Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Zen and the Art of Robert Pirsig

I was saddened this morning to hear of the death of Robert Pirsig.  I first read Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance when I was in high school, and I loved every page.  I last read it, and perhaps for the last time, back in 2009, and I wrote this blog post, with this, the review summed up in just a few sentences: 

"And then, we come to the end. The narrator is about to send his son away, and then, just like that, they decide that neither one of them is crazy. They hop back on the bike, and we're told that everything will be just fine. The narrator assures us:  'We've won it. It's going to get better now. You can sort of tell these things.'"

How lovely for them. Just decide that the rest of the world is crazy. Just decide that you'll be fine. How very 1970's."

The depiction of mental illness bothered me the most when I read the book in 2009; I worry that if I read it again now I'd find myself disagreeing with the ideas about education.  I worry it would be the same as when I watched Fame many years later and realized that somewhere along the way I had morphed from the cool drama kid to the stern English teacher--and worse, that the cool drama kids were very troubled in ways that I didn't fully understand when I first saw the film in 10th grade.

I never read Pirsig's second book, Lila:  An Inquiry into Morals, but maybe I will.  My spouse enjoyed it, and we still have it on the shelf.

I will always be grateful to Pirsig for showing us that a novel that discusses great ideas can be a bestseller.  The story of this book's path to publication has given comfort to many a writer; it was rejected 121 times, and has gone on to sell over 5 million copies. May all our worthy yet rejected manuscripts fare as well--or even half as well!

This morning I realized that I had been spending National Poetry Month by not writing any poetry at all.  I've had ideas for poems, but I haven't actually created any.  So this morning, I wrote "Good Friday in Binderville"--I first described the idea for the poem in this post.

I am coming up to a time where I may have a bit more time to write--and even better, I've found a way to enter the short story I want to tell--let me not waste these precious windows of time that open here and there in my administrator days.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Rainy Sunday

I had a delightful day yesterday, although it didn't proceed the way that I thought it might.  At one point, I wrote this Facebook post:  "Should I be doing something different to get ready for this week's accreditation visit? On this rainy Sunday afternoon, all I really want to do is read Henri Nouwen's South American journal and Barbara Brown Taylor's "Learning to Walk in the Dark." Perhaps that's the best way to prepare?"

And that, dear readers, is exactly what I did.  I felt fortunate to have a roof over my head that wasn't leaking in yesterday's heavy rains and a front porch deep enough where we could sit and watch the rain.

Early in the day, I thought about not going to church--my spouse and I are both in that end of the term period where we just feel overwhelmed with work left to do--and then he starts a job at a new school, which requires onboarding, and I, of course, have the accreditation visit.

But we did go, and it was good, both in terms of spirituality and in terms of being needed, since some of our members were on retreat and others had trouble getting to church because of the severe weather.  I helped as assistant minister, and my spouse sang a wonderful solo during "Wade in the Water."  We counted money after church.

And then we made our way home through flooding rains.  Luckily, our house was OK, and our other car hadn't been submerged.  We made a pot of chili and ate our linner (lunch/dinner) on the porch.  And although I knew I should be grading, I decided that I'd rather get up early this morning, which I did, and enjoy yesterday afternoon, which I did.

My spouse graded his papers on the porch, but I decided to read.  I finished Nouwen's journal, which was interesting but didn't speak to me the way I thought it might when I dipped in and out of it on Good Friday.  I finished Learning to Walk in the Dark in one fell swoop; I had read it before, and it's relatively short and an easy read.

Both books both did and did not speak to me at this point in my life.  I feel like I am walking in the dark, in a time of great political uncertainty (like Nouwen's time when he wrote the journal in the early 80's).  How would I have wanted the books to be different?

Taylor's book explored darkness in a more literal way, which was interesting, but not the book of coping strategies I might have preferred.  I found Nouwen's various lack of connections from the South American communities to be more fascinating than the political situation, but he doesn't spend as much time exploring that.

Still, it was a great way to spend a rainy Sunday.  And now it's on to the week ahead.  I'm ready to see what happens!

Sunday, April 23, 2017

The Calm before the Accreditation Visit

I think of this week-end as the calm before the accreditation visit.  I've spent it by spending time with friends, getting a hair cut, and thinking about what I need this week.

Today I plan to make homemade granola bars (I posted the recipe here).  It may be the kind of week where I can't heat up left over food in the microwave.  These homemade granola bars have almost too many calories for a snack, but as meal replacement, it will be good.  I can grab a bite here and there as I race between duties.

But it may not be that kind of week, so I'll also make a casserole so that I have leftovers for lunch.

I need to get to a store to buy some essentials.  I don't have enough V8 juice to make it through the week.  I plan to drink a huge glass every morning.  When I can't be sure I'll have enough time to eat my vegetables, I'll drink them!

One of my online classes is coming to an end, which means I have papers to grade.  I'd like to get those done today.  That task will be one that I spread out throughout the day.

And while I am beginning to feel like I should sit down and read my school's catalogue and self-evaluation report again (and I might look through parts of the material before the day is over), I will first go to church.  I will hear the Good News and do some sketching and try to keep everything in perspective!

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Earth Day Snippets with Flowers

--Last night, after a delightful dinner on the porch of a downtown Ft. Lauderdale restaurant, the Chimney House, we watched a PBS show about a group of 20 somethings who live in Alabama and decide to eat local food, which they defined as being grown in Alabama.  We watched them discover how hard it is to find food (and then figure out how to cook some of it) that's grown in their state.  And then the last part of the show talked about the decline of the small farmer.

--My spouse said that the show made him want to dig up the whole yard to plant food, the way the people on the show did.  He wondered what would grow well down here.  I said, "Plants that grow well in sand and don't need cooler overnight temperatures to germinate."

--I've spent some time on this Earth Day researching whether one can take one's dead tulips that came in a pot, plant them in the ground, and have tulips for next year.  The short answer:  perhaps.  It would work out better if I put them in the fridge or the freezer for 10-12 weeks.  I'm tempted to put the pots in the cottage fridge and take them out in 12 weeks, just to see what happens.  I think I'd have a better shot at having tulips again than if I just put them in the ground and left them to their own devices.  Here's one of my favorite shots of those lilies as they started to lurch towards death on Easter week-end:



Here's the larger group of tulips:



--As I stood at my kitchen window this morning, I was struck by the beauty of the hibiscus plants.  Here's what caught my eye first, the bloom against a palm trunk:



And then I got outside and saw the blooms on the other plant, the shyer plant, the one that's overshadowed by its orange sister and the young palm tree near by:



--This week I was struck by an office scene.  One colleague sat at his desk with 2 label makers and a binder, the registrar sat at her desk with files being updated by 3 workers, and my own desk was buried under countless abandoned drafts of accreditation reports.  I've always said that I will need to spend my retirement planting trees to repay my debt to the planet--but even if I should start now, I probably can't plant enough trees to repay my debt.

--I take great comfort in knowing that the planet can heal itself.  When I was younger, rivers were so polluted that we wouldn't swim in them or eat fish out of them--and memorably, occasionally, rivers would burst into flames.  Now, in the U.S., most waterways are relatively clean.  Because of the changes sparked by that first Earth Day, now you can swim without too much fear. When I was a child, in major metropolitan areas, you could see the air you were breathing. Now, you can't.

So on this Earth Day 2017, I'll practice gratitude for the ways we've helped the planet heal.  I'll try to stay hopeful that we can stay on this course and persuade other countries, like China, to join us.  I'll continue to take care of the plants that are in my corner of the world, the tropical ones like the beautiful hibiscus:



 and the extravagantly blooming petunias in pots on the porch:

Friday, April 21, 2017

Poetry Friday: "Vow of Stability"

This week, I got my contributor copy of Slant.  Last night, I had a chance to read it.  What a wondrous thing, that a journal completely devoted to poetry is still being published.  And what a wondrous thing that it is one of many journals.

This poem came to me at Mepkin Abbey.  My friends and I talked about what it means to take a monastic vow, and we wondered how family members felt about it.  And on the long drive back to South Florida, this poem began to percolate.


Vow of Stability


Their friends wonder why
they’re happy to have their only child
disappear into a monastery.
Their communication will be limited.
Their visits will be rare.

Yet they are pleased, even relieved,
to accept their son’s vocation.
This sense of purpose comforts
them. They know their boy has wrestled
with calls of a different kind.

They know their child will be cared
for, with regular meals and a work schedule
and fatherly oversight from the abbot.
They know their child’s choices
about retirement and old age
have been made.

They have a bit of sadness
for grandchildren he will never give
them, but they know of many fine
children outside the monastery
walls who haven’t formed families
the way their son has done.

They drive back from the cloister
and spend the night in their son’s old
room, the trophies from a an athlete’s
life long over, the books about boy wizards
and detectives, a leftover Lego construction.
They whisper the bedtime prayers
of childhood and hold each other close.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

When You Can't Get to the Mountaintop

Today will likely be strange for me--not because of what is happening here, but because of what is happening at Lutheridge, my home away from home in the North Carolina mountains.  One of my tribes is meeting on the mountain for the Create in Me retreat; I can't go because next week is our accreditation visit at my school.  The retreat is 12 hours away (even if I went by plane, the travel would take at least 8 hours, in terms of getting to airports early, waiting on connecting flights and/or renting a car at the other end); I can't zip up for an afternoon the way some have in the past when they couldn't come for the whole retreat.

I've missed the retreat once before, in 2015 when my whole family went on a vacation to Hawaii.  I didn't feel left out then.  I feel a bit left out this year.

And what's present this year that wasn't in 2015:  the fear that I will never make it back to this retreat.  I'm at a very small campus, and it's hard to get away in a way that it wasn't at my old school. The retreat moves, which makes it even harder to know the future--the retreat is always the week-end after Easter, because the retreat can have the whole camp.  That's great for the retreat, but it means that the retreat will sometimes fall during a week where it's more difficult to get away--the week before Spring quarter begins, for example, which is an all-hands-on-deck time on my small campus.

But I'm trying to stay in this current moment and let the future take care of itself.  A year ago, I wouldn't have forecast my current life.  It's hard to know what next year will truly be like or the year after that.

So, although I can't be at the retreat, I'll be more intentional than usual in doing some creative work.  I'll remember that even if I can't be with my far-flung artist friends, I can be here with local friends.  I'll conserve my strength and energy for next week's accreditation tasks.  I'll do self-care.  I'll remember that life won't always be this way, and I'll try to treasure the moments of this week-end, without spending too much time mired in mourning what has passed away or worrying about what's to come.

These are good goals for any week-end!  But they're essential for me this week-end.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Nouwen at Midlife

I have been reading Gracias, Henri Nouwen's journal of his time in South America.  This morning, I got to the entry where he talks about his 50th birthday.  I did some calculations and figured out that he didn't go to Daybreak, the intentional community where he finally felt at home, until he was 54 or so.

That realization gave me such hope.  I love the fact that Nouwen was in a life-long discernment process, and that it didn't bear obvious fruit until the latter part of his life. 

Of course, I feel that way because of my own life.  In this journal of Nouwen's, I'm reading about all sorts of people who seem to be living a life more dedicated to God than the one that I am living.  And yet, with this journal, I read between the lines to see, in ways that I didn't before, that these missionary lives are full of doubt and uncertainty too.

I suspect that none of us can be sure throughout our whole lives that we're doing what we're put on earth to do--if we even believe that we were put on earth to do something specific.  Living a life in sync with our values means we must remain ever alert.

This morning's post will be short.  I've fallen behind in my online classes, so let me get some papers graded before I head off to work.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

The Octave of Easter

I am making hard boiled eggs--well, the pot of water and my stove are doing that.  I'm just monitoring the process. 

I'd have likely done that even if I hadn't spent the last week seeing people's Facebook posts and remembering all the ways I once celebrated Easter.  Long ago, I got Easter baskets full of candy, which I rationed to last throughout the week to culminate with the best chocolate, saved for last.  Once I made hot cross buns, yeasted bread, made and shaped by my two hands.

This year, although I haven't done the traditional activities, it's been a wonderful Easter, family style.  My sister and nephew arrived first.  We spent the week-end chasing sun around the yard.  This past week-end, with my parents, we chased the shade around the yard.  Along the way, we've had great food, great conversations, and great time to relax.

Yesterday was our last full day together.  After my spouse went off to teach his Philosophy classes, my mom and dad and I went to the beach for breakfast, a tradition we have when we're together.  We got up early, mainly because I had to go to work.  But it's also nice to be there in time to catch this sight:




Then off I went to work.  I will be spending this Octave of Easter, and beyond, working on accreditation documents, and yesterday was no different.  It's not onerous work, and it will have an end.  The auditors will be here next week, and at that point, we will have done all we can do.

We ended our last day together by going to downtown Hollywood to eat at a restaurant that my spouse has wanted to try for months.  It looked gloomy, so we ate inside.  We were there in time for happy hour specials, and we didn't have to sit at the bar.  We shared appetizers and one dinner portion.  It was delicious.

I was surprised by how many people were out and about on Easter Monday evening.  But I shouldn't have been--it was a lovely night, though overcast, and some of us might still be on spring break.  Our opportunities for enjoying al fresco life will be drawing to a close in South Florida, as the hotter, stormier weather returns soon.

In the meantime, let us linger in the light of Easter.  Let us eat our treats and enjoy each other's company.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Images from Easter

When I think back to Easter of 2017, what will I remember most?  Perhaps it will be this picture:



My spouse, my dad, and my mom are the ones on the left of this picture.  I love that Mom and Dad come to visit, and they're willing to sing in the choir.

Afterwards, they stayed to help count the money, a different kind of spiritual gift, especially in this week where we had the offerings of several services throughout the week to count too.  It took longer than usual, which is a good thing, in terms of the church budget.  But it did make for a longer Easter Sunday.

Still, we had mimosas to look forward to on our return home, plus a wonderful steak lunch/dinner.  And then, a brief nap!

Or maybe it will be this picture that I remember:



Yes, an Easter puppet show for our more experiential worship service.  The guy on the left is playing the part of the empty tomb, a non-speaking part.  I think that next year it should be a speaking part.

Yesterday, as I was on alert for something new in the Easter story, I was struck by the folded grave clothes.  Imagine:  Jesus comes back from the dead and folds the grave clothes. 

How would our society be different if we had focused on this aspect of Jesus?

I was also on the lookout for a perspective that might make a good poem.  A few years ago, after hearing about Mary mistaking Christ for the gardener, I spent time thinking about the gardener and wound up with a poem that you can find in this blog post.

This week, perhaps I will write about the abandonment felt by the empty tomb.  But let me end this blog post with this one last picture, which signifies true Easter joy:

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Holy Saturday: Food, Music, and Togetherness

Yesterday was wonderful.  My folks are in town, and happily we seemed in agreement that we didn't need to spend Holy Saturday racing around or going to tourist places.  We got some chores done early in the morning.  We came up with a meal plan for Easter, and then we went to Doris' Italian Market just as it opened, before the crowds showed up.  We also made a separate quick trip to the grocery store to get some cheap champagne for Easter mimosas and charcoal, and to Hollywood Vine, our local wine store.

And then, we spent the day cooking, relaxing, and preparing for Easter.  At one point, I made this Facebook post:

"How lucky am I? I am spending this time between Good Friday and Easter reading Henri Nouwen's journal of his time in Latin America in the early 80s while my parents and spouse practice the Easter cantata that they'll sing tomorrow. I'm so glad I've hung onto the keyboard that my mom is now playing!"

That music wove its way through my sleep last night, a lovely experience.

Later in the day, we all sang along to the Godspell soundtrack.  I wrote this on Facebook:  "We are sorting through vacation photos, doing dinner prep, and singing along to "Godspell"--a great Easter vigil!"  Later I commented, "Mom and Dad took us to "Godspell" at the Fox Theatre in Atlanta in 1974 or so--I was 9ish--my spiritual life hasn't been the same since."

I thought we might watch Godspell later, but we went for a short walk and then enjoyed our key lime pie in front of the firepit.  Because we knew that Easter was a full morning, we went to bed early.

I am now listening to Richard Rohr on Krista Tippett's On Being.  Wow.  Here's a quote from him, for Easter and beyond:  "But non-dual is where you move into both/and, where you don’t look for all-or-nothing thinking. And we’re seeing it in our political debates today. It’s almost the only form of conversation left is all-or-nothing thinking. And it’s amazing to me that we could have this many universities in this country and could have this many churches and synagogues and mosques and have so many people still at such a low level of consciousness that they read everything in terms of either/or. And that’s why all of the world religions, not just Christianity, discovered that you needed a different kind of software to deal with mysterious things, holy things.   . . .  It’s like putting on a different head, where — let me describe it this way, Krista — you let the moment, the event, the person, the new idea come toward you as it is, without labeling it, analyzing it up or down, in or out, for me or against me. It just is what it is what it is what it is, without my label. At this point in history, you have to teach people how to do that because none of us are taught how to do that. And that, for me, says that religion has not been doing its job for several hundred years because that’s what we were supposed to evolve people to, a higher level of consciousness that would allow them to do things like love their enemies, overlook offenses."

For the whole interview, go here.

I am wishing a blessed Easter for us all--let us remember how deeply we are loved.  Let us remember that God can make a way out of the most wretched violence, and that the transformation continues.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Good Friday Juxtapositions

Yesterday was a work day, but working when much of the rest of the world has a holiday is not unfamiliar to me.  Until we moved here in 1998, I always worked on Memorial Day, for example.  I love the quiet that pervades the day:  the quick zip to work with not much traffic, the calm at work that comes because some students and staff take the day off, even if it's not a holiday.

Let me record some reflections from yesterday:

--I made a quick trip to the grocery store, even though I know we're likely going to need to go to the grocery store again.  At the checkout, a woman from the bank who was walking in greeted the checkout folks--it was clear that they knew each other, in the way that people who work in places know each other.  The cashier said, "The resurrection will happen on Sunday," in response to the bank woman's complaint about a bank customer.  That stuck with me all day.  What a wonderful response to all sorts of complaints:  the resurrection will happen soon!

--Work was not unpleasant--I got a binder of syllabi resorted and labeled all the tabs, a process which took much longer than you might think.  I went to observe a new faculty member teach (she's from my old school, so it wasn't as full of surprises as it could be).  There were moments of weariness, but that was more because I was up early to take my sister and nephew to the airport than because of the work.

--As I drove home, I was thinking about how I had spent much of the time alone on a very quiet hallway, working in the accreditation room. A phrase came to me "the quiet tomb of the classroom," which made me think about tombs and what keeps us entombed. I was thinking about snapping the thin skin between my thumb and forefinger as I closed a binder. That happened on Thursday--I was thinking about Good Friday, and suddenly a poem came to me:  "Good Friday in Binderville" (Binderville has become my shorthand way of referring to all the work that must be done for an accreditation visit).

--My mom and dad are still here, so we had a bit of wine and cheese together, while my  spouse finished up his day's tasks.  We had both thought that the other one was taking hamburger out to thaw, but happily, I had picked up a package of hot dogs during my morning grocery trip.  It was an odd Good Friday meal, but we really don't have any Good Friday meal traditions.

--We went to church early for choir practice.  I brought books:  my 3 volume in 1 collection of Henri Nouwen's journals and Gail Godwin's Father Melancholy's Daughter, which I've always thought makes great Holy Week reading.  I felt a bit of sadness that I hadn't thought to reread Nouwen's Latin America journal during Lent.  So that will be my post-"The Handmaid's Tale" reading--what juxtapositions will I see?  At one point, the problems in Latin America seemed so insurmountable.  I first read this journal in the early years of the post September 11 world, which colored my reading.  What will I see in this reading?

--The Good Friday service doesn't move me the way I wish it would.  We focus on the 7 last words, and our pastor invites people to offer meditations on the words.  Thus, it is often much too much tied to personal, modern experience, which is valuable--but I'd rather focus on the experience on the cross.

--I hadn't thought I would sketch, but then I found I wanted to do it.  I created this:




--For more on the Good Friday service and the creative process that led to my sketch, see this blog post.

--It was strange to be going about our Good Friday activities while various world leaders are making bombastic declarations about who has the biggest weapon and who is not afraid to use it.  We finished our Good Friday by watching the rebroadcast of the News Hour on PBS--how comforting to be watching the commentators Shields and Brooks with my parents.

--Today may be a strange sort of Holy Saturday--we have lots of meat that must be grilled.  My parents are in town, and I feel like we should be doing more.  But it is delightful to sit by the pool.  They are readers, and I'd be happy to have some time to read.  But I don't want them to be bored.  But I also don't want to battle holiday crowds.  Perhaps we will just enjoy a quiet day at our beautiful paradise pair of cottages.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Good Friday and the Work of the Day

It has been a long time since I had to work on Good Friday.  But in a few hours, I go to the office.  I will continue with the week's work:  reassembling binders, getting the room ready for the accreditation visit, observing a faculty member who is new--I hope that she remembers that we do not have Good Friday off.

I'm usually travelling on Good Friday or preparing to travel--I often go on a retreat that happens the week-end after Easter, and I leave on the Tuesday or Wednesday after Easter.  Again, this year, I'm staying put.  It's too close to the accreditation visit for me to feel OK about a multi-state trip, and I have no vacation time earned at this point.

This morning, I got up early to take my sister and nephew to the airport--lots of people are travelling today.  Now I will do some laundry and go to the grocery store to buy a few items for the week-end.  Later today, I'll go to Good Friday evening service with my spouse and parents. 

We've had a good Holy Week, although not the usual kind, as we haven't been in church.  We've had family come in waves, and we've enjoyed good food together, along with a bit of travel, a bit of beach time, and lots of laughter.

It's not the first year that my emotions have been out of sync with the rhythms of the liturgical year.  Often we get to Easter, and I'm surprised to find myself unable to move out of the grief of Good Friday or Ash Wednesday.  Some years I'm just a bit deadened.  This year I'm an odd mixture of exhilarated/terrified with the progress towards the accreditation visit, along with being exhausted--that's my work life.  I'm also feeling that odd dislocation that comes from working long hours--I feel out of touch with my local friends, who have all spread to the winds as my old school has let people go.

And now, it's time to head to work.  Let me stay alert today, open to all the ways that God comes to us, all the salvation that is offered.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Shared Meals and a Poem for a Maundy Thursday

Here we are at Maundy Thursday again. How will churches celebrate this year?  My church will have a traditional noon service, and our evening service will be more experiential, a meal shared with a congregation that meets at our church and with members of a mosque which is a half block away.  We will discuss love across different cultures.

I say "we," but I will not be there.  Tonight is the last night in town for my sister and nephew; my mom and dad will be here until Tuesday.  My almost-11 year old nephew loves chicken wings, and my spouse loves grilling, so our last supper will be chicken wings. 

Will we go to Jaxson's?  Perhaps.  We went there last night, and my mom was sad to not have gotten to go.  I saw a box of a matzo on the counter and thought, ah, yes, Passover.

That reminded me of a time when my in-laws were down during Passover week.  We went out to eat in a seaside resort town, and the family at the table next to us whipped out their box of matzo.

I'm thinking of other Maundy Thursday meals I've made, other meals I've shared.  One Maundy Thursday at a different church, we did a Seder meal of sorts.  The impediment to doing a Seder during the daytime was that the preschool used every bit of space in the building except for the sanctuary.  I came up with a way we could have a meal in the back of the sanctuary.

As I researched the Seder, it became apparent that I had volunteered for more than I could accomplish.  So, I switched to a simpler meal.  I made a big pot of lentils and bought pita bread.  I bought feta cheese and olives.

We sat and ate and talked about how the simple meal was similar to the food that Jesus would have eaten regularly.  We talked about the Seder meal.  We talked about Maundy Thursday, since the people who came to the meal were like me, unable to get back for an evening service.

Did we also have a service?  I honestly cannot remember.  What I remember is the joy of sharing a meal, and everyone's surprise at how good lentils tasted.  I remember being pleased that my experiment worked.  We had just enough room for everyone who came.  If the whole church had attended--well, what a great problem that would have been, not having enough room.

But we had a small, select group, which I was fairly sure would happen, when I made the plans.  It was neat to sit in the sanctuary and enjoy a real meal, not the scrap of bread and sip of wine that we usually got. 

It was very cool to do Word and Sacrament in a completely different way--and wonderful that it seemed to work for people.

This week, with its mix of Spring holidays, Passover, Holy Week, and Easter, also reminds me of a poem I wrote long ago now, while all these images swirled in my brain and my quilt group met.  We wouldn't have had the meal that the poem describes, but everything else is factual. Well, I wasn't exactly the lapsed Lutheran in the sense that I once was, but like the rest of the poem, it's true, if not factual.

It was first published in Ruminate.


Eucharist

I knead the bread leavened with beer,
stew a lamb shank in a pot of lentils,
prepare a salad of apples, walnuts, and raisins,
sweetened with wine and honey.
No one ever had herbs as bitter as this late season lettuce.

My friends gather at dusk, a motley band
of ragtags, fleeing from the Philistines of academia:
a Marxist, a Hindu, a Wiccan, a Charismatic Catholic,
and me, a lapsed Lutheran longing for liturgy.

Later, having drunk several bottles of wine
with prices that could have paid our grad
school rents, we eat desserts from disparate
cultures and tell our daughters tales from our deviant days.
We agree to meet again.

Gnarled vegetables coaxed from their dark hiding places
transform into a hearty broth.
Fire transubstantiates flour and water into life giving loaves.
Outcasts scavenged from the margins of education
share a meal and memories and begin to mold
a new family, a different covenant.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Highlights Halfway Through the Week

It's been a sort of strange week.  It's been a long time since I've had family visiting but still had to work long hours.  But they knew it would be this way when they made the arrangements, so I don't feel as guilty as I might otherwise.  And I'm glad that they're willing to come to me, since I don't have the vacation time to come to them.

To recap:  my sister and nephew arrived on Thursday night, and my mom and dad arrived on Monday.  Here are some highlights from this time of family:

--On Monday night, we had a great meal of grilled salmon, asparagus, and grilled clams that got put in a broth of garlic, white wine, and butter.  Yumm.

--Yesterday as I took a brief walk, I thought of the left over salmon and how good it would be with bagels and cream cheese.  I shortened my walk and went out to get some bagels and cream cheese.  And yes, it was delicious.

--But it hasn't all been about the food.  Last night, there was some time in the pool--well, my nephew was in the pool.  It's still a bit chilly for the rest of us.  We played a game with complicated rules--my nephew specializes in made-up games with complicated rules.  He would run across the back yard, leap in the pool, while making some kind of action, and we were to guess what he was impersonating.  So there would be an elephant trunk, for example, or a karate kick.  There were moments of hilarity as we guessed wrong.

--We are trying to avoid renting a car--as I've said, I usually drive my car to work where it sits for 8 or 10 hours.  They might as well use the car.  So far, it's worked.  It hasn't been too onerous, at least not for me. 

Even though my family has been here, and I've felt some sadness that I can't be fully with them, it's been a good week at work.  Some highlights:

--I spent a large chunk of Monday looking for information that we needed for one set of reports.  I knew it was there somewhere, but I couldn't find it.  Finally I found it, and when I got to the office yesterday, our own specialist had done some calculus magic to give us the satisfaction percentage that we needed.

--I was then able to write the text we needed to insert.  It was a great way to start Tuesday.

--Our specialist was on our campus on Monday.  We ran through some of the material I'll need to know for the visit.  At the end of our meeting, he said, "You'll do just fine."  Hurrah!

--Of course, he also told me, after reading some of the minutes that I had written, that my minutes have a narrative quality that isn't always useful.  I've been told such things before.  I think of an experience I had writing my dissertation; someone told me I needed to "muddy up my prose" so that I could write like a true academician.

--But happily, others on my academic team have written the kinds of minutes that we need.  I am amazed at all the writing (and paper!) that has gone into preparing for this visit.

--All of our binders have been made and labeled.  I spent yesterday moving them into the room that we've reserved for the accreditation visit.

--We are ready for our mock visit, which happens today.  So let me have another hearty breakfast like yesterday's (a bagel with cream cheese, salmon, and tomato) and get ready for the day.

My family will have a leisurely day, whether they decide to relax by the pool or head over to the beach--or both.  And then we'll gather at the end of the day for a delicious meal.  After dinner, my spouse and parents will head to church for choir rehearsal--Easter approaches!

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Tulip Watch

I am looking at a pot of tulips as I write.  I bought the pot at a grocery store on Sunday and immediately wondered if I had been ripped off.  One of the leaves looked like it had been in a battle with bugs and come out on the losing side.  I was not sure that it really had nascent flowers.

Today, I am sure.  There are at least 5 yellow tulips.

On Friday, I picked up a pot of purple tulips, but I wanted to put those in our cottage where my parents are staying during their week-long visit with us.  So on Sunday, I picked up the additional pot.  I'm wondering if these potted tulips will last longer than the bouquet that I bought back in Feb:



Later when the flowers are done, we will put the bulbs in the ground, but I don't expect to have the same kind of success that the Williamsburg gardeners enjoy:



I've been watching the progress of the flowers, as they move from an almost invisible swelling of leaves to full-fledged flowers.  I wonder if they will begin to droop as quickly as the cut flowers do.

My sister reminded me that her bridal bouquet was made up of white tulips.  I am also thinking of the tulips that we bought for my mother-in-law's funeral; we are at the 12 year anniversary of her death.

Yesterday I had a brief fear that we might be about to get similar news about my father-in-law with a cryptic message from my brother-in-law about having my spouse call to get an update about their dad.  But as hours passed, and we didn't get other phone calls, I figured that the news wasn't as dire as I first feared.

My father-in-law is in the hospital, with complications from a spider bite, but he's expected to be O.K.

In this time of spring holidays, with their accompanying flowers, it's hard not to be cognizant of the fact that we are here for a very brief time.  Are we blooming to our full potential?

Monday, April 10, 2017

Highlights from a Spring Break Week-end

We had such a good day on Saturday, we decided to replicate parts of it on Sunday.  Here are some highlights:

--We walked to the beach.  In past years, we've driven, because we've taken a variety of beach toys.  This year, because parking is crazy, and because my nephew is older, we loaded up a backpack and walked.

--One of my nephew's favorite things about the beach is Edy's ice cream.  My sister and I enjoyed more grown up concoctions:



--My nephew wanted to try alligator as a food, so on our way back yesterday we stopped at one of the beachside restaurants with a pirate theme.  It was spitting rain, so we ate inside.  Not only was the food pretty decent, but we got to see the bones of the old house and imagine what it would have been like in an earlier, quieter decade of Hollywood Beach. 

--We thought about going further afield, to the Keys or a bird sanctuary--but I remember past regrets about spending time together in a car.  So we stayed close to home.

--After all, home has a pool.  Why sit in traffic?

--We thought about getting ice cream at Jaxson's, where the creations are as big as our heads.  But the wait was long on both Saturday and Sunday, so we kept moving.

--We have good food planned for today, when my mom and dad arrive.  That necessitated grocery shopping.

--We have eaten more bacon in a week-end than we usually eat in a year.  It has been delicious.

--Here's the thing that's been best:  we've been flexible.  In the past, I've often gotten too attached to one vision of how a vacation would go, and others have too.  This year we've been better at talking about what we really want.  It's much better than lamenting our choices later.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Alternative Palm Sunday Celebration

Today, across Christendom, churches will celebrate Palm Sunday; many churches will also celebrate Passion Sunday.  Today, we hurdle into Holy Week--many pastors will be leading as many as 15-20 services between this morning and Easter evening.

We will be taking a different approach to Holy Week.  Today we will not go to Palm Sunday service; my sister asked me if I minded, and I had to say no.  Palm Sunday has morphed into Passion Sunday, with a liturgy of the Palms and a liturgy of the Passion.  I understand why, but it makes for a long Sunday.

I find it odd that as a Christian, Palm/Passion Sunday and Easter Sunday are my least favorites.  They should be my favorite--the promise fulfilled, redemption at hand.  But they aren't--the cross looms large, and my theology of the cross is vastly different from many of my fellow worshippers.  Jesus was crucified by the Romans, and crucifixion was reserved for those who were a grave threat to the social order.  I don't believe the substitutionary atonement (Jesus died for my sins, the only way to get right with God theology) that so many Christians do when they ponder the cross.

Palm Sunday reminds us that the people who will be our friends today may turn on us tomorrow.  The adoring crowds of today may turn accusatory by the end of the week.  That message is always an important one to hear.

The Holy Week trajectory reminds us of the joy we will also experience along the way if we're lucky:  good meals with friends, deep conversations, a God who comes to serve.  Today I'll focus on those joys by spending time with my sister and nephew.  We had thought about going to the Keys, but I think we've decided against it--a lot of time in the car with that scenario and lots of crowds, but not the palm waving crowds--the kinds that are in cars clogging up the roads.

Instead, we will go to Jaxsons to enjoy ice cream creations as big as our heads.  It's not a traditional Holy Week meal, but it fits.

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Family Spring Break Vacation: Day 1

Even before our technology woes at work, I had planned to leave at noon.  I have had several very long weeks at work, where I get to Friday morning, and I've already worked about 45 hours.  And since my sister and nephew are in town, taking an early day yesterday made sense.

My nephew has always loved going to Target, and he hasn't outgrown that yearning.  So, yesterday afternoon before the school kids got released, he and I went.  It's interesting to think of what's changed.  Once we might have spent time looking at a variety of toys, but now he's more interested in video games and we spent a long time looking at drones (the kind in the toy section).  He doesn't have an understanding of how hard it would be to take some of those items in the plane, so I was glad when he decided to leave those big boxes in the store.

My parents used to tell me that my earned money was just burning a hole in my pocket, and I saw a bit of that in him yesterday.  I said, "I think you want to spend money just to spend money."  Later, when I picked up a pile of Tic Tacs, he said the same thing to me.  Touche!

With the exception of the Target trip, my nephew spent much of yesterday in the pool, and the grown ups were both in the pool and around it.  Several trips ago, I bought a pool basketball set, and we have gotten our money's worth out of that one.  I would never have dreamed that there are so many ways to dunk a ball in a hoop that's floating in a pool.

I resisted the urge to check the news--whatever's going on in Syria or elsewhere can go on without me for one day. 

Later, we had a fire in the firepit--lovely.  I tumbled into sleep smelling of woodsmoke, chlorine, sunscreen, and bug spray--one of the signifiers of a good day.

My sister apologized several times for not wanting to go anywhere, but frankly, this kind of vacation is my favorite.  I often feel like I'm working long hours to pay for this house so that I can come home to sleep in it.  It's wonderful to have a chance to enjoy the house in the daylight hours.

Friday, April 7, 2017

Technology and Just War Theory

My sister and nephew arrived last night.  Since their plane didn't get in until 10:03, we took a quick nap at 9.  The alarm went off at 9:30, and we listened to the news about the missiles.  My spouse said said, "Great.  We wake up, and we're at war with Russia."  Hopefully it won't come to that.
 
On the way to the airport, we discussed just war theory and the missile strike.  At least if we're all about to go to war, my philosopher spouse has determined that this strike was just, according to just war doctrine.
 
If I can be of assistance in any other philosophical or poetic quandaries you might have, just let my household know!  I remember when a student of mine found out that my spouse has a graduate degree in Philosophy; he said, "You guys must have interesting dinner conversations."
 
Yes, it's not every couple who would analyze current events this way.  I'm glad to be part of a couple who does.
 
It was surreal to have that somber conversation and then to arrive at the jumble of the airport.  I've never seen such a crowd so late at night.
 
Yesterday was a very strange day, in so many ways.  I made a lot of progress towards getting materials ready for our mock accreditation visit; we got the notice that it will happen in a week.  I was getting some artifacts for a binder from my own file.  I was looking over course materials from Fall 2015, the last time I taught an onground course where I had the option of creating curricula.  I was taking a moment to admire the materials I created.
 
Pride goeth before a computer freeze.
 
Our servers went down just before noon, and they weren't back up by the time I went home at 7 last night.  Sigh.  When our system goes down, we have very limited resources, since we access so much software from the system.  So, when it's down, I can't use Microsoft Office, for example.  Very limiting.
 
Sadly, I am used to these kinds of systems.  Most places where I have worked have not had enough bandwidth.  So I always keep the filing work, the copying, those kinds of tasks undone so that when the system goes down, I have something to do.
 
I am now caught up on all of those tasks.
 
Hopefully we will have full use of our technology today.  I will take an old-fashioned book to work with me, thus ensuring the system will be back to functioning.
 
And I will keep a wary eye on politics and world events.  My spouse is a pacifist at heart--the kind who believes that even if a war is just, you can't undertake it if you haven't tried every route to avoid it.
 
I am the person who feels that we should do more, but who doesn't have the first clue about what it should be. 
 
In the past, I might have thought that those in power had more of a clue than I do.  I am a bit fretful about all the unstaffed positions in the higher realms of government.  I am much more fretful about the people in power who don't have much experience.
 
But I have the heart of an optimist, the belief that while I cannot see the whole picture, I will assist in bending the arc of the moral universe towards justice.
 
How to do that?  After all, I am not in power in this administration.  I am far from the Syrian situation.  I cannot shepherd refugees to safety.
 
There are plenty of groups who work to help refugees and those who are trapped and must shelter in place.  My favorite is Lutheran World Relief.  I will make an extra donation this month.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Indian Princesses and the Women Who Saved Settlers

Today is the birthday of Sacajawea.  You may remember her as the woman who went along on the Lewis and Clark expedition.  You may not know that she was travelling with her newborn baby.  She's one of 5 or 6 women represented in the National Statuary Hall Collection in the U.S. Capitol (go here for the complete list).


I would argue for the presence of more women, but so many women who were important to the development of the U.S. are largely unknown.  I remember reading a historian who commented on the 400th anniversary of the Jamestown settlement back in 2007.  The historian commented that colonists who migrated without women by and large perished.  Men without women planted cash crops and forgot to plant food.

Interesting to have my thoughts return to Sacajawea when they've so recently been focused on Pocahontas; yesterday was the anniversary of her marriage to John Rolfe.  Interesting to think about how the future of the country, the future of the U.S. as I have come to know it, relied on these women.  Without Sacajawea, it's almost certain that Lewis and Clark and their expedition would have been slaughtered at first sight, without any chance to explain themselves.  But when hostile Native Americans saw that they were travelling with a woman and a baby, they saw the expedition as non-threatening.

And they needed her for her language skills, her navigational skills, her knowledge of what foods were safe to eat.  There were so many ways that she saved the men again and again.  Likewise, Pocahontas helped save the colonists in many ways.  Did she really lay her head down on John Smith's head when he was going to be executed and thus prevent his beheading?  Probably not.  But she saved him in many ways, albeit less dramatic ways.

From the Native American perspective, in hindsight, the Lewis and Clark expedition couldn't have been more threatening, although not in ways that hostile tribes might have anticipated.  The Lewis and Clark expedition opened up the west, and within a generation or two, settlers were pushing west, which meant pushing Native Americans off their lands (or killing them), wiping out the Buffalo populations, fencing the west . . . on and on the list of horrors could go.

Of course, when I was a young girl devouring the stories of Sacajawea and Pocahontas, I didn't think about those kind of things.  Even as a child, I loved stories that showed that women could do more than being simply wives and mothers.  Or was my thinking bound by gender?   Maybe I loved any story that showed humans doing more than their societies usually allowed.

When I was in grade school in the 1970's, some of my friends were part of a group called Indian Princesses.  It was kind of like Girl Scouts, only with a Native American theme--and girls got an Indian name!  I was so jealous.  I don't remember why I wasn't a member, and soon enough, I was a Girl Scout and forgot about the Indian Princess group.

I remember wanting to be an Indian brave.  I made things that I called bows and arrows, and I pretended to hunt.  Happily, I never got the Physics of bowmaking down, so I never shot an arrow.  Small animals were safe when I was on the hunt.  I also practiced being very still and blending into the landscape.

My childhood imagination was captured by life on the Plains and Prairies, and less by life as earlier colonists lived it.  My adult brain continues to be inspired by people who envision new ways to live their lives.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Greeting the Day by Typing Prayers

I woke up early this morning (3 a.m.) and thought, let me make some progress getting these prayers typed into the computer.  They're due to the editor on Friday.

As I move through the day, I'll be interested to see if beginning the day by typing prayers puts me in a better frame of mind.

I've been writing the prayers for the past two weeks, but I compose them on paper.  For my assignment, I get the other materials that will be in the book, but the primary piece I need is the chunk of Bible text.  I've been carrying the manuscript with me as I found small pieces of time to read and write a prayer.

Some of the prayers came easily.  I looked at the Bible reading, and the prayer just flowed from me.  Sometimes it flowed too fully, and I had to prune words.  Sometimes, I got about 15 words, and I had to write more.

Through my years of poetry writing, I've experimented with both expansion and compression.  I've had the experience of counting and weighing every word.  Writing prayers was no different.

My experience putting books of poems together also comes into play.  I can see themes in the readings, and as I write prayers, I try to do some echoing:  one prayer uses a phrase from an earlier prayer.  I try to keep it in balance, so it's an echo and not an annoying repetition.

The typing takes more time than you would think, even though each prayer is only 35-40 words long, and I'm writing only a month of prayers.  I will feel better today knowing that I've made progress.  I'll do one last proofreading and polishing, and then I'll send them off into the world.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Poetry Tuesday: "Penelope in the Office Cubicle"

We are in that stage of the accreditation process when I wonder if we're changing documents back to what they were several revisions ago.  It is a time of endless binders and going back and forth to the printer and hoping that our decisions will make sense in a few weeks when the accreditation team comes for their on-site visit.

I realize that much of life proceeds this way:  we make decisions and revisit them, we rewrite the chunks we thought were finished, we wonder if anything will make a difference.  Last week I wrote to a friend, "Are we curing cancer? No. Are we making student lives better? Maybe in some round-about way, in that the school stays open and students get financial aid."

I tell myself that even cancer researchers have weeks and months of replicating work, migrating data across documents--and many cancer researchers will never discover anything that will vindicate the importance of their work.

At least now I have gone through several rounds of past accreditation processes.  The first time was just overwhelming with all the work that needed to be done and redone and never made significantly better.  Now I know that we will do what we can do until the time comes for the visit. 

And eventually this time of endless binders will be over.  In the meantime, let me be grateful that I have a good team, that I am capable of this work, that I have the resources to do the work.

Although if anyone has an extra high-speed copy machine . . .

But because it's been too long since I posted a poem, let me return to one from an earlier accreditation visit, in 2010. 

It's part of my second chapbook, I Stand Here Shredding Documents.


Penelope in the Office Cubicle


She dismantles the chart she created
just last week, moving data
from one computer program
to another, to create
a chart that looks
just like the original.

She fixes coffee
only to be informed
that everyone now requires
decaf. She pours out pots
of coffee, staining the sink.

Part of her team rewrites
all the departmental objectives.
When the missing members return
from vacation and illness, the team changes
the objectives again. As she synthesizes
the various versions, she realizes
that they’ve written and revised
their way back to the original objectives.

Every day, she wakes up wondering
what work she’ll unweave today,
only to reweave tomorrow.
Every night, she dreams of voyages.

Monday, April 3, 2017

The Start of Spring Quarter

Today is the first day of Spring quarter for several schools in the area, including mine.  While I wish we would go to a standard 2 weeks off between every quarter, instead of 3 weeks at Christmas, 1 week in the Spring, and somewhere in between with the other 2 quarters, it's better for students to have less time off.  I'm always surprised by the students who just forget to come back after Christmas breaks, despite our e-mails and phone calls.

Last week was not a week off for me, or even a slow week, like the weeks of Christmas "break" can be.  In addition to a first week of a quarter, we are in the last few weeks before our accreditation visit. 

Last week we met the new students at 2 different New Student Orientations.  I love these days almost as much as I love graduation.  I love this time when students are enthusiastic and hopeful, before the grind of classes and juggling other responsibilities sets in.

In these few hours before the quarter starts, let me say a prayer for all of us.  I can use an open mind as surely as both new and returning students can.  Let me say a prayer for knowledge that's helpful, for teachers who are compassionate while shaping our minds and sharing their wisdom.  In these days of seasons shifting, let me pray for safety, as weather changes and as the work begins.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

"Something Rotten" is a Wonderful Something

Yesterday we had a delightful outing:  a group of 4 friends, my spouse, and I went to a Saturday matinee of Something Rotten.  It was absolutely marvelous.

We first moved here when Broadway shows rarely toured to smaller venues, like the ones in South Carolina.  One of the aspects of South Florida that appealed to me was that possibility of seeing shows shortly after they premiered.

You can guess what has happened.  I rarely go to these shows.  They're ghastly expensive.  Yesterday, our two tickets cost $75 a piece--that's $150 for us both.  And since it's live theatre, one can't be sure of the production values.  We've been to shows where the sound was very muddy.  And thus, we're out of the habit of going to see a Broadway show.  And because of the harshness of the recession, a lot of the smaller theatres we used to frequent have closed.

Yesterday reminded me of the value of live theatre.  The play was witty, the set was fabulous, the costumes were wonderful, and the acting superb.

It was also the perfect show for me, with its tributes to the Renaissance and musical theatre--full of inside jokes.  Would people who weren't in on the jokes enjoy it as much?  I suspect that they would, because I'm sure that a lot of the references zoomed right on by me, and while I wondered what I was missing, I was too busy laughing at what I did get to worry about what I missed.

In fact, it was the kind of fast-paced delivery that would reward subsequent viewings.  Alas, that won't happen:  the cost and the timing will prevent me from going again this time.  It took a lot of organizing to get ourselves to the theatre this time.

Yesterday was the kind of day I assumed would be a regular part of grown up life, back when I was 14 and dreaming of a grown up life that would be in a more cosmopolitan city.  Little did I know how much of grown up life would be made up of going to work and getting the chores done in the little bits of spare time that I have.

That's another reason why yesterday was so restorative--it wasn't just the time with friends, or the wonderful lunch we enjoyed before the show, although that's always a treat too.  It was the claiming of time to do something that's more than just the life sustaining stuff.  It was the claiming of the time and money to do the kinds of things that make me glad to be an adult, glad to be here in this place.

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Moving from Women to Poetry

We leave Women's History Month behind, and move on to National Poetry Month.  Here's how I first wrote that sentence:

We live Women's History Month behind, and move on to National Poetry Moth. 

Hmmm, a Poetry Moth chewing holes in the wool of our ordinary lives.  Living Women's History Month.  Interesting typos.

I celebrated this shift by starting The Handmaid's Tale last night--even though I've read it multiple times, I found it riveting.  And lyrical, these depictions of life under tyranny.  It reminds me of my experience of reading The Road, where I would occasionally savor the words over and over again before moving on.  I've called The Road the most beautiful writing about the most horrible apocalypse, but perhaps Atwood gives McCarthy a run for his money.

For me, April will be a packed month, with Easter, family visits, and an accreditation visit at the end of the month.  If your schedule is like mine, you might be thinking that you can't possibly observe National Poetry Month too.  But you don't have to write a poem a day.  There are less hard-core ways to bring more poetry into your life for a month.  Try one of these:

--Write a poem a week.

--Choose a volume of poems and read your way through it as the month progresses.

--Try an approach to creating poems that you haven't used before.  If you write long lines, go short.  If you write short poems, force yourself to write a poem that is 3 times as long.  If you've never written in form, start now.

--What happens if you pair images with lines that could be poems?  Try collage or photos or swirling colors on the page.

--Open a book or magazine.  Choose the 6 words on the page that are most evocative.  Write something.

--Make photocopies of your favorite poem.  Leave poems behind as you move about in the world (in a waiting room, in a restaurant, on a window sill, and so on).

--Read a poem out loud before you turn off the lights for the day.

--Choose a poem from a time period that you've never explored before.  I realize that this suggestion might be hard for those of us who majored in English at schools who saw it as their mission to make sure we explored every century of literature, but go back to revisit a time period that you didn't like the first time.

It's a good month to remind us how to be a bit more intentional about weaving poetry into the cloth of our daily lives.  And hopefully, we can take some of these practices along with us as April moves to May.

Friday, March 31, 2017

Narratives with Staying Power

Yesterday, I went to a site thinking I would read a bit about the upcoming adaptation of A Handmaid's Tale, and I watched a few trailers:  two for the upcoming adaptation and one for the 1990 movie.  I am not sure that I will watch the upcoming event as it rolls out week to week. I rarely watch anything on a weekly basis.

But it does look compelling, so I may watch the episodes that roll out at the end of April.  Maybe between now and then I will reread the book.  I read it long ago, shortly after it was published.  I must have been a bit of a book evangelist, because I have at least 2 friends who read it because I recommended it, and 20 years later, they still remember that it was me who insisted that they read it.

I read the book again in January of 2002.  I had Afghanistan on my mind, and how a society can go from contemporary to medieval in short order, as had happened when the Taliban took over.  I want to believe that once we've made progress towards a just society that essential human rights can't be taken away.

I want to believe that, but I know it's not true.

As I watched the trailers, I was struck by the scenes of people being kept away from each other.  I once thought that repressive governments might keep lovers apart--that was a narrative that seemed even more compelling than the traditional one of parents keeping lovers apart.  I know that the repressive government narrative is still alive and well in real life.  If I occupied a different demographic, I'd have a different outlook:  if I wasn't a U.S. citizen, if I was younger, if I wasn't descended from northern Europeans, if my sexuality was more fluid . . . I might have started taking some protective measures by now.

But in my personal life, I see families ripped apart by disease more often than by repressive governments.  In the past five years, it seems that I've been hearing more and more about people at midlife with horrible cancers--is there more cancer at midlife or am I just more aware?

What narratives are being created right now that seem timely now and will seem even more relevant 30 some odd years from now?  Would I have predicted Atwood's book would have this staying power?

Yes, yes I would, and I have friends who will tell you so, even if I don't remember being an Atwood evangelist.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Ploughman's Brunch

I was feeling my usual Thursday tiredness on Tuesday--I'm not quite as exhausted as I thought I might be today.  Still, let me write in shorter nuggets this morning:

--As the Trump administration has undone privacy laws (are they undone?  will there be lawsuits?), I find myself shrugging.  I've always assumed that anything I do online is not private, no matter the law.  It's too easy to get data, and it's too profitable to sell it:  people will break laws under those conditions.  It's why I haven't moved my banking online, although I do think that banking is a more secure industry than many:  the banking industry has pressing reasons to make data secure.

--Of course, I can also shrug because my online life is so boring.  Go ahead and peek into what I'm doing.  Read the few personalized e-mails I get once a week or so.  Get my Amazon purchases of books I rarely go on to read.  My blog posts are out there for all to see, and I never post anything on Facebook without assuming that a future employer might see it, which means those posts aren't racy.

--I can also be blasé because I'm one of the last 10 people in America who doesn't own a smart phone, thus no apps, no browsing history there.  I have no Internet of things, to use a current term. 

--I had similar thoughts earlier this term when a woman showed up to try to convince another woman to leave a man alone--I couldn't figure out who was with whom and if there might be a baby involved.   Long story short, the situation turned ugly in the parking lot.  I remember thinking, there is no human on this earth for whom I would show up in a parking lot and threaten violence.

--That thought made me feel old. 

--I want to believe that the fact that I wouldn't fight means that I am stable, mature, and emotionally healthy. I worry that I am a passionless stick who is so overworked that she wouldn't even notice that she needed to go to a parking lot to force a confrontation.

--Even though I was tired from a day of looking at faculty files while trying to also accomplish the other tasks that must be complete soon (classes start on Monday--gulp), last night I headed over to my church for soup, Psalms, and a creative response.  Last night, we fingerpainted!  Have I ever fingerpainted?  I have no memory of it.  Last night was fun--more in this blog post.

--It's been an exhausting week for all sorts of reasons, mainly because I've had long days at work.  On Tuesday, I got there at 8:40 a.m. and left at 8 p.m.  As I left, I said, "See you in 12 hours."  Happily, not every week is like that.

--It's also exhausting because I haven't taken time to eat properly.  As I told my spin instructor yesterday, "I haven't been eating well.  I haven't eaten crappy food--I just haven't eaten."

--Yesterday, I wrote this Facebook post:  "I am about to have a Ploughman's Lunch of sorts, although it's brunch time, so perhaps I should call it Ploughman's Brunch: a mug of steaming hot English Breakfast tea, along with some leftover sub selections from the sub sandwich platter from last night's meeting warmed up--when I write it out, it sounds sad, but it was tasty. And like a Ploughman's meal, whenever the time, it should give me some energy to do what must be done (to plough through these tasks!)."

--These next 2 days at work we turn our attention to new students:  new student orientation tonight and tomorrow, and getting classes ready to go.  So, let me get ready to face these tasks.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Scanning the Work

It's an odd week at work:  sort of down time, as we're between quarters, but also with lots of work to be done.  The last two days have been hectic for me, with faculty meetings and continuing to prepare for the accreditation visit. But yesterday, I took a break to get an ultrasound.
 
No, I'm not miraculously pregnant at the age of 51.  The program chair of cardiovascular sonography (CVS) took advantage of the down time of this week between quarters to give his students more time to practice scanning.  I got my carotid artery scanned yesterday--and I'm completely free of plaques or blockage!
 
I wasn't sure what to expect.  I knew that I could do it without needing to change clothes, so that was a plus.  In the morning, I volunteered to be scanned at 3:00 p.m., and I did briefly wonder how I would react if we found something really wrong.  But I decided it was better to find out now than when I'm in an ambulance.
 
I knew that if we found blockage, I'd feel betrayed in some way--why do all this exercise and pay attention to my food intake if it all comes to this?  Plus, for much of my life, I've had low cholesterol and low blood pressure--why weren't there signs?
 
So, it was a relief when the head of CVS said, "Completely free of blockage."
 
It was more than just my carotid--we scanned all the arteries and veins of my neck--and yes, I got to see them on the ultrasound screen and hear the sound the blood make as it thrums by the scanner.  It was fascinating.  There's an artery and a vein:  one takes blood away from the heart and one takes blood to the heart, if memory serves.  There's all kinds of controls on the machine, so you can see the blood in each in different colors (red and blue) or get the ultrasound pattern of waves or hear the blood or see the sort of sonogram visual that you see in other applications:  that strange pattern that looks so otherworldly.
 
It was a bit strange, lying on the table, with students gathered around the screen peering into my neck.  But it was also really cool.  And it gave me an appreciation for the equipment that our students get to use.  I know that our tuition is high, but I always tell people that our students are learning on new equipment, and that comes with a cost.
 
The procedure was non-invasive, a plus; it's hard for me to imagine being a volunteer for phlebotomy.  I didn't even feel any pressure.  The gel felt cool, and I did worry that it might get on my work clothes.  But it didn't.  I went on my way, wiping my neck, marveling at the wonder that is the human body.
 
During a normal work day, I try to take breaks to get away from my desk.  But I rarely have a break as restorative as yesterday's:  one that reminds me to be grateful for the work we train our students to do, for the work that the body does.
 
 

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Visualizations, Then and Now

This morning, I read this wonderful interview with Sandra Beasley about writing residencies.  In my younger years it would have filled me with yearning to find a residency to call my own.  Now that I am older, I am grateful to be able to find an afternoon when I can leave an hour earlier than usual, which is my scheduled going-home time.  I'm still not sure what my new professional life will look like when our accreditation visit is over, but right now, I can't imagine finding time off for the kinds of residencies Beasley describes.

But still, a girl can dream!  And that brings me to the real topic of this post:  the way that I once yearned and hoped, and the way I need to remember to do that again.

Let's go back twenty years.  I had started writing poetry again in 1995, and by 1997, I felt I had some good material.  I started sending packets of poetry to various journals, the way I had been doing before grad school sapped me of time, money, and courage.  I felt like I was returning to my true writer self, and I was so happy to find her again.

But at the same time, I had a larger vision:  a book at some point, maybe a job that contained more teaching of creative writing than composition.  Back in those days, I would spin scenarios in my head to help me fall asleep (unlike today, when I can barely stay awake long enough to get my head to the pillow).  That year, I started visualizing myself at a future book reading, being invited to be the poet in residence at a school, holding the first book in my hand.  They were pleasant thoughts with which to fill my head, but as I look back, I see larger forces at work.

In those years, I sent out more submission packets than I have in years since--and subsequently, I got more acceptances, including my first chapbook.  Perhaps it's time to return to that question of what I'd like to see myself accomplishing in terms of my writing, and rehearsing it in my head.

But first, I think I'll visualize celebrating once the upcoming accreditation visit is done.  A month from today, our visit will be drawing to a close.  Let me imagine this scenario:  it won't be a perfect visit, where the accrediting team says, "You're perfect.  Keep doing what you're doing."  Accreditation visits never end that way.

But let me visualize that the findings are minor, leaving us to work on issues that we have already targeted as ones we want to fix.  Let me visualize that last meeting, handshakes all around, smiles upon a successful visit.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Spring Living on the Porch

We have been enjoying lots of time on the porch, and lately, my enjoyment has been shaped by knowing that our days on the porch will soon be coming to a close.  As the weather gets warmer, we'll shift to the backyard to spend more time in the pool.

But for now, the pool water is still a tad too cool, and life on the porch is still lovely; it won't be later, when the winds die down and the air feels more oppressive.

For now, I can still enjoy the beautiful petunias I bought two weeks ago:



On Saturday, we did a wine tasting:



On Friday, I had bought wine that was a bit more than I normally spend:  $20 a bottle for The Riddler (all the way to the right).  With my first sip, I thought, hmm, I don't like this any better than I do 19 Crimes ($7.97 a bottle at Total Wine, second to left).  On Saturday, I thought it might be fun to do a tasting, and since I had a coupon to use, off I went to Total Wine.

We had a bit of really cheap wine left, the Charles Shaw from Trader Joe's ($2.97 a bottle on the left).  I bought a bottle of Josh ($10.97), for the sake of comparison.  And then, we tasted.

My spouse says that The Riddler was more balanced.  I honestly couldn't tell much difference unless I concentrated.  I could tell the difference between the cheap wine and the rest.  But I'll stick with 19 Crimes.

Yes, it was a lovely week-end--here's to many more, whether on the porch or in the pool!

Sunday, March 26, 2017

A Wonderful Writing Day with Correspondences

Yesterday morning, I wrote a blog post about waking up very early (2 a.m.) and never getting back to sleep--but writing was my reward.   Later in the day, I took a picture of the tree that inspired the Annunciation poem that came to me:



Look at the two browner fronds at the bottom, closest to the trunk--don't they look like a pair of wings?

I wrote this poem:

Annunciation
 
In the early hours of this feast
day of the Annunciation, I listen
for God’s invitation, but all I hear
is the roar of a motorcycle speeding
away after last call.  The rustle
of the palm fronds in the wind,
the only angel wings today,
as I lay enfolded in the arms
of my beloved of thirty years.

As I wrote the poem, I thought about Beth Adams and the book on the Annunciation that she put together.  I decided to send her an e-mail with the poem.  My e-mail ended this way:  "I don't like it [the poem] as much as the one I wrote for your collection, but as I wrote it, I thought of you and all the various approaches to the Annunciation, so I thought I'd share it with you.  Wishing you many blessings on this feast day!"

She wrote back to tell me that she was touched by my sending the poem to her, and she wrote a bit about Mary, about the way that the Virgin Mary was more present in Mexico City, from where she had just returned from a yearly sojourn.  She talked about the little shrines to the Virgin that she saw in Mexico and that she had once seen in the countryside of Quebec, but didn't anymore.  I thought about some of the shrines that I've seen here in people's yards, something that I never saw in other parts of the U.S. South where I've lived.

Later in the day, Beth sent me a meditation that she'd sent to the group doing a quiet retreat at the Cathedral where she worships.  She included my poem, which, along with the rest of her writing, moved me deeply.  In both her e-mail to me and her meditation that she sent to the participants, she talks about finding the presence of God in the ordinariness of life.  And she perceived my intention with the use of the word Beloved, that it can mean a human who holds us, but it also means the larger God who always enfolds us in love and grace, freely given.

I spent some time with her meditation and some time thinking about Mary and my relationship with her.  When I was in college in the 80's, the issue of Mary made me angry, like the patriarchal church thought it had done its job by venerating Mary, and now it could go on celebrating the maleness that it wanted to focus upon.  But in my later years, I see so many more nuances, both negative and positive.

It was a wonderful way to spend a feast day:  early morning meditation/writing time, corresponding with a friend, exchanging more ideas, and inspiring each other.  I feel so lucky to live in this time where technology enables all of this to happen in close to real time, so that this nourishment occurs on the actual feast day, not as we exchange letters through the paper mail system.

I also corresponded with my grad school friends, upon realizing via Wendy's comment on yesterday's blog that I had gotten my King Henrys and my Thomases mixed up.  I wrote "I thought of Thomas a Becket as the priest who stood up to Henry VIII. How strange is that?"  My friend wrote back,

Well, you only missed by a few extra letters after Henry's name...🙂
And they both wound up dead thanks to a Henry.

Later, in a Facebook comment, my grad school friend corresponded with Wendy and me.  Wendy wrote "I am now thinking about all the Thomases in my Medieval/Renaissance oeuvre. Thomas More, Thomas a Becket, Thomas Cranmer, Thomas Cromwell, and of the immortalization of A Becket by another Thomas, Thomas Stearns Eliot. That's a lot of Thomases. I wonder what that says about naming and doubting and historic/literary echoes. Might be a blog post, but posting on my blog might take a resurrection of some sort. I, too, am a doubting Thomas."

I wrote, "I hope for daily resurrection--for myself, for all the blogs that are so silent, for our hurting world, for all of us . . . I love the idea of all the Thomases"

My grad school friend wrote:  "Looking at this list of Thomasas, I'd say that was a pretty dangerous name to have before the 17th century. It seems to guarantee a hideous death by warrant of the sovereign."

I thought of how wondrous it is that we know each other in all sorts of ways now.  I know Wendy through blogging, but we've never met in "real life," however we define it these days.

I also spent some Facebook time with a different group of writer friends talking about southernness and ethnic identity.  It took me back to the time when I first arrived in South Florida in 1998.  I wrote, "When I first moved to southeast Florida in 1998, I used the term "southern" to mean U.S. southeast southern, Flannery O'Connor southern. I had several years of students from places far further south who engaged me in the use of this term, including one student an older adult, who argued that my use was insulting to people in South America. I don't know that I agree, but I have trained myself to change my language, just in case, and also to be more sensitive. Once challenged by my Latin American students, I couldn't use the term the same way."
 
We had an interesting discussion about whether or not a Cuban is Caucasian. I wrote, "But there is an outsiderhood, an exile status, but also an outsiderhood that could be hidden, if one wanted to pass. I'll go ahead and post this, with apologies if I'm going off track here."
 
I also wrote about Natasha Trethewey, "I know that Natasha Trethewey has been mentioned, but I wanted to mention her again--she does amazing work exploring the issue of race in both the modern U.S. south and past centuries--if I had to choose just one poet in this particular area, she would be my choice. As someone who has lived in the U.S. South my whole life, her poems make me gasp with new recognitions and connections."
 
The ongoing conversation and listing of poets was amazing, in its way--that quick assembly of poet possibilities, that discussion amongst far flung people. 
 
It was a wonderful day, with writing weaving its way through the hours in such nourishing ways.  It's one of the joys of technology, the way it connects us, the way that I can have these conversations even when we're not in the same geographical area.