Thursday, July 31, 2014

Life Lessons from Romantic Literature and from Church Camp

Yesterday, the idea of Romanticism wound through my day.  I started out writing one blog post, but then I decided to save it for later and write about this blog post Emily Bronte, whose birthday was yesterday.  I spent some time in the morning looking back through Wuthering Heights.  I had forgotten how violent that book is.

Those of you who know me might wonder about that statement.  After all, I wrote my dissertation on domestic violence in the British Gothic, and Wuthering Heights was one of the cornerstones.  I still found it surprising, much as I did when I first read it in grad school.

And then, in the afternoon, I read Luisa Igloria's Facebook post which was actually Dean Young's "Romanticism 101," which you can find here.  I thought about my morning's blog post and wondered if it could be constructed as a kind of poem.

As I cut and pasted, then I thought of a series of Life Lesson poems from Romantic literature.  I thought of a call for submissions for works that revolve around Frankenstein, and I was off and running, and a poem came to me fairly easily.  I titled it "Frankenstein Finishing School."

I pulled Frankenstein off the shelf, just to double check my memory.  I had forgotten that the book is so full of such lonely people, people who are isolated even when they're with others.

I thought about Mary Shelley's life of abandonment:  mother dead in giving birth to her, father preoccupied with new family, husband who will always be fascinated with others before an early death, dead babies, life on the run from creditors, . . . oh, Mary Shelley!

I may have missed the deadline for the call for submissions, but I submitted anyway, as one part of the website said the editors were still looking, but the online submitting mechanism had moved on to future submissions.  Who knows?  Maybe the editors will need a last minute possibility.

And if not, I now have a blog post for Mary Shelley's birthday, which is at the end of August. 

The end of August.  That sounds so far away.  I'm having trouble believing that August starts tomorrow.

My working of blog posts into other types of writing makes me wonder about my blog post that today appears on the Living Lutheran site.  It asks, "Why can't we make church more like camp?"  Does church camp have lessons for other institutions?

When I'm at church camp, I feel like I'm living a more integrated life.  Of course, at church camp, there's less to integrate; I'm not going to work for 40-60 hours a week.  And at church camp, some of the work of integrating has been done for me: there's a schedule and leaders.  And I just show up to the dining hall where food is ready for me.

Still, it's good to remember that church camp consists of many moving parts, and for a time period (a week-end, a week, a summer) those parts stay fairly integrated.  If we can do it at camp, why can't we do it at home?

I suspect that will be my lifelong goal.  I've pondered whether or not the answer has to do with the careers we choose.  Do some careers integrate more easily to the rest of our values and the way we want to spend our time?

I don't have easy answers, but it is a comfort that my questions are not new.  Mary Shelley and the Bronte sisters wrestled with the same questions.  I suspect that we'll still be wrestling with them 200 years from now too.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Life Lessons from "Wuthering Heights"

Today is the birthday of Emily Bronte.  I know people who think of Wuthering Heights as the most romantic book ever.  If they mean this in the traditional, lovey-dovey sense, it tells me that they've seen the movie, not read the book.  The book is one of the most Romantic works ever, but only in the literary history sense of that term.

I was thinking about Wuthering Heights and the life lessons the book contains.  Let me list some of them.

--The man who hangs your puppy does not have your best interests at heart.  If we could all learn no other lesson than this one, that's the most important one.

--But perhaps hanging the puppy isn't a clear enough sign.  If someone warns you that your beloved is dangerous, take a minute to ponder that possibility before dismissing it.

--The servants, although they may be incomprehensible to you, know everything that's happening throughout the house.

--If you come across a house full of mad inhabitants, keep walking.

--If you're sleeping in a room that has a ghost wailing at the window, sleep somewhere else.

--Every personality that comes into the household will change the household in some way.

--If you mistreat the outsider, it will not end well for you.

--Do not underestimate the rage of the lower classes.

--In a house full of angry people, it's not good to be the dog.  Or the child.  Or the servant.  Or the woman.

--Dysfunctional patterns repeat through the generations.  Now we accept this idea as a psychological  fact, but in Emily Bronte's hands, it seems freshly inspired and more fully realized than the work that came before it.

--Nature might provide solace, but it also might be isolating and a curse of sorts.  The weather and the landscape aren't always friendly to humans--seldom, in fact.

--How would this novel be different had there been good medical care?  Or reliable transportation?  Don't underestimate the importance of good medical care and reliable transportation.

--Above all, this book makes me glad to be alive in my century.  I wouldn't want to live in this landscape, this house, this time period.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Missing Margot Adler Already

Margot Adler has died.  Those of us who listen to NPR are familiar with her voice.  Those of us who are feminists of a certain age may remember her book Drawing Down the Moon:  Witches, Druids, Goddess Worshippers, and Other Pagans in America Today.  Very open-minded ecumenical theologians may see the importance of this book.

Starhawk was the feminist whose books first introduced me to the Wiccan tradition, but I loved Adler's book too.  I appreciated the scope of Adler's book.  In the end, I decided that the various Pagan traditions wouldn't be my path, but I liked Adler's calm exploration.  Even as I returned to a Christianity that had been birthed in patriarchal traditions, I liked knowing that there had been other traditions.

Even as historians cast doubts on the possibility of a matriarchal religion, I liked the feminist approach of making an old religion new.  Many of us in other traditions are invigorating our religions in much the same way.

I remember hearing her voice on NPR decades ago and wondering if it could be the same Margot Adler who wrote the book.  I remember my surprise at finding out that indeed, it was the same woman.  At the time, I thought that NPR was brave for hiring a Wiccan.  But of course, she wasn't only a Wiccan, but a Wiccan with great writing and reporting skills.

Much like her book, her stories on NPR always made me stop and appreciate the diversity of this country and the remarkable stories that were there for the telling.  Her voice, and I mean voice in several senses, never seemed to age or change.  I miss it already.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Social Justice Coffee Hour

I've been part of Bread for the World since the 80's.  I like their vision of social justice and the way the group operates.  I like their ecumenical, non-partisan focus on making sure the world gets fed.

A side note:  it's interesting to ponder that during my lifetime thus far, we could actually feed the world; the problem is food distribution, not food production.  And during my lifetime, that could change as climate change wreaks havoc with our planet.

Two weeks ago, I got an e-mail from the southeast coordinator of donor relations for Bread for the World.  He was going to be in town and wondered if we could meet.

I thought about my schedule.  It was one of the busiest weeks, with lots of faculty observations and faculty files needing to be completed by the end of the week.  I just wasn't sure that I could find even the tiniest hole.  My schedule before the busy week was so busy that I didn't even respond to his e-mail.

A week ago, I got home to find a phone message from Bread for the World.  It was only Monday, and already my week felt overwhelming.

But as I slept, I dreamed about my calendar and phone messages and making some time.  I woke up, wondering why my subconscious didn't come up with more inventive dreams, something that involved flying or being able to swim underwater with gills.  But I went back to the e-mail and realized that the Bread for the World coordinator would be in town through Friday.  I did have a window on Friday morning.  My window matched his window.

We met at a Panera.  We had coffee and talked about the work the group has done and about the political situation both in South Florida and across the nation.  We talked about the group's vision for the future, which still revolves around eliminating hunger across the globe.

I had thought about avoiding a face-to-face meeting because I was afraid I'd be asked for money, and I don't have much extra to give.  But the issue of money never came up.

We did talk about time and organizing alongside others.  We talked about my writing and how I might help.  Yes, these things I can do.  I did caution, "I will not be one of those people at a political rally yelling in the back of the room.  But I am willing to ask questions at a microphone."

I got back to my office to find an urgent e-mail from the organization asking me to call my representative, which I did.  I'm lucky, in that she often votes the way I'd like her to, but it never hurts for our senators and representatives to hear from us. 

Our coffee meet-up was only an hour, but it might have been the best hour of my week.  It was great to be reminded of what a group of concerned citizens can do.   I'm glad I said yes to the invitation.

I need to remember to say yes more often.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Creativity: July Progress Report

Good news and less good news on the writing front:  I've been successful with my goal of working on my memoir 3-4 days a week.  I've rediscovered the joy of crafting blog posts into essays, especially blog posts that approach the same topic from different angles.

The bad news?  I haven't been writing poems much during July.  My goal is to write a poem a week, which should be doable.

Of course, it's also been an intense July at work.  Since I've gotten so much of the work of the quarter done in a single week (gasp!), maybe I'll have more time in August.

And of course, July isn't over yet, is it?

And let me give myself credit for other creativity.  I've done a quick quilting project.  I've written numerous blog posts, some of them for pay.  I've sent out some poetry packets and gotten 4 poems accepted.  I've continued to network with other artists.

We were in a group that was coming up with great book titles.  Here's one:  It's Hard to Be a Goddess in the Corporate World.  One of us thought that was too long and voted for Goddess in the Corporate World.

I've been wondering about this as an alternate title for my memoir.  I had been circling around Monk or Marxist.  But the artist friend I was chatting with vetoed that title.  She much preferred Goddess in the Corporate World.  Let me continue to think.

Today I'm going to Michaels.  I have a variety of items to buy.  I'd like a small sketchbook.  I'd like to keep more of a daily log, as Austin Kleon recommends in Steal Like an Artist (see this post for more on that with pictures of his logbook).  The log would track what I actually did in a day, more in terms of creative projects than anything else.  I'd also like to sketch more and do a gratitude list.  And I'd like to get back to keeping track of what books I'm reading.  And my exercise.

What else?  Maybe the weather?  Why not?

I like what he says about the value of keeping a list:  "But more importantly, keeping a simple list of who/what/where means I write down events that seem mundane at the time, but later on help paint a better portrait of the day, or even become more significant over time. By “sticking to the facts” I don’t pre-judge what was important or what wasn’t, I just write it down."

And it's all in one place, unlike the various other places where I'm recording my life.  I worry about what I'm not writing down in my blog, in the My Fitness Pal site.

Let me see what happens.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Modern Food: A Report from the Grocery Store

Yesterday, I went to the grocery store in search of a big watermelon, but I wasn't sure I'd be successful--or that I'd want to pay.  A few years ago, I saw big watermelons for $25.

Yes, $25--that's ridiculous.  I thought of past decades where I could get similar watermelons for less than five dollars.   I thought of the pick up trucks loaded with melons that I used to see on the country roads of South Carolina.  Had there been some kind of watermelon blight?

Happily, yesterday I was more successful.  I got a fairly large melon for $6.95.  Still a bit much, I thought, but I wanted a watermelon that could feed a crowd.

I noticed it was seed-free, so I looked for the regular variety.  Nope, nothing.  I noticed that there were 7 big watermelons and 2 of them looked strangely pale.

My experience makes me want to go to other grocery stores.  Do any of them carry a variety of watermelons?  Or do so  many of us buy the smaller melons that stores have stopped carrying them?  Or is it a situation unique to South Florida?

There were very few melons at all, of any kind--more cut up melons in plastic containers of all sizes than whole melons.  Hmmm. 

I'm not surprised, of course.  When I'm shopping for just my household, I often buy the packaged melons.  I'm just a bit sad that the other options seem to be going away.

I was also shopping for a pasta salad, and I know that at least one person isn't eating gluten.  I thought I'd see if the store carried gluten-free pasta.

Well, not only do they carry gluten-free pasta, but also whole wheat, hidden veggie, multi-grain--and that's in addition to the wide variety of regular pasta.  And the store carries "fresh" pasta too.

We live in amazing times, in so many ways.  I can get a variety of pastas from Italy--but I can't seem to get a watermelon with seeds that I know grow in fields in counties all around me.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Grace Notes in a Week of a Crucifixion of Forms

It's been a wearying work week.  I had anticipated taking 6-8 weeks to complete a project that requires assembling faculty files.  For a variety of reasons, this week I found myself needing to do all the work in one week.

It sounds like it should be simple--just put the files together, right?  But it required faculty to complete several forms, to put the same information into a variety of formats, and to assemble documentation.  It's required lots and lots of photocopying.  Along the way, I have heard a variety of complaints about the forms and how we could make them better.  At one point, I heard myself say, "We are not tasked with creating a better form.  We are tasked with filling in the forms we have."

More than once I have thought of one of my own poems, "Conducting a Performance Review on the Feast of the Ascension."  It begins this way:

I have wrestled
with these forms—a modern
crucifixion—for over forty
days.  I spend more time
trying to coerce
the software into cooperation
than I do in assessment
of employee performance.

But let me also take note of a week of grace.  Because of the new timeline, I had to do teaching observations of two-thirds of my faculty.  It was a grueling schedule, yes.  But it was also wonderful to be reminded that while I'm wrestling with forms and copy machines, important work is being done in the classroom.

It was also fascinating to see so many classes in action in one week.  I saw threads winding their way through the classes.  I saw how one class informs another class, and how some students do retain this information and apply it in multiple subjects.  For example, I heard one student bring up the concept of the sublime in a conversation about mythology and Freud and Lacan.

This happened in a first year literature class.

The students weren't grad students studying Philosophy or undergraduate Psych majors.  No, they were your typical first year students.

Yes, typical.  I've taught in a variety of places, and I'm certain that there are more similarities between most first year students than differences.  I haven't worked at Ivy League institutions, I will admit.  But I've worked with students who come from a background of privilege and those who fled for their lives from repressive regimes--there are more similarities than differences.  I've worked with students who come from good school districts and those who come from some of the worst in the country--there are more similarities than differences.

It was good to remember that fact.  It was very nourishing for me to see that such good work is going on all around me.  It gave me hope that although I sometimes cannot perceive it, perhaps my own work supports the more essential work of the department.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

The Restorative Joys of Quilting

I came home last night simply exhausted.  I am doing the work of what I thought I'd have 6-8 weeks to do in 1-2 weeks.  It's good to get it done, but it involves a multitude of forms and lots of information needed from a variety of personalities.

I came home thinking about how to recover.  I could go for an evening swim.  I could collapse on the sofa.  I could watch TV.  I brought home the movie Gravity.

In the end, I worked on my time-sensitive quilting project and watched the movie.  I must confess, I switched between it and reruns of Modern Family.  I fast-forwarded through some of the parts of floating through space.  There seemed to be huge swaths of floating through space.

It's my fault.  It's probably better on the big screen.  I was warned.  Happily, I checked it out from the library.

I finished my quilting project and looked up hours later to find myself restored. 

And before we get too far away from Sunday, let me record a joy. 

On Sunday, I took the project to church.  After the intergenerational service, I stretched it out on one of the tables to be able to cut and pin without having to be on my hands and knees.  Several girls came over and offered to help.  They asked me questions about quilting, and I gave a quick overview.

I offered to teach them more at a later point.  One girl said, "I've got nothing planned for today."  But alas, I didn't anticipate their interest, and so I had no supplies.

Still, I let them pluck pins out of a box and "help" pin the fabric.  I talked about the prayer shawl ministry and why quilts and blankets are such a comfort.  I talked about small pieces making bigger pieces.  I resisted giving a quick history lesson.

How I love quilting, one of the art forms that truly began in the U.S.  I love an art form born out of adversity, like the lack of cloth, that shows such cleverness and thrift.  I admire all the ways that humans have reinvented the form.

We'll be quilting again at my church.  We've got a day of service projects planned on September 7, and we'll be making at least one quilt for Lutheran World Relief.  Maybe we'll gather once a quarter to work on quilts.

Maybe I'll make a quilt kit for the girls who helped me on Sunday.  They wanted to make quilts for their dolls.  I was so thrilled that children still played with dolls--and that they want to make things for them!  I left feeling happy in so many ways.

Ah, quilting:  so restorative in so many ways.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Protection and Safety

I was looking through photos from our sailing trip, and I came across one of a child wearing swim gear.  Those of us who are older may envision a swimsuit, maybe some sunscreen.

Oh no.  Children swim almost fully clothed these days.  There's a long-sleeved swim shirt to go with swim shorts.  On our recent trip, I saw swimming children with headgear.  The hat fully covered the head and forehead, with a bill, and flaps that covered the neck.  The children's exposed skin was slathered with sunscreen.

I've already had 3 skin cancers removed, so I do understand the dangers of the sun and how those dangers accumulate across a lifetime of exposure.  But I also wonder if we get so focused on some dangers that we forget to think about others.

Later on our trip, I saw those same children scampering on the side of a sailboat--no life jacket or personal flotation device.  I asked the father if the children could swim--no.

Earlier in the day, the parents had been more cautious.  But as they grew comfortable on the boat, they let the children remove the PFD as long as they kept their feet on the cockpit.  And then, it was only a matter of time before they relaxed that rule.

Which poses more danger to a child, sunlight or drowning?

But I am not a parent, and I'm not as interested in these issues as I might appear.  I'm really looking at the metaphor.

In our own creative lives, where do we need more protection?  Are we so focused on protecting ourselves in one way that we fail to see other dangers?  What are the best practices that we should be adopting?  Where have we gone slightly overboard?

I started thinking about swim gear as metaphor before the North Carolina Poet Laureate was chosen and then stepped down.  I have hesitated to comment, but I found myself disheartened by all of it.  Part of me was rooting for the less-experienced laureate, but I certainly understood her desire to remove herself from the meanness.  What ugly, ugly things people said about her.

I also see it through a lens of gender.  The ugliest things I saw were written by males.

And if I'm being honest, I thought about myself.  What if I had had a great turn of luck and gotten an honor?  People might have pointed to my lack of a book with a spine.  People might have said, "She has a Ph.D., not an MFA.  She writes about literature, not writing literature.  She's a nice lady poet, not a muscular poet, like we like.  She's much too accessible."

It takes me back to a comment that I got on a rejection slip years ago:  "Well, your poems certainly are accessible."  I heard the sneering tone.

And so, I wrote a poem.  I've posted it before, but I'll post it again.  This poem was first published in The Xavier Review, and was reprinted in The Worcester Review.


He says the poems are accessible,
as if it is a bad thing, as if loose
limbed poems spread open their legs
to anyone who gives them a glance.
Those poems don’t even demand drinks
and dinner first. Slutty poems. Ruint.

Perhaps he wants a sulky
poem, one that lets itself be petted, who pretends
to like him, but always holds a part
of itself back while he tortures
himself with evidence of his poem’s infidelities:
other people, plainer than him, who profess
to understand this poem when he cannot.

Perhaps he prefers poems that ignore
laws of accessibility, that barricade themselves behind bars
and up stairs and through perilous mazes.
After tunneling through to the heart
of the poem, he’s so disoriented
that he can’t hold his head upright.

Better yet, poems that speak a language
of their own creation; only a very
few in the world understand how the words
are strung together in this idiom.
Instead of seeing it for the dying language
that it is, he proclaims its linguistic
complexity and pretends to understand.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Haunted by History: A Floral Cure

Yesterday before spin class, we were talking about Russia and the commercial airliner shot down over Ukraine.  I said to the spin instructor, "You should have brought that 80's CD; it could have been the Return to the Cold War ride."

We're all older, so we laughed.  But I've been thinking about the similarities.  I remember in 1983 when the USSR shot down a Korean plane.  I remember the escalation of tensions; it felt like we all held our breath to see what would happen.

It seemed we all held our breath a lot during much of the 1980's.

I think of the flare-up of tensions between Israel and Palestinians; it's happening now, and it was happening then.  I think of Syria melting down into an unrecognizable state--lots of Cold War parallels there.

Lots of people wring their hands and insist that times are worse now.  That's both true and not true.  As a reader of history, I do know how quickly these flare-ups can turn into conflagrations that consume a whole generation (see World War I, World War II).  I feel edgy for that reason.

Maybe I should adopt Rachel's solution of being careful about exposure to news and social media; before she decided to take a break from the Internet, she wrote this wonderful post.

I like Beth's approach to this tension in this blog post.  I like the posting of picture of a bouquet of flowers, the acknowledgement that we will always be mourning the lost.  She gives us a quote from an ancient text:

And some there be, which have no memorial;
who are perished as though they had never been...
Ecclesiasticus 44:9

I like that she gives us beauty with the sorrow. 

And so, I, too shall post some pictures.

I don't have any bouquets, but I have seen beautiful flowers lately. 

These flowers are from our time in Maryland, at a marina in Deale.

I'm amazed that the marina takes the time to plant such lovely gardens at a facility whose sole purpose is to exist so that boats can leave.

Of course those boats do come back.  The flowers make it feel like a home, or the home I like to think I would have, if I had time to tend extensive gardens on a huge plot of land.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Infusing the Special into the Every Day

A week ago was my birthday; I'm still intrigued by how many people asked what special things I had planned.

I couldn't resist.  I answered with a similar answer to the one I give about Valentine's Day:  every day should include special events to make me glad I was born.  Why do we only save this special mindset for our birthdays?

I realize that if you're the kind of person who does extra-special birthday events, like taking the day off, having a high calorie dinner, or planning a super vacation, you can't do this every day.  But you could do it more often than once a year.

Our lives would be more full of joy if we did more each day to remember that we're glad we were born.  We wouldn't have to wait for a birthday--or worse, a crisis medical diagnosis--to remember to celebrate.

And we shouldn't wait.  One day, and for many of us it will come all too soon, we won't be able to celebrate.

You might protest about the cost or the calories.  But think how many of your joys are relatively free:  rereading old books, discovering new books (with your public library card), spending time with friends, going to museums/galleries/readings/parks/____________.

So, don't delay.  Celebrate your birth today, and every day--even if it's 355 days until your next official birthday.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Quilting a Meeting

Yesterday, I took my time-sensitive quilting project to our church council meeting.   I've been on the lookout for chunks of time to work on it, and yesterday's meeting seemed perfect, with its start time moved from 10 a.m. to 9:30 a.m.  I don't usually take copious notes so I thought I'd try quilting during our meeting time.

I've noticed that many of our members keep looking at their cell phones, so I didn't feel I'd be disrespectful by quilting.  In fact, I think I think checking one's cell phone is more distracting mentally than quilting.  One of our members has worked on knitting a prayer shawl, so there's been a precedent.

During my time at the Create in Me retreat, I crocheted a prayer shawl.  I worried that I might not pay attention if I was crocheting, but I found that just the opposite was true.  Having my hands busy quieted my mind.  And when I look at my notebook from that retreat, I find that I took notes too.

Yesterday, I found that the quilting calmed my mind in a similar way.  And when our meeting time went longer than scheduled, I didn't mind.  I made more progress, and that was good.

I wish I could take my quilting and crocheting projects with me everywhere, especially to meetings at work.  Alas, taking my projects to work is probably unwise--but perhaps I'll start thinking about meetings of other types as opportunities to get some quilting done.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

The Many Ways We Inspire

I felt such sadness hearing about the AIDS researchers who were on the Malaysia Air flight that was shot down over Ukraine.  This NPR story gave interesting details about one of them, Joep Lange: 

"Colleagues said Lange's success as an activist was largely a tribute to his personality. His humor was dry and a bit wry, but his manner was gentle. Stories of Lange's kindness abound.

He insisted on making Gayle's frequent layovers in Amsterdam comfortable, even though she would often arrive at dawn. Lange would pick her up at 6 a.m. and take her to his house for coffee, a stroll, a shower or quick nap. I'd always say, 'Oh Joep, it's too early. And he'd say, 'No, no, I'll be there.'

It will be hard for anyone to replace Lange, Gayle says. But she is confident that Lange's inclusive style will ensure that his work will continue, even after his death.

'The thing about a good leader is that they don't try to do it all by themselves,' Gayle says. 'They build teams. And Joep has built great teams wherever he's gone. So there are people who are poised and ready to take on the work that he started.'"

It was a quick story, but it said so much to me about what makes a good human and an enduring legacy.  I thought about what I'd like people to say about me when I'm dead, and that news story about covers it.  I'd like to have done important work, but not to have lost sight of the humans around me.  I want people to tell stories of my compassion and kindness.  I want to have inspired the people around me, so that there will be the will to endure in doing the important work when I'm gone.

There are weeks when I feel like I've done no important work at all, when I simply corral e-mails.  And then I have a day like yesterday, when I meet a friend for lunch, and she gives me a birthday card.  On this card, she wrote about what she admired in me.

Here's a choice quote that I want to record so that I remember that people are paying attention, and the way we live our lives does matter, even when we're unsure that it does:  "When I read your blogs or your poems, I'm reminded that to truly live one's creative life is a choice, and I watch you live that creative, extraordinary life all the time.  It's so very inspiring to watch!  Through your example, I am reminded that t creative life, lived honestly, is a true joy."

Wow!  What a great birthday present--and so very needed in my work week that consisted of cleaning up my e-mail inbox, which always makes me reflect on how so many of the e-mail exchanges are about very ephemeral stuff, not terribly important when written, even less important later.  It's been a week of paperwork and shifting deadlines and lots of angst from others that I cannot alleviate.

I needed that reminder that I am more than the sum of my e-mails.  And if I'm being honest, I had some of those moments this week at work too.  I helped students with schedule snafus, I helped to finalize some of the stuff from the move that remains unfinished, I tried to be present for everyone, even if I couldn't always help.  That quality of being present:  it may seem like the least important thing, but it may be the most important.

It sets a good example, and more people are watching than I realize at the moment.  May I always be an inspiration!

Friday, July 18, 2014

Our Bodies, Our Genders

I've been catching up on old NPR stories.  This story about transgender issues was on Fresh Air; it's worth a listen.

The three guests have written Trans Bodies, Trans Selves.  They modeled the book on the classic feminist text Our Bodies, Ourselves, a book written by lay people, not doctors.   It was full of information that wasn't available elsewhere.

It's hard to remember those days, when information wasn't available via the Internet.

I remember discovering the book in my college's library. It felt like a dangerous book to me. It talked so openly about sex and female bodies. It talked calmly about all the things that could go wrong and how one might right those things. It approached the human body from a health and wellness perspective. It had pictures. It had that 70's sense of earnestness and honesty that was immediately appealing. At first, I only read the book when nobody else was in the library--I didn't want to be caught reading it. As the year progressed, I grew in maturity to the point where I was able to actually check the book out of the library and read it openly.

I thought of that book when I listened to the authors talking about puberty and the betrayal of their bodies.  I, too, felt betrayed by my body in adolescence, but I don't feel like a male trapped in a female body.

I'm more medieval.  I just feel trapped in a body, as if I'd be better off, if my soul could break free of this earthly vessel.  I suspect I'd feel that way if I'd been born male too:  appalled by all the fluids and fleshly issues that are so distracting from the real purpose of life.

I understand how problematic that world view can be.  The book Our Bodies, Ourselves helped me make enormous progress in accepting my body.

And middle age has taken me further.  In this age when so many of my friends are stricken with bodies that are no longer healthy, I've found a new gratitude for mine.  I no longer spend much energy on how my body would be better if ______________ (so many ways to fill in that blank!).  Now I'm grateful to be free of disastrous disease, to be able to breathe freely, to be able to bend and stretch and make it through the day with energy and enthusiasm most days.  If I weigh more than I wish I weighed, well at least that flesh is healthy.

I do wonder, too, about the transgender people who finally get the surgery.  Are they happy or are they surprised by elements they hadn't considered?

One of the Fresh Air guests said, "Of the trans-women that I know, who have gone through transition, those who have had the softest landing, who have succeeded in that transition, are those who were feminist before, when they were men.  . . .   You understand what you'll be up against.  You can't build a life around stilettos and sponge cake.  The person who goes through transition thinking that being a woman is a big gender party is probably in for a big disappointment." 

I find myself, though, wondering about our insistence on a binary categorization.  We're male or we're female.

But what if there are more?

 I've often said that gender is a spectrum.  I have a BA in Sociology, so I will also say that I think that where one lives on the spectrum is deeply affected by our society.  I will also admit that recent advances in various scientific fields make me think that our biology has as deep an effect on our gendered lives.

How would our lives be different if we saw gender as a spectrum?  How would our societies be different if we thought less rigidly about gender?

The issue of gender, especially transgender issues, may come to be seen as one that's as important as the Civil Rights struggles of the 50's and 60's. And books like Trans Bodies, Trans Selves will likely be very valuable as we have the discussions we need to have.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

The Quilting and the Hours

Yesterday, quilting threaded its way through my day--a delightful thread!

I started the day with a Facebook message.  My cousin's little girl went to get a blanket from her closet, and she pulled out the quilt that I made when she was born.  She asked her mom about quilting, and her mom said that maybe I'd show her some day.

I was immediately thrilled and thought of projects we could do, if she asks me sooner rather than later.  I wondered about all the old-timey things that my spouse and I know how to do (sewing, canning, candlemaking, quilting, playing our own instruments, cooking), and I wondered how I feel about being seen as an expert or a resource.

Of course, I'm happy on the one hand, but also sad that so many of these skills have vanished from the larger population.  I thought of the time I asked my grandma to show me how to quilt and she was baffled about why I'd want to do that when I could buy a perfectly good blanket from Wal-Mart for so cheap.

I thought of Alice Walker, the writer who made me want to learn to quilt.  I thought of the quote that I found this morning in an essay* about how she came to write The Color Purple:  "And so, I bought some beautiful blue-and-red-and-purple fabric, and some funky old secondhand furniture (and accepted donations of old odds and ends from friends), and a quilt pattern my mama swore was easy, and I headed for the hills."  And finally, her characters felt more free to speak to her, and she wrote and swam and quilted. 

My spouse was at choir rehearsal, so I spent the evening working on a time sensitive quilting project.  I like to have something on while I quilt, so I popped in my DVD of The Hours.  I did my first big quilting projects when that movie came out; I remember getting the DVD and watching the movie with the commentary off and then with it on, along with every special feature while I made serious quilting progress.

I thought about first reading the book.  I was commuting to the University of Miami and reading it on public transit.  I wanted to tell all of my fellow commuters about the book.  I had just finished reading Mrs. Dalloway, and I was blown away by what Cunningham did.

The movie was an interesting choice, given the amount of death, disease and loss that this year has brought.  I found it hopeful, despite its depressing parts.  Part of the movie was filmed on my street, and it was thrilling to recognize the houses.

Maybe I will read the book again this summer.  Maybe I'll return to Alice Walker.  I've enjoyed rereading some of her essays this morning. 

And of course, both Alice Walker and The Hours reminds me of my own work that I need to get done as an artist.  I want to believe that there will be plenty of time, but this year has shown me that there may not be.

*"Writing The Color Purple" in In Search of Our Mothers' Gardens

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Of Atomic Bombs and Other Apocalypses

Today is an important nuclear anniversary.  On this day in 1945, scientists exploded the first nuclear bomb at the Trinity test site in New Mexico.

Robert Oppenheimer named the site, and when asked if he had named it as a name common to rivers and mountains in the west, he replied, "I did suggest it, but not on that ground... Why I chose the name is not clear, but I know what thoughts were in my mind. There is a poem of John Donne, written just before his death, which I know and love. From it a quotation: 'As West and East / In all flatt Maps—and I am one—are one, / So death doth touch the Resurrection.' That still does not make a Trinity, but in another, better known devotional poem Donne opens, 'Batter my heart, three person'd God;—.'"

I love a scientist who loves John Donne.  Metaphysical poetry and atomic weapons:  they do seem to go together in intriguing ways.
I hadn't remembered until doing some Internet wanderings that the explosion was scheduled for this date because Truman had an important meeting with Allied leaders in Potsdam on July 17.  Bomb as savior?

Oh, so many poetry possibilities!  There's the desert aspect, the prophets that so often emerge from wilderness areas.  There's the fact that this part of the country has become a detonation point for various immigration fights through the last four decades.

Those of you who have been reading this blog and/or my poems for awhile now will be saying, "Haven't you already explored this poetic terrain?"

Indeed, I have.  Yet I think there may be more to do.

It's also the birthday of Tony Kushner.  I remember long ago, in 1994, my friend who dreamed of writing plays told me about Angels in America, which she had just read.  It happened to be available from the Quality Paperback Book Club, so I ordered it.

I consumed it in one sitting.  It has haunted me ever since.

I watched both Angels in America and Perestroika when they came to the Kennedy Center during the mid-90's.  Wow.  Sometimes I forget the power of live theatre.  The HBO version came out in the early years of this century, and it, too was powerful, but when I'm watching something on a screen, I assume that part of the power comes from high-tech sorcery.  With live theatre, I give all the credit to the humans on the stage.

I have spent the years since wondering about the idea of writing that tackles the big issues of an age.  I've thought of August Wilson writing a play that represents the life of African-Americans during the twentieth century, one play for each decade.  And he pulled it off!

Some days, I think I dream too small.

It's oddly comforting to think about Angels in America, a play written about a dark time in American history.  I remember the early days of the AIDS crisis, when we weren't quite sure of the cause and how to prevent it and even as we discovered more about it, the thought that haunted us was that maybe there were additional transmission routes that we hadn't found yet.  The disease seemed more ravaging in those days, as people went from healthy to corpse in six months or less.  And then, as now, the government seemed helpless--or worse--in the face of the devastation.

And yet, here we are, into a generation or two saved by protease inhibitors.  There's recent talk of a pill that prevents transmission.  Darkness can be split apart by light.

I have hopes that ten or twenty years from now, we'll look back and say, "We were at a turning point, but we didn't see it then.  The world was about to emerge into a better place, but boy did it look bleak then."

And what writers/works will we see as the documenters of that dark time?  As a writer, is it better to document the dark time or to dream of the brighter future?

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Birthdays for Grown Ups

Several people were surprised to find me working on my birthday yesterday.  It was the first day of a new quarter, but even if it hadn't been, I'd have likely still come to work.  Clearly I'm not as invested in the actual date of my birth as some people are in theirs.

I wonder if it has to do with having a summer birthday.  For children with summer birthdays, there are no cupcakes brought in for the whole class.  Maybe elementary schools don't do that anymore.

My high school used to have lockers, and for a friend's birthday, her friends (did males do this?) would wrap the locker door with paper.  One of my best friends papered my locker for Christmas, since my summer birthday meant I would never experience the joy otherwise.  And yes, it was joy.  It was a complete surprise.  But more than that, it showed me that my friend really knew me, and for a perpetual new kid, that gift was the best one of all.

We did some festive things over the week-end before my birthday, but we'd have likely done those anyway.  I didn't think we'd do much at the end of my work day, but my spouse was full of surprises.

I got home thinking we'd have wine, cheese, and crackers, one of my favorite meals.  We listened to a delightful phone message from my sister, brother-in-law, and nephew.  They sang the happy birthday song, complete with cha-cha-chas, and a strange ending message about chicken and the need to eat more chicken (a reference to a Chick-Fil-A meal?  A commentary on my planned dinner?).  And then, since we were near the back door, my spouse said, "Come outside and see what I've done."

Now he often says this, as he's been relandscaping the yard, so I still had no sense that he'd planned a surprise.  I walked outside to find a bike with a bow!

It's a beautiful bike, a Schwinn.  I am partial to Schwinns, as my best bikes have been Schwinns.  I realize that the company is very different now, but old loves die hard.  My spouse got a basket too, so we could ride to the store, if we only need a few things.

We spent the next 20 minutes adjusting the seat and riding up and down the street in front of our house.  Did I wear a helmet?  No.  It felt like a throwback to childhood, my childhood, before children wore seatbelts, sunscreen, or helmets--what a treat! 

Let me note that if we'd had any traffic, I would have put a helmet on my hide--and yes, I know that I could fall off the bike and hurt my head even with nary a car in sight.

Happily, that didn't happen.  We locked up the bike and headed inside to enjoy my birthday meal of cheese, crackers, carrots, spinach dip, and wine.  It was a very good meal, to end a very good day.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Happy Bastille Day! Happy Birthday!

Today is my birthday. I was born on an Air Force base in France, where July 14 is Bastille Day. My mom always told me that when I was born they had parades and fireworks and people took the day off to have a picnic; it was years before I realized that these celebrations had nothing to do with me. I've always found it thrilling to be born on Bastille Day, and later, as I discovered the influence of the French Revolution on some of my favorite British authors, I've been even more happy to have been born on Bastille Day. Even my knowledge of how the French Revolution turned out (boo Napoleon!) doesn't dull my appreciation of the event. I see it as one of the important world events that paved the way for the world of freedoms that so many of us in the first world enjoy.

So, you're not ready to stop celebrating the human drive for freedom from tyranny, you're in luck!  Bastille Day is the French Fourth of July, and you could make a strong case that both revolutions should be celebrated in tandem.  The French began their revolution in the decade after the American colonies broke away, and for the next century, maybe 2, abusive leaders worried about the example set by these revolutions, how these revolutions showed that ordinary citizens could change the world.

It's also the birthday of former president Gerald Ford, which impressed my elementary school classmates (sharing a birthday with the president!) more than it impresses anyone now. Now I'm most happy about sharing my birthday with so many great artists. Woody Guthrie was born on this day, as was Irving Stone. It's also the birthday of Isaac Bashevis Singer--not bad to share one's birthday in such company!

I'm most happy about sharing a birthday with Woody Guthrie.  I find Guthrie fascinating as an artist. Here's a singer-songwriter who doesn't know music theory, who left behind a treasure trove of lyrics but no music written on musical staffs or chords--because he didn't know how to do it. For many of the songs that he wrote, he simply used melodies that already existed.

I think of Woody Guthrie as one of those artists who only needed 3 chords and the truth--but in fact, he said that anyone who used more than two chords is showing off. In my later years, I've wondered if he developed this mantra because he couldn't handle more than 2 chords.

I love this vision I have of Guthrie as an artist who didn't let his lack of knowledge hold him back. I love how he turned the deficits that might have held a lesser artist back into strengths. I love that he's created a whole body of work, but his most famous song ("This Land Is Your Land") is still sung by schoolchildren everywhere, and how subversive is that?

If I could create a body of poems that bring comfort and hope to activists, as well as one or two poems that everyone learns as schoolchildren, well I'd be happy with that artistic life. If I could inspire future generations the way that Guthrie did, how marvelous that would be. I could make the argument that artists like Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen and the members of U2 would be different artists today, had there been no Woody Guthrie (better artists? worse? that's a subject for a different post).

Here's a Woody Guthrie quote to help you celebrate Bastille Day and the spirit of freedom, wherever it blooms. Those of you who listened to and loved The Alarm may remember Mike Peters quoting it during concerts (want to listen? see if you can find a copy of Electric Folklore Live and enjoy that soaring music one more time). Here's the Guthrie quote, which makes quite a good vision statement, for those of you in need of one:

"I hate a song that makes you think that you are not any good. I hate a song that makes you think that you are just born to lose. Bound to lose. No good to nobody. No good for nothing. Because you are too old or too young or too fat or too slim too ugly or too this or too that. Songs that run you down or poke fun at you on account of your bad luck or hard traveling.

I am out to fight those songs to my very last breath of air and my last drop of blood. I am out to sing songs that will prove to you that this is your world and that if it has hit you pretty hard and knocked you for a dozen loops, no matter what color, what size you are, how you are built.

I am out to sing the songs that make you take pride in yourself and in your work."

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Summer's Midway Point

For many of us in the northern hemisphere, we're more than half-way through summer.  Is it a time for renewed work or should we take a well-deserved break? 

It's both a good time to go to the library more often and to leave it:

We could use the time to plant the creative seeds that could burst into bloom in a later season.


We could exercise more, now that we have more light.

Or we could relax by the side of a lazy river.

Maybe it's time to paddle to a new place:

 How shall we spend what remains of this summer?  Which way does the wind blow? 

What will renew us?

Saturday, July 12, 2014

The Elegance of a Snake Bite Kit

I am not feeling quite as peppy as I sometimes do on a Saturday morning.  But it's for a good reason.  Yesterday, I stayed up later than I usually do on a Friday night.  We met a group of friends out in the western part of the county to celebrate one friend's midway point in her effort to get through the training program that should lead to her dream job.

We ate at the Cheesecake Factory, so I ate far more food than I usually do for my evening meal, and later in the evening too.  I have become prematurely old in my eating habits.  I'm that woman who votes that we go for the early bird special.  I like to save the money, and I like to be done with my digesting before I attempt sleep.

But every so often, I try to remember that I am a grown up, which doesn't mean that I have to be a little old lady.  I take pride in those nights that I stay up past 10 p.m.:  past 8:30 p.m. if we're being honest.  When my sister and I had a nightcap near midnight last week, I felt very glamorous.  Of course, we were drinking amaretto, not scotch, so perhaps not quite as sophisticated as I like to pretend.

I did a bit of work on the memoir this morning.  I was not at my most brilliant, but revision doesn't require brilliance so much as persistence.  I'll be brilliant some other morning.

I tried to write a poem.  I've had some lines knocking around my head, lines about being a woman of sensible shoes.  I've also been thinking about the fact that I have a small bowl by my bed that contains a snake bite kit and my Girl Scout knife.

Can you see the rust on the blades?  You can't tell how dull they are, but this knife will certainly not do much in terms of whittling, food prep, or self protection.  Still, it's a small memento of the girl I was, the young woman who led a group of girls across 25 miles of the Appalachian Trail with everything we needed, right there on our backs.

Happily, we did not need my snake bite kit, although I always carried it.  I love the elegance of a snake bite kit.  Everything you need is right there, self-contained in a rubber capsule that you can keep in your pocket:

The rubber capsule sucks the venom out.  Elegance!  Efficiency!

The elegance of a snake bite kit--that should be a metaphor for something.  Or maybe just an intriguing title.  I would buy a book with that title.

A year ago, we donated a lot of our backpacking equipment to our local scouts.  After moving here in 1998, and never using our equipment since, we decided it was time to be realistic about what we were likely to do in the future.  And thus, off it went:

We were downsizing because we were moving to a smaller house without all the storage space.  In fact, a year ago we'd have been doing the final signing of the paperwork today.  It took almost 2 hours to get all the documents signed.

As we sat there, I thought about all those courtroom TV shows, and I thought, I bet most real life lawyers do more of this kind of paperwork than they do in court.  I thought about the fees we'd be paying and wondered how many house closings our lawyer did in a week.  I thought about his costs:  an office and one worker.  He could clear a lot of money, but what a mind numbing way to do it.

Of course, the control that the lawyer has over his work and time might make the mind numbing aspect worthwhile.  I doubt that my coming work week will be mind numbingly dull.  It will be our first week all of us together in one building.  We shall see how it goes.

Friday, July 11, 2014

"Concentric Circles of Intimacy": Friendship Bonds, Family Bonds

One morning at breakfast, my sister and I talked about what we'd do if our spouses died; namely, would we stay put or would we move?

We both thought we would move.  But then I thought about the friends I have in the area, and how far-flung my friend and family network has become.  It's not like I could move back to one place and have everyone nearby.

Sometimes I feel like I don't have friends, but what I'm really feeling is the lack of time for the friends that I do have.  Being with my grad school friends last month made me remember how much time we used to have to be together.  We didn't have money, but we had time.

And the death of my old friend and department chair (see this post) has made me remember our old quilt group.  We used to meet once a month to do our quilting, and occasionally, we'd do something special like a quilt show.  Now we're lucky if we can get together once a quarter.

I'm hoping that her death will remind us that life is short, and we should try harder to see each other more often.

It's also good to remember the other networks I have:  the people I see every day at the gym, the people at work who are more than colleagues but not close friends, my church.  Would I leave them behind?

I've thought of the curious way that my definition of friend might change.  I think of my friends at the gym.  We've shared a lot, from medical crises (including the death of a child) to weight loss successes to more daily ups and downs.  I don't know everyone's back story, but I've been going there for 5 years, so there's a connection that grows deeper.  Aren't they friends?

I still have this idea of friendship left over from childhood and adolescence.  A friend inspires a sort of passion.  You trade every secret.  You rely on them in good times and bad.  You know that you can count on them, no matter what.  They pass every test with flying colors.

My adolescent self expected that a true friend will have no faults; I confess to a lack of forgiveness coupled with high expectations that must have made me a difficult friend.

Now I try to approach my friends the same way I do my spouse.  I know that a long-term friendship will have joys and disappointments and will require care and forgiveness and apologies.

I thought of my ideas of friendship and aging again, when a few weeks ago, I came across this review in The New York Times of New Life, No Instructions by Gail Caldwell.  This quote in the review spoke to me:  "And so it is this — her status as a never-­married woman in her seventh decade, a growing demographic we still know so little about — that makes the book not only a pleasure to read, brimming with insights and wisdom, but valuable as well. Her crisis forces the discovery that the 'concentric circles of intimacy' she had been living within are actually 'a force field of connection,' in which those so-called lesser bonds — 'neighbors and dog people and rowers and writers and A.A. people and women from the gym' — prove as durable as family. That she’s made her home in the villagelike city of Cambridge, Mass., where she’s on a first-name basis with half the people on her block, has something to do with it. So does solitude itself, which 'makes you stretch your heart — the usual buffers of spouse and children are missing, so you reach toward the next circle of intimacy.'”

Concentric circles of intimacy:  I love that term.  And I love the idea that these circles can be as durable as family.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Divining the Future

--I am surrounded both physically and virtually by people who are having more successful artistic times than I'm having.  They're publishing books.  I'm not.

--I'm not jealous, but I am wishing it was my turn.  So, it's time to get back to my creative work.  It's time to send the larger projects out into the world.  I have decided that for the rest of the year, on Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays, and Sundays, I'll work on my memoir project first thing, before I blog, before I wander through the temptations of the Internet, before I respond to e-mails.  This morning was my start date.

--Success!  Today I returned to my memoir.  I took the advice of Julia Cameron (of The Artist's Way fame) and set my jumps low--meaning I took on an easy task.  I needed an early success, something I knew I could do.  And thus, I transformed one blog post into an essay--much easier than the blog posts which need to be combined into one essay without being repetitive.

--My future feels uncertain, so I need to return to fierce visioning of what I want. 

--I ordered the Poet Tarot deck from Two Sylvias Press (purchase here; go here for a great interview about the creation of this amazing deck of cards).  It arrived months ago, but I've only recently had the chance to look at it.  The other night, working only with the major arcana, I pulled the E. E. Cummings card, which encourages letting go of anxiety and taking more risk.

--This question from the Poetry Tarot Guidebook for the Cummings card spoke to me:  "Is there a project I've been afraid to undertake--why?  Who or what inspires me to put aside my fear and set goals for myself toward the realization of this project?"

--I think I might be more afraid of finishing this memoir and not being able to find a publisher than I am afraid of not finishing it.  Time to push through that fear.

--Still looking for fun ways to foretell the future, this morning I turned to the Bibliomancy Oracle.  I asked for insight about the future.  Here's what the site returned:

"You can forgive the one
who makes your life amazing."
from “Amazing” by James Gendron

That insight seems oddly piercing too, in all sorts of contexts.

--Let me stress that I don't really believe in these kinds of oracles.  But I do believe in their value in provoking thought that can lead to insights I might not otherwise have had.  I also like the potential of the visual arts to do this--a reason why I love collaging, but my collages tend towards the vision board type of collection, rather than true works of art.

--Here's an altered playing card I made recently:

And another:

Do they speak to you?

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Insights from a Day of Many Meetings

Yesterday was a day of many meetings.  The take-away messages for me are perhaps not what was intended by the speakers--they may have thought different messages would be more important.  Ah well--that is the risk with public speaking.

Our interim president said that she learned at an early age not to spend much time and mental energy worrying about things she had no control over.  I thought about my own life.  I'd be very happy to let go of the things I cannot control.  I wish I could figure out earlier in the process that I have no control.

Of course, the older I get, the more I realize that most things are outside of my control.  But still, I suspect that it takes me more time to get to that conclusion than most people.

Our interim president also talked about the kinds of students who are most successful.  They're the ones who understand what will distract them on their way towards success.  They're the ones who have figured out what to do with the distractions.

I immediately thought about my writing life.  I used to feel successful, but I've been feeling a bit off track lately.  What are my distractions?

Well, part of that is work.  I was more successful in my writing life when I had more time to devote to it.  Of course, then I had less money.

And part of it is the distractions that so many of us face:  the Internet, with all its attractions.  It's startling how much time I can waste by noodling around on Facebook, reading blogs, rambling around websites.

I know what I should do.  At least several days a week, I should work on my writing before I do any Internet wandering. 

And starting tomorrow, that is my plan.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Sailing at Night

For over a decade now, we've enjoyed a summer sailing trip; my sister and brother-in-law have a boat, and they generously include us in their boating plans.  Every year, we make those plans realizing that weather could upend it all.  But so far, the worst weather we've endured is bright, sunny, hot, windless days--but we could still take a motoring boat trip across the Chesapeake Bay, so it wasn't bad at all.

But this year was different.

At first, our quick sailing trip seemed doomed before we even left South Florida.  A hurricane lingered off the coast, shadowing our trip north.  The Ft. Lauderdale airport closed down for awhile on Thursday because of a fierce feeder band from the storm, and then when our airport reopened, the Baltimore airport was closed.  We waited, and hurrah!  The Baltimore airport reopened, and we could be on our way.  AND--we got seats in the exit row, so lots of lovely leg room (no such luck on our way back).  AND--the guy sharing our row gave us two free drink coupons.

We had planned to head out for an anchorage on Friday, but it was not to be.  Gale warnings were posted for the Chesapeake Bay, so we stayed in the marina and enjoyed the treats there:  a pool, a cook-out, a trip to the neighboring marina for ice cream.  Simple joys, and a great way to celebrate the 4th.

On Saturday, we headed out for one of my favorite anchorages, the first place we ever anchored out, at the sheltered place where the Rhode river empties into the Bay.  It's got an island, which we dubbed Treasure Island during my nephew's pirate phase.  There's a YMCA camp, so we've often seen campers learning to sail by day, enjoying their campfires at night.

We had a great afternoon.  I got to try paddleboarding.  At first I sat on the board and paddled madly as the current swept me away from the boat.  It was more like kayaking, but what a great upper body workout.  Later, I wanted to try standing; I managed to stand for about 2 minutes--what a great lower body workout, even for 2 minutes.

But all was not well with the boat.  My sister had noticed that the fridge wasn't keeping up with us.  Late in the afternoon, my brother-in-law discovered that the batteries were very close to dead.

You might say, "So what--you're on a sailboat, right?"  Well, yes, but it's surprising how much battery power a sailboat needs--not the least, to park the boat back at the marina.  We made the decision to return to the marina, while we still had the power to do it.  Just before 9 p.m., we pulled up the anchor and headed back as the sun finished setting behind us.

And thus, our first night sail, or to be more honest, a night motor back.  Technically, we had a brief night motor a few years ago when we returned from a fireworks display; it was a horrible experience, full of drunken boaters and much traffic.

Saturday night was different.  During our 4 hour return trip, we saw about 6 boats that were moving.   It was still nerve-wracking, since it's so hard to be sure of what you're seeing at night.  But it was also magnificent. 

We saw fireworks displays from many directions.  We saw more stars than we ever see.  We saw the moonlight on the water, which I've tried to think about describing, but everything I come up with sounds like a cliché.  It was windy and chilly and completely different from anything we'd done together on a sailboat before.

So, though it wasn't the trip we expected, it was a wonderful experience.

During that night trip, I thought often of that quote by Doctorow that talks about writing a novel being like driving at night in the fog and only being able to see ahead a short distance.  We didn't even have headlights, but we had crew members (my spouse and sister) willing to stand in the bow and sweep the way ahead with flashlights.  I thought about how much of life is like that sail:  we don't know where we're going and it's maybe not what we expected, but if we're open to the process, we can have an amazing time.

Our nephew is still thrilled to see us, and that feeling alone is worth the trip.  I know that he isn't likely to always feel this way. 

And more important, this year has taught me (yet again) that we may not have as much time left as we think we do.  While I can be with my loved ones, I want to make the effort to do it.

That night sail will be where my brain returns any time I need to conjure up a calm mindset.  That experience of being on a boat reminds me that there are many ways to live a life--an important reminder in these days of school restructurings.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Return to Regular Life

I have been away on a short sailing trip, complete with our first night trip.  What fun!

Of course, flying is the least fun part of the trip, but it could have been worse.  Still, I didn't get to bed until after 1 a.m., so the details of my short summer vacation trip will have to wait.  Now it's time to get to work.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

More Thoughts About Freedom

For many of us, Independence Day is a day of cook-outs and fireworks.  If we don't live in a place that has preserved colonial history, or if we live further west, Independence Day may seem a distant holiday.  But this holiday week-end gives us a good reason to remember the high stakes that those signers of the Declaration of Independence faced.  It's good to remember how much they valued the idea of freedom, even if they didn't extend those freedoms to all.

It's a good day to think about what liberties we hold most valuable.  Those signers pledged their lives, their fortune, and their sacred honor--what would you pledge?

You might think that the freedom to practice my spiritual faith is most important to me, and I do value that.  But having access to information might be even more important to me.  If I had to choose my favorite right from the Bill of Rights, it might be freedom of the Press.

I like the ability to read just about anything that comes my way.  But maybe the ability to create is even more precious to me.  Unlike Chinese artists, I don't have to worry about being arrested and sent to jail.

Creativity on Display at the Create in Me Retreat

I like the freedom of movement we have in this country--granted that's not a freedom that we find enshrined in our founding documents.  But the other freedoms lead to that freedom of movement--both physical movement and the movement of our minds.

I like being able to follow the path, wherever it leads. 

I want to leave some light as I go along to lead a way to others.


Friday, July 4, 2014

The Declaration of Independence as a Piece of Writing

I always love NPR's reading of the Declaration of Independence, the whole thing. It's wonderful to hear the various NPR voices read this document. I've been listening long enough that I've been through several changes of beloved voices, as people die and new people arrive. Go here to hear the whole thing.

When I taught more English Composition, I often used the Declaration of Independence as one of our readings. Most students had never read it, and I was surprised how much more useful it is as a model of rhetoric than many of the essays in a standard English Comp reader.

And it provides lots of interesting writing possibilities: write your own Declaration of Independence. Choose a chunk of the text and analyze Jefferson's logic. Talk about how the document holds up some 200+ years after it was written. I always got great essays. Great essays and a chance for teaching a Civics lesson--what could be better in a reading and writing assignment?

I've always been a Declaration of Independence and Bill of Rights geek. I love, love, love these documents. The NPR reading always reduces me to tears by the end of the reading.

Here's a great writing prompt (and a great thing to ponder on Independence Day): for what would you be willing to pledge your life, your fortune, and your sacred honor?