Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Creating Nests, Creating Construction Sites, Creating Contentment

For the last week, I've been going to weather sites much more often than is really necessary.  To those who would ask, "Is it ever necessary?", I would answer, yes, when a tropical system is bearing down on you, it's necessary to stay updated.

But the Hurricane Center only updates the track projection every six hours.  Why, then, did I hop from site to site?

If I wanted to justify my action, I could say that the other weather services update at different hours or I could say that I wanted to see what amateur forecasters were saying.  But it's really not that.  I just liked feeling updated, plugged in, caught up.  And there's more than a whiff of enjoying the possibility of impending apocalypse that's part of my psychology.

Truth be told, I spend a lot of time going to various Internet sites on any given day.  I don't usually stay long.  But when I need a break, that's what I do.

I stay away from sites that make me angry.  I connect with friends and family on social media.  I research for inspiration for my writing.  I look for ways that others have dealt with issues.  I admire the meals of others and think about recipes--and it's the same with other art forms that I enjoy.  And I do go to spiritual sites.

Lately, though, my aching back has demanded that I leave the computer.  On Tuesday, I was feeling grumpy for all sorts of reasons--primarily because I tried to fix a student issue that I didn't create, but we were all late to discover--and I wasn't appreciated the way I wanted to be.  So I left my office for a bit of a walk around the building.

Our building is next to a construction site.  While mourning the loss of open space, I have enjoyed watching the construction of the new condo/shopping center complex.  So on Tuesday, I went to see the progress.  I like being reminded that progress can be made.

Standing at a second floor window, I saw two birds working together to build a nest in the palm tree right outside the window. I stood very still and observed for over 10 minutes. My mood brightened.

If I'm being honest, I'll confess that my Internet zipping rarely leaves me in a brighter mood.  It can be hard to avoid content that drags me down.  And of course, all that zipping can leave me fragmented.

I need to remember to leave the computer.  I need to remember to be on the lookout for creation of all types.  And then, let me remember to say a prayer of thanks for all these glimpses of creation in all its glory.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Late August Observations

I want to capture a few things that I've noticed--will there be a common theme?  Let's see.

--It's been the summer of flocks of larger birds.  I don't mean eagles or hawks.  But I have seen larger collections of egrets and other types of sea birds--when I see them fly over my house, I feel instantly happier.

--This morning in the grocery store, I saw freeze pops on sale.  Do you remember those plastic tubes of jewel-toned liquid that you put in the freezer to pull out on a hot summer day?  Now they're on sale--must signify the end of summer, right?

--For several days, I've had the music and lyrics from the ancient canon "Dona Nobis Pacem" in my head.  Our church choir sang it as the offertory on Sunday, so my spouse spent time practicing by watching this video.  And now, the music is stuck in my head.

--For me, this music heralds the Christmas season--I first became aware of it through an instrumental CD, likely put out on the Windham Hill label.

--So, it's odd, to be with Christmas music in my head, while at the same time trying to savor the last delights of summer.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Ukulele Lessons: Learning Better in a Group

Earlier this summer, I was part of a group from church who had 5 weeks of ukulele lessons.  We had such a great time that we decided to keep meeting once a month.  Yesterday was our first meeting.

We could bring music to share or a piece to sing by ourselves.  My spouse spent some time yesterday afternoon looking for a piece we could present, him on violin and me on ukulele.  In the end, we just didn't have enough time.  He can see a piece and play it fairly easily.  I am still having trouble shifting chords.

The only time I've picked up my ukulele was a few weeks ago when we met some members of the group met at Too&, a bar in the trendy Las Olas section of Ft. Lauderdale.  I should remember to pick up my ukulele when we're watching TV--just to work on fingering.

But last night was fun, despite my lack of practicing.  It's wonderful to get together, to play music to the best of our ability, and to sing--after a wonderful meal, of course.

I've been part of other groups that have a similar agenda--but what made last night different was that we all have varying levels of ability--and most of us are very new to the ukulele.  I've been part of folk music groups that seemed almost professional.  My spouse would point out that most members only had 10 songs that they could play--and they played them, again and again and again.

It's interesting being part of this group where only one of us has been playing more than a year.  I've watched some of my friends go from knowing nothing to being able to play proficiently in less than a year.  It gives me hope.  It's unlike some groups where I feel despair, thinking, I will never play like that, even if I practice 3 hours a day.

So many of my creative activities are essentially done alone.  It's wonderful to be in a group, working to improve, cheering each other on. 

Let me remember this, as I structure my creative life.  Perhaps I can apply those lessons in other parts of my creative life too.

I wonder where we'll all be, in terms of proficiency, next year or 5 years from now.  One thing is sure--we'll be further than we would have been if we had never picked up the ukulele.  I will be better than I would be if I picked it up on my own.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Nourishing Saturday

Yesterday was nourishing in all sorts of ways.  My spouse went off on a motorcycle ride while I went to spin class.  I wasn't sure when he'd be home, but when I returned, I was determined to put the time to good use.  So, instead of my usual Internet noodling, I opened up the short story that I've been working on.

There were times during the next 2-3 hours when I thought, that's enough--let's save some for tomorrow.  Then my stern voice said, "No, you've done that quite enough.  Keep going."  And I did--for a long chunk of time, broken up with 5-10 minutes here and there of Internet noodling.  Then my stern voice ordered me back.

I got to a point where I wasn't sure where to go next to finish.  And so I stopped to go to the grocery store to get the ingredients for the Chicken Mole Poblano recipe that I wanted to try.  I couldn't find the dried ancho chiles, but since I knew they were poblanos, I got those instead.  And then, with an early afternoon of good writing behind me, I enjoyed a late afternoon of cooking something new--and tasty!

In my quest to look up some details, I went back through blog postings from June--I've been thinking about this story and working it out in my head since then; have I also been writing it since then? 

I went back to check--no, I've only been working it out on paper since July 30.  I should finish this week.

On my way to the grocery store, I thought, if I just wrote a paragraph a day, I'd have been a lot further along, instead of waiting for days when I have time to do more.  I also need to get back to poetry writing. 

But let me not get into a downward spiral--I've done a lot, in spite of the disruptions.  It's been a topsy turvy August, but I'm ready to get back on track.  And I should be able to do so.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Shred #2, with a recipe for Nut and Seed Brittle

I am now on day 6 of a 10 day shred.  I first did a shred at the beginning of summer; it seems appropriate to be doing another shred in these ending days of summer.  The first shred launched me into some healthy habits, along with some weight loss.  But as the summer has progressed, I've gotten a bit sloppy.  I thought another shred would help me recalibrate--plus some friends from the gym were interested.

What is a shred?  Simply put, the original shred, an elimination diet of sorts, went this way:  No gluten, no dairy, no alcohol.  Lots of veggies, fruits, and lean protein, plus nuts and seeds.  One or two protein shakes a day.  Start the day with a detox tonic:  1 tsp. of apple cider vinegar, 2 T. lemon juice, 4 T. cranberry juice.  Only one caffeine drink a day.  This time, we're eliminating all grains.

I haven't been doing the morning tonic, and I've allowed myself a bit more caffeine, although most days are only one caffeine drink days.  I never brought milk back into my diet after the first shred, although cheese quickly found its way back.  I've been successful with 5 days of no alcohol, and yesterday was not as difficult as I thought it might be.

We've been trying to quit eating after 7 p.m., and I'm not doing a great job.  I'm getting home and wanting a treat--why must the end of every day include a treat?  This week, I'll experiment with having my treat be a mug of hot tea.

Often my treat at the end of the day is a glass--or 2 or 3--of wine, along with a hunk of cheese, from which I carve slice after slice to eat.  One benefit of a shred is that it illuminates where I still have work to do--and some solutions I might try.

Just before my shred, I checked out this book from the library:  Bowl: Vegetarian Recipes for Ramen, Pho, Bibimbap, Dumplings, and Other One-Dish Meals.  It is not a grain-free cookbook, and frankly, many of the recipes, at least at first glance, looked like more trouble than they would be worth, in terms of time.

But I made a recipe for seed brittle last night which might make me give the book another chance.  Here's my variation--and if you're interested, the whole batch has 1400 calories, along with 100 grams of fat, 17.4 grams of fiber, 54.9 grams of protein, and substantial amounts of iron, magnesium, and B6.  It's easy and tasty--perhaps too tasty . . .

Keep in mind that you can vary the nuts and seeds.  The original recipe called for sesame seeds and cumin seeds, which I couldn't easily find.  Spices could be varied too, if you want a more savory blend.

Nut and Seed Brittle

1 C. pumpkin seeds
3/4 C. sunflower seeds
1/4 C. pecans
1/4 C. flax seeds
2 egg whites
4 tsp. maple syrup
2 T. sugar
2 T. salt
1 T. pepper
1 T. cinnamon

Heat the oven to 320.  Whip the egg whites until frothy, and then add the spices, the maple syrup, and the sugar.  Stir in the seeds and nuts--then take them back out with a slotted spoon and place on a greased baking sheet.  Bake for 25-30 minutes until golden brown.

The original recipe called for stirring part way through--to prevent sticking?  I did stir, but I wondered if it was necessary.

The brittle tasted great by itself, but I'm planning to try it with salads and other melanges that might need a zing.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Spinning to the Cold War

Last night, I wrote this Facebook post:

"We had an awesome spin class tonight, put together by our totally tubular (that's a compliment, right?) instructor Debra LeComte. We made those spin bike wheels go right round, like a record baby! We were maniacs, maniacs! And now it's time to relax--no more cracking that whip."

I wasn't surprised by how happy the music made me--much of the music was stuff that I liked when I was hearing it for the first time.  The pippy-poppy beat kept me going at a glorious pace--it was a great work out.

As we spun, I thought about the underlying messages of the songs.  We listened to the song about the 99 red balloons:  what happy music, what distressing lyrics.  We heard that Der Kommisar is back in town, so we should be careful; I thought of all we have since learned about the East German secret police--did the songwriter know too, before we all learned that it was even worse than we thought that it was?

I thought about the fact that we spun to the music that would mark the end of the Cold War, although we didn't know it in the 80's when we first heard it.  I thought about the strange disconnect between the music that had such uplift and the lyrics which explored our collective dread.

And of course, I thought of my own project, the activists at 50 linked short stories.  I don't think I have a nuclear freeze activist created or planned--O.K. brain, you start working while I'm doing the work for pay that I need to do today.

And while I'm recording inspirations for my short stories, let me remember this interview with RuPaul:  lots of interesting insight about drag culture and about history.  Let me record this closing insight of RuPaul's:  "RuPaul is now 55 years old, and he's seen a lot of changes in the LGBT community. But he's wary about saying things are getting better. 'I've gotta tell you, you know, even in the late '70s we thought we were gonna be where we are now, we thought we were gonna be there then. But overnight, you know — disco sucks, and with the AIDS crisis, everything reverted back so fast. Your head — you'd get whiplash, it was so fast. So I'm very cautious when I talk about the changes and the advances we've made in such a short amount of time. Very cautious. Because in my lifetime I've seen that shift go completely backwards.'"

Thursday, August 25, 2016

People Get Ready! Advent Is Coming!

Two weeks ago, I would be going to a ukulele meet-up in the evening.  It was a treat to do something different on a Thursday, and to see the summer ukulele group in a different setting.  We stayed for a bit of the open mic, and when a group sang, "People Get Ready," I whispered to our group leader, "We should practice this for Advent--we have plenty of time!"

She suggested that I write different lyrics, but as I listened to the lyrics sung by the group, I realized that the original lyrics could work for Advent as is--and for Easter--and for Pentecost.

Still, it might be fun to write new lyrics.  So let me look at the original lyrics and give it some thought:

People get ready, there's a train a comin'
You don't need no baggage, you just get on board
All you need is faith to hear the diesels hummin'
Don't need no ticket, you just thank the Lord
People get ready for the train to Jordan
It's picking up passengers from coast to coast
Faith is the key, open the doors and board 'em
There's hope for all among those loved the most.
There ain't no room for the hopeless sinner
Who would hurt all mankind just to save his own
Have pity on those whose chances grow thinner
For there's no hiding place against the Kingdom's throne
So people get ready, there's a train a comin'
You don't need no baggage, you just get on board
All you need is faith to hear the diesels hummin'
Don't need no ticket, you just thank the Lord
Yes, some bits need some revision--I'm not comfortable with the idea that some of us are loved more than others, which is what some people would hear with this line:  There's hope for all among those loved the most.  And no room for the hopeless sinner?  Aren't we all hopeless sinners?
And the larger issue--faith is the key--no, that's not very Lutheran.  Grace is the key.  You don't even need faith to hear the diesels humming--grace will overtake you before your senses perceive it--or am I wandering into even more mistaken theological imagery?
So yes, let me play with this song--and let me look up some chords!
C, Am, and F--or D, Bm, and G--or G, Em7, and C--yes, this is doable!

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Hurricane Anniversaries, Keeping Watch

This time of year, if something is swirling in the Atlantic, you'll find me spending more time than is useful at Dr. Jeff Masters' blog at the weatherunderground site. Right now, there's not enough information and it's still too early to begin to wonder where hurricane Gaston might come ashore.  I know that--but it doesn't stop me from going to the site--there are plenty of commenters speculating and doing a bit of amateur forecasting.

This morning, I'm looking at the site while hearing about the historic floods in Louisiana.  I'm thinking of my newly installed solar panels--we're insured with both flood and wind insurance (at a hefty price, I might add), but the thought of claims and clean up makes me exhausted.

It's the time of year when my thoughts would turn to hurricanes, even if nothing was in the Atlantic.  We've had many damaging hurricanes in late August:  Andrew and Katrina come to mind.  For some reason, I've also been thinking of Hurricane Hugo, a September storm.  I was in grad school in Columbia, South Carolina when that storm barreled through the state.  I remember taking extra blankets to the civic center when a call went out that many had fled the Lowcountry with nothing and that the Red Cross needed help.

I realize that we've been spoiled down here in South Florida--our last hurricane, major or minor, was Hurricane Wilma in 2005.  I used to be more careful in the years just after that storm about buying perishables--I never bought more than we could eat in a week in those years.  I didn't keep the freezer stocked backed then.

This morning, I'm thinking of all the meat in the freezer--what was I thinking?  I know what I was thinking:  what a deal!  I wasn't thinking, could I eat all of this if the power was out for days?

I will be the first to admit that my freezer ponderings are premature.  The mountains of Hispaniola (Haiti and the Dominican Republic) have shredded many a storm that had its sights on the U.S.  No need to board up the windows yet.

But perhaps a few more sandbags are in order . . .

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Saying Farewell to My First Quilt

Last week, I said farewell to the first quilt I ever made:

I made it in undergraduate school.  I wanted to make a quilt, but the thought of a traditional quilt, with a pattern, intimidated me. 

I remembered a project that I had seen in a woman's magazine years ago:  it called for making little pillows and sewing them all together.  So that's what I did.

I used scraps from my grandmother's sewing projects, and I bought remnants from Wal-Mart.  I used old clothes that seemed worth memorializing.  Below you'll see part of my Congaree Girl Scout camp shirt:

And my Newberry Indian (the student newspaper) shirt:

I used pillowcases too:

You may wonder why I threw away this quilt that I made in the mid-80's.  Well, it was stained and torn and would have taken lots of mending.  All the nubbing from the corduroy fabrics had worn away. 

Plus, it's heavy--I haven't used it once since we moved down here.  It takes up lots of storage space.

I joke that when I'm a little old lady with memory issues that I'll wonder when we had a bed by the pool--that's how the above picture appears to me.

I wonder what the garbage collectors thought--did they even notice it in the big garbage can?

It's been a good quilt--it kept me warm through my grad school years and my first 5 years in various drafty houses.  But sometimes, it's time to say good-bye.

As I was taking these pictures, I thought of the classic short story by Alice Walker, "Everyday Use."  I thought of the 2 sisters with their different approaches to quilting.  One sister, who can't be bothered to sew, sees the family quilts as heritage to be preserved.  The other sister and the mother see quilts as items to be used, as they can always make more when they wear out.

I thanked the quilt for its good service, and then we parted.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Seasonal Shifts

Today in public schools across Broward county in southeast Florida, students go back to class; the same is true for our huge community college.  In public schools, teachers have been reporting for duty to get ready for at least a week.

I work at several different colleges, so I have various schedules--still, there's something exciting about the first day of school, even if I don't have classes starting.

Yesterday my 10 year old nephew, who has one more week of summer, made a list of school supplies.  It's very different from what I remember, when we'd go to a store, buy some notebooks and folders and maybe a Trapper Keeper to keep it all organized.

I had hopes that everyone would be home or out shopping for school supplies--we had plans to go to   Monster Mini Golf--miniature golf played in the "dark" with glow in the dark features. There's also an arcade--come to find out, it, too, was in the purple light.

I liked the idea in theory, but found it a little overwhelming--lots of children, lots of glowing in the dark augmented by steam machines, purple lights, and noise.  There were only 18 holes, so we had to wait a bit for it to be our turn.

I liked the concept:  the Halloween-themed golf.  I'm in the mood for a change of seasons that won't be coming our way for awhile, so it was fun to see the decorations:  someone had great fun painting scenes on the walls and decorating the nooks and crannies around the course.

It reminded me of playing miniature golf at Myrtle Beach when I was a kid--there were barriers and interesting approaches to some of the holes.  I have vague memories of designing my own courses which, of course, were never built, although I always had plans for the back yard.

We had a good time, over all, and it gave us an indoor activity during an intensely hot day.  We came home to eat a bit of supper, watch the Sunday night animated shows on Fox, and one last dip in the pool.

Even though I say I'm ready for a seasonal shift, I'm still not quite ready for summer to end.  This morning, I'll take my sister and nephew to the airport, and then it will feel more real to me, even though the heat will continue, and we can get summer foods year round.  The shift away from summer will accelerate . . .

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Staycation All I Ever Wanted

We have done more than just take a trip to the water park with my sister and 10 year old nephew.  What else have we done?

--Lots and lots of pool time, which includes something for everyone:  games with a variety of balls and rules which may seem arbitrary, sunshine, drinks/snacks, and relaxation.

--We have grilled, a different meat for each day.  On the menu today:  grilled lamb and grilled flatbread and grilled peppers and not-grilled tzatziki sauce.

--Last night we went to see the Ft. Lauderdale Strikers play a soccer game with Ottawa.  It had the same appeal as watching minor league baseball, which I prefer to major league because there's actual action on the field.  It was their first night in their new stadium, which had rain protection but no AC.  It was fun, but we did leave early.

--We went to see the moon, orange and otherworldly as a moon should be, rise over the ocean.

--We made Doritos Loaded, a culinary specialty available at select 7-11 stores.  What is this specialty?  Cheese triangles, breaded in crushed Doritos, and fried.  It was both gross and appealing.

--We have watched the Olympics off and on.  Last night I got tired of hearing the swimmer pretend to take responsibility, while at the same time knowing there likely will be no penalty.  Really, dude?  How old are you?

--Despite the Olympic swimmer diversion, we've enjoyed watching these sports that we so rarely watch.

--We went to Jaxson's, a local ice cream establishment that also sells all sorts of candies not available elsewhere.  I got a huge sundae, my sister and spouse got fried stuff, and my nephew got a pizza that came with a kid-size sundae, except that he didn't want toppings, whipped cream or sprinkles. 

--It's been a great, relaxing time, the perfect staycation for us and vacation for my sister and nephew.  School starts tomorrow for us all, but let us not think of that--we still have one more day!

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Flesh and Water: More Water Park Observations

Before we get too far away from our day at the water park, let me record some additional observations:

--I was amazed by what people tattooed on their bodies--so amazed that I wrote a whole post about it on my theology blog.  I saw Bible verses and other religious themes, like the man who had these words tattooed across his larger than usual stomach:  "Only God can judge me."  Was that about his body?  Just a reminder of whose judgment is important?

--Those of you who have seen me know that I am not a skinny woman.  But I was one of the thinner women at the water park on Thursday.  Not the thinnest, by any measure--there were still plenty of women who looked downright scrawny and teens who still had the benefit of youth on their side.  But the majority of park attendees were carrying at least 50 extra pounds on their bodies, and many of them carrying substantially more.

--I thought of the people in the wave pool.  We paid roughly $40 a ticket to be in a wave pool just a few miles away from the ocean, a free wave pool.

--Of course, most people weren't interested in the wave pool.  We were there for the thrills.

--Or were most people there hoping for a hook-up?  I noticed a few teenagers involved in deep kissing.  Granted, those lines could be long and boring--but there were children present.  Yes, I am officially old.  I was also profoundly uncomfortable being around so much exposed flesh.  Yes, I am officially very old.

--My very old self was pleased to be back in a land without cell phones--most people left them far away from all the water.  Did we all talk more?  Yes, I think we did.

--We spent the day surrounded by water, and I confess that at first I spent more time thinking about Physics than about water.  How could we be sure that we wouldn't get airborne and sail off the slide?  What actually happened in that vortex?  Could the raft really get that high?  How much did we all weigh and how should we space ourselves in the inner tube built for 4?

--Later in the day, I thought about all the water we sloshed through the park--how we moved it on our bodies, how it dripped off the rides only to evaporate, how it got cleaned and recycled.  I thought about third world citizens who would be amazed at this wealth of water, and I thought about how few of us really seemed to appreciate it.  I also thought about how thirsty I was as we trooped from slide to slide.  I didn't want to pay the hefty price for a park drink, and there were no water fountains for drinking.

Yesterday, we went to the beach, which was a much calmer scene:  fewer people, more space between us all, no lines.  I was also struck by the contrast between the natural beauty of the beach and the concrete wasteland of the water park--and as I write, I know it's too harsh.  At the beach, we were blown away by the ramshackle house of apartments that had been torn down to make room for a behemoth of a house.  At the water park, I was impressed by the technology that surrounded us, and there's a kind of beauty in that too.

The issue of sea level rise is never far from my mind--who would build such a house right next to the hungry ocean?  Will the water park make a great artificial reef when it becomes submerged?

I have no pithy way to end this post, no enduring insight, just lots of strands that may or may not be weaving themselves into something larger.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Outside of my Comfort Zone at a Water Park

One of our family vacations was a trip to Myrtle Beach, where we gathered with extended family in a ramshackle beach house which was unairconditioned, but with a front porch where we could watch the ocean.  Most of those houses have since been destroyed for condos and resorts, since the 1970's and early 80's when we vacationed there.

We usually had one activity a day:  mini-golf, a movie,  a water slide, and shopping for shark's teeth, taffy, and trinkets.  We'd often repeat an activity.  I always wanted to go to the water slide again.

Those were old-fashioned water slides:  a concrete slide with mats.  No tubes, no breathtaking drops, nothing to teach us about Physics.

Yesterday we went to a water park that had over 20 slides.  You could ride in mats, innertubes, rafts, or just your back, depending on the ride.  There was a lazy river, a wave pool, and a place for very little kids.

I worried that I might just have to stay in the lazy river all day, as most of the rides seemed a bit scary to me.  We started on the slides which reminded me of the Myrtle Beach days.  They weren't nearly as fun as I remembered.  Next we went on the ride with the smallest time in a tube, which we rode down in double innertubes.

That ride wasn't as terrifying as I expected, so I decided to go on the Black Thunder attraction, a ride in total darkness with a vortex.  It was thrilling but not as scary as I expected (my sister would disagree).  It was completely outside of my comfort zone--and I was happy that I rose to the challenge.

So I rode a few other rides outside of my comfort zone too.  There were some I decided were too big a risk to my back, so I sat those out--but it wasn't out of fear of falling out of the slide, but fear of a wrenched back and the hour car ride home.

When I took my motorcycle riding classes last year, I wrote about realizing how few activities I do that are truly outside of my comfort zone.  I may stretch myself with activities, but they aren't truly new to me, at least with most of what I do.  There's very little that I do that requires feeling fear/anxiety but doing it anyway.

Yesterday's waterpark didn't inspire true fear, the way that riding the motorcycle for the first time did.  I knew we'd be safe--it wasn't a waterpark with netting across the open tube, like the attraction that killed the child in Kansas.  There have been no serious incidents at the park.

As I get older, I want to keep doing activities that challenge me to move closer to the edges of my comfort zone, and to occasionally leave my comfort zone.  I know too many people who are curtailing their activities before they get truly old.  There may be good reasons that my friends don't want to tell me about, but for most of them, they seem to have simply decided not to challenge their anxieties--and so, they end up not driving outside of the county or on Interstates or taking on new jobs or trying new activities.

Our day yesterday was full of other insights, but this post is getting long, so let me close here, with gratitude for nephews and others who challenge me to move outside my comfort zone.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Perfect Summer Moments

It's hard to believe that summer is almost over:  our public school children begin classes on Monday, as do many of our college students.

I've had some perfect summer moments, the kind that make me wish that every summer day was just the same:  a day or two of reading by the pool and a dinner of fresh, sweet corn.  Yesterday was full of those kinds of events.

My sister and 10 year old nephew are down for a few days--it's his last bit of summer vacation too.  They got here yesterday at 10:30, despite the thunderstorms in the area.  My nephew was planning to travel in his swimsuit so that he could jump right in the pool, and that's what he did.

We grilled burgers and hot dogs for lunch and ate by the pool.  Then, we swam some more.

My nephew remembers the restaurant Jaxson's from years ago--they have amazing ice cream creations and all sorts of candy that you can't find just anywhere.  So, midafternoon, we went there.  I had an ice cream sundae, my nephew had a pizza from the kid's menu, and my sister and spouse had fried foods.  Yum.

Then it was back to the house and the pool.  We thought about going to the beach, but it was getting cloudy in the way that often presages thunderstorms, and so, we stayed at the house. 

It was a perfect summer day--and we've got a few more of them to look forward to before returning to the land of class schedules and school supplies.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Facebook Photo Envy: the Summer Vacation Version

Lately, I've been thinking about travel, about how my travelling life has changed over the past fifteen years.  Once, I flew so often that I had the Delta schedule out of Ft. Lauderdale memorized. 

In later years, we've been travelling because my spouse has been on the Board for a group of Lutheran church camps.  I have often travelled along, both to help with the drive, and to have a mini-vacation.  But his time on the Board has come to an end, in part because it's time, but in part because our current work lives make it harder to get away to the meetings.

My spouse and I have been thinking about vacation time and upcoming travel and the best way to handle our classes that we teach when we travel.  As we've talked, I've thought of the variety of friends' Facebook posts that I've seen this summer (by which I mean April-August). 

I've seen posts from European museums, the art that I'd love to see in person.  I've seen all sorts of photos of amazing food from many parts of the world.  I've seen family gatherings of all sorts.

The posts which have made me most envious have been the posts from the nation's state and national parks. Nothing makes me want to load up a camper for a multi-state adventure like those posts.  I've seen friends hiking through incredible vistas, and I want to lace up my boots and join them.

I've been thinking about whether or not to extend vacations to go to a park here and there, or whether it's better to have a trip solely dedicated to a park or two.  It's easy for me to begin to feel despair that I will never see all of these fabulous parks.

Clearly, I need to start making a list, a different kind of bucket list.  What national parks do I want to see before I die? 

In the meantime, I'll live vicariously through the travels of others.

Monday, August 15, 2016

The Feast of the Assumption and What It Means to Be Good Enough

Today, some Christians celebrate Mary the mother of Jesus being taken up into Heaven.

When I was very little, I was taught about the two Old Testament people who got to go to Heaven without dying (one was Elijah, and I can't remember who the other one was). We were taught that very good, very righteous people got to go to Heaven without dying--but interestingly, our class of little Lutherans was not taught about Mary's Assumption into Heaven.  Mary, the mother of Jesus--why was she left out?

My childhood Lutheran churches didn't mention Mary much at all, outside of the seasons of Advent, Christmas Eve, and the post-Christmas Sundays. As I've gotten older, I've felt a bit of mourning for all the celebrations and richness that we've lost in our Protestant traditions that were so eager to show how different we were from the Orthodox religions.

I remember hearing about the possibility of Assumption into Heaven, and I remember as a child wanting to be good enough for that eventual reward.  Clearly, my childhood self was not well-schooled in the concept of grace.

This past week has shown me that my adult self has much to learn about what the world expects, what I expect, and what is enough.  I went with a group of work folks to see one of us get an honor.  We were greeted with mango mojitos in the grand gathering area of the hotel, and for a moment, I felt sophisticated.

Later, though, I started to feel a bit worn down;  lots of stimulation, a sound system that was intrusive, and then there was the introduction of each and every woman getting honored as she walked down a runway.  I'm not sure when these women sleep, as they go out to restructure the way we offer English language classes to recent immigrants and rescue children victims of trafficking and raise their own expansive families, and invite foster children to join them--and I'm not even exaggerating some of their dossiers.  Do they have support staffs to keep their households running smoothly?  Do they work time into their schedules for self-care?

My own dossier is much less flashy, even though I have over two decades of teaching as an accomplishment.  I have changed individual lives, many of them, but I haven't changed social structures, although I've been part of groups working towards that goal.  I've written thousands of poems, but will that have any lasting impact?  I thought of what the announcer would say if I was the one walking down that runway--and boom, I spent the rest of the day in a quiet despair over having done nothing with my life.

My thoughts return to Mary, whom we honor today and throughout the year.  My younger self would have been uncomfortable with this veneration--after all, what did she do?

My older self wonders if I'm not too focused on the doing.  Mary was there and fully present in a way that so many of us never learn to be.

I have spent much of the week-end sleeping, which makes me think that maybe I am still trying to do too much, and not enough of it self-care.  Once again, I hear Mary's lessons, waiting for me.

The world is happy to let us flog ourselves into rags as we try to prove that we're worthy.  Even the church world is happy to show us examples like Mary, examples that regular women can never attain.

On this Feast Day of the Assumption, let us remember that these ways are not God's ways.  God loves us from the beginning, before we've done a thing.  God delights in us, not because we're worthy, but because we are singular creations.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

The Perfect Way to Celebrate: Yard Work!

I am sore in strange ways this morning--no, we didn't do anything unusual to celebrate our anniversary, at least not in the direction that most people's minds might go.

We spent much of the daylight hours of our anniversary doing yard work.  I realize that may not sound romantic, but it was a good way to spend the day.  We were out in the sunshine, taking care of our property and our possessions.

Until three years ago when we moved to this neighborhood of many palm trees, I had no idea how many palm fronds fell from a tree in any given year--and how much damage they can do when they fall.  One of our motorcycles was parked underneath a tree with 2 or 3 palm fronds about to fall, and so we moved it to the back parking pad. 

While I was at spin class, my spouse took the motorcycles out for a ride.  He also sorted through all the planting pots we've collected through the last 3 years we've lived here.  We've bought a lot of shrubs and plants, and we've kept every pot after transplanting them to the yard.  Now, most of those pots are waiting to be picked up, either by the trash collectors or others who want them.

We trimmed the hedges--the older one that separates two properties in the front, and the ones that were just planted in the past month.  We hauled brush piles to the alley to be picked up this week.  We watered the plants that my spouse planted--bushes that have been waiting to be planted until the landscapers were done trimming all the gumbo limbo trees.

Much of the work has needed to be done for much of the summer, but we haven't done it for many reasons, mainly because we were waiting for landscapers and solar panel installers and pool pump people to finish their work.  It's good to get back to a measure of organization.

It's also good to get a source of standing water off the property.  My spouse was amazed at how much water we'd collected with our variety of buckets and pots.  The ones we're keeping are now in position so that they don't collect water--never let it be said that we didn't do our part to help eradicate mosquito habitat and control the spread of the Zika virus!

We ended the day by relaxing in the pool and then grilling a chicken breast and some cauliflower.  And then we went to bed early.

So, in many ways, it's not the anniversary celebration that most would choose:  no fancy meal out, no gifts--the only way it was different from any given Saturday was the dozen donuts that I got. 

And yet, it seemed the perfect way to celebrate:  both of us working on home maintenance and improvement projects, working together at a steady rate, enjoying the perfect summer weather.  We will not always be able to do this, after all.  And the older we get, the more I treasure the days when we can.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Marriage and Metaphor and Other Lessons

Twenty-eight years ago, I'd have been waking up and getting ready for my 11 a.m. marriage to my college boyfriend, Carl.  We had lots of folks from out of town, an average 8 hour drive away, and we wanted to get married early in the day so that they wouldn't have to spend an extra night in a motel.
This morning I headed over to Dandee Donuts--last night, my spouse (college boyfriend Carl) said, "I want a jelly donut." 

I said, "Well it will be our anniversary tomorrow."

And because it's our anniversary, I got one of every kind of jelly donut they had.  I want to see it as a metaphor--marriage as bringing festiveness to daily life?--but the unhealthiness of donuts is a drawback.  And they're quick to grow stale.  Hmm.

Maybe a better metaphor is the planter of mint (peppermint and chocolate mint) that has come back from the dead.  For months, I had one lone straggle of a vine, and I assumed it was gone.  But this morning, the planter box is full of both kinds.

Of course, that's not a great metaphor for marriage either.  It would be a better metaphor if I had nurtured that vine and given it some nourishment.

The other morning, I noticed a tomato plant in our front planter box.  It probably grew from a seed from one of the tomatoes from a previous plant--also not a great metaphor for marriage.

It is interesting how every marriage that survives a certain period of time is both the same marriage and something totally different, yet born from the early years.  So maybe that next generation tomato plant is a good metaphor after all.

Here you see a picture of us on this day in 1988, and the two of us at our 25th anniversary dinner.  What holds a couple together for 28 years?

Once I'd have said that common interests were important.  Once I'd have said a couple needs to have similar beliefs, whether they be religious in nature or a shared commitment to a social movement.  Once I'd have said that couples should have a similar outlook when it came to finances.  I'd have said that because it would have been true for me.  I've since met many couples who don't have those things, and they're perfectly happy too.

I'd go to something more essential if I was giving premarital counseling today.  I'd talk about the need for compassion and forgiveness.  If you're thinking about marrying someone who holds a grudge, I'd advise you to think long and hard before going through with that.

I look back on my wedding day and shake my head.  I was convinced I was so grown up; I had just turned 23.  But really, what do any of us know when we enter into such a union?  We think we know all that we need to know, but we will learn so much more.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Ukuleles, Olympic Athletes, and the Many Varieties of Joy

Last night, I took my ukulele and my spouse took his mandolin, and we headed up to the trendy part of Ft. Lauderdale, Las Olas.  We went to 2&, an interesting spot that's both a bar and a performance space and a bike repair shop (bike racks inside!).  We enjoyed a wide selection of beers at reasonable prices.

We met our friends to enjoy a ukulele meet-up.  It reminded me of the folk music sing-alongs we used to attend, except with more ukuleles.  I've only been playing since mid-June, and I was pleased with how many chords I could remember.

At one point, I looked at all the bar patrons, most of us between the ages of 45 and 70, singing at the top of our lungs and playing ukuleles at varying levels of proficiency.  I looked out the windows and the open door, and I was happy to see that much younger, hipper people walking by looked up, startled, but smiling.  Some of them even came in and two sang along to our collection of songs by the Beatles, the Beach Boys, John Denver, Peter, Paul, and Mary, and the Mamas and the Papas.

I thought of how I came to know those songs.  Some of them I learned in elementary school, likely from women who had once been hippies, but in the 70's needed something else to bring in money.  Some of those songs I learned as they played on the radio.  Some of them I learned from years of hanging out with a variety of musicians.

After the ukulele meet-up came an open mic, and as the evening progressed, those folks started showing up--and they played/sang along too.  One guy wore what I thought was a Clash t-shirt, but I couldn't make the figure on the shirt be one of those band members.  Later I realized he was wearing a Cash shirt--as in Johnny Cash.  Alas, we sang no Johnny Cash songs.

There's always next time.  As the evening moved into the open mic, I listened to the "band" fronted by the guy in the Cash shirt--they sounded like a mix of Devo and the Bee Gees.  I had a sudden urge to find the chords to songs by the Violent Femmes and the B52s to see how they would sound played by a group of ukuleles.

We went home and watched Michael Phelps win his--what, 26th gold medal?  His 4th something in a row.  As I drifted off to sleep, the first African-American woman won a gold medal for swimming as an individual.

I thought about the contrast between those amazing athletes and the rest of us--and I thought of our ukulele meet-up and the happiness of having yet to master a process.  I saw so many varieties of joy last night--a wonderful Thursday night. 

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Migrating the Website and the Existential Questions

What will I remember most about yesterday?  Will it be that I got all my grading done and grades turned in for my online class?  Probably not.

Will I remember writing a poem?  Inspired (depressed?) by all the Trump coverage, I've written a poem that has nothing to do with our Purgatory project (what I planned to write this week), but it does weave together Trump, WWII imagery, Sylvia Plath's "Daddy," and Ray Bradbury's "There Will Come Soft Rains."  I think I'm pleased with it, but it does need a line or two at the end--I think.

No, what I will likely remember is the process of trying to migrate my website to a new platform.  I decided to pay the extra $5 a month, at least for now, in the hopes of an easy migration that was promised.

Almost an hour later, bleary-eyed, I stopped working on the new layout.  I'm still not sure that it's saved anywhere or that I can find it if it is saved on the 1&1 web services site.  Ugh.  I want to go to the site to see if I can solve last night's problems, but I don't want to have additional time sucked away today.  I figure that I've already paid this month's $5, so let me see what I can accomplish as the month progresses.

I also want some time to think about the larger question:  do I really need a website?

My spouse long ago lost his patience with the websites, back when we managed several of them.  He said that unless the site is bringing in money, what is the point?

His view is certainly a valid way of thinking about the value of a website.  And by that evaluation, I should have shut the site down years ago, as the price of keeping the site started escalating.

I started the site back in 2008, when I also started blogging.  It seemed important as a writer to have a site.  I wanted to protect my domain name.  At first, the price was less than $10 or $20 a year.  Now, with the new website creation software, my website will cost over $150 a year.

I could say, "Well, that's the cost of a hair cut and highlights--and that's gone within 2-6 months."  I could look at our monthly wine budget to gain perspective.  I could keep my website and resolve to update it more often--in fact, when I migrated to the better website builder, I had hopes that it would be an easier software interface.  After last night, I'm not sure that it will be.

I could decide to try to use the site to generate more money to justify its existence--the website package has all sorts of fancy gadgets that might be able to help me with that, although the thought of learning all this new technology makes my head hurt.  How many chapbook sales would it take to justify the site?  Or I could start including it with my itemized deductions/business expenses as a writer.

The new platform will let me do more with search engine optimization.  Plus I can have multiple pages and sections.  Maybe I want to think about the kind of business I want to have in the future and start building towards that.  Maybe the website can serve as both my writer's website and my spiritual director and creative retreat leader website--a one stop service center.

So, yes, let us see what the next month brings.  Let me not be too hasty just because the technology is not as easy as I had hoped.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Underground Escape Routes

Yesterday morning as I took care of my online class teaching duties, I listened to Terry Gross interview Colson Whitehead on the NPR show Fresh Air*.  What a delight!

The interview revolved around Whitehead's most recent book, The Underground Railroad, which envisions slavery through a variety of lenses.  As Whitehead explains, "And I thought, well, what if every state our hero went through as he or she ran north was a different state of American possibility? So Georgia has one sort of take on America and North Carolina - sort of like "Gulliver's Travels." The book is rebooting every time the person goes to a different state."

His process in writing each chapter--the inspirations, the basis in history, the insights into our current age--that part was plenty interesting.  But the part that heartened me the most was the fact that it took him so long to actually write the book after he had the original idea back in 2000.  He explains:  "I - you know, it seemed like a very huge topic for me at the time. I wasn't sure if I was up for writing it in terms of my talent, I guess. I figured if I waited, I might become a better writer. And if I waited and became a more mature person, I might be able to actually take it on. So there was no one thing that made me want to do it and many factors that made me not want to take it on for all those years."

I like the idea of a book/inspiration that waits for the writer.  So many artists believe that if we don't act on an idea, the universe will give it to someone else.  Or maybe we simply believe that we'll forget the inspiration.  Or maybe we have so many ideas that we do forget.

I believe that even if I have an idea that someone else explores, no one will explore it quite the way I do, so I've never worried about that.  I do love the idea that we are growing as writers and artists--I also know many artists who feel like they have a narrow window of time to get the work done.  I cling to the hope that if I don't have time right now, the work will be waiting for me when I do have time--and I cling to the larger hope that the fact that I took more time may result in better work.

Listening to the interview made me both want to write and to read Whitehead's book.  I tried reading John Henry Days long ago and couldn't plow through it.  But then I read Zone One and loved it.  So I'll likely give Colson's latest book a chance, although the reviews that talk about the brutality of slavery depicted do give me pause.  The imaginative approach and the writing process that Whitehead describes makes me want to read the book right away.

I recently finished Underground Airlines, Ben H. Winter's inventive approach to slavery--with its alternative history that has as its basic premise that the Civil War never happened, and thus we have 4 states (North and South Carolina joined into one of those 4) who still have slavery in our current time.  I'm wondering what grad student is about to toil away on some dissertation that will explain this current moment in literary time--why this focus on escape routes, and the Underground Railroad in particular?  I understand our fascination with slavery, which in so many ways undergirds our current racial conflicts.  But 2 books, released in the same quarter of the year, exploring the Underground Railroad in such interesting ways--just a fluke?

And my writerly brain wonders--should I write some poems of my own?  Can I do something as imaginative in a different genre?

*Go here to hear the interview and/or read the transcript.

Monday, August 8, 2016

Olympics Life, Writing Life

Last night, I watched a bit of the Olympics:  first the women's synchronized diving and them some floor routines from the U.S. Women's gymnastics team.  Even though I never trained to be a diver or a gymnast, watching these bits made me feel deeply, oddly inadequate.  And old--did I mention how old I feel?

I wandered away, and my spouse called out, "There's hope for you yet.  Here's a woman who's doing her 7th Olympics."

We calculated that she must be 42 or so, if she did her first Olympics when she was 14.  I can't imagine still being able to compete, even if I was ready to compete when I was in my teens.  I think that's what makes the Olympics compelling--these athletes likely have their one shot at being Olympic champs, right there, and we get to watch.

I suspect that most audience members are not like me--they do not wonder about roads not taken.  And why should I wonder?  If we're being realistic, the Olympic road was never one that I could have taken--that crossroads was never mine.

I feel incredibly fortunate that I can practice my various art forms deep into old age.  I don't need fancy equipment--I can do what I love with a pen and paper.  I can work in a group or I can work alone--unlike those who work in the performing arts.  I can work with huge swaths of time or little bits here and there.

Both days this week-end brought late afternoon rains, so we could sit on the front porch for the first time in ages.  I did some crocheting, I reacquainted myself with the mandolin, and I finished a poem that I started last week.  It was delightful--much less stress than being an Olympian.

But maybe my Olympics inspired inadequacy should work as a goad--I could push myself a bit harder, even if it's only to get better by a fraction of seconds.  Some times, that fraction can be the difference between not winning at all and breaking a record.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

A Different Kind of Fiber Art

Our church first experimented with a prayer loom for Holy Week, specifically with our Maundy Thursday service.  I had thought we might do more with it in the months that followed, but we didn't.  Happily the prayer loom was just fine left all alone.

Last month, I moved it to the arts and crafts area of VBS.  It looked like this, with the Holy Week prayer stands still there:

We had four groups of elementary school children come through the arts and crafts room last Thursday.  With each, I explained the concepts of prayer and talking to God, and how the strands of yarn represented our prayers.  The children were eager to choose their yarn and start weaving:

I talked about how we could write people's names on strips of cloth or tags of paper and weave them in.  A few children did that.

One group wove one strand of yarn and went to painting with watercolors.  One group spent the whole time weaving.  One group had some of the children interested in the loom for the whole time while the others painted.  At the end of the night, the loom was significantly fuller.

I have now moved the prayer loom and the basket of yarn to the back of the sanctuary, with a sign (which I borrowed from this site) that invites everyone to weave more prayers:

 This morning, I will have time to go to the back of the sanctuary to see if more people have added to the loom.

I also wonder if this kind of experience could be utilized in non-spiritual aspects.  Is there a place for this kind of loom in writing classrooms?  Hmm.  I plan to think about that piece more in months to come.

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Why Not Use Nuclear Weapons?

I was rather aghast to hear that Donald Trump had asked why we couldn't use nuclear weapons--after all, we have them, so why not use them?

I realize that I've spent more time thinking about nuclear weapons than the average person, but can he really not understand?  Or is this more bluster?

He should read John Hersey's Hiroshima, which began life as a nonfiction piece in The New Yorker. In the summer of 1985, I read obsessively about nuclear weapons, both their genesis and their current status, and Hiroshima was one of the books I read. Best book of that summer? War Day, by Whitley Strieber and James Kunetka, a sobering piece of fiction about life in the U.S. after a massive nuclear exchange between the U.S. and the Soviet Union; it's still a compelling read. I remember Hersey's book as being elegaic in its depiction of the lost city and the suffering of the people.

Either book would instruct Trump in the ways that nuclear weapons disrupt regular life far and wide in a way that most weapons don't.  The bombs used to destroy Hiroshima and Nagasaki were small by today's standards--but what damage they did!  The effects of that bomb obliterated much of Hiroshima--and vaporized some of it.  There were reports of people fused into pavement and glass--or just vanished, with a trace remaining at the pavement.  The reports of the survivors who walked miles in search of help or water are grim.  And many of those survivors would die of the effects of radiation in the coming years.

Through the years, I've seen many a documentary about the rush to build nuclear weapons, about the uncertainty of what would happen with those first tests and explosions--would the very atmosphere around the planet dissolve?  I have yet to see any footage of scientists who wondered what might happen to civilians on the ground when these bombs exploded.

I've lived long enough to see history being made to know that the choices can be fairly ghastly.  In this case, far better to develop the weapons before the Germans. I know many people who believe that the use of these bombs helped avoid more years of grueling battles that would have left us with even more dead--one could argue that the sacrifice of the populations at Hiroshima and Nagasaki were worth the avoidance of more years of war and that loss of life.

I've also done enough reading and thinking about pacifist approaches to wonder if there might not have been another way if we had acted much earlier.

On this day in 1945, nuclear weapons were first used in war, and so far, we haven't used them in war again.  We have been lucky that nuclear weapons are so complicated and pose such a health risk in terms of radiation that terrorists have stayed away from them.

Let us do all that we have in our power to do to make sure that these weapons are not used again.

Friday, August 5, 2016

Try the Simple Approach

Several weeks ago, our spin class teacher had a very simple approach to our class.  We would climb for six minutes, go fast for 20 seconds, and then recover for three minutes.  Then we'd do it again, cycle after cycle, until class was over.

Some teachers have more complicated routines.  For example, we might climb switchback style, adding gears and pedaling for 30 seconds, taking off gears and pedaling, adding one here, taking off two there.  I like those routines because they keep calling me back to the moment, reminding me to be present.

But when we did our streamlined routine several weeks ago, I was reminded of the benefit of a simple approach.  When it was time to climb, I added as much gear as I could stand and pumped away.  When it was time to speed, I took much of the gear off and went as fast as I could.  We didn't worry about the music--although I like a routine matched to the beat of the music, the beat of any particular song seemed less important that day.

As I think about that approach and the satisfying workout that I had that day, I wonder if we could adopt a similar approach to other areas of life.  I think about my creative work, about all the various projects I have going at any given time.  Would I better off if I simply worked on poems?

I think of our approach to teaching Composition, which I've taught in a variety of ways.  I think one of the less successful ways is to say, "O.K. this week we're writing a process essay.  Next week, we'll write an argumentative essay.  Let's move on to a research essay."  I would rather have a stripped down approach:  tell me what's interesting to you this week.

Of course, the danger to this approach is that students don't always know how to approach that kind of essay.  Or they choose a topic that really needs research.  Or the choosing of the topic takes so much time that there's no time left to polish the writing.

The other lesson to come out of the simple approach to spin class is to remember that one single approach would never satisfy most of us for long.  It's a nice change of pace, but I wouldn't want it day after day.

It's a good tool to have in our toolboxes, as we approach much of life.  If I'm feeling frustrated, in teaching, in creative life, I'll try to remember to focus on just one aspect, for at least a little time.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Poetry Thursday: Nancy Drew as Teacher

It's early August, which would have still been high summer during my youth, but in these days of high stakes testing, many schools are starting earlier, which means these are the waning days of summer.

I originally thought I'd have my chapbooks at the beginning of summer, but there's been an 8 week delay, and it won't surprise me if the delay stretches longer.

It won't be a bad thing to have an autumn release of my chapbook.  I need to start to think about doing a few readings perhaps, or having a party here or there.  My younger self might have already done the planning and the organizing.  My older self says, "See how it all works out--I had no readings scheduled, and so I can wait to plan readings until I have the books in hand."  I've done pre-release readings hoping that people would buy books, and no one did.

As I sent out e-mails to let pre-release purchasers know of the delay, my thoughts returned to the poems in the chapbook, and since teachers head back to school down here a week from Monday, let me post my Nancy Drew as teacher poem to cheer up your Thursday.

Nancy Drew and the Mystery of the Pre-Drop Outs

Nancy Drew decides she needs new
mysteries to solve, so she returns
to school, to mold young minds.

Long ago, in between cracking cases
involving diaries or letters or maps and solving
secrets in attics and towers, she got a teaching
certificate, as ambitious women did in those days.
Now she calls the school board to see
how she might be of use.

Her credentials, old and out of date,
don't prevent her from taking charge
of the most hopeless classrooms,
the students on a layover
on their journey to juvenile court.

Given tattered textbooks and worksheets without
answer keys, Nancy Drew adopts
a different approach.  As always, she calls
on her friends.

Bess runs a bakeshop, so she teaches
the students to cook, a retro home-ec
approach.  Nancy Drew's feminist critics
would not approve, but this generation
of students, raised on cooking shows, responds
with rare enthusiasm.

Nancy Drew believes in fresh air and sunshine,
so she recruits her friend George, a marine
biologist, for ideas.  George leads
field trips to various ecosystems:
swamp walks and snorkeling and soon
some of the students are ready
for college-track science classes.

These clues to a better future don't prevent
some of her students from sneaking
away to explore more ancient secrets.
She tries to keep them focused on the future,
but she remembers Ned Nickerson
and those cars now considered classics.

She thinks Of Ned in the roadster,
and later, her love confined to the hospital bed,
immune from rescue, unable to hear
her whispered pleas.

She kisses the old locket always worn
around her neck and writes the day's lesson
plan on the white board.  At the end
of the day, she erases the smeared
lines from the board to leave a blank
space to be filled again in the morning.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Swaths of Time and Writing in the Margins

Yesterday, a colleague and friend asked me how I made money on my forthcoming chapbook, especially since we had been talking about publication delays (for those of you wondering where your chapbook is, the delay will be at least 8 weeks, which would be later in August--and I won't be surprised if it's a bit longer than that).

Well, the truth is that I may not make any money on this chapbook.  I do get some copies as part of my publication deal.  And I could buy additional copies at half price, which would mean I'd make roughly $6 per copy, if I sold them.

Clearly I will not be leaving my day job.  And I'm grateful to have this day job, along with my part-time jobs teaching online.

I was talking to the same friend about her jewelry making, which she's had time to do with reduced teaching this summer; suddenly she has swaths of time that she didn't have during the first part of the year.  She's setting up an Etsy site and seeing what happens.  We talked about how to price her work.  If she thinks about how much she spent on the supplies, she may price herself out of the market.  I would be encouraged to sell pieces so that I wouldn't have to store them--and she has a smaller house the way that I do.

Over lunch, I talked with a different friend about post-teaching jobs.  I talked about being a spiritual director, which she has no interest in, so I asked her about her creativity work.  Right now she's had some opportunities that she's had to pass up because she's got a very full teaching schedule.

I've thought of taking some classes and getting some certifications while I'm still employed at my current job.  But I don't have time to do a lot of the activities I'd like to do now.  When would I fit in coursework?

My spouse and I have often commented that in our lives we seem to have money or time--and when we have time, we don't always have the money to enjoy some of the activities we'd like to explore.

I wish that I could end with some pithy suggestions, with the big reveal that I've discovered a way of balancing it all.  I have no pithy suggestions, no big reveal.

I do have a plan for August.  I have been feeling a bit of despair over having several stories in my head with very little time at home to write.  I have noticed that there are days when I might be able to write a bit at the office--some people take smoking breaks still, so why shouldn't I take a fiction writing break?  I'll write one or two stories while at home, and I'll work on a different story when I'm at work.  At the end of August, we'll see if I've written more than I would have with my only write fiction on the home computer approach.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

You Are Living in a Poem

On Sunday, I heard a great interview with Naomi Shahib Nye on the radio show On Being.  She says that she writes "You Are Living in a Poem" on the board of any room she's in:

"I just came back from Japan a month ago, and in every classroom, I would just write on the board, 'You are living in a poem.' And then I would write other things just relating to whatever we were doing in that class. But I found the students very intrigued by discussing that. 'What do you mean, we’re living in a poem?” Or, “When? All the time, or just when someone talks about poetry?' And I’d say, 'No, when you think, when you’re in a very quiet place, when you’re remembering, when you’re savoring an image, when you’re allowing your mind calmly to leap from one thought to another, that’s a poem. That’s what a poem does.' And they liked that."

I love her approach to life--which includes writing:  "One thing I’ve tried to say to groups over the years, groups of all ages, is that writing things down, whatever you’re writing down, even if you’re writing something sad or hard, usually you feel better after you do it. Somehow, you’re given a sense of, 'OK, this mood, this sorrow I’m feeling, this trouble I’m in, I’ve given it shape. It’s got a shape on the page now. So I can stand back, I can look at it, I can think about it a little differently. What do I do now?' And very rarely do you hear anyone say they write things down and feel worse."

She reminds us that it need not take a lot of time:  "And I think many people are encouraged to think you could write that little and still gain something from it. That you don’t have to be spending an hour and a half to three hours to five hours a day writing to have a meaningful experience with it. It’s a very immediate experience. You can sit down and write three sentences. How long does that take? Three minutes. Five minutes. And be giving yourself a very rare gift of listening to yourself, just finding out when you go back and look at what you wrote. And how many times we think, 'Oh, I would never have remembered that if I hadn’t written it down.'”

Go here to listen to the show or read the transcript.

Monday, August 1, 2016

July: The Writer's Report

Periodically I like to do a writer's check in.  It help keeps me honest both here in real time, and later, when I tend to castigate myself for what I didn't get done--and then I look back and realize that I actually did better than what I think.

Let me remember that July was a month with special challenges:  more online teaching duties, more administrator work to do with 7 new hires, a back going into spasms, and Vacation Bible School.

But with all the challenges, I still managed to get writing done:

--I wrote a few poems, along with some false starts.

--I have started writing 2 short stories, and I have another one in my head.  I've been thinking about the complete collection, and I went back to some of the other stories to make some revisions.

--I sent some poem packets out into the world, even though July is not a great time for making submissions, as many journals aren't reading in the summer.

--My friend and I have gotten back to our Purgatory project.

--I continued blogging faithfully.

Here we are, launching into August.  My writing goals will stay the same--but I also need to think about September, where I'd like to step up the pace on some projects, particularly in submitting.  I want to start sending out some of these stories that will make my Activists at 50 collection--it would be wonderful to generate publishing interest in the collection as I bring it to fruition.