Saturday, February 23, 2019

Accreditation Week, with Sketches

Part of me is having trouble believing it's Saturday--my 3 days away in Savannah have left me discombobulated about what day it is.

In a few hours, my brother-in-law comes with a trailer attached to his SUV.  He will be taking away furniture that we don't want.  I understand why my spouse loves the 8 foot long orange sofa, but I'm thrilled that he agrees that it doesn't really fit with our much smaller house.

I'm hoping that it will feel like some progress, after weeks (months?) of feeling stalled on the home repair/restoration front.  The electrician came yesterday, so we are moving ahead with the kitchen remodel.  My spouse got some painting done.  We have ordered patio furniture, which has been coming, and it seems to fit the bill.

Still, I continue to wash dishes in the bathroom sink and bathtub.  I am weary.

Let me capture a few thoughts from the week.

--The news has been weird this week.  There's the case of the actor who staged a hate crime, but very badly--paying his "attackers" by check.  Then there's the case of the Coast Guard guy who was planning to kill lots of high-placed Democrats--he was discovered because he'd been researching mass killings on a Coast Guard computer.  Sheesh!

--I've been struggling to keep up with my weekly goals.  But writing them out on my tiny sketch pad each week helps.  Here's an example of what I've been doing, from a more successful week:



--I've been doing other sketching too.  On Tuesday morning, I had some time before the accreditation workshop, so I sat at the hotel window and made this sketch:



Here are photos of what I tried to sketch:



The other side of the river which is the more prominent part of the sketch:




--I have spent the week on lots of accreditation projects.  Few parts of my administrator life make me feel more inadequate.  But I'm trying to shift my perspective.  I'm not inadequate when it comes to all those tasks.  But when I look at a mass of data and can't find a pattern for why students aren't successful, I need to remind myself that there may not be a pattern.  Accreditors won't like that answer, but I am a woman prone to find patterns where there are none--if I don't see a pattern, it may not exist.

Of course, it may be that I'm too close to the situation.  I do wonder what might be found if I gave an outside person the mass of data.

--I'm sure there must be more to my week, but my writing time has run out--time to get the furniture ready to head to its new home.

Friday, February 22, 2019

Country Royalty Resurrected

I am discovering a whole world of tribute artists.  I mean I'm discovering their existence, not that I'm buying CDs. 

When I think of tribute artists, I tend to think of bad Elvis impersonators.  But on Wednesday night, I saw a different possibility.  We went to a show called Country Royalty - Tribute to Hank Williams and Patsy Cline.  I wasn't sure what to expect, but I was somewhat skeptical.  Happily, I was pleasantly surprised.

It was an interesting mix of learning about the two artists, along with some entertaining comedic patter from Jason Petty, who played Hank Williams.  He opened by saying, "Y'all are in the only spot in the country where you still need to run your air conditioner."  He gave us interesting lessons on the life of Hank Williams, who wrote over 400 songs in his short life, and the development of particular types of country music.  Katie Deal, who played Patsy Cline, taught us some women's history in addition to Cline's biography.

I knew all the Hank Williams songs, which surprised me a bit.  I was only familiar with the most popular of Cline's songs.  But I liked the show anyway--and I liked it far more than I expected to.

When I was trying to look up more information, I discovered that there are lots of shows like this one.  One of our local theatres features shows that cover the music of the Beach Boys and the music of Peter, Paul, and Mary (not all of them together, but 2 separate shows).

I shouldn't be surprised.  Years ago I saw the show Rain:  A Tribute to the Beatles, and then I was genuinely surprised at the size of the crowd.  Musical history has all sorts of possibilities.

Thursday, February 21, 2019

Breakfast in America's First City*

When I told people at the accreditation conference that I drove up from South Florida, some people looked at me like I had told them that I hitched a wagon to a mule and made my way north.  But it didn't take me any longer than my colleague who flew, by the time one gets to the airport early.  I was glad to have the extra space and the ability to stop.

Yesterday I was driving south, and I thought, I could have breakfast in St. Augustine!  I could go from sleeping in the oldest city in Georgia to having breakfast in the oldest city in Florida--and then I scolded myself for only counting cities founded by Europeans.

So, I stopped and parked near the fort.




Here's a close up of the wall and the bridge over the moat:



Is this just high tide?  Sea level rise doubters, take note.  As the sea level rises, we will start to lose parts of cities for longer periods of time, and not just parking lots:


In my ongoing list of favorite signs, add this one about the fort being built for war, not for modern safety standards:



The first Catholic church in North America was open, so I ducked inside (more on the cathedral in this blog post):



I had a lovely breakfast.  I did a bit of sketching while waiting for it:



I also discovered that I'm not good at having a leisurely meal when I have many hours of driving ahead.  So I wrapped up my biscuit and wandered through the historic village, taking pictures on my way back to where I parked the car.



I can't tell if these are the original buildings.




Some of them look like they are:



But some remind me of the artifice of places like Gatlinburg:



I was glad I stopped.  As I got further to the south, I thought about historic cities and sites.  I thought that I should have a late lunch at the Miami Circle, a site created by the Tequesta, a native group here long before Europeans thought about pushing the boundaries by boat.  But I was glad to stop at my own historic site, my little house that was built early in the history of Broward county--it's on the first plat map.


*I am aware of the hazards of using the term America to refer to the U.S. and of the hazards of determining what counts as a city.  I'm using this term on purpose, and hoping that the blog post illuminates some of the hazards.

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Savannah Snapshots

When I look back on this week, I imagine that my whirlwind walk around dreary, chilly Savannah and snapping pictures will be one of the highlights of this week.

What else was sold in this building?


















I'm not sure why this sign intrigued me:
















This set of windows in the antique store delighted me:



In fact, I see a windows theme:


















The french cafe is hiring!


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And then I got home and took this snapshot of the moon on the river through the hotel window.





















The iconic dome that one finds on so many older buildings that were/are government sites:


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This brewery beer garden played "Love Shack" at full blast--for a brief moment, I felt like I had fallen through a hole in time:

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And yesterday morning--just a reminder that it's still a port city--that's a big ship, headed to the sea:



I love all the rickety walkways and arches:


















Farewell, Savannah--I'll try not to wait decades before returning to you!

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Accreditation in Savannah

I didn't write yesterday because I was on the road very early to go to an accreditation conference in Savannah, Georgia.

I didn't sleep well, as I often don't sleep well the night before travel. So I got up, took a quick shower, made coffee for the thermoses, and was on the road by 4:50 a.m. It was a very easy trip--what a nice surprise. Not much road work or slow downs, hurrah. Good stuff to listen to on NPR. I zipped right on up I 95 and got to the hotel just before noon.

The hotel is very upscale, a Westin, on an "island" (human made, I think) that's part of a convention center part of town. It's across the river from the real town of Savannah, the historic part. The official check in time is 4:00, but I always see if it's possible to check in early, when I get to a place early. Hurrah, I got checked right in.

I had thought about walking around Savannah, but once I was settled into the room, the skies opened up, and the rain started.  But that was O.K. too.  I got to enjoy the lovely room while I caught up on grading for my online classes.

The hotel room has no Bible, but it does have a Book of Mormon--I find that odd. I found it as I was opening drawers in my search for the wi-fi info or other info.

Later in the afternoon, the rain let up.  I didn't trust it enough to take the ferry across the river to the historic district, but I thought, wait, I have a car for just this very reason!  So I got in the car, drove across the bridge, and found parking--and because it was Presidents Day, the parking was free.

Long ago, we went to Savannah, back in the late 80's.  It doesn't look at all like I remember it--which makes me wonder which colonial city I'm remembering.  I expected to be reminded of Charleston, SC, but I was more reminded of Alexandria, Virginia--and even some of the older parts of Columbia, South Carolina.

It was still cloudy and gloomy and a bit chilly--perfect walking weather.  I snapped 94 pictures--what fun!

I came back in time to join the team for dinner.  It was delightful, a good chance to reconnect with everyone.  Some of us know each other from our time at a previous school, including one woman who was part of my quilt group before she moved to higher ground in Florida.

We lingered long after dinner, another unexpected treat.  And now it's on to the accreditation workshop, a type of conference that will be new to me.  

At one point yesterday, I glanced out of the hotel windows onto the Savannah river where once ships holding slaves would have sailed.  I thought about the fact that I was in a hotel that was both a resort and a conference center.  My poet brain will be making something of these connections.  Hmmmm.  

The city also was the birthplace of  both Flannery O'Connor and Juliette Low, founder of the Girl Scouts.  Hmmm.  More connections . . .

Sunday, February 17, 2019

Transforming the Patio/Pool area

Yesterday was a great day.  I hadn't had a free Saturday since the year started--each Saturday I've been going to spin class so that I had a shot at winning the spot in the spinathon.  It worked!  So yesterday I decided that it was more important to take care of some paperwork and housing tasks.

Along the way, I got some writing done, which always makes a day good.  And I read 100 pages of Jill Lapore's One Nation, a wonderful book of American history, which I am reading very slowly, picking it up and reading a bit, getting sidetracked for months, and returning to it. I just finished the part about the Civil War, which is a good reminder that as bad as things seem to be now, they're not as bad as they were just before and during the Civil War.

I got the taxes done--hurrah.  It was less onerous than some years, in part because my spouse and I have done less in the way of side hustles.  I had no writing income to declare, and he had no consulting to city government.  I was not surprised that the standard deduction was higher than our itemized deduction; I knew that the 2017 tax reform bill had almost doubled it.  We are getting a bit of money back.  I was just happy that we're not one of the families that was surprised by having to pay thousands of dollars.

But the best part of the day was our ability to make decisions about furniture for the back patio and pool area.

I have been wanting to get some decent furniture for the back patio/pool area since we first got this house.  My spouse has wanted to wait until we had a complete vision, but never really had a complete vision. Along the way, we tried to make small fixes--you may remember a picnic table set with woven wicker chairs that came apart, as did the replacements that Home Depot sent. We got an additional plastic lounge chair to match the plastic lounge chair that my mom and dad bought for our deck back in 1993.

That newer lounge chair just cracked into unusability (yes, the new one, not the older one). Did that prompt my spouse to be open to the idea of just going ahead and ordering furniture? I don't know.

Yesterday we were finally at a point to think about how we want the back patio/pool area to be--it's one of the spots in the house that we use more than any other. In the morning, I did some searching on Wayfair, which is having a good President's Day sale--I got an idea of what my spouse liked and did some more searching. In the evening, I showed him what I had found, and we made some decisions.

We chose the fire pit not because it was the most attractive, but because it has a grill and thus can do double duty. It's the one thing that I think is a bit ugly. We bought some chairs to go by the firepit, along with some chaise lounges that don't require assembly, and a table and chairs.

I am hoping we will end up with more of a resort feel in the back. I really want to have more of a place where we could relax as we move into summer--especially since it is taking so long to get the inside of the house put back together.  

I should remember to take some before pictures--I'll do that this afternoon. Stay tuned for the transformations ahead!

Saturday, February 16, 2019

A Week Ago and Today

A week ago, I'd have been doing this:



Yes, that's me, in a rainbow wig, on a spin bike.  I rode during the 80's Hair Bands segment, and at the beginning, those of us who were willing put on wigs and spun for a bit while people snapped pictures.

Eventually, I got too hot and put the wig on the front of the bike.  And then it fell off, and eventually someone added it to the pile of wigs.  I wonder if they just got thrown away--it seems a shame, but I wouldn't wear the one that wasn't mine.  I had planned to take mine home, but in the end, I didn't protest when one of the helpers took it away.  I already have many props, as befits a former drama nerd.

I am running out of storage space.

This morning, I am late to posting because we've been shopping online sales for patio furniture.  Yes, it is amazing what ships to our door these days--and for free.  Had I planned to do online shopping?  No, I thought we might go to a place where we could actually try out the furniture.  But we're finding some amazing deals.

I have been wanting to get our patio into some sort of enjoyable shape for years now.  I am going to take advantage of Presidents' Day sales and a willing spouse.  I also hope to get our taxes done this week-end--all sorts of patriotic stuff happening in our South Florida homestead!

Friday, February 15, 2019

The Day After Valentine's Day

--Yesterday my Facebook feed was awash with pictures of friends celebrating Valentine's Day: relaxed people at restaurants, flowers, chocolates, and other treats. What a nice change from what often trickles across my Facebook feed: distress and anger over politics.

--I loved the memes that gave a theologian or a person from history along with a Valentine's wish crafted out of their words.  I could have fun with that for days and days.  I did notice a lack of women in the things that people posted.

--We had a fairly quiet Valentine's Day.  I am not about to go out to eat on one of the busiest nights in the restaurant industry.  We had fun cooking together.  We had some coconut milk left and some limes that were about to go bad, so we made a peanut sauce to go with pasta, sweet potato chunks, and very small scallops.  It was delicious, but it's not the kind of dish I'll long for when I don't have leftovers in the fridge.

--We relaxed as the sunset settled into dusk and then twilight.  We talked about the best approach to going to the Daytona bike week.

--I am not sure we'll be able to get the motorcycle operational by then, but my spouse will need to figure that out.  It's a relief to be able to say definitively, "I have no clue how to fix this."  There's probably a lesson that I should learn from this.

--What does it say about me that I spent part of Valentine's evening reading a book about fascism?  But Madeleine Albright's book is wonderful!  Reading was one of my first loves, so getting lost in a book while my spouse was talking to his brother about motorcycle plans didn't feel too odd.

--I do realize that our approach to love would not work for everybody.

--We ended our Valentine's evening by talking about courage and long term relationships.  In some ways, it takes more courage to stay in a long term relationship than it does to leave--at least, that was my theory last night.  When we're young, it's easy to convince ourselves that the best is yet to come, that brighter futures wait for us.  As we get closer to old age, it's easy to see all sorts of disasters that may await us.  My approach is to flee.  I want to move to a new place, which is my go-to response when things get tough:  let's light out for the territories and rewrite our lives.  It's tougher to stay committed to a place.  I see this mindset as a symbol for what love at midlife is like for so many.

--This morning, I'm thinking about Valentine's Day and how to keep the Valentine's vibe going.  The world would be very different if we looked for ways to shower the world with love each and every day, not just on Valentine's Day.

Thursday, February 14, 2019

The Difficulties and Opportunities of Feb. 14

This day may be difficult for many.  Valentine's Day has always come with difficulties:  on this day that is designed to celebrate love, many of us may feel left out.  We may not have significant others or we may have lost our significant other, or we may have a love that isn't honored by the larger society.

Some of us may feel annoyed by the expectations that come with this holiday.  We may not like feeling mandated to spend gobs of money to demonstrate how much we love.  This idea becomes even trickier if we have a partner who would really like this kind of demonstration--and what if we don't have the money or couldn't get the right gift/reservation/time off?

In short, this day was fraught, even before the events of last year.

This day is also the anniversary of a school shooting, the one at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.  That event has never been far from my consciousness, since I live in the county where the shooting took place.  I don't know if this day will always be a triggering event out there in the larger country.

In this county, people are observing this one year anniversary in several ways.  Many communities in this county will observe a moment of silence.  Some are devoting themselves to a day of service.  Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School  will provide opportunities for students who come to school today; students aren't required to come today.  I've heard news coverage that says that many families in our county will stay home and together today, which doesn't seem like an altogether bad way of celebrating Valentine's Day.

Every day, ideally, should be Valentine's Day, a day in which we try to remind our loved ones how much we care--and not by buying flowers, dinners out, candy, and jewelry. We show that we love by our actions: our care, our putting our own needs in the backseat, our concern, our gentle touch, our loving remarks, our forgiveness over and over again.

We should extend these actions beyond our significant others and family members. Our friends deserve the same level of care. We often spend more time with our co-workers than with our family and friends, I wonder how we would transform the workplace if we focused on radiating non-sexual love there too.

And then there is the task of caring for the world. Every week, we are reminded of the difficulties (and outright evil) that exist in the world, and some weeks this knowledge intrudes more than others. We must be the lanterns that defeat the difficulties and evil.

On this Valentine's Day, let us go out into the world, living sacraments, to be Valentines to one another, to bring love into all the corners of the a weary world.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

It's Only Wednesday?

Yesterday was another mixed day at work.  There was the morning peace of proctoring an exam for a teacher who had to be out.  I read a lot of Madeleine Albright's newish book Fascism:  A Warning.  I'm more interested in the part of the book I didn't get to, the part where I hope she analyzes our current situation.  But her analysis of 20th century history was very interesting.  Her discussion of the differences between fascism and other types of dictatorship would bear rereading.  She also analyzes different types of democracy in a way that we don't often think about as we choose leaders:  are we more interested in the common good or preserving the rights of all individuals?  Yes, it would be great if we could do both equally.  Can we?

I had a 2:00 meeting at the Ft. Lauderdale campus.  It was an easy drive up, but a beastly ride back--where did all these school zones come from?  I felt very frazzled by the end.

The chair of the education committee of a local Chamber of Commerce got an e-mail from the Chamber with a scolding tone about who gets to decide how money raised shall be used.  We discussed it late in the afternoon.  Let me just say that I'm willing to do a lot of work to fund scholarships so that high school students can go to college.  I'm not willing to do a lot of work to fund programs for Chamber members or to fund operating expenses like postage or having plaques made.  That e-mail made me feel profoundly discouraged.

Happily, my day did not end there.  I finished the day by meeting an old friend for dinner--she's not old, but our friendship has sustained us for many years.  She has the belief in me and my work (both my administration work and my creative work) that I have found tough to sustain this week.

And now it is time to gear up for another day.  It feels like it should be Friday, even though it's Wednesday--I feel like Monday and Tuesday have been that jam-packed and tiring.

Let me look for ways to sustain myself.  I've packed a book of poems to read today.  Even if I can't read the whole thing, I'll dip in and out.  I've packed notes for an article I hope to write.  Let me say a quick prayer that I can be patient and effective.

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Good News, Bad News, Best News

Yesterday was a challenging day, in terms of keeping my usual good mood and sunny optimism.  I often have trouble sleeping as Sunday night moves to Monday morning, so I'm always a bit sleep deprived.  But yesterday's challenges were a bit deeper.

We started with a meeting of an education committee for a local chamber of commerce.  We've been raising money for scholarships for local high school students, and yesterday we found out that the chamber is thinking of changing some of that money for other purposes.  They are still educational or in the support of education, but that's not what we've been telling people who come to the money raising events.

I have hopes that the Chamber will make these changes, if they go ahead with these changes, going forward, not with the money raised in 2018.  Then people can make their own decisions about whether or not to contribute. 

It was also depressing because the meeting had a very small turn out.  We do a lot of work to get ready for these meetings (room set up, which involves moving the coffee pot, sugar, creamer, cups, stirrers, etc. upstairs) and cleaning up.  That meeting took the better part of my morning.

At midday we got news of some restructuring.  Our Executive Director who has been overseeing 2 campuses will now only oversee one, my campus.  I like him, so this news isn't the bad news that it could be; I'd be stressed if we were getting a brand new Executive Director.  But restructuring of any kind makes me uneasy, even as I know it may be for the best.

And then I got an e-mail about my book length poetry manuscript.  I'd done some revising and started sending it out again.  I got the results about one submission:  while I didn't win, the manuscript was a semi-finalist.  I've submitted to this publisher before and gotten positive feedback, but never a semi-finalist or finalist position.

So, while I was depressed, I was also happy that my revisions haven't damaged the manuscript and may have strengthened it.  And then my mood crashed again.  I realize that having my book of poems published won't likely change my life, even if it should become a best seller.  But I'd still like that kind of affirmation.

Happily, I don't rely on that affirmation.  It would be nice, but I know what really matters:  to have a creative life that nurtures me in a way that nothing else can.

Monday, February 11, 2019

Repetition and Variation: A Good Week-End

I confess that I did not stay up to watch the Grammys.  This year, as with many years, I read the list of nominees and thought, who are these people?  Often I find out that I do know them, usually from spin class.  Very rarely, something breaks through so much that I hear about it, like the Childish Gambino "This Is America" video, and I search it out.

I used to hear more music because there were radio stations that played a mix of music, and during my childhood, my mom had the radio on for company through the day.  Now I tend to listen to NPR in the car and nothing at the office.  Once NPR didn't play news shows all day, so I'd switch to radio stations that played music when I was driving in the car.  Or I'd pop a tape in the tape player.

Now I've been listening to CDs, CDs of music that's getting to be very old.  The other day I was playing Paul Simon's Heart and Bones, which came out in 1983.  I sang along, trying to channel my inner Diana Krall.  Now that would be an album I would buy.  Diana Krall sings the soundtrack of my college years:  U2, the Police/Sting, Paul Simon, David Bowie.  Wouldn't that be sweet?

I spent the week-end reading books.  I devoured Mary Pipher's Women Rowing North, a book that made me feel optimistic about the aging process.  She's been making the NPR rounds, and often when I discover a book that way, I find that I've already heard the good parts by the time I get to the book.  That was not the case with this book.

Here's one thing from the book that I want to remember:  "Repetition gives us security, while variation gives us zest.  We want a balance between regular habits that are deeply satisfying and spontaneity with its freshness and excitement.  We want a good strong comfort zone and we want to be able to push ourselves outside it on a regular basis" (p. 128).  This advice is good for humans at any age, but even more important as we age.

Yesterday I read much of Roxeane Gay's Hunger:  A Memoir of (My) Body.  I liked its short chapters and the fact that I could read it while my spouse kept the TV on.  I had heard Gay talk about much of the book, so there wasn't much to surprise me.  Her analysis of being a larger woman in the world was also familiar to me, but it was interesting to read it in depth.

So far, I am having better luck finding interesting books to read in 2019 than I did in 2018.  Is it because I am making a more concerted effort to read more and thus I am more likely to find good books?  Am I just luckier this year?

I did read good books in 2018, of course, but my disappointment in my reading is what I remember when I think about the year.  It's probably not the fault of the books, but my expectations.  For example, I read Timothy Snyder's book, The Road to Unfreedom, and while it was interesting, it wasn't the book I was thinking it would be.  As I look at my list of books read, I see lots of books that interested me at first, but then became a slog as I kept reading.

I always get concerned when that happens regularly.  I worry that I'm losing my ability to concentrate.

This week-end was a good mix of relaxing (reading) and pushing myself (the spinathon).  I don't know that I followed Mary Pipher's advice exactly, but I came close.  The reading was the comfort zone and the spinathon was the variation.  I was fairly sure I would like the spinathon, which meant it wasn't way far out of my comfort zone, but it was something unusual for me.

Now to get working on the work week.


Sunday, February 10, 2019

First Spinathon

I did not go to the first annual spinathon last year.  I wasn't sure I wanted to make the sacrifice of time or money.  I said, "Why should I pay $25, when I've already paid for a gym membership so that I can take all the classes I want?"

But as I heard everyone talk about how much fun they had, I found myself wishing that I had gone.  After all, the money was for a good cause--to support the very gym where I took spin classes.

This year, we had a competition:  the people who went to the most spin classes in January would win 1 of 4 spots on a spin bike in the spinathon.  It was great motivation, and I'm happy to say that I won one of the spots on the bike, the 11-noon 80's Hair Bands ride.

At 9:50 yesterday morning, I got to the hospital grounds where the outdoor spinathon was held.  I wanted time to check out all the other stuff, but I ended up never getting the free massage--as you probably would suspect, the waiting list for a free massage is always long.  I did eat several fruit cups, a delicious mix of melon chunks, pineapple chunks, strawberry slices, and grapes.  I tucked away a few granola bars for later.  I got my free T-shirt.  I watched the kids having their faces painted and meeting the police dogs and horses.

My time on the bike was both fun and grueling.  I knew that we would win as a bike team if we covered the most miles, so I wanted to do my share.  I don't know the results, but I know that I'm sore this morning (feet, hips, and lower back)--the kind of sore of having pushed myself.

It was fun to spin in a much bigger group, although several times people checked to make sure I was O.K.  I turn bright red when I'm working out hard, but in a normal spin class, in a dark room, people don't see that.  We were under a tent, which was fortunate, since I didn't bring sunscreen for the sunny times or rain gear for the showers that swept through every so often.

Here's a picture that someone else took:



As I drove home, I thought about how the spinathon reminded me of the road races of my youth.  It was fun to be in a big group with such a mix of ages and abilities. 

But it was also different--someone had to move all those bikes.  I'd like to do a spinathon more often, but I won't because there aren't that many.  The logistics are much more complicated than putting together a road race.

I'm glad that I participated in the second annual spinathon.  What if I had waited until the 15th annual spinathon?  I'd be sad at how many opportunities I had already lost.

It's a life lesson, I suspect.  I know that I say "no" to opportunities too often--and that I often say "yes" even when it may not be the wisest idea.  I'm prone to think about what other people want, not what I want.  I tend to consider all sorts of angles when it comes to decisions about how to spend my time, which means I may not put myself as a high enough priority, especially for opportunities which don't really take a lot of time or money.

Let me remember the lessons of the spinathon!

Saturday, February 9, 2019

Purgatory Project, Newsletter Articles and Spinathon

It's been a very long week at work, with a mix of good and bad.  On Monday, I wrote up 2 incident reports; I've been at this job since Halloween of 2016, and until Monday, I had never had to write up an incident report.  We had a student with an epileptic seizure on Monday morning, but it was a small seizure, which the teacher and class handled beautifully.  On Monday afternoon, we had an abusive boyfriend assault one of our students in the parking lot.

Yesterday was a quiet day at the office, which I greatly needed after the week of incident reports and meetings, lots of meetings.  I needed to write some articles for the school newsletter. I don't mind doing it, but it's rather involved: each small article needs at least one picture and one caption. The caption must be submitted in a Word document that's separate from the article. Everything for the article must be included in one e-mail, one e-mail per article, and each campus is supposed to submit 3-4 articles.

Luckily, I can write them fairly easily, and I submit a lot of stuff to the social media coordinator week by week, so I can recycle some of that into the newsletter articles. It was good to get them done.

Last night I arrived home exhausted, and my spouse was worn out too.  He'd had a tough day at the dentist, as we will probably spend the rest of our days trying to save his mouth from his impoverished adolescence which meant that he didn't have dental care. He was worn out and falling asleep by 6. We watched TV with him nodding off. Then he actually fell asleep at 7, and I read for another hour. I was asleep by 8, which means I woke up very early.

Readers of this blog know that I don't mind this strange sleep cycle.  I get lots of writing done.  This morning, I returned to the Purgatory Project (go here for details).  I wrote in the voice of God's registrar.  It was a delight.

Today I go to a spinathon. I won a spot on the bike by going to the most classes in January. It's a $25 value, so I'll go. I didn't go last year, and it sounds like people had a really good time. I was glad to win a spot, although I planned to participate, even if I hadn't won. There will be about 200 participants, and it's like a giant spin class, but with more bikes, more participants, and lasting several hours. It's to raise money for the wellness center.

In addition to participating, there's a goodie bag with a T-shirt, coupons and freebie offers. There will be breakfast food until it runs out, water, tea, snacks--and massages. So I'll get there at 10, in case I need to do something to register, and also to see it all. There are raffles and silent auctions and give aways. I'm expecting a festival-like atmosphere.

It's also held outside, so I'm not sure what to expect in terms of the weather. And I'm not sure when I'll be done and when I'll be home. It's going to be an unusual day, but it should be fun. It will be good exercise, if nothing else.

Tonight I was supposed to go to a cookie exchange.  A friend has been having a Christmas cookie exchange for years, but this year she had to move it to February.  It was supposed to be tonight, but she had to cancel.  Happily, she made that call before I made dozens of cookies to exchange.  I love seeing the people, but this year, making the cookies was going to be tough with my close to non-existent kitchen.  I had decided that I could pull off 2 batches of bar cookies and that would be it.

While I will miss the chance to see everyone and catch up, I'm glad that I didn't have to spend last night making cookies.  My weight is up a bit, so I'm also glad that I won't have dozens of cookies to eat after the event.

Friday, February 8, 2019

When Your Poetry Lines Migrate to Your Sketchbook

Yesterday, I returned to the lines I had written earlier in the day:

In this temple of old bones and white whiskers,
I water the plants and feed the cats.
The work of a prophetess is never done.

I decided I wanted to create a sketch, so I started with part of the first line:

In this temple of old bones

I knew I would also add the last line, so the first thing I sketched was an owl, which was going to be a cat, but when the owl shape came, I went with it.  I drew a tree around it.

The image of the Morikami Museum came into my mind, so I tried to sketch it.  I also did a search for images, and came up with some of the statues from the garden.  I included it too.

I did the initial sketching with a black pen that has a very fine tip.  Then I began to add color, first with the owl, then with the temple windows.  Here's the finished sketch:


I liked the austerity of the sketch without the color, but I didn't realize that I did before I added the color.  In the future, I'll try to remember to take a picture of the pre-color sketch too.

I then returned to the villanelle (more on that form here) and realized I had gotten the rhyme scheme wrong.  

In this temple of white whiskers and old bones,
I water the plants and feed the cats.
The work of a prophetess is never done.

I saw an easy fix, but I'm not as crazy about it:

In this temple of white whiskers, old bones, and setting sun
I water the plants and feed the cats.
The work of a prophetess is never done.

Is the rhythm of the second line off?  Let me try this:

In this temple of white whiskers, old bones, and setting sun,
I water the plants, sweep the stone floor, and feed the cats.
The work of a prophetess is never done.

This rhythm might be better:

In this temple of white whiskers, old bones, and setting sun,
I water the plants, feed the cats, and sweep the stone floor.
The work of a prophetess is never done.

Let me return to this idea later today.  Now it's time to head to spin class and the other tasks of the day.

Thursday, February 7, 2019

A Poem for Anna the Prophetess

Last week-end had us celebrate Candlemas (the presentation of Jesus at the Temple) on Feb. 2 and the feast day of Saint Simeon on Feb. 3.  One of my Facebook friends posted "A Song for Simeon," the T. S. Eliot poem that imagines Simeon at the end of life, perhaps having an existential crisis, or maybe just feeling the age of his bones. 

I immediately thought about a companion poem, a song for Anna, the prophetess who is also mentioned in the Presentation at the Temple text in Luke's gospel (Luke 2:  22-38).  But until this morning, I haven't had time to play with this idea.

This morning, I wrote these lines:

In this temple of old bones and white whiskers,
I water the plants and feed the cats.
The work of a prophetess is never done.

Then I stopped, struck by the idea of a villanelle.  I find the villanelle form to be one of the most difficult.  A villanelle needs a first and third line that can be repeated and thus can stand on its own.  The lines need to end in words that can rhyme (if you want to know more, go here).

I made a change to make the rhyming easier:

In this temple of white whiskers and old bones,
I water the plants and feed the cats.
The work of a prophetess is never done.

I wrote out the villanelle structure, leaving blank lines.  I'll come back to it later.  I wanted to write the original poem that I envisioned, without struggling with the villanelle structure.  So, I flipped the page of my legal pad, and I was off and running.

I wrote a poem that juxtaposes the life of men in the temple with the women who are doing the background work:  the sweeping and the cooking, the repairing of the rips, and the tending of the children.  In the last lines, I hope I'm invoking the Advent text from Isaiah:

                       The prophetess
proclaims the good news
with every meal and all the surfaces made straight.

Here's the Isaiah text:

"A voice cries:
'In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord,
Make straight in the desert a highway for our God."

Just yesterday, I was feeling more alignment with the Simeon of the Eliot poem and the exhaustion that seeps through every line.  I thought I might never write again, although I did record an inspiration in a Facebook post (A week ago, I'd have been about to go with my parents and their group of friends to the Memory Care Center to sing. Today I am getting ready for a day that will consist of mostly meetings. O.K., poet brain, get to work in the background. Perhaps you'll also want to mix in a Revolutionary War battlefield and a ship called the Hermione and maybe you want to think about Harry Potter or maybe that's too much . . .).  

What a delight to actually write a poem this morning.  And now, off to the other work that the day will usher in.

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

States of Union

Soon I will hear the details of the State of the Union messages last night.  Regardless of who has given the speeches, throughout my adult life, I never watch the extravaganza in real time on T.V.; I can't stay up that late and still be functioning the next day.  I count on NPR commentators to give me the high and low points the next morning.

Today is the birthday of Ronald Reagan, who was born in 1911.  Long ago, I had similar feelings about Reagan as I've had about some politicians who came after him.  I was outraged by some of the actions he took and outraged by some of the actions he didn't take.  I worried about the future of the country under the people he appointed.

I was in high school and college during Reagan's time in office.  My main memories of the Carter presidency are the Iran hostage crisis and the rising cost of regular life, along with record high interest rates, which helped savers but penalized those looking to buy a home.  When we got our first mortgage at a 7% interest rate, I thought we'd scored a real win, mainly because of my memories of stagflation.

I didn't experience Reagan as the breath of fresh air that many did.  I was suspicious of his sunny optimism.  Now I miss it more than I would have thought possible.

I am feeling a bit brain dead this morning even though I didn't stay up to see the State of the Union.  I am feeling creatively drained--especially for someone who announced that her wells had been filled up at the end of her travels.

I have not been sleeping well for a few days; I'm not sure what that's about.

Let me remind myself that not every day has to be one where I blaze creative trails.  Some days, it's enough that I pay the bills and wash the dishes and do the work that my school requires.

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

The Best Literary Rejection

Through my writing life, I've written in a variety of genres:  poetry, non-fiction, theology, literary criticism, short stories, and even a few novels.

I've had more poems published than any other type of writing, but that may be because I've sent out more poetry submissions.  And I'm usually submitting more than just one poem, so I increase my chances that someone will like my work.

When it comes to fiction, I've had the least amount of publication in that area.  There are days when I wonder if I should see that lack of publication as an indication that I'm not a very good fiction writer.

But my Ph.D. gave me extensive training in literary analysis, and when I look at my fiction, long after the glow of writing it has faded, I do see merit.

A few weeks ago, I got one of the best rejections I've ever gotten:

"I kept “Book of the Dead” on hand longer than is my habit — and returned to read it several times. Editorially speaking, for me it became a matter of revision — and the more I envisioned those edits, the more I could see that they would violate what you have intended and shaped. So I’m passing the story back to you — but not without saying that to have had it in my hands is a privilege."

The sting of rejection goes away with these kind words.  I felt like someone had taken the time to read my work deeply, and while it wasn't a match, it was wonderful to know that it wasn't a quick rejection.  I often send out work and wonder if anyone really reads it, especially when the rejection comes the next day.

It's good to know that there are editors out there who are taking the time to read in a way that few of us do anymore.

Monday, February 4, 2019

Poetry Monday: "Huck at Midlife"

Today I head back to the office, although I may return home midmorning to await the delivery of the kitchen cabinets when my spouse needs to leave to teach.  My rambles back through Revolutionary War land have ended, and it's back to regular life.

I'm not sure why my thoughts have turned to Huck Finn and not some figure of colonial times.  I've been making my way through The Fire This Time:  A New Generation Speaks about Race--what amazing essays!  Perhaps that's why my brain is thinking about race and slavery and the relationship between Huck and Jim. 

My writing time is short this morning, so let me post a poem which takes these ponderings in a different direction. I wrote this poem after getting an e-mail from a friend. She had gone to Mepkin Abbey and really enjoyed sitting by the Cooper River. She said it reminded her of Huck Finn and all those wonderful descriptions of the river; I think she gave me the last line, in fact, which I'm fairly sure comes from Mark Twain himself.

Her rapturous e-mail sent me back to the novel, which I don't like as much as I feel like I should like, but I can understand its importance to American Literature. And as I often do, I found myself wondering about what happens after the novel ends--it's a practice that drove some of my graduate professors nuts; I remember one of them saying to me, "They're characters in a novel. When the novel is over, so is the life of the character."

However, I've found much creative fodder in imagining the lives of characters 10 or 20 years later; maybe you, too, might find this writing prompt to lead you to some interesting territory. I wonder if a book made of only these kind of poems would be compelling or would it get tiresome?

In the meantime, here's the poem:


Huck at Midlife


Huck reconsiders his adolescence, that dogged
pursuit of unshod feet and freedom
of all sorts. At what point
did he decide that money mattered?

Huck rests his hands on his paunch, a pregnant
flab of flesh foretelling of future heart attacks.
He wonders what’s become of Jim
and all the other friends of his youth.

Have they forgiven him for the arrogance
that comes with youth? He flushes
each time he thinks of wrong directions,
fleeing north only to find himself back in slave territory.

Huck balances the bank accounts,
his ledgers neat and contained. He’s ahead
with his scheduled personnel reviews,
taxes paid according to the timetable.

He returns to his snug house, the wilderness
kept outside where it belongs.
His wife has kept dinner warm. She bustles
in the kitchen while he kisses his sleeping children.

Only late at night does his faithfulness
waver. Only after midnight does he let
himself think of his first love,
that river, awful, still, and grand.

Sunday, February 3, 2019

Photos from Our Past

As yet another politician finds himself (gendered use of pronoun intentional) in trouble from youthful photographs of hijinks, I find myself reflecting on pictures and our past.  Even before we transitioned to a much more digitally connected world, I was careful about who might capture what on film.

I probably needn't have worried.  I wasn't popular/important enough to find my way into a yearbook.  And thinking about the Virginia governor, I'm wondering about a med school yearbook.  All thoughts of yearbooks ended when I left undergraduate school.

I've always found yearbooks to have similar disappointments to those Valentine's mailboxes--I always hope for so much and never get rewarded.  I remember looking at each page of every yearbook and coming away with disappointment that so little of what I thought was important was contained there.

Maybe I should be grateful.

Of course, I didn't do the types of things that are tripping up our modern politicians.  There may be a picture or two of me with green hair for Halloween when I tried to pull off a punk rock kind of costume.  There's a picture of me at a Christmas tree decorating party with a string of lights around my head, while I kneel to pet a cat.  Those pictures are in plastic tubs in our cottage, not in the yearbook.

If I could find a yearbook, I'm guessing you'd see a group shot of our honor society, Cardinal Key--the group shot includes me.  There's a picture of either the newspaper or radio group--I remember wrapping a scarf around my head because others came to the photo shoot more dressed up than I was.  Not exactly radical or problematic.  I may have held my fingers up in a peace sign, but if I'm ever disqualified for a political position for doing that, then the country is in a scary state.

Here's my favorite picture of undergrad years that's digitized:



Very racy, that reference to supporting our local rhetoricians!  That'll get me disqualified when I'm up for the Supreme Court Justice nominee that I hope will come my way!

I'm the one with the braid.  The other woman is my beloved English professor, Dr. Swanson.  She died unexpectedly almost 5 years ago, and I still can't believe she's gone.  She's the one that set me on my current course by repeatedly telling me that I was grad school material.  She's the one that believed in me before I even thought to believe in myself.

It's a shame we don't have national discussions about those kinds of pictures.

Saturday, February 2, 2019

Back to Regular Life, Sweetened by Time Away

I am back from my travels north; I had a great visit to see my folks.  Plus, I saw snowflakes; as we went to the Richmond airport yesterday, it started to snow.  At first it seemed a bit more like sleet or icy pellets.  Then there were some flakes which started to stick.  The plane needed to be de-iced.  But we got off the ground.

I realize that others weren't so lucky--I saw lots of "delayed" statuses on the airport arrival board last night.

I have spent the morning catching up a bit.  Have I unpacked?  No.  I'm trying to be a bit more quiet, and I'm also dreading finding the space for new clothes, as half my closet isn't very accessible right now.  My closet is blocked by furniture that we moved out of the way 6 months ago for housing repair/remodel.

I wrote a poem this morning that came to me yesterday as I walked across the campus of my parents' retirement community.  I reflected that it was the feast day of St. Brigid; I wondered if a retirement community was similar to a medieval abbey in significant ways.

The poem I wrote this morning was a bit different than the one I thought I would write, but it made me happy.

I also read a bit of poetry that made me happy.  When I sent my book length manuscript to Copper Canyon, I got to choose 2 books, and I chose Time Will Clean the Carcass Bones by Lucia Perillo, mainly because I loved the title.  It's a new and selected collection, and wow--what powerful poems.  I had no idea.

It's been a good writing week.  I could feel my well being filled by my traveling and by my reading.  On the plane ride back, I finished Old in Art School by Nell Painter--what an intriguing book.  It made me want to go home and paint.  I did sketch on the plane, but I felt constrained by the space and the bumpiness, so I made it a quick sketch.

Yesterday, I also read my collection of linked short stories all the way through, and I am happy to report that it holds together--hurrah!  I know that some of the stories involved scenes with student complaints, so I wanted to be sure they're not all the same complaint, and to make sure there wouldn't be too much repetition of any sort.  And I'm pretty sure there's not. 

Now to get ready for spin class.  It's the last day of the spin class challenge, and although I already know I've won a spot in the spinathon, I'll go to class anyway.  I need to stop by the library on the way back to get a book that I have on reserve and to take care of some renewals.

In other words, it's back to normal life, but with the sweetness of time away still in my body and brain.

Friday, February 1, 2019

Where the Revolution(ary War) Ended

I spent much of my childhood and adolescence going to national parks and museums and historical sites. I lived in places like Virginia that were an easy drive to these sites.

I went with school groups--even in places that seemed less historic, I remember going to statehouses and standing on the star that marked where some more famous person stood. For example, in Montgomery, Alabama, we were told that we were standing on the spot where Jefferson Davis swore his allegiance to the Confederacy, and I don't remember much in the way of moralizing about whether or not that was good or bad.

Now I look back and think about how close we stood to a different history, the church where Martin Luther King got his start.

I went to all these sites with school groups and church groups and Girl Scout troops. I remember a Scout trip to Moundsville, Alabama, a Native American site, where we looked at artifacts and didn't discuss whether or not it was disrespectful to look at a burial site this way.

Yesterday, my parents and I went to Yorktown, the site of the battle and siege that won the Revolutionary War for the country that would become the United States of America. In the last decade, there's been a beautiful new museum created, with a variety of short films and artifacts, both the ones behind glass and the ones that were out for us to touch. There were uniforms that we could try on and take pictures. There was an amazing gift shop, which seems to be required for these sites.

I loved the various exhibits. I was surprised to realize that I gravitated to the theatres that showed the short films. My brain wandered a bit as I skimmed the text that came with plexiglass cases of artifacts.

I loved rediscovering the history that I knew once, along with information that I never learned. As I made my way through the exhibits, I thought about all those names and how wonderful they might be if I needed them for a certain work of fiction.

It was bitterly cold (although not the midwestern kind of cold), so we left a large part of the Yorktown site unexplored. The map showed all sorts of outdoor learning areas, but we would leave those for a warmer day.

Because it was a cold Thursday in January, only a few other folks were at the site, which was a different kind of treat. And then we drove back, down the Colonial Parkway, which has seen all sorts of history. But yesterday, all we saw was one other car, a river with some icy patches, and five deer.

It's good to remember that our current political situation may seem grim, but it's not nearly as desperate as we may think. We may be headed down that road, true, but we have some time and some maneuvers left to us.

It was also good to be reminded of the enormous risks that those colonists took--and to be reminded of the principals which they thought were worth those risks. Those principals are still so important, those inalienable rights still so essential.