Sunday, October 17, 2021

The Ghosts of Autumn Past

I've had past Octobers on the brain, and I'm not sure exactly why.  When the local NPR station did it's fundraising at the beginning of the month, I grabbed 2 CDs, which happened to be CDs from Octobers past:  U2's War, which I bought on vinyl in the fall of 1983, and Reggatta de Blanc by the Police, which I bought on vinyl in the fall of 1984.  Listening to that music slammed me right back to those time periods.  While I loved that music, and I loved aspects of those autumns, they were stressful:  first semester in college in 1983, during a time of increased bombings and increased tension with the USSR, and in 1984, my boyfriend (who would become my spouse much later) had to return to Memphis, and we carried on our relationship from a distance.

I've been sorting through boxes of housing stuff; our buyer asked for information/receipts concerning our Hurricane Irma damage and repairs, which meant digging through files and reliving it all a bit again.  That was a September storm, but the repairs dragged through October.  We didn't have our first post-Irma trash collection until October, for example.  That was a subdued season for decorating.  I remember seeing fluttering in the trash pile and thinking of the ghosts.

Thinking about Hurricane Irma took me back to Hurricane Wilma, an October storm that came before we had recovered from Hurricane Katrina, which took out a huge tree, a shed, an above ground pool, and any sense of safety I once had.  That was back when we lived 3 miles inland, and although those storms were a category 1, they did so much damage.  That's when I first started thinking, if a category 1 storm can do all of this, what would we suffer under something stronger?

I still wonder that.  So maybe it's no wonder that although autumn is still my favorite season, I still get anxiety flares, in part because something reminds me of past traumas.

But it's also the time of year when I remember past autumns with fondness, along with some yearning.  I've spent the week-end thinking that if it was a year ago, I'd be enjoying crisp air, apple orchards, and a surprise pumpkin patch.

Yesterday I tried to cheer myself up by going to the pumpkin patch of a church that's near my new condo that we're renting.  I enjoyed walking around the grounds, choosing some smaller pumpkins and gourds, and then I enjoyed arranging them yesterday.  I bought them for something I'm going to do with the altarscape that I'll be making at church today.  More details about that to come, but in the meantime, here's this year's haul from the church pumpkin patch:

Saturday, October 16, 2021

The Uses of Enchantment: the Mid-Life Edition

I've been thinking of enchanted forests.  I've been thinking of a cottage in the woods and what happens to wicked witches who mellow.  I've been thinking about herb gardens and ovens that bake bread, not little boys.

This morning I thought of the Bruno Bettelheim text, once classic now somewhat discredited, The Uses of Enchantment.  I thought of all those children using fairy tales to process the scary, incomprehensible stuff going on in their lives.  Am I doing the same thing for my mid-life fears?

Yesterday I took my daily walk by the tidal lake, as I do each day.  For the past several weeks, the lake has been jumping--or more precisely, the fish have been jumping.  I've seen a dolphin here and there.  I've seen lots of little fish skittering out, as if they were members of a water ballet company.  Yesterday, the word "enchanted" came to mind.

If we grew up hearing stories about enchanted lakes instead of enchanted forests, would our imaginations function differently?  Would we do more to protect bodies of water?  Probably not.

I think of the orchid on my office windowsill, the one that has bloomed continuously since July of 2020 when I got it from colleagues at work.  

Orchids are not supposed to bloom continuously for 15 months, but this one has:

People come into my office and stop at the sight of the orchid.  They ask me my secret.  I say, "Every day I pour the dregs of my cups of tea into it.  Maybe it likes the tannins."  I try to beam my best swamp witch radiance when I say things like this.

I've been trying to transform another corner of my office, not with enchantments, but with a potted mum in an autumnal hue, with pumpkins, with fake trees mingling with the fairy light trees, and lights strung across the trees:

Pumpkins make me so happy.  

I may go buy some more today.  It's cheap therapy, and I can support the local church.  My church has canceled its pumpkin patch because of the pandemic, so I'm happy to support a church in my neighborhood (First Presbyterian, where Hollywood Blvd. comes into the Arts Park Circle.

Thursday, October 14, 2021

Beyond God the Patriarch

In my Hebrew Bible class, we've just finished Genesis (we're reading the Hebrew Bible, but not reading the Bible in the Hebrew language).  Our discussion thread prompt has prompted me to keep thinking.  Here's the prompt:  "What/who was Jacob wrestling with at the Jabbok River? Please make reference to the assigned readings and videos in your post. In your relationship with God, do you tend to wrestle like Jacob or quietly accept? Why?"

As I thought about the question, I realized that I don't see my relationship with God in either of those ways.  I don't feel like I wrestle or quietly accept.  I don't see God that way at all.

I wrote a longer discussion post, but I don't want to paste it here, because my work hasn't been graded yet.  I don't want the anti-plagiarism software to flag my work, which it might, if it finds something similar out there, even if the something similar is my own work.

Yesterday morning, I woke up thinking about how many of our stories in the Bible have the hero, usually male, wrestling with God.  There's Jacob, the obvious choice.  Others come to mind:  Moses, various prophets, Job, Paul.  How many chosen ones quietly accept?  We might list Mary, the mother of Jesus.  The quiet accepters don't command our attention in the same way; it's not the same kind of compelling story.

Yesterday morning I was wishing that I had a friend who was a rabbi who could meet me for coffee and analyze this pattern.  I'd like to get a Jewish take on these stories, from someone who's been trained in theology.  I have a sudden vision of a book club, one with people theologically trained in different traditions.  I would never want to leave that coffee shop!

What if we had a different story about God?  What if we saw God as the best kind of boss, the kind who knows how to bring out our best qualities?  What if we saw God as the best kind of teacher, the one with skills that we didn't even know we needed, until we were taught them?  What if we saw God as the patient, kind, and wise type of animal trainer, the one who knows how to help us move beyond our fears?

I thought about how our societies might have been so different if we had these kinds of different theology.  It's too late to change the past--can we change the future by adopting a different theology?

Wednesday, October 13, 2021

Unseen Sunsets and Unstrung Lights: Progress Past and Present

I had planned to be on my way to Lutheridge this morning.  I had such a great time at quilt camp last year, that I vowed to go again.  But in the spring, I couldn't because my school was in transition, and I wasn't allowed to use my vacation time.  Some day, I'll look back on that sentence and shake my head about how I have allowed capitalism and the workplace to destroy the elements of the life I want to be living and to lay waste to what I truly believe in--but that's a blog post for another day.

This year, I am neck deep in projects that require me to be here or at least, I thought I was when I made the final decision last week not to go.  I have spent the intervening week second guessing myself.

I want to fill this time with some of the activities I might have been doing had I gotten away to the mountains for a camp experience, so last night my spouse and I went to a brewery at the beach--yes, Hollywood, Florida has a brewery at the beach.  Once they called themselves an organic brewery, but they've long since dropped that part from their name, and I wouldn't be surprised if they no longer brew the beer there either.  Still, they have great beer, and good specials:  last night, we each got a burger and fries, and a free beer.  I want my beer to taste like liquid bread, so I always get their stout.

I was surprised by how crowded the beach was for a Tuesday night.  Long ago, in the late 90's when we first moved here, September and October were months when the beach would be fairly empty on week nights.  I looked at the mobs of people last night.  Were they tourists?  Locals?  The beach has more condo buildings so maybe I was seeing people out for an evening stroll.  But it didn't have that kind of vibe.  I couldn't quite place the vibe I was seeing--there was a sexual prowling kind of vibe, along with a vacationing kind of vibe, along with an exhausted parent kind of vibe, along with a let's get this intense workout done kind of vibe, all these vibes swirling around, refusing to be neatly categorized.  I wondered about my own vibe or if I have I finally settled into the invisibility that comes at midlife, the invisibility that allows some safety and detachment, the invisibility that untethers all vibes.

It was a beautiful evening, not too hot, with a bit of breeze.  It was not crowded, so we didn't have to worry about anyone sitting near us, and it was an outdoor eating area, up above the Broadwalk where the hoards of people thronged.  The sun set offstage, to our west, behind the building, but that unseen sunset stained the eastern clouds with pinks and purples.  Unlike past years, the horizon held no cargo ships, no cruise ships, and I decided to ignore the economic implications of that clear vista.

I did think about the other changes, the high rises on this beach, condos in a time of climate collapse.  I thought about years ago when I would drive my car early in the morning to run down the Broadwalk and those mornings when I saw the huge steel vats in the building and wondered, could they be building a brewery?  And indeed, they were.  I think of this brewery as new, but it's been here a long time, especially in beach years, where in the words of Dorothy in Oz, "Things come and go so quickly here."*  

As we drove home, I was on the lookout for Halloween lights, but their absence heralds another change.  These neighborhoods have been shifting from residential to short term rental, and Air BnBers do not string up Halloween decorations.

It was good to get out, good to sit on a patio that's not my own, good to watch the waves and the people, from a safe distance.  It was good to resist the lure of reruns of past programming on TV.  It was good to get away from our screens and to look at each other again.  

*Dorothy actually said that people come and go so quickly here.

Tuesday, October 12, 2021

Evaluations that Stand the Test of Time

I've kept in touch with a few former students and become friends with some of them.  The other day, one of them told me that she always remembered a comment I'd written on one of her papers for the upper level British Victorian Literature class I had taught.

I wasn't too worried, since the class was the best one I've ever taught.  Still, I was delighted when she told me that I had written that if she went on to be a published writer that I would buy every book she ever wrote.  I've continued to read her work, and I stand by that comment, 20 years later.

In that Victorian Lit class, I gave the students lots of freedom in what they wrote.  They could write traditional essays that analyzed one of the works we'd been reading.  But they could also write a creative work of some kind, as long as it was a response to the literature.  So, for example, one student wrote a series of poems about losing her mother to Alzheimer's, and she did it in the style of Tennyson's "In Memoriam."  Their creative works were stunning and proved my point that one can learn as much about the literature by writing a creative piece as by writing an analytical piece.

My friend said that she had kept my comment on her essay, that she cut out the comment and put it above her writing desk, where it has inspired her and kept her going.  Wow.

Our conversation reminded me of a long ago student evaluation of me, back when I was a grad student who had only ever taught a class or two.  I don't remember many of my evaluations in specific detail, but I remember this one.  The student wrote, "I hope this teacher goes on to write a book.  I would love to read it."  How delightful.

I am not the first to observe how our words carry weight, weight that we may or may not perceive.  It's my prayer each day, that my words not be wounding.

Monday, October 11, 2021

Noah's Wife Moves Inland

I've been awake and up for hours.  In part, it's because I went to bed early.  In part, it's because I got an idea for a poem as I tossed and turned, and finally, just before 3 a.m., I decided to get up and write it down.

This morning, I've been writing a poem about Noah's wife who moves into an inland condo on an upper floor and for the first time understands the joy that her husband's god felt in smashing it all and starting over.  In some ways, it's a variation of other poems I've been writing, which does make me wonder if I should try combining all these shorter poems about Noah's wife into one long poem.  

That would be a project for a later day.  Right now, I'm just so glad to have any ideas for a poem.

I also decided that if I was going to be up so early, I'd make bread with the half gallon of milk that had begun to sour in the fridge.  I now have plenty of homemade bread, and I've filled the early morning with the smell of baking bread.

I don't have today off as a holiday, but in many ways, I feel as nourished as if I did.

Sunday, October 10, 2021

Discussion Threads and Classroom Discussions

When it comes to online classes and discussion threads, we often say that a good discussion thread mimics the kind of conversations we would have had in a face to face classroom.  But having experienced online classes as a seminary student, I've begun to think that a good discussion thread is actually better than most face to face class discussions.

I have been part of in person class discussions, both as a teacher and as a student, that were truly glorious:  full of points none of us would have developed on our own, full of eye opening moments, full of wonder.  But I've been part of many more that were not like that.

As a seminary student, I've been enjoying creating my own discussion posts, and those short pieces of writing have helped me engage with various texts far more deeply than if all I had to do was show up to an in person class.  I've enjoyed reading the thoughts of my classmates.  Even more, I've enjoyed virtual class lectures that weren't interrupted by shallow thoughts, as so many were in my graduate studies back when I was earning an MA and a PhD in English.

It's time to start thinking about the classes that I will take next term, and given the huge uncertainties, I'm planning to take the second half of the classes that I'm currently taking, and to take them in their online/virtual formats.  I am surprised to find that I like this delivery system so much.  I also know that much of the success of the classes is because of the professors, so I'm happy to stick with these professors for another term.

Eventually I hope to do at least a year on campus, in a more traditional format.  But this year, Wesley Theological Seminary is offering very few classes in person, in that traditional format.  It will be interesting to see how these years of pandemic instruction have changed education forever.