Friday, March 31, 2017

Narratives with Staying Power

Yesterday, I went to a site thinking I would read a bit about the upcoming adaptation of A Handmaid's Tale, and I watched a few trailers:  two for the upcoming adaptation and one for the 1990 movie.  I am not sure that I will watch the upcoming event as it rolls out week to week. I rarely watch anything on a weekly basis.

But it does look compelling, so I may watch the episodes that roll out at the end of April.  Maybe between now and then I will reread the book.  I read it long ago, shortly after it was published.  I must have been a bit of a book evangelist, because I have at least 2 friends who read it because I recommended it, and 20 years later, they still remember that it was me who insisted that they read it.

I read the book again in January of 2002.  I had Afghanistan on my mind, and how a society can go from contemporary to medieval in short order, as had happened when the Taliban took over.  I want to believe that once we've made progress towards a just society that essential human rights can't be taken away.

I want to believe that, but I know it's not true.

As I watched the trailers, I was struck by the scenes of people being kept away from each other.  I once thought that repressive governments might keep lovers apart--that was a narrative that seemed even more compelling than the traditional one of parents keeping lovers apart.  I know that the repressive government narrative is still alive and well in real life.  If I occupied a different demographic, I'd have a different outlook:  if I wasn't a U.S. citizen, if I was younger, if I wasn't descended from northern Europeans, if my sexuality was more fluid . . . I might have started taking some protective measures by now.

But in my personal life, I see families ripped apart by disease more often than by repressive governments.  In the past five years, it seems that I've been hearing more and more about people at midlife with horrible cancers--is there more cancer at midlife or am I just more aware?

What narratives are being created right now that seem timely now and will seem even more relevant 30 some odd years from now?  Would I have predicted Atwood's book would have this staying power?

Yes, yes I would, and I have friends who will tell you so, even if I don't remember being an Atwood evangelist.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Ploughman's Brunch

I was feeling my usual Thursday tiredness on Tuesday--I'm not quite as exhausted as I thought I might be today.  Still, let me write in shorter nuggets this morning:

--As the Trump administration has undone privacy laws (are they undone?  will there be lawsuits?), I find myself shrugging.  I've always assumed that anything I do online is not private, no matter the law.  It's too easy to get data, and it's too profitable to sell it:  people will break laws under those conditions.  It's why I haven't moved my banking online, although I do think that banking is a more secure industry than many:  the banking industry has pressing reasons to make data secure.

--Of course, I can also shrug because my online life is so boring.  Go ahead and peek into what I'm doing.  Read the few personalized e-mails I get once a week or so.  Get my Amazon purchases of books I rarely go on to read.  My blog posts are out there for all to see, and I never post anything on Facebook without assuming that a future employer might see it, which means those posts aren't racy.

--I can also be blasé because I'm one of the last 10 people in America who doesn't own a smart phone, thus no apps, no browsing history there.  I have no Internet of things, to use a current term. 

--I had similar thoughts earlier this term when a woman showed up to try to convince another woman to leave a man alone--I couldn't figure out who was with whom and if there might be a baby involved.   Long story short, the situation turned ugly in the parking lot.  I remember thinking, there is no human on this earth for whom I would show up in a parking lot and threaten violence.

--That thought made me feel old. 

--I want to believe that the fact that I wouldn't fight means that I am stable, mature, and emotionally healthy. I worry that I am a passionless stick who is so overworked that she wouldn't even notice that she needed to go to a parking lot to force a confrontation.

--Even though I was tired from a day of looking at faculty files while trying to also accomplish the other tasks that must be complete soon (classes start on Monday--gulp), last night I headed over to my church for soup, Psalms, and a creative response.  Last night, we fingerpainted!  Have I ever fingerpainted?  I have no memory of it.  Last night was fun--more in this blog post.

--It's been an exhausting week for all sorts of reasons, mainly because I've had long days at work.  On Tuesday, I got there at 8:40 a.m. and left at 8 p.m.  As I left, I said, "See you in 12 hours."  Happily, not every week is like that.

--It's also exhausting because I haven't taken time to eat properly.  As I told my spin instructor yesterday, "I haven't been eating well.  I haven't eaten crappy food--I just haven't eaten."

--Yesterday, I wrote this Facebook post:  "I am about to have a Ploughman's Lunch of sorts, although it's brunch time, so perhaps I should call it Ploughman's Brunch: a mug of steaming hot English Breakfast tea, along with some leftover sub selections from the sub sandwich platter from last night's meeting warmed up--when I write it out, it sounds sad, but it was tasty. And like a Ploughman's meal, whenever the time, it should give me some energy to do what must be done (to plough through these tasks!)."

--These next 2 days at work we turn our attention to new students:  new student orientation tonight and tomorrow, and getting classes ready to go.  So, let me get ready to face these tasks.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Scanning the Work

It's an odd week at work:  sort of down time, as we're between quarters, but also with lots of work to be done.  The last two days have been hectic for me, with faculty meetings and continuing to prepare for the accreditation visit. But yesterday, I took a break to get an ultrasound.
No, I'm not miraculously pregnant at the age of 51.  The program chair of cardiovascular sonography (CVS) took advantage of the down time of this week between quarters to give his students more time to practice scanning.  I got my carotid artery scanned yesterday--and I'm completely free of plaques or blockage!
I wasn't sure what to expect.  I knew that I could do it without needing to change clothes, so that was a plus.  In the morning, I volunteered to be scanned at 3:00 p.m., and I did briefly wonder how I would react if we found something really wrong.  But I decided it was better to find out now than when I'm in an ambulance.
I knew that if we found blockage, I'd feel betrayed in some way--why do all this exercise and pay attention to my food intake if it all comes to this?  Plus, for much of my life, I've had low cholesterol and low blood pressure--why weren't there signs?
So, it was a relief when the head of CVS said, "Completely free of blockage."
It was more than just my carotid--we scanned all the arteries and veins of my neck--and yes, I got to see them on the ultrasound screen and hear the sound the blood make as it thrums by the scanner.  It was fascinating.  There's an artery and a vein:  one takes blood away from the heart and one takes blood to the heart, if memory serves.  There's all kinds of controls on the machine, so you can see the blood in each in different colors (red and blue) or get the ultrasound pattern of waves or hear the blood or see the sort of sonogram visual that you see in other applications:  that strange pattern that looks so otherworldly.
It was a bit strange, lying on the table, with students gathered around the screen peering into my neck.  But it was also really cool.  And it gave me an appreciation for the equipment that our students get to use.  I know that our tuition is high, but I always tell people that our students are learning on new equipment, and that comes with a cost.
The procedure was non-invasive, a plus; it's hard for me to imagine being a volunteer for phlebotomy.  I didn't even feel any pressure.  The gel felt cool, and I did worry that it might get on my work clothes.  But it didn't.  I went on my way, wiping my neck, marveling at the wonder that is the human body.
During a normal work day, I try to take breaks to get away from my desk.  But I rarely have a break as restorative as yesterday's:  one that reminds me to be grateful for the work we train our students to do, for the work that the body does.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Visualizations, Then and Now

This morning, I read this wonderful interview with Sandra Beasley about writing residencies.  In my younger years it would have filled me with yearning to find a residency to call my own.  Now that I am older, I am grateful to be able to find an afternoon when I can leave an hour earlier than usual, which is my scheduled going-home time.  I'm still not sure what my new professional life will look like when our accreditation visit is over, but right now, I can't imagine finding time off for the kinds of residencies Beasley describes.

But still, a girl can dream!  And that brings me to the real topic of this post:  the way that I once yearned and hoped, and the way I need to remember to do that again.

Let's go back twenty years.  I had started writing poetry again in 1995, and by 1997, I felt I had some good material.  I started sending packets of poetry to various journals, the way I had been doing before grad school sapped me of time, money, and courage.  I felt like I was returning to my true writer self, and I was so happy to find her again.

But at the same time, I had a larger vision:  a book at some point, maybe a job that contained more teaching of creative writing than composition.  Back in those days, I would spin scenarios in my head to help me fall asleep (unlike today, when I can barely stay awake long enough to get my head to the pillow).  That year, I started visualizing myself at a future book reading, being invited to be the poet in residence at a school, holding the first book in my hand.  They were pleasant thoughts with which to fill my head, but as I look back, I see larger forces at work.

In those years, I sent out more submission packets than I have in years since--and subsequently, I got more acceptances, including my first chapbook.  Perhaps it's time to return to that question of what I'd like to see myself accomplishing in terms of my writing, and rehearsing it in my head.

But first, I think I'll visualize celebrating once the upcoming accreditation visit is done.  A month from today, our visit will be drawing to a close.  Let me imagine this scenario:  it won't be a perfect visit, where the accrediting team says, "You're perfect.  Keep doing what you're doing."  Accreditation visits never end that way.

But let me visualize that the findings are minor, leaving us to work on issues that we have already targeted as ones we want to fix.  Let me visualize that last meeting, handshakes all around, smiles upon a successful visit.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Spring Living on the Porch

We have been enjoying lots of time on the porch, and lately, my enjoyment has been shaped by knowing that our days on the porch will soon be coming to a close.  As the weather gets warmer, we'll shift to the backyard to spend more time in the pool.

But for now, the pool water is still a tad too cool, and life on the porch is still lovely; it won't be later, when the winds die down and the air feels more oppressive.

For now, I can still enjoy the beautiful petunias I bought two weeks ago:

On Saturday, we did a wine tasting:

On Friday, I had bought wine that was a bit more than I normally spend:  $20 a bottle for The Riddler (all the way to the right).  With my first sip, I thought, hmm, I don't like this any better than I do 19 Crimes ($7.97 a bottle at Total Wine, second to left).  On Saturday, I thought it might be fun to do a tasting, and since I had a coupon to use, off I went to Total Wine.

We had a bit of really cheap wine left, the Charles Shaw from Trader Joe's ($2.97 a bottle on the left).  I bought a bottle of Josh ($10.97), for the sake of comparison.  And then, we tasted.

My spouse says that The Riddler was more balanced.  I honestly couldn't tell much difference unless I concentrated.  I could tell the difference between the cheap wine and the rest.  But I'll stick with 19 Crimes.

Yes, it was a lovely week-end--here's to many more, whether on the porch or in the pool!

Sunday, March 26, 2017

A Wonderful Writing Day with Correspondences

Yesterday morning, I wrote a blog post about waking up very early (2 a.m.) and never getting back to sleep--but writing was my reward.   Later in the day, I took a picture of the tree that inspired the Annunciation poem that came to me:

Look at the two browner fronds at the bottom, closest to the trunk--don't they look like a pair of wings?

I wrote this poem:

In the early hours of this feast
day of the Annunciation, I listen
for God’s invitation, but all I hear
is the roar of a motorcycle speeding
away after last call.  The rustle
of the palm fronds in the wind,
the only angel wings today,
as I lay enfolded in the arms
of my beloved of thirty years.

As I wrote the poem, I thought about Beth Adams and the book on the Annunciation that she put together.  I decided to send her an e-mail with the poem.  My e-mail ended this way:  "I don't like it [the poem] as much as the one I wrote for your collection, but as I wrote it, I thought of you and all the various approaches to the Annunciation, so I thought I'd share it with you.  Wishing you many blessings on this feast day!"

She wrote back to tell me that she was touched by my sending the poem to her, and she wrote a bit about Mary, about the way that the Virgin Mary was more present in Mexico City, from where she had just returned from a yearly sojourn.  She talked about the little shrines to the Virgin that she saw in Mexico and that she had once seen in the countryside of Quebec, but didn't anymore.  I thought about some of the shrines that I've seen here in people's yards, something that I never saw in other parts of the U.S. South where I've lived.

Later in the day, Beth sent me a meditation that she'd sent to the group doing a quiet retreat at the Cathedral where she worships.  She included my poem, which, along with the rest of her writing, moved me deeply.  In both her e-mail to me and her meditation that she sent to the participants, she talks about finding the presence of God in the ordinariness of life.  And she perceived my intention with the use of the word Beloved, that it can mean a human who holds us, but it also means the larger God who always enfolds us in love and grace, freely given.

I spent some time with her meditation and some time thinking about Mary and my relationship with her.  When I was in college in the 80's, the issue of Mary made me angry, like the patriarchal church thought it had done its job by venerating Mary, and now it could go on celebrating the maleness that it wanted to focus upon.  But in my later years, I see so many more nuances, both negative and positive.

It was a wonderful way to spend a feast day:  early morning meditation/writing time, corresponding with a friend, exchanging more ideas, and inspiring each other.  I feel so lucky to live in this time where technology enables all of this to happen in close to real time, so that this nourishment occurs on the actual feast day, not as we exchange letters through the paper mail system.

I also corresponded with my grad school friends, upon realizing via Wendy's comment on yesterday's blog that I had gotten my King Henrys and my Thomases mixed up.  I wrote "I thought of Thomas a Becket as the priest who stood up to Henry VIII. How strange is that?"  My friend wrote back,

Well, you only missed by a few extra letters after Henry's name...🙂
And they both wound up dead thanks to a Henry.

Later, in a Facebook comment, my grad school friend corresponded with Wendy and me.  Wendy wrote "I am now thinking about all the Thomases in my Medieval/Renaissance oeuvre. Thomas More, Thomas a Becket, Thomas Cranmer, Thomas Cromwell, and of the immortalization of A Becket by another Thomas, Thomas Stearns Eliot. That's a lot of Thomases. I wonder what that says about naming and doubting and historic/literary echoes. Might be a blog post, but posting on my blog might take a resurrection of some sort. I, too, am a doubting Thomas."

I wrote, "I hope for daily resurrection--for myself, for all the blogs that are so silent, for our hurting world, for all of us . . . I love the idea of all the Thomases"

My grad school friend wrote:  "Looking at this list of Thomasas, I'd say that was a pretty dangerous name to have before the 17th century. It seems to guarantee a hideous death by warrant of the sovereign."

I thought of how wondrous it is that we know each other in all sorts of ways now.  I know Wendy through blogging, but we've never met in "real life," however we define it these days.

I also spent some Facebook time with a different group of writer friends talking about southernness and ethnic identity.  It took me back to the time when I first arrived in South Florida in 1998.  I wrote, "When I first moved to southeast Florida in 1998, I used the term "southern" to mean U.S. southeast southern, Flannery O'Connor southern. I had several years of students from places far further south who engaged me in the use of this term, including one student an older adult, who argued that my use was insulting to people in South America. I don't know that I agree, but I have trained myself to change my language, just in case, and also to be more sensitive. Once challenged by my Latin American students, I couldn't use the term the same way."
We had an interesting discussion about whether or not a Cuban is Caucasian. I wrote, "But there is an outsiderhood, an exile status, but also an outsiderhood that could be hidden, if one wanted to pass. I'll go ahead and post this, with apologies if I'm going off track here."
I also wrote about Natasha Trethewey, "I know that Natasha Trethewey has been mentioned, but I wanted to mention her again--she does amazing work exploring the issue of race in both the modern U.S. south and past centuries--if I had to choose just one poet in this particular area, she would be my choice. As someone who has lived in the U.S. South my whole life, her poems make me gasp with new recognitions and connections."
The ongoing conversation and listing of poets was amazing, in its way--that quick assembly of poet possibilities, that discussion amongst far flung people. 
It was a wonderful day, with writing weaving its way through the hours in such nourishing ways.  It's one of the joys of technology, the way it connects us, the way that I can have these conversations even when we're not in the same geographical area.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

How to Spend a Sleepless Night

Today is the feast day of the Annunciation, the day that the Angel Gabriel appears to Mary--9 months later, it's Christmas!

O.K. that's a rather flippant way to start a blog post.  Forgive me.  I've been awake since before 2 a.m. when I decided to give up on sleep coming back to me.

One advantage to being awake this early:  I've gotten some writing done!  I had been writing a story in the voice of an HR director, and I wasn't quite sure where to go with it.  At some point this week, it came to me--so I wrote for a bit, and tried to sleep again.  It was a windy night, part of why I had trouble sleeping.  I watched the wind whip the palm fronds to and fro, and I thought of angel wings and the feast day of the Annunciation.  A poem came to me, and my hip started to ache, and I knew that sleep would not be coming.

Up again:  got the poem written, the story further along, e-mails from my students answered.  I decided not to do grading--plenty of time for that while I was awake in the wee small hours of the morning. The writing was just going so well that I kept going.  I don't have those kinds of writing times often.  I'm stealing a bit of time here or there or I write out the next scene and then can't decide what to do next.  This morning, all the cylinders were firing, despite the fact that this has been a low-sleep week.

I always have fun with names, although these days I'm more subtle than in my younger years.  This morning, I figured out a last name for the Sociology professor who doesn't believe that an educator should have to be part of modern school nonsense, like planning student appreciation events.  She wants to preserve the way that higher ed has been. 

I was thinking of Oliver Cromwell, which led me to Thomas Cromwell, which made me think about Thomas a Becket, the priest who tried to stand in the way of Henry VIII's protestant reformations--and thus, the name for the character:  Dr. Becket.

I also like the echo of Samuel Beckett, since the story also has some observations about the theatre of the absurd that a school will occasionally resemble.

I figured out how to get to the end of the story, although I'm not there yet.  I haven't had that piece before today.  Hurrah!

My spouse is off on a motorcycle ride with his brother, so maybe I will get some more writing done.  I decided not to go--too windy, and I have too much to do.  Plus, I just don't have much free time--spending a huge chunk of time that a motorcycle ride would take just didn't appeal to me.  But I'm glad that he decided to go.

It's strange to have been up so long, with the day still stretching before me.  It's likely one of the reasons I sometimes have trouble sleeping--I love the feeling of a longer day, especially when I can fill it with writing and other joys.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Poetry of Exiles and Domesticity

--Are we marooned or have we arrived?  Or both?  Odysseus thoughts, listening to this episode of On Point that explores the poetry of Derek Walcott, who died a week ago.  Interesting to hear one of the guests say that Walcott never finished The Odyssey, but rewrote it anyway.

--My poetry this morning is not likely to be so lofty--I had a vision of giving the stray kitten milk in a saucer from my grandmother's china.  My grandmother would be horrified at the thought.  She was a shooer of cats, using a broom if necessary.

--And yet, I'm happy to be writing a poem this morning.  This week has been one of long days at work, leaving me tired.  And yet, it's also the kind of week where I'm grateful to sleep until 3 or 4, not 1 or 2.  One of life's mysteries:  how can I be so tired yet unable to sleep?

--I read Billy Collins last night before I went to bed.  Perhaps that explains the domesticity of my poem.  Perhaps all of my poems have transitioned to a domesticity that I don't always recognize.

--My poem ends with the main character reading the poetry of exiles on the porch while the stray kitten laps milk out of the grandmother's china saucer.  I was not expecting the bit about the poetry of exiles.  I love a poetry writing session where something unexpected noses its way in.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Let Us Eat Cake

My left foot is sore and tender this morning.  I spent much of yesterday on my feet, so perhaps it shouldn't be a surprise.  It was a surprise to spend so much time on my feet.  I spend most days at work having to remind myself to get up and move occasionally; yesterday made up for at least several of those sedentary days.

We had a corporate team on campus to look at our files and documents that we're preparing for our accreditation visit.  As a result, I spent a lot of time going back and forth between my office and the conference room to get items requested.

In between, we had a birthday cake.  "We have a lot of cake here," said one of my colleagues to a woman who just started her job with us two weeks ago.

I said, "I’ve eaten more birthday cake since I started this job than I’ve eaten in all of my adult years put together.”  That's not exactly true--my last workplace celebrated birthdays too, but only of the academic management team, so we had less cake.

It is good to be at a place with cake, although I should get up and move more often--having days more like yesterday--if I'm going to eat that cake.

I thought about how much I like my current workplace and colleagues, and how lucky I am.  As the day moved along, I thought about a possible short story, for my group of short stories that revolve around the people at a for-profit arts college.  It would be the last story, titled "The Afterlife," and it might be a collection of nuggets from people who have moved on from the school. And then, at night, I thought of the endings of classic books, something along the lines of “And I alone survived to tell the tale.” I thought of Emily from Our Town, and of all the plotlines that have characters returning from death, so desperate are they to see their loved ones again, only to discover that once they’ve crossed over, they can’t really get back through the glass that separates the living and the dead.

This morning I played a bit with that idea, but I'm very early in the process.  Still, it's wonderful to keep getting ideas--even as I do wonder how I'll know when I'm done with the collection.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Everything Old Is New Again

Last night, we watched a PBS documentary on Dorothea Lange.  It was a wonderful program.  As always, I was intrigued by the process of an artist.  As with many artists, she found fellow travelers.  One of the men she married was a painter.  Eventually, she divorced him to marry an economist, which intrigued me, given the subject matter of her photographs for which she is most well known.

Her photos, so iconic, seemed fresh to me--and much like the dystopian novels I've been rereading, sort of a scary alternate future, while also being so rooted in the Depression.  Talk on Saturday amongst educated people at my house focused briefly on whether or not we're headed for another market crash.  One friend talked about the stock market, while I'm a bit worried about the housing market down here in southeast Florida.

On Monday, I read this story about U2's special tour to celebrate the 30 year anniversary of The Joshua Tree.  My first thought was, wow, it's been 30 years.  And then I thought about the themes of that album, themes that once again seem fresh.

Last week in this story on the sequel to Trainspotting, I heard director Danny Boyle say, "As an elder of these events, all I can do is — something that we do recommend in the film, which is one of the few compensations of aging — is the realization that time isn't a straight line, actually that it loops. It's one of the few consolations available, I have to warn everybody. It does begin to loop rather beautifully, . . ."

I'm not sure that Boyle meant this type of looping, a social justice looping, where problems and issues that we thought were settled suddenly flare back up.  I thought about the quote from one of the laborers in the camps where Lange took pictures:  "Root, hoe, or die."  I worry that many of us are headed back to that hardscrabble life.

I think about the civilians torn apart by war that The Joshua Tree documents in its own way.  Here too, I worry.

In whatever new reality is racing towards us, those of us who are creative may find we are more important than ever.  Here's a Lange quote to inspire us all:  “Seeing is more than a physiological phenomenon… We see not only with our eyes but with all that we are and all that our culture is. The artist is a professional see-er.”

In this time, in all times, it's important to document--in all sorts of ways--what's happening all around us.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Spring Blooms

Today is the first full day of Spring.  Once I kept track of things like the exact time of each equinox and solstice.  Now they're likely to slip by me.

I remember back in 2011, sitting at a sports bar after going on a field trip with a colleague.  We're both transplanted Southerners, she from Georgia, me from all over the U.S. Southeast.  We commented on the Masters Tournament, which was on the TV.  I noticed how brilliantly the azaleas bloomed, and how early it seemed to be seeing azaleas in early March.  I thought about how hard it would be to pay attention to the golf, with the glorious gardens in full bloom.

I remembered an earlier time, 1989, in grad school, as I drove to campus and was blown away by all the azaleas in the Shandon neighborhood near the University of South Carolina campus. That was the first week in April.

Last year, too, was a time of amazing azaleas, as I made my way across South Carolina, going from retreat to retreat.  Mepkin Abbey's azaleas were particularly gorgeous:

This year I am enjoying the 2 pots of purple petunias that grace my porch.  And the frangipani flowers are amazing this year.  Do I notice them more after seeing them in Hawaii 2 years ago?

Frangipani is an older term for plumeria, or at least I feel I learned that once.  When trying to verify this morning, I read their horticultural description wrong, and I thought they were related to dogwood (it's dogbane, actually).

I remember a different retreat, at Lutheridge, in April of 2014, when I saw dogwoods blooming everywhere:

I love how the dogwoods are in full bloom, even as the other trees are just barely green.  I miss that moment when suddenly, the world explodes in every shade of green, where I feel like I'm seeing greens that I didn't know existed.

I do miss dogwoods and azaleas, but I'm trying to bloom where I am planted, to appreciate the blooms of this place on the southern part of the North American continent, where so many of us are transplants.

Monday, March 20, 2017


I have been up since 3--we slept with the windows open, and somewhere down the street, at 3 a.m., someone was having an argument with voices loud enough for me to listen to make sure I didn't need to call the police.  I couldn't tell what they were fighting about.

Earlier in the week (as Monday went into Tuesday), I spent several hours being awakened by a barking/whimpering dog.

I love fresh air as much as the next person, but this is getting to be ridiculous.

But is this topic really important enough to write about?  We've had some losses of creative people over the week-end:  Derek Walcott, Chuck Berry, and Jimmy Breslin.  In later years, when I look back over what I was thinking about, will I wonder why I didn't write about those losses?

Will I wonder why I'm not writing more about politics?  I do feel like we're on the cusp of something huge, but I've felt this way before.  I'm the woman who spent her late adolescence and early adulthood scanning the horizon for mushroom clouds.

I do want to record how my friends and I are all commenting on how hard it seems to be to do basic maintenance, much less the getting ahead type of improvements we might wish we could do.  My spouse and I spent much of yesterday afternoon trying to get the new--and very expensive--pool vacuum to work.  It's not like buying a new coffee pot, where we plug it in and know how to operate it.  And then we discovered a dial was missing.  Ugh.

I'm trying to tell myself that we're taking care of things, like taxes and bill paying and laundry and surface cleaning, if not deep cleaning.  But I'd like to get the furniture steam cleaned.  And we've been living in the house almost 4 years, and our temporary kitchen is looking more permanent--in part, because it's perfectly useful.

Let me also remember, when I look back on these days, that my work means that I don't have much free time each day.  It will not always be this way, but it is now.

Let me give myself credit for clean laundry and clean dishes and getting the oil changed in the car, even if I didn't get it done in the recommended time frame, but close.
Let me continue to do my very best for my school and its students.  Let me remember that I do that too, and how important that work is.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Poetry Sunday: "Consolations in Harsh Landscapes"

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

But I rarely have myself together enough to create/revise/come up with an idea for a poem in time for the Friday deadline.

This past Friday, as I was feeling sorrowful about the budget and simultaneously thinking of Saint Patrick, I wondered if I could revise this blog post into a poem.  I thought I would cut and paste lines into the shape of a poem and then revise, but that's not how it happened.  For the most part, I came up with lines inspired by the blog post, and then this poem emerged.

Consolations in Harsh Landscapes

Today patrons shall drink gallons
of green beer and cheer
at parades and watch
the green currents of many rivers.

I will look at the federal budget and remember
that even in a harsh
landscape like Saint Patrick’s Ireland,
strange shapes can flourish.

I will till my own soil, rocky
and marbled with thorns.
If truly desperate, I’ll suck seaweed
from the stones for nourishment.

I will set sail in my coracle,
casting away my oars.
I need no supplies that federal dollars
can bring me.

I will create new communities
on these stony shores.
The larger world may not yet know
but it needs our new brand of faith.

The poem didn't win, but that's not really why I wrote it.  I decided to post it here, since the topic is so timely that a more traditional publication is unlikely.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Women in Leadership Positions

Yesterday, I watched the first pictures of Angela Merkel and Donald Trump.  I'm embarrassed to admit that I first admired her jacket--what a stunning color.

But as I watched the two leaders of the free world sitting together, I had to wonder what was going through her head.  Here's a woman who has worked her way through leadership positions slowly and with great patience.  She's been a political presence during much of my adult life--and I'm 51.

Trump has also been a presence, but not a political one.  I'll leave it at that, because my focus is Merkel.

Imagine Angela Merkel, this woman who has so much experience on the world stage, this woman who helped dismantle communism and reunite Germany--and she must keep a composed face during the various events yesterday.  She's had lots of experience at keeping that composed face, to be sure.  Growing up the daughter of a Lutheran minister in communist East Germany would provide essential training in keeping one's true feelings hidden.

I also thought about her vast education before she took on politics.  She has a doctorate in physical chemistry (quantum chemistry).  I tried to imagine a conversation between Merkel and Trump where they talked about what they had studied in their younger years--and then my head exploded.

Merkel's experience would seem familiar to many of us, still, these many years after Title IX and other protections were put in place in the 1970's.  How many of us spend much of our work days composing our faces and patiently following our own visions, while men around us bluster and bellow?  I know that I am fortunate in that I have never experienced the denigration in the work place that many have--and I have often been valued, perhaps as the quirky one with too much education, but valued nonetheless.  And if I haven't been valued, at least I haven't been undermined or harmed.  I can live with being ignored--in fact, one can often transform one's corner of the world when no one else is paying attention.

Poor Angela Merkel, having to be civil to the man who told the world that she ruined Germany by her compassionate approach to refugees fleeing for their lives.  If we looked for the difference in approach by both leaders, I come back to religious values, or lack of them, that undergird each one.  I wrote about these ideas in more detail in this post on my theology blog.

Of course, she's had lots of experience being civil to those who have been ugly; I'm sure Donald Trump is small potatoes compared to others.

This morning, I'm saying a prayer of thanks for women like Angela Merkel, solid leaders who get done what needs to be done.  May there be more of these leaders, both male and female, leaders of solid substance, not leaders of bellowing bluster.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Saint Patrick and Modern Hostile Landscapes

Today is the feast day of Saint Patrick.  But as with Mardi Gras and Valentine's Day, the secular aspects of these days almost completely overshadow the religious and spiritual origins.

All these centuries later, I still find Saint Patrick fascinating.  What surprises me lately is how I find different aspects of his life fascinating at different points of my life.  This year, I'm thinking about Saint Patrick and the harsh landscape that was Ireland when he lived there.

I spent part of last Saturday watching PBS travel shows with an Ireland theme.  The countryside that was once so rugged and foreboding is now lush and green and well-travelled.  But those ancient monks like Patrick, who carved out rich lives in Ireland and Scotland, faced significant hostility, from the people who lived there to the weather to the ground and the ocean.   Ireland and Scotland must have felt like distant outposts, a tough exile.  And yet, what they had to offer was exactly what was needed to keep the faith going.

Many of us may lately have a similar feeling, that we face hostile surroundings--especially in these times of fierce budget battles that are just beginning.  I have lived in times of federal budgets that gut all that I hold dear--it's heartbreaking, but in these times, outsiders are needed more than others.  The nation needs our brand of faith (in the arts, in feeding the poor and the homebound, in education, on and on I could go) now more than ever.

Instead of despairing and longing for the glory times, whenever they might have been, when our values and goals were a closer match to the larger society, perhaps we should think of ourselves as Celtic monks, trying to till a very rocky, thorny soil. We should take comfort and encouragement from how much can be accomplished, even in the most unlikely circumstances. There’s plenty of transformative work for us to do today.

The lives of the Celtic monks remind us that even in a distant exile, wondrous things can happen if we stay open to all of the possibilities.  During our times of exile, it's good to remember that basic truth.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Office Work, Mock and Real

Lately I've been thinking about how preparing for an accreditation site visit is like preparing for Comprehensive Exams.  The date is set and has been for some time.  The preparation/studying is done.  I find myself wishing that I could just go ahead and take the leap--and then, occasionally, with a bit of panic, I say, "No, wait, I'm not ready yet."  But I am ready, as ready as I know how to be.

Still, there are binders to assemble.  Once I just threw things together.  Now I am careful to label everything in exactly the same way, to insert tabs, to label the tab pages.  Instead of giant binders, I'm now more likely to make smaller ones.  For example, instead of a binder with every syllabus, I'll break it down by program.  If our faculty files weren't already this way, I'd put every document in every file in exactly the same place.  Convenience counts, and I don't want to force accreditors to search for a document.

Yesterday, as I was peeling the backs off of the labels to stick them on binder spines, I thought about a childhood game.  My sister and I used to play office:  we would unplug the phones so that we could pretend to answer them and transfer calls, and we would file, and we would shuffle papers.

It was the late 70's--why weren't we preparing to be astronauts?  And yet, many of us have grown up into administrator jobs that are similar to the mock office my sister and I created.

This morning, I worked at my other "office job."  I submitted fiction to 2 literary journals, which I like to do from home, since most places require a small fee which I pay with my credit card.  I'm willing to pay it for fiction, since the postage costs would cost as much if not more.  The same is not true for poetry.

Later, I will order transcripts for my spouse's two new schools where he will be teaching soon.  He can line up as many adjunct jobs as he can juggle, and so, he's gotten two more gigs.  Each new school means a set of transcripts sent, and much assorted paperwork--again, much like the mock office of my childhood.

And then, once the home office paperwork is done, it's off to my other office.  I often think about my love of office supplies and keeping journals/records, and how that helps me in my work life--all of my work lives.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

This Particular, Highly Structured Season

Today I return to spin class after being away for just over 3 weeks.  In that time, I've had a sick spouse, a pulled back, 2 cars that needed maintenance (which required dropping a car off, driving back to the house, the spouse who was on spring break walking back to the Firestone shop, and the next day, doing it again for the other car), and some inability to get myself together and back to spin class.

In a way, it's been good.  I've realized that I do miss spin class, that I may want to keep going but maybe only once or twice a week.  The money question is still something I'm puzzling over.  Is it worth $44 a month?  I will ask if there are cheaper options.

There are days when I'd rather be walking.  There are days when even walking seems like too much effort.  I think of times in the past when I've been in a more athletic phase, and I wonder what is going on here.

Of course, many of those athletic times have come when I've had a less structured life, in terms of time--or maybe it would be more accurate to say that I had more pockets of free time throughout the week.  These days, I have only an hour or two of free time most work days.  I sacrifice sleep to get a bit more free time.

Many things that once came easily now seem more difficult--for example, I've been feeling distressed about how little I feel I am writing in terms of fiction and poetry.  I remind myself that I am writing, but it doesn't feel effortless, like it once did.  Again, it seemed more effortless in days when I had more unstructured time.

I know that at I am in a particular season right now, one that requires long hours in an office.  I know that at some point I will look back on this time.  Will I marvel at all that I was able to do?  Will I feel sorrowful at the opportunity costs that come when time is at a premium?  Will I miss that office? 

Yes.  In that future time, yes.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Meditation Rocks

In this high stress time, let's remember how simple it is to create a Zen garden:

How soothing it can be to rake shapes in the sand:

Those photos reminded me of the time that my spouse and I made meditation stones:

I was surprised by how much I enjoyed writing on the stones with a gold pen:

I don't usually wear clothes with pockets, but if I did, I might slip one of these worry stones in my pocket to take with me through the day:

I love how rocks turn into footprints:

There's probably a metaphor here.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Poetry Monday: "Spinning Our Wheels"

Over the week-end, I got my contributor copy of Naugatuck River Review.  I'm happy to be included with such great writers.

The journal calls itself a journal of narrative poetry that sings, and I've been interested to see the many varieties of narrative poetry.  That being said, my poem that was chosen isn't as traditionally narrative poetry as others I've written.  It tells a story, but it doesn't have the same narrative arc as some of my work.

This poem is part of my series of poems that imagines Jesus moving about in the modern world.  These poems may strike some as humorous, some as heretical, but I've always tried to create spiritual truth out of this narrative situation.

I haven't been to spin class in several weeks.  My spouse was sick which took out one day, and then I pulled my back which took a week.  Last week was full of car swapping as we got the basic maintenance done.

These days, it seems like basic maintenance, and often a poor version of it at that, is taking up more and more of my time.  I am just exhausted by it all.  But I try to make sure the dishes are washed and the laundry done, even if not put away.  The bills are paid, and I'm staying on top of my work-for-pay.  Maybe that's enough.

I suspect the Jesus in this poem would tell me that it is.

Spinning Our Wheels

Jesus joined our spin class.
He came without a water bottle,
but we let him stay. We weren’t sure
about his sandals, but he seemed to manage.

Jesus has heard our prayers
for bodies that conform.
Jesus understands our shame
over the splotches and stains
from bodies that can’t contain themselves.

Jesus watches us sweat and slurp
our water, a friendly competition
to see who works out hardest,
measured in liquid units.

Jesus thinks about ancient purity codes,
the woman who had bled for over a decade,
and the blind man healed with spit and sand.
Jesus pedals faster and ponders
the human attitude towards body
fluids, our desperate attempts
to contain our essential selves
which want to flow towards the sea.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Taxes and Other Confessionals

I didn't write yesterday, although I was up early.  After creating a post for my theology blog, for my I decided I would make a quick trip to a garden center and a grocery store, came back to do some chores, and I never got back to writing.  I joked later that it was one of the first times that I felt I had experienced a typical Saturday as a homeowner.

It wasn't unpleasant by any measure.  I had been listening to this episode of On Point, and I decided I wanted to try the Jalapeno-Honey Steak with Cilantro and Lime.  I thought I'd just zip out to do my errands before the rest of the world got up and out and that I would be back to writing in no time.

We needed chemicals to kill the algae in the pool, so I went to the Home Depot--I'd been meaning to get some pots of flowers for the front porch.  It was a beautiful morning, and the garden center area was mostly deserted, and I lost myself in the flowers.  I bought the last 2 pots of petunias.  I've wanted petunias in pots since the first spring we lived in this house--and even earlier.

The grocery store had everything I needed--hurrah!  And then I got back home and thought, let me just get these steaks marinating.  And then, let me just pull some weeds while my spouse works on the pool.  And then, let me just eat my long-anticipated brunch of baguette with brie, heated, while watching some of my favorite PBS shows--the shows weren't on, but in honor of St. Patrick's Day, the station was running travel shows that featured Ireland, so that was interesting.

And that's how a morning slips away.

In the afternoon, I did taxes, which came out how I expected.  The software warned me that I'm at a high risk for audit because in my work as a writer, I earned significantly less than last year.  Well, I can't fix that, although it's startling to see it spelled out with specific numbers.  I was pleased with the tax credit we got for purchasing solar panels, and I don't expect that credit to last much longer, so I'm glad we were able to do that.  While we are not off the grid, we are closer to living out our values.

I think of the ancient spiritual practice of confession, which most churches practice on a corporate level, if at all.  Tax time is a modern take on that ancient practice.  We can see where we've fallen short.  We can ask for forgiveness--and for the ability to make a change.

We can make notes for next year--if I was thinking about claiming the cottage as tax-deductible work space, I should probably earn a bit more money.

As the afternoon shifted to evening, my spouse worked on his class that starts on Wednesday, as did I.  And then, because I had less to do than he does, I filled out the paperwork for our passports and got all of that ready to go to the post office.

It was a good Saturday:  chores done with treats along the way.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Borning Cries and Other Life Passages

I was sad yesterday to hear about the death of John Ylvisaker; if we know him at all, most of us know him as the writer of "I Was There to Hear Your Borning Cry."  It's a beautiful song that tells us of the ways that God takes an interest in us throughout our lives, from the most mundane events to the most important.

It's that rare song, one that most of us are capable of singing, but without dumbing down the music.  It's not the unsophisticated structure that we find in much praise music that's also designed for singing by most voices.

Likewise, the lyrics are sophisticated, but not inaccessible.  Look at that first line:  God doesn't say, "I was there when you were born."  Hearing the baby cry upon birth is a much more lyrical way of expressing the same idea.

Ylvisaker wrote many songs that are treasured, but none with the reach of "Borning Cry."  But he was also a medical doctor, a professor, and a real estate developer (according to this obituary).

It's a reminder that's important to me about how broad the expanse of one's life can be.  We putter along assuming we're accomplishing nothing only to look up one day and realize that we've taught thousands of students, written more words than we can count, and done the daily clean up along the way that life requires.

I've had this idea on the brain more so this week, even before the death of Ylvisaker.  My spouse was grading essays from his Philosophy class, and one of his students quoted one of my spouse's mentors.  My spouse then had an interesting Facebook conversation with a wide-ranging group of our college friends, many of whom had taken classes from that mentor.  It was wonderful to hear how this group of folks who majored in a variety of topics, but who remembered the mentor as one of their best teachers--and they remember him decades after taking the one class.

Our old Philosophy teacher might be surprised to hear how many of us still remember him, even though we majored in something different.  Or maybe he designed his life and teaching in the hopes that we would.

Likewise, with an artist like Ylvisaker, I'll always wonder if the work that the wide public cherishes is the work that the artist thinks is best.  When I look at any anthology, that thought comes to mind.

In the end, I go back to the wisdom that elders across the spectrum have taught us:  we do our work, whether it be our creative work, our work with the upcoming generations, our work for pay, and even the drudgery work that most of us must do, and we do it to the best of our abilities because we can't know for sure which part is most important.

And that work that outlives us might happen much, much later in life than we're expecting.  We live in a world where we're more impressed with youth--we are bombarded with messages that tell us that if we haven't done our best work by the time we're 21, we might as well give up.  But if we look at Ylvisaker's life, we see an alternate narrative--he was over 60 years old when he wrote the work that most of us know, the work that will be sung at baptisms and weddings for many decades, and possibly centuries, to come.

Our culture also tells us that staying power proves the value of work.  But that, too, is a lie.  I like the spiritual aspect, the being present, the sacramental element--the meeting God in our daily work.  I like the idea that we are not required to transform the world in a single day of work.  For most of us, we have many years and decades to do that transformative work--and we have partners along the way.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Confederate Womanhood and More Modern Forms

Yesterday, in honor of International Women's Day, one of my favorite grad school professors posted this picture with this Facebook post:  ""To the Women of the Confederacy' erected 1909-11 on the SC statehouse grounds. "They were steadfast and unafraid," proclaims the pedestal. This century old monument to female strength was inspired, in part, by Jim Crow era myth-making."

I wrote:  "Even though I knew its troubled history, and I knew all the ways that the idea of Southern womanhood had been used to oppress all sorts of people, I still found it a comfort--I would walk to the State House grounds and remind myself that any grad school tribulations I might have had did not compare to life during war time."

Then I remembered a poem that I wrote long ago that was published in an online journal Clapboard House, which is sadly no longer online.  Of course, I still have a copy of the poem:


The statue, a tribute to Confederate
Womanhood, keeps her bronze eyes fixed
on the statehouse, while her metal
children clutch her skirts. Inside,
women throng into the chambers, this once male
bastion of legislative power.
The current law states a husband
cannot be charged with the rape of his wife;
a wife is property, to do with as a man pleases.
Females of all ages bear witness, testify
to the violated sanctity of home and hearth.
Only one senator remains unswayed
by their pleas for a twentieth century view.
He doesn’t approve of racial integration either.

This morning, when I was looking for it, I came across the version that I had written as a sonnet:


Inflamed by laws we deem unfair,
we approach the leaders of our state.
In this chamber, men stop to stare,
and ask if women deserve their fate.

The current law has stated
a husband cannot be charged with rape.
This issue engenders hatred
on both sides of the political tape.

Females of all ages testify
to the harm of violation.
Only one senator remains mystified.
He still does not approve of integration.

The law is changed and we rejoice.
We tell our daughters of the power of the human voice.

And yes, it's based on a true incident. Until 1989 or so, it was legal in South Carolina for a man to rape his wife. I was part of a campaign to change that law. I remember heading over to the State House after my graduate school classes at USC (an easy walk) and watching the proceedings. I didn't testify, since I had no horrifying stories, but I like to think that the fact that so many women jammed the meeting halls led to the change in that law.

And yes, some of the legislators really did look puzzled and/or annoyed that so many women were there, back in the days of very few women legislators anywhere. 

I like to think we've made progress, but when I look at pictures of state houses and federal buildings, I still see a lot of old, white, male faces.  But there are female faces and minority faces and younger faces.  We are making progress--it's just taking longer than my grad school self would have believed.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

International Women's Day 2017

March is the month designated to celebrate women's history; March 8 is International Women's Day.  We might ask ourselves why we still need to set time apart to pay attention to women.  Haven't we enacted laws so that women are equal and now we can just go on with our lives?

Sadly, no, that is not the case.  If we look at basic statistics, like how much women earn compared to men in the very same jobs, we see that the U.S. has still not achieved equality.  If we look at who is in charge in most workplaces, it's white men. If we look at violent crime rates, we discover that most violent crime rates have fallen--except for rape.  If we look at representation in local, state, and federal levels, we see that members of government are still mostly white and male.

And that's in a first world country.  The picture for women in developing nations is bleak.

Most of us understand why a world where more women have access to equal resources would be a better world for all of us.  Many of us have spent years and decades working to make that world a reality.  Some of us are lucky enough to have a community of some sort that supports that vision and doesn't ridicule us when we try to make it happen.

 In this country, some of us will stay home today, a boycott of sorts.  There are all sorts of protests planned across the globe. 

And how will life change tomorrow?

We may not see immediate change, but rest assured, the world is changing.  We have had a female candidate for U.S. president who won the popular vote--I am surprised to see that event in my lifetime.

We know that the world can change very quickly.  I continue to hope that we won't find ourselves in a time of sliding back to a time of darkness and oppression.  And I know that our increased awareness that days like today bring us will help keep our gains safe.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Visual Journaling with Old Hymnbooks

My week-end was book-ended by fun with markers.  On Friday, I wanted to see what my new markers (bought on Ash Wednesday) could do, and eventually, I created this:

Some might see it as too busy, but that's on purpose, as I suspect that I'd find a true Mardi Gras celebration an overwhelming cacophony.  And I was trying to create a feathery technique, like you might find on actual Mardi Gras masks.

On Sunday, I noticed a box of old red hymnals, last widely used by the Lutheran church in the 70's, with a free books sign.  So, I took some, with a vision using hymnal pages in my visual journaling.  I chose a chunk of "Onward Christian Soldiers," my favorite hymn from childhood, and part of "A Mighty Fortress" with its old language of bulwarks.

I glued them onto the page, and then I had to wait for the page to dry.  So, I drew a variety of purples on the back of my Ash Wednesday piece:

The effect on the other side is subtle, but I like it:

Here's the original, with no back coloring:

Then I was ready to work on my hymnal fragment piece.  I've worked with hymnal fragments before and had a similar experience.  I'm not thrilled with how the hymn fragments mostly disappear:

I decided to play with the bleed-through that can happen with these thin pages:

I like how it gives color to the other side, but I can still read the words and see the notes:

What will I do with this piece?  Stay tuned!

Monday, March 6, 2017

Poetry Monday: "Thread Counts"

If you need a poem for your Monday, Southern Women's Review has just published my poem "Thread Counts."  You can find it by going here and then going to page 35.

The poem had its beginnings in a conversation I had with a colleague in the Fashion Department.  After her full-time position had been changed to part-time, she was looking for other business opportunities.  She started her own business selling sheets made out of eucalyptus.  It was a fascinating conversation about how one contracts with factories and such. 

I also remember being aghast at the price:  hundreds of dollars for a sheet, which I was assured was worth every penny.  We talked of thread counts and breathability, but my brain was still reeling at the price. 

I also thought about how my colleague would probably be shocked at my practice of mending sheets (along with every other piece of clothing) until I'm mending the mending and the remaining fabric simply must be recycled.

Those thoughts led to thoughts of family quilts, and I had the third stanza of the poem.

I spent some time this morning reading the rest of the journal, and as always, I'm impressed with the quality of the work and the design of the journal.  It's a good way to start a blustery Monday in March.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Sunday Snippets from a Writer's Life

Even though I tried to avoid it, my Saturday felt more like a hectic, running errands Saturday than I planned.  In a way, that's good because we got some things done:  motorcycle covers bought (expensive!), library books returned, hair cut, pot roast made.  But I feel a bit fragmented today.

So let me record some snippets that I don't want to lose.

--I think about the end the post I wrote yesterday:  And now it's time to work on pot roast!  We make it in the magnalite roasting pan that used to be my grandmother's--if I wrote a poem about my version of ancestor worship/communication, that would be a stanza.

Throughout the day of errand running, I thought of other stanzas, or maybe only one stanza, where the rhythm of the worship service is a way to communicate with our dead.

Rather than force this poem to come this week-end, I'm going to think about it for a few more days and see what wants to speak to me.

--I'd like to write a poem today--I feel this practice of poetry slipping away.  Let me be alert for possibilities as I move through my Sunday morning.

--Twice this past week at church I've made the sign of a cross on the foreheads of worshippers.  Last Sunday was our healing service, and I was assisting minister, so I used oil.  On Ash Wednesday, I used ashes.  What interests me is that I like smudging ashes more than using oil, and I wonder why.  For more on these thoughts, see this post on my theology blog.

--A friend of mine wrote an e-mail that told of drama at a conference; you'd think that these people were teenagers, but the main drama instigator is a woman in her mid-60's.  My friend wonders if she's doing something that attracts these "poo bombers," as she called them.  I wrote, "I think that we notice the poo bombing more as we get older, because it's so unusual.  In college, many people seemed to be in some stage of unravelling, which often involved involving others in the madness. In grown up life, happily, most people have knitted themselves into some adult shape they can live with, and they simply don't have the time and energy for these dramas."

--On Friday came the announcement that EDMC is selling all their schools, except for the ones that are closing, to the Dream Center Foundation; for more, this article on Inside Higher Ed is interesting, including this bit:  "The Dream Center, which is a Christian missionary organization sometimes described as Pentecostal, funds programs that primarily provide education, emergency food, medical services and transitional housing to homeless families, young people and veterans in 41 states and 21 countries."

Why do I care?  Because from 2002 until 2016, I worked at the Art Institute of Ft. Lauderdale.  It doesn't seem like a good fit to me.  I can't quite figure out why the non-profit wants these failing schools.  If their mission is to serve the poor and outcast in terms of their most immediate needs, these schools seem outside the mission.  If it's to equip people, by giving them a college education, a school like ITT Tech (yes, I know that they are closed now) would seem to give more of a chance of employment to the clients that the non-profit seems to exist to serve.  But having worked with some of those populations, I still don't understand.  Many, if not most, homeless people are never going to go to college or last very long if they do.  They just have too many issues, some of which can't be fixed by a non-profit organization.

--I confess that I am also interested because even though I left the school, it's been a setting for my linked short story collection that I've been writing for several years.  Although I call it a for-profit art school in the stories, it doesn't take much sleuthing to figure out the connection.  Now I will keep it unnamed and fictional, because this plot twist of a sale to a non-profit would not fit the arc of the stories.

--Or would it?  Stay tuned.

Saturday, March 4, 2017

A Blustery Day Needs a Roast in the Oven

It is a blustery day, which may be as close to winter as we will get this year.  It's windy, with partial sun, so we will have pot roast, as I pretend it's colder than it is!  We have potatoes, carrots, and onions already, so it seemed like a good dish for dinner.  I love having something stewing in the oven for hours.

Something in the house is beeping every 12-18 hours:  3 short beeps.  Nothing too shrill or alarming, but unusual.  The one smoke alarm that we have is hard wired, so it's not a smoke alarm battery.  It's not the cell phone, since my spouse has heard the beeps when the cell phone has been in the car with me.  I've checked the fridge and the wine chiller, thinking that maybe one of them beeps if the door is ajar--that doesn't seem to be the case.  Hmm.

If I have to hear mysterious sounds in the house, an electronic beeping at random hours is not the worst sound to endure.  I'm remembering a year ago when we had creatures scurrying in the attic.  And with these blustery winds, on the breeze I hear the creak of palm trees and the crying of cats.

I feel a poem percolating below the surface, about what we hear and what we think we hear and what we cannot hear.  I also have a number of short stories percolating--I'm hoping this will be the week when I start on the story about the woman going to the woman's march on Washington.

While I haven't gotten much new writing done this week, I've done some revision, which makes me happy.

And now it's time to work on pot roast!  We make it in the magnalite roasting pan that used to be my grandmother's--if I wrote a poem about my version of ancestor worship/communication, that would be a stanza.

Friday, March 3, 2017

Poetry Friday: "Season of Ash and Penitence"

Before we get too far away from Ash Wednesday, let me post this poem--a somewhat different take on my other Ash Wednesday themed poems.

Looking back over my writing life, I'm surprised at how often I see the themes of ash and penitence in my writing. As a younger person, I hated Ash Wednesday and all its morbid themes. As an older person, I keep returning to that well--or should I say ash pit?

The haunting words of Ash Wednesday--"Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return"--often provide powerful motivation to get that writing done (or in the words of Andrew Marvell, "But at my back I always hear / Time's winged chariot hurrying near"). In his book The Lie That Tells a Truth, John Dufresne says, "But death is the central truth of our existence--the sadness at our core. Everything we love will vanish. We can't hold on to anything. It is this tragedy that accounts as well for the beauty and nobility of our lives because in the face of this knowledge, we go right on loving, trying to hold on to what we cherish, defying death with hubris and with faith" (page 61).
The poem below percolated for many years.  Long ago, in a pre-dawn run at the beach, I really did hear an old guy with a cigar say, "This is how I'm celebrating Ash Wednesday right here. I'm gonna smoke all day long."  The rest of the poem is rooted in truth too, although not always in experiences that I've actually had.

This poem appeared in April 2016 in the Hawaii Pacific Review.

Season of Ash and Penitence

He says he’ll celebrate
Ash Wednesday by smoking a carton
of cigarettes.  Before the sun rises,
he’s puffed through a pack.

In the early light, she repots
the plants and hopes
they’ll perk back to life.

He knows his daughter has skipped
school, and he spies on her secrets,
such stereotypes, nothing original:
the boy he has banned,
the fast car, an empty bottle.

She didn’t mean to burn
their lunch to cinders
as she counted out iambs
on her fingers, a successful
sonnet at last.

They engage in the same fights
as the sun sets:  who neglected
which chores and how they wish
for changes that seem impossible.

In the darkening dusk,
we all gather in the church.
Our pastor smudges ash
on our foreheads, as tender
as a mother feeling for fever.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Ash Wednesday Art

Because I stayed at work late on Tuesday, I left for work slightly later yesterday.  I decided I would stop at JoAnn's to use a coupon.  I've been wanting to try some different markers.

Don't get me wrong.  I love the markers that I got in April.  In fact, I'm about to need to buy some more ink.

But the markers are very expensive.  The 12 markers above cost just under $70, and then I got 12 more.  While they are wonderful, and I've used them with abandon, I want to try some others that are less expensive, especially when one has a coupon.

Well, I hit the jackpot yesterday.  Several packages of the markers I'd had my eyes on were on sale, and on that same rack were some other packages at an even better sale.  I had one coupon to get another full price package for 40% off, and a coupon for $10 off the total, which could include both sale and regular items.

At the end of the work day, I headed over to Ash Wednesday service at my church.  I thought I'd use the markers then, but it was easier to use what I'd already been using.  During the service, when I wasn't doing a responsive reading or smudging ashes on foreheads, I created this sketch:

And I took some pictures.  I'm most pleased with this one:

Or perhaps this one:

Along with a variety of grading and tax tasks this week-end, I will spend some time exploring what these markers can do.  And if they're wonderful, I may stop at that sale rack again.