Saturday, July 31, 2021

One Week, One Sketch

I spent the last week working on a sketch.  In a way, there's nothing unusual about that.  But in a way, it was different because it reminded me of an important life lesson.  Here's the finished sketch:

On Friday, July 23, I started a sketch.  It was going to be of a woman facing forward with a flappy hat on her head.  But I hated the way I sketched her eyes, so I decided to change it by turning it into a sketch of her back.  I covered the face with marks that I thought would be hair, but it ended up looking like a veil or a shroud.

I don't have a great before picture, because I hated the sketch on the first day and thought I would abandon it.  Here's a not-great screen capture from my morning watch session:

I put the sketch aside thinking I was done with it.  But then I thought about how the hair/veil along with the hat made me think of a beekeeper's headgear.  And so, the next morning, I played with it a bit more.  I added some bees.  I added some beehives in the distance and a jar of honey in the foreground.  On day two, just 24 hours after I was ready to abandon the sketch, I decided that it had potential.

On Sunday, July 25, I added the mountains in the background and started to add some color.  Over the next days, I continued to add color and to think about the area at the bottom of the sketch.  I had thought it would be a fence, but I didn't like my options for fence color.  If I made it a wood fence, I worried that it would blend in with the cat, the jar of honey, and the basket.  So I decided to make it a stone/marble wall.

As I've sketched each morning and as I've spent the rest of the day thinking about what to do next in the sketch, I've thought back to day one when I planned to abandon the sketch.  And as I kept showing up, I found more and more to like, and I had more and more ideas.

Did I execute them all?  No.  Did I perform them perfectly?  No.  But that's not the point.  My skills have improved, but again, not the point.

The sketch has given me delight and made me interested to know what will come next.  And it's reminded me not to give up on a creative endeavor too early.

Friday, July 30, 2021

Of Whiplash and Twisties

It has been another week of whiplash--not literal whiplash, but events that leave me feeling unsettled.  When gymnast Simone Biles explained her decision to withdraw from Olympic events by saying she got "the twisties," I thought that I knew exactly what she means, even though I have never been able to hurl myself through the air the way that she does.

I have been hurling myself through life in other ways, though.  We all have, in so many ways.

This week came the CDC reversal on mask guidance.  Is reversal the word?  Maybe I should say evolving guidance?  In some ways, that didn't feel like whiplash--I've been expecting it since the guidance in May that told us that vaccinated people could take their masks off.  I knew it wouldn't be for long. 

Another thing that has given me a bit of whiplash has been the sorting that I've been doing:  boxes of memorabilia, boxes of rough drafts, shelves of books, closets of clothes.  This sorting has been giving me a case of the twisties, where I go whirling into space and worry about a crash landing.

On the one hand, I'm amazed: look at all the stuff I've written through the years, and here's every card my parents ever sent me and letters from all sorts of friends through the years. On the other hand, it makes me sad. I look at a huge pile of short stories I wrote and old poems, and that mean voice inside says, "Why aren't you a more successful writer?" I look at cards I've kept from people I can no longer tell you who they are, and I feel sad for letting go of people. Then I wonder if they let go of me because I'm such a bad friend, even though I think I'm a good friend. That's a bad spiral.

It's so easy to remember all the times I let people down, but not think about all the times that I've been supportive. At times, as I've sorted through things, I've wondered if my spouse would have been happier with someone else, someone with more similar interests, someone who wasn't as self-contained as I can be. Maybe he would have been happier now, with healthier habits.

Or maybe he'd have felt smothered and left that person and now be living under a bridge. I do realize there are worse outcomes than what he has now and the ideal life that I imagine he could have had with someone else.

I also look at old pictures, and I feel like this woman that once had interests and read books, but now gets home from work and just watches mindless TV. I tell myself that once we get the move done and the house ready for market, I'm likely to have interests again. And getting all the seminary and candidacy stuff done has been a huge project. I do have interests, but they're not the usual ones that people talk about. But then there's that mean voice in my head again.

It's so strange to feel like this boring, washed up person--at the same time, I'm getting my books for seminary and getting really psyched.

It's no wonder I'm feeling a bit of whiplash.

Thursday, July 29, 2021

COVID-19: Once More and With Enthusiasm

Two weeks ago, after a graduation planning meeting, I wrote an e-mail:  "And we’re planning a superspreader contagion event at the time of year when hurricane season shifts into high gear. My inner apocalypse gal has feelings about all of this, but I tried to contain her. I’ve read Greek mythology; I remember what happens to the Cassandras amongst us."

The past two weeks have not lessoned my sense that we should cancel this event.  We are in a hotspot with the numbers going the wrong way.  I want to believe that our graduates and their guests will be vaccinated, but I'm fairly sure that won't be the case.

Yesterday during a meeting we had some COVID notifications come in as we were meeting; two campuses, neither of them mine, have had significant exposure in the past week, and students have not been the epicenter of the outbreaks.  Most people on my campus are still wearing masks, but the two campuses with exposure have moved away from mask wearing, even though they all work in closer proximity with fewer vaccinated colleagues.  


By the end of the day, we had decided that it's time to go back to requiring masks in the library.  Once our library assistant got fully vaccinated, we had been letting users decide about mask use.  No longer.

I don't know if we'll get pushback, but if so, I will stand firm.  People can access most of our library resources from a distance, after all.*

As we move into fall, I feel like every campus in the U.S. is engaging in a huge social experiment.  My seminary will be requiring everyone to be vaccinated if they're coming on campus, and masks will be required indoors.  If there are no outbreaks, perhaps it will feel safer to be a residential student for spring term.

Meanwhile, many other campuses will be letting students make their own choices, and I suspect I know what will happen.  I hope I'm wrong.

In other news of our weird times, I did want to note this.  Yesterday on my drive to work, I heard a newscaster say that the people who were convicted of attacking the U.S. Capitol would have their concealed weapons permits revoked by the state of Florida. And I thought about the strangenesses of that sentence: an attack on the U.S. Capitol, an attack by citizens, the revoking of concealed weapons permits by this wacky state of Florida.

Half the world is on fire (literally) while the other half drowns (literally).  Viruses of both body and mind sweep across the planet.  I think this decade will continue to be rough.

*I got to the office yesterday to find an e-mail from Corporate telling us that masks will be required indoors on campus when we can't do social distancing.  Hurrah!

Wednesday, July 28, 2021

Online Orientation: The Seminary Edition

For months I have known that I would need to do an online orientation before I was allowed to take seminary classes.  The orientation is not set up so that one can do it way far in advance; for fall term, the online orientation opened Monday, five weeks before classes start.

It's a class that's set up in Blackboard, a Learning Management System, which helps us all learn how to use the system.  Even students who are taking face to face classes in person may need to know how to use the system, so it's good to get us all some training.  And what's even more important about doing this orientation through Blackboard is that we can do this orientation on our own timeline.  When I try to think about how this orientation might once have been done, I imagine having to report to campus a few days early or the week before classes started.    This year, I'm glad we don't have to do that.

For the past few days, I have worked my way through part of the modules.  I have spent the last few months exploring the extensive website, so much of the information wasn't new to me.  One of the modules covered the information that was discussed during the Academic Planning Session that I did back in June.  One of the modules talked about ways to be successful in online classes.

As I watched, I thought about how useful these modules would be if I had never had an online class--I find the whole format overwhelming at times, and I have had many years of experience with a variety of online platforms.  I'm impressed with the way the Office of Community Life has thought of all sorts of things I will need to know as a student taking online classes.

I have made my way through the modules on plagiarism and sexual harassment, through modules that gave me a student handbook and the catalogue. I am intrigued by the information given in the Writing for Seminary module--they must have gotten some pushback on expectations here, as they give lots of information about how the seminary is a graduate school and grad school writing is different from undergraduate writing.

Again, if I hadn't spent so many decades in higher ed, maybe this would all seem new to me.  But even if it isn't new, it's pleasant to be exploring these modules.

And I'm impressed by the depth and breadth here.  I remember the orientations that we put together a year ago as we were pivoting from in-person new orientations to ones delivered virtually.  We did not cover nearly as much, but in some ways, we didn't have as much to cover--some of it had been handled during the Admissions process.  We also didn't have a flexible platform, like Blackboard.  And we didn't have a lot of time. 

This online orientation for Wesley Theological Seminary makes me realize how much better it could have been.  And it makes me grateful that so much care has been taken on my behalf as an incoming MDiv student.

Monday, July 26, 2021

The Feast Day of Saint Anne

Today is the feast day of Saint Anne, although in the Eastern Orthodox church, her feast day was yesterday. I'm somewhat amazed to realize that I haven't written about this feast day before I came across it last year.

Saint Anne was the mother of the Virgin Mary, which means she was the grandmother of Jesus. She's not mentioned in the canonical Bible. The apocryphal Gospel of James mentions her. I haven't read that text, but I am sure that the details I want to know are not there--what did daily life look like? How did Mary and Anne get along? What did Anne think of Jesus?

Anne is the patron saint of many types of women: unmarried women, housewives, seamstresses, women in labor or who want to be pregnant, and grandmothers. She's also the patron saint of educators, which are still primarily women.

As I was researching her this morning, I came across this image from a 15th century Book of Hours, and it's quickly become my favorite:

I love that both Saint Anne and Mary have books in their hands. According to many traditions, Saint Anne taught Mary to read, and she's often seen doing this. As I look at those images, I wonder if the artists realized what a subversive image it is: a woman teaching a girl to read.

Anne is sometimes depicted in scenes of Jesus as a baby, but so far, we have no image of her at the cross. I suspect that's because so many of this artwork comes from centuries ago, when it would have been very unusual for grandparents to survive to see their grandchildren in adulthood. Plus, one tradition around Saint Anne has her having Mary when she's very old--another story of the impossible coming out of improbable wombs!

So today, let us celebrate all the miracles which seem so impossible. Let us ask Saint Anne for protection, the way that Martin Luther did in the thunderstorm that terrified him. Let us know that all for which we yearn may yet be delivered to us.

Sunday, July 25, 2021

Bastille Day Writing Fun

Last week, my writerly brain wanted to have fun with Bastille Day, so I made this post early in the morning, once I got my birthday cake in the oven:

"Up before dawn, baking the Bastille Day treats, which I will serve with fresh, hot coffee. Since I am the oldest girl, I will wear a crown of candles on top of my head. I've got the correct holiday, right?"

Some of my Facebook friends didn't get the joke, but some did:  "In your honor, I'm having stale biscotti with marginally fresh warm coffee"

As I drove to work, I came up with another funny mixing:  "So, in 1789, Marie Antoinette said, "Let them eat cake." The people had no cake, so she took over the Bastille and made cake for everyone. The cake was so delicious that people lost their heads over it, and that's why we have cake every July 14, right?"

A different Facebook friend got my joke and wrote:  "So the French people got tired of the queen's cake, formed a French Lives Matter group, staged a July 14 coup d' etat, and stormed the Bastille to free all of the prisoners. Hein?"

I spent the rest of the day wanting to remind people that I was trying to be funny, that I did know my history.  Instead, later in the day, I wrote this:  "J___ if there are truly Bastille Day treats, I don't know about them. I was doing some early morning baking and thought about Linus mixing up holidays (a la The Great Pumpkin), and I came up with the idea of mixing up Bastille Day with Santa Lucia festivals in Dec."

I often forget this kind of everyday creativity that I try to infuse into each day.  That's one of the reasons why I record them here periodically.

Saturday, July 24, 2021

Snapshots from a Week

I've got a collection of odds and ends and scraps--they might make an interesting collage, even if they don't make a full-size quilt.

--This morning, I wrote this Facebook post:  "Lightning to the east, full moon to the west, the honking of tree frogs the only sound: the benefits to being an early riser."  It reminded me of a few weeks ago when the lightning was much more spectacular, not just pulses of light, but jagged bolts of lightning and towering clouds that I could only see as the lightning bounced back and forth.

--What I will remember most about this week:  I have felt a relaxation about the seminary process, the kind of relaxation that made me realize how stressed about the Candidacy Committee I had been without realizing it.  I thought I was stressed about the possibility of the technology failing, but it wasn't just that.  I have heard so many stories of Candidacy Committees who say no or put up lots of obstacles, so it's no wonder I was feeling a bit stressed, even as I thought that they would approve me.

--I want to remember the joy of getting my books for my Fall 2021 seminary classes, at least the ones I don't already own.  I'm happy that they show diversity and open mindedness and intellectual (but not inaccessible) rigor.  Will I still feel happy about these books in early November?  I hope so. 

--I want to remember the Cuban flags I've seen, the message made of small balls pushed into a highway chain link fence overpass that said, "Free Cuba."  It's strange to hear news of Cuba and protests here, but the national news has so little of that sort of news.

--I will also remember this as a week of doing some long overdue sorting:  photo albums and boxes of memorabilia and boxes of rough drafts.  Now on to the packing!

--The sunrises this week have not had their usual beauty.  I wrote this Facebook post:  "Even a beige sunrise has its bronzed charm."

--On Thursday night, we watched Footloose.  I thought we would only watch a bit of it, but I found it oddly compelling.  I say oddly, because I've seen it oodles of times before.  At one point, I turned to my spouse and said, "All of these characters have such big, unresolved father issues."  Even the preacher has father issues--with God as father.  And this time, I saw the whole movie as game after game of chicken--who will blink first?  Who will back off?

--We live in such an age of good viewing, and all I want to do is watch the shows of my youth.  I feel similarly about music.  It's all just too overwhelming.

--And now, onward--there's sorting to do.  What covers will I untreasure today?  Here's one from last week:

 What names did I call my sister?  It's lost to time--I don't remember my parents using this punishment often.  May we go to another concert again soon: