Sunday, July 29, 2018

Saint Martha and Modern Disciples

I am listening to Krista Tippett interviewing Cory Booker on this episode of the NPR show On Being.  I would vote for this man--in fact, he's one of few politicians that I can think of for whom I would vote enthusiastically.

Here's a quote:  "So that’s the thing that, again, we can never underestimate, this truth that no matter who you are, the biggest thing you do in any day is most often going to be a small act of kindness, decency, or love."

And here's another:  "So that’s why I say the wisdom of age — to do the things that add to your self-esteem, add to your self-worth. And often, they’re very small. But that self-care in a world that is going to do everything it can to do two things to you in the day. One, bombard you with anxiety. And the other one is, distract you; this world is so elegantly designed to distract you from your life mission. Life is not just about getting into the river and getting caught in the current of current events."

It has been interesting to hear this interview after thinking and writing about Saint Martha, whose feast day is today--for more on her, see this post on my theology blog.  I treasure this saint in so many ways.  I love that she gets so lost in her chores that she almost loses the chance to commune with Jesus.  I love that Jesus realizes that she's got a lot going on in her worried mind.  I love that she wants Jesus to perform the miracles the way she wants them:  not to raise her brother from the dead but to have gotten there in time to heal her brother.

In these tales that bubble along in the Gospels, I see common themes:  regular humans who don't recognize the Divine walking beside them, humans who need to learn the same lessons again and again and again.

I, too, am far from where I want to be as a disciple. I take courage from these stories that remind me that there is hope for the lagging disciple.  I mean that in more ways than just the spiritual that the word disciple so often connotes.

I need to get back to some basic creative practices.  My poetry writing has almost stopped this month.  My markers are missing my hands that used to hold them.  I'm not making healthy lunches the way I used to do.

Soon the Great Flooring Project will start--and this month of getting ready for it will be over.  I hold fast to the hope that I can then turn my attention to other things.

Saturday, July 28, 2018

Notes from a Graduation

Last night was graduation--I love graduation.  As an administrator, I often hear about when things aren't going well for students.  Last night was a great reminder that for many of them, things go well more often than not.

I used to think it was only the Fashion Design students at my old school who wore outrageous heels that look dangerous to me, but at some point, those heels have passed over to regular culture too.  Or maybe it's just a South Florida thing.

When I think back to last night, I want to remember the choir from the local middle school that sang the national anthem.  We needed a way to get them to the auditorium, so they came to our campus where a limousine was waiting.  One of the middle school girls said, "I'm so excited--we get to ride in a limo!"

Plenty of other people were excited yesterday too, but not because they were riding in a limo--it's wonderful to see how thrilled people are about a graduation.  I used to wish we could maintain a level of proper decorum, but now I just let the enthusiasm wash over me.  Now I smile.  Now I think about how many younger family members might be in the audience, and I hope that they feel inspired to set their sights on college some day.

I was surprised by how many graduating students had decorated their caps--and not haphazardly, but with true artistic intent.  I wanted to create an art display around them, but it's likely too late.  Let me remember for next year--I need to bring a camera with me.

This morning, I've been tired and achy.  I spent lots of hours on my feet yesterday--and a Friday evening graduation makes for a long work day.

I will take Monday off.  The Great Flooring Project begins on Wednesday, and I'm going to need some extra time.  But it's a good idea anyway.  I've been feeling increasingly frazzled, and I didn't have anything on my calendar for Monday.

In the future, let me remember to take the Monday off after graduation, let me remember to keep that day open.

Friday, July 27, 2018

Chocolate Potluck!

Yesterday, as I was helping to create our second annual chocolate potluck on campus, I thought, with any luck, we're creating the traditions that someone will want to upend in 20 years or so.

First, some background:  last year, we had a chocolate potluck that was a contest.  This year, we ditched the contest aspect and decided to do it to celebrate graduation.  We invited grads back, but in my mind, it was really to remind current students of the ultimate goal.

I put out cards with an invitation for people to write a note of congratulations to a grad--and people did.  That made me happy.

I've spent a lot of time in institutions that have long standing traditions--most of us have.  Long standing traditions can be both a blessing and a curse.  It's hard to try something new when people already have annual events that they love dearly.  The calendar will only hold so much, and people increasingly have less time.

It's also hard not to have those traditions--it's made me realize how much societal glue a longstanding tradition can provide.  So I've been trying to create some.  Happily, I'm at a place where I have support for that.

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Writing Goals for August

It's hard to believe how the month of July has zoomed by.  Just three weeks ago we were getting ready to drive up to Orlando for a quick reunion with my mom, dad, sister, and nephew.

On our way up and back, we listened to an audiobook that my spouse had already started during his commute to teaching:  The Heart of Everything That Is: The Untold Story of Red Cloud, An American Legend by Bob Drury and Tom Clavin.  It's the story of a little known Native American chief, Red Cloud, one of the few Native American chiefs to ever defeat the U.S. Army.

Long term readers of this blog know that I have a special spot in my heart for the Little House on the Prairie books and the whole subject of pioneers, Native Americans, and frontier life.  It was fascinating to hear this book, which is quite explicit in the cost that came with opening up the frontier to a westward expansion by mostly white pioneers.  The butchery on both sides was shocking to me, and I'm not unaware of some of what happened.

I didn't know as much about Fort Laramie, how it was buffeted on many sides as it most often simply tried to keep the peace.  It occurred to me that Laramie would make a great name for the dean in my collection of linked stories set at a for profit art school in South Florida.

I came home from that trip with lots of ideas for that collection, and I did get all the stories into place.  I think I'll spend the next month revising the collection.  It seems like I might be able to do that even on the days when my attention span is fragmented--I want to see if I can revise here and there in the 15-30 free minutes that sometimes open up.  I often try to make a submission during those times, but that can be much tougher, both in terms of needing more time/attention span and in terms of which journal is open at what time.

So let me use the windows to do some revision work on the three manuscripts that need it:  my short story collection, my poetry collection, and my essay collection.  I want them ready to go by the Tuesday after Labor Day.

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

The Price of Art

As I was talking myself into going to the Frank Stella exhibit at the Museum of Art Ft. Lauderdale, I reminded myself that the ticket was only $12--of course, I didn't realize I would get a discount.  But even without a discount--what a bargain!  I got to spend time with a modern master, with works from every major period that ends up representing much of art movements in the 20th century, and for a very low price.

Of course, if I had wanted to buy one of those works, I'd have had to pay substantially more.

I've been thinking about how we price the art we consume. Why is the ticket for an art museum so much cheaper than the ticket for a touring Broadway show?  I enjoy each about equally, if they're both well done.  But the ticket for Wicked was over $100, while the Stella show was $12.

I realize that there are many variables:  staffing and support materials and underwriters and fuel.  Still, it intrigues me.

I still have trouble paying museum admission because I grew up going to the Smithsonian museums for free.  I still have trouble paying 21st century concert ticket prices because the first one I ever bought with my own money (for Journey and Loverboy, back in the early 80's) was $9.

These days, money is less a problem than finding the time and the energy.  Back in the mid 90's, when we thought about moving to a place with more cultural opportunities than South Carolina, I would not have predicted that development.

If I had more time, I might write about that.  Or I might write about art supplies--once I had to save up to afford them, but once again, now money is less of a problem than time.  But now, it's time to get ready for the activities that bring in that money and take up that time.

Of course, I've been up for hours, grading papers for my online class.  I see a spot of time opening up as the summer term comes to a close.  Let me plan now for what I want to get done--look for a later post on this topic!

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

The Aesthetics of Chaos

At the Frank Stella exhibit on Friday, I remarked to my spouse that I liked very few of the geometric paintings for which he is famous, while I could look at the amazing sculptures all day.  My spouse said, "Well, your aesthetics has always run to chaos--making beautiful things out of what most people would see as a mess."

In a way, he's right, at least about some things.  When I paint or sketch or doodle, I'm usually making swirls and playing with color.  When I collage, I'm a bit neater.  When I eat, I don't like my foods to touch.  My quilts run to imprecise geometrical lines, while other fabric art has been more like my paintings.  My fiction writing could probably use a bit more chaos.

My spouse would probably categorize my housekeeping as chaos, while I would categorize his as sticky (as in there's still sticky spots after he cleans, and he tends not to see the stickiness, whereas I do).  If no one has tried to clean up my chaos, I know exactly where everything is.

I arrived home last night to chaos not of my making.  We've been trying to get the house ready for the great flooring project.   My spouse had been trying to move stuff to the cottage and lost 3 bookcases, one of them falling on him when he lost control of the dolly and fell into the pool.  When I got home, he was still wet and limping.

The bookcases were empty, but still awkward--and they're twenty years old, cheap things made of pressboard.  My spouse had warned that they might not make the move.  I have noticed that the ones that we move out to the cottage by carrying them, instead of bumping them along in the dolly, survive.  Sigh.

I think my spouse is mostly O.K., although a bit sore from landing on the step in the shallow end of the pool.  It could have been so much worse.  He could have hit his head and drowned, for an extreme example.  He could have been held under by the bookcase and drowned.  He could have broken something.  We can replace bookcases.  We can't replace him.

I slept well last night, but I am still a bit weary this morning.  We keep moving our possessions, and we still have work to do--and that's before the real chaos of floor repair and replacing begins.

This morning, I'm taking some heart from the creation story in the book of Genesis--the first one, not the one with the snake and the forbidden fruit.  The first Genesis story is much more straightforward.  God creates beauty out of chaos and declares everything to be good and very good.

Let me remember that beauty can come out of chaos.  Let me remember how often the chaos creates the art supplies from which the beauty will be built.

Monday, July 23, 2018

Facebook as Hospice Care

Three weeks ago, we'd be about to learn of the closing of the Art Institute of Ft. Lauderdale.  In some ways, it wasn't a surprise--the school had been declining, and with enrollment falling below 500 students, in some ways, it was just a matter of time.  

I'd spent over 5 years saying that the current path was not sustainable, yet some part of me was still shocked when the closing was announced.  I wanted to analyze it all, yet again for the umpteenth time.   I wanted to create alternate scenarios to see if it could have been salvaged.  But what was the use?  As had been the case since the company had been sold to Goldman Sachs, it wasn't going to be up to the people at the school.  Maybe it never had been.

I've been interested to see how others have reacted.  Most reactions I'm gleaning from social media--I'm not in the kind of daily contact with AiFL folks.  I've been most interested in Facebook as a space for grieving and hospice-type care when an institution closes.

There is now a closed Facebook group, We Were AiFL.  I've been enjoying seeing people's posts about good memories, and I've been happy that most of the anger has been kept off the page.  There's sadness about what has been lost, but for the most part, it's been pictures and stories of what the school did well.

The historian in me wonders what will happen to all of our social media posts--a lot of our history has been stored there in recent years.  But that's a question for a different post.

I've been reading much analysis through the years of the dangers of social media, and I'm willing to admit that social media can be a sucking black hole that leaves us tired and brain-frazzled and angry and _______.  But it has some benefits too.  It's worth remembering those benefits before unplugging completely.

In fact, I would argue that the problems with social media may be more about our phones than the social media sites.  I don't have a smart phone, so I'm not continually plugged in, the way others are--thus my social media usage is slightly easier to control.  However, I do spend a lot of time with the larger computers in my life.

Instead of arguing about the dangers of social media, perhaps we should spend more time thinking about how these sites can create community and utilizing them to do that.

Sunday, July 22, 2018

Boxing Up Possessions on a Saturday

One of my Create in Me friends took a pair of shoes from this:

She transformed them completely:

(for the complete set of pictures, see this post on my theology blog).

I saw her Facebook post early yesterday morning, and between that post and the afterglow from seeing the Frank Stella exhibit, I was yearning to be more creative yesterday.  Alas, there was not much time for creativity.  We have reached the point where we need to make serious progress getting the house ready for the great flooring project, which we expect to start in August.

So I spent much of yesterday boxing up half the house.  Some of it was already boxed, and I thought I might sort through those boxes.  I have several boxes of photos, etc. from childhood and teenage years. Sorting will take a lot of time. Safer to leave them all boxed up--I realized that after opening some boxes just to be sure they were labeled correctly and getting lost in a picture or two.

Interesting how pictures and certain inks are fading. For some years, I wrote with purple pens--that ink does not hold up well. Happily, most of the important writing--in my journals--was done in a different ink.  And now my journals are in plastic tubs which will be more waterproof than the cardboard boxes I had them in before.  The hurricane season of 2017 has made me look at everything with new eyes.

Of course, it's not only hurricanes that threaten our possessions.  I arrived home on Friday to find another palm frond had fallen onto the most damaged motorcycle.  At this rate, we may not even bother trying to restore it.  So much needs to be done, and that motorcycle is not a priority.

I know that some day, I'll look back and be amazed that we got so much done.  But I am stuck in the present, overwhelming moment, where I know how much needs to be done.

But now I must be on my way.  I'm in charge of church.  Let's see, it's the Feast Day of Mary Magdalene--what might happen?

Saturday, July 21, 2018

The Last Days of the Stella Show

In the last week, I saw a locally produced PBS show on the Frank Stella exhibit at the Museum of Art Ft. Lauderdale complete with Frank Stella talking about the pieces.  I thought, why did I think I didn't want to go see this show?

The main reason:  I had no idea that he was as multi-faceted an artist as he was.

I was afraid I had already missed it, but happily, it's on display until July 29.  It's worth seeing; go here for more information.  I worked extra hours throughout the week so that I could leave work a smidge early yesterday.

I had thought we might have to pay more for such an extensive show, but the museum admission of $12 includes the Stella exhibit.  We had an even happier surprise.  We showed our Broward College faculty IDs hoping to get a discount, but instead, we got free admission.

Because it was late on a Friday afternoon, we had the museum almost all to ourselves, which is what I wanted.  What an amazing show!  It's got the art that most of us know.  Here I am at a 2011 reading in front of that work:

But the show also includes his later work which is much more sculptural.  Here's a picture of that sculptural work, with a view of one of his first pieces of art that he created (all of the following pictures come from the Museum website):

We spent a lot of time with that sculptural work, looking at it from many angles.  We were able to get very close.

There was also a gallery that showed his process papers, notes, and models.

The most interesting process part to me wasn't in the above gallery.  It was a large work on the second floor that looked very much like a collage, but up very close, I realized it was completely 2 dimensional. In the left side of this picture, you can see part of one panel of the multiple panels and an amazing metal sculpture:

When I read the text, I learned it was originally a collage and then a photograph, which enabled Stella to enlarge it and paint it, complete with shadows that fooled my eye.

And then I turned around, and there was the collage--so cool!

I really loved all the assemblages.  It makes me want to turn our cottage into a studio where we can cobble things together into interesting new shapes.

After we left the museum, we thought about wandering to Las Olas for happy hour, but I decided that I didn't want to risk having a bad experience that would color my memory of the afternoon.  We couldn't have had a much more perfect museum afternoon--what a treat!

Friday, July 20, 2018

Tomboys Forever!

Before I tell the story of yesterday morning, let me spoil the suspense by telling the ending:  I am not hurt.  It could have been otherwise.

Yesterday during my walk to the beach, I fell.  The sidewalk was just the tiniest bit uneven, and my shoe got caught.  Down I went.  Happily, I didn't hit my head, but I did land on my hip that had already been hurting.

My first thought:  Damn, I bet I broke my hip.  And even if I didn't break it, it's only a matter of time. 

And then I had to laugh at myself.  I've been tripping over pavement since I was 8 years old, and while I don't have skinned knees as often as I did when I was a child, it's not an unfamiliar feeling.  I took a quick inventory of my wounds and kept walking.

While I did skin my knees, it's my thumb on my right hand that hurts worst of all of my body bangs from yesterday.  I managed to rip a corner of my thumbnail, so every time I tap the space bar on the keyboard, I feel it.

I want to say it was my years of drama training that taught me to fall.  Or maybe it was the years of clown ministry (ah, the 70's and early 80's!).  Or maybe a self defense class here or there.  Most probably it was a matter of luck that I didn't rip the skin off my palms and then take the brunt of impact on my elbow.

I have a vision of an internet meme, if only I knew how to start one:

Age 53 and still skinning my knees!

Or maybe this slogan would be catchier:  Tomboys forever!

So let me count up my gratitude:  I'm grateful that I could take a tumble and continue my walk.  I'm grateful for strong bones.  I'm grateful that it was a reason for falling that doesn't necessarily presage disaster:  it's not a stroke, heart attack, or something dire.  I'm grateful for parents who let me be my tomboy self as a child, so skinned knees are nothing that seems disastrous to me.  I'm grateful for a safe neighborhood where I could fall down and sit on the sidewalk for a few minutes without human predators swooping down on me.  I'm grateful for blood that clots quickly and skin that knows how to heal itself.  I'm grateful that I can fall and get myself up, dust myself off, and kiss my own wounds (O.K. that last was metaphorical--I didn't really kiss my skinned knees, but I did think of how we train our kids and ourselves that a kiss can heal an owie).

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Farewell to the Dining Room Table and Chairs

On the porch, my grandmother's dining room table and chairs sit, waiting for pick up from Out of the Closet, a thrift store that raises money to support gay and lesbian causes.  My spouse chose that destination.  If we were characters in a novel, this detail would surely presage a plot point, depending on the kind of novel we were in.  But I'm just hoping that they actually take it.

In 2003, my grandmother had to leave her house.  It's amazing that she survived the incident that sent her to the continuing care facility:  during the heat of the summer day, she went to take clothes off the line and had a heart attack.  She lay there under the unmerciful sun until neighbors came to look for her in the evening after she didn't answer the "Are you O.K.?" phone calls that she and her friend made to each other in the morning and in the evening.

She had to leave her house, which meant that much of her furniture couldn't come with her.  Although I was only interested in a few pieces, it cost the same to ship a little or to ship a lot, and so I took much of what she wasn't taking with her.

The dining room table expands to seat 3 on either side, and only when it's expanded do the chairs push all the way in--so either way, it takes up more room than I realized.  It's the kind of design that has all sorts of places that catch dust, plus it's hard to dust.  The top is easily scarred and marked.  I have no idea how my grandmother kept it in such good condition--probably because she didn't use it often.  Her dining room was so cramped that it was hard to use it at all.

I hope someone else finds it in the thrift store and loves it, but it's not the kind of thing that fits modern tastes.  I am willing to let it go, but I hate the thought of it going to the dump.

We are in the sorting phase of the great flooring project.  We're realizing how many things we've kept.  My spouse has at least one box of papers that his mother kept--papers that relate to her grandfather, papers that aren't going to be interesting to other relatives, since they didn't know the man.  It seems a shame to toss them--and yet, that's what will happen eventually.

I always knew this sobering reality, but here I am, chastened again by how little it all amounts to, in the end.  A box of papers about a life--including a book of funeral guests, all unknown to us.  It might matter to a historian some day, but it likely wouldn't.  Our relatives were just ordinary folks--important to their immediate circles, but not changing the course of history, except in the ways that ordinary folks leading regular lives change the course of history.

I want to be more ruthless in sorting through my own papers, but it's likely too early to be that ruthless.  I have no children who will be interested in the inner workings of my life or the outer trappings, but I still hope to have decades on this earth.  Still, it's time to think about what I need for those decades:  financial papers yes, dining room table no.

So good-bye, dining room table.  May you find a home where people continue to gather around you to enjoy delicious food and fellowship.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Building Community through Food

Today is National Hot Dog Day; at my school, we'll be celebrating by having hot dogs staying warm in crock pots available for students all day.  We'll also have salad for those who don't want hot dogs.

I went to Gordon Food Services, a much smaller version of Costco or BJs or Sam's.  It's closer to my campus and doesn't require a yearly membership fee.  People commented on the quantity of hot dogs that I was buying, but I worried that I wasn't buying enough.  I can always come back, if people eat more hot dogs than I'm anticipating.

As I loaded the groceries in the car, the man beside me told me about his dogs and how well they eat and how he drives in this junker of a car so that his dogs can eat well.  He also told me about the documentary that turned him against hot dogs.

Have I been having more strange encounters lately or am I just more aware of them?

Yesterday before I went to get the hot dogs, we had a pot luck for the faculty and staff who work at the school.  It was delicious and bountiful, the way a pot luck should be.

In the background, my brain returns again and again to the closing of the Art Institute of Ft. Lauderdale.  I remember a National Hot Dog day of a past year when I was surprised at how popular the hot dogs were; the administrator team handed them out, and I was surprised by the gratitude of the students.

It was a time of increasing desperation:  how can we improve morale?  There was much scoffing at the idea of hot dogs as a cure, but the years where we had more of those kinds of activities were years that students and faculty alike seemed happier to be there.  It couldn't erase the pain of the periodic staff reductions, but it was better than the years when we couldn't find money for events like a hot dog day.

I feel fortunate to be at a school that has the money for these kinds of events.  I know how important they are for building a school that is more than a school.  I'm working to build a supportive community:  food events go much further towards that goal than I originally thought.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Strange Streets and Surreal Times

Yesterday was a bit surreal:

--We have a U.S. president who seems more willing to trust Russia than to trust our allies of 50 + years.  Hearing the news of the Trump-Putin meeting in Helsinki was just bizarre.  I found myself thinking of a classic episode of The Simpsons that has Homer in Cuba saying, "I think we can trust the president of Cuba" as all of their valuables are taken by the government.

--As I went to pick up one of our college friends who was in town, I heard news of an exchange student who was a secret agent.  It's enough to make me wonder what year it is.  But it's clearly a year that has never existed, if we have double agents making connection with the NRA as our U.S. president has a meeting with the Russian president without anyone else present.

--I'm glad that I'm not a writer of thrillers.  How does one compete?

--My college friend had said he wanted to go to an Armenian restaurant, so I had researched a possibility.  In the car, he said, "Are there any restaurants from Hungary?  I could be wanting some Hungarian goulash."  I suggested Old Heidelberg, a German restaurant that has several kinds of goulash.  I didn't think we'd actually end up there, but we did.

--My friend loves to order appetizers for the table, but the Germans don't really have the kinds of appetizers he likes to order:  no jalapeno poppers, no crab-filled puffy things.

--I had envisioned a lovely night of half price appetizers in downtown Hollywood--but I was also expecting to end up someplace totally different--that's what happens often when we're with this particular friend.  But to end up at a German restaurant?  I wouldn't have thought that would happen.

--We had a very leisurely meal, and so, it was strange to drive home through the dark streets.  At a stop sign, there were several groups of unruly people.  At a stop light, a dark-skinned man staggered into the stopped traffic and said, "I want all of these cars."  I'm not sure how we caught his eye, but he lurched to us, pounded (lightly) his fist on our car hood, and said, "God bless you."  My spouse rolled down his window and said, "Brother, God bless you too."  The light changed, and we all drove away.

--It's the kind of scene that could have ended very differently.  I'm glad that it ended with blessing.  My spouse heard the man say, "Some folks don't see it (or Him?)" as if to say, "You and me, we see it."  I heard him say, "Some days, I just don't see it"--as in, some days I feel God's presence, and some days I don't.  Regardless, I felt an odd moment of connection with a man who most of us would have perceived as threatening.

--I wanted to go home, cook a meal or cookies, and bring it back--but I know how many ways that could have gone wrong.  Instead I said a prayer for us all, out there on strange streets, looking for connections where they may or may not be wise, including our president.

Monday, July 16, 2018

Week-end Wrap Up

In so many ways, my week-end was not what I expected.  Let me capture my memories of the week-end, while they are fresh:

--My spouse and his brother had Saturday plans to either go to a gun range or to ride motorcycles.  But my spouse had a splitting headache, so they changed plans abruptly.  We walked to the beach to have a birthday lunch at the organic brewery.  It was delightful, although a very hot walk.

--My spouse and I spent a lot of time in the pool in the evening Saturday--was my deeper sleep a product of this swimming time?

--I did get all my grading done, although not all on Saturday, like I expected.

--I also thought I might get lots of packing done on Saturday, while my spouse was out.  As with my grading, I did get packing done, but not on Saturday.

--You may ask why I'm packing.  We expect the great flooring project to begin in a few weeks, so we need to get as much off the floors as possible.  If I don't think about the enormity of it all, if I just focus on the one box that needs to be packed, I can keep going.

--I have started watering the plants in the evening.  Once I saw this as yet another caretaking failure.  I've always heard that one should water the plants in the morning and that watering in the evening leaves the plants exposed to rot and pests.  But the plants can't be any worse off than they are now--and they seem to respond well to evening watering, perhaps because our overnight temps aren't very low.  Maybe my green hydrangea blooms will finally turn a color.

--I think it's interesting that I see my plant caretaking as a failure because my petunias have turned spindly and my hydrangeas aren't turning blue or purple.  Petunias are one season plants, and I've kept them alive since I bought them in February.  I've never kept hydrangeas alive as long as I've kept these two plants alive.  I should be bragging, not feeling bad.

And now, on to a new week.  Let me keep watering my plants at night.  Let me keep tackling the great flooring project, box by box.  Let me stay calm and centered, no matter what comes my way.

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Bastille Day Bits

Today we have another chance to celebrate independence, liberty, and equality: Happy Bastille Day to us all!  Bastille Day is the French Fourth of July, and you could make a strong case that both revolutions should be celebrated in tandem. The French began their revolution in the decade after the American colonies broke away, and for the next century, maybe 2, abusive leaders worried about the example set by these revolutions.

I remember very few dates without having to look them up to be sure, but I do know that the storming of the Bastille happened in 1789--and by reversing those last 2 numbers, I can remember that Wordsworth and Coleridge published Lyrical Ballads in 1798. I can make the case that both events forever shaped the future.

Let me collect some Bastille Day thoughts:

--I took a sunrise walk to the beach.  If you hear about a crazy lady at the Hollywood Beach Broadwalk wishing everyone a Happy Bastille Day, that was me!

--Longtime readers of this blog know that Bastille Day is also my birthday--and that I was born on a U.S. Air Force Base in France.

--I think of myself as someone who doesn't care about my birthday.  I have never cancelled class so that I could celebrate all day, for example.   I don't plan trips.  But I often feel a bit melancholy if we do absolutely nothing, even if I've requested that we do nothing.

--So if it's Bastille Day, it means I need to think about whether or not we're going to do anything special for my birthday.  Some of my favorite past birthdays:  going to an art museum, going to a French restaurant, having a group of VBS kids sing happy birthday, a spin class done to the Tour de France.  Clearly some of these are more doable than others.

--I can only sing a bit of the French national anthem.  This past week, I came across this version played on the ukulele.  It's quite lovely on the ukulele.

--If we're going to celebrate with music, let's bring out the music of Woody Guthrie, who was born on this day in 1912.  Woody Guthrie came of age in the Great Depression, which means he didn't have basic advantages like a stable home or an education. He didn't always have food.  Yet he was able to persevere. He didn't have musical training, yet he was able to learn what he needed to know. He couldn't write music to go with his lyrics, so he used the music that was out there and available. Perhaps that's why his songs feel so immediately familiar.

--Maybe you're like my students who think they don't know any songs by Woody Guthrie.  But most of us do.  Let us pause and sing "This Land Is Your Land"--much more singable than either the French or the U.S. national anthems.

Friday, July 13, 2018

Barren Brain

Many weeks, I have more blog posts than I have days to write them.  The ideas bloom on the hydrangea bush of my brain.

Some weeks, the calm surface of the river of my brain hides many currents swirling beneath.

These past few days, my brain has felt more like a field of rocks, all similar, nothing beckoning me to linger long.

I look into the monotones of my thought, just in case some life would appear.

I stack the stones into a form that says, "We were here."  I want to see what my brain does with that cairn.

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Creative Happinesses

Yesterday a student came to my office to ask, "Do you have any art supplies?"  That made me inordinately happy.  Of course I have art supplies!  She only wanted scissors.  But I was happy to be seen as a source of creative ingredients.

This week, I have had many small moments of happiness like that one.  I wrote this Facebook post on Tuesday:  "What I like best about this Supreme Court nominee: hearing an NPR newscaster say, 'And he's really young--he's only 53 years old.' I also like that he has had a long career in the law, and while I don't always agree with his opinions, at least he wasn't appointed to a federal bench 12 weeks ago or plucked from some stupid TV show and asked to serve a lifetime appointment."

I was so relieved that Trump didn't choose some 28 year old hot shot.  Part of that relief comes from the fact that a 28 year old will sit on the bench a long time.  But I was also relieved because the choice seems sensible.

And as someone who hopes that she still has time to make her mark on the world, I was also relieved.  Slow, steady progress can pay off.

As I have been watching my collection of linked short stories coming together, I've felt energized enough to send out some of those stories to the few journals that are reading during the summer.  I did notice that Glimmer Train Stories will be coming to a close in the not-too-distant future.  That brought me a tinge of sadness.  I remember when the journal began, and I've submitted off and on.  It's a beautiful journal, and it's had a good run of almost 30 years (gasp!)--the editors are simply ready to turn their attention elsewhere.

Yesterday I did a bit of poetry revising.  I've been thinking about the snake bite kit as a symbol.  I keep mine on my nightstand, in a small bowl, along with my very dull Girl Scout knife.  As I've been wrestling with the poem, I'm realizing how often I put lots of story into many poems.   That's not a surprise, but even when I sit down to create a pared down revision, the story still wants to creep in.

I am happy to write poems and stories, still, after all these years.  I am happy to have an office that is stocked with craft supplies, tea, and all sorts of academic resources.  I am happy that I can still take a walk to the beach--which I need to do now, before the day goes into full swing.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Progress Report: Linked Short Story Collection

Yesterday, I made a giant leap with my linked short story collection.  I had been getting strong glimmers of how to arrange the book and yesterday, I decided to try it.  Story by story, I built the book.  While some of the stories will still need some revision to fit together, I now know the order.  And even better, I know that they can fit together.

I had worried that all of my stories had administrators dealing with student complaints--and I worried that maybe it was the same complaint.  I've been writing these stories for years, so it wouldn't have surprised me to find out that I used the same material from my real life.  Happily, I did not.

I placed the stories with administrators and complaining students far enough away from each other that I hope that no reader will toss the book across the room saying, "Ugh.  I just can't take it anymore."  I hope that discerning readers and literary critics will see a larger purpose to the repetition.  I am making a point that much of the life of an administrator revolves around complaints, many of them similar, many of them groundless.

Right now, the collection is 49,717 words, 184 pages.  I have a story I'm still working on that I'll include, and there's still revision that will add words.  But I've laid to rest my worries about the collection being too short.

Let me also record my process of the past 9 months, in case I find it important later.  For years, I wrote the stories knowing that I was working towards a collection, knowing what connected the stories (characters all working at the same for-profit art school), but that didn't help me figure out how to arrange the stories.  In the fall, I worked on a story that had the school closing, so that helped me with the narrative arc.

Once I had the arc, there were clearly some stories that belonged earlier, stories that gave no sense that the school was floundering, and stories that belonged near the end, stories that gave foreshadowing of the crises to come, stories that showed the crisis in action.  To be more specific, one story revolves around a corporate person who comes to the campus to assess, and one story revolves around a contentious campus meeting.  There's also a story that shows a RIF (Reduction in Force) happening.

My goal for the coming year is to send out these stories to see if I can find a home for them.  They do all stand on their own.  But I think they are stronger together.  So I'll also spend the coming year polishing the collection.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Green Vistas on Vacation

Orlando has one of the biggest convention centers I've ever seen.  It's actually multiple convention centers connected by skyways between buildings that keep pedestrians covered and above the traffic.  On Friday afternoon, as we walked back to the car, we stopped to admire the natural vista off to one side.  I could hear the traffic that's never far away in a Florida city.  But I also saw a grove of tall pines and maples in their full, green glory.

I thought of a long ago argument about Orlando and whether it's a fake city or not.  Actually, we were arguing about whether or not theme parks are fake.  I said that I wasn't paying the kinds of admission prices to go in to have a totally manufactured experience:  "It's all fake," I said.  My friend argued more vociferously than I had ever heard her argue before.  Clearly, I had struck a nerve.  I knew that one of her dreams was to work for Disney, but I didn't realize how personally she took a criticism of the industry.

I still don't want to pay the kinds of prices that one pays for admission at those parks--but more than that, I don't want to stand in those long lines at the park or pay even more money for a fast pass.  But I thought about that argument about what's fake and what's not as I walked around the resort this past week-end. 

I loved seeing all the lush vegetation, even though I know it's a manufactured landscape--but really, aren't many landscapes these days managed and manufactured?  I was impressed with the wide variety and health of the plants.

I thought of recent arguments that we need church camps to keep an appreciation of wild places alive in us.  But many church camps are less and less wild these days--at least the ones on the east coast.  Many camps have a slogan that's a variation of "A Place Apart," but many of them are easily accessible by highway.  It's not necessarily a problem--just a feature of modern life.  As a child, when I went to Lutheridge, one of my favorite church camps, if I forgot something, I'd have to do without it.  Now there's a huge WalMart right outside the camp gates.

I know that people pay a pretty penny to enjoy resorts, just like they do at theme parks--the social justice question of whether or not it's a good use of money is one that I'll save for a different post. 

I know that resorts pay to have that lush vegetation not to preserve it or to give humans a longed-for green space, but for different reasons.  I know that most of the people at the resort when I was there were not out appreciating the nature, but out appreciating the theme parks.

Long ago, I taught a Scriptwriting for Games class.  We had interesting discussions about what constitutes real life--if a person spends more time online than out interacting with real humans, what is real life?  Back then, we didn't have the types of social media that we have now.  Now the question seems ever more relevant.

What is real, and what is manufactured, and if it's manufactured, is it less real?  In some ways, these questions have always been ones that Philosophy handles better than any other realm of the humanities.  In some ways, it doesn't matter.  But in these days of paving over every vacant space and erecting huge buildings that may or may not improve our lives, they seem ever more relevant.

I could--and often do--spend lots of time wrestling with these questions.  But for my 4 days away, I decided to focus on appreciating the green spaces that aren't often part of my vista. 

Monday, July 9, 2018

Report on a Mini Vacation

I try to be careful when I write about our trips, although I suspect we're in more danger from people on the ground who notice our quiet house than from anyone on social media who might read about our trips.

On Thursday, we drove up to Orlando for the huge Barbershop competition.  My dad's group was competing, as they often do each year--but usually, it's not easy for me to get to the competition site to see the competition.  Orlando, though, is an easy drive.

Although we knew it would be a short time together, we knew it would be worth it.  My sister and my nephew spent the whole week, but my spouse and I had commitments that kept us in town until Thursday.  My dad's competition was Friday, so late Thursday afternoon, we zipped up there.

My parents have some Marriot time share points, so we all stayed at the Cypress Harbor resort--lovely 2 bedroom condos, and we had 2 of them while we were there, so it was downright luxurious.  I get up much earlier than the rest of my family, and it was wonderful to have a beautiful space where I could be up and not disturb everyone else.  On Friday, we spent a big chunk of the day at the competition, but we were close enough that we could come back to the condo for meals.  On Saturday, we spent much of the day by the pool.

We were lucky both ways, in that we had no traffic issues.  The weather was mostly beautiful.  But when the heat brought us storms, we had a covered porch that overlooked a small lake where we sat enjoying the view and the sound of the rain. 

It was wonderful to be with my family, even though it was short.  We left wishing we had more time, which is a great way to end a vacation.

Saturday, July 7, 2018

The Beauty of Barbershop and All Its Inspirations

When I've told people that I would be spending my vacation day on Friday watching my dad in a Barbershop competition, most people said, "Your dad cuts hair?"

No--my dad sings in a barbershop group, as long-time readers of this blog know.  In fact, he's part of an award winning group, The Alexandria Harmonizers.  He's traveled the world with them:  the group sang at the Great Wall of China and the group was invited to France celebrate one of the big anniversaries of D-Day.

They did not win yesterday, but it was a tough field in which to compete.  We didn't see every group, but we saw a lot of them.  I am always impressed with the groups that keep this tradition alive.  There were more groups of young singers than I thought there would be--and yet, why was I surprised?  Roots music is often appealing.  In an age that sees young people creating artisanal cheese businesses and urban farms and whiskey distilleries in a spare closet, why wouldn't there be a return to Barbershop?

I am also astonished at the types of music that can be made into a Barbershop arrangement.  My favorite song, not sung by my dad's group, alas, was the arrangement of Paul Simon's "American Tune."  I would not have thought it was possible to transform that song in such a way.  I know the lyrics, of course.  They seem particularly appropriate:  "We come on the ship they call Mayflower.  We come on the ship that sailed the moon.  We come in the age's most uncertain hour, and we sing an American tune."  Throughout, the lyrics return to "It's alright, it's alright, it's alright," and at the end remind us that we can be forever blessed.  Beautiful!  I needed that message during my adolescent years when I first listened to the lyrics enough to memorize them, and I need them at this point in the life of the nation.

Before the results of the competition were announced, we enjoyed a small concert from last year's winner.  They did a medley of the work of Stephen Schwarz.  I had no idea that the music of Godspell and Wicked could be transformed into Barbershop arrangements--but they can.

As the day went on, my brain wasn't always focused on the competition.  I spent part of the last two days rereading the short stories that I hope will make up a volume of linked stories, with the link being the for-profit art school in South Florida where all the characters work.  I have one short story that I'd really like to include, but it's set in South Carolina, with a major part of it revolving around Mepkin Abbey.  I thought about creating a fictional abbey in South Florida.  I thought about making the plot work out in other ways.

At some point in the afternoon, the answer came to me:  the character left South Florida to take a department chair position in South Carolina, but she wonders what life would have been like had she stayed.  The title of the story works for the whole volume:  Book of the Dead.  I also thought about a short story that I wrote years ago that would fit into the collection of linked stories.

On our way back to our cars last night, my family started singing "Doe, a deer."  Three generations walked down the sidewalk singing that song from The Sound of Music at the top of our lungs.  It will be my favorite memory when I think of this competition.

Some people walked by us and looked at us like we were deranged people who had escaped from an institution.  Others smiled.  The lucky ones sang along as they walked along.

I had a vision of the whole city, united in song, healing the rifts and bridging differences in a way that only music can.  But that didn't happen, at least not last night.  At the end of the day, we poured the wine and toasted to better luck next year, a great way to end a wonderful day.

Friday, July 6, 2018

July 4: A Look Back

Many of us, including me, have complained about the 4th of July falling on a Wednesday.  But this week, I realized one of the advantages:  because I had to work the day after July 4th, I kept our obligations realistic.

Most years when we're at home, I have bold plans:  we'll go somewhere to see a fireworks show, we'll have a feast, we'll do something with friends that will result in us getting home late.  When I know I have the next day off, I often waste huge chunks of the time off that I have (witness almost every Saturday).

This year, I knew that I had one day only.  I planned it so that we stayed home.  Late in the day, I made this Facebook post:

"On this day when we celebrate breaking free of tyranny, I can't help but notice how much time I've spent on the tyranny of chores: yardwork, washing dishes, laundry, changing sheets, vacuuming. Still, it's good to have time to do these chores, and I am aware that there are lots of people across the planet who would love to have a house and the freedom to live in it as they chose and they would gladly submit to this tyranny."

Yes, I got a lot of chores done.  But there was also time for reading by the pool while eating frozen coconut pops.  I did some writing throughout the day.  We watched a bit of T.V.  Overall, it was a relaxing day.

I am trying to maintain the weight loss that has come with my 10 day shred that I took on to bounce me off a plateau, so I kept my eating/drinking splurges very moderate:  a hamburger and a glass of wine for lunch, 2 oz. of brie and a glass of wine for dinner, frozen fruit pops for treats throughout the day.

We ended the day with a July 4th tradition:  my spouse took his violin to the porch to play patriotic and Americana music while our neighbors set of fireworks.  People with PTSD would not have been calm in our neighborhood.

When we heard the booms from the beach, we went to the backyard.  Usually we can't see much of the municipal display, but this year, because of Hurricane Irma, some of the trees that had blocked our view were gone.  We had a pretty good view.

Even though the peaceful night was still punctuated with small explosions, I was able to fall asleep fairly easily.  And I had what rarely comes these days:  a sleep without constant interruptions to move off of sore body parts or to get up to go to the bathroom.

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Poetry Prompt: The Morning After the Day Before

If I had my camera with me this morning during my walk along the beach, I'd have taken pictures of the mounds of trash.  Most of the mounds are in bags, which are stacked up beside the trash cans that are along the beach.  Crews have been at work for hours before sunrise; I don't think that the crowds of people at the beach yesterday neatly bagged their trash before they left.

As I walked, I paid attention to the trash that I saw.  It will all be picked up by later today, but for now, random pieces of trash lined the Broadwalk.  I was most struck by the debris that once we would have hauled home:  coolers, umbrellas, a variety of clothes.

In a history class long ago, our teacher reminded us that most of what archaeologists discover comes from digging in the garbage dumps of former societies.  I often wonder what future archaeologists will make of our trash.  Certainly they will comment on the huge amount of plastic.

This morning, I looked at all the trash, both the collective version and the individual pieces, and I thought about the symbolism.  What could we learn if we use this trash as a symbol?

I plan to write a poem on this very topic.  What will you write as the week winds down?

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Declarations and Constitutions

It's a strange moment in the life of the nation to consider this July 4th holiday, which celebrates the Declaration of Independence, the nation's birthday.  Strange to think that we chose this day for our national birthday holiday, not the day when the war for independence was won.  It's the day that we made our declaration, which wasn't certain to be respected.  It's the day that we declared our independence, which wasn't certain to be won.

Some of us might have chosen a different day to commemorate our nationhood.  I love the Constitution and might have chosen a day that takes us back to that foundational document. 

I look at the past 18 months, and I see an interesting tension, one that has always been there.  We've seen U.S. leadership that seems determined to take the nation in a very different direction from the past.  We see roughly half the nation approving of that direction, able to spin it in ways that support the nation.  We see the other half worrying about fascism and dictatorships past and present.

Some of us come away determined to resist (the Declaration of Independence group).  Some of us (the Constitution group) have been comforted by the way that the system of checks and balances still seems to work, albeit sometimes in a very rough way. And there's another element that has risen to the surface, a group that we rarely talk about in our national holiday celebrations:  the group that has run roughshod over others, whether they be people who got here before them, children, women, religious minorities, other groups, usually with darker skin, who are weaker and more vulnerable.

Periodically throughout the year, not just on this day, I think back on the people who shaped our national history, even if they didn't know they were creating a nation.  I am keenly aware that our leaders are making choices that take us on a certain path, and the road back may be lost forever.  This can be good, as with the various Civil Rights legislation of the 1960's.  Other choices can lead to bloodshed and lives lost and decades spent recovering.  These choices are sometimes necessary, as with World War II.  But would they have been necessary if different decisions had been made earlier?

I am also a Christian, who has spent much of her life hearing the ancient warnings about being too invested in this world.  I'm not one of those Christians who thinks we're only here as a holding pen or proving ground until we get to go to Heaven.  No.  I believe that God has a very different idea of what makes this world a good place, and that vision doesn't often match what national leaders have in mind.  God wants to create a world where we all have enough and the weakest and most vulnerable are protected--and God invites us all to be co-creators of this vision.

My religious traditions have warnings about the empires of the world.  And yet, I've still been brought up to believe that government, when done well, can help the arc of history bend towards justice.

I am listening to the NPR folks read the Declaration of Independence out loud, as they do every 4th of July.  As always, my eyes tear up--and the tears are somewhat different this year.  In the past, I've disagreed with my government, but I didn't worry that its leaders wanted to cede power to Russia or other totalitarian states.

But these tears are also tears of gratitude.  I know that the signers of the Declaration were far from perfect.  I know that good history can come from bad actors. 

I appreciate the risks that these signers took.  When they pledged their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor, there was a good chance that they were signing their very lives away. 

For those of us committed to a brighter vision of what our nation can be, especially for those of us with a vision of a nation that protects the most helpless and vulnerable, I offer a prayer on this Independence Day.  Let us continue in our commitment.  Let us pledge our sacred honor.  Let it not come at the cost of our lives, but if it does, let us be brave together to secure a better future for those who come after us.

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Requiem for the Art Institute of Ft. Lauderdale

When I first started blogging, I tried to be very careful not to use names:  not the names of people in my life or the place where I worked.  At the same time, I was trying to create an online presence to serve my writing career, whatever that would turn out to be.

I'm still careful about my blogging topics.  I'm still aware that future employers can easily find anything I've written.  I'm still aware of how what we post online threatens not only our privacy, but the privacy of others--and makes it easier for safety of all sorts to be compromised.

It's not hard for anyone who wants to know to figure out the broad outlines of my life, so let me just say that I once worked for the Art Institute of Ft. Lauderdale.  I started working there in January of 2002, and I left for a new job in October of 2016.  During that time I saw many changes, and I spent several of my last years at the school wondering how the school would survive bad publicity, high tuition, and declining student numbers.  I knew that the path was unsustainable--it's one of the reasons why I left.

I have spent years predicting that the school would have to close, but on some level, I was still shocked when the official announcement came yesterday.  And it's not just AiFL.  Seventeen Art Institutes across the nation will close, nine Argosy campuses, and 3 South University campuses.  I don't have details yet about timelines or how the students will be guided.

When I started at the Art Institute of Ft. Lauderdale, enrollment was at an all-time high, just over 3,000 students.  If you arrived at certain times, there would be no parking--none--and you had to hunt for free street parking or pay at the meters, and that parking was scarce.  We had two four story buildings with classes on every floor, and we had to rent space at places nearby.

I became Associate Chair of the General Education department in 2007, and Chair in 2010.  Numbers had fallen off, but departments still fought over classroom space.  By the time I left, there was no need to fight.  Many classrooms sat empty for much/all of the day.

When I left, the school had one building and the Culinary department across the street.  Tuition was still high and Gainful Employment legislation was about to make it hard to sustain the current trajectory.  I had ideas about how the school might turn around, but no Corporate types were interested in our ideas, and our upper management at school wasn't allowed much freedom at all.

Throughout the years, we did good work--even during my final years, when we had fewer and fewer resources, we did good work.  Don't believe anything you might read that suggests otherwise.  The school has just come through an accreditation visit with very few findings--the school did good work.

I've been working on a collection of linked short stories, and the link is that all the characters work at the same for-profit art school, The Art Institute of South Florida, a school based on AiFL.  During the fall of 2017, I worked on a story, "The Burdens They Carried," which had the school close.  I knew that the school was headed for closing, and I have for years, but I'm still surprised that the company didn't try to save it in other ways:  lowering tuition, moving more classes online, lowering tuition, creating short-term classes and opportunities to bring in more cash, lowering tuition . . .

Here's the ending from the story that I wrote.  My friends who have read the short story tell me that they find the ending surprisingly hopeful:

"In the end, the building stood by itself. The building had thought that it would miss the hustle and bustle of the school, but it was surprised to find that it didn’t miss the drama that comes when students gather in a place. The sadness that had soaked into every fiber of the school slowly dissipated until the building felt so buoyant that it might leave its foundation and float away to sea."

Monday, July 2, 2018

Mid Summer Check

I can scarcely believe that it's already July.  Here we are at the middle of the year.  It's a good time to stop and take stock.

I'm pleased with the progress that we're making on various repair projects, even though it often seems harder than it needs to be.  Let me remember what we have accomplished since the hurricane:  the cottage foundation stabilized, the AC installed in the cottage, a mold inspection done by a non-insurance-adjuster.  We've made progress on the fence and the floors in the big house. There's much left to be done, but we're less often in a swamped-by-despair state.

My reading year is a bit underwhelming.  I'm reading books, of course, but nothing makes me want to stay up all night reading.  A case in point:  Meg Wolitzer's latest book, The Female Persuasion.  It's good, I'm enjoying it, but I'm also putting it down for long stretches of time.

In terms of creativity, here, too, as always, it could be better, although I am getting work done.  I was looking at my blog posts from last July, and I came across one that had me playing with the idea of a new title for my memoir/book of essays:  Micromanaging the Miracles.  I promptly went ahead and did nothing.  In stolen moments this week, let me look at that manuscript and see how much revision I'd need if I changed the title.

Let me resolve to have a manuscript ready to send to Eerdman's by Sept. 15.  Let me also make some decisions about book length poetry manuscripts.

I am pleased that I continue to do sketching/journaling once a week, usually.  I wouldn't mind doing that more--I feel the same way about many of my creative pursuits.

I still struggle with connection.  I feel like I have a supportive web of family, friends and communities.  But here, too, I always have that despairing feeling of never having enough time.  It's a zero sum game:  time spent with one group means there's less time for others.  I try to reframe this issue:  I'm lucky to have so many friends and family members with whom I'd like to spend more time.  Most people don't have this conundrum:  the connection issue brings them a different sort of pain.

The year just zooms on, and this year, as with most, I'm mostly pleased with my trajectory and hopeful that with a bit of tinkering, I'll get on an even more satisfying course.