Monday, May 22, 2017

Brunch Thoughts

--Months ago, I bought a Groupon for a 2 for one brunch.  The expiration date was fast approaching, so yesterday, we met a group of friends in downtown Hollywood.  We walked to the restaurant, which meant the all-you-can-drink mimosas really was a good deal.  We stayed there for 3 hours enjoying good food, great conversation, and mimosas.

--How would our experience of worship change if we could have all-you-can-drink mimosas during church service? 

--I've thought many times before about how it would be nice if communion could be a real meal, not just a shred of bread and a thimble of wine.  I've been lucky to have a few worship experiences that were built around meals, and as I have always thought, they were more meaningful.  But were they more meaningful because they were new and carefully planned or because they were truly more meaningful?

--I realize that a real meal and ever-flowing mimosas would work better in small churches than large ones, and in different worship spaces, of course.

--As I was getting ready for our walk to brunch, I was listening to reports from Trump's trip to the Mideast.  What to make of one of the least spiritual U.S. presidents heading to the world's holy sites?  Is it a Nixon in China moment?  And what would that mean in this context?

--What will Pope Francis say to Donald Trump?  Of all the places where I'd like to be an unseen observer, that's the one I'd choose.  At least, this month.

--My New Year's goal was to have more brunch.  I'm not sure I've been very successful.  But there is time yet.

--We're almost at the half-way point of the year.  It's good to think about the trajectory of the year.  But I won't be doing that thinking this morning.  It's time to shift my focus back to work.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Sunday Travels

--On some NPR segment, I heard a commentator who had reported on Trump for many years talk about the fact that Trump wants to sleep in his own bed at night.  She talked about the campaign where Trump would make an appearance and get back on the plane so that he could sleep in a familiar bed.  I found that a very humanizing detail.  I've been thinking of it as I hear about this big international trip.

--In Books for Living, Will Schwalbe offers this insight:  "Books are uniquely suited to helping us change our relationship to the rhythms and habits of daily life in this world of endless connectivity.  We can't interrupt them; we can only interrupt ourselves while reading them.  They are the expression of an individual or a group of individuals, not of a hive mind or collective consciousness.  They speak to us, thoughtfully, one at a time."

--I am listening to On Being--on today's show, Krista Tippett is exploring the work of Hannah Arendt with the writer Lyndsey Stonebridge.   I have never read the work of Arendt.  Perhaps now is a good time to start.  Once her work seemed like distant history.    

--Stonebridge offers this insight:  "I was thinking about this this morning with the other figure who’s very important to me, who’s also a very strong Jewish woman was Melanie Klein, the psychoanalyst. And Klein had a question, which was, 'Where does evil come from?' And Hannah Arendt asked another question, which I think it’s uniquely important, which is, 'How, in modern times, is evil organized?'”

--Do all roads towards terror/evil start in existential loneliness?  One can make a strong case.

--Arendt taught George Orwell's 1984 to undergraduates at Berkeley in 1955--what a class that would have been!  I think also, of Merton teaching first year Composition . . . but I digress.

-- Stonebridge points out an essential problem, but one we don't often talk about with totalitarianism:  ". . . she’s responding to George Orwell here. She says two plus two will never make five. That’s not the problem. And George Orwell at the end, Winston’s being tortured, and he’s made to say two plus two equals five, and this is like totalitarianism makes us all lie. She said that’s not the power. It’s the fact that in a world where people are going to say it is even when they know it isn’t. [laughs] That is deeply estranging. That’s what creates those conditions of loneliness and despair. That, for her, is the wickedness of the political lie. People don’t believe that two plus two makes five. They don’t believe half of what’s said."

--During a car trip across the county yesterday, my spouse and I were talking about approaches to life, about how many people will make a stand about principles these days, and how many people make decisions based on what is right for them.  I said that it was depressing to think about that--and at the exact same time, we both realized that what is truly depressing is that so many people have no principles upon which to make a stand.

--One of my teacher friends is distressed that her students don't recognize names out of the news, like Michael Flynn.  I am more distressed by their lack of familiarity with names like Hannah Arendt, even as I recognize a whiff of hypocrisy, since I have yet to read her.

--Wherever our Sunday travels take us--to foreign countries like Trump or to philosophical explorations with Arendt--may they enrich!

Saturday, May 20, 2017

The Week in Reading

My spouse has had a dreadful cold all week--he's been spending lots of time sleeping.  The upside to this situation is that I have had time to read.  Here, in no particular order, are my adventures in reading this week:

Absolutely on Music:  Conversations by Haruki Murakami with Seiji Ozawa

I read the first 60 pages, and then I thought, this book really needs to come with a soundtrack.  At first, it's mildly interesting to read these conversations about classical recordings, but then it gets a bit boring.

I did scan the rest, and other interviews were similar.  But I did learn some information.  What stands out in my mind is this vision of a conductor getting up at 4 in the morning and spending time meditating on the musical score, meditating in silence.  I never thought about the conductor's role as much as I have with this book.  Ozawa (the conductor) gets up at 4 a.m. as does Murakami (to write).  I see writing as a solitary experience, but I didn't realize the conductor's experience had similar dynamics.

Hillbilly Elegy:  A Memoir of a Family and a Culture in Crisis by J. D. Vance

Would I have read this book if it hadn't been so much a part of the political campaign?  Likely--I do come from east Tennessee hillbilly stock myself.   But the conversations that swirled around this book during the political campaign did lead me to expect a different book.  It's not really a work of sociology.  No, it's a memoir.

As memoirs go, it's mildly interesting.  There are memoirs that explore the issue of white poverty much more lyrically, with more beautiful language--the Rick Bragg book All Over but the Shouting is my all-time favorite in this genre.  I would say the same thing if I was talking about dysfunctional family depictions.  Dorothy Allison's work is much more brutal--tough to read, but I couldn't put it down.  I didn't have a similar compulsion to return to Hillbilly Elegy.

It's interesting to think of these 2 issues in generational terms.  Bragg's work, and Allison's too, are about an older generation of white folks.  The drug of choice, and destroyer of families, in their work is alcohol.  In Vance's view, it's pain pills.

Hillbilly Elegy does a good job of describing the crisis in which so many communities find themselves.  It doesn't give any sense of what can be done about any of this--in fact, I came away with a bleakness about the prospect of lifting people out of poverty.

It is a memoir, after all.  Memoirs aren't required to create policy recommendations.  But it left me wishing for more.

My all time favorite book of the week (and perhaps of the year):

The Dark Flood Rises by Margaret Drabble

What an amazing book!  I don't know if anyone is making a list of novels about aging that must be read--if so, add this one to the list.

But it's not just about aging.  That sounds dreary--but it's funny, even as it is a brutal discussion.  She's great at showing how the passions/rages of our younger years simply melt away as we age.  Even though I'm only 51 (twenty years younger than many of the characters in this book), that part felt real to me.

The book also discusses all the floods that threaten to swamp us:  aging, global warming with sea level rise, immigration, the wars that cause immigration--but above all, aging.  But again, it's warm and funny, even as it explores bleak subjects.

My English major heart also loved this book because I felt rewarded for my knowledge of literature.  Samuel Beckett's Happy Days lingers over the whole plot (two characters are going to see a revival), and there is an absurdist element to this book.  Like Beckett, the absurdist bits are often apocalyptic--but it's funnier than Beckett.  There are all sorts of allusions to all sorts of literature and history.  But the biggest delight for me was the fact that one character is reading the work of Esther Breuer--a character we first met in one of my favorite Margaret Drabble novels, The Realms of Gold.

Much as The Realms of Gold captures a time period, Thatcher's Britain, so does The Dark Flood Rises for ours.  What an amazing book.

During the next few weeks, I'll have to spend my free time grading for my online class--so I'm grateful to have had this week of reading.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Music, Then and Now

I was saddened to hear of the death of Chris Cornell, one of the founders of Soundgarden.  He was my age.  And then, I was further saddened to hear that it was suicide.

I only own one Soundgarden CD--and that sentence tells you a lot about how old I am--to own a CD, not to download some tracks (do we call them tracks?  I haven't downloaded any music in years).  I bought it when I found it cheap, and it was a way to get a copy of "Burden in My Hand," back in those days before we could download an individual track.

I saw Soundgarden at the 1996 Lollapalooza festival--I saw a lot of great acts at that festival, including the Ramones and Metallica, but I was there to hear Rage Against the Machine.  We got up early that morning to drive to Rockingham, North Carolina for a rock festival at a racetrack.  I remember it being hot and dusty, but feeling exhilarated because we were at an important music festival.

Those were the days we would drive all sorts of places for good music:  the jazz festival each year in Jacksonville, Florida and we drove to Charlotte to see Mary Chapin Carpenter.  Some concerts were just miles away.  For my birthday one year, one of my best friends bought us tickets to see Melissa Etheridge.  She knew I wouldn't treat myself because the tickets were $35 a piece.

Now I live in a place where we have lots of great music concerts, but I rarely go.  It's a combination of not wanting to pay for tickets and not wanting all the hassles of seeing music with a huge group of people.  I'm much happier being part of a smaller group playing music in a living room or on our porch.

Today I'll listen to "Burden in My Hand" again.  I'll remember the summer of 1996, a great summer of music festivals.  And then, at some point, maybe I'll pick up my long-neglected instruments and pluck out a few notes.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Not a Good Time to Be a Special Agent

It has been a dizzying week in terms of politics.  And that's an understatement!

Each day brings more surreal news than the one before it.  One wonders where it will all end.  Once I would have said impeachment or jail, but now I'm thinking that would be much too normal an outcome.

Yesterday as I drove to work, my NPR news station announced that Russia had volunteered to hand over transcripts of the meeting with Trump.  We have fallen through some sort of hole in the rational universe and into some surreal other world.

As I've read various stories about Trump and all the people who work for the White House, suddenly I realize:  my career choices have not been that bad.  I have never had to work under such circumstances, with a boss that undercut me at every turn.  On the contrary, most of my direct bosses have tried to protect me.

In all seriousness, I have never seen such goings-on in my lifetime.

When it was revealed that Trump cavalierly shared highly sensitive information with the Russians, I couldn't stop thinking about where the information came from.  I don't mean which country, but which special agent.

While I am worried about foreign countries deciding they can't trust us with highly classified information, I'm wondering about the agents, whom I assume were deep undercover, who delivered the intelligence to Israel, assuming that they could trust that the info would be handled properly.  And then Trump just blabs it, because he wants to feel like Mr. Big Guy.
I'm guessing that somewhere there are dead secret agents.    I am guessing that when info is exposed in this way, the bad guys know that they've been compromised--and I'm guessing that it was info so sensitive that it wouldn't be hard to figure out who had sold out the bad guys.
And I'm sure Trump doesn't care--he got to be Mr. Big Guy.  And most ordinary people won't realize that secret agents are dead somewhere, just so Trump can be Mr. Big Guy.
Many parts of this story make me ill, but this part makes me most ill and angry.  If some ordinary woman like me thinks about protecting secret agents who are funneling important info to those in power, how does it escape the realization of people in the highest reaches of government.
I am glad that a special investigator has been appointed, even though I know the troubled history of special investigators.  I am tired of this chaos.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Writing Process Report

I sat down on Saturday with just a vague idea for a short story, and I finished it yesterday--which is record time for me lately.

Once I wrote more quickly.  In the mid 90's, I met a friend for lunch once a week at either her house or mine.  We had a great lunch and read each other's stories that we wrote.  She took summers off, and I had a schedule where I didn't go to school until later afternoon on Tuesdays and Thursdays.  In those leisurely days, I could write a story a week on a regular basis.

These days, it can take me months to finish a story.  Even if I have it plotted out in my mind, I often have only 15-30 minutes here and there to work on it.

I found it exhilarating to write a story more quickly--there was that thrill of discovery.  I thought I was writing about an angry poet, but maybe that poet, who made an appearance in a story told in the voice of the HR director, was someone else.

I'm writing a collection of short stories that are linked by the fact that all the characters work at a for-profit art school in South Florida and by the fact that they all have some connection, no matter how tenuous, to activism.  I originally envisioned it as an activists at age 50 collection.  I originally thought the link to the characters was their activism when they were in undergraduate school together--that idea quickly fell away.

I'll be interested to see if the stories feel repetitive when they're together in one manuscript.  But I'm not worrying about that now.

I'm just happy to keep writing, no matter what the process may be.

Monday, May 15, 2017

The Labyrinth Beneath the Playground

Yesterday my church voted to lease part of the 2 acres of our land behind the church to a preschool center.  Zoning rules in the city of Pembroke Pines dictate that preschool centers must have some green space, and the preschool will be in the shopping center to our east.  I guess that part of the design will be cutting a gate into the fence.

We used to have a playground and that fenced area still exists, without the equipment.  But the land the preschool will be leasing will be further south--right over the space where the labyrinth used to be.

We haven't had a labyrinth in years, but I can still see where it used to be--although it's getting fainter with each passing year.  I always loved having it, although I didn't walk it as often as I would have thought.  It was a target for vandals, and we talked about what we could do to make it more permanent, like planting shrubs as labyrinth lane separator.  In the end, we let the land take the labyrinth back.

The church created the labyrinth after our pastor did his dissertation on the sacredness of outdoor spaces.  I was part of his focus group, and in this way, I met some church members and became intrigued by such a church.  I was part of the group that laid out the original labyrinth.  I always thought it might come back.  I feel a bit of sadness at its loss.

I think of the labyrinth that will be beneath the surface of the playground--I wonder if the playground will have a sacredness that it wouldn't have otherwise.   Will the children look back and feel that the playground was different than all their other play spaces?

I love the symbolism of the labyrinth.  Could I make a poem out of these elements?  I'm sure that I can.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Be the Nurturer that You Need

This morning, I'm thinking about mothers.  I'm thinking about my wonderful mother.  My mom is/was a great mom in so many ways: in the way that she always encouraged me to read, in the way that she encouraged creativity, and in the ways she showed me how to care for my physical body.  She taught me how to be a female in a world that can be very difficult to navigate, especially for those of us in female bodies.

I'm thinking about my sister, who is a mom too--in fact, my family will be spending Mother's Day by watchin my nephew play soccer.  That's what moms do, delight in their offspring.  I was lucky enough to have a mom who did that--and still does.

I'm also thinking of our nation and how we support mothers.  We don't do a very good job.  Sure, there's this one day--which is mostly designed to make us spend money.  But we don't spend money in places where it might really matter, places like child care that's open at odd hours.

I am not the first person to note that we can tell a lot about a society, or an organization or a person, by looking at where it spends its money.  In the U.S., we are not a culture that celebrates mothers much at all.

I'm also thinking about how we mother each other, and how many of us need to do a better job of that.  I'm lucky to have my mom still,  an example of a healthy, happy woman--one of the best gifts she gave me is showing me that one can be a woman and find fulfillment in all sorts of ways. But for those of us who never had that experience, what can we do?

Regardless of our gender, I'd urge us all to be mothers to all of creation.  We live in a broken world, a world in desperate need of nurturing.  Some of us are good at caring for children.  Some of us are better at caring for animals.  Others of us are mourning the larger picture, as we see our planet in perils of every sort.

So on this mother's day, as we think of all the people who have nurtured us, let us resolve to return that gift, in whatever way best fits our skills, talents, and gifts.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Herding Words (and Due Dates)

Today I need to get my online class ready--it's not the zero hour yet, but it soon will be. 

When I teach online classes, I get a shell, but it's up to me to enter all the due dates.  And this class that starts Monday has lots of due dates.  My students will have at least 4 items due each week during the 6 week class.  As the woman who will do the grading, it exhausts me just thinking about it.

And because the shell doesn't autopopulate, I need to check various parts of the shell and put the dates there too. 

I thought I might write a short story this past week, but I didn't.  I had written a story in the voice of an HR director, which inspired my Sociology friend to write a piece, a scathing piece, in the voice of the Sociology professor.  I had planned to write a story in the voice of the poet, another character in my short story.  But I didn't make time to do that during the week days.

I had thought about waiting until my online class is over to start--I anticipate needing to spend every scrap of spare time for grading in the next 6 weeks.  But then, last night, I got a glimmer of how to start.  I thought about a great great grandfather (enough greats?) who drove cattle across a continent.  I thought about sheep.  I thought about all the farm animals that could make or break a settler family.

This morning, I just sat down to see what happens.  And now I know that I have a story, not just a blob of writing with a voice.  I think of my favorite undergraduate professor who said that a story must have a conflict.  I protested, and she said, "O.K., find me a story that doesn't."  I wasn't able to do that then or now.

When I sat down to write this morning, I was unsure of the conflict.  Because I didn't know the conflict, I couldn't have imagined the climax.  Now I have more than a glimmer.

It's interesting to approach writing as discovery--I usually like to know exactly where a piece is going, but this morning, I just sat down and said, let me see. So I don't know the poet's name at this point, but I do know that her great great grandfather herded cattle across the continent. I think the climax will involve the elimination of the big coffee machine and a goat farm in the panhandle.
Stay tuned!

Friday, May 12, 2017

Friday Fragments: Twice Boiled Eggs

--This morning, I took the last 2 hard boiled eggs out of the fridge for breakfast.  I decided to boil some more eggs.  Sure enough, I put the 2 hardboiled eggs in the pot of water with the raw eggs.  Now we shall see how twice boiled eggs work.

--I see this as a metaphor for something--but what?

--Last night, we had planned to go to 2& for 80's ukulele night.  But I got in and my spouse was assembling the file cabinet that he'd bought 2 months ago.  So, I told him to keep working--after all, we could always go later than we planned. 

--While he was working on the file cabinet, I watched a bit of the PBS Newshour show.  I watched a bit of the testimony of dismissed FBI director's deputy.  That second-in-command spoke so eloquently of his dismissed chief.  Very classy.

--Then I thought, let me not waste valuable time watching the news.  I poured myself a bit of wine and returned to Margaret Drabble's The Dark Flood Rises.  What a wonderful book; I'll write more about it when I'm finished.

--Finally my spouse finished the filing cabinet.  We decided we'd rather have a quiet night at home than battle traffic and downtown crowds.  As we sat on our front porch, I realized I'd rather be on the front porch at the end of the day than just about anywhere else.

--My spouse read some of the poems from Anna Leahy's Aperture, which had just arrived.  He read some persona poems of characters related to The Wizard of Oz.  One of them was at a press conference.  I thought of the testimony I'd watched earlier, and wondered why I hadn't thought of that setting for poems.

--Let me think of some possibilities today.  I wrote one poem earlier this week, a very quiet poem about Jesus folding the grave clothes on Easter morning.  I need to get back to more poetry writing, and persona poems are often a way back to my poet self.

--I have now eaten 3 hard boiled eggs.  I think of a poem in the style of William Carlos Williams:

I have eaten the hard boiled eggs.
Were any of them twice boiled?
I cannot tell.
Forgive me.
They were so nutritious,
covered in salt.

--Let me stress that I do not think this poem-like thing can compete with that poem about the cold, delicious plums.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

My Own Personal Countercultural Revolution

Yesterday, I started the day by listening to this episode of On Point which explored The Benedict Option, a book which calls for modern Christians to resist elements of modern life, like consumerist culture.  I ended the day by having a conversation about how available the modern workplace expects us to be.

One friend said that it's part of being management that one must be available each and every day, 24 hours a day.  Another friend said that every job expects that availability now.  I said, "But why must it be this way?  We're not managing emergency medicine here.  These aren't life or death issues." 

When I was young, I thought that one of the most countercultural ways to behave revolved around who we loved and who we lived with.  The world seemed set up for husband-wife pairs and their children.  I still think that if one wants to live in a multi-adult household where the adults are joined by simple friendship, not blood relations or sex, that it's fairly countercultural.

One of the most radical countercultural things I do these day is my refusal to get a smartphone and my refusal to be tethered to my cell phone--or any phone.  I don't want a smartphone for many reasons:  the cost, the way the phone monopolizes everyone's time, the way that everyone becomes a slave to their smartphone.

In this episode of On Being, Marie Howe says that the robot revolution has happened, and the robots are our phones--not what we were expecting, certainly, but a robot takeover nonetheless:  "And one of my teachers at Columbia was Joseph Brodsky, who’s a Russian poet, wonderful, amazing poet, who was exiled from the Soviet Union for being a poet. And he said look, he said, 'You Americans, you are so na├»ve. You think evil is going to come into your houses wearing big black boots. It doesn’t come like that. Look at the language. It begins in the language.' And I was thinking the machines — what face do you look into more than any other face in your life? The face of my iPhone."

I understand all the reasons why a smartphone can be good.  If I had family members going in multiple directions, I might want us all connected in that way.  But I don't.  I do spend a lot of my day staring at a computer screen.  I don't want my remaining free time controlled by an even smaller screen.

Eventually I'll read The Benedict Option, in an old-fashioned format.  I'll be interested to see if it has anything to say about this ubiquitous piece of technology.  It seems much more invasive than the television is these days.  If we're resisting modern, consumerist culture, the smartphone might be the place to start (and yes, I know I've already lost this battle).

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

The Bookcases and the Sortings

Two weeks ago, we'd have been making our last preparations for our accreditation visit.  Yesterday, I did my last work on restoring the accreditation room back to being a classroom.  I now have two beautiful bookcases in my office.

When I first got to campus, I was amazed to be at a college campus that had no bookcases--not one.  Even the library has shelves that are closer to metal racks than shelves.

Now I face the question:  to move books from home to the office or not? 

I love being surrounded by my books, and I spend more of my waking hours in my office than anywhere else.  But we all know that hazard of moving books to the workplace:  at some point we'll have to move them again.  Of course, that's probably true of books at home too.  No place is as permanent as we might like.

I've been thinking that I need to adopt a different approach to sorting through possessions, and perhaps these bookcases can help me do that. 

It's been almost 4 years since we moved here.  When we were preparing to move 4 years ago, I did a rigorous sorting of all sorts of things:  books, backpacking equipment, clothes, art supplies, on and on the list could go.  I've been thinking about what we moved to the house and what I haven't really touched since.

In the past, I've done big sortings, the kind of activity that takes a day or a week-end.  But now, the thought of doing that kind of sorting exhausts me before I even start, so I don't start.

But I could do a little bit each week.  My goal for the summer is to ask myself each Sunday if I've gotten rid of anything this week--and if not, to do a tiny sort.

And I'll begin with bookcases at home:  which books should go to the office and which should stay at home--and am I ready to part with more books?

Stay tuned!

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Inspirational Birds of the Past Week

This morning as I took my small walk to the marina, I kept reminding myself of what many smart folks advise:  even a half hour walk can help in all sorts of ways.  It doesn't have to be an extra pounds burning up walk.  Just getting the body moving is a good thing.

It's also good in other sorts of ways.  I've been delighting in the bird sounds that I only hear in the morning.  Do I only hear them because they only sing in the morning?  Or is early morning the only time the traffic/construction noises are silent enough to let other sounds slip through?

The other day I walked under a piercing bird sound.  I looked up and said, "Is that big noise coming out of you?"  Such a tiny bird with such a robust song!

I had a similar moment last week when I heard bird noises--but I was in my office, which I think of as hermetically sealed.  I'm lucky, in that I have windows and palm trees that wave to me outside them.  But I rarely hear much of the noise from outside of those windows.

But sure enough, there were some tiny birds perched on the tiny bit of window sill, and they chirped loudly enough for me to hear. 

I often hear the screech of parrots, but they rarely come close enough to be seen.  The other day I had to come back home in the morning to have my spouse notarize a document.  As I left the house, I noticed a parrot in one of the gumbo limbo trees out front.  I managed to get my husband's attention without scaring the parrot away.  And then, another parrot joined the first!

On our first night in Ft. Lauderdale, before we decided to move down here, when we were here for my spouse's job interview, we saw parrots on the electric lines overhead on Las Olas.  Seeing parrots seemed magical then, and it still seems magical, 20 years later.

When I saw the parrots in our gumbo limbo tree on Friday, I had been feeling exhausted and depleted.  But that moment was a turning point in my day.  My day might have improved in some other way, had I not seen them, however, I was surprised by how much they elevated my mood, and how long that elevation lasted.

Over the past decades, I've read many articles that worry about the fate of the birds, and I've read works that envision a life without birdsong.  Happily, that world is not our world yet.  I'll continue to cultivate my patch of the world to support the birds and other animal life and to stave off a birdless apocalypse for as long as possible.

Monday, May 8, 2017

The Feast Day of Julian of Norwich

Today is the feast day of Julian of Norwich, a 14th century mystic who kept herself in almost total isolation in a small room attached to a cathedral.  For more about her place in church history and her theology, see this post on my theology blog.

You may be asking why I would mention a 14th century mystic on my creativity blog.  Here are some reasons:

--Julian of Norwich wasn't just a mystic; she actually wrote down her visions.  She is likely the first woman to write a book-length work in English.

--She might see herself as unworthy of being thought of as a writer. After all, she was only writing the visions that God sent her (in her eyes).  However, those of us who write know that one can utilize any number of techniques to write down a vision, even if one gives credit for the vision to someone else.  Julian of Norwich wrote those visions with amazing craft and art.

----And what a series of visions!  She gives God a distinctly feminine face, although it might not be the kind of face that attracts modern feminists.  She's groundbreaking in that way too, although I'm fairly sure she didn't set out to be groundbreaking.

--Even more daringly, she wrote about Christ as a mother--what a bold move!  After all, Christ is the only one of the Trinity with a definite gender.  She also stressed God is both mother and father.  Her visions showed her that God is love and compassion, an important message during the time of the Black Death.

--She is probably most famous for this quote,  "All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well," which she claimed that God said to her.  It certainly sounds like the God that I know too.  It's a mantra I have used through the years to calm myself.  It works beautifully.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Hidden Wholenesses

This has been yet another week where my Facebook feed has exploded with the rage and disappointment of those who feel that their government is not working for them and not working for us all and perhaps not working at all.

I understand the rage, but I still find it exhausting.

This week, too, I've been exchanging writing with my Sociology friend, and we've had an e-mail conversation about all the ways that education has changed.  She feels rage about the ways that the educational structure has been given to the administrators, especially the HR folks and the Compliance people and all the ones in charge of Institutional Effectiveness.  This sadness and rage, too, I understand.  Life in Higher Ed is not what most of us expected when we were in grad school.  I feel a bit less betrayed, since when I was in grad school, it was beginning to be clear that we were being prepared for academic lives that were disappearing out from under us all.

This morning, in my Internet ramblings, I came across a quote from Thomas Merton, in this post from the ever-wonderful Parker Palmer:

“…we can no longer rely on being supported by structures that may be destroyed at any moment by a political power or a political force. You cannot rely on structures. They are good and they should help us, and we should do the best we can with them. But they may be taken away, and if everything is taken away, what do you do next?”

This quote is from a speech that he gave to a conference of monks in Bangkok a few hours before he died in 1968. Quoting a Tibetan lama who was forced to flee his monastery and his homeland, Merton advised the monks, “From now on, Brother, everybody stands on his own feet.”

I find it an odd comfort that a spiritual giant like Thomas Merton wrestled with many of these same feelings that so many of the rest of us face these days. 

Parker Palmer has written eloquently about the idea that Merton expresses, that there is a hidden wholeness beneath it all, if we just open our eyes to see.  Palmer reminds us that we will be judged differently than how the world tells us we will be judged:

"As long as we are wedded to 'effectiveness' we will take on smaller and smaller tasks, for they are the only ones with which we can get results. If we want to witness to important but impossible values like love, truth and justice, there must be a standard that trumps effectiveness. The name of that standard is 'faithfulness.' At the end of the road, I will not be asking about outcomes. I’ll be asking if I was faithful to my gifts, to the needs I saw around me, to the ways in which my gifts might meet those needs, to 'the truth of the work itself.'”

May we find the strength to be true to our gifts and faithful to the true work.

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Repair Work

I slept until 6:30 today, which is very unusual for me--and that's after I fell asleep at 9 last night.  The last 6 months of getting ready for our accreditation visit have left me more exhausted than I expected to be.  I am glad that I've kept May largely free so that I can recover.

Last night, as we stared at our task list for getting the various home remodeling chores done, I felt such a wave of hopelessness wash over me.  What happened to the woman that I used to be?  That woman would know the order of what should be done, and she'd have a week by week plan.  She would not vacillate the way I did last night, "Maybe we should think about moving your study to the cottage.  Maybe we should revisit that."  Likewise, my spouse would have put in 12 hour days to get the work done, and I'd have helped where I could, around my full-time teaching job.

Because Friday night is slow, and I needed to feel like we could accomplish something, we made a Home Depot run to pick up some basics:  pool care products, a part to fix the broken toilet handle, a new weed wacker, and a new blower for good measure.

Later, I had a revelation.  When I was younger, I had more time to put home repair plans into place--my work did not require so much of me.  My spouse was not working multiple adjunct jobs, the way he is now.  When we were younger, we didn't have much cash, so it was clear that we would be the ones doing the work.  Now we need to decide when to call in "experts," and when to let my spouse proceed--and if he does it, is it worth the work that he has to turn away, work for pay?  When we were younger and remodeling a house, we also didn't have so many design options.  We went to the Home Depot and decided between the 7-10 flooring choices.  The only fancy countertop choice was Corian, and we couldn't have afforded that.

And when I was younger, I didn't realize how much home repair/remodeling would disrupt my life, and so it was easier to embrace what needed to be done and to adopt a full steam ahead approach.

I finished the day by reading Margaret Drabble's latest, The Dark Flood Rises.  What a treat!  Despite its topic of all the betrayals of getting older, the old Drabble humor is there, and she's got such piercing insights about society.  Some of her books, especially the ones written this century, have come across as bitter instead of funny, and I prefer my satire to have significant humor with its bite.  I'm only about 40 pages into the new work, but I'm seeing the right balance here.

I look forward to having some time to read, some time to sleep, some time to get the house in order--in a small way, like vacuuming and laundry.  The larger work will happen in its own time.  I'm glad to have had enough experience to know that fact too.  Some times, when the work feels impossible, it's time to back off and wait for the right time.

Friday, May 5, 2017


I continue to be surprised by how tired and worn out I feel.  Was it just a week ago that we were finishing up the accreditation visit? 

Of course, I'm also tired because I've had to staff 2 Math classes because the instructor can't finish the term.  I'm still in the early days of that process because I'm hiring someone new to us, but someone with whom I've worked in the past.

We're doing a motorcycle ride this Sunday, one of those big group rides which I dread. But my spouse really wants to do it, and so I will.  At least the weather should be beautiful.

And there's my remaining online class--one last batch of papers to grade and then grades to turn in.

But let me look at the time just beyond this week-end.  Let me think about how I'm going to get some writing time back into my life.  My poetry muscles feel rusty.  Let me read some poetry this week-end to fill that empty well (to mix metaphors here).

I was happy on Wednesday to realize that Margaret Drabble's latest book was on my public library shelves, and so, yesterday, I zipped over to a close branch to grab it.  I remember when we first moved down here, 19 years ago, and what a revelation the public library system here was to me.  I loved how regional branches were built on the 3 big campuses of the local community college--what a great idea!  I loved all the resources I could check out.

Yesterday I felt that familiar thrill of finding a book I want to read, by an author whom I've loved for decades, on a shelf to check out for free.

Now I will go to spin class--hopefully I can improve my mopey mood by exercise.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Poem for a Week of Tiredness: "My Habit, My Hairshirt"

I've been feeling tired this week.  In a way, I expected that tiredness.  In a way, I'm surprised.  It seems the pace of administrator life never really slows down, but other priorities come to the front, demanding attention.

It could be worse.  I still prefer this life to the life I had when I was an adjunct, which meant driving across three counties, keeping my office in my car.

Still, there are times when I wish I had more time for contemplation.  And not a day goes by when I don't wish for more joy.  I'm good at injecting joy into my days--I just wish there was time for more.

This morning I was wondering if I had missed the feast day that celebrates Julian of Norwich.  Nope!  I've got until May 8.

That pondering made me think of the following poem.  I wrote it during my adjunct years, when I drove across three counties, filling my gas tank several times a week, teaching Composition here (and there and everywhere!), Literature survey classes there, Victorian and Romantic Lit classes in yet a different location.

I had just taught Julian of Norwich, and I was thinking of her days as an anchoress, when this poem came to me. It was published in my chapbook, Whistling Past the Graveyard.

Even though it doesn't describe my literal life, it does describe an aspect of my mental life, especially if I'm not careful.  I might change the bit about the Daytimer--do people use those anymore?  I might make reference to Microsoft Outlook if I wrote it these days--or maybe there's a smartphone app?

In any case, may we all have some time for contemplation and a relaxed pace, if not every day, at least once a day.  And if not, may we get poems out of our pace, poems that we still like more than a decade after we wrote them!

My Habit, My Hairshirt

A modern day anchoress, I commit
myself to my car. In my moving cell,
I sing constantly and pray without ceasing.

I dedicate myself to our modern religion
of hectic pace. I rush from one location to another,
showing my devotion in twelve hour increments.

No time for contemplation, the anathema
to the modern ascetic. I flog
myself with my cell phone and briefcase.

Occasionally, a heretical urge lures
me, a siren song urging me to slow down,
tempting me to tame my frantic schedule.

But no Gnostic visions for me. I race
through another week in the grip of my Daytimer,
my habit, my hairshirt.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

The Text as Text, the Text as Prophetic

On the Wednesday of Holy Week, I read this wonderful article about Margaret Atwood.  I had spent the last several weeks rereading The Handmaid's Tale--what a wonderful book, despite its bleak subject matter.

The writer of the article accompanies Atwood to the library that houses her materials.  They look at all the boxes, including articles that Atwood accumulated as she wrote the book:  “'Clip-clippety-clip, out of the newspaper I clipped things,' she said, as we looked through the cuttings. There were stories of abortion and contraception being outlawed in Romania, and reports from Canada lamenting its falling birth rate, and articles from the U.S. about Republican attempts to withhold federal funding from clinics that provided abortion services. There were reports about the threat to privacy posed by debit cards, which were a novelty at the time, and accounts of U.S. congressional hearings devoted to the regulation of toxic industrial emissions, in the wake of the deadly gas leak in Bhopal, India. An Associated Press item reported on a Catholic congregation in New Jersey being taken over by a fundamentalist sect in which wives were called 'handmaidens'—a word that Atwood had underlined."

I have often heard Atwood say that she included nothing in the book that wasn't happening somewhere in the world in the 80's when she wrote the book.  But how interesting it must have been to see those articles!

Reading the Atwood article juxtaposed to this blog post by Martha Spong sent my mind in so many directions.  She talks about a version of Battlestar Galactica and the Book of Pythia, which contains a prophecy:   “All of this has happened before, and all of this will happen again.”   She says, "I think we read our own texts the same way, because we can’t quite make sense of them."

Spong spent the season of Lent reading the Gospel of Luke, so her text is different than an Atwood text.  And then I'm thinking of our very lives, which are also texts.

I have not watched the Hulu episodes of The Handmaid's Tale yet.  I plan to do so--but it may take awhile.  And it's a 10 episode show, which means I feel even more hopeless about staying caught up.  And then, to make matters more interesting, this week I heard that Hulu has ordered another season--we'll follow the characters beyond the end of the novel.

I was very happy with the ambiguous end of the novel, both when I first read it and just recently.  I do believe that once an author has released the text into the world, we can do with it what we wish, including making fan fiction, writing our own sequels, making a film.  I know there are copyright laws, and I'm not talking about ignoring them.

I'm remembering that when I was a much younger literary scholar, it seemed immensely important to know what the author intended with the text.  Now that's just one interpretation to me, and often, it's not the most interesting one.  Part of my change comes from decades of doing my own writing and being surprised by what happens in the text--and from readers (usually also friends) who see things that I didn't see and didn't intend--but they work.

I do see Atwood's text as more prophetic than I once did--I've had more years to read about the history of oppressive governments and to see them in action.  I have been buoyed by the protests launched in these early days of the Trump administration and by the judges who step in--the limitations put into place by the Founders really work--the checks and balances seem to be working better than ever.

I do worry that we'll all get tired.  But I'm also seeing evidence that Trump is getting tired in a way that leaders like Hitler never did.

I plan to order Timothy Snyder's latest book, On Tyranny:  Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century to remind myself of all the ways we can resist now--while resistance is still an option.  Margaret Atwood reminds us of what may happen if we let ourselves get tired.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Other Days of Change in Early May

I know that many people see early January as a time when most people attempt change--but then again, they often fail.  The time of August that leads to September is also often a time of change:  people return to school.  Is early May a time of change that we often don't consider?

Once, May was a time of graduation from college, but now that people go to school year round, we often celebrate graduations on a regular basis.  Long ago, on a day in early May in 1987, I graduated from college--and I headed back to the little cottage that I would be sharing with my best friend as I started grad school.  It was within walking distance to the Rosewood Health Food store, which still exists, but is probably called something else now.  It was within walking distance to my job at the Lutheran church's day care center, and I could ride a bike to the campus, which I did for the first year.  I felt like I had finally arrived to an adulthood where I could live out my values. 

It may have been one of the last times I would feel that way.  It's a metric I return to again and again:  am I living a life in sync with that which I value?  What do my actions show I value?

Flash forward to another early May:  in 1992, I started my first "real" job at a community college in South Carolina.  It wasn't the job I thought I would have when I started grad school, but the country was in a deep recession, and I was happy to get a job.  The other grad student who got a job that year also went to a community college--his was in Chicago.

I spent those years at the community college wishing I could be at a small liberal arts college.  In retrospect, however, I see that the community college was likely most in sync with my educational values, in terms of keeping costs low and education obtainable by most.

If we could go back to this day in 1998, we'd be packing the last boxes to move down here.  We had decided we wanted to live in a place that was more multicultural--my spouse wanted a place that was warmer, and we both wanted a place with more artistic diversity.  I once joked that I wanted to live in a place that offered more culture than the latest NASCAR race, but at that time, I was more serious than joking.

For the most part, I don't regret that move--only occasionally, when I think about the fact that I'd now be eligible for retirement, had I stayed a South Carolina state employee, the way I was at the community college.

On another day in early May, I was about to accept a position as Assistant Chair of my department.  In 2007, our old chair was moving to Virginia, and because the enrollment of the school had ballooned, not only could we have a chair, but also an assistant chair.  It wasn't my first position in administration.  At the community college, I had helped manage adjuncts.  But that decision was the one that propelled me to where I am today.

Now we're at another transitional time.  We've had several people at my current school resign with their last days being just after the accreditation visit.  It may lead to some sweeping change--then again, it may not.

I need to make some changes, but nothing drastic.  I need to get back to eating vegetables--so perhaps I shall go to the grocery store this morning before I go to school to resume my search for a Math teacher.

Monday, May 1, 2017

May Day Musings

Where did the month of April go?  A colleague of mine quipped, "Into binders!"  Indeed, indeed.

In late March, I used to say, "See you in May!"  I didn't realize how serious I was.  Between various visits with my family and the accreditation visit, I didn't have much time to see anyone else.

So, how will you be celebrating this first day of May?  Will you weave ribbons around a Maypole?  Will you go to a demonstration in favor of worker's rights?  Will you bring a bouquet of flowers into the house?  Will you sing "Solidarity Forever" or "L'Internationale"?

I imagine that most of us will go to our jobs on this fine May Day.  Well, those of us in the U.S. will go to our jobs, if we still have jobs.  May Day is a holiday in many other parts of the industrialized world.

A friend of mine is in Cuba today, and she plans to observe the May Day festivities.  I said, "When in a Communist country on the first of May, what else would you do?"  Strange to think how few Communist countries remain.

I know several people who say that Cuba is on their list of places to visit, and now that the country has opened up, several who are going.  Cuba is not on my bucket list.

On Friday, I arrived home to a surprise bouquet of flowers on the porch--how very appropriate for the week-end before May Day:

My family sent flowers to congratulate me for a successful accreditation visit.  It's been wonderful to have a whole week-end to appreciate their beauty. 

I think of other ways to celebrate May Day:  a May Pole, a spring festival, a march to support workers, leaving treats on people's doorsteps.  But I, too, will be at work, trying to figure out what is most pressing.  Let me remember all the ways that being a good administrator can support workers too.