Friday, April 20, 2018

The Forgiveness of the Flowers

A few weeks ago, I bought 2 pots of hydrangeas from Trader Joe's.  I know better than to plant them in the yard, but I've had luck keeping plants alive in flower pots, so I decided to take a chance.

Last night after a long day at work and a fundraiser afterward, I arrived home to bedraggled blooms.  I said to my spouse, "I think these flowers may be too needy for me."  Still, I brought them inside and watered them in the kitchen sink.

This morning, they're perky again and back out on the front porch.

This morning, I'm thinking of these flowers as a metaphor for our creative lives.  I've been feeling a bit bedraggled.  I haven't written fiction much since my Session 4 online class started in mid-March.  I'm writing a poem a week, but I'd like to write more.  I'm blogging, but I feel like my posts aren't as rich and developed as they sometimes are.

Some days, I have no time to water my creative plants as I'm racing from commitment to commitment.  It's good to remember that just a bit of water--reading some good materials, jotting down an inspiration, hearing about the successes of my favorite writers, planning a literary event--can make my dry leaves plump up.

Of course, I'm also aware of the corpses of plants that are on the side of the porch.  I'm aware of all the times that I brought water too late.  I'm aware of the white fly infestation that took out last year's petunias, no matter how I tried to rescue them.

And yet, even death doesn't have to be the final word.  I've noticed tiny petunia blooms in parts of the yard where I didn't plant them.  I know how many creative works have risen from what I would have thought would be the final ashes of failure.

I am missing the inspirations of the AWP conference and the Create in Me retreat.  Let me create something this week-end.  Let my creativity be watered in this way.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Creativity Update

This week has been a good week creatively--although I am aware that my definition of what makes a good creative week has changed.  Here's what it means at this point in my life:

--I've made some submissions to journals.

--On Monday, I wrote a rough draft of a poem inspired by a poem that Luisa A. Igloria wrote.  It was a jumble of images:  the body as a violin with a broken bow, the body as a swamp that hides slaves.  I knew that it was a mix of both positive and negative.  I wasn't sure what I was trying to say.  Tuesday was one of those days when I was limping through the day with pain in my feet and hips, so the ways the body changes as we age was on my brain.

--I pasted this Facebook post:

"I spent some time at lunch writing a poem. I was inspired by these lines by Luisa A. Igloria (read the whole poem here: https://www.vianegativa.us/2018/04/42413/)

"Is it my body
I inhabit, or do I only haunt
a country whose maps have grown...
unreadable?"


I played with this metaphor, the body as _______. I thought about the body as a swamp that shelters runaway slaves or a violin with a bow of exploded horse hair. More to come. Thanks Luisa A. Igloria and Dave Bonta for the Via Negativa site which never fails to inspire me in ways I didn't anticipate."

--Luisa and I are Facebook friends; she said she couldn't wait to read the poem.  That encouraged me to do some revision.

--On Tuesday, I made revisions--for me they were fairly significant, since the first draft was quite a jumble.

--On Wednesday, the poem was up at Dave Bonta's Via Negativa site; go here to read the poem.  I posted the link on Facebook.

It's one of those kinds of weeks that makes me happy to be alive and writing right now.  I may be writing fewer poems than I was 20 years ago, but I feel connected to a wider poetry community.

 

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

The Content of Our Character: Kindness

Yesterday was a strange day, with the reports of deaths of 3 famous person, along with the passenger killed when the jet engine of a plane exploded and broke the plane window.

I began the day hearing about the death of Harry Anderson, most famous in his role of the judge of Night Court.  As I drove home, I heard about the death of Carl Kasell, who was the voice of the news to me each morning on NPR.  And then, later in the evening, came news of the death of former first lady Barbara Bush.

As I heard people talk about these people and as I read some bits here and there, I noticed that the word "kind" was used again and again.  Harry Anderson was not only a great person on the set, but went on to be very helpful with the hurricane Katrina recovery in New Orleans, where he lived when the storm hit.  Carl Kasell was remembered as "kind down to his bones."  Barbara Bush leaves a legacy of advocating literacy, especially for adults who had yet to learn to read--a population that was rarely served until she focused on it.  She was also important in showing how to treat people with AIDS with dignity and compassion.

Every time someone famous has died, I have spent at least a moment--if not days--pondering the idea of legacy and what we leave behind.  In my younger years, I'd have wanted my legacy to be in the league of Martin Luther King:  bending the arc of history towards justice.  I'd have wanted that arc to be big and bold.  In my early adult years, I thought about my literary legacy and what I'd need to do to cement that.

Now I am older--and in an age that seems much more brutal and soul crushing.  Now I'd like to live in a world where we're all kind to each other.  I'd like us to resolve to go out of our way to do an act of kindness that's not expected, each and every day.

As I reflect on this idea, I realize that we can bend the arc of history with kindness.  It may not be as splashy as bending the arc of history with ever more impressive weaponry, but it will hurt less.  I could have one act of kindness a week go out to fellow writers--a book review, a kind note, a good word on social media--and that might take me a long way towards that goal I had in my early adult years.

Kindness is one of those marks of character that doesn't always rise to the top of a list of desired qualities.  But it's what I'll be looking for as I move from middle age to older age.  It's what I'll be emulating.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

The FEMA Interview

Last night, FEMA called me for a follow up interview on my experience applying for aid.  I said, "I applied for aid?  I remember the application with the Small Business Administration, but not FEMA."

She assured me that I had applied--and later I realized that I must have applied, because otherwise, I wouldn't have been able to apply for a loan with the SBA--one is eligible for a loan when FEMA determines that one isn't eligible for money/support in any other way from FEMA.  I was fairly sure we wouldn't be eligible, since we have insurance, and I was right.

My experience with FEMA wasn't very memorable, clearly, but the interview went on.

When we got to the question about the factor that has been most important in our inability to fully recover from the storm, tears prickled in my eyes.  I chose the best option from the list:  lack of contractor availability or lack of supplies.  There weren't any questions about inability to make a phone call for weeks on end--and I don't mean that the equipment wasn't working. There weren't any answers that talked about the exhaustion of it all.  

There wasn't an answer that said, "Realization that my retirement plans are completely untenable, and therefore, I didn't want to invest any more time and money in this house that was the cornerstone of my retirement plan.  But if we don't invest the money, we can't sell the house, and then we won't be able to develop any other retirement plan."

I finished the interview without completely breaking down, although perhaps the very nice FEMA lady sensed my quivering voice.  As she read the questions, I thought about all the people who have already left South Florida--just yesterday morning, a friend of mine wrote to say she was moving and would be gone by May 31, but she'd love to have one last dinner together.  I thought about how a storm changes the landscape:  trees destroyed, houses bulldozed, shorelines reshaped, and people who pack up and move to a place where they hope they will be safer.

As we concluded, I asked the interviewer where she was calling from tonight.  She said, "Texas."  I complimented her on her lovely accent which sounded like home to me.  I'm not from Texas, of course, but I do love regional accents from the U.S. South.

I hung up the phone and wept.

But it was a good kind a cry, the kind that reminds me that I'm carrying around a lot of pain that I don't often take time to recognize, the kind that's good to get out of my body by way of tears. 

Monday, April 16, 2018

Lessons and Inspirations from a Month of Groups

From early March to early April, I spent a lot of time in groups:  workshops, presentations, and all sorts of sessions.  Let me record a few times when I said, "What a great technique!  Let me remember this":

--At the AWP, I went to a session where it became clear that more of the audience had questions than the panel would be able to get to.  So close to the end, the moderator had each person state their question and then each of the panel presenters gave one closing remark.  I was surprised by how the questions all got answered.

This technique might be a good one even if time wasn't running out.  I noticed that it got rid of the tendency to bloviate.  We've all heard the person who stands up to ask a question, only they don't really want to ask a question, but to go on and on about their own opinions.  Having everyone state a succinct question got rid of that phenomena.

--At the Create in Me retreat, we had a group session along with times for small group discussion or silence for contemplation.  To call us back, our leader sang the simple song that he taught us at the beginning of each session. He sang it softly at first, to signal that we were at the end of time.  As each group/person came back to the group, the singing increased.  This technique allowed conversation/contemplation to come to an end without the crashing halt that can come with other ways.

--At the Create in Me retreat, we had a small worship service each morning.  There was a Bible reading, some liturgy, and some songs.  Each day, the liturgy remained the same.  I liked the repetition.  I thought about how often I've spent significant time creating a new experience for each day of a gathering.  But repetition has rewards too.

As I looked back through the notes I took during this month of meetings, I came across a writing prompt that seems perfect for our halfway point in National Poetry Month.  It comes from Amy Fryckholm during the AWP session, The Ganesh in the Room:

Open the Bible at random, and then do the same with another piece of literature, Shakespeare or Whitman.  See what emerges.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Fitbit App Woes

I have now spent more time than I would have thought possible in trying to download a free Fitbit app.  On the old laptop, I was successful in the download, but it is not equipped with Bluetooth, so it couldn't talk to the Fitbit.  On the new laptop, which does have Bluetooth, I can't get the app to download.

This situation seems a metaphor for something, but I'm already depressed, so I don't want to think about the larger meanings too much.

I'm hoping that I'll try to download the app later, and it will be fine.  Last night, the app didn't download on the first try either.

Worst case scenario, I can get a Dongle for the non-Bluetooth computer.  Who gives these items names?  A Dongle device?  Really?

I am now going to do something low tech--watering the petunias on the porch perhaps.  I have about run out of time for anything more satisfying, like writing or contemplating the larger issues of life.

Grrr.

Saturday, April 14, 2018

National Scrabble Day at School

Yesterday in my very early zips around the internet, I saw that it was National Scrabble Day.  I thought, I wish I had known earlier--I could have done something special for our students.  And then I thought, well it's not too late.

Had we gotten rid of the Scrabble game long ago?  I checked the closet--nope, we still had it.  So I pulled it out, dusted it off, and took it with me to school.

We have a wonderful gathering space, and not a week goes by that I'm not grateful for it.  It's got a microwave and a full size refrigerator, a long counter and sink, cabinets, several vending machines and lots of tables.  There are days I wish we had a stove, but I understand why that would be a problem.

I got to school and set up a game on the table.  I started with a word, and I wrote an invitation to the campus:



As the day went on, people added a word here and there. 



At one point, several people actually played a game.

As I put the game away at the end of the day, I reflected on the final board, with its mix of words and non-words, a board created by people who clearly don't understand the rules of Scrabble.  But it did look like a board that was created by people having fun with letters and language.

Throughout the day, I overheard snippets of conversations where people reminisced about the games they had played and enjoyed.  Even if people didn't have time or inclination to participate, the presence of a Scrabble game in process jolted them into a mindfulness that they didn't have before going into the break room.

I liked it because it was mostly unplanned and spontaneous.  Several times throughout the day, I greeted people by saying, "Happy National Scrabble Day.  Don't forget to play the game in the break room.  After all, this day only comes once a year."  People smiled as they hurried on to classes. 

I want to record these small successes as they come, especially successes that don't cost money.  We don't have the kind of student services department that larger campuses would have, a staff that would plan these kinds of events.  In future years, we may have even less of a budget for student appreciation events, and I want to remember that there are ways to improve the atmosphere that don't cost much.

Friday, April 13, 2018

The Hands of Create in Me

When I first became a coordinator of the Create in Me retreat, one of my jobs was to take pictures, a job I discovered that I love.  I also discovered that many people are deeply uncomfortable with the idea of having their picture taken.  But most of those folks didn't mind if I took pictures of their hands.



Most of us don't spend much time thinking about our hands the way we do about the rest of our bodies.  We don't diet to change the shape of our hands.  Unless we play an instrument, most of us don't think about the strength of our hands.  The aches and pains in our hands aren't as debilitating for most of us as other pain.  Most of us don't consider plastic surgery to make our hands look younger.



I love these pictures of hands as they interact with art supplies.



I love hands that have been stained by the process.



The candle was needed to melt the wax to decorate the egg, but it made me want to create art by the light of candles.




I find this intersection of metal, dough, and flesh to speak to our condition.



Can we determine gender by our hands?



Can we determine age?




What else do our hands say?





Thursday, April 12, 2018

Collecting My Fragments

In many ways, this week has left me frazzled, which I expected.  I got back to a week of meetings, of needing to shop for some campus supplies, and of an event where I could enjoy mingling over meatballs and martinis.  Let me collect some of my fragmented thoughts:

--What would happen if I carried a poetry notebook with me everywhere I went?  Actually, let me be more precise.  What would happen if I carried a poetry notebook to work or kept a purple legal pad there?  I want a more daily poetry practice, but I don't have as much time with my legal pad at home as I would like.  I will begin this practice today.

--I have ordered a Fitbit. I am hopeful that it will spur me to healthier actions throughout the day.  Stay tuned!

--We have been hearing things that go bump in the night for several weeks.  Earlier this week, my spouse caught sight of a mouse.  I'd rest easier if it was a big roach or lizard making those rustlings, but at least it's not a rat.  We set out some traps, but we won't put the actual bait in them until tonight, when tomorrow morning my spouse will have time to deal with a catch.

--You don't catch much with an unbaited trap--seems like a basic life lesson, in pest control and other types of behavior modification.

--The ever wonderful Barbara Ehrenreich is overturning what we might think to be basic life lessons.  In this article, taken from her new book (she has a new book!), she argues for less medical tests:  "Suppose that preventive care uncovered some condition that would require agonizing treatments or sacrifices on my part—disfiguring surgery, radiation, drastic lifestyle limitations. Maybe these measures would add years to my life, but it would be a painful and depleted life that they prolonged."

--In later years, as I look back over my writing, I may wonder why I'm not writing more about Paul Ryan's announcement that he's retiring.  I'm amazed he has held on this long.  I feel a bit of sadness for some Republicans these days, even if I don't agree with them.  I can't imagine how it must feel to have come through these past 18 months with very little legislative success, despite controlling 2 branches of government.  And for politicians who believe in items of faith, like not blowing up the federal deficit, these must be very difficult days.

--We could argue that these Republicans brought this situation on themselves, but I don't think that's true.  I imagine that many of them are as baffled as I am about how we got to this place in the life of the nation.

--But instead of pondering the puzzles of the nation's political life, let us celebrate the 102nd birthday of Beverly Cleary.  I just wrote an e-mail to a German friend to explain who she is.  Here's what I wrote:

"Beverly Cleary is a WONDERFUL writer--she wrote a series of books about a self-determined girl named Ramona Quimby--very warm look at life in an American family, from the point of view of the girl who is about 8.  She always seemed like a realistic girl to me, not an idealized girl, and for that reason, I was always grateful for Cleary's books.  Ramona seemed to be a girl like me, frustrated with her sister, a bit baffled by the adults, finding lots of joy in ordinary life.
 
I also remember a story line about a mouse in an inn that rode a small motorcycle.  I try to remember that mouse when we have a rodent control problem.
 
Cleary has also done a lot to promote children's literacy.
 
May we all live to be 102+ years old, still doing vital work, work that inspires people like me to remember us fondly."

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Privacy in a Facebook Age

I've been mildly interested in discovering how Facebook has monetized our data--not interested enough to watch the Zuckerberg hearings or to do much research of any kind, but mildly interested.

I've been even more interested in how many people are shocked--SHOCKED--to discover that they haven't really been leading private lives online.  I've always assumed that anything I post might be used against me, which is why it took me so long to come to blogging.  I read blogs for years before I started mine, and all sorts of nightmare scenarios filled my head and kept me from writing a word.

Of course, like many people, I assume that not many people are paying attention to my online life, whether I keep it private or public.  I think about the places I go online and how companies might use that to create advertising or influence elections or do things I can't even imagine.

I assume that my online data isn't terribly valuable, and maybe most companies depend on me feeling that way.  I can't imagine that anyone cares about the books I buy on Amazon--although I was outraged when courts ruled that library records could be seized under the Patriot Act.  Now we've had so many years of surveillance by so many groups that I just shrug my weary shoulders and keep living my life.

And yes, I understand that I have certain privileges.  My research interests, whatever tattered research interests remain, are not threatening to the social order, at least as we understand the social order now.  I'm a U.S. citizen, a white, middle class female married to a man--that gives me a certain level of invisibility.  I've always equated invisibility with freedom.  I am not one of those women who mourns the passing of my youthful luster, the men who no longer look at me.

And the larger privilege comes from having a computer and a fast connection that allows me to be of interest to data mining companies.

I'm still guessing that data miners don't do much with my data.  I don't click on many links.  I don't look at many ads, much less purchase the products.  My long form blogging could be a rich data source, but I imagine they'll be of more interest to historians some day--if they survive and history as a discipline survives--than people looking to influence other buyers.  People looking to influence elections can probably find shorter types of data to analyze.

I've always been careful about what I posted.  I've always been aware that employers both present and future might be looking.  I've always assumed that the police could monitor my online life.  But I lead a fairly ordinary life--my unhealthy habits of caffeine, sugar, and wine are still legal, which again, is a certain privilege.

I am also lucky that I have friends with whom I can connect without Facebook or technology of any kind.  I can have the kinds of conversations that I wouldn't post on a site for all the world to see.

I hope that these Facebook revelations remind us of the value of privacy and how we've given it away for very little.  I hope we remember that nothing comes to us for free.  I'm happy to give away some of my data for the ability to connect online for free.  Those who are not should start considering their options, if they haven't already.

I also hope that we don't go too far in our reactions to these revelations.  The online world has made my onground world much more interesting.  I'd hate to lose those advantages.


Tuesday, April 10, 2018

After the Retreat, the Memories

I've really been enjoying the pictures of our retreat that others have been posting on Facebook.  As I watch, I'm realizing how many of the activities I didn't do.

When my spouse asked me my favorite activity, I said, "Honestly, I most loved walking around taking pictures of other people making art."  I felt a stab of weirdness about that, as if I've been on social media too long, and I don't remember how to relate face to face.  Is taking pictures about art the same thing as making art? 

Perhaps.  Some of the pictures I took solely for documentary purposes.  But some I took for artistic effect.  I love taking pictures of people's hands as they make art, for example.

I also didn't do much making of art, at least not the kind that the workshops and drop in stations were set up to promote, because I don't need more stuff around the house.  While I thought it was wonderful to see the birdfeeders that people created out of cans and bottles, I didn't want one.  Likewise the fairy doors:  if I lived by myself, perhaps, but in my current life, they don't fit.

I also didn't particularly want to try any of the activities that were new to me.  Some years I'm excited to try something like pottery or weaving.  But this year, I kept thinking that I already have more interests than I have time for--why pick up another?

Some might say, "Why go, then?"  There are so many reasons:

--I was inspired by seeing all the art being made.  I continue to be inspired by it.

--I often use the ideas of Create in Me retreats later in church or other retreats.  That's another reason I take lots of pictures.

--I've had the music of the retreat in my head.  Our Bible study leader taught us a song, a simple melody, at the beginning of each study session.  When he'd give us time to think on our own or discuss in groups, he called us back to the bigger group by singing that song.  Very cool.

--I was struck by how my Create in Me friends are keeping up with me.  Some of my friends from other settings don't seem to remember such huge events in my life, like the hurricane damage from the fall or my arthritis diagnosis.  Many of my Create in Me friends asked specific questions which made me realize that they're paying attention.  I spend much of my life wondering if people would notice if I vanished.  The Create in Me retreat makes me feel that yes, some people would notice.

--But mostly, I go away because it's good to go away.  It's good to be reminded that there's a much larger world out there.  It's good to be reminded that art is important.  It's good to be reminded that God envisions so much more for each and every one of us.

Monday, April 9, 2018

Down from the Mountain

Next year, I plan to take the Monday off after the Create in Me retreat.  This year, it wasn't possible.  The retreat always falls on the Thursday-Sunday after Easter, and this year, the retreat happened during week 1 of classes, a week when administrators at my school usually are expected to be present on the campus for long hours.  I got special permission to take leave, and my boss said, "You'll be back on that Monday, right?"

Next year, Easter is later, so the retreat will be later.  I'll have a day to process and unpack.  Today, I'll head to work soon.

Before I go, let me capture a few last retreat thoughts and travel details:

Yesterday's Travel:

--We left at 5 a.m. yesterday--it was very dark.  I hadn't realized how many of the lights around Lutheridge turn off at a certain hour.  We felt our way carefully down the stairs and across the parking lot to the car.

--The doors were frozen shut.  It didn't take much effort to open them, since we had only had drizzle all night.  Still, it was strange to have icy doors in April.

--I made my way carefully down the mountain.  I didn't think the roads would have had time to freeze, but I didn't want to discover my error as I was sailing into a guardrail.  Sleet hit the window here and there, which made me even more vigilant.

--We stopped at a Starbucks in Spartanburg.  They still had some peppermint syrup on hand, so I decided to splurge on a peppermint mocha.  They made it right in my Yeti cup, so it stayed warm for hours. 

--Of course, it was so delicious that I didn't need hours to drink it.  I spent the whole day wishing I had more.

--It was a long day of traveling, but nothing too maddening, until the very slow traffic during the last 60 miles on the Turnpike.  We used my friend's cell phone to find a wonderful restaurant that's off the beaten track.  If you're ever in Brunswick, Georgia, look up A Moveable Feast.  Delicious food--and they, too, were willing to pour coffee directly into our travel mugs.

A few retreat memories for a Monday:

--Lots of people were wearing Fitbits--I may go ahead and get one.  I heard a story about a woman's husband who's having a friendly competition with his family.  One night, he took the trash out and didn't come back for 45 minutes.  The woman said, "Where did you take the trash?"  He looked at his family's Fitbit stats and realized he could move to first place if he got a few more steps in.

--I am always amazed at what people can accomplish in very short amounts of time.  At some point I'll post some pictures, but I also want to note that most of us spent an hour on worship creation, and we had eloquent prayers and other parts of liturgy, and a WONDERFUL adaptation of "Welcome Table"--complete with 4 part harmony (you can buy the sheet music by Mark Hayes here).  Granted, the people gathered at the retreat were more likely to have musical experience than your average population--still, the sound they accomplished with just one hour to learn the music was amazing.

--It's interesting to have in-depth conversations with people whom I usually only know through their Facebook pages.  It's worth repeating that our curated lives only give a small picture of our existence.

--As always, we had interesting conversations about spirituality and the life of the church.  It's interesting to many of us that our official church body (the ELCA expression of Lutheranism) allows lay leadership to lead the Word part of the liturgy (think sermon), but not to consecrate the bread and wine for sacrament--but it's much easier to mangle the word than it is to do the sacrament wrong.

--We talked a lot about hospitality:  how to be more hospitable, how to show more hospitality through churches.  As is often the case, my brain was headed in another direction, a monastic direction.  Could we create communities where we could more fully live out our faith every day, not just on Sundays and the occasional Wednesday?  Could we create a community that's more like our retreat community?

I realize that most of us view retreats as a mountaintop experience:  we can go to the mountain, but we can't stay there.  But what if we're wrong?

Sunday, April 8, 2018

Heading Home

My church friend and I have decided not to stay for closing worship; we want to be on the road by 5:00 a.m. so that we're not too late getting home.  Closing worship doesn't start until 9:30, and since we have a 12 hour car trip, that would put us home very late.

It's been a very good retreat, and as always, I'm both sad to leave it behind, but happy and grateful to have been a part.  And with each year, there's amazement on my part that I've been coming here for so many years, since 2003.

Back when I first came, I was full-time faculty, and my department chair said that I could miss class to go to this retreat.  I used personal days the first time, and when I described it to her when I returned, she decided that she could use it as professional development.  So, while there was no travel money, I didn't have to use leave.

Since that first retreat, I've moved into administration, and then I changed jobs, moving to an even higher position in administration.  It becomes harder to get away, and yet, it's worth it to me.

During this retreat, I'm also aware of my body more than usual.  My arthritic feet have not been happy, especially this year, when it's been cold and damp.  I'm not to the point of driving from place to place, but I have an understanding now, in a way I didn't before, of why someone might make that choice.  I am heavier this year than I have been in some years, not as heavy as some years.  As I look around, though, I realize that I am not the only one carrying some extra pounds this year.

I am also thinking of all the people I've met through this retreat who are no longer here.  Some of them just had to miss a year.  Some have died.  Some just came for a season in their lives, and have moved on--perhaps further away, perhaps to another stage of life (like the stage with 2 small children).

As I walk around camp, I'm surrounded by reminders of those people, as well as reminders of all the times I've been here through the years.  I first started coming here as a camper in the summer during my elementary school years.  My family has been coming here once a year for a holiday reunion since 1992.  And then there's this retreat.  Being here feels like coming home.

But now I must get ready to go back to my other home, the one in South Florida where I pay a mortgage and have a job, the one where my spouse waits patiently.  It's time to head further on down the road.

Saturday, April 7, 2018

Create in Me Retreat: Day 1

This year is the first year that I've ever blogged from the Create in Me retreat.  In the past, the Internet connection has been more trouble than it's been worth to me, and most years I didn't have/bring a laptop.  I'm also posting more to Facebook this year, which is appropriate, since I'm the social media coordinator for this retreat.

Later, I'll reflect on whether or not this connectivity is something I want to continue.  I have been good at not staying online any longer than necessary to post to the retreat's Facebook pages.  I don't want to drive 12 hours just to stare at a computer screen.

I'd miss a good retreat if I did that.  My friend who came with me for the first time is having a good time too, and that's important to me.  Let me write a few comments about the first day.

We have a great Bible study leader in Kevin Strickland.  He's younger than I am, but we went to the same undergraduate school, Newberry College, and he was a counselor at Lutheridge, where the retreat is happening.  He's gone on the be one of the Bishop's assistants, at the office for the whole Lutheran church (of the ELCA variety).

We're enjoying a wide variety of creative activities, from the traditional (decorating eggs with wax and dye) to the non-traditional (making ornaments out of magnolia pods and beads and ribbons).  I often find it almost too overwhelming on the first day, and this year is no exception.  But others have jumped right in, and I'm happy to see the Faith Center buzzing with activity.

I feel some ownership of this retreat, even though I didn't help plan it much.  Some years, I've driven to the planning retreat in the fall.  One year I tried to Skype in.  Last year, I couldn't do a thing, because the group was meeting just as Hurricane Irma came ashore.  This year, I might try to make it in person.  

But I digress.  Back to yesterday.  We finished the day by having a great worship service.  We usually hold it in the chapel, but I'm glad that we didn't yesterday.  It's cold and wet here, and the chapel is very open to the elements.  Yesterday, we held the service in the dining hall, which had its advantages and disadvantages.

I liked most of it, but it was strange to commune each other around the table, instead of coming to the altar as we usually do.  But it worked.  Kevin Strickland delivered a sermon that made me miss my grandmother, who, like Kevin's grandmother, had a magical fridge that was always full of great food, like something out of Narnia, as he put it (the metaphor doesn't work if you think about the wardrobe from Narnia strictly, but it works as an imaginative symbol).

We finished the service, and some folks turned in for the night, while others went to the Faith Center for one last chance to eat and work on craft projects.

It's been a great retreat so far, and we've got a full day ahead.  I am looking forward to it!

Friday, April 6, 2018

Before the Retreat, the Journey

It feels strange to be at Lutheridge with my laptop, to be connected to the Internet, to be writing instead of reading—although I did write a poem this morning.  I finally wrote my poem about Jesus having a midlife crisis. It took me to interesting places that I didn't expect.  I can't really ask for more from a rough draft.

In the frazzle-dazzle days leading up to yesterday's long drive, I thought about going to the library to get some books for this trip.  But I knew I'd be taking the laptop, and I guessed that I'd have less time to read.

We had a long drive yesterday, as I knew we would.  I left the house at 4:45, and picked up my church friend at 5:02, and then we were on our way!  I was surprised by how many vehicles were already on the road, but we didn't hit any rush hour traffic.

We did, however, have several places of traffic coming to a severe slow down or complete stop on the Interstate--including for the last six miles before our exit to Lutheridge.  Luckily, I remembered an alternate way to the camp, so we took the exit for Fletcher.

During yesterday's journey, we had great conversation, hours and hours of it, and lunch at a Cracker Barrel.  I had forgotten one of the joys of a long car trip--having a chance to get to know another person in a way that's rarely available--when else would we sit side by side for 12 hours if not during a car trip?

Last night, the retreat got off to a great start.  Our theme is Holy Hospitality.  I'll say more later about how the Faith Center is decorated with lots of cozy corners.  I want to remember that someone had started a bread machine, so the scent of baking bread filled the air.  I immediately felt at ease.

Yesterday, I was dreading the getting to know each other time.  I understand why we need to do these exercises, but I tend to find them draining, and I was worn out from the road.  Instead of some of the one-on-one games we sometimes play (3 lies and a truth), we played a sort of bingo.  We had cards with interesting details that might make up a person's life:  "I can say hello in 3 languages."  "I own more than five cookbooks."  Here's what it looks like:


I liked that it provided some discussion points, if we wanted, while the true introverts could keep moving in the effort to win a Bingo prize.

We moved on to have the opening worship, where we had our hands anointed with oil.  And then we had our opening night refreshments.

I love the water bottle approach to hospitality. 



We're encouraged to take a water bottle and to keep using it again and again.  We even have labels for the bottles. 



What a cool idea!

That's what I love about this retreat--I always come home inspired and full of great ideas.  Now it's time to get ready for the day.  My church friend and I will start the day with a walk.  It will be much chillier than either of us are used to--it's unseasonably cool here, but that's Spring in the mountains.

Thursday, April 5, 2018

Off to the Mountain Top

Today I am headed to the mountains of North Carolina, to Lutheridge, one of my favorite retreat centers.



It's time for the Create in Me retreat, one of my favorites.  I love it for many reasons, but of course, primarily because I can't think of many ways I'd rather spend time than in exploring the intersections of faith and creativity.



I also love it because it starts on Thursday night.  That makes the long drive more worthwhile.  The retreats that go from Friday night to Sunday are almost not enough time--even if I had a shorter drive, it's just not enough time.



I'll be headed to the mountains with a friend from church, while my spouse stays home to teach his classes.  She's my once-in-a-blue-moon book club friend, and I'm looking forward to spending more time with her.



I'm not looking forward to the drive.  I have often said that I'd like to get to Lutheridge more often, and for awhile, we made this journey, even though the drive was long.  Now, as we think about how we want to live our later years, I need to think about that idea again.



There's still room for more.  If you find yourself with an unexpected free week-end, come on up the mountain!

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Trajectories and Sudden Turns

I find it interesting that Winnie Mandela died during this week which marks the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King.  At one point, I'd have said that Winnie Mandela was a Civil Rights major figure.  Then there were ugly allegations and a divorce, and I wasn't sure what to think anymore.

It will always be interesting to wonder what would have happened, had MLK lived.  Would he have been a Nelson Mandela like figure?  His death transformed the nation and world in certain ways; his passage from middle age to elder would have done so too.


I find this article in today's The Washington Post particularly relevant for today.  I particularly love the conclusion:  "Every era finds the King it needs. The version we need now is a King who pressed on through doubt to see a radical vision, as we must find one to match the challenges we face. King ran out of certainty but never faith."

I have also been thinking about those who are thrust into prominence and those who thrust themselves into prominence.  I've been thinking about the Parkland students who have taken an activist role after the shootings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas high school.  They are fierce and fearless--I'm thinking of how often those of us with mortgages and bodies aging more quickly than we expected count on the youth for their fearless activism.

I am wondering if there had never been a shooting at their school, how their lives' trajectory would have been different.  I am thinking about all the moments which turn our lives in a different direction.

I'm also thinking of Maggie Smith and her poem "Good Bones" and the way her life has changed because of that poem.  She had one of the headliner spots at an evening reading at the AWP conference, and I wondered if she marveled at how she had come to be on that stage.  I wondered, as I always do, if she was famous for the poem she loved best or if she wanted to say, "Hey, guys, I have these better poems over here."

I am marveling at the way that our new technology has changed the ways our poems might become famous.

As I weave these threads together this morning, I am also thinking of all the ways we could make ourselves ready.  I have seen news articles about the high school's approach to education with its emphasis on humanities skills like debate.  I'm thinking of the generations of Civil Rights workers who trained themselves to be ready when the right times for justice opened.  I'm thinking of our poems making their ways in the world, of the manuscripts that I hope we have when the publishers knock on our doors.

I am thinking of all the ways that we can transform the world for the better.  Let us do our part, each day, every day.

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

30 Prompts for April and Beyond

My blogging time is short today--it's the first week of classes, and I'm about to leave for the Create in Me retreat.

So, let me post the 30 prompts that I used to create my National Poetry Month bulletin board.  Even if you're not writing a poem a day, you might find it useful to have some prompts.  Even if you don't write a poem a day, you'll write more than you would have otherwise. And you'll train your poetry brain to be on the lookout for inspiration.  In the years that I've written a poem each day for a month, I was amazed that I could do it. It taught me many lessons and left me changed, much the way I felt changed when I wrote my first villanelle.

In case you don't feel inspired, I offer these 30 prompts (and remember, as I always tell my students, even if you haven't had the experience, you can still make something up):

30 Poetry Prompts for April:

1. Compare your love to a vegetable.

2. Write about facing an apocalypse that’s not the one that you expected when you were younger (you planned for nuclear annihilation, but you get Islamic terrorists).

3. Write a sestina with these end words: sanctuary, blue (blew), sew (so), tear, fabric, light.

4. Write a poem in which you compare the Internet to one or more of the following: God, the cosmos, the mind of a pre-schooler.

5. In a later time, you write a poem that starts with this line: On the feast day of St. Goodall (read Margaret Atwood’s The Year of the Flood to see the enormous potential of this line of imagining).

6. Write a poem in the voice of a minor character in a book, a fairy tale, or a myth.

7. Write a series of connected haiku, like Nancy Pagh’s “Fat Girl Haiku” in No Sweeter Fat.

8. Write about a medical procedure that made you become a mystic.

9. Write from the perspective of a gym machine or a kitchen gadget/appliance.

10. The gods used to speak in cataclysms, burning bushes, angelic appearances. How would gods communicate today? What would Jesus Tweet?

11. Choose one of the following titles and write a poem that asserts the opposite of the poem title (I’m giving you the author too, in case you want to look it up):
“The World Is Too Much With Us” William Wordsworth
“I’m Happiest When Most Away” Emily Bronte
“She Walks in Beauty” Lord Byron
“With Rue My Heart is Laden” A. E. Housman

12. Write an ode or a requiem for something from your past that you loved and has now passed away.

13. John Keats wrote “A thing of beauty is a joy forever.” Write a poem in which you agree or disagree.

14. Write a gratitude haiku.

15. Animal populations appearing or disappearing have often been seen as a sign. Write a poem in which an animal population appears or disappears.

16. Write a poem in which your favorite author/singer/artist from the past awakens to find herself/himself in our present time. Or write a poem in which your favorite author/singer/artist travels forward in time.

17. Write a poem that involves seedlings, stars, and an unusual car.

18. Take strong images from several works, combine them, and see what happens. For example, take melting wings from mythology, glass slippers, red capes, a baby in a manger, and your favorite superhero--put them all in a poem, and what kind of glorious mess will result?

19. First, choose a color and brainstorm for 10 minutes about all the associations with that color. Then research an insect or a fish. Write a poem which uses both the color and the animal as symbol.

20. Choose a piece of classical music (if you’re at a loss, choose from Bach, Beethoven, or Mozart) and listen for 20 minutes. Write a poem.

21. Write a poem about the ugliest thing you ever saw or the worst thing you ever tasted/smelled.

22. Write a poem about your worst job. Or your most interesting family member. Or both.

23. Write a poem with this title: “You Bring Out the Donald Trump in Me.”

24. Write a poem that’s only 8 lines long.

25. Take characters from two (or more) different works and have them collide. What happens when the Prodigal Son meets Cinderella during his travels?

26. Take a small object. Imagine that a culture endows it with a different meaning (is it a religious object? Is it used for sex or cooking or protection or . . . ?).

27. Write a poem about an emotional state without ever mentioning that emotional state or any feelings at all.

28. Write an abecedarian. On your paper, down the left margin, write the alphabet (A on the first line, B on the second, and so on). Each letter will start the word that starts the line. You might want to see what your options are for the letter X—or use words that start with ex (like extreme or extrovert or . . .).

29. Should you live to be 102 years old, what will you miss most?

30. Write a poem that's a prequel or a sequel. How are Cinderella and the Prince getting along 10 years after the Ball?

Monday, April 2, 2018

Preparing a Campus for National Poetry Month

On Friday, I took down the Women's History month bulletin board and started the assembly for National Poetry month.  When I was at the AWP conference at the beginning of March, I got a poster.  But what else to add?




I remembered that once, I used to post writing prompts on this blog--and occasionally in early April, I posted a prompt for every day.  So, I used those as a base, changed a few, and voila!  My bulletin board was complete.




Last week we were on a brief break between quarters, so I didn't have any students to watch interact with the bulletin board.  So I pulled a few colleagues in.  I was happy that one of them left declaring she would write a poem.



We have interest in having a poetry competition--so perhaps we will do that or perhaps just a reading.  We'll celebrate Poem in Your Pocket Day on the last Thursday of the month--what food would go well with that?



In the library, I've created a display of poetry books from a wide variety of poets.  I love creating these book displays and bulletin boards. 



I'm happy to be at a place that allows me to do that, even if I'm often the only one that remembers/knows about these month-long festivals.

Sunday, April 1, 2018

After the Visit, the Sadness (and the Laundry)

I have been up early, which is not unusual for me. What is unusual: I took my sister and nephew to the airport very early. We left the house at 5, got to the airport at 5:20 or so, and wow! The airport was busy. That's why we left early--their flight leaves at 7, but we knew it was likely to be hectic.

Now I have sheets and towels in the washer. We've done most of the dishes. We have a fridge full of food and leftovers, so we won't have to think about meals for a few days.

It was a good visit in many ways, which makes me both happy and sad--because now it's over. We had time for conversations and meals on the front porch. We had time for relaxing by the pool. Because it was cloudy yesterday, and because I thought that at any moment it would start raining and we'd go in, I didn't apply sunscreen the way I should have. I am so sunburned! I don't remember when my legs and arms have been this sunburned recently. I was shivery all night long, that's how burnt I was.

My nephew was sick for part of the time, including Saturday, so we didn't do as much as we might have: no trips to waterparks or other attractions, not as many trips to the beach. But it was good to be together, even if we weren't all as well as we might have wished.

What did we do? We made our version of a unicorn frappucino; it tasted horrible, but it was fun to create together. We made many meals on the grill, but my favorite dinner was made inside with a frozen seafood blend from Trader Joe's with a basil cream sauce over linguine. Or was my favorite dinner the pizza we had at the organic brewery at the beach?

In short, we had a wonderful time.  Now I need to think about the fact that it's Easter.  Let me start moving towards that celebration.

Saturday, March 31, 2018

Easter Saturday

Yesterday as I drove to work, my NPR station ran a "commercial" for a Miami church that's holding services in a ritzy shopping mall, which will include a visit from the Easter bunny and yoga on the beach between services. 

Immediately I had questions that couldn't be answered.  Would congregants change from their Easter outfits into yoga gear?  How does the Easter bunny fit into the resurrection story?  I have a vision of the Easter bunny saying, "He is risen."  Will he give out eggs as he does?  And why is the Easter bunny male in my head?

I am sure that I was one of few people working yesterday--I feel that way because the traffic was so light.  My colleagues and I have agreed that next year when we all work on Good Friday, we should bring in brunch foods to share.  Of course, what we didn't think about is that next year, Good Friday may not conveniently fall on a break week.

Yesterday, I slipped away from work to go to Good Friday service.  It's not quite as dramatic a Tenebrae service when it's held during daylight hours.  Still, the austerity of the chancel area moved me.  I spent time meditating on the candles on the altar:




It was only when I saw my pastor's photo above that I realized the candles sat not on wood, as it looked from a distance, but on paving stones--one of which was used recently to break the glass in the door so that vandals could come into the church to see what they could steal.

It's been interesting to participate in Holy Week with the news stories of shootings--the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shootings and the police shootings--always in my mind. I am haunted by the juxtaposition of the women weeping at the cross with the news stories of immigrant families ripped apart both in the U.S. and elsewhere. I cannot see how we move forward, but it feels so important to both move forward and move carefully. We seem just steps away from complete self-immolation as a society.

And yet, all around us are signs of hope--one of the hallmarks of our various religious observances that come in Spring.  There's the Christian passage of the Good Friday cross to the empty tomb of Easter.  There's the Passover story of freedom from bondage, with the promise that we can all be set free from whatever holds us captived.  The very earth itself, in the northern hemisphere at least, shows signs that winter will not last.

So, here we are at the Saturday before Easter, when even the non-religious might celebrate by dying eggs and participating in other ancient pagan fertility rituals. At my house, my sister and nephew are visiting, so we will do some things unusual for us, like making a unicorn frappucino, part of a food/drink craze that I never realized existed, along with some of the usual things we do together, like having fun in and around the pool.

Maybe I'll also write my poem in the voice of the empty tomb.  Or maybe a poem about Christ's Midlife Crisis.  Maybe both!

Friday, March 30, 2018

Love and Its Many Incarnations

I spent much of yesterday thinking about service, thinking about love.  In some ways, that makes sense.  Yesterday was Maundy Thursday, after all, a day in Christendom that can celebrate the love of Christ and the way we manifest that love for each other.

I got to work prepared to do the physical labor of cleaning up after a gathering and moving all the furniture, all 20 tables and 70 chairs of it, back into classroom formation--but then I discovered that the night cleaning crew had already taken care of this task that wasn't exactly in anyone's job description.  I felt guilty for leaving a mess, although I couldn't have stayed much later Wednesday night.  But more than that, I felt loved.

Just before noon, I hurried away to church.  I'm lucky that my church is about a six minute drive from my work, so I could go to the noon Maundy Thursday service.  We had a foot washing option, but few of us partook.  One of us had small grandsons visiting, and they entered into the foot washing with great enthusiasm.

Throughout the day, I worked with several students to try to find solutions--that, too, felt like love.  I continue to be impressed with the teamwork of my campus--and I know how lucky we are.  Not a week goes by without me offering a silent prayer of gratitude, along with the hope that the teamwork continues.  I know how easy it is for it all to go sour.

In the afternoon, as I ate my snack of homemade bread, so suitable for Maundy Thursday, I read this story in The Washington Post.  I love the way this female chef solved the issue of harassment and abuse at her restaurant. I especially love this explanation of the benefit of the system she created: "The color system is elegant because it prevents women from having to relive damaging stories and relieves managers of having to make difficult judgment calls about situations that might not seem threatening based on their own experiences. The system acknowledges the differences in the ways that men and women experience the world, while creating a safe workplace."

The article shows us that the workplace is where many of us experience love or the lack of it.  It reminds us that managers can put structures into place that not only keep us all safe, but more importantly show a care and concern, a love that is so often lacking.

Today, Good Friday, much of Christendom will celebrate an ultimate expression of love:  God comes to earth to show us a better way of living our human lives, and in return, the most powerful earthly empire crucifies him.  Some Christians say that Jesus must die for human sin, but that idea of atonement has always troubled me.

Of course, my theology of the cross can get dangerously simplistic too. Ancient Rome had many crimes that warranted death as punishment, but crucifixion was reserved for those who were seen as a threat to the State: terrorists and insurrectionists and such. Jesus was seen as such a threat to the social order that the government had to kill him. I often read the Gospels looking for the message that was such a huge threat that the man had to be silenced.  It's an interesting lens.

We are also entering a time of Passover, another celebration of God's love.  Both Easter and Passover dovetail nicely as ways of showing that God will not be bound by powerful earthly empires--or even by death.  What humans may see as an insurmountable force, God does not.

What will today bring?  I plan to go to the noon Tenebrae service. It's always strange to go to that service at high noon. Our church doesn't have many glass windows, but it's still too light in the sanctuary.

I say I plan to go. I'll be at work, so it's always hard to know if I can be sure I can get away. Fridays are usually easy days for a noon appointment, but this is the week before a new quarter starts on Monday, so it's hard to know.

I hope to get away from work a smidge early--my sister and nephew are visiting.  But again, it's hard to know if that will be possible.  As I have written about before, it's not like we have a huge staff at work to do what must be done before Monday.  So, let me get started!

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Administrator Life: New Student Orientation

When I think back about this week, I will likely remember all the furniture moving that I did--not in my house, but at school. We decided that we wanted a different kind of New Student Orientation, one that involved sharing a meal together after dividing the new students by program of study. We have 2 classrooms connected with a folding wall, so we have the space. But it involved moving all the tables that were configured for classes into tables configured for meal sharing.

We don't have a team of custodians who can be instructed to do that work. The Admissions team needed to be making phone calls to prospective students. We don't have many full-time faculty at all, so most of the faculty are elsewhere in this week between classes. In short, I did it, and I did it with some amount of joy--although occasionally I made a joke about having gone to school for many years to be trained to move tables.

I also did a lot of shopping: for tablecloths, for other paper products, for food. Let me just say a prayer of apology to all of the church women in my past who insisted that we wash the cheap, plastic throw-away tablecloths, which used to exasperate me, but now I have some understanding. It would be expensive to buy new tablecloths for every event.

We had a great event.  I was pleased with the way the room looked, although it's impossible to transform a classroom with its industrial carpeting and sturdy desks/tables into the type of bistro atmosphere I'd have preferred.  We had platters of sandwiches and wraps on one table, and small bags of a wide assortment of chips, along with a wide assortment of drinks and cookies, on a different table.  We had small plotted plants as a centerpiece for every table.

Today I will do the work of restoring the room to two classrooms:  the plants returned to the offices, the tables put back into classroom configuration, the tablecloths folded and stored for the next event.

And yes, when I went to grad school, I didn't think I'd spend so much time doing these tasks.  I think of my mentors in grad school--many of those women were the first to achieve tenure in English departments.  They always told female grad students like me to avoid the tasks that have traditionally been delegated to females:  "Don't be the one to make the coffee.  Don't be the one to bake the cookies."

There's some wisdom to that, if I was at a big campus with a big staff.  But I'm not.  We all have to pitch in, if we want a successful school.  And I do.

I often say that because we're a small school, it means we have to do a lot--but it also means we GET to do a lot of things.  It's much like being at a small church--if one person has the vision and wants to commit the energy to a project that supports the larger mission, the project proceeds.  But I don't have the time or energy to pursue someone's project if they're not also willing to expend the time and energy.

I could have been hierarchical, living in my own silo.  I could have said, "New Student Orientation is an Admissions event, and I'm not going to help put it together."  But the resulting New Student Orientation wouldn't have been as nice as the one last night.  I'm happy to be part of the team that put it together.  And I'm happy that so many students came.  

I'm hopeful that a wonderful New Student Orientation is one way to improve our retention numbers.  My theory is that we improve retention the more often we can make students feel welcome and at a place that feels like a good home to them, like a place full of love, acceptance, and joy.  New Student Orientation is a great place to start. 

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

One Big Hurricane Repair Completed

Last night, I wrote this Facebook post:

"Phase one of Hurricane Irma repairs complete. The cottage now has a working AC system! Without an AC system, it's a strange garage with a bathroom and a kitchen.

Now to see if the slight mold problem means we should tear out some drywall--we'll scrub down the walls, AGAIN, and see if the mold returns. Fingers crossed that because we have working AC, the mold problem is a ventilation problem, not a true mold problem. But taking out parts of drywall and replacing is something we can do.

There are more repairs ahead of us, but tonight, let me take joy in having one project done!"

We have gone from having one air conditioner that was hardly adequate to having a split system that is astonishingly efficient--and quiet!  We're still not sure what we will do with the cottage, but now we have lots of options.  And not fixing the cottage means our home value goes down.  It's good to have taken this major step.

Because of the flooding issues in our neighborhood, we have a slightly higher concrete pad for the outside part of the AC.  I looked at it and wished it could be even higher, while at the same time realizing that if the flood waters are that high, we'll have bigger problems than the cottage AC.

I have been working on getting the AC fixed since October.  At first I was looking for someone to repair the system.  Then it was getting a sense of our options.   And then it was a matter of contracts and permits and all the waiting that entails.

And suddenly, in the space of 2 days, we have a working system.  But of course, it's not sudden.  Like much of life, we move somewhat nebulously toward a goal, and finally, achieve it.

Let me take heart.  Let me not give up on the projects (poetry book with a spine!  publishing a book of connected short stories! finishing the repairs in the main house!  figuring out how climate change will impact our retirement years!  how to plan for that future!) that seem so far away from success/completion.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

A Poem for Holy Week: "Good Friday at the Grocery Store"

I am about to run out of writing time this morning--but in a way, that's good.  This morning, it means that I was able to sleep through the night, what I call the night, from 8:30 to 4:30.  Last night, we had a lovely evening on the front porch, eating our dinner of delicious dribs and drabs of leftovers from a week-end of cooking for our mostly blind college friend who was making a South Florida tour.  We enjoyed wine and occasionally neighbors walked by and we chatted.

One of them said, "We haven't seen you in awhile."  It's true--we seem to have gotten out of the front porch habit.  Why have we been choosing TV instead of porch time?  Part of the answer lies in the weather--if it's chilly, I'm not as interested in being outside--and I have a South Florida body thermostat by now, so it's been chilly.

Happily, we still have some time to enjoy the front porch before it becomes unbearably hot.  A resolution!

Since my writing time is so small, let me post a poem for Holy Week.  I wrote it many years ago, when I'd been teaching the American Lit survey class at the University of Miami.  Can you see the influence of Allen Ginsburg's "A Supermarket in California"?


Good Friday at the Grocery Store


Salmonella lurks in the spinach,
more vicious beasties in the beef and chicken.
Corpses wrapped in cellophane
under fluorescent lights that cast green shadows.

Homeless people haunt the night,
hungry for bread and beyond,
trundling belongings in rickety shopping carts.
The lights glow in empty
buildings that aren’t for them.

City of unclean feet and dirtier hands,
all night grocery stores and home improvement centers,
the music of militaristic bass beats
and muted churches.
People hungry to fill they know not what,
buzzing on fatigue and caffeine
and always, that ravenous fear
that chews their bones to dust.

Small groups gather in a catacomb of marble and wood,
lit by candles, sheltered
from the Capitalist world that threatens
to consume every last hope.

They know the rituals that fed
their grandparents although they have not practiced
them with faith. They read the sacred
texts; they pour the wine and break
the bread. The veil lifts,
the earth shakes, the kingdom
enters, slipping in through the broken scrim.

Monday, March 26, 2018

Palm Sunday Poetry

While I didn't write any poems yesterday, I did come up with ideas for poems.  On Saturday, I had been reading blog posts, looking for inspiration.  I came across an idea from last Easter, writing about the empty tomb, writing in the voice of the empty tomb.

Yesterday, as I drove my car full of palms to the church to decorate before the first service, I watched the sun rise which made the tall buildings full of glass look a bit crumpled.  I listened to On Being--a great interview with Parker Palmer about depression, and the difference between depression and suffering:   "I do not believe that the God who gave me life wants me to live a living death. I believe that the God who gave me life wants me to live life fully and well. Now, is that going to take me to places where I suffer because I am standing for something or I am committed to something or I am passionate about something that gets resisted and rejected by the society? Absolutely. But anyone who’s ever suffered that way knows that it’s a life-giving way to suffer; that if it’s your truth, you can’t not do it, and that knowledge carries you through. But there’s another kind of suffering that is simply and purely death. It’s death in life. And that is a darkness to be worked through, to find the life on the other side."

Later, as I showered to get ready for church, I thought about that tomb, how it was more likely a cave.  I thought about cave-like spaces, caverns which are like wombs.  I thought about the manger and Mary and Joseph, and how the stable was more likely a cave than a barn.  I thought about caves where bandits hide.

Our interactive service at 9:45 is celebrating Lent with the poetry of Mary Oliver.  Yesterday we read "The Poet Thinks of the Donkey," which tells the Palm Sunday story through the eyes of the donkey.  I was struck by this stanza:

Never had he seen such crowds!
And I wonder if he at all imagined what was to happen.
Still, he was what he had always been: small, dark, obedient.

Later this week, I will write that poem about the empty tomb, which also is small, dark, and obedient.  I am grateful for a Palm Sunday that includes poetry.

This week-end felt a bit hectic to me, with our week-end house guest and all the extra work that entails, on top of a Palm Sunday jam packed with activities: I participated in the life of the church in all sorts of ways yesterday:  reading, anointing with oil, handchime practice, helping count the money, and clean up.  But my half hour of contemplation during the laying down of the palms (sounds better than decorating) was my favorite part of the day--totally unanticipated and restorative.

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Marching to Palm Sunday

I am surprised--but why should I be?--at how many of my Facebook friends went to marches yesterday in cities large and small.  Well done!

We have a college friend visiting this week-end.  We thought about going to the march in our area, but as I wrote about yesterday, the challenges involved made us change our minds.  I baked bread, which gets me further ahead for the coming weeks in terms of nourishing things to eat at work.  We needed to run some errands in Ft. Lauderdale, so I suggested we do that sooner rather than later.  We finished the day by my spouse and our friend playing music:



Throughout the day, I had the marches on the brain.  But I also found my thoughts returning to the anniversary of the assassination of Archbishop Oscar Romero, which was yesterday.  And it's Palm Sunday week-end, which added a different patina to my thoughts than we might expect.

I've been thinking about social progress--what it takes to make progress, and how we lose traction.  Sadly, violence often spurs us to make demands we wouldn't have made otherwise.  And violence can also show us how serious the stakes are and how long the odds--witness Oscar Romero and Jesus Christ.

Romero knew that he was in danger from various political forces in the country, but he refused to cower in fear and back down. Likewise, Jesus must have known what wrath he was bringing down upon himself, but he did not back down. Until the end of his life, he called upon us to reform our earthly systems, systems that enrich a few on the backs of the many. Romero and Christ both show us that the forces of empire do not take kindly to being criticized.

Jesus warns us that to follow him will mean taking up a cross, and it may be the literal cross of death. The story of Passion Sunday reminds us that we are not here to seek the world's approval: the world may love us one day and crucify us next week. Passion Sunday offers us some serious reminders. If we put our faith in the world, we're doomed. If we get our glory from the acclaim of the secular world, we'll find ourselves rejected sooner, rather than later.

It's important for us to remember the basic lesson of the Scriptures: God is not fickle; it's humans and the societies that humans create that are fickle. You can be acclaimed in one season and denounced in the next.

The Passion story and the story of Oscar Romero remind us that dreadful things may happen to us. God took on human form, and even God couldn't avoid horrific pain and suffering. But the Passion story also reminds us that we are not alone. God is there in the midst of our human dramas. If we believe in free will and free choices, then God may not be able to protect us from the consequences of our decisions. But God will be there to be our comfort and our strength.

We live in a time where we might feel overwhelmed by how much evil we see, and how determined those forces of evil seem to be.  A more important lesson comes with Easter. God can take horrific suffering and death and transform it into resurrection. We know what happened to Jesus and those early Christians after the death of Jesus. Likewise, in death, Oscar Romero became a larger force for justice than in life. His death, and the martyrdom of other Church leaders and lay workers (not to mention the deaths of 75,000 civilians) galvanized worldwide public opinion against the forces of death in El Salvador. God is there with us in our suffering and with God's help, suffering can be transformed into a more loving world.