Thursday, May 24, 2018

Bucket Lists of Joy

I've been having a low energy week, which is unusual for me.  I'm used to a low energy day here and there, but a whole week?  Of course, it's only Thursday, but I'm willing to call the whole week a low energy week, even if I perk back up again tomorrow.

This morning, I woke up with a scratchy throat, and I thought, hmm, maybe that's why I've been tired--maybe I've been fighting off something.  Or maybe it's that last week required lots of energy, and I'm just depleted.  Or maybe both.

Last night I went to dinner with the church friend that went to the Create in Me retreat with me.  She reached out with the suggestion, and I was so pleased that we could find a time to meet.

We checked in with each other:  how have our creative lives progressed after the retreat?  Several times, my friend has baked the bread that she learned to make at the retreat.  She has just completed a very successful writing month, writing every day, and being surprised and happy at how much inspiration she finds each day.

Until I thought about it this morning, I would have said that I had been struggling.  And I do always feel a sense of not having enough time--I don't expect that to change, unless I lose my job.  But I've been assembling a file of poems for a new collection; it doesn't sound like a project that would take a lot of time, but it has taken several afternoons.  I've typed some poems for that project.  I've written new poems for it.

I've also channeled some of my creative life energy into the Pentecost project that my church did:  we completed 3 different projects, which I wrote about in Tuesday's post on my theology blog.

So let me change the story I've been telling myself.  I've been having a pretty good creative time.  It's no wonder I'm feeling a bit drained this week.

Let me also record something my friend talked about last night that I want to try sooner rather than later.  She talked about creating a bucket list for the year.  But it's a different kind of bucket list.  It's comprised of things that she has always wanted to do, things that would bring her joy.  So, the Create in Me retreat was on the list.  Having a spa day with her sister was on the list.

I asked her how many things were on the list.  She said, "Oh, about 10."

I'm a woman of lists and goals, as readers of this blog know.  But lately, my lists have been sheer drudgery:  scrub the walls of the cottage and see if the mold returns.  Call a variety of contractors who will probably never get back to me. 

My heart leapt up at the idea of a list of activities that will bring me joy.  I also felt a bit of sorrow, since my first thought was one of having nothing to add to the list.  But I know how to defeat that inner voice of doom.  I'll make a huge list of lots of possibilities, I'll write fast, I'll write whatever bubbles up.  And then, I'll choose 10.

My birthday is July 14.  I'll have that list by my birthday.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

When Literary Giants Die

Philip Roth has died; last week Tom Wolfe died.  These men were literary giants, so I feel like I should say something on their passing.

Were they important to me?  Perhaps--most so in the doors that they opened.  Philip Roth created a new kind of protagonist, we could argue.  Tom Wolfe created a new kind of nonfiction.  I'm grateful to have these options for my own writing.

I read their work and enjoyed some of it.  But it didn't mean as much to me as many other works, by many other writers, who are their same age.  When Margaret Atwood dies, I will mourn the books that she won't be writing.  I don't feel the same way about Roth and Wolfe.

Roth and Wolfe had long, long lives.  But it occurs to me, as it does with every famous death, that I have less time ahead of me than I have behind me.  I am 52, and much as I say I will live to be 120 years old, I am not likely to live that long.  I am more haunted by the death of famous writers like Iris Murdoch--that amazing mind, laid low by dementia.  How long will our brains hold out?

I think of all the time wasted in a day:  Internet ramblings, grocery shopping, watching TV, eating and drinking in unhealthy ways.  Could I redirect some of that time towards literary endeavors?  And if not literary endeavors, perhaps a walk or something healthy?

One of the things I love about my Fitbit is that it reminds me to move each hour, if I haven't gotten in my 250 steps.  It's been a revelation to me how stiff I am when I move away from the computer, even on the days when I move more often.  It's good to have the Fitbit remind me to look away from the screen.

Let me think about other ways to use that reminder.  I've been taking the stairs, for example--it's a good way to get extra movement in and to get to the upper floor where I can finish my 250 steps for the hour.  Maybe after I return to desk from my hourly 250 steps, I can take one small step towards my literary life:  jot down a poem idea, address an envelope, type a poem into the computer, read a poem.  Maybe once a day, I should do something major, but not necessarily time consuming:  write a poem, send work to journals/publishers, write a scene for a piece of fiction.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

On the Move

Last night, we met our group of friends at The Field, an Irish restaurant that looks like an Irish cottage that was plunked down by a banyan tree.  Once most of the group worked together, but most of us have gone on to other things.  Now, two of them are moving.  It will take some time, because they're having houses built.  But they are going.

It is sobering to me how many people are moving.  In part, it's because of Hurricane Irma.  But it's also because of overdevelopment, more than anything else.  People don't want to live in places where condo towers are being thrown up without much thought for traffic or parking or preserving the character of what has come before.

Last night's friends told us of a traffic flyover that was being planned not for an Interstate, but on a regular city road.  So one condo building will be at eye level of that flyover--at least the ones on the 4th floor will be.  The ones underneath will have no view, while the higher levels will look down on the traffic.

Our flooded streets on Sunday point to other issues too, issues that aren't as far away as we once thought.  Our friends are moving to one of the highest elevations in Florida, just over 100 feet above sea level.  That will be enough to protect them against the sea level rise that's likely to happen in our lifetimes.

On Sunday morning, as we watched the waters rising, we opened Saturday's mail, including our insurance bills for the coming year.  As of right now, our insurance costs haven't risen significantly from last year--but we are paying almost $13,000 a year to insure the property from all the dangers it faces.  Those costs will surely rise.  And the first time one of us is refused insurance, all of our property values plummet.

Last night's friends who are moving are retired, and thus, they have some options.  We are not at the same stage of life.  Our jobs are here.  And we have hurricane repair left to do.

I don't want to leave too soon--but I'll feel real despair if we wait too long.  In the meantime, let me get back on track with these hurricane repairs.

Monday, May 21, 2018

Flooded Sunday

Yesterday, I was supposed to be the leader at church while our pastor travelled to the Festival of Homiletics.  At 6:30, I waded through calf-deep water to move the car to higher ground from the street.  I thought, hmm, I wonder if I'll be able to get to church to lead the 8:30 service. 

I ended up not being able to get to both the 8:30 and the 9:45 service, but I did make it, just barely, to the 11:00 service.  We had 8 inches of water fall yesterday, and even on a street that has pumps, we faced streets that looked like this:




Here's a picture with cars parked on the street--notice that the water is almost to the underside of the truck:



Happily the water didn't come up to the house, and it did recede completely by 3.  I was able to make it to the 11 am. service.

We had a quiet afternoon.  My spouse wanted to try cooking salmon in the fireplace, so we did that.  It was cozy, sitting by the fire on a gloomy afternoon.  We started watching an adaptation of Wuthering Heights on PBS while snoozing and eventually moved our napping to the bed.

My spouse slept through the night, but I woke up at 8:15 and decided to watch Little Women--what a treat--much better than the very strange Wuthering Heights, where I couldn't tell where we were in the story, which Catherine was which.  I liked this current Little Women production's view of the German professor.  I still haven't seen a version that explains to my satisfaction why Jo chooses the German professor over Laurie.

Little Women always makes me want to stay up and write, but I didn't.  I do feel marvelously well rested now, with my unusually long nap yesterday afternoon.  Today at work we'll set out the leftovers from Saturday's Open House, so it's good to be rested.  That work can feel a bit stressful, although as I was doing it on Saturday, one of the Admissions reps said, "You're really in your element, aren't you?"  Yes, feeding people--I love doing that in all sorts of ways.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Royal Weddings: Love and Hope

I didn't watch the royal wedding in real time.  I knew that yesterday might be a high calorie day, so I wanted to get a walk in before heading over to school for Open House.

Periodically, throughout the day, I went to my office computer to send photos of Open House to our social media person and to keep an eye on Facebook so that I could like the posts that mention Open House.  I noticed how many of my friends were loving the royal wedding, and not just grad school friends, the people I'd have expected to like it.

So, after Open House, as we surfed channels in the afternoon, I urged my spouse to stop on the wedding coverage.  Since there wasn't much else, he agreed.  We tuned in for what I think might have been the opening hymn.

I knew that the sermon would be good, but I didn't anticipate how good it would be, even with the heads up from my Facebook friends.  Even my spouse got teary-eyed.

And the music--oh my goodness, the music.  I knew we'd love the gospel choir, and I suspected we would love the cello--and we did.  I was surprised by the delights to be had from the High-Church Anglican traditions--oh those choirs!

And of course I loved the longer view of the cathedral--what stunning architecture that is so lacking in most U.S. church buildings.

I didn't expect to love the royal couple and the extended family.  I'm not one of those Brit Lit majors who has breathlessly followed every move of the monarchy, either the current one or those in the past.  But I loved the fact that Prince Harry wiped his eyes throughout the service; I love a man who understands the solemnity of the vows he's taking.  And the bride was stunning.

I'm also not a high fashion person, but I love a good hat or fascinator as much as the next person.    I didn't expect to be as approving of the bride's dress--but what a lovely dress!  I liked that it was modest.  I'm tired of form-fitting dresses of all sorts, and my disapproval of the new fashion of plunging--to the navel!--wedding dresses makes me realize that I'm too old for these times.  I loved the tiara and veil.

In the morning as I watched the various posts about the wedding that I wasn't watching, I wrote this Facebook post:  "It is wonderful to see my Facebook feed full of wedding pictures of the hopeful couple and great quotes from the presiding minister at that royal wedding--a nice change from anger and vitriol and heartbreak."

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Royal Wedding vs. Sunrise Sightings

Yes, I'm up early enough to watch the royal wedding, but I'll likely go for a walk instead:  sunrise vs. solitary wedding watching.  Sunrise wins.

I'm thinking of other friends, particularly grad school friends, who are going to watch this wedding at some point.  If we lived in the same town and had a wedding watching party, I'd spend the royal wedding with them.  Of course I would:  we would create a fabulous tea, and we'd likely work on our stitching projects and we'd laugh--tea and wedding and good friend time would be better than the sunrise.

I do have a question:  why is Harry six in line for the throne?  Who comes in between him and his older brother?  Is his older brother next in line after Charles?  I'm realizing that all of my assumptions may be wrong.

And why can't I remember the name of the older brother?  I could Google it, sure, but I'm finding it fascinating that I can't pull it up out of my brain right now.

I remember when Charles and Diana got married.  We were at Myrtle Beach, where my family always rented a ramshackle house which didn't have a TV.  We were only mildly interested in that wedding, so we didn't make any efforts to see it.  I do remember thinking that Diana was just a few older than I was at the time.  I wondered what it would be like to go from relative obscurity to that kind of public life.  I had no desire to follow in those footsteps.

I'm thinking of weddings of all sorts, and the various prices they impose.  I've seen Facebook postings that mention that the average wedding in the U.S. now costs $35,000.  Some have pointed out that an undergraduate degree could be bought for that money.  I would think of a down payment on a house.

If the average is $35,000, that means some people are spending much more.  A friend of mine at the gym was recently a bridesmaid, and I was astonished at the cost involved.

But let me not get lost in the weeds of thinking about the financial choices that people make.  If I don't lace up my shoes, I'll miss the sunrise.  Let me get a walk in, because the day ahead will be long.  We've got Open House at my school, which will likely mean lots of activity--unless it doesn't, because of the tropical rains forecast for today.

Friday, May 18, 2018

Apocalypse and Other Upheavals

Seeing pictures of people playing golf in the foreground, with the plumes of smoke from the erupting Hawaiian volcano in the background, makes me want to scream, "Get out of there!"  Sure, they should be safe.  But there were people in 1980 who went camping near the spewing Mt. St. Helens volcano thinking that they'd be safe.  But they were in the wrong place at the wrong time, as the mountain exploded sideways, which no one anticipated.

I'm also thinking about the first case of urban ebola.  That's a bad, bad sign.  But at least the actions being taken have been swift.

Still, it's the kind of news nugget that makes me wonder if at some point, we'll look back and say, "We were so upset about the latest Trump debacle that we didn't see ____________."  Readers of this blog know that I've spent time preparing/thinking about the wrong apocalypse.  I scanned the horizon for mushroom clouds, not seeing the oceans steadily warming and rising.

Of course, history often works in circles, not straight lines.  Perhaps all that time scanning the horizon for mushroom clouds are still ahead:  I feel fretful about Iran and Israel and North Korea.

In the meantime, I do the work that must be done:  teacher observations, annual reviews, buying food for both school and home, paying bills, making dinner, washing dishes, washing clothes--these tasks too run in circles, making me feel that I'm never done.

My creative work, too, feels circular, not linear.  I return to the same themes, the same ideas, but execute them in different ways.  I've been writing my Jesus in the world poems for over 20 years now.  At first it seemed scary and subversive to imagine Jesus moving in the modern world.  Now I worry that I've worked the theme to death and have nothing new to say--and then a new idea begins to poke at the edges of my brain.

Being around high school students this week took me back to one of my Jesus in the world poems, my series that attempts to answer that old Sunday School question of how the world would react if Jesus returned again and what would Jesus do and how would we recognize him?

I wrote this poem after reading a biography of Kurt Cobain, of Nirvana fame.  Hard to believe how long it's been since Cobain died, so long since that music which seemed to split the world open.  I remember a few details from that book, chief amongst them that Cobain often played a guitar that was out of tune, a guitar that didn't have enough strings.  Did he not know how to tune the guitar?  Did the missing string habit come from his poverty days and he'd gotten used to playing the guitar that way?  The book didn't have the answer.

Chiron Review published it years ago.  I think it still holds up.



New Kid



If Jesus came to your high school,
he'd be that boy with the untuned guitar,
which most days was missing a string.
Could he not afford a packet of guitar strings?
Did he not know how to tune the thing?
Hadn't he heard of an electronic tuner?
Jesus would smile that half smile and keep playing,
but offer no answers.

If Jesus came to your high school,
he'd hang out with the strange and demented.
He'd sneak smokes with the drug addled.
He'd join Chorus, where the otherworldly
quality of his voice wouldn’t quite blend.
He'd play flute in Band.
He'd spend his lunch hour in the library, reading and reshelving.

You would hear his songs echoing
in your head, down the hallways, across the years.
They'd shimmer at you and just when you thought you grasped
their meaning, your analytical processes would collapse.
Instead, you write strange poems
to delight your children who draw mystical
pictures to illustrate your poems inspired
by Jesus, who sang the songs of angels,
that year he came to your high school.