Saturday, October 31, 2020

Scary Stories for Halloween

 --Early Halloween morning, rain battering the windows, knowing that it can find its way in if it just batters long enough.  I think about leaks and wind driven rain, and I touch the towels to keep track.  I also keep an eye on the street, gauging whether or not to move both cars to the driveway where there will be less threat of flooding.  And there's no tropical system delivering these flooding rains, the 3rd or 5th or who can keep track anymore flooding rains this month.

--A friend in Atlanta posted pictures of tree branches that had crashed through roof and then the ceiling of his house.  This damage is from Hurricane Zeta as it moved inland.  My friend is in Atlanta, which is in northern Georgia, roughly 450 miles from where the hurricane first crashed ashore.  How far inland must we go to be safe from hurricanes in an age of global warming?

--I'm also seeing pictures of people's Halloween decorations covered with snow--not quite as scary, but sobering nonetheless.  

--My Halloween decorations don't show you how warm it is in South Florida, highs still in the 90's.

--It's Halloween in a plague year, where various countries are setting new records when it comes to counting cases.  The scary stories practically write themselves.

--Yesterday I got a copy of Poets and Writers that I ordered because I wanted to read Sandra Beasley's article on MFA programs that have shut down (I can't provide a link because it's not online, which is why I bought the magazine).  It's a scary story on its face, but the substory was scary too.  It was also a tale of people in charge who had to prove to people in charge up the administrator ladder that expenses were valid and programs were essential, and in many cases, they couldn't do it, through no fault of their own.  It's a story of changing situations where there likely is no fault, at least not fault that can be given to a single person/department/board of trustees.  The article is worth the price of the magazine.

--Yesterday I read another article that's so well written, so inspiring, yet also scary:  Monica Hesse's "Kamala Harris knows things no vice president has ever known" in The Washington Post.  It begins with this paragraph:  "In the week before the country potentially elects its first female vice president, I’ve been trying to write a sweeping essay about progress and trailblazers and glass-breakers and what it all means. But what I keep thinking about is this: At some point in Kamala Harris’s life, someone has instructed her to carry her keys like a weapon when she walks to her car. Someone has said, Get them out of your purse even before you leave the grocery store. Arrange them between your fingers, and if someone attacks you, aim for the face."  What a shiver it gave me!

--But the end of the article made me cheer:  "How someone must have told her, once, to use her keys as a weapon in a parking lot. How something like that shapes you. How it hopefully makes you into a person who never lets anyone walk in the dark alone."

Friday, October 30, 2020

Marking Time

This morning, I'm thinking about the ways we mark time.  I woke up thinking about how we gain an hour this week-end.  The light will shift in ways that will let us know the years is gliding/crashing to its close.  The pandemic is surging exponentially again, and most of us haven't even moved indoors yet.  I'm trying not to think about the 1918 flu pandemic, which was mild in comparison in the spring, and then came back with ferocity in the fall.

But let me think about two specific anniversaries which impact primarily me.  Today I will likely drink a glass of wine after 25 days of Dry October.  I had always planned to end the first phase of my experiment this week-end.  I am thrilled that I was able to go without alcohol for 25 days.  I don't remember the last time I've gone that long with absolutely no alcohol--it was likely in 2005 or 2006.  I haven't always been drinking heavily, but I've rarely gone more than 5 days without a drink.

I expected to feel energized.  I expected to have trouble sleeping at first and after that, to have better sleep.  I expected to have some sort of glow.  I expected to get a lot done.

My sleep patterns didn't change.  I had days of energy and days of crashing asleep at toddler bedtimes.  Some days I glowed, but some days I looked haggard.  I did get a lot done, but I might have gotten that stuff done anyway.

Here's the one thing I know for sure.  The only major change I made was to eliminate alcohol, and I lost 5 pounds in 25 days.  I didn't cut fat or carbs or calories, and I didn't increase my exercise.  Sadly, I still have about 4 pounds to lose before I'm at my pre-pandemic weight, but I'm happy to have made some progress.

Today also marks the 7th month of my doing a morning watch devotional time for my church congregation.  Every morning at 5:30, I read the passages from Phyllis Tickle's wonderful 3 volume resource, The Divine Hours, and I build in 5-7 minutes of meditative or creative time.  I sketch, but others might journal in words or meditate or do some yoga poses.

On that first broadcast day, I thought I'd just do a morning watch until Easter or maybe for the whole Octave of Easter (those 8 days after Easter).  But by late April, it was clear that we were early in the pandemic, so I just kept going.  It was good for me, and I figured it might also be good for a member or two.

And here I am, 7 months later, still doing it.  And it's still good for me.  I wrote a post about it on my theology blog.

Yesterday I flipped through my sketchbook, and I was astonished by what I've accomplished.  Some of that sketching happened because I was doing morning watch, which gives me a built in time for sketching each day.  Some of it happened because I was taking a journaling class with the Grunewald Guild.  I'm in the middle of doing the 6th one.  I like how my markers let me mark time in a different way.

Now let me finish getting ready for work.  It will be a much more low-key day than we would ordinarily have.  There's been no pumpkin decorating stations set up.  We will have no costume contest.  There will be no Halloween treats.  It might have been a bit more low key anyway, since Fridays are usually more quiet.  But it will feel strange nonetheless--another marker of a different time.

Thursday, October 29, 2020

Poetry Process Notes: "Oregon Trail"

I got my contributor copy of Adanna Literary Journal this week. I am so pleased that they chose 2 of my poems to publish.  Today I'll talk about "Oregon Trail."  Here's the poem:

Oregon Trail

She leaves it all behind:
the furniture that never fit
her life, every cabinet full
of dishes that she always hated,
the art supplies, and every key
to locks known and unknown.

She leaves the interview suit hanging
in the closet, along with all the shoes
that pinched. She closes the suitcase
that holds only clothes in her current size.

She thinks of refugees and all they carried,
jewels sewn into hemlines
or those who flee without papers.
She checks her wallet one last time,
all the plastic cards that define
her in place.

She leaves the door unlocked
as she eats one last supper out
with a grad school friend. She writes
the wrong forwarding address on a napkin
before boarding the plane.

This poem is not about me, although aware readers/friends will know that I have often yearned to do this, to pack a bag or two and take off (though in my car, not in a plane), to just start over, to reinvent myself in a new place.

A few years ago, a friend/colleague/person who stayed in our back cottage did just this.  She was headed to New York City, which had always been her dream; she had been accepted into a cool sounding graduate program that combined museum curating and fashion and some other elements of archival preservation.  It sounded like a dream come true.

And then she abruptly changed course and moved to Utah.

I watched her make decisions about what to keep and what to give away, and I felt all sorts of emotions:  awe, inspiration, fear as I watched her cast away all that she said had been important.

The title comes from those emotions.  It echoes what those 19th century settlers must have felt.  And there's also that video game that showed so many of us how precarious it was to be one of those settlers. 

I'm often fond of my poems, and I'm almost always overly fond of the poems I send out to journals hoping that they'll be published.  I confess that I'm both fond of this one, even as it gives me pain in remembering how that my relationship with the person who inspired the poem came to an end.  I love that creativity can transform that pain.

Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Dreaming of the Vote

I have been dreaming about voting--literally, asleep at night, dreaming.  In one dream, I had to burn the edges of my ballot before I could turn it in.  In another dream, I was standing in line wishing I had taken advantage of early voting.

Readers of this blog will know that I did take advantage of early voting.  The day after we dropped our ballots in the secured box, I went to the website where you can track your ballot, and it said that my ballot had been sent to me, but it hadn't been received back or counted.  I had a moment of panic, but then I reminded myself that I had just dropped it off 30 hours earlier, so it might not have made it back to the collection center to be scanned.

Let me interject here to say I have no idea what happens to the ballots--is the secure box emptied every day?  I assume so, but I don't know how often the ballots are collected.  But I have great faith in my county--it's one of the Florida counties that gave the whole nation headaches in the 2000 election, but those problems seem to have been solved.  Even in the year 2000, I still thought that the officials were doing the best that they could under very difficult circumstances.  But I am glad that we changed the voting machines.

On Monday, I decided to check again.  My ballot has been received and counted--hurrah!

A week from now, how many of us will be able to say the same thing?  We are on track to have record turnout.  I'll be interested to know how many of us vote early and how many of us wait until election day. 

It is hard for me to imagine that Trump will win.  I've seen too many of his groups that should have been his supporters turn away.  I've seen that he's not reaching out to get new supporters or win over new groups.

But I've felt this way before, so I hesitate to make predictions.  Honestly, I won't feel completely calm until the electoral college meets in December and casts their votes.  With two candidates as elderly as these, so much can happen, and then we're in unprecedented, perhaps very dangerous, territory.

And so here I am, waiting to exhale, as I've been waiting to exhale for years now--or is it decades?  Waiting, waiting, visualizing good outcomes.

Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Scrappy Theology: A Photo Essay Inspired by Quilt Camp

 The time at quilt camp did inspire me to think about quilting as metaphors for our spiritual lives.  Here are some initial ideas:

A wide variety of quilts can be made from the same medium, cloth.  

God, the ultimate quilter, can use small pieces or large swaths to create something new and more than the sum of its parts:

Quilts themselves have a variety of purposes:  to keep us warm while we sleep, to protect us from the floor, to decorate, to make us smile:

Some of us may feel that our lives are not a whole cloth, that we just have a collection of small pieces or scraps even more slender than fingers:


Happily, God is a talented quilter who can use every bit, no matter  how small.

You may protest that your life is shredded too small to be made into a whole cloth:

But God can create something delightful:

Monday, October 26, 2020

Our Situation in Late October in Snippets

It's been a week of voting, a week of dreary weather, a week of Amazon orders and Amazon deliveries, a week of cooking, a week of getting back to work and getting new classes underway.  Let me take a late October look back:

--I have been to both a Super WalMart and a WalMart Neighborhood Market in 8 days. Yes, 19 year old Kristin, I understand all the reasons why I shouldn't support the WalMart enterprises.  But the prices are so cheap.  Yesterday I bought a good size firepit for $25.  It came complete with a fire screen cover and a weatherproof cover for the whole thing.  I remember how much a similar one cost online--over $100.  I snatched up one of the last 4 left on clearance.

--I have survived another week-end of Dry October.  Back in September when I decided to do dry October from Oct. 5 to 29, I expected that week-ends would be toughest.  I am happily surprised to find that hasn't been the case.  We haven't had wine in the house during my experiment--I will be the first to admit that not having the temptation makes it much easier.  We also haven't been having meals that I usually associate with wine.  The exception was on Saturday when we made homemade pizza.  If we'd had wine in the house, I'd have broken my abstinence.  But we didn't, and I didn't feel like going to the store to get any--plus, my pizza would have gotten cold.

--We spent the week-end hanging pictures.  We took them all down after the great flooring project of 2018, and we haven't rehung most of them.  Now we have.  This fact makes me happier than I expected that it would.

--Yesterday I read my discernment journal which has its last entry as I'm at the first online intensive back in January of 2020.  I thought about the events of 2020, about how they would stretch incredulity if we read them in a novel.  And yet, here we are.

--A week ago today, I'd have already been on the road back to South Florida.  My re-entry back to my administrator job was fairly easy, and the whole of last week turned out to be fairly easy and quiet, a fact which always makes me feel uneasy.  Is there big stuff going on that I don't know about?  I remember that often, there's not.  There are just quiet weeks--not every week has to be a crisis.  In fact, every week shouldn't be a crisis, if it's all being managed well.

--I've been jogging a bit more.  I can cover three miles, and I can do that several times a week.  It's slow, but it's a faster pace than my walk.  I realized I can hardly ever walk fast enough to get my heart rate up into a good fitness level.  I don't have that trouble when I jog, even when I go slowly. 

--On Saturday I went for a walk in daylight hours, and I was surprised by how few houses are decorated for Halloween or for autumn.  No wonder the boy on his pumpkin walk was so delighted by our house. 

--We have had flooded streets twice in one week.  

--When we bought a new TV, I signed up for a free trial of Amazon Prime to get the special price.  Now we can stream things like other residents of the 21st century.  Of course, it's hard for me to find something I actually want to watch.  We watched the first 2 Hunger Games movies.  Wow.

--As I watched these apocalyptic movies, I thought about how being an Apocalypse Gal might uniquely qualify me for being president of the U.S.  I probably wouldn't do a worse job than the guy who's in there now.  It's the first time I've ever been serious when I said this--at least I'd listen to the experts.  I'd have experts, instead of having fired them earlier.

--We're a week and a day away from the official election day, even though many of us have already voted.  What will this week bring?  I shudder to guess.

Sunday, October 25, 2020

Reformation Sunday in a Time of Pandemic

Today is Reformation Sunday.  In a different time, we might have gone to church and belted out "A Mighty Fortress Is Our God" with vigor.  Today, I don't know anyone who will be doing that--among the people I know, those who are going to church are not singing.  

Let's think about Reformation Sunday and how we might celebrate as creative people in a time of pandemic.  But first, let me remind us why we should celebrate the Reformation, even if we're not Christians.  Very few people understand how the invention of the printing press made the Protestant Reformation possible. We have this vision of Martin Luther nailing a handmade document to the Wittenberg door. We don't think of the mighty Reformation as being powered by the lowly pamphlet. But it's a legitimate interpretation. 

The printing press is the main reason why the Catholic church couldn't contain Luther's dangerous ideas (a great book, by the way: Alister McGrath's Christianity's Dangerous Idea). Those darned pamphlets just kept popping up everywhere. In a way, Luther was an early incarnation of a blogger or a user of Twitter or Instagram: someone who knows how to use "free" technology and apps to get their ideas more widely distributed.

If Luther had stopped there, the world might not have been transformed so completely. But then Luther translated the Bible into German, which meant more people could read and interpret for themselves. And then more people wanted to learn to read, so that they could read the Bible. Those events have a direct link to the world we know today.

But of course, the Reformation wasn't a seamless path to a better world for humanity.  We can also blame the Reformation for centuries of war and upheaval.  Many people came to new lands in search of religious freedom because the persecution in their home countries was so persistent and deadly.  Reformers aren't often open to the reforming ideas of others, after all.

So how can we celebrate this holiday on a day where we can't go to church and sing together?   Here are some ideas:

--Lift a beer or an apple cider in a toast to the Reformation.  Be thankful for the positive changes that the Reformation gave us.  Resolve to protect those changes.  Be on the alert for extremism that often comes with times of Reformation.  Resolve to protect those who are vulnerable with extremists roam the land roaring about reformation.

--Read a book or an article, either on paper or online, and think about how wonderful it is to have the ability to read and more stuff to read than you can ever plow through.

--Many people have done a lot of thinking about our current society and what needs reform.  Reformation is not just for churches!  Here we are, a week and 2 days out from election day.  But we know that one election day won't usher in all the changes that we see that need to be made in our local societies.  How can we be positive change agents?  Reformation Sunday is a good day to ponder all the possible answers to that question.

--Take a popular song and make new lyrics, like so many of those early Reformers did: some of our most famous Lutheran hymns have melodies from drinking songs.

--Think about your own art form and the reformations you'd like to see. Treat your inner artist with a spirit of grace, not judgment.

--Try a new art form.  Maybe your creative life cries out for a Reformation.  If it doesn't work out, you can always abandon it.  But trying something new often energizes what you've already been doing.

--One of Luther's ideas was that the emphasis on earning one's way to Heaven was wrong.  He focused on the readings from the Bible that reveal God as a Divine being full of grace, not judgment.  Let us think about how we can reform our own approach to life, to move from judgment to grace.

Saturday, October 24, 2020

Creation in a Time of Pandemic

I have been beating myself up for all the writing I haven't done.  This morning, I read this article which made me feel a bit better--it's got great coping techniques.  This part in particular spoke to me:

------quote begins-----

“Allow yourself some grace,” said Dr. Danielle Hairston, an assistant professor at the Howard University College of Medicine and the director of its psychiatry residency program. “Change and modify your expectations. Everyone is not starting a new business, a new venture, a new platform, doing new research, a new diet or exercise plan during this time. I think that’s what is portrayed a lot, especially on social media.”

She added: “This country is going through a collective grief.”

The perception that we’re not doing enough, Dr. Hairston said, can be damaging to our psyches and can be a demotivator in itself. An important step of just getting through the day is to acknowledge that it’s normal and perfectly fine not to be productive or motivated.

------quote ends-----

I wrote to a pastor friend who posted the link:  "Thank you for calling our attention to this very helpful essay. I've been beating myself up for what I haven't accomplished instead of celebrating what I can still get done -- of course, this habit of mine is a pre-pandemic one, but it's good to remember that a global pandemic exacerbates the negative consequences of living this way."

I picked up my poetry legal pad today and I haven't been as idle as I think.  Plus, I went to the quilt retreat and finished one big quilt and created a baby quilt.  I've been sketching each morning.  I'm still blogging most mornings.  Why do I feel like I accomplish nothing?

In past years, I have done more:  more writing, more quilting, more sending out of manuscripts.  Of course, in past years we haven't had a plague raging across the country; in past years, I haven't been working for pay in quite the same way.

As I think about the online resources I've been reading and savoring, I'm seeing a theme.  There's this essay from Molly Spencer, about how she carved out writing space in tiny bits of time and even smaller spaces, time which finally led to a book, but it's not the process many of us want or expect, that experience of writing time as sacred (and regularly sacred and set apart).  There's this essay from Luisa A. Igloria that talks about motherhood and the PhD process.

This morning, I was hunting for a pen and fuming about not being able to find my favorites.  I thought about my quilting/sewing friends who protect their fabric scissors with a similar fury.  And then, a poem came, one based on this blog post on my theology blog.  The poem begins with these lines:  "The quilt does not strive / to change itself into a different color."

As always, I'm relieved when I can create more than three lines in one sitting.  This poem may be done, but I'm waiting to make sure there's not more.  It came rather suddenly, so unlike the poems where I've had lots of ruminating time, lots of composing in my head, there may be more inspiration waiting.

Friday, October 23, 2020

Out of Sorts as Election Day Approaches

We voted yesterday, and it felt like the most anticlimactic voting experience of my whole voting life.  I first voted in the 1984 election; I remember filling out my absentee ballot in my dorm room, feeling thrilled.  Through the years, I've voted in polling places that were in elementary schools, community centers, churches, and other types of places.  Until 2016, I always voted on election day--I loved feeling like I was part of a process that the whole nation could be experiencing.  Even the early voting that I've done has felt special--there was always a line but that didn't prevent a festive feeling.

Yesterday, we had planned to drop off our mail-in ballots at the secure box at the polling place for early voting.  We didn't count on the rain or the flooded streets, but we have a newer car that we bought knowing how often we have to deal with flooded streets.  I had thought about bringing my camera, but because of the rain, I didn't.

I wanted to bring my camera in 2016, when I thought I was voting for our first female president of the U.S., but I knew it wouldn't be allowed.  This year, I feel our vote is even more essential--but every year I feel it's essential.  Perhaps essential isn't the word.  When we got out of the car, I said, "Let's go save the democracy."  This year, it really does feel like more is at stake.

We walked to the front of the line, and I felt a bit strange about that, even though there was lots of advertising about why we should get a mail in ballot, how much easier it would be, how we could drop it off at a polling place or at an election office.  Why did I feel slightly guilty about being able to go straight to the front?

The whole process took about as long as it took to walk from the car to the building.  I've never minded waiting in line, and the line yesterday wouldn't have been anything unusual.  But with a pandemic raging across the land, it's not a good year to wait in line.

I felt a bit out of sorts yesterday, what with the rain and my spouse's grumpiness.  I felt out of sorts all day, with a vague anxiety, vague in that I couldn't attach the source of my anxiety to anything specific, or maybe I could pinpoint all sorts of possible sources of my anxiety.

I feel out of sorts this morning too.  Perhaps I am just going to feel out of sorts until election day.  Maybe it's partly returning from a great retreat where I got things done, and I'm not feeling that way anymore.  I am missing the kind of autumn one can find in the mountains in mid October.  I am missing the kind of relaxation and purpose I feel when I'm away.  I am tired of worrying about once in a decade flooding that now comes multiple times a year, tired of worrying about an education system that is imploding even more quickly than I expected it to, tired of worrying about my health and my family's health and the health of the nation, tired, tired, tired.

Thursday, October 22, 2020

Driving Through, Driving Toward

I am surprised by how many gatherings can be transformed into drive-in/drive-through activities.  The most famous example might be Joe Biden's rallies, where people honk their support.

During my great southeastern driving tour, as I was driving and tuning into various radio stations, I heard ads for drive in Halloween festivals, both the harvest kind and the haunted house kind.  It reminds me of the huge light displays that most communities now offer at Christmas.  

I also heard about how the South Carolina State Fair will be a drive through, with the quilts, livestock, pies, produce in one part of the fairgrounds and fair food in another.  No rides, of course.  The price for admission:  free!   I saw one Facebook post that seemed to say that the line for fair food was almost as long as the line for early voting.

My church does drive through communion.  Our pastor sanitizes his hands between each car.  Each wafer comes in a plastic bag and the wine in a tiny plastic glass--our pastor hands each element to the parishioners in the car.  Usually about 20 people drive through.

As our South Florida weather shifts, we're planning to have outdoor worship services for Advent.  The weather is so iffy that I would prefer to have drive up and park services.  I'd rather stay in my car, where there's shelter from the rain, heat, and bugs.

I've been thinking about how little I'm driving at night these days.  In past years, I knew which houses would have festive lights in the evening--I'd take note as I drove home from evening meetings.  This year, I only know which houses in my neighborhood have festive lights if they leave them on overnight so that I can see them during my early morning exercise.

I've been using that to my advantage.  There's one house that's put orange bulbs in the spotlights, and those spotlights showcase inflatable jack-o-lanterns and an inflatable ghost or two.  I love the way it looks, so each morning, I decide to do a 3 mile run, instead of a 2 mile walk.

This morning we drove through flooding streets to take our ballots to the early voting location.  As we parked the car, I said, "Let's go save the democracy."  Because we had mail-in ballots, we got to go to the front of the line to drop them off in the secure box beyond the door.  In August, the secure box was outside of the building.  I was glad that the secure box was not by way of drive through--and I'm sure that the election officials had thought that through and realized that having cars near the polling place was a bad idea.

And now to keep an eye on the flooded streets--I still plan to go to work, but it makes no sense to leave when the roads are in this condition.  At least, it makes no sense to leave this morning.

In terms of the larger question of when it makes the most sense to leave--still to be determined.

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Produce Stories

Happily my return to work yesterday wasn't awful.  When I'm away with my laptop and internet access, I tend to check work e-mails once a day (but only once a day) because this practice lessens my dread at returning to work.  And on Monday, while I was driving back to South Florida, my school lost internet access across all campuses, so I didn't miss much on Monday.

I brought apples for all and a jar of special apple butter for the colleagues who do so much to keep the academic side running smoothly, the ones who make it possible for me to feel that it's OK to be away.  I was happy to see a faculty member munching an apple right after I put the basket in the break room.

When my grad school friend and I were doing our great driving tour of Columbia, SC, I had decided not to buy pumpkins, but then I changed my mind.  I wondered why I was resistant to buying pumpkins when they bring me such joy, and we've five weeks until Thanksgiving--five weeks is a lot of joy for less than $20.  In retrospect, I'm happy that I did.

Here's a pumpkin story from South Florida, a pumpkin story that makes me SO glad we went back to buy pumpkins. My spouse was sitting on the porch when an older woman and a young boy (3 years old or so) came walking by. The little boy was very excited about seeing pumpkins. The woman explained that they had been on a pumpkin walk, looking for pumpkins, and they weren't finding many. She was so happy to see our house with its cheery pumpkins.  And that made me happy too.

As I drove to work yesterday, I was surprised by how many houses have now been decorated for Halloween, houses that weren't decorated a week ago.  We've got Halloween decorations and fall decorations and political yard signs, including some houses that have turned their whole yard into a work of political art.  The backdrop (the foliage, the architecture) is very tropical, so there can be some jarring disconnects.

Last night, we thought about driving through our neighborhood to see the Halloween lights, if there are any--but then the skies opened up, and it hasn't stopped raining since.  It's a rare night where I hear rain pattering against the window each time I wake up.

So, we stayed in and filled out our mail-in ballots, a less onerous task than I was expecting.  Some years we have so many constitutional amendments that the ballot is 12 pages or more.  We will take the ballots to the early voting polling place, our local library, and we'll drop them in the secure drop box.

Here's hoping that the seeds we've planted produce the outcomes we want.

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Return from Quilt Camp

I had a lovely trip back down the mountain on Sunday.  The drive itself was fairly easy, although I'm not sure I've ever seen that much traffic on a Sunday; at one point, I wondered if there was a football game or something I had missed.

I spent Sunday night with a grad school friend in Columbia, South Carolina.  She made us a delicious lunch, and then we did what we always do, we drove around the beautiful neighborhoods around the University of South Carolina campus.  So many of the houses were decorated for the season, either the season of Halloween or the season of Autumn.

Many of the houses were also decorated for the political season, and I was surprised at how many Biden signs I saw and even more for Jaime Harrison, the man running against Lindsey Graham.  We were in neighborhoods where the very wealthy live, the ones who have been voting Republican for most of my lifetime.  If there's a blue wave in South Carolina, you heard it here first. 

On our way back, I decided that I really did want some pumpkins, so we went back to the church pumpkin patch that we had driven by earlier.  They had some smaller pumpkins, and they were a good deal.  I like supporting church pumpkin patches, but there are very few this year.  I didn't want pumpkins badly enough to buy them at a Wal-Mart, plus most of those types of stores have only the very large pumpkins, along with some tiny ones.

I slept really well--of course, the morning I could have kept sleeping is the one where I need to be up and on the road.  But off I went, and I was glad that I did, because there was some serious road construction that showed no signs of wrapping up as I drove by at 5:30 a.m.  I would have probably had delays if I had waited to leave.

The driving trip up and back was easy; I feel very lucky.  I had such a wonderful time away--here, too, I feel lucky.  I had creative time and time to reconnect with friends, and I got some long-term projects done, along with some of the weekly chores that must be done (primarily with my online classes).

I spent some time marveling at how long it's been since I've been away, and even longer since I had a trip where I stayed by myself.  I know that not everyone would react this way, but I felt it was very restorative.  

I wonder what it would be like to attend a similar retreat that was focused on writing.  Would I get a similar amount done?  Would I emerge at the other side of the retreat marveling at all that I had accomplished?

My spouse also benefitted from my being away.  I got home to discover the delight of home repairs completed:  barn doors hung, ceiling fan hung, new bed frame for guest room bed assembled, furniture moved, TV stand reassembled, TV hung in the bedroom.

Should I be concerned about the fact that we're both so much more efficient when we're away from each other?  I've decided not to worry too much, and to just be grateful that we're getting anything done at all--it's a very strange time in the life of our nation.

Monday, October 19, 2020

Lessons from Quilt Camp (a Non-Comprehensive List)

--There are many ways to stitch a quilt:  by hand, by machine, in a group, by oneself, in one big push, over months or years, with small scraps (even the smallest bits that most of us would throw away) or long strips.

--Some people might not quilt because of how expensive fabric is--but I met one woman who's assembling amazing quilts out of the scraps that many of us throw away:

Here's a close up with my hand to give a sense of perspective:

--Metaphors abound!  Some of us are careful and precise, some aren't, and we can all play a vital part.

-- It's strange, in some ways, to gather as a group when a highly contagious virus with no vaccine and no cure burns across the planet.  But we've all been wearing masks for months, so it's not as strange as I thought it would be.

--I have really enjoyed having huge swaths of unstructured time to work on our own projects.  It's still inspiring to see what people are doing.  We're still able to learn from each other.

--I don't need a retreat with lots of Bible study, lots of worship, lots of planned activities.  That's good to remember.

--I can get a lot done when I don't need to get anything else done.  One of the reasons I was successful this past week-end is that someone else was cooking and cleaning.  My spouse would point out that someone else is often cooking and cleaning--but when that's happening in my house, I feel the need to help.  I feel guilty if I don't help.  If I've paid to have time away, I don't feel guilty.

Sunday, October 18, 2020

Quilt Camp Comes to an End

It's been fascinating to spend half a week with quilters.  We were 9 women, all middle age or older, plus one teenager who was doing remote schooling while we quilted.  I was the only one who quilted by hand, but that was cool--I'm used to being in a minority of people who stitch by hand.

I've been amazed as I've been quilting how many people reached out to me to remind me that I made a quilt for them.  I wish I had done a better job of documenting all the quilts I've made. 

But in a way, the quilts I've kept have been a different sort of documentation.  The one that I've been working on is made up of fabrics left over from this quilt:

Where did that quilt in the picture go?  It either went to my sister or my cousin in Kentucky.  Update:  my cousin's spouse posted a picture of the quilt that I made to celebrate their wedding, so the above must have gone to my sister.  Here's the picture of the Kentucky quilt:

I spent years collecting autumnal fabrics (along with all sorts of other fabrics).  The quilt that I  just finished marks the end point of that collecting:

As I was working on the quilt, at times it felt like visiting an old friend.  I remembered the quilt shop where I'd bought this piece or that one, the quilt show where I got the exquisite coppery swatch named "Fairy Frost," the set of fat quarters that I kept while waiting for just the right project, the times I felt flush with cash when I bought fabric, and the times when I felt like I could only afford a yard or two of fabric and so I chose carefully.

Some of the pieces were unfamiliar:

But as I worked, I started to remember.  Once I went to a fabric store at the far northwestern end of the county; it had the most amazing collection of fabrics, many of which were unlike any that I'd ever seen, most of which I could barely afford.

I finished my big quilt on Friday, which I didn't expect.  I had hoped to quilt the middle of the quilt, the part that's hard to do without a big table.  I did that and kept going.  I finished all the quilting and started on the edges, and then I decided that I wanted to be done by the evening show and tell.  And so, I did.

Yesterday I decided to start on my other project.  I almost didn't bring my bag of fabrics because I didn't think there was any chance I'd have time to work on the baby quilt that I want to make for my neighbor's son who is expecting a child in the next few weeks.  

I'm glad that I did bring it, because I was able both to start and finish it yesterday, since I had bought the backing fabric on Thursday:

It's been a great quilt retreat.  I expected it to be wonderful, and it was even better than I expected.  I'm so glad that I made the effort to get here.  Hopefully it won't be the last.

Saturday, October 17, 2020

Quilt Camp Update

I woke up yesterday morning to discover that I had no internet access; it was somewhat frustrating, but not unexpected.  That possibility is the reason why I finished my grading and submitted final grades on Wednesday afternoon when I first got unpacked and settled in.

I listened to the wind howling and the rain spattering against the windows yesterday morning, and I realized that the internet connection wasn't likely to just pop back on.  So I settled in with Carolyn Forche's What You Have Heard Is True:  A Memoir of Witness and Resistance.  I had been reading it a few pages at a time just before I fell asleep, but I could see that it was heading into dark territory, so I was glad that I had a chance to finish it all in one fell swoop.  What an amazing story.  I knew bits and pieces of it, but it was great to get more details and new information.  I hope someone makes it into a movie.

I spent much of yesterday doing this:

It was a change from Thursday, when I took breaks.  In the morning, a group of us went to the Asheville Cotton Company, which isn't a factory or a field, but an amazing fabric shop.  Later, I created this Facebook post:  "Some of us left the quilt retreat to go to a fancy cloth shop (Asheville Cotton Company). It had a sign near the register: "Your husband called, and he said to buy whatever you want." I thought, Carl Berkey-Abbott would say no such thing--he'd remind me that we don't have the storage space for that. But he would say I should buy what I need, which is why I bought several spools of the special Metller thread that I can only find in specialty quilting fabric shops and a piece of sale material that will be the back to a baby quilt for our neighbor's son's baby who will be born in the next few weeks."

In the afternoon, a Create in Me friend and I took winding, scenic roads to Coston Farms, my favorite apple orchard.  I decided to buy a whole bushel of the apples that I love best, the Mutsu.  I also bought some jams and apple butters (those are for some of my great work colleagues who make it possible for me to be away).  Then we went to the pumpkin farm next door:

It was a delight, and not only for the apples and treats.  My Create in Me friend and I had a great conversation about church, about the possibility of seminary for both of us, about our dreams of living in some kind of creative, God-centered commune, about our creative practices.  It's rare to find someone who understands all of these elements and is interested in talking about them.

Thursday evening, I made this Facebook post:  "Today I've gone to a fabric shop and an apple farm (and the pumpkin farm beside the apple farm), and I've still made more progress on my quilt in one day than I did in several seasons. Hmmm."

Yesterday I quickly realized that I had a chance of actually finishing my quilt, so I stayed at my table and stitched and stitched.  And by the end of the day, I was finished:

It's far from perfect, especially when one looks at the edges, where I decided to preserve fabric to have a larger quilt, rather than having uniform edges.  It's not quilted within an inch of its life.  For each row (in the above photo, the vertical direction), I quilted a serpentine pattern freehand with no template.

I am so sore, both in ways I expected and ways that I didn't.  My fingers are sore, as is my lower back.  I am surprised by how much my neck hurts.  But I'm feeling good overall:

Happily, I don't think any of my aches and pains will keep me from sewing today.  My plan is to create a baby quilt for our neighbor's son.  A few years ago, he was in a horrific motorcycle accident, one so severe that it's amazing that he lived.  He has since married his high school sweetheart, and their child will be born in the next few weeks.

Here's one last picture--it's to remind me of what I can accomplish when I actually focus and stay seated with a task:

Thursday, October 15, 2020

Traveling to the Quilt Retreat and First Evening

I am writing from my room at Lutheridge--at long last, I've made it to Quilt Camp!

I say at long last, because I wanted to go last year.  But last year's Quilt Camp happened just before our big accreditation visit, and I knew I wouldn't enjoy it even if I could get away from work, which I probably couldn't do.  I was determined to go this year.

This year, it was unclear that the retreat would happen, given that there's a pandemic raging across the country.  But the camp folks figured out how we could be socially distanced and masked and reduce our risks.  It seemed worth the risk to me.  We are not working in close proximity to each other; we're spread out across the camp dining hall.  We could open windows and doors, if we want additional air flow to reduce risk.  There are only 13 of us.  Here's a sense of how the room is set up:

I had some vacation time that will vanish if I don't use it before Oct. 31, so I am even happier to be here, using that time for a real treat of a get away:  quilts and Lutheridge and the mountains and a trip to the apple orchard that's still open!

This time yesterday, I'd have already been on the road for hours.  I wasn't sleeping well, and when my eyes snapped open--again!--at 2, I tried to go back to sleep for 20 minutes, and then I got up and finished getting ready.

I thought I might need to take some quick naps along the way, but I felt great, so I just kept going.  I had a full pot of coffee in 2 thermoses, so I did use many rest areas along the way--kudos to the person who planted a birds of paradise plant that's now as almost 5 feet tall.

I usually listen to NPR stations along the way, but every one yesterday carried the Senate hearings for Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett, so I didn't stay on those channels long.  I must confess I was impressed with her performance, during hearings which lasted an ungodly amount of time for a nominee whom we already know will be confirmed.

So I listened to a variety of radio stations, along with my own music that I brought along.  I also listened to right wing talk radio, but not for very long, because the level of paranoia was mind blowing.  More than one right wing radio voice talked about the leftist armed uprisings that they expect after election day, regardless of who wins.

They must know different leftists from the ones I know.  The ones I know have no guns or any other weapons.  The leftists I know have fierce words, but no physical fighting skills.  Of course, most of the leftists I know are older and practicing social distancing.

I got to Lutheridge in Arden, North Carolina (near Arden) at 2:40 p.m.--I made great time, considering how many times I stopped to pee.  I got checked in and got set up.  I have wanted to go to this retreat for the same reason I want to go to writer's retreats.  I want to see what I can accomplish with a chunk of time.  With a quilt, the additional gift is having a space to leave everything set up for a few days.  I got my quilt set up, and then I went to dinner with friends who are also here for the quilt retreat.

Yes, I went to dinner.  We ate at a local place which had outdoor dining.  We spread ourselves out across two tables at the edge of the patio space that didn't have many diners.  It felt fairly safe.  It was delicious.

After dinner, I decided to go back to the dining hall.  I thought I would be tired, but I did some quilting.  I got more done yesterday than I've done in years.

To be fair, I put it in the box marked "Quilt in Progress" when we moved in 2013. I put that box in the closet, and today was the first time I've had it out of that box since we moved.

I thought I would sleep deeply, and I did, for only 4 hours, though.  Oh well.  The beauty of this retreat is that I can duck out and take a nap as needed.  The retreat  is mostly long periods of unstructured time. One devotion in the morning, and a sharing time in the evening (sharing as in more like show and tell than emotional sharing). The room is open around the clock--last year, one group of women worked until 3 a.m.

More to come--I'm interested to see what I accomplish during the next 4 days.  I also brought my laptop, my camera, my sketchbook, my poetry legal pads--I'm prepared for all sorts of creativity!

Tuesday, October 13, 2020

The Magic of a Month Long Goal

Yesterday I wrote this post about Dry October, and then I went out for my slow jog around the dark neighborhood.  I thought about the success I had been having with one month challenges.  There was the Sealey Challenge back in August, where I really did read one volume of poetry each day of August.

Is there something about the fact that a challenge is a month long?

As I wrote to my sister this morning:  "I think that settling in for a month of this also helps. If the goal just a few days or one evening, and if there's wine in the house, it's easy for me to ditch the plan."

I've been thinking about the people who do NaNoWriMo, those folks who write a whole rough draft of a novel (the goal is 50,000 words) during the month of November.  I've never done that challenge, but I find myself intrigued.  I need something to snap me out of my writing funk.  I need something to think about rather than the dismal state we're in.

Of course, it occurs to me that those of us who arrive early with our novels that compelling document this pandemic time may have a shot that others don't get.  But I want to live somewhere else with my novel.

At first I thought about some sort of The Big Chill plot device, college friends reunited for some reason, but reunited late in midlife.  That idea appeals, but I just have a general shape of what I would want to do.  To write 50,000 words in a month, I need more specific shapes.

This morning I thought about how I long to be on a college campus, more specifically, my undergraduate campus, more specifically, certain points of that college campus.  I realize that young women in college in the 1980's might have been done to death, but not the way I would do it.  I've had those characters and variations of that plot in my mind for decades now.  

Let me let that idea percolate as I start one of my big southeastern driving tours tomorrow.  While my spouse holds down the fort at home, I am headed to a quilt retreat at Lutheridge.  Let me see what my brain comes up with!

Monday, October 12, 2020


I'm not sure I had heard about "Dry October" until early in September, last month.  I'm not sure how long it's been a thing.  I suspect that people have been doing this for years, and as usual, I'm late to the party.

The idea is that it's easier to do this kind of elimination in a month that's not January, with all its baggage of New Year's resolutions that get dropped by January 4.  Some people (most people?) link charitable giving with dry October--support your favorite charity by giving all that you would have spent on alcohol to your favorite charity.

I am discovering that alcohol free substitutes cost as much as the versions with alcohol, so if one takes that route to sobriety, substituting AF drinks for alcoholic drinks, there won't be much for charity.

Several people in my orbit are giving Dry October a try, for various reasons.  My spouse is doing dryish October (cutting back most days), while my sister and I are abstaining from October 5-29.  We have all been concerned about our health, so that's a reason to cut back.  I'm concerned about the weight I've gained since last year (5-10 pounds), but more about gaining 5-10 pounds every year and what that means for my old age.  

As I analyze my diet, alcohol is the only thing left to cut/eliminate.  I no longer put milk, sugar, and cocoa in my morning coffee.  No more treats from day old grocery store bakeries as I set them out for students (I'm no longer getting the treats, since communal treats in a time of COVID-19 seems a very bad idea). I don't drink soda or eat fast food.  Each week, I routinely have meat-free days, at least 2-3 or more.

I wanted to do Dry October for many reasons, but most of all because my sister was doing it, and I know that these things can be easier to do in a group.  So far, it hasn't been as hard as I expected.  

I expected more cravings, but I've learned that if we don't have wine in the house, I don't crave it--that was a surprise to me.  I've had some headaches, but I'm not sure if that's because of not drinking.  I thought that I'd have better sleep, but so far, sigh, I'm not sleeping the sleep of a college student home on vacation.

This past week-end I did get more done.  I wasn't as tired in the evening.  On the week days, I was just as crashingly tired at the day's end, even without drinking.

I've done elimination diets before.  The most extreme was a 10 day "shred" where I got rid of alcohol, dairy, grains, and all but one caffeinated drink each day.  I experienced lots of cravings, which I resisted because I was doing the shred with a group of people from the wellness center where I went to spin class.  

On Friday, we walked to the beach to get some ice cream.  The beach was jam packed, so I wouldn't have wanted to stay there long.  But walking there and back felt safe to me.  We ate our ice cream distanced from the crowd, staring at the sea, as the sky darkened.  It was beautiful.

We wouldn't have done that if we had been sharing our traditional Friday evening bottle of wine.  It's good to remember that we can celebrate in ways that don't involve alcohol.

Sunday, October 11, 2020

A Week of Womanist/Feminist Challenges and Triumphs

What a week it's been!  But I say that every week, do I not?  Let me capture some moments:

--It was a day of upheaval at work on Friday.  Two people were laid off, our director of Admissions, with whom I had worked closely and the one non-director worker (who had been full-time, then was furloughed, then came back as part-time) in Financial Aid.  It was also the last day on our campus for all of the Admissions Team.  Starting on Monday, they will work at the Ft. Lauderdale campus.

--We had a debate with vice presidential candidates, a debate which was better than the presidential debate, but many of us will most remember that fly on Mike Pence's head.  I will remember Kamala Harris saying variations of this phrase, "Mr. Vice President, I'm speaking."  It made me want to assemble a directory of womanist separatist communes--or maybe start such a commune.  And you might think it's abnormal for a woman happily married to a man to feel that way, but I am fairly sure it isn't.

--When I create my ideal womanist/feminist separatist commune, will I allow men?  Perhaps.  I'm using separatist fairly generally--I want to separate from many things in our patriarchal culture.  But that's a subject for another day.

--It's been a week of good news when it comes to recognizing women.  The Nobel Prizes went to women:  for Chemistry, for Physics, for Literature.  The MacArthur Fellows were announced, and I was so happy to see Tressie McMillan Cottom, N. K. Jemisin, and Jacqueline Woodson on the list.  You can "meet" all the Fellows here.

--I've also been happy to see attention given to Maggie Smith's new book Keep Moving (see NPR radio interview here and Slate article here).  I keep expecting to feel jealous, but I don't.  On the contrary, I'm happy to see a poet like her succeed.  I am also not jealous of Louise Gluck, our newest Nobel Laureate.  Both women have been more focused than I have of late.  Both women write poetry I love--so I'm happy to see them get success.  And even if Maggie Smith is getting publicity for her newest book, which is not a poetry book, I'm happy.  I like to see the many ways we could succeed as writers.  I like the reminder that all is not lost.

--It's been a week of sorting through piles of paper both at work and at home.  Our internet and Outlook went out at work on Friday, shortly after the reduction in force.  I did filing, and all the jobs I could do without a computer.  I decided to tackle the piles of paper that build up.  I take lots of notes on paper, and I save those pages in piles, thinking, let's see in a month or two if these notes are important.  But I often don't get back to that sorting.  At home, I've been reassembling the antique desk, which means taking a last look at piles of paper that have been in a box since the great flooring project of 2018.  I wish I was better at this.

--I've had a few Zoom calls with groups of people that are important to me.  They're better than nothing, but they do make me miss the times when we could be together face to face.

I do wonder what the coming week will bring.  Each week, I wonder that, but as the election draws closer, I feel a bit more fear.  And hope.

Friday, October 9, 2020

Our Nobel Laureate and My New Favorite Poem

I was having computer issues yesterday, and then I had accreditation documents to craft at work, so I couldn't write about my great joy at the news that Louise Gluck has won the Nobel Prize in Literature.  I am always happy when a writer I know wins a big prize, and I'm even happier when it's a woman, and I'm even happier when it's a poet.

The Nobel Prize is the biggest literary honor, and a female poet from the U.S. won.  Hurrah!

Now let me confess that she's not my favorite poet, although I don't dislike her.  But if you asked me to choose my favorite Gluck poem, I wouldn't have one.  If we're being honest, I couldn't even name one.  I do remember reading volumes of her work that I checked out of the library, but I didn't love them enough to buy my own copy.

This morning, I'm reading through a variety of posts, primarily on Twitter, posts written by people offering their favorite poems by Louise Gluck.  Suddenly, I have found a lot of poems that are new to me, poems that I love instantly, poems that make me say, "Hello, and where have you been all my life?"

I was late to Mary Oliver in a similar way.  I had heard of her, read a bit here and there, but it wasn't until a group at church worked with her poems during Lent that I sat up and took notice.

I suspect the poetry of Louise Gluck is the same way:  versatile and universal, searing with insight.  I look forward to discovering her again for the first time (and yes, I mean that with all the glorious imprecision that exists in that sentence).

In the meantime, here's the poem that has bewitched me most this morning.

"Witchgrass" by Louise Gl├╝ck

comes into the world unwelcome
calling disorder, disorder—

If you hate me so much
don’t bother to give me
a name: do you need
one more slur
in your language, another
way to blame
one tribe for everything—

as we both know,
if you worship
one god, you only need
one enemy—

I’m not the enemy.
Only a ruse to ignore
what you see happening
right here in this bed,
a little paradigm
of failure. One of your precious flowers

dies here almost every day
and you can’t rest until
you attack the cause, meaning
whatever is left, whatever
happens to be sturdier
than your personal passion—

It was not meant
to last forever in the real world.
But why admit that, when you can go on
doing what you always do,
mourning and laying blame,
always the two together.

I don’t need your praise
to survive. I was here first,
before you were here, before
you ever planted a garden.
And I’ll be here when only the sun and moon
are left, and the sea, and the wide field.

I will constitute the field.

Wednesday, October 7, 2020

Of Time and the Guitar God

I was shocked and saddened to hear of the death of Eddie Van Halen.  He didn't seem that much older than I am, and he wasn't.  I'm 55, and he was 65.

I confess that I felt a bit of shock and sadness primarily because he seems young to me.  It's not like the other death of yesterday, Johnny Nash, who wrote "I Can See Clearly Now," dead at 80.

I had some Van Halen albums, but I didn't listen to them often, and I don't still have them.  I have fond memories of the song "Jump."  In college, a group of us went to a rollerskating rink in Newberry, South Carolina.  At that point, my boyfriend who would become my husband wasn't my boyfriend yet, and I was awed at his ability to jump while wearing clunky skates.

The young are easily impressed.

I was not one of those people who could argue which rock god played the greatest guitar.  As an English major, I could argue about lyrics for hours.

I thought about that aspect of myself last night.  Instead of watching T.V., we had satellite radio on and tuned to one of those stations that plays the music of our middle and high school years, late 70's and early 80's classic rock.  I went to bed, read for a bit, and then turned out the light.  "Come Sail Away" by Styx was on.  I thought about a sleepover I had with my best friend in middle school, how we listened to the radio in the dark and talked about what the last part of the song meant.  We talked about what we would do if aliens appeared and invited us to come sail away.

It took me awhile to drift off to sleep, and I lay there thinking about how familiar it felt to be cozy in bed, listening to music chosen by someone else.  Was I back in my dorm room?  I thought about how familiar it seems to be listening to someone else's radio station.  Was I back in my childhood house, listening to the radio that my mom listened to?  

For a strange moment, I felt like I was a disembodied consciousness, that I could sense the artificiality of time as a linear construct.

Tuesday, October 6, 2020

John Brown, Antique Desks, and Other Grand Obsessions

I am listening to a great interview with Ethan Hawke on NPR's Fresh Air.  He's talking about John Brown and creativity and how to live a life.

I'm remembering a time years ago when I went to Harper's Ferry with my mom and dad.  We went for the beautiful mountain views, and I came away with a renewed interest in John Brown.  I had heard of him, and I tried to read Russell Banks' Cloudsplitter, which led me to a biography or two.  But being in that place, Harper's Ferry, where John Brown made his last stand--that fired my brain in new ways.

I remember having grand obsessions, some of which lasted for a poem or two, some of which have lasted much of my lifetime.  I feel a bit like I'll never have that experience again, but I know that's false.  I'm trying not to wander into the swamp of despair and regret.

And then, like magic, here's a tweet that came just when I needed it:  “Regret is an appalling waste of energy, and no one who intends to be a writer can afford to indulge in it.”― Katherine Mansfield

I am writing at the rolltop desk that was my maternal grandparents until it arrived at my house in 2003.  I wrote the first short story that was anywhere near decent at this desk, back when it was still at my grandparents' house.  I was so happy the day it arrived at my house.  I imagined writing my best work at this desk.

For almost two decades, I never wrote at this desk.  The non-laptop computers we used to have wouldn't have fit on the desk.  Once we switched to laptops, the desk was in a position where I couldn't envision using our bigger office chairs with it.  But as I worked on my smaller desk, the one that my best friend and former housemate left with me when she moved to Durham, NC, I realized that I rarely wrote with my chair rolled up to the desk in a traditional way (that's a complicated way of saying that I have terrible posture when I write).

I wrote some of my best work at that smaller desk. I am now wondering if there is space for both desks in this room, along with the double bed.  This front room is both study/library and guest room--and should we need it, a way to quarantine if one of us gets sick.

I know that one reason I want to keep the smaller desk is that my best friend and former housemate died of a hideous esophageal cancer, and while it makes no logical sense to keep a desk to remember her, it's part of what's going on in my brain.

I am writing at this antique desk which once belonged to my grandparents, and I'm aware of how much my hands sweat when I write.  At the smaller desk, where I wrote for over 25 years, there's a patch of discoloration.  For years, I was hesitant to write at my grandparents' desk for fear of ruining it.

Then Hurricane Irma came.  The window above the desk leaked a bit, but I didn't realize it.  A stack of papers got damp, but I didn't realize it--there was so much more damage that kept me from seeing the smaller damage.  

Months later, I realized that the finish of the desk was ruined in several places, and there's a ripple in the writing surface of the desk.  Sigh.

I feel like it has taken me far longer to recover from Hurricane Irma than it should have:  longer financially, longer in terms of repair, longer mentally.  Perhaps I am still not recovered mentally.  It feels like it takes me far longer these days to do the kinds of things I used to be able to do in a day or two.  It would be convenient to blame that fact on the pandemic, but that's not the whole reason for me.

Let me circle back to that Katherine Mansfield quote.  Let me not get bogged down in despair and a thousand regrets. 

But also, let me get some inspiration from this time.  Let me think about the history of my grandparents' desk, the sermons written here, the letters written here, the artifacts of lives contained here.

Let me think about what I want to create with the time I have left.  Let me think about the world that is struggling to be born.

But let me not give up on the nonviolent ways of transformation.  John Brown shows us the disasters that can come when we put aside our beliefs in nonviolence.

Monday, October 5, 2020

What I Read During my September Vacation

 Two weeks ago, I was at Hilton Head Island, relaxing and reconnecting with my mom and dad (from a distance, of course).  One of the primary delights of that week was having time to read:

Old Lovegood Girls by Gail Godwin.  Gail Godwin at her best, doing all the things that made me love her: female friendship over a lifetime, what it means to be a writer, what it means to be a Southerner, how to balance the need for love and for creativity.  I finished this book and was seriously tempted to turn to the first page and read it all again.

Pride and Prometheus by John Kessel.  What happens when Mary Bennet from Pride and Prejudice meets Victor Frankenstein and the Creature—what fun! And lots of interesting intellectual meanders: history and gender and creativity and making a life that’s worth living.

It’s Just Nerves: Notes on a Disability by Kelly Davio. A wonderful collection of short essays that left me with many issues to contemplate—and made me grateful for my mostly good health.

My Grandmother’s Hands: Racialized Trauma and the Pathway to Mending Our Hearts and Bodies by Resmaa Menakem. Wow. One of the best books on the history of racism, our current situation, and what to do about white bodies, black bodies and police bodies that I may have ever read. Lots of insight about how to settle the body and how to deal with centuries of trauma. Lots of specific techniques for both individual and group work. Unlike some books on racism, I finished the book feeling inspired and not overwhelmed.  I read this book as part of an online journaling class, and it led to great discussions and great journal entries, like this one of mine:

I'm not sure which sketch from the 3 weeks of journaling is my absolute favorite, but this one is on the list of the top 3.  I tried to create an image of patterns from my memories of trying to sew my own clothes as a teenager:

The haiku like creation is an added bonus.

Sunday, October 4, 2020

A Pair of Ragged Claws as Metaphor for a Very Bizarre Week

What a very bizarre week.

And I'm not even talking about the week in politics, but let's start there:  in one week, we saw a Supreme Court justice nominee, news of Trump's taxes, a debate that was more like a yelling event than an exchange of ideas, and the president (and many of those in his orbit) testing positive for COVID-19.  Right now he's in Walter Reed hospital, and it's hard to know what his prognosis truly is.

It was a strange week at work too.  It's always strange to come back from vacation, but this week was stranger than most.  In my first hour back, the fire inspector came to do the follow up; I didn't know if the issues had been fixed, but I showed her around the building.  The issues outside of my control had not been fixed.

The work week got even stranger when I found an unfamiliar man in our break room wearing one of our school t-shirts.  I asked if I could help him, and he said, "I'm from the fire department.  I'm here to follow up on their work.  Looks like they did a good job for you."

Now I am more likely to be a fire department member than the man in our break room:  he had a very scruffy look.  He went to our bathroom, and when he came out, we asked him again what he was doing on campus, since he had also been in one of our Vet Tech labs.  He walked down the hallway to the door to the parking area saying he was working for the building owner, installing office space.

And the work week got even stranger when we discovered that someone had a cot upstairs in a vacant office suite--and not just a cot, but seven plastic jack-o-lanterns the size of fists, a pack of beef jerkey, two fleece pillows, and a shirt.  The work week got even stranger the next day when the building manager found all sorts of medical stuff in that office suite--the medical building next door to us reported a break in, and by the end of the day, our visitor was in police custody.  

The burglar had gotten into our EMS lab, and we're still not sure how.  The door was locked during the week, and the alarm never went off.  By the time we got to Friday, I was happy to have a day without a visit by law enforcement or fire authorities.

The week had other strange notes.  On Sunday, when we drove to church to do our socially distanced activities, I heard strange noises coming from somewhere in the car.  It wasn't the traditional strange car noise like a belt that's about to break or pieces grinding together.  In the church parking lot, when my spouse looked under the hood, he didn't shriek, like I was expecting.  He shook his head in disbelief with a bit of a hoot, and when I looked, I understood why.  There, perched by the windshield washer fluid resevoir, was a huge blue crab, and he was not interested in coming out of the engine.

How did it get there?  I don't know.  The car had been parked in the driveway for over a week.  That driveway is not next to any body of water--it's not very far away, but not close in terms of scuttling crab claws.  

When we got back to the car, the crab wasn't there.  Later in the week, we found a crab in our swimming pool.  My spouse thinks it's a different crab, but I'm not sure.  My spouse fished the crab out of the pool and left him under a tree; later in the day, he wasn't there.

When I look back on this week, will I remember the crab?  Perhaps, now that I've written about him; and why do I give the crab a male gender?  A big creature, uninterested in what we think he should do, a creature that snaps its claws--yes, sounds like someone else I know, and not just the president of the U.S.  

Every time I think about crab claws, I think of those lines from "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock," by T. S. Eliot:  "I should have been a pair of ragged claws / Scuttling across the floors of silent seas."  I didn't expect that poem to be such a constant companion through the past few decades.  Looking back, I shouldn't have been surprised perhaps.

The unknown question:  how does J. Alfred Prufrock deal with his elderly years?  It's a poem that speaks to both youth and midlife--how does it translate to those years from age 70 onward?  And how does that translate to the lives we're living?

Friday, October 2, 2020

October Surprises

When I thought about possible October surprises, I failed to consider this one.

In this article in The New Yorker, David Remnick considers the ramifications more powerfully:  "For some time, commentators have routinely discussed what 'the October surprise' would be. It was assumed that an autumn drama would entail the President challenging the legitimacy of the ballot, and he has done that repeatedly. At the debate, he retailed false and exaggerated stories about mail-in ballots, all in a seeming effort to sow confusion and cast doubt on a contest that he appears to be losing. But now that 'October surprise' is here, and it involves something no less alarming—the state of the President’s health and that of his wife and senior advisers, and what it all will mean for the governance of the United States, a nation that has been suffering multiple crises for so many months."

When I thought of possible October surprises, I thought about military attacks, the traditional October surprise, but I wasn't really expecting that.  With two elderly men running for office, I was expecting possible death or disabling stroke or heart attack.  As the months have gone by, and Trump hasn't contracted the corona virus, that possibility must have slipped from my radar screen of possible disruptions.

I got up early this morning, as I do every morning, and promptly slipped down this rabbit hole of coverage.  My spouse immediately wondered if it could be a hoax, a bid for sympathy votes. I think this president has a horror of being seen as weak, so if he was going to perpetuate some sort of scam, he'd go for something different.  And I don't think he's strategic/smart enough to create a scam that people like me would think that he would never do; he would give up any advantages so that he wouldn't be seen as weak.

So much of the past few months/years/decades has seemed like a crash course that covers the material our Civics classes never taught us.  If you find yourself wondering what would happen if a presidential candidate died at any point on the path to the election/swearing in ceremony, The Washington Post has a great 2 part series here and here