Thursday, June 30, 2016

Writerly Dispatches from the Month of June

I don't have as much writing time this morning, but I did want to capture some moments from my writerly life in the month of June:

--Yesterday, I sent my full-length manuscript to Black Lawrence Press.  Today is the last day of their open reading period, which happens in June and November; go here for more details.  For $12, you get a book and consideration of your manuscript--I like those kind of reasonable deals.

--Last night, as I was drifting off to sleep, I figured out an essential part of a short story I'm trying to write--and better, I figured out how to start it.  I will use the water main break incident of a few weeks ago.  Friday evening, I got home from work, and my spouse said, "Well, the tree guys broke the main water line.  I had them turn the water back on so that we'd have water this week-end."  I had this vision of a geyser of water spewing all through the week-end--happily, it was a tiny puncture with only a drip of water every minute or so.

--Yesterday, I spent time reading this wonderful compendium of voices that look back as we approach the 25th anniversary of Tony Kushner's Angels in America.  I already knew many parts of the story about how the play came into existence, but it was inspiring to read it again--a wonderful reminder of the importance of art.

--I still own copies of both plays that make up Angels in America.  Maybe I'll reread them this week-end.  Or maybe I'll check out the DVD from the library.  Last week-end we watched The Normal Heart, which was a very powerful film about the early days of the AIDS crisis.  The week-end before that, we watched How to Survive a Plague, about the early days of ACT-UP. 

--Why am I drawn to this material?  Weeks ago, this line came to me:   I was not the typical person that you would see at an ACT UP rally--I'm still trying to find my way into this story.  It's a different story than the one that will use the broken water main.

--I am working on stories that I hope will be part of a larger collection, the one that came to me as I drove across the U.S. South for Thanksgiving.  I described it in this blog post, but it's changing.  Instead of having the activists all have been part of the same group in college, I'm using the looser idea of activists at 50 as the thing that links the stories.  I'm still trying to decide if I want a stronger link.

I'm taking tomorrow off--I am really looking forward to having a 4 day week-end:  time to write, time to catch up on chores, and hopefully, time to relax.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Stresses and the Relief

It's certainly been a stressful few weeks, full of lay-offs at work, and home repairs, and difficult news from across the world--and yesterday I found out that my biopsy reveals another skin cancer, this time on my nose.

How do I know I am stressed?  Let me count the ways:

--For the past two nights, I haven't been able to sleep past 2:30 a.m.  But the plus side:  I've watched the moon rise in the east, as I've been at my writing desk.  It's a half moon, so not as dramatic as a full moon, but beautiful nonetheless.

The birds erupt in riotous song periodically throughout the wee hours of the morning--another plus of being awake.

--I have been eating lots of calories this week:  pasta and pizza and wine.  But is it stress eating or just the chance to go out with friends?  Monday's small pizza was a way to limit calories at the Italian restaurant for a dinner with friends before a movie.  Yesterday it was comfort eating:  a baked pasta dish with lots of cheese.  Tonight will be pizza again--but tomorrow I'll step up the exercise.

--I have begun to feel anxious about all the adjuncts I've just hired.  Although they're all professionals, I worry that I need to do more to make sure they're ready for the start of class. 

--I've also begun to feel fretful as I wonder if there's some task I've overlooked.  I do have some tasks, like an annual review or two, but as with many things, I can't move ahead until I get information from others.

Luckily, a long week-end approaches--I will take Friday off to have a 4 day week-end.  How will I get ready for the weeks to come?

--I will take care of basic chores like cleaning.

--I will trim the shrubbery.

--I will do some cooking, to have some lunches tucked away in the freezer.

--I will do some writing, along with other paperwork.

--I will take naps.

--I will cut up melons--and eat them!

--I will read.

This list never changes does it?  But there are days when I think that doing the basic chores of home care leads me to a sense of self-care.  Having food that's portable and ready--that's self-care too--self-care which will keep me from too many calories in the coming weeks.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Music with Strangers, Music with Friends

Last night, we went to see The Music of Strangers, a movie about Yo Yo Ma's Silk Road project.  I expected it to be a sort of travelogue:  on the road with Yo Yo Ma.  Or perhaps it would be an introduction to new instruments, which it was.  But it was so much more.

The movie focuses on a few of the musicians, and we get enough of their stories to understand their journeys.  On the way home, I commented about how many of them have been impacted by revolutions in their countries.  My spouse pointed out that this experience of disruption, dislocation, and the resulting losses is probably more common than not. 

I was also struck by one comment in the film, "Yo Yo Ma is always working for change, and over half the time, he just happens to have a cello in his hand."  Throughout the film, we see these musicians working to make connections--not just with each other, but with various populations.  Along the way, they take their music to the dispossessed, giving lessons, giving instruments, and trying to bring peace through music.

It was a powerful reminder that we can work for social justice through a variety of venues, across a range of mediums, by doing what we love to do and sharing it with others.

It was the kind of movie that both made me want to go home and practice on an instrument, and at the same time, to abandon all thoughts of playing.  Those musicians were so magnificent.  But again, I remember the words of a yoga teacher who gave me great advice long ago, to stop comparing myself to others because it won't help me perfect a pose or hold my balance.  That advice seems applicable here too.

Throughout the movie, I thought of our fledgling ukulele group at church.  Could we become an agent of transformational change?

I also loved this movie for its depiction of artists practicing their craft.  I like that the movie reminds us that each artist works alone, but the group comes together in certain places to become something greater than the sum of its parts.  The movie focuses mostly on musicians, but there's a fascinating segment on a Chinese group that also makes puppets--they look like delicate paper creations which are operated behind a screen and the shadow is magnified on the screen. 

But it's not all hopeful--the Chinese puppet maker said that no one wants to know how create that art form any more:  it's too intricate, and there's no money in it, especially not for the amount of time that it takes.

The film addresses an important point from many angles:  why create art in the first place?  Do we create art to change the world?  to make money?  to preserve our culture?  to make new culture?

The film did not address the spiritual aspect of making art, at least not overtly.  But spiritual aspects undergirded the whole film.

We went to see the film with friends from church, and I feel lucky to have friends who say, "There's this movie we should see.  Can you come on Monday?"  When I told them how lucky I felt, one of them said, "There aren't many friends who would be interested in this kind of movie."  I'm glad to have some friends who are interested in this kind of documentary, friends who would meet us on a Monday night to have some time together.

Monday, June 27, 2016

Week-End Self Care--with Ukuleles

When I locked my office door on Friday, I said to my dean, "What a week--I'm glad it's over."  I don't often feel that way about any given week--happily most weeks are not like last week.

I knew I needed some self-care over the week-end, so I did what has worked well in the past:  writing, especially some journaling, baking, getting some vigorous exercise, and some extra sleep.  And I did what I don't always do:  ukulele lessons followed by singing.

Now, I was going to do the ukulele lessons before I knew I would need self-care.  We've had increasing numbers of our church members interested in the ukulele, and rather than give individual lessons to everyone who wondered if this instrument might be for them, my church came up with this fellowship opportunity:  For five weeks, we will meet at 6:00 at the parsonage.  We will have 45 minutes of ukulele lessons, followed by a food break, followed by a jam session that include any instruments that people want to bring along.

The first week, June 19, we worked to learn 2 chords, C and F--and then we could strum and sing "This Little Light of Mine."

Last night, we added some additional chords, D7 and G7--suddenly a whole world of songs opens up. 

Most of the songs had 4 verses, and we sang them all.  On the first verse, I could hardly follow along at all.  But by verse 4, I had almost gotten all the chord changes, and I wished we could keep going so I could do the chord changes more smoothly.

It sounded much better in the last half of the evening, when we had the jam session.  One woman played her upright bass, my spouse played his violin, and one member played his guitar--we had a better sense of the melody and how the ukulele chords worked with it.

When we got home, I marveled at the fact that we sang old hymns, which wouldn't be my favorite if they showed up in a worship service.  But as part of a jam session, those songs made me so happy.

Let me remember this happiness as I move through the week, reassembling the wreckage of last week.  Let me hum the old gospel hymns as I do what must be done.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Ambiguous Grief, Nonlinear Grieving

I have been listening to a wonderful episode of On Being:  Pauline Boss talking about ambiguous grieving.  She talks about how humans like to solve puzzles, and we often approach grieving this way, as a problem to be solved, a linear process that has a clear end.

Many of us know that grieving is not that way.

She talks about Elizabeth Kübler-Ross's 5 stages of grief--but they're not necessarily applicable to all grieving and loss:  "Elizabeth Kübler-Ross found those five stages to be relevant to people who are dying, who are fading into death."  Now most therapists have moved away from that linear way of thinking, but not everyone else has.

She also talks about responding to those who are grieving:  "And so, in fact, that is the first question I ask. “What does this mean to you?” Because until I know what this means to them, I have no idea about how to intervene. If I say, “What does this mean to you,” they may say, “It's a punishment from God,” or, “It's a punishment from my loved one. He's always been after me,” or something like that. Then I know what their viewpoint is and can proceed that way. Or they may say, “I always fail at everything. That's what this means.” Then you know you proceed that way. Or a person might say, “This is another challenge, and I think I can manage it.” This is another meaning."

Yesterday I was thinking about all the losses of the past week, and how my losses are just a pale shadow of what's yet to come.  After all, I have both of my parents and my sister and my spouse, most of my friends are still alive, I'm in good health, I have a full-time job with benefits . . . I could go on and on.  I saw a Facebook post of a friend who lost both of her parents before she was out of her 20's, and she wrote that she would give anything to have one parent back. 

I feel this odd sense of guilt, a survivor's guilt of sorts, at grieving my losses, which are in a way tangential losses:  my friend's loss of a full-time job, for example, affects me, but she's got much more to grieve than I do.  But a yoga teacher gave me great advice long ago, to stop comparing myself to others because it won't help me perfect a pose or hold my balance.  That advice seems applicable here too.

Yesterday I did what I often do in the face of loss:  I baked.  As I look back over my history of weight gain and loss, I see that I have the easiest time losing weight and keeping it off when I have happy circumstances, like in 1995 when my spouse went back to grad school, which gave me hope for the future, or in 2011, when I had a chapbook coming out.

So, yesterday I baked, but not just because I felt stress.  When I did the 10 day shred, which meant I didn't drink as much dairy, I now have all this souring milk to use up.  In case you would like a simple cake, here's the recipe (and if you don't have sour milk, you can add a tsp. of vinegar to the milk, and I suspect it would be fine with regular milk too).

Chocolate Sour Milk Cake

2 c. sugar
1/2 c. shortening
2 eggs
3 c. flour
1/2 c. cocoa
2 tsp. baking soda
2 c. sour milk
Beat together sugar and shortening. Sift together flour, cocoa and baking soda. Add liquid and dry ingredients alternately to first mixture (I just mixed it all together, and it was fine). Grease pan (9x13) generously; dust with flour. Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes. Do not open oven before 30 minutes.
I made a light icing out of powdered sugar, milk, and cocoa--coffee as the moistener would be great too.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Reassembling the Wreckage

Yesterday began with news of the Brexit vote.  I thought the day and week couldn't get more tumultuous--but then came news of the move to "de-recognize" ACICS, an accrediting agency which accredits 245 colleges, according to this story.  It's not a done deal, but it's a mostly done deal.

Of course, ACICS can appeal--and if that doesn't work, then the schools that are accredited by ACICS have 18 months to find new accreditation.

Why do I care?  ACICS accredits my school.  We have fairly rigorous policies and procedures, so I have no doubt that we could secure accreditation with SACS, the regional accrediting body.  But the thought of that process makes me weary.

Maybe it shouldn't.  We've just come through an ACICS visit, so we have various narratives and supporting documents and such ready to go.

These past years have been a harsh schooling in the importance of living in the present moment and waiting to deal with other issues that are further off in the future.  And so, I went about the work of the day, finding adjuncts to teach classes that are suddenly without a teacher, reassembling the wreckage of the week.

As I contacted possible adjuncts who have stayed in touch with me, in the off chance that an adjunct position opened, I thought about how someone's wreckage so often transforms into someone else's blessing.  The adjuncts that I spoke to this week have been happy to have this chance.  I am relieved that they are still interested, while also wishing that I could offer something better (full-time positions, benefits, that kind of thing) to us all.

In the evening, I wanted the comfort of the PBS News Hour--as the opening music played, I thought about how often I've tuned in.  I first started watching this program regularly during the first Iraq conflict, back in 1991; then, as now, I appreciated the calm analysis that is so absent in other shows.

As I watched, I thought of my dad, who also watches regularly.  That reminded me that my mom is in the hospital, after having had a pacemaker installed on Thursday afternoon.  I called her cell phone, and much to my surprise, she picked up the phone.  And then she passed the phone around, and I talked to my dad and sister too.

Last night, as twilight deepened into night, I floated in the pool and thought about all the changes of this humdinger of a week.  I thought of our backyard cottage neighbor--last night was her last night in the cottage.  Today she will get on a plane and head out to her new future.

I thought of all the times that I've moved, which involved lots of boxes, a truck, and often lots of miles.  What would it be like to set off with a suitcase?

In the aftermath of a week like this one, setting off with a suitcase towards a different horizon sounds especially appealing.  But like monks of all sorts, I am vowed to place, a vow taken because my beloved spouse loves South Florida so deeply. 

And so I will sift through the scraps left behind.  I will make careful stitches as I try to create some sort of quilt that won't be the one that we had before, but nonetheless will be functional and beautiful in its own right.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Friday Fragments: Brexit and Involuntary Severances

What a tumultuous week!  Let me capture some fragments from a week:

--The Brexit vote shocks me a bit.  The poet part of my brain that is prone to making connections and seeing symbols everywhere says, "Yes--how appropriate in a week of lay-offs and involuntary severance that we end the week with the news that Britain chooses to become a stand-alone island again." 

--Yesterday afternoon, I accompanied my friend and colleague to her exit interview where she got the information about her severance package.  She has decided to stay on as an adjunct.  I am selfishly glad, while also hoping that she eventually finds a great job and leaves the department stranded with those classes.

--My other colleague in my department who was RIFed came to my office and said, "Don't be sad."  What a great way to start an exit discussion.  She gave me a hug and said, "This is great news."  She will not be returning.  I am sad for me and the students, but happy for her.

--I have been helping friends who have had rock delivered--it gets dumped on the driveway, and they have to move it to the yard where they want it.  It's amazingly soothing to shovel the rocks into the wagon after a day of bad news.

--We worked well together--at one point, when complimented on how quickly we were reducing the rock pile, I said, "We've got a real chain gang rhythm going."

--My friends and I go to the gym regularly.  I said, "Those weight machines are the theory, and here we see the practice."

--I have sent out a few poetry packets into the world--another way of resisting the darkness nipping at my heels this week.

--This week-end will need to be a working week-end:  I have a course shell that I need to get ready for my online class which starts next week. 

Thursday, June 23, 2016

The Solace of a Good Bookstore

Yesterday was a day of lay offs at my school, including 2 from my department.  We have schools across the nation, and each school had lay offs of a variety of people, including the restructuring of Student Affairs at each school.  But I don't want this blog post to focus on lay offs.

Months ago, my friend and I had made plans to go down to Miami to Books and Books to see Chitra Divakaruni  (see this post for my thoughts on her latest, wonderful book).  Yesterday, my friend was one of the ones laid off.

We decided to go anyway, and I offered to drive.  As we made our way down to the store, I thought about all my friends from outside the area who wonder why I don't go down to Miami more often.  As we crawled along at 25 mph, I thought, this is why.

Still, we got there in plenty of time to enjoy the outdoor café and have a lovely dinner.  Yesterday I had salad for lunch and salad for dinner--ah, the salad days of summer.  Last night's salad had goat cheese, walnuts, pears, greens, and a guava dressing--yum.

But the real treat, the real nourishment of the night was the reading.  Divakaruni is a master of the reading.  She read from 2 chunks of the book, Before We Visit the Goddess, stopping at a dramatic point that would leave us wanting to know what happened.

She only read for 20 minutes, and then she spent 40 minutes answering questions.  It was the perfect balance, and most of the questions were great.  One woman asked about how autobiographical the characters are.  Divakaruni smiled and said, "The parts you like best about each woman--that's me."  She said it with just the right smile that said that she knew that she wasn't really answering the question.

Then she addressed the question of autobiography in her work.  She said that whenever she uses a person whom she knows in real life, her imagination begins to feel constrained by what has really happened in real life, so she tends to create without that framework.

She talked about characters, how it's important to have bad things happen to good people.  She talked about how she sets a goal for herself with each book so that she keeps growing.  With this book, the challenge was to write a book told in stories.

I asked about her writing process--did she write the stories in the order that they were in the book, and I said I assumed she didn't.  She said that she knew the first story and the last story, but the ones in between she crafted in a variety of order, and she wanted to avoid a strictly chronological presentation.  She said that although she knew the narrative arc, yet she was still surprised along the way.

It was a delightful night--everyone had a chance to ask their questions, and then she stayed to sign books.  A group of her students who had been chosen to study with her for one week in Miami were there. Afterwards one asked me, "Are you a writer?  Your question made me think that you are."  I said that I was, and we had a delightful conversation about writing, about linked stories, about the writer's life.

I thought about all the wonderful writers whom I have seen at Books and Books.  I thought about all the great times with friends as we've come to see our favorite writers.  I drove home, along the Interstate canyon between the sparkly skyscrapers, filled with gratitude, filled with the hope, ready to face what the daylight will bring.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Our House of Many Instruments

I grew up in a house full of musical instruments:  my mother always had a piano, and for a brief time, we had 2, the grand piano and the upright.  My sister and I took piano lessons, and my mom was usually making some money through some form of music:  piano lessons, choir director, or church organist.  There's a picture of me at age 7 blowing through a trombone.  We had my grandmother's cello, although no one played it.  There was a rudimentary bugle, more of a war instrument than a music instrument.  At one point, my sister played the flute.

I've always wished that I had done more to learn to play.  I can play the right hand on the piano without thinking much about it.  I can figure out the left hand with more time.  With even more time, I can combine them.  I wish it was all more effortless.  I wish I had practiced more in my formative years.

I now have a keyboard, but we don't use it much.  We have several African drums, and a doumbek--we've had good times through the years playing with a drum circle.  I like the energy of the group, the way I can lose myself in a rhythm.  In a drum circle, it seems there's no way to go wrong.

For awhile we had a drum kit in the living room, but we never practiced much--too noisy.  We finally sold it, and a little boy had a happy Christmas because of it.

We bought matching mandolins for a wedding anniversary, and we return to those periodically.  My husband has several violins, which he plays weekly.  We have a guitar, which we got for free when we spent a certain amount at a music store.

This past week-end we brought 3 more instruments into our house, although they are borrowed instruments:  2 ukuleles and a cello.  One of our friends at church has loaned us a cello, since his daughter has gone off to college and doesn't need it right now.  I'm hoping that we can learn if we can teach ourselves to play cello, before we make an investment.

On Sunday, my church had the first of 5 scheduled music sessions at the parsonage.  We meet at 6 for ukulele lessons, then enjoy some food, and then bring out other instruments and have a songfest.  We're going to do this every Sunday for the next 4 weeks.

Will I enjoy the ukulele enough to buy one?  It's hard to say.  If I'm going to devote myself to a stringed instrument, I'd really like to play the mandolin better.  But we'll see.

For now it's fun to meet with friends and to commit to music for a few weeks.  What will we do after that?  Will we continue to meet?  Is this just for fun?  Are we in the process of birthing some new music ministry?  It's hard to say.  We're trying to stay open to possibilities right now.

Making music makes me happy, even if I'm far from perfect.  In music, as in much of life, it's the journey not the destination, the process, not the product.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Summer Solstice 2016

Here we are at the first full day of summer.  I always think of the summer solstice as arriving June 21, but the dates can vary.  This year, yesterday was the solstice, the longest day of the year.  I celebrated in a variety of ways.

Yesterday, I woke up feeling somewhat grumpy after a night of restlessness.  The mood around the office didn't help me feel much better--lots of talk of the possible loss of ACICS as an accreditor and what the future might hold for my school, which is ACICS accredited.

My younger self would have said, "Oh, good, we can have SACS accreditation."  My older self feels weary at the thought of what that quest will require.  My mood sunk even lower.

But mid-morning, I went to speak at one of our new student orientations, and my mood shifted.  I loved being in a room of enthusiastic, hopeful, new students.  It's not a traditional way to celebrate the solstice, but I'm glad I had it.

Through the afternoon, I took care of the end-of-term paperwork--getting Math students enrolled in the next section, looking up student grades in English classes to make sure that students without pre-reqs didn't move on to the next class.

Again, not a traditional way to celebrate the solstice, this preparing for our summer quarter at school, but it felt good to get these tasks done.

As evening came on the longest day of the year, I celebrated in a more traditional way with wine and time with friends.  I tagged along with my spouse who gives violin lessons to the daughter of friends, and we lingered in the late light to have wine and catch up.

When we came back home, we sat on the porch to continue to enjoy the solstice.  My spouse has a cello on loan, and he experimented with it--the acoustics on our small front porch are amazing/almost overwhelming with both the violin and cello.  It's not dancing around ancient stone monuments or drumming as the full moon rose, but it felt appropriate.

So here we are at summer, a new season.  I have summer online classes starting next week (teaching, not taking), and it will be easy to lose the season.  Let me begin to formulate a plan:

--I will send my proposal to Eerdman's before the end of June.

--I will send out individual poem packets--my goal will be to send out 3 per week.

--I will also start sending out more short story submissions, even though many journals are closed for the summer.

--I will continue with my goal of writing 2 poems a week along with short stories.  I'd like to write one new story a month from July to the end of the year.

--I will eat more melon throughout the summer.

--I will make good use of our swimming pool.

--I will build some fires in the neglected fire pit--and my spouse will smoke some slabs of meat in the smoker.  I will make s'mores and remember why they're not my favorite dessert.

--I will walk to the beach more often.

Hmm.  With the exception of eating more melon and the one-time submission to Eerdman's goal, these are goals I could have year round--and that's fine with me.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Poetry Monday: "Improbable Blessings"

Saturday morning I realized that I had written no poems for the week--my goal is to write 2 poems a week, usually on Tuesday and Thursday.  My plan has been to use the week-end to catch up, if necessary.

I was feeling a bit uninspired, a bit blah.  So I did what I normally do: I went to a few websites to see what other poets have been up to.

My favorite is Dave Bonta's Via Negativa site.  There I found Luisa Igloria's "What can you do with day old bread?"  It's so much more than a list of possibilities like feeding birds.  I thought of bread pudding.  I briefly wanted to be distracted from my writing blahs by making dessert.

Her poem was inspired by Dave Bonta's erasure poem, "Inner city" with these lines that felt evocative:

"in the city is a city missing bread
for the swan on the water"

I thought about feeding the birds with bread, and my brain went to our post-worship service practice of dumping consecrated wine in the butterfly garden at church and sprinkling crumbs of consecrated pita bread across the ground.  And finally, a poem was born.

I briefly worried that I'd already written something similar.  If so, I can't find that poem.  I did write a poem about consecrated wine going down the drain (see this post).

I sent the poem to Dave Bonta, and he published it on his site--to read it, go here.

And then, I went on to write another poem--my weekly quota in one day!  The second poem considers our current obsession with culling carbohydrates from our food intake--what does this mean for our sacramental practices?  How does it look to countries that are so parched from drought that nothing will grow in the dehydrated soil?

Here we are, at a new week.  Let me be on the lookout for poetry possibilities!

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Favorite Father Memories

Today I have fathers on the brain, as it is Father's Day.  I realize that I am fortunate.  My dad is still alive and healthy.  My dad didn't desert the family along the way.  My dad did the best job of fathering that he could do, and he was pretty good at it. 

Today I mourn with those who are not as lucky as I am.  I know far too many people who lost their fathers much too young.

But today I also celebrate all the ways that so many of us have experienced positive fatherhood.

I wrote my dad an e-mail this morning, with some of my favorite memories of our lives together.  Here's what I wrote:

--We went to Pigeon Forge to run a midnight race.  We returned and tried to keep ourselves awake until it as time to go to church--we listened to Chicago's 16 through headphones and played chess.
--I was being honored at a college convocation.  Mom was coming down.  You came too, as a surprise.  I remember pulling into the parking lot in Columbia to pick you up.  What a neat surprise.
--You and I went backpacking together near Charlottesville--probably during my 9th grade year of high school.
--When I was a vegetarian cooking dinners, I made some real clunkers--you never complained.
--You taught me to drive and you were always very calm.  I made a turn once without slowing down, and you said, "Next time you should use your brakes."
--You procured a microchip for a science fair project--I won honorable mention!  In 1979, that chip must have been very expensive, and you let me take it to school.
--When I was in 3rd grade, I really wanted a notebook at the Auburn U. at Montgomery bookstore, and you bought it for me.  I wrote my first stories in that notebook.
--You asked me to help you move furniture--thus, I never had the idea that I couldn't do something just because I was a girl.
--You taught me a lot about music, particularly classical and jazz.  But you weren't snooty.  I remember once at the beach, you whistled "Last Train to Clarksville" as you unloaded the groceries from the car.  When I asked you about it, you said, "It's my favorite Monkees song."  And you weren't being sarcastic.  It taught me that it's O.K. to have a wide variety of musical tastes.
--I remember many family camping trips--another great way to learn self-sufficiency.  And I learned a lot about the natural world and history because of our trips.
--I treasure the weeks at the beach as an extended family.  You always made family a priority, and it wasn't until I was a grown up that I realized how many dads didn't do that.
--You taught me about money, and not just about having a savings and checking account--although those are very important things that you taught me.  You also taught me about investing.
--You also taught me a lot about how to live a life that's in alignment with one's values.  We discussed things like giving money to the church, and about why we go to church. 

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Surreal Friday

When I think about the whole of yesterday, it seems a bit surreal.  Part by part, it seems like any other work day--what does that say about my life?

Usually the Friday after graduation is low key, but I have people to hire before our summer quarter starts July 11.  Since I knew it was likely to be low key, I scheduled interviews with job candidates for the morning and a dermatologist appointment for the afternoon.

The job interviews went very well--I started the hiring process for both candidates after the interviews.  Gone are the days when I'd just write an e-mail to HR, an e-mail to the new hire, and that would be mostly the process.  No, now there are background checks and drug checks and HR orientations--and it won't happen if there wasn't a job ad on the website and an application.  Gone are the days when I could just hire a person I knew professionally.  But happily, I do not have a requirement to interview x number of candidates.

Our process is laborious, and thus, I dread it.  I forget about the upside to hiring:  I might meet new people who are interesting and creative and enthusiastic about joining our school.  That was the case yesterday, and so I felt optimistic.

I went out into the stormy midday and headed out to the dermatologist's office.  It didn't take me as long to get there as I thought it might, and I had some time to wait before they were ready.  Lo and behold, a long-time poet friend was also waiting, and we had some time to catch up in the deserted waiting room.  What are the odds of that?

I go to the dermatologist at least once a year, and usually, I have a spot or two that I mention to the doctor.  This year, I've been worried about a spot on my nose.  It's not a very visible spot, but it doesn't go away, and occasionally it bleeds.  I expected the dermatologist to say, "Of course it bleeds.  Quit picking at it.  It's a pimple."
He looked and said, "Yep.  Looks like a basal cell.  We'll do a biopsy to be sure."
He looked over the rest of me--no other spots--hurrah.
And then he did the biopsy.  Having novacaine injected into the nose is no fun.  And it felt really strange for the hour or two afterward.
If the biopsy comes back as cancer, I go back, and the doctor takes out more tissue, just to be sure.  He expects a small scar, not like the other scars from my skin cancers.  It's in the place in my nose near the opening, where it flares out a bit into the wider part of the nostril--I'm hoping it wouldn't be too visible.
He said, "You can have a plastic surgeon do it, but there's no guarantee that it would be any better."
Besides, it would be a small scar.  No need for a plastic surgeon with this one.
So, last year's spot was an age spot, and this year's is likely a basal cell.  Sigh.
Perhaps it's time to start looking for a hat--I spray my face with sunscreen, but I probably need the backup protection of a hat.
I left the doctor's office with a numb nose and a bandaid.  As the novacaine wore off, my nose felt odd, like whisps of hairs were stuck to the bandaid.  When I got home for work, I took the bandaid off--the wound is not too ugly, a small circle of a scab.
In the evening, we had a delicious burger plus a spinach salad with steak tips--beef heavy dinner but delicious, especially for a day when I hadn't eaten much.  We don't usually run errands on Friday nights--we're both too exhausted--but we needed to get pool supplies, so off we went.
We ended the day in the pool.  I watched the light drain slowly from the sky and said a prayer of thanks for all the blessings of the day, especially for cancers that are small and treatable.

Friday, June 17, 2016

The Strangest Graduation Ever

Last night we had our graduation, which, like many schools, we have to hold elsewhere--so last night, we all trooped over to the War Memorial Auditorium.  We've had our graduation there before, so that wasn't the strange part.

At first, I thought that maybe I was warm because I had on my academic robe.  But I noticed others fanning themselves too, people in the audience in their sleeveless tops.  I was on the stage, under the lights.  I focused on my breathing.

I also had to focus on my breathing because we sat on very strange seats covered in stretchy fabric sleeves--I leaned back, expecting a normal chair, and my back wrenched.  Every time I moved, my back protested.  So I sat very still, trying to keep my face composed.

I also had to concentrate on keeping my face composed because the sound system from the stage had a very strange feedback, so I heard a voice then heard it bounce back off the walls--even when I concentrated, I couldn't really understand what the speaker said.  So, instead of looking like I was concentrating, I decided to sit and smile. 

Because I was on the platform, we were the first outside--in fact, there was a stern policeman at the door keeping people from exiting until we walked out.  With brisk purpose, I walked to my car--I saw the opportunity I had to beat a hasty retreat before the traffic jam that would surely come. 

My back hurt, but I was able to run some errands along the way.  I went to Trader Joe's to stock up on beer and wine.  Unlike last week, they had plenty of bottles of my new favorite cheap wine:  Terrain at $3.99 a bottle--the only wine at that price point that I've had that tastes like it costs $9.99 a bottle.

I also stopped at the Fresh Market.  Each Thursday, they have a meal deal, where you can buy all sorts of ingredients at a significant discount--a meal that feeds 4 for $20.  The meal deal is the same each Thursday of the month.  One month, it's a pasta dinner, one month a Meximeal of sorts, and this month, salad.  I got a HUGE package of baby spinach (double clamshell size), a pound of strip steak (I wanted the shrimp but they were gone by the time I got there, a package of assorted veggies (bell pepper strips, mushrooms, broccoli), a 32 oz. tub of melon (the watermelon looked better than the assortment of watermelon, cantaloupe, and honeydew), a package of 6 sourdough rolls, and a tub of cheese.

And then, after a brief stop at the library, I went home and made myself a salad out of older ingredients that needed to be used up:  a few, very thin prosciutto slices, chunks of nectarine, sliced cherry tomatoes, goat cheese, atop romaine lettuce, drizzled with homemade honey lemon vinaigrette.  YUMMMMM.

Since there was nothing much on TV, I picked up a book I'd gotten from the library:  Emma Straub's The Vacationers.  I had wanted her latest, Modern Lovers, but I also placed The Vacationers on hold.

What a delightful book--the kind of easy read that made time zip by.  My spouse was teaching, so I just kept reading until he got home.

Today I return to the work of academe:  interviewing people for adjunct positions, answering student questions, wrapping up Spring quarter and getting ready for summer.  Happily, my back feels better today, but not exactly normal--just the reason why ibuprofen needs to travel with me.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

The Stories that Link Us

Yesterday was one of those strange days, when I looked at my watch in the evening and thought, how did it get to be so late in the day?

Perhaps it was in the way that it started.  I got to my office to find the door wide open, the chairs blocking my entry.  I peeked around the corner to see a man on a ladder with his head up in the ceiling.  Yes, an ongoing attempt to fix the air conditioner--I ducked back out and completed a few on-campus errands.

During the day, I attended a training session for one of our new programs, had a donut festival for a colleague whose last day will be next week, went out to lunch, answered some student questions, continued to try to hire faculty for our summer quarter, attended to paperwork, and had a soothing tea time.

I got home and decided to sink into a book, which my friend had loaned me once she and her mom had read it:  Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni's Before We Visit the Goddess.  What a treat of a book!  I read a little over half of it before my spouse returned from choir practice, and I was tempted to stay up late to read it.  Instead, I finished it when I woke up this morning.

It's a book of linked short stories that covers three generations of women.  The grandmother never leaves India, while her daughter elopes with illegal paperwork to America.  The third generation daughter, born in the U.S., has a different set of challenges.  It's a book that links the stories in interesting ways, with a variety of characters coming to the forefront--now that I have the plot, I'd love to read it again, because it's an amazing work of art, along with a good story.

I am working on my own collection of linked stories, in addition to the older collection that may be mostly finished, at least until a character pokes me and says, "Tell this story."  My new collection looks at a group of former college activists as they turn 50.  I thought about having them know each other in college, even being on trial for their actions, but it's not evolving that way.  I'll keep writing the stories--maybe later I'll understand how to link them more closely.  Or maybe I'll decide to keep the link loose, with the only similarity being that each character a former college activist who has aged into midlife.

I like that Divakaruni's stories, taken together, work as a singular narrative of a family, a plot with rising action, a climax, and falling action. But it's good to remember that collections of linked stories can be different.

This morning, I returned to one of those stories, the one that I wrote that incorporates the real life incidents of the death of Prince and a kiss at a bus station.  I'm to the stage of revision where I'm simply tinkering with words--I'm calling it done now. 

I am so happy with this story, although if a different ending presented itself, I'd try it out.  It's interesting to think that it's a story I never would have developed, had Prince lived to old age.  Or maybe it would have come in a different way.

I am interested in the ways that all these stories connect us, all the ways that I can connect them as an artist.  I'm interested to see where this collection takes me.  And at some point, I should return to the previous collection to start making some decisions about which stories to include, and which to save for some later point or to just submit on their own.

It's also time to start submitting them.  I need to be more intentional about that in the coming year.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Vigils, with Candles, with Inclusivity

This is not a picture from the candlelight vigil in Pembroke Pines that I attended on Tuesday night:

It's a picture from Christmas Eve service, which is probably the closest I've come to a candlelight vigil.

On Monday morning, I heard about a vigil that was held in Wilton Manors (part of our county with a significant population of gay households) on Sunday--obviously, it was too late to go.  I found myself wishing I had attended.

So, when our pastor posted that a group would carpool to a candlelight vigil at the city of Pembroke Pines on Tuesday night, I said I would be coming.  And that's how I ended up at the City Hall of Pembroke Pines holding a candle.

As I headed over after spin class, I did wonder if we might be arrested.  But we were all on the same side.  We heard all of the city officials offer words of support to those who lost loved ones in Orlando.  We heard reminders of the city's support of inclusivity.  We saw a reminder of that commitment in the speakers:  Christian and likely not (the dark-skinned man in the turban was likely not Christian, but I couldn't hear him, so I'm not sure), male and female, homosexual and not.  I was likewise surrounded by a mix of people, some of us who wore our various identities proudly (clerics and stoles and rainbow sneakers and t-shirts with various proclamations) and some of us in ordinary clothes.

We all lit our candles and held them high, as the clergy spokesperson reminded us of the strength of many candles.  It looked like this:

Photo taken by Keith Spencer

On my way home, I tried to remember if I had attended a candlelight vigil like that one.  Nothing comes to mind.  I've gone to prayer vigils in churches, but that's not quite the same.  I went to a public park to see a release of cranes on one August 6 to commemorate the Hiroshima bombing.  I've gone to rallies and marches, but again, that's a very different experience.

My spouse remembers attending candlelight vigils in college, and he said, "Surely I wouldn't have attended those without you?"  I pointed out that he might have gone in the year before I arrived.

Once I went to a variety of rallies and marches.  I knew people who built shantytowns on the quads of their campuses.  My life is quieter now.

It was good to gather at city hall, to declare that hate cannot conquer us, to light our candles in solidarity.  It was sad that we still have so many opportunities that demand our candlelight vigils, but it's heartening that so many would attend a quickly organized vigil on a Tuesday night.

There are over 50 similar vigils planned around our county this week, and I'm certain there will be many across the country.  I'll light my candle, and I'll continue to hope for a day when we no longer have that need.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Visual Art Journal Entries and the March of History

I have been keeping a journal of some sort all of my adult life.  When historic events happen, I want to make a record.

Last week, I wrote about Hillary Clinton's historic campaign, both here and in a poem.  On Friday, I thought about my visual journal, as I'm calling it, and decided I wanted to make a record.  I started with this:

My spouse added the Trump element.  I got tired of drawing each x, and I decided to start over.  I came up with this:

Is it still a work in progress?  I'm not sure.  I was surprised by how few female political leaders I could name.  I didn't do any searching.  And Esther wasn't exactly a political leader, but I had her on the brain so I put her name down. I thought about doing something more with the background.

Monday night I wanted to do something to commemorate the shooting in Orlando, something that might be hopeful, despite the horror.  I'm old enough to remember when this kind of massacre would not have inspired this outpouring of grief and support for the victims and families.  In fact, in a story on NPR this morning, a reporter (who wrote this story on Slate) reminds us about a 1973 fire in New Orleans, a crime left unsolved, with 30 deaths, which inspired ugly comments about "fruits" on right wing radio.  The fact that so many have responded with dignity, compassion, and grief in the face of this horror--I'm finding that a hopeful sign that our society is changing for the better.

I don't have a work in progress shot of what I drew.  Here's the finished product:

I drew the gray lines because I thought it looked too festive, too birthday like without them.  I had thought that I would draw 50 lights in various colors around the candle to represent every person killed, but I drew too many before I started counting.  I thought about including the wounded, but I didn't want to stop drawing to look up how many had been wounded.

And so I drew the gray swirls, which represented the smoke that might come from that much gunfire, the smoke from the police response, the way that we can lose our lives so quickly--our lives are like a puff of smoke, here and then a faint whisp and then nothing.

Nothing but the memories that others have, the art we leave behind, the humans we've inspired, the family members, the way we've moved the world away from evil and towards good.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Thinking about Esther on the Day of the Worst Mass Shooting

As I was writing yesterday, I knew that there had been a shooting at a nightclub in Orlando, but there had been a shooting at a nightclub the night before too, and that's what stuck out in my mind.  Why two nights in a row in Orlando?

We didn't realize yet that the shooting at the nightclub Pulse would be the largest mass shooting in the nation's history.

I was the presiding minister at church yesterday because my pastor was away at Synod Assembly, so I left the house much earlier than is usual for a Sunday.  As I drove to church and listened to the news, I realized that the body count was higher than first thought, up to 20, and I thought, we should pray for the victims and their families, and for all of us affected by violence.

I added that to the prayers, but I didn't think to alter my sermon.   I talked about Esther, with some references to Hillary Clinton, and using the advantages we have, since most women across the globe are still constrained, but God can use us where we are to work for God's vision of freedom.  I tried to stay away from the angry feminist angle--I decided that the poem I had gotten was enough. I pointed out that Esther had youth and beauty on her side, but had significant strikes against her: exile, Jew, orphan, female. I kept in mind that there would be children who might not understand what a harem is, and I didn't go into that too much. I got compliments, but I am aware that by bringing in the historic aspect of Hillary's campaign that some might have thought I was inappropriate--but I didn't endorse her, since I know to be careful with that. It is historic, like her or not. Other countries have achieved this milestone long before we did. 

I could have talked about the nightclub shooting when I talked about Esther's marginalized status--but my sermon was already treading a careful line between being prophetic and being too political, so maybe it's better that I didn't.  I asked my spouse if he thought I had been too political, and he said, "You came close, but you saved yourself by saying, 'Let's turn our attention back to Esther.'"

But he also pointed out that several rows of older women were nodding and smiling; he had a clear view of the congregation from his seat in the choir.  That made me happy.

I'm pleased with the way that the three services went yesterday.  Even though I wasn't aware that the nightclub shooting was as bad as it was, I wouldn't change much about the services if I could travel back in time.  I'm glad that I had presence of mind to add a reference to the shooting in the prayers.  We didn't have time to organize a blood drive, or to do anything more concrete.

I'm reminded of a conversation with a friend when we heard about a colleague's dreadful health news--the friend reminded me that prayer was our best response to most situations.  But I'm also sympathetic to those who want a bit more action.

There will be time for all these responses in the week to come.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Poetry Sunday: Call and Response

I don't have as much time to write this morning--I am preaching this Sunday, which means I need to leave for church in about 30 minutes.

Often when I don't have time, posting a poem is the way to go.  I wanted a poem that talked about Sunday morning in church--but I don't have as many of those as you might think.

I wrote the poem below long ago--my computer records show that I typed it in to the machine in 2004, which means I probably wrote it a year or two earlier.

I don't remember much about writing it, but I do remember the incident.  I've been a member of two small churches in South Florida, and they've both been remarkably tolerant/nonchalant about behavior that's out of the ordinary, whether it's screaming children or the outcries of the sick/elderly or the mumblings of the less sane.  I should clarify that the churches are tolerant/nonchalant while being aware of the risks.  After one former military man showed up to shout verses from Revelation, our pastor confessed that he had 911 on speed dial and he was ready to hit that button, if needed.  Luckily the man agreed to leave when quietly asked.

The incident described in the poem really happened.  I also remember the woman slipping communion wafers into her pocket, a moment which I thought would make a great poem, but I have yet to write it.

Call and Response

Her plea serves as our steady
backbeat. She sits
in the back and beseeches
her nurse, “I want to go home. Please
Take me home.”

We sing hymns and listen to the sacred
texts with her keening as a subtext.
We confess our creed to her mounting insistence:
“After this one, we’ll go home. Promise
me we’ll go home.”

It should annoy me, but I am moved
beyond belief at her naked
plea; that yearning for home
is what brings many of us back to this sanctuary.

Some weeks, the liturgy, memorized
through childhood years of steady attendance,
makes me weep. I quake at the thought that I repeat
words that have sustained more generations
of my hard-boned ancestors than I can count.

Other times, it is the story behind
the liturgy that moves me, the consistent
narrative thread of a creator
who never leaves, who never shares
our disbelief in our worth—a parent
who loves this disoriented woman, even though
she no longer remembers the proper liturgical response,
sees her as valuable long after everyone else lets her slide
alone into senility.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Good Beginnings

I had been feeling like my poetry well had run dry, but yesterday, I wrote a poem that weaves together Hillary Clinton, the Stanford rape case, and Esther from the Hebrew Bible--I'm preaching this Sunday while my pastor is at Synod Assembly and we're off lectionary--the Esther text was chosen months ago.

It's interesting to think of Esther in this week where we've seen Hillary Clinton clinch the Democratic nomination.  It's interesting to think about Esther in this week where the Stanford rapist got only 6 months of jail time for doing horrid actions to an unconscious woman.  In so many ways 21st century women have more options than Esther, and yet, we still face the same dangers. 

Will I talk about these things in my sermon?  Yes, I will.

But I will also point out that Esther had severe disadvantages.  She was an orphan and an exile and a female--in an ancient, patriarchal culture where these factors meant more than they mean in our industrialized world today.  Yet she was pivotal in saving her people from doom. 

It's interesting to think about gender and power; it's interesting every week, but it's especially interesting this week.

I was motivated to finish the poem because I wanted to submit it to Rattle's Poets Respond feature, which the website describes this way:  "Every Sunday we publish one poem online that has been written about a current event that took place the previous week. This is an effort to show how poets react and interact to the world in real time, and to enter into the broader public discourse."

Even though the poem wasn't chosen, I'm happy that I wrote it--it's one of the first poems that has made me happy in what feels like months and months, but has actually only been a week or two.  And now I'll submit it to the Beloit Poetry Journal, which has inspired me to type some newer poems into the computer.

Visiting old poems as I type them in also makes me happy.  This morning, I typed in a poem about Jesus at a Christmas cookie swap.  I still need a good title.

Last night, we picked up our mandolins and started to learn a different song, now that we've mastered "The Rose."  Now we're working on "I'll Fly Away."  It makes me happy that we're still playing our mandolins.

On a different creativity note:  I have a cake baking in the oven. I had leftover ingredients from last week's cake baking for church (applesauce, dark corn syrup, and some milk going sour)--the cake is fairly low fat and low calorie, and I know that this week-end I will want a treat of some kind--but more important, I wanted to use up those ingredients.

Here's hoping creativity week-end continues!

Friday, June 10, 2016

Short Stories, Fashion Shows, and Other Inspirations

Yesterday morning, I finally finished my story that was rooted in the vision of a female administrator watching Prince videos the day after Prince's death, writing to a friend, “'I am watching old Prince videos while ignoring my self-imposed deadline on spreadsheet submission. The door to my office is wide open, and the volume is up. This may be the most subversive thing I have done in a decade.'”  The story went in ways I didn't expect, exploring the issue of transgressiveness and what it means to be radical.

And then I had a vision for my next short story, a way in, a possible first line:  I was not the typical person that you would see at an ACT UP rally.

Then I realized how little I knew/remembered about ACT UP, and I also remembered that I had intended to see the documentary How to Survive a Plague.  My local library had it, and I needed to return the coffee table version of Sense and Sensibility, so I stopped in.  Happily, the shelf agreed with the catalog, which doesn't always happen.  I left with that DVD, along with some other books.

I had a great day at work, helping students, having coffee with my English faculty friends/colleagues, waiting for it to be time to head to the fashion show.

I was going to go to the fashion show with a friend and colleague from work, but she ended up deciding not to go.  I thought about going home, watching the video, eating salad--but then I gave myself a stern talking to about supporting friends and colleagues and students.

The fashion show was at the Galleria Mall.  When we first moved here in 1998, that mall reminded me of some of the glitziest malls in the D.C. area--the mall had stores I had never seen elsewhere, like Chico's.  Now there are empty stores, but it's not as empty as some malls I've seen.  Still, I had trouble finding the fashion show.  I was delighted to realize that a children's theatre had taken over some of the stores in a hallway, and I had this vision of what to do with the nation's emptying malls.

I took a quick look at the food that was left on the table--I was a bit late because of the rain and because I stopped at Trader Joe's on the way.  I took a few crackers with hummus, two slices of apple, and a cheese cube to tide me over.  I took a sip of wine and decided it wasn't worth the calories--much like in the morning when I made a coffee drink the way I once did and decided it wasn't worth the 120 calories.

I always have mixed feelings about the fashion show--some day I hope to go to a fashion show where there are plus-sized clothes.  This was not that show.  But there were bikinis that were worn by body builders--which made me feel inadequate in a different way, but it was a nice change.

I enjoyed seeing the different fabrics, the ways that the clothes were assembled.  I found it fascinating at the end of each collection to see the designer walking beside the model--let me point out that most of these designers are not stick-thin, like their models.

After the show, I took a quick trip to Williams-Sonoma, just in case the sale section had anything I couldn't resist.  Nope.

I am pleasantly tired this morning.  I'm glad I made the effort to get to the fashion show.  Even though clothing is not the way that my creative energies express themselves, I found it inspiring.

Now, on to that story about the unlikely participant at ACT UP!

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Two Weeks Post-Shred

I have just returned from a run to the beach and back.  When I use the word "run," I really mean a very slow jog that quickly becomes a fast-walk/shuffle if I don't stay alert. 

It was very cloudy, so no beautiful sunrise--but still, it was lovely to see the sea and sand.  When I came back, I swam for 15 minutes in the pool, which was also wonderful.

I had been awake for a few hours before I left, so I had some coffee.  I made a cup of coffee the way I used to like it:  with 1 C. of milk, 1 C. of coffee, 1 T. cocoa, and 1 tsp sugar.  I no longer like my coffee that way--I drank half of it and thought, this is really not worth the calories (the whole mug would have been roughly 120 calories), so I threw it out.  I'm not sure I really like it black either, but my tastes are coming around.

It has been 2 weeks since my 10 day shred ended--although I kept it going for another day and a half.  It's interesting to see what changes have stayed.

Some of them may not be permanent--I'm continuing to drink protein shakes because I want to use up the protein powder.  When I'm done with the protein powder, I'll likely go back to yogurt with berries and oats for breakfast.

Some changes may stick:  we're using a lot less milk, and that's good. 

Some changes come and go:  I'm exercising more, but this change seems to be cyclical, in part having to do with schedules and in part having to do with the weather.

On the last day of the shred, I went back to MyFitness Pal, which has been pivotal for me.  If I hadn't done that, I'd have probably regained all my weight right back.  Instead, the calorie counting has kept me on track.  For example, one Saturday I had eaten all my calories by 3 in the afternoon; I decided to go for a walk to earn some additional calories.

I'm looking forward to a summer of wellness--I'm glad I had that shred to give me a boost at the beginning!

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Women's History, Our History

As a long-time feminist, let me take a minute and let the news of Hillary Clinton's nomination sink in.  On Monday, the AP declared her the presumptive Democratic nominee.  Yesterday, she clinched a few more primary wins.

I can hear the Bernie Sanders people howling about the nomination and the fact that unpledged delegates might change their minds and vote for Sanders.  I'm willing to bet that most of them won't.  Unpledged delegates are long-term Democrats, and through the years, Sanders has done much to alienate them.

In fact, I'm surprised by how silent people have been about his previous break with the Democratic party.  And now he wants to be the candidate?

No, let me not get derailed into talking about Sanders.  Let me reflect on this historical moment, one that until about 2008, I did not think I would see in my lifetime.

Obama's win in 2008 was what convinced me that the political realities that I thought I knew had changed.  Truly, all sorts of leadership might be possible in the future.

Clinton is a flawed candidate, to be sure.  But she's also got some strengths that very few candidates will have, now or in the future.  She's had a wide variety of experiences and seen governing from many angles, more so than just about any other candidate for president ever.  I hope she chooses a woman for her VP.

I remember back in 1987, when Pat Schroeder briefly ran for president.  I was so inspired that I sent her $5 for her campaign--I was in grad school and couldn't afford more.  I could hardly afford that.  When she announced that she was quitting, I cried.

I remember further back, in 1984, voting for Mondale and feeling jazzed about Geraldine Ferraro's presence on the ticket--back then, I thought we'd have a female candidate on the top of the ticket in no time.  I wouldn't have dreamed that it would take over 30 years.

I don't look forward to the next few months.  I'm weary of ugliness, and I suspect that there's lots of ugliness to come.  I like the way that Clinton has been handling the ugliness so far.  But I don't want 5 more months of it.

But let me not focus on that either.  Let me again turn my attention to the fact that a woman is running for President, and not as a fringe candidate either.   Let me rest with that for today.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Acceptance and Submission

Yesterday morning, I got a poem accepted by Adanna--I was surprised by how much the acceptance lifted my mood.

I don't send out as many poetry packets as I once did, and I tend to send more out in the fall, when more journals are open to submissions.  When I got the acceptance, I went through my submission log to make sure I didn't need to withdraw the poem from consideration elsewhere.

I wrote the poem a year ago--some of my submissions that have yet to garner a response were sent out before I composed the poem.

But going through my submission log, I was surprised by how few submissions are still outstanding.  Even though it's summer and there are few journals that are accepting submissions, I need to start making some more submissions.

Some months I manage to send out several submissions a week, and it's usually by doing one submission here in a free 15 minutes and one submission the next day in a smidge of free time.  I need to get back to doing that.

Let me begin today!

Monday, June 6, 2016

A Walk in the Everglades and Ensuing Art

Two weeks ago, we'd have been headed out to the Everglades with a group of church to take pictures and enjoy the natural vistas.  This shot was my favorite from the day:

When I took it, I thought that I'd try to transform it into a drawing.  But so far, my attempts haven't gone as planned.  Here's my first attempt:

After I drew (in blue) the swirls and trunk that I thought might represent the tree at the bottom of the photograph, I realized I didn't have enough room for the red and green "wings" at the top, so I just let my brain go in whatever direction it wanted.

Here's my second attempt:

I'm a bit happier with it, although I still didn't leave myself enough room, either for the trunks on either side of the knobbier tree in the photo or for the wings at the top.  But I carried on anyway. 

I tried to make swirls that would create the hidden face that I saw at the top of that knob.  I decided to fill in the white space on either side of the tree with the greens and browns that I saw in the Everglades.

It's not at all what I had in mind when I first started sketching, but if I don't think about what I intended, I'm pleased with it.

What's even more intriguing to me is how different the multiple attempts are--and how they preserve my memories of that day.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Mandolin Evenings

In later months and years, when I think back about these particular days, I hope I will remember this:

I hope that I keep picking up the mandolin, so that the above picture represents what we've continued to do.

A few weeks ago, we took our mandolins out of their cases, as we do every half year or so.  I was immediately frustrated and in despair about how much I had forgotten.  I dug the teach yourself mandolin book out of the bookcase to try to remember which note corresponds to which hand position.

At the end of our session, I suggested leaving the mandolins out on the guitar stands so that we'd pick them up and practice more.  My spouse agreed and added this warning:  "But if we don't practice, they go back in their cases."

So far, it's worked.  Every few days, we've picked up the mandolins and plucked out a tune.  Currently, we're working on "The Rose"; in the picture above, that's the music that we were writing on the staff.  I am thrilled that in just a few weeks of a bit of practicing here and there, I've gone from someone who can't remember anything about how the notes on the page correspond to the instrument to someone who can play a song that's recognizable.

I'm intrigued by how I might apply these lessons to other aspects of creativity.  If I only have a few minutes here and there, how might I make the most of these minutes?

I think of my grad school friend who spent the summer working as an assistant for James Dickey.  He had typewriters throughout the house so that he could be ready to go whenever inspiration struck him.

On Friday night, when the picture was taken, we watched cooking shows on PBS and practiced our mandolins, during the commercials.  PBS claims to be commercial-free, but it really just bundles its commercials to come at the end of the show--lots of time to practice. 

On Saturday, we did something similar with commercial TV--I prefer the sustained practice time that we had on Friday.

As a result of these small snippets of practice, I can now play several songs with very few goofs.   I am getting to the point where I don't need to think so much about which note goes with which fingers.

Maybe if we keep going, I'll learn how to tune the mandolin too!

Saturday, June 4, 2016

French Flooding Prompts Travel Memories

This morning, I'm thinking of the flooding in Texas and Paris, and I've been working on a poem that will contain this line:  "The rain comes for us all."

On Thursday night, I was talking with my parents on the phone and the subject of the Paris floods came up--and then we reminisced about our trip to France.  It's hard to believe how long ago that was.

We took the trip in the summer of 2005 (mid June to early July)--I joined my parents as part of their longer trip through France.  My mother had made arrangements for us to stay at a gite in the northwest part of the country, in Alsace-Lorraine.  We would spend time in and around Paris on either end of the trip.

I landed in Paris, and we had agreed we would meet at the car rental area--little did we know that there were several of those in the airport.  I waited for over an hour, and then I made my way to the other rental area--and I happened to pass my parents, as they, too, were walking to the other area.  I have always felt profoundly grateful, since I have no idea how we'd have found each other.  We had no cellphones and very little ability to speak the language.

When I think of that trip, I remember lots of driving, but not in a bad way. It was a treat to see the small villages and beautiful country side.   Every other day, we'd pick a village and go there to explore.  In between, we explored places closer to the gite where we stayed.  We stopped at many a WWI cemetery, a sobering reminder that the peaceful vistas haven't always been so.  I remember lots of varieties of onion pie, cheap and delicious wine in the grocery stores, and lovely breads and cheeses.  I remember all the cathedrals.

I was born on an Air Force base in France, and one of the purposes of the trip was to go back to those places.  I'm so glad we could make that trip together, because I'd have likely never found those places on my own.  We found the base, now a French base.  We found the small village where my parents lived, and then we found the house.  My mom remembers the landlady saving the water that came from the washing machine and reusing it.  The landlady told my parents stories from World War II, hiding in the fields and forests that surrounded the village when the Germans came.

When I heard about the current floods and about the Louvre closing yesterday so that works of art could be taken to upper floors, I thought about the only time I've been to that museum.  On our last day in the country, we decided to go to the Louvre because it was open for late afternoon/early evening hours.  We expected it to be packed, the way it had been when my parents were there 2 weeks earlier.  Instead, it was completely deserted--I had the Mona Lisa all to myself.

On that last day, we walked across a wide swath of Paris, which was fun at first, and exhausting by the end of the night.  I was amazed at the traffic, so many cars packed onto such tiny streets.  We ate our dinner on the sidewalk at a café--it was everything I had ever imagined, and yet not terribly different from every other café in every other city.

I am grateful to have taken that trip, for so many reasons, chief among them that all three of us were in good physical shape, and in later years, we can't be assured of taking that trip again.  It was wonderful to hear my parents talk at great length about those early years of their marriage.

When I am a little old lady, that trip will be one of the highlights of my life that I hope my brain returns to again and again.

Friday, June 3, 2016

Erasing into Wholeness

This morning, I was struck by Dave Bonta's poem, "Trump."  But it's not just any poem.  For years now, Bonta has been erasing his way through the diary of Samuel Pepys and sharing each poem on his website Via Negativa.  He uses each diary entry, even the boring ones.

At first, I thought that I preferred Bonta's original poems, but then I came to be fascinated by his process.  If you go to the site, you'll see that he leaves the journal entry in gray print, and in black, you can see the words that become his poem.  Some days he puts together parts of words to make new words.  For more on his process, see this post.

In "Trump," I was intrigued by the way that this diary from over 400 years ago can be made into poems that address the issues of our current day.  And I was also intrigued by the way that the poem makes its point subtly, in a world where so much writing about politics shimmers/explodes with rage.  And of course, I am aware of the other meanings of the word "trump," which might mean that this poem isn't about the person at all.

I have tried an erasure poem of my own (see this post), but honestly, I haven't played with this technique much.  When I did my erasure poem, I worked from the beginnings of both poems. 

If I played with this form again, I'd follow Dave's advice from an August Facebook post:  "I realized last night as I was working on my erasure poem for the day that I do have one piece of advice for anyone interested in trying this most recondite of forms: Start at the end. Find your last or next-to-last words, and move backwards from there. That’s the way I do it at least 75 percent of the time."

In this advice, I recognize the wisdom that I give my students about revising and proofreading their essays:  go to the end of your essay, and read from the last word to the first.  Read it out loud.  That way, you can trick your brain into seeing what's actually there, not what you thought you wrote.

I suspect the same principle would be at work when one creates an erasure poem by working from the end back to the beginning--you look at the words as they are, with their full potential, not the words as the original source has them put together.

I've been looking for ways to rejuvenate my writing, to energize me.  Let me remember that I want to play with the erasure approach; it might be a better use of free moments in the day than some of my usual time wasters.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Into the Brambles with Jane Austen

I have just finished a breakfast of leftover shortcakes heated and spread with ginger preserves.  Ginger preserves always remind me of the first time we bought a jar, back in 1997, at the Fresh Market in Columbia, South Carolina.  We bought a jar of ginger preserves and a jar of brambleberry preserves, both imported from England.

Brambleberry sounds so much better than blackberry.  And my shortcakes were really a form of scone, which sounds so much better than shortcake or biscuit.

My Brit Lit English major roots are showing, aren't they?

I am reading Jane Austen's Sense and Sensibility--it feels so familiar because of the movie, but I haven't read the whole thing before.  My friend in this reading project and I talked yesterday; I was surprised by how I viewed Marianne's behavior, going off unchaperoned with a man she barely knew, as scandalous, even here in our more modern age.  My friend agreed.

I have always thought that modern women have an easier life than women of the 19th century, and in many ways I'm right.  I can earn my own money and use it to buy brambleberry jam or whatever else I like.  But in many ways, our need for a career has become very similar to the need for a husband in Jane Austen's day--we're all in need of financial support, and just because we have more options, it doesn't mean we've found paradise.

I've been struck lately by how many people I know are dreaming of a different way to make a living, and these are people from a wide range of careers.  I hear similar themes:  we could live above a small store, we could bake bread in the morning, we could host musical jam sessions in the store, we could offer these kinds of creative opportunities, we could make a life this way.

In reading Sense and Sensibility, I'm struck by how much of the novel revolves around economics, which was every bit the straightjacket then that it is now--but then, it was a different straightjacket, bound up with family in ways that few of our personal economics are now.  Would I have seen this when I was younger?  Probably not.

Austen found her way into my writing this morning, as I am still figuring out the best way to end my story that begins with the college administrator watching Prince videos the day after his death.  I wrote this bit:  "As we spent the next half hour discussing recipes and the value of butter and how to make dishes have a higher nutrition content, I thought back to the nineteenth century writers I so loved. I thought of their domestic scenes and the role that those scenes played in their writing. I wondered how a Jane Austen of our day would interpret this scene in my kitchen. My daughter didn’t have the same pressing need to marry, but what did she need in this modern age?"

Now I wait for the next bit--will it get me to the close of this story or just another twist?

As I write, I am listening to this interview with Paul Simon, one of my first artistic loves.  He analyzes a song from the album that will be released tomorrow and talks about his creative process--fascinating.  He talks about the importance of first lines. 

He also talks about the possibility that this album may be his last:  ""I really wonder what would happen to my creative impulses, which seem to come on a regular basis; every three, four years they manifest themselves. And by habit, they manifest themselves as songs. But this is really the decision of a 13-year old. Me, who said, at 13, 'No, I want to write songs.' So I'm doing it 60 years later. This 13-year old is still telling me what to do. But I wonder what happens if I simply prohibit myself from expressing whatever the creative urge is, if I do not allow that to happen in song or music form. I'm sort of willing to give it a year or so. I think maybe in the beginning it'll be frustrating and annoying and I'll want to go back to the other way. But if I stay with the rules maybe I'll discover some other outlet."

I think of Jane Austen and Sense and Sensibility, her first novel, written first as an epistolary novel, and then revised.  She wrote it when she was 17--amazing!  This morning, I did a bit of Wikipedia reading on this work and her life.  I never knew that she was working on several novels at the same time, and I had forgotten that her family took substantial financial risk to see her published--and it paid off, although she's become much more popular after her death than she was during her life.

Here I am, not at the early stage of Jane Austen and not at the closer to the end stage of Paul Simon--I hope that I am smack in the middle of my creative life.  But let me not get bogged down in the despair of what I have not done, at the terror that I might not live long enough to fulfill my potential.  I have several more weeks of reduced teaching duties and the idea for a story that will fit with my Activists at Age 50 collection--I've had the idea for a long time, and this morning I figured out how it fits with the new collection.

Stay tuned!

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

The Start of Hurricane Season

The first day of June, the start of hurricane season--it's a hurricane season which is already strange, since we had our first named storm in January!  Several days ago, tropical storm Bonnie brought so much rain that the southbound lanes of Interstate 95 were shut down on a holiday week-end.

I have gotten a bit lazy, I confess.  I should test our hurricane shutters--I've never tried them all to be sure that they actually shut.  It would be better to find this out now than when a storm is a day away.

We almost always have enough food for a week or two, although the meals at the end of the second week would be very strange.  We don't have as much storage space in this house as we had in our old house, so I don't have the stockpiles I once did.

I have not backed up as much of our paperwork as I always mean to have stored electronically.  I suspect this will be my ongoing goal as I age.

Do we have fresh batteries?  What devices need batteries?

Yes, clearly I am not ready for a storm--or any catastrophe.  The past few years have showed us that even people who live away from coastlines can be affected by catastrophe.

Until recently, most of us assumed that we lived in a world with stable, predictable weather patterns.  Surely no one believes that anymore.  Until recently, we assumed that our government could save us from anything that might go wrong.  Believe that at your peril.  At least realize that it might take awhile for your government to ride in to the rescue.  Could you eat in the meantime?

It's time to return to the idea of self-reliance.  Maybe you don't want to go as far as buying a generator or canning your own food.  Maybe you don't want a weapon to call your own.  But now is a good time to take stock:  count your supplies, take some pictures of your valuables, put those pictures with your insurance and other important paperwork.  You do know where those important papers are, don't you?  You could grab them at a minute's notice, if you had to evacuate?

And while we're at it, we should back up important papers and important pictures.  If you can't afford cloud computing, you can e-mail files to yourself.  Or put it all on a data stick and ask an out of town person you trust to hang on to it.  That way, even if you don't have access to your hard drive for whatever reason, you've got your important stuff.

Maybe I'll read Thoreau today.  Maybe I'll read Laura Ingalls Wilder and think about Pa, who could seemingly build a cabin in a week-end.  Self-reliance was once a proud tradition in the U.S.  It's time to return to it.

Or maybe I'll read some poems inspired by recent hurricanes.  Patricia Smith's Blood Dazzler does amazing things, an astonishing collection of poems that deal with Hurricane Katrina. I love the way that Katrina comes to life. I love that a dog makes its way through these poems. I love the multitude of voices, so many inanimate things brought to life (a poem in the voice of the Superdome--what a cool idea!). I love the mix of formalist poetry with more free form verse and the influence of jazz and blues music. An amazing book.

In Colosseum, Katie Ford also does amazing things. She, too, writes poems of Hurricane Katrina. But she also looks back to the ancient world, with poems that ponder great civilizations buried under the sands of time. What is the nature of catastrophe? What can be saved? What will be lost?
My own poetry writing has not been coming naturally--I need to read more poetry to be reminded of what can be done.  Let me do some of that today, so that I'm ready to write tomorrow.  I'm trying to get back to my habit of writing a poem on both Tuesday and Thursday.