Friday, January 31, 2014

Fragile and Dangerous: The Art of Pam Reagan

She told me that she was making a mask out of crushed Christmas ornaments.  I envisioned something two dimensional, if a mask can be said to be two dimensional.  I pictured the kind of thing we might hold up to our faces, a glittery sparkle of a thing, a decoration, non-threatening.

When I finally saw her creation, I felt the paucity of my imagination.  I could not have conceived that Christmas ornaments could be transformed into something so menacing.  I would not allow this mask anywhere near my face.

The bits of ornaments curved off of the mask, jagged piece intersecting with jagged piece.  I refused to touch it:  it looked so fragile and dangerous.  If I hadn’t known about the creative process, would I even recognize the glass as crushed ornaments?

She has gone on to make such a wide variety of masks, each one challenging my view of what a mask should be, each one inspiring me to stretch my image of this art form. Some of them I’ve only seen in process, but even in their unfinished state, I’ve been intrigued.

I can hardly wait to see the whole show, to see how the pieces work together. 
If you're in the South Florida area, you can see this show.  The opening reception is today from 2-5, and it will be up until Feb. 24.  It's at O'Cinema-Wynwood 90 NW 29th St., Miami, FL 33127.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Another Prufrockian Week of Visions and Revisions

A few weeks ago, I wrote this post which described my week as Prufrockian.  I quoted this piece of Eliot's "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock":

"Time for you and time for me,
And time yet for a hundred indecisions,
And for a hundred visions and revisions,
Before the taking of a toast and tea."

It's been another week that's left me feeling a bit whiplashed, as situations changed and then changed again.

My brother-in-law has been living in our guest room since mid-December as he relocates to Homestead, FL, an hour south of us.  He settled into his new job quickly, but finding a house has been more of a time-consuming challenge.  Earlier in the week, it was looking like yet another house had fallen through, but yesterday, he signed papers and left money.  Today he should get keys and then he'll head back to Memphis to move the family and close on the house sale there.  I'm hoping there will be no reversals for him.

For me, the main whiplashing event was the drama of our reservations at Mepkin Abbey.  I made reservations back in September, when their online reservation system was new.  I double-checked on Monday, only to find that it seemed that the monks were expecting us back in September.  Yikes.

I panicked a bit and cried a bit and finally calmed down enough to call.  The very kind monk said he didn't see our reservations, but he would do some checking and call me back if they had room.  And he called back, and my mood went from despair to joy.

I'm still not trusting their system.  When I first went on to check, it said that this week-end's date had 5 people on the waiting list, and then an hour later, it told me one space was available.  That's when I decided to call.  I'm so glad that I did.  But it all made me feel a bit whipsawed.

It's the kind of week at work where we waited for the delivery of our paper.  We were down to just a few reams in the whole building.  But there was plenty of paper across the street, but no one to bring it over.  At one point, I got so tired of the drama that I borrowed one of those folding carts designed to haul files from place to place and went across the street on foot.

Why didn't I drive?  No parking places across the street.  As I was walking with my precarious cart, I said a prayer:  "Please, God, don't let me die as I try to get this rickety cart across this busy Ft. Lauderdale street.  Please don't let me be hit by one of these tourists that bring so much money to our region."

Once the paper was delivered, someone said to me, "So you really didn't have to do that.  There's still the paper that you brought over."  I decided not to reply, but if I had, I'd have pointed out that I brought over 14 reams of paper, and only 6 remained.  So, it was not a completely fruitless effort.

What I really wanted to say, "Hey, I got an advanced degree, several of them.  Not everyone can do this work."  But that would have sounded snarky and critical, and I'm trying to be a better human than that.

So, tomorrow, I head north to Mepkin Abbey.  I'm driving through a region that experienced snow, or the threat of snow--and yet, temperatures this week-end will be quite moderate, with highs in the 60's--weather whiplash!

I will drive by myself and enjoy the solitude.  It's been a month of more humans than I'm used to, what with my brother-in-law in the guest room of our 2 bedroom house, and a colleague using the once-vacant office beside me.

I will get writing done:  a new book-length manuscript of poems and a progress check on my memoir.  And when I return, I'd like to write more poems each week.

I'd also like to eat more veggies.  The monks always inspire me.

I will settle into the monastic rhythms and let them re-set my own.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Pictures from an Installation of an Installation

On Saturday, we headed to the Design district of Miami.  Our friend is having her MFA art show at O Cinema Wynwood, and we were there to help with the installation.

We got there to discover that the keys to the trailer had been locked in the trailer.  One of us went to get bolt cutters, and the rest of us tried to break the cheap Master lock.

If you need a lock, the cheap Master lock is the way to go.  We attacked it with brute force and couldn't break it--well, until we had bolt cutters.  And then, we began the process.

First, we had to unload all the tools and all the art.  And then we waited (and waited and waited) for someone to unlock the doors.

Once we were in the building, the first task was to assemble the snow wall.

Then we had to unpack the art and install shelves.


Next we had to arrange. 

And then rearrange. 

And then think and rethink and decide on final positions.

And I love this picture below that looks like I've sprouted wings--an apt metaphor for the whole process, at least, when it's working well.

It was fascinating to be part of a different artistic process, to see this side of what makes an exhibit.  I've always wanted to be a painter or an installation artist or a collagist.  I've been all those things, kind of, but not professionally.

It made me think about curating, a topic I've been thinking about a lot lately.  So much of what we do these days can be seen as curating:  maintaining a blog, maintaining our Facebook page (or other social media outlets), putting together our offices, creating a department . . . on and on I could go.

It also made me yearn for something different, a different life, an artsy, edgy kind of life.  And of course, I have to laugh at myself, because I'm also the same woman who looked around the Wynwood arts district as we waited to be let into the cinema, and I reflected how many possibly unsavory people were out and about on a Saturday morning at 8 a.m.

Most days, I'm happy where I am.  I wonder, sometimes, if I'm too content.  Does my happiness keep me from exploring my curatorial curiosity?

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

A Poem for Holocaust Remembrance Day

Yesterday was International Holocaust Remembrance Day.  There are a variety of these kinds of days throughout the year.  Yesterday is the anniversary of the day that the Soviet army liberated Auschwitz.

I realized, as I looked through my poems, that I don't really use much imagery from the Holocaust.  I worry that I'll trivialize the horror, somehow.  Of course, you could make the argument that I don't have that worry with other atrocities.  Plenty of my poems have imagery and motifs from slavery, for example.

And it's not that I haven't been interested.  I remember reading Holocaust narratives from a very early age, although I wouldn't have called them such.  I was just thrilled at the idea of surviving in a hiding place or making a break for freedom.

Maybe it's because there are so many poets who have already done such a better job with the subject matter than I could hope to do.  One of my all-time favorites, John Guzlowski, has a great blog post which has a poem that's perfect for International Holocaust Remembrance Day.

Even though I celebrated International Holocaust Remembrance Day by not even realizing it was a holiday, I'll post a poem with similar themes anyway.  I can use the reminders contained in this poem.  It was first published in The Powhatan Review.  It also serves as a tribute to Pete Seeger, who died yesterday.  For more of a tribute, see this blog post on my theology blog.


Do not fear the apocalypse.
There are worse things than to be consumed
by the conflagration that claims
a generation. At least you know your part in history.

Do not count on the apocalypse.
You may be one of the lucky ones,
escaping genocide, only to face the oblivion
of old age, the greatest war criminal of all.

Do not embrace the apocalypse.
Cling stubbornly to the promise of resurrection.
Believe that even after nuclear winter,
Spring will thaw the ground.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Workplace Excitement and Nostalgia

My friend has a more exciting workplace than I do; one week she wrote to us of missing witnesses and police searches.  I, on the other hand, have very little to offer in the way of thrilling stories. That week, my only work excitement is that a student came to tell me that one of my instructors wasn't teaching Interpersonal Communication but a Culinary class in Sustainable Purchasing.  I thought it sounded odd.  Turns out that the student was simply in the wrong room.

I did have brief visions of an instructor flipping out and impersonating another instructor.  Wouldn't that be exciting?
Of course, my friend's story would still trump mine, in that mine did not involve 3 police agencies.  Maybe a mental health ambulance ride or something--but not even that, as it turns out.  Students go to the wrong room on a surprisingly regular basis.  

On the other hand, I have different kinds of excitement.  A few weeks ago, I got to go to the Interior Design sample room.  I spent a happy half hour looking at different tiles and fabrics and woods.  I was thrilled with all the colors and textures--so different from the world of e-mails and more e-mails and meetings and yet more e-mails that usually takes up so much of my work day.

That same week, I also got to be a sub for a class, which thrills me more than it once would have.  We talked about how the world of research has changed.  Once we'd have left our houses and gone to the library to look up information.  Now, we turn to our phones, many of which hold more computing power than what the space program used to send humans to the moon.  Amazing.  Once a computer would have taken up a whole room--I know, because my dad was one of the earlier generations of computer programmers.  Once we used punch cards to communicate with our computers.

I kind of miss those punch cards. 

I wonder how we will look back in nostalgia on our current work lives.  We might say, "We once showed up in actual classrooms, with actual people there.  We talked face to face." 

If we do, some of our students will look at us with incomprehension, the way the students looked at me when I told them about punch cards.  Some will look wistful.  Some will be impatient with our fond recollections.  Some will hit delete.

If we're lucky enough to have students, of course.  The Chronicle of Higher Education has been running a series of articles about demographics present and future, and what they mean for us in higher ed.  In the coming years, we will need to be flexible and nimble-footed in redesigning ourselves more than we ever have before.

We will likely look back in nostalgia for the days when we simply opened our doors and students arrived to plunk down their money for classes.


Sunday, January 26, 2014

Installing an Art Show and the Lessons Learned

Early yesterday morning, we headed off to Miami's design district, off to help our librarian artist friend hang her MFA show at O Cinema Wynwood.  We only had from 8 to noon.  We had to make every minute count.  Or so we thought.

The woman who was supposed to be there to let us in didn't show up and didn't show up and didn't show up.  Eventually our librarian artist friend contacted somebody else who didn't live far away and could let us in. 

And thus, another wrinkle.  Only part of the space was available, the back, black room.  The rest still had someone else's show, which was to hang until Sunday.

Our artist librarian friend consulted with her MFA director about what to do.  Ditch the other space entirely and hang the whole show in the available space?  Keep all the pieces?  Downsize?  Wait until Monday?

In the end, we installed what we could.  We hung the snow wall made out of batting.  We installed the shelves that were going in that back room.  My spouse will go back Monday afternoon to help with the shelves in the front room.

It was interesting to look at the crew assembled in the early part of the morning, all of us at midlife, most of us with physical limitations.  Two people really couldn't use their dominant hands (thus the need for the rest of us to hang shelves).  Several of us aren't safe on ladders.  One of us can't bend over without getting seriously dizzy and disoriented.

But together, we managed.  We're all artists of some sort--we help each other out.  That was lesson #1 from yesterday.

Lesson #2 was to have a back-up plan and a back-up plan to that one.  When the younger MFA folks showed up, my artist librarian friend said, "We're on back-up plan F right now."

But I don't know that's a bad thing.  I love to read about creative people:  memoirs and interviews and autobiographies.  The one thread that runs through is the even better work that comes about on the way to overcoming adversity and set backs.

My friend's show has some installations which were fun to assist with.  It took me back to my undergraduate theatre days when I actually got paid to build sets.  I miss that.

You might ask, "Well, why not play with installation art?"

It's a simple answer:  where does one store the installations?  I already have a lot of belongings which have no good storage solution.  I'm not adding more.

Plus, I know that I have very little time left on this earth, comparatively speaking.  The time I spend creating installation pieces is time I won't be writing.

I had hoped to take some pictures yesterday, but my camera batteries died.  I've been carrying around an extra battery for months, except for yesterday, of course, when I needed one.  Sigh.

Luckily, my Hindu writer friend was along, and she took pictures with her phone.  She's promised to send me the batch.  So perhaps more pictures will come later.

In the meantime, here's one to whet your appetite. 

And a close up of the shoes that you can't see that are between the chairs above:

If you're in the South Florida area, you can see this show.  The opening reception is Friday, Jan. 31 from 2-5, and it will be up until Feb. 24.  It's at O'Cinema-Wynwood 90 NW 29th St., Miami, FL 33127.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Rejecting Fear, Returning to Hope

Yesterday was a mostly good day, although we got a few spurts of bad news at work, numbers never where we want them to be, which always generates a flurry of e-mails.  Those e-mails came relatively late in the day, which meant I got to enjoy some calm before the bad news.  I worked ahead on some projects and did some sorting.

We move offices in a few weeks, and we'll have significantly less storage.  Through the years, I've been collecting picnic supplies:  cups, plates, plastic wrapped packets that contain a knife, fork, spoon, and napkin. Every time we've had an event and there have been leftover supplies, I've snagged them.  Now we won't have room.  My colleague friend at work is having an art show opening reception this week, and she can use these supplies.  Hurrah!

I'm sorting through books, moving the grad school novels to the free stuff to take table.  And people have taken them.  I have a vision of a student saying, "I loved Middlemarch when I was a kid!" or "Wow--I've always wanted to read Great Expectations!"  Likely not.  But I do hope that those books will get one or two more lives before they disintegrate.

I also had time to work with a colleague on creative writing.  We traded stories, read and discussed, and then had a lovely early lunch.  She asked if I had a query letter written for my memoir, if I had sent my short stories off to journals.

She asked the pertinent question:  "How will your publisher find you if you don't get your work out there?"

I used to be better at getting my work out there.  When did that stop?  In part, when I moved into administration and in part, when my spouse left his 60 hour a week job.  In part, I used to believe that publications would open the doors to better jobs, and so I was super-motivated.  Now, I'm not as sure I believe that, and thus, I'm not as relentless about submissions.

I'm grateful to my friend for reminding me that I need to get back to the submission side.

But let me not forget to record a small success on the publishing side.  I've been asked to contribute prayers for the 2015 edition of Bread for the Day.  Hurrah!

And it's good to remember how I came to have this opportunity.  I wrote a query letter to Augsburg Fortress, a Lutheran publisher.  I proposed a book of devotions based on the weekly Gospel in the Lectionary.  My proposal was turned down, but the editor kept my materials in her files.  Five years later when one of her projects needed more writers, she thought of me.

The lesson for me:  even a rejected proposal can open doors.  It may take some time, of course.

And here's my fear:  I worry that I'll have a big project accepted, and I'll have trouble finding time to make the revisions or do the promotion or . . . there are so many ways to fill in that blank.

But let me not dwell on my fears today.  Let me begin to percolate ideas for a query letter for my memoir.  Let me choose my best 5 stories from my linked collection and decide where to send them before the end of February and where I'll send them after that.

And let me not forget to dream big.  My friend asked me a few weeks ago, "Have you given up on the idea of a bestseller?"  And the answer is, yes, maybe a little.  Let me work hard to reject that kind of despair.

Friday, January 24, 2014

The Religious Writer in the Twenty-first Century

There's an interesting conversation going on over at Paul Elie's blog, about a what it means to be a religious author, writing in this century.  Dana Gioia has also been writing about what it means to be a Catholic writer in America; see this essay for more of his thoughts.  I've been spending time with Elie's ideas for several weeks now.

In some ways, Elie began this thinking with his book The Life You Save May Be Your Own: An American Pilgrimage.  And certainly, he'd been thinking about these issues long before writing that book.  You don't wake up one morning and just start writing that kind of book.  Well, maybe you do, but you certainly don't finish writing it without a lot of thinking.

Elie has been engaging in cultural criticism, most notably lately with his essay "Has Fiction Lost Its Faith?" in The New York Times.  He concludes that article this way:  "All the while, you hope to find the writer who can dramatize belief the way it feels in your experience, at once a fact on the ground and a sponsor of the uncanny, an account of our predicament that still and all has the old power to persuade. You look for a story or a novel where the writer puts it all to­gether. That would be enough. That would be something. That would be unbelievable."

In this blog post, he talks about the role of criticism and gives us an interesting insight into writerly process:  "Likewise these essays about the absences we writers feel.  If you are a writer, especially a writer 'with Christian preoccupations,' as O’Connor put it, you know that you can’t write for all time; you have to begin with the time you live in.  Say you feel an absence of work of a certain kind and quality.  You consider this feeling, reflect on it.  You watch and wait (ten years, in my own case, since the publication of The Life You Save May Be Your Own).  Then you decide to act.  You try to find words for the absence you feel.  You present examples drawn from the work that does exist, and compare them to one another, making distinctions and drawing out shades of meaning.  You allow for exceptions to the general point you are making.  You look outside the usual categories  (outside fiction, say, to nonfiction, or to work from abroad).   You invite conversation and correction (as I am doing here).  And yet you trust the sense of absence you feel, and in stating it and restating it you envision and evoke in words the kind of work you have in mind – both for yourself as a writer and for other writers in the near future, beginning with those who might read the essay you are writing."

The article has fostered all sorts of replies, which Elie chronicles periodically in his blog, but I won't post/link them all here.  Let me leap to my own dreaming.  Could we write the fiction of Christian faith that Elie sees as missing?

I know that you could disagree that the type of fiction is indeed missing from our culture.  In the NY Times article, Elie spends some time thinking about authors that he feels have tried and failed.  Subsequent writers have offered their own possibilities, but I'm not convinced.  I think that Elie is onto something with his hypothesis that Christian faith as a living, breathing, important part of a person's psyche is missing in our fiction.

Which of course leads me to the question:  could I do it?

I've spent a lot of time writing novels about creative folks, grad school folks, but not much time writing about regular people wrestling with religious questions.  I've created characters out of people I've known in school.  What about the people I know now?  Could they be characters?

I worry it would seem contrived, even though it would be based in real life:  an atheist, a Hindu, a Lutheran, and a Wiccan . . . it sounds like the beginning of a bad joke.

But the idea is there, percolating in my brain. If we were characters, and the plot was about finding our way while staying true to our spiritual beliefs, what would that book look like?

As I spent yesterday thinking about Elie's blog post and the article in The New York Times, I was also finishing a short story for my writer's lunch with my Hindu friend today.  It occurs to me that some of the stories, if not most of the stories, in my linked short story collection might be doing what Elie yearns to see.  They are not based on my current set of friends.  They may have once been based on people I once knew, but they've become distinctly different now.

My current story deals with how a man at midlife wanders sideways into seminary.  So, of course, I worry that it's too obvious an answer to the lack that Elie sees. 

This morning I was working on the ending of the story, which I often am the morning of my writer's lunch date.  I wrote these sentences:  "I thought of our Bible stories of burning bushes and angel choirs.  What would our churches be like if our stories of God’s call involved cross-dressing, gender transgressive gypsies?  My students believe that if they don’t heed God’s call, they’ll end up in the belly of a whale.  For most of them, it’s a metaphor."

The end of the story may be too much telling, not enough showing.  I can fix that later.

Back to the larger issue, the one that Elie ponders.  I worry that I'm not understanding the question, the lack that Elie sees.  I would love to send him the story to see what he says.  I worry that he'd write back and tell me that my story is a blunt instrument and certainly nowhere close to art.

I'm no Flannery O'Connor, but oh, how I yearn to be!

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Everyday Perfection: Of Briskets and Other Joys

When I think of reasons to believe that I love my life, reasons to keep me rooted in the present tense, I will remember yesterday afternoon and evening, which was perfect in so many ways.

It began with a good session with my first grade reading pal.  You might think, as I did before I got involved with the program, that every day would be a good day.  How hard can it be to read with a child?

Well, it can be very difficult for a variety of reasons.  But yesterday was good:  the book was manageable, and my reading pal did a good job of reading it, although he wanted to color.  I came up with a plan.  We colored a bit, then we read a page.  It worked well.

I went back home to the grilling that was in progress.  My spouse was grilling a brisket that had been waiting in its spice rub for a day.

I never thought of brisket as an edible, attractive food.  I'd never had it before we moved down here, and then I got to taste brisket that had been prepared based on the recipes of Eastern European ancestors, tough and chewy disasters.

But yesterday was different.  We enjoyed a brisket that was both meltingly tender with crispy bits.  We also had grilled clams.  What fun to watch them pop open on the grill.  I half expected them to sing.

As we waited for the grilling to be done, we enjoyed a fire in the fireplace and hot, spiced cider, the cider that we didn't use to brush on the brisket.  It felt wintry and festive.  Periodically, we went outside to check on the grill and inhale the wondrous smells.

Our friend who lives in our cottage inspired the great brisket project, so we had invited her to dinner.  She's from Texas, so she's got a different experience of brisket than I've had.  We had a more barbecue brisket than a Jewish brisket.  Delicious.

We played cards after dinner.  My in-laws taught me to play Euchre, and my spouse loves to play it at any opportunity.  Since his brother is here, and our friend was interested, we taught her the game too.  It's a slightly more complicated game, but she picked it up easily.

We finished the night by eating a piece of cake, a sponge cake topped with broiled brown sugar, butter, and coconut.  The coconut came from our trees.  How perfect is that?  A cake that's moist and tasty and not terribly bad for us--even better!

Could I imagine a more perfect day?  Certainly.  I could be made Supreme Court Justice of the U.S.  I could win a major book prize.   I could be offered a job as poet-in-residence at a fabulous school with a salary that would make it possible to keep my Florida house while still being the poet-in-residence.

But those are once in a lifetime perfect days.  Yesterday was perfect because it can be replicated.  It takes a certain insistence on living in the moment, but the rewards are great.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Natasha Trethewey at the Palm Beach Poetry Festival

Yesterday I went up to the Palm Beach Poetry Festival to watch an interview with Natasha Trethewey--what a treat!  She'll be doing a traditional poetry reading tonight, but I really wanted to catch her in the interview format.

Last year, I saw a similar event with Billy Collins (see this blog post for details).  I realized that even though I've heard Billy Collins interviewed numerous times, it's great to see it happen in person.

And so I left the sorting of the grad school books for a different day and headed up to Palm Beach.  I didn't have too much traffic--no, that would come later when it took me almost 2 hours to make what should have been a 45 minute trip at most.  I got to the Crest Theatre and went up to the balcony where I got the perfect seat.

I've heard Natasha Trethewey many times on a variety of NPR shows, and I've had the good fortune to go to a poetry reading of hers (see this blog post for more on that reading).  I wasn't expecting the reaction that I had yesterday.

Several times I found myself dissolving into tears.  There was something about the way she talked about history--both her personal history and the larger history of the U.S. (the South, slaves, Katrina) that made me weepy.

I found myself missing various parts of the U.S. South where I've lived.  As Trethewey used quotes from Yeats and O'Connor, I found myself missing grad school, even though I didn't particularly like grad school.  I missed a variety of friends, even though they're still alive, and I could call them up.

Near the end of the interview, Trethewey gave us this Flannery O'Connor quote, which seemed to fit my mood:  "Where you come from is gone, where you thought you were going to never was there, and where you are is no good unless you can get away from it."

To be honest, I had begun the afternoon with a tinge of sadness, as I thought about sorting the grad school books.  The easy sort is long behind me.  Now I'm down to the books which I'll never read again and likely never need again.  But to give them away means that I'm admitting a certain future is never coming my way, that where I thought I was going to was never there.

Usually, I'm perfectly OK with that idea.  After all, I'm not interested in writing academic books about 19th century British Literature that 12 people will read.  And even if I decided that I was interested in that path, I'd need a different set of books by now.  So why is it so hard to let these books go?

I'll sort again, of course.  Out goes Bleak House.  I've kept it so long, because it took me so long to actually finish it.

I'll likely keep some of the works of feminist criticism, although I'm unlikely to need them in an academic way.  I need them on the shelf to remind me, to keep me grounded in some way, and for the simple nostalgic value of them.  I remember buying them when I could scarcely afford them.  I remember the thrill of owning them.  I can't bear to let them go just yet.

At school, our Career Services group has set up a table of free stuff, and it's amazing how quickly the free stuff finds a new home.  I'll start putting out a few books each day and amuse myself by watching how quickly they go.  Yesterday's small, slick book of words of wisdom by Jane Austen was gone in half an hour, as was the book of writing exercises.  I have a lot of creative writing books that will go on that table.

But I digress.  Back to Trethewey.

I watched Natasha Trethewey and felt so happy for her success.  She's doing the Poet Laureate job the way that I think it should be done.  She's moved to D.C., but she's also travelling the country to find out how the country thinks about poetry.

She's got an important message for us:  poetry is far more important to a much wider variety of people than most of us know.

I also felt an emotion akin to envy, although I don't want to take away anything from her.  No, instead I want to believe that I, too, might be poet laureate some day.  So, newly inspired, I'll put together a new collection of poetry in a few weeks, and then I'll think about where to send it.

And I'll try to keep that O'Connor quote in front of me.  I'll try, and try again, and fail, and try some more to be content right where I am, right here in the present.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

The Reading Habits of Sue Monk Kidd

In my ongoing revival of interest in Sue Monk Kidd, I came across this article in The New York Times.  How fascinating to read about the reading habits of others!  Some choice nuggets:

What books do you keep in the kitchen?
I keep books of poetry there along with the cookbooks. I try to read a poem every morning with my coffee. It’s the most important meal of the day.
What’s the best thing about writing a book? 
The daily solitude of being in my study. Mostly, I savor the process of writing itself, inventing story, setting it to language, rewriting.
The hardest or least rewarding?
The daily solitude of being in my study. The best thing is also the hardest. For me, writing a novel goes on for years, and the solitude goes on, too. It tends to swallow me at times. I know it’s a problem when my husband sends the dog in to retrieve me. 
What were your favorite books as a child? Do you have a favorite character or hero from those books? 
I was a Nancy Drew girl. Also Grimms’ fairy tales. At 13 and 14, I was all about “Wuthering Heights” and “Lost Horizon.” At 15, it was Anne Frank. Alice in Wonderland was probably my favorite character. She’s a girl on a quest, meeting dangerous and wondrous creatures, alternately shrinking and growing. I reveled in her braveries. 
Which novels have had the most impact on you as a writer? Is there a particular book that made you want to write?
Kate Chopin’s “The Awakening,” which I first read in college. The story of Edna Pontellier’s struggle with the limits her culture placed on women made a deep and lasting impression on me. “Jane Eyre” was the book that made me want to write.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Bold Dreams on MLK Day

I have written so much about Martin Luther King since I started keeping a blog.  If you're looking for a post with a more spiritual orientation and peacemaking suggestions, try today's post on my theology blog.  Here's one of my favorite blog posts about MLK, a post with lots of links, complete with one of the first poems of mine ever published, "Arcing Towards Justice."

I looked through my poetry folder for a new poem to post today.  I came across a poem from a much earlier time, after I had just watched Gary Sinise play George Wallace.  The poem is much too angry to post here, and not terribly good, but I did like these lines which I repeat in the poem:

If blacks can forgive George Wallace, why can’t I forgive
you?  You have repented your evil past,

Feel free to play with some poem ideas if these lines move you.  I give them away.

Giving away lines of poetry is certainly not the kind of service that so many people feel would be a good way to celebrate the life of Martin Luther King.  Today is a great day to do some service projects to move the world towards mercy or justice.  But truly, what a difference we'd make if we approached every day in that spirit.

Today is a good day to go back to read King's written work.  He was a masterful writer.  We can learn a lot from him.

I love that King almost always called us to higher places, even as others implored him to slow down, to take it easy, to not go at such breakneck pace.  Today is a good day to think about our own dreams for our country, for our planet, while also acknowledging how far we've come.

Today is a day to dream big and bold visions. We could change our society. We could make it better. What would that society look like?

We have to dream that dream before we can achieve it. We have to find the courage to hold tightly to our visions. We have to face down all the fire hoses, both those of our minds which inform us of the impossibility of our dreams and those of our society, that tells us to move more slowly.

But first we have to dream. Dream boldly, today of all days.

Or maybe we have amends to make, the way that George Wallace did.  Maybe we haven't dreamed boldly, or worse, maybe we've stood in the way of those who did dream boldly.  Today is a good day to take a risk and to apologize.

I'm amazed to remember how Wallace transformed himself late in life.  I'm amazed at how many people were willing to forgive him, although I shouldn't be.  The Civil Rights movement was rooted in Christian principles of love and redemption, after all.

Wallace did more than say he was sorry.  He was still governor, and he appointed African-Americans to various positions.

Here is my favorite Martin Luther King quote: "The arc of history is long, but it bends towards justice."  How can we, like MLK, like George Wallace, help bend that arc of history towards justice?

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Family Members of All Kinds Celebrating MLK

Last night, we braved the cold to see Sister Sledge in the Arts Park.  It wasn't until we got ourselves settled on the chilly grass that I realized it wasn't just a concert.  There was a picture of Martin Luther King beamed on the screens behind the stage.  Several times throughout the night, his name was invoked.

Maybe I wouldn't have felt so strange about the juxtaposition had I not just seen the documentary about 1964 (see this blog post for details) with its extensive time spent on the Civil Rights movement.  I found myself thinking about all the people killed as they worked to secure a more inclusive vision of our country.

I know that I can have a tendency to be a bit humorless on certain topics, so I tried to distract myself.  I thought about the 3 women on stage, how youthful they still looked.  I wondered what their secret could be.

Well, part of the secret was to have younger generations performing.  I'm still not sure how many original members were on stage, and I'm not as familiar with the original line-up as I would be with other groups.  I know that one woman said she was the niece of someone, and another woman said she was the daughter of someone.  They sang well.

Unfortunately, their band couldn't make it, and so they sang to taped music, which was jarring too.  But they sounded fine.  The instruments from the warm-up band were still on stage.  They looked so lonely.

They sang songs to honor Dr. Martin Luther King, but I honestly couldn't see much connection.  That is, I couldn't see much connection until we got to the end of the show.

They finished by singing "We Are Family," which I expected.  If I had a mammoth hit, I wouldn't sing it at the beginning of the show either.  And suddenly, everyone in the park was on their feet, dancing, swaying, singing.  We included a new bit:  "We are family, singing together in unity."  One of the singers yelled, "Dr. Martin Luther King would be proud of you."

I looked across the sea of humanity and decided she was right.  Perhaps all those Civil Rights workers died for just this very thing:  a huge swath of humanity, all colors, all ages, under a full moon, dancing and singing.  Not very many decades ago, this kind of mixing in a public place would not have been permitted.  And now, especially here in South Florida, it's becoming tough to tell someone's racial identity. 

It's an interesting time to be celebrating Civil Rights, as we see more and more states granting rights to homosexual citizens.  And there we were, singing the song which could be seen as an anthem for the gay rights movement--or maybe I just think that after seeing The Birdcage

I know that many of the MLK era Civil Rights would not approve of these recent developments that grant more rights to more people.  I know that there are still plenty of people who are murderously repressive in all sorts of ways.  I know that we still have so far to go, and when I think about the non-first world parts of the planet, despair threatens to undo me. 

Still, last night, as we danced and sang, I felt hopeful for humanity.  It was easier to believe my favorite MLK quote:  "The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice."  We have been bending closer to justice in a more speedy way than many of us would have dreamed possible:  the election of the first mixed-race president, the increasing number of states where gay people can marry, the overturning of the Defense of Marriage Act and the military's don't ask, don't tell policies.

As we gathered up our things and walked home, I thought it would have been a fitting tribute to the legacy of Martin Luther King to help the custodians clean up the garbage.  But we can't have everything in one night.  It was enough to see people of all ages, colors, classes, and genders peacefully gathered to enjoy an evening under a cold sky.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

The Definition of a Good Writing Week

It's been a fairly good writing week:  I've written some poems, and I've made a tiny bit of progress with my memoir.  I've gotten a writing assignment from the Living Lutheran site.  And I've finally gotten back to my submission process:  I've sent out 6 poetry packets (half electronically, half via old-fashioned mail with stamps).  And yesterday, finally, some good submission news.

I was sorting through the mail last night, opening a slim envelope which I expected to hold a standard rejection slip.  It took me a minute to realize I was looking at an acceptance slip from Slant.  Hurrah!

Slant has published my poems before, so it's a different kind of thrill than if, say, Poetry had accepted a poem.  There are journals I submit to out of habit, because I always have, because it would be a thrill if that journal accepted my poem, but after decades of submission, I'm not expecting that I really will.  And then I submit to old friends, journals that sometimes accept my poems, but sometimes don't, and I understand that process too.

I am surprised by the happiness that the acceptance gave me--and the relief that coursed through me.  Some days I think I may never see a poem published again; it's been awhile since I had an acceptance.  Of course, my submission schedule hasn't been as rigorous as it once was.

When I walked to my car after work, I was calculating how long it had been since my last chapbook, and I was remembering how news of that acceptance came when I was beginning to despair of ever having a chapbook published again.

This week, I've begun to think in terms of a book-with-a-spine again.  I'm ready to re-order my manuscript.  I have the glimmerings of a vision.  No, it's more than a glimmer, but I do need to sort through my more recent poems.  I need to look through my notebooks to see if there's good material that needs to be typed up.

Happily, my writer's retreat at Mepkin Abbey is coming up.  That will be my project this year.  And this year, I have a laptop, which I predict will make me more productive.  I plan to have that manuscript complete by mid-February.

I am still working away at last year's project.  Last year, I pulled my memoir manuscript together.  I continue to work on revision.  I am probably making more progress than I think that I am.  I remember the writer that I used to be, the one who cranked out a novel in 6 months--or 6 weeks, if I was in a blinding heat of creativity.

It's funny how I define a good writing week these days.  Once upon a time, I'd have defined a good writing week in terms of writing multiple chapters of a novel, while sending out 40 poetry packets in envelopes, and putting together a poetry manuscript.

I try to remember if I had the same work responsibilities.  Some years, I did not.  Some years, I was only working 20 or so hours a week.  Some years, I was driving across multiple counties trying to patch together a living.

There are days when I wonder why I bother, especially when it comes to poetry.  Once I thought that the right poetry publication might lead to a better teaching job.  Now, I doubt that anything I write will lead to that promised land.

I know that if I gave up on poetry publication altogether, I'd still keep writing poetry.  I love the way that poetry moves me to see words and worlds differently.

I still have visions of a best seller that will generate enough income to live on, that will generate speaking invitations, that Oprah will love.  Perhaps that dream is a possibility, but it will likely not come on the wings of poetry.

Or could it?  Something in me doesn't let that dream die. What would our world look like if a poetry book could become a best seller that would generate enough to live on?

Friday, January 17, 2014

Grace, Ribbons, Abstractions, and Transformations

On Sunday, I spent the morning enchanted (but only in an online way) by an arts project at Grace Cathedral--ah, Grace Cathedral.  If I ever relocate to the Pacific Coast, San Francisco would appeal for so many reasons, not the least of which would be Grace Cathedral.  I go to their website, and I am laid low by envy, envy and the desire for Evensong and labyrinths and Gregorian chant and medieval looking stone surroundings.

But I digress.  Back to the art project, which I first read about in this article.  The artist hung ribbons of many colors in the sanctuary.  It took me some sleuthing to discover that there's a video component; at first I thought that the colors came solely from the light coming in the stained glass windows and the ribbons. 

 The Grace Cathedral website describes the project thusly:  "As a part of 100 Years of Music at Grace Cathedral, visual artist Anne Patterson created Graced With Light, a stunning, music-inspired installation that incorporates Grace Cathedral’s vaulted ceiling arches and video projection. Ms. Patterson envisioned a series of light pathways, connecting heaven and earth, manifest as ribbons. The ribbons carry our prayers, dreams and wishes skyward, and, in turn, grace streams down the ribbons to us. " 

I can't imagine constructing such a thing.  I've thought of something similar for Pentecost, but been stymied by the logistics, logistics which would be even tougher in the Grace Cathedral space.   How does one get a tall enough ladder?  How does one get the ladder in between the pews?

Come to find out, it took 20 miles of ribbon and 8 days to assemble.  And this article says, "It took the artist months to prepare, which she did in her art studio in Manhattan by constructing a 3/16-inch scale model of it with embroidery floss. Then, on site, it took Patterson and the Grace Cathedral community eight days to hand-assemble the project."  Embroidery floss!

It's projects like this one that make me feel like I am not nearly dedicated enough to my artistic visions.

 I love the abstract nature of the art.  It seems like the kind of piece that even an atheist could live with, maybe even love.  It makes me think about my poems and makes me want to go back to make them more abstract.  I think I have a tendency not to trust my reader enough.  I am always tempted to explain too much.  I want to be sure that everyone knows how clever I've been.  I'm not happy to admit this, but there it is.

 I wonder what it's like to worship in that space with all the ribbons.  And there are yoga classes in the space; I would love that. 

This project has started me thinking about the cold, clinical nature of so many of the spaces I'm in each and every day:  the gym, the spaces outside my office, the classroom, my church.  How I would love to have spaces that inspire mysticism and/or wonder.  I'd settle for spaces of beauty.

Perhaps I love holidays like Christmas so much because so many of our spaces become transformed, and we feel like we have permission to make these transformations.  How can we get more of that quality into the rest of the year?  

Thursday, January 16, 2014

My Spouse's Surgery: One Year Later

A year ago today, my spouse had his successful back surgery.  I went back to see what I had written about it at the time; if you're similarly interested, this blog post is best.

I remember going to spin class in the morning.  Everyone was surprised to see me, but we weren't to report to the hospital until later in the day, so it made sense to me.  I knew there wouldn't be time for exercise later in the day.

Around 8:30, we had a phone call that asked if we could come to the hospital earlier.  We jumped into action, thinking that a surgery had been cancelled, and we could get my spouse's surgery over with earlier.

Ha!  We got to the hospital where we waited and waited and waited.  My spouse was wheeled away for his surgery at the time for which it had originally been scheduled.

Before his surgery, a friend at work popped by my office to tell me of her own similar surgery.  I had had no idea that she'd had a back operation.  She said, "It was the best thing I've ever done.  In the recovery room, I realized that the horrible pain was no longer there, and I cried."  I had been regaled with so many ways that surgery could go wrong.  It was so wonderful to hear about her good experience.

Likewise, my spouse was ready to get up and walk in the recovery room.  He said, "Let's go home.  I feel great."

I thought it might be the pain-killing drugs helping, but no, the pain was gone, and it didn't return.  When the doctor came to find me right after the surgery, he said, "It was a really large herniation.  He must have been enduring a lot of pain."  In fact, the herniation was larger than they expected.

We were very lucky.  We had waited a year before taking action, which meant that the situation could have deteriorated or the nerve pathways could have been changed forever.  Luckily, that was not the case.

And in some ways, it was a simple surgery.  Nothing had to be fused together or inserted.  The incision was very small; just a little over an inch.  And surgery these days is very different than it was in the late 70's, when both of our mothers had back surgery.

I was overjoyed that my spouse didn't have to stay in the hospital longer than overnight.  I know that some people get outraged at shortened hospital stays, but not me.  My spouse's roommate drove me nuts with the loud TV.  And then there was the moment when a woman in a smart suit came in to interview him:  "Have you had any additional thoughts of killing yourself?  How about killing other people?"

I had this brief vision of my spouse surviving back surgery only to be killed by a psychotic patient.  Happily, we were not in an episode of ER

I think back to that time, and I think of so many ways that people were kind.  It's not the kindness of a past, suburban time:  no one brought us a casserole, which was fine, because we had plenty of time to cook. 

No, I think of my boss who gave me flexibility:  I could work from home and pop by the office as I was able, and I didn't have to file those plans in advance.  I think of all the people at work who adjusted their expectations and helped me to meet work expectations while making sure my spouse was OK.  I think of all the people who kept us in their prayers and good wishes.  I think of everyone who told us tales of happy surgeries.  I think of all the hospital staff, every single one of whom was pleasant, no matter what was going on around them.

This morning I am filled with gratitude.  Unlike many people, 2013 was a good year for me, and that might have been because 2012 was such a very tough year.  And I see the year 2013, the good year, as beginning on the day that my spouse had the surgery which restored him to health.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

1964: One Year as Turning Point

Last night, I watched the latest edition of the PBS program, American Experience.  This one looked at the year 1964.

I had planned to read last night.  I'm rereading Barbara Brown Taylor's Leaving Church, and I'm really enjoying it.  But the PBS program got a good review in The Washington Post, and I thought, I'll just watch a few minutes.

Two hours later, I was still hooked.  It's a great show.  What I loved about it was its breadth.  Unlike, say, The Freedom Riders, a show that also aired on American Experience, last night's show looked at many different aspects of life in the U.S. in that year:  the Civil Rights Movement, the first visit to America by the Beatles along with other aspects of pop culture, the transformation of Cassius Clay to Muhammad Ali, the publication of The Feminine Mystique, politics both mainstream and countercultural, all the events that made 1964 such a turning point.

I wonder if we could make a similar case for any year.  I suspect that we could.  Seen through a variety of lenses, any year takes us in a completely different direction.

At the end of the show, one of the commentators (I think it was Jann Wenner, the founder of Rolling Stone) said he would pay money to go back to 1964 and experience it all again.  He talked about his youthful enthusiasm, my words not his, and how he feels that was one of the last times he felt he could change the culture and the power structure.

I began to wonder if that's a hallmark of the years of late adolescence, say 19-25.  I could say a similar thing about the mid-80's, a time that I felt was fairly bleak as I was living through it.  But I would love to experience again the watching of the news reports that chronicled the Soviet Union letting go of Eastern Europe or hearing about Nelson Mandela's release from prison.  At the time, I felt that our political efforts had helped accomplish these feats.

But did they?  My spouse and I had a discussion after the show.  He feels that people in power change their ways not because they're convinced of the rightness of the movements of the time but to preserve their power.

I don't necessarily agree.  I think that Lyndon Johnson pushed the 1964 Civil Rights legislation through because he was convinced of its moral correctness.  If he had wanted to hang on to power, he wouldn't have gone that route at that time.  But maybe my spouse is right about the larger cultural landscape.

I have watched so many societal changes in my lifetime, changes that I thought would be much later coming:  the election of a mixed race president, the growing acceptance of gay marriage, women moving up various ladders.  There are days when I feel despair at how far we have yet to go.  And yet, it's good to remember how far we have come.

I thought about that as I watched the part of the show on Freedom Summer.  I thought about people who blather on about 21st century voter suppression.  I thought about Mississippi in 1964--now that was voter suppression.  Requiring a photo ID really isn't deserving of that label.

I was also struck by how familiar these images and clips from 1964 are to me.  I've seen them in Sociology classes and in any number of documentaries and retrospectives.  And yet, I never find them boring.

I thought about how familiar the narrative was to me too.  It made me wonder about the stories that haven't been told yet.  I have no idea what they are, but maybe it's time to find a different perspective or two.

Or maybe it's time to turn our attention to a different year, a different decade.  I'd nominate 1989 or 1990.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Filing Cabinets of Doom: The Office Move Edition

We will be moving offices in the very near future.  I'm trying to see it as a chance to sort and clear out the office.  I'm determined to get rid of the filing cabinets of doom.

I've inherited many a filing cabinet.  They often come full of files.  And if I want the cabinet, I'm the one who must determine whether the items need to be shredded or can go to the recycling bin.

So, I've sorted through a cabinet of a former owner who kept a print copy of every single article he came across.  He kept hard copies of every quarter's schedules and room use charts.  Those documents are the easy decisions.

I've had several filing cabinets now that came with personnel paperwork.  I dutifully shred them.  Yes, I went to graduate school for many years to be qualified to do this shredding.

You might ask why I don't have a secretary do that.  Excuse me while I collapse in laughter.

We don't really have that kind of support staff.  Plus, the few times when I've tried to have support staff do the shredding, the shredding didn't get done, and no one was reprimanded.  I'm not going to take the risk that documents with sensitive information get into the wrong hands because of me. 

So, between now and the day we move, I'll shred a bit each day.  The office shredder has a bit more capacity than my home shredder in that it can shred more pages at a time.  It does not have a huge wastebasket attached.

Other things that need to be done between now and the move:  sort through the office supplies and sort through the books.  Why do I have office supplies in my office beyond what I plan to use?  I got into that habit with an office assistant who is now gone.  She was one of the only ones who could order the office supplies, and for a whatever reason, she often would not do it or would order the wrong things or would only place an order quarterly.  So, I got into the habit of stockpiling office supplies for me and my faculty.  It's time to break that habit.

And the books, oh the books.  When I've consolidated bookcases in the past, I've brought books to the office.  I have grad school books and all of my collections of poetry.  I have a shelf of textbooks.  Time to sort--but not until I have a sense of the office space where we're headed.  I won't mourn the loss of office supplies or personnel files of people I never supervised, but I would mourn many of the books.

The talk of shredding has put me in mind of a poem that I wrote the first time I had a filing cabinet to reclaim by shredding documents.  And yes, I'm hoping readers will get the allusion to Tillie Olsen's "I Stand Here Ironing."

Here's the first version, which appeared in my chapbook of the same name:

I Stand Here Shredding Documents

I stand here shredding documents.
I think of my mother and her basket
of ironing, the baskets of clothes,
both clean and dirty, the constants
of laundry and housekeeping.

I yearned for a different set of baskets,
an inbox and an outbox,
clothes that need professional attention
from dry cleaners and a house
so uninhabited
that it didn't get dirty.

Now I have become my father,
a woman of file cabinets
and endless meetings of infinite boredom.
I stand at the shredder,
my daily friend, and think of work
that is never finished. 

And later, I turned that version into a villanelle:


I stand here shredding this document.
I know what my father would say.
You do what you must to pay the rent.

I watched my mother, worn from housework, tired and spent.
I promised myself a different future in a distant day.
I stand here shredding this document.

I watched my father, waiting until after work to vent.
His anger at his bosses left him splayed.
You do what you must to pay the rent.

 I thought I’d have a creative life, work in print,
or at least an agenda where I’d have my say.
Instead, I stand here shredding this document.

My mother’s housework never done, her discontent.
My father’s late promotions, always underpaid.
You do what you must to pay the rent.

My parents’ lives stunted, their spirits bent.
I thought I could avoid their fate.
But I stand here shredding this document.
You do what you must to pay the rent.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Why I Still Love Emma Thompson

I have loved Emma Thompson for a long time, and her recent interview on NPR's Fresh Air reminded me of all the reasons why:  she's smart, she's funny, she's centered, she's British, she's so very grounded.  Go here to listen or to get a link to the transcript.

As always, I liked the insights to her artistic processes best.  I had forgotten that she's a writer too, that she wrote the screenplay to Sense and Sensibility.  The story of how she came to be chosen is wonderful:   "Well, the one that inspired Lindsay to ask me to write "Sense" was based, in fact, on an Edith Wharton short story about a young woman who comes back after her honeymoon to confront her mother, who has not given her any information about sexual behavior and who knows that when she saw her daughter getting married that the man she was marrying was pretty brutal and that it would not be pleasant and who gave her no information about it."

What may be lost in that snippet is that Emma Thompson was writing sketch comedies at the time.  And she wrote a sketch comedy based on that Edith Wharton story.  What a woman!

She makes interesting connections between writing and acting: 

"But I think it might be the other way round in the sense that I think that I know when I'm writing what is sayable, I think. I tend to take on each character as I'm writing and become, as far as I can, that character so that whatever comes out is sayable and real.

So I think it's more that way round. Writing's so solitary and mysterious. It's a mysterious process because I have had the experience of writing something and then leaving it, as I always do in the afternoons and for a night, and then coming back to it the following day and not knowing - not remembering writing it, not really knowing who wrote it. It's much like what Travers says about Mary Poppins just flying in through the window.

And I think that when you do give yourself over to the creative process of writing and acting, it's the same I think in any art form. Something is passing through you in an odd way, and you just have to make sure you're open to it."

They even discuss the movie Primary Colors, which I forgot that Emma Thompson was in.

Along the way they talk about her living situation of being in close proximity to her family.  In my younger years, I might have felt differently, but these days it sounds cozy and wonderful. 

And she gives a great explanation for how the British conquered the world:   "I mean that caste system that we have in our country for so long which is still being, as it were, presented in an entirely different way, but still presented in things like 'Downton Abbey' was a very deforming system. It was, it was so full of injustice and so full of the necessity for people to, well, not allow themselves to feel. And actually, that rule, that repression, of course, existed on both - in both areas of the system. You know, nobody more repressed than the upper class Englishman with the classic Etonian/Oxford education required constantly to battle with his own feelings and not show them, and that's what the British Empire was based and built on. You know, well, no, no, let's not have sex and a good time. Or let's use all that energy to take over the world because I think that would be more - it's more proper. And we could just get out there and suppress everyone else."

Of course, hearing Emma Thompson say all these things, in her wonderful accent, is such a treat.  I'd listen to her read our grocery lists and be happy about it.  To hear her give an interview of great depth is a treat that you shouldn't deny yourself.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Saturday Walks

Yesterday morning as I drove back from spin class, I noticed these small sailboats on the lake near my house.

For some reason, they delighted me.  I took a quick shower, and then my spouse and I grabbed our cameras and walked to the lake.  I tried to capture the moment where we had multiple kinds of watercraft in the same space:  small sailboats, rowing skulls, a rubber dinghy, and what we used to call a johnboat (a small, cheap, uncomplicated motorboat, but not a speedboat, nothing glamorous), but I'm not sure why.  This shot is the closest I got:

It was a GORGEOUS day.  After noticing the boats, I noticed all the flying objects too:  several small planes, big planes taking off every few minutes from the airport, birds of all sorts.

I was absolutely smitten by the birds of prey that soared on every wind gust and draft.  It was hard to capture them, but I tried.  I got lots of shots of the beautiful sky ringed by the tree leaves.

And then I saw the birds of prey on the bank of the lake.  I'm tempted to make some kind of comment about groundedness or maybe a metaphor would be better.

We sat on a bench and stared at the lake for almost an hour, until it started to rain.  I had remarked that I could stay there all day and just enjoy the lake.  But we had a low-key Saturday, which was wonderful.

We ended the day with another walk, which I don't have any pictures.  I love to walk to the Hollywood Marina, where there is a bench where one can sit under the glow of the sign that advertises gas prices and watch the Intracoastal.  It's more relaxing than it sounds.  I needed a bit of relaxing, because I ended by low-key Saturday with a burst of activity:  bill paying, vacuuming, dish washing.  It was good to wind back down with a walk.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Dramas or Indecisions, Visions or Revisions

An interesting intellectual experiment:  choose a T. S. Eliot quote that describes your week.  Do it each and every week.  How might our thinking about our week change if we had to find an Eliot quote to sum it up?

I won't be doing that, I don't think, at least not each and every week.  But Eliot's words have been circling my brain during this particular week.

It's been Prufrockian.  Here's my quote for the week, from "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock":

"Time for you and time for me,
And time yet for a hundred indecisions,
And for a hundred visions and revisions,
Before the taking of a toast and tea."

I began the week in Orlando, relaxing in ways I didn't anticipate.  I ended the week by contemplating my corner of the Atlantic, basking in balmy warmth, even while missing the chilly temps that helped me sleep so soundly.

At work, we were going to cancel classes, and then we added sections.  I no longer try to understand the various processes that begin to seem medieval to me, this faith in numbers, but a different batch of numbers on any given day, any given hour of any given day.

At work, we have had construction news, lots and lots of construction news.  I'm all for keeping us informed, but some part of me just wants to be told the bits that will affect me.  It's been a long process already, and in truth, I've tuned most of it out because it changes and in the end, I can't affect any of it anyway.  Should I become in need of handicapped parking, I'll figure out where we've moved the parking places at that time.

There's been much drama when various departments wanted to use the conference room on the same morning; I slipped away to get a coffee.  Life is very short.

Part of me thinks, this much drama, and we don't even have many students on campus.  Congress isn't in session.  There are fewer opportunities for outrage.  What will next week bring?  I'm tired already.

And yet, I monitor my own interior, and I realize how much my brain wants to slip into high drama mode.  I have not yet mastered all my moods.

I have not yet mastered my physical self either.  My cold has gotten better, but I still have this strange cough, a rattle deep in my lungs, the kind of cough that startles those nearby.  Maybe instead of a quote by Eliot, I should be thinking of a quote from Keats.

It's been a strange weather/geology week.  We've had chilly temperatures here, but not like the rest of the country.  The county above mine had flooding rains, but we just had a brief burst.  There was an earthquake between Cuba and Key West, but I felt no shaking.  The planet has had a week of intermittent drama too.  I haven't felt severe impacts, so it seems more like the planet has had a week of indecisions and revisions.

My online class which looked in danger of being cancelled at the beginning of the week now has 16 students enrolled.  Time to start working on those classes, which officially begin Jan. 23.

My brother-in-law, who has been staying with us in our guest room while he works on getting settled into his new life in Homestead, has had a week of reversals too.  At the beginning of the week, he had found a place to live, but by the end of the week, he was looking again.

This week-end needs to be a time of mundane tasks:  laundry and vacuuming and maybe some grocery shopping, if I can face it.  Not much high drama there.  I would be happy to have a drama-free week-end.

What quote would inspire that kind of drama-free dullness?  Can we make good poetry out of that state?

Friday, January 10, 2014

The Black Arts Movement and Movements We Might Create

Poet Amiri Baraka died yesterday at the age of 79.  In my head, I have a vision of him from decades ago, young and angry and powerful.  It's startling to me to realize how old he was.  NPR offered an appreciation which seems fair and balanced to me; you can read or listen here.  An article that is more critical of him, yet still fairly balanced, can be found here at  the website of The Washington Post.

I must confess that he was not one of my influences.  But he helped found the Black Arts movement, which shaped many of the poets whom I would count as an influence, writers like Nikki Giovanni and Alice Walker.

And the movement shaped my view of what art should be.  Here's a quote from an article in The Chicago Tribune:  "'[W]e wrote art that was, number one, identifiably Afro American according to our roots and our history and so forth. Secondly, we made art that was not contained in small venues,' Baraka said in a 2007 interview. 'The third thing we wanted was art that would help with the liberation of black people, and we didn’t think just writing a poem was sufficient. That poem had to have some kind of utilitarian use; it should help in liberating us. So that’s what we did. We consciously did that.'"

It's a question I've circled back to my whole life:  what art liberates most effectively?

For a long time I'd have answered that poems or novels are best.  Or I'd have argued for music.  Much later, I might have offered some visual artists.  Now I'm wondering if it's not art at all, but social media. 

Some grad student somewhere is probably writing about Facebook as art form.  That will not be my task.

If Amiri Baraka and his compatriots were forming their movement now, I wonder what they would stress.  I wonder if their artistic approach would be different.  Would they still coordinate with jazz musicians?  Would they create programs for schools?  Would they take busloads of artists into impoverished areas? 

And a more important question:  what should we be doing?