Monday, August 31, 2015

Time's Winged Chariot

As the week-end progressed, I've heard about the deaths of some figures which have been huge in popular culture:  Wes Craven, Oliver Sacks, and Wayne Dyer.  My writerly brain immediately started thinking about the connections, and here's what I came up with:  all three men understood much more than the normal human about how the brain works.

I won't claim that any single one of them influenced me in the way that, say, Alice Walker did in my younger years.  But they've been there, in the background, inventing and reinventing themselves, while I tuned in occasionally.

Wayne Dyer's views about ignoring societal messages about guilt and living our best lives are so common now that we forget how radical they may have once seemed.  Wes Craven knew how to scare us (Nightmare on Elm Street) and then how to both scare us and make us laugh.  I recently watched Scream again for the first time in 20 years, and I had forgotten what a powerful movie it was.  And by exploring the different ways that the brain can go wrong, Oliver Sacks taught us a lot about brains that weren't at an extreme end of a spectrum.

I was also struck by the age of these men who had died; they've all lived a long time.  I've been spending time being struck by the passage of time.  I've lived in South Florida much longer than I have ever lived anywhere else, since 1998.  I've seen children born who have since gone off to high school and college.  Friends who are my own generation have also aged, but it's not quite as visible year to year.  It only becomes obvious when I slow down to think about it.

Some of the changes, like health changes, are painful, so I try not to think too much about it.  But it's also good to reflect on what we've managed to accomplish:  books written, books published, quilts created, thousands of students taught.  That's the short list.

Have we done the work that will transform the way the larger society views a subject?  Yes, but it's hard to think our work will get the larger attention it may deserve.  It's hard to imagine that me or my friends will become a staple of PBS fund drives or that our scholarly work will be transformed into films.  It's easier to think of acclaim for our creative work.

We don't have as much time as we once did, as we hope we do.  Let me remember that as I move throughout my days.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Sunrise Pictures and A Hurricane Poem from Earlier Days

We won't be dealing with a tropical storm today, but we do have some remnants.  We've had thunderstorms sweep through in waves through the night.  It's unusual for us to have these kinds of storms, with lots of lightning, in overnight hours.

Luckily, there's been space between the bands of storms, so our streets aren't flooded.  There was even a moment of eerie, beautiful light.  I couldn't resist the opportunity to take a different kind of sunrise picture:

With the flash on, the pictures take on an apocalyptic quality:

Yesterday I wrote about going through old files and finding poems that I thought might be lost forever.  Let me post one here.  I think I wrote it in 1998, when we had a hurricane pass nearby.  My spouse and I went to Hollywood Beach, and I was impressed by the power of the ocean and the wind, even with the storm passing through the space between the Florida Keys and Cuba, some 5 hours to our south.

I wrote the following poem, which I still like.  I look at my current poems and see how much I've grown as a poet.  But I'm glad that poems like these still make me happy.

Clean Sweep

While other folks board
up their windows,
she opens hers wide
to the hurricane winds.

She goes to the beach.
Unlike the surfers,
she has no interest in waves
that crash against the shore.

The sand abrades her skin.
The wind sweeps into every crevice.
Behind her, transformers pop and crackle.
Energy explodes.

Even though the palms bow
to the storm, she lifts
her arms above her head,
struggles to remain standing.

That night, she sleeps
soundly. Even though the wind
howls and hoots and hammers at the walls,
she breathes clean air and dreams fresh visions.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Life Returns to Normal-ish

It looks like today may be more of a normal Saturday than I was expecting.  I checked the 5 a.m. advisory from the National Hurricane Center, and we are no longer in the cone of possibility.  Hurrah!

Of course, we may still get some heavy rain.  We will now be on the dirty side of the storm, if there's a storm moving north.   If we get enough rain for flooding, which often happens during heavy thunderstorms that last over an hour, we have sandbags.

I had been feeling proud of myself for getting to Home Depot early on Thursday to get sand for the sandbags.  Late yesterday afternoon, I discovered we hadn't gotten enough.  So off we went to Home Depot.  Happily, it wasn't too crazy.  Yesterday we were still in the possible path of the storm, and it was after 5, when many people get off work, so I thought it might be just this side of chaos.

We came home and poured sand into the bags.  Since we were sweaty and dirty, we planted some more seeds in pots.

If we ever do have the kind of storm where we need to move everything that could be a flying missile, we will have a lot of work in front of us.  Happily, we don't have to spend the week-end thinking about that.

By the time we were done, the last light was leaving the sky.  We opened a bottle of wine and took it back outside--there was a lovely breeze, and the humidity felt lower.  We took a swim.  How lovely it is to take a swim after hurricane preparations!

Ten years ago, life would have been different.  We'd have been in the condo that we still owned after the death of my spouse's mom in April, returning to our house to do hurricane clean up from Hurricane Katrina.  Ten years ago today, Hurricane Katrina would have been coming ashore at New Orleans.  And then, the levees broke, which did the true damage.

Happily, this week will be different for me.  My hurricane prep is done, and does not require a lot of undoing--the sandbags can be stored as sandbags.  Hopefully the storm will fall into tiny shreds that bring rain but not much destruction.  Hopefully the island of Domenica, so far the worst hit, can recover quickly.

I've spent the week working on a poem inspired by this hurricane prep, and I started thinking about all the poems I once wrote that have hurricane imagery.  This morning I went through some old files and found some poems I only vaguely remembered from my earliest days of writing post-grad school poetry.  Not bad, not bad at all . . . although some future grad school would likely wonder if my marriage was really that bad. 

I used hurricane imagery as metaphor for troubling relationships, but those relationships weren't mine.  Long ago, I wrote in first person, regardless, because I thought first person gave the poems more powerful impact.

Perhaps in days to come, I'll post an old poem.  We can compare them to my more recent poems.  But since this post is getting long, and I'm soon headed to spin class, let me finish now. 

Headed to spin class--yes, a normal Saturday seems to be in store.  For that, I am profoundly grateful.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Distracted by the Weather

I've always said that I prefer hurricanes to other natural disasters because you can see them coming. 

Of course, part of the problem is that you can see them coming.  I hate thinking of all the time I've spent getting ready for storms that spared us.  But I am always grateful to be spared.

All sorts of people have been posting in all sorts of places about not getting concerned about a hurricane that's a Cat. 1.  But we've had lots of damage from strong tropical storms and weak cat. 1s, so I don't take anything too lightly.

We've had life disrupted from storms that missed us, but veered north or south.  These storms can generate a lot of rain, which can shut down airports and disrupt food delivery.

I remember thinking about how far our food comes during one of the disruptions.  If something happened and we were cut off from the rest of the peninsula for any amount of time, how would we survive?

During the difficult storm season of 2005, the grocery shelves quickly became bare and it took over a month for life to return to normal.  I always joke that I keep a fully stocked pantry, but I often find myself uninterested in the food that I have.  When we've had storms that have disrupted our food chain, I've often been too hot and wrung out from debris removal to eat much anyway.

I went grocery shopping on Tuesday.  Perhaps I shouldn't have bought that extra gallon of milk.  At the time, I didn't really think about the possibility of a storm hitting us.

Yesterday, I got the bills paid and the envelopes in the mail, just in case.  I know that the post office prides itself on delivering through any kind of weather adversity, but we've had mail service disrupted for over a week in the past.

I don't think it will be that bad this time, but the lessons of the past remind me that we can never be sure.  Storms that are erratic and poorly organized, like Erika, often hold nasty surprises.

I did finally get a poem written.  I have felt a sort of malaise through the month of August.  I'm hopeful that I'm coming out of it.  I've spent a lot of time this week going to various weather sites.  I've also started getting ready to mail submissions of poetry packets--it's almost September, after all!

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Hurricane Watching

Here I am, wide awake, waiting for the 5 a.m. update from the National Hurricane Center.  Yes, I might have been awake anyway; I often am.  I'm also waiting for Home Depot to open so that I can get some sand for the sandbags. 

Once I haul sand across town, I fully expect the storm to avoid us.  But the last year has shown us how flood prone our new neighborhood is, especially in the back where the alley meets our cottage.

I will haul sand in the same week that we got a refund check from our flood insurance company.  Now, don't get me wrong, I'm happy to get a refund, as our flood insurance costs thousands.  Yes, just for flood.  Our windstorm insurance is a separate bill, as is the regular homeowner's insurance that covers everything else.

I fully expect to lose the house in an uncovered catastrophe--actually, I don't really expect it, but some part of me wouldn't be surprised.  I have a vision of nuclear contamination from a terrorist attack that wouldn't be covered even though the insurance company will have collected gobs of money from us through the years.

But back to the apocalypse at hand.  Oops, there I go, overdramatizing again.  And I am not alone.  At work yesterday, productivity plummeted as we kept a wary eye on Tropical Storm Erika.  It's not like we waited for the update at 11 a.m. and then went back to work.  We analyzed the cone of probability.  We looked at possible rain amounts.  We tried to remember which side of the storm is the more destructive side.

The 11 p.m. update last night takes the storm offshore; the 11 a.m. update brought it onshore basically right over my house.  I expect more changes before we're through because it's a mess of a storm.

I have the beginnings of a poem.  Let me record some possible lines:

I have prepared for storms that never came.

I have shopped for hurricane parties that I will never host.

Should I keep it to hurricane images?  I have this line too:

I have sewed quilts for babies that I will never carry to term. 

Let me continue to ponder as I buy some sand for sandbags that I may never fill.  Hey, another line!

That's the problem with a  storm out at sea--I'm frazzled and my attention has splintered.  But if I'm being honest, this feeling isn't unfamiliar to me--I feel my attention pulled in so many ways in any given hour.  Luckily, I'm still capable of pulling myself into a focused attention as I need to do so in the course of a day.

And then it's back to seeing if the latest update has been posted.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Seafood Stew to Fortify for the Tasks Ahead

I've been concerned about how few fruits and veggies I've been eating.  I used to eat pounds of carrots every week, for example--and now, we just threw out a half pound that had rotted in the fridge.  Sigh.

So yesterday, I went to the store with the goal of more healthy consumption.  I came home and baked a sweet potato for breakfast.  How delicious and nutritious!  That may be my go-to breakfast from now on, although I am somewhat surprised at the prices.  I wonder if they'll come down in the fall.  Of course, it has occurred to me that I might have 1980's prices in my head:  I paid $1.29 a pound, and it seems that I once thought that 49 cents a pound was expensive.

I also wanted to make a seafood stew once I saw a picture of one on Facebook.  I'm also concerned that I'm not getting enough fish oils. 

It's been awhile since I posted a recipe, so let me create one here.  It's the perfect soup as summer shifts to autumn, should you be lucky enough to be experiencing that.  It's also perfect to nourish us for the hurricane prep that may be ahead.  It's a flexible recipe so that you can make as much or as little as you want.  If you've got plenty of cash, load it up with seafood.  If you don't have much money, it will taste good with canned salmon and a can of clams.

Seafood Stew

1-2 onions, or onion flakes
a few cloves of crushed or minced garlic or garlic powder
herbs:  a few teaspoons of any or all:  basil, oregano, thyme
a few bay leaves
a few pours of olive oil, or canola oil
carrot shreds or chopped carrots  1/2 C. to several cups
1/2 C. to several C. of white wine--or omit and use water
1 bottle of clam juice
water to thin the stew, if that's your preference
2-4 cans chopped tomatoes (can size 14.5 oz.)
1 can salmon (14.5 oz)--fresh or frozen salmon would work too, but more expensive
1-2 cans of clams with juice
frozen or fresh seafood of your choosing; I used bay scallops (the smaller, less expensive kind)

Chop the onions and in a big post, saute in the olive oil.  Add the garlic and carrots to the saute, and if more liquid is needed, start adding the wine and water.  Add the herbs.

Once the veggies are soft, add everything else.  I rinsed the cans with water and added the water to the pot.

The soup can simmer for hours, or it can be ready in 20 minutes.  It will keep for several days, even a week or two, and can be frozen.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

When Markets Tumble

I knew that yesterday was likely to be a rough day for the stock market--one of the hazards of being an interconnected world is that when one market tumbles, the rest are likely to tumble too.

It's not the first time I've watched markets tumble.  I remember in 1987 coming back from my grad school classes and hearing about the drop in the DOW.  It was late October and getting dark already; I remember feeling afraid.  I called my mom and dad, who lived in Northern Virginia, and they were remarkably unconcerned about it all.

Markets rebounded quickly, and I felt silly for feeling so scared.  So when markets got wobbly in October of 2008, I talked myself off my ledge of fear.  But I do remember walking the halls in school thinking about how much ground the stock market had lost.  I did wonder if we were looking at the start of a Great Depression.  I chided myself for being a drama queen.  Little did I know.

Sadly, that recovery took much longer.

You might say, "Oh?  We're recovered?"  I, too, know plenty of people who have yet to recover, yet to be back to their earnings of 2007.

All yesterday, I wished I was at home--I like to think I'd have been buying some stocks.  But I don't really keep track of individual stocks the way my grandfather did.

All the way to her death, my grandmother didn't talk much outside the family about my grandfather's stock trading.  She said that after the Great Depression, people saw buying stocks as gambling.  I'd love to know how my Lutheran pastor grandfather came to have a different impression--I think it was because of the attitude of one of his church members who taught him about the market.

He bought shares in companies that he knew--his portfolio included power companies and phone companies and oil stocks.  Every morning he opened to the section of the newspaper that had the market reports, and he noted the price of shares into his little notebook. 

He got the money for stocks by selling honey from the hives in his back yard.  He bought a share or two at a time.  He reinvested his dividends.  Over time, his strategy was a successful one.

I will keep with my investment strategy.  I'm contributing to my 401K, even though I no longer get the company match.  I'll keep some money liquid, in case I'm laid off.  Like most homeowners, my largest investment is likely going to be my house.  I'll continue to take care of it.

But I do wish I had a bit of courage to buy more stocks when the markets tumble.

Monday, August 24, 2015

An Illuminated Wish for the Start of the School Year

Our county's children head to school today.  If your county's children haven't yet reported to school, they will soon.  They will learn to stand in neat lines:

They will have reading to do.  Will they have stacks of books to read--or is all reading done on electronic devices now?

They might have new art forms to learn:

Perhaps there will be time to play outside:

But the desk will rule the schedule:

May teachers remember the precious lives they hold in their hands:

May students be able to make sense of it all and to see the illumination lying underneath:

May baskets of angels protect us all:

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Hurricane Anniversaries

Ten years ago, it had just started to rain.  Hurricane Katrina was in the area.

We weren't expecting much.  Katrina hadn't been a hurricane for very long, and we expected a category 1 hurricane, which we had weathered successfully before, sometimes without even losing power.  We always keep a stocked pantry, and I usually fill up containers with water as the storm gets close.

I know that we didn't shutter the windows, because all day I watched the rain as I worked on a writing project in the back office.  From that vantage point, I had a view of the giant ficus tree.  Here's a picture of what the yard looked like much later.

The tree, which may have once been several trees, stretched along the whole back fence and arched over the back yard, shading half the yard.

As the afternoon of rain progressed, I noticed the branches of the ficus bending lower and lower.  I wondered if we should worry, but what could we do?  We'd had a few inches of rain, and we had weathered rain events that dumped 10 inches on us in the course of an hour.

I have spent time wondering what caused the ficus tree to fall over.  Was the ground so wet after a summer in the rainy season that it couldn't hold the tree up?  Was it the steady rain over a whole day?  Was it that my spouse had spent time trying to chop down the tree himself through the summer so that the tree no longer had the support system it once had?

The back corner of the yard once held a small shed.  After the tree fell over, here's the top of the shed, now squished to the ground:

We spent the next 6 weeks cleaning up, carrying brush to the curb, carrying the garbage that had once been the contents of the shed to the curb.

We were lucky that we could salvage some of the things that had been in the shed, including the chain saw.

But more than that, we were lucky that the tree fell and missed the house.  It filled the whole yard, but missed the house.  Others were not so lucky.  It was a bad hurricane for the area's trees.

In the faded picture below, the figure in faded red is my spouse.  He's standing on the ground with the wreckage of the tree above him.

It's been 10 years since the very bad hurricane season of 2005, and much of the damage is no longer visible.  I think about the businesses that have closed, and the people who moved.  I think of our much higher insurance rates.

I no longer take any storm lightly.  I'm keeping a wary eye on Hurricane Danny, which seems to be falling apart, but history shows us that it doesn't take much time for a storm to gather itself back together.  We now live in an area much more prone to floods, and we have our sandbags ready.

I've been counting on El Nino to shear apart our storms.  It's good to remember that Hurricane Andrew formed in an El Nino year and wiped out Homestead, Florida--twenty-three years ago tomorrow.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Gardening on Mars and Other Alien Zones

--I've been feeling some seasonal anxiousness.  I feel a similar anxiousness as we approach mid-April, with its grim anniversaries that are getting to be decades old now (Waco siege/stand off, Oklahoma City Bombing, Columbine High School shooting).

--My late August anxiousness comes from these anniversaries:  three years ago yesterday, I'd have been told that I was losing my job with corporate restructuring, but I could apply for a job in the new structure (I did, and I was chosen).  Ten years ago tomorrow, hurricane Katrina roared through South Florida, and we spent the 6 weeks cleaning up, just in time for Hurricane Wilma to blow through.  I didn't watch the devastation of New Orleans because we were without power for almost a week.

--So I have dealt with my anxiety by writing a short story for our word prompt "afternoon."  I have a vision of three vignettes, and I've been working on the one about a colonist on Mars who looks back to Earth in the afternoons, instead of the evenings when others gaze at the home planet.

--My writing took an unanticipated twist:  the colonist grows tomatoes that rival those of our grandparents!

--If I was writing this story in a different season, would it have gone another way?  Am I writing about tomatoes because I have that late season longing for a Farmer's Market meal?  I'd love a meal of corn on the cob, perfect tomatoes, beans, cantaloupe,

--We saw a PBS show where the chef has moved back to North Carolina; the episode that we watched on Sunday had her searching for the perfect butter bean.  I remembered shelling beans on my grandmother's porch or snapping the ends off green beans and taking off the strings.  I remember thinking that the effort wasn't worth the final veggie side dish.  But now, I'd love to taste those beans again.

--We have started our own garden, but we won't be growing beans.  We've planted lots of tomatoes and peppers.  We need to grow everything in pots, and those plants do best.  We also planted lots of herbs, and seeing these pots of herbs makes me incredibly happy.

--In the midst of all these herbs and vegetables, my poinsettia bush continues to look healthy with its emerald green leaves.  Christmas will be here soon.

--In October, I brought some pumpkins home.  Most of them have long since rotted, but the far right one in the picture below had been happily perched on my porch (although we did move it to a side window/arch sill). 

It's finally fallen from the porch and met its end.  Strange to think that soon it will be time to buy this year's pumpkins.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Poetry Friday: "The True Miracle of Saint Brigid"

Readers of this blog have noticed that I am constantly working towards a life of balance.  My work demands have increased radically in the past year, while I still have the other elements of my life competing for attention:  friends, family, teaching, other interests.  I'm also still committed to my vision of being an artist.  Underlying it all, a spiritual self that needs feeding, a relationship with the Divine that needs attention.

It's a lot to juggle.  But as I said yesterday, I surround myself with models of women who manage, and often with more balls to keep in the air, like children.  I remind myself that I'm in a very good time and location in the history of women.  I have less working against me than a medieval woman.  As a white woman from a middle class family, I've had lots of opportunities and support that others haven't had.

Still, there are days that I despair.  And then I go back to those medieval monastics.

A few years ago, as I was researching Saint Brigid for her feast day, a poem came to me.  It's just been published in Adanna, and I'm happy to repost it here.  If you want some background on Brigid, see this blog post.

The True Miracle of Saint Brigid

You know about the baskets
of butter, the buckets of beer,
the milk that flowed
to fill a lake.

You don’t know about the weeks
we prayed for the miracle
of multiplication but instead received
the discipline of division.

I managed the finances to keep us all fed.
By day, I rationed the food.
At night, I dreamed of a sculpture
manufactured of metal.

I didn’t have the metal
or the time, but in the minutes
had, I illuminated
any scrap of paper I could find.

Lost to the ashes:
The Book of Kildare, but also
my budget ledgers, flowers
and birds drawn around the numbers.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Snapshots from the Administrator-Writer Life

--A female student called me on Tuesday and said, "I've been talking to Isis."  For one brief moment, I thought we were going to have a very intriguing conversation about her interaction with the Islamic terrorist group.  But she'd been talking to Iris, our Readmissions expert.

--A week ago, I looked up when a student came in my door.  He said, "I need a savior, and I've been told you're the one!"  I couldn't resist.  I said, "I am not the Messiah" (my favorite John the Baptist quote).  And then I said, "But seriously, how can I help you?"  He had come to find out about computer tutoring.

--Yesterday was the orientation day for our midquarter start group of students.  Years ago, I'd have been racing around adding more classes to the schedule to accommodate the 200-300 students we'd have had.  Those days have become these days when we only had about 40 students yesterday.  But they seemed enthusiastic--and very young.

--Registration for Fall quarter started yesterday.  By 8:30 a.m., when I was correcting one faculty member's schedule, I noticed that there were already some students registered for English classes.  Registration had only been available since 8:00--I am seeing these early registrants as a hopeful sign.

--We have a one day visit from accreditors in two weeks.  I've spent the last week assembling the syllabi notebook.  In October of 2014, our syllabi were completely uniform--it's amazing how syllabi can migrate in one year:  missing logos, new grid lines, changed type font.  If the accreditors have a lust for uniformity, we are doomed.  I'm betting that they won't care about graphic design, as long as the content is fine.

--I am living in and out of time as an administrator, keeping multiple schedules in my head:  Summer, Midquarter, and Fall.  I refuse to start to think about hiring for January until we get to October--otherwise my head might explode.

--We're having a Spirit Week at school, with each day having a clothing theme.  Yesterday was superhero day.  When someone asked me about my lack of costume, I said, "I'm SuperAdministrator.  I'm completely invisible, solving large problems in a single bound, with a schedule in one hand and a room use chart in the other."

--My poetry writing has fallen by the wayside.  Two weeks ago, I had an excuse:  it was the last week of online classes at one school, and I had a lot of grading to do.  This week, I don't have a good excuse.  I feel like I have an image or two, but no poem blooms out of them.

--I've been typing poems into the computer in the hopes that my old work will inspire me.  Even if it doesn't, I'll have new poems to send out to journals when submissions open in a week.

--For comfort, I've been thinking about medieval monastics who formed nunneries and kept them running and did their creative work and cared for the larger community.  Tomorrow I'll post one of the poems that I wrote about Saint Brigid; it's just been published in Adanna.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Bone Density and the Fragility of the Spine

Yesterday, as I was reaching to put a coffee mug on a bedside table, a movement that I make daily, my back seized up.  I spent the rest of the day moving very slowly, gently, and deliberately.  I took a lot of ibuprofen.

Midafternoon, I reached across the desk for a binder clip.  Again, that fierce clenching of muscles.  It was as if my body said, "You were thinking about going to spin class.  Rethink that plan."

So I came home.  I got some grading done, some writing done, and washed some dishes.  I took more ibuprofen.  I decided not to attempt spin class this morning.

I find it interesting that I had this reminder of the fragility of the spine on the same day that the first two women completed Army Ranger training.  They had to accomplish the same harsh discipline as the men.  They did it.

I remember the not-so-long ago days when people would have argued that women were not capable of becoming strong enough to do it.  I always argued that we should try it and see.  I conceded that most women would not be capable.  I also argued that most men are not capable.

In the news coverage yesterday, I heard that most women wash out of the program because of stress fractures:  they truly cannot carry those heavy packs day after day.  But now, two women have proven that some women can.

My mom and my maternal grandmother have/had dense bones.  My paternal grandmother died before we had any sense that regular women might want to know their bone density.  I have yet to have a scan, but I'm guessing that my bones are fairly dense.  My skeleton has been carrying extra weight for my whole life--it's a different kind of strength training.  I've also done work with weights, and I've never had trouble lifting and carrying.

But oh my poor spine.  I'm guessing that my spine is fine--it's the back muscles around it that grow strained and tired.

I do need to be more intentional about getting up and moving during the day.  While I don't have the rigorous demands of an Army Ranger, my job is taking its toll on my physical being.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Gender Neutral Language

Last week, as I wrote about my marriage anniversary, I thought about my use of the word "spouse."  I've gotten interesting comments through the years about my use of that word.  Some people seem to find it offensive.  Some people suspect that I'm hiding something.  Some people wonder why it matters, since I refer to my spouse with male pronouns--why not use "husband"?

I've been using gender neutral language when I can since the 1980's.  I was an English major, and I really believed that if we made our language more gender neutral, we'd make our society give women more opportunities.  I also had similar beliefs about the gender neutrality of God language.

I could argue that we've been successful.  I could smile fondly at the language activism of my young self.

I thought about refusing to get married until my gay and lesbian friends had the same opportunities.  But honestly, I never thought I'd see that day in my lifetime.

I didn't have my marriage-should-be-sacrament ideals then.  On the contrary, I thought marriage was a trap, a tool of patriarchal culture.  I can still make a case for that view, especially for women who have children. 

But we've made progress in that area.  We still have a distance to travel, but at least it's not legal to rape your wife any more, the way it was when I got married in South Carolina in 1988.

I still like the idea of gender neutral language for all the reasons that I did when I was younger.  I think if we can make all of our language, not just marriage language and God language, more gender neutral, life will be easier for our transgendered brothers and sisters--and easier for us all.

I'm an English major at heart, after all.  I believe that our language shapes us in ways most of us are hardly aware of.  I believe that it's crucial to create a more egalitarian society, and a place where we can all start is with the words that come out of our mouths and our pens (or fingers, as the case may be).

Monday, August 17, 2015

A Retreat Week-end at Home

It was a strange week-end, not at all what we had planned.  We had planned to go to Luther Springs, a church camp in Hawthorne, Florida.  I had downloaded directions.  We knew it could be tough to find, but we could not have anticipated the problems we had.

We got to the area Friday evening as the light started to fade.  We couldn't find the road that MapQuest told us was there.  We drove up and down the last paved road for hours looking for it.  Because it was dark, we were scared to go too far down each dirt road--we eventually tried each and every dirt road off the paved road.

By the time that we realized we couldn't find it, it was 11:00 p.m., too late to call anyone, if we could have gotten a cell phone signal.  There were no signs:  not one for the camp, not one for the road that branched off the other road that went off the paved road.

We finally went home.  My spouse had made the whole drive up--almost 6 hours because of intense storms around Orlando--and the driving on the search for the camp.  So, I drove back.  I stopped at the rest area outside of Melbourne and slept for a bit.  Then we kept going.

Along the way, we saw things we wouldn't have seen otherwise:  two creatures who really did look like coyotes, country road darkness, deer, stars, lightning both up close and from a distance--the middle of the night sky was gorgeous across the state.

We got home around 6:30.  We slept for a bit, and then forced ourselves to wake up so that we wouldn't get too far off schedule. 

We were disappointed, but we had headed to the camp to celebrate its 25th anniversary.  It would have been worse if we had paid for a retreat that we couldn't find.  We decided to try to have the kind of intentional, "time apart," kind of week-end that we'd have had away.

We limited screen time and chores.  We tried to focus on each other.  We tried to treat ourselves gently, since making a 15 hour drive only to arrive home was a strange kind of stress.  And for the most part, we were successful.

What did we do?  In some ways, it was a normal-ish week-end.  We grilled and swam in the pool.  We slept.  We went on walks.

But we also rode our bikes for the first time since December.  We bought herbs and planted them.  We took a car load of stuff to Goodwill.  We bought our first digital TV and got it set up.  It's a Smart TV, so we tried to get it to connect to the wi-fi, but it was starting to irritate us (and violate the limited screen time pact we had made), so we quit trying.  We'll figure it out, or we won't. 

The new TV gets much better digital reception than our old analog TV and converter box:  no more getting up and down to adjust the antenna!  We've joined the 21st century!  And we got rid of a lot of clutter around the TV--thus the trip to Goodwill.

It's been a good experiment.  We'll be looking for ways to integrate the lessons from our "place apart" week-end into week-ends where we need to do things like focus on our online classes.  Stay tuned!

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Working My Way Out of the Bog of Despair

On Thursday morning, as I waited for my computer to do all its updating, I decided to use the Poet's Tarot (for more details on the deck, go here).  I decided to pull out the Major Arcana card, shuffle them, and pull out a random card.

I got XXI, the Denise Levertov card.  The Guidebook has the subtitle "on the threshold of abundance."  Oh how I needed this hope!  I needed this reminder:  "Each goal that you set in your creative life and accomplish is worth celebrating."

I pulled the card after several days of being stuck in a bog of despair, a bog of feeling like I have accomplished nothing with my life.  I had ignored the very good advice that I got from a wise yoga teacher years ago:  "Quit comparing yourself to everyone else.  It won't help!"

What restored me?  Well, on Wednesday, I had tea with my writer-colleague-friend at work.  We talked about my boggy feelings.  She said that no publication she's ever had compares to the feeling of having gotten a piece of writing down.  It was good to remember that.

On Wednesday evening, I was preparing statistics for my annual review.  I counted up the number of submissions I had made:  50 submissions of poetry packets.  I had 5 acceptances.  That's a 10% acceptance rate, right?  That's better than some years, weaker than others.

I reminded myself that I had finished my memoir revisions and started submitting to agents.  I came very close to winning the Concrete Wolf annual chapbook competition.  I reread the gracious rejection from Copper Canyon Press.

When I pulled the Levertov card, it felt like a message, that I have set in motion something that will soon come to fruition.  Let it be so.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Defining Success

Some weeks there are times when others around the blogosphere seem to be writing just what I need.  This week I've felt a bit of despair at all the things I haven't accomplished yet, both writing and otherwise.  I remind myself I'm not dead yet.  I could have several productive decades ahead of me.

Yet I still feel Time's Winged Chariot hurrying near (as Marvell put it)--I always have, but now I feel the breath of the charioteer on me.

So it was wonderful to come across Kelli's blog post that shows us that there are many ways to define our success as a writer:  "Success as a writer or artist is creating something from nothing. It’s adding a little beauty to the world or being part of a larger conversation. Sometimes success is beginning a project. Sometimes it’s finishing. Sometimes success is losing track of the hours you spent revising a poem or teaching someone else how to paint."

Of course, some of us will always equate success with the amount of money in our bank account.  She reminds us, "Money seems to be the easiest way to measure success for many people, but it’s not accurate. Freelance writer, Kristin Wong wrote, Money is a tool, not an ideal. Money is a tool we can use to buy things we need or want, but having more of it than another person doesn’t mean someone is successful, perhaps it just means they are better at hoarding."

Our ego is so wrapped up with money and success, and in this blog piece, Sandy shares the best piece of writing advice she ever got: 

"All of this recalls to mind some advice I received in the late spring of 1999. Lo those many years ago, I traveled to Fayetteville, Arkansas, to check out the MFA program there. On that visit, I met the amazing poet Alison Pelegrin. As we chatted over drinks, I must have asked her for some advice about entering the program. She turned to me and said, 'Invest your ego elsewhere.'

What followed from there was a discussion on group dynamics and competitive natures in workshop, but we also talked about writing and publishing in general. The truth is, as it ever was, there will always be someone out there publishing in your "dream" journal when you get rejected, receiving the award you were just sure you would receive, getting the slick 2/2 teaching gig at one of the top 5 grad schools, and etc. Sadly, there will also always be people who need to talk down the work of others in order to feel better about their own writing. This is human nature."

Susan sums up the whole issue neatly in her blog post:  "When I receive a note from a stranger to tell me they were moved by a specific poem or they are in need of a poem they heard me read years ago in a different country --- this is the biggest success. My words reached into another person’s life and took-up residence. What could be better? A trophy? A fat check? Maybe. Or maybe not."

Let me record a note that I got this week, so that I will remember.  My writer-colleague-friend wrote, "You inspire me to aspire to be organized about my writing. I would not be a quarter of a writer, had it not been for you."

Yes, that's my definition of success!

Friday, August 14, 2015

Returning to Onground Teaching

Yesterday my dean told me that I needed to put a class for myself into the schedule of Fall classes.  To do that, I had to look up up the ID # so that the system will code the class to me.   I realized that it's been a long time since I've taught:  6 years.

Dedicated readers of this blog will say, "Wait, you talk about teaching all the time."

That's true--but I've been teaching online classes in my free time for different area schools.  I've done that for a variety of reasons:  the money, the experience, the fear that I might lose my full-time job at any moment.

When I first got promoted to department chair, the tradition was that newly promoted chairs could take a year off teaching while they got used to the new duties.  And then when my position was restructured, our student population was so large that I didn't have to teach.

Well, those days have become these days--and to tell the truth, for over a year now, I've been expecting that I'd be needed to teach, either because somebody left suddenly or because we were migrating to the standard held by all our schools.

Some people have reacted with horror at the idea of being asked to teach.  But I don't mind.  I'm on campus 45-60 hours a week anyway--it will be good to get out of the office and back with students.

I will likely teach our advanced composition class, even though I'm not crazy about the idea of teaching MLA documentation.  At least I'll have some control--I have come to believe that the traditional approach to research and English class research papers is just wrong.  I can say with some assurance that none of our students at my full-time school are going on to be English majors.  They will not need to know how to write this way.

Sure, the traditional approach can build all sorts of other types of critical thinking and writing skills, but surely we can do something else.  I plan to see.

Months ago I came up with a plan that I plan to use for the class I will teach.  I first wrote about it in this blog post.  I plan to have students buy Jeannine Hall Gailey's Becoming the Villainess.  Months ago, I was thinking this way;

"I have this whole series of modules mapped out in my head--students interpreting a poem and discussing it as a class and then bringing the living poet in to the conversation--and from there, seeing how other artists have used the fairy tale--in song and film for example, or TV shows--and from there, having students create something with the fairy tale and/or write an analytical essay or something that involves mixed media.
I've wondered about having students write to Gailey.  I have this vision of having the students choose their favorite poem from the text and having to convince their classmates that their choice was the one we should talk to Gailey about."
But I'm not going to get too far ahead of myself.  I've been psyched before, about this approach for a different class, but not been able to proceed.  Let me see if the class gets enough enrollment before I do too much planning.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Marriage Musings on the 27th Anniversary

Last night, on the eve of my 27th wedding anniversary, I arrived home at 9:30 p.m.; it was my night to staff the late-evening hours at the office.  Through the window, I could see my spouse working at the dining room table.  I let myself linger on the walkway.  In some ways, he hasn't changed much at all--he was working on Philosophy classes, the same way he might have been 27 years ago.

Last night, we floated in the pool and hoped to see a meteor.  I saw one as we took our shoes off; my spouse saw one as we decided to call it a night.  That seems like a metaphor, but I haven't worked out the symbolism yet.

I think back to all the changes of the last 27 years.  I have a pool to float in.  My own pool, not the apartment complex pool I'd have had 27 years ago.  Here I am at second to southernmost county on the U.S. mainland.  That's a change.  And by lots of hard work and some luck, we live in a historic district near the beach. 

Twenty-seven years ago, we'd have been in Greenwood, South Carolina.  I'd have slept in the house that used to be a parsonage where my grandfather served a congregation for many years. Twenty-seven years ago in that house, my grandmother ironed my wedding dress.  Below you'll see my grandmother, with my aunt Joyce helping.

Yes, I had a long, white dress.  We got married in the same church in Greenwood, South Carolina where my parents had gotten married in 1962, the same church where my grandfather had been the pastor.  We tried to keep the ceremony and the reception relatively simple.  For example, we chose daisies for our bouquet.  Our reception included sandwiches, so that our out-of-town guests wouldn't have to buy lunch on their way out of town.  We had the best wedding cake I've ever had.

In many ways, we're still that same couple:  we try to keep life simple, while at the same time, keeping a commitment to hospitality.  We are hyper-aware of our blessings, and the fact that much of the world will never taste the extravagance of a wedding cake.  But we don't deprive ourselves--we stop to admire the daisies.

Twenty-seven years ago, I'd have wanted to spare my grandmother the hassle of ironing a dress that was just going to be rumpled anyway.  This morning, I'm amazed at the fact that anyone on this planet is willing to iron a wedding dress.  My grandmother had ways of showing love that I didn't appreciate at the time.

People ask what we'll be doing for our anniversary--well, we both have to work.  But that's O.K.  We'll celebrate later.

We'll celebrate the way that we celebrate our marriage on most days.  On our better days, we remember to say thank you to each other, and I always try to focus on the way having a partner enriches my life.

On bad days, I have opposite thoughts, but I try to counter those days with days of gratitude.  Even the bad days enrich the good days, because I'm so grateful that most days are good ones, not bad ones.

Here you see a picture of us on this day in 1988, and the two of us at our 25th anniversary dinner:

Here's my final thought for an anniversary morning.  I'd expand the thought to include not just our spouses but also our friends and colleagues and family members.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

How to Live Wisely

This article in The New York Times has interesting insights about ways to help college students (or people of any age really) learn to live wisely.  Many of them seem like they'd be useful across a wide variety of classes.

The first assignment mentioned reminded me of a writing assignment I used to do early in my teaching days:  "Imagine you are Dean for a Day. What is one actionable change you would implement to enhance the college experience on campus?"

My variation simply asked students to identify a problem (either in their neighborhoods, their jobs, the campus) and offer several solutions.  The concluding paragraph had them choose the best one.  If I wanted to add research elements, I had them interview people in charge or other students or research building codes--the list could go on and on.

Here are some other interesting questions from the article.  They seem worth revisiting periodically:

"If you could become extraordinarily good at one thing versus being pretty good at many things, which approach would you choose?"

"In the Core Values Exercise, students are presented with a sheet of paper with about 25 words on it. The words include “dignity,” “love,” “fame,” “family,” “excellence,” “wealth” and “wisdom.” They are told to circle the five words that best describe their core values. Now, we ask, how might you deal with a situation where your core values come into conflict with one another?"

I love, love, love the last exercise:

"This exercise presents a parable of a happy fisherman living a simple life on a small island. The fellow goes fishing for a few hours every day. He catches a few fish, sells them to his friends, and enjoys spending the rest of the day with his wife and children, and napping. He couldn’t imagine changing a thing in his relaxed and easy life.

A recent M.B.A. visits this island and quickly sees how this fisherman could become rich. He could catch more fish, start up a business, market the fish, open a cannery, maybe even issue an I.P.O. Ultimately he would become truly successful. He could donate some of his fish to hungry children worldwide and might even save lives.
“And then what?” asks the fisherman.
“Then you could spend lots of time with your family,” replies the visitor. “Yet you would have made a difference in the world. You would have used your talents, and fed some poor children, instead of just lying around all day.”
We ask students to apply this parable to their own lives. Is it more important to you to have little, accomplish little, yet be relaxed and happy and spend time with family? Or is it more important to you to work hard, use your talents, perhaps start a business, maybe even make the world a better place along the way?
Typically, this simple parable leads to substantial disagreement. These discussions encourage first-year undergraduates to think about what really matters to them, and what each of us feels we might owe, or not owe, to the broader community — ideas that our students can capitalize on throughout their time at college."

Back to me.  I love these ideas as both discussion starters and potential larger projects.  As I see a variety of teaching assignments, it seems to me that we (by which I mean teachers and other types of guides of younger people) are guilty of not asking them to push themselves hard enough.  We lower our expectations.  No wonder we don't see engagement.

When students went to college, we used to assume that they'd wrestle with these ideas.  We can no longer be sure of that.  We could argue over whether or not they should--perhaps these questions should be the left for parents, for spiritual communities, or perhaps we don't see them as important at all.  Perhaps we think that humans are born with the values we want them to have.

Most of us, however, know that's not the case.  We may not be sure of how to form children, however, even if we think it's crucial.  These kinds of exercises show us a way.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Back to the Beach

Last night, we did something we do too seldom these days:  we walked to the beach.

When we first moved here, I could hardly bear to be inside.  I loved walking all around my neighborhood.  I reveled in the fact that I could walk to the beach.  I walked and walked and took my camera and registered the ways that my new neighborhood changed with the months.

Well, those days have become these days.  We are both teaching more classes, which means we're at our computers more.

My spouse's brother and his wife were in town, celebrating their 31st wedding anniversary with a night at the beach.  So we walked over to meet them.  We had beer brewed onsite at the organic brewery--we ordered a big beer to share, which meant we got a Brewmaster pizza for half price.

When we got home, sweaty from our walk, we went for a swim and then we watched some bits of TV.  We caught the end of Simon and Garfunkle's Concert in Central Park.  I thought about how many times I've bought this album (2 times on vinyl, once on CD).  I thought about all those great songs.  They ended with "Old Friends":  "How terribly strange to be 70."  Now both men are older than 70, and likely not sitting on park benches like book ends, to use the words of the song.  I thought about all the friends I once had, too many of whom are also not going to make it to that park bench with me.

This morning, I walked to the beach again.  I took my camera.  I sat on a park bench, all by myself.  An older man walked by, and he said in a heavy Russian accent:  "Every morning, remember, remember that this is magic."

He gestured at the sunrise over the Atlantic.  I said, "I will remember.  It is magic."

I think of that Wordsworth line, which I don't have time to look up to get the wording right:  though much has been lost, much has been retained.  Abundant recompense for the losses?  Yes, but these years, I say it with more hesitation.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Instruments of Peace

I would like to work in a small, chapel-like space:

Marion's Chapel in Saluda, NC

I would like this sign outside my office space:

Mepkin Abbey in Moncks Corner, SC

I would like a copper roof to block the cell phone signals:

I would like to put up a glass wall to protect my work space from the clamor:

But that is not the life I lead, in this choir of an office suite:

And so I offer this prayer:

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Creativity Saturday with Alice Walker

Yesterday afternoon, as thunder rumbled but the rain never came, I watched this documentary on Alice Walker.  I cannot believe it took me so long to watch this segment of PBS' American Masters Series.

I know that these segments are not always available forever, and that this segment had been out awhile, so I decided that I would watch it after my friends went home after a delightful picnic and pool time together.  I had planned to do other tasks (like grading) while watching it, but it was so compelling that I quickly put aside those plans.

I did work on a baby quilt while watching.  That activity seemed perfect.

Most of the information wasn't new to me.  Alice Walker was a touchstone to me in my younger years, and I already knew a lot about her.  Still, it was wonderful to hear the interviews, to see the footage, and to think about what it means to be a woman artist, especially one of color.

I did find one thing new:  there were interviews with her former partners, including the husband who was father to their daughter Rebecca.  And I somehow missed the fact that Alice Walker and Tracy Chapman were lovers.

In my younger years, I'd have been fascinated by the variety of relationships.  Yesterday I was most enthralled by the recounting of the writing of The Color Purple and the photographs of the notebooks where she wrote the longhand draft of the novel.

I love the idea of the characters talking to her, of her ancestors coming to her while she wrote.  I have always been receptive to that idea, but I was even more open to it yesterday; the night before I dreamed of my grandmother, whom I have been missing a lot in these late summer days.

When the movie finished, my first thought was to watch it again.  Instead, I watched American Beauty, which I haven't seen since about 2003.

I wish I had watched the Alice Walker documentary instead.

Both films talk about becoming an authentic person and staying true to that authentic person.  But the Alice Walker documentary made me want to get back to my writing desk and do my best work.  American Beauty made me want to hide under the bed.

Inspired by Alice Walker, I looked at my longer poetry manuscript.  I've been wrestling with whether or not to rethink it (see this post).  On Wednesday I had a long, wonderful conversation with my colleague creative writer friend who encouraged me not to take the chapbook overlapping poems out of the manuscript.

Yesterday I decided to follow her advice.  I also decided to take out the weaker poems (none of which are in the chapbook) and put in the stronger poems that I had thought about using if I had decided to take out the chapbook overlapping poems.

Today it's back to work; I have to turn in grades for 2 online classes tomorrow, so today I need to make sure I have all the last minute, extra credit graded.  But I'm happy, because once I get grades turned in, I have one of those windows where I have a few weeks of extra writing time--let me not waste them!

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Vistas, Present and Past

My spouse is waking up to a very different vista:

He's not too far from the farms where your Christmas tree likely was born.

Why am I not there?  I could be spending this afternoon reading on this porch:

Well, my life is different than it was 3 years ago when we first went to Lutherock for my spouse's Board meeting.  I have grades for my online classes due on Monday, which means I have grading to do this week-end.  Lutherock is isolated enough in the mountains of North Carolina that I can't count on getting any kind of Internet connection there.

Of course, I could have made that work if I wanted to--but if I went, we'd have gone by car, and it's a very long drive, with the last 5 hours through small towns and up twisty roads.  It was easier to buy my spouse an airline ticket and send him on his way.

Still, I feel those mountains tug at me.  I'd like a breath of cooler air. 

I'm also thinking of our trip two years ago, when my parents met us there.  On Saturday, my uncle came over from his house in North Carolina, and it was a delightful afternoon of hikes and good conversation. 

We had just bought our house close to the beach before selling our old house, and I remember feeling a bit fretful about money.  I remember sitting on the porch in the above picture, and my mom asking if I was really worried.  I told her that I wasn't, even though I was.  We agreed that it would all work out.

And it has.

Part of the way it worked out:  the online classes that I'm teaching.  I often wonder if I'd have been eager to seize that opportunity if I hadn't been fretful about the money.  I might have--I might have wanted to have that skill represented on my CV if I need a different job. 

I'm also feeling grateful that our old house sold quickly.  I'm grateful that my spouse didn't hold out for more money; we learned our lesson from the great housing crash which caught us holding a condo after his mom's death, a condo that took us years to sell, as my husband's expectations chased the market down.

I have real estate on the brain as we approach the 2 year anniversary of putting the old house on the market.  We got back from Lutherock, cleaned up the old house a bit more, and waited hopefully.

I'm glad we didn't have to wait long.

Today, instead of the mountains, this vista will be mine:

I'm having a picnic with some friends who teach in the public schools.  Their summer comes to an end soon, and we want to have one last pool day.  I'm happy to provide the pool, and we'll have a picnic lunch.

And then I'll do some more grading until it's time to pick my spouse up from the airport.  Maybe I'll write a poem this afternoon.

And I'll keep counting my blessings along the way.

Friday, August 7, 2015

Recipe: Cranberry Orange Bread

I don't drink much orange juice these days:  too many calories, too much sugar.  When my parents visit, I buy juice for them, but they don't drink much either, for the same reasons.

So when they leave, I have juice left over.  Lots of juice.  Once I would freeze it, only to throw it out years later when I realized I hadn't used it.  Now I don't have the freezer space, and I try to use things quickly or toss them, instead of waiting years to toss them.

This past week, I've been making cranberry orange bread to use up the orange juice.  My friends have asked for the recipe, and so I give it to you here too.  It's from the wonderful The Great Holiday Baking Book by Beatrice Ojakangas.

2 C. all purpose flour (you can use part whole wheat or take out half a cup of flour and use oats)
1 C. sugar
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1/4 C. melted butter
1 large egg, beaten
1 tsp grated orange zest (tastes fine without)
3/4 C. orange juice
1 C. halved fresh cranberries or 1/2 C. dried cranberries
1 C. chopped walnuts (I use pecans instead)

Preheat the oven to 350.  Butter and flour a loaf pan.  The loaf will want to stick to the pan, so don't try this recipe without flour in the pan.

Mix the flour, sugar, baking powder, and baking soda together in a large bowl.  Stir in the butter, egg, juice and zest all at once, stirring just until the mixture is evenly moist.  Fold in the cranberries and nuts.  Spoon the batter into the pan.

Bake for 50 minutes* until a knife inserted in the middle comes out clean.  Cool for 5 minutes in the pan and then turn onto a wire rack to cool.

*The recipe calls for 70 minutes of baking, which I've never needed.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Transfiguring Atoms

On this day, 70 years ago, the world was about to change in dramatic ways that we likely still don't fully comprehend.  On this day, 70 years ago, the first nuclear bomb was used in war.

The effects of that bomb obliterated much of Hiroshima--and vaporized some of it.  There were reports of people fused into pavement and glass--or just vanished, with a trace remaining at the pavement.  The reports of the survivors who walked miles in search of help or water are grim.  And many of those survivors would die of the effects of radiation in the coming years.

In a strange twist, today is also the Feast Day of the Transfiguration in Orthodox churches, the day when Jesus went up the mountain with several disciples and becomes transfigured into a radiant being. Those of you who worship in Protestant churches may have celebrated this event just before Lent began, so you may not think of it as a summer kind of celebration. Pre-Reformation traditions often celebrated this day in conjunction with blessing the first harvest.

I find it an interesting conjunction, and of course, I've written a poem about it.

Ides of August

We long to be transfigured in the Holy Flame,
to harness atoms to do our will.
At the thought of what they attempt,
leaders and scientists tremble.
On the other side of the planet,
people vanish into the unforgettable fire,
wisps of cloth pressed into concrete,
the only sign that they existed.

We cling to the Ancient Lie
of the violence that can redeem
us. We purge and plunge whole
landscapes into the land of ash and smoke.
The sun rises over a steamy swamp
of decimated land and decapitated dreams.

Like Peter, we long to harness Holiness,
to build booths, to charge admission.
Christ turned into Carnival.
No need to do the hard, Christian work:
repairing community, loving the unloveable.
No, we seek redemption in the flame.

We pin our hopes on the nuclear
family, small units than can withstand the fission
of everyday stresses and detonating loss.
We cast away thousands of years of human
knowledge; we forget the wisdom of the pack.
We head for our hermitages in the hills,
hoping to be transfigured into hardy-stocked survivors.

Today is a good day to think about what distractions, atomic, cosmic, or otherwise, take our attention away from the true work. Today is a good day to think about mountaintop experiences and how we navigate our lives when we're not on the mountaintop.  Today is also a good day to meditate on power and how we seek to harness it and how we use power once we have it.

Today is also a great day to celebrate the transfiguring possibility of power.  After all, not all uses of power lead to destructive explosions.  Some times, we find redemption.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Our Duty to Hope

Today is Wendell Berry's birthday. I've admired Wendell Berry for many years, even as I've only read his work in bits and pieces. I like his poems, love most of his essays, and haven't read his novels. I admire his commitment to his farm in Kentucky, a commitment which has led to quiet environmental activism; I expect that future generations of scholars will realize that he's written some of the most important environmental writing of the last part of the twentieth century.

I've just ordered a copy of the exchange of letters between Wendell Berry and Gary Snyder.  They have had similar interests--environmental, poetic, spiritual--but they've come and gone in such different directions.

As I placed the order, I thought about how ephemeral our communications are these days.  The Facebook exchange that I had with a friend last night--could I find that 10 years from now if I thought it was important?

At this point, I could--I scrolled back and saw that our whole correspondence going back to 2009 seems to be there.  Ten years from now?  Hard to say.

Of course, paper has its impermanence too. 

Berry's work has seemed vital for decades now. I first read him as an undergraduate, and I felt somewhat embarrassed for liking someone whose work was so accessible.  Now, of course, I think it's one of his more important traits.

What I value most these days is his ability to never sink into gloom for too long. He manages to sound prophetic (one of the prophet's duties being to call people back to right living, as well as to warn), without setting up a house in the land of the apocalypse. He always comes back to one of his main themes: ". . . hope is one of our duties. A part of our obligation to our own being and to our descendants is to study our life and our condition, searching always for the authentic underpinnings of hope. And if we look, these underpinnings can still be found. For one thing, though we have caused the earth to be seriously diseased, it is not yet without health. The earth we have before us now is still abounding and beautiful" ("Conservation and Local Economy" from Sex, Economy, Freedom, and Community, page 11).

He wrote those words almost 20 years ago, and yet, they still have relevance.  Some days, when the news seems unrelentingly bad, it's hard to continue to hope.  But it's one of the more important activities we can undertake.

Here's a passage that reminds us of the miracles which surround us each day:  "Whoever really has considered the lilies of the field or the birds of the air and pondered the improbability of their existence in this warm world within the cold and empty stellar distances will hardly balk at the turning of water into wine--which was, after all, a very small miracle. We forget the greater and still continuing miracle by which water (with soil and sunlight) is turned into grapes" ("Christianity and the Survival of Creation" from Sex, Economy, Freedom, and Community, page 103).

That passage made me gasp when I first read it, and it still does.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Manuscript Musings

Long ago, when I first started thinking about putting a first book manuscript together, I thought that a good chunk of my first book would consist of poems that had been in a chapbook.  For awhile, it seemed that most first books I analyzed were constructed that way.

But as it became apparent that I'd be awhile between book-length (and I include chapbooks as book-length) publications, I started thinking about it differently.  I started thinking about the people who would buy my books.  I thought about myself as reader and purchaser.

As a book purchaser, I'm willing to buy both a chapbook and a book with a spine.  Thus, I don't want a book that contains poems that were in a chapbook--unless that chapbook is no longer available.  That was my thinking 12 years ago.  These days, when book publishing is cheap, if my chapbook went out of print, it would be much easier to make new copies myself, if I found myself with sudden demand for them.

Throughout the past decade and a half of book constructing, I've been careful to have only a few poems that could be found in a chapbook as I created book-length manuscripts.  In February of 2014, I put together longer manuscript, a book with a spine.  I've only sent it to a few places; I plan to send it out more aggressively in the coming months.

But in the meantime, back in November, I took 18 of the poems that are in the longer manuscript and created a chapbook which I'm calling "Life in the Holocene Extinction."  That chapbook won First Runner-Up in the Concrete Wolf Publishers annual chapbook contest.  I've entered the contest several years and never had a manuscript place so well.  So I sent the manuscript to the Finishing Line Press New Women's Voices competition.  Judging is underway.

I've entered that contest before, and while I didn't win, my chapbook I Stand Here Shredding Documents was chosen for publication.  So I'm hopeful for my current manuscript.

This morning I looked at poems written/revised after I put the longer manuscript together.  I'm thinking of taking those 19 poems that are part of both manuscripts out of the longer one.

Those are the stronger poems of course.  I have other strong poems to use in their place.  But then, some part of my brain thinks, why not revise the whole manuscript?

And that thinking sent me spiraling down a hole thinking of all the poems I've written, poems I once thought of as my best, which are now no longer part of any manuscript.  Stronger ones came along to replace them.

I also think of something that Eavan Boland said about our current time, an article which I can't find, but do remember. She said that we're losing the first book because it's so hard to get first books published.  By the time we get a "first book" from a poet, it's what would have been their second or third book, had they had a publishing career that was more common to the 20th century.

Of course, many voices that are published today would have been lost then--never published at all.

I'll keep mulling all my choices and trying not to get too bogged down by these details.

Monday, August 3, 2015

A Pre-Work Prayer

This morning, before the noise of the working world, takes back over the week, let me remember the quiet of the meditation space:

Let me channel the power of the open field:

Let me know the whisper of the sanctuary:

Let me speak with the quiet authority of the river that flows to the sea:

Let me know when to keep silent:

Let my light burn with steadiness: