we had to launch a D-Day invasion, I have no doubt that we'd do it.

But I certainly hope we never have to have such a war again.  I look at the number of the dead, and my brain can scarcely take it in.  I pasted the stats from Wikipedia below.  On the left are the Allied stats and on the right, the Axis stats. 

So yes, let us say a prayer of thanks for what those troops did all those years ago.  And let us say a prayer that we won't ever be called upon to protect freedom this way again.

Casualties and losses
Military dead:
Over 16,000,000
Civilian dead:
Over 45,000,000
Total dead:
Over 61,000,000 (1937–45)
...further details
Military dead:
Over 8,000,000
Civilian dead:
Over 4,000,000
Total dead:
Over 12,000,000 (1937–45)


Thursday, June 5, 2014

Swirls of Old Language and New Technology

--The last Navajo Code Talker has died.  You may or may not remember the history of the nearly unbreakable codes developed by World War II soldiers; they used many Native American languages.  When I heard the news of the death of the last Navajo Code Talker (should Code Talker be capitalized?), it seemed like it should be a metaphor for something.

--Yesterday was our last day as a Reading Pal to this year's first graders.  I went to the school, but my student wasn't there.  I gathered his remaining books, and his teacher says that she'll make sure he gets them.

As I worked with my student, and I listened to the reading going on around me, I was struck by how code-like language and reading are.  I have always loved reading and linguistics in the larger sense.  Watching a student who is fairly new to literacy helped me see why people would give up on reading--language so often makes no sense.  Think of the words that have a gh in them:  tough, thought, for example.  Try to explain those words to a first grader.  I understand his exasperation.  Still, we took turns reading, and he improved, and I'll hope it's enough. 

--Speaking of languages I'll never understand, twice in the past week, I've heard the songs of ducks in flight.  We hear lots of birdsong down here, but in the 16 years we've lived here, I've never heard ducks in flight.  Parrots in flight--yes--much screechier.  The ducks sounded almost mystical,  yet also misplaced.  Have they misplaced their northern lake?

It immediately transported me back to my parents' townhouse in the Virginia suburbs of D.C.  They lived on a very small lake, but the lake was home to regular ducks and Canada geese and all sorts of wildlife--just a half hour from the nation's capital.  I miss that house, and more, I miss getting back to that part of the country as often as I used to.  They lived in that townhouse for just over 25 years, so I guess it's not strange that it felt like home in ways that the houses of my youth did not.

--And in anniversaries that are related to language, today's entry on The Writer's Almanac tells us,
"On this day in 1977, the Apple II computer went on sale, and the era of personal computing began. Developed by Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak, it was the first successful mass-produced microcomputer designed for home use. It came standard with 4 kilobytes of memory, game paddles, and a demo cassette with some programs on it. Most people used their televisions as monitors.

The Apple II sold for about $1,300; today that same money will buy you an iMac, with 4 gigabytes — one million times the original amount — of memory, a sleek backlit 21-inch monitor, and a 2.7 gigahertz processor."

And for much less money, you can buy a lot of computing power that you can carry with you in your pocket in the shape of your cell phone.

--And in this language-related post, let me take a moment to praise language when it works in old-fashioned ways.  I made a new Facebook friend who liked my poem "Heaven on Earth."  That poem has opened more doors for me than I ever imagined that it would. And to think, I hesitated to send it out in the world, for fear that it would seem irreverent and would alienate a majority of readers.

The new Facebook friend called his twin brother and read the poem to him.  They laughed.  The twin brother then found my poem about Jesus after the hurricane (read it here) and called his brother back to read that poem to him.

I was struck by this swirl of old language and new technology that allows for all sorts of connections that wouldn't have been possible in the 19th century.  Poetry would have been possible, but the exchange of poems would have been improbable--research postal rates and times and see if you don't agree.  The Internet has given my poems a travelling range that they wouldn't have had in 1977 when that first Apple II went on the market.  Long distance rates are much cheaper now too--you can call a friend and read poems together over phone lines.  And because of Facebook and other social networking sites, you can find that poet and have a chat, if all parties are so inclined.