Friday, August 23, 2019

The Whale and the Ticket

I am part of an online journaling group organized by Mepkin Abbey.  We are working/listening/journaling our way through Don Bisson's series of CDs from a presention,  Individuation:  Beyond Happy and Normal.  Our last chunk explored the book of Jonah.

It's interesting to think about the book of Jonah and what it has to say to us about psychological health.  We're used to reading the book as a picture of a reluctant prophet, and therefore many of us might assume it doesn't apply to us.  We're not prophets, after all.

Because Don Bisson is a Marist brother, he does approach the material through a Christian lens.  But he's also a Jungian, which makes for interesting juxtapositions.  His approach of the main lesson of Jonah is that we need to get the right ticket to the right destination.

When I first heard him say that, I heard ticket as a type of parking ticket, not a plane ticket or a train ticket. 

For those of us who say no to what God asks of us, he says we need to think about the moral dimension to saying no. 

He also says we should notice what whales show up to remind us that we're going in the wrong direction.  I found that an interesting way of thinking about the whale.

I am now thinking of the end of Jonah, where Jonah goes off in a snit about how everyone reacts positively to his message.  Once again, we see someone trying to micromanage the miracles.

And now I'm thinking of my manuscript of essays.  Should I try to do a major overhaul?  I have decided that the title should be Micromanaging the Miracles.  Maybe I should revise with that in mind.

Or maybe I should create a different manuscript, something designed to be a daily devotions.  Could I develop enough new stuff to say about each of God's people who tried to micromanage the miracles? 

I have so many potential projects--not to mention the manuscripts that I've already created and can't find a place to publish them.  It's enough to make a girl feel discouraged. 

But I also know that life works in mysterious ways.  I blogged for years and many of those blog posts have found new life in various publications, which was not my plan when I started blogging. 

If I suddenly become a popular writer whose audience has a voracious appetite for my work, at least I have plenty of work to release.

I have spent the last 10 minutes trying to think of a way to conclude this blog post--how can I tie Jonah to my writing life?  Is my writing life the whale or the ticket?

In the depths of despair, it's tempting to think of all the writing rejections as the whale that tells us that we've taken the wrong direction.  But the life of the prophet reminds us that failure is part of the process--and the life of Jonah reminds us that even when we get with the program, when people accept us, we might still pout.

Jungian psychologists would not be surprised by this process.  One of the ideas that I found most comforting from our recent journaling time is that our culture tells us that as we get older, life should get easier because we've got it all figured out--but that's not the way it is at all.  Failure is part of the process.

To be called to be oneself in one's historical moment is never easy--even though we look at the life of the great humans and think they always knew exactly where they were going.  But it's the essential task of every human.

Thursday, August 22, 2019

Revisions and Revolutions

My time grows short this morning, so let me post capture some writing that I want to preserve here and some links to materials that I want to remember.

--I am intrigued by the blog posts from Terri Lewis, who has been blogging from the Sewanee Writers' Conference.  She shared her notes from Margot Livesy's presentation on revision in this post.  Livesy instructs us to print out the whole novel and get markers in a variety of colors:

"You are going to highlight in in a different color the following things (explanations in parenthesis [Lewis']):
  • Scene (the reader is inside an event with dialog and/or action)
  • Narration (bits between scenes, usually where the “narrator” – often the author – is telling, not showing. Can be a transition)
  • Summary (I need to spend time thinking about differentiating between this one and the next)
  • Exposition
  • Description (Needs to move the story, not just be a travelogue)
  • Interior / Exterior (Succinctly put: is the character thinking or doing)
  • Memories
  • Flashbacks
  • Each character"
How interesting!  I've had some of this on the brain as I've been writing my novel.  

--I am trying to get into a rhythm for writing my apocalyptic novel.  This week, my approach has been to grab time where I can find it, writing little bits here and there.  I wake up in the middle of the night thinking about how to revise what I've just written.

--Last night I was working on the novel when a grad school friend posted this bit to Facebook:  "Oh dear, what to do. Drop everything to watch the 25th anniversary special of Les Mis, or keep plugging away at work I've committed to delivering by morning? Hmmm...this is not easy. Oh, they're at the barricades, so my decision is made! I can fire up the espresso machine when this finishes in 2 hours, then fire it up AGAIN come the morning and load up my favorite thermos to keep me going after so little sleep. Okay, that's the plan!"

--I didn't see her post, but I clearly had the French Revolution on the brain.  I was writing this bit:  Each citizen got an allotment of food, which was the way out of the first food shortage that the government had created to try both to keep a nation fed and to keep peace. Even if the Despot hadn’t learned the lessons of history, some official clearly had—or at least they remembered how many revolutions had been fueled by food shortages and literal hunger, not just a hunger for justice.

--This morning, I made this response to my friend's post:   If I write a novel of our grad school years, there will be a student who leaves graduate work to follow "Les Mis," the way that some follow the Grateful Dead. She will discover a fellowship of travelers, and they will wonder why they don't get the same kind of press as Deadheads.

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

The Decision Not to Participate in an Art Show

Yesterday I wrote this post about my artistic process that took an older piece from this:

to this:

But in the end, I didn't enter the piece in the show.  It started to feel overwhelming, and I took some time to figure out whether or not I really wanted to participate.  The decision not to do it boiled down to several reasons:

--I had questions, but when I reached out to the curator, both by e-mail and phone, she never returned my call.  Therefore, I wasn't sure when the art would be accepted.  The website and the entry form had different information.

--The art show isn't juried, so all art would be accepted if it fit the theme.  That aspect appealed to me on one level, but it also seemed less desirable.

--I thought about having show participation to put on a resume, but if it's not juried, it would count less.  And then I laughed at myself.  What resume is this, exactly?

--That question made me realize that I wanted some sort of acclaim.  There would be prizes.  I had this vision of a gallery owner asking to represent me.

--But what if people did want more 3 D work from me?  I don't have a back up supply, like I do with my other art and writing.  While the appeal of creating art out of found objects appeals to me, I don't do it much.

--Why don't I do it?  I don't have the space--for the supplies or for the finished work.  How do artists store their work?  Even if I transformed the cottage into a studio and storage space, I would quickly run out of room if I did much work in found objects.

--A space in the art show cost $45.  That fee would buy me an entry fee for a manuscript.  I still have hopes for a writing career.  Those hopes and dreams are reasonable.  My dream of being a 3 D artist is much more recent and not as viable.

It's been an interesting way to spend part of the month of August, thinking about an old art project, transforming it, and writing about it.  I love the small jar that I created to go with the piece:

I love that it changes as I rotate the jar:

And from a different angle:

Long ago, I saw a work at Girl's Club, but I can't find a picture.  It was a collection of baby food sized jars, with balls of yarn in them.  I kept coming back to that piece, although I couldn't exactly articulate why.

If I did decide to do more with 3 D art, I might do more with jars.  It seems more manageable in terms of space.

I wonder if any scholar has explored the issue of space when it comes to art.  What kinds of decisions have artists made based on space--space for storage and space to do the work in the first place?

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

The Poet and Fiber Artist Goes 3 D

Over the past few weeks, I've been working on a 3 D art piece.  It began with a piece that I created for an Ash Wednesday art project at church.  I brought 3 shelves from a dresser that had been damaged during Hurricane Irma.  I brought lots of other stuff, and we created art with an Ash Wednesday theme.  For more on the original project, see this blog post.

I saw a call for art pieces for a show with the theme of home, and I thought of the piece.  A few weeks ago, I brought it home with me from the storage closet at church.  I wanted to add some pieces to it--one of the requirements for the show was that the art had to be created in the past year.

I created an element out of fabric.  I thought about gluing it to the back of the piece, but before I did that, I realized it might be interesting to pin it to the top.  In the end, I pinned it to both the top and the side.  I like the way it flutters.  It speaks of quilts to me, of quilts that have come apart but can be stitched back together again.

I decided the piece needed more threads, so I also cut apart a small piece of flannel to lay in the banana leaves.  A few years ago, after her mother's death, one of my friends gave me the spools of thread that her mother collected.  I don't want to waste good thread, but some of the spools had threads of the same color.  I will never use that much thread.  So I chose a few for the piece.

I find the image of a box of collected buttons showing up in my poetry quite often, so I pulled out our button box.  Again, I hate wasting buttons that might be useful, so I chose ones that were similar, along with some that were just interesting.

The old drawer that creates a shadowbox container is huge, so I decided I needed another vertical element.  I plucked an olive jar out of the recycling and filled it with things that said home to me:  buttons, yarn, dental floss, small spools of thread, and shells.  I also liked the images of stitching/threads, since I had decided to title the piece "Ash Wednesday in Hurricane Country."

I had to write a statement about how the piece fits with the theme.  One day, I made several drafts:

Home is more than a location on a map. You bought banana trees for a significant anniversary, and the hurricane destroyed them. We stitch our communities together with all sorts of threads to create a patchwork comforter.

Living in hurricane country comes with a constant reminder that our physical homes could be destroyed by wind and flood. But home is more than a location on a map. We keep our collections portable, our grandmothers’ button boxes, the spools collected by a friend’s mother during her lifetime.

We are a nation of dreamers and through our dreams, we are the repairers of the broken. We are a nation of quilters, the ones who can stitch and patch to create a comforter. We are the collagists who create a work of art out of all the pieces.

I ended up with a statement I really liked:

Home is more than a location on a map. We are a nation of quilters, the ones who can stitch and patch to create a comforter. We are the collagists who create a work of art out of all the pieces. We repair the broken to find the beautiful.

In the end, I decided not to submit the piece.  I'll write more about that decision tomorrow.

Monday, August 19, 2019

A Nancy Drew Poem for a Week of School Beginnings

In my county, students started school last Wednesday; this week will be their first full week of school.  By the end of this week, all students in the tri county area will be back in school.

I know that there are still some schools up north who start after Labor Day.  They probably have Columbus Day off too.

Yesterday in church, our pastor said it was the last Sunday in Summer.  He caught himself mid-declaration and said, "Yes, it's the last Sunday in the Summer.  Because I declare it to be so."  And then he explained that once the public schools start again, summer is effectively over.

I agree.  We have another month until the equinox which will launch us into a new season, and for some of us, we might switch wardrobes at Labor Day--although to be honest, I don't know of anyone who doesn't wear white after the first Monday in September.  Many of us still have a month or more of summer heat and humidity.  But essentially, summer is over.

The back to school stories that surround us take me back to my writing process as I created a poem about Nancy Drew in her retirement.  Nancy Drew wouldn't be teaching college. She'd have had a teacher's certificate from pre-feminist days. And they'd let her teach the kids that were headed to juvenile jails and drop out land--who cares about those kids?

I thought about a friend's experience teaching those kinds of kids. She was allowed to do basically whatever she wanted, to abandon textbooks and to teach whatever came to her, so long as she kept the kids from hurting each other or the other children in the school.

I thought about Nancy Drew's friends, Bess and George--what happened to them? Could they help Nancy Drew solve the mystery of how to reach these students?

Of course! Bess has started a bakeshop and this generation of students, raised on cooking shows, eat up what she has to offer in the way of old-fashioned home-ec. George, the tomboy, has gone on to become a marine biologist, so she leads field trips into various ecosystems.

Here's the poem, which appeared in my third chapbook, Life in the Holocene Extinction.  If you want an autographed copy of the chapbook, I'll give you a back-to-school discount between now and the Tuesday after Labor Day:  $10 per copy.

Nancy Drew and the Mystery of the Pre-Drop Outs

Nancy Drew decides she needs new
mysteries to solve, so she returns
to school, to mold young minds.

Long ago, in between cracking cases
involving diaries or letters or maps and solving
secrets in attics and towers, she got a teaching
certificate, as ambitious women did in those days.
Now she calls the school board to see
how she might be of use.

Her credentials, old and out of date,
don't prevent her from taking charge
of the most hopeless classrooms,
the students on a layover
on their journey to juvenile court.

Given tattered textbooks and worksheets without
answer keys, Nancy Drew adopts
a different approach. As always, she calls
on her friends.

Bess runs a bakeshop, so she teaches
the students to cook, a retro home-ec
approach. Nancy Drew's feminist critics
would not approve, but this generation
of students, raised on cooking shows, responds
with rare enthusiasm.

Nancy Drew believes in fresh air and sunshine,
so she recruits her friend George, a marine
biologist, for ideas. George leads
field trips to various ecosystems:
swamp walks and snorkeling and soon
some of the students are ready
for college-track science classes.

These clues to a better future don't prevent
some of her students from sneaking
away to explore more ancient secrets.
She tries to keep them focused on the future,
but she remembers Ned Nickerson
and those cars now considered classics.

She thinks of Ned in the roadster,
and later, her love confined to the hospital bed,
immune from rescue, unable to hear
her whispered pleas.

She kisses the old locket always worn
around her neck and writes the day's lesson
plan on the white board. At the end
of the day, she erases the smeared
lines from the board to leave a blank
space to be filled again in the morning.

Sunday, August 18, 2019

August Traditions: Blessing Backpacks and Church Picnics

Based on what I'm reading in various Facebook updates, the Blessing of the Backpacks as part of August church services is becoming fairly common across the nation, or at least in the Southeast. I'm all in favor.

One of my Facebook friends who is a minister seems to be having today's worship service at a park, where there will be the annual picnic along with the blessing of the backpacks.  I like that approach too.

My church has a huge space in the back of the church, so we've had a cookout there once or twice, often in conjunction with the close of Vacation Bible School.

And now I'm remembering late August days at my grandmother's church long ago.  There was one Sunday where they'd have church and then everyone would get in cars to spend Sunday afternoon at Lutheridge.  That church camp was over an hour away, so modern me is astonished that people would come to church and then make the drive to Lutheridge.  Of course, there was a wonderful potluck picnic at the end of the drive and time in the mountains and fellowship.  Still, it tells me what a different time it was.

And now I'm suddenly craving deviled eggs and a variety of pasta salads.  I'll never crave those odd mixes of gelatin and add-ins--blhh.  But the dessert table--ah, yes, I'd love a good dessert table today after church.

Instead, I'll count the money after church.  It won't be nearly as much fun/fulfilling as a trip to the mountains with a picnic, but it's an essential task that few can'will do in my congregation.

Saturday, August 17, 2019

Thinking about the Yield Curve on a Lovely Saturday in August

This week, perhaps we've all gotten a mini Economics lesson.  I confess that I didn't really think about the yield curve before this week, and I'm still not sure I understand it enough to explain it.

One fact stands out in this week of reports of our now inverted yield curve:  an inverted yield curve has predicted 6 of the last 6 recessions.

On a recent episode of On Point, I heard economics analyst Rana Foroohar say that she had taken all of her retirement money out of the stock market and invested it in primarily cash and real estate.  Hmm.

You may or may not remember that we haven't had a recession since the big one in 2008.  Here's an interesting fact from an article in yesterday's The Washington Post: "About 40 million U.S. adults haven’t seen a single recession during their working lives. Almost as many, including most millennials, have seen only one since they turned 18. That recession, the devastating Great Recession from December 2007 to June 2009, was (hopefully) not representative."

My earliest memory of economic downturns is the one in the early 70's, around 1973 or so.  I remember asking my dad why so many people didn't have Christmas lights strung on their houses the way they used to do.  He told me that they might not be able to afford it.

Ah, the good ole days of the Arab oil embargo!  I remember the 70's as a time when beef was a luxury.  Now I've had a few shopping days when potatoes cost more than the beef when I made pot roast.  I'm paying far less for chicken these days then my mom did when she bought chicken in the 70's as a budget meat for a middle-class family.

I remember recessions in the 80's; I started undergraduate school in a college town that had had much of its industry decimated during a recent recession where two of the three poultry plants had closed.  I did my first job search during the recession of 92, and I was grateful to get my community college job, even though I went to grad school with a different kind of teaching job in mind.  In the recession of 2002, when my meager portfolio lost almost all its value, I had a moment when I wished I had just given all that money to the poor.  I remember the early days of the Great Recession of 2008, hearing about the stock market stumbling then falling precipitously and feeling a cold stone of fear in my body.

In short, the economy has never felt secure to me.  The words of Jesus have always made sense, the ones where he cautions about storing our treasures where moths can eat it and thieves can steal it.  The economy shows us over and over again the wisdom of Christ's teaching--at least to those of us who aren't part of the uppermost of the uppermost economic echelons.

Friday, August 16, 2019

More Milestones to Mark the Aging Process

I have read books about aging that talk about all the various personal milestones most of us go through when we age:  physical changes of all sorts, mental changes, and perhaps societal changes.  There's less talk about the milestones in the lives of our friends and acquaintances and how they affect us.

I got a Facebook message today from one of my college friends:  "My mom died today."  I have a variety of memories about her mom, although I never spent lots of time with her.

I spent some time scrolling through Facebook.  My high school friend who is moving his parents into an assisted living facility has lots of posts describing both that process and his process of cleaning out the house.  Last week I wrote a post about how strange it is to read about this process.

Here's a post from a friend and a picture of her daughter and a friend who just made the JV volleyball team.  Wait--didn't we just have a baby shower for that child?  How is it possible that she started high school this week?

In some ways it makes me feel old, but it's more complex than that.  I sometimes feel that time is wrinkling.  Some part of me doesn't feel much older than my high school self--and I know that I'm very lucky.  And yet, clearly, I am old enough to have children in high school or college myself.  A new generation emerges.

The various 50 year anniversaries this year are also a reminder of how much time has zipped on.  It seems like just yesterday I found the Woodstock LP in the collection of my college radio station.  I made a cassette tape and listened to it over and over again.  I was listening to music that was already 17 years old.  Now it's much older.  If you want to listen to that concert in real time, as the concert unfolded hour by hour, over the next few days, go here.

Of course I'm not ready to limp off into the sunset yet.  Let me use these reminders of mortality to get moving on projects I want to complete sooner rather than later.

Thursday, August 15, 2019

How to be an Artist: Wisdom from Toni Morrison

Our public school students had their first day of classes yesterday.  By this time next week, my spouse and I will be back to class, which means I need to get some dates typed into course shells and change the settings across the course shells.

The summer is zooming to a close, even though we will still have summery weather for many months.

My college of primary employment is on a strange quarter system, which will end in mid-September.  Here, too, time races by.  We will be done before we know it. 

Yesterday was an interesting change of pace.  I subbed for a teacher, which involved overseeing tests, so I had time to read.  I forgot that I was going to sub, so I didn't bring a book.  Happily, I have plenty of books in the office.

I keep Toni Morrison's The Source of Self-Regard in the office because it's easy to dip in and out of, even though the essays aren't exactly zippy reading.  It's interesting to read her essays which sometimes repeat language word for word--intriguing to know that Morrison reused images in different speeches and public addresses.  It's powerful language, well worth repeating.

As I've been reading through the book, I've wondered how she decided what to preserve in print and what to let go of.  I've had this on the brain in terms of visual artists too.  This article in The New York Times examines artist's studios and archives and asks what should be saved and what will be lost.  It's a fascinating question.

Morrison has much to say about the work of being an artist in this repressive society.  Many of her essays that I've read so far were written in the 1980's, but they still have much to say to us.  She's not as concerned about what we should save, but how we should be creating.

Here's a quote, which seems perfect for this week of back to school pictures and artistic longings of all sorts:

"Art invites us to take the journey beyond price, beyond costs into bearing witness to the world as it is and as it should be. Art invites us to know beauty and to solicit it from even the most tragic of circumstance. Art reminds us that we belong here. And if we serve, we last. My faith in art rivals my admiration for any other discourse" (p. 53).

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Rejection Evening

My Submittable account no longer sends me e-mail updates about my submissions.  I can't figure out how to fix it--all the settings seem correct, and Submittable e-mails aren't going to my Spam file.

And let me take a minute to note what a strange collection of e-mails goes to my Spam file.  I'm always intrigued to see what ends up there--and who/what is sending these e-mails?  How do I get on some of these lists?

I feel the same way about all the ads which jump into motion when I'm reading e-mails or online newspapers.  Yesterday was one of those days when I thought about paying for the ad-free platforms, just to avoid ads.  I used to feel the same way about cable, back when I watched much T.V.

Interesting to think that the Internet is the new T.V.--both distracting and enriching.

But that's not what I came here to explore.  I wanted to write about my evening of rejection.

The last time I went to my Submittable account, in early August, I took heart by how my poetry book manuscript seemed to be in consideration in so many places.  I've been submitting it about once a month.  Last night I saw 3 rejections.  Sigh.

But I want to record that my manuscript was a semifinalist in the 2019 Crab Orchard Series in Poetry First Book Award competition.  There were almost 400 manuscripts, according to the rejection e-mail.

As I was reading the e-mail, I thought about the familiarity of this language of rejection.  The language is so similar to the rejection letters I used to get back when I did my most aggressive job hunting.  It's a version of "it's not you, it's me" that I first heard about in a Seinfeld episode.

In a way, the news is good.  My manuscript does stand out in a field of 400 manuscripts from poets who have yet to publish a first book.  I haven't always gotten that feedback from earlier submission years.

Let me not spend too much time thinking about how many earlier submission years there have been.  Let me keep going with my plan:  to make judicious submissions, to contests where I see a judge who resonates with me or to contests where I'm supporting a press I believe in or to contests which give me a book in exchange for my submission.

Let me keep working on other projects too.  I've put together a new chapbook this year, and that process has made me feel hopeful too.

Next week, I want to put a plan into place that will lead to me work on my apocalyptic novel on a more regular basis.  I need to create that plan.

The weeks are zooming by.  I am astonished at how long I've been at this writing and publishing process.

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

A Quick Time Away

We have been away--just a 4 day vacation, an extended week-end really.  Today I'll do the bread run a day late, so I don't have much time to write here this morning.

Let me just capture a few items:

--We had fairly easy flights, which is saying something for summer.  Jam packed, but that's usual these days.  The Friday trip was easiest--we snagged the exit row seats.  Yesterday the guy behind us had a non-stop talk with his seatmate about the importance of discussion and dialogue--the seatmate could hardly get a word in edgewise.

--Because we were gone for such a short period of time, we left our laptops at home, and we weren't surrounded by screens we could watch either.  What a treat to be away from constant news.

--I got a lot of reading done; it's always worth remembering how much more reading I do when I don't have the lure of the laptop.  I'll say more about the books I read in a later post.

--I love the change of scenery.  We had decent weather for summer:  warm/hot but not humid, glowering clouds but no fierce storms.

--It was good to hear the stories about how others are living their lives.  I heard about the Air Force guy who took his housing allowance and bought a live-aboard sailboat.  I heard about retired people who sold their northern Virginia townhouse and moved to a one story house in Maryland.  I saw all sorts of people in planes and airports who had some interesting stories that they didn't tell me.

--I didn't do any writing or even reach for my travel journal where I take notes on anything interesting.  But I did think about my apocalyptic novel.

--It is good to get away and so good to get completely offline.  And the benefit of a shorter vacation is that I don't dread going back to work as much.

--We played Monopoly for 3 hours one morning.  It was great fun, and a reminder of how quickly the game can turn, both the Monopoly game and the real life housing game.

Monday, August 12, 2019

Lessons from the Butterfly Garden #2

In early July, the caterpillars ate the milkweed plants, leaving nothing but devoured stubs.

But we knew that these plants only looked like they were dead. Now they have not only sprouted new leaves, but flowers—and we have some monarch butterfly visitors!

Let us remember that even when we feel used up, new growth is waiting, along with new discoveries.

Sunday, August 11, 2019

Lessons from the Butterfly Garden #1

When I transplanted this dutchman's pipe plant to a larger pot, I wasn't sure it would make it. 

At one point, it was the scraggliest plants in the garden:

The August rains have helped it flourish. Let us all remember that even when we might be in danger of wilting in the heat of our studies/lives/challenges, if we just dig in, we, too, can flourish.

Saturday, August 10, 2019

Summer Publications

Before summer vanishes, let me record some publishing that made me happy:

In June, my piece about ways to celebrate June appeared in Gather, the magazine of the Women of the ELCA.  In July, I was the person who wrote the Lectionary reflection for The Christian Century.  And in August, I got my contributor copy of The Women Artists Datebook that had one of my poems in it (Feb. 3). 

I couldn't get a great photo so let me just copy the text of the poem below:

Fiber of Existence

You will study the maps,
make a plan, pack
the right clothes, only to find
yourself in a different country,
the one you didn’t know
you needed to explore.

It is here you find the answers
to the unspoken questions.
Here is the journal written
in a language you can’t understand.
Here the box of letters
written between two souls
you do not know.

Here you pledge to drink from a dirty
glass, to ignore all your dusty duties.
Here you will ride the beast that scares
you most, the elephant or the motorcycle,
the couple married multiple decades
or mornings of solitary coffee.

Listen for the wind to whisper
your name. Go where the wind commands.
The rains will wash
away all evidence of your longing.

Eat the mush of memory.
Remember every dreary breakfast.
Resolve to find the fiber of your existence.

Friday, August 9, 2019

Navigating the Milestones of Life

One of my friends from high school is moving his parents to an assisted living facility this week.  His mother has dementia issues, so it's been a tough process.  I've been following along on Facebook.

I have memories of going to his house in the summer for a party.  I didn't go to the kinds of high school parties that would get Supreme Court nominees in trouble later.  We sat around rec rooms listening to music and talking.  I can't remember what we talked about.  I remember one party at my friend's house listening to the whole of David Bowie's Let's Dance album and talking to his older sister who was home from college.

Not long after that party we would all scatter off to college ourselves, and if it wasn't for Facebook, I probably wouldn't know about my friend's parents leaving that house where once we listened to New Wave music and talked.

Or maybe that David Bowie album shouldn't really be considered New Wave. It's been decades, and I still can't decide.

I'm also feeling nostalgic at the news that Pizza Hut will be closing most of its dine-in restaurants.  I spent many happy years of my adolescence eating with friends in Pizza Hut restaurants.  I was a vegetarian for many of those years, so Pizza Hut was a good choice in a landscape that didn't have many good choices.

My friend took time out from his parents' move to post a link to the story that gave the news about the closure of Pizza Hut restaurants:

"I have some fond memories of eating at the Pizza Hut on Bearden Hill. Ordering a pizza or two and then going through the salad bar. Good meals out with my family back in the day. Sigh..."
I included this memory on that thread:

I have good memories of that Pizza Hut too--one night coming out to discover that it had started snowing, and I said to Chum Kimsey, "I've never driven in snow before!" She said, "Pretend it's like rain." And so I carefully drove my parents' huge Monte Carlo through the snow, with pizza in our stomachs, a bit of fear, and the exhilaration of successfully navigating in the snow.
And this one:

I seem to recall a group of us that included you getting pizza after a football game once or twice. I didn't much care about football, but I loved having pizza afterwards. I think once you even gave me a ride to the game, back before my parents thought I had enough driving experience to drive at night. Isn't that a quaint idea? That once upon a time I didn't have enough driving experience to drive at night? And I think about my parents, who had more rules for me than many parents today have. It's been poignant for me, reading about your interactions with your folks this week.

Back in those days of Pizza Hut and David Bowie and learning to drive, I could not have imagined the day would come when my friend Chum would be dead of esophageal cancer or that the day would come when a friend would be orchestrating the move of his parents into a facility where they can get the care we need.

I feel like we're too young for this.  I'm guessing that people always do.

Thursday, August 8, 2019

Artistic Openness and Book Evangelists

I have a series of thoughts, but I don't know if they will hold together as a unified blog post.  But it feels important to collect them.

--One of the delights of Facebook is hearing from old friends who may just have a snippet of something to say.  In olden days, they wouldn't have written a letter to say it, and back then, long distance phone calls cost serious money, so they wouldn't have picked up the phone.  When I linked to my Toni Morrison post yesterday, a friend wrote this:   "I actually cried at work when I got the news. I remember to this day you recommending Song of Solomon to me. I have loved her writing ever since."

I have no memory of recommending that book or any other Toni Morrison book to my friend.  I'm so happy that he shared that memory with me.

It reminded me of a different friend from the same time, my undergraduate years.  She remembers that I recommended The Handmaid's Tale to her, that I insisted that she read it.  She did, and she says it completely changed her mind about many feminist issues.

Here, too, I have no memory of this event, but it made me happy to hear it.

Some people are religious evangelists, but I once was a book evangelist.  And I still am, although I'm not reading nearly as many books as I once was.

--This article is composed of pieces of writing advice from Toni Morrison throughout the years.  They're the kind of quotes that make me want to get back to my writing in a deeper way.

--Three weeks ago I started writing my apocalyptic novel.  I am not making the kind of progress as I did three weeks ago.  Let me take the next few days of this week to strategize how I'm going to get into a more regular writing rhythm once the semester begins, and my spouse and I return to teaching.

I want  to work on the novel at least 3 days a week.  I want to write a poem a week, at least one.  I have been finding it hard to write both the novel and poetry.

--And while I'm listing goals, let me say that I want to get back to more regular exercise, more walks, even if they're short walks.  I need to remember why I love living here.

--I have been thinking about the art piece that I intend to submit for this show about home at ArtServe.  I am surprised by this inner critic who has begun piping in, the one who thinks this idea is stupid, the idea that I'm not a real artist.  For over 20 years, I've been working on a variety of visual arts, and I've been a writer even longer than that.  Where does this voice come from?  Part of it may come from the years I was around "real visual artists" at the Art Institute of Ft. Lauderdale.  Most of them were kind and encouraging.  There were some snooty artists who were dismissive of the kinds of art forms that were most interesting to me.  I'm surprised that some of their ideas have become embedded in my brain.

--Let me close with a quote of encouragement from Toni Morrison:  "It’s that being open—not scratching for it, not digging for it, not constructing something but being open to the situation and trusting that what you don’t know will be available to you. It is bigger than your overt consciousness or your intelligence or even your gifts; it is out there somewhere and you have to let it in."

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

In Praise of Toni Morrison

Like much of the world, yesterday was a bit sadder with the announcement of Toni Morrison's death.  But as with the death of many a luminary, remembering why she was so important made me feel a bit better.

I think that the first Toni Morrison book I read was Tar Baby.  Back then, I checked it out from the library to have something to read on my commute from the Virginia suburbs to inner city DC where I had a summer job as a social worker in 1984.  That was during the year that D.C. had the worst murder rate in the country, but I met wonderful people that summer.  If those people managed to stay in their homes, those homes that we spent a summer winterizing, they could be very rich now.

That summer I also read Sula(or was it Song of Solomon?), but I remember not liking it as much as I liked Tar Baby.  My mom and I were both reading her work.  I read Beloved soon after it came out, and I liked it, but I didn't realize what made it an amazing book back when I first read it.  I think I read it after both of my parents read it and passed it on to me.  My memory says that my mom really loved the book, while my dad found it a tough read.

I read The Bluest Eye in grad school.  What an amazing--and painful--book.  But my favorite one of her books of all that I've read is A Mercy.  No other work has so powerfully made me realize how perilous life in the colonies was.

When Toni Morrison won the Nobel Prize in Literature, I cheered.  As with so many of these developments, I thought it was a sure sign of progress, how far we had come.  I assumed we would keep zooming on to a bright future where a much wider cross section of artists would gain recognition and society would be changed by their art.

I still want to believe that--but with midlife comes the knowledge that the way forward is much murkier than I first thought and the road to the bright future may take much longer than I thought.

But let me lift my coffee mug to Toni Morrison, who in her life and in her art showed us that a different way is possible.

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Origami Cranes, Hiroshima, and All the Places that need Blessing

On this day in 1945, the U.S. dropped the world's first atomic bomb on Hiroshima.  Today would be a good day to read John Hersey's Hiroshima, which began life as a nonfiction piece in The New Yorker. In the summer of 1985, I read obsessively about nuclear weapons, both their genesis and their current status, and Hiroshima was one of the books I read. Best book of that summer? War Day, by Whitley Strieber and James Kunetka, a sobering piece of fiction about life in the U.S. after a massive nuclear exchange between the U.S. and the Soviet Union; it's still a compelling read. I remember Hersey's book as being elegaic in its depiction of the lost city and the suffering of the people.

The bombs used to destroy Hiroshima and Nagasaki were small by today's standards--but what damage they did! The effects of that bomb obliterated much of Hiroshima--and vaporized some of it. There were reports of people fused into pavement and glass--or just vanished, with a trace remaining at the pavement. The reports of the survivors who walked miles in search of help or water are grim. And many of those survivors would die of the effects of radiation in the coming years.

Through the years, I've seen many a documentary about the rush to build nuclear weapons, about the uncertainty of what would happen with those first tests and explosions--would the very atmosphere around the planet dissolve? I have yet to see any footage of scientists who wondered what might happen to civilians on the ground when these bombs exploded.

I've lived long enough to see history being made to know that the choices can be fairly ghastly. In this case, far better to develop the weapons before the Germans. I know many people who believe that the use of these bombs helped avoid more years of grueling battles in the Pacific that would have left us with even more dead--one could argue that the sacrifice of the populations at Hiroshima and Nagasaki were worth the avoidance of more years of war and that loss of life.

I've also done enough reading and thinking about pacifist approaches to wonder if there might not have been another way if we had acted much earlier.

I remember during our grad school years we went to a beautiful anti-nuclear vigil on August 6 in a city park.  I remember paper cranes and seeing some of our grad school professors there.  That would have been in 1988 or 1989.  I wonder if any groups mount anti-nuclear vigils in August anymore?

It's not that the world is any more of a peaceful place these days.  Sadly, the world still needs the blessings of the origami cranes.  They're not as easy to fold as they look--that, too, makes them an appropriate metaphor.

Monday, August 5, 2019

Not the Staycation I Had in Mind

I had been calling this week-end a staycation, even though it was just a regular week-end.  We committed to no commitments except for church.  We had in mind some things we might do.  Or maybe it was just me that had some activities in mind. 

I thought we might do some of the things we only do when we have visitors:  maybe go to the brewery at the beach or make tropical drinks to enjoy by the pool.  But the weather was iffy to downright rainy, so we didn't do that.

As with every week-end, I thought we might do some unpacking of the boxes that are out in the cottage.  We got the kitchen boxes unpacked and the CDs and videos put away.  Why does that not feel more significant?  Why does it take so long to put CDs away in alphabetical order?

We watched Thelma and Louise Saturday night--I own a copy of the movie, and we needed a mindless way to spend the night. What a great movie. Sad that it is still so relevant in terms of violence/harassment against women.

That experience made me miss the old DVD player.  We have a computer connected to our Smart TV, but the DVD player doesn't always want to work.  On Saturday, we had trouble with not one but two laptops.  Sigh.  But we did finally watch something beyond cooking shows or the dreadful news.

On Sunday, we had another day of delightful feminist viewing--there's a great American Masters episode on Ursula K. Le Guin--and it's available to view online.  These episodes don't always stay available, so I was glad that we took the opportunity to watch it, while the next round of rain came.

And of course, there was the grading that I did, the grading that felt endless.  We are at the end of summer semester for my online classes, so the necessity of grading wasn't unexpected.  I just thought I might have some times to read.

And now, all too quickly, it's time to head back to work.  Time to make the bread run.

Sunday, August 4, 2019

Fierce Joy: A Nonviolent Form of Resistance

Like many of us who went to bed with the shooting of El Paso, Texas on our brains only to wake up to find that there was ANOTHER mass shooting in Dayton, Ohio--I, too, have been left gobsmacked by 2 mass shootings in one day--less than a day. Madness. I wonder if people felt this way in the late 60's/early 70's when there was so much violence: assassinations, bombings, etc.

I don't have any ideas of what one might do. I'm not sure I think that stricter gun control will help. We have fairly tough gun laws now.

Of course I think it all speaks to a deep not-wellness part of our society.  I think that technology leaves us isolated--and now, even worse, leaves us ANGRY and some of us don't have good ways to handle that. I don't really know how to deal with that as a society, just as much smaller communities. And fixing things in smaller communities, like our households or our schools, can't protect us from the ones who aren't interested in the fix. I can still be gunned down by an isolated crazy person who decides to shoot up a school or a church or a grocery store.

I think of various writers and theologians who have said that despair is the deadliest of the deadly sins--of course, many of them use different language, but it boils down to this idea. And a fierce commitment to joy is a way of beating back despair.

So, on to happier subjects.  Let me think of things that I can control, things that bring me joy.  The butterfly garden isn't as active as it once was. We haven't been able to see any more butterflies being born since that first week when the 36 caterpillars went into their chrysalises and then emerged. But that's O.K. For one thing, it's given the milkweed plants (the only food the caterpillars that become monarchs eat) a chance to recover. I go out to the plants several times a day, and so if nothing else, it's solace for me. And I do think it makes the concrete wasteland of a parking lot just a bit more beautiful--and there's a tiny green space, where before there wasn't.

It's the teeniest, tiniest way to save the planet, but it's one of the ways I can do it right now.

And it's a larger project even than taking care of the planet. It's a kind of self-care that seems increasingly important in these days. I've been taking joy in some cooking and of course, writing. I think it's important to find joy where we can--a different kind of resistance to the evil in the world.

So today, let's commit to whatever brings us fierce joy.  Let's use our fierce joy to combat the forces of hate and violence in the world.  Let's create a world that's so much more appealing than the one offered by those forces of hate and violence.


Saturday, August 3, 2019

In Which the Poet Considers Her 3D Art

After going to bed relatively early, I got up at 4 a.m.--not unusual for me.  But I haven't done as much writing as I sometimes do when waking up early.  I haven't been baking, like I thought about doing.  I have this delicious pumpkin butter--it would go so well with some oatmeal bread.  I haven't been doing reading or sketching or sorting or any of the other early morning activities that I could have been doing.

But it hasn't been a waste of a morning.  I've gone back to my novel periodically, and I've written my way out of a rough patch.  Hurrah.

I also saw this call for an art show at Art Serve; the show's theme sounds perfect for me:  "ArtServe seeks multimedia works that explore metaphors of home, habitat, community, and the related idea of belonging, whether cultural, social or creative."

Unlike with some art shows, where I don't have the slightest idea how I'd get started or I don't have the technical skills, I have a flood of ideas, especially in terms of photos or drawings made with markers.  I thought about a collage--and then I thought of 3D possibilities.

When I'm at church tomorrow, I'll see if the piece of art I made awhile ago is still in the storage closet. We made them during an arts session for Ash Wednesday in 2018.

Actually, that picture is earlier in the process.  Later, I added some map fragments from places I've lived (which ties into the theme--the box itself is a drawer from a dresser that was damaged in Hurricane Irma):

If it's still there, I'd add some fiber art elements, and see what happens when I submit it for this art show.  It seems to fit with the idea of the show better than my 2D work would do:  "‘HOME’ exposes layers of multimedia works, assemblages and vignettes, made through the collaboration of diverse, multi-faceted artists and creatives. Through these layers, the viewer can experience a cross-selection of our identity as a community, and be the spectator to a spirited fusion of theater, dance poetry, fashion and art exhibition."

I don't think it's a juried art show, so I think my work has a good chance of being accepted.

All the work has to be for sale--wouldn't that be an interesting twist?

Friday, August 2, 2019

Friday Gratitudes

It has been the kind of week that makes me mutter, "Is Mercury in retrograde?"  My favorite mug, a Lutheridge mug that my grandmother had since 1985 has cracked, along with a Pyrex pan shattering into a thousand shards.  It's a week of accreditation writing tasks, more specifically writing the action plans for programs under benchmark, never my favorite type of accreditation writing.  The ice melt in July in Greenland alone has broken records.

So this morning, let me list some gratitudes from the week that has just zoomed past:

--My spouse and I got the results of our blood work on Wednesday.  In terms of what those tests reveal, we're very healthy.  We're on the low end of ranges where it's good to be low.  I am 54 years old, and I know that I have some genetic gifts, like a family tendency to low cholesterol.  But I do worry that time may be running out on me, especially when I think about the days I don't eat any vegetables at all.

--I registered for the AWP 2020 conference.  I submitted paperwork to be reimbursed, but even if I'm not, I'm grateful that I can afford it.

--I got a great e-mail from the person in charge of the spiritual direction certificate program that interests me--very encouraging.

--I've had some good writing sessions.

--I had a lovely morning yesterday making pumpkin butter and writing.

--In spite of some obstacles, I have made some progress in work-related tasks that aren't related to accreditation.

--Did I mention how grateful I am for my good health?

--I had a good morning at church on Sunday, as I put away the Pentecost banners and created an altarscape in shades of green and gold.

--It's been rainy, which I've found a relief from the relentless heat.  It's also good for the butterfly garden I created at school.

Thursday, August 1, 2019

Mornings of Pumpkin Butter and Flooding Rains

This morning, I thought I would go for a walk.  But the flooding rains came, so I decided to stay put.  I was able to make some progress on my apocalyptic novel, and I wrote a poem.  If I had only done that, it would have been enough.  My novel writing this week has not been at the same frantic pace as week #1, and I have felt stagnant when it came to poems.  I was happy to get some words on paper.

But the fact that I wasn't going to walk made me think about baking.

I wanted to bake pumpkin bread to make the house smell good, but my bread pans are still packed away out in the cottage.  Instead, I decided to make pumpkin butter.

It's an easy recipe, and a spread for your toast that has lots of vitamin A.  Here's the recipe:

1 can of pumpkin
2/3 c. of sugar
1/2 c. of water
1 tsp. cinnamon
other favorite autumn spices:  nutmeg, cloves, allspice, ginger
1 T lemon juice
1 T lemon zest

If you only had the first 4 ingredients, the recipe would still work.  Combine all ingredients in a saucepan, bring to a boil, stir/whisk, and let simmer for 20 minutes, stirring/whisking occasionally.

This experiment didn't make the house smell delicious, the way that pumpkin bread would have done.  But it made me happy to have something simmering on the stove.

And it made me happy to have a special treat for breakfast--breakfast today and later breakfast too.

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Canoing Mountains and Other Places that Are Difficult to Navigate

I have spent many years reading about ways to grow the Church--I think of it as a genre of books.  For years, I was part of the leadership of a different Lutheran church, and we spent lots of time talking about how to get bigger, how to find members, what to do.

Then as now, I often turn to books when I'm looking for answers.  And there were plenty of books written on the subject.  The huge one of the time was Rick Warren's The Purpose Driven Life, which was a best seller--but he also wrote a book called The Purpose Driven Church.  I read both, and we did all sorts of exercises, which were enlightening, but in the end, the church membership stayed the same.

At some point in the past few years, I declared a moratorium on improving the church books.  But I'd heard such good things about the book I just finished that I decided to make an exception.  Plus, I loved the title:  Canoeing the Mountains: Christian Leadership in Uncharted Territory.

Tod Bolsinger has written a great book, but I have the same complaint as I usually have about these books.  I've read it, but I still have no idea what to do.  I have insight about what may help and what may impede, but no clear strategies.

It's got some interesting insights about life in general.  He's got great suggestions about how to get clear on conviction by asking these questions:  What are we passionate about?  What do we have the potential to do better than anyone else?  What will pay the bills?  (pp. 129-130).

The book has lots of good advice when it comes to leadership.  It talks about the good leader as having the ability to be a click or too calmer than everyone else, which allows people to dial back their own anxiety; as Bolsinger reminds us again and again:  "For leaders, this is the point to remember about anxiety:  People who are overly or chronically anxious don't make good decisions" (emphasis Bolsinger's p. 145).

Here's a quote (originally from Ronal Heifetz) that I triple underlined:  "Leadership is disappointing your own people at a rate they can absorb" (p. 172).  The book reminds us "Part of the dynamic at play here is that not only does everybody have a constituency but everybody also wants to be a hero to their constituency" (emphasis is Bolinger's, p. 158).

But what I loved most about the book is its rootedness in the Lewis and Clark expedition.  The title comes from the expedition's original purpose, to find a water route across the continent.  That results in this kind of language:  "Be Meriwether Lewis and find your William Clark" (p. 167) and  "Last, make it a conviction to stay calm and connected so you can stay on course.  Endure.  Stick with it.  Be dogged and determined.  If you stumble onto the Great Falls of Montana, find a way to go around them, even if it takes you thirty times longer than expected.  If you find yourself facing the Rocky Mountains instead of a river running downstream, ditch the canoes and find horses.  And if someone starts to sabotage what you have already been doing, consider it confirmation that you are exactly in the right path" (p. 178).

I'm guessing that the church growth parts of the book will turn off the majority of readers who don't care about such things--heck, I almost couldn't make my way through parts of this book, because of the rah!rah!grow your church against all odds! tone.  But the other parts of the book were worth reading.  I'm glad I navigated my way through it.

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

The Shadows and the Signs

Maybe we will have a warning message:

Maybe we only sense something waiting in the shadows:

We see the blur but not the bird:

We try to make sense of subtle cues:

We wish we had a clear sign:

But we can take comfort from the glimmers that are there when we look:

Monday, July 29, 2019

Lessons from Saint Martha

Today is the feast day of Saint Martha, one of the few named women of the Gospels.  You may remember her from the story in Luke, where she hustles and bustles with household chores and grows ever more exasperated with her sister Mary, who isn't helping.

For a theological approach, see this post.  I've written about her frequently through the years.  Today, I want to think about Martha and her lessons for those of us who are trying to carve out a life with more meaning.

At first glance, it's counterintuitive.  Martha is not living a particularly creative life or a life with depth.  How can she?  She's much too busy trying to manage and micromanage.  And therein lies the lesson.

Martha scurries around so much that she can't be present for Jesus. How often are our current lives similar? We often get so consumed by the chores of our daily life that we neglect to make time for what's really important.

Keep in mind that even though the story revolves around women, men are not exempt from this paradigm. All humans must wrestle with the question of how to balance the chores that are necessary to sustain life with the other kinds of nourishment that we need so desperately. Unfortunately, often the chores win.

I can hear some of us shrieking by now: "Yes, but those chores must be done!" Really? Are you sure? What would happen if you didn't vacuum this week? What would happen if you wore your clothes an extra time or two before laundering them? What would happen if you surrendered to the dust?

Jesus tells Martha that she worries about many things, and the implication is that all of the issues that cause her anxiety aren’t really important. It's a story many of us, with our increasingly hectic lives, need to hear again--maybe every day.

We need to be reminded to stay alert. Busyness is the drug that many of us use to dull our senses. For some of us, charging through our to-do lists is a way of quelling the anxiety. But in our busyness, we forget what's really important. We forget to take time to work on the creative aspects of our lives that matter most to us.

Give up one chore this week and use that time to return to an activity that matters.

There's one other story about Martha that gives valuable instruction for those of us struggling to find our creative lives.  We also see Martha at the story of Lazarus, her brother, who has been dead in the grave for several days when Jesus comes.  She is convinced that her brother would still be alive if Jesus had gotten there in time.  And she's worried about the smell when Jesus orders the grave opened.  Here she is, about to witness a miracle, and she's worried about the social niceties.  She wants a miracle, but she wants it on her terms.

I see the same thing in many a creative life.  I've had chapbooks chosen for publication, but I yearn for a book with a spine.  When I get the book with a spine, I expect to yearn for something else yet again.  We live in a time where distribution of words is miraculously easy--and yet I often wish that someone else would do the hard work.

I've seen friends who finally get the book deal, and then they complain over items that seem minor to me, issues of copyediting which baffle me as I watch the battles from the sidelines.  I see so many instances of creative types trying to micromanage the miracles coming their way.

I see similar dynamics in many a person's struggle to discern what's important and what's not--and in larger institutions too.  We see churches that wish for more attendance, while neglecting to rejoice in the relationships that a smaller church encourages.  I see people with an idealized view of family life who cannot relax into the family that actually exists around them.  I know many a person who doesn't appreciate a job until it's gone.

 I have hopes that our lives will follow the model of Martha.  Even though she seems slow to understand the lessons of Jesus, he doesn't get exasperated and send her away.  He continues to try to shape her, gently and insistently.  He tells her that she worries about many things, but that her sister sets a good example.

The sister, Mary, is fully present.  My hope for us all is that we, too, can be fully present to our lives, to that which needs us to bring it into the world.

Sunday, July 28, 2019

Summer Recedes in Subtle Ways

This morning, I find myself missing church camp.  In my adult life, I've gone to camp more often in a non-summer season, but there's something about seeing everyone's Facebook pictures from camp that ignites a yearning in me.

I'm also in a yearning mode because it's the time when many camps will be closing down for the summer.  Many camps will have their last week this week or next--or they just finished their final week.  It seems early to me, but our students will be back in school the week of August 12, which is just around the corner.

For two years, my spouse and I made a car trip to Lutherock this time of year.  He was on the Board, and they had one of their meetings at Lutherock, which is not an easy drive for us.  The last few hours are on windy mountain roads.  We can make it to Lutheridge or Luther Ranch in one long day, but I don't know that we could make it to Lutherock in a day.

I remember being on the mountain top and seeing the first leaves changing color, even though it was August 1.  I miss those early signs of a change of season.

Yesterday I thought the quality of the light was slightly different.  I thought it might just be my imagination.  It's July, still, which for most of us in the northern hemisphere means we still have some summer season yet to go.

And yet, for those of us who are observant, the signs are all around.  The sun rises slightly later in the morning.  Our friends with children buy school supplies.  The light comes through the window at a slightly different angle.

The shifts remind us that no season is forever, but we still have some time.  Let's make the most of summer days we have left.  Maybe there are summer foods we have yet to eat; I haven't eaten any corn on the cob yet.  Let's enjoy every dip in the pool. The length of the day gives some of us more of a chance to get additional walks or workouts into the day.  We won't always drip sweat the way we do during these dog days.  Let's enjoy the heat while we have it.

Saturday, July 27, 2019

The Once in a Blue Moon Book Club Goes to Miami

Facebook sends me "targeted ads" that make me wonder who on earth they think I am; my response is often, "What did I ever click on that makes you think I'd be remotely interested in this product???!!!!"

But last month, when I saw an ad for a Colson Whitehead event, I was intrigued.  I heard him speak at the AWP in Portland, and he's one of the more dynamic authors I've ever heard speak.  The event was held at the Adrienne Arsht Center in downtown Miami, which is a much more upscale setting for a book event than I'm used to.  It had a ticket price of $35, but that did come with the hardback book.  It started at 8, but it was a Friday night, so that could be doable.

The first book that my Once in a Blue Moon Book Club read together was Whitehead's The Underground Railroad, so I wrote to the members to see if they'd be interested.  They were!  Last night, we went.

We got down there very early--between Miami traffic and the Jennifer Lopez concert nearby, it was good to get where we were going.  We had easy parking (but expensive!  $20 for the night), and from there, we walked to find dinner.

We never did find the Argentinian wine bar that was supposed to be nearby, but we found a GREAT restaurant that had wonderful salads and amazing desserts, The Daily Creative Food Company.  When we walked in, music by U2 was blaring, and the music continued to be many of my favorites.  I did reflect that much of the music was created before the staff was born, and I thought, well, I'm old now.

Of course, many of the ads that Facebook sends me remind me that some algorithm out there thinks that I'm REALLY old.

By the end of our dinner, the sountrack had switched.  There was a Johnny Cash song, "God's Gonna Cut You Down" and a version of "Wagon Wheel."  I didn't object to that music either, but I did think it was an interesting diversity.

We walked back to the Arsht Center and stood in line to get our autographed book.  We watched all the people mingling.  We had an usher take our picture:

I am standing in an odd way because I am so much taller and bigger than the other two.  Here's a close up, the selfie that convinced us to ask an usher to help:

I am impressed by the level of glamorous that my friends (who are sisters) can pull off on a Friday evening.  And we were holding our books rightside up so I'm not sure why the camera reversed it.

We had an interesting talk with one of the ushers, who said they were only expecting 300 people.  Three hundred people?  For a book event?  In Miami?  Amazing!  The usher seemed to think there should be more, and indeed, even though the event was in one of the smaller concert halls, there were still plenty of empty seats.

Whitehead was amazing, as I knew he would be.  He had lots of great talk about the historical roots of this current book, about history in general, about his writing process, about our current time period.

We also saw Judy Blume in the audience--yes, that Judy Blume.  We waited to say thank you to her, as did many grown women.  She looked a bit overwhelmed, which I understand.  But I was happy to have a chance to say thank you to one of my favorite writers from childhood.

I did get home fairly late for me:  11:00 p.m.  I couldn't do this every night, but I'm glad I did it last night.  We moved down here in 1998 in the hope of having access to more cultural events, and I haven't taken part in as many of them as I envisioned.  It's good to push myself, to remember how nourishing these events are to me.

Friday, July 26, 2019

Quieter Epiphanies Part 2

Another Tuesday night, another discernment phone call--this time to the person who is the director of the spiritual direction certification program at Southern Seminary.  What a delightful conversation!

I learned one key piece of information.  The website made me think that the on-campus intensives were held at Lenoir-Rhyne University in North Carolina.  Actually, they're held on the campus of Southern Seminary in Columbia, South Carolina.  The director said it's a better place to think about spiritual direction because they have a labyrinth and not one but two chapels.

We lived in Columbia for several years during grad school, and it's still close to my heart.  When I think of resettling to higher ground inland, that's one of the places that calls to me.  I have friends there, which means the subject of housing during the on-campus intensives won't be as hard to figure out.  Columbia is within easier driving distance which gives me an option that Lenoir-Rhyne really didn't.

I asked about the reading load, which also wasn't clear to me from exploring the website.  It averages to about one book a month--very doable.

I asked if any of the classes would transfer if I decided to go to seminary.  As I expected, they won't.  After all, it's a certificate program, not a graduate program.  That's fine with me.

He asked if I was considering seminary, and I explained my trajectory.  He said that some of the seminary professors worked with the group getting certification, so I'd get to know them.  That would be neat.

He asked me about my favorite authors, and I told him some of them.  I said, "I know that the minute I hang up the phone I'll think of a lot of others."  He said, "You can call me back."

In short, he was warm and encouraging, and I've decided to apply.

Seminary still calls to me, and going through this door doesn't mean the door to seminary slams shut.  This program's on-campus intensives are at times that are doable for me, in a way that others aren't.  Luther Seminary's online program has 2 week intensives, which would be tough with my current job.  Not impossible, but not easy.

I also worry about my ability to do some of the work that seminary would require.  I'm spooked by Luther's requirement of both Greek and Hebrew--spooked and intrigued.  I don't know why I'm spooked.  I've always been good at languages, but I've only done French and Spanish, which were familiar in ways.  Perhaps I'm spooked because I had trouble attending to Spanish class while I was teaching full-time.  I wonder if it would be different as an administrator?  It would probably depend on what else was going on.

So, let me keep thinking about the logistics of seminary--and in the meantime, let me get my application together.  It's due by November, which will be here before we know it.

Thursday, July 25, 2019

Quieter Epiphanies Part 1

Earlier this month, I had a phone appointment the woman in the Florida-Bahamas Synod of the ELCA who is in charge of candidacy committees.  For those of you in different religious groups who wonder what a candidacy committee is, in the ELCA, a candidacy committee is the way the larger church both vets candidates for ministry and supports them.

It was a good conversation, although I didn't have an earthshattering epiphany.  I didn't really expect to have an earthshattering epiphany.  While I know many people who have the Saul on the road to Tarsus type of epiphany, I know many more who spend much of their lives wondering if they've heard God at all.

As I dialed the number, I thought about how this scene would play if in a movie--or how I might think about it later in my life.  Would this be the phone call that set me on a new path?

It might be, but not in the movie kind of way.  I got lots of good information, but at the end of the call, I wasn't any more clear on my future than I had ever been.

I had just about decided to start working on a certificate for spiritual directors when I found out about the new trend of Lutheran seminaries' commitment to having seminarians graduate with no debt.  That knowledge made me second guess everything--or rethink.

There are no Lutheran seminaries with a track of theology and the arts, the way that United, a UCC seminary, has a track.  I could go to a non-Lutheran seminary and emerge a Lutheran minister, but it would be more complicated and expensive.

As I was talking on the phone, I still felt tugged in two directions.  I really like the idea of being a spiritual director, and it does sound like that would be a good path for me.  But I also want to be able to consecrate bread and wine.  At this point in the Lutheran church, I need ordination in Word and Sacrament to do that.

But it's not just going to seminary that gets me to service in Word and Sacrament.  I would also need to serve 3 years as a parish pastor, which is not the type of pastoring that most interests me.

So, if I could figure out a way to go to seminary full-time, that would be 4 years and then 3 years in the parish.  And could I go full-time?  There are parts of my life that I want to preserve, and so I was thinking of part-time, which means it would be at least 10 years before I had more options than parish ministry.

Of course, I could get the spiritual director certificate and then go to seminary.  It doesn't have to be one or the other.  I am afraid that the chance to go to seminary tuition-free might disappear in that space of time.

Earlier this week, I had a phone conversation with the director of the spiritual direction certification program at Southern Seminary.  More on that conversation tomorrow.

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Mr. Mueller Goes to Washington

Today Robert Mueller will testify in Congress.  I will not be watching or listening to the testimony.  I will be filling in for not one but two teachers who are out today.

He'll probably still be testifying when I'm done subbing.  I'll wait for the good folks at NPR to give me the highlights.

I know that he would probably criticize me for taking that approach.  I know that he might be shocked to know that I haven't read the 400+ pages of his special report.  I have no plans to read it.  Life is short, and my list of books I want to read grows longer every day.

In that way, I am like many students.  I don't understand why teachers assign textbooks.  Like Robert Mueller, we want to believe that students will read the text and that the text will answer all their questions.  Most students will not read the text, not one page of it.

Some of us will mutter about the sorry state of modern students.  I've been teaching since 1988, and I'm here to tell you that even back then, students weren't reading the text.

We are not a nation that nurtures critical thinking skills, so even if we read the text, we don't understand the text.  That's why we need commentators and teachers and if we're lucky, the people who wrote the text.

Maybe we'll be so inspired, we'll return to the text.

Once I went to a Charleston Symphony performance that was designed for the whole family.  The conductor spoke before each piece and told us how to listen to what we were about to hear.  It was one of the better artistic experiences I've had.

I know that the snooty people amongst us would say that we shouldn't need that kind of instruction, that it's cheating somehow.  But we're not born with that knowledge.  We need someone to teach us.

Robert Mueller wrote a report of his findings; it's a long report, and it's been redacted.  Even for those of us with critical thinking and reading skills, we might miss something.  We need someone to make sure we see the most important parts.

I don't understand why Mueller is so resistant to do that job.  He's got a chance that many authors will never receive.  I'm sure there's much more to this story than we will ever know.  I would not be surprised to find out that Mueller is hoping to keep the nation from knowing the story in its full ugliness.

Perhaps this day will be momentous.  Perhaps it will mark a turning point.  Maybe this day will be the one where we see a collective way forward, whatever that way might be.

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Dead Batteries

Yesterday I opened the car door and realized the morning was not going to be as I planned.  The light in the car was weaker than usual, and when I put the key in the ignition, the car told me to check my battery.  The car wouldn't start.

I have a Prius, so I hoped that the battery message was about the smaller battery, the type that every car has, not the big battery that makes it a hybrid.

Here's what I don't understand:  this car's computer system can tell me if a tire is losing pressure.  It can tell me what the temperature is outside.  It can tell me my gas mileage and how much I'm paying per mile, if I input the price of the gasoline.

It couldn't tell me in advance that I had a dying battery?

I knew that my spouse didn't have plans that involved his car yesterday, so I switched cars.  I thought of the things we never think about when buying a car.  With the battery dead, I couldn't unlock the car doors, and only one door, the driver's door, has a lock that opens with the traditional key.

Later I would find out other things about this car that I didn't think to check when we bought the pair of Priuses (Prii?).  We have a smaller Prius, the C series, and it takes an unusual battery.  Our local Firestone doesn't carry it--we had to get the car to the dealer.  Yes, the dealership that is less than a mile from my work, but 6 miles from the house.

Long story short, we spent much of yesterday getting the car back and forth.  As expected, this battery cost more than any other car battery we've ever bought.  It was supposed to cost just under $400 ($400!!!!), but I think we got it for $250 because the guy first told my spouse the wrong price.

Even if we had found a way to buy the battery, we likely couldn't have installed it ourselves.  The Prius is not the car for the do-it-yourselfer; perhaps few cars are these days.  We get better gas mileage than with most cars, but in the end, if we have to go to the dealership for what should be a small repair, are we saving money?

I think that in the end, it will be a wash.  I feel like we use less fossil fuel, but if we have to spend a day driving back and forth to the dealership, have we wiped out that good deed?  If we have to replace tires, a petroleum product, with this car much more frequently than any other car we've ever had, are we lessening our global warming footprint?

I have said it before, and will probably say it until I'm dead, it's so hard to live a life that's perfectly in sync with one's values.

Let me just list my gratitudes:  we had money to pay for this very expensive battery.  It was dead in the driveway, not dead during travel.  It was during a day where we could readjust plans and get the battery taken care of.  I have a boss who was understanding about my need to go back and forth to the dealership.  The dealership could get it taken care of.

Yes, it could have been worse.  But at the end of the day, I was still exhausted.  Dealing with a dead battery is draining.