Friday, September 30, 2016

Black Moons and Renewed Yearnings

Tonight, we have a black moon, which is not as dire as it sounds--it's the second new moon in a month.  Down here at the southern tip of the U.S., we've been able to see the sliver of moon with a silvery outline of the rest of the moon.

If you wait until evening, however, to see if your view is the same, you won't see it.  Moonrise in south Florida today is at 6:49 a.m.; times in other places will vary.

I am intrigued by all the vaguely religious connotations that go along with a black moon:  the second coming, the end of times, and a time when spells take on more potency.

When I was younger, I was intrigued by alternative religions, especially ones that didn't minimize females--that path led me to a variety of religious expressions that we might now classify as Wiccan.  I can't remember which writer suggested that we pay attention to the phases of the moon, that we start new projects when the moon was waxing into fullness.  As a college student, of course, I couldn't time my course work that way.  But the idea has stuck with me.

I don't believe that the position of the moon or the planets has more impact on daily life than other elements.  I suspect that many of us would make better decisions if we kept ourselves nourished and rested properly, and those actions would have a greater impact than a second new moon in a month.

Still, the idea of a time of increased potency intrigues me.  If we were to cast a spell today, if we wanted to harness the power of the new moon, what would we want our spell to do?

When I was young and wrote page after page of my wishes, hopes, and dreams, I had a better sense of what I yearned for.  These days, as I race from pillar to post, I have a vision of a fairy godmother who offers me 3 wishes--but first, she'd have to get my attention.

When I was young, I said that the first thing I would wish for would be unlimited wishes.  But let's take that off the table.  And let's assume we're not in a fairy tale where we'll be granted our wishes, but in a way that teaches us a lesson--we lose 20 pounds when our leg disappears or we get a small fortune because a loved one dies.

No, let us play with this idea of wish fulfillment.  I think that as we get older, we quit thinking about what we truly want.  Many of us have had too many experiences with our dearest dreams being squashed--and thus, we decide it's safer not to dream.  We'll settle for what we have.  We won't dare aspire to more.

If you could be granted 3 wishes, what would you ask for?  What's the top wish?   What would make your heart sing?

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Faculty Development Days

Yesterday was the kind of day that was both exhausting and good.  A few weeks ago, my dean asked me to come up with some ideas for our Faculty Development day, which was yesterday.  Of course, we had no money, and not much time, since I'd be out of town the week before.  So I brainstormed some ideas and came up with a possible schedule.

I've done this before, and then there's been input and changes from others.  Not this time.  That's how I found myself running round table discussions throughout the day (the morning schedule repeated in the afternoon).

Luckily I had anticipated this turn of events, so I chose topics that interested me and wouldn't require prep time:  politics and our classrooms in election year 2016 and using social media in our classrooms.  I knew that both topics had the potential for people to go off track and talk about politics or spew about cell phones and students, and there was a bit of that.  But I was always steering the conversation back.

The election year/classrooms conversation didn't cover territory that was new to me, but the social media discussions did.  One instructor brought up the idea that we should be preparing our students to have a more professional online life so that they're ready to get jobs--I must admit that had never occurred to me.  I was thinking we'd talk about how we might use social media sites to improve learning, which we did discuss.  I also didn't anticipate that we would all have such different ideas about how to define social media--that was interesting too.

At one point, I looked around the room and thought, what a great group of people; I am so lucky to work with them.

The rest of the day was hectic--yesterday was the last day to get students admitted for the Fall quarter which starts on Monday.  So I looked at lots of Admissions packets and transcripts from other schools in the space of a few hours.

I got home frazzled, and ate quesadillas with wine.  I conked out early on the couch because I hadn't gotten enough sleep the night before. 

Today should be an easier day--we have new student orientation, but that schedule has been changed again, and I am not part of it.  Today I hope to catch up on all the work that the hectic schedule of the last 2 days has prevented me from doing.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Birdsong and Poetry Transformations

Early in the day, on Monday, I read a Facebook post by a pastor friend:  "6:45 AM and it's still dark. It's good to pay attention, and to be grounded in the rhythms of God's creation."

I wrote this response:  "In late June, I went through a period where I'd wake up for the day at 2 a.m. Happily it didn't last long, but while it did, I was astounded at the riotous birdsong that was happening as the rest of the world slept. I'd write while the birds sang, and if it wasn't for my later in the day exhaustion, I might have kept to that schedule. I felt like I was in on a secret world, that birds get up even before monks to sing praise to our Creator!"

Tuesday morning, I tried to transform that post into a poem; here's my first draft: 

While the world sleeps
through the earliest
hours of the morning,
the birds erupt
in riotous song.

As the clock moves
from 3 to 4, the monks join
the chorus, chanting Psalms
in ancient rhythms.

My song takes up less space,
but is no less glad.
I write poems on purple
paper, a quiet plainsong. 

I actually prefer the FB post.  I tried cutting and pasting that post on the page, but couldn't find a poem rhythm.  There's something there, though, something that wants to be a poem.

I put both pieces of writing on a piece of paper.  I took the paper with me to my day of many meetings, but I didn't have a chance to return to it.  I have a vague worry that I lost the piece of paper somewhere along the way, but even if someone at the school which is my workplace finds it, I'm not concerned.  The notes that I took during one of the meetings, on the other hand, those I should keep an eye on.

I've been looking at old blog posts which have sent me to old poetry notebooks.  Once I typed up everything I wrote and sent it out.  Later, I only sent out the poems that I envisioned including in a book with a spine--that left lots of poems out.  Should I go back and revisit any of them?  What about the scraps that I've kept in the notebooks?

I'm not feeling particularly stymied/uninspired this week, but I should remember this archive of notebooks the next time that I am.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Of Debates and Cake

Once, I would have watched the presidential debate, each and every one.  Once, I recorded them (on tape!) and made my students watched them--we then discussed the elements of argument present or not and wrote analytical essays.

That woman is no longer me.  I watched 15 minutes of the debate, and once the voices went up and the talking over each other started, I called it a night.

Once, I thought I needed to watch the debates to be informed, to be a good citizen.  This election, I don't feel I need the debates to tell me what I need to know.

If I had counted on last night's debate to get solid information, I don't know that I'd have gotten that.  Where was that moderator?  I'd like to see moderators have the power to cut the microphone when rules of good debating are ignored. 

I just don't have the patience for modern life, the shouting, the refusal to listen to each other to be able to find middle ground, the shouting.

Yesterday was my spouse's birthday.  We didn't make specific plans, but I did make a cake.  I was going to go with my standard 9 x 13 pan approach, but my spouse said that layers would make it feel more special. 

I remember why I don't make cakes in layers these days; parts of the cake got stuck in the pans:

Luckily the cake tasted better than it looked.  Here's a less honest shot of the cake, from the view of the unbroken side.

I also had good publishing news--a poem accepted!  And I got my contributor's copy of Adanna--more about that poem in a later post.

Today is a day of many meetings--I often come up with interesting poem ideas on these days--stay tuned!

Monday, September 26, 2016

The Arizona Trip: With Pictures

When I remember our Arizona vacation, I will probably not remember the plane flights.  They were long, but blessedly uneventful.  Our fellow passengers were on good behavior--although I did notice a larger than usual number of dogs and emotional support dogs on the return trip, which struck me as odd.  A dog in the airplane used to be an oddity, but it's getting to be normal.

No, I will remember this, the view from the front porch of the cabin, and the disconnect between the desert I thought I would see with the actual view of ancient pines and gloomy weather:

I didn't think to take my camera with me to the nail salon, which took up much of our Wed. afternoon.  As a sociologist/anthropologist, I was intrigued, but only as an onlooker.  Happily, I thought to bring a book.  I hope I didn't seem rude by tuning out periodically.  I wanted to be supportive of the wedding party, but there were many moments when we were all separate from each other.  It was a huge nail salon.  But the wedding venue was much larger and more lovely:

I will remember the beautiful wedding, which brightened up the day that had the dreariest weather:

I came across many cultures I didn't know existed.  I had no idea that people would prefer a frostingless cake, but they do.  And it was delicious:

Most of Thursday was getting ready for the wedding, being at the wedding, and recovering from the big day.  The venue was lovely and the food delicious.  It was a great way to spend the day.

On Friday, we took a long train ride to the Grand Canyon--we saw all sorts of landscapes, which was  a treat. 

It took 2 hours and 15 minutes each way, and we didn't take any of our gadgets with us.  It was great to tune into our surroundings in this way, to pay attention, to be present:

What can I possibly say about the Grand Canyon?  Magnificent!

I was struck by the crowds at the Grand Canyon, by how many people I saw who were oblivious to the Grand Canyon, who walked beside it, punching messages into their phones.  I didn't take pictures of those people.  I didn't want to be oblivious to the world around me:

And then, all too soon, it was time to go home.  But I will remember the wonderful meals cooked in a tiny kitchen, the cooking and clean up chores shared equally, the fellowship with a family that was not biologically mine, but felt familiar:

I will remember all the different people we met along the way, the reminders as if God said to me, "There are many wonderful ways to make a life."  There was the woman on the flight from Tampa to Phoenix who had been married many years to an Air Force guy who had been working for the circus when she first met him.  She, too, worked for the circus as a fire eater.  I'll remember the young people I met who have very different ideas of a successful life--one works on a fishing boat in Alaska for 6 months to fund his time in Costa Rica for the other 6 months.  I'll remember the young people who met doing conservation work--there are more of them out there in the world than I realized.

I'll remember that canyon, the consolation of a fierce landscape.  I'll remember that the world offers many vistas, if we would but open our eyes.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Arizona Wedding Trip: The Overview

We have just finished a quick trip to Arizona--by "quick," I mean that we were there only for a few days, not that the trip itself--that endless airline trek--was quick.

Long ago in grad school, I made a friendship with a woman from England.  She returned to England because of the better health care system and her friends and family there.  When she returned to England, she was pregnant with her older son.  This past Thursday, her younger son got married in Arizona.

Yes, once we went to the weddings of our friends.  Now we are going to the weddings of their children.  And hanging over me, the knowledge that at some point, it will be funerals that bring us together--and so, for now, I cling to the joyous even more fiercely than I did when we saw our friends get married when we were all in our 20's.

Over a year ago, when my friend told me of the wedding of her son and asked if I could come, I said, "Of course.  How often do you get to America?"  It did occur to me during our travels that it might have been easier to get to England.

Still, it was a great trip.  We went to Flagstaff, and we all gathered at a great place, Arizona Mountain Inn and Cabins.  Some of us stayed at the bed and breakfast part of the property, while others shared a large cabin (we had a room in the big cabin).  It was wonderful to have space where we could assemble and cook and catch up with each other. 

I still woke up early, so I had time to read each morning.  I'll likely write a separate post, but the book that has stayed with me longest is Lionel Shriver's The Mandibles:  2029-2047, a chilling, compelling dystopia.  I found it so compelling that as I write, I am listening to this podcast where Shriver talks about writing it.

The wedding was beautiful, despite gloomy weather.  When my spouse-to-be and I went through the required pre-marital counseling, our pastor told us that during a wedding, everyone sits there, evaluating their own marriages, and through the years, that has been the case for me.  I also evaluate the institution of marriage. 

But this trip, I was also intrigued by the immigrant/pioneer aspect of marriage--two people set out against enormous odds, often not realizing how great the odds will be, not knowing what they're actually signing up for.  My friend's son moved very far away after falling in love with the fierce Arizona landscape.  The day before the wedding, I went with a group to a nail parlor run by Vietnamese immigrants who I think were all part of the same family.  I thought about all of us, our attempts to reinvent ourselves, the bride, the various family members, several of us at midlife needing some new reinventing.

On Friday, my spouse and I went to the Grand Canyon.  We took a train there, which was one of my spouse's activities that he most wanted to do.  The Grand Canyon, of course, was spectacular.  We splurged on lunch, eating at the Arizona Room, where we had a table at the window.  We ate food native to Arizona (chili with bison, tacos with pork and chicken, and a wagyu beef sandwich, along with beer from a local brewery and wine.  It was a spectacular meal in every way.

As we sat and ate, my spouse said, "What I'm about to say makes no sense.  But in so many ways, being here feels like--"

"Being home again?"  He nodded.  I was feeling it too. 

It's rare that we go to a place and both say, "What would it be like to live here?  Maybe we should think about that some more."

Of course, it also makes not much sense to leave one place that's likely to be ravaged by climate change in the form of sea level rise to go to another that will run out of water soon because of climate change.

We arrived on Tuesday, at 6:35 p.m., as the sun was setting.  Arizona doesn't spring forward for Daylight Savings Time, so the time change was more disconcerting than it ordinarily would be.  We drove from Phoenix to Flagstaff in deep darkness.  Yesterday, as we drove back in full daylight, I realized what we had missed.

We knew it would be a short trip.  In fact, at one point, we had toyed with the idea of a longer trip, but we decided that because of work demands, we'd put that off.  In some ways, I'm glad, since our longer trip would have been partly by motorcycle, and because of a tropical storm in the Pacific, we'd have had miserable weather for riding.

Still, I'd like to get back to go to some of the other national parks and to explore places like Sedona.  As we flew over that landscape on our way back, the view was so compelling that I just stared at the window for the first part of plane trip.  I would like to explore that land further--with lots of water in my vehicle.

I felt more nervous about this trip than I do about most travels.  In part, it was because we were sharing the cabin with people we'd never met (along with good friends), with plans that were a bit nebulous.  In part, it was because we were traveling to unknown parts, with lots of connections that could have gone wonky.  In part, it's because travelling by plane always makes me anxious these days.  In part, the background noise of my life is one of anxiety.

I'm happy to report that I am still able to feel these fears and push through.  I know that I will be happy that I did it in the end, and thus, I am able to operate even with fear thrumming a backbeat with my nervous system as instrument.  I'm also aware that anyone's travel days may be limited in the future, and thus, we should seize these opportunities as we have them.

And now, for the laundry and the grocery shopping--back to old shoes and porridge, as an old saying goes (for more, see this blog post).

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Remembering the Trip to the Joshua Trees

Yesterday's post made me think about our trip to California, at the end of 2012.

The desert enchanted me, with that floor that looked like a sea bed--because it once was:

I loved the small, sturdy Joshua trees.

I loved the wind farms--that capturing of the force of the planet to give us electricity.

But most of all, I loved that fierce and rugged landscape.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Poetry Friday: "Floods and Desert Canyons"

A week ago, I was talking to a friend who was about to take a trip to Palm Springs.  I asked, "Will you go to Joshua Tree National Park?"

Her face lit up.  "That's brilliant!  We have 2 days which are free, and I haven't been able to think about what I wanted to do.  Is it worth the trip?"

We talked about why it was worth it.  I went there just after Christmas of 2012, and the place continues to enchant me.

Of course, the desert enchanted me long before I ever saw it.  I've been writing poems about the desert for decades.  When I actually made it to the desert, I was happy to see that I had gotten the desert right in those poems.

Here's one of the ones that comes to mind.  After I read Craig Childs' The Secret Knowledge of Water, I wrote the poem below, which was published in The Ledge.  In many ways, it's a love poem.  But if you read it with baptism on the brain, you'll come away with something different.  If you read it as you think about the desert fathers and mothers, maybe you'll get something yet again.  Or could it be John the Baptist talking to God/Jesus?  Or a more modern believer, talking to God?

Floods and Desert Canyons

My friends assume I’m dry
and barren. They do not know of my secret
spots, a cup of water here, a pool
collected there. An occasional visit
from you keeps me hydrated.

I boil away with my own dreams and ideas.
I blaze with words, my surfaces
too hot to touch. My pitiless gaze
burns as I survey my culture,
dream of new life forms.

You surge through my carefully constructed canyons.
In a matter of minutes, you change the landscape,
sweep away the detritus.
You carve me into intricate
forms, unconsidered before I met your force.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

A Field Guide to End Times and Our Times

I will be the first to admit that I'm the ideal reader for Jeannine Hall Gailey's Field Guide to the End of the World.  When I discovered The Walking Dead, I watched all of season 1 in a week-end.  I have strong views about the strengths and weaknesses of each of the movies in the1980's nuclear war triumvirate, Testament, The Day After, and Threads.  Some of my friends call me Apocalypse Gal, since I have calculated how to survive many a catastrophe.

As expected, I loved Gailey's poetry in her latest collection.  She has plenty of poems that imagine life after the apocalypse, most obviously in the series of Post-Apocalypse Postcard poems.  But she also makes clear that the apocalypses that will claim most of us are ones of illness and other aspects of modern life, not failures of government policies that lead to meltdowns.

Of course, there are those too.  More recent catastrophes, like the Fukushima plant in Japan, make an appearance here.  Gailey has a wonderful way of crystalizing these events into poems that give us a unique perspective on our modern life.

Along the way, she distills science lessons into unique poems.  We learn about ecotoxicology and junk science and mutagenesis and electromagnetics.  But even though I'm only tangentially schooled in these issues, and sometimes not at all, Gailey skillfully gives the reader enough information and explanation to understand the poem, but not so much that the poem sinks under the weight of it.

By now, you might be saying, "Sounds too much like homework.  I'm not reading this book."  But that would be a shame.  Not only are these poems some of the most intelligent poems I've read in years, but they're also funny.

I love the poems which twine together elements of popular culture and apocalypse.  One of my favorites was "Martha Stewart's Guide to Apocalypse Living."  Gailey perfectly captures the voice of Martha Stewart.

But most important, in envisioning end times, Gailey shows us all that we might appreciate right now, before we lose it.  The poems that end the book made me want to start taking pictures of trees or holding the hands of everyone I love. 

That's the larger message of the whole book, that we must appreciate what we have now, even as it might be slipping away.  She tells us that we will appreciate other aspects of life, whether it's a post-apocalyptic time or the time after an illness or any other disaster that might visit us.  But we don't need to wait to be filled with gratitude. 

These poems call us to a consciousness that will infuse our life with meaning.  These poems remind us that we don't need an apocalypse to come along to prove our worth.  These poems can remind us that worth can be found in a simple cup of coffee, if we would only slow down to appreciate that worth.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

The Practice and the Product

You used to think of books as institutional memory.

If only your words could be captured on paper and bound into volumes, your ideas would be protected.

And then you tried to store those words in digital databases, easily carried with you, available to all who can access this wider web.

You planted trees, imagining that they would last centuries after your demise.

When the trees fell over, you made art.

But even that art is quickly eaten away by bugs and wind.

In the end, all that remains: ash and splinters. 

So let us return to the important practices, not because their products will outlast us, but because the process will sustain us.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Surprised by Reading

I've had several reading surprises this week:

--I finally got around to reading Harper Lee's Go Set a Watchman.  In ways, I liked it better than To Kill a Mockingbird.  It's not as unsophisticated as I thought it might be, and when Jean Louise, grown up Scout, offers a passionate defense of states' rights, I was impressed with the nuance.  I don't feel as betrayed by the discovery that Atticus is not as progressive on the subject of race as we might have thought.  In fact, he reminds me of my maternal grandfather, a Lutheran minister who served in South Carolina during the contentious time depicted in this novel.  Like Atticus, he had strong notions of justice, even if he didn't live them as fully as I might have hoped.  The novel could have done more to explore how Scout continues on with that knowledge, but we see her in the early stages of discovery.

--More on what I mean by that last sentence:  I'd like to see Scout/Jean Louise at midlife, when all of these issues which are presented in such starkness in Go Set a Watchman, may seem murkier.  But that would be a different book.

--I'd still like an answer to one of the modern mysteries of writers:  why did Harper Lee stop writing?  When she dies, will we find a stash of unpublished manuscripts?

--One of the aspects of the book that gets lost in the furor over the depiction of the aged Atticus is the gender issues--Jean Louise is also trying to figure out how to live her life in a world that gives her very few options.  And there are class issues too--what separates white trash from the upper class from the negro?

--I also read this compelling piece, the only essay ever to convince me that we should make the first 2 years of college free and just be done with it.  I have thought that we should make students pay something, a small something, just so they're invested.  Researcher Sara Goldrick-Rab calls the current financial aid system both unwieldy and meager, and she uses the word betrayal when describing the outcome:  "From the student's eyes, it's like you bought a Groupon that when you read it you got the impression it paid for 75 percent of whatever you were buying. You went to a nice restaurant you would never go to. And once you ate dinner you find out it only pays for 30 percent."

--Collin Kelley has decided to be more intentional in using social media to release poetry.  In this blog post, he explains:  "The question I kept asking myself is how many publication credits are enough? Over the last 20+ years, I've had poetry published in countless journals, magazines and online. Without a doubt, most people have discovered my work thanks to the Internet. I've grown accustomed to waiting weeks, months and longer for new work to appear in journals, but there is some work I want to put out right now. I don't want to wait."

--I read Jeannine Hall Gailey's latest collection of poems, Field Guide to the End of the World.  It was a delight in ways that are surprising and what I've come to expect from this talented poet.  I'm posting a more detailed review of this book on Thursday--stay tuned!

Monday, September 19, 2016

A Day Off to Use in Unanticipated Ways

I came home this morning from spin class with a serious craving for homemade cinnamon rolls--and so I made some.  Now I am thinking I may eat the whole 9 x 9 pan.  Except I'm feeling full after eating 4 rolls. 

Because I made them myself, they're slightly healthier, with less shortening and sugar than a commercial product would have given me.  I also used whole wheat white flour (which seems like such an oxymoron!), so they're a bit heartier.

You might ask yourself why I'm home cooking--shouldn't I be at work?  The answer is somewhat complicated:  almost half a year ago when I put in for Paid Time Off, we thought we would be travelling.  And then, when those plans got cancelled, I thought we'd have a house guest.  And then she couldn't travel because of an eye issue that required surgery.

I have until the end of the year to use up my PTO, otherwise it vanishes.  And we're getting to the time of the year when it makes no sense to save it--barring unforeseen illness, I have a good idea of how I need to dole them out.  If I don't start using the remainder soon, I may lose out--after all, I can't just take the whole month of December off.

So, I decided to keep this day off, even though my spouse will go to teach his class; it will be a different Monday off than the ones I took in August.  While he's gone, I plan to work on getting my short story finished, or maybe all three that are in various stages of being in progress.

I've had a great week-end, with lots of time for cooking/baking, reading, relaxing by/in the pool, and the chance to write.   It may not be everyone's view of a great use of vacation time, but it is mine.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

A Last Summer Hurrah

Yesterday was one of the kinds of days that we have had too few of frequently.  For one thing, it was gloriously sunny.  I wanted one last summer hurrah--which is odd, for someone who loves autumn so much.  But I wanted to sit in the sun and read a book and take a dip in the pool.

And so, I did.

I was at a moment when I had no work to do with my online classes beyond answering a few e-mails.  I got some writing done--how much I love the short stories that are coming now!  It's interesting to be seeing these stories as a linked collection earlier in the process rather than later.  I can make decisions based on the larger visions, both decisions which might seem minor, like character names, and decisions which are larger, like the overarching themes.

I went to an amazing spin class.  I knew that it would be amazing because I knew it would be a direct repeat of what we had done on Friday.  I wanted to see if I could replicate results on a different bike--and I did.  The bike showed that I burned 426 calories, the most ever.  I remember 6 weeks ago (or was it 12?) that I burned 300 calories for the first time, and now I've progressed to a new level.

It takes much effort and staying ever present to burn 426 calories in 55 minutes.  If my attention drifts away and my effort drops off for 5 minutes, then there's no way to make that up.

I came home and we had grilled chicken with a delicious dipping sauce of mayonnaise, mustard, dill, and fresh mint and sage from the yard while we watched my favorite PBS cooking show, A Moveable Feast and my spouse's favorite show, Project Smoke.  Later, inspired by Project Smoke, we made hickory smoked, bacon, chicken and onion macaroni and cheese on the grill, with chicken left over from lunch.  I love that kind of impromptu cooking, although I did have to run out to the grocery store since we no longer keep milk on hand like we once did.  And we needed bacon.  And cheese.

But that was O.K. because I needed to get to the library.  I had forgotten that I wanted to read Lionel Shriver's latest--but the branch closest to me had it on the shelf--and so, I combined 2 trips.

I usually do my grocery shopping during very early morning hours or when kids are in school--I was surprised by how many families were shopping on a Saturday afternoon.

Here's a picture of the mac and cheese on a pizza stone on the grill.  The picture doesn't capture the billowing smoke that infused a subtle flavor to the dish.

To me, it symbolizes yesterday:  time to cook, time to experiment, time to relax with no firm plans or commitments.  I have had too few of those kinds of days recently--perfect for the last week-end of summer.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Archives, Important or Not

When I look back at this week, what will I remember?  Will there be events that are harbingers, even if I didn't recognize them as such in the week in which they happened?

And yes, I realize I'm asking that question a lot in the past four months.

This was the week that I looked around my workplace and realized that in terms of administration, that I have been here longest, along with the administrative assistant to the president and one or two others.  I think of myself as institutional memory, but I also have computer files that serve as institutional memory.

This week, as I have watched colleagues try to reassemble the records of those who left hastily, I decided it was time to upload those files to a shared drive. 

Imagine my surprise to realize how few of those files are important at all.  I uploaded all the old syllabi; I am routinely asked for old syllabi from students who are continuing on and need to prove that one class is equivalent to another class.  I uploaded the old assessment and institutional effectiveness files, although I'm fairly sure that people aren't reading them even now, much less will be likely to need them in the future.  I uploaded all the files from our successful 2014 ACICS reaccreditation visit, and I took just a wistful moment to reflect on all the troubles that have fallen on ACICS as an institution.  I uploaded tutor log sheets and an Admissions Committee file--but I didn't upload all the old AdComm files.  I also made a file of all the assorted GE class assignments that I've collected through the years as I've subbed for people who needed to be suddenly absent.

Did I delete all the old files that I realize aren't really important?  No, I did not.  There's part of me that simply refuses to believe that all those documents are not important--all that work, and for what?  There's part of me that delights in the archive aspect of it all, even as I realize that the archive is important to no one but me.

I'm thinking of Moby Dick:  "And I am escaped alone to tell thee," which I have always misremembered as "Only I alone escaped to tell the tale."  Some days I feel like Ishmael, in some sort of maelstrom that I only understand tangentially.

Some days I wonder if I'm part of the whale, if higher ed as we know it is being hunted into extinction.

Or maybe we're all the ship--but I don't like that metaphor either.  Still, I have the glimmerings of a poem, and that's not a bad thing either.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Navigating the Wide World of Race

I've spent much of my life thinking about the intersections of race, class, and gender, although I might not have said it that way until my college years, when I did social service work in inner-city D.C. for 2 summers, which neatly informed my Sociology classes.  This was inner-city D.C. when it had the highest murder rate in the nation.

During this past week, the subject of race has been at the forefront for me.  As usual, my thoughts percolate because of what I've been reading.

I have been intending to read Ta-Nehisi Coates' Between the World and Me for almost a year now, since he made the NPR rounds to be interviewed and then won several awards.  I checked the book out from the public library a few months ago, but returned it when the due date came, and I hadn't started it.

It was due Tuesday, and I had renewed it as many times as I can.  I read part of it back in August and was impressed.  I decided it was time to finish it--after all, it's only 152 pages.  I powered through it Sunday morning.

What a wonderful book--although it left me unsettled, as I knew it would.  The writing itself is powerful, and it's powerful writing about an important topic, that old wound of racism that festers still--well, why use my inadequate language?  Let's use Coates' words:  "You have to make your peace with the chaos, but you cannot lie.  You cannot forget how much they took from us and how they transfigured our very bodies into sugar, tobacco, cotton, and gold" (p. 71).

That quote gives you the sense of what Coates explores, the way that our history is not really behind us, the way that history informs and shapes us, whether we want to admit it or not.

The book might have veered towards the depressing, and there is an overarching despair, but in many ways, it's just realistic in a steely way:  "This is not despair.  These are the preferences of the universe itself:  verbs over nouns, actions over states, struggle over hope" (p. 71).

At the very end of the book, he talks about the global warming, fueled by our love of vehicles, that may destroy us all:  "Something more fierce than Marcus Garvey is riding on the whirlwind.  Something more awful than all our African ancestors is rising with the seas.  The two phenomena are known to each other.  It was the cotton that passed through our chained hands that inaugurated this age.  It is the flight from us that sent them sprawling into the subdivided woods.  And the methods of transport through these new subdivisions, across the sprawl, is the automobile, the noose around the neck of the earth, and ultimately the Dreamers themselves" (p. 151).

After I read the book, I found my thoughts returning to the idea of oppressed bodies, the way that some of us have to move more carefully through the world.   I've felt that way as a woman, and I've felt relief as my little nephew has gotten older and bigger and better able to defend himself.

At one point in the book, Coates posits that those of us who know we must move with awareness in the world, we are the lucky ones.  After all, we're all moving through the same dangerous world.  Some of us have more protections--but any of us can have those protections ripped away, and often suddenly and unexpectedly.

Sunday afternoon, I picked up Harper Lee's Go Set a Watchman, even though I feel a bit weird about how it came to be published (I wrote about it here).  My parents gave it to me for my birthday, before knowing about all the controversy.  I loaned it to a friend who was reading it for her book club, and she really liked it, perhaps even better than To Kill a Mockingbird.

I, too, am liking this book better, although grown up Scout is reminding me of Nancy Drew--Nancy Drew with a sassier mouth.

I have books I read in childhood on the brain, clearly.  And then, yesterday, I came across this article, which says that the Disney adaptation of A Wrinkle in Time will be multi-racial--Meg Murry will be black.

I've written many times about this book, and in this post, I addressed the question of portraying Meg on film:  "Oh the important casting questions. I hope they don't make the Meg character all glammed up. She needs to be studious and Calvin needs to be athletic, and they can find each other regardless."

Has my fervent wish been answered?  Hard to say just yet.  I am open to this film, especially with Ava DuVernay directing--although I will admit that my first reaction was dismay at the thought of altering the text to be multi-racial.

And then I questioned myself--why did I view the characters as white?  Because I read this book in the 5th grade, and I viewed every character as white, unless otherwise specified.  But my childhood self would not have had the language or the analytical training to think about the implications of that sentence.

I need a neat way to close this post, which is getting rather lengthy.  But I don't have one.  Off I go into the wide world of South Florida where the intersections of race, class, and gender are muddled by issues of nationality.  But that's a post for another day.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Sanctuaries of All Sorts

I began my very early morning by reading this delightful meditation by Parker Palmer.  He reflects on the way the word "sanctuary" has changed for him:  "Sanctuary is wherever I find safe space to regain my bearings, reclaim my soul, heal my wounds, and return to the world as a wounded healer. It’s not merely about finding shelter from the storm: it’s about spiritual survival. Today, seeking sanctuary is no more optional for me than church attendance was as a child."

He includes a beautiful song by Carrie Newcomer, also named "Sanctuary."  I played it several times while I wrote a poem, the first poem in several weeks.

I went to the kitchen to make coffee in the early hours of the morning, the time that most people call the middle of the night.  The sight of the moon streaming across the dark branches of the gumbo limbo tree made me catch my breath in sublime happiness.

I used that image in the poem that I wrote, along with different meanings of the word "office":  praying the office, the office that you occupy as you do work.  After over a month of stunted poems at best, this one came easily--what a relief!

It has been a peaceful morning.  I made some oatcakes (like biscuits, only heartier) to have with the last of the lemon curd.  I worked on my short story.  I went for a walk with my spouse, and we watched the sun peek over the horizon.

And now it's off to school--new student orientation today!  It's a sanctuary of a different sort.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Making Plans--Or Not

Before we get too far away from the coverage that happened around September 11, let me record the most interesting thing I came across.

In this story on NPR's All Things Considered on Sunday, September 11, 2016, Kenneth Feinberg talked about being in charge of the process to distribute money to the victims and the families of victims killed on Sept. 11, 2001.  He   said that the work changed him:  "You become very, very fatalistic. Young people come to me all the time with their resumes saying this is what they're going to do two years from now, four years from now, six years from now. I tell them don't plan so far ahead. Life has a way of changing the best laid plans. You may think you know what you're going to be doing a year from now or two years from now. I don't think I plan more than two or three weeks ahead because everybody gets curveballs one day or another."

I'm not sure why that idea seems so radical to me--after all, I have spent a significant amount of time preparing for disasters that have never happened, while at the same time being blindsided by events I never would have anticipated.

I have often thought about how strange it is that we expect people who are 18-20 years old to pick a major and a life path--in fact now, we often expect children to do that at an even younger age, as so many of them take college classes in high school and arrive at college with a bulk of work completed.

I've noticed a sense of shame amongst those of us who are feeling a bit burnt out in careers that we chose 20-30 years ago, and we don't have a great set of options for people who need a change.  Go back to school and burn through money we might need for retirement?  Who should write letters of recommendation that we might use to look for this career change? 

I wonder if we could develop some sort of internship program for older people--a way to try out careers before making a huge leap.  A sabbatical program could certainly help with the burnout that so many of us feel, but most of us don't work in places that could support that.

I don't have any easy answers of course.  But one of the other lessons/reminders of September 11 is that we're all here on this planet for a very short time, and it can all end rather suddenly--these questions are worth wrestling with.

Or, as Feinberg would tell us, maybe they're not.  Maybe we should stay open to possibilities, and trust that when we need them, new opportunities will arise.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Retreat Practices that Stick

On Sunday, I spent almost two hours trying to use Skype to join a planning session for the 2017 Create in Me retreat.  The sound was never right, but I did get to answer a few questions.  Then my computer froze, and after 15 minutes of wondering if Skype might correct itself, it took me 30 minutes to fix that.  I tried to sign on to Skype again--another freeze, with another 45 minutes to correct/connect--and then I couldn't get the Skype site to load.  Grrr.

I realized that even if I could get Skype to work, I'd join the planning session for the last hour of their work together.  I decided to admit defeat.

Later, I was talking to my spouse as I tried to analyze why I felt both guilty and ashamed for my inability to join the planning session.  Then our discussion turned to other topics:  the role of the modern church camp, the types of retreats that have most touched our souls, the ways we might improve upon them.

I have long loved the Create in Me retreat for a variety of reasons, chief among them the opportunity to try new things--and to realize that I do love them or I don't.  Once upon a time, roughly 13 years ago, I had this idea that I could have a potter's wheel and a kiln--but after having used the wheel at several retreats, I've put that idea away.  Likewise a loom.  I always thought I would like a loom--but at one of the first Create in Me retreats I ever went to, I used a loom and it wasn't nearly as fascinating as it was when I was a child using one.

At this past Create in Me retreat, I used Copic markers for the first time.  Here's what I drew, inspired by the blaze of azaleas that I'd seen in bloom during my driving trip across the southeast:

At the time, I liked them well enough, but I thought other markers would be just fine.  I got home, tried every one that I had, and then headed to the art supply store to buy the Copic markers, a splurge I could afford at the time.

On Sunday, I said, "You know, I've been making at least one sketch a week ever since the retreat."  It's one of the few art forms that I've tried that was new (or newish) to me at the time that I've continued.

Here's my sketch from Sunday (our text was Isaiah 58:  6-12):

I like this art form because it's portable.  I have a cloth bag that I've requisitioned from the ever-expanding stash of bags we have.  In it, I carry markers, a pen, and my sketchbook.

I love this art form because it allows me to play with color, to swirl it on the page.  I love paints for the same reason, but the markers are easier to use--they're ready from the minute I uncap the marker, and there's really no clean up.  It's not as easy to blend colors as it is with paint--but the ease of clean up means that I do it more often.

When we talk about the value of retreats, we often talk about how we return to regular life refreshed and ready to plunge in again.  We don't talk as often about what we've learned and how we incorporate it into every day life--but that aspect can be just as valuable--if not more so.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Clinton's Pneumonia and Modern Life

So Hillary Clinton has been campaigning even though she has pneumonia.  Part of me wants to make a comment on how this situation is similar to that of most women I know:  we slog on no matter how crummy we feel.  Part of me wants to comment on how Clinton is a metaphor for modern work:   we can't take time off when we get sick.

Part of me is just tired of this political season.  Either candidate, Trump or Clinton, will be the oldest person elected president, and while I'm in favor of experienced people continuing to contribute to society, I'm wondering if the way we elect presidents--and then expect them to serve--is just too harrowing.  I could make similar arguments for many of our workplaces.

Yesterday I was feeling ineffectual, as I thought about how long we'd been working on creating the quilts for Lutheran World Relief.  In the 2 years that I've been in charge of this process, we've finished 2.  And since we only work on them 1-3 days a year, that's not bad. 

As long as I don't compare my progress to that of churches that have lots of quilters who meet on a weekly basis to complete quilts, I'm O.K.  But yesterday, I was feeling ineffectual.

Then I came home and tried to use Skype to join a planning group that was meeting at Lutheridge (a camp that's 12 hours away) to plan the 2017 Create in Me retreat.  I was able to participate for about 5 minutes before the sound started getting wonky, and then the computer froze.  I was never able to get back on.

For about an hour after admitting defeat, I felt a strange mixture of shame and guilt.  The shame came because I couldn't get the technology to work--but why would I feel shame?  It's not my fault as far as I can tell.  I planned to participate, but then I couldn't--so why the guilt?  I couldn't participate in that way, but I hadn't completely wimped out.  I led a Facebook planning party for 8 days which generated some good ideas.  But still, I feel guilt because other volunteers are doing more.

As I've listened to coverage of Clinton's pneumonia, I'm using it as a reminder:  we can't all do everything, and if we're not careful, we may end up making the situation worse. 

I'm also using the LWR quilt as a reminder of something a wise yoga teacher once told me:  "Don't compare yourself to everyone else.  It won't help your balance."

Sunday, September 11, 2016

The Longest War

In the coverage of September 11 events this week, several commentators have talked about our involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq being America's longest war.  My first thought was dismissive--can this be so?  But yes, it is, depending on how we define the word "war."

I remember walking across the University of Miami campus after classes were cancelled at noon on that day.  As I walked to my car, I saw a group of my students, and I asked how they were holding up.  One of them said, "I'm so scared.  There's going to be a war, there has to be."

I offered comfort as best as I could.  I said that I didn't think there would be a war, just some follow-up action.  I wasn't surprised when the U.S. launched military action within the week--I knew that we were unlikely to let that kind of assault go unanswered.  But I never would have predicted what came next.

And for what?  Is Afghanistan more free?  Perhaps, but only in that the current leadership is only slightly less despotic than the Taliban leadership was.  But Iraq has come unraveled.  And the rest of the region seems to have similarly moved towards chaos rather than towards a bright future.  Unlike the Libertarian presidential candidate, I understand where Aleppo is and why I should care if I'm leader of the country.

As I think back over my political predictions, I'm chastened by what I've gotten wrong.  I was certain that we wouldn't get through the Reagan administration without a nuclear war.  When I parted from my college friends to go to my parents' house for the summer of 1986, I was convinced we wouldn't make it back--Reagan had just bombed Libya, and my parents lived in the suburbs of D.C., and I just knew something dreadful was in the works.

I do tend to expect despots to have more follow through than they often do.  I do tend to be surprised at the power of common people to transform common elements like fertilizer or airline jets into agents of mass destruction.

Let us also remember the power of the common people to be a force for good, as we so often are, as we saw 15 years ago in the face of tragedy.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

September 10 and September 12

Back in 2001, I taught an upper level Brit Lit class:  British Romanticism.  It was the first time I was teaching it, and I was thrilled.  On September 10, I began a week of William Blake's work, primarily "Songs of Innocence and of Experience."

We talked about the idea of innocence as being a state of good and of experience as being a state that we see as bad.  On September 10, we talked about the ways that Blake played with these traditions and turned them on their head.  We talked about the poems, and we talked about how his illustrations (or illuminations, as one of my grad school professors called them) both helped undergird the poem, but often undercut the interpretation of the poem we'd have without the illustration.

We talked about Blake's work for pay as an engraver--what does it mean to have to think backwards in composing a print?

It was a great class--it was our fifth or sixth class together, and each one had been that perfect combination of spirited discussion and a smidge of my lecture.  I closed the class on September 10, 2001, by asking, "Which world would you rather live in?  The world of innocence or the world of experience?"

Of we went, and then on Tuesday, all the events of September 11, 2001 happened; I was at a different campus.  When we returned on Wednesday, September 12, to discuss Blake, I couldn't resist beginning with my question of September 10:  "Innocence or experience?  Which do you prefer?"

I don't expect world events ever again to dovetail with my teaching as neatly as they did that week.

Friday, September 9, 2016

Poetry Friday: "Seventh Grade Refugees"

President Obama's trip to Laos brought back a surprising flood of memories for me.  I remember the 1970's as a time of refugees from Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia.  I found myself wondering what happened to all those refugees, particularly one who attended my school in 7th grade.  I remember riding the bus, unable to speak a common language, wondering what her life was like.

And of course, in the 7th grade, I had no idea of the horrors she had escaped.

Yesterday morning, as I was looking for a different poem, I came across one that I wrote about that experience of riding the bus, all of us out of place in so many ways.  It was published in The Julia Mango.

Does it work as a poem?  In some ways.  In some ways, it's too prose-ey.  In many ways, my poem doesn't trust the reader to make the connections.

But I still like it, and so, for a week where President Obama promises to help Laos, it seems appropriate.

Seventh Grade Refugees

They fled from Cambodia to Charlottesville
during one of the coldest winters of the twentieth century.
They left that harvest of corpses to come to the fertile
crescent that created vibrant democracy, Jefferson’s back yard.

I watched her on the bus, the first unfiltered blood
line I’d ever seen, her Asian features unpolluted
by the genetic codes of other races. Her nose blistered
and cracked in the uncommon cold. Her clothes, donated
by area churches, hung awkwardly off her frame.

But no one in my seventh grade class wore clothes that fit.
That time of enormous change, when the body
has plans of its own, when my own flesh
felt as unfamiliar as a refugee from a foreign land.

My best friend on the bus might as well have lived in the last
century, her home a tar paper shack with chickens
for pets, no indoor plumbing. With her bones broken
one too many times, she looked like what she was,
white trash
that no church group would step in to save.

I wish I could say that I saved
them both, that I befriended
the Cambodian girl and rescued my battered friend.
But pre-teens can’t perform miracles.

The Cambodian refugee and I shared no
common language. I had no words to summon
help for my abused friend. Their eyes haunt
me still, eyes that had seen too much already,
cold brutality institutionalized.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

The Nature of Our Miracles

On Sunday, Mother Theresa was declared a saint.  A week ago, on Wednesday, on NPR's Morning Edition, I heard a story about the miracles that must be attributed to her, or anyone nominated for sainthood. 

It's not enough to work miracles in life on this side of the grave; one must also work miracles after one's death:  "The idea is that a person worthy of sainthood must demonstrably be in heaven, actually interceding with God on behalf of those in need of healing."  The doctors come in, and if there's no medical explanation, the healing is declared a miracle.

Now I'm all for sainthood, even though I'm not a Catholic, and I've always understood the importance of setting the bar high so that not just anyone becomes a saint.  But on Wednesday, as I heard the news report, I thought that the standard for miracle might not be high enough.

I thought of all the people I know who are alive now but would not be if we were living 50 years ago.  Cures that would have once seemed miraculous--especially many cardiac operations--are now routine, occurring across the nation, many of them each and every day.

Does anyone go back to previous saints to examine those miracles?  We could, after all.  The news story reports that "more than 95 percent of the cases cited in support of a canonization, however, involve healing from disease." I'm not suggesting that sainthood be revoked.  But it would be interesting to see if those stories of miracles hold up, in light of later medical developments.

To me, the true miracle of Mother Theresa is her faith, even as she felt God's absence, as her letters from her later years document.  If someone can do the great things that she did, even while being unsure of God's presence--that's the true miracle to me, to carry on in the face of great doubt.

As I think of the many people I know, it seems that many of us are living some form of that miracle.  We teach our students, even as we wonder if anyone leaves our classes with a solid grasp of the subject.  We make our art, even in the total absence of any validation that it matters.  We love our families and friends, even though some days we think our efforts might be better spent on a pet or a plant.

But then, if we're lucky, we see the seeds of our efforts blossom.  And if we're not lucky enough to know for sure, we're still building something larger than ourselves.  I am a hopeless optimist; I still believe that a million people creating their own art in their own solitude leads to a world that's better than if they hadn't done it.  I still believe that even the most resistant student is changed by our teaching.  I still believe that every act of love beats back the darkness of chaos.

Let us all beat back that darkness a bit more today.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Work Place Gratitudes

I am fortunate to have spent most of my Labor Day week-end doing precisely what I would have chosen to do:  some sewing, some writing, lots of wonderful opportunities to be with a wide variety of friends, many of whom I wouldn't have known if we hadn't shared a workplace together at some point in our collective lives.

I also kept track of my online classes, which doesn't feel onerous--just one of a wide variety of online activities.  I did some work planning for the 2017 Create in Me retreat; I shepherded a Facebook Planning Party by posting a prompt each day and trying to return to the site to post further thoughts as the day went on.

Yesterday I realized that I hadn't completed some required training sessions, and so I did that.  They were very similar to other online training sessions I've taken, and they make me realize how lucky I am to have a safe workplace throughout most of my working life.  I learned such nuggets as "Do not push, shove, or trip your colleagues.  Do not yell."  Really?  People do this?

And yet, I know they do.  We have to do these trainings because somewhere, someone thinks it is O.K. to put hands on their colleagues.

And of course, they do so in creepy ways too.   The sexual harassment videos always make me feel unsafe, by reminding me of all the ways I could be unsafe.  Happily, no one in my office needs to be reminded, "It is never O.K to watch pornography on your office computer."

Who thinks that it is O.K.?  But once again, I've seen statistics that say that 75% of porn is watched during traditional work hours.  I'm guessing it's not all unemployed people watching that video.

So yes, as we leave Labor Day week-end, let me breathe my gratitude in and out.  Let me also send out my fervent wish that we all have safe workplaces where we can do meaningful work.

Monday, September 5, 2016

Labor Day Prompts Thoughts of Meaningful Work

--Labor Day dawns.  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.

--Even though many of us will see today as simply a day off, it's a good day to think about work, both the kind we do for pay and the kind we do out of love.  And what about the work we feel compelled to do?  I'm thinking of that kind of documenting of family history, of cultural history, of all that might be lost without our efforts.

--I'm thinking of Vertamae Grosvenor (who in later years used the name Vertamae Smart-Grosvenor) and her death on Saturday.  I first became aware of her in the late 80's or so, as I learned about her important work in documenting and preserving the culture of the Lowcountry islands off the coast of South Carolina and Georgia.

--Her work also made me think of my own heritage as something worth preserving.  For example, as I've watched people discover kale, I've thought of winter fields, like the ones my grandparents and great-grandparents would have tended, those winter crops, sold for so much less than they might sell for now.  Someone's getting rich off of kale, but it's likely not farmers like my ancestors.

--To get a sense of Vertamae Smart-Grosvenor's authentic voice, listen to this piece on NPR's Morning Edition.  And do be sure to listen--you need to hear her voice.

--I will spend much of today getting ready for a justice event, God's Work, Our Hands, that my church will have on Sunday, September 11.  I'm in charge of helping people work on quilts for Lutheran World Relief.  I need to prepare some bindings for the quilts.

--I also spent some time completing some mandatory trainings.  Perhaps I will write more on this later.  Or perhaps I'll try not to ever think of it again.

--I will be grateful for the work I have that nourishes me.

--If you're in the mood for some substantial thinking about the issue of work, particularly in theological terms, I recommend this article.

--It's interesting to think about the way that a Benedictine/monastic approach would reshape the questions that we ask about work:  "Taking Benedict’s approach would force us to reconsider how we think about our work. Instead of, 'What work am I called to?' we might ask, 'How does the task before me contribute to or hinder my progress toward holiness?; Not 'How does this work cooperate with material creation?' but 'How does this work contribute to the life of the community and to others’ material and spiritual well-being?' Not 'Am I doing what I love?' but 'What activity is so important that I should, without exception, drop my work in order to do it?'”

--These are good questions for Labor Day--or any day.

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Shifts and Signifiers and Seizing the Day

We spent a chunk of yesterday with a couple notarizing their end-of-life documents.  My spouse got his notary's license for a job he got when we first moved here, and we've kept renewing it.  We may do more with it at some point--a few years ago, when same-sex marriage first became legal, we thought we might do more with marriage ceremony creation, but as with many of our good ideas, we just had no time for follow-through.

Let me record here, while I'm remembering, that there are many monetizing potentials with the notary license.  But that's not really what I want to write about.

I am struck, as I so often am, by the ways that an event like yesterday's signifies a much larger shift.  I remember in my last year of grad school, I went up to visit my parents, who at that time were in their early 50's.  I went to a concert with my parents, and then we all met up with a group of their friends for dessert.  The topics discussed mostly revolved around issues of what to do with aging parents. 

It was refreshing, in an odd way, to be away from the "How will we find our first teaching jobs?" discussions that I routinely had with my grad school friends.

Yesterday, as we discussed last wills and testaments and medical directives, we also talked about the grown children of one of the people come to the house to sign the documents as witnesses.  Those grown children are trying to follow the schedule they'd set up for themselves about the first pregnancy. 

I remembered the first time I had a friend who got pregnant on purpose--before that, the few pregnancies of friends were not happy occasions, at least not at first, and I remembering asking, "What will you do?"

My friend with the first planned pregnancy said, "Have the baby, of course."  And now those children are old enough to get married and have children of their own.

Yesterday, I said, "Just think, once we might have all gathered together for a baby shower for one of us, and now we're here to talk about end-of-life stuff."

There was some talk about when it was possible to conceive without medical intervention, and we agreed that we were all beyond that point (I was the youngest, at the age of 51).  Discussion then went on to nutrition, the benefits of soy protein powder vs. whey or pea.  I said that in my 30's, when I first started using soy protein, I worried about the extra estrogens--and now, I didn't worry so much.  One of us said, "Yeah, some extra estrogen might be helpful."

After we got all the signing and notarizing done, we went to Anthony's to enjoy beer and wine and pizza made in a coal-fired oven.  It was a lovely afternoon, although strange to say that about an afternoon that brought us together over end-of-life documents.

But maybe that's exactly the shift we need.  We're none of us getting younger, and although I hope I still have many good decades ahead of me and the rest of us, we may not.  It was good to remember to seize the day, while it's still ours to seize.

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Short Stories that Wake Me from Sound Sleep

This morning, I spent over 80 minutes waiting for the automatic updates to my computer to be finished. While I have no doubt that those updates are important, I'd have liked to have known ahead of time that the next time I turned on my computer, I'd need to build in 80 minutes for these updates. If Microsoft can set up updates to come to me automatically, the company could give me a heads-up about how long it would take.

What upset me most is that I have short stories that I'm burning to write--and then I had to cool my heels.  I tried to write a poem and then to revise.  I looked through old poetry notebooks to determine what should be typed into the computer--if I was ever allowed to use it again.

But let me focus on the wonder of having short stories that appeal to me so much that I get out of bed burning to write--my plan was to write first, do blogging and Internet noodling.  And then I had to wait . . . and wait and wait and wait.

The first short story came to me whole on Thursday night during spin class, and I wrote part of it yesterday.  It's part of the collection that I'm thinking of as the activists at age 50 series.  So the stories are linked because all of the characters work at the same type of for-profit artsy/techy/designy school, and they've all had some type of social activism in their past--some have worked to overthrow apartheid, while some just built Habitat houses.
So, in the current story, a Photography teacher who has a certain physical and fashion similarity to me (specifically, a bit larger and a bit frumpier--OK, actually more than a bit--than the usual fashionista) has just been asked to take over the Fashion department--but she has an interesting secret in her past which may come to haunt her.
I've had elements of the other story bubbling around in my head for weeks now, but I wasn't sure how to weave them together.  Earlier in the week, I read a story in The Washington Post (which I can no longer find) about how to prepare your house/household for possible disasters.  It asked you to imagine camping in a tent in your front yard--possibly for weeks--what would you need?
Yesterday I went back to the Survivalist posts, a great series that Slate did in 2006.  I remember when I first read them, I wanted to stock up on some of the supplies mentioned.  I kept lots of bottled water in the bathtub in case terrorists attacked the water.  I kept a couple of gallons of water in the trunk of my car in case I needed to evacuate quickly--not from a hurricane, but from some other kind of disaster.
I was still traumatized from the disastrous hurricane season of 2005, and so I started to prepare for every possible catastrophe.  Now I am less traumatized--and less prepared. 
I thought of all the disasters I've prepared for in the past--keeping my 76 Monte Carlo a few years longer than advisable because the ignition would survive the electromagnetic pulse that would come with a nuclear blast.  I've prepared for terrorist attacks, keeping a supply of food and water in my office, just in case I can't leave the building and get home.  I'm somewhat prepared for hurricanes--and it would only take me a day of picking up last minute supplies and filling water containers to get prepared.
But then I think of all the disasters that have surprised me: friends dying from cancer, my mother-in-law's death by medical-industrial complex, various addictions roaring up decades after we might expect them to affect us, on and on I could go.  Rarely a week goes by that I don't say, "Wait, I was preparing for a different disaster, not this one."
Yesterday, during yet a different spin class, I figured out how to weave it all together into a story that will fit with the collection.
The short stories feel important, in the way that the work I was creating in undergraduate school felt important--a way of documenting facets of 20th and 21st century life that haven't been done yet.  The stories wake me out of a sound sleep.  And even when the computer isn't cooperating, my mood remains up--ah, the joys of stories that have come again!

Friday, September 2, 2016

Friday Gratitudes in an Up and Down Week

It has been a very up and down week.  I haven't been sleeping as well this week--if I had been getting more sleep, would I still see it as an up and down week?  Would I have done a better job of managing my emotions if I had gotten more sleep.

I've also been on my 10 week shred this week--I'm tempted to blame my moodiness on the lack of sugar and alcohol, those coping mechanisms denied to me because of this shred.

But the more likely explanation:  some weeks are more up and down than others.  But today, let me focus on some of the good items from the week, some of the events that made me smile.

--Last night at spin class, a short story came to me almost whole.  Of course, I still have to write it down--and this morning, I wrote almost 4 pages.  I'm usually puzzling through things as I work out, but rarely do I have a story come to me the way the one did last night.

--I made chicken poblano mole again yesterday, because it had odd ingredients (raisins, chipotles in adobo sauce) that I had left over from Saturday's experiment--and because it was so delicious as I ate on Saturday's remains all week.  While the cooking resulted in much more clean up than I anticipated--not great for a week night--the prep time in the morning left me feeling happy.

--Most of my spin classes have been excellent, except for Wednesday, when I felt tired and had trouble holding a steady rpm.  Was I tired because of lack of grains in my diet for 10 days?  Tired because I haven't been sleeping?  Hard to know.

--I continue to be grateful to have the opportunity to teach online.  And I am grateful for my full-time administrator job, and the great department with whom I work.

--I'm also grateful for my fellow administrators.  As I waited to go to lunch one day (that in itself a delight), I said, "Let us go then you and I."  Our PR guy was walking down the hallway, and he supplied the next line, and later, we had a great conversation about "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" and "The Waste Lane."  Who'd have thought I would find a conversation about Eliot such a treat?

--In the down time that I've had here and there, I've gotten poetry packets prepared.  I now have a big pile to be mailed today.  It's September--time to submit as more journals open their reading periods.

--I got my final set of galleys for my forthcoming chapbook.  As I proofread, I let myself appreciate my work and be struck with wonder that I crafted these poems.  I'm usually consumed with all the ways my work could be better--but I need to remember to say, "Atta girl" to myself more often.

And here we are, a light day at work, followed by a 3 day week-end--ahhhh.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Modern Meditation Techniques

For several days, I've had the music and lyrics from the ancient canon "Dona Nobis Pacem" in my head.  Our church choir sang it as the offertory on Sunday, so my spouse spent time practicing by watching this video.  And now, the music is stuck in my head.

There are worse things.  It's very calming music, and the lyric translates to "Grant us peace."   I've been thinking about other things one might do to calm one's anxiety, simple things that don't require medication.

Once I thought that essential oils might provide some soothing, so on Friday night, when I felt anxious for reasons I no longer remember, I looked to see what I had left over from our summer of candle making last year.  Citronella--hm, essential these days in Zika infested South Florida, but probably not soothing.  Likewise lemongrass.  So, I put some of the rosemary oil on a paper towel and waited for calm to descend.

Instead, I got annoyed by the smell.  Clearly that's not the way to calm for me.

On Sunday night, we worked on finger picking techniques with the monthly meeting of my ukulele group.  My favorite was to pluck the top string of the ukulele, then the lowest string, and then the two inner strings.  As we practiced, I noticed that I felt immediately calmer.  Let me remember this too.

The ukulele technique works because I have something for my hands to do; it's similar to crocheting or knitting, which I've also been doing for a variety of reasons.

Traditionalists would tell me to pray, and I do.  But as with many meditation techniques, like clearing my mind, prayer is not enough to shut down the chatter of my brain, what Buddhists would call the monkey mind.

I've always practiced journaling and other kinds of writing as a calming technique--some people say that writing without stopping is a good meditation technique for Western minds, and I agree.  But I am often in my office or other spaces that feel too public to write.  If I write, I might cry, and people freak out when they see administrators crying.

But I can hum "Dona Nobis Pacem" as I move throughout my administrator day.  And it works--I immediately feel more serene.