Today is the feast day of St. Luke. You might be saying, "Wait, don't you have a theology blog where you could discuss that?"
Indeed I do, and I have a more theological post over there today. But even if you're not a spiritual sort, you might find all sorts of inspiration from St. Luke.
St. Luke was a writer, after all (he gets credit for the Biblical books of Luke and Acts). He's also given credit as one of the first iconographers. Today would be a great day to write our own Gospel that tells about the Good news that we're seeing in the world. Or we could celebrate this patron saint of artists this way with the visual arts.
We could experiment with a variety visual arts to see how they could enrich our mental and spiritual health. We might choose something historical and traditional, like iconography. Or we might decide that we want to experiment with something that requires less concentration and training. Maybe we want to create a collage of images that remind us of God’s abundance. Maybe we want to meditate on images, like icons, like photographs, that call us to healthy living.
St. Luke is also the patron saint of students. Maybe it's time to plan for a class we want to take in January.
Or maybe we just want to make a beef stew; St. Luke is also the patron saint of butchers. This NPR webpage gives a great beef stew recipe, and a link to an interview between Fresh Air's Terry Gross and the America's Test Kitchen chefs which tells how to maximize flavors in your beef stew along with other culinary chemistry wonders.
Because it is a feast day that celebrates health and healing, today is also a good day to take stock of our health. Those of us who are artists/creative types will likely want to be doing this work for the long haul, which means we need to take care of our health so that we can. What are we doing well? Where could we make some improvements?
However we might choose to celebrate, let us enjoy this feast day, which has much to say to us modern folks.
The pumpkin offload at church takes several hours--it's all human labor, no conveyor belts or machines to help. Well, we had 2 wheelbarrows, which saved us some time, but not much. Handing pumpkins hand to hand gives a person time to think. And I thought about the great diversity in pumpkins, especially when we got the occasional green pumpkin.
This warty pumpkin made me smile. We only got a few of those.
I also liked this one, with its curling stem.
And hauling pumpkins with my own two hands gave me time to reflect. Does every culture equate smallness with cuteness?
As we nestled some of the pumpkins with the tropical flowers, I thought about how some of us, but only a very few of us, head out to cultures that are not ours and never return.
I thought of the spider that we found, who started out in a pumpkin patch in New Mexico and won't be able to return. Will that spider always yearn for a different climate? Or will the spider learn to love its new home?
I thought of how we accept diversity in a church pumpkin patch, but not in the larger culture. And of course, I thought about how even in the church pumpkin patch, we can only accept a certain amount of diversity, if we want to make sales. People expect their pumpkins to look a certain way.
I think of all the ways we have to be of service. Some of us carry pumpkins. Some of us sell them. Others of us bring water and remind us to take breaks when we need it. There are many ways to build a community, and we all can play a part.
Whenever anyone posts autumnal pictures on Facebook, I linger--particularly if it's a picture of an apple orchard or a pumpkin patch or some shot with hay in it. A picture that captures autumnal light makes my heart sing.
Down here on the tip of the continent, we haven't had much in the way of fall weather yet. I try to prompt some autumnal feelings with seasonal flowers or lights or a batch of pumpkin bread, all on seasonal placemats, but it's still sweltering outside.
Yesterday, I spent much of the afternoon doing this:
I'm the person in the sky blue shirt by the truck, reaching for a pumpkin. When we began, the front yard of the church looked like this:
By the end, it had been transformed into this:
The last step of the offload is scattering the hay in the truck onto the ground. As I released the handfuls of hay, I was struck by the sun on the hay--it was beautiful and fleeting, an autumnal moment that I couldn't capture by camera even if I had tried. But maybe next year I will try.
Along the way, I enjoyed the colors and shapes of the pumpkins, the wide variety, the different weights.
I wouldn't want to spend every Sunday afternoon carrying pumpkins in this way, but yesterday, despite the heat, it was great. Where else would I see this type of pumpkin?
My back hurt less than my feet--but luckily, we've finally gotten the pool back to a state where we can get into it--so a soak in the cold pool helped them both. Plenty of ibuprofen helped too.
Today, it's back to work. If I didn't have so much to do at work, I'd be tempted to take the day off. I feel like I haven't had much of a week-end. Or maybe I had just the kind of week-end for which I've been yearning.
I've been watching--with some amount of jealousy, I freely confess--my friends' postings about Octoberfests and trips to see turning leaves and apples and harvest festivals of all types. Today, perhaps I'll get some pictures of my own.
Our pumpkins are scheduled to arrive at our church at noon. They are coming on a big 18 wheeler, which means we'll need to unload them. We do it pumpkin by pumpkin and then we arrange them on the front yard of our church.
My pastor has been away at Synod Assembly, so I'm covering the first two services for him and doing the sermon at the last service so that he can get some rest. It makes for a long day at church for me, what with worship services and counting the offering and then helping with pumpkins. But I think it works better overall than some of the weekday afternoon offloads we've had. And it's much better than the evening offload we had one year.
One year our pumpkins were very late because the first truckload was stolen and they had to send another. Ever since then I've wondered who would steal an 18 wheeler full of pumpkins? Did they know what they stole? Did they force open the doors expecting to see televisions?
Time for me to get dressed and ready. I'll wear my worship clothes and bring my pumpkin offload clothes. Offloading pumpkins is a dirtier, goopier process than one might expect!
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. We will be happy to sell you a pumpkin or a gourd of any size. And if you want to help with the offload, come on by around 12:30--why do we go to the gym, if not to build muscles for such a time as this?
And if you don't live in South Florida, I'd still urge you to buy pumpkins from a local church or school or charity. Your dollars will go further and support the community in a deeper way than if you bought a pumpkin at a grocery store.
Today I want to capture some moments from the past week:
--On Thursday, I switched from my NPR station which has begun annual fundraising. I heard the KISS song "Beth" for the first time in years, perhaps decades. I sang along as if no time had passed at all. Why does my brain store such minutiae? I also heard the ending differently. I now see this song as an artist struggling with the balance of commitment to the band, to the song, and to the one at home who waits. At the end of the song, the band will be playing all night. The singer has chosen the band over Beth. In my younger years of listening to the power ballad, I don't think I fully realized that.
--I have been using my critical facilities for more than simple pop songs. I continue to be so very impressed with what Marge Piercy managed to capture in her novel Vida: the intersection of politics, gender, history--and such wonderful descriptions of food. Piercy was one of my all-time favorite writers when I was in undergraduate school, and I'm glad that her work holds up.
--I'm struck by how many writers I've revisited this year--and how much I still enjoy their work.
--I've gotten writing of my own done this week. Never enough. I am not that singer of "Beth," choosing art over all other commitments. But it is good to write and good to send packets of writing out into the world.
--Let me also remember the trauma of September that continues to ripple through the weeks. For us, it was Hurricane Irma, but Hurricane Maria haunts me too. I predict that we will see Hurricane Maria as prompting a huge migration that will change Puerto Rico, Florida, and points beyond in ways that we don't fully understand right now.
--We had another visit from the insurance adjuster yesterday--the flood insurance adjuster. We had some puddles of water in the front bedroom, but the adjuster wondered if there was some way to assess if the underside of the house was damaged. We have a board that my spouse put in place to replace the rotting wood that was revealed when the huge fish tank was removed. He pulled up that board to reveal that we still have 6 inches of water under the house--one month after the storm.
--Earlier, I spoke to another insurance representative, this time from the wind policy company. He asked me to tell him about the damage, so I did. He said in a quiet, awed voice, "Wow. You had a lot of damage."
--It's no wonder that I've been feeling overwhelmed at points--we have all this damage, and yet life goes on, at a hectic pace. I am not kidding when I say that this storm has made me rethink many of my life choices--I would say "all of my life choices," but the sensible part of me only lets my brain go back so many years--that way madness lies. Even rethinking the move to this neighborhood only makes a certain amount of sense; I don't have a time machine, after all. Many of the decisions that I've made I might make differently, with the benefit of hindsight.
--And yet, I'm also aware that we're lucky. We have floors under our feet. We solved the rain coming through the walls and ceiling in the laundry room. No one is counting on us for the cottage's return to normal.
--We may look back and see this storm as the precipitating incident that propelled us to a good place. It has happened before.
Today I'll post "History's Chalkboards," the other poem that Adanna just published, the one that left my spouse visibly moved when I read it out loud.
I wrote it in August 2016 as the campaign season ramped into high gear. I couldn't get the Sylvia Plath quote out of my head, and the first part of the poem came naturally.
The last two stanzas drifted in my head as I wrote the first part. For awhile, I thought I might have two poems here, but then I decided that they worked together.
Did I read Ray Bradbury's "There Will Come Soft Rains" before I wrote these stanzas? I think I was writing it, and the title came to me, and I looked it up and proceeded to read it.
When I wrote the poem, I couldn't imagine that Trump would actually be elected. I'm still astonished. I try to take comfort in the fact that our nation has had problematic leadership in the past and survived. I worry that all of my apocalyptic fever dreams will soon come true. I know that former great societies have burned to ash, but I also know that with some luck, better societies can emerge.
“Every woman adores a Fascist, The boot in the face, the brute Brute heart of a brute like you.” “Daddy” by Sylvia Plath
Every woman adores a Fascist. Turns out men do too. But we imagine the boot on someone else’s face, a face that doesn’t look like ours, the face that arrives to take our jobs and steal our factories, while laughing at us in a foreign language.
No God but capitalism, the new religion, fascism disguised as businessman, always male, always taking what is not his.
Brute heart, not enough stakes to keep you dead. We thought we had vanquished your kind permanently last century or was it the hundred years before?
As our attics crash into our basements, what soft rains will come now? The fire next time, the ashes of incinerated bodies, the seas rising on a tide of melted glaciers.
And so we return to history’s chalkboard, the dust of other lessons in our hair. We make our calculations.
Last night, I was supposed to meet a friend for dinner, but she wasn't feeling well, so she cancelled. I went on home, and then wondered what to do with this window of free time. My spouse was busy wrestling with Blackboard to get his midterm exam posted for his Philosophy class, so we wouldn't be spending quality time together. I had been staring at a computer all day, so I didn't feel like working on writing projects.
I didn't want to waste the night watching T.V. I thought about going to the library to get a book, but I didn't feel like making that trek. I looked at my bookshelves and thought back across the past few weeks--what had I planned on reading?
I wanted to read The Things They Carried, but I don't own a copy. I remembered that as I watched the recent documentary on the war in Vietnam, I had thought about rereading Marge Piercy's Vida, a great book about anti-war activists who take the path of violence and must deal with the consequences.
And so I spent a quiet evening revisiting that book--what a treat to return to a book that's every bit as good as I remember it. The characters are perfectly drawn: compelling despite being deeply flawed. The plot grabs me each time I read it, even though I know what's going to happen. The book offers an important testimony of how the war in Vietnam shaped activism that would carry us through to today. Last night I picked up this book after I heard about Trump's possible decisions about North Korea and Iran--different parts of Asia, but a mindset that may be similar to LBJ's.
It's also an interesting exploration of women's choices and women's sexuality--that aspect, too, is important testimony. After days of hearing about the sexual harassment/violence charges emerging against Harvey Weinstein, this book feels still relevant in a sad, sad way.
In the future, when people wonder how we got to where we are, will they turn to novels? I imagine they will first turn to documentaries and then explore from there. I hope that these feminist novels aren't lost to the ages.
Last week, I got my contributor copy of Adanna. What a beautiful journal! They published two poems that I was unsure of when I first wrote them, but I've grown to like them. One of them is "History's Chalkboards," which was my spouse's favorite. When I read both poems out loud, my spouse was visibly moved by "History's Chalkboards," which is not a response that he often has to my poems.
The other poem was "You Bring Out the Monk in Me," which I thought might be his favorite, since if he saw himself as the "you" in the poem, he might be happy. Of course, he's been well trained not to see literary work as necessarily autobiographical.
I find it interesting that I would write a love poem that uses monastic imagery--but those who know me probably won't be surprised.
You Bring Out the Monk in Me
You bring out the monk in me, the ancient practices in me, the candles and incense in me, the Psalms chanted across a day in me, the calm of Compline in me.
You bring out the long robes in me, the rough fabric in me. You bring out the longing to know the social order by the length and color of our clothes, the simplicity of pattern in me.
You bring out the recluse in me, the one who retreats in me, the one accused of hiding in me, the one who prays for the world while the world carries on in obliviousness to me.
You bring out the silence in me, the longing for only the words that matter in me. You bring out the perfectly balanced in me, equal time for work, study, and worship.
You worry that there’s no space for you in this equation, but I assure you that space remains in the silence, the work, and the worship because you bring out the monk in me, the one who knows what to keep and what to shuck away.
Today is the federal holiday that celebrates Columbus Day; I'm willing to wager serious money that most of us don't have the day off. When your mail doesn't arrive, you can take a minute to remember Columbus, who wanted to find a shorter trade route, but failed miserably in that goal.
I’m always amazed at what those early explorers accomplished. At Charlestowne Landing (near Charleston, SC), I saw a boat that was a replica of the boat that some of the first English settlers used to get here. It was teeny-tiny. I can't imagine sailing it up the coast to the next harbor, much less across the Atlantic Ocean. Maybe it would have been easier, back before everyone knew how big the Atlantic was.
For most cities, gone are the days when we'd mark this holiday with parades and time off. Those of us who grew up in the 70's and later have likely rethought this holiday.
What marked an exciting opportunity for overcrowded Europeans in the time of Columbus began a time of unspeakable slaughter and loss for the inhabitants of the Americas, many of whom have never recovered or who disappeared completely. Let us take a minute to remember all of the cultures that have vanished because of these kinds of encounters. Let us mourn that loss.
But although those cultural encounters came at an enormous human cost, it also provided the opportunity to enrich the cultures on both sides of these encounters. Look at the European cuisine before the time of Columbus, and let yourself feel enormous gratitude for the vegetables that came from the Americas. Look at the cultures that existed in the Americas before the Europeans arrived and let yourself marvel at the ways in which technology enables the building of cities. For those of us who benefit from domesticated animals, which is almost all of us, let us celebrate Columbus and the opening of the space between cultures.
We could remember that day in 1492 as the beginning of a time of enormous religious expansion, first for the Catholics and later for Protestants, many of whom needed a place to escape religious persecution. We could feel sorrow at the religious persecution of the Natives and of various other minority groups--or we could celebrate the religious diversity and tolerance that somehow survived our best efforts to kill it.
Or maybe we want to leave humans out of the picture and once again marvel at this amazing planet which is our home, at its diversity of land, water, and weather, at the currents that swirl through the oceans and the air, at the abundance of natural resources just waiting for us to stumble over them on our quest for something different.
Last night, we watched part of a PBS show about an English family circa 1920's, to judge by the period costuming, who is living in what I first thought was Italy, but later realized was Greece (the show was The Durrells in Corfu).
I was less interested in the slow moving plot than I was in the house where they lived. I gathered that we were supposed to find it decrepit. The long shots showed some missing shutters, and the inner shots showed peeling paint, and every shot of peeling paint showed that a different paint color behind the peeling. I assumed that I was supposed to see the furniture as shabby, not simply period pieces.
The decaying house looked so lovely, shot in that PBS light. I thought about my own house and how lovely it would look with the right lighting. I thought about a photo shoot in an issue of some country living magazine that comes to my door. The owners of the old farm house said that they had decided not to replace mismatched floor boards because it looked more authentic.
Authentic--I'll start using that word to describe my house. It doesn't need work: it's authentic. Why remodel my authentic house?
The roofer came and we discovered that we don't have a roof leak--that the roof is in good shape and has at least several more years on it. That's good news.
We spent part of yesterday taking apart the gutter system--lots of leaves packed in the gutters, which meant that water overflowed and went through the scupper and ran down the interior wall. Happily, it seems to be an easy fix--unhappily, after all the rain of the past two weeks, the interior walls look horrible now. We'll let them thoroughly dry and see what we're dealing with.
Hard to believe it was just 4 weeks ago that we sat on our friends' patio and watched the storm. I am still a bit overwhelmed by how much work there is to do, but luckily most of the work is in the cottage, and so we will get to it when we get to it.
Although we have lots of work to do, I'm grateful to PBS shows and photo shoots of houses that make me realize that we can still be perfectly happy in our houses, even if they're shabbier than we'd like. We can have lots of repair work that needs to be done, but still be rich in friends.
A week ago, I got the idea a story based on Tim O'Brien's "The Things They Carried." Instead of Vietnam, it's set in a for-profit art school that's closing. What I find interesting about this fact is that in the weeks before I got the idea for that story, I was feeling uninspired and wondering if I was done with this idea for the collection of linked stories. After all, it had been almost a year since I left the school that has served as inspiration for those stories. I wasn't sure that the stories I had would assemble themselves into a book. And then, bam--a new story idea comes to me, and it's a great way to end the collection.
As I've been writing the stories before the one I started writing a week ago, I wasn't sure that the fictional school would close. So far, the real school hasn't closed.
I have that school on the brain for many reasons, one of which is that we're approaching the one year anniversary of my leaving. I came to my new job as the school was moving into high gear to find a new accreditor--and yesterday, after a long process, we got news of the granting of accreditation. Hurrah!
In some ways, this process reminds me of writing a dissertation. There are benchmarks that one must meet and then revisions that must be done and then the wait for feedback and then more work to be done, and more waiting, and then, even more work that must be done, even when one is ready to move on to new projects. And finally, the good news, the "yes" that once might have seemed like such a distant goal. Yet because the process has been so very long, the ecstasy blends with exhaustion.
And of course, this process is like most creative processes. One reason why I'm not more aggressive in sending out book-length manuscripts is because I feel like I don't have the time for an extended revision process or a publicity process.
But it's also because it's easier to put a packet of poems in the mail. It's harder to get the manuscript assembled and sent. And the rejection of an individual poem is easier to bear. The despair that comes from the umpteenth rejection of the book length manuscript is easier to simply avoid some years by not submitting.
This year, with its hurricane, is a non-submitting year. In some other year, I hope to write about how the acceptance of a book length work is similar to finishing a dissertation or an accreditation process.
We have had some kind of tropical disturbance off our coast for days now. That means lots of wind and rain.
Ordinarily, I'd love days like these, especially since it's the only hint of autumnal weather we get in South Florida. But with a roof leak, I look at the clouds with dread.
Each day I get home and put the drenched towels in the washer. I empty the containers that we set out to catch the water. I'm amazed at the amount of water. Has it really rained that much?
I know that I am lucky in a way. We could have a profoundly damaged roof. We could live in Puerto Rico and have no roof. I have electric restored, and I have a washer and dryer. I have clean water running through pipes with which to fill the washer and dryer--I am surprised by how strange the wet towels smell.
There is a poem lurking in the smell that comes in the water that comes from the roof.
I tell myself that we were going to remodel the laundry room anyway. As I watch water run down the walls, I can't remember if my spouse planned to rip out that wall that's now got saggy drywall on it.
It's the back corner of the house, and it doesn't seem to be spreading. It could be worse. The roofer comes on Friday. It's fixable.
I shall keep repeating this mantra: "It's fixable. It's fixable. It's fixable." It's a good mantra for much of life.
--This morning, I listened to this interview with Ta-Nehisi Coates. While I find him to be a prophetic (in the Old Testament sense of that word) voice when he talks about race and the U.S., I want to know more about his writing life. I'm especially interested in his pre-Pulitzer Prize, pre-MacArthur days and the transitions he had to make after those wins.
He alludes to his earlier writing life. He talks about writing a daily blog that was read by 2 people, himself and his dad.
I wonder if he wrote about the same subjects then. I wonder what it's like to go from that freedom of writing whatever one wants, to knowing that a wide variety of people will be aware of one's ideas--and they won't all be friendly people.
--I woke up this morning at 2:30 because the wind has howled for over a day. It slams things--rain, mainly--into the house. Would I wake up this way if we hadn't had a hurricane last month? Probably.
--I had a wonderful writing time in these wee small hours of the morning. I'm crafting a story based on Tim O'Brien's "The Things They Carried." Instead of Vietnam, it's set in a for-profit art school that's closing. It come so easily. What a delight to write fiction that's flowing, instead of writing a sentence and wondering where to go next.
--I've been slowly getting back to submitting--mainly packets of poetry. It's not like past years, when I'd get envelopes ready to go to the post office on September 1, when many reading periods start.
--I am feeling a bit of despair. I thought I would be further along by age 52.
--But let me remind myself that I do have 3 chapbooks published. And let me remind myself that the publishing life in the U.S. in the 21st century is uneven, at best. So even though I haven't hit some of the milestones that I would have envisioned long ago, as a much younger writer, that doesn't mean that they are forever out of reach.
Yesterday was a day of many sadnesses. What can one possibly say about a day that starts with news of the worst mass shooting in U.S. history and ends with the news of the death of Tom Petty?
I don't have much left to say about this kind of gun violence. What can bring any kind of comfort? Do I believe that U.S. hearts can change? If the massacre of children in an elementary school several years ago can't make us change our approach, what makes us think this massacre will?
Let me instead think about Tom Petty. I found myself surprised to be so affected by his death--after all, I don't own any of his music. Wait, yes I do--I have the two Travelling Wilburys CDs. In fact, for a long time during his early years on the national scene, I might have said I didn't like him.
My earliest memory of him is a high school youth group gathering. We were at someone's house to bake cookies for shut-ins, and someone had his cassette tape, Damn the Torpedoes. We might have listened to a song or two amidst the Christmas music. I wasn't impressed. But then again, my other memory of that night is using a cookie cutter as an ice scraper, since snow had fallen while we were baking.
Through the years, I'd hear a song here and there that made me consider buying a whole collection, whether on vinyl or CD. But then I would forget and then another CD would come, and I just never caught up.
Along the way, I was impressed with both his music and his lyrics. I was impressed with how he looked out for his various band members. His dedication to his art was important too.
I realize that I can expect more of these deaths in the coming years--musicians who were important to me in varying degrees. Let me use these passings as a reminder to tend to my own artistic gardens.
Last night, I was labeling photos for the flood insurance adjuster. Three weeks ago, late in the morning, we'd return home to flooded streets and yards:
I was astonished at the tree damage. We were lucky that a limb only fell on a motorcycle. Some houses had palm trees through the roof.
Because of the tree damage, and because our home suffered this damage, we wouldn't have power until 12 days had passed:
We spent a lot of time on the porch. When it was dark, the battery powered autumn trees with lights gave the porch a cozy feel.
Now that the power is restored, we've retreated to the cool interiors of our houses. Hard to believe that it's October, that it will soon be Halloween. My September time offline gave me lots of time to read--and lots of time to stitch. I've been working on new autumnal placemats:
I had been saving a package of fat quarters for over a decade, waiting for a special project. My younger self would have thought of something other than placemats, but we use those, and I like the way they make the front porch look.
Yesterday, I had several gatherings with different types of friends: my quilting group that had been put off because of the hurricane and my every other month haircut that's an abbreviated spa day with a different set of friends.
It's always interesting being with different groups of people, but I was fascinated with our various responses to Hurricane Irma. One of my friends is in the process of moving to Gainesville, and she has properties in three places (Ft. Lauderdale, Gainesville, and the mountains of North Carolina), and all three were affected by the storm--that geography tells you about the breadth and strength of the storm.
Some of us worry about how we will deal with these storms as we age. Some of us prefer hurricanes to other struggles that the natural world presents because at least we know they are coming. We are all concerned that our insurance costs will rise and that we will be unable to afford to live here.
It seems likely that Hurricane Irma will have a similar effect to the storm seasons of 2004 and 2005: many people will make some life decisions that they wouldn't have made without the push of a major hurricane.
When I think about my creative trajectory, I see an uptick in poems with an apocalyptic tone after the storms of 2004 and 2005. Just before the storm, the woman who cuts my hair had discovered that she didn't have a wind policy to protect her home. She said, "I packed everything that was important to me in the car, and I drove to Virginia to start a new life."
Her comment--indeed the whole day--made me think of poems that I wrote earlier. This one was partly sparked by the comments of historians on the 400th anniversary of Jamestown in 2007.
Jamestown She remembers only one fact from years of studying American History. Not one colony survived for very long without women settlers. Without the women, the men planted just one crop, tobacco, with no nutritive value. The ground devoted to addiction, the colony starving.
She returns to her handy needle to sew tubes of seeds into her hemline. She measures the weight of her possessions with a calculating eye. She discards the frivolous scraps of silk that once passed for undergarments. She adds a well-seasoned skillet to her pack, a way to cook as well as a weapon.
She locks the house but leaves the key. She threads the needle through her shirtsleeve where she won't lose track of it. She sets off for civilization.
It has been a week full of work, but in a good way. It has been the kind of week where each day brings its tasks, a steady pace, enough to keep me on task but not so much to make me feel overwhelmed.
We begin a new quarter on Monday, so this past week has been one of getting ready. The most obvious way we've been doing that is our new student orientation: one on Thursday night for the night students and one on Friday, the larger one, for the day students. At yesterday's orientation, we had no male students. We have incoming male students to be sure, but a much smaller proportion than we might once have.
My school offers degrees in the health care assisting professions, along with an AS in Business, so the absence of men should not surprise me. Plus, I know the statistics about who is going to college in the U.S. and who is not. Still to see a room jam packed with only female students did surprise me.
We had two days of faculty development, and I led them, so they were both tiring and inspiring. I love the faculty and their continued enthusiasm and great ideas. Most of our faculty are adjunct, but unlike my last campus, they have always been adjuncts at our campus, so there's not the strange dynamic of people who have lost full-time status but are still expected to participate at previous levels. There's not the low morale and the lack of trust. There's not the fear.
All these events have involved food, which has involved planning and shopping. Yesterday I was reminded that I should do some shopping for myself. There are many reasons that I have not restocked the fridge, mainly ones of tiredness and laziness.
Yesterday, I arrived at work expecting to eat some of the food left from new student orientation that I had left in the fridge the night before--precisely a slice of pizza or two. It was gone. So I subsisted on the rest of the V8 juice that I had stashed away, a donut, 5 donut holes, and some pretzels. Not the best fuel for an intense day, but I made it work.
I have not made my life easier, in some ways, by watching the Ken Burns and Lynn Novick documentary on the Vietnam War each night. I have not gotten enough sleep. But the experience has fed my soul in many ways and inspired me. I am thinking of those of us who work in higher ed as being part of a similar mission. We have higher ups who are sometimes looking out for those of us here on the ground, but often decisions are made from far away, in Washington or in other places. We are trying to win hearts and minds in the middle of an ever-changing landscape.
Or perhaps my poet brain is making comparisons that stretch too far. But I don't think so.
For several weeks, I've been resigning myself to the idea that I may not get much writing done this fall. I've lost the month of September, after all. Because of the disruptions of the hurricane, my online classes will require more intense grading for the next few weeks.
Yesterday was the first day I caught a glimpse of my creative self returning. I opened some of the short stories that I had been writing in August. I wrote a sentence or two. I found my way back into the story that has an animation instructor meeting her friend at Mepkin Abbey.
In the shower, a few lines of something that could be a poem came to me. We spent time with the book of Jonah on Sunday, so that's the inspiration for these lines:
You thought you were so special
that the digestive juices
of the big fish would not dissolve you.
I thought of all the other big fish in literature, especially Moby Dick. I thought about all the apocalyptic novels and short stories that have one person left. This week, I've been watching the Ken Burns and Lynn Novick documentary on the Vietnam War, with its piercing images.
By the end of my shower, these lines were in my head:
For everyone who survives to tell
the tale, there are countless, nameless
others swept to sea.
Now I just need a few stanzas to go in the middle.
My short stories are part of a linked collection--the link is the for-profit arts school in South Florida where they all work. This morning, I thought about creating a short story that's inspired by Tim O'Brien's "The Things They Carried"--O'Brien read part of the story to close last night's last episode of the Vietnam War documentary.
I found the story online; I hadn't read it before. The first O'Brien story I read was "How to Tell a True War Story," but I knew about "The Things They Carried." When I read the story this morning, it was both familiar, but with chunks of text that I knew I hadn't read before.
Part of me despairs: I have so many ideas and so little time to develop them. But part of me feels triumphant. My creative self is not dead!
I've been living with this strange kind of time layering, where elements from the 70's keep intruding in my 21st century life.
I haven't been getting enough sleep, because I've been staying up to watch the Ken Burns and Lynn Novick Vietnam documentary. I've been captivated by the storylines about the POWs, and the increasing American awareness of these captives. The show gave one sentence to the POW bracelet.
I wonder what became of my bracelet. Somewhere there's a photo of a Christmas in my childhood, and my sister and I are wearing our POW bracelets. I have a memory of going to Maxwell Air Force Base to see a plane of POWs return, but I've always wondered if my brain just claimed the popular culture footage of the return as something I experienced.
This morning, I did a Google search. There was a plane of POWs that came to Maxwell AFB. And going to the base to welcome the captives home is an activity my family would have done.
As I was researching, I listened to yesterday's edition of Fresh Air, which had an interview with creators of The Deuce, the new TV show about Times Square, back in the 70's, where prostitutes worked, just before the porn industry was about to transform us all.
Near the end of the interview, David Simon says, "We don't sell anything without using the tropes of pornography. We don't sell beer or cars or blue jeans without in some way referencing a lot of what has become normalized imagery and normalized culture through the ubiquity of pornography over the last 50 years. It's been a long time. It's been half a century that this stuff has been in the ether. And you know, in the same way that early pornography certainly took a lot of its tropes from mainstream film and played with them, it's gone the other way. And now I mean I think, you know, everything from fashion to music to regular cinema - the pornographication (ph) of America has been profound."
He goes on to say, ". . . you don't have a multibillion-dollar industry operating every year and not have it transform the way we think about ourselves and each other. And I don't think anyone's got a good handle on the depth of that. I think it's happened so fast, and it's been so unexamined, so without any - I don't think anyone's examined it with any degree of seriousness. I'm not sure we know what we've built."
I wonder if he's right--surely some academic somewhere has published a serious book. I'm not sure I have the stomach to read such a book. I'm not a Puritan, but I do mourn a certain lack of privacy that has come with our current age. I hate how some of these images colonize my brain and refuse to leave.
It's an interesting juxtaposition to listen to that interview while thinking about Hugh Hefner, who just died. I confess that I was first aware of him in his later years, where he aged, but his female companions didn't. I don't think of him as a free speech pioneer, but as a creepy old man.
I heard a brief news story on NPR that reminded me that Playboy devoted page space to much more than naked females. Hefner was committed to fiction in a way that many publishers never were.
The mainstream porn of my youth seems so tasteful now compared to what I occasionally stumble across. In my early morning monitoring of Hurricane Irma, I came across some very explicit pictures of penetration; talk about strange juxtapositions! Eventually, the site monitors took them down. I'm glad I never saw such photos in my younger years; they'd have made me very afraid of sex, not because they were violent, but because they were so very explicit.
How strange to come to this, to saluting Hefner for his trailblazing ways, while also hating elements of this free wheeling society he helped create, a brave, new world where I stumble across pictures of sex on a weather site, a world where we are all prisoners of a different war.
Maybe there's something about Tuesday nights. I have had some strange encounters these past two weeks. If I was a character in a Flannery O'Connor short story, I'd have had a different ending (perhaps the writing prompt for which I've been yearning?). But I'm me, unable to figure out how the story will end or if it has already ended or if there's anything there at all.
I came home early yesterday to be sure I was on time for the insurance adjuster, the next necessary step in filing a claim. Of course, the adjustor was running late, but that was fine with me. I prepared a statement of all of our losses and loaded photos onto a data stick that the adjustor could take with him.
I got a lot of grading done while I was waiting for him. By the end of last night, I was finally caught up with my grading--and we'd had our visit from the adjustor.
As I sorted through the photos, I was reminded of all the damage--and as I showed the adjustor around, I was worried that he won't stress the damage. But he has the pictures.
He kept telling me what a beautiful house I have and how he loves these old houses. I felt a bit embarrassed about the disheveled state of the house but reminded myself that I haven't had electricity for a whole week yet, and I have been focused on other projects than the vacuuming and the food shopping and all the other tasks left to be done.
It was when he exclaimed about the beauty of our flat roof that the situation began to seem surreal. He told me about other flat roofs he's seen, roofs with peeling paint and huge pools of water. He said, "Your roof has clearly been cared for."
My spouse has spent days talking about how the whole thing will need to be replaced, how the elastomeric seal is trapping moisture. I spent part of yesterday mopping up water from the roof leak over the laundry room. And here is the insurance adjustor waxing euphoric about the state of the roof.
The adjustor finished up just as it got dark. I thought about last week, as I sat on the porch, waiting for my spouse to come home from teaching, hoping that I would hear an FPL truck.
A pick-up drove slowly down the street--the guys inside looked like they might be looking for an address. I went into the front yard and said, "Are you from FPL?"
In retrospect, it was stupid. If I was a female character in almost any mainstream movie, I'd have just sealed my doom.
The guys said, "No, we're a tree service. Do you need any work done?"
I said, "No. I need my power restored."
The guy driving the truck said in a sultry way, "The power's on at my house."
His buddy shot him a look, and he said, "If you wanna come over and watch the kids or something."
It was awkward. I thought of many things I could say, none of them quite Mae West enough. Instead I said, "There's a lot of trees down a few blocks that way. Maybe you'll find work there."
They drove off, and I spent a few minutes castigating myself for giving away too much information and leaving myself and the house vulnerable. Luckily, I am not a character in a Flannery O'Connor short story. I do not need to be taught a lesson about God's grace by suffering some horrible violence at the hands of everyday thugs and creeps.
I finished last night by watching the next episode of the Ken Burns and Lynn Novick Vietnam documentary--we're up to the late 60's, to Nixon, to society unraveling. It's not a peaceful way to end the day, as I see so many similarities to our own polarized time. So far, I'm not learning a lot that I didn't already know, but it all feels important, and it's compelling storytelling/film making and so, I watch.
My thoughts are full of Septembers past. Let me capture some of those thoughts here.
--Today, the insurance adjuster arrives. We have already begun making nebulous plans about what must be done to preserve and restore the cottage. Even though we're not sure what we want to do with the space, we need to keep it as a cottage, so that our property value doesn't take a hit.
I am reminded of September 2013, when we raced towards a November date where our friend would move into the restored cottage or find another place to live. In September, I wasn't sure we could get it done.
--This is a week where some of my friends are away on vacation--and I am thinking of past Septembers when I took quick trips to the mountains to do retreat planning. I would return with apples and jars of jams and honey. I miss the apples and the time away, but I'm glad not to be driving.
--Last year we'd be getting back from our trip to Arizona--what a wonderful trip. A year ago today, I went for an interview that ultimately led to my current job.
--In 2009, we went to Indiana for my spouse's family reunion. The reunion itself was overwhelming, with all the family members assembled. But I really enjoyed the smaller reunions that happened throughout the week-end. We finished around a fire pit on a cousin's property, watching the sun drop, feeling the temperature drop too. The Indiana contingent talked about their dread of winter, and I was reminded that eternal summer, with its drawbacks, might be preferable.
--Even longer ago, in 1998, when we first moved down here, we rented part of a triplex. One September morning I came outside for my morning run, and my landlady, who lived in one of the other parts of the triplex, was enjoying her morning cigarette. She smiled at me and said, "The weather is changing. Can you feel it?"
I had to confess that I didn't. She said, "It's subtle. Once you've lived down here awhile, you'll see it."
One morning last week the air was slightly cooler and slightly more dry, and I thought of that conversation. But the next morning, the air was back to humid and warm, like the inside of a mouth.
A week from today it will be October--actually, a week from yesterday it will be October. I feel like I have lost the month of September, and in many ways, I have. I am also missing the more traditional elements of autumn: a chill in the air, a trip to a pumpkin patch or an apple orchard, a occasion to wear a cozy sweater.
Yesterday, the neighbor's bottlebrush tree mocked my desire for fall. We heard a crack, and a quarter of the tree fell on the car and the motorcycle. I want autumnal elements, not a literal fall. Luckily, my spouse and I were able to back the car out of the driveway (me), while lowering the chunk of tree (spouse).
I'll go back to appreciating the gumbo limbo leaves drifting by--while trying not to worry that it means that the trees have suffered damage.
But let me also remember the times that I spent with friends, times I might not have had if we hadn't had the hurricane disrupt the month:
--we evacuated to the house of friends further inland. We helped them finish securing their house, and we had plenty of time to sit and play cards, to work on some sewing projects, to cook together.
--One set of neighborhood friends invited us over for a meal that I'd traditionally expect on New Year's Day: beans, cornbread, and greens. It felt appropriate for the week where the hurricane wasn't as bad as we feared.
--The next night, another set of friends had us over for taco salad.
--We had another Saturday dinner at the evacuation house, but this time, with more friends, since the storm had passed. We compared notes, and I loved the story of the woman who decided to use the downtime to sort through stuff in a shed, only to discover that she had a generator that she didn't know she had.
Now that we have power restored, we won't all see each other as much. We must get caught up on various tasks of restoration and catching up with our clients and classes.
I spent much of yesterday catching up on the recent Vietnam documentary. On Thursday, it was downright jarring to turn on the evening news to hear about the latest Korea developments, and then switching to an old MASH episode before switching to the Vietnam documentary.
Yesterday, we took a break and walked to the marina. It was a sobering reminder that we had indeed endured a big storm: there are still several boats that are partially sunk at the far end of North Lake.
And yet, there was also the boat that came by blaring John Denver's "Country Roads." We don't hear much John Denver drifting across the Intracoastal. We smiled and sang along.
This morning I will skip spin class one more time in the interest of getting some of my grading done. Maybe by the end of the week, I will feel more like myself. Maybe I will be ready to greet October.
Friday night, I awoke to the sound of rain coming through the laundry room ceiling into the coolers that my spouse set up as the crisis was evolving. Because it happened soon after I fell asleep, I was useless--I am that kind of person who sleeps hard for 4 hours and then can't sleep well again.
My experience with hurricanes has led me to expect that we will be discovering damage for months to come. The thought of it exhausts me.
We spent yesterday going back and forth to Home Depot to get materials to try to patch the roof and to work on the swimming pool, which at the end of the hurricane looked murky and dark green, the kind of place where we would expect to see an alligator surfacing.
And then, this morning, the rains began, and the roof is not fixed, despite my spouse's efforts to patch it. We will call a roofer tomorrow.
We are educable, after all. After Hurricane Wilma, we had a leak that lasted for years while my spouse tried to fix it. Finally, we called a roofer who was able to find the leak--amazing what one misplaced nail can do. We ended up just having the roof replaced, since it was going to need it soon.
Now we have a flat roof. It will be interesting to see what the roofer recommends.
We have been having many discussions in the wake of this storm. I am worried about how our insurance rates may increase in the wake of the storm. I expect that many of the insurance companies who recently began to insure in this state again will decide to pull out. I expect that our rates may increase by 20-50% in the next year or two, and a 100% increase within 5-10 years will not surprise me.
When/if that happens, we will not be able to afford to stay here. We might be able to absorb a 20% increase, but more than that makes our situation precarious. We are both in the education field, not medicine, not law, not finance. We can only take on so many more part-time classes, even if they are available.
The other thing that makes me tired is the knowledge that we could get all of this fixed, and in just a few weeks, be facing another storm. We could have a storm every year--or we could go 12 years between storms. If you lived in most parts of the US, you might suffer something like a tornado, and you could be mostly sure, statistically, that you wouldn't have to suffer that again. With hurricanes, we can't. If I knew I'd get this all cleaned up and fixed and then we'd be OK, that would be different than this sinking feeling that this could be my life for awhile, depending on wind and currents and storms coming off Africa and such.
This knowledge comes along with the knowledge of my aging body. Yesterday, as we made our to-do list and our shopping list, my spouse said, "In my younger years, I'd have been halfway through this to-do list already." We are not in our younger years.
In fact, some days I feel ready to pack it all up and head for the old folks' home--but the deaths during Hurricane Irma show that those places may not be safe either.
In the end, I remind myself that we are lucky to have the options that we do. We have insurance, along with money in the bank so that we can make repairs. We had part of a tree fall on our car this morning, two weeks after the storm, but I was able to drive out from under it. We have electricity. Our lives will get back to normal, and if normal becomes unsustainable, we can make other plans.
We finally got power restored on Thursday--we had to have an electrician come out to do some repair work to the conduit/tubing/riser that had come apart. On Tuesday, the FPL woman told me that we didn't have to do that, that the crew would fix whatever damage they found. On Wednesday, the crew said no. I called several electricians--thank God for Facebook and my various communities there who could make recommendations.
I feel fortunate to have found an electrician who could come the next day, instead of in October. I feel fortunate to have power and even more fortunate not to have to do battle with Comcast.
During the rain yesterday, the first rain since Irma, we discovered a leak in the laundry room. I'm trying not to feel overwhelmed by the ever-growing to-do list.
I hope that this week will see a restoration to some sense of normalcy, even with all the repairs we need to make. I hope to be back to blogging more regularly this week.
Wednesday, day 10, no power, with the website saying it will be restored by 11:45 tonight. Let me keep my perspective by reminding myself that 2 weeks ago, my spouse and I took a walk and talked about the very real possibility of a category 4 hurricane coming over our house in a more direct hit and what that would mean for our house and posessions left behind (a total loss, we assumed, 2 weeks ago). Today, 2 weeks later, we don't have power, but we have a house.
Let me remember the very surreal feeling of walking through the house and thinking about evacuation by car or by plane--what would we grab? Our various documents, our laptops, and some clothes, if by plane. If by car, a few extras here and there.
As we packed the car on Friday, Sept. 8, I thought about the space that was left, and whether or not to leave things behind to face what we thought would be certain storm surge losses. Should I do a quick sort of CDs to ascertain what I'd truly miss? Perhaps pack a few books?
In the end, I left it all, for the most part. I meant to bring my box of chapbooks, but I didn't. We almost forgot the fireproof safe that has all of our important documents. It's become very clear to me that my survivalist skills have gotten rusty. In this week with no power, I've discovered that I didn't have the stash of batteries I thought I did, and we don't have an alarm clock that works with no electricity. Until 5 days ago, we had forgotten that one of our radios will work with AA batteries.
Let me not focus on the fact that my house is the only one on the block with no power still. Let me focus on the survivalist skill that I've kept sharp: a variety of communities. Let me sing the praises of people who have invited us over for a meal and who have shared their batteries. Lots of people have offered their generators or their guest rooms, but we don't need them, because of our very kind neighbor who hauled his revamped 1968 camper with AC down to our driveway--we've had a cool place to sleep.
We are rich in friends. We are lucky to have a safe neighborhood, where I can sit on the porch at all hours of the day or night to read. I am happy that I still have my supply books to read--I've been revisiting them. A collection of books: I may not have as many batteries as I need, but a supply of books is as important to me.
I have heard the chainsaws singing, each to each.
I do not think that they will sing to me.
It is interesting, the literary allusions that go through one's head, when one waits, sometimes patiently, sometimes in despair, for the power to be restored. Of course, Eliot used different images in his "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock." Mermaids, chainsaws, the sentiment is similar. Or perhaps I've been sitting in the heat too long.
I spent one afternoon sifting through people's offers in my head. A guest room, a place to put our air mattress, a 1968 camper that's not only been restored but had AC added--I recognized my grandmother's voice in my head, the woman who always said she didn't want to be a burden. My brain has become a mix of my grandmother, the Thoreau who wrote "Self-Reliance," and the voice I call my inner Laura Ingalls Wilder.
My inner Laura Ingalls Wilder tells me to quit whining and to get on with it. Build a house out of sod, or do something constructive. Did Laura's sister Mary ever whine? No, and she was blind. What do I have to complain about?
Most of the time, we keep our sense of perspective by reminding each other of how it could have been much worse. We have our house, even though it's got no power right now. The issues keeping us from having power are fixable. We should be back to "normal" soon. Many will not be so lucky.
Today, I broke down and went out for coffee. It's not as good as the coffee I will make when I have power. But this morning, with my spouse having an 8:00 class, we couldn't make coffee on the grill.
The power company says that our power will be restored today. We continue to live in hope--tinged with the fear that we will always be a third world spot with no power in our first world neighborhood.
When I think about the first two weeks of September 2017, I'm sure that it is Hurricane Irma that will loom large for me. But I also want to remember my father-in-law's 80th birthday, which I've already covered in earlier blog posts just after Labor Day. I also want to remember the reading I've done--an unintended treat that comes with air travel (Labor Day week-end) and loss of power (Hurricane Irma).
Before leaving on our Labor Day Surprise Birthday Party adventure, I didn't have time to get to the library. Happily, I have a huge library of my own, with plenty of books that I've meant to read. I first read The Hours when I was commuting back and forth to the University of Miami on public transit. I read it weeks after reading Mrs. Dalloway for my Brit Lit survey class, and my English major reading self loved that experience. I've wanted to do it again--what better opportunity than on a plane?
Two weeks ago I read most of Mrs. Dalloway on the plane to Memphis. I made an audible gasp when I got to the part of the novel that tells us that Mrs. Dalloway is 52 years old. In my head, I thought of her as 32 or so--probably because when I first read the novel, I was in my early 20's, and she didn't seem like a woman at midlife. Of course, when I first read it, how would I know?
Now, viewing the novel through that very different lens--characters at midlife wrestling with decisions they've made--it was very different for me. When I last read it, I was planning to teach it as a hallmark of literary British modernism, and when I read it in grad school, I was viewing it through that lens, along with my eagerness to see Virginia Woolf as my creative grandmother.
Once I finished Mrs. Dalloway, it was on to The Hours. It was phenomenal--amazingly phenomenal--to read the two back to back. I am in awe of the skill of both writers, but especially with Michael Cunningham's ability to take many of Woolf's elements and make them his own. As a woman at midlife, considering all the roads I've taken and not taken, both books spoke to me.
Of course, both books are dealing with great loves of one's youth, but loves that didn't result in lifelong partnering in a sexual/marriage way. Would the insights be different if these characters had fully committed to the great love only to find themselves at midlife with that person? Some of that longing and wistfulness comes from that memory of the highpoint of youth--when one thinks one is at the threshold of a great future, only to realize looking back that the moment of the kiss was in fact the primary moment, not the opening.
It was fascinating to read these novels about time and the strange way that time passes in its folding, wrinkling way as I travelled with my spouse--the love of my younger life, when I was as young as the two characters named Clarissa. But reader, I married him. And I read those books as I travelled to Memphis for a family reunion of sorts--and it was interesting to read those novels surrounded by these people whom I've been seeing periodically through all of my adult life.
At one point, on our way back, reading my way through a delay at the Memphis airport, I looked up and caught sight of myself in a window. In that wavering reflection, I thought that I looked very similar to that young girl who first arrived at the Memphis airport to see her college boyfriend, much to her parents' dismay. And here I am, journeying with him still.
Those two books are the highlight of my month of great books--and perhaps will be the highlight of the whole year. I am in awe of the writing of both Virginia Woolf and Michael Cunningham--it makes me want to return to my own writing desk again. Hopefully my power will be restored soon, and I will pick up my pen/pixels.
Today is the day that my good spirits start to flag. It was fun, the first day or two without power. We had had a few sunless days, after all, and then it was breezy, as one might expect in a hurricane. Most people lost power, so we were all camping in our houses. We went ahead and ate all the food that had been in the freezer. We chatted with neighbors with whom we rarely speak. We had leisurely evenings with nothing to distract us.
The sound of generators wasn't as maddening as in past storms--likewise for generators.
Now that some people have power, and we don't, I confess to feeling a bit more dejected. We are lucky--we should have power by Sunday, FPL tells us. We have activities planned at our friends' houses. I am so grateful to have friends who say, "Come over for dinner" and/or "Stay in our guest room."
Still, it's wearing.
And it's a valuable insight into the way that parts of the world live all the time. I know that plenty of people in the U.S. can't afford to run the AC, even if they have power and AC. I know that those same people often live in neighborhoods where it's not safe to open the windows. I know that although the developing world may have access to electricity more than they did in the past, that the electrical supply isn't reliable.
I know that plenty of people would love to live in my little cottage in the back of the property, even though we haven't cleaned it up from the flooding. I know that plenty of people would envy me my ability to cook on propane. I have water that's clean enough to bathe in and drink--much of the world does not.
This week, I have had a glimmer of how it feels to be a Have Not in a world of Haves. But it's only a glimmer. I'm only a tourist in this land. I'll be returning to my home country of the Haves very soon--but I hope to help more people migrate to this land, having been reminded of how tough it is to live on the Have Not side.
Two weeks ago, when I bought the autumn trees that run on battery power, I wasn't thinking I was buying hurricane supplies. But it has been lovely, sitting on our front porch, during these days without power, lit by only these trees. One morning, I got up early to read, and I was surprised that I could read by their light.
I don't know why I'm surprised. They have warm LED lights, and they require 3 AA batteries. This picture from the website doesn't do them justice:
We still don't have power yet. I am posting from my office, which does have power and the boil water order for Hollywood was lifted this morning. My AC at the office is a bit underpowered, but better than the temp at my house, which still has no power. Our neighbors' tree ripped out our power line when it toppled. I am hoping to have power restored soon, but it may be as late as Sunday.
We sheltered 17 miles inland, and by Monday, we were eager to get home to see what our status would be. I was not anticipating that the roads around our house would still be flooded--and how disorienting that would be. I got out of the car into calf-deep water in our front yard and counted the trees--our 3 gumbo limbo trees still stood. We passed several houses with palm trees through the roof, so I knew that even native trees might not be standing.
I expected flooding, so I was grateful that the water didn't get inside our main house. We have a small cottage in the back corner of the property, and it has flooded in a heavy rain, so we weren't surprised to find water intrusion. We think we had 6 inches of water in there. Happily, we don't have anyone living there or anyone with plans to stay there, so it's not the immediate crisis that it might be. We will throw out the drenched area rugs, and the floor underneath is concrete--most of the furniture appears to be salvageable.
We've spent the time since Monday clearing water out of the cottage, hauling brush, collapsing into exhausted sleep, hauling more brush, and taking trips in the car to enjoy AC, cellphone charging, and the possibility of batteries and ice. We've cooked up all the perishable food and shared it with neighbors. Here's a hurricane cooking tip: when cooking all your frozen veggies in one big pot on the grill, chuck in a stick of butter too--peas and beans and corn never tasted so good.
At some point, maybe I'll write a post about how my survivalist skills have gotten a bit rusty. I was surprised to see how our supply of batteries had dwindled, for example. I should remember that people get panicky about gas way before they need to. And I'll hang on to all these empty bottles--no need to buy water when I can fill bottles with tap water before the storm.
I'm still not sure what notes to make for next time when it looks like a huge (category 3+) storm is bearing down on us. It's too far to drive and not enough planes to fly us all out.
We are grateful that the damage to the main house was minimal. We know that so many across a broad swath of this Caribbean basin are not so fortunate.
It is 7:35 EDT on the southeast coast of Florida--Hurricane Irma's eye is at Key West right now. It's still a category 4 storm, and sadly, it has slowed down.
Here, 17 miles inland, in the northern part of Broward county, we still have power, so I thought I'd write a brief post.
We had a lovely day yesterday, helping our friends with the last of their storm prep--I was grateful to have a place to stay, so I was glad to be able to help. Actually, my spouse did all of the heavy-duty help.
In the evening, we kept hearing about tornado warnings. These are not the scary midwestern kind of tornadoes. Plus, many of us have impact resistant glass and/or shutters. These baby tornadoes really aren't much of a worry for me.
I'm more worried about flooding, but I'm seeing local news crews standing on wet but not flooded streets near the coast. I'm continuing to hope for the best for the east coast of Florida and to hope for unexpected good news from the Keys and the west coast.
The storm surge warning was lifted for our coastline, so if we get flooding, at least it won't be that kind of flooding.
We've had a few storm bands, but we still have power. So far, so good. It will be a long day, but others will have a much worse day.
Our days of watching and waiting and hoping and cursing and praying are coming to a close. Hurricane Irma arrives at some point in the next 24 hours. When I look at the radar, it seems we'll feel some bands later today or tonight. I think (and desperately hope) that we'll have a storm that arrives in daylight.
My spouse did much of the hurricane prep on Thursday, but some of it must be done at the last minute. Yesterday, I made some raspberry streusel bars, in part to use up the frozen raspberries, in part because they make good breakfast food. My spouse and I plotted out the day.
I made a quick run to the bank to deposit my spouse's paycheck while he started working on installing the last hurricane panels. I got back and helped, but I'm really not much help. For every wingnut I installed, he installed 4.
We had made several lists of what we'd take with us, but it was surprisingly hard to finish the work. When we were preparing, the projected track was right up the middle of the state. Should we protect our possessions that we left behind against the wind or against the floods? Probably both.
I knew that I'd be leaving some stuff in the dryer--it's off the ground and well protected. We put some framed family pictures in the dryer, but decided to leave the photo albums on the shelf. Once I have to go back to work, I want to have those clothes, so I added them to the collection, along with my work sandals that are in better shape.
I still had room. I put all of my poetry rough draft legal pads in there, my sketchbooks and expensive markers, and then I called it done.
I put the handwritten journals that are most important to me into the dishwasher. It's never been connected, so I didn't worry about water backing up into it. I was surprised by how much writing is left. I hope I don't lose it all, but if I do, I've protected the important stuff that's not already digitalized.
Then it was on to the food decisions. Since we would be evacuating to our friends' house, I didn't want to arrive with no food, but I wanted to be mindful that they wouldn't have room for all of our perishables. I had some salmon in the freezer; it stayed because my friends don't eat fish much, and I didn't want to cook fish there and put up with the stinky fish wrappers through the storm. All of our non-perishables with any nutritive value fit into several bags, so they came with us, along with a cooler of food for the freezer and the fridge.
We loaded the cars, which was a sobering moment. I looked at everything that was left behind? Should I try to cram all the CDs into every nook and cranny of the car? I was tempted, but I didn't. I moved some of our items up off the floor, and we unplugged everything. Then we put shutters over the last door and drove away.
We were worried about the traffic on major highways, so we took Highway 1 north. I was flooded by memories: there's the furniture store where we bought our sleigh bed which may or may not be there when we return. There's the Riverfront Hotel, where we stayed the very first time we visited Ft. Lauderdale. There's the Hustler Store that used to be the last Peaches Records in the U.S. I remembered meeting friends at various restaurants along the way. I felt somewhat desolate, but I didn't cry.
We are lucky to have friends who were sincere when they offered us shelter. We unloaded the cars, relaxed, and played cards all afternoon, just waiting for the 5 p.m. advisory.
The 5 p.m. advisory was good for us, but terrifying for the Keys. The track has shifted west again. We will stay put, because we're still on the outer edge of the cone, and it's a huge storm. We're still looking at hurricane force winds, but they'll be a category 1 or 2, not the category 4 that the Keys will feel.
By the end of the day, with all the physical labor and the worry, I was exhausted, but I found it hard to fall asleep. I was worried about the people who are under much more severe threat than they were this morning. I worried about the homeless people that we had seen along the way. I worried about the ability of all of us to weather two major hurricanes in a month. Eventually, I drifted off.
We are as prepared as we can be. When we emerge on the other side, we'll see where everyone stands, and we'll recover. I'm ready for this storm to be over.
It feels like a very long time ago that I first started to monitor the progress of Hurricane Irma. I have considered at every possibility, and now it looks like we will get the worst one for the state of Florida, a track right up the middle of the state for a major hurricane. The only saving grace is that we might only be looking at a category 3 through most of the state, instead of a 4 or 5.
My mood has swung back and forth. At some times, I am so terrified that I feel the blood race through my body. I go to an alert like this one, and I wonder why we're even bothering to secure our properties when all of the buildings will collapse and we will all die.
But then I saw some information that made me hopeful--and I saw it on the local news, of all places. One of our weather experts showed a graphic of maximum expected winds in our county--105 mph, which we've survived before. It's much better than the 150 or 180 that I was terrified we might see. I also saw a graphic that I saw divides the storm risk surge into 4 categories, and we're at the lowest risk. Southern Miami Dade county and points south are at the highest risk. In my home county, Broward, we have deep ocean out there, unlike a lot of other coastal areas, so the water will have some place to drain to.
My mom and dad listened to our state governor's press conference on Wed--I'm not sure what that man said exactly, but boy, did it make them feel panicked. Yesterday, my mom said that if we'd get to Orlando today, she'd pay any price for our plane ticket to get us out of here. We both searched for tickets, but there's not an empty plane seat today in any airport in Florida.
Yesterday was a typical pre-hurricane day: I woke up at 2, and decided to check the 11 p.m. advisory. I wrote this Facebook post: "I am sure that when people talk about the dark night of the soul, they are not talking about the sinking feeling that comes from waking up at 2 a.m. and reading the 11 p.m. National Hurricane Center advisory. Doing some laundry, pondering how far west is far enough to get away, hoping that the hurricane ultimately goes east of the Bahamas, far, far east."
I stayed awake for awhile, and around 3:38 a.m., I decided to go on a quest for gas. We likely had enough to get through the storm and its aftermath, but we have had such a run on gas stations that it made me anxious. At a convenience store nearby, I found pumps--no premium gas left, but I don't need that. So, I filled up one car and then the other.
My car tells me how many miles are left on a tank, so when I saw I could go 430 miles, I had a brief span of time when I thought about loading up the car and driving north. Later, my spouse and I looked at track maps and decided that everywhere we'd want to go would be in the path of the storm. And we know that the roads get increasingly crowded as everyone feels jittery and decides to make a run for it. Tough as it might be to ride out a storm here, it would be even worse--and likely deadly--to be stuck in the car on the Interstate.
I spent the rest of the morning before I went to work doing a bit of storm prep. It is strange to wander around the house thinking about losing it all--and even stranger to think about how little I would miss most of it. I don't really like most of our furniture, for example.
I felt the most despair when I looked at the refrigerator and freezer. I try not to stock up on perishables during hurricane season, but we still have a lot of food. I felt this despair well up, and I thought, what is this about? I'm feeling more despair about replaceable food than I am about other possessions? But I realized that the largest part of my despair comes from what the food represents: normal life, when one can buy and cook food.
As we finish our preparations today, I'll try to think about flooding. I'll move things that are valuable to me, like a box of journals, to a higher spot. I'll put some things like photo albums in the washer, dryer, or dishwasher. I'll wrap some things in plastic. One friend suggested I wrap all my books in plastic, but I don't have that kind of time--or plastic. And frankly, if all my books were ruined, I'd only feel sad about some of them.
So, Home Depot will open momentarily. Let me go see if I can buy some wing nuts that we need to attach the shutters to the doors (the windows have the very convenient accordion shutters) and some algaecide for the pool.
I've had my eye on Hurricane Irma for over a week now. Last Friday, I saw that the fall decorating items I've kept my eyes on had been reduced to 60% off, plus I had a coupon for 20% off. As I put double A batteries in the lighted autumnal trees that I bought, I said, "Next week, if we're facing a hurricane, and we need these batteries, I can take them back out of these trees."
I was sort of joking and sort of not. And here we are, almost a week later, and it's still not clear how this storm will affect the continental U.S. Based on what I saw when I was out and about yesterday, the panic has set in. Every gas station that still had gas had a line yesterday afternoon and evening. If we feel storm effects, we won't feel them until Saturday morning. I was surprised to see lines at the gas stations.
I went to Trader Joe's before meeting a friend for dinner. I had a nice chat with a heavily tattooed staff person who said she admired my attitude. I said, "Because I came straight to the wine section?" Later I realized that many people were there hoping to get some water.
I don't understand this quest for bottled water. At some point in the next few days, I'll fill up every container that I have with water from the tap--water that I've already paid for. If it looks really bad, we'll fill up the bathtub, and we also have a swimming pool, which we can use for flushing, if the water supply is disrupted.
As I moved through Trader Joe's, my inner Sociologist was intrigued to see what people had been buying. I was somewhat surprised to see that there was still so much beer and wine--but every bag of chips was gone. The bread was gone, and a stocker was refilling the apples and pears which had been wiped out. Most of the prepared trail mix was gone, but individual components like nuts and seeds and dried fruit were still plentiful. I bought two dozen eggs; if it looks like we'll get hit, I'll hard boil them, and in the days leading up to impact, if there's an impact, I may do some baking.
Last night, I felt uneasiness as I realized that we didn't have enough propane as I would like. I called a few stores, but everyone was out. Then it occurred to us that we often get a head start thawing meat (hamburger and fish) by putting it outside, where if we're not careful, it starts to cook. Worst case cooking scenario: we'll become pros at solar cooking! I seem to remember a Girl Scout solar oven project that involved a box and some tin foil.
Right now, we're still planning to shelter in place. After I got an e-mail from my sister telling me that we should stay safe and if that meant evacuation, we could stay with her, I went to the Southwest Air site in the late afternoon. On Wednesday and Thursday, every flight out of Ft. Lauderdale is sold out; on Friday, all but 2 are sold out.
Of course, I'm not usually looking at flights that are leaving in the next day or two--maybe they routinely sell out. Our Labor Day flights would have been sold out if I had been looking to book the day before.
For a hurricane moving south to north, it's hard to escape, unless we left today. And I'm worried about running out of gas or getting stuck in traffic of others who are fleeing. One of my colleagues, a native Floridian, is staying put; I asked if he had gone through Andrew, and he said that they wanted him to evacuate and would have sent him to Homestead, right in the path of the storm. With his years of experience and his advanced degrees in environmental science, I found his calm approach refreshing. He, too, will fill containers and the bathtub. He has half a tank of gas and isn't worried about it.
On my way to spin class this morning, I'll put gas in the car, if any of the stations along the way have some gas. And then we're about as ready as we can be.
I have been away--on Saturday, we made a quick trip to Memphis, and we returned last night. I kept it all quiet, in part because I try not to advertise when we're going to be away and in part, because the reason for our trip was a surprise.
Months ago, we started planning a surprise party for my father-in-law, who turns 80 years old today. We knew that what he'd really like would be to have as much of the family together as possible. So, those of us who live out of town committed to a Saturday surprise party. I wasn't convinced we could keep the surprise, but we did.
On Saturday, we hopped on a plane and had 2 smooth flights to Memphis: our first plane only had 72 people on it, which was great, and we snagged the exit row seats, with their luxurious leg room, for our second leg of the trip. We got to the Memphis airport, and my brother-in-law was there to pick us up; his family had spent the previous day and night driving from Homestead, and we had just flown in from Ft. Lauderdale. He has more vacation time accrued than we do; we had to be back in time for work today.
Can I just mention how sad the Memphis airport seemed? Maybe we were in a less-busy wing, but it was quite deserted, with none of the hustle and bustle of past years. I later learned that many airlines have pulled out of that airport completely, for the usual variety of reasons, mainly high cost to maintain a hub there.
The family planned to have the party in the church fellowship hall, which meant that more people could come. So, the first surprise for my father-in-law was the assembly of church people for a surprise party--and then about 7 minutes later, the extended family entered singing "Happy Birthday to You." It was wonderful how it all came together.
We spent several hours eating wonderful barbecue and catching up--and that sums up the rest of the week-end too. It was great to catch up with so many family members whom we don't see very often. I had time to get some sewing done, as I sat and socialized--my autumnal placemats are ready for quilting! I had time for reading--more about that in a post all of its own. It was a treat to have time in the countryside that surrounds Memphis, where my in-laws live.
I'm glad we were all able to get away to make this happen--we were only missing one family member from the immediate family (by which I mean my father-in-law's children and their children and his wife, of course). I know that we won't be able to do this too often--and how wonderful to gather for a happy occasion. In the years to come, I suspect we'll do more gathering for funerals than for birthdays.
But let me not think about the coming sadness. Let me take another day to savor the successes of the past week. Let this day be a day of continuing gratitude.
A poet, a scholar, an administrator, a wanna-be mystic--always wrestling with the temptation to run away to join an intentional community--but would it be contemplative? social justice oriented? creative? in the mountains? in the inner city?--may as well stay planted and wrestle with these tensions and contradictions here, at the edge of America.