Friday, August 23, 2019

The Whale and the Ticket

I am part of an online journaling group organized by Mepkin Abbey.  We are working/listening/journaling our way through Don Bisson's series of CDs from a presention,  Individuation:  Beyond Happy and Normal.  Our last chunk explored the book of Jonah.

It's interesting to think about the book of Jonah and what it has to say to us about psychological health.  We're used to reading the book as a picture of a reluctant prophet, and therefore many of us might assume it doesn't apply to us.  We're not prophets, after all.

Because Don Bisson is a Marist brother, he does approach the material through a Christian lens.  But he's also a Jungian, which makes for interesting juxtapositions.  His approach of the main lesson of Jonah is that we need to get the right ticket to the right destination.

When I first heard him say that, I heard ticket as a type of parking ticket, not a plane ticket or a train ticket. 

For those of us who say no to what God asks of us, he says we need to think about the moral dimension to saying no. 

He also says we should notice what whales show up to remind us that we're going in the wrong direction.  I found that an interesting way of thinking about the whale.

I am now thinking of the end of Jonah, where Jonah goes off in a snit about how everyone reacts positively to his message.  Once again, we see someone trying to micromanage the miracles.

And now I'm thinking of my manuscript of essays.  Should I try to do a major overhaul?  I have decided that the title should be Micromanaging the Miracles.  Maybe I should revise with that in mind.

Or maybe I should create a different manuscript, something designed to be a daily devotions.  Could I develop enough new stuff to say about each of God's people who tried to micromanage the miracles? 

I have so many potential projects--not to mention the manuscripts that I've already created and can't find a place to publish them.  It's enough to make a girl feel discouraged. 

But I also know that life works in mysterious ways.  I blogged for years and many of those blog posts have found new life in various publications, which was not my plan when I started blogging. 

If I suddenly become a popular writer whose audience has a voracious appetite for my work, at least I have plenty of work to release.

I have spent the last 10 minutes trying to think of a way to conclude this blog post--how can I tie Jonah to my writing life?  Is my writing life the whale or the ticket?

In the depths of despair, it's tempting to think of all the writing rejections as the whale that tells us that we've taken the wrong direction.  But the life of the prophet reminds us that failure is part of the process--and the life of Jonah reminds us that even when we get with the program, when people accept us, we might still pout.

Jungian psychologists would not be surprised by this process.  One of the ideas that I found most comforting from our recent journaling time is that our culture tells us that as we get older, life should get easier because we've got it all figured out--but that's not the way it is at all.  Failure is part of the process.

To be called to be oneself in one's historical moment is never easy--even though we look at the life of the great humans and think they always knew exactly where they were going.  But it's the essential task of every human.

Thursday, August 22, 2019

Revisions and Revolutions

My time grows short this morning, so let me post capture some writing that I want to preserve here and some links to materials that I want to remember.

--I am intrigued by the blog posts from Terri Lewis, who has been blogging from the Sewanee Writers' Conference.  She shared her notes from Margot Livesy's presentation on revision in this post.  Livesy instructs us to print out the whole novel and get markers in a variety of colors:

"You are going to highlight in in a different color the following things (explanations in parenthesis [Lewis']):
  • Scene (the reader is inside an event with dialog and/or action)
  • Narration (bits between scenes, usually where the “narrator” – often the author – is telling, not showing. Can be a transition)
  • Summary (I need to spend time thinking about differentiating between this one and the next)
  • Exposition
  • Description (Needs to move the story, not just be a travelogue)
  • Interior / Exterior (Succinctly put: is the character thinking or doing)
  • Memories
  • Flashbacks
  • Each character"
How interesting!  I've had some of this on the brain as I've been writing my novel.  

--I am trying to get into a rhythm for writing my apocalyptic novel.  This week, my approach has been to grab time where I can find it, writing little bits here and there.  I wake up in the middle of the night thinking about how to revise what I've just written.

--Last night I was working on the novel when a grad school friend posted this bit to Facebook:  "Oh dear, what to do. Drop everything to watch the 25th anniversary special of Les Mis, or keep plugging away at work I've committed to delivering by morning? Hmmm...this is not easy. Oh, they're at the barricades, so my decision is made! I can fire up the espresso machine when this finishes in 2 hours, then fire it up AGAIN come the morning and load up my favorite thermos to keep me going after so little sleep. Okay, that's the plan!"

--I didn't see her post, but I clearly had the French Revolution on the brain.  I was writing this bit:  Each citizen got an allotment of food, which was the way out of the first food shortage that the government had created to try both to keep a nation fed and to keep peace. Even if the Despot hadn’t learned the lessons of history, some official clearly had—or at least they remembered how many revolutions had been fueled by food shortages and literal hunger, not just a hunger for justice.

--This morning, I made this response to my friend's post:   If I write a novel of our grad school years, there will be a student who leaves graduate work to follow "Les Mis," the way that some follow the Grateful Dead. She will discover a fellowship of travelers, and they will wonder why they don't get the same kind of press as Deadheads.

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

The Decision Not to Participate in an Art Show

Yesterday I wrote this post about my artistic process that took an older piece from this:



to this:



But in the end, I didn't enter the piece in the show.  It started to feel overwhelming, and I took some time to figure out whether or not I really wanted to participate.  The decision not to do it boiled down to several reasons:

--I had questions, but when I reached out to the curator, both by e-mail and phone, she never returned my call.  Therefore, I wasn't sure when the art would be accepted.  The website and the entry form had different information.

--The art show isn't juried, so all art would be accepted if it fit the theme.  That aspect appealed to me on one level, but it also seemed less desirable.

--I thought about having show participation to put on a resume, but if it's not juried, it would count less.  And then I laughed at myself.  What resume is this, exactly?

--That question made me realize that I wanted some sort of acclaim.  There would be prizes.  I had this vision of a gallery owner asking to represent me.

--But what if people did want more 3 D work from me?  I don't have a back up supply, like I do with my other art and writing.  While the appeal of creating art out of found objects appeals to me, I don't do it much.

--Why don't I do it?  I don't have the space--for the supplies or for the finished work.  How do artists store their work?  Even if I transformed the cottage into a studio and storage space, I would quickly run out of room if I did much work in found objects.

--A space in the art show cost $45.  That fee would buy me an entry fee for a manuscript.  I still have hopes for a writing career.  Those hopes and dreams are reasonable.  My dream of being a 3 D artist is much more recent and not as viable.

It's been an interesting way to spend part of the month of August, thinking about an old art project, transforming it, and writing about it.  I love the small jar that I created to go with the piece:



I love that it changes as I rotate the jar:


And from a different angle:



Long ago, I saw a work at Girl's Club, but I can't find a picture.  It was a collection of baby food sized jars, with balls of yarn in them.  I kept coming back to that piece, although I couldn't exactly articulate why.

If I did decide to do more with 3 D art, I might do more with jars.  It seems more manageable in terms of space.

I wonder if any scholar has explored the issue of space when it comes to art.  What kinds of decisions have artists made based on space--space for storage and space to do the work in the first place?

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

The Poet and Fiber Artist Goes 3 D

Over the past few weeks, I've been working on a 3 D art piece.  It began with a piece that I created for an Ash Wednesday art project at church.  I brought 3 shelves from a dresser that had been damaged during Hurricane Irma.  I brought lots of other stuff, and we created art with an Ash Wednesday theme.  For more on the original project, see this blog post.

I saw a call for art pieces for a show with the theme of home, and I thought of the piece.  A few weeks ago, I brought it home with me from the storage closet at church.  I wanted to add some pieces to it--one of the requirements for the show was that the art had to be created in the past year.

I created an element out of fabric.  I thought about gluing it to the back of the piece, but before I did that, I realized it might be interesting to pin it to the top.  In the end, I pinned it to both the top and the side.  I like the way it flutters.  It speaks of quilts to me, of quilts that have come apart but can be stitched back together again.

I decided the piece needed more threads, so I also cut apart a small piece of flannel to lay in the banana leaves.  A few years ago, after her mother's death, one of my friends gave me the spools of thread that her mother collected.  I don't want to waste good thread, but some of the spools had threads of the same color.  I will never use that much thread.  So I chose a few for the piece.

I find the image of a box of collected buttons showing up in my poetry quite often, so I pulled out our button box.  Again, I hate wasting buttons that might be useful, so I chose ones that were similar, along with some that were just interesting.

The old drawer that creates a shadowbox container is huge, so I decided I needed another vertical element.  I plucked an olive jar out of the recycling and filled it with things that said home to me:  buttons, yarn, dental floss, small spools of thread, and shells.  I also liked the images of stitching/threads, since I had decided to title the piece "Ash Wednesday in Hurricane Country."

I had to write a statement about how the piece fits with the theme.  One day, I made several drafts:

Home is more than a location on a map. You bought banana trees for a significant anniversary, and the hurricane destroyed them. We stitch our communities together with all sorts of threads to create a patchwork comforter.

Living in hurricane country comes with a constant reminder that our physical homes could be destroyed by wind and flood. But home is more than a location on a map. We keep our collections portable, our grandmothers’ button boxes, the spools collected by a friend’s mother during her lifetime.

We are a nation of dreamers and through our dreams, we are the repairers of the broken. We are a nation of quilters, the ones who can stitch and patch to create a comforter. We are the collagists who create a work of art out of all the pieces.

I ended up with a statement I really liked:

Home is more than a location on a map. We are a nation of quilters, the ones who can stitch and patch to create a comforter. We are the collagists who create a work of art out of all the pieces. We repair the broken to find the beautiful.

In the end, I decided not to submit the piece.  I'll write more about that decision tomorrow.

Monday, August 19, 2019

A Nancy Drew Poem for a Week of School Beginnings

In my county, students started school last Wednesday; this week will be their first full week of school.  By the end of this week, all students in the tri county area will be back in school.

I know that there are still some schools up north who start after Labor Day.  They probably have Columbus Day off too.

Yesterday in church, our pastor said it was the last Sunday in Summer.  He caught himself mid-declaration and said, "Yes, it's the last Sunday in the Summer.  Because I declare it to be so."  And then he explained that once the public schools start again, summer is effectively over.

I agree.  We have another month until the equinox which will launch us into a new season, and for some of us, we might switch wardrobes at Labor Day--although to be honest, I don't know of anyone who doesn't wear white after the first Monday in September.  Many of us still have a month or more of summer heat and humidity.  But essentially, summer is over.

The back to school stories that surround us take me back to my writing process as I created a poem about Nancy Drew in her retirement.  Nancy Drew wouldn't be teaching college. She'd have had a teacher's certificate from pre-feminist days. And they'd let her teach the kids that were headed to juvenile jails and drop out land--who cares about those kids?

I thought about a friend's experience teaching those kinds of kids. She was allowed to do basically whatever she wanted, to abandon textbooks and to teach whatever came to her, so long as she kept the kids from hurting each other or the other children in the school.

I thought about Nancy Drew's friends, Bess and George--what happened to them? Could they help Nancy Drew solve the mystery of how to reach these students?

Of course! Bess has started a bakeshop and this generation of students, raised on cooking shows, eat up what she has to offer in the way of old-fashioned home-ec. George, the tomboy, has gone on to become a marine biologist, so she leads field trips into various ecosystems.

Here's the poem, which appeared in my third chapbook, Life in the Holocene Extinction.  If you want an autographed copy of the chapbook, I'll give you a back-to-school discount between now and the Tuesday after Labor Day:  $10 per copy.


Nancy Drew and the Mystery of the Pre-Drop Outs



Nancy Drew decides she needs new
mysteries to solve, so she returns
to school, to mold young minds.

Long ago, in between cracking cases
involving diaries or letters or maps and solving
secrets in attics and towers, she got a teaching
certificate, as ambitious women did in those days.
Now she calls the school board to see
how she might be of use.

Her credentials, old and out of date,
don't prevent her from taking charge
of the most hopeless classrooms,
the students on a layover
on their journey to juvenile court.

Given tattered textbooks and worksheets without
answer keys, Nancy Drew adopts
a different approach. As always, she calls
on her friends.

Bess runs a bakeshop, so she teaches
the students to cook, a retro home-ec
approach. Nancy Drew's feminist critics
would not approve, but this generation
of students, raised on cooking shows, responds
with rare enthusiasm.

Nancy Drew believes in fresh air and sunshine,
so she recruits her friend George, a marine
biologist, for ideas. George leads
field trips to various ecosystems:
swamp walks and snorkeling and soon
some of the students are ready
for college-track science classes.

These clues to a better future don't prevent
some of her students from sneaking
away to explore more ancient secrets.
She tries to keep them focused on the future,
but she remembers Ned Nickerson
and those cars now considered classics.

She thinks of Ned in the roadster,
and later, her love confined to the hospital bed,
immune from rescue, unable to hear
her whispered pleas.

She kisses the old locket always worn
around her neck and writes the day's lesson
plan on the white board. At the end
of the day, she erases the smeared
lines from the board to leave a blank
space to be filled again in the morning.

Sunday, August 18, 2019

August Traditions: Blessing Backpacks and Church Picnics

Based on what I'm reading in various Facebook updates, the Blessing of the Backpacks as part of August church services is becoming fairly common across the nation, or at least in the Southeast. I'm all in favor.

One of my Facebook friends who is a minister seems to be having today's worship service at a park, where there will be the annual picnic along with the blessing of the backpacks.  I like that approach too.

My church has a huge space in the back of the church, so we've had a cookout there once or twice, often in conjunction with the close of Vacation Bible School.

And now I'm remembering late August days at my grandmother's church long ago.  There was one Sunday where they'd have church and then everyone would get in cars to spend Sunday afternoon at Lutheridge.  That church camp was over an hour away, so modern me is astonished that people would come to church and then make the drive to Lutheridge.  Of course, there was a wonderful potluck picnic at the end of the drive and time in the mountains and fellowship.  Still, it tells me what a different time it was.

And now I'm suddenly craving deviled eggs and a variety of pasta salads.  I'll never crave those odd mixes of gelatin and add-ins--blhh.  But the dessert table--ah, yes, I'd love a good dessert table today after church.

Instead, I'll count the money after church.  It won't be nearly as much fun/fulfilling as a trip to the mountains with a picnic, but it's an essential task that few can'will do in my congregation.

Saturday, August 17, 2019

Thinking about the Yield Curve on a Lovely Saturday in August

This week, perhaps we've all gotten a mini Economics lesson.  I confess that I didn't really think about the yield curve before this week, and I'm still not sure I understand it enough to explain it.

One fact stands out in this week of reports of our now inverted yield curve:  an inverted yield curve has predicted 6 of the last 6 recessions.

On a recent episode of On Point, I heard economics analyst Rana Foroohar say that she had taken all of her retirement money out of the stock market and invested it in primarily cash and real estate.  Hmm.

You may or may not remember that we haven't had a recession since the big one in 2008.  Here's an interesting fact from an article in yesterday's The Washington Post: "About 40 million U.S. adults haven’t seen a single recession during their working lives. Almost as many, including most millennials, have seen only one since they turned 18. That recession, the devastating Great Recession from December 2007 to June 2009, was (hopefully) not representative."

My earliest memory of economic downturns is the one in the early 70's, around 1973 or so.  I remember asking my dad why so many people didn't have Christmas lights strung on their houses the way they used to do.  He told me that they might not be able to afford it.

Ah, the good ole days of the Arab oil embargo!  I remember the 70's as a time when beef was a luxury.  Now I've had a few shopping days when potatoes cost more than the beef when I made pot roast.  I'm paying far less for chicken these days then my mom did when she bought chicken in the 70's as a budget meat for a middle-class family.

I remember recessions in the 80's; I started undergraduate school in a college town that had had much of its industry decimated during a recent recession where two of the three poultry plants had closed.  I did my first job search during the recession of 92, and I was grateful to get my community college job, even though I went to grad school with a different kind of teaching job in mind.  In the recession of 2002, when my meager portfolio lost almost all its value, I had a moment when I wished I had just given all that money to the poor.  I remember the early days of the Great Recession of 2008, hearing about the stock market stumbling then falling precipitously and feeling a cold stone of fear in my body.

In short, the economy has never felt secure to me.  The words of Jesus have always made sense, the ones where he cautions about storing our treasures where moths can eat it and thieves can steal it.  The economy shows us over and over again the wisdom of Christ's teaching--at least to those of us who aren't part of the uppermost of the uppermost economic echelons.