Sunday, March 31, 2019

AWP: Report on Day 3

Yesterday was another great day in Portland.  It was less about the AWP conference than about realizing that I had only one day left, and I wanted to actually do some of the things I'd heard about. 

I'm staying at the Embassy Suites which is just a block away from the famous Voodoo Doughnuts.  On Friday night, the line stretched back around the block.  I assumed that early on a Saturday morning, the line might be shorter, so I headed over.  And yes indeed, the line was shorter.

In fact, there was no line. I took some pictures of the outside from across the street.

As I crossed the street, one of the many homeless guys said, "Hey, did you take my picture?" I shook my head. He said, "Let me see the camera."

I didn't want to tell him that I can never remember how to review the pictures, so I said, "I took a picture of the sign" and slipped inside.

I chose 5 donuts.  I tried to choose some that were unusual: maple bacon and a Mexican Cinnamon, that has cayenne with the cinnamon sugar, in honor of Carl and Meg. I got two that have been my favorites:  sprinkles and a chocolate peanut.  Those were cake doughnuts, which I prefer.  I asked the counter guy to put in his favorite, and he chose a maple blazer blunt (it's real name).

Cannabis is legal here; I see lots of pot shops as I walk across town. But sugar will always be my drug of choice.

Early yesterday morning, I read this blog post that Kelli Russell Agodon wrote, and her description of the Lan Su Chinese Garden sounded lovely.  We had also read about the Saturday Market, so we decided to try to get to both yesterday morning.

I wasn't as impressed with the Saturday Market as I wanted to be.  Some of the art for sale was truly lovely, but of course, I was most attracted to stuff that's not easy to carry on a plane.  A lot of what was offered was junk.  I took no pictures.

We walked through the cherry trees to the Lan Su Chinese Garden, where I took a lot of pictures.  What a lovely space!  

We ate at the tea room, which was a wonderful experience.  I was glad that we lingered:

Then we hiked up to Powell's Books, which was big and overwhelming, and while I was impressed, I would have been more thrilled in the time before the Internet can deliver most any book I want.  We didn't stay long--it was packed, and I was glad to see a bustling bookstore.

We walked back to our hotel, and then I decided to go back to the conference.  I'm glad I did, because I got to attend a wonderful session on using artsy-craftsy techniques to get students immersed in writing.  It gave me lots of ideas not just for my writing classes, but for other areas too.  

I also got some great books in the waning hours of the bookfair.  That, too, made me happy.

We ended our day at Portland Burger, which was a great burger--even the small version was huge.  The website doesn't give the full menu--there are also shakes and a full bar and a variety of burgers special to the day.  I was happy that we ate there--happy and stuffed.

It's been a great trip, and I'm glad I made the effort to get here.  The conference has fed both my brain and my creative soul.  It's been great travelling with my grad school friend and having a chance for deep conversation.  I've enjoyed seeing another part of the country.  It's good to be reminded that travel is worth the effort.

Saturday, March 30, 2019

AWP: Report on Day 2

Yesterday morning, I thought about skipping the AWP panels that were offered at 9 a.m.  I was mildly interested in a session on Angels in America, but I had heard a lot of commentary on it last year and thought I might not learn much that was new.

In the end, I went to that session, and I am so glad that I did.  What an amazing session.  Unlike with some sessions, the presenters did not read to us from papers.  They did not read from their published works.  It was a conversation between 4 experts who are also writers for popular publications and teachers, so they have both the intellectual chops and the expert way of making it all interesting.

It was a great conversation about the play, about the 80's when the play is set, about the 90's when the play was first performed, and about the time we're in now.  Suddenly the play's politics all seem eerily relevant again.  And, as the presenters reminded us, the disease of AIDS is far from vanquished.

I went to a second session which I thought would be about book tours and taxes, but it was soon apparent that it was about the benefit of signing on with a speaker's bureau to arrange your speaking engagements for you--if you're getting about $1000 per engagement already, although people getting $2500-$5000 is more their target market.

At this point, that's not me, so I left and went back to the room to get the Bookfair map.  On the way back, I stopped to see the cherry blossoms up close--I'd been seeing them from the light rail train that's been taking us back and forth to the Convention Center. 

The cherry trees lined the Willamette River. 

Imagine my surprise when I discovered that it was also a memorial to the Japanese citizens sent off to U.S. camps during World War II.

Beautiful stones with haunting words lined the path beneath a blizzard of blossoms.

I walked across the bridge instead of hiking back to a rail station.  It was kind of cool and kind of disconcerting.  I didn't get the great pictures I thought I would get.  And the bridge was a bit bouncy when the big trucks rattled across.  But there were other pedestrians and cyclists, so I didn't feel like I was where I didn't belong.

I went to the bookfair and made my way to the Two Sylvias table where I finally met the poet Jeannine Hall Gailey in person.  Jeannine was sparkly both in clothing and in personality.  I feel I look a bit bedraggled, but I had hiked over much of the convention center and the bridge and the park, so maybe I should give myself a break.

The bookfair is a bit overwhelming, and I didn't want to get in the way of book sales, so I didn't stay long.  I thanked Kelli Russell Agodon for her work and was on my way.  I need to force myself to go back to the bookfair today.

As with much of the AWP, I'm aware of so many opportunities that I'm not pursuing.  I'm not going to each table at the bookfair to make editors aware of me.  I'm not looking at publications to see if they're a good fit for my work.  I'm not networking, so I won't be meeting people who might get my work to publication.  Part of me thinks, I'm 53 years old--what's the point of all this?

I went to an afternoon session that I thought might address these issues, a session about writers over 60, but the panel organizer had something else in mind.  I try not to be annoyed about sessions that aren't what I want them to be, but I had really wanted something else.  Most of the presenters presented their psychic landscape in the face of death that's coming sooner rather than later, and one woman read some of her poems about L.A. police and contamination from industry, and I'm not sure what any of that had to do with aging.  I came away understanding their states of mind, but without any information about how they carry on in the face of it all.

We finished the day by going to a session about balancing one's own need to write with one's need to help students with their writing.  It was a good session.  I'm here to tell you that no one has the answer to work-life-creativity balance issues.  But it's good to meet others who confirm that the struggle isn't imaginary.

We made our way back to the hotel.  We thought about getting a doughnut from the iconic Voodoo Donuts, but the line stretched far down the street.  Can any doughnut be worth that wait?

I hope to be able to answer that question later today.

Friday, March 29, 2019

AWP: Report on Day 1

Overall, yesterday was a GREAT day at AWP, the kind of day that was so wonderful that I had trouble falling asleep.  Let me recap.  And it will be just with words, because although I took a lot of pictures, I don't want to sort them right now.

I love Embassy Suites.  I love their breakfast buffet.  Before I left yesterday, I fortified myself with a hearty meal.  I loved that I knew that I was unlikely to get lunch, and so I felt free to eat all sorts of breakfast foods.  It was the kind of buffet that made me say that breakfast is the best meal of the day.

I worried that we'd be too far away from the Convention Center and that we'd feel that we should have booked something closer.  I'm not sure that there are hotels that are much closer. 

This Convention Center is odd.  I haven't been to lots and lots of convention centers, but I don't see many hotels within a comfortable walk.  Maybe I've been approaching it from the wrong direction and all the walkable hotels are out of eyesight, but I also don't see them on the map. 

I also don't see a lot of places to eat nearby.  Were there no restaurants that wanted to stake a claim on convention attendees?  Is the real estate too expensive?  From looking at the surrounding area, it's hard to believe that, but who knows.  Did they build a convention center in a place that's not zoned for food?  Could they not change that?

And the convention center itself is hard to navigate.  I'm fairly able bodied, and as I walked and walked and walked, I thought about how hard it would be for someone who has mobility issues.  To make things worse, the place is under construction.

In short, I'm not sure I'd have chosen Portland if I had been on the planning team.  But I'm happy to be here.  Let me stress that the light rail system has been an absolute joy so far.  I feel very lucky.  I'm fairly sure I could have walked from the hotel, but I'm glad to have an option.

Hybridity was the word I'd use to describe the morning sessions I attended.  I went to Anna Leahy's session that she chaired about cheating on poetry with non-fiction.   What a great panel.  I was excited to see Beth Ann Fennelly, who has written more non-poetry than just her recent book.  It was a great conversation about how form affects content.  It was also interesting to hear people talk about MFA programs, which often do not encourage people to explore additional genres.  And it's interesting to hear how many programs, over 1/3 by one estimate, still have not added creative nonfiction (or nonfiction of any kind) to the list of genres that they teach.  And we must speculate (based on what audience members said yesterday) that even the ones that do offer creative nonfiction as a genre might have the fiction and poetry faculty teach it, which isn't idea.  Lots of interesting conversation about gender, about money, about what success looks like, about publication.

The second panel I attended was fascinating from a different hybridity angle.  I went to the session on Intersections of Poetry and Visual Art.  Faithful readers of this blog may remember that I've been tinkering a bit with this idea; see this blog post if you want to know more about my creativity journey that makes me interested in this idea.

This panel more than any other yesterday made me want to go straight back to my hotel room and start creating.  I learned a lot about what people are doing with "poetry comics" and "graphic poetry."  These poets, whom I had never heard of before, did a "reading," but it didn't feel like a reading because we had the comics/graphics/visuals on the screen--and I had a good seat.  It was one session that made me wish I had a better camera.

After that session, my friend and I decided to take a break and find some of that famous Portland coffee.  I was glad that I had researched the options before we left the hotel, and again I was surprised that there were so few places to choose from.  The first place, Trailhead Coffee, was packed, so we hiked on to Ristretto Roasters, a place that had coffee but no food.  Happily, we had brought some food of our own.

The first session I attended in the afternoon was Revelation or Resistance:  Form or Narrative at the End of the World.  I was less interested in the authors reading their works than in the discussion that followed.  It was a good discussion, but if you know me, you know that my Apocalypse Gal self can talk end-of-the-world for days and never get tired of it.  I wanted more conversation about what to do in terms of retirement planning and the knowledge that the world is seriously screwed, but I understand that not everyone has floor boards that are 2 feet above sea level.  One of the presenters did early on present information from the latest, most serious climate report that came out a month or two ago; I've only heard from a few people who have actually read the whole thing, and he's one of them.  He mentioned 20-30 feet of sea level rise in the next few decades, which is a much more compressed time frame than originally thought and a much greater volume of water.

I made lots of notes of my own thoughts during this session, and they ran along the lines of future generations who will be aghast at the fact that we spent lots of time and money in fancy conferences talking about narrative form and planetary destruction and not much time actually working on the issue.  I do agree with the one presenter who observed that this slow motion apocalypse on many fronts is moving so slowly that it's impossible for us to react effectively.  It's not like a world war that might galvanize and mobilize us.

After that gloom and doom session, I went to hear Rebecca Makkai and Tayari Jones read and have a conversation about the personal apocalypses their characters face and how they wrote the books they wrote.  What a great conversation about gender and likable characters.  Here's the best quote from that session, by Jones:  "How are we going to write about the ways we really live if we can't write characters that live the way we really live?"

I ended the day by going back to the convention center to hear Colson Whitehead--WOW!  He was an amazing speaker, and I can't begin to do justice to his talk that combined his quest for the perfect fried chicken recipe with his approach to the writing life.  I may try to capture some of it later, but for now, I need to wrap this up, so that I can get back for Day 2.

Thursday, March 28, 2019

A Cross Country Flight to Portland

Nothing drives home the size of our country more than an airline flight across/above it.  I suppose driving across it might drive home that point more, but I can't see having time to do that anytime soon.  Just flying across it took me the better part of a day yesterday.

It was an easy flying day, all things considered.  I got to the airport early, got my luggage checked in with no trouble, got through security with very little hassle, and got great airline seats in the exit row for both legs of the trip.  I didn't have to switch planes in St. Louis, but I could get off the plane to use the bathroom and stretch my legs.

From the air, I found myself thinking about the political language of immigration and the idea that we don't have enough room.  We have plenty of room.  From the air it's clear that huge swaths of the country aren't populated at all. 

I have seen some of the great rivers of the country:  the Missouri, the Mississippi, and finally, the Columbia and the Willamette.  I saw the St. Louis arch, which isn't as impressive from above as it was when I drove by it decades ago.  I don't think I saw Mt. Hood or Mt. St. Helen's--one flight attendant told me I might see them if the weather was clear on our approach to Portland.

It was strange to think about those driving days, when we'd go to youth gatherings in rickety cars and not think twice about it.  Strange to think about how much thought I've given this trip, in comparison.

I waited a bit at the airport for the Blue Star shuttle, but it did finally come.  I had a pleasant ride to the hotel with other AWP folks.  We had a great conversation about writing students and museums and writing conventions and med students.

When I had thought about the trip, I thought I might go to the Convention Center once I got checked into the hotel, but I was much more tired than I thought, and the drizzle had turned to rain.  So, I went to the evening reception at the hotel, a happy hour with vegetables, including roasted broccoli.  I had a local porter, which tasted like every other porter I've had.  Don't get me wrong:  it was cold and dark and delicious.  I just can't usually tell much difference between one porter and another.

I got the computer talking to the wi-fi, which took more strategizing than it should, but it was easy, once I figured out the right sign-in method.  I crashed fairly early (but late for Eastern time).

Today, it's on to the AWP!  I plan to navigate the light rail system to get to the Convention Center or at least to get back from the Convention Center tonight..  I'm not sure it's as walkable as I thought--this part of Portland is much more a tangle of major highways than I expected.  But this morning, I may try walking across the Burnside Bridge--if there's no way to cut north to the Convention Center, I'll come back to the light rail station.

I plan to get some coffee throughout the day.  I want to make it to the keynote speech by Colson Whitehead--I am going to need some help to make it to 10 p.m., when his keynote address is scheduled to end.

Yesterday I found myself wishing I had done more research, both about the current attractions of the city and about the history.  I found myself wishing I had brought the journals of Lewis and Clark with me.  I didn't, but I can still channel the spirit of the Corps of Discovery!

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Westward, Ho!

By the end of today, if all goes well, I'll be at an opposite corner of the country.  I'm off to Portland, Oregon for the AWP conference. 

Yesterday, I wrote this Facebook post: 

I am vacillating between feeling thrilled at the idea of the AWP conference and feeling nervous about the travel it will take to get there. I have my boarding passes printed for the long plane ride tomorrow, and I've checked my hotel reservation several times to make sure it still exists. I even checked to make sure that there is pedestrian access to the bridge that I will take as I walk from my hotel across the Willamette River to the Convention Center.
In short, I think I am as prepared as I can be right now. So why am I still anxious?

Today, I am less anxious.  I'm a woman of many anxieties, and thus, I spend time thinking about what's making me anxious, being aware of my anxieties, trying to deconstruct them.  Yesterday, I noticed that once I got checked in to my Southwest Air flight, much of my anxiety retreated.  I have paid the $25 for early check in for my return flight, since I don't want to have to think about check in while I'm at the conference.

I am mostly packed--which means I need to start putting all the piles of things into an actual suitcase or my backpack.  I am looking forward to this travel day in terms of having lots of time to read and having books to read that have been on my list for months.  I am not looking forward to the discomforts of travel:  the cramped seats, the bathrooms I might encounter.

It occurs to me that I am travelling further north than I have ever been before--or is France at a higher latitude?  I'm fairly sure that I'm traveling further north in the U.S. than I've ever been before.  I'm fairly sure that Portland is further north than Vermont, the state which previously won the furthest-north-I've-ever-been prize.

I have extra cameras for the camera and cash for whatever transit needs I have.  Yes, some people have smartphones that eliminate these needs, but I don't.  I only ever wish I had a smart phone a few times a year, when I travel.

I have a small umbrella but no boots.  I will be traveling with my laptop, which is a relatively new development for me.  I have a bag of snacks.  I will take my sketch book and smaller marker bag.

But first, spin class!

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

AWP2019: Fretful about Footwear

A week ago, I put some books on hold at the public library--a process which means that available books would be delivered to a branch close to me.

Yesterday morning, they still weren't here.  I began to feel a bit fretful--what would I read on the long plane journey to Portland, Oregon?

Of course, I have plenty of books.  But I always want to be reading the books that aren't on my shelves.

Happily, by yesterday afternoon, they had arrived, and I picked them up on my way home.  I may not have all the self-promotional materials I might need for the AWP convention, but I have some books.

I know that the common wisdom is to buy books during the last day of the book fair, and I have gotten some bargains that way.  Of course, most of those bargains sit on my book shelf unread.

I know that I should have business cards to pass out, and I do.  Although I rarely find myself needing to exchange cards, I'll bring them anyway.  I won't bring any manuscripts with me.  I'll have my computer, and if I should need to print something, I'm sure I'll find a way to get that done.

I have found myself feeling fretful about footwear.  I am also fretful about the hotel.  I decided to stay at the Embassy Suites.  When I was making these decisions, I wasn't very sure about the hotels closer to the convention center.  I read someone's Facebook post that suggested that all of the hotels were further away than might be common for a convention center.  So I chose the Embassy Suites because I had a good experience at one for last year's AWP, and I really like having breakfast included.  At the time, I thought it was about a half mile away and that most of the hotels were a half mile away or further.

On Sunday, I went back to that map.  I may be more like a mile away.  I am trusting that I can walk to the convention center from the hotel.  I say I'm trusting, but I'm actually fretful that it may be one of those urban areas where there is no way to get across the river on foot.

If that's the case, I'll figure it out.  That's one of the things that travel teaches me, that I am a resourceful person who can keep calm and figure things out.

Back to my footwear question.  I have a pair of boots, which I thought I would bring with me.  But my sneakers are so much more comfortable for long walks, and I think I'll be walking a lot.  And the weather forecast doesn't call for as much rain as I was expecting.  So I think I'll bring 2 pairs of sneakers.  I can switch them out so I always have a dry pair.

Of course, I'll look a bit frumpy with sneakers on my feet.  I don't care.  I am older and married--and truth be told, I've never sacrificed safety and comfort for cute shoes.  I have always looked frumpy, but there have been decades when my frumpy look was in (I'm thinking of my cool boots in the 90's)--or at least, not as out as it usually is.

Let me remember why I am going:  I am always inspired in interesting ways by this conference.  I have gone to many academic/academic-ish conferences, and this is the only one where I am often torn by choosing between so many wonderful sounding panels.  Colson Whitehead will be the keynote speaker.  Once upon a time, getting to the Pacific Northwest was on my must-do-before-I-die list.  One of my grad school friends is meeting me there--we're helping each other be brave.

Can you tell that I am feeling a bit of my normal, pre-travel, why did I think this would be a good idea jitters?  Yes, I am.  It's feeling like a lot of effort for a lot of yet-to-be-determined reward.  I've had several grueling weeks at work to get ready to leave.  I worry a bit about who and what I'm leaving here.  I am weary.

But it is good to travel.  I know that as we age, many of us reach a point where we can no longer make these kinds of big trips.  Let me go while I can.  Let me make the memories that will sustain me through the times of drudgery.

Monday, March 25, 2019

Seasonal Shifts

It is the long season of Lent, when we wait for our hearts to shift, just as the seasons are shifting.

Our hearts are brittle, even as they stretch towards something we can't quite identify.

Our hearts may feel like a container made of stone.

But even in that container, we find a reserve of holy water, a bit of love to sustain us through this season.

The purple paraments remind us that we're not yet ready to set the altar for the long green season where everything grows in a boundless way.

But we see the shoots of a new growth. 

We know that soon we'll be in a relentless battle against all the weeds that would strangle the work.  Let us rest in this season a bit longer before we commit to resurrection.

Sunday, March 24, 2019

Saturday Nourishment

Yesterday was a wonderful day.  I so needed a wonderful day, after days of slogging and drudgery.  Let me count the ways that it was wonderful:

--My once in a blue moon book club is such a sustenance for me.  What a treat to be with people who love to read, who want books that will challenge them, who can hardly wait to tell you about the wonderful book they're reading.  How great to be part of a book club where we actually talk about the book at hand.

--The cinnamon rolls that our host made for our book club meeting were astonishingly good.  Fresh out of the oven and so perfect with the hot coffee.

--Even though we didn't get any closer to making some decisions about the furniture that's stored in the cottage, we did have good conversations.  I realized that my frustration is that my spouse has a vision for what the furnishings in the main house will be, and I can't find any of this stuff on the Internet.  I've spent a lot of time looking, and I'm tired of this.  My spouse said, "I'd rather have nothing than the wrong stuff."  Very well.  I am done looking, at least for now.

--When it comes to housing, and perhaps many projects, I have often found that when I'm having no success, I need to just back off for awhile.

--My spouse took a nap, and I got some grading done.

--A few weeks ago, I wrote to a friend to say how strange it was that we weren't going to a concert in March.  We had gone to see my spouse's chorale concert in Dec., Carrie Newcomer in January, and the Hank Williams/Patsy Cline tribute concert in February.  My spouse suggested a few concerts, and lo and behold, last night we went to our March concert:  Brothers of Others.  Best of all, it was a free concert at the beach.

--We went early to get a meal together with our spouses.  We ate at Margaritaville, which gave us a great view of the concert stage.  Because we had to wait to be seated, we ended up seeing the concert from that perch.  It was perfect.

--I had a slice of salted caramel cheesecake--it was amazing.

--What a delight:  a good meal with a wonderful dessert, a meal with friends, good conversation.  Hey that sums up my whole day.  I got to repeat that process several times yesterday.  What a nourishing day, in so many ways.  What a relief.

Saturday, March 23, 2019

Neighborhood Encounters

Yesterday, I wrote about my Thursday encounter with a fox while taking an early morning walk through my neighborhood.  I've continued to think about that fox.  We don't live near a forest.  How did it come to live here?  I think of its family, its extended network, living in this non-native habitat.  And then I wondered if maybe it was once a native habitat of foxes before we paved it over.

As I drove through my neighborhood on my way to the grocery store this morning, I saw a thin man walking barefoot through my neighborhood.  I might not have noticed, except that earlier this week, I saw a different thin man walking barefoot through my neighborhood.

They walked mindfully, which immediately put me in mind of ashrams.  Of course, they might also have been on the lookout for the many things that can pierce a foot.  We are not living in a lovely village in the countryside, after all.  Even though we're near the ocean, we live in an urban area, full of broken glass and poop and the detritus of tropical trees and the occasional oddity like a bracelet or a key or a needle.

I wondered if I'm witnessing some new thing; I've read about people who run barefoot, but no articles that implore us to take a daily walk without our shoes.  It doesn't seem wise to me.

At the grocery store, carrots and potatoes were on sale, and the onions looked good.  It's going to be a slightly cooler week-end, probably the last week-end with the kind of weather where we could leave the oven on for hours.  I decided to make a pot roast this afternoon.

I got to the check out and had my groceries half checked out before I realized I forgot to get the roast.  Happily, I was able to wheel my cart with purchased groceries back through the store to get the meat.

As I drove back to my house, one of the ducks that seems to live on a golf course almost flew into my car.  Happily, I was able to hit the brakes without harm.  Did the duck not see my car?  Was it attacking the car?  What on earth?

I am also thinking of my much better mood this morning, when compared to last Saturday.  Last Saturday began in glumness.  Today, even though I had several events that might have wrecked my mood, I stayed buoyant.  Hmm.

We did start the week-end on a much better note last night.  We met some old Art Institute friends for dinner at a restaurant where I once ate on a much more regular basis.  They have a great happy hour that includes real meals for half price.  It was a wonderful night.

One of those friends will soon move close to Orlando.  I'll be sorry to see him go, but I understand the desire to move to higher ground.  And that is precisely why he is moving.  When I talk about sea level rise, I can see some people back away.  I am in danger of becoming a wild-eyed Cassandra, so I try to be careful.  It's a relief to be with people who don't think I'm crazy.  My floor boards are two feet above sea level, which puts sea level rise in a more direct perspective.

But now is the time for happier things.  My once in a blue moon book club meets today to discuss Sue Monk Kidd's The Invention of Wings.

Friday, March 22, 2019

Notes on Another Week of Exhaustion

It has been another exhausting week.  I begin to worry that exhausting is becoming the new norm for me.  Let me capture a few thoughts before they slide away.

--Let me remember that I'm exhausted in part because I'm trying to get the work of next week done this week because next week I will be away at the AWP convention. I want to be able to be there without worrying too much about the work waiting to be done when I get home and because I need to meet a March 31 accreditation documents deadline before I leave.

--I dreamed last night that I was revising accreditation documents.  It wasn't an anxiety dream.  It was just a continuation of what I spent most of my hours at work doing yesterday.  I wish my brain was a bit more inspired.  Can't we go to Paris and drink champagne or hike a mountain trail or do something different during my dream time?

--I got a fortune cookie from our Speech teacher who has crafted a speaking opportunity around them.  I made this Facebook post:  Good news: my fortune cookie says, "The best times of your life have not yet been lived." I am oddly relieved.

--I then decided I needed a photo to go along with it.  I keep most of my teapots on the large window sill in my office, and I liked the Chinese teapot as a backdrop:

--I thought about how long I've had this teapot.  I bought it at Epcot back in 1984.  It has an inner diffuser cup for brewing a pot from loose tea leaves.

--Yesterday during my walk in the early morning dark, I saw a fox.  At first I thought it was a coyote, but when I got back and looked at pictures, I think it was a fox.  It had a very different tail than a cat.  That tail and the facial markings made me decide it was a fox not a coyote.  It was fearless, like a coyote.  We stared at each other for a bit, and as I walked away, it followed me from a distance.  Finally, it lost interest.

--We are having one last cool front--we usually don't have chillier weather this late in March.

--My once in a blue moon book club meets tomorrow to discuss Sue Monk Kidd's The Invention of Wings.  I had read the book once long ago when it first came out, and I remember being impressed.  I had forgotten almost all of it, and I enjoyed reading it again.

--I had forgotten about the sewing/fabric/quilting aspect of that book.  It made me long for my fiber arts.  I did spend some time finishing garlands that will be strung on indoor trees at the Create in Me retreat.

This project wasn't quite as satisfying as a patchwork project would be:

 Time to finish up this work week! 

Thursday, March 21, 2019

Lenten Journaling Workshop with Shells and Spools and Fibers

Last night at my church, I led our journaling group through several exercises.

When I first got to the fellowship hall, I took a jar of shells collected through the years and laid them on a table:

As people arrived, I invited them to choose a shell that spoke to them.  We sat for a few minutes while others gathered, and then we began.

We started with prayer, and then I read the first chapter of Genesis (I skipped some of the middle days of creation).  We ended with God declaring everything good--very good--and then taking a day of rest.

We journaled for 10 minutes.

I then invited the group to the second table where they would choose from the tin of buttons,

some rectangles of cloth,

pieces of yarn, 

and spools of thread:

I gave some writing prompts:  what do we learn about God from considering these items? 

If you had to explain God to someone who hadn't ever heard of God, how would you use these elements?  

I reminded people that they could do whatever appealed to them:  create a story about the button that wanders away or make something out of the elements:

We journaled for 10 minutes, and towards the end, I reminded people of the Genesis story of creation and asked if we learned anything about creation from our own creating.

We had a few minutes for sharing.  We prayed, and then we ended our second full night of journaling together.

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

The Drizzlies

Today is the vernal equinox, when the northern hemisphere shifts from winter to spring.  Our weather has been dreary, with a steady rain/drizzle all day yesterday.  For me, it was a nice change.  I drank several cups of tea as I worked steadily in my office.  

Usually when we have a rainy day I have a bit of yearning to be home baking.  But my kitchen isn't set up for baking yet, so yesterday I was content to sit in my office with its big windows and watch the gloominess.

I got home with all sorts of plans, but I spent much of the evening on the phone moving funds from my 401K that I had when I was at the Art Institute of Ft. Lauderdale into a plan that I can control.  Until recently, I only felt a bit of urgency, but with the news of the downward spiral of the company that bought the EDMC schools, I decided it was time to take action.

After I did it, I felt the glow of getting a chore done, but I also felt a bit of sadness.  That 401K has done well by me.  I will likely never work for a company with a similar generosity of retirement plan.  Before Goldman-Sachs bought EDMC, I got a 6% match, dollar for dollar--amazing.

I felt sadness too, because it was a good school, back when it was a good school.  Even after the Goldman-Sachs takeover, we continued to do good work.  Students may have been fed inflated dreams about what they could accomplish once they graduated--but they earned a solid education that could propel them to a better future if they took advantage of it.

I had a somewhat drizzly mood, so I called my mom to wish her a happy birthday; that cheered me.  When my spouse got home from chorale practice, we sat on the front porch and watched the rain.  That, too, gave me some joy.

The chilly drizzle reminded me of my February time in Savannah, another time when I felt a bit of wistfulness.  There were signs to show us how to get to Charleston, a location of a different school where once I taught.  I've been in a frame of mind as I'm getting older:  thinking of roads taken and not taken.

A week from today I'll be headed to a different kind of drizzliness as I go to Portland, Oregon for the AWP conference.  I am tempted not to take my coat that takes up so much room but to dress in layers.  The 14 day outlook doesn't call for as much rain as I would expect, with highs in the high 50's and lows in the 40's.  I'm staying half a mile from the convention center, so I'll be walking a lot, and I often don't want a heavier outer layer when I'm walking.

The chance of rain each day is less than 50%.  Would I do better to bring 2 pairs of sneakers instead of a pair of sneakers and a pair of boots?  Hmm.  That way, I could switch them out and they could dry.  My boots would make me feel trendy and cool, but sneakers would probably keep me pain-free.  I'll check the weather again as we get closer.

I have much to do before I leave--lots of accreditation documents to finish/revise/proofread.  Let me begin this day.

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Purple Legal Pads of Poetry Past

In the midst of a flurry of accreditation documents, yesterday my Outlook calendar reminded me that I want to submit to the Concrete Wolf contest for poets over 50.  It's a press that I like, and I can pay a bit more and get a copy of the winning book.

I will need to trim my current manuscript which is 72 pages.  The upper limit for this contest is 60 pages.  It will be a good exercise.

This morning I found myself thinking about putting together a new manuscript, one with a more clear religious theme.  I had an idea about mixing my Jesus in the world poems with some of my monastic themed poems and liturgical year poems to make a larger book.   I've been putting the poems that would work together in a file.

Now may be the time to actually create the manuscript.  By now I mean at some point between now and July.

I do not mean now, as in the month of March, which is over half gone.  I do not mean now, as in the last 6 weeks of this semester of my online classes, which will end in early May.

I am always grabbing time for my creative work in the margins of my other work.  I cannot imagine having vast swaths of uninterrupted time.  I can only barely imagine what it would be like to work for an institution which valued that work above the other types of work I could be hired to do.

In the past, I've written poems on my purple legal pads and left them to sit for awhile so that I could get perspective.  I thought it was important to have space between the original writing and the revision and typing into the computer.  I still think it's important.  But now I let too much time go by.  I should start making more of an effort to make sure the poems with publishing potential aren't lost to my drawer of purple legal pads of poetry past.

Could I look at one legal pad per week to make sure I haven't overlooked/forgotten poems that should be part of the new collection?  Yes, that will be my new writing resolution.

Monday, March 18, 2019

Travel's Lessons

Four weeks ago, I'd have been getting in the car for my drive to Savannah for the accreditation conference.  I had spent the weeks leading up to the trip feeling a bit of anxiety and not being sure exactly why--or knowing why and not having much control over these feelings.

I am always happy to have made the trip once I'm back--well, almost always.  I'm surprised that the thought of traveling makes me so anxious.  What happened to that young woman who used to declare that she'd be just fine as long as she could throw her pillow, her running shoes, and a good book in the car?

That woman is decades older now and understands all that can go wrong.  That woman now worries about the humans and the work left behind.  That woman now longs to be several places at once.

I have these ideas of traveling on the mind in part because I will be traveling next week:  it's AWP time, and I decided that I needed to force myself to go.  I'm moving out of my comfort zone with this trip across the country to Portland, Oregon.  I will be meeting a grad school friend there, so I won't be completely alone.  And I have resources.  But it's not like last year, when the conference was in Tampa.  If something went wrong, I wasn't that far from home.

But things likely won't go wrong.  And if they do, I'll figure out what to do.  These lessons are some of the more important ones that traveling teaches us.

Now for the tasks of this week:  it's the last week of Winter quarter.  I have accreditation documents to finish.  Let me begin all of this with my bread run to Publix.  Students still need bread and treats, no matter where we are in the quarter.

Sunday, March 17, 2019

A Quiet Saint Patrick's Day

I have never done much celebrating of St. Patrick's Day.  I don't drink green beer, and if someone else served me corned beef, I'd eat it, but I don't love it enough to make it for my own homestead.  Occasionally I make Irish soda bread, and I wonder why it isn't tastier.  I've made a cake with Guinness beer occasionally, and here, too, I wonder why it isn't more delicious.  I'm not braving the crowds to go to an Irish pub--I like my pubs deserted.

I may spend some time contemplating Celtic aspects of Christianity, but I might do that any day, whether it's a day that celebrates the life of a famous Irish saint or not.

I am intrigued by the crowds of people who have no connection to Ireland or Christianity or any of the reasons we celebrate today.  But I'm not critical.  I believe in injecting festivity into daily life in whatever way we can.

Today I will go to church, where we will probably not contemplate Saint Patrick or Ireland or Celtic Christianity.  That's fine.  People may wear green.  That's fine too.

Today has already been a good day for me.  I got up feeling a bit depleted, as I've felt most days this week (and for several weeks).  I had completed most of my tasks on my weekly creative task list, but I still needed to write a poem.  I had absolutely no ideas.

I looked back through my blog where I occasionally write down inspirations for later.  I came across this suggestion in a blog post from August 1, 2010:

"--Are you feeling stymied because the thought of coming up with characters/plot/theme are just too overwhelming? Go to the work of others, work where a lot of the heavy lifting has already been done. Write a sequel or a prequel. Choose one of the characters and make that character the focus of a new story. Write about the landscape in the story, landscape inhabited by a new set of characters.

So, here’s an example. Let’s take Cinderella’s house. Tell the story of the previous owners—how did Cinderella’s dad come to have it. Or tell the story of the people who inherit the house several generations later. Is it a training house for women who want to leave their careers as housecleaners? An orphanage? Or tell the story of Cinderella’s wedding gown in later years. Does her daughter wear it and dream of a prince to call her own? Did Cinderella turn it into a quilt?"
I had a flash of insight:  Cinderella has to settle the family home.  And I was off.  I had a great time imagining what happened to Cinderella's stepmother and stepsisters and what has happened to the neighborhood.

To be honest, I wrote before I realized it was Saint Patrick's Day.  There might be lots of poetry inspiration in the life of Saint Patrick too.  For more on this saint's day, see this post on my theology blog.

However you celebrate Saint Patrick's Day, I hope it's wonderful for us all.

Saturday, March 16, 2019

Farewell, Merwin, Farewell Long Work Week

I woke up this morning to the news that W. S. Merwin had died.  Of course he lived a long life producing lots of great poems, so in some ways, it's expected news.  And his death was a good one:  "Merwin died today in his sleep at his home in Hawaii" (from the NPR story).  He was 91.

Merwin seems like one of those poets who has always been there, and when I've come across a Merwin poem, I've liked it and wondered why I didn't read more.  But he's not been one of my touchstone poets.  Those poets, too, are aging into a time where their death won't be unexpected.  I think of them as poets in their 40's, when I first discovered them.  We are all older now.

In reading the NPR piece on Merwin, I learned about his later years:  "In the 1980s, Merwin found a worn-out pineapple plantation there and with his wife, Paula, worked to restore the rainforest. His day would begin early with tea, the birds, the wind and maybe some poetry scrawled on the back of an envelope. The afternoon was given to bringing back the palm trees."

Those palm trees, many of them planted in the 1980's, are still going strong.

It sounds like the perfect day:  poetry, tea, and birds in the morning, caring for palm trees in the afternoon.

My days this week have been quite different:  lots of accreditation writing, lots of solving of problems that didn't need to have become problems if people had followed policy, an evening meeting Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday.  I am still a bit exhausted today.

But let me also remember the good parts of the week:

--doing the accreditation writing that required me to stretch and finding that I was able to stretch.

--writing a poem that surprised me.

--being with church friends several times.

--a good quilt group last Saturday.

--talking to a student about successful test taking strategies (quit changing the answers when you know that you usually choose the correct answer before changing it!) and changing the self talk.

--creating a National Pi Day event that made me happy.

--getting praise for the library displays I've been creating.

--being able to send out some poetry submissions.

--finding a retreat at Mepkin Abbey that calls to my soul.  Best of all, my Mepkin friends are free too--and there were 10 spaces left, so we could all get in.  With the new reservation system, Mepkin spots fill up quickly.

--getting a hotel reservation for Synod Assembly.

--creating some sketches that pleased me.  Having time to sketch, which always pleases me.

Friday, March 15, 2019

The Pace of Modern Life and My Earth Tsunami Anxiety/Reassurance Dream

I awoke to news of shootings in two mosques in New Zealand.  As I have written on the news of another shooting, I have no words.  Or, more accurately, I have words, but it feels so futile.

A shooting at a religious site is more shocking to me than other shootings.  I am sad to report that I've become a bit used to school shootings, although I always force myself to remember that school shootings did not used to be so common.  I went to high school in Knoxville, Tennessee.  The high school parking lot was full of trucks with gun racks, some of them with guns in them--but we didn't shoot each other.  We were much more creative.

But a religious site still makes me pause.  And today, shootings in New Zealand, not a common place for stories of violence of any kind.  I've always given New Zealand all sorts of credit:  first to give women the right to vote and resistance to the nuclear arms race, especially in the 1980's.

And it's not difficult to imagine what was in the shooter's manifesto that he (it's always a he) left.  I'm glad that authorities have decided not to release it.

I am weary.  But I was weary before I turned on the radio.  I was out last night at Program Advisory Committee meetings at the Ft. Lauderdale campus, 12 miles away from my home campus.  It doesn't sound like much, but the trip up was in rush hour traffic, and the trip home was in the dark.  And I helped with the technology snafu, which we solved inventively, but it meant I didn't have a chance to eat dinner.

Before that, I helped solve other problems, along with putting out pie to celebrate National Pi Day.  And our EMS team got an award from the American Lung Association; they were one of the top 10 teams when it came to fundraising with the Fight for Air Climb--every one of our EMS students participated in this event that had them climbing 38 flights of stairs, with some of them in heavy gear.

Last night, I had the most vivid dream.  I was trying to outrun a tsunami of earth, like the surface of the ground was rising up and rolling.  It was upon me, and then over me, and I breathed in the smell of fresh turned earth (so distinctive) while realizing that  I would surely die.  It was dry, crumbly soil, with the roots of grass visible--not muddy.  And then, I was lifted up, and the earth receded.

On the face of it, it's an easy dream to interpret.  But then there are other aspects:  who lifted me up?  I didn't feel hands on me, but there was a force pulling me above the wave of earth just before it receded.  Was it God?  Part of the force of the rolling earth?  My own will to live pushing my legs faster?

Today I'm going to rest in the reassurance of the dream, while also looking for ways to be easier on myself and to find a slower pace.  And I'm going to keep dreaming of a day when I don't turn on the news to hear tales of mass shootings.

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Of Poem Composing and Travel Fretting

This morning I was feeling like a dried out husk, with no ideas for writing, a poet who would never write a poem again.  I thought about approaches that often work:  taking a real or fictional character and writing a poem from a different angle or taking a minor character and giving the character a voice.  Nothing.

I scrolled through my blog posts that get an "inspiration" tag so that I can find them when I need inspiration.  I went back several years and again, nothing.

Then a line drifted across my brain:  I keep this garlic press although it only has one purpose.  I thought of my juicer, which also only has one purpose but takes up more room in the cabinet.  I was off--and I finally wrote a poem.

I thought I might walk this morning, but I ended up needing a more leisurely morning.  I got some writing done, a bill from the contractor paid, some calendar planning with both my spouse and my soul (I need to get to Mepkin Abbey in the near future).

Today is a long day:  lots of accreditation writing/revising/proofing during the day, followed by an evening meeting at a different campus.  I am weary at the thought of it--another reason I wanted a more leisurely morning.

I have also been thinking about the fact that the AWP is less than 2 weeks away.  I am nervous about making my way from the airport to the hotel.  How hard can this be?  Millions of people do this every day.

At least I don't have to worry that I'll be on one of those new Boeing planes that have a disturbing tendency to fall out of the sky.  Yes, statistics people, I know I'm exaggerating.  I'm safer on a plane than I am in a car.  But I do love my car.

I always wanted to be the fearless traveler who went anywhere with just a credit card in her pocket and a lot of gumption. I fear I am becoming the kind of person that those bus tours across Europe are designed for.

But I want to believe that as long as I'm forcing myself to do occasional trips that are outside my comfort zone, that I won't be the kind of little old lady who refuses to leave the house at night.  

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

The Best Education Money Can Buy

I am hearing the reports of wealthy parents who tried to buy entrance to elite colleges for their children.  It's an amazing tale of deceit, which shouldn't surprise me by now.  I'm hearing talk of people who claimed that their children needed extra accommodations, which meant their child could have extra time on a test--in some cases, the person who was assisting the "disabled" student changed the test.  There was even one person who took the test for another person.

That's not as shocking to me.  Decades ago there was a story about a woman who took the bar exam for her husband; she assumed his identity and sat for the exam.  I think that she was discovered because her scores were too good--and her original bar exam scores stood out for being in a top percentile.

So I'm not shocked by this aspect of the story.  I'm shocked by the attempt to get the students in on their athletics records--records that were completely manufactured.  As I drove to a social justice rally last night, I heard about a local real estate developer who bought documents that proved his daughter was a competetive rower, even though she had never rowed anywhere.

I wondered about this daughter--how would she join a rowing team?  How would she perform?  What would happen when it was clear that she couldn't be part of a rowing team?  What father would do that to his daughter?

I realize that parents push their children all sorts of directions and lie in all sorts of ways.  But this boggles my mind.

I don't have children, but I want to believe that I'd let them make their own way, while trying to guide them to making good decisions.  I know that I wouldn't lie about their accomplishments, even if it might get them a spot at an elite school.  I wouldn't lie, and I wouldn't pay for fake documents.

I work at a school that is so low on the totem pole that wealthy parents would never dream of sending their children there.  We're very close to open admissions--nothing elite about us.  We're serving a very different population.

I am surprised that these parents wouldn't buy influence in usual ways:  funding a building or finding connections who could help the children in more traditional ways.  I am surprised that the children needed this help at all.  Were they really that far off the mark when it came to admissions?  And if I'm from a rich family, does it matter if I go to a top tier school or a close to top tier school?

I know lots of folks in academia, albeit none in top tier schools.  We're all feeling a bit tense about dropping enrollments.  Many of us are wondering what happens in 2026, when we start feeling the hole that's coming from a dropping birth rate that began with the crash of 2008 and a lower immigration rate that's already underway.  Could these children of rich parents not find a legitimate way to school.

Apparently, the children didn't know what their parents were attempting to do and neither did the schools.  I suspect we're going to find out a lot in the coming days about the scope of this crime.

It's one of those days when I'm grateful for my regular life.  No one will approach me with bribes to let their child into the classes I supervise.  I'm not Theresa May, who can't get her government to approve her plan to leave the European Union or to come up with an alternate plan.  My week is a bit of slog, with lots of accreditation writing during the day followed by meetings at night, but next week will be better.  Not everyone can say that.

I know how lucky I am.

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Algorithms and the Larger Currents that Control Us

I have been up for hours.  My online course opens at midnight (as Tuesday moves to Wednesday), and I needed to make some decisions about due dates.  And then there's the entering of all of those dates into various places in the course shell.  I'm always a bit amazed at how long it takes.

Happily, there's no end of interesting things to listen to while I'm doing that work that doesn't require much brainpower.  I listened to this interesting episode of 1A about algorithms and how they shape not just our online searches but the larger society.

I'm not usually quite this far behind, but we spent a lot of time this week-end making some home decisions: which microwave? which backsplash? what curtains? what shall we do with the cottage? Well, we didn't make any decisions with the cottage, so much as talk about a lot of options. But it was good to spend some time on design decisions.

I used to scoff at people who use interior designers, but now I kind of understand. Once when we chose a backsplash, we went to Home Depot, looked at the 4-8 choices in our price range, maybe went to Lowe's just to make sure we weren't missing something, and made a decision. Now I am keenly aware that I have more choices by way of the Internet than I have lifetime to consider. It can be paralyzing.

This is the time in the semester where I can feel a bit overwhelmed with my online classes.  As I entered the dates, I thought this is barely manageable.  But I will manage it--says the woman who got up at 2 a.m. to get the dates entered.

I wish I had been up since 2 a.m. working on my poetry or the next great American novel.  Happily, I did get to bed at 8 a.m., so I did get a fair amount of sleep.  And happily, I'm awake and being productive.  I hate to think of the hours that have been sucked away in fruitless Internet searching.

Today will be a long day:  lots of meetings, and not all of them interesting.  For example, HR is coming to talk to us about the I 9 form, which I never thought justified a whole meeting.  And tonight is a BOLD Justice rally--the rally to get ready for the rally where we meet with government officials.  I'm going to tonight's gathering because it's important to some of my church friends.

So, let me close here and start to think about the day ahead.

Monday, March 11, 2019

Hurricane Appeals

Last night, I finally did something I've meant to do for months.  I have been putting off writing an appeal to our windstorm insurance company--such a huge task to look through all the paper I've accumulated as we've done the various tasks. We already got the settlement from the flood insurance company, but we had a substantial amount of other hurricane damage too--$22,000 + as it turns out. I know that, because I sorted paperwork and wrote the appeal letter yesterday. I'm glad I waited until later in the day to do it. It left me somewhat unsettled again--all that damage and the knowledge that hurricane season is right around the corner.

I also got caught up on my grading this week-end--part of that had to happen, because grades are due today.  They are them turned in.

Now I need to turn my attention to figuring out dates for the class that starts on Wednesday.  The work is never ending. 

When I look back on these days and wonder why I wasn't writing and creating more, let me remember that online teaching, even though it is much more convenient than on-ground teaching, takes a chunk of time, and some parts of the term take more time than others.

Let me also remember that hurricane repair takes a lot of time.  I was struck as I sorted the paperwork by how much correspondence has been required.

And let me also remember the despair.  Some people might revel in the fact that they got to make home repairs and changes--all funded by insurance funds.  I am not that person.  I periodically become bogged in despair.  Even when the repairs are over, years later I can hear a song or smell something that takes me back to the repair days, and I weep.

I am glad that I didn't do the appeal letter on Friday night.  I am glad that I was able to be productive in a variety of ways through the week-end.  Now I must get ready for this heavy-duty week that is ahead of me. 

Sunday, March 10, 2019

Time Change Grumpies

I am feeling grumpy and frazzled today.  I got over 8 hours of sleep; I should feel better.  Let me collect some thoughts before church.

--Last night we ushered in Daylight Savings Time.  A time change always discombobulates me, no matter whether we're going ahead or back.

--This morning, I have spent much time comparing microwaves, trying to determine whether or not a convection oven feature would be worth several hundred extra dollars.  I'm about to say no, but I don't want to make a decision while grumpy.

--Yesterday afternoon, I spent much time looking at drape possibilities.  We also ordered the backsplash and the undercounter lights.  It feels good to be making progress.

--Will this be the week we get countertops?

--I had a lovely morning yesterday with my quilt group, which meets much more irregularly than we once did.  There is a soothing quality to stitching.

--I came home and finished How to Stop Time by Matt Haig--a wonderful meditation on aging and love.  How would life change if a human life was many centuries, not many decades?

--I also got grading done and grades turned in for the class that ended before Spring Break.

So, let me feel good about what I've done.  Let me get ready for church.  Let me keep trying to keep calm and grounded and centered.

Saturday, March 9, 2019

Housing Markets

Last night, we had a pair of realtors come to our house.  My spouse had thought that perhaps we could just let them know that we could be tempted to sell, if they had a client who wanted something like our house.  We don't want to sign a contract or actually put the house on the market, but if someone wants .  He also hoped that if nothing else, we could get a sense of what the house might be worth.

Oh, and if that's not enough, we would want a seller who would take it as is and pay cash.

The realtors were very kind.  They told us what we'd need to do to get the house ready to put on the market. 

We won't be putting it on the market anytime soon--too much to do.

One realtor loved the cottage and playfully scolded us for using it only for storage.  We could be making so much money with Air Bnb!  On and on he went.

Sure, sure we could.  Maybe I could give up an hour or two of sleep--because frankly, between my fulltime administrator job and my part-time online teaching, I don't see a lot of time to become an innkeeper.

My spouse, on the other hand, was filled with the idea of all the money we could make.

As I said to my spouse, "You don't like talking on the phone, you don't check your e-mails, you don't like dealing with government authorities, and you don't like most people.  This doesn't seem like a good career move for you."

This morning, as I drove through the early morning light to get some ingredients for a quiche I'm taking to my quilt group, I had new appreciation for my neighborhood.  It's hard to get a sold-comparables list because all of the houses are so different from each other.  We still have some trees, despite the best efforts of hurricanes. 

I don't want to sell my house.  But I do fear that the rising sea wants it too.

Friday, March 8, 2019

A Poem for International Women's Day: "The Hollow Women"

I have spent the first few hours of International Women's Day grading papers for my online class.  My grades are due on Monday, and a new class starts on Wednesday.  I'm not caught up yet, but I'm feeling better about my chances.

On International Women's Day, I realize that I am luckier than many women throughout the world.  I have part-time work that I can do in the wee, small hours of the morning--or any time and place that I can get an Internet connection.  I have a full-time job that pays me a decent salary with decent benefits.  I am safe at both jobs, and my employers deposit my pay without incident.

I have a lovely house in a relatively safe neighborhood.  I have food in my kitchen and a way to keep it safe until I'm ready to cook it.

I have a bit of time here and there to do the activities that feed my soul:  reading and a variety of creative work.  I have time to see friends.  My family members are in good shape.

We are bombarded, day after day, with stories of women who have not been so lucky.  It's good to remember that we still have work to do.

It's also good to remember how far we've come. 

I'm thinking of the multitude of poems that I've written about gender and history and all of those intersections.  Here's a poem that I wrote years ago that says a lot about the life of a certain class of women in modern, capitalistic countries.  It's part of my chapbook, Life in the Holocene Extinction.

The Hollow Women

We are the hollow women,
the ones with carved muscles,
the ones run ragged by calendars
and other apps that promised
us mastery of that cruel slavedriver, time.

We are the hollow women
with faces carved like pumpkins,
shapes that ultimately frighten.

We are the hollow women
who paint our faces the colors
of the desert and march
ourselves to work while dreaming
of mad dashes to freedom.

At night, the ancient ones speak
to us in soft, bodily gurgles
and strange dreams from a different homeland.
We surface from senseless landscapes
to wear our slave clothes
and artificial faces, masks
of every sort. We trudge
to our hollow offices to do our work,
that modern drudgery,
filing papers and shredding documents,
the feminine mystique, the modern housework,
while at home, domestics
from a different culture care
for the children.

Thursday, March 7, 2019

Ash Wednesday Journaling

I am tired, tired, tired today.  It's been a week of phone calls about home repairs, a week of planning a student event at work, a week of strategizing the writing of accreditation documents, a week of covering a class for an adjunct who got a full-time job, a week of 2 evenings at church, a week of feeling ever-more-behind with my online classes.

Let me focus on the joys.  Let me remember the students who were so thrilled that we grilled burgers (both meat and veggie) for them.  Let me remember the people who commented on the positive energy of the event.  Let me also remember Ash Wednesday, before it gets away from me.

I arrived at church last night with the makings of a dinner:  chili that my spouse made on Monday, brie cheese, 3 kinds of bread, and salad.  I was meeting with a journaling group that I'm leading for Lent.  I wasn't sure what to expect.

I was surprised by the turnout, although some of those may have been there as something to do before church.  We didn't have as much time last night as we will for other Wednesdays in Lent.

We ate our meal, while we talked about the logistics of the coming weeks.  We decided that we didn't want a meal to be part of our meeting.  We talked about the best time to meet.  We talked about whether or not we wanted to share (for the most part, we said no).  I asked about whether or not we wanted prompts in between the Wednesdays that we will meet (yes) and the best delivery method (e-mail, not Facebook or blog).  And then I passed out the markers and launched our first session.

I invited people to make marks with the markers and to see how the colors blend.  I also reminded them that the back of the paper might give them interesting insight.

For the actual journaling, I reminded people that they could work in markers or pen or pencil.  I invited them to use words, shapes, and/or colors.  I explained the principle of free writing:  just keep going, and if you have nothing more to say, write that until you have something more to say, until insight bubbles up.

I asked question #1:  What do you hope that the weeks of Lent will bring you?

Four minutes later, I asked question #2, which could be a variation of question #2:  During the season of Lent, what do you hope for when you think about your relationship with God?

And then it was time for our first meeting to come to a close.  I didn't have time to journal with the group, but later, in church, I made this sketch:

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Ruined Stars: An Ash Wednesday Meditation

Today is Ash Wednesday, the day in the Liturgical year that reminds us that we are dust, and all too soon, we'll return to dust. Those of us who go to Ash Wednesday services will have a cross smudged on our foreheads, a cross of ash ideally made from burning the palm branches from the previous year's Palm Sunday. We hear some variation of these words: "Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return."

You can call yourself a creature made out of the ruins of stars (true!), but you're dust all the same.

You say you're unfamiliar with Ash Wednesday? Are you one of the bajillion people who celebrated Mardi Gras yesterday or maybe you went further and had yourself a season of Carnivale? You have participated in the liturgical year without perhaps even realizing it. Those holidays arose as a response to the liturgical season of Lent, which begins with Ash Wednesday. In much earlier church times, Lent was a time of discipline, of giving up, of penitence. Many Christians, if they were wealthy enough to afford the items in the first place, gave up sugar and meat and fat and alcohol. So, as the season of Lent approached, they had to get all those items out of the house--thus, a festive party opportunity!

Yesterday, my campus celebrated Mardi Gras, sort of.  We had beads, but no festive drinks.  We bought charcoal grills the day before, and my boss, the executive director of the campus, spent the afternoon grilling burgers for all.  We had salad and veggie burgers, and two kinds of cake.  They were sheet cakes--carrot and red velvet--that one can buy at Costco type stores.   In other words, they were fairly simple, but some people acted as if they were eating the food of the gods.  It was a hectic day, and it took days out of my work week to plan and shop, but it was satisfying to see people having such a good time.

Some might ask why my focus wasn't more academic; some might wonder if I was avoiding the true work.  I have no idea.  I know that some of our students need the food.  I know that some of our students need to feel more stitched in to the campus.  I know that some of our students see the campus as their only source of stability.  These kinds of events help foster a good morale, and therefore, I have hopes that these kinds of events improve retention.  I have no way of measuring my theory, no measurable outcomes that I can definitively link to campus co-curricular activities.

They also bring me joy.  Let me not underestimate that factor.  The joy keeps me going through the less fun aspects of the job.

And now, the season of penitence.  It also happens to be the season of a lot of writing of accreditation documents.  This pairing makes sense to me.

Behold the words of ancient wisdom:  

"Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return." We walk this planet for such a short time.  This high, holy day reminds us of that fact--viscerally. We are a marked people.

Later in the day, I will lead a journaling class at church before Ash Wednesday service.  Here's my favorite photo of ashes on the forehead, which happens to be my forehead after the 2014 service:

Here's a quote from Henri Nouwen to start your day. It's from A Cry for Mercy: "Our temptation is to be so impressed by our sins and failings and so overwhelmed by our lack of generosity that we get stuck in a paralyzing guilt. It is the guilt that says 'I am too sinful to deserve God's mercy.' It is the guilt that leads to introspection instead of directing our eyes to God. It is the guilt that has become an idol and therefore a form of pride. Lent is the time to break down this idol and to direct our attention to our loving Lord. The question is: 'Are we like Judas, who was so overcome by his sin that he could not believe in God's mercy any longer and hanged himself, or are we like Peter who returned to his Lord with repentance and cried bitterly for his sins?' The season of Lent, during which winter and spring struggle with each other for dominance, helps us in a special way to cry out for God's mercy."