Saturday, March 31, 2018

Easter Saturday

Yesterday as I drove to work, my NPR station ran a "commercial" for a Miami church that's holding services in a ritzy shopping mall, which will include a visit from the Easter bunny and yoga on the beach between services. 

Immediately I had questions that couldn't be answered.  Would congregants change from their Easter outfits into yoga gear?  How does the Easter bunny fit into the resurrection story?  I have a vision of the Easter bunny saying, "He is risen."  Will he give out eggs as he does?  And why is the Easter bunny male in my head?

I am sure that I was one of few people working yesterday--I feel that way because the traffic was so light.  My colleagues and I have agreed that next year when we all work on Good Friday, we should bring in brunch foods to share.  Of course, what we didn't think about is that next year, Good Friday may not conveniently fall on a break week.

Yesterday, I slipped away from work to go to Good Friday service.  It's not quite as dramatic a Tenebrae service when it's held during daylight hours.  Still, the austerity of the chancel area moved me.  I spent time meditating on the candles on the altar:

It was only when I saw my pastor's photo above that I realized the candles sat not on wood, as it looked from a distance, but on paving stones--one of which was used recently to break the glass in the door so that vandals could come into the church to see what they could steal.

It's been interesting to participate in Holy Week with the news stories of shootings--the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shootings and the police shootings--always in my mind. I am haunted by the juxtaposition of the women weeping at the cross with the news stories of immigrant families ripped apart both in the U.S. and elsewhere. I cannot see how we move forward, but it feels so important to both move forward and move carefully. We seem just steps away from complete self-immolation as a society.

And yet, all around us are signs of hope--one of the hallmarks of our various religious observances that come in Spring.  There's the Christian passage of the Good Friday cross to the empty tomb of Easter.  There's the Passover story of freedom from bondage, with the promise that we can all be set free from whatever holds us captived.  The very earth itself, in the northern hemisphere at least, shows signs that winter will not last.

So, here we are at the Saturday before Easter, when even the non-religious might celebrate by dying eggs and participating in other ancient pagan fertility rituals. At my house, my sister and nephew are visiting, so we will do some things unusual for us, like making a unicorn frappucino, part of a food/drink craze that I never realized existed, along with some of the usual things we do together, like having fun in and around the pool.

Maybe I'll also write my poem in the voice of the empty tomb.  Or maybe a poem about Christ's Midlife Crisis.  Maybe both!

Friday, March 30, 2018

Love and Its Many Incarnations

I spent much of yesterday thinking about service, thinking about love.  In some ways, that makes sense.  Yesterday was Maundy Thursday, after all, a day in Christendom that can celebrate the love of Christ and the way we manifest that love for each other.

I got to work prepared to do the physical labor of cleaning up after a gathering and moving all the furniture, all 20 tables and 70 chairs of it, back into classroom formation--but then I discovered that the night cleaning crew had already taken care of this task that wasn't exactly in anyone's job description.  I felt guilty for leaving a mess, although I couldn't have stayed much later Wednesday night.  But more than that, I felt loved.

Just before noon, I hurried away to church.  I'm lucky that my church is about a six minute drive from my work, so I could go to the noon Maundy Thursday service.  We had a foot washing option, but few of us partook.  One of us had small grandsons visiting, and they entered into the foot washing with great enthusiasm.

Throughout the day, I worked with several students to try to find solutions--that, too, felt like love.  I continue to be impressed with the teamwork of my campus--and I know how lucky we are.  Not a week goes by without me offering a silent prayer of gratitude, along with the hope that the teamwork continues.  I know how easy it is for it all to go sour.

In the afternoon, as I ate my snack of homemade bread, so suitable for Maundy Thursday, I read this story in The Washington Post.  I love the way this female chef solved the issue of harassment and abuse at her restaurant. I especially love this explanation of the benefit of the system she created: "The color system is elegant because it prevents women from having to relive damaging stories and relieves managers of having to make difficult judgment calls about situations that might not seem threatening based on their own experiences. The system acknowledges the differences in the ways that men and women experience the world, while creating a safe workplace."

The article shows us that the workplace is where many of us experience love or the lack of it.  It reminds us that managers can put structures into place that not only keep us all safe, but more importantly show a care and concern, a love that is so often lacking.

Today, Good Friday, much of Christendom will celebrate an ultimate expression of love:  God comes to earth to show us a better way of living our human lives, and in return, the most powerful earthly empire crucifies him.  Some Christians say that Jesus must die for human sin, but that idea of atonement has always troubled me.

Of course, my theology of the cross can get dangerously simplistic too. Ancient Rome had many crimes that warranted death as punishment, but crucifixion was reserved for those who were seen as a threat to the State: terrorists and insurrectionists and such. Jesus was seen as such a threat to the social order that the government had to kill him. I often read the Gospels looking for the message that was such a huge threat that the man had to be silenced.  It's an interesting lens.

We are also entering a time of Passover, another celebration of God's love.  Both Easter and Passover dovetail nicely as ways of showing that God will not be bound by powerful earthly empires--or even by death.  What humans may see as an insurmountable force, God does not.

What will today bring?  I plan to go to the noon Tenebrae service. It's always strange to go to that service at high noon. Our church doesn't have many glass windows, but it's still too light in the sanctuary.

I say I plan to go. I'll be at work, so it's always hard to know if I can be sure I can get away. Fridays are usually easy days for a noon appointment, but this is the week before a new quarter starts on Monday, so it's hard to know.

I hope to get away from work a smidge early--my sister and nephew are visiting.  But again, it's hard to know if that will be possible.  As I have written about before, it's not like we have a huge staff at work to do what must be done before Monday.  So, let me get started!

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Administrator Life: New Student Orientation

When I think back about this week, I will likely remember all the furniture moving that I did--not in my house, but at school. We decided that we wanted a different kind of New Student Orientation, one that involved sharing a meal together after dividing the new students by program of study. We have 2 classrooms connected with a folding wall, so we have the space. But it involved moving all the tables that were configured for classes into tables configured for meal sharing.

We don't have a team of custodians who can be instructed to do that work. The Admissions team needed to be making phone calls to prospective students. We don't have many full-time faculty at all, so most of the faculty are elsewhere in this week between classes. In short, I did it, and I did it with some amount of joy--although occasionally I made a joke about having gone to school for many years to be trained to move tables.

I also did a lot of shopping: for tablecloths, for other paper products, for food. Let me just say a prayer of apology to all of the church women in my past who insisted that we wash the cheap, plastic throw-away tablecloths, which used to exasperate me, but now I have some understanding. It would be expensive to buy new tablecloths for every event.

We had a great event.  I was pleased with the way the room looked, although it's impossible to transform a classroom with its industrial carpeting and sturdy desks/tables into the type of bistro atmosphere I'd have preferred.  We had platters of sandwiches and wraps on one table, and small bags of a wide assortment of chips, along with a wide assortment of drinks and cookies, on a different table.  We had small plotted plants as a centerpiece for every table.

Today I will do the work of restoring the room to two classrooms:  the plants returned to the offices, the tables put back into classroom configuration, the tablecloths folded and stored for the next event.

And yes, when I went to grad school, I didn't think I'd spend so much time doing these tasks.  I think of my mentors in grad school--many of those women were the first to achieve tenure in English departments.  They always told female grad students like me to avoid the tasks that have traditionally been delegated to females:  "Don't be the one to make the coffee.  Don't be the one to bake the cookies."

There's some wisdom to that, if I was at a big campus with a big staff.  But I'm not.  We all have to pitch in, if we want a successful school.  And I do.

I often say that because we're a small school, it means we have to do a lot--but it also means we GET to do a lot of things.  It's much like being at a small church--if one person has the vision and wants to commit the energy to a project that supports the larger mission, the project proceeds.  But I don't have the time or energy to pursue someone's project if they're not also willing to expend the time and energy.

I could have been hierarchical, living in my own silo.  I could have said, "New Student Orientation is an Admissions event, and I'm not going to help put it together."  But the resulting New Student Orientation wouldn't have been as nice as the one last night.  I'm happy to be part of the team that put it together.  And I'm happy that so many students came.  

I'm hopeful that a wonderful New Student Orientation is one way to improve our retention numbers.  My theory is that we improve retention the more often we can make students feel welcome and at a place that feels like a good home to them, like a place full of love, acceptance, and joy.  New Student Orientation is a great place to start. 

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

One Big Hurricane Repair Completed

Last night, I wrote this Facebook post:

"Phase one of Hurricane Irma repairs complete. The cottage now has a working AC system! Without an AC system, it's a strange garage with a bathroom and a kitchen.

Now to see if the slight mold problem means we should tear out some drywall--we'll scrub down the walls, AGAIN, and see if the mold returns. Fingers crossed that because we have working AC, the mold problem is a ventilation problem, not a true mold problem. But taking out parts of drywall and replacing is something we can do.

There are more repairs ahead of us, but tonight, let me take joy in having one project done!"

We have gone from having one air conditioner that was hardly adequate to having a split system that is astonishingly efficient--and quiet!  We're still not sure what we will do with the cottage, but now we have lots of options.  And not fixing the cottage means our home value goes down.  It's good to have taken this major step.

Because of the flooding issues in our neighborhood, we have a slightly higher concrete pad for the outside part of the AC.  I looked at it and wished it could be even higher, while at the same time realizing that if the flood waters are that high, we'll have bigger problems than the cottage AC.

I have been working on getting the AC fixed since October.  At first I was looking for someone to repair the system.  Then it was getting a sense of our options.   And then it was a matter of contracts and permits and all the waiting that entails.

And suddenly, in the space of 2 days, we have a working system.  But of course, it's not sudden.  Like much of life, we move somewhat nebulously toward a goal, and finally, achieve it.

Let me take heart.  Let me not give up on the projects (poetry book with a spine!  publishing a book of connected short stories! finishing the repairs in the main house!  figuring out how climate change will impact our retirement years!  how to plan for that future!) that seem so far away from success/completion.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

A Poem for Holy Week: "Good Friday at the Grocery Store"

I am about to run out of writing time this morning--but in a way, that's good.  This morning, it means that I was able to sleep through the night, what I call the night, from 8:30 to 4:30.  Last night, we had a lovely evening on the front porch, eating our dinner of delicious dribs and drabs of leftovers from a week-end of cooking for our mostly blind college friend who was making a South Florida tour.  We enjoyed wine and occasionally neighbors walked by and we chatted.

One of them said, "We haven't seen you in awhile."  It's true--we seem to have gotten out of the front porch habit.  Why have we been choosing TV instead of porch time?  Part of the answer lies in the weather--if it's chilly, I'm not as interested in being outside--and I have a South Florida body thermostat by now, so it's been chilly.

Happily, we still have some time to enjoy the front porch before it becomes unbearably hot.  A resolution!

Since my writing time is so small, let me post a poem for Holy Week.  I wrote it many years ago, when I'd been teaching the American Lit survey class at the University of Miami.  Can you see the influence of Allen Ginsburg's "A Supermarket in California"?

Good Friday at the Grocery Store

Salmonella lurks in the spinach,
more vicious beasties in the beef and chicken.
Corpses wrapped in cellophane
under fluorescent lights that cast green shadows.

Homeless people haunt the night,
hungry for bread and beyond,
trundling belongings in rickety shopping carts.
The lights glow in empty
buildings that aren’t for them.

City of unclean feet and dirtier hands,
all night grocery stores and home improvement centers,
the music of militaristic bass beats
and muted churches.
People hungry to fill they know not what,
buzzing on fatigue and caffeine
and always, that ravenous fear
that chews their bones to dust.

Small groups gather in a catacomb of marble and wood,
lit by candles, sheltered
from the Capitalist world that threatens
to consume every last hope.

They know the rituals that fed
their grandparents although they have not practiced
them with faith. They read the sacred
texts; they pour the wine and break
the bread. The veil lifts,
the earth shakes, the kingdom
enters, slipping in through the broken scrim.

Monday, March 26, 2018

Palm Sunday Poetry

While I didn't write any poems yesterday, I did come up with ideas for poems.  On Saturday, I had been reading blog posts, looking for inspiration.  I came across an idea from last Easter, writing about the empty tomb, writing in the voice of the empty tomb.

Yesterday, as I drove my car full of palms to the church to decorate before the first service, I watched the sun rise which made the tall buildings full of glass look a bit crumpled.  I listened to On Being--a great interview with Parker Palmer about depression, and the difference between depression and suffering:   "I do not believe that the God who gave me life wants me to live a living death. I believe that the God who gave me life wants me to live life fully and well. Now, is that going to take me to places where I suffer because I am standing for something or I am committed to something or I am passionate about something that gets resisted and rejected by the society? Absolutely. But anyone who’s ever suffered that way knows that it’s a life-giving way to suffer; that if it’s your truth, you can’t not do it, and that knowledge carries you through. But there’s another kind of suffering that is simply and purely death. It’s death in life. And that is a darkness to be worked through, to find the life on the other side."

Later, as I showered to get ready for church, I thought about that tomb, how it was more likely a cave.  I thought about cave-like spaces, caverns which are like wombs.  I thought about the manger and Mary and Joseph, and how the stable was more likely a cave than a barn.  I thought about caves where bandits hide.

Our interactive service at 9:45 is celebrating Lent with the poetry of Mary Oliver.  Yesterday we read "The Poet Thinks of the Donkey," which tells the Palm Sunday story through the eyes of the donkey.  I was struck by this stanza:

Never had he seen such crowds!
And I wonder if he at all imagined what was to happen.
Still, he was what he had always been: small, dark, obedient.

Later this week, I will write that poem about the empty tomb, which also is small, dark, and obedient.  I am grateful for a Palm Sunday that includes poetry.

This week-end felt a bit hectic to me, with our week-end house guest and all the extra work that entails, on top of a Palm Sunday jam packed with activities: I participated in the life of the church in all sorts of ways yesterday:  reading, anointing with oil, handchime practice, helping count the money, and clean up.  But my half hour of contemplation during the laying down of the palms (sounds better than decorating) was my favorite part of the day--totally unanticipated and restorative.

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Marching to Palm Sunday

I am surprised--but why should I be?--at how many of my Facebook friends went to marches yesterday in cities large and small.  Well done!

We have a college friend visiting this week-end.  We thought about going to the march in our area, but as I wrote about yesterday, the challenges involved made us change our minds.  I baked bread, which gets me further ahead for the coming weeks in terms of nourishing things to eat at work.  We needed to run some errands in Ft. Lauderdale, so I suggested we do that sooner rather than later.  We finished the day by my spouse and our friend playing music:

Throughout the day, I had the marches on the brain.  But I also found my thoughts returning to the anniversary of the assassination of Archbishop Oscar Romero, which was yesterday.  And it's Palm Sunday week-end, which added a different patina to my thoughts than we might expect.

I've been thinking about social progress--what it takes to make progress, and how we lose traction.  Sadly, violence often spurs us to make demands we wouldn't have made otherwise.  And violence can also show us how serious the stakes are and how long the odds--witness Oscar Romero and Jesus Christ.

Romero knew that he was in danger from various political forces in the country, but he refused to cower in fear and back down. Likewise, Jesus must have known what wrath he was bringing down upon himself, but he did not back down. Until the end of his life, he called upon us to reform our earthly systems, systems that enrich a few on the backs of the many. Romero and Christ both show us that the forces of empire do not take kindly to being criticized.

Jesus warns us that to follow him will mean taking up a cross, and it may be the literal cross of death. The story of Passion Sunday reminds us that we are not here to seek the world's approval: the world may love us one day and crucify us next week. Passion Sunday offers us some serious reminders. If we put our faith in the world, we're doomed. If we get our glory from the acclaim of the secular world, we'll find ourselves rejected sooner, rather than later.

It's important for us to remember the basic lesson of the Scriptures: God is not fickle; it's humans and the societies that humans create that are fickle. You can be acclaimed in one season and denounced in the next.

The Passion story and the story of Oscar Romero remind us that dreadful things may happen to us. God took on human form, and even God couldn't avoid horrific pain and suffering. But the Passion story also reminds us that we are not alone. God is there in the midst of our human dramas. If we believe in free will and free choices, then God may not be able to protect us from the consequences of our decisions. But God will be there to be our comfort and our strength.

We live in a time where we might feel overwhelmed by how much evil we see, and how determined those forces of evil seem to be.  A more important lesson comes with Easter. God can take horrific suffering and death and transform it into resurrection. We know what happened to Jesus and those early Christians after the death of Jesus. Likewise, in death, Oscar Romero became a larger force for justice than in life. His death, and the martyrdom of other Church leaders and lay workers (not to mention the deaths of 75,000 civilians) galvanized worldwide public opinion against the forces of death in El Salvador. God is there with us in our suffering and with God's help, suffering can be transformed into a more loving world.

Saturday, March 24, 2018

March for Our Lives

Today many people will be marching, both in D.C. and in marches across the country.  Once again, I will not be marching, and once again, I feel oddly guilty about that.

Once I marched.  I marched and I went to prayer vigils both with and without candles, and I was part of rallies.  I've gone to gatherings that were part protest, part art happening; I'm thinking about a Hiroshima anniversary that had prayers for peace and paper cranes and anti-nuke activists.  I've marched for and against more causes than I can remember, but my overall reason for marching was the same:  I had a vision of a better world, and I hoped that my marching might convince others.  Plus it was good to be with like-minded activists and other types of supporters.

I had planned to go to the Parkland rally today, even though it was scheduled for 10 to 2--that's a long time to march or even just to stand on our feet.  Then I started hearing about distance parking and shuttlebuses, which wouldn't be running through the whole event so we'd be stuck there for hours. And this week, the arthritis in my feet and the pain in my left hip made me think I couldn't do it physically. But it's really about the distance parking which likely adds additional hours waiting for the shuttlebus and to get out of the parking lot.

And I tell myself that if it had looked like attendance would be sparse, I'd go, because having my body there would be important.  If millions of people are marching today, it's not as important that I go.

Nineteen year old Kristin would not approve of this line of thinking. She's a harsh one, my inner 19 year old Kristin.

Do I still believe in the power of marches? Yes. I think today's marches will speak volumes. Will anyone pay attention? Will those marches even register in the minds of those in power? Surely so, if the numbers of marchers across the nation are as high as I expect.

Will it change behavior? I do not know.
So, I have bread dough rising--it's not much in the way of social justice or changing gun laws, but it helps me stay healthy and grounded.

I am saying prayers this morning, and I'll continue to pray periodically throughout the day.  I'll pray for the safety of all, those who march, those who support from the sidelines, those who listen, and those who ignore it all.  I'll pray that my vision of a better world comes a step or two closer to incarnation with this latest round of marches.

Friday, March 23, 2018

Courage and Corps of Discovery

Today is the day in 1806 when Lewis and Clark began their long trek back east.  You may remember that they led the Corps of Discovery across the Louisiana purchase.  What a journey! 

I've often thought about how history would have been different, if their expedition had been less successful.  I've thought of the Native American populations who helped the Corps, which I could argue then led to near annihilation later.  Would that have happened anyway?  Probably.  Would settlers have been so eager to press west without the information brought back by this first expedition?  Probably.  And yet . . .

I'm thinking of the summer when we first moved here, back in 1998.  We had decided that we wanted to live in South Florida, and we had decided to take the summer to move down to see what we could make happen, after trying the traditional route of getting a job first but having no luck.  We knew that if it didn't work out, we could move back to South Carolina.  But within weeks of our move, I was offered a 1 year position at the community college.  I said yes, and I resigned from my South Carolina job.  I was both thrilled and terrified.

Our PBS station was showing the Ken Burns documentary about Lewis and Clark, which featured the Stephen Ambrose book Undaunted Courage, and I found it oddly comforting, especially as I thought about the ways that their journey had taken twists and turns they didn't expect--and yet, they were still a success.

Yesterday, I sent a link to Jane Friedman's blog post to several friends.  It's the first time I've read anyone being quite this honest about what they earned in their first year of freelancing, and what she did to get ready to make that leap.  I've heard Jane Friedman speak about the writing life several times, and she's always inspiring.  Yet if you look at her pie chart, you'll see that she earns money in many ways, not just by writing.

Right now, I'm relatively happy with my work life, so I'm not looking to make this leap just yet.  But I'll always be interested in people who are carving out a life that's more in line with their values.  I'll always be interested in stories of people who make a way out of no way.  I'll always be interested in stories of people who explore interiors and exteriors of all sorts.

This morning, as I was considering the Lewis and Clark and all the ways we live our lives, I came across this poem, part of my first chapbook, Whistling Past the Graveyard.  It combines history and psychology in interesting ways.  I wrote it in my adjuncting years that came after the 1 year position, when I wondered if I'd ever find a full-time job again.  I did--I took a teaching job at the Art Institute of Ft. Lauderdale.  It sounded awful on paper:  a 5-5-6-6 teaching load.  But it had benefits, both the traditional kind of health insurance, and the benefit of a salary I could count on.  And through the years, that job had other benefits:  getting to design and teach interesting classes, wonderful colleagues, interesting students, unforeseen opportunities.

Daunted Courage

Again, I sail into this landlocked sea,
a pool of despair ringed by mountains
of misery. I search for Northwest Passage,
a quicker way to chart my path
through this depressing landscape.

Lewis and Clark forged their way across
a continent. Why can’t I do the same?
Where are my native guides? Why do they hide
in the landscape, an ominous screen of hooded eyes?
Why can’t I lift my hand in a friendly
gesture, simply ask for help?

I am no fearless explorer of my emotional
terrain. Instead, a runaway slave, I feel my way
through unfamiliar territory with no map
and only a rough understanding of the language.
I keep an eye on the North Star
and inch forward under cover of darkness.

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Chunks of Wisdom from AWP panels

Two weeks ago, I'd have been getting ready to go to the first AWP panels.  I took my purple legal pad with me to each panel.  Before we get too far away from the AWP conference, let me go back through my notes.  I'll remember these nuggets more often if I also write them here. 

Some of the best book promoting wisdom came from a session on, no surprise, promoting the first book ("Where's Waldo?:  Marketing a First Book"):

--Be specific when someone asks what you're working on.  Don't say, "I'm working on poems."  Say "I'm working on a collection that explores/shows . . . "

--Think about your audience as you help your publisher with marketing.  The best quote from this panel came from Jeffrey Lependorf  :  "The more narrowly you focus, the more people you will reach."  It sounds counterintuitive, but it's not.  If you say your book is for everyone, no one can find it.  You may reach readers you never knew you could have, if you think about your work in terms of other pop culture that's similar to yours (my poems explore our current time using metaphors from the Civil War, so people who love Hamilton could be a good audience).

--The panelists talked about the importance of building community.  Perhaps we want to do one big thing a year, like organizing a reading or a festival.  Or here's an alternate approach:  for every 3 things you do to share your work, share someone else's.

--And here's one that seems so obvious, and yet it never occurred to me:  the signature of our e-mail should have a link where people can buy the book.

The first panel I attended was "The Body's Story:  Narratives of Illness."  The presenters talked about approaches to writing when the narrative doesn't follow the expected narrative arc:  there is no healing, there is no resolution, there is no happy ending.  The suggestion to surround ourselves with people who love and support us is not a surprise--but I found myself nodding at the idea of the ghosts of non-love, which can be so destructive.

In the second panel, "From the Stanza to the Paragraph," Marilyn Chin asked, "Why waste time writing beige?"  Why indeed.

In a Friday panel on "Jobs, Jobs, Jobs," we were advised not to invite anxieties into our lives.  Ah, if only I knew how to refrain from that.

In a Saturday panel on "Bridging Campus and Community," a panelist told us about Useed, which is like a kickstarter site for universities.  One panelist told us that as we approach various audiences for help, that we should use the language that the entity will understand.  So, for one department, it might be the potential students we'd reach, for others, it will be the issues of budget, and for others, a pipeline that brings in __________.

I finished my time at AWP by going to a panel entitled "The Ganesh in the Room:  Speaking of Faith in the Literary Community."  They began by noting the potential offense and insensitivity contained in the title, especially for a panel that contained no Hindu participants.  I wrote more about the panel in this post on my theology blog--that's how much it impressed me.  Here are my two favorite take-aways, both from Amy Frykholm, the Christian woman participant.  She talked about her Christian belief as being less of an identity than as a location and a territory.  I loved that metaphor.  It explains the wrestling to leave as well as the longing to return.  It takes our faith away from the issue of what we believe (and can or cannot prove) and the creeds.

In the two weeks that have zoomed by since the conference, I've had many happy moments thinking back over the great conference.  I confess, I was underwhelmed by the idea of Tampa as a city and by the conference schedule.  I'm glad that I got over my petulance and had a great time.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Wrinkling Time

Yesterday was the kind of morning, where after a rough Monday afternoon and evening, I had to keep saying to myself, ""Hey, no multi-million bridge collapsed onto a major roadway because of me and my work."  I decided that I would go see A Wrinkle in Time after work.

I had already been considering going, even before my time of despair.  It's become clear to me that the movie isn't doing as well as the studio wanted, and with new big movies about to be released, I knew that if I wanted to see the movie on the big screen, I needed to see it soon.

As I've already written in several blog posts, the trick was finding time.  Yesterday I saw a window, and I seized it.  Because I'm staying late today, I left early yesterday to catch a 5 p.m. show.

I arrived at the movie theatre twenty minutes earlier than I anticipated--amazing how much easier it is to make my way across town when there's no rush hour traffic.  I decided to go ahead and get my ticket and refreshments--I had already decided that I would have popcorn and a soda for dinner.

I have now gotten my first senior citizen discount--the ticket seller didn't ask me about my age, but simply gave me the ticket.  I decided not to say anything.  I felt oddly embarrassed and distressed--do I really look that old?  What is the senior citizen age anyway?  What made the ticket seller decide I was a senior?  The fact that I'm going to a movie in my work clothes?  The fact that my work clothes are somewhat frumpy, and certainly not fashionable?  Is my skin more wrinkled than I realize?  Later, my spouse said, "She probably just gives the discount to everyone."  I doubt it, but I love him for saying it.

There weren't many people in the theatre:  in the end, it was me, a man and his daughter, another woman alone, and an adult and 2 or 3 children who came in just as the movie started.  I love the previews as much as the next person, but 20 minutes of previews grew wearisome.

For the most part, I had a strange, dual reaction to the movie:  I both loved it, and it left me thinking it was a bit flat.  It is probably the most gorgeous movie I have seen in years, perhaps ever.  I loved the themes, of course.  Let me make two lists:

What I loved:

--The main character Meg.  I should repeat this line 1000 times--the main character makes up for so many faults.  And while she's beautiful and not as klutzy as in the book, the fact that she's a young, black female makes her very true to the character.

--I love, love, love that it wasn't turned into a young, love story, even as we could see the beginning of love glimmering in their faces.  At the same time, the story shows the importance of all kinds of love, especially the love of family members.

--The costumes were amazing.  AMAZING.

--The settings were also beautiful, even the uglier ones.  I love what the movie does visually, especially in terms of metaphor and symbol.  I love how the visual material supports and cements the mood and themes.

--Have I mentioned how much I love Meg?

--I really, really needed the message of the movie:  that we are powerful, even when we feel that we are ugly and worthless, even when the larger society rejects our gifts.

--I REALLY loved the message that our faults might not be faults.  In fact, they may be gifts.

--The Mrs. played by Oprah shows us how love can curdle and turn to evil, with those images of various characters in the movie, including the school principal and the woman who wanted to be principal--I thought that part was really strong.  Part of me wanted the movie to lift to a larger significance, to show the ramifications on a national or planetary level, but part of me realized that would be over-the-top preachy, in a movie that could already be accused of that trait.

What I less-than-loved:

--The special effects left me feeling tired at times.  I know, I know--they probably weren't even that special.  The previews for Ready Player One left me feeling even more exhausted, and that was only a few minutes.  But still, I felt the story dragged a bit as the special effects crews showed what they could do.

--The scene where Meg saves her brother left me wishing it had been different, but I couldn't figure out how I would have done it.

--The dad's confession about having devoted too much of himself to work made me want to throw things at the screen--haven't we had decades of this message directed to us?  Sure, it's in the mouth of a male, which might make it seem revolutionary, but really??!  When he says, "I wanted to hold the hand of the universe, when I should have been holding your hand," I wanted to say, "You were working on important discoveries.  It's not your fault that you got held prisoner."  After all, from what we saw in the movie, he was a good dad when he was still home.

Overall, I'm glad that I went--especially since I want to show movie studios that if they make this kind of movie, people will go.  I'd go again, if anyone asked me--but I might read the book before I went. 

I may read the book anyway.  Or maybe I'll read another work of theology by L'Engle, or her Crosswicks journals.  Madeleine L'Engle has so often offered what I need to read.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Seasons, Spring and Otherwise

It is the first day of Spring.  Down here, it's a maddening time for me.  It's not quite hot enough to have the AC on all the time, but the house gets muggy without it.  I turn on the AC, and then I get chilled fairly quickly.

I'm taking a layer off and then ten minutes later, putting it back on.  I sleep under covers, then toss them off--unfortunately, this process wakes me up, so I'm not sleeping well.

Could it be menopause?  Sure--but I've been this way since childhood.

Last night I was having trouble sleeping for a variety of reasons.  A possible line for a poem floated through my head:  The menopausal woman considers her night sweats.  I was thinking about the significance of night sweats and the early days of AIDS, when sweat soaked sheets were a signifier of a different life passage.  I have a memory of the made-for-TV movie that starred Aidan Quinn, An Early Frost, and a scene where the mother of the young man tries to help him through a tough night that includes lots of sweating.

Now we talk about sweating, my friends and I, but it's in a very different context.

I am wary of writing about menopause, and for a feminist, I find that worth noting.  I remember as a much younger woman reading poems from women bidding their periods goodbye, and I recoiled.  I often joke that I'm a medievalist in terms of my body--I try to be modern and appreciative of my physical self, but it's very hard not to see myself as a soul trapped in the frailties of flesh.

My pumpkins that have been on the porch since October are finally submitting to their mortality.  Last night I tried to return to my Lenten discipline of mixing holidays and seasons in photography:

In so many ways, I see this image as a metaphor of where so many of us are, both seasonally (first day of spring, as yet another blizzard-making storm prepares to travel through the northeast) and in our lives (still young, yet seeing our mortality on the horizon).

Monday, March 19, 2018

March Madness

This morning, I wondered if I had picked up the wrong prayer book.  Why this reading about the boy Jesus being lost in the temple?  Then I realized that it's March 19, the feast day of St. Joseph (father of Jesus), and we don't have very many Bible passages that show Joseph in action.  For more on this feast day, see this blog post on my theology blog.

It's also my mom's birthday--how can we be this late into March?

Yesterday morning, I wrote about my struggle to find enough time, and yesterday evening, I realized that it's not just me.  I compared calendars with two church friends to try to find a time when we could go see A Wrinkle in Time.  We all have jam-packed schedules until well after Easter.  Sigh.

And now it is time to bring this writing to a close, and it's quite a short post.  So I went hunting for a poem that I haven't posted yet, something to do with lack of time.

I didn't find quite that poem, but I did find one from my second chapbook, I Stand Here Shredding Documents.  I must have written it in the years of the economic crash, somewhere around 2008 or 2009. The character in the poem is not  me, since I wasn't looking at any company books back then (or now)--but plenty of people were.

It's interesting to read it from such a distance of years; I barely remember writing it, but I do remember that time period of experimenting with rhyme and form.  I remember those years as producing poems that weren't very good, but I like this one.

So, a sonnet for your Monday morning--and a wish that we might have more sonnets in our busy lives!

Nine Pomegranate Seeds

The books declare the finances in arrears.
She has stared the numbers to a haze
as if an oracle might appear
to point the way out of this maze.

Her early training prepared her to teach
Fairy Tales and Mythology. She looks, tiring,
for a path of bread crumbs, a way to reach
a way out of this haunted forest of budget cuts and firing.

She knows it is too late. She has bitten
the fruit and gone to the banquet to dine.
She has sold her principles because she is so smitten
with her health insurance, her salary, and fine wine.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Managing Time

I am looking at my schedule, trying to figure out when I will go see A Wrinkle in Time.  I want to support that movie so that more movies like that one will be made--not for me, so much, as I can hardly find time to see a movie these days.  But there are others who will need movies like that one.  Plus, I think it's a big screen movie.

Maybe I will leave work and see it on Tuesday evening.  I don't want to wait too long--the movie will be gone soon, I fear, although it's had a good opening.

Part of me wonders how my life has come to this.  Once I had trouble affording movies in their newest release, but those were days of the dollar movies.  I used to say, "Everything comes to the dollar movies, if you wait long enough."  Now we can watch in any number of ways, but I often can't remember any recent releases that appealed enough to me to remember the name to summon it up on some streaming device.

Yesterday, we had book group at my house.  I say "book group," and you probably envision a regularly scheduled thing.  Nope.  The last time we met was in June to discuss The Underground Railroad.  Yesterday, we discussed The Sellout.  Next time (perhaps by August) we may choose something lighter in subject matter.

We may meet in August, or we may meet only when one of us reads a book that is so wonderful we must discuss it with someone.  It's a strange book club, but it works for me.  If a group insisted on a monthly meeting, I don't know that I could do it.

Right now, so many of my friendships are similar.  I try to see people often, but it's shocking to me how quickly the time goes by between our times together.

It's Sunday morning, and soon we will go to church.  It's one of the few standing appointments that I am often able to make.  Would there be others, if I made the effort to have a standing friend appointment?

Saturday, March 17, 2018

The Feast Day of Saint Patrick: Beyond the Green Beer

Today is the feast day of Saint Patrick.  But as with Mardi Gras and Valentine's Day, the secular aspects of these days almost completely overshadow the religious origins.  As people drink their green beer today, will they also be pondering life in ancient Ireland?  Will they even know who Saint Patrick was?

All these centuries later, I still find Saint Patrick fascinating.  What surprises me lately is how I find different aspects of his life fascinating at different points of my life.

This year, I find myself thinking about his years as a slave.  Patrick was born to a high ranking Roman family in England, but when he was approximately 16, he was kidnapped and spent 6 or 7 years as a slave in Ireland. While there, he learned the language and the non-Christian customs of the land.

This knowledge would come in handy when he was sent back to Ireland in the 5th century to solidify the Christianity of the country. There are many stories about Patrick's vanquishing force, complete with Druid spells and Christian counterspells. I suspect the real story was perhaps more tame.

Later scholars have suggested that Patrick and his compatriots were sent to minister to the Christians who were already there, not to conquer the natives. Other scholars have speculated that one of the reasons that Christianity was so successful in Ireland was because Patrick took the parts of pagan religions that appealed most to its followers and showed how those elements were also present in Christianity--or perhaps incorporated them into Christianity as practiced in Ireland.

All scholars seem to agree: Patrick was essential in establishing Christianity in Ireland. And he wouldn't have been so effective, had he not spent time there as a slave, which meant he learned the language and the customs of the country.

Ireland and Scotland must have felt like distant outposts, a tough exile.  And yet, what they had to offer was exactly what was needed to keep the faith going.

The community that they created helped them with their mission.  Lately I've been wondering if my various local communities are fraying a bit.  I'm especially thinking of my creative communities.  I've been thinking back to a time when I had more of a quilting group.  I still do, but we just don't meet as often.  Once we met once a month to quilt, and we created much more fabulous pieces of fiber/fabric art than we would have if we had stayed on our own.  I'm missing that group, and I can't exactly get it back, because our lives have changed so much.

I'm trying not to spend too much time mired in this kind of regret.  That time is gone, and I am trying to wait patiently for what is next.

In the lives of these ancient saints, we don't hear about these down times, which they surely must have had.  They seem to have been ever charging onward.  But there must have been times when they felt used up, unsure of what to do next.

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

Friday, March 16, 2018

When Bridges Crumble and Crash

Yesterday, one of our EMS instructors asked me if we had a TV on campus.  I knew that something must be wrong--people don't ask for a TV so they can catch up on their viewing of cartoons.  I thought about 2001, when we gathered around the TV at the University of Miami where I taught; we were desperate for more information in the wake of the terrorist attacks.

We have no TVs on campus--I was a bit startled to realize that.  Once, I arrived at a campus where every classroom had a TV/VCR combo, and I thought I had landed at a place that had big budgets.  Now we expect a computer in every classroom and office.  That's how we caught up with news yesterday, with the larger computers and the small ones that we call our cell phones.

Yesterday's news:  a bridge collapse at Florida International University.  FIU was on Spring Break, so that's good--it could have been worse. The bridge wasn't yet open to pedestrian traffic, so it could have been worse. It didn't happen at rush hour--it could have been worse.

Still, it's pretty bad. And it's the second time in two months where I've written to my family to let them know that I wouldn't have been at a area school where a tragedy occurred, and my spouse wouldn't have been either. 

We were having a Spring into Health event at my school yesterday.  Once a quarter we have this event that serves several purposes:  it's a fun event for students, it's a pre-Orientation event for students who will join us next quarter, and it's an open house for potential students and the community.  The bloodmobile was parked in the front parking lot.

I confess that I don't give blood as often as I should.  I hate needles, and I hate that the pre-giving process takes so long.  Part of me understands why they need to ask so many questions, but part of me says, "You're going to test my blood, so let's just get this underway."  No, I've never had sex for money or injected myself with anything with a needle or . . . .

I lead a very boring life, in terms of infectious disease, which makes me a perfect candidate for giving blood.  I no longer have the low blood pressure of my long distance running youth, but I'm still healthy.  But I hate needles.

Yesterday, as the news trickled in about the bridge collapse, I thought about donating blood.  I finally decided to do it during the end of the bloodmobile's stay.  If anything went wrong, I'd soon be heading home.

Nothing went wrong, of course.  The only thing that's ever gone wrong was when I donated during a very low blood pressure day, and the bag just didn't fill.  As possibilities go, that's not too bad.  One of my colleagues fainted yesterday.

My experience last night was perfect.  I headed to the bloodmobile bus at 6:10, and I was done just before 7--the actual taking of the blood took about 12 minutes.  The phlebotomist was gentle and kind--the qualities I need in someone who approaches me with a needle.

As I sat in the chair, squeezing the rubber ball, I offered prayers for those who needed our blood.  I said several prayers of thanks for my boring life which has resulted in my clean and healthy blood.  I offered prayers for all the people I know who cannot donate blood. 

And then I prayed for us all, in this larger, crumbling world.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Choose Your Own Apocalypse

Last night, instead of writing a meditation on Good Friday for my church, I went out to dinner with a friend.  We had planned to go see A Wrinkle in Time, then it looked like she had to cancel completely because of home inspectors coming, then later in the afternoon, she suggested dinner.  I'd had a tough day, so dinner with a friend sounded wonderful.  We hadn't seen each other since summer, so we had lots to catch up on, and much of it was tinged with sadness:  hurricane repairs, the school shooting a month ago, the state of the larger world.

Even as we were talking about how much the current state of politics alarmed us, we often laughed uproariously.  I mentioned the March for Parkland on March 24, and I realized that I knew very little about it.  I said, "My pastor's the one that told me about it, so I'm assuming that any cause we're marching for would align with my values."  We then had a moment of fun, thinking about a church group gathered under false pretenses to a white supremacist rally, with my pastor saying, "Rise up!  Here is the evil we've been trained to fight."

In a similar vein, I said that my spouse had made a Facebook post wondering where the next Dietrich Bonhoeffer was when there was work to be done, and I responded that perhaps he is the one he's been waiting for.  I said, "I meant that he should be writing.  If he ends up a martyr, you'll know it's my fault."

We talked about wondering if English majors have a different approach to narratives of apocalypse than the general population.  On the way home, it occurred to me to wonder if a certain segment of English majors chooses that major because of their love of dystopian literature.

We talked about the apocalypses we never thought we would see in our lifetimes, but now we seem to be in a race to see which apocalypse will win.  The specter of nuclear war has raised its head again, and we agreed that we're seeing alarming similarities between our time and Europe in the 1930's.  And we live in South Florida which will be a ground zero in this century of rising seas.

Our literary experiences have trained us to spot the apocalypse on the horizon, but I'm not sure they've told us what we should do.  Of course, part of the problem is not knowing which apocalypse will come for us first.

I realize that I speak that last sentence from a place of privilege as a white woman who has economic resources and a passport.  I'm older, which means I can blend in to the background.  While I might contain several minorities in this package of my body and life, I also know how to pass.

I also know that the skill of passing hasn't always saved people.  This Internet world makes it harder to blend into the background, should forces come looking for us.

We talked about leaving South Florida and where we should go.  I said that it depends on which apocalypse is headed our way.  If we're expecting the global economy to collapse, we'll want to live in a place where we can grow some food and have some chickens.  If we're thinking that we're headed towards The Handmaid's Tale, we need to think about leaving the country and which countries have a good record when it comes to protecting women (all 6 of them) as we choose where to flee.

As I look back on this time period, I will see it as the season of dinners of exodus:  so many people are seriously considering moving out of South Florida.  In ten years, I wonder how many of us will have left.  And I wonder what the larger settings of our lives will look like.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Pictures from an AWP

Yesterday was the first day I sorted through pictures.  Since I use an old-fashioned camera, I didn't take many.  Still, some of them struck me.

As I walked on Friday morning with my camera, one of the workers at the Convention Center asked me if I was a photographer.  I said, "No, a tourist."  We chatted for a bit--we've both lived in South Carolina. What are the odds of that?

I was on my way to the labyrinth that's part of the Riverwalk.  I looked across the river and was struck by the old fashioned smokestack that's part of the opposite vista, a throwback to an industrial age in a cityscape that's clearly based on tourism, at least around the Convention Center: 

Here's the longer view:

As I walked, I wondered if I'd get to where I thought I saw a labyrinth only to find that it was just a decorative brick layout.  Nope--it's really a labyrinth.

Of course, you have to walk on the correct part.  At first, I wound up in a dead end, and I thought nope, that's not the message of the labyrinth.  I went back and walked on the darker part:

Success!  I walked the rest.

Did I feel meditative?  Did I have any breakthroughs?  No, nothing obvious--but it was good to pause and say thanks--for safe travels, for the conference, for the planners of the Tampa Riverwalk who thought to put a labyrinth along the way.

It would have been even better if there had been some sort of informative plaque about labyrinths, but instead, there were plaques about the wildlife we might see.  

I wonder how many people run and walk by the labyrinth every day not realizing what they're seeing.  I had a vision of labyrinths tucked away in all sorts of unlikely places, offering a meditative space in the middle of all sorts of regular lives.
On the way back, I saw this palm frond on the edge of a dock.  At first, it looked like a fish skeleton to me.

I do think there's a certain vibe in these pictures, especially in the above, where we've got a husk of what had been alive and a chain.  Here's the longer view:
I didn't take many pictures during sessions; I was rarely in a place to capture much of anything.  And pictures of panelists at a table are rather boring.
Here's a picture of sunrise on the last morning.  And now, let me get started on my morning:

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Random Post-AWP Memories

--The first day, a woman said, "Your shirt looks so soft."  It was my wonderful purple shirt that makes me feel very artsy, but I have owned it for a long time.  I said, "It is," and I held out my arm so that she could touch my sleeve.  For the rest of the day, I pondered this encounter.  She seemed sincere enough, not snarky.  I did wonder if that was a polite way of saying that my shirt looked like it had been washed too many times.  My friend who has seen me wearing this shirt for many years said that it has taken on a luminous look, and that I should not worry.

--I got to one panel presentation, and Joy Harjo was at the table.  Her name hadn't been in the big book of a printed program, and so I wasn't expecting to see her.  Joy Harjo and Marilyn Chin sat on the same side of the podium.  I felt starstruck.

--The woman sitting on the row with me for that session with Joy Harjo and Marilyn Chin has an interesting art project.  She's taken the teeny tiny figures from her husband's miniature railroad and glued them on pieces of plastic.  She gave one to me, and she left one on the floor when she left.  I wonder what the next session group made of it.

The figure on the catalog size program

 --I did notice the interesting tattoo that Joy Harjo has on her hand and lower arm.  Above the tattoo sits her smart watch, and on her finger, a delicate ring.  I thought of all the ways that art speaks to us, all embodied right there:  tattoo, technology, ring, and poetry.

--I also saw Marilyn Chin later, eating lunch with Kamiko Hahn.  Luckily, I only realized who I had seen as I was already at the door of the restaurant.  I like to think that had I recognized them earlier, I wouldn't have behaved like a starstruck poetry geek, that I'd have let the women peacefully finish their lunch.

--Maggie Smith, the poet not the British movie star, gives great readings.  She, too, has interesting tattoos on her arm.

--I felt that there were many attendees who were students of all sorts, and lots of older folks of the retired or at least established sort.  But not many people in the early stages of careers.  That's based entirely on my random sampling, and my very iffy ability to judge ages.  But still, it makes a sort of sense:  it's an expensive conference, and many people in their 20's or 30's wouldn't have the ability to partake.  I'm guessing that there are dollars out there for students to attend--how else could they come?  Or do they use loan money?  Or credit cards?

--It was strange to wander the bookfair and to think about how many years I've been submitting to some of those journals.  One very young person staffing a booth of one journal said, "Do you know about our journal?"  I resisted saying, "I've been submitting to this journal for more years than you've been alive."  I've been young--I know how that sounds.  Still, it was strange.

--I am also surprised by how many paths crossed mine in the bookfair.  I saw Lynn Domina, who was also wandering, and Sandy Longhorn, who was staffing the booth for her school and the C.D. Wright festival.  These were unplanned encounters.  The next time I go, perhaps I shall feel organized enough to plan some encounters so that we can really catch up.

--I brought back many more books and periodicals in 2011 than I did this year.  I was careful--and there weren't as many great last day deals.  I saved my money for books, not periodicals:

--I took a book with me each day to the amazing breakfast that Embassy Suites offers each morning.  I was happy to be able to recommend Leslie Pietrzyk's latest novel Silver Girl to one of my fellow breakfasters.  She commented on the cover, and I gushed over the content of the book, with its perfect capturing of the early 80's.  She wrote down the name of the book, and I have hopes that I made an extra sale for a writer friend.

--I am irritated that I have to finish The Sellout for my Saturday book club before I can return to Silver Girl.  I am grateful to have good books in my life.

--I am grateful that I ignored my petulant feelings last week, my worries that this AWP would be a pale comparison to the 2011 AWP.  I am grateful that I went and had a great time.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Androgyny and the Modern Girl

As I drove across the Everglades on Saturday evening, I listened to Adam Ant sing "Goody Two Shoes."  No, I hadn't found some wonderful 80's radio station out in the swamp.  It's part of my data stick of music that's mostly 80's music.  Later, as I drove into the Ft. Lauderdale metro area, Prince came on the radio.

I'd already been thinking about gender and how we present, and this music took me back to my high school and college days in the early 80's.  I remember how shocking it was to so many when males started to pierce their ears.  Perhaps it was similar to boys in the 60's sporting long hair ("Past the collar!"  gasp!  "Flowing down the back!"  Super gasp!).

Punk rockers in my high school in Knoxville, Tennessee went even further, wearing eyeliner and lipstick.  Were they modeling what they saw in the pop music of the time?  It's hard to imagine that was the motivation.  Wearing make-up was a way to show rebellion. 

As I made my way through the AWP convention, I thought about gender and how we present/perform gender.  I realized that I've never been around so many people who I'd describe as gender ambiguous.  I wouldn't label them as transgender--I can't, since I only saw them in passing.  I can't say that someone feels trapped in the wrong body, just because of clothes or a hairstyle--or because of a complete lack of secondary characteristics that would tie them to a gender.

Yes, I saw many slender people who had no facial hair, no breasts, no muscular definition.  But that might just be because they're young.  It might be because their body will always be slender in ways I might once have identified as female.

I also saw many people who are playing with gender elements.  Some were clearly performing.  The tall, muscular man I saw in 5 inch silver heels with David Bowie Ziggie Stardust make up on his face and shimmery short clothes--does he wear that outfit every day to work?

I also saw a man who was clearly male:  somewhere in midlife, with a silver ponytail, a leather cowboy hat, and leather vest.  Yet he wore a denim skirt, a straight skirt that ended just above the knee, like the ones I wore in high school.  Perhaps he moves through his days, mixing and matching elements from fashion based on what he feels like wearing.

Most of the midlife and older women that I saw are no longer performing gender, if ever we did.  Most of us wear comfortable shoes and clothes.  I was seeing more silver and gray hair than I usually do in the wider world.  But many of us had really interesting jewelry--from the artsy chunky jewelry to wispy strands.

I saw lots of unnatural hair color too:  bright green and purple and pink.  But only younger attendees sported those colors.  Students can get away with all sorts of experimentation.  I would be sent home.  Similarly, if I wore the green or black lipstick that I saw on some males, I would be asked to present myself more professionally.

I have done a lot of reading--A LOT of reading--on gender, on how we live our genders, and how we might change our genders.  I've read a lot about gender and socialization and the biology of it all.  I haven't read as much about all of these issues and the aging body--I wonder if anyone has done this work.  I wonder how transgendered bodies age.  I wonder about menopause--would a person who started out as a man experience this in a vastly different way than someone like me, a person who has always been a biological woman, but in a much sturdier body than my society tells me is appropriate for my gender--and how are these experiences different from those experienced in a more femme body?

And then there's the issue of disability, which takes us to a very different place.

I wish I had more time to consider these issues, and perhaps, even to do this work.  But I must get ready for the work that I am called to do.  We have a Spring Meet and Greet Open House this week.  The students at my school are unlikely to be wrestling with issues of gender.  They are too busy trying to claw their way to some sort of working class/middle class existence with a degree that might get them entry level work in a medical field. 

I wonder if anyone has studied class issues as they intersect with transgender issues.  Probably.  Later, when I have more time, I'll investigate.  Today, I'll buy flowers and snacks for the Open House.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

AWP Exit

I felt anxious about all sorts of things yesterday:  would we get out of town before the hockey game traffic clogged the streets?  Could I exit the municipal parking garage (where I was told I should park if I didn't want valet parking) with no issues?  Could I get all my stuff to the car before my check out time?  Would the hotel honor my tax-exempt status as a member of a non-profit organization travelling on business?

I went ahead and settled the bill early, at 6:30 a.m., which was smart of me, with no trouble about the tax-free status.  I got the car mostly loaded while waiting for the breakfast buffet to open.  But I resisted soothing my other exit anxieties by leaving the conference early.  I really wanted to see the session about faith and writing.

I'm very glad I stayed--it was an excellent panel, and a great way to end the conference.  I wrote about the panel in this post on my theology blog.  After the panel, my grad school friend and I went out for lunch, which was also an excellent way to end our stay.  I confess, I had two desserts, and they were worth it.

Because of the hockey game, the municipal garage was set up to have people exit without stopping at the pay-your-ticket stand.  There were stern signs telling us to keep the traffic moving to the exit.  I followed instructions.

There were no signs telling me how to get back to the expressway that would get me back to I 75.  I didn't find downtown Tampa very navigable.  I was glad that the Embassy Suites was a tower of a hotel, because that's how I found it. Leaving yesterday, I was able to follow my instincts and get to the expressway.  I wasn't sure I was actually headed in the right direction on the expressway until I actually got to the Interstate.

I didn't have great driving conditions on the way home.  For an hour around Sarasota, we averaged about 25 miles an hour, except for when the traffic seemed to be moving normally.  And then, an hour into my journey home, the rain started.  Luckily, it was never the tropical downpour that makes driving so tricky.

When I made the turn to go across the state through the Everglades, I thought I was headed to worse weather.  I thought I might be about to experience something supernatural and otherworldly as the dark, feathery clouds swooped down.  I thought about a poem about guardian angels with wings made out of rain and Everglades mud.

I drove in and out of gloominess, but it wasn't the blackness of Everglades night yet.  I was glad I didn't linger longer than I did in Tampa.  I thought about nineteenth century settlers, hacking homesteads out of mangrove swamps.

The Everglades portion ends rather suddenly, as 75 joins a tangle of highways around the Ft. Lauderdale metro region.  I immediately missed the peace of the rainy, relatively deserted strip of interstate across the Everglades. 

I'd like another few days in my quiet hotel room to process all of this conference.  But that's not the kind of life I have right now.  I was lucky to get the professional development time off that I did, but now I am needed back at work, back at church, back at home.

It's good to be needed.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Age and the AWP

Once again, the first session I went to yesterday was the best session of the day for me--and keep in mind that I'm just getting a small sample of what's available at this AWP conference.  I'm going to 3-4 sessions a day, which means there are hundreds of sessions each day of the three day conference that I'm not seeing.

Yesterday's best session talked about getting ready for a first book launch.  Here's what I wrote in a Facebook post yesterday:

I knew much of the information already, but still, it was good to hear it again, good to dream of having a first book beyond my chapbooks to publicize. I've been thinking of elevator pitches for my projects and which readers I'm trying to reach. Here's a great quote from Jeffrey Lependorf as we consider possible audiences for our books: "The more narrowly you focus, the more people you will reach." And keep in mind, you don't have to limit yourself to one focus, but you can't say, "My book is for every reader." Far better to say, "My book is for people who enjoyed 'Eat, Pray, Love,' but wished the author had a bit more solid theological grounding." And then, "My book is for people who enjoyed 'Eat, Pray, Love,' but wonder what happens to the spiritual quester who must hold down a 45+ hour a week day job."
This AWP has left me inspired to start working more diligently on the writing trajectory I'd like to have.  I'd like to return to an approach that's been successful for me:  each day, do something, no matter how small, to nudge that trajectory.

At one point, I'd say that blogging should count in those activities, and I still believe that--but I'd like to challenge myself to do more.

It's been interesting travelling from session to session.  On Thursday, I went to a session on Older Women Writers.  Yesterday I went to a session on Work-Work Balance--it was supposed to talk about how our day jobs can feed our writing.  It was led by women who can't be much older than 33, and they might be significantly younger.

What undercut that panel for me was that the three young women quit their day jobs when they got their first books published.  Now 2 of them are balancing a variety of free-lance jobs, including teaching, while one of them is in an MFA program.  And only one of them had the kind of job before the first book that the session description led me to believe we'd be discussing.


I wondered if the age factor was part of my issue.  The younger women on the panel were quite a contrast to the older women writers on their panel.  The younger women are convinced that the world of published writing has a place for them with a clear trajectory.

And why shouldn't they believe that, right now?  After all, they have a first book and lots of promise.  But the older women writers see from a different part of the path.

I am also struck by the fact that one of the younger panelists is hoping for a tenure track job.  I always want to snort, "We're all hoping for that.  But look around you.  There's at least 7,000 people here who are HUNGRY that tenure track job--and there's about 10 tenure track jobs opening a year."

I realize that I've been watching demographics and trends in the higher ed world since the late 90's, so I'm much more aware of the grim outlook.  There are many points at this conference where I feel like a Cassandra shouting into the howling wind.

But still, it's good to be at this conference.  It's good to wander around the Bookfair to be reminded of how many wonderful books still get published.  It's good to hear all the stories of people making a way out of no way.  It's good to be inspired.

Friday, March 9, 2018

AWP: Thursday Report

Yesterday was an amazing day.  I think back to when I looked at the schedule of events at the AWP conference and thought that I couldn't find much I wanted to attend.  Yesterday I did not have that problem.

I began the day at a session entitled " The Body's Story: On Writing Narratives of Illness."  The presenters had a variety of illnesses which they learned to work with and work around.  It's an interesting question:  when the dominant illness narrative involves a happy ending with the disease beaten, what do we do if we don't have that experience?  It was also interesting to think about the difference between disability and disease, the intersections and the separations.

Word of the day:  intersectionality.

I went to a session on poets who write prose and how the processes inform each other.  I was interested in the topic, but also interested in seeing Marilyn Chin and Jill Bialosky, two writers whom I've read.  Much to my surprise, Joy Harjo was there too.  Her name was not in the book of a schedule that I consulted all day.  At times I felt breathless to be in the presence of such talent.

Next I went to a session on resources for older women writers.  The room was full, and the energy was good.

I ended the day of presentations by going to a session  "Superconductors: Poets and Essayists Channeling Science."  It was a great session, but during the Q and A, I was mortified when my cell phone went off not once but twice.  I thought I had turned it to vibrate, but I neglected to hit the OK button.  I have a flip phone, not a smart phone.  On days like yesterday, my phone seems quite dumb--or maybe it's the user.

Throughout the day I wrote down authors and titles--and I bought Leslie Pietrzyk's latest novel Silver Girl.  I started reading it last night, and I'm enthralled. I bought it at the Bookfair, which is huge and overwhelming, but there's enough space so at least it's not claustrophobic.  I should go explore further.

I love the Bookfair for reminding me of how many publishers exist and how many journals there are.  I always feel like I should be taking notes.  Perhaps I will.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

AWP 2018: Day One

I don't have much conference news to report, as the AWP conference really gets underway today.  I can report that it only takes 4 hours to get from my house to Tampa--and what boring hours, for the most part.  I was surprised by how much traffic I encountered, but at least I had some times of lighter traffic--and at no point did we have to slow down in a major way.

North of Naples, I pulled into a gas station, right behind a pick up truck with an official looking marking--but what a marking!  Florida Wildlife Commission Alligator Control.  The guys filling up their trucks had t-shirts with the same seal.  I said, "I can't resist asking if you're really alligator control guys."  The grizzled man said, "Lady, this would be one hell of a costume, wouldn't it?"  Yes it would--right down to the truck with a small boat and cages and such.

I got to the hotel and was able to check in, even though I was earlier than my 4:00 check in time--I realize that it was completely by chance, but it still made me feel cared for.  I was able to get my badge and conference book with no wait.  The last time I was at the AWP conference, we stood in lines organized the old-fashioned way:  last name A-E, last name F-I, and so on.

The self-parking is in the city parking lot across the street, which meant that my idea to pack everything in rolling suitcases was a good one.  I spent the afternoon waiting for my grad school friend to arrive, which meant I had time get settled into my room, to explore the hotel, and to enjoy the free happy hour. 

When my friend arrived, we walked along the Riverwalk, but we later discovered that we'd been walking away from restaurants.  I did see a labyrinth in the pavement that I intend to explore later. 

We ended up seated outside, but away from the relentless breeze that I thought was quite chilly.  We had a great meal at Jackson's Bistro, with a wonderful waiter who told us when the hockey games were happening, so we could plan accordingly.

I know--hockey in Tampa?  But our waiter claims that the team is at the top (of the division?  of all of the teams?  I have no idea). 

I am still finding the huge amount of choices of sessions offered to be a bit overwhelming, but I've made some initial choices--at least for today.  And let me remember to take some pictures.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

One Last Pre-AWP post

Am I packed for my trip to Tampa for the AWP conference?  No I am not--but that's O.K.  I know what I will pack, and it's just a matter of getting it into suitcases.  I am not taking a plane, and thus, I am feeling much less anxiety.  I thought it would take me 6 hours to get there by car, but it only takes 4 hours according to Google Maps, and so, I feel even less rushed.

I hope to get on the road between 9 and 11.  I have plans to meet a grad school friend for dinner tonight once we both get there.  I haven't made any other plans, even though I know my chance of meeting up with anyone serendipitously is fairly slim in such a large group of people.  My spouse may come later, but it's hard to know.  I want to keep options open, which may mean that I don't have some options.

I am taking my laptop with me, so I will have a way to try to communicate with people, to set up a coffee or a meal, if I get there and discover that I wish I had made more plans. I plan to blog a bit while there, instead of what I did in 2011, which was taking lots of notes by hand and then reflecting later.  This year, I'll be staying at a conference hotel, so I'll have more time than I did in 2011, when I commuted to the conference from my parents' house in the Virginia suburbs.

I hope to have some time to write--I need to fill up my well, and I hope it will spill over into writing.  I want some time to read.  I need some renewal.

I am looking forward to the drive across the Everglades.  I am looking forward to exploring Tampa.  I am always refreshed by new vistas.

Will I buy books?  I'll have a car, after all.  Yes, I will, but I won't feel obligated to keep them.  I'm trying to think of my book budget as akin to my wine budget or dining out budget or movie budget--once I bought books so that I could keep them forever.  Now I want to buy books and only keep the ones that REALLY speak to me.  I want to get to a point where I see books as amusement and the occasional experience that truly nourishes--like the rest of my entertainment budget.

The morning is sliding away, so let me close here and finish my preparations.  For those of us travelling today, I wish us smooth journeys.  For those of us who can't travel, I wish you all sorts of abundant recompense for staying put.

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Happiness Nuggets

Let me make list of some things that have made me happy in the past week, items that might slip away if I don't list them:

--First and foremost, I had a great visit with my Mom and Dad, which was really two visits.  They stayed with us on either side of their cruise.  I'll remember most the wonderful meals and the wonderful conversations.  And I'm glad that they had a great cruise.

--I almost have the new laptop set up.  I was not punished for waiting so long--my Microsoft Office for personal use license didn't start when I bought the laptop back in August.

--We had a small accident on Saturday, and no one was hurt.  The car behind us bumped us when we were sitting at a green light waiting for traffic to move.  It was quite a bump and a crash noise, and I was surprised to see that our bumpers were mostly fine.  A teenage boy had been driving the car--the father who had been sitting beside him was livid about the kid being on the phone.  He said to the boy, "You're gonna get a job and you're gonna pay for that."  There were only some white smudges on the bumper--I was tempted to say, "Are you kidding?  We can hardly find time to take the car in for oil changes--we're not gonna find time to take white smudges off the bumper."
We chatted for a few minutes, with the dad still spluttering about the phone.  My spouse said, "You're the dad, right?  Take the phone away."  The dad said, "You are so losing your phone privileges."  Hopefully the kid has learned a lesson.  If he'd slammed into a different couple, they might have really taken advantage, claiming all sorts of medical conditions to get money, but we're not those people.  If it had been slightly worse, we'd have been waiting for police, and the kid would have gotten a police report, etc.
--Saturday evening we went over to have a backyard get together with our neighborhood friends.  We enjoyed wine and cheese and other nibbles--but what was best was the great conversation and a chance to catch up.
--I bought two volumes of poetry that I really look forward to reading:  Texts to the Holy by Rachel Barenblat (more here) and Luisa A. Igloria's The Buddha Wonders if She Is Having a Mid-life Crisis (more here).  I'm glad to support fellow poets and small publishers.
--I've been doing some slow and steady writing of my own, but I've really been enjoying my odd Lenten discipline of mingling seasons and taking pictures.  Here are some of my favorites from last night:

This one really seems to capture the mingling of life and death:

But I like the cheerful colors here: