Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Poetry Tuesday: "History's Chalkboards"

I awoke this morning to read that Trump has fired the attorney general--as we play the "What president does Trump resemble today?" game, Nixon comes to mind.

I wondered what poem I might have in my archives for the morning after the firing of the attorney general, but I was very young during Nixon's time.  I have other poems for other grim situations, which no doubt I'll get to use eventually.

I wrote the following poem in August as the campaign season ramped into high gear. I couldn't get the Sylvia Plath quote out of my head. Did I read Ray Bradbury's "There Will Come Soft Rains" before I wrote it?  I think I was writing it, and the title came to me, and I looked it up and proceeded to read it.

This morning, I find the reference to the violence and societal upheaval of the 60's (the fire next time) to be both alarming and comforting.  We have been here before, and a better society emerged out of those ashes.  Perhaps we will be that fortunate again.  Perhaps we will survive the societal winnowing again.

History’s Chalkboards

“Every woman adores a Fascist,  
The boot in the face, the brute  
Brute heart of a brute like you.”
                            “Daddy” by Sylvia Plath

Every woman adores a Fascist.
Turns out men do too.
But we imagine the boot
on someone else’s face,
a face that doesn’t look
like ours, the face that arrives
to take our jobs and steal
our factories, while laughing
at us in a foreign language.

No God but capitalism,
the new religion, fascism disguised
as businessman, always male,
always taking what is not his.

Brute heart, not enough stakes
to keep you dead. 
We thought we had vanquished
your kind permanently last century
or was it the hundred years before?

As our attics crash into our basements,
what soft rains will come now?
The fire next time,
the ashes of incinerated bodies,
the seas rising on a tide
of melted glaciers.

And so we return to history’s chalkboard,
the dust of other lessons in our hair.
We make our calculations.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Rainy Sunday

Yesterday was chilly and rainy, a perfect day for making chowder.  So, I dropped my college roommate and spouse at church for their pre-service practice, and I headed to Doris' Italian Market.  I bought the various ingredients and came back to church.

My pastor had changed the service at the last minute to respond to President Trump's recent decisions about immigrants and refugees; for more on this service, see this post on my theology blog.  Even before the service started, I had the Sanctuary Movement of the 80's on my mind.

While I am pleased with the protests and the actions of judges and lawyers, I am deeply disturbed by this first week of Trump's presidency, especially with the promotion of Steve Bannon to the National Security Council.  While others have been sounding the alarm since election morning, I've been saying "Let's wait and see." After this past week, I am convinced that Trump meant every word he said (I was hoping he just said stuff to get elected and would spend 4 years being ineffectual), and perhaps worse, and that he is a true danger.

I want to post this meme that travelled around the Internet last week so that I remember it, and because we talked about it on the way to church when my college roommate read it to us: "First they came for the scientists…  And the National Parks Services said, 'lol, no' and went rogue and we were all like 'I was not expecting the park rangers to lead the resistance, none of the dystopian novels I read prepared me for this but cool.'”

We talked about forest rangers making so little money that they weren't easily controlled, unlike some of us.  Plus, they had thousands if not millions of acres of land into which to disappear if necessary, and many of them know how to do so.

We were talking quite seriously, on some level, even if we were laughing.  Our discussions of refugees at church and afterwards were also quite serious.  I keep thinking of resisters of past years, especially Bonhoeffer and the sanctuary churches of the 80's.

I had expected that much would be required of people of faith/good conscience, but I wasn't expecting to have these conversations in the first week of the administration.

Despite our heavy conversations, we had a pleasant Sunday afternoon, making not one but two kinds of chowder (dairy based and tomato based).  Our houseguest took a nap, while my spouse started a great discussion thread, based on Bonhoeffer, with his blended class.  I took care of my online classes and then did some writing.

My college roommate decided she wanted to go to Ikea, so late in the afternoon, off we went.

A rainy Sunday afternoon is a great time to go to Ikea--it wasn't as crowded as I feared.  I remember when this kind of furniture seemed the height of sophistication to me.  In the late 70's, my parents loved Scandinavian furniture, and we'd go to showrooms in Atlanta, which would inspire me to dream of a future day full of modular shapes and straight lines.

Yesterday, as I looked at all these pieces of furniture and accessories designed to store other stuff, I thought, I don't want more storage packets/pockets/drawers--I want less stuff.  Plus, I don't want to assemble the stuff.

I did buy 2 folding chairs for outdoor use--they were already assembled and both sturdy and cheap.  In early April, we'll have a few days when we'll need them as various family members arrive.

I kept thinking that if I was in my younger years and just starting out, more of this stuff would appeal to me.  But it takes hours just to circle through the store, or at least it felt that way.

Here we are, week 4 of Winter quarter, week 2 of the Trump administration.  I wonder what the week will bring.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Small Actions To Be the Change We Want to See in the World

Yesterday on our drive back, I saw a solitary protestor on the side of the road (Highway 1, the only major road) in Key Largo.  He had a huge sign that said, "Resist Trump's actions on Muslims."

A multitude of thoughts went through my head.  I wondered if there had been new actions during the day when we were away.  I admired the solitary protest.  I wondered why he chose that particular street side.  How long will he stand there?

I thought about a recent post that Beth wrote about how to balance one's activism life with self-care.  It's an excellent post, especially for people who are new to this necessity of protest.  And for those of us who are weary at still having to mount these protests, there are good reminders:  "Part of the struggle against fascism, extreme negativity, fear and violence is to maintain our true selves, and a belief in all that is good in the world and in our lives. So don't stop creating, don't stop loving, and don't stop living. The formless and pervasive sense of "I should be doing something" will be alleviated by your discernment, your focus, and your commitment to do something concrete each day or each week. So do that, and then get on with your life, wholeheartedly."

And for those of us who are overwhelmed by the need for all this action, I would remind us that small actions can bring good into the world too.  I am seeing lots of Facebook posts about people who are determined to take one daily action, big or small, for change or resistance to the current administration.  Many of these actions involve calling or e-mailing legislators.

I don't dispute that communicating with legislators is important, and I anticipate months of issues emerging which will necessitate expressing our dismay to those whom we have elected to govern. 

I am lucky in that I have a Representative who is likely to vote the way that I want her to vote.  I always feel kind of silly when I call and ask her to vote for a bill that I know she'll support already.

I also know that this kind of action can leave some of us feeling hopeless.  We may have legislators who will do whatever they want, regardless of their constituents.  We may feel that we call and call and call, and nothing happens.

Maybe we need something more immediate.  I thought of this when my college roommate saved the Campbell's soup labels on cans that I was going to recycle.  She told me that I could take them to my public library, and they could get free books that way.  I had never thought of that.

I don't use canned soup often, but I do occasionally use them when I need chicken or beef stock.  What a great idea to save the labels.

We could do the same with box tops, which come on many products and local schools can trade for stuff.  I mail mine to my sister, who collects them for my nephew's elementary school.  But at the time that she no longer collects them, I could still donate them to a local school.

What are some other actions that we can do that will take a small amount of time but bring some good into the world?  Let me list some:

--When we go grocery shopping, we could pick up some items for the food pantry.  Don't know where your local food pantry is?  Call a local church or two or three--you'll find someone who can tell you.

--When we go to a big box store, like Target or Wal-Mart, we could buy a package of socks for the local homeless shelter.

--Don't forget about the power of money.  We can write a check to national or local groups that are working for the changes we want to see in the world.  Even small checks are better than no checks.

--Does your employer match your charitable giving?

--Bring some treats to the local office of your favorite non-profit or charity.  Raise the spirits of the people who are usually working long hours for low pay.

--Read to children.  At first this action might not seem simple as many groups now require a background check.  But once you're done with that, you might find joy in sharing stories with children.

--Buy children's books and give them to elementary schools and libraries.  Support programs that support summer reading.

--Don't forget about the importance of self-care and care of your compatriots.  You cannot keep giving and giving and not replenish yourself.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Self-Nourishing and Resistance in this New Age

At some point, I'll write more about my time with my college roommate.  Let me look back at the past week in a more abbreviated format:

 --On Wednesday, I wrote this Facebook post:

"Let us now praise Lutheran colleges: my college roommate, Heatherlynn is visiting, and tonight she will go to choir practice with my college boyfriend, now spouse, Carl. She will sing with my church's choir on Sunday. Thanks, Newberry College, for making this possible!"

--In the interest of honesty, I should say that neither of them sang in college, at least not in a formal group.  It would be a better story if they sang in the Madrigalians (Newberry College's most highly regarded and selective choral group) and had gone on to sing in local choirs.  But would it be a sad story?  Not in real life, but in the hands of a fiction writer, perhaps.  If I was writing the story, I'd do what I could to have readers expect a sad story or a midlife crisis story, but the ending would have the characters realize how lucky they are that they can still sing in a group.  Not everyone gets to continue following a passion this way, especially not a passion that needs a group.

--My college roommate came on her way back from the women's march.  I have LOVED hearing her stories about the march.  She collected some of the discarded signs, and one night we looked at them:  such a wide variety and some so lovingly hand-crafted.  I touched one Planned Parenthood sign and said, "I carried a sign very much like this one in a march almost thirty years ago!"  Sigh.

--But let me keep focusing on the numbers of people who turned out.  Let me remember this week as the one where various government workers refused to shut up.  I love the story of the Badlands National Park rangers who kept posting on social media even when ordered to stop.  I said to my college friend, "They make, like $12,000 a year, right?  They have nothing to lose."

--May we all continue to behave as if we have nothing to lose.  In this way, repressive governments are rendered powerless.

--I've had to work this week, so I haven't been as available.  But my spouse has stepped in to be tour guide and the better host than I can be.

--I have been making good meals.  On Tuesday we had beef stroganoff and one Thursday chicken mole poblano.  Yum.  This morning I am baking cookies for a picnic we will have later.

--It will not be a gourmet picnic, not a Silver Palate, Ina Garten kind of picnic.  It will include chips from a bag, but slightly better quality chips.  We will have simple sandwiches (turkey and/or roast beef and/or provolone cheese slices) by the seaside.

--I've been reading Colson Whitehead's The Underground Railroad.  It's every bit as good as we've heard.  More on this later.

--Yesterday, for the first time ever as an administrator, I got a call from the health department.  But it was not what I feared when the front desk announced the call.  We had applied for a permit as a waste-generating facility; we sent a check for $105, as the application told us to do.  The kind person on the phone from the health department told me that it should have been for $100.  So, the health department will send the check back, and we will send a new check.  The whole process may cost more than $5, but giving a $5 donation to the health department didn't seem to be an option.

--And yes, this was one of those times when I thought, back when I was in grad school, getting a Ph.D. in 19th century British literature, I never would have envisioned that there would come a future job that would have me talking to the health department about a non-catastrophic matter.

--But I am still quite happy with my new job.

--It's also been a good writing week.  I've been writing a story that's oddly compelling to me: an administrator from Corporate is coming to a school that's very much like my old school--she's on a fact finding mission as the parent company tries to determine which schools should close.  The story has taken me to surprising places.

--A Create in Me minister friend is touring the Holy Land.  She wrote this Facebook post:  ""Tonight we will sleep in Galilee."

I wrote back:  "Tonight we will sleep in Galilee--that should be a song! When I start my punk band with mandolins and ukuleles, that will be my first composition!

--I've also gotten an idea for a new story, one based on what my college friend told me about the women's march.  It will fit in perfectly.
Yes, it's been a good week, with lots of self-nourishing to keep me sane with each new story out of the first week of the Trump administration that makes me want to weep.

Friday, January 27, 2017

Screensaver for the Apocalypse

Yesterday's news that the Doomsday clock had moved closer to midnight sparked several of my friends to write to me; I am not known as The Apocalypse Gal for nothing.

Once I kept a watchful eye on that clock.  I thought the clock had been closer to midnight in my college years, I expected a nuclear cloud at any moment.  But no, we're closer to midnight than we have been since 1953.  Now there's cheery news.

This morning, I listened to this fascinating piece on NPR's Fresh Air about how the very rich are preparing for the apocalypse that now seems to be lurking in every shadow and tweet.  The writer travelled to a Survival Condo project, luxury condos being created in abandoned nuclear bunkers.  For just a few million, you could have one too--except that they're sold out.

The designer used tricks that cruise ships use so that survivors of the apocalypse don't feel claustrophobic.  Instead of windows, there are screens that will show scenes from a world that no longer exists.  I was struck by the woman who arranged to have the view that she would be seeing from her New York City windows--and since she's rich enough to buy a survival bunker, one assumes she has a beautiful view, not one of a squalid tenement.

Terry Gross laughed about a screensaver, an apocalyptic screensaver.  I loved that language.  I thought about the fact that I'm still writing stories and poems and sending them out--could I see this practice as a sort of screensaver too.

I had a great writing morning as I listened to the show about the ways the very rich are preparing for the end.  I am still hopeful that I might write a story a month--that means that I have a few days to finish the one that I'm working on--it's about a woman from corporate who comes on a fact-finding mission to determine the survival of the for-profit arts school, the school that is the linking device for the short stories.

I did think about the irony (not really irony?) that I was writing about the kind of apocalypse experienced by so many as I listened to this radio program about how the very rich are preparing for an apocalypse they will likely not experience in the way that they plan.

It's not that I don't believe in the possibility of apocalypse--I certainly do.  But I think it won't be the apocalypse for which we've prepared.  I have this vision of all these owners of luxury condos in the apocalyptic bunker lying sickened and dying in the hospital, felled by some flu that has no vaccine yet. 

And should humanity survive, what will future archeologists make of this site?  Will they be impressed in the ingenuity of the twenty-first century residents?  Or will they note the irony of the luxury bunkers in an age where it's increasingly harder to find affordable housing?

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Life Lessons from "The Mary Tyler Moore Show"

I was saddened to hear of the death of Mary Tyler Moore.  I was most familiar with her as the character of Mary Richards, and all through the afternoon after hearing of her death, I thought of her as a character and the show as a shaper of my expectations of what grown up life would be like.

I am also sad because the show was an essential part of my childhood.  I wrote this e-mail to my mom, dad, and sister:  "I'm hearing that Mary Tyler Moore has died, and I'm feeling sad. That show reminds me of Mom, in part because Mom wore similar clothes. But it also reminds me of cozy family times, watching those great Saturday night shows (the Bob Newhart show!), eating popcorn--and later, when I'd babysit Megan, and we'd melt real butter for our popcorn!"

But I'm really sad as I think about that show, and about how rare that show seems--how plentiful those kinds of shows seemed in the 70's (although I realize there were plenty of bad shows too--I loved those too when I watched them).  I miss TV shows about grown ups who have careers and friends and nothing gruesome happens.  The only people on TV who have careers these days have jobs that require them to investigate all kinds of disturbing things, and then I can't sleep at night.

Let me think about the ways that the show made me anticipate adulthood:

--I assumed that I, too, would have a career that would be fulfilling, just like Mary Richards did.  When I've gone back to watch the show as a grown up, the workplace dynamics seem very true to life, any kind of working life.  We learn a lot about those characters, and we learn about them because Mary learns about them.  They spend time together, lots of time through the years, and thus, they open up to each other.  They are a family of sorts--and for some of the characters, it's the only family they have.

--I love Mary's clothes--very sensible, but not frumpy--but not sexy.  I'm not sure why that feels so important to me, and I suspect if we delved deeply into it, we could find deep-seated neuroses that make me feel this way.  But it's also important to see her as a guidepost:  we can wear nice clothes and not be sexpots at work.  We can wear a variety of clothes.  We don't have to take them off to get ahead.

--I love Rhoda's clothes too.  She has a career that's artsier, and she can still have a place of her own.  She can make a living.

--I love their friendship.  They can have lives that are separate--dating and work--but still find ways to connect and support each other.

--Mary makes her own way, as does Rhoda.  They date, but they don't need men to complete them.  And while their dates are often played for laughs, they also show that a man is not going to be the answer to all of life's problems.

So did the show give me false expectations?  I don't think so.  As I've thought back over my own working life, I've been struck by how much my workplaces have resembled those newsrooms, especially in the variety of the characters.  There are the old-timers who are the institutional memory.  There's the guy who gets ahead, and many of us can't quite understand it.  Every workplace has had the grumpy and the crusty.  There's workplace gossip and intrigue, but no one gets hurt--although in real life, it's easier to see the downside of gossip and intrigue--it's not all solved in a half hour and a comic way.

Unlike Mary Richards, I settled down early, although as I watched those shows, I assumed that if I had a marriage-like relationship, it would be much later.  But those shows helped me to stay realistic in my expectations.  I didn't expect my marriage to complete me, but I did know it would be nice to have a soul mate with me throughout life.

I wonder what a mid-life Mary Richards would have taught us. Or Mary Richards as she faced aging.  I suspect much would have been the same:  she'd have gone on turning the world on with her smile and making nothing dates into something worthwhile.

And now it's up to us to turn the world on with our collective smile.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

After the Pomp, the Circumstance

Now is the time to begin the work.

Which path will we take towards the future?

The gnarled tree holds its secrets, but we must move forward.

Perhaps the smooth surface tells the truth, or perhaps we should be wary of alligators.

The view is half hidden, but we can see blue skies beyond.

Let us put stone on stone, striving for balance.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Poetry Tuesday: "Zen Lessons at the Airport"

My college roommate will soon enter the airport-industrial complex; hopefully by dinner time, we'll be eating beef stroganoff together.

I once flew every 4-6 weeks; I once knew the Delta schedule by heart, which planes could get me home if one flight was delayed.  Now I try to avoid flying.

I don't have as much time to write this morning, so let me post a poem.  Here's hoping for a day of safe travels, wherever our journeys take us.

Zen Lessons at the Airport

The tarmac longs to lift itself skyward,
to fling itself free of the earth’s clinging
embrace, to shake off the cloak of asphalt
depression, to float in the fantastic
realms that stretch above.

The planes tell tales of improbable
kingdoms, castles of clouds and endless
vistas. The planes delight
in tormenting the tarmac with visions
of lands it can never visit.

The planes torture the tarmac, jealous
of its stability. They tire
of fleeing across continents, always rushing
to stay ahead of the harsh
taskmaster of the schedule. Breathless,
the planes race
from day to day, never having a chance
to enjoy the views, never knowing
for sure where they’ll be on any given day.

The tarmac stays anchored and mopes
about, frustrated by the familiar scenery.
The planes see the world, but yearn
for a friendly face and a rooted
future. The flowers bloom their riotous
profusion of flowers, even though the planes
overlook them and the tarmac wishes
for different colored blooms.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Getting Ready for Hospitality

It has been a good week-end, but exhausting.  Last night I thought about how much my feet and legs ached, and I realized that I had spent much of Sunday afternoon and evening on my feet.  I am finally catching up with chores I meant to complete months ago, and then over Christmas.

My college roommate arrives tomorrow on her way back to Montana from the women's march.  Her arrival spurred me to make some progress on the cottage and to get the guest room into shape--that way, she can decide which bed she prefers, how much privacy she'd like.

The cottage is far from complete, but now there are new sheets on the bed, a quilt, and a covering for the scratched side table.  A T.V. might be nice, along with a coffee maker, but I haven't had a chance to buy those yet.  And let's not even think about the structural repairs that will be necessary should we ever decide to do something more commercial with the cottage.

Still, I was pleased to see that the cottage can sit empty and not suffer.  I walked in, half expecting to see mold on the walls or lots of dead bugs, but all was well.  I thought about how much I liked the little space--perhaps because it has a lack of furniture.  There's a bed, an upholstered chair with an ottoman, a side table, and a larger rectangular table and wooden chair where one could eat or sew or write.

Could I live there?  Probably--although the kitchen is quite small.  But if it was just me, and I needed a stripped-down existence--yes, of course, I could.

Yesterday evening, while much of the nation watched football, I headed to the grocery store.  We now have some turkey and roast beef and provolone slices for sandwiches, and we'll have beef stroganoff on Tuesday.  On Thursday, we'll have chicken mole poblano, and all week-end, we'll grill.

Yes, we're close to ready.  The house still has pockets of dust, but it likely always will.  I'll do some last cleaning tomorrow.  But if we're still the same at our core here in our early 50's as we were in our college years, my friend will not arrive looking for white-glove cleanliness.  She will delight in home-cooked meals and pots of tea and nourishing conversation.

So will I.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

The Chores: Am I Failing at Being an Adult?

While my friends were marching yesterday, I was wrestling with technology.  I tried to order new contact lenses with the new insurance and got into a snarl with the website that I couldn't solve.  My spouse was trying to create an online quiz for his class, but the software wouldn't let him enter the answers.  My computer started to freeze and unfreeze for no reason.

Some days, it's good to walk away.  That's what I did.

My spouse rebooted his computer, and then he was able to complete his making of the quiz.  This morning, the website let me complete my transactions--and I ended up being glad I didn't complete them yesterday, since this morning I discovered that I had entered some incorrect information about my prescription.

Yesterday, I pulled weeds, a long overdue task, and did some dusting and mopping of the floors, an even more overdue task.  As is usual when I do this, I thought about how much of our furniture is from an older age and not really compatible with my life or our current age. 

For example, our dining room table has lots of ornate carvings on the legs--lots of places for dust to gather.  I'd prefer straight lines.  The chairs are heavy--and the floor is becoming scratched because of them.  We have an end table that is holding a phone that only works sporadically and a lamp that doesn't really illuminate our work--what is the point?

But I try to resist hauling too much of my life to the curb in any given afternoon.  So, instead I loaded the car with a huge pile of stuff we'd been accumulating for months--it's going to the rummage sale at our church or Goodwill, I don't care which.

The cleaning was getting to me (lots of dust), so I went outside to weed.  How do these weeds take over our river rock beds in such a quick time?  Yank, yank, yank, over an hour and I'm still nowhere close to done--and it's a small yard!

I would like to tell you that I feel purged and cleansed, but I feel a bit of despair.  Why does it seem so hard to keep on top of these tasks (cleaning, sorting, getting rid of, keeping the weeds at bay) that others seem to master?

It is a comfort that most people I talk to feel this way--even the ones who have paid for help tell me that they feel my same sense of failing at being an adult.

But let me not focus on those feelings.  Let me remember the pictures from all of yesterday's marches.  Let me remember how happy they made me.  Let me remember times from this week where I chose to have a meal with friends, not stay at home to dust and weed.  I'd rather be successful in this area, even if it means that weeds make inroads and dust makes a home with me.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

I Ain't Marching Anymore

The title is an allusion to the Phil Ochs song by the same name.  Once I marched a lot.  Will I really never march again?

Today I have friends all over the country who are marching--including my college roommate who has come all the way from Montana to march on Washington.  There have been moments this week where I've thought that I should get myself on a plane--that this march may be one that I will really regret missing.

I've been to marches before based on that premise.  I went to a march in 1992 with the focus being the preservation of Roe v. Wade.  I felt I was there for a historic time, but it also left me feeling a bit blah.  It was during the waning years of Republican rule, although I didn't know that at the time, and I wondered if my 10 years of marching had made any difference at all.

I marched for nuclear disarmament.  I marched for a variety of women's rights.  I went to gay pride rallies--or were they picnics?  I marched against apartheid; I went to prayer vigils that I suspect might have been more effective, although I wouldn't have told you that at the time.  I went to national marches and local marches.  I'd like to say that I marched holes in the soles of my boots, but they were thick-soled boots, so that wouldn't be true.

I grew up in the shadow of the 60's and older Civil Rights Movements.  I believed in the power of marches--although later, I came to realize how important the visuals were.  Those Civil Rights marchers in their Sunday clothes being assaulted with fire hoses and dogs--those folks were more sympathetic than some of the 60's marchers who had such a different visual message (dirty draft dodgers?  entitled students?  drugged out kids?).

Do I still believe in the power of marches?  Yes.  I think today's marches will speak volumes.  Will anyone pay attention?  Will those marches even register in the minds of those in power?  Surely so, if the numbers of marchers across the nation are as high as I expect.

Will it change behavior?  I do not know.

I am marching in spirit--and truth be told, I'm glad that it's only in spirit.  I'm nursing a foot injury which leaves me limping this morning.  I have tendons across the top of my foot that get tender very easily, and today, they're screaming at me.

It's my left foot.  I have a left eye that's been goopier than usual (allergies, not infection) since election day.  The whole left side of my body is in worse shape than the right--it's hard not to see that as a metaphor.

Of course, sometimes foot pain and a goopy eye are just foot pain and a goopy eye.  My college roommate is swinging by South Florida before she goes home to Montana.  I need to get the guest room in shape.

I hope she will be safe as she marches.  I pray for safety for us all, both on this day of many marches and in the coming years.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Don't Mourn, Organize

I stashed this Doris Lessing piece for a day just like this; I saw it on Facebook and have no idea who should get credit, but thank you, whoever you are:

I will not be watching the Inauguration.  No, I will be at work, doing what I can do to make life better for students and faculty and the people who will eventually employ our students.

I am worried, but I am always worried.  The older I get, the more I realize that the people in charge are not magical in any way; they are ordinary people with gifts and talents and character flaws which may or may not undo them completely.

I came of age during the Reagan years, so I'm used to feeling like the people in the cabinet are a strange mix of the one person who knows lots about governing, the one in charge who worries more about image than substance, a collection of inept people who know nothing about the departments bequeathed to them, and the others who have some potential and may work out. 

The Trump reign seems to be very similar to Reagan's (if you want to read an interesting article that compares Trump to LBJ, go here).  I fully expect attempts to gut all the departments that I hold dear.  But frankly, many groups like NPR and PBS have already been made much less dependent on public funds than they were decades ago--and it's worked out.

Maybe this will all be O.K.  But it's more realistic to know that much of the next 4 years won't be O.K. with me, and to look for ways to protect what and who I cherish and to try to help those who don't have the advantages that I do when it comes time to resist.

Image from Two Sylvias Press

Maybe we will create great art in the face of great uncertainty.  It's happened before. 

I am holding onto the idea that once people have their rights, it's hard to strip them away.  I tell myself that it's rare for civilizations to backslide significantly--but I am aware of all the times that it's happened.

I am aware that times of great societal darkness often lead to times of great enlightenment.  I'm thinking about the time that the plague swept through Europe, which left the countries decimated, but gave the peasant survivors more leverage to build better lives--steps towards the end of serfdom and eventually the Renaissance.

I'm also aware that the people who lived through the plague would not be alive to enjoy the best years of the Renaissance.

You can see how my brain goes back and forth:  "It will be O.K.  It takes a lot to change the direction of the ship of state"; "Maybe it's time to stash some assets offshore."  On and on my brain goes.

I am not yet sewing my jewels into my hemlines, but it's crossed my mind--not that I have any jewels, and knowing me, I'd grab the wrong garments as I fled.

I grabbed a Bob Dylan CD as I headed out the door yesterday morning, and during my travels across the day, I kept returning to the first track of Bringing It All Back Home, "Subterranean Homesick Blues."  I was surprised by how much this song, written before I was born, still seems relevant, just as it did when I first heard it during the Reagan administration.  Here are some words of wisdom:

"Don't follow leaders, watch your parking meters."

"You don't need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows."

And for my friends who will be demonstrating:

"Better stay away from those / That carry 'round a firehouse"

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Existential Loneliness and the Mainframe Computer

Yesterday, I spent the morning getting training on CampusVue, my school's system that maintains student records, and probably other data too.  We set up a weekly report on at-risk students, and as I learned how to edit, I set the reporting date to end in 2019.

I said, "I wonder where we'll all be in 2019."

I ended my work day by observing new faculty and remembering that I once knew so much more, as one class learned about atoms and the ways they connect, both violently (snatching electrons away) and less violently, in a more congenial joining.

In the middle of the night, I dreamed that I was at a computer, but it was an old-fashioned mainframe, like the kind in Hidden Figures.  I woke up thinking about a computer deep underground, in a room with lead-lined walls, continuing to spit out student-at-risk reports, long after the nuclear conflagration.  My spouse came to bed, and I told him about my vision.  I asked if a computer could keep working, even after a nuclear blast.  We talked about the electromagnetic pulse--would lead-lined walls protect the computer?  We said that we thought that it would.

I thought about it as a poem.  This morning, I decided to write the poem, even if the physics might be wrong.

I haven't written a poem since Jan. 9--clearly, I am not meeting my goal of writing one poem a week (I just typed day--hmm--).  But the year is young. 

I'm pleased with what I wrote, a vision of programming our computers to track our steps and the attendance of students, when perhaps we should have been looking for despots on the horizon.  I love the existential loneliness of that lone computer, deep underground, reading reports that no one will ever read.  I love the fact that I project existential loneliness onto a computer.

Let me be similarly inspired today!

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

President Obama's Reading List and My Latest Pick

Late in the afternoon yesterday, a colleague made microwave popcorn, and the smell wafted through the halls.  I thought about the popcorn that I didn't buy on Saturday when we went to see Hidden Figures.  I thought about my evening ahead, with my spouse out teaching.  I thought, I could have popcorn for dinner and spend the night reading.

And I did!

It was healthier popcorn than I would have purchased on Saturday, as I popped it in a pan with olive oil.  I drank iced tea instead of the gallon of soda I would have drunk on Saturday.

I read Zadie Smith's Swing Time, which is due back at the library soon--since it's just been nominated for the National Book Award, I won't likely be allowed to renew it.  With the first chapter, I thought about stopping--I found the constant comma splices to be disconcerting.  But the subject matter intrigued me, so I continued.  I read half of the book last night; it is good, although I like the parts that tell the story of the two main characters as young girls best.  I'm talking about the parts that show them as very young girls, not the material that comes later.

There's a passage about the sexual play of boys and girls, sexual play that's very close to rape, and it's quite an extended chunk of text.  So far, I can't figure out why it was necessary.  I'll be interested to see if I ever do as I finish the book.

On a more minor note, I'm also distracted by some of the very long paragraphs that go on for pages.  It's a stylistic trait of Smith's that has always bothered me.  I don't remember the constant comma splices from past books.

So far, I like On Beauty best of all her books.  I never made it through NW.  I will finish Swing Time, and I suspect I'll have similar feelings about it that I did with White Teeth:  overall, I liked it, but although parts were compelling, I won't read it again.

I came across this article which tells which fiction books Obama has read during his presidency.  I'm linking to it here so that I'll remember it the next time I'm casting about for books to read.  It's an interesting collection.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Eschatology and Inspiration

I thought of some first lines for poems; or maybe it's a single poem:

I am dreaming of mushroom clouds again.

We have the old argument about who drank the dregs from the bottle of wine, although we have other bottles of wine in the chiller.

Will it become a poem?  Hard to say these days.  I need to get back to writing poems.  This week's goal:  to write 2 poems. 

For those interested in dream analysis, I really did have a nuclear war dream, a looming threat and time to get indoors kind of dream.  We were in a wintry landscape, not snowy, but dead.  My college roommate was there, along with younger versions of my parents, and some little children travelling with my college roommate.  We were trying to get the children inside before the nuclear strike happened.  We were filling up the water bottles while we still had water.

No mystery about where that dream comes from.  The update of North Korea's progress on making a nuclear weapon seemed more dire last week.  The new administration seems like one that might blunder into nuclear trouble before it can pull back.

Well we've been here before--perhaps in a worse space, in past decades.  And here we are, no apocalypse come to solve the problem of choosing a major.  I remember telling a class of students about my college era nuclear fears, and they looked at me as if I was deranged.  I said, "Never count on the apocalypse"--and later, while they worked on their essays, I worked on a poem, which later was published in The Powhatan Review.

And before I leave us with the poem, can I just remember how much I once loved this word?  I still do, but it's like a college roommate, with whom I once had daily tea and conversation, but we've now moved to different parts of the continent (which is true of the college roommate who is coming to visit on her way back from the women's march on Washington).


Do not fear the apocalypse.
There are worse things than to be consumed
by the conflagration that claims
a generation. At least you know your part in history.

Do not count on the apocalypse.
You may be one of the lucky ones,
escaping genocide, only to face the oblivion
of old age, the greatest war criminal of all.

Do not embrace the apocalypse.
Cling stubbornly to the promise of resurrection.
Believe that even after nuclear winter,
Spring will thaw the ground.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Steps on the Staircase

What a strange week this is likely to be, bookended by this MLK day and the inauguration of Donald Trump.  It's a good week to remind myself of my favorite quote by King:

"The arc of history is long, but it bends towards justice." 

I want to remember times when it seemed like no progress could ever be made, and then, voila, history changed in what seemed like a flash:  the tearing down of the Berlin Wall, for example, or Nelson Mandela being set free.

I want to believe that even if an administration makes changes I don't always agree with (like the changes to the welfare system in the 90's), it may work out in ways I don't expect.  And even disastrous policies aren't forever.  They may point us in a way we'd rather go.

“If you can't fly then run, if you can't run then walk, if you can't walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward.”  MLK

Over the week-end, we had a lovely Sunday lunch--we compared notes on when and where we were born.  Two of them were born in different places than their hometowns because the hometown didn't have a local hospital.  Two of them were born in different places than their hometowns because their hometown hospitals didn't have the capacity to deliver "colored babies."

We have seen enormous changes happen during our lifetimes.

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”  MLK

Four of us had seen the movie Hidden Figures, but two had not, so we couldn't discuss it thoroughly.  Still, we agreed that what we liked best about the movie was how uplifting it was.  No one was blown up.  The racist southerners were capable of change--maybe not huge changes, but change enough to open the door to more.

“Faith is taking the first step even when you can't see the whole staircase.”  MLK

Today is a day to dream big and bold visions. We could change our society. We could make it better. What would that society look like?

We have to dream that dream before we can achieve it. We have to find the courage to hold tightly to our visions. We have to face down all the fire hoses, both those of our minds which inform us of the impossibility of our dreams and those of our society, that tells us to move more slowly.

But first we have to dream. Dream boldly, today of all days.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

"Hidden Figures": A Movie that Lives Up to the Hype

Yesterday we went to see Hidden Figures--what a great movie!

I know that some people might see this kind of movie as homework--but it's not, despite its rootedness in history, in recovering a history that's been lost.  I've heard it referred to as a movie made the way that movies used to be made, and that's a compliment:  there are fully formed characters (more than one!), attention to detail, a narrative arc, and oddly, a lot of suspense, even though I knew how it all turned out.

I expected to like this movie from the angle of women's history--and I did.  I expected to like the Civil Rights struggle angle--and I did.  I kept waiting for the KKK to show up, for someone's house to explode.  It's good to remember how many of these struggles weren't the mammoth ones, but the daily ones to overcome indignities, like where the bathrooms are located.  I expected to like the Space Race angle, but how much I still like it does surprise me.

I was surprised by how much I LOVED the computer science angle.  At the beginning of the story, there's an empty space waiting for the IBM mainframe to arrive.  I loved seeing the huge computer, and more than that, the punch cards by which humans communicated with the computer.  My dad began programming computers about 1967 or so, so those big computers are part of my childhood memories:  visiting him at work, creating some punch cards, having used computer printer paper as our scratch paper.

At one point near the end of the movie, when John Glenn is hurtling across space and out of touch for a bit, an older man's cell phone went off.  I marveled at the juxtaposition--it's those very space flights that would make later satellites possible, and it's those satellites that make our cell phones possible.  I know that most people have no idea how much computer power they're carrying with those cell phones, but the average smart phone can do so much more than those early mainframes--and they take up so much less space.

It's an amazing miracle, and one that we move through our days rarely acknowledging.

I was also surprised by the aspects that appealed to my educator self; I wasn't expecting the movie to have that aspect.  The part in the movie where I sobbed the hardest was the scene in the courthouse where one character argues why she should be allowed to take graduate classes at the segregated high school where UVa does extension classes.  She asks the judge which of his legal decisions will be the one for which he is remembered.  I thought about all the first generation students who have moved through my classrooms.  I thought of my grad school self who got tired of fighting battles that she already thought were won (but in truth, were not nearly as monumental as the battles fought by earlier generations of women).  I cried, and I cheered.

As I did some Internet searching, I was happy to see that the movie was the #1 movie last week--displacing a different kind of space movie, the latest Star Wars entry.  Part of the reason why I go to see these kinds of movies is that I want these kinds of movies to be made.  I understand the industry's need to make money, although I am horrified by some of what brings in the money, specifically rape and torture films.

As I watched the movie and thought of myself and later generations of students, I did wonder how we will be replacing these scientists.  Now we don't need humans quite as much to do this computing--but we do need them to work the computers.  We do need people of vision who inspire us to go to new heights of all sorts--I'm not sure we have as many people with the theoretical competence to get us further towards the stars.

Maybe a movie like this one will be part of the solution; maybe younger viewers will see it and understand the creative joy that can come from science, math, and computers.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Self Care, and Other Types of Care

I have spent the past week eating some of the soups that I stashed in the freezer just after Christmas.  The week before Christmas, my spouse made a wonderful soup out of the ham bone (with lots of ham too!) that we brought home with us over Thanksgiving, and on the morning of Christmas Eve, I made a veggie soup.  I thought that people might want soup on Christmas Eve, so I took them to church. 

We had lots of leftovers, and we already had a full fridge.  So I put them away for later.  It's wonderful to have food in the freezer for later.

I was not always this way.  Once we had a full-size, standing freezer.  I would routinely make casseroles in double and triple amounts and freeze the extra, only to find that I never wanted them again.  I wanted to cook something new.

Those days are these days--these days, I love being able to pull something out of the freezer during these weeks when I'm not home much.  I love having soup for lunch--a soup that reminds me of both Thanksgiving and Christmas, no less.

It's important self-care.

Yesterday, on my way home from work, I heard a story on "The World" (can't find a link, though) about the British journalist who released a dossier on Trump and the Russians.  He's gone underground, but before leaving, he made arrangements for someone to take care of his cats.  There was some chuckling about a James Bond type spy making arrangements for his cat, but I found it touching.

Today, my spouse and I will do some marriage self-care.  We are going to see Hidden Figures.  He was the first to hear about it, and he said, "I'd really like to see that movie."  He only feels this way about once every three years, so I made note of it.  I'd like to see it too, for many reasons, but mainly because I want these kinds of movies to be made, and thus, I feel like I should support them.

Awhile ago, my spouse and I realized that we too seldom get out and do anything out of the ordinary, unless we have out of town visitors.  We wanted to show ourselves the same kind of care and attention that we do our out of town guests.  We're not always good at that, but we try to be aware.

Is it sad that going to a movie qualifies?  I don't think so.  We very seldom go to movies.  Today's outing feels more like a special occasion than Thursday's outing to the Irish pub, although that felt special too.

It's certainly more special than the alternative:  house care, although that needs to be done too.  For weeks, we had more food in the house than I could figure out how we would eat--but we've eaten most of it.  We need to do some grocery shopping.  The pool doesn't get our attention as much during January as it does in the summer--thus, it's got more leaves in it than I like to see.  We've got weeds coming up in our decorative areas that have river rock.

But today we will go see a movie.  We will celebrate people of vision.  It's a good way to start our MLK week-end.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Friday Fragments

It's been a long week, work days that have lasted 11 hours.  I am exhausted this morning, but it's a good way.  Let me capture some fragments:

--My campus is in good shape with our Winter 2017 start--very good shape.  I don't know all the specifics, because nobody wants to jinx it.  But it's nice to know that we're waiting to hear details of a good surprise, not the dreadful news that my last school would always deliver near the end of the first week.

--I saw the release of statistics that come out in conjunction with the Gainful Employment law.  That's the law that looks at the ratio of student debt to their earnings the first year, and programs that don't come into a certain range get a failing grade.  My old school is not in good shape.  My new school is not on the list.

--Last night, when celebrating the 50th birthday of a friend, we discovered a cool place that was new to us, even though it's been in existence for over a decade.  It's an Irish place that had good beer, and last night, live Irish music--the good kind, not the annoying kind.  It was decorated with all sorts of old books and old tools and old pottery.  It had several different areas, all of them cozy.  I'd go back to The Field Irish Pub and Eatery.

--Even though this week has been the first 5 day work week in awhile, it's been good to get back in the swing of things.  My short story about the corporate woman who may be coming to shut down the school which is the thread that ties together my collection of linked stories--it's going very well, with delightful discoveries.  My online class has not swung into high gear.  I've been getting myself to spin class.  I've gone for walks.  I've eaten more vegetables.  Yes, it's back to post-holiday life.

--But I still miss those twinkly lights.

--This week-end we have plans to go see Hidden Figures.  We will go tomorrow at 11, so as to get the cheap tickets--saves us over $5 a ticket.  It has been a long time since I felt so excited about seeing a movie.  My spouse also wants to see it--he's the one that put it on our radar screens.  That's rare, which also feeds my enthusiasm.

Here's hoping we all have a Friday the 13th that only has good luck.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Border Crossings

It is interesting to hear this morning's news about U.S. tanks moving through Poland.  I think back to the 80's and the border of east and west which played such a large part of foreign policy--I think of the TV movie The Day After--nuclear war starts on the border of east and west Germany, as I'm remembering the plot.

I think of how different populations can interpret actions differently.  The U.S. says that this troop movement is nothing out of the ordinary.  But Russia might see it differently.  And do Polish citizens feel protected or vulnerable?

I think of earlier conflicts, particularly World War II, with the German invasion of Poland launching conflagrations of all sorts.

And I do wonder how we will see borders in this brave new world we live in.  When foreign governments try to influence an election, have they crossed a border?  Are we more incensed about influencing by way of technology or by way of murder?  I'm thinking of old-fashioned coups and new fangled hacking.

As we have been zooming towards a new administration, I've been feeling some despair about how it feels like we're falling backward in time.  I've been thinking about resistance music and resistance movements.  More than once, I've wanted to say, "I just can't do this any more."

I find myself in an interesting position, especially as I think about my participation in resistance movements of the past, when I was much younger--in some ways, back then, I had more to lose.  I was surrounded by men being ordered to register for the draft (the 80's version, not the 60's version), and it was hard not to imagine them being called up to protect Central America or to fight against the U.S.S.R.  I fully expected my future to dissolve in a mushroom cloud.

Now, if I wanted, I could likely refuse to be part of any resistance movement.  I have money in the bank, and soon, I'll get my passport renewed (I was going to do this, regardless of who won the election). 

I know how to pass, how to blend in.  I have no children, no pets, no arrest record--I know how tyrannical governments of the past have controlled populations.

Yes, it would be easy to say, "I'm done resisting.  I'm going to settle into my comfortable life.  Let others fight."

But I will not.  I spent my childhood and adolescence wondering why people let Hitler get away with his actions as long as they did.  I couldn't understand why more people didn't work harder in the Civil Rights movement.

I've spent my adult years having some glimpses of answers.  When the slaughter was happening in the former Yugoslavia in the 90's, I understood how difficult it was to know what to do, especially from a distance.  And even when resistance movements take up residence in the neighborhood, it's easy to let others do the fighting.

In this time, it's hard not to feel like we're at some hinge point, like August of 1939 or Freedom Summer (1964).  Are we moving towards war?  Are we moving towards a more expansive society?  I could make the argument either way.

I plan to be part of the team bending the arc of history towards justice--keeping those borders secure.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Poetry for Long Work Days: "Dinner Desires"

These are long days at work, but I don't mind--there's work to do during this first week of Winter quarter.  I get there in the morning to be ready to greet students who are arriving for their 9 a.m. classes.  I stay until the 6:00 classes start in the evening, to be sure that all is going smoothly.  In between, I'm doing all sorts of tasks to get ready for the accreditation site visit and to strengthen the school.

So, let's take yesterday as an example.  Some of my tasks were to read a document that will be submitted for a programmatic accreditation (different than the site visit), to create certificates for our recent faculty trainings, to talk about the best way to get graduate surveys returned to us, to answer questions here and there about potential new students, and to think about the classes we will offer at midquarter, and to create a timeline for how we'll get our site visit materials ready.

I like the variety, and I like that we're building a school that has answers to community needs, a school that might last.  So many schools are not in that position.  I wonder how many small, liberal arts colleges (a type of higher ed near and dear to my heart) will still be here at the end of the century or in 2050 (not that long away).

Still, I'm bleary-eyed when I get home. This week has put me in mind of a poem I wrote years ago, before I was an administrator, before I was on a first name basis with this kind of work schedule.  It appears here for the first time.

Dinner Desires

She has microwave popcorn for dinner again.
She works late, last in the office;
microwave popcorn seems at least a seminutritious
choice. She avoids what she really wants:
the chocolate candy on her supervisor’s desk,
the stale butter cookies left over from the Christmas
party, a hot meal served on china
plates, served by the light of candles.

She has microwave popcorn for dinner again.
She tries to make it seem special
with a sprinkle of parmesan cheese.
She sips seltzer, while trying
not to think of all the ways
she thought adulthood would be different.

She has microwave popcorn for dinner again
as workers across the city settle
in for their second full time jobs.
She thinks she should plan ahead, buy
those clever dinners that she once would have disdained
as airplane food. She has forsaken
all hope of getting her work done during normal
business hours, of being home
in time for dinner.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Mepkin Abbey in June

I have been meeting 2 monastic minded friends at Mepkin Abbey in South Carolina on a regular basis since 2004.  We began our monastic exploration as we fell in love with Kathleen Norris.  One friend had already been going out to Mepkin Abbey just to spend an afternoon, and she suggested we go there for a retreat.

Back then, the Abbey rarely had formal retreats that explored topics.  But in the past year or 2, with the new retreat center, the emphasis has shifted.  Now it's harder to find a week-end where one could do an unstructured retreat with friends.

Yesterday, one of those friends wrote to ask if we'd gotten the newsletter and considered the retreat in June that will explore the power of story.  I'd been looking for week-ends with nothing scheduled, but her e-mail made me think again.

Long story short, during the course of an afternoon, we decided to do it.  I checked with my boss who said I could take those days off.  I can't take it as professional development, but I don't care.  And by then, I'll need something to help with renewal.

I haven't been to Mepkin Abbey in the summer.  I'm intrigued by how the monastery moves through the calendar year and the liturgical year, so I'm excited to try a new season.

I had been feeling a bit of despair without realizing it.  I can't go to the Create in Me retreat this year.  It will be the week-end before the accreditors arrive, so there's just no way.  I had been worried, without even realizing it, that I might never make it back to Mepkin Abbey, with so many week-ends unavailable.  I've been worried--but realizing it--that my new job will make it harder to get away, harder to see friends, harder to have a work-life balance.

I do think I will have to be aware, as we all need to be, and to remain on the look-out for ways to get these kinds of opportunities into my life.  I am happy to have a reunion with my monastic minded friends.  I am happy to return to Mepkin Abbey.  I am happy for a chance to experience a retreat that explores a topic dear to my heart (narrative!  story! intersections with spirituality!)--and it's led by a father-son team; I'm always interested in how my mom and I might lead retreats.

But mostly, I am happy that my monastic minded friend offered an invitation, and I worked my way to saying yes more quickly than I usually do.  My Epiphany star leads the way:

Monday, January 9, 2017

Monday Mix: A Look Back at the First Week of 2017

This past week has been an interesting mix.  Let me capture some of it:

--I have spent part of my Christmas break getting my online classes ready to go, a task made more difficult because the Learning Management System (D2L) has been changed.  It's supposed to be easier to use, and maybe it will be.  But right now, it's exasperating.  Instead of having my class on the first page, I need to go search for it.  There's a way to "pin" it, but I can't figure out how.

--To make the interface truly easier, revise it so that when I enter a due date in one place, it loads across the shell--automatically.  Don't give me superficial "designs" that will make it easier to read on a tablet or phone and try to tell me that it's an upgrade that will change my experience.

--I've de-Christmased the house.  Often my spouse gets tired of waiting for me, and he does it.  But this year, I promised that I would do it on Sunday, and I did. 

--There is an austere beauty to a house that has been de-Christmased.

--Before the Christmas days off, I went to the library which had some of the books which made the Best of 2016 list.  Last week, I read Tim Murphy's Christodoro, which had lots of interesting elements:  how to be an artist, the AIDS saga, why people find drugs enticing, the do-gooder heart. The representations of the intersection of sex and drugs disturbed me greatly. I hope that I also remember the documenting of the years of AIDS and the 80’s, how the disease was “vanquished,” until its next iteration, at least. And it was an interesting way to tell the story, going back and forth in time.  I almost put the book down after the second chapter, which had such a bratty teenager as its focus.  I'm glad that I persevered.

--One book that I did put down was Today Will Be Different by Maria Semple.  I had heard her interviewed and thought the book would be worth a try.  If I had been stuck on a plane, with nothing else to do, I would have kept going.  But I am so tired of reading books that have harried moms with yoga pant level problems as their main character. 

--My spouse is about to spend the next 8 weeks teaching a Tuesday-Thursday night class.  I hope to get a lot of reading done.  Next up:  Zadie Smith's latest.

--I also hope to get some writing done.  I find myself full-to-overflowing with short story ideas.  I've spent time in the last week working on the story told in the voice of a corporate woman.  I also wrote a poem.

--In an odd confluence, I find myself moving on to a new sketchbook and a new purple poetry legal pad this week:  new pages, new hope.

--Our long-awaited cold front has arrived.  We turned on the heat yesterday because we are Florida wimps now.

--I will miss suppers on the front porch.  They will return soon enough.  But I will also miss driving around to look at the Christmas lights, which we did several times in the month of December to raise our spirits.

--This will be the first 5 day work week in several weeks.  Let me remember to be gentle with myself.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Elegy for the Shopping Mall (and The Limited)

I read that The Limited is closing--every single store.  I confess that I didn't shop there and haven't been to one of those stores since, oh, probably 1997.  So why do I feel this deep sadness?

Probably for the same reason I feel sadness when an icon from the past, one with personal connections for me, dies (in the past year, it seems to be a variety of musicians, plus Carrie Fisher).  Usually I reserve my sadness for humans, not institutions.

But let me take a minute and think about The Limited, and by extension, the mall--I expect that many of them will be closing too, as various Macy's locations close, along with The Limited, and other stores that I expect will close at some point in the coming year.

When I was younger, in the 70's, when I first became aware of malls, it seemed that they would be a permanent fixture on the landscape, and I, being young, did not see them as a blight.  No, they were a wonder.  Imagine:  you could get a Chick-Fil-A sandwich, which I thought were the best tasting sandwiches on the face of the planet, and then you could wander down to B. Dalton's to pick up some books, and then you could get your running shoes at a different shop, along with a cool candle at the candle stores that we had before Yankee Candles took over everything, and then a stop at Spencer's, which felt like a vaguely dangerous store, with a variety of pranky kinds of gifts and perhaps, could it be?!!! items that promoted drug use.  You could have your hair done or your ears pierced (we didn't pierce other body parts in those long-ago days) or buy an engagement ring.

In my early teen years, I'd meet friends at the mall and we'd wander around for hours, buying books, buying records, having an Orange Julius, which we convinced ourselves was a healthy alternative to other mall food.  We didn't have the mall experience that showed up in movies of the 90's--no roving gangs of youths, no sex in hidden corners, no friends who worked in shops giving us free food or turning a blind eye to shoplifting.  I had a very vanilla youth--bland, bland, bland, but at least no criminal records, disease, or teen pregnancies took place.

Later, in undergraduate school, we made a trip occasionally to a mall (which involved getting in a car and driving to the nearest biggish city, Columbia, SC), where once again, I'd buy books, records, and a treat here or there.  In grad school, my spouse worked at a B. Dalton's, so I went to the mall more often than I might have otherwise, but I could only shop the sales--and there were always sales.

I loved the clothes at The Limited, but couldn't afford them--but there was great jewelry, which I could buy on sale.  The Limited Express (or was it just called Express?) was more affordable, especially when the clothes went on sale, but those clothes were designed for women without hips.

Now we see malls that try to make themselves look like the city streets of past years--but without the interesting diners and hardware stores.  One has to go outside to walk between the stores, which I don't see as an advantage.  Now, in my older years, I see them along the same lines as a theme park:  a fake setting designed to part me from my money.

Will I say the same thing about my online shopping some day?  Perhaps.  I like to think I'm aware when I'm being manipulated, and I tend not to wander into online shopping places unless I know what I want to buy.  Of course, most of us want to think that, don't we?  It's those other dopes being manipulated by advertising and appearances, not us.

So, goodbye to The Limited and other stores of my younger years.  I probably have plenty of workplace-suitable clothes to take me to retirement.  Now it's time to put the money I might have once spent on clothes into my retirement funds.

I am now officially on the older side of middle age--sigh.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Epiphany Highs and Lows

I was expecting the pace of my work day yesterday to be a bit exhausting, but it wasn't too bad.  I got to the office and did some set up for the day--food, mainly.  Our Faculty Library Orientation at 9 went well; it's always interesting for me to see what our libraries offer.  New Student Orientation was a joy.  We had a good Faculty Development session where we exchanged ideas for keeping students engaged.  The 5 campus meeting about what needs to be done for the accreditation visit didn't leave me overwhelmed.  I did the clean up required after a meeting that involves food.

I thought the day was going well, better than expected, even.

But then, a colleague mentioned a shooting at the airport.  A few of us gathered around a computer to watch gruesome cell phone footage.  I slipped away to call my spouse.  I knew that he had no plans to go to the airport, but freakish things can happen.  Happily, my spouse had not left the house.  Others will not have the same good fortune.

I sent e-mail messages and Facebook posts/messages to let my various family members know we're OK.  My step-mom-in-law had some anxious hours, since I didn't learn of the shooting until hours after it happened, and she knew immediately.

When I returned home, I resisted the urge to turn on the TV.  Instead, we took our hamburgers to the porch and enjoyed a quieter dinner.  My spouse played his violin, and I made a sketch.  It was a good way to end a day that was both satisfying and disconcerting.

As the afternoon and evening progressed, by way of Facebook, I watched my friends across the Southeast talk about the impending snow--a fairly serious amount of snow for areas that don't usually get more than a dusting.  Later in the day, by way of Facebook, I found out that my South Florida friends are OK.

This morning, I'm baking orange-cranberry bread, both because I've got 2 brunch events this week-end and because I have some Tropical Carrot Juice to use up.  It has helped me feel like I'm righting the world a bit.

And writing the world:  I wrote a poem this morning about my spouse playing "Lift Every Voice and Sing" with the Christmas lights staring their icy stares, while Epiphany comes to a close.  I thought about having one administration leaving and one waiting in the wings (tweeting, tweeting, tweeting)--but then I decided to make references to ancient texts and far-away stars. 

The poem just sort of arrived this morning, although I thought about the elements of it as my spouse was playing.  What a delightful way to start the day:  writing and baking!

Friday, January 6, 2017

Epiphany Twinkles

Today is the last day of the Christmas season, Epiphany, unless we want to extend the Christmas season to Feb. 2, Candlemas, the day that celebrates the presentation of Jesus in the temple 40 days after his birth.  When I mention extending the season until Feb. 2, people react in horror. 

But I remember the wreaths at Mepkin Abbey, still up in the cold gray of February, and how cheery it was.  Before that, during a Feb. ski trip to Vermont, I remember wreaths on all the doors and how I wished we did that throughout the country.

Last night I drove home after the New Student Orientation for night students, and I thought about how much I will miss the twinkly lights.  I thought about how yesterday was a day of epiphanies, none of them earth shattering, at least, not yet.

In the early morning, I did some writing on my short story about a woman who once majored in English, but went on to work in a for-profit school as part of the Corporate structure that decides which schools should be closed down. I wrote to my grad school friends:  what do we think about the last name of Cromwell for such a character?
It came to me because a law firm of Cromwell and Harrington was an underwriter for our NPR station--I thought that was both the perfect name for a law firm and totally unbelievable because it was too perfect.  And then I thought about my character and my brain was off and clicking.
I must confess that my knowledge of this period of British history is shaky.  I see Cromwell as this power-mad, king killing traitor to the nation--but I also realize how he might be seen differently, by other types of freedom loving sorts--the Wikipedia article mentions that Leon Trotsky sees him as a class revolutionary, which intrigued me.
My grad school friends agree:  Cromwell is a great name.  I look forward to seeing where this story takes me.  It first came as a glimmer, a meditation about all our costumes that I wrote around Halloween.  And then during a December motorcycle ride, I realized what the character does for a living.
I'm really enjoying writing this series of short stories.  I like that I'm no longer at the school which is the link between the characters.
Another epiphany from yesterday:  we found out the date for our accreditation site visit--it's at the end of April.  In some ways, I wish it would happen earlier.  But I'm glad to have time to get everything more shipshape.
I'm now thinking about postponing our home repairs until after the visit.  My spouse might remind me that there's always going to be some reason for postponing.  But we have family coming in early April and then the site visit in late April.  Let me keep considering.
Yesterday was a long day at work.  Since I couldn't leave the office, I took some time to make some submissions.  Did I have any epiphanies?  No.  I continue to send to a mix of journals.  I'm not paying a $3 submission fee (call it what you will) to submit online to a journal that has rejected me for years (gulp--decades) before instituting this fee.  Why am I willing to spend $1 on postage, but not on fees?  Part of it, I must confess, is that I still love getting paper mail, even if it's a rejection.  I love stamps, I love envelopes, and so, I'm willing to spend that money.  But no epiphany there--I've known this about myself for years.
Another epiphany, sort of:  if we have crackers in the house, I'm going to have cheese, crackers, and wine after a long day at work.  If we don't have crackers, I'm less likely to start eating the cheese--and if I start eating the cheese, it's easy to eat 1/4-1/2 pound or more--don't ask how I know.  
These are not the kinds of epiphanies I used to think that I wanted, but in my older age, I'm not sure I want that earth-shattering kind of epiphany where nothing can ever be the same again.
This year, as I've listened to the Advent and Christmas texts, I've been aware of the admonishment to stay awake, alert, and aware.  We won't always get the message in the blaze of an angelic choir.  We may need to study our source material, whether that be the sky or the sacred texts, for years or decades, before we see the miraculous.
On this Epiphany, let us pray for the discernment to be able to see God's message against all the other twinkles that might distract us.  Let us trust that our gifts will be enough. 

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Epiphany Eve

Here we are, the day before Epiphany.  Tradition has it that we should take down our Christmas decorations today, to avoid bad luck in the new year.  Hmm.  I've always waited until Epiphany--although if I'm being honest, I often wait until my spouse does it, and he usually takes care of the undecorating on the day after Epiphany.

Once upon a time, we might have been preparing for 12th night festivities tonight, but I suspect that most of us don't celebrate these customs anymore.  In a post on The Writer's Almanac site, we learn:

"In some parts of England, Twelfth Night was also traditionally associated with apples and apple trees. People would troop out to their fruit orchards bearing a hot, spiced mixture of cider and ale for the 'wassailing of the trees.' They would pour the wassail on the ground over the trees' roots, and sing songs, and drink toasts to the health of their orchards. They also hung bits of cider-soaked toast in the trees to feed the birds. The attention paid to the orchards during the wassailing would be repaid with a bountiful harvest the following fall.

English settlers in the Colonies brought the Twelfth Night tradition with them. In colonial Virginia, it was customary to hold a large and elegant ball. Revelers chose a king and queen using the customary cake method; it was the king's duty to host the next year's Twelfth Night ball, and the queen was given the honor of baking the next year's cake. George and Martha Washington didn't usually do much for Christmas except attend church, but they often hosted elaborate Twelfth Night celebrations. It was also their anniversary; they'd been married on January 5, 1759. Martha Washington left behind her recipe for an enormous Twelfth Night cake among her papers at Mount Vernon. The recipe called for 40 eggs, four pounds of sugar, and five pounds of dried fruit. It wasn't until the mid-1800s that Christmas became the primary holiday of the season in America, and at that point, Twelfth Night celebrations all but disappeared."

I love the idea of sharing a celebration with the orchards and the birds who live there.  Down here in South Florida, I'd share my wassail with my bougainvillea trees, which seem to be blooming beautifully this morning.

Some years ago, on Jan Richardson's blog post, I read about an interesting tradition, Women's Christmas, which is traditionally celebrated on Epiphany:  "In some parts of the world, Epiphany (January 6, which brings the Christmas season to a close) is celebrated as Women's Christmas. Originating in Ireland, where it is known as Nollaig na mBan, Women's Christmas began as a day when the women, who often carried the domestic responsibilities all year, took Epiphany as an occasion to enjoy a break and celebrate together at the end of the holidays."

She closes her post with a poem/blessing, the last stanzas of which moved me this morning, and I'll probably think about it often as I move through today and tomorrow:

"Do not expect
to return
by the same road.
Home is always
by another way
and you will know it
not by the light
that waits for you

but by the star
that blazes inside you
telling you
where you are
is holy
and you are welcome

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Days of Network Outages and Meetings

Yesterday, I got to work to find that our computer network was down.  We have the kind of system where we access programs like Microsoft Word through the network--so, even documents on a thumb drive were not accessible to me.  And of course, the Internet wasn't available.

Oddly, although I couldn't get to my new e-mail, I could access Outlook and decide what to do with old e-mails.  Most, of course, need to be deleted.  For those I want to keep, I was able to put them into the files I've created.

The network was down for almost half my work day.  What to do after e-mail management?  I went through faculty files to see when everyone's annual review is due.  I took out the files of those who won't be teaching this term.

I needed some room in the file cabinet where old files are stored, so I looked through some old files.  When I moved into the office, I decided not to tackle that file cabinet immediately, so I found a lot of old EMS tests--a quick check with our Program Chair let me know that there's no reason to keep them.  Out they went and in went the old files.

In some ways, yesterday morning was peaceful, even if I couldn't tackle the tasks that I had planned.  I thought about my former colleagues who were sitting under fluorescent lights in a windowless, echoey room in their quarterly meeting--I was glad to be sitting in my quiet office, sipping tea and looking at the clouds scoot across the sky.

I realized how few books I have in my office.  I wished that I had brought my old Poets and Writers to the office--but who knew that the network would be out? I thought of the poetry prompt books on my shelf at home.  I wanted to write a poem, but I couldn't remember a single idea I'd ever had.

Eventually, the network came back to us.  Later in the day, I remembered a poem idea that weaves together the rivers of Babylon, both the ancient text from the Psalms and the reggae song.

Yesterday evening, I had a chat with a friend from my old school, and I was even more grateful for my quiet morning which was not spent hearing about ACICS woes and numbers that weren't where they needed to be. 

I finished the day by finishing our watching of Lonesome Dove.  That last segment is a tearjerker.  I understand why it is faithful to the characters and the narrative arc--but part of me wishes for more happiness for more characters.

But maybe I should return to the lessons of yesterday morning--contentment can be found in many containers.  For the most part, those characters in Lonesome Dove have stayed true to themselves--which may not have brought them happiness, and certainly not the traditional happy endings, but has brought them a measure of peace that they wouldn't have had otherwise.

I could tie all of these strands together into a larger meditation about work and our modern lives--or could I?  Some of the winds buffeting the ships of higher education may seem just as random or senseless as the circumstances that lead to much of the death in Lonesome Dove.  And yet we must go on towards a future that we cannot see in full.

I've thought of higher ed in terms of cathedral building (for an example, see this recent post).  But maybe we are like those Lonesome Dove cowboys on the last cattle drive.  I have run out of time for this morning's writing--so let the pondering begin.