Thursday, August 31, 2017

Walking the Walk

I've been seeing lots of Facebook posts about the hypocrisy of churches in the recent Hurricane Harvey.  There's the fury directed at Joel Osteen.  And that fury has begun to be directed at other churches.  Let's separate them.

First, let's talk about Joel Osteen.  I've seen lots of criticism, along the lines of "He should walk the walk."  Well, frankly, he is walking the walk--his particular walk.  Have you read the man's books or watched his shows?  He's a prosperity gospel preacher--God will bless you if you behave/believe a certain way, and that blessing is in the form of money.  There's not much in there about taking care of those less fortunate.  After all, if they're less fortunate, they could pray more or change their beliefs so that God would bless them too.

It's not the version of God that speaks to me, but I understand the appeal.

Yesterday I saw the first meme which criticized other Houston churches.  It said that churches get tax free status so that they can take care of the less fortunate and only a very small amount of churches in Houston were taking care of storm victims.  This post was created while the rains were still hammering the city.

I thought about how many churches in the area are flooded.  They will not be opening their doors as a shelter any time soon.  During Hurricane Wilma, I was part of a church that lost some roof tiles, which led to water intrusion.  It was much less than the water inundating Texas churches, and it took weeks just to get the damaged building materials, like carpet, out of the way.  And then it was many months after that before it was all repaired and replaced.  After a huge storm, the pace of repair slows because there aren't lots of workers to hire, and everyone has so much repair to do.

But let's say the building itself is in fine shape.  The roads to get to the building might not be.  And churches don't necessarily have huge staffs to help with sheltering storm refugees. 

I think that most non-church members think of churches, and they think of huge congregations, significant staff, and lots of money.  That has not been my experience.  Many churches can barely pay their pastor and organist.  Many churches have elderly congregations which can't easily help people who need a shelter.  Many churches are meeting in a rented space, which means they can't open the building to refugees.

The most vociferous critics of The Church will not be paying attention to the smaller corners where they might actually see The Church in action.  They will not see the church members who take care of the community in so many ways.  They will not have read the posts from church people who pass on information.  They will not know about church affiliated charities that will give so much help to victims, and who will stay long after the initial impact of the storm.  The vociferous critics will have moved on to judge other institutions by the time The Church in all its local incarnations has time to swing into full action.

If you want to support the Houston storm victims, and you want an organization you can trust, I suggest Lutheran Disaster Response.  The group will use 100% of your donation towards the relief effort and not administration, and they'll help everyone, regardless of belief.  And they'll stay for the long haul.  Go here to donate.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

The Message in a Flooded Parking Lot

When I left work on Monday, the parking lot was flooded, and I waded through ankle deep water to get to my car.  But that's not unusual for a day the kind of rain that we had for a few hours in the afternoon, the kind of rain that comes in slanting sheets.  I drove home through flooded streets, and the only thing that seemed curious is that when I got to a point on my drive east, the streets were completely dry.

I got to work yesterday morning to find the parking lot still flooded, and even more strange, the second floor of the parking garage still had several inches of water.  Someone closed the gate to the upper level, and I went down to close it again when someone opened it.  I did a bit of traffic directing to the part of the parking lot that almost no one knows is there, and then I made a poster for the gate, so that people would know why the lot was closed.

I asked the other people in the building if we could use their reserved spaces, and they graciously said yes.  But that only solved the problem for a bit.

As I tromped back and forth between offices and flooded parking lot, I thought about grad school and my professional life, how in some ways I never envisioned that my duties might include this, but in other ways, I'm just doing what I've always done:  looking out for students, trying to keep them safe, showing them directions, hoping for the best.

And there's the tough part:  at one point, we ran out of dry parking spaces. I had to leave late arriving students to make their best choices for them and their vehicles.  Some parked further away and walked.  Some parked in the flooded spaces and waded to the building.

I said nothing, although part of me wanted to say, "If you had gotten to class a few minutes early, you'd have had a dry space."  But I didn't.

As with much of my teaching and professional life, I realized that I couldn't fix everything--and people would make their own way or they wouldn't.

I had a full morning of meetings and the catching up of work that comes with a morning of meetings.  By the time I left in the early evening, a team had arrived with a rootering type of device to try to fix the clogged drainage in the parking lot. Long after the streets dried, we still had lakes of water instead of parking areas, so clearly something is wrong.  Hopefully it will be fixed.

We know that the rains will come.  We know that there may be flooding.  This is a week that in ways big and small, we know that we need to help each other--both locally and nationally.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Statues and Other Tributes

Was it just last week we were coming to blows over statues?

One of the few statues of a woman in the U.S. Capitol

Do all of our Confederate statues insult our modern sensibilities?

Picture taken by Paula Feldman: SC Statehouse statue saluting the women of the Confederacy

If we will be known by our statues, what do our statues say?

Mepkin Abbey Statue

A statue made out of a fallen tree tells the story of our humanity:  all we love will ultimately be lost.

Mepkin Abbey: close up of a statue made of a fallen tree

Can a statue made of marble bring us comfort?

Mepkin Abbey detail of statue of Mary

Does a statue made of recycled scraps tell us something about our ultimate destiny?

Mepkin Abbey:  part of a Nativity scene

Can a statue call us to something bigger than ourselves?

Mepkin Abbey Statue

We continue to make our tributes.

Impromptu Cairn at Mepkin Abbey

Monday, August 28, 2017

A Post Hurricane Poem: "Exodus"

I've been interested to watch my Facebook feed, to see how many posts are people weighing in about Hurricane/Tropical Storm Harvey and its floods and to see how many people are talking politics.  As someone who lives in hurricane country, I can't take my eyes off the Texas news.   I tend to worry more about winds and trees falling over.  But this current storm shows us the power of flooding rain.

I remember after Hurricane Katrina hearing about people who stockpiled water and food the way that they were supposed to and then the floods washed them away.  I remember being horrified by people who couldn't get out of the way, like people in hospitals and nursing homes.  We had had a terrible year personally, in terms of my mother-in-law's broken hip and her subsequent death by medical-industrial complex.  And I'm always aware of other apocalypses that wait in the wings.

All of those images came together in this poem, previously unpublished:


The swampland family stockpiles against storms,
supplies that are swept to sea
as the storm overwhelms the earth and the dams
designed to contain it.

In a distant hospital bed, antibiotics
flow into the veins of an older woman with a broken
hip. Microbes laugh at this attempt
to turn the tide as they flood her flesh.

On the opposite side of the planet, officials order
the slaughter of every bird in the country.
Some fly across the border.

Desperate to pack flesh on your frail frame,
she bakes every sweet treat you used to crave.
It’s the week the nausea attacks
you with apocalyptic vigor.

He keeps vigil by his mother’s bed
thinking that the doctors will take greater care.
He pretends to understand the markings
on her chart, the tidal flow of fluids.

I am tempted to try the tricks
of ancient peoples, to paint
the doorposts with blood, to offer
sacrifices, to dress in costumes
to keep my identity hidden from avenging angels.

Instead I keep the candles lit
and read the sacred texts. I make
sandwiches for the ones who deal with damage.
I listen for the call to leave,
ready to flee at a moment’s notice.
I keep my shoes laced, my camel tethered nearby.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Hurricane Relief

We had another rainy day yesterday.  In the morning, I sat with quilt group friends watching the clouds and the rain roll in while I did some mending and autumnal placemat making.  In the afternoon my spouse and I sat on our deep front porch:  he made notes for class, and I sketched a bit.  In the evening, the rain had let up, and we went to a neighborhood friend's birthday party.

I was struck by how many people I saw throughout the day who I came to know through my old school--at least 11.  Some of them I hired, many of them I supervised, all of them are still friends, although we don't see each other as often as we did when we worked side by side.  Most of them have gone on to better things--and some of them are doing very different things.  I find it hopeful.

Throughout the day I was conscious of the rain and although I was a bit worried about flooding, Hurricane Harvey was never far from my mind.  Today, too, I find my thoughts with the people of Texas.  We are hearing of people whose houses are so flooded that they're getting into attics or onto roofs.  I just heard an official recommend that people take an ax with them to the attic.  But I've seen more than one roof, and I can't imagine hacking my way out.

It's the kind of coverage that makes me think that personal flotation devices should be part of our hurricane supplies.  It's the kind of coverage that makes me think that my spouse's idea of putting southwestern style ladder steps on the outside walls or a spiral staircase outside might not be such a bad idea.

The pictures of what the wind ripped apart are dramatic, but because of them, we might not know that water kills more people during storms than wind.  And this storm brings a lot of water with it.

Some of us will feel compelled to send money, and money is a resource that gives the flexibility that communities will need in these difficult days, and the difficult rebuilding time yet to come.  There are many fine organizations, and some of them are faith based.

I recommend Lutheran Disaster Response--most of your donation will go to disaster relief.  Go here to donate:

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Nature Wows Us This Week

I've been up for hours, since we went to bed at 8.  It's been the kind of week/month/season that has left us wiped out and weary.  The sky beyond my window over the writing desk has just begun to lighten.  I wonder what the people of Texas are waking up to?

Right now, the coastal residents of Texas are likely waking up to rain and wind, as Hurricane Harvey is still in the neighborhood.  It will only be later that they can evaluate the damage.

Since we've just had the 25th anniversary of Hurricane Andrew, there's been lots of discussion about "Are we ready for another strong storm?"  In part, I think we can never be sure that we're ready.  There are lots of new high rise condo buildings--they're built to a more stringent code, but can they stand up to a category 4 or 5 storm?  I suspect we won't know until it's happening.  And all it takes is one window blowing out, and the whole building is compromised.

In the last 5 minutes, I've watched the sky go from gray to lavender to pink--very lovely, although it probably means we've got more flooding rains for today.  But it has been a quietly beautiful sight.

What a week this has been in terms of nature:  an eclipse back on Monday when the forecast for Hurricane Harvey said it might be hurricane strength by the time it got to Texas, flooding rains for us, and a category 4 hurricane by the time the week ended.

Later this morning, I will go to my quilt group.  I have baked butterscotch bars this morning, thinking about all the people in Texas who will not be baking cookies any time soon.  My little homestead in hurricane country smells delicious.

I remember back in 2005, after Hurricane Katrina had come through.  It was not easy to even have a hot cup of coffee with hot milk in it.  We didn't have hot food for weeks.  This morning, I am luckier.

I'll keep those who are not as lucky in mind today.  It's too early to send help to the Texas victims, but soon you can--remember, money to aid groups goes further than anything else you might donate and the group would have to ship.

Friday, August 25, 2017

There Will Come Flooding Rains

Last night, I fell asleep at 7:45, only to wake up around midnight.  I had a variety of stuff on the brain--but primarily Hurricane Harvey.  So I went to the Weather Underground site, and got lost in the commenting on Jeff Master's blog that's housed there.  I am fascinated by all the people who look at various radars and do their own forecasting.

It was pouring rain here, and I kept a nervous eye on our street, which was flooding--AGAIN.  One of our cars was parked on the street, and I finally decided that if I was ever going to have any hope of sleep, I'd need to move the car.  I waded through calf deep water to move the car up from the flooded street to the yard.

Around 2, I decided to try sleep again.  It took some time, and then I dreamed that the cars had been swept away down the road, along with furniture and wood and other hurricane debris.  Oddly, the cars were still driveable.

I will make my way to spin class and then to work.  The waters have receded, so I might as well.  If I stayed here, I'd just watch Hurricane Harvey, and it's really too early to do much.  Or perhaps too late.  And as I watch our local South Florida radar, now is a good time to leave, and later might not be.  We're expecting flooding rains through Tuesday.

It reminds me of 2005--today is the anniversary of Hurricane Katrina's path over South Florida.  At first it seemed like such a gentle storm where we lived--lots of steady rain, but school was canceled, so we didn't care if the streets flooded.  All was well until the huge ficus fell over.  We were without power for the next two weeks.

Here's hoping we don't have that kind of week-end in store for us.  I don't think the Texas folks will be as lucky with the potential for 35 inches of rain.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Hurricane Andrew and Lesser Storms

My return to work was fairly easy and low key.  The nice thing about taking long week-ends as vacation:  not much unravels while one is gone.  I am also lucky in that I have a great team, which is one of the chief elements that keeps the fabric of our campus knitted together--and yes, I realize I am biased.  It doesn't take much of a change of perspective to realize that not everyone sees the fabric as unfrayed.

This morning I've taken some of the leftovers--grilled clams, diced potatoes, bacon--and turned them into a chowder.  Our weather forecast calls for heavy rains today, and I will love knowing that a pot of chowder waits for me at the end of the day.

We are not facing the kind of heavy weather that South Florida would have faced twenty-five years ago when Hurricane Andrew slammed through the area.  I can't even imagine that fury.  And I really can't imagine the aftermath and the rebuilding--well, I can, but it fills my heart with heavy foreboding.

We were very lucky in terms of weather when my sister and nephew were here.  We were supposed to have this rainy weather system moving through earlier, but a front held it off until yesterday. 

Yesterday someone asked me if I'd been out in the sun.  Of course, I had.  I said, "I spent hours watching the eclipse. I protected my eyes, but I forgot about sunscreen."

Those who know me will scoff at my use of the word "forgot."  I tend to only use sunscreen on my face, neck, and upper chest.  I am scrupulous at protecting my lips, which are quick to burn and so painful when it happens.  But I don't worry much about my arms and legs.

My brain shifts back to 1992, when we had just moved into a house in Mt. Pleasant, SC.  We had spent some time paying attention to Hurricane Andrew, as one does when one lives by the coast.  I pay attention to every weather system, at least until it's clear that we're not in the storm's path.  Even then, I fear the mercurial nature of massive storms, so I keep a wary eye.

In the days after the storm, we noticed some small children next door.  They lived in Homestead, Florida, and had been sent north to stay with relatives while the grown ups tended to the clean up.  They were there for several months.  I think of a late summer night, all of us playing a version of soccer in the front yard, trying to help these refugees forget their loss and exile.

Those children would be in their 30's now.  I wonder how they are and where they are.  They didn't seem traumatized at the time, but I was a very casual observer.  It took several decades for the city of Homestead, Florida to recover.  I imagine that it takes the psyche even longer.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Abbreviated Florida Staycation

Monday and Tuesday, I took my first days of vacation that I've taken since I got this job.  My sister and nephew were down for a vacation before he starts school after Labor Day.  We were the first stop on their tour:  they'll continue on to Kings Dominion, a theme park in Virginia, and then on to my mom and dad's.

They were supposed to come on Friday night, but their flight was canceled because of weather.  Finally, on Saturday evening, they arrived.  We had time in the pool before we went to bed.  My spouse was bummed because it's his first week of classes, so he didn't have as much time with them as he would have if the original plans had stayed in place.  But we made the best of the time we had.

What I will remember long after the rest slips away:  the eclipse, of course.  We were lucky to have relatively clear skies.    It was a thrill.

The rest of the time together was spent how it often is these days when we get together:  we spent lots of time in the pool, time in food prep and eating, time to read, time for our electronics (mostly my nephew, who teaches himself all number of things--from mastering Minecraft to soccer strategies to how to win at the various constructions that came from the Rubiks cube--by watching videos).  Last night we broke out the art supplies and experimented:

We don't any of us have a chance to do that like we once did, so that was a treat.

I am sad to see them go, but I also know that we will see them at Thanksgiving--and given the rate at which the year is flying by, Thanksgiving will be here before we know it!

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Eclipse Fever

We decided to view the eclipse from our backyard; after all, it might have been totally cloudy, and then at least we could have fun in the pool. 

From the very beginning, I was enchanted by the eclipse and found it hard to look away.

We had fun posing for eclipse pictures.

Occasionally clouds drifted by, which gave the eclipse a different nuance.  We took a lot of pictures, hoping to capture it, but we never could.

It was a great way to spend the afternoon.  I ignored the directions on our glasses, and I spent time on a lounge chair, staring at the eclipse for longer than 3 minutes at a time.  And then I looked away to take some pictures.

Later, I felt a bit ill--a combination of heat, not drinking enough fluids throughout the afternoon, and staring at the sun (like staring at an extra bright monitor all afternoon).  But some food, some iced tea, and some time in the air conditioning made me feel better.

I enjoyed everyone's posts on Facebook.  Here's a post of mine that generated a lot of response from my friends:

"Make plans now: August 12, 2045, my house will be on the path of full totality. If the rising seas haven't washed it away, you're all invited to my house. Full totality will be at 1:37 p.m."

Later, I added this:  "Yes, I'll be 80 years old, but I plan to be a very young 80 years old."  And then this:  "In the morning, we'll collect all our friends who are at neighborhood old folks homes and we'll have brunch and then get settled in to watch the eclipse. We'll drink salty dogs and bloody marys and tell ourselves that we're getting our full day's supply of vitamin c. And because I will be 80, I will eat a pound of bacon!"

I ended with this:  "And of course, there will be yummy cakes for the vegetarians and non vegetarians alike. And an egg casserole, because we are never too old for egg casserole. It will be a bit like Christmas morning, only in August."

It's a vision that speaks to me--and of course, the other question that lingers:  if it speaks to me, why wait for an eclipse?

Monday, August 21, 2017

Assorted Eclipse Thoughts

Long ago, I read Me and My Baby View the Eclipse.  At the time, the name Lee Smith really didn't mean much to me.  I didn't know that just a few years later, I'd study her work in grad school and think about ways to craft work as wonderful as hers.

As with many other symbols, I wonder if there's a way to use the eclipse in a literary work that would seem original.  And yet, this morning, when I tried to make a list of eclipse literature, I really couldn't come up with many works.  That may say more about me than it does about literature.

We all have our eclipse glasses, right?

Many of our local schools are keeping children inside during the afternoon.  While I understand the safety concerns, I don't understand missing out on this opportunity.  We don't any of us have that many chances in a lifetime to see a solar eclipse.

At my school, I've ordered a supply of solar eclipse glasses, and we'll have students sign a waiver.  Last week, I offered students moon pies and a handout that explained what to expect during the eclipse.

More students were interested in the eclipse information than in the Declaration of Independence that I handed out during week 1 of school.  The fact that they were interested in the eclipse makes me happy.  I'll focus on that.

If I was buying a commemorative object, I'd buy this plate.  Of course, I can't, because they're sold out.  A potter in South Carolina, Kyle Smith, made them. I wonder if he was surprised at their popularity.

Now for the one thing we can't yet answer.  Will we be able to see it?  We don't have the cloud cover that we had yesterday, but there are plenty of clouds around.  We will take our eclipse glasses and hope for the best!

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Nuclear Nightmares and Other Apocalypses

Last week, my thoughts turned to civil war and what might be coming our way.  In the week before, I couldn't stop thinking about thermonuclear war--during that week, I started reading War Day, and I'm close to finishing it. 

The book tells about the aftermath of a limited nuclear exchange between the U.S. and the Soviet Union in 1988. Several U.S. cities are obliterated, and San Antonio is nuked into a black glass wasteland.  Two writers, ostensibly the book's authors, Whitley Strieber and James Kunetka, take a trip across the U.S. five years later to see how the country is doing.

I've reread the novel several times.  When I first read it, when it was published in 1984, it felt like prophecy--and of a future that would be arriving momentarily.  When I last read the book in late fall of 2001 I thought that the authors had missed the boat in the horrors that were coming, because of course the terrorist events of September 11 were fresh in my mind, and nuclear war seemed a distant possibility.  Some people worried about terrorists with a backpack nuke, but I didn't--the materials to assemble such a thing would be expensive and volatile and probably lethal to those constructing it.  And the aftereffect wouldn't be as extensive as one might expect.  Recent world events have taught us that one can use much cheaper ways to terrorize us.

Of course, I'm not na├»ve.  I know that since the break up of the Soviet Union, nuclear weapons are less easy to control.  I've always worried about rogue nations like Korea, but until recently, I didn't worry about rogue minds being in charge of U.S. weapons.

The book offers a cold comfort:  even with stable brains in charge, events can go terribly wrong.

As I've been reading the book, I've been struck that it's set in 1988-1993--big changes were coming, but not the ones that the book predicts.  The book does posit that the Soviet Union was weaker than the U.S. thought, which was what led to the nuclear exchange, but those 1984 authors would not have believed the changes that actually did happen.  Some days, I still can't believe it.

It's an interesting vision of a population weakened by exposure to radiation and partly wiped out by famine and flu that followed.  The book shows how fragile our communities are--even nations who aren't part of the nuclear exchange and collapse that follows have struggled in the aftermath.

When I first read the book, I was fascinated by the survival aspects.  These days, I'm intrigued by how economies were wiped out because of the electromagnetic pulse--whole fortunes just vanished.  And what happens in the aftermath?  Some economies swoop in and prosper, while others will never recover.  And regular people just limp along--they weren't that rich to begin with.

I've continued to read dystopias in the decades since this book was published.  I've always thought that dystopias tell us a lot about larger societal fears.  I'm sure that future literary critics will spend great amounts of ink/pixels analyzing why zombie narratives were so popular in our current day.  I watch people behaving like zombies once their smart phones have gotten ahold of them, so I'm not surprised that zombies are more popular than vampires, which were the predominant monster narrative in the days of the AIDS crisis.

I'm seeing lots of narratives about ecological collapse, which is well underway.  But the events of the past weeks have reminded me that a nuclear nightmare will never be completely put to bed.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Disrupted Week-end Plans

This morning was going to be different.  I had bought 4 pounds of bacon, and we would likely have cooked at least 1 pound.  We were going to drink salty dogs (grapefruit juice, vodka, and a salt-rimmed glass) by the pool.  We might have walked to the beach.  Above all, we were going to luxuriate in the twin blessings of sunshine and being together.

My sister and 11 year old nephew were supposed to arrive last night, but she called me at 3 p.m. to tell me that her flight was cancelled because they were expecting heavy weather in the area at the time of her flight.  And because so many flights were canceled and people rebooking, they won't be here until 8:30 tonight.  We are none of us happy about this delay--my spouse may be the most unhappy because he teaches Monday and Tuesday and so this delay impacts him most.  But nothing can be done.
And my sister called later in the evening--they did get awful storms, and the flight would have been seriously delayed, if not canceled.  At least she wasn't stuck at the airport or on the road. 
As I said to my spouse, at least the delay is weather related:  no one got sick, no relative died.  There are lots of reasons that this week-end could have been disrupted, so happily, it wasn't any of those.
I will put this disrupted time to good use.  I have an online class that had major changes made to it--as an online instructor, I receive the course shell, and if I'm familiar with the class, it's fairly easy to input dates.  When the class has been changed, it's not as easy.  And when I get the course shell less than a week before the first day, it's that much more difficult.
And perhaps I'll write a poem.  This morning I had an idea for my Jesus in the world cycle of poems:  Jesus as an online instructor, Jesus musing how the relationship he has with online students is similar to the relationship he has with those who pray and with those who don't.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Speaking Truth to the Local Mayor

A week ago, I'd have been about to head out to a Hollywood Chamber of Commerce breakfast where the focus would be education; a group of us from my school went.  Our speaker was the superintendent of the Broward County school system, which is one of the largest in the country.  Just hearing about all the programs and buildings that he's in charge of made me tired.

Earlier in the morning, when various important people were introduced, I took note of the fact that the mayor of Hollywood was at the table right next to ours.  Afterwards, we decided that we should speak to him.

The head of Admissions and I went over and introduced ourselves and our campus.  I realized that we likely wouldn’t have much time with him, so I came right to the point and told him that we could really use a bus line on Taft Street.
He said that it wasn’t only up to the City of Hollywood, that we would have to talk to others, like the Broward Transit people, but he would see what he could do.
I said, “We would really appreciate that.  I know that a lot of government attention goes to the beach and the downtown area of Hollywood, and I live in the historic district, so I understand that it’s easier to work for the prettier parts of town.  But the citizens who live out west need government help too.”
He said, “I would like to come visit your campus.”
We said, “We’d love to have you come visit.”
We asked if he had a card, and he didn’t.  I gave him one of mine, and we shook hands and assured him that we’d be in touch.
Will we get a busline?  I know it's not that simple.  Will the mayor come to the campus?  I won't be surprised if he doesn't.  Will the poorer residents get some government attention?  Probably not.
Still, I feel good, because I could tell he was in the process of brushing us off, and something I said (I think) made him stop and talk about coming to campus.  He's a new mayor, and fairly young, so maybe I planted a seed.  Maybe he'll remember that people like me are paying attention.
I also like that my brain is now going in different directions.  I'm thinking of looking up the representative on the Commission that represents the school's zip code.  I'm thinking of a variety of political events and discussions that the school could host.  It's good to start thinking of these things before the next election season goes into full swing.
I'm feeling good because I'm remembering that lots could get done at a local level, when it comes to politics.  I can't make Trump quit sending out tweets that bring us to the brink of annihilation, but if I could get a busline to an impoverished area, that would make me feel proud.
After we returned to our table, my colleagues looked at me with a mixture of awe and something else.  One of them said, "I didn't know you had it in you."  I think it was said in admiration.
Truth be told, I didn't know that I was going to say what I did until the words were flowing out of my mouth.  But I feel like I've been trained through decades of social justice work, both in church groups and secular groups.  One must seize the opportunity to speak to politicians who might be able to make a difference.  One must be polite, direct, and forceful--it's a delicate balance, and one I think I achieved.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Free Writing to Begin a Strategic Planning Meeting

Long ago, in 1988, when I was in a grad school class that prepared us to be Composition teachers, I learned about free writing.  The rules are simple:  keep writing, don't go stop, don't read, don't ponder, don't worry about grammar, just keep writing.  If you run out of things to say, just write, "I have nothing more to say," until you do have something more to say.  Don't censor yourself--let your mind go where it wants to go.  Above all, just keep writing until time is called.

I have used this technique with every class I've ever taught onground.  I've used it when I've been a retreat leader.  Yesterday I used it with colleagues at the beginning of a strategic planning meeting.

We met in a private meeting room at a restaurant, so it was the first time that I had people writing on cloth tablecloths.  But it still worked.

I was asked to lead the strategic planning meeting, and I wanted us to begin by diving deep into our own thoughts, without censorship.  So I began by saying that we would not be sharing our thoughts unless we wanted to.  Then I led us through the process.

I started by explaining what we would do.  I expected discomfort or protest, like I sometimes get with students, but everyone looked agreeable.  To start, I said, "It's a year from now, and you're at the Hollywood campus.  What do you see that makes you happy?"  Everyone wrote for 3 minutes and seemed sorry to stop.

I moved on to the next question:  "It's a year from now, and you look around the Hollywood campus.  What makes you sad?  What concerns do you have?"  Everyone settled into their writing.

I asked the same questions at 3 minute intervals, only the next 2 were set five years in the future.  Once again, everyone wrote without complaint and without stopping.  I wrote a bit too, even though I had to keep my eye on the time.

As always, I'm surprised by what I come up with, and how quickly I can dip into my subconscious--and what I find there.  In five years, I wrote about outgrowing our space and getting new space that came with a kitchen and a dining space.  I wrote about our new approach to community college:  colleges that eat together to build community.  I wrote about the slogan we created five years from now (verb tense is tricky here, isn't it?):  the school that breaks bread together breaks barriers together.

When I started writing, I had no vision of a kitchen and communal meals.  It took me less that 12 minutes to pull that up.  Was it already bubbling in my mind or did I stretch out to grab it from somewhere else?

We had a good day of strategic planning.  We focused mostly on what we can do in the next year, as I knew we would.  But I liked rooting us both in a short and a medium length of time.  I liked beginning in a place of quiet, with each of us diving a bit deeper into our own brains, with each of us writing separately but as a group activity.

Most of all, I'm impressed with the willing attitude of my colleagues.  Once again, I realize I am lucky.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Wars and the Elderly and Aging

I somehow missed the coverage of Donald Trump's news conference yesterday, but the thought of a president who can't bring himself to condemn neo-Nazis makes me too upset to write about this morning, so let me move my analysis to a slightly different plane.

Yesterday afternoon, I read this article in The New Yorker that analyzes the possibility/probability of a coming Civil War in our country.  The consensus was a 35% chance--but that was before the events of Charlottesville this past week-end.

One of the historians says, "It's like 1859, everyone is mad about something, and everyone has guns."  That's the quote that's stuck with me long after my original reading.

This morning I woke up thinking about how I think about civil wars in terms of young people and their lives disrupted and ruined.  But I rarely think about civil wars and their impact on the elderly--or on people who will soon be elderly.

This morning I had this thought:  of course I don't think about the elderly and aging because books about civil wars are written from the perspective of the young, the ones who go to war, the ones who resist, the ones who must travel long distances.  Those stories are full of what we traditionally think of in terms of narrative arc:  a clear conflict, a clear climax, and often a clear message.

Let me broaden my thoughts and ponder how many books I've read about any kind of war and how often I see the elderly and aging as the main characters.  No book immediately comes to mind.  Do we not see these stories because they don't exist?  Or have I just been drawn to stories of young people because until recently, I've been one of the young people?

In many ways, it's depressing enough to write about the issues of aging without a war as part of the story.  Perhaps that's why we don't see those stories.  We don't see many stories about the elderly and aging, period.  By stories, I mean fictional, not news articles (although I don't remember seeing many news articles about how war impacts the aging and elderly either).

I'll have to keep thinking about the issue of war and how it's depicted.  I'm hoping I won't have the opportunity to experience it all firsthand.  Sigh.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Sold Out Convention Hotels

Yesterday was the first day that we could make our hotel reservations for the AWP conference in March.  I know that in the past, the hotels get full very quickly, so I wasn't going to wait.  By 8:30 a.m.--on the VERY FIRST DAY that we could make reservations--I couldn't get a reservation for the night before the conference starts, March 7, at the conference hotel.  I made reservations for the 2 nights that were available. 

I thought about making a reservation for March 7 at a different hotel.  I thought about driving up very early in the morning on March 8, but the thought exhausted me, even though I'm an early riser.  It is a 5-6 hour drive to Tampa from my house, after all.

By 11:30 or so, the conference hotel was completely sold out--on the VERY FIRST DAY that we could make reservations.  I made an alternate set of reservations at the overflow hotel that has a skywalk to the convention center where the conference is being held.  That hotel has breakfast made to order as part of the cost of the room, along with drinks and snacks at the end of the day.  That hotel has suites, not just a room.  I'll likely keep that reservation and cancel the conference hotel. 

I decided not to make any further decisions yesterday, as it was all vaguely overwhelming and exhausting.

Don't get me wrong:  I'm thrilled that I'll be able to attend the AWP.  But the fact that the conference hotel sells out before noon on the first day that we can make reservations does give me pause about going to an event in the future that will require much more in the way of travel coordination. 

I do wonder if this event is quickly outgrowing the capacity of most U.S. cities to host it.  Many of us assume that any large city can handle this kind of event, but if we want everyone to have a hotel room near the event, that assumption is simply not true.

But for this year, my travel arrangements are set--and I cannot tell you how excited I am to be going--and driving!--watch out book fair last day sales!  I have an entire car to load up with great deals.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Affirming Life

Yesterday was a good day in many ways, despite the sobering events of the week-end in Charlottesville.  We went to church, where we heard a sermon I would have expected to hear, a sermon that reminded us that we are called to be better, both as individuals and as people. 

I often sketch as the service is happening because I'm often at multiple services on a Sunday.  Yesterday I made this sketch:

Years from now will I remember the context?  Or will there have been events so much more extreme that this week-end's events will seem dwarfed?

We came home and relaxed.  We had delicious grilled cheese and tomato sandwiches.  We also made tiramisu.  We were invited to a friend's house for halibut, and I volunteered to bring dessert.  I made tiramisu primarily because I like it, but it's also light in a way, and it doesn't require turning on the stove, a plus in these hot, humid days.

We had a wonderful dinner with our neighborhood friends.  Once again, there was a strange moment when we realized we all had once been at the same school but now no longer had those ties, not any of us.  Happily, we didn't spend much time talking about the politics or the future of the old school.  We also didn't talk about national politics much, although we did briefly talk about North Korea.

It was wonderful to catch up, good to remember why we go to the efforts that we do to live where we do. 

And if you need an easy dessert recipe, this tiramisu couldn't be much easier, although it does require dirtying multiple dishes.

It's from Moosewood Restaurant Book of Desserts.


I doubled this recipe because I wanted to be sure we had enough; as is, this recipe serves 5 generously, 6 modestly

8 oz. cream cheese
1/2 c. powdered sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
1 1/2 tsp. cocoa
1/2 c. whipping cream
2-4 c. coffee (you can add in some coffee and/or amaretto liqueur)
12 ladyfingers

Whip the cream in one bowl.  In another bowl, beat the mascarpone cheese, sugar, cocoa, and vanilla together.  Fold the whipped cream into the mixture.

Pour the coffee into a shallow bowl or pan.  Soak the ladyfingers for a minute or two on each side.  You can then create individual bowls or one big bowl.  Put the soaked ladyfingers on the bottom of the bowl (and the sides, if you like).  Add the whipped cream mixture.  You could keep doing this in layers or not.

Refrigerate for at least an hour and serve cold.  You can top with grated chocolate or cocoa or raspberries--whatever you'd like.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

How Long Must We Sing This Song?

I have not been following the events in Charlottesville in real time.  I knew that there were protests on Friday night, but I didn't know how terribly wrong the week-end was going.  I knew that there were marches and countermarches yesterday, and I knew that the volatility meant that it could all go terribly wrong--but I was shocked to hear about deaths.

I am not one of those white folks who thinks that racism is a thing of the past.  But I also understand that we all feel, most of us at least, that we have a tenuous grasp on safety and on being a valued part of society.  I've talked to so many people in so many walks of life, and that sense of being abandoned by the larger society and the institutions that are supposed to protect us--that sense undergirds so much of what we say and do and feel.  I understand that many acts of hate and repression are rooted in that sense of abandonment. 

And of course, let me hasten to say, I do not excuse those actions regardless of who is doing them.  We are adults, responsible for our actions.  We can demonstrate peacefully.  We can't hit each other, no matter how we feel.  I would urge caution in the words that make up our chants.  Words can be wounding, and those wounds can last much longer than bruises and broken bones.

The events of the week-end in Charlottesville went even further than I would have anticipated that they could go.  Who drives a car into a gathering of people?  It's a rhetorical question.  At this time in our history, we've seen that plenty of people use vehicles as weapons.

I don't blame the current president and his administration, not exactly.  I've been alive long enough, and I've read about other eras, so I know that this kind of hatred bubbles up this way periodically.  I'd like to see more leadership from certain leaders, but at this point, I'm not surprised when it doesn't come.

I will take comfort from the leaders we might not have known previously.  I found the pictures of clergy with linked arms--and the statements from church officials--to be tremendously inspiring.  I am in awe of the UVa faculty and administration members who went to the Quad on Friday to make sure that their students were O.K.

I will hold onto my hope.  I know that these widely televised events sometimes shock us out of our complacency and move us further along the road towards a time of justice.  That is my prayer this morning.

Today I have a different set of songs in my head.  My brain pulls lines from U2's War:  "How long, how long must we sing this song?"  It's a sentiment that weaves its way through much of the album.  And of course, it comes from a much more ancient lament:  Psalm 40.  It's a good text for today with its promise that we can be lifted from our muck and mire and given a firm place to stand.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

The Inspirations in Facebook Messages

Yesterday, I wrote about the art of journals, in the context of Dorothy Wordsworth.  This morning, I'm thinking about our Facebook messages and our texting, and feeling sad about how much of that will be lost forever.  I've read volumes of letters that are written so artfully.  Of course, I realize that most letters are lost forever too.  I've always thought that e-mails might be kept and preserved.  I find my old e-mails easier to access than my old Facebook messages.

This morning, I read a Facebook message from a friend who is having us over on Sunday:  "We are super excited to see everyone on Sunday. Fair warning our house is a mess! We are redoing our bedroom. But, I know you guys don't care!!! And as KBA says ,"just clean the bathrooms!"

I wrote to qualify:  "Actually, only the toilets need to be clean. We won't look at the bathtubs, and a smidge of toothpaste in the sink makes it feel homey."

If I was a different kind of freelance writer, I'd have the beginnings of an article.  Would anyone buy it?  I don't know.  I have a vision of either an article or a book on scruffy hospitality, but I'm not sure I'll ever have time to write it.  Maybe if I write enough blog posts here and there, a more distinct vision will emerge.

This morning, I have not been focused.  I worked on blog posts and a short story, while listening to news updates about Korea and the week in review and buying swimsuits online at end of season sales.

I'm not even pretending to do one task at once.  I'm zipping here, zipping there.  It puts me in mind of a podcast I heard earlier, one which explores how we get to the state where we can do deep work:

"The type of deep work I talk about is almost nonexistent, as far as I can tell, in most knowledge work positions. Even when people think that they're single-tasking, they say, I've learned a lesson that I'm not supposed to multitask. I'm not supposed to be on the phone and do email while I write. I'm just working on one thing at a time. What they're still doing is every five or 10 minutes, a just-check. Let me just do a just-check to my inbox. Let me just do a just-check to my phone real quick and then back to my work. And it feels like single-tasking. It feels like you're predominantly working on one thing. But even those very brief checks, that switch your context even briefly, can have this massive negative impact on your cognitive performance. It's the switch itself that hurts, not how long you actually switch. So I actually think even very conscientious knowledge workers, who think they're pretty good at focusing on one thing at a time, are actually still working far from the sort of high-performance, deep work ideal."

I've done a lot of switching this morning--but I did get work written, e-mails sent, and swimsuits ordered.

Let me end with both a Facebook post that I wrote earlier in the morning and a haiku, which is only a haiku in the amount of syllables per line sense of that word:

"If you are looking for a soundtrack for these days of nuclear brinksmanship, I'm toggling between Sting's "History Will Teach Us Nothing" and "Russians." I sing, "There's no such thing as a winnable war, it's a lie we don't believe anymore" and then "History will teach us nothing." And then, just to change things up a bit, I burst into the chorus of "I'll Fly Away" or "My Lord, What a Morning" (stars falling from the sky). There you have it, my mood, neatly summed up."

At 3, the monks pray.
The president tweets his threats.
Nuclear missiles wait.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Nineteenth Century Journals, Modern Blogs

For a variety of reasons, I'm back to one version of my strange insomnia this week.  I have no trouble falling asleep, but my eyes snap open at midnight or 1, and I either don't fall back asleep, or it takes several hours. 

Last night, as I was trying to sleep, I thought back to grad school and the class where I first read the journals of Dorothy Wordsworth.  I thought of how few people were writing about her then.  If I had continued in that direction, could I have become the nation's Dorothy Wordsworth expert and scholar?

In those days of 1989, lots of academics would have discouraged that direction.  They'd have explained how keeping a journal wasn't real writing.

I thought to our current age, how so many forms of writing that might have once been kept private are now published in a variety of forms.  I thought of future scholars--how will they sift through all of these detritus and treasures from our current age?

I thought of all the blogs and sites that I visit.  Some of the writing and other forms of expression are truly wonderful.  Others are a marking of the days which might be valuable to future historians, but not exactly forms of art.

When I first read the journals of Dorothy Wordsworth, I was torn.  Part of me believed that her journals were art just by themselves alone--in fact, I wrote a course paper to prove it.  But part of me believed her journals were deeply important for other reasons:  for the insight into an artistic community, for the way she documented daily life, for the information about what it took to keep a family alive as the eighteenth century shifted to the nineteenth century.

My blogging is the writing that I do most regularly, and it's important to me for all the same reasons.  I've mined these blogs for all sorts of inspirations for my other writing.

Will these blogs be important to future scholars?  Perhaps, but that's not why I do it.  They're important to me, and that's enough.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

The Inspirations that Come from Brinksmanship

Yesterday was one of those surreal days, wanting to check the news to see if anyone has fired any missiles that we can't take back, being swamped in the daily tasks of meetings, and wondering if I should be doing any prep work in advance of a possible nuclear exchange.

But what prep work would that be exactly?  Should we start digging a hole for a fallout shelter?
Oh, wait, we're only 20 inches above sea level--we're doomed if survival means we need to go underground.
I am feeling unsafe, and I do not like this feeling.  It's been a long time since I felt worried about nuclear fallout and electromagnetic pulses.  I had gotten used to fretting about sea level rise and very hot summers and what kind of world will today's children inherit. 
I heard on NPR that some sources are upping estimates of how many warheads N. Korea has:  60.  That could do a lot of damage, even if we're nowhere near Ground Zero. 
On a plus side, geopolitical nuclear brinksmanship (and I use that gendered term on purpose) has left me with lots of inspiration for poems--one written this morning, at least 2 more in my head!  And I wrote one yesterday too.

Yesterday was the kind of day that exhausts me as an administrator.  Morning meetings with a variety of navigating of personalities to do, afternoon budget calculations--by the end of the day, my brain was quite frazzled.

Let me record my happiness that a student who was about to be withdrawn for excessive absences, a student who I had let come back to school even as I was warned about his absence history, a student I've been calling--he was in class last night. 

I went home later than I anticipated, with a head that wasn't useful for much creative work.  I decided I would sit in the sun and read one of my favorite post-nuclear apocalypse novels:  War Day by Whitley Strieber and James Kunetka.  You might think such a heavy book would be too much, but I found it oddly comforting reading. 

What will today bring?  Will we really go to war over Guam?  I am hoping that we will all do as we have done in the past:  walk back from the brink.  I am not sure that the leader of the U.S. and the leader of North Korea are actually capable of backing down.  This is not a situation that makes me rest easy.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

The Urge to Make Origami Cranes

Last night, after hearing Trump's anti-Korea rant on the radio news and seeing him say it on the TV news, I wrote this Facebook post:

"So today, on a day between the anniversary of the Hiroshima blast and the anniversary of the Nagasaki blast, the U.S. President threatens 'They will be met with fire and the fury like the world has never seen.'  I am struck with a sudden urge to make origami cranes and pray for peace and for bellicose leaders to shush."

When my spouse came home he said, "August 8 is also the anniversary of the day that Russia entered the war."  I had forgotten that part of history, or perhaps I never knew it.  With the exception of the nuclear issues, my knowledge of WWII in the Pacific is a bit spotty.

This morning, with North Korea's threats against Guam, it seems I may have a chance to catch up on geography.  Yesterday I wished I had an old-fashioned globe so that I could track possible ICBM routes from North Korea.  I suspect that South Florida is fairly safe.

Of course, a nuclear explosion means that we're not safe, not any of us.  I don't have any of my favorite nuclear war movies in any format that I can watch, but I did bookmark this site years ago.  Critics compare Threads and The Day After.  It's an excellent way to spend 50 minutes when one contemplates the possibility of nuclear war.

Threads is the most terrifying movie I've ever seen.  It's a very graphic look at what will happen with a limited nuclear exchange.  It's ghastly.

Trump should watch it too.  The government officials are safe in their bunkers, but they don't have an easy time of it either.

As I heard yesterday's news of nuclear saber rattling and Venezuela unraveling, I thought, we've seen these movies before.  And it doesn't end well.

I'm trying not to think of the events of August 1914, when world events escalated at a dizzying pace and before we knew it, the world was in flames.

Today I fully expect someone to bang a shoe on a table and bellow, "We will bury you."

Let me remember though, that out of the darkness of the 80's came lots of social changes that I would not have predicted.  Maybe unlikely leaders will emerge who will craft unlikely peace treaties.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

New iPhones, New Laptops

I was just hearing a news report on the new iPhone.  Will I be buying one?  No, I will not.

But I am not a complete Luddite.  This past week-end, during Florida's back-to-school tax free week-end which included computers under $700.  My laptop has been having screen issues for several months now--it's akin to the old TVs, when the vertical hold was slipping--lots of jerking around on the screen, which makes for a dizzying experience.

I've created a fix by hooking up my laptop to the monitor of my old desktop.  I'm inordinately proud that I figured out how to do that.  But this fix does cut out a lot of the advantages of having a laptop.  And I am fairly sure that I'm living on borrowed time.

So when the tax free week-end was announced, I decided that now was the time to buy a laptop.  I decided not to spend a lot of time researching the best deal.  I wanted something similar to what I already had, and when I went online, I found one that was on sale for half the usual price.  By Friday afternoon, I had the laptop replaced.

I haven't plugged it in yet.  I have resolved that I won't wait for 3 months the way I did last time.  But I do feel like I need a space of time to get it all set up.

Let me take a moment to record what an amazing time we live in, in terms of our computing access and the low cost of it.  I got my old laptop for $579, the on sale price with some rebates.  I wanted an extra USB port, although I'm not sure that I've ever need the extra one; 2 would have been plenty.  I paid extra to get a larger hard drive, and I've filled very little of it.

This time, for $400 (same sort of sale price), I got an even bigger hard drive, a terabyte. I got a year of Microsoft Office 360 and a year of online protection.  I got a wireless mouse, even though I don't need one.

I remember my first personal computer.  Back in 1993, I bought a used Mac for $3000, and I thought I had gotten a deal.  I had.  But the deal I got on Friday is better.

Monday, August 7, 2017

Week-end Creativity Report

On Friday morning, I had a vision for a sketch for my spiritual/visual journaling, so I quickly committed it to paper:

Friday was a fairly quiet day at work--thankfully!  I had been awakened by the alarm company calling, and I wasn't in a high energy mood.  But luckily, no crises emerged that required me to be firing on more cylinders than I had.  Friday night I crashed into sleep sooner than I expected; I don't think I even made it to 6:30 a.m.

I woke up early, around 2, and put together a manuscript of the inspiration e-mail project posts that I've been creating for several years.  I saw this call for manuscripts at Pleiades Press, and I thought I might submit.  I still can't decide, but I knew the first step was to assemble what I had and then to determine if I thought it was poetry.  Stay tuned!

Sunday was the most productive day in terms of creativity.  I went to JoAnn Fabrics to pick up some autumnal lights (like Christmas lights, only in orange, yellow and brown).  I saw a wreath frame and it was relatively cheap, and then discounted 40%, so it cost less than $5.  I thought about the autumnal elements that I already have:  ribbons in 3 colors and fake gourds.

Even though I'm not going to hang the wreath on our porch until September, I wanted to assemble it while I was inspired.  And so, yesterday afternoon, I did.  I wrapped the ribbons around the form, and my spouse got two types of pliers so that we could string thread through the fake gourds to make loops so we could hang them.  Here's a close up:

And here's the longer view, with a coconut on the table:

In my sorting of the past month, I came across a broken candle holder made of pretty glass that my spouse had kept, and we promptly forgot about.  I thought it might make an interesting candle base, with reflective qualities.  I found some rocks that I had saved for some reason, and I thought they make an interesting combination:

As we've burned the candle, the wax has started melting down the inside, despite the fact that I'm using a tea light candle, so I'm not sure how this construction will look in the future.

I experimented with the variety of holiday lights I got, the autumnal ones and the ones with palm trees and the ones with Hawaiian shirts and surfboards.  The latter 2 aren't quite as versatile, but they, too, were cheap.

This morning my spouse got up early, as he's got a report due today.  So, it was another day of waking up at 2:00.  But in a way, it was fine.  I read The Well Speaks of Its Own Poison,a collection of poems by Maggie Smith, and then I wrote 2 poems, plus I have ideas for more.

So, it's been a good week-end with a variety of creative activities.  Did I get the weeding done?  No.  Have I done all my grading?  No.  But I feel ready for the week, in a way that I wouldn't have, if I hadn't fed my soul in this way.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Nuclear Distractions

On this day in 1945, the world was about to change in dramatic ways that we likely still don't fully comprehend.  On this day in 1945, the first nuclear bomb was used in war.

The effects of that bomb obliterated much of Hiroshima--and vaporized some of it.  There were reports of people fused into pavement and glass--or just vanished, with a trace remaining at the pavement.  The reports of the survivors who walked miles in search of help or water are grim.  And many of those survivors would die of the effects of radiation in the coming years.

On this day, and on August 9, in 1945, nuclear weapons were used in war, and so far, we haven't used them in war again.  We have been lucky that nuclear weapons are so complicated and pose such a health risk in terms of radiation that terrorists have stayed away from them.

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

We may not feel like we have much power to have any impact on nuclear treaties.  Until recently, we might not have worried about it.  Now, like many people, I find myself thinking about North Korea and wondering what road we're travelling here.  I spend too much time thinking about North Korea.

Today is a good day to think about what distractions, atomic, cosmic, personal or otherwise, take our attention away from the true work.  Today is also a good day to meditate on power and how we seek to harness it and how we use power once we have it.

Today is also a great day to celebrate the transfiguring possibility of power.  After all, not all uses of power lead to destructive explosions.  Some times, we find redemption.

On this anniversary of the Hiroshima blast, I am aware of the very temporary nature of our lives and our artifacts.  One fine morning we can be eating breakfast one minute, or walking to work, and then, in one blast, in just a few seconds, we're fused into the concrete.  It's a sobering thought, and a good one to have, to move our hearts to gratitude for a day where we're not facing a thermonuclear blast, where we don't have to deal with an electromagnetic pulse, where our loved ones are still here, on this side of the earth.

Friday, August 4, 2017

August Prep Work

I've been awake since just before 2:00.  I'm the first person the alarm company calls when the alarm goes off at school.  Just before 2, the company called.  I'm not too worried, since we've been having alarm problems, but once the phone rings me out of sleep, I'm jangled.  I couldn't fall back asleep, so by 3:00, I was up and at the computer.

In some ways, that's fine.  I got the grading done for my online class--it had been haunting me, because students have papers due tomorrow (Saturday), and the last writing workshop that needed to be graded was in many ways my last chance to give them feedback.  So, I'm glad to get that done.

I know I may be tired today, but I also know that I can make it through the day--happily, it's likely to be quiet.

It's a strange time, this month of August.  Soon, many students will be trooping back to school, but we're not there yet.  Soon, literary magazines will open their reading periods, but we're not there yet.

Yesterday as I took my short morning walk to the marina, I thought about using the month of August to return to my memoir manuscript.  I want to rewrite the introduction--I think--with an eye to my new title of Micromanaging the Miracles.  I want to submit to a press that wants a Table of Contents with a brief description of each chapter, so I'll use the month of August to complete that.

Today begins our tax free week-end, and this year, computers under $700 for home use are included.  I plan to replace my laptop, which has started having problems that remind me of vertical hold problems in old TVs.  The laptop is over 4 years old, and I've used it almost daily.  It's time to replace it, and a tax free week-end can save me some money.  I will use the month of August to get materials from the old laptop to the new one.

Some people see the new year as a time to begin again.  But the start of a new school year is a good time to begin again too.  Let me use the month of August to prepare.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Small Wins at Work

Yesterday, I got a phone call from a colleague who was promoted to my position, in charge of the General Education department, at my old school.  She said, "I know you kept a copy of sign in sheets for faculty development.  Any idea where they are?"

We talked about some possibilities.  Then I remembered that I had uploaded many files in one large file to a shared drive.  I walked her through how to get to the drive and how to find the GE file that I had left.  She found it and opened it.  At first she didn't see it, and then she said, "Wait, here it is.  Faculty Development sign in sheets.  Yes!  These are the ones I need."

I said, "Thank you past Kristin, for taking care of us!"

I was inordinately thrilled that I had saved what she needed, and even more thrilled that it was still there--it's a shared drive, after all.

I have reflected before on these kinds of job thrills--in one way, they're small, but in a different way, they're still so important to me.  One expects to be feel good about the big wins, like successful navigating of auditor/accreditor visits.  It's good to remember the small wins too.

Another small win yesterday was my successful registration for the AWP conference.  I'm going to Tampa in 2018--hurrah!  And I'll be driving--oh dear--no airline luggage weight limits to hold me back at the book fair.

And now it is time to get ready for another day at work.  I anticipate a small win of a different kind:  it's new student orientation day for our midquarter start students.  I say it's a small win, both because it's a small group, and because the sense of the larger win must go to Admissions. 

But small wins are wins--and I'm grateful for them.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

The Kingdom of God is Like a Field of Sweet Corn

On Sunday, we came home to feast on sweet corn.  Our friend had gone to Ohio and was willing to share her stash of sweet corn with us.

I thought of all those teaching moments of Jesus that begin with The Kingdom of Heaven is like . . ., or the Kingdom of God is like . . .  Throughout the summer, the Program Director of Lutheridge, Pastor Mary Canniff-Kuhn has been posting modern updates with a camp theme:

"The kingdom of God is like gingerbread cookies made in KidzCamp. Delight is essential. Judgement is irrelevant."

"The kingdom of God is like snow in July. All things are possible."

The Kingdom of God is like a friend who shares her sweet corn with you who are stranded at the tip of the continent without good sweet corn to call your own.

Let me end with a different kind of quote about summer, that I got from this blog post.  RJ quotes Parker Palmer:

"Summer is the season when all the promissory notes of autumn, winter, and spring come due, and each year the debts are repaid with compound interest. In summer, it is hard to remember that we had ever doubted the natural process, had ever ceded death the last word, had ever lost faith in the powers of new life. Summer is a reminder that our faith is not nearly as strong as the things we profess to have faith in - a reminder that for this sing season, at least, we might cease our anxious machinations and give ourselves to the abiding and abundant grace of our common life."

As always, Palmer's words leave me in awe of the power of language and the power of seasons.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

A Day for Directional Changes a Bit Dizzying

Yesterday was a day of realizations and changes that made me feel a bit whipsawed.  But it wasn't bad.
When I look back, I will likely most remember the departure of newly appointed and then newly dismissed Anthony Scaramucci, the foul-mouthed White House communications director.  Lately, each day brings something new to make me feel like a little old lady in how easily I am appalled--but "the Mooch" so far is the winner in that department.  Who talks like that to a reporter?  Who thinks that is O.K.?  What does his mother think?  Who raised these people?
Let me now take off my white gloves and church hat--back to the rest of the day.
I felt sad as we learned about the death of Sam Shepard.  I remember decades ago reading his work after hearing a grad student declare him as significant and feeling baffled, much the way I felt baffled when I read about women seeing him as a sex symbol.  Yesterday I read declarations that he was one of the most important playwrights of the 20th century.
Really?  He ranks right up there with Arthur Miller, Tennessee Williams, and Samuel Beckett?  I could keep listing important playwrights of the 20th century, but I also know that we could have this discussion all day/month/year, and not reach consensus.  Let me not go down that road.  Let me acknowledge that Shepard had enormous talent, and that I always feel a bit sad when one of those lights has been snuffed out.
I thought about the AWP and wondered why I forgot to register.  It's in Tampa, after all.  I went to the website and found out that registration had just opened on July 31 (yesterday)--hurrah!  It's not too late.  I thought about the FAPSC conference that I attended on Friday.  I didn't have to pay for that because I was a presenter, but the registration fee was not much less than the AWP--and my school was willing to pay for that.  The AWP will give me much more value for not much more money--I'll run the idea by my new boss, and then tomorrow, if he gives me the green light, I'll register.
All day yesterday, I kept my eye to the skies.  We had a low pressure system off of Tampa that quickly strengthened, in the course of yesterday's early morning hours, into a full blown tropical storm.
Happily, tropical storm Emily was a big fizzle.  We got one little squall around 11 a.m. yesterday--over in 4 minutes with driving sheets of rain, and then nothing.
But it was overcast, so the temp was lower, which has been nice.  Last night we went over to our neighborhood friends, and we sat outside--it was perfectly comfortable.  I thought we'd have a cozy night of rain, but if we did, I didn't hear it.
I'd prefer a fizzle of a storm to a storm that's supposed to be small but smacks us with more.  I am feeling grateful today and hoping that the rest of this hurricane season is a fizzle too--and every hurricane season after that.