Friday, July 31, 2015

Friday Tiredness

This morning, I awake with a sense of exhaustion.  Last night was oddly noisy for my neighborhood:  the pops of firecrackers periodically, along with some voices here and there.  My neighbors left a light on all night--it's right across from my bedroom, which also disrupted my sleep.

And then there was yesterday--that, too, left me exhausted.

I was set to have a good day.  I went to observe a faculty member.  He had a wonderful class, despite a fire drill.

I got an idea for a poem, which I started to write while I was observing.  I wrote the blog post yesterday about the Navy Hymn and the missing boys.  I wrote a poem that intersperses my lines with lines from the hymn. 

I plan to send it to Rattle, for their weekly competition, Poets Respond (more details here, if you scroll down):  "Every Sunday we publish one poem online that has been written about a current event that took place the previous week. This is an effort to show how poets react and interact to the world in real time, and to enter into the broader public discourse."

But the afternoon unravelled quickly.  I don't want to blog too much about it, and happily, I don't have to deal with that kind of afternoon often.  It involved a student who needed to switch sections.  I saw that we had lots of options to help the student--others did not agree.  By the end, we had a solution, but it required much more energy than it would have, had it been handled differently.

I'm trying to reflect on how lucky I am--I could have the kind of workplace where people routinely said ugly things to me, and I'd come home feeling blicky all the time. 

Instead I'm surrounded by people who are doing amazing things and who are willing to work to help students.  Most of my colleagues assume the best of the rest of us.  It could be otherwise.

So, let me focus on the good parts of the day.  Let me not focus on colleagues who are leaving--yesterday was a day of farewell celebrations and surprise goodbyes.  Let me think about the colleagues who are still here, the ones who appreciate poetry and teaching and innovative approaches and all that we do. 

Let me appreciate the people who appreciate me.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

For Those in Peril on the Sea

I've had the Navy hymn on my brain during the past few days.  On Friday, two teenage boys from South Florida headed out to fish.  They have yet to return home.  Lots of people have been doing lots of searching, but the field is vast. 

Their boat has been found much further north, but no one knows how many life jackets were on board.  Could the boys still be alive?

I hold out hope.  I think of the South Florida grandmother, Tillie Tooter, who went to pick her relative up from the airport and both she and her car vanished for days.  She was forced off the road and over the edge of I 595, where her car landed on the tops of trees below.  She caught dew in her socks and in her steering wheel cover while trapped in the car in the sweltering heat.

I know that the boys face larger odds, as the ocean is even more harsh.  I hope they have water.

There's a Yeti cooler that's missing.  A trainer at my gym says it's a high-end cooler--indestructible and unsinkable.  Maybe they're clinging to it.  Maybe there was water inside.  Maybe a sandwich or two.  But they can go without food.  I don't keep my sunscreen in a cooler, but I hope they have sunscreen.

My short story class has been reading Stephen Crane's "The Open Boat."  That naturalistic depiction of the ocean seems particularly timely right now.

Many of my colleagues at work are aghast that two fourteen year old boys would be allowed to go out fishing all alone.  Even with what has happened, I still approve.  I suspect that those boys are fairly well-equipped to handle what's happened to them, since they've been on boats since they were very young.

Ordinarily the ocean seems a safer place than land.  Then an incident like this reminds us of the power of the sea.

I have no boat and no plane.  I can't join the search in any meaningful way.  And so I fall back on what residents of the shore have always done:  I hope and pray and sing the old songs to calm the anxiety.

Here's a beautiful rendition of the first verse of the Navy hymn, if you, too, could use some calm.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Saint Martha's Lessons for Those of Us Trying to Carve Out a Creative Life

Today is the feast day of Saint Martha, one of the few named women of the Gospels.  You may remember her from the story in Luke, where she hustles and bustles with household chores and grows ever more exasperated with her sister Mary, who isn't helping. 

For a theological approach, see this post on my theology blog.  But here, I want to think about Martha and her lessons for those of us who are trying to carve out a creative life.

At first glance, it's counterintuitive.  Martha is not living a particularly creative life.  How can she?  She's much too busy trying to manage and micromanage.  And therein lies the lesson.

Martha scurries around so much that she can't be present for Jesus. How often are our current lives similar? We often get so consumed by the chores of our daily life that we neglect to make time for what's really important.

Keep in mind that even though the story revolves around women, men are not exempt from this paradigm. All humans must wrestle with the question of how to balance the chores that are necessary to sustain life with the creative nourishment that we need so desperately. Unfortunately, often the chores win.

I can hear some of us shrieking by now: "Yes, but those chores must be done!" Really? Are you sure? What would happen if you didn't vacuum this week? What would happen if you wore your clothes an extra time or two before laundering them? What would happen if you surrendered to the dust?

Jesus tells Martha that she worries about many things, and the implication is that all of the issues that cause her anxiety aren’t really important. It's a story many of us, with our increasingly hectic lives, need to hear again--maybe every day.

We need to be reminded to stay alert. Busyness is the drug that many of us use to dull our senses. For some of us, charging through our to-do lists is a way of quelling the anxiety. But in our busyness, we forget what's really important. We forget to take time to work on the creative aspects of our lives that matter most to us.

Give up one chore this week and use that time to return to your creative practice.

There's one other story about Martha that gives valuable instruction for those of us struggling to find our creative lives.  We also see Martha at the story of Lazarus, her brother, who has been dead in the grave for several days when Jesus comes.  She is convinced that her brother would still be alive if Jesus had gotten there in time.  And she's worried about the smell when Jesus orders the grave opened.  Here she is, about to witness a miracle, and she's worried about the social niceties.  She wants a miracle, but she wants it on her terms.

I see the same thing in many a creative life.  I've had chapbooks chosen for publication, but I yearn for a book with a spine.  When I get the book with a spine, I expect to yearn for something else yet again.  We live in a time where distribution of words is miraculously easy--and yet I often wish that someone else would do the hard work.

I've seen friends who finally get the book deal, and then they complain over items that seem minor to me, issues of copyediting which baffle me as I watch the battles from the sidelines.  I see so many instances of creative types trying to micromanage the miracles coming their way.

I have hopes that our creative lives will follow the model of Martha.  Even though she seems slow to understand the lessons of Jesus, he doesn't get exasperated and send her away.  He continues to try to shape her, gently and insistently.  He tells her that she worries about many things, but that her sister sets a good example.

The sister, Mary, is fully present.  My hope for us all is that we, too, can be fully present to our creative life, to that which needs us to bring it into the world.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Poetry Tuesday: "The Fifth Demon"

I spent some time last week thinking about Mary Magdalene as her feast day came and went.  It's not the first time.  In this post, I come back to these thoughts:  "I think of Mary Magdalene and the ways her life was changed by her discipleship.  I wonder if she ever missed those demons or if she spent every day in deep awareness of how much worse her life could be and had been.  I wonder what happened to her once her brief time with Jesus was over."

I've played with these ideas before.  I've written several versions of a poem that imagines the demons of Mary Magdalene.  Here's the latest one:

The Fifth Demon

You moderns read about my demon
possession, and you think of The Exorcist:
gravel voices out of the mouths of schoolgirls,
mouths that spew gobs of green goo.

I tell you, it wasn’t like that. Each demon
had a unique personality, a tone
that only I could recognize. In the night,
the hiss of their suggestions soothed
me into sleep. By day, their constant
criticisms and complaints proved motivation.

And then I met Jesus. His voice
filled my head and crowded out the demons.
His stories left me slightly dizzy,
like I had spent weeks sleeping
on a sailing ship and returned to land.

I miss the fifth demon most.
I lost them, and then I lost
him, and now I have only the tomb
of my empty mind.

Monday, July 27, 2015

My Grandfather's Writing Process

My grandfather was a Lutheran minister, of the LCA variety (one of the branches of Lutheranism that merged into the ELCA).  He went to seminary during the Great Depression.  My grandmother kept the letter that the seminary had sent, the letter that encouraged him to stay on the farm because at least he would have food.

He ignored that advice, went to seminary, and spent the rest of his life as a Lutheran pastor in small towns in the U.S. South.  He saw a lot of changes and stayed faithful, as he understood that word.

Before he went to seminary, he was an English major at the University of South Carolina.  I still have a few of his poems.  I will always wonder how his poet's brain influenced his preacher's brain.

He died in 1984, when I had just turned 19, so I didn't have a chance to get to know him as an adult.  I will have to be left with a pieces of paper and the memories of others.

Last week, my mom and dad who were visiting, gave me an envelope with 2 of his sermons.  My mom says that he always started by taking a sheet of blank paper and folding it in half.  His sermons filled both sides of that paper.  My mom says that sometimes he'd make an outline and preach from the outline.

The pages that I now have were typed, and I thought about how long it's been since I held typed pages in my hands--pages typed on those old typewriters that actually pierced the page at various places--or did my grandfather type more aggressively than most?

I wonder if he wrote a rough draft by hand before typing?

The theology in the pages seems solid.  He's trying to teach his flock how to live a faithful life, but it's not the light, fluffy, God will reward you kind of preaching.  I can imagine listening to his sermons week after week and learning something or taking a nugget with me to sustain me through the week.

I could read these pages and not realize that my grandfather was a poet.  They aren't filled with symbolism or strange comparisons that a metaphysical poet would make.  They were written before some of the important archaeological finds of the 20th century, but even if they had been written in 1970, I imagine that my grandfather would have ignored the historical developments that give us a different look at Jesus.

Once that might have been a drawback for me, but these days, I admire what my grandfather was able to do:  to take some fairly advanced theology and bring it down to matter to the lives that people are actually living.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Artist Lives as Teamwork

One of the benefits of a busy schedule is that I rarely waste time on stupid movies.  Of course, I rarely find time to watch good movies either.

I have finally seen the movie Boyhood.  What an intriguing film!

I knew that I wanted to see it, as I heard interviews, which I've listened to again this morning (with the writer/director here, with the 2 lead actors here).  Those interviews are full of wisdom: about making a movie over 12 years, about living a life that's authentic, about the cycle of fame and how we're not always in the phase of life where anyone cares about what we say or do.

The movie, too, was full of wisdom, but the adult characters seem to take a long time to learn it.  Is it too late?

It's never too late, is it?

The interviews also have interesting insight into being an artist, and the small steps one takes towards that destination.  These artists have done a variety of interesting work, and it's interesting to hear them reflect back, especially since they are my age, give or take 5 years.  Clearly, they aren't yet done with their artistic lives, but they've reached a point where they have some perspective.

Listening to these interviews gave me a fierce yearning for more teamwork in my artistic life.  And yet, I do know that there are plenty of stories, perhaps all untold, of how teamwork wrecked an artistic life.  I think of writing friends who took years to get over bad MFA workshops, or perhaps they never did.

Let me be happy for what I have:  friendships with people who write and are creative.  And the internet, which gives me an opportunity I likely wouldn't have had to communicate with other artists and to create something I wouldn't have had without that.

One of my most recent poems is here on the Via Negativa site.  I'd been inspired by these 3 poems (here, here, and here), and on Tuesday, the poem just spilled out of me.  I sent it off to Dave Bonta, the curator of the site, and he posted it.

That poem is informed, too, by this older post of Dave's.  I'd never heard of coracles before this post, and I find them drifting into my writing in ways both surprising and not unexpected.

I find myself thinking of other communities of writers:  the Lake District that nourished the Wordsworths and Coleridge and a host of others and the Bloomsbury group and the pre-Raphs.  If I was a grad student, it would be fun to see what similarities exist between our online communities and those.

But I am not--I've spent the morning grading rough drafts of research essays with the promise of writing and time with my quilting group to keep me motivated.  I am done with those rough drafts.  There's more grading of other classes that could be done, but I must make a cranberry orange bread and tidy the house.

It promises to be a creative day with like-minded creative--my favorite kind of day!

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Late Summer Markers

I know that by the calendar, we're only at midsummer--barely at midsummer, since the summer solstice was a month ago, and we've got two months until the autumnal equinox. 

But in terms of weather, it feels like late summer:  it's been hot for months, with no end in sight.  Our yards are getting crunchy, in this year of rainy season drought.

In terms of the school year, it's late summer:  one batch of my online students is weeks away from finishing.  Our public school teachers will report for work in a few weeks, with students not far behind them.  We only have a few weeks of summer left, according to the school year calendar.

On my way from work to week-end, I stopped at Total Wine.  The pumpkin beers are on the shelf.  If I went to the big box stores, I suspect I would be seeing displays of Halloween candy--Halloween is only 100 days away after all.

We went to Penn Dutch, a store that specializes in a variety of meats at cheap prices, and we stocked up the freezer as if our hurricane season is over.  If a hurricane comes in the next few weeks, we'll have a heck of a cook-out! 

Last night I made some barley with feta cheese to go with our lamb chops.  I thought back to when I had bought the barley, back near Memorial Day, when I had so many summer plans, like eating more lentils and barley and eating more melon.

There's still time to eat more melon, but this summer, like other summers, I find the act of cutting up the melons into chunks to make it easy to take to work--I find this chore overwhelming at times.

After dinner, we planted radishes.  In our strange South Florida growing season, it will soon be time to plant tomatoes, while the rest of the country plants their winter squashes and cabbages.

This morning, I have tried to return to good writing practices.  I scratched at my poetry notebook.  I have some ideas, but nothing came together.  I was taking some ideas from a past poem about the fibers of our existence and thinking about various fibers:  thread, spider webs, quilts, those rainbow rubber bands that kids use to weave long bands together.

I put the notebook aside with that familiar frustration of returning to metaphors that I worry I've already used to extinction, their usefulness gone because I overuse them.  This weariness, too, is a mark of late summer.  I'm ready for a cool breeze to reanimate my writing.  It may be many weeks away, and so, I trudge ahead.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Friday Fragments

It's been a week of moments both surreal and serene.  Let me record some of them:

--Last night as I was driving home at dusk, which is late on these summer days, I saw a nun walking down my street.  There's a motherhouse (right term?) 7 or 8 blocks away, but they're not usually walking down my block.  I parked the car in my driveway and walked towards her.  We had a charming encounter.  For more, see this blog post on my theology blog. 

--A week ago,  I heard a colleague address the baby in a different colleague's womb.  I've been making a quilt for the wrong gender baby!  Or I should say, I've been making a quilt for a girl, and she's having a boy.  The fabric for the back is much too girly for a boy (pastel butterflies and a glittery sheen).  Happily, I have a different quilt top almost done.  After a quick trip to the fabric store, I now have fabric that's much better for a boy.

--I've been loving the pictures of Pluto and Pluto's moons.  It seems more complex than it once did.  Will we promote it back to planetary status?

--A colleague and I were brainstorming about writing a self-help book, a Who Moved My Cheese?--but without any animals.  We're both tired of animal metaphors being used to explain humans-in-office-captivity behavior.  I suggested:  Who Demoted My Pluto?

--I've heard "Spirit in the Sky" several times.  What a great song!  When I start my mandolin punk band, that will be one of the first songs we will cover.

--I'm also hearing Billy Joel belt out "Piano Man" at every turn.  Why is this song playing so many places?  I used to love it, but now I'm growing weary.

--I am oddly sore this morning.  On Wednesday, we had a different kind of spin class.  We were on the bike for 8 minutes, then we did some light weight work for 8 minutes and then 20-40 push ups or planks.  Clearly, I should do this more often, judging by the soreness.  I'm not working these muscles much.

--It has been a week where I missed more spin classes than I attended.  On Monday, I went to a last breakfast at the beach with Mom and Dad.  On Tuesday, a meeting with Math faculty went long.  Last night, I went out to celebrate the career of a colleague who is retiring.  Next week I'll get back to a more disciplined exercise life.

--Speaking of spin class, it is time to get myself together and out the door.  Hard to believe that it's Friday already--and hard to believe we're almost to August.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Poetry Thursday: "When God Switched Fabrics"

It has been awhile since I posted an illustrated poem--this one (without my images) was published at the wonderfully cool, online journal Escape Into Life.  Since it's an online journal, they can do neat things with images, and my poems are paired with wonderful fabric art.  Go here to see the feature.

Long ago, at a Create in Me retreat, we talked about God the creator and the various Genesis stories and what they mean for our own creative processes.  And this poem emerged shortly thereafter.

When God Switched Fabrics

On the third day, God switched
fabrics. At first, God had followed
respectfully the lessons of the elders:
which fabrics could be used,
which fabrics couldn’t go together,
which decorative objects were suitable.
God stuck to the established patterns:
Flying Geese, Star of Bethlehem, and Log Cabin.

But on the third day, God declared,
“Enough.” God created the universe
with leftover scraps of velvet,
silk, leather, and denim. God stitched
it all tightly together with ribbon and lace.

When God created foliage,
God decided to design new patterns.
Even the elders exclaimed over God’s
grand visions.

When God began the creation of the animals,
God discovered the dimensions offered
by fabric dyes. God played with pigments
and new patterns appeared.

By the time God created humans,
God claimed the title of fabric artist.
God didn’t waste time
in the age-old debate of craft versus art.
God blazed new trails mixing fabric,
paint, clay, and metals to create
new forms yet again.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Wednesday Yearnings

If time and money had been no object, I'd have spent last week at the writing conference, Beyond Walls.  But it was a lot of money for me right now.  An even bigger hurdle was the time:  it was the first week of classes, and that's never a good time to be away from my job.  Since I had already been gone for the first week of last quarter, I thought it wasn't a great idea to ask for leave again.

I'm glad that Rachel Barenblat has been posting about some of her experiences being part of the faculty and being part of the community.  I particularly liked this post, with her slides, about being a blogging rabbi.

I've been to a variety of creativity retreats and conferences, but never one that focuses exclusively on writing and spirituality of all sorts.  I must be on the lookout for this kind of conference again in the future.  I should start saving some money now.

I'd also be interested in being not just a participant but also a leader.  I wonder how those leaders are chosen?

And of course, I would love, love, love to spend all of my work days involved in this kind of work, the intersection of writing and spirituality.  How many of these departments exist in academia?  How can I be more connected with them?

So, let me put these yearnings out there.  Let me once again return to this process of discernment and visioning for a different future.  Let me start to change the trajectory of my little coracle of a life.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

My Next Novel

At some point in the past few weeks, probably last week, I had this idea for a novel.  Now I've written novels before:  written them, revised them, but never published them.  I feel that some of them were good enough to be published.  The last one I finished in 2005, revised through 2006, but never actually sent it to publishers or agents.  I knew I wouldn't have time to promote it properly with the new demands of my job.

I've been writing short stories, most of them which could be linked into one or more collections.  And that's similar to writing a novel, in the way that I, the writer, make discoveries about characters and plot and place, and I have fun making all the connections that would have to be made in book of linked short stories.

But it's not the same as writing a novel, as staying consistent with the narrative arc of just one or two characters--at least the way I wrote my linked story collection was not.

At some point in the past few weeks, I saw a Facebook post from an old college friend.  I thought about 19 year old Kristin, who planned to live in an intentional community committed to social justice.  But what did I do?  I went off to grad school--a different kind of intentional community.

My friend, who also shared my dream, actually went ahead and joined an intentional community.  I had forgotten that detail of her life until her Facebook post.  I can't for the life of me remember how that part of her history ended.  Maybe that will turn out to be a blessing.

I have a vision of a novel with 3 characters, all female, all who have gone to the same, small liberal arts college and respond in different ways.  In my writing, I have transformed my undergraduate school, Newberry College in Newberry, South Carolina, to Crabapple College in Crabapple, South Carolina.

Much the way that Harper Lee captured a particular part of the U.S. South in a particular time, I would want to do that for a small South Carolina college town in the 1980's, as the Cold War was winding down, but we didn't know that yet.

Or maybe, I'd want to be even more ambitious.  At one point, I seemed to be unable to write about any character older than 25.  What would happen if the novel moved back and forth in time?  What if part of the book explored the midlife of these characters?  And by midlife, I mean age 45 or 50. 

I am interested in the many ways we live out the dreams of our adolescent selves, but in ways those younger selves would not recognize.  Could I write a novel that explores that?

I think I could.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Short Week-End Retrospective

My mom posted this picture on Facebook:

This picture of my mom and dad on my spouse's larger motorcycle might give you the wrong idea of the kind of week-end we've had.  We did not ride motorcycles, although we did inspect them.  It's felt like a whirlwind of a week-end, but also restful.

We've done a lot:  food shopping and grilling, eating brunch out and going out for soft-serve ice cream on a Sunday evening (lots of others had the same idea), spending time by and in the pool, reading on a cloudy Saturday, taking walks, and relaxing some more.

Now they are off to Orlando to attend a wedding, and my spouse and I head off to work.  But first, my mom and dad and I will have one last breakfast on the beach--well, the last one for now.

I like having visitors because it makes me enjoy this location in ways that I don't always take the time to do when I'm here alone.  I never eat breakfast at the beach unless my parents are here.  When it's just me, I shrug and say, "Well, I can cook eggs here."

What I forget:  I don't have that view of the ocean from my house.  I have very nice views, but it's not as calming as the sea.

It will be interesting to see if a hearty breakfast by the ocean makes it easier to get through the work day.  I suspect it will.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Celebrate Seneca Falls

If you're still in the mood to celebrate liberty during the month of July, you have another chance today, the anniversary of the Seneca Falls Convention.  A group of women came together in Seneca Falls, New York to talk about ideas that would have seemed ludicrous to the larger population:  that women should be allowed to vote, that women should work for pay that they could keep (not their husbands), that women should own property.
Those of you who are astute observers of history will note that even though the women at that conference called for voting rights, women would not be able to exercise their right to vote until 1920, long after black men were enfranchised. And yes, I am painfully aware that even though we have the right to vote, we may be intimidated enough to stay home or we may go out to vote, only to realize that our votes have never been counted.

What I love about this country is our long arc towards justice. We haven't always gotten it right. It's interesting to read the Declaration of Independence and to realize how many of those signers were wealthy white men. I'm always interested in the risks that those powerful, wealthy white men were willing to take to create the world that they envisioned, a world that was more in line with their values. Think about our current time and tell me how many wealthy, powerful folks are doing the same.

Too few of us live by the Scout motto: "Leave the campsite better than you found it." The Seneca Falls women did.
I've written a piece for the Living Lutheran site which explores the far-reaching implications of this historic meeting.  Go here to read it.

Here are some quotes to whet your appetite:

"I could make the argument that it's historical events like Seneca Falls that set us on the road toward expanded pulpits, although it would be many more years after women started exercising their right to vote (in 1920) before we'd see women in Protestant pulpits. The major exception would be the Pentecostal churches."

"What I find most exciting about the various human rights movements of the past few centuries is how the idea of rights for one group expands to affect other disenfranchised groups."

"Let us celebrate Seneca Falls. Let us celebrate those few brave women who dared to dream of a more inclusive world. Let us offer prayers of gratitude for those women and for human rights workers everywhere."

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Saturday Snippets: Summer Session, Week 1

It feels like a whirlwind of a week.  I do wonder if I start many a Saturday feeling that way about the past week.  Let me take a look back, snapshot style, so that I'll remember in later years:

--The first week of the quarter has gone well for my department.  How do I define well?  No one was kept away or called away by an air traffic controllers' strike or natural disaster or a health crisis.   We didn't have two or more classes booked into one room.  The technology kept working, even if it was slow.  No one got a better job offer and quit week 1.

--Let me hasten to add that I don't begrudge my department members a better job.  I just prefer to avoid the chaos of better jobs arriving when classes are underway.

--It was a week of departures in other parts of the school, all voluntary.  While I am sad to see people go, I am happy to be reminded that we all have options.

--It was a week of several birthdays.  At work, the birthdays made the atmosphere more festive.  We have a colleague who always makes sure we have a cake on birthdays.

--My birthday was Tuesday.  You may know that for my birthday I got both a nuclear arms control treaty with Iran and amazing pictures of Pluto--just the things to get for a girl who already has everything a girl could want.

--I had multiple reminders that although I may feel invisible and inconsequential, I have purpose.  I helped many students and the various colleagues that go with them.  I have family and friends, and although I may not see them as often as I wish I could, we are still connected.

--I ended the week with my parents arriving for a long week-end with us.  I am lucky in that I truly like being with all of my relatives, both on my side and my spouse's side.  I know many people who see a visit with family as a chore to be endured.  I do not.

--I used their impending arrival as a chance to catch up on sorting the paperwork that's been piling up.  I got the guest room organized.  I did some long delayed cleaning (like windowsills and baseboards).  I love being in a clean, uncluttered house, but I don't always take the effort.

--As I cleaned, I also thought about the fact that we moved here 2 years ago, and some of the stuff that we moved over from the old house, I haven't used in the past 2 years.  Perhaps it is time to sort and declutter again.

--We have a smoker that we got from a neighborhood friend who upgraded to a better smoker.  We finally started using it this week.  What an amazing difference that smoking a chicken makes to the taste of chicken--and any dish that uses smoked chicken.  We had a fabulous chicken chili on a rain-threatening Thursday night and the Mexican casserole dish that we make with refried beans and grilled veggies was even better with smoked chicken.

--What will the week-end bring?  Will we smoke a salmon?  Will we shop the end of summer sales?  Will we breakfast at the beach?  Will we decide to relax in the backyard, since we have new furniture?  Stay tuned!

Friday, July 17, 2015

The Sacraments of Sorting

In this post about ways to celebrate the long season of Ordinary Time (the time between Pentecost and Advent, the longest liturgical season of the church year), I came across this quote: 

"Today, choose one everyday action: a chore that grates at you or a task you’ve been putting off. Tomorrow, try to do it as prayer. Slowly, mindfully, sacrificially.

See what happens when you open yourself to a deeper awareness of God’s presence with you. Right now in the ordinary moments of your life."

If we could be successful in following this suggestion, we might attain a more sacramental frame of mind, by which I mean we might see the presence of the Divine in the everyday, seeing ordinary objects/tasks as pointing us to evidence of God's grace.

I have managed a sacramental frame of mind when I do housekeeping chores, like preparing a meal or washing the dishes.  It's a different sacramental frame of mind from the one I often attain when doing yard work.

But when I read this suggestion, I thought about what I've been putting off.  I thought about my e-mail inbox, which is always overflowing.  My AOL mailbox never shuts me off, so I rarely delete e-mails.  My work e-mail system, on the other hand, only lets me get away with this for so long.

How could I approach the e-mail inbox more reverently?  Where do I see evidence of God's grace?

Likewise, at my school, we have just entered a time period of lots of forms and paperwork.  In advance, I know that we will be completing the same form over and over again.  I will be making lots of copies.  We will copy some of the same information across forms that don't always want to speak to each other.

I would like to approach these tasks with a different prayer.  I usually pray for patience and then at some point, my prayers shift to asking for deliverance.  What if I changed my prayers?  I could say a prayer of gratitude for all these great people in my department, all these accomplishments collected on the forms.

It's an experiment worth trying.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

A Poet Dreams

Rachel Barenblat has an intriguing post on Jewish thoughts about what happens while we sleep:  "The Talmud teaches that sleep is 1/60th of death. When we go to sleep, our tradition teaches, we place our souls in God's keeping -- and when we rise and sing the modah ani, we thank God for restoring them to us and for the gift of another day. Sleep means letting go of whatever we've been carrying all day, and letting go of control. When we sleep we have to trust that our hearts will go on beating and that the world will keep on turning."

All morning, I've been haunted by my dreams.  Last night I dreamed I was pregnant.  It was June, and I was due in July, but I wasn't very big.  I was thinking of all the things I should be doing to get ready to leave work:  getting the Fall schedule ready, hiring adjuncts, straightening my office.  I was walking to my car across a campus that isn't mine, and I had to pick my way carefully across a construction site.  The school campus was just a wreck.

The night before I dreamed I was trying to walk safely away from a highway.  I could see the lovely neighborhood with cafes and bookstores where I needed to be, but I was kept from getting there by overpasses and chain link fences and whizzing traffic.

If I was a character in a book dreaming such things, you'd lob criticism at the writer for being so obvious.  I woke up thinking that my subconscious was not being very original.

Am I longing to be pregnant?  No--but I do wish to be incubating something new.  Do I know how to get there?  No.  I have glimmerings, but I can't quite figure out the way from here to there.

And yet, my dreams were hopeful.  In last night's dream, I had just come back from a well-baby pregnancy check up with good news that my yet-to-be-born baby was fine.  In the highway dream, I was able to hop over guard rails to avoid traffic.

Like I said, my dreaming brain may not be very original.  But maybe my dreaming brain worried that if it sent me subtle dreams, I'd miss the meaning.  Maybe my brain decided to be blaringly obvious.

I'm grateful to my dreaming brain.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Motorcycle Class Retrospective with Pictures

Two weeks ago, I was doing this:

Readers of this blog know that I didn't complete my training 2 weeks ago.  This picture may help explain why.  Can you tell how hot and exhausted I was before we took the test?

I went back the following Wednesday (1 week ago) to complete the work.  These pictures are all from my first round of training.

I was surprised by how much I hadn't learned when I went back to complete the training.  I was lucky that I got to be part of the class before the test.  Even with the 3.5 additional hours of practice, I still wasn't sure I would pass the riding test.   

I have told many a student that they just weren't ready to progress on to the next class.  I had forgotten how humiliating/crushing it can be to hear that message, even if it's true. 

I'm glad I went back to finish.  I'm even more glad that I don't have to go back again.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Poems for Bastille Day

Today we have another chance to celebrate independence, liberty, and equality:  Happy Bastille Day to us all!

I remember very few dates without having to look them up to be sure, but I do know that the storming of the Bastille happened in 1789--and by reversing those last 2 numbers, I can remember that Wordsworth and Coleridge published Lyrical Ballads in 1798.  I can make the case that both events forever shaped the future.

Here's a Wordsworth quote for your Bastille Day:

"Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive,
But to be young was very heaven!—Oh! times,
In which the meagre, stale, forbidding ways
Of custom, law, and statute, took at once
The attraction of a country in romance!"
If you want to read the whole poem, you can find it here.  Fair warning:  it will have too many exclamation marks for modern tastes.

I had to identify the first two lines and the event to which they referred during the subject area test of the GRE.  The question came early in the exam and gave me confidence.

I woke up this morning thinking about Wordsworth's enthusiasm and how so many people who saw themselves as revolutionaries during the late eighteenth century headed off to France to witness the birth of the new society--or simply, to fight.  I thought about how people wouldn't do that today--and then I thought of all sorts of people who have--most recently, those going off to fight with ISIS.  I think of them as poor deluded souls.  I suspect people said the same about Wordsworth and his compatriots.

Today will be the day when some of us read Harper Lee's "new" novel.  I will not be reading it.  I'm suspicious of how it came to see the light of day--that the sister who helped guard Lee's reputation died, and now we have a novel.  Hmmmmm.  I suspect the younger Harper Lee would not approve of this publication.

But that's not why I'm not reading it.  I know that plenty of people are not reading it because it will likely show us an Atticus Finch that we won't like.  But that is not the reason that I won't read the book.

Here's my confession:  years ago, about 2008 or so, I was part of a book club, and we read the book.  I remember loving it in 8th grade.  I did not love it so much as an adult.  I didn't hate it--but it doesn't make me eager to read a book that many have described as much messier than Mockingbird, or worse, a rough draft of To Kill a Mockingbird.

I've imagined these characters all grown up already.  After our book club discussion, I wrote a poem that I still love, although many have told me that it's heartbreaking. 

Here's my version of the Mockingbird characters decades later.  Once you've read Harper Lee's version, you can tell me which you like better.

It's not exactly a Bastille Day poem--but like Bastille Day, our hopes for earlier heroic times often come to this:

Scout at Midlife

Several times a day, Atticus asks,
“Who are you again?”
And lately Scout shudders
to realize she isn’t sure.

Once, she was surrounded
by people happy to help
define her, to shape
her, like red Alabama clay
transformed into a garden.

But now these people are ghosts
who haunt her thoughts.
Dill gone on to marry
Lottie Mae after Scout waited
too long to say yes.
Jem dead in a hunting accident.
Aunt Alexandra and Calpurnia both felled
by the same kind of stroke.

Now, surrounded by the rabid
dogs of self-recrimination and regret,
she has only her Ph.D. in Theology
and memories of an earlier Atticus
to remind her that she once lived
on an intellectual plane.

Atticus asks, “What is it called,
that thing between your foot and the floor?”
Scout thinks about possible answers:
a carpet, a shoe, a sock, a callus.

She looks at her framed credentials as she explains,
once again, the nomenclature
of everyday objects. Sometimes she answers
Atticus’ questions in Hebrew.
Some days, she chooses Aramaic, Latin
some other dead language.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Dog Days of a Creative Life

It's the time of year again:  hot, endless days of summer.  We've had a rainy season that's been very dry--after having a dry season that was very wet.

It seems we will never celebrate Christmas again.

How to maintain our creativity in a time of drought?  Perhaps by returning to nature, the river that runs deep:

Perhaps we will find the secret in the cool catacombs of a library:

Maybe by approaching an art form from a different angle:

Let us sit quietly on the porch:

We will cultivate our gardens in the belief that rains will come again:

Sunday, July 12, 2015

House Anniversaries

There was a moment yesterday afternoon when I said, "What a cozy little house we have."  Yesterday was the second anniversary of our closing, or the signing of the paperwork part; today is the anniversary of the day when the money actually all got where it needed to go, and we actually closed.

I had a cake cooling on the coffee table because there wasn't room in the small kitchen, which had grilled veggies resting on every surface.  My spouse and I had been working side by side on our computers.  I thought about how in my younger years, I envisioned this kind of partnership.

Of course, those younger yearnings assumed we would be working on a writing project together.  I couldn't have envisioned that we'd be working on our online classes side by side.  I couldn't have envisioned the day we'd be able to afford two computers.

The technology comes with a price.  Later in the day came the gnashing of teeth when the course shell wasn't working for my spouse.  And this morning, I made an inventory of all that I need to do, much of it online. 

But despite my ever-growing list of what needs to be done, I will take breaks:  to make cake, to take a dip in the pool, to eat some watermelon.  It's hard to believe that we're halfway through July.  Summer is zipping by . . .

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Poetry Saturday: Maps and Fibers

 Once I was inspired by the poems that I read in old-fashioned books, and as I was teaching, I often wrote poems that had their spark in the poetry I was teaching.

Now I tend to read poems online.  I love the Via Negativa site, because I find a wide variety of inspiration there.  And Dave Bonta, who started the site years ago, is so generous to post the poems inspired by other poems.

Some of my better poems have come from this process of reading a blog post or a poem online and then responding.  I'm not sure that the one below will be one of my better ones, but I thought I'd post it.  It was inspired by this poem, which in turn, was inspired by this post.  And as I was revising my poem, I thought that I might write a new poem that would take off from the last stanza. 

I've spent the week being intrigued by the nature of the word fiber:  the fibers in cloth, the fiber that we eat, the fibers in our muscles.  Perhaps a new poem is percolating.

But in the meantime, here's a poem for your Saturday.

 Fiber of Existence

“Some maps clearly mark
the exits we need”
—Luisa A. Igloria, “Meander

You will study the maps,
make a plan, pack
the right clothes, only to find
yourself in a different country,
the one you didn’t know
you needed to explore.

It is here you find the answers
to the unspoken questions.
Here is the journal written
in a language you can’t understand.
Here the box of letters
written between two souls
you do not know.

Here you pledge to drink from a dirty
glass, to ignore all your dusty duties.
Here you will ride the beast that scares
you most, the elephant or the motorcycle,
the couple married multiple decades
or mornings of solitary coffee.

Listen for the wind to whisper
your name. Go where the wind commands.
The rains will wash
away all evidence of your longing.

Eat the mush of memory.
Remember every dreary breakfast.
Resolve to find the fiber of your existence.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Friday Fragments

It's been a tiring week:  lots of meetings, new student orientation, the last minute hustle to find more students, the first crush of my heavy/condensed July online class schedule making itself known, and finishing my motorcycle class.  Because I don't have energy and time for a thoughtful post written in paragraphs, let me just post some fragments here:

--My eyes are only just feeling normal again after spending Wed. night having sunscreen dripping into them during motorcycle class.  I've been thinking I was allergic to something that bloomed periodically.  But maybe it's sunscreen that's upsetting my eyes. 

--I will be interested to see if I feel more confident on the motorcycle now that I've passed the test.  I am astonished at how quickly my inner critic leapt into full onslaught.  Will my inner critic go away now?

--Speaking of vanquishing negative voices, I love this piece by Sandy Longhorn.  She's just gotten a job at a 4 year school after a decade of working in a community college.  I need this reminder that we're allowed to reinvent ourselves.  I need this reminder that even though we might feel stuck/place bound, that change can happen.

--I rarely enter contests with individual poems.  But this one that Rattle offers sounds good.  The entry fee is actually a one year subscription to the journal, and there are 10 finalist prizes in addition to the grand prize.  I need to enter this week-end, as July 15 is the deadline.

--Last Sunday, I bought some furniture for poolside.  It didn't need assembly, and it's all folding chairs and tables.  It was on sale (and cheap to begin with), shipping was free on most items, and they were delivered to my house.  The drawback?  It's going to take more room than I thought, and we don't really have storage space for the furniture when we're not using it.  First world problems, I know.

--The Confederate flag will be removed from the South Carolina State House grounds today.  I never thought this day would come.  I am glad that the Charleston shootings have had some redemptive power.

--In a week of many meetings, I don't get much work done--or I do, but each day feels hectic as I try to get the regular work done in between all the meetings.

--I'm looking forward to getting back to a regular schedule.  I've written some fragmentary poems, but I haven't had the time to sit and weave various threads together.

--Let me make a short list of what I want to accomplish in terms of writing during July:  I want to write a short story, I want to enter the Rattle contest,  I want to query 3 more agents, and I want to write 2 poems a week.  Back on schedule!

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Back on the Horse that Spooked Me

This morning I am tired beyond belief.  My eyes hurt.  I'm feeling muscles that I'd forgotten I had.  But I'm supremely happy because I passed my motorcycle skills test.

Yesterday, after a day of many meetings, after a night of not enough sleep, I headed over to the motorcycle school.  I wasn't sure what I'd find--if the class was full, I'd only be allowed to do the test portion.

Happily, there was room for me.  I changed out of my work clothes and into my long pants, long-sleeved shirt, boots, and gloves.  At 5:10, we got on our bikes.

I'm so glad I had the chance to take the second half of the riding part of the class again.  I was able to work out some skills I could scarcely do a week ago.  I can shift smoothly to second gear, and more important--I can stop.

I am most proud of passing the test--but my ability to keep the bike from falling comes a close second.  At the end of the class, we had a chance to practice one last time.  I was practicing a fast stop.  I brought the bike to a stop, and then, I realized it was falling out from under me.  My foot was already on the ground, and I braced the bike with my inner thigh and heaved it up.  For about 10 seconds, I thought I wouldn't be able to do it.

My instructor raced over to me, but by the time he got there, I had the bike up.  I saw his surprise.  He thanked me for saving us from a lot of paperwork and other chores.  I felt like a strong, sturdy woman.  I don't always like feeling sturdy, especially when I'm shopping for clothes or looking at myself in a swimsuit.  But I'm grateful for my strength and sturdiness--both the physical and emotional kind.

So, the skills test:  we had to do a figure 8 and stay in the lines, we had to do a quick stop, we had to do a swerve, and we had to do a curve (not exactly, but I can't figure out how to describe it).  I went outside the lines a bit, my quick stop was 12 inches, not 11 or less, and I decelerated in the curve instead of accelerating.  But those glitches were not enough to sink me.

Last week, I didn't understand the curve assignment enough to do it properly; I didn't understand it enough to realize I'd done it wrong.  Last week, when I did the quick stop, I got the bike into 3rd gear, and thus, did the stop wrong.  I put my foot down in the figure 8.

In short, I did a much better job last night.  It helped that I hadn't been riding the bike for 6 hours in the blazing heat.  My hands and feet didn't ache as much.  It helped that the test was done at dusk, with no sun beating down on us.  It helped that it had been a few days since I'd been on a bike.  It helped that I wasn't feeling frustrated.

Am I comfortable enough to go out in S. Florida traffic?  No, absolutely not.  I'll keep practicing and see what happens.

I would love to ride down deserted roads in the Everglades.  But there's a lot of hazardous traffic between my house and the Everglades.  Sigh.

Still, let me not get too far ahead of myself.  I'm proud of myself that I went back and patiently worked on getting ready for the test.  I will confess that I was not happy about having to do that.  But now, having done it, I'm happy that I did.

I'm proud of myself that I got spooked and discouraged and that I talked myself back from that ledge.  It was physically tough and mentally tough.  I was afraid, in a way that I'm lucky enough to seldom feel.

It makes me realize how seldom I try something really new.  I tend to try things that I'm likely to be good at:  a new art form, an exercise class, cooking techniques.  I tend to stay away from anything that may lead to broken bones or scars on my face.

I'm glad that I felt the fear and pushed ahead.  I hope to continue pushing ahead, despite my fears.  I plan to be careful.

But my overall happiness?  I'm glad that I'm done.  The only way to get the motorcycle endorsement on a Florida driver's license is through a special class like the one I took.  I'm glad that I passed, so that I didn't have to decide what the next step should be.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Bloom Where You Are Planted

Back in the 70's, I remember seeing many a poster and needleworked hanging that proclaimed, "Bloom where you are planted."  If I had to sum up my parents' philosophy of life, that slogan might do it as well as any other.  They are big believers in making a difference where you are and starting right away and doing what you can with what you have--time and time again they told us not to wait for that mythical day when all the circumstances are right. 

That day never comes.

I thought of that slogan a few weeks ago when a Facebook friend posted this:

I've kept my little citrus tree alive for 5 months now, and am noticing something important:

Blooming where we're planted is a lovely notion, but really things bloom when they're watered.

I responded:
I had a similar insight with our tomato plants this year. We planted them in pots, not expecting much, as we'd never had luck before. But they grew and bloomed and we got tomatoes--if we had planted them in bigger pots, we'd have gotten bigger tomatoes. The small ones we had were delicious, but I did have many occasions to wish we had planned and planted a bit better back when we transplanted the seedlings.

I like the original "Bloom Where You Are Planted" for its simplicity.  But it's important to remember that with just a bit of extra attention, we can do more than bloom--we can bloom extravagantly.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Modern Pilgrims

When I decided to take all of last week off, instead of just 2 days for motorcycle training, I knew that I was getting tired and grouchy.  By mid-June, I knew it would be a good day to take some additional time to rest and recharge.

I imagined returning to work refreshed and revitalized. 

Yesterday, I found myself thinking of pilgrimage.  Why would I be thinking about a long hike with only sporadic human interaction?  Hadn't I just been on vacation?

Over at my theology blog, I wrote this post pondering pilgrimage.  Chaucer is perhaps the most famous to chronicle the various reasons people go on pilgrimage--few of them are spiritual.

If I was a character in Chaucer's sprawling work, what kind of pilgrim would I be?  I would not be the floozy-boozy broad.  I would be that sturdy girl, the one who got us out of a jam.  That's the way I like to see myself.  I could also see Chaucer painting me as the judgmental type, the one who wants to accept all the pilgrims where they are, while wondering why they aren't more spiritually evolved.

Today and tomorrow are days of lots of meetings.  In the past, I've gotten a poem or two out of these days.  Please let me have that kind of inspiration today.

Perhaps I will keep myself engaged by looking around the room--if we were Chaucer's pilgrims, who would we be?

Yesterday, as I got to school and felt discouraged about the many decisions that will be impacting us in the next 6 months, I comforted myself by recasting the despair.  I told myself, "You don't have to solve everything today.  You are in a time of discernment.  All you have to do is stay open."

Today and tomorrow, I will hang onto the words of my wiser self.  And perhaps I'll have some Chaucerian fun along the way.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Poetry Monday: Creativity Lessons from Toddlers

I've been thinking about the lessons that Vacation Bible School teaches the grown ups about creativity.  The children entered into every arts and crafts activity with openness.  Even when they weren't enthusiastic--and most were--they still gave every experience a try.

Perhaps it was the activities I chose, but no one said, "I can't do this."  Only once did someone destroy a creation, and it was an older child.  The younger children gave no judgment.  It was very refreshing.

 I just finished reading Kate Atkinson's A God in Ruins--a novel which also makes me think about creativity.  It's a book that works beautifully as a novel.  But at the end, a reader can't help but realize that it's also a book about narrative and story telling.

All of these threads make me think of a poem that I wrote years ago, after I spent Thanksgiving week-end with my nephew.  We told each other stories, stories which ignored the basic rules of narrative structure.

Later, I wrote this poem:

Narrative Lessons

The three year old tells me a story
that is really a list
of things you’d find in the firehouse
where the little old lady lived
once upon a time.

The three year old has not memorized
the five kinds of conflict
(or is it 6?
and what about the ones that overlap?).
He has not studied Aristotle’s rules.
He does not know about mimesis,
the mirror or the lamp.

He simply understands the objects
which he likes recited
to the grown ups who love
him best, the narrative that burns

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Random Notes from a Holiday Week-end

--Lately I have read too many books that tell part of the narrative from the point of view of children.  O.K., only 2, by Ann Packer and Jane Smiley.  It's two too many.  While I recognize the skill that this takes, I want to read about grown ups from a grown up perspective.  Does this make me shallow?  So be it. 

--S'mores made in my back yard are not as tasty as s'mores in a campground or at Lutheridge, even if I did buy Special Dark chocolate.

--I now have more marshmallows than I will ever use--my wonderful fudge recipe takes 12, and that leaves me the rest of the package, minus the 4 that we ate last night.  Why can't someone sell marshmallows in a 15 pack?

--Staying outside on the 4th of July will lead to stuffiness of nose and dryness of throat in the middle of the night.  Too much smoke.

--Our Independence Day celebrations make a lot of money for Chinese companies who make fireworks.

--We have spent too much time wrestling with technology over the last few days--and it's not new generation technology.  We bought a wireless speaker, a new laptop, and of course, there's the old technology of e-mail and Learning Management Systems.  Not one of these has been plug-and-play.

--My spouse teaches 2 new classes for the month of July.  We have spent a few days creating syllabi, assignments, and other parts of curriculum. 

--I've also spent time working with my own online classes.  We have often been sitting at the dining room table, laptop by laptop.

--In some ways, it feels like we've finally arrived at the future I thought we were planning when we were in grad school.  In so many ways, it's all so very different from anything I would have expected.

--I am slowly learning to operate the smaller of my spouse's motorcycles.  It still feels huge.  This motorcycle project is bigger than I thought it would be; I have underestimated the time it would take.  I may not have that much time ever in my remaining years.

--I have spent a lot of time in the pool over the last 5 days, and I feel a smidge more flexible.  Is that because of pool time or because I've gone to fewer spin classes to make my hip flexors tight?

--And with this week, it's back to regular life, except that at my workplace, we've had departures and rearrangements, and I suspect it won't be the last.  It makes it easier to be Zen Kristin, living in the moment.  But it's hard to plan, and Anxious Kristin doesn't like this upheaval.

--Anxious Kristin is so very tired.  Maybe I can just have her sleep through the week and leave Zen Kristin in charge.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Fireworks in a Time of Drought

We are often on a sailing trip during the 4th of July; we won't be doing that this year.  Our church has an ice cream social before the Pembroke Pines fireworks display, but I don't feel like heading across the county on the 4th. 

Can we see the beach fireworks from our house?  We shall see.

It seems like a good 4th to stay close to home.  We've had a very dry summer, and now everyone will be shooting off fireworks.  I feel uneasy, all that open flame, all that dry tinder.

I love the kind of fireworks that municipalities display.  I hate, hate, hate the noisy things that ordinary citizens buy.  They sound too much like gunfire. 

In some ways, this holiday reminds me of Halloween.  The rest of the nation celebrates and has fun, and I feel under siege.  And I feel like there's something wrong with me, yet I also wonder why others don't see the dangers.  With Halloween, it's adults in costume with lots of alcohol--what could go wrong?  With Independence Day, it's fireworks in a time of drought and alcohol--what could go wrong?

I have a watermelon.  We can have a cook out.  Maybe I'll zip to the store to get the materials for s'mores.  But I'd like to do something more memorable.

I'd like to be near a national monument.  I used to spend the 4th in or near the D.C. area.  There are so many reminders of what a miracle our country is. 

When I'm on Facebook, I'm amazed at the anger and vitriol that some display, the sweeping generalizations that I see and hear.  I want to go into teacher mode.  I want to point out how wonderful it is that so many of us can have such a wide range of opinions, and none of us will be carted off to jail, unless we decide to do something violent on the behalf of those opinions.

So today, let me give thanks for this freedom that we've somehow managed to maintain.  But let me not be blind to the oppression that many still face.  Even in our country, we have too many citizens who are not safe, who do not have their basic liberties assured.

And let me try to be festive, even as I'm staying alert.  In a fit of exuberance earlier this spring, we bought a lot of festive lights, solar powered, lights that after dark twinkle in different patterns and colors.  They're designed to float in the pool.

Back before the stifling heat descended, we sat outside for hours, watching the lights in the pool.  We will do that again tonight.  And because it is so hot, we will swim in the sparkling water.

We will also have a fire in the fire pit.  We have lots of wood left over from an old fencing project that we should get rid of.  And tonight the air will be heavy with smoke.  There are times when I feel guilty about creating air pollution with a open fire, but that will not be the case tonight.

Along the way, I'll play with poetry, teaching, and other art forms.  My spouse said, "What should I do with these old watches that no longer work?"  I said, "Build a sculpture."  So I might do that.

And I will remember to pray:  for peace in our time, for those who aren't assured of their basic liberties, for those who need freedom from tyrannies of all sorts.

Friday, July 3, 2015

Independence Eve Thoughts

The day before Independence Day--as I drove to spin class, I heard the annual Morning Edition reading of the Declaration of Independence.  What a well-written document!

It's interesting to hear that reading just after the newscasts about Greece and bankruptcy and the future of Europe.

It's interesting to think about how 13 feisty colonies fought themselves free of the world's superpower back in 1776.

Those signers of the Declaration pledged their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor, so great was their belief in what they were doing.  It's a good day to think about our commitments, our values, what we hold most true.

Of course, it's always a good day to do that--let me always be trying to live a life that's in sync with my truest values.  Let me always be ready to stake my sacred honor on principles that are that important.

If you had to choose your most important truth to be self-evident, which one would it be?

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.

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.

In this time after momentous Supreme Court decisions and actions by evil-minded people, it's good to think of freedoms and what freedoms still need to be won.  I will spend some time thinking about all the female clergy in South Carolina who are getting vicious threats and hate mail.  I will think about people who still don't have basic protections, like the right to work at a job without harassment.  I will think of people still going to bed hungry, still out on the streets.

I will say a prayer for protection and for liberty from tyrannies of all sorts.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Results of the Motorcycle Skills Test

Yesterday, as we went round and round the motorcycle training course, I thought, I really need one more day of this to solidify my skills.

And now, I will get that day.  I'm trying to see the events of yesterday in terms of getting more training with no extra charge, not as a failure.

There were moments yesterday where everything went well, and I could see why people love riding a motorcycle.  There were many more moments of frustration and times when I couldn't remember why I thought this class would be a good way to spend my valuable vacation time.

I do think it was easier to learn during a class than to try to learn on my own.  I am amazed at what I was able to learn after just 2 mornings on a motorcycle.

Unfortunately, it was not enough to pass the skills test on the bike.  The written test I passed with flying colors.  I'd have been really spooked if I couldn't do that.

Fortunately, I get another session of training and another chance to pass the test.  The trick will be finding a good time to do that, and soon, before I forget what I've learned.  I'll call later today to schedule it.

We had a practice time just before the test.  We worked on our own, with no input from the instructor.  I did most of the activities almost perfectly.

What went wrong during the test?  Partly, I overthought things too much.  It's a habit of mine that I recognize.  If I could just get out of my own head, I'd get out of my own way more often.

I have no problem recognizing these thought patterns, but I have not yet learned how to banish them.  Sigh.

I was also a bit spooked because we had had a morning of spectacular crashes--all unintentional.  Happily, no students were hurt, but it left me unsettled.

Then, during the test, I thought the instructor motioned me to demonstrate a fast stop.  It's a small course, and it was hard for me to get up to speed, then apply brakes and shift to first.  I did, and perfectly.  Unfortunately, the instructor wasn't actually ready for me.  So I had to do it over again, and I goofed.  I shifted up to 3rd instead of second, and downshifted to second, not first.  Why didn't the bike stall?  I don't know, but probably because I was so desperate to build up speed and so wanting to do it correctly.

If that had been the only mistake, it wouldn't have been enough to sink me, but it wasn't.  I got progressively more flustered--again, my head getting in my way.  And my physical state didn't help either.

The test was held at the end of a long, hot morning of training.  My hands ached from squeezing the clutch and the break.  My feet ached.  My body burned from the blazing heat.  I tried to stay hydrated and sunscreened, but I suspect that my physical state led to diminishing returns which led me to not passing the skills section.

My instructor said that even if I had passed the skills test, she'd have begged me to come for one more training session.  I'm just not ready.

She's right. 

I will come back and get more training and hopefully pass the test.  Then I will keep practicing on less-traveled roads.  I can't imagine how I will get up to the level where I will feel good about getting out in real traffic with lots of vehicles.

Perhaps I won't.  But at least if something happens to my spouse while we're out on the same bike, like if he breaks an ankle or a wrist and we can't get a cell phone signal to summon help, I could get us back home.  That was one of my goals.

As I was struggling, I thought of all the students through the years, mine and those who are taking classes with faculty in my department, students who fail for all sorts of reasons.  I thought of their frustration and wondered if karma is catching up with me.

But of course, that's not the reason why I had trouble.  And it's not the reason why our students have trouble.  Some subject matter is just hard and doesn't come to us in the time period that we had scheduled for it.  That's not easy to hear.  It wasn't easy for me to hear yesterday.  It's good to be reminded of how it feels to be on the receiving end of that info.  It's an empathy-creating experience.

I will shake off these feelings of inadequacy and failure.  I tried my best.  I'm not where I need to be.  I can get there. 

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Lessons from Day 1 of Motorcycle Riding Class

My first day of motorcycle riding class went well.  If all continues to go well, today will be my last day, and then I'll have the certificate which means I can update my license--a trip to the DMV, hurrah!

It was an interesting class:  1 guy, 5 females, and me.  Our two instructors are also female; they commented on the unusual gender balance of the class.

I felt bad for the guy, who has already been riding several years.  The state of Florida now has a law that to get your motorcycle endorsement, you need to take a class like the one I'm taking, and that's why he's here.  He must be terribly bored.

The rest of us had never ridden before yesterday.  It's amazing to me that you can take a group of people and after 4 hours, have them riding.

There was only one real mishap--and it was mine!  At the end of one exercise, we were supposed to line up.  I was slowing down, braking--and I'm not sure what happened.  Suddenly I speeded up a bit.  I bumped the guy on the bike in front of me.  Happily, it was at low speed, and no one was hurt.

I'm still not sure what happened.  Our instructor tells me that I let out the clutch, but my instincts were right--I immediately put the clutch back in.  I suspect that I thought I was in Neutral, but was really in first.

I learned a lot yesterday.  Here are some of my insights:

--What I assume would result in catastrophe may not be that big a deal.  So I zoomed ahead and hit a parked motorcycle--no one was hurt and the bikes stayed upright.  In some ways, it was a success, since I didn't get spooked and stop.

--We learn a lot from mistakes.  I knew that, but it's interesting to learn it again, to see it firsthand.

--We would try to master a riding lesson, and then we'd analyze it.  What did we learn?  What did we do right?  What are we still working on?  It's a good way to solidify ideas in our head, and it seems like a process that can be used in other aspects of learning.

--The body and the bike will go where your eyes are looking.  I first learned this lesson from swimming, but I've heard many an instructor across disciplines remind us of this basic fact, from yoga to spin class to boot camp class.  It seems true on a metaphorical level too--where are we looking in terms of our creative lives, our spiritual lives, our work-for-pay lives, our relationships?  Again and again, I'm reminded that I need to change my vision.

--It's good to be a complete beginner.  I think that all instructors should force themselves to learn something completely new every few years.  It's good to remember the terror.  It's good to remember that most things can be broken down into a series of processes.  It's good to see other instructors in action.

Today after learning more skills and theory, we have a riding test and a written test.  Wish me luck!