Friday, October 18, 2019

Butterfly Garden Gratitude Lessons

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

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

--Yesterday I wrote this Facebook post:

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

We are too.

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

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

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

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

Thursday, October 17, 2019

Lost in the Weeds: Monarchs in the Milkweed

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We are too.

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Parables from the Pumpkin Patch

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Bloviators and New Waves

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, October 14, 2019

Week-end Retrospective

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, October 13, 2019

Pumpkin Offload 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, October 12, 2019

Noah's Offspring

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

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

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

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

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

And maybe later, we'll grill those burgers.