Monday, April 30, 2018

Last Day of National Poetry Month

For some of us, every month is a poetry month, but April does give us permission to focus on the art form in a larger way.  We could use this last day of National Poetry Month to ask what we'd like to carry with us through the other 11 months.  And of course, it's never too late to plan for next year.

I'm pleased with planning a poetry event at my school.  Some people might think of a bucolic campus full of liberal arts students when I say I work at a college, but that's not my school.  We only offer the Associates degree on my campus for students who are, for the most part, preparing for careers where they will be working in medical fields.  Our most popular major is Vet Tech, followed by Allied Health, which on our campus means Medical Assisting or Medical Office Administration.

Still, our students do have creative sides, and I've noticed that some of them are happy to have the opportunity to play with creatively.  So, I'll keep looking for ways to bring a variety of art forms to them.

On a personal note, April wasn't a different month for me in terms of poetry than any other month.  I wrote a few poems and sent a few packets out.  I got some new ideas for poems, which always makes me happy.  I took a purple legal pad to school--right about the time that my administrator schedule heated up, and I didn't have pockets of time during my work day to write.  But I've set a foundation for later.

While getting  a Fitbit may not be one of the goals we see in anyone's writing goals, I do think it's important to remember that our ability to create poems may rely on keeping healthy as best we can.  I've spent the last year gaining 15 pounds, and I'm happy to be taking steps to reverse that.  More important, I'm glad to have a gadget that will remind me to move away from the desk periodically.

What I'd like to carry with me:  I'd like to write poems more regularly.  I do admire the poets like Luisa Igloria who write a poem a day, year in, year out.  I'd be happy if I wrote poetry 3 days a week.  I know there are trackers for that--you don't wear them on your wrist, but a tracker is available.  Maybe I should try that . . .

Sunday, April 29, 2018

Progress Report: Week 1 with the Fitbit

So, now I know it takes about 250 steps to vacuum my whole house.  I am not a move-the-furniture vacuum type.  I mainly vacuum the high-traffic parts of the house.

Have I mentioned how much I HATE vacuuming?

I have now added one of those circular robotic vacuumers to my Amazon cart.  If I can use technology to improve my fitness life, maybe I can use it to have a cleaner house.

I'm fascinated by the way the Fitbit knows things, like when I'm sleeping and how deeply.  Today, I'm intrigued about the calories I'm allowed.  Unlike MyFitnessPal, the Fitbit seems to be adjusting because I overate yesterday.

At this rate, I will overeat today too, as the Fitbit tells me I have 539 calories remaining.  I began only having 957 calories in the bank, which is less than any other day.

I entered in my weight loss goals, and I chose from 4 options for achieving those goals (moderately hard) so it's proceeding based on information I've given it.  I thought it would give me a clean slate with the same amount of calories each day.  But it makes sense that it's always adjusting.

I've now had my Fitbit a week, and I'm still loving it.  It motivates me to move every hour by giving me the hourly goal of 250 steps.  I've taken the stairs more this week than I have in years. 

I'm surprised by the fact that I want to please my Fitbit as much as I have wanted to impress coaches and teachers of all sorts in the past.  It's a piece of technology, after all.

Now I must go walk a few more steps to get to my hourly 250 step goals.

If I obeyed my Fitbit in terms of calorie count, I have no doubt I'd attain that goal.  But that one is a bit more complicated . . .

Saturday, April 28, 2018

Choosing Poems for Poem in Your Pocket Day

At the beginning of April, I knew that we would do something on our campus to celebrate Poem in Your Pocket Day.  I knew I would greet arriving students with a poem in the morning.  But so many poems in the world--how to choose?

I looked at several of the booklets put together for the day, both the 2018 day and the past Poem in Your Pocket Days.  Nothing leapt out at me:  too historical, too male, too white.  I thought about passing out the poems that would prompt our food treats, but I had the same trouble:  too historical, too male, too white.  Hmmm. 

Then I thought back to our church's Lenten experience of reading Mary Oliver's poems, and using the study guide from SALT.  I thought about the ways those poems are profoundly moving--and yet so quiet, so easy to grasp.  I thought of my dad who attended with me on a Sunday and weeks later called to be reminded of Mary Oliver's name, because he couldn't get the poem out of his head.

I think that the most famous lines that Mary Oliver ever penned come from "The Summer Day":

Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

It's an important question, phrased in an evocative way, and so important for college students--and for all of us.  So I decided that would be one of the poems in our pockets on Thursday.  I remembered loving the first lines of "Wild Geese":

"You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting."

I decided to hand out this poem too.  As I was planning, I thought it was good to have two poems to hand out.  In retrospect, I wish I had printed both on one sheet, double-sided perhaps.

I love the theology of these poems.  It's a theology of love and respect.  It's a theology that tells us that we are worthy.  It's a theology that tells us we don't have forever, so quit wasting our precious days.  It's a theology rooted in nature, but in the every day kind of nature, not the travelling to a distant mountain slope with sherpas to assist us kind of nature.  It's a theology so understated that many readers likely don't even recognize it as a theology.

I love that the poems are short--easy to read in a single sitting.  I love that the natural elements draw us in to hear the central message.  I noticed that students glanced at the sheet I handed them and then kept reading.  I didn't find those poems discarded in trash cans.

I did something similar close to the 4th of July.  I handed out copies of the Declaration of Independence, a document that didn't have the same effect on students as the poetry of Mary Oliver.

I want to write these kinds of poems, poems that point towards the Divine, rather than shoving readers in that direction.

Friday, April 27, 2018

Poem in Your Pocket Day 2018 and Blackout Poetry

Yesterday was Poem in Your Pocket Day.  I knew that I would hand out poems on campus.  I knew that we would have poetry themed food.  I wanted to do something to encourage the actual writing of poems, but I wasn't sure exactly what.

As I was looking at Facebook one last time, I came across Karen Weyant's  posting of a Blackout Poetry Workshop at her school, Jamestown Community College.  I thought it looked like something we could do.

So, I grabbed some art supplies and headed to school.  I had my copies of poems for pockets already copied.  I had decided on 2 poems by Mary Oliver:  "Wild Geese" and "The Summer Day."  I thought they were accessible and they had the potential of being very moving to students.

I stood in the main lobby of our campus and handed out the poems, along with a greeting telling students why I was handing them out.  I told them we'd be doing poetry themed activities all day in the break room.  Most of them said, "Thank you" when I handed them the poems.  Most of them gave the poem a quick scan.

I suspect that the poetry themed events in the break room were more popular with faculty and staff than with students, but that's O.K. 

Don't get me wrong--the students weren't dismissive or rude.  They took the treats and read the poems:



I love this picture:



I had some great discussions with people about what poetry meant to them.  And I sat at a table and created for a bit. 

I had photocopied pages from 3 books:  Natalie Angier's The Canon, Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma, and Craig Child's Apocalyptic Planet. I knew that those books had evocative language and interesting words.  I didn't overthink the choosing--I just opened up the books and copied what was there.

I was intrigued by people's approaches to blackout poetry.  Some people read the text.  Some, like me, just chose words that sounded interesting and circled them.  Some of us blocked the other words with color:



I was surprised by the poems that emerged.  Here's mine, in picture (process note:  I chose the words, drew blocks around them, and then did the swirling color; as I did the swirling color, the words started to get lost, so I came back and did more blocking):



and written out:

own plots
digging
archeological rubble
time in the ground
live in a cash economy
skulls
bone scraping
hillocks of bones
disappeared among the ruins


We hung our poems on the cabinet doors, along with the models that our registrar had chosen as models. 



Throughout the day, people read our creations, but not as many people sat down to create as I had hoped.

That's O.K.  I liked that we spent the day surrounded by poetry.  My goal is to create an energy on campus so that school is a place where people want to be.  Yesterday met that goal.

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Inspirations: of Fitbits, Jesus, and Larger Collections

I have so many threads of random thoughts today.  Let me list some of them and see if a tapestry emerges:

--I arrived home last night to wilted hydrangeas, even though they'd been sitting out on the steps to take advantage of the rains of the last few days.  My first thought was irritation at the neediness of these plants.  But later, I took them inside, and like last week, I put them in the kitchen sink and gave them a good but gentle soaking.  And this morning, they have perked back up.

--The metaphors of the hydrangea situation are so obvious that they might seem like clich├ęs.  Let me move along.

--I am loving the Fitbit.  It has inspired me to move more.  Sure, it's only been a few days, and the magic may wear off, but I'm trying to take advantage of them while I can.  I love all the data.

--I've always loved keeping track of various parts of my life, and the Fitbit really helps with the logging of it all.

--If the last few nights are any indication, my sleep patterns are even more wrecked than I already knew that they are.  I'm intrigued by the sleep stats that the Fitbit gives me, even as I am a bit creeped out by the Fitbit knowing these things.

--Yesterday, I arrived to spin class after having spent time writing about Jesus and menopause.  I thought about Jesus having a Fitbit.  So much to say about the incarnation, so many ways to write a poem.

--I plan to revisit my collection of Jesus poems, along with my poems that write about feast days and their intersections with modern life.  I plan to have a new collection ready to submit to the Two Sylvias Press Wilder Prize in the fall.

--Of course, there's the question about my old collection.  I've been submitting it for years now, and I'm still convinced that it's a strong collection.  I've had at least one editor give me encouragement along with rejection. 

--I'm also thinking of how many books I might have published in my life.  If it could only be one collection of poems, which would I want to leave as my legacy?

--Can't I have 2 collections?  Is that so much to ask?

--And part of me thinks about how my vision has shrunk.  Well, not my vision, but the realities of publishing--traditional publishing.

--Part of me also knows that the reality I see in front of me might not last.  I might put a manuscript away, and in later years, there might be interest.  Maybe it's time to move on.

--I've also resisted the idea of my new collection because it's so overtly religious.  I've worried about all the readers I might not have because of that theme.

--And I know that my religious poems will be strange and perhaps offensive to people who like religious themes.  What if I end up with no readers?

--I certainly won't have readers if I publish nothing.  Maybe I should focus on the work itself, and not who will read it.  I should create collections that delight me and trust that there will be communities that embrace that work.

--Let me go out for a vigorous walk and ponder these things.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Divinities Along the Gender Spectrum

I've been enjoying Luisa A. Igloria's latest book, The Buddha Wonders if She is Having a Mid-life Crisis.  I knew that I'd love it, because I saw some of the poems on the Via Negativa site.  I was happy to have a chance to have them all together in one collection.

With her Buddha poems, Igloria explores what I've been doing with my poems that imagine Jesus (and other forms of the Divine) in the modern world.  So we see the Buddha waiting for a flight and considering the duty-free items, the Buddha at a Women's History Month event on a college campus, the Buddha at a trendy eatery.

The poems are delightful and startling.  They make me think not only about the Divine, but about my own movements in the world.  It's a wonderful book, and I highly recommend it; go here to get your own copy.

In her poems, the Buddha changes gender from poem to poem, which works.  I wonder if a practicing Buddhist would feel the same way.

Last night, as I lay down to sleep, I thought about a poem about Jesus experiencing menopause.  I am trying to remember if I've ever presented Jesus as doing something that is solely associated with the female gender.  I don't think I have.

I thought about how many Christians view Jesus as the incarnation of God, as God come to earth to find out what it means to be fully human.  To find out? Wouldn't God already know?

That's a theological question for another day.  We also read theologians who tell us that Jesus comes to earth to be in solidarity with us in our full humanity.  But if humanity is gendered, can a divinity that comes in only one expression of that gender spectrum/binary be truly human?

Some part of my brain shut down at the idea of Jesus experiencing menopause.  But the poet part of my brain lit up.  The rational part of my brain says it can't possibly work--we know that Jesus was male.  The philosopher part of my brain says, "How can we really know?"  The poet part of my brain likes the juxtaposition of things that don't normally go together:  Jesus and menopause.

I will let these ideas percolate in my brain for a few more days, and then I will attempt this poem.  I'm also wondering if I have an interesting avenue:  Jesus as female, Jesus as transgender.  I'm not sure I can pull this off--which is exactly why I should try.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Doing Justice in Broward County

Last night, we went to our annual BOLD Justice Nehemiah Action.  Each year, across our county, religious people meet to discuss which justice issues are most important to work on.  Each year, the group chooses 2-3 to focus upon, which culminates in a Nehemiah Action, where elected officials meet with the large group.

Those of us who have worked with politicians know that numbers are important to them--not just statistics, but the voters who are paying attention.  So each year, we go to the Action; we know the optics are important.

We go because we want to contribute to the optics of a packed church, but we also go because it's good to be together as a larger people of faith across a wide spectrum of Christian traditions.  I have been to large gatherings of Lutherans, or smaller gatherings of one to three types of faith traditions, but rarely a large group of a mixture.

Each year, my spouse gets a bit grouchy about going.  He grumbles about how the officials are only agreeing to what they planned to do anyway.  But we go.

And on the ride back, we remember that even if we all agree to a policy, it's good to be part of the group who will be watching.  It's good to be part of the group who asks questions, like, "Why is this population at risk?  Why can't we make these simple changes?"  It takes time, but change can come.

Each year, we get to hear news of our successes.  For example, we've been working on making civil citations the first choice when dealing with youthful offenders who have committed non-violent crimes.  Many people don't realize how often a juvenile might be arrested for something like trespassing when they go into a neighbor's yard to retrieve a ball.  Then children end up with a criminal record, which for many of them, makes life harder than it needs to be.

We've been successful with getting many of our local law officials to adopt civil citations over criminal convictions, but we've also been working for state-wide legislation.  Last night we learned that a bill had been passed and that the governor signed it into law on Good Friday.

Hurrah!

In many ways, it's a small move towards a more just society.  But our actions will impact thousands of Florida children each year.  With no criminal record, they'll have a better chance to scholarships and other ways to have a better life.  They'll have the kind of second chance that many of us just took for granted--decades ago, before the schools and juvenile justice system became so much more punitive.

It's a small move, but it's an important one.  Once we might have said that having everyone welcome at a lunch counter was a small move too.  Small moves can help the arc of history bend towards justice, to use the words of Martin Luther King.

Monday, April 23, 2018

Fitbit Progress

I got a Fitbit, only to find out that one laptop didn't have Bluetooth--that's the one that allowed me to download the Fitbit app.  The laptop that has Bluetooth did not.  So, I gave in and ordered a Dongle that will allow the Fitbit to communicate with the app.  It's impossible to program the watch without the app. 

In a way, that's a good thing.  It's easier than punching a series of buttons, as all of my other watches have used.  But here, too, I'm learning the new watch more by trial and error than by anything that makes sense to me.

I'm trying to move for 10,000 steps each day.  Yesterday I didn't, but that's not unexpected.  I still made 3656 steps, which seems not bad for a day that I didn't go for a walk.

I think that the watch tells me how many calories I burned.  Yesterday I burned just over 2000 calories.  Today, when I go to spin class, I'll be interested to see how the watch calculates my calorie burn.

I'll also be interested to see if the watch prompts me to move.  Yesterday it didn't, but I was moving more yesterday than I do in a traditional day in the office.

The watch will be able to give me some sleep statistics.  I'm interested to know how many hours I actually sleep.

Last night's sleep was not quality sleep; I don't need a watch to tell me that.  But I often don't have quality sleep as Sunday moves to Monday morning.  It's not that I'm worried about work, so I'm not sure what the problem is, but it's there almost every week.

At some point soon, I'll go back to tracking calories using MyFitness Pal.  That's been an effective way of weight loss for me, no matter which calories I decide to try to restrict/monitor.

I'm not too far off track, but there's room for progress.  That seems to sum up many parts of my life.

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Earth Day in a Time of Trump

Today is Earth Day.  While I am old enough to remember the first Earth Day, I must confess that I don't.  But I do remember some of the spectacularly polluted aspects of the 1970's, and I'm not talking about the Nixon administration.

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

I worry that we're rolling back regulations and that we'll head back to those days.  But I take great comfort in knowing that the planet can heal itself.

I wish I could stay that I spent this Earth Day week-end planting trees, but I didn't.  We did spend part of yesterday morning plotting out the next phases of home repair.  We're wrestling with the question of how much money to put into a house we no longer expect to live in for the rest of our lives.  My spouse wants to live in a house that's closer to his idea of perfection than we've ever managed before--but should it be this house?

So, we wrestle with questions of whether or not we want to put in the finest wood floors or would something better than what we have now, but not as fabulous as what we could buy would suffice.

And this morning, I read an article in The Wall Street Journal with this sobering observation:  "Another new paper, from researchers at the University of Colorado at Boulder and Pennsylvania State University, shows that the trend in Miami is playing out across the country, with homes that are vulnerable to rising sea levels now selling at a 7% discount compared with similar but less-exposed properties. The paper, which is under peer review, shows that the size of the coastal discount has grown over time."

At times yesterday morning, I was struck by this snapshot of our current life:  on our lovely front porch on our beautiful street discussing at what point rising waters will make it all untenable.  I know that people who live inland and upland would think we're being overly dramatic, and oh, how I wish it could be true.

I told my spouse that I watch myself thinking about these issues.  I know that psychologists tell us that humans are spectacularly bad at calculating risk and reward, particularly if it's not an immediate issue.  I find myself engaging in wishful thinking:  maybe the recent increase in the timeline of sea level rise will reverse itself.  But my rational brain knows that the rate is likely to increase, not decrease.

But for today, let me delight in the flowers on my porch that look on as we plot possible futures.  Let me trust that even as regulations are rolled back, we have time to save the planet, at least parts of it.  Let me remember that first Earth Day that no one thought would accomplish anything--and let me remember the forces it set into motion.

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Maybe God Is Trying to Tell You Something

Our Admissions team at school has a radio that they tune to different stations.  Yesterday as I walked by, I said, "Is this the song I think it is?"

It was!  One of the Admissions reps said, "Oh, I love this movie!"  It was "Maybe God Is Trying to Tell You Something."  I said, "I love this song!"  And at the skeptical looks, I sang along.

Because it's a classic call and response kind of song, soon we were all singing--and a few of us danced a bit.  I did wonder a bit at the strangeness of singing and dancing to a gospel song with such a clear religious message, but the Spirit was clearly moving us, and so I went along.

Because so many of my colleagues hadn't seen the movie, and because I wanted to hear the song again, I went back to my office and pulled up this clip.  I sent my colleagues a link, along with this message, "In case you want to see the original of the song “God Is Trying to Tell You Something”—the ending of this clip will make you cry, but in a good way—or maybe only if you know the preacher and his daughter in yellow have been estranged for much of her adult life."

I thought about the ways this song has woven its way through my adult life.  I loved Alice Walker in undergraduate school, so of course, I went to see the movie of The Color Purple, and I loved it too.  I bought the soundtrack, and this song was my favorite.  For at least a decade, it found its way onto the inspirational mix tapes that I made for the car.  And even now, when I wonder if God is trying to get my attention, this song springs up from my brain.

I last played this song at work at the job I had before this one.  I was told that I had reached the upper end of the salary scale for my position, and therefore, I wouldn't be getting the raise I had been told I would get.  I didn't point out that I'd been above the upper end for several years and gotten raises.  I didn't point out that I did far more than my job title would indicate.  I simply said, "I understand," went to my office, shut the door, and played the song several times.

A year later, I accepted the job offer for my current job.  And now, here I am in a place where many of my colleagues feel free to sing and dance when a spiritual comes on the radio.

Later in the day, I grabbed a graduation gown and headed to the beach.  While I didn't like having to deal with the traffic coming and going, we had fun at the photo shoot.  I'm surprised by how dark my hair is in this picture, but I do love this one:



After the photo shoot, we lingered at one of the restaurants that had outside tables.  And once again, I thought about how lucky I am to be at my current job, with colleagues who get along and seem fairly happy to be working together.  If God is trying to tell me something, that's the message I'm getting.

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?