Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Thanksgiving Creativity

For many of us, the meal will be the main thing we create during this Thanksgiving week:

Or maybe we will be at our most creative when it comes to transforming the leftovers.

Maybe we will draw pictures of turkeys.

Maybe we will make them part of our announcements:

Maybe we will turn our autumn pumpkins into a different sort of display as we transition to the next holiday.

Maybe we will turn our gratitude into haiku:


Travels behind us,
We gather for food and fun,
Deeper nourishment.

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Transformations: The BBQ place, the Craft Store, and Women Characters in a Movie

Yesterday for lunch, I went to a BBQ place with my grad school friend.  It was in a place in the heart of Five Points which is near the campus of the University of South Carolina.  The last time I ate there, it was not a BBQ place, but it was in the same structure.  The last time I ate there, it was a steak place with dark wood and sophisticated furnishings.  It was the summer of 1991, and we met my undergrad History professor there for dinner.  He told us we had to go see Thelma and Louise on the big screen, and the next week we did.

The current restaurant did not inspire a trip to the movies, although it might have, if Harriet was still in movie theatres.  We did have a great talk about barbecue and sides, in addition to talking about the depiction of slavery in recent movies and in the Roots of our childhood.  If I was writing that scene in a novel, I might have spent some time reflecting that we were eating foods that we might never have had without the Southern plantation.

I thought about getting smoked turkey.  It is the week of Thanksgiving after all.  But we got a fried ribs appetizer--it's not deep fried, like chicken, but fried in some way that makes the outer meat a wonderful texture.  I should have had it for both appetizer and main dish.  It was the best part of the meal.

We spent part of the afternoon on a quest for tea towels that have embroidery cloth (Aida cloth) as part of them.  The craft stores of our grad school years would have had bibs and ornaments and towels of all sizes, along with counted cross stitch kits.  These modern stores do not.  Sigh.

We came home to an afternoon of late tea and conversation.  Last week, my sister sent me a link to a house that's for sale in western North Carolina.  It's been an inn and a house, and it's huge--perhaps it's a good deal or perhaps it's a boondoggle.  I have dreams of artists' colonies or retreat centers or both or just moving to a higher elevation and watching the light shift on the mountains.  Sigh.

As the afternoon deepened into evening, I wondered if we had missed any developments with the national news.  We spent some time working with the antenna, and catching up on the news.

Then we watched The Chaperone, which I would not have discovered without my grad school friend.  We thought we'd have lovely costumes, if nothing else.  But the story line was compelling too--and it made me glad to be alive in the 21st century, not trying to find my way as a woman 100 years ago.

I didn't realize the movie was released in theatres--I thought it was an episode made for Masterpiece Theatre.  I'm glad I didn't pay to watch it in movie theatres; it's a bit low key for that venue.  But for a chilly November night, it was just the thing!

And now, to think more about Thanksgiving, which is almost upon us.

Monday, November 25, 2019

The First Leg of Thanksgiving Travels

After a satisfying Saturday (a great PAC meeting at school, followed by an afternoon of homemade pizza creating and eating at home), I got up yesterday morning and was on the road by 3:15 a.m., while my spouse stayed behind to teach his Philosophy classes this week.

While I will miss him, it's going to be a great week of reconnecting with friends and family along the way to Thanksgiving.  And if I had stayed at home, I wouldn't have seen much of him anyway--such is the life of an adjunct Philosophy instructor.

Sunday morning turns out to be a great time to travel up the spine of the state.  There's none of the overnight road construction that plagues the Florida traveler on any other day.  The traffic is light when one leaves at 3:15 a.m., and because it's Sunday, there's not any rush hour snags further on up the road to slow one down.

I ate carrots and grapes and homemade bread as I drove.  I caught great NPR shows:  On Being featured a fascinating discussion with Marilynne Robinson and Marcelo Gleiser, and as I got further away from home, there was an NPR show from Wisconsin about books and authors.

I figured out where to go for my next chapter of my apocalyptic, Graham Greene-esque novel.  I haven't done significant work on that book since September, and I'm glad to have a direction.  My online classes are coming to an end, so I should have several weeks to make some progress.

Yesterday I went as far as Columbia, SC, where I reconnected with a grad school friend.  Today when she goes to teach her classes, I will reconnect with another grad school friend.

The University of South Carolina has had significant growth since I finished my PhD in 1992, at least in terms of buildings.  Here and there, I see a building from the old days, a building often dwarfed by the newer, shinier, taller buildings.

It's interesting to think of this town as the place where I started to construct the first phase of my working life (the teaching which would then lead to college administration) and where I hope to construct a different phase of my working life--when I work on the certificate in spiritual direction, I will come to the campus of Southern Seminary, which is also in this town, for the onground intensives.

My grandfather went to Southern when he was constructing what would be the totality of his working life, being a parish pastor.  My grandmother kept the letter that the seminary sent him during the depths of the Great Depression, a letter that said that they really couldn't encourage him to go to Seminary since they couldn't be sure there would be a job at the end.  My memory of this letter I saw only once is that it said that he should stay on the farm, since there would be food at least.

My grandfather took the gamble, left the farm, met my grandmother while he was an intern in east Tennessee.  I'm hoping to have a life-changing experience there too.

Saturday, November 23, 2019

Killing Aphids, Listening to Impeachment Hearings

I have been awake for hours--but have I been writing?  No, I've been grading.  It's that time of the term.  I am caught up--but I will only be caught up for a day or two.  It's that time of the term.

But let me also note--I wrote a poem yesterday.  Yesterday I was watering the plants in the butterfly garden at school.  I noticed that 2 of the milkweed plants had aphids on them, so I spent some time killing them by rubbing them off the leaves.  Their dying stained my fingers bright yellow, even after I washed my hands.

This line came to me:  On the last day of the impeachment hearings, I kill the aphids on the milkweed plants.  I played with it off and on throughout the day, and eventually a poem came together.  Last night, I submitted it to the weekly Poets Respond (to the news) feature run by Rattle.

Today I don't have time to linger at my desk--I'm going in early to help with a PAC meeting at school.  I will stop and get the fruit platter and treats, and then I will help set up.  I will stay for the meeting, and I will hope that the clean up goes quickly.

And then it's time to start thinking about Thanksgiving:  what to read, what projects to work on--the what to eat part is already decided.

Friday, November 22, 2019


I am guessing that the Facebook post I made yesterday will end up being the most popular post of mine of 2019:

"I have just sent my response form to the Spiritual Direction Certification program that's at LTSS in Columbia, SC to let them know that I plan to join the program in January. It requires two onground intensives each year of the 2 year program, and the rest is done online. I'm really looking forward to being part of this program!"

So far, that post has 53 likes and 19 comments.  It's interesting to see the wide variety of people who have liked/commented:  high school friends, college friends, friends of college friends, grad school friends, family, retreat friends, local church friends, colleague friends from past jobs.  It's made me feel connected, supported, and loved.

Even though I was fairly sure that I'd get into the program, I'm still oddly relieved to get the official notification.  When I pulled it out of the mailbox, I thought, hmm, it's a thin envelope.  I remembered long ago when I first applied to colleges back in the early 80's--a thin envelope meant a rejection.  

I spent part of yesterday writing to people:  the pastor friend who first told me about the program, the director of the certificate program, the friend who has encouraged me for over a decade to explore this direction with more purpose.

Why has it taken me so long to explore this direction, to get certified?  For part of those years, I thought I might rather go to seminary.  For part of those years, I couldn't visualize how the programs I looked at might actually fit with my life--and many of those programs wouldn't have fit with my life as well as this one will.  Some distance programs require a 2 week residency--that's tough in most of the jobs I've had.  Or the residency has been at a time in the academic term that would be a tough sell to my boss about why I had to be away.

Or maybe those are just cover stories--maybe I was just scared.

Or maybe I had other projects that felt more pressing--jobs and houses and poems and family.  On and on the list could go.  

I am so excited about this program.  And I am excited about the future, even though I'm not exactly sure what that future looks like. 

Thursday, November 21, 2019

Transgender Awareness

Yesterday was the Transgender Day of Remembrance.  I decided not to post yesterday, since I haven't known anyone killed because of their transgender status.  I was struck by how many clergy folk I know either in person or by way of social media took part in some sort of service or ritual.

Until recently, I believed that we lived in a world of increasing tolerance, a live and let live kind of world, at least in industrialized nations of the northern hemispheres--by which I really mean Europe and the U.S. and Canada.  But now, we see this tolerance being swept out into seas of hate.

Our transgender friends would likely tell us that they've never experienced this golden time of increasing tolerance.  There's something about the idea of gender fluidity that the mass of humans have found truly threatening.

There are researchers that would tell us that the younger generations are more likely to be tolerant, but when it comes to transgender humans, I'm not sure.  I only have anecdotal evidence.  Last week, I was part of a conversation about past colleagues who may or may not have been transgendered--the flimsiest of evidence was offered (that person was taller than most women so that person must have been trans--really?).  From the conversation, it was clear to me that these younger people were not at all comfortable with any difference at all.

And yet, that's not exactly true either.  We have some colleagues who are not heterosexual, and they seem accepting of these colleagues.

I tried to be a voice of tolerance, but it became clear to me that perhaps we should have done more during Transgender Awareness Week, the week that lead up to the Transgender Day of Remembrance.  Perhaps attitudes won't change until we have a transgender colleague or two.

I think of my own journey.  Once I'd have said that I didn't know any transgender people, but that's simply not true.  I've had students who were making transitions of some sort, and some of them were open about their transgender status.  One of those students went on to grad school, and I was happy to be part of her dissertation writing process.  We've had a transgender person at our church who was early in the transition process, and I was happy to see how accepting our congregation was.

Now I'm old enough that I have had at least one friend who has a transgender child who came out as transgender when he was finishing high school.  That friend loaned me a book by Austen Harke, Transforming:  The Bible and the Lives of Transgender Christians.  It didn't tell me much that I didn't already know, but it would be a good resource for those who are new to this topic and who are desperate for some open-hearted approaches.

Once I would not have predicted that the nation would make the kind of progress that it has on other social justice issues--like the possibility of having an African-American president or the legalizing of same gender marriage.  That progress seemed to go nowhere and then we seemed to make changes at a much quicker pace.

Let it be so with these issues that affect the transgender population too.

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Good Books: "Figuring" and "Deaf Republic"

The National Book Awards are given tonight.  We've had announcements of the long list and the short list, and tonight, we find out who won.

I am not one of those readers who reads every book on the list, although I will often refer to these kinds of lists when I'm casting about for something good to read.  This year, I'm surprised by some of the books that aren't on the list.  Last year, I would have included Jill Lepore's These Truths.  This year, I'd have included Maria Popova's Figuring.

I took that book with me a few weeks ago when I went to the women's retreat.  I knew I would likely have time to read, so I decided to focus on making progress on that book.  I knew that if I wasn't intentional, I'd never get around to a nonfiction book that's longer than 500 pages.

Even though it's a book of nonfiction, it was riveting.  It's an amazing exploration of science and creativity and creating an authentic life. The book focuses most of its time on amazing women throughout history.  I had heard of some of the women, particularly the writers like Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Emily Dickinson.  But many of the early female scientists I had never heard of--what revelations!

The book is an amazing accomplishment because it weaves so many storylines together, moving back and forth in time, never losing the reader.  And Popova offers interesting insights along the way.  Here's an example, from page 184:  "One of the greatest betrayals of our illusion of permanence, one of the sharpest daggers of loss, is the retroactive recognition of lasts--the last time you sat across from a person you now know you will never see again, the last touch of a hand, the last carefree laugh over something spoken in the secret language that binds two people in intimacy--lasts the finality of which we can never comprehend in the moment, lasts we experience with sundering shock in hindsight."

I was able to make so much progress on that book because I had an unplugged week-end at the retreat.  Yesterday, I had an unplanned unplugged morning, when my computer was sluggish after an automatic update.  So I read Ilya Kaminsky's Deaf Republic, a book which in on the shortlist for tonight's National Book Award.

I'd heard so much about it that I included it in an Amazon order when I needed to get to the minimum purchase to get free shipping.  Yesterday, I reached for it first, knowing that it might get the award tonight.

It's a curious book, a combination of many things, like a play, sign language (real?  made up?), poems that can stand alone, a sort of history of Eastern Europe.  The last poem in the collection is what makes the whole thing brilliant, the way it connects this history recounted in the poems, a history that seems from a remote village in the 20th century, to events--particularly involving police brutality--in recent years.

I've had the kind of reading month, and the kind of reading year, that I lately have to work hard to achieve.  I have to be intentional about seeking out good books--I no longer read enough books to have them tumble across my path.  I'll say more about this year as we get to the end of the year.  Now I need to get ready for the day.

Monday, November 18, 2019

Sermon Notes: Worry and Gratitude

On Wednesday, my pastor asked me if I wanted to preach on Sunday.  I said sure.  Then he asked if I would do the whole service.  I said sure.  He's been going at high speed, as pastors do, and fighting off a cold, and the holidays are coming.

I thought it would be easy to preach the last Sunday of our gratitude series:  Luke 12:22-34.  But as I looked at the text, it seemed filled with peril.  There's the first part telling us not to worry--but we've all got plenty to worry about, and some of us need some professional help, and I don't want people to feel bad about that.

And then there's the end that warns us about the danger of possessions and wealth.  But I know that many of our parishioners are quite poor and barely hanging onto the edge of being able to sustain what they have.  It feels wrong to preach about letting go of our attachment to stuff to people who might genuinely not have what they need.

I thought about going the "God will provide" route, but that worried me too.  If God doesn't provide, and we find ourselves without a way to pay the light bill or we find ourselves homeless or the welfare people take our kids, does that mean we didn't pray well?  That God doesn't really love us?  It's shoddy theology, in the way that praying for a cure to illness leads to problems if the cure doesn't come.

In the end, I talked about all the issues with the text and how to preach it--and then I recommended gratitude as a cure for all sorts of ills--the rest of the liturgy stressed gratitude so it fit.  I recommended a gratitude journal as a way to help us notice all the blessings that God sends our way, and I recommended that we say a prayer of thanks as we keep our journals.  I suggested that we also post our gratitude to our social media sites to counter the ugliness that we find there.

It wasn't my best sermon, but I suspect that the sermons I feel are my best are not the ones that the parishioners might choose.  And it's good to have a voice that's different from my pastor's.  We are still a very white, very male, very straight church (ELCA Lutheran).  I'm not real different from the standard pastor, but I am female, and we still have too few females.

It was a good way to spend a Sunday morning:  baking communion bread, writing a poem, and then heading to church to do my co-treasurer duties and then lead service.

And now it's off to get bread and treats for the students and then to spin class.

Sunday, November 17, 2019

The Last Sunday in Ordinary Time: Hildegard of Bingen's Mantle

Today is the last Sunday in Ordinary Time.  Next Sunday will be Christ the King Sunday, which takes us out of Ordinary Time--and after that, we plunge into the season of Advent.

When I was a child, I thought of the time between Pentecost and Advent as the long, green, boring season.  Truth be told, I still do.  I love the possibilities for observing and celebrating the time between Advent and Pentecost--the season of Ordinary Time often feels arid. 

In many ways, I think that the challenges of Ordinary Time mimic the challenges of a regular life.  We've got lots of highs and lows early on (until about age 25-35), and then we've got a long middle ground where we need to do more work to make meaning of it all.

Some of us will do this through the highs and lows of family members.  Some of us will make meaning by our involvement with larger communities.  Some of us will turn to art.

This morning, I wrote a poem.  I'd like to say that I wrote a poem, as I do every morning.  But I don't do that every morning.  I wonder if I would wrest more meaning from life if I did write a poem every morning.  I suspect I would have a similar reaction as I do to liturgical seasons.  Some of my poetry writing mornings would feel important and significant, but many more would leave me wondering about the larger meaning of it all and reflecting on drudgery.

This morning I baked the gluten free communion bread.  It needs to be made on the day of the worship service because of the nature of gluten free bread; I know from experience that it doesn't freeze well.  As I stirred together the ingredients, this line came to me:  On the last Sunday of Ordinary Time, I bake the communion bread.  Once I got the bread in the oven, I sat down to write.

I played with the line--should it be bake or create?  The idea of Hildegard of Bingen bubbled up in my brain--a creative woman of her time, a woman I see as subversive, although I don't know that she saw herself that way.  I wanted to hear some of her music, and we live in a wonderful age where the Internet can provide.  I spent some time writing my poem and listening to this group sing the medieval music of Hildegard of Bingen.

I was struck by the woman with the green swoosh in her auburn hair and the chunky boots visible from the slit of her formal gown singing the music written by a monastic woman centuries earlier.  What would Hildegard have said?

I like to think of Hildegard of Bingen smiling at the many ways we've seized her legacy and taken up her mantle.  Some of us do that by writing, the way that she did.  Some of us have seized her mantle by singing the music that she left us.  Some of us tend our gardens, the ones we grow for food, the ones we grow for herbs, the ones we grow for the beauty of the flowers, the interior gardens that we may or may not share.  Some of us take on the Hildegard's mantle when we scold bishops and legislators and remind them of the obligation of creating a more just society.  We wear Hildegard's mantle as we care for the next generations, some of whom we're related to biologically, some of whom we will never meet.

Saturday, November 16, 2019

Saturday Spaciousness

I usually write blog posts much earlier.  You might be thinking that I managed to sleep in, but you would be wrong.  I fell asleep fairly early Friday night, toddler bedtime early, like 7:30.  So when I woke up at 2:30 and stayed awake, it wasn't as horrible as it would have been if I had gone to sleep at a normal adult bedtime.

I've had a lovely morning.  I wrote what may or may not become a poem.  I decided that I really wanted cinnamon rolls, when I realized that the cold front had finally come through--so I made them!  I did some online shopping--my spouse and I are both in need of tennis shoes.  I did some online research to know what I'll buy when I go to Target later and to help my spouse find the shelving hardware that he'll need when he creates the floating shelves for the front bedroom.  My spouse and I got started on the lamb stew that we'll have later.  I did some other chores, like laundry.

I realize it may not sound like a lovely morning, but it was--and along the way, I read some great blog posts, did some thinking about other writing projects, updated the list of books I've read in 2019, looked at photos from past Thanksgivings, looked at my friends' Facebook posts, wrote a blog post for my theology blog--the stuff that keeps me rooted.

And I got some grading done.  Because I was completely offline last week-end, I am not as caught up with my grading as I need to be.  This week-end, I need to power through it.

I also have an eye to the next 6 weeks.  It's hard to believe that Thanksgiving is almost here.  I won't have many free Saturdays in the next 6 weeks, so it was even more lovely to have time to do such a variety of tasks.

Friday, November 15, 2019

Early Thanksgiving

Yesterday, we had the annual Thanksgiving potluck for our school faculty and staff.  Yes, it's 2 weeks before Thanksgiving--I see that as a good thing. We can enjoy a Thanksgiving dinner, and 2 weeks later, we'll be ready to enjoy another Thanksgiving dinner.

But it was also a practical choice.  My boss is on vacation next week, and we don't want to have an additional Thanksgiving dinner the week of Thanksgiving.

When we ordered the turkeys and a ham, we thought about having it delivered, as we've done in past years.  I said, "I'll save the school the $30 plus tip delivery fee.  I'll go pick them up."

Yesterday I rued that choice.  We had steady, steady rain--not torrential, but soaking.  I came back from picking up the turkeys and the ham, and I was soaking wet.  By the end of the day, my sweater was still damp.

But we had a delightful meal together.  Unlike some places I've worked, where we're lucky if people bring a half-eaten box of crackers and a hunk of cheese, or a tired veggie platter, we have all sorts of deliciousness:  several kinds of mac and cheese, several kinds of stuffing/dressing, a beautiful salad, a queso bean dip (homemade, not just an opened can), the old-fashioned sweet potato casserole with a brown sugar and pecan topping, a homemade cranberry and pecan relish, a corn casserole, and a variety of desserts.

It's the kind of meal I could eat every day with no complaints--although I would gain a significant amount of weight if I ate that way every day.

It reminded me of the best potlucks of the churches of my youth:  lots of yummy food, lots of chances to talk, the proclamations of how wonderful it was to eat such delicious food together, a warm glow that will last for many months.

And also, thoughts of who isn't there (faculty on field trips, people no longer working at our school, people away traveling)--both at my current school, and all the people I'm missing from past workplaces.  And the wondering where we will all be this time next year--a habit from my family of origin.

I wonder if anyone else felt a spiritual tingle during our time together.  I know that I'm often the only one.  I said a silent prayer of thanks--and as we all pitched in to clean up (yes, almost all of us, regardless of gender or position), I continued to say thanks--both verbally, to my colleagues, and silently, to the one who prepares a table for us all.

Thursday, November 14, 2019

Can Theology Speak to Management Issues in the Contemporary Office?

It has been a long several months of discussion about management issues.  We discuss them at work, and then I often come home to process the discussions with my spouse.  In addition to his graduate degree in Philosophy, he has a Master's of Public Administration, which means he knows as much about management theory as many of the MBA's I know.

But does the management theory that many of us are taught serve us well?

I've been thinking about the different approaches to management, and how understanding them can help us talk to each other.  In much the same way that discussing our theological stance, instead of assuming we're coming from the same space, can help us understand each other, maybe thinking about the differences in management theory can help us understand.

Here's an essential item that is often unspoken:  are we managing people or are we managing a budget?  I know that the answer might be "Both."  But diving a bit deeper into the question might help us focus our efforts.

If we're managing people, are we managing those who report to us?  Or our customers?  And how do we define customers?

If we've delegated some of our management to a different level of managers, do we trust those managers?

And lately, I've been wondering if people's theology might be influencing our management styles more than we would suspect--certainly, for me, more comfortable than I feel articulating in my secular workplace.

But in this blog post, a single blog post in a sea of social media waves much bigger than mine, let me begin to think about this idea.

I'm an ELCA Lutheran, steeped in the doctrine of grace.  I suspect that I approach my management tasks by wanting to extend grace instead of punishment.  I truly do believe that almost every person is doing the best that they can do.  If I act out of that position, it's distinctly different than many management approaches.

I have noticed how many managers act out of a fear of being ripped off and taken advantage of.  It's a theology of damnation, of a sort.  Those managers tend to manage/rule by fear, similar to a preacher offering a view of hellfire and brimstone to inspire right behavior.

From my elementary school years, I've been haunted by the question of unforgivable sin, even though my denomination doesn't really stress unforgivable sin.  As someone being managed, that question still haunts me.  As a manager, I try to believe that there is no unforgivable sin, although I know that there are--inappropriate activities with students, for example.

I could expand this idea, if only I had more time.  Does a Hindu theology change the way we manage?  Do Buddhists make better managers?

But time is short, and I have a coffee date with a friend.  I suspect I will continue to write about this topic.

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Singing the Songs of Our Youth

I went to a WELCA retreat this week-end, which meant a long car ride. We listened to all sorts of music, including lots of folk music. I mentioned "Pack Up Your Sorrows," my favorite Peter, Paul, and Mary song and asked if they had heard the album Bleeker Street, which contains a version of the song by Loudon Wainright III and Iris DeMent. 

No one had, but thanks to the magic of Apple Music, we could stream the whole album. All that music made me think of the soundtrack of my childhood, those albums in the original that were often playing on my dad's stereo--and it reminded me of the folk music show that played on an NPR station on Sundays in North Virginia, which I listened to, with my dad, during summers when I was home from college.  When did I first discover the album Bleeker Street?  Either my dad recommended it to me or I recommended it to him. 

And on my way to work, I listened to the CD in my car (I do not have a streaming service of any kind, but I am wealthy in CDs), and I'm falling in love with this music again.  Yesterday I went online to find the original Peter, Paul, and Mary version.  What beautiful harmony that group had!

I also discovered a version by Johnny Cash and June Carter--ahh, the magic of YouTube algorithms.  In some ways, I'm surprised that there aren't more people who have covered this song.  It's fairly simple to sing, and there's lots of potential for harmonies, if a duo/group is so inclined.

Let me also remember another of the week-end's joys:  singing together.  In the car, on the way up, we heard a live version of Joan Baez singing "Amazing Grace" and encouraging her audience to sing along.  We were 4 Lutheran women in a car--of course we sang along.  Beautiful!

On Saturday morning, I went to devotions, which consisted of 2 songs and 2 prayers.  Afterward, the woman sitting beside me said, "So, are you singing in the choir for worship tonight?"

I said, "I don't think of myself as someone who can sing."

The woman said, "I would disagree."

It was an interesting disconnect.  I think of myself as someone who has a serviceable voice, but a voice I can't be sure will find the right notes.  Maybe I should begin to tell myself a different story about my voice.

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

A Spot in the Program

Before we go much further, let me record what may have been the biggest life-changing event of the past week.  I've hesitated to mention it, and I've been curious about why I've been hesitant.  Am I superstitious enough to think that I may jinx it if I mention it?  Do I worry that my fortunes will change?

I had an e-mail exchange with the pastor who is the  Director of the Spiritual Direction Certification Program at Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary.  The deadline to apply to that program approaches, and he wanted to make sure that I had gotten my application in.  He mentioned that there might be a waiting list, for the first time this year.

I thought, great.  I finally decide this is what I want to do, and just my luck, I'll be put on a waiting list.

I had gotten my application in the mail, but I also submitted a copy electronically, just to be sure.  And last Wednesday, I got this e-mail from him:

"Fabulous, Kristin. There are spots left, but I’ll make sure you get one of them!

God is with you."

So, I think I've been accepted into the program.  Will I get an official letter?  I don't really need an official letter, but it surprises me how much I want one.

At the WELCA retreat this week-end, I talked to a woman who is a spiritual director.  She came to spiritual direction by way of her work in therapy.  She said she didn't get a certificate; hers was a 3 year program through the Catholic church.  She said she thought that my decision to go the route of spiritual direction would open a lot of doors for me.

I confess, I do love the idea of lots of doors opening.  But even if I knew that no doors would open, I would still do the program.  I am increasingly interested in the idea of discernment, and this program will immerse me in these ideas.

In a larger way, though, I hope to use what I learn to do something (not sure what yet) to be of use to people at midlife.  We do a lot to help younger people discern their future and their calling(s).  There's much that people at midlife need, and I don't see any of our societal institutions doing much of that.

And, of course, because it's me, I hope to also use my various interests in art and creativity in some way.

I have returned periodically to these lyrics by Rhiannon Giddens, from track 11 on her new CD:  "I don't know where I'm going, but I'm on my way. Lord if you love me, keep me I pray. I don't know where I'm going, but I know what to do." Here's a link, if you want to watch everyone playing and singing:

On Friday night, I made this sketch:

I am glad that I will have one of the spots in January.  I am glad that I have a direction, even if I'm not sure where it leads ultimately.

Monday, November 11, 2019

Falling through a Hole in Time

I spent the week-end feeling like I had fallen through a hole in time.  I went to the middle of the Florida peninsula, to the Lake Yale conference center for a statewide retreat for Lutheran women of the ELCA variety.  Once we might have called it a WELCA retreat, but I get the idea that we're in the process of rebranding.

I say we, but I've only been a WELCA member for about 10 minutes, compared to some of the women that I met this week-end.  In fact, during much of my life, I resisted being a WELCA member.  Those women seemed so different from me.

And after this retreat, I still feel that way, to a certain extent.  But to be honest, I often feel that way no matter what group I'm in.  I'm the one reading different books, I'm the one working in a different creative process, I'm the one who has a different family situation.  Maybe that outsider feeling is just going to be a given in my life.  I've always felt on the outside looking in, since I was little.

You might ask about the hole in time comment.  It's been strange to be at a WELCA event, surrounded by people whom I knew in a different time of my life--at a former church, at Synod Assembly.  Or did I know them at all?  So many of them looked like the women I once knew at my grandmother's church.  And then there's the matter of the ones that reminded me of my grandmother.

I also feel like I zoomed back in time because of the conference center itself.  It's such a different kind of conference center than the kind of glossy conference center that so many cities have built to attract groups like the AWP.  It's cinderblock and metal and sand:

The guest lodging reminded me of motor courts of the middle of the 20th century:

It reminded me very much of various gathering spots for churches of my youth.  Many of the bathrooms still had the tile of my youth.  It's the women's room, so we'll use pink tile!

But there was also a lake, a vast expanse of a lake.  It was much more lovely at sunrise than at any other time:

I didn't take my laptop for several reasons.  I wasn't sure there would be wi-fi, and even if there was wi-fi, I decided it would be good to unplug.  And on the morning that I captured the above shot of the sunrise, I was in a fellowship hall with several people tapping on their phones.  I stood up and said, "We're about to miss a beautiful sunrise."  But no one followed me outside--or even looked up.

When I look back on this week-end, what I might remember most is having time to read--one reason why I wanted to leave my laptop at home.  I've really been enjoying Maria Popova's Figuring.  What an amazing exploration of science and creativity and creating an authentic life.  The book focuses most of its time on amazing women throughout history.

It was fascinating being at this retreat surrounded by women, while reading about women who had been trailblazing such a different life than the one that most of us will be able to create.  I may say more on that later, but I may not.  I knew that I would need some less distracted time to make my way through the 500 + page book, and I'm glad that I seized the time this week-end.

It's another way I feel like I fell through a hole in time--the time to read and the material about the past. 

Sunday, November 10, 2019

The Week's Feedback

When I think about the feedback that I've gotten this week, let me remember the student who said how much she enjoyed the pumpkin decorating last week, how thrilled she was to be at a school that offers events that celebrate the seasons.

Let me remember the colleague who came to my office because she loves the homey feel.  I thought she was grading papers, but she was reading feedback on her dissertation, which was difficult for her.  I took it as a supreme compliment that she felt less stress in my office than in other places.  Some have criticized my office for being too messy ("like something exploded"), but I like knowing that not everyone feels that way.

Let me also remember driving home during the waning light.  As I drove past the tidal North Lake, a pelican swooped and dove, over and over again.  It was beautiful.  I had no camera to record it, and even if I had, I probably couldn't capture it, because the predominant shades were gray, dark gray, blue, and black.  But now I've recorded it with words.

Saturday, November 9, 2019

The Porous Nature of Borders and Walls

In 2005, I went to northeast France with my Mom and Dad.  We went to several other European countries too--just a quick zip across the border for lunch.  We went through checkpoints that were closed, but the apparatus was still there:  the guard booth, the gates that stayed permanently open. 

And those were checkpoints between countries that were friends.

On this day in 1989, one of those checkpoints opened, and history took a different course.  I'm talking about the Berlin Wall.  There had been talk about easing the checkpoints, but no clear plan.  On this night in 1989, after people heard that the borders would open and started to assemble, the guards feared that the gathering would turn violent.  Instead of shooting, they opened the gates.  People spent the week-end tearing down the wall, chunk by chunk.

My best friend from high school had joined the Army in 1987, and she was stationed in West Germany.  I wrote to her to ask if she had been on the scene of any of the historic events we were hearing about in the U.S.  Later, when she returned, she gave me this chunk of concrete:

She said it was part of the wall.  It looks like the kind of thing you might pick up at any construction site.  I wrote a short story that begins this way:  "Kate thinks that chunk of rock is a piece of the Berlin Wall. I let her believe it."  The story is titled "Don't Ask, Don't Tell."

I've also written a short story with the title "Border Crossings."  And "Borderlands."  Clearly I've been shaped by the idea of borders.

Once borders seemed so permanent, back when I was a child and the world had been carved into East and West (East/West is a great film about those borders, if anyone needs a primer).  It seemed that some had been born on the wrong side of that border, and it would always be so.

In the 1980's, the idea of borders began to shift.  Now they seem so fluid that we can't count on them at all anymore.  Perhaps it's not surprising that we see a political backlash, a yearning and demanding for borders that are less porous.

But on this important anniversary, let us root for reunification.  Or at least for a level of porousness so that loved ones are no longer separated by brute force.

Friday, November 8, 2019

Everything Was Beautiful at the Ballet

Yesterday, I innocently clicked on a story in The Washington Post, a review of a revival of A Chorus Line at the Signature Theatre.  I wrote this Facebook post:

"Down the internet/memory rabbit hole. First I'm reading a review in "The Washington Post" about a new rendition of "A Chorus Line" at Signature Theatre, then I'm listening to variations of "I Hope I Get It" that helpful people have uploaded to YouTube, and I'm realizing I can still sing all the lyrics, as I have been able to do since I first played the soundtrack over and over again, back in 1977, when my mother got the Broadway cast album for Christmas. I think of my 12 year old self belting out, "Who am I anyway? Am I my resume?""

When I wrote that, I thought about writing more, but I do try to keep my Facebook posts shorter.  Longform material goes into the blog.  I do think about that 12 year old who had never had a job and scarcely knew what a resume was.  However, I've spent much of my adult life singing a version of those lyrics.  How on earth did I get here to this place in my career?  Some days I say that with a sense of wonderment.  Some days I feel like I've gotten completely off track.  On bad days, I wonder if I was ever on a tack at all.

I was surprised by how many people commented on that Facebook post, but perhaps I shouldn't have been.  A lot of my friends have some drama club nerd in their backgrounds.  This show--and the Broadway cast album--was a touchstone for me, in much the same way that the film Fame (the older version, not the TV show, although I did like the TV show) was.  

One of my first creative loves was drama--the dressing up, the trying to be a character that wasn't me, the make believe--so it's not a surprise that I loved A Chorus Line or Fame.  About 10 years ago, I bought a CD of the Broadway cast album of A Chorus Line, and I spent some time reflecting on how adult the content of the lyrics was.  I'm sure most of that just flew right over my 12 year old head.  As I commented on a comment, "I thought the woman singing about tits and ass was just a very late bloomer."

That album covered so much:  adolescent sexuality of all sorts and the thrill and the shame of it all, adult sexuality of all sorts, body image, relationships with parents, being an outsider in so many ways.  There was so much I didn't understand, but at 12 years old, so much that I did understand on so many levels.

When we first moved to South Florida in 1998, a lot of high schools were staging the show, which I found odd. What would it be like to be in high school, playing those roles? Of course now, the content probably doesn't seem quite as grown up as it once did for high school actors.

The show is up in DC until Jan. 5.  Maybe I should check into cheap airline tickets.  My mom and my sister both commented on my Facebook post.  Maybe we could have a different kind of girls' week-end.

Thursday, November 7, 2019

November Writing Report

I knew that a lot of my writing time this quarter would be swallowed by the accreditation visit, and I was right.  Much of the month of October was lost to anything that wasn't accreditation.  That's part of the job, of course, but I'm happy it only happens every few years.

I didn't count on the impeachment process a.  happening or b.  intruding into my writing process.  But as I've thought of returning to my apocalyptic novel, I've wondered if should make some revisions.  I have a plan, but I think I won't revise just yet.  I might need to revise again, after all.

I do feel this pressure to get the novel finished for several reasons, not the least of which is because of the ways that actual history might intrude.  I've kept the setting vague, in terms of who is president, so I have hopes that the novel will feel relevant, regardless.  I do worry that it might feel less relevant/publishable under the next presidential administration, whatever it is that comes next.

I do worry that it might feel ever more relevant.

I also want to get the novel finished because I'm in that middle portion where it becomes easy to succumb to despair and never finish.  I've written 72 pages, 17,789 words.

It's also one of the first novels I've written where I don't know the ending.  I want to write to discover what happens.  It's delightful--and also frustrating in these weeks where there's less time.  There's always less time.

I've also been feeling pressure because I haven't done much in the way of writing poems.  Happily, yesterday I wrote my ghost of girlhood past poem.  Now I feel a bit of anxiety because I don't have another poetry idea that's readily available.

In future years, let me remember that while I feel I was doing no writing during this autumn, I was.  Lots and lots of writing for accreditation--not as satisfying as some writing, but I am reminded of how lucky I am to have these writing skills.  I've written responses and reports.  I wrote an essay for my application to the spiritual director certificate program.

Now it's time for more of the kind of writing that brings me joy.

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Death of a Former Colleague

Yesterday I had just settled into my office work at the computer (as opposed to the office work of the hospitality of putting out the morning treats for students and getting the coffee components ready for students).  On Facebook, I saw a former Art Institute colleague talking about another colleague who had died on Monday.  It was a strange feeling, even though it wasn't completely unexpected.

In 2014, that colleague was diagnosed with Stage IV colon cancer at the same time my high school best friend was diagnosed with Stage IV esophageal cancer.  I remember looking up the survival statistics of both diseases and resolving not to do that again--it was pretty grim.  My friend was dead a year later.  My colleague managed to live long enough that I thought he might beat the odds.

But along the way, there were glimmers that he might not.  He kept a blog where he talked fairly openly about setbacks.  I knew that the numbers that he didn't want to rise were rising.  But he had been lucky.  I wanted that luck to continue.

After I found out about his death, I stared numbly at the computer.  I toggled to his blog and stared numbly at it.  I decided that I needed to do something active.

I decided that it was time to create what is now our annual Veterans Day interactive board.  A few years ago, I created a bulletin board type space and invited people to put up a picture of their favorite veteran or a note of appreciation.  We got a lot of participation, and now I put it together every year.  I use some elements from past years and leave space for new additions.

It was an oddly satisfying way of grieving.  As I constructed the board, the words from "For All the Saints" went through my head--another satisfying response.  I also swapped out the Halloween book display in the library for our new Disconnect and Reconnect display.

My former colleague was a visual artist, so during a break from work, I sent some poems out into the world.  Maybe they will be published, maybe not.  But doing activities to support art also seemed like a good way to pay tribute.

I finished my day at work by meeting some friends for dinner.  We wouldn't have met each other if we hadn't worked at the Art Institute of Ft. Lauderdale together.  They also knew my former colleague, so we spent some time talking about him.  My friend has just published a book--more on that in later posts.

Along the way, I was grateful for Facebook.  It was good to see the tributes there.  I felt less alone in feeling so strange at the news of the death of my former colleague.  It was good to be reminded of all the ways he was so important to his students and to those of us who worked with him.

There are many worries I have about Facebook and other aspects of our online lives.  But yesterday, I was grateful for the connection, especially since the school that brought us together has closed.

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

An Evening with Ta-Nehisi Coates

Last night, my once in a blue moon book club headed to Miami to hear Ta-Nehisi Coates speak.  We headed down early, in part because of the utter unpredictable nature of Miami traffic, and in part because we wanted to eat dinner.  Happily, the traffic only had a few slowdowns, and we got to the parking lot in about 45 minutes during rush hour--not bad!

We went to the same restaurant where we ate before the Colson Whitehead event.  The food was still tasty.  The music soundtrack--not so much.  Gone was the music of my youth.  But we managed.

As we waited for the house to open, I tried to study people without being obvious.  I expected the same kind of crowd for both Coates and Whitehead.  After all, they are both famous authors, both African-American, both roughly the same age, both married with children.  But last night's crowd was different.

For one thing, last night's crowd was bigger.  One of my book club friends predicted a bigger turn out, but I wasn't sure.  I thought the fact that the event was on a Monday might work against it.  But no. 

The crowd last night had more young folks, which surprised me.  Many of them had that glamorous look that made me imagine that they stayed up late, sipping wine and working on their art--and also made me wonder where they came up with the money to manage their glamorous looks.

It's hard for me to imagine that my generation ever prompted that kind of speculation from our elders.  They sat in rapt attention, which made me think they were not there just because of a school assignment.

Of course, there were plenty of people of all ages--many of them dressed to the nines.  Lots of glittering tops and interesting shoes of a dressy variety.  As is usual for me, I felt fairly frumpy.

Coates was promoting his new fiction book, and I worried that he might just read from the book for 45 minutes.  Happily, he did not.  He began by reading the first page or two of the book, and then it was on to a freewheeling discussion between Coates and the grandson of Maya Angelou.  More than once, I wished I could have a transcript--or that I could take notes.

Let me try to record some of the insights:

--The most important one:  he said that the time we're in now are not the worst of times, even with Trump in office.  He said that if he was making a list of the worst of times, our current time wouldn't make the top 10, the top 20, or even the top 50.  Good perspective from a man who has spent the past decade writing and researching a book set in slave times in the U.S.

--He talked about black folks having been enslaved for 250 years and only living in freedom for 150 years.  What was implied:  that many of those 150 years weren't true freedom.  He even said that after slavery ended, the powerful created ever more imaginative ways of stripping people of their resources, especially the formerly enslaved.

--I imagine that his discussion of reparations would have seemed more revelatory if I hadn't already heard him discuss these ideas at great length in other spaces.

--He talked about needing to support young people, although he used a different verb which I can't remember right now.  He talked about how older people, meaning anyone who is older than 25, are so harsh when it comes to opinions and treatment of people who are children, but especially those who are 13-25 years old.  He talked about how young people are looking to make their way in the world that we created/left for them, and we need to shut up and be more supportive.

--He talked about how much he loves to write and how he'd been writing when he didn't have an audience ("when no one was reading anything I wrote") and how he would be writing when attention turned elsewhere.  It was good to remember how suddenly fame/power/audience might find us--and if it takes awhile, that might be good, because it gives us time to be rooted.

--A question from the audience:  how did Coates want to be remembered in 400 years?  He said he hoped people would be talking about more important things in 400 years.  I took a minute to think about what was happening 400 years ago, how that time period resembles ours, but also isn't remotely comparable to ours.  Fast forward 400 years:  wow.

--His answer to that question:  he wants to be remembered for his writing, of course.  But more important, for being a good friend, a good dad, a good husband.  A good reminder of what's important, at the end.

Monday, November 4, 2019

Forty Years a Hostage

Today is the anniversary of the takeover of the U.S. Embassy in Iran in 1979.  My family was with another family for a week-end get away at the Outer Banks, and it was one of the few times we had the TV on. My dad saw the coverage and shook his head. He said, "This doesn't look good."

It would be worse than we realized. Everyone in that house that day, the grown ups like my parents, the high school kids (me), and the little ones--we all thought that it would be quickly settled. It must be a mistake, right? Crazy school kids taking over an embassy who would soon come to their senses--now, of course, we know it was nothing like that.

In later years, as I've worked in a variety of places with a vast assortment of people, I've returned to the thought of those hostages, taken and held in their place of work. I can't imagine spending over a year in captivity with most of my colleagues. I'm lucky in that I like most of them well enough to spend a working day with them. But to be cooped up with them day in and day out?

I think of what I keep in my desk; I do keep stocks of items that might be important in an emergency: dental floss, tampons, other toiletries, a bit of cash, water, oatmeal, pens, office supplies of all sorts. Still, after a month or two, I'd run out.   And if I was held for any amount of time at all, I'm sure I'd rue the other items that never made it to my office.  And those hostages would be held for over a year.

Those hostages haunt me--did they have any sense of what was going to happen? Did they know they were in danger but stayed in their diplomatic post regardless? 

I think of those students.  It was just supposed to be a sit-in, that day at the embassy.  How on earth did those students manage to take an embassy--and hold it for so long?  Did they wake up periodically saying, "How on earth will we get out of this?"  Did they fear it would end badly?
I know that many released hostages have troubles after being released. I remember at national youth assemblies of my high school years where one or more of the Iranian hostages would come to talk to us--but they often glossed over the troubles with adjusting.

And here we are, forty years later.  The relationship between Iran and the U.S. was changed forever on that day.  It would have been changed by some turn of events, regardless--but how unlikely it seems, both then and now, that it would be a protest turned into a hostage situation that would be a catlyst for so much geopolitical change.

In so many ways, that event still holds us hostage.

Sunday, November 3, 2019

All Saints Sunday 2019

Today many churches will celebrate All Saints Sunday.  We will remember those who have gone before us, those whom we loved and those whom we never knew.

Will we find a different way to converse with our ancestors?

Some of us find this time of year suffused with a strange grieving for those who are here but in a different form from the way we once knew them.

Are we looking to commune with ghosts or to scare them away?

This time of year can be one of those thin spaces, where we sense what lies beyond.

I appreciate the liturgical calendar that runs beneath/beside the secular holidays.  I like having more to celebrate, more ways to remind myself that there's more to life than what occupies most of my time (work--both on the job and at my house).

I like having holidays that remind me that we're only here for too brief a time.

It helps me to treasure the fleeting moments that I have. It helps me to keep perspective.  All too soon, we too, will pass through these gates.

Saturday, November 2, 2019

Shaking Off the Seasonal Sadness

I have a felt an unshakable sadness, as I often do this time of year.  One of my favorite holidays has come and gone, a signal that it won't be too much longer before ALL of my favorite holidays have come and gone--that's true in the annual sense and true in the life-is-short sense.

It's been a good week.  Let me count the ways and shake some of the sadness off of me:

--It's been the kind of week that I like best at school:  a week of pumpkin decorating and a costume contest.  This year, I got into the spirit.  I brought the following to school on Halloween:

I wrote this blog post:

"Can you see the costume? Do you recognize the influence of both Laura Ingalls Wilder and Barbie? Can you create a poem about the Ghost of Girlhood Past?"

And then I made this costume:

I wrote this blog post:

"The Ghost of Girlhood Past: who needs a costume made in China, when you have your wedding veil, your childhood dolls, and a string of battery operated Christmas lights!"

--An added bonus:  now those lights are draped around the leftover Halloween pumpkins and the autumnal trees in my office:

--A week ago, I made pumpkin cinnamon rolls.  Today, even though I have to be in the office, I will share those rolls with a friend who is coming to the office to have some catch up time.

--One of my colleagues in Career Services said that I am one of the most creative people she knows, along with our registrar and the colleague's mom.  I'll take that compliment.

--Yesterday we ordered smoked turkeys and a ham for our annual Thanksgiving potluck at school.  It was good to reconnect with our source for the smoked turkeys and ham and good to work with the Director of Admissions in the way we once did.  It's good to remember the aspects of my workplace that I love.

--Yesterday I also had a flash of insight for a new collection of poetry.  About 6 weeks ago, I thought about using one of my newer chapbook manuscripts as a base for a larger collection.  I had put the the chapbook together by only allowing myself to use poems that I'd written since 2016. 

When I tried to assemble a larger manuscript, it was clear that I was duplicating the manuscript I already had in circulation.  I use circulation loosely.  I send it out about once a month.  I still like that manuscript, but I'd like a different manuscript to also be submitting to places that have already seen manuscript #1.

Yesterday, I thought, what if I include the poems that are rooted in mythology, fairly tales, and a literary character or two (Scout from To Kill a Mockingbird and Nancy Drew).  An added bonus:  those poems aren't included in manuscript #1.

--Now let me settle into this Saturday.  Even though I have to be at the office, I plan to do some baking later today.  I am going to experiment with a Pan de Muerto recipe and transform it into a Tropical Pan de Muerto.  Stay tuned!

Friday, November 1, 2019

Rejecting Zombiehood

We had a quiet Halloween night, as we often do.  We are two streets over from the street that puts on a festive night so crowded that the police come to block the streets to traffic (and I suspect to keep order).  We only had 10 pieces of candy, but it still took us a few hours to give it away.  Then we came inside and watched old Halloween episodes of Roseanne.  That show always did Halloween well, although I will give special mention to the Hitchcock inspired Halloween episode of That 70's Show that we watched while eating dinner.  After a week of being out every night, we were in bed by 9.

When I was younger, Halloween made me feel weird/depressed/rejected/dejected because I didn't want to go out and drink in bars.  As Halloween darkens into true night, I almost always feel a sense of strangling dread.   My spouse thinks that those feelings are leftover from our childhoods in the 70's, when we worried about razor blades in the candy.  But it's also partly exhaustion and partly that there's always noise.

Last night I also felt a bit of sorrow in my yearning that I just had another few days to enjoy all the decorations.  It seems like most of my neighbors only just got around to putting up their displays, and now it's over.  I've enjoyed going to church and seeing all the pumpkins in the yard.  After all, these seasonal displays are the only sign of autumn that we have so far--it's still stifling hot.  At one point last night, I had to go inside to cool off.

I also felt a bit of sorrow because the day was over.  We've had a great week at work as people decorated pumpkins and then yesterday, we had lots of costumes and festivity.  Traditionalists might grumble about reduced productivity, but I do believe that festive days and weeks help with retention, which is one of the benchmarks by which we are judged as a school.

And today, the Feast of All Saints, which most Halloween lovers won't be celebrating.  These days, I am more aware than ever of Halloween's linking to All Saints Day, which we celebrate today. Traditionally, this day celebrates the saints who have gone on before us. Traditionalists would only celebrate the lives of the truly beatified and the lives of those martyred for the faith; we'd celebrate the more recently dead tomorrow, with the Feast of All Souls. Many modern churches have expanded this feast day (or collapsed the 2 feast days) to become a day when we remember our dead.

One reason why I love this trio of holidays is that it reminds us that life is short and that we'd better get on with the important work that we want to do.  Let me also expand this mission:  life is short, and we need to start seizing the joy that we often neglect to notice.

In terms of work, I want to put together a new book-length manuscript, while still continuing to make one last push to get the other manuscript published.  In terms of the mix of work and joy, I want to mail the application for the spiritual direction certificate program.  In terms of sheer joy, I want more times of close connection with friends and family.

Let us resolve that we won't be zombies*, shuffling through life as we navigate some undead space between life and death.  As the year wanes, let's think about where we want to be this time next year.  Let's look into the gloom and murk and see what we can shape.

*For more on zombies, see/hear this excellent episode of the NPR show, 1A.