Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Assorted Halloween Thoughts

--A year ago, I reported to work at my current job for the first time.  I wasn't sure what to expect.  I hadn't even been to the campus, so delicate was the situation with my predecessor.  I got there just in time for the costume contest which is an interesting way to begin a new job.

--Yesterday was one of the days that reminded me why I am so happy to be at this campus.  A traditional campus would have a department devoted to Student Life--but we're not that campus.  We're small enough so that a variety of us get to do a variety of jobs.  It can be exhausting, but it's also rewarding.  And it works for someone like me, who has ideas and likes being able to just run with them, instead of having to bring an idea to a multitude of committees and other types of gatekeepers.

--Yesterday was our decorate pumpkins day at school.  It was a variation of an activity that we did in my old school in 2009.  I brought a variety of arts and crafts supplies to a pumpkin carving student event and got good feedback.  So yesterday, I brought those same supplies (yarn, buttons, beads, markers, fabric) to school and set up a table in the student lounge.  I had both Styrofoam pumpkins and real ones.  I had it set up for the break at 10:40 in the morning, and we left it set up through the day.  It was neat to see different groups of students having fun with art supplies.  Even some staff members decorated a pumpkin, once I saw that my worry about running out of pumpkins was unfounded.

--Why is it hard for people to remember to put caps back on the glue sticks?  Why do beads get scattered so far away (rooms away!) from the bead box?  Can one have a transsexual pumpkin?  These are questions that came up during the day.  A more interesting question to me:  why do so many people say they aren't creative?  I have pictures that would argue that people just need some supplies, some time, and creativity will begin to bubble up.  And another interesting question:  do our decorated pumpkins say anything profound about us?

--We could ask the same questions about our costumes.  If I wanted to participate in the costume contest today, I need to start assembling something from my closet.  I could put together a park ranger outfit.  I would be most interested in coming as a gypsy fortune teller, but I'm not sure our students would see that as a costume.  It wouldn't be as fun as when my grad school friend pulled off a sort of performance art at a children's party by doing palm readings for children and playing with gender and class expectations.  For boys, she predicted great careers in dance; for girls, that they would grow up to be surgeons.

--No, I will just go to school in Halloween colors:  an orange skirt and a black top.

--I used to decorate more, and I used to bake more.  Of course, my work life used to take less of my time.  I'm still decorating--it's just for school.  Once I rolled out cookies in the shape of pumpkins.  I had cookie cutters for a variety of holidays.  But now I only bake bar cookies.  I don't even do drop cookies.

--Even though I'm not dressing up in costume, I'm still spending Halloween as I often have:  with friends.  I'll go to lunch with one friend after she's done teaching, and tonight, I'll head over to a friend's house to spend time with neighborhood friends.

Monday, October 30, 2017

Stormy Weather and the Calm to Come

Yesterday afternoon, I restored the porch to look like this:

You may be saying, "Did I miss something?"  Well, yes, if you're not paying attention to the tropics, you may have missed that we had Tropical Storm Phillippe over the week-end.  I felt a bit spooked because of Hurricane Irma, so I took down the wind chimes and moved the mums and the pumpkins to the floor of the front porch.

Saturday was overcast but pleasant to begin.  I did some weeding and took out the trash and the recycling, because we were expecting bad weather through the week-end.

We waited for the bad weather to start.  After our nap, I made a pot of seafood chowder.  There were some rain showers, but nothing tropical.

It wasn't until Saturday evening that we got one gusty band that made me feel happy that I had moved stuff on the porch.  But that was it.  By Sunday morning, the rains had cleared out, and by afternoon, with the help of a cold front, the weather had turned into perfect front porch weather.

Above, you can see my spouse playing violin, after he changed out the strings.  I pulled Marge Piercy's Sleeping with Cats off the shelf.  I was just going to look up some questions I had as I'm rereading Braided Lives, but I ended up reading much of Piercy's memoir while nibbling white stilton with cranberry cheese and drinking wine. 

It was the perfect way to restore my spirits for the week to come--lots of Halloween activities at school and dinner with a friend on All Souls Day (Nov. 2).  I expect it to be a busy week, but a good one.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Celebrate Reformation!

I will be celebrating Reformation Sunday by going to a Lutheran church--but I'd be doing that most every Sunday.  Let me list some reasons why Reformation Sunday--and the whole of the Protestant Reformation--is special to me:

--I give the Protestant Reformation credit for the increase in literacy.  No longer were people satisfied with hearing the Bible in Latin in church.  Martin Luther is famous for translating the Bible into the language of the German people, but he's just one of several people who not only advocated for the spiritual life being conducted in the language that people actually used.

--Martin Luther knew the power of the pamphlet:  short enough to be read out loud to people who can't read for themselves, cheap enough to be mass produced.  We still see the power of a short piece of writing today.

--The Protestant Reformation was a time of great music.  Today it sounds plodding and heavy, but it must have been invigorating to congregations used to hearing nothing but chant and plainsong.

--I love the idea of reform:  we are not perfect, and neither are our churches--or other institutions.  Today is a great day to think about how and where we need to reform.

--I'm a Lutheran, so I'll also advocate for the idea of grace.  I love the idea of God who loves us in spite of our faults, of God who can see the good in us, even when we're feeling worthless.

--Even as I long for unity, I love the diversity that the Protestant Reformation ushered in.  I think of all of my friends and all the interesting ways they worship, from a monastery to a Quaker gathering to a Unitarian church.  I know a variety of Catholics--that variety might have happened in different ways, had there been no Protestant Reformation.

So today, let us celebrate the gains for humanity that the Protestant Reformation made possible.  Let us also not lose sight of the terrible human cost of this division, in the variety of wars and purges that would sweep across Europe and beyond.  Let us continue to count on grace and reform as we move onward.

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Treats in the Autumn of Our Discontent

This has been a week of autumnal treats, some of them for me, some of them for others, and some, a combo.

On Thursday, I went to a church pumpkin patch to pick up pumpkins for our Monday decorate-a-pumpkin event at school.  I decided that they would have less chance of rotting if I took them out of the bag, so I spread them across my desk:

Upon seeing this sight, one of my colleagues exclaimed, "Dr. K is working in the middle of a pumpkin patch!"  Yes indeed.

The great pumpkin quest has been a gift in several ways.  It was great to get out of the office to select the pumpkins.  I've enjoyed seeing them on my desk.  And it will be great to have a different Halloween activity for students on Monday.  Will we create something like these pumpkins from a different school and a different set of students?  Stay tuned!

Along the way, I've picked up autumnal treats at Trader Joe's for myself and others--have you seen the tiny butternut squash that's out there?  Very cute.  I forgot to get a picture before giving it away.

We had some delicious autumnal meals:  pork chops with apples and butternut squash puree--one of my favorite seasonal meals.  I made a seafood tomato sauce to go over pasta--delicious!

We've had a visit from yet another hurricane repair person.  Our cottage had some damage to the foundation when the huge tree went over.  We got good news this week:  it's fairly easy to fix and can be done from the inside. Luckily, we have concrete floors, so they can just drill down and do some filling in. The guy said that on a scale of 1-10 (10 being worst), we had damages of a 2, when it comes to the foundation.

I've been doing some writing and some sending out poetry packets, which always feels good.  I am almost done with my short story modeled after "The Things They Carried."  I'm really happy with it.  It just flowed, and that's been an unexpected autumn treat.

So, although I expect to look back and think about this autumn as one of sadness and discontent, let me also remember that there were pockets of happiness.  Here's one more picture of my desk that I particularly like:

Friday, October 27, 2017

The Ides of October

On this day 55 years ago, the world came very close to nuclear war--I've heard more than one historian say that Oct. 27, 1963 was the day that the world was closest except for the two previous days when bombs were actually dropped.

It was the height of the Cuban Missile Crisis, and my parents had set their wedding for this day.  In the weeks leading up to their wedding, they fully expected that my dad, who was in the Air Force, would be called back to his base.  He wasn't, and they wed.

It's strange to think about those days during these days, when the world seems to be tottering backwards to those scary standoffs.  It's strange to think about the days of the Kennedy administration, even as some of the last documents about Kennedy's assassination are being declassified and released.

I try not to think about Kennedy's vast knowledge of history and how that knowledge helped him avert war.  Kennedy didn't want to telegraph the wrong messages.  I'm so grateful that he was successful.  That crisis could have so easily ended in a nuclear exchange.

I try not to think about how those in charge now are not similarly educated.  Yesterday, when I went to Publix to get a variety of supplies for upcoming school event, the bagger cautioned me against getting a flu shot. She said, "There's a flu shot out there that can alter your DNA, you know. It can change your behavior." I thought about explaining how a flu shot really can't alter your DNA, and even with altered DNA, your behavior isn't likely to change radically, and then I decided to let this opportunity for science education pass.

I wish I thought it was just undereducated hourly workers at Publix who have these odd beliefs, but I know it's not.  Still, like my parents, I will embrace hope, not despair.  They could have decided not to marry when the world was about to go up in flames.

The world is still about to go up in flames--or underwater.  But we can't assume that we'll die.  In fact, we're likely to live.

So let us buy our pumpkins and get ready for Halloween--or whatever other activities bring us joy.  Let us recommit ourselves to love and hope.  And let us also say a prayer for those in charge of massive weapons systems.  Let them not telegraph the wrong messages.

Thursday, October 26, 2017


Last night, we had dinner on the porch.  A cool front had come through, and it was delightful to be outside, unlike the last time we ate on the porch, in the hot days after Hurricane Irma.  It was good to be on the porch, good to see children on bikes and grown-ups walking dogs.  In short, it was good to remember why we once loved this neighborhood, and why I hope to love it again.

We talked about our decision to move to this neighborhood and how the hurricane had been so disorienting.  If a category 3 hurricane--or even category2--had come ashore on the east coast of South Florida, the damage that we had would be less of a surprise.

Should we have been surprised at the damage?  We did move to a flood zone near the coast, after all.  I still say that we are within our rights to be surprised.  I did research on the flood history of the house--it's never had flooding like this, at least not flooding that was submitted for an insurance claim.

I've latched onto that word disorienting.  I've thought about all the ways we can become disoriented--all the ways it could be positive, even though right now I'm finding it to be exhausting.

I'm thinking of those first months of grad school.  I thought that grad school would be like the best days of my undergrad classes.  It was not.   How do we deal with the inevitable disappointment?  Do we drop out because it's not a good fit?

I'm not sure that I ever felt that grad school was a good fit, although I did find my place there.  I could use that experience as a metaphor/explanation/description of much of my life.  Maybe the idea that we're supposed to feel that something is a good fit is a lie our culture gives us.

But I also know what it is to feel at home, to feel like one has found one's tribe after a long sojourn in the wilderness.  I'm thinking about some of my retreat communities, some of the places that have spiritual meaning for me.

I know that times of being disoriented can lead us to a place of better fit, a place where we feel more at home.  I continue to hope that this post-hurricane time that has been so disorienting will be one of those gateway times.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Writing in a Time of Tumult

Last night, I met my Hindu writer friend at our favorite Panera.  I usually get there first, depending on how long I shop at Trader Joe's along the way, and I try to remember to bring a book of poetry with me.  Last night's book was Anna Leahy's Aperture.  I loved all of the personas that the poems inhabited, but this morning, my brain keeps coming back to the cycle of poems that explored the missing mothers of The Wizard of Oz.  I never thought about the Tin Man or the Scarecrow having a mother--intriguing!

My writer friend and I used to get together to exchange short stories, but we're both writing more sporadically now.  We used to get together to go to readings or to plan readings of our own--I hope some day to do that again, but we are neither of us in that space now.  It's hard enough to meet for dinner.

We've known each other a long time, she reminds me periodically as we met.  It's a nicer way of reminding me that we're not the much younger selves we once were.

She reminds me of many important things.  I tend to say that I'm not writing much, and she scoffs.  She reminds me of my daily blogging.

I came home and read a bit as my spouse watched the World Series, with its record breaking heat--and I don't mean the skill of the baseball players.  This morning I listened to this interview on Fresh Air with Jeff Gooddell, a journalist who has written a book on climate change, The Water Will Come.  He reminds us that water will always win.  Sigh.

I got an idea for a poem--or is it a business?  I had a vision of cruise ships that will take us to the edge of climate chaos--or into the eye of the storm.  We could go to the poles to see them melt and anchor offshore to watch catastrophic fire.  For the extreme tourist, the ship could go right into hurricanes.  I thought about the Titanic and icebergs that are no longer around to threaten it.

I wrote a poem, but I can't decide if it has potential.  I wrote a theological post for Reformation Sunday, and I particularly like this paragraph:  "It's been a tumultuous year for many of us, a year of natural disasters, a year of discovering how far apart we are politically, a world where we might feel like history is in rewind mode, and we're afraid of what year our time machine might land."

The time machine chunk is missing a word or two, but I'm going to leave it.

I also wrote part of my story that's a variation of "The Things They Carried." I wrote from the perspective of the building:  "In the end, the building stood by itself. The building had thought that it would miss the hustle and bustle of the school, but it was surprised to find that it didn’t miss the drama that comes when students gather in a place. The sadness that had soaked into every fiber of the school slowly dissipated until the building felt so buoyant that it might leave its foundation and float away to sea."

So, yes, my friend is right--I am still writing.  I want to record and remember that writing a bit each day can still provide progress.  It may not be with the blazing heat of my youth, but it brings its own benefits.  By the time I actually return to a work, I've had some time to plot and plan.  I may not be writing as many stories in a year, but I'm not discarding as many either.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Submission Malaise

Each successive year, I've noticed that I send out less and less work, and occasionally, I wonder why.  Part of it has to do with the rest of my work life.  Once I had long, lingering mornings to prepare poetry packets along with the occasional short story packets and send them out through the U.S. mail.

But it's more than an issue of time.  There's a malaise, a "poetry angst," as Jeannine describes it in this post:  "People who can’t write poems anymore, who don’t want to send out their work as it seems under-rewarding, who are just tired, who published a book of poetry and found the experience disheartening. I was thinking of when I started a poetry blog back in in the early 2000s, you would hear from lots of different poets from lots of stages in their careers about their poetry anxieties regularly, but things like Twitter (too short) and Facebook (encourages people to post only the happy stuff) have decreased the amount we writers hear from each other about the struggles we might have. I realized yesterday as I made a mental list that a lot – a LOT – of my old poetry blogging buddies have dropped out of the poetry game altogether – they’re writing in other genres, or they’re working too hard/had kids/other things that just got in the way. Or poetry just didn’t reward them as much as other genres (see above, Beth Ann Fennelly’s book of micro-memoir essays – which is probably having an easier time selling than a book of poetry would.)"

I confess that after seeing some Facebook posts, I spent far more time this morning exploring artist Aurora Robson's website than reading poems.  She makes breathtaking sculptures out of trash, mainly plastic trash from what I can tell--and much of it is making a point about where that trash winds up.  She makes sculptures that look like exotic sea creations, and it's hard not to be aware that plastics and oceans are on a collision course, with oceans coming out on the losing end.

Her work seems much more vital than my work.  But that's not the reason why I send out less work these days.

Yesterday, as I was paging through my submission journal, I was struck by how many journals require a $3 fee.  I understand that the submission software isn't free to the journal, but I also know that those fees will add up quickly.

I know that journals will tell me that $3 is a good deal for me, cheaper than postage and printer ink and paper.  That is likely true when I send a short story.  But it's not true for poetry.

For years, journals didn't have this fee for electronic submissions--why now?  If it had been the case from the beginning, I might not be balking now.  But I am.

Once, sending out poetry packets felt more festive.  I would be getting mail in return, after all, and I love to get mail.  The rejections sometimes had personal notes.  I felt like I was getting closer to publication.

These days, sending electronic submissions feels a bit more like applying for jobs--I'm sending materials into a bottomless void, where there's lots of competition for not many spaces, and there's not much chance of a personalized reply.  I can live with that.  But I'm not willing to pay $3 or higher for that sensation. 

After all, it doesn't take many submissions until I can buy a book or two--and after a year or two of submissions, especially if I went at my pace of earlier years, I could easily afford a new laptop or something that would improve my writing life, like a retreat here and there.

Monday, October 23, 2017

Six Week Storm Anniversary

Six weeks ago, we'd have been waking up in the dark--both the literal dark of pre-sunrise, and the dark that comes after a hurricane wipes out the power.  A few hours after waking up, we'd have made our way to our house through streets increasingly flooded as we got closer to our home.

That day seems a demarcating point between our carefree late summer visits with family and the autumn of our discontent.  We are luckier than many--our decisions about what to trash, what to keep, and how to repair can all be delayed.  Our leaking roof was fixed by pulling wads of leaves out of the gutter system.

I feel a bit like I've fallen out of time.  I wonder how many others feel similarly.  On the surface, all looks normal.  Underneath, we're making our calculations:  what to save, how much to spend, and further out, where it makes sense to live.

Right now, many of us don't have the information that we need.  We haven't heard from our insurers, so we don't know how much repair money we'll have.  We don't know how much or how quickly our rates will rise in the future.  Will we face powerful hurricanes every year or just once a decade?

I remind myself that most of us are living this reality--many who don't live in ravaged areas don't realize that they are living this reality, but those of us who are younger than 65 will have lots of decisions to make because of our changing planet, decisions that weren't part of our calculus of younger years.

But for today, those decisions will wait--again.  Today we must get back to work.  Tomorrow--or some later day--we'll think about those larger decisions. 

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Halloween at Mepkin Abbey

I thought I had a Halloween themed poem that used elements from Mepkin Abbey.  This morning, I finally looked up the poem, and I was surprised that the Halloween elements weren't really there.  Let me see if I can add something.

Here's the original poem:

Autumn at the Abbey

I drove seven hundred miles from the tip
of Spanish speaking Florida to the Gullah drenched
lowcountry marsh.

I arose in the wee small hours of the morning
to drive up the spine of the state
with truckers and other insomniacs.

I saw the flaming
orange fields, the flickers
of light across the river.

I have eaten eggs from the chickens
raised by monks and been sprinkled
with holy water before bed.

I saw the baby Jesus
created from a
cornucopia of materials.

I harmonized with monks
and chanted my way through a quarter
of the Psalms.

I watched the monks at sunset
walking under Spanish moss draped
trees, ghosts from a different century.

Let me play with it.  Let me add some of my memories from my first visit, when we looked across the river and saw children trick-or-treating.  When we walked back to the Abbey, we saw monks in their white robes looking like ghosts.

All Hallows at the Abbey

I awoke very early to sing
lauds with the monks,
and then I set out for the river.

In the pre-sunrise mists that rose off the currents,
I would not have been surprised
to see a runaway slave.

In the afternoon, the fields flamed
orange and light winked
across the water.

I returned to the chapel to harmonize
with monks and chant
the Psalms that still speak to us.

As the sun sank, across the river, candles flickered
in carved pumpkins and costumed children participated
in a different ancient ritual.

As we walked to compline service, monks in white robes
walked under trees dripping with Spanish moss,
ghosts from a different century.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

The Ups and Downs of Administrator Life

It has been a strange work week.  At the beginning of the week, I got a lovely set of cards and chocolate covered strawberries because it was bosses' day.  I don't think of myself as a boss, but I am.

I've had reasons this week beyond bosses' day to reflect on the kind of manager that I am.  I am thinking of the book Soar with Your Strengths. It was revolutionary to me at the time. Its premise: we spend too much time working on fixing ourselves and working on our weak points. We should focus on our strengths, which will get stronger as we do the work towards which our strengths point us.

That approach also tends to be a management strategy of mine: focus on what people do well and encourage them to do more of that. That works to a point—but there are problems that won’t be solved or go away just by focusing on the tasks that people are good at or the ones that are enjoyable.
This management strategy also presupposes that people are doing what they need to do and that they're interested in doing a good job--it's not a management strategy that's useful when people just stop doing their jobs.
By the end of the week, I was dealing with a personnel situation that I've never really had:  a worker who just stopped coming to work with no communication.  I don't feel comfortable saying too much about this situation, but I'm stating here what anyone on our campus could have observed.  
I spent part of the week thinking about the ways we part company with the organizations that employ us.  As a manager, I've never really experienced outright job abandonment.  I've had faculty members who moved away, but usually with notice, and faculty members who were RIFed.  I had one faculty member call me from jail, where he'd been taken as part of a custody battle.  And sadly, this week marks the one year anniversary of a faculty member who died as the term began.
I've pondered whether the difference comes from age or job duties.  The team member who stopped coming to work this week with no communication was not a faculty member.  I have noticed that most faculty members with whom I've worked have had a much larger sense of duty and obligation than the larger population. 
I also realize that I'm working with populations that are much too small to make these sweeping generalizations.
In a way, this personnel situation is the easiest to deal with.  Clearly, when an employee stops coming to work and stops communicating, that worker doesn't want to keep the job.  The way forward is clear--unlike many other negative situations that an administrator might experience.
Still, I've spent a lot of time this week in reflection.  What happened?  Could I have somehow prevented this ending?  Should I have seen something earlier?  Does this trajectory say something about the flaws of my management style?
What can I learn for next time, while at the same time not burdening the bulk of workers who are doing a job that is just fine?


Friday, October 20, 2017

Poetry Inspirations in the Dead Blooms of Autumn

Earlier this month, I bought a bouquet of mums in autumnal shades.  Some flowers had fallen off the stems, so I put them in a lead crystal bowl that my mother bought for me in her travels:

Yesterday I decided it was time to get rid of the decaying blossoms.  I was struck by how they looked and tried to capture them in a photograph.

I particularly liked the way they looked nestled in the autumnal lights that I have on the front windowsill:

When I emptied the bowl, I discovered that some of the blooms had melded (not permanently) to the sides of the bowl, but it didn't occur to me to try to capture this image in photos.  The sides of the bowl had a translucent, stained glass look with different shades of yellow and orange.

I didn't capture the image on film (pixels, to be more accurate), but it must have stayed with me.  By afternoon I was writing a poem with a collection of images from this past month of post hurricane wreckage:  the tiny ghosts fluttering on a hurricane damaged fence line, the limbs clawing their way out of the brush pile, the water that lapped at the underside of the floor boards, the dead blooms.

I'm still not sure where the poem is headed, but it was a relief to write a poem of any kind.  It's been a month where most writing days felt very dry and raspy.  It was a relief to have a sense that this condition won't be permanent.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Monastic Hospitality

The monks remind us of the many ways to embody hospitality.  An umbrella is never far away--visitors will be protected from sudden changes in the weather.

A basket of bug spray and sunscreen to protect guests from daily hazards that they may not have a chance to encounter at home:

At meals, guests have a choice of breads:

With our bodily needs met, we are ready for the other types of hospitality that the monks offer:  time for study:

time for worship:

and time for rambling walks in nature:

And thus renewed, we can return to the world to do the work of hospitality that heals.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Creative Ways to Celebrate the Feast Day of Saint Luke

Today is the feast day of St. Luke.  You might be saying, "Wait, don't you have a theology blog where you could discuss that?"

Indeed I do, and I have a more theological post over there today.  But even if you're not a spiritual sort, you might find all sorts of inspiration from St. Luke.

St. Luke was a writer, after all (he gets credit for the Biblical books of Luke and Acts).  He's also given credit as one of the first iconographers.  Today would be a great day to write our own Gospel that tells about the Good news that we're seeing in the world.  Or we could celebrate this patron saint of artists this way with the visual arts.

We could experiment with a variety visual arts to see how they could enrich our mental and spiritual health. We might choose something historical and traditional, like iconography. Or we might decide that we want to experiment with something that requires less concentration and training. Maybe we want to create a collage of images that remind us of God’s abundance. Maybe we want to meditate on images, like icons, like photographs, that call us to healthy living.

St. Luke is also the patron saint of students.  Maybe it's time to plan for a class we want to take in January.

Or maybe we just want to make a beef stew; St. Luke is also the patron saint of butchers.  This NPR webpage gives a great beef stew recipe, and a link to an interview between Fresh Air's Terry Gross and the America's Test Kitchen chefs which tells how to maximize flavors in your beef stew along with other culinary chemistry wonders.

Because it is a feast day that celebrates health and healing, today is also a good day to take stock of our health.  Those of us who are artists/creative types will likely want to be doing this work for the long haul, which means we need to take care of our health so that we can.  What are we doing well?  Where could we make some improvements?

 However we might choose to celebrate, let us enjoy this feast day, which has much to say to us modern folks.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Parables from the Pumpkin Patch

The pumpkin offload at church takes several hours--it's all human labor, no conveyor belts or machines to help.  Well, we had 2 wheelbarrows, which saved us some time, but not much.  Handing pumpkins hand to hand gives a person time to think.  And I thought about the great diversity in pumpkins, especially when we got the occasional green pumpkin.

This warty pumpkin made me smile.  We only got a few of those.

I also liked this one, with its curling stem.

And hauling pumpkins with my own two hands gave me time to reflect.  Does every culture equate smallness with cuteness?

As we nestled some of the pumpkins with the tropical flowers, I thought about how some of us, but only a very few of us, head out to cultures that are not ours and never return.

I thought of the spider that we found, who started out in a pumpkin patch in New Mexico and won't be able to return.  Will that spider always yearn for a different climate?  Or will the spider learn to love its new home?

I thought of how we accept diversity in a church pumpkin patch, but not in the larger culture.  And of course, I thought about how even in the church pumpkin patch, we can only accept a certain amount of diversity, if we want to make sales.  People expect their pumpkins to look a certain way.

I think of all the ways we have to be of service.  Some of us carry pumpkins.  Some of us sell them.  Others of us bring water and remind us to take breaks when we need it.  There are many ways to build a community, and we all can play a part.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Capturing Autumn

Whenever anyone posts autumnal pictures on Facebook, I linger--particularly if it's a picture of an apple orchard or a pumpkin patch or some shot with hay in it.  A picture that captures autumnal light makes my heart sing.

Down here on the tip of the continent, we haven't had much in the way of fall weather yet.  I try to prompt some autumnal feelings with seasonal flowers or lights or a batch of pumpkin bread, all on seasonal placemats, but it's still sweltering outside.

Yesterday, I spent much of the afternoon doing this:

I'm the person in the sky blue shirt by the truck, reaching for a pumpkin.  When we began, the front yard of the church looked like this:

By the end, it had been transformed into this:

The last step of the offload is scattering the hay in the truck onto the ground.  As I released the handfuls of hay, I was struck by the sun on the hay--it was beautiful and fleeting, an autumnal moment that I couldn't capture by camera even if I had tried.  But maybe next year I will try.

Along the way, I enjoyed the colors and shapes of the pumpkins, the wide variety, the different weights. 

I wouldn't want to spend every Sunday afternoon carrying pumpkins in this way, but yesterday, despite the heat, it was great.  Where else would I see this type of pumpkin?

My back hurt less than my feet--but luckily, we've finally gotten the pool back to a state where we can get into it--so a soak in the cold pool helped them both.  Plenty of ibuprofen helped too.

Today, it's back to work.  If I didn't have so much to do at work, I'd be tempted to take the day off.  I feel like I haven't had much of a week-end.  Or maybe I had just the kind of week-end for which I've been yearning.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Pumpkins Arriving!

I've been watching--with some amount of jealousy, I freely confess--my friends' postings about Octoberfests and trips to see turning leaves and apples and harvest festivals of all types.  Today, perhaps I'll get some pictures of my own.

Our pumpkins are scheduled to arrive at our church at noon.  They are coming on a big 18 wheeler, which means we'll need to unload them.  We do it pumpkin by pumpkin and then we arrange them on the front yard of our church.

My pastor has been away at Synod Assembly, so I'm covering the first two services for him and doing the sermon at the last service so that he can get some rest.  It makes for a long day at church for me, what with worship services and counting the offering and then helping with pumpkins.  But I think it works better overall than some of the weekday afternoon offloads we've had.  And it's much better than the evening offload we had one year.

One year our pumpkins were very late because the first truckload was stolen and they had to send another.  Ever since then I've wondered who would steal an 18 wheeler full of pumpkins?  Did they know what they stole?  Did they force open the doors expecting to see televisions?

Time for me to get dressed and ready.  I'll wear my worship clothes and bring my pumpkin offload clothes.  Offloading pumpkins is a dirtier, goopier process than one might expect!

If you're in South Florida and you want to support my church, it's Trinity Lutheran at the corner of 72nd and Pines Blvd, across the street (but on the same side of the street) from the South campus of Broward College.  We will be happy to sell you a pumpkin or a gourd of any size.  And if you want to help with the offload, come on by around 12:30--why do we go to the gym, if not to build muscles for such a time as this?

And if you don't live in South Florida, I'd still urge you to buy pumpkins from a local church or school or charity.   Your dollars will go further  and support the community in a deeper way than if you bought a pumpkin at a grocery store.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Precipitating Incidents

Today I want to capture some moments from the past week:

--On Thursday, I switched from my NPR station which has begun annual fundraising.  I heard the KISS song "Beth" for the first time in years, perhaps decades.  I sang along as if no time had passed at all.  Why does my brain store such minutiae?  I also heard the ending differently.  I now see this song as an artist struggling with the balance of commitment to the band, to the song, and to the one at home who waits.  At the end of the song, the band will be playing all night.  The singer has chosen the band over Beth.  In my younger years of listening to the power ballad, I don't think I fully realized that.

--I have been using my critical facilities for more than simple pop songs.  I continue to be so very impressed with what Marge Piercy managed to capture in her novel Vida:  the intersection of politics, gender, history--and such wonderful descriptions of food.  Piercy was one of my all-time favorite writers when I was in undergraduate school, and I'm glad that her work holds up.

--I'm struck by how many writers I've revisited this year--and how much I still enjoy their work.

--I've gotten writing of my own done this week.  Never enough.  I am not that singer of "Beth," choosing art over all other commitments.  But it is good to write and good to send packets of writing out into the world.

--Let me also remember the trauma of September that continues to ripple through the weeks.  For us, it was Hurricane Irma, but Hurricane Maria haunts me too.  I predict that we will see Hurricane Maria as prompting a huge migration that will change Puerto Rico, Florida, and points beyond in ways that we don't fully understand right now.

--We had another visit from the insurance adjuster yesterday--the flood insurance adjuster.  We had some puddles of water in the front bedroom, but the adjuster wondered if there was some way to assess if the underside of the house was damaged.  We have a board that my spouse put in place to replace the rotting wood that was revealed when the huge fish tank was removed.  He pulled up that board to reveal that we still have 6 inches of water under the house--one month after the storm.

--Earlier, I spoke to another insurance representative, this time from the wind policy company.  He asked me to tell him about the damage, so I did.  He said in a quiet, awed voice, "Wow.  You had a lot of damage."

--It's no wonder that I've been feeling overwhelmed at points--we have all this damage, and yet life goes on, at a hectic pace.  I am not kidding when I say that this storm has made me rethink many of my life choices--I would say "all of my life choices," but the sensible part of me only lets my brain go back so many years--that way madness lies.  Even rethinking the move to this neighborhood only makes a certain amount of sense; I don't have a time machine, after all.  Many of the decisions that I've made I might make differently, with the benefit of hindsight.

--And yet, I'm also aware that we're lucky.  We have floors under our feet.  We solved the rain coming through the walls and ceiling in the laundry room.  No one is counting on us for the cottage's return to normal.

--We may look back and see this storm as the precipitating incident that propelled us to a good place.  It has happened before.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Poetry Friday: "History's Chalkboards"

Today I'll post "History's Chalkboards," the other poem that Adanna just published, the one that left my spouse visibly moved when I read it out loud.

I wrote it in August 2016 as the campaign season ramped into high gear. I couldn't get the Sylvia Plath quote out of my head, and the first part of the poem came naturally.

The last two stanzas drifted in my head as I wrote the first part.  For awhile, I thought I might have two poems here, but then I decided that they worked together.

Did I read Ray Bradbury's "There Will Come Soft Rains" before I wrote these stanzas?  I think I was writing it, and the title came to me, and I looked it up and proceeded to read it.

When I wrote the poem, I couldn't imagine that Trump would actually be elected.  I'm still astonished.  I try to take comfort in the fact that our nation has had problematic leadership in the past and survived.  I worry that all of my apocalyptic fever dreams will soon come true.  I know that former great societies have burned to ash, but I also know that with some luck, better societies can emerge.

History’s Chalkboards

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, October 12, 2017

"Vida": The Novel as Testimony and History

Last night, I was supposed to meet a friend for dinner, but she wasn't feeling well, so she cancelled.  I went on home, and then wondered what to do with this window of free time.  My spouse was busy wrestling with Blackboard to get his midterm exam posted for his Philosophy class, so we wouldn't be spending quality time together.  I had been staring at a computer all day, so I didn't feel like working on writing projects.

I didn't want to waste the night watching T.V.  I thought about going to the library to get a book, but I didn't feel like making that trek.  I looked at my bookshelves and thought back across the past few weeks--what had I planned on reading?

I wanted to read The Things They Carried, but I don't own a copy.  I remembered that as I watched the recent documentary on the war in Vietnam, I had thought about rereading Marge Piercy's Vida, a great book about anti-war activists who take the path of violence and must deal with the consequences.

And so I spent a quiet evening revisiting that book--what a treat to return to a book that's every bit as good as I remember it.  The characters are perfectly drawn:  compelling despite being deeply flawed.  The plot grabs me each time I read it, even though I know what's going to happen.  The book offers an important testimony of how the war in Vietnam shaped activism that would carry us through to today. Last night I picked up this book after I heard about Trump's possible decisions about North Korea and Iran--different parts of Asia, but a mindset that may be similar to LBJ's.

It's also an interesting exploration of women's choices and women's sexuality--that aspect, too, is important testimony.  After days of hearing about the sexual harassment/violence charges emerging against Harvey Weinstein, this book feels still relevant in a sad, sad way.

In the future, when people wonder how we got to where we are, will they turn to novels?  I imagine they will first turn to documentaries and then explore from there.  I hope that these feminist novels aren't lost to the ages.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Poetry Wednesday: "You Bring Out the Monk in Me"

Last week, I got my contributor copy of Adanna.  What a beautiful journal!  They published two poems that I was unsure of  when I first wrote them, but I've grown to like them.  One of them is "History's Chalkboards," which was my spouse's favorite.  When I read both poems out loud, my spouse was visibly moved by "History's Chalkboards," which is not a response that he often has to my poems.

The other poem was "You Bring Out the Monk in Me," which I thought might be his favorite, since if he saw himself as the "you" in the poem, he might be happy.  Of course, he's been well trained not to see literary work as necessarily autobiographical.

The poem was inspired by January Gill O'Neil's  "You Bring Out the Mitt Romney in Me," which in turn was inspired by other variations of this theme, which you can find in this post, along with some writing prompts.

I find it interesting that I would write a love poem that uses monastic imagery--but those who know me probably won't be surprised.

You Bring Out the Monk in Me

You bring out the monk in me,
the ancient practices in me,
the candles and incense in me,
the Psalms chanted across a day in me,
the calm of Compline in me.

You bring out the long robes in me,
the rough fabric in me.
You bring out the longing to know
the social order by the length and color
of our clothes, the simplicity of pattern in me.

You bring out the recluse in me,
the one who retreats in me,
the one accused of hiding in me,
the one who prays for the world
while the world carries on in obliviousness to me.

You bring out the silence in me,
the longing for only the words
that matter in me.
You bring out the perfectly balanced in me,
equal time for work, study, and worship.

You worry that there’s no space
for you in this equation,
but I assure you that space
remains in the silence,
the work, and the worship
because you bring out the monk
in me, the one who knows
what to keep and what to shuck away.

Monday, October 9, 2017

A Meditation for Columbus Day

Today is the federal holiday that celebrates Columbus Day; I'm willing to wager serious money that most of us don't have the day off.  When your mail doesn't arrive, you can take a minute to remember Columbus, who wanted to find a shorter trade route, but failed miserably in that goal. 

I’m always amazed at what those early explorers accomplished. At Charlestowne Landing (near Charleston, SC), I saw a boat that was a replica of the boat that some of the first English settlers used to get here. It was teeny-tiny. I can't imagine sailing it up the coast to the next harbor, much less across the Atlantic Ocean. Maybe it would have been easier, back before everyone knew how big the Atlantic was.

For most cities, gone are the days when we'd mark this holiday with parades and time off. Those of us who grew up in the 70's and later have likely rethought this holiday.

What marked an exciting opportunity for overcrowded Europeans in the time of Columbus began a time of unspeakable slaughter and loss for the inhabitants of the Americas, many of whom have never recovered or who disappeared completely.  Let us take a minute to remember all of the cultures that have vanished because of these kinds of encounters.  Let us mourn that loss.

But although those cultural encounters came at an enormous human cost, it also provided the opportunity to enrich the cultures on both sides of these encounters.  Look at the European cuisine before the time of Columbus, and let yourself feel enormous gratitude for the vegetables that came from the Americas. Look at the cultures that existed in the Americas before the Europeans arrived and let yourself marvel at the ways in which technology enables the building of cities.  For those of us who benefit from domesticated animals, which is almost all of us, let us celebrate Columbus and the opening of the space between cultures.

We could remember that day in 1492 as the beginning of a time of enormous religious expansion, first for the Catholics and later for Protestants, many of whom needed a place to escape religious persecution. We could feel sorrow at the religious persecution of the Natives and of various other minority groups--or we could celebrate the religious diversity and tolerance that somehow survived our best efforts to kill it.

Or maybe we want to leave humans out of the picture and once again marvel at this amazing planet which is our home, at its diversity of land, water, and weather, at the currents that swirl through the oceans and the air, at the abundance of natural resources just waiting for us to stumble over them on our quest for something different.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Shabbiness and Authenticity

Last night, we watched part of a PBS show about an English family circa 1920's, to judge by the period costuming, who is living in what I first thought was Italy, but later realized was Greece (the show was The Durrells in Corfu). 

I was less interested in the slow moving plot than I was in the house where they lived.  I gathered that we were supposed to find it decrepit.  The long shots showed some missing shutters, and the inner shots showed peeling paint, and every shot of peeling paint showed that a different paint color behind the peeling.  I assumed that I was supposed to see the furniture as shabby, not simply period pieces.

The decaying house looked so lovely, shot in that PBS light.  I thought about my own house and how lovely it would look with the right lighting.  I thought about a photo shoot in an issue of some country living magazine that comes to my door.  The owners of the old farm house said that they had decided not to replace mismatched floor boards because it looked more authentic.

Authentic--I'll start using that word to describe my house.  It doesn't need work:  it's authentic.  Why remodel my authentic house?

 The roofer came and we discovered that we don't have a roof leak--that the roof is in good shape and has at least several more years on it.  That's good news.

We spent part of yesterday taking apart the gutter system--lots of leaves packed in the gutters, which meant that water overflowed and went through the scupper and ran down the interior wall.  Happily, it seems to be an easy fix--unhappily, after all the rain of the past two weeks, the interior walls look horrible now.  We'll let them thoroughly dry and see what we're dealing with.

Hard to believe it was just 4 weeks ago that we sat on our friends' patio and watched the storm.  I am still a bit overwhelmed by how much work there is to do, but luckily most of the work is in the cottage, and so we will get to it when we get to it.

Although we have lots of work to do, I'm grateful to PBS shows and photo shoots of houses that make me realize that we can still be perfectly happy in our houses, even if they're shabbier than we'd like.  We can have lots of repair work that needs to be done, but still be rich in friends.

It is good to remember what really matters.

Friday, October 6, 2017

Writing Cycles, Submission Cycles

A week ago, I got the idea a story based on Tim O'Brien's "The Things They Carried."  Instead of Vietnam, it's set in a for-profit art school that's closing.  What I find interesting about this fact is that in the weeks before I got the idea for that story, I was feeling uninspired and wondering if I was done with this idea for the collection of linked stories.  After all, it had been almost a year since I left the school that has served as inspiration for those stories.  I wasn't sure that the stories I had would assemble themselves into a book.  And then, bam--a new story idea comes to me, and it's a great way to end the collection.

As I've been writing the stories before the one I started writing a week ago, I wasn't sure that the fictional school would close.  So far, the real school hasn't closed.

I have that school on the brain for many reasons, one of which is that we're approaching the one year anniversary of my leaving.   I came to my new job as the school was moving into high gear to find a new accreditor--and yesterday, after a long process, we got news of the granting of accreditation.  Hurrah!

In some ways, this process reminds me of writing a dissertation.  There are benchmarks that one must meet and then revisions that must be done and then the wait for feedback and then more work to be done, and more waiting, and then, even more work that must be done, even when one is ready to move on to new projects.  And finally, the good news, the "yes" that once might have seemed like such a distant goal.  Yet because the process has been so very long, the ecstasy blends with exhaustion.

And of course, this process is like most creative processes.  One reason why I'm not more aggressive in sending out book-length manuscripts is because I feel like I don't have the time for an extended revision process or a publicity process.

But it's also because it's easier to put a packet of poems in the mail.  It's harder to get the manuscript assembled and sent.  And the rejection of an individual poem is easier to bear.  The despair that comes from the umpteenth rejection of the book length manuscript is easier to simply avoid some years by not submitting.

This year, with its hurricane, is a non-submitting year.  In some other year, I hope to write about how the acceptance of a book length work is similar to finishing a dissertation or an accreditation process.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Tropical Disturbances and Roof Leaks

We have had some kind of tropical disturbance off our coast for days now.  That means lots of wind and rain.

Ordinarily, I'd love days like these, especially since it's the only hint of autumnal weather we get in South Florida.  But with a roof leak, I look at the clouds with dread.

Each day I get home and put the drenched towels in the washer.  I empty the containers that we set out to catch the water.  I'm amazed at the amount of water.  Has it really rained that much?

I know that I am lucky in a way.  We could have a profoundly damaged roof.  We could live in Puerto Rico and have no roof.  I have electric restored, and I have a washer and dryer.  I have clean water running through pipes with which to fill the washer and dryer--I am surprised by how strange the wet towels smell.

There is a poem lurking in the smell that comes in the water that comes from the roof.

I tell myself that we were going to remodel the laundry room anyway.  As I watch water run down the walls, I can't remember if my spouse planned to rip out that wall that's now got saggy drywall on it.

It's the back corner of the house, and it doesn't seem to be spreading.  It could be worse.  The roofer comes on Friday.  It's fixable.

I shall keep repeating this mantra:  "It's fixable.  It's fixable.  It's fixable."  It's a good mantra for much of life.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Postcards from the Writer's Life

--This morning, I listened to this interview with Ta-Nehisi Coates.  While I find him to be a prophetic (in the Old Testament sense of that word) voice when he talks about race and the U.S., I want to know more about his writing life.  I'm especially interested in his pre-Pulitzer Prize, pre-MacArthur days and the transitions he had to make after those wins.

He alludes to his earlier writing life.  He talks about writing a daily blog that was read by 2 people, himself and his dad.

I wonder if he wrote about the same subjects then.  I wonder what it's like to go from that freedom of writing whatever one wants, to knowing that a wide variety of people will be aware of one's ideas--and they won't all be friendly people.

--I woke up this morning at 2:30 because the wind has howled for over a day.  It slams things--rain, mainly--into the house.  Would I wake up this way if we hadn't had a hurricane last month?  Probably.

--I had a wonderful writing time in these wee small hours of the morning.  I'm crafting a story based on Tim O'Brien's "The Things They Carried."  Instead of Vietnam, it's set in a for-profit art school that's closing.  It come so easily.  What a delight to write fiction that's flowing, instead of writing a sentence and wondering where to go next.

--I've been slowly getting back to submitting--mainly packets of poetry.  It's not like past years, when I'd get envelopes ready to go to the post office on September 1, when many reading periods start.

--I am feeling a bit of despair.  I thought I would be further along by age 52.

--But let me remind myself that I do have 3 chapbooks published.  And let me remind myself that the publishing life in the U.S. in the 21st century is uneven, at best.  So even though I haven't hit some of the milestones that I would have envisioned long ago, as a much younger writer, that doesn't mean that they are forever out of reach.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

RIP Tom Petty

Yesterday was a day of many sadnesses.  What can one possibly say about a day that starts with news of the worst mass shooting in U.S. history and ends with the news of the death of Tom Petty? 

I don't have much left to say about this kind of gun violence.  What can bring any kind of comfort?  Do I believe that U.S. hearts can change?  If the massacre of children in an elementary school several years ago can't make us change our approach, what makes us think this massacre will?

Let me instead think about Tom Petty.  I found myself surprised to be so affected by his death--after all, I don't own any of his music.  Wait, yes I do--I have the two Travelling Wilburys CDs.  In fact, for a long time during his early years on the national scene, I might have said I didn't like him.

My earliest memory of him is a high school youth group gathering.  We were at someone's house to bake cookies for shut-ins, and someone had his cassette tape, Damn the Torpedoes.  We might have listened to a song or two amidst the Christmas music.  I wasn't impressed.  But then again, my other memory of that night is using a cookie cutter as an ice scraper, since snow had fallen while we were baking.

Through the years, I'd hear a song here and there that made me consider buying a whole collection, whether on vinyl or CD.  But then I would forget and then another CD would come, and I just never caught up.

Along the way, I was impressed with both his music and his lyrics.  I was impressed with how he looked out for his various band members.  His dedication to his art was important too.

I realize that I can expect more of these deaths in the coming years--musicians who were important to me in varying degrees.  Let me use these passings as a reminder to tend to my own artistic gardens.

Monday, October 2, 2017

September: a Month in Pictures

Last night, I was labeling photos for the flood insurance adjuster.  Three weeks ago, late in the morning, we'd return home to flooded streets and yards:

I was astonished at the tree damage.  We were lucky that a limb only fell on a motorcycle.  Some houses had palm trees through the roof.

Because of the tree damage, and because our home suffered this damage, we wouldn't have power until 12 days had passed:

We spent a lot of time on the porch.  When it was dark, the battery powered autumn trees with lights gave the porch a cozy feel.

Now that the power is restored, we've retreated to the cool interiors of our houses.  Hard to believe that it's October, that it will soon be Halloween.  My September time offline gave me lots of time to read--and lots of time to stitch.  I've been working on new autumnal placemats:

I had been saving a package of fat quarters for over a decade, waiting for a special project.  My younger self would have thought of something other than placemats, but we use those, and I like the way they make the front porch look.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Poetry Sunday: "Jamestown"

Yesterday, I had several gatherings with different types of friends:  my quilting group that had been put off because of the hurricane and my every other month haircut that's an abbreviated spa day with a different set of friends.

It's always interesting being with different groups of people, but I was fascinated with our various responses to Hurricane Irma.  One of my friends is in the process of moving to Gainesville, and she has properties in three places (Ft. Lauderdale, Gainesville, and the mountains of North Carolina), and all three were affected by the storm--that geography tells you about the breadth and strength of the storm. 

Some of us worry about how we will deal with these storms as we age.  Some of us prefer hurricanes to other struggles that the natural world presents because at least we know they are coming.  We are all concerned that our insurance costs will rise and that we will be unable to afford to live here.

It seems likely that Hurricane Irma will have a similar effect to the storm seasons of 2004 and 2005:  many people will make some life decisions that they wouldn't have made without the push of a major hurricane.

When I think about my creative trajectory, I see an uptick in poems with an apocalyptic tone after the storms of 2004 and 2005.  Just before the storm, the woman who cuts my hair had discovered that she didn't have a wind policy to protect her home.  She said, "I packed everything that was important to me in the car, and I drove to Virginia to start a new life."

Her comment--indeed the whole day--made me think of poems that I wrote earlier.  This one was partly sparked by the comments of historians on the 400th anniversary of Jamestown in 2007.

She remembers only one
fact from years of studying American History.
Not one colony survived
for very long without women settlers.
Without the women, the men planted just one
crop, tobacco, with no nutritive value.
The ground devoted to addiction, the colony starving.

She returns to her handy needle
to sew tubes of seeds into her hemline.
She measures the weight of her possessions
with a calculating eye.
She discards the frivolous scraps of silk
that once passed for undergarments.
She adds a well-seasoned skillet to her pack,
a way to cook as well as a weapon.

She locks the house but leaves the key.
She threads the needle
through her shirtsleeve where she won't lose
track of it. She sets off for civilization.