Friday, November 30, 2018

From Blog Post to Sketch to Poem

This morning, I wrote a poem--and with that poem, I've written a poem every day in November.  I'm not sure I've ever been successful at writing a poem a day for a month.  There have been several Aprils that I have tried.

I've also been very active in my online journaling course which started Nov. 4, and in addition to writing a poem a day, I've done at least one sketch a day.  I've been interested in how they feed each other.

The blogging feeds the work too.  Here's an example.

On Sunday, in this post, I wrote, "At the eastern continental divide, the landscape took on a different sort of beauty than I see regularly. The trees were coated with ice and snow, but the roads were only wet with rain. My spouse was driving, so I could marvel in the wintry wonderland mixed with final autumn colors. The sky looked like the clouds had come to down to lend the trees some additional ghostly sparkle. Some of the trees still had their autumn leaves. Some of the trees were frosted, while others had been sheltered from the wintry mix. It was beautiful. Alas, my camera was packed away."

On Wednesday, I made this sketch:

As I was sketching, which took place in two parts of the day as I was subbing for a Speech class, the haiku-esque creation that's on the sketch began to form.  And this morning, I tried to use some of the images in a longer poem.

My online journaling class lasts for 3 more weeks, and I plan to keep sketching once a day.  I also plan to keep writing a poem a day.  It's such a nourishing, refreshing practice.

Thursday, November 29, 2018

Preparing the Worship Space for Advent

Last night, I went home to pick  up my spouse after work.  Then we headed to church, where he had choir rehearsal.  I helped decorate the sanctuary for Advent.

I feel fortunate to be part of a church that has no altar guild.  For those of you who grew up in different spiritual settings, your experience with the altar guild may be different--or non-existent.  Some spiritual gathering places don't allow for decorations at all or perhaps they don't change with the seasons.  In other spaces, the decorations are already chosen, perhaps kept for ages across generations.  Those spaces often have altar guilds that take care of all the objects and make sure that the changes happen in an orderly manner. 

Many stereotypes exist around altar guilds.  Many people see them as the way that older women claimed some power and ownership in churches that didn't let them lead in many ways.  Woe to those newcomers who wanted to help out or those who suggested change.  I've had some experience with all sorts of altar guilds, and I always see the members as good-hearted people who are trying to avert catastrophe, even if the catastrophes wouldn't be as dreadful as the fear.

Our church doesn't have an altar guild.  We have a set of paraments that used to hide the gorgeous white marble of the altar, but now we don't use those much.  If we have traditional banners, I'm not sure where they are.

We don't have an altar guild, and we have a pastor who is open to new ideas.  That's a powerful opening of opportunity for folks like me who have visions of a different sort of worship space.  When I was first at Mepkin Abbey in 2004, one of the things that most intrigued me was how the worship space changed on a daily basis, and how much more engaged I felt.

So I wasn't sure what to expect last night.  There might be a crew of people.  There might be just me, noodling around in the space while the pastor worked on a different project.  In the end, it was me and my pastor.  I worked on the tree, while he set up the altar.

We have fake trees for a variety of reasons.  We used to have 2 that flanked the altar.  Last night while I was setting up the second tree, the stand broke leaving us with no way to make the fake tree stand up.  So we thought about other possibilities for the tree, since the asymmetry wasn't working.  Eventually, we moved it to a spot to the side of the steps that lead to the chancel.  The asymmetry is fine, because the piano is on the other side of the steps.

We have two boxes of Chrismons, some of which are in good shape, and some of which should probably be thrown away.  I decorated the tree with blue and silver balls and some of the best of the Chrismons.  I didn't think to take a picture last night. 

My pastor came up with a very cool approach to the Advent wreath.  Here's the Advent wreath we used to use, which is much more traditional:

Our wreath has been on a stand next to the altar:

Last night, my pastor set up the manger scene on the altar and then began to develop something new, which then sparked his idea for this:

At first, the crucifix wasn't part of the scene.  My pastor added the gold ribbon to make clear that the crucifix was intentional.

I like that the crucifix reminds us that the story is much more stark than the Christmas Eve story that we usually hear.  That Christmas Eve story can be sentimental verging into cuteness. 

For me, the worship space gives us all sorts of opportunities to reinforce the message of the lectionary, the theme of the liturgical season.  Most churches have done a great job of using music in this way.  We don't always do as much as we could with the other aspects of the worship service or space.

Of course, most churches have more musicians than other types of artists.  And it takes a certain kind of approach to create a worship space that works for the majority of worshipers.  Something gruesome might make a point, but it may not be the most effective approach for the congregation.

I also try to be aware of the wide-ranging tastes of our congregation.  I know that most of us don't have a memory of Chrismons, for example.  I suspect that the members who made our Chrismons are long gone.  But they serve a purpose, and for some of our congregation, they have a much deeper meaning.

I've heard from at least one member that she finds our approach to the chancel to be too messy.  She would prefer the old paraments.  She thinks the altar should be clear of many of the items we put on it.

But I hear from many more members who like our approach to the chancel space.  And so I continue on, trying to involve more people who are interested in this approach, trying to keep the congregation engaged in new ways.

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Return of the Prodigal Earring

My prodigal earring returned yesterday, after I was about to declare it lost forever.  Would I keep the earring that remained?  Repurpose it?  Was it time to say that I had these earrings for 20+ years and throw the remaining earring away?

I returned home from Thanksgiving with it missing, which I thought was odd, since my earrings rarely left the box in which they traveled with the rest of my jewelry for Thanksgiving.  I looked at the jewelry, which might have snagged it.  My spouse thoroughly checked each suitcase.  I even shook out the clothes with which I had worn the earrings.

I am not the type to have earrings fall out of my ears.  I also rarely lose earrings, since I have a system that keeps it safe, meaning that I don't remove earrings and leave them on a surface where a dog later eats them or all the other disasters that could befall earrings out on their own.

So, days after our return from the mountains, I was thinking the earring was gone for good.  I felt sad beyond measure.  Those earrings were favorites of mine, given to me by my mom after one of her interesting travels back in the mid 90's.  They were beaded, purple and black and iridescent beads, subtle, but lovely.  My spouse went through the suitcases because they were favorites of his too.

Then, yesterday, I opened my jewelry travel box after my spin class and shower, and lo and behold, there it was, sitting in the middle of a bracelet. It had gotten nestled in the elasticized strands of freshwater pearls in a bracelet. I didn't see it Sunday night when it was missing or this morning when I put the bracelet in the box.

I was happy beyond proportion to see it again!  It was the kind of day with highs and lows--I got the task of buying tickets for Sunday's Broward Chorale concert and came out to find that someone had seriously dented my fender.  But the high of finding my earring overruled that distress.

Yes, I realize it means that I have put far too much value on my stuff.  The earrings aren't family heirlooms, after all, and they aren't precious, in terms of how much money I could get for them.  There aren't gems or precious metals.

As I mulled over my joy at the earrings, I thought about symbolism of all sorts, the kind that is important to English majors and the kind that is important on a religious/spiritual way.  I thought about the ways we give objects all sorts of meanings, and how it all enriches our lives.

I also thought about rewriting parables to give them a new twist.  Instead of the Prodigal Son who returns to his father and brother, would the parable take on new meaning if it was earrings, or something that only women wear/use?

These are questions to continue to ponder--time for another spin class.  What might I discover in my jewelry box today?  Unless it's a winning lottery ticket, it won't make me happier than yesterday's return of the prodigal earring.

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Home Repair Update: the Kitchen Cabinet Edition

Yesterday, we went to Home Depot to order the kitchen cabinets.  It's a much more complicated process than you might imagine.  We went there over a month ago with our list of measurements and the cabinets we had chosen.  But that's not the procedure.

So, in an abundance of caution, we had the measurer come out.  The measurements were sent back to Home Depot, who was then supposed to call us in a week.  No call.  At the end of the second week, I wrote to the kitchen designer, who was supposed to look at measurements and our plan and put together the cabinet order. 

I thought about trying to get the appointment squeezed in before Thanksgiving, but I decided to take more time.  We're not going to have a kitchen for Christmas, so it's better to take our time and not make a mistake.  So, I made the appointment for yesterday.

We sat with the kitchen designer for almost an hour, and because we had done so much advance work, it didn't take as long as it might have.  We knew the cabinet types we wanted, the style, the wood, the color.  We decided on a simple crown moulding to go in the 5 inches between the top of the upper cabinets and the ceiling; if my spouse had gone alone to the appointment, he probably wouldn't have ordered crown moulding, but I was there to remind him that we didn't want to try to dust those cabinet tops.

Now the measurer returns to our house, just to make sure our plan will work.  And then, the cabinet order is placed.

It's exhausting, this process of putting a house back together after a natural disaster.  Yet I know that at some point, I'll look back at this time period of sitting outside as the sun sets, having our dinner fresh off the grill or from the one pot meals we make on the grill's burner, watching the solar-powered, twinkly lights come on in the bushes.  Perhaps I won't remember the despair I felt over the fact that our stuff has been in boxes for so long that I don't exactly remember where it is.

We will have a serious cold front come through in a day or two--I have a few heavier skirts and sweaters that I wear in chillier weather; I do know where they are.  When I packed them away, I didn't expect to still be in this disorganized state this many months later.

And yet, I'm grateful for the steady progress, even if it's slow.  I'm grateful that my energy for this process does return, even when there are days I think I can never keep going.  I'm grateful that we have a way to cook, that I'm sleeping in my own bed, that we've kept the disorder isolated.

We've been without our washer and dryer for almost a month now--that's been tough.  But I'm happy that the laundry room wall replacement/repair is complete.  Now we need to paint the laundry room and move the washer/dryer unit back in.  Some days, it seems impossible.  But then I remind myself that we're very close to being done with that part of the home repair project.

And I remind myself that it could be much worse, no matter how much despair I feel.  Many people are in much worse shape than we are.

Monday, November 26, 2018

In Harmony with the Gifts that Are Already Given

This is the reading that has most spoken to me this far in my online journaling class. 

I LOVE the idea of already having the gifts. I tend to approach from a different direction--I have gifts, but I have to improve upon them, and how can I best improve. And always, my inner guidance counselor voice is telling me in how many ways I'm not living up to my full potential. How peaceful it is, this idea that the gifts are already there ready for me to be in harmony with them.

Yesterday morning, I heard one of my favorite episodes of Krista Tippett's On Being, an interview with Rachel Naomi Remen.  She tells a story of how light came into the world, about an accident with the container that held the world, and the breaking of the container is how the light gets scattered everywhere.

And then she reflects on the meaning for us in the present day: "It's a very old story, comes from the 14th century, and it's a different way of looking at our power. And I suspect it has a key for us in our present situation, a very important key. I'm not a person who is a political person in the usual sense of that word, but I think that we all feel that we're not enough to make a difference, that we need to be more somehow, either wealthier or more educated or somehow or other different than the people we are. And according to this story, we are exactly what's needed. And to just wonder about that a little, what if we were exactly what's needed? What then? How would I live if I was exactly what's needed to heal the world?"

What if God doesn't need me to change? What if God has created me to be exactly what's needed, right here, right now? For me, it's a powerful thought.

Sunday, November 25, 2018

One Last Look Back at Thanksgiving

Yesterday, we waited a bit before leaving the North Carolina mountains.  There had been wintry weather overnight, and we wanted to give the system more time to clear out.  By 9:30, we were on the road, descending from the North Carolina mountains.

At the eastern continental divide, the landscape took on a different sort of beauty than I see regularly.  The trees were coated with ice and snow, but the roads were only wet with rain.  My spouse was driving, so I could marvel in the wintry wonderland mixed with final autumn colors.  The sky looked like the clouds had come to down to lend the trees some additional ghostly sparkle.  Some of the trees still had their autumn leaves.  Some of the trees were frosted, while others had been sheltered from the wintry mix.  It was beautiful.  Alas, my camera was packed away.

We drove and drove and drove.  It was a 12 hour drive, which was long, but fairly easy, by which I mean that the traffic wasn't onerous and kept moving.  We saw an electric sign around Savannah that warned of high tides and flooding near the coast--not the usual warning message that one sees on those Highway Department signs.

We got to see the moon rise somewhere on the spine of Florida.  Like the wintry trees, it, too, was ghostly and lovely.  By evening, we enjoyed a glass of wine while watching that moon through the palm trees in 80 degree temperatures.  What a difference a day of travel can make.  The significance of that process as metaphor is not lost on me.

Today comes the great unpacking.  But first, church.  It's the Sunday after Thanksgiving, and we are needed to count the money.  It's a spiritual gift that most people don't consider.  Today will also mark the sadness of the fact that one of my favorite times is over.  Sigh.

So, before I get too far away from this holiday, let me recount the joys:

--I made time for daily journaling and poetry writing.

--I saw grad school friends along the way.  It's been a strange autumn, in that I've seen them twice in 4 weeks; usually, I only see them once a year or less.  What a treat!  I feel lucky to have friends where we reconnect immediately, like no time has passed at all.

--We had a vacation before the vacation.  A week ago, I made my way to Black Mountain, North Carolina.  My mom, dad, and sister had a time apart before the family celebration started on Tuesday.  We had great food, wonderful shopping, and most important:  deep conversation.

--It's always fun being with my larger family.  On Tuesday, my nuclear family joined my aunt and uncle, my cousin and his wife and three children.  My brother-in-law and nephew arrived on Wednesday, and very late Wednesday, my spouse flew in.

--We met at Lutheridge, a Lutheran camp.  It was my 3rd time at Lutheridge this autumn--a treat of a different kind.

--We rent one of the biggest houses--it's hard to find a house that can hold us all, so I'm grateful to Lutheridge for this house.  We've been gathering at this house so regularly since 1993 that it feels like coming home.  It's a house where we can have a meal around a single table (12+), cook a meal, have space to be away if necessary, be in the bathroom knowing that there are 3 other bathrooms, and relax in a space that's so familiar.

--Unlike past years, we stayed at camp more than venturing out.  Sure, there were the occasional Wal-Mart trips.  But we didn't go to a regional park or to see the gingerbread displays or go to a brewery or do any of the wonderful things we might have done.   We took lots of hikes around camp, which was good, since it was so cold that the less hearty amongst us could have a shorter experience.  We played Ga Ga Ball.  We had a great football game.

--We had lots of fun indoor activities too:  games of all sorts, and drawing, and making slime.  Here are some Facebook posts that I want to record more permanently:

"Give me one of your wheat, and I'll give you 3 sheep . . . I'm getting a settlement"--we're not playing Uno anymore! We're playing Catan, a card based, world building kind of game. Philosopher Carl says, "How are we supposed to get along if our communities aren't allowed to connect?"

And now my family has shifted to a different sort of Thanksgiving game: the Thanksgiving "bowl" is underway! We're playing with an underinflated football--the scandal! I believe that the Kentucky contingent is ahead, but I've never really understood this game called football.

Now the next generation is playing "Ark," a video game that's "educational." The seven year old says, "Yeah, you learn how to tame a dinosaur so you can ride it ." "It's a T-Rex. We're dead. We're definitely dead."

I am happy to report that science experiments are still attractive to our younger crowd. Fun with dry ice, beakers, candles, and a balloon.

--We had great food.  We always do.

--Most important, we were together, with very little discord.  Occasionally, chaos erupted, but it was the good kind, with the occasional incident of slime stuck on the ceiling, or everyone wanting the same toy at once.  That, too, seems an important metaphor for larger life.

Saturday, November 24, 2018

Progress Report: The Daily Practice

I am pleased to report that I have continued to be successful in my daily journaling course and my daily poetry writing, even through the traveling and the family gatherings of Thanksgiving week.

Some days, the reading, the sketching, and the poetry writing have converged, as on Tuesday:

I must confess, I like the first sketch I worked on as the haiku was making itself known:

Other days, I've used the journaling to record a passage from Joyce Rupp's Open the Door that I really want to remember.  This was Thursday's sketch:

As I drive back from the mountaintop, let me remember this wisdom. 

Thursday, November 22, 2018

Thanksgiving Gratitudes

I have always said that Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays. I love that there's no gift giving tradition to leave us all in some variation of anxious and/or disappointed. I love that the food can be towards the healthy edge of the spectrum.

But most of all, I love a holiday that revolves around gratitude.

Let me now make a list of all the things for which I am most grateful in the past year:

--One of the things for which I am most grateful is the steady pace of getting the home repaired from Hurricane Irma.  On January 1, 2018, I wrote:  "Right now, the cottage needs a new AC/heat system and flooring, at the minimum. The big house needs to have all the floors replaced, a new wrinkle to our plans. We still need to have a remodeled kitchen, and I'm wondering if it would be wise to rip out the walls in the small laundry room that got soaked from hurricane damage aftereffects. We need a new fence and gates."

Wow--I'm amazed at what needed to be done, and what we've gotten done:  the cottage foundation shored up, the cottage AC/heat replaced, the floors of the big house replaced, new interior walls in the  laundry room with the outer wall repaired too, and new fence and gates.  We are in the process of the kitchen remodel, with steady progress--slow progress, but steady.  We will think about the other issues of the cottage once we get the kitchen remodel done.

--With my old school, the Art Institute of Ft. Lauderdale, closing this year, I am grateful that I made the move to a different job in 2016.  I continue to like my current job--another source of gratitude.

--I am grateful that my spouse still loves teaching Philosophy; it's wonderful to see him so engaged with a subject that we both still find so important.

--I am grateful that my family continues to enjoy spending time together. I had wondered if we might drift away from each other after the death of my grandmother, but we have not.

--I am grateful for my Fitbit which has helped me lose some weight.  More important, I'm getting more movement into my days.

--I am profoundly grateful that I can still fit creativity into my days.

Let me not get so lost in my gratitude that I forget those who haven't been as lucky this past year. Let me continue to yearn for and to work for a world where we all have enough to inspire gratitude.

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

The Heart as Reluctant Prophet

I've been having quite a wonderful November, in terms of creativity.  I have been taking an online journaling class, which started Nov. 4, and I've also been writing a poem a day.  I didn't plan to make a sketch a day, but I've been doing that too.  The processes have been feeding each other in interesting ways.

As I've already written about, in this blog post, I made a sketch during a brief rest stop on my long drive Saturday:

I thought about the story of Jonah and the whale as I was sketching.  I continued to think about it as I continued my week's travels.

You may remember that Jonah is a reluctant prophet in the short Biblical book of the same name.  God wants Jonah to go to Nineveh, and Jonah doesn't want to.  So he heads out in a different direction, on a ship.  There's a storm, and Jonah feels that if the sailors toss him overboard, the storm will subside.  The sailors do this, and Jonah is swallowed by a giant fish and spends 3 days in the stomach of the giant fish.  He agrees to go to Nineveh, the fish vomits him up, and Nineveh proves to be receptive to his/God's message.  There's a surprise twist at the end:  Jonah gets in a snit of a mood because he's successful.

I spent time thinking about my image and the story.  Is my heart a reluctant prophet?  I've been intrigued with the idea of my heart as a prophet who grows tired of delivering messages from God and flees, only to find time for contemplation in the innards of a giant fish. I would likely never have had that poem idea without this image, which I hope to return to at some point.

Yesterday, I finally had time to write the poem down.  As with the story of Jonah, it went in interesting ways.  It's a poem I likely wouldn't have had without the sketch.  And I wouldn't have had either, probably, without the daily discipline that I've adopted for November.

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Read Poems to Prepare for Thanksgiving

I have not always been a person who travels with her laptop.  I often traveled to get away from my laptop and all the demands of the regular world that a laptop symbolizes.  But as I've traveled with a laptop, I've realized that there are some benefits.

One is that I can announce poetry publications.  And my latest one is in TAB: The Journal of Poetry & Poeticsan online journal, so everyone who is reading this blog post (which means you have internet access, right?) can read it.

Go here to read my poems "Gratitude Journal" and "When I Run Away to Theology School."  Go here to see the complete table of contents, where you can choose to hear me read "When I Run Away to Theology School"--and then you can read the wonderful work of everyone else too.

I am so fond of these poems, and I'm so glad they've found a good home.  And in remarkable serendipity, one of them has a theme that fits right in with Thanksgiving.

Monday, November 19, 2018

Return to Seven Sisters

My Thanksgiving travels have taken me to Black Mountain, NC, where I'm spending a few days with my mom, dad, and sister before we travel on to the other side of the mountain where we'll meet the rest of the family for Thanksgiving.

I last explored Black Mountain back when 1996 turned to 1997, and we spent the New Year's holiday here.  The place has changed in many ways.  There are more brewpubs now.  I don't think that there were any here 20 years ago.  Last night, we went to a place that had mostly beers from local breweries.  Twenty years ago, there might have been a beer or two.  Last night, there were about 15, and most of them were on tap.

Black Mountain is still as arts-based as it ever was. Lots of artsy craftsy shops, studios, and people. On one of the main streets, there's a quilt shop and a yarn shop in the same block, which says something about the place. There are also signs in windows reminding people to pick up their pecans that the Rotary Club is selling. It's very charming.

As a person with an extra cottage, I'm happy to have an air bnb experience.  We're staying in a small house.  I thought it would be on a more isolated plot of land, but it's a neighborhood.  The house across the street has hounds in the yard.  The yards are scraggly, but that may be because we're in a colder time of the yard.  The house sizes are very mixed.  Our house has one bedroom on the bottom floor and the attic has been remodeled into a bedroom and bathroom.

It reminds me a bit of our gite in France, where my mom, dad, and I stayed.  That gite had been created out of half a garage--it looked like a garage from the outside, but the inside was charming.  This house is painted bright green and the front yard is very small.  But the inside of the house is much larger than you'd expect from the outside.

Today we'll explore Black Mountain or perhaps Asheville.  Every time I'm in these mountains, I'm so aware of all the exploring we could do and how little time we have.  I expect the same today.  But the exploring that we do will feed me in a way that little else can.

I'm still trying to do my visual journaling and writing a poem each day.  Last night, having been surrounded by the reference to the 7 sister mountain range, I made this sketch:

I am now realizing that I put the sunset at the wrong place.  But since it doesn't look like a sunset, maybe that's O.K.

Sunday, November 18, 2018

On the Road Again

Let me first start by saying that our house is not unattended.  I'm always amazed at what people publish and what they let the whole world know.  I say this knowing that people can level that charge right back at me.

I went to bed very early on Friday night, as I often do.  I was up by 2 a.m. on Saturday, on the road by 2:20.  I was surprised by how many people were still out driving at that hour, but perhaps I shouldn't be; it's just after closing time for many venues of entertainment, after all.

As I drive, I find the hour just before sunrise to be hardest.  It's not because I get tired, but because I'm tired of the dark.  It seems there's a metaphor/symbol there, beyond, "The darkest hour is just before the dawn."

I was planning to arrive at my grad school friend's house in the early afternoon, but I was making such good time that I was early.  I yearned for a cozy bakery where I might settle in and journal for an hour, but I would have been happy to see a Panera.  It became clear that I wasn't going to find either, so I came up with an even better plan.

I went to the South Carolina Artisans Center in Walterboro, SC:

I loved walking through the center and seeing the art. 

They have sparkling clean bathrooms.  The people are very friendly.  As I left, I saw this picnic table and decided to do a bit of journaling.

I'm trying to create a sketch every day:

I didn't feel like I had time to linger so I made a very simple sketch and got back on the road again.  But it was a very refreshing stop, even though it's a bit further away from the highway than I usually go.

Friday, November 16, 2018

Process Notes on a Time of Visual Journaling

Last night, my spouse watched mindless TV, and I decided to experiment with the 4 colored markers that we are using for the online journaling class I'm part of.  Some of my fellow participants are posting pictures that show amazing color saturation.  I decided to try:

My spouse went to bed early, and I decided to keep working.  I wrote a bit in an old-fashioned way--by hand.  For this online journaling class, I've been doing some writing in the sketch book, in addition to the writing that I include as part of the sketches. 

When I was done, I wanted to so more playing with my markers.  But I didn't want to do more with the above sketch.  So I turned the page over.

The colored markers that we're using will bleed through the paper. For reasons I don't understand, the black markers don't bleed through.  I made the sketch below, and the other side still looks the same:

I decided to add these words:  "I wish I believed in guardian angels."  It seems like a line that should be in a poem, so I wanted to record it here.

At some point, I'll go back through my sketches to see if I see themes emerging.  I have been drawing eyes, which makes sense in the context of this course which asks us to see what we might be trying to ignore.  I've also been creating a lot of winged creatures.  Are they angels?  Doves?  Butterflies?  Yes, some of all of it.  In the sketch above, I was going for a descending dove shape.

I'm intrigued by how some of my sketches are very different from each other.  Here is my image from Tuesday. I finished the initial image in the late afternoon and then started experimenting with black marks. Then I went to teach my Composition class. While my students worked on writing an essay, I added the lighter black marks; I was trying to make the image seem fragmented, like a glass that's shattered:

When I signed up for the class, I didn't realize I'd be inspired to make a sketch a day.  It's been amazing.  Even when I think I have nothing to say/write/sketch, something has bubbled up and often multiple times a day.

I'm enjoying the class beyond just the motivation. I really like seeing what others are sketching. We're making interesting comments, even though we don't know each other. I'm loving seeing the sketching/drawing techniques that others are using--and it's not like any of us are trained artists (at least, I don't think we are). We're all women, although the class was open to everyone. I'm not sure why it all interests me so much--well, actually, I am--because we all seem to be wrestling with similar questions (albeit in different arenas): what next?

I've been taking the Rupp book, my small sketchbook (8 x 6), and my markers with me everywhere I go, and I've been doing a bit of sketching that way. It really helps to have it all with me.

I've also been writing a poem a day since November started (the class started Nov. 4). I haven't been this prolific in ages.

What does any of this mean for the future? I don't know yet. But it's good to feel some creative juices flowing.

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Bounties of Gratitude

A week from today will be Thanksgiving.  I am so ready for a holiday--and this is my second favorite holiday.  Christmas is my favorite, but Thanksgiving is close behind.  If Thanksgiving had a tradition of sparkly lights, it might take the lead.

Yesterday, we had our annual Thanksgiving potluck at work.  As with almost every potluck, I am amazed at how much food we had.  Our school bought the turkey:  we had a tray of sliced, smoked turkey, and we bought another roasted whole turkey, which our Director of Admissions sliced--she's a pro.

It was a wonderful spread.  The cool thing about a Thanksgiving potluck is that we have plenty to talk about:  what's our favorite food, what are our Thanksgiving traditions, what's our cooking approach.

I began the day by walking our social media coordinator around campus asking people to share what they're grateful for.  She's creating a gratitude video.  By the end of my work day, it felt like a bonus Thanksgiving.

I am grateful to be in a place where we get along well enough to eat together regularly.  We're a big group, but we still fit in a single room, so we can all eat the same meal.  We still have the problem of people who already know each other sitting together, but we know each other well enough that most people are welcome at most tables.

I'm also grateful that I'm continuing with my poem-a-day practice for the month of November.  I'm also doing my visual journaling on a daily basis.  It's a bonus that I didn't expect when I signed up for the class.

Part of my success with a poem-a-day process is that I'm writing more haiku than usual.  Writing haiku always feels a bit like cheating, perhaps because I'm only writing haiku in the sense that I'm following the syllabics for each line. I'm not following the Japanese conventions any further than that.

Still, I find them useful. It's good to think in such compressed form, even though I don't particularly like the haiku I write. I like the process.

I've written before (here and here) about gratitude haiku--a variation on the gratitude journal.  Here's one about yesterday's work:

Gratitude videos
A meal shared with colleagues
Various bounties

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Embassies and Walls: Anniversaries on My Mind

Last night was another late night, as I taught my 2 Composition students and also oversaw an appreciation event for evening students.  Happily, tonight won't be a late night at work.

I have anniversaries on the brain.  This morning on the Witness program that's broadcast on the BBC, I heard an episode on the takeover of the U.S. embassy in Tehran that happened in 1979.  My family was with another family for a week-end get away at the Outer Banks, and it was one of the few times we had the TV on.  My dad saw the coverage and shook his head.  He said, "This doesn't look good."  It would be worse than we realized.  Everyone in that house that day, the grown ups like my parents, the high school kids (me), and the little ones--we all thought that it would be quickly settled.  It must be a mistake, right?  Crazy school kids taking over an embassy who would soon come to their senses--now, of course, we know it was nothing like that.

We are also at the anniversary of the wall coming down between the two Germanys that are now one Germany.  My dad was there for that newscast too.  We were cautiously optimistic, but I'm sure we both expected soldiers with guns to appear at any moment.

The world can change so radically in a single evening.  At the 20 year anniversary of the fall of the wall, I read a story in The Washington Post which told the story of the East German official who was holding a boring news conference when he announced that travel restrictions would be loosened. The journalists immediately began to ask questions, but he hadn't read the briefing very carefully, so he made it up as he went along, announcing that the changes would be taking place immediately. The journalists reported, the ordinary citizens began to assemble, and the guards at the border were overwhelmed:  "Before long, the guards at Bornholmer Street were outnumbered by thousands of people; the same thing was happening at several other checkpoints. Overwhelmed and worried for their own safety, Jäger and his fellow guards reasoned that the use of violence might quickly escalate and become uncontrollable. They decided instead at around 9 p.m. to let a trickle of people cross the border, hoping to ease the pressure and calm the crowd. The guards would check each person individually, take notes and penalize the rowdiest by refusing them reentry. They managed to do this for a while, but after a couple of hours the enormous crowd was chanting, 'Open the gate, open the gate!'

After more debate, Jäger decided that raising the traffic barriers was the only solution. Around 11:30 p.m., the decades-long Cold War division of Germany ended.

Throughout the night, other crossings opened in much the same way."

I think of that boring bureaucrat and the blundering news conference, and I am reminded that even if we have the most dull jobs in the world where we feel like we affect nothing, we still might be an agent for social change. I think of those border guards who chose not to shoot. Even if they did it for fear of losing their own lives in the chaos that would ensue, that choice changed the future.

I also think of the people along the way who prayed. On All Things Considered on at the 20 year anniversary of the wall coming down, I heard a story about a Lutheran pastor who began to hold weekly Monday meetings in his church to pray for peace. This movement spread to other churches, and soon it was a mass movement of thousands of people. Communist officials later said, "We were prepared for everything except the prayers and candles." Again, people waited for the bullets. Again, the power of peace defeated the forces of violence.

I think of other places in the 1980's, where the powers of prayer and peace defeated the powers of evil, most notably Poland and South Africa. I think of places today where I cannot imagine how peace will come.  And yet, those seeds of peace may already be sprouting.

That's the hopeful view, of course.  The ending of the Witness episode this morning noted that relations between the U.S. and Iran had never been the same since the takeover of the embassy.  We still see embassies as places that should be safe, even in places with unstable governments--that's one reason why the murder of the journalist in an embassy has the power to shock us.

Still, let me remember the hopeful elements of the anniversaries, especially for those of us who feel helpless.  We can all light our candles.  We can pray/meditate/visualize peace descending on the world.  We can be people of hope.  History shows us that the improbable may already be on the way.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

What Most Distracts/Feeds You

This morning's post may be more disjointed than usual.  I got home last night close to 9 p.m.  I needed to stay for an evening PAC meeting, and unlike last week's PAC meetings at a different campus, I stayed late to help with clean up.  It was a dinner meeting, so there was more clean up than with a coffee and dessert meeting.

As with many meetings in my life, it was a meeting more for others than for me--I already knew much of the information presented.  And my frustration with many meetings these days:  it was great to talk about possible solutions to issues, but frustrating knowing that we have so little ability to pursue most of them.  If we change a major element of a Program that's on more than one campus, we need all the campuses on board--even for something that should be simple, like a book change.

Of course, those of you in academia know that a book change is never simple, if it involves more than one person.

Yesterday I was late to our online journaling class that meets in real time once a week by way of a Zoom meeting on Facebook.  It's one of the few meetings where I wish we could go longer.

I spent the whole day thinking I would have time to sketch in response to the sketches of others and the Joyce Rupp book my online journaling class is using.  But it wasn't that kind of day.

When I got home, I was exhausted--but that too tired to fall asleep right away kind of exhausted.  I had already written my poem for the day, but I hadn't sketched (when I started this class, I hadn't realized I would feel like I should sketch every day).  I decided to make a quick sketch, the answer to the question on p. 48: "What most distracts you and keeps you from listening to the deeper part of your life?"

That image might look like I have lots of extra hours in the day.  Last night, I was wishing that I did have lots of hours in the day--part of me wanted to sleep, and part of me wanted to stay awake, writing and sketching and listening to old songs from my past.

I spent a lot of the week-end doing just that, which made me yearn for more.  On Saturday, I went looking for the original version of a Paul Simon song, I was listening to Simon's new album, which sent me on a quest for the original "How the Heart Approaches What It Yearns." I had forgotten that the song came from the One Trick Pony record. Long ago, I checked out the record from the Knoxville public library and taped it and listened to it all through the school year. Why did this song about "the bag of tricks it takes to get me through my working days" resonate so much with my teenage self?

I also went down a Muppet Movie rabbit hole.  Early on Saturday morning, I listened to this episode of "Fresh Air" where Terry Gross interviews Brian May--there's a snippet at about 28 minutes in where the Muppets do "Bohemian Rhapsody"--I haven't laughed that much in weeks.

That episode also sent me on a quest for Queen recordings available on the radio, which reminded me of high school too, which meant that I improbably finished the week-end on Sunday night, listening to the music of Chariots of Fire, many of which had clips from the movie.  Yesterday, as I moved through my endless day, I had lots of music in my head.

Today will be another long day.  I am taking days off next week--a full Thanksgiving week of vacation.  I am more than ready.

As I was trying to decide how to title this blog post, I thought about that part of the question, what distracts you.  But I also realized, looking back on this post, that what distracts me is also a component of what feeds me.  Hmm.  This journaling class is giving me lots to ponder--more than I dared hope!

Monday, November 12, 2018

Roads (Not) Taken, Dreams of All Sorts

Here is the drawing that I made on Saturday:

It was the 7th day of my online journaling class, the day when the book we're using asked us to reflect back on the first week.  We'd been writing/thinking/drawing a lot about dreams and doors.  I began with the image of a road that breaks into 2 paths, one of dreams deferred and one of new dreams.

Later, as I reflected on the image, I realized that if I look at it a different way, it could be the merging of 2 paths, if the traveler was going towards the bottom of the page.

When I created the sketch, I wasn't sure what I would put in the space of the Y of the paths.  I thought about some kind of field.  I reread the chapter, which encouraged us to think of doors.  So, I drew a door like a door I'd drawn earlier in the week:

But the door in Saturday's sketch has a Gothic arch, not a Roman arch.  The door in Saturday's sketch has a stained glass window, which the first door I drew did not:

Back to Saturday's sketch.  Do you see the winged creatures?  I think of them as butterflies.  I find the colors in their wings to be regal--it suggests vestments to me.  Do I see them as angels?  No.  But they do suggest robes.  In other words, it's churchy, but not angelic.

It's been a good first week of this online journaling class.  I've drawn more in the past week than I ever have in a week.  And I've been writing lots of poems.  I'm very intrigued to see what happens as we go into the various holiday times that will come in the remaining 5 weeks of the course.

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Approaches to Armistice Day

Pre-dawn of another Veteran's Day, cloudy, just after fierce rains have swept through. Before today was Veteran's Day, it was Armistice Day, the day that celebrated the signing of the Armistice that ended World War I. In some ways, it's not a hard holiday to celebrate. Any event that restores peace in our time is worth some sober meditation.

However, those of us who know our history may be chastened by the knowledge of what was to come. The end of World War I planted the seeds that would blossom into World War II. World War I brought carnage on a level never before seen--but World War II would be even worse.

Why is it so hard for humans to remain at peace? There are whole series of books that address this question, so I won't attempt it here. Still, today is a good day to offer extra prayers for sustained peace in our time. World War I and all the other wars of the 20th century offer us vivid examples of the horrible consequences of the lack of peace.

Those of us lucky enough to live in a land that's not currently wracked by war might think about our luck. We might strengthen our resolve to quit wasting time and to start/continue/finish the work we were put on this earth to do. History shows us that we can't always or even often count on peace. The world plunges into war for the flimsiest of reasons: an archduke is assassinated, and the world goes up in flames.

So if we have stability now, let us seize the day. Let us not waste time on Facebook, bad movies, wretched television, or any of the other countless ways we've devised to waste our freedom. Generations of humans have laid down their lives to secure us this precious liberty; let's resolve that their blood hasn't been shed just so that we can fritter day after day away.

If we haven't always done a good job of shepherding our talents, let's declare today to be Armistice Day. Let's forgive ourselves for every opportunity we haven't followed. Let's see if any of those doors are still open to us. And if not, let's rest easy in the assurance that there will be new doors if only we stay alert for them.

For those of us who are activists, we might think about how to use our talents to create a world where we practice war no more. Or maybe we want to raise funds for those who are damaged by war. On a day like Veteran's Day, it seems appropriate. We can be the voices for those who have been cruelly silenced.

For those of us who teach, we might want to think about how artists and writers might speak to current generations, many of whom do not know any veterans. On Veteran's Day, which began as Armistice Day, you might bring the work of Wilfred Owen into your classrooms. You can find some poems at this site; I particularly like "Anthem for Doomed Youth." Pair this poem with some artistic works, perhaps the works of Picasso that look at war, a work like "Guenica" (here's a site with the image). For this generation of instant access to facts and information, it would be worth discussing whether or not creative explorations enrich our understanding of war and its aftermath. Is photography and documentary film more worthwhile? Another kind of art?

For those of us who are spiritual, we could spend time today staying mindful of the older holiday of Armistice Day, and the modern incarnation of Veteran's Day. We can remember to give thanks for the sacrifices of so many who have made my domestic peace possible. We can pray for the government leaders of all our countries, in the hopes that they'll continue to avert catastrophes of all sorts, from the economic to the armed conflict to the planet destroying variety.

Saturday, November 10, 2018

Field Notes from a Great Writing Month So Far

I have done a lot more writing this week, and a wider variety of writing.  Is it because of my online journaling course?  Let me take a moment to capture this week of writing:

--I have continued to write a poem a day, my November goal.  Some of them really make me happy.  And even if they don't seem to have much potential, I'm still glad to be writing them.

--I've written in my offline journal more often this week.  Some of my e-mails during this week have seemed worth saving, so they have gone into my offline journal.

--I've continued to write at least one daily blog post.  But since I almost always do that, my inner guidance counselor doesn't want to give me credit for that--she insists that I'm not living up to my full potential.

--I sent out manuscripts:  some poetry packets, a short story, and my book-length poem collection.

--I also wrote Facebook posts which seemed a bit more creative than usual.  Here's an example:  It is 3 a.m., and I am eating baby carrots as I grade student work from my online class. Some of you will be worried that I am awake at 3 a.m. Some of you will wonder why I'm not eating a better snack in the middle of the night. Some of you will feel sad that I'm doing grading instead of tending to my inner life. A few of you will say, "Get that kitchen remodel done already. You used to bake pumpkin bread during times of insomnia."

--I saw a call for a special issue (which I wrote down on a scrap of paper that's in my office, so I can't link to it here) for work that explores the past decades of the LGBQTA movement, and I have just the short story.  But the word limit is 1200, and the story I had is roughly 3650 words.  So, in the spirit of experiment, I tried cutting it down.  I still have 150 words to go.  It's always an interesting experiment, seeing what can be cut. I almost always like the longer version, where I have the space to include symbolism and side notes.

--This list doesn't even count all the writing I've done for work:  the e-mails, the material to go with the photos that I sent to the social media coordinator, and all the various projects that require my writing skills.

--My online journaling class has also called forth some writing that wouldn't have happened otherwise:  the haiku to go with some of the sketches, the explanation of what I post to the group site, and some journaling that I'm keeping separate from my other journals.

November has been a GREAT writing month so far--I hope I can keep this up!

Friday, November 9, 2018

What the Heart Hides

Last night before an evening meeting, I took out my sketchbook, markers and book for my online journaling class.  I decided to stay in the car, where I knew I wouldn't be disturbed.  I reread the chapter in Joyce Rupp's Open the Door that talked about walls of illusions--we push on them and they seem solid, but they're really not.  Here's the quote that leapt out at me last night:  "Illusions are 'pretend doors.'  The counterfeit self is filled with these masquerades" (p. 32).

I was going to draw a wall and a hand, with a garden behind the wall and a desert on the side of the wall with the hand.  I couldn't get the perspective just right, so I traced my hand.  I thought about writing all my illusions about the future I assume I cannot have on the wall, but since I had to go to a meeting, I wasn't sure I wanted to dive deeply that way. So instead, I wrote questions on the fingers.

Yesterday I had been playing with haiku.  I came up with this one on my walk in the morning:

A monastery,
my heart shelters orphaned dreams.
Safe harbor, fierce storm.

I thought about creating some sort of collage, about the heart not as monastery but as homeless shelter and needing to find a few more beds.  I thought about that illustration about Madeline who lived in an orphanage with Miss Clavell:

But this morning, I went in a different direction:

At some point in the near future, I plan to journal about those abandoned dreams. I was going to use the word orphaned, but I needed the extra syllable for my haiku.

I like the hopefulness of this image.  I like the stars that represent the dreams in the heart.  I like the rays of light around the heart that also look like wheat.  I've had bread on the brain all week.  I'm intrigued by how these swirls come together.

Thursday, November 8, 2018

Notes from the First Week of a Journaling Course

I'm at the the beginning of an interesting online experience which started on Sunday. It's sort of like a cross between a retreat and a class. The subject matter is journaling, but we're using a book, and we're journaling with markers, not just with words. In fact at this point, from what I can tell from what's being shared, we're journaling only with our markers We're also meeting once a week as a group, but if we can't be there, the session is recorded. There's also a Facebook group that's private--that's where we share our images and thoughts and view the recorded sessions and some art lessons from our organizer.

We are using Joyce Rupp's Open the Door: A Journey to the True Self. It's organized as daily readings and meditations. We were a list of what we would need for the class, which included just 4 colors of Copic Sketch markers. I have sketched so much this week that I ordered refill ink so that I could sketch without worrying about how much ink I was using.

I am surprised by how much I am sketching. Last night I came home with the kind of exhaustion that might have made me collapse in front of the TV for a few hours before going to bed. But I had a vision of a sketch, so I sat down to attempt it. I ended up with 3 sketches--I was still tired at the end, but my exhaustion had morphed into a less onerous fatigue.

I am carrying the Rupp book, my sketchbook (a 24 page, spiral bound, 8 x 6 book), and the markers with me everywhere. That's one of the advantages of a small sketchbook and just a few markers. My whole sketch bag is much heavier because I now have so many markers, and thus, I rarely tote it with me.

I am both frustrated and intrigued by the restriction of just 4 colors. We have a shade of blue, a shade of dusty red (more like a dried out burgundy), a yellow, and a gold. Some of my compatriots are much better at blending than I am. The restriction reminds me a bit of writing poetry in form or in a specific meter. The challenge leads me to places I wouldn't otherwise go.

When I thought about signing up for the class, I thought I would sketch just once or twice a week, to augment the Sunday morning practice I have now. I am pleased that I am doing much more than that.

My poetry is benefiting too, which I didn't anticipate. The sketches give me ideas for a poem. This morning, I wrote a poem that began, "My heart, this homeless shelter . . ." As I was walking, I was thinking about a new poem, one that jumped off of that one: heart as homeless shelter, heart as monastery, heart as harbor. I plan to write that one tomorrow.

It's now time for me to go to work, so I'll leave you with last night's image. What do you see?

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

The Day After the Election

It's interesting to read the Facebook posts of my various friends across the country as election results came in.  Some are wildly hopeful.  Some are deeply depressed.  I suspect that many of us are a mix.

I am thrilled with the variety of people that this nation elected.  I would have been thrilled with the numbers of women elected, but words can't express how happy I am to see how many women from minority populations (minority for now) were elected.  If the past few years/decades have taught us anything, it's that aging white men won't be looking out for all of us.

To be fair, maybe any one of us will look out for the well being of our own population groups before we branch out to care about others.  I get that.  But how can so many in government have their powers of sympathy/empathy so stunted?  I have never had children, but I understand many of the issues that families with small children face, and I'd like to see a world where parents didn't have to make so many drastic, painful choices.  We'd all be better off.

And yes, I'd be happy to pay more in taxes for that to happen.

So let us be happy that so many regular folks have decided to pick up the political reigns, to try to direct this carriage in a different direction.  And let us be happy that so many of them won.

I am guessing that many of us now understand how important the political process can be.  I predict that fewer of us will say that what happens in national politics has no impact on us.  We've seen more people voting in this past midterm election than we have in the last 50 years.  Will that trend continue?  I hope so.

I'm also hoping that we move beyond thinking about what we don't want.  It seems that it's time to dream about what we do want--both as individuals and as a nation.

I confess that I don't know how to solve the larger issue--that we have some widely divergent views of what would be good for the nation.  Once I would have agreed with a friend who said, "Feed babies.  That's my platform.  No one can disagree with feeding babies."  Now I worry that we have a chunk of the population that might disagree.

But my spiritual training has taught me the limits of fear as motivation.  Far better to motivate people with a beautiful vision than with threats.  I realize that not everyone agrees with me.  I will dream my beautiful visions regardless.

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Monthly Goals

I have been having luck with having one monthly goal.  In September, my monthly goal was to walk 10,000 steps every day.  I did that.  In October, I participated in a spin class challenge--each spin class, our goal was mileage--I rode hard to get my mileage up and was successful in each class.  I had planned for November to be the month where I ate 5 servings of fruits and vegetables each day.

I have already failed.  Each and every day I have failed.  But I have been writing a poem every day.  I hadn't planned to do so.  But this morning, after finishing my Penelope and arthritis poem, I realized that I was at day 6 of daily poetry writing.

Let me see if I can keep this up.  April is the traditional time to write a poem a day, and I've done that once and failed to do that several times.  November is traditionally a time where people are trying to write a novel in one huge swoop of a month.  I will sit in my corner, quietly writing a poem.

I'm also participating in an online course.  I've taken a workshop with the teacher before--she's the one at a past Create in Me retreat that turned me on to sketching with Copic markers.  We're using Joyce Rupp's Open the Door, which has a meditation for each day.  Once a week, we'll meet by way of an online Zoom meeting.  We're all part of a private Facebook group where we can post thoughts and images.

This week's readings have explored the doors of the heart.  On Sunday, I made this sketch, which is blurry, no matter how I tried to photograph it differently:

After our weekly Zoom session, I wrote a haiku and made a new sketch:

This morning, I made this Facebook post to the group:

As I woke up periodically throughout the night, I had this recurring thought: my heart is a homeless shelter. I will spend the day puzzling over this image. If my heart is a homeless shelter, who/what are the residents? Ideas that aren't welcome in the larger world? Ideas that have yet to take root in me? I don't have an image yet . . . maybe it will come later.

I am already finding November to be a month of inspiration--my goal is for that feeling to continue!

Monday, November 5, 2018

All Saints Sunday: Unbind Us!

Yesterday, I heard the story of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead several times.  I designed an interactive arts activity for our middle worship service that I describe in this blog post.  I also took pictures.  This one is technically a mistake, taken with the lens fogged up from the difference in temperature from inside to outside, but I like the ghostliness of it--appropriate for All Saints!

As I heard the story again and again, the lines that leapt out for me were the last ones, where Jesus orders Lazarus unbound.  And so I made this image during our later service:

I was also playing with the markers that we'll be using in the online journaling class that I'm taking.  They're colors that I might not have chosen on my own.  I used words from all of the lessons of the day:

First Reading: Isaiah 25:6-9

Second Reading: Revelation 21:1-6a

Gospel: John 11:32-44

And then I came home and did some additional work with the markers and journaling--more on that as the journaling course continues.

It was a good week-end in terms of creativity.  In addition to the fun with markers, I wrote several poems.  I read this poem about Rapunzel's stroke and immediately started thinking about Penelope's arthritis in her hands.  It won't write that poem this morning, since I need to leave to make the bread run for school.  But it will be soon!

Sunday, November 4, 2018

Sunday Snippets: Fibrous Connections

--I wrote another poem this morning and figured out how to make my poem about voting stronger.  I feel a sense of gratitude that may be out of proportion.  In the times when I'm not writing poems, I worry that my muse has gone off to find someone who will tend to her inspirations more faithfully.  What if I never write a poem again?

--One of my Facebook friends posted pictures of letters and chalked graffiti that greeted Jews at her synagogue.  Unlike some stories that made the national news, these messages were ones of hope and support, not hate.

--I went to a reunion yesterday afternoon--not a high school reunion, but a reunion of all of us who had been at the Art Institute of Ft. Lauderdale.  It was unlike a high school reunion or a college Homecoming week-end, in that I remembered almost everyone who was there.  It was like those events in that I felt a bit overwhelmed by all the people and the noise.  It was hard to hold a conversation.  It was hard to make a deep connection.

--As I drove home yesterday evening, I saw people lined up to vote.  Today is the last day of early voting.  I've never seen this level of interest in an off-term election.  Regardless of the results, I'm happy to see this level of interest.  It makes me feel hopeful about the future.  The U.S. is a fibrous construction of humanity, and I have faith and hope that while we are a bit unraveled, we're far from ripped.

--I began the week-end by going to vote. I will end the week-end as I usually do, by going to church. I will be fed in ways that I expect and in ways I won't even realize until later. These week-end bookends make me feel better about the future of the country. If I spent the week-end inside, watching the various news shows and/or the unavoidable political commercials, which will be the lot of many of us this week-end, I'd have a very different view of the nation.

--A week ago, I got a phone call from my sister.  I feel like many of our phone conversations have started this way:  "Mom isn't dead, but . . . "  I also realize that these phone conversations are not the grim ones we will likely have eventually.

--Last week, I learned that my mother had had a heart incident on a plane in Spain.  Luckily the plane hadn't taken off yet.  She has spent the week in a hospital in Spain.  At one point, we thought she would need stents put in.  But the doctors couldn't find any blockage.  So, they released her, and now they are on my side of the Atlantic.  It's been a long journey home for them.  I'm relieved.

--I do wonder what this coming week will bring.  But let me rest a bit in the good news of this past week.  Let me enjoy this snippets of hope.

Saturday, November 3, 2018

Nuggets of Happiness in a Gloomy Time

As the days move into November, many of us feel a bit gloomier.  The days are getting much shorter, and we are surrounded by reminders that our total time here on the planet is very short.  We do our best to make this idea festive with our Halloween decorations, our Day of the Dead celebrations. 

Let me add some nuggets of happiness to the festive days of this week:

--I went to early voting yesterday.  The lines were the longest I've ever stood in for a non-Presidential year election--a wide diversity of people all patiently waiting and chatting. It made me feel weepy with hope--a great feeling these days!  Everyone was civil and patient.  I loved all the children emerging from the voting area with "I Voted Early" stickers all over their clothes and faces.  One woman who works in the Danish bakery in downtown Hollywood brought 2 boxes of pastries for the workers.

--Voting makes me realize how much I love this giant experiment of a country.  Our democracy doesn't seem fragile when I stand in line with my fellow citizens, all of us sweating in the sun that's still intense in November in South Florida.  I stood in line with such a variety of people.  This country is so huge, both in terms of land mass, beliefs, and types of humans--it's hard to believe that we could go the way of Germany in the 1930's or the former Yugoslavia of the 1990's.

--Before we went to vote, we spent the evening reading the ballot, researching the various ammendments.  I made a joke about our romantic evening at home, doing political research, but I was partly serious.   It was a pleasant way to spend an evening, but we are odd that way as a liberal artsy couple.  We often we have similar evenings at home, at least several nights a week, talking about a variety of philosophical issues.

--After a time of not writing much poetry, I wrote 4 poems this week, and one of them came out fully formed.  I went to observe the Chemistry teacher yesterday, on the Feast of All Souls.  I came away with a poem about rust's slow will to conquer an oxidized nail--rust and oxidation and EMS compressions and people writing dissertations in geologic time and a dose of a feast day--I'm pleased with that poem.  I am less pleased with my poem about early voting, but it has potential.  I also wrote a poem rooted in home repairs, and a Halloween poem.  It's been a long, long time since I wrote 4 poems in one week.

--We had a good Halloween week at school.  Two years ago, on Halloween, I started my time here.  Many people this week wished me a happy anniversary.  I'm still happy at this campus.

It's strange to count up my happiness nuggets in a week where so many of us grieved the shooting at a synagogue and countless other losses.  But maybe in a week like this one, it's more important than ever.

Friday, November 2, 2018

Home Repairs and Elections and Feast Days

I have been up several hours, which isn't unusual for me.  I needed to get some grading done for my online class before the next batch of discussion posts comes in today.  I graded, listened to episodes of NPR's Fresh Air from earlier this week, and watched the moon rise.  The moon is larger than a fingernail, more like a melon slice.

It made me think about the last time I was watching that phase of the moon during its rise--one month ago?  Two?  I was looking out this same window, which was new to me.  It must have been early September.  And now it's early November.

We are further along in home repairs, but far from done.  The Home Depot person comes to measure the kitchen so that we can order cabinets.  Once we order the cabinets, it will be 4-6 weeks before they arrive.  I'm beginning to think that the kitchen remodel will not be complete by Christmas.  I am O.K. with that.

In many ways, we've been lucky.  We've been spending lots of time outside, and it's been pleasant.  We do most of our cooking on the grill or with one burner anyway, so the loss of the oven isn't a big deal.  And if we really needed to bake, we could use the stove in the cottage.

This afternoon, before we retire to our outside evening, we'll go cast our vote in early elections.  Last night, as the sun went to sleep, we looked over the extensive ballot:  amendments to the state constitution, various decisions about the city of Hollywood charter, judges, on and on the ballot goes.  We wanted to make our decisions in advance, where we could talk about them and look up anything that needed clarification online.  It was a pleasant way to spend an evening, but we are odd that way as a liberal artsy couple.

Part of why I'm nonplussed about the slow progress of our home repairs has to do with how strange it is to find myself in early November.  Here we are at the midterm elections.  My brain still thinks it's August.

I keep thinking about elections--that, too, has been a long, slow movement to this finish line.  And then, seemingly suddenly, we will find ourselves done.  Home repairs feel the same way--slog, slog, slog, and then, we have new and beautiful floors.

My brain also moves in liturgical directions.  Today is the Feast Day of All Souls, which is different from the Feast Day of All Saints--for more, see this post on my theology blog.

On this day, as on Halloween, I'd like to be doing something more contemplative:  lighting candles, thinking of those we have lost, maybe baking some bread.  But today will be different.

Voting--it's not a traditional way of celebrating the Feast Day of All Souls, but as I stand in the lines I expect to see, I'll pray the same kinds of prayers.

Thursday, November 1, 2018

Halloween and Aging

Last night, I realized that my feelings about Halloween become more complicated as I get older.  I've always loved Thanksgiving, which is a straight forward holiday to me; it's about food and gratitude.  Likewise, Christmas:  long ago I gave up any traditions that didn't have significance to me, and I'm good at not letting society dictate how we celebrate that holiday.

But Halloween has always made me feel conflicted.  It doesn't feel safe to me, and for me, that's not about the calories in the candy or the holiday's possible links to evil spirits.  For me, that lack of safety comes from grown people dressing up in costumes which gives a lot of them permission to act in ways that are far from wise.

Lately, Halloween is a holiday that makes me feel old--or maybe I should say it makes me feel old in a different way than it once did.  When I was in grad school in my early 20's, I felt old because I didn't go drinking in bars on Halloween like so many of my peers did.  Now I feel old for other reasons.

In part, it's because I am getting older.  I ate an apple yesterday and thought about my youth, when we broke every piece of candy into pieces to make sure that no one had slid a razor blade into them.  If we got anything like a piece of fruit, we threw it away.  I wonder if modern parents still have these concerns.  I'm guessing that people worry more about the calories of candy or the ingredients more than they worry about someone putting razors into them.

Once I saw parents with their small children, and they were my age, more or less.  Now when I see people my age with small children, it's likely that they're out trick-or-treating with their grandchildren.

Last night, I watched younger teenagers getting ready for a party.  One had a wolf mask, so one of the other teenagers decided to change her costume, from being a burglar to being Little Red Riding Hood.  As I watched them construct a cape, I thought of all the various approaches to that fairy tale, the feminist interpretations along with the work of Bruno Bettelheim who analyzed fairy tales with a Freudian slant.  I am proud of myself that I didn't impart any of this wisdom to the teenagers.  Let them have their fun.

These days, I am more aware than ever of Halloween's linking to All Saints Day, which we celebrate today.   Traditionally, this day celebrates the saints who have gone on before us. Traditionalists would only celebrate the lives of the truly beatified and the lives of those martyred for the faith; we'd celebrate the more recently dead tomorrow, with the Feast of All Souls. Many modern churches have expanded this feast day (or collapsed the 2 feast days) to become a day when we remember our dead.

It's easy to get lost in grief these days. But let us not linger in the land of grief too long. One reason why I love this trio of holidays is that it reminds us that life is short and that we'd better get on with the important work that we want to do.

Most days, we move in our modern culture that wants to deny death and aging. But I often think that this denial works to our detriment. I think of John Keats, as I often do, who wrote some of the best poems in all of British literature in the few years before he died in his 20's. He woke up every day, coughed up a bit of his lungs from the TB that he had contracted, and then got to work on his poetry. He only had encouragement from a few people, but he knew what he had to do--and having watched so many die of TB, he had that sense that he had not a minute to waste.

Let us be similarly inspired by these high festival days that are upon us.