Thursday, July 20, 2017

Love Each Other the Way You Have Loved the Monastery Dog

Near the end of our June retreat at Mepkin Abbey, I said, "I'm going to go home and love my husband the way we all love the monastery dog."

When I first met the monastery dog, I felt sorry for her.  I heard the story about how she appeared at the monastery in very bad shape, with a chain around her neck.  The monks took her in and taught her to trust the humans that show up at the monastery.

When I first met the dog, I thought about all the children who would never be part of her world.  But she has a never-ending supply of visitors who would likely pet her.  The monks take care of her.

I'm intrigued by how most people respond to the dog.  Almost everyone pets her head as she comes up to them with her wagging tail.  Many people kneel her level, all the better to be with her.  She seems to put most people in a better mood, and they respond to her accordingly.

She makes it easy to love her, in a way that humans don't always.  But how would the world change if we treated each and every human in the loving, soothing way that we treat the monastery dog?

I've had similar insights as I've watched toddlers move through the world.  I remember seeing a toddler in the process of having a crying meltdown in the parking lot--I'll never forget seeing the adult who was with her drop to her knees and talk in soothing tones.  It was so different than the way adults usually treat a child in the midst of a meltdown.

If we treated everyone that way, what a better world we would live in!

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Lessons from a Pudding Quest

When we had a planning session for this quarter's Student Appreciation week, we knew that students didn't want to have a salad bar.  We did that for Winter quarter, and because we had so many non-perishable salad items left, we did it for Spring too.  We thought about hot dogs for our summer Student Appreciation week, but I knew the smell would be oppressive (to me, at least).  I suggested ice cream, with toppings.  But that could be messy, what with all the melting ice cream.

I said, "How about pudding?  We could have similar toppings, but the pudding wouldn't melt the way ice cream will."  And thus, we agreed to pudding.  I had a vision of big tubs of ready-made pudding in the refrigerator section.

On Monday, I went out to get the pudding.  I thought it would be easy.  I went to the GFS, the store that wants us to think it's a Costco or Sam's, but without those membership fees.  They had pudding in a can.  I haven't thought about pudding in a large can since my days as a counselor at Girl Scout camp.  I can't remember what we did with the pudding, but I remember that our can opener didn't work, and so we used a rock and our penknives to open the can--punch, punch, punch, all the way round.

I went to Wal-Mart--no pudding in big vats in the refrigerated section, and no instant pudding either in the powdered section.  I started to worry.

Finally, in the Publix, I made a decision, after briefly considering switching to yogurt.  I went to the powdered pudding section, and there were pudding cups.  I compared the price to the small vats of ready-made pudding and how much it would cost to make pudding.  The pudding cups were cheaper.  And so, I switched my plan.

The pudding cups had advantages I didn't think of.  I was interested in big tubs because I thought it would be cheaper than other options--likewise, creating our own instant pudding.  But in addition to being cheaper, the pudding cups were more convenient--we didn't have to spend part of our morning making the pudding--and more important, we didn't have to dish out pudding.  We still used some paper bowls because we had thawed fruit and whipped cream that we'd kept in the freezer from a past student appreciation event that featured waffles.  But we didn't have to portion out pudding, so our prep time was much speedier.

So, in terms of waste, we probably generated more trash with this event.  But I took the cardboard packaging home to recycle, so I'm hoping we're about even.  And we used up some of the frozen stuff which was probably reaching its end date.  Just add it all to my tally--I need to spend my retirement planting trees to make up my debt to the planet!

As usual, I overbought, because I didn't want to run out.  We still have enough pudding for another event.  And because I bought cups, the pudding will keep.  If I bought vats of pudding, or if we made pudding, we'd have a lot of pudding to consume right now.

I'm glad I was able to change gears and go with an approach that worked better than the one I was convinced that we needed.  I'm glad that I had to consider other options when I couldn't find huge vats of pudding.  I'm glad that students seemed delighted to have pudding, even though they didn't eat as much as I thought they would.  I'm glad that my initial frustration at not finding pudding ended in a plan that worked.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Injecting Fitness into Regular Life

This morning, I did a little running as part of my morning walk to the marina to watch the sun rise.

Let me clarify.  I say running; you might watch me and beg to differ.  You might use a verb like jog or something that denotes an even slower speed.  Still, I haven't run much at all, much less at a sustained pace that lasts beyond a block, since 2015.  This morning, I did.  It felt great, until it started to feel painful.

I'm not planning to try to get back to my younger self who could run long distances.  I do miss that ability, but right now, I'm just trying to inject a bit more exercise into my days.  Lately in spin class, I've been thinking about "pushes," where we speed up for just 30 seconds, and I've thought about using that principle when I walk--because when I walk by myself, I'm rarely getting my heart rate up.

This morning, I could feel my pulse pounding--in a good way.

Before I started, my foot and back felt good, unlike some mornings where I can barely limp through my walk--on those mornings, I persevere because the movement helps loosen up the soreness.  This morning, perhaps because of the heavy pasta meal I ate last night, I felt raring to go.  And so, I let myself experiment with running a bit.  And it worked!

I've been trying to inject fitness into my days in other ways.  I work in an office that has energy saving lights that turn themselves off when there's no movement; often that happens when I'm still at my desk, since the motion sensor part of the light is in a strange spot.   So when the lights go out, I use it as a reminder to stretch.

I've thought of using a calendar reminder to stretch or to leave the desk--but I know how easy it is to ignore that, once I've got it set up.  The lights going out are harder to ignore.

I feel some of my fitness levels ebbing away as I sit at my desk day after day.  It's good to remember that I can reclaim parts of myself that I assumed might be lost forever--particularly as I'm dealing with foot pain and back pain.  It's good to remember what can be done, even when there's pain.  It's good to remember that midlife has it's challenges, but those challenges aren't the final word.

It's a good larger life lesson too.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Voldemort Defeats Me Too

I've been paying a smidge of attention to who is watching Game of Thrones and who is not.  I am not.  By the time someone told me I should tune in, there were 40 hours of show to watch.  I had already made the decision not to read the books, with their thousands of pages accumulated.  The sheer volume of it all was overwhelming.

The truth is that there's never been so much quality stuff to watch, and it should be easier than ever.  But I find myself appreciating old fashioned TV, where I can watch an episode here or there, and if I don't tune in for 6 months, I can easily drop back in.  And if I don't, that's fine too.

When Harry Potter was big, I was the only one in my circle who hadn't read the books.  Even my friends without children read the books.  I did see the first several movies, but I stopped somewhere along movie 5, where the movie was literally too dark to see on my TV screen.  Life is too short to squint for 3+ hours.

But a few months ago, I read Timothy Snyder's On Tyranny:  Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century.  In chapter 9, "Be Kind to Our Language," he says, "One novel known by millions of young Americans that offers an account of tyranny and resistance is J.K. Rowling's, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.  If you or your friends or your children did not read it that way the first time, then it bears reading again" (pp. 62-63).

I decided it was time to try to enter Harry Potter's world again.  I had hopes that my familiarity with the movies might help me understand the plot and the characters.

But I just can't keep going:  130 pages, and I'm confused and frustrated and wondering when the action will happen.
I'm throwing in the towel.  Life is short, and there's so much to read.
I am happy to have retrieved a memory.  When I read Voldemort's name, I was reminded of a president at my old school who was stymied and when he wasn't stymied, he made progress at what appeared to be an attempt to destroy what we had all built.  It became clear that we should be careful when we talked about him, even if we thought no one could hear.  And so, we named him Voldemort.
It probably fooled no one.  In retrospect, those of us talking probably were beneath his notice.  But the memory of us adopting that name for the one who seemed to be an arch villain made me smile--while also making me wince.
Would that be a useful nugget for the collection of short stories I'm writing?  One hundred years from now, will the reference to Voldemort be understood?
How much a part of popular culture will these books remain?  I suspect that they have serious staying power.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Good Reading for Sleepless Nights

The last few nights have been somewhat sleepless.  I'm the first one on the list of people the alarm company calls when the alarm goes off at school.  We've had calls two nights in a row about the same classroom.  The first night, Friday night, it took me 2 hours to fall back asleep.  Last night I had trouble sleeping, but when the call came, I did manage to fall back asleep.

The first night, I got up and read two chapters of the last Harry Potter novel.  I'm finding myself frustrated in the same ways (moments of delight at the inventiveness punctuated by long spells of boredom when I think about scenes that could be eliminated or condensed) that I was with the first 2 novels, and I don't know if I'm up for 700+ more pages of this.

Last night, I read Love, Henri:  Letters on the Spiritual Life, a collection of Henri Nouwen's letters.  What a delight!  I'm not done yet, but it has captivated me--I can't wait to return to it.

I had hoped that it would be this kind of reading experience.  I've always loved Nouwen's journals more than his more intentional writing.  And when I've read work pulled from letters he wrote, I've loved that too. 

His letters are full of warmth and honesty, no matter the audience.  They're also full of good advice, even now, decades after they were written for someone specific.  Here's an example:  ". . . we would do well to think about what pastoral care for nostalgic people means.  After all, don't we all desire to return to paradise?" (p. 8).

I was also intrigued by his work/academic/pastor life trajectory:  not serious to get tenure at some schools, not theologically minded enough, not focused on regular pastoral life, so hard to please everyone.

The beginning material by the woman who compiled the text also provided fascinating insight into his writing life, his letter writing life.  He was so meticulous, and even though his letters may talk about how long it has taken him to respond, he was responding to lots of people and staying connected.

I wish I could say that after reading his work, I fell into a blissful, non-worried sleep, but that was not the case.  I read his book and wanted to write letters or theology or stay up late praying.  To me, that's the mark of a wonderful book.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Birthday Report

My birthday got off to a rousing start:  a few Facebook birthday good wishes and then off to spin class, where my spin class buddies sang "Happy Birthday" to me.  We had a vigorous spin class--it was great.

No one at work realized it was my birthday, which was fine with me.  Every so often through the day, I checked on Facebook, where everyone knew it was my birthday.

I had planned to have our regular Friday meal:  my favorite meal of burgers and wine.  I thought that in honor of my birthday, we'd have a better quality of wine.  But it didn't come to the wine store in time, so in some ways, it felt like a regular Friday.

We spent some time in the pool.  I feel like we've spent the summer fixing the pool, with no time to be in the pool, so it was lovely to finally have a pool evening.

We may grill flank steak this week-end, but primarily because it was on sale, not because of my birthday.  We'll have the better quality wine with the flank steak.
In short, it's likely to be a quiet-ish birthday week-end, but I'm truly OK with that.  I spend so much of the week feeling tired and rushed and overextended that the idea of quietness at home, with better wine than I could afford at a restaurant, is truly happiness to me.
I've watched other people get upset over how people remember or don't remember special days.  I've watched people spend gobs and gobs of money, often money they don't have, in an attempt to have a high holy day of activities and gifts.
So yes, it will be a good birthday week-end.  But it won't be vastly different from most week-ends--and that's what makes me feel truly fortunate.  I don't have a life that's so difficult that I need to make birthdays such a focal point. 
Plus, as I age, I realize how lucky I am to be here to celebrate another year.  So I try to inject that awareness into each and every day, even if it's just appreciating my petunias on the porch or a glass of wine at the end of the day or how wonderful that first cup of coffee tastes in the morning.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Of Bastille Day and Birthdays

Today we have another chance to celebrate the human thirst for liberty and to ponder who gets to enjoy equality and who does not.  It's Bastille Day, the French equivalent (sort of ) of our Independence Day. I see this historical event as one of many that launched us on the road to equality. It's an uneven success to be sure. More of us in the first world enjoy more liberty than those in developing nations. But that thirst for freedom and equality found some expression in the French Revolution, and I could argue that much liberation theology has some rootedness in that soil (yes, it would be a problematic argument, I know).

Today is also my birthday.  Even though it's a Friday, we'll probably enjoy this Friday the way we enjoy most Fridays:  burgers and wine and a quiet evening at home.  I will stop at Hollywood Vine in downtown Hollywood to get a better quality of wine than we usually drink on Fridays, but that will likely be my main culinary celebration.

I will go to work because work is not onerous.  Why burn a vacation day for a birthday?  I spent many a lonely birthday as a child or teen because my birthday was in the summer and everyone was on vacation elsewhere.

We'll have a relatively quiet birthday week-end.  My spouse began his second summer session classes behind, so we're trying not to schedule too much.  I will go to my quilt group tomorrow, which will be a treat.  We may grill flank steak, but not because it's my birthday week-end but because it was on sale.

I will also listen to the music of Woody Guthrie because it's his birthday too.  I've long been fascinated by Woody Guthrie, probably ever since childhood, when I realized we shared a birthday. When I went to elementary school in the 1970's, we sang "This Land Is Your Land" far more than we sang "God Bless America." In fact, Woody Guthrie wrote "This Land Is Your Land" in direct response to "God Bless America." "This Land Is Your Land" is a much better song, but of course, I'm biased.

As elementary school children, we didn't sing the most radical verse:

"As I was walkin' - I saw a sign there
And that sign said - no tress passin'
But on the other side .... it didn't say nothin!
Now that side was made for you and me!"
Those verses are fairly radical, the idea that the land belongs to us all. I love it.

I find Guthrie fascinating as an artist. Here's a singer-songwriter who doesn't know music theory, who left behind a treasure trove of lyrics but no music written on musical staffs or chords--because he didn't know how to do it. For many of the songs that he wrote, he simply used melodies that already existed.

I think of Woody Guthrie as one of those artists who only needed 3 chords and the truth--but in fact, he said that anyone who used more than two chords is showing off. In my later years, I've wondered if he developed this mantra because he couldn't handle more than 2 chords.

I love this vision I have of Guthrie as an artist who didn't let his lack of knowledge hold him back. I love how he turned the deficits that might have held a lesser artist back into strengths. I love that he's created a whole body of work, but his most famous song is still sung by schoolchildren everywhere, and how subversive is that?

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Tag Team Life

I don't have as much time to write this morning.  I met my Hindu writer book lover friend for dinner at Panera, stopped in at Trader Joe's on the way home, and drove home, keeping a wary eye on the sky.

The clouds were purple and black and glowing--once I would have said, "It's a Steven Spielberg sky."  Now I'm not sure that people would know what I meant.  It was the kind of sky where I expected the clouds to part in a swirling hole that would reveal an alternate world.

Instead, it just opened up to rain.  We have the remnants of a tropical system over us, which is better than having a developed tropical system over us.

I stayed up late to make sure that my spouse got home from his class in Miami--and then we stayed up, in part because he's always too wound up after teaching to go to bed, and in part, because we wanted to catch up.

My spouse and I will do tag team chicken and dumpling making this morning.  I have a chicken in the pot, and the house smells wonderful.

It's not as stormy as I thought it would be this morning.  But even if the skies clear completely, it will be good to know that a pot of chicken and dumplings awaits at the end of the day.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Chocolate Potlucks and Other Adventures

Yesterday was a great day at school.  We had a chocolate potluck day.  There's always that fear that we won't have enough food, although for an event like this, we're not serving a meal--it would be enough if everyone just had a taste.  I  brought a Mississippi Mud cake to share. It's the heaviest cake I've ever made, dense and sweet as a recipe that hails from the 1970's should be. I cut it into very small pieces, since I knew it may be a bit much for modern palates.

We had 5 batches of brownies--every single brownie devoured.  Half of my Mississippi Mud cake was left, along with some cookies--we saved those for the evening students. I have heard that they feel left out of these events, so I've been trying to remember to include them.

And as they arrived to class, they seemed pleased, although I'm not sure they realized that a chocolate potluck was planned for the day.

I'm calling this event a success!

I'll post the recipe later, in case you want to make one for yourself or for someone you know who needs to put on weight.

I also had a chance to talk with people about other ideas I've had.  I'm still working with the idea of a food pantry or bags of food that they can get.  One of our instructors just had her father die, and he was the kind of man who stocked up on lots of canned goods, the kind of food that the instructor and her daughter aren't likely to eat, like ravioli or vegetables.  When she's ready to sort them, we'll talk more about starting a food bag initiative.

I talked to a student who wanted a copy of his schedule.  I noticed that he had an odd-for-our-students with a class Tuesday morning and a class Tuesday night.  He said that he'd had some issues with his car, and he would be more likely to make it to class if he could keep it all on one day.  I'd been thinking about a ride share board, and he and I talked about whether or not it could work.

I had worried that students might take advantage of each other, by charging too much to share a ride.  But we agreed that students are adults who won't have to accept terms and conditions if they don't like them.  We agreed that there's risk of an accident, but they'd have that risk with Uber or Lift.  I didn't tell him about my fear that someone might be driven somewhere and attacked, but I do worry about that.

So at today's management team meeting, I'll bring it up.  We have extra bulletin boards--it wouldn't take much to launch this idea.

I like being at a place that's small, where I can actually do activities to make the school better and to keep the students feeling more connected.  I feel very lucky.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Apocalyptic Scenarios

Yesterday afternoon I read this article on the coming environmental apocalypse.  It begins this way:  "It is, I promise, worse than you think. If your anxiety about global warming is dominated by fears of sea-level rise, you are barely scratching the surface of what terrors are possible, even within the lifetime of a teenager today." 

The piece of click bait that worked on me was this nugget:  "The present tense of climate change — the destruction we’ve already baked into our future — is horrifying enough. Most people talk as if Miami and Bangladesh still have a chance of surviving; most of the scientists I spoke with assume we’ll lose them within the century, even if we stop burning fossil fuel in the next decade."

It's a sobering article accompanied by some interesting art pieces, yet it didn't tell me much that I don't already know.  Of course, I've been thinking about these issues for a long time now.  Ironically, it was global climate change that convinced us to move to southern Florida rather than the desert southwest.  In the middle 1990's when we were making these decisions, I didn't include sea level rise in my calculations.  It wasn't expected to be that bad in our lifetime.  Now, it might be.

I expect that most of us will leave the area long before the sea swallows the land.  It's hard to tell what will drive the bulk of us away first.  Housing is pricey, and a large part of that price is the insurance that it takes to live here.  We are upper-middle class people, and each year when I open the homeowners insurance and wind insurance and flood insurance, I spend several weeks wondering how long we can continue to live here.

At some point the cost of drinking water may become unsustainable.  For now, we have a wonderful aquifer that runs below us.  We won't drink up all that water in my lifetime, but saltwater intrusion will likely happen--and then we'll have to pay much more for the water.

Why live here?  For one thing, it's a matter of sunk cost--we've already invested a lot, so we may as well enjoy it while we can.  And it's not like there's lots of jobs further inland and upland.  But it's mainly because I haven't gotten a clear sign that it's time to go.

Of course, once I get that sign, it may be more difficult.  The first house that is declared uninsurable will mean that the rest of us can't sell our houses.  The first taste of salt in the drinking water may lead to panic.

As the article comes to an end, the essayist wonders why we're not seeing climate change in our creative writing:  "So why can’t we see it? In his recent book-length essay The Great Derangement, the Indian novelist Amitav Ghosh wonders why global warming and natural disaster haven’t become major subjects of contemporary fiction — why we don’t seem able to imagine climate catastrophe, and why we haven’t yet had a spate of novels in the genre he basically imagines into half-existence and names “the environmental uncanny.” “Consider, for example, the stories that congeal around questions like, ‘Where were you when the Berlin Wall fell?’ or ‘Where were you on 9/11?’ ” he writes. “Will it ever be possible to ask, in the same vein, ‘Where were you at 400 ppm?’ or ‘Where were you when the Larsen B ice shelf broke up?’ ” His answer: Probably not, because the dilemmas and dramas of climate change are simply incompatible with the kinds of stories we tell ourselves about ourselves, especially in novels, which tend to emphasize the journey of an individual conscience rather than the poisonous miasma of social fate."

I'm not sure I agree with the premise, yet I can't summon non-science fiction works to rebut the claim. I would argue that we see poetry exploring these ideas far more effectively than most genres.

It's an interesting call to artists.  Let me ponder it.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Week-end Update: Quiet but Satisfying

It was a quiet week-end, the kind of week-end where we both had lots of grading to do, and so we didn't do much in the way of making plans.  We got some work done around the house, the constant upkeep kind of work that comes with having a house that has a yard and a pool, and I got some sorting done on Friday night.

Yesterday I led all 3 services at church, which went well.  I was lucky--I had a good text:  turning the other cheek, which I taught as resistance text (thank you Walter Wink!).  For more on yesterday's approach, see this post on my theology blog.

I got a bit of writing done, and the plotting that often happens before the writing was also going on in my head.

I've been reading some Neil Gaimon before I launch into the next big reading project with my reading buddy friend (who is also my Hindu writer friend):  Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, which I've heard recommended as a book with interesting insight to our political times.  When I was in the library to get that book, I found a collection of Gaimon's nonfiction, which is almost too complete.  Some of the speeches interest me, while the introductions to various books only interest me if I've heard of the book.

My friend had recommended a Gaimon short story to me, so I got a collection of his short stories.  It didn't have the one my friend recommended ("Chivalry").  But I did read "The Man Who Forgot Ray Bradbury"--who can resist that title?

I want to remember that dinner a few months ago when my friend told me she'd been reading Neil Gaimon's short stories.  I misunderstood and thought that Neil Diamond had turned his creative skills to short stories, which struck me as curious but not impossible.

Throughout the week-end we cooked simple meals of burritos and nachos.  I did some baking for our school's chocolate potluck tomorrow--more on that later.  I'll be interested to discover how my Mississippi Mud cake turned out.  It's a recipe from the 70's that I copied long ago.  It calls for things like 1 jar of marshmallow fluff and 1 box powdered sugar--here's hoping I got the measurements right.  Of course, it won't realy matter in this gooey decadence of a cake.

And so, the week-end comes to an end.  Let me get ready for today.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Cycles, both Seasonal and Spiritual

As I've been watching the moon move to fullness, I've been thinking about the last time I saw the full moon:  when I was at Mepkin Abbey.  A month ago, I'd have already been on the road for a few hours.

My brain is also thinking about the future--soon, summer will be over.  I'm seeing displays of school supplies in the stores already, and I confess to wishing it was time to decorate for Christmas.  Part of it is the relentless heat.  Part of it is my inner restlessness--learning to enjoy the season I'm in will be my lifetime task, I suspect.

I've been thinking about other times I was struck by the full moon--when we first moved to this house, I became much more aware of which phase the moon was in.  One October, I couldn't get enough of that huge full moon.  I felt like it watched over me as I worked as a new adjunct faculty member to understand how the online system worked.

Now, too, I'm learning a different online system:  having avoided the Blackboard learning management system for my whole teaching life, now my spouse is newly hired as an adjunct and needs to come up to speed quickly, so we're working on it as a group project.

I think about the next time the moon will be full.  We'll have hosted camp counselors who are coming at the end of July to run a VBS program at my church.  We'll know if a former colleague wants to live in the cottage.  We'll be getting ready for an end-of-summer visit from my sister and nephew.  At work, we'll know how our numbers are sorting out.

Let me focus on the day at hand.  Soon I will head to church to lead services today so that my pastor can enjoy some vacation time.  When I agreed to do it, July 9 seemed so far into the future.  We are finishing a sermon series on The Sermon on the Mount.  Today's reading is about turning the other cheek.  I will be introducing the congregation to the work of Walter Wink, who sees this text from Matthew as a resistance text. 

You might have been taught that it preaches passivity in the face of violence.  Wink argues that this text shows us how to resist evil in such a way that evil elements will not turn around and destroy us and how to resist evil in such a way that we don’t become the evil that we are resisting.

For more, see this post on my theology blog.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

From the Detritus, A Midsummer Art Project Plan

Last night, as my spouse talked on the phone, I tried to sort through some shelves.  We moved into this house 4 years ago, and I haven't touched many of the things I put onto the shelves since then.  I wanted to make sure that we still needed those things.

What did I find?  Lots of detritus of technology past.  In one packet of stuff that came with a computer that I no longer remember, I found a CD that I can load onto my computer which will let me have a free trial of AOL for 30 days--how many generations of computer software ago was that?

On a shelf of even older technology, I looked through what I assumed would be blank paper journals.  Lo and behold, some of them had writing.  From 2007, I found a log I kept when I was first Assistant Chair of General Education--just in case anyone ever asked me to justify myself.  I decided not to look through that one too closely.

I found a journal that I forgot I ever kept.  Long ago, before my current pastor was my pastor, he asked me to be part of a group he formed to help him with his dissertation, which looked at how we might encounter God in the outdoors.  Our group went to various locations, experienced the location, wrote in our journals, and then discussed.  We walked around the lake at the community college, the Hollywood Beach Broadwalk, and a labyrinth at an Episcopal school.  Once our pastor was done with our journals for his dissertation writing, he gave them back to us.  Fascinating!

I found a lot of materials that we kept in anticipation of doing more collaging.  I decided to throw away old calendars.  But I kept the envelopes of images and words that I cut out and saved--and I've developed a mid-summer art project plan.  I will collage with these materials that I collected at least 5 years ago.  I'll also go through the pile of magazines that I have in the living room.

So, this will be a different kind of collaging.  I've always collaged with images that spoke to me from magazines--I've never used images that I collected years ago.  Will it be an experience of time looping back on itself?  Or just a different curating of images from which to choose?

Stay tuned!

Friday, July 7, 2017

Sands Through an Hourglass

Yesterday was punctuated by 3 soul satisfying times.  I started by writing part of a poem.  I'd been thinking about a Jesus in the world poem:  Jesus and the accrediting team.  I wrote part of it before becoming a bit stumped by Jesus taking the team to an externship site.  So I went for a walk and got to see a beautiful pre-sunrise near the marina, where the sailboats who don't want to pay slip fees park for the night.  The sight made me happy, as it always does, but the poem writing made me happier; it has not come easily to me this summer.

I got to work and midway through the morning, we had a swearing in ceremony of the Student Ambassadors--it's a group that's a mix of honor society and service club, and we haven't had one on our campus in a very long time, if ever.  When we first talked about resurrecting it, I must confess to feeling doubtful that we would have much student interest--but I was happy to be wrong. 

I was pleased with my remarks--I kept them short and focused on students and leadership.  I had a sense of what I wanted to say, but I didn't write it all out, so I was even more pleased that the words came easily.  My new boss later complimented me on the ceremony, which made me happy.

On my way home from work, I stopped by the Hollywood library.  I browsed the new book section and picked up Dani Shapiro's Hourglass:  Time, Memory, Marriage, which I came home and devoured in one big gulp.  What a wonderful book.

Once I'd have read this book and been frustrated because I would have wanted more information about The Writing Life.  While this book has some of that, it's more of an exploration of both marriage and aging--not the aging that comes later in life, but midlife aging.  The memoir does its exploring through the lens of marriage:  two people who would have had very different lives and careers if they hadn't met, two people who have been together 18 years.  It's poignant and tender, as one would expect.  It's also bracingly honest:  there's no betrayal, in the form we might be expecting, but there's the betrayal of careers that suddenly stall, of family members who have crises, of a house that needs constant work.  There's the writing of our youth that haunts our midlife.  There's the loss of people who are no longer with us--including our younger selves.

In short, it spoke to me exactly where I am.  It's rare that I encounter a book that wrestles with much of what haunts me during the times I stop to ponder my life.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Wild Florida and Tamed Kristin

Last night I stayed late at work.  It was the last day of drop-add, and I wanted to make sure that every student was taken care of.  Suffice it to say, my plan to write in the evenings while my spouse is at class isn't working out.  The last thing I wanted last night was to spend more time at the screen and the keyboard.

Plus I was starved.  I watched Master Chef and ate a simple, but satisfying meal of black bean burritos.  Very nourishing and filling. 

At 9, I tuned into The Forgotten Coast: Return to Wild Florida, a great show on PBS.  When I saw the previews, I had assumed that the coast they would explore would be the Everglades, but they actually started at the headwaters of the Everglades (near Orlando) and headed west and then north and then west again, all the way to the western end of the Florida panhandle.

They tried to follow paths that wildlife would take, which was an interesting exploration of how development impacts wildlife.  But for most of the show, the 3 person team was in very remote parts of the state along the Gulf coast.

They hiked, swam, and used a variety of non-motorized vehicles:  kayaks, paddleboards, and bikes.  It was the kind of show that made me want to know the back story.  They were gone over multiple weeks and hundreds of miles--did they have a support team that brought their various pieces of equipment at certain segments?  In shots of the three in their kayaks, they weren't dragging bikes with them.  And they didn't seem to have all their food for the whole trip with them.

But it wasn't that kind of show.  It was much discussion of species and habitat and weather--and wonderful photography and filming.  It made me want to pack a few things on my back (I first typed bike--hmmm) and head towards the Everglades, where I would find a nice clearing and build myself a shack.  How soon would it take to tire of that?

The show didn't shy away from issues of climate change.  The segment that most spoke to me was one of exploration of how salt water is intruding into fresh water in the swamp where the river meets the Gulf.  A family runs a remote lodge there, and they noticed that around 2004, the trees began retreating from the salt water at a much increased pace.  The pictures proved the tale--and showed how just a bit of sea level rise can have huge impact.

I felt a bit of sadness as I watched these super-fit people (2 men and 1 woman) make their way across the rugged-ish terrain of Florida's non-beach coast.  When I was young, I planned to hike the Appalachian Trail from beginning to end and/or to bike from coast to coast, an activity that was popular when my family made our way west during the summer of 1976.  Although a long hike might be in my future, I can't see myself making a long trip by kayak or bike.  And even a long trip would require sleeping on the hard ground--many mornings I have trouble with my back after a night in my bed.

This morning, as I walked to the marina to watch the sun rise over the sailboats, or more accurately, the sky changing colors before sunrise, I thought about my sadness of feats of fitness I will likely never master.  But I reminded myself that there are other expeditions that can bring me joy.  Let me start planning some of those.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

A Relatively Quiet Independence Day

I suspect that I am like much of the nation in that I didn't get much sleep last night, and yet, off I go to work this morning.  Right now, I feel O.K.--will I still say that by 3 or 4 this afternoon?

One reason why I didn't get much sleep was that we took a nap that lasted 2 and a half hours--so I wasn't tired at my normal bed time.

I went outside to see if I could see the fireworks at Hollywood Beach; I really couldn't.  I stood outside anyway, since my spouse had gone up onto the roof to see what he could see.  He had a better view, but I still enjoyed seeing occasional bursts of color through the palm frond shadows.

I came in and watched the very end of A Capitol Fourth; and then, happily, our PBS station showed it again.  And then, at the end of that showing, at 11 p.m., I got interested in the next show on the history of the Mall in downtown D.C.--fascinating!

I didn't get to bed until midnight, and then I had trouble staying asleep.  But any tiredness I feel today will be worth it--that's how good the show on the Mall was.

It was a relatively quiet holiday, and it's not as smoky outside as it sometimes is on July 5.  We didn't have as much evening foot traffic as we have the past two years, but I enjoyed sitting on the porch, drinking some wine, wishing those who walked by a happy 4th.  We got some work done, but never as much as we would have wished.  I decided not to celebrate another holiday by pulling weeds, so it was great to spend time in the pool.

Yes, all in all, a great Independence Day.  May there be many more to celebrate!

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Independence Day Thoughts on Liberty

Yesterday I made copies of the Declaration of Independence.  As I gave out granola bars and fruit, I said, "I have granola bars, I have fruit, I have copies of the Declaration of Independence--all you need to get your holiday week started out right."

A few students took a copy, which made me happy.  But even if few people took my hint and my handout, I'm glad that I could be there to remind us all that there's more to Independence Day than having the day off, than wearing patriotic colors, than having a cookout or enjoying fireworks (or comforting our pets and PSTD sufferers who do not enjoy fireworks).

I am already thinking about next year:  could we stage a reading of the Declaration?  I'd like to do more with these holidays to help students remember the larger picture.

I have said before that the advantage to being part of a smaller campus that's part of a larger network is that I can do certain things, like buy granola bars and hand them out.  If we decided to read the Declaration of Independence out loud next year, we'd be free to do that. 

My old school was also part of a larger network, but we didn't seem to be nimble enough to try out new ideas.  Or maybe by the time we realized we needed to do that, it was too late; morale was already so low that it was hard to motivate people to do anything at all.

My current campus is fairly new, and that's an advantage too.  We don't have people mourning the loss of the school's glory days.  We have people excited about the idea of campus growth--it's a different feeling than the one of desperation at my old school, where we knew that population was falling at a scary rate, and we knew the implications, but we were frozen with fear.

On this Independence Day, of course I have our country's founding parents on my brain.  What made some of them so convinced of their vision that they were willing to risk being hung for treason?  Were events just so intolerable that the risk of death didn't matter?  Or were they enchanted by a vision of life as it could be?

For each patriot, I suspect the answer was different.

I am happy that at this point in my life, I don't have choices to make like those that faced people in 1775 or 1776.  I am worried that we are headed down that road.  I think of the ending of the Declaration:  "And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor."

In the coming years, I wonder how many of us will have to do some serious thinking about what is worth the price of that pledge.

Monday, July 3, 2017

Sunday Report

Yesterday was strange in many ways.  I've joked, but only half jokingly, that my current church will turn me into a Quaker.  There's something about our occasionally overamplified sanctuary that makes the idea of sitting together in silence incredibly appealing.  Yesterday was one of those overamplified days.

We stopped by the pool supply company on our way home, and then after a dose of aspiring, we ate leftovers and worked on the filter canister.  The part didn't come with the o-ring, so off we went to the Home Depot.

They didn't have it, but the Home Depot guy suggested we go to McDonald Hardware across from Lester's Diner in Ft. Lauderdale.  Since we were already halfway there, off we went.

Thank goodness for old-fashioned hardware stores!  They had the o-ring we needed and for much cheaper than the Home Depot would have had it.

Have we fixed the pool?  It's too early to tell yet.  We have a leak at the top of the filter canister.  We've tried numerous things in an attempt to fix it.

We relaxed in the pool a bit, and then it was back in the house to work on my spouse's blended class, which he got at the very last minute.  It's the first time he's taught for this dean, and he inherited a course shell that he can only change minimally--primarily, the dates.  So, we had to figure out the non-onground parts of the class and figure out the best schedule.  Then came the drudgery of changing dates in various parts of the course shell.

And then we put it all in my spouse's paper calendar, along with due dates from other classes.  There's probably an essay here about how we interact with technology.  It's probably been said before.

Today is my last day of handing out granola bars and fruit to arriving students and getting summer quarter off to a good start.  And then, tomorrow, a day of vacation!  And then back to work--how strange it will be.

Today we're wearing red, white, and blue at school.  I made a handout of the Declaration of Independence, and a sign that says, "Don't just wear red, white, and blue!  Read the Declaration of Independence!  Free copies!  Take one or two!"  I'll offer those, too, along with the granola bars, fruit, and cookies for the evening classes.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Mid-Year Reading Report

A week ago, I finished reading The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen, which has been on my to-read list since it first won the Pulitzer a few years ago.  I first started reading it at Mepkin Abbey, where it made a strange juxtaposition with The Underground Railroad, which I had reread the week-end before.  I was blown away by the first chapter of Nguyen's book--so lyrical, so beautiful, such promise.  No wonder it won the Pulitzer.

But after I finished, I felt much less easy about the book.  There's a torture scene at the end that lasts for a long time and is quite brutal, and I wondered if it was necessary.  It didn't haunt me the way that the torture scenes in Whitehead's novel have haunted me.  I continue to be amazed that Whitehead could explore slavery and race and history in the U.S. in ways that felt fresh.  Nguyen's writing began to feel clichéd by the end.

And I found the characters wearisome.  By the end of The Sympathizer, I hated them all.  I wasn't expecting that development.  But I kept reading, in part because I was aware of my developing negative feelings, and I knew the book had won the Pulitzer, and I wanted to see if there were better chunks to come at the end.

I was glad to return the book to the library.  Yesterday, I picked up a very different book, Rebecca Solnit's The Mother of All Questions.  I was surprised that my public library had it, since it was published so recently.

About a month ago, I felt like all roads were leading to Solnit.  I read this wonderful article on Donald Trump; it's the kind of writing that says exactly what I'm feeling, but does it so eloquently.  I admired Solnit's ability to stay somewhat sympathetic to Trump, even while excoriating him:  "We gain awareness of ourselves and others from setbacks and difficulties; we get used to a world that is not always about us; and those who do not have to cope with that are brittle, weak, unable to endure contradiction, convinced of the necessity of always having one’s own way. The rich kids I met in college were flailing as though they wanted to find walls around them, leapt as though they wanted there to be gravity and to hit ground, even bottom, but parents and privilege kept throwing out safety nets and buffers, kept padding the walls and picking up the pieces, so that all their acts were meaningless, literally inconsequential. They floated like astronauts in outer space."

I have only read one essay in Solnit's collection, and I can't wait to return to the book because the first essay, "The Mother of All Questions," is so wonderful.  She explores motherhood, and why we're so eager to know why people--especially artists--don't choose motherhood.

This kind of essay runs the risk of being trite--or worse, saying what's already been said.  But this quote gives you a sense of Solnit's insight:  "One of the reasons people lock onto motherhood as a key to feminine identity is the belief that children are the way to fulfill your capacity to love.  But there are so many things to love besides one's own offspring, so many things that need love, so much other work love has to do in the world" (p. 9).

It's that last part that made me catch my breath:  so much other work love has to do in the world. It's a wonderful twist, to change love from a verb to a noun that's the subject of the sentence:  love as an active agent of change in the world.

I can't wait to see what other surprises are in store for me as I read this book.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

June Ends

This week has zoomed by, as has the month of June.  We started summer quarter on Wednesday, which has thrown me off.  Yesterday felt like a Wednesday because it was the third day of the new quarter.  But we seem to have had a good start.

I also met our new campus director.  He will be in charge of both the Ft. Lauderdale campus and our Hollywood campus, so the dynamic will be different than with the past executive director, the one who hired me.  From our first interactions, he seems like a person I can work with.  That's a relief.  There are so many ways that a boss can be bad.

It's been a week of handing out granola bars and fruit and leaving plates of cookies for the evening students.  I like creating an atmosphere of hospitality and welcome.

It's one of the advantages to being part of a small campus of approximately 230 students.  We can do a lot.  One of the disadvantages:  we have a small staff, so we have to do a lot, each one of us, because there's not a huge department waiting to fill in the gaps.

I've also begun to feel like maybe I'll be able to write again.  During the end of June, I was feeling tired and dried up.  It's a relief to feel creativity stirring again.

So, here's to the month of July:  it seems to have potential as a month where we can move forward, where projects become unstalled, where the seeds that we've planted begin to sprout.

Friday, June 30, 2017

The Seeds of a Short Story

--Last night, at a wonderful dinner with my Hindu writer friend, I said, "I'm about to start a story that has a woman who teaches Animation at a for-profit art school who starts having dreams where God is speaking to her.  But God doesn't look like we'd expect--God is some sort of quilter."  I asked if she wanted to write a ghost in the machine sort of story--once we would adopt a theme or a symbol and then both write a story.  She told me about the various fragments that she still plans to write into individual stories.  She's writing about twins.

I thought about a friend long ago who was pregnant with twins.  One of them died while still in the womb, but the other lives still.  I've always wondered if they would tell the child about the long-lost twin.  Would the child feel a sense of loss even if she didn't know the story?  I assume she'd feel a sense of loss if she did know the story.  But at this point, I don't think I'll be using that nugget in the story I plan to write this week-end.

--Yesterday morning, I was thinking about the elements of the story about the animator, and I thought about including a summer trip to Mepkin Abbey as part of the story.  Here's the what I was thinking two weeks ago, in an e-mail to my Sociology writer friend:

"I am thinking of writing a short story while you're gone.  It will be about a research oriented, facts-based, very cerebral person who starts having dreams about God--God always looks the same, like a female quilter (I think she'll look like either you or me, because if I made her Indian or African-American, that might be stereotypical).  God will tell her to repair the frayed fabric, and the main character won't be sure of what to do exactly.
I thought about making the main character a Ph.D. in Psychology, so she understands that she's not having a mental breakdown, but she's also not sure what to do next.
I've also been playing with a story idea about a faculty member in Animation who decides to go to theology school.  Maybe I'd be repeating ground.  Maybe I should make the Animation faculty member the cerebral person who gets visions and thinks about ghosts in the machine."

--This morning, I started the story this way:

My family thinks of me as the creative one because I named my cats. So of course I wouldn’t tell any of them when I started having the strange dreams.
--These stories all have some sort of link to social justice/activist work, and this morning, I came up with the link for this story.  The Mepkin monks once raised chickens and sold their eggs in local grocery stores.  PETA accused them of cruelty, and either took them to court or threatened to take them to court.  And the monks didn't protest.  They simply stopped raising chickens and started mushroom farming.

--I've been incubating this story for a long time.  Back in October I wrote:

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

"I bet I'm the only one in the whole organization who has noticed that the Corporate guy is visiting on the feast of All Saints.
Oh, I will have fun with this!  I'm already crafting a short story . . ."
And I am having fun with it--the main character will teach Animation, and I can have fun with the idea of what animates and what deadens.  I thought about starting it this morning, but it still needs time to marinate.

So this week-end, before my online class gets into high gear, I'll will grab some writing time and crank out a story.  It's been too long.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

June Recalibrations

Earlier this week, I got an e-mail that talks about the July 4 activities in the city--July 4 seems so far away, and yet it's not--how did it get to be late June?

If April was lost to the world of binders and accreditation visits, June has been lost to my online class and my Mepkin trip.  When I look back on June, let me remember those events as the reason that I got so little written during the month of June. 

Let me not be too hard on myself.  Let me also remember the month of June as the time when I finally stopped the progression of weight, slow pound by slow pound up the scale.  This has been the first month since Thanksgiving when I end the month weighing a smidge less than I began the month.  I hope to remember the month of June as the time I began the return to healthier habits, all the same healthy habits I'm always working at keeping in my life.

I have been feeling a bit of despair at the thought of sending out manuscripts.  But maybe that's O.K.--it's summer, after all, and not as many places are reading now.  Let me use this time to get back into the habit of writing more and revising more and typing some poems into the computer.

Let me also remember this month as a time of inspiration.  I have hopes that in a year or two, we'll see increased retention at my campus.  We'll talk about all sorts of reasons, but I'll look back to June, when I stood in the lobby with a basket of granola bars and fruit to welcome students back to campus.

Speaking of that basket, it's time to get ready for today:  granola bars and fruit await another set of students coming back for summer quarter.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Nothing Says Welcome Back Like Granola Bars and Fruit

Increasing retention is one of my main tasks as an administrator on the academic side of my school.  We know that students leave for all sorts of reasons, and many of them are for reasons I can't fix:  a sick family member, for example, or a move to a new state.  But what can we fix?

That will be one of my primary questions in the months to come.  I want to try a combination of methods that I'm fairly sure will work:  more tutoring, for example.  But I also want to try some experiments.

At a different campus of my school, a former director of education had one of the highest retention rates ever in the history of the school.  How did he do it?  He had a passion for beach clean up, and he invited students to participate. 

Now maybe there was another dynamic at work.  But what if retention is as simple as making students feel like they're making a contribution to something larger than themselves?

Let me ponder that idea a bit longer before launching any possibilities.  Today, I'm doing something simpler.  I'm offering food in honor of the first day of class.  And my plan is to do this for the next 3 days.

Now, I'm not bringing homemade treats.  I want something that I can hand to students as they head to class.  So yesterday I went out and bought a huge variety of granola bars.  I also bought those small oranges (seedless!) and bananas, for those who want to be very healthy.

I'm going to hand out the granola bars because they're much more expensive and popular, and I want my supply to last for a few days.  I'm hoping that having some breakfast foods will help students feel welcomed back in a different way than we've usually done.  Our usual way is to stand in the lobby saying, "Welcome back!"  Now we'll have that--along with treats!

In my work through the years on various church councils, I was always the one asking how we could add food to an event.  Some people got frustrated with that approach, but I always believed that food could serve as quite a motivator.  And some of our students have some food scarcity issues--students across the nation suffer more hunger and homelessness than many of us would think.

I'm thinking of ways to help students who have food scarcity issues.  We have a student lounge with a long counter.  I've wondered about having a crockpot of soup always at the ready.  We have a coffee maker where students can make coffee.  Why not soup?

I'll continue thinking about these initiatives and since I know that many of us are responsible for student success, I'll keep posting ideas and progress reports here.  Maybe we can all inspire each other.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Twenty Years of Harry Potter

Apparently the world of Harry Potter has been with us 20 years.  There's a Facebook something going around that alerted me.

I read the first book and enjoyed it well enough.  I enjoyed the first few movies even more.  The 5th movie, I think, is the one that I declared too dark:  I didn't mean the subject matter, but the fact that it was poorly lit, and I could scarcely tell what was happening on my screen.  I think it was the first one that I saw on the small screen; it was also the last Harry Potter movie that I saw.

After awhile, I just gave up on the idea that I could catch up and stay caught up, especially the year when 2 movies were released.  The world of Harry Potter joins Game of Thrones (also roughly 20 years old) and countless other projects that I'll likely never experience--while they may be worthy, time is so short these days.  Knowing that I'll need 80+ hours to get caught up means it won't happen.

What interests me more about the anniversary of Harry Potter is how the phenomena might have shaped our expectations as writers.  I'm remembering seeing J.K. Rowling on various talk shows that no longer exist.  I remember hearing her talk about scratching out the story on napkins while she tried to survive on welfare.

I remember thinking, if she can do it, I can do it!  And while I've written boxes full of material, my material success has yet to arrive for me the way it did for Rowling.  There have been moments when opportunities came my way--and then, editors left, good pay rates evaporated--sigh.

But let me not get bogged down in despair--let me be happy that so much good work awaits my reading and viewing time during a different, future time of my life.  If I find myself to be a lonely woman in elder age, I'll be happy for these great works that have been waiting for me.

And let me be happy that the writing still gives me so much joy that I feel frustrated when I don't have time to do it.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Keeping Our Cool on a Hot, Summer Day

How miraculous to have cool air flowing out of the vents again.  I feel lucky that the repair was relatively small and that we could get on the repair roster for a hot Sunday.  The repair person came out, took about 5 minutes to run some tests, replaced the capacitor, and we were back in business.  We paid a bit more because it was a Sunday, but I didn't care--we both have the kind of heavy duty schedule this week that would make it hard to find another day to get it done, which means hanging out waiting for the repair person.

I have other gratitudes too:

--Our house stayed relatively comfortable.  We didn't have AC again until after 2, and the temperature didn't go above 81 degrees.  Hurray for high ceilings and trees that give shade!

--I got a lot done because we were sitting at home waiting, first for the phone call from the repair person to schedule us, and then waiting on his arrival.  I got my grades for one online class turned in, and the next online class is ready to go.

--I managed my anxiety relatively well.  If one must have a problem, an AC problem that's easily fixed is one to have.

--We have a cottage in the back that no one is using right now.  We put the AC way down so that we'd have an escape if we needed it.  It's good to know that the AC still works.

It's not the week-end that I envisioned, exactly, but we were still able to end the day by walking to the marina and sitting on our favorite bench to stare at the boats and the water. 

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Saturday and Sunday Sadnesses

Yesterday I was filled with a variety of vague sadnesses:  nothing too debilitating, but they stuck with me.  I started the day by needing to clean up my coffee beverage, not once, but twice.  The first time the mug slipped out of my hand, but it fell into a box of plastic bags that we collect until we take them to the recycling area at the grocery store--so it wasn't as messy as it could have been.  The second time, when I reheated it in the microwave, the coffee in the mug boiled over, and I gave the microwave an overdue cleaning.

To laugh or cry?  I confess I did a bit of both, and that mood continued through the day.  My old school had a round of lay-offs on Tuesday--I'm happy to be gone, but sad for those left behind.  And on Wednesday, some of us who once worked together gathered to watch the lake and the sunset as we had wine and nibbles.  It was nice, but it makes me sad that it takes so much coordinating to find time to be together.  Yesterday morning, we watched a PBS cooking show set on the banks of the Chesapeake, which made me miss my family and the times we sailed there.

This morning, as if to mock my sadnesses of yesterday, the AC seems not to be working .  The air that's coming out of the vents is not cool and the fan blade outside is not turning.  I decided to let my spouse sleep a bit before we see if it's something easy that we could fix or not.  And then, to call the AC repair folks today or let it wait so as not to pay the cost for an emergency visit on the week-end.  We could just move into the cottage for a bit.

I feel this sense of despair about getting one home repair done, just to face something else, one bit of organizing done which just leads to piles of other things to sort.  But let me remember the quiet graces of the past 24 hours:  the long nap of yesterday afternoon, the delicious garlic scallop pasta dish we made last night, and the delightful and spiritual conversation that Krista Tippett had with Martin Sheen on this morning's episode of On Being.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Training Week

It's been a long week of training sessions at the main campus, which has meant that I spent the week away from my office and home campus. 

It's only 18 miles to the main campus in Ft. Lauderdale, but it feels so very different from my usual commute.  For one thing, the commute of this past week was on I 95, which meant I got to experience rush hour traffic.  During my regular daily commute, I experience similar stop and go traffic, but it's on neighborhood streets so I expect to go slowly. 

I feel like I've been living out of my car, which was a familiar feeling during my adjunct years.  Plus, I had to try to remember what's in my office that I might wish I had with me, like a mug or an extra lipstick.  I realize how lucky I am to have an office.

I haven't been able to access my work e-mail remotely--that, too, is a good reminder of the problems that adjuncts face.  As an administrator, I use whatever e-mail address faculty prefer I use.

The week was helpful overall.  I'm the Director of Education, a dean-like position at one of 5 campuses.  The most helpful part of the week was meeting the directors of education at the other 4 campuses.  I most liked the exchanging of ideas.  I've come away with lots of good ideas.

We spent part of the week learning a computer system that will let us track the skills of particular cohorts of students.  It was good to strategize with department chairs across campuses to agree on what those skills should be.  And it was interesting for me to hear those conversations, since I don't know as much about the life of a medical assistant as I do about British Literature.

Still, it's both encouraging and disheartening to realize that I have another computer system at my disposal that can do so much more than I'll ever realize that I want it to do.  I can generate all sorts of statistics about who is successful and who needs help--but then I need to figure out the best way to deliver that help.  Years in administration have taught me that it's never as easy as I think it should be.

It was good to be away, good for all the inspiration that a change of scenery inspires.  It will be better to be back.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Fewer Fireflies?

On my trip to Mepkin Abbey, I heard a local (South Carolina local) show that had 2 biologists and a writer talking about changes that they've noticed with a variety of changes, from global warming to coastal erosion to the incessant development that encroaches on it all.  They talked about noticing fewer fireflies.  One of the biologists talked about his sorrow that his grandchildren aren't likely to run around chasing fireflies because there are so few of them.

I thought about what would be one of my last visits to my parents' house in Northern Virginia, before they moved to Williamsburg.  I looked out the back window into the dark night beyond and saw what looked like a sea of twinkling stars--but it was fireflies.  That summer, we wouldn't have had to work hard to capture a jar of them, but I was happy to sit on the deck and watch the show.

I think about my own childhood, back to the days before widespread air conditioning where we'd spend the evening hours on my grandparent's front porch.  We'd shell beans for the next day.  I'd ask my elders about life when they were my age, and they'd tell me.  As the world got dark, I'd collect fireflies in old Mason jars.  I get weepy just thinking about corn picked from my grandparent's garden and served almost immediately, with butter and salt.  I would pay good money if I could find tomatoes that taste like the ones they grew so effortlessly.

Here's a poem that I wrote years ago when we first moved here back in 1998; it's an example of how I transformed homesick yearning into art.  It appeared in the Palo Alto Review.

Setting Free the Fireflies

The apartment smells like my grandmother’s
house in the summer,
a childhood time before air conditioners
ruled the season.
Gentle breezes,
smelling of mowed lawns
and ripening tomatoes,
lapped their way around our beds.
The nights glowed
with that candle-like quality
which comes from distant street lights
beaming through window blinds
left open to the breeze.
Long after the yeasty smells
of my grandmother’s early morning baking
my parents crept into the bedroom
where I slept on sheets
made scratchy
from clothesline drying.
They took my jar
of carefully caught fireflies
and set my natural nightlight

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Happy Summer Solstice!

Once upon a time, as I was looking to reclaim spirituality that Christianity had obscured or obliterated, I tried to do more celebrating of solstices and equinoxes.  I do confess that the winter solstice has more appeal, that idea that we'll be getting more light with each passing day.

And here we are, at the apex of that light.  From here on until December, we will lose a bit of light each day.  Thirty seconds here, a minute there--most of us won't notice, until the day we drive in at the exact same time and think about how the light has changed.

Next week, my spouse starts a teaching schedule where he'll have class each night.  I have vague ideas of how to spend that time--I could go for a walk instead of having a glass of wine.  I could have salad for dinner--or no dinner at all.  Maybe I'll write more or read more.

Here's my concrete idea.  I've been feeling that I may be at the point where I'm done with my activists at 50 who are working at the for-profit arts school.  I still have a story or two to write, but I'd like to put together what I have to see if I have enough for a collection.  I'd like to read through the stories to make sure I'm not just repeating.

I've been thinking about writing a different kind of story, one that captures a voice, but doesn't have a traditional story arc.  I've been thinking about the school as being haunted, haunted by all the people who once were there but no longer are.  I've been thinking about a more short-form story.

Herein lies my problem:  I think I might be done, and then I have more ideas.

I have one of those windows about to open, and I want to seize this time to write more, whatever the writing might be. 

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

The Monastery Dog and Other Poetry Inspirations

This morning, I finally wrote a poem.  I looked back through my poetry notebook, and it's been almost a month.  It has been a humdinger of a month, between my online ENC1102 class with its intense pace of a piece of work due 4-6 days of the week, work which must be graded, and my trip to Mepkin Abbey.

Yet I also feel like I've been telling myself this story every month:  Last month was a humdinger, but the pace of my life should be calming down soon, and I'll get some writing done. 

Let me sit with this idea for a bit, before I come up with plan A, B, C and a back up plan for each.  This morning let me be happy that I wrote a poem.

I came back from Mepkin with a new poem in my head, a poem inspired by a time during our retreat when I watched the monastery dog sleeping in the sun, and I thought of a previous retreat where we talked about needing to find time to write.  I thought about the monastery dog who knows how to prioritize her time.  I liked the contrast.

Over the past week, I've thought of different contrasts.  I thought of a retreatent who brought her own organic food and didn't eat the food prepared by the monks.  I thought of us all at the Sunday Eucharist service, even though we all came from a variety of practices.

I'm still wrestling with the poem, but I'm happy to have work on paper to revise.

I thought I had written about the monastery dog before.  In a blog post, from 2015, I had written this:

"At first I felt sorry for the monastery dog.  She seemed so eager for attention.  I thought about all the children who would never be part of her world.

Yet as my week-end at the monastery proceeded, I decided that the monastery dog was lucky.  She had a never-ending supply of visitors who would likely pet her.  The monks would take care of her.  Not every community has taken a vow of hospitality, after all. She could have been abandoned to a much worse fate.

And she had vast fields at her disposal.  No cooped up back yards for her.  Her joy at racing across the grounds made me happy too."

I thought I had written that poem, but I looked through older poetry notebooks this morning, and now I'm thinking that I planned to write it, but it's one of many poems that I never actually wrote.

The eternal question:  how many of these poem ideas should I return to? 

That's a question for another day.  Today it's time to return to the main campus for my week of trainings.  Today it's the student tracking system--another computer system that will be able to do far more than I will ever dream of asking it to do.

Yet another metaphor waiting for a poem . . .

Monday, June 19, 2017

Mepkin Mind

It is 5:17 a.m. as I write.  A week ago, I'd be about to leave Mepkin Abbey.  The drive back to Florida was uneventful and felt speedier than it sometimes feels.  I was grateful.

This past week-end has been one of finally getting caught up--I did the last load of laundry on Saturday, and did some required IT security training yesterday which will mean I can keep teaching my online classes at the community college.  I got a haircut on Saturday, which wasn't overdue, but my shaggy hair was driving me nuts.  In between, we spent lovely time on the front porch watching the rain showers come and go.

This will be a week of heavy duty training at the Ft. Lauderdale campus, where I have no office, so I'm taking my own mug, my own snack, and trying to remember what else I might need when I don't have an office.

Let me create my own Mepkin retreat in my head, a Mepkin Mind, where I can return when I need the soothing of chanted psalms:

Let me remember my delight at seeing a hydrangea bush in full bloom:

Let me remember the river that has seen so much, even if it is never the same river twice:

Let me adopt the attitude of Abbey, the monastery dog, who is always happy to be near us:

If she's ever stressed, I never see it:

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Father's Day: Caring for the Next Generations

It's Father's Day, and so of course, I have fathering and larger metaphors on the brain.  We live in a landscape more increasingly wrecked by poisonous models of caretaking; I'm thinking primarily of the fractured political world we inhabit, whether we want to or not.  We're at the end of a week where we saw a man shoot congressional male leaders on a baseball field during an early morning practice, and it didn't take long before we saw lawmakers derailing conversations into tired gun control arguments.  It's clear to me that we need a different model.

One of my early morning Father's Day readings was this wonderful essay by Parker J. Palmer.  He talks about the ways that his father, an Eisenhower Republican, modeled upright behavior for his children.  I am sure I am not the only person who finds herself yearning for more of that upright behavior. 

Every time I hear people spewing vitriol about Republicans, I think about my own father, my earliest experience with a Republican.  While we disagreed often over politics, we usually had reasoned discussions.  I think about our conversations about the U.S.S.R., which always led to a discussion about what freedom means.  At the time, in the early 80's, I assumed that the Soviet Union was taking care of the basic needs, like food and shelter, of all citizens, giving them a freedom from hunger and homelessness.  My father pointed out that the freedom to make one's own life choices was more important.

I will always wonder why we have to choose, and it was from my parents that I learned to think about these choices.  We spent a lot of family time in Lutheran churches, where our task was made clear again and again:  to care for those in the world who didn't have the advantages that we had.

I want to believe that everyone believes this fact to be true--that we have an obligation to care for those who are less well off.  Sadly, I have seen the behavior of those who govern who do not seem to have any sense of that at all--it's different from past political eras when we had conversations about how we help others by leading them to self-sufficiency.

I still believe that most of us have a yearning for a more civil society, where everyone has the potential for creating a better circumstance, at least--maybe not that everyone can have an equal shot, but some sort of shot at a better life.

On this Father's Day, I'm thinking of how many fathers I know who have done a good job on an individual level at caring for the next generation.  They're much more involved in their children's lives, regardless of the age.  They change diapers, they braid hair, they fix lunches, they teach children the skills they will need, and they help older children find their way in the world.

If we can do this for our own children, we can do this for all children who will come after us.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Mepkin Photo Walks

A week ago, at 5:30 a.m., I'd have been walking back from my breakfast at Mepkin Abbey.  I have often thought about the fact that I so often keep monk's hours, although I worship less throughout the day than monks do.  At Mepkin last week-end, I woke up between 4 and 4:30 a.m., but that's not unusual for me.

If my camera takes good pictures at night, I can't figure out how to give it those commands.  I spent some time in the early morning as I walked to breakfast trying to capture the full moon:

A week ago, I would miss the Eucharist service on Saturday morning.  I was waiting for my friend to knock on my door for a walk, and somehow we missed each other.  I looked at my watch, realized it was 7:25, and not only was I going to miss my walk with my friend, but also the Eucharist service.

So I decided to take a walk by myself.  It was a different kind of communion service.

I have been walking the Mepkin grounds for over 10 years--sobering to realize.  I've been taking pictures since 2009.  I brought a camera to the retreat with me; I was determined to figure out how to make it work.

Let me hasten to say that these are not super sophisticated cameras that I have.  I don't change lenses.  I keep the auto function on, even though I could be the one making the artistic decisions--there are only about 9 choices on the slightly more sophisticated camera that I inherited from my sister when she decided that she would mainly take pictures on her iPhone.  In fact, one reason I would get a smartphone is to have an easy camera feature on a device that would fit in a pocket.

Since I have been taking pictures at Mepkin for 6 years now, I challenge myself to find new angles.  For example, here's a picture of a statue that I took in 2009:

Last Saturday, I noticed that some of the tree branches and twigs behind the statue have a thorny appearance.  I tried to capture that aspect.

Of course, the advantage of taking many pictures is that you get the occasional surprise.  My spouse delighted in this one, with Spanish moss not thorns, which I didn't even remember taking:

I feel like I see the world differently when I'm walking with the camera.  I notice angles and colors and the way the light changes a shot.  I can't always control what the camera sees, however.  Here was another shot that my spouse liked.  The cross didn't have this glow when I saw it with my eyes, but the camera caught it:

One of my friends asked me how I learned to take such good pictures.  I said that I take a lot of bad pictures, and every so often, one of them stands out.  It's one of the blessings of a digital camera:  one can take lots and lots of pictures.

Friday, June 16, 2017

The Many Ways of Looking at Exile

A week ago, I'd have already been on the road for 2 hours.  This morning, similarly, I've been awake for awhile, but I've been grading.  However, my mind wanders back to my time away at Mepkin Abbey.

We gathered to talk about the power of story.  We talked about the types of stories we might tell, and we focused on these four:  Hope, Exile, Repentance, and Home.  Our leader pointed out that almost any story can be framed as a story of one of these elements.  And since it was a retreat at a monastery, we focused on how religious traditions, particularly Christians, have seen these elements in telling our stories of the larger faith.

I thought we'd be writing our stories, but we told our stories--one of our retreat leaders modeled the process by telling by telling his story as we moved through each module.  We discussed, and then we broke into groups:  first pairs, then a group of 3, then 5, and then for our final gathering, we stayed as a large group and each person took a turn.  It was a great way to help us get to know each other.

During the retreat, the topic of exile was the element that most moved me to take notes.  I have always had this sense of exile--that I'm displaced somehow, never really home, never finding my larger tribe.  I've always seen this feeling/condition as one that needed fixing--and as soon as possible.  As we discussed exile, I had a moment of insight:  what if this feeling of exile is the norm?  Or what if it's actually a preferable state?  After all, when we're in a state of exile, we remember our true home (God or Heaven or something better, if you're not inclined to use religious terms).

We are to live our lives fully while holding onto them lightly.  Think about what this means:

--If we're in exile, we don't need to hoard anything.  We might as well use it.

--Exile re-orients us away from our things and illusions about our lives and towards what really matters.

--If we didn't end up in exile, we might forget we need God.

--When we're displaced, we're more in tune with the moment.

We talked about this idea in spiritual terms, that our true community (church, God, social justice co-workers, etc.) may not be the larger community (the U.S., the world).  But I also see this dynamic in places where we might not expect it to be at work; for example, how do we deal with the fact that we may feel in exile at places where we'd expect to feel at home, say, at church?

I wrote an e-mail to a friend upon my return.  She responded:  "I know, however, that I would have been abjectly unhappy if I had stayed in the village where my cousin still lives today.  So, what to do:  follow your dream of the big world, or then regret having lost your home for the rest of your life."

She's hit on an essential question:  how do we remain faithful as we live our lives as resident aliens?  The answer to that question is as varied as humanity itself.  More to come!

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Thoughts on the Day after an Early Morning Shooting at a Baseball Field

At some point, will I wonder why I'm not writing more about current events?  Will we look back to see 2017 as a pivotal year, much the way that 1968 or 1974 were pivotal years?

In fact, yesterday I wondered if this year was more like 1967, a year before a pivotal year.  One of my colleagues posited we're at 1970, with innocent people being gunned down (Congressional ball teams yesterday, Kent State students in 1970).

Yesterday I headed out to find a better deal on Styrofoam cups--our campus goes through an amazing amount of them every week, and I'm the one with the credit card for the campus.  I happened to be on the road when Trump spoke about the shooting, and I was somewhat impressed.  I thought his speech was a good speech--for him.  He's like the student who usually hands in such bad work that when you get mediocre work, you might be overly impressed.  When I say "you," of course I mean me.

I was less impressed with some first year Congresspeople who got bogged down in a gun control disagreement when interviewed on NPR's All Things Considered in the afternoon.  And on TV, I watched various Congresspeople vow to work together to end partisanship--and I had the uncharitable thought that it was too bad that it took a horrific shooting on an early morning baseball field to get these people to do their basic jobs.

But let me not get bogged down in negative stuff.  Let me return to a scene a few days ago, in a gas station in Georgia, when I remembered again how much I love this country.

I was gassing up my car, and I saw a group of guys in crisp, white shirts and pressed long pants.  They had fairly short haircuts, and I thought, are you guys trying to look like Mormons?

And then I caught site of the name tag of one of them--why yes, they were trying to look like Mormons, because they are Mormons.  They were trying to put exactly $40 worth of gas into their SUV, which I assumed was rented, but I don't know why I would assume that.  They were so happy when they achieved their goal.

I looked around the gas station that was a mile away from I 95, one of the nation's main vehicle arteries, and thought about what an interesting group of people had assembled.  There was me, a woman solidly in midlife, with the music of monks in my head.  There was the group of young, Mormon men.  There was a pick up truck--not the super expensive kind, but a regular one, with a fishing boat in the back (once we called them john boats--they're the kind made out of metal, painted green, like a wider, shorter canoe).  Most of us were non-descript:  the middle-aged black guy (bigger, but not obese, but not muscular either) coming back to his car with a super big drink, the woman in polyester shorts filling up her non-descript sedan car. 

Here we all were in southern Georgia, a part of the country where not too long ago we'd have made efforts not to need gas so that we wouldn't encounter ugliness.  Think of how many of us might be at risk:  the Mormons, the women travelling alone, the black guy.  Yet here we were, peacefully travelling along the road, gassing up our cars, and as long as it's daylight, we're all relatively safe.  And even after dark, we're likely to be safe.

Let me remember that fact, on the day after Congresspeople were shot as they practiced for a baseball game in the early morning hours.  These events are still rare.  Let me offer up this prayer that they continue to be rare, that on almost every morning, we can all put fuel in our cars or show up for baseball practice, with the relative assurance that we will not be attacked.  And let me also offer up a prayer for our fellow humans who live in much more dangerous settings, who don't have that assurance.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Of Poet Laureates and Poetry Progress

I am just seeing the announcements that Tracy K. Smith will be our new poet laureate.  I am so in awe of her work and so intrigued to see how she will use the power of that office.

In the interest of honesty, let me also observe that this news makes me feel inadequate.  She's 45, the winner of many prizes, the head of Creative Writing at Princeton.  I am a woman who will be 52 one month from today, and my publication roster is smaller.  I cannot imagine that I will ever be invited to work at one of our nation's more prestigious universities; but I also know that if I did work there, I'd be worried about the nation's dispossessed who aren't being served by those universities.  I am working with those populations, and I confess that I am no miracle worker.

I was thinking about the paths my life has followed as I drove up Highway 17 towards Charleston. I don't usually take that route, but I was meeting my Mepkin friends for lunch in Mt. Pleasant before we went on to the Abbey.  I thought about some of the past times I've travelled that road, both when we lived there and when we came back.  I thought about the time that I read at the Piccolo Spoleto festival, which felt like a highwater mark of my career.  I had one chapbook published, which meant that I could read at the event.  I felt sure that I'd have a book with a spine soon--and surely, I could than translate that success into a different kind of teaching job--I wasn't naïve enough to think it would be a Princeton kind of job, but perhaps a liberal arts school or a smaller state school.

That was back in 2005, and while career/artistic doors have opened to me, they haven't been the ones I expected.

I feel fortunate to have had friends along the way, and our stories are similar.  I think of good news that came to them, good news that I thought might be transformative--and yet, the paths that came afterwards aren't the ones we expected.  Perhaps our new poet laureate has similar stories.

I'm also struck by the fact that I read at Piccolo Spoleto in June of 2005.  I think of 2005 as one of my worst years, bookended by the horrible, drawn out, death-by-hospital of my mother-in-law and the worst hurricane season in Broward county in almost 100 years.  But it was also a year of creative success, and the year I returned to France (where I was born on an Air Force Base) with my parents--it was a trip that I knew would be one of my favorite memories, even as we were making those memories.

I feel like I've taken a bit of a sabbatical from good writing practices--in the past two months, with the accreditation visit and the follow up, with the intense pace of my ENC1102 online class, I haven't returned to my writing desk as often as I would like.  Let me now begin to plan for the bit of time that I see on the horizon, where the pace of my various work lives lightens a bit.