Sunday, August 30, 2020

The Birthday of Mary Shelley: Out of Great Isolation, Genius

Today is Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley's birthday.  In so many ways, she seems so relevant for today.  For one thing, she can tell a compelling story.  my students have loved her deeply, even the non-English majors. Frankenstein teaches really well, even for non-majors (not many 19th century works can make this claim). I've had the most resistant readers lose themselves in Frankenstein--it still seems so relevant, whether it be in what it has to say about creativity, motherhood, science, God, or relationships in general.

The characters in the book are living lives of such isolation, and it makes sense when we think about Mary Shelley's life of abandonment: mother dead in giving birth to her, father preoccupied with new family, husband who will always be fascinated with others before an early death, dead babies, life on the run from creditors, . . . oh, Mary Shelley!

Her life still has much to teach us.  I often wonder what she might have accomplished if she hadn't had so many family duties swallowing her up.  I could argue that her creativity suffered in the service of her once more famous spouse Percy.  In fact, when she published Frankenstein, many of her contemporaries wondered if Percy wrote it.

I love that we live in a time period where we no longer have as fierce a fight in justifying that women and minorities can write as well as men. We forget that we haven't been living in this time period very long. I could make a solid argument that Mary Shelley wrote novels that were every bit as accomplished as those of Charles Dickens--I could probably make the case that her novels were stronger. I can say what I said about Molly Ivins without fear of sounding silly. Some forty years ago, I'd have had to fight a fiercer battle to prove that women were capable of writing anything of worth at all.

We're not where I want to be just yet. Sadly, we still live in an age where white males have an easier path to publication and making a living from one's creative output.  Men are more likely to get the tenure track jobs at universities that will give them time to write.  I'm fairly sure we'd find out that more men win book publication competitions than women--I know, I know, they're judged anonymously, so I can't prove any sort of bias. Well, not with the time constraints in my current life I can't. I'll leave that to intrepid exploring journalists, like the kind I fancied that I was while I was in undergraduate school.

No, we are not where I wish we were as a society.  But I'm grateful to the writers like Mary Shelley who blazed a trail for us to follow, a trail leading to where I'd like to be.

Saturday, August 29, 2020

A Week in Fragments

This morning, I slept until 5:20 a.m., which is really late for me.  I don't know that I have an essay of a  blog post.  Let me collect some thoughts from the past week:

--The big work news of this week:  my boss was let go yesterday.  I don't have much more information than that, so I don't know if the decision was about money, about performance, about changes in vision, or about something more negative.  He was told at 10:00 a.m. and spent the next 2 hours packing up his office and taking everything to the car. 

--When I think back about this week, will I remember that event or Hurricane Laura more?  What a historic hurricane.  I do see it as a harbinger of hurricanes to come.  This week, I wrote this Facebook post:  "Year after year, we talk about abnormally warm ocean waters as hurricane season ramps up in August. I think it's time to just admit that past ocean temps are the abnormal. Sigh."

--Our conversations turned, as they often do when a monster storm comes ashore, to the fact that we really can't afford to stay here. I mean that sentence in all sorts of ways. Those of us who live on coastlines are living on borrowed time; everyone I know in South Florida knows that fact. What to do about it? Most everyone I know is still sorting that out, and the economic collapse caused by the corona virus makes our choices more limited. Sure, we could sell our houses in this hot housing market, but can we find jobs in other locations? Or can we find rental properties here that will work?

--I am getting well trained in holding conflicting truths in my head. I am tired of this training.

--I have done a lot of reading this month. Once August leaves, and I'm done with the Sealey Challenge, I'll write a blog post about reading 1 volume of poetry each day.

--We had 2 days of no air conditioning in my office suite this week. I wrote this Facebook post on Wednesday when I got to the office to discover it had been fixed: "On this day when a monster hurricane is headed to the Texas/Louisiana coast, it seems petty to be as grateful as I am for the AC repair person who has made my office cool again. Two days of working in an office without AC has made me newly appreciative!"

--I also wanted to preserve this Facebook post: "I am walking down a hallway in a building on campus, and I'm holding a no touch thermometer. Because I will always be an English major, the lines of Emily Dickinson float in my head: 'My life had stood - a loaded gun -'"

Friday, August 28, 2020

Reading Racism

 Like many people, I have spent the summer reading books about racism.  Is that the best response to the killing of George Floyd and the demands for justice?  

I do understand the frustration of people who take to the streets while the rest of us read a book.  Maybe we intellectual types should be running for office if we don't want to demonstrate in the streets.  But I am also aware of how much our consciousnesses might need to be raised, and so, when the opportunity came to be part of a book group, I joined.

My pastor started a book group in July to read Lenny Duncan's Dear Church: A Love Letter from a Black Preacher to the Whitest Denomination in the US.  I was excited to read it--I had heard lots of good things about it.  I liked it well enough, but it didn't tell me much I didn't already know.

Some members of my book group were much more inspired by the book than I was, and some of the material was new to them.  Will it change our local church?  Our church is one of the least white Lutheran churches I've ever been to, and we all live in one of the most multicultural parts of the U.S., so the book seemed pitched to people in a different place, both regionally and in our collective head space.

My critique of this book is the same as I had for the Ibram X. Kennedy's How to Be an Antiracist, the book I've spent 3 weeks with in my online journaling group.  Both books are a mix of memoir, analysis, and call to action.  Both books read like a memoir thin on ideas mixed with ideas that started out as magazine articles that the author has tried to expand to book length.  Both books have nuggets of inspiration, but it takes a lot of reading through other stuff to find them.

I feel this strange guilt for saying this.  I've spent time this summer analyzing myself.  Why don't I like these two books as much as others in my book groups have liked them?  Is it an inner resistance to discovering my own racist tendencies?  Does each book make me feel threatened in some way?

I honestly don't think it's that.  Both authors feel like guys I might have gone to school with, and both books have a tone, at times, of the kind of late night discussions one might have during college days.  Both books also have a tone of the kinds of discussions one might have in a really good Sociology class.  And perhaps that's why I wasn't as moved by these books--I've now spent decades having these kinds of discussions.

As part of the Sealey Challenge, yesterday I returned to Claudia Rankine's Citizen.  I read it years ago, when it was all the rage. Back then, I liked it well enough, but then, too, I felt like I was missing something.  I didn't fall in love with it, the way it seemed that others had.

Yesterday I was struck by the artistry of it, the way it combines all sorts of genres, along with some visual art.  I'm still not sure I'd call it poetry, although it was a finalist for the National Book Award in poetry.  It feels more like a hybrid form that doesn't have a name.

I circle back to the question of whether or not reading about racism can help dismantle racism.  As an English and Sociology major, I'm a firm believer that reading helps us see the other person's point of view, helps us see the problems that other experience.

And in a perfect world, reading helps us develop solutions and the resolve to see those solutions through.

Thursday, August 27, 2020

A Wild and Stormy Night

Last night felt like a wild and stormy night.  We saw the menace of a category 4 storm headed towards the Texas-Louisiana coast.  That section of the country spent the night with a storm that should be a once in a century kind of occurence--except that for the past several years, we've had this kind of storm once a season (Dorian, Michael), and sometimes more than once a season (Maria, Irma). 

Yesterday, I made this observation:   In the 11 a.m. Hurricane Laura Forecast Discussion, which is different from the actual advisory, I saw language that the National Hurricane Center has never used (at least in discussions and advisories that I've read, and I've read a lot of them): "Unsurvivable storm surge."

I was most concerned with Hurricane Laura, so I wasn't following the other storms. But there were plenty. 

There was the Republican National Convention, which you may or may not see as one of the storms.  The campaign season certainly feels stormy to me, regardless of our political stance.

There's the ongoing protests about racial injustice, most lately in Kenosha, Wisconsin; I completely missed the story about the white male teenager who felt he needed to take his long gun out into the streets where everyone was out after curfew; he shot several people at close range.  Across multiple sports, professional athletes refused to play last night to protest injustice.   Games were postponed.  I have never seen this kind of solidarity from so many athletes.

I am holding my breath in fear, yes, but in wonder and in hope for a more equal world to emerge on the other side.  At the same time, I know what we're up against.  

And there's the ongoing storm of a new corona virus which is finding plenty of places to spread--such a contagious creature, and we're lucky it's not more deadly.  That said, the death rate is more savage than the flu or other contagions that sweep across our societies on a regular basis.

Often these days, I find myself thinking about the unrest of the 1960's.  When I was younger, I asked my parents about their memories of that time--the books I was reading made it sound like everyone went out every week-end to protest the Vietnam War, and I was astonished to hear them say that they were never in a place that had that kind of protest, that they were just living their lives, trying to raise their young children, going to work, that kind of thing.

Now I understand.  I'm rooting for social change, yet I'm not at the point where I'm going to take to the streets in unpeacable assemblies.  Nineteen year old Kristin might judge me harshly, but midlife Kristin can see multiple points of view.  There are parts of society worth keeping, and someone has to tend to those tasks.  Nineteen year old Kristin would mutter about cop outs and rationalizations, but she's so very angry and judgmental.  Midlife Kristin is so very tired, but she keeps going to work anyway, taking temperatures so students can go to their labs and writing/editing accreditation documents so that the school can stay open.

Wednesday, August 26, 2020

Coordinates of Catastrophe

This morning, as I went to the National Hurricane Center site to read the 5 a.m. update on Hurricane Laura, I thought about how familiar the places sound, even though I have never traveled to the coastal part of the Texas/Louisiana border, like Morgan City.  I tried to write a poem about this idea, but it's far from finished.

I was also struck by the cone, the potential path as it moves north through the U.S., and this piece of language from the discussion: 

"In the extended range, there is some chance that Laura re-intensifies as a tropical cyclone off the Mid-Atlantic coast, instead of becoming part of a frontal system, but for now the forecast will stay extratropical at 96 hours and beyond."

Go here to see the graphic of the cone.  By the time you read this post, it may have changed--I don't know if they create a separate url for each time the cone changes.  Right now it shows a hurricane coming ashore in the far western Gulf of Mexico, traveling north, and then heading east where it will exit land off the coast of Virginia/Maryland/Delaware.

I have never written to my sister, who lives in Maryland, to warn her that a Gulf Coast hurricane may be heading her way.  This storm looks to be a monster.

I have Hurricane Katrina on the brain.  Fifteen years ago, we'd be waking up to assess the damage.  People think of New Orleans when they think of Katrina damage, but we had a HUGE ficus tree in our back yard crash down--it took out a shed, an above ground pool, and a variety of fencing.  We were without power for 2 weeks.  

We put everything back together again just in time for Hurricane Wilma to sweep through.  The new shed held up, and there were no trees to come crashing down--and we were still without power for 2 weeks.

I don't wish that situation on anyone--2005 was one of those years, much like this one, where I wondered how we'd get through, how we'd make a way out of what looked like a very muddled path.

And those storms weren't nearly as big as the one headed to the U.S. coastline right now.


Monday, August 24, 2020

The Violent Femmes Go to Church

I remember the first time I heard the Violent Femmes.  In 1984, I flew to Memphis to see the boyfriend who would later become my current spouse.  On our way back from the airport, he popped a cassette tape into the car's audio system saying, "You gotta hear this."

It was the Femmes' second album, Hallowed Ground, that intriguing mix of what we would come to call Americana and punk.  Lyrically it was a strange mix of songs that talked about throwing a beloved child in a deep, dark well and songs that could have come from Sunday School, songs about Jesus walking on the water and Noah building an ark.

It took me awhile to adjust, but I came to love the group as much as my spouse.  And yesterday, we brought our love of the Violent Femmes to church.  Our church choir agreed to do "Jesus Walking on the Water" (to see the group do the song more recently, see this video--you'll notice the guy playing the barbecue grill, a DIY/make a way with what you've got ethic that's been with the group from the beginning, albeit manifesting with different instruments through the years).

I joined them, even though my voice isn't the greatest.  That's one of the things I love about punk music--one's voice doesn't have to be the best.  And while I'm not crazy with how my voice sounds in the recording we made, I like the overall sound.

I love my pastor's approach to the music that's part of the recorded worship services he puts together.  We've got a wide variety of music, from solos with minimal instrumentation, to Christian rock, to groups of several variations.  On a typical Sunday, we might hear Christian Contemporary, classic hymns, bluegrass, or gospel--or punk Americana.

I realize I'm fortunate, how very fortunate.

Sunday, August 23, 2020

Questions as Old as Machiavelli

 Here's a snapshot of my life right now:  last week, I looked up my schedule for my online classes and went to work adding the dates and updating the course shells for the classes that started on Friday.  I finished a day early, so I was surprised to get a call from the department on Friday asking me to update my empty course shell immediately.

Long story short:  I updated the wrong course shell.  I wrote an apology e-mail to my dean, updated the course shell, wrote to my students, and tried to stop beating myself up for this mistake.  As mistakes go, it's not a huge crisis.  Students who wanted to get to work still had plenty of content that they could read, and discussion posts that they could create.

My dean wrote back to me, and it was the most grace-filled, kind, and understanding professional e-mail I've gotten in awhile.  In a week of political conventions, tweets from the president, and the swirl of news of schools opening and closing right back up again, it led me to think about how we're managing.

I use that phrase in so many ways.  On the one hand, I use it to mean the way we're all coping with our current situation.  I think I'm coping fairly well--OKish is the term I use when anyone asks me how I'm doing.  And then I copy all the details into the wrong course shell after I've checked not once but several times.  Harmless accident or some sort of outlier incident?

I also think about the way we manage in HR terms.  I think about an essay I had students write after reading a chunk of Machiavelli, an essay that answers the question, "Is it better to be loved or feared?'  My dean was operating out of a space of love.  I've had more bosses who have operated from a space of trying to inspire fear.

We see these competing narratives across all sorts of platforms, and in this upcoming political season, I predict we'll see them both prominently utilized.  The fear narrative tries to make us believe that there's not enough of anything, that we're not enough.  In HR terms, I'm intrigued by which people in charge believe that we're all doing the best that we can in any given moment, while so many managers seem to believe we're all just eating bon bons and goofing off if someone isn't there to yell at us all the time.

Long time readers of this blog will know that I prefer the love narrative--we have enough, we are enough, we can expand the circle, we can include everyone.  As I was preparing my course shells, I went back to the ones I used during the spring, as the pandemic was overturning all sorts of plans.  I was struck by the tone of my announcements.  I gave everyone blanket amnesty--if you needed more time, no need to write and let me know, just do the best you can.

I haven't done any analytics, but it wouldn't surprise me if my students did better than students do when I'm a strict deadlines kind of teacher.  Of course, if we're being honest, I'm never the strict deadlines kind of teacher that others are.  As spring progressed, I took off no points for lateness--now I take off some.  I have colleagues who don't accept late work at all.  That's always seemed a bit draconian to me.

I hope that we all remember to continue to be gentle with each other.  Back in April, it was clear to me that we faced a crisis.  We still do, but I think that a lot of us have forgotten how much stress remains.  In some ways, it seems more stressful now, now that we're not all in agreement about the nature of that stress.

Saturday, August 22, 2020

I Have Waited Too Long to See the Redwoods

My schedule is a bit off today, but it's for good reasons.  We were out later than usual last night, seeing neighborhood friends for a mostly socially distanced, back yard get together.  I woke up at my usual time, however--and then I started writing a poem, a longer one.  My poetry efforts for months have been more like trying to spin a single image into a poem and feeling stymied when nothing much happens.

Was it a Facebook post or a tweet that talked about redwoods burning.  Ordinarily, I might get lost in the muck of the daily news, but suddenly, I had an idea for a poem.

My poem began with this thought:  I have waited too long to see the redwoods.  But I was also hearing a podcaster talk about a panda at the National Zoo being pregnant--as long as the panda's body doesn't absorb the baby, which sometimes happens.  I resisted getting lost in an Internet black hole by looking for more details, so I can't say much more about panda pregnancies.

The poem went in interesting ways.  I sat and wrote a few lines, then did something else, and then another few lines came to me 10 minutes later.  I wrote them down, did something else--and then, fifteen minutes later, another few lines.  I decided to postpone my morning walk because I didn't want to disrupt the process.

I thought about not going for a walk at all, but I could see this morning had better breeziness.  It's been such a sultry week in terms of a lack of breeze.  So, off I went, a bit later than usual.  How strange to see the neighborhood when I can see the neighborhood.  My usual morning cohort of 6 a.m. walkers have all been commenting about how dark it is in the morning.

As I walked, I thought of a few more lines, as I noticed how many people have put their houses on the market, while also noticing how many people are putting additions onto their houses and cottages.

It's been over an hour now, and no new lines have come.  Is the poem done?  Perhaps.  Or maybe some new poems are making their way to be next.  

I am so happy to be writing something with potential again.

Friday, August 21, 2020

Six Months on Twitter

Six months ago, I started a Twitter account, which meant that I'm looking at tweets much more than I ever did before.  Let me think about what I've learned so far:

--Lots of writers who once had blogs that I read are active on Twitter.  I wonder if they miss the longer form.  I am glad to see them, and it does make me wish I had started a Twitter account earlier. 

--As the months have gone by, I wonder if I need to go back and filter who I am following.  When I first started on Twitter, I knew the writer of every tweet.  I use that verb loosely.  Now I see tweets from people I have never met.

--I am astonished at how many tweets are just people retweeting.  As with Facebook, I wish that I could tell which kinds of posts/tweets I want to see.  With Facebook, I just want to see people's posts about their lives or emotions.  I rarely want the reading suggestions, and I almost never click on the videos that people recommend.  With Twitter, I'd like to just see original tweets.  I'm also less interested in seeing snippets of people's poetry.  Sigh.

--I do see more calls for submissions on Twitter than I do on Facebook.  I haven't gotten more acceptances since joining Twitter.

--It's not as hard to craft a tweet as I thought it would be.  Maybe I'm not as wordy as I thought (we shall now pause for the laughter of anyone who has ever read my e-mails).

--In fact, crafting a tweet reminds me of working in forms that allow very few lines or syllables.  It's good to weigh every word.  It's good to remember how many different ways there are to craft a sentence.

--The Twitter universe isn't as mean as I feared it would be, but that might say more about the people I'm following than the larger Twitterverse.  The people I'm following on Twitter seem civilized for the most part.

--I am intrigued by how my world view may be shifting by keeping up with tweets.  Would I have realized the fierce arguments about the possibility of canceling the AWP conference without Twitter?  Doubtful.  If I hadn't seen a variety of tweets, I might have thought about quarantine differently.  I read a lot about people who were sent home--still drawing a paycheck or supporting themselves somehow, but not working.  I read about people who had lots of free time.  I bought a lot of flour, anticipating time to bake.  I was not sent home, and my workload has increased since March.  Sigh.

--I don't see as many people posting pictures of the craft projects, their remodeling projects, visual art.  Maybe I need to add some of those types of people to the list of people I follow.  Maybe a lot of that happens on Instagram, which seems fairly impossible to access without a smart phone.

--When I first started on Twitter, for the first several weeks, I didn't get the ads that I'm seeing now.  Did it just take those ads awhile to find me?  Is it tied to certain people I'm following?

--I find myself slightly less interested in Twitter now than I was during March.  Is it because of what people are tweeting?  Because I've gotten used to (and a bit fed up with) this new platform?

Thursday, August 20, 2020

Monasticisms, Modern and Ancient

 Today is the feast day of Bernard of Clairvaux.  In the summer of 2005, I went to France with my parents, and as we drove from the Alsace region back to Paris, I saw a sign for Clairvaux.  I vaguely remembered Bernard of Clairvaux, but I couldn't remember what he did or why I remembered him.  That was before any of us had a smart phone, so we couldn't Google his name.  If you want to know more about him, I wrote this post for my theology blog.

That time of going to France with my mom and dad seems like another lifetime ago.  Back then, my grandmother was still alive, and any big trip was made with the worry that something might happen to her that would mean we needed to go to her.  We always traveled with trip insurance.

This has been a week where we've seen universities that had just opened close right back up again--and by close, I mean going virtual.  One of my spouse's young cousins moved to the university in Tennessee where she had planned to start class.  When the move to virtual was announced, she withdrew, moved back home to Indiana, and came up with a whole different life plan.

Ah, youth.

I'd been thinking that I've been glad that I didn't have an alternate life planned just before the pandemic--one less thing to grieve.  Of course, creating an alternate life plan now seems even harder, since I'm so very unsure of what post-pandemic life will look like, or when we'll be there.

It's that time of year, the doldrums of August, where I long for a mountain cabin and cooler weather.  My longing is particularly intense this year.  I even made this sketch last week:

I'm sure it's the news stories about spikes of cases on freshly opened university campuses that also accounts for my mood of anxiety about gathering gloom.  Plus, I keep track of all the contact tracing paperwork, so I'm aware of how many people are coming to campus.  I'm not near any of them for a long enough time to have much risk, and we're all wearing masks.

Of course, that's according to what we know now, that I can say I don't have much risk.

I wish I had a clever way to end this post, some way to circle back to Saint Bernard.  My brain goes to rescue dogs (the breed of a st. bernard) and the saint who saved the church from schism.  He's also given credit for helping monasticism flourish.

When historians write about this age, who will be our Bernard of Clairvaux?  Who will do the rescue work?  Who will walk us back from schism?

Wednesday, August 19, 2020

Swamp Guides and Shepherds

 Once again, not much time to write.  Sure, I've been up for hours--but I've been getting my course shells ready for when the classes open on Friday just after midnight.  And I won't have any time to write later--we've got a big meeting about accreditation at 1:00 today, so we'll spend the morning making sure we're ready.

My life leaves me tired today.

But let me remember some high points of the week so far.  I have had some good sketching time in the morning:

Earlier this week, the readings in Phyllis Tickle's The Divine Hours revolved around shepherd imagery.  Her wording of Psalm 92:2 talked about God's "faithfulness in the night season."

Later I was thinking about the imagery of shepherds and how that symbolism may not be most relevant to modern listeners.   I have been feeling mired, less like a sheep wandering astray than someone stuck in a swamp of despair.  I thought about transposing the language of shepherds into something else.

Maybe the Divine is like a pair of good boots that can help us out of the muck.  Or maybe it's the daily practice that's the swamp boot.  Maybe the Divine is more like the swamp guide who says, "I have a kayaak.  I brought water and snacks.  Climb on in.  We can go faster together.  Here's a paddle--let's go."

Today is going to be one of those stuck in the swamp days.  Let me hope my boots are up to the challenge.  Let me be on the lookout for the swamp guide.

Tuesday, August 18, 2020

Sister Suffragettes

On this day in 1920, the 19th amendment to the U.S. Constitution was ratified.  As I look at the history of voting rights, I am in awe of what people have done to secure this right for themselves and their descendants.  I am astonished at the powers of empire and the lengths to which they will go to keep people from voting.  I am baffled by people living today who think that voting doesn't matter.

As I look back over my own theology/philosophy, my own view of the arc of history, I see how often I circle back to the idea that we're almost always at a point where two or more paths diverge, (and yes, often in a wood--I'm an English major, after all), and we can move towards a better world for more of us, or we can move towards a vision that's not as inclusive and likely won't end well for most of us.

I wish I could stay in that hopeful place all the time--perhaps my inability to stay in that hopeful place is part of my theology/philosophy/knowledge of history too.  While I am inspired by all the ways that ordinary citizens have transformed their societies, I am also haunted by all the lives wiped out during non-hopeful times, the lives constrained by those with power, the ones who didn't live long enough to see the change so desperately needed.

We are in a political time where various people are going to compete for our ability to dream, compete for our visions for our world.  I hope we're listening deeply, discerning what will be best and who is most likely to deliver.

As I write, I am listening to snippets of Michelle Obama's convention speech where she tells us we need to wear our sensible shoes, pack a dinner or maybe breakfast, and be willing to stand in line all night if we need to so that we can vote like our lives depend on it--because they do.

Some people talked about the apocalyptic tenor of her speech, and I confess, I didn't stay up late enough to watch it for myself.  But an apocalyptic tone seems right, for these days when some of us joke that one of the benefits of getting old is that when the bottom falls completely out of this economy, at least we won't be kidnapped and sold into sexual slavery.

And I'm only sort of joking.

Monday, August 17, 2020


It's been a strange week-end--not exactly restful, although it was good to get chores done and food made for the coming week's lunches.

Plus, I slept a bit later than I have been (all the way to 5 a.m.!), after spending part of the night waking up to wonder if I had lost my sense of smell.  After reading this article that says that 87% of patients with COVID-19 lose their sense of smell, I spend time each day making sure I can still smell things.

I had to leave the house earlier than usual to open up the building so that the Vet Tech faculty had the extra time they needed to set up for labs--that's why I'm writing a blog post later than usual and why it will be a shorter post than sometimes.

I wanted to record one high note from the week-end.  After we watched the church service recording in the morning, my spouse spent some time looking at old services.  We watched the one for Father's Day where I preached.  I have no memory of what I preached or how I approached the process leading up to my sermon.  I found it compelling to watch--as if June Kristin had preached a message of hope in an arid time that August Kristin would need to hear.  You can go here to watch and listen.

This morning, I ran 3 miles.  I use the term ran loosely--it was more like a slow jog for most people.  I also use the term 3 miles loosely--my FitBit told me it was 3 miles, and I probably won't go out and track my route in the car the way I once would have.  

I feel like I am reclaiming important parts of myself:  Kristin the runner, Kristin the bread baker.  I hope Kristin the Poet is next in line.

Sunday, August 16, 2020

August Blues

 I didn't have a chance to blog yesterday.  I wanted to get to the Walmart Neighborhood Market early, and then after I did that, I realized I could fairly easily take the car to the shop--if my morning was already shot, might as well get an additional chore taken care of.

Unfortunately, they couldn't change the headlight or the taillight.  The Prius is designed to thwart the do-it-yourselfer, and I'm beginning to think it's also designed to thwart the neighborhood mechanic.  Sigh.

It's no wonder that I would create this sketch:

I find it charming, even as I see the problems with perspective and realism. 

Let me remind myself that I did get some prayers and benedictions written for next week's worship service that will revolve around the start of school.  I'll post those on my theology blog tomorrow.

I also tried to write a poem, but it didn't really come together.  As I was looking for information on Jericho Brown, I came across this interview with him, and his process for some of the poems in The Tradition seemed worth trying:  "I quite literally took every line that I had ever written in a poem that didn’t work, or every line that wasn’t yet in a poem that was 9-11 syllables long, and I put them all in a file. I printed them out. I cut them up. And I started working with them as little slips of paper."

Today the pre-recorded worship service with my sermon gets broadcast at 10:00 a.m.  I'll post a link to the whole recording later.  My video sermon is too long to embed here. Here's the beginning segment:

To see the whole sermon, go here.  If you want to see more (sermons, book trailers, an introduction to my students), go to my YouTube channel.  

Friday, August 14, 2020

Seeing the Unexpected Shooting Star

I did see a shooting star yesterday, the day after I spent a chunk of the early morning hours with my neck aching as I looked for signs from the Perseid Meteor showers.  I'm not sure why it matters to me to note that.  It does seem like a fitting metaphor for the time we're in:  we may find what we're searching for, but not in the time we expect, the setting we expect, the volume we wanted, the part of the sky where we've been watching.

It's the kind of metaphor that can be vastly hopeful or tinged with sadness--or both!

It's been a hopeful tinged with sad kind of week.  Let me create a catalogue:

--The corona virus draws ever nearer.  We have had to do our first contact tracing this week at work.  In the past, when we've had a student or instructor let us know about a positive test, we've determined that there's been no risk of exposure.  Yesterday, we let HR know all the people who might have been exposed.  I feel a bit sorry for our head of HR.  I think that the bulk of her work in the past 6 weeks has been doing this kind of notification of possible exposure.  She said that our campus was the most calm and cool in our reactions of all the campuses she'd had to notify.  She seemed a bit mystified.  I think most of us have known that it was just a matter of time before we had a much closer risk of exposure.

--In the midst of hopeful campaign news (Kamala!), there's the fear of this campaign season growing ever uglier.

--It's been a week of upheaval in terms of friends.  The friends who are moving left this week and were so busy with the end process of selling the house and leaving town that we had no chance to say goodbye.  She wrote from Georgia to tell us that they had left.  I thought of that old folk song:  "Are you going away, with no word of farewell, will there be not a trace left behind?"  But I was always the one going away when I sang that song.  One of my other friends is in the hospital with a broken hip.

--I want to get in my car and drive away too, preferably to a hidden mountain cabin.  I am tired of this relentless heat, and we have had no breeze this summer.  Ugh.  I find myself yearning for the kind of autumn we won't get down here, and might not get elsewhere in this pandemic time:  apples and hot cider and cinnamon donuts and pumpkins and cozy sweaters and putting an extra quilt on the bed.  

--I'm finding my brain going back to happier times in the past.  I can't tell whether it's better to linger in those memories for a bit, even though they make me sad and wistful, or to try not to think about them.

But let me remember that at some point, I may look back on some happy memories from now:

--One of my church friends said she's come to look at me as a Mr. Rogers for our time.  I thought that was the best compliment I've ever gotten.  For a taste of some of the ideas from our Morning Watch time that inspired her to say this, see this blog post.

--I've been enjoying the opportunity to walk in the neighborhood.  I've even started running a bit.  This entry might belong in the above catalogue.  I'm happy about walking and running, but I'm distressed about my weight gain.  I weigh at least 10 pounds more than I did last summer.  Sigh.  Let me remember that 2 summers ago I was at this weight and thrilled because I was working my way down the scale not up.  I can do that again--as I always do.

I've been enjoying my extra sketching time each morning.  And each day, I create a card for the temperature check in station that gives the date.  Here's the one I did for yesterday.  I was trying to capture the spirit of the daisies that were in my wedding bouquet so long ago:

Thursday, August 13, 2020

Wedding Anniversary #32

 On this day in 1988, I'd be getting ready to be married in the same church where my parents were married in 1962, the same church where my grandfather was pastor for many years before he died.  Here's one of my favorite pictures of that early morning:

Yes, that's my grandmother ironing my wedding dress so that I'd be suitable.  The dress was not wrinkled; I have no idea why my grandmother decided she needed to iron the dress.  She was the kind of woman who believed in ironing.  I am not.  But I can still appreciate the efforts that people make for me to make me more presentable.

I appreciate them more now, 32 years later.  Then, I'd have wanted to spare my grandmother the hassle of ironing a dress that was just going to be rumpled anyway. This morning, I'm amazed at the fact that anyone on this planet is willing to iron a wedding dress. My grandmother had ways of showing love that I didn't appreciate at the time.

We got married at 11 a.m.  We had friends and family members with a long drive home, so we wanted them to be able to get an early-ish start.  We had a short honeymoon in Asheville, N.C.  That first night, we went out to eat.  We shared a slice of cheesecake with blueberry topping, and we each got our own cup of coffee.  That felt like an extravagence, not sharing a cup of coffee.  Then we got back home in time for our grad school classes.

For the most part, we've been happy together. He was a Philosophy major, and I was an English major: temperamentally we're suited. We come at social justice issues from a similar direction. We're artistically suited.   I know how lucky we've been.

I look back on that day when we got married and shake my head. I was convinced I was so grown up; I had just turned 23. But really, what do any of us know when we enter into such a union? We think we know all that we need to know, but we will learn so much more.

Wednesday, August 12, 2020

Rising Stars, Falling Stars

 Even though I woke up earlier than usual, I'm getting a much later start to blogging than usual.  But I did want to make a blog post today, the day after Joe Biden's announcement which feels historic:  the first Asian, the first black, but not the first female vice presidential candidate.  However, I have hopes that the candidacy of Kamala Harris will go more smoothly than that of Geraldine Ferraro.

I am pleased with the pick for any number of reasons, and by now, most people have enumerated reasons to be happy in far more detail than I plan to do here.  I am happy that Biden had so many candidates to choose from, once he declared that he would pick a woman for his vice president.

I don't know why my brain sprang awake at 1:30, but it's been awhile, so perhaps it will be a one time insomnia.  I wasn't worried about anything specific, unlike most times when I wake up at 1:30.  At 2:46 a.m., I made this Facebook post:  "If I'm going to have insomnia (the waking up at 1:30 a.m. kind, not the can't fall asleep at all kind), I'd like to go outside and watch the Perseid meteor shower. But there have been helicopters in the vicinity since 2 a.m., and that noise makes me want to stay inside. And yes, I do realize I am speaking from a place of privilege--those helicopters aren't looking for my middle class white lady self."

And yet I did go outside several times to try to see a falling star.  I saw Orion, which usually appears in late summer here.  When we first moved here, I thought it was so strange to see that constellation, the only one I can recognize, the one I associate with cold winter nights of star gazing.  But we are so much further south down here that the night sky is different.

I looked at moon and star charts and tried to look where the meteors would be, but I saw nothing.  I thought about Kamala Harris as a rising star, not a shooting star.  I tried to write a poem, but nothing came together.

I'm also late to writing because I spent the time I usually spend writing on sermon preparation.  I'm doing my 3rd sermon by way of small videos that I stitch together.  Then my pastor will stitch it in with the larger fabric of the worship service he's assembling.  On Sunday, I'll post a link to it.  Although it's short--just over 7 minutes--I'm pleased with it.  Some days, a shorter message is better.

I am still loving the practice of putting together a sermon this way.  I wish I had better videography skills and equipment, but my church members are fairly forgiving.  It's a change from the way we used to do sermons, and I think it's good for all of us to challenge our brains a bit.

Just like having a female VP candidate will do.

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

The Next Online Journaling Class

I am part of another online journaling class offered by Vonda Drees and the Grunewald Guild.  For the next 3 weeks, we're reading Ibram X. Kendi's How to Be an Antiracist.  This past spring and early summer, I felt like I was seeing this book mentioned everywhere, so I was happy to have a chance to read it, and to read it in a group.

So far, it's been hard to know how to approach the book with my usual sketching practice.  The language is not evocative, so far, to my sketching brain.  My intellectual brain, yes.  But how to put this all in a sketch?

I decided to sketch one of the ideas that captured me when I started the book Sunday night. It's near the bottom of p. 17, after he talked about theologian James Cohn. 

Here's the longer quote: "If we don't do the basic work of defining the kind of people we want to be in language that is stable and consistent, we can't work toward stable, consistent goals."

So far, I'm enjoying the book, but it's not as revelatory as I had expected that it would be.  I'm guessing that for someone who hasn't thought much about these issues since college, it might be.  Still, it's good to be reminded, and good to see what some of the nation is reading.

Monday, August 10, 2020

Lessons from a Challenge Month

 Yesterday, for The Sealey Challenge I read Lesley Wheeler's The State She's In.  I ordered this book just after I returned from the AWP conference, and by the time it arrived, the world was in full pandemic panic mode.  I flipped through it, read a few poems mainly from the end of the book, and thought that I just didn't have the concentration to read the whole thing.

If I had started from the beginning, I might have devoured the book back when it first arrived.  Or maybe my brain was just too frazzled. But as I read the book yesterday, I did realize that I liked the first part of the book best. 

As I was trying to think about a photograph, I realized that part of the volume revolves around the state of Virginia, one of the "states she's in" (the other states are metaphorical states).  I thought about Florida, the state I'm in.  I thought about how both states will always feel both like home to me and like places where I feel I'm an alien dropped in for a visit.  I thought about a beloved Colonial Williamsburg mug that was living on borrowed time, as I noticed the crack in the handle--and this week, the borrowed time came to a crashing halt.

I knew that I wanted to use the mug, but it wasn't until yesterday morning, when I was reading the book outside on a different lounge chair than the one I usually use, that I thought about using this coral structure:

I love how Wheeler explores gender in intriguing ways, especially gender issues as they impact women who are no longer in their 20's and 30's, but she's also fascinating when she dissects history--and of course, there are intersections where the two come together, and it also gives her the opportunity to braid together an analysis of class and race.   It's an amazing work.

And now it's on to the next work--something at the office, no doubt.  It's interesting to do this Sealey Challenge during this time when so many of my books are still in boxes.  I'm not sure I have enough volumes of poetry in my office to get me through a book a day this month.  Happily, I have an Amazon order on the way, and I've put a lot of poetry volumes on hold at the library--I hope to do remote check out and pick up of books by the end of the week.

I feel a bit sad about all the books I could be reading, a justification for keeping them all.  But let me remember one of the valuable lessons of this kind of challenge.  I have more time than I think that I do, and I'm often content to while away uncounted numbers of hours scrolling through various sites.  Some of that scrolling is edifying/nourishing/important, but much of it is not.

Let me resolve to fill more time with poetry, both the writing of it and the reading of it.

Sunday, August 9, 2020

Long National Nightmares, Past and Present

 When you think of World War II, which battle do you think of as most important? Many people would say the invasion of Normandy--but I do wonder if it's because it's the one that most people can remember by name, the one that makes it into the movies more often. I've heard some historians say that the battle of Stalingrad was more important. You might argue that the dropping of the bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki saved lives by making it possible to avoid these kinds of grueling battles.

On this day in 1945, just after 11:00 a.m., the U.S. dropped its second atomic bomb on Nagasaki. President Truman said, "I realize the tragic significance of the atomic bomb... It is an awful responsibility which has come to us... We thank God that it has come to us, instead of to our enemies; and we pray that He may guide us to use it in His ways and for His purposes."

I am struck by Truman's intriguing reference to God here. My brain spins at the idea of God using nuclear weapons in some redemptive way.  But why should that be?  I've spent much of my life believing that God and humans can take the most horrible circumstances and find redemption.

Still, that bomb killed 70,000 people.  The scale of death in World War II is still somewhat difficult to fathom.  I fear we may be saying the same thing about the new corona virus.  COVID-19 has now become the 3rd leading cause of death behind heart attacks and cancer.

Today is also the anniversary of the resignation of Richard Nixon.  As Gerald Ford took over, he said, "My fellow Americans, our long national nightmare is over. Our Constitution works; our great republic is a government of laws and not of men."

And now we find ourselves in a different long national nightmare.  What positive possibilities might come out of our current time of turmoil?

Saturday, August 8, 2020

Saturday Snippets and the Sealey Challenge

 It has been the kind of week where I will gather some fragments and see what emerges.

--Last night I dreamed of rivers, usually rivers that were swelling their banks, and overtaking me, fast moving currents that swept me away.  It doesn't take a trained psychotherapist to interpret that dream, does it?

--I want to remember the student who was so happy at the thought of a different colored wrist band.  She said her toddler was collecting them and wearing them and was so happy when she brought him a band of a different color.  I love the idea of the toddler finding joy in this wristband which often feels like drudgery.

--As I have been collecting paperwork that shows that people have been on campus, I thought about how we're willing to sacrifice our privacy this way.  And then I had to laugh at myself.  Most people are carrying phones that are much more invasive, in terms of tracking personal information.  We have been trained.

--Today is my school's virtual graduation.  It's being launched at a particular time, but it's all pre-recorded.  There will be no cars driving by to pick up diplomas, no live feed with administrators holding diplomas out to a screen.  It's not what anyone expected when students started their degree programs, but it's better than nothing. 

--I came across this article which was the most helpful so far in figuring out which symptoms might be COVID-19, since so many of the symptoms are very common--and in people like me, often triggered by reading the symptoms:  "Why, yes, I do have a headache."

But let me close with something happier:

--I have been enjoying the Sealey Challenge, where we try to read 1 whole book of poetry each and every day in August.  Some people post a picture of the book, while others post a selfie of themselves reading the book.  I don't really have a way to do a selfie easily, so I'm trying to create a photo that has some artistic tinge or that says something about the content of the book or ties into the history of the day.  For example, on August 6, the 75th anniversary of the Hiroshima bombing, I decided on the book based on the day, and I made this photo:

Friday, August 7, 2020

Longing for School

The other day, I saw a picture of my cousin's daughter, along with the information that she's thrilled because the school board just announced that students would be back in person in schools as previously planned.  She's thrilled to go back to school.

I wrote this response:  "Suddenly I have a vision of a whole generation of learners who will go forward in life being always grateful for school, grateful for teachers, grateful for learning--maybe I'll stay in education a bit longer!"

I confess that I also said a prayer for those children heading back to classrooms.  I broadened the prayer to all of us meeting in buildings.  I realize that no matter how careful we are, we're taking a risk.  If I could, I'd keep all of us at my school meeting remotely, doing virtual labs.  But it's not up to me, so I'm trying to keep us all as safe as possible.

I used similar words the other day, when I took a phone call from a student.  He asked, "When will you let us come back to campus to have class there?"

We had a fairly long conversation, about seven minutes, about the pluses and minuses of distance education, about disease transmission, about how long we'd need to meet remotely.  Here, too, I was struck by what has changed; in the pre-pandemic times, I can't imagine getting a call from a student demanding more access to classes, demanding to be on campus longer hours.

I understand that longing.  When I first heard that my certificate program was likely to meet via Zoom in January of 2021, my first response was to fight back tears.  But I reminded myself that I was lucky to have a program that's continuing, leadership that can pivot.  It's not what I imagined when I signed up, but here we are.

And we are likely to be here longer than most of us would like.

Thursday, August 6, 2020

Transfiguring Atoms

On this day, 75 years ago, the world was about to change in dramatic ways that we likely still don't fully comprehend. On this day, 75 years ago, the first nuclear bomb was used in war.

The effects of that bomb obliterated much of Hiroshima--and vaporized some of it. There were reports of people fused into pavement and glass--or just vanished, with a trace remaining at the pavement. The reports of the survivors who walked miles in search of help or water are grim. And many of those survivors would die of the effects of radiation in the coming years.

In a strange twist, today is also the Feast Day of the Transfiguration in Catholic, Anglican, and Orthodox churches, the day when Jesus went up the mountain with several disciples and becomes transfigured into a radiant being. Those of you who worship in Protestant churches may have celebrated this event just before Lent began, so you may not think of it as a summer kind of celebration. Pre-Reformation traditions often celebrated this day in conjunction with blessing the first harvest.

I find it an interesting conjunction, and of course, I've written a poem about it.

Ides of August

We long to be transfigured in the Holy Flame,
to harness atoms to do our will.
At the thought of what they attempt,
leaders and scientists tremble.
On the other side of the planet,
people vanish into the unforgettable fire,
wisps of cloth pressed into concrete,
the only sign that they existed.

We cling to the Ancient Lie
of the violence that can redeem
us. We purge and plunge whole
landscapes into the land of ash and smoke.
The sun rises over a steamy swamp
of decimated land and decapitated dreams.

Like Peter, we long to harness Holiness,
to build booths, to charge admission.
Christ turned into Carnival.
No need to do the hard, Christian work:
repairing community, loving the unloveable.
No, we seek redemption in the flame.

We pin our hopes on the nuclear
family, small units than can withstand the fission
of everyday stresses and detonating loss.
We cast away thousands of years of human
knowledge; we forget the wisdom of the pack.
We head for our hermitages in the hills,
hoping to be transfigured into hardy-stocked survivors.

Today is a good day to think about what distractions, atomic, cosmic, or otherwise, take our attention away from the true work. Today is a good day to think about mountaintop experiences and how we navigate our lives when we're not on the mountaintop. Today is also a good day to meditate on power and how we seek to harness it and how we use power once we have it.

Today is a good time to spend with the texts for the day, to carve out some time for quiet contemplation. Go here for readings, complete with links, so that you can read online, if that's easier.

Today is also a great day to celebrate the transfiguring possibility of power. After all, not all uses of power lead to destructive explosions. Some times, we find redemption.

Wednesday, August 5, 2020

Time of Firsts, Pandemic Version

Yesterday was a day of many firsts.  We have filled in our ballots to vote by mail in the August 18 election.  I'm registered as an independent, so I don't get to cast a ballot in the primaries, but I did vote for some judges.  But more importantly, I see this as a test run for November.

I have always registered as independent, but since moving to Florida in 1998, I've always voted for a Democrat in national races.  In South Carolina, I voted for a wider variety of candidates, knowing that the Republican would win regardless.  Down here in Florida, it's been much more clear that my vote would matter, even as I haven't always been positive it would be counted, after the 2000 election debacle.

Another first:  I submitted a proposal for the AWP conference.  I've had ideas in the past, but the odds seemed so steep that I never actually put together a proposal to submit.  This year, only people who have never presented at the AWP can submit a proposal, along with everyone who had a panel accepted last year, but who decided to postpone the panel until the 2021 conference.  This year, the odds seem a bit better.

I'm glad I did.  I needed something to remind me of the kind of writer I want to be, not the kind of writer that I seem to have become.  Yesterday, I wrote the pandemic protocols again.  I have lost track of how often I have written them.  They haven't changed much, so I'm not sure why this need for periodic revision.  Who is going to be reading these protocols?

Yesterday, as I found myself once again trying to convince different types of documents into one single document, I realized fairly quickly how impossible it was, how much time it would take if I decided it needed to be possible.  I decided that we were going to scan the document anyway, so it was easier to take the separate documents and turn them into one PDF to scan.  It won't make revision easier, but maybe we won't need to revise again.  Or maybe I'll just keep stitching documents together in this way.

It's not the stitching I thought I would be doing.  Sadly, this kind of revision of documents is not a first for me, as those of you who have read my chapbook I Stand Here Shredding Documents know.

I'm participating in the Sealey Challenge, where one reads one book of poetry every day in August.  I've never heard of this challenge before, but it's been interesting to realize that I can do this.  If it means that I scroll through social media less, that's a plus.

Here's another plus that I saw on someone's Twitter feed:  "Go, go, go, poetry lovers! We’re thrilled to see all the incredible books you’ve read so far! Be sure to send your list to openpoetrybooks [at] gmail [dot] com by 9PM PT on September 1. Happy reading!"

The Sealey Challenge views chapbooks as a book for the challenge, so it's not just full length collections.  Maybe it's time for me to read my own chapbooks again.  That, too, wouldn't be a first, but it's been a long time.

Monday, August 3, 2020

Holy Resilience

I came across an interesting term last week: holy resilience. One of my pastor friends recorded a "Come to Jesus" meeting to remind us that these times are hard, but we can be resilient.  I'm using her term, "Come to Jesus" meeting, but it was really more of a pep talk.  

She mentioned a blog post that used the term "holy resilience"; I did a search and came across this post.  It's got lots of encouraging words, lots of good ideas, lots of Bible verses that address different aspects of what it takes to get through trying times.

I'll keep meditating on that phrase in the days to come.  I also decided to sketch a bit.  Here's the first version:

Later, I added more gray.  At first I thought I'd ruined the picture, but the frenetic energy has grown on me.

I kept layering colors and finally called it done:

Sunday, August 2, 2020

Storm Watching

This is not the hurricane I expected.  This is not the storm I dreaded.  Perhaps I see a larger life lesson here.

Rain patters against the windows.  When I heard that patter before dawn, I wasn't sure if it was rain or some other creature making its way in the world.  I was expecting the kind of rain band we got 24 hours ago, where the rain came in a blinding wave.

I almost cancelled my appointment with my spiritual director on Friday because I thought a tropical storm would be on top of us.  By Thursday, I could tell that I had a good chance of being able to make it to that appointment and back before the winds came and made driving difficult.  I pulled into the driveway about the time the 5 p.m. update from the National Hurricane Center let us know that we were under a hurricane watch.  My spouse was taking down the wind chimes, but we decided not to do major preparations for 12 hours, once we saw what the Saturday 5 a.m. update told us. 

By Saturday morning, we decided to wait until the 11 a.m. update to decide on whether or not to shutter the windows and pull the yard furniture inside.  My spouse put away the smaller items that could be airborne if the forecast winds/wind gusts arrived.  I started the pizza dough to get ready for the rainy afternoon ahead.

Instead, the sun came out.  I monitored the storm just to be sure we weren't surprised.  In the past 3 decades, I've seen more than one storm seem like a non-event in the morning, only to come crashing ashore as a category 4 or 5 storm by the 5 p.m. advisory.

We had pizza and wine.  I took a nap.  We listened to various versions of songs by Pentatonix.  My spouse took a nap.  I read all the 5 p.m. updates from the National Hurricane Center.  I did some writing and reading.  My spouse moved from Pentatonix to the Violent Femmes, and we discovered some great new versions of our favorite songs--and that the band is back together!  I've spent time this morning enjoying this concert.

As the sun was setting, for one moment, there was a break in the clouds, an amazing, glowing red hole to the west.  I grabbed the camera, but I was too late.  I did catch this shot, however:

And here's another common storm image, tropical winds blowing through the palm trees:

Because we had taken naps, we had a later bedtime than usual.  I finished reading Timothy Ware's The Orthodox Church, a history of various types of Orthodox Christianity, the next book for my spiritual direction certificate program.  I also made some progress on David Hamp's Sunny Days: The Children's Television Revolution That Changed America.  I am thoroughly enjoying that one--it's a great look back at iconic PBS shows for children, shows that I watched as they premiered, long ago when I was very young, before my sister was born.  I arrived at school already knowing how to read, which made my teacher dismayed, so I tried not to let her know how much I already knew.

This memory of elementary school, too, seems to explain a larger life lesson, but it's more than I want to deal with in this blog post.  

This morning, I've been baking, making the house smell like a distant December.  

I made this Facebook post:  "Yes it is August 2, and I am creating bread that has more in common with Christmas traditions than sourdough. And yes, I still have pizza dough in the fridge after making pizza yesterday. I am being profligate with my yeast! Or maybe extravagant is the the more accurate word."

So it seems that today will be the rainy day this week-end.  I was prepared to stay in all week-end, so that's fine.  There's more reading to do:  the Sealey Challenge!  One book of poems each day of August.  I have plenty of books to choose from.