Wednesday, September 18, 2019

NPR Nerds in Mourning: RIP Cokie Roberts

When I saw the news and confirmed that Cokie Roberts had died, I cried a bit at my desk.  The great illuminators of our time seem to be leaving us, and I feel each loss keenly.

I know, I know, I didn't really know her.  The tributes from people who did know her personally make me wish that I had known her.

I don't remember a time when she wasn't a media presence.  As I came into my own as an NPR listener, I made sure to be tuned in during her regular time slots--that was back in the pre-Internet days, where if you missed it, you missed it.  What a luxury now to be able to go back and listen to a person as often as we want.

It's also a burden, the knowledge that there's so much of value out there, and increasingly fragmented time.

What I will miss even more than Cokie Roberts' keen intellect is her way of connecting all that knowledge and explaining the relevance in a way that both highly educated people and those with limited education would understand.  So few people have that skill.

She was also inspiring.  I never doubted that she had a vision of how we could all be better--as individuals, as a society, as a larger world.  I never doubted that she had appreciation for all that our ancestors accomplished, even as she called us to continue to expand on what they had built.

I am also profoundly grateful for the doors that she opened to the next generation, my generation, that was following behind.  She showed a variety of ways of achieving our hopes and dreams.  She showed that we could have careers and families and outside interests beyond that too.  We didn't have to live within narrow definitions.  We didn't have to be constrained completely by our gender or our biology or our circumstances.

And as someone who listens to NPR for many hours a day, I am happy for all the ways she shaped that institution.  As someone who misses the way that TV news used to be, I am grateful that I got to see it when people like Cokie Roberts had a hand in the newscast.

I know that there are others who have already taken up the work that she was doing.  Eventually, if I'm still alive when they die, I will miss them too.  But it may not feel like the same kind of loss, since I came to know them later.

Cokie Roberts was always there, a calm voice, an oasis, for as long as I remember.  We need more voices like hers.  Let us rise to fill that call.

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Creative Visioning in the Voice of a Future Scholar

September 17 is the feast day of Hildegard of Bingen, mystic, herbalist, musical composer, naturalist, and Abbess. Her life was full of accomplishments, an amazing feat considering she lived in the twelfth century.  For more, see this post on my theology blog.

When the calendar returns to the feast days of amazing medieval women (Hildegard, Brigid, Julian), I fight my feelings of inadequacy.

Long ago, a wise yoga teacher told me, "Don't look at others.  It won't help you hold the pose, and it will probably make it harder."  I think I've embroidered her words, but I've captured the idea.

I would probably be more gentle with myself if I thought of what future scholars might say when they talked about me:  

She was able to keep writing her poetry, along with surprising works of fiction, as she navigated the demands of various types of day jobs:  teacher, administrator, . . .   .  She did volunteer work, often the unglamorous but necessary type, like counting the offering money after church and depositing it in the bank.  She worked with first generation students, thousands of them, offering the support and encouragement they needed to make their way in the world.  She did similar work with other groups who were at the margins of society, during a time when so many people found themselves being pushed to those margins.

Now let me do something similar, as I think about the directions I might go.  How would future scholars talk about that?  Let me do some creative visioning, in the voice of a future scholar:

In her midlife years, when so many people decide to coast, she turned her sights to different vistas.  She pursued new interests, and her work that mixed markers, words, and collage, led her in inspiring directions.  She got several certificates and degrees in theology and the arts, and did pioneering work in online retreats.  Her work in theology brought many people to a new understanding of the Gospels.  Late in midlife, she published her pioneering work that combined poetry, theology, and sketches in her singular style that would become so recognizable.  She took the proceeds from that publishing success and created her monastic community that offered shelter in a dark time and that continues to nourish so many.

Monday, September 16, 2019

Strangely Surreal September So Far

It's been a surreal week-end, a surreal week, and frankly, a surreal month.  Two weeks ago I was keeping a wary eye on Hurricane Dorian, which was chewing up the Bahamas.  Two weeks ago, I was thinking that my sister-in-law was deciding not to move here, so why make the herculean effort to get all of our personal stuff out of the cottage?

Now it's two weeks later.  My sister-in-law has moved in.  We had Bahamian Hurricane Dorian refugees to help us make the herculean effort.  I've made some progress in terms of figuring out where to put the stuff that came out of the cottage, but parts of the house look like we're in the process of a move--which, in a way, we are.

The last time we had a person living full-time in the cottage, I could see the lights of the cottage as I got in the car in the front driveway.  Since then, Hurricane Irma destroyed that fence, and now we have a fence that hides the back yard.

I don't know how long my sister-in-law will stay.  I do know that the U.S. has a problem with affordable housing, and my county has fewer units than much of the rest of the nation.  I know that our cottage is a bit small for her, and we haven't done all the hurricane repairs that are needed.  She plans to help with that effort while she's there.

I know that she might like more privacy than a back yard cottage affords.  I might too.  But for now, it's working out.

September has been surreal too, in terms of the death of musicians.  Suddenly the musicians of my youth--Eddie Money, Ric Ocasek of the Cars--are dying.  In a way, the death of musicians is nothing strange--except now they're dying of old age.

I had a similar disconnect helping my sister-in-law.  I first met her when I was 19, which means she must have been about 12.  In many ways, she still looks very similar.  It's discombobulating to realize how long our lives have been entwined.

And now, here it is, Monday again.  Time to do the bread run.  We are between classes right now, but I've let the campus know that if they've gotten used to bread on Monday, we'll still have it.

Sunday, September 15, 2019

Long Page Poetry Morning

There's a story told about Lucille Clifton--it may or may not be literally true, but it points to a truth for many of us.  Someone asked why she wrote short poems when she was younger and longer poems as she got older.  I suspect the questioner was expecting an answer that had something to do with wisdom and skill.

Instead, Lucille Clifton talked about the lives of her children shaping the short poems in terms of the amount of time she had to get thoughts on paper.

I, too, tend to write poems that are shorter.  Part of it's habitual, part of it has to do with how much time I have, and part of it has to do with ideas that run out of steam so the poem is over.  Most of my poems are a little longer than an 8 x 11 sheet of paper with regular lines.

Yesterday I wrote 4 pages.  Will it all be one poem?  I don't know, but it was an amazing experience.

I had been having a good poetry writing morning, after weeks of feeling dry and drained when it comes to writing and life in general.  Yesterday I had already written one poem and some various lines when I decided to freewrite a bit about harvest moons and harvests and elegies and prophets.  The freewriting didn't really go anywhere, but all of a sudden whole stanzas popped into my head.  I wrote and wrote--4 pages worth.  Wow.

And then I kept my legal pad nearby.  I'd do something else, and then another stanza popped into my head.  It was great.

Of course, because I was having a great poetry morning, I didn't do much with my novel or with grading for my online classes or any of the other activities I feel I need to do.  But that's O.K.

The rest of the day was consumed with getting the last of our stuff out of the cottage and helping my sister-in-law move in.  Later in the day, we ate a yummy meal together (grilled salmon, grilled burgers, assorted sides), and then we decompressed.  We took the Bahamian refugee couple home, while my sister-in-law and her friend returned the moving van.  My spouse and I relaxed in the pool and went to bed early.

For a day that at one point had promised stormy weather, it turned out to be a very good day.  And now it's off to church--there will be meetings, but there will also be breakfast and some time to sketch and some time to sit in stillness.

Saturday, September 14, 2019

What Does Active Discernment Mode Mean to You?

Earlier this week, one of my favorite pastors sent me a private message to let me know that this past summer had been her last summer at camp.  She said that she and her spouse had been in a time of "active discernment mode."

I knew that this time was not far away, the time when she announced her retirement.  Still, it was a week of many pangs, many realizations of how many "last" times are coming.

I wrote back to my pastor friend, "You said you and Pastor Tim were in "active discernment mode" this summer. I would love to know what that looked like. I have this vision of a breakfast of beautiful summer fruit, followed by writing in your journals, then a silent hike, and then a sharing of what you heard that morning. I have an idealistic vision of you two doing this all summer. But I know that there are many routes to discernment, and this retreat seems like a theme that fits with teaching people some of the ways to do that."

The next morning, I wrote a poem that explores what active discernment mode would mean to me in the best of circumstances.

Unfortunately, lately my active discernment often comes through frustration followed by weeping and gnashing of teeth and repressing the urge to throw a few things in the car and drive far, far away.  And yes, that has been my discernment message delivery system since I was about fifteen years old.

Clearly it's time for a new method of active discernment.  So, let me try an alternate approach.

When I heard my friend's news, my first thought was to write the camp to ask if they might be interested in hiring a person who would be in charge of adult and online programming.  My heart sang out at the thought of that job. 

That's a much more pleasant method of discernment than the one I usually use!

Friday, September 13, 2019

Week of Disrupted Writing Schedules and the Inspirations Contained in It

It has been a week of irregular blogging, the kind of week that makes me feel anxious that I'm not writing in the one form that I've managed to do on a daily basis.  Let me do one of those kinds of posts where I catch some threads that I don't want to lose.

--I have been writing.  I've written a few blog posts, and I've been working on my apocalyptic novel.  But most of my writing energy has gone to the various forms that we must have ready for our month of audits which will start next week.

--One of my favorite moments from work:  several of us pitched in to create a bulletin board to celebrate Constitution Day.  It turned out to be surprisingly attractive, given how little planning time we had, and how low our budget (0$) was.

--I got an acceptance of a poem that I love--I first came up with the idea in January and wrote about it in this blog post.  Often it takes longer for a poem to find a home.  Sojourners took this one, and it's a perfect fit.

--One of the reasons for my poor blogging attendance this week was my need to get stuff done in the evenings, which led to disrupted mornings.  I had a church meeting Monday night, church treasurer stuff to do Wednesday night, and last night, I did some work to get the cottage ready for my sister-in-law who is scheduled to arrive and move in today.

--I had help last night.  My friend in the neighborhood has opened her cottage to a couple from the Bahamas who fled the island literally with only the clothes they were wearing in the storm and their phones.  For more about that, see this blog post on my theology blog.

--My morning writing time was also disrupted this week because of morning schedule disruptions.  Yesterday I had a 7 a.m. appointment to get a mammogram.  I chose the very first appointment time so that I wouldn't sit in a waiting room for minutes/hours waiting.  But it did disrupt my writing.

--It was my very first mammogram.  I have friends who have been getting mammograms since they were in their 30's, but I'm following the older guidance for those of us in low risk groups:  I decided to wait until I was 50 to have my baseline mammogram.

--Yes, I know I'm 54.  Some people have thought that I was afraid of the mammogram itself.  Countless numbers of people have explained to me how it doesn't really hurt.  I'm not afraid of the squashing nature of the procedure, but I do try to limit my exposure to radiation.  But if we're honest, it's the waiting in waiting rooms, the filling out of forms, and the waiting.

--The squashing wasn't as bad as I expected.  I did find it odd to feel like I had no place to put my face in/against the machine. 

--Last night, I gave the Bahamian woman a pair of Saucony running shoes that I had barely used.  Last summer, I realized that I had loved the Sauconys that I had, so I bought 2 more pairs at a summer sale.  Earlier this year, I gave the oldest pair to a church group collecting shoes for Venezuela.  Last night, I was happy to know that my shoes fit a refugee from another disaster area.  My friend who took them in had written that she was having trouble finding clothes and shoes that were large enough.  I figured that mine would work--I have big, wide feet, as does the Bahamian refugee.  There's something about the idea of these shoes going to refugees that I wanted to preserve--not sure why.

--Last night, after we worked together in tasks to restore the cottage, my spouse and I sat at our patio table with the Bahamian couple.  We shared beverages and chatted about the storm, about home repairs, about what life was like on Abaco before Hurricane Dorian smashed through, and about the hurricane itself.  The moon was full, and we had a great breeze.  There were moments of homesickness, all of us longing for places that no longer exist.

--Let me also remember some of the images from the past few days that might weave into a poem:  a woman in a wheelchair weeping quietly in the library, small children hiking through neighborhoods with backpacks bigger than their backs, unconnected women with interesting hats walking their dogs, the Office Depot copy center that was out of ink but managed to develop work-arounds, the frustration of sending work to Office Depot but needing to spend an hour there overseeing the project (not Office Depot's fault, but the fault of the drop off person who requested spiral binding not comb binding), the strange intimacy of the mammogram process, the fact that I went to get my mammogram at the hospital where my mother-in-law was taken when she broke her hip, the intense memories I have of these places.

--I was sad to hear about the death of Anne Rivers Siddons.  Once I loved her books.  Now they seem like relics of an earlier era: sprawling novels that are so evocative of southern landscapes, with main characters who are discovering/reinventing themselves against the culture(s) of those landscapes.  If those kinds of books are still being written, I don't know about them.

--So many relics of earlier eras--my house is now full of them.

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

The Terrorist and the Sunflowers

I am later to blogging this morning--computer issues kept me from doing all sorts of writing.  But on a day when we remember planes flying into buildings, it's easier to keep computer irritations in perspective.

Today is also the anniversary of the 1973 coup in Chile, the one that ushered in the reign of terror overseen by Pinochet.  I've been thinking about Pinochet's reign of terror, about the events of 2011, about our loved ones who vanish and we're not sure what happened to them. I've been thinking about ash of all sorts. I've been thinking of all those documents incinerated on September 11, 2001. I suspect I've been thinking about those documents so that I can repress the memories of bodies. I keep thinking of the Pentagon, of taking a tour of the Pentagon when I was in grade school, of being told how indestructible that building was constructed to be--but it wasn't.

I come back to things we've learned since--that even large terrorist organizations have an HR department of sorts.  The one nugget that has stuck with me the longest is the one that Lawrence Wright told about Osama bin Laden, who flirted with both terrorism and agriculture, before committing to terrorism. He loved his sunflowers.

I understand how people become disaffected enough to leave their sunflowers behind and turn to dreams of destruction. I'm grateful for my religious heritage that reminds me of the seductive qualities of evil, that warns me not to succumb to that glittery facade.

I've written a poem about the terrorist and the sunflowers.  It's a different approach to today, and I mean no disrespect to those who died on this day, and those who continue to suffer because of that day.

Osama’s Sunflowers

The terrorist sits in his armed
compound and watches videos
of himself. He counts
his weapons and yearns
for a nuclear bomb.

The terrorist dreams of hamburgers
and the joy of a cold beer
on a hot day.
The terrorist remembers the grill
he used to have, a container
of gas used to cook,
not to kill.

The terrorist tamps
down his longing
for the sunflowers he used to grow,
their bright smiles turned
towards blue skies.
He wonders about the different trajectory
had he chosen seeds and soil
instead of flame and ash.

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

What Might Be Keeping Me Up at Night

I confess that my just-adopted practice of writing for a half hour on my dystopian novel before doing anything else has impacted my blogging.  Let me collect a few reflections here, while I wait to stop sweating profusely from my morning walk so that I can take a shower and go to work.

--I feel like there's not enough time in a morning to do all I want to do:  blog, write a poem, work on my novel, eat breakfast, and exercise.  I feel like something is always being sacrificed.  And then there's the reading I want to be doing, the art.  And there's the wishing I had more time with friends.

--I wrote this Facebook post this morning:  "Weeks ago, I pre-ordered Margaret Atwood's follow-up to "The Handmaid's Tale." That book has just been shipped to me. Oh dear. Perhaps I shall pull an all-nighter later this week. It will make me feel youthful again--5th grade youthful, when I stayed up past my bedtime reading a book under the covers with a flashlight."

--Should I re-read The Handmaid's Tale before I read The Testaments?  I just reread The Handmaid's Tale just after Trump was elected--it's not completely unfamiliar.

--I truly am tempted to read it in one big gulp when it arrives.  I have waited impatiently all summer.

--I also worry that it might impact my own writing.  I don't want to feel like there's no point in my own writing.

--As I've been writing more, I've been thinking about my novel as an exploration of the ways that women cope with repressive regimes.  It's also a novel that asks, "What is truth?" 

--Can I pull it off?  Am I pulling it off?  A friend asked if I knew how it was going to end.  Unlike with other novels I wrote, I have no idea.  Well, I have lots of ideas, but I have no idea how it will end.  I'm 60 pages in, and it's taken some interesting twists and turns that I didn't anticipate.  It's a wonderful process.

--If it's ever made into a movie, I want Rhiannon Giddens to be in charge of the music.  I am besotted with her latest CD.

And now, it's time to head to work.

Monday, September 9, 2019

Shelter from the Storm

At times, it seems we have no shelter from the storms that hurl their way to us:

We wonder why we strive, when all we love may be flattened.

September storms separate loved ones from each other.

We long to know that our lives inscribe themselves in a timeless way.

We stretch out our hands, hoping to be held in return.

We put our trust in the God who created the laws of chemistry and physics, the one who calms the chaos.

Saturday, September 7, 2019

Hurricane Fuzz Brain

I am feeling a bit brain-frazzled.  A week of keeping tabs on a slow moving hurricane will do that to a soul, I guess.  I am also feeling an odd stress hearing all these stories of storm survival (or lack of survival) coming out of the Bahamas.  It's a bit of PTSD, but it's also something different--that shiver that says that we lucked out this time, but at some point, our hurricane survival luck may run out.

I feel like I should claim any PTSD--have I really had trauma?  Not in the ways that Bahamians just did--but yes, we've had lots of destruction through the years, and while it's survivable, it's taken lots of time and energy and phone calls and money.  Does that count as trauma?

So, yes, we've had trauma, but I don't know if our response to it really rises to the level of a disorder. It seems normal to me, and it's not the life-disrupting kind of response to trauma.

I mention all of this because yesterday I discovered that I had completely forgot to go back to the church to make the bank deposit.  Usually we do that on Sundays, but because of the impending hurricane possibility, the overnight deposit box was sealed.  I volunteered to make the deposit when we all returned to work.

By the time we went back to work on Wednesday, it had completely slipped my mind.  I didn't remember until the series of e-mails that I read yesterday morning that wondered what had happened to the deposit.

Happily, it was easily fixed.  I made the deposit, and all is well.  But it haunts me, this failure of memory.  It makes me wonder what else I've forgotten to do.

But let me end on a hopeful note.  This morning, I did work on my novel first thing.  If I can do that most days, I will be happy.  At least my hurricane fuzz brain isn't making it impossible for me to write.

Friday, September 6, 2019

Inspiration from Walter Mosley

This morning, as I was doing some grading for my online class, I listened to this interview with Walter Mosly on the NPR program On Point.

I had heard him interviewed before, so I expected that it would be compelling--but it may have been the most compelling interview with him that I've heard yet.  It was the kind of interview where I wrote some nuggets, and then rewound the interview to make sure that I had captured the words correctly.

Here's the part that grabbed me most:

"All you have to do is take 100 days, and every morning for a hundred days, write for one hour about the same thing, not different things, a story you want to tell."

I've been feeling frustrated with my inability to make progress on my novel that I'm writing.  So, let me think about this possible approach.  What would happen if I committed to a half hour with my novel each and every morning?

I know that I was happier back in that period of November to mid-January when I was doing more sketching which led to more writing and then back to more sketching.  My brain felt like it was popping and connecting and leaping--I felt more alive.  I need to get that feeling back, and writing for the first half hour might be the way.

Here's Mosley on revision: 

"You read the book, you find mistakes, you say, I'm gonna fix them. . . . On the 26th time you read the book, and you realize you don't know how to fix them.  That's how you know the book is finished."

It's an interesting twist on revision--most people will tell you to read and fix until all the problems are fixed.  Mosley admits that there will come a point where there are still problems, but you've done all you can do.  I like that approach.

And here's Mosley on why we should do this writing work:

"If you don't exist in literature, in fictional literature, you don't exist in history in America.  You just don't. And so, the idea of talking about that migration of black people from the western south to southern California and to a bit in central California, to write that story is to make the people who I know and love a part of history."

It's an interesting way to situate fiction--it's not about how we're written into history, official or unofficial, that preserves us, but how we're written into fiction.  Inspiring!

It's more than just giving voice to the underrepresented--it's preserving the voices.

Thursday, September 5, 2019

If Your Poem Could Be a Film

Yesterday I saw this call for submissions for both poets and filmmakers.  Throughout the day, my thoughts returned to my poems.  Which ones would make the best films?

Should I choose one that tells a story?  I'm guessing that filmmakers might be less interested in those--why wouldn't they choose short stories or novels if they want to tell a story?

Should I choose one that has strong images?  And should I make sure those images would be filmable?  For example, if a poem had lots of nuclear explosions, that might not be easy.  Or maybe a filmmaker would like that challenge.

The submission can't be more than 5 pages, but those 5 pages can contain multiple poems.  Would it be better to have several poems or one longer poem?

I thought about how I would film one of those poems, but filmmaking would likely mean learning lots of new skills, at least the kind of film I'd like to make.

I found myself thinking of my neglected sketchbooks and the ideas I had about creating illuminations of some kind for my poems.  Maybe it's time to return to those ideas.

In the meantime, I've been using this down time to get back to writing my apocalyptic novel.  It's going in directions I didn't expect--what fun!

Now for the not-fun part of my day; I'm off to the dentist.

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Sheltering at Camp

When I need to feel optimistic about the future of humanity, let me remember how many people posted offers on Facebook to shelter people fleeing from Hurricane Dorian--and the offer was often open to friends of friends.

Some of those offers were made in a post, while others were made in comment threads. Most of the offers were a guest room or space on the couch or floor. One person offered a mountain cottage that wasn't being rented out right now--so it was clean, but not rental ready. I might call that spartan or monastic.

Monday, I noticed this Facebook post from my favorite church camp:

Lutheridge Camp & Conference Center, in Arden, NC, is now open for those who are required or choosing to evacuate in the path of Hurricane Dorian. Housing is free of charge. Availability is limited, on a first come first served basis. Housing is available through Friday, September 13th. Guests are asked to please bring bedding and sheets as circumstances allow. Pets are permitted for those staying in cabin housing. Reservations must be made in advance of your arrival by calling Lutheridge Registration at 828.209.6328.

“It will serve as a pavilion, a shade by day from heat, and a refuge and a shelter from the storm and rain.” – Isaiah 4:6

Lutheridge has made this offer in past storms. I did a quick search this morning of some other camps in the area, and if they're open to storm refugees, they're not publicizing it in the same way.

What a gift, this sharing of resources. It's one reason why I continue to support camps. I'm not sure that sleep-away camp is a model that will be as important in decades to come. But there are many ways towards spiritual formation.

Being a shelter in the storm is one of them.

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Hurricane Watch: Day # I've Lost Track

I am now exhausted.  I've never had an optimal sleep schedule, and this past week, it's been completely wrecked.  I've spent part of the time trying to stay on top of storm tracks, and now, with a monster storm of historic proportions, just to our east, it doesn't seem wise to stop paying attention.  I feel like I should always be checking weather sites, just in case the thing starts moving and in an unexpected way. So I get up to check advisories, and there I am hours later, clicking and refreshing sites, just in case.

And I also feel like I should be doing tasks that will be harder later, should we lose power.  So I've been doing laundry and cooking and getting caught up with grading for my online classes.  I've thought, I can sleep later, when we lose power.

I am grateful not to have lost power.  I am grateful for my house that's dry and as of now, safe.  I know that many others, those in the Bahamas, in particular, are not fortunate that way.  And they are just 90 miles away.

Like many of us, I've been aghast at some of the footage that's come out of the Bahamas. 

I had the same feelings when Katrina swept through New Orleans--you could get your storm supplies in order, only to have them all swept away. It was the first time I really considered that. After Katrina, my spouse always keeps the ax with our various hurricane supplies when we shelter in place. I'm not sure I could really hack my way out of a structure if I had to, particularly not if flood waters are rising. But maybe adrenaline would help.

Here's what frightens me about our world: in the past 4 years, we've had a storm each year that should have been a once in a lifetime storm. Making some alternate plans for the future that don't involve living near the coast seems wise. But when I think inland, I'm not thinking about Orlando--that won't be far enough inland if a monster storm comes ashore.

Of course, I can hardly afford the house I have, so I can't imagine buying a property, just in case I need a place to flee to or a managed retreat from the coast when the time comes to relocate.

I can't imagine having a storm like that parked over me. I thought the same thing when Hurricane Wilma stalled over Mexico before it came our way. At the time, it had one of the lowest barometric pressures ever.  Hurricane Wilma is still one of the strongest recorded storms in terms of barometric pressure.

As of right now, we can be fairly sure that we won't have a direct hit in my county.  I am still expecting to feel some effects, and I'm still worried that the storm will wobble our way before it follows the forecast track north.

I will walk to the beach to see the sun rise and to see what I can see.  And later, maybe a nap.

Monday, September 2, 2019

All of Our Labor in Light of Hurricanes

It has been a different kind of Labor Day week-end here in South Florida.  The last time we had a storm this strong in our neighborhood was the Labor Day hurricane of 1935--yikes.  That one did not end well.  We will say something similar when we've had a chance to assess the damage in the northern Bahamas.

There will be much labor to do to recover from this storm.  Even with lesser storms, there's always much labor to do afterwards.

We are almost certainly not at risk of a direct hit in my county, although it will come uncomfortably close to land.  We are still under a tropical storm watch at my house.  If we needed to, we could grab our laptops, our few portable valuables, and make a run south--but this morning, it's not looking like we will need to do that.

We may have power outages as the wind picks up, so I'll spend some time this morning doing labor of my own.  I have some grading to do for my online classes--may as well get it done.  All of our schools are cancelled tomorrow, but we can't be sure we'll have power. 

It has been an odd week-end.  We have done a lot more physical labor than usual, from moving the butterfly garden on campus indoors to moving some heavy boxes of books to securing the property a bit yesterday. 

Yesterday afternoon I took a nap at 5 p.m., which I almost certainly wouldn't have done if we hadn't had a day off today.  I slept until 9 and then wanted to get up to make sure that our hurricane situation hadn't worsened.  It hadn't.

Later, I wrote this Facebook post:

"I was planning to stay up until the 11 pm hurricane update and go to bed. Now I'm going to stay up until midnight. When is the last time I stayed up until midnight? Not even on New Year's Eve do I stay up until midnight. Some people run marathons to prove they're still young. I'm staying up until midnight!"

I will also spend some time today doing the kinds of ordinary working tasks like cooking and laundry.  I've been doing that work early, while we still have power.  I hope that later we'll still have power, but I'm trying not to take chances.

Today I'm thinking about how fortunate I am, as I sit here eating my breakfast/snack of butterscotch bars and hot coffee.  Having gone without power for weeks at a time in the aftermath of previous hurricanes, I don't take hot coffee for granted anymore.

If the weather holds, I may also do the work of restoring the cottage--the first task of getting much of our stuff out of there.  We made some progress on Saturday but got derailed by a discussion/argument of what makes sense in terms of book storage.  I would live my life surrounded by bookcases--the sight of books brings me joy.  My spouse is not as besotted with books.

I'm also thinking about how fortunate I am in my work life.  Even though many of us will see today as simply a day off, it's a good day to think about work, both the kind we do for pay and the kind we do out of love. And what about the work we feel compelled to do? I'm thinking of that kind of documenting of family history, of cultural history, of all that might be lost without our efforts.

Here's one of my favorite quotes about spiritual life and labor:   In an interview with Bill Moyers, Jane Hirshfield explains, "Teahouse practice means that you don't explicitly talk about Zen. It refers to leading your life as if you were an old woman who has a teahouse by the side of the road. Nobody knows why they like to go there, they just feel good drinking her tea. She's not known as a Buddhist teacher, she doesn't say, "This is the Zen teahouse." All she does is simply serve tea--but still, her decades of attentiveness are part of the way she does it. No one knows about her faithful attention to the practice, it's just there, in the serving of the tea, and the way she cleans the counters and washes the cups" (Fooling with Words: A Celebration of Poets and Their Craft, page 112).

Sunday, September 1, 2019

Tropical Storm Watch

We are now under a tropical storm watch.  Yesterday, for a 12 hour span, we were out of the cone.  I started to think we might not feel much.  I even took some time to read by the pool.  It was a beautiful day, as those days before a big storm are, with lower humidity and beautiful, blue skies.

This morning I walked to the beach.  The ocean is surprisingly calm considering that there's a category 5 hurricane 225 miles to our east.  The sunrise was bland, going from gray skies to beige skies.

We will see what the 11 a.m. advisory tells us, but we're likely to bring some of the more lightweight stuff in.

But first, I will go to church.  It's less about praying, and more about the treasurer's duties that we need to fulfill.  There will be money to count and bills to pay.

It's too close for comfort.  So yes, in addition to the treasurer duties, I will pray.  I will use the words of Holden evening prayer, praying for weather that nourishes all of creation.

Saturday, August 31, 2019

Hopeful Misses and Tearful Misses

If this was a normal day with no hurricane offshore, I might have written more about the death of Valerie Harper.  I imagine that others will write eloquently about the friendships depicted in the stories of Mary Tyler Moore and Valerie Harper, and about how the various shows (both the Rhoda shows and later shows)  that featured Valerie Harper showed us all the ways to be a modern woman as the 20th century moved towards the 21st.

I wrote this comment on a friend's post:  "I want to be a Rhoda or a Mary. But I worry I'm the other friend, Phyllis, the married one who exasperates them all and doesn't have enough self-awareness to realize that she's doing it."

Until this morning, when I looked up the name of the character, I had forgotten that Phyllis was also the landlady; if I was a younger grad student, I could have a lot of fun writing that essay about the power dynamics in the show--Phyllis could never really be on the same level of friendship, in part because of her marital/motherhood status, in part because she's the landlady.  Of course, if I was younger and a grad student, I might not have the necessary knowledge to conceive of the idea, much less write it.

But this is not a normal day--we've got a hurricane of historic proportions off the shore of Florida.  I'm trying not to draw comparisons to other Labor Day hurricanes.

I used to say that I preferred hurricanes to other weather systems because you could see a hurricane coming and prepare.

After decades of seeing hurricanes coming, I am no longer sure I prefer hurricanes.  I might would rather wake up to a house shaking in an earthquake or duck into a storm shelter minutes before a tornado comes.

I used to think that knowing a hurricane was coming meant that you could secure your property, gather your valuables, and get out of the way.  With these larger hurricanes, that's no longer true.

Earlier this week, I wanted to throw everything in the car and drive to friends in South Carolina.    Their houses are hundreds of miles inland; mine is less than a mile from the Atlantic.  Now those friends' houses are closer to the center of the cone of possible tracks than my house.  How odd is that?

We can see a storm coming, but we spend days wondering if now is the time to get ready.  It takes a lot of work to secure the property, and then to take apart the preparations when the threat is gone.  At a certain point, there's some local hysteria that makes going to the store a herculean task because of crowds and shortages.

We will be doing lots of prep work through the week-end.  With that kind of storm headed our way, we can't take chances.  Even if it misses us, we may still feel some effects.  I'm preparing for flooding.

I was lucky that I filled up the car on Sunday, so I could avoid the mania of the lines at gas stations.  I always have plenty of food in the pantry and freezer.  I have lots of containers and a bathtub that I would fill with water.  In short, I'm always ready to a certain extent.  I pay a lot more attention to the tropics than many people.

Yesterday we met some of our neighborhood friends at the Tipsy Boar to celebrate one of our birthdays.  Happily, it was still too early to do much storm prep beyond discussing what we would do in certain scenarios.

After that time together, my spouse and I went to Hollywood Vine to get some wine for the duration.  And we got home to discover that our Amazon delivery had come--if the power holds out, I will be listening to Rhiannon Giddens' new CD this week-end.

My hurricane supplies are now complete:

You can't see the red velvet cake because we already ate it.  Some hurricane seasons we lose weight, while others have us packing on the pounds.

Last night I woke up in the middle of the night with strange aches in my arms.  I realized it was from my hurricane prep yesterday. 

The storm path had shifted south, and I wanted to make sure the plants in my butterfly garden wouldn't turn into flying projectiles

I've been toggling between writing, Facebook, Internet rambling, and weather sites.  I cannot spend the whole day this way.  Today is the day to move most of our stuff out of the cottage.  I had planned to do that anyway; my sister-in-law arrives in 2 weeks to live here while she gets settled into her new job and finding a larger space to live. 

Because of the hurricane, I've changed my approach.  I'll move boxes in, and later this week-end, when I expect it to be rainier, I'll unpack them. 

Friday, August 30, 2019

Hurricane Insomnia

Last night, I created this Facebook post:

As dusk deepens, I watch the towering clouds. I know that they're not really related to Hurricane Dorian. We have a sudden invasion of tiny ants (down here we call them sugar ants)--not really related to Hurricane Dorian. Once a poet wrote these words about a different hurricane:

I think of ancient ancestors
who could forecast the week’s weather
based on the wanderings
of each cloud. But I consult
the oracles through my computer

I have no answers to the most pressing questions--where will Dorian make landfall?

Or are there more pressing questions? Maybe not tonight on Florida's eastern coast.

And then, about 5 hours later, I couldn't fall back asleep.  I made this Facebook post:

I was having a restless night. Then I got up and checked the 11 p.m. National Hurricane Center advisory. Now I may be having a sleepless night. If you need me, I'll be over on the NPR website, exploring the musical world of Rhiannon Giddens. I ordered her CD on Wed. I hope it gets here before Hurricane Dorian.


But it hasn't been a totally bad thing.  I've heard some fascinating NPR shows and gotten a lot of work for my online classes done.  

Today I will go to work to do some work on the spreadsheets for the upcoming budget year, as if there's no storm coming.  Then we will prepare for a worst case storm possibility.  I will spend part of this afternoon putting plastic bags on computers at school. Part of me thinks this is ludicrous. If we have a storm that blows out the windows, plastic bags on computers won't do much good. But I will be do my part. I will also move the butterfly garden plants inside and hope they don't dry out completely before we return.

Thursday, August 29, 2019

Haunted Wayfaring Strangers

Yesterday, I ordered a CD.  I had heard an episode of On Point with Rhiannon Giddens as a guest.  I loved every clip that they played, so I decided to go ahead and purchase the collection before I left for work.  Usually I add CDs to my cart, and months later, I can't remember why I was interested. 

I love Giddens' voice--and I love her approach to music.  As I listened yesterday, I realized that I've been singing "Walk that Lonesome Valley" to the tune of "Wayfaring Stranger"--for years, I've sung that song to the wrong tune.

And where have I sung that song you may ask. Not in church, not in my imaginary mandolin punk band. No, just walking around, music swirling in my head, as one does.

That said, I think that singing "Walk that Lonesome Valley" works beautifully sung to the tune of "Wayfaring Stranger," although now I'm doubting my ability to remember songs at all. And I'm wondering if "normal" people have snippets of folk music and the music from various 60's movements and old hymns and rock and roll winding through their brains all day.

There are worse things to have in one's brain.

Last night, after having "Wayfaring Stranger" in my brain all day, I fell down a bit of a rabbit hole looking for versions of it.  And then my spouse and I had fun seeing if other lyrics would work with the song.

As with so much folk music, I am struck by the lonesomeness of the lyrics, the stark reminder of how much more common the death of loved ones used to be.

This morning, I went back online to see if anyone has posted ukulele chords.  Of course they have!  And oddly, there was the grown son of my undergrad school mentor, singing this haunting song.

I expect I will feel haunted all day.

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

A Year of Bakery Runs

This week marks the one year anniversary of my baked goods initiative.  A year ago, I brought baked goods to campus from Publix--the baked goods were going in the trash if I hadn't showed up.  I put out some of the baked goods and put the rest in the freezer.

The next day, they were gone, a whole freezer full.  Lesson learned--I now keep many of the baked goods in my office.  They stay good throughout most of the week.  The muffins have a tendency to mold quickly, so I put them out first.

If I put baked goods in the freezer or the fridge, I put them in a plastic bag with a note that says, "Please save until Thursday."  People don't often take what they can't see; they're not tempted by a knotted plastic bag.

I spend a good chunk of my work week moving baked goods around.  For example, on Monday I unloaded the car; we got 3 cart loads of food, so yesterday, there was still bread left.  It got moved to the conference room so that there was more space for the Job Fair.  At the end of the Job Fair, I moved the bread back.  I also put out baked goods in the morning and sliced cakes in the afternoon. 

As I moved the bread back yesterday, I said, "I've spent a better part of the week moving baked goods around.  Maybe I should open a bakery when I'm done here."  One student said, "Yes you should."  I'm trying not to interpret her comment as a cosmic sign.

Occasionally students thank me.  Once a student asked, "Do you buy us all these goodies with your own money?"

I wish I made that kind of money.  If I had to pay for all the bakery items I bring in, it would be hundreds of dollars a week.

I have wondered why/how the bakery produces so much stuff they can't sell week after week.  My spouse's theory is that it's better to make the bread so that customers can have it than have an unfulfilled need.  And I'm assuming that Publix gets a tax write off for the donations.

I pursued the idea of the baked goods because once, long ago, I did the bakery run for our church's food pantry. I was amazed at the amount of bakery goods given to our food pantry.  As I heard and read about the hunger issues faced by students, I wanted to do something.

Yes, I wish I could get food that has more nutritive value.  I did ask the produce manager what happens to the produce that's going bad--it's donated to Feeding South Florida, a charity group that distributes food to the needy.  I can't figure out how I'd distribute meat, dairy or eggs, assuming I could get donations.

Even though the baked goods aren't the most nutritious, they can fill an empty stomach and provide calories to keep going.  Some of our students are missing meals, and this food will help.  I've heard from a few of them who tell me so, and there are probably others who are quietly grateful.

On Monday, one woman told me that her children look forward to Mondays to see what she's bringing home with her.  That comment made me happy.

I like the look of the counter in the student break room filled with treats--free treats!--and a table full of bread.  That's what hospitality looks like to me.  I like strategizing about how to make the treats last all week.  I enjoy taking breaks from my administrator work to put out more treats.

One week we got all bread and no treats.  I had some sticks of butter left over from an event, so each week, I put out the toaster, butter, and sliced loaves that I set aside.  I thought students would be irritated with toast each day, but I was wrong.

Each week, as an administrator, I do a variety of tasks.  I'm sure that the bosses above me would argue that my non-food tasks are more important.  But these days, I'm less sure.  They might scoff, but I do think that having food on site can help with retention.

There are other initiatives that might help more, like a day care center or a car mechanic on site.  But those initiatives would not be as easy to initiate and keep going, and I'm not sure how I could make them free for students (yes, lots of grants, and hiring of people and adding 10 more hours to every day). 

Today I'm taking a moment of gratitude for what I have accomplished.  I may not be saving the world, but I'm making my corner of it better.

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Giving Natural Disaster a Voice

Lately I've made some Amazon orders.  I've requested free shipping which should have taken 5-8 days or more.  The orders have arrived the next day.  I am not a Prime member, so that's not the explanation.

I'm not complaining.  It just seems worth noting.

On Saturday, I read this blog post by Jeannine Hall Gailey.  She had reviewed Lee Ann Roripaugh's Tsunami vs. The Fukushima 50.  It sounded like a book that would hit several of my reading sweet spots:  nuclear disaster, natural disaster, poetry, and a female-centered take on it all.  It's been awhile since I've ordered a book of poems, so I ordered it.

It arrived on Sunday.  Usually books arrive and go to my ever growing books to be read shelf, but I decided to read it while I could still remember why I had ordered it.  So I did.

It's a great book--but it's also the kind of book that makes me wonder if I'd appreciate it more if I had more background.  There are some pop culture references that I can sense are there, but they're not mine, like the reference to Watchmen.

There were also some references that may or may not be references to Japanese pop culture, but I can't be sure.  I know even less about the pop culture of other cultures than my own.

It's not enough to keep me from enjoying the poems, and also not enough to send me on a quest to know more.  It is the kind of moment that makes me feel old--once I knew all sorts of stuff about a wide variety of pop culture, and not just that pop culture coming from my own society.  Once I could keep track.

My favorite poems were the ones that gave the tsunami a voice.  I thought of Patricia Smith's Hurricane Katrina poems in Blood Dazzler.  If I was a grad student, I might do more with those comparisons.  If I was an ambitious woman on a tenure track, I might write a book that explores the ways we give natural disasters a personality.

I am a poet feeling like a dried out crisp.  Maybe I need to play with the idea of weather having a personality.  Maybe I should start with the August weather that's leaving me so worn out.  Hurricanes get so much press (speaking of which, I should keep an eye on Tropical Storm Dorian down in the Caribbean), but heat waves can kill far more people.  Maybe I should write a poem in the voice of the disappearing Arctic ice.

This morning, I went to Jeannine's review on The Rumpus.  I had decided not to read it until I read the book.  It's an amazing review--wow.  It does just what a review should do.  It puts the poems in context and gives me insight.  It makes me want to read the book again.

Here's the way she ends the review:  "In Tsunami vs. the Fukushima 50, a book that crackles with imaginative language and mythological retellings that represent real-life disaster, Roripaugh offers the audience a new way to think about nuclear and natural disasters and the remnants and ghosts that remain in their wake. Worth a close reading just for the sonic skills displayed, this book manages to weave a larger message for the reader inside poems that are at once playful, plaintive, and foreboding."

This experience over the past few days is as close to having a real time conversation about poetry as I'm likely to have these days.  It's been a treat to think about a volume of poems in this way.

Monday, August 26, 2019

Alligator Fosters and Other Changes

Today I soon leave to do the bread run.  So this post will be less an essay with a coherent theme than a collection of snapshots from the week.

--Many people in my immediate surroundings are in the process of huge change:  moving, illness, children moving to another level in school.  I am partly jealous--I want to move!  I am also relieved not to be in the throws of it.

--Of course, in a way, I, too, am facing change.  My spouse and I will be co-treasurers at church because the current treasurer is moving.  My sister-in-law will be moving down in a few weeks and staying in our cottage as she starts her new job here.

--That means I will be spending the next several weeks getting all of our stored stuff out of the cottage, a task I've needed to do for months now.

--One of my spin class members just sold her house a few counties to the north, which means they, too, have lots of clearing out to do.  Friday at spin class, one of our spin class members talked about hiring Guatemalans to do a variety of work around her house.  They will also help load the truck.

--She said, "I want a Guatemalan all my own to work on just my projects."

--In a way I knew what she meant.  In another way, it was disconcerting, especially in a week where I'd been reading a lot about the 400th anniversary of the first African slaves arriving in America.

--I look forward to reading the whole series on the subject in The New York Times.  In the meantime, I enjoyed the episode of NPR's 1A that talked to some of the writers.

--Also overheard this week:  "We're fostering an alligator."

--My first thought:  only in Florida.  But upon further investigation, it makes more sense.  A member of the family works in a wildlife rescue, and he brought a baby alligator home.

--The baby alligator eats food in the form of pellets, so at least they don't have to feed it live food.

I have no beautiful way to close that ties all these threads together. 

Sunday, August 25, 2019

Malaise or Melancholy?

Yesterday was an unusual Saturday.  I was the manager on duty at campus, so I went to work from 9-1.  It was a stormy start to the day, so it's not like I'd have been lounging by the pool. 

I came home and spent the afternoon watching The African Americans:  Many Rivers to Cross.  Sure, it was a PBS fundraiser, and I've seen parts of it before.  But it's a magnificent series.  When the fundraising came on, I went to shred papers or put things away.  I got laundry done and piles of paper sorted, filed, or shredded.  I felt my brain perking up with all the insight that Henry Louis Gates has to offer on our U.S. history.

My Saturdays have often been wasted on cooking shows and naps and feeling like I should be getting more done, but feeling such a sense of malaise about it all. 

Is it malaise or is it melancholy?

I have been feeling a some sort of blues for much of the summer, certainly for July and August.  I've said, "Well, some years the summer weather is harder on me than other years."  But lately, I've wondered if it might not be weather-related.

This post by Beth Adams gave me some new insight into my mood this morning.  She says, "I feel like I've been in mourning all summer."  There is much to mourn, and she notes the larger picture beyond the individual outrages and degradations:  "But underpinning these catastrophes are the male aggressiveness, bravado, greed, competitiveness, and desire for domination at all costs that have driven our world since the beginning."

Unlike many of us, who might attempt a variety of escapes, she's returned to the wisdom of Tolstoy.  I can't imagine reading Tolstoy in the summer, but kudos to those who can.  She notes, " As Tolstoy pointed out about Napoleon and, to a lesser extent, the Tsar, one single man, no matter how charismatic or powerful, cannot gain that power unless he taps into broad undercurrents of belief already present in the population. The systemic violence, greed, racism, misogyny, homophobia, and exploitation that feed everything from war to genocide to climate change run very deeply and broadly; what Walter Wink called "The Powers and Principalities" have been operating since human societies began. By and large these systems have been dominated by white males who have believed in their right to supremacy over people of all other races, as well as over women. Even today, with all of our progress, women of every race are still below men in nearly every measure except life expectancy. And even the most intelligent and well-educated of us are often in positions where, to help families and institutions function, or in order to have some influence, we end up serving the men who actually hold the power."

I do a lot of reading of a variety of materials thinking that maybe I'll get some understanding or insight or wisdom--but Beth Adams' post is a far more coherent piece of analysis than almost anything I've read recently.

She's returning to practices that have served her well.  She says, "For me, the contemplative practices of art, music, journaling and being in nature are part of this path, and so is silent meditation, especially in a world that has become cacophonous to the point of damaging our very ability to speak effectively to one another or listen to what is said. On the other side of the coin is Action, but action (of which speech is a part) must proceed from a centered, calm, free, and deeply considered place in order to have any power against the forces that threaten everything we hold dear."

I read her piece before I went on my morning walk.  I want to get away from my computer screen more as the weeks go on.  I, too, want to return to the habits that are more nourishing:  getting fresh air (even when it's hot and humid air), sketching, writing, reading that will help my brain not hurt it.

Saturday, August 24, 2019

Advice for Those Encased in Flesh

When drowning, remember that you know how to float:

Remind yourself that you are flesh, not stone.

Decide which quality you need to channel, the dragonfly or the wrought iron.

Don't forget to glow.

Protect the upper room, where illumination lives.

Friday, August 23, 2019

The Whale and the Ticket

I am part of an online journaling group organized by Mepkin Abbey.  We are working/listening/journaling our way through Don Bisson's series of CDs from a presention,  Individuation:  Beyond Happy and Normal.  Our last chunk explored the book of Jonah.

It's interesting to think about the book of Jonah and what it has to say to us about psychological health.  We're used to reading the book as a picture of a reluctant prophet, and therefore many of us might assume it doesn't apply to us.  We're not prophets, after all.

Because Don Bisson is a Marist brother, he does approach the material through a Christian lens.  But he's also a Jungian, which makes for interesting juxtapositions.  His approach of the main lesson of Jonah is that we need to get the right ticket to the right destination.

When I first heard him say that, I heard ticket as a type of parking ticket, not a plane ticket or a train ticket. 

For those of us who say no to what God asks of us, he says we need to think about the moral dimension to saying no. 

He also says we should notice what whales show up to remind us that we're going in the wrong direction.  I found that an interesting way of thinking about the whale.

I am now thinking of the end of Jonah, where Jonah goes off in a snit about how everyone reacts positively to his message.  Once again, we see someone trying to micromanage the miracles.

And now I'm thinking of my manuscript of essays.  Should I try to do a major overhaul?  I have decided that the title should be Micromanaging the Miracles.  Maybe I should revise with that in mind.

Or maybe I should create a different manuscript, something designed to be a daily devotions.  Could I develop enough new stuff to say about each of God's people who tried to micromanage the miracles? 

I have so many potential projects--not to mention the manuscripts that I've already created and can't find a place to publish them.  It's enough to make a girl feel discouraged. 

But I also know that life works in mysterious ways.  I blogged for years and many of those blog posts have found new life in various publications, which was not my plan when I started blogging. 

If I suddenly become a popular writer whose audience has a voracious appetite for my work, at least I have plenty of work to release.

I have spent the last 10 minutes trying to think of a way to conclude this blog post--how can I tie Jonah to my writing life?  Is my writing life the whale or the ticket?

In the depths of despair, it's tempting to think of all the writing rejections as the whale that tells us that we've taken the wrong direction.  But the life of the prophet reminds us that failure is part of the process--and the life of Jonah reminds us that even when we get with the program, when people accept us, we might still pout.

Jungian psychologists would not be surprised by this process.  One of the ideas that I found most comforting from our recent journaling time is that our culture tells us that as we get older, life should get easier because we've got it all figured out--but that's not the way it is at all.  Failure is part of the process.

To be called to be oneself in one's historical moment is never easy--even though we look at the life of the great humans and think they always knew exactly where they were going.  But it's the essential task of every human.

Thursday, August 22, 2019

Revisions and Revolutions

My time grows short this morning, so let me post capture some writing that I want to preserve here and some links to materials that I want to remember.

--I am intrigued by the blog posts from Terri Lewis, who has been blogging from the Sewanee Writers' Conference.  She shared her notes from Margot Livesy's presentation on revision in this post.  Livesy instructs us to print out the whole novel and get markers in a variety of colors:

"You are going to highlight in in a different color the following things (explanations in parenthesis [Lewis']):
  • Scene (the reader is inside an event with dialog and/or action)
  • Narration (bits between scenes, usually where the “narrator” – often the author – is telling, not showing. Can be a transition)
  • Summary (I need to spend time thinking about differentiating between this one and the next)
  • Exposition
  • Description (Needs to move the story, not just be a travelogue)
  • Interior / Exterior (Succinctly put: is the character thinking or doing)
  • Memories
  • Flashbacks
  • Each character"
How interesting!  I've had some of this on the brain as I've been writing my novel.  

--I am trying to get into a rhythm for writing my apocalyptic novel.  This week, my approach has been to grab time where I can find it, writing little bits here and there.  I wake up in the middle of the night thinking about how to revise what I've just written.

--Last night I was working on the novel when a grad school friend posted this bit to Facebook:  "Oh dear, what to do. Drop everything to watch the 25th anniversary special of Les Mis, or keep plugging away at work I've committed to delivering by morning? Hmmm...this is not easy. Oh, they're at the barricades, so my decision is made! I can fire up the espresso machine when this finishes in 2 hours, then fire it up AGAIN come the morning and load up my favorite thermos to keep me going after so little sleep. Okay, that's the plan!"

--I didn't see her post, but I clearly had the French Revolution on the brain.  I was writing this bit:  Each citizen got an allotment of food, which was the way out of the first food shortage that the government had created to try both to keep a nation fed and to keep peace. Even if the Despot hadn’t learned the lessons of history, some official clearly had—or at least they remembered how many revolutions had been fueled by food shortages and literal hunger, not just a hunger for justice.

--This morning, I made this response to my friend's post:   If I write a novel of our grad school years, there will be a student who leaves graduate work to follow "Les Mis," the way that some follow the Grateful Dead. She will discover a fellowship of travelers, and they will wonder why they don't get the same kind of press as Deadheads.

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

The Decision Not to Participate in an Art Show

Yesterday I wrote this post about my artistic process that took an older piece from this:

to this:

But in the end, I didn't enter the piece in the show.  It started to feel overwhelming, and I took some time to figure out whether or not I really wanted to participate.  The decision not to do it boiled down to several reasons:

--I had questions, but when I reached out to the curator, both by e-mail and phone, she never returned my call.  Therefore, I wasn't sure when the art would be accepted.  The website and the entry form had different information.

--The art show isn't juried, so all art would be accepted if it fit the theme.  That aspect appealed to me on one level, but it also seemed less desirable.

--I thought about having show participation to put on a resume, but if it's not juried, it would count less.  And then I laughed at myself.  What resume is this, exactly?

--That question made me realize that I wanted some sort of acclaim.  There would be prizes.  I had this vision of a gallery owner asking to represent me.

--But what if people did want more 3 D work from me?  I don't have a back up supply, like I do with my other art and writing.  While the appeal of creating art out of found objects appeals to me, I don't do it much.

--Why don't I do it?  I don't have the space--for the supplies or for the finished work.  How do artists store their work?  Even if I transformed the cottage into a studio and storage space, I would quickly run out of room if I did much work in found objects.

--A space in the art show cost $45.  That fee would buy me an entry fee for a manuscript.  I still have hopes for a writing career.  Those hopes and dreams are reasonable.  My dream of being a 3 D artist is much more recent and not as viable.

It's been an interesting way to spend part of the month of August, thinking about an old art project, transforming it, and writing about it.  I love the small jar that I created to go with the piece:

I love that it changes as I rotate the jar:

And from a different angle:

Long ago, I saw a work at Girl's Club, but I can't find a picture.  It was a collection of baby food sized jars, with balls of yarn in them.  I kept coming back to that piece, although I couldn't exactly articulate why.

If I did decide to do more with 3 D art, I might do more with jars.  It seems more manageable in terms of space.

I wonder if any scholar has explored the issue of space when it comes to art.  What kinds of decisions have artists made based on space--space for storage and space to do the work in the first place?

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

The Poet and Fiber Artist Goes 3 D

Over the past few weeks, I've been working on a 3 D art piece.  It began with a piece that I created for an Ash Wednesday art project at church.  I brought 3 shelves from a dresser that had been damaged during Hurricane Irma.  I brought lots of other stuff, and we created art with an Ash Wednesday theme.  For more on the original project, see this blog post.

I saw a call for art pieces for a show with the theme of home, and I thought of the piece.  A few weeks ago, I brought it home with me from the storage closet at church.  I wanted to add some pieces to it--one of the requirements for the show was that the art had to be created in the past year.

I created an element out of fabric.  I thought about gluing it to the back of the piece, but before I did that, I realized it might be interesting to pin it to the top.  In the end, I pinned it to both the top and the side.  I like the way it flutters.  It speaks of quilts to me, of quilts that have come apart but can be stitched back together again.

I decided the piece needed more threads, so I also cut apart a small piece of flannel to lay in the banana leaves.  A few years ago, after her mother's death, one of my friends gave me the spools of thread that her mother collected.  I don't want to waste good thread, but some of the spools had threads of the same color.  I will never use that much thread.  So I chose a few for the piece.

I find the image of a box of collected buttons showing up in my poetry quite often, so I pulled out our button box.  Again, I hate wasting buttons that might be useful, so I chose ones that were similar, along with some that were just interesting.

The old drawer that creates a shadowbox container is huge, so I decided I needed another vertical element.  I plucked an olive jar out of the recycling and filled it with things that said home to me:  buttons, yarn, dental floss, small spools of thread, and shells.  I also liked the images of stitching/threads, since I had decided to title the piece "Ash Wednesday in Hurricane Country."

I had to write a statement about how the piece fits with the theme.  One day, I made several drafts:

Home is more than a location on a map. You bought banana trees for a significant anniversary, and the hurricane destroyed them. We stitch our communities together with all sorts of threads to create a patchwork comforter.

Living in hurricane country comes with a constant reminder that our physical homes could be destroyed by wind and flood. But home is more than a location on a map. We keep our collections portable, our grandmothers’ button boxes, the spools collected by a friend’s mother during her lifetime.

We are a nation of dreamers and through our dreams, we are the repairers of the broken. We are a nation of quilters, the ones who can stitch and patch to create a comforter. We are the collagists who create a work of art out of all the pieces.

I ended up with a statement I really liked:

Home is more than a location on a map. We are a nation of quilters, the ones who can stitch and patch to create a comforter. We are the collagists who create a work of art out of all the pieces. We repair the broken to find the beautiful.

In the end, I decided not to submit the piece.  I'll write more about that decision tomorrow.

Monday, August 19, 2019

A Nancy Drew Poem for a Week of School Beginnings

In my county, students started school last Wednesday; this week will be their first full week of school.  By the end of this week, all students in the tri county area will be back in school.

I know that there are still some schools up north who start after Labor Day.  They probably have Columbus Day off too.

Yesterday in church, our pastor said it was the last Sunday in Summer.  He caught himself mid-declaration and said, "Yes, it's the last Sunday in the Summer.  Because I declare it to be so."  And then he explained that once the public schools start again, summer is effectively over.

I agree.  We have another month until the equinox which will launch us into a new season, and for some of us, we might switch wardrobes at Labor Day--although to be honest, I don't know of anyone who doesn't wear white after the first Monday in September.  Many of us still have a month or more of summer heat and humidity.  But essentially, summer is over.

The back to school stories that surround us take me back to my writing process as I created a poem about Nancy Drew in her retirement.  Nancy Drew wouldn't be teaching college. She'd have had a teacher's certificate from pre-feminist days. And they'd let her teach the kids that were headed to juvenile jails and drop out land--who cares about those kids?

I thought about a friend's experience teaching those kinds of kids. She was allowed to do basically whatever she wanted, to abandon textbooks and to teach whatever came to her, so long as she kept the kids from hurting each other or the other children in the school.

I thought about Nancy Drew's friends, Bess and George--what happened to them? Could they help Nancy Drew solve the mystery of how to reach these students?

Of course! Bess has started a bakeshop and this generation of students, raised on cooking shows, eat up what she has to offer in the way of old-fashioned home-ec. George, the tomboy, has gone on to become a marine biologist, so she leads field trips into various ecosystems.

Here's the poem, which appeared in my third chapbook, Life in the Holocene Extinction.  If you want an autographed copy of the chapbook, I'll give you a back-to-school discount between now and the Tuesday after Labor Day:  $10 per copy.

Nancy Drew and the Mystery of the Pre-Drop Outs

Nancy Drew decides she needs new
mysteries to solve, so she returns
to school, to mold young minds.

Long ago, in between cracking cases
involving diaries or letters or maps and solving
secrets in attics and towers, she got a teaching
certificate, as ambitious women did in those days.
Now she calls the school board to see
how she might be of use.

Her credentials, old and out of date,
don't prevent her from taking charge
of the most hopeless classrooms,
the students on a layover
on their journey to juvenile court.

Given tattered textbooks and worksheets without
answer keys, Nancy Drew adopts
a different approach. As always, she calls
on her friends.

Bess runs a bakeshop, so she teaches
the students to cook, a retro home-ec
approach. Nancy Drew's feminist critics
would not approve, but this generation
of students, raised on cooking shows, responds
with rare enthusiasm.

Nancy Drew believes in fresh air and sunshine,
so she recruits her friend George, a marine
biologist, for ideas. George leads
field trips to various ecosystems:
swamp walks and snorkeling and soon
some of the students are ready
for college-track science classes.

These clues to a better future don't prevent
some of her students from sneaking
away to explore more ancient secrets.
She tries to keep them focused on the future,
but she remembers Ned Nickerson
and those cars now considered classics.

She thinks of Ned in the roadster,
and later, her love confined to the hospital bed,
immune from rescue, unable to hear
her whispered pleas.

She kisses the old locket always worn
around her neck and writes the day's lesson
plan on the white board. At the end
of the day, she erases the smeared
lines from the board to leave a blank
space to be filled again in the morning.

Sunday, August 18, 2019

August Traditions: Blessing Backpacks and Church Picnics

Based on what I'm reading in various Facebook updates, the Blessing of the Backpacks as part of August church services is becoming fairly common across the nation, or at least in the Southeast. I'm all in favor.

One of my Facebook friends who is a minister seems to be having today's worship service at a park, where there will be the annual picnic along with the blessing of the backpacks.  I like that approach too.

My church has a huge space in the back of the church, so we've had a cookout there once or twice, often in conjunction with the close of Vacation Bible School.

And now I'm remembering late August days at my grandmother's church long ago.  There was one Sunday where they'd have church and then everyone would get in cars to spend Sunday afternoon at Lutheridge.  That church camp was over an hour away, so modern me is astonished that people would come to church and then make the drive to Lutheridge.  Of course, there was a wonderful potluck picnic at the end of the drive and time in the mountains and fellowship.  Still, it tells me what a different time it was.

And now I'm suddenly craving deviled eggs and a variety of pasta salads.  I'll never crave those odd mixes of gelatin and add-ins--blhh.  But the dessert table--ah, yes, I'd love a good dessert table today after church.

Instead, I'll count the money after church.  It won't be nearly as much fun/fulfilling as a trip to the mountains with a picnic, but it's an essential task that few can'will do in my congregation.

Saturday, August 17, 2019

Thinking about the Yield Curve on a Lovely Saturday in August

This week, perhaps we've all gotten a mini Economics lesson.  I confess that I didn't really think about the yield curve before this week, and I'm still not sure I understand it enough to explain it.

One fact stands out in this week of reports of our now inverted yield curve:  an inverted yield curve has predicted 6 of the last 6 recessions.

On a recent episode of On Point, I heard economics analyst Rana Foroohar say that she had taken all of her retirement money out of the stock market and invested it in primarily cash and real estate.  Hmm.

You may or may not remember that we haven't had a recession since the big one in 2008.  Here's an interesting fact from an article in yesterday's The Washington Post: "About 40 million U.S. adults haven’t seen a single recession during their working lives. Almost as many, including most millennials, have seen only one since they turned 18. That recession, the devastating Great Recession from December 2007 to June 2009, was (hopefully) not representative."

My earliest memory of economic downturns is the one in the early 70's, around 1973 or so.  I remember asking my dad why so many people didn't have Christmas lights strung on their houses the way they used to do.  He told me that they might not be able to afford it.

Ah, the good ole days of the Arab oil embargo!  I remember the 70's as a time when beef was a luxury.  Now I've had a few shopping days when potatoes cost more than the beef when I made pot roast.  I'm paying far less for chicken these days then my mom did when she bought chicken in the 70's as a budget meat for a middle-class family.

I remember recessions in the 80's; I started undergraduate school in a college town that had had much of its industry decimated during a recent recession where two of the three poultry plants had closed.  I did my first job search during the recession of 92, and I was grateful to get my community college job, even though I went to grad school with a different kind of teaching job in mind.  In the recession of 2002, when my meager portfolio lost almost all its value, I had a moment when I wished I had just given all that money to the poor.  I remember the early days of the Great Recession of 2008, hearing about the stock market stumbling then falling precipitously and feeling a cold stone of fear in my body.

In short, the economy has never felt secure to me.  The words of Jesus have always made sense, the ones where he cautions about storing our treasures where moths can eat it and thieves can steal it.  The economy shows us over and over again the wisdom of Christ's teaching--at least to those of us who aren't part of the uppermost of the uppermost economic echelons.

Friday, August 16, 2019

More Milestones to Mark the Aging Process

I have read books about aging that talk about all the various personal milestones most of us go through when we age:  physical changes of all sorts, mental changes, and perhaps societal changes.  There's less talk about the milestones in the lives of our friends and acquaintances and how they affect us.

I got a Facebook message today from one of my college friends:  "My mom died today."  I have a variety of memories about her mom, although I never spent lots of time with her.

I spent some time scrolling through Facebook.  My high school friend who is moving his parents into an assisted living facility has lots of posts describing both that process and his process of cleaning out the house.  Last week I wrote a post about how strange it is to read about this process.

Here's a post from a friend and a picture of her daughter and a friend who just made the JV volleyball team.  Wait--didn't we just have a baby shower for that child?  How is it possible that she started high school this week?

In some ways it makes me feel old, but it's more complex than that.  I sometimes feel that time is wrinkling.  Some part of me doesn't feel much older than my high school self--and I know that I'm very lucky.  And yet, clearly, I am old enough to have children in high school or college myself.  A new generation emerges.

The various 50 year anniversaries this year are also a reminder of how much time has zipped on.  It seems like just yesterday I found the Woodstock LP in the collection of my college radio station.  I made a cassette tape and listened to it over and over again.  I was listening to music that was already 17 years old.  Now it's much older.  If you want to listen to that concert in real time, as the concert unfolded hour by hour, over the next few days, go here.

Of course I'm not ready to limp off into the sunset yet.  Let me use these reminders of mortality to get moving on projects I want to complete sooner rather than later.