Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Recap: Holiday Week-end

Our holiday week-end included all sorts of surprises, both good and bad.  Let me take a moment before we go rushing into June to record them here:

--On Friday, we had some time in the pool before grilling our swordfish.  The meal was delicious, but my first glass of wine in 11 days was less so.

--On Friday, I returned to MyFitness Pal.  I was surprised by how much I would have consumed this week-end if I hadn't been tracking calories.  My Fitness Pal has determined that given my goal of losing 1 pound a week, I need to limit my food/liquid intake to 1430 calories.  I can consume all of those fairly early in the day if I'm not careful.

--Because I wanted more calories, I did more exercising over the week-end than is normal for me:  an hour walk on Saturday and a half hour bike ride on Sunday.  We would have had a longer bike ride if my tire hadn't gone flat because of a nail--sigh.  So, we came home and went for a half hour walk.

--We had plans for Saturday, from working in the yard, to replacing the battery that has died on one of the motorcycles.  But we awoke on Saturday to rain, and then the phone rang with a message to let us know that Comcast would arrive between 8 and 10.  As the morning progressed, our technician was running even later--but with the rain, I was grateful for a reason to stay inside.  Finally, after half a week with no phone service at all, we had a technician who seems to have fixed the problem.

--Yesterday I met with my quilting group where I tried embroidering photographs.  It was not as interesting as I thought it would be, so I didn't do much.  But later, I found myself wishing I had done more.

--Yesterday we finally got some yardwork done:  my spouse mowed, while I put weedkiller down on all the sprouts poking through the paver bricks.

--There have been moments throughout the week-end where we both despaired at how much upkeep work we face, even before we do the kinds of work that can improve the property.  But I try to remain grateful.  Some hours in the week-end, it was easier to maintain gratitude than others.

--Late in the afternoon yesterday I typed a poem into the computer and sent it to Dave Bonta's Via Negative site, where it was posted by the end of the day.  Go here to read it.  It was inspired by these lines by Luisa A. Igloria:

"But as always the taxicab
of history picks up its passengers, takes them where
they think they want to go; then leaves them there."

Current Events” by Luisa A. Igloria

--I am also almost finished with the short story that I'm calling the Prince story--it's gone in interesting directions.  I need one last scene to bring it to a satisfying close.  I'm waiting to discover what it is.

--I have a few more weeks before my teaching load intensifies.  I wonder if I could complete one more story in addition to the Prince story.  Let me see!

Monday, May 30, 2016

Memorial Day Commemorations

Today I will celebrate Memorial Day in an unusual way:  I will be with my quilting group.  I plan to experiment with stitching on photographs--or on copies of photographs. 

In some ways, this seems like a perfect way to commemorate; after all, for most of human history, during times of war, women have stayed home, stitching and keeping each other company.

I do miss being able to go to a national monument, listening to one of the service bands perform. Or maybe I'd rather be in a contemplative spot, saying a thank you.  Or maybe something more festive.  I miss the small town parades; I know that my college town of Newberry, South Carolina will be celebrating in ways that remind me of the 1950's.  Now, I no longer know the stories of my neighbors.  I don't know whose great great grandfather/uncle served in which ways.

I heard about a colleague who plans to go to a local cemetery and fix the flags that have fallen over.  I like that way to celebrate too.  I remember the first time I saw the World War I graveyards in France, vast acres of white markers.  It was a sobering reminder of the cost of war.

Our school has a number of veterans, and their presence, too, is a stark reminder of the cost of war, as many of them have returned home with disabilities.  Last week I walked down the stairs behind one of them.  I watched him make his way very carefully, step by step, his cane useless on the stairs.  As I walked to the parking garage, I reflected how lucky I am to be able to move my legs with very little thought or effort.

It is impossible not to realize the cost of war.  There's the money, of course, and the death of soldiers.  We may forget the other costs:  the families of military members, the injured veterans, the civilians damaged in so many ways, peace of all kinds shattered.

So, on this day which has become for so many of us just an excuse to have a barbecue or open up the beach house, let us pause to reflect and remember.  If we're safe right now, let us spend a moment in gratitude.  Let us remember that we've still got lots of military people serving in dangerous places.  We've got a world lumbering towards the abyss.  Let us recommit ourselves towards actions that move our common trajectory towards peace.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Mepkin Abbey in Black and White

Two months ago, I'd have been walking around the Mepkin Abbey grounds, taking pictures in black and white, wondering what differences I would see.

I didn't expect to find the tree such an interesting focus in this shot:

I expected some shots to look arty:

When taking pictures in color, I return to this kind of shot because I like the contrast of the color (in this case, green palms) against the cool marble.  It looks interesting in black and white too:

When I first started shooting in black and white, I headed to the sculptures made out of fallen trees.  Indeed, they did look compelling in black and white:

It was an interesting experiment.  I should be on the lookout for ways to keep experimenting.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Post Shred

My spin class instructor who encouraged me to do the 10 day shred with her told me of the 30 day post-shred plan:  no gluten, no dairy, continue the protein shake and detox tonics, 2 caffeine drinks allowed, 1 glass of wine allowed.  

It's not the plan I envisioned, and I'll do a modified version.  I will continue to avoid gluten unless it's part of something healthier.  I'll limit dairy.  I'll continue the protein shakes and detox tonics, and when I run out of ingredients for those, I'll assess.  I'll monitor the wine, and certainly on week nights, have none or just one.

Last night, I took my first sip of wine after 11 days of wine fasting.  I was expecting it to be swoon worthy.  It was not.  And after a glass, I had a headache.  Interesting.  I had expected the wine to go straight to my head, but not in a headachy way.

This morning, I drank my first cup of coffee black.  And then I tried a modification of my usual coffee drink; instead of using 1 cup of coffee, I used 1/4 cup, plus a teaspoon of sugar and a tablespoon of cocoa.  It was O.K., but not significantly better than black coffee.  And now, I've made a pot of tea, which I'm liking better than either cup of coffee.

This morning I also measured the ingredients in my protein shake:  600--that's 2 scoops of soy protein powder, 2 C. raspberries, flax seeds, and 1/2 c. oats.  When I return to my usual breakfast of raspberries, yogurt, flax seeds, oats, and pecans, I'll need to measure those too.  I suspect I've been eating a lot more calories at breakfast than I thought.

One of the ways I was successful in losing 22 pounds back in 2011 was using MyFitness Pal, and yesterday,  I went back to the site.  I plan to keep using it, while also keeping a Post Shred journal offline.  I had forgotten that at the end of each day, it gives you this motivation, "If every day was like this day, you would weigh x by this date."

Let me end by showing an inspiration in a different medium.  Last night, as darkness came on quickly, I did this sketch:

Friday, May 27, 2016

Technology Fails and Journaling Gratitude

Last night, I posted this on my Facebook feed:

"At least when I am on the phone (my cell phone, because my "land line" isn't working at all after the last technician visited) with Comcast for several hours after spin class, I'm not eating junk or drinking empty calories. Although my quest to have a modern telecom company provide me with something basic like a dial tone I can rely on or incoming calls that actually make the phone ring might in fact drive me to drinking!"

I didn't plan to be on the phone with Comcast for several hours last night.  I had thought I might write.  I am close to the end of my short story that has something to do with Prince's death, with aging, with midlife, with passionate kisses in the Greyhound station parking lot.  I didn't finish it last night, but I will finish it this week-end.

My day was book-ended by technology troubles.  On Wednesday, Comcast came to the house AGAIN.  I've lost count of how many times the technicians have come.  We got our third new modem in 6 weeks.  My spouse forgot to tell me that we had a new modem, thus a new password, and so on Thursday morning, I tried to connect to the Internet for 20 minutes before I gave up.

Happily, we had electric and my laptop worked, so I settled into other writing, mostly journaling of all sorts.  I wanted to do some end-of-shred analysis, and I had some offline journaling that I did too.  I confess that later, when I got online, I used some of that writing in yesterday's blog post, but when I was writing, I didn't think about that.

I was enjoying the feeling of writing just for me, of doing some self-growth work; I was enjoying it so much that I almost felt sad when my computer reconnected with the larger world.

All day, I thought about my various journaling this spring.  Some of it is a return to the type of journaling that I've always done--wrestling with life situations on the page, as I try to sort out my emotions and check in with myself.  I've kept a dream journal, which I once did in college.  Some of it is new:  the visual journaling that has brought me such joy.  I've been interested in my focused journals:  journal of a retreat week and journal of the 10 day shred.  I haven't done any journaling by hand--well, that's not exactly true, is it?  While I haven't written by hand, I have done my visual journaling by hand.

And yesterday I came across this article, which makes the argument that taking notes by hand is better than taking notes with a laptop.  And this morning, this blog post by Michelle Francl-Donnay, a chemistry professor who urges her graduating students to write:  "I think I should have been giving this advice to all my students. Write, no matter if you are on the road, or planted for four years in a doctoral program, or starting a working life. Write often, write with purpose, catch the details when they are fresh.  You will not, I think, ever regret having this door to these days of your life."

I love this kind of writing and could do it all day.  At times it seems a strange passion, and I think I might rather strum my fingers raw mastering the guitar or mandolin.  At times, I wish I had more glorious colors to blend together on a canvas.  But most of the time, I'm simply grateful for this writing and spiritual practice which has sustained me for so long.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Lessons from the Shred

Yesterday was the last day of my 10 day shred, which was an elimination diet of sorts:  No gluten, no dairy, no alcohol.  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.  Only one caffeine drink a day.

I'm pleased to report it was largely successful.  Since I have written about it occasionally, I thought I'd write up a final report, for those who are interested in that sort of thing.

First, the elimination, and how that went:

No gluten:  I had a meal replacement bar several times when I was out of my office and away from home and looking for something to tide me over.  Did those bars contain any wheat?  But overall, I was successful in avoiding gluten.  I ate other grains, notably oats.

No dairy:  I had a smidge of cheese with 3 restaurant meals--but otherwise, completely successful.

No alcohol:  completely successful

Lots of veggies, fruits, and lean protein, plus nuts and seeds:  completely successful.  But I don't feel I deserve credit for this, as I was already doing this, for years and years (of course, along with not so lean proteins). 

One or two protein shakes a day:  completely successful

Start the day with a detox tonic:  1 tsp. of apple cider vinegar, 2 T. lemon juice, 4 T. cranberry juice:  One morning, before a fasting blood test, I skipped this.  One morning, I forgot.  But otherwise successful. 

Only one caffeine drink a day:  completely successful.

So, what did I learn?  Many things:

--I already knew I ate a lot of bread at the restaurant where I usually have lunch at least once a week.  I usually have 3 rolls, with butter.  I thought I would feel deprived as I watched my lunchmates having bread.  I did not.

--A larger thought on gluten:  most of the gluten that I consume during a normal day would be in total and complete junk: cookies that someone brings in, other treats, bread at a restaurant that has no nutritive value. I don’t eat that stuff every day, but I eat it often enough that I noticed the lack of it, the walking by the cookies and donuts, the deciding not to bake because I’d be breaking the gluten fast, the passing up of free pizza on Pizza Friday. In the past 10 days, I’d have eaten junk on at least 7 of the 10 days (and maybe 10!) if I hadn’t been avoiding gluten. Sobering to realize this aspect of my eating life, this bit that had been completely outside my notice. I have been saying, “I’ll have this treat on this one day. It’s only one day.” I have been unaware of how often I say that. I suspect it’s daily. Let me start/keep tracking that.

--I expected to miss my liquid calories, wine and milky coffee, and I did.  But it's good to remember that there are other alternatives.

--I was allowed nuts, which quickly became my treat of choice.  I might have lost more weight if I had restricted nuts.  Some days I ate as much in cashew calories as I would have in cheese and wine calories.

--I also became aware of how often I want a treat.  This insight is not new, but good to be reminded—there are many points of the day when I want to put something in my mouth because I want a treat—not because it’s my birthday, not because it’s a truly special day, but because I want something to make the moment special, because I feel I deserve a treat, simply for making it through a different chunk of the day. I want to infuse moments with meaning, not by being aware of them, but by putting something in my mouth, preferably something with calories.  It's interesting (and depressing?) to realize how much work I still have to do in this area.

And yes, I lost weight:  about 4 pounds in 10 days.  It's inspired me to keep going.

I'm glad I did this 10 day shred.  It's been a time of insights, many of them not exactly new--but it's good to be reminded again.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

The Second Lives of Poems

I generate a lot of paper in my work as a writer, although I don't keep as much in terms of paper copies as I once did.  Once, I would have kept a paper copy of everything I wrote, draft after draft, file cabinet after file cabinet.  Now, I don't.  If all computer systems crashed, meaning that I could not access my files that I've backed up on USB drives and the computer system at work, and I had to reconstruct my files of creative writing, I'd be hard-pressed to do it. 

Even though I don't generate the kind of paper that I once did, I still fill our recycling bin--unless my spouse uses it for scratch paper or as paper for the printer.  Lately he's been using poems that were part of an older version of a manuscript, which I found when cleaning out a shelf.

He came home from teaching Philosophy class one day and told me that he'd been teaching from notes that he wrote on the back of old poems.  He told me that some of his students were interested in what was on the back of the paper, and so he read them a poem.  It mixed up the class in an interesting way, and the students were more attentive for the rest of the class.  He thought about reading a poem each day.

I said, "Or you could have the students write a poem about what they're learning, what you're teaching.  It might be fun for them, and you'd have a way to find out what sticks in students' brains."

I'm always looking for ways to keep students interested.  I've heard all about "flipped" classes, and that's a great technique.  But it's not the only technique.  I think a variety of techniques works best.

His story about recycled poems also reminded me of a time, years ago, when I put a stack of handouts of poems in the recycling container in the classroom after my evening class.   I went to my office to collect my belongings before leaving campus.  When I walked back by the classroom, one of the custodians was reading the handouts. 

His English had seemed rudimentary to me, and I wondered how much of the poetry he understood.  I had a vision of him, learning English by reading the castaway handouts from a variety of classes. 

When I was younger, I wrote with a vision of making something immortal, capturing a moment or a character or an idea forever, so that future generations would have it.  And there's still some aspect of that when I write. 

But I know from studying literary history that most of what humanity writes will crumble away and not be found by future generations.  So that's not really what motivates me.  I'm really capturing it for me, since so much slides right out of human brains too, in the same way it disappears from history.

I've thought of some future grad student, finding our poems that were published in small journals or our collections published by small presses, and rescuing us from obscurity.  But I hadn't thought more immediately, the Philosophy teacher giving a poem a new audience or the janitor rescuing a poem from a dustbin.

Perhaps there are other ways we could give our poems another chance at a second life.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

A Walk Beside the Woods--with a Camera

My church's pastor has been taking amazing photos for years now.  Recently, he started pairing those photos with Bible verses; go here to see what I'm talking about--scroll down to see a full sample.

A few weeks ago, he sent out an invitation to some church members to go with him to a nature preserve in the county above ours to take pictures.  It was a Monday, and I probably could have made a lot of rearrangements to miss work--but because it was a bit of a last-minute possibility, I decided not to go.

It was a successful outing, so he arranged another outing, this time to the Everglades on May 23 (yesterday).  This time, I had more lead time, so I decided to go ahead and take the day off and go. 

Some people might wonder why I wanted to take a leave day and use it this way.  Well, there are several reasons.  My unused leave time vanishes at the end of the year, so at some point, I need to start using it.  I can't save it all off and take off an entire month at a time, either, so usually, I have some days that I need to use here and there.

A trip to a nature preserve sounded wonderful to me.  I spend too much time in human-made structures.  Plus, I knew this would be a last chance of sorts, to go to the Everglades to take photos for several months.  It's getting hotter and buggier by the day.  Even yesterday was a bit buggy, but we're at the point that bug spray repels them.  Later in the summer, it won't be that way. 

Some might have asked why not take this coming Friday off, so as to have a 4 day week-end.  I prefer a Monday off--the week is shorter that way.  So now I will have had 2 Mondays off in a row.  Plus, the trip to the Everglades was yesterday, not Friday.

I was also interested in seeing everyone's artistic process up close.  I know how I take pictures.  But I've never been in a group taking pictures.

We headed to the Everglades, to the Loop Road in the Big Cypress Nature Preserve.  We stopped along the way to take pictures and/or enjoy the natural world.

You might imagine a church group stopping to pray or handle snakes or something like that.  Nope.  We're Lutherans.  If we prayed, we did it silently.

Here's what I learned:

--I tend to take a few pictures and assume I'm done.  Because I was with a group, I stood staring more than I would have on my own.  I appreciated the browns and greens. 

The image above is blurry, but I like it anyway.  We got home with lots of pictures that look like Impressionist paintings.

--We didn't see much wildlife.  We were too big a group.  Plus, it was late in the season for birdwatching.  We did see more alligators in one day than I've ever seen.  Plus a group of them:

--I don't tend to let things in nature be themselves.  For example, I saw the below, and I said, "That looks like a statue.  Or an angel who has lost her wings.  Look at the red and green plants above--don't they look like wings?"

--Here's a close up of a wood knob, where I saw a face that I didn't see when I was staring at it from the creekside.  It's interesting to get home and see what I didn't realize I was seeing through the camera lens:

--On the way back, my pastor talked about his journey through camera equipment.  He mentioned some prices--yikes! And I thought my new markers were expensive.

The day turned out to be a bit longer than I expected.  We didn't get home until almost 4.  But it was worth it. I felt restored and refreshed--and looking forward to more art inspired by the trip.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Unsettling Week-end Reading

The week-end before this past one, I read part of The Sense and Sensibility Screenplay and Diaries : Bringing Jane Austen's Novel to Film.  I didn't read the screenplay, but I enjoyed the introduction to the book, written by the producer.  He gave interesting insights about what it takes to bring a novel like Jane Austen's to the screen, as well as his history with the book.

I was fascinated by Emma Thompson's journal that she kept while the filming was happening.  She had to rewrite chunks of script, as well as act.  I found her accounts of how the cast and crew interacted to be very compelling.  Of course, it's England, and the weather was often against them.

But more disturbing was Emma Thompson's self doubt--disturbing and endearing.  She talks about seeing her face pasted all over magazines after her appearance at Cannes, and how distressed she was.  Who can't relate to that? 

She was in her early 30's when she shot to movie stardom, and she worries about being old and fat.  I, too, worried about being old and fat in my 30's, and now, I wonder why I felt old back then.  It's startling to see Emma Thompson, worrying about the same things, back when I considered her one of the most beautiful stars out there--but of course, there are always other stars in the firmament, and Thompson compares herself to them and finds herself lacking.

I found it bother heartening and sad to see her wrestling with what seems to afflict most women I know.

On Friday evening, I picked up a book that's been on my to-read shelf all year:  Claudia Rankine's Citizen:  an American Lyric.  I read it straight through and found it a bit overwhelming:  imagine every distressing state of our union story that comes across your Facebook feed and reading them for 166 pages.  Perhaps that wasn't the best way to read the book, or perhaps that feeling of despair and bleakness was exactly what Rankine wanted to evoke.

The book has gotten a variety of awards, most of them in poetry, but as I read it, I kept wondering how we define poetry in a modern age.  I loved the inclusion of all the art, much of it works I hadn't encountered before.  It was an interesting counterpart, and I wondered if it's more affordable to include this art now, and other aspects of book production.

I read it on the front porch, by the light of the setting sun and then the porch light.  I might reread parts of it in front of my computer.  Dan Chiasson's review in The New Yorker notes the fact that many of us might look up events in the book:  “'Citizen' conducts its business, often, with melancholy, but also with wit and a sharable incredulity that sends you running to YouTube. These kinds of errands into the culture could not have been performed before the Internet, which provides, for all of us, the ultimate instant replay."  We are both inside the history and outside, where the past isn't ever really the past.

I also found myself thinking, this work is intriguing and exhausting, this piling of image after image of oppression both overt and subtle and minute and deadly--but is it poetry?

I could argue that it's one long prose poem--or lots of prose poems interspersed with other art, both the image and the written.  Chiasson suggests that maybe something other than the poem is the model for some of this work:  "The rectilinear language blocks that make up much of 'Citizen' suggest the prose poem, that hand-me-down from the French Symbolists. But another model for these entries is, I suspect, non-literary: the police log, the journal entry, or—a new form familiar to anybody who visits student unions—the confession board papered with anonymous note cards."

It's a non-traditional work of poetry to be sure, perhaps experimental, perhaps more aligned with collage, perhaps something new for our time and technology that we have yet to name.

When I first finished it, I thought, I'm never reading this again!  But I've found my thoughts returning to it, and I know that I'll return to it.  It was disturbing and unsettling and it contained much that makes the modern world so wearying.  But as a white woman, an older woman, a middle class woman, I have the luxury of looking away--but I should not.  I am a woman committed to a vision of a world that's better, a world where no one has to look away because no one is abused in the ways that Rankine documents--I am not going to look away.

It's a powerful piece of art.

I also want to spend more time with it so that I can return to some of the analysis of it.  There's much richness in it all, and my brain hungers for that richness.  I'll return to this interview with Rankine.

If I had more time, perhaps I would think about the juxtaposition of Austen's work, Thompson's journey in taking that work to screen, and Rankine's documenting of this time/past time of our collective history.  But that topic will have to wait for another day.  Time is short today, and I have to go to spin class.  Then I'm taking today off to go on a birding/nature photography outing with my church group (see this blog post for details).

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Accountability: in Food, in Poems, in Life

While I have several wonderful tea pots, I don't usually use them for more than decoration.  I'm usually at the office, and I make a cup of tea the way I once did:  a tea bag, a well-used mug, with the electric kettle that I got in my undergrad student days to boil the water.

On my 10 day shred, I'm only supposed to have one drink with caffeine a day.  That's been coffee during the past 7 days.  Then I switch to tea.  When I'm home for a longer morning, it's several cups of tea.

This morning, I realized that I would run out of tea if I went tea bag by tea bag.  I decided to use a teapot with a family size decaf tea bag and my herbal peppermint tea bag:

It was great.  Now, it's not the way my tea enthusiast friend would serve it:

But it felt more beautiful nonetheless.

There are many benefits to this 10 day shred, but the one that I didn't expect was that I would find creative ways to solve small issues.  Yesterday I started thinking about all the ways I could create a treat of some sort, a dessert perhaps that didn't use flour or white sugar.  Then I thought, just have some of those cashews you stashed away.  And that's what I did.

I've also been feeling a stronger sense of accountability, and not just for what I'm eating.  This morning, I wrote a poem, based on these line from this poem by Luisa A. Igloria:  " . . . But as always the taxicab / of history picks up its passengers, takes them where / they think they want to go; then leaves them there."

The taxicab of history!  I had fun with that idea:   who takes which vehicle of history.  I'll polish it a bit and send it to the Via Negativa website.  I love seeing how our poems influence each other.

And then, my voice of accountability reminded me that although it was great that I wrote the one poem, I had made a vow to write 2 poems a week.  And so I wrote the second one, the one that's been percolating about Jesus going to the dentist.

This blog helps that voice of accountability stay vibrant.  I remember my goals that I recorded as the year started, and I know that at the end of the year, I'll see how I did.  In some senses, I've always used writing to help with accountability:  I keep a written record, one to which I can return, so that I know how I'm doing.  But blogging, with its public aspect, is both the same and different.

And of course, it helps to have a community.  I'm sticking to the 10 day shred because others are.  I've read more classic texts this year because my friend is doing it too.  The blog audience, slender as it might be, serves as a community too.

I wonder what other techniques from the psychology of behavior modification I might should be using.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Embroidering Photos, Embroidering Lives

Yesterday I came across this website, by way of Maureen's blog post, about artist Melissa Zexter, who does hand embroidery on photographs.  I spent the whole day thinking about experimenting with this idea.

I'm thinking about my visual journal entry that I created last night:

It might be even more interesting with the addition of embroidery.  I could work with this photo, embroider over it, maybe even add beads or various fibers.  I love texture, and I've been feeling like I haven't been working with textures and fibers as much as I would like.

In this interview, the artist talks about her start:  "I was at an artists’ residency program in the Catskill Mountains of New York where a fellow artist in residence taught me to make handmade paper. I went to the hardware store in town and discovered a sewing section where there was a large selection of threads. I bought some thread and a needle and began to sew pictures onto the handmade paper. I had never really sewn before. The sewn drawings were of anonymous figures. I also made pillows and sewed images onto them."

This idea leads me to thinking about collage possibilities, along with the kinds of boxes that Joseph Cornell made.  I'll think about that possibility once I see how the stitching on a photo goes.

She talks about the process as a meditative one of sorts:  "Right now I feel there are so many photographers out there and it is too much for me to look at – it all just gets lost. At times I think there is too much to look at, too many photographs and it’s nice to just sit with one picture and spend time studying and looking at it. With my own sewing, because it is so time consuming, it forces me to stay with one photo for a long period of time."

I have one of those packages of embroidery floss that contains many colors.  I have a quilt group gathering on Memorial Day.  I will start printing photos of my sketchbook and see what happens!

Friday, May 20, 2016

Poetry Friday: "The Hollow Women"

I am tired this morning.  I got home from spin class last night, did an assortment of chores (bed making with clean sheets, vacuuming, laundry, getting food ready for Friday).  Then I watched a bit of TV while sketching.  It was good to get back to sketching.

My spouse is back to teaching during some week nights.  I don't sleep as well when he's out late teaching--I go to bed before he gets home, and then he gets in and I wake up a bit and then fall back asleep.

In short, it's no wonder I'm tired.  Plus it's day 5 of my "shred," and people have told me that this is the time period where a bit of fatigue sets in, with the lack of carbohydrates.

I've been thinking of the poem that I wrote years ago, "The Hollow Women."  It's 3 poems composed to go together along with chunks of prose in between.  I describe the writing process in this blog post and in this earlier one.

I consider the whole poem among the best of everything that I've written, and I like how each of the three poems can stand alone.  I've thought of writing more of them, of composing a poem that addresses many aspects of modern female life.  My friend who is also a writing buddy has told me that I could write the modern response to "The Waste Land."  I wonder if this idea could be such a poem.

But that's a thought for another day.  For today, let me post one of the poems that makes up the larger poem of the same name.  This poem will be part of my forthcoming chapbook, Life in the Holocene Extinction.

The Hollow Women

We are the hollow women,
the ones with carved muscles,
the ones run ragged by calendars
and other apps that promised
us mastery of that cruel slavedriver, time.

We are the hollow women
with faces carved like pumpkins,
shapes that ultimately frighten.

We are the hollow women
who paint our faces the colors
of the desert and march
ourselves to work while dreaming
of mad dashes to freedom.

At night, the ancient ones speak
to us in soft, bodily gurgles
and strange dreams from a different homeland.
We surface from senseless landscapes
to wear our slave clothes
and artificial faces, masks
of every sort. We trudge
to our hollow offices to do our work,
that modern drudgery,
filing papers and shredding documents,
the feminine mystique, the modern housework,
while at home, domestics
from a different culture care
for the children.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Journals, Old-Fashioned and Modern

For almost two months now, I've been experimenting with different types of journals, most of them offline.  Today I started yet another one--I've written 3 pages of my new 10 day shred journal (my 10 day shred is an elimination diet of sorts:  No gluten, no dairy, no alcohol.  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.  Only one caffeine drink a day).

Why another journal?  I wanted to delve into my process and my thoughts, and I didn't think it would be of wide enough interest to write extensively about it in this blog.  Indeed, some of you might already be saying that I've delved into it quite enough.

I did something similar with my retreat week journal that I started as I went to Mepkin Abbey.  I knew that I couldn't pick up a signal and thus couldn't blog, but I wanted to record my thoughts.

I kept it separate from the offline journal that I keep, just so that I could find it easily; the same is true with my 10 Day Shred journal.  I now have a separate folder in my Documents file on the computer that is labeled "Journals of Various Sorts."  I have my offline journal there, along with my spiritual journaling that's a picture of each sketch I make, and my dream journal.

I no longer keep the journal I once had in a big, 5 subject, spiral bound notebook, but when I travel without my laptop, I do keep handwritten notes.

If ever I am deemed important enough for scholarly study, and if my handwritten papers and offline material still exists, it will be a lot for some future scholar to sift through.  But that is not my problem.

Longtime readers of my blog know that I periodically wonder how our online records will be processed by future scholars.  Many blogs are similar enough to old-fashioned (offline) journals that it's not a stretch to see future scholars analyzing those.

At Beth's blog, I responded to her post about the future of blogging with this comment:  "I love the blog as a place for both long and short formats, for pictures, as a sort of daybook or sketchbook or idea incubator or journal--a road map of my creative self, of all my selves. I would continue to keep the blog even if I knew I would be the only one reading it, because I use it to store ideas, to be my journal that I share with the world--and because in grad school, I was taught the importance of this kind of writing (less formal, more free-form, more collection of ephemera than polished/finished work) as a window to the artist's world, and as art itself (I think of the journals of Dorothy Wordsworth). I like the blogs of others for these very reasons too--they make me feel less alone in the world, and that, for me, is a compelling reason to keep blogging."

I do wonder how future scholars will deal with our Facebook sites along with Pinterest, Instagram, Tumblr, Twitter, and all the rest.  They do seem a sort of journaling too.  I know that there's been a lot of discussion about how honest we can be if we're putting our lives out on the internet.  I'm fairly honest, but there's plenty that I consider off-limits, which is why I have my offline journal. 

It seems like our online records might be preserved forever, but anyone who's had any sort of online presence for any amount of time knows how quickly things can vanish.  I used to take great joy over being published in online venues--but then some of those disappeared.

Of course, I realize that few of us will lead lives so accomplished that we're of interest to future scholars, although it's often hard to know at the time.  I think of people like Keats, who died when he was young; he died with no idea that he would be seen as one of the most important British poets of all time. 

The real benefit to keeping these daily records is to the record keeper.  And that's why I don't hesitate to start a new journal here and there.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Weather Reports of All Sorts

--It has been rumbly for almost a day now, distant thunder, towering clouds, but very little rain.

--There was enough of something to disrupt our internet service--AGAIN.  I have trouble believing that a modern telecommunications company is still flummoxed by basic physics--that's me, putting a nice spin on it.  If you asked me which basic physics element is flummoxing Comcast, I might be snarkier.  But it's early in the morning, and for now, I have internet access, so let me move on.

--I see my flannel pajama top sitting in the basket of clean laundry to be put away, and I reflect on how quickly the weather has changed--we're into the sultriness of summer now, the unpleasant kind, where the air feels like a hot, wet washcloth.  It's the summer weather I associate with other parts of the U.S. South, not here.  I'm missing our cool, spring days.

--I just heard a news blip about what Hillary Clinton earned in terms of book royalties and speaking fees.  Let me use my flare up of jealousy as a motivator to start sending my work out more aggressively.   And let me not castigate myself as I remember the submission schedule that I used to keep.

--On Monday, I started a 10 day shred--one of my spin class teachers and I were commiserating about needing something to jumpstart us, to get us back on track.  She said that she was doing a 10 day shred starting on May 16 and asked if I wanted to join her.  I said sure.  I like a challenge, and I like knowing that someone else is doing it too, someone who may ask me how I'm doing.

So, what does this shred look like?  No gluten, no dairy, no alcohol.  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.  Only one caffeine drink a day.

I've followed it for 2 days, and so far, so good.  I'm drinking my coffee black, which is huge for me.  I've been drinking seltzer water in the place of wine, and I need to cut back on that before bedtime--lots of wakefulness to pee. 

People have asked me what I hope to accomplish, and it's hard to put it into something short and sweet.  Let me try.  I want more mindfulness about what I put in my mouth.  I want to do something about the amount of milk I've been drinking each day.  I usually drink 1 cup of coffee, 1 cup of milk, 1 Tsp. of cocoa, and 1 tsp of milk--about 100 calories per cup.  And I routinely have been drinking at least 3 coffee drinks a day, and often more.  That's a lot of calories before I've even had food.

My largest source of calories:  coffee drinks, cheese, and wine.  Could I find something less caloric that I like as well?  At least part of the time?  That's what I'm hoping to learn by this time of shred.

And of course, if I dropped a few pounds which would encourage me to keep trying to lose some weight, that would be great too.

--I wonder how this rumbly weather will affect our solar panel installation.  For the most part, it seems to be going well--of course, how would I know for sure?  This is the first time we've ever had this done to a house.  For me, going well means that no one has fallen through the roof, or any other discoveries of structural problems in the house.

Still, when I was home Monday afternoon, it was strange to hear people tromping on the roof.  I was both surprised and not surprised at how unsettled it made me feel.

--I have not been sketching as much this week, but I have been practicing my mandolin.  We're trying a one week experiment--if we leave the mandolins out, will we practice more?

--And I'll be doing a summer-long experiment:  I'll be trying to learn to be at ease on the motorcycle.  If I can't, perhaps by Labor Day we'll decide to sell it.  It's somewhat ridiculous, having 4 vehicles for 2 drivers.

--So much I want to accomplish--so little time.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Taking the Retreat Home

I've been thinking about my spring retreats and about how my life has continued to be enriched.  This morning I was rereading a journal I kept during the week in March when I went to Mepkin Abbey and Lutheridge in the same week.  I came across this nugget, which I want to record here, in case it's useful for teachers and other types of retreat leaders.

First, some background.  We were talking about designing a retreat that would combine an exploration of meditative practices along with writing practices, specifically poetry writing.  I said that what I would want from a retreat if I’m the typical person—by which I mean I’m busy, busy, busy, but I’ve carved out time for a retreat—is that I want 3 techniques that I can take home with me. I’ve been shown the technique, we’ve practiced it together, maybe tried it one more time during the retreat time, and we have e-mails so that we can encourage each other and fine-tune from a distance. I’d like to see a contemplative expert paired up with a poetry expert.

If I’m the retreat planner, I assume that the typical retreatent won’t necessarily like all 3 techniques. In fact, I’d almost expect that one technique per person wouldn’t work—that’s why we need 3. My hope would be that two would appeal, one would actually work, and one would be the throw away—well, my hope would be that all would be fabulously useful—but the practical side of me wouldn’t be surprised if each retreatent hated at least one thing—and as long as it’s not all the same thing, we’re OK as a retreat.

I also have those retreats on the brain because one of the Mepkin participants has a poem up at the On Being blog.  Go here to read it.  She was working on the poem at the retreat.  I should go back to read what I was working on at the retreat--I have yet to return to it.

This brings me to another insight I had while I was on retreat, which I wrote about this way: 

"In our introduction sessions this morning, people talked about what brought them here. Lots of people are having trouble finding time, finding their voice, feeling free to get started—I don’t have those troubles, although I will always wish for more time.

No, I have no trouble generating drafts and even revising is often not a problem. But getting them out and to publication—that takes a concentration that I don’t always have, especially not for book length projects."

I need to start thinking more about that.  I'm deeply aware of how much time I squander during a given day--let me be more intentional through the summer and beyond about sending work out.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Focusing Attention through Sketching

Since returning from my retreat week in late March and early April, I have been experimenting with sketching during presentations--but not aimless doodling.  No, I've been experimenting with a form of lectio divina, that ancient way of listening and focusing upon a text.

First, some background.

At the Create in Me retreat, we did something a bit different.  Our bible study leader is the bishop of the Texas-Louisiana Synod of the ELCA.  Here is a picture of the Bible study portion:

As you can see, there were screens, which are ubiquitous these days.  But we got to watch an artist, Vonda Drees, respond to the Bible study.  Here's a close up:

And then came the Lectio Divina portion.  We had a slow reading, with long spaces between verses.  But it wasn't quiet, because Bishop Mike began life as a musician, so he played the piano, and Vonda continued drawing.  We could meditate, take notes, and/or draw.

On day 2, we had a more traditional Lectio Divina, although still with music and art appearing on the screen.  We had three readings, and we were asked to contemplate these things.  After reading 1:  what word or phrase leaps out at me?  After reading 2:  what is God saying?  After reading 3:  what is being asked of me, if I take it seriously?

I found it wonderful to have something beyond the spoken words to help focus my thoughts.  The music was grand and swelling, but based on hymns (mainly old spirituals) that I recognized.  The art
made me itch to pick up my own markers--I liked that it was a mix of image and word.

Did I have deeper insights?  I think that I did.  And if I didn't have deeper insights, I did find it easier to stay focused on the text for longer than I would if the words had floated by me and then I had silence.

I then experimented with sketching during my pastor's sermons.  I found that it helped me focus more on the message, and I've retained that message longer through the week.  Here's the message from yesterday's sermon:

On Saturday, I sketched while a group of friends had a rehearsal for a performance that they had on Sunday.  Here's that sketch:

I've also led a session for our more interactive intergenerational service that's a combination of church, Sunday School, and camp.  I wrote about it in this blog post.

All of these experiences make me think about taking this practice to other places.  I'm certain it could be interesting in certain classrooms--or maybe every classroom.  I also wonder about this practice during meetings.

Stay tuned!

Sunday, May 15, 2016

A Different Kind of Syllabus

I am still waiting for Sense and Sensibility to make its way to me, via a closer library location.  But yesterday, I picked up 2 other books I requested.  One is Emma Thompson's collection on the making of the movie of the book, and the other is Lynda Barry's Syllabus:  Notes from an Accidental Professor.  Last night I devoured most of it.

I first heard about the book by way of Molly Spencer's blog post.  She even includes a picture of her attempt to keep a journal/day book the way that Lynda Barry's students are required to do.

I was both surprised and not surprised that our public library system had it and that it wasn't checked out.  I devoured much of it last night--in a way, it's an easy read, yet each page is jam-packed.

As a teacher, I'm interested in what she has her students do.  I'm most intrigued by her practice of having students do a 2 minute self-portrait, dated, on an index card each day, instead of calling roll.  If students come in after the sketching period, they are late (3 lates = 1 absence).  She collects them each day, and she gives them back at the end of the semester.

I'm interested in that technique, both as a way of starting class, and as a way of chronicling one's emotional state.  It seems that it would work on an individual level too.

Here's another drawing technique, which may or may not also work as a teambuilding experience.  Everyone folds an 8 1/2 x 11 sheet of paper into 16ths.  They draw lines on the creases.  Each person writes down the name of an occupation or style of person (like nurse or alien or mad scientist or babysitter or dragon slayer) at the top of a box.  They pass papers to the right and do the same thing on a new sheet of paper.  They keep passing until all the boxes have been filled in.  Then they keep passing and drawing in one box--pass and draw in one box, and so on.  Each sketch has 1 minute to be completed, and it can't be stick people.  Barry says it takes approximately 25 minutes.

She has students bring in a photograph of a group of people posing for a photo and then draw the photograph.  She has students memorize a poem by Emily Dickinson that she chooses--a different one each week.  I like the 4 panel drawing, a cartoon of sorts, as a way of teaching narrative.  She has them experiment with crayons and pens and all sorts of different utensils, and she includes what they learn about each medium.

She has students evaluate each other's work, usually by hanging it on the wall, with names on the back.  They try to analyze what draws each person to each work or what repels them, and Barry stresses that even something declared bad still exists.  If it's a class that includes writing to be read to the group, the group draws spirals as the student is reading.

It's a fascinating book, full of techniques and examples and experiments to try.  I'm glad I came across it, and I'm grateful to the serendipity that leads me to works like this one.

Monday morning update:  I finished the book yesterday, and I want to include her idea of building a book vs. writing a book, an accumulated project, one that takes shape as it's accumulating.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Of Side Dishes and Shreds and Songs

After my dentist appointment on Thursday, I went to the grocery store while my spouse went in for his cleaning.  On impulse, I bought a frozen medley, a side dish that was supposed to have a mix of protein (small beans), veggies, and a sauce.

I don't often buy prepared foods--I buy ingredients.  After dinner last night, I will continue not to buy prepared food.

The side dish wasn't bad, but it certainly wasn't good.   Our blah dinner could have plunged me into sadness, but unlike Thursday night, when sadness came over me suddenly, we had a good Friday evening on the porch.  We caught up with each other, ate dinner, cleaned up, and eventually, my spouse played his violin, and I sketched.

Towards the end of the practice time, he played "Oh, Mary, Don't You Weep."  I could sing every verse, and I thought, how do I know this song?

Long ago, I had a cassette tape of a group called HARP, composed of Holly Near, Arlo Guthrie, Ronnie Gilbert, and Pete Seeger.  During my first year of grad school, that tape played regularly in my car stereo.  Last night, I wondered if I could get a copy of it on CD, since the tape has long ago gone to cassette heaven.

Not only could I get the original 8 songs, but there's a CD that has other songs from the recording session.  So I bought it, and it's on the way.  It was a splurge, but I had an Amazon gift card from Teacher Appreciation Day.

We live in a time where it seems that everything ever made is available on the Internet, but that's not true.  I remember when I thought I would replace all my LPs with CDs, and I was surprised to realize how much of my collection was not being digitized.

Part of my purchase was impulse buy--but part of it was being surprised that the CD even existed--and wanting to own it while I still could.

This morning I am getting ready for a group of people to come over for lunch and swimming and Vacation Bible School planning--and maybe a bit of rehearsing, as some of them will be playing tomorrow.  If they rehearse, I'll sketch.

I will likely make a batch of brownies.  On Thursday before spin class, we talked about how our dietary habits have changed.  I once went through a bag or two of sugar (5-10 pounds a week) a month--that's how much I baked and how much sugar I used in my iced tea, back when I drank several gallons a week.

On Monday, I'm starting a 10 day "shred":  no dairy, no alcohol, just veggies, lean protein, and fruits. For months now I've been trying to cut back on my dairy, with no luck.  Now I'll try eliminating.

Thus, the brownies today:  a last hurrah.  But for only 10 days, which is only 1/3 of a month, after all.  I'm mainly doing it because one of my spin class instructors at the gym is doing it, and I will have accountability that way.  I was surprised at how effective it was for me to have a weekly check-in during the Weight Loss Challenge of 2011, and I'm hoping similar forces will be at work.

Here's what I really want to accomplish:  I want to be able to drink my coffee black.  I'm hoping that 10 days of doing that will force a transformation--ah yes, I recognize that siren song.

Hopefully it's not a swan song.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Friday Fragments

I feel a bit scattered, so let me record some highlights from the week, in a fragmented form:

--My dentist visit was better than I expected.  More brushing has paid off, much as more flossing paid off 20 years ago.  I have kept up the flossing; I will continue to look for ways to brush more often.  My dental hygienist told me that brushing with a dry toothbrush is more effective at plaque removal--I could do that at the office (I'm not willing to brush in the bathroom).

--Our solar panels arrived and the installation has begun.  The panels are still on the ground, but that's O.K.  They're safe.  I've felt very stressed by this home repair/upgrade, but now that it's underway, I'm feeling better.

--I wrote a draft of a poem this morning--the angel Gabriel cross-dressing in demon clothes. It's still very rough, but it's reassuring to write a poem.

--Likewise, yesterday I sent two packets of poems out into the world.  It feels like a long time since I did any submitting.  It was good to get started again.

--I went back through e-mails about our Purgatory Project, and I was reminded that I have been writing more on that than I thought.

--I created a new board with my Pinterest account.  If you've been enjoying the pictures of the visual journaling that I've been posting, go here to see all of them.

--I also created an Instagram account.  Maybe this week-end I'll do something with it.

--Of course, if I'm getting around to Instagram and Pinterest, it must mean that the cool kids have moved on to something else long ago.

--One of my week's highpoints that I don't want to lose sight of:  I applied for a grant for our Vacation Bible School--and I got it!  It wasn't a hard application, as grant applications go.  But I'm so glad that I did it, and so happy to get some money to help with VBS.  Now we can provide dinner for free.  And since our VBS is primarily neighborhood kids, many of whom are not well off, maybe that will help more than I know.

--I want to believe that I am helping more than I know--especially in weeks like this one, when I haven't felt like I'm buzzing with efficiency but instead buzzing with paralyzing anxiety.  It's good to collect these fragments to remember that even in weeks like these, I'm still basically on track.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Crabby Kris

My ongoing goal is to write 2 poems a week, one on Tuesday and one on Thursday--that way I have the week-end to catch up if I get behind. 

Knowing that I still have the week-end doesn't make me less crabby when I get to Thursday with no poems written.

Even though I wrote an interesting piece of fiction centered on the angel Gabriel and his crisis of faith, I still feel crabby about not writing my poems for the week.  Even though I've figured out how to end my story that begins with the woman watching Prince videos in her office, I'm still crabby about not writing my poems for the week.

Even though it's been a good week sketching, I'm crabby.

The crabbiness covers my fear that I'll never write another poem again.

But I'm really crabby because I have to go to the dentist today.  It's just a simple cleaning, but it fills me with crabbiness and dread.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Cross Training in Creativity

I have tried keeping different types of more visual journals before.  Once in the mid-90's, I tried collecting images from magazines and gluing them into a sketchbook.  They were not exactly revelatory--I realized that I wanted a slimmer body, different furnishings, different destinations--but I already knew that.

I've tried keeping a journal of sketches several times through the decades, but it's usually lasted a day or two or three.

What is different this time?  Why have I come back from the Create in Me retreat with not just one, but 2, new journaling disciplines that I'm still keeping 5 weeks later.

I'm still keeping a dream journal.  I'm sketching with colored markers several times a week.  I've also been keeping up with an offline journal that I started during my retreat week.

Part of it is the colored markers that I bought.  A large part, in fact.  I hope that habit will carry me forward once the novelty of the markers wears off.  I think it will.

I worry about my limited time, that time spent sketching means time I'm not writing poems.  But I also know that creativity in one area feeds creativity in other areas--a sort of cross training, if you will.

Yesterday I noticed that I had bought 2 markers that were the same color--I spent several hours feeling bad, since I could have had a different color.  I finally called the store, who said, "Sure.  You can exchange it for a different color."

Last night, I returned to a sketch I started earlier.  I had written some responses to the refrain of the song, which I thought was rather simplistic.  The Spirit often says go, and people refuse to hear.  But I didn't like the rebuttals, so I drew over them.  Then I kept filling in white spaces, and ended up with this:

I still wonder if it's too busy, too frenetic.  But for now, I'm just sketching and trying not to judge.  I worry that I'm repeating the same, basic sets of shapes.  But it's soothing, so I'm not going to second guess myself now.

And at some point in the next day or two, I plan to write both a fiction piece and then rework it into a poem:  I plan to write about the angel Gabriel who is having an identity crisis.  Has he been in the wrong career field?  Is he really a devil trapped in an angel's body, or does he just want different work?  I'll write it up as fiction for our Purgatory project, and then I'll see about the poem possibilities.
Is writing in the voice of an angel really so different from writing in the voice of God?  In the voice of an HR director?  Those are voices I've tried on during the course of our Purgatory project.
Stay tuned!

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Monday Evening with New Markers

Yesterday, instead of taking a lunch break, I went to the art supply store.  I wanted to buy 12 more markers--I have nothing in the red/yellow/orange range.

I may be done buying markers for awhile.  I wanted to buy 12, since they are steeply discounted at that rate--I had trouble finding/choosing the last 2 markers.  I now have a good variety of colors.  My first group of markers that I bought had all dark colors--hard to write words on top of dark colors, and that's been appealing to me.

Last night, we ate our supper on the front porch.  I feel like these days of spectacular weather are numbered and that we should take advantage of them.

My spouse wanted to practice his violin--he's got a lot of songs to practice for Sunday.  I read more of My Life in Middlemarch, and then I wanted to play with my markers.  Here's the final image:

I began by making big swooshes with the new colors.  Then I filled in the swooshes and made a variety of other shapes.  I used all of the Copic markers that I have.

The words are from 2 of the songs that my spouse played.  I love the idea of being a blessed and pilgrim people, although it requires a skill of living with uncertainty that I don't yet have.

I kept filling in the white spaces as darkness fell.  I also had about 10 minutes of sketching with the porch light on at the end--but the porch light makes it much too buggy.

In the end, I'm torn--part of me thinks that the sketch is too busy, and part of me likes the frantic energy.

For more on the sketch that I did on Sunday while our pastor preached his sermon, see this post on my theology blog.

I am interested in the ways that this type of journaling is both similar and different from journaling I've done before and journaling that I do regularly.  It is more symbolic.  When I journal with words, I'm looking to explain, to explore, to tease out meaning.  I may be doing the same with sketching, but it feels more like writing poetry than journaling.

But it's also similar.  It's a way of marking the days. 

It's too early to know if I will go back and remember things I wouldn't ordinarily remember, but I think that visual journaling will have that effect the same way that journaling with words does.

One thing that I do know is that I am enjoying this immensely.  It's similar to painting, but with less mess, less clean up--and thus, I'm more likely to do it, even if I don't have a big expanse of time.

What will I create with these 24 markers?  Stay tuned!

Monday, May 9, 2016

Trans-Angels, Trans-Demons, and Other Notes from a Week-end

Over all, it's been a great week-end, from the Mother-Daughter banquet on Friday night (see this post) to my quilt group gathering on Saturday to a good morning at church yesterday and an afternoon spent finishing up our semesters at the community college--yes, a good week-end.

Let me capture a few details here:

--In our ongoing Purgatory project (see this blog post for background), we had an interesting interchange about trans-angels and trans-demons.  We are having great fun imagining what HR in Purgatory would be.  One friend wrote

"What, no sensitivity training.  Mustn't we be sure to treat equally: angels, demons, trans-angels, trans-demons, and those who have yet to be designated?"

I responded: 

"I am now thinking about angels trapped in the bodies of demons and vice versa.
And yes, I realize that some traditions hold that they don't have bodies like we understand bodies."
--Yesterday I had a wonderful time sketching during the second church service I attended.  I had Ascension and the Feast Day of Julian of Norwich on the brain (see this post for background); our pastor talked about how God will not leave us stuck, and this sketch emerged:
I am having so much fun with these markers that I might go buy more today.  I love the idea of sneaking away to buy art supplies--or should I say, buying art supplies instead of taking a lunch break.  I will soon need a new sketch book too.
--We had time on the porch--we are still having a stretch of lovely days and Saturday evening was so chilly-ish, I had to put on a flannel p.j. top to enjoy the porch.  My spouse tried to pick out a song from Paul Simon's So Beautiful or So What, and yesterday, we played the CD.  I like a week-end that includes music.  As we counted money after church yesterday, the ukulele group composed of friends rehearsed.  It was great.
--I sped-read through the last of Jonathan Franzen's Purity, which was interesting at first, and tiresome in the last 100 pages.  Now it is on to our May choice of classic works we're visiting/revisiting:  Jane Austen's Sense and Sensibility!
And now I must be sensible and get ready for spin class and then work.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

My Mom, the Musician

Here's my current favorite picture of me and my mom--with the added bonus of my sister:

Having blogged now for many years, I've written before about the ways my parents shaped me.  I realize that I'm lucky for all the ways they supported me in my youth.

Today I want to write about my mom as an artist, about what I've learned about being an artist from her.  My mom's chosen art form is music:  she sings, and she plays piano and organ.  She's one of those musicians who can transpose music from key to key without thinking about it.  She can improvise in intriguing ways.  She can play by herself or fit in easily with many a musical team.

I've watched her play for many a worship service, and she's the type of team player who keeps an eye on the action and supports and furthers the objectives.  For example, I remember the time I was an acolyte having trouble lighting the Advent wreath that hung high above my head.  The congregation sang the hymn they were supposed to sing, and I still hadn't lit the last candle.  My mom played an improvisational bit and filled in what would have been uncomfortable silence if she had stayed to a strict script.

The most important lesson that my mom taught me as she has lived her life is that you can make your art form a daily part of life, not matter how busy you might be.  True, it will be easier for some of us than others.  She has had a piano most of her life--but she has always reminded us that the voice is the first instrument, the instrument that we carry with us all the time.

If she mourned the years that she spent far away from the nation's cultural centers, we never heard her say it.  We spent a chunk of years in Montgomery, Alabama, and she filled her life with music by way of the church and community groups.  She has since played a Reformation service in the National Cathedral and organized all sorts of impressive concert series--if she had stopped being involved in music in the earlier years, she wouldn't have been ready for those opportunities.

She's also taught me the importance of giving back to our communities.  Her work for the church has been both paid and volunteer.  Lately she has developed a music series for an Alzheimer's unit in a retirement community--in ways, it seems selfless, free of acclaim.  And yet, they are an appreciative group in ways that other groups aren't--another important lesson.

We teach each other lessons in so many ways--but one of the most powerful ways we teach each other is in the way we live our lives.  I feel lucky to have been able to witness my mother who has lived a life in accordance to her values.  I hope I'm doing the same for others.

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Course Shells, Creativity, and Social Media Coordination

Yesterday at our new student orientation, part of me was amazed to hear myself waxing eloquent about the benefits of having a Learning Management System for each class.  Our LMS, eCompanion, is quite clunky, but I'm still happy to have it.

I didn't actually use it until the fall 2015 quarter when I returned to teaching onground and had to set up my course shell.  I found myself saying, "This is sort of like blogging."

I see a blog as a compendium--there's new writing, old writing, links to resources that might be important, links to other blogs that have value.  Likewise, an LMS shell.  Happily, a blog doesn't have a gradebook that must be maintained.

The LMS shell was similar to the blog in a different way--I was never sure if anyone was utilizing it in the way I envisioned.  I posted so many good resources and links--did my students ever look at them?  I never knew.

This week, I accepted a new volunteer position that might be similar--or it might be like a full-time job I might want in the future.  I am now a Social Media team captain for the Create in Me retreat planning team.

What does this mean exactly?  That's the beautiful thing--it's new, so I can help create it as I'm living it.

We need someone to do basics, like make posts on Facebook.  Ideally, we might want posts on Instagram and Pinterest.  I already understand how Pinterest works, although I have never created a pin (is that even the lingo?).  I don't even let myself stay on Pinterest sites for very long--I understand how several hours could get sucked away instantly.  We already have a Create in Me Pinterest site, so the next step will be to make a pin or pin a thing there.

We are also going to have Facebook/Pinterest Planning Parties, and I'll help organize those.  These will be times of more intense posting, in the hopes of inspiring the group, in hopes of more posting.  These parties will help with retreat planning, at least in an ideal world.

The goal of the team is to do anything that keeps people engaged with the retreat community - & excited about creating.  That's a job description I like!

I will report back here periodically.  Just like my retreat planning and workshop reporting has been important in later years when I want to know what I did, I anticipate that periodic reports on this new volunteer position might be essential later.

So, I've made some Facebook posts so far, and I just posted a link to our Pinterest page on my own Facebook page and on the FB closed group Create in Me.  Our FB closed group page postings so far consists mostly of images of our various sketchings as we experiment with visual journaling.

This morning, my quilt group comes over.  I'll set out my camera to try to capture images of fabric and needlework to post later.

And speaking of that, I suppose I should sign off now to do the final preparations for a fun day of creating ahead!

Friday, May 6, 2016

"The Wasteland"--then and now

My friend and I have been reading classics since the beginning of the year.  In April, we had planned to read "The Wasteland."  I got a bit behind, but in a way, I'm glad--it gave my friend time to find the Alec Guinness reading of it.

Yesterday at work, I went upstairs for a coffee break with that friend and our fellow English major colleague and friend.  We talked about the works in the past that meant a lot to us--I never had a Kafka phase, but the other two did.  We talked about Eliot, whom I am liking better now that I am older than I did in grad school. 

Afterwards, I was ready to make my way through "The Wasteland."  I cued up the Alec Guinness, and I decided to follow along.  I opened up my ancient Norton anthology, and there, in ghostly handwriting, were notes from when my friend took the Brit Lit survey and borrowed my book, long ago, in the Charleston area where we shared a house so that she could go to school more cheaply and make her VA benefits for schooling stretch.  She wrote in pencil, so that I could erase her notes later if I wanted.
She's the friend who died last year of terrible esophageal cancer.
I stopped the Alec Guinness recording and then closed the door so that I could cry a bit—how can she be dead?  And then I got a sheet of paper, once I pulled myself together.
I left the door shut, and I wrote, following along with the Norton and Alec Guinness.  Some of the lines from Eliot went directly into the poem.  Others I changed.  Others welled up from hearing the poem.
I thought of Eliot, writing his poem in the aftermath of World War I.  I have a memory of Gilbert and Gubar's theory that the loss of his friend in World War I prompted the poem, much the way the loss of Tennyson's friend prompted "In Memoriam."  And here I was, writing about/through the same kind of loss.
How strange--I started my work day by realizing that I hadn't written my Thursday poem, the way I try to do each week.  And then, Thursday afternoon, I had a poem erupting from me.  It was a very rough draft.
At the end of the writing, which came at the end of a crying jag, I felt oddly cleansed--and also  transcendent.  What an experience—reading/hearing Eliot, feeling that mid-life grief, thinking about how my grad school self knew nothing of grief although she thought she did, knowing that my midlife self also doesn’t know about grief the way that I will.

I left a copy of the pages on my friend's desk.  Here's what she wrote back, "You MUST write a Wasteland; the millennium has turned and we need an epic of these times!"

I tend to think of myself as not writing long poems--perhaps it's time to try!

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Celebrate Cinco de Mayo Creatively

Today is Cinco de Mayo.  How many of us know how this holiday came to be?  The Writer's Almanac web site tells us, "It commemorates the Mexican victory over the French in the Battle of Puebla in 1862. In a David-and-Goliath confrontation, the 8,000-strong, well-armed French army was routed by 4,000 ill-equipped Mexican soldiers, and though it wasn’t a decisive battle in the course of the war, it became a symbol of Mexican pride. It’s also become a celebration of Mexican heritage and culture in the United States."

For many of us, it's just another excuse to drink, like Saint Patrick's Day.  But what if we looked at this holiday with new eyes?  What if we vowed to be creative today?

Here are some ideas:

--Make Mexican Wedding Cookies.  You can find a recipe here, although I would use pecans instead of almonds.  I realize that these cookies are not traditional Cinco de Mayo fare, but I had them at a Cinco de Mayo wedding, so the two are linked for me (for more on the wedding, see this blog post on my theology blog).

--Create a sketch or painting that has the number 5 at the center of the page/canvas.  Or hide the number 5.  Or use only 5 colors or 5 shades of the same color.

--Write a story in which the character wins a prize against incredible odds.

--Choose five fabrics and create a scarf or other adornment.

--Make wind chimes with 5 strings hung on a stick.  As you make the wind chime from items strung on yarn or string, just remember that they need to hit each other to make sound.  The first time I made a wind chime, I forgot, so mine isn't as melodious.  Wind chimes are a great way to get rid of old hardware and keys that no longer open locks that you own.

--Think about the ways that Mexican heritage has impacted you.  Create a meal to celebrate.

--Send money to support migrant workers, many of whom come from Mexico to pick our fruits and vegetables. I'm impressed with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, which works to protect the migrant workers in the fields of Florida, but you certainly have plenty to choose from.

Of course, I realize that most of us will celebrate Cinco de Mayo by going to work.  I understand the appeal of Cinco de Mayo happy hour.  But even our more mundane activities can become meaningful, if we think about the ways that determined bands of like-minded individuals can change the world.