Saturday, October 31, 2015

The Costumes that We Wear, the Costumes that We Internalize

Yesterday at work, we had a costume contest.  I've never worn a costume to work--well, that's not exactly true.  I could make the argument that many of us are wearing costumes to work.  I don't sit around my house wearing my clothes that I wear to the office.  Professional Life Kristin:  that's my costume.

Yesterday I did make concessions to Halloween.  I wore a skirt that's vibrant orange sherbet colored and a black shirt and black sandals. 

I did think about possible costumes.  If I had planned ahead and lost a lot of weight, I could have come as the shrinking middle class.  I thought of coming as a fortune teller with a cloudy crystal ball--after all, many of us at work would like to know our future there.

Clearly, my costume creation self was heading in a dark direction, and who needs that?

But this morning, I also started this train of thought:  once I loved creating a costume.  When did I become too busy to celebrate this holiday I once loved?

I thought about my childhood. in the 1970’s, when this holiday was different.  I don't remember being able to buy costumes at a store; we assembled them out of what was on hand, usually our parents' clothes and make up and whatever we could construct (or what our mothers might sew).    I remember making a witch hat out of a cone of paper and putting my mother's green eye shadow all over my face.  I remember my skin itching for days.

In college, we continued to create costumes.  I remember streaking my hair green.  That green stayed in my blond hair for weeks.  Now I see students who die their hair in all sorts of unnatural shades.  Back in the 80's, it seemed daring, like pierced ears for boys.

But these days, I feel like creating a costume is just one more thing on an ever-growing list of tasks to do.  And that fact makes me sad.

I was in a serious funk for part of the day yesterday.  I didn't feel like decorating the departmental pumpkin.  The noon festivities made me yearn for quiet.  But somehow, by later afternoon, my mood had shifted.

Our departmental pumpkin had not been carved.  Our admin. ass't was going to throw it away, and I said, "No, that seems like a waste."  I asked my other department members if they wanted to take the pumpkin home, and no one did.  So I brought it home.

On Thursday, my spouse had talked about carving one of the small pumpkins on our porch, after we saw the jack-o-lanterns on our new neighbors' porch across the street.  I was glad to have a larger pumpkin to carve.

Last night we scooped the guts out of the pumpkin and separated the seeds from the goop.  My spouse roasted the seeds.  He also created the face for the pumpkin, and we both carved it.  Carving it was easier than I remembered it being.  We have a supply of votive candles, so we went ahead and used one last night.

It felt cozy, eating pumpkin seeds and watching the flickering candle while my spouse toggled between the World Series and the ABC Halloween-themed Friday night shows.

It's interesting to be an observer of my moods.  I watched myself going from forlorn to irritable to sad to calm to happy to content:  all in the course of 13 hours.  It's good to remember that our emotions aren't permanent--that if we can sit with them, we may be able to make the shift from something negative to something better.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Inspirations from Observations and Bedraggled Flowers

I complain a bit about having to observe classes, especially when our observation load increases.  I'm happy to observe the classes that are part of my department; it's part of my job as an administrator, after all.  But now, the administrators are observing a wide variety of classes from a list that our corporate structure hands to us.

In some ways, it's ridiculous.  I go to an Intro to Video Production class, and I don't know enough about the content to understand if it's being taught well or not.

But in many ways, I'm no different than many of our students, who also do not have vast experience with the subject matter when they start. 

Yesterday I went to observe an Advertising class, where the students were divided into teams.  They had spent the last weeks developing an ad campaign for a mint.  I was intrigued by how different each campaign was.

I was reminded of why I like going out to observe classes.  In my office, I'm frequently seeing disgruntled students.   I'm hearing all the ways that teaching can go wrong.

In the classroom, I'm reminded of what we're doing well.

And some times, I pick up ideas.  My morning Topics for Composition class has moved into finding and evaluating sources.  Yesterday I had them do a Google search, a Google Image search, and a Google Scholar search.  For each search, they chose 3 sources, so 9 sources in all.  They had to write up an analysis of each source.

I got that idea years ago when I observed a History class and watched the teacher walk the class through a similar exercise.  And from one of my English colleagues, I got my idea for next week's class.  We'll do a similar exercise with sources that students get from our library's database.

It's interesting watching my students work.  I don't think that many/any of them had pulled up so many sources on one topic at once. 

Because I came to work early after doing an airport transport good deed, I left early.  I did some work with my online classes and then enjoyed an autumnal dinner of pork chops, apple/onion sauté, and butternut squash.  Then we went for a walk to look at Halloween lights.   Then we took a quick swim in the pool--the unheated pool--before settling in to watch It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown

Yes, that's our autumn down here.  We have yet to have our first cold front, so we still have daytime highs close to 90 degrees and humidity.  My potted mums look quite bedraggled on the porch, but the pumpkins aren't rotting yet.  We'll try to trigger autumn feelings with food and TV, while also enjoying the waning days in the pool.

I think of traditional carpe diem poems, which would use the autumnal imagery differently.  Perhaps I'll write one of my own.  A carpe diem poem for modern times, when we can no longer count on our weather patterns--yes, let me think on that.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

What Haunts the Modern Mind?

Yesterday we had a Spooky Poetry Reading in the library.  I haven't really written much in the way of traditional Halloween poetry--the only supernatural elements in my poem are usually spiritual, and that's not the kind of poetry reading we had in mind.

I thought about writing something for the event, which we started planning a month ago.  Could I channel my inner Poe?

But the month of October was not conducive to writing new work for a variety of reasons.  And so, I wondered what to read.

I decided on "Life in the Holocene Extinction."  It's full of modern fear.  Once we might have been frightened of dark woods.  Now it's hard to find a dark forest. 

I wondered if students would relate to the fear that the poem contains.  I wondered if I should spare them, let them stay innocent awhile longer.

I also wondered if they would understand the reference.  I've begun to worry that while the phrase "Holocene Extinction" is familiar to me, that it might not be to the wider world.

My dad wrote me an e-mail to congratulate me on my chapbook acceptance.  He said, "The 'Holocene Extinction in the title is a term I wasn’t familiar with.   Google and Wikipedia came up with all the info I needed to know about that term.  I’m more anxious than ever to read the chapbook and find out what you have to say about 'the human impact on the environment.'"

It's good to know that even after researching the term, my dad wanted to read my poems.  At least he didn't say, "No.  Too gloomy."  Of course, he's my dad, so he's perhaps not representative of a typical reader.

Yes, the modern fears:  extinction, habitat loss, job loss, no readers--those are the things that haunt me!

If you want to feel similarly spooked, here's the poem.  It first appeared here, with haunting art work to accompany it, at Escape Into Life.

Life in the Holocene Extinction

I complete the day’s tasks
of e-mails and reports and other paperwork.
I think about which species
have gone extinct
in the amount of time it takes
to troll the Internet.
I squash a mosquito.

He drives to the grocery store
to pick up the few items he needs
for dinner: shark from a distant
sea, wine redolent of minerals from a foreign
soil. He avoids the berries
from a tropical country with lax
control of chemicals.

As she packs up her office,
she thinks about habitat loss,
those orphaned animals stranded
in a world of heat and pavement.
She wishes she had saved
more money while she had a job.
She knows she will lose the house.
She wonders what possessions
will fit into her car.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

My Favorite Writer at My Favorite Monastery

If your favorite writer was going to be at your favorite monastery for a 4 day retreat with workshops, what would you do?  Let's assume that you could be gone from work--how much would you pay to be part of this retreat?

I asked my friends this very question, and they would be willing to pay $1500 or more.  Suddenly the $350 fee looked good--it includes food and lodging after all, and one friend pointed out that 3 nights in a hotel could easily cost $350 or more.

But I've never paid this much for a retreat or a writer's workshop, so my view is skewed--and yes, I realize how lucky I am.  My grad school studies cost $159 a semester because I had assistantships.  So that means my whole degree cost less than $1600 in tuition.  Actually that's the cost for 2 degrees, my MA and my PhD at a state university.

I've passed on many an opportunity because it cost too much.  But maybe I've been depriving myself.  Maybe I should spend some money along the way, especially since I've earned some money through my writing.

The retreat at Mepkin Abbey with Kathleen Norris takes place March 28, a week where I'd have been headed north for the Create in Me retreat at Lutheridge on that Thursday--when the Mepkin Abbey retreat ends!  Usually dates do not align that neatly for me.  Usually, when I see 2 or 3 events I'd like to attend, it would mean a month of travelling up and down the same highway.

I saw it as a sign, along with the fact that it would be the week between Winter quarter and Spring quarter, and not the first week of a quarter, which is a tough time to get away.  I also thought of some of the big trips I've taken in the past, and I'm so glad I did now, because it would be so much harder these days, or impossible, to coordinate schedules.

And so, I registered yesterday.  I am so thrilled.  I will be able to work with one of my writing heroes.  I will be able to spend time at Mepkin Abbey.  I will end that time by going to my other favorite retreat place, Lutheridge.

It will be hard to return to regular life after that week.  But I'll worry about that issue later.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Divining the Future

--Yesterday I was looking through my old blog posts, looking for potential article ideas to submit to The Poet's Market 2017.  In one of my old blog posts, I came across a reference to the Bibliomancy Oracle.  I took a break and headed over.  Here's what I got:

You are searching for a landing.
You have come to us from space, and I
will be ready, doctor. I will be ready.
from “Doctor” by Alison Stine

--I tried to find her poem, but no luck.  Her web site did tell me her agent--perhaps the message that the Oracle wants me to hear?

--I got home and listened to this great interview on Fresh Air with Gloria Steinem.  She may be the only person who can make one's older years seem like a very attractive phase of life: 

"Remember when you were 9 or 10 and you were this independent little girl climbing trees and saying, 'I know what I want, I know what I think'  That was before gender descended for most of us.
Ironically, I found by 60 you're free again. So you're the same person you were at 9 or 10, only now you have your own apartment, you can reach the light switch, you hopefully have a little money. So you can do what you want."

I realize that she's very lucky.  If she has health issues, she didn't talk about them  If she has deep regrets, she didn't talk about them.  Clearly, she has enough money--if not, again, she didn't discuss it.

Gloria Steinem has always seemed like a wise older sister, even though I realize (with a bit of shock) that she's older than my mom.

--An even older sister:  Emily Dickinson.  I pulled her card this morning when I used The Poet's Tarot (for more details on the deck, go here).  Here, too, this card seems relevant.  The guide that goes along with the deck talks about the need for solitude, perhaps a retreat.  The guide says that this card gives me permission to leave my daily routine.

And yet when I get solitude, like last night, I feel too exhausted to do much with it.  Of course, I did get some writerly tasks done earlier, a few submissions.  So it wasn't a total bust of a day.  And I did write a page of my short story last night.  And a nice walk to see the Halloween lights, such as they are.

--I think of the way we all compose our lives these days, the way we are curators of our images and our stories and the ways we look for clues to our futures.  I don't think that these divining rods have a clear view of the future.  But I do think they can make me think about the future in ways I might not have otherwise.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Zen Lessons on the Motorcycle

Yesterday was one of those days when I wished there was more of me to go around.  It was Reformation Sunday, so there was plenty of church stuff I could be doing.  It was also my brother-in-law's birthday, so he and my spouse had motorcycle plans.

It has been one of those times where I felt that I should prioritize my spouse's yearnings, so I chose to go with him, even though it was windier than I'd have liked.  We were going to meet them at the edge of the Everglades and ride with an even bigger group to a restaurant that was friendly to big groups of bikers.

Well, we missed the exit.  We were almost to Homestead before we realized it.  We turned around and raced back to the meeting place, but of course, we had just missed the group.  We headed out towards the restaurant.

On a normal day, we could have made it.  But we sat at the light at Highway 27 watching cyclists go by and realized we were not going to be allowed to go north any time soon. 

And so, we headed south.  We rode places we've never been before.  I wasn't sure where we'd end up, but I knew that worse case scenario, we'd get to the end of the continent and turn around to go home.

We wound our way through industrial parts of Miami, with cyclists whizzing by beside us on one side and a river/canal on the other.  We ended up near the Miami airport and made our way down LeJeune Road, the only road where I was sure where we would end up.  South we continued to Coral Gables.

We then went back to Interstate 95, a roadway which has scared me on the motorcycle, so we avoided it in the past.  But it was fine, despite the poor quality of the asphalt in many places.  It was good to be getting home by a direct route.

It was not the adventure that we thought we would have, but it was great nonetheless.  There's a lesson here.

This morning, as I'm seeing Facebook pictures from the various Reformation services that I missed, I feel a bit of sadness at missing those opportunities.  Of course, if I had gone to those services, I'd have felt sad about missing the motorcycle ride.

I didn't go to the afternoon multi-county Reformation service either, but I did get my online teaching tasks done, as well as lunches made for the week and laundry done and other tasks to get ready for the week.  Here, too, I feel sad about what I missed, but glad that I'm not feeling frazzled this morning, trying to get those tasks done this morning.

I am not a clergy person.  I can't go to multiple services on Sunday and have down time on Monday to accomplish the tasks that didn't get done on Sunday while I was at church.  I'm not exactly happy about that, but it's the life I have right now.

I'm trying to be better at realizing that I can't be everywhere at once.  I'm trying to make choices that will leave me with the energy to do both what I want to do and what must be done.  I'm trying to prioritize, but it's so hard. I'm trying to be present for the adventure that is at hand, not the one I planned to have.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Reformation Dawn

Today is Reformation Sunday.  You may or may not remember that this festival day celebrates Martin Luther's radical act of nailing to the church door (the community bulletin board of its day) some of the most important things that he thought was wrong with the Catholic Church.

There are many reasons why more of us should celebrate, even if we're not religious.  Martin Luther translated the Bible into German so that anyone could read it.  Because the sacred text was available, more people achieved literacy.  Once people can read, it's harder to oppress them, either spiritually or politically.

One of my most memorable Reformation Sundays was spent with a Lutheran friend and an Episcopalian friend during our retreat at Mepkin Abbey, a Trappist monastery.

One of my friends said that she was glad not to be singing "A Mighty Fortress is Our God."  She said that she preferred the honesty of the Psalms.

We got in touch with Christian roots that are much more ancient than the roots that we usually celebrate during Reformation Sunday.

What ancient traditions call to you this Reformation Sunday?

What new forms do you yearn to create?

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Seasonal Zen Mindfulness, Hurricane Memories

As we sit here waiting for daylight, so that we can see how much damage Hurricane Patricia caused, I am deeply aware that today is the 10 year anniversary of Hurricane Wilma zooming across the state.   Down here in the southeastern tip of Florida, the wind has howled all night.  I've had trouble than sleeping--more trouble than usual.

Ten years ago I got up early.  I had been watching the progress of the storm, and I wanted to see the latest update.  I saw it at 5:30 a.m., and then the power went out.  We wouldn't have power again for weeks.

I assumed that the land mass of Florida would weaken the storm.  That didn't happen.  That's one reason why I'm keeping an eye on Patricia.  I don't really think our peninsula is in danger--but one should never ignore a hurricane.  I'm also thinking of friends in Asheville who had a more damaging hurricane season a year or two previously to our disastrous year of 2005--yes, Asheville, NC, up in the mountains.  Land doesn't always shred a hurricane the way that we expect.

During part of Hurricane Wilma, I managed to sleep.  Was I just that exhausted?  Did I have a sense of the exhaustion that was to come  in the weeks after the storm?  It would be years before we got all the repairs done.

I am grateful to have survived one more hurricane season unscathed.  I try not to think about the odds and how they are stacked against us.

But for today there is a pumpkin cake in the oven for my brunch with my quilting friends later today.  I am further ahead on my grading than I thought I would be, so maybe I can get out and enjoy the lovely weather we're having, wind and all.  There aren't as many Halloween decorations as there have been in years past, but I will enjoy what's here.

I have this sense of my favorite part of the year zooming away, that soon I will look up and the dreariness of January will be upon me.  My ever-present task:  to keep myself living in the present, enjoying the delights of each season, while also working on projects that will put me on the trajectory towards the future that I want.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Coffee in a Cafe, and Other Delights

Yesterday was one of those days that I felt fortunate to have my job--after a good morning teaching in the classroom, I got to tag along with a class that was taking a field trip to a museum. 

I liked the exhibits at the museum, as I always do.  I was inspired by the exhibit of the lone female credentialed as an official WWII photographer, but I most loved the exhibit that explored Scandinavian abstract expressionism of the first half of the 20th century.

Thus inspired, I came back downstairs and sat at the museum café.  I watched my colleague go over essays with her students in the café, while I made some notes for a poem.  I had a latte--it was so delicious that I had another.

After her class was over, my colleague and I went to a downtown campus to say hi to some folks we know there.  I'm not great at networking with new people, but I do make an effort to stay in touch with people I have known through the years.

My writing time is short this morning, but it's been a good writing week.  And I like having days like yesterday that remind me that it's been a good administrator week overall too.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Good News: My Thrid Chapbook Will Be Published by Finishing Line Press

I got good news this week:  although I didn't win the New Voices competition, Finishing Line Press will publish my third chapbook, Life in the Holocene Extinction.  Hurrah!

Longtime readers may remember that Finishing Line Press also published my second chapbook, I Stand Here Shredding Documents.  That was a good experience for me, so I'm happy to have the press publish my third chapbook.

I got the news Tuesday morning--a notification of acceptance from Submittable that told me that an e-mail from the press had been sent.  I checked all my e-mail files--no e-mail.  Part of me wondered if it might be a mistake, so I didn't tell many people.

Yesterday I got the e-mail from the press--and still, I haven't told many people.  I wonder why.

Part of it is that a chapbook is so different from most publications.  I understand why this publication is a big deal, but others outside of Creative Writing World might not.  I don't want anyone to rain on this parade too soon.

I also don't want to make others feel bad.  I know lots of other creative people who are at various stages of their creative trajectories.  I want to believe that my good news might give them encouragement that good news might be on the way for them.  But I also know it can be discouraging, like the party is always being given for someone else.

There's also some part of me that has internalized a message (from whom?) that I shouldn't break my arm patting myself on the back.  I don't want to toot my own horn.  It's the reason why I don't do self-publishing--I don't do self-promotion as well as others do.

And there's the matter of how to bring it up.  With my creative friends, I sent an e-mail or told the news over lunch.  With my colleagues, it's not so easy (see above paragraph about educating about what a chapbook is).  Many of my colleagues are still in the midst of various work turmoil from the layoffs of a few weeks ago--how do I casually shift the conversation to good news?

When I got the news on Tuesday, I opened the manuscript to make sure that I hadn't included any poems that might bring trouble.  Part of me laughs at this instinct--my adult years should have taught me that I can't be sure of what will bring offense.  And as I stated when I got my publishing news of my second chapbook:  I can't even be sure that my colleagues will read my e-mails or other relevant writings--and I think they may read my poetry?  And then go on to be offended/hurt somehow?

I am still yearning for a book with a spine, but I do love the chapbook too.  I interpret this chapbook acceptance as proof that larger collections of my poems are interesting to others.  I am hopeful this piece of good news will be the first of many.

And just like last time, I'll document the steps along the way to this 3rd chapbook publication, in case it's of interest/use to others.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Trying to Stay Sincere in the Pumpkin Patch of Life

Last night while I graded a threaded discussion for my online class, I watched/had on in the background It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown.

I've written about the wisdom of this show before.  Sometimes we have to wait in our pumpkin patches while others get to have parties and treats.  Sometimes we sit in our patch, hoping its sincere enough for the Great Pumpkin.  Even if the Great Pumpkin (whatever that represents in the various aspects of your life) doesn't come, you can still have interesting adventures along the way.  Some of your friends and family will understand your life in the pumpkin patch.  Many more will not. 

Last night as I watched the show, I thought about how many of my formative years had a Peanuts special airing periodically.  I thought about how this show might have shaped my expectations.  Last night what leapt out at me was the mistreatment of Charlie Brown.  He gets an invitation to a party, and Lucy assures him that he wasn't on the list of approved people to come to the party.  He got the invitation by mistake.

I thought of how many times I am astonished to be included.  I wonder how much of my attitude can be traced back to Charlie Brown.

In a similar vein, I watched Charlie Brown, out trick-or-treating and thus in disguise, who is mistreated by strangers.  All of the children get treats, while he gets a rock.

The show was in some ways a lesson in scarcity thinking:  there's not enough to go around.  I've spent much of my adult life trying consciously to disrupt that kind of thinking.  If I can unclench my hands, the universe/God/life will fill my hands with goodness.

The later part of the show redeems itself a bit.  Lucy puts Linus, worn out from his night of waiting, into bed.  We are all assured that there will be a Halloween next year.  We haven't lost out on our only chance.

It's a message I need to hear.  I'm surrounded by people who are saying, "Too late.  Too old.  Wrong credentials.  Why try?"

I needed the reminder of the cyclical nature of it all.  And It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown  does just that.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Falling Asleep Before Sunset

I had planned to go to the grocery store yesterday after work and then come home and write.  I have a short story that's clamoring to get out of my head, and yesterday morning, I wanted to scroll through my blogs and assemble a manuscript.

If yesterday had been today, and I hadn't had to leave the house so early, I'd have looked through both blogs for my meditations about feast days.  On my theology blog, I have fairly straightforward reflections about the lives of the saints and how they resonate for modern people.  On my creativity blog, I have often written about how to celebrate these festival days as creative people, even if the spiritual side of the feast day holds no appeal.  I also have some recipes here and there.  I thought about the possibility of photo essays, although I know that with a traditional book, photos would be too expensive.

Last night I intended to put it all in chronological order to see what I have already.  I made a supper of pasta with a pesto cream sauce that I concocted.  At 6:30, I sat down at the computer with good intention.  And then a bone-crushing tiredness washed over me.

My spouse was teaching his night class.  I knew he wouldn't be home until after 10, and I'd likely be up with him for a bit then.  And thus, I went to bed at 7:15.  I fell asleep right away, and only woke up when I heard my spouse's key in the door.

On the one hand, I felt like an odd sort of failure--even toddlers stay up later than I did yesterday!  But I also know that when I ignore that bone-crushing tiredness day after day, my body will get my attention in a more dramatic way.  Some days, it's better to sleep.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Post Storm Strategies

We like rivers that stay within their borders as they lazily drift towards the sea:

We don't like the reminders of the laws of Physics that govern the planet, the storms of the century, the thousand year floods:

We want to believe that we are creating structures that will outlast us, modern cathedrals that will make our descendants marvel:

We persevere, even though we know it could all be swept away in an afternoon.  We build the buildings,

Cornerstone for Mepkin Abbey Chapel

plant the flowers,

write the words,

capture the images:

In this way, we walk the labyrinth of life:

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Duct Tape on Mars, E-mailing the Holocene Extinction

Yesterday I went to see The Martian with a friend, while my spouse was on a conference call.  It was a wonderful movie, as I expected it would be. 

What did I learn?  The powers of duct tape and huge sheets of plastic, even on alien, seemingly lifeless planets.

What else?  At the end, it's a feel-good movie, where we get our boy and bring him home.  But let us not forget all the failures along the way, most of them delivered by way of explosions.

Our failures may not be as noisy and spectacular, but they will come to us.  The most important lesson of the movie lies in the response to the failures.  People don't shrug and say, "Well, I guess I'm not cut out to be an astrophysicist/head of NASA/commander of a space mission.  Let me go off and homestead a plot of land."  No, they move on to the next possible solution--and they don't spend lots of time dissecting what went wrong.  They learn what they can learn from the failures, while their brains have raced on to the next attempt.

As a writer, it's all too easy to get discouraged.  I've been working on my memoir project for more years than I thought I would be.  But I still think it has worth, and I know that I haven't yet committed enough time to seeing the process through to publication.

I have spent the last two Saturdays submitting short stories--how easy the Internet makes it to submit a short story.  With poems, I'm choosing the ones that go together and I'm checking to make sure I haven't already submitted the poems to the journals.  With these stories, I don't have to worry about that.  They are going out for the first time.

Maybe I should also take some of the essays out of my memoir, the ones that can stand alone, and submit them too.  Maybe that would be a way to snag the attention of an agent.

I began the day working on a short story that is almost ready to go.  My day came to an end with a rejection from Rattle.  I had written for the Poets Respond series, where poets are asked to respond to something specific that happened in the past week.  I responded to the Bernie Sanders quote about all of us being sick of Hillary Clinton's damn e-mails.  When I heard that quote, I thought, I am sick of my e-mails too.

Here's the last stanza of the poem I titled "E-mailing the Holocene Extinction":

Another species goes extinct, as I hit
“send.” Another glacier slides
into the sea. Another plane is shot
out of the sky at the border of Turkey
and whatever country is to come,
while refugees flood
towards borders sealed
by government officials.

My poem wasn't chosen, but I got the most wonderful rejection e-mail, with this paragraph:  "This was one of my favorite poems this week, though, and it was one of three I've been reading and re-reading for the last hour before deciding. And wow do I feel the same way about emails; I think everyone does. It was a tough choice, but I decided to go with a different one."

That personalized response was almost better than an acceptance.

My day came to an end with an excursion out to see Halloween lights.  There aren't as many lights this year as last year.  But we needed a change of scenery after watching the DVD This Is Where I Leave You, a movie I thought would be a comedy, but which left us morose.  I liked driving around the neighborhood, even though there weren't many decorations that we could see. 

I could see the waxing moon, which made me remember the cyclical nature of our lives, the importance of forging ahead, the ways that small things, like a drive through the neighborhood and duct tape, can make a big difference.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

The Monastery Memories that Restore a Measure of Calm

In times of stress, I remember the monastery, which helps me control my negative reactions:

I think of the silence:

I remember the Psalms wafting their way to the rafters:

I remember to trust in the hospitality of the universe, where my needs will often be met in ways that I can't anticipate.

I think of my friends, both in the pages of books and in the people who join me on retreat:

But most of all, I remember the monastery dog, who led me across the grounds:

I think of the monastery dog's contentment, and I resolve to adopt the mindset of a dog:

I will live moment by moment and to trust that all will be well.  I will remember the arms that hold us all:

Friday, October 16, 2015

Dancing Days Are Here Again

Some vignettes from the past week:

--Here's another strange juxtaposition of modern, multicultural life.  On Wed., I headed over to my church to help set up the annual pumpkin patch:

Photo by Pastor Keith Spencer

My Hindu writer friend's high holy days also started this week--lots of dancing for those who are able.

Hindu dancing, a Christian pumpkin patch--could one rework a Cinderella tale here?

--Yesterday in my Composition II class, I went over what I hoped my students had already learned about structuring an essay.  I am old-fashioned--I wrote on a white board.  My students took photos of the board with their smart phones.

Now their smart phones will also know how to write an essay--how computers learn!  That, too, seems like it should be a nugget I could use in my writing somewhere.

--One of my students came up afterwards to show me his notes that he took in an old-fashioned way, with a pen on paper.  He told me that his notes were gold, that he had learned more about writing from the morning's class than in the last year and a half.

Cynical types may say that he was insincere--but if so, he's got great acting skills.

--I am listening to newscasts that use the word "deconfliction."  Did this word exist two months ago?

It sounds like a word that describes some sort of peace process.  But it seems to be used to describe talks between Russia and the U.S. so that their respective war planes don't crash into each other over Syria and so that troops shoot Syrians of various factions and not each other.

--I prefer my church's vision of deconfliction--put pumpkins in our yard and welcome the world.

Photo by Pastor Keith Spencer

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Teaching and Arcing Towards Justice

Today is my second day with my onground class.  Last week I wrote this post about how I have changed since the last time I taught onground classes.

When I was teaching last week, I explained my approach to this class which is essentially Composition II.  I am letting each student choose his or her own topic which they will spend the quarter exploring. 

I told them that when I first started teaching, I chose the topics, and they were usually whichever social justice topic interested me.  I told my class last week that I thought that by teaching, I could change the world.

And then I blurted, "And it worked."  I hadn't known I was going to say that.  My students looked surprised.

I elaborated.  When I started teaching, with my own class in 1988, the Berlin Wall was still up.  The Soviet Union still existed.  I told them about the photo I have of a college friend in his "Free Nelson Mandela" t-shirt.  We never thought it would happen.

Do I really think these things happened because I taught a few classes at the University of South Carolina?  No, I don't.  But I do think that we teach people to think and we expose them to the wider world, and it's hard to know exactly what forces we may harness.

I think of friends at the University of Virginia who set up shantytowns on the Lawn to encourage the university to divest.  They did, as did institutions across the U.S.  Those divestments helped destabilize the South African government.  Archbishop Desmond Tutu has credited student movements of the 1980's for providing the energy that made divestment possible.

I think of my best friend from high school who was stationed in Germany when the wall came down.  Do I think her presence facilitated that development.  Yes, in a way--but she was part of a decades long process of containment, which kept the world from rushing to another world war.

It's a simplistic view, and I am not stupid.  I realize that there are many elements which led to these developments, and I can't give a tidy explanation in a blog post.  Books have been written and are being written.

But I love this Martin Luther King quote:  "The arc of history is long, but it bends toward justice."  It gives a sense of the scope of the task, but it also reminds us that we all have a part to play.  We don't know how much torque our actions may provide, but that's not the important issue.  We need to do what we can to help bend that arc of history.

I teach.  I write.  I support my friends who are doing a variety of activities.  I share my wealth with those organizations that can do so much as a collective.

And I remind students that they, too, can be part of this arc.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Love in a Time of Climate Chaos

Last night a week ago, I had a Facebook chat with a dear friend in Columbia, South Carolina who was waiting to see if she would be evacuated should a dam break.  She lives on a bit of a hill that overlooks the main road, with no lake or river nearby--and she might be evacuated.

In the end, she wasn't.  But how surreal to be exchanging information about the weather, thoughts about how to secure what might be left behind, ideas about how the scenario would end if we transformed it into a movie, chat about how we both couldn't sleep when a storm is in the area--all the while knowing that a knock on the door could come at any moment.

I thought of all the ways we are lucky:  if she had to leave, I could likely keep track of her.  She was not swept away by the first round of flooding like so many people were.  Above all, we live in a first world country, which, while our government cannot control the forces of the weather, it can respond in the aftermath.  We do not have to fear rebel forces who will sweep in to take advantage of chaos.  We will not be taken away to camps, never to see our homelands again.  Our houses will be rebuilt.

Of course, the minute I wrote that last sentence, I thought about all the flooding victims who will not see their homes rebuilt.  I'm thinking of the obvious Hurricane Katrina examples, but there have been many epic floods in the last 10 years--here and throughout the world.

I am already missing the planet we used to have.  And yet, I understand that the planet has never been in a state of stasis.  I realize that we can count on nothing but change.

I wonder how our societal institutions will change in a time of climate chaos.  There are the obvious examples of providing help; I was touched by how many of my South Carolina friends were organizing water deliveries, even when the roads to the victims were still flooded.

Institutions will also be needed to provide other kinds of comfort--and courage, along with the comfort.  Our deepest ideas and ideals will be tested. 

As institutions, are there ways we can prepare for those challenges now?

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

What Would You Do with Your MacArthur Winnings?

We are in the middle of awards season--the Nobels last week, the MacArthur Fellowships a few weeks ago, and soon, the National Book Award finalists and the Pulitzers.  All of these prizes come with money, and I've often wondered if it makes a difference to the winners.

I remember reading an interview with Octavia Butler in Poets and Writers in 1996 or 1997.  She said that the MacArthur Fellowship bought her time to write.  She'd had all these stories in her head, but she had to work a variety of energy crushing jobs which left her too drained to write much.  After winning the prize, she could focus on her writing.

This New York Times article asks the same question and concludes that unlike lottery winners, who often end up in worse circumstances, MacArthur Fellows are able to manage their money. In part, it's because they've had lots of practice in managing money in service to their vision.

I was struck by this vignette:  "Steve Coleman, a saxophonist who won last year at age 57, said he had created a life over decades that required little money to maintain and could be supported with even less when times were tough. That way, he said, he wouldn’t have to worry when recording deals or performances dried up. He could still make music and pay his bills."

I have not arranged my life as expertly, a point which becomes clear when the discussion turns to what we would do if my main job vanished.  I have a variety of income streams, but without my main job, it would be much harder.  And I am nowhere close to having my artistic passions pay my bills.  Over the past ten years, my artistic passions would not even pay the electric bill.  There have been a few times when money comes in, and I think, "What if . . . "--and then the editor leaves or the magazine folds or the website changes its approach.

Clearly, I am not a model member of the freelance economy.

I am also struck by the scientist who funded others with her MacArthur winnings: 

"For Dr. Otto, the money was incidental to her work. Even though she grew up quite poor, she said, she never thought of spending the money on herself and said that her research would not benefit from extra funding. (She uses mathematical models to advance research on genetics and evolution.)
'The nature of what I do means that time is more precious than money for my research,' she said. 'When I received the MacArthur it wasn’t, ‘Now I can do that study I wanted to do.’ I felt I was very supported by my university and by grants. But what I did feel was that as a scientist and a person I could have more influence' by giving it away.
So that’s what she is doing. So far, she has made three gifts of the entire annual amount to the Nature Trust of British Columbia, an environmental conservation program in Indonesia, and a fund at the University of British Columbia, where she teaches, to pay student researchers working on conservation issues."
I love this idea of helping others, of giving back to one's community, however one defines that community.  I love the idea of taking one's winnings and making it multiply across the field.  The article shows that even when MacArthur fellows don't give away all of their winnings, the benefits still ripple out to others.  The saxophonist, for example, "put it [the money] toward an idea he had started to develop — a program that brought musicians together to live in a city for three to four weeks to perform and be part of the community."
My favorite fantasy has always been winning one of these prizes--or the lottery, for that matter.  I don't want the fame that the award might bring--although I might.  I dream of the time that might come with the money.  And I love the idea of the other worthy projects I could fund.

Monday, October 12, 2015

The Lessons of Columbus for a Creative Life

Writing time is short this morning, so let me run a Columbus Day post that I wrote a few years ago.  It's one of my favorite meditations on Columbus.

Today we celebrate Columbus Day: October 12 was the actual day of the first sighting of land after almost 2 months at sea. I’m always amazed at what those early explorers accomplished. At Charlestowne Landing (near Charleston, SC), I saw a boat that was a replica of the boat that some of the first English settlers used to get here. It was teeny-tiny. I can't imagine sailing up the coast to the next harbor in it, much less across the Atlantic. Maybe it would have been easier, back before everyone knew how big the Atlantic was.

In our creative lives, we may have to set off on a tiny boat. We might wish we had different resources, but we start with what we have. Sure, it would be nice to attend that MFA program or to have the job that only has a 2-1 teaching load (do those exist at an entry level anymore?). But the good news is that we can make our way across a wide ocean, even if we have less resources than others. All we need is a smidge of time and the resolve and self-discipline that it takes not to waste that time.

Important journeys can be made in teeny-tiny boats. It's better than staring longingly out towards the sea.

We often think that starting the voyage is the biggest hurdle. But once you begin the journey, the hard part may be yet to come. I've often wondered if Columbus and other explorers ever woke up in the middle of the night and said, "What am I doing here? I could have just settled down with my sweetheart, had a few kids, watched the sunset every night while I enjoyed my wine." Of course, back then, a lot of options were closed to people, and that's why they set off for the horizon. No job opportunities in the Old World? Head west! Sweetheart left you for another or died? Head west!

Maybe we need to just set sail, knowing that we're going to be out of sight of land for awhile. Maybe we need to get over our need for safe harbor, for knowing exactly where we're going.
It's easy to feel full of enthusiasm at the beginning of a project. It’s far harder to keep up that enthusiasm when you're in the middle of a vast ocean, with nothing but your instruments and the stars to guide you, with no sense of how far away the land for which you're searching might be.

Maybe we have a manuscript that we feel is good, but no publisher has chosen yet. Maybe we have a batch of poems that seem to go together, but we have no sense of how to assemble the manuscript, while at the same time, we know we need to create 20 more poems. Maybe we have a vision of the kind of job that might support our creative selves, but no idea of how to get to where we want to be from where we are.

I'm guessing that many of us have similar feelings during our creative lives. We start a project full of enthusiasm. Months or years later, our enthusiasm may flag, as we find ourselves still wrestling with the same issues, even if we’ve moved on to other projects. We can take our cue from the great explorers of the 1400s and later. It’s true that we may feel we’re making the same explorations over and over again. But that doesn’t mean we won’t make important discoveries, even if it’s our fifth trip across the Atlantic on a tiny boat.

I keep thinking of the ship's logs and the captain's journals, which Columbus kept obsessively. Perhaps we need to do a bit more journalling/blogging/notetaking/observing. Maybe it’s more calibrating or more focused daydreaming. These tools can be important in our creative lives.

Maybe we need a benefactor. Who might be Queen Isabella for us, as artists and as communities of artists?

The most important lesson we can learn from Columbus is we probably need to know that while we think we're sailing off for India, we might come across a continent that we didn't know existed. Columbus was disappointed with his discovery: no gold, no spices, land that didn’t live up to his expectations. Yet, he started all sorts of revolutions with his discovery. Imagine a life without corn, sweet peppers, tomatoes. Imagine life without chocolate. Of course, if I was looking through the Native American lens, I might say, "Imagine life without smallpox."

Still, the metaphor holds for the creative life. Many of us start off with a vision for where we'd like to go, perhaps even with five and ten year plans. Yet if we're open to some alternate paths, we might find ourselves making intriguing discoveries that we'd never have made, had we stuck religiously to our original plans.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Playing Chopin with No Sheet Music and Other Inspirations

Last night, we went to hear the Symphony play Chopin--the pianist, who was also my spouse's Music Theory teacher, played from memory.  When she wasn't playing, she moved a bit with the music.  At first, I worried that she might be ill.  Then I realized that she had practiced so much that the music had become part of her.

As I watched her play with no sheet music, I wondered how we can all internalize our art this way.  How can we physicalize our art, if it's not a physical art?  Or is memorization the key?

I thought about one of my writer friends in South Carolina, who can still recite poems that she learned throughout her school years.  She memorized them years ago, and thus, they can never be taken away from her.

I've also been thinking about the Russian woman who won the Nobel Prize for Literature on Thursday--the first journalist to win this most prestigious award.  I've been thinking about displaced people, since one of her most famous works deals with Chernobyl.  As I drove around the city on Thursday listening to commentators, I thought about how wonderful it is that literary prizes are still deemed newsworthy.  I loved that it was her writing that was discussed.

And although I have to hunt hard some days to find it, I'm glad that the Internet provides this kind of ongoing conversation about writing and artistic works.  I find it in a variety of places:  newspapers that are available online, NPR stories, and the various posts from Facebook friends who are writers and other artists.

If Svetlana Alexievich hadn't won the Nobel Prize, would we be revisiting Chernobyl?   I listened to this NPR story about how wildlife is thriving in the 30 kilometer wide containment zone around Chernobyl.

I thought of containment zones and other catastrophes.  Would it be easier to leave one's homeplace if it just stopped existing?  Would it be harder if one's homeland existed, but one was not allowed back in?  I have the glimmerings of a short story.

I also continue to be fascinated by the pre-dawn sky.  This morning, I saw Mercury, just to the left of the moon:

I wrote another poem this morning.  It was inspired by my act of writing a grocery list over a map of the sky.  It may be unfinished, or it may not.  I thought of the woman yesterday who walked her dog as I stood in the street, gaping at the sky.  I said to her, "Look at that moon."  I wanted to signal that I was not some crazy person.  She hurried along, not looking at the sky.  Metaphor?  Unsure.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Bright Stars of the Morning

I know that Venus and Jupiter are not planets, but the phrase "bright planets of the morning" doesn't have the right cadence.

I have been watching Venus from my writing room window for weeks now.  And this morning, I can also see Jupiter.  Soon the moon will rise a bit higher.  I'm not really seeing Mercury yet.

Pam Ward-Reagan's picture

Later in the month, we will be able to see 2 other planets with our naked eyes.  For more on this morning's sky layout, go to this site.  The moon is beautiful this morning:  a slim crescent with the outline of the moon above it.

I'm reminded of an old saying about the old moon cradling the new moon in its arms.  But I don't have any cameras that can capture what I saw this morning.

I was up many hours before the moon rose.  I sent off 4 short stories to 4 journals.  I wrote a new poem and took the skeleton of a poem from a year ago that I never finished and filled in the blanks.  I made a veggie risotto (recipe here), since I had an eggplant and peppers that weren't going to last much longer.

I thought about grading papers but decided that could wait until later today.

My spouse thinks that if I set the alarm, I would sleep later; his theory is that I wake up early because I am so afraid I will oversleep.

My theory is that I wake up in the hope of having the kind of morning like I've just had.

Friday, October 9, 2015

Report on the First Day Back in the Physical Classroom

In yesterday's blog post I wrote about my return to the physical classroom.  Before yesterday, I hadn't taught in a physical classroom, teaching a traditional college class, since 2009.  I'm happy to report that it went well.

Some things haven't changed.  Some of my Facebook friends commented on my energy and enthusiasm in the classroom--yep, those are still there.  I love the hopeful mood of the whole room on the first day of class. 

Some things have changed.  I need my reading glasses to check their schedules to make sure they have cleared holds and are allowed in class.   That's a small change.

Larger changes are more subtle, known only to me.  I'm using my own writing, published writing, to serve as a model.  I'm hopeful that it will help build that ever elusive writing community in the classroom.  I'm not the expert with the red pen.  I'm a writer just like everyone else.

In 2009 I wouldn't have had many essays to choose from.  Now I do.  I'm thinking that I'll use ones that have been published, just in case there might be copyright issues later, as I'm loading them onto school equipment, and I don't want anything to happen that might interfere with my right to use them later.

Yesterday I handed them my essay on Hildegard of Bingen, which was published here at the Living Lutheran site.   I said, "We're going to be learning to write essays by using many different approaches.  Today we're going to try a 19th century approach."  And then I explained how I wanted them to copy the essay, writing by hand on paper.  I expected objections.  There were none, although I did have to ask one student to put his phone away.  I told them that as they copied, to think about the strengths and weaknesses of the essay. 

We did this experiment last.  A peaceful, meditative state descended on the room.  I thought about doing some work on the computer, but I didn't want to ruin the mood with clicking keys.  I realized that I used to read a lot of books as I waited for my students to finish their writing tasks.  I'll start bringing a book with me to class.

It was a wonderful way to spend a morning.  I do realize that it's wonderful in part because I'm only teaching one class.  If I was teaching multiple sections, it might be different.

But I spend much of my day in the office hearing from students with complaints, hearing from people who have discovered issues that must be addressed immediately, hearing all sorts of tales of woe.  It was nice to get out of that environment and back into the classroom.

I'm looking forward to next week.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

An Online Teacher Returns to the Physical Classroom

I last taught in a physical classroom in December 2009.  Of course, I've done teaching of sorts since then:  leading retreats, leading a class here and there, presenting information.  But traditional teaching for a school term in a physical classroom?  It's been awhile.

The tradition used to be that when a person was promoted to department chair, that person didn't have to teach for a year.  In 2010, I was promoted to department chair of the General Education department.  I stopped teaching for a year, and for a variety of reasons, I wasn't required to teach again.  Loss of staff meant that more and more non-teaching responsibilities were given to me, and teaching fell away.

Two years ago, I returned to teaching when I was offered the opportunity to teach online classes.  I had issues/worries with online classes, but I could see the way the wind was blowing.  I wanted to have the experience, should I be forced to find another job.  I didn't expect to love it as much as I have come to love it.

I will be interested in seeing how my online teaching has changed the way I approach my physical classroom.  I expect that I will be sending out more e-mails and trying other ways to stay in touch with students and keep them on task.  Our onground classes meet only once a week--it's easy for students to go astray.  I'll use some of the techniques I've learned from online classes to try to keep from losing them.

I've been wrestling with eCompanion, our learning management system.  It's clunky--but then, I have yet to find an elegant LMS.  Maybe clunkiness is a feature, not a bug.

I'm teaching what we call Topics for Composition, a sort of Composition II class.  Instead of using a book of essays as models, I'll be bringing in my own essays.

I think of when I first started teaching writing, back when I was an idealistic grad student.  All those years I had been saying, "If I was the English teacher, I'd run the class this way."  And now I had a class of my own.

I was surrounded by like-minded grad students teaching for the first time.  We talked about writing communities and how to build community in the classroom.  I tried all sorts of peer editing.  I never took my own writing to my students.

For this quarter, I am keeping my class simple, while at the same time, I'm already thinking of ways I could enrich it in the future.

It was good to take a break from teaching.  But the last two years have taught me that I really do love it.  I do have some skills and talents in this direction.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Writing Projects: Short, Linked, Long, Longhand

These past two weeks have been the kind of exhaustion inducing time that makes me wonder if I'll ever write anything interesting again.  In these times, I sometimes wonder if I notice the creative output of others more--is it because I'm feeling like I have so few scraps of creative time that I envy what others are doing? 

Instead, let me see this time as one that contains inspirations for later, when I, too, will have more time.

"I wanted the stories to feel so entwined that if you were to lose any one of them, the rest would sort of fall apart a little bit," says Anthony Marra on his new collection The Tsar of Love and Techno.

I love the idea of these short stories being so entwined that the loss of one of them would diminish the collection.   He  goes on to talk about the collection of short stories as a mix tape that tells a narrative--and he's made a mix tape (OK, not a tape, but a collection of songs) to go with it, available on Spotify.  You can hear the whole interview here.

I've thought of mix tapes and albums before, but usually in terms of books of poetry (see this post).  It's an interesting approach to short story collections too.

On the other end of the spectrum, from short stories to novels, a Facebook friend noted the art project of Tim Youd, who is typing 100 novels in 10 years.  The photo on the home page of his website shows him typing The Sound and the Fury in front of Faulkner's Oxford house.    So far, he's typed 35 novels--only one by a woman, Virginia Woolf.

I think of nineteenth century rhetoricians who had their students write the works of great Greek and Latin writers.  What might we learn by such a project?  Would the pounding of the typewriter keys imprint the work into our brains in a different way than writing by hand?

Tomorrow I meet with a new group of writing students for the first time.  I won't be making them do this, but I'm always intrigued by the idea.  If I gave them an essay that had gotten an A and had them write it out by hand, what would they learn?

I say I won't do this, but maybe I will think about it.  Hmmm.  I won't use a student essay, for reasons of confidentiality.  What published essay might I use.  Hmmm.

What if I used one of my essays that had been published?  Hmm.  I think this might work.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Surreal Monday

Last night, I had a Facebook chat with a friend in Columbia, South Carolina who was waiting to see if she would be evacuated should a dam break.  She lives on a bit of a hill that overlooks the main road, with no lake or river nearby--and she might be evacuated.

In the end, she wasn't.  But how surreal to be exchanging information about the weather, thoughts about how to secure what might be left behind, ideas about how the scenario would end if we transformed it into a movie, chat about how we both couldn't sleep when a storm is in the area--all the while knowing that a knock on the door could come at any moment.

Yesterday was surrealistic in so many ways.  I came to campus prepared to begin getting ready to teach Physics.  But then I heard from the Physics Ph.D. who told me on Friday that he couldn't teach the class.  He said that if we could move it to Wednesday, he could teach it.  I pulled a class list and checked to see how many students already had a class on Wednesday--only 4.  And so, by afternoon, I was making plans to move the class, not to teach it myself.

I felt a bit of sorrow for the stillborn class that I imagined teaching.  Still, it will be better, I hope, for the students to have a class taught by someone with expertise.

Yesterday I also talked to a student who wondered why she failed a class.  She swore she had turned everything in, but her teacher said she hadn't received it.  The student called me an hour later.  Somehow, she had been enrolled in two sections at once, in terms of the student portal and having access to the Learning Management System, and she had uploaded her work to the dropbox of the section in which she wasn't officially enrolled.  Since I'm an administrator, I could access that other section.  Sure enough there was her work--and it had been graded. That fix was an easy one.

Later in the morning,  student walked in to figure out why he had been enrolled in a class that he had already taken.  I couldn't answer that question, as I hadn't done the registering.  But I pulled a degree audit, and sure enough, there he was enrolled in a class that he had already taken.  Again, an easy fix--but thank goodness he realized it on the first day of the quarter, not in week 8.

As he watched me look up information, he looked at the canvases on my wall.  He asked, "Your paintings or your students'?"  When I told him they were mine, he said, "Why don't you sell them?  You could make a lot of money."

That's not a usual reaction to my visual art.

He told me about his neighbor who paints, and it looks like garbage, but he makes 20 grand a painting.  He told me my paintings were better.

He had that manic, barely contained energy that I don't always know how to interpret.  Highly focused student?  Someone who needs to go out and burn off excess energy by running a marathon?  Dangerous?

The day was full of those kinds of encounters.  I went home exhausted.  I had planned to do some work on writing--either writing something or sending out some short stories.  But in the end, I heated up the veggie risotto that I made on Sunday (recipe here) and watched a rerun of Modern Family.  I spent an hour keeping my friend company through her time of waiting to see if she would be evacuated. 

When I knew that she was likely to stay in place, I turned off all the electronics and read for a bit in bed.  Months ago, I ordered Lauren Winner's Clothed by God, but I haven't found time to read it.  Last night I read the first chapter, which includes her interesting discussion of whether or not God stitches clothes of animal skins for Adam and Eve, or whether or not God is actually creating the human skin that they didn't need before they had to leave the Garden of Eden.

I'm looking forward to reading the rest of it.  And I'm hopeful that today will be less surreal.

And even if it's not, the situation in South Carolina reminds me that nothing that I'm facing amounts to anything compared to what flood victims must deal with--today and for weeks to come.

Monday, October 5, 2015

A Poet Considers Teaching Physics

I have been spending an enormous amount of time this week-end contemplating teaching Physics.  I found myself with classes to staff after last week's lay-offs, and Physics has been the toughest.  Even if I could find a person, the length of the hiring process means I would still be teaching the class from week 1 to week 2 or 3--that practically a quarter of the class.

As Friday shifted to Saturday, I couldn't sleep.  I thought about the logistics of teaching Physics.  I can easily teach some aspects, but some, like electricity, are harder.  And then I thought, why not bring in guest lecturers?

Many of our faculty are like me:  I can teach a class or two, but not the whole quarter's worth.  Maybe they'd be willing to come in to do a lecture.  Maybe I can even pay them, if they're in the system.

I watched the moon rise as I contemplated teaching Physics.  I thought about the scene as I would present it in a poem or a piece of fiction.  I thought about how the moon has always risen and set, as our human dramas go on.  I tried to sleep, but I couldn't.

On Saturday, I went to the public library to check out some books.  Yes, one of them was Physics for Dummies.  I was astonished to see how many science experiment books exist, along with lots of books to help teachers/parents/students prepare science fair projects.  Yes, I will be checking out those books eventually, if I follow my plan.

I've also been thinking of the first time I taught Scriptwriting for Games.  I knew that I had several classes worth of materials, and I wasn't sure about the rest.  Luckily, I had a great group of students, and they unwittingly helped teach the class.  It was some of the most spirited discussion of creativity and writing and crafting alternate worlds as any I have ever had.

Maybe my Physics class will be the same.

On Sunday, we joined my brother-in-law and his wife for a motorcycle ride through the Keys.  I leaned back and watched the clouds move across the sky.  I thought of waves and currents and how I'd teach that.  I planned out my first week or two or three of classes, as the ride went on.  It was one of the first times during the week-end where I thought, yes, I really could do this.

During the wee small hours of the morning on Saturday, I wrote a Facebook message to a friend.  We're thinking of going to see The Martian, and I joked about being a new Physics teacher and needing to see the movie.

She wrote back this encouragement, which I want to record here:  "And u will do great in physics; it is just like a fairy tale, a set of magic spells to understand and manipulate the universe!"

From her lips to the gods' ears, as we always say (she's Hindu, and it makes me smile when we say that old saying that way).

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Recipe Sunday: A DELICIOUS Veggie Rice Bake

This morning, I thought, I haven't had a vegetable since Thursday.  Hmm.

I had bought ingredients for the dish that I read about in this blog post.  I had several hours before heading out for our Sunday plans.  I thought, why not?

As I was cooking, however, I felt grumpy.  I thought, this is a lot of work, a lot of thin slicing, a lot of dirty dishes.  I thought, this takes longer than I thought it would, and I'm hungry now.  When I slid it in the oven to bake, I thought, I am never making this again.

But then, I had a serving.  I thought, I am too making this again.  I ate another serving.  I could eat the whole pan.

The blog post writer says, "I found it [the recipe] in yet another of my mother's cookbooks, you know, the ones with no author, the ones you'd normally see in a grocery store instead of a bookstore and pass on by without a second glance. This particular one was published by La Repubblica, the newspaper, and is part of a series on regional Italian cooking. The region in this case, Sicily."

Here's the recipe, which would be delicious for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. 

I made these modifications:  I had no capers, so I left them out.  I had no tomatoes, not fresh or canned, so I used 1/4 c of leftover tomato sauce.  I doubled the cheese.  I used 2 red peppers, since that's what I had.

I am surprised that the rice is tender; I was sure there wouldn't be enough liquid.  But it's amazingly good.

Riso al Forno alla Siciliana
Serves 6

320 grams Arborio rice (I used 1 cup plus 3 T.)
3 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for the dish
150* grams caciocavallo or provolone, grated  (I used a mix of provolone, asiago, and mozzarella)
1 garlic clove, thinly sliced
2 small onions, thinly sliced
1 yellow bell pepper, sliced into thin strips
1 red bell pepper, sliced into thin strips
2 small eggplants or 1 large one, halved and sliced
3 plum tomatoes, cored and sliced into thin strips
2 tablespoons salted capers, soaked and rinsed
1/4 cup cured black olives, pitted
Red pepper flakes, to taste
8 basil leaves

*150 grams is 5.2 oz.  I used more, at least double, plus a smidge more

1. Bring a large pot of salted water to the boil. Add the rice and lower the heat. Simmer for 10 minutes, then drain the rice. Place the rice in a bowl and drizzle with 1 tablespoon olive oil. Stir in 50 grams of grated cheese. Set aside.

2. Place the remaining olive oil in a large sauté pan over medium heat. Add the garlic and cook for a minute or two, then add the onions, peppers and eggplant. Cook over medium-high heat, stirring, for about 5 minutes. Then lower the heat to low, cover and stew for 10 minutes.

3. Remove the lid and add the tomatoes. Stir well, then cover again and cook for an additional 10 minutes.

4. Remove the lid, raise the heat to medium-high, add the capers, olives, red pepper flakes and basil leaves. Stir well and cook for a few minutes. Taste and adjust for seasoning.

5. Preheat the oven to 350 F/180 C. Oil a baking dish.  (I used a 9 x 13 inch pan, which worked just fine)

6. Place half the rice in the dish evenly. Distribute half the vegetable mixture over the rice evenly. Top with half of the remaining grated cheese. Repeat with the remaining rice, vegetables and cheese. Place the dish in the oven and bake for 25 minutes, until the top is a deep golden brown. Remove from the oven and let cool for 5 minutes before serving.

Friday, October 2, 2015

Friday Fragments: A Collage from Administrator Life

Yesterday was a much better day than Tuesday was or Wednesday was.  But I'm still feeling too fragmented to write a cohesive blog post.  Let me collage some fragments together.

--I am happy to report that after an hour of going round and round, we finally got the various cross-listed classes separated and in the right classrooms at the right time.

--But after hours--literally--of working on this issue, I worry what else might be lurking in the computer system.  What surprises await next week as we begin our first week of the fall quarter?

--Yesterday I had a delightful time with my writer friend and colleague.  She loved my story about the gardener on Mars, but she wants more description of how the tomatoes taste.  I loved her latest installation of stories about a class of humans that have interesting powers.  She's got a cool idea that I won't say too much about--but I'm hoping she continues with the idea.

--Next time's word prompt:  grace.  Due date:  mid-December.

--This week I found myself with classes to staff because of the lay-offs.  I anticipated that finding a Physics teacher would be the hardest task.  So I called my counterpart at Brown Mackie College to see if he had some possibilities, and now I have a candidate coming for an interview at 2.  Hurrah!

--I think of myself as being a not-good networker, but maybe that's not really true.

--I'm interested in the stories we tell ourselves and how others actually see us.  I remember when a colleague friend in South Carolina told me I was so creative--it was the first time that someone said that, and I felt surprised that others saw me that way.  I find it interesting that I felt like a non-creative person, even though I wrote on a daily basis. 

--Last night, as we swam in the pool, I thought it must be about 8:30, but it was actually an hour earlier.  The light has shifted.  A month from now it will shift even more dramatically as we go back to Eastern Standard Time.

--I said, "Amazing that we can swim when there's a major hurricane just 90 miles that way."  And we may have beautiful weather this week-end because of that hurricane sucking all the moisture in the air towards it.  I will welcome the end to the oppressive humidity.

--Our friends further up the coast (the Carolinas and Virginia and up) will not escape the moisture, and because of a storm surge and wind due to an offshore hurricane, the rain swollen rivers will not be able to empty into the sea.  Residents may avoid having a major hurricane come ashore, but they may suffer major damage nonetheless.

--While those to our north deal with rain, I will have a week-end with a poolside picnic with good friends, a possible motorcycle trip with family and friends-to-be, and grading of rough drafts.