Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Monetizing Our Efforts

Yesterday the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce offered a workshop on using Facebook advertising to boost one's business.  I went because it was free and because it might have offered a nugget or two.

I don't have the freedom to do much of what the presenter suggested, but it's interesting to know how internet marketing works these days--at least as it pertains to Facebook.  If you've wondered whether or not ads are targeting you because they know you, you've probably already figured out the answer--they are.

I wish there was a way that I could respond to say, "Yes, I looked at these suitcases and more than once.  Yes, I already bought them.  Please stop sending me these ads that make me sad that I no longer have a vacation to look forward to."  Our session yesterday did not cover that subject.

Our presenter kept telling us that we had to think like an online marketer.  That thinking required lots of actions, of course.  I continue to be amazed at what we're all expected to do these days.  Some of the people at the workshop were there because they're in fields where they might have known they would be expected to do a variety of marketing, like the woman who makes jewelry.  But the dentist?  He not only has to clean teeth but figure out an online marketing plan?

Some of the approaches seemed downright onerous, like the advice that a realtor interview the principal of every school in a district where they represented houses and offer that information on a website that would then convince people to hire them for their real estate expertise.

I came home and put the finishing touches on the article on female medieval mystics that's due today.  I did some grading for my online class.  I did not figure out ways to monetize this blog.  I did not create a Facebook page that will declare my skills and services as a writer.

While I am glad that I went to the workshop, it's not what brought me the most joy yesterday.  What did?  I spent time in the parking garage taking pictures that will eventually make their way to Facebook.  Our EMS students were working their way through a simulation:  a car wreck with a dead person in the front seat and an injured person (the medical mannequin) in the back seat. As with more traditional classes, I was impressed with the way that the instructors made complicated concepts accessible to the students.  I was impressed with the creativity of the class.  Several times yesterday, I realized once again how lucky I am to be here at this school, at this particular moment.

I'll leave it up to the more talented people hired by the school to figure out how to monetize the pictures that I send them for the Facebook site.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

AWP 2018

Yesterday, I got the e-mail from the AWP with reminders about registration.  I printed it out so I could take it with me.  And then,  I made myself look at every day of the schedule.  It was overwhelming, so I did it in small parts throughout the day.

I'm still overwhelmed, so I won't write much about what I noticed.  I won't wade into the possible politics of what gets chosen from the submissions.  There's a wide representation of a wide spectrum of writers and our world.

Here's what I'd like to have seen more of:  how our spiritual lives intersect with writing.  I notice only 2 sessions.  It's possible that there are a few more, but as a minority group, spiritual writers are definitely not represented by as many sessions as other minorities, like for example LBTGQA writers or writers of color.  Again, I'm not complaining or whining, just observing.

I also realize that the amount of submissions from writers of faith exploring faith and writing were probably far less than submissions from LTBGQA writers or writers of color. 

I only saw one session about writers who have day jobs outside of academia or other fields in which writers traditionally find themselves and how this feeds their writing.  Other sessions may be tangentially related, like the one about community college and the one about college teachers who are transitioning to be high school teachers.

So let me note my yearning, which may be mine alone:  I'd love a session where people who are in academia, but very different forms of academia (the career college, the for-profit college, medical schools), forms of academia that don't have much to do with creative writing at all.  I'd love a session where deans and department heads, those with administrative duties, talk about how to manage those duties while still having a creative life.  I've been both a teacher and an administrator and while there are similarities between the 2 jobs when it comes to maintaining the job and the writing life, there are also vast differences.

I realize that a lack of this kind of session might mean that I might have a better chance of it being accepted, if I put it together.  Every year I have more ideas than I have time to pull together.  I hesitate to put together a panel, since so much can change between the panel submission deadline and the actual conference.

So, for now, let me enjoy a conference that's within driving distance to me.  Let me enjoy a conference where I don't have to present.  Let me enjoy the plethora of sessions--while also being grateful for a few slots where nothing appeals, and I'll have time to recharge.

Monday, February 26, 2018

What Play Captures Modern Life?

I have been thinking about big blockbuster shows, especially the kind of show that tells us something about the times we live in.  Did Wicked do that?   It's got some interesting political undertones, but they're very subtle.  Are we living in Oz?  Perhaps.

I had big blockbuster shows on the brain before I went to Wicked, in part because I heard an episode of 1A which was mainly about the original production of Angels in America, but they briefly mentioned the revival. As I recall the show, it would probably still have plenty to say to those of us in 2018, even though it's set in the mid 1980's.

And then I started thinking about plays and a play that had something important to say about what's happening in the U.S. today--what would it cover?  With the current political events, our minds might go right to gun control.  My brain goes to sea level rise and habitat loss and the variety of animals going extinct every day.  My brain does not immediately see a play, although I do see a fabulous potential for costumes.

I remember reading some of the best plays of the 80's and 90's when they were anthologized in the English 102 textbooks I was using:  Fences and M. Butterfly.  I was talking about M. Butterfly and the wonderful conversations about gender that the play prompted.  One of my friend/colleagues asked if I had read Angels in America, and said that I must.  So I did.

And when I saw that the show was coming to the Kennedy Center in D.C., I knew we must see it--and so we did.  And we went back a month later to see the second half.  What would it be like to see the whole thing at once?  It was amazing to see both halves very close together.

I wonder what plays are anthologized today?  It's been a long time since I looked at a variety of textbooks to see. 

Time to start moving--spin class awaits.

Sunday, February 25, 2018

The Blockbuster Show

After my group of friends had such a good time going to see Something Rotten, we looked at the 2017-2018 theatre series and decided to see Wicked.  Like Rent, I had been excited about the show when it first came out, but hadn't gotten around to seeing it.  I worried that yesterday's experience of seeing Wicked might disappoint me in the same way that Rent did, but I needn't have worried.  Yesterday's show restored my faith in theatre--or more accurately, renewed my faith in theatre, since I never really lost that faith.

I had been feeling grumpy about going.  We've gotten a bit overextended in our social engagements, as we are wont to do in our attempt to avoid becoming recluses, and part of me just wanted to laze about the house.  It's the height of the tourist season and traffic in Ft. Lauderdale has becoming maddening.  There were many reasons I felt whiney.

But we paid big bucks (for us) for the tickets, and we didn't really have a valid reason for not going, so off we went.  I sat down in the theatre, saw the elaborate set with the dragon at the top of the stage, and I said, "Ah, yes, I remember why we do this."

The show is completely sold out, as is Hamilton, which will come in December.  We talked about whether or not we could ever afford Hamilton, as the tickets start at $200.  But if we started saving now, that would only be $20 a month, I pointed out.  We agreed it would be worth it--but we likely won't be able to get tickets--although, who knows?

I am so happy that people are still going to theatre, although I realize that the success of the blockbuster shows means that some of the more avant garde shows won't be produced or if they're produced, they won't be seen by many.  But that's always been the case.  I do think that the blockbuster show is a great way to introduce people to the concept of theatre.  I do think it's like the blockbuster book, keeping the publishing industry afloat for all of us.

I loved the set--thrilling!  The costumes were gorgeous, and I was impressed with how they took the sprawling book and made a manageable plot.  I didn't remember much of  the book--it's been almost 20 years since I read it--but I did remember its scope.

I was glad that the music wasn't overwhelming in terms of what I've come to call full-throated singing, the kind of belting out of a song that makes me want to plug my ears.  Yesterday's music was not that way--in fact, I often had some trouble making out the lyrics (my complaint with Rent).  I did find my eyes going to the Open Captioning, which helped. 

Note to self:  when going to see these shows, get the recording in advance. 

I loved the ways that the show used the movie and the books as reference points--so inventive!  I loved the various twists.  I loved the how exhilarated the show made me feel.

I hadn't realized how many groupies the show has.  It was clear that some of the audience came to the show as one might come to a religious experience.  And by the end, I had a bit of understanding of that. 

Saturday, February 24, 2018

What's Making Me Happy at Week's End

This morning, I made this Facebook post:  "I am drinking my coffee black this morning; those of you who know me may remember that I usually have a bit of coffee with my sweetened milk that has cocoa powder in it. I wish I could say that I'm saving a lot of calories with my black coffee this morning, but since I'm eating a donut from yesterday's meeting, I'm probably consuming more calories than usual. It's from Dandee Donuts, so it's worth the calories."

Yes, it's been another week of meetings and e-mails, a mix of hectic pace and more relaxed time.  The meetings went well--hurrah!  We had a Readiness Series presentation on Time Management, an all-school meeting (but without students), a Davie-Cooper City Chamber of Commerce Education Committee meeting, and a meeting with the principal of a charter school--no wonder I was tired by yesterday.

Let me make a list of what's making me happy at the end of the week:

--My spouse's sister is in town.  Last night, we walked to the beach and had a seafood pizza at the organic brewery--delicious pizza, delicious beer, and a beautiful view.

--We walked down to the bandshell, where a band played all sorts of music.  I loved seeing the toddler in a tutu twirling to "American Girl."  But what was even better was the older woman in a wheelchair rocking out to "I Want You to Want Me."

--This morning, after I made the Facebook post, I went to the WalMart Neighborhood Market, where I got all sorts of good deals.  The best deal:  canned pumpkin on clearance for 75 cents a can.  I thought there was a pumpkin shortage, so I was surprised to see that the store had so much pumpkin left.  Autumn must be completely behind us if we're trying to get rid of the pumpkin.  I bought 6 cans and would have bought more if I had storage space.

--Today we will go to see Wicked.  I read the book long ago and loved the concept, but I've never seen the play.  In fact, I'm still a bit amazed that I spent so much on these tickets.  Sigh.  I worry that the full-throated singing will bug me.  I'm hoping that I have this dread because I've just seen so many bad interpretations of "Popular."

--Tomorrow will be a family afternoon after church:  my spouse's sister, her grown up daughter, my spouse's brother, his wife, and perhaps their children.  I've bought the food, and that makes me happy.  I am taking various paths of least resistance:  a variety of grilled meat plus grilled cabbage, roasted potato chunks (the family prefers mashed potatoes, but I'm not making mashed potatoes for so many people), and ice cream for dessert.

Friday, February 23, 2018

Segregated Water Fountains and the Modern Campus

I had so many ideas about how to celebrate African American History month at my school, most of which I couldn't pull together.  Did we have a gospel choir?  No.  Did we have any interesting lectures on African American topics?  No.

But we did have a book display in the library, and we did have a bulletin board.  One of my colleagues created a wonderful display at the water fountains:

You'll notice the trash in the one water fountain.  We added a note to let people know that the colored water fountains were usually made unappealing in all sorts of ways.  Throughout the week, though, people kept cleaning up the fountain, so we finally stopped adding the trash back to the fountain.

The frame above the water fountain usually gives information about how we filter the water.  This month, we've gotten this information:

I've been so pleased with this project, which is part installation art, part information:  I've watched people stop to read the information about the Civil Rights Movement that she put on those white pieces of paper around the fountain.  It's a unique way to approach this history--so much more interesting than a bulletin board.

Now my thoughts turn to Women's History month--what kinds of similar projects could we do?  A series of mannequins to show the history of women's undergarments?  Of course, I don't have a corset or a girdle.  Let me keep pondering.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Prayer Vigils

Yesterday was the one week anniversary of the mass slaughter at our local high school.  I went to two vigils.  I didn't go to the one that's making the headlines, the one broadcast on CNN.  I'll be honest--to go to that one would have required that I get tickets (free but thinking ahead required), driven across the county, and stayed up very late, the real deterrent to me.

I've seen and heard bits of it, and to be honest, I'm glad I didn't go.  I wanted something more contemplative.  I wanted candles and spirituals.  I wanted psalms and prayers. 

So when a group from my church organized a group to go to a prayer vigil, I joined up.  We headed over to the city center at Pembroke Pines, where the local governing happens.

There was a strong police presence, and I heard one of the officers say, "We've just done a sweep.  We're clear."

The above picture gives you a sense of the type of gathering it was:  no candles, no spirituals.  We very properly had 3 religious leaders give a prayer:  Christian, Jewish, and Muslim, and I couldn't help but notice that we didn't have a female prayer presence.  Then each member of the City Commission spoke, along with a school board member.  They said very similar things, about how horrible it all was.

When it was over, we decided to head to a vigil at the Pembroke Pines Elementary School.  The principal of the school had a daughter who was killed at the high school; yesterday would have been her birthday.  This vigil was more what I was hoping for, even though it was too windy to light our candles.  Instead, we held up cell phones:

I was struck by all the children who attended.  I'm sure the older ones had a sense of why we were there.  I wonder what the littlest ones will remember.

I am feeling more certain that we are at a hinge point, the way that the Civil Rights Movement changed our politics.  This generation of students will make a change, even if the current crop of politicians can't seem to find their way.  This kind of event will radicalize many of them, and I predict that our culture will change in ways we can't foresee right now.

Here's a black and white photo that my pastor took.  It gives a sense of the size of the group gathered at the tiny elementary school.  It gives a sense of how we're hovering at this hinge of history:

Photo by Keith Spencer

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Time Management and Dreams of the Future

Based on many requests, both from the community and from faculty, a colleague and I have put together a "Readiness Series."  My colleague first conceived of it as getting high school students ready for college, but we quickly realized it would be valuable to many populations.

Last night was our first workshop.  My colleague did a great presentation on time management.  Many of her ideas came from Steven Covey, and they're fairly straight forward.  Still, it's good to be reminded of them.

She had us do an exercise where we thought about the year 2023, 5 years from now.  What did we hope to have accomplished by then?  One of her points was that as we plan, we should start at the end and work our way backward.  For most of us, if we start by thinking about today and what all needs to be done to reach our goal, we won't be able to do much because we're overwhelmed by it all.

Ah, the idea of chunking!  Divide your time into manageable chunks, and you'll be amazed at what you can do.  Plan out your week, but don't cram too much into that planner so that you have space for the unexpected--do that each week, and see how much more you accomplish.

I thought about how far away I've gotten from that, although truth be told, I never had that kind of planner.  But I knew where I wanted to be in 5, 10, 20 years, and I had a plan to get there.  Each day, I'd do something, no matter how tiny, to get further along.  Usually my goals were along the lines of creating new writing, getting writing published, and eventually, I wanted a job in a creative writing department.

While my life hasn't worked out exactly how I was planning for it to, back in the period of 1995-2002, I have taught as many creative writing classes as I would have with a different job, and I have been widely published.

Last night, we had a brief time to write down what we saw for ourselves in 2023.  I love these kinds of exercises.  The first vision that came to my head was one of having the house repaired.  Then we have the decision of when to sell, to get ahead of all the ones who will be selling as we realize how relentless the sea will be in this century.

Then I wrote about transforming the cottage into a workshop for Carl, where he creates wood sculptures that sell to bring us $500-$1000 a month.

I wrote about my surprise success in publishing that had happened by 2023.  Based on the article I had been writing earlier in the day, about what we can learn about prayer practices through the lives of medieval monastic women (I had a fantastic writing session), I had gone on to write a whole book on various spiritual practices and monastic women and female saints, and it had been a surprise success.

As I was writing that paragraph, I felt that happy surprise that often comes when I do uncensored free writing.  Could I really do that?  Is it a good idea?  I record it here, in case it does have some value.

And then, the evening was over.  Because we decided to serve beverages and cookies, the clean up was easy.  I do feel like I've hardly been away from the office, and now the day begins again.  But that's O.K.--it's a joy to have a colleague who has the same capacity for planning and dreaming as I do, a colleague who believes in transformation.

Today we move onto another project.  We unveil our project about growing the campus to 350 students.

I've said it before, and I'll say it again:  I've been part of a campus, several of them now, that's expanding, and I've been part of a campus that's contracting--it's much more fun to be part of a campus that's expanding.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Prayer Vigils, Planetary Warming, and Other Ethical Dilemmas

Because yesterday was President's Day, and some of us had the day off, and others of us had a more flexible work schedule and the traffic was lighter, we met a group of friends at The Field, an Irish restaurant and bar.  It looks just like I've always imagined a bar in Ireland would look, and it has dining areas that look like cozy Irish cottages.

We spent more time talking about Donald Trump than I really wanted to.  One friend has printed out the indictment that was recently released.  She brought it with her, but luckily, she didn't read it out loud.

We talked about whether or not we'd have sex with Donald Trump for 5 million dollars (we floated this amount, since it was the amount that one ex-wife got in a settlement, I think).  I said, "We really need to change the subject or I'll have bad dreams all night."  We talked about whether or not Winston Churchill had said that quote about how to determine one was a prostitute, something along the lines of Lady, we've already determined what you are, now we need to determine the rate.

We also talked some about the school shooting and whether or not those high school seniors will be able to make a difference--they're headed to Tallahassee today.  I said that they might be able to make a difference:  they have the energy of youth and no mortgage payment to hold them back.

I really wanted to talk about our friends' decision to move inland and upland, which I first talked about in this blog post.  We talked about that a bit, but there have been so many political events that happened between our dinners together that I really wasn't surprised that those discussions eclipsed the how to live a life that's in better alignment discussion.

I spent part of the afternoon fiddling with a sea level rise map, in part because I knew we were meeting our friends for dinner, but mostly because I fell down that internet rabbit hole when I found a news article that says that new research, released last week, says that Miami will experience 2 feet of sea level rise by 2050--not quite far enough away for comfort, since water is rising faster with every report.  At one point, the date for 2 feet of sea level rise was 2100.

I think our plan will still work:  to fix the house, enjoy the house for 5-10 years, and then sell.  We may stay in the area and rent, if my job (the only full-time job between the 2 of us) still exists.

I find it interesting to watch the nation argue about guns, while all the while the sea eyes our shores with growing hunger and impatience.  But I also understand the way that a violent event can transform both individuals and communities.  I will go with my church tomorrow to a prayer vigil because I'm always going to be available to pray for peace.  That might work.  I'm not sure that our prayers can change the processes governed by physics or chemistry that we've already set into motion.

Monday, February 19, 2018

Fifty Years of Life in Fred Rogers' Neighborhood

On this day in 1968, Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood premiered.  While I'm fairly sure I didn't see the first episode, I was a regular viewer by 1969 or 1970.

Those were halcyon days for children's television.  I was one of the first viewers of Sesame Street and The Electric Company, and later Zoom.  I got to first grade knowing how to read, and pretending that I didn't; I knew how to read in part because my parents read to me and in part because of these T.V. shows.

I do remember the premiere of The Electric Company, which even as a young child, I could realize that they were trying to teach more complicated concepts.

At the time and for years afterwards, I thought they were more complicated concepts.  The Electric Company was trying to teach kids to read, I reasoned.  What did Mr. Rogers do in his show?

Now that I am older, I see Fred Rogers as having the more complicated task, as he taught children how to manage their anxiety, to accept themselves, to know the difference between fantasy and reality.  I can still sing the ending song that tells us it's such a good feeling to know we're alive.

Fred Rogers came to his signature show from a variety of backgrounds:  Presbyterian minister (ordained but not a preacher) and puppeteer, and a variety of TV shows.  He composed all of the songs on the show and most of the music.  He had background not only in theology but in child development.  All of these talents came together beautifully in Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood.

I find it interesting that Rogers was ordained, but that the larger Church realized the importance of his work with children's television and commissioned him to keep doing that.  It's a good reminder to those of us who feel called to ministry that our ministry can encompass many avenues--including those that earlier generations wouldn't have foreseen.  Fred Rogers went into the field of TV because he hated the medium, but wanted to see if the power of TV could be harnessed for good.  He wanted to see if TV could nurture us.

I'd say that the answer to his question is a resounding yes.  I know that our psychology is shaped in essential ways in our early years, and I feel so lucky that I was one of the earliest visitors to Fred Rogers' vision of a neighborhood. 

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Poem for a Week that Contains Ash Wednesday, Valentine's Day, and a Mass Shooting at School

I love Rattle, in all its incarnations:  the bound journal, the online poems, the various projects.  I'm especially drawn to the Poets Respond series, which Rattle explains this way:  "At least every Sunday we publish one poem online that has been written about a current event that took place the previous week. This is an effort to show how poets react and interact to the world in real time, and to enter into the broader public discourse." 

I've often thought that I should commit to submitting a poem each week to the Poets Respond series, but I often don't.  I average 1-4 poems a year, far short of 52 poems that I'd compose if I committed to responding each week.

This week, I submitted the poem that came to me after the school shooting in Florida, the third event which happened on Wednesday.  Wednesday also contained Ash Wednesday and Valentine's Day.  On Thursday morning, very early in the tradition of my ancestors, I made bread, only to discover I would need more flour.  On the way home, as dawn began to break, I realized I still had the Ash Wednesday ashes on my head.

On Thursday and Friday, I composed the following poem, which I don't think is one of my best, but it might have potential.  I thought about putting more death and gun and mass violence imagery in the poem, but because I wanted to submit to Rattle, I ran out of time.  Perhaps that's good.

The Bluest Hour Before the Dawn

The morning after one of the worst
school shootings yet, in the bluest
hour before the dawn,
I ground myself by making bread
because it is too dark
to dig in the garden
or repot the petunias.

I discover I have just enough
flour to make a sponge
and so I get dressed quickly.
I want to beat
the morning commuters, so I don’t
even brush my teeth or hair.
I’ll be back to knead the dough
before the crowds descend
to clog the cash register lines.

I buy the flour and a few
other items we’ll need soon: 
milk and juice and a lipstick in a rusty
shade I thought was discontinued.
I consider the discounted
Valentine’s products, but I have already proven
my love with a flower bouquet clipped
from the tropical bushes that line the fence.

As I drive home, the light begins its slow bleed
across the sky, and I realize that I still wear
the ash cross on my forehead from last night’s
service. Dust we are, dust
and the remains of stars and the bread
dough that remains under my nails
long after the day is done.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Confessions of a Distracted Housekeeper

My parents are sleeping in my guest room.  Our guest cottage is still not habitable, although we've taken steps.  Since the AC was damaged, we decided to go ahead and install the kind of AC/heating system that would be better.

I have spent days cleaning.  I confess that the house looks better when I clean and get it into some kind of passable shape.

I confess that I don't rouse myself to do the kind of deep cleaning I've been doing.

I confess that there are still parts of the house that could use some deep cleaning:  the upholstered chairs need steam cleaning, for example.  A rigorous housekeeper would move the furniture periodically to make sure that everything was clean underneath and behind.  I am not that housekeeper.

I confess that I've used the hurricane repairs as an excuse:  why clean, when we're going to rip it all up shortly?

I confess that I likely wouldn't have been doing this kind of deep cleaning on a regular basis, even if there had been no hurricane.

I want to believe in cleaning as spiritual practice, but I confess that it's not a spiritual discipline that speaks to me.

My house deserves a better partner than me.  Sigh.  There are many people who deserve a better partner than me.

But perhaps I am falling into the spiritual trap of despair.  Maybe I assume that there's a better partner out there for my house, but I'm plenty good enough.  I'm not the kind of housekeeper/homemaker that I might have been if I lived in this house in 1952, but I don't know anyone who is.  Most people I know have outsourced that work.

So, let me delight in my clean house and my parents who are still healthy enough to visit.  Let me find joy in a week that sorely needs some joy.

Friday, February 16, 2018

Parched Places

Today is the Chinese New Year.  I don't have much connection to this holiday, but I do like it because it reminds me of the AWP I went to in D.C., and I went to an offsite poetry reading.  As I walked back to the Metro, I saw interesting celebrations, including a dragon dance.

Yesterday I decided to ground myself by baking bread.  I ran out of flour, so I went to the store to get more. It wasn't until I got back in the car to drive home, in the pre-dawn light that began to fill the sky, that I realized that I still had the cross on my forehead from last night's Ash Wednesday service. Ash on my forehead, bread dough under my fingernails-- I wrote a Facebook post that posited that a poem is in here somewhere.

And by afternoon, I had written a poem.  I had also rewritten many parts of a spreadsheet that I had written and rewritten on Tuesday and Wednesday.  That creative process, the wrestling with the spreadsheets, doesn't leave me feeling as nourished.

I also checked in on Facebook periodically.  I wrote this post:  "Back when I was in high school, in the early 80's, when we didn't have mass shootings at school, we had much looser gun laws. I don't think that stronger gun laws will help as much as some people hope. I'm not opposed to trying, but I think it's like getting stomach surgery without addressing the underlying psychology that led to the obesity that necessitates the stomach surgery. Something has come dangerously unmoored in a chunk of the population, and I'm not sure how to repair that breach."

That language from Isaiah, about being called the repairer of the breach, has spoken to me before.  I feel too exhausted to ponder how to repair all of our breaches.  I feel parched, in need of water. Thus, my sketch for this year.

I put one small green bud on the tree.  I need to remind myself that even when life resembles nothing but a pile of dried bones (yes, I also reread T. S. Eliot's "Ash Wednesday"), there's hope. 

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Repairing the Breach that Leads to Mass Shootings

I have written about guns and mass shootings before.  I don't feel any differently now that my home county has experienced one of the deadliest school shootings on record.  In this story, The Washington Post gives this startling statistic:  "This is at least the third school shooting this year, and one of the deadliest on record. Beginning with Columbine 19 years ago, more than 150,000 students attending at least 170 primary or secondary schools have experienced a shooting on campus, according to a Washington Post analysis of online archives, state and federal enrollment figures, and news stories. That doesn’t count dozens of suicides, accidents and after-school assaults that have also exposed children to gunfire."

At the end of last night's radio show Marketplace, the host said that there are more places in the U.S. to buy a gun than there are Starbucks across the world.  I have watched my spouse buy a gun; we both have concealed weapons permits.  I will tell you this:  it is not easy to buy a gun from one of those legitimate stores.  It's not difficult, but it's not as easy as buying a gallon of milk.

I also know that I grew up surrounded by guns, although my family didn't own guns.  I grew up in the U.S. South, where many people had guns for all sorts of reasons, mostly hunting.  I remember seeing trucks in the parking lot of my high school in Knoxville, Tennessee, trucks with gun racks that had hunting rifles in them, trucks that likely were not locked.  And yet we didn't shoot each other. 

In 1983, the year I graduated, most of my high school would have had easy access to a gun.  And we didn't have locked schools or walled-in campuses or ID badges that had to be worn at all times or metal detectors.  And we did not shoot each other.

I don't believe that stronger gun laws will make school violence disappear.  Once I believed that if we had more mental health resources, it might make a difference--but I know that we can't make the disturbed get help.

I don't know why a chunk of our population has come unmoored from whatever bedrock used to keep us from shooting each other.  I have theories, but nothing I can support with facts or research.  I went to a very sparsely attended Ash Wednesday service last night.  Would we be better off if we had more people going to church?  That change has happened since 1983, when I graduated from high school, when we did not shoot each other.

It wouldn't have to be church services, of course.  Once we had more groups which forged more social connections, for both youth and adults:  Scouts and community choirs and sports leagues of all sorts and various classes, on and on I could go.

Back in 1983, when I graduated from high school where we did not shoot each other, we didn't have as many screens to view.  Our T.V. shows and movies had less violence.  I do believe that the barrage of violent images has contributed to a culture of mass shootings.  But back in 1983, when we did not shoot each other in our high schools, sociologists were already sounding the alarm--but then, we didn't have those images and plotlines accessible to us every hour of the day.

The words of the prophet Isaiah spoke to me last night. We read from the 58th chapter.  The words "repairer of the breach" always leap out at me.  But how?  How do we repair the very serious breaches that have cracked our society open?

I don't think that stronger gun laws will help with that repair work.  I'm not opposed to trying, but I think it's like getting stomach surgery without addressing the underlying psychology that led to the obesity that necessitates the stomach surgery.

How do we heal that underlying psychology?  I don't know yet, but it's the question for this era.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Hearts Destined for Ash

I've written about Ash Wednesday many times, and Valentine's Day can't be far behind.  But have I ever considered them together?

In some ways I have.  My approach to Ash Wednesday is that we should remember that we're here for a very short time, and we're not put on this earth to make money.  We need to remember what's important, and it's not our retirement accounts.

Are we rich in love?

More important, have we let people know we love them while we're all on this side of the grave?

I'm thinking of an Ash Wednesday conversation that I had a few years ago, where a spin class buddy said she made it her Lenten practice to make sure to give at least one compliment a day.  Maybe my Lenten discipline this year will be to tell at least one person that I love them.  Or better yet, to think of new ways to show my love, to be love incarnate in the world.  Maybe I'll write note cards of encouragement and mail them.

I have spent the last week reading Adam Haslett's Imagine Me Gone, which is a fitting book for Ash Wednesday.  It looks at love and family relationships and all the ways we can and cannot save each other.  I was pierced by this passage near the end:  "This is the thing I have discovered:  Michael's being gone doesn't mean we stop trying to save him.  The strain is less but it doesn't vanish.  It becomes part of our bewilderment, a kind of activity without motive, which provides its own strange continuity" (p. 352).

This morning I'm struck by how it's a perfect book for Valentine's Day, especially the Valentine's Day of those of us at midlife and beyond.  It's about love and life-long relationships, that burnished love that rarely gets portrayed in movies.

My spouse and I are the kind of people who go out of our way to avoid restaurants on these kinds of days, so we will not go out.  He will go to teach his evening class, and I will go to Ash Wednesday service and smudge a cross made of ashes on the forehead of my fellow worshipers:

Before that, I will have a day of many meetings.  We will also be doing a Valentine's cookie decorating event.  I was buying supplies, and I was struck by this juxtaposition of items on my desk.  Is my desk refusing to commit to a holiday?  Is it simply timeless?

I have been looking at old poems, and I am struck by how many of them deal with these Ash Wednesday themes.  Maybe later today I will read T. S. Eliot's "Ash Wednesday" and see what develops.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Letting the Good Times Roll

How does you celebrate Mardi Gras?  I know that many people's brains go directly to drinking.  I also think of the traditional Shrove Tuesday pancake suppers of my youth.

My current church used to do a pancake supper, complete with delicious bacon that left a smell that lingered in the fellowship hall for weeks.  But we did it on Ash Wednesday, which made a kind of sense.  Have a meal full of the ingredients that once we'd have been giving up for Lent, and then head over to the sanctuary to be reminded of our dusty destiny.

But that was back in the days when we had a men's club that would cook on certain key days; they also prepared Easter Sunday breakfast.  It seemed a throwback to a distant time, maybe in the 1950's, when men repaired things and cooked occasionally, just to show that they could.

Tonight I'll return home, while my spouse heads out to teach his evening class.  I'll stop by the library to pick up books that are being held for me.  I'll continue with my great guest room sorting project.  It makes a kind of Ash Wednesday sense, if not a Mardi Gras sense.

Actually, we are at the juxtaposition of many holidays that involve tidying:  a Candlemas tradition involves sweeping one's house, the Chinese New Year has a time of deep cleaning, and many of the days leading up to Lent involve a straightening. Many of our Mardi Gras and Shrove Tuesday traditions come out of the need to use up the excess.  In medieval times, most Christians would give up all sorts of luxury items for Lent, luxury items like milk, eggs, and alcohol.  So just before Lent came the using up of the luxury items--because you wouldn't just throw them away.  Hence the special Mardi Gras breads and treats and the drinking.

In the past, I've made special bread; if you have time, this blog post will walk you through the process.  I've made pancakes, but it always makes me somewhat sad to eat them alone.  I will not go out drinking tonight--I have to get up early tomorrow to go to spin class and then to work.

Mardi Gras is one of those holidays, much like Halloween, that makes me want to stay inside and bolt the door.  It seems dangerous, all these adults getting senselessly drunk.  Women, especially women alone, rarely fare well in scenes of mass drunkenness.

No, I will turn on the porch light and stay safe at home.  I'll continue with my tidying.  I'll do a bit of writing, perhaps.  Or maybe I'll just settle into a good book.  I'm close to finishing Imagine Me Gone; I'm at the point where I want to know how the author will tie up all these threads.

Monday, February 12, 2018

A Creative Sunday: Transfiguring Trash to Prepare for Ash Wednesday

As we drove to church with our car full of trash and an easel, my spouse said, "None of this is coming home with us, right?"  I said, "Right."

Once I had the three dresser drawers and the trash laid out, I worried that we might not have enough raw materials to create shadow boxes:

I needn't have worried.   This group of people are up to any task.

One group layered their drawer with pages from old hymnals:

I started with some old candles and the branches from the banana tree that Hurricane Irma destroyed.

When I started ripping an old map, people's eyes lit up.  The locations are places where I've lived, places that feel lost to me now:

One group took a wrapped box and went in a different direction--cool!  The box was wrapped for part of a Christmas display at my school, and then I used it in my Baptism of Jesus altarscape (it was covered in fabric, but it provided height).  And here it is, transfigured again:

I was impressed with what we were able to create in just 45 minutes:

Here is how the box covered with hymnal pages ended up:

And here's how we will use them in the chancel:

I'm calling this a success:  hurricane trash transfigured into works of art.  In some ways, it's the opposite of the Ash Wednesday message--except that eventually, these works of art go to the trash bin where they were headed in the first place.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Ash Wednesday Mood

Yesterday was a mix of moods.  It began strangely, with my pre-dawn wanderings to get bagels (for more, see this blog post).  But my mood stayed buoyant.

We went to our the house of our friends so that my spouse could help with a repair project, of sorts.  Our friends got several pallets of mulch, and they came on a pallet.  During the winter, these friends love building fires in their outdoor fireplace, but wood down here is expensive.  Over Christmas, they borrowed our circular saw, but it soon became obvious that they could use my spouse's help.

I suggested this as a morning project, a brunch instead of our usual evening meal together.  So, yesterday that's what we did.  It was good to be together and catch up.  I have learned that during these events, the trick is to focus on what we have, not on what has been lost.  Yes, we used to all see each other more often.  But those days are not these days, and there's no way back to those days.

We got home and started to load the car for church; I have a huge arts project that we're doing as a group, and I'm giving our wooden easel to an elementary school teacher.  Our next door neighbor told us that his son was in a motorcycle accident and is in a coma in the hospital--his chances are VERY uncertain.

His son is in his early 20's, so he may have youth and strength on his side.  Still, I imagine it will be a long road back--if he can survive in these early weeks.  They were doing surgery on his broken hips yesterday, which I took as a good sign until I thought about the fact that he'd broken his hips.

I am thinking about broken bones at the other end of life, but this accident is a sobering reminder of how fragile we all are.  The accident didn't happen on the Interstate--it was on a city road, with a car that was pulling out of a gas station.

It was sobering news, and then I spent the rest of the night reading Imagine Me Gone by Adam Haslett.  It fit my Ash Wednesday frame of mind. 

Today I'm leading our art project at our interactive service at church.  Right now, in my car, I have 3 dresser drawers from a piece of furniture damaged in the flooding that came with Hurricane Irma.  I have a vision for shadow boxes, so I've put some damaged stuff in the car, along with a few branches and fading blossoms and clippers in case we want more.  Last week I told people what I had in mind and invited them to bring their own images of hurricane damage.

Wednesday is Ash Wednesday, the day that reminds us that we're all made up of dust, and that we will return to dust.  We'll smudge our foreheads with ashes.  I've wondered if we need to think about additional metaphors, as those of us who have been going to church for a long time might have become inured to the metaphor of ash.  Will we generate new metaphors today with our hurricane damaged stuff?

Stay tuned!

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Ash, Dust, Mold, Bagels

It's been a strange morning--I went to Dandee Donuts, which opens at 5 a.m.  Later today, we're going to the house of friends so that my spouse can help saw pallets into pieces.  I suggested that we meet earlier in the day and instead of dinner together, which has become our norm, we have brunch.

Thus, the trip to Dandee Donuts.  I'm bringing bagels to brunch to go with the salmon which my spouse grilled last night.  I had planned to buy a donut (or 2 or 3) for my pre-brunch breakfast.  To my surprise, my favorite flavors of donuts hadn't been made yet, at 5:15 a.m., when I got to the store.

I said, "Well, you've preserved me from my worst impulses."  Happily they had a full array of bagels, so we're ready for brunch.

I zipped over to Dandee Donuts so early that most of the traffic lights were on flashing mode, which makes for a much easier trip across several city miles that are usually slow and sloggy.  I was surprised to find a crowded parking lot.  I went in to find 2 females at the counter working, and 8 men having breakfast all at separate tables.

I came home and thought about the fact that Ash Wednesday and Valentine's Day comes on the same day this year.  I wiped down some mold and dust.  My parents arrive on Friday, and I'd like the house to be in better shape.  What does it mean that my house in the winter is prone to both mold and dust?  Probably nothing good.  Hopefully our great floor rip up and restoration project will take care of some of that.

I am getting rid of a lot of books, so I need to consolidate book shelves and get rid of the dust left behind.  My spouse jokes that he'll arrive home one day, see all the empty shelves, and say, "I think Kristin has left me."

My morning leaves me feeling like I have a poem beginning or the start of an essay, but it won't be for today.  It's time to shift my various preparations into a higher gear.

Friday, February 9, 2018

Charity Work and Consciousness Raising

Since I first heard about this idea, I've wanted to try it at the schools where I work.  I first heard about a Souperbowl in the context of youth groups and churches.  It's the idea that the group will collect cans of soup in the weeks before the Superbowl.  Some groups have run contests to see who can collect the most soup.  Some groups use it to remind themselves that the Superbowl spends gobs of money on something ephemeral, while God calls us to something more essential.

Back in the fall, we received a directive from the president of our school:  each month, our campus should be doing something that gives back to the community.  In some ways, we already do this.  Our students go to health fairs and do assessments for the community.  Our Vet Tech department does Clinic Days with free health care for pets.  I could go on and on. 

But I decided to look for ways to do more as a campus.

In November and December, we had a sock drive, where we collected socks for the homeless.  In January, I launched a Souperbowl contest:  we'd collect cans of soup until the Superbowl, and I'd keep them separated by Program.  We'd see who could collect the most soup.

With each of these drives, I've wondered if it was worth it.  But we did collect about 30 pairs of socks--that's 30 pairs that homeless people didn't have before.  Yesterday I consolidated our cans into 2 boxes that once held paper.  It's not a carload of food, but it's not just a few cans either.

I decided to take the cans to my church's food pantry.  My church serves the same geographic area as my school.  And I know how my church operates the food pantry.  I know that my church runs a legitimate food pantry:  the food we donate will go to hungry people just because they're hungry.  We're not going to make them listen to a religious presentation before we give them food. 

I know that one of the reasons we have this directive of giving back to the community is because we hope to become more well known throughout the community.  I'm not sure we've done that with our projects.

But I think we've done something just as important, if not more important.  We've given our school community a way to give back to the larger community.  And we've done some educating too.  With our sock drive, we posted information about the fact that homeless populations are often most in need of socks and underwear.  With our soup drive, we talked about food pantries and their need for the most basic food.  One student decided to donate her left over hurricane supplies so that someone else could get good use out of those cans.

I wonder what project we should do next.  Stay tuned!

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Taking Care of Our Work

I've been sorting, which has made me think about the process of sorting, especially as an artist.  Every so often, I come across a hand-written poem on a single page that's been patiently waiting to be typed into the computer.  Some days, I think, why did I save this?  Other times, like this morning, I type it right in.

I wrestle about whether or not to keep the handwritten page.  I have a Ph.D. in British Literature, and I spent my grad school years surrounded by scholar professors who were working with the original papers that became the texts we studied.  I understand the value of multiple drafts.

I also understand my lack of storage space.

And if I'm being honest, my drafts often don't change radically from the first draft to the finished draft.  So I don't worry too much about those original drafts.  If I wrote them into the purple legal pads where I usually do the first draft, I keep them.  If not, I usually put them into the recycle bin.

I've been thinking about what we save and what we keep--and what we present to the larger world.  I thought of these issues in a different way this morning when I read this article in The New York Times about Judy Chicago.  She's been thinking about curating in advance of death, as one does when one gets older.

I was struck by this detail:  "In a 1,800-square-foot warehouse behind the Belen Hotel, Chicago’s uncollected work was stacked in crates. In the back room is her personal archive. She has meticulously documented every piece she’s made since the early 1960s on some 6,000 index cards, which she and her assistant are organizing for her eventual catalogue raisonĂ©e. "

She's done this cataloguing and curating and collecting because, as she says, "One of my goals was to make sure that my work would not be lost. And I did not make an assumption that all would be taken care of."

What did she do when she didn't have the warehouse?  It makes sense for Judy Chicago to have a warehouse.  I'm not sure it makes sense for me to rent a storage cubicle to save handwritten drafts.  As a writer, I'm lucky.  I can store drafts for very little money on a hard drive.

I realize that I'm denying future generations the joy I have felt when I've seen original texts in the handwriting of their creators.  I remember the sense of sacredness I felt when I stood in front of the glass case that held the piece of paper with the lyrics to "This Land Is Your Land" in Woody Guthrie's own handwriting.

But I also think of the summer that I earned my keep as a research assistant comparing the versions of texts to try to determine the 18th century author's true intent. I can no longer remember the author, and the work didn't seem significant at the time.  Nothing I was able to discern about the author's intended word choice seemed destined to change that.

I realize that even as I recycle a handwritten draft here and there, I am probably saving more rough drafts than I need to save.  I apologize to the person in the future who must haul it all to the dump or the archive after I've died.

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Politics of the Local Variety

Late yesterday at work, we got wonderful news.  Our request for a bus line on Taft Street and a bus stop at our campus has been sent to the mayor of Broward county--and he has requested a feasibility study!

You might wonder why I see this news as wonderful.  I have been hearing about how we need a bus stop for our campus since the first day I arrived.  And there have been naysayers that said it could never happen.

And it might not have happened, had we not gone to a Chamber of Commerce breakfast in August, which I wrote about in this blog post.  After the breakfast, we met the mayor, and I explained that we really needed a bus route.  He tried to brush us off by saying that it wasn't really his decision as it would be up to the county, but he'd see what he could do.

I said, “We would really appreciate that.  I know that a lot of government attention goes to the beach and the downtown area of Hollywood, and I live in the historic district, so I understand that it’s easier to work for the prettier parts of town.  But the citizens who live out west need government help too.”

Since then, we've been to several events where we've seen him.  My colleague who is the head of Admissions has been better than I have about reintroducing herself and reminding him of our need for a bus stop.

He finally wrote an e-mail to the mayor of Broward county, Beam Furr, and I felt a bit hopeful, since he was once my representative in city government, and I was impressed with his voting record.  And now, he has asked for a feasibility study.

We've made good points about the viability, about our campus and several shopping centers that are on Taft Street.  We've talked about the long distances between existing bus stops and about how much safer it would be to avoid all the walking that people have to do to get to those bus stops.  We've talked about how the area is growing, with the major construction on Highway 441.

I have no idea what to expect at this point.  But I feel good about making it to this point.

Again and again, people with brighter minds than mine have reminded us all of the good that we can do if we get involved on the local level.  It's often those decisions made by local governments that have the biggest impact on our communities.

People may scoff at my happiness over our bus line request moving forward, but I look out my office window and often see the same people trudging up and down Taft Street.  Would those people take the bus?  Some of them probably would.  I know that we have students who could use a bus stop that's closer to campus.

In this time when I feel deep despair about the actions that aren't being taken in Washington--or worse, an even deeper foreboding when our federal government actually does something--it's good to remember that not all political involvement is futile.  We know what our communities need--and our local government leaders, who are members of the same communities are often willing to act on our requests for actions that will lead to community health and vitality.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Mourning a Mother Who Isn't Mine

This morning, as I reached for cumin to spice my refried beans mixture that I was creating for lunch, I almost chose the curry powder.  My mind zipped around a bit, thinking about most of the curry dishes that I don't like, and then a soup from long ago that I did like.

And suddenly, I stood in my kitchen, staring out the window at the early morning darkness, mourning a mother who isn't even mine.

Long ago, when I worked at a community college in South Carolina, one of my colleague friends had her parents down for a visit.  Her mother was teaching her daughter some soup recipes, and my friend brought us the extras. 

We ate a soup made of grated apples, potatoes, yogurt and cumin, which was so delicious that I got the recipe and made it for years.  I always blended it for luxurious smoothness.  The ingredient list sounds boring, but the soup is wonderful.  I'll have to dig it out of my files.

I thought of the path travelled by my friend, her mother, and her daughter.  The mother is still alive, but lost to Alzheimer's.  My friend has told me all the ways that her mother is no longer the mother she once knew--for example, once she hated applesauce, and now she can't get enough.  And yet, the mother she knew is still in there somewhere.  Once they sang hymns together--somehow the mother still knew them, even though she wasn't sure she knew her daughter, my friend.

I have gone through a similar process with my grandmother, although I didn't live with her, so I didn't experience the same agony.  My grandmother became sweeter as she lost her memories.  I don't think my friend is that lucky.

I'm thinking of all the losses that come into a regular life.  In a way, it's a mournful way to start the day.  I can remember my friend's mother when she was a vibrant woman, the kind of older woman I hope to be. I think of all the mothers I remember this way.

Let me change this mourning to gratitude.  I am grateful to have these examples of how to live a life.  I'm grateful to have known mothers who are not mine.  Although I don't have the daily interactions with my friend that I did when we worked in the same place, we still stay close--a similar trajectory that I share with many friends.  It's s different kind of soup, nourishing in a different way.

Monday, February 5, 2018

Super Bowl Sunset

Last night, I took some books and the DVD of Testament back to the library.  I liked seeing the movie again, but I don't want to pay for it.

I often take materials back to the library on a Sunday night, often at the same time (6:00-6:30); I know, because the same program is on NPR.  Usually there's not much traffic.  Last night was different.

I also noticed lots of people with lots of visitors:  more cars in driveways than usual.  I realized how many people must be having Super Bowl parties.

I came home and wrote this Facebook post:

"I will not be watching the Super Bowl. I don't like football. Most of my friends don't like football. I will not be going to a Super Bowl party. I haven't been invited to a Super Bowl party since high school, and that invitation was only because I was part of a church youth group, so we were all invited. Why do these musings leave me slightly sad and deeply aware of my outsider status?"

Let me be clear:  I was not really hoping for a last minute invite to watch the Super Bowl.  I don't want to spend hours that way.

To be honest, I was sad before I had this realization.  I often feel a bit of Sunday Sadness as the week-end comes to a close.  And when we've had a good week-end, it makes it even harder to face the Sunday sunset.

Sunday, February 4, 2018

Free Form Saturday

Yesterday was one of those days where we got some invitations, most notably to the spinathon at the Wellness Center.  But I'd been preserving yesterday's wide open space, since we won't have many unscheduled Saturdays between now and Easter.

While I wanted my time to be unstructured by others' plans for it, I did have a lot to accomplish.  How did I succeed? Let me count the ways:

--I took the car in for an oil change and to get an alignment.  I also ended up getting 2 new front tires, probably because it had been out of alignment for so long.  I thought about seeing how much more mileage I could get out of my tires, but because I have car travel coming up in March and April, and because I don't have a lot of time to spend on car repair, I decided to just go ahead and have it taken care of now.

--I continued to make progress on my great sorting project, which meant that I had books to take to the library to donate.

--I've now completed 10 days of the natural vitamin supplement that I bought from the holistic foot doctor back in November.  They really helped me with not only my foot pain but my morning back pain, so I decided to get some more.  I note this achievement because it took finding a time when parking in downtown Hollywood would be easy, and then because I couldn't just buy a bottle of capsules, but I had to talk to a sales associate who kept trying to make me a deal if I'd just buy 10 bottles or 5 bottles or . . .  What should have been a quick popping into the store on the way back to the library became a 15 minute interchange.

--We made homemade pizza which is fun and messy and tiring all at once.

--We returned home from Thanksgiving with a frozen turkey carcass.  We popped it in the freezer until we had time to make stock.  Yesterday, we had time, and so we did--and now we have some space in the freezer.

--Back in December when the foundation repair work was done in the cottage, I moved the TV into the front bedroom of the main house, by which I mean it sat in the floor, unplugged and useless.  Yesterday, I found a way to make it usable in the back bedroom, where we sleep.  We spent some post-pizza time watching PBS and dozing.

--We took a walk to the marina, one of my favorite destinations.  We sat on our bench at the marina and watched the light change as the sun left us.

--I started the day with all sorts of plans of what I would cook, but by the end of the day, I didn't feel like cooking or eating any of it.  Happily, we had cheese and crackers on hand, so I could indulge in my favorite meal:  cheese, crackers, and wine.

Let me be honest about the things I thought I/we would do and didn't get around to:

--There's a corner of the tile above the bathtub that needs to be re-caulked.  I stopped at Home Depot on Friday to get the caulk, but we didn't get the caulking done.

--I had thought about creating some sort of art project with hurricane damaged stuff as an Ash Wednesday creation.  I had a vision for the drawer from a ruined chest of drawers as a sort of Cornell box.  I completely forgot about it.

--There are always chores to be done that we don't get to or finish:  weeding, edging, planting, cleaning of all sorts.

--I didn't get any writing done beyond morning blogging.  But it was the kind of week where I got writing and writing related tasks done throughout the week, so getting writing done on a Saturday didn't feel as pressing.

--I didn't get heavy-duty grading done for my online classes.  But there's time for that.

So, overall, it was a nourishing Saturday, a great mix of chores and activities that bring me joy.

Saturday, February 3, 2018

Book Notes

When I got home on Thursday night, I looked through my bookshelves to choose some books for a library display for African American History Month.  I chose a wide variety:  Octavia Butler, Nikki Finney, Toni Morrison, Tracy K. Smith, Natasha Trethewey, and Alice Walker.

You may notice an absence of male writers.  I have read those writers, but I haven't held onto those books.  As we've moved, and at other times when I've sorted books, one of the questions I ask is "Am I ever going to read this again?"  If the answer is no, the book goes to someone else, usually the local library. 

Happily, one of my colleagues brought some books--he brought all male writers.  So it worked out.  We've got a great display.  I'm already planning the display for Women's History Month.

When I got to the office yesterday with my pile of books, I thought, let me look through these and make sure that I didn't write anything in them that might come back to haunt me.  I wasn't expecting to find anything, since the books with lots of writing in them stayed at home.  If I lost the paperback of Alice Walker's In Search of Our Mother's Gardens, I would grieve the loss of my 19 year old self who wrote copious responses in the margin more than the actual essays themselves.

I found a note that I left for my sister to tell her that I'd gone to put gas in the car.  I found a list of books I wanted to read one summer, which must have been the summer of 1984 because War Day is on the list.  The other books on the list I have no memory of reading.  War Day is a stunning accomplishment.  I know because I reread it last year.

I also found this inscription:

The most wonderful man in the world who gave me that book is now my husband.  And I did miss him that fall, which was the fall of 1987.  He had one last semester to finish at Newberry College, while I went down the road 40 miles to the University of South Carolina to start grad school.

I'm glad that my books could be part of a wonderful display.  I'm glad that they've kept me company along the way.  I hope that at some point this month, students will wander into the library and discover a new writer/book.

Friday, February 2, 2018

Work Week Gratitudes

When I look back over this work week, what will I remember?  On Monday, I might have said that our experience with the Keurig machine would be the high point.  The machine was taking forever to brew a cup of coffee, and we brew a lot of coffee.

One of my colleagues suggested that we have the machine brew several cups without a coffee pod in the slot.  So, I "brewed" 4 cups of water--and that did the trick.  I loved that the solution was simple and something we could do ourselves.

But no, my favorite part of the work week will likely be yesterday's creation of a board to celebrate African American History Month.  I'd been thinking about how to celebrate, and I came up with events that would involve a Gospel choir, but I don't know anyone who sings in a Gospel choir, and what would that look like:  a sing-along or a concert or something like Christmas caroling? 

In the end, I knew that if I waited for the perfect way to celebrate, we'd do nothing.  We have a board that will be a Wall of Fame eventually, but so far it has not been transformed, except for back in November when I created a Veterans Day display (see this blog post for more details).  On Tuesday and Wednesday, I printed some quotes and pictures of famous African Americans that I found on the web.

Yesterday I decided to just begin the creation.  And I was amazed by how many staff were thrilled at the idea with offers to bring some contributions to the board.  This morning I'll bring some books from my collection to make a display in the library.

I love working in a place where I start a creation, and I'm met with appreciation, not sneers or despair.  I love that it's a small enough school that I can take small actions that will likely make a difference in the lives of our students.

Some of our ideas fall flat--for instance, we were planning to have a chili cookoff a week from today, but so far, no one has signed up to compete.  We'll send out an e-mail on Monday, and if there's no interest, we'll move along to another project.  I've bought lots of heart shaped cookie decorating kits for Feb. 14, so lack of interest in a chili cookoff won't break my heart; in fact, I was only doing it because a few people suggested it.

I'm taking a page from the way my church approaches these kinds of projects.  I see myself in a pastor/leadership role.  There are important tasks to be done, and I do them.  There are ideas that feed my creative soul, and I do them.  If others have a vision that fits with the larger mission of the school, great, if they want to lead that project.  If no one wants to lead a project, we don't do it.

I'm lucky in a way that many church pastors aren't:  my campus has only been in existence for about 6 years, so I don't have to wrestle with the "That's the way we've always done it" response.  People are happy for our efforts to make the campus a cohesive community.

Yes, I know how lucky I am.

Thursday, February 1, 2018

The Movies of My Nuclear Adolescence

When I was at the library last week, picking up Ursula K. Le Guin's last book, I also got a DVD of Testament, which had some DVD extras, like "Testament at 20."  The DVD is due soon, so last night I watched the 20 year retrospective.

How interesting to hear the views of the cast (the children so grown up!), the director, the musician who wrote the score, and assorted other people.  I knew it was a small budget film, and I am always interested in the stories of artists making a way out of no way.

After I watched it, I thought, let me just watch the explosion scene--and of course, I wound up watching the whole thing, as I continued my big sorting project.  How strange to watch that devastating nuclear war movie, the one I could argue has the most wrenching impact because it doesn't overwhelm you with special effects, as I sorted through old paperwork, especially letters of recommendation.

Several people who wrote those letters are dead, and one of them has ALS, with a grim prognosis.  Some of those letters are written in support of career trajectories we will not be taking. 

I also sorted through some books.  I'm still at the point where the decisions are easy, where I'm wondering why I kept the books at all.

I thought about watching the movie when it was shown on American Playhouse in the fall of 1984.  A few of us gathered around the big screen (which in those days meant a special projector) TV in the student canteen.  We were expecting something like The Day After.  Testament is not that movie.

It's also interesting to watch this movie in this current age of war drums beating, of a psychotic North Korean leader and an ignorant U.S. president.  It's clear to me that Trump never saw the movies of my nuclear adolescence.  Let him sit through Threads and then talk to me of first strikes and pre-emptive attacks.

This morning I did some Internet wandering and finally, after all these years of periodic searching, I found the short story written by Carol Amen which was the foundation for the movie.  I also found this interview with the director--full of interesting insight!

I also found this review, which ends this way:  "Testament was about facing the unthinkable in 1983 and being called to do something about it. Although replaced by other serious maladies, today we can count our lucky stars that those nightmares of full-scale nuclear war have largely gone away."

Like the zombies beloved by so many as an apocalyptic instrument, those nightmares have returned.  Sigh.