Saturday, December 31, 2016

2016 Goals: How Did I Do?

How can it already be the last day of 2016?  But here it is, and let me take some time in assessment.  Tomorrow, I'll write about my goals for 2017; I've already written a bit about that, but I want to have my goals and intentions in one place.

So, onward to 2016--how did I do?  I'll list the goal, and then I'll reflect on my progress.


Here was my goal:  "My dental hygienist was blunt--I need to brush my teeth more often."

Progress:  I was mostly successful in brushing my teeth again at the end of the day.  I have a lot of toothbrushes.  Perhaps I should also take one to work.

A tip:  I don't always have access to water, to toothpaste, to a place to spit.  My dental hygienist says that a dry brush is helpful too, sometimes more helpful than a toothbrush made goopy with toothpaste.

Unexpected success:  Twice in the past year, I experimented with a "shred," an elimination diet of sorts.  For ten days, I took the following out of my diet:  alcohol, gluten (and the later shred got rid of all grains), dairy, and all but one drink with caffeine.  I added the following:  lots of veggies, fruits, and lean protein, plus nuts and seeds.  One or two protein shakes a day.  Start the day with a detox tonic:  1 tsp. of apple cider vinegar, 2 T. lemon juice, 4 T. cranberry juice. 

These shreds gave me a weight loss of a few pounds, which inspired me to do more.  And thus, right now, I'm about 10 pounds lighter than I was a year ago.

Goal:  "This year, I'm going to make a list of every book I read.  If I read 2 books a month, that's 24 books by the end of the year.  I used to read 24 books a month.  But let me not get lost in what used to be.  I will read 2 books a month, plus one volume of poetry each month.  That's at least 3 books a month.  That's my goal."

How did I do?  Most months, I did read 2 books a month, plus one volume of poetry.  In both August and November, my reading fell off a bit.  But I end the year with 51 books read.  And because of my goal of reading a volume of poetry a month, I read more poetry volumes than I would have otherwise.  And I love reading back over my list with my comments--it's been a journal of sorts, a list that reminds me of key moments in the year.

Being Present

Goal:  "I want 2016 to be the year of reconnecting.  I began to feel a bit more reconnected as this year came to an end, and I want to build on that."

Assessment:  I did better at reconnecting and staying connected in some months than in others.


The goals:

 --Become more aggressive/intentional about sending queries to agents.  I will send three queries a month.

--I will spend the first 15 minutes at my writing desk each morning writing a short story or a poem.

--I will continue sending packets of poems and stories out into the world.  My goal will continue to be 100 submissions.

--I will send the larger poetry manuscript to 5 possible publishers.

--And along the way, I'll need to do some support of my forthcoming chapbook.


I started off being more intentional about queries to agents, but eventually I ran out of possibilities and felt too discouraged to seek out more.  I ended up the year with roughly 100 packets of poems and stories sent out into the world.  I sent my larger poetry manuscript to 4 publishers.

Unexpected successes:  My friend and I had an ongoing exchange that we called the Purgatory project that came from her writing a piece where she wakes up in some sort of afterlife.  She wrote in her own voice, and I most often wrote in the voice of God.  I wrote 20 pieces, including a scholarly preface, the voice of the angel Gabriel, a new library policy, and the HR director of the afterlife.  This project was a delight.

I also wrote what will become a collection of linked short stories.  At first, I thought I was writing about student activists at age 50.  I had a vision that they were all part of some activist group in college in the 80's.  But I thought it would be more fun to write about a group of people at an applied arts school, like the one where I used to teach.  Each story has an element from social justice groups--in some stories, it's just a whisper, while in others, it's a central plot element.  That, too, has been an unexpected delight of a writing project.

Other 2016 Goals:

In a post on my theology blog, I wrote this:  "This year, I want to adopt a simple spiritual resolution.  As I move through the day, each and every day, I want to be aware; I want to ask myself, 'Are you building community or are you tearing it apart?'"

At the time, I was thinking more of my workplace, with its shrinking.  I could not have anticipated the broader ways that this goal seems ever more relevant at the end of the year.  I want to think that I was successful with this goal, in the ways that I was allowed to be.  I'm also aware of the decimating impacts of the constant lay-offs at my old job--that feels like a failure of my goal, even though I wasn't the one who made these decisions to let people go.

I didn't really write down any other goals, but I always had the goal of finding a job at a place that had a chance of taking me to retirement.  Even before the accreditation problems of ACICS, my old school showed signs of serious weakness (more students graduating and leaving for other reasons than the amount of new students--that's the one that most concerned me).  Through the past few years, I've applied for a job here and there.  Happily, this year, various threads came together, and I moved to a job that seems like it will be more secure for more years than the old job.

Tomorrow:  my 2017 goals.

Friday, December 30, 2016

The Last Work Day and Week-end of the Year

Here we are at the last work day of the year.  Some of us already worked our last day of the year and are on vacation.  I will head to the office, where the skeletal crew grows ever bonier.  Once we get to noon, I expect to be the only person from the academic side still on campus; Admissions will continue working past sunset.

We will have a quiet New Year's week-end.  I am not one to go out on New Year's Eve to spend two or three times the amount of money that a night out would cost if I went out on some other week-end.  I do not like crushes of people. 

And like many people, I have mixed feelings about the turning of the year.  I spend too much time thinking about all that I didn't get done.  Over the next few days, I'll spend some time thinking about what I did accomplish, not what I didn't.

I will also take this week-end to enjoy activities that I've always enjoyed and hope to have more of in the new year:  time with friends, time to read, time to write.  I've been doing a bit of the accounting that I always do this time of year, and I'm surprised how many short stories I wrote for my "activists at an applied art school at age 50" collection--seven!  And all but one of them are ones that I'm sure I'll include in the collection--and that last one, too, isn't bad, so much as it doesn't seem to fit--which may mean I should include it.

I want to focus on this collection in the coming year:  to write more stories and to create/finish the collection.  I need to write them before I get much further away from my time of working there.

My other writing goals are similar to what I've had in the past:  write a poem twice a week, and keep sending out submissions.  This year my goal will be to make one submission a week--I'm keeping this jump low, so that my inner publication horse doesn't get spooked.

I have other writing projects that are done, but this year, I'm not sure I'll pursue their publication.  That process is not bringing me joy.  And this year, with an accreditation visit in the offing, I suspect my writing time will be more limited than in other years--let me focus on the parts of my creative process that bring me joy.

So, this week-end let me focus on what brings me joy.  And let me enjoy my little trees for just a bit longer.  I really love this one with the canvas ornaments my grandmother made; the fiber optic lights seem beautiful this year:

And this one is an old favorite, with Chrismon ornaments made by my step-mom-in law; we've had them since the first years of our marriage:

More light in the new year!

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Learning Different Languages at Work

I have now worked with a variety of student information systems, the ones that keep track of grades and other student records of all kinds.  Along the way, I've heard the praises of CampusVue, and now, I'm at a school that uses CampusVue.  I have spent the last week learning a smidge of this system. 

I feel like it's a system like my brain or like my computer--it can do more than I will ever need it to do, and I don't even know enough to know what I might want it to do.

I have always heard that CampusVue was more intuitive and easier to use.  I haven't found it to be so.  I keep reminding myself that it's only been a week since I started using it.  Eventually, I'll understand it.  And I've learned a lot in the last week.  I'm that type of person who doesn't focus on how much I've learned in a week--no, I think of how much more I have to learn or of the times it's taken me much longer to create a student schedule than it would if I already knew how to do it.

Here's another interesting twist that makes CampusVue a challenge.  I don't have some of the permissions that I should have--and it's not a blanket lack of permission, but a student here and a student there.  So I can register one student for Winter classes smoothly, but with another student, I get caught in a weird loop--and it's not a loop that says, "You have transgressed and cannot proceed."  No, I get a more cryptic message.  It makes it hard to know if I'm doing something wrong or if it's wonkiness in the system.

When I thought about leaving to go to a new school, I knew that this transition time would be tough for me in ways that it might not be for others.   At my old school, I was the one with more institutional memory than almost anyone else.  I was the one who remembered the old course numbers without looking them up.  I was the one who could tell you why changes were made in various programs throughout the year.  I knew without a doubt which courses we had accepted for transfer credit and if you wanted a further justification, I could give it to you.  I had been part of several accreditation processes, and that gave me some certainty in my approach to accreditation.

Because I had been in my role so long, and before that, a faculty member for so long, I didn't spend much time second guessing myself.  That's a comfortable place to be--but it also leads to some complacency, some lack of innovation.

I am no longer the institutional memory, and heck, I can't even always get the various computer programs/systems to work like they should--but this process, too, has important things to teach/remind me.  Part of being a good administrator (or a good worker of any kind) comes not from our years of experience but from being thoughtful, listening to those who have some experience, and making judgments from a place of wanting the best outcome for the widest swath of population, while maintaining standards and looking up the policy to be sure.

It's a different language, but the larger language is the same.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

2016: The End of Many Eras

Yesterday I went to work, and spent the morning amazed at how much better I felt when just 24 hours I could barely hold my head up.  I still wasn't back to "normal," but I didn't have to take any cold medication, and I only blew my nose occasionally.

And then, in the early afternoon, I got the news that Richard Adams, the author of Watership Down had died.  But he was 92, and truth be told, I was a bit surprised that he was still alive.

It was far more sobering to hear the news of Carrie Fisher's death.  She was only 60, just 9 years older than I am.  Star Wars was the first PG rated movie I saw when I just turned 12.  I loved Princess Leia, but not particularly more than any other cast member.  Now that I am older I would see her as an important role model, but back then, I wouldn't have framed it that way.

Now that I am older, I see the ragtag band of revolutionaries as the important role model, more so than Princess Leia as feminist icon, although that's not a hard case to make either.  I like the fact that while she may occasionally need rescuing, so do the other members of the team.  I like that she's competent, even into her older age, in last year's movie.  The battle isn't won, and so she soldiers on.

And in her non-Princess Leia personas, I see Fisher as even more important:  her outspoken insistence on treating mental illness as a disease, not an embarrassment, her acceptance of her aging face and body, on and on I could go.

It's astonishing to think about all the losses of this past year--but as I get older, I imagine this feeling won't be unfamiliar.

But frankly, when I look back on 2016, it's the changes that have affected my friends and me that I will remember.  Let me just take a minute and catch my breath by listing some of the non-celebrity, non-political losses and changes:

--A year ago, we had a neighbor living in our backyard cottage.  In June, she moved to Utah.

--June was also a month of lay-offs at my old school.  My Hindu writer friend lost her full-time job, and that led her down a road to a new job that she begins in January.  She will leave the old school completely--which really feels like the end of an era.

--How much did these lay-offs lead me down a road to a new job at a new school?  It was partly those June RIFs and partly the action against ACICS that ruled they could no longer accredit schools.  It was many signs that led me to think that my old school will not take me to retirement.  I am glad I made the leap, but that change too was the end of an era.

--Just before I left, there were more lay-offs at the old school, RIFs of fellow administrators which convinced me that I was right to go. 

--I'm also thinking of the death of my colleague Patrick Peacock.  I still find his diving death an absolute shock.

--This year has been the year of retirements of some friends who are not that much older than I am--one of them was a state employee since the mid-1980's.  The transitions have been mostly happy, but it's still a marker of time passing.

I see this past year as a jolting out of our collective comfort zones, whether it be the deaths of famous people, the Brexit vote, the U.S. election, or more local changes like the ones I've just listed.  Because my mood usually runs to optimism, I do have hopes that these jolts will lead us to better and safer places than we've found ourselves before.  But I'm also a student of history, so I understand the dangers ahead.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Post-Christmas Sick Day

When I asked Santa for time to read, perhaps I should have been more specific.  I did not really want a head cold to lay me low so that I had time to read.

I had been fighting a cold all week-end, and yesterday, the cold won, at least for part of the day.  I got up, turned on the computer, caught up on how various Facebook friends spent their Christmases, and then I thought, I can't possibly hold my head up any longer.   And so, I went back to bed, and while I got up occasionally, long enough to take some meds and drink some ginger ale, and then I crawled back between the covers.

I also did a lot of reading.  I finished Ann Patchett's Commonwealth, which was absolutely compelling--one of my favorite kinds of books that follows a group of characters through the 60's and onward.  It's got great cultural markers, as well as wonderful characters.

I also started and finished Your Heart is a Muscle the Size of Your Fist by Sunil Yapa.  It has some gorgeous passages of prose as it follows characters through the day of protests that shuts down the WTO negotiations in Seattle in 1999.  It's wonderful to revisit this time and those activists--and to think about whether or not today's activists are substantially different.

However, I found the violence a bit exhausting, and eventually, I skimmed through those parts.  And did I find these characters believable?  At times yes, at times no.  Did it matter?  Maybe.  I would not read it again, but it was a good way to spend a sick day.

As the day marched towards evening, I felt well enough to sit up--I wasn't nauseated, but I did feel dizzy and heavy-headed all day, which made bed so attractive.  We watched Trainwreck, which I'm amazed has been out since 2015--that's how behind we are in our movie watching.

We had thought about watching A Christmas Story.  I haven't watched much in the way of seasonal fare, and soon, it will be time to move on.  But instead of watching an additional movie, we went to the backyard where my spouse had built a fire in our small firepit.  We spent an hour watching the flames dance, eating some cookies, and enjoying some wine.

I am still not back to my non-sick self.  I'm much more aware of my sinuses than I want to be.  But at least I'm well enough to go back to work.  I'm grateful that my worst day of sickness came on a day off, since I haven't earned any time off yet.

I'm also grateful that although I could feel the cold trying to take over on Dec. 24 and 25, I was in pretty good shape.  I had lots of plans on those days, plans I'm grateful that I didn't have to miss.

And now it's back to work.  It's been years since I went to the office during the week between Christmas and New Year's.  It will be a skeleton crew--most of the academic team will be gone.  The Admissions folks will be trying to get us to the goal for the Winter 2017 quarter start.  I will do some of the tasks that have been put to the side, like filing and uploading signed contracts and such.  It won't be onerous--it's a last bit of downtime before various processes (the beginning of the quarter and getting ready for an accreditation site visit) crank into high gear--let me enjoy it.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

The Darkness Did Not Overcome It

With texts that we return to again and again, like the Christmas story, I'm always intrigued by what parts of the readings stay with me, what parts speak to me more in any given year.  Last night, it was this passage:

Around the passage, I put items that are feeling mighty dark to me.  In the upper right hand corner, the word Aleppo is almost strangled by darkness.  Other words/phrases:  democracy sliding away, terror in the Christmas market, refugees, climate chaos, Trump. 

It's an important reminder to me.  The Divine breaks through in all sorts of ways, and often, only those who are on the watch will see it.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Christmas Present, Minus Ghosts this Year

I have already been out and about this morning, picking up some bagels and donuts from Dandee Donuts, the best local donut shop that's an easy drive for me.  My spouse smoked a side of salmon yesterday, which put us in a brunch mood--now we are prepared!

Last night, I dreamed I was on a quest to get bagels and to find a place that sold both donuts and water purifying tablets.  I woke up with 2 thoughts:  first and foremost, what kind of coming catastrophe would have me stocking up on bagels?  And then:  this is what happens when one does holiday planning and then finishes reading Octavia Butler's Parable of the Sower right before sleep!

Yesterday was quite the up and down day.  Gravity was working overtime in the kitchen--we had several spills yesterday.  And we had an incident with the freezer that flummoxed us for several hours:  the temp in the freezer started going up.  We have a weird freezer system where if you mash the buttons the right way, you can turn off one side but not the other--so the fridge was fine.  Then we had to figure out how to push the buttons to get the temp going down--it shouldn't be complicated, and it's not, but you have to remember that you have to hold the down button first to reset it--you can't just mash it.
There was a minute when I thought, "We're gonna have a $300 repair bill, just to have the service guy come out and push a button or two because we can't remember exactly what to do."  Happily, that was not the case.
We did some wonderful grilling of veggies, along with the salmon.  I've felt a cold trying to sink its claws into me, and I've been eating veggies and drinking juices in an effort to help my immune system fight off whatever's trying take hold.
In the evening, after we ate our meal on the porch, my spouse played Christmas music on the violin, and I read.  I devoured much of Ann Patchett's Commonwealth.  It's wonderful.
This morning, I went early for bagels, after calling to make sure Dandee Donuts was open and had bagels.  I love seeing the Christmas lights during this week when so many people leave them on all night.
I saw a gate which looked like someone had thatched it with evergreens and lights.  That took me back to the first time I ever saw Martha Stewart--it was a holiday special, and she was thatching the whole side of her house in evergreens.  Later in the show, she would make gingerbread houses so intricate that I expected to see architectural blueprints.
I am so relieved that I don't feel the need to do anything elaborate for Christmas.  I have yet to bake any Christmas bread or to make the cookies that we roll out and cut with the wide variety of cookie cutters I've collected.  I have no Christmas cards to send.  I buy very few gifts. 
I've done a good job at staying present in the current Christmas.  There have been years that I get lost in nostalgia and the longing for Christmas past.  Not this year.
I will spend a lot of time at church before the week-end is over, but that's cool with me.  These services are some of my favorites.  And in between, there will be soup and ukuleles and time for reflection as the Christmas lights twinkle.

Friday, December 23, 2016

Resisting Grumpiness

Today I have the day off, but it has not started auspiciously.  I was reaching for the coffee grinder, and the cord knocked over an empty water bottle, which knocked over a smaller bottle, which had soapy water in it because of a disgusting mold culture it had been incubating.  That water bottle, with soapy water, has sat peacefully, uncapped, on the counter for over a week, waiting for someone to decide what to do next (soak in bleach?  scrub?  rinse and keep using?  Not my water bottle, not my decision).

So, of course the water ran across the counter, to the edge, which has no seal because this kitchen was designed to be a temporary stopgap kitchen when we moved in during the summer of 2016.  In short, no way to clean up the water or even to know how much might have run down between the dishwasher (which isn't connected because the kitchen is temporary) and the tall cabinet to pool on the floor.  Grr.

And then, on top of it all, the coffee grinder isn't working.  I suspect I have the top on wrong, but I can't read the tiny print that's on the machine to be sure.  Luckily I had some already ground coffee left.  And the cord is so short that the machine is hardly usable.  Who designs these products?

O.K. time for a reboot.  I have very few days off, and I don't want to lose one to grumpiness.  Soon I will leave for spin class and then I'll run some errands that are also on that side of town:  Trader Joe's and Total Wine.  Then I'll enjoy a day at home, with some cooking, some organizing, and lots of relaxing.  Maybe some reading, maybe some writing--yes, it will be a good day!

Maybe in the evening, we'll take a walk through the Christmas lights.  All too soon they will be gone.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

The Best Gifts

Yesterday, I dropped my spouse off at choir practice and went to Target.  As I turned into the parking lot, I thought, what am I doing, going to Target on the Wednesday before Christmas.  But we had a coupon that expired on Dec. 24, and my spouse needed more nicotine tablets.  My watch stopped over Thanksgiving, and I've been meaning to get to Target--and thus, there I was, with all the shoppers and their very full baskets.  But I found a short line with a cheerful check-out clerk.

In fact, the whole day was full of those kinds of gifts.  Let me list the gifts of Winter Solstice 2016:

--At Target, I parked far away from the door, under a peaceful tree.  I was able to avoid the honking cars closer to the door.

--The watches were on sale.  And the store was stocked with nicotine tablets.  And I found a pair of sunglasses to replace the ones that disappeared during our Thanksgiving trip.

--Before I went to Target, I went to the public library at the south campus of Broward College.  I spent some time in the poetry section, and spent some time in fond memory of the time when I taught there during the 98-99 school year.  When I needed a break, I'd wander to the library, check out a volume of poetry, and devour it.  Thus, I taught myself a lot about late-20th century poetry.

--The library had several books I want to read over the next few weeks--hurrah!  In the late afternoon, I looked at several lists of best books of 2016, and the south campus library had most of them.  First up:  Ann Patchett's Commonwealth.

--But first I must finish Octavia Butler's Parable of the Sower.  It's been long enough since I last read it that it contains some surprises.  But I know the plot, so I can read it without the sheer terror of the first read.  I had some reading time yesterday, a wonderful gift.

--It's been a long time since I worked right up to Christmas, and yet, I don't mind.  I still have a lot of work to do, but there's a festive feel regardless.  Yesterday was our Christmas party, which went well.  Some people, including my Secret Santa, went way over the $ amounts we were supposed to spend.  I will do as I've been trained, write my thank you note, and try not to feel guilty.

--Yesterday, the kind HR woman let me know that there were some onboarding tasks that remain undone for my new Allied Health Department Chair.  I was able to do them, in part because of the hours I spent trying to access one of the portals on Friday. 

--I have spent weeks working on a letter that will go out to recent graduates in a program who have yet to find a job; the letter outlines a way we'll help them take the registry exam so that they will have more employment options.  The last step was to show it to the president and owner of the college.  She approved it, and with some kind words in the e-mail that let me know that I can send it out.  Hurrah!

--In the afternoon, I interviewed a woman for our one English class that needs a teacher.  I think she'll be a good match.  And should she change her mind and decide she's not interested, I have another teacher waiting in the wings.  And so, for a brief moment, we are fully staffed.

What do I still want Santa to bring me?  Well, there's the traditional request for peace on earth.  But I could also use inspiration about how to find some needed office space for my full-time folks at work. 

I'd be happy with time to read, time to cook, time with friends--and I expect that Santa will be able to make that delivery!

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Days of Celebration Before Christmas

Today is the Winter Solstice, the shortest day of the year.  But from here on out, we get an extra minute of light each day.  It may not feel like much, but it will add up quickly.

Today we will have a holiday party at my new workplace.  Our Secret Santa identities will be revealed.  We will take time out of our busy days to have some cheer of the non-alcoholic kind.

It's been a week of celebrating other events too.  I have two friends who got good job news in the same week, so this week, we're celebrating.  One friend got my former job at the old school and one got a job directing a writing center at one of the campuses of the huge, local community college.  How wondrous is good job news in these dark days.

Today is the feast day of Saint Thomas, most famous for his doubting.  It's not so strange that he doubted, after all.  He saw Jesus die an agonizing death.  Why would he believe his fellow disciples with their strange tales of seeing Christ back from the dead?  He must have thought they'd finally lost their collective minds, which wouldn't have been improbable, given the events of the week.  But then he got to stretch out his hands, right into the wounds of Jesus.
Thomas should serve as a hopeful tale for all of us in these darkest days of the year (at least in the Northern Hemisphere).  It can be hard to maintain our faith, especially in the face of the spirit-cracking grief of disappointed hopes.  We may yearn for evidence that's supported by our five senses.  We may get that evidence.  Or we may get to have a mystical experience, where we experience something that transcends the world we've always known, a gateway to a different plane.

South Florida is a strange place to celebrate these winter holidays.  We've had record breaking heat these days, with daytime temps in the high 80's on some days.  But the sun sets earlier here than it did just a few months ago.  I drive home in the dusk, cheered by the twinkly lights.  I'll miss them in a few weeks, when it's still dark.  I'll try to remember that I'm gaining a bit more light each day.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Weaving Together Communities

Yesterday, I orchestrated the first faculty development day for my new campus.  Overall, I was pleased.  Let me capture some insights from a morning of faculty development and the day that followed:

--The refreshments were a puzzle to me.  I thought we needed more coffee, but I didn't want to wait the half hour that the shop told me it would take--so I got one of those coffee carriers (waiting 15 minutes for it to be ready) and made a pot of coffee on campus.  Apparently, I am not with a group of coffee guzzlers, as we had coffee left over. We had 15 RSVPs--how many bagels to get?  I got a dozen savory and a dozen sweet:  most of the sweets were left.  So, I'm on a campus of savory bagel eaters.

--Faculty came in for faculty development, even though they are technically on vacation.  And they were engaged, and they left with new ideas they wanted to try--a successful day.

--We heard about a campus administrator who had a passion for beach clean up, and so, each month, he gave students one or two opportunities to participate in beach clean up events--and that campus had the highest retention rates it has ever had.  Mind you, this campus did not focus on ecology or environmental issues--most of these students would graduate to a career in the health fields.  But keeping them engaged in the larger community also kept them engaged at school--at least, that's the way it looks at first glance.

--I wonder if any research has been done in this area.  Would it need to be the same community project or can the community project change throughout the year?

--I still have one English class to staff on a Wednesday night.  Friday, I wrote to a woman who was once an adjunct for me in a different school; she asked if she could forward it to some of her adjunct groups, and of course I said yes.  But I knew that classes were already over, and so I didn't expect many responses.  Oh me of little faith.  By Monday morning, I had at least 10 e-mails from interested people.

--Yesterday was also the first day of having a chair of Allied Health on my campus.  Yesterday felt like a hectic day, the kind where I focus on what I didn't get done--hence, this post, so that I remember that I did get much done.  I want to make sure I remember this fact:  our Allied Health students will have a much better chance at a positive student experience because he's in charge of the department.

--As I think on yesterday and days like yesterday, I think of knitting--or is weaving a better metaphor?  I am most drawn to activities that will knit or weave a diverse group of people into more of a community.  And on that note, off I go to another administrator day of doing just that!

Monday, December 19, 2016

Sunday Chaos and Calm

Yesterday was a mix of chaos and calm.  I went to church where I was leading a session on crèche building from found objects--for more on that process, see this post on my theology blog.  It was fun and interesting, but also, as our pastor called it, "a holy chaos."  It took me almost an hour to clean up after the creating was done.

I stopped at Jo-Ann's fabrics on the way home.  I needed some items for the Secret Santa activities at work this week.  I won't say more, since the Secret Santa should be secret.  But I was happy to have that wrapped up.  I don't particularly like Christmas shopping for loved ones, let alone people at work who are still strangers to me.

I got home anticipating a lunch of leftover pizza, but my spouse had eaten it before leaving on his motorcycle ride with his brother.  At first I felt like crying--but then I laughed at myself.  I can make a pizza--and so I did.

My mood in the early afternoon had that same chaotic feeling as the morning at church:  up and down and messy.  But I got the pizza dough started, did some dishes, put fresh sheets on the bed, and I started to feel better.  Once I ate some pizza and settled in to review photos and get some writing done, my mood evened out.

As the afternoon darkened into evening, I put on a Christmas CD and wondered what to read next.  I've just finished 2 big books, in terms of length and the fact that they were non-fiction.  I hadn't made it to the library to pick up something else.  I looked at my bookshelves and thought, you say you keep these books so that you'll always have something good to read--so choose one. 

I settled in to read Octavia Butler's The Parable of the Sower, a book I'd been thinking of since the election.  When I first read it, decades ago in 1994 when it first came out, it seemed prescient.  Now that we're closer to 2024, the year in which the novel begins, it seems both prescient and lacking--but still very compelling, even though I've already read it multiple times.

It was strange to read the apocalyptic book with the Christmas music playing softly, while listening for the approaching roar of the motorcycle.  Once he was home, we took the Advent wreath to the porch, where we lit four candles, sipped some wine, and caught up with each other. 

So, we have arrived at the week before Christmas.  In many years, I would have more days off, but this year, I do not.  Still, there will be a few days off, and this year, that will be enough.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

One Week Before Christmas

Today I turned in my last batch of grades.  I let myself feel satisfied for a few minutes, and then I changed my password for the community college, and went to the online platform, the learning management system.

Grrr.  The whole interface has changed.  I'm sure that I'll get used to it, but it seems like every time I get secure about navigating an interface, we must change it so that it looks better on people's phones.  Again I say grr.

And yes, I am deeply aware that these are first world problems.  But I'm also aware of how much time I've already wasted trying to teach myself the new interface and how my good mood has evaporated because of it.  I have that foggy brain that comes from working on computer issues, that longing to look away from the screen, the headachy feel, the grouchiness.

So, let me try to recover my sense of calm.  Let me remember that a week from now will be Christmas (I almost wrote Thanksgiving--an interesting slip).  Let me remember to light the Advent candles at the end of the day.  There aren't that many days left.

I see a dynamic in my mind that is usual for this time of year.  The first week of Advent, I light the candles several times, perhaps every night.  Then I get alarmed at how the candle has burnt down.  What if we don't have any part of the first candle left by the time we get to fourth week of Advent?  Then I become more and more hesitant to light the candles at all.

I realize that there's an obvious lesson here.  But it's still hard for me to go ahead and light them.

Tonight I will.  And in between now and the Advent lighting, I will go to church, where it is my turn to lead the interactive service--stay tuned for news of the manger scenes made from found objects and what lessons we learn.  I will stop on the way home to find some small gift for my Secret Santa at work.

Let me post an Advent picture to remind me to take this time to appreciate the holiday season that is zooming right on by.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Meeting and Greeting

Yesterday at work, we had a new student meet and greet, where students beginning the school in January of 2017 would come to campus.  I was surprised by how many new students actually came.  They went from office to office, meeting us all and being welcomed.  I thought it was cool, but I must confess that I didn't get much actual work done in the brief minutes where I wasn't meeting and greeting.
I have hopes that these kinds of efforts will keep students engaged and determined to complete their degrees.  There aren't many things I know for sure, but a degree finished along with debt accumulation leaves students better off than an unfinished degree with a mountain of debt.
And it's neat to be at a place that's small enough where we can undertake these efforts.  My last school was getting to be that small, but the mindset of many people was still the mindset of a school that had 3000 + students.  Not good for figuring out a new way forward.
I spent much of late yesterday afternoon with an HR person trying to figure out why I couldn't log onto the ADP system, which is the financial portal, which is where I will need to make my insurance choices.  Grr.  The most difficult part was in convincing the HR person that there really was a problem, that I wasn't just some stupid person who couldn't follow instructions.  We got it sorted out, but I'm still tired.
The good news is that we will be covered by insurance on the new job on Jan. 1.  The bad news, it will cost more, almost double.  As with every health insurance policy I've ever had, I find it impossible to know how much I'll pay out of pocket for health costs that may or my not be covered.
I have been working at jobs that are increasingly better, in terms of salary, in terms of title, in terms of responsibilities.  I have stayed healthy--but my health insurance has gotten more and more ghastly expensive.
And yes, I know that I am lucky to have it available and to have the money to pay for it.  Many do not.
I am tired--that's how I feel today, for a variety of reasons.  I don't understand why exactly.  It's not like I'm driving across 3 counties being an adjunct.  I drive to the office and sit there for 9-10 hours. 
But I forget how it is unexpectedly tiring to start at a new place, to meet and greet, to understand a new variety of systems with new log-ins and new procedures--full of welcome changes and challenges, but tiring nonetheless.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Advent Weariness

I posted what follows on my theology blog.  Part of me thinks it also works as a poem.  The pictures are from Mepkin Abbey.

In some years, the angels speak to us, with their news that we need not be afraid, that something wonderful bursts forth for those who have eyes to see.

Some years, it's the prophet crying in the wilderness about pathways made straight, the need to repent.

Some years, we tire of that locust-tinted breath always beating down on us.  Some years, the angels come too close.

Some years we scan the skies, looking for the unusual, a far-away star to tell us something new.

Maybe we just need a walk with a friend to do what the prophet and angels cannot do, to get us back on track and restore our sense of wonder.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Mid-December Snapshots: Dreams and Waking Life

I feel a bit fragmented, but in a good way, the kind of fragmented that comes from doing a variety of tasks, being interrupted, going back to tasks, and through this weaving accomplishing what must be done.

Let me record some reflections, however fleeting:

--Last night I dreamed I was sewing by hand, sifting through a variety of beautiful blue cloth.  This morning, I used that image in a poem.  The dream was lovely, but the poem is dark:  an older woman, sewing in a besieged city.  Aleppo is very much on my mind this week.

--I also dreamed about the extensive paperwork necessary to hire someone.  That dream was not as wonderful as my sewing dream--but it reflects my waking life more accurately, as I work on contracts for Winter 2017 quarter, hiring new faculty, and other types of tasks along these lines.

--For a brief minute in one dream, I was thinking about what it would take to update an academic essay that I wrote in the 90's--I realized I didn't really have access to the kind of academic library I would need to update the paper.

--I noticed that a bio of Queen Victoria made one of the NYT's book reviewers best books of 2016 list:  Victoria, the Queen, by Julia Baird.  I just heard a microreview on my NPR station--another rave review.  And it's a bestseller on Amazon.  Maybe that will be my next big book.  It will likely be cheerier than Timothy Snyder's Black Earth:  Holocaust as History and Warning.   As a younger woman, I couldn't fathom why people didn't work harder to rescue the Jews and others in danger.  This week, I'm fairly sure that future generations will wonder the same thing about Syria.

--I don't have a good answer.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Poetry Wednesday: "Adjunct Professor, Ebeneezer Scrooge"

On Sunday, as we flipped through channels, we came across A Christmas Carol, one we hadn't seen before, with Patrick Stewart as Scrooge.  It was so compelling that we kept coming back to it, eventually switching back and forth between it and The Simpsons.  I finally had to call it a night after the Ghost of Christmas Past was done.  At some point, I hope to see the rest because it was so gorgeously done.

I thought it was a film released to movie theatres, that's how beautiful it was. But it was a made for TV movie, done back in 1999.  I'm amazed that it's been around so long, and I haven't stumbled across it before. 

I've spent a few days thinking about my involvement with this text, both the one that Charles Dickens wrote, and the many filmed versions--and the larger pop culture world of texts (I'm using that word in its largest context) influenced by A Christmas Carol.  I have yet to see a filmed version that captures how dirty London would be during Scrooge's time, how claustrophobic it would feel to be on the street.

I also thought about a poem I wrote years ago, when I was in the midst of accreditation paperwork and hiring.   This year, I'm also in the midst of accreditation paperwork and hiring, and I went back to the poem. 

I've always delighted in taking fictional characters, and putting them in different situations--this poem is one of those.  I think it holds up well, and here it is, available to the wider world for the first time.

Adjunct Professor, Ebenezer Scrooge

Ebenezer Scrooge decides he needs
a change of scenery
and so he returns to the university
to teach a class in the Business School.

He’s not really credentialed,
but because he was brought on board
at the last minute, an emergency
hire, the dean overlooks this lack.

Also, he’s never taught.
The department chair argued
that his years as boss
should count, and thus, his entry.

Within weeks, students line
the hallways, waiting to complain
to the department chair, the dean, the president,
anyone who will listen.

Scrooge doesn’t ever return
their papers. He ignores
office hours. He won’t respond
to e-mail. And his imperious attitude!

When questioned, Scrooge complains
about the insistence of the modern student,
the 2:00 a.m. e-mails, the impatience
at 4:00 a.m. when he hasn’t answered.

The chair nods; he’s unbearably familiar
with students who expect him
to discipline their professors
as if lodging a complaint about a bad waitress.

Still, the dean insists on action,
an improvement plan. Scrooge quits.
He returns to his life of keeping tight
reign on costs and his employees.

Only occasionally does he miss
campus life, the walk across the quad,
the shiny labs with the latest technology,
the library, full of unread books.


Tuesday, December 13, 2016

The Feast Day of Santa Lucia and Other Markers of the Year's End Approaching

Today is the feast day of Santa Lucia--more on this feast, this saint, and the breads associated with the holiday can be found in this post on my theology blog.

In some ways, this festival day feels like the halfway point in the Advent season, although we're actually more than halfway through.  Often, during my years of working full-time, it's been this day that reminds me that I have yet to do any holiday bread baking--or any baking.

On this day, I usually find myself wishing that I had time to bake bread today.  But that is not the life I have this year, or most years.  I'm in academia, and while people believe that academics have easy lives with much time off--that doesn't describe the life of anyone I know.

For me, this week is one of mad dashes to several finish lines:  my online classes finish this week, and grades are due on Thursday.  I have a batch of papers to grade before I'm done, but they're my favorite ones of the class, along the lines of what have you learned as a writer.  Students usually do well in this self-analysis.

It is also a mad dash to finish accreditation documents which will be mailed in at the end of the week.  I understand this part of the process:  stuff I thought was done needs additional attention.

It is also a time of hiring and hoping to hire.  I still have a few classes to staff--I have back up plans, but first I need to touch base with people who were thinking about it all.

And then there are Christmas tasks that needs attention:  a gift for my nephew and some Secret Santa presents to buy/find.  I need to bake for an upcoming cookie exchange.  I realize that those of you with a Christmas to-do list as long as my arm will laugh at my list of Christmas tasks.

In these days of mad dashes to the finish line, I think back to the hot day in August when I created the deadlines that are on the syllabi.  Back then, it all seemed so far away.  It was hard to believe a day would come in December when the class would finish.

Back then, I had no sense of how my life was about to change.  I had no inkling that a job offer was about to come my way.

I am still glad that I made that leap.  It is good to have these challenges.  I've always said that being part of an expanding institution comes with challenges, the same as being part of a shrinking institution--but I prefer the challenges of expansion.  The challenges of a shrinking institution just fill me with sadness and dread.

I'm now part of an expanding institution, and I still prefer those challenges.  In a shrinking institution, I can't protect people, and I hate that fact.  And yes, I realize that I can't really protect anyone in the longest, truest sense--but in the short term, there are more opportunities to help people in an expanding institution than in a shrinking one.

So, on this feast day of Santa Lucia, I celebrate the ways that the darkness has not overcome the light.  But I also realize that not everyone gets to celebrate.  It’s worth remembering that many women in many countries don’t have any more control over their bodies or their destinies than these long-ago virgin saints like Santa Lucia did. In this time of Advent waiting, we can remember that God chose to come to a virgin mother who lived in a culture that wasn’t much different than Santa Lucia’s culture--or the culture in which many 21st century women live.

Let me also attend to another Christmas task--making year-end contributions to organizations that alleviate some of that hardship.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Carols and Other Christmas Songs

Yesterday we went caroling with my church, an event which always leaves me somewhat exhausted.  We go to rehab centers, hospitals, and the houses of people too ill to leave them.  So I'm caroling but I'm also working through my panic at being surrounded by all the ways that our flesh can fail us.

And we're often competing with the television.  That's odd to me.  At some stops, I can't fight the feeling that the residents would rather be watching the television.

For more on yesterday's caroling, see this post on my theology blog.  Let me capture some other thoughts about holiday music in the rest of this post.

--When did "My Favorite Things" become a Christmas song?  It's not on many of my Christmas CDs, but enough of them to make me wonder.  Was Barbra Streisand the first to do it?

--I asked my spouse, and he suggested that it was John Coltrane, before Barbra Streisand.  I said, "But honey, that wasn't a Christmas CD."  What would that sound like?  And then I had this vision of all of those strung-out-on-heroin but still talented musicians putting out a Christmas CD.

--Yesterday I listened to this great interview on NPR's On Being.  Musician Alice Parker reminds us that we've only been singing in harmonies for 400 or 500 years, only been writing our music down since perhaps the 1200's.  I'm not sure why that struck me, but it did.

--Every time we go caroling I think about a short story that I came up with years ago, with a different church and a different set of carolers.  I can get the basic set up, but not much else.  I've always joked that if I'm a little old lady living alone and people show up unbidden to sing carols at me, I'll know that I'm in a bad way.

--This time of year makes me wish I lived closer to Mepkin Abbey--I'd like to pop over to see how they decorate.  I'd like to hear the Advent liturgy.  But even if they had space for visitors, this time of year is not a great time for me to get away--thus the wishing that I was closer, that a time out wouldn't take such a time and driving commitment.

--I suspect there's a short story lurking in that chunk of text too.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

History's Warnings and Reminders

Yesterday, we had quite a rain event, which I blogged about in this post.  Later, I made a Facebook post with this picture of our neighbor taking some of the neighborhood children for a ride in his kayak:

That's the middle of the street, mind you, with an hour of rain yet to come. 

By early afternoon, the waters had receded.  I feel lucky--we had some water intrusion into our backyard cottage, in the usual spots, and water on the front windowsill of the main house in the usual spot, but it would have been much worse if we had had another few hours of rain.  We were home, so we could move the cars into the driveway--if not, the car parked in the street might have been ruined.

After a nap, I spent the afternoon reading--and reading a big book of nonfiction, Timothy Snyder's Black Earth:  Holocaust as History and Warning.   How long has it been since I've read something this big, this important?  I looked at my book list, and earlier this year, I read a big biography about The Inklings and a book about the FBI and radical groups in the 70's.

I ordered the book because I read Snyder's Facebook post on twenty lessons from the twentieth century, adapted to the circumstances of today.  I read it before Thanksgiving and found it such an interesting approach that I saved it to the hard drive of my computer.  It was still on my brain when I made an Amazon order last week, so I added it.

I had hoped that the book would focus more on the warning, less on the history--it doesn't, but the history is fascinating.  About huge subjects, like the Holocaust, I often think I have nothing left to learn, but that's not true.  I read half the book yesterday, in part because it was riveting and in part because my spouse was grading, I was caught up on my grading, and a window of time opened up for reading.

So, what am I learning/remembering?  It's scary to be in Hitler's brain.  His view of humanity was dark, and he took ideas about survival of the fittest to dangerous extremes.  He saw us in a race for scarce resources, and the only approach was to fight viciously to win.  His view of the place of the Jews is almost incomprehensible to me.

And here's what's scary--he knew that he needed to keep those views hidden, even as he was preparing the country for a huge war where Germans could prove themselves.  I don't seen anyone quite like Hitler in our current landscape.  Of course, go back in time and only a few of Hitler's contemporaries understood his mindset.

Here's what seems most relevant to our current day:  the importance of the nation-state in protecting minorities.  Snyder points out that the worst atrocities happened after Hitler destroyed the various institutions of the state.  Jews and other minorities weren't killed in huge numbers in Germany.  They were shipped east, where Hitler had created space for anarchy and bloodshed by destroying the state.

I realize that for every example of atrocities happening because of the absence of the nation-state, we could give an example of the nation-state making atrocities happen that wouldn't have happened otherwise.

I am finding this book both oddly comforting and disconcerting.  It's good to remember that the world is more stable right now than it was in the 30's, when fascists rose to take power.  It's also sobering to realize how quickly that can change, as Jews in Austria in 1938 would remind us.

It's also good to remember that we have some power, although we may feel like we don't.  And those of us who have privilege because of our race, our class, our gender, our citizenship--we have a duty and a serious responsibility in times like these.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

December Flood

Ordinarily, I'd be getting my spin bike set up on a Saturday.  But not this morning--it's been raining for hours, heavily raining for the last two. 

I tried to capture the event a few hours ago--now the sidewalk is covered, as is part of the front lawn.

I was struck by the juxtaposition of seasons:  Christmas (red ball in planter), Autumn (pumpkins), and Hurricane (flooding yard):

We've lived here for 3.5 years, and the pool has never overflowed.  This morning, it did.  We put the pump in reverse to control where the chlorinated water was flowing. I hope the hibiscus survive.

My spouse asked me if we had flood insurance.  Indeed we do, and we pay a huge chunk of cash for it.  This morning, I'm glad we have it.

Once I'd have called this a strange rain event--this time period used to be called our dry season.  But in the past seven years, we've had these events so regularly that we will soon call them normal.

Or can we call any weather normal in these days of a wrecked planet? 

Friday, December 9, 2016

Christmas Music and the Ukulele

Last night, I heard a woman say, "We can do Christmas music on the ukulele without singing 'Mele Kalikimaka' you know."

But we did sing that song, among many others.  Last night was the monthly ukulele meet-up at 2&, an interesting spot that's both a bar and a performance space and a bike repair shop (bike racks inside!).  It's in the trendy part of Ft. Lauderdale, on Las Olas, and the summer days of easy parking are over--but because we had to hunt more, we found free parking on a back street.

It was a drizzly night--not the wintry drizzle that you would expect in December, but the kind when humid air finally starts to weep a bit.  Still, it was great to see the lights, to arrive at the bar, and to spend a few hours working our way through Christmas music.

One member of the group brings a projector, and the rest of us pluck along to the chords beamed on the wall.  One woman said, "We should turn off the projector and see how many people can sing the second verse."

We didn't, but if we had, I'd have won that prize.  The sacred songs I've sung my whole life, and they were probably the first songs I memorized.  I have spent every December of my life with Christmas albums, tapes, and CDs on endless loops, so I know the secular music too.

As we played, I watched the people wander by.  I wondered if they recognized the music.  Did they say, "Hey, where's that ukulele music coming from?"  Or do they even know what kind of instrument we're playing?

Last night, as we sang "Silent Night" at the top of our lungs (incongruous, I know), a pair of young guys came in. One had long dreadlocks.  One had a shirt that declared "Drink Wisconsibly."  They had that baffled look, as if to say, "Who has invaded my bar?"  I wanted to know if they knew the hymn.  That baffled look could have also been, "I almost know this song.  It's so familiar.  What is it?"

Or maybe very few people know these songs anymore.  But we did--and they're easy songs, so people could sing along.

All in all, it was a fun night--not the meditative Advent night I'd have had at home, but a good practice for our Christmas Eve ukulele service.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Book-ends: Bloodcurdling Screams and Writerly Inspirations

Yesterday was another day of administrative firsts for me.  First and foremost, I played a victim during the EMS mass casualty simulation at my new school.

I didn't have a dramatic "injury"--just a contusion on my cheek and gum bleeding.  Others had fake gunshot wounds.  We had mannequins in the parking lot to represent dead victims.

We sent out e-mails to the whole campus and the rest of the building to let them know what we planned.  Still, I worried that someone might call the police--from a distance, some of it looked real.  And one of the victims had an amazing skill with bloodcurdling screams.  Even though I knew it was fake, I got chills.

I was supposed to wait in my office--one thing I learned yesterday is how frequently people, even deeply injured people, leave the scene where help might arrive early.  Eventually I was led to the green area, where my "wounds" were treated and my blood pressure was taken.

I was impressed by how well the EMS team worked--the instructors with their years of experience in real situations and their coaching of these students who had likely never experienced anything like yesterday's simulation.

The rest of my day felt more like a normal administrator day:  observing a class, contacting people who might want to teach, looking at accreditation documents to do some minor revisions.

At the end of the day, I met one of my good friends from the old job for dinner.  I was happy to be able to bring her my essay from the book I got Monday on female writers and mythology, where I make reference to her poetry; the introduction to the whole book also refers to her work, calling her one of "vibrant voices in the field."  Cool!

Once I might have thought that these kinds of references in literary criticism could help when it comes to the longevity of creative work.  Now I'm not sure.  But when my friend saw the passage that the editor of the book wrote about her, she said, "I really need to start writing again."

Much of her writing energy has gone to her search for full-time work to replace the one RIFed from her in June. Much of my writing energy has gone to my online classes and accreditation documents.  But I remain hopeful that writing that is done with the small scraps of time left over can be important too.

It was an interesting set of bookends to the day:  bloodcurdling screams on one end, a writerly dinner at the other.  What will today bring?

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

A Publication Unusual for Me

It is a good thing that I don't work in a publish-or-perish job that relies on steady publication of my academic writing.  Of course, if I did, I would have more academic work circulating in the world.  If I did, I would have more academic writing to be in circulation.

Yesterday, we pulled a package out of the mailbox.  I knew it was a book, but not the batch I had ordered from Amazon.  The return address was vaguely familiar, but no one I knew well enough to be sending me a holiday gift.

Lo and behold, it was the collection of academic essays about female poets and myth, Women Versed in Myth, edited by Colleen S. Harris and Valerie Estelle Frankel, published by McFarland.  I have an essay in the book, and last night I opened my contributor's copy.  Better yet, I handed it to my spouse, who immediately read my essay and pronounced it good.

I tried to remember exactly when I wrote it--I knew it was several offices ago.  Luckily I have this blog, and I was finishing the essay exactly four years ago.  Several weeks after turning it in, I wrote this blog post about the process.

Later I would revise it.  I was surprised to find out how strict the laws are about what parts of poetry one can quote and one can't.  I thought that if I gave attribution, I could quote whatever I wanted.  I had to get permission from the publisher.  That included my poems, which I thought were mine.  Nope--once they're published, particularly in book form, they are no longer mine.

At one point, I rewrote the essay taking out all the direct quotes from the poems.  My first thought was that it couldn't be done.  But then I forced myself to work my way through the resistance, and I came up with a good version of the essay.  I sent the editor both versions and let her decide.

That, too, was several offices ago.  The book has had many delays in publication, and at times, I've wondered if it would ever be published.  I've been grateful that I didn't have tenure decisions awaiting this publication.  And even if the essay had never been published, I'd have been happy to have written it.

Still, it's wonderful to hold the book in my hand.  And this will likely be the last academic essay, at least for awhile.  I don't have much more material waiting in the files, and I don't have time or the academic library to do the research that would be necessary to do much more with writing/revising literary criticism, at least not right now.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

The Gifts of St. Nicholas and Others

Yesterday at work was the day to get back to the every day and every month work of running a school:  classes to think about staffing, a department chair to try to hire, faculty development trainings to schedule, faculty files to get into shape.

But it's December, and there was also a Secret Santa program offered.  I'm hoping to avoid that.  It seems Scrooge-like, I know.  And on the day before the feast day of Saint Nicholas.

I had a friend in grad school who celebrated Saint Nicholas Day by having each family member open one present on the night of Dec. 6. It was the first I had heard of the feast day, but I was enchanted.
Still, I don't do much with this feast day--if I had children or gift-giving friends, I might, but most years, I simply pause to remember the historical origins of the saint and the day.

It's always a bit of a surprise to realize that Saint Nicholas was a real person. But indeed he was. In the fourth century, he lived in Myra, then part of Greece, now part of Turkey; eventually, he became Bishop of Myra. He became known for his habit of gift giving and miracle working, although it's hard to know what really happened and what's become folklore. Some of his gift giving is minor, like leaving coins in shoes that were left out for him. Some were more major, like resurrecting three boys killed by a butcher.

My favorite story is the one of the poor man with three children who had no dowry for them.  No dowry meant no marriage, and so, they were going to have to become prostitutes. In the dead of night, Nicholas threw a bag of gold into the house. Some legends have that he left a bag of gold for each daughter that night, while some say that he gave the gold on successive nights, while some say that he gave the gold as each girl came to marrying age.

How did we get from these stories to our current Santa Clause?  The question that interests me more is how we got from these stories to Santa Clause to the current buying frenzies that consume many of our Christmases.

Last night, I got the kind of gift I much prefer.  We headed over to a friend's house where my spouse gives a violin lesson to the daughter, and then we linger for wine and cheese and other goodies.  We spend an hour or two catching up.  Last night was especially restorative.

This morning, I've had trouble sleeping.  I've been awake since 1:30.  But in a way, that was a gift too.  I had time to read and time to write--and it was productive!  It was so productive that I decided to postpone working on grading for my online classes.

Let me end with another little-known fact:  Saint Nicholas is also the patron saint of sailors, who used to leave each other by saying "May Saint Nicholas hold the tiller!"

Here's hoping that Saint Nicholas holds the tiller on whatever ships are bringing us joy this December.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Poetry Monday: "Exercising Freedom"

I've been looking at poems from past years that I wrote during Advent, about Advent, poems that explore holiday themes of all sorts.

This year, I wrote a different kind of Advent poem.  I had all sorts of imagery in my head:  thoughts of the recent election, refugees fleeing all sorts of horror, news of wildfires in the mountains of the U.S. south, this Adrienne Rich poem, and a variety of poems posted in mid-November on the Via Negativa site.

I wrestled with the title, as I often do.  Part of my problem is that I couldn't decide if I thought the poem was hopeful or not--it's both hopeful and doomed, and I like the fact that it can occupy both spaces at once--as is so often the case with so many of us and so many events.

This past week, as I've been reading Isaiah along with other Advent texts, I've thought about this poem, which I actually wrote the week before Thanksgiving, although Advent was already on my brain.  Are the voices of the ancestors these ancient prophets?  Perhaps.  Or maybe they are the apocalyptic novelists I've always loved.  Or maybe they are the social activists who have always inspired me.

Or maybe all of it.

Many thanks to Dave Bonta for including my poem on his Via Negativa site in this post.  I always love seeing how the poems on that site influence each other, and I'm grateful for the inspiration they give me.

Exercising Freedom

"We were always
Trying to run toward each other."
                        Luisa A. Igloria, “Landscape in an afterlife
Once again, you find yourself
on the old revolutionary road
with the houses that once hid
the asylum seekers.

The long road stretches
before you, overgrown
with brambles and struggling seedlings.
You see the fires
ahead, burning cities
or perhaps the lights
of fellow travelers.
Smoke hides the mountains.

The road is lined
with the suitcases of immigrants
who abandoned all the essentials
they once lugged to a new country.

You have kept your treasures
sewn into your hemlines, heirloom
seeds and the small computer chip
that holds your freedom papers.
Your grandmother’s gold hoops dance
in your earlobes and twinkle
around your fingers.

You hear the voices of the ancestors,
colored with both reason and panic.
Go faster, they urge.
You are needed up ahead.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Insights from a Motorcycle Ride

I don't have much time to write this morning.  I'm in charge of all the church services this morning, including some breakfast, so soon I will make a mad dash to the grocery store, and then off to church!

But first, let me capture some thoughts about yesterday's motorcycle ride:

--It's been a time of less motorcycle riding for both of us.  Mistakes were made, but luckily, nothing drastic.  Still, it was not the relaxing ride of times past.

--Usually I like riding in a group, but yesterday was maddening.  We'd speed up, then slow down suddenly.  On and on it went like that.  Grr.

--It was windy.  Had my spouse not been looking forward to the ride, I'd have suggested that we cancel it--the winds were forecast to be 15-20 mph, and that's not fun on a bike.

--The ride took us through the Upper Keys, which was beautiful, as always.

--At times, I saw the new houses being built within yards of the Atlantic, with its hungry, hungry mouth.  I wondered what people were thinking.  I wondered how long they'd be able to insure their property.

--But then, I'd get the occasional view that made me remember the great beauty that surrounds these little islands.  That's why people continue to build there.

--I need to remember that when I feel stuck in my writing, I should just take a long ride, whether it's in the car or on a motorcycle.

--Just after Halloween, I started a short story with no real plan.  I just wanted to write down some thoughts about costumes.  Yesterday, I realized that I'm writing about one of the corporate women who comes down to make some important decisions about the school.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Writing the Apocalypse, Reading the Artistic Vision

Yesterday morning, I had a good writing morning, although I didn't actually write more than a few sentences.  My writing approach has changed, at least for fiction, and I'm trying to trust that it all works in the end, as it has been doing for over a year now.  I write a bit, process for days or a week, write a bit more, wait to receive more information, and so on.  This week has been a week of receiving lots of information about the character of my latest short story, along with ideas about how to use it.  I'm hopeful that I'll soon have time to write it all out.

As I was at spin class, I thought, wait, in October, I was thinking about a different story--oh no, I've lost it!  Something about an animation instructor, something about All Saints day, something about hospice chaplains and some sort of death that I hadn't fully figured out.  I got to the office and decided to read through my October posts on this blog.  Would I have written something that might trigger a memory?

Hurrah!  I did in this post--thank you October Kristin!  I read the post, and it all came back.

I spent much of yesterday immersed in a different writing task:  I've been writing up minutes of all of our accreditation document editing meetings.  Even though I was recycling chunks of writing, it still took time--along with the collating, along with the hole punching, along with the putting into binders.

It was the first time in what feels like weeks that I've had a bit of discretionary time in terms of administrator tasks--there's still much to be done, but it was good to have a day of deadlines met before moving on to the next set of deadlines that I bet are coming next week.

In the evening, I had some time to read.  I started with the Bruce Springsteen book that I've been reading for a few weeks.  And then, I did something I haven't been brave enough to do since the election:  I picked up Octavia Butler's Parable of the Sower.  In the book, I had written about the prescience of The Handmaid's Tale, He, She, and It, and the Butler book--Republican plans fully realized.

Are we standing at the precipice now?  In the Butler book, I had written a reference to the Contract with America--a huge agenda push that I barely remember now.  Will I feel the same way in 20 years about the fears we've had with a Trump presidency?

In 20 years, I'll be 71--that seems astonishing.  And yet, it seems like just yesterday that I settled in to read Parable of the Sower--which I consumed in one huge gulp--I had to know what would happen.  And that was over 20 years ago.

Last night, I flipped through the book, read a few passages, and returned to the Springsteen book.  I was at the part just before the finishing of Born to Run album.  It's interesting to read the book, knowing how it all turns out--reading the book reveals how much might have never happened if different artistic choices were made, if Springsteen had listened to one person's advice over another's.

I fell into a sleep of strange dreams, where I was writing accreditation documents and adjunct teacher Bruce Springsteen came to fill out some forms.  Today may seem just as surreal--it's a holiday motorcycle ride to support the POAT (Police Officers Assistance Trust) fund; it raises money, which helps officers and their families who need help for various reasons.  I like riding in a big group, especially with the police going along to stop traffic and give us the right of way.

I think the last time I was on the bike was for the May ride.  Today seems just as balmy--not exactly Christmasy, but I wouldn't be on a bike if it was cold.

We may end the day with a Candy Cane parade at the beach--or we may fall exhausted into bed early.  Here's hoping for good days for us all to give us sweet dreams tonight.

Friday, December 2, 2016

Friday Fragments: Advent Administrator Week

Despite long, long hours at the office, the week has zoomed by.  Some highlights:

--Last night, we took our Advent wreath to the front porch.  We lit the one candle along with some others in other candleholders.  My spouse played his violin, and I picked out chords on the ukulele, just as practice, not to play along.  I always love to see the pedestrians and cyclists, some of whom hurry along, others who look around to see what out-of-the-ordinary sound they're hearing.

--Several people now have thought my spouse is playing some kind of horn when they can't see his violin, but only hear it.  What kind of acoustics do we have on the porch?

--We came inside to watch the Charlie Brown Christmas show.  I always forget how moody and sad the show makes me.  I think of it as being composed of Linus reading the Gospel in its old-fashioned King James language--but that takes very little time.  I forget how much of the show is composed of everyone telling Charlie Brown how stupid he is. 

--Over Thanksgiving, I bought 2 tabletop trees for my office.  I have not seen any other types of holiday decorations in my new office complex apart from trees and plastic winter greenery.  No menorahs, no nod towards other holiday celebrations.

--I can now tell who has done accreditation work in the past and who has not.  The ones who have not are the ones who wail, "But I already wrote it that way--why do I have to write it again???!!!"  Others, like me, just write new chunks of text.  I remind myself not to spend too much time revising, since the text I'm working on may disappear with the next version.

--I'm also the only one on my campus who has had as much grad school as I have had--another factor in my ability to get work done on accreditation documents.  It's not the training my professors may have thought they were giving me, but there it is.

--I think back to grad school, when I said that I didn't want a tenure track job with its publish-or-perish expectations.  I wanted to do real writing, writing that would change the world.  Back then, I thought that poetry or fiction could change the world, if enough readers came to my writing, and I knew that scholarly writing usually got about 28 readers.

--Back then, I didn't know a single thing about accreditation writing.  It occurs to me that I have spent much of my professional life writing documents that are life-changing for students, even if they don't know it.  Yes, I'm casting accreditation documents in that light:  no accreditation, no degrees.  This writing matters, even if it's not the kind of writing that I thought I would be doing.

--At the start of the week, when I still had so much writing and revising to do, I saw a rainbow on my way to work--well, more like a rain column, since the colors didn't arc across the sky.  I still took it as a good sign.  I thought of all the stories of rainbows from my childhood churches.  We were taught that the rainbow should remind us that we will be safe from destruction.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Eyes on the Prize, Hands on the Plow

In these days of so many of us fretting over the future of the nation, let us take a pause to remember what ordinary citizens can do.  Today, December 1, gives us 2 movements to celebrate.

On this day in in 1955, Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on the bus to a white passenger. This act is often given credit for launching the Civil Rights Movement, but what many forget is that various communities had begun planning for the launch, even before they could see or know what it would look like.  This liberation work had been going on since the end of the Civil War, and before, during the times of slavery.

For generations, people had prepared for just such a moment that Rosa Parks gave them. They had gotten training in nonviolent resistance. They had come together in community in a variety of ways. They were prepared.

And in this way, a group of ordinary people made the arc of history bend towards justice.  We should take heart from their example.  Those Civil Rights workers faced much steeper odds than we face.

In these days of dead dictators (I'm thinking of Fidel Castro) and the distress that so many of us feel over the current state of politics--and the temptation to romanticize past decades--let us also remember that  today is also World Aids Day, a somber day that recognizes that this plague has been one of the most destructive diseases in human history. Let us remember another band of activists who worked hard to make sure that humanity vanquished this disease--I'm thinking of ACT UP, but AIDS united many groups that might not have otherwise found a common cause.

Many people idolize Ronald Reagan, but I will never be able to forget how he refused to take leadership as this disease emerged.  I am haunted by all the lives lost, and perhaps needlessly--if only . . . but history is so full of this needless loss.

It's easy to get bogged down in despair; we have survived earlier dark days, and we will survive any darkness coming our way too.

We can't know how long the struggle might be. Those of us who work towards social justice and human dignity for all are similar to those medieval builders of cathedral: we may not be around to see the magnificent completion of our vision, but it's important to play our part. In the words of that old Gospel song, we keep our eyes on the prize, our hands on the plow, and hold on.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

The Week's Best Writing

Yesterday, in the midst of many visions and revisions of accreditation documents, I took a minute to catch up on other administrator paperwork.  Some of it, like transfer credits from other schools, I'm familiar with.  But yesterday came a never-done-before task.

I signed acceptance letters.

I took a minute to remember my own acceptance letters along the way--the ones that admitted me to schools and programs where I yearned to be.  I thought about my spouse's acceptance into the MPA program in 1995--a letter that might have changed our lives more than any other letter, as it was just the start of a half decade of many changes, including selling much of what we owned and moving to South Florida.

I took a minute as I signed each letter to imagine the potential student receiving it.  What life-changing news was my signature part of?

It may be my favorite writing that I do this week. 

Of course, it's Wednesday--there's still time to do other writing.

This morning, I listened to this interview with Cleve Jones, in part because it sounded interesting, in part because I'm writing a short story about a woman who was once part of ACT UP, and I thought that Jones might have insight.  I didn't expect to find a possible ending for the story in Jones' accounting of how he conceived of the AIDS quilt.

He describes a rally, where people wrote the names of loved ones lost to AIDS on big pieces of posterboard and taped them to the building at the UN Plaza that housed the Health and Human Services West Coast offices for the federal government for the Reagan administration.  He was struck by how they looked like a quilt:  "And when I said the word quilt, I thought of my grandma back-- and my great grandma back in Bee Ridge Ind., and the quilts they'd made. And it was such a warm and comforting and middle-American, traditional, family values sort of symbol, and I thought this is - this is the symbol we should take. And everybody told me it was the stupidest thing they'd ever heard of. And it ended up being the world's largest community arts project."

He describes how he imagined people finding comfort in the process:  "I thought to myself I know this could work to help people, to comfort people. I envisioned people sitting on living room floors or church basements and working with scraps of fabric of different textures and colors to create something, and I thought maybe by telling their stories and working with their hands we could combat that sort of paralysis that comes when you're overwhelmed by too much grief, too much loss."

Now I have a vision for how to end the story I'm writing, how to make my character less a caricature of someone who thinks she knows everything and doesn't, how to show her grieving for a future that will now never come, even though her beloved niece will continue to live.

And since my accreditation documents are due this week, I should have time to return to the story before I've forgotten this vision for the ending.