Monday, October 31, 2016

New Kid Again

Once I was the new kid every other year or so--my folks spent a chunk of their life moving a lot in their quest for the perfect job and the perfect place to live--or just a better job with bosses that weren't so icky.  And then there was the year of the Ronald Reagan RIF, which meant they had to move, as my dad needed to stay employed as a federal employee and the only place that had federal jobs had just laid off all the people employed in the past few years.

All of that to say, once being a new kid would not have felt unfamiliar to me.  Now, the last time I was a new kid seems very far away--because it was, back in 2002.  Then I went to a job created because the student population was booming and they needed more English faculty members.

Before I started in January, I had gone to a welcome to the English faculty luncheon.  Then 48 hours later, my mother-in-law, who lived in the same city, fell and broke her shoulder.  I worried that I would report for my first day too tired to make a good first impression.  But I was teaching, and it was fine.

I will say more about my new job and the first day as the week progresses, but I expect it to be a hit-the-ground-running kind of week.  Accreditation documents in their rough draft form are due this week, so that submission deadlines a month from now can be met.

As I'm listening to news about Hillary Clinton's e-mails (AGAIN???  really?) and seeing the predictable Facebook outrage, I'm thinking about my own e-mails.  Once I e-mailed all sorts of stuff to my work e-mail; I used my work e-mail as back-up to my personal e-mail and vice versa.  Once I didn't have faith in the back-up servers at work, or I didn't know that we even had one.  I have this on the brain, as I've just spent some time sorting through some of those documents as I prepared to leave my old job.  Like Hillary, I've had poor e-mail boundaries--but of course, I wasn't working in a setting with high security parameters like the state department.

It's very strange to have voted early, and still have the election ongoing.  I am ready for this election to be done.

Last night, we went to the ukulele gospel sing at our church parsonage.  We ate a great meal and had fun picking our way through various gospel standards.  It was great to sing, even if I couldn't always play.  In the pace of the last 6 weeks, what with travelling and job shifts, I've gotten away from the simple joy of the ukulele.  But Christmas is coming, and there is music to prepare.

It was a great way to take my brain away from the potential anxiety that comes with being a new kid.  What's different about being a grown up new kid who lives in the same location is that I have friends elsewhere.  The stakes don't seem as high as they did when I was starting a new school in the middle of 10th grade.

I still have some of the same worries, mainly around what I should wear and what will need to be done in what order.  But it's better being a new kid as a grown up than being a new kid as a child.  It is a bit surreal to have one's first day be Halloween. 

But first, the tasks that do not change:  to go to spin class and to eat some porridge, to take care of the physical self so that the mental self can shine!

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Festival Day Juxtapositions

It's that strange time of year, when it's humid and warm here in the southernmost part of the U.S.  Halloween is tomorrow, and we will not carve our pumpkins, hoping they will last longer on the porch.  We celebrate Reformation Sunday today, and we will watch the World Series tonight.  On Tuesday, I will pause for the Feast of All Saints, and on Tuesday, the Feast of All Souls, while others celebrate the Day of the Dead.  Somewhere along here is also the Hindu holiday of Diwali.

Let me think about these intersections.

Reformation Sunday

Even if you're not a church going type, the Reformation has changed your life--after all, you can worship in your own language and read the Bible and think about theology for yourself.  I won't cover 500 years of history here, but suffice it to say that those Reformers launched us further down the road towards modernity than we would have been without them.  I have argued that Martin Luther did more to promote literacy for the masses than anyone before or since--and that's just one example.

This week, The New York Times had a great article about Martin Luther.  It talks about the Reformation pamphlet, which Luther perfected--it could be read to illiterate masses, and it was short enough that literate Germans would actually read it.  He knew how to use imagery and how to choose collaborators.  He could write quickly--and he knew the publishing process inside and out, in terms of the mechanics and onward.

The article ends this way:  "'He [Luther] created a media storm with virtually no precedent in the age of print and became the most published author in the history of publishing, up to that moment,' he [Dr. Pettigrew, a Luther scholar] said. “Great men and women seize the moment, and I think he did.'”

It's good to remember that individual people can change the course of history.  If you could travel back in time, before Luther became so famous/infamous for his work, would people believe that Luther would be the person that changed the world so much?  A tortured monk and a university teacher?  I can imagine most people saying, "Who?  Not the emperor?  Not the pope?"

Is there a religious person or group that is even now working to change the Church in such ways that we will barely recognize it 500 years from now?  Or is the lesson that we don't recognize the true reformers in our midst?

Halloween

The other day, I heard one person say to another, "Are you going to wear your tentacles today?"  They were talking about a costume, but it made me think about all the comments we don't usually hear in everyday life that we'll hear as Halloween approaches.

Tonight I will go to a Gospel ukulele group at the parsonage.  I will take brownies which I will drizzle with orange icing.  In past years, I might have taken pumpkin shaped sugar cookies which I would have decorated imaginatively.  Not this year.

Wait!  Do I have food coloring or did I use it all during Vacation Bible School?  OK, I still have some--my plan will work.

How will we celebrate tomorrow?  I'm not sure.  We have several friends in the neighborhood, and we could go to their houses to hand out candy.  We could stay on our own front porch.  Tomorrow is my first day on the new job, so I have no idea how I will feel.  I'm staying as flexible as I possibly can.

Diwali

My only Hindu friend said it better than I can:  "Happy Diwali! Celebrate the conquest of wisdom over arrogance, of knowledge over superstition, of right over might! Light lamps, decorate your home with sand art, sweeten your tongue with richness of mithai, and woo the goddess of prosperity!"

The World Series

Last night, I heard my spouse shout at the TV, "I've seen better baseball in the Pee Wee league!"  He's been frustrated with some of the bad baseball of the Cubs, while being very impressed with the Indians.

It's great to have a series that inspires such passion on his part--he often doesn't even bother watching the Series, because it's obvious from the beginning who will win, and it's the team with the biggest bank account.  Not much suspense there.

This year is different. 

All Saints and All Souls and Day of the Dead

I would like to make a special bread for these days, but I likely will not.  Sigh.

But I will remember those who have passed on to the other side.

And maybe I will make bread next week-end.  My church will be observing the Feast of All Saints on Sunday, Nov. 6, although we probably will not use the very Catholic language of a feast day.

Thin Places

A variety of religious traditions have recognized this time period as a "thin place," the time when the separation between worlds becomes thinner.  It's a belief rooted in pagan times, about parts of the seasonal year when souls from the other world might slip back.  In a world lit only by fires, one can see where it would be easy to be spooked this way.

But this year, especially for me, feels thin, where I'm moving from one job to the next, where I'm not sure what to expect, where I've been dreaming about old friends and new shoes and the dead have come back to visit.  I'm catching ideas for characters and their stories and hopeful/fretful about the chance to write them out into fully realized fictional lives.

I feel like I'm vibrating on several different levels this year, and I'm trying not to shut down any channels.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

The Last Day at the Old Job

As I walked out of my school yesterday, I expected to feel something more . . . momentous?  After all, it was the last day I'd be leaving that campus, after working there since 2002.  Perhaps I should have stopped and forced myself to ponder.

But I was running a bit later than I expected.  My department was gathering at a colleague friend's house to say good-bye.  And so, I went to my loaded down car.

I spent much of my last day on campus packing up the last of my office, moving files that need to be saved (my computer's hard drive will be wiped out soon, if it hasn't happened already, as will the e-mail account), and saying good-bye.  My dean took a group of us out to lunch, which was a treat in so many ways--we are all usually too busy to go out in a big group.  People said kind words--it is good to know that I will be missed.  I have spent many days of my professional life wondering if anything I do matters at all.

The events of the past weeks have reminded me again and again that yes, of course, each and everyone of us matters in ways that we can scarcely fathom during our travels through the day.

After my lovely last day of work, I headed over to my going away party.  It was wonderful to be surrounded by department members who are more friend than colleague, eating delicious food, trying a variety of wines, reminiscing and reminding each other that I'm not moving to Idaho.  We can maintain connections.

But these last years of lay-offs reminds me of how much more intentional one must be to maintain those connections when we won't be seeing each other on a daily or weekly basis at work.  It was good to have one last gathering to remind us all of how valuable we are to each other.

Friday, October 28, 2016

Last Weeks and Thin Spaces

It has been a strange and wonderful (and sad) week.  Let me record some of it:

--I have had some last lunches with workplace friends--and today, the final events, a lunch and a 4:00 gathering with my department.  I am not sure that I will have time for these kinds of lunches in my new job--at least, not at first.

--Wednesday, I left work early to go vote.  It didn't take as much time as I had budgeted for it.  We came home and made an autumnal salad with leftover candied butternut squash, pecans, apples, romaine lettuce and cheddar cheese--odds and ends in the fridge made into a delicious, nutritious meal.

--Wednesday night I dropped my spouse off at choir practice and kept heading west to the shopping center that has a shoe store and Trader Joe's.  Last week, I bought black shoes for my new job, and Wednesday, I found some pairs of brown shoes.  I'm now set to start my new job on Monday, at least in terms of shoes.  I've been wearing shabby sandals to work, but those won't work in my new job.

--I've had a chance to look over some accreditation documents for my new job.  The only thing that gives me pause is that I have not been on site, gathering the data that I will need.  Hopefully others have been collecting it.

--I've been to spin class--I plan to keep going to morning spin class, but I don't think I'll be able to make it to Tuesday and Thursday night spin class.  Last night, the instructor who has been teaching the longest was there.  She's taking a break too, to do some shoulder rehab.  I was glad to be able to say goodbye-for-awhile in person.

--We had a Halloween spin last night--what fun!  I thought about other instructors who have come and gone, and the rides that they created.  One year, we did spin class to one of the first zombie movies.  It was interesting, but not anything I'd want to repeat.

--It's been that kind of week--lots of memories of people who once were a larger part of my life--and of course, those memories are tinged with the knowledge that I'll soon be missing my work friends in that similar way too.

--I wrote to one of them:  "There’s an old Bob Dylan lyric, “You’re gonna make me lonesome when you go.” I am going to make me lonesome when I go. I will miss the AiFL people so much!"

--I'm also intrigued by the announcement that one of the Corporate highest of the higher ups will be on the campus of my current school on Tuesday.  I wrote this e-mail to the only 2 colleague friends who would understand:

"I bet I'm the only one in the whole organization who has noticed that the Corporate guy is visiting on the feast of All Saints.
 
Oh, I will have fun with this!  I'm already crafting a short story . . ."
 
--And I am having fun with it--the main character will teach Animation, and I can have fun with the idea of what animates and what deadens.  I thought about starting it this morning, but it still needs time to marinate.
 
--Yesterday I had my exit interview with HR.  It went well.  I did discover that if I had waited to have my last day be Nov. 1, my insurances would have lasted through the whole month.  What an expensive mistake on my part.  I won't have health insurance at my new job until I've been there 2 months, so I'll be using COBRA, I think.  The extra month of insurance would have been much cheaper, if I had just known.  I thought my insurance ended with my last day of employment.  Grr.
 
--Of course, it might not have been possible to start any later, even if I had known.  My new job would have had me start even earlier if I could have--there were hurricane delays and the necessity of giving my current job 2 weeks notice.  I'm trying not to beat myself up over this insurance thing.  There's never the perfect time to make an exit.
 
--After finding out about my insurance misunderstanding, I went to the hospital for spin class in the hospital's wellness center.  I listened to the conversations that swirled around:  patients dying, family members weeping, stubborn physical problems, the constant presence of pain.  It was a potent reminder that having to pay a lot extra for health insurance is not the worst calamity that one can endure.
 
--But like the rest of the nation, I am more and more irritated by our health care system and the way we pay for it.  I am also deeply aware that I'm lucky to have insurance offered by my employer.  After church choir rehearsal, upon hearing about my upcoming job move, one of my friends said, "You'll be salaried, and you'll have benefits?  You have hit the jackpot!" 
 
--It's interesting to move through this week, as the daylight grows shorter, and the holidays of Halloween, All Saints, and All Souls draw closer.  This time period always feels like one of those thin spaces to me, when the boundaries between this life and the afterlife and all sorts of other lives feels thinner.
 
--This year, it seems thinner still.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Early Voting in One of the Swingiest States

Yesterday I took part in early voting--it's the first time I ever did that, unless you count absentee voting, which when I did it, was a very different thing.

My first election, back in 1984, I was a resident of Virginia who was going to college in South Carolina.  I had to send proof that I was enrolled in school before I could get my absentee ballot.  That's why these days, when my activist friends go on and on about voter suppression and erosion of voter rights, I just shake my head in disbelief.  In my state, I can mail in a ballot or vote early in any number of places.  I don't have to prove why I can't show up on election day.

I prefer to vote on election day; I like the idea of participating in a national activity.  I like casting my vote and then staying up as late as I can to see how my candidates did--while I still remember how I voted.

But this year, I didn't want to take any chances.  I'll be in my second week at a new job, and while employers are required to give me time off to vote, I know it might take some time on election day, and I know I'd be fretting about that.

So yesterday, my spouse and I went to one of the regional libraries to vote.  I was prepared to stand in line as long as it took--and I expected that it might take hours.

Happily, it did not.  From start to finish, it took 17 minutes, which would be fairly normal during most election years if we voted at our polling place on election day (in 2012, we waited over an hour, and I'm still not sure why; actually, my memory is wrong--I looked up a blog post, and it was only 35 minutes).

I took a minute to reflect on the fact that in just 8 years, I've seen an African-American on the top of the ticket, and now a woman.  It's momentous, even if you don't agree with their politics.  I take it as a sign of the opening up of society--but I'm an optimist that way.

And I was delighted to see women throughout my ballot.  And based on names, which can be misleading, I saw a variety of ethnicities too.

I was glad to have a chance to make sure I got my civic duty--and my civic joy--accomplished.  As we were leaving, one of the activists who was demonstrating at the legal distance away, said "Thank you for voting."

I wanted to say, "Are you kidding?  Women have had the right to vote for less than 100 years.  I understand what people sacrificed so that I could have this right."  But instead, I said, "Of course."

I hear a lot of worry about citizens who don't vote, but down here, we seem to be having a good turnout.  We drove by the polling place later, on our way to choir practice and shoe shopping, and the line was much longer, back through the parking lot. 

Could I tell which way this swing state will go?  No.  I saw plenty of activists of all kinds, but most of them were for local candidates.

Voting gives me hope for the future.  Here we are, a nation of people so often disgusted with the way that politics works--but still we vote.  I voted with a wide variety of folks:  all ages and races, all patiently waiting for a chance to have our say.

Later in the day, I thought about the two times that I've voted outside of election day:  my first election and this one.  And in my first election, I voted for a woman too, vice presidential candidate Geraldine Ferraro. 

I've been a fan of Hillary Clinton for a long time.  In the early years of the Clinton presidency, I called her the smartest woman in America, and I still think she can claim that title; she knows more about public policy than just about any human, male or female.  She has non-transparency traits that bother me, but I also understand why she finds it so hard to be open.

It's been a fascinating election year; the wait to find the outcome seems so very long right now--a downside to early voting.

And to see how these elections influence the future--that's a longer wait still.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Born to Run, Born to Write

I've been reading Bruce Springsteen's Born to Run--so far, it's a great book.  I enjoyed the chapters about his childhood more than I thought I would:  very evocative details about a time that seems as distant as the nineteenth century.

Now I'm to the chapters about his early years of forming bands and playing in all sorts of places.  It's a fascinating exploration of the different kinds of music and instruments that the musicians around Springsteen played in the late 60's.

I bought the book for two reasons:  I heard Springsteen interviewed on this episode of Fresh Air, and Terry Gross was full of praise for the book.  I was intrigued; Gross doesn't usually praise books in quite that way.

I was also assembling an Amazon order.  I wanted to pick up some old Bob Dylan CDs before the price went up in the aftermath of Dylan winning the Nobel Prize for Literature.  But to get free shipping, I needed to add some books.  Thus, the Springsteen.

At the risk of sounding like some of my students, I didn't realize it would be so long--but I'm happy to be immersed in it.  It's the kind of book I like, an analysis of creativity and what helps or hinders and artist.  Even if I didn't know Springsteen's music, I imagine I would like this book.  But it helps that Springsteen is part of the soundtrack of my life.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

The Secret to a Long Life

Yesterday was my last Monday at my old job.  Today will be my last Tuesday.  In short, this is my last week at the workplace where I've gone each week since 2002.  It's a strange feeling.  I've only ever left a job this way once, and that was to move to a different state, several states away.

When I left that job, back in 1998, there wasn't as much prep work--I was in charge of my own English classes, and I left at the end of a semester, so I didn't need to worry about those classes.  I didn't have my own work computer, so there weren't computer files to clean up.  I packed my books and other possessions, and I was done.

This week, and the several before it, I have been sorting through both computer files and paper files.  The paper files are easiest, in many ways.  Will the next person in my office need the instructions for how to make the phones work?  My handwritten notes on each RIF?  Old assessment materials which eventually are transformed into Institutional Effectiveness reports?

The computer files are harder.  I inherited the hard drive of my predecessor.  At first, I thought that every file should be saved, but then as I looked through them, I realized that they wouldn't be important.  For most of the files, I couldn't even tell you why they were kept, what initiative they addressed.

I do have syllabi for most General Education classes going back to 1999.  I saved them.  I rarely consult them, but they're good to have.

Even my own files, from a far more recent time, hardly seem worth keeping.  Will we need the ACICS files?  Will that accrediting agency even exist in the U.S. after their appeal is decided?

I am also writing up some of the processes I follow:  how to report the Math grades (don't even ask--it truly is complicated), how to analyze transfer credits from other schools, and so on.  I've thought of the times I have asked my students to write a process essay, the hardest kind to write, I think.

I'm remembering the easiest $50 I ever made, back in grad school days.  I sat in front of a computer to test the user's manual.  I was to follow the directions exactly.  I couldn't proceed because the directions didn't tell me to turn on the computer.  One minute of my time, $50 in my pocket.

I'm doing other things too.  I changed our dentist appointments to happen this week, when I'm sure of our dental insurance.  I plan to vote early tomorrow, just to be sure.  I prefer to vote on the actual election day, but I will be in my second week at my new job, and I don't want to risk it--some years, we've had to wait in quite a line to vote. 

I'm also trying to enjoy a laid-back pace this week.  At my new job, we are gearing up for an accreditation visit from what we hope will be the new accrediting agency--my new school is not waiting for the results of the ACICS debacle to be final.  At my new school, the process is fast-tracked, which means I will hit the ground running.

It's a strange, bittersweet time.  It's easier to make a job move when one is leaving the state.  I'm not moving, but I do know how much more difficult it is to keep in touch when one is no longer in the workplace.

Still, it's time to go.  There's a Michelle Shocked song, "The Secret to a Long Life is Knowing When It's Time to Go," off of her wonderful Arkansas Traveler CD.  That's been playing in my head--and now it's time for my Tuesday walk with a friend to the beach. 

Monday, October 24, 2016

Death of a Generational Icon

Tom Hayden has died.  Some part of me says, "Wait, he was only 23 years old, right?"

Hayden was one of those 60's activists frozen in time, at least for me.  When I was in college and a student activist, he was one of the names always held up to us.  Even now, in a conversation I had less than  year ago, one of my colleagues wondered why today's activists couldn't be more like Hayden and his compatriots.

In an undergrad Sociology class, we read The Port Huron Statement.  I remember being underwhelmed, but I can't remember why.  In my Sociology classes we looked very carefully at who accomplished what.  I remember being annoyed with white activists who wanted to claim all the successes of the Civil Rights Movement for themselves.  No doubt, they helped.  Nothing like white, suburban kids getting beaten up and killed to change some hearts and minds.  But there was a lack of discussion about the contributions of a hundred years of black activism that came before.

Now I wonder if some of it was not the fault of Hayden's compatriots.  We don't do a great job of teaching the history of social change in this country.

As I looked up information on Hayden's death, I came across the fact that he wrote 19 books, numerous articles/lectures/blog posts, and over 100 pieces of legislation in his post-student activist life.  But he admits, his image is always frozen back in those 60's days.

He talked about having contentment in his later years but that he would always miss the 60's.  I know some aging student activists who would agree.

But I would argue that it's better now.  The 60's might have been a great time to be a white male who took up activism, but others didn't fare as well.  I've met too many feminists who remember being silenced by those 60's student activist groups to see those 60's student movements as uncertain glory days.

I wouldn't want to go back to the 70's, the glory days of feminism either.  The world was much less safe then too.

We have many social changes yet to make, and I'm grateful to those, like Tom Hayden, who propelled us to the more egalitarian time we have now.  But I wouldn't want to go back.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Mindfulness and the Chores

A tiny front has moved through, and now the weather is cooler.  Inside the house, it's 73 degrees, slightly cooler outside.

Several decades ago, I was a runner in South Carolina.  In the summer, I'd take a quick look at the morning weather stats, and I'd think twice about going for a run if the temp was higher than 73 degrees--happily, that was only a few summer mornings.

And now, both here and I suspect further north, our morning temps are rarely below 82 degrees throughout summer.

We're back to enjoying the front porch.  Last night, after I got back from the memorial service for our colleague who died in a diving accident, we took our wine and cheese to the front porch.  As the light darkened, we lit some candles.

It was a good way to unwind.  I've been surprised by how many people have been touched by my colleague's life and death.  One of my South Carolina friends wrote to me:  "I imagine if he'd been born in another century, he'd have been an explorer: sailed the world with Magellan, searched for spice routes to the East for one European crown or another.  Amazing to have someone so daring and intrepid right there in your midst." 

The main part of the memorial service consisted of a running slide show of pictures from various parts of our colleague's life--lots and lots of dive pictures.

A passion for diving does make for a better slide show that many lives would offer.  I picture my slide show:  here's Kristin at her computer wrestling with the last sentence of a short story.  Here she is with a purple legal pad--that's how we know she's working on poetry.

We've all been talking about living our best lives and about always being mindful that each day could be our last.  And yet, in many ways, we can't be mindful like that, minute by minute.  I think we can't always live in that moment of awareness that we need to be making the best of every hour on this earth--it's too intense, and then we'd do things like never clean the bathroom or load the dishwasher because who wants to be doing that, if any minute could be our last.

I'd like to read more self-help/mindfulness books that tell us what to do about our daily chores.  I know that there are books out there, some based on that classic Zen teaching:  "Before enlightenment, chop wood, carry water; after enlightenment, chop wood, carry water."

Part of me thinks, I should write that book!  But I have plenty of other books to write. 

At some point in the last two weeks, I had been thinking about the idea of pastoral care, and the way that so many people seem to think that only pastors do pastoral care.  I thought, I should write a book that explores the idea of being a pastoral care person who works outside the church for those of us with different job titles that seem to have nothing to do with pastoral care--but it's the main focus of our days.

So many books to write, so little time remaining--let that be my bell that beckons me to mindfulness!

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Snapshots from the Saddest Week

--Even as I type that title, I think about all the ways it could be sadder.  I wish I came from the kind of tradition that had some sort of ritual to ward away possible evil futures.

--And as I type that title, I think about the word snapshots and wonder how long it will be before no one understands what that word even means.

--Yesterday my dean told me that I should go down to see the shrine to our faculty member who died suddenly in a diving accident on Saturday.  There were indeed some amazing pictures.  But I was more overwhelmed by all the messages that students had written.  They've taped them to the huge glass wall at one end of the building.

--I stood before those messages and thought, yes, our lives do matter, even if we're teaching a subject, like Ancient and Medieval Civilizations, that may seem remote to students.

--I've had good conversations with friends all week.  I like to think I'd be doing this anyway, but the diving death has certainly reminded me of the fleeting nature of it all.

--The death of our colleague is not the only loss at our school this week.  We've also had another Reduction in Force.  And our new student number was even worse than we were expecting, so the outlook is not rosy.

--On Oct. 31, I will be starting a new job at a different school (more details to come).   I am excited about the new opportunities and challenges, but sad to leave too.  I've been at my current school since 2002, first as an English faculty member and then as an administrator.  I will miss many people.

--I also miss many people who are no longer there.  It's fascinating to think about how many changes I've seen.  When I started, I could dream up an idea for a writing class in one month and be teaching it the next quarter; those days are no longer.

--Today I will go to the memorial service for our colleague--a fitting end to a sad week.  It will be good to mourn our loss together, and to celebrate a life well lived.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Transgressive Transylvania

Somewhere along the way, I got the idea that the remake of The Rocky Horror Picture Show was being released as a full-length feature film in movie theatres.  Last night, I felt a thrill when I realized it was on TV, and I hadn't missed it yet. 

At first, it felt like being with old friends--but then I found myself missing the original.  But why?  I wasn't one of those suburban kids who spent every Saturday night acting out the film in a suburban movie theatre.  I only saw the movie a few times in college, and then again in my early 40's in an arty movie theatre.

Still, I missed the original versions of the music.  Laverne Cox's voice grated on my last nerve, and I wondered if she always talked like that, or if it was part of how she was playing the character.  Given the recent consciousness raising masquerading as a political campaign around sexual assault, I found some of the sexual stuff troubling:  the outsiders stripped to their underwear and later seduced/assaulted in their beds.  Did I not notice these elements when I was younger?  I did, but no one else seemed bothered, so I thought it was just me, being freaked out by what everyone else saw as OK.

Or more likely, we didn't talk about it back when I was in college--the transgressive elements would have been what we focused on:  men dressing in women's clothes!  Men in make-up!  Who's dancing with who and why do we care so much?

Now those elements don't seem quite as transgressive.

Last night, in one early scene, a tombstone was Mary Shelley's, and I saw the storyline in a different light last night.  Now it was less about sex, transgressive and otherwise, and more about how we care for others--the family-like structures we create, the strangers who appear at the door, the outsiders who don't fit in, the life we create.

Let me hasten to add that I'm not saying that this movie shows us the correct way to care for each other.  The characters fail miserably at that.  Last night, as I watched most of the characters being horribly mean to the newly created Rocky, as I watched Brad and Janet handled in all sorts of inhospitable ways, as one character was turned into dinner--that's what left me cold.

How much more transgressive this Transylvania would have been if any of these characters had truly cared about each other.  

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Buddhist Pumpkins

It has been an exhausting week.  Last night I couldn't do much more after work than sit and stare at the TV.

Luckily, there was something to watch:  It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown.  The wonderful colors of this show made me want to sketch with my own colored markers, but I was too tired to do even that.

Charlie Brown's treatment made me sad.  Why does he get rock after rock?  Why did Lucy have to tell him that he was on the do-not-invite list for the Halloween party?

This week has reminded me that life is not fair.  Some days, you get a bag full of candy.  Other days, you get rock after rock.  I tried to focus on the fact that Charlie Brown does get to go trick-or-treating, and he does go to the party.

Of course, he might have preferred to be left out, given his treatment.  He might have preferred to keep Linus company in the pumpkin patch.  Maybe it would have been better to go to bed early.

Last night, as I locked up my office, I looked at the Halloween decorations, decorations that others have put out.  I had this despairing thought:  I've missed a lot of one of my favorite months.  We're closing in on the end of October, and I have yet to make any pumpkin bread.  I have some decorating that I haven't done, and likely won't.

But at the end, Linus reminded me that Halloween will come again.  Maybe next year the Great Pumpkin will visit us.

Events of this week--the awful diving death of my colleague who was only 53--remind me that we may not have next year.  Thus, my determination to return home to enjoy one of the delights of the season, with this TV show.

I am still trying to be mindful each and every hour, to savor my life in that way.  So far, I'm not doing a great job.  But I am good at tuning in periodically throughout the day.

Clearly I will never be a Zen Buddhist.  And the theology of Linus and the pumpkin patch worries me too:   I don't like the idea that the pumpkin patch must prove itself before the Great Pumpkin (God?) will arrive.  I don't like that Linus will spend the next year preparing to be even better, in hopes that the Great Pumpkin will grace us with his presence.

Is the Great Pumpkin male?  I can't remember.

The show does not give us a Lutheran pumpkin patch, where grace rules the day, where a Great Pumpkin would love us even before we've done a single thing to prove ourselves.

Let me focus on the kindnesses of the show:  Lucy puts Linus, worn out from his night of waiting, into bed.  She has collected some candy for him.  Even though various Peanuts kids aren't always understood or accepted, they aren't completely cast out.  Charlie Brown and Linus have a friendship that will help them survive being the outsiders of their groups.

Let me remember that I haven't missed the whole of the season.  I always say that my favorite corridor is the one from Oct. 1 to Christmas.  There's still time:  time to bake pumpkin bread, time to enjoy the decorating efforts of others, time to think about buying some candy for trick-or-treaters.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

The Most Wrenching Week

This week has been one of the most wrenching of my working life--and it's only Wednesday morning.  I haven't wanted to blog about it before word got out--but now the various news agencies are covering the story, so I'll talk about it too.

An adjunct faculty member in our department died in a diving accident on Saturday.  He was a skilled diver, with multiple certifications and advanced equipment, and he and his dive buddy were exploring an underwater cave, over 200 feet below the surface of the water.  He died doing what he loved, but the thought of that kind of death has kept me from advanced SCUBA certifications.

A side note:  when I first started blogging, I tried to protect identities.  In the above paragraph, I notice I am still doing that.  My colleague's name:  Patrick Peacock.

On Sunday, I talked to his spouse who also teaches in our department.  It was the most heartbreaking conversation that I ever expect to have as an administrator (although the minute I utter such words, I worry about tempting the gods).

Yesterday, I covered the two classes that both would have taught.  Some of the students wept; several of them have started a shrine.  Many of our students have strong artistic sensibilities, and it will be interesting to see what they create.

I returned home last night, exhausted to my very bones.  Part of it was teaching two classes in a day; it's been a long time since I did that in an on-ground setting.  But the larger part of it, of course, was the sadness surrounding the day.

In addition, we have had some job shifts--more on that development later--it doesn't feel right to blog about that now, until that news becomes more widely known.

In the last few days, my brain has returned to the very first time I ever met Patrick Peacock, during his job interview.  He talked about the dissertation he planned to write, a fascinating exploration of a subject that I can no longer remember, but I think it was about slavery as experienced during the Spanish conquest of North and South America.  He did a 15 minute teaching demonstration, and I knew that he would be a wonderful addition to our department.

I was right.  We have lost a wonderful teacher and colleague.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Meditations from a Sincere Pumpkin Patch

Yesterday, I did my first-ever stint of selling pumpkins at our church's pumpkin patch.  I chose a shift where I wasn't likely to have too many customers; I wanted a slower time for my first time selling.  It was a beautiful day to sit outside before a stretch of seasonal gourds.




I sold exactly one.  The guy who bought the large pumpkin said, "I'm gonna put a spigot in it and serve drinks that way."  I wondered if he realized that the pumpkin didn't come as a hollow gourd, but I decided not to interfere.



We had other visitors.  I got a variety of shots of this flock of birds, but I never quite got what I wanted to capture:   the quality of white birds, green lawn, and orange pumpkins.



I enjoyed watching the squirrels play hide-and-go-seek in the pumpkin patch.



They played a different game too:




Two women came at separate times and asked how much it cost to take pictures.  I didn't have the presence of mind to suggest a donation--I'm not sure I would have done that anyway.  I gave one little girl stickers, and she acted like she had won the lottery.



I had plenty of time to take pictures in between bouts of reading.  I finished reading Mama Day by Gloria Naylor.  I liked it as much with this reading as I did decades ago.  I read Designing Your Life: How to Build a Well-Lived, Joyful Life by Bill Burnett and Dave Evans. They mention this tendency that most of us have when making decisions about our futures: most of us agonize after the decision is made. They advocate learning how to make a decision and move on. We can’t know that we’ve made the best choice because we can’t know how all the consequences will play out.  It's the kind of book that didn't tell me much that I didn't already know, but it was good to be reminded.






I also had time to sketch.  As I thought about our pastor's observation that no other activity brings us into so much contact with our surrounding community, I made this sketch, and late in the process, the words "Pentecostal Pumpkins" came into my head.




Even if I didn't make many sales, it was a peaceful, meditative way to spend part of a day. 

Monday, October 17, 2016

Pumpkin by Pumpkin, Note by Note

When I think of yesterday, I may remember it as a day of pumpkin offloading:



The offload went well--because it was Sunday after church, we had lots of people helping.  In just a few hours, our church's front yard looked like this:



But I also want to remember that it was a day of handchime practice.



Yesterday, we started working on a piece that we want to play for Reformation Sunday, just 2 weeks away.  The first attempt to play through "A Mighty Fortress Is Our God" was a disaster, the melody line unrecognizable as some of us lost our places and some of us rang the wrong note at the wrong time.



But first times are always like that.  We persevered, and by the end of a half hour, we played a recognizable version of "A Mighty Fortress Is Our God."  And we still have a practice session next week.



I want to remember the lessons of yesterday:  what seems insurmountable ( offloading 1700 pumpkins, getting ready to play handchimes in 2 weeks) is actually doable--one must proceed pumpkin by pumpkin, note by note.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

A Week-end of Contrasts

Yesterday we had a day of steady rain interspersed with driving rain--in short, it was the kind of day that I expected as hurricane Matthew went by, but not yesterday.

We made the best of it.  We watched some PBS cooking shows and had an idea for a chowder made with tilapia later.  I had the kind of nap with the quality of sleep that eludes me each night--that fall into a deep, deep sleep.  We made chowder together.  We decided that the pot really needed to be stirred every 4 minutes, to keep the dairy products from curdling while the chowder got hot enough to cook the potatoes.

We sat at our laptops, listening to an old Paul Simon album ("Hearts and Bones" from 1983, critically panned but one of my favorites).  I thought about how lucky I am to have parents who introduced me to such a wide range of good music.  I thought about how Paul Simon is a very different artist from Bob Dylan, and why he is equally deserving of the Nobel, if we're going to open it up to songwriters.

My spouse worked on creating a midterm for his Philosophy class, while I worked on finishing the short story I wanted to finish this week (almost done!).  One of us got up every 4 minutes to stir the chowder as the rain beat against the windows--it was cozy.

It was also so very different from Friday night, which had the kind of beautiful weather perfect for watching the nearly full moon rise.  We built a fire in the fire pit and enjoyed watching the flames under the crystalline light of the moon.

Today will be different yet again.  Today, the pumpkin truck comes to church.  Our church has a pumpkin patch each year where we sell pumpkins.  And they come on an 18 wheeler from New Mexico, and offloading them isn't included in the cost.  So, our church members do it.
 
It was supposed to come yesterday--happily it was delayed earlier this week.  I'd hate to have had to offload in the driving rain we had.
 
By this evening, I'll have pumpkins on the porch--the only way I'll know it's October!  And we may experiment with grilling them this year.
 
If you haven't already bought your pumpkin(s) for the season, drop by a local church pumpkin patch.  Your dollars will go further than if you bought a pumpkin at a grocery store.  We use the funds from the pumpkin patch to support our food pantry, for example.

If you're in South Florida and you want to support my church, it's Trinity Lutheran at the corner of 72nd and Pines Blvd, across the street (but on the same side of the street) from the South campus of Broward College.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Snapshots from the Strangest Week

What a very bizarre week, book-ended by the Republican party and its candidate seeming to self-destruct in a very short period of time because all of the allegations (and the triggering effects of hearing all of these stories) and Bob Dylan being declared Nobel laureate.

Here are some snapshots from the week:

--Yesterday, after a rousing conversation with colleagues about the Nobel Prize and poetry and music, I went back to listen to some Bob Dylan lyrics, which isn't as easy to do as some artists who are all over YouTube.  This article in The Washington Post has some embedded videos, and I kept playing "Don't Think Twice, It's Alright."  In my less analytical youth, I assumed the song was about a relationship break-up.  As I listened, I thought about the song through the lens of a difficult worksite, a body that's begun to break down, on and on I could go.

--Like Michelle Obama, the revelations about Trump have shaken me to my core.  Throughout the week, I have found myself wanting to leave the field of education and work for change for women in a more immediate way.  But in what way?

--In my younger years, I created fictional characters who we might now label terrorists, but they were terrorists of the feminist variety.  I realize that feminists of the terrorist variety are not the type of terrorists who leap readily to mind.  If popular culture had more of those, would we see a decline in sexual violence?

--But let me also remember how important the field of education has been in transforming our society for women, for all of us, and in very short time.  Let me not give up on my field so easily.

--Can I also confess how tiring, how distressing, how angry, how many negative emotions have been riled up in me by this week of revelations triggered by the Donald Trump tape?  If I was my therapist, I might say, "Let's explore your anger.  Why does your anger make you so frightened?  Why does your anger specifically feel so dangerous to you?"

--I remember Lollapalooza 1996, where I had voyaged to North Carolina to see Rage Against the Machine, the singer of that band at the end of their set howled, "Your anger is a gift."  I've thought about that statement for 20 years now.

--Maybe this week that has been yet another experience of consciousness raising that leaves me wondering how on earth anyone can still be in doubt of the threat facing women, maybe this week will result in better lives for people outside of the dominant power structure.

--Maybe we will all finally begin to respect boundaries--or at least admit that people are allowed to have boundaries.

--Or maybe we'll continue to have this constant drip-drip-drip of e-mail releases.  I mean, I like to get risotto tips as much as the next person, but why would WikiLeaks think the fate of the nation hangs in the balance?

--Oh, right, because the group just releases them in a flood and leaves it to us to wade through them.  At least my job does not require that!

--Let me not lose sight of the good things that have come this week:  good conversations about the future of education, good conversations about the purpose of literature, an evening at the end of the week with the news turned off under a full moon by a fire pit.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Bob Dylan, Nobel Laureate

If Bob Dylan had won the Nobel Prize for Literature long ago when I was in my 20's, I'd have celebrated that choice.  I spent a lot of time with some of his albums, and I'd have been able to tell you all the ways that he was a superior writer to anyone else.  In fact, I had fierce arguments with friends who insisted that John Lennon was better; if there were other candidates, I don't remember.  I might also have argued for Bono from U2, although at the time, I'd have seen Dylan as superior.

My friends and I also had arguments about whether or not songwriters should be considered poets.  Was songwriting so different a form that we couldn't compare the two?  At different points in my life, I'd have answered differently.  In my younger years, when I was listening to the same music as my students, the arguments would have seemed more pressing, a way to prove to my students that literature was important, was worth studying, was worth preserving for future generations.

Now I am older.  While I have replaced the vinyl U2 with compact discs, I have not bought CDs of Dylan's music that inspired me in my youth.  I rarely have the yearning to hear an old Dylan song the way I do so many others.  Much of Dylan's music seems rooted in a distant time, but that may say more about me as a listener than something important about the music.

I think about all the other authors, all equally deserving of the Nobel.  I think about all the years that the Nobel committee has made their choice, and I've said, "Who?"  Some years, the announcement of the Nobel winner has led to delightful discoveries.  For example, in the rush to explain the choice of Wisława Szymborska, I heard her work for the first time and rushed to read more.  I must confess that the fact that she was a poet meant that I was more likely to pick up her work; I already have so many novelists on my list whom I may never get to.

So, do I see the choice of Dylan as a sure sign of the collapse of culture?  No, I don't.  It may be a sign that culture has shifted, but it's not like they gave the Nobel to Brittany Spears.

I've always said that if I wanted my poetry to have a wider audience, I should find a group of rappers and let them transform my work into something that would get airplay.  Or, once I said that.  Now I'm not sure that radio airwaves is the way to win hearts and minds.  I wish I knew a sure way.

In some ways, Dylan answers that question, but not with a surefire formula.  In fact, some might find fault with him for changing his art, for co-opting his art to fit with what audiences wanted.  Some decades, he's been successful in that effort.  In some decades, he's been a forgotten remnant.

But he's always continued creating.  If there's a lesson for the rest of us, that must be the one that gives us hope.

He didn't create art while saying, "One day I'll show the establishment.  I'll win the Nobel Prize, and then they'll be sorry!"

No, he created art that changed the establishment:  it's a time-honored goal.  It may not be what he set out to do, but I would argue that the art that is most important, most enduring, is the art that changes society.

I say this, of course, being fully aware of all the important art that did not do that, but is important for other reasons.  I say this paragraph above while at the same time being able to contradict myself with all the other art that is far more important if less transformative to the society around it.

I say all of this realizing that we could spend lifetimes debating the whole issue of importance.

So, let me get back on track.  Let me celebrate that an artist who was once vitally important to me has been honored.  Let me celebrate that this choice will spark interesting conversations with many people who wouldn't ordinarily talk about literature at all.

Let me celebrate that those of us who are feeling a bit obscure and forgotten may find inspiration to keep going, to keep making our art, because of this choice of Nobel laureate.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Finally, a Writing Morning

When I picked up my poetry notebook this morning, I thought, can I really not have written anything since late September? 

Yes, it has been that long.  But let me also remember that a week ago, I was anxiously tracking hurricane Matthew.  I am only just now feeling a bit more centered.

Today as I read Luisa Igloria's wonderful poem, "Always, the women get their hands dirty," I was struck by the last line:  "about that future whose smell we already know."  I thought about the different ways the future might smell, and I wrote a poem that weaves together the ideas of casting spells, predicting the future, predicting the weather, and preparing for a hurricane.  Although I worked on it for over an hour, and then returned to work a bit more, it came fairly easily.

I've also been working on my short story--it's almost done, but I can't figure out how to get from where I am to the end.  Shortly I will take a walk and see if the answer comes.

I enjoy these early morning times, when I can catch up on wonderful past shows from NPR programs.  Right now, I'm really enjoying the conversation between Diane Rehm and Billy Collins in this past show.  I happen to love his poetry, but even if I didn't, I'd find his insights about poetry to be valuable.

I also came across this blog post by Victoria Chang, which tells about the evolution of her Barbie Chang poems.  She talks about writing autobiographical poems and how her approach changed when she created a character named Barbie Chang:  "As an experiment, I replaced all first-person “I”’s with “Barbie Chang” and revised the poems with that character in mind, and the poems seemed to breathe and expand. My imagination could wander and I felt freed of autobiographical constrictions. I edited and expanded the poems and wrote new ones for another three months."

As she worked on the larger collection which would become a book, she went back to unfinished manuscripts to find what was missing.  It's been a very long time since I went back to unfinished manuscripts.  I wanted to record her idea here, where I'm more likely to find it again.

And now, I've been sitting at this desk for 3 hours, with some breaks for dishwashing.  It's time for a change of scenery.  Let me go out to walk and watch the sunrise.  Several blocks from my house is a finger lake that comes off the Intracoastal--last night it was higher than I've ever seen it.  Let me go and look in the daylight.  Let me wait for further inspirations.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Mindfulness and the Smart Phone

I've been having interesting conversations with people about their cell phones.  Do we need to text to keep in touch with students?  But if we text, do we get to keep a record?

And then there are the larger issues.  Do we ever disconnect these days?

In this interesting essay, Andrew Sullivan posits that it's not the Internet that is so damaging, but our constant access of it:  "Facebook soon gave everyone the equivalent of their own blog and their own audience. More and more people got a smartphone — connecting them instantly to a deluge of febrile content, forcing them to cull and absorb and assimilate the online torrent as relentlessly as I had once. Twitter emerged as a form of instant blogging of microthoughts. Users were as addicted to the feedback as I had long been — and even more prolific. Then the apps descended, like the rain, to inundate what was left of our free time. It was ubiquitous now, this virtual living, this never-stopping, this always-updating."

Long ago, when I first taught the Scriptwriting for Games class, we had a fascinating conversation about what's real life and what's online life (and this was in the last days of the pre-smart phone era).  Most of my students were spending over 6 hours a day in the world of a game--if that was the case, I said, perhaps the game life was real life and everything else wasn't.

At least those gamers were in one consistent game world.  These days, our online lives are much more fragmented, as we zip from site to site, from task to task.

Sullivan talks about the danger of the bifurcated life:  "I’d long treated my online life as a supplement to my real life, an add-on, as it were. Yes, I spent many hours communicating with others as a disembodied voice, but my real life and body were still here. But then I began to realize, as my health and happiness deteriorated, that this was not a both-and kind of situation. It was either-or. Every hour I spent online was not spent in the physical world. Every minute I was engrossed in a virtual interaction I was not involved in a human encounter. Every second absorbed in some trivia was a second less for any form of reflection, or calm, or spirituality. “Multitasking” was a mirage. This was a zero-sum question. I either lived as a voice online or I lived as a human being in the world that humans had lived in since the beginning of time."

I continue to resist the siren song of the smart phone.  While I confess it would be convenient at times, I want to have down time.  So many people don't even seem to notice how often they're checking their phones.  I can tell that I would be one of those people, always checking, always zipping.

I'm worn to a frazzle now, even without a smart phone always summoning my attention elsewhere.  Let me be careful about what and whom I invite into my life--let those new elements support mindfulness, not detract from it.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Poetry Tuesday: "False Idols"

What a whirlwind few weeks!  Between our trip to Arizona and last week's hurricane disruptions, I feel like I've fallen out of time somehow.

I looked back through this blog, and I saw that it was only 2 weeks ago that my contributor copy of Adanna arrived.  As always, I'm impressed with the physical beauty of this journal.

I was happy to see my poem "False Idols" in the pages.  This morning, I'm thinking about how I might cast that poem differently if I wrote it today.  And maybe later, I will write a different version.  Maybe I'll write a False Idols poem each month.

And suddenly, I'm thinking of a larger collection, a different way to frame my poems with a spiritual theme:  false idols, true gods.  Hmm.  I'll keep thinking of this. 

But for today, here's the poem I wrote in June 2015, just published in Adanna, with a link to Luisa Igloria's poem that inspired mine (with thanks to Dave Bonta, for curating his Via Negativa site, which has inspired many of my favorite poems that I've written):

False Idols


“Every few months we thin
the coffers in our temples.”
                   Arguments with destiny: 12 by Luisa A. Igloria


We worship the god
of self-improvement plans, that idol
made of the gold of all our hopes
for lives changed
by exercising more, losing weight,
adding this, subtracting
that, these plans cost.

We thin our coffers
at the temples of our false
gods. Instead of potluck
suppers, we go to one more workout or work
late in our fluorescent offices.

We have banished
the other prophets who declared
a different gospel of improving
ourselves by purifying our souls.
Let those prophets preach
to the wind-scoured landscapes.
Let them eat locusts for lunch.
We shall dine on food cultivated organically,
We shall drink wines made with grapes
grown in a far away soil.

Only late at night, our electronics
silenced, do we hear
that still, small voice
that declares all of creation
to be good and very good,
perfection inherent in our beings,
that small flickering pilot light of grace.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Teaching Leadership

When my parents used to teach us about good manners, particularly table manners, they would say, "Would you do that if you were eating dinner at the White House?"

Of course, we would always say either, "But we're not eating at the White House!" or "We won't be invited to the White House, and if we are, we'll change."

My parents would always say, "You never know.  You could be invited to eat at the White House, and at that point, it will be too late to practice"--or a variation.

In short, we were trained that we should always behave as if we were eating at the highest table in the land.  That way, if invited, we would be ready.

So far, I haven't been invited to eat at the White House, but I am glad to have been brought up this way.  If I had a child to raise, I'd use a similar approach, but I'd also train my child to believe that he or she might be running for president some day, and to plan accordingly.

It's not enough to always assume that the microphones will be hot or that the cameras will be running.  The problem with Donald Trump is that 10 years ago, clearly, he didn't want to be president.  Actually, the problem is larger than that:  a man who abuses power in all sorts of ways does not have the character that I want in a president.

I confess that I didn't watch the debate.  I know of artists and poets who planned to make art instead of watching the debate.  I have Facebook friends who were enjoying fellowship with friends instead of watching the debate.  I went to bed early for a grown-up, as I often do on school nights.

Once I would have made my students watch the debate and analyze it in terms of rhetorical devices.  But these days, I'd have a different writing prompt, one that's worked well in the past.  I would ask them to imagine that they find themselves in charge of the country.  What would they do first?

I've always told my students that they should plan what they would do in leadership positions, because they may very well find themselves there some day, and it might be sooner than they think. I tell them about Nelson Mandela, and that the reason that he was prepared to be president of South Africa was that he spent all that time in jail (more years than most of my students have been alive) planning for what he would do if he took over the country. He didn't nurse anger or bitterness. No, he planned, along with his compatriots, who were jailed with them.

Then I give them a copy of an interview (in the fabulous book We Owe You Nothing: Punk Planet: The Collected Interviews) with Jello Biafra which has this challenge: "It's time to start thinking, 'What do I do if I suddenly find myself in charge?'" (page 46 of the first edition). Many of my students find this idea to be a wonderful writing prompt, even as they're doubtful that they would ever be allowed to be in charge of a national government.

But we all know that they might be--and if not a national government, a local one or a school board member or a church council member or in charge of a department.  It's an interesting, and fruitful, way of thinking about leadership.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Nightmares, Hurricane and Political

--Last night, for about the first four hours of sleep, I had horrible hurricane nightmares:  dreams of high winds and deep water and darkness.

--I am aware that I am lucky--I get to wake up from my hurricane nightmares.

--My spouse got up around midnight, and I did too.  We watched Saturday Night Live, which was quite good last night.  I had wanted to see what the show would say about the latest Donald Trump scandal, and I was glad we could watch Week-end Update on the show.

--Donald Trump has said all sorts of outrageous things, and I, too, wonder why the Republicans are only jumping ship now, with the latest revelations of what sounds like sexual assault to me. 

--Again, I realize that I am lucky.  I have had no bosses who treated me crudely.  I am in a field where I am valued for my brains, and I am not treated badly because of my intellect (or for any other reason).  I am part of a generation lucky enough to have the expectation that boundaries would be respected, and I know what to do if they aren't.  I am also lucky because I am large and loud and a bully will choose someone else as a likely victim.  And my status as a first world citizen, even though I am female, buys me protection that I am hardly aware of most days--likewise for my race and class.

--I predict that Trump will not come to tonight's debate--he won't want to face that town hall style of questioning.

--What a nightmare this political season has been.  It sounds like even if a political candidate does serious misdeeds, the candidate cannot be forced to step down.  And the question must be asked:  did no one in the higher up realms of the Republican party vet this candidate?  How have events come to this pass?

--And if the candidate did step down, early voting is underway in many states--it's unclear what the implications would be.

--Yes, if I'm thinking about politics, it must mean that life is settling back to "normal."

--At some point, I'll wonder why I didn't get more writing done during this down time.  I had a lot of grading to get done, and I wanted to plow through it while I had power.  So that explains one day.  Hmm.

--Well, let me not beat myself up too much.  This week I want to finish my apocalypse gal story and write poems on two days out of the week.  That should be doable.

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Hurricane Matthew Recap with Blessedly Boring Pictures

Even though we have been spared a major hurricane coming ashore, I still can't put the hurricane coverage behind me.  I've been amazed to realize how many people I know up the coast from me:  friends in Port St. Lucie, Jacksonville, and across the Charleston area--and further up the coast, Myrtle Beach, the Outer Banks, and the DelMarVa area. 

Just by coincidence, I'm drinking my coffee in a cracked mug that came from  the Salty Dog Café that I got during a wonderful Hilton Head vacation in 2010.  I know that storm surge has become the major risk from this storm, and I'm wondering how those barrier islands will be transformed. 

Maybe as the day progresses, we'll realize that they've been lucky too.  And even if they haven't, no one in the U.S. will suffer the way that Haiti will suffer.  I've given this information before, but it bears repeating.  For those of you who want to contribute something to alleviate suffering, I recommend Lutheran World Relief--they've been in Haiti for decades now, and they'll stay there for decades to come, alas.  They also have a great record of actually using the money for relief instead of for staffing administrators in offices back in the U.S.  Go here to make a donation.

During our Thursday experience, I was able to get outside to take some pictures at 3:30 p.m.  Here's the extent of our downed limbs, from the house across the street.  Note that the palm frond is split around the tree:




Here's how the house looks with the accordion shutters closed--what amazing shutters!  The whole house can be protected in a matter of minutes.  And the benefit of having small cars is that we can put them both in the driveway.  If we'd have been expecting a flooding event, we'd have parked them in the other direction.  But I was convinced that 3 palm fronds in the tree at the head of the driveway would drop (as of today, they haven't yet); I was trying to protect the engines from the crashing palm fronds:




Now, if only we had something similar for the doors.

My favorite memory from Thursday is my spouse who played his violin on the front porch for over an hour.  The porch has always had good acoustics, but with everything moved off of it, the acoustics went from good to great.



He played a variety of songs, from "Singing in the Rain," "Keep on the Sunny Side," and "You Are My Sunshine" to a variety of hymns, like "Blessed Assurance":  the storm/rain medley.




As I've said before, we were lucky--we never lost power.  I did accidently turn the freezer off when I was trying to turn it down, but I realized my mistake in an hour and was able to reset it--no harm done, as the temperature only rose a few degrees.

We were also lucky that we didn't have anyone living in the cottage, so we could store lots of our outdoor stuff there.  We haven't begun to fix it up either, so we didn't have to worry about moving the dirty outdoor furniture into our pristine cottage.

And now, we need to move back towards normal life.  I have gone back to my regular sleep patterns--no more waking up between midnight and 2 a.m. wondering what the 11 p.m. update held for us.  Let me try to remember what I had planned to do this week-end, before the hurricane coverage took up residence in my brain.

Friday, October 7, 2016

Hurricane Gratitudes and Lessons for Next Time

I am surprised to be here with electricity, writing a blog post, sipping freshly brewed coffee.  Let me clarify:  I expected to be here, just not with electricity.  This time yesterday, I was sure we would be without power, and if we were lucky, it would only last for several days.  I was still worried about the storm wobbling west with stronger winds than we were expecting.

But then I went to this site on the NOAA website which gives a weather forecast based on a zip code--much more specific than just one region.  I began to think we would stay put.  But I still didn't feel secure enough to leave the rest of the non-secured items outside.  We spent an hour moving the last of the furniture and the bicycles to the cottage.

We were lucky:  we didn't get much more in terms of wind than we usually do in any given storm.  And we got much less rain.  And had the hurricane come ashore to disrupt our lives for weeks, I'd have really rued my lack of preparing for that:  I realized we had fewer batteries than I thought we had, not as many canned goods, and I didn't think to get cash until it was too late.

Let me make a list, now, while I'm remembering.  What do we need to make sure we have in place well before a storm threatens us?

--Let me remember to inventory our batteries.  Or maybe pick up a few more solar inflatable lanterns

--As hurricane Hermine approached, we started hanging on to empty 2 liter containers that had held club soda.  That meant that we didn't have to run around looking for water.  We simply filled up the containers and would have had enough water to drink for at least a week.  The pool will provide water for flushing and some washing up.

--We need to figure out how to attach the aluminum shutters to the back doors and cottage doors that contain full-size windows.  We think we need wing nuts.  We should get those at some point in the next 9 months when we're at Home Depot for other things, when there's not a storm that's about to come ashore.

--We don't have a working chainsaw.  Given as many trees as we have on our property, we should probably get a working chainsaw.

--I always thought that we would shelter in place, regardless of the size of the storm.  It was sobering to watch the approach of a storm that was expecting to be a category 4 or 5 and to think about how a slight wobble west would have brought that storm on top of us.  I now know that my spouse will be willing to leave with a category 3 or higher.  We need an evacuation plan for each direction we might be required to go.  One of my work colleagues posted that the Disney resort did wonderful customer service and that they have generators and buildings that are more hurricane-proof than I would have thought.

Today I am just exhausted.  I've been averaging 4 hours of sleep a night for much of the past week; I'm grateful that I don't have to go to work, and I'm grateful that I don't have much to do in the way of clean up.  I took a nap yesterday, and I may take one today too.

I will make a donation to those less fortunate as part of my post-hurricane gratitude.  For those of you who want to contribute too, I recommend Lutheran World Relief--they've been in Haiti for decades now, and they'll stay there for decades to come, alas.  They also have a great record of actually using the money for relief instead of for staffing administrators in offices back in the U.S.  Go here to make a donation.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Hurricane Prep

I've had my eye on hurricane Matthew for over a week, but it's only been in the last few days that we thought we'd be affected--and right now, we're still not sure exactly how.  It may just be a tropical storm, which is not as scary.  The idea of a category 4 storm being just off our coast is not one I like, but the hurricane force winds are only out 45 miles from the surface.  One forecast called for the center to only get as close as 85 miles east of Ft. Lauderdale.

That's still awfully close, and so much could happen at the last minute.  We will be glued to the 5 a.m. report--or at least, I will be.  My spouse has the ability to sleep until a sensible time.

He's spent much of his free time during the past few days securing the property.  You don't realize how much outdoor stuff you have until you start looking at it all as flying projectiles.  Now, most of it is inside.

We're lucky in so many ways that our cottage is vacant.  For one thing, we could store the outdoor stuff and the extra water there.  For another, it's a less solid building:  plaster lathe, not cinderblock, like the main house.

We haven't been under a hurricane watch or warning since 2005.  When we first moved here, we had at least one watch or warning each year--and we moved here from the Charleston, SC area, so the drill wasn't unfamiliar to us.  Indeed, by the disastrous hurricane season of 2005, we had become almost blasé.

I'm not sure I'll ever be blasé again.  When hurricane Katrina passed over us, it was only a category 1 storm--but very wet, which resulted in lots of tree loss.

We think that hurricane Matthew will be a wind event.  I think I prefer rain, even with the flooding which would be tougher damage to clean up afterwards.  Wind terrifies me in different ways.  I can't relax at all during a wind event.  And wind tears up the power lines.  Of course, trees falling out of saturated ground also does that.

Well, we've prepared as much as we can.  If it looks like a category 4 or 5 is likely to come ashore in our county, we may make a run for it south to my brother-in-law's place in Homestead--yes Homestead, the city that was almost wiped out by hurricane Andrew.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

The Women of Gloria Naylor

Yesterday, I was saddened to hear that Gloria Naylor died in late September.  I first read Mama Day back in grad school, and I was hooked.  That book has always seemed her most masterful, although I'm fond of her linked short stories too.  I know that many scholars might cite Linden Hills as her best work, but it's my least favorite.

At times, I heard criticism of Naylor for her male characters, but I never saw this aspect of her work.  Perhaps people objected to the fact that her books revolved around black women, and men were at the margins.  Or maybe it's because Mama Day, with its solid male as a main character, was the first book of Naylor's that I read.

It's Mama Day that has the most fully realized characters, and a diverse collection too.  The island setting is evocative and wondrous.  I loved the difference between the wisdom of the older black women, contrasted with the city folks who come to visit.

I've been thinking of Mama Day as we've been working through our hurricane preparations.  I remember the scene where the main character suddenly interprets what she's been seeing in her island world:  the animals are making their way to safety, which means a big storm is coming.

As I drove home last night, I saw birds making their way leisurely through the evening, including a gorgeous, huge blue heron standing by North Lake.  I'm hopeful that means we will be spared the worst of hurricane Matthew, even though we're under a hurricane warning now.

We are likely to get some effects--perhaps I'll have time to read--and I know just the books I'll take off my shelves!

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Calendar Girl

My brain usually has several calendars running simultaneously--there's the chronological calendar, of course.  Today the calendar says October 4, and the Currier and Ives part of my brain thinks pumpkins and hay rides.  Yet I go out the door, and it's humid and warm, although not as warm as it was a month ago.

I often have the calendar of feast days running in my head too.  Today is the feast day of Saint Francis.  We often remember him for his kindness to animals, but he was so much more, with his kindness to lepers and his opposition to the Crusades and his founding of 2 religious orders which are still successful today.  For more on Saint Francis, see this post on my theology blog.

And then, there's the calendar of creative submissions--which journal/press is accepting what types of manuscripts this month?  I had been doing well with this calendar, but my submission schedule has fallen apart in the last few months--which I expected, since I was travelling and the school term was starting again.

And this week, there's the hurricane calendar.  I have been watching the path of hurricane Matthew shift slightly west with each update that changes the forecast track (which happens only with the updates that come at 5 and 11).  I am now in the cone of possibility, which in some ways isn't a surprise but still makes me feel sick.

Let me focus on what I can affect.  Let me turn my attention to a morning walk and some creative time before I go to work.

Throughout today, if I can wrest my attention from this hurricane, let me focus on Saint Francis and his quest to live a life true to his values.  I can't decide which impresses me more, the insistence on an authentic life, even if it cost him everything or his fierce commitment to community.

Let me remember that if someone like Francis could do it, we all have hope.

Monday, October 3, 2016

Superfoods Then and Now

When we were in Arizona, we started most mornings with a bowl of porridge--one of our friends made a huge pot, and we ate bowl after bowl until it was gone.

Every morning since we've been back, I've made myself a small pot of porridge--it has enormous staying power, and on these days when I'm unsure of exactly when the next time for a meal will come my way, that's a real plus.

This morning, as I was measuring out the old-fashioned oats, I thought back to the fall of 1988, when oat bran was all the rage.  We bought it from huge vats at the Fresh Market, at the health food store (Rosewood Market), and then eventually, we could buy it packaged at the grocery store.  We added it to our baked goods, which as poor graduate students, we made ourselves, so it was easy to take out some flour and add some oat bran.  We sprinkled it on our cereal and our yogurt.

And now, although it's still a healthy foodstuff, we don't hear anything about oat bran at all.  The various tastemakers have gone on to embrace other things, like kale.  And some year, it will be something else, and some of us will miss the everpresent kale.

Are we on to the next big thing?  Is it Greek yogurt?  I haven't paid much attention to this craze, since it costs so much more than regular yogurt, and I don't see it as having much more to offer for the extra cost.

I wish I had time to bake this morning.  I suddenly have a craving for muffins, preferably made with yogurt and pecans, but not kale.  With a huge storm to our south, I have an urge to bake, even though the storm is likely to miss us--at least, with this morning's 5 a.m. forecast.  All of that could change throughout the day.

And of course, with such a huge storm going by to our east, we will likely feel some effects--which also makes me want to do baking--and filling up water bottles.

But instead, I'll get some grading done for my online classes, while I still have electricity and Internet connection.  I'll try not to spend too much time on the Weather Underground site.  I'll remind myself that the forecasts of the track of hurricanes are only changed with the 5:00 and the 11:00 updates.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

What I Read on my Arizona Vacation

There aren't many delights left when it comes to air travel:  one must get to the airport ridiculously early, and often one waits and waits for delayed planes, for the weather to clear, for it to be one's turn on the runway, and then, for the plane ride to be over.

But one of the delights of air travel, as readers of my blog know, is the chance to read.  And our recent trip to Arizona, I had plenty of opportunity for reading.

I began with Curtis Sittenfeld's Eligible, which was a brilliant modernization of Pride and Prejudice.  I ended with Elisabeth Egan's A Window Opens, which reminded me of I Don't Know How She Does It.  I found them both alternately delightful and tedious, with characters I both liked and grew tired of and then liked again.  In some ways, they're exploring aspects of modern women's lives that seem to have little to do with me and my current state.  I'm not figuring out how to meet an eligible man and marry him (Eligible) and while I am wrestling with career decisions, they are deeply different than the ones Egan's characters face.

I also read Shrill, by Lindy West, a book of essays which does have more of a narrative arc than I first thought.  As a larger woman myself, I found her meditations on being a fat woman in America to be compelling, but her thinking about comedy and rape jokes will likely be seen as more important on a theoretical level.

I had heard about Lauren Groff's Fates and Furies as ambitious and brilliant and important, and it may be all those things--but was it a good read?  Yes, for part of the book, but I lost patience somewhere along the way.  Clearly it's not meant to be a book of strict realism, but by the end, the plot twists become completely unbelievable--I could not suspend my disbelief.

And, at the risk of sounding like an elderly prude, I was shocked by the amount of sex in the book.  I almost put the book down after the first few scenes of bacchanalia; I found the main male characters' attitudes about women as sex object to be so offensive.  But then the scenes of parties (with less sex) in the early days of a marriage wooed me and kept me reading.

No, if I had to choose a book that wowed me with its ambition that would be Lionel Shriver's The Mandibles:  2029-2047, a chilling, compelling dystopia.  If you ever wondered what the USA would be like should its economy go the way of Venezuela, this book will tell you.  I found it so compelling that when I returned, I wanted to see what others had said.  When looking up reviews, I came across  this podcast where Shriver talks about writing it--a great podcast.

Some have criticized this book for its ponderous talk about economics and theory and modern life, and maybe it's the company I keep, but I didn't find the dialogue unbelievable.  I liked that the book was so thoroughly grounded in economic theories all along the spectrum.

I've always thought that novels set in the future or with supernatural elements tell us more about our current fears than about what we really think might happen--and this book certainly does.  Along the way we get interesting insights about life as we are currently living it too.

And so, to close, some quotes from the book:

"She dreaded Kurt's eviction.  When she first took in a tenant, she hadn't considered that, for landlords with a conscience, renting was closer to foster than commerce.  She couldn't bear kicking someone out who had no place to go" (pp. 163-164).

“Late in the day, she appreciated the miracle of civilization, whereby people paraded sacks of grocery, or jingled keys to a car, and were not immediately set upon.”

"Across the nation, Americans' mental and physical health had vastly improved.  Hardly anyone was fat.  Allergies were rare, and these days if people did mention they avoided gluten, a piece of bread would probably kill them.  Eating disorders like anorexia and bulimia had disappeared.  Should a friend say he was depressed, something sad had happened.  After a cascade of terrors on a life-and-death scale, nobody had the energy to be afraid of spiders or confined spaces or leaving the house" (p. 333).