Sunday, March 18, 2018

Managing Time

I am looking at my schedule, trying to figure out when I will go see A Wrinkle in Time.  I want to support that movie so that more movies like that one will be made--not for me, so much, as I can hardly find time to see a movie these days.  But there are others who will need movies like that one.  Plus, I think it's a big screen movie.

Maybe I will leave work and see it on Tuesday evening.  I don't want to wait too long--the movie will be gone soon, I fear, although it's had a good opening.

Part of me wonders how my life has come to this.  Once I had trouble affording movies in their newest release, but those were days of the dollar movies.  I used to say, "Everything comes to the dollar movies, if you wait long enough."  Now we can watch in any number of ways, but I often can't remember any recent releases that appealed enough to me to remember the name to summon it up on some streaming device.

Yesterday, we had book group at my house.  I say "book group," and you probably envision a regularly scheduled thing.  Nope.  The last time we met was in June to discuss The Underground Railroad.  Yesterday, we discussed The Sellout.  Next time (perhaps by August) we may choose something lighter in subject matter.

We may meet in August, or we may meet only when one of us reads a book that is so wonderful we must discuss it with someone.  It's a strange book club, but it works for me.  If a group insisted on a monthly meeting, I don't know that I could do it.

Right now, so many of my friendships are similar.  I try to see people often, but it's shocking to me how quickly the time goes by between our times together.

It's Sunday morning, and soon we will go to church.  It's one of the few standing appointments that I am often able to make.  Would there be others, if I made the effort to have a standing friend appointment?

Saturday, March 17, 2018

The Feast Day of Saint Patrick: Beyond the Green Beer

Today is the feast day of Saint Patrick.  But as with Mardi Gras and Valentine's Day, the secular aspects of these days almost completely overshadow the religious origins.  As people drink their green beer today, will they also be pondering life in ancient Ireland?  Will they even know who Saint Patrick was?

All these centuries later, I still find Saint Patrick fascinating.  What surprises me lately is how I find different aspects of his life fascinating at different points of my life.

This year, I find myself thinking about his years as a slave.  Patrick was born to a high ranking Roman family in England, but when he was approximately 16, he was kidnapped and spent 6 or 7 years as a slave in Ireland. While there, he learned the language and the non-Christian customs of the land.

This knowledge would come in handy when he was sent back to Ireland in the 5th century to solidify the Christianity of the country. There are many stories about Patrick's vanquishing force, complete with Druid spells and Christian counterspells. I suspect the real story was perhaps more tame.

Later scholars have suggested that Patrick and his compatriots were sent to minister to the Christians who were already there, not to conquer the natives. Other scholars have speculated that one of the reasons that Christianity was so successful in Ireland was because Patrick took the parts of pagan religions that appealed most to its followers and showed how those elements were also present in Christianity--or perhaps incorporated them into Christianity as practiced in Ireland.

All scholars seem to agree: Patrick was essential in establishing Christianity in Ireland. And he wouldn't have been so effective, had he not spent time there as a slave, which meant he learned the language and the customs of the country.

Ireland and Scotland must have felt like distant outposts, a tough exile.  And yet, what they had to offer was exactly what was needed to keep the faith going.

The community that they created helped them with their mission.  Lately I've been wondering if my various local communities are fraying a bit.  I'm especially thinking of my creative communities.  I've been thinking back to a time when I had more of a quilting group.  I still do, but we just don't meet as often.  Once we met once a month to quilt, and we created much more fabulous pieces of fiber/fabric art than we would have if we had stayed on our own.  I'm missing that group, and I can't exactly get it back, because our lives have changed so much.

I'm trying not to spend too much time mired in this kind of regret.  That time is gone, and I am trying to wait patiently for what is next.

In the lives of these ancient saints, we don't hear about these down times, which they surely must have had.  They seem to have been ever charging onward.  But there must have been times when they felt used up, unsure of what to do next.

The lives of the Celtic monks remind us that even in a distant exile, wondrous things can happen if we stay open to all of the possibilities.  During our times of exile, it's good to remember that basic truth.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Choose Your Own Apocalypse

Last night, instead of writing a meditation on Good Friday for my church, I went out to dinner with a friend.  We had planned to go see A Wrinkle in Time, then it looked like she had to cancel completely because of home inspectors coming, then later in the afternoon, she suggested dinner.  I'd had a tough day, so dinner with a friend sounded wonderful.  We hadn't seen each other since summer, so we had lots to catch up on, and much of it was tinged with sadness:  hurricane repairs, the school shooting a month ago, the state of the larger world.

Even as we were talking about how much the current state of politics alarmed us, we often laughed uproariously.  I mentioned the March for Parkland on March 24, and I realized that I knew very little about it.  I said, "My pastor's the one that told me about it, so I'm assuming that any cause we're marching for would align with my values."  We then had a moment of fun, thinking about a church group gathered under false pretenses to a white supremacist rally, with my pastor saying, "Rise up!  Here is the evil we've been trained to fight."

In a similar vein, I said that my spouse had made a Facebook post wondering where the next Dietrich Bonhoeffer was when there was work to be done, and I responded that perhaps he is the one he's been waiting for.  I said, "I meant that he should be writing.  If he ends up a martyr, you'll know it's my fault."

We talked about wondering if English majors have a different approach to narratives of apocalypse than the general population.  On the way home, it occurred to me to wonder if a certain segment of English majors chooses that major because of their love of dystopian literature.

We talked about the apocalypses we never thought we would see in our lifetimes, but now we seem to be in a race to see which apocalypse will win.  The specter of nuclear war has raised its head again, and we agreed that we're seeing alarming similarities between our time and Europe in the 1930's.  And we live in South Florida which will be a ground zero in this century of rising seas.

Our literary experiences have trained us to spot the apocalypse on the horizon, but I'm not sure they've told us what we should do.  Of course, part of the problem is not knowing which apocalypse will come for us first.

I realize that I speak that last sentence from a place of privilege as a white woman who has economic resources and a passport.  I'm older, which means I can blend in to the background.  While I might contain several minorities in this package of my body and life, I also know how to pass.

I also know that the skill of passing hasn't always saved people.  This Internet world makes it harder to blend into the background, should forces come looking for us.

We talked about leaving South Florida and where we should go.  I said that it depends on which apocalypse is headed our way.  If we're expecting the global economy to collapse, we'll want to live in a place where we can grow some food and have some chickens.  If we're thinking that we're headed towards The Handmaid's Tale, we need to think about leaving the country and which countries have a good record when it comes to protecting women (all 6 of them) as we choose where to flee.

As I look back on this time period, I will see it as the season of dinners of exodus:  so many people are seriously considering moving out of South Florida.  In ten years, I wonder how many of us will have left.  And I wonder what the larger settings of our lives will look like.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Pictures from an AWP

Yesterday was the first day I sorted through pictures.  Since I use an old-fashioned camera, I didn't take many.  Still, some of them struck me.

As I walked on Friday morning with my camera, one of the workers at the Convention Center asked me if I was a photographer.  I said, "No, a tourist."  We chatted for a bit--we've both lived in South Carolina. What are the odds of that?

I was on my way to the labyrinth that's part of the Riverwalk.  I looked across the river and was struck by the old fashioned smokestack that's part of the opposite vista, a throwback to an industrial age in a cityscape that's clearly based on tourism, at least around the Convention Center: 

Here's the longer view:

As I walked, I wondered if I'd get to where I thought I saw a labyrinth only to find that it was just a decorative brick layout.  Nope--it's really a labyrinth.

Of course, you have to walk on the correct part.  At first, I wound up in a dead end, and I thought nope, that's not the message of the labyrinth.  I went back and walked on the darker part:

Success!  I walked the rest.

Did I feel meditative?  Did I have any breakthroughs?  No, nothing obvious--but it was good to pause and say thanks--for safe travels, for the conference, for the planners of the Tampa Riverwalk who thought to put a labyrinth along the way.

It would have been even better if there had been some sort of informative plaque about labyrinths, but instead, there were plaques about the wildlife we might see.  

I wonder how many people run and walk by the labyrinth every day not realizing what they're seeing.  I had a vision of labyrinths tucked away in all sorts of unlikely places, offering a meditative space in the middle of all sorts of regular lives.
On the way back, I saw this palm frond on the edge of a dock.  At first, it looked like a fish skeleton to me.

I do think there's a certain vibe in these pictures, especially in the above, where we've got a husk of what had been alive and a chain.  Here's the longer view:
I didn't take many pictures during sessions; I was rarely in a place to capture much of anything.  And pictures of panelists at a table are rather boring.
Here's a picture of sunrise on the last morning.  And now, let me get started on my morning:

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Random Post-AWP Memories

--The first day, a woman said, "Your shirt looks so soft."  It was my wonderful purple shirt that makes me feel very artsy, but I have owned it for a long time.  I said, "It is," and I held out my arm so that she could touch my sleeve.  For the rest of the day, I pondered this encounter.  She seemed sincere enough, not snarky.  I did wonder if that was a polite way of saying that my shirt looked like it had been washed too many times.  My friend who has seen me wearing this shirt for many years said that it has taken on a luminous look, and that I should not worry.

--I got to one panel presentation, and Joy Harjo was at the table.  Her name hadn't been in the big book of a printed program, and so I wasn't expecting to see her.  Joy Harjo and Marilyn Chin sat on the same side of the podium.  I felt starstruck.

--The woman sitting on the row with me for that session with Joy Harjo and Marilyn Chin has an interesting art project.  She's taken the teeny tiny figures from her husband's miniature railroad and glued them on pieces of plastic.  She gave one to me, and she left one on the floor when she left.  I wonder what the next session group made of it.

The figure on the catalog size program

 --I did notice the interesting tattoo that Joy Harjo has on her hand and lower arm.  Above the tattoo sits her smart watch, and on her finger, a delicate ring.  I thought of all the ways that art speaks to us, all embodied right there:  tattoo, technology, ring, and poetry.

--I also saw Marilyn Chin later, eating lunch with Kamiko Hahn.  Luckily, I only realized who I had seen as I was already at the door of the restaurant.  I like to think that had I recognized them earlier, I wouldn't have behaved like a starstruck poetry geek, that I'd have let the women peacefully finish their lunch.

--Maggie Smith, the poet not the British movie star, gives great readings.  She, too, has interesting tattoos on her arm.

--I felt that there were many attendees who were students of all sorts, and lots of older folks of the retired or at least established sort.  But not many people in the early stages of careers.  That's based entirely on my random sampling, and my very iffy ability to judge ages.  But still, it makes a sort of sense:  it's an expensive conference, and many people in their 20's or 30's wouldn't have the ability to partake.  I'm guessing that there are dollars out there for students to attend--how else could they come?  Or do they use loan money?  Or credit cards?

--It was strange to wander the bookfair and to think about how many years I've been submitting to some of those journals.  One very young person staffing a booth of one journal said, "Do you know about our journal?"  I resisted saying, "I've been submitting to this journal for more years than you've been alive."  I've been young--I know how that sounds.  Still, it was strange.

--I am also surprised by how many paths crossed mine in the bookfair.  I saw Lynn Domina, who was also wandering, and Sandy Longhorn, who was staffing the booth for her school and the C.D. Wright festival.  These were unplanned encounters.  The next time I go, perhaps I shall feel organized enough to plan some encounters so that we can really catch up.

--I brought back many more books and periodicals in 2011 than I did this year.  I was careful--and there weren't as many great last day deals.  I saved my money for books, not periodicals:

--I took a book with me each day to the amazing breakfast that Embassy Suites offers each morning.  I was happy to be able to recommend Leslie Pietrzyk's latest novel Silver Girl to one of my fellow breakfasters.  She commented on the cover, and I gushed over the content of the book, with its perfect capturing of the early 80's.  She wrote down the name of the book, and I have hopes that I made an extra sale for a writer friend.

--I am irritated that I have to finish The Sellout for my Saturday book club before I can return to Silver Girl.  I am grateful to have good books in my life.

--I am grateful that I ignored my petulant feelings last week, my worries that this AWP would be a pale comparison to the 2011 AWP.  I am grateful that I went and had a great time.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Androgyny and the Modern Girl

As I drove across the Everglades on Saturday evening, I listened to Adam Ant sing "Goody Two Shoes."  No, I hadn't found some wonderful 80's radio station out in the swamp.  It's part of my data stick of music that's mostly 80's music.  Later, as I drove into the Ft. Lauderdale metro area, Prince came on the radio.

I'd already been thinking about gender and how we present, and this music took me back to my high school and college days in the early 80's.  I remember how shocking it was to so many when males started to pierce their ears.  Perhaps it was similar to boys in the 60's sporting long hair ("Past the collar!"  gasp!  "Flowing down the back!"  Super gasp!).

Punk rockers in my high school in Knoxville, Tennessee went even further, wearing eyeliner and lipstick.  Were they modeling what they saw in the pop music of the time?  It's hard to imagine that was the motivation.  Wearing make-up was a way to show rebellion. 

As I made my way through the AWP convention, I thought about gender and how we present/perform gender.  I realized that I've never been around so many people who I'd describe as gender ambiguous.  I wouldn't label them as transgender--I can't, since I only saw them in passing.  I can't say that someone feels trapped in the wrong body, just because of clothes or a hairstyle--or because of a complete lack of secondary characteristics that would tie them to a gender.

Yes, I saw many slender people who had no facial hair, no breasts, no muscular definition.  But that might just be because they're young.  It might be because their body will always be slender in ways I might once have identified as female.

I also saw many people who are playing with gender elements.  Some were clearly performing.  The tall, muscular man I saw in 5 inch silver heels with David Bowie Ziggie Stardust make up on his face and shimmery short clothes--does he wear that outfit every day to work?

I also saw a man who was clearly male:  somewhere in midlife, with a silver ponytail, a leather cowboy hat, and leather vest.  Yet he wore a denim skirt, a straight skirt that ended just above the knee, like the ones I wore in high school.  Perhaps he moves through his days, mixing and matching elements from fashion based on what he feels like wearing.

Most of the midlife and older women that I saw are no longer performing gender, if ever we did.  Most of us wear comfortable shoes and clothes.  I was seeing more silver and gray hair than I usually do in the wider world.  But many of us had really interesting jewelry--from the artsy chunky jewelry to wispy strands.

I saw lots of unnatural hair color too:  bright green and purple and pink.  But only younger attendees sported those colors.  Students can get away with all sorts of experimentation.  I would be sent home.  Similarly, if I wore the green or black lipstick that I saw on some males, I would be asked to present myself more professionally.

I have done a lot of reading--A LOT of reading--on gender, on how we live our genders, and how we might change our genders.  I've read a lot about gender and socialization and the biology of it all.  I haven't read as much about all of these issues and the aging body--I wonder if anyone has done this work.  I wonder how transgendered bodies age.  I wonder about menopause--would a person who started out as a man experience this in a vastly different way than someone like me, a person who has always been a biological woman, but in a much sturdier body than my society tells me is appropriate for my gender--and how are these experiences different from those experienced in a more femme body?

And then there's the issue of disability, which takes us to a very different place.

I wish I had more time to consider these issues, and perhaps, even to do this work.  But I must get ready for the work that I am called to do.  We have a Spring Meet and Greet Open House this week.  The students at my school are unlikely to be wrestling with issues of gender.  They are too busy trying to claw their way to some sort of working class/middle class existence with a degree that might get them entry level work in a medical field. 

I wonder if anyone has studied class issues as they intersect with transgender issues.  Probably.  Later, when I have more time, I'll investigate.  Today, I'll buy flowers and snacks for the Open House.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

AWP Exit

I felt anxious about all sorts of things yesterday:  would we get out of town before the hockey game traffic clogged the streets?  Could I exit the municipal parking garage (where I was told I should park if I didn't want valet parking) with no issues?  Could I get all my stuff to the car before my check out time?  Would the hotel honor my tax-exempt status as a member of a non-profit organization travelling on business?

I went ahead and settled the bill early, at 6:30 a.m., which was smart of me, with no trouble about the tax-free status.  I got the car mostly loaded while waiting for the breakfast buffet to open.  But I resisted soothing my other exit anxieties by leaving the conference early.  I really wanted to see the session about faith and writing.

I'm very glad I stayed--it was an excellent panel, and a great way to end the conference.  I wrote about the panel in this post on my theology blog.  After the panel, my grad school friend and I went out for lunch, which was also an excellent way to end our stay.  I confess, I had two desserts, and they were worth it.

Because of the hockey game, the municipal garage was set up to have people exit without stopping at the pay-your-ticket stand.  There were stern signs telling us to keep the traffic moving to the exit.  I followed instructions.

There were no signs telling me how to get back to the expressway that would get me back to I 75.  I didn't find downtown Tampa very navigable.  I was glad that the Embassy Suites was a tower of a hotel, because that's how I found it. Leaving yesterday, I was able to follow my instincts and get to the expressway.  I wasn't sure I was actually headed in the right direction on the expressway until I actually got to the Interstate.

I didn't have great driving conditions on the way home.  For an hour around Sarasota, we averaged about 25 miles an hour, except for when the traffic seemed to be moving normally.  And then, an hour into my journey home, the rain started.  Luckily, it was never the tropical downpour that makes driving so tricky.

When I made the turn to go across the state through the Everglades, I thought I was headed to worse weather.  I thought I might be about to experience something supernatural and otherworldly as the dark, feathery clouds swooped down.  I thought about a poem about guardian angels with wings made out of rain and Everglades mud.

I drove in and out of gloominess, but it wasn't the blackness of Everglades night yet.  I was glad I didn't linger longer than I did in Tampa.  I thought about nineteenth century settlers, hacking homesteads out of mangrove swamps.

The Everglades portion ends rather suddenly, as 75 joins a tangle of highways around the Ft. Lauderdale metro region.  I immediately missed the peace of the rainy, relatively deserted strip of interstate across the Everglades. 

I'd like another few days in my quiet hotel room to process all of this conference.  But that's not the kind of life I have right now.  I was lucky to get the professional development time off that I did, but now I am needed back at work, back at church, back at home.

It's good to be needed.