Sunday, July 31, 2016

Do I Dare to Eat a Peach?

It's the time of summer when I start thinking of my grandmother's cooking, especially her peach cobbler.  I can make peach cobbler on my own, of course--the way I like it, with more pastry and a better quality ice cream.  But I'm not crazy about getting the peaches off the stone.

Still, yesterday I was in the Fresh Market, and I thought, let me get some peaches.  I saw the boxes that the peaches were in--they were from a farm in South Carolina, which I thought was a good sign.

In the brief moment before I picked up a peach, I thought about those South Carolina peach farms, the gnarled trees so bare in the winter, full of blooms in the spring, heavy with fruit in the summer.  I thought of road side stands, where I first learned the difference between a peck and a bushel.

And then I picked up the peach to bring it to my nose.  Oh dear.  What a hard rock of a peach.  Sadness.

So, there will be no peach cobbler at my house this week-end.  I am baking a cinnamon pecan coffee cake to welcome the new librarian tomorrow.  That smell which is filling the house carries a different set of memories--Saturday mornings, especially with guests who arrived for the week-end.  My mother's recipe calls for a pound of butter and 2 cups of sour cream.  I'm making a version with just 2 sticks of butter and 1 cup of sour cream--same 9 x 13 inch pan, but none of us needs all that fat.

It is not the same towering denseness, but it is delicious nonetheless.

Friday, July 29, 2016

Friday Fragments

--It's been a good week, but I haven't slept as well as I do some weeks.  My spouse has been watching the Democratic National Convention, which has interrupted the early parts of my sleep, as I would wake to vigorous cheers and such.

--I did not stay awake to watch Hillary Clinton's speech, but I woke up occasionally.  I liked her approach, the we are in this together, and we can be brave, and we will do this.  Well done!

--I had tea with one of my writer colleague friends yesterday.  She asked if I was sending out my memoir to agents or publishers.  We agreed that August isn't the best time to do this.  So I'll wait until after Labor Day.  

--This week, I did come up with a pivotal plot point for the short story I'm writing, one of 3 that I'm carrying in my head.  Hurrah.

--On Wednesday, the head of Culinary brought student-baked biscotti to our meeting.  They were fabulous, with hazelnuts.  Oddly, no one else wanted any, so I had biscotti on Wednesday and biscotti yesterday.  It took me back to the mid 90's, when I was doing a lot with low-fat cooking to try to control my weight.  I would make biscotti because they were so tasty and so low in fat--but what a chore, with the slicing and the extra baking. 

--Still, maybe I'll make some biscotti this week-end, just for old-time's sake.  I wonder if I still have those recipes; there's probably one in the Moosewood cookbook that was dedicated to low-fat cooking.

--I had a great walk to the beach with a neighborhood friend yesterday.  What a treat to walk and talk.

--Our campus pastor from decades ago was in town and dropped by to see my spouse.  It was a great visit for him.  It's amazing to think that those relationships formed long ago are still strong.

--We have set up our various online energy meters.  Yesterday our solar panels generated 26.7 kilowatt hours.  Sadly, we have been averaging a use of 40-45 kwh a day.  We do have room for more panels, but we will wait to see what our non-peak month energy use looks like.

--It's also interesting to see how our energy use has changed now that we have no one living in the backyard cottage.  We still have to run the air, and we've kept the fridge plugged in and running.  But I think that we're saving $40 by having the cottage vacant--no one taking showers or using the computer or cooking.

--I'm guessing that computers use far more electricity than I once thought.  But I know that the big energy hog is the AC.

--I have spent the week reading Underground Airlines, by Ben H. Winters.  It's a book that envisions an alternate history, one where the Civil War didn't happen, where 4 states (NC and SC are combined into Carolina) still have hard-core slavery--it's a slavery that looks a lot like the lives of 3rd world garment workers in our current history.  It's a great book, and I wish I had time to read it in one fell swoop.  Maybe this week-end . . .

Thursday, July 28, 2016

The Job Hunting Process from the Other Side of the Desk

I've been part of many conversations about who gets the job and why.  Having just hired 8 adjunct faculty for our July start, I have some perspective on this subject.

A caveat:  my school doesn't use the kind of computer software that screens applications based on key words.  I get every application--and for this hiring season, I've actually looked at all of them.

But for two positions, I didn't really need applications, although I had them.  I wrote to people who had been in touch with me.  One had applied for a job I thought I would have last year, but then didn't.  She stayed in touch, writing to me every other month or so, just to see if I thought I might have other openings.  She wasn't annoying--she wrote just frequently enough to keep her name fresh in my mind, but not so often that I worried about her mental health.

Similarly, another candidate has been keeping in touch with me, and so when I needed a faculty member at the very last minute, I had his materials on file.

It's also a matter of luck and timing, of course.  I had specific classes that were already full of students--and happily, the people who had been staying in touch had those same openings in their schedules.  In the words of Jane Kenyon, it could have been otherwise.

As we were finishing the hiring process, one of the candidates thanked me for advice I had given him when he first moved down.  He had written to me, by e-mail, and I wrote back to say that while I didn't have any positions, that he should consider other schools, and then I suggested some possibilities.

He said, "You told me to cast my net wide.  I just loved how you said that."

I have no memory of that interchange, although I don't doubt that it happened.  It's what I would want someone to do for me, and so if I get an e-mail written to me directly, I will respond.  And if I get follow-up e-mails through the years, I will keep them in a file marked "Potential New Hires."

And perhaps, years later, an adjunct job will come from that interchange.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Our First Female Presidential Candidate--Democratic Party Edition

Let us mark this moment in history:  we have seen the Democratic party choose Hillary Clinton as their candidate.  She's been the presumptive nominee for some time, but now it's official.

It's been a long time coming.  When I cast my vote for Mondale and Ferraro back in 1984, 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.

It's been a remarkable time to be alive--casting votes for black presidents, casting votes as I expect to do for a female president, going to state-sanctioned marriages of same-sex couples, and yes, I know how much this list marks me as a liberal.  If wanting everyone to have the same rights and opportunities, regardless of race, gender, sexual preference--well then, yes, I'm a liberal.

But I'm one of those rare liberals, a liberal with conservative relatives and friends, with whom I've had serious conversations.  I understand how quickly these changes have come and how unsettling it is to so many people, especially to people who have not been working towards these changes, people who did not have these changes even on their radar screens.

I know that in times like these, the backlash can be unexpected and ferocious, taking shapes we wouldn't have forecast.  I will hope for the best, while also trying to defuse the potential flashpoints.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Summer Shifts

I have been feeling oddly sad, like summer is over, even though it's only late July.  I had a great 4 day week-end over the 4th of July, and then life got hectic, with Vacation Bible School and the start of Summer quarter and Summer classes at the two schools where I teach online.

Plus we've had tree removal and trimming and cottage repair, and the pool is a mess because of those activities.

I will likely remember this summer as the summer of the back spasms.  I've had back issues of varying degrees for much of the summer.

I am grateful that the pain diminishes throughout the day.  I am grateful that, except for one day's exception, when I reach the wrong way and my back seizes, it lets go fairly quickly.

Still, I have been finding it hard to find a comfortable way to sit at my desk in the morning--this cuts down on my fiction writing time, since it's hard to reach for the keyboard of my laptop.

I've been carrying some stories with me for weeks now, but it's too physically painful to write them.  I hope they're still waiting for me when I have both time and suppleness to reach them.

But all is not sadness and pain; last night reminded me that summer's joys are still with us.  One of our friends returned from a midwestern state with fresh veggies for us.  So, last night we had grilled corn, grilled green beans, and a cucumber tomato salad to go with our steak--and the steak was not the high point of the meal.

Let me be on the lookout for ways to enjoy the bounties of summer--there is still time!

Monday, July 25, 2016

Changes in the Life of a College English Teacher

I teach online at 2 schools; at one of them, we receive the course shell with all the assignments already created.  We have no curriculum creation to do.

If I was 20 years younger, this would be a problem for me.  I would want to create the class from scratch.

Now that I am older, I am grateful for someone else having already done much of the work.  Plus, it's interesting to see what other people create.

Recently the English Composition class was completely revamped.  Now, in addition to traditional papers, students have the option to create a Powerpoint and a shorter essay.  They have a choice of topics, one of which could lead to more creative writing (write a paper from the perspective of an inanimate object).

I have just graded their first papers, and they were much better than the old assignment, which had students argue for a change in a law.  Those papers were perfectly fine, but they were fairly standard.

This new assignment led students to interesting places and interesting insights about the power of objects in our lives.  I realize that they seemed fresh because I haven't spent several years reading about the importance of the cell phone.  In two years, these topics may weary me as much as the old one had begun to.

But for now, it's interesting to see the new course--and to think about how much has changed.  Allow them to do a Powerpoint with a shorter paper?  I remember a time when people would have thought of that as taking short cuts or doing things in the classroom because we didn't want to be strict and enforce the rules.  I have had many colleagues who would have been horrified at the idea of people writing from the perspective of a chair or a cell phone.

And yet, it works.  One thing that many of my colleagues lose sight of:  we are not training future English graduate students.  Most of our students, in most of our colleges, are going to have to do very little traditional writing.

But they will have to think in new ways, ways we can't even formulate yet.  They will have to be creative.

Another marker that life has changed:  the newest MLA guidelines for documentation.  My colleagues at my onground school have been discussing this for the past 6 weeks.  Once, the MLA was firm and strict about the way that documentation must be done.  Now, it's much more friendly.

We've seen significant changes in the 27 years since I began teaching.  What will the next 27 years bring?

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Poetry Sunday: "Morning in America: 1984"

Yesterday I wrote a post on my theology blog about Tim Kaine's social justice formation in Honduras took me back to my own social justice formation days in college.  After one argument about the USSSR, my father said, "Have you ever read The Communist Manifesto?  You should read it and find out what the Soviets really have in mind."

And so I did.  I bought my very own copy which felt very transgressive and radical.  The content of that book, however, did not seem so very radical.  And it didn't have a blueprint for the Soviet takeover of the world.

In those days, my father and I could not have foreseen the imminent collapse of the Soviet Union.  We also would not have forecast that a later political candidate, Donald Trump, would have so many connections to the current leader of Russia.

Decades later, I wrote a poem about those days.  It first appeared in The Julia Mango and in my chapbook, I Stand Here Shredding Documents:

Morning in America: 1984

I read The Communist Manifesto on the DC Metro,
surrounded by commuters going to their downtown jobs
and tourists in town to see their government in action.

I wear sensible shoes and my hair in a braid.
I work in a tough part of town, that summer
that DC has the nation’s highest murder rate.

That season is also the one when the social
service agency runs out of resources. My summer job:
to answer the phone, to tell the downtrodden there is no money.

Between calls, I return to Marx. I picture
him, prowling the streets of Europe, winding up in the British
Museum, where he could write and stay warm.

I write my own poems. I imagine they will change
the world, that all I must do to rid the planet of injustice
is to point out the inequities, nothing to lose but our chains.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Fear and Loathing at the Republican National Convention

I am no Hunter S. Thompson, nor was meant to be.

I have found myself being increasingly cautious writing about politics, on this blog and on other social media.  In part, it's because I don't want to attract the vitriol that any political post might pull to me.  But in part, it's because I'm not as passionate about politics in general as I used to be.  There are aspects of politics that I am happy to discuss for hours--but I'm not willing to fight with people.

The older I get, the more I see the wisdom of my grandparents' generations who taught us not to talk about politics, religion, or money at the dinner table--or worse, with people you don't really know.

But I also want to record some of the events of history and my reactions to them.  So if you scroll back through this blog, you'll see me react here and there.  Thus, I want to record my reactions to the RNC this past week.

I didn't watch it at all, but I heard clips every morning on NPR.  And driving home on Wednesday night, I listened to some of the speeches--and I felt a growing chill, particularly with the crowd chanting "Lock her up."  I felt a fear for my personal safety, not our collective safety--that mob mentality frightens me.

When I got home, my spouse and I discussed fear and past administrations.  My spouse said that he felt most afraid with Reagan as president.  I felt a fear for the future of civilization with Ronald Reagan--he was much too cavalier about nuclear weapons.

I felt a different kind of fear with the George W. Bush administration.  As I checked out library books or made purchases, I thought about the legislation (primarily the USA Patriot act) that would allow government agencies to know what I was reading and buying.  It seems quaint, now, doesn't it, to worry about privacy in this way?  I am not as worried now, although I imagine that many agencies can get much more information about me.  I assume that anyone who goes searching will be overwhelmed by information.

Or maybe I'm less afraid now because I realize how boring I am.  I check armloads of cookbooks out of the library--and not the Anarchist Cookbook variety.  I am writing about activists much like myself:  once inspired to change the world, now in our 50's, worn out because of these attempts to make lasting social change.

During the Clinton years, when I first began to see glimmers of the new face of terrorism, I didn't feel fear, not the way I feel these days for my personal safety, should Trump be elected or should I ever be foolish enough to go to a Trump rally.  But I did sense the passing of an American age; I remember going to see Apollo 13 and thinking about how we were no longer space pioneers and feeling sad.

But I don't want my political leaders to believe that the U.S. should pull back from its leadership role across the globe.  I don't want my political leaders to believe that we can ignore an attack on a NATO country.  I am deeply uncomfortable with the Trump leadership's Russia connections.

How life cycles around in ironic ways.  My dad and I used to argue about the USSR during the Reagan era.  My dad, who had deeper wisdom, some of it classified, than I did argued that we couldn't trust the USSR.  I admired that Communist ideal of providing for all citizens.  I said, "They may not have freedom of religion but at least they are free from hunger."  There were plenty of hungry citizens in the USSR, but I didn't know that then.

My politics are much more nuanced now.  I am so glad that I don't have a snotty college kid to annoy me the way I must have annoyed the adults in my life when I was at my most idealistic.

I will be interested to see how the Democratic National Convention will proceed next week.  I like that both Hillary Clinton and Tim Kaine have done social justice work.  I hope the tone of next week's politics will call us to our better selves.  This week's politics made me want to renew my passport and flee.

Friday, July 22, 2016

All Our Modern Demons

Today is the feast day of Mary Magdalene.  You might be saying, “Mary Magdalene? Wasn’t she possessed by demons? Wasn’t she a prostitute? Why would Christ appear to her anyway? Why does she get a feast day?”

There have been many moves throughout church history to strip Mary Magdalene of her importance. Many church teachings portray her as a prostitute, as mentally ill, or both. But I don't usually trust the ancient writers when it comes to their descriptions of emotional or sexual states, especially not when it comes to females. I can see that the ancient church had a vested interest in diminishing Mary Magdalene of her story and her power.

Modern folks in industrialized nations have a tendency to dismiss any story that's older than 15 minutes, but I find my brain returning to Mary Magdalene's story again and again.  What happens once her time with Jesus is over?  I suspect that the earliest followers weren't quite as committed to including women and other outcasts as Jesus was.

My younger self would have seen Mary Magdalene as healed--that story, over and done.  My older self knows that it's never that easy. I wonder if she missed the demons, once Jesus cleaned them out of her. As anyone who has wrestled with modern demons knows, our demons are comfortable, which is why it’s often hard to let them go. I imagine Mary Magdalene, in the quiet of the night, having trouble sleeping, missing the hiss of the demon who told her she wasn’t good enough.

It’s strange company, the demons that we keep inside us, but it’s often better than the loneliness of no company.

I think of Mary Magdalene, as I imagine her: always ready to let go of the annoying demon of feminine expectations, but who wishes she could summon back the demon of compulsiveness. I imagine her finding it hard to get anything done without that devil driving her ever onward.

Or maybe that demon never really went far away.  She's the first one to see the risen Jesus because something drives her to that garden--she has obligations to the dead body, and she must get to them.  I understand the ancient customs surrounding the care of dead bodies, and I understand the laws regarding dead bodies and the Sabbath. But in one Gospel, it’s only Mary who is so deeply concerned about the body of Jesus. What drives her to the tomb?

In Mary’s reaction to the man she assumes is the gardener, I recognize my own demon of anxiety. I watch her ask a perfect stranger about the body of Jesus. I watch her throw all caution and decorum away, so desperate is she to complete this task, as if completing the task will restore the world to right order.

Many of us suffer in the grip of these demons of anxiety, these beliefs that somehow, through our manic quest for control, we can keep the world from spinning into chaos. We might argue for the benefits of medication, and indeed, if it’s a matter of brain chemicals that are out of balance, we would be right.

But all too often, something else is at the root of our modern possession. Maybe we haven’t stopped to grieve our losses, as Mary needs to do in the garden. Maybe it’s the fear of loss that is coming to all our lives. Maybe it’s that insistent hiss from both inside and out that says that we will never be enough: good enough, clean enough, accomplished enough, nice enough, attractive enough, loved enough.
I know that some will be repelled by the religious nature of this story, of this post.  And yet, if we strip the story of its religious elements, it continues to be relevant.

Who among us has not had moments (or days or weeks or months) of feeling driven by forces we don't understand?  Who has a fully quiet mind?

I will always wonder how much the demons of anxiety and fear drive us to get more done than we would have without them.  Or if we could drive them out, if we could have a fully quiet mind, would we do more?

And if the answer to that last question is yes, we would do more, what is the best way to quiet those demons?

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Affirming Life in the Face of Chaos

Last night, as I drove home into the setting sun, I listened to a bit of coverage of the Republican National Convention on the radio.  I felt bleak after hearing those chants of "Lock her up." 

Or did I feel bleak for another reason?  I spent parts of the day looking for good quotes for the frontispiece of my chapbook--yes, the production schedule is at least 8 weeks behind.  So I did some reading in recent climate science books, and I found some good quotes, but man, that reading is bleak.

So this morning, I resolved to do some life-affirming activities.

I've been trying to cook a pot of black beans for several days now--they are the world's most recalcitrant black beans, so resistant to heat and softening.  I am resisting the urge to make a metaphor out of these black beans.

I've been wrestling with two poems this morning--it's been a more successful experience than the one on Tuesday.  I'm still not back to my best poet self, where the words flow and the images surprise and delight me.  But I didn't feel as creaky this morning.

I wish I had more time this morning.  I want to bake bread.  I want to write a bit more.  But my leisurely morning is coming to an end, and I must get these chapbook galleys in the mail.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Solar Project Installation Done!

Yesterday, our solar panel installation project came to a close.  FPL, our electric company, came to install the reverse meter, we flipped the switch, and voila:  our house now captures solar power to generate electricity.

We are not off the grid.  Florida law prohibits that, and we don't have enough room to store the equipment and batteries we would need to be off the grid.  Should there be a huge storm that blows away our solar panels, we'll want to be on the grid--although if it's that big a storm, it might be awhile before we have electric service again--those solar panels are securely attached to the roof.

We've wanted to do more with solar power for years now.  At the end of 2015, we finally made the plunge.  We had some money saved up to invest in the house, and the time seemed right, with a renewable energy tax credit that might disappear, depending on the outcome of a 2016 elections.

We didn't think it would take the 7 months that it has taken to get the project finished.  My spouse thought we'd be done by February.  I knew that the permitting and inspecting process with the city could add more time to the project, so I thought we'd be done by April.  That process took even longer than I thought it would.

I didn't realize how much paperwork we'd need to file with FPL, and I worried about the ways it could go wrong.  For example, the paperwork had two different addresses telling me where to mail it back.  I expected it to get lost and to have to do it again.  I worried that they might reject us outright.  Happily, those fears were not realized.

This process has been more stressful for my spouse than for me--he's been the one at home during the noisy process of attaching the panels to the roof.  He's been the one waiting for various inspectors.

And now we will see what happens.  We tried to install exactly as many solar panels as we need to generate the amount of electricity that we will use.  If they generate more power than we use, at the end of the year, FPL will send us a check. They will buy the "extra" electricity we generate at about half of what they would sell per Kilowat hour to us.  So, in many ways, it doesn't pay to have more panels, since we have to pay for each panel and its installation, and the return on investment is a much more long term one.  And there's only so much room on our roof.

We've been fans of solar power for decades--really, for our whole lives.  It's cool to live in this time when homeowners can do their small part to help generate renewable energy--oil is cheap now, but it won't always be.  And I feel fortunate to have sold our old house 3 years ago when we moved to this one, so we had the money to make the investment.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Poetry Processes and the Utile

I tried to write poems this morning, but I feel sluggish.  I heard a news story about the Baton Rouge shooter driving from Dallas to Baton Rouge, and I thought about old slave routes from the upper South to the Mississippi delta, but that poem hasn't gelled.

I also tried to write the poem I conceived last week when I was swimming:  God as SCUBA diver, our world as the undersea landscape where divers want to stay, but they cannot.

But by then I was frustrated, and I put my notebook away.  I'll try again later this week.  In the meantime, let me read some poetry to try to fill my brain with something other than convention coverage.

Let me also remember moments of beauty this week, especially the full moon last night.  I watched it as I swam in the pool and had a conversation with my spouse about utiles, a way that Jeremy Bentham and other Utilitarians tried to measure happiness--a unit of happiness is a utile.  Before that swim, I had a delightful late afternoon catching up with neighborhood friends over nibbles and wine.  I am a lucky woman who received many utiles yesterday.

Let me remember that my back and hip pain is receding each day, but it's worse in the morning--that makes it tougher to write in the morning.  I will stay hopeful that I can sit at my computer for longer periods of time as we get closer to the week-end.  Let me go swim to try to loosen those muscles.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Ukulele Lessons

Yesterday, our weeks of ukulele lessons culminated in a recital of sorts.  We played "This Little Light of Mine" as the first song of our VBS Sunday worship service:

I love this picture of me and the ukulele:

And now, to decide where to go from here.  Our ukuleles were on loan.  We can keep them, if we want to make a donation to the organization that runs a ukulele program for kids in the hospital.  We could buy a better uke.  We could decide to be done.

Our group will keep meeting the last Sunday of every month.  We'll eat together, then have a brief lesson, and then a sing along, where people can play other instruments (our teacher's first instrument was the upright bass, my spouse plays violin, and we have a guitar player), ukuleles, or simply sing--or listen for that matter.

My spouse gave back his ukulele.  I decided to keep mine.  I've made so much progress, and I don't want to lose that.  My ukulele will be the instrument that I play when I play chords, while I will play notes on the mandolin.

The real sadness for me is the lack of time I feel for all these activities which bring me joy, especially activities which help me build a creative life.  But these past 5 weeks of ukulele lessons have taught/reminded me of a larger life lesson:  most of us started out with no experience, and we can now pluck our way through a song.  We'll keep meeting on the last Sunday of every month, so it's been a success, since we want to keep going.  And the fact that we're going to continue meeting will help encourage me to pick up the ukulele.

I want to have wide swaths of time, but right now, I don't.  At some point I will, but that's not my life right now.

BUT--I can accomplish a lot, even with very little patches of time.  While it would be great to be able to play an hour or two every day, I can make progress playing an hour a week.  I can make progress by remembering the chords, even if I don't have a ukulele in my hand.

What I love about the ukulele is that it's small enough to carry it with me--maybe I can find other patches of time, while waiting for meetings to start, while waiting for worship service to start/wrap up, while waiting for my spouse to be done with activities.

These lessons also carry over to other aspects of my creative life.  Even if I don't have time to write the short story, I can mull it over so that I'm ready to write when I get the opportunity.  Even if I don't have time to sew or create pieces of fiber art, I can admire textures and fabrics as I see them.

I can hold fast to my identity as a creative artist, even when much of my life isn't actively affirming that.  That is the real task of every artist--and everyone who yearns to live an authentic life.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Saturday and Sunday Sadnesses, None Extreme

--I left the house on Saturday morning as the tree/landscaping guys arrived.  We are in that state mid-project where everything looks worse than it was and worse than it will look.  I've lost track of the vision, and I'm feeling like we'll never be done with this project.  There's dirt everywhere, both inside the house and outside.

--I got home in the afternoon to a scene of devastation--branches everywhere across the front yard, trees shorn of most of their canopy.  The house feels exposed, although if I was seeing it for the first time, I wouldn't see it as devastated.

--The trees are gumbo limbo trees, which will grow back very quickly.  They had been leafy and very full, which is great for shade, but could be falling-over-dreadful with a rain-heavy storm.

--We really should trim them once or twice a year--then the change wouldn't seem so extreme.

--As I worked on grading a project for my online class, I heard that Caroline See had died.  She was 82, but the news still made me sad.  I loved her book reviews in The Washington Post.  I read many of her books, but my favorite was her writing advice book, Making a Literary Life:  Advice for Writers and Other Dreamers.  I bought it at the now-defunct Borders, back when I was an adjunct, counting every penny.  I never regretted that purchase.

--Today is the last day of ukulele lessons, dinner, and sing-along at the parsonage.  I'll miss this group, even as I understand why we can't continue at this once a week pace.

--I could really use another few days to recover from last week--but let me go forward, hoping that

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Saturday Snapshots

As has been the case much of the past 2 weeks, I don't have much time to write.  Soon I'll be off to a quilt group meeting, and before that, I expect the tree guys to arrive--time to trim the gumbo limbo trees before the first storm of the season, should it come. 

So let me capture some memories from the past week:

--Will I remember this week because of Vacation Bible School?  I love the memory of a little girl playing with colored vinegar and baking soda and saying, "This is the best night of my whole life!"  Will I remember small children asking me with seriousness as they asked, "What happened to your nose?"  I hope I will remember the wonderful feeling of all of us pulling together to create a great week for kids, many of them underprivileged.

--Will I remember this week as the one where I got the first skin cancer removed from my face? 
My "surgery" was much like the removal for the biopsy.  The injection of novacaine was the worst part.  There were 3 scrapings and 3 cauterizings.  The wound doesn't look any worse than the biopsy, so I'm thinking there will be little scarring.
I was there less than 7 minutes--the set up took longer than the actual procedure.  Yes, I realize how lucky I am.
I will also remember the wonderful nap I took when I got back from the short appointment
--Will I remember this as the week I wrenched my back?  On Tuesday morning as I drove to work, I reached across the car seat without a twist or anything that would be seen as risky.  I had pain that 12 ibuprofen within the space of 4 hours didn't really touch--Tuesday was a difficult day at work.  Tuesday evening at VBS, I wondered how I would get through the week.  But although I've had pain in varying places and degrees since Tuesday, it hasn't been as severe.  Still, it was one of the first spin classes I've experienced where I just couldn't do some of it--too much pain.
--I hope I remember that it was the first week of classes, and all went smoothly.  The only glitch was an attendance reporting glitch that I anticipated, with a new faculty member who is at one of our sister schools that uses a different reporting system.  But since I anticipated it, I had him send me the list of students who were absent, so we could fix his attendance, a vital issue during week 1.
--I have hired 6 new faculty, and the first week went well.  Let me repeat that.  It may seem a small thing, but it has taken much effort on my part, and even more on theirs.  Hurrah!
--Although I haven't written much, my writer brain has been at work--I have several short stories ready to be written.
Here's hoping that this week is the one where I get that chance.

Friday, July 15, 2016

VBS and Birthdays

Yesterday a colleague at work asked me about my favorite birthday memory.  I thought for a minute, and then I offered up my trip to France with my parents to see the place where I was born, the Air Force Base where my father was stationed, and the first house where I lived. I would never have been able to find those spots without my parents, and we had a great time zipping around the French countryside near Nancy.  It was a great way to usher in my 40's--we went in June, just before my 40th birthday.

Near the end of my very long day yesterday, I had a very different birthday highlight.  I was at VBS as the evening wound to a close--I was trying to restore order to the room, since the church has a big funeral Friday morning.  I was summoned to the closing group, where a group of almost 40 kids sang the Happy Birthday song to me and to the others celebrating this week and next. They cheered, and one small boy rushed over to hug me.

It's not the traditional way to celebrate one's birthday.  Many people asked me how I would celebrate, and when I said I would go to VBS, they said, "But you have big plans this week-end, right?"  But I don't--and that's fine with me.

I can go buy an overpriced meal at a restaurant any day of the week.  I'd rather have that money go to a food bank than an expensive meal for us.  If my spouse gave me an expensive piece of jewelry, I'd be thinking about the extra money we could have salted away in the retirement account if he hadn't bought that expensive gift; I hope I would be gracious, but I'd much rather invest in the house than in a bauble. 

It's not every birthday where I'll have VBS kids singing to me after a great night with the prayer loom (for more on that part of my birthday, see this post on my theology blog).  This memory is one I'll cherish for the rest of my life.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Liberty, Equality, and Birthdays

Today we have another chance to celebrate liberty and independence:  Happy Bastille Day!  In many ways, the French Revolution, which started on July 14, 1789 was even more influential than the U.S. revolution of 1776.  I think of all the 19th century artists and writers who were inspired by this fight for freedom, all the government leaders who were terrified that their populaces might follow the lead of France.

I know all the ways that the French Revolution failed, but I'm even more aware of the ways that a failed revolution led to unimagined freedoms in later decades and centuries.

Today is also the birthday of Woody Guthrie, one of my favorite singer songwriters--not so much because I love his singing voice, but because I love his approach.  He found a guitar on the street, and began to teach himself.  He didn't have any training in music theory, but that didn't stop him; he often used melodies of popular songs, and thus, what he wrote felt familiar and singable.  Guthrie famously said that any song that needed more than 2 guitar chords was showing off.  I love this approach to song writing.  Guthrie took what could have been a major weakness and turned it into a powerful strength. I wrote an extensive post about him on his 100th birthday here.

Today is also my birthday.  How will I celebrate?  I will go to work and then go to VBS.  I am not one of those people who takes a personal leave day on my birthday.  From early years, when friends were away on vacation during my birthday, and often, when my family was too, I understood that life goes on--elementary school children with summer birthdays get no cupcakes brought to homeroom, and parties often happen later when everyone's back in town.

When I was young, I felt neglected at times, but now I prefer to celebrate in random ways.  Some years, we've gone out.  Some years, people have come to me.  Some years, I forget it is my birthday until family members remind me.  Some years, the celebration stretches on for a whole week.

Today has been good so far.  I took a pre-dawn swim, one of my current favorite activities.  I decided to come inside when I saw lightning and heard thunder--it would be bad to be found electrocuted in the pool on my birthday--or any day.  One of my work friends wants to take me to lunch, and it's been awhile since we went to one of our favorite restaurants, so that will be something to look forward to.

I'll finish the day at Vacation Bible School, an unusual birthday celebration.  But almost all of my church friends are also VBS staff, so that will be cool.

And maybe I'll luck out, and the children will be as interested in tonight's activities as I am.  We'll be having fun with yarn and beads and a prayer loom--for more on that process, see this post on my theology blog.

And in between, I'll listen to the music of Woody Guthrie on my favorite CD of covers of his songs,  Folkways:  a Vision Shared.  I'll spend some time thinking about French patriots and saying thanks for the world of liberty, equality and fraternity that they helped create.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Science Project, Art Project

Tonight at Vacation Bible School, we move back to more traditional crafts.  We've been having crafts that are equal parts science project and art.  I have been feeling some anxiety, as I have never done these sorts of arts and crafts before.

On Monday, before the kids arrived, I mixed food color into the vinegar, which I had poured into small bottles.  I spread newspaper across the tables.  When the kids arrived, each one got a tray with baking soda.

What is the purpose of this project?  We talked about how faith in Jesus gave us hope, and hope is a bubbly thing.  Then I squirted the colored vinegar on the baking soda, and we watched it fizz.  Then everyone got their own trays and got to play--part science project, part art.

The kids delighted in the colors, which they mixed.  Some kids liked a soupy mixture, while others tried to make clay.  As the colors swirled and sizzled, we talked about what it looked like:  "You created a planet!"  Some kids were careful, while others dove right in, leaving their hands deeply colored in purples and greens.  Some kids managed to get baking soda all over themselves.  I wonder what their parents thought of it all.

I had friends who cycled through the room, who reminded me that I was worried that kids would get bored.  We laughed at my lack of faith.  Most of these kids would have kept concocting "pictures" until we ran out of baking soda and colored vinegar.

On Tuesday, we mixed equal parts glue, water, and borax--we created polymers, which resembled silly putty or slime, depending on how we had measured.  We also squirted some food coloring into the goo.  We had a bit less time, which was good, since the project is only interesting to a certain extent--and thus, some children fell to the temptation of sticking goo up their nose or in the hair of the child next to them.

I confess to weariness at the powders that fly everywhere, at the mess, at the clean up.  Tonight we will make bats out of toilet paper tubes.  I am ready to return to the world of construction paper and pipe cleaners that has been a staple of elementary school arts and crafts projects.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Swimming in the Dark

With a regular work day followed by Vacation Bible School, today is the kind of day where if I was to get any exercise, I needed to get it done early.  And so, at 5:30 one morning, I went out to the pool and started swimming my laps.  I'm not usually swimming for exercise in the dark.

As I swam, I thought about how my experience was a metaphor for our creative lives.  In the following meditation, is that creative life the pool, the dark, the swimmer?  All of the above?  Something else?

As I swam, I thought about how familiar it all was and also, how different.  I was comforted by the sounds of the birds singing in the trees, and creeped out by the unfamiliar and unexpected things my fingers touched (mainly leaves, with the occasional dead bug).  In the dark, the landscape looks like I remember, yet so different at the same time.  I heard the rustle of the wind in the palm trees, and I didn't flinch, but when I heard a different scampering, my brain went to fear.

I saw pulses from lightning, likely miles away, far out in the Everglades or in the Atlantic.  I saw planes, but I was unsure of their flight patterns.  I heard the roar and the clunking into quiet of many an air conditioner.

I was held up by the water, never in danger of drowning, since the maximum depth is five feet or so.  I was in the safety of my back yard.  And yet I live in an urban part of the country, with millions of people never far away.  I never truly feel safe, but I go forward, hoping for the best.

In the dark, it's easy to feel a mystical presence.  It's easier to live with the fact that I'm not as sure of my senses, especially my sense of sight, as I am in broad daylight.  It's easier to believe that there might be more, much more, beyond what my senses tell me.

There are delights that come with the daylight, to be sure.  This morning, I saw a cardinal in a papaya tree--that, too, seemed a mystical miracle.  I was eye to eye with a baby lizard, a creature I wouldn't have seen in the dark.

Let me continue to sing the delights of all creation, both the one I see clearly, and the one in the shadows.  Let me continue to craft my own work, sometimes in the full light, sometimes in the dark, always swimming.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Ukelele Days

Today will be a long day, in a week of long days:  work in the daytime, Vacation Bible School at night.  But it will be rewarding.

Yesterday was a good day:  church in the morning, with a birthday celebration for those of us born in July--a scrumptious French Toast Casserole that was worth every syrupy/pecany calorie.  In the evening, we gathered for our 4th week of ukulele lessons.  I am amazed by how much progress we've all made in just 4 weeks.  We've gone from knowing nothing, to knowing several chords and being able to use them fairly efficiently:

In between, I got organized for the week and for the future:  the great closet reorganization continues!  I have found 3 pairs of long pants that I had forgotten that I had.  I have long pants in a range of sizes and not one fits quite right.  But the 3 pants that I discovered are bigger and loser, and that's a pleasant surprise.

Now to throw away the 2 pairs with broken zippers.  Why do I keep these things?

If my spouse was writing, he'd bring in a line from Lonesome Dove:  "Deets never was one to give up on a garment."  I do repair work to a much greater extent than most people--in part because it's so hard to find pants that fit in a fabric that I like.

I also took some time to do some reading; I finished Into the Forest.  Weeks ago I heard an interview with Ellen Page, who stars in the film adaptation of the book, and it sounded like a must-read.  It was an oddly compelling, yet quiet, apocalyptic novel:  lyrical, with a surprise ending that neatly answered my question:  "How is the author going to get out of this plot?"

I suspect that much of my week will be like yesterday:  very full, but hopefully with some moments of down time that keep me going, a week full of work, but work done with friends.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Scattered Sunday

I am feeling a bit scattered this morning.  Let me collect my scattered thoughts, in no particular order:

--As I listen to news of vigils and protests in the wake of last week's violence, I wonder if we should be planning to do more for students who might have questions, anger, and pain.  I have been so focused on first week basics (are the classes staffed?  do all of my faculty members, so many of them brand new, know what they need to know?  do I need to switch any rooms?  we've lost 18 colleagues since the last time we had classes on campus--what are the implications?), that I haven't really thought about the larger picture.

--This week is not only the first week of classes, but I'll leave work each day and go to Vacation Bible School each night to be the Arts and Crafts director.  I am exhausted just thinking about it.

--We are trying new crafts--"cave slime" made from glue and borax and "soda-lightful bubbles" with trays of baking soda and vinegar.  I am anxious about how it will all work.  I have a back up plan--watercolor paints.  I usually try new projects, but they're usually activities that I've done with adults, and so my anxiety is about how kids will react--not about my inability to visualize the process or my ability to visualize disasters.

--Yesterday I wrote a new poem with an unsure ending (meaning, am I done?  can I create something better?), and I took a blog post and turned it into a poem.  I'm also inching towards being able to write a short story--I've had elements in my brain, but no understanding of a story arc--yesterday, the story arc began to be visible to me.  I will let it percolate for another week, since this is not a great week to start writing.

--I can't remember what I wore to church last week.  Am I wearing the same outfit week after week?  If so, would anyone care?  And if I only wear the same thing week after week, why have all these clothes?  Oh, right, I need something to wear to work.

--I've been thinking of reorganizing my closet.  I had to clear out my closet so that the solar guy could have attic access to blow insulation.  As I've been looking at the closet, I've been thinking about moving lesser-used items to a different spot.

--Why keep some of these things at all?  I have a few pairs of shorts that I'm unlikely to ever wear again--but they are the last clothing items made by my grandmother--it's hard to throw them away.  And yes, I could take a picture--but there's something about holding the item--even if I don't hold them often.

--I will drink a protein shake this morning.  I need to remember that a hit of protein throughout the day will help me stay stable and focused.

--"Everything that is interesting is 90 percent boring."--from an interview with Elizabeth Gilbert on this week's episode of On Being.  She goes on to say, "And then there's the moment where you realize, 'Oh, my God, this is a spark of creation that I'm working with, and this is magic, and this is life seen through new eyes.' And creativity is the same, where 90 percent of the work is quite tedious. And if you can stick through those parts, not rush through the experiences of life that have the most possibility of transforming you, but to stay with it until the moment of transformation comes, and then through that to the other side, then very interesting things will start to happen within very boring frameworks."

--Gilbert also says this about the creative process, or about anything that's important to us: "And I think motion is a big piece of it. I've learned to give myself all the credit in the world simply for being in motion. Did you do something today toward this thing? Then you're good. [laughs] Was it great? No. Was it fun? No. But did you do it? Did you keep the ball rolling? Did you keep another step on that path going? Then you're fine. That's it."

--It's something I've believed for decades, but I don't always practice it.  Let me return to my practice of doing something--anything--that serves my creative dreams, each and every day--even during weeks like this one that will be very full.

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Facebooking the Classroom

During our various discussions in this week before our Summer quarter classes start, I found our conversations coming back to what we, as faculty, allow in the classroom and what we don't.  We had a variety of opinions about allowing students to use social media while the class progresses.

I thought about an experience I had in a California church on Christmas Eve a few years ago.  We were encouraged to take pictures and to post them on Facebook, to tweet, to spread the Good News via social media--and the church had free Wi-Fi to make it easier.

I have since been in many churches who have adopted this practice, and I think it's brilliant.  After all, most churches can barely afford a minimal staff, much less a PR person or a social media strategist.  So that task is outsourced to the congregation--which might result in the congregation being more involved too.

I wonder if we could do the same things in our classrooms.  I realize that we might not want to be Facebook friends with our students.  But I like the theory of being able to check on Facebook posts to be able to see what the students take away from our classes.  I like the idea of curating a class in this way, of preserving what we talk about, of making a record.

I'm wondering about a closed group on Facebook--would that solve some of the social media problems that would come with Facebooking a classroom?  It would protect the privacy of the class.  I'm not sure that it would adequately protect the privacy of all the individuals.

I know that we can do something similar with blogs or other types of media.  I know that not everyone likes Facebook or Twitter.  I know that students are likely on some social media sites that I am so out of touch that I don't even know what they are.  I know all the ways that it wouldn't work.

But I'd like to explore the ways that it might work . . .

Friday, July 8, 2016

Arcs of History

I woke this morning with my heart already heavy with the news of more police shootings this week.  And then I turned on the computer and learned of shootings in Dallas.

I wrote more about the shootings in this post on my theology blog. 

As a Sociology undergrad who spent significant class time analyzing the 60's and the aftermath, I always wondered why the middle and upper classes were so slow to catch on, so blind to why so many were so angry.  I worry that I bear more resemblance to that population than I knew could be possible.

And yet everyone I know is both angry and grieving over these killings.  I take comfort from that, while also knowing that anger and grief without action leads to more volatility--scarily, perhaps like what we're seeing in Dallas.

I will continue to hope that cooler heads prevail, and that leaders emerge to show us a way to a saner civilization without getting bogged down in the old, familiar arguments about racism and guns and history.

I am ready for a new vision.  I despair of my ability to dream it.  I cling to the hope that comes from history, those times when societies are so hollowed out that new life can bloom.

And in the meantime, there is good work to be done.  Classes start on Monday--I'll go to work to try to make sure that all goes smoothly.

I'll carry with me the memory of yesterday:  my faculty development sessions went very well.  I was reminded by how much I really like these faculty members, how lucky I am to work with such a great group.  We were inspired by each other; I was simply the facilitator who got the conversation moving.

I will continue to remember the words of great thinkers who have shaped me:  I do believe that history arcs towards justice, I do believe that humans are good at heart, I do believe that we are headed towards a better tomorrow that will be an improvement in ways we can't quite visualize yet.

I will keep my eyes open, on the alert for signs of that arcing.  I will look for ways to serve the forces of the light in our effort to push back against darkness.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Taking Notes: By hand, by laptop, by image

Today is going to be a crazy, hectic day, the kind of day where I leave the house at 7:30 a.m. and don't return for 12 hours--and not much down time along the way. 

Along with the two new student orientations, I'll be leading a professional development session--2 of the same one.  We're going to experiment with note taking.

I was inspired by this story when I created what I hope will be an interesting, experiential session.  We will divide ourselves into 3 groups, and I will lead a brief discussion of Andrew Marvell's "To His Coy Mistress."  Each group will take notes a different way:  by hand, by laptop or phone, and by sketching.  We'll have a brief quiz to see what kind of recall people have.

The NPR story predicts that the group that takes notes by hand will do the best:  "Because people can type faster than they write, using a laptop will make people more likely to try to transcribe everything they're hearing. So on the one hand, Mueller and Oppenheimer were faced with the question of whether the benefits of being able to look at your more complete, transcribed notes on a laptop outweigh the drawbacks of not processing that information. On the other hand, when writing longhand, you process the information better but have less to look back at."

I added sketching as a means of notetaking, because I've been experimenting with sketching, and because we're an art school of sorts, with a variety of artistic faculty. 

I hope people will like the experience; I'm certainly not going to make any sweeping claims in terms of our results.  The sample will be much too small.  But I hope it leads to an interesting discussion of classroom techniques.


Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Linking the Short Stories by Work Place

While I didn't spend much time writing over my four day week-end, I did spend time thinking about my latest possible short story collection which revolves around student activists as they turn 50.  I'm thinking about activists who would have been active in the 80's, not the 60's.  I had thought that the common link might be that they all went to the same undergraduate school.

But this week-end, I thought, what if they all end up working at the same school in their 50's?  That might make some sense--and explain how so many of them end up in academia.  Or maybe I should try to give them different careers. 

So far, I have 3 stories, and the protagonist of 2 of the stories is an administrator of some sort of academic department--am I writing the same character?  The 2 characters don't have the same past.  And one of them is more of a dean than a department chair, but a dean who is hearing student complaints--should I take some of that out?  Hmmm.  The protagonist of the 3rd is a cook.

I want the setting not to be a bucolic, liberal arts kind of college.  I thought about having the characters end up at a for-profit school--but I want one character to be a campus pastor--are there any for-profit schools that have a campus pastor?  Or maybe the pastor character will be a teacher or some sort of expert called in to help with some project?

I thought that I'd write all the stories and then figure out how to link them, but I wouldn't look forward to that sort of revision.   But so far, having them end up at the same school could work.

Now, of course, the real task still lies ahead:  the writing of the stories.  This used to feel easier.  I need to get back to that space.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Lessons from a Long, Holiday Week-end

I took Friday off, and thus, I have enjoyed a 4 day week-end. What a treat!  Here are some of the things I learned/realized:

--There are times when it's good to pretend you're at a resort and just take time off.  I did very little in the way of chores, writing, all the things I thought I "should" do with the gift of time.  Instead, I relaxed, I read a book, I took a nap every day . . . and as a result, I feel refreshed.

--If you need a good book for a summer read, I recommend Emma Straub's latest, Modern Lovers.  It's set during one summer in Brooklyn.  It's about artists and growing older and real estate and cooking.  It's not intense reading, but it's not so light and fluffy as to be boring. I spent the week-end looking forward to getting back to it, wondering what would happen, enjoying the read.

--I did a few chores:  some laundry, some vacuuming, some food provisioning for this coming week of heavy meetings.  But I didn't do the heavy stuff, like cutting shrubs.  And I'm fine with that.

--I thought I might try to ride my motorcycle more.  But it looked like it might storm all week-end.  Plus, that task too felt like a chore, and as the week-end went on, it was clear to me that I was abandoning most chores.

--It is good to spend time in the pool.  When I'm in the pool, I'm not eating mindlessly.

--One should not buy Trader Joe's toffee covered with dark chocolate and pistachio chunks.  One will eat the whole box, even though one thinks one can be disciplined.

--Last night, we sat on the front porch and played patriotic/American music on our mandolins and violin.  I am amazed at how much I have retained since May.  I know now which spot on the mandolin corresponds with which note.   I picked up "This Land Is Your Land" fairly quickly last night, and I could play it without looking at the instrument too often. 

--I have done this by picking the mandolin up during brief moments throughout the week during the past 2 months, not by sustained practice sessions.

--Could I get comfortable on the motorcycle the same way?

--As we sat on the porch, people hiked by on their way to watch the fireworks at the beach.  It felt like old-timey, small town America--except that those people didn't live in the neighborhood--they had just parked there.

--I prefer the Independence Day festivities to start a week-end, not to come at the end of it--lots of fireworks noise last night.

--In an effort to carry this resort like feeling into my week of many meetings, let me go take a quick dip in the pool.

Monday, July 4, 2016

Independence, Today and Every Day

I've spent some time this week-end thinking about all the different ways I've celebrated Independence Day in the past.

I have often been visiting family in the D.C. area--that's one of my favorite ways to celebrate.  Once, long ago, in 1985, my dad and I went down to the Mall and stayed for the fireworks.  My mom and sister were at a Lutheran youth gathering, and my dad and I went by way of Metro.  The Beach Boys played a concert, and the fireworks were grand.  But boy, were we hot, dirty, and tired by the time we got back home to the Virginia suburbs.

In later years, we've been on a sailboat--that's a wonderful way to celebrate too, out on the Chesapeake with various municipal fireworks displays on view.

We've spent Independence Days with friends, some of them resident aliens from other countries--that, too, provides an interesting point of view.  We've also spent some Independence Days alone, just the two of us as a couple.  I remember one year in a different house climbing up a ladder onto our roof so that we could see the fireworks 3 miles away at the beach. 

No matter where I am, I try to think about the Declaration of Independence--what an amazing document.  I try to think about what those men tried to accomplish--how far we have come, how close we are to those goals, how we've surpassed them, the progress we still have to make.  I think about people in our country who still suffer all sorts of oppression.  In the early part of this century, a commentator said that it's never been easier to own a slave, and he was talking about our country too.

I also think about people across the globe who struggle to achieve the kinds of freedoms that so many of us in industrialized nations take for granted.  It's a cliché, to be sure, but it's important to remember.

History reminds us that those liberties can fairly easily be taken away, and most of us will never blink an eye--at least until it's too late.  We live in precarious times--perhaps we always live in precarious times, but I'm more aware of it this year, with terrorist actions and the Brexit vote.

But let me not get bogged down in fears.  Instead, let me be inspired by those men who signed the Declaration of Independence on this day in 1776.  They pledged their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor, so great was their belief in what they were doing.  It's a good day to think about our commitments, our values, what we hold most true.

Of course, it's always a good day to do that--let me always be trying to live a life that's in sync with my truest values.  Let me always be ready to stake my sacred honor on principles that are that important.

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Bearing Witness

I saw Elie Wiesel when I was in grad school--it would have been in the late 80's or early 90's.  I paid nothing to go see him.  Our campus pastor knew that he was coming to Columbia, South Carolina, and he could take a group--he asked me if I wanted to go, and I said sure.

I knew who Wiesel was, but I had only read Night; I've still only read Night.  I can't remember anything about what Wiesel said the night that I went to see him at a church or a synagogue in Columbia, but I remember being inspired.  If I had to guess, I'd guess that he talked about systems of repression present in the world at that time, probably South Africa or Central America.

I'm interested in Wiesel's ideas about our responsibilities to bear witness.  When I read the discussions of many artists today, we cover lots of topics, but rarely do I hear us explore the need to bear witness.

NPR quotes him as saying about the Holocaust:   "To forget the victims means to kill them a second time. So I couldn't prevent the first death. I surely must be capable of saving them from a second death."

Sadly his views on injustice seem more relevant than ever:  "Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.  Sometimes we must interfere. When human lives are endangered, when human dignity is in jeopardy, national borders and sensitivities become irrelevant."

I let go of my copy of Night long ago because I figured I'd always be able to find a copy when I needed it.  A shame--I'd like to spend the afternoon rereading it.

So, maybe I'll read a different work of witness--Angels in America is still calling me.

Saturday, July 2, 2016

The Perfect Day Off

I took Friday off--the lure of a 4 day week-end was too appealing.  I worried that it might feel like a waste of a day off, especially if our solar energy guy showed up to do work on the house.  But he had gotten delayed by other events of the week, and wouldn't be coming until next week.

I had a great day off.  It was filled with the activities that make me happy:  reading in the sunshine, cooking, taking a nap, reading in the evening.  I went to a great spin class in the morning, and in the evening, my spouse and I took a walk to the marina, where we sat on our favorite bench and watched the surprisingly quiet Intracoastal.  Throughout the day, I went back into the pool again and again.

We got a few chores done:  getting propane for the grill, writing to Home Depot about defective outdoor chairs bought last year.  I checked in on my online classes.

But overall, I took the day off--I spent very little time on anything other than relaxing and recovering from the past several weeks.  It was restorative.

I plan to do much the same throughout the week-end, although I'd like to get some writing done, along with a few chores.  The house is in desperate need of vacuuming/sweeping, and some of the bushes need a severe trimming.  I need to pay some bills and get solar power paperwork in the mail to our electric utility company.

Although I have Monday off, next week's schedule is hectic.  But I'll try not to let the thought of work intrude on my long week-end.  I will enjoy some perfect summer moments.