Wednesday, January 31, 2018

My Full Moon: the Blue Sorting Moon

I've been outside periodically to see the full moon. It's beautiful, even before the eclipse begins at 5:51 EST. It's breezy, so the clouds scud by and the clouds change colors, from white to blue to violet to purple. At other times, I step outside to a bright, white moon shining like a beacon.

I don't always wish I had a better camera, but I know better than to try to capture a night event with the cameras I have. I know to stand in the back yard, sip my coffee mocha drink, and enjoy the celestial show.

The talk today will be of last night's State of the Union address.  I never watch them, and last night was no exception.  I don't see it as part of my citizenship duties:  I'll listen to the analysis, and thus, I'll learn what our political leaders see as important.

Of course, I already know.  The older I get, the less I listen to the words of leaders.  I watch actions.  I wish I could go to lunch with them all.  I can tell a lot about character by how one treats the waitstaff.  I am fairly sure that the political leadership of the U.S. would not leave big tips.

Last night, I sorted through another 2 boxes.  One was straight forward:  various notebooks of writing that I did as a child.  I just moved those from one cardboard box to the plastic box.  Then I got to the box of novels written between 1992 and 2002.

I say novels, but most of them were 150 pages or less.  Some of them I envisioned as young adult novels.  I had a few unfinished starts, which I kept, even though I don't intend to return to them.  For a few of the novels, I had multiple copies, all of them the same.  Was I planning on mailing them at some point?  I only kept one copy.  I also had copies with friends' comments written on them.  Those went to recycling too.

It's a strange process.  I'm making lots of progress, but it's not as visible as the kind of progress that comes when I sort through my clothes or books or kitchenware.

I also see sorting as a time of mourning, especially when I sort through my old notes, manuscripts, and papers.  I remember the hopes that I had for manuscripts.  I feel the sorrow of the manuscripts, left in their boxes as I have moved on to other projects.

Let me also note that I feel the satisfaction of seeing how far I have come as a writer.  I am much more skilled at all aspects of storytelling than I was when I wrote my first post-grad school novel in 1992.

I've been writing novels longer than that.  I remember writing novels in high school.  And even when I wasn't writing them down, I was spinning stories in my head. 

I still see ways I can improve; I suspect I always will. 

Speaking of improvement, time to head to spin class.  I'll watch the eclipse as I make my way to Ft. Lauderdale.

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

The Dolor of the Drafts

Last night's phase of the great sorting project involved looking in a box labeled "Old writing not typed into computer."  I was expecting lots of handwritten drafts.

Instead, I found drafts that had been typed into a computer--but a very old Mac that no longer exists.  It had a 9 inch screen.  By the time I loaded it with a few programs, it had very little storage space on the hard drive.  In those days, I kept everything on "floppy" discs, the three inch kind--I had back ups of the back ups and paper, for when all else might have failed.

Now I have a file drawer size box full of short stories from a period of roughly 10 years.  Once I sent some of them out to journals as I hoped for publication.  Some were never going to be revised to that state.  I no longer remember which was which.  I kept them all, because my PhD training stressed how important the papers of a writer are. I imagine that  Keats died with a drawer full of rough drafts too.  I imagine he died thinking that he had failed as a writer and wishing that he had just had more time.

If we could find an unpublished poem or letter of his, how happy we would be.  We wouldn't care that he hadn't revised it to a publishable state.  We wouldn't care that he didn't mean for us to see it.

My spouse takes the stance that I should destroy all the writing that I wouldn't want discovered after my death, and he includes the weak short stories and poems of my youth.  He said, "Even if you become a famous writer, would you want people to read those?"

Actually, yes, yes I would.  I think they show an interesting trajectory.

Will I be famous that way?  Will anyone be interested in the detritus of my youth?  Will I be interested?

For now, I'll keep storing them, although I am moving them into something more waterproof.  It won't help if water sweeps through the house.  But if water seeps up through the floor, the cardboard file boxes that I had been using won't be much help.

I realize that I'm preparing for the last disaster.  I'm hoping I don't have to worry about water coming up through the floor again.

I didn't take time to read all of the stories, but I did leaf through them.  I'm keeping them too, because they're like an alternate journal to me.  I read them, and I'm transported to the time that I wrote them.  I still remember the inspiration, and I'm still intrigued by my attempt to make the transformation to art.

Some day, I might be a little old lady with lots of time to read those rough drafts.  For now, I'm keeping them safe and stored in my closet.

I'm also thinking of the rough drafts of short stories that I've written in the past 10 years.  If I printed them all, would I have as much paper?  I don't think so.  Does it matter?  After all, most of them are just going to sit in a box.  But it does tell me that my writing focus has shifted.

If I printed all my blog posts, would I have the same amount of paper?  No, I'd have more.  Now I am more trusting of electronic storage.  I don't print paper back ups of every scrap I write, the way I once did.  I realize that one day, I may wish that I had done more with paper storage. 

Or I may have given up caring.  I may have finally realized that I have to trust the drafts to make their own way in the world.

Monday, January 29, 2018

Sermon Notes: Demon Possession

So many people were interested in my sermon, especially people who couldn't be there, so I decided to post my sermon notes.  I don't always make notes for a sermon, but I wanted to be sure that this one went well.

I first talked about all the directions that my sermon might have gone:  ancient cultures viewing mentally ill people as demon possessed, the fact that demon possessions and exorcisms are still part of life in places like Africa, the movies from my childhood in the 70's that shaped the way we view demon possession.

But I decided that it was most useful to think about the ways we are still possessed by some modern types of demons.  I asked, "How many of you have your hands on your phone right now?"  Most people didn't, but the phone is never far away.

I mentioned other types of possession

--we have more faith in our 401K than in God.

--raging opioid crisis

--legal drugs too: alcohol use is way up.


--fitness and nutrition quests—or the lack of them. Many of us talk about sugar in the same way we once would have talked about demon possession.

--I’ve seen such political vitriol—it brings to mind that scene in The Exorcist, you know the one with the vomiting—and the inability to walk away seems a sort of demon possession too.

I talked about all the demon voices we hear hissing in our ears telling us that we're not good enough, that it's too late, that we've ruined everything.


I pointed to the part of the altarscape I had made a few weeks ago:

I said, "Think back to the baptism of Jesus and the words of God--before Jesus ever did anything.  God feels the same way about you":

--whether you’ve lived an exemplary life or messed up your life in a variety of ways.

--if you start your day with a stiff drink or a cup of coffee or a smoothie made of green goodness.

--if your kids run amok or if you run a stern ship

--if you’ve destroyed every relationship you ever had.

--if you’ve fulfilled your potential, or if you’ve misplaced it

--if you've done really dark things, like allegedly paying hush money to a porn star or invaded the bodies of unwilling gymnasts—GOD LOVES US ALL.

I paused and said, "However . . ."

God does have a vision of how our lives—and our world—can be better. God began the initial work of creation, the stories we find in Genesis, and that work of saving creation is found throughout the Bible .

I reminded us all of the wide variety of people that God calls throughout the Bible--these are people whom you wouldn't choose to be part of a winning team.  But God does.

God calls us to help with that creation process—both the creating and the saving. Sure, God could do it without us. I don’t understand why God wants us to be part of the process—it seems very inefficient to me. But God has a much larger vision than I do.

God has a larger plan and purpose for you. God would never give up on you, the way we so often give up on each other and on ourselves.

Let’s do some visualizing together. Think about your demons, the ones that torment you. Imagine them fully. Now hear the stern voice of Jesus talking to those demons: "Be quiet!" said Jesus sternly. "Come out of him! Or "Be quiet!" said Jesus sternly. "Come out of her!

Now imagine those demons gone. Enjoy the quiet. Know that you are healed. Know that you are loved.

Sunday, January 28, 2018

The Loss of a Mirror, Claribel Alegria

Is this going to be the year of losing our female literary lights?  It's only the fourth week of the year, and I just discovered the Claribel Alegria died on Thursday, as the rest of the world still mourned the loss of Ursula K. Le Guin.

Alegria's loss did not go ringing across the literary world.  She was not as famous as Le Guin.  But I still feel the loss keenly, even though she was 94, so I shouldn't have been surprised.

Alegria came into my consciousness by way of me teaching ENC1102, the Intro to Lit class taught in colleges and universities across the land.  I used the book edited by Michael Meyer, The Bedford Intro to Lit book, back when Bedford was a stand-alone publisher (or more of one than it is now).

I was determined to give my students exposure to a wider variety of writers than I had had.  Meyer does a great job of giving every option.  There was a section on Emily Dickinson and one on Langston Hughes--deep, in-depth exploration.  There was a collection of world lit for each section.  And that's where I found Alegria's "I am Mirror."

In the 1990's I taught that poem to classes that included very few Hispanic students.  Then I moved to South Florida and taught that poem to people who had fled the Central American civil wars that Alegria wrote about.  The poem worked well across a wide variety of boundaries.

When I went to San Francisco, my parents knew I needed to go to City Lights bookstore, and I bought every volume of Alegria that they had.  I plan to read them this week--well, the English poems.  I'll read the Spanish too, since they're included in the volumes.  It will be interesting to see if I notice anything different.  I want to believe that I've been practicing a bit of immersion language acquisition by living down here, but I know that I haven't.

I did a search to find out more about Alegria's death, but it's missing from our newspapers in a way that Le Guin was not.  There are plenty of term papers that I could buy--so that makes me happy in an odd way, knowing that she's taught enough that there's a term paper industry about her work. 

I also discovered this wonderful interview  done at the turn of the century in Bomb magazine.  It includes a picture of Alegria and Carolyn Forche.  I had forgotten that Forche had translated Alegria's work.

One of my friends asked me yesterday if I missed teaching.  I don't miss grading.  But I do miss the opportunity to have the discussions about poets and poetry and the wider world.  I don't have the same kinds of opportunities on such a regular basis in my administrator life.

Saturday, January 27, 2018

The Week in Review: Good Times with Friends and the Gymnast as Cautionary Tale

In many ways, the past week has been a good one:

--we've gotten underway with doctor's appointments.  I'm always happy when we're doing some basic adult tasks of self-care.

--we're making very slow, but steady, progress with home and cottage repairs.   This statement means we've gotten estimates and we're about to sign paperwork, and I've been making steady work with sorting and getting rid of stuff.  As with body self-care, I'm happy when we make progress on care for our house.

--We've had time with friends.  I'm particularly happy about our happy hour last night at Tropical Acres, one of Broward county's oldest steakhouses.  After a dreadful drive through heavy traffic, it was wonderful to relax and catch up with friends while having reduced-price appetizers and drinks.  Ahhhhh.

--I had a great writing week.  I had a lot of ideas, did some submitting, did some writing, did some revising--did a bit each day, which adds up.

--it's been a good work week too.

But it's also been an unsettling week.  I've been having dreams about gymnasts, which tells me that I'm not being successful in trying to avoid the news.

I did not read the individual testimony of each gymnast.  But the large outlines still shock me.

I've spent a lot of time thinking about how to keep people safe.  One of the hardest writing projects I ever undertook was writing the safe space policy that our insurance requires of my church.  It was hard because I had to consider all the ways that churches of the past have not protected children.  We could avoid many horrible situations if we just followed this one piece of advice:  no non-parental adult should ever be alone with a child.  There should always be another adult present.

Like I said, I haven't read deeply about the horrible doctor and the gymnasts.  I'm assuming that there wasn't a nurse in the room when he did his deeds.  But I have read several articles that remind us that even if there were adults in the room, that he could have still manipulated the situation.  The girls have been trained, after all--non-parental adults have been touching them in intimate ways all their lives.  The hunger for Olympic gold is fierce.  They're taught to ignore their pain.

I don't want to unpack all the implications of that above paragraph. I do want this moment in time to serve as a reminder to those of us who are charged with the safety of others.  Do we have plans in place to avoid abuse as much as is possible?  What would we do if anyone came to us with a difficult story?

That's the part of the story that just bewilders me:  the people who have been sounding the alarm about this doctor for years, and not only the Olympic/gymnastic higher-ups ignored them, but officials at Michigan State.

So yes, as I've gone about the good parts of my week, I've had this news story always in the background, always serving as a cautionary tale.  I did a quick inventory:  we have windows on all of our doors.  No one has come to me with any story of anyone still employed with us who might be behaving unethically or abusively.  Most of us have been trained so that we stay compliant with what Title IX requires, and those expectations permeate our Hollywood campus.  We have a security guard for the late evening hours when we don't have as many people on campus.

I do know the world we live in.  I do know that we can take every precaution, and it might not be enough.  But I don't understand why people wouldn't take every precaution--no gold medal is worth protecting an abuser.

For those of us in institutions that aren't taking some basic precautions, let's use this opportunity to move our institutions forward to a safer space.  Let us put policies in place so that we don't need to have these cautionary tales. 

Friday, January 26, 2018

Preaching about Demon Possession

My pastor asked if I'd like to preach the sermon this Sunday.  He'll be there to do the other parts of the worship service, but if I preach the sermon, he can more fully enjoy the last few days of his sabbatical without having to develop a sermon.

I was happy to say yes.  This Sunday we read in the Gospel of Mark about the first days of the ministry of Jesus.  He does what every young man does when he's just starting a mission:  he casts out demons.

Ah, demon possession!  Count me in!

I've written about demons before.  How do we modern folks see this act of casting out demons?

When I was young, my mother had a sensible explanation:  ancient cultures didn't understand mental illness, so demon possession was how they explained diseases of the brain.  It makes a lot of sense.

Lately, though, I wonder if we dismiss this idea of demon possession too quickly.  Perhaps it's a metaphor that can speak to us in other ways.

In this meditation on this Sunday's Gospel, I consider the smart phone as modern demon possession.  On Sunday, I'll talk about the other aspects of modern life that possess us, including political discourse that doesn't serve us well.

I feel lucky that I'm part of a church tradition that welcomes the gifts and talents of women.  I'm lucky that my particular church is open to the idea of lay leadership.

What I treasure most is when women of the congregation who remind me of my grandmother come up to me to whisper, "I wish you would preach more often."  I can't imagine my own grandmother, who is at least a generation older than most of the women of my church, I can't imagine my own grandmother saying such a thing.  She did not approve of the ordination of women, although we didn't talk much about it.  She didn't approve of women wearing pants to church.  She was scandalized by the sight of a woman in blue jeans taking communion.

Still, I miss her.  She had some wisdom that I wasn't always willing to recognize at the time.  She resisted the idea of doing work on Sunday or doing shopping or washing the car.  When I was younger I wondered how we'd ever get everything done if we just took Sunday off.  Now I see how her ideas make sense.

If you're in South Florida and want to join us on Sunday, I'll be preaching at Trinity Lutheran Church in Pembroke Pines at 10 a.m.  We're at 7150 Pines Boulevard:  come and see!

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Writing: No Time to Spare

Yesterday was a good writing day.  Did it have anything to do with the death of Ursula K. Le Guin?  I did feel somewhat galvanized, but I was feeling that way before I learned of her death.

Yesterday morning, before I did any online surfing, I wrote a poem. In the hour before I found out that Ursula K. Le Guin had died, I was writing a poem about getting in touch with my inner, little, old church lady, who has cookbooks for anarchists and vegetarians alike, who knows how to quilt the patterns used by the underground railroad, who wears white gloves but not for the reasons you think. She will not pontificate on the president and the porn star and the hush money because she's been taught that it's rude to talk about politics and sex in polite company.

I didn't realize it, but I was writing a fitting tribute, in many ways, to Le Guin--and more importantly, to the older woman that I will become.

I looked up Le Guin's last book and it was available at 4 of our public libraries, so I stopped by and got it on my way to work.  The title:  No Time to Spare.  It looks fabulous.  The book was on my desk all day, reminding me that there may not be much time to spare.

I sent out a few poems.  I went to the Graywolf site to discover that they are having a nonfiction competition. 

As far as I can tell, there's not an entry fee.  The deadline is Jan. 31--hurrah, I haven't missed it.
I'm planning on sending my manuscript of memoir-esque/theologicalish essays.  I don't think it's the kind of literary innovation for which they yearn, but it doesn't sound so very different from some of the past years' winners.  Yesterday I reread the first 100 pages of my manuscript for the first time in over a year, and I'm still pleased with my writing.  So I will send it out and see what happens.
Inspired by Laura Kaminski's laundry poems on the Via Negativa site, I wrote another poem.  It's been a long time since I completed two poems in the same day.
In short, it was a great writing day, where I got a variety of writing tasks done--in addition to a pleasant work day, where I got much done and had great conversations.  Our new librarian also went to the University of South Carolina, so we have great conversations about Columbia.  Yesterday we talked about the variety of paperwork that we have and how to store and catalog it.  We agree that paper is still the most secure storage space, but it takes up so much physical space.  She talked about calling someone to get a photocopy of the journal where his article appeared, and he wasn't sure he could locate it.  She asked about my filing system.
I know where all the copies of my poems and articles are, but to find a specific one might take me an hour or two.  I'm not a good alphabetizer, and I don't like filing.  Sigh.  But I do know what's in each pile and each box.
I also got a Facebook friend request from a woman who sent it because she liked the prayers I wrote for this year's Bread for the Day.  How cool is that?!!!  I took it as a larger sign, a reminder that my writing matters to the world beyond me.
Here's the prayer that I wrote for yesterday; it seems a good way to end this post:
January 24, 2018
God of every intelligence, let us listen for voices of wisdom and understanding.  Give us the courage to stay with those who make necessary stands in lonelier places.  Let us not be found lacking.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Ursula K. Le Guin Sails to Distant Stars

I was sad to hear about the death of Ursula K. Le Guin.  Of course, she was 88 years old, so in some ways, this news was coming sooner rather than later.  But she seemed so vital still, so unstoppable.  This morning, our local NPR announcer called her one of the most important writers of the 20th century.  I would agree, but the world did not always see her this way.

I confess that I didn't always like her science fiction--or more accurately, I liked the ideas more than the execution.  I looked forward to reading The Left Hand of Darkness, but then I found it difficult going--not the gender fluidity, which intrigued me, but something else which escapes me now.

I might say that everything I know about gender fluidity I learned from Ursula K. Le Guin.  Once that might have been true.  I can safely say that she was the first writer that I read that blew open the boundaries of the gender binary.  She changed my thinking by expanding it--on this topic and many others.

She was important to me as both a feminist and a writer, and as a feminist writer.  She insisted on smashing boundaries--those boundaries that kept science fiction separate from more respectable types of fiction, those boundaries that kept female writers safely in their spaces, separate from awards and opportunities.

Her craft essays have shaped me too.  I have several of those books on my shelf.  She showed us in so many ways how to be a writer.  She wrote so well in so many genres.  I didn't realize that she kept a blog.  I plan to explore it more today.

I plan to remember her as I age--she showed us how to do that too.  Perhaps one reason why news of her death was such a surprise is that I didn't realize she was 88.  She seemed so fierce and unstoppable.  I will cherish how she looked, with her sensible hair cut, her comfortable clothes, her face that seemed surgically unaltered.  She reserved her energy for writing, not for the pursuit of unattainable beauty standards. 

Her speech at the 2014 National Book Awards still electrifies; you can find it here.  Her words seem especially prescient today:  "Hard times are coming, when we’ll be wanting the voices of writers who can see alternatives to how we live now, can see through our fear-stricken society and its obsessive technologies to other ways of being, and even imagine real grounds for hope. We’ll need writers who can remember freedom – poets, visionaries – realists of a larger reality."

At the time, much attention was paid to her words about the commercialization of the art that we produce, words like these:  "Right now, we need writers who know the difference between production of a market commodity and the practice of an art. Developing written material to suit sales strategies in order to maximise corporate profit and advertising revenue is not the same thing as responsible book publishing or authorship." 

But today, I think about a different kind of hard times, and all the fears that seem like possessive demons.  Today I will think about the kinds of freedom that we need to champion.  Today, I will return to the words of Ursula K. Le Guin.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

The Year in Books

Yesterday I went for my annual eye exam, and much to my surprise, my eyesight has improved.  We tried a variety of combinations to see what would get me the best reading and the best distance vision.  I am thrilled with my multifocal contacts, which means I don't have to use reading glasses, and I can still see street signs.

I've had that type of lens for 2 years, and I know that I'm living on borrowed time with this vision that can be corrected with multifocal lenses. 

I celebrated my vision by reading, of course.  I'm also lucky in that I can read most print easily without my contacts in--reading the computer screen is more difficult.

I am making my way through Margaret Atwood's Hag-Seed, which is a retelling of The Tempest.  I've been wondering if I should have reread the Shakespeare play first.  My Hindu writer friend tells me that Shakespeare is part of me, so no need to reread.  But I'm thinking of how much more I enjoyed Michael Cunningham's The Hours when I had Virginia Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway fresh in my brain.

Well, I'm halfway through, so I won't be doing that.  But these ruminations have made me think of my reading experiences of 2017; a year ago, I'd be starting Colson Whitehead's The Underground Railroad.  But even though that book might be one of the more inventive ones I read, it's not my favorite of 2017--is it?

In terms of fiction, the best book I read in 2017 might have been American War by Omar El Akkad.  My list of books read includes this insight:  "Like The Sympathizer and The Underground Railroad, it (American War) contains torture that’s more graphically depicted than I’m used to."

But 2017 was also the year I revisited authors that were important to me in my younger years--and I discovered that they are still just as vital to me.  I went back to reread Margaret Drabble, Margaret Atwood, and Marge Piercy.

As I look back over my list, I'm struck by the presence of books I didn't finish, despite giving them over 100 pages to capture my attention.  There's only a few, but reading time is so precious that I'm always irritated when these books don't work for me--they often end up on my reading list because others speak highly of them.

As I look at my list, I'm struck by the absence of spiritual books, the meaty work by N.T. Wright or Eugene Peterson that I used to read.  I did read some Henri Nouwen, but I'd like to do more.

That's the message of all of my reading lists--if only I could do more.  So many wonderful books, and so little time to read them--and when I do have time, I often nod off over my reading, as I did last night.

Monday, January 22, 2018

Monday Weariness

I am tired this morning--is it a good tired?

--I spent much of the week-end cooking for gatherings that would end up being smaller than anticipated.  One of our Saturday quilt group members got sick, and our family gathering yesterday ended up being 2 adults coming over, not the 5 that it could have been.

--So, we have plenty of food for the week, but I do end the week-end feeling like I did endless dishes in between running back and forth to the grocery store.

--I also did some cleaning up in anticipation of the various folks coming over.  That work needed to be done, so I have no regrets.

--At least I don't have to determine whether or not I'm an essential worker in day 3 of the government shutdown.  At least I'm not trying to do something that needs a government employee to verify something.

--I do wonder how this might affect student financial aid, if it continues very long.  That's one way the government shutdown might affect my workplace. 

--I have friends and family who are government employees or work in places run by government employees.  If this shutdown lasts very long, I imagine they will be more tired than I feel this morning.

Sunday, January 21, 2018


It is time to leave our shells behind.

It is time to see the world beyond our gates.

The children can suckle flowers.  We have work to do.

It is time to move.  We have been at the sidelines too long.

The world needs our unique gifts.  Now is the time.

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Shutting Down and Revving Up

--So the Republican government which controls the House, the Senate, and the Presidency couldn't come to agreement and now the government has a partial shutdown.  My grandmother, when truly disgusted, would pronounce the word with a special emphasis on the G.  Let me just say, "I am DIS--Gusted."  If I did my job only half as badly as those folks, I'd have been fired long ago.

--We shall do what we planned to do anyway today:  cook!  We are making a brisket for our delayed family gathering tomorrow--the Texas kind of brisket, not the Jewish kind.  I will make a pot of some kind of beans.  I've already made a pot of a corn chowder for my quilt group that will assemble at my house later today.  One of our friends who was bringing bread has taken sick and can't come, so I'll make a pan of cornbread too--it will work well with what we're having both today and tomorrow.

--This morning while cooking,  I pulled out the garlic mincer and reflected on how rarely I mince garlic these days.  Once, influenced by the Frugal Gourmet (a PBS chef and cooking show in the 80's), my dad bought a Susi garlic press, and he loved it so much that my parents got me one for a stocking stuffer.  That was over 20 years ago, and it's still working just fine.  Amazing.

--Before I started cooking, I wrote a poem.  I had the idea for it in mid-December, as a colleague described the dining room table items she used (ostrich feathers) and the present she bought for a friend:  napkins that shimmered because of Swarovski crystals sewn into them.  You may remember that I wrote about the experience in this post, along with the glimmerings of a poem.  I went on vacation and promptly forgot about it.  Yesterday as I drove from store to store getting the items we would need for cooking, the idea flitted through my head again.

--The poem is somewhat different than what I first intended.  I put in a stanza about my grandmother's dining room table, always covered with a linen cloth, but rarely used, like the china in the cabinet that matches the table and the sideboard.  If I never published another poem, I'd keep writing them, because of the delight of the unintended and unexpected.

--Because I've been going to spin class more regularly, I have more music in my brain.  Unfortunately it's not always music I would want to have in my head:  "Met her in the backseat of a taxi, on the way to the club."  Sometimes I've discovered cool music that I wouldn't have met without spin class.  Some days, the music I hear makes me worry for the health of my country--same as the antics in Washington, D.C.

Friday, January 19, 2018

Spin Class Challenge(s)

We are now close to halfway through our spin class challenge.  There are 2 ways to win the challenge:  most weight lost and most spin classes attended.  The gym has added lots of extra spin classes, but I don't expect to win that category, as I have very limited times that I can go.

However, I have been able to go to 2 additional classes a week, on Tuesday and Thursday morning--so I have been exercising vigorously for 5 days a week, a marked uptick.  I am the kind of person who does best when I get my exercise done in the morning.  I always used to say that no one ever calls a meeting for 6:30 in the morning, but it can be hard to get away for a 5:30 in the afternoon class.

Of course, I also do my best writing early in the morning.  If I could live my life however I wanted, I'd probably wake up at 3:00 or 4:00 a.m., work for a time, sleep for a time, and keep going in 2-3 hour cycles.  I think that would work, but would it really?  I'll probably have to wait until retirement, should that day come, to find out.

I am sleeping so much better in the past two weeks--is it because of the extra exercise?  This week, I also abstained from drinking for Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday night, so that might play a role too.  Or maybe I've just been tired.

Yesterday we had an announcement in class:  someone had donated a pair of women's size 11 spin shoes--did anyone need them?   Could anyone use them?  Did anyone have that size foot?

I do, especially with my arthritis swelling.  Still, I felt somewhat guilty.  But the spin instructor/head of the Wellness program said that she'd made the announcement in class after class, and I was the first one who wanted the shoes.

I do feel a bit like Cinderella--Cinderella and her spin shoe.  I had been needing a new pair of spin shoes, and these might do the trick.  I can make them much wider than my regular spin shoes, which is no small thing these days, with my swollen feet.

True to most athletic shoes, they are a bit smaller than a real size 11, but my foot slid right in, so I'll try them in a spin class this morning.

I got my first pair of spin shoes--the pair I'm still using--from a spin class buddy who had been diagnosed with plantar fasciitis and so had to buy much larger shoes.  I bought them for 15 bucks and had to go to a cycle shop to have the clips put in.  Once they were loose on my feet, but I made them work.  Now they are not.  Sigh.

I am lucky that I can still do this exercise--it's the only vigorous exercise that I can still do consistently.  I never realized how much I bend my feet in a normal day until it became painful to do so.  And so much exercising involves an ability to bend the foot.

I thought I might be able to win the weight loss part of the challenge, but truth be told, I don't really care if I do or not.  I needed something to encourage me to eat differently--and to drink less.  So far, it's working, although I haven't made the radical changes I would need to make to lose the weight I would need to lose to win.

Unless . . . I suspect others are in the same boat.  And there's still 2 weeks.  Stay tuned!

Thursday, January 18, 2018

The Roll Top Desk as Metaphor

Wednesday nights my spouse teaches late--the perfect time to write, right?  I thought I might write last night, but I was feeling uninspired, tired, grouchy.  I thought I'd listen to some recent NPR shows that covered the nuclear false alarm in Hawaii--I'm still working on the poem that imagines a blast site far away and the preparations that we would take on the southeast coast of Florida to protect against wind-borne radiation.   It needs something, but I used up my last idea yesterday morning.

I'm not sure how I came to decide to clean off the roll top desk.  I have an antique-ish roll top desk that came from my grandmother's house.  It's not practical for modern writing tasks, and it has a very narrow space for a chair.  So it tends to be a catch-all flat surface--all those pieces of paper that come into the house that need to be kept for a time or shredded or filed away, and when I don't have time to do it, I put it down on the desk.

Like much of my house, it also gathers dust.  So much dust.

Last night I discovered yet more hurricane damage.  The desk sits under a window, and that window had been shuttered during Hurricane Irma.  I assumed no water could get in, but over the past month, I've discovered otherwise.  The envelopes at the top of the desk looked rained on, for example, but I rarely use envelopes anymore, so I didn't discover this fact until mid-December.

As I sorted through piles last night, I realized that water had gotten into one of the piles.  It was dry on top, so I didn't think to look through the pile.  In my defense, there was lot to do in the days after the hurricane, and no power with which to see.

Now the surface of the desk has a few ripples.  I am feeling such guilt about that.  I get this beautiful furniture from my grandmother's estate, and I can't properly care for it. 

I also feel this sense of powerlessness--I can't keep anything safe.  I realize that safety has always been an illusion to a certain extent.

Last night was one of those times that I just felt despair:  like a failure at the basic tasks of adulthood (someone must do the dusting!) while also resentful that I felt like a failure at tasks that seem more like drudgery than something essential.  I also felt overwhelmed at all the wreckage that surrounds me still and the road back to "normal"-ish life seems so long.

And there's that knowledge that my post-hurricane life is so much easier than that faced by people to the south of me--so why am I blubbering like a big old baby?

Let me return to the roll top desk.  Let me think about the desk as a metaphor.  It's got some ripples in it, but it's still perfectly usable.  I don't like using it the way I've been using it, but it's not too late to change that.  I am in the process of rethinking this front bedroom which serves as my writing corner, the guest room, the overflow storage room--that's a good process, and I need to be gentle with myself while doing it.

The desk has some hurricane damage, but that gives it character.  In time, perhaps it won't even be noticeable.  I suspect the desk also has some damage from children, some damage from humid Southern summers in an age before air conditioning.  It can take the damage and still be its essential desk self.

It's been a good desk.  One reason why I wanted it so much is that I wrote my first decent short story at that desk, back in 1987.  It will continue to be a good desk.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Poetry Wednesday: "Basic Health for Everyday Life"

The news of the false missile warning in Hawaii took me back to my youth.  I remember a Health class in early high school that had a chapter on surviving a nuclear blast.  Even then, I remember thinking, really?  really?

Right now I'm working on a poem that imagines a blast site far away and the preparations that we would take on the southeast coast of Florida to protect against wind-borne radiation.  My favorite part so far involves moving the chickens into the front bedroom:  free range, but with a very limited range.

I'm thinking of a poem that I wrote long ago when I thought the cold war might really be over, in the early years of this century, when I thought I might have prepared for the wrong apocalypse.  But now I'm wishing I could remember more of what I once knew about how to protect against radiation. 

The basic lesson: if a blast happens, most of us won't be incinerated immediately, and we should stay put.  Don't go outside if a nuclear event is near or even far away.  If you go outside, take a shower.

Here's the poem, which first appeared in The North American Review.

Basic Health for Everyday Life

My tenth grade health book included three pages on surviving
a nuclear blast. There, amidst the basic first aid
instructions, the material on bacteria and viruses, in the midst
of a host of innocuous information, a picture of a mushroom
cloud, suggestions for preparation. When class bored
me, I flipped to that section and planned my defense.

It’s best to have a basement, but barring that, the book suggested
a linen closet or a bathroom. Shield the eyes. Don’t look
at the flash of light. As the book suggested, I stashed
canned food in the basement, hiding them under
a stack of old ragged beach towels. Decades later, what must
my parents have thought when they packed up the house?

My nightly nuclear nightmares recede to occasional visitations now,
but I still keep stockpiles of canned goods in a basement cupboard.
When shopping for a car, I consider the electromagnetic pulse
of the initial blast and wonder if the car’s ignition would survive.
Even today, the roar of a low flying jet sends
my hands to my eyes, even though I know the futility
of fingers as a shield against radiation.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Higher Ground

Last night we went out to dinner with a group of friends.  We all met each other through a variety of workplace constellations, which I won't go into here.  Even though we no longer work together, we still meet periodically for dinner.

And now, two of those friends are actively planning to move to higher ground.  They met each other through their work as actuaries, so they have more of an understanding of hazard and risk than most of us.  It was sobering to hear that they are actually likely to move.

Of course, there are other factors:  they'd like to be in a less populated place, close enough to a scenic downtown to walk.  They want to stay in Florida, in part because of the warm weather, in part because Florida has no state income tax.  They're looking at Mt. Dora; it's got all the pluses of a small town, but it's close to Orlando, which appeals because one of them needs to be near a major airport, and because his children and grandchildren love the theme parks.

We spent part of the night speculating about how long it will be before life in the southern tip of Florida becomes untenable--it will happen long before the ocean rises up to swallow the land.  One couple at our table had spent the month of December doing airport transport out of the Miami airport, and they used that opportunity to go over to South Beach.  They talked about the construction they had seen:  raising the roads and something that looked like a seawall.

That's all very well and good, but it will prove to be a temporary fix.  The ground in south Florida is very porous, so as the sea level rises, the water will rise up from the bottom.  We talked about the strains in infrastructure that we see coming, including how expensive it will become to get drinking water.

Long before that, I imagine that we won't be able to afford our property insurances.  Eventually, I predict that insurance won't be available at all.  But before that happens, middle class people like the educators we all are/were will be driven away.

It sounds like a gloomy dinner, doesn't it?  But it wasn't.  We were in a cozy Irish restaurant, with good food, good drinks, and good friends.  Our two friends are thinking of moving to a beautiful community.  We talked about the possibility of all of us moving.  They're thinking of buying land and building houses close to each other.

It's inspiring to be around people who have dreams about a better life and are making a map to get there.  And I'm intrigued by how they are creating community, albeit a small one, as they go along.

We left the restaurant to find that the evening had turned cool and rainy, almost like we had been transplanted to Ireland.  Part of me wanted to go back into the restaurant and enjoy one more nightcap while gazing at the rain.  I thought that it was interesting that I have disdain for theme parks that try to offer alternate realities, but I'm happy to pay for a restaurant that does the same thing.

We came home, changed into our jammies, and went straight to bed.  But I'm sure I'll be spending some time this morning thinking about how many people are actively planning to leave this  unstable shelf by a southern sea.

Monday, January 15, 2018

Learning to Dream Again

I confess that I have often approached Martin Luther King day as a celebration of how far we've come--and let us take a moment to remember how far we really have come, and in a relatively short time.  For example, when I took a summer job in 1985 at a D.C. office of Lutheran Social Services, I met a black woman who was old enough to have experienced Jim Crow laws and how they impacted travel by car just 25 years earlier.

And now, same gender couples can get married.

Some of us are worried about the erosion of Civil Rights.  We tell ourselves that once rights are given they can't be taken away, but you don't have to do too much digging in history to realize that statement is not true.

Some of us are frustrated that the rest of us never realized how much was left to be done.  That's fair.  But now it must be clear to us all.

So on this day that honors one of our Civil Rights leaders, let us take some time to think about the work left to do and how we might be part of it:

--We can shake the despair we might have been feeling in the past.  Let us dream boldly again.  If any society was possible, what elements would we want to have as part of that society?

--We can use our art, whatever those talents might be, to share that vision with others.

--We can use the old tools of writing letters to lawmakers, organizing, marching, and teaching to dismantle the structures that oppress.

--We can learn to use the new tools of social media--those are the tools that taught many of us how much work is left to be done.

--If we're spiritual/religious people, we can pray that our vision of a better future will come to pass.  We can ask for Divine help.

--We can remember that much of the work of social justice is not the type that will get us a holiday in our honor.  In fact, those Civil Rights workers, including King, did that kind of work for years and decades before breakthroughs happened.  We can do the work of making the sandwiches, running the childcare centers, working with disadvantaged students, listening to the dispossessed in our own communities.

There's plenty of work to do and a wide variety of ways to do it.  That's both a frustration and a blessing.  There's room for each of us, although the work we do may feel very piddly.

We can't always know that progress is being made when we work for social justice.  We proceed in faith, trusting that our work will not be done in vain.  Perhaps that's true of any big project:  books that we write, children that we raise, students that we educate, long-term relationships of all kinds.

Today is a good day to take some time to envision a better future, for ourselves, for our children, for future generations who will marvel at what's been done.  What dreams do we have?  If we believed that anything was possible, what would we want to see?  

Let us do what can be the hardest work of all--to believe that anything is possible.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Installation Art in the Sanctuary

One of the things I love about my church is that we're willing to think about art in the worship space beyond the traditional paraments, banners, music, and flowers.  Most churches do this kind of experimenting periodically, most notably during Advent/Christmas and Easter.  We go further.

My pastor is on sabbatical, so he asked me if I'd come up with something for the baptism of our Lord.  I said sure.  I immediately thought of the glowing elements that we added to a baptismal font at the 2014 Create in Me retreat:

I won't be adding glowing elements or even the twinkly lights that first came to my mind.  I'm taking a variety of other elements to church with me.

I have a variety of blue fabric and sparkly fabric.  I have some wired ribbon, blue ribbon that I got for dirt cheap at an after-holiday sale at JoAnn Fabric.  I have some other ribbons too.  I have a variety of boxes so that I can do something with varying heights.  I've got some pieces of coral.

I have a vision of creating a river of fabric and ribbons.  I want to create a sense of cascading water.  I want to add the words of God about being well pleased.

Of course I will take pictures--stay tuned!

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Language, Presidential and Otherwise

Every time President Trump says something offensive or outrageous or so, so wrong, I wrestle with whether or not to say anything.  Thursday's comment about immigration and who we admit and who we don't--and the profanity about some of the nations--well, I just don't know what to say.  Actually, I have a lot to say, but I'm not sure it's wise.

So I decided to write this post on my theology blog.  You will probably not be surprised to find out that I am plunged into despair by Donald Trump's language.

As with most other adults, I have absolutely no control over Donald Trump--and even less so with this President, since he is unlikely to care what I think about his language and actions.  So what's an artist to do?

I wrote 2 poems this morning, neither of which had anything to do with Donald Trump.  And I started thinking about how much I would produce in a year if I created a poem every time this president does something or says something that I see as problematic.  Some weeks, I'd be writing every day, multiple times a day.

I am torn over how to respond to national politics.  In my younger years, I'd have sworn that writing to our politicians could make a difference.  In my younger years, I might have plotted how I might could run for office.  Throughout my life I've given money to people who have the time and energy to do the tasks I cannot do when it comes to social justice.  I've marched, I've organized, I've thought about trying to live below the economic line which would mean that I wouldn't pay taxes so that my earnings wouldn't go to pay for nuclear weapons and other national programs that I thought were toxic.  Throughout my life, I've seen my teaching as a site of resistance.

I am 52 years old, and I know that some of those actions seem to have worked, some have worked for a time, some have yet to work, some may never work.  The act of creating a better world may take longer than I anticipated.

I've said it before, but it's worth repeating: we cannot know which work is going to be most important, which is what makes the work so frustrating. That e-mail that seems unimportant today . . . will likely be unimportant hundreds of years from now, but who knows. The poem that seems strange and bizarre and something that must be hidden from one's grandmother may turn out to be the poem that touches the most readers. Being kind to one's coworkers who cluck and fuss and flutter about matters that seem so terribly unimportant is no small accomplishment either.

We can't know how long the struggle for justice might be. Those of us who work towards social justice and human dignity for all are similar to those medieval builders of cathedral: we may not be around to see the magnificent completion of our vision, but it's important to play our part. In the words of that old Gospel song, we keep our eyes on the prize, our hands on the plow, and hold on.

And it's important to remember that our art can be part of that.  Our art can illuminate and perhaps change hearts and minds.  And even if it doesn't, it can keep our creative hearts soft and open. And that's no small thing these days.

Friday, January 12, 2018

Windows on Work

It has seemed like an extraordinarily long week, which is not a surprise.  Between Thanksgiving and the first week of January, I didn't work a full week, although some of those weeks didn't include full days off.  Still, December just had a different feel.

It's been a good week, however.  All of our new students have reported for class--hurrah.  We've had a strong Winter 2018 quarter start.

As I look back, I realize that three weeks ago we'd be getting ready to head to the Miami airport for our trip to San Diego.  I've never seen that airport so busy.  I've never seen security lines that long in any airport ever--and we were there by 7:15 in the morning.

Here is one of my favorite pictures from the trip. 

My dad, sister, and I are waiting for my nephew who is in a shop that sells the widest variety of root beer I've ever seen.  We had just come from a great Mexican meal, where I shared a margarita with my mom, something we never do:

I think of the office building that we could see from our hotel window.  We knew it would be vacant during the holiday week-end, yet every light was on. 

I wonder what it looks like with everyone returned to work.  I wonder if they look out their windows and wonder about the people who are at the hotel on vacation.

My office window has a generous view of the sky, so it's fine with me that we're not in some glamorous location.  And on weeks like these, where I need to be at work for long hours to make sure that all goes smoothly during week 1, I'm grateful for the view from my window.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Time Management 2018

Last night I returned home after a delightful dinner with my Hindu writer friend. Even though we're both a bit run down from work and from illness, it's good to be together.

It was fairly late for me when I got home at 8:00, only about an hour or so before my regular bedtime.  After I got my gym bag together for morning and put my work clothes away, even less time remained. 

I reached for the remote, my usual habit, even when my spouse is gone.  But then I thought about this post of Kelli's and decided to reach for a book instead.  I had planned to read Lucia Berlin's A Manual for Cleaning Ladies next, but it didn't really appeal to me the way I had anticipated.  So I read the title story and moved along.

In honor of Kelli, who had inspired me to read instead of watching TV, I reread her book of poems, Letters from the Emily Dickinson Room--it was more of a treat than any TV show could ever be.  And thus, fully nourished, I went to bed and drifted off to a peaceful sleep.

I recently finished Laura Vanderkam's I Know How She Does It, a time management book that explores the lives of working women earning $100,000 a year with at least one child under 18 living at home.  Vanderkam had women keep time logs divided into 168 hours that we each have in any given week.  Thus, she got some interesting insights and a more honest accounting of how we spend our lives.  I found that her insights are probably valid for many of us, even if we're not in that higher earning group or have no children.  So, below I'll use the pronoun "us," even if we're not all part of the sample.  I don't earn that much from my primary job or have children, but found the insights useful.

She found that most of us aren't consistently working the hours that we would self-report.  Most of us work 45-50 hours a week, not the 60-70 that we might report.  And many of us have more flexibility during the work day than we might think.  Again and again the book reminds us not to fritter away the kinds of time that I had last night--a stray 45 minutes here and there can really add up to more fulfillment in a week.

I'm already doing that, when I'm making conscious choices.  The trick will be to maintain that conscious state more often--I suspect it's going to be a life long mission, at least as long as I am working full-time.

Here's the one other take-away I want to remember. Vanderkam encourages us not to worry about cleaning up our e-mail inboxes.  I currently have no e-mail system that requires me to do that.  At my last job, we could only get to a certain point before we had to weed and refile.

I feel this enormous guilt about the huge amount of e-mails that I haven't dealt with in all of my inboxes.  I answer the ones that need answering right away, and the ones with important information that I know I need I put in my electronic files.  That still leaves lots of e-mails which might be important or might not.  I'm not like my spouse who deletes fiercely each time he reads e-mails.  But I also get more e-mails than he does.

What would happen if we just accepted the pile of e-mails and didn't fret?  I plan to find out.

And now, it's time to head for spin class.  We're in a month of additional spin classes, so I'm spinning every weekday morning now.  It will be interesting to see how I feel at the end of the month.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Oprah, the Last Jedi

I confess that I did not stay up to watch the Golden Globe Award show; I never watch those shows unless someone who is staying with me wants to see them.  Thus, I did not see Oprah's speech.  I haven't read it, but I've heard/read snippets.

It was inspiring, as I expected.  She's always had a great way of connecting with those of us who aren't super wealthy, of reminding us that she comes from very meager beginnings.

I think we're losing sight of how many of us came from very meager beginnings, if you go back a generation or two or three.  But that doesn't detract from Oprah's speechmaking skills.  Lots of people from meager backgrounds don't make the most of their opportunities and certainly can't speak about it as powerfully as Oprah does.

Lots of people have been taking up a lot of time by discussing whether or not she should run for president.  We can genuinely say that we've seen worse candidates.  But would she be best?

I think her powers of inspiration could be important.  I'd like a candidate devoted to calling us all to live our best lives.  Would she have the legislative capability to put programs and money in place to help us do that?  She might.

I've been thinking a lot about politics and about our desire for a messiah in that arena, someone who can swoop in and fix things.  Anyone who has been in a leadership position of any kind knows it's not that easy.  Some days we're lucky, and the ideas we offer are accepted with enthusiasm--and they work.  Other days we spend time redoing work we thought was finished months ago; if we're lucky, we do the work with grace and with better results.

I keep thinking of movies and the stories they tell us about ourselves.  I saw  The Last Jedi less than 24 hours after Christmas Eve service and after an Advent month of longing--and after a political season that has included shifts I never would have forecast or believed.  I spent a lot of time thinking about what kind of theology the movie presents.  It's an interesting blend of ancient religions and modern spirituality, as always.  I don't believe that the movie tells us that the destiny of humans is pre-ordained--and how interesting that twist is to me.

I love the message of the movie, at least the take-away message for me:  we don't fight evil by adopting the tools of the evil regime, we fight evil by saving what we love.  A parallel message is that we don't have to be part of a spiritual dynasty to join the fight for the future--the Force is available to us all.

I thought of our cultural desire for a Messiah, for someone who will save us.  But we're often doomed by our insistence on being the Messiah--it was interesting to watch this movie with the words of John the Baptist ringing in my head:  "I am not the Messiah."  I'm still thinking about these parallel ideas--how to respond to a world with so much need for a Messiah?  We can't be the Messiah, but people need more than just the promise that a Messiah will come.  I worry that I'm transposing my theological ideas on the movie, but here it is:  the Force (which I've always understood to be God) operates much more effectively in the world when there are spiritually attuned people to help.  Those light sabers and rocks won't move themselves. 

The idea that the Force can be used for good or for evil (or for profoundly mixed motives) isn't one that Christianity traditionally presents to believers, but it makes sense to me.  I don't see God as a parent, but as a partner, albeit a partner who knows more and has more resources than I do.

Our political lives would be very different if we saw our politicians in the same way, if we stopped waiting for someone to save us and instead saw opportunities to start creating the world where we want to live, if we did that hard and consistent work ourselves.

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

What Term Is It?

Yesterday I discovered that I made a HUGE mistake as an online teacher.  I keep telling myself that it could have been worse.

I thought I had accepted a schedule of 2 English 1101 classes, both 6 week sessions on either side of the semester, plus a 12 week Short Story class.  So I made out the syllabus for the class that started yesterday, having it end in March.  I got an e-mail from a student and then another one who wanted to know why I had the class ending in March, when it ends in May.

I was about to fire off a dismissive e-mail, when I thought to go to another site to check the schedule.  And sure enough, it appears that my 6 week class is now a full semester class.  Was it changed at some point?  That's possible.  It's also possible that it was always a January to May class, and I should have checked.

I won't make that mistake again.

As mistakes go, it could have been worse.  I'd much prefer to learn that I have an expanded schedule than to think I signed up for a full semester course only to have it be a compressed one.  I do need to rethink every single due date and to re-enter all that information, which will be a huge annoyance.  But once I get it done, there will be some benefits.

The main benefit will be that for the next 8 weeks, I, too, will have a more leisurely schedule.  I think that the 1101 students do better on a compressed schedule, but it's a compressed schedule for me too.  Now I will have time for other projects.  I've made good progress on sorting the books.  I want to continue doing that.

I also want to keep going with my short story project.  I want to determine if I am close to being done with a collection or if I need to keep going.  At first, I had a vision of including stories from many voices in the school that's the connecting point of the stories:  a custodian, a food service person, the building itself.  But now I'm not sure it makes sense.  I gave up on the idea of the building--I condensed that story idea into a paragraph at the end of the story that I wrote this fall, based on Tim O'Brien's "The Things They Carried."

I'm surprised at the sense of shame I feel over my mistake.  I keep telling myself that there are much worse mistakes I could have made, like not turning grades in on time.  I could have not realized that I screwed up until I went to turn in grades in March, only to realize that I had more time than I thought--although that wouldn't have been possible, since I'd discover it when I went to do attendance verification.

So, let me continue to focus on the wins of yesterday--an evening student who gave me a high five because she was so excited to start her school career, a student who asked me for a letter of recommendation so that she could apply for a job as a grief counselor, a good start overall to the various school starts of yesterday.

Monday, January 8, 2018

A Return to Sensible Living

This is the odd time in the academic calendar:  almost every college and university in our 3 county area will begin class today, unlike say, the fall or summer start.  The U.S. House and Senate return to work today, and I'm guessing that many statehouses swing into session too.

Even if we went back to work last week, this week is the first full work week for many of us in many weeks.  And even if we haven't had time off for the December holidays, the festive atmosphere is likely gone by now.

Some of us will sit quietly and stare at all the e-mails that have been waiting for us.  Some of us will care for the loved ones of others who need to get back to regular life and regular work.

Some of us will be happy--having a regular schedule keeps our moods more regular and makes it easier to eat in a more healthy way and to get some exercise.  Some of us will be sad--some of us won't have much in the way of time off for the next few months.

Some of us are grateful to have jobs, and some of us wish we had other jobs.  Let us not forget those wishing that they had any kind of work at all.

I spent the week-end getting the house cleaned up and putting away the Christmas decorations.  I didn't put out all of our decorations, so that part of my cleaning up task was easy--but also difficult because I really like the twinkling lights to brighten the winter darkness.

Luckily, I got some cool lights for a Christmas present.  They're tiny LED lights on a wire strand.  The off-on switch is in the shape of a wine cork, so you can put the wire down in an empty wine bottle or on the outside.  I'm looking forward to experimenting.

So, even though it's back to work and back to more sensible living, I'll stash some Epiphany bread in my lunch bag to go with the plain porridge I plan to eat.  Here's hoping that we all have a good first non-holiday week of 2018, a week full of both the sensible and the sweet.

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Non-Traditional Creative Saturday

We decided not only not to go to church today, but also to move our family gathering from today to 2 weeks from today.  If we're not going to expose the church to germs, why expose the family?  But more to the point, my spouse had this vision of a feast he wanted to create, and because of his cold, he didn't have the energy to get the food, prepare the food, and so on.

He spent much of yesterday sleeping, which freed up some time.  Ordinarily, we'd be running errands, doing house chores, and/or socializing.  However, because he was napping, I didn't feel like I could do deep work, like writing, because I thought he might wake up at any moment and want to do errands or do something fun or watch a movie.

So I did creative work that could be easily interrupted and then either returned to or abandoned. 

First, I made some epiphany bread, the most creative thing I did all day.  I had some leftover ingredients from December's cookie baking:  all sorts of nuts, dried ginger, and dried lemon and orange slices (how I love Trader Joe's).  I had an idea of the bread I wanted, and it changed as I went along.  At first, I thought I'd have layers of my homemade almond paste, and then I decided to make a pan of rolls:

Those are labor intensive, and so, I also made loaves.  As you can see, I also took photos.  I love the way the sun shines on the rolls, and the green grass in the background.  If I saw this picture in a magazine, I'd want to bake the recipe.

I also made progress on the project I started on Friday night:  to combine the fiction and poetry bookcases and to sort through the poetry volumes.  I got all the poetry volumes sorted into ones to keep, and bags of books to go to the library.  I've gotten a lot of poetry books because they got good reviews or because I wanted to support the poet at a reading.  Some I don't even remember getting.  Some I got on a good sale.  One of our former school librarians moved to Maine and gave me a lot of her poetry books, which I was happy to get at the time, but most of them did not turn out to be important to me.

I was amazed and delighted to find how many I wanted to keep, but even so, I took 5 paper bags of books to the public library.  I handed the first bag to the library worker, and I said, "I've mostly got poetry volumes here." 

He said, "Oh, good."  He was serious, and that made me happy.

I'm not sure what mood has struck me, but I also did some deep cleaning.  I'm not the kind of person who moves the furniture to clean.  I vacuum the pathways where we walk, and I keep the dishes clean, so the house gradually becomes grungier.  And I still rarely move the furniture. 
Yesterday, I moved a lot of the furniture in the bedroom. During one of my spouse's awake times, he oiled the furniture.
I think of how much of our furniture comes from a generation of women who would have moved the furniture much more regularly than I do, and would have oiled the wooden furniture at least once a month.  I remind myself that those women did not work outside the home.  I would have a much different home, if I didn't work for pay, and if I needed to keep a tidy house to prove my existence.
I don't usually think of cleaning as creative work, but it can have some of the satisfactions of a creative pursuit:  creating something new out of what was there before, a satisfaction that comes from doing something with my own hands.
Today I'll finish putting things back, doing a load of laundry with all the old towels I used for cleaning, I'll do a quick vacuum to capture all the dirt I haven't already captured.  In short, I'll get ready for the week to come.
I'm glad I'm not teaching onground this term.  I would not be able to do the kind of talking in the coming week that onground teaching requires.

Saturday, January 6, 2018

Baking Epiphanies

Today is the last day of Christmas, the Feast of the Epiphany, which celebrates the visit of the wise men to Jesus.  For more on the theology of it all, see this post on my theology blog.  I thought I might get up and make some sort of bread, but I am short on flour, so I'm waiting a bit.

I bought all sorts of cookie ingredients a month ago that I still have, but I'm short on flour.  Sigh.

I would like to have a meditative Epiphany, but that's not likely.  We have some family members coming tomorrow, so we need to do some shopping, some clean up, some food prep--and we're both fighting colds, so there's that to navigate.

Last night, I started on my project to combine the fiction and poetry bookcases and to sort through the poetry volumes.  I am amazed at how many volumes I have.  I said to my spouse, "I am feeling two states that cannot exist simultaneously.  I am surprised at how many volumes I have that I want to keep, and I am surprised at how many I have that I simply do not care about."

Several hours later:  I decided to go to the WalMart Neighborhood Market, the minute it opened, which I did.  Of course, I forgot the cold medicine:  luckily, I was still in the car in the parking lot when I remembered.  So I reparked the car, went inside, and got the cold medicine. 

As I walked to the car, I noticed something like snow behind my car.  So I was not surprised to get home to find that the bag of sugar had left a small sugar drift in the back.  Happily, it was a fairly easy clean up.

So, we have some cold medicine and some firewood (which ripped the sugar bag) for this chilly day.  I also got flour, so I have the first and last batch of Christmas bread dough rising.  I decided to make a variation of the Day of the Dead bread recipe which you'll find in this blog post if you scroll down.  I decided to use some of the ingredients that I bought and didn't use for cookie baking:  dried sweetened orange slices which I chopped in the food processor, and almonds, which I also ground with sugar in the food processor to make a filling.

As I used the food processor, I thought about the fact that it was a Christmas present from my parents in 1987.  I had been hoping for a VCR, and I had trouble hiding my disappointment.  But the Cuisinart has outlast any VCR we've had, along with a DVD player or two.  Most months, I use it more than I use the computer to view entertainment.

I've never used it to knead bread dough.  I bake in much bigger quantities--plus, I really like getting my hands in the dough.  I should do it more often.

As I was paging through recipes last night (after the book sorting), it was interesting to see the ads from those Bon Appetit pages of many years ago (the early 80's).  I thought of my undergraduate years when I had no access to a kitchen and yearned to bake.

I am still always happy when creating yeasted dough, although these days it's more often for pizza than for traditional breads.  It's time to return to my bread dough--and I mean that in more ways than one!

An epiphany for Epiphany.

Friday, January 5, 2018

Work Week Gratitudes: No Poop!

Yesterday was a fairly quiet day, nestled between two days that will take more energy--on Wednesday, we had our New Student Orientation, and today, we have a Faculty Development Day.  Unlike other places I've worked, we only offer one session, so the day won't require as much energy as other years. 

Part of today will be led by Career Services, as we are discussing soft skills and all the ways we can get students prepared to go on the job market.  We will brainstorm ways that we might include these in our classes.  For example, I might require students to write a thank you note in response to teacher-student conferences.

Some traditionalists might protest that teaching soft skills is not their job as faculty.  But our school is below benchmark on career placement, so we need to show that we are trying to remediate that situation.  If we can't get our numbers up, those traditionalists might not have a job at my campus, depending on how severe our problem turns out to be.

And I might argue that those soft skills are more important than some of the skills a traditionalist might include.  Most students aren't going to have to write a research 5-10 page essay in their work lives.  But most will have to write e-mails or other communications that give information in clear and concise ways.  Most will have to keep records and other types of documentation.

Yesterday, I headed out to do the shopping to prepare for our Faculty Development Day.  We are lucky:  we can still afford to buy lunch for the event, and so I needed to have some paper goods.  I also got items for the quarter for various people on campus.  It's not glamorous stuff:  bleach, wipes, storage bins, that kind of stuff.

It made me inordinately happy that I was able to find everything on the list.

In the afternoon, I turned to an aspect of my job that's a bit more drudgery:   uploading contracts and filling the exact same information that's on the contract into a spreadsheet/log so that the HR person can then upload/enter that same information into our payment software.  It's not unpleasant, exactly, but a process that could be streamlined, if we were so inclined.  And it involves lots of paper and scanning.

At least it doesn't involve poop.  Let me explain.

After work, we went to the house of neighborhood friends for wine and cheese.  I offered this greeting:  "Don't hug us.  We're both fighting off colds.  It occurs to me that I should have let you know, so that you could have decided in advance that you didn't want to be exposed to our germs."

Our psychologist friend said, "I spent my work day stepping around poop on the floor, so your cold germs are the least of my worries of disease exposure."  She'd spent her work day at the low budget institution where one of the Medicaid clients sometimes acts out by pooping on the floor.  At least my work day doesn't involve human poop.

I feel fortunate that I have that sort of workplace.  I'm dealing with disadvantaged clients of a different sort, but my skill levels are better suited to teaching than counseling--and to the facilitating of good teaching.

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Snow Day Envy

We have awakened to very chilly temperatures down here:  somewhere in the 40's, the radio tells me.  Those of you further to the north and snort, "Amateurs!"  All yesterday afternoon, I saw Facebook posts from friends in coastal areas that usually get no snow, like the 5 inches that fell on Charleston, SC.  I'm feeling a bit jealous, even as I don't want the huge dump of snow that's coming to the states in New England.

I'd like a snow day--I've been having a good writing morning.  I've been working on the short story that I began in the summer, about a woman who teaches Animation at a for-profit art school who starts having dreams where God is speaking to her.  But God doesn't look like we'd expect--God is some sort of quilter, but in a frumpy, middle-aged white woman kind of way, not a wise-elder, African American kind of way.  God tells her to repair the frayed fabric, and the main character isn't be sure of what to do exactly.

When I first started writing the story, I had no idea where it would go.  After my summer trip to Mepkin Abbey, I had the animator join her friend there.  She has a vision of the spirit of Harriet Tubman, who may have arrived to help teens save the world--or has she come back to destroy the world?  The animator and her friend create a film but can't figure out the ending.

Now I'm at the end of the story--I think.  The faculty member has received a letter by registered mail that tells her she must come to a meeting with a corporate higher-up.  As she thinks about what this might mean, she figures out how to end the film.

So it would be nice to have a snow day to keep working.  But maybe it's good that I don't--I'm still not sure how to end the story.

So off I will go to school.  It should be a fairly low-key day, sandwiched between 2 high energy days (New Student Orientation last night, Faculty Development session tomorrow).  The only unusual item on my schedule is some shopping to restock supplies:  paper products, bleach, that kind of non-glamorous stuff.   Not as much fun as shopping for food for an open house, but necessary.

And while I go about the tasks of my day, my subconscious will be working on that ending!

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

To Begin Again

Today will be my long day at work; we have New Student Orientation tonight.  I love students at this stage:  the hope, the optimism, the determination.  I wonder what happens to make it all evaporate/drain away steadily?

It's probably the same story for them as it is for most of us:  a combination of daily life challenges combined with a setback that derails us.

Perhaps a more interesting question:  what makes some of us return, often again and again, with hope, optimism, and determination, to an arena where we've failed before?

I've been intrigued by the many poets who are committed to returning to blogging this year; many of them once had regular blogs which made me yearn to be a blogger.  Here's hoping for lots more blog posts to read in 2018!  I've always found it very inspiring.

At one point during our trip, I thought about my longer poem that was inspired by our last trip to Southern California.  It's composed of 3 poems that are thematically linked with a prose poem between each of them.  I've wondered if I should force myself to try writing longer work, to go deeper.  Or perhaps I should experiment with linking more of my poems into something longer.

I'd like to get back to writing at least one poem every week.  I've got that rusty feeling that comes from being away from the writing desk too long.  Let me record some ideas that might become poems later this week:

--I never did write the poem about Jesus getting a dog.

--One of our planes was a 777, with an amazing first class section, with seats that could recline into beds.  I'd requested a cheese platter as my lunch, which would have impressed me more, if I hadn't had a super-duper amazing cheese platter at a wine bar the previous night.

--When I thought about going to San Diego, I had planned to go to the bar that was in the ritzy hotel where we spent the first part of our trip.  I wanted to try some craft cocktails.  It sounds so lovely, doesn't it?  Craft cocktail.  But when I read the descriptions, I thought, "These might be lovely.  On the other hand, these aren't flavors that I think of as going together."  I stuck with red wine.

What does that say about me, that I want to be a woman who drinks craft cocktails, but I'm happier with cheapish red wine?

Every night, the ritzy hotel set out a hot chocolate bar in the lobby--completely free, with all sorts of toppings.  Do I want to work in that detail?

--I keep thinking about all the homeless people who are so evident in San Diego.  I think about the tent cities in parking lots that I saw out of the trolley on our way to Old Town.  I think about walking back to the swanky hotel after the Christmas Eve church service.  We saw people sleeping on the ground, and I thought about the Gospel and what it means when there's no room at the inn.  On every block, people settled down to sleep on sidewalks and huddled beside buildings as Christmas Eve moved to Christmas morning.  Would those juxtapositions make for good poetry?

Speaking of beginning again, it's time to get to spin class.  Time to get back to more rigorous exercise!

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

A Christmas Trip to San Diego

We spent much of the last day of 2017 traveling back from San Diego--but unlike previous airline trips across the continent, we traveled in the comfort and luxury of first class--it will be hard to fly any other way from now on.

I went to San Diego as one of our big family vacations.  We had planned to go to St. Thomas, but the hurricane season made those plans impossible--and because of the lateness of the destruction, choosing another destination-vacation site was not possible.  My dad thought that San Diego would appeal to all of us, so off we went.

Overall, it was a good vacation.  Instead of going through the 10 days one by one, let me make some lists:

The Good Aspects:

--It's always interesting to me to explore a different part of the world.  I realized that my K-12 history classes/lessons spent about 3 sentences on west coast history, while spending the majority of the time on colonial-nineteenth century U.S. east coast history.  We went to the Old Town historic area, which was interesting, but not specific enough for me.  When you've seen one historic tavern in one part of the country, you've sort of seen them all; the stable area, on the other hand, was more California specific.  I came home with questions about the first explorations by the Spanish that I'll spend some time researching--and to be fair, we never made it to the park which might have answered those questions for me.

--Similarly, it's fascinating to travel to a different coastline.  We went to La Jolla, where we saw many of these creatures (the sea lion is to the left of the human):

We took a harbor cruise that ended with a glorious sunset--a wonderful way to see the coast.

--We had other activities that were fun, like our trek to the Gaslamp district on Christmas Day to see The Last Jedi.  For more on Christmas Eve service and the movie, see this post on my theology blog.

--We enjoyed many great meals.

--I had time to read big books.  I began by reading Kim Stanley Robinson's New York 2140.  It was interesting to read Robinson's take on sea level rise and future urban life in a high rise building near the ocean.  I read Paul Auster's 4 3 2 1, an interesting exploration of the many ways that human lives can start from the same point and diverge greatly.  I finished Arthur Herman's 1917: Lenin, Wilson, and the Birth of the New World Order.  On the plane back, I read Lauren Grodstein's Our Short History; I loved her earlier books, and this one didn't disappoint.

The Less Good Aspects:

--Some of us fought a cold for part of the time.  My spouse seems to be fighting it off now.

--I packed wrong, just the way I did the last time we traveled to California.  I'd have liked to have warmer clothes with me.

--As always, there was too much to do and not enough time to do it all--it's a nice problem to have.

And now it is time to return to regular life--time to get ready for work.