Wednesday, September 30, 2020

I Am Woman, but Baby, Don't Get Hooked

I was saddened to hear about the death of Helen Reddy, even though I never owned an album of hers.  I loved the iconic song, "I Am Woman, Hear Me Roar."  I feel like I spent much of my childhood in the 70's with that song in the background. I feel like I should have more to say about her, about her music, about the fact that she died on the same day we had the worst presidential debate ever--but I don't.

I did not watch the debates.  I rarely do.  By the time the debates come in the life of the political cycle, I already know how I will vote, so there's not much motivation for me to stay up late watching dreary policy discussions done in short bits of time.

Of course, we didn't get that experience last night--it sounds like last night's debate was even worse than I thought it would be, and I thought it would be bad.  If I wanted to hear people shouting over each other and ignoring the ways we're socialized to be civil to each other--well, I really can't imagine wanting that.

And even if I did, it's hard for me to stay up that late.  Instead of watching TV, I went for an evening swim because it's South Florida, and it's still summer down here, and I was hot.  I watched the moon rise, which was amazing.  As always, I thought, why don't I watch the moon rise more often?  Why don't I swim more often?

As I was finishing up getting ready for work, I heard that Mac Davis died yesterday too--another staple of the AM radio days of my childhood.  He's being remembered for writing songs for Elvis, including "A Little Less Conversation," one of my favorites.  But I was surprised to realize that I can still sing the refrain of "Baby, Baby Don't Get Hooked on Me" all these years since I last heard that song.

I wish I had a clever way to conclude this post, something that would link icons of 70's AM radio to last night's elderly men who want one more chance to lead.  I wish I had a stinging and original observation about women and roaring and presidential debates  and gender and the gendered ways we treat each other.

I am nostalgic for campaign seasons that made me feel hopeful.  I am missing the songs of my youth which sang about issues I couldn't comprehend.  I am feeling the need to read some William Blake or maybe some Mary Shelley and to spend the day thinking about innocence and experience and the way forward.

Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Taxes, Poetry, and Other Obligations

The world can't stop talking about Donald Trump's taxes, although I'm sure there will soon be something new that makes us appalled.  I have known since early in my working life that the tax laws are skewed towards the wealthy.  I paid the highest percentage of my income in taxes during my grad school years, when I was earning the least amount of money; and much of those earnings were grad school assistantships, which Ronald Reagan declared could be taxed about a year before I started grad school.  

I have known that Donald Trump had something to hide, since he kept hiding information.  Therefore, I'm not surprised when the information makes him look bad.  I've known he's a man of questionable character for decades now--so I'm not surprised when his behavior makes him look bad.

Soon we can move on and discuss the debates, and soon we'll be voting.  Hopefully soon after that, we'll have solid, verifiable results.

However, I want to talk about something more pleasant.

Two weeks ago, I tried to write a poem that incorporated Hildegarde of Bingen, but I felt like I was just doing the same thing that I've done before, using the life of a medieval mystic (usually female) to contrast to the lives we're living now.

This morning, I came at the poem from a completely different angle:  what can a medieval mystic teach us about how to live during a time of pandemic?  From cloistering to robes to ordering the day--if I lived a different life, a freelance writer kind of life, I'd write it up as an article and hope that I'd get my big break.

Maybe I'd even write a self-help book--but would it get published before there was a vaccine?  If there was a vaccine, would there be a need for such a book?

And now I'm thinking of my unpublished book length memoir project, a project which probably reads very differently now.  I haven't been working on getting it published. so I'm not broken hearted that it probably won't be published in our current time.  It can join the others in my file of "Might Be Useful Some Day" manuscripts.  Sigh.

Wait, I said I was going to talk about something more pleasant.  Shelved manuscripts probably aren't the most pleasant thing.  But the evidence of continuing to show up, continuing to write, even in the face of unpleasant news from the larger world--that is pleasant indeed!

Sunday, September 27, 2020

The Delights of a Different Seashore

At one point during our months of talking about the possibilities of vacationing together, my mom did wonder why we would want to leave our South Florida beach existence to travel to a different beach location.  But every beach location is different, although I do think that when I'm a little old lady looking back on our travel times, I'll get confused about which beach town was which.  Many stores in a beach town look the same as in other beach towns, although their signage may be different.

Hilton Head Island, at the far southern end of the state of South Carolina, is very different from South Florida beaches.  For that matter, it's very different from Myrtle Beach, which at the northern part of South Carolina.

When I walked on the beach at Hilton Head Island and looked away from the ocean, I saw lots of pine trees and oaks.  There were places where I didn't see a house or a resort.  It felt remote, even though I know it wasn't.

When I did see a building, it was a completely different building than the South Florida buildings.  There must be some sort of building restrictions, because there were no high rises on Hilton Head Island.  Although there were huge houses, houses that would cost millions to own, they weren't obtrusive, the way multi-million dollar mansions are in South Florida.

I loved walking on the beach, which was wide and firm.  The beaches on the east side of Florida aren't like that.  There's fluffy sand, which looks lovely, but isn't great for walking.  In South Florida, I don't see as many fiddler crabs--or more precisely the bubbling holes in the sand that speak to their presence.

The beaches at Hilton Head aren't great for sea shells, but Hilton Head seems more committed to sea turtles than our beaches here.  In South Florida, we talk about sea turtles digging the dark, but we can't achieve the level of darkness that Hilton Head does.  It was the kind of dark that made me a little afraid of the thought of walking at night, although I know it's a much safer walk there than here.

I loved seeing the ships out on the water.  I loved knowing that fishing trawlers were out there.  Down here, it's cruise ships, well, back when cruise ships were sailing.

There seemed to be lots of toddlers on the beach--toddlers with parents and grandparents, but more toddlers than I'm used to seeing on beaches.  We also saw a lot of well behaved dogs.  The dogs and the toddlers had the kind of joy that reminds us all of the wonders of the ocean.

I should probably use that reminder as I return to daily life.  I don't get over to my own seashore as often as I would like.  Let me think on that realization and perhaps make a goal or two.

Travel in a Time of Pandemic

At the beginning of the year, I had a different set of travel plans:  two trips to a seminary campus to do my onground intensives for my certificate in spiritual direction, some trips to see my family, at least one retreat (Create in Me) and maybe two (the quilting retreat in October). At the beginning of the year, I worried that I might not have enough vacation and PTO time.  Now as I approach the anniversary of my hiring, I worry that I might lose vacation that I don't have time to take.

As it became clear that the pandemic would be restricting us for longer than a month or two, my mom and I strategized.  I sent her some weeks where it might be easy for me to get away from my job, and she started to work her magic; one of her alternate life daydreams was being a travel agent, and she can get the best deals of anyone I know.

She found a week at Hilton Head Island for September 19-26, which was perfect for me, the middle week of a 3 week break between quarters.  My spouse continues teaching remotely, and we'd have wi-fi at the condo my mom found.  So off we went.

The trip up felt easy.  I felt almost giddy, even though I 95 isn't my favorite travel route in normal times.  I felt the temperature getting cooler as we drove north, and I felt so happy.  I wanted roadside stands, but we didn't see any, and we weren't in a mood to linger anyway.

We got to our condo and got settled in.  A week ago, we went to a Hilton Head Bi-Lo to get our food for the week.  We found a great deal on whole chickens, so we had a delicious chicken dinner, and then a chicken and rice dish, and then later, the best chicken and dumplings I've ever made.

We are lucky, in that we don't need to go out to eat, we don't need to have tourist attractions, we don't need movie theatres or other distractions.  I have friends who don't feel like they've had a vacation if they can't go and do all the time.  I am happy to have a stack of books and time to read, and my mom, dad, and spouse feel the same way.  We know from the past that we travel well together.

We stayed at a Marriott time share, so we had resort amenities, although they have been limited by the pandemic--all of the amenities like bars and the workout room are open for less time than usual.  The pools and hot tubs are more limited, but we had no trouble finding a chair and keeping our distance.

When we chose this week, I thought that Hilton Head would be a bit more deserted--not quite completely off season, the way it would be in February, but not the way it would be in July.  It wasn't crowded enough that I worried about disease transmission, but I did notice more children on the beach than I thought would be there.  Of course, now that some school districts are meeting remotely, school can travel too.  

For the most part, we stayed close to the resort.  We did go to a farmer's market on Tuesday, but there weren't many vegetables.  Still, the weather was beautiful, and we wandered around the historic site and the museum at the Honey Horn plantation.  I loved the butterfly enclosure.  We saw lots of butterflies all week, different than our South Florida butterflies, but still a treat.

Even though I had some work to do with my online classes and checking my work e-mail once a day, it was good to get away. It was good to see my parents--I know that they're safe and might have been safer if we had stayed away.  But I also know that they're in their early 80's, and we don't have decades to spend together.

We had a great week together.  It was wonderful to be with them and wonderful to be in a slightly cooler climate.  I needed a change of scenery--we've had a hot summer, which isn't unusual, but we've had day after day of no sea breeze, which makes it less bearable.

Tomorrow I'll write more about the beach itself, about the delights of a different seashore.  And later, I'll write about what I read during my short vacation.

Saturday, September 26, 2020

Piecing, Peacing

I I thought about dismemberment and what it means to put bodies back together--both our individual bodies and groups of people (the body politic, the church body, and on and on I could go). 

For my first sketch, I just tried to capture some ideas:

This morning, I returned to the idea of putting something together with a pattern, and then I added the haiku-like creation:

I had something else in mind, something completely different, but this sketch is the one that came this morning.  That part of the process always intrigues me too.  Later, perhaps I'll explore further.

Friday, September 25, 2020

Compounding Goodness

We are about 40 days away from the election.  I'd been thinking about the number of weeks rather than the number of days, so I was surprised to see this post from Diana Butler Bass that told me that we're 40 days out.

Because she's writing from a religious perspective, she suggests that we treat these 40 days the way we would treat the season of Lent, with specific practices that root us in a mindful discipline.  I understand that her religious approach may be offputting to some, yet she offers important reminders to us all.

It's good to remember that we're not powerless.  We're not living under a dictatorship, although it may feel like it at times.  It's important to take these actions, because, as Bass reminds us, "Heartfelt, even wordless, prayers speak magic into the universe. Small actions add up, daily acts compound goodness."

She suggests we do one action a day, and she offers a variety of actions:  "lighting a candle, attending a protest, volunteering at the polls.  We could donate money or time.  We could write postcards to voters or postcards to others who need encouragement.  We could write letters to legislators."

She also suggests we pray once a day.  I would add that we should be thinking about the world we want to create.  Most of us know what kind of world we don't want to see.  But we're not always very good at thinking about what we do want.  

It's hard to create what we do want if we haven't spent time pondering it, creating images, giving our subconscious brains something that we want to attract.

Let's light our collective candles and do that now--and then let's take actions to make it so.

Thursday, September 24, 2020

Trauma Tracing

 For many of us, the summer of 2020 has been a season of racial reckoning, of a sort.  We've had story after story of terrible police brutality.  Some of us will think of George Floyd, some of Breonna Taylor--sadly, there's no shortage of these kinds of stories.  It's been a summer of protests across the nation, and from what I can tell, from a distance, those protests have been largely peaceful.

Yesterday I watched the news reports that told me that there would be very little in terms of justice in the case of Breonna Taylor.  There were lots of bullets and one officer who will be charged with some form of reckless endangerment--not for endangering the lives of Breonna Taylor and her boyfriend, but the people in neighboring apartments.

I am both surprised and not surprised.  There will be all sorts of stories in various sorts of media that will explain all sorts of aspects of this case.  My brain returns to the book I've been reading with an online journaling group, Resmaa Menakem's My Grandmother's Hands.  It's a powerful work that explores trauma and all the ways our bodies store trauma--and how that process is different for white bodies, for black bodies, and for police bodies.  

It's not just a book, but also a workbook.  It's full of exercises to help us safely move the trauma out of ourselves--and not just our trauma, but the trauma experienced by our ancestors.  Even if we're protected by our culture now (by our race, by our gender, by our economic status), most of us come from people who have been brutalized, and even if they weren't brutalized, they were surrounded by brutality.  Menakem reminds us, "When you heal historical and intergenerational trauma, you heal the people who came before you. You also heal the generations to come, because your healing means you will not pass on your trauma to your descendants" (p. 180).

If enough people do this work, we can heal society:  “When, over time, enough bodies heal from historical, intergenerational, and personal trauma and learn to harmonize, that harmony can turn into a culture of resilience and flow” (p. 182).  It's not enough to start another book club, although knowledge is important.  Menakem reminds us over and over again that healing doesn't happen in the head.  It happens in your body.

So how do we do this work?  We choose clean pain over dirty pain which means choosing integrity over fear.  We let go of what is familiar but harmful.  We find the best parts of ourselves.  We return to the practices that Menakem gives us in his book, exercises that release the pain of generations stored in our bodies:

I highly recommend the book, of course.  But while you're waiting for the book, this interview from Krista Tippett and her On Being show will give you a taste of Menakem's teaching.

Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Seasonal Markers, Planetary Brokenness

It's been an interesting week to be by the sea, watching the tides come in to inundate communities.  This article notes that some of the flooding is visible from space.  

We've got several factors exerting influence.  Every year at this time (mid-September to mid-October), we see King Tides, the higher tides that come because of where the moon is in relation to the earth.  We've got the slow motion difficulty of sea level rise which means the flooding comes sooner.

This year we had Hurricane Teddy way offshore but still making high tide even higher.  And there was all the rain from Hurricane Sally, all that water running to the sea.

Yesterday, as I looked at a display of pumpkins in a supermarket endcap that had once held watermelons, I thought about the passage of seasons.  I thought about my response to fall, my yearning for an autumn that soon may only exist in old pictures:  hay rides, bonfires, cinnamon donuts, apple orchards, changing leaf colors.  

The King Tides are just as seasonal a marker, but it's hard to imagine people feeling nostalgia for them when they leave or yearning for their return.  They seem much more menacing, as water swirls up from storm drains to flood the streets, a potent reminder of the planetary changes that we can often forget.

I say it's tough to imagine nostalgia, but a child growing up who had a parent pull a kayaak full of children through flooded streets, that child will certainly have a different set of memories.  I'm nostalgic for hay rides I rarely had--that child when grown may remember the King Tides fondly, the way that I have fondness for snow days.

Many of the children being born right now will have no first hand experience with snow.  That's sobering to me, but only because I have a certain bias.    I view rising sea levels and raging wildfires as a symptom of planetary brokenness, but generations after me may not. I see apocalypse, but we'll adapt, and future generations will have a different set of apocalyptic markers.

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Autumn 2020 Approaches

 We are just a few hours away from the autumnal equinox.  In South Florida, where I live, one must be very alert to sense the passage of the seasons.  We don't have the change in leaf color, but we do have a shift of the sun as it slips further to the south, making the shadows longer in certain parts of parking lots.

We don't have a change in the temperature.  In some years, we see increased hurricane activity as we get closer to the autumnal equinox, but that marker isn't a clear delineation either.

I used to joke that I knew autumn was upon us when we got the first cinnamon brooms in the produce section of the grocery store, but this year, we've only gotten a few, and they must be left over from last year.  They didn't fill their corner of the store with fragrance. 

Just a few days ago, I did see pumpkins, but they were in a cardboard display box that had once held watermelons.  I know, because the box proclaimed the goodness of watermelon season, a season that has already faded.

We've been able to get apples year round, along with watermelon.  We no longer seem to have seasonal produce, although if you wanted to buy a whole pumpkin in May, in my part of the U.S. you wouldn't find them.

I do try to keep certain activities/foods/decorations for certain seasons, just so that I have some way of marking them.  I now have autumnal table top trees to go with my Christmas ones.  In the off season, as I look up from my work desk to the back of the file cabinet where I store them, it looks like a delightful forest, a different kind of enchanted wood.

During these pandemic days, many of us have experienced the slipping of time, when one day bleeds into the next, when we're not sure if we're supposed to be at work or assisting with school or trying to fall asleep.  Those of us who live in parts of the country where the seasons don't march on with vim and vigor understand this slippage all too well.

Today is a good day to pause and think about the season that's passing and the one that's about to start.  It's a good time to offer some thanks for what the summer season has given us and to reflect upon our hopes and yearnings for the next 3 months.

I have been feeling somewhat scattered--not quite as scattered as I was feeling in March and April, but still not quite settled.  I want to get back to better writing practices:  writing more poems and sending more poems out into the world.  I want to start appreciating the beauty that's around me more:  bouquets of flowers and the birds overhead and the foliage that may not match my autumnal yearnings.  I want to continue with the spiritual practices that ground me (morning watch, sketching) and to keep reading 1 chapter in the book of John each morning--I've felt that practice wanting to slide away from me.

It's going to be a tough quarter or two as we head towards the election and its aftermath, the time when pathogens start to get the upper hand.  Let us hold firm to the practices that ground us while remembering all of our yearnings that are yet to be fulfilled.

Monday, September 21, 2020

Building Resilience

This week is week 2 of a 3 week break between Summer and Fall quarter at my school.  My spouse teaches college Philosophy classes at one school that has announced a return to in-person instruction at the end of September and at another school that will stay remote/virtual for the whole term.

At least, that's the thinking right now.  I had thought that our county's K-12 schools had committed to all virtual through the rest of the year, and they've announced a return too.

At least with K-12, I understand that there are a plethora of competing forces, and it's not just about whatever money may have been promised to schools that return to in-person classes.  I do know that most children with disabilities of all sorts are not faring well with remote learning.  I don't know how parents are coping with having to do their own work and having to shepherd the online experiences of their children.

I am also feeling this foreboding, this "winter is coming" kind of vibe.  What will we wish we had done with these last warm days of a different season, when we look back months or years from now?

I am planning on getting some reading done.  Months ago, I ordered Gail Godwin's latest book, and I've been saving it for this week. 

Will that help me as the virus resurges once we all return to indoor life?  In some ways, yes.

I am also hopeful that I can get some writing done, that I can start a daily/weekly practice that will result in more poems that are publishable.  At this point, I'd be happy if I could just get a poem to a finishing line where I could be sure it's the moment to begin to revise.

I am wondering what we will learn about resilience, when we look back upon this time.  As another storm (Beta--we're to Greek letters!) lashes the Gulf Coast, I am thinking about resilience, about what we need to have stored up.

So yes, I'm keeping my pantry stocked with food, and we have a stockpile of toilet paper.  I fully expect some more supply chain disruptions to come.

But it's also important to stockpile memories:  of good books to read, of continuing to persist in the belief that strong poems are on the way, of time together when we can steal/force time to make that happen.

Tomorrow we celebrate the autumnal equinox.  Let us increase whatever will make us resilient for the hungry season ahead.

Sunday, September 20, 2020

A Justice who Was "Dogged and Decorous"

My writing time was short yesterday, and I had just found out about the death of Ruth Bader Ginsberg moments before I started writing.  Let me this morning capture a few more ideas.

Many of my friends are scared about what this death means for recently won human rights.  In this matter, I am grateful for the chief justice's approach to the Court.  This court under John Roberts is not likely to overturn past rulings, not without a very good reason.  Roberts has talked about how dangerous it is, and undermining of the court's authority, to revisit past decisions for no good reason outside of the yearning to have had a different outcome.

I enjoyed this podcast created just hours after the news of Ginsberg's death.  It's wonderful to hear legal expert Nina Totenberg talk about the legacy of Ruth Bader Ginsberg.  Here's a sample:  "You know, she's always been a sort of a contradiction. She was always a demure firebrand, a justice who was dogged but decorous. She always believed don't get mad, just move on to the next thing. That anger doesn't serve you well. You just keep going, and you do your job and you do it to the highest standards you possibly can."

I've been seeing various posts about Ginsberg and judaism.  Ginsberg was Jewish, and she died on Rosh Hashana.  On yesterday's episode of Weekend Edition Saturday, Scott Simon had a great piece on these threads.  And Nina Totenberg expanded on her praise of the Supreme Court justice.

I love the pictures and reports of those who went to the steps of the Supreme Court building in downtown Washington D.C. to keep vigil.  I am moved by our human ability to still be moved, to light candles, to renew our resolve to resist in the way she would have wanted us to keep resisting.

As I've thought about this election year and how various twists and turns can affect an election.  I confess that I didn't really think about the death of a Supreme Court justice this close to the election.  I can't imagine this will be good for the larger ideas of the country, the future, all of those larger ideas that ultimately matter more than who wins the 2020 election.

But again, let me return to those pictures of humans and candles and the praise for a woman who changed so many aspects of modern life.  Let me remember the message that comes from so many traditions, religious and otherwise, that out of the ashes, new life and better life can rise.

Saturday, September 19, 2020

A Keen Loss: Ruth Bader Ginsberg

Ruth Bader Ginsberg has died.  I've spent the last several months thinking of other deaths that might complicate the election--we have the two oldest candidates in history running, and I don't know what happens if one of them dies before election day.  I didn't think about the death of a Supreme Court justice this close to the election and what might happen.

If I had thought about it, I'd have assumed it would be one of the others.  Ginsberg seemed indestructible.  But of course, none of us is indestructible.

I will feel her absence keenly.  I loved how outspoken she was, how fierce.  She not only blazed a path for those of us coming behind her, but she took a power saw and hacked all sorts of hazards out of the way.

We're in a time when the path ahead seems overgrown again.  Ginsberg's death will remind us that the election of a president has far reaching implications.

There are writers out there who will remember her life more eloquently than I can.  There are those who will write about the implications with words more poignant than those I have now.  One of those is Pastor Katy Stenta, who writes in this blog post:

"We here on earth are praying that you are hatching a plot with the company of saints, I know you are sitting with God and John Lewis and Chase Boseman.

And while you are plotting we pray that you are hanging your collar in the stars, so we might see, and remember how justice shines in the dark.

Help us in our grief to cry and rage, and then find ourselves in your work we pray."

Friday, September 18, 2020

Letters as Teaching Ideas, Artifacts as Letters

In a Facebook post, poet Allison Joseph shared a writing exercise that she had her students do.  It seems like the kind of assignment that could work well across a variety of classes (even some non-English classes):

"so this exercise was given in my undergraduate workshop today: pick two numbers from 1 to 15. Set aside. Write 2 lists of 15 items each. First list: people or characters (living or dead) you want to have a conversation with. Second list: things that are bugging/obsessing you about 2020. Then find corresponding numbers on each list and write epistle. Use the items on second list to tell your character about 2020 in letter format. For example, my epistle turned out to be a letter to Peter Pan, where I tell him about Zoom."

It's a great way of having students think about writing letters, why we write letters, what's important enough to record.  It gives them some pathways to creative insights that they might not have if the assignment was to write a letter to their loved one.

I've done something along the same lines by having students imagine their 80 year old selves and then having their 80 year old selves write a letter to their current selves.  It takes more imagination than having them write letters to their past selves, which I also have them do.  But it can lead to much more profound insights.

Lately I've been feeling some sadness about the cool classes that I used to teach, about all the classes that I will likely never teach again.  Of course, I'm remembering the fun parts, the actual teaching, not the endless grading.

Part of my sadness is triggered by finding some old teaching materials when I cleaned out some boxes, materials from almost 20 years ago now, back when I was first teaching creative writing.  I cut out all sorts of pictures of humans from magazines, mainly from ads.  Each student took a picture from the envelope--some terms I let them look at the pictures, while in others it was done blind.  Then I asked a series of questions to help people think about the picture as a character.  Then I walked them through the character's deepest desires in a way to help them think about plot.

I kept the pictures because I thought I might want to do the exercise some day--but I've never had any trouble creating characters.  Plus, there was always the chance I might teach creative writing again.

I also had a huge interoffice mail envelope full of words that I used for a sestina exercise.  First we read a sestina and tried to ascertain the pattern.  Then I had them choose six words and put them in the end of each line in the correct order.  Then I gave them some writing time to see what happened.  Did we create brilliant sestinas?  Rarely.  But it was great fun.

I realize that even if I had gotten the kind of teaching job where I used these teaching materials all the time, I still might arrive at a time when I needed to decide whether or not to keep them.  Sandra Beasley has a poignant blog post about the closing of an MFA program, and I think we're just seeing the beginning of lots of program closures of all kinds. 

My grief is not that kind of sharp grief, but more the mid-life kind, the kind where I stumble across an artifact and think about where I thought I was headed and where I am right now.  I realize it's not where I've ended up--that could still change, although many of my options look a bit less bright now than they once did.  But finding those artifacts is like getting a letter from my past self, in a way.  What would my future self observe?

Thursday, September 17, 2020

The Feast Day of Hildegard of Bingen

Today is the feast day of Hildegard of Bingen.  I forgot, and now morning watch* is over, and I can't mention that it's the feast day of one of my favorite medieval mystics.  In so many ways, that seems a metaphor for my modern life:  I get essential stuff done, while sometimes forgetting aspects of what's important to me--so far, the forgettings have not been earth shattering, but my forgetting bothers me nonetheless.

I have written poems inspired by Julian of Norwich and Brigid, my other two favorite medieval mystics, but nothing inspired by Hildegard of Bingen.  I feel some ideas percolating, so perhaps tomorrow or the next day, I'll attempt it.

Hildegard is one of those medieval women that makes me feel like an utter failure.  We all face constraints of various kinds, and the life of Hildegard shows what could be accomplished, even during a time where women did not have full rights and agency. She was an Abbess, and because being in charge of one cloistered community isn't enough, she founded another. She wrote music, and more of her music survives than almost any other medieval composer. She was an early naturalist, writing down her observations about the natural world and her theories about how the natural world heals us. She wrote to kings, emperors and popes to encourage them to pursue peace and justice. She wrote poems and a morality play and along the way, a multitude of theological meditations.

She did all of these things, in addition to keeping her community running smoothly. Yes, I'm thinking about Hildegard as an administrator, a woman who could be efficient and artistic at the same time. It’s no wonder that I find her inspiring.

And it's no wonder that I feel like I don't measure up.  During these times when I feel like I'm accomplishing NOTHING as an artist, it's easy to convince myself that I've peaked, as much as I was going to peak. It's easy to sink into a spiral of self-pity and despair: "I should have worked harder on this project, I should have followed through on this contact, I should have taken this job, I should have moved to that place." On and on I can go in this way.

I often wonder if those medieval mystics in charge of abbeys and monasteries chafed at those responsibilities. Did they wish they had more time for contemplation?  And not the contemplation of how to keep everyone fed and clothed?  Did they have a creative masterpiece that they never quite finished because people kept interrupting them?

And yet the sum of their days shows what can be accomplished even in small snippets of time.  So let us use this feast day to recalibrate our efforts and commit to what's important.

*I broadcast a 15 minute morning devotional time over my church's Facebook page each morning at 5:30 a.m.   

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Racing Through the Hurricane Names this Season

I'm Facebook friends with Vicky, a former colleague; in what feels like long ago times, we both worked at the Art Institute of Ft. Lauderdale.  When we had Tropical Storm Vicky, she wrote this post:  "After 40 years I've finally made it as a tropical storm. Hope I'm just a light breeze."  And then, "Oh good.  I'm non-threatening."

I wrote:  "You're staring wistfully out to sea, wondering about all the shores where you will never arrive, all the distant lights that you will not extinguish."

I already had hurricanes on the brain.  Earlier in the day, I wrote my own post:  "On this day of hurricanes coming ashore, I noticed on the NOAA website that we've got a storm named Vicky now. Soon we'll be using Greek letters, which makes me think about whether I'd rather have my house threatened by Hurricane Alpha or Beta--which version would be the improved version? And what does that mean with a hurricane, not with a VCR? Hopefully there will be no Hurricane Omega this year, but it's 2020, so a Hurricane Omega wouldn't surprise me."

The reference was to Hurricane Sally coming ashore, which she didn't do on the day that I posted (Tuesday).  In fact, Hurricane Sally is only just now making eyefall as a category 2 storm (winds of 105 mph), with the eye of the storm over Gulf Shores, Alabama.

A Facebook friend who is riding that storm out just posted this:  "Needless to say but surf sounds in the house are not as relaxing as white noise machines would have you believe."  She posted a picture of her living room, with the door floating on the puddle of water that's accumulating in her house.  Luckily, she has a second floor.

The Gulf Coast washes away, the west coast of the continent burns--I don't really understand those who deny climate change.  We can argue about the cause, but both the weather and the climate are very different this century than they were just 20 years ago.

It's clear I need to rethink my retirement location plans--and sooner, rather than later.

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Messages Going Astray, Messages Finding Their Way

Several Saturdays earlier, I saw a new-to-me feature in the new Facebook interface:  the New Message Request feature, which somehow is different than an Instant Message (?).  I found a message from back in December, from a RevGals moderator who wanted to use my image from this post.

I felt all sorts of dismay, but they all boiled down to this essential:  how could I have missed this message?

I wrote to the person who wrote it:  "I am so sorry. I think I am just now seeing this message. When I changed to the new FB platform, it showed up in a Message Request area. Of course, it's possible that I did see it and respond. I can't easily see old messages in FB messanger. Nonetheless, I wanted to send belated thanks for your appreciation of my work, and I am so sorry that I didn't see this message earlier--I would have said yes."

She wrote back almost immediately:  "Thank you for the reply. It seems to me that Facebook occasionally tries to create a hide and seek game with some of its features. I looked back at your blog post, and I still find that sketch provocative. Perhaps there will be another occasion when I will ask your permission to share it."

Well, you don't have to educate me the same way twice (I hope).  I wrote to her:  "I'd be happy for you to use it, so I'll go ahead and give you permission now. Thanks for your reply--I saw your message, and my heart just sank. It does make me wonder how many other messages go astray. But I'm glad that I saw your message belatedly. Again, thank you for being so gracious."

And lo and behold, she used it the same week!  It made me happy that even with lost chances can come new opportunities--a good reminder for us all.

Here's the text that accompanied my sketch:  

DAILY THREAD - Prayer Requests and Check-Ins - Monday-Tuesday September 7-8

Doors can be open, to provide access; they can be closed, to create a barrier. What doors are open or closed in your life today? Here is a thread to share your hopes, your fears, your reflections. How can we pray for you today?

Photo: sketch by RevGal Kristin Berkey-Abbott, used with permission. Created as an Advent reflection last year, it makes me think about congregations now making decisions about opening the door to in-person worship.

Monday, September 14, 2020

Planning for the Post Pandemic

I have been thinking about our thinking about this pandemic.  I'm thinking about the early days, when we assumed we might go into lockdown for a week or two, and then everything would be O.K.  I'm thinking about some of the tweets I saw from those who were at more risk from this disease, tweets back in March that suggested that the vulnerable might need to shelter in place until June.  I remember feeling a bit baffled.  Until June?  I know that some of them are still sheltering in place.

I remember tweets and posts back in April that talked about how grateful people were that lockdown was happening in spring, that talked about how hard it would have been to shelter in place during the winter.  And now, winter approaches.  Many (most?) of us aren't sheltering in place and won't be during the coming months, but we may not have the same kind of ways to brighten winter.

A few weeks ago, we drove home by way of Hollywood Boulevard, through what once had been a thriving arts and entertainment district.  Many of the restaurants are now gone, including some that have been anchor sites for decades (goodbye Mama Mia's Italian restaurant where I first had gnocchi with an amazing gorgonzola sauce).

We've been assuming, most of us, that life will go back to normal at some point:  we'll drink in bars again, children will go off to a school building and return 6-8 hours later, workers will return to office buildings.  But that might not happen.  We've changed a lot of habits and practices, and now, some of them feel familiar.  Some of our new practices might be even better than our old practices--these changes won't be uniformly bad.

We've been assuming there will be a vaccine, but there may not be.  Sure, we've got lots of people across the world working on this problem, unlike with earlier diseases, like AIDS.  But that doesn't mean we'll have success.

We will likely get used to working around this disease.  We'll assess risk and proceed accordingly.  And if this disease progresses like many of them do, there will come a time when it doesn't seem so fearsome--either because we've gotten used to it or because it's not quite as fearsome.

When the implications of this disease first began to dawn on many of us, we thought about the ways we could reshape our societies to be better than the one we had.  I worry that part of our pandemic fatigue means not only are we letting our guard (and our masks) down, but we're also not thinking about the shape of the future anymore.  

I'm dreaming of a future where we have some guaranteed minimums in the realms of housing, work, health care, food . . . a world where an adjunct wouldn't turn down classes because she was making more for herself and her child by collecting unemployment (in a state that has purposefully kept unemployment benefits low) than by working.

Sunday, September 13, 2020

The Return of the Prodigal Books: the Great Shelving Project Concludes

Even though I got plenty of sleep, I feel a bit fuzzy-headed this morning.  So let me assemble a collection of observations and see if anything coheres.

--On Friday, we had a "Tracking the Tropics" update while we were watching a September 11 special.  We went to sleep expecting a tropical storm by morning.  While it was blustery with occasional rain bands, it wasn't bad most of the day yesterday.  We did move both cars to the driveway last night, just to be on the safe side.

--We have a variety of window leaks, but they don't all leak at the same time.  I'm guessing that it has to do with the direction of the wind and rain.  Last night the windows in the front bedroom both leaked.  Sigh.

--We are still finding damage from past floods.  We threw away many of the last of my spouse's MPA books yesterday.  When we pulled them off the lower shelf in the cottage, we discovered horrible mold.  We just threw the books away--we don't plan to replace them.  They're 20 years old, and they're for a program of study and a career that's not likely to return.

--One of the benefits of a wet, blustery day:  we made a lot of progress on our Great Shelving Project.  We can get all of our books on the shelves.  Even though we had done measurements, we weren't really sure.  Here's what the shelves looked like a week ago:

--This was not the original design.  We were going to have shelves go all the way across.  But we discovered that the studs weren't where they're supposed to be--we think there was once a window that's been closed in.

--I still feel such delight when taking my books out of boxes--I'm so happy to see them, event though I know that I'm not likely to read them again. Here's what the shelves look like now:

--I am still not used to these floating shelves.  I still worry that they'll pull the wall down, even though they are attached to studs that are holding up a very heavy ceiling--and it's an exterior wall.

--We are trying to decide what to do with ancient photo albums.  My spouse and I both had cheap cameras when we were kids.  We took lots of pictures, which we stuck in albums--non-archival quality film put in non-archival albums.  Should we keep this pictures which are aging poorly?  Just choose a representative few from each year?  I don't want to digitize everything; it's probably not worth the expense to do that.

--I have done a lot of fragmentary poem writing this week-end.  I'm wondering if all these fragments want to be in a single poem.  I'll think about that later.  I'm just happy to be writing poem like fragments again, fragments that are more than haiku.

Saturday, September 12, 2020

Assault Life

I've been awake for hours, as is usual for me.  Around 3:30 a.m., I was aware of a growling, motor kind of noise.  I assumed it was one of the trucks on my street of lots of trucks--the neighbor kid, home from his job in a restaurant?  

But the growl went on and on.  At one point, I wondered if I was hearing a generator.  But then, the engine revved, and the noisemaking engine drove away, only to return minutes later.

I continued to wonder what I was hearing or more specifically, why I was hearing it.  A family living in their car?  Kids of driving age with no other place to hang out?

When the sky got a bit lighter, and the noise persisted, I went outside.  I pretended to be looking at the sky to gauge the process of the tropical system that's over us.  I noticed that the idling truck was parked in the wrong direction, which meant that I could see that it had "Assault Life" lettered across the top of the windshield.

I felt a chill, even though I didn't feel immediately threatened.  I know that it's a play on the common bumper sticker that has variations on the "Salt Life" theme, people declaring that they'd rather be boating or fishing or diving or other sea based activities.  Or maybe it's a trendier way of declaring one's pirate affinities.  Probably some adolescent's way of trying to seem hip and cool, probably not an assault rifle in the truck.

But I did have a moment when I thought about how much effort I spend each and every day tamping down my knowledge of how bad our planet-wide situation is, how threatened we are as humans specifically, how the future of the U.S. seems to hang in the balance, and how as a woman, I feel the threat of assault each and every day.  There's a tangible sense of menace.

I've felt that menace before, but it's rarely felt so personal to me.  As a woman on the far side of midlife, you might think I would feel less menace, not more.  In The Handmaid's Tale, I'd be one of the Marthas or one of the women sent the Colonies. 

These days, while the U.S. west burns with literal fires, and many cities are on fire with demonstrations, while the political situations in many countries gets more dire every day, it's hard to know which threat is most pressing.

And yet, I remind myself that I've often felt that the people/nations/things I hold most dear are under threat.  So let me respond, as I often do:  let me get some bread dough set to rising.

Friday, September 11, 2020

Day of Difficult Memories

 September 11, a day of so many difficult memories:  most of our brains immediately go to 2001, that morning where we saw planes used as weapons of mass destruction.  Some of us might think further back, to 1973, where a coup displaced Allende, the elected leader of Chile and left an opening for the mass destruction of Pinochet.  This morning on my walk I thought about waking up on this day in 2017, packing our possessions back in our cars, leaving our friends' house and coming back to our house that had been ravaged by Hurricane Irma--that was the first September 11 that I woke up, and it was a few hours before I realized that it was September 11 and thought about past September 11ths.

I remember the afternoon of September 11, 2001.  I was crossing the campus of the University of Miami, the long hike to my parking space.  I saw two of my students, and I asked them how they were doing.  They thought we'd all go off to fight a war; I thought we would retaliate in some way, but I would not have anticipated such a long war, such entanglements.

I remember driving home and thinking that I was the grown up now.  I remember so many instances in my own undergraduate years when I was convinced that world events were about to overthrow my idyllic college years.  My professors must have looked at me the same way.

In hindsight, I underestimated what the impact of that day would be.  I would not have predicted the permanent changes in air travel.  I didn't anticipate how thoroughly immersed the U.S. would become in parts of the world that we didn't understand.  In the intervening years, I became enraged over the privacy violations enshrined in the Patriot Act--but I wouldn't have predicted how much of our data we'd freely give away to all the folks who control our technology.  In many ways, the U. S. Government having access to my library card records seems a much less scary prospect.

And here we are, negotiating with the Taliban as a way to exit Afghanistan.  That, too, I wouldn't have predicted.

As I think back over my political predictions, I'm chastened by what I've gotten wrong. I was certain that we wouldn't get through the Reagan administration without a nuclear war. When I parted from my college friends to go to my parents' house for the summer of 1986, I was convinced we wouldn't make it back--Reagan had just bombed Libya, and my parents lived in the suburbs of D.C., and I just knew something dreadful was in the works.

I do tend to expect despots to have more follow through than they often do. I do tend to be surprised at the power of common people to transform common elements like fertilizer or airline jets into agents of mass destruction.

Let us also remember the power of the common people to be a force for good, as we so often are, as we saw 15 years ago in the face of tragedy.

Day of Difficult Memories

September 11, a day of so many difficult memories:  most of our brains immediately go to 2001, that morning where we saw planes used as weapons of mass destruction.  Some of us might think further back, to 1973, where a coup displaced Allende, the elected leader of Chile and left an opening for the mass destruction of Pinochet.  This morning on my walk I thought about waking up on this day in 2017, packing our possessions back in our cars, leaving our friends' house and coming back to our house that had been ravaged by Hurricane Irma--that was the first September 11 that I woke up, and it was a few hours before I realized that it was September 11 and thought about past September 11ths.

I remember the afternoon of September 11, 2001.  I was crossing the campus of the University of Miami, the long hike to my parking space.  I saw two of my students, and I asked them how they were doing.  They thought we'd all go off to fight a war; I thought we would retaliate in some way, but I would not have anticipated such a long war, such entanglements.

I remember driving home and thinking that I was the grown up now.  I remember so many instances in my own undergraduate years when I was convinced that world events were about to overthrow my idyllic college years.  My professors must have looked at me the same way.

In hindsight, I underestimated what the impact of that day would be.  I would not have predicted the permanent changes in air travel.  I didn't anticipate how thoroughly immersed the U.S. would become in parts of the world that we didn't understand.  In the intervening years, I became enraged over the privacy violations enshrined in the Patriot Act--but I wouldn't have predicted how much of our data we'd freely give away to all the folks who control our technology.  In many ways, the U. S. Government having access to my library card records seems a much less scary prospect.

And here we are, negotiating with the Taliban as a way to exit Afghanistan.  That, too, I wouldn't have predicted.

As I think back over my political predictions, I'm chastened by what I've gotten wrong. I was certain that we wouldn't get through the Reagan administration without a nuclear war. When I parted from my college friends to go to my parents' house for the summer of 1986, I was convinced we wouldn't make it back--Reagan had just bombed Libya, and my parents lived in the suburbs of D.C., and I just knew something dreadful was in the works.

I do tend to expect despots to have more follow through than they often do. I do tend to be surprised at the power of common people to transform common elements like fertilizer or airline jets into agents of mass destruction.

Let us also remember the power of the common people to be a force for good, as we so often are, as we saw 15 years ago in the face of tragedy.

Thursday, September 10, 2020

Wrestling with Images

This morning, the flooding rains have disrupted my walk/run through the neighborhood this morning. Nothing to do but make the house smell autumnal--pumpkin bread is baking in the oven!

I've been having a good writing morning, in a way.  I've been wrestling with images.  First I started off with poems.  I wanted to write in the voice of the forbidden tree in the Garden of Eden.  I had a vision for what I wanted to write, but the words didn't come.  I researched that idea that trees are actually more communal than we think, that they develop an intriguing root/fungi system that helps them thrive instead of competing for scarce resources--the myth we usually tell ourselves about the trees.

I flipped the page and tried a technique that Jericho Brown talked about in this piece of writing:  "One such subversion that I had thought through for about 10 years—while washing dishes and cleaning the tub and grading papers and falling asleep next to one form of earthly beauty or another—was a sonnet crown that only included the repeated lines of the sonnet. Yes, I’m so angry I spent years thinking of ways to gut the sonnet."  He talks about this idea more fully in this interview.

Of course, I didn't do exactly what he did, but I had fun.  And then I tried to write a poem about wildfires and trees and could only write in cliches and bits I had already seen on Twitter.

As they often do, my thoughts turned to spiritual connections.  This morning, I got to the last page of my sketchbook, so I flipped back through the pages.  I'm always struck by how many of my images look like tongues of flame, even when I think I'm sketching something else, like a descending dove.

I'm writing in a time of flooding rains, which made me think of a different set of traditional images.  How do we see baptism in an age where we'll be fighting off the hungry seas that want to wash us away?

This week I started a new sketch not sure of where it would go--I was surprised when a hen emerged from my random swooshes.

But why should I be surprised?  Granted, I'm part of a religious tradition that has emphasized descending doves, not nesting hens.  But in my quest for more feminine images of God, so rare in the Bible, I have come back to that one over and over.

Times of societal shift often bring an interesting shift in imagery of all kinds.  One hundred years from now, what imagery will we emphasize?

Wednesday, September 9, 2020

A Look Back at Labor Day

Yesterday I heard on NPR's All Things Considered that we were exactly 8 weeks from election day.  Yesterday I found out that we've made our way through most of the list of names for the 2020 hurricane season--the next hurricane will be Sally.  Meanwhile, so much of the U.S. west burns.  U.S. children went back to school yesterday (or the week before), and it could have been so much better, if school districts had made this decision earlier in the summer and people had had more time to plan.

But let me think of happier things, in this post that might have been made yesterday, had my computer not been so glitchy.

--On Monday, we began unpacking the boxes of books that have been packed away for 2 years--2 years.  There were moments when I wanted to weep when I took the books out of the boxes, to weep because I was so happy to see them again.

--I didn't finish unpacking the boxes.  We discovered that the lowest shelf wasn't as attached to the wall as my DIY spouse thought it was.  We decided to take a pause to see how the other shelves, now full of books, responded.  So now the front bedroom is a bit of a disaster, but at least we're in progress to getting the books put away.

--I got to the point where the items in the remaining boxes present less straight forward choices.  Will we keep cookbooks with the other books?  What about all the music that we have?  And the photo albums?

--We had the kind of week-end that makes me wish the week-end could go on forever, full of good food, good reading, relaxing in the pool, getting chores done, making progress on projects.  I zipped through the necessary work for my online classes.  I had time to do creative work.

--The week-end had small joys:  the group of ducks that came to my car when I had parked at the WalMart Neighborhood Market.  I went into the store, and as I loaded my groceries in the car, they reappeared--this time with some younger ducks (a bit older than ducklings, but not fully grown).  I've rarely been that close to wildlife.  If I had broken open the box of crackers, they probably would have eaten from my hand--so maybe they weren't quite wildlife, in the way we usually define that word.

--We had some wildlife visitors to our back yard too--baby raccoons!  Cute as they are, I found myself thinking, please don't let them figure out how to get into my attic.

--The week-end had time to catch up with far-flung friends and family too.  There were moments when I was staggered to think about how long I've known some of these folks.  I was on the phone with an old college friend.  We talked about the fact that I have a Biden sign in my yard, about the fact that it's the first time I had that kind of sign since "the time I had the one for Geraldine Ferraro and that guy she was running with."  Back in 1984, my college friend and I had fierce disagreement about that sign.  Now we had a good conversation about current politics, even though we're on the same page.

--During one of my quicker restocking trips, I picked up a bouquet of flowers, the cheap $4 kind.  It has a hydrangea bloom, lots of small sunflowers, a huge fuchsia carnation, and some daisy-esque blossoms.  I am amazed at its beauty.

--Here is the task, it seems:  to continue to be amazed at the beauty.

Monday, September 7, 2020

Labor Day 2020

On this Labor Day, I have past Labor Days in mind.  There's last year, when we kept a wary eye on the fearsome Hurricane Dorian.  Two years ago, there was a tropical disturbance off our shore that turned into a tropical storm at the last minute, but we just had some wind and rain.  Three years ago I was keeping an eye on Irma, which would do so much damage to our property--are we fully recovered?

But there are more pleasant Labor Day memories too.  There are get togethers with friends and times spent on creative endeavors.  Labor Day is often a day when we cook; this week-end, we did a lot of cooking yesterday when my brother-in-law and his wife came over.  We did whole chickens grilled over a half-full can of soda, something we haven't done in a long time--delicious, and I'm not one who usually pronounces chicken to be delicious.  We had olive oil slathered potatoes roasted in the oven 3 ways (with rosemary, with rosemary, lemons, and carrots, and roasted with just salt and pepper).  And then, steamed broccoli, which has its own simple appeal.

Today I have an ambitious goal:  to get all of my books on our newly created floating shelves.  Yes, the Great Shelving Project is finally done.  Last year, when we were moving bookcases back to the house in the hopes of trying to get the cottage ready for my spouse's sister, my spouse developed this vision of floating shelves which would allow us to take advantage of the height of the ceilings.  And now, finally, they are ready.

The books have been packed away since the Great Flooring Project of 2 years ago.  It seems like in our younger years, we could do these home repair projects more quickly.  Of course, we didn't have to work as many hours to afford it all then.

On a past Labor Day long ago, we might have put away our white clothes and our sandals.  I stopped wearing white years ago, and I wear sandals year round in South Florida.  Still, I have some Labor Day traditions:  enjoying some summer activities which will be gone all too soon.

Sunday, September 6, 2020

Pandemic Grocery Shopping

  Yesterday I left the house early for a Saturday--time to restock the supplies.  An hour later, the friendly cashier said, "I can tell you're a good cook by all the things you've bought."

I'm a little surprised that she didn't say, "What kind of disaster prepper are you anyway?"

Yesterday's trek was to the WalMart Neighborhood Market.  I do have some qualms about shopping at WalMart, but I have those same qualms about most of the ways I shop, qualms that come back to this basic question:  are the workers being treated fairly?  Unlike other places I might prefer to live, here in South Florida, we have no small farms to support and very little in the way of locally owned stores of any kind.

Because I went to WalMart Neighborhood Market, I wasn't just buying food for our meals.  I bought 3 bottles of aspirin because I haven't been able to find generic aspirin all summer, and finally, the aspirin shelf was stocked.  I bought paper towels and Kleenex and nicotine tablets.  But I also bought a lot of food.

I have almost always keep a full pantry:  canned goods, dried beans, grains, baking supplies.  I don't always keep a lot of perishables.  I remember having friends over one evening in January, and one of them said, "You have the fridge of a single person."  I had just cleaned it thoroughly because it was so empty.  Eventually, I restocked.

In these pandemic days, I don't let our supplies get quite as low as I did before.  I am still expecting some supply chain disruptions as colder weather comes and people get sick and now we've all been told to stay home even if we just feel sniffly.

I am a good cook--it made me feel inordinately happy when the cashier said that--so much better than looking like a maniacal disaster prepper.

Saturday, September 5, 2020

Dried Up Markers and Chief Cornerstones

In 2016, I started buying Copic Sketch markers, even though they're more expensive than just about any other art supply I've ever used regularly.  One of their selling points was that I could buy containers of refill ink that would keep the expensive markers useful for much longer than a regular marker with no refills.

In the past year, the refill ink seems to have vanished from U.S. markets--or they cost so much that I can't decide that they're worth the price.  I thought I might just buy a replacement marker.

But in the past few weeks, I've noticed that some of the markers that I bought in the last year (or 2?) seem to be drying up, even though I'm not using them as much as some of the first colors I bought.  Do I want to replace them?

I tend to buy markers in bold colors that make me happy--and then when I need to sketch in some sand, I wish I had a beige marker.  But paying for beige?  I miss paints that are more blendable, even though I'm more likely to use markers because there's not much clean up.

I am sketching more these days because it's part of my morning devotions time that I broadcast from my church's Facebook page.  Part of me wants to buy more markers to celebrate and to keep my interests up.  Part of me wonders why I am bothering; I'm not a professional artist after all.

It's easy to spiral from there into complete self-loathing--I'm no good, no one will ever pay me, I'm too old/running out of time to learn to be better, why do I even bother?  These days, I'm noticing that I often slide down this difficult hole in my writing too.

Let me post this sketch that I made the other day.  It's a potent reminder of why we shouldn't give up in the face of rejection (both internal and external):

Friday, September 4, 2020

Running on Fumes

 It's been the kind of morning (week?  season?  year?) when I stare at the computer screen and think, I used to be a writer.  I'm not feeling particularly inspired as this week draws to a close.  But let me collect some fragments and see if I can get a sense of a larger picture.

--Let me remember that I have been doing some tending to my writing life.  I've sent out some packets of poems.  I submitted my poetry manuscript to CavanKerry Press.

--I have been enjoying watching the full moon set as I stare out of my west facing windows these past few mornings.

--My home computer has been very sluggish this week.  It's consumed some of my writing time as I sit here, waiting for my computer to catch up.  Grr.

--While I've been waiting for my computer, I've been reading Natalie Goldberg's The True Secret of Writing.  It's been long enough since I've read her that I have really been enjoying this book, by which I mean it seems new and fresh, even though they're the same ideas she's been advocating for decades.  At some point, I may try to capture some of the ideas in this book that seem new and fresh.  Or maybe I'll let them slide away.

--Part of my exhaustion/emptiness comes from being around too many people all week long.  For example, the fire inspector came to my campus, and I had to take her to every room because the doors are all locked these days.  She had to look at every plug (no lie), exit sign, and emergency light.  She had to push on every stairwell door.  She made notes.  She also had a non-stop commentary for the hour + time we were together; I now know more about fire safety than I ever knew before. We have also had more Corporate folks at campus this week than ever before.

--Part of my exhaustion/emptiness comes from not having a clear vision about the future.  A week ago, my boss was let go, and I'm still not sure of the larger implications.  Soon my school will have new owners, and I'm still not sure of the implications.

--I am missing people who are gone and past times when I felt like I was flourishing more than I am now, and this week, those missings are a bit more fierce.  I am realizing how much that missing is often thrumming in the background.  I'm not sure what to do with that knowledge or if there's anything that needs to be done.  I am aware of the undertone of grief that comes with later midlife, but startled to hear it in my life.

--I am wishing for a change in the weather, and it's just unrelentingly sultry here.  The weather is sultry, and I am sulky.  I am dreaming of a house in the mountains.

--I am realizing that if I had only myself to consider, I would make completely different choices.  Very little of my current life would remain as it is.  I am unsettled in that realization.

Thursday, September 3, 2020

Mrs. Rogers' Neighborhood

Last week, my pastor sent me this message:


Here's what the message says, "I just wanted to tell you how much I enjoy Kristins devotional so in the mornings! Thank you for that. She is really good at what she does"

I was so moved that I cut and pasted the message into this blog post, where I found it this morning when I was feeling uninspired.

I have been doing the morning watch devotional time at 5:30 a.m. each morning since the end of March, and I've never gotten tired of it.  I read the passages from the Morning Office part of Phyllis Tickle's The Divine Hours, we're quiet for 5-7 minutes (I sketch, but obviously, people can do what meditative practice speaks to them), then I say the closing prayer and say a few sentences about the day ahead.

Some days it feels profound, and other days, I wonder if I'm just blathering.  But usually, there's a comment or two from someone who was moved.

One of my favorite compliments from the past month:  one of my church friends said that I was like her very own Mr. Rogers, and now she calls me Mrs. Rogers.

There are many people I find inspirational and aspirational, and Mr. Rogers is often at the top of that list.  I would ordinarily close by saying I need to ponder what these experiences are telling me.

But I know what they're telling me; I just don't know where to go from here.

Wednesday, September 2, 2020

Photographing the Sealey Challenge

 On the first day of the Sealey Challenge, I saw several people post selfies of themselves and the volume of poetry that they had finished reading for the day.  I don't have a smart phone, so I knew that I wouldn't be posting a selfie.  I decided I would try to do something artful with each photograph.

For the first day, I noticed a pillow that would be a colorful backdrop to the book cover, so I went with that:

Here's something similar, using my spouse's collage as backdrop:

But as the days progressed, I tried to do something that would reflect on the subject matter of the book.  Here I used a statue of the Buddha for Luisa Igloria's The Buddha Wonders if She is Having a Mid-Life Crisis:

Some photos were a bit of an inside joke (Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein in Switzerland):

Some photos delighted me in the way they came together:

I even pulled a photo because I worried I was being unintentionally offensive in some way, since Blanco is a gay male poet.  At first, I posted this photo:

Then I decided to go safer, even though I doubt anyone is paying much attention to my photos:

I wasn't anticipating the benefits of taking these photographs beyond the fun of it all.  But the thinking through of a photograph helped me to consider the essence of a volume of poems, the meaning of it all, and how to translate it into a picture.  It tapped into a different part of my brain, and I want to believe that I was a better reader because of it.  

It was an additional way I fed my soul, and that alone made it worthwhile.

Tuesday, September 1, 2020

What I Learned from the Sealey Challenge

Although it's been happening since 2017,  I hadn't heard of the Sealey Challenge until this year.  Much earlier, poet Dave Bonta read one volume of poetry each day of April, which is National Poetry Month.  I couldn't imagine being able to do that.

I'm still not sure why I thought I could do it this year.  It was August 1 when I decided.  If the first day of  August hadn't been on a Saturday, I might not have tried.  If my spouse hadn't been taking a long nap that day, I might not have decided to make the leap.  If I didn't have a few books of poetry in my book stacks (as opposed to my packed up book boxes), I might have lost the opportunity.

Some people spent months planning their Sealey Challenge--in fact, that's how I found out about it, by people posting photos of their stacks of books that were ready for August.  I did worry that I wouldn't have enough to read, since many of my books are still packed away.  Happily, I can still get books from the public library, although the process is much more laborious.  

I did a short post each day, giving a micro review of each book.  Here's an example:  "The Sealey Challenge, Day 29: Richard Blanco's "How to Love a Country." We are all exiles now, longing for a country that may never love us back. Or will it? Blanco says, "to know a country takes all we know of love" (p. 70), and sometimes we're rewarded. Moving poems exploring the terrain of exile and immigration and love of all sorts."

I also posted a photo of each book, a photo which said something about the book.  This process took on a life of its own--I'll write a separate blog post about that process later on this week.

So what did I learn?  The most important thing:  I have more time than I think that I do.  It's not a new lesson for me, but it's important to revisit it periodically.  I realized how much time I usually spend in somewhat mindless scrolling and internet zipping.  Why is it so hard for me to avoid those traps?

I also learned that my poetry stands up against the poetry I've been reading.  I've got some manuscripts which are publishable.  I didn't really have doubts, but it's interesting to read a lot of recently published work and to see how my manuscript would fit in.

I chose to read only female writers and the male writers that I included were people of color. I've spent plenty of time reading white male writers.  Most of the authors I chose were familiar to me, in part because I didn't spend the month of July planning to explore new authors.  But I was happy with my choices.  Even when I read books I had already read, it was a treat to revisit them.

For the most part, I read each book in one fell swoop.  Most of them took me about an hour of concentrated reading.  I often planned to pick up the book when I wasn't likely to be interrupted.  It wasn't the kind of deep reading I might ordinarily do, but it was rewarding in itself.

I learned that the perfect page # for a book of poems is 65-80 pages.  I read a few volumes that were over 120 pages--that's a bit too much for most readers to sustain the focus.

I had hoped that I might emerge from the month of August with all sorts of poems of my own to write.  Perhaps that will happen.  I've felt a bit more fluid in that way in the last 2 weeks.

All in all, it was a great experience--but I am ready to slow down from the breakneck pace of August.