Saturday, July 4, 2020

Independence and Resilience

How strange to wake up on Independence Day to see my Twitter and Facebook feeds equally split between people who were enjoying the broadcast of Hamilton last night on Disney Plus and people who were watching the broadcast of President Trump at Mount Rushmore.  What a juxtaposition!

I was not watching either.  We went over to our neighborhood friends' house for our regularly scheduled wine, cheese, and other nibbles.  We usually go on Thursdays, but this week, we switched to Friday so that we could do more with charcuterie.  I had grand plans, but in the end, it was just some extras added to our usual treats:  some salami, some cranberry-pepper jam, and two kinds of olives.

I was also feeling a complex mix of feelings because in the late afternoon, I got an e-mail from a dear South Florida friend who is moving to Chicago.  She and her spouse want to be closer to their daughter.

I suspect that this season of pandemic will be similar to a bad hurricane season, in terms of how people analyze their lives and figure out what's working, what's not, and what's important.  The friends who are moving to Chicago are retired, so they have some flexibility that those of us who are tenuously hanging onto our jobs may not have.

I am envious, even though I have no desire to move to Chicago.  They made this decision to move just after Father's Day week-end, and now, here they are, 10 days later, with a plan, and this sense of purpose has propelled them into a grand adventure.  I saw the pictures of their house on a real estate site, and they've already packed up a lot of the house.  I envy them their energy.

I envy them their sense of purpose.  I, too, have been doing lots of analyzing of what's working and what isn't, but unlike them, I haven't come up with a vision for what I want to move towards.

There have been previous 4th of July celebrations that we would have spent with them, afternoons grilling and swimming and dreaming of the future.  At those celebrations, moving to Chicago wasn't ever in their plans. 

How the world has changed.

In other years, we might have sat on our front porch, playing patriotic music on our violin/mandolin/ukulele as people made their way over to the beach to enjoy the fireworks.  That won't be happening this year.  Well, we may play music on the porch, but we won't be watching a municipal firewords display.  Those have been cancelled across the nation.

It's a strange moment in the history of the nation to be having this celebration.  A pandemic ravages the planet, people take to the street in levels of protests that we haven't seen since the 1960's, and there's an economic upset that threatens not only to compete with the Great Depression, but to take the record.  Insert a heavy sigh here.

And yet, perhaps out of these ruins, we can build something better.  It's happened before.

I'm grateful that I had a chance to know my grandmother in a deeper way than I would have if she had died when I was younger.  She had survived more than I thought I would ever face:  the Great Depression, World War II, various types of poverty.  And yet, she not only survived, but she had a rugged resilience and a stubborn optimism.

I began the 4th of July week-end yesterday by hearing this new song by Rhiannon Giddens.  It, too, reminds me that resilience comes out of adversity. 

Thursday, July 2, 2020

Fragments of a Map to an Unknown Future

This morning, I made a different piece of art:




In the wee, small hours of the morning, once again, I couldn't sleep.  I was having one of those dark night of the soul kinds of night, where I couldn't quiet my brain and go back to sleep.  I decided to get up and do some offline journaling.

I ended this way, "So many roads circling back to a question: what am I going to do with the rest of my life? How can I plan now that this pandemic has changed everything? Or has it changed everything?"

I did some sorting.  My spouse has an idea for a shelving project; I am fighting despair as the plan has gotten ever more complicated.  All I wanted was a place to put my books!  Books that have been packed away for 2 years now.  Insert a heavy sigh here.

I came across some map fragments.  They were part of a different art project.  I created this shadowbox out of hurricane damaged stuff, including a chest of drawers:



Then I tried to transform that project into something for an art show that I decided not to enter:



This morning, I found those map fragments as I was sorting, and I thought about how they represented my existential crisis of sorts--what map can we follow to the future?  What makes sense these days? 



I added a few more elements:



It made me happy, making these arrangements, even if I didn't have a flash of insight about the way forward.

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

Simon and Garfunkle Day

Yesterday I heard a brief story on Bob Dylan, who released an album earlier in the month which went to the top 40, which made him the first artist to have a top 40 new album every decade since the 60's.  And then, they went through the number of top 40 albums in each decade: " Going into the 21st century, Dylan had seven Top 40 albums in the aughts. . . . And nine in the 2010s."     Seven and nine albums?  I was aware of one or two recent ones, but clearly there were more. 

I feel inadequate now.

My dad, sister, and I have not been listening to Bob Dylan's new album.  On Saturday, my dad called to ask if I had any of his Simon and Garfunkle albums; it's a fair question, since I used to take his albums and not return them quickly.  I mentioned that I thought he had gotten rid of all of those albums when he got the CD collection of the complete works of the duo.  He had forgotten that he had that CD.

I realize that you may be thinking my dad suffers from dementia, but he doesn't.  He's just had a lot of music over these past decades, and to make it more complicated, it's been music stored in a variety of ways:  vinyl LP record album, reel to reel tape, cassette tape, CDs, and now electronically.

I'm the same way; in fact, I've bought Simon and Garfunkle's The Concert in Central Park three times (twice on vinyl, once on CD).  Right now, I couldn't tell you which record albums I've kept and which I've gotten rid of.

Yesterday, my dad sent my sister and me a play list of sorts, complete with links to find the songs online.  I don't know that my sister listened to Simon and Garfunkle, and later Paul Simon, as obsessively as my dad and I did, but she wrote my dad an e-mail thanking him for the playlist that he sent, saying that she had listened during lunch and while she was cooking dinner.

I wish I could say that my nephew loves Simon and Garfunkle, that we're passing the songs onto the next generation.  It hasn't happened yet--but there's still time!

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Emptiness: Various Sorts

I have been awake for over 2 hours.  I finally decided to just get up after realizing how much I ached:  my sore back, my sore shoulders, my sore feet, my aching heart (metaphorical heartache, not literal, heartache about the state of the world, not about personal loss).

Why am I aching?  Yesterday morning, my spouse said we weren't going to move the mattresses from the guest room to the cottage for a few more days.  Last night, I got home to mattresses in the living room, and it was clear my spouse was going to move them to the cottage last night, one way or another.  So, I helped.

Now the guest room feels so empty.  Since September, we've had 2 mattresses and 2 box springs stacked on top of each other, along with 7 boxes of books crammed in beside the box.  We brought all sorts of stuff in from the cottage when my sister-in-law moved in.  When she moved out in February, my spouse was teaching 8 classes, so we didn't have time to think about much else but how we'd get our work-for-pay done.

Now my spouse has a stretch of time, so he wants to make some headway on house projects.  I do not have a similar stretch of time, but I try to help where I can.  I do like the parts of the house that we've managed to transform (the kitchen, the laundry room).  I do want to live in a house that looks like the home of proper grown ups who can manage their lives.

The guest room is so much more spacious without a bed in it.  Part of me wonders if we will ever have guests again.  Why move the mattress and box spring back?

When we moved the mattresses, we found the bottle of contact lens solution that I couldn't find when I got back from San Antonio.  I got out to San Antonio for the AWP conference back in March to discover that I left without a bag of liquids.  I bought a brand new bottle of solution, which I knew I returned home with but couldn't find.

I look at that bottle as if it's an artifact from long ago.  Ah, the travel in March, where only a few people in the airport wore masks, and most of them wore them incorrectly.  Ah, travel in March, where there were whispers that we should be taking this disease more seriously (note the discussions about whether or not the AWP conference should have been cancelled), but I would not have foreseen what March would bring.  Even as our week in San Antonio ended with the news of the cancellation of the South by Southwest festival in Austen, I would not have predicted shelter in place/safer at home orders across the nation.

I would not have predicted the severe toilet paper shortage. 

Now I look at this room, which we're about to empty further, this front bedroom.  Could we transform it to something else, something that could be converted back if we did have a guest here and there?

I'm no longer sure that buying air mattresses makes sense.  Most of our guests can't get down to an air mattress.  I'm thinking about my friend's futon with a solid wooden frame.  But again, I find myself wondering if our days of hosting overnight guests are over:  between the age of our various relatives, the age of our friends, the fact that we're no longer on the way to anywhere else where friends and family are traveling.

Well, more will be revealed in the coming days and months.  For now, let me not be in a rush to move items back to the main house.  Let me sit with emptiness before filling it up.

Monday, June 29, 2020

Drive Through Communion

Yesterday, I was the person in charge of drive through communion, so that my pastor could get a brief vacation.  My pastor left pre-consecrated wafers in individual plastic bags, along with plastic cups of wine.  I followed his approach.  Here's how it worked:

A car pulled up, and with the driver watching, I put hand sanitizer on my hands.  I handed the person a wafer and asked if they preferred wine or grape juice.  I went back and got the cup for them, instead of bringing the tray of cups to the car.  The empty wine cup could go into the empty wafer bag.

I then said a form of this blessing:  "May the Lord bless you and keep you.  May the Lord's face smile on you and be gracious to you.  May the Lord look upon you with favor and grant you peace."

We had about 20 people during the 2 hours.  My spouse practiced his violin and took care of the money counting duties.  I had plenty of time to read the next book on my reading list for my spiritual direction certificate program.  It was a pleasant way to spend the time.

I was surprised by how happy I was to see everyone, even when I didn't recognize them; many of them wore masks, which made it hard for me to tell who they were.  Each car of people seemed profoundly happy to receive the sacrament and the blessing.

And I was profoundly happy to be doing it, even though it was a bit odd.  By the end of the day, I couldn't get the smell of hand sanitizer off of my hands, but even that was O.K. (I do not like the smell of any hand sanitizer that I've tried).

I've always thought that one of the things I would like best about being a pastor would be the weekly communion duties.  Even with drive through communion, I still think so.

Sunday, June 28, 2020

Sunday Yearnings

I finished an e-mail to my sister this way:  "I hope all is well where you are. I imagine you having a leisurely Sunday, with pancakes and Bloody Marys and lovely jazz playing on the stereo, the dog snoozing, and the boys sleeping in."

Writing these words invoked such a sense of yearning in me.  I don't feel like I've had that kind of leisurely morning since Christmas break.  I can't remember the last time I've had a perfect pancake--or even an imperfect pancake.

These days, having a leisurely morning feels impossible.  These days, morning comes with competing demands:  get the exercise done before the sun clears the horizon to heat up the day while also getting the restocking of supplies (shopping) done before the stores get crowded while getting the writing done while also having time for spiritual reading while doing a bit of sketching.

Who has time for pancakes and jazz?

But maybe I should start paying more attention to my yearnings.  For months now, I haven't let myself think too much about my yearnings.  I said, "That way madness lies."  How can one yearn, when a pandemic ravages the globe and the economy explodes into sharp shards?

Some of my yearnings are impossible right now.  I want to go to a creativity and spirituality retreat like Create in Me, where we sing together and share art supplies and eat delicious meals that someone else has prepared on dishes that someone else will wash.  I want to meet my family at a mountain town where we can enjoy craft brews and rainbow trout.  I want to go to a farmer's market where I can find local tomatoes that taste the way they did when we picked them off my grandmother's tomato plant.

But some yearnings might be possible.  It might take a bit of planning.  I can't have Bloody Marys this morning:  I don't have the ingredients in the house, and I need to be at church in a few hours to do the drive through communion.

But with a bit of planning, I could take a day off work, I could take a morning off from the commitments, I could put jazz on the stereo, and I could make pancakes and breakfast cocktails with ingredients that I purchased in an act of foresight.

Saturday, June 27, 2020

A Weird, Warm Sky

This morning, I finished a sketch I'd been working on since Tuesday:




I wasn't sure that I was going to color in the sky at all.  In fact, yesterday morning, I thought I might be done, that I might leave the sketch this way:




But last night, I was trying to stay awake past 7:30, so I decided to start filling in the sky with color.  I started to lose the stars, so I tried accentuating them with some thin lines of cranberry color.

Here's the haiku-like piece that I wrote on the second day of sketching:

Stars in a cold sky
Mend the torn butterfly wings
Underground railroad

In the finished piece, I'm no longer sure that the sky looks cold.  It's got a weird, warmer energy--but I like it.

I really enjoyed working on this sketch, seeing what colors emerged and submerged as I added more layers of color.

Friday, June 26, 2020

Subconscious at Work and at Dreaming

I've been working on this sketch all week:




Here's the haiku-like piece that I wrote on the second day of sketching:

Stars in a cold sky
Mend the torn butterfly wings
Underground railroad

At first these 3 lines don't seem to go together at all.  But as I've been thinking about them, I've been sensing connections.

Clearly, my subconscious is working on various connections that I don't readily see as I move from task to task.

This morning, I made this Facebook post:  "I had my first dream that had me worrying about close proximity and COVID-19 transmission. In my dream, we were packed in a Lutheran church for a high festival day. I was admiring the fabrics in everyone's stoles and the banners and light streamed through stunning stained glass. And then I realized we were packed into the pews and had been for hours and no one was wearing a mask. It doesn't take a trained psychologist to analyze the anxiety aspect of the dream--but in a church on a high festival day with beautiful fabrics all around me? Really, dreaming brain, really?"

I've spent the morning thinking about this dream, thinking about the reasons why I'm having a COVID-19 anxiety dream set in a church, especially when my local church will not be gathering in person until after Labor Day, if then.

We know that churches packed with people do pose a unique danger with this virus.  But it seems that maybe this dream is doing more.  Maybe it's a dream of mourning and lament, for all that has been lost.  Or maybe it's a dream about possible futures that seem out of reach right now.

My subconscious is at work--I'm not sure I can handle what it's realizing.


Thursday, June 25, 2020

The Messages in Our Emergencies

Last night, the phone rang, and I listened to the message that my mayor left on our answering machine (except it's not an answering machine, the way it used to be--interesting force of habit/language).  It's been months since we got a call from our local emergency network.  I partially expected that city or county officials might be ordering us to shelter in place again, as yesterday, the state of Florida had 5,507 new cases of COVID-19. 

But he was simply announcing that we must do better at wearing masks and social distancing.  At the end of the very long message, he also announced that officials would be cracking down on businesses that haven't been enforcing the rules.

I snapped awake at 2 a.m., thinking about both a poem about John the Baptist and about the surge in COVID-19 cases.  How on earth are we going to navigate this disease in this phase during our new quarter which starts on Monday?

I'm also worried that our externship sites, which had just begun to reopen, will begin to close again.  We have so many students who have come to a crashing halt in their progress because they can't go on externship.  Ugh.

I am also thinking of the several generations worth of apocalyptic works that I devoured throughout my life, and how we now find ourselves in the middle of a dystopia that's not at all what I imagined.  I'm also thinking about the histories of oppressed people and how that oppression/enslavement happened.

I am worried about how women will continue to work as K-12 schools aren't providing 5 day a week onground schooling.  I think about dystopian novels, like Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale, which prophesied a sharper shift in the erosion of women's rights.  I always thought that being able to control our fertility was vital to women's rights, and I still think that.  But I never thought deeply about how important public education for children was also essential to securing women's independence.  Like many, I assumed that public education was established and would always be here for us in the format we've been using for over a century.

Who is going to take care of the nation's children?  Who is going to educate them?

As I think about the quarter we're about to begin at my college, I envision a patchwork of people who get sick, people who get exposed to someone who's sick and needs to self-quarantine, students and faculty moving in and out.  We are still doing our classes online and through Go to Meeting--but we do have some limited lab time.  We can probably make this work.

I am not so sure of other schools.  I am glad I'm not trying to figure out how to house students.

Let me also record some happier bits of my life:

--I did write my John the Baptist poem; it wasn't the one I was considering yesterday, so I might have another one.  And during this morning's walk, I was thinking of Cassandra--surely there's a Cassandra Counts the Covid Cases poem in me.  And then I wondered about other prophets I hadn't considered.

--I have been doing morning watch for almost 3 months, which means I've been sketching every morning.  It's only 5-7 minutes of sketching, but it makes me happy.

--The other day I was buying beer and wine at Publix, and the woman checking me out said, "I really should ask for your ID.  Are you sure you're old enough to buy this?"  I wasn't sure if she was kidding or not.  I said, "I'm almost 55 years old.  I'm pretty sure I'm old enough."  She was shocked, and she said several times that I looked really good for 55.  I was tempted to pull down my mask and see if she still thought so.  I do feel like I look much younger with a mask--now I have some verification that I do.


Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Modern Life and the Feast Day of John the Baptist

Today is the feast day of John the Baptist.  You may or may not remember him from the earlier parts of several gospels--he's the prophet who comes before Jesus, who reminds people that they're looking for Jesus, not him.  He says, "I am not the messiah."  For more on the theology of this feast day, see this post on my theology blog.

I've been thinking about John the Baptist, even before his feast day.  I've been thinking about the place of prophets.  If John the Baptist walked among us today, what would he call our attention to?  Who are the vipers who need to be uprooted from our society.

I've thought of John the Baptist, who realizes he can't save people.  Why can't I remember that of myself?  I can help, I can assist, but I cannot save.

I'm thinking of John the Baptist, resolute in his self-knowledge.  People tried to transform him into what they wanted and needed him to be, but he refused.  I wonder how many of us could be that strong.

I'm thinking of John the Baptist, not afraid to speak truth to power, even though it meant his certain death.  How can we get a bit of that fearlessness?

I'm thinking of John the Baptist, living in the wilderness, eating locusts and wild honey.  I'm yearning for some time away myself.  What visions might we have with more wilderness time?

I think of John the Baptist, miracle baby.  In one gospel, we meet his mother Elizabeth, who is barren and old.  But she gets the blessing she's wanted for so long and that she must have thought would never come to her.  I love this part of the story--there are so many things that I'm slowly giving up hope of seeing in my life--but most of them aren't nearly as impossible as a late life baby would be.

I think of John the Baptist, the parts left out of the story.  What did he see as drudgery?  I have a vision of him saying, "Didn't I just baptize people yesterday?  I'm ready to do something else."

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Poetry Projects in a Different Hue

I've been feeling a bit of despair about the poems that I'm not writing.  But let me remember that I have been writing some poetry, just not in the traditional way.

The other day when I was sketching, I also worked on a haiku-like thing:




And I've been having fun with book spine poems.  Here's my latest book spine poem, for this week, when John Bolton's book comes out leaving many of us to wonder why he didn't testify earlier when it might have had more effect (but maybe fewer book sales):




So for future years, let me remember that I was being creative, I was using my poetry talents, but I was often using them in different ways.  Let me remember my Pentecost project, part parable, part poetry, part morning walk, part theology--that project brought me more joy than many poetry projects.



Monday, June 22, 2020

Father's Day Cook Out

I still have the taste of St. Louis spare ribs in my mouth.  Last night we went over to our friends' house.  They're the ones who live in the neighborhood, the ones we've continued to see (from a safe distance, in their back yard) throughout the pandemic.  Last night, we had a real meal, not our usual meal of cheese, crackers, and wine.

Our friend had gotten a new smoker, and he really wanted to make ribs for us all.  So we said yes.  Other friends joined us--one I knew from long ago when he taught Psychology for my General Education department at a different school, one of whom was a friend of that friend.  That friend was dog sitting, so he brought 2 adorable dogs that were a mix of poodle and some sort of small hunting/herding dog.

It was good to catch up, with the introductory "Do you know anyone who has the disease?" which then went into comparisons of odd sicknesses through the winter--could we have already had the dread disease?

It was a delight to be together, comparing notes, on a night that seemed normal.  The dogs frolicked in the long grass, and it seemed like a regular night in early summer.  We had festive drinks (aged port!) and regular drinks.  The dogs got in the pool, then decided they didn't like it.  We had collard greens, corn on the cob, and homemade potato salad to go with the spare ribs.  Yummmmm.    After dinner, one dog went from lap to lap looking for cuddles.

We watched hawks fight other birds over territory in the spiky, pine tree, an interloper to these shores.




We also saw a striped lizard that none of us had seen before--another interloper?




And we had interesting discussions about what it means to be an interloper--of course we did, with the mix of psychologists, an English major, and a Philosophy major.

We left just before sunset, so I only saw shreds of the sunset from my kitchen window.  But my friend posted all of these pictures, so I'm borrowing them:




The red cloudiness looks downright apocalyptic, doesn't it?  But that, too, is a normal part of our summer--we've got some sand that's traveled from the Sahara, and it makes our sunsets glorious.

It was a wonderful meal, a good reminder of some of the advantages to staying here where we already have a community formed.  Of course our conversation went to the other apocalypse that's always on the brain of thinking people in South Florida:  how long before sea level rise makes life untenable here?

We have no answers, so we ate a bit more, watched the dogs chase each other, and had aged port instead of dessert.

Sunday, June 21, 2020

Uninspired Scraps Which Do Not Make a Quilt

I am feeling spectacularly uninspired today--or perhaps it's just tiredness, plain and simple.  It's a more profound tiredness, as pandemic protocols settle into the fabric of our daily lives.  So let me just record a few things and see if I'm as uninspired as I think.

--Yesterday I went into the office for a few hours so that some sonography students could get some practice scanning before one of them goes to a job interview tomorrow.  They thanked me profusely, which is one of my favorite work moments for the week, maybe the month.

--While I was there, I got a lot of grading done. 

--I have final grades due today, and the portal has been down since Friday night.  Why must we do IT improvement type things before grades are turned in?

--We've had a multi-day stretch where each day Florida breaks the record set the former day for new cases of COVID-19.  It's hard to see a scenario where this all ends well--or ends soon, for that matter.  This is not the dystopia I had in mind.

--I made this Facebook post earlier this week:  "As I take temperatures of everyone who arrives on our small, college campus, I think of grad school arguments about teaching, the gatekeeper approach vs. the midwife approach. I am now a gatekeeper of a very different sort, keeping out plague instead of avoiding poor pedagogy."

--I wish a mask wasn't so hot and humid feeling.  In some ways, I like wearing a mask; I'm less worried about my teeth and my breath.  The mask covers up my few wrinkles.  I've always thought that my eyes were the best feature of my face, and a mask could accentuate that.

--Could we make a mask with a cooling ring somehow?

--It is amazing to me that we are almost to July.  We start a new quarter a week from tomorrow.  It's no wonder I'm tired.

Saturday, June 20, 2020

Thoughts on Soup and Spin Class on the Summer Solstice

It is the summer solstice, and I am making a wintry soup, a pot of broccoli cheddar cheese soup.  I had vegetables that weren't going to last much longer, and I love this soup.  Once I ate it year round.  Then I had it mainly when I went to Panera to meet friends.  Lately, I haven't had it at all.  So, today we'll have soup.

I saw a stunning sunrise this morning, which seemed appropriate for the morning of the summer solstice.  For the past 3 months, I've been walking almost every morning, and lately, I've been getting out a bit earlier.  I have always tried to time my walks so that I could see the sunrise, and now I want to get home shortly after sunrise.  It gets so hot and often steamy once the sun is up.

This week was the week where I cancelled my membership with the small gym that's part of the Wellness Center that's at Broward General Hospital.  I haven't been there since it closed on March 18.  It re-opened near the end of May, and classes resumed June 1.  But the classes were on a slightly different schedule, and now showers aren't available.  With my increasing temperature taking duties at school, it just seemed impossible.

But even had the scheduling worked out, I wouldn't be going back to spin class any time soon.  The class is in a very small room, and we're all sweating and breathing heavily.  In a time of a new virus that's transmitted when people are in a confined space and exposed to each other's respiratory droplets, it doesn't seem wise to go to spin class.

I'd been coming to this realization as I walked every morning for the last 3 months.  I'm a little surprised that classes are back, to be honest.  I hadn't expected classes to resume for many months yet.

I'm lucky, in many ways.  For most of my life, I've exercised on my own.  I don't need fancy equipment.  I don't need an instructor to tell me how to maximize my workout.  I understand all the various theories around exercise and how to maximize the benefits.  I have a lovely neighborhood where it's safe to take a walk.  Yes, I'm lucky.

It still feels strange to realize that an era has ended for me.  Realistically, I'm not likely to return to the Wellness Center.  When I first started going there, it was on my way to and from work.  Now it's out of the way, and during this shut down, I realized how much gas and travel time it takes to get there.

I'll miss the community that was there, but that community may no longer be there.  I was one of the younger ones who went to spin class, and I'm about to turn 55.  I'll miss the support and the camaraderie.

I do love a good spin class.  I love that I show up, and the instructor has made all the decisions about when we'll speed up and when we'll do jumps, and someone else has chosen the music.  I do love that I can get a vigorous workout that's low impact.  I do love a good spin class, but it's not safe right now.

I don't think of goodbyes this way.  I'm used to being the one who moves away.  I'm also used to a more gradual drifting away.  A crashing down of a wall between before and after because of a huge national/global event (as opposed to a huge personal event, like moving)--that type of ending still feels strange to me.

Friday, June 19, 2020

Liberation Narratives: Juneteenth

Before today, Juneteenth may have been a holiday that flew under the radar of most of us.  It may seem fairly obscure, to celebrate a day when the last U.S. slaves heard that they were emancipated (June 19, 1865).  Why not celebrate the day that the Emancipation Proclamation was signed (Jan. 1, 1863)?  Why not some other day?

Or maybe we should have lots of days to celebrate freedom.  If so, yesterday might become one of them--when I saw the news of the Supreme Court's DACA decision come across my Twitter feed, I doublechecked with various news sources, just to be sure.  I couldn't believe it would be true.

Now I realize that it's not a final protection.  I realize that the Supreme Court didn't say that DACA recipients can stay forever; it didn't grant them citizenship.  The ruling said that the Trump administration didn't approach the case properly.  As Linda Holmes tweeted:  "Another big day for Administrative Law, aka That Class That Sounds Very Boring But Moves The Earth."

But this week has been a great week for Supreme Court decisions, for those of us who want to see more protections for people who have been in the margins, for people who have been oppressed.  And now, another chance to celebrate:  Juneteenth today!

Of course, the issues of slavery haven't gone away.  In many ways, we have more slavery now than we did during the pre-Civil War time.  I think of sex trafficking when I say that, and all sorts of people working in agricultural industries.

And of course, there are all the institutions which enslave us, prisons who hold so many, some of them legally and some of them held illegally.  And so many addictions hold us in shackles. 

If I think about patterns of thought, I could quickly make the assertion that all of us are held in some sort of slavery.

So on this Juneteenth, let us think about the captives who need our help to be set free.  Let us also think about all the captivity narratives that hold us enslaved.  Let us embrace liberation narratives.  Let us envision what life would look like if all were truly free.

Thursday, June 18, 2020

Words at Work

Yesterday at 2 p.m., I made this Facebook post:  "I am trying not to think about the fact that if there had been no pandemic, I would have been starting the 2nd of 4 onground intensives in my work towards a certificate in spiritual direction today. The work continues, but I miss gathering together at Southern Seminary."

I followed up with this comment:  "It's a small sadness in a world of much larger sorrows, but I wanted to record it."

Some days I do a good job of staying focused on the tasks before me, the next 4 hours, not the next 4 months or years.  Yesterday was not one of those days.

In these COVID-19 days, I am seeing lots of people writing about the whole family being in self-isolation or people writing about being out and about.  I am not seeing people writing about what happens when one family member has to work more hours in the office, while the other stays isolated.

I will not be writing about that idea this morning, because I need to get to work, even though I just left work 11 hours ago.

I used to think of my job as having many shades of impossibilities in terms of what we're expected to accomplish.  In these pandemic days, I feel like there's a whole new palette of impossible shades that I'm now expected to master.

My state reported 2600 new COVID-19 cases yesterday.  That was a record.  The day before we also had a record number of new cases.  The tri-county area where I live is the epicenter of the state's caseload.  Joy.

I cannot fix this situation.  I find myself turning to words that have given me consolation in the past, the words of John the Baptist:  "I am not the messiah."

This morning, I thought of a chunk of a poem I wrote years ago (in 2013), one of the best I've ever written, "The Hollow Women" (thanks, T. S. Eliot!).  Here's how it ends:

"I am not the Messiah, not the Messiah, not the Messiah. I cannot save you. The chosen one is coming, but I cannot lace his sandals. I am not the Messiah, not the Messiah, not the Messiah. I eat what you would never choose, locusts and wild honey and bean husks and loneliness. I am not the Messiah, not the Messiah, not the Messiah. Do not look to me. I am not the star shining in the east. I am not the Shadow. But neither the Messiah, which I am not, I am not, I am not."

But let me also remember that I'm doing good work, at least according to those at work who are most important to me.  Yesterday was the last day for one of them.  As he left, I thanked him, and he said, "I couldn't have asked for a better boss."

Let me remember those words, instead of any of the other words crowding into my brain.


Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Scraps of Moon and Crankiness

--I have written a few early morning posts on Facebook that could have the seeds of a poem in them.  Let me record them here so I can find them more easily when I'm wishing I had a seed of a poem:

Through my window that faces the east, I just caught sight of the fingernail scrap of a moon rising, and I wanted both to cheer or sob at its beauty and distance.

Ah, the early morning hum of the truck going by spraying mosquito killing chemicals. The start of a modern psalm to greet the morning?

--It has been the kind of week/month/year when getting the front porch light bulbs changed feels like we've really accomplished something.  We bought light bulbs for the car headlight and taillight, but the old ones are resistant to leaving.  When we tried to change the front porch bulb, the light broke off, but happily, with careful attention, my spouse removed it.

--I am aware that I am feeling crankier and crankier at work.  Students arrive late to campus and  neglect to check in, and I feel like I'm always calling to people down the hall.  I am so tired of reminding people how to wear their masks properly.  I am so weary thinking that this is my life for the foreseeable future.

--Most days, I feel like I see the cleaning crew more than I see my spouse.  The cleaning crew comes to campus multiple times to sanitize.

--I had been worrying about needing to self-quarantine for 2 weeks if I'm exposed to COVID-19--but then I realized the country still has no system of contact tracing, so I won't know that I've been exposed.

--I am also worrying about what the months headed to Christmas will bring for our campus and students who are exposed.  As we move closer to Christmas, I envision more and more students who become sick or exposed, and our careful approach to classes and labs falls apart. The vision of needing to be running labs and then all the make-up labs for students who are out sick or can't come to campus because they've been exposed.

Of course, it might be just a student here or there, which might make it easier or harder. It’s just so hard to plan in this new reality.

--Yesterday I saw some of the school board's planning session for K-12 in my county.  They are thinking of having students come to school in split shifts.  So they'd be on campus only 2 days a week, unless they have special needs.  The other days will be virtual.  Part of me understands the need to do this.  Part of me thinks we should just keep doing remote learning until there's a vaccine or a cure.  

Part of me wonders what parents will do.  Not everyone can work remotely.  I see decades of improvement in women's work situations just vanishing away.

--Now it's off to school--temperatures to take, health questions to ask!  Yes, I’ve been increasingly cranky and impatient. I want to work harder to re-orient myself to a more open and forgiving (and PATIENT—NOW!) side of myself.  Off to my vale of soul making.

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Days that Bloom

--If you came to this page hoping for an analysis of yesterday's Supreme Court decisions, head over to my theology blog to read this post.  What a pleasant surprise!  I predict that when historians look back on the great Civil Rights decisions, this one will be much higher on the list than the marriage decision from a different June in this decade (2015 to be precise).

--For those of you who are literary minded, you may have come to this page thinking I would write about James Joyce and Bloomsday.  I have done that several times in the past; after all, I wrote my MA thesis on women characters in Joyce.  I plan to tune in to this YouTube channel from the Symphony Space folks to see people reading chunks of Ulysses throughout the day.

--It will be very different from a long ago Bloomsday, when we had recently moved to South Florida, and went down to Books and Books to hear people from the University of Miami read from the book.

--I think even further back to my grad school days, relaxing by my apartment's pool, reading academic books as I wrote my thesis.  I miss a lot about those days:  my youthful body, my youthful enthusiasm, the luxury of time to read hefty academic works.  But there's much about my current life that I didn't have then:  financial resources, self knowledge, confidence in my creative skills, a more mature faith.

--Most of all, I miss the certainty that I had then that my best days were still to come.  I had just finished a year of teaching classes, classes all my own, not just as a teaching assistant.  I knew that I was doing what I was put on earth to do.

--In contrast, yesterday I saw 2 students throw their arms around each other and hug as if a war had kept them separated.  By the time I was about to say, "Please stay 6 feet apart," the moment was over.  I thought I would spend my working life discussing great works of literature, like Ulysses, but instead I'm the middle school dance chaperone, monitoring physical distance and breath.

Monday, June 15, 2020

Productivity in a Pandemic

I didn't have a particularly productive week-end, if you use one set of metrics:

--I didn't revise any work.

--I didn't create any new written work beyond blog posts.

--I didn't send any work or queries out.

--I didn't get grading done.

But I did get out early on Saturday morning to get provisions and to take care of the recycling of grocery bags and foam egg cartons.  I got laundry done and dishes washed and recycling of household items like bottles taken to the bin.

In terms of creativity, I did get some sketching done.  I refilled my markers which is more time consuming than you might expect.  I practiced my mandolin.  We did some cooking, which will be important this week, as I have some very long days at work.

I sent e-mails as I try to stay in touch with people.  I had a good conversation with my folks, as we try to determine whether or not there's a safe way to see people; we might drive to a place between our houses for time together, but for now, we're saying no to plane trips.

I got the counting of the money done and made a deposit for my church, and I also wrote the checks that needed to be written.

So why do I feel like I got nothing done?

Perhaps it's because I watched so many episodes of The Office yesterday--and it was a later season, where the story lines get a bit more farfetched.  But I found myself realizing how seldom I laugh these days.  It was good to watch something mindless and laugh and enjoy a good meal and some wine.

I should start calculating productivity in a different way:  how did I nourish myself?

Sunday, June 14, 2020

A Saturday in the New Normal Time

Let me collect a few thoughts from the past week.  Later historians may be interested in these recordings of our experiences as we settle into living with a new virus that has no cure and no vaccine.

--I've spent the last week feeling somewhat dizzy and off kilter.  It's not full-blown vertigo, but it's somewhat disorienting nonetheless.  If I believed that bodily states always mirror mental states, I might write an essay from that approach.  But if that's the case, I should have been feeling dizzy for months now.

--It's astonishing to me that I haven't seen some friends face to face in 3 months.  Once, when I thought about moving, I'd have thought about all the friends I'd leave behind, all the ways that staying in touch long distance isn't the same.  And now, here we are, staying in touch that way, by e-mail and phone calls.

--One of those friends is recovering from her kidney transplant that she had yesterday.  More about that in this blog post.  She's doing well, but I can't visit her during this time of a new virus ravaging the planet.

--If I didn't know that there was a disease out there and lots of protest going on about racism and police brutality, yesterday would have felt like a normal June day.  We did some cooking and spent the afternoon relaxing in our pool.  I am grateful that we have a house and a pool and a yard during these times when it's wiser to stay away from groups.

--Of course, we've never been happy to be in groups, pandemic or no pandemic.  I know about crowds and the ways that people's behavior can go terribly wrong when we're in groups. 

--And my spouse and I almost always like our own cooking better than restaurant meals.  I do miss having someone else do the clean up.

These past weeks of constant news of the progression of the disease and the horrible behavior of various people who have power have taken their toll.  I need to keep making an effort to do the activities which help me recharge and stay engaged. 

Saturday, June 13, 2020

Parrots at Breakfast

I run errands early in the morning to avoid crowds (always have, pandemic or no pandemic). 




I came home to find parrots having breakfast on the side of my house.




They're trying to get to palm tree seeds that have blown through the holes in the grates of the drainspout.




And now, back to your regularly scheduled pandemic and/or political programming, after one last look at parrot love over breakfast.


Friday, June 12, 2020

Measurement Metrics Lead Me to Dreams of the Future

I have been doing a morning watch devotional/meditative time for over two months now.  I did my first broadcast on March 30, and the format hasn't changed much.  I use Phyllis Tickle's The Divine Hours, and I read most of the morning selections out loud.  I do change the gendered references to God as much as I can.  I sketch for 5-7 minutes in silence.  I read the closing prayer which Tickle labels The Concluding Prayer of the Church.  I then give various benedictions, reminding people that God is with us and rooting for us and hoping that we'll help in the creation of the new/better world that God envisions for us.

Most days, no one tunes in as I broadcast live at 5:30 a.m. on my church's Facebook page.  I go back later in the day to see how many people tune in later.  Usually there are around 100 people reached, with 4-20 engagements.  I'm not exactly sure what those numbers mean, but I'm guessing that engagement means that people did more than scroll by it on their feed.

Yesterday I noticed that one of our church members was doing a watch party a few hours after the original broadcast.  As far as I know, that member had never viewed morning watch before, at least not as measured by a "like."  There are 4-6 regulars who hit "like" on a regular basis, 3-5 times a week.

Yesterday's morning watch had 78 views, 66 people reached, and 83 engagements--83 engagements!  It had more views and more engagements than any other one I've done.  It will be interesting to see if future broadcasts get the same kinds of numbers.

And here's another interesting aspect:  I usually link to the video on my own Facebook page, but yesterday I didn't.  I meant to link it, and I thought I did.  So the numbers are all from people who found the video on my church's Facebook page.

In a time that seems so long ago (2010 or so), it seemed like many people were monetizing all sorts of activities with just a bit of social media activity.  At the same time, I saw all sorts of articles that promised to show us how to interpret the metrics of effectiveness, how to improve, how to decide which activities to continue and which ones to abandon.

Those analytics would have had me abandon my morning watch weeks ago.  Those analytics would have told me that no one was watching and that there were no statistics to give me hope that anyone ever would.

I thought of that yesterday as I watched the parishioner's watch party.  If I had quit broadcasting in mid-April, she wouldn't have had the chance to discover it and invite her friends, some of them non-members, to watch.

I've been thinking of church metrics for a long time.  How do we measure membership?  How do we measure effectiveness?  Even as I've been thinking about these measurements, some part of me thinks that it's ridiculous.  We know that part of this can't ever be measured in the way that would make statisticians and people in charge happy.

If I had the job of director of distance programming, would my little morning watch program have been cut?  Would my boss have told me to do something that reached more people?

I'm happy to keep broadcasting.  It keeps me doing this practice.  And if a few people find it meaningful along with me, that's a bonus.  And if a lot of people eventually find their way to it, even better.

And if PBS starts a channel devoted to theological programming and asks me to be part, I'm game.  I'd love to be the Bob Ross of morning devotions.  I'd love to be the Oprah show on the channel devoted to theological programming.

Thursday, June 11, 2020

Days of Cognitive Dissonance

--It's very strange to have spent the months of March, April, and May reading about disease in general, COVID-19 in specifics, and some general apocalyptic works of fiction, and then to see states re-open and people gather with and without masks, with seemingly no care in the world.  I'm still asking myself if any gathering is worth the risk.  Grocery stores--yes.  Spin class--still feels dangerous to me, since my spin class is held in a gym that's in a hospital.  Protest marches--much too dangerous, all the chanting and yelling in close proximity.  Of course, that's all from an epidemiology point of view--there are other points of view, like the need to demand social justice, the need to be with humans, the need to restock, the need to take care of oneself.

--I am also struck by how our students are responding.  Everyone complies with the rule that masks must be worn, but many of them can't seem to keep them on properly.  And then there are a few students who have not only a mask but a face shield and gloves.

--NASCAR has banned Confederate flags and imagery.  This moment seems like a real turning point somehow, even as I realize it won't be a teaching moment for many NASCAR fans (either because they already understand the importance of it, or they will never understand).

--These types of shifts on race make my head spin.  The polls that show a huge shift in attitudes towards racism and policing--it's a shift that seems similar to the shift towards approval of gay marriage almost a decade ago.  It feels like it happens overnight, but I know it's because of years and decades and centuries of hard work, shifting those attitudes one by one.

--I got my May statement for my old 401K account.  There was one moment in April when I dared to look at the account online, and the account had lost 2 years worth of earnings.  And now it's back up to a higher point than it was before the virus took hold in this country.

--According to the numbers I recorded on that 401K envelope, numbers of COVID-19 cases, at 5:13 a.m. on March 21, there were only 19,624 cases worldwide.  Now there are 7,392,349.  I am now afraid to leave the house. 

--But in my ultimate act of cognitive dissonance, I will.  Off to work, to take temperatures, to write reports, to marvel at how the world has both changed significantly in some ways and in others, perhaps not at all.  Last night as I was closing up after the last lab student left, I noticed a mask hanging over a computer monitor.  My first thought:  "Oh, I love the design of that mask and that fabric."  And then I thought about how odd it is that it's perfectly normal now to have a mask hanging on one corner of a computer monitor.

Wednesday, June 10, 2020

The Month of March on an Envelope

On my desk, I keep an envelope.  It's the month of March, in a strange qualitative form.

The envelope itself is from Fidelity, the firm that handled the 401K that was part of a past life, back when the for-profit art school gave us a 6% match for our retirement investment.  I don't expect to ever see those days again.

There's a number on the envelope that tells the value of my holdings as of March 10.  It was a drop, but not as much of a drop as I was expecting on the day I looked it up.  That drop would be coming later.

The bulk of the numbers on the envelope chart the progress of COVID-19 across the globe.  At one point, I looked up the number several times a day.  I already understood the power of exponential growth, but if I didn't, those numbers tell a powerful tale.

Nestled among those numbers is information that seemed just as ominous at the time, but ominous only for me and my family, the diameter of a tumor.  Happily, that tumor is gone now; despite the various restrictions caused by the COVID-19 outbreak, my relative was put on a fast track to get the cancerous tumor removed from the liver before it spread.

I keep thinking I could transform these numbers and this envelope into some kind of poem, but so far, I can't seem to make that magic happen.  I also have a vision of the envelope in some kind of museum exhibit of daily life during a pandemic.

Maybe I'll just hang onto it.  When I'm a little old lady and come across it, I wonder what memories it will spark.  I wonder if I'll be having those memories with a sigh of relief at how we all dodged the worst, or with a shudder of dread, since I know what Kristin in March of 2020 couldn't know.

Tuesday, June 9, 2020

Creative Writing in a Time of Pandemic

Yesterday, I put together a packet of poems.  I was struck by one poem, "Slow Oxidations," that had these stanzas:



I think of my best friend
in grad school who joked
about people writing their dissertations
in geologic time.
She went on to be a department chair,
a different type of slow oxidation.

I set out treats for hungry
students and say a prayer
for all the souls, the ones present,
and the dearly departed.
 
As I read the poem, I felt a stab of sadness that I can't imagine a day in the near future when I'll set out treats for students again.  We keep the student lounge locked to discourage congregating.

And then I wondered if I should even keep sending out the poem.  Does it work anymore?  I don't want people to read the poem and say, "Ridiculous.  What world does she live in?  That administrator should be fired for creating a place so favorable to disease transmission.

In the end, I sent it.  I don't think it's such a jangling disconnect that it disrupts the poem--at least, right now I don't.

I've also decided that it's time to return to my apocalyptic novel, which features an outbreak of flu that leads to the downturn of the society.  I will rework it so that it's the new pandemic, but in a future, more virulent phase.  I will take out the explosion at the White House.

These last few months have showed me that a pandemic is quite enough to spark the apocalypse and its aftermath that my novel explores.

Monday, June 8, 2020

Protest in Pictures

In these past weeks of protest, here's my favorite picture:




That's Sue Tyler, my friend from the Create in Me retreat.  Last week-end, she held this sign at a silent protest in east Tennessee.

The artwork was created by a different Create in Me friend, Vonda Drees.  Sue and I met her at the 2016 Create in Me retreat, where Vonda introduced us to Copic markers.  Vonda left the retreat and went to her new job and the Grunewald Guild.  Through that organization, I've taken several online journaling classes with Vonda, and they've always been astonishing, in terms of what I've accomplished on a daily basis.

This picture is one of my favorites because Vonda created it during her morning journaling in Washington state, posted it, and it inspired her son's sermon in Minnesota.  Then it went on to inspire Sue in Tennessee, and later in the day, me in Florida, across the continent from where it was first created and posted earlier in the day.

It's also one of my favorites because it was posted on Pentecost.  I love that we see the Holy Spirit speaking to us through art, moving across the continent through image.  I love this modern twist on Pentecost, that the Holy Spirit can move through Facebook posts and Instagram and other types of social media.

Sunday, June 7, 2020

Our New Pizza Stones

Yesterday I was having a low energy day, but I managed to compile my inner resources and come up with a plan.  I had spent part of Friday night researching pizza stones that I had seen in a Facebook post of a friend.

Yesterday morning, I realized that the Williams Sonoma store might be open, and they might have what I wanted--which would mean we could be baking pizza by the afternoon!  I called, and they had what I wanted, but the store was open limited hours.

That was O.K.  I had time to make some pizza dough.  In the pre-pandemic time, I would have gone racing to the store and returned to realize that I should have made the dough before I left.

I went to Williams Sonoma, and it was a strange experience.  I found a parking space and the worker went to the back to get my pizza stones.  I browsed the sales area, and didn't see any of the items that the web site had.  I saw holiday spatulas (both autumn and Christmas), fall and winter towels and tablecloths.  I moved quickly before getting bogged down in the sadness about what all had changed.

Williams Sonoma is most of the way to Total Wine, so I went by there to stock up, and I stopped by a different Publix that was sort of on my way home.  Before I left the house, we had also realized we didn't have much in the way of pizza toppings.

I got home to find that my wonderful spouse had our pizza assembly station ready, with the oven pre-heating.  In almost no time, we got our pizzas assembled:




They were delicious.  Are they as delicious as the ones we made in the cast iron skillets?  Yes, but in a different way.

I like that the stones have handles, and I like that we can fit 2 of them in the oven.  We will be experimenting more today.  Perhaps I will also make some small loaves to take to work.  I need to have something to snack on with my tea.

I feel a smidge of guilt at spending money on what can be seen as an indulgence.  But we spent less on 2 stones than a meal out often costs us.  And we will enjoy them.

One of the activities we enjoy most these days is cooking together.  I'm glad we bought ourselves a treat that will encourage us to head to the kitchen and to engage in nourishing activities.

Saturday, June 6, 2020

Incomplete Low Energy Post

Despite the wind, it is quite hot outside, like someone flipped a switch, and we're in full summer now.  Except that our full summer doesn't feel oppressively hot like this.

The switch that's been flipped is the tropical system Cristobal.  If you look on the satelite images, you see that the clouds and the wind are part of that sysem, even though it's moving out of the southern part of the Gulf of Mexico.  That's why it's hot and the wind doesn't help, unlike our usual breeze out of the east.

It's the kind of morning that makes me long for the mountains, for a different season, for apples and pumpkins.  I'm sure that longing is wrapped up in a parallel longing for times that seem happier, like the Thanksgiving gatherings with my extended family, like going to retreat centers, like stopping for apples along the way.

Perhaps it shouldn't surprise me that I'm having a low energy morning:  the weather is working against me, and current events are too. 

Perhaps I should give myself a break.  I was surprisingly efficient last night while my spouse taught his class from the study.

Friday, June 5, 2020

Marching and Writing Checks for Justice

This morning is the kind of morning where I feel drained and empty, where I can't imagine having a whole blog post in me.  Let me capture a few odds and ends and see what might emerge.

--Yesterday, my niece, who goes to grad school in South Florida,asked if any of us had any information about protests or marches.  I was a bit abashed to realize that I didn't.  In grad school, I was connected to all sorts of peace and justice groups, both local and national.  I was much more plugged in, even though we didn't have e-mail or social media, or we had a different kind of social media.

But I did know some folks who knew some information, so that's a plus.

--I have become the kind of person I despised when I was 19, the middle aged person who does support work of social justice by writing out a check.  But let me remember the pastor of the inner city Lutheran church in Washington D.C. who educated me by telling me that suburban people and their checkbooks were what made the inner city ministry possible.  He did it in the kindest way possible, and I will be forever grateful to know that the work of social justice takes many forms.

--I have always assumed that I was the kind of person who would be the first shipped to the radioactive Colonies in an Atwood dystopia.  But I'm thinking I may have flattered myself.

--My spouse talked about seeing a car driving slowly through the neighborhood with masked young guys inside.  With the events of the past few weeks, he was aware of how he found them threatening, and he questioned himself about whether it was because the car was driving slowly, because he couldn't read the faces of the people inside, because they were dark skinned, because they were young.

I noticed that he left something out--they were male.  I always find males threatening.  I have been practicing social distancing for decades now.  When I'm out walking or running, I always move away when approached.  My goal is always to be out of arm's reach.

The males that my spouse saw were very polite and asked him if he'd like a phone book.  He took note of how polite they were, and he wondered whether he was being racist or ageist. 

I pointed out that we live in a time where people are scathingly impolite, so politeness registers with me these days.

--And now, it is time for me to get dressed for work.  There are temperatures to take, health inventory questions to ask, reminder after reminder for people to wear their masks properly.

Thursday, June 4, 2020

Nonviolence: the Power of Protest Squared

Today is the anniversary of the violent end to the weeks of peaceful protest at Tiannamen Square back in 1989.  I remember driving to my grad school class and listening in shock.  It was an interesting time, as we watched the unraveling of the Communist bloc (but it was before the events of the German border that would bring down the wall), so I was hopeful that the peaceful protest would prevail.  I felt like weeping when the tanks rolled in.

It feels like we're at a similar crossroads today.  We see a mix of peaceful protest which sometimes stays peaceful and sometimes explodes into violence.   I have written many times about the power of nonviolent protest (for example, here and here).  In these days of protest, many of us are considering the best way to respond.

Bill McKibben has written a wonderful article in The New Yorker about planning for not just what's happening now, but what might be about to happen:  "Events are now moving at high speed in this country—every day, President Trump and his crew gallop past new lines, so that the morning’s flagrant usurpation is legitimized by the evening’s even more outrageous improvisation. (Firing tear gas at a crowd in order to be able to stand menacingly in front of a church holding a Bible is hard to top, but I wouldn’t bet against it.) A danger of this is that we’re always reacting to what came before. So perhaps it’s worth skipping a few steps ahead, to places where we haven’t gone yet but very well may."

He reminds us of the power of nonviolence, while noting that most of our 20th century experiences with nonviolence might not be wise in a time of highly contagious global pandemic.  And boycotts may not be possible in a time when big events aren't happening.

McKibben points to these encouraging statistics:  "As the Harvard researcher Erica Chenoweth has shown, less than five per cent of a population engaged in resistance is often enough to cause huge shifts in the zeitgeist and make it much harder for illegitimate authority to rule."

Mckibben also mentions the work of Gene Sharp, who spent a lifetime cataloging methods of nonviolent action.  What a wonderful list of possibilities!  It's a good reminder that we don't have to be in the streets with the protesters.  We can pray.  We can have sit-ins and other methods of teaching.  We can "communicate with a wider audience"--and he wrote this list before we had so many opportunities that social media gives us.

These dark days, where the president threatens to use the military to hurt its own citizens, have me reaching for Timothy Snyder's On Tyranny.  It's an important book.  But Gene Sharp's list is also important.  We need to resist, while we prepare for what might be coming next.  One way that tyrants solidify their power is by wearing down resistance.  These days, we must not let that happen.

Wednesday, June 3, 2020

Making a Graduation Video

This week, the world seems divided into two factions--no, not liberal/conservative, pro-police/pro-demonstrator, pro-Trump/pro-someone else.  No, I'm talking about those who can make a video without thinking twice about it, and those of us who find it much more time consuming.

To be fair, I often don't care too much about the result, and so on those days, I'm in the first camp.  I do a morning watch on my church's Facebook page each morning:  some readings, a 5-7 minute quiet time for journaling/sketching/meditating, and a prayer or two.  Before I hit the Go Live button, I might fluff up my hair, and I try to have on a different shirt each morning from the morning before.  but for the most part, I spend no time practicing, no time on make up or hair, and the first take is the only take.

But yesterday was a different experience.  Like most other schools, my school is doing a virtual graduation, so we're all creating videos where we express our good wishes.  I spent hours on that project yesterday--yes, hours.  I wanted to get the words just right, and then the way I said the words, and I decided to do the video wearing my academic gown.  I played with camera angles and backgrounds.  I screwed up the delivery.  My eyes looked shifty, so I did it again.

Over and over again, I made a video.  I'm fairly pleased with what I have, and at some point, it's not going to be any closer to perfect to justify spending any more time on it.

I'm trying not to be too concerned about how I wish I looked different:  prettier, thinner, whiter teeth, hair either more or less tamed, with different lighting.  I'm trying not to be too concerned, but some days, I'm failing.

I'm struck by how when I was younger, I was less critical of my looks, but I hated the sound of my voice on tape.  Now I like my voice, but I have to be very careful not to let myself fall down the spiral of self-loathing.  It could take me years to claw my way back to equilibrium.

I keep trying to remember that this video is not about me, while at the same time remembering that this event will be momentous for most of our students, so it does deserve something better than a haphazard approach.

I think I've struck the right balance.  At the same time, I wish I was better at all of this.

Tuesday, June 2, 2020

When Leaders Use Churches and Bibles as Photo Op Props

Like most of us across the nation, I've been watching events unfold over the past week, events that seem designed to break our collective hearts, events that move some of us to demonstrating in the streets, events that move some of us to writing a variety of responses, events that move some of us to prayer vigils and/or lamentations.

Will we look back on this time as a period that catapulted us to a new age?  The videos of the officer's knee on the neck of a handcuffed black man for 9 minutes as the life drained out of him, will we come to see that as iconography that moved us all to demand justice and kept our demands front and center until we saw a new world forged from the ruins of the old?

It's too soon to tell.  Some of us feel we've been here before, and change wasn't lasting.  I've come to view change as a spiral or a labyrinth.  We may feel we're right back at the same place, but it's different.

One of my friends made this Facebook post:  "Today I'm remembering a book written by Keith WatkinsLiturgies in a Time When Cities Burn, published in 1969. At the end of his 2017 blog post looking back on the book Keith writes: 'As frontispiece, I used a statement from Philosophical Sketches by Susanne K. Langer. We are living, she wrote in 1964, in a new Middle Ages, 'a time of transition from one social order to another. . .We feel ourselves swept along in a violent passage, from a world we cannot salvage to one we cannot see; and most people are afraid.' Half a century later, we seem to be living in that same world.'"

And then, there's the photo of the president of the U.S. in front of the historic Episcopal church, the peaceful protesters violently cleared out of the way so that the president could go to the church and pose with a Bible.  This event, after the president spent the day fuming and spewing about the need to deal with protesters with as much force as possible, perhaps even using our own military against the citizens of the nation.

In a Facebook post my pastor Keith Spencer said it better than I could: 

"Maybe the president should have opened that Bible and turned to Galatians 6:7:
'Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows.'

Or Isaiah 5:20-21
'Woe to those who call evil good
and good evil,
who put darkness for light
and light for darkness,
who put bitter for sweet
and sweet for bitter.
21Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes
and clever in their own sight.'

I was struck by the sign behind the president that gave the online worship schedule.  In years to come, will historians look at that sign and remember why the church had online worship?  Will online worship be so common that we won't think anything about it?

I am fairly sure that the historic Episcopal church hadn't been offering online worship just 3 months before yesterday.  I realize that most historians will focus on other parts of our history that were happening in June of 2020, but that bit leapt out at me.

This morning, the words of Matthew 24 came back to me:  "Jesus said, 'Watch out for doomsday deceivers. Many leaders are going to show up with forged identities, claiming, ‘I am Christ, the Messiah.’ They will deceive a lot of people. When reports come in of wars and rumored wars, keep your head and don’t panic. This is routine history; this is no sign of the end. Nation will fight nation and ruler fight ruler, over and over. Famines and earthquakes will occur in various places. This is nothing compared to what is coming." (verses 4-8, in Eugene Peterson's translation, The Message)

My whole life, I've gotten reminders that the world will judge us in many ways, but many of the judgments come back to hypocrisy:  do our words match our actions?  When President Trump acted the way that he has always acted, appealing to the worst parts of our nature, I was saddened, but soon no longer shocked.  When he acts that way while trying to co-opt the better parts of our nature, I am both saddened and shocked--and angry.

I've lived through many administrations now, and some of them I've liked better than others.  I'd take any of them now in exchange for this chaos and madness.  There was some kernel of human goodness in all of them, and in some, those seeds bloomed under the stress of current events.  I continue to believe in narratives of grace and resurrection, but these days . . .  these days test my tendency towards optimism.

Monday, June 1, 2020

After a Week-end of Protests: "Dona Nobis Pacem"

I am tired this morning.  I had a mostly good week-end:  more time in the pool than usual, some reading time, getting grading done, getting errands run quickly and efficiently.  When I look back on this week-end, I hope I remember it as the start of the time when I began to focus on my mandolin.

I played on both Saturday and Sunday--ah, the return of evenings on the front porch.  On Saturday, my spouse showed me how to pick out the notes of "May the Circle Be Unbroken" and reminded me of how to play each note of the scale that starts with middle C.  We ended by playing "Taps."  On Sunday, we continued to work on those songs, along with "Dona Nobis Pacem."  I have loved that Canon for many years, although for the longest time, I associated it with Christmas music.

I was feeling peaceful when I turned on the TV.  I was all set to watch The Simpsons, even though it was a repeat of a show that was on just a few weeks ago.  Instead, I saw footage of gatherings in Miami and Ft. Lauderdale.  I saw various groups and lines of police in riot gear in Ft. Lauderdale.  In Miami, people seemed to be walking by the Adrienne Arsch center; my spouse said, "Why are they going to the American Airlines Arena?"  I speculated that they had probably parked there.

In Ft. Lauderdale, I saw that there were protesters trying to pick a fight with police, so I wasn't too surprised when a curfew was declared.  I was not prepared for the phone calls, one from the county and one from the city.  The county one came at 9:30, just as I was drifting off  to sleep.  And then, the city of Hollywood called at 10:15.

I feel conflicted about these protests taking place across the nation.  On the one hand, I am glad that horrific images of police brutality can still inflame us and make us take to the streets.  On the other hand, I'm not sure that they do much good anymore--and they don't seem to be very specific, some of these assemblies.  Are we protesting that one incident?  Are we seeing problems in our own local communities?  Are we protesting larger policies of policing and incarceration?  Are we looking at even larger societal structures?

And why rush the police, the way that some did in Ft. Lauderdale?  The 3 hour protest was over.  Some people stayed behind to look for a fight, and some stayed behind hoping to de-escalate and to keep the violence at bay.

It could have been worse.  From what I can tell, there was some tear gas and people dispersed.  There were some arrests, but I'm not seeing reports of deaths or buildings on fire or all the ways the situation could have been escalated.

I am glad that I spent an hour with "Dona Nobis Pacem."  I will continue to sing it; it will be a constant prayer today, and throughout the rest of the year.

I have resolved to spend the month of June picking up my mandolin each and every day.  I am now adding to that resolution--I will learn "Dona Nobis Pacem."  I will pray for peace each day as I learn the song and memorize it.

Sunday, May 31, 2020

Process Notes on Pentecost Poetry Project

On May 13, my pastor sent me a FB message asking me how I'd like to participate in the Pentecost worship service which he planned to create in advance.  I asked what he had in mind.  Here was his response:

"I have begun sending out some readings and some prayers for people to film themselves and send it back - looking to you for a reflection or creative reflection (as creative as you want) if that speaks to you - as long as I get video by wed May 27"

Of course I said yes.  Here was my original response:

"Yes--I'd be happy to do come up with something. Pre-recording offers all sorts of possibilities (fire pits, wind, streamers, candles) FUN!!!! Thanks for including me!"

I had thought about filming our firepit and filming the wind blowing something--traditional imagery for Pentecost.  But then, I went in a different direction.

As I walked through my neighborhood, I thought about the Pentecost messages I was seeing.  I thought about making short films and creating poems to go with them.  But the first morning that I took my camera with me, I realized I could actually speak as I was filming.

Some of the material I thought about before filming.  But I'm a poet who thinks on her feet, who makes interesting connections where most people would see none--years and decades of teaching also have kept me nimble in that way.  Here's a clip that demonstrates what I did for several mornings:



In the clip, the goose turns its head just when I needed it to do so--a lovely serendipity.  But the goose also gives a shake--that made my brain leap to the idea of a God who doesn't shake us away, a God who "shakes off all that might disappoint a lesser god."

I was doing this filming in the very early hours of the morning, so I kept my voice down.  I also recorded lots of other sounds along with my voice--most notably birds, but also in some very early morning shots of the anchored boats, the sound of a very windy morning and perhaps some distant thunder.  I didn't see many people along the way, and the houses were mostly dark--occasionally, however, I did wonder if my neighbors wondered what I was up to.

I want to believe that each segment acts in the best way of poems or parables.  As I worked on these, I was looking for ways to create metaphors that would make us pause, make us say, "Hmm.  I never thought of it that way."  I have hopes that one or two will stick with people long after they've seen the whole thing.

For those of us who have been going to church for awhile, we're used to ideas of the Holy Spirit as wind or tongues of flame.  Those images wouldn't have the same power as the ones I collected.

Of course, I realize that the oddness of some of the images might also not have the same power as a really good video of flame. 

I can't put the whole video here, but this link should take you to my YouTube channel, where you can see it.  If you would like to experience the whole worship service, go here.

Saturday, May 30, 2020

Milestones and Hinges

In later years, will I/we wonder about the things I didn't record as the week progressed?  Will there be moments that we later recognize as hinge moments yet unrecorded here? 

Probably.  Let me write about some of the possibilities:

--As I drove to my appointment with my spiritual director, I listened to a bit of Trump's press conference.  I wondered if we will look back and wonder why we picked a fight with China--or will we wonder why we waited so long?  Will we go to war over Hong Kong?  Will the global economy unravel even faster?

--This was a week of many racial outrages, the most egregious the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.  I made a book spine poem, a puny response, but it's mine:




--This week, we hit a different grim milestone:  100,000 dead in the U.S. of COVID-19.  It's a number that's hard for me to get my head around, so earlier this week I looked up #s of deaths in past wars.  The number that we heard this week is that we now have more COVID-19 dead than in all the wars since Korea.  Daily we lose the number of U.S. citizens that we did on September 11, 2001.

--As I think about my personal circumstances, I think about the meeting I had with the new owners who have just bought the school that employs me.  Having been part of a school that was an acquisition before, I feel I have seen this movie already.  But the Art Institutes and the rest of the EDMC schools were bought by Goldman Sachs, an investment firm that had no interest in education.  I do feel good that we've been bought by people who own a similar school in Brooklyn.  But it is clear that they will be making some major changes.

--In this week of deaths of all sorts, I was sobered by the loss of AIDS activist Larry Kramer, especially since I had just seen archival footage of him in How to Survive a Plague, footage that reminded me of how powerful and effective (and irritating) he was.  But Robb Forman Dew also died.  This obituary in The Washington Post noted that she emerged at the same time as Louise Erdrich and Ann Tyler, and that's how I remember her, as part of a group of important women writers who came a generation before me.  Barbara Sher also died this week--in the mid-90's, I read all her books, and I particularly remember Wishcraft as the type of book that told us to train our brains to think about what we wanted to achieve, not on our fears.

--Yesterday, my spiritual director and I talked about the future of the church, once churches are assembling in person again.  When churches can reassemble in person, it would be good to still do the remote elements, as we have many people who can't gather in person:  the sick, the elderly, the disabled.  But when pastors have to lead in-person worship and visit the shut ins and lead Bible studies, will they have time to do the virtual stuff?  I suspect they won't.

I said, "I wonder if there might be a job as Director of Remote Programming."  We talked a bit about what that would look like.  My spiritual director said, "Your face really lights up when you talk about this."

Of course, it's similar to my dreams of being an online retreat coordinator.  It's so hard to plan for the future, or even to think about the future, when so much remains unknown.  I'm hoping that the seeds that will bloom into an appealing future have been planted in this time of so much death.  I'm trying not to give too much time to my apocalyptic fears.

Friday, May 29, 2020

Sketching During Pandemic Months

For two months, I've been sketching on a daily basis.  In early March, when I returned from San Antonio, I signed up for an online journaling class with the same artist and group that had given me such a wonderful experience at the end of 2018.  I could not have imagined how much life was about to change, but I had some glimmers.  Here's a sketch from the early days of the pandemic:



The journaling group began later in March, and as March progressed into April, we read our way through Cynthia Bourgeault's Mystical Hope:  Trusting in the Mercy of God.  I found a lot that inspired me:





As we got to the end of our first journaling group time, our leader offered another experience for May.  We've been reading Meister Eckhart's Book of the Heart.  It's a book put together by Jon M. Sweeney and Mark S. Burrows; they've taken the words of Eckhart and put them in poetry form.  I haven't found myself journaling/sketching out specific passages as much, but it has been inspiring, and I have continued to sketch each day:




As I've sketched each day, I've noticed that I return again and again to the swirl, so occasionally, I've experimented with other forms and shapes.





I've used words and passages from the books we've been reading together.




I've even experimented a bit with realism--although it's always been a fanciful realism.



Occasionally, I'd start a sketch and then return to it.  Here's a progression that pleased me.  Day 1:




Later that day:




I've been using the same 4 markers throughout:  1 lilac and 3 shades of gray.  Occasionally, I used only the fine tip pens that I bought for the course:




Today is the last meeting of the journaling group.  I'm looking forward to expanding my color palette.  But I will miss this group!