Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Memorial Day: Flooding Rain and Pentecost Poetry Project Video

When I think of this past Memorial Day week-end, what will I remember?  In some ways, it was a week-end like many other week-ends:  grilling, cooking, grading, writing, sketching, and sleeping a bit more than I can during the week.

In some ways, it was strange:  a grad school friend and I did a Facebook call.  It was like a Skype call, so in some ways, it wasn't strange.  But it did start to rain heavily while we were talking, and I noticed some rain dripping on the windowsill.  We haven't had water instrusion through that window since Hurricane Irma; in fact, that's the only time we've had water intrusion through that window.

By the end of yesterday afternoon, we had water intrusion through all the windows that occasionally let water in, which is about half of them.  In a way, I feel fortunate--we don't have consistent leaks, with damage easily contained.  Roof leaks would be more difficult for me to handle.  Fixing these kinds of leaks is a headache though.  It's so hard to know where the water comes in and how it travels.

It was the kind of afternoon where I was glad we didn't have plans.  We sat and watched the flooding creep ever closer to the house, but happily, the rains let up, and the water receded.  Still, in the past year, it's the second flooding rain event, and they weren't related to anything tropical.

But hopefully, as I think back over this week-end, I'll remember the Pentecost Poetry Project that brought me lots of joy.  I had been assembling small videos during my morning walks last week, videos that are part poem, part image, part theology.  Here's one that I didn't use in the larger project:

Yesterday, I put them all together.  It wasn't anything I'd ever done before, but Windows 10 comes with a video editor function that gave me all that I needed.  I loved thinking about how to order them, how to make them most effective, how to finish.  I loved remembering the walks I took, the inspiration that I felt.

On Sunday, which is Pentecost, I'll post the whole video here.  In the meantime, I'm thinking about a larger project.  Could I do something similar with other church festival days?  Could I do it without being repetetive?

Stay tuned!

Monday, May 25, 2020

Memorial Day in a Time of Pandemic

Today is Memorial Day, a day that has often been strange for me.   Once we would have spent the week-end in Jacksonville with old college friends. During some of those years, we had to leave on Sunday, because I taught in South Carolina, a state which didn’t have Memorial Day as a state holiday. Memorial Day began as a day to honor the Union dead, so many southern states had an alternate Confederate Memorial Day. And my school didn't have many of the federal holidays off at all.

But I digress.

That tradition ended when one friend's marriage ended. In more recent years, we've stayed down here and not done much special--although we often meet up with friends at least once during the week-end.  The friends that we would most often meet are staying very isolated during this pandemic time, as she has some underlying health conditions.

I often think that I'd rather spend Memorial Day in a place like D.C., where I could go to a military memorial site or even Arlington National Ceremony.  I'd rather have a place set aside specifically designed to make me reflect on the price paid to protect our country.

Now we are at a time when we've lost more U.S. citizens to COVID-19 than we have in some wars.  For example, roughly 58,000 soldiers died in Vietnam; we quickly approaching the 100,000 mark in this pandemic, and that's just U.S. deaths that we know about.

As I was thinking and researching this morning, I was astonished again at the amount of life lost in World War II:  400,000 U.S. soldiers dead.  The death rate around the world boggles the mind.  I predict at some point we will say the same about COVID-19.

It has been interesting to hear various leaders use war imagery to talk about how we're going to fight this new virus.  It's language that makes me wince.  An enemy comprised of humans might be easier than this virus, which will not respond to reason or to threats or to force.

But the same kinds of attitudes can lead us into deeper trouble with this virus--and we're already in pretty deep trouble.

Here's a prayer I wrote for Memorial Day:

God of comfort, on this Memorial Day, we remember those souls whom we have lost to war. We pray for those who mourn. We pray for military members who have died and been forgotten. We pray for all those sites where human blood has soaked the soil. God of Peace, on this Memorial Day, please renew in us the determination to be peacemakers. On this Memorial Day,we offer a prayer of hope that military people across the world will find themselves with no warmaking jobs to do. We offer our pleading prayers that you would plant in our leaders the seeds that will sprout into saplings of peace.

Sunday, May 24, 2020

So Normal, So Not

It is a rainy Sunday morning, but not the flooding kind of rain.  I woke up thinking, is that rain hitting the windows or the tiny feet of a creature in the attic?  Hoorah!  It was rain.

I spent much of yesterday looking for rain, as threatening clouds came and went and then settled in for the evening.  It was sunny early in the day, and we had a great time outside, reading by the pool and then getting in the pool.  I hadn't gone on my walk, so I spent 45 minutes swimming back and forth.

And then, fighter jets appeared out of nowhere, out of the south, flying north.  My first thought:  I hope they're ours.  My old habits kicked in:  listening for explosions, keeping an eye open for a mushroom cloud, wondering if I should go inside to be safe from blast burns or the stuff exploding away from a blast site.

None of that happened, and come to find out, it was an Air Force squadron flying over to say thank you to various hospital workers.  I still find it a curious way to say thank you.

Yesterday felt so normal in some ways:  enjoying the warm but not blisteringly hot day by relaxing in the pool.  And yet, those fighter jets reminded me that it's anything but normal times.  I've lived in South Florida since 1998, and yesterday was the first time fighter jets flew over my house.

On Friday evening, I went grocery shopping.  Again, it seemed like normal times--except for the complete lack of toilet paper.  Happily, I found some toilet paper a few weeks ago, so we're probably set through the summer.  But still, it's strange.

After my spouse was done with his Philosophy class at 9:45 on Friday night, we sat on the front porch to enjoy a glass of wine.  We were almost done, when my spouse said, "Kris, there's a fox."  I saw something by the tires of a car parked at the curb; I wouldn't have noticed if he hadn't pointed it out. 

The creature moved out of the shadows and made its way down the street.  My spouse is convinced we saw a coyote.  I'm still leaning towards fox.  In any case, it wasn't a cat or a dog--the tail was very bushy unlike most cats, the body was more like a cat than a dog, and the pointy face made us think of other creatures.

My spouse made this Facebook post: 

"Online teaching until 9:50 pm last night, then out to the front porch for a glass of wine.

That is when Kristin Berkey-Abbott and I noticed wildlife taking a clue from recent human behavior. That's right, even the neighborhood coyote doesn't use the sidewalk anymore."

It seems to me that the post would make a great writing prompt of some kind.

Speaking of writing prompts, I've been having fun watching others make poems out of the spines of books, so on Friday, I decided to try.  Here are two versions:

Because the title on Jeannine Hall Gailey's book was hard to read lying flat, I decided to use a slightly different approach. And although the version with the palm tree in the background isn't quite as good in terms of photography (so hard to get a picture without shininess using my cheap camera), I'm including it here anyway.

Saturday, May 23, 2020

My Mood in Movies

Last night, I fell down a different kind of rabbit hole.  Two months ago, when it became clear that libraries would be closing soon, I checked out several DVDs.  I had wanted to see Contagion, which had become very popular in pay-on-demand streaming services--but I knew the library had copies, and I snagged one.  I also checked out How to Survive a Plague.  I had seen both movies when they came out (probably by way of the same DVDs), but I wanted to see them again.

We watched Contagion back in March, but I wanted to see it again, especially the first 10 minutes and the last 10.  My spouse was teaching his Philosophy class from the comfort of the living room last night, so I put the DVD into my computer.  Before I knew it, I had watched the whole movie again.

As I watched, I thought about how I'm seeing the movie differently, even though it's only been 2 months.  Two months ago, parts of the movie seemed like a far stretch, like the Illinois-Wisconsin border being sealed, but in late May, it seems possible.

What seems most unrealistic is that the vaccine is developed and declared safe roughly 6 months after the disease starts.  And we see lines of people day after day as they wait to be vaccinated.  I hope to be wrong in my prediction, but I am willing to bet that there will be lots of resistance to a vaccine for COVID-19--IF we ever get one.

Watching How to Survive a Plague reminded me of how long it can take to find a cure, much less a vaccine.  I watched this movie years ago, but I don't remember much of it.  I watched half of it last night and then finished watching the rest this morning.  I found it both compelling and boring, at the exact same time--but I have the ability to rest in multiple mysteries, so I kept watching it.

It's interesting to watch this film and watch all the shots of people in such close proximity, which feels so hazardous right now.  There's historical footage of groups of activists on a plane or on a bus, and part of me shudders.  I have spent a lot of time in the past few weeks thinking about what 6 feet of distance means and staring at the AC ducts trying to determine air flow while I think about how the chairs should be spaced in classrooms.

It's also stunning to watch the bits of political footage and to realize that we're seeing all these same mistakes again--and this time, it's with a disease that's more transmissible than AIDS and impacts more people across a wider variety of communities. 

Insert a heavy sigh here.

Friday, May 22, 2020

Pentecost Poetry Project

Last week, my pastor asked me if I wanted to do the message for Pentecost Sunday.  He's putting together some sort of video service which will be unlike the livestreaming that we usually do--that means that the message could be different from a traditional sermon.

I said yes, although I didn't really have a plan, and my videography skills aren't my strongest creative skills.  I thought about some traditional images:  fire and wind.  I could build a fire in our firepit or in the fireplace and film it.  Surely I could capture wind in a similar manner.  But as I've been walking through my neighborhood in the morning, I started to develop an alternate plan.  I had planned to record certain elements that have something to teach us about the Holy Spirit.

Tuesday morning I took my camera with me on my walk.  Happily, early in my walk, I realized I could film and talk at the same time.  My earlier plan had been to film and then figure out what to say and somehow splice the two together and then splice all the units together.

Later, I watched what I had created Tuesday morning, and I was pleased with it.  It's one of the rare moments of creativity where what I create is better than what I had hoped for--and it went in different directions than what I was thinking I would create.

My vignettes are more like poetry than anything else:  what does a trash pile have to say about the Holy Spirit?  Are we so busy looking for a burning bush that we miss the subtle shadings of the shrubbery?

When I first started this process, I thought I'd go to all sorts of locations.  Now I think I'll use what I've generated during these morning walks.

Let me see if I can post one of them here.  And then later, once I have them all put together, I'll write more about it and try to post it all.

Thursday, May 21, 2020

Old Syllabi and the Differences Between Then and Now

Earlier this week, I got an e-mail with the subject line "Syllabus."  I was surprised to find a request from a student from long ago when I taught at Nova Southeastern University.  She asked if I had a copy of the syllabus from the class that she took in the summer of 2000.

My first thought:  Of course I don't have a syllabus from 20 years ago.  I threw out that filing cabinet when we moved to this house in the summer of 2013.  How many computers have I had since 2000?  I almost typed a reply suggesting that the student reach out to the school.  But then I thought, let my take a look.

I went to the Documents file on my current laptop and there was a file called "Old Computer."  Sure enough, in the file labeled "Teacher Stuff," I had all my files from those years of adjunct teaching.  And there was the syllabus the student needed.

I was so happy to be able to help--and I was also a bit distressed that a college writing class, clearly labeled as such, from a widely known, SACS accredited, Florida private university was not accepted by a state supported Florida community college.  You shouldn't need the syllabus to accept this course.  But fine, that's the world we're living in.

I thought back to the summer of 2000 and felt that kind of shock about the world we're living in now.  How much has changed!  We've had a Great Recession in 2008.  We had the events of Sept. 11, 2001.  We've had several pandemics that didn't turn out to be as problematic as they could have been, and now we have a pandemic that does.

I think of all the changes in my personal life.  In the summer of 2000, I was struggling with such severe acid reflux that I would lie on the floor in agony, curled around a heating pad, waiting for the acid reducers to take effect.  Now I rarely feel any acid flares, and when I do, they're minor.  Then I was driving many miles from adjunct teaching job to adjunct teaching job.  Now I'm an administrator, a life path I wouldn't have foreseen.

I'm still writing poetry, like I did then.  But I've adopted new practices, like journaling/sketching with my Copic markers.  I have made several full size quilts.

I could go on and on like this.  But now there is work to be done in my current job.  First up, the daily temperature recording--another entry in the list of tasks I never thought would be part of my working life.

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Pandemic Protocols: Masks, Thermometers, and Ash Wednesday

Yesterday was the first day of what will likely be the new normal for a long time.  Students arrived on campus in a limited capacity; they came only to do lab work for classes, and only the lab work that couldn't be done virtually.  We all wore masks, and I took everyone's temperature upon arrival with a no-touch thermometer.

We had the advantage of having several months to get used to some of this.  In our county in South Florida, we have been wearing masks to stores for almost two months, so wearing a mask on campus is less strange than it would have been in early April.

It still feels strange to take people's temperature, even though it's a no touch system.  With all these months of hearing about 6 feet of social distancing, it feels invasive to get that close, even when we both wear masks.

Each one of my masks makes me miserable in a different way.  One is too tight, while the other has elastic ear loops that are a bit too big.  One I lined with a flannel fabric that sheds fibers and makes my nose itch.  I've tried every way of getting them to stay on my face:  elastic ear loops, ties, clipping them to my hair in addition to the other securing.  Plus I'm realizing that I'm often holding my breath when I put the mask on.

Our no-touch thermometer has the temperature taker aim for the lower part of the forehead.  This morning I took temperatures and thought about how much it felt like Ash Wednesday, except I wasn't smearing ashes on the foreheads of parishioners.  Still, it's a potent reminder of what's at stake regardless of whether its' the taking of a temperature or the smearing of ash.  We are all dust, and to dust we shall return.

I also thought about the week-end when I had made the mask I was wearing.  It was Easter week-end, and it was becoming clear that we would need masks; it was also becoming clear that there was a national shortage.  It was strange to sew masks and to think about the Easter readings of the empty tomb with the folded grave cloths.  I've always been touched by that idea:  Jesus rising from the dead, but taking time to fold the grave wrappings.

Can I write a poem that captures all of these elements?