Friday, October 18, 2019

Butterfly Garden Gratitude Lessons

I don't want to keep starting blog posts by talking about how weary I am.  But I am so weary.  Let me also record some gratitude.

--I have been writing a bit in these days of weariness.  I have also been reading a bit.

--Yesterday I wrote this Facebook post:

"The milkweed is blooming this week--these are plants that have been eaten back to bare stalks several times since I bought them in July. They are hardy souls.

We are too.

The monarchs have returned to the milkweed to enjoy the new growth. Even the non-poets can see the metaphor."

--I have been taking very small breaks at school to enjoy the colors of the flowers in the butterfly garden.  Yesterday I took my camera.  And lo and behold, a monarch butterfly came, and I captured this great shot:

--I am in the process of finishing my application for the certificate program in spiritual direction--by which I mean that I've gotten the paperwork to the people who will write letters of recommendation.  I will write my essay over the next 2 week-ends, and have the application in the mail by Oct. 28.

--Let me remember the gratitude lessons from the butterfly garden.  Shriveled plants can regenerate.  What looks like abandonment might not be.  Concrete vistas can be transformed.

Thursday, October 17, 2019

Lost in the Weeds: Monarchs in the Milkweed

At school, for the past several weeks, I have been racing from pillar to post (what an interesting phrase!) getting ready for the upcoming accreditation visit (Monday--gulp!).  I've worried a bit about the effect of it all on the folks who aren't as much a part of the preparations.  I've tried to be present and stop whatever I've been doing when a non-accreditation task needed attention.  But I know that some of the intensity can't help but be felt by my colleagues and the students.

Yesterday one of my colleagues stopped by to say, "I thought you'd want to know that the monarchs have returned to the milkweed plants."  And we had a short conversation about how we hadn't seen the butterflies lately and how great it was to have them return.

It was a small moment, but it reminds me of how people have cared for me during these intense weeks.  There have been numerous conversations where people helped me process conversations, plans, and directives, where we came together to figure out the best approach.  You might argue that those people are just doing their jobs when we put our heads together.  I would argue that they are going above and beyond.

Similarly, the cleaning crew came in and got the accreditation room cleaned up once the drywall repair was done.  Just doing their job?  In one way--but in an important way, their thorough work meant that I had one less task.  A week ago, the decision was made to change the room, which meant that time to get it ready has been running out.

As we've moved through the weeks, I've thought about what these stressful times reveal about the character of us all, both as individuals and as a group.  I've thought about one of the best compliments I've ever gotten, where a grad school friend was watching the PBS show about Pioneer Valley, the show where 21st century people try to live the way pioneers would have in the later decades of the nineteenth century.  She said that she and her spouse agreed that if they had to live this way, they'd want me and my spouse along--we know things that other people don't, and we have a can-do spirit.

Not everyone has a can-do spirit.  In my younger years, I assumed that people were more like me than different from me--and thus, in my younger years, I've been surprised by how people respond to stress.  This year, I'm less surprised.

I've also been thinking about the department chair at a different campus who turned in her letter of resignation shortly after the accreditation visit was announced.  This month has been the kind of month where I understand.

The milkweed is blooming this week--these are plants that have been eaten back to bare stalks several times since I bought them in July.  They are hardy souls.

We are too.

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Parables from the Pumpkin Patch

I have often wondered about the parables of Jesus.  Most of us church going folk have heard them so often that they've lost their power to shock or surprise.  Most of us forget (or have never been taught) how shockingly bizarre they would have seemed when people first heard them.

As we were offloading pumpkins, I thought about what insight the pumpkins, the patch, and our work together might offer us.  Let me play.

The Kingdom of God is like a patch of pumpkins that have been separated from the true vine.  But as they gather together, they can remember what life was like before the separation.  They can act as if they are still connected to the life giving vine and the earth--and in doing so, they will eventually find the true vine again.

The Kingdom of God is like a patch of pumpkins.  They see themselves as vastly different one from another, and yet they are more alike than they know.

The Kingdom of God is like a patch of pumpkins:  some are big, some are small, some are deep orange, some are white, and some are shades in between.  God delights in this variety, and we should too.

What does the Kingdom of God look like?  A small church that comes together to take pumpkins off a truck.  Some of the members scramble on the truck to get the pumpkins from the back to the front.  Others walk slowly with pumpkins in their hands.  Those who can't walk create a line and hand pumpkins one to another.  Those who can't stand will help with sales.

The Kingdom of God is like a pumpkin.  It can be made into a sweet pie or a savory soup.  It binds disparate ingredients together into a whole.  It grows slowly but surely, in environments that would kill less sturdy plants--and thus, a patch of pumpkins can sustain a tribe in a harsh climate.

The Kingdom of God can be used in many ways:  the purely decorative gourd or ingested from the skin to the seeds.  The Kingdom of God can provide the nutrients and fiber to keep our bodies full.  The Kingdom of God can soothe our aesthetic yearnings.  The Kingdom of God nourishes us in ways we didn't know we needed.

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Bloviators and New Waves

When I heard that Harold Bloom died yesterday, my first thought was that I was seeing an old piece of news that had made it into my Facebook feed.  I thought he had died several years ago.  But no, it was yesterday.

I thought, how appropriate that Bloom dies on the same day that both Margaret Atwood and Bernadine Evaristo won the Booker prize, in spite of the rule that the prize can only go to one author.

I confess that I haven't read the work of Evaristo, but I plan to.  I am also rather astonished to realize that I have never finished a work written by Bloom.  I understand his importance, but his work seems important to a different century.

If I was a younger student in grad school, perhaps I would write a paper considering how the anxiety of influence is different in our current age, where there can be such a variety of influences, and it seems harder to know which mediums will shake out to be most important.  Maybe I would argue that one of Bloom's most important ideas isn't really important anymore.  Or maybe I'd see it as more important than ever.

During my own grad school years, in the late 80's to early 90's, Bloom seemed like a rather shrill voice, going on and on about the traditional canon and how women and minorities were ruining it all.  Or maybe that's just how he was interpreted by the larger news outlets who still gave him a voice.

And yet, here is Bloom once again bulldozing his way into a post that had been intended to celebrate the accomplishments of female writers.  Can we never get away from these old white guy bloviators?

So, let me shift the focus.  Hurray for the Booker prize, celebrating 2 female authors.  Hurray for the 2 authors, accepting the prize graciously.  Will they be splitting the money between them?  Will they both get a full share?

I just looked it up.  They will be splitting the money.  I'm guessing that the publicity is more valuable than the prize of 50,000 pounds, which is worth roughly $63,000.  Atwood doesn't need the money or the publicity, but I'm glad she got the recognition when once again she didn't win the Nobel.  I had never heard of Evaristo, but now I will seek out her work, and I imagine that many other people had the same response.

I've read several articles about the prize, and I'm struck by Evaristo saying that she was motivated to write by the absence of women of color as characters in British fiction--it's a motivation that Harold Bloom would likely scorn, but it's always been important to me.  I'm grateful for writers who get up every day to record stories that aren't getting recorded any other way.

Monday, October 14, 2019

Week-end Retrospective

It was a great week-end.  On Friday, we had planned to have hamburgers with my sister-in-law who is staying in our cottage.  But torrential rains had set in, so we shifted plans.  We made a quick chili mac kind of dish--or was it a spaghetti and meatballs?  It was pasta with little meatballs and several types of cheeses.  I might have put beans in it and some tomatoes.  But it was delicious nonetheless, and we ate our supper on the porch, watching the rains sweep through, catching up with each other.

On Saturday, our once in a blue moon book club met to discuss Colson Whitehead's The Nickel Boys.  This book club is amazing, even though we're only 4 people total.  They always notice some parts of the book that I overlooked.

Our host made his famous-to-us cinnamon rolls.  Yummmmm.  And we agreed that we will go down to the Arsht Center on Nov. 4 to see Ta-Nehesi Coates.  I need more of those kinds of events in my life.

I spent Saturday afternoon at the pumpkin offload at my church.  I thought it might be too humid or rainy, but the rains held off, a breeze picked up, and we got the pumpkins off the truck.  Saturday night we had our delayed hamburgers, and then we relaxed on the porch for a bit.  The porch now has pumpkins on display.  And even better, we watched the family across the street decorate their house for Halloween.  The older child, who is five, tried on a variety of Halloween costumes.  At one point, he had on a hockey mask and a toy chainsaw, and he greeted the people walking by with a friendly, "Hi!"

Sunday morning was a big event at our church.  We had the vote to see if we will sell part of our property.  The motion to sell got a unanimous vote.  I was part of the team counting the votes.  It was a drama free day, and as we all know, it could have been otherwise.

My morning shouldn't have wiped me out--I had gotten a lot of sleep from Saturday to Sunday, but I did take a 2 hour nap yesterday afternoon.  That set me up to have trouble falling asleep.  But I did get a lot of online teaching work done.  I have another class starting tomorrow, and I needed to get all the dates entered into the course shell.

And now it's off to do the bread run and spin class, and a long day at work, visiting classes to let students know that in a week, our accrediting team will be here.

A week.  Wow.  Let me get on with the work of the day.

Sunday, October 13, 2019

Pumpkin Offload 2019

Today I am sore.  But it's a good kind of sore.  Yesterday was the annual pumpkin offload at my church.  We buy part of a truckload (the 18 wheeler kind of truck, not the Ford F150 kind of truck) of pumpkins that come to us straight from the fields of New Mexico.  We have to get them out of the truck and into the front grassy area.

Some years, it's taken over 5 hours.  Yesterday we did it in just under 2.  Because it was a Saturday afternoon we had a lot more help--it's been tougher in years when it's a school night.

Because it was a Saturday afternoon, we had some people we didn't know show up:  3 kids on bikes and a homeless guy   We also had teenagers of church members that we hadn't seen in awhile come to help. 

Not everyone can help.  But that's fine.  They can cheer from the sidelines or just enjoy the parade of pumpkins.

This year we got a larger amount of the smaller pumpkins.  Over the past several years, we've noticed that people don't buy the bigger pumpkins like they used to.

Because more of us are using pumpkins and gourds for decorating than for carving or cooking, we got a lovely assortment of those.  Bonus:  the littlest children can set those up, while those of us with bigger muscles can get the bigger pumpkins off the truck.

Here and there we found some rotted pumpkins.  Back to the earth they go.

At the end, we swept the hay out of the truck.  We put it on the pathways between the pumpkins.  Does it protect the grass?  Does it protect our shoes?

Some children further north get to jump in leaves.  Our children jump in hay.

This year, our pumpkin offload was tinged with even more nostalgia than usual.  There's the usual nostalgia--children whom I have known since they were in elementary school are now teenagers.

And then there's the larger nostalgia--our church is in the process of possibly selling the front part of the 4 acre property.  If the sale goes through, we will build a new structure in the back.  Where will we be this time next year?

We may be in exactly the same place, offloading pumpkins, transforming a church yard into a pumpkin patch.  We may not.

Of course, that's our situation every year.  We just aren't always as aware of it.

Saturday, October 12, 2019

Noah's Offspring

Although I have been up for hours, I don't have much time left for blogging.  But that's O.K.  I have returned to writing my apocalyptic novel--what joy!  And let me be clear, my lack of writing has had more to do with my lack of time than with being blocked or scared or unsure of where to go next.

I also had an idea for a poem, which has been fun.  I've been thinking about Noah's descendants choosing their majors in college.  Of course they would be influenced by the family stories about the flood.  I'm not done with it yet, but it's been good to feel the poetry juices flowing again.

Last night we had plans to grill burgers, but the weather was rather Noah-like, so we shifted to a chili mac kind of creation.  We ate on the front porch, which was lovely--watching the rain, drinking some wine, enjoying good food.  It was a satisfying end to a tiring week.  I went to bed early, so being up in the wee small hours of the morning (even earlier than those hours, truth be told) has been O.K.

Soon I will head across town to my once in a blue moon book club.  We will discuss Colson Whitehead's The Nickel Boys.  What an amazing book.  The violence wasn't as graphic as I was afraid it would be.  We will eat amazing cinnamon rolls and enjoy good conversation and good company.

Later today I'll work off some of those calories by offloading pumpkins.  Yes, it's time to help out my church.  One of our big fundraisers is a pumpkin patch.  The pumpkins come to us on a big 18 wheeler, and we have to get them off the truck and into the front of the church.  It's as close as I get to harvest activities this time of year.

And maybe later, we'll grill those burgers.

Friday, October 11, 2019

Running, Running, Running

Today, I am exhausted, and yet, I cannot sleep.  I've been up since 2 a.m., fretting about our upcoming accreditation visit, thinking about things that have been said in these days running up to the visit.  I'm fairly sure we're ready, yet what might still be lurking?

Our sister school to the north just had their visit with no findings, so that's a good sign.

A member of the Corporate team came yesterday and decided we needed to have the accreditation team in a different room.  So yesterday was a day of moving furniture and moving plans that had been in place for months.  My brain has trouble catching up in these situations.

Yesterday was also a day of many meetings, one of which included lunch.  Lunch was delivered, but not set up.  So it was a day of running up and down the stairs when I got tired of waiting for elevators.  It was a day when I achieved my goal of 10,000 steps before 1 p.m., which almost never happens.

And of course, there's the clean up afterward.  Happily, my campus has many people who are eager to help.  But yesterday, I found myself cleaning up long after others had gone back to work.  And then there were people with paperwork talking to me like I had been at my computer all day and could shed light on whatever problem might be in the paperwork. 

I had not.

Today I need to restore some order to my office.  At some point during yesterday's clean up, people started leaving supplies in my office for me to put back into place later.  Late yesterday afternoon, I decided that later could wait.

In these wee small hours of the morning, I've gotten some grading done, and I made an attempt to write a poem.  So it hasn't been a total waste of time.  Still, today may not be my day of sharpest mental acuity.

I wish that today could be a day of autumnal weather and autumnal outings.  I'd love to go to an apple orchard.  But that day will not be today.

Maybe it can be a day of early bedtimes.

Thursday, October 10, 2019

Betrayals Major and Minor

In times like these, do I turn to punk music or the old spirituals?  Should I listen to Rage Against the Machine on the way to work?   Or should I listen to Rhiannon Giddens sing "Freedom Highway"?

I am distressed at so much this morning.  Another morning, another invasion underway.  The U.S. has been betraying the Kurds for most of my adult lifetime, but each time, it makes me feel ill. 

Closer to home, the old white guys bluster and huff and puff and maybe all of our houses will come tumbling down.

I tell myself that I'm a grown woman with a mortgage and people counting on me so I must be sensible.  I tell myself that I'm a grown woman with a great credit score and no unsecured debt.  I tell myself that I'm a grown woman with a real doctoral degree in a real discipline from a state school that's been in existence for over two hundred years.

I spent the first half hour of the day reading essays about T. S. Eliot in these Me Too days.  It was an interesting modernist lit website I'd stumbled onto. But it also made me realize how much I used to know about this literature and the literary criticism about this time period--and how much I haven't kept up.

This is the day that the Nobel Prize in Literature should be announced.  I hope it will be Margaret Atwood, but the Nobel committee doesn't usually choose writers who have had popular success.

I am back after my shower--nope, the Nobel will not go to Margaret Atwood.  Once again, I do not know these writers.  But at least I know Margaret Atwood.

I find myself being judged by people who do not know Margaret Atwood.  Of course, those people would probably be aghast by my lack of knowledge of their cultural/artistic touchstones.

I should finish getting ready for work.  I think it will be Rhiannon Giddens on the way to work.  "You can take my body, you can take my bones, you can take my blood, but not my soul."

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Shredding Iron Curtains

On this day thirty years ago, the Iron Curtain shredded.  More specifically, East Germans began to dismantle the wall that separated them from West Germany, and soldiers didn't shoot them.  It's a story that could have had a much worse outcome. 

Instead, it changed the face of Europe and the larger world.

Many people don't realize that part that prayer played in this story.  Months before the pivotal moment, a Lutheran pastor who began to hold weekly Monday meetings in his church to pray for peace. This movement spread to other churches, and soon it was a mass movement of thousands of people. Communist officials later said, "We were prepared for everything except the prayers and candles" (quote from this story on All Things Considered).  People waited for the bullets. But the power of peace defeated the forces of violence.

For more on the prayer meetings, including pictures of the church, see this post by a Lutheran bishop, Mike Rinehart.

I am also struck by the administrators who played a part in the story. In a story in The Washington Post on November 1, Mary Elise Sarotte tells about the East German official who was holding a boring news conference when he announced that travel restrictions would be loosened. The journalists immediately began to ask questions, but he hadn't read the briefing very carefully, so he made it up as he went along, announcing that the changes would be taking place immediately. The journalists reported, the ordinary citizens began to assemble, and the guards at the border were overwhelmed:

"Before long, the guards at Bornholmer Street were outnumbered by thousands of people; the same thing was happening at several other checkpoints. Overwhelmed and worried for their own safety, Jäger and his fellow guards reasoned that the use of violence might quickly escalate and become uncontrollable. They decided instead at around 9 p.m. to let a trickle of people cross the border, hoping to ease the pressure and calm the crowd. The guards would check each person individually, take notes and penalize the rowdiest by refusing them reentry. They managed to do this for a while, but after a couple of hours the enormous crowd was chanting, 'Open the gate, open the gate!"

After more debate, Jäger decided that raising the traffic barriers was the only solution. Around 11:30 p.m., the decades-long Cold War division of Germany ended.

Throughout the night, other crossings opened in much the same way."

I think of that boring bureaucrat and the blundering news conference, and I am reminded that even if we have the most dull jobs in the world where we feel like we affect nothing, we still might be an agent for social change. I think of those border guards who chose not to shoot. Even if they did it for fear of losing their own lives in the chaos that would ensue, that choice changed the future.

So in these days where many of us need hope that individuals may be able to have an impact, let us remember the autumn of 1989, where prayer spilled out of churches, people held candles, gates were opened, borders breached, and no bullets fired.

Let us remember that peaceful protests can change the world.  Let us light our candles.

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

Bread and Butterfly Initiatives, and All of our Arcs

Today is the last day of week one of our Fall term.   There are many difficulties with a term that starts on a Wednesday--this week, I've been feeling like we've been going through week 1 for about a month. 

In addition to the week 1 tasks, we've been getting ready for our accreditation visit.  There are binders and folders and a room to get ready. 

Today the accreditation visit happens at our Gainesville campus.  We've been hearing how ready that campus is, but it still must be a bit of a nervous time up there.  Let me send them good wishes.

In addition to this intense time of impending accreditation visit, there are all the various reports that need to be written, rewritten, and revised yet again.  And we really should be doing some of the activities that those reports say we will be doing--many of the reports are improvement plan reports, so we need to actually do the work of improvement.

I am that kind of bone tired.  I am thinking of the last few miles of the half marathon I ran back in 2001.  I remember being so thirsty and having a quarter of an orange that I kept in my parched mouth.  I just kept putting one tired foot in front of another and inched ever closer to the finish line.

Yesterday a student asked if I had an extra notebook; her mom hadn't had time to do the back to school shopping.  I said that I didn't have a notebook, but I had paper.  I gave her a legal pad.  When she returned it to me, she had written me a note, thanking me for all I did to make the school a better place.  She specifically mentioned the bread and the butterfly garden.

When I think of things I've done to influence retention, I, too, think of the bread and the butterfly garden.  I do not think of increasing the Average Registered Credit (ARC), that idea that if we could just get every student to take one more class, all sorts of problems would be solved; every male administrator to whom I've ever reported has been a big believer in increasing ARC.

Let me record a poem thought that just jabbed me.  I've been at with a group planning a retreat around the theme of Noah and that ark--let me write something that weaves together that ancient thought of an ark, and the modern idol of the ARC.  Let my subconscious chew on that--maybe on Thursday I'll have a poem.

I also thought about writing a poem in the voice of the water.  I've also thought of the fairy tale of the Little Mermaid and her sea foam destiny.  Sea foam and dead sailors and some explanation for why the sea always wants to swamp us.

I feel better knowing that I have poems percolating, even if I don't have time to do much writing these days.  Two weeks from now, we'll be at our last day of accreditation visit, and I anticipate having a bit more time and energy for other projects once we get to that point.

Sunday, October 6, 2019

A Quick Trip to Lutheridge

I am back from a quick trip to Asheville, North Carolina--or more specifically, Lutheridge, the church camp just outside of Asheville.  It's very close to the airport, and Allegiant has added one more daily flight to Asheville, so it was an easy trip.

On the way up, I got to go through the security line that's easier--I didn't have to take off my shoes.  I was through the line before I knew it.  Yesterday, in the much tinier Asheville airport, I had to take the books out of my backpack and put everything on the conveyor belt in a specific order.  A female security agent patted me down and said that something about my hair had triggered the closer investigation.  Was I wearing product?  She stared into my hair, and I thought of the bit of grits that had somehow gotten into my hair at breakfast.  Happily, I was allowed to go on my way.

Allegiant is the kind of airline that charges for everything.  I paid the $20 for an exit row seat--well worth it.  I did not pay the $30 each way to be able to bring a carry-on bag.  I stuffed everything I needed into my back pack.  Since I was there only one night, it was doable.  I left my laptop at home, along with my camera, and all the various creativity supplies that usually go with me.  I wore my black jeans, which are some of the most comfortable pants I have when it's not too hot.  I left for the airport from work--otherwise, I would have worn shorts for the whole trip.

On the way up, and in the long wait in the airport before the trip up, I consumed the new Atwood book, The Testaments.  It's one of her best books since Oryx and Crake and Year of the Flood.  Wow.  I won't say much more because I don't want to ruin the book for anyone.

I flew up for a retreat to plan the Create in Me retreat, the creativity and spirituality retreat that happens the week-end after Easter each year.  I am amazed at all that we manage to accomplish in such a short period of time.

Unlike some years of the retreat to plan the retreat, I didn't have much time to do anything except for retreat planning.  But I did take a walk yesterday after lunch.  It was overcast but not rainy, and finally some autumnal temperatures.  I could take a walk in black jeans and not sweat!

In days to come, perhaps I will write more about my dreams and hopes for the future, my fears about the various climates that are impacting my life.  Today I must get on with the activities of Sunday--off to church and various church-related activities.

Friday, October 4, 2019

Traveling on Feast Days

This week has been another week of long hours at work, dizzying twists and turns in the national news, lots of grading--I begin to wonder if this kind of week is going to be more the norm than the exception.  I know it will be the norm for the next 3 weeks, as we get ready for the accrediting team visit.

This week I missed two days of blogging.  Sigh.  But I am caught up on my grading for my online classes, if only for this moment.

Today I go to spin class, then I go to work.  I will go to the airport at 10; I'm travelling while my spouse stays here to hold down the home front.

Today I hop on a plane and go to North Carolina for one day--I return tomorrow afternoon, home by 6 pm if all goes well. It's extravagant, in a way, but I got a cheap airline ticket. I'm going to the retreat to plan the Create in Me retreat, the creativity retreat in the spring that I go on most years. I get to stay at the camp for free, and I get a quick vacation. One year I tried being on Skype for the retreat to plan the retreat, and it was very frustrating--the technology didn't work, but in a glitchy way, so that I kept thinking it was something I could solve. It's much better to meet in person.

One reason why my ticket is cheap is that I didn't pay for any baggage.  Allegiant charges even for carry-on bags, which I think they define as anything that has to go in the overhead compartment.  I have a back pack where my flannel pajamas and the books I'm reading take up all the room, with socks and undies packed in the edges.

I have 3 books in my backpack:  The Testaments by Margaret Atwood, The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead, and 21 Lessons for the 21st Century by Yuval Noah Harari.  I plan to begin with Atwood.  I feel like I have important books with me--and even better, there will be some time to read!  I am so happy that I still look forward to having time to read and that there are still good books.

If I was traveling by car, I might take a different assortment, a larger assortment.  I have not read many volumes of poetry this year.  Perhaps when I return.

I will not be taking my laptop--that would cost more money, so it stays at home, meaning that I will have more time to read.  I won't be doing much writing.  Or maybe I'll surprise myself.  I do have a legal pad and pens.  There's always paper.

I am looking forward to being away, to seeing friends I have known for decades as we gather to plan the retreat.  I am looking forward to being on the plane, where I won't be connected to the wider world.

I will feel better, as I always do, when I'm through the security line.  That's what always makes me most anxious when I contemplate air travel.

Today is the feast day of Saint Francis.  This morning I've been thinking of the last few times I've traveled on feast days.  I often get some poem ideas.  There's something about the intersection of the feast day and the change of scenery that sparks my poet brain.

Today I can't imagine what that spark will be.  That's part of the wonder of it, part of what keeps me wanting to write poems.  The surprises in poetry delight me more than the surprises in any other kind of writing.

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

The Softer Grief of Autumn

--Today we start a new quarter at my school.  Some years, we've had a restful break.  This year, I feel like I've had no break.  Usually I use the break between classes to get caught up or maybe even to work ahead.  This year, I worked at a fever pace to get ready for our upcoming accreditation visit.

--I wonder what tasks I've neglected in my fever pace.

--Usually by now, I might have sent out dozens of poetry packets.  Sadly, I have done very little in the way of submissions this season.

--Today I am thinking about my friends from school days past and school years present.  I am missing them.  I am wishing we had time to brew a pot of tea, time to make pumpkin muffins together.

--I am wishing we had the cooler weather that makes me want to make pumpkin muffins.

--This morning, I tried to remember the name of my high school best friend's sister.  She had a Biblical name which she shortened to something much more American and 20th century.  For a few minutes, I couldn't remember, and I felt sad.  Then it came to me:  Miriam, shortened to Mimi.

--I won't likely ever find Mimi, however.  She got married, and I don't know her married last name.  I'm not sure that our modern social media means of finding people have solved that issue.

--I want to find her primarily to share sadness that my high school friend died too soon.  Maybe it is good that I can't find her.  She might not want that kind of encounter.

--Or maybe it would make her feel less alone in the time of mourning that often emerges out of nowhere once we're through the piercing time of grieving.

--What is autumn but a symbol of that time of softer mourning?

Monday, September 30, 2019

Pet Blessing Service 2019

We are headed into the Pet Blessing Service zone.  Across the nation this week, many churches will have this kind of service as we celebrate the life of St. Francis (the one of Assisi, not the current pope who has yet to be canonized).

Our church did its Pet Blessing service yesterday.  Some years we do an extra service, but this year we moved the service into the fellowship hall and held it as our regular Sunday service.

At first, I thought we wouldn't have many pets, and I wondered why we did this at all.  But as the morning progressed, we had more pets joined.  And then I remembered that we also bless pets from a distance.  People brought pictures of their pets, and there might have been one or two pets attending remotely, by way of smart phone.

Our organist was away, but we had great music with our other musicians.  We had a meditation about the role of pets.  Afterward, we had pizza for a congregational meeting.

I have often wondered if we might have more attendance if we welcomed pets to our service every week.  I don't know what we'd do about the people with allergies or those who are scared of animals.  If you're the kind of person who would object to random noises by pets, children, and other people, you're likely going to another church already, so we wouldn't have to worry about that.

Still, we won't be the bring your pets to worship church anytime soon.  Or maybe we will.  I've been surprised by various turns of events in the past.  We are a church of radical welcome after all.  This year we're welcoming people of all genders/sexual preferences, so perhaps in a future year, we'll extend that to pets.

Sunday, September 29, 2019

The Hinge Holiday of Michaelmas

If we lived in an earlier culture, we would celebrate Michaelmas today.  It's one of the harvest holidays, one of the quarterly celebrations that kept people rooted to traditions of the seasonal cycles.

If we lived in a high church kind of time, we would celebrate the feast day of St. Michael and all angels. The Divine Hours, written by Phyllis Tickle, explains that this feast is a celebration of the role of angels in the divine plan.

I am more interested in the idea of a hinge holiday, the way we shift from one direction to another.  In Holidays and Holy Nights, Christopher Hill explains, "In summer we celebrate our at-homeness in the world. Michaelmas balances that feeling (for) in autumn we feel our not-at-homeness, the sense of wanting something else, something we can't name. We feel like wayfaring strangers... Summer is static - in Latin, solstice means 'the stationary sun'" Summer is the sacrament of natural harmony with God... while autumn we fall away from the dreaming paradise of summer back into the conflict of light and dark" (pp. 36-37).

I am trying to slow down, even as the world encourages us to zoom, zoom, zoom.  I want to savor the way the afternoon light slides into evening from a different angle now.  I want to enjoy the seasonal decorations that we have now.  Two weeks ago, I started the transformation of the front porch:

Yesterday, I bought an autumnal bouquet.

Last night, we lit the candles in the terracotta candle holder:

I love the shadows made by the flickering lights, which I have not been able to capture on film:

A few weeks from now, I'll add real pumpkins to the mix, once they arrive at my church.  First I'll help offload them from the truck.

Of course, we still don't have much in the way of cooler weather.  But that's the nature of these hinge holidays, at least where I've always lived.  I've always had to provide some additional prompts to keep my attention coming back to the seasonal shifts.

Saturday, September 28, 2019

September Struggles

I sit here sipping a smoothie that I made with my new immersion blender.  I bought the blender with the hope that blending soup into creaminess would be easier.  That first (and only until this morning) experience was not as effortless as the cooking shows make it seem.

This morning, I decided that I needed a nourishing start to the day, and I had already bought frozen blueberries, frozen raspberries, and frozen spinach.  I added some yogurt, and after 2 pulses, I had a smoothie!  Much easier than the blender, and I can make a smaller batch, something I never mastered in the full-size blender.

Sadly, when I look back on this month of September that's slipping away, I don't see lots of high points.  And many of my friends report similar feelings.

As I look back, it's no wonder that I'm tired.  We began this month by keeping a close eye on Hurricane Dorian. I spent every week this month on non-stop accreditation tasks along with the end of the quarter at my full-time job which has ballooned into a time and a half job.  We got the cottage "ready" for my sister-in-law, and she moved in.  We took on our new roles as co-treasurers at church, and I've done more of that than my spouse, the other co-treasurer.

As I drove home last night, after slogging through another week of accreditation work, I was grateful that I had given away my ticket to a food and wine festival.  I have been tired to my very bones.

But I've noticed a bit of a shift, both in the light and the morning temperatures.  When we first moved down here, it felt unremittingly hot for 9 months a year.  When we first moved here, we lived in a triplex, and our landlady lived in one of the units.  I stepped outside one morning, and she said, "The weather is changing.  Do you feel it?"

I expressed my utter disbelief.  She smiled and said, "Just wait until you've lived here awhile."  I waited years and still didn't sense it.  But indeed, a few days ago, it was a bit less hot.  Not cool, not autumnal--in fact, the temps reminded me of the way summer used to be, back when I lived in South Carolina, back when I would get up early to get the baking and the writing done in the cool of the morning.  Back when there was a cool of the morning.

But let me also record some happy moments:  one of my favorite poems that I wrote recently got accepted by Sojourners, which is the perfect home for the poem.  It's been two weeks of having my sister-in-law in the cottage, and so far, so good.  I've had some time with friends, some reunions with people I haven't seen in quite awhile.  I am never writing as much as I wish I could, but I am continuing to find time to write.

However, I am more than ready to see what October has in store for us.

Friday, September 27, 2019

High Holy Days and Low Ordinary Days

In later years, I wonder what I'll look back on and wonder why I didn't write more about that.  I go back to my journals that I kept in college, and I'm always very surprised by what huge national and international events get no mention in those pages.

I feel like I should write more about the impeachment proceedings of this week.  Frankly, I imagine that with the advantage of years between the Trump administration and the future, we will look back and wonder why this incident warranted impeachment, while so many other issues slid right by.

It's been the kind of week where I've been working intensely at work to get ready for a mock accreditation visit by Corporate folks today.  I've had evening meetings and a variety of obligations.  Race, race, hurry, hurry.  I've been more frazzled than usual.

When I come up for air, I check the news to see what new part of our long, national nightmare has been revealed.  Some part of me always wonders if I'm not reading some dark satire.  And then I dive deep into work again.

It's not the kind of work for which one will ever be awarded the MacArthur genius award.  Sigh.

These are the days when a variety of cultures celebrate high, holy days.  It's a hinge time between seasons.  It's a time when I wish I could slow down and savor the shift.

Let me look for ways to do that as I move through the next days.

Thursday, September 26, 2019

The Genius of Essays

I did not plan to spend the last month reading collections of essays.  In fact, I didn't even realize I was doing so until I updated my Books Read 2019 list.  I began by reading I Like to Watch by Emily Nussbaum, who has spent much of her writing life reviewing TV shows. What a great book—wonderful to read her reviews about TV shows I’ve watched, but even when she talks about unfamiliar shows, it’s a great book.  And it's interesting to think about how much television has changed--now it's an art form that many more of us take seriously than we would have decades ago.

I decided to read the book when I heard Nussbaum interviewed on NPR.  Similarly, I got Jia Tolentino's Trick Mirror after hearing her on several NPR shows.  Often when I've heard people on NPR, I'm bored by the book--it's as if I've already heard the major points, and there's not much reason to read the book.  That has not been the case with either of these books.

However, my favorite book of essays in this month of essays is Margaret Renkl's Late Migrations.  I would likely not have discovered this book without this review on NPR's Fresh Air.  The essays have  a poetic quality, moment after moment where I catch my breath and savor the sentence or the image.  Renkl explores a variety of topics, but she's often weaving back to the natural world and to all sorts of family constellations.

I found my favorite essay online--go here and scroll down to read "The Imperfect-Family Beatitudes."  It enchanted me from the beginning:  "Blessed is the weary mother who rises before daybreak for no project or prayer book, for no reason but the solace of a sleeping house and a tepid cup of instant coffee and a fat dog curled on her lap. Hers is the fleeting kingdom of heaven."

I found her depictions of life with her aging parents particularly poignant.  She notes, "The end of caregiving isn't freedom.  The end of caregiving is grief" (p. 189).  This is true of aging parents, but also of other kinds of caretaking:  the child who goes off to college, the bird that cannot be saved, the flowers taken over by weeds.  About those non-native species of plants she says, "The alien does not know it's an alien" (p. 10).

As I'm looking at my Books Read 2019 list, I'm realizing that I'm not doing a great job of reading more poetry.  I started off the year so strongly in that area, but it's fallen off.  Maybe it's time to finally get around to reading Ocean Vuong's Night Sky with Exit Wounds, which has been on my to-read shelf for longer than I like to realize.

I confess that I thought of this book because of the announcement of this year's MacArthur awards.  I looked over this list and tried not to think about my own age and the age of the winners.  Some years I'm inspired by the list, but not this year.

This year I was already in a despondent place about so much of my life.  Looking at the list makes me even more despairing about all the opportunities that I haven't found.  It's been the kind of September where I haven't written much, and I've sent out nothing.

But I am hopeful that the pace of these weeks will abate.  We will get our materials ready for the accreditation visit and then, hopefully, we can go back to a more sane pace.

In the meantime, at least I have been able to read a bit here and there.  And that's where the essay format is perfect for these times, whether it's the longer, deeper essays of Jia Tolentino or the perfect jewels of the shorter essays of Renkl.

Let me hang onto the elements of my life that I love while working my way back to all that I hold dear.

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

The Next Garden

Once the path seemed so clear:

Once we assumed that every gate would open:

Now we must consider what's on the other side:

Now we fear we're lost in the weeds:

Maybe we're destined for a different garden than the one our younger selves would have chosen:

Let us rest awhile in this place while we discern the next step:

Monday, September 23, 2019

From Raggedy Individual Prayers to a Hoop of Prayers

Yesterday, I preached the sermon.  We've been doing a sermon series on the Lord's Prayer, and I got to preach on "Give us this day our daily bread."  As I thought about what I would say, and as I sorted through old possessions coming from the cottage, I got an idea for my big hoop that I bought but have never used for quilting.

As people came into the church, I asked them to choose a strip of cloth that spoke to them.

In the beginning of the sermon, we thought about what we needed for sustenance as we held the strip of cloth. Then I passed the hoop around and asked everyone to tie their piece of cloth on the hoop.

I talked about our individual wants and needs and the needs of the larger community--and how our solitary prayers feel like raggedy scraps, but when we add our prayers together, we can transform the world.

I did keep trying to loop back to the ideas of daily bread and what sustains us--but also a larger vision of sustenance. I was pleased that everyone took a strip of fabric and that everyone enthusiastically tied their strip to the hoop.  I talked about what we personally need to for sustenance, but also what the larger society needs for sustenance.

I also added another element.  I wanted a cross in the middle, and I thought about using one of the crosses made of palms that are left over from Palm Sunday.  But in the office, I had lots of crosses to choose from, and I chose the one above.

I really like the way what it does for the hoop:

And now we have a different element to take us to All Saints Sunday.  Here's the larger view:

I'm calling Sunday morning a success, even though my sermon went in an entirely different direction.  I want to say it was the Holy Spirit, but some days I worry that it's sloppiness and my inability to stick to my sermon prep.

Sunday, September 22, 2019

Language and Expectation and Equinoxes

Today is the last full day of summer--the autumnal equinox arrives tomorrow.  Some of us have already had some autumnal weather.  I feel like I will never feel cool air outside again, although it has been astonishingly windy.

Down here at one of the southernmost points in North America, I mark the change of seasons differently.  One must be alert to realize that the sun is coming at us from a slightly different slant.  I notice that the sun rises about a half hour later now than it did in early July.  We have a person who comes every other week to mow and edge the tiny bit of lawn we have--the lawn used to be very shaggy in between cuttings, and now it's not.

We're not to winter yet--the yard still needs attention once we approach the two week point.  But I'm not worrying about Code Enforcement getting to us before the yard guy does.

Is it disrespectful to use the term "yard guy"?  I mean no disrespect.  I do know his name:  Jose Sanchez. 

This has been a summer where I'm thinking about language and how it shapes us.  That idea is never far away from my brain.  This summer has been the time where I've shifted from saying "slaves" to "enslaved people."  Does it make a difference?  I'm not sure.  The word "slave" has always conveyed horror and terror to me, but I realize not everyone has that enlightenment.

Similarly, I've been thinking about how many of our housing developments use the word "plantation."  This blog post does a great job of explaining why it's problematic; I confess I hadn't really given the word much consideration before reading that blog post.  What's next:  Auschwitz Acres?

I am listening to a fascinating On Being episode about the power of the brain--some stuff I knew, and some I don't.  The guest, Erik Vance, talks about the doctor who prescribes going to church as part of a pain relief regimen:  "And one of the doctors, world-renowned researcher who, I think, is established enough in his position to be honest with me, said, 'Look. I’m lucky if I can help 40 percent of my patients. If I’m a baseball player, I’d be making millions, but as a doctor, that’s not a great number.' And he’s the one who actually says — he recommends to patients, 'If you’re a lapsed Catholic, go back to church. Try it,' because, first of all, he’s looking for anything. But second of all, he wants to create a sense — even if they’re continuing treatment with him — that good things are coming, that there is an order — . . . .  And just going back to church and feeling like they’re getting some sort of sense that this will go away, good things are coming, is the first step "

Today I am in charge at church--my sermon will revolve around daily bread and what sustains us and what we need.  There will be fabric and a hoop involved.  More will be revealed in a later blog post.  Now I must get ready.

Saturday, September 21, 2019

When Data Speaks

Let me say from the outset that I am fictionalizing details that are to come--but there is truth to the larger idea, if not truth in the details.

Yesterday I had a long conversation about institutional effectiveness, about looking at our data with an open mind, about letting the data speak.

It's always lovely to have a theoretical conversation about institutional effectiveness, about collectible data, about numbers, and the importance of measurable outcomes that we can link to specific initiatives.  I am not as much of a believer that the data will speak as many are.

I have looked at data that spoke in a clear, cold tone--for example, when I see that 20 of the 24 students in a program that left the school took a class and failed it, and 15 of them took that class over again and failed it.

But usually the data doesn't speak to me in that way.  Here's what I usually see:

There are 24 students in a specific program who leave the school.  Six of them we can't find, so we don't know why they left.  Ten of them have had trouble passing classes, but they have all failed a different set of classes.  One of them had a mother who died, and three mention childcare issues.  Four of them listed money troubles when they filled out the paperwork.  One of them took a leave of absence to deal with a medical condition, and the condition worsened, so they didn't come back.  One student had psychotic issues, and we're all relieved that the problem solved itself when the student stopped attending, so we didn't try to contact that student.

Some of these categories intersect with each other, and some don't.  If the data is speaking to me, I can't hear it.

I once made a joke that wasn't really a joke.  I said that I could solve the problems with retention.  It's easy really.  But it isn't cheap.  I'd take over the empty places in our building, and I'd create a cafe in one of them and put a day care center in the other.  I'd hire a mechanic to be on duty in the back parking lot for students who needed car repairs.  Our retention rate would go up to 93%.

I said it in a jovial tone, but I suspect that if I could do those things, our retention rate would zoom right up into the 90's.  This morning on my walk, I fleshed out my ideas a bit.

The cafe would offer cheap, nutritious meals, plus to-go options for people who had to get to class.  Students who couldn't afford the food could either work in the cafe or apply for a waiver.  We would have a student success area in the cafe, where tutors would be on duty.  Students could eat and get tutoring at the same time.

We would offer child care during any time we had class, plus for an hour before and after.  We would have facilities for both well children and sniffly children, so that our students with sick children can still come to class.

The mechanic is self-explanatory.  Maybe we should have a clinic too.  And maybe we could convert the back parking lot, the one that is rarely used and often full of graffiti on the back wall, into low cost housing for students, since we have so little affordable housing in Broward county, where the school is located.

I realize I'm describing something similar to the college where I did my undergraduate work--although we didn't have childcare.  This morning I thought about my fellow students.  Most of us graduated or transferred to places where we graduated.  Many of  us went on to get graduate degrees and/or additional training.  And it's not because we were all wealthy or came from backgrounds that prepared us for college.  Once we were there, the school gave us all sorts of support.  And so, most of us made it to graduation.

Of course, that approach takes money.  Most of us in academia are told to do more with less, more with less, more with less.  Most of us are doing as much as we can, and we are given even less resources.  It's discouraging.

It even makes me think about a different data set, and what I might hear, if I had ears to listen.

Friday, September 20, 2019


Last week I got my first mammogram at the age of 54.  Yes, I have friends who have been getting mammograms since they were in their 20's or 30's, and they weren't friends in high risk groups.  I resisted that peer pressure, even when people were shocked, shocked, SHOCKED that I didn't want to get a mammogram.

People thought I was afraid or that I thought it would hurt--no, I just resisted the medical-industrial complex.  In the 90's, the common wisdom was that a woman would have a baseline mammogram when she turned 50.  Why did this change?

The hospital where I had the mammogram was the one where my mother-in-law went when she broke her hip.  She would not survive that injury.  I felt a bit of a shiver as I left the hospital and drove past the emergency entrance where I went at 2:30 a.m. to stay with her while she waited to be admitted.

If I was a character in a novel, I'd probably be punished for my lack of a mammogram.  They'd have discovered a tumor that could have been treated if I had just discovered it 20 years ago.  As I drove home, I thought, what if these are my last carefree days before a diagnosis?

Happily, that is not to be my fate.  Yesterday, I got a letter that says, "We are pleased to let you know that the results of your recent breast imaging exam show no sign of breast cancer."  Hurrah!

Let me also record this publishing accomplishment.  One of my poems was accepted to be part of the Women Artists Datebook.  Yesterday I went to the website page, and when I clicked on the thumbnails, I was thrilled to realize that my poem is one of the 3 poems in the thumbnails.  It's the thumbnail on the second row.

In other good news, I am completely ready for today's Corporate audit.  Yes, I realize I have tempted the fates by saying that.  Still, there have been so many days where I wondered if I could ever get it done.  Our syllabi are printed and ready for the first day of classes.  I didn't dare hope we could have this kind of efficient week.  I am relieved.

I am also a bit exhausted.  This kind of work is not the kind that sparks my intellect.  Lots of forms, lots of filing, lots of copying.  It's good to have it done.

Tonight I will go to a gathering that's part dinner, part quilt group.  It's been a long time since we've been together as a group of women.  It's a fitting way to celebrate my good mammogram news and my happy publishing news.

Thursday, September 19, 2019

Ms. Fix It

Another Thursday of scattered thoughts--let me gather them:

--My spouse and I have been going out to dinner each Wednesday.  He's got about 90 minutes to fill between his last class and choir practice, which happens at our church which is literally across the street from campus.  So far, it's been fun--we choose a different place and give it a try.  It's not our home neighborhood, so we've been going to a variety of places.

--Last night was less fun.  We had less time, so we went to a diner.  It's not good for me to be able to see the kitchen folks in action.  I watched my steaming food sit under the warming lamp and watched the food cool in real time as my spouse's meal wasn't ready.  The turkey was cold, the gravy had a skin, and the broccoli had brown patches.  Really?  Really???

--At first I sent it back, but then I looked at the time, and realized I needed to be done so I could get home for my online Mepkin journaling meeting.  So I cancelled the order.  The manager came over.  He was upset that he wouldn't have a chance to make it all right.  My spouse was not thrilled, either with the quality of my food or my cancelling the order.  The waitress was sullen when we came in, and my actions didn't cheer her up.  I felt like I made everyone unhappy, and I was the one who got no dinner.

--Last night, after the diner and the computer glitchiness, I finally joined my online journaling group.  During one of our silent journaling sessions, I wrote, "My life would be so different if I didn't feel this need to fix everything."  I had been reflecting on how I felt bad that I made the manager feel bad and my spouse feel bad and the waitress wasn't any cheerier because of me, and I couldn't fix it, and how should I have responded?  Eaten the bad broccoli?  Eaten the cold food?  Taken it home to warm it up?  Even as we left there was fried chicken cooling under the lamp.  Clearly my experience hadn't led to improvement for other diners.  Am I too picky?

--And here I am, once more, wishing I could have fixed the situation that really shouldn't have existed at all.  It's basic restaurant practice, is it not?  To have the meals at the same table ready within 20 seconds of each other?  My food was under the "warming" lamp for at least 7 minutes.  Let me wrench my focus elsewhere.

--On the work front, we continue to get ready for our accreditation visit and for the Corporate audits before the accreditation visit. As I used white out to prepare a recycled tab for its new label, I had a vision of a PBS show:  Painting with White Out.  I could be the next Bob Ross!  I demonstrated the idea in my most soothing, Bob Ross painting voice: "A dab here. A swirl here. See, there are no mistakes, just something else, waiting to emerge." I think it has potential! My colleagues think I might be a bit "touched," as the elders used to say.

--From white out to other kinds of cover ups . . .

--Another story in the news of an government official in blackface in his youth.  I have never worn blackface--in 5th grade, I put my mother's green eye shadow on my face for my Halloween witch costume, and spent the next week itching.  In college, there's a picture of me with green hair.  I have a vision of a time when I'm in office and those pictures come back to haunt me:  "She was mocking Wiccans!  She was appropriating the language of punks, who are now a protected class!"

--My writing time grows short.  But I have a vision of a poem that will look at the larger ways that so many of us have been clueless about the legacy of slavery.  Maybe I'll play with this line:  We have all worn blackface.

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

NPR Nerds in Mourning: RIP Cokie Roberts

When I saw the news and confirmed that Cokie Roberts had died, I cried a bit at my desk.  The great illuminators of our time seem to be leaving us, and I feel each loss keenly.

I know, I know, I didn't really know her.  The tributes from people who did know her personally make me wish that I had known her.

I don't remember a time when she wasn't a media presence.  As I came into my own as an NPR listener, I made sure to be tuned in during her regular time slots--that was back in the pre-Internet days, where if you missed it, you missed it.  What a luxury now to be able to go back and listen to a person as often as we want.

It's also a burden, the knowledge that there's so much of value out there, and increasingly fragmented time.

What I will miss even more than Cokie Roberts' keen intellect is her way of connecting all that knowledge and explaining the relevance in a way that both highly educated people and those with limited education would understand.  So few people have that skill.

She was also inspiring.  I never doubted that she had a vision of how we could all be better--as individuals, as a society, as a larger world.  I never doubted that she had appreciation for all that our ancestors accomplished, even as she called us to continue to expand on what they had built.

I am also profoundly grateful for the doors that she opened to the next generation, my generation, that was following behind.  She showed a variety of ways of achieving our hopes and dreams.  She showed that we could have careers and families and outside interests beyond that too.  We didn't have to live within narrow definitions.  We didn't have to be constrained completely by our gender or our biology or our circumstances.

And as someone who listens to NPR for many hours a day, I am happy for all the ways she shaped that institution.  As someone who misses the way that TV news used to be, I am grateful that I got to see it when people like Cokie Roberts had a hand in the newscast.

I know that there are others who have already taken up the work that she was doing.  Eventually, if I'm still alive when they die, I will miss them too.  But it may not feel like the same kind of loss, since I came to know them later.

Cokie Roberts was always there, a calm voice, an oasis, for as long as I remember.  We need more voices like hers.  Let us rise to fill that call.

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Creative Visioning in the Voice of a Future Scholar

September 17 is the feast day of Hildegard of Bingen, mystic, herbalist, musical composer, naturalist, and Abbess. Her life was full of accomplishments, an amazing feat considering she lived in the twelfth century.  For more, see this post on my theology blog.

When the calendar returns to the feast days of amazing medieval women (Hildegard, Brigid, Julian), I fight my feelings of inadequacy.

Long ago, a wise yoga teacher told me, "Don't look at others.  It won't help you hold the pose, and it will probably make it harder."  I think I've embroidered her words, but I've captured the idea.

I would probably be more gentle with myself if I thought of what future scholars might say when they talked about me:  

She was able to keep writing her poetry, along with surprising works of fiction, as she navigated the demands of various types of day jobs:  teacher, administrator, . . .   .  She did volunteer work, often the unglamorous but necessary type, like counting the offering money after church and depositing it in the bank.  She worked with first generation students, thousands of them, offering the support and encouragement they needed to make their way in the world.  She did similar work with other groups who were at the margins of society, during a time when so many people found themselves being pushed to those margins.

Now let me do something similar, as I think about the directions I might go.  How would future scholars talk about that?  Let me do some creative visioning, in the voice of a future scholar:

In her midlife years, when so many people decide to coast, she turned her sights to different vistas.  She pursued new interests, and her work that mixed markers, words, and collage, led her in inspiring directions.  She got several certificates and degrees in theology and the arts, and did pioneering work in online retreats.  Her work in theology brought many people to a new understanding of the Gospels.  Late in midlife, she published her pioneering work that combined poetry, theology, and sketches in her singular style that would become so recognizable.  She took the proceeds from that publishing success and created her monastic community that offered shelter in a dark time and that continues to nourish so many.

Monday, September 16, 2019

Strangely Surreal September So Far

It's been a surreal week-end, a surreal week, and frankly, a surreal month.  Two weeks ago I was keeping a wary eye on Hurricane Dorian, which was chewing up the Bahamas.  Two weeks ago, I was thinking that my sister-in-law was deciding not to move here, so why make the herculean effort to get all of our personal stuff out of the cottage?

Now it's two weeks later.  My sister-in-law has moved in.  We had Bahamian Hurricane Dorian refugees to help us make the herculean effort.  I've made some progress in terms of figuring out where to put the stuff that came out of the cottage, but parts of the house look like we're in the process of a move--which, in a way, we are.

The last time we had a person living full-time in the cottage, I could see the lights of the cottage as I got in the car in the front driveway.  Since then, Hurricane Irma destroyed that fence, and now we have a fence that hides the back yard.

I don't know how long my sister-in-law will stay.  I do know that the U.S. has a problem with affordable housing, and my county has fewer units than much of the rest of the nation.  I know that our cottage is a bit small for her, and we haven't done all the hurricane repairs that are needed.  She plans to help with that effort while she's there.

I know that she might like more privacy than a back yard cottage affords.  I might too.  But for now, it's working out.

September has been surreal too, in terms of the death of musicians.  Suddenly the musicians of my youth--Eddie Money, Ric Ocasek of the Cars--are dying.  In a way, the death of musicians is nothing strange--except now they're dying of old age.

I had a similar disconnect helping my sister-in-law.  I first met her when I was 19, which means she must have been about 12.  In many ways, she still looks very similar.  It's discombobulating to realize how long our lives have been entwined.

And now, here it is, Monday again.  Time to do the bread run.  We are between classes right now, but I've let the campus know that if they've gotten used to bread on Monday, we'll still have it.

Sunday, September 15, 2019

Long Page Poetry Morning

There's a story told about Lucille Clifton--it may or may not be literally true, but it points to a truth for many of us.  Someone asked why she wrote short poems when she was younger and longer poems as she got older.  I suspect the questioner was expecting an answer that had something to do with wisdom and skill.

Instead, Lucille Clifton talked about the lives of her children shaping the short poems in terms of the amount of time she had to get thoughts on paper.

I, too, tend to write poems that are shorter.  Part of it's habitual, part of it has to do with how much time I have, and part of it has to do with ideas that run out of steam so the poem is over.  Most of my poems are a little longer than an 8 x 11 sheet of paper with regular lines.

Yesterday I wrote 4 pages.  Will it all be one poem?  I don't know, but it was an amazing experience.

I had been having a good poetry writing morning, after weeks of feeling dry and drained when it comes to writing and life in general.  Yesterday I had already written one poem and some various lines when I decided to freewrite a bit about harvest moons and harvests and elegies and prophets.  The freewriting didn't really go anywhere, but all of a sudden whole stanzas popped into my head.  I wrote and wrote--4 pages worth.  Wow.

And then I kept my legal pad nearby.  I'd do something else, and then another stanza popped into my head.  It was great.

Of course, because I was having a great poetry morning, I didn't do much with my novel or with grading for my online classes or any of the other activities I feel I need to do.  But that's O.K.

The rest of the day was consumed with getting the last of our stuff out of the cottage and helping my sister-in-law move in.  Later in the day, we ate a yummy meal together (grilled salmon, grilled burgers, assorted sides), and then we decompressed.  We took the Bahamian refugee couple home, while my sister-in-law and her friend returned the moving van.  My spouse and I relaxed in the pool and went to bed early.

For a day that at one point had promised stormy weather, it turned out to be a very good day.  And now it's off to church--there will be meetings, but there will also be breakfast and some time to sketch and some time to sit in stillness.

Saturday, September 14, 2019

What Does Active Discernment Mode Mean to You?

Earlier this week, one of my favorite pastors sent me a private message to let me know that this past summer had been her last summer at camp.  She said that she and her spouse had been in a time of "active discernment mode."

I knew that this time was not far away, the time when she announced her retirement.  Still, it was a week of many pangs, many realizations of how many "last" times are coming.

I wrote back to my pastor friend, "You said you and Pastor Tim were in "active discernment mode" this summer. I would love to know what that looked like. I have this vision of a breakfast of beautiful summer fruit, followed by writing in your journals, then a silent hike, and then a sharing of what you heard that morning. I have an idealistic vision of you two doing this all summer. But I know that there are many routes to discernment, and this retreat seems like a theme that fits with teaching people some of the ways to do that."

The next morning, I wrote a poem that explores what active discernment mode would mean to me in the best of circumstances.

Unfortunately, lately my active discernment often comes through frustration followed by weeping and gnashing of teeth and repressing the urge to throw a few things in the car and drive far, far away.  And yes, that has been my discernment message delivery system since I was about fifteen years old.

Clearly it's time for a new method of active discernment.  So, let me try an alternate approach.

When I heard my friend's news, my first thought was to write the camp to ask if they might be interested in hiring a person who would be in charge of adult and online programming.  My heart sang out at the thought of that job. 

That's a much more pleasant method of discernment than the one I usually use!

Friday, September 13, 2019

Week of Disrupted Writing Schedules and the Inspirations Contained in It

It has been a week of irregular blogging, the kind of week that makes me feel anxious that I'm not writing in the one form that I've managed to do on a daily basis.  Let me do one of those kinds of posts where I catch some threads that I don't want to lose.

--I have been writing.  I've written a few blog posts, and I've been working on my apocalyptic novel.  But most of my writing energy has gone to the various forms that we must have ready for our month of audits which will start next week.

--One of my favorite moments from work:  several of us pitched in to create a bulletin board to celebrate Constitution Day.  It turned out to be surprisingly attractive, given how little planning time we had, and how low our budget (0$) was.

--I got an acceptance of a poem that I love--I first came up with the idea in January and wrote about it in this blog post.  Often it takes longer for a poem to find a home.  Sojourners took this one, and it's a perfect fit.

--One of the reasons for my poor blogging attendance this week was my need to get stuff done in the evenings, which led to disrupted mornings.  I had a church meeting Monday night, church treasurer stuff to do Wednesday night, and last night, I did some work to get the cottage ready for my sister-in-law who is scheduled to arrive and move in today.

--I had help last night.  My friend in the neighborhood has opened her cottage to a couple from the Bahamas who fled the island literally with only the clothes they were wearing in the storm and their phones.  For more about that, see this blog post on my theology blog.

--My morning writing time was also disrupted this week because of morning schedule disruptions.  Yesterday I had a 7 a.m. appointment to get a mammogram.  I chose the very first appointment time so that I wouldn't sit in a waiting room for minutes/hours waiting.  But it did disrupt my writing.

--It was my very first mammogram.  I have friends who have been getting mammograms since they were in their 30's, but I'm following the older guidance for those of us in low risk groups:  I decided to wait until I was 50 to have my baseline mammogram.

--Yes, I know I'm 54.  Some people have thought that I was afraid of the mammogram itself.  Countless numbers of people have explained to me how it doesn't really hurt.  I'm not afraid of the squashing nature of the procedure, but I do try to limit my exposure to radiation.  But if we're honest, it's the waiting in waiting rooms, the filling out of forms, and the waiting.

--The squashing wasn't as bad as I expected.  I did find it odd to feel like I had no place to put my face in/against the machine. 

--Last night, I gave the Bahamian woman a pair of Saucony running shoes that I had barely used.  Last summer, I realized that I had loved the Sauconys that I had, so I bought 2 more pairs at a summer sale.  Earlier this year, I gave the oldest pair to a church group collecting shoes for Venezuela.  Last night, I was happy to know that my shoes fit a refugee from another disaster area.  My friend who took them in had written that she was having trouble finding clothes and shoes that were large enough.  I figured that mine would work--I have big, wide feet, as does the Bahamian refugee.  There's something about the idea of these shoes going to refugees that I wanted to preserve--not sure why.

--Last night, after we worked together in tasks to restore the cottage, my spouse and I sat at our patio table with the Bahamian couple.  We shared beverages and chatted about the storm, about home repairs, about what life was like on Abaco before Hurricane Dorian smashed through, and about the hurricane itself.  The moon was full, and we had a great breeze.  There were moments of homesickness, all of us longing for places that no longer exist.

--Let me also remember some of the images from the past few days that might weave into a poem:  a woman in a wheelchair weeping quietly in the library, small children hiking through neighborhoods with backpacks bigger than their backs, unconnected women with interesting hats walking their dogs, the Office Depot copy center that was out of ink but managed to develop work-arounds, the frustration of sending work to Office Depot but needing to spend an hour there overseeing the project (not Office Depot's fault, but the fault of the drop off person who requested spiral binding not comb binding), the strange intimacy of the mammogram process, the fact that I went to get my mammogram at the hospital where my mother-in-law was taken when she broke her hip, the intense memories I have of these places.

--I was sad to hear about the death of Anne Rivers Siddons.  Once I loved her books.  Now they seem like relics of an earlier era: sprawling novels that are so evocative of southern landscapes, with main characters who are discovering/reinventing themselves against the culture(s) of those landscapes.  If those kinds of books are still being written, I don't know about them.

--So many relics of earlier eras--my house is now full of them.