Thursday, December 31, 2020

"Mrs. Dalloway": Woolf's Time and Ours

I've really been enjoying a spate of recent articles that talk about Virginia Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway, like this one by Jenny Offill in The New Yorker and this one by Michael Cunningham in The New York Times.  I think that they're all part of a new edition of Mrs. Dalloway, and I've loved the essays so much that I'm thinking of buying the book, just to make sure I always have the essays.  But as I looked, it seems that there might be 2 new editions released in the same year?  And yes, I'm such an English major type that I might just buy them all.  Or maybe I'll just print these essays and keep them with my battered copy of the novel that I already own.

Reading the essays makes me remember why I wanted to be a writer and why the Modernists talk to me in such specific ways.  Offill quotes from Woolf's 1919 essay "Modern Novels":  "Let us record the atoms as they fall upon the mind in the order in which they fall, let us trace the pattern, however disconnected and incoherent in appearance, which each sight or incident scores upon the consciousness. Let us not take it for granted that life exists more fully in what is commonly thought big than in what is commonly thought small."

Offill says, "I loved this idea of recording the atoms as they fell, of registering each one, however small a moment it appeared to be. Woolf’s insight seemed sneakily mystical to me. Many mystic traditions teach that the distinctions between the mundane and the sublime are more porous than we imagine: if one is truly awake, these differences cease to be apparent."

Cunningham says, "Woolf was among the first writers to understand that there are no insignificant lives, only inadequate ways of looking at them. In “Mrs. Dalloway,” Woolf insists that a single, outwardly ordinary day in the life of a woman named Clarissa Dalloway, an outwardly rather ordinary person, contains just about everything one needs to know about human life, in more or less the way nearly every cell contains the entirety of an organism’s DNA.

Yesterday I took several actions to show my writerly muse that she shouldn't abandon me just yet.  I sent my poetry manuscript in for the Wilder Prize competition, and I committed myself to writing 1000 words a week on my apocalyptic novel.  I made a pact with a writer friend who was once my student--we will be accountability partners.

Cunningham's final paragraph seems like a fitting manifesto for whatever time period we're entering, as we all do the writing that will need to be done:  “'Mrs. Dalloway' would be a book about a London that had been changed forever, superimposed over a London determined to get back to business as usual, as quickly as possible. Clarissa would stand in for all those who still believed in flowers and parties; Septimus for those who’d been harmed beyond any powers of recovery. The novel would also mark the early period of a literary career that would change forever the ways in which novels are written, and read. It’s an intricately wrought portrait of a place and a moment, and a stunningly acute depiction of the multifarious experience of living a life, anywhere, at any time."

Our world will bear more than a passing resemblance to the one that emerged after World War I.   I wonder what new writing will burst forth to deal with the issues.

Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Tilting the Trajectory

I awoke this morning to the news that Jean Valentine has died, and I'm reading various tributes to her.  I feel the same way that I felt when Marvin Bell died recently.  I had an inkling of both of them as people who were kind and opened poetry doors for students, but I hadn't read much of their work.  More names to add to the list.  Likewise the writer Barry Lopez--such losses for the writing world.

When I saw that Jean Valentine was born in 1934, my first thought was, well, at least she had a nice, long life.  Then I realized, as I often do, that my parents were born in 1938 and 1939, and I don't think of them as ready for death, as already having had a nice, long life--although they have.  

And thoughts of my own mortality are never far away.  Let me think about my own long life that grows ever shorter.  Let me think of my writing--I've been feeling that I've been somewhat neglectful.

I turned in grades on December 15, and I was full of ideas about how to use the time.  It's one of the few times in an academic year when I have more than a week off.  Sure, I need to do the prep work for spring term--choosing due dates and entering them into several places in the course shell.  But that still left lots of time.

Now I have one week left, and I'm trying not to fall into the spiral of self-recrimination about all I haven't done.  Instead of listing all the stuff around the house that got done (cooking, washing windows, hanging lights, sorting, sorting, sorting), let me focus on the writing that I have done, the insights that I have had:

--When I was looking through my blog to find my first mention of the new virus (late January, not December) that would upend our lives, I saw mention of a poem I wrote about Noah's wife going to work and having a boss that was focused on ARC (average registered credit).  This morning, I pulled that legal pad out of a pile.  I thought that I hadn't written much poetry this past year.  But that's not true.  How much of it is publishable?  These days, I'm less concerned with that question and more concerned with the practice of it.

--I have done some poetry writing--mostly shorter, and then a start at my menopausal Jesus poem.  There's still time for a poem or two.  And time to type some work into the computer.

--Let me also remember that the job at the Ft. Lauderdale campus of my school was posted, which means I've spent some time composing a cover letter and thinking about the application.  My job that I have now will be transitioning into a campus director position when the sale of my school is finalized, but my campus will be closing.  My counterpart at the Ft. Lauderdale campus has moved on, so her position is now available.  It's clear to me that if I want to stay with this school, I need to apply for that job.

--I had thought I might return to my apocalyptic novel.  I wrote the first 70 pages in a white hot heat in summer of 2019, and then I lost steam.  I returned to it in January of 2020, and then the virus happened, and I wondered if my novel was doomed--part of the apocalypse in my novel is political, part is a virulent flu.  

But as the virus has progressed, I've figured out how to change the novel to incorporate this virus and the next virus.  So I decided to read the novel again, to see if I was remembering it correctly.  I'm happy to report that it's got potential.

And if I'm being honest, I also stopped writing because I wasn't sure what happens next.  I've got my main character reunited with a grad school friend who is now working as part of the police force of the repressive government--what now?

It's time to find out.  Next semester I have a reduced teaching load because enrollment is down at Broward College and at least one of my classes has been reassigned.  I'm expecting to lose another.  Let me claim this time for writing. 

Tuesday, December 29, 2020

Holiday Noticings

--My favorite memory of the past week?  Oddly, it may be the night we sat on the front porch, all the candles in the Advent wreath.  A raccoon and a baby raccoon rambled by in our front yard, paying us no mind.  I felt as if we background characters in an illustrated children's book about woodland creatures who celebrate Christmas together, as if the raccoons were returning from Roberta Rabbit's Christmas Eve gift exchange.

--My favorite Christmas week typo (note the last word), from an e-mail I was writing (and happily, I discovered the error before I hit send):  "Program leaders, please stay in touch with your adjunct faculty to make sure they’re understanding our new procedures so that everyone is paid in a timely manger."

--We own a long shelf of Christmas CDs, but we've been enjoying the Classical Christmas station on Amazon music.  About a month ago, my spouse realized that the Alexa feature of our new Smart TV could be used to pull up music, and we've been having fun with that.  I like having a variety of musical approaches to Christmas music in the background without having to change CDs.  And yet we've also discovered how much dreadful music is out there--thus, the constant playing of the Classical Christmas station.

--Sunday as I was cooking a turkey--yes, a whole 22 pound turkey--I wondered why I wanted to do this.  Yes, I like having left overs, and I like the cheap price of a whole turkey (68 cents a pound--protein doesn't get much cheaper these days, even when one buys legumes).  Yes, I like the way the house smells while the turkey is cooking.  But my spouse pointed out that I'm cooking for 10-12 people, and we've almost never had that many people come over.  It's a lot of clean up.  And we're running out of space to store leftovers.

--Monday morning I decided it was time to start walking a bit further--yes, this decision was prompted by my stepping on the scale and realizing that the magical thinking that I could overindulge indefinitely was not true.  As I walked around the lake, from a short distance, a man said, "Did you see that?  What was that?"  I had some suggestions:  a fish, one of the dolphins we sometimes see, the manatee that one morning walker told me she had seen once.  The man was from Salt Lake City and had been up for hours writing about leaving his job.  He had that antsiness of someone making a big decision, but having no one to talk to.  We chatted for a bit, and although we didn't talk about God, I felt that the world was saying, "There's more than one way to be a spiritual director."

--I loved this article that I discovered yesterday.  It's about how the historian Heather Cox Richardson became so widely read and influential.  I needed this reminder that there are many ways to make an impact with one's writing and that it's not too late, as long as we're writing. 

Monday, December 28, 2020

Remembering All the Slaughtered Innocents

Today is the day we remember the slaughter of all the male children under the age of two in Bethlehem in the days after the birth of Jesus. Why were they killed? Because of Herod's feelings of inadequacy, because of his fear of competitors.

I remember earlier years when I might have written about searching our own hearts to see how much Herod we have in our own outlook towards others.  This week-end, I thought about writing a post that ties Herod to modern politics, but now that Trump has signed the relief package, that impulse feels less pressing.

Or perhaps, to be more accurate, I am tired of thinking about Trump, tired of thinking about his narcissism, tired of the wreckage in the wake of this administration.  And yes, I realize that I have the luxury of feeling tired and deciding to look away, to write about something else.

Let us take a minute to think about the Holy Family, transformed into refugees, fleeing for their lives with just the clothes on their backs. Here in our modern world, we see no shortage of people transformed from regular citizens to refugees in just a matter of hours.

Maybe we don't want to think on a huge, global scale. The human brain was not meant for such horror. Some of us become immobilized. But we could help refugees on a smaller scale.  We could donate money to groups that help refugees or we could write letters to legislators on the behalf of refugees.  We could work more closely with those groups that help refugees:  tutoring or cooking meals or helping with relocation.  At the very least, we can pray.

Here's a prayer for the day, from Phyllis Tickle's The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime: "We remember today, O God, the slaughter of the holy innocents of Bethlehem by King Herod. Receive, we pray, into the arms of your mercy all innocent victims; and by your great might frustrate the designs of evil tyrants and establish your rule of justice, love, and peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you , in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen."

Sunday, December 27, 2020

Holiday Cooking

I have the small cast iron skillet in the oven; I'm making cornbread, which I'll later turn into stuffing for the turkey.  Yes, the holiday cooking continues.  It's chilly here, so it's a good day to have a turkey in the oven.

Stuffing is such a strange thing:  I'll be disassembling a loaf of homemade sourdough and a pan of cornbread to create stuffing for the turkey, and I'll likely have some left over for a pan of dressing.  

I'm planning a repeat of Thanksgiving:  a turkey, sweet potato casserole, mashed potatoes, both the jellied and the chunky cranberry sauce.  It's one of my favorite meals, and tomorrow, I'll make soup out of the bones.

Today I'm feeling a bit of sorrow as my favorite time of year, mid September to late December, comes to an end.  I'm enjoying these days off, while at the same time wondering if I should be doing more with this time off instead of just cooking.  And yet, the cooking brings me joy.

Let me capture some of my cooking of the past week, and the Facebook posts I made of them.  I did make some Santa Lucia bread and brought some to work.  On Dec. 23, I made this post to go with the picture below:  "She wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him on a bread board--wait, that's not how that Gospel goes?"

I thought about making a later post with a picture of the sliced bread, with a caption "Oh Sacred Head Now Wounded," but I worried I would fall on the far side of the disrespectful line.  

Later in the day, I made this post:  "When I bring baked goods to share with colleagues at work, I always list the ingredients, in case anyone has allergies or other reasons for avoiding ingredients. When I think of annual reviews, let me remember this one:"

When we did the kitchen remodel for our last house, back in 2003, we thought about getting a double oven, but at the last minute, we changed our minds.  I realized that we would only use the double oven a few times a year, and so it wasn't worth the extra expense.

It's the time of year when I'm surprised by what I haven't cooked yet.  This year I've cooked lots of bread, but not as many cookies.  Still, I'm filled with the contentment that comes from pans waiting to go into the oven, with stock simmering on the stove top, with the knowledge that good meals are ahead.

Saturday, December 26, 2020

The Christmas Report

The cold front has finally arrived.  This morning is downright cold, at least in South Florida terms.  Any time the temp falls below 50 degrees down here, I say it's cold, and this morning, it's 47 degrees at the airport.

Yesterday some of our local family members were coming over for brunch, so we had some manic cleaning in the morning.  We threw some salmon on the grill and put some potato chunks in the oven to roast.

It's nice to have a cleaner house this morning with leftovers in the fridge.  We also have an uncooked turkey in the fridge.  I found whole, frozen turkeys for 68 cents a pound, which is not that much more than what I paid for the first whole turkey I ever cooked, back in 1990 or '91.

We had thought we might assemble outside, but it was chilly and windy yesterday.  Happily, our gathering was small, and it was easy to spread out inside.  We had my spouse's brother and his wife come over; we've seen them twice since the pandemic started.  My brother-in-law is a surgical tech in a South Florida hospital, and we were happy to hear that he's gotten the first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.  He's had plenty of protective gear during this pandemic, and they don't go out and about much, so we've felt fairly safe seeing them.  Our adult niece also dropped by.

We tried doing a group Facebook video chat with my spouse's family members who are in the Memphis area, but we had some trouble with the audio, so we signed off fairly quickly.  Our niece had another engagement, so she left about an hour later.

Throughout the afternoon, I watched neighborhood kids go by, some of them learning to use new bikes or skates.  I watched people walking their dogs or just enjoying a jaunt in the neighborhood.  I take great comfort from these signs that life as we once knew it continues.  In this week of hearing of a new strain of COVID-19, one that's even more contagious, I needed a sign like the view from my front window on Christmas afternoon.  Happily, the vaccine will likely protect against the new strain too.

As I was thinking about Christmas and the most hopeful news of the past week, this haiku like creation came to me:

Now yet not complete
Inbreaking kingdom of God
First vaccines given

Later in the afternoon, my spouse, his brother, and I played some hymns.  My brother-in-law had viola lessons as a child, so he was able to pick up the violin fairly easily.  I started on the mandolin and then switched to the piano.  We worked on "What Child is This," which is not the easiest song to pick up and play with no rehearsal--fun! (and I do mean that literally--it was fun).

After all our guests had left, my spouse and I watched some science-y specials on quantum mechanics.  At first, watching physicists talk about all the unexpected ways that particles can move across space and time might not seem like the best choice for Christmas.

But this year, hearing about both quantum mysteries and cosmic mysteries in the same 24 hours struck just the right amount of wonder and awe.

Friday, December 25, 2020

Christmas Eve

I knew it would be a topsy turvy Christmas Eve:  just one church service instead of several, outdoor church with no decorations and no congregational singing.  I thought I would make a pot of clam chowder to have after church.  I thought I might have a restful day ahead of church, a day of reading and contemplation.

But first, I knew I needed to get to the grocery store, so I decided to go early.  As is often the case, I bought more than I anticipated, which meant that the putting away of the groceries took longer than I thought.

I came home to discover that my spouse had finished hanging the pendant lights over the kitchen sink.  Is it just us or are home repairs/improvements going at a much slower pace as we age?  For example, we knew that we would have pendant lights over the kitchen sink; it was always part of the kitchen remodel.  But it took us a long time to decide on the exact lights, to order them, and then to get them hung.  Of course, we have more to choose from in terms of the pendants, the design of the light itself.

And can we talk about how impossible the directions were?  My spouse needed extra time to figure out exactly how to hang them, and it was hard to tell which wire was which.

And then we washed the windows of the living area.

That sounds like such a simple thing, but our windows aren't, which is why we don't wash them often, which is why they get so dirty, which is why we get overwhelmed and don't do them at all.  Yesterday, we finally cut out the wiring from an old alarm system so that we could remove the screens and get to all of the windows.  We spent much of the middle part of Christmas Eve day removing screens, washing screens, and scrubbing, scrubbing, scrubbing windows and frames and window sills.

Then we tried to recover.  Washing the windows means a lot of stretching and bending--the outside glass of all of our windows are not easy to access--another reason why we don't do this often.  I took a handful of ibuprofen, took a shower, and off we went to church.

We arrived to church to find this, which made me gasp with happiness:

My pastor made the call in the early afternoon to move the 5:30 worship inside, which gave him limited time to decorate the stripped down sanctuary that hasn't been used for worship since spring.  He said he got the last 3 poinsettias from the grocery store and 2 small pine trees from the Home Depot at 25% off.  

He dug the nativity scene out of storage, along with some red balls and pine cones, and voila, a beautiful altar.

I found the service moving, but I am always moved by Christmas Eve, with its nostalgic elements and that message of the good news that God has come to be with us.

We came home to eat the cooked shrimp that I got when I went shopping.  Earlier in the day, I decided not to make the chowder, since it wasn't going to be cold outside.  We ate the last of the delicious popcorn that arrived earlier this week.  I thought about tuning into other services, but in the end, we watched the recording of our own church's service again--my spouse analyzes the music because he's part of the choir, and I control the rudimentary camera, so I'm interested to see how that looks to the people at home.

It was a different Christmas Eve, but I'm not sure I have a regular set of Christmas Eve traditions, the way I have Thanksgiving traditions.  Or maybe it would be more accurate to say that every Christmas Eve feels odd, now that I am grown.

But odd doesn't mean bad.

Thursday, December 24, 2020

Strange Sadnesses

 As I've been about to write, I've been watching the broadcast of this morning's mass at Mepkin Abbey.  Yesterday I saw this announcement on Facebook:

Although the church is closed to visitors, you can still be a part of Mepkin's Christmas services online! Here is a link and a schedule. Please join us in our celebration of Christ's birth!
All services are EST.
December 24, 2020
Christmas Eve: 8:30 PM
December 25, 2020
Christmas Day Early Morning Mass: 6:30 AM
Lauds: 7:30 AM
Vespers: 4:30 PM
Christmas Evening Mass: 6:30 PM Evening Mass

I decided to check out the link, and lo and behold, suddenly I'm watching this morning's 7:30 a.m. Mass.  The sound is far from perfect, but I'm forgiving of that.  As I watched the monks taking communion, some of them familiar to me and some of them not, I felt tears well up.  I'm so happy to see them again in this year when I've begun to wonder if any of my old approaches to spiritual sustenance would ever work again.

I had a similar feeling yesterday as I went into the building of my local public library.  I was at work, looking at some of the Best Books of 2020 lists, wishing I had thought ahead to check out some compelling fiction for this holiday break.  Then I realized that the libraries were re-opened, and I checked the website--I was in luck!  On my way home, I stopped and got some books.  On the way out of the building, I took one last look, as if I might not be allowed back for awhile.  These days, it's hard to know for sure.

Once I got home in the late afternoon yesterday, my spouse and I headed over to church.  He had choir rehearsal, and I had treasurer duties to take care of.  When we got back, we watched Santa Claus Is Coming to Town, the stop motion classic from my childhood.  I thought it was made in the 60's, but a quick search reveals that it was 1970.  This show was my favorite of them all--much better than the cruelty of Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer or any of those other shows based on Christmas songs.  I am amazed by how I remember the songs of the show that aren't Christmas songs--I've been singing "Put One Foot in Front of Another" for years, not remembering that it came from this special.

In some ways, Thanksgiving is an easier holiday for me.  I don't have as many childhood memories of Thanksgiving.  I'm not constantly tripping over memories that rise up to overwhelm me.  Most of them are good memories, but even good memories can give me a strange sadness.  It's wrapped up in people I don't see much anymore, people who are gone, places I've been and probably won't find again, the sadness of knowing that my favorite stretch of time, that stretch between mid-September and Dec. 25, is quickly coming to a close.

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Symbols of Disruption

Yesterday we got a surprise in the mail:  popcorn!  One of my cousin's children was selling it, the way that children sell all sorts of things now to support their schools, and I certainly had grown ups in my life who bought the stuff I sold.  So I try to support the saleschildren in my life.

My cousin lives in Kentucky, but at the time I placed my order, I thought we'd be gathering at Thanksgiving.  I knew they could bring it to me then, and so I got enough popcorn to share with everyone in the family.  When we canceled Christmas, I sent a check with a note saying to enjoy the popcorn, no need to mail it.

I was surprised to find how happy I was when the popcorn showed up at our door.  But there was also some sadness mixed in, as I thought about when I ordered it and how many celebrations have had to be cancelled.  As I look at the positivity rate in my state, which was at 9% earlier this week, and the reports of crowds cramming in together at airports and hotels and restaurants, I know that cancelling our family plans for Thanksgiving and Christmas was wise.  But I am wistful for what we've lost.

Of course I hope that we will have future holidays together.  However, I'm aware that life intervenes in all sorts of ways, although I never would have predicted this kind of pandemic that would disrupt our holidays.  I have always been on the lookout for the huge apocalypse on the horizon, along with the more mundane disruptions, like scheduling snafus, or death, the ultimate disruption.

I am thinking about a year ago and all the plans I had.  I decided that the time was right to buy some jeans--my weight seemed to have stabilized, and I was going to have more winter travel:  onground intensive for my spiritual direction certificate program, AWP in San Antonio, retreats at Lutheridge.  I found a sale online, and I bought not just one, but two pairs.  The two pairs of jeans came in time for the AWP trip, and they've stayed in the closet since.  Sigh.

I realize it's frivolous to think about new jeans and disrupted travel in a time of so much death and disruption.  I see those jeans as symbol of the larger disruption--and as a symbol of all the ways we plan and all the ways the future comes to us in forms we didn't anticipate.

Tuesday, December 22, 2020

Communal Life and the Literature We Read and Teach (and Write)

A writer friend posted, "I went back through a folder tonight and found stories from 1999-2005. It’s so wild because all were fiction, some were written as part of Kristin Berkey-Abbott’s classes, and I can tell exactly what I was reading and what I was trying to make happen in those stories."

I thought of my own experience, as I choose poems to send out in packets to journals that might accept them.  It's a mix of memories of where I was when I wrote the poem and what I was trying to do with the poem.  Occasionally, enough time has gone so that I can be struck anew with wonder at the poem, as if I'm reading a poem written by someone else.

Like my writer friend, my memories are strong even with much older work, and I remember much more than just the writing of the poem.  I remember the other circumstances of my life too--where I was living, what I was teaching, the friends I was meeting, the other creative work I was doing.

Reading her post, I got nostalgic for my teaching days, the days when I taught more literature.  I've had more than one teacher friend tell me that they miss reading poetry out loud in front of a class of students.  I miss that too.  I was always inspired by the literature I was reading, in a way that I am not inspired by the administrator documents I'm writing and reading.

I miss the communal nature of studying literature together.  I don't feel the same about writing, the teaching of how to write a piece, whether it be a poem, a 5 paragraph essay, or a resume.  But reading a poem or a short story and analyzing what works or doesn't--yes, I miss that.  I miss having the language of good literature echoing in my head all day.

There are all sorts of communal things I miss these days, like singing Advent songs together in church, watching similar TV shows all at the same time (well, some of you are still doing that, but I'm not), holiday travel (maybe not).  I was delighted all week to see people's photos of Jupiter and Saturn coming closer together before the Great Conjunction last night.  We've been going out to look when the evenings are clear.  

Last night we went out to map running routes and to look at Christmas lights, and we looked to the southwest to see the Great Conjunction.  My spouse said, "How neat."

Yes, yes it was.

Monday, December 21, 2020

Virgin Mary with Child Icon in Gingerbread

I tend to think of these days, this year, perhaps even the whole past decade, as less productive.  I'm thinking about all sorts of productivity, in all sorts of ways, but for this post, I'm mainly pondering my creative output.  I spend a lot of time thinking about all the time wasted, but I rarely think about what I actually do.  Let me use yesterday as an example.

I planned to spend last week-end baking gingerbread people so that I had some rough drafts to practice my ambitious idea for my church's virtual contest.  Those gingerbread people turned into gingerbread blobs, and I didn't practice.  Then I ate the gingerbread people, and felt shame in all sorts of ways.

Yesterday after our socially distanced, outdoor church worship, I took 3 more gingerbread people once I was sure there were plenty for people who hadn't gotten theirs yet.  When I got home, I decided to plunge right in and do the decorating before I lost momentum.  I mixed up a simple icing out of powdered sugar, milk, and food coloring.  And then I created my masterpiece, which I'm calling Virgin Mary with Child Icon in Gingerbread:

I had no pastry bag or anything fancy--it's the Jackson Pollack drip method of decorating a cookie!  And look at that pink letter G in the middle--that was completely unintended--it just emerged from the drips.

I had a vision of creating a version of what I have been sketching for the last several weeks.  Here's one of my favorites of that series:

Yesterday I also finished a sketch that I've worked on for 5-7 minutes each day.  

I started it on the feast day of Santa Lucia, so I started with the bread braids.  I also had some bleed through from the previous sketch:

I had been thinking about a way of thinking about galaxies, universes and multiverses, while also having the story of the Visitation in my brain.  The Visitation commemorates the Virgin Mary's visit to her kinswoman Elizabeth.  Both women are pregnant, improbably pregnant.

As I think about my writing, I realize that it hasn't been a week devoid of poems--the poems that I've written seem shorter and less important.  But I have been writing.  

As I think about my creative processes, I realize that the pregnant Virgin Mary is relevant to me in multiple ways.  I tend to forget that creative projects, indeed many projects, need some time to gestate and germinate.  I need to remember that I'm fertile, even when I'm not producing mounds of work.

Saturday, December 19, 2020

Saturday Buoyancy

Once again, a Saturday when I'm writing slightly later than my usual morning writing time.  Once again, a Saturday when I feel like I don't have an extended essay's worth of material.  Once again, let me record some observations and see if I see any threads that weave together.

--It is hard for me to believe that we are 6 days away from Christmas.  This season always goes by much too quickly.  I've been walking early in the morning, enjoying the lights that are left on overnight.  I do wish we could all agree to keep those lights up much longer than most people usually do. 

--I find myself thinking of our time at Hilton Head back in September.  That vacation was so amazing, with the hints of autumn emerging, with the most delicious chicken stock we've ever made (which led to the best chicken and dumplings we've ever made), the wonderful conversations, the small pumpkins that I bought to go with the autumn lights that I brought with us, the beautiful views of the sea, the wide beaches, the relief of seeing my parents.  At the time, I thought we'd have Thanksgiving and Christmas; I thought we could pull it off.  I thought we had come through the worst.  

--I have been struck with how many literary losses have come this week.  There's John le Carre, although I confess that I have never read his work.  I was also saddened to hear of the loss of poet Marvin Bell; this interview made me realize again what has been lost when any individual life snuffs out.

--But in a happier vein, I have been watching the Joe Biden transition with some interest.  I have been watching Joe Biden for decades, but frankly, until now, I have never been a fan.  He seemed like a typical white male senator, looking out for the patriarchy and occasionally throwing the rest of us a stripped down bone.

But his cabinet appointments have been enough to make me weep with joy.  At this point, I'd be happy to welcome anyone with any level of competence, but what a bonus to see a cabinet that's going to look more like the U.S. that I know.  I am most thrilled about a Native American female being Secretary of the Interior.  I want those lands protected in the way that someone with a traditional Native American outlook would be likely to do.

--These lines came to me on Friday's morning walk as 3 geese flew overhead:

My morning walk sews
the holes in my fraying heart
with threads of birdsong
and the lake, silver
with sunrise.

--Let me finish with really good news. Back in the early days of the pandemic, my church applied for a Paycheck Protection Loan with the hope that it would be turned into a grant, into money that we wouldn't have to pay back. This week, we got the news that our loan has been forgiven. Hurrah!

My younger self would have grumbled about churches and how they should pay taxes, not get handouts from the government. Indeed, I hear some of that grumbling by way of social media.

But my church is not a megachurch. We haven't used that money to buy a plane or some other kind of extravagance. No, we paid the salaries of staff, which are not extravagant salaries. That money meant that we could keep doing our important community work, most notably the food pantry, which has seen more use than at any time in the past 2 decades.

In the months since the federal government launched the CARES Act, which contained the Payment Protection Plan, we've heard about a lot of places that got some of that money, but might not have needed it. I am here to attest that my church needed it. We operate on the slenderest of margins in the best of times, and this year has not been the best of times.

In some ways it reminds me of my household budget. I pay the bills and wonder how long I can keep going this way. But each month, I keep finding a way.

As a taxpayer, I'm happy to help organizations like my church. As a taxpayer, I wish we were doing more as a government to keep the economy a bit more buoyant.

Friday, December 18, 2020

Letting Go: "Liberation Theology for a Global North Country"

Because my writing time is short today, let me make a post out of these ideas from Richard Rohr:

"In talking about letting go, we are really talking about liberation. It’s a type of liberation theology for a Global North country, if you will. Here are the proper questions: What is it we need to be liberated from, and what is it we need to be liberated for? And who is the liberator?

I think we need at least six kinds of liberation:

  1. Inner liberation from ourselves (letting go of the centrality of the small self)
  2. Cultural liberation from our biases (which involves letting go of the “commodity” culture and moving into the “personal” culture) [1]
  3. Dogmatic liberation from our certitudes (letting go of the false self and discovering the True Self)
  4. Personal liberation from the “system” (letting go of dualistic judging and opening to nondual thinking)
  5. Spiritual liberation for the Divine (some form of letting go happens between each stage of spiritual growth)
  6. Liberation for infinite mystery (the mystery that what looks like falling is in fact rising), which is really liberation for love.:

The whole post is worth reading--go here for more wisdom.

Thursday, December 17, 2020

Days of Inspiration and Gingerbread

Tuesday as I hauled a crate of Financial Aid files out of the trunk and across the Ft. Lauderdale campus, I thought, oh, this is why my back aches.  On Monday, I also lugged a heavy crate as I delivered FA files to the main campus.  The FA director for my campus is out and has been for over 2 weeks, so the main campus is trying to help him not be so behind when he returns, and I'm happy to help in that effort.

At the time, I was thinking that it was good to get some upper body workout, but this morning, I'm sore in odd places. It's another way that my administrator life is not exactly what I had planned.  But perhaps that's the message of both midlife and mid-pandemic--life is not exactly what we planned.

But there is hot, strong coffee in the morning and a variety of tea, and gingerbread for a treat, and bread for times when we should eat more sensibly. 

In later years, when I wonder why my blogging fell off a bit, let me remember that these have been days of getting to campus early so that Vet Tech faculty could get set up for final lab practicals.  Let me remember the grading in the wee, small hours of the morning, wee, small hours that seeped into the regular morning hours.

I wish I could say that I was blogging less because I was writing more poetry, but that was only true one day.  I had a goal of writing a poem a day during Advent, and I was faithful for about a week, but I've completely dropped off.

However, I have some ideas for poems, which I might have never had, if I hadn't been looking for daily observations.  Now to get those poems written before I forget them.  One is menopausal Jesus who feels the rage that comes with wondering when it will finally be his turn.  And of course, I can't remember the idea I had for the other poem, but it may come back to me at some later point--and then I'll amend this post.

For me, this process is similar to knowing I had an interesting dream, but I can't remember it.  And if I stop trying, some times, it comes back to me in a flash, and I wonder at the fact that I ever forgot it.  Poem ideas are similar.  I feel lucky to have them and lucky that they don't abandon me when I can't write them down quickly enough.

Update:  On Monday evening, I saw a woman with a shopping cart, but I wasn't sure what was sticking out of it--a beach umbrella?  a sleeping mat?  a lounge chair?  Was she just hauling lots of stuff back from the beach or was she hauling all her stuff around?

On Tuesday morning, I saw the cart first during my pre-dawn walk, and then I saw the woman stretched out beside it.  It was at a house that was for sale, on a driveway covered with a canopy.  

All day I thought about the woman and the Nativity story about there being no room in the inn.  It's too obvious a connection.  But I do wonder if there's a different poem lingering in the background.

Update #2:  As I was proctoring a Vet Tech exam, my other idea for a poem came to me.  And so I wrote it, while the students took their final.

This Is Just To Say 

I have eaten 
the last pair 
of gingerbread creatures 

which you were probably 
to propagate 
a new species 

Forgive me 
they were spicy 
tasting of the tropics 
and resources to plunder 

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

Crashing to the End of a Strange Season

Here we are at the midpoint of December, hurtling towards the end of this very chaotic year.  Let me capture some thoughts, which may be random or may have similar threads.

--Yesterday, I couldn't get to the blog posting capability of this blog--I couldn't write a post.  I am going to assume it was a temporary blip--but once again, I was aware that so much of my writing these days is stored online, on servers that aren't mine.  Long ago, I periodically backed up every blog post, downloading them onto the hard drive of my computer.  These days, I trust Google, even as I realize that trust may be misplaced.

--Yesterday the first COVID-19 vaccine was put in the first arm of a U.S. citizen.  Hurrah!  The moment I am eligible, I will get this vaccine.  Maybe by then I will have gotten around to getting the shingles vaccine.

--I think of all the preventive maintenance I mean to be doing:  getting a will done, getting all the medical screenings done, being more serious about my car's needs.  I light the 3rd candle and assure myself there is still time.

--Yesterday the Electoral College met and certified the election results:  Joe Biden is now officially president-elect.  I have always said I wouldn't rest easy until the Electoral College met and did the job they were assigned to do.  And now they have.  Yet I was still awake at 1 a.m.

--Being awake at 1 a.m. means that I got all my grading done.  Maybe I'll be able to sleep tonight.

--Yesterday was a strange day at work.  Part of the morning was consumed by taking Financial Aid files to the Ft. Lauderdale campus.  When I got back, I noticed a lot of feathers which seemed to increase through the afternoon.  I wrote this blog post:  "At work, a trail of tiny feathers between the door to the building and the parking lot. What does it portend? There's no bird carcass, no grounded angel limping nearby."  The afternoon was very quiet once the last final exam was done--only 4 of us on campus all afternoon.

--When I got home, I sorted through the remaining apples from the bushel I bought back in October, about 18 of them.  I bought a bushel thinking we'd keep them in fridge in the cottage, where we could eat them all winter.  My grandmother had a fridge in her garage, and I remember her having a supply of apples that lasted until summer.  My experience was different.  Those last 18 apples were so mealy that I almost couldn't salvage any of them.  Sigh.  We did get our money's worth--18 apples are a very small portion of a bushel.  But I hate wasting food.

--As we crash to the end of this season, I reflect on what a strange autumn it has been.  I did get to the mountains, I did get apples, I did get to quilt--and then the rest of my travel plans fell apart.  It's been a time of recalibrating at work, as we adjusted to the lay offs and reorganizing.  It's been a strange time at church as we've tried to calculate both the weather and the pandemic as we weighed our various options for meeting.  I've held my breath in terms of politics, and I wonder if it will ever feel safe to exhale.

Sunday, December 13, 2020

Modern Patriarchy and the Feast Day of Santa Lucia

Here we are at the feast day of Santa Lucia.  I have written a more traditional post about this feast day at my theology blog.  This morning, I wrote:  "The lives of these virgin saints show us how difficult life is in a patriarchal regime. It’s worth remembering that many women in many countries don’t have any more control over their bodies or their destinies than these long-ago virgin saints did. In this time of Advent waiting, we can remember that God chose to come to a virgin mother who lived in a culture that wasn’t much different than Santa Lucia’s culture: highly stratified, with power concentrated at the top, power in the hands of white men, which made life exceeding different for everyone who wasn't a powerful, wealthy, white man. It's a society that sounds familiar, doesn't it?"

And then I went on a walk thinking about the recent piece in the Wall Street Journal, where a man told Jill Biden, who has a doctoral degree in Education, to stop calling herself Dr. Biden.  He addressed her as kiddo.  She's old enough to be a grandmother, so clearly, it's a piece full of all sorts of disrespect.  And even if she was one of those rare people who got her doctoral degree when she was in her younger 20's, that's still not appropriate.

During my walk, I thought about my boss who was let go on the last Friday of August.  He used to call all of us females "kiddo."  When he first started, I thought he was older than he turned out to be because of this habit.  I thought it was odd, but I didn't want to cause a fuss.  I thought he might think I was significantly younger than I am.  I thought it wasn't worth making a fuss--his behavior could have been much worse, after all.

The writer who recommended that Jill Biden quit calling herself Dr. Biden also said that her dissertation had the "unpromising title" -- what was that title?  "Student Retention at the Community College Level:  Meeting Student Needs."  As someone who spends a lot of time thinking about retention and improving it, it sounds pretty darn promising to me.

Clearly we still have work to do as a society.  So let us light our Lucia candles knowing that there are so many who need illumination.  Let us fortify ourselves with sweet bread and strong coffee knowing that we have all sorts of transformation of the world left to do.

Saturday, December 12, 2020

Recipe Saturday: Roasted Tomato White Bean Soup

I have a gingerbread cookie recipe that requires much thinking ahead.  Last night, I mixed brown sugar, butter, molasses, and spices in a saucepan and brought them to a boil.  I covered the saucepan and left it at room temperature overnight.  This morning I added flour and a teaspoon of baking soda--now the dough chills for a few hours.

I will probably make some Santa Lucia bread dough to bake tomorrow morning.  And I may make a different kind of Christmas cookie.

Yes, it's that time of year, the time of baking, the time when I'm tempted to eat only baked goods.  Do we really need vegetables?

Of course we do, and let me record a delicious soup I sort of created.  By sort of created, I mean I saw a New York Times recipe for a roasted tomato white bean soup, but when I went back the next day to look for it again, it was behind a pay wall that I can't access, even though I have an online subscription.  So I did some Googling and came up with my own variation.

First, I roasted 3 containers of cherry/grape tomatoes, the smaller containers (12-16 oz).  I put all the tomatoes in a 9 x 13 inch pan along with a few cloves of garlic sliced , drizzled them with olive oil, and put them in a 350 degree oven for an hour, while I was roasting other veggies.

I thought I would finish the recipe in the afternoon, but I didn't get back to it the next day.  I cut up an onion, drizzled it with olive oil, and cooked it until it was soft in a soup pot.  The recipe called for chopped Italian parsley, but I didn't have that--I imagine it would have increased the deliciousness.   I added the tomatoes to the pot, along with 2 cans of cannelini beans, and a cup and a half of water.  I added basil and oregano and let everything simmer.

I've taken some of this soup with me every day this week for lunch.  In the morning, I put some frozen spinach in the container with the soup.  It is delicious and carries me through the afternoon.

I'm surprised how much more delicious it is to have the roasted tomatoes in the soup than to have canned tomatoes.  One day, I had some leftover garbanzo beans, so I added those, and that worked well.  It tasted great without the spinach and also great with it.  I imagine it would go well with any number of greens.  You could roast the tomatoes for less time, or you could do like I did, leave the pan unattended for hours while crashing into a nap.

I love that the recipe is easy and flexible and delicious--and healthy.  It's the kind of recipe we need in a holiday season.

Friday, December 11, 2020

Good Tidings of Great Gingerbread Joy

Last night we had a simple supper of a grilled cheese sandwich, with a side of tomatoes and cottage cheese.  It was surprisingly good.

But I really wanted something sweet.  I was thinking of whipping up a batch of brownies.  I was also thinking that I didn't dare do that--I knew I might eat the whole pan while it was warm.  I knew that the sensible thing would be to try to ignore my cravings, while also trying not to substitute something else, like crackers.  I can consume several brownie's worth of calories in crackers, after all.

We heard a knock at the door, which was odd.  We weren't expecting anyone, and it was just before 7.  My spouse checked to see who it was and then flung open the door.  I thought it might be a neighbor, there to tell us something was wrong, but no, it was our pastor.  He was in the neighborhood and brought us gingerbread people.

Each year, our church has a Sunday in Advent where we decorate gingerbread people that my pastor has spent the week baking.  

I'm including pictures from past year's events.  This week, we won't be meeting in person.  But my pastor has developed a great idea.

He's distributing the gingerbread people, and we'll decorate them in our own houses.  We'll send him pictures, and they'll be judged in terms of several categories, like gingerbread twin, mermaid, superhero, and abstract.

I think I'll go for the abstract.  My plan is to see if I can incorporate any of the elements that I've been using in my pregnant Virgin Mary sketches:

I'll need to practice, of course.  So this week-end, I'm forecasting some gingerbread baking of my own here.

When my pastor dropped off the cookies and handed me the sheet with the categories, I said, "Oh, who are we kidding?  I'm just going to eat these tonight."

He said, "I have extras in the car.  Would you like extras to eat tonight?"

I said yes, of course.  And they were delicious.

I keep thinking of all the Advent stories that have been swirling in my head.  I think of myself about to bake brownies, keeping watch over my flock by night, when my angel of a pastor appeared, bearing good tidings of great gingerbread joy.

Probably too much of a stretch--but it delights me on all levels.

Thursday, December 10, 2020

Comfort Smells, Comfort Food

The heat has rumbled off and on through the night.  It's the earliest we've ever had the heat on down here in the southeast tip of Florida.  Our low yesterday morning was 48 degrees, which I know will sound balmy to people in the northern part of the continent.

I'm thinking of the first days of the furnace of my childhood in Montgomery, Alabama.  We usually had warm Septembers, but there would be one night in October when it would get chilly, and my dad would turn on the furnace.  I have nostalgic feelings about that scent:  waking up to the whiff of natural gas that fueled the furnace, the smell of summer's dust incinerating.

If I was creating a container of comfort smells, that one would be catalogued.  Would I also include baking cookies?  Maybe.  But I much prefer the smell of baking bread.

Last night I would have liked a festive food like Christmas cookies, but I didn't feel like baking them, and Christmas cookies from a commercial bakery just aren't the same.  My spouse didn't feel like dinner, which was fine.  I wasn't sure I did either.

To be honest, it's not the prep work, but the clean up afterwards that often makes me sigh and say, "Why bother?"

Unlike my spouse, I was hungry last night when I came home from work.  I prepared a grown up form of comfort food, a wedge of brie cheese, with cranberry-pepper jelly and pecans on top and popped it in the microwave.  I opened a package of crackers and a bottle of wine.

And then I ate most of that warm wedge of cheese.

I had many motivations to get out and exercise this morning, despite the chill, like these days of excess calories.  There was steam coming off the lake--I rarely see that sight down here.  And a flock of parrots came in for a landing on a tree--I could have reached out and touched them, that's how low they were.

It was chilly, yes--even with my fleece jacket on, I was cold.  Today I'll wear one of my heavier scarves as fashion accessory.  Soon enough, it will be warm again.  So today, I'll wear the velvety scarf that I bought on my 2003 trip to England, a scarf that's much more suited for a cooler clime.

And maybe I'll bake cookies soon--again, soon it will be January, with its abstemious ways.

Wednesday, December 9, 2020

The Death of John Lennon, 40 Years Later

Here and there yesterday, I heard and read about the 40th anniversary of the death of John Lennon.  But my memory of that event was a Dec. 9 memory.  I was in the 10th grade, and our house was a split foyer design.  My sister and I had bedrooms downstairs, and the den that had the TV was downstairs.  We had 1 TV--they were big and expensive back in those days.

I woke up to the sound of the TV, which I knew meant that something big had happened.  My mom usually listened to the radio as she moved through the day, and the TV was rarely on before an evening show that was suitable for the whole family.  We didn't have cable, so there wasn't much to choose from, not much reason to turn on the TV.

The last time my mom had left the kitchen upstairs to watch the morning news was when the rescue mission of the Iranian hostages had ended up wrecked in the desert sand back in the spring.  So on the morning of Dec. 9, 1980, I thought that something might have happened in that ongoing saga.

We weren't a family that listened to the Beatles.  My dad was a Simon and Garfunkle fan.  We listened to a wide variety of folk music (John Denver!  Gordon Lightfoot), along with jazz and classical.  My mom, a classically trained musician, said that my dad was the only one she ever dated who could discuss Handel's The Water Music.  There are flimsier elements that hold 2 people together.

I spent part of yesterday trying to remember if John Lennon is the first memory I have of a famous person being killed this way.  I have no memory of the shattering assassinations of the 1960's.  But I had learned about them, so the idea that someone famous could be cut down this way wasn't foreign to me.

I remember watching my mom watch the TV.  I remember seeing the crowds who had been gathering overnight in a mass grieving experience that has now become all too common after so many decades of violence.  But then, it was new to me.  I remember wondering if I would ever feel that way about the death of a musician.  What artist would be that important to me?

I've come to realize that I'm not one to look for communal grieving experiences.  I'm now old enough that I've experienced the death of many artists who have been important to me.  But I'd much rather reread the words that touched me or listen to the music by myself, where I can write about it and ponder more deeply--and cry in private.

One of the artists who has been deeply important to me is Paul Simon, and his song about the death of John Lennon is one that I love.  I've spent part of the 40th anniversary of the death of John Lennon listening to its haunting sound.

Tuesday, December 8, 2020

Early Necropsy Procedures

Today I am leaving my house early.  I volunteered to get to the campus early to open and unlock so that Vet Tech students can do their necropsy procedures.  That's a sentence I never anticipated writing in my professional life.  When coordinating with the veterinarian who is coming in to oversee these procedures, he said he had the cadavers defrosting in the fridge, so 7:45 would give him plenty of time to get set up and ready.  Once again, I am struck by the divergent path I have taken from the one that grad school Kristin envisioned.

I got up early this morning and started a load of laundry.  I finished the roasted tomato white bean soup, tasks that I meant to finish on Sunday before I crashed into a deep, 4 hour nap.  I should have just slept through the night, but I felt like I needed to make sure my online classes had what they need.  

I can't decide if I have a wrecked sleep schedule or one that's efficient, just not by the world's standards.

Now it is time to make my way through the damp dark--I will get a run in this morning, by which I mean a slow jog, but it will get my heart rate up and help stave off the inevitable.  I'll enjoy the Christmas lights the people leave lit all night (thanks, neighbors!), and I'll wonder about the political signs from the fall.  I'll tip my metaphorical hat to the very ritzy house that has 2 Black Lives Matter banners hanging from the upper balconies.

And then off to my whirlwind of a day--opening the campus early, 3 meetings back to back in the middle of the day, strategizing, and then home to collapse again.

But along the way, there will be random happinesses.  Like last night, when I arrived home to find my spouse making meat loaf, which is not one of my favorite approaches to ground beef--but it was very tasty.

Out into the chilly pre-dawn!

Sunday, December 6, 2020

The Feast Day of Saint Nicholas

 December 6 is the feast day of Saint Nicholas.  I've put some of my favorite decorations on the piano this year:

Today, all over Europe, the gift-giving season begins. I had a friend in grad school who celebrated Saint Nicholas Day by having each family member open one present on the night of Dec. 6. It was the first I had heard of the feast day, but I was enchanted.  I am guessing that Saint Nicholas Day will be celebrated differently this year, as the pandemic roars across continents.

I don't have as many Santa images in my Christmas decorations. Here's my favorite Santa ornament:

I picked it up in May of 1994 or so. I was visiting my parents, and I went with them on a trip to Pennsylvania where my dad was attending a conference. I picked this ornament up in a gift shop that had baskets of ornaments on sale. I love that it uses twine as joints to hold Santa together.

While I don't have many Santa ornaments, I do have some Santa objects.  One year, my step-mom in law and my father in law gave me these as Christmas presents:

They're actually cookie presses, and the Santa figures are the handles of the press. I've never used them as a cookie press, but I love them as decorations that are faithful to the European country of origin.

It's always a bit of a surprise to realize that Saint Nicholas was a real person. But indeed he was. In the fourth century, he lived in Myra, then part of Greece, now part of Turkey; eventually, he became Bishop of Myra. He became known for his habit of gift giving and miracle working, although it's hard to know what really happened and what's become folklore. Some of his gift giving is minor, like leaving coins in shoes that were left out for him. Some were more major, like resurrecting three boys killed by a butcher.

My favorite story is the one of the poor man with three children who had no dowry for them. No dowry meant no marriage, and so, they were going to have to become prostitutes. In the dead of night, Nicholas threw a bag of gold into the house. Some legends have that he left a bag of gold for each daughter that night, while some say that he gave the gold on successive nights, while some say that he gave the gold as each girl came to marrying age.

Through the centuries, the image of Saint Nicholas has morphed into Santa Claus, but as with many modern customs, one doesn't have to dig far to find the ancient root.

In the past decade, I've been on the lookout for more modern Saint Nicholas images.  A few years ago, one of my friends posted this photo of her Santa display to her Facebook page:

I love the ecumenical nature of this picture of Santa: Santa statues coexisting peacefully with Buddha statues. And then I thought, how perfect for the Feast Day of St. Nicholas!

Saturday, December 5, 2020

Saturday Snippets

--It has been a few days of strange symptoms in our household.  They don't seem to be COVID-19 symptoms; we still have our sense of smell.  My spouse has been feeling chilled, and he does seem feverish at times, but he's not running a fever.  I've had recurring dizziness--nothing too terrible, but enough to make me decide to walk instead of jogging, enough that I'm careful how I turn my head.  I take my temperature frequently--at least once a day and sometimes more, and I'm never running a fever.

I do wonder if we've always had periods of strange symptoms and in the past, we wouldn't have paid as much attention to them.

--It has been another week of frequent internet outages at work.  I'm trying not to read too much into that.  I do have work that I can do when I can't access the internet or incoming/outgoing e-mail.  My files have never been more shipshape.

--Today I've got one more work task:  an Advisory Board meeting at 10:00.  Happily, it's virtual, so I don't have to leave my house.  I'm thinking to the last one, when I left the house early to get a pastry platter from Publix and to have time to make coffee and get everything set up.  This morning will be more leisurely.

--I have been writing a poem a day for a week.  It's not always/often a good poem.  But it's good to be flexing these poetry muscles.

--It was also the week of the last day of my online journaling class with the Grunewald Guild.  Vonda Drees, the amazing leader of the group, will soon be leaving her position and heading back to Texas.  She's not sure about whether or not she'll be leading future groups.  

I was looking back through my sketchbooks, and I am amazed at what I've accomplished.  Those classes that Vonda have led have taken me to places I might never have gone alone.  I've made new friends and read books I might not have read otherwise.

Friday, December 4, 2020

God as Midwife and the Cosmic Virgin Mary

I've been thinking a lot about Mary, the mother of Jesus.  It is December after all, the season of Advent, when many people start to think about all the various meanings of Christmas.

I've also been thinking about the idea of God as midwife.  I saw this tweet the other day:  "So many of our God metaphors are aggressively masculine, obsessed with war, power, authority. Maybe they’re true, but they aren’t the whole truth. God is our Father but also our Sister. God is our savior but also our midwife" (from Laura Jean Truman).

I wrote in response:  "God as midwife--am I the pregnant woman or the baby being delivered? Perhaps both."

On the same day, Dec. 1, I saw an icon of the Virgin Mary (go to the RevGalBlogPals website and scroll down to the Tuesday prayer--I wasn't able to capture the image of the icon created by Terri Cole Pilarski).I was taken with the swirling blue robes and the red cloak.

I tried to replicate the shapes and came up with something a bit closer to cartoon than icon.  

So I tried again and came up with a very abstract image:

Yesterday, I decided to do something in my larger sketchbook, the one with better paper quality.  I was also thinking about the online journaling class I've been taking, where we've been reading and creating visual responses to Barbara A. Holmes' book, Race and the Cosmos.  I really love this sketch I created, of a pregnant Mary and the cosmos:

I wrote this post to go with it:  "I saw an icon of Mary, pregnant with Jesus (or was she just in swirling blue robes?). I've been experimenting with the shapes in that icon, and this week, I merged the idea of the icon with some cosmic imagery of the types that have delighted me as we've read this book. This image seems like a good ending note (or perhaps not ending, but a gateway to the next set of images)"

Thursday, December 3, 2020

Outages and Out and Aboutages

It has been a week of frequent internet outages.  On Tuesday at school, we lost connectivity at 1:15 p.m. or so, and it wasn't restored until mid-morning yesterday.  Yesterday morning, I had no internet connectivity at home.  I'm trying not to read anything into it.

Yesterday was an all-day meeting at the Ft. Lauderdale campus, which is not my campus.  It meant that I had to cart many things with me--no dashing back to the office to get a coffee mug or to check e-mail or just to have a break from humans.  All day meetings are exhausting for many reasons, but for me, that's the main reason.  

I saw people whom I've never met in real life, and I'm surprised by how different people can look when they're on a Zoom call.  Thankfully, I managed not to exclaim, "I thought you'd be taller!"  I saw people whom I haven't seen since before the pandemic--so many of us, myself included, have longer hair now.

It was strange to be in a big room of people for hours at a time.  Happily, it was a huge room, and we could spread out.  I left my mask on most of the day, and most of us did.  I thought, I did not sacrifice Thanksgiving with my family just so I could get COVID-19 from a room full of colleagues; I am not taking off my mask for any reason but to eat lunch.  And that's what I did, yet I still worry that I was exposed in ways that I usually manage to avoid.

It was a day of more traveling by car than I usually do, a day of waiting for meetings to start, a day of wondering if we would have bathroom breaks or if I should just step out when I needed to go.

On my way home, I picked up a framing job--the two pieces turned out to be much more beautiful and striking than I was expecting.  Hurrah!

One of them began its life as a counted cross stitch kit.  In grad school, I'd occasionally get a good deal on a sale at the craft store (whatever JoAnns was before it was JoAnns).  Back then I dreamed of having enough money to buy whatever kit I wanted.  Now I dream of having enough time--and a lamp that gives decent enough light to stitch by.

Tuesday, December 1, 2020

World AIDS Day in the Time of a New Pandemic

Here we are, World AIDS Day, in a year of a new pandemic, a disease that's much easier to contract than AIDS, a disease that has no cure, a disease that like AIDS preys on the more vulnerable in our society.

Maybe all diseases target the more vulnerable.  And our epidemiologist friends would remind us that diseases don't have emotions or calculations.  Diseases infect where they can, and in vulnerable populations, diseases have more opportunity.

AIDS is still a fairly fierce disease, even though we have medications that can keep people alive for decades--that's still a lot of disease management, which isn't a cure.  According to this site, there are still more than 17 million new AIDS cases each year.  Every week, more than 13,000 people die of AIDS related diseases.

With vaccine news of the past weeks, I do expect that in years to come, COVID-19 will not kill as many of us.  But it will still be a disease to be reckoned with, a disease that leaves lots of wreckage in its wake.  Like AIDS, many of us will assume that COVID-19 has been tamed or disappeared.  But like AIDS, some of us will be more protected than others.

Dec. 1 is also the anniversary of the day in 1955 when Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on the bus to a white passenger. This act is often given credit for launching the Civil Rights Movement, but what many forget is that various communities had begun planning for the launch, even before they could see or know what it would look like.

In fact, for generations, people had prepared for just such a moment. They had gotten training in nonviolent resistance. They had come together in community in a variety of ways. They were prepared.

Someone asked me once how I had come to be such an optimist. I've always had an optimistic streak, but frankly, my whole world view shifted when I watched Nelson Mandela walk out of prison. I fully expected him to be killed, but again, my worldview shifted when I watched South Africans stand in line for days (days!) to elect him president. And he was ready to be president because he had spent those decades in prison thinking about how he would run the country and making plans.

I have seen enormous social change happen in my lifetime--in the face of such evidence, I must agree with Dr. Martin Luther King, who said the arc of history is long, but it bends towards justice.

Some years, that arc seems so long and the bending so difficult to discern.  Diseases show us where we need to bend that arc towards justice, where there's still opportunity for progress.

On this day of grim disease statistics, let us also remember what various social justice movements have taught us.  If we can harness the will of a group of people towards a similar goal, we can make great strides.

Those of us who work towards social justice and human dignity for all know how long the struggle might be. We are similar to those medieval builders of cathedrals: we may not be around to see the magnificent completion of our vision, but it's important to play our part. In the words of that old Gospel song, we keep our eyes on the prize, our hands on the plow, and hold on.

Monday, November 30, 2020

Advent and the Issue of Light and Dark

 Advent is upon us, and with the season, the problematic language that talks about light overcoming darkness.  Those of us who grew up with this language might not understand why it's problematic.  Those of us who have worked with language know that language matters, and this language has an impact on how we treat people with darker skin colors.  Even those of us who have worked with language can be in a bit of denial.  

We might be in denial about the impact of theological language on modern race relations, but language shapes us, and the theological language of light and darkness is hard to escape during the holiday season, even if we swear we're secular creatures:

I've been wondering what would happen if we rewrote some of that scripture to get rid of light and dark dichotomies.  I tried writing it in haiku, just to see if that changed the reaction to it:

Those of us who use Advent wreaths to help us be more mindful during the season before Christmas may wonder how to avoid these pitfalls.  One of my Create in Me pastor friends, Naomi Sease Carriker, has created a wonderful idea.  It's a reverse Advent wreath, where all the candles are lit week 1, and each week, one fewer candle stays lit from the week before.  

She's even in the process of writing a liturgy.  Here's what she's written for week 1: