Friday, May 31, 2019

Incubating the Impossible in an Unlikely Place

Today is the Feast of the Visitation, a church festival day which has only recently become important to me. This feast day celebrates the time that Mary goes to visit her cousin Elizabeth. Both women are pregnant in miraculous ways: Mary hasn't had sex, and Elizabeth is beyond her fertile years. Yet both are pregnant. Elizabeth will give birth to John the Baptist, and Mary will give birth to Jesus. For a more theological consideration of this day, see this post on my theology blog or this article by Heidi Neumark in The Christian Century.

In the churches of my younger years, we never celebrated feast days. What a loss. I love this additional calendar that circles through the year, this calendar that reminds us of what ordinary people can do.

I also find these days inspiring in so many ways. Today, let's think about what this day teaches us as we approach our creative processes.

In our age that worships fame and celebrity and insists that if they haven't come early, then what we're doing isn't worth much, this feast day reminds us that there are times when we may need to sit with our projects. It may be good if it takes months, years, or even decades to bring a project to completion. We may need periods of distance to see what we're creating with fresh eyes. It may take time for us to know what we're doing. We may need to wait for the surrounding world to be ready.

In short, when I find myself feeling despair over how long it's taken me to meet my publication goals, I remind myself that time to incubate is not bad.

I also love the idea that these two women have each other. They're both taking similar journeys through very unusual territory, and they can use support.

We live in a culture that doesn't support much in the way of creativity, unless we're harnessing our creative powers to make gobs and gobs of money. It's good to have fellow travelers. On this day, I'm offering up gratitude for all those who have given me encouragement while also working on their own projects. I'm grateful for the ways that their creativity has nourished mine.

This feast day also reminds us of the value of retreat. I love to get away on the writing retreats that I take periodically. I get so much done when I'm away from the demands of regular life. And even during those years when I return with not much done, I often have a blaze of creativity shortly after I return. Those retreats nourish me on multiple levels.

This morning, I'm feeling most inspired by the possibility of the impossible. The world tells us that so much of what we desire is just not possible. Our work will never find favor, our relationships will always disappoint, we will never truly achieve mastery over what hurts us--in short, we live in a culture that tells us we are doomed. We swim in these seas, and it's hard to avoid the pollution.

Along comes this feast day which proclaims that the not only is the impossible possible, but the impossible is already incubating in an unlikely womb. It's much too easy for any of us to say, "Who am I to think that I can do this?" The good news of this feast day is that I don't have to be the perfect one for the task. By saying yes, I have made myself the perfect one.

The world tells us of all the ways that things can go terribly wrong. We need to remember that often we take the first steps, and we get more encouragement than we expected. God or the universe or destiny, however you think of it, meets us more than halfway.

Today is a good day to think of all the times we've been afraid to take those first steps, those projects and dreams to which we've said no. Maybe it's time to go back and say yes. It's not too late. As long as there is breath in our bodies, it is not too late.

So today, on this feast day that celebrates unlikely miracles, let's practice saying yes. For one day, let's quiet the negative voices that shout at us. Today, let us try to remember all of the dreams we might have discarded as improbable, impossible. Nourish all the possibilities. Let's choose one possibility and try it on for size. Let that dream incubate a bit. Let it swell and grow into a full-blown alternative.

Thursday, May 30, 2019

The Sonnet Cycle and the Surrealist Independent Prosecutor

A week that begins with a Monday holiday shouldn't feel this long.  I woke up thinking it was Friday.  So, let me record a few thoughts which might make a longer post later, but probably won't.

--Yesterday's big news was Robert Mueller's press conference (really more of an announcement) to talk about his report and his return to private life.  He said that everything he had to say was in his report, but the language of yesterday led me to believe that he has plenty more to say, but he's not going to say it.

--I have a vision of a person who wrote a sonnet cycle who knows that if he tells you what he really knows he will veer into a surrealistic poem from which he might never make his way back.

--I have seen a copy of the Mueller report, soft-covered.  I know that I will never read it.  My life is too short, and my list of worthy reading too long.  I would like the very short form, in bullet points.  You might see this as an indictment of an attention span shortened by modern life.  You might be right.  But I suspect I would not have read The Pentagon Papers either.

--In other signposts of modern life circa 2019:  last night on my way back from Total Wine, I saw a building under reconstruction.  It had been a place that sold upscale tile, marble, granite and quartz for all your remodeling needs.  Now the building has a sign half the size of its front wall that declares "Cannabis." 

--Florida is not Oregon.  I think that we've passed a law to make it legal to have a few state-sanctioned dispensaries for medically prescribed pot--but the legislature has been tied up in knots about how to make that happen.  As far as I know, there are no permits yet.

--I'm not Googling to get the facts on this law because I'm afraid of what kinds of advertising I'd get after doing that kind of search.

--Once I thought about certain Internet searches because I worried that the government might be keeping track.  Now it's advertisers that I want to avoid.

--I have seen several pot-themed shops being created as I drive through various streets in Broward county.  I am deeply uncomfortable, and I'm intrigued by my discomfort.  I'm already distressed by how many people go through life zombified by their cell phones--and now we'll add pot to the equation?

--Are we self-medicating/self-obliterating because we can't face our lack of resiliance?  I read a great article that argues that our self-help culture gives us false expectations of what self-help culture can do for us.  It concludes this way:  "The science of resilience is clear: The social, political and natural environments in which we live are far more important to our health, fitness, finances and time management than our individual thoughts, feelings or behaviours. When it comes to maintaining well-being and finding success, environments matter. In fact, they may matter just as much, and likely much more, than individual thoughts, feelings or behaviours. A positive attitude may be required to take advantage of opportunities as you find them, but no amount of positive thinking on its own is going to help you survive a natural disaster, a bad workplace or childhood abuse. Change your world first by finding the relationships that nurture you, the opportunities to use your talents and the places where you experience community and governmental support and social justice. Once you have these, your world will help you succeed more than you could ever help yourself."

Let me now go for a walk, a way to feel nurtured before the hectic day begins.

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Listening Across Divides: Tony Horwitz Will Be Missed

We lost another great writer this week.   Yesterday we learned that Tony Horwitz died at the very young age of 60.

I am most fond of his book Confederates in the Attic, but I've always been impressed with his ability to immerse himself in whatever story he's telling.  It's a technique that allows him to dive deep and avoid the errors of shallow thinking.  He's followed many a trail, literal trails, like in his latest book Spying on the South, where he took the same trip as Frederick Law Olmsted, a nineteenth century architect and designer of Central Park.  He went from New York City to Mexico, trying to duplicate the pre-Civil War journey of Olmsted, while reading Olmsted's account.  What a fascinating approach!

Until reading some of the remembrances of his work, I hadn't realized how many of his books have found their way into college History classes.  He gives an essential piece of insight for History students:  "'I think part of what I wanted to do is restore a little bit of the unpredictability to history.  . . . It didn't have to unfold this way, it could well have gone very differently'" (in this NPR piece).

As I've spent some time reading about him this morning, I feel the sorrow that comes when we've lost a rare voice that seems essential for our time.  Instead of resting in stereotypes, Horwitz went out to meet people and record their stories.  He shows us where we might have common ground.  Very few people are interested in doing that these days.

In a recent op-ed, Horwitz says, "Our current national fracture isn’t over slavery and freedom, or so clearly defined by region. But I came away from my travels feeling that there’s still great value in seeking, as Olmsted did, to cross geographic and ideological divides and engage with fellow Americans as individuals rather than as stereotypes."

He goes on to say that he had the occasional insult but far more common was the genuine curiousity:  "In almost every other instance, I’ve been met affably, by drinkers open about their views and curious to know mine, as a visiting writer from “Taxachusetts.” Often I hear opinions I don’t expect, like self-described right-wingers dissenting from Trumpian orthodoxy on health care or a border wall. More often, we disagree across the board, vigorously. In two years of travel on Olmsted’s trail, I doubt I changed anyone’s mind, nor did they sway me from my political stance."

But changing minds doesn't need to be the point.  If we could just listen to each other, for a change, that might be enough.

Tony Horwitz was one of those writers who knew how to listen and how to tell the stories that people gave him in a way that showed respect and love.  We have so few people who know how to do that.  What a shame to lose one of them.

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Holy Hospitality and the Dusk of Indecision

Some of us carry our homes on our backs:

Others need shelves to hold what is most precious:

What shows holy hospitality?  Is it a good reading light?

Or an abundance of mugs?

We wish for a clear path, for all the gates to open:

But some years, a clear path requires a time to dwell in the dusk of indecision:

Even in those times, grace abounds, if we have eyes to see:

Monday, May 27, 2019

Memorial Day Memories and Prayers

Memorial Day looks to be bright and calm down here on one of the southernmost tips of the U.S.  We will have cooler temperatures than many in the Southeast.

I'm thinking of past Memorial Days.  Once we would have spent the week-end in Jacksonville with old college friends. During some of those years, we had to leave on Sunday, because I taught in South Carolina, a state which didn’t have Memorial Day as a state holiday. Memorial Day began as a day to honor the Union dead, so many southern states had an alternate Confederate Memorial Day.  And my school didn't have many of the federal holidays off at all.

But I digress.

That tradition ended when one friend's marriage ended.  In more recent years, we've stayed down here and not done much special--although we often meet up with friends at least once during the week-end.

I do find myself missing the places I've lived that had a longer history, even as I've learned all the troublesome aspects of that history.  As we've traveled from place to place,  

Air Force dad made sure we understood that our freedom came at a real cost, a lesson that too many people seem to have skipped.

Nothing drives home the cost of war more than a visit to the Vietnam Memorial and seeing those 58,000 or so names carved into a black scar of granite.

How might our thinking about war change if we also added the names of all the maimed war veterans? What a cost.

And then there are the civilians. And the family members. So much wreckage on so many sides.

I'm thinking of the 2005 trip to France I took with my mom and dad and our stops at a variety of WWI cemeteries.  That effect, too, is similar to the one that the Vietnam Memorial--those graves, stretching on as far as we could see.

So, on this day which has become for so many of us just an excuse to have a barbecue, let us pause to reflect and remember. If we're safe right now, let us say a prayer of gratitude. Let us remember that we've still got lots of military people serving in dangerous places.

Let us remember how often the world zooms into war. Let us pray to be preserved from those horrors.

Here's a prayer I wrote for Memorial Day:

God of comfort, on this Memorial Day, we remember those souls whom we have lost to war. We pray for those who mourn. We pray for military members who have died and been forgotten. We pray for all those sites where human blood has soaked the soil. God of Peace, on this Memorial Day, please renew in us the determination to be peacemakers. On this Memorial Day,we offer a prayer of hope that military people across the world will find themselves with no warmaking jobs to do. We offer our pleading prayers that you would plant in our leaders the seeds that will sprout into saplings of peace.

Sunday, May 26, 2019

Faithful Writing Practices

Today was my last day of the week to meet my goal of writing 3 poems this week.  I needed to write 2.  I had an idea for one, but not the other.

I went back to what has served me well:  take a story that's established, and take a minor character.  See what happens.  Fairy tales and mythology have often been fruitful.  But again, I had no ideas.

I thought about another avenue that's been fruitful.  Fast forward with a character.  For example, years ago I wrote a poem about Nancy Drew who returns to teaching in her later years.  You can read about it here.

This morning, for some reason, I thought about Goldilocks and the 3 bears.  I thought about the baby bear.  What happens when he grows up?  Does he always feel that what he loves will be stolen from him?  Does he have 3 locks on the door?  Does he feel a gaping hole of need that he can never fill?

I had a delightful time imagining baby bear.  And the poem has potential.

I also want to record another type of success.  I was talking to a friend who's been a colleague for over a decade, at more than one school.  We talked about the middle of the night, where our brains wake us up with worries about all that needs to be done.

She told me about her approach of keeping a pad of paper by the bed.  She wakes up, writes a bit, and drifts right back to sleep.  We talked about the value of hand writing vs. typing.  She said, "Of course.  You taught us that in the faculty development session you had years ago."  I wrote about that session in this blog post.

What a gift to hear that something I planned was not only useful at the time, but continues to be useful.  I plan faculty development sessions in part because we need to have something free and easy to attend, and in part because I am interested.  But I rarely know for sure that they're useful to others in their regular lives.

And now, my regular life dictates that I get ready for church.

Saturday, May 25, 2019

Friday Art Adventures

One of the delightful parts of the online journaling class that I took last fall has been the continuation of the relationships.  I am now Facebook friends with most of the participants, and as with most of my Facebook friends, I'm always interested to see what they're up to.

Earlier this week, one of them posted some art that reminded me of the art that she'd created for the journaling class.  I went back to the closed Facebook page that was created for our class, and I spent some wonderful time scrolling back through our posts.  We did some amazing work.  It's no wonder that I've found myself missing the energy of that time.

Last night I went to a gallery opening.  It was interesting to go to the opening with the work of the journaling class on my brain.  Many of those journal entries could have held their own against the artwork that I saw last night.

I'm not saying that ours was better, and I'm not denigrating the art in the gallery show.  I'm not the person who exclaims loudly about children I know who could fingerpaint better than that piece of art.  But I am the person who is puzzled over some of it.

Most of what I saw last night I could see the skill/talent evidenced in the work.  Some of it, however, just baffled me.  For example, there was a white panel on the floor, a panel that was about the size of half a door.  In neat rows were castaway metal:  a variety of old springs primarily, along with other scraps.

I spent some time wondering what it meant, what the artist was trying to do/say.  The title didn't give me a clue.  The art didn't sing its purpose.  Some assemblages have an inherent interest:  the shapes of the objects, in terms of what goes together and what doesn't, the colors.  This piece didn't speak to me.

It was for sale.  I always question the price of art.  Some of it makes sense to me.  Spending money for the old springs didn't make sense to me.  I don't need talent or an MFA to be able to replicate that.

I did see a piece that interested me in terms of what I might try assembling.  It seemed to be a piece of woven scraps of paper, along with an upside down page or two of a book, with various paints over it all.  The top part of the piece was beige, with only a whisp of the words showing through.  The bottom of the piece had more color covered with paint.

The cost was $700.

The gallery opening was small and crowded, so we didn't stay long.  Still, I'm glad we went.  It was on our way back from dinner, and it was free, so I didn't feel bad that we weren't as inspired.

We did have a lovely dinner.  We ate at the Chimney House in Ft. Lauderdale, near the performing arts center.  We shared a half pitcher of sangria, and we both had the skirt steak.  It was all delicious.  And we ate on the outside deck.  The rest of the southeast is about to have suffocating heat, but down here, it's still comfortable with a great ocean breeze.

I came home and sketched a bit.  It is time to think about doors and thresholds, the theme of the online journaling class, again. 

Friday, May 24, 2019

The Spiritual Life of TV Characters

In the past few weeks, we've occasionally watched reruns of M*A*S*H; we've watched about 8 episodes.  I have been struck by the religious themes in the show that I didn't notice when I first watched those re-runs and originals years ago in the early 80's.

I watch the shows in a haphazard fashion, so it's hard for me to support this theory:  Father Mulcahy becomes a more major character as the show progresses, and therefore, more of the shows have a spiritual undercurrent.  The first few seasons of the show had a much more coarse tone, with much more unlikable characters.  I much prefer the later episodes.

This week, we watched the episode where the unit finds an abandoned baby and has to decide what to do.  They wrestle with several unattractive choices.  Father Mulcahy has a connection with a local monastery, and in the end, that choice seems best for the baby.  I liked the nod to ecumenism, and I know that in other episodes, Father Mulcahy works on a variety of projects with the local religious communities in Korea.

My favorite episode of the last few weeks was the Christmas episode that ends with the whole cast singing "Dona Nobis Pacem"; you can watch it here.  Father Mulcahy talks about singing it every night before sleep--it's a great practice.  I wish I could remember to sing/hum it every time I feel anxious.

I love that the show deals with the doubts that even the most religious people can have.  I love that it doesn't see these doubts as something that needs to be wrapped up in the 22 minute story arc of an episode.  It's a very realistic depiction of life, both the life of faith and the life of doubt.

I also like the depiction of the community that the medical unit has developed.  There's an acceptance of the priest that is part a feature of the forced nature of the community, part a feature of the time period of the Korean war, and partly because of the characters themselves.  Father Mulcahy is likable, after all.  He could have been a very different kind of priest.

I like that the community supports him, even as they aren't going to make lifestyle changes to make him happy.  I like that the priest doesn't reject the members of the community who behave in ways that might offend him.  I like that the priest offers a prayerful presence.

As I watch these shows, I'm struck again and again by how masterful they are:  great storytelling, marvelous character development, wonderful dialogue, skilled acting, and amazing TV.  I remember watching the movie years after I fell in love with the later episodes of the TV show, and I was so disappointed.  The TV show is much better.

As I watch the reruns and then switch to TV being created now, the twenty-first century shows (the ones created for network channels) seem much flatter.  The characters could use more of everything, and one of the things I most crave is more of a depiction of inner life.  I'm not demanding that the shows explore the spiritual lives of characters.  Surely these TV characters must have some yearnings.  I'm struck by how seldom we see characters with a thirst for social justice or a craving for a creative life or a spark of seeing the Divine in some aspect of modern life.


Happily, we're in a time period where all sorts of filmed narrative is available to us.  But often, I want the older material that's stood the test of time.  Happily, M*A*S*H is still widely available.

Thursday, May 23, 2019

Of Bucket Lists and Monasteries

This morning, I was thinking about retreat centers on the west coast of the U.S. and how going there seems a bit more doable, since my trip to Portland.  I thought about what I'd do this summer if I won the lottery and didn't have to work:  I'd go spend time at the Grunewald Guild and while I was in the neighborhood (i.e., the state of Washington), I'd head to Holden Village.

I was thinking about ecotourism and the kind of tourism where people go to do good deeds.  I thought about my kind of tourism, going to retreat centers and cathedrals and places of spiritual intentional living.  I felt a brief moment of sorrow thinking about how I'd love to go to Iona with my mom--but Iona is so isolated that it might not be a good idea.  She has some medical issues with her heart which don't usually affect her ability to live her normal life, but traveling to a place that's far from good medical care might not be wise. 

Is Iona far from good medical care?

I lay in bed, thinking, note to self:  do that international travel before old age makes it impossible.  My work responsibilities make a long trip across oceans/time zones less easy, and when I am older without work responsibilities, old age might interfere.

Or maybe I'll be that feisty old lady who inspires everyone to live their best life.

And then I realized that my bucket list at this point consists mainly of trips to monasteries and retreat centers.  I suspect when I am that feisty old lady, I may make time for the occasional trip to an international city that has an interesting art retrospective or food festival.  But if I never get around to seeing Rome, I may not be sad.

If I don't get to see Iona, I will be sad.

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Poetry Wednesday: "Salty Soup"

While the rest of the nation discusses ever more draconian abortion bills that seem to be zooming through various statehouses, I am still thinking of climate change.  I am concerned about these bills, to be sure, but I suspect that the Supreme Court will not overturn Roe v. Wade.

I think that climate change will shortly command all of our attention, in a way that a cancer diagnosis makes the other daily problems fade.  I'm not sure what I'm expecting first, but the weather report last week of higher daytime temperatures at the Arctic than here in South Florida did grab my attention.

I'm also thinking of some of my friends' Facebook pictures of beautiful beaches and lovely trips in boats.  One day, we'll tell our children about the times when we didn't fear the sea.

I've written about this idea numerous times.  Here's one of my favorite poems that I've written about this idea:

Salty Soup 

Once upon a time, before 
the sea became so enswamped 
with jellyfish, we swam 
in water so clear you could see 
the sandy floor and the salty 
shores beyond the horizon. 

We swam with fish that meant 
us no harm, fish striped 
with jewel-true colors. We swam 
with tanks on our backs 
and an assortment of bulky 
equipment which weighed 
us down on land but helped 
us stay submerged 
in the marine cosmos. 

A strange homecoming, 
even though we couldn’t stay 
without our heavy encapsulations. 
We felt our fluids expand beneath our skin. 
We sank like stones, 
our exhalations bubbling to the surface. 

Once we swam, I tell you, we did. 
We could live by the coast, harvest 
the oceans’ riches, venture 
forth on boats. Once we did not fear 
the sea. Once we swam in such peace 
that we longed to return to the salty 
soup from which we evolved.

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

The Lure of Chapbook Creation

This morning I began my day as I usually do, by scrolling through Facebook.  I saw a call for chapbooks and wondered if I should pull something together. 

I thought about the poems that I hope will become a larger book, the Jesus in the world poems mixed with poems that are inspired by the liturgical calendar and perhaps some feast day poems.  But then I felt irritated--why would I make a chapbook out of them?  They're ready for their book-length debut.  If I make a chapbook that gets published, I'm setting myself up for similar problems that I've had with my current book-length collection--how much material from previously published chapbooks to include?

I won't say too much about that problem here--in the future, you can read the article that I wrote about it, because that article has been accepted for publication in a book called Demystifying the Manuscript.  That acceptance made me very happy.

But back to my chapbook ponderings.  As I was thinking about all the poems I've written, I realized that a different chunk of poems would hold together very nicely.  Since the 2016 election, I've been writing a series of poems with an apocalyptic tone.  I think they'd work well together.

Later today, I'll take a look at those poems and see how many I have.  I want to enter the Two Sylvias Press chapbook contest, so I have until May 31.  It's good to have a focus.

Perhaps I should say that it's good to have a new focus.  I've had a goal to look through my poetry notebooks to make sure that I don't have other poems that need to be included in the Jesus in the world manuscript.  Truthfully, I haven't been doing that.  I'm giving myself a break because I have travel planned in June, and I may find some time to do some writing, revising, and typing then.

Yesterday I was feeling that familiar "squeezed" feeling--and my head was literally feeling squeezed too because my headache returned.  The few people who read this blog daily may have realized that my last blog posts have been shorter; it's a pretty squeezed time when I don't even have time to blog in the deep manner that pleases me.

Part of me thinks, why add one more project?  Won't that make me feel more squeezed?  On the contrary, this morning, I'm feeling inspired.  Much of the work--the creating and the typing--has been done.  It's a chapbook, so it's a 17-24 page focus that I can maintain.  Plus the due date of May 31 gives the project some immediacy.  These days, if a project has a due date a few months out, or an indefinate due date, it's easy to lose the focus as other items come screaming for attention.

I am happy to feel this spark, this "I can do this!" jolt.  I have been feeling dreary, like I've been leading a joy-starved life.  That feeling is cyclical, but I am so ready for it to leave.  At least this morning, my headache has receded.  It's very hard to feel joy when I'm feeling an ache in all of my sinuses and skull.

Monday, May 20, 2019

Loving a Kitchen in Hurricane Country

When people see my kitchen, or when they hear that the kitchen is finally finished, they often say, "Don't you just love it?"  I usually just say, "Yes"--because who has time to hear the whole truth?  The simple version of the whole truth--it's complicated.

Yesterday we had a family gathering:  my spouse's brother and his wife came up from Homestead, and the daughter of their sister came over with her significant other.  We grilled a big fillet of salmon, and I had made a pot of Mexican beans in case anyone was vegan.  I also had made a quiche for breakfast, which I put out.  It was all very tasty--and I haven't even described dessert or the experiments with pina coladas.

As I loaded the dishwasher for the final time last night, I thought about how this new kitchen makes entertaining a larger group easier--the refrigerator makes all the ice we need, while the dishwasher makes the clean up easier.  But do I love the kitchen?

Yes, in some ways, significant ways.  But in other ways, I look at it and remember the frustrations, the delays, the endless discussions over various choices and the searching for the perfect elements that made the renovations seem endless.

And there's also that dread, with hurricane season just around the corner, that we might just have to do it all over again.  But I remember the renovation of 2003, in a different house, that survived the hurricane seasons of 2004 and 2005.

I think of all the friends I've had through the years who have come through a house renovation triggered by hurricane losses, and how many of them have left because they just couldn't face the thought of doing it all over again.  When future scholars explore the issue of migration and immigration, I wonder if that root cause will be evident?

Sunday, May 19, 2019

Fever Dreams

I am not quite back to normal yet, but I'm feeling a bit better.  It's been a strange few days of feeling off--a headache that doesn't respond to meds, sinus pressure resulting in a face that hurts, and lots of sleeping.

Despite my feeling off, we did get a bit done yesterday, mainly in the form of errands.  We also got our automatic pool vacuum cleaner repaired.  I had planned to do more, of course.  I have always planned to do more.

Today I am in charge at church, and then this afternoon, we have a South Florida family gathering:  my spouse's brother, his wife, and his sister's grown daughter.  In short, once again, I don't have much writing time.

But let me record a dream from my fevered sleep last night:  I was walking around a campus and saying, "I didn't realize we had a Lutheran college down here."  It looked like a more modernized version of my undergraduate Lutheran School, Newberry College in Newberry, South Carolina.  People told me about the exciting programs happening there--and then I realized it was a Missouri Synod school, which means it would be a lot more conservative than my Lutheran ELCA tradition.  I woke up as I was puzzling what to do.  In my dream, I was talking to my Admissions-colleague-in-real-life saying, "It's really not as bad as it might be."

Hmm.  This dream could have so many meanings.

But now, I must get ready for church.

Saturday, May 18, 2019

To sleep, perchance . . .

Last night, instead of going to an after-work happy hour, I came home and tucked myself into bed.  Last night, while a dear friend's daughter took part in law school graduation activities, I slept.  While Facebook friends went to concerts, I slept.  I watched no news shows while I slept.  My spouse came home from his Friday evening teaching class, and still I slept.  I often wake up in the wee small hours of the morning, but last night, I slept.  I slept about 12 hours when it was all done.

I had no firm plans to go to any of these events, so it's not like I let anyone down.  But it's strange nonetheless.  I usually function on 6-8 hours of sleep, and last night I got double that.  I had felt off all day--with a headache that aspirin didn't touch.  I still have the headache.  I also have lots of drainage and my sinuses ache.  I have some sinus medication that I'll take later this morning when I'm done running errands .  It's got a message about drowsiness and driving.  I suspect I would be fine, but why take chances.

I had thought about running those errands last night, but I wanted to take it easy.  I thought I'd take a nap and wake up when my spouse came back from teaching, but I didn't.  It's strange to feel rested but still kind of off (headache, slight dizziness, face ache, lots of gunkiness in my throat).

Let me see if I can hook up the printer to this laptop, which will be new to the printer.  Let me print the coupons I need.  Let me run my errands so that I can get started on getting rid of this sinus pain and pressure.

Friday, May 17, 2019

Friday Fears

Another week of adjustments in many ways, which has led to disrupted sleep.  My spouse began his classes this week, and I began the online classes that I teach--that's been an adjustment.  I've been trying to get back to making sure I get 10,000 steps in a day, so two nights this week, I've done a short walk when I've gotten home from work.

I am feeling that frustration with myself for not getting more done, while also feeling overwhelmed at the thought of making any progress.  The remaining projects still seem huge.  I am feeling sorrow at my lack of publishing progress, especially with bigger projects.  I have made the mistake of looking at past blog posts and wondering what happened to the bigger projects I was writing about years ago.

I am feeling distress about the health of my friends.  Two weeks ago, one of my friends went to the hospital with an obstructed bowel, and even though she didn't have to have surgery, her recovery has been slower than expected.  Another friend has decided not to go forward with radiation for her latest brain tumor.

And of course, that leads me to my fears about my own health.  This week I've been trying to return to healthier habits, like making sure to get my 10,000 steps in a day.  While I'm happy about this return, I also feel a bit of sorrow:  why do I always let my good habits slip away?  I know I should rejoice in my ability to come back to good habits after a slip, but why is permanent change not possible for me?

Maybe my expectations are out of whack.  Maybe most people make progress in just this way:  chug towards the change we want to be, slide back, chug some more, experience a serious set back, regroup, chug again, slide some more . . . and on and on we go.

It's also an unsettling time in politics, as it has been for years now.  This has been a week of ghastly news about new state laws around abortion.  I'm more queasy about abortions than I once was, but I am still a firm believer in choice.  I don't think that women have abortions casually.  I've known a lot of women, and I've never met any woman who was using abortion as birth control.

We also heard the news yesterday that 500 immigrants (here illegally?) will be shipped to South Florida each month, Palm Beach and Broward county.  I heard a newscaster talk about how this will strain the social safety net--news flash--we don't have much of a social safety net down here.

I have had more headaches this week than I usually do.  As I write this blog post, I think about all the headache inducing events of the week.

Let me think about the self-care that I want to include this week-end.  Let me write a poem so that I focus on the joy of creation, not the difficulties of publication.  Let me make some healthy food--that's something I can control.  Let me take a walk or two so that I remember we live in a beautiful place.  Let me pray, so that I remember that I am not the Messiah--not the savior of the world or even of my little patch of world.

Thursday, May 16, 2019

Julian of Norwich: A Photo Essay Appreciation

In May, my thoughts turn to Julian of Norwich on her feast day.  I think of Julian of Norwich and her tiny cell:

I think of my own spaces, all of them likely larger than hers.  I think of all the surfaces which have held my writing:

I think of her writing, her mystical, radical views of God:

“Our Savior is our true Mother in whom we are endlessly born and out of whom we shall never come.”

I think of her assurance that all will be well:

I repeat her assurances throughout the day, a monastic prayer to call me back to my better self:

“All shall be well, and all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well.”

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Early Morning Writing

This morning, I am thinking about the writing that gets done in the morning.  I have been up for hours writing in my offline journal.  I now do most of that writing on the computer, but in a Word document.  I wrote over 2000 words this morning--very satisfying.

I had planned to do some of that writing last night, but I got home from work and decided to take a walk instead.  We had been expecting visitors to campus yesterday afternoon--their plans changed, but I spent all afternoon being ready for their imminent arrival.  I did small tasks here and there, but I didn't want to get involved in anything intense, because I wanted to be fresh for the visitors.

I got home with that tired eye and headache feeling that comes from too many hours sitting in a chair and staring at a screen.  I went for my walk, and while I waited for my spouse to come home, I read Madeline Miller's book, Circe--what an amazing book! 

Yesterday morning, I wrote a poem instead of doing my Internet rambling, as I usually do first thing in the morning.  I continue to write Noah-after-the-Flood poems.  I now have 5 of them, and I'm wondering how they might interact with other poems, especially my after-the-hurricane poems.  I'm thinking about other stories and wondering how I might do something similar poetically with those stories.

Even though I shouldn't be, I am surprised by how much more writing I get done if I do it before I do my Internet rambling.

I have also been thinking about other journaling I've done, specifically the kind of journaling I did in November when I was participating in the online class that turned out to inspire more sketching than I anticipated.  I've been thinking about returning to this kind of journaling but with a discerning the future kind of focus.  I've got a few extra sketchbooks, and I think I'll dedicate one to be a discernment journal.  I could also write by hand in that journal.  Hmm.  I had thought I might start that journal, too, last night, but I didn't anticipate my complete frazzlement.

Maybe tonight while my spouse is at choir rehearsal, I'll start that journal.  Or maybe it's not realistic to think I can do this kind of writing at night.  Part of my brain says, "But I could do it back in November!"  Those days are not these days, alas.

But first, spin class.

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Habits to Keep Us Staying Present

A few weeks ago, I read Justin Whitmel Earley's The Common Rule:   Habits of Purpose for an Age of Distraction.  In some ways, it's similar to many articles and books I've been reading, with the main point that we need to do more to be present.  But it comes at the topic from a theological angle, so it's intriguing.

Here's a passage that in many ways sums up the book:  "Calling habits liturgies may seem odd, but we need language to emphasize the non-neutrality of our day-to-day routines.  Our habits often obscure what we're really worshiping, but that doesn't mean we're not worshiping something.  The question is, what are we worshiping?" (p. 9).

Earley prescribes 4 daily habits and 4 weekly habits to help keep us focused on God.  Those of us who have been thinking about these issues won't be surprised at his choices for daily habits:  praying at morning, midday and bedtime (he tells us to get on our knees), eating a meal with others, turning off our phones for an hour, and reading the Bible before we look at our phones in the morning (or when we wake up).  For weekly habits, he prescribes one hour of conversation with a friend, curating media to 4 hours, fasting from something for 24 hours, and sabbath time.

As with many books like this, I didn't learn much that I didn't already know.  But it was good to have a reminder.

I've been noticing something with these books lately:  they all assume that we're carrying our smart phones with us everywhere.  I realize that I'm an oddity in that I don't have a smart phone.  So a book like this one that assumes I'm a slave to my phone isn't as useful as it could be.

Of course, I'm never far from a computer, and those are distracting enough.  But they are easy to ignore when I'm away from my office.

In many ways, Earley's system seems a bit rigid.  But that shouldn't surprise me.  After all, the author tells us where he stands early in the book:  "Actually, by barraging ourselves with so many choices, we get so decision-fatigued that we're unable to choose anything well" (p. 11).  He says, "What if true freedom comes from choosing the right limitations, not avoiding all limitations?" (italics are the author's, p. 11).

At times I feel exhausted by any regime, and I'm reminded of all the times I've failed.  He talks about a moment of honesty when he had failed:  "This was the morning I realized that failure is not the enemy of formation; it is the liturgy of formation.  How we deal with failure says volumes about who we really believe we are.  Who we really believe God is.  When we trip on failure, do we fall into ourselves?  Or do we fall into grace?" (p. 162).

So yes, let us try again--ever and always.

Monday, May 13, 2019

The Feast Day of Julian of Norwich

May 8 is the feast day of Julian of Norwich in the Anglican and the Lutheran church; in the Catholic church, it's May 13.

Ah, Julian of Norwich! What an amazing woman she was. She was a 14th century anchoress, a woman who lived in a small cell attached to a cathedral, in almost complete isolation, spending her time in contemplation. She had a series of visions, which she wrote down, and spent her life elaborating upon. She is likely the first woman to write a book-length work in English.

And what a book it is, what visions she had. She wrote about Christ as a mother--what a bold move! After all, Christ is the only one of the Trinity with a definite gender. She also stressed God is both mother and father. Her visions showed her that God is love and compassion, an important message during the time of the Black Death.

She is probably most famous for this quote, "All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well," which she claimed that God said to her. It certainly sounds like the God that I know too.

Although she was a medival mystic, her work seems fresh and current, even these many centuries later. How many writers can make such a claim?

I find myself thinking of her more and more frequently these days. In my 20’s, I saw her as bizarre and strange. Who would willingly shut herself away in a small cell?

Now I find the idea attractive: a small room in complete stillness with meals slid through a slot in the door, very little in the way of human interaction. My yearning probably speaks to the chaotic nature of life in my own cell.

My office is likely not much bigger than Julian’s cell, but it’s much more chaotic, people coming and going with a wide variety of problems, humans reacting to stress in a variety of agonizing ways. My office is certainly not connected to a cathedral, which would lend a sense of peace, especially these days when cathedrals aren’t community centers, the way they would have been in medieval times.

I also comfort myself by reminding myself that Julian of Norwich would be astonished if she came back today and saw the importance that people like me have accorded her. She likely had no idea that her writings would survive. She was certainly not writing and saying, "I will be one of the earliest female writers in English history. I will depict a feminine face of God. I will create a theology that will still be important centuries after I'm dead."

That's the frustration for people like me: we cannot know which work is going to be most important. That e-mail that seems unimportant today . . . will likely be unimportant hundreds of years from now, but who knows. The poem that seems strange and bizarre and something that must be hidden from one's grandmother may turn out to be the poem that touches the most readers. Being kind to one's coworkers who cluck and fuss and flutter about matters that seem so terribly unimportant is no small accomplishment either.

I think of Julian of Norwich’s most famous quote: “All shall be well, and all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well.” Would Julian of Norwich be pleased that so many of us derive comfort by repeating those words? Or would she shake her head and be annoyed that we have missed what she considered to be the most important ideas?

I remind myself that she would have such a different outlook than I do. She was a medieval woman who served God; she likely would not even view her ideas as her own, but as visitations from the Divine. If I could adopt more of that kind of attitude, it could serve me well on some of my more stressful days at work when divesting situations of my ego could be the most helpful thing that I could do.

And maybe I could do that by adopting more of the habits of the anchoress in my own modern cell. I can’t keep people from coming to my office, but when I don’t have people there, I could pray. Even when I do have people in my office, I could pray.

I don’t have cathedral bells nearby, but I could use the tools of the modern office to remind me to pray. I could use my calendar dings to remind me. I could even insert reminders into my electronic calendars to call me back to prayer and my better self.

Today, I shall try.  And tomorrow too.  And by this trying, I will embody the Julian of Norwich quote about all being well.

Sunday, May 12, 2019

Thinking about Nurturing on Mother's Day

I spent the night dreaming of crumbling buildings and forgetting to feed the dog.  Now I don't have a dog.  The dog in my dream was my childhood dog who has been dead for over 30 years.

Still, these dreams have left me unsettled.  Who am I to write about Mother's Day?  I can't even remember to feed my dead dog.  It's not that the dead dog asks that much of me, after all.

And yet, here we are at Mother's Day.  I feel I should say something, even though I'm not a mom.  Perhaps I should talk about how we all nurture.  And yet, some of us do more nurturing than others.

I've thought of posting a picture of my favorite moms.  Here's one of my mom and sister, who is also a great mom:

I think of all the other moms I know, and how few pictures I have in my files of moms with their daughters.  I'm thinking of the Create in Me retreat and how many of us bring our moms--to me that's a sign of a successful retreat.

I should have written a blog post earlier this month recommending that we buy our moms the gift of a retreat, instead of flowers or brunch.  Ah well--next year.

Of course, what most moms need is not this kind of gift.  Most moms of younger children need better policies so that families can have better work-life balance, so that moms don't have to make such wrenching choices.

Perhaps I should issue a call for us to support more moms, through policy and legislation.  On the federal level, right now we should save our efforts.  Hopefully the day will come when we have politicians who want to make those kinds of positive changes, but right now, I don't see it.

I think of my political science teachers who would tell us that we'll be more effective working on the local level anyway.  So let's think of our individual lives--how can we make it easier for people to do the nurturing that needs to be done?

Regardless of our gender, I'd urge us all to nurture all of creation. We live in a broken world, a world in desperate need of  care. Some of us are good at caring for children. Some of us are better at caring for animals. Others of us are mourning the larger picture, as we see our planet in perils of every sort.  The world is not short of opportunities to nurture.

So on this mother's day, as we think of all the people who have nurtured us, let us resolve to return that gift, in whatever way best fits our skills, talents, and gifts.

Saturday, May 11, 2019

Our Current Time and Other Apocalypses

We have kept this week-end free of most engagements, and I'm surprised by how unnatural that is.  It's hard for me to strike a balance--I need a goodly chunk of time at home, but I also need some time socializing with friends. 

My spouse and I both begin teaching summer classes this week.  I need to do all the adjustments to the course shells for my online classes by tomorrow at 11:59 p.m.  My goal is to get that done today.  It's mainly a matter of deciding on dates and then entering those date into multiple places, but that takes more time than you might think.

Yesterday I took some time to go eat lunch with a friend.  She was once one of my English major students, and for a Creative Writing class with a different teacher, she asked me to participate.  It was a Creative Nonfiction class, and she had to do an interview, but in a place that held relevance.  So she interviewed me in a British tea room.  What a treat!  And from there, our friendship grew.

As she said yesterday, "Our friendship is old enough to be going to college."

Our talk lately has often turned to apocalypse.  These are strange days we live in.  We talked about The Handmaid's Tale and Fahrenheit 451 and the recent draconian abortion law just passed in Georgia.  She told me about this intriguing Instagram project that created Instagram posts through the voice of a real-life 13 year old victim of the Holocaust. 

Later, I wrote this Facebook post:

"When apocalyptic ladies lunch: we debate about where we are societally by using a rubric adapted from our unique mix of "The Handmaid's Tale" and assorted Ray Bradbury texts. I will be sent to clean the toxic waste areas, but at least as a post-menopausal woman, I won't be part of some deranged fertility ritual with a captain and his wife.

We part with my pledge of a hurricane wrecked cottage as a hiding place should we be further along in the apocalyptic scenarios than we think.

Of course, I will be at the aforementioned toxic waste area. I bet it will have lots of cool remnants of civilization from which we can make art."

This morning, my thoughts are slightly less apocalyptic.  I've been working on my Noah poems--it's clear to me that I'm writing some sort of series.

I wrote about Noah calling the FEMA hotline after the flood.  I thought I would write a single poem about Noah and FEMA, but it's clear to me that the applying for the loan to clean up is a different poem than Noah calling the FEMA hotline and getting a recording.  And just now, I thought about Noah feeling sorrow for everything he didn't get onto the arc, everything that couldn't be saved.  I thought about the jars of canned preserves and the photos that he thought he had safe on a hard drive, until the hard drive crashed.

Yes, I realize that the "real" Noah (he who built the arc before the great flood) didn't have a computer or FEMA, but that's what makes it intriguing, I hope.

Friday, May 10, 2019

Friday Fragments: Nuggets of Joy in a Tough Week

This has been a difficult week:  a plumbing fix that required a plumber (but it could have been more disastrous), my spouse's hard drive crash, a friend in the hospital, the official news that my spouse didn't get his dream job or even an invitation to interview, along with generalized and specific work unpleasantness.  But let me think about some of the moments of beauty and joy:

--Out of the blue, my spouse said something along the lines of, "We should talk about getting you to seminary."  Or did he ask if this was the time?  Regardless, it cheered me the whole day, this idea that we might actually prioritize my dreams/needs/hopes--or even discuss them. I feel like the needs of the house have been usurping everything else.

--My friend in the hospital was able to avoid surgery for her intestinal blockage, and she got to go home sooner rather than later.

--One of my former students just successfully defended her dissertation.  She was in my 19th century British literature classes at FAU--I loved teaching those classes which were classes for English majors.

--My spouse and I had a fun, spontaneous going out to dinner experience.

--I virtually attended the first meeting of a spiritual/contemplative journaling group sponsored by Mepkin Abbey.  It looks promising.

--I had several get togethers with friends; it's good to remember that I have friends.

--In the middle of the most unpleasant work day this week, I went over to the library at the South campus of Broward College.  What a beautiful library!  There are times when the wealth of books overwhelms me, and I wonder why I bother to write at all.  Wednesday I had a different feeling:  how lucky I am to have all these resources available to me!  I checked out an armload of books and returned to work feeling much calmer.

--We have had gentle rains rumble through each day--that means that my petunias are much happier.

--I have been sleeping a bit better this week.  I could always use a bit more sleep, but at least I'm not as sleep deprived as last week.

--My article for Gather magazine was published in the June edition--hurrah!

I have been surprised at how hard it was to compile this list--which might be indicative of how important it was to write it out.

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

The Neighborhood Colombian Restaurant at the End of a Long Day

Yesterday was another difficult day at work, with heated discussions about how many students we needed registered for midquarter start classes and stern reminders about the I9 form.  At the end of the day, I came home completely fried and frazzled.

I said to my spouse, "It's been the kind of day when I want to go to a Mexican restaurant and eat 3 platters of food and drink margaritas."

My spouse said, "I'll put on my shoes."

We didn't go to a Mexican restaurant.  Instead, we went to a Colombian restaurant. We'd been driving by it for over a year, watching as it got transformed from a laundromat to a restaurant. We wanted to eat there before it closes, as often happens with restaurants here.

It seems family run, by people who don't speak much English. There was enough English on the menu that we could have a sense of what we were ordering. It was a fun treat, and good food.

Going out on the spur of the moment snapped me out of my bad mood.

I still have questions about how one looks at a laundromat and says, "I can transform that into a restaurant!"  And while it's on a busy street, are there going to be that many people to eat there?  It's open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., which made me wonder about the intended diners--or is that just when the owner wants to be at work?

I am happy that I was able to have a decent evening, even after a frazzling day at work.  I am happy that we supported a neighborhood restaurant and tried new things. 

I am happy that I spend this morning updating my website and complete publication lists (how have I let it go this long?).  I am happy for an inspiration for a poem:  Noah calls FEMA after the flood.

I don't have time to write that poem this morning.  Off to spin class!

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

Poetry Tuesday: "Life in the Holocene Extinction"

Yesterday, the U.N. released a report that tells us what many of us already knew:  we're killing species on this planet at an alarming rate.  In many ways, the U.N. report isn't a new report at all, but a work that connects the implications of all of these findings that have been released over the last 10+ years.  This NPR story does a good job of summarizing.

Much of my creative work has also thought about the implications of what it means to be alive during this time of transformation of the natural world.   Here's one of my favorites, which is the title poem of my 3rd chapbook:

Life in the Holocene Extinction
I complete the day’s tasks
of e-mails and reports and other paperwork.
I think about which species
have gone extinct
in the amount of time it takes
to troll the Internet.
I squash a mosquito.

He drives to the grocery store
to pick up the few items he needs
for dinner: shark from a distant
sea, wine redolent of minerals from a foreign
soil. He avoids the berries
from a tropical country with lax
control of chemicals.

As she packs up her office,
she thinks about habitat loss,
those orphaned animals stranded
in a world of heat and pavement.
She wishes she had saved
more money while she had a job.
She knows she will lose the house.
She wonders what possessions
will fit into her car.

This poem first appeared at the wonderful online journal, Escape Into Life.  I encourage you to go here to see the wonderful image of a fiber collage that's paired with the poem.

I am already missing the planet we used to have.  And yet, I understand that the planet has never been in a state of stasis.  I realize that we can count on nothing but change.

I wonder how our societal institutions will change in a time of climate chaos.  There are the obvious examples of providing help.  Institutions will also be needed to provide other kinds of comfort--and courage, along with the comfort.  Our deepest ideas and ideals will be tested.

As institutions, are there ways we can prepare for those challenges now?  Are we ready as individual humans?

And how can we be doing more now to prepare for the chaos that waits in the wings?

Monday, May 6, 2019

The Week Between

Every so often, I get a reminder of mortality, a reminder that time may be even shorter than I thought.  And what do I do?  Write the great masterpiece that I've put off until now?  Plan a great trip?  Do something that scares me?  Sort through a box of paperwork?

No.  I brew an extra pot of coffee in the morning. 

I used to drink the leftover coffee from the day before.  Then my best friend from high school was diagnosed with the esophageal cancer that would kill her, and I started throwing out the old, bitter coffee.

For the past few months, I've been running another small pot of water across the old coffee grounds when the first pot of coffee ran out.  This morning, I thought, you know, that coffee doesn't really taste good.  Life is short--I'm making fresh coffee.

In a similar vein, today is the beginning of the week between my online classes.  I turned in grades yesterday, after a grading session that was easier than I expected.  Let me not waste this precious week.

Of course, I will still be working my full-time job, which seems to increasingly take more time, both the time spent in the office, and the time that the work takes in my head.  And I need to figure out due dates for the next round of classes and do all the manual labor of entering the dates into the various spots in the course shells.

Still, let me resolve to get some writing done.  Let me also resolve to submit my essay manuscript to Eerdmans. I think I am closer to being able to do that than I realize.

I am beginning my Great Re-Organization Project.  Actually, it's already underway.  My plan:  each day, I will do something that will keep my house on the path towards re-organization.  It may be small, like yesterday; I took 2 shoeboxes to church, where they will be used to mail cookies to college students.  Today I will take a plastic magazine holder (which will hold about a year's worth of monthly magazines in an upright form) to the library at school.

I also want to continue with some discernment processes.  Let me record this moment from the Create in Me retreat before we get further away, and it slides from my memory.  The first night, Pastor Mary introduced the planning team.  I was last, the social media coordinator.  I stood up, and a section of the retreat population clapped.  They hadn't clapped for anyone else.

So, in this time of discernment, let me ponder:  I am good at some types of social media, like creating Facebook posts and e-mails that inspire people.  But here, as in many aspects of my life, I believe that if I'm enjoying it and/or it comes naturally/effortlessly to me, it doesn't count somehow.  Or I think that I must be doing it wrong.

I focus on all the social media stuff that I'm not doing for the Create in Me retreat.  I don't have a smart phone, so I can't make Instagram posts.  I know that all the cool kids left Facebook long ago, and I feel somewhat guilty about not being able to follow them to Instagram.

But before the week gets underway, there's the bread run to be done.  Last week, we got almost all bread and no baked goods.  It was very strange.

Sunday, May 5, 2019

Week of Losses

This has been a week of loss.  On Monday, I heard about the death of John Singleton, director of Boyz in the Hood and other important films.  I was struck by how young the director was--50, just a few years younger than my age of 53.  The death of someone in my age neighborhood always spooks me a bit, but especially when they've done important work and could have done more important work, if given the time.

It spooks me even more when a younger person dies.  The news of the death of Rachel Held Evans hit me hard yesterday.

She had been in medical trouble for a few weeks, but because she was 37, I thought she'd pull through.  She had flu, got antibiotics, and her brain started having seizures.  She was put into a medically induced coma, and on Friday, her condition worsened.  She died yesterday.

I first became aware of her through her blog, and her blog was always my favorite of her writing.  I read Searching for Sunday, underlined a few spots, but ended up passing the book along, as I knew I wouldn't reread it.  I've been trying to remember if I read her book about Biblical womanhood--I feel like I might have.

But I'm sad about the work she won't be able to do now.  I know that her work gave many people hope in the face of doubt, and I thought it would be interesting to see how she weathered the storms that come with mid-life and old age.  She had already shown refreshing honesty in the face of serious questions and opposition.

I'm also stunned that she was in the hospital, but died anyway.  I tend to see the hospital as a place to avoid at all costs, so I'm surprised at my surprise.  I'm also fretful because a friend of mine is in the hospital with some sort of intestinal blockage.  I'm spooked here too.

It's been the kind of week with all sorts of reminders of our mortality, along with other losses.  I've had lots of weeks of stress at work, and my spouse found out this week that he will not even be interviewed for the Philosophy position that was open at his favorite campus. 

In many ways, so many of our dreams and fervent hopes have come true, like this house.  But this week reminded me, again and again, that time is short, and it could come crashing to a halt all too soon.

We ended the day by listening to the Chanticleer CD How Sweet the Sound: Spirituals & Traditional Gospel Music; I am listening to my spouse sing along on "Amazing Grace," his beautiful voice merging with the awe-inspiring voices on the CD. It was appropriate for a day when we lost Rachel Held Evans, an amazing voice gone too soon, and a week of other losses.

Saturday, May 4, 2019

Saturday Snippets: Limitations and Flood Waters

It's been the kind of week where I wonder what my limitations are trying to tell me.  Of course, it's also been the kind of week where I know that I'm tired from my time away at the retreat, plus I'm not sleeping well.  So let me record some moments of delight from the week, in an attempt to gain some perspective.

--A few weeks ago, I planned an Earth Day event which offered students the opportunity to plant a seed in a small cup.  I wasn't sure that anyone would do it, but a few students did.  This week, I heard from some students who wanted to know at what point they need to put them in bigger pots.  Hurrah!

--We had a training session which I didn't lead, but I was the support person:  I figured out where it would be held, sent out the e-mails, ordered the food, got the food, brought the food to the room, and so on.  Several people thanked me for the support work, and one person talked about what a good leader I am.  It's been one of those kind of weeks where it was good to hear that someone thinks I'm a good leader.

--I've already written about how thrilled I am to have a poem accepted for the Women Artists Datebook.  They sent several forms for me to fill out, and one of them asked which pronoun I use.  It's the first form that asks that.  I spent a few moments thinking about how far we've come, in addition to wondering what pronoun I prefer.  I'll probably go with the traditional "she, hers."  It's been a week of news coverage of the female track star who has too much testosterone (produced naturally by her body) and won't be allowed to compete unless she participates in drug doping to reduce the hormone.  That kind of coverage reignites the question of what it means to be female and male, and it was interesting to get that form in this week.

--Should I go with "they, theirs" to show support for transgender people?  My English major self doesn't like the singular/plural disagreement.  My linguist self like the idea of making language ever more gender neutral.

--We have had some lovely evenings of watching rain on the porch while eating dinner together.  The last night that I had truly deep and effortless sleep was 2 weeks ago when my sister and nephew were here, when the thunderstorms rolled in at the end of a satisfying day, and they weren't as severe as forecast.

--I wrote 2 poems this morning--one was about the dripping onto a window sill last night.  Then I had an inspiration for another one about Noah after the flood--this might become a series.  Today's poem has Noah wondering why he's not more happy about the restored and renovated kitchen after the flood waters have receded and the repair work is complete.

--Like Noah, I have been wondering why I'm not happy now that the remodel is done.  In part, it's because there's still so much left to do.  But it's also akin to my dissertation process.  It took forever, and in the end, there's no exhilaration, just exhaustion.

--Today a few friends come for the remnants of our quilt group.  It will be good to have them remind me of how far we've come in terms of the house.

--I plan to try to do one thing each day towards house restoration.  It can be a small thing, of course.  At some point, I'll be able to face some of the big things, like the cottage full of boxes awaiting a decision, the various elements of cottage restoration, but on days that I can't face that, I'll do something small, like put things away.

And now I need to go get ready for the day.

Friday, May 3, 2019

Creating a Life: Non-Traditional Trajectories

One of the advantages of this year's Create in Me retreat was meeting so many people who are carving out interesting lives in non-traditional ways.  Let me record some of their choices before I forget and some of the implications for my own life:

--I met a woman who has converted to Judaism.  She's still in college, so she can't keep as kosher a kitchen as she'd like, but she takes care not to mix meat and dairy in her meals.  She's yearning to have her own kitchen.  She's moving into a place off campus, but she'll be sharing it with 3 males, so she's still not sure she'll have as kosher a kitchen as she wants.  But she'll have separate sets of dishes, and she'll be strict about food storage.

She reminded me of my own young self, so yearning for my own kitchen so I could bake bread more regularly.  I need to get back to baking bread more regularly.  And now that my kitchen is functional, I have a chance of doing that.

--My mom and dad told me about a couple that they met who had divested themselves of most possessions.  They can fit everything they own in 4 suitcases, and they're traveling in their car, staying at interesting places.

Let me remember that one might be able to travel to see the country without an RV.  In fact, it might be cheaper.  I love the idea of bringing my home with me (by way of an RV), but a fuel efficient car might make more sense.

--One of my retreat friends regrets not getting the variation of the M.Div. degree that would get her more money.  Her seminary, Luther, is offering the Jubilee scholarship which means that no student will have to pay tuition--so she's going back.

Because of this encounter, I learned about the Jubilee scholarship.  Could I do these classes from a distance?  The only ones that spook me are the ancient languages.  Could I go to seminary while holding down my full-time job?  I am so unsure.

--One of my retreat friends has been running a program with horses for special needs children.  Lutheranch, a sister camp of Lutheridge, has had plans for an equine program, but no job posting.  My friend wrote to the camp with her vision and her qualifications, saying, "I know you don't have a position right now, but please keep me in mind."  At first, the response came back as "Maybe in Fall."  And then, a few weeks later, "Can you have something in place by summer?"  She turned in her notice, packed her things, and now she has a new job.

Let me remember that just because there is no job posting, that doesn't mean there's no job.  Let me start thinking about my own letters to send out.

--One of my retreat friends is expecting the bottom to fall out of the economy.  Her financial adviser has said that she should sell her house because she's going to lose it anyway, even if she's paying the mortgage.  She says she always thought she'd be a woman living in campgrounds, with her car and a tent.  She didn't expect to have a house, and she thought she was settled, but if it turns out not to be the case, she'll be O.K.

I admired her can do spirit, and I was reminded that her spirit is similar to mine.  I've always been able to make lemons out of lemonaid.  Well--what an interesting slip.  Of course I meant to say lemonaid out of lemons.  Hmmm.

My mis-typing leads me to an interesting point--I do sometimes fall into this pit of deep despair.  But I often pull myself up out of that pit, and perhaps more quickly than others would.  I have a toolbox that many don't have, and its foundation is this:  the knowledge that there are many ways to live a satisfying life, ways that the larger culture doesn't always support or even acknowledge.  I've always had an ability to keep trying to discern my own path.

Hopefully I can still continue.

Thursday, May 2, 2019

Rainy Day Yearnings

It's the kind of rainy morning that makes me want to stay home and bake and write and stitch and think about larger projects. But this time, I won't. The registrar at my campus is out today (so I will be more needed), as is the campus Executive Director, plus I need to do observe a faculty member teach in the late afternoon. For the last 2 weeks, I've taken Thursday and Friday off, so this week I won't. I am going in a smidge later because I stayed late last night to do a different observation.

It's the kind of rainy day that makes me want to make pumpkin butter. At the retreat, I got a recipe that doesn't require processing a fresh pumpkin. And I bought lots of cans on clearance a year or so ago. But I probably won't do that either.

Thinking about pumpkin butter makes me think about my experience making mint jelly a few weeks ago--or mint jell-o really, since I used a packet of gelatin, not pectin to thicken it. But it was strangely refreshing on its own, and very tasty with lamb. I loved the feeling of improvising and homesteading.

This morning, I've made the beginnings of a seafood chowder--perfect for a rainy day. I'll complete it later today--something to look forward to.

I've had a chance to look at the catalog of Luther Seminary, the school that's offering students a way to have a seminary education without incurring debt.  Part-time students can take 8 years to finish the degree I'm interested in. It does require going to campus for 2 week intensive sessions (2 weeks in January in Minnesota--brr and 2 weeks in June--would I have to do both in a given year? Could I just go every year in June?). I love most of the classes I would take, but the degree requires a course in New Testament Greek and Ancient Hebrew--those requirements scare me a little, although I've always been good with languages (but always languages that come from Latin--I've never tried others).

And I say "go to seminary," but I'd be doing much of it online--it's very attractive to think about doing it from a distance, which is not how I felt 10 years ago. Interesting how I've changed. And interesting to see how many of the seminaries and schools that once interested me are still not doing an online variation.

Here is one of the best compliments I got this week. When I wrote to my sister about this seminary possibility, she said that she'd come to church if I was the pastor. I'm not sure I want to be a pastor that way, but it's a big compliment.

I know what you might be thinking: if you don't want to be a pastor, what's the point of seminary? That's another question I should think about. I think of working in a retreat center. Being ordained might make me more attractive to a retreat center, although it might not. Or I might want to be a different kind of pastor, one who is working as part of a church staff, and my role would be to create meaningful creative experiences that point people to the Divine.

Now it's off to my other job, which intersects with my dreams of seminary in ways that one might not expect.  I have had my own teaching observation on the brain--that day in 2002 when my new boss at the Art Institute came to watch me teach.  Afterward, she praised me in glowing terms and said how lucky the school was to have me.

I said, "I'm yours until I run away to seminary."  She smiled.  I was surprised--at that point, I had no plans, inclinations, or yearnings to go to seminary--or so I thought.

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Happy Writing News

Let me record two writing milestones before they get lost in the morass of work memories.

A few months ago, I got an e-mail from one of the editors of The Christian Century asking me if I wanted an assignment to write for their lectionary series.  Of course I did! 

This morning, I sent that writing in to the editor.  I took a minute to think back to my younger self sitting at a different kitchen table, reading the magazine for the first time, wanting to be included.  I think I ordered it because they had published a piece by Kathleen Norris, whom I had just discovered and loved with the passion perhaps peculiar to writers:  I wanted to write as skillfully as she did, and I wanted to be published where she appeared.

I spent the next year sending the magazine articles and poems, only to be rejected.  That must have been before 2003, because I'm remembering a kitchen table that we had before that kitchen remodel that happened in 2003.

We are often told how long it may take, this road to publication, while at the same time, we're presented the tales of talented 20 year olds who seem to emerge fully formed.

Yesterday, I got a piece of happy news.  I think I got my first Women Artists Datebook from Syracuse Cultural Workers back in 1985. And now, decades later, they've accepted one of my poems for use in the 2020 datebook! I did a little happy dance in my desk chair at work--what wonderful news!

I haven't submitted to them regularly; I've often thought of that deadline once it's come and gone.  But I have submitted several times--enough to know that submission doesn't mean acceptance.

I like to think of that poem in the datebook, of all the people it might reach.  Let me hold onto that happy vision as I get the work of the day done.