Wednesday, November 30, 2016

The Week's Best Writing

Yesterday, in the midst of many visions and revisions of accreditation documents, I took a minute to catch up on other administrator paperwork.  Some of it, like transfer credits from other schools, I'm familiar with.  But yesterday came a never-done-before task.

I signed acceptance letters.

I took a minute to remember my own acceptance letters along the way--the ones that admitted me to schools and programs where I yearned to be.  I thought about my spouse's acceptance into the MPA program in 1995--a letter that might have changed our lives more than any other letter, as it was just the start of a half decade of many changes, including selling much of what we owned and moving to South Florida.

I took a minute as I signed each letter to imagine the potential student receiving it.  What life-changing news was my signature part of?

It may be my favorite writing that I do this week. 

Of course, it's Wednesday--there's still time to do other writing.

This morning, I listened to this interview with Cleve Jones, in part because it sounded interesting, in part because I'm writing a short story about a woman who was once part of ACT UP, and I thought that Jones might have insight.  I didn't expect to find a possible ending for the story in Jones' accounting of how he conceived of the AIDS quilt.

He describes a rally, where people wrote the names of loved ones lost to AIDS on big pieces of posterboard and taped them to the building at the UN Plaza that housed the Health and Human Services West Coast offices for the federal government for the Reagan administration.  He was struck by how they looked like a quilt:  "And when I said the word quilt, I thought of my grandma back-- and my great grandma back in Bee Ridge Ind., and the quilts they'd made. And it was such a warm and comforting and middle-American, traditional, family values sort of symbol, and I thought this is - this is the symbol we should take. And everybody told me it was the stupidest thing they'd ever heard of. And it ended up being the world's largest community arts project."

He describes how he imagined people finding comfort in the process:  "I thought to myself I know this could work to help people, to comfort people. I envisioned people sitting on living room floors or church basements and working with scraps of fabric of different textures and colors to create something, and I thought maybe by telling their stories and working with their hands we could combat that sort of paralysis that comes when you're overwhelmed by too much grief, too much loss."

Now I have a vision for how to end the story I'm writing, how to make my character less a caricature of someone who thinks she knows everything and doesn't, how to show her grieving for a future that will now never come, even though her beloved niece will continue to live.

And since my accreditation documents are due this week, I should have time to return to the story before I've forgotten this vision for the ending.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Accreditation Advent

Like many people in this country, yesterday was a day for me to return to work.  It was a good day back.  I had worried that I'd return to a bazillion e-mails, but I kept reminding myself that although I felt like I'd been away an eternity, once I factored in the Thanksgiving holiday, it really didn't leave much time for people to send those e-mails.  And my inbox was indeed manageable--a happy surprise.

This week is a week of deadlines, but I knew that before Thanksgiving.  And the good news is that I am almost ready to meet them.

Yesterday morning, I did a classroom observation, and it was the wonderful kind, where I saw great teaching in action with a room of students who were engaged and applying the theories of the class to their Thanksgiving experiences.  In the afternoon, I made steady progress on my accreditation documents, taking some breaks to go count outlets in the Medical Assisting lab--and once again, I'm impressed that my school has this facility.

By the end of the day, I just had a few pieces of information to add to my documents, information that will come from someone else, so I couldn't make much more progress.

I got home, and we had a simple supper of potatoes and fish.  We lit the first candle on the Advent wreath and sang the first verse of "Light One Candle to Watch for Messiah."  Later, we sat on the porch, in a true candlelit time.  By flashlight, I read a Henri Nouwen piece ("Waiting for God") about Mary, Elizabeth, and all the other Advent characters who wait.

I feel like I am in a waiting time too--once these accreditation documents are turned in, we go on to other tasks, and the larger narrative is one of waiting--waiting for the accrediting team to come.  It's not your typical Advent message--but then again, we forget how not-typical those Advent stories were.  We've had 2000 years to get used to the idea of an angel appearing to tell a girl living in the lowest rungs of Roman society that God had a larger vision for her.

I feel a poem bubbling, which delights me, because I've been feeling a bit dried up.

But for today, I will let it percolate.  I have some grading to do for my online classes--and of course, there's still some work to do on these accreditation documents.  And I'm still going to try to create some little corners for a contemplative Advent.

While I have not yet created much new art, aside from blog posts, with Advent themes, last night felt important:  the second night of Advent, a time out of regular time, even as we did normal activities like eating dinner and sitting on the porch.  Let me continue to find these corners of contemplation, for this Advent and beyond.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Down from the Mountain, Back to Regular Life

Some people ask us why we push ourselves to get back home on Saturday of Thanksgiving week-end.  Part of it is the knowledge that the traffic will be at its worst on Sunday.  But part of it is wanting some time to get organized and ready for work on Monday.

Some years, I've been able to take Monday off too, and we've stayed with friends along the way.  But those years are not this year.  Today I get back to work where I expect to have some intense hours getting accreditation documents ready.

I'm glad that I had yesterday for a bit of peace before the intense work pace that I expect to have all week.

Yesterday, although we'd been home less than 12 hours, I went to church.  I wanted to help decorate Advent wreaths, including one of my own that I hope to use regularly over the next 4 weeks:

As I drove to church, I felt vaguely irritable and as I stopped at red light after red light, I wondered why I was pushing myself to get to church.  But once I was there, I was glad I did.  It was good to catch up with everyone, and good to get ready for Advent.  I got home and finished unpacking and setting up for Advent.

I love that we have a small tree of Chrismon ornaments.  My step-mom-in-law made us a set long ago.  I like that this tree gives us a different focus--and it goes well with the Advent wreath.

In the evening, we went back across town to the parsonage for the monthly ukulele meet-up.  We are playing for one of the Christmas Eve services, so I wanted to get the music.  Hopefully, I will practice.

There's a reason that we push ourselves so hard to make the drive back on Saturday.  It's good to have a day to get caught up after being away.  I wouldn't want to be going back to work today without yesterday to get organized.  Of course, it would be good to have another day or two--but one must go back to work, back to "regular life," sooner or later.

Most religious traditions separate regular life from "mountain top" experiences.  I am lucky to have had a week with several mountain top experiences.  There's the time on the literal mountain, my beloved mountains that surround Lutheridge.  There's the mountain top experience of being with my family.  And then there are the mountain top experiences of yesterday:  Advent wreath making at church, a restorative afternoon at home, and the joy of creating music together in the evening.  I am glad to have had them.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

One Last Look Back at Thanksgiving

We are back from our annual trip to spend Thanksgiving with my extended family in the ramshackle house at Lutheridge, the church camp where we gather.  We have had as many as 19 family members, and there are very few places that have a house large enough to rent for Thanksgiving.  But this house can handle us all, rambunctious children and adults who can't manage stairs, and all of us in between.  Plus there's a kitchen, so we can prepare meals and don't have to navigate restaurants.  So many wins!

The drive back yesterday was the worst we've ever had, despite it being Saturday, not Sunday.  Lots of stop and go traffic--but not the stopped traffic that we had on our way up, when the traffic, already crawling from going from 3 lanes of traffic in Georgia to 2 lanes in South Carolina--to one lane, for road construction (or the parking of construction vehicles--grr).

But it's worth it--we wouldn't see my extended family at all, if we didn't make this effort.  And I love seeing the children of my sister and cousins, as they move through and towards elementary school.

Some highlights:

--the littlest one, who has just turned 3, talked to me at great length about what I needed to do when I got my doggie (do I have plans for a dog?  No, but he does).  First and foremost:  I cannot leave the front door open, or my doggie will run away.

--We had this conversation at a regional park while walking to the dog park section.  The people who were there with their dogs were very generous in allowing the kids in our group to pet and play with their dogs.

--We had lots of good football and soccer games.  Part of me feels sad that these activities have taken the place of the plays that we used to put on and the "books" that we used to create. 

--We did put on many magic shows--a play of sorts.

--But I'm glad that these children are active.  We didn't have a lot of sitting and staring at screens.

--My spouse and I left our laptops at home.  As my new boss said, "The work will be waiting for you when you get back."

--But that might give you a false sense that I was completely successful at staying present.  I still dreamed about accreditation documents and my new job.  I still found my thoughts drifting to the documents I will complete tomorrow.  I was good at realizing that my thoughts had drifted away and summoning them back to Thanksgiving, but I was amazed at how often I had to do that.

--This year was strange in that the mountains were on fire--we had several days of smokiness, and not the good kind that comes from fireplaces and outdoor fire circles.  The whole state of North Carolina is under a burn ban, so we couldn't have the outdoor campfire with s'mores that we often have.

--I love the conversations, the intentional ones, and the ones I overhear.  My nephew talked very earnestly about how you cannot have enough soccer balls, how each one is distinct and important.  My cousin's daughter said, "Like Mommy says about shoes!"  It's not your typical Thanksgiving, not the kind of thing the Pilgrims would have discussed.  But it's delightful.

--Of course, we had less delightful conversations, but perhaps more necessary.  This year, we had to have lots of discussions about sharing.  I am always fascinated by which stage of child development each child is in--but I am quick to admit that some stages are more enchanting than others.  This year's snatching of toys and more aggressive play was not as enchanting.

--We are a family of diverse political opinions.  We did have some political conversations, but we kept it civil.  After all, we love each other.  I'm not sure why the rest of the nation can't remember this essential lesson of Thanksgiving (and yes, I'm aware of how that metaphor doesn't work:  Pilgrims and Native Americans come together to eat shortly before we slaughter each other).

--This is our fifth Thanksgiving after my grandmother's death.  I had always worried that we might not make the effort to get together when she wasn't there to motivate us.  But we have been more determined than ever.  I have this vision of gathering into our elderly years, with a hope that the grown up little ones will be joining us with their little ones.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Plan Before You Say Yes: A Saner Holiday Schedule

Yesterday's post talked about holiday budgets in the monetary sense. For today, I'd like to think about the upcoming holiday season in terms of time and energy budgets. I am often so enchanted by the holiday season that I say yes to way too many activities. I'm so pleased to be included that I say yes, before I think about the rest of my life and obligations.

I'm hoping that with a bit of planning, I can enjoy activities yet not find myself completely depleted and exhausted by the time I get to January 2.

Here are some suggestions:

--Plan your social calendar now. And keep it simple. Choose only one or two events per week-end. Declare that you won't go out on school nights or that you'll make it an early night if there's something to do the next day. You can't do everything, and you'll only feel irritable if you try. What's most important to you and the ones you love?

--Streamline some of the traditions. Do you really need to bake every kind of cookie that you remember from past holidays? Maybe you and your friends could have a cookie swap. Or get together to bake cookies together. Have a wonderful afternoon of cookie dough and wine and leave with enough cookies to get you through the holiday. For years, I did a cookie bake/swap with friends, which grew into a dinner swap, which we'd still be doing today, if I hadn't moved 700 miles away. Consider other ways to make the holiday meals simpler. Maybe this is the year to simplify the holiday card tradition. Ask yourself which events mean something to you and which you're doing because you always have.

--Purge the traditions that have ceased to have meaning. This one is tough. For example, I often find myself bored and irritable as I sit through The Nutcracker. I always think I'll love that ballet, probably because I loved it as a child. I don't love it as an adult. Why spend the money and time? Of course, if everyone else in the family adored it and wanted to go, it might be worth it. But now is a good time to have a frank discussion, before we're caught up in the sentimental sweep of December.

--Take time to help the needy, and if you have children, bring them along. Some of my favorite holiday memories involve helping others. My Girl Scout troop used to go caroling at nursing homes. The church of my adolescence assembled gift baskets for homeless women. My parents, along with social institutions like church, Scouts, and school, modeled the good behavior of working for social justice. It's stuck with me. December is a great time to train the next generation in the habits of social justice and charitable work.

--Plan for how we'll get back on track if we get off track. It's important to remember that even with all the best plans, we may find ourselves overscheduled and cranky. Plan now to forgive yourself for those times. Plan now for how you'll get back on track.

Friday, November 25, 2016

Plan Before You Shop: A Saner Holiday Budget

Yesterday in the U.S., we celebrated Thanksgiving. Many of us spent the day cooking, eating, and resting in a variety of ways. That's all about to change. Indeed for a few brave souls, it already has, as they've headed to the stores for bargains, bargains, bargains.

You couldn't pay me enough to go near a store today. I'd rather pay the extra money. Instead, this Black Friday is a good time to do some strategic planning to determine a sane approach to the holiday season. Today is a good time to plan for how we're going to have a meaningful December, how we're going to resist the consumerist, capitalist madness of a whirlwind that tends to sweep us all along.

Let's strategize. How can we avoid a hectic season? How can we invite more contemplation and quiet into December? How can we reach January with our budgets intact, our health robust, and our traditions strengthened?

Today's post will think about our monetary budgets and our shopping. Tomorrow's post will remind us of other ways to keep the holiday season meaningful yet less stressful.

--Make a budget before you buy a thing. Even as you're reading this, the Christmas shopping season begins for those of us brave enough to go into stores. Before you go, make sure you know how much you can spend. It's easy to get caught up in the shrill cycle of good deals and fierce desires. Don't buy so much that you'll still be paying off those credit cards in July. Nothing is worth that.

--Instead of buying stuff, buy experiences. Most of us have too much stuff. Why not give someone a meal out or a movie? Give the gift of your time.

--Instead of buying stuff, donate to charities. I'm lucky enough to be able to buy just about everything I need, albeit my needs are fairly simple. I am haunted by all the charities that are underfunded. I am haunted by the gaping needs in the world. I would prefer that people give money to the needy than to buy more stuff for me. Chances are good that lots of people on your gift list feel the same way.

--Why give gifts at all? I understand the appeal of shopping for children, but maybe this year is the one where we should think about why we give gifts to grown-ups, many of whom are perfectly capable of buying those items for themselves.

--Could this be the year that everyone makes their holiday gifts? I know, it's too late for most of us to knit a sweater or to make anything elaborate. But why not write a poem for the ones you love? Why not begin to write the family history? Why not make a sketch or two? Make some cookies: eat some and box some up for presents.

--Have this year be the year of found presents. Give an interesting stone or shell that you found at the beach. Make an arrangement of twigs and dried leaves.

--Or, if you're not surrounded by nature, declare that this will be the year of regifting. Go ahead and be open about it from the beginning. Give the film enthusiast all those DVDs you no longer watch. Sort through all your baking pans and cookie cutters and give a few to your favorite chef. Are you really going to read all your books again? Give them away to people who might enjoy them.

--If you have people on your list who insist on presents that they can open, presents that are brand new and purchased especially for them, see if you can find a way for your gift-giving dollars to support local artisans or local merchants.

--Or use your gift-giving dollars to support farmers and/or artisans from less-developed nations. The organization SERVV does wonderful work and offers beautiful gift possibilities.  Go here for more information.

--Don't forget that those gift-giving dollars can support the literary culture that writers want to keep thriving. Give your gift recipient a book or a subscription to a literary journal.

--And don't forget about the other arts communities that could use our support.  Give tickets to the theatre or the orchestra.

Tomorrow: Budgeting time

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Thanksgiving Gratitudes

I have always said that Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays.  I love that there's no gift giving tradition to leave us all in some variation of anxious and/or disappointed.  I love that the food can be towards the healthy edge of the spectrum.

But most of all, I love a holiday that revolves around gratitude.

Let me now make a list of all the things for which I am most grateful in the past year:

--At my midlife point of losing friends and not just because they move to a new town, I am grateful for the family and friends who are still here.

--I am grateful that my family continues to enjoy spending time together.  I had wondered if we might drift away from each other after the death of my grandmother, but we have not.

--I am grateful for my new job.  My old school has some structural problems that makes me fearful that it won't be here in 5 or 10 years, and realistically, I need to keep working for the next 10 years, much as I might wish I could retire.  It's good to be at a school that seems more stable, that prepares students for jobs in medical fields that will still have jobs when they graduate.  It's good to be at a school that talks about having a moral obligation to the students that we accept.

--I am grateful that I can still find nuggets of writing time in my new schedule.  I think back to the idea I had during our 2015 Thanksgiving travels, about a collection of linked short stories that revolves around student radicals/social justice workers who find themselves at age 50ish.  I originally thought I would have the characters be students who knew each other in their youth.  As the stories have evolved, the connection is that they all work in a for-profit arts school, and each one has worked in a different aspect of the social justice field.  It's been a fun project that lets me feel connected to both my more recent friends and my undergrad friends as I weave all of our stories into a different fabric.

--This past year has been the one that had my spouse teaching at the local community college, a change for him (his teaching the year before was at a for-profit school).  He loves it, and we have fascinating discussions about Philosophy--in some ways, it feels like we're back to our essential selves.

--I am grateful that my health continues to be stable, although I do have more aches than I once did.  This has been the year of the 10 day shred, an elimination diet that puts me back on a healthier track.  I am now roughly 18 pounds lighter than I was a year ago.  I'm grateful for that, but more than that, I'm grateful to have a new tool, the 10 day shred, that can help me as I need to get back on track in the months and years to come.

--This year, I had a poem nominated for a Pushcart Prize, a first for me.  That makes me happy, as does my chapbook coming out in physical form.

--I am grateful for the retreats that I had during the past year.  I am grateful for my local church, Trinity Lutheran, in Pembroke Pines.  I am grateful for everything, both the overtly spiritual and the more subtly spiritual, that keeps me spiritually grounded.

Let me not get so lost in my luckiness that I forget those who can't be so grateful.  Let me continue to yearn for and to work for a world where we all have enough to inspire gratitude.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Staying Civil: Gratitude and Visioning

Throughout the past years, I've been amazed to find out that people seem to move in circles where everyone's politics are just like their own.  Really?  My own family of origin was deeply divided, and during my undergrad years, my father and I had fierce arguments about the way the U.S.S.R. really felt about the U.S., about who had a better record on human rights--and for the record, my dad was right, and I was a bratty know-it-all who was wrong.

Thanksgiving can be the kind of holiday that brings together people of vastly different mindsets, and I would offer my grandmother's advice to never talk about religion, politics, or money around a dinner table. 

You might then ask, "Well, what should we talk about?"

There's the obvious:  what are we grateful for?  But in these times when so many of us feel wounded by the recent political campaign season, maybe we need a question that allows us to go deeper.  So how about this one:  "What's been going right for you in the past year?"  or "What are the best 5 things that happened to you this past year?"

I also like my family's tradition from years ago, before we started gathering as an extended family.  During a time when we seemed to move a lot, we'd often say, "Where do you think we'll be a year from now?"  It was fun to dream.

We're in a time period now where many of us need to remember to dream again.  We need to flex those visioning muscles.  Where do we want to be a year from now, 5 years from now, 10 years from now?

Psychologists, life coaches, and others who work in fields of human behavior would tell us that our visions will be more powerful if we write them down.  So once we've had the discussions about our hopes, once Thanksgiving dinner and clean up is done, write down those visions.  Perhaps you could also draw some images or find some in magazines.  Make a vision board, which is a fancy way of saying take a bigger piece of paper or poster board and put those images on it.  Put it where you'll see it.

And in a year, revisit it all--each year I go back through blog posts, and I smile to remember my gratitude posts from past years.  I look at my goals that I post periodically, and I reflect on how I've met them or not.  I say a prayer of thanks to God or the universe or our collective consciousness or my higher purpose or whatever makes progress forward possible. 

It's a good spiritual practice to keep us grounded.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Accreditation Pie

I woke up around 2 a.m., as I have been doing, with dreams of accreditation documents swirling in my head.  I also wondered how many people might already be on the road, in the middle of their Thanksgiving travels.

Then I rolled over and went back to sleep.

I've also been seeing some people's Facebook posts about the Thanksgiving cooking that has begun, particularly the baking.  Yes, I would like to be making pies, instead of changes to the accreditation documents.

But it's OK; I won't always be working on accreditation documents, and it's a fact of life for all of us these days in education.  It's a particular season, accreditation season, and it will return to us on a regular basis.

And it's a good thing, in many ways.  Accreditation gives us a chance to assess what we're doing well, and what we should consider changing.

But I do wish it involved some making of pie.

Accreditation pie--there's a thought for a poem!

Monday, November 21, 2016

Careening towards Christmas

Here we are, on the fast track towards Thanksgiving and then the Christmas season--perhaps some of us will do some holiday shopping this week too.

This year, as always, I am looking for ways to keep calm in this time before Christmas (some of us call that time Advent).  I keep several kinds of Advent.  I am as susceptible to Christmas frenzy as the next person, so for part of Advent, I'm listening to Christmas CDs and baking cookies.  But I also try to keep a contemplative corner of Advent, where I am more diligent about reading the sacred texts and lighting the Advent candles.
This year's Old Testament Advent readings come from Isaiah--ah, apocalyptic Isaiah.  It has been an apocalyptic year, so these readings feel especially fitting this year.

I have already done some Christmas decorating, but I won't light the small trees that we have until after Thanksgiving, a compromise with my spouse, who doesn't want to move on to Christmas until after Thanksgiving.  In a way, I understand.

Last night, I was unwrapping the Christmas ornaments when one crashed to the ground and shattered.  It was one of the ones that my spouse's parents had bought as a set when they celebrated their first Christmas together.  As my spouse swept up the remains, he said, "That one was my favorite."

In the moments before the crash, we had been talking about bad health habits and how many years we think they take off our lives.  And then his favorite ornament from the early years of his parents' now-failed marriage crashes to the floor.  If you read that scene in a book, you'd accuse the author of being heavy-handed with the symbolism or the foreshadowing.  And yet, that's how it happened.

Perhaps it is the universe's way of telling me that I'm celebrating too early.  Or perhaps, sometimes a broken ornament is just a broken ornament.

Over the next few days, I will buy some blue candles for the Advent wreath--the dripless kind this year.  Our straw Advent wreath is covered in wax.  I do worry about the fire hazard, but we don't leave it unattended.

Some years, I have a Christmas tablescape early on:  a red table cloth, a small tree.  This year, though, I'm going to commit to Advent on the dining room table.  I'll post pictures once I have it set up.  And then, on the Monday after the last Sunday in Advent, I'll change out the linens. 

Some people are sad when Christmas comes on a Sunday, but I like the extra time in the season that we get this year, with Thanksgiving not as late as it often is, and Christmas at the end of a week-end, the week-end at the end of the week after classes end.

Today is a good day to spend some time planning for the kind of Advent season you'd like to have.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Creative Possibilities Ahead!

Today, I'm thinking of the coming days and the opportunities for creativity that they offer.  Many of us will gather with younger generations.  How can we encourage creativity in them? 

I remember one year, my mom traced her hands and made a family of turkeys with all the little ones that were gathered for Thanksgiving:

They labeled them to represent all of the family members present.  What a great way to talk about family.

I also like the people who show us the decorating potential of these harvest days:

But even a simple arrangement of seasonal squash can become a beautiful decoration:

Of course, there's the time-honored Thanksgiving tradition of cooking as creative opportunity.  In my family, we often save that activity for Friday; here we are, in an ill-fated attempt to make gingerbread houses (they kept collapsing):

It's hard for me to do traditional quilting in a short time frame.  But there are other ways to play with fabric, ways that may interest the little ones:

Maybe this will be the year for a different creative pursuit; how about a tea party?

There are so many ways to foster creativity, but here's one of my favorites.  We read, and then we create books of our own.  Fun!

In whatever ways you celebrate, I wish you some infusions of creativity to make them even richer!

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Saturday Snippets: Transitions of Various Sorts

Here we are, on a fast track to Thanksgiving.  Not for the first time, I have thought, what happened to November?
I have spent much of my November writing and rewriting accreditation documents--but I knew that's what I would be doing.  I've been working very long hours--over 9 hours, every day, day after day--but it won't always be this way.

I do return home feeling like my brain has been obliterated, but I'm glad that I am still waking up in the morning feeling energized.  I still manage to get some writing done.

Let me record some snippets from the past week:

--When people were sad about my leaving, I used to say, "I'm not moving to Idaho."  But in some ways, it feels like I've moved to the Keys--I'm still close enough to see old friends, but not on a daily basis.  And with the necessity of getting 18 months of accreditation work done during 2 months, it's hard to see people at all, and certainly not for lunch.  Sigh.

--I've been looking at files to determine length of time that various faculty members have spent teaching and in their field of occupation.  I now feel very old.  My 28 years of teaching:  a far longer time than most of our faculty.

--I wrote this Facebook post which in many ways summarizes my week:  "I am taking a 5 minute break from accreditation documents. Let me also note that a woman who wakes up at 2:30 needs coffee about right now. Lucky for me, my new campus comes with a Keurig machine--and I don't even have to supply the coffee pods. Life is good. Back to those documents!"
--The other wonderful work event:  We got holiday appreciation letters--with a gift card!  At my old work, it had been years since we had gotten any sort of thank you beyond the occasional thank you e-mail or card--and often, not even that.  I had forgotten how good that feels.

--At one point this week, as I've heard the reports about Trump's transition team and the possible appointments, I thought about my assertions that I could be ready to lead if my country had need of me.  But could I?  Would I be any better positioned than Trump if I had won the election?

--Yes, I would have.  I would have had a plan in place, and a back up plan and another few plans, just in case.

--Today I heard someone on an NPR show talking about the Trump transition quote Chairman Mao:  "Revolution is not a dinner party."  My mind, of course, went to the idea of revolutionary dinner parties:  the food, the music, and the essential question of who does the work (the cooking, the clean up) that comes with a dinner party.

--And yes, I do realize that Mao meant something else entirely.  His revolutionary dinner party would involve camps, and not the fun, scrapbooking/hiking kind.  Mao's revolutionary dinner party would not ask the hard question about the work of a dinner party, since food would not be served.

And now, onward towards a different kind of feast:  Thanksgiving!

Friday, November 18, 2016

Resistance in the Age of Trump

On the day before the election, a few of us from my liberal arts college had a Facebook discussion about political candidates and Bonhoeffer.  My spouse called for a new Bonhoeffer to rise up.  I suggested that one of us (my spouse specifically) be that Bonhoeffer.  I was surprised to see how many of my college classmates had been thinking of Bonhoeffer in the waning days of the ugliest political campaign in recent U.S. history.

I posted that I had been thinking about Archbishop Romero.  I then pondered why martyrs were coming to our collective minds.

Now as I look back, I wonder if we were sensing something in the electorate.  If we were characters in an apocalyptic novel, a discussion of some of the most famous 20th century Christian martyrs on the night before an election--of course that would be foreshadowing, foreshadowing so obvious that literary critics might reject the story.

In the days after the election, I've watched people post the stories of grandparents and great grandparents who didn't leave Eastern Europe in time to avoid Hitler's genocide.  It's a question that has always haunted me:  how do you know when it's time to go?

The 20th century Christian martyrs remind us that perhaps we are called to stay, to speak truth to power, to fight for justice in our homelands.  They are also a sobering reminder of the price that might be paid, and of the slow pace of justice.  The blood of a Christian martyr does not immediately change the trajectory of those in power.

These next months and years may demand much of us--but I would argue that our Christian faith has always called us to those demands, regardless of who is in power.  Some years, it's easier to sit in our comfortable homes and hope that the political leaders are doing the work of transformative justice for us.  Some years it's clear that the system isn't working for those at the bottom.  Some years, the terror comes home and we realize that the situation is far more perilous for more of us than we ever realized.

I don't pretend to know what's coming next.  I pray for the courage to speak for the ones who may find themselves targeted in ways that they haven't been for decades.  The last time that the divide seemed this stark was many decades ago, in the 80's, when I was in college, when I had less to lose.

Let us all find the courage in these times.  Let us remember the power of banding together.  I'm thinking of a different set of Christian resisters in the 20th century.  Let us remember so many in Eastern Europe, like Vaclav Havel and Lech Walesa, who stood up to the Soviet machine and not only survived to tell the tale, but transformed their societies at the same time.

I am always struck by the ways that some of the societies in eastern Europe didn't give in to the totalitarian regimes:  artists kept creating, citizens kept the creative output circulating, and eventually totalitarian regimes toppled.  It is one of the stories of 20th century nonviolent resistance that I love most, not the least of which is because so many of those artists and citizens were not slaughtered for their efforts--and poet and playwright Havel went on to lead a country, and to do it well.

Let us follow those models.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Seasons Sliding

Once I was a younger woman who worked on accreditation documents, which led me to write a variety of poems that would be collected in my chapbook, I Stand Here Shredding Documents

This week, an idea from "Penelope in the Office Cubicle" kept circling my brain, as we put language in to our documents and then were told to take the language out.  Not for the first time did I think of Penelope, weaving and unweaving and reweaving.

But this month, I am an older woman working on accreditation documents; it is not my first time dealing with these tasks.  I write carefully, making sure not to fall in love with any chunk of text.

I'm thinking of all the journals that will be closing down their submissions this month or next.  Have I submitted to the ones that are most important to me?  This morning, I prepared a submission to Tampa Review--are there others?

I also wrote a poem.  I've been haunted by this Adrienne Rich poem, "What Kind of Times Are These," with its vision of a revolutionary road "near a meeting-house abandoned by the persecuted / who disappeared into those shadows."

Last night as I watched the ABC shows that had Thanksgiving themes, I realized that we've moved from election commercials to Christmas commercials.  I feel like a whole season has slid away from me.

This week-end, I will decorate for Christmas, even though it's a bit early.  I want to be able to wring all the joy out of this season.  I don't want to wake up 6 weeks from now wondering where the time went.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Baking at 3 a.m.

I am in a non-sleeping phase--or to be more accurate, a screwed-up-sleep schedule phase.  I know that many people think my "normal" schedule is a bit screwed up, as they ask, "You get up at 4 or 4:30 to . . . write?"

Yes, because it's quiet and stores aren't open and most of my friends and loved ones are asleep--and so most of the distractions that take me away from writing aren't there.  And so I write and then I feel good, and then I want to get up early--the rewards outweigh the occasional tiredness during the occasional day.

But this week, I've been waking up at 2 or so.  I have been crashing into sleep at 8:30, so I'm getting 5 or 6 hours of sleep, which can be enough.  But it's not my normal schedule, and I don't want it to become my new normal.

Why am I waking up?  I have accreditation documents on the brain, but I don't get up to write them.  Still, in my dreams, I'm writing and rewriting, and waking up with ideas, but waking up too early.  I also have lots of grading to get done for my online classes, and my schedule at my new job doesn't leave me much time to get it done.

It won't always be this way--we're in a time of long hours because of compressing the accreditation process into just a few months.  So, I'm trying to practice more self-care:  drinking V8, looking for ways to consume more fruits and veggies, taking a moment here and there to notice things like the supermoon and the colors of the sunrise and other moments of beauty.

Yesterday I found myself making pumpkin bread at 3 in the morning--delicious and it made the house smell like my favorite time of year, that corridor from Oct. 1 to Christmas.  On Monday, as I worked on a variety of projects, I thought, I need to bring more healthy snacks from home--thus, the pumpkin bread at 3 a.m.

As I was baking it, I thought, how shall I transform this into a metaphor?  I could see it as both hopeful or apocalyptic.  Still pondering . . .

My approach to lunches will stay the same.  Make a big casserole or pot of something and eat on it all week.  I try to make it veggie based, and I'm always looking for ways to work more beans into my diet (I heard the writer of The Blue Zones say that one of the easiest ways to make our diets healthier is to eat a half a cup of beans a day).  Here's what I made on Sunday--it's delicious and easy, made with mostly ingredients that you could keep in your pantry.

Butternut Squash Bean Casserole a la Pad Thai

32 oz. cut up butternut squash (I get this at my local Trader Joes)--cut up sweet potatoes would work too.  This would work with half this amount--I made more for a later dish too
2 cans kidney beans drained
2 cans coconut milk
1/2 to 1 c. rice (I used Arborio rice, even though I wasn't making risotto--worked fine)
1/2 to 1 c. peanut butter

I put all the butternut squash into a 9 x 13 pan and poured a can of coconut milk over it.  We were heating up leftover pizza in a 350 degree oven, so I put the pan of squash in the oven, where it cooked for 15 minutes.  I took it out, and removed some of the squash for a later meal.

Into the pan, I put the kidney beans and the remaining coconut milk.  I put a blob of peanut butter here and there and then stirred it together.  Then I added the rice.  At this point, it will have a Thai taste, a peanut sauce/Pad Thai kind of taste, so you could add grated lime zest and/or something to give heat, like pepper of some sort.

I put it back in the oven for 25 minutes--you want the rice to absorb the moisture.  Delish! 

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Gwen Ifill--Another Good Soul, Gone Too Soon

It has been a tough year in so many ways, but when I look back, I think I'll most remember death after death of people who seemed not quite my generation, but not that much older than me.  I was saddened to hear about the death of Gwen Ifill yesterday.  I kept on ploughing ahead through my afternoon, working on assessment documents.  I got home, and we watched the News Hour; I was struck by how many people commented on her graciousness, on her support of so many people, including younger women and other journalists and just about everyone who crossed her path.

I loved her stories about turning on the television and never seeing people who looked like her--except during political conventions, when she saw women like Shirley Chisholm.  And then she went on to become one of the women who would inspire those of us who turned on the TV and never saw people who looked like us.  I'm speaking as a white female, and yes, I do realize that I had one or two women, like Barbara Walters, who might have inspired me, whereas a black female growing up in the 70's would have had no one.

I was also struck by her colleagues who remembered that she agonized a bit about shifting from print journalism to television.  I had forgotten that she had her start in The New York Times.  But she was quick to admit that she had much more access to movers and shakers once she was on TV.

I was also struck by how many of her colleagues knew about her faith.  She grew up as a preacher's kid, and she was part of a church community during her adult life too.  And her colleagues acted like this was perfectly normal.  It made me realize how many people I know who are not part of a faith community and who see involvement with the church as an oddity that could be tolerated, but not discussed--that was at my old job.  I have no idea how people are at my new job.

I loved seeing the clips from her life, from all the stories she covered, from all the crowds whom she always seemed to greet warmly.  As I listened to people talk about her joy in life and her joy in work, I thought, I hope people say the same about me, when I'm no longer there.

I hope I model the same grace under pressure.  I hope to always have that curiosity that Gwen Ifill had.  But what I most take away from her life is the importance of reaching out to people of all persuasions, of making a way for others to come to the table, of looking out for the generations coming up behind us.

Monday, November 14, 2016

The Creativity of Sorting

Two weeks ago, I brought all the contents of my work office home.  It's amazing how much one collects at an office.  I left it boxed up while I assessed what my new office might hold.  Last week-end, I had no time to get organized.  So, I entered the week-end with hopes of making some decisions.

Saturday was a day of creativity:  the obvious creativity of making pizza dough and pizzas and the less obvious creativity of rearranging bookcases and putting away books.

I have no bookcases at my new office, and I've decided not to move too many of my books to the office.  Thus, my dilemma;  my home bookcases appeared to be completely full.  But I realized that one of them was full of partially full office supplies and notebooks.  Other shelves looked full, but they were holding things like old t-shirts and things that could be stored elsewhere.

So, to simplify an 8 hour process:  I reorganized, and now all the volumes of poems that I have collected are in one bookcase, at home now (once they were at the office), in the front bedroom where I write the most often.

Along the way, there were delightful discoveries.  I came across 2 notebooks:  3 ring binders where I used to put all the pages of poems that didn't quite make it and ideas for poems that never crystallized.  I took one, and my spouse took another--these are pages from the late 90's, mind you.  My spouse started writing:  a line here, a fragment there.  He came up with an interesting poem out of my fragments.

At some point I should just throw out this material.  I've always said that generating ideas is not a problem I have--and in fact, if I never had another idea, I'd have to live to be 247 years old just to explore all the ideas I have right now--and that's just the ones I've written down.

I came across all sorts of notes that I've written on retreats and synod assemblies.  I tore them out of various notepads, and I'll keep them in a 3 ring binder so that I can find them easily.  I've got ideas for several retreats that I could pull together.  I'm glad that I found these notes.

It's good to feel a bit more organized, although I still don't really have room for all these books.  Still, they'll be easier to sort once they're out of boxes.  I knew that if I left them in boxes for too many more weeks that they'd still be there months or years from now.

On Sunday, I enjoyed more cooking creativity:  more on that if the recipe I created turns out to be delicious at lunch today.  I did some sketching at church:

I wouldn't want to have this kind of week-end each week; although I made time for creativity, I did get to the end of the week-end feeling like I wasted it.  But my books are put away, and I've sorted through piles and piles of paper, and I'm ready for the week to come.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Beloved Community: In Person and In Song

Yesterday, I wrote a post  on my theology blog about Christian resistance in the 20th century.  Of course, it was a blog post, so I couldn't talk about each and every I didn't talk about each and every type of resistance.  I didn't talk about the U.S. Civil Rights movement, for example.

Happily, this morning, the NPR program On Being has a rerun of a conversation with the late Civil Rights elder Vincent Harding.  A lot of us forget about how brutal was the treatment that so many of those Civil Rights workers faced.  He describes a meeting after the murder of Schwerner, Chaney and Goodman, where the students were asked to consider whether or not they wanted to continue, with the assurance that there would be understanding for those who decided to return to their student lives:  "But he said let’s take a couple of hours just for people to spend time talking on the phone with parents or whoever to try to make this decision and make it now. What I found as I moved around among the small groups that began to gather together to help each other was that, in group after group, people were singing 'Kum Bah Ya.' 'Come by here, my Lord, somebody’s missing, Lord, come by here. We all need you, Lord, come by here.'”

Almost no one went back to their safe student lives.

In these post-election days, when so many of us are considering all the possible terrors that may lay ahead, let us remember that we have been here before, and not just in Nazi Germany, but here.  We have a great wealth in the ways of resistance.  Many of us may not know it, because we have been lucky; we have been spared, and we have not had to use it.

But for every social justice worker who has been slaughtered, the nuns in El Salvador, the resistors in Nazi Germany--we have examples of those who have survived, and not just survived, but thrived.

I listened to this interview and was amazed to remember how many of those men and women lived into a glorious old age.  We remember those cut down too young, like Martin Luther King.  But there are a mass of others left to remind us that one can stand up to evil, even the relentlessness of state-sponsored evil.

One can be transformative and live to tell the tale.

One can be transformative, but a beloved community can accomplish so much more.

You may be feeling despair--perhaps you feel you have no beloved community.  But of course, you could have one.  These communities committed to social justice haven't gone away just because we had 8 years of relative stability/progress when it came to human rights in the U.S.

While you're looking for that community, or while you're healing, or when you need some uplift, turn back to the music of that Civil Rights movement.  Let me recommend the Mavis Staples CD We'll Never Turn Back:  what a great CD:

I love the lyrics in spirituals that urge us to be strong, to not be swayed, to rest in the knowledge that good will triumph.  Of course, spirituals have a history that goes back further than the Civil Rights Movement. Tradition tells us that slaves sung many of those songs, or older variations, as they worked in the fields. 

Music historians would remind us that spirituals are but a subset of music that resists oppression.  I've also found comfort in the work of Woody Guthrie and in various punk and rock groups. 

 In the meantime, check out We'll Never Turn Back.  You'll never hear "This Little Light of Mine" in the same way again.  I've spent the morning singing, "Turn Me Around":  "Ain't gonna let nobody turn me around, turn me around, turn me around."  An added benefit of Mavis Staples:  her vocal range is accessible to many of our voices as we sing along.

Eyes on the prize, hands on the plow:  hold on!

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Saturday Snippets: a Shattering Week, in So Many Ways

There was this moment yesterday morning, before I went to spin class and then to work, when I just felt this overwhelming exhaustion.  Let me record some reflections about this week so that I remember.

--Even though I don't own a Leonard Cohen album or CD, I was saddened to hear about his death.  I probably know more of his music than I realize.  I love the song "Suzanne," which came to me via Neil Diamond, I think.  But "Everybody Knows," which came to me via the movie Pump Up the Volume, has always spoken to my apocalyptic self.

--I expected that my apocalyptic self would make these post-election days more difficult.  But she's been oddly cheerful.  She has seen many dangerous leaders come and go.  She knows that dangerous leaders are sometimes transformative in good ways. 

--My rationalist self worries about those dangerous leaders who leave the earth scorched and scarred.  She's been keeping me awake at night.

--What's been exhausting me the most?  Post-election worries, yes, but also writing.  This has been the week of serious work on accreditation documents.  I've sat with department heads and the campus director, going over these documents line by line.  We changed many a chunk of text, and I've often been the main wordsmith of that revision.

--I'm surprised that I can summon the language of accreditation so easily.  But why does it surprise me?  Granted, it's not the language that I use most often.  When I sit down to write in the morning, I don't usually turn to accreditation documents.  But it's a garment that I can wear when I need to.

--I am happy that in these days of accreditation documents, I still find time to do writing of my own.  I have been inspired by all the poems in the wake of the election, and a bit to my surprise, I wrote one of my own.  Go here to read it.  This morning I worked on some short stories.

--Yesterday I had a cup of coffee, courtesy of my new work.  This may not seem like a big deal to most of you.  My new campus has a Keurig machine, complete with a variety of coffee pods for us.  At my last job, there was discussion of taking away all coffee, but instead, we got coffee for the machine, but no cups.  Our last president bought us a Keurig machine for an employee appreciation week, but we had to bring our own pods.

--It's the end of the second week of work in the new workplace, and I'm happy to say I still feel like I've come to a good place.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Armistice Day

Some of you may be scratching your heads:  Armistice Day?  Isn't it Veteran's Day?

Well, yes, but before it was Veteran's Day, it was Armistice Day, the day that the Armistice was signed that brought World War I, one of the bloodiest wars in human history, to a close.  In so many ways, this event was the one that catapulted us all into the twentieth century.  We got to see first-hand the ways that technology could be used for evil, as well as for good.  We got to see damaged war veterans return, and we got reports that made many people question the idea that war builds character.  And in a more positive spin, as so many men went off to war (and so many didn't come back), it opened up interesting doors for women into the world of work.

The entrance of women into the world of work would have far reaching ramifications far into the 20th century and our own time.  The most obvious, of course, is that many women could earn their own money.  Some you might see as more minor:  for example, many women began wearing pants.  You may not see that development as a big deal, but I could argue that it was.  Wearing pants gave women freedom in a way that few other clothing developments have. 

During World War I, many women began driving for the first time, because so many men were gone.  Would this development, and many others, have happened without World War I?  Probably.  But World War I accelerated the emancipation of women.

I don't want to underestimate the terrible price, especially for Europeans.  I've been to the World War I  cemeteries in France, and it's sobering, those fields of white crosses and the knowledge that it's a small percentage of the dead.  Today would be a good day to read (or re-read) the works of Wilfred Owen, one of the finest poets to write about the war.  Unfortunately, he didn't survive it.

Today would also be a good day to read (or re-read) chapter 7 of Sandra M. Gilbert and Susan Gubar's No Man's Land:  Volume 2:  Sex Changes.  Their analytical work was the first to alert me of how World War I impacted women.  That chapter also includes wonderful photos from the time period.  I love the one on page 297 of a grinning woman on a motorcycle:

Those of us who are Virginia Woolf fans could read (or re-read) her book Mrs. Dalloway, which features a war-damaged veteran as one of the major characters.  Once we've done that, we could read (or re-read) Michael Cunningham's The Hours and marvel at what he's done.  If we're fiction writers, we can find much inspiration from those works.  We can spend some time today thinking about the interior monologue and the stream of consciousness techniques that so many of those post-World War I writers used in the 1920's.  Can we attribute any of that experimentation to World War I?  I've read more than one literary critic who would say yes.
I will be at work today; my new job doesn't celebrate many federal holidays, although our students won't have classes today.  I will be working hard to get assessment documents done--not the writing that is my favorite, but I am surprised to find out that I have certain talents in that direction. 

However you choose to celebrate this Armistice Day, I hope it gives you some restored peace.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

A Poem for the Post-Election Days: "Ode on an American Puzzle"

Yesterday was surreal, after a surreal election night of being asleep and then not--feeling like I might never sleep again--and then sleeping, wrapped in my soft T-shirt, fleece jacket and comforter--and then waking to such change--or maybe it won't be such change--it's hard to steer the ship of state in a drastically different direction, which is why people at the edges of parties and movements and other proponents of change are so often disappointed.

It was surreal because there was very little talk about politics at my new workplace--or maybe, since I'm the new kid, no one is talking politics to me.  In many ways, I prefer that approach.  I spent the day revising accreditation documents and drinking tea, which was an oddly soothing approach to the national news.  We still have a school to run.

I took some Facebook breaks, but I didn't linger long.  Too much heartbreak.  I did enjoy the poems that people started posting.  So, let me post a poem here.

I wrote this poem in the autumn of 2001, a time when the world seemed more topsy-turvy than even now, in the post-election hours.  Back then, my spouse and I spent several weeks working on a puzzle, and it was soothing.  I was teaching the British literature survey class, and I had Keats' "Ode on a Grecian Urn" on my brain--those figures on the urn, forever frozen in whatever emotional moment they experienced right then.  I thought the puzzle offered a similar dynamic.

It's an interesting spiritual question that Keats poses:  is it better to be forever poised to kiss the beloved?  Is it better to live in the moment of anticipation, rather than having to deal with all the messy humanness that comes after the kiss, once we truly know our beloved?

And there are larger questions posed by both the urn and the poem:  how do we stay in the here and now?  How do we not get distracted by our sorrows?  How do we maintain our faith, in the face of enormous woes?  For me, during that autumn of 2001 that broke our hearts in so many ways, the answer came in the jigsaw puzzle.

I've never thought of jigsaw puzzles as spiritual practice or meditation aid.  Perhaps I should.

Ode on an American Puzzle

These people do not puzzle over how the pieces
of their lives fit together. They know their purpose,
always at the center of the picture.
They will never return home to unfinished
craft projects and unwashed dishes. They will celebrate
continuously at this harvest dance, the deepest
darks of night and winter always at arm’s
length, the leaves always brightly colored,
mounds of pumpkins waiting for transformation,
every woman and man matched, the children tended.

Perhaps that is why I like puzzles.
As buildings melt and planes explode, and even smaller tragedies
rip apart the pieces of a life, I find
a measured calm that even poetry cannot provide.
I sit at this table, free from existential mystery.
I know what picture will emerge as I piece
this project into one. I know that all the parts
have been provided. I know that they will connect.
What other aspect of my life can hope
to offer the same consolation?

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

When Your Glass Ceiling Doesn't Break

Yesterday morning, I wrote these words on my Facebook wall:  "For those of us feeling fretful on this election day, I say, "Be not afraid!" We are a nation of quilters, adept at taking frayed scraps and turning them into comforters. We are a nation of tinkerers, who can take metal scraps and turn them into cars and computers. We will be OK."

Last night, I wrote these words:  "No one will listen to my political predictions ever again. I've been wrong so often in this election season that I may never make political predictions ever again. No matter how these last few states break, I would never have predicted this night."

Let me be clear:  at Thanksgiving 2014, I declared that Hillary Clinton was unelectable as a deeply flawed candidate.  Then Trump became the Republican candidate.  I thought he was even more deeply flawed.

Last night, I was still convinced that Trump would not be elected.  I slept on the sofa between 8 and 10.  I woke up for a few minutes and said, ""Is this going to be just like 2000 when we stayed up until midnight only to be told that the election wouldn't be decided for days?" But at that point, I wasn't serious.

I woke up at 12:30 and said to myself, Let me see where we are with this election.  And then I couldn't fall back asleep.

I did watch part of Trump's speech, and I was impressed with his change of tone.  I'm choosing to focus on that.

Let me also remember history, both modern and ancient.  I'm choosing to focus on all the leaders who haven't been great to begin with, but have risen to greatness.  I won't be focusing on the opposite kind of leader as I think back through history.  I will remember the leaders who seemed a disastrous pick at the time but who went on to bring about important changes that we'd have never dreamed possible.  I will think of leaders who had hard rhetoric and harder hearts, but found a way towards a softened stance. 

I will remember my words, all the ways that I have seen the world I thought I knew come through a time of transformation.  I'm thinking of eastern Europe--that wall that came down suddenly in 1989.  I'm thinking about Nelson Mandela released from jail and shortly thereafter, to become the first freely elected president of South Africa and a nation transformed--that outcome was so impossible that few of us dared to hope for it.  Somewhere in my photo albums, I have a fading picture of a friend wearing his "Free Mandela" t-shirt.  He'd been in jail for our whole lives, and we expected he would die there, t-shirts or no t-shirts.

I think it's important to remember how strong the forces of evil seemed then.  But we built our shantytowns on the lawn, we helped Central Americans get to Canadian safety, we demanded changes in U.S. policy which were ignored or dismissed.  We bought our protest albums and went to concerts.  Elders sneered and warned us about the necessity of establishing anti-communist bulwarks, even if they were staffed by genocidal maniacs, as much of Latin America was in the 1980's.

For some of us, the forces of evil, or at least chaos, seem to be strong and gathering now.  But perhaps it's not as bad as it seems.  Maybe this time of divided electorate and hateful vitriol will be what spurs many of us to get back to work creating and safeguarding the kind of nation where we want to live.

It could happen.  It has happened.  It will happen again.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

The Calm Before the Polls Open--and After They Close

Those of you who read this blog on a regular basis know that I have already voted.  So, why did I wake up several times last night in a panic, thinking that it was Wednesday, thinking that I had missed the election?

I do feel somewhat sad that I will not be voting today.  But that small sadness has been eclipsed by the relief that I feel to have gotten it done--this new job has indeed been as hectic as I anticipated, and I'm glad I'm not trying to fit voting into today's schedule.

I also feel sad at the news of the death of Janet Reno, the nation's first attorney general.  I always admired her:  the way that she stood tough and showed that females could do jobs that once would have been unthinkable--and do them well.  I admired the way that she lived her life despite having Parkinson's disease.  And I loved her sense of humor--her appearance on Saturday Night Live was so wonderful.  Through the years, she was herself, in a way that few of us manage to embody our essential selves.

Can we say the same thing about Hillary Clinton?  At this point, I'm unsure--but I do believe that women like Janet Reno have made it possible for Hillary Clinton to come as far as she has.

So, here we are, in the wee, small hours of election day, the calm before the polls open across the nation.  Some of us have already voted; many of us will report to do our civic duty today.  No matter what happens--barriers once again have been smashed, and I have hopes that they cannot be rebuilt, no matter what happens today.

We have spent too many months spewing vitriol, some of us, and we've all been exposed to more ugliness than I remember seeing in any campaign season that I've been alive to see.  Those of us born after the fascist/strong man embraces of the earlier parts of the 20th century and spent our lives feeling lucky to have avoided front row seats at those debacles, we may be feeling all sorts of shivers today.

And those of us who are aware know that all the ugliness won't be over tomorrow.  How on earth can we repair what's been ripped apart?

I am an optimist at heart.  I see this election season as a hopeful one, even as it has driven so many of us to despair.  With a decision this stark, we have been forced to think about what we want.  It's not like past elections, where we basically had to choose between 2 men of similar temperaments who existed at the center of the political system.

And even if these choices don't appeal--well, I live in hopes that we are a people of dreams and visions who will say, "No, I'm not interested in what you have to offer.  Let's try this!"

We are a nation of dreamers and through our dreams, we are the repairers of the broken.  We are a nation of quilters, the ones who can stitch and patch to create a comforter.  We are the collagists who create a work of art out of all the pieces.  We are the durable ones, the sturdy ones, the ones who will not be deterred, regardless of this election day holds.

So even though the ugliness won't end tomorrow, we will be inspired to help build the communities and institutions that we want.  It won't happen with the swoosh of an election result, but with the steady determination of those who want to create something better.  We will keep our eyes on the bigger prize, our hands on the plows, and we will hold on.

Monday, November 7, 2016

Poetry Monday: "Book of the Dead"

As part of our All Saints Sunday service, my church puts out a book, and we can write the names of the dead, either the ones who have died in the past year or the ones we keep in our hearts.

It reminds me of the book the monks of Mepkin Abbey put out each November, although the Mepkin book feels like it will be more permanent.   When I was there several years ago, I wrote the names of my mother-in-law and grandparents who had died.  I found it much more moving than I thought it would be to write the names on the page and to think of that book being preserved at the monastery.  I tend to believe in monasteries as protectors and preservers of culture, regardless of what comes at them, and so inscribing the names felt important. 
I've also thought of the idea of a book of the dead as a powerful symbol for what has been lost.  I haven't played with this idea except as it pertains to people.  Maybe I will this week.

Yesterday my heart was heavy not just with the memory of those who are lost to me through death, but of jobs lost, of relationships strained because of that loss.  I'm thinking of my old school.  The school I'm mourning, however, is not the school that exists right now.  It hasn't existed the way I think of it for many years.  Let me record this idea for a poetry writing morning this week. 

I had a good poetry writing morning yesterday.  I revised a poem that I wrote on Tuesday, the literal day when we celebrate the Feast of All Saints, if we're so inclined.    It's really more a response to Halloween and the Day of the Dead than All Saints/All Souls celebrations--and probably not a comforting poem for those freshly immersed in grieving;  go here to read it.

For those of you who need a poem for your pre-election Monday, I'll post the poem that I wrote some years ago.  I was thinking of the book of the dead and people who are lost to us, even though they may still be alive; if you want a comforting poem for your pre-election Monday, it, too, is likely not going to fit the bill.  It was first published at Escape into Life, and it's included in my latest chapbook, Life in the Holocene Extinction.

Book of the Dead

Even though her mother lives,
she writes her mother’s name
in the monks’ book of the dead.

She writes her mother’s name
in this giant book and steps
away before her tears
can blur the ink.

She walks to the bank
of the river and watches
the mist dance its last
movements. A runaway
slave or a Native American
soon to be slaughtered
would not be a surprise.

She drives back to the hospital
and slices the fruitcake
bought in the gift shop, baked
by monks in a far away monastery.

Her mother, who used to mock
fruitcake, who used to count
each calorie, this stranger gobbles
every last crumb. On the window sill,
seabirds eye the scene. She tries
to remember the smell of salt.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

All Saints Sunday

Let us turn our attention away from the world of work, a topic that has had me preoccupied this week, as I've started a new job.  Let us remember the larger vision, the world of the soul.  And today, let us remember the souls that are no longer contained in their human bodies.

Today, in many churches, we will commemorate our dead as we celebrate this Sunday of All Saints.  Traditionally, this day celebrates the saints who have gone on before us.  Traditionalists would not approve of what this church festival has become.  Most churches celebrate All Saints Day as the day we celebrate the lives of all our loved ones who have died, whether they were consistently saintly or not.  Traditionalists would only celebrate the lives of the truly beatified and the lives of those martyred for the faith.
In this All Saints post, the wonderful artist Vonda Drees used this quote by Henri Nouwen, which has stayed with me all week:

"Remembering the dead is choosing their ongoing companionship."

The larger quote is wonderful too:

"As we grow older we have more and more people to remember, people who have died before us. It is very important to remember those who have loved us and those we have loved. Remembering them means letting their spirits inspire us in our daily lives. They can become part of our spiritual communities and gently help us as we make decisions on our journeys. Parents, spouses, children, and friends can become true spiritual companions after they have died. Sometimes they can become even more intimate to us after death than when they were with us in life.

Remembering the dead is choosing their ongoing companionship."

 Bread for the Journey: A Daybook of Wisdom and Faith; the entry for August 29

Let me see what happens if I add some photos of  Mepkin Abbey burial sites to this Henri Nouwen quote:

The Ongoing Companionship of the Dead

As we grow older we have more and more people to remember, people who have died before us.

It is very important to remember those who have loved us and those we have loved.

Remembering them means letting their spirits inspire us in our daily lives.

They can become part of our spiritual communities and gently help us as we make decisions on our journeys.

Parents, spouses, children, and friends can become true spiritual companions after they have died.

Sometimes they can become even more intimate to us after death than when they were with us in life.

Remembering the dead is choosing their ongoing companionship

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Notes from the New Job

What a week!  A week of intense baseball, a week with a holiday and a windy walk to the beach--and of course, my new job.  Soon I will write about other things, I promise--soon the new job won't present as much to write about, as we settle into getting the accreditation documents finished.

So let me make one last blog post about the first week at the new job.  Tomorrow I'll move to a more spiritual topic, as it is the Sunday where many of us will remember the saints who have gone before us.

--I've already written a blog post about starting a new job on Halloween--the stopping for children in costumes by the elementary school, the animals in costume at my work.  It was even stranger as the week went on, realizing that I had met people, but I first met them in costume.

--I've seen a variety of animals on campus, since we have a vet tech program.  Most of them were of the cuddly variety.  Our resident veterinarian brings his huge dog to campus; I think we're free to stop by and pet him.  On Thursday I was on my way down the hall, and I stopped.  That lovely scarf wrapped around a student's neck--wait, no it moved!  It was a snake.  I'm not afraid of snakes, but I do pause when I see one.  I don't have the impulse to run, the way I do with rodents--but I do proceed cautiously.

--I spent a lot of the week looking through faculty files to determine what's there and what will need to be provided.  It's an interesting way to meet faculty members.

--Yesterday, we had an All-Hands Meeting--I think we have one once a week.  I'd name them something different, since All-Hands has an apocalyptic sound to me, but that's not the kind of meeting we have in most weeks.  It's a weekly meeting to update people.  I was introduced, and they gave the floor to me.  I knew that was likely to happen, and I wasn't quite sure of what I was to have prepared.  So, I went with basic introduction kind of stuff, and since we had been talking about accreditation stuff, I talked about my ability to follow models and create accreditation documents, although I was often tempted to write them in iambic pentameter so that I was using my English major training--I got laughs as I assured everyone that I follow the model.

--Here's the secret that many people might not know about me:  it takes me lots of effort to write in iambic pentameter--or any type of meter.  I could write 10 accreditation documents in the time it would take me to write 10 lines of iambic pentameter.

--I know that some of the conversations I might need to have with students will be different than at my old school.  For example, since most of our students are training to work in health professions, we have a strict drug policy, and students will be drug tested more often than they would be in most schools.  Some students may enter our school not realizing that they will need to change their approach to casual drug use right away.  Likewise, we have some strict dress code expectations.

--I also know that most of the conversations will be similar:  student complaints that will baffle me (you're offended?  by that?) but will need to be sorted out, discussions with faculty members about how to help students, discussions with department chairs who will need to track down materials from faculty members, discussions with the registrar about any variety of issues.

--So far, my interactions with people have been friendly and welcoming.  There may be some confusion about what happened to my predecessor--which I can't help sort out.  But most people seem accepting of me and willing to move forward.  I had worried about that--most of the jobs I've taken in the past have been jobs where a new position was formed or someone retired--I wasn't sure what to expect.

--This will seem minor to some people; some of you will understand my relief in discovering that my clothes will be just fine for my new job.  I had worried that I was moving to a more corporate culture, which would mean I would need to wear suits and more formal clothes--which would mean I would need to do a lot of clothes shopping.  Corporate clothing does not seem made for women like me, so I'm happy that my style seems to work with the new job.

--I am also relieved that the building is comfortable--in terms of temperature, furniture, and bathrooms.  I'll be spending a lot of time there, so these issues do not seem inconsequential to me.

Overall, it's been a good week.  I've been getting home at a normal hour, which won't always be the case--for example, on Monday I'll stay late for new student orientation for the midquarter start.  But my general impression from week 1:  I've landed at a good place.

Friday, November 4, 2016

Endings: Halloween as Symbol

On Tuesday or Wednesday, I was driving home from work.  The weather felt more like late spring--not the fierce heat of summer, but not autumnal either.  The occasional porch still had a jack-o-lantern.  One house had things dangling from the porch rafters:  perhaps ghosts or perhaps plastic sheeting from a paint job in process.

I felt a bit sad, like I've missed one of my favorite seasons.  Last year, I took evening walks and enjoyed the Halloween lights.  This year, I'm not sure there were that many to be seen--but I don't know, because I haven't been out to look.

Perhaps I had Halloween on the brain yesterday when I once again turned my attention to my short story, trying to figure out a more satisfying ending.

I did, in fact, finish my story.  It's about a woman who has spent her life thinking about apocalypse and expecting it:  first a nuclear apocalypse and then later, terrorism.  Along the way, she endures hurricanes.  And yet, the apocalypse that comes is a mass lay-off at her for-profit arts college.

Let me hasten to add that this story is not autobiographical; well, the ending is not.  I left my job voluntarily to go to a new job.  I know that I'm lucky.

I did include some hurricane recovery details from my past.  And the main character in the story remembers leaving her college boyfriend for summer break in 1986; she was headed to DC, and in the wake of the Libya bombings, she's expecting massive retaliation--that part, too, was true. 

For those who are interested, below I've pasted what I wrote on Thursday.  I could do more with the Halloween themes.  Hmm.  But for now, here's how the story ends:

        I took a sip of water and watched the next wave of the dispossessed faculty and their carts. I noticed one cart with a bright orange, plastic jack-o-lantern perched precariously on top of some Halloween bunting. I watched another faculty member stop at a picnic table to leave at least 10 coffee mugs. I knew that faculty member; we teased her for her collection, and she said, “I always had this vision that I’d have students gathered for tea, but so far, it’s just me and my one favorite mug.”
       As I walked out, I stopped by the huge bowl of candy that the administrative assistant kept stocked with the best kind of miniature candy for Halloween. I stuffed the rest of my box with handful after handful. At least I wouldn’t have to spend any of my emergency funds on candy for trick-or-treaters this year. It wasn’t my most mature moment.
     As I waited for the elevator at the parking garage and looked at the overflowing garbage cans, I thought of Civil War soldiers who sewed envelopes into the seams of their uniforms, envelopes that had the addresses of their loved ones, so that they could be remembered in death. I thought of other things we might sew into our seams and hems: jewels to sell once the new world was reached or maybe some heirloom seeds.
     I thought of the latest wave of refugees flooding into the Mediterranean Sea, swamping boats. I thought of corpses washing onto distant shores. I got into my hybrid car to begin my own journey.  

Thursday, November 3, 2016

First Week Fragments

My brain is darting in many directions this morning.  Let me try to capture some thoughts.

--The Cubs win a World Series.  My first thought was that good things come to Cubs fans who can wait--and then I thought about all the fans who died without seeing their team win a series.  I'm trying not to see this as a metaphor for the publishing life--at least, not the last part.

--My spouse says that Cleveland played better baseball; they deserved to win.  I'm trying not to think about what that might mean for the political campaign.  I'm hoping that's not a metaphor either.

--The episode of The Walking Dead that launched this season has given me nightmares, even though I didn't watch it.  Thanks, social media!  Or maybe I read a full-blown article.  In any case, I wish I could get these images that I didn't even see out of my head.

--The new job continues to go well, I think.  I do worry that I think it's going well, but that I'm making missteps that I don't see.  But that's been a pervasive worry my whole life.

--This is the first morning this week that my feet feel somewhat normal.  Yesterday, my left foot was so tender and swollen in the morning, and I wasn't sure how I'd make it through the day.

--Why are my feet sore?  I've been wearing new shoes this week and spending lots of time on my feet.  And I've spent a lot of time during the week-end moving boxes--I suppose that could be it.  I did more exercise than usual last week.  My feet are often sore these days, even before I am more active or standing more than usual.

--It is nice to be back at a small school.  There's a lot we could do to ensure student success--but I'm trying not to be that person who rushes in with all sorts of ideas about how we must change.  I'm trying to listen.  But I am that person with 5 zillion ideas who wants to launch them all without thinking it through in the hopes of being helpful and useful--at least I realize this tendency in myself.

--I do know of one thing we will need to launch soon, if I heard what I think I heard yesterday.  I think that my campus has not been offering as many developmental classes as we need to do and students haven't been taking these classes right from the start.  There are many reasons why we might not have done this, so let me not speculate here in this somewhat public place.  A student will not be successful in our programs without the reading, writing, and math skills in place, and if they're not in place when they come, we need to provide them.

--How nice to be in a school that talks about the moral duty to students to bring them up to speed.  Unlike public colleges and universities, we do not have our hands tied by legislators who say, "Hey, those students should have gotten those skills in high school, so you are not permitted to teach them anymore."

--I am surrounded by poem fragments that I don't remember writing--from my old office, and yesterday, in a Critical Thinking textbook that I pulled out to give to a faculty member today.  Where and why did I take that book with me when I wrote down fragments?  Here are some lines--no idea where I planned to go with these:  "Trained in dead languages"  "we measure hemlines"  "the bees have taken over the foreclosures"  "the pilgrim who chatters on about how it used to be on past pilgrimages"

--I am surprised by how I can read with the World Series on, which is not my normal experience with TV.  This week I have been reading The Road Back to You:  An Enneagram Journey to Self-Discovery by Ian Morgan Cron and Suzanne Stabile.  Fascinating stuff.  I haven't done much with the Enneagram--well, I've done nothing, actually, except to be aware of it.  I'm not sure it's telling me much that other self-awareness tools haven't told me, but it's good to be reminded.  It's very readable, hard to put down.

--I got this book because of this blog post by Martha Spong.  She says, "Suzanne and Ian Morgan Cron have created an elegant and informative primer perfect for the beginner, but also helpful for those who have studied this ancient system, the aim of which is the care of our souls."  She points out the solid Christian credentials of the writers, which made me decide to buy it.

--And now, let me take care of my soul by wrestling out an ending to my apocalypse story--no, it's not the apocalypse we might have been expecting.  I've been wrestling with this ending for weeks, if not months.  Perhaps I needed my own ending at the old job before I was ready.