Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Car Travel: In Time and Out of Time

A week ago, I'd have already been on the road for several hours.  I had trouble sleeping, as I often do when I'm embarking on a trip in the morning.  I was on my way by 2:30 a.m.  Along the way, when I started to feel a bit sleepy, I'd pull over to a rest area and close my eyes for a few minutes--it's amazing what a difference a 15-20 minute nap makes.

I often leave the South Florida area early so that I can avoid the rush hour traffic.  It's wonderful being on the road with just a few other cars and trucks--it doesn't happen often down here.

There is a time, just before dawn, when I'm tired of straining against the dark.  But then the light starts to stain the sky, and I'm awake to see it.

Sure, I'm often awake before dawn.  But I'm inside, writing, on most days.  I'm not noticing the external landscape.

One of the things I love about traveling is that I am more often in the present moment.  I'm untethered from electronics and chores and work duties and all the things which pull my mind away from the person in front of me.

Driving a car alone on a long trip is also a great way of moving into a timeless state.  There's a presence required to be in the car on a road with other traffic.  But the brain is also free to float along different currents of time.

Alas, I haven't found a way to preserve that presence of a retreat mind.  Happily, yesterday was a slower day at work, so my re-entry wasn't too bad.  Still, I feel the stress of work that wasn't getting done when I was away, plus the end-of-the-semester grading that must be done for my online classes.

I remind myself that it's a gift, after all.  I have a job, while lots of Americans are underemployed or unemployed.  Even the most onerous job task is not as bad as what people deal with when they're suffering a serious illness.  And there are moments throughout the day when I can read a poem or write to a friend.

Time to launch the day!

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

What I Did on My Retreat Journey

A week ago, I was getting ready to head off to my retreat:  the Create in Me retreat that I've attended each year since 2002 (gulp!  is it really 2014 already?  And almost May?  double gulp!).  Every year, I return refreshed and renewed.  This year is no different.

Let me record some of the highlights while they're fresh in my mind.  Perhaps later, I'll post pictures or a post that goes more in depth about one aspect or two. 

--This year, I travelled alone.  My spouse sings with the Broward Chorale, and they had their big concert with the Broward Symphony on Saturday.  It made sense for him to stay behind to enjoy his mountain top experience of a different kind.

--I listened to a book on CD, which I don't usually do.  My friend recommended The Emperor of All Maladies, which she'd enjoyed on a recent car trip of her own.  So, I hopped over to the public library and checked it out--how I love the public library.

--I listened to the book when there was no good program on the area NPR station.  I really enjoyed the book, which is about the history of looking for a cure for cancer.  It felt very relevant, what with all the people I know who are dealing with this disease.  It was fascinating from a science point of view too, and in many ways, it read as a medical thriller, which I enjoyed too. 

--I didn't quite finish it, but after at least 10 hours of listening, I'm done.  I've found I can't skim or skip chapters when I'm listening, the way I could have when reading.  Reading the book on paper would have been faster, but I'd have likely never gotten around to it.

--I also read on paper Elizabeth Kolbert's The Sixth Extinction.  I was reading about the ways that the systems of a planet can go terribly wrong, while listening to a book about the way a body's system can go terribly wrong.  You'd think it might have depressed me, but instead, it filled me with appreciation for things that go right.

--I saw friends along the way, along with the retreat friends that I see once or twice a year.  Very nourishing.

--When I first got to camp, I felt the itching and closing throat that made me worried about allergies.  So, I went to the huge Wal-Mart across the street from camp and bought all sorts of supplies. 

--I bought yarn and big hooks.  I crocheted a prayer shawl for my high school friend who's struggling with esophageal cancer.

--This year, for the first time, we weren't the only people at camp.  A counselor had returned to have her wedding in the chapel.  All day on Saturday, I saw young people in their dress-up clothes, adjusting a tie here, a strap there.  I battled a rising sense of panic that once I went to weddings, and now I'll be going to funerals.

--I did stretching every morning, a modified yoga class--wonderful.  I must stretch more at my desk.

--I taught people to do hand piecing and quilting--neat!  I led a haiku session which was filled with surprises--surprises in just a few syllables.

--We had a great Bible study, less Bible and more theological musing about recent findings about the universe and what those astronomy lessons mean for our theological thoughts on creation and redemption.  I will be writing more about this on my theology blog, but for here, let me just say how progressive it was, how intellectual, what a great demonstration of how faith and intellect can inform each other and enrich each other.

--The professor who led our Bible study is an amateur astronomer who takes pictures of galaxies and all sorts of stellar beauty.  The Bible study had such wonderful slides.  It was an interesting counterpoint to my apocalyptic reading.

--In some ways, the vastness of the universe is a comfort.  Even if we wipe out most life on our planet, our planet will likely recover, although we may not recognize the new life forms.  And even if we didn't, there are other planets.

--Of course, if the universe is expanding, as most astronomers now believe, the end picture is as bleak and apocalyptic as the books I've been reading suggest about the smaller canvases of planet and body and cell.  Eventually, the universe uses up all the hydrogen and other building blocks of stars, which leads to a cold, dark universe.

--But I was at a retreat at a church camp, so of course, there was an Easter message of resurrection and hope as part of the Bible study.

--The professor who led our Bible study brought his telescope.  I saw Jupiter, my first planetary love!  It looked both larger and smaller than I expected.

--I was successful throwing not one but two pots.  I've worked on the wheel before, but never had a pot to show for it.  I still can't balance the lump of clay, but one of my potter friends did it for me.  I had a great time with the clay, pulling up, holding it in my hands, stretching out just enough but not too much--marvelously calming and centering.

--As always, I'm coming away with lots of ideas and with the renewed sense of purpose to finish writing projects and actually send them out into the world.

As with my periodic visits to Mepkin Abbey, my time at Lutheridge is marvelously restorative.  I must remember this, when I feel the urge to be lazy and stay at home.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Blog Tour Monday

The wonderful writer Marissa Cohen tagged me to play this game, and since I've been fascinated to read these posts on other people's blogs, I'm happy to answer.  I need to tag two other writers who will answer these same questions on their blogs a week from today, and so I tag Shefali Choksi and Khebhin Gibbons.   Long ago when I was 19, Khebhin inspired me to think not just in terms of individual poems, but in book-length collections too.  These days, his medium may be yarn instead of words, but I suspect his answers will inspire us.  Shefali Choksi continues to inspire me with her retelling of fairy tales and mythology of all sorts.  Most of the stories I've written in the past few years have been because we've been meeting as a very small writer's group of 2.

What am I working on?
Memoir Project:  I'm taking different blog posts that explore the interesections of creativity, spirituality and the secular work that we do to pay the bills, and I'm revising them into a book of essays that follow a calendar year.  My goal is that each essay could stand alone and be enjoyed in a single, short reading period, but that taken together, they will be more than the sum of their  parts.

Book Length Collection of Poems:  I've put together a manuscript of poems that explore all the different ways in which we place our faith in individuals and/or institutions.  Is that faith sustained or not?

Individual Poems:  I continue to write a poem or two or three a week about any sort of juxtaposition which offers intriguing possibilities.

Linked Short Stories:  I just put together a rough draft of a collection of linked short stories.  I have yet to go back to see if they work together as a unified whole in the way that I thought that they did when I was writing them.

How does my work differ from others in its genre?

It really doesn't differ.  I'm not doing anything earthshattering or genre-bending.  Even my memoir project, which takes blog posts and turns them into essays, isn't breaking brand new ground.  However, I don't see a lot of people looking at the intersections of spirituality and the secular work we do for pay and how those worlds mesh together or how they don't.  I've seen plenty of memoirs written that explore the intersections of creativity and work, or spirituality and creativity, or but not much out there that explores all three.
Why do I write what I do?

I write for all the regular reasons:  it interests me, and I want to see where it all leads me.  I write what I can't always find other places.  I write because something prompts that expression.  I write because it's better than watching TV.

How does my writing process work?

I usually get up very early, sometimes as early as 3 or 4 a.m.  It's the only time when I can be sure no one else will be up, and there are fewer distractions.  I read a bit on the Internet, and then I write my blog posts.  If there's time, I work on other projects.  I jot down notes through the day, and the best week-ends are those that give me some writing time in addition to loved ones time and reading time and time to enjoy good cooking.

Friday, April 25, 2014

The Gates of Mepkin Abbey: Metaphor and Motivation

As I've walked the grounds of Mepkin Abbey, I've often taken pictures of a variety of gates.
Gate at the African-American cemetery
I like the gate as a metaphor.  What lies beyond the gate? 
gate at the cemetery of Mepkin Plantation family members
An open gate can be seen as an invitation.  But also, an open gate can be scary.  What if we go through the gate, and it swings shut?  What if we can't leave again?
What creative gates are waiting for us to push them open?  What spiritual gates beckon us?  Are they open or closed?
Gate at Mepkin Gardens
Are there small practices we can adopt to help us approach the gates?  Perhaps keeping a journal and then move to writing that novel. A practice of taking photographs can also serve as a journal.  Maybe we could try prayer once a day, and then progress to periodic prayer throughout the day.  We could skip one meal, instead of fasting for a whole day. 
Small gates swing open to larger gates.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

What Happens at a Creativity Retreat at a Church Camp?

You may wonder what happens at a creativity retreat. I thought I'd share a photo essay from 2010.  And if it inspires you to come, head on over to Lutheridge in Arden, NC, where the retreat begins this evening!

As you might expect, we do a variety of arts and crafts (if you're the type of person who draws a distinction). Here are some batik pieces drying on a line. I like the prayer flag image that we've unconsciously evoked.

We did a variety of interesting worship services. Where else can you worship God with a parachute?

Wind chime creating was one of the most popular activities.

I particularly liked the chair weaving. What do you do when the bottom falls out? Make a new chair and one that's more beautiful.

We did a variety of playful activities. Unfortunately, I didn't have the camera with me when we did tethered balloon rides. But here's some hula hoop play.

We had a talent show at the end. Here are people contra dancing to our impromptu bluegrass band.

We did a balloon meditation (go here to read about how we did it on a smaller scale at a planning meeting).

At the end, we did a Communion sending service at the braided labyrinth. I like that I've captured the stained glass window on the far wall, and the pottery and wood baptismal font in the front.

Plan now for next year! The retreat will be the week-end after Easter--you should come.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

A Poem Reappears in "Aethlon: The Journal of Sport Literature"

Years ago, I was pleased to have a poem appear in Aethlon:  The Journal of Sport Literature.  And more recently, the poem was chosen to be part of the anthology that the editors put together periodically; I got my contributor's copy last week.

It's interesting to revisit it.  I don't usually write in form, but for this poem, I experimented with the villanelle.  I'm calling it a success.

And in terms of content, it's a poem I still like, even though I wrote it years ago. 

So, for your reading pleasure, here's the poem:

One Fast, One Slow

The muscles remember what the mind forgets.
The brain replays every decision, each move.
The muscles waste no time on useless regrets.

They keep an even speed, moving in the groove.
They do not lose a beat, always keeping the pace.
The muscles know only one way towards what they have to prove.

With the mind mired in time, the muscles move through space.
The body leaves the mind alone to second guessing.
The mind, unlike the body, knows there’s more than just one race.

The mind spends time wondering what is missing,
That abandoned job, the trip we never took,
The other people we could have been kissing.

The mind knows any decision is worth a second look,
Even choices made years ago.
The brain decides there’s no such thing as a closed book.

The muscles focus on their task, to strengthen and to grow,
The mind might say it does the same,
Two processes, one fast, one slow.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Computer Crashes Past and Present

In some ways, I'm lucky.  It was just a month of computer discombobulation.  On the last Friday of March, I booted up my new laptop, which runs Windows 8, and clicked on the desktop tile.  It kept wanting to reload, and the only way I could get it to stop was to manually turn off the computer.

I could access other tiles, like the Internet and Photo tiles, which gave me access to some files.  But anything that launched from the desktop, like the virus checker or the feature that lets you go back to an earlier time, got caught up in the relaunching of the desktop.

By the time I got a tech support person from HP who could tell me an alternate way to get to the possibility of taking the computer back to an earlier time, it was too late.  I could go back as far as April 3, when I was already having the problem.

So, on Sunday, I launched the Windows Refresh feature.  It's supposed to let you keep your files and photos, but you'll have to reload software.  And to my great surprise, that's exactly what happened.  Resurrection of the computer on Easter Sunday--surely there's a poem there!

The Refresh feature did file my Word documents in a different location, so at first I thought I had lost them.  But I've worked with computers for years, so after 30 seconds of panic, I looked in other places and found the files.

Even if I had lost the files, I had them in other places.  It might have taken a morning to reassemble them all back on the laptop, but they wouldn't have been lost forever. 

I'm happy that the Refresh feature exists; but if we can refresh without losing documents and pictures, why can't we refresh without losing the software and apps?

I downloaded Norton 360 again.  Happily, my spouse bought several extra downloads back in the summer; at the time, I thought he was nuts.  I did try finding Norton support to find if I had to use one of those downloads or if I had some free source since I wasn't really loading to a new device but no luck.  I took the way of least resistance.  Soon, I'll reload the Office Suite, which I have on an old-fashioned CD, so I can have access to it all the time.

I think back to past computer crashes.  Unlike in earlier years, I have access to a multitude of computers, so when one is going haywire, it's much easier to work around the one computer.  But unlike earlier years, I'm relying much more on computers, so the issue of getting the problem solved takes on an urgency.  I've spent a lot of time and energy in the past few weeks trying to restore this laptop, which I've only been using since mid-December.

I've learned an important lesson.  I need to back up the files on this computer on a more regular basis, even though I routinely e-mail documents to myself and save them elsewhere.  But having all the files backed up in one easy place would have made my mind a bit easier in the past month.

We live in amazing times.  We're very close to getting rid of the desk top computer, which we will likely not replace with another desk top.  We can carry all of our files in a tiny little thumb/stick drive.  We can back up several computers into a multi-terabyte external drive that we can easily carry with us--and that external drive can be bought for less than $100.

I suspect that when I look back over my life, I'll see as one of the biggest human developments of my lifetime to be the cheapness of computer power and the fact that we can carry such power in such small devices.  Hopefully those developments will help us deal with whatever is coming our way in this great extinction that we've launched.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Resurrection Stories

Today will be a busy day for many of us.  I am soon off to church.  I'll go to my favorite family service, and since my spouse only sings 8 bars of music in the later service, I may opt for quiet reading/writing in the fellowship hall while waiting for him.  After the late service, we are part of the money counting team.  Then we will get home and have some quiet time in the afternoon.

There will be no bunny cake.  My spouse wanted to grill a ham for Easter, but we did that on Friday, since we had more time; it ended up not being a ham but a pork roast, and it was delicious.  Maybe later today we'll throw some steaks on the grill.

My 19 year old vegetarian self would not recognize me.

I am looking forward to hearing the Easter message, that death does not have the final word, although in many a season, it sure does look like death will have the final word.  It's been a Lent of many cancers, many of them which have migrated.  None of them have been in my body, but there's an agony to being a witness.  I'm going to write a poem about that aspect and tie it in to the Good Friday vision of the women at the foot of the cross.

But not today.  Today is a day to remember the various commitments to resurrection.  Here's one of my favorite poems on that subject, at least one of the favorites of the ones I've written.  This one first appeared in my chapbook, Whistling Past the Graveyard (Pudding House Publications, 2004). The poem is based on real events, and I wrote it to remind myself of the possibility of miracles.

Rainy Redemption

She told us the X-ray showed a black
spot on her lung. We assumed the cancer harbored
in her breast had set on an odyssey
for new land, and when we didn’t see her
again, we assumed the worst.

Three years later, the flowers bloomed in their annual
tribute to spring, and I saw
her in a parking lot. At first, I thought I saw a ghost,
but I held her fleshly
form, still sapling-thin, and knew she had returned,
Lazarus-like, to live among us again.

Our culture focuses on the lost, the missing
in action, but we forget the world commits
to resurrection and reunion. The twig of a tree
sends sap to its tips, the crispy lawn returns
to a life filled with chlorophyll, muscles
wait for the mind to remember what they never forgot,
each generation resurrects the music of its elders,
babies look towards the sky for the familiar
face of the missing parent, history holds
us in its hands and offers rainy redemption.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Love in the Time of Climate Change

--I feel like I should have more to say about the passing of Gabriel Garcia Marquez.  I feel like I should have more to say about his work.

--But here's my guilty confession:  I haven't read the novels.  I do love teaching "A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings."  I want to think I will read the novels some day.  But each year brings more and more that I want to read.  Sigh.  Maybe in retirement.

--What am I reading instead?  This week it's Elizabeth Kolbert's The Sixth Extinction.  When I first got it from the library, I felt a bit of disappointment.  I want her to be discussing the current extinction, also known as the Holocene Extinction.  She is, but she's doing it in a round-about way, by talking about 13 species who have died, 13 species which have a larger symbolism.  It's a compelling book.

--It feels like a perfect book for Passover and Holy Week, those high holy days which celebrate events which must have felt like a visitation of end times.

--On my theology blog this morning, I wrote this post about my Lent of many cancers--none of them mine, thankfully.  Still, it's been quite a season of reminders of mortality.  I was sitting at Good Friday service, thinking of those metaphors for mortality, the dry bones, the ashes.  But modern mortality feels more like murderous cells running amok, swimming and sailing along the blood stream.  Modern mortality involves rising seas.  Modern images of mortality are very wet.

--I still have hopes that decades from now, my friend and I will be little old ladies rocking on a porch somewhere.  We'll look back to this time when she struggled with esophageal cancer as one of those times when we were afraid and weepy but it all turned out OK.
She'll mock me gently.  You'll say, "You worried about me, but you should have been worried about sea level rise and how stupid you were to buy a house that's so close to the beach!"
We'll raise a glass to all the houses that have been swallowed by the sea, and all the ones we've loved, those who are still with us, and those who have gone on ahead.
--Kolbert's book talks about background extinctions, the ones that are happening all the time, the ones that are too small for us to notice.  She contrasts these to mass extinctions.  There seems a sort of poetry in these ideas, a symbolism waiting to be mined.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Wishing for Safe Passage

Yesterday I confessed to a friend at work that I have "trust fund envy."  She reminded me of all those trust fund folks who don't show outer evidence of groundedness.

I thought of the volunteer appreciation breakfast that had started my day.  I went to Collins Elementary, where I am a Reading Pal.  I wasn't sure what to expect.

The Reading Pals comprised about 1/3 of the group.  There were 5-8 people there who were members of St. Ruth Missionary Baptist Church, just three blocks away from the school.  Some people had attended the school when they were young.

I could be wrong, but I'd guess that no one in that room had a trust fund.  Many of us have been lucky enough to have our needs met, either through our own hard work or through the hard work of our parents or grandparents.  And of course, if we came to that breakfast, it seems safe to say that we understand the value of giving back to the more vulnerable members of our community.

Collins Elementary has a student body primarily composed of minority populations.  I want to believe that those children have as much of a chance at success as anyone, but I know the odds are stacked against them.  I understand the demographics of the U.S. prison system.

When I got to the school, an older child was summoned to escort me to the Learning Resource Center.  The boy held the door for me as we left the office and as we entered the LRC.  He made polite conversation.  How I wish for a life of safe passage for him.

I think of my Reading Pal who is so eager to please.  The program uses this trait to promote reading; on Wednesday, he read a whole book to me, which was a first.  I think of all the predators out there who could abuse this child's desire to please adults.  How I wish for a life of safe passage for him and all the little children.

The elementary school is set up for the safety of children and to encourage their natural curiosities and learning potential.  I know that many students don't have this same experience in middle and high schools.  How I wish for a life of safe passage for them.

This has been a week season of reminders of the fragility of life.  We think we have a secure job and that because we do it well, we will avoid lay offs:  but we believe at our peril.  One minute we have glowing good health and the next minute we're being screened to see if cancerous cells have set off on a journey.  It's Passover and Holy Week, with the ritualized reminders of this fragility of life all week.

How I wish for a life of safe passage for us all.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Spiritual Insights--and Poems!--at the Airport

Sunday's post of a few weeks ago put me in mind of poems I've written, poems that explore the intersections of air travel, bread, and spirituality.  It's not necessarily a path that many poets explore. I refer to Maundy Thursday, after all.  Who even knows that festival anymore?

Still, I send these odd poems out, and they find a home.  This one was published in Florida English.

Today is Maundy Thursday, so it's also a good day to post this poem.  And I got the good news last night that my best friend who has esophageal cancer was able to eat a regular meal last night.  Between tumors and nausea, she hasn't been eating much at all this year.  This poem reminds me of her, of my trip to visit her, of that long afternoon in the airport.

Perhaps it's time to think about putting together a new chapbook or full-length manuscript.  Maybe it's time for a book that's more overtly spiritual.  Yesterday I got my copy of The Nearest Poem Anthology, where my poem "Heaven on Earth" appears.  That poem is a favorite of so many people.  Maybe it's pointing me in a direction I should follow.

In the meantime, here's the poem.  I wrote it when my flight was delayed by hours and hours on Maundy Thursday at the Atlanta airport.  As I observed the airport and thought about the ancient holiday and my home church, the poem practically wrote itself.

Maundy Thursday at Hartsfield

 We long for Celestial food, or at least to leave our earthbound
selves behind, but it is not to be. The airport shuts
down as late thunderstorms sweep across the south.
I resign myself to spending Maundy Thursday in the airport.

One of a minority who even knows the meaning of Maundy,
I roam restlessly. I cannot even approximate
a Last Supper—the only food to be had is fast
and disgusting. I think of that distant
Passover, the Last Supper that transformed
us into a Eucharistic people.

A distant outpost of a vast empire, teeming
with a variety of humans, all hurrying
and keeping our heads down: Jerusalem or the modern
airport? I watch my fellow humans, notice
the hunger in their faces, their haunted feet,
so in need of love and water.

I watch Spring Breakers and athletes and moms
and gnarled elders and unattached children, all racing
through their earthly days, hurtling through time,
crossing continents, without any rituals to ground
them. I think of Christ’s radical
agenda: homelessness, care, and listening,
ignoring rules that made no sense,
making scarce resources stretch,
food eaten on the run, a community hunted
by their own and by the alien government.
I miss my own church, by now gathered in a dark
sanctuary, participating in ancient rituals
we don’t fully understand, looking for that thin
place between the sacred and the every day.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

National Poetry Month: the Half Way Point and the Mountain Top

We are halfway through National Poetry Month.  How is your month going?

I have not been trying to write a poem a day.  In ordinary times, I would be happy to write a poem a week; this month, I missed a week, but I have hopes of writing some extra poems this week-end, since we have Friday off.

I did submit my poetry manuscript to Copper Canyon Press.  I thought I had submitted before, but I looked through my submission log to discover that I had not.  I like that I paid $35 and got not only permission to submit, but 2 books.

I will buy more books of poetry too, before the month is over, but I do that most months.  The trick comes in remembering to read poetry, not just support the poetry community by buying books.

In short, my National Poetry Month looks a lot like every other month.  In many ways, I think that's a good thing.

Some years, I've ramped up my poetry activity during April.  I often end up exhausted by May and not writing anything for a month or more.

And yet, I look back to those years with some wistfulness:  all the poems I wrote!  all the ways I felt fully engaged and alive!  the fact that I felt like I was doing what I was put on earth to do!

Could I capture that feeling without the full-tilt pace?  What are the ways to cultivate those highs in my daily poetry life?

Or are those years of full participation in National Poetry Month more like going on a retreat or pilgrimage?  The mountain-top-experience is great, but one must return from the mountain.

But must we return?  Can we not infuse the mountain top into our daily lives?

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Celestial Signs

As I write this, the moon is coming out of eclipse.  It's stunning to see it shining again after several hours of muddiness.  I didn't see a blood red moon so much as a smudged moon.

The sight of the moon coming out of eclipse puts me in mind of Advent texts, not Holy Week texts:  "The people who have dwelt in darkness have seen a great light" and "The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it."

Of course, some will think of the Passover texts, of nature behaving oddly (because God orchestrates it or because of other reasons) and bending the will of rulers.  The moon this morning could have been confused with a moon marked by clouds, but I'm guessing it looks different at other points on the planet.

I got up at 3:30 and wondered where we were in the progress of the eclipse, so I slipped outside.  Yes, mostly eclipsed.  I'm always amazed at how slowly a lunar eclipse progresses.  I went back inside.

A bit later, the phone rang.  It was my friend and back yard neighbor who rents our cottage.  We met in the back yard.  As we stood there for half an hour, she told me she'd never seen an eclipse.  One does have to make an effort with most eclipses, so I guess I'm not surprised.  And even if the hours are right, it doesn't take much in the way of weather to disrupt viewing.

And it takes time.  The first time I viewed an eclipse down here, I sat and waited and got amused at my lack of patience.  Now I just return to viewing throughout the eclipse, as I rarely have the patience to watch for several hours.

I think of the year that the eclipse would come early in the evening and be beautiful at the beach.  We invited friends over, but everyone had the same idea we did.  We ended up watching the eclipse from the back yard.  It was early in the history of our friendship as 2 couples, and I remember thinking the friendship had potential, since we all seemed adaptable to a change in plan.

This year, I want to hold on to that vision of the bright light returning to the moon.  I want to see it as a promise that no matter how long the shadow lingers over us, we will not be obscured forever.  That is a sign I need in this season of disease and death that seems to have settled over so many people I know.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Poem Possibilities in a week that includes Palm Sunday, Passover, and a Total Eclipse!

Some random thoughts as we leave Palm Sunday and head towards Passover and Holy Week.  All this, plus tax day and a lunar eclipse!

--Passover starts tonight.  I think of the Seder meals of my past, of the ways that Christians have tried to understand the Jewishness of Jesus and the shared roots of Christianity and Judaism.

--For wonderful insight into the Exodus story, see this episode of the NPR show On Being.  For a great resource that's very ecumenical yet rooted in Judaism, I highly recommend Marge Piercy's Pesach for the Rest of Us.  Lots of insight into the traditions and lots of recipes:  I think I'll bring it with me to work today.

--There's a lunar eclipse in the overnight hours.  I'll likely be up anyway between 3 and 5 a.m. in the Eastern time zone, so I'll keep an eye on it.  I'm always amazed at how much time a lunar eclipse takes.

--And it's tax day tomorrow.  I got my taxes submitted last week-end, so it's not a big day for me.  But the poet part of me wants to create a poem that weaves all of these things together.

--I've been thinking of a variety of poem possibilities.  I've got 2 Jesus in the modern world poems in my head:  Jesus goes to yoga class and Jesus shows up for the church happy hour.  Yesterday, I wrote down this line:  "I live in a universe of stray socks."

--I wrote this line down on the small refrigerator white boards where my spouse and I write notes to each other and to-do lists.  He gave me a quizzical look when he saw the line--but then again, he is used to lines that have potential showing up scribbled on all sorts of surfaces.

--I think of Palm Sunday again.  Will this be the kind of week where we meet acclaim from those who will crucify us just a few days later?

--I think of Passover.  Will this be the kind of week where we are set free from oppressions of all sorts?

--I think of tax day.  Have we paid what is due?

--I think of total eclipses.  What remains behind when something shiny is obscured?

--Yes, lots of poem possibilities!

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Blueberry Cake and My Attempts at Transformation

I have a blueberry coffee cake in the oven.  It's a cross between an ultra-healthy blueberry cobbler recipe from Jane Brody's Good Food Cookbook and my longing for cinnamon streusel. 

I had some blueberries in the fridge that needed to be used.  A week ago, a friend brought all sorts of fruit to our backyard cook-out.  My spouse assured me he would eat the blueberries, but he hasn't yet.

I thought about all the recipes I have for blueberry coffee cakes--but my weight is up this morning, so I didn't want to indulge.  Still, those blueberries shouldn't go to waste!

So, I remembered this recipe, which is more like a cake than a cobbler.  I added a streusel, to make it more like a special week-end coffee cake.  I'll give the recipe here; you can leave off the streusel if you just want a cake.  It's good with ice cream, if you need a quick dessert.  And it's easily doubled.  Everyone should have this kind of cake in the file.

An update, post baking:  I made far too much streusel, more than the yield below.  I didn't want to waste the streusel, so I used it all.  The resulting cake was more like bread pudding or chewy, warm granola--very tasty, but not what I was trying to create.

Am I simply using a cake batter that can't support streusel?  Or would it work with less streusel?  Will I try again?  Stay tuned!

Blueberry Cake

2/3 C. flour
1/2 C. sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
2/3 C. skim milk
2 tsp. butter (melted in advance, if you don't have a microwave)
2 C. blueberries (works with less)

Melt the butter in a 9 x 9 (or 8 x 8) pan in the microwave--or a 1 or 1 1/2 quart casserole dish.

Make the batter by combining the first 4 ingredients and pour it into the pan.  Sprinkle the blueberries on top.  If you just want a cake, go to the baking instructions.

For the streusel, cut with a knife or in the food processor, the following, adjusting as you'd like:  2-4 Tablespoons butter, 1/4 -1/2 C. brown sugar, 1/2 - 1 C. oats or flour, 1/2 c. nuts (if you like nuts),  a sprinkle of cinnamon.

You can sprinkle on the top, or if you have extra, swirl some of it through the cake and then sprinkle the rest on top.

Bake at 350 for 40 to 45 minutes.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

A Day of Self-Doubt: Despair and Submission

Yesterday was a day of self-doubt, which is very strange.  What happened to my younger self, who blithely mailed off poetry packets and manuscripts to every sort of publisher?  What happened to my younger self who applied for jobs that she had a slim chance of getting?

Well, she often didn't realize how miniscule her odds were.  That helped her be fearless.  And even when she realized, she didn't care.

The day of self-doubt began on Thursday, when I looked at the Copper Canyon catalog to determine what books I'd want to receive when I paid my manuscript submission fee.  I noticed how few women poets they had published.  Sigh.

Then I started that dangerous pattern of thought, the what's-the-point downhill slide.

I put off submitting on Friday morning, as I had planned to do.  I called a librarian friend who has gone on to work at our local community college.  She talked about their recent round of interviews for a new librarian and the presentations that they had done.  She talked about presentation platforms with which I'm not familiar (haiku deck???).

I had felt proud of myself for learning Prezi.  But if I'm being honest, a Powerpoint is still a Powerpoint to me.  I've seen very few that add much.

Then I started feeling despair, like I would never be asked to give a presentation if I couldn't figure out a way to use this software.  My despair got worse:  how would I ever find another job if I couldn't interview and use fancy software at the same time.

Yes, it sounds goofy in the light of a different day.  I suspect I'm not the only one who is not impressed with software.  I suspect I'm not the only one who has seen how presentations with slideshows can go terribly wrong.  People like me are likely to be part of committees who choose amongst candidates for jobs, for presentations, for opportunities of all sorts.

Still, on Friday afternoon, I didn't send my manuscript to Copper Canyon.  The despair was still in force. 

I came home and told my husband about my despair and my temptation not to submit.  He snorted and said, "Absolutely you should send in your manuscript."

And so, I shall do that.  And I'll continue to try to stay current with technology, although I think I'm fighting a losing battle.

The only comfort:  we're all fighting a losing battle when it comes to keeping up with technology.  I talked to one of my younger colleagues, a woman who is 30.  I was cheered to find out that she still uses Powerpoint.  She said that she hasn't seen a compelling reason yet to make the switch. 

And like me, she's a big believer that fewer slides are better. 

But for today, it's back to old technology:  printed words on pieces of paper.  I'll spend the week-end giving my manuscript one last check.  And Monday morning, I will send it out.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Elementary Lessons in Gratitude

Here's how we know that I'm a new volunteer at the elementary school where I'm a Reading Pal.  Yesterday I got a phone call to invite me to a volunteer appreciation breakfast next week--and I was thrilled.

I do feel undeserving of a breakfast.  I show up once a week, and I try to help one, single first grader to improve his reading skills.  How do we do this?

We have a book, a different one each week, and I encourage him to read to me.  I sing his praises while he's reading.  When he gets tired of being the one doing the reading, I read to him.  And then we color while we discuss words and the book we've been reading.

The coloring is not part of the official program.  I've brought in blank paper, so hopefully, I'm encouraging creativity.  I do fear that my Reading Pal sees the coloring as a reward for the work he doesn't enjoy much, the reading. 

He has improved.  Will he continue to improve when we're no longer reading together?  I have no idea.

I'm hoping that our time together gives him pleasant memories of reading, and that he'll not be as opposed to reading as he would have been if he hadn't been part of the program.  But I really have no idea if it will work that way.

As I said, I come in one day a week for just one hour.  There are plenty of volunteers who do far more than I do.  They deserve a breakfast.

Still, I'll go, even though I don't do as much as I wish that I could.

I'm sure that my sense of happiness yesterday also came from being amazed that the school is saying thank you.  My regular work life doesn't have much in the way of please and thank you these days.  My grown up school seems to have forgotten the basic lessons that so many of us learned long ago in our elementary school days.

I try to remember to thank my faculty for the great work that they're doing.  I hope they don't feel that I never say please or thank you.  Every week I resolve to say those words more.

Happily, my volunteer site hasn't forgotten those basic lessons of please and thank you.  And so I will go and be appreciated.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Student Loans

NPR has been running a series on student loans.  Morning Edition had a story featuring an interview with 3 young women who have staggering amounts of student loans.  It made me reflect on how lucky I've been.

I went to Newberry College for my undergraduate degree.  Newberry is a small, Lutheran, liberal arts school.  At the time, it had a hefty price tag, especially compared to state schools.  But I got lots of scholarships, and so my family paid very little, and for 2 years, the price tag was zero.

I married a man with student loans, and his loans worried my grandmother, although she liked the man.  Now the amount of the loan seems laughably small:  roughly $2000.  We paid a little bit more than we owed each month, and it didn't seem onerous.  It wasn't.  It was a loan from the golden days of student loans:  it helped a struggling student, and the payback plan was fair.

We both went to grad school at the same time, and we were determined not to take out more loans.  We had great assistance from the school, so our tuition cost very little, with none of the fees that schools pack on now.  I paid $150 for tuition each semester, and that amount could be taken out of the pittance that I was paid for my teaching assistantship.  Yes, $150--that's just one zero at the end.

A few years later, my spouse returned to school, and we took out the maximum amount of student loans possible so that he could pay for tuition, fees, housing and living expenses in a different place 90 miles away from our home base.  We could have taken 15 years to pay off those loans, but we paid them early when my spouse sold a tech stock at just the right minute.

I used to joke that maybe we'd continue to take turns going to grad school and taking out student loans and deferring old ones.  I have since met people who have bumped against the upper level possible as they've taken out every student loan possible.  At the time I made my joke, I didn't realize there was an upper level, and I couldn't have foreseen how quickly one could take on loan amounts that would get people to the $225,000 limit for grad school student debt (my memory of the specific amount of the limit may be faulty).

I used to classify student debt in the same category as mortgages, debts that would be worth it, in terms of how much further ahead you'd be with them than without them.  Now, I'm just not sure.

Now I think in terms of a car--I first read Kelli Russell Agodon say this, in a post of hers I can't find right now.  She talked about her MFA costing the same amount as a Toyota sedan.  If you would feel comfortable taking out a car loan that costs that much, then taking out that much for a graduate degree could be similar.

I want to believe that an additional degree will open all sorts of doors that wouldn't have opened otherwise, but I'm old enough to know better.  Many of those doors can be opened in other ways, after all, ways that don't require any debt.

But to be honest, the student loans that worry me most are the ones who go to the students who never finish a degree.  If a student finishes an undergraduate degree with a bit more debt than society would like, that student will likely find better employment opportunities throughout life because of that degree--the loan will eventually pay for itself, if you look at labor statistics, although it may take a lifetime.

But the student who finishes a few years of college and then disappears?  Those are the ones carrying more loan debt than they can ever manage.  We hear about college drop outs like Steve Jobs, but most college drop outs these days will be lucky if they get jobs in fast food or retail.

In the coming months, I predict we'll be hearing a lot about remaking the student loan system.  Some will want us to look at graduation rates or at jobs at the end.  I would want us to set up a system that intervenes much earlier.

I'm all for giving people multiple chances, don't get me wrong.  I'd have a mostly open admissions policy, but I'd have a review at key points.  If you're entering with evidence that you've struggled in the past, we'd check your grades after a term or two.  If you're not doing well (doing well would be grades of C or better), you'd need to take some time off and come back when you're better able to focus on school.

Or maybe we should just do this for every student.  We don't let people take out mortgages if they can't make the monthly payments.  Maybe it's time to be more proactive when it comes to student loans.  As a taxpayer who is funding these loans, I want to set students up for success, and intervene if we have evidence that the money isn't being put to good use--and intervene before struggling students have been able to take out tens of thousands of dollars of loans.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Technology and the Future of the English Department

Yesterday at work, our student records system, CARS, quit sending documents to the printer.  For reasons I don't fully understand, a CARS issue requires a call to the Corporate IT people.  So, I called.

The IT people have always been very kind when I call.  Yesterday was no exception.  As we waited for the computer on his end to do its thing, I heard the IT guy mutter, "Come on, come on."  And then he said, "Why does CARS hate me?"

I had to laugh.  You mean it's not just me who feels undone by technology?

My issue turned out to be a simple one to fix.  But the larger issues will linger longer.

I thought of tech issues again as I read this article by Marc Bousquet, in part about the various reactions of English departments to technology and new media.  Some departments remain committed to classic texts and a classic approach to literature.  Many more have trained their grad students to be able to teach Composition and Rhetoric.  And some have glimpsed the future and begun to talk about all the sorts of electronic texts which have become part of our lives.

It doesn't take a careful reading of that paragraph to get a sense of my opinion.  I was a classically trained English major and grad student.  I'm glad I was forced to wrestle with those texts.  But I think we do our students no favors if we train them in the way I was trained.  Most of them are not going on to graduate work in literature the way my favorite professors understood that term.

And let me pause to admit that this argument about what deserves more attention, classic texts or electronic texts, is a luxury in many English departments.  Many English departments spend much of their time trying to figure out how to bring students up to a basic level of literacy.

You might assume that everyone who graduates from high school can be assumed to have that basic level of literacy, but sadly, many students do not.  And some state legislatures, like ours in Florida, have decided that state supported schools of higher ed shouldn't teach remedial skills.  This kind of decision makes the Composition classroom even more challenging than it has been in the past.

Most Composition teachers have always dealt with students who have a wide variety of skill levels.  Now that width is even broader.

What role will "new media" play?  What role will "old media" play?  Stay tuned.  It's going to be very interesting. 

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

A Poet Teaches Day 1 of Aesthetics

The upheavals of last week meant that I needed to find someone to teach Aesthetics, which in our school is a Philosophy class.  For a variety of reasons, I didn't want to bring a brand new person on board.  One of our adjunct faculty teaches Geography at a different school.  In our state, Geography is not the study of maps or geology or whatever else you might expect; no, it's a multi-purpose Humanities class, a mix of History, Philosophy, Art Appreciation, and occasionally, some Science.  I knew he'd be a great fit.

Only one problem stood in our way.  He couldn't be there on the first day of class.

It wasn't really a problem.  I'd thought about teaching the whole class myself, if I couldn't find anyone.  I volunteered to take the first day.  We developed a plan.

I did the basic first day stuff:  going over the syllabus, talking about the general subject matter.  And then I launched into Keats.

"Ode on a Grecian Urn" led to a perfect first day in Aesthetics.  The poem covers plenty of questions that Aesthetics philosophers have tried to answer through the decades.  Does truth equal beauty?  Are unheard melodies sweeter than heard melodies?  Is it better to be frozen for all eternity in a moment of yearning than to experience fulfillment of that yearning that leads to disappointment?

We talked about art and artists.  Would the Grecian urn still be beautiful, even if no one was around to declare it beautiful?  Would we still practice our art, even if we were the only ones to appreciate what we'd created?  What about the question of money?

I then had the students do a daily writing:  at least 3 well-developed paragraphs in which they chose a topic and dove in more deeply.

As they left, several of the students said, "We wish you could continue to be our teacher!" 

I was touched.  I said, "Maybe it's better that we had this perfect class together.  If I kept being your teacher, you'd feel the disappointment that comes with grading and requirements."

Still, I was glad to know that I created a class that was compelling enough that people would want me to continue.  And I was happy to see the involvement of the students.   Most of them seemed interested in the conversations, although I know that some of it was more esoteric than they might have expected. 

Some of them probably would have said, "Just tell me how to make food look good on a plate."  We're a different kind of arts school, after all.  But even those who might have said that were willing to suspend their disbelief, to use the words of a different British Romantic poet.

I was glad to teach again.  And, if I'm being honest, glad that I got to do the fun part, while avoiding the grading and the assessing.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Hospice Chaplain Weeks

Yesterday afternoon, my spouse and I floated around the pool on our sitting up floats, like our own private, lazy river at the waterpark, ride.  I should have been happy, and part of me was.  Part of me was overwhelmed by a rush of sadness.

I thought about the last time we floated in the pool, that last  Friday morning of March, the first day of the visit of my sister and nephew.  I love the first day of a visit.  It's that luxurious time, when it feels like everything is possible.  Yesterday, I felt some sadness that our great visit was over.

It's the first time I felt that sorrow; you might ask why, and the answer is also part of my sadness yesterday.

A week ago, I got to work feeling good about the week-end we'd just had.  Any sadness about the visit being over was delayed by the immersion back into the world of work.  There were puzzling e-mail messages:  several about a renewed enforcement of the dress code and several about a Monday morning meeting.  I foolishly thought we were meeting about the dress code.

No, we had news of more lay-offs, effective immediately.  We lost 2 faculty members, a student financial services person, and our associate dean. On Monday afternoon, I had a visit from a department member who attended the funeral of a good friend and decided to re-order his life; he asked me to see if I could find someone else to teach his class, so that he could go to help his family with their burgeoning goat herd up on the family land in the panhandle of Florida. 

We spent the rest of the week scrambling to get classes covered and to develop procedures for doing some of the things our associate dean did.  In addition, our registrar left us to start a new career as a police officer; our associate dean was going to help with some of those processes, but we needed a new plan after Monday morning.

It was a week full of Beckettian strangeness.  We had a training session where we had not one, but two people have trouble logging onto an essential computer account.  We had additional clarifications of the newly enforced dress code.  A colleague said, "One person has left us to be a cop and one has left us to be a goat herder.  What does that say?"  I decided to treat his question as rhetorical.

It was a week where I am reminded that the universe may be granting me an earlier wish to be a hospice chaplain.  I sat with people who are grieving losses.  Unlike a real hospice chaplain, however, I was unable to offer them much in the way of comfort.

This will be another week where I need my hospice chaplain skills, such as they are.  Many faculty members will be returning to this difficult news that I've had a week to let settle in my brain.  We also had the death of our former colleague on Friday.  We have much to grieve.

And as with grieving people everywhere, there is the fear that more loss waits for us just around the corner.

Let me though remind myself that it was also a week of good news, some of which I may write more about in the weeks to come.  It was a week of getting some major projects finished.  It was a week where although we lost one colleague, my best friend who battles esophageal cancer survives to fight another week.  It was a week of a beautiful concert and a great book about poets and faith.  It was a week where my students turned in papers that were overwhelmingly well written.  It was a week where I was reminded that I'm surrounded by humans who are trying to do the best that they can.  It was a week where I remembered to say please and thank you, as did most people I know.  It was a week full of reminders of grace and gratitude.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Requiem and Renewal

Yesterday started off with a meditation on the loss of a colleague and the fear of losing others.  It ended with a great concert, selections from Mozart's Requiem Mass in D Minor, and other great pieces.

I spent part of the afternoon working on taxes.  I rarely wait this long, but I've rarely had a tax year this complicated:  selling a house, buying a house, selling stocks, and the vagaries/complications of the fact that both my spouse and I have self-employed income, along with the income from my regular job.  But the real reason I waited was that I needed one last document, and by the time it came, I was travelling to visit my sick friend/former housemate and then my sister and nephew came.

I finished the taxes and thought about the tax package as art form.  I fully meant to do something creative or to go to the contemplative service at my church, but instead, I fell into a deep, satisfying sleep.  I haven't taken a nap in eons.

I was glad that I did because I enjoyed the concert more thoroughly than I would have otherwise.  Some times I go to events at night only to find myself fighting fatigue.

My spouse who sings in the Chorale had to arrive early, so I had some time on the Broward College campus before the concert started.  I walked to the library, but it was closed.  I thought it would be, so I brought a book with me.  I'm still making my way through A God in the House:  Poets Talk about Faith--what a wonderful book.  I read two essays, and then it was time to walk back to the concert hall.

But first, I walked towards a better view of the sunset--and I found myself on the satellite campus of Florida Atlantic University--not a surprise, since the campuses are so integrated.  I used to teach upper level classes to undergraduate English majors at that campus, back in the early years of this century, back when there were 2 buildings on the site.

I walked back to the concert hall and thought about the first time I was on the Central Campus of Broward College, back when it was still Broward Community College, when I was there for new faculty orientation.  I had lucked into a position as a one year, full-time faculty member at the South campus.

I walked and thought about the strange turns life takes.  I thought about the husband of my colleague who must have been enduring one of the worst days of his life.  I thought about the life partner of my high school friend/former housemate who must be wrestling with the fear of having to endure such a day.  I thought about how lucky I am to have a lovely evening and a good book.

Perhaps it was that musing that put me in the frame of mind to be patient with the 8 guys who crowded into the row of seats behind me.  Some of them whipped out devices to start playing games, while some of them watched.  I heard things like, "Not the sword!  You should use the bat to get rid of that one."  Two of them had bouquets of flowers.  I wondered which performers would receive them.

Luckily, everyone quieted down as the concert started.  I found the Requiem pieces quite moving, so suitable for my Ash Wednesday, ashes and dust, mood that I've been in.  I was glad that the concert ended with more upbeat pieces, including the piece which has made it into Lutheran hymnbooks as "We Are Walking in the Light of God."  I was grateful for the reminder that resurrection will come, even if I don't see the results or understand the process.

As always, I'm stunned by what the director of the Chorale can do.  He's got a day choir and an evening choir.  They've been practicing a few hours a week since January.  The director transformed them into a stunning group.  It's a good reminder of what can be accomplished, even if we only have a few hours a week, even if we have ordinary resources.  It's the practice that makes the transformation--another good reminder.

Today I have friends coming over for a back yard cook out.  We will mourn the transformations of the past week, but we will also celebrate the ability to be together.  We are not dead.  We can celebrate a good burger while thinking about where to go from here.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Cat Rocco, Gone Too Soon

You may remember that I've written about my colleague at work who was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer; actually, she hasn't taught at my school in awhile, but she continued to feel like a colleague.  And this colleague is not my high school friend and former housemate who is battling esophageal cancer.

Yesterday my colleague battling pancreatic cancer died.  It seemed sudden, some 2 months after diagnosis.  I know that's often the trajectory with pancreatic cancer, and I know that a death shortly after diagnosis can be a mercy of sorts.  Everything I've heard and read about pancreatic cancer talks about the painful nature of this type of cancer.

I have always tried to be careful about using specific names of people and/or pictures of people on this blog.  It feels like a more public space than Facebook.  But now, it feels appropriate to name my colleague:  Cat Rocco died yesterday. 

I don't have many pictures of Cat.  I did write about her in this post that talks about the moving art gallery she created, a sort of flash mob to call attention to a gallery and tattoo studio that some of our alumni students created in Dania Beach.  That post has pictures of her studio.

Let me go back to my files to see if I have any other pictures that should be included this morning.

Jackpot!  Cat Rocco is the woman on the far left in the above picture, the woman standing, the woman with the long dark hair.  The woman standing beside her is also a colleague and teacher; she's the one who invites me to Girls' Club Gallery with her students, the trips which bring me joy.

The above picture also gives you a sense of Cat's studio and her art, which you can see surrounding everyone.

The above picture is one of my favorites from her studio.  For years, she held open studio nights on Friday nights.  People would gather to discuss art, create, and eat delicious food that she made.  When it was clear that she would not survive this disease, she invited people to her studio to help themselves to her supplies.  That sums her up:  generous through and through.

Let me also pay tribute to her ability as a teacher.  She was one of those teachers who was beloved by almost every student.  She loved to share her passion for art with students--and with everyone, really.

We will all miss her immensely.  But we were lucky to know her.

To honor her, today and every day we should all create some art in whatever form pleases us most.  It's what she would have wanted.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Poetry Friday: The Ides of April

On this day decades ago, Martin Luther King was shot.  April seems to be a month of all sorts of grim anniversaries:  the Oklahoma City bombing, numerous school shootings (most notably Columbine and Virginia Tech), Hitler's birthday.  And we often celebrate religious holidays in April, most notably in my brain Easter and Passover.

The weather in April can be violent too.  I had all these images swirling in my brain when I wrote the following poem:

The Ides of April

Mid April, when bills come due and debts
must be paid. Both winter and summer battle
for dominance and rip the landscape
with tornadoes and late spring snows.

Good battles evil, captives set free
by way of forced and bloody frenzies. Refugees
driven from their homes trudge down dusty
roads towards a desert destiny of freedom.

A gospel of radical love battles entrenched
orthodoxy. We must sacrifice our lust
for structure and rules, our yearning
for punishment. We must arc our minds
towards grace and unconquered redemption.

We must be as flowers who battle
against the frozen ground, who thrust
themselves towards a distant sun
in the hope of a future warmth,
a profuse explosion of fiery blooms.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

The Same Labyrinth Twice

Sometimes we might feel like we're walking in a maze--we may worry that we'll be lost in the thickets and brambles forever. 

But we must have faith that we're not in a maze but a labyrinth.  The way may not always be clear, but if we put one foot in front of the other, step by step, we'll make our way.

And then, we'll reach the middle.  We can rest.  We can say a prayer of thanks.


And then it's time to make our way out again.  The path may seem familiar.  Indeed, it is. 

The old saying has it that we can never step in the same river twice.  Can we walk through the same labyrinth twice?

I posted the above photo essay on my spirituality blog, but it fits equally well here.  It adequately describes my spiritual life this morning, as well as my creative life and my work life.  Today I'm feeling lost in the brambles, but I'll continue to have faith that footstep by footstep, I will make my way on the path.
And for those of you who are interested, this labyrinth is at Mepkin Abbey.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Oracles and Prayers

It is National Poetry Month, but I almost didn't notice the opening day until it was almost too late.  I was catching up on blog comments, where Kathleen wished me a happy National Poetry Month.  And then, this morning, I read Rachel's post; she's examining the intersection between the idea of writing a poem a day and a different movement to get ready for Passover that asks people to write (or just read?) a blog post a day that addresses the book of Exodus.

Her post referred to the Bibliomancy Oracle.  I'm game, at least when games are free and don't look like they'll suck all my free time away.

I decided not to ask a specific question.  I just wanted general insight and wisdom.  Here's the quote I got:

"Some people are making their way through the catastrophic jungle

List for me the ways again"
from “Sorrow Arrow” by Emily Kendal Frey 

Why, yes, a catastrophic jungle--so far, that phrase provides a wonderful symbol for a large part of this year so far.  After hard work news on Monday, someone asked me, "How are you doing?"

I said, "I'm afraid this year is going to be spectacularly bad."

It seems unfair--I just had a bad year in 2012.  But it's important to remember that even bad years hold times of grace.  I lost my job in 2012, but I was rehired into a new position at the same school.  In 2005, a truly spectacularly bad year, I had a great trip to France with my parents.

Let me focus on what I can change.  I will not be writing a poem a day; my April will not support that.  But I will be sending my revised poetry manuscript to Copper Canyon Press; they're accepting manuscripts until May 1.  However, they reserve the right to stop accepting submissions once they feel they've seen enough, so let me be ready to send my manuscript in by Friday.  Yes.  I will celebrate National Poetry Month this way.

Let me imagine the possible ways out of the catastrophic jungle:

--my poetry manuscript accepted for publication by one of my dream publishers.  Copper Canyon Press is one of those publishers.

--my best friend beats the odds and survives esophageal cancer.

--the people most in need find dream jobs that must be out there.

--I finish my memoir manuscript, which finds all sorts of audiences, which in turn opens doors unseen right now.

--my writer friends find the successes they need.

--we have a calm hurricane season (please let this one happen year after year, decade after decade).

I could go on and on, but let me not be greedy.  Let us all find what we need, and restore us all to health--that would be my prayer for the year.  It's a good one--maybe it will be my prayer for life.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Week-end Wrap Up

I could write about the fact that I have to go to the dentist this morning, but who wants to dwell on that?  I could write about the latest angst from the workplace, but there will be plenty of time to explore that drama later.  I could explore my fears of being a little old lady left all alone in the world as friends have died decades earlier.  My laptop is doing a strange relaunching thing when I try to click on the desktop tile in Microsoft 8, but I'm deeply weary of trying to fix that. 

No, this morning I want to record a few more highlights from the visit from my sister and nephew. 

--We enjoyed treats from the grill:  bacon every morning!  Clams one afternoon and hamburgers the next.

--We went back to the beach, and my nephew swam in the Atlantic without a PFD for the first time.

--The ice cream truck came by when we were walking to the beach.  From my nephew's expressions of joy, you'd have thought that Santa himself was arriving.

--My kitchen still looks like an elementary school kid lives here:  there are cheese sticks in the fridge and hot dogs, and gold fish crackers and chips in individual serving bags in the pantry.  For lunch yesterday, my spouse ate a remaining Lunchable.

--We made additional karate sashes.  I was happy that the sewing machine made it simple.  I was touched by our nephew's confidence that we could accomplish this feat.

--We learned to play Minecraft, my nephew's latest obsession.

--We taught him to play Skip-Bo, which he loved.

--When my sister and I went to Publix to get groceries, a cashier asked if we were twins.  My sister posted our picture to Facebook and got a similar response.  Since I've always seen her as the prettier, thinner, younger one, I was thrilled to get that question.

--I was able to make decisions about airline tickets at good prices to see his first Communion.  Hurrah!

--My nephew says he'd like to live here "362 days a year." 

--I felt the happiness of my swimming pool--finally getting attention after a quiet winter.  My nephew was in the pool multiple times a day, which made him happy too.

--I do wish we lived closer to each other, but I'm grateful that we're still an easy plane ride away.