Wednesday, May 25, 2022

Leases and Letting Go

This morning I was looking over some of my blog posts from a year ago, and I am just amazed by all the changes that have happened in just the past year. A year ago we were deciding to sell the house and figuring out how to do that. That decision led us to rent a condo that we live in right now. A year ago my spouse thought he never ever wanted to leave South Florida, so when the landlady asked if we would consider a two year lease, even though I had some hesitation, I agreed. I knew it was a good deal, and all the utilities were included in the rent, so it would make budgeting easier.

As summer and fall progressed, the job that I thought I was going to lose transformed into something else, which seemed to be permanent for about two months, and then I was told that the company had a different vision than my vision for the students, although no one would ever doubt that I had the best interests of students at heart. By then it was February of 2022, and my spouse was ready to leave South Florida. We've been turning around all sorts of possibilities in the past several months.

There was just one problem, of course.  We did sign a two year lease, and our landlady could have been very ugly about it. Ugly is the wrong word. She had every right to expect us to be here through July of 2023. Technically we are liable for all of that rent.

However, in the tri county area where I live in South Florida, rents have gone up over 50% in the past year. I had hopes that our landlady might be open to letting us out of the lease since she could get more rent money from someone else. I also know that the condo building has expensive repairs to the swimming pool in the near future, which will probably result in assessments for the owners, so I figured that our landlady might welcome the chance to get some extra money with new renters.

And happily that is what has happened.  About a month ago, my spouse had let our landlady know that I lost my job but that we had some money in savings. A few days ago she wrote to ask if we had any thoughts about ending the lease early, so we decided to take that opportunity to come up with a plan and to get her approval. The month of July will be our last month with this lease. We are happy to be helpful with showing the place to potential renters, so that's a plus for her.  But the biggest plus for her of course is that she can get so much more rent for this condo than we were paying.

I've enjoyed living here in many ways. It's easy to pop over to the grocery store to pick up something we need for dinner. There are times when I like being this close to the Arts Park.  While it is a hassle to park in the parking garage in some ways, it means our vehicles are safer in other ways. Our condo has the most reliable Internet I've had in a residence so far. If I was a woman living alone, a condo like this  would be ideal in terms of security. My spouse has been less happy here--he misses the chance to garden and be outdoors surrounded by trees and sunshine. I will always wonder if he would have been more happy if the pool had been available. The condo has a lovely rooftop pool which has been out of commission since before we moved in.

As with many things, the condo building has amenities that I haven't really taken advantage of. There's a small indoor gym downstairs, which I've used about three times.  It's been a comfort to remember that there is a computer room downstairs, but happily our computers have held together. There are comfortable public spaces where one might read, but I don't really use them.

I might have made a lot of different choices had I known a year ago what I know now--but when isn't that true? Overall it's worked out. And now on to packing and the next phase.

Tuesday, May 24, 2022

Sea of Tranquility, World of Turmoil

During my April travels, I heard this interview with Emily St. John Mandel on the NPR show 1A. The interviewer and the author discussed the new book Sea of Tranquility, which sounded interesting. I first read Station Eleven and enjoyed it thoroughly, so I was predisposed to like this book.

In fact, I loved this book. I’d go so far as to say it's one of the best I've read in a long time. I started it Friday afternoon and got up early Saturday morning to finish it. I don't want to say too much about it because I don't want to ruin it for those who haven't read it, so let me just say that it was satisfying in so many ways, particularly in ways that pleased me as a writer. I was so impressed with what she managed to pull off.

This interview on the Ezra Klein podcast also inspired me to want to read this book. This morning I went back and listened to both interviews again. Emily St. John Mandel is a wonderful guest with a wide range of knowledge.  I’m glad that she’s younger, that we might have many more books from her to enjoy.

I was sad yesterday when I learned that Rosemary Radford Ruether had died. She, too, had a wide range of knowledge. She was one of the feminist theologians who helped change how we talk about God. She did groundbreaking, revolutionary work on gender issues and God talk. She's not one of the theologians whose work I go back to reread, but her work forms a foundation for many of the works of theology that have sustained me.

I wish I could say that her work was done, that it seems part of an earlier age and no longer relevant.  Sadly, that is not the case. Just last month I was part of an interesting conversation about changing references to God as a father. We talked about translation issues and gender issues and whether or not it was appropriate to have a more expansive language when talking about the creator.

The person who was most opposed to changing God the Father language was not in his 90s. I looked him up later to be sure. He's roughly my age, at the far side of mid life. I thought that most people in more liberal church denominations had accepted the need for careful language when it comes to the creator, a need to move beyond tradition. I was surprised by the ferocity of the conversation.

I held my own, while at the same time thinking of the decades of work that had been done on this issue of the language of God talk. It's also interesting to think of these issues in a week where the Southern Baptist Convention has had revelations of all sorts of horrible abuse. It reminded me of one of my undergraduate friends who went on to seminary in the late 80’s, right at the time at the Southern Baptists decided to stop ordaining women. I felt sad that the church world would lose her gifts.  I feel that sadness still.

We live in a time when the church world is losing the gifts of all sorts of people who turn away for all sorts of reasons. Some people scoff at the idea of language making a difference, but theologians like Ruether knew that change doesn't happen at the larger macro level without change happening at the micro language level. Maybe we need to return to some of those revelations.

This morning I took delight in reading this tribute to Ruether. Come to find out, the academic dean at Wesley Theological Seminary, where I am a student, studied under Ruether, and she directed his MA thesis. I have been so pleased this past year to be at this seminary, and discovering that the seminary has connections back to Ruether makes me even more happy to have made this choice.

Monday, May 23, 2022

Farewell Florida Motorcycle Tour

I did not exactly plan to spend 22 hours on a motorcycle this weekend. My spouse and his brother have thought of an overnight trip since they first got their motorcycles as men in their 50s (as opposed to the motorcycles they had as men in their teens).  My spouse's brother is part of a motorcycle club, and they organized a trip over to Reddington Beach on the Gulf Coast of Florida near St Pete.

My spouse wanted me to come, and I said I would only come if he rented a 3 wheel motorcycle, a trike not a slingshot.  This was back in late March; I had not yet broken my wrist. Much of the trip was planned and nonrefundable, so we asked my hand surgeon if I could go.  He said I could as long as I didn't operate the motorcycle--no chance of that.

So off we went early on Saturday morning. The group of 20 motorcycles made its way north on US 27, stopping for lunch at a great barbecue place that I will never be able to find again. In the afternoon we took a winding tour of Florida mines--I was never able to determine what was being mined aside from “minerals.”  Then we made our way, our long way, west towards Tampa.  After making our way through some traffic, we continued on towards Clearwater and Reddington Beach.

We stayed at a resort (I use that word loosely0 that had once been a motor lodge kind of place. They had done their best to update it--it was comfortable enough for one night, and while I was shocked at the price, it's clearly compatible with other similar places. It had the advantage of a pizza kitchen restaurant in the front of the property, where we got a good meal outside, with fairly cheap beer and wine. 

We left very early the next morning, and in a way that was good. When 20 to 22 people descend on a restaurant, it takes a while to get service, and we stopped for both breakfast and lunch.  On our way back on Sunday, we did a loop that is called the Tail of the Gecko because it winds and twists, although it was less twisty than I was afraid it would be.

As we made our way across the state and back again, I thought about the fact that this is likely my last trip on a motorcycle in Florida.  The heat shimmered up from the pavement and blazed down from the sun in the sky, and I remembered that I don't really like motorcycle trips in the summer, and much of Florida has summer weather year round. For much of the trip I felt a bit heat sick.  Having a broken wrist and a cast made the trip less optimal as well.

It was a great way to say farewell. I will be headed off to DC in August to live at seminary, so the trip felt like one last hurrah. We saw Florida in all its shapes:  urban skylines, vast fields of crops,  all sorts of livestock, undeveloped fields, land literally staked out for development, forests and rivers and beaches.  People hear about Florida and they think orange groves, but Florida has always had a very diverse agriculture industry. Much of the beef you are likely to eat comes from Florida, as does much of the sugar. 

This is not the kind of trip I would want to take a lot:  too many hours on the bike.  But I'm glad we had a chance to do what my spouse and his brother have been dreaming about for almost a decade.  It's not the kind of trip that will make me wish that it was a week ago when I could experience it all again. It's not my dream vacation. But I'm glad I had a chance to do it.

Friday, May 20, 2022

Anxieties and Therapies

Once again, I dreamed that I was realizing that we still owned a house that we thought we had sold.  I first had this type of anxiety dream a few weeks ago--although as I'm thinking about it, it's the kind of dream that pops up periodically. These current dreams have some similarities, like the need to call our realtor to find out what's going on. 

When I woke up from the dream, there was a thunderstorm, and I decided to stay awake. We should be entering the rainy season in South Florida, but it's hard to know.  It's that summery time of year where it seems like we should be getting afternoon and evening thunderstorms after excessively warm days, but so far we haven't been--so the thought of being awake for a very early morning thunderstorm appealed to me. Plus I went to bed early, so it was time to get up.

I probably won't walk this morning. With my hand/wrist/lower arm in a cast, I need to be aware of the weather. Also I'm just feeling worn out.

Yesterday was my second session with the hand physical therapist, so that might account for some of my tiredness. Yesterday session was much like the first one last week:  primarily an extensive hand massage with stretching of the fingers. There was a little pain but nothing too intense.

I did a few additional exercises, like pulling a towel towards me and pushing the folds away.  The physical therapist put a marble on the table and said, “You probably can't pick that up.”  But then I did. She then dumped a handful of marbles on the towel, and I proceeded to pick them up and put them back in the container. It felt like a huge accomplishment.

I am trying not to think of how far I still have to go to get full mobility in my fingers, and then after that in my wrist. Yesterday before the appointment, I felt despair and a bit of self-pity.  The appointment improved my mood, and I'm not sure why. Maybe it's because I felt I was making progress. Maybe because I saw others in worse shape than me. I am trying not to think about the fragility of moving through the world in a human body.

No, let me remember how many miracles surround us as humans in a body. Physical therapy can do remarkable things.  We can learn to adapt. I continue to remind myself that if I have been living 150 years ago, I'd be in much worse shape with this kind of injury.

Thursday, May 19, 2022

Snippets and Snapshots

Last night, we went outside to watch the sunset. I was struck by how warm it was at 8:00 PM. We've had a few nights of dining out, sitting in outdoor spaces, but I suspect that won't last much longer. Let me collect a few snippets from the past week, snapshots not substantial enough to be their own blog post, but I want to remember them.

--Last week we went to the rooftop bar of a local high-rise hotel. Once it was a scruffy kind of bar, but it's been transformed into a white tablecloth place. We were dressed for a scruffy bar and planned to leave, but the manager encouraged us to stay and led us to a table with a premium view of the city.  I am aware that the manager may have let us stay because it was a slow night, but it felt like a kindness to be shown to a table after I had said that I thought we were not dressed appropriately and so we would just leave.  The weather was perfect, and the food was delicious. I'm glad we stayed.

--It was the kind of evening that I thought we would have more of when we first moved to this condo. I felt slightly glamorous even in my scruffy clothes. I felt like a character in an interesting movie.

--Today I go for my second round of hand therapy. I still need help straightening my fingers after my wrist surgery. It's not as painful as I was afraid it was going to be, and it does seem to be helping.

--There have been moments during the last several weeks where I feel despair about the amount of money that my injury demands we spend. We are getting close to having spent a semester's worth of tuition money. I am trying to focus on feeling grateful that we have the money, in part because we saved for a rainy day and in part because of the windfall of selling a house in a historic district during a high market time.  I remind myself that my wrist break was an accident, but the fact that it was an accident makes me feel even worse somehow.

--I have been trying to get back into the habit of walking. Having a cast on my lower arm makes my shoulder ache even during a short walk. When I said I needed to introduce more exercises to shape my arms, I should have been more specific.

--But I need to persist in walking and to get back to all kinds of healthier habits like eaing more fruits and veggies.  Let me begin with a glass of V8 juice.

Wednesday, May 18, 2022

Evocative Lines and a Looser Form

For the past week, I've been experimenting with a new way of writing poems. Before my hand surgery to repair the wrist break of my dominant hand, I would write poems longhand in a purple legal pad. I've written two blog posts (here and here) about my experience writing duplexes for my seminary project. I wanted to see what would happen if I experimented with a looser form.  I do realize that even my looser form has more structure, four line stanzas throughout, than is usual for me.

I also incorporated some evocative phrases from my Twitter feed and a Facebook instant message exchange with a friend. When I was feeling uninspired I went back to my collection of evocative lines and chose one that spoke to me. That line would often beat to the inspiration of a new line or two. I left the document open and returned to it periodically.

Thus morning, I'm calling the rough draft finished. I've posted it below, and then I posted a version with highlights to show which lines come from which source, just in case it's interesting.


Magellan’s Lighthouse


Ice saints and a blackthorn winter,
last grip of a past season.
How wonderful to eat ice cream in a graveyard
surrounded by ancestors and those who will soon join them.

On the day the sea comes to claim you,
I shall be far away in a house near a mountain range,
in a non-tropical rainforest:
brambles and thistles but at least no flooding.

Can a person who is still living haunt a place?
The future speaks to us in widow’s weeds
while I try to balance the accounts.
I am the sea that swallowed the world.

Mangoes rot before they ripen; shorebirds lose their way.
I examine the recipes from my mother’s battered box,
the buttons my grandmother saved.
I keep my powder dry while I knit socks.

I memorize the foot paths to the border
while I sort the seeds and feed the ones who depend on me.
We must test the river for tannins and sample for salt,
Reinforce the cisterns and the alarm systems.

We watched the hungry sea, turned our faces east.
We thought we could control the wind.
Instead, I crafted my own ark, a small, solitary vessel.
Am I the storm, the sea, the sand at the bottom?

In a past time, you’d have been Magellan,
while I would have been the lighthouse tender.
Now I light the lantern on the window sill,
and we pray for all who are far from home.

-------------------

lines that came from tweets of others

lines from past poetry notebooks that were never used in a finished poem

line from a Facebook message to a friend


Magellan’s Lighthouse


Ice saints and a blackthorn winter,
last grip of a past season.
How wonderful to eat ice cream in a graveyard
surrounded by ancestors and those who will soon join them.

On the day the sea comes to claim you,
I shall be far away in a house near a mountain range,
in a non-tropical rainforest:
brambles and thistles but at least no flooding.

Can a person who is still living haunt a place?
The future speaks to us in widow’s weeds
while I try to balance the accounts.
I am the sea that swallowed the world.

Mangoes rot before they ripen; shorebirds lose their way.
I examine the recipes from my mother’s battered box,
the buttons my grandmother saved.
I keep my powder dry while I knit socks.

I memorize the foot paths to the border
while I sort the seeds and feed the ones who depend on me.
We must test the river for tannins and sample for salt,
Reinforce the cisterns and the alarm systems.

We watched the hungry sea, turned our faces east.

We thought we could control the wind.
Instead, I crafted my own ark, a small, solitary vessel.
Am I the storm, the sea, the sand at the bottom?

In a past time, you’d have been Magellan
,
while I would have been the lighthouse tender.
Now I light the lantern on the window sill,
and we pray for all who are far from home.


Tuesday, May 17, 2022

Five Duplexes

Yesterday, I wrote this blog post about my process in writing duplexes. For those of you new to this poetic form, you might think of it as an exploded sonnet. It's a form created by the poet Jericho brown; to see one of his duplexes go here, and to read about how he came to create this form, go here.

For my seminary class, I wrote 5 duplexes, which I have pasted below.  Duplex #1 is the first one that I wrote, #2 is the second and so on, in chronological oreder.  I wanted to see which lines were from my collection of evocative lines that weren't used in poems of mine, lines from the last 10 years of writing. Those lines I have highlighted in green. I got more experimental as I continued writing each duplex. I believe I stayed true to the spirit of the duplex, even when I didn't follow the form specifically. However, I do worry that I'm like someone who says, "I'm writing sonnets only they have 13 lines and nothing rhymes"--my silent response has always been, you may be writing something but it ain't a sonnet.

Let me also stress that this effort is my first attempt at the form, so I'm judging them through that lens.  In no way do I mean to claim that my duplexes are in the same league as Jericho Brown's.

I want to remember that as I wrote these duplexes, I did move lines around, but I don't have those very first drafts to compare with the finished drafts. I am now experimenting with using abandoned lines in a looser framework, and I'll post one of those poems later. 

This writing process has been great for a number of reasons, but primarily because part of the work is done. I have enough distance from these evocative lines that I don't remember what I originally planned to do with most of them, and that's part of the process that seems essential to me.  Having a broken wrist means I can't write by hand on a purple legal pad which has been my process for several decades. I've always wanted to experiment with a different process, and I'm trying to look on this as an opportunity, not a burden.

(Note:  Blogger makes consistent margins almost impossible, and I must move on to other tasks) 


Duplex #1

 This body, a country with no maps,

A patchwork of loose scraps and poor stitches.

 

                                       I keep the quilts made by a spinster aunt.

                                       At night, they whisper secrets while I sleep.

               

Quilts keep watch over every yearning.

All our hopes tucked into dense batting.

 

                                       How do we sense a pale hope obscured?

   Smell of decomposing cedar stumps,

 

Some days the backyard garden explodes.

I wanted stars or sacraments in my hair.

 

                                        Instead I'm stuck with scraps of bread dough.

                                       My very bones cry out to make peach cobbler.

 

Box of recipes and a rolling pin,

Every map routes back to the body.

 

Duplex #2

 I have a canoe, and you have a gun.

I have memorized the tide charts.

 

                               I know how to navigate at night.

                               I have a system of hidey-holes.

 

I can food for the hard times coming.

You dream of harsher firepower.

 

                                But killing doesn’t need such drama

                               I know which plants heal and which ones poison.

 

Overlooked nursery, needled forest floor.

I see a path ahead hidden to most.

 

                               Bread crumbs and bird seeds blaze a true trail.                  

                               Faint thread of tiny tracks and stitches.

 

I thread the needle between extremes:

Paddle faster, duck and cover.


 Duplex #3

 Does the anchor resent the always tugging ship?

Think of the caretaker yearning to break free.

 

                                        She sings the ancient lullabies each night.

                                        By day, she hums the whaling songs.

 

We wail at every indignity.

The prophet rails at the ships frozen in the harbor.

 

                                        Old men and their gods and endless labor

    She has no time for the ancient lies.

 

With scarves and lighting, we cast our spells.

Each swirl in the atmosphere spells out our doom.

 

                                        We move inland, far from the threats of the sea.

                                        We ignore the petulant pleas and curses.

 

Cartographers of a new climate,

We anchor ourselves to a new ship.


Duplex #4 

House of justice built in hurricane country,

Sturdy enough until the storm hits.

 

                                        The storm hits with a careful cunning.

                                        It knows how to find the sweetest spots.

 

The storm reveals the structural weakness.

My joints predict the barometric truth.

 

    The floor joists will never be the same.

    Society’s feet ache with arthritis.

 

We stepped carefully around the rot.

Bones ground to dust, beyond recognition.

 

                                        The house has good bones, such potential,

                                        If only a contractor would call.

 

We have signed the contract, mortgaged all

To make the repairs to this house we share.

 

Duplex #5

I sew hole in my heart with birdsong threads

This is not the angel song I strained to hear.

 

    Other spirits keep company at night.

    The harmony of pain and potential.

 

Pain beats the battered pot with a wooden spoon.

Potential plucks your grandma’s dulcimer.

 

                                         I collect the lonely instruments.

                                         I whisper a lonely lullaby.

 

The lonely have their own time signature.

I no longer recognize my own.

 

                                         I see the blurry shapes of past loves.

                                         Blurred by time, burnished with threads of dreams.

 

Threads of dreams, threads of birdsong, stitches sure.

My heart, a monastery, a homeless shelter.