Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Canoing Mountains and Other Places that Are Difficult to Navigate

I have spent many years reading about ways to grow the Church--I think of it as a genre of books.  For years, I was part of the leadership of a different Lutheran church, and we spent lots of time talking about how to get bigger, how to find members, what to do.

Then as now, I often turn to books when I'm looking for answers.  And there were plenty of books written on the subject.  The huge one of the time was Rick Warren's The Purpose Driven Life, which was a best seller--but he also wrote a book called The Purpose Driven Church.  I read both, and we did all sorts of exercises, which were enlightening, but in the end, the church membership stayed the same.

At some point in the past few years, I declared a moratorium on improving the church books.  But I'd heard such good things about the book I just finished that I decided to make an exception.  Plus, I loved the title:  Canoeing the Mountains: Christian Leadership in Uncharted Territory.

Tod Bolsinger has written a great book, but I have the same complaint as I usually have about these books.  I've read it, but I still have no idea what to do.  I have insight about what may help and what may impede, but no clear strategies.

It's got some interesting insights about life in general.  He's got great suggestions about how to get clear on conviction by asking these questions:  What are we passionate about?  What do we have the potential to do better than anyone else?  What will pay the bills?  (pp. 129-130).

The book has lots of good advice when it comes to leadership.  It talks about the good leader as having the ability to be a click or too calmer than everyone else, which allows people to dial back their own anxiety; as Bolsinger reminds us again and again:  "For leaders, this is the point to remember about anxiety:  People who are overly or chronically anxious don't make good decisions" (emphasis Bolsinger's p. 145).

Here's a quote (originally from Ronal Heifetz) that I triple underlined:  "Leadership is disappointing your own people at a rate they can absorb" (p. 172).  The book reminds us "Part of the dynamic at play here is that not only does everybody have a constituency but everybody also wants to be a hero to their constituency" (emphasis is Bolinger's, p. 158).

But what I loved most about the book is its rootedness in the Lewis and Clark expedition.  The title comes from the expedition's original purpose, to find a water route across the continent.  That results in this kind of language:  "Be Meriwether Lewis and find your William Clark" (p. 167) and  "Last, make it a conviction to stay calm and connected so you can stay on course.  Endure.  Stick with it.  Be dogged and determined.  If you stumble onto the Great Falls of Montana, find a way to go around them, even if it takes you thirty times longer than expected.  If you find yourself facing the Rocky Mountains instead of a river running downstream, ditch the canoes and find horses.  And if someone starts to sabotage what you have already been doing, consider it confirmation that you are exactly in the right path" (p. 178).

I'm guessing that the church growth parts of the book will turn off the majority of readers who don't care about such things--heck, I almost couldn't make my way through parts of this book, because of the rah!rah!grow your church against all odds! tone.  But the other parts of the book were worth reading.  I'm glad I navigated my way through it.

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

The Shadows and the Signs

Maybe we will have a warning message:

Maybe we only sense something waiting in the shadows:

We see the blur but not the bird:

We try to make sense of subtle cues:

We wish we had a clear sign:

But we can take comfort from the glimmers that are there when we look:

Monday, July 29, 2019

Lessons from Saint Martha

Today is the feast day of Saint Martha, one of the few named women of the Gospels.  You may remember her from the story in Luke, where she hustles and bustles with household chores and grows ever more exasperated with her sister Mary, who isn't helping.

For a theological approach, see this post.  I've written about her frequently through the years.  Today, I want to think about Martha and her lessons for those of us who are trying to carve out a life with more meaning.

At first glance, it's counterintuitive.  Martha is not living a particularly creative life or a life with depth.  How can she?  She's much too busy trying to manage and micromanage.  And therein lies the lesson.

Martha scurries around so much that she can't be present for Jesus. How often are our current lives similar? We often get so consumed by the chores of our daily life that we neglect to make time for what's really important.

Keep in mind that even though the story revolves around women, men are not exempt from this paradigm. All humans must wrestle with the question of how to balance the chores that are necessary to sustain life with the other kinds of nourishment that we need so desperately. Unfortunately, often the chores win.

I can hear some of us shrieking by now: "Yes, but those chores must be done!" Really? Are you sure? What would happen if you didn't vacuum this week? What would happen if you wore your clothes an extra time or two before laundering them? What would happen if you surrendered to the dust?

Jesus tells Martha that she worries about many things, and the implication is that all of the issues that cause her anxiety aren’t really important. It's a story many of us, with our increasingly hectic lives, need to hear again--maybe every day.

We need to be reminded to stay alert. Busyness is the drug that many of us use to dull our senses. For some of us, charging through our to-do lists is a way of quelling the anxiety. But in our busyness, we forget what's really important. We forget to take time to work on the creative aspects of our lives that matter most to us.

Give up one chore this week and use that time to return to an activity that matters.

There's one other story about Martha that gives valuable instruction for those of us struggling to find our creative lives.  We also see Martha at the story of Lazarus, her brother, who has been dead in the grave for several days when Jesus comes.  She is convinced that her brother would still be alive if Jesus had gotten there in time.  And she's worried about the smell when Jesus orders the grave opened.  Here she is, about to witness a miracle, and she's worried about the social niceties.  She wants a miracle, but she wants it on her terms.

I see the same thing in many a creative life.  I've had chapbooks chosen for publication, but I yearn for a book with a spine.  When I get the book with a spine, I expect to yearn for something else yet again.  We live in a time where distribution of words is miraculously easy--and yet I often wish that someone else would do the hard work.

I've seen friends who finally get the book deal, and then they complain over items that seem minor to me, issues of copyediting which baffle me as I watch the battles from the sidelines.  I see so many instances of creative types trying to micromanage the miracles coming their way.

I see similar dynamics in many a person's struggle to discern what's important and what's not--and in larger institutions too.  We see churches that wish for more attendance, while neglecting to rejoice in the relationships that a smaller church encourages.  I see people with an idealized view of family life who cannot relax into the family that actually exists around them.  I know many a person who doesn't appreciate a job until it's gone.

 I have hopes that our lives will follow the model of Martha.  Even though she seems slow to understand the lessons of Jesus, he doesn't get exasperated and send her away.  He continues to try to shape her, gently and insistently.  He tells her that she worries about many things, but that her sister sets a good example.

The sister, Mary, is fully present.  My hope for us all is that we, too, can be fully present to our lives, to that which needs us to bring it into the world.

Sunday, July 28, 2019

Summer Recedes in Subtle Ways

This morning, I find myself missing church camp.  In my adult life, I've gone to camp more often in a non-summer season, but there's something about seeing everyone's Facebook pictures from camp that ignites a yearning in me.

I'm also in a yearning mode because it's the time when many camps will be closing down for the summer.  Many camps will have their last week this week or next--or they just finished their final week.  It seems early to me, but our students will be back in school the week of August 12, which is just around the corner.

For two years, my spouse and I made a car trip to Lutherock this time of year.  He was on the Board, and they had one of their meetings at Lutherock, which is not an easy drive for us.  The last few hours are on windy mountain roads.  We can make it to Lutheridge or Luther Ranch in one long day, but I don't know that we could make it to Lutherock in a day.

I remember being on the mountain top and seeing the first leaves changing color, even though it was August 1.  I miss those early signs of a change of season.

Yesterday I thought the quality of the light was slightly different.  I thought it might just be my imagination.  It's July, still, which for most of us in the northern hemisphere means we still have some summer season yet to go.

And yet, for those of us who are observant, the signs are all around.  The sun rises slightly later in the morning.  Our friends with children buy school supplies.  The light comes through the window at a slightly different angle.

The shifts remind us that no season is forever, but we still have some time.  Let's make the most of summer days we have left.  Maybe there are summer foods we have yet to eat; I haven't eaten any corn on the cob yet.  Let's enjoy every dip in the pool. The length of the day gives some of us more of a chance to get additional walks or workouts into the day.  We won't always drip sweat the way we do during these dog days.  Let's enjoy the heat while we have it.

Saturday, July 27, 2019

The Once in a Blue Moon Book Club Goes to Miami

Facebook sends me "targeted ads" that make me wonder who on earth they think I am; my response is often, "What did I ever click on that makes you think I'd be remotely interested in this product???!!!!"

But last month, when I saw an ad for a Colson Whitehead event, I was intrigued.  I heard him speak at the AWP in Portland, and he's one of the more dynamic authors I've ever heard speak.  The event was held at the Adrienne Arsht Center in downtown Miami, which is a much more upscale setting for a book event than I'm used to.  It had a ticket price of $35, but that did come with the hardback book.  It started at 8, but it was a Friday night, so that could be doable.

The first book that my Once in a Blue Moon Book Club read together was Whitehead's The Underground Railroad, so I wrote to the members to see if they'd be interested.  They were!  Last night, we went.

We got down there very early--between Miami traffic and the Jennifer Lopez concert nearby, it was good to get where we were going.  We had easy parking (but expensive!  $20 for the night), and from there, we walked to find dinner.

We never did find the Argentinian wine bar that was supposed to be nearby, but we found a GREAT restaurant that had wonderful salads and amazing desserts, The Daily Creative Food Company.  When we walked in, music by U2 was blaring, and the music continued to be many of my favorites.  I did reflect that much of the music was created before the staff was born, and I thought, well, I'm old now.

Of course, many of the ads that Facebook sends me remind me that some algorithm out there thinks that I'm REALLY old.

By the end of our dinner, the sountrack had switched.  There was a Johnny Cash song, "God's Gonna Cut You Down" and a version of "Wagon Wheel."  I didn't object to that music either, but I did think it was an interesting diversity.

We walked back to the Arsht Center and stood in line to get our autographed book.  We watched all the people mingling.  We had an usher take our picture:

I am standing in an odd way because I am so much taller and bigger than the other two.  Here's a close up, the selfie that convinced us to ask an usher to help:

I am impressed by the level of glamorous that my friends (who are sisters) can pull off on a Friday evening.  And we were holding our books rightside up so I'm not sure why the camera reversed it.

We had an interesting talk with one of the ushers, who said they were only expecting 300 people.  Three hundred people?  For a book event?  In Miami?  Amazing!  The usher seemed to think there should be more, and indeed, even though the event was in one of the smaller concert halls, there were still plenty of empty seats.

Whitehead was amazing, as I knew he would be.  He had lots of great talk about the historical roots of this current book, about history in general, about his writing process, about our current time period.

We also saw Judy Blume in the audience--yes, that Judy Blume.  We waited to say thank you to her, as did many grown women.  She looked a bit overwhelmed, which I understand.  But I was happy to have a chance to say thank you to one of my favorite writers from childhood.

I did get home fairly late for me:  11:00 p.m.  I couldn't do this every night, but I'm glad I did it last night.  We moved down here in 1998 in the hope of having access to more cultural events, and I haven't taken part in as many of them as I envisioned.  It's good to push myself, to remember how nourishing these events are to me.

Friday, July 26, 2019

Quieter Epiphanies Part 2

Another Tuesday night, another discernment phone call--this time to the person who is the director of the spiritual direction certification program at Southern Seminary.  What a delightful conversation!

I learned one key piece of information.  The website made me think that the on-campus intensives were held at Lenoir-Rhyne University in North Carolina.  Actually, they're held on the campus of Southern Seminary in Columbia, South Carolina.  The director said it's a better place to think about spiritual direction because they have a labyrinth and not one but two chapels.

We lived in Columbia for several years during grad school, and it's still close to my heart.  When I think of resettling to higher ground inland, that's one of the places that calls to me.  I have friends there, which means the subject of housing during the on-campus intensives won't be as hard to figure out.  Columbia is within easier driving distance which gives me an option that Lenoir-Rhyne really didn't.

I asked about the reading load, which also wasn't clear to me from exploring the website.  It averages to about one book a month--very doable.

I asked if any of the classes would transfer if I decided to go to seminary.  As I expected, they won't.  After all, it's a certificate program, not a graduate program.  That's fine with me.

He asked if I was considering seminary, and I explained my trajectory.  He said that some of the seminary professors worked with the group getting certification, so I'd get to know them.  That would be neat.

He asked me about my favorite authors, and I told him some of them.  I said, "I know that the minute I hang up the phone I'll think of a lot of others."  He said, "You can call me back."

In short, he was warm and encouraging, and I've decided to apply.

Seminary still calls to me, and going through this door doesn't mean the door to seminary slams shut.  This program's on-campus intensives are at times that are doable for me, in a way that others aren't.  Luther Seminary's online program has 2 week intensives, which would be tough with my current job.  Not impossible, but not easy.

I also worry about my ability to do some of the work that seminary would require.  I'm spooked by Luther's requirement of both Greek and Hebrew--spooked and intrigued.  I don't know why I'm spooked.  I've always been good at languages, but I've only done French and Spanish, which were familiar in ways.  Perhaps I'm spooked because I had trouble attending to Spanish class while I was teaching full-time.  I wonder if it would be different as an administrator?  It would probably depend on what else was going on.

So, let me keep thinking about the logistics of seminary--and in the meantime, let me get my application together.  It's due by November, which will be here before we know it.

Thursday, July 25, 2019

Quieter Epiphanies Part 1

Earlier this month, I had a phone appointment the woman in the Florida-Bahamas Synod of the ELCA who is in charge of candidacy committees.  For those of you in different religious groups who wonder what a candidacy committee is, in the ELCA, a candidacy committee is the way the larger church both vets candidates for ministry and supports them.

It was a good conversation, although I didn't have an earthshattering epiphany.  I didn't really expect to have an earthshattering epiphany.  While I know many people who have the Saul on the road to Tarsus type of epiphany, I know many more who spend much of their lives wondering if they've heard God at all.

As I dialed the number, I thought about how this scene would play if in a movie--or how I might think about it later in my life.  Would this be the phone call that set me on a new path?

It might be, but not in the movie kind of way.  I got lots of good information, but at the end of the call, I wasn't any more clear on my future than I had ever been.

I had just about decided to start working on a certificate for spiritual directors when I found out about the new trend of Lutheran seminaries' commitment to having seminarians graduate with no debt.  That knowledge made me second guess everything--or rethink.

There are no Lutheran seminaries with a track of theology and the arts, the way that United, a UCC seminary, has a track.  I could go to a non-Lutheran seminary and emerge a Lutheran minister, but it would be more complicated and expensive.

As I was talking on the phone, I still felt tugged in two directions.  I really like the idea of being a spiritual director, and it does sound like that would be a good path for me.  But I also want to be able to consecrate bread and wine.  At this point in the Lutheran church, I need ordination in Word and Sacrament to do that.

But it's not just going to seminary that gets me to service in Word and Sacrament.  I would also need to serve 3 years as a parish pastor, which is not the type of pastoring that most interests me.

So, if I could figure out a way to go to seminary full-time, that would be 4 years and then 3 years in the parish.  And could I go full-time?  There are parts of my life that I want to preserve, and so I was thinking of part-time, which means it would be at least 10 years before I had more options than parish ministry.

Of course, I could get the spiritual director certificate and then go to seminary.  It doesn't have to be one or the other.  I am afraid that the chance to go to seminary tuition-free might disappear in that space of time.

Earlier this week, I had a phone conversation with the director of the spiritual direction certification program at Southern Seminary.  More on that conversation tomorrow.

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Mr. Mueller Goes to Washington

Today Robert Mueller will testify in Congress.  I will not be watching or listening to the testimony.  I will be filling in for not one but two teachers who are out today.

He'll probably still be testifying when I'm done subbing.  I'll wait for the good folks at NPR to give me the highlights.

I know that he would probably criticize me for taking that approach.  I know that he might be shocked to know that I haven't read the 400+ pages of his special report.  I have no plans to read it.  Life is short, and my list of books I want to read grows longer every day.

In that way, I am like many students.  I don't understand why teachers assign textbooks.  Like Robert Mueller, we want to believe that students will read the text and that the text will answer all their questions.  Most students will not read the text, not one page of it.

Some of us will mutter about the sorry state of modern students.  I've been teaching since 1988, and I'm here to tell you that even back then, students weren't reading the text.

We are not a nation that nurtures critical thinking skills, so even if we read the text, we don't understand the text.  That's why we need commentators and teachers and if we're lucky, the people who wrote the text.

Maybe we'll be so inspired, we'll return to the text.

Once I went to a Charleston Symphony performance that was designed for the whole family.  The conductor spoke before each piece and told us how to listen to what we were about to hear.  It was one of the better artistic experiences I've had.

I know that the snooty people amongst us would say that we shouldn't need that kind of instruction, that it's cheating somehow.  But we're not born with that knowledge.  We need someone to teach us.

Robert Mueller wrote a report of his findings; it's a long report, and it's been redacted.  Even for those of us with critical thinking and reading skills, we might miss something.  We need someone to make sure we see the most important parts.

I don't understand why Mueller is so resistant to do that job.  He's got a chance that many authors will never receive.  I'm sure there's much more to this story than we will ever know.  I would not be surprised to find out that Mueller is hoping to keep the nation from knowing the story in its full ugliness.

Perhaps this day will be momentous.  Perhaps it will mark a turning point.  Maybe this day will be the one where we see a collective way forward, whatever that way might be.

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Dead Batteries

Yesterday I opened the car door and realized the morning was not going to be as I planned.  The light in the car was weaker than usual, and when I put the key in the ignition, the car told me to check my battery.  The car wouldn't start.

I have a Prius, so I hoped that the battery message was about the smaller battery, the type that every car has, not the big battery that makes it a hybrid.

Here's what I don't understand:  this car's computer system can tell me if a tire is losing pressure.  It can tell me what the temperature is outside.  It can tell me my gas mileage and how much I'm paying per mile, if I input the price of the gasoline.

It couldn't tell me in advance that I had a dying battery?

I knew that my spouse didn't have plans that involved his car yesterday, so I switched cars.  I thought of the things we never think about when buying a car.  With the battery dead, I couldn't unlock the car doors, and only one door, the driver's door, has a lock that opens with the traditional key.

Later I would find out other things about this car that I didn't think to check when we bought the pair of Priuses (Prii?).  We have a smaller Prius, the C series, and it takes an unusual battery.  Our local Firestone doesn't carry it--we had to get the car to the dealer.  Yes, the dealership that is less than a mile from my work, but 6 miles from the house.

Long story short, we spent much of yesterday getting the car back and forth.  As expected, this battery cost more than any other car battery we've ever bought.  It was supposed to cost just under $400 ($400!!!!), but I think we got it for $250 because the guy first told my spouse the wrong price.

Even if we had found a way to buy the battery, we likely couldn't have installed it ourselves.  The Prius is not the car for the do-it-yourselfer; perhaps few cars are these days.  We get better gas mileage than with most cars, but in the end, if we have to go to the dealership for what should be a small repair, are we saving money?

I think that in the end, it will be a wash.  I feel like we use less fossil fuel, but if we have to spend a day driving back and forth to the dealership, have we wiped out that good deed?  If we have to replace tires, a petroleum product, with this car much more frequently than any other car we've ever had, are we lessening our global warming footprint?

I have said it before, and will probably say it until I'm dead, it's so hard to live a life that's perfectly in sync with one's values.

Let me just list my gratitudes:  we had money to pay for this very expensive battery.  It was dead in the driveway, not dead during travel.  It was during a day where we could readjust plans and get the battery taken care of.  I have a boss who was understanding about my need to go back and forth to the dealership.  The dealership could get it taken care of.

Yes, it could have been worse.  But at the end of the day, I was still exhausted.  Dealing with a dead battery is draining.

Monday, July 22, 2019

Anxiety Dreams for the Space Age

I don't have much time to write this morning.  Soon it will be time to leave to pick up the day old bread and baked goods from Publix and then the tumble of the week starts again.  The week-end zipped by.  Yesterday we had a long, philosophical conversation with the almost-grown son of friends.  I met his parents when we worked at the same school.  When I started there, she was hugely pregnant.  Our office space had a sofa, and I'd often see her catching a nap.  And now that child will be a senior in high school.

I didn't sleep well last night; I often don't as Sunday moves into Monday.  Last night I had a different kind of anxiety dream about needing to get to my spaceship before launch time--but my stuff was in a different building.  Was there time to make one last potty stop?  Did I really need all this stuff?  Would the space ship leave without me?

I woke up and fell back asleep to a more mundane dream about not being able to find the shirt I wanted in the piles of laundry--then I woke up and did something similar looking for workout shorts.

I did figure out how the husband character in my novel dies--or does he?  And I figured out the next chunk of the novel, which I plan to write tomorrow.  I am determined to hurry this to completion.  Could I get it published in the fall of 2020?  It would make a great election season novel.

I like the title of this blog post--would it work as a book title?  Should I start a new type of label?  Possible titles for books that may never be published.

All right, time to go--let all of this percolate until tomorrow, when there will be more time to write.

And let me remember that today is the feast day of Mary Magdalene--for a meditation on her relevance to the 21st century, see this post on my theology blog.

Sunday, July 21, 2019

Graham Greene Meets Margaret Atwood Meets Octavia Butler

There was a moment last night when I said, "How could I have accomplished so little this week-end?"  It was after I watched the latest remake of A Star is Born, which so many people loved, but I did not, so I was ripe for feelings of regret.

This morning I tallied my word count for Saturday and Sunday:  2, 147 new words written on my apocalyptic thriller.  So why would I feel that I had accomplished nothing?

As I washed my grandmother's mixing bowl by hand (after making gluten free communion bread--there must be a poem here), it came to me.  What I really mean:  "Another week-end seems to be zipping by, and I still haven't sorted any of the boxes in the cottage."

Once, as long as I was getting the artistic work done, I wouldn't have cared, and I'm still not sure I do care.  It's interesting, though, how that socialization has taken root in me.  If I've had time to watch movies, I should have made time to get some real work done, the less pleasurable kind.

We also watched Blackkklansman, which I thought was profoundly interesting as a work of art.  If we had just stopped with that movie, would I have felt as much like a slacker?

I meant to get more wash done.  I did get some of the remaining stuff out of the cottage refrigerator, some cans of soda and a pitcher of tea that I had moved out there for the camp counselors.  Why doesn't that work feel important?

In terms of creating the world of the novel, I had an important insight at some point yesterday as I drove to the grocery store--wait, I grocery shopped--why doesn't my judgmental self see that as work? 

But I digress.  Back to the breakthrough.  I'd been thinking about the idea of the stakes of the novel.  What drives the characters?  What is at risk?

I'd been assuming that the husband in the novel is dead.  But what if he's not dead?

And this morning, I came up with another idea:  what if nobody knows for sure?  Later I thought, "Am I just writing a modern version of Missing?"  Not exactly, but it's another strand to weave into my elevator pitch.

Here's my novel right now.   a political thriller, a sort of Handmaid's Tale meets a modern underground railroad kind of narrative arc mixed in with some Octavia Butler's Parable of the Sower and the 1982 movie Missing.

Here's a fun party question:  would you rather be your generation's Graham Greene, Octavia Butler, or Margaret Atwood?

It's a fun party question for philosophers and English majors at least.

Saturday, July 20, 2019

Morning Writing Process

--Wake up at 3 a.m. and try to remember when I fell asleep--9 p.m.  I've gotten 6 hours of sleep, but I try to get a bit more.

--At 3:20, I decide that I may as well get up.  I start a pot of coffee and power up the computer.

--I open my apocalyptic novel document.  I read back over it and try to remember what I thought I would write next.

--Sip coffee and scroll through Facebook while listening to some of yesterday's news wrap up NPR shows that often air on Fridays.  Get an idea for this morning's apocalyptic novel writing.  Wonder if it's the best idea.

--I decide to leap right in.  As I'm writing, I think about a scene that I included in a short story that would be perfect for this part of my new novel.  I go to my fiction file and try to remember what I named that story.  Wonder if the fact that several of the titles could go with the story is a problem.

--Find the story and transplant the chunk from that story into the novel.  Change the names.  Listen to thunder rumbling and wonder if we'll get rain.   Refill coffee mug.

--Look at weekly goal list and realize that I have yet to write 2 poems.  I write the title of one I have been writing in my head:  Climate Change Word Problem.  How was I going to start that poem?  I know how I will end it:  solve for x.

--Go back to novel and write a few more sentences.  One of the lines of the Climate Change Word Problem poem floats through my brain.  I switch documents and write the line.  Then I write another line.  Then I remember the rest, and I write those lines.

--My stomach rumbles.  When did we eat dinner?  What time is it now?  I had planned to make an apple crisp with apples that need to be used.  When should I start?

--I do a bit of Internet rambling while I try to think about the next part of the novel.  I decide to make the apple crisp.

--Notice that the vase of pink carnations has grown some interesting mold in whisps around the stems.  Think about taking a series of photos. Sternly tell myself to stay focused on the writing once the apple crisp goes into the oven.

--Sprinkle spices on top of the apple.  Inhale the scents of autumn.  Brew another pot of coffee.

--Drink coffee while listening to an NPR program on climate change and military readiness.  Watch the light bouncing around the storm clouds.  No rain yet.  Hope that it is raining in the west, where my butterfly plants could use a gentle soaking.

--Go back to the novel.  Write a bit about September 11.  Look up some information about the times that each plane hit.  Comforting to have my memory of that day's timeline confirmed.

--Think about the nature of memory.  That day so seared into my brain--and yet it fades a bit.

--Realize that the smell of apples baking in autumnal spices has filled the house.  Go to check on the crisp.

--Doesn't the oven light turn on when I open the oven door?  Not this morning it doesn't.  Has the oven always been this way?

--The crisp is ready.  I take it out to cool.

--Time to get back to the novel.  I write a few more sentences.  Why is this difficult?  Is it time to leave the past and get back to the present story of the novel?  The present is the past too--or maybe the novel will unwind differently than I first pictured it.  I return to the first day of the travel ban in the novel. 

--Decide to eat some apple crisp before it cools too much.  Do some Internet bopping around while eating.

--Look up to the sound of rain hitting the window.

--Time to get back to the novel.

Friday, July 19, 2019

Thinking about Resistance on the 40th Anniversary of the Sandinista Success

Forty years ago today, the Sandinistas deposed the Nicaraguan dictator Somoza.  I have no memory of that particular moment in 1979.  When I think of 1979's most important historic moment, I think of the takeover of the U.S. embassy in Iran.

Both of those events had profound influences in the 1980's and beyond.

I could make the argument that the events sparked by the Sandinista victory led us to where we are today with the humanitarian crisis on the border between the U.S. and Mexico.  I have distinct memories of President Reagan trying to make us all scared of Communists swarming up from the South and taking over Texas.  At the time, most of us assumed that Reagan envisioned an armed invasion, not the kind of movement that we see today of people looking to build new lives in the U.S.

I had no doubt that Texans could have taken care of that kind of armed attack.  I often wonder if the Sandinistas hadn't won, would Reagan have been able to manipulate our fears as easily?  I don't think so, but humans are easily manipulated by fear, so I could be wrong.

I've been thinking about our current moment of resistance and past time periods too.  I'm writing a dystopian novel that takes place not far in the future, but I have a vision of exploring past resistance movements too.

On Tuesday, I was delighted to come across this article in The Nation about the Pledge of Resistance in the 1980s (do an Internet search for Pledge of Resistance, and you'll discover that there have been several).  I remember signing the pledge, but would I have really followed through if Reagan had launched a military strike?  I was a college kid, so I might have; in many ways, college kids have less to lose and less of a sense of consequences, and in that, I was no different.

The Pledge of Resistance was different than past pledges.  The article says, "But the Central American Pledge of Resistance was unique in linking disobedience to an invasion that had not yet happened. By providing a threat of future action, the pledge bore resemblance to the strike votes taken by unions to show unity and demonstrate workers’ readiness to walk off the job. 'The innovation in the ’80s was that the pledge had a trigger event,' explained Jeremy Brecher, a social movement historian. 'It was a very creative way of establishing a nonviolent deterrent.'”

This social justice movement of the 1980's accomplished amazing things, which so few people remember.  It was peaceful and less heirarchal than movements of the 60's--and those two factor probably contributed to the success of the movement.

How do I define success?  After all, you could argue the fact that we have so many people fleeing those countries in 2019 is because of the failure of the 1980's.  I could point to any number of government policy failures that have led us to this moment; are social justice movement failures more to blame than the various governments that have failed in so many ways?  I would argue no.

In fact, I would argue that without the social justice movements of the 80's, our current situation would be worse.  We might be involved in a decades long hot war, the way we are in the Middle East, if the Pledge of Resistance and other movements hadn't convinced the Reagan administration to back off on threats to invade Central American countries.

As a student in the 1980's, I remember wondering if we made any sort of difference as we protested, as we resisted, as we supported those who did more, like Jubilee Partners who got Central American refugees safely to Canada where they were more likely to win their asylum claims.  When I moved to South Florida and had a chance to talk to some of those people who had fled Central America in the 1980's, people who had gone on to build better lives here, I concluded that we did make a difference.

Hopefully future generations will look back on these days of the Trump administration and be able to take courage from what we managed to accomplish.

Thursday, July 18, 2019

The Beginnings of My Next Writing Project

Twenty-five hours ago, I had an idea for a novel--the kind of novel I could see perfectly in my head.  Here's how I described it in a Facebook post: 


It will be a political thriller of sorts, a sort of "Handmaid's Tale" meets a modern underground railroad kind of narrative arc mixed in with some Octavia Butler's "Parable of the Sower." It may sound like I'm being sardonic, but I'm not.

Here's the first line: "When the president with despotic ambitions was sworn in, my dead husband accidentally started a meme: 'Who will be our Dietrich Boenhoeffer?'"


Last night, I did use that first line, and I kept going.  Before I shut down the computer for the night, I wrote this Facebook post:  "I have written 893 words of my apocalyptic/political thriller novel. A travel ban is in place, but instead of keeping people out, it restricts them to their houses. But the government has paid off their mortgages and insurance, so a grateful nation praised the Despot."

And this morning, I kept going.  I now have 1526 words.  My plan is to write a bit each day.  It will be too easy to lose the narrative thread and the momentum if I don't return to this project each day.

I have always thought of myself as being a not-good reviser, so I often want to have it all in my head before I start.  This time, I'm resisting this approach.  Let me write a rambling, sprawling, messy thing and figure out what to do with it later.

Here's my morning Facebook post:  "Morning word count: another 633 words for the apocalyptic political thriller that I'm writing. The main character is named Dorothy/Dori/Thea, and her spouse is named Will. Have fun, English majors!"


In the spirit of full disclosure, I feel that I need to admit that I decided to skip my morning walk to keep writing.  In some ways, that's delightful.  In other ways, it describes my life right now:  just not enough time to do everything I want/need to do.

Also in the spirit of full disclosure:  I had planned to write a poem this morning, but I didn't.  I thought I might not blog this morning because I had spent time writing fiction, but I did blog.

And now it's time for a long day--we've got graduation tonight.  But in between, lunch with my former student writer friend.  And since I won't eat dinner, I can eat what I want at the sushi/Chinese buffet.

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

A "Sex and the City" Evening, if Written by a Writer Like Me

I am tired this morning--but it's the good kind of tired, the kind of tired that comes from making the effort to see friends I've had for a long time.  They are members of my (lapsed?) quilt group.  One has moved to Gainesville, which is about 5 hours away.  One has just moved to an upscale apartment in Delray Beach, which should be about 45 minutes away.

We were meeting in Delray Beach, and I thought that our 5:00 meeting time meant we'd miss the rush hour traffic--HA!  Maybe there is no way to avoid being stuck in traffic in South Florida.  That seems to be my experience lately.  A trip that should have taken me about 30 minutes last night took me 90 minutes.

Because I am a more evolved grown up than I used to be, I put aside my grumpiness about it all, and we had a lovely evening.  It was good to see the upscale apartment, and then we had a fun evening having dinner out in the trendy part of Delray Beach.  It was good to catch up with each other's lives.

From the outside, we might have looked like characters in a TV show--like Sex and the City, but without the high heels.  Or the sex talk.  Or the youth.  OK, maybe nothing like Sex and the City.  Or maybe like the kind of TV show I would write, but no one else seems to be writing--what is the yearning of women at midlife and beyond, and not just career yearnings or relationship yearnings, although those yearnings do impact the other yearnings.

I am now weary of the word yearning.

Of course, the parts of my life that have brought me the most joy in the past week, the most contentment, those parts would not make good TV.  I have loved listening to some great NPR in the wee, small hours of the morning--yesterday I listened to this episode of On Point about great summer reads, and then I submitted library requests for some of the ones that sounded most interesting.  On Saturday, I spent the morning looking through poetry notebooks and making revisions as I typed poems into the computer.  Not exactly jazzy TV.

On Sunday I wandered through a beautiful garden center to get more milkweed plants.  That could make good TV.  But there's not really a narrative arc to that.

Last night I drove home--drove and drove and drove--watching the moon rise and thinking about how long I've been friends with my female friends (my dinner companions and all the other ones) and how long I've lived in South Florida.  Some part of me is astonished at the twisty roads I've taken.  I thought about how long I have left on the planet and what I hope to accomplish.  My creative work is never far from my mind, and planetary destruction, and the current political situation--all these thoughts swirled around.

And now, for the day ahead:  review of the binders in advance of the Friday Corporate audit and a Come Out of Your Chrysalis party for students.  And then, tonight, a Mepkin Abbey Contemplative group meeting that happens online. 


Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Mid July, Already

I had gotten behind on my grading, so last night I went to sleep early, knowing that I'd be up early.  But there are advantages to being up early:

--I am now caught up on my grading.  Of course, that will last for only a few hours, as my class has work due today.  But it's good to be caught up.

--I was able to submit my poetry manuscript to a contest that was about to close in a different time zone.  Hurrah!

--I saw the beautiful moon. 

--I said a prayer for my Hindu writer friend who has major surgery today.

--I got a load of laundry done.  That shouldn't feel like such an accomplishment, but during the month of July (thus far), it does.

Let me also record some snippets from the past week that I don't want to lose:

--Yesterday, my spouse and I went to a new GP.  She saw us both at the same time, which I thought was interesting.  I think it's because she was running behind.  It was what felt like an old-fashioned physical to me:  she tested my reflexes and had me grip her fingers and push and pull.  She listened to me take deep breaths, looked into my ears, and had me say "Ahhh."  I bent over to touch my toes and then I held a yoga pose with my eyes closed.    She seemed impressed with what seemed to me like a basic set of abilities.  Am I better than she expects for people my age or does she usually see sicker people?  We're trying to get set up with a GP before we have a health crisis, if we must have a health crisis, so we didn't have a specific complaint.

--Our week of having camp counselors in the cottage went well.  They seemed happy with the accommodations.  I worried they would feel cramped, but then I thought about college dorm rooms and realized that our cottage, even crammed full of boxes, is more spacious than a dorm room--and it has cooking facilities!

--Last week was also a week when my spouse's sister was in town.  We had a good time visiting with family.

--On Saturday night, we went to a one year anniversary of the wine bar that some friends started.  It's a beautiful place, and I wish them many more years, if that's what makes them happy. 

It's no wonder we're feeling tired--we've had two weeks of lots of visitors, lots of social engagements, along with a candlelight vigil, a church service, and of course, work. 

How can it be the middle of July already?  This week will be hectic too, with graduation on Thursday night and a Corporate audit on Friday.  My spouse and I plan to hunker down in the house (or by the pool) this week-end to recover.  I'm looking forward to it.

Monday, July 15, 2019

Dog Days of a Creative Life

It's the time of year again:  hot, endless days of summer.  I find myself yearning for a different season:

How to maintain our creativity in a time of drought?  Perhaps by returning to nature, the river that runs deep:

Perhaps we will find the secret in the cool catacombs of a library:

Maybe by approaching an art form from a different angle:

Let us sit quietly on the porch:

We will cultivate our gardens in the belief that rains will come again:

Sunday, July 14, 2019

Bastille Day Bastions

If you're not ready to stop celebrating the human drive for freedom from tyranny, you're in luck!  Today we have another chance to celebrate the human thirst for liberty and to ponder who gets to enjoy equality and who does not. It's Bastille Day, the French equivalent (sort of ) of our Independence Day. I see this historical event as one of many that launched us on the road to equality. It's an uneven success to be sure. More of us in the first world enjoy more liberty than those in developing nations. But that thirst for freedom and equality found some expression in the French Revolution, and I could argue that much liberation theology has some rootedness in that soil (yes, it would be a problematic argument, I know).

I am afraid that today we may have reason to reflect on the nature of government.  We're told that ICE agents are planning raids today in 10 cities to find people with deportation orders.  We might argue that people with deportation orders must be forced to leave.  We also know that these raids find many people who are awaiting due process, and they often get deported too.

So it's a good day to think about the storming of the Bastille, about what happens when the powerful abuse the powerless for years and centuries and the powerless finally decide they've had enough.

Bastille Day is the French Fourth of July, and you could make a strong case that both revolutions should be celebrated in tandem. The French began their revolution in the decade after the American colonies broke away, and for the next century, maybe 2, abusive leaders worried about the example set by these revolutions.

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

Today is also the birthday of Woodie Guthrie, an artist who always had compassion for the oppressed.  I find Guthrie fascinating as an artist. Here's a singer-songwriter who doesn't know music theory, who left behind a treasure trove of lyrics but no music written on musical staffs or chords--because he didn't know how to do it. For many of the songs that he wrote, he simply used melodies that already existed.

I think of Woody Guthrie as one of those artists who only needed 3 chords and the truth--but in fact, he said that anyone who used more than two chords is showing off. In my later years, I've wondered if he developed this mantra because he couldn't handle more than 2 chords.

I love this vision I have of Guthrie as an artist who didn't let his lack of knowledge hold him back. I love how he turned the deficits that might have held a lesser artist back into strengths. I love that he's created a whole body of work, but his most famous song ("This Land Is Your Land") is still sung by schoolchildren everywhere, and how subversive is that?  The lyrics are much more inclusive than you might remember, and there's a verse that we didn't sing as children, a verse that talks about how no one owns the land.

If I could create a body of poems that bring comfort and hope to activists, as well as one or two poems that everyone learns as schoolchildren, well I'd be happy with that artistic life. If I could inspire future generations the way that Guthrie did, how marvelous that would be. I could make the argument that artists like Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen and the members of U2 would be different artists today, had there been no Woody Guthrie (better artists? worse? that's a subject for a different post).

So, Alons, enfants de la patria!  There's work to do and people who need us to do it.

Saturday, July 13, 2019

Lights for Liberty: Pembroke Pines, Florida

I wasn't sure what to expect last night.  I liked the idea of being part of a nationwide group of people saying, "We do not approve of this administration's immigration policies which result in immigrants held indefinitely in substandard conditions which result in human rights violations."  But I also knew that my church had only been part of the group for a few days.

I thought we might have the 10-20 people from the congregation who feel strongly on this issue and are able to drive at night, along with a few community activists.  We're fairly close to the Homestead site where unaccompanied minors are being held (45 minutes if the traffic is running smoothly, but the traffic is rarely running smoothly), so I thought the bulk of the community activists would make the trek down there.

Imagine my surprise when we got to church and took the last parking space.  Even on most high holidays, like Christmas Eve, we don't completely fill the parking lot.

The time before the 9 p.m. candlelit vigil was surprisingly inspiring--I had worried it would be dreary/horrifying, like a newscast but with real humans speaking.  Instead we had singing, poetry, and a reading of the words of children being held in awful conditions.

My pastor asked people as they came in to be part of the reading, so the voices were varied, which gave the readings a more genuine feeling.  We also had a period where a woman read the names of children who had died in custody followed by a bit of information about each child.  Then one of our choir members rang a hand chime so that a bell tolled for each child.

The time went quickly, and soon it was time to light candles.  We processed with our lit candles to the front of the church which is at the intersection of two busy streets.  There, too, we sang songs, and one woman had thought to bring a sign.

Traffic zoomed by, with some cars honking.  I want to believe that they honked in support.  And then we blew out our candles, and most people went home.

Some of us lingered, and we had a delightful time with a child and musical instruments.

 My spouse had his violin with him, and she's had lessons.  She could play "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star," which seems to be the first song that most children learn on the violin. 

In so many ways, this picture sums up the evening:  a mix of ages, genders, religions, beliefs, but finding intersections of solidarity:

As we all interacted, I did think about how lucky we are to be assemble peaceably, light our candles, sing our songs, and criticize our government.  I have always assumed we would always be able to do this, but the current administration does give me pause.  But I also believe it's important to resist--if we just cave in, if we obey in advance of even being asked/ordered to succumb, evil will take complete control.  As Timothy Snyder says in On Tyranny:  Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century, "Anticipatory obedience is a political tragedy."

Last night's demonstrations around the country, and the expressions of support from those who couldn't make it to vigils, tells me that although we're in danger, we may survive.

Friday, July 12, 2019

Caterpillars, Butterflies, and the Work of the Prophet

Many times in the past few weeks as I've done work in the butterfly garden, I've thought, I did not think this through.  I didn't anticipate how many caterpillars we might have and how much milkweed they would eat.  I didn't think about where the caterpillars would go to make their chrysalis.  I didn't think about the fact that so many of them might not make it to butterfly status. 

We are learning/relearning lessons I didn't plan to teach.

Yes, it's a metaphor for much of my life.  But the butterfly garden has brought me joy, even as I consider the logistics of it all.

Yesterday a student came to get me:  a butterfly was emerging from its chrysalis.  We had a great time gathering and watching.  The rains swept in, and one student went to her car to get an umbrella.  The student who didn't have to go to class held the umbrella over the emerging butterfly.

This picture may be my favorite from this butterfly garden adventure:

Sadly, by afternoon, it was clear to me that the butterfly was struggling, and by the time I left in the evening, I'm fairly sure the butterfly was dead.  Sigh.

But there are other chrysalises and other caterpillars and life will continue.

My writing time grows short, but I do want to remember how long I had this vision for the garden, and how few people shared it.  They weren't openly hostile, not most of them, but they had trouble envisioning it.  And now, people tell me how much they enjoy it.  One student said that even if we had no caterpillars or butterflies, that she would still enjoy the green additions to the concrete space.  Hurrah.

I came across this quote this morning, and it seems a great way of concluding this post--as well as preserving a quote that I want to remember:

"The prophet does not ask if the vision can be implemented, for questions of implementation are of no consequence until the vision can be imagined. The imagination must come before the implementation. Our culture is competent to implement almost anything and to imagine almost nothing. The same royal consciousness that makes it possible to implement anything and everything is the one that shrinks imagination because imagination is a danger. Thus every totalitarian regime is frightened of the artist. It is the vocation of the prophet to keep alive the ministry of imagination, to keep on conjuring and proposing futures alternative to the single one the king wants to urge as the only thinkable one. . . ."

Walter Brueggemann, The Prophetic Imagination

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Praying for Social Change: The Immigration Edition

For those of you distressed about the immigration situation at the southern border of the U.S., this Friday is an important date.

I found myself thinking about what I'd do if I lived in one of these border towns that held a detention center.  I tend to think about those towns as hot and dusty and in the desert.  Then one morning I realized that one of those centers is in Homestead Florida, which is one county away from me.

These past few years have given me many reasons to revisit what I thought I knew about the years leading up to the Holocaust.  As a younger person, I always wondered why German citizens did nothing.  Now I know that they did do things, but a powerful government has efficient ways of crushing opposition.

I am pleased to see resistance movements still going strong in the U.S., but I wish I could do more.  I've thought of driving down to Homestead--but then, to do what?  To stand in silent witness?  I know that this administration might be energized by that witness to do more evil.  I'd like to deliver supplies, but I know those haven't been accepted.

Friday night there will be candlelit vigils across the nation.  Some of those will be at the detention centers, but there will be other options.  Some will be prayer vigils.  Some will be educational.  Some will be rallies.  All will end in candles.

If you go here and scroll down, you'll see all the locations.

If you're in South Florida and you can't get to the Homestead site, let me offer my church in Pembroke Pines, Trinity Lutheran, on Pines Blvd, just to the east of the South campus of Broward College. We're a congregation that embraces radical hospitality--all are welcome. 

I know that many have been wounded by The Church, but not all churches are like the ones that have done harm.  My church has welcomed a huge variety of people, from the man who was transitioning to a woman, to a Muslim woman, to several homeless people, to doctors, to educators--I could go on and on.  We are one of the few ELCA churches with a diverse racial and cultural population that mirrors our community.

The larger question might be:  what is the good of all of this?  Why pray?  Why light candles?

I have several answers to this question.  It's good self-care, for one.  It's hard to be a witness during these times.  It's hard to be an activist.  We need to remind ourselves that we are not alone.

It's important to remind those with power that we have demands that this power be used responsibly, and we are not going away with these demands.

It's good to show the wider world that we do not support the evil that this administration does.  We are not approving these human rights violation.  We need to let later generations know too.

And we pray because we believe in a God that has an expansive vision, but God has given us free will.  If God intervenes, it's because we lament and demand action.  Will God comply?  That's a larger theological question than I have time to answer this morning.

I return to the work of theologian Walter Wink. 

For those of you who would sneer at the idea of resistance working in our evil, evil world, I would say that nonviolent resistance can bring mighty social change.

Walter Wink, writing in 1993, notes, “In 1989 alone, there were thirteen nations that underwent non-violent revolutions. All of them successful except one, China. That year 1.7 billion people were engaged in national non-violent revolutions. That is a third of humanity. If you throw in all of the other non-violent revolutions in all the other nations in this century [the 20th], you get the astonishing figure of 3.34 billion people involved in non-violent revolutions. That is two-thirds of the human race. No one can ever again say that non-violence doesn't work. It has been working like crazy. It is time the Christian churches got involved in this revolution because what is happening in the world is that the world itself is discovering the truth of Jesus' teaching, and here we come in the church, bringing up the rear.” And of course, more lately we can point to a variety of revolutions, in the former Soviet Union and the Middle East, some of which have fairly peacefully gotten rid of dictators who had been in power for decades.

Maybe we are not up for the task of resistance, which can be scary and can lead us to unexpected places. At the very least, we can pray. We can pray for those people who are doing the heavy lifting of resistance. We can pray for those who are transforming their societies for good, whether they live in our country or on the other side of the planet. We can pray for the softening of the hearts of the hard ones. We can pray that we have the wisdom to recognize evil when we see it. We can pray that we have the courage to resist evil in whatever forms it comes to us.

Let's all do this on Friday, July 12.

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Shelter from the Various Storms of the World

Yesterday I had a different vision for our cottage.  One of my friends asked on Facebook if we knew any South Florida resources for a trans teen kicked out of her home.  She's got friends to stay with right now, but that situation can't be permanent.

Before I go any further, let me mention Project Safe, which has many more resources for South Florida than I do.

I am aware that I have a tendency to want to rescue people, so I want to proceed cautiously.  Taking in a homeless Florida teen seems to come with lots of possible legal ramifications, so again, I want to be cautious.

I thought back to a night in 1994 when I watched the episode of My So-Called Life when gay teenage student Ricky is kicked out of his home for being gay.  He's been beaten up, and the audience assumes that it's his family who beat him up before they kicked him out.

I remember watching that episode and weeping and wondering what the larger community could do.  I remember understanding why Angela's parents are reluctant to help.

This morning I also thought of That 70's Show, which has a different troubled teen who finds himself homeless.  That situation is more comic, but it's still depicted with sensitivity and the awareness of a deeper issue. In that show, the homeless teen Steven moves into the basement of his friend Eric, who has an intact nuclear family.  It's not a great bedroom, but it's better than his other options.

When we've thought of the cottage, we've thought of the temporary shelter program that our church participates in, where homeless families who are in the process of getting permanent housing stay in a church for a week.  We've wondered if we could be a shelter.  But we're not a great location for families with children:  our cottage is small, and we have a pool that doesn't have the proper protections to keep children inside the fence from drowning.

I've thought of giving shelter to refugees, maybe even working with the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services group.  There, too, we might not be the best option, although the rustic nature of the cottage might not be a dealbreaker for refugees.

I've thought of providing Section 8 housing, but there are long-term implications and agreements that make me uncomfortable.  I've wondered if there's another way to find people who would be good renters of property for people of low to moderate income levels.

Until last night, I hadn't thought of other groups of people who might need housing resources.  Teens who have been kicked out of their houses for their sexual status:  hmm.  Let me think on this further.

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Poetry Tuesday: "Modern Abolitionist"

In this time of turmoil at immigration points at the southern U.S. border, I've been thinking about a poem I wrote during a different time of immigration crisis, at the turn of the century, during the George W. Bush administration.  There was talk of prosecution of those who helped immigrants in the desert.  I couldn't imagine what the charges would be, and no one was prosecuted during that time.

I was teaching the Survey of American Literature class at the University of Miami, and the history of slavery and the people who tried to help runaway slaves was in my head.  One day I wrote a poem,  "Modern Abolitionist."

Those times have turned into these times, and man did go on trial for helping people lost in the desert.  I was heartened that he wasn't sent to jail.  I am still despairing that the federal government would even bring charges.

The other day I thought about this poem and wondered how it would speak to this current day.  I think it holds up well, and so I'll post it here.  It was first published in the South Carolina Review and was part of my larger chapbook, Whistling Past the Graveyard

Modern Abolitionist

Two hundred years ago, we would have stitched
cloth, hung our quilts on the line to give guidance.
We would have sung songs, whispered directions,
left lamps burning in strategic windows.
Then, as now, we would have helped with the herding north.

Now we hang flags of blue plastic
above water stations in the desert. We patrol
these tanks to make sure they never run dry.
Dryness means quick death for those who make the daily
dashes towards freedom. We position
these water stations in national parks
under telephone poles that stretch high above, a sure sign
even during dehydration induced hallucinations. The flags whip
in the wind, a dry rustle above the rattlesnakes.

I keep extra food and water in the truck. When I see
parched refugees, dusty and sunburned, I offer
these meager rations. I’m not above
giving folks a ride. There’s no Fugitive
Slave Act to make me cower in fear.

Some mornings I find a few of them in the fields
or huddled against the garage, the barn.
Unlike my neighbors, I don’t threaten
them with my gun or call the law.
I’ve learned enough broken
Spanish to invite them to breakfast.
Eggs and toast translate to any language.

I wish I could fully claim my Abolitionist
heritage, instead of just dancing on the edge of lawlessness.
But I am no Harriet Tubman to safely lead
people out of slavery, no John Brown
to plot uprisings and raid munitions bunkers.
Alas, I don’t have the eloquence of Frederick Douglass.
All I can offer is a glass of water, a bite
of food, substandard shelter, and a ride north.

Monday, July 8, 2019

Chills, both Big and Little

I didn't plan to spend a chunk of the week-end rewatching The Big Chill.  In fact, what I really wanted to watch was Bull Durham.  Once I owned a copy of that movie, but it's gone the way of many outmoded media--I think I had it on video tape.

I have owned at least one video tape of The Big Chill, and I did upgrade to DVD, but this week-end, it was running multiple times on one of our local PBS stations.  I got sucked right in.

The movie came out during my first year of college, and I loved it then.  When I first watched it back in 1984, I assumed that these college friends had stayed close--I was in college, and that was the story I wanted to believe. It was only upon seeing it again years later that I realized how far apart they had drifted, both from each other and from their ideals.

And then, this week-end, I realized that I'm not even sure they EVER lived up to their ideals.  But I still enjoyed hanging out with them again.  Would I want to be friends with them?  Some of them.  Most people I know have lives that have gone in different directions than their college selves planned, and it makes for interesting conversation.  The characters in the film do seem good at heart--well, with some very obvious exceptions.  And even Michael, the scuzzy guy who keeps pursuing the girlfriend of the dead friend Alex, was entertaining; I wouldn't want to be trapped in an elevator with him though.

I thought the dialogue was still snappy, and the scenery gorgeous.  The shots of the South Carolina Lowcountry in autumn made me homesick for a landscape that probably doesn't exist anymore. When they filmed that movie in the early 80's, it was very underdeveloped--not the case anymore.

What a beautiful house in that movie!  I'm talking about the big house, of course.  I thought that the kitchen was still beautiful--I'd be happy to have that kitchen. I'd love to have that house, but I'd furnish much of it differently.  And I also love the little house on the plot of land--not sure what that says about me--I'd take that one too if anyone wanted to give me a house.

It's also fun to see this slice of the early 80's, to see what cutting edge technology was then (a video camera!   A big, clunky thing) and what stays fairly timeless.  The clothes aren't as dated as many 80's movies, and the cars have aged well.

And the music--oh the music!  During our Independence Day meal clean up, the Rolling Stones' "You Can't Always Get What You Want" came on, and we sang at the top of our lungs.  I'd have likely watched the movie anyway, having stumbled across it, but I was even more in the mood after having talked about it.

When we were in college, we talked about which characters reminded us of real life counterparts.  Different characters speak to me at different times, but I've always nodded my head when Sarah says that she was tired of being a good girl who could always be counted on to do the right thing.

And now, like those characters, it's time to get back to regular life.  But I begin the week differently.  I leave at noon today because we've got a meet up with my spouse's sister who is in town and other family members.

Sunday, July 7, 2019

Cottage Recovery

We have camp counselors arriving today to run our Vacation Bible School.  This year, as in past years, some of them will stay in our cottage.

This year, the getting ready for them has been a bit easier than last year, when we discovered that the AC had stopped working, and mold had overtaken the walls--AGAIN.  This year, my spouse did some heavy lifting, and now we have space for them.  It's still a cottage full of boxes, but the boxes line the walls.  They can get to the bed and there's space for some chairs and tables.  The kitchen and bathroom will be clean.  It's comfortable in a very rustic way.

We did some testing of the hot water.  My spouse was convinced that hot water wasn't getting to the cottage, but it is.  We tested having various faucets running, and while the water pressure dips a bit, it's still usable.

It's usable for camp counselors, at least.  I know the type of lodging they'd have at camp, and our cottage is at that level.  Perhaps a bit better, because it has AC and a kitchen.

I continue thinking about ways to use the cottage if we can ever get it to a better shape.  I'm still most intrigued by having a monastic retreat center or space for a writer/artist to work for a week.  We've thought of having a "Sleep in the Studio" kind of promotion.  Come to a place where you won't be distracted by TV or wi-fi or much in the way of noise.

I've thought of a basic package of $1000 a week.  For additional money, more can be added:  a creativity session for those who like to create together, a spiritual direction session, meals delivered, art supplies,  food bought in advance and put in the cottage.

I realize that price might be high for artists who make a living with their work.  But maybe it's a fair price in the world of retreats.  I'm seeing retreat prices of $300+ for a week-end.  Of course, that includes meals.

I've also thought about my church, which is contemplating future directions.  Could we tie into our church?  People stay and make a tax-deductible contribution to the church, which we then bill for our service.

I'm looking for a way to have it all ways:  preserve my homestead exemption, avoid registering with the City of Hollywood, simplifying taxes, making a bit of money.

Let me keep contemplating.

Saturday, July 6, 2019

Student Selfies with Caterpillars and Other Notes from a Week

When I think back on this week, what will I remember?  There are two competing events:

The Butterfly Garden

I'll write about this one first, because I have some photos.  I have wanted to do something to beautify the outside area at school since I first realized how many students use the picnic tables and look out onto the concrete wasteland that is the top part of our parking garage:

On Monday, one week after I put out the initial plants, we first spotted the caterpillars in the butterfly garden:

On Tuesday, I realized we'd need more milkweed, the only plants that these caterpillars will eat.  My pastor butterfly gardener expert gave me 3 smaller plants.  From Tuesday to Wednesday, they ate every leaf on the plant.  I made plans to go get more.

I hurried those plans to completion when a student rushed in saying, "Dr. K!  Dr. K!  The caterpillars are escaping.  They're all over the parking lot."

I walked out to see students working to rescue them and put them back on plants.  I went to get them more food.

On the way back, I thought about how I thought this garden had very little success of attracting butterflies, but it would be good to have some green out back.  So far, if we count caterpillars, we've been successful beyond my wildest dreams. 

I've also been happy that others are interested in this adventure.  I had at least one friend who said she didn't think students would care, but it was good that I cared.  However, on Wednesday, students were taking selfies with the caterpillars.  On Friday, we arrived to plants with very few caterpillars.  I had done some research, and I guessed that many of them had crawled away to create a chrysalis.  Sure enough, we found some.

We've been having interesting conversations all week, about the life cycle of butterflies and about what we can and can't do to help the creatures.  I didn't anticipate having conversations about natural selection and survival of the fittest, but we have.

I hope that we have the opportunity to watch at least one of them move from chrysalis to butterfly.  The process seems perilous, but we've counted at least 5 chrysalises that have a good chance.  Maybe we'll even have a different kind of coming out party!

Crown of Sonnets

I wrote a sonnet on Friday; go here to read it.  As I drove to work on Monday, I thought about that sonnet, especially the last line.  I thought about a crown of sonnets.  On Monday, I wrote sonnet #2.

I have continued to write sonnets in the crown, and I just finished sonnet #7.  I'm not sure they'll be of much use later--they are very much tied to the news cycle.  But it's been good practice.  I have never, ever written as many sonnets in one week as I did this past week.

I won't ever think of them as my best work.  But it's been good to feel my brain engaged.


It's been a good week in other ways too:  time with friends, a phone call about candidacy, time in the pool, good meals, and time to read.  Oh yes, and we celebrated Independence Day as a nation.

Tomorrow the camp counselors arrive for our Vacation Bible School week.  Let me think about what still needs to be done in the cottage before they come to town.

Friday, July 5, 2019

Independence Day Report: Culinary Treats and a Chance to Read

I'm not taking today off because it's going to be a fairly quiet day at work, with lots of administrative staff taking vacation time, and I want to be there to support the faculty and students.  So my 4th of July was constrained by the fact that I'm working today--there would be no road trips and no staying up all night to set off fireworks.  Of course, even if I took today off, I wouldn't have been up late to set off fireworks.

Early yesterday, I thought about the variety of ways I could spend the 4th, a day off in the middle of the week.  I went for an early morning walk to the beach.  The sunrises have been amazing these past few days, but I've observed them in the car.  Yesterday's sunrise did not disappoint.

I came home and did some writing and had breakfast:

It looks so healthy, doesn't it?  And it is, in a way, with the berries.  But they're on top of pound cake and drizzled with whipped cream, the real stuff, with full butterfat.  Yummmmm.

I made a quick run to the grocery store and then decided that I wanted to spend some time by the pool reading.  I read a bit of Jill Lapore's amazing book These Truths.  I've been making my way through it slowly.  It's that rare book:  huge, but every page has so much to savor.  It's a great book for Independence Day.  I've made my way to 1939 in this book that I started in October.

In the afternoon we went to see some friends.  We played cards and cooked together.  I thought I might be posting pictures and details of our experiment infusing smoke into our beverages.  We had a plan that involved a handheld smoker and rosemary:

But the handheld smoker has something wrong with it, so eventually, we just burned the sprigs of dried rosemary.

I was much more pleased with the dessert we created.  One of our friends had requested a dessert that said 4th of July.  I immediately thought of the cakes of my youth, decorated to look like a flag.  I was inordinately pleased with our result.  This picture is a bit blurry, but you get the idea:

And so my culinary day ended as it began:  with berries and whipped cream and cake.  But this time, to be different I sprinkled coconut on the cake.

We got home in time to sit in the backyard and watch the fireworks at the beach.  We couldn't see all of them, but Hurricane Irma's destruction of some of the tree canopy means that we can see some of the show from our house.

I finished the day by reading, but this time, I read Timothy Snyder's On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century.  Sadly, it seems more relevant now than when I first read it just after it was published.

Now it's time to have a repeat of yesterday's breakfast (only today I'll make it slightly healthier by having yogurt instead of whipped cream) and then off to work:  there are caterpillars to care for and students to feed and instructors to support.