Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Dining Al Fresco

When we first moved to our house last summer, one of the people who helped us move remarked on how the front porch looked like a café. He said, "You should put a table and chairs out here. I'd eat every meal out here."

It would have been a good time to buy some furniture, as the end of summer sales were heating up. But I was worried about covering the bills, so we didn't.

I was most attracted to a bar height table--we already have one of those, a beautiful teak table. The bar stools that go with it aren't designed for outdoor use. But back in May, we needed to get that furniture out of the way, so finally, an outdoor eating space for the front porch!



Some people think it's too hot to eat outside down here for much of the year. But we've been enjoying the space on all but the steamiest days.

For one thing, it's shaded. So even on days when I wouldn't want to sit in the sun, the front porch is pleasant. And unlike other southern states where I've lived, we often have a good breeze direct from the sea.

One morning I took my breakfast out on the porch. I didn't have much time, but I took a few minutes to enjoy my poached eggs and toast with the sun streaming through the arches.

For the most part, we've enjoyed our evening meals al fresco. We coat ourselves with bug spray because even our homemade citronella candles aren't enough to repel mosquitoes. We open a bottle of wine and relax.



My favorite times are when it's raining. We're lucky to have a deep enough porch that it's the rare rain that drives us inside.

When I was in grad school, one of our apartments was on the edge of one of the most beautiful parts of town, Shandon. I would take long, rambling walks through the neighborhood and marvel at the beautiful front porches. I rarely saw anyone using their front porch, and I always wondered why you'd create a beautiful space and leave it unused.

I still wonder. There are seasons in South Carolina where it would be wonderful to take a book to the front porch rocker. I never saw anyone do that.

I think of my grandmother's front porch, which was just a bit smaller than mine. She'd have never eaten out there, but we spent many an evening watching the sun set and the shadows lengthen. We'd sit out there in the afternoon shucking corn and snapping beans.

She didn't have the glamorous furniture of upscale neighborhoods, but she showed how an aluminum and webbing lawn chair was just as good. And so far, my furniture designed for indoor use has survived the transition to the porch. I'm hoping we'll have many more years to dine al fresco. I'm hoping that our neighbors don't think it's tacky.

It's getting to be the time of year when more people move their entertaining back outside, for a few weeks/months.  I must confess that during the month of August and September, when our weather was particularly steamy, we have moved inside too.  Now, I'm hoping to have more opportunities for outdoor dining.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Highlights from a 4 Day Week-end

Yesterday at noon, we took my sister and my 8 year old nephew to the airport.  I spent yesterday afternoon getting organized and catching up.  But it wasn't as fun as the several days leading up to it.

What did we do?  Lots of things:

--We spent as much time in the pool as we could.  In fact, we picked them up at the airport on Thursday and went straight from there into our swimming pool.  I had picked up an inflatable basketball set at an end-of-season sale, and it was the hit of the week-end.

--We watched it rain.  Happily, the rain never settled in for good.  Then the sun came out, and we went back in the pool.

--We ate all sorts of things that had been grilled:  bacon, pizza, hot dogs, clams, steaks, a roast.  Yummmmm.  Then we went back in the pool.

--We went shopping so that we could do some craft projects during the rainy time.  On Saturday, my nephew made all sorts of creations out of colored rubber bands.  My sister, spouse, and I made candles, some scented with rosemary oil and some with lemongrass oil.  Then we went back in the pool.

--We went to the beach, but all sorts of warning flags were flying.  There were rip currents and stinging sea creatures.  We played variations of football and soccer on the beach--wow, that sand is really unforgiving!  Then we came back and went back in the pool. 

--We didn't do some of the things I thought we might do, like play games or draw.  Who wants to do indoor activities when there's a lovely pool?

So today it's back to making sure that all the syllabi have been changed the way that they must to make the accreditors happy and catching up on annual reviews.  I would much rather be in the pool with my nephew!

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Questions I Don't Usually Ponder, Unless an 8 Year Old Visits

--Who thought of taking the brightly colored rubber bands from orthodontics and turning them into craft supplies?  Who looked at their child's braces and said, "Those rubber bands would make great bracelets if we wove them together!"?

--Why is sand such an unforgiving surface?

--Why does the presence of autumnal beers make me so happy when I don't even like beer?  Is it because we have no blazing leaves to signal the arrival of a new season?

--What will become of all these creatures made of Lego?  Do Lego creatures have a soul?  Did their soul exist before we put them together?  Does it come standard with every Lego kit?

--Why are pretzel goldfish so much more delicious than regular pretzels?

----When do we lose our capability to pursue whatever interests us at any given time?

--Why do some inflatable pool toys and accessories last for several seasons while others come apart within hours?

--Why do stores in South Florida stop selling these kinds of pool items after August ends?

--Will I learn the rules of football before the 8 year old tires of the game and moves on to something else?

--Do all children have the ability to live in the present moment?  At what point do we lose that?

--Children have boundless stores of energy--why don't I?

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Time, Technology, and (Im)Permanence

In past weeks, I've said that I love having visitors because they get me out of the house to be a tourist in my own town.

These past few days, I've realized that visitors also teach me about Internet destinations.  I've been watching my 8 year old nephew watch YouTube videos that show people playing Minecraft.

I've always said that few things are more boring than watching someone else on the computer, and I still stick to that assertion.  I won't be watching these videos once he leaves.  But how fascinating that they exist.

I said to my spouse, "Who says to themselves, I'm going to record myself playing this game.  And then I'm going to create a voiceover feature to explain what I'm doing?"

That's the age we live in, of course.  We have cheap technology that makes it possible to record all sorts of things--and to upload them into a forum where we can all find them.

And of course, who am I to even ask that question?  One might ask the same of me:  why do you need to keep a public journal of your daily thoughts and theological musings?  Why upload?

There are many reasons, of course.  I like that by uploading, I can then have access from any computer.  I like to believe that my writing affects some people in some way.  I like the feedback and the support and the exchange of ideas.  I like that I can write a blog post and link to it on Facebook and thus I don't have to write a lot of e-mails and letters to people to let them know how I am.

I think of future researchers who will have a lot of material to slog through as they do their work.  I think of my grad school self who devoured the journals and letters of Dorothy Wordsworth.  That researcher doesn't have as much that documents the time period as a future researcher will have.

Or maybe our future researcher won't have those materials.  After all, if Google decides to delete the Blogger platform, my writing vanishes.  If YouTube vanishes, what becomes of all those videos?

I think of John Keats writing his poems despite the fact that he must have been convinced that they would not survive him and in the face of bloody evidence each morning that he would not be surviving much longer.

In so many ways, almost every creative person faces the same questions.  We know that we are only here for a short time.  We know that our works may not survive us.  What keeps us going?

Those of us who have been creating for some time, we know that the work itself must sustain us.  It's not the praise, although that would be nice.  It's not the assurance that our works will outlast us.  We cannot be sure.  The poets who were the most famous during Keats' time would be unknown to most of us.  It's Keats that we see as one of the greatest English poets--and most of the people who were alive during his time would not have known his name either.

I have time on the brain.  Sandy Longhorn has been having great conversations about those of us who have multiple creative outlets and how we decide which one to follow.  I said, "I tend to follow the muse that's calling me at the moment, what I passionately yearn to do. It's often writing, but sometimes cooking, sometimes fabric art, sometimes simple sewing of a long seam, sometimes planting, sometimes collage. As I've grown older and my work life takes more time, I find myself thinking about the fact that my life will end at some point, and I ask myself which work is most important, which will have lasting impact. I also ask what will make me most sad if I don't finish the work at hand. The idea of partly finished quilts when I die doesn't haunt me. But oh, all those book-length ideas I have!"

I wonder if Keats had other creative pursuits that he put aside once he realized he had contracted the TB that had killed so many of his loved ones.  I wonder if those gamers who record themselves have all sorts of creative interests.

I wonder what will survive the next 200 years and what that will tell the future researchers who think about us.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Other People's Religious Holidays

Yesterday, one of my Jewish colleagues brought a traditional Rosh Hashanah dessert for another Jewish colleague.  The dessert was easily shared:  bits of things (cherries, crisp things,) coated in a dark honey glaze, some with sesame seeds.

We talked about holiday foods.  One colleague is what is often called a cultural Jew:  she likes the foods, she observes the holidays to a certain extent, but she rarely goes to services.  She's not part of a temple.

The other colleague is much more hard-core.  When I asked if it was appropriate for a Lutheran to wish them a happy new year, she gave me a withering look and said, "I've been in intense study for a month to prepare for the holy days.  If you think it's just about the new year, you are sadly mistaken."

I wanted to protest that I'm fairly ecumenical as far as Christians go.  I wanted to defend myself.  Or alternately, I wanted a low-key conversation (not a diatribe, not a lecture) where we compared traditions.

But I know that religious conversations can make surrounding colleagues uneasy, so I backed away.  I said, "I know.  I have a rabbi friend who has been writing a poem a day during the time that leads up to the high holy days.  She's been posting them on her blog, and it's been a fascinating discipline to watch."  Thanks, Rachel!

It made me think about our various religions, of how many Jews I know and how many different ways they are celebrating these days of awe.  I suspect that it will be easier to get parking places at work today, as many folks will be taking today off.  Our public schools give the day as an official holiday, so even some non-Jews will be taking the day off  to take care of children.

It also made me think about how we talk to each other about our religious traditions, especially in places like the office, where we're all thrown together.  It's one thing to have a conversation about religion in a quilting group or over lunch.  But it feels much more risky in an office.

Maybe I'm the only one who feels this way.  I was brought up not to talk about religion, sex, or politics, not even at the dinner table.  I was brought up that it was rude to talk about those topics at school (unless in a class where we study and discuss the subject from a safe academic distance) or at work.  To look at my workplace, though, I'd say those rules have changed.  Maybe that's not the case in the nation's heartland, but it seems true here.

I'd like a deeper connection with my colleagues by talking about our different religious beliefs, but I also know that religion has been used as a weapon.  And even if not used as a weapon, it's too easy for people to feel trounced by religious conversations.

Today, I will not be at work either.  My sister and nephew come today!  His school district in Maryland also gives this day as a day off.

Happy Rosh Hashanah to us all, whether we be cultural Jews, Orthodox Jews, ecumenically minded folks, or that large group of people who have no religious practice.  May the coming year be sweet!

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

God as Fabric Artist: A Poem for a New Season, a New Year

Yesterday I took mail to the post office, and it occurred to me that my mail is travelling further than I am these days.  I sent a package on its way to England and a letter off to Peru.  My Facebook feed is full of people who are having excellent adventures.  I feel a mild jealousy.

Tonight begins a different kind of adventure for our Jewish friends.  I feel a mild jealousy there, too, as I hear colleagues at work discussing food and traditions and more food.

But this year, I will be celebrating Rosh Hashanah in a different way.  My sister lives in a school district in Maryland that has the day as a school holiday, so my sister and nephew are coming down for a long week-end.  What fun!

I know that a Rosh Hashanah tradition is to eat apples dipped in honey to symbolize the wish for a sweet year ahead.  I will spend Rosh Hashanah embracing life in the way that only 8 year olds can.  I'll have the fervent hope that I can carry that spirit into the new year.

That exuberant spirit embodied in many 8 year olds reminds me of a poem that I wrote some years ago, a poem recently featured at the wonderfully cool, online journal Escape Into Life.  Since it's an online journal, they can do neat things with images, and my poems are paired with wonderful fabric art.  Go here to see the feature.

Long ago, at a Create in Me retreat, we talked about God the creator and the various Genesis stories and what they mean for our own creative processes.  And this poem emerged shortly thereafter.

It seems like a great poem for a new year and a new season.  I like that God in this poem keeps creating and keeps trying new approaches, which leads to wondrous new creations.  We are all wondrous creations, with a chance to make ourselves new every day.

When God Switched Fabrics


On the third day, God switched
fabrics. At first, God had followed
respectfully the lessons of the elders:
which fabrics could be used,
which fabrics couldn’t go together,
which decorative objects were suitable.
God stuck to the established patterns:
Flying Geese, Star of Bethlehem, and Log Cabin.

But on the third day, God declared,
“Enough.” God created the universe
with leftover scraps of velvet,
silk, leather, and denim. God stitched
it all tightly together with ribbon and lace.

When God created foliage,
God decided to design new patterns.
Even the elders exclaimed over God’s
grand visions.

When God began the creation of the animals,
God discovered the dimensions offered
by fabric dyes. God played with pigments
and new patterns appeared.

By the time God created humans,
God claimed the title of fabric artist.
God didn’t waste time
in the age-old debate of craft versus art.
God blazed new trails mixing fabric,
paint, clay, and metals to create
new forms yet again.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

In Which the Poet Writes a Poem Again!

I finally wrote a poem!  I realize that it may not seem like a big deal; after all, it's only been a month since I wrote a poem, and I have very good reasons why I haven't been writing as much as I usually do.  Accreditation visits precipitate much writing, but none of it feels as important as writing a poem.

In fact, so much feels ephemeral these days, from writing to relationships to the endless binders I've been producing to the body itself.  I have all sorts of ancient wisdom whispering in my head, wisdom that reminds me that we are here for such a short time; we are grass blades in the realms of geologic time.

Some days, it's tough to carry on in the face of this knowledge.  Here is where some of my training in a variety of arenas takes hold and carries me through.

In my spiritual life, I sometimes feel empty.  To whom do I pray anyway?  Does anyone really hear me?  Those questions could sink me, yet I just carry on.  I pretend, until the feelings are real again.

Some of my friends might say that I'm offering the kind of hypocrisy that makes them hate Christianity.  And maybe it does mean I'm a bad believer.

But I don't really think that.  I think I'm being honest.  Much of life is less about belief than it is about practice.  We show up and do the work, even if we're no longer enthusiastic, even when we can't be sure it's making a difference.  We do this with our love lifes, our friendships, our work for pay, our work for the sake of creating, our sensible eating plans, our exercise . . . or am I the only one who experiences these cycles?

I need to send my book length poetry manuscript out into the world.  I will enter the competition for the May Swenson prize, since at least I'll get a book.  I will enter this competition at Persea Books, since it's only open to women writers who haven't yet published a full-length book.

And this week, I'll get back to my memoir.  I think I'm very close to a finished draft that will only need one final polishing!

Monday, September 22, 2014

On the Cusp of a New Season

Here we are on the cusp of a new season.  For many of us, the weather will give no indication of the shift underway. 

Living in South Florida, one must be alert for the signs.  There won't be blazing leaves to announce autumn's presence.



When we first moved down here, we lived in a triplex, with our landlady at one end.  I remember one morning I walked out to find her sitting at her door.  She inhaled and said, "The weather is changing?  Can you feel it?"

I felt nothing different.  She assured me that eventually I would be able to see the weather shifting.

I usually notice a change in the quality of light, as the days get slightly shorter at the end of September.  I notice my friends' Facebook posts as they go to farmer's markets and autumn festivals.  This time of year, I miss the apple orchards in North Carolina:



I'd like to buy some pumpkins, but it's still too early, too hot here.  For now, I'll remember a place where the pumpkins are already piled high:



Now, as we move from one season to the next, it's a good time to take stock.  What was accomplished?  What is left to be done next season?  What tasks should fall away?

Rabbi Rachel Barenblat has a great blog post that asks these very questions.  She concludes in this interesting way:

"For what do I need to say "I'm sorry" in order to enter the new season, the new year, with a clean slate? Where do I need to create repair in my relationships with other people, with my own soul, with the Earth, with my Source? What old resentments or frustrations do I need to shed in order to walk through this doorway with my spine straight and my shoulders unclenched?

Fall is coming. The new year is coming. Who do I want to become on the other side of this door?"

For years, I wasted time mourning that the shift in seasons was not some ideal I had in my mind, some ideal that I might have experienced precisely once:  a hayride, a cup of hot cider, cinnamon donuts,  a pumpkin patch where I could pick my own pumpkin, an orchard where I could get set up for pie.  For years I wanted to control the weather so that I could have crisp air when I went out to pick apples, so that I could shrug a sweater across my shoulders for the first time.

How much better to think about a threshold, a chance to step through he door into a season of new chances and opportunities.    How much better to think about the work that needs to be done so that I can unclench.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

The Last Day of Summer

I just stepped out onto my front porch while I waited for the microwave to heat the milk for my coffee.  It's amazing what a few days of rain does to the temperature.  It's almost cool--72 degrees, according to a weather site.

Long ago, when I was a more serious runner in South Carolina, 72 degrees in the pre-sunrise hours was a flag to me that perhaps I shouldn't run--too hot.  And now, after 2 months of overnight lows that don't get much below 82 degrees, it feels like a breath of coolness.

I mention this fact on the last full day of summer.  Of course, tomorrow is an almost full day--the autumnal equinox doesn't occur until 10:29 p.m.

Through my window, I see the barest sliver of the rising moon.  It will soon be blotted out by either the sun or storm clouds.

Yesterday, the sun was obliterated by thunder clouds.  But that was OK.  I needed to spend the day hibernating.  After several heavy duty work weeks, it was good to sleep in the stormy afternoon--very restorative.

In the early evening, we took a short walk to assess the state of the streets and the sky.  We determined that we could get a neighborhood bike ride done before the next round of rain.

We have finally abandoned the yard sale bikes.  My spouse got me a bike for my birthday back in July, and when my parents were here this past week, they gave him an early birthday present of a bike.  So finally, we could cycle through our neighborhood.  It was a delightful end to a restful day.

Today I shall enjoy the last full day of summer.  Of course, down here, summer weather will continue a few months longer.  If it's less rainy, perhaps we'll have burgers and a swim in the pool.  If it's another rainy afternoon, perhaps more naps will be in order.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

And So, We Limp On*

--Yesterday morning, I said, "I haven't felt this tired since grad school."  I have been feeling the mushy-brain kind of tired, the kind of tired where my face aches.

--I feel slightly better this morning, but not fully restored.  I expected to feel that kind of passing Comps kind of ecstasy.  Instead, I feel that end-of-dissertation weariness.

--Why do I feel this way?  At work, we've been preparing for an accreditation visit.  This week, the accreditors arrived.  Late yesterday afternoon, they left.

--I'm happy to report that the initial feedback is good.  We have some things to fix, but everyone expects that.  Does any school ever have an accreditation visit where it is discovered that everything is perfect?  I think not.

--I spent 12 hour days in my office, waiting to be asked questions about my department or to provide any additional information.  As with the last visit, I never saw a team member.  I am not complaining.

--I like to think that my binders were in such perfect order that the team analyzed them and moved on.  I know that someone looked at my binders or at least moved them off the main table.

--And now it's time to turn my attention back to what needs to be done:  annual reviews, some letters of recommendation, and of course, my own writing.  I'm going to send my poetry manuscript out into the world again.  I'm going to contact some agents about my memoir/book of essays.  I'm going to write a poem--before the week-end is over!


*I've taken the title of this blog post from Maureen Corrigan's book, And So We Read On, about The Great Gatsby.  She took her title from the last line of Fitzgerald's book:  "And so we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past."  At some point, hopefully soon, I'd like to read both books back to back.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Season of Binders

--I began the second long, long day by listening to the soundtrack from Rent on my way to work.  I dropped off my mortgage payment into the mailbox on my way.  The irony of belting out my determination not to pay the rent and then mailing my mortgage payment--the irony was not lost on me.

--My administrator colleague friends also listened to Broadway cast albums on their way to work.  One listened to The Book of Mormon, and the other listened to Into the Woods.  I will let you play armchair psychologist and make your judgments.

--I spent the day redoing a few forms and getting signatures.  I spent the day in my office waiting to see if any additional information about my department was needed.  It could have been worse.  Much, much worse.

--I stayed a bit late to help a colleague.  I have spent the whole week saying, "Is there anything I can do to help you with this project?"  Last night was the first time that someone said, "If you don't mind staying, I could really use the help." 

--I did the photocopying, and she pulled materials out of files.  It's not hard work.

--I drove home through flooded streets.  Had it really rained that much?  As my spouse said, "We've had less flooding with more rain."  We moved both cars to the slightly higher ground of the driveway.  We checked the back yard.  The alley usually floods before the streets.  Not last night.  It was strange.

--Today, we may or may not find out the results of weeks and months of work--not hard work, but lots of photocopying, hole punching, and putting into binders.  And that's after the work of compiling information across several forms and getting documentation--in addition to the work of adding language to syllabi here and taking out information there.

--It could have been worse.  Much, much worse. 

--Still, I am ready for this season of binders to come to an end.  It's a cyclical season--I know that the season of binders will come again.  But for now, I am ready for new projects.

--I know that I may look back on those words and shake my head--will it be with a sense of wonder?  With an ironic nod?  With a sense of foreshadowed doom?

--I am ready for a restored sense of wonder. 

Thursday, September 18, 2014

An Administrator Considers the Day after the Feast Day of St. Hildegard of Bingen

--I find it disconcerting that I was so wrapped up in my administrator/teacher duties yesterday that I forgot it was the Feast Day of St. Hildegard of Bingen.  For more on her life, go to this blog post that I wrote for the Living Lutheran site.

--Hildegard is one of those women who did so much, despite the constraints of the medieval age in which she lived, and I wonder why on earth I can't accomplish more.  Or let me be more accurate:  by last night, I was wondering why I seem destined to copy the same files again and again and again.

--At least I have them to copy.  One of the hard lessons I've  learned of administrator life:  don't let anything out of your control before you make a copy.  I make both paper copies and electronic copies.

--I think of Hildegard who must have faced similarly repetitive tasks as she kept her nunnery afloat.  Yet she managed to write so much music, music that has survived.  What's wrong with me?

--Let me stop to remind myself that I have written quite a lot--maybe not this week, but most weeks, I get a poem written and some other creative work too, in addition to blog posts, which for me, take some time to compose.

--Hildegard of Bingen wrote regularly to all the powerful men of the day to encourage them to pursue peace.  Like Hildegard, I've dedicated some of my time and energy to social justice matters.  That work is important, but it does explain why the time for my creative work ebbs and flows.

--I wonder if Hildegard thought that she wasn't writing much.  I wonder if she envisioned larger gardens.  I wonder if she chafed at the duties that kept her away from the creative work or social justice work that she wanted to be doing.

--My theory:  in the day to day, we feel we aren't doing much.  But when we take the full measure of a life, we see how much a life can encompass.

--Here's one of my favorite parts of the blog post that I wrote for Living Lutheran:  "We all face constraints of various kinds, and the life of Hildegard shows what could be accomplished, even during a time when women did not have full rights and agency. She was an abbess, and because being in charge of one cloistered community wasn’t enough, she founded another. She wrote music, and more of her music survives than almost any other medieval composer. She was an early naturalist, writing down her observations about the natural world and her theories about how the natural world heals us. She wrote to kings, emperors and popes to encourage them to pursue peace and justice. She wrote poems and a morality play and along the way, a multitude of theological meditations."

--Like Hildegard, we can compose our lives similarly.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Inspired by the MacArthur Grants Awards

Alison Bechdel has won one of the 2014 MacArthur grants!  I have long thought of her as a genius, but how wonderful that she has been recognized this way.

I remember reading her comic strip Dykes to Watch Out For back when you could only find the strips in underground newspapers--the kinds of newspapers that you had to go to Atlanta or D.C. to find.

Can that really be true?  Or am I just trying to sound edgier and cooler than I really was back in the 80's?

I am sure that I read the strips before I read the books.  And I did feel hip and cool for reading them, even if those characters seemed to be living an edgier life than I was living.

Ah, the 80's, when lesbians trying to live a regular life like the rest of the nation was seen as edgy and hip!  Or maybe that says more about the smaller cities in the southern U.S. where I lived and visited in the 1980's than it does about larger history. 

In any case, I am so thrilled for this public recognition of Bechdel's talent!  I have been a fan for many decades, and while she's gotten much more acclaim lately, this award is huge.

There are some poets on the list, which I found here.  Terrance Hayes is a winner, as is Khaled Mattawa.  I have read Hayes, but never heard of Mattawa.

Frankly, the whole list is inspiring--it's amazing to consider all the ways that the human brain works to create something new.

Of all the awards announced throughout the year, the MacArthur Fellowships are the ones that cheer me the most, the one I would most love to win.

Well, that's not true.  I'd most love to win the Nobel, either for peace or for literature.  But to win a MacArthur grant would be a dream come true, and it's one of those grants that seems more likely to be awarded around midlife, unlike the Nobel.

It's good to be inspired this way.  It's time for me to return to my writing.  I've spent too much time immersed in other kinds of writing, e-mails and reports and endless forms.  I'm ready for a poem!

An update:  moments after I wrote this post and moved on to other projects, NPR's Morning Edition ran this story about Amy Clampitt, who "didn't publish her first volume of poetry until she was 63."  I love stories of writers who hit their first achievement when they're older than I am.  I needed this reminder that it's not too late!

And the story itself is wonderful.  Clampitt won a MacArthur Fellowship and bought a house in Lennox, Massachusetts with the money.  And what's become of that house?  The story explains:  "Since 2003, the house Clampitt bought with her MacArthur money has been used to help rising poets by offering six- to 12-month tuition-free residencies."

Yes, the story inspires on all sorts of levels!

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Staving Off a Mushy Brain

Much as I have enjoyed the Ken Burns' documentary on the Roosevelts, the first hour that I could stay awake for each of the past 2 nights, I do not anticipate having time to watch the whole thing.  Happily, this morning, I discovered a different option.

As I graded student rough drafts, I listened to an interview with Ken Burns on the Diane Rehm show, an NPR program.  I found the subject matter interesting, but at times, Burns talks about the process of creating the documentary--who should do which voice, which pictures should be used--which fascinated me too.

Burns says that no other U.S. family has so impacted the course of history.  He makes a strong case. 

While you're at the website for the Diane Rehm show, you could also check out this interview with poet and essayist Diane Ackerman.  She's so optimistic about the future of the planet--it's a wonderful counterpoint to the gloomy news that fills every airwave.

My English major heart was also made glad by this interview on Fresh Air:  Maureen Corrigan talks about her book that's about The Great Gatsby.  I haven't read that book in decades, but the interview was still wonderful--and a great reminder about why that novel is so important.

There are days when I feel sad about how much I am not reading these days.  But in so many ways, these types of NPR shows have taken the place of some of the reading that I used to do.  It's not as good as diving into the subject deeply with a book.  But it's better than a lot of the magazine reading that I used to do--these kinds of interviews are much more in-depth treatment of whatever subject is at hand.

Of course, I have to wonder if I really get all the salient points if I'm listening while doing other things.  I guess it matters what the other things are.  But happily, if I feel I've missed too much, I can go back and listen again.

The larger issue:  is my brain turning to mush?  The one detail from this morning's interview with Ken Burns that stays with me:  Teddy Roosevelt read one book a day, unless he was on vacation, when he read several books on any given day.

I used to read a similar amount, back in my pre-administrator days.  Those were also the days of slower Internet connections, which meant that I had fewer online distractions.  Hmmm.

But I am grateful for the Internet, even with it's potential distractions.  I'm grateful for intellectual stimulation, especially when I don't have reading time.  I think the Internet is doing more to keep my brain from mushifying than causing my brain's decline.

Monday, September 15, 2014

A More Modern Journal of the Plague Year

Yesterday, after a lovely brunch at Bahama Breeze, my dad wanted to read by the pool.  He'd been trying to check out an eBook from his home library, with no luck. 

So we went to our old-fashioned bookshelves, with books made out of paper.  He settled down to read Octavia Butler's Wild Seed.  He's become interested in all sorts of aspects of U.S. Colonial life since moving to Williamsburg, so I thought this book would provide an interesting twist.  I may read it again when he's done.  

I, too, wanted to read by the pool, so I looked at my shelves.  What to read, what to read?  I thought I was in the mood for a good apocalypse, and at first, I gravitated to Margaret Atwood.  But then my eye drifted to Geraldine Brooks' Year of Wonders:  A Novel of the Plague.

I read it when it first came out, back in 2001, a library copy.  I liked it so much that I bought it when I found it remaindered.  But I've never gone back to read it again.

I haven't finished it yet, but I'm here to report that it's every bit as wonderful as I remembered.  It's the kind of book that makes me feel like it's useless for me to try to write, since I will never be as talented as Geraldine Brooks.  But I try to ignore those feelings and appreciate the simple marvels of the book itself.

I love that Brooks makes the book feel both completely historically accurate and yet wonderfully modern too.  I love the main character, the first person, female narrator.  I love the apocalyptic topic, and the fact that it's set in the past, not some distant future--much to learn.

I've been spending time thinking about Ebola and all the possible outcomes, and my mind has come back often to various bubonic plague outbreaks in Europe, the time in disease history that seems most analogous to our own.  As I read this book, my theories seem more and more validated.

I finished the day by watching the new Ken Burns documentary on the Roosevelts--fascinating!  And there, too, there are interesting parallels to modern life--do-nothing legislatures, the frustrations of people who want to see the world evolve into something better.

We may have a repeat of yesterday today:  Mom reading her Kindle, me reading Year of Wonders, Dad reading Wild Seed.  Or will we go to a movie?  Or something I can't even anticipate yet?

It's their last full day here; I'm sure we will have fun.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

A Visit to Vizcaya: The Photo Essay

On Friday, we went to Vizcaya, even though the weather looked threatening:

The View of Biscayne Bay, from the back of Vizcaya


We walked through part of the house; you won't see pictures of the inside of the house, because photography of any sort is not allowed inside the house.  As we watched the clouds build, we decided to go to the gardens.




A woman in a beautiful dress was traipsing from place to place; she was trailed by photographers.  I loved the boat shoes that she wore underneath the dress.



I loved the heels left in a corner of the garden.



But more than that, I loved all the different aspects of the garden, from the neoclassical design to the decaying labyrinth to the statuary.  Actually, I love the statues on the sunken barge the best:

A close-up of the first picture



Below:  what to do with your old shells:  glue them to the ceiling of a grotto!



The house itself, the inside, didn't appeal.  It seemed dark and gloomy:  these antiques do not make me wish they could be mine.  The rococo style of the walls and ceilings just felt oppressive.  I was happy to walk outside.  I did love this terrace; it's the only part of the house that made me say, "I wish I could live here.  I want to have a party here where guests would arrive by boat."



I got great shots of the weather vanes.  How I love the weather vanes of the world.



I don't need a weather vane to know which way the wind blows; down here, I can just orient myself to the ocean and turn my face to the wind.



So, was it worth the $18 admission? 



Let me note that I was the only one who paid full price.  My spouse has a student ID, and my parents got senior admission.  So, yes, for one day, it was worth it.  Would I go back?  Only if it was a week day (no crowds!) with weather perfect for rambling through the gardens--in short, a day much like the one we had on Friday.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

A Visit to Vizcaya

My parents are in town for a long week-end.  What a treat!  I feel fortunate in that they are fairly easy company to host.  We like similar activities, and our food preferences are similar.  When parents are coming--anyone's parents--I do tend to clean more vigorously in advance, but it's good to tend to those tasks.

I've said it before:  one reason I like having out of town guests is that we tend to get out of the house and explore our surroundings.  Ever since we moved down here in 1998, I've had the historic mansion Vizcaya on my list of places to get to, but we haven't yet.

My mom saw it listed in a book of 1000 places to visit before you die, so we decided to go yesterday, on their first full day of the visit.  There's too much that might disrupt the plan if we wait until Monday.  And since we have a week day free, we wanted to avoid the week-end.

Early in the morning, I thought we might need to change plans.  It was raining, and the forecast called for more rain.  But by the time we walked to the beach for breakfast, the sun was shining.  There were still angry clouds in some directions, but we decided to take a chance.

The traffic in Miami is never easy--we had not one but two places on I 95 where lanes were blocked.  I began to worry that we wouldn't have enough time.

But we did have enough time.  And the rain held off so that we could explore the gardens--and since the sky was full of clouds, it wasn't too beastly hot to explore the gardens.

I liked the gardens better than the house.  The house was dimly lit, to protect all the historic elements.  The house has lots of painted surfaces and wallpapers--it felt overwhelming and ominous.

The gardens, on the other hand, were glorious.  There were gardens of many types:  classical designs, a labyrinth of sorts, an orchidarium, statues here and there, all sorts of fountains.  There was a woman in an amazing bridal gown who travelled around the gardens being trailed by photographers.  We assumed that she's part of some magazine spread, not a bride having her formal pictures made.  But who knows?  It's the kind of place where I got the idea that one might stumble across any sort of not everyday activity.

And I also loved the huge terraces that overlooked Biscayne Bay.  About 12 feet out from the steps that go down to the water, there's an amazing statue of a partially sunken barge with mermaids frolicking on it. 

I told my spouse that when I'm a little old lady who is losing my memory, I'll believe that I've been to Venice, but it will have been this house.

In the afternoon, we went to the gift shop--it's the kind of gift shop with scarves that cost $90.  But the café wasn't too badly priced.  I had Italian gelato--two scoops, two different flavors, but I couldn't tell much difference between them--they both tasted like sweetened cream.  And I didn't mind at all.

We were so lucky in so many ways:  the rain held off, the crowds stayed away, we didn't slip and fall on any of the uneven surfaces.  And we zipped right back home--no early rush hour disasters, hurrah!

Tomorrow, I'll post some pictures from the trip.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Clean Syllabi and Rainbow Signs

After a string of tiring days at work, I finally got some good news.  A colleague has been tasked with distributing comments from the team that's double-checking our syallabi in advance of our upcoming accreditation visit.  He stopped by my office and said, "Your syllabi are pretty clean."

I've spent the summer submitting documents of all sorts.  I've thought they were clean, only to find typos.  I've thought they were clean, only to find that we needed more complete information.  I've done multiple forms in multiple ways.

As of this morning, I'm done with all the accreditation tasks except for hole punching some documents and putting them into binders.  I could show up to work to find out that I need to redo everything yet again, but in this moment, I shall assume that everything is in order.

Last night I stopped at the grocery store on my way home from work.  I took carrots to school for lunch yesterday--that's how bare our fridge had become.  Luckily, a colleague invited me to join her in eating the extras from a lunch meeting that she had.

In the grocery store, I felt that sense of peace that can come from restocking the larder.  And on my way home, I saw a beautiful rainbow:



I thought we might get some much-needed rain--look at the clouds at the bottom of the picture.  They looked so threatening.

I thought of all the stories of rainbows from my childhood churches.  We were taught that the rainbow should remind us that we will be safe from destruction.



Now of course, I am older, and much as I want to believe we are safe, I know of the damage that can be done with a hijacked plane, a tiny virus, a cell's mutation, a rise in temperature of just a degree or two. 

But still, every time I see a rainbow, I take it as a sign of hope.  So, it was great to drive home last night to see such a huge rainbow, stretched across a red and lavender sky.

And on this day of grim anniversaries, it's good to remember the central message from the church of my childhood and from many other faiths:   death does not have the final word.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Poetry Wednesday: All of Our Cells

Monday at work, I was talking to a colleague who is enduring treatment for cancer, on top of everything else we're doing at work.  He explained that a PET scan involves injecting the body with radioactive sugar, which finds the cancer.  On the scan, the cancer glows.  It was good to talk to him, in the early morning before the office suite got noisy.  It's scary to think of how many people I know who have cancer.

And then, more colleagues arrived and students--the phones began to ring, the phones on our desks, the phones in our pockets.  We went back to the cells which are our offices.

My life at work is so often noisy, and it makes me yearn for a vow of silence for us all--or some phone-free zones.  It also reminds me of a poem I wrote, "Lectio."  It first appeared in The Innisfree Poetry Journal, an online journal. 

I got the idea for this poem when I was at Mepkin Abbey. I read a brochure that asked us to consider turning our cell phones off--not just to vibrate, but completely off. The word cell leapt off the page, and I immediately thought of the biological definition. Since I was at an abbey, I also thought of the definition associated with monasteries and abbeys. This poem was one of those that came easily to me. Enjoy!


LECTIO
 
Some monk once said that we should return
to our cells, that our cells
would teach us everything we need to know. 
 
She thinks of that monk
every time a cell phone interrupts
her class, that jarring, reproduction
of a ring tone, the student's rush
to return to the hall to take a call,
leaving the class behind to try to gather
the fragments of their scattered attention
to return to the task at hand. 
 
She thinks of that monk
as she tries to declutter.
She chooses a different closet
each month.  She tries to be ruthless
as she sorts, but she lapses
into sentimentality and maudlin tears.  
 
She thinks of that monk
each month as she returns
to the doctor to do battle
against her own traitorous cells.
 
The doctor shows her scans of her invisible
insides.  She sees the clumps that will kill
her.  She thinks of terrorists plotting
their dark revenge, of a coven practicing
dark arts, of all the ways a cell
can go bad and destroy all it touches.  
 
She returns to the church lit by candles.
The smell of wax and chant
of Psalms sends her back to childhood,
that original cell, still so much to learn.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Poets and Ordinary Time

As I write, I am listening to the poet Marie Howe on the NPR show On Being.  It's a rebroadcast, and I've already written about it here.  But today, different parts leap out at me.  Here's a sample:

"The church was a very important aspect of life to me — the part we can't see — the world inside the world. I was bored by the parish church we went to and I could tell that it was, uh, all too human. But I was lucky enough to go to a school — I was dragged there actually, I didn't want to go in seventh grade to the Academy of the Sacred Heart, where the nuns were so forward thinking. And it was the '60s and they were way ahead of us in terms of understanding what theology had to do with social justice, service, questioning authority. And it was there that I began to appreciate that spirituality could be rigorous. It could be imaginative. And it was an essential part of living in the physical world to through those women, really. But mostly, I love the stories of the Old Testament or what the Torah and the New Testament. And the stories are still extremely compelling to me."

"But I remember hours of on being in the bathtub reading Lives of the Saints and just be riveted by these lives. I've actually been trying to write an essay about this. And because for me, it was the only example I knew of women who were subjects of their own life, not objects, but subjects — who were choosing their own life, or looking out from their own faces who were deciding how they would live moment to moment. And there were very few examples of this around me."

"Thich Nhat Hanh, you know, whom I know you've talked to, says, you know, when you wash the dishes, wash it as if it were the baby Buddha, or the baby Jesus, you know. And, uh, well, that's what the church used to be. I mean, it used to be that we would attend these things every week that would remind us of these, you know, the sacredness of the everyday. And it's harder to find it now."

I mean there's this guy in New York. I say it's a guy. It could be a woman. Last Spring, there was somebody who was drawing on the sidewalk in blue chalk and all it said was happiness, a big happiness with a big blue arrow this way. And I would see these around and I thought this is terrific. This is really kind of wonderful. Like, happiness is this way, that way. And one day, I was waiting for my daughter and her friends to get off one bus and we were going to get on another. And there was the big blue chalk and it said happiness. And then there was a big circle drawn on the sidewalk and it said here. And everybody who walked by stood in the circle. We did too.   . . . And it was like—and you stood in the circle and you felt great. Here's where it is, the this-ness. Here it is. And we were like yay, you know. And people went by and they're like me next, you know. And, and there was a poem there. I mean that was a poem."

And here's that poem:

Hurry  (by Marie Howe)

We stop at the dry cleaners and the grocery store
and the gas station and the green market and
Hurry up honey, I say, hurry,
as she runs along two or three steps behind me
her blue jacket unzipped and her socks rolled down.
Where do I want her to hurry to? To her grave?
To mine? Where one day she might stand all grown?
Today, when all the errands are finally done, I say to her,
Honey I'm sorry I keep saying Hurry —
you walk ahead of me. You be the mother.
And, Hurry up, she says, over her shoulder, looking
back at me, laughing. Hurry up now darling, she says,
hurry, hurry, taking the house keys from my hands.

"Can we ever really be seen? I think the thing of Jesus, I mean he must have been like this — and Buddha must have been and all these great enlightened ones, he must have been able to really see people, you know. And people didn't feel ashamed in front of him and in relationship to him. They didn't seem ashamed. And they're constantly screwing up. I mean all those guys were constantly screwing up."

"The unendurable happens. You know, people we love and we can't live without are going to die. We're going to die — one day are going to have to leave our children and die, you know, leave the plants, and the bunnies, and the sunlight, and the rain and all that. I mean it's unendurable. Poet — art knows that. Art holds that knowledge. All art holds the knowledge that we're both living and dying at the same time. It can hold it. And thank God it can because nothing out in the capitalistic corporate world is going to shine that back to us, but art holds it."

Go here to read the transcript and/or to hear the interview.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Meditation Practices in a Busy Work Week

One of my colleagues told me that this accreditation process is aging me badly.  Or maybe she said it's in danger of aging me badly.  She recommended that I try meditation.  She said I should go to some place in my head that is a place of peace.  I knew just where to go:
 
 
 
At work, we are finishing all sorts of assessment and accreditation documents.  It's a process that leaves me stranded in front of my computer screen for long hours each day.  How I long to walk between the tall grasses that create the labyrinth.

 


 Last week at work, the stress of it all began to take its toll.  One of my colleagues burst out into a song from the disco era.  She said we'd know she'd gone over the edge when she chose a show tune.  I said, "You could sing in Gregorian Chant, and I could imagine I'm at a monastery where I get my best work done."

 


As a meditative, calming practice, I have tried to return to sacred places in my head.  I am not skilled at this practice.  Pictures help.

 
 

When we question the value of retreat, we should remember that their calming and centering effects can last long after our visit.

 


We say we can't afford the time to go on retreat.  How can we NOT afford it?

 

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Report from the Reef 2014

I had begun to think we might never SCUBA dive again.  The last dive we took was in 2011 which I wrote about in this post.  In 2012, we had a dive scheduled, but my spouse had such severe back pain that we had to cancel--that was one of the events that let me know how bad his back had gotten.  In 2013, we were buying a house, moving, and selling a house, so we missed all sorts of opportunities.

But yesterday, we finally went again.  Our dive buddy has a son who just got certified, so he's eager to go.  A friend of our dive buddy is also certified and wanted to go too.  So, at 6:15 yesterday morning, we loaded up the car and went down to Key Largo. 

We go down to John Pennecamp State Park for several reasons, but the most important might be that our dive buddy can get us a good deal with a dive operation down there.  I also like diving in a place where no one will be fishing.  It's a protected area--not as protected as it needs to be, as there are still too many boats and divers, humans and their objects which stress the reef.

The reef is already stressed by global climate change:  higher ocean temps and more acidic seas.  Yesterday, as in 2011, we swam with the jellyfish, huge, blue moon jellies.  Once we sank to the bottom, they didn't bother us, but we couldn't get back to the boat without going through swarms of them.  I was glad I had my wetsuit on.

Our first dive had some issues.  My spouse sank and then came right back up.  We could tell something was wrong, but we didn't know what as he swam back to the boat.  We shouted, and I made the diver in distress signal, waving my arms over my head.  I was pleased with how quickly the boat crew acted, although they didn't need to come save him.

We're still not sure what happened, whether it was equipment malfunction or panic or some dehydration issues or a mouthful of saltwater . . . probably a combination of all.

The remaining dive buddies including me finished our dive and came back to the boat.  It was a good dive, but the second dive was better.

My spouse borrowed a regulator from the boat's stash, and he tried again.  And happily, the second dive was a success.  I had some trouble descending, but the boat's mate swam out to me and said, "Put your feet down."  And for whatever reason, I finally made it. 

We swam amongst all sorts of beautiful fish.  At one point I looked out and there was a shimmering curtain of yellow fish, as far and wide as I could see.  The reef looks healthy, as do the fish.

In some ways, that health is an illusion.  Or, if not an illusion, it won't last much longer.  We are all living on borrowed time on this planet, but coral reefs have less time than most of us. 

I live in hope that they'll survive and adapt and learn to thrive in new conditions; it's the hope I have for all of us. 

In the meantime, I hope to keep diving and visiting this amazing ecosystem. 

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Saying Yes to Online Teaching

It was one year ago today that I agreed to teach my first online class.  I wouldn't actually begin teaching until late October, but one year ago today, I said yes.

I was out with my friend and work colleague.  She had been in touch with the community college about teaching online classes, and while we were out, they called.  I gathered from her end of the conversation that they wanted her to teach another class.  She said she wanted only one so that she wouldn't be in over her head.

When she hung up, I said something like, "I'd like that kind of opportunity."

My friend said to me, "They're desperate for people.  They've had a surge in fall enrollment.  If you're serious, if you won't change your mind, I'll call them back right now."

In a life-changing moment, I said, "Call them back right now."

She called back and introduced me.  I spoke a bit on the phone.  Because I used to teach there, I was still in the system.  The appointment was set for Wednesday:  come downtown with my HR paperwork and meet the dean.  I did, and I was approved, even though I'd never taught online before.

They had some training sessions for us, but I still learned much more as we went along.  I was really glad that my friend and colleague was teaching online for the first time too.  We learned a lot from each other.

I've written more about what I learned in this post.  The conclusion to that post makes a good conclusion to this post:  "Overall, I'm glad I did it.  Even more, I'm glad I liked it, and I'm glad that I can support online classes as a way to deliver education.  I am fairly certain that the education of the future will contain a huge online component, and I'm glad it won't be an abomination for me."

Friday, September 5, 2014

Believing Mirrors, Believing Lanterns

One of the things making me happy lately is that I got my proposal submitted to Phoenicia Publishing.  Even if I get a rejection, at least I've got a proposal that can be adapted for other submissions.

One of my friends who is part of my writing support group asked me if I got it submitted.  When I said yes, she said, "Oh, good.  I believe in you, and I believe in this book.  The time is right for this book."  She said she was glad I was finally getting it out to possible publishers. 

She said, "And you've sent it to that agent [that you saw as a good possibility]?"

I said, "No, I figure I'll wait until I hear from the publisher."

She gave me a look, and I said, "You're right, you're right.  I should work on multiple possibilities at once."

All afternoon, I marveled at my good fortune.  I have friends who believe in me, who say it out loud, who want me to succeed.  Julia Cameron would call them believing mirrors, but I find that even when I have nothing for them to reflect back, they give that steady light of belief in me.  They're more like believing lanterns than believing mirrors.  I thought of all the writers throughout history who haven't been so lucky.

I also thought of Sandra Beasley's recent post where she praises organic poetry communities: 
"Anyone with an organic poetry community will recognize the archetypal moments below. Some are bittersweet at best. Many of us in the DC writing community shared a wave of sadness with the recent news of Wendi Kaufman's passing; even though I never got to know her like some did, I certainly knew "The Happy Booker." She was part of the fabric of my experience here. Each signpost is reminder of your literary landscape, your shared history, your common vocabulary. There is value in that. People would miss you if you up and left tomorrow. Don't forget it."

It has taken me many years to learn to appreciate the value of the writing community that you have.  In my younger years, I longed for a Lake District to call my own.  Where was my Dorothy, my Coleridge?

Later, I read more deeply and realized how much I idealized that community:  poor Dorothy who was such a workhouse, poor Coleridge with his drug addiction.  And I also realized that although they hoped they were making literary history, they had no way to be sure.  They were just living their lives, noticing the daffodils, taking long walks, planting peas.

I am not so blasé today.  I know the value of my friends, both the ones that live in this county and the ones that live further away.  I know that people would miss me if I wasn't here tomorrow.  And I know the priceless value of that connection.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Assessment Documents in Iambic Pentameter

--I have been looking at forms and letters and e-mails and thinking about grad school Kristin.  What would she have made of my current life?

--I tell myself that even people who get traditional academic jobs must find themselves doing tasks that left them saying, "I did not go to grad school for this."  One wants to write the definitive biography of Dorothy Wordsworth or the great work of literary analysis of her journals, and one ends up directing the Freshman English program.  Or one is so overwhelmed by teaching duties that one never gets that definitive biography done, just academic essays here and there.

--Yesterday I was talking with someone about assessment charts and Institutional Effectiveness documents.  I said, "I could rewrite it in iambic pentameter, but I'm not good with this math."  We were talking about weighted aggregates, and even though it's been less than 24 hours, I cannot explain this concept or how it would be better than what we're doing now.

--I was tempted to rewrite the document in iambic pentameter, just for my own amusement and to see if anyone would notice.  But even in iambic pentameter it would not be great poetry.  Or could it be?

--Wordsworth rewrote the diaries of his sister into great poetry.  Why has no one done the same for the assessment and compliance documents which take up so much of our working lives?

--A writing prompt for you:  use a poem that uses weighted aggregate as a symbol.  I love the way it sounds.  Maybe it's time for a L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E poem that just delights in the words/sounds of assessment and puts those words together in ways that sound good but make no sense.

--When I'm deep in work on assessment documents, I worry that I am writing with language that makes no sense.  I was glad that the assessment expert declared my document done.

--We did tinker with language together.  I was often the one who figured out how to write the sentence that made it into the document, after first offering a more flamboyant version.  It reminded me of grad school papers, where I excoriated past critics for not seeing the elements that I saw.  Then I toned it down to be words that showed that I understood the work that had come before, and how I was taking an exciting leap forward.

--Yesterday, as we revised the assessment document, I wrote chunks of prose like this one:  "The disparity of the data is confounding, and so we hesitate to advocate large-scale changes based on this.  We will collect data from all four quarters to see if the disparity remains, and will enlarge the scope of our assessment to include other classes that write about art."  Even now, I see opportunities for revision, non-iambic-pentameter opportunities, like not ending the sentence with "this."  I see the red pen of my grad school friend who would have reminded me that "this" is a modifier and thus, needs something to modify.

--My writing friend wrestles with her short stories based on the Hindu myths of India; she revises and revises and the resulting story is so different from the original that she is tempted to seek publication for the earlier drafts.  She wonders when she will be done.  I tell her, "When the book needs to go to press."

--Likewise, we are done with this year's assessment documents because the year is over; it's time to be done so that we can do the assessment work for the next fiscal year.  It could have been a better document, with stronger conclusions or with a vaster collection of data.  But it's time to move on.

--If we had world enough and time, this assessment doc could be in rhyme.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

The Perfect Plank and Stories We Tell Ourselves

Yesterday my spin/strength instructor said, "That's a perfect plank position."  She said it TO ME.  I know she did, because I was the only person in the room holding the plank position.  Otherwise, I'd have assumed it was someone else holding a perfect plank.

Those of you who have no trouble holding your bodies close to the ground but slightly above it will wonder why this is such a big deal.  It's a big deal because I've never done it before for long enough that anyone noticed.  I held it for 45 seconds, also a record for me.

I'm the person who can't do much in the way of push-ups, even with my knees on the floor.  I'm the person who attempts the plank position and promptly topples over.  I'm the person with my rump stuck far too high in the air.  My arms don't always support me, my abs are weak . . . these are the stories I tell myself.

But maybe I should change that story.  Clearly, I can hold a plank.  I just need to concentrate and to breathe.  I need to believe I can do it.

It makes me wonder what other stories I've told myself that aren't true.

The instructor yesterday told us to think of our backs as a table.  She told me that people could have eaten dinner off of my back with no problem.

I imagined my back set with beautiful pottery dishes, a vase of flowers, glasses of bubbly beverage.

I thought of the e-mail that I sent to my faculty last week:

"I realize how dizzying these past few days must have been, with e-mails flying from a variety of people, and much of the information changing daily, if not hourly.  My spouse Carl had a brilliant suggestion last night as I was decompressing after work; he said, “Why don’t you make a table for your people.”

At first I had a vision of a lovely dining room table, set in the style of Southern France, where we would all dine on delectable treats as we relaxed in a warm, golden light with a vineyard surrounding us.  But Carl is more practical.
 
So, attached you will find a table that details what must be done by 10 a.m. on Tuesday, September 2."


I have set a table of task lists--how much more wonderful it would be to set a table that holds a wonderful meal for us to enjoy.

But I would not require anyone to eat off my back.  They'd have about 45 seconds before it all came crashing down.  It's not the metaphor of care and hospitality I want to foster.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Laboring with Fabric and Words on Labor Day

I know that plenty of people had to do real work on Labor Day.  I did a bit of that with my online classes, but since I don't have to leave the house, it didn't feel like real work.

I also worked on some blog posts for the Living Lutheran site--again, work for pay, but work that I enjoy, so it doesn't seem like labor.  I sat down to prepare one post, only to discover that I'd already written a large chunk of it back in late July--until I saw the post in my file, I had no memory of doing that.  It's a pleasant surprise, to be sure, but the fact that my labor completely slipped my memory concerns me.

We went to the grocery store in the late morning.  We needed more baking soda to improve the alkalinity of the pool.  On the way back, we saw metal chair legs sticking out of a brush pile.  We both said, "Those are chairs!" at the time I was slowing down the car.

I thought that someone had thrown out their patio furniture, but on further inspection, we decided we had found indoor dining room chairs.  Still, they looked to be in good shape, so we loaded them in the car.

The fabric on the seats was in horrible shape, but even if the fabric had looked good, we'd have probably replaced it.  I downloaded Jo-Ann's coupons and headed over, while my spouse started taking the chairs apart.  I spent time in the outdoor fabric section and found the perfect striped fabric--for 50% off!  Plus I had a 15% off the total purchase, which could be used on sale items.  Hurrah!

I came home, and 2 hours later, we had 4 chairs with seats covered in bright stripes.  It was a fun way to spend Labor Day--I like that we kept some items from going to the landfill.  I like that we have more seating for people.  We don't often need it, but it will be good to have it.

Each chair cost less than $6--a cheaper solution than anything I've seen on sale.  And they're much more attractive than most items I've seen.  I was amazed at the wide variety of fabrics in the outdoor fabric section--why do we see so few choices in the patio furniture section?

Later in the day, I worked with fabric for a different project.  On Sunday, we'll be making quilts for Lutheran World Relief at my church.  I want to have a quilt ready for people to knot together.  So as we watched evening television, I sat and stitched in the long lines that I find so soothing.

As a result, I'm done with the quilt top, and I can zip together the back on the machine. I was pleased to make progress.

And now, it's time to think about getting back to my work for pay life.  The first thing I'll need to do is to clean out my e-mail inbox and sent file--again.  With the increased volume of documents, it's crashing on a daily basis now--sometimes hourly.  Can we not increase our capacity?  Grrr.

And then, at 10, a variety of new documents are due to me from faculty.  I will spend the next few hours proofreading, in case they need to be done yet again.

At various points this week, I'll print out syllabi for every course that's in the catalog.  And I hope to send out a poetry packet or two.  It's September, after all.  Literary journals are opening up for submissions--for many workers, a labor of love, I'm guessing.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Labor Relations and Buddhist Teahouses

--Labor Day dawns:  it's the earliest day that Labor Day can come, on this first day of September.  It will be a scorcher down here at the southern tip of the U.S.

--Will you spend today putting away your white clothes and your sandals?  I will not.  I wear sandals year round, and I have one white skirt that I'll wear until October or November.  But I am old enough to remember a time when we were not allowed to wear white to church after Labor Day.  It was just not done in the traditional states of the U.S. South where I spent my childhood--even though the hot weather would continue well into September and October.  Back to school meant that feet went back into closed shoes--no more sandals.

--Perhaps you will spend today thinking about labor relations.  No, probably you will not.  I got an e-mail from a very high up person in our organization thanking us all for being such good employees and wishing us all a happy Labor Day.  I thought about the origins of Labor Day and wondered if the higher up knew any of it.  I wondered if the higher up thought he was just sending a thank you e-mail because that's what bosses should do on Labor Day.

--Or was it a clever way of co-opting the workers?  A way of buying our gratitude without spending a cent? 

--No, I suspect it was just considered good form.  I will spend the day being grateful that my workplace is generally safe and that my work is not too onerous.

--I will also spend some time wondering if I'm doing the work I was put on earth to do.  Of course, that presupposes a purpose of sorts.  Maybe it would be better to ponder the ways I could make life better for the workers around me.

----It's interesting to me that I feel that I only feel I'm doing meaningful work if I'm making an important difference each and every day.  And if I'm being honest, I want it to be an important difference like the kind that Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks made, the kind of difference where future generations will be better off because I walked the planet (and yes, I realize this could sound like monstrous ego, but it's also fueled by a fierce yearning for social justice).  Did Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King feel that they made a difference each and every day?  Probably not.  It's only in retrospect that it's clear.

--I'd like to move towards the Buddhist teahouse approach of meaningful work.  In an interview with Bill Moyers, Jane Hirshfield explains, "Teahouse practice means that you don't explicitly talk about Zen.  It refers to leading your life as if you were an old woman who has a teahouse by the side of the road.  Nobody knows why they like to go there, they just feel good drinking her tea.  She's not known as a Buddhist teacher, she doesn't say, "This is the Zen teahouse."  All she does is simply serve tea--but still, her decades of attentiveness are part of the way she does it.  No one knows about her faithful attention to the practice, it's just there, in the serving of the tea, and the way she cleans the counters and washes the cups" (Fooling with Words:  A Celebration of Poets and Their Craft, page 112).

--How can we infuse this Buddhist teahouse approach into every aspect of our lives?  What would change?