Monday, November 30, 2020

Advent and the Issue of Light and Dark

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, November 29, 2020

Thanksgiving Fragments Gathered into a Casserole

 Some fragments from an unusual Thanksgiving week:

--I finally saw Harriet last night.  Hmm.  Part of me loved watching the movie--so gorgeously filmed, with such beautiful landscapes.  I kept turning up the volume, until I realized that I could hear the movie, but I just couldn't understand what Harriet was saying.  Oh, I got the gist of it, and if I had the movie on mute, I probably would have known.  But the dialect came across as garbled to me.  I should try watching the DVD on a different device just to see.  

--The DVD came with no trailers for upcoming movies.  How strange.

--As I watched the movie, I thought about how Harriet had "spells" where God spoke to her, and John Brown felt that he was on a mission from God.  We could see them both as deeply disturbed or as deeply committed to a cause or maybe both.

--I am chagrined to realize that this Thanksgiving was no different than any other in terms of my exercise.  Even though I wasn't traveling and the weather here was lovely, I haven't done much exercising.  I've been enjoying cooking, but the real reason I haven't been exercising is that I wanted to get to stores early to beat the rush:  the garden center on Friday and Michaels yesterday.  I've decided not to beat myself up too much--it's been a wonderful vacation, if I couldn't have the vacation I really wanted, which is my family reunion in North Carolina Thanksgiving.

--I am thinking of Advent practices.  I an only just now thinking of this, but it's the first day of Advent, so it's not too late. I will try writing a poem a day every, and by try, I mean that I will sit down with my poetry legal pad.  I may not end up with a finished poem or a polished poem, but by Christmas, I will have 26 rough drafts.  Yes, that will be one of my Advent practices.

--Later I will post a picture of an Advent wreath with battery operated candles that I will make for the morning watch devotional time that I broadcast from my church's Facebook page each morning.  I'm leading an Advent wreath making workshop (distanced and masked) at church this morning, and I will make a special Advent wreath for morning watch. 

--Today I will have another version of my favorite Thanksgiving meals.  I'm making a sheetpan of dressing with this recipe from The Washington Post.  I'll heat up some leftover turkey and cranberry sauce, along with the last of the sweet potato casserole.  I'll try to keep from feeling sad by reminding myself that I could have this food any time I wanted.

--It has been a good Thanksgiving week-end.  It may not have been the holiday I anticipated for much of the year (until our plans changed a few weeks ago), but it worked.  It may not be the holiday I want every year to be, but I am grateful for its goodness.

Saturday, November 28, 2020

Relearning the Piano Again

Last night, I decided that it was time to start playing our new-to-us piano.  My spouse has done a good job of playing every day, but I haven't.  So I opened With One Voice hymnal to "Soon and Very Soon."  I worked my way through the right hand melody line, which is fairly easy.  Then I added the alto line to my right hand.

Then I decided to be very brave and added the left hand.  It was easier than I remember.  There I was, each hand playing 2 notes--not always the correct note, but I got the note more often than I didn't.  My spouse said, "I didn't realize you knew how to do that."  

I let him in on my secret.  When we got the electric keyboard in 2005, I chose that song as the one I would learn as I worked to remember what I had learned in childhood piano lessons.  So it's not like I just opened the hymnbook and everything flooded back from childhood.

I chose that song for a reason beyond that it's one of my favorites.  It's fairly easy with just a B flat.  I prefer songs with no flats or sharps, but this one isn't hard.  And at the time, I needed a song with lyrics that would uplift me.  Plus, I needed a song that I knew--it's hard to know if I'm playing the correct notes if I don't know the song.

Since we got the piano, many people have expressed surprise that I took piano lessons as a child.  In my family of origin and in my marriage, I'm seen as the non-musical one in families of vast musical prowess.  I confess that I don't often do much to counter those assumptions.  And compared to most members of my family, I do have the least musical skill and knowledge.  I forget that I have so much more musical skill and knowledge than so many humans do.

As I relearn the piano, relearning again, I'm surprised that I know/remember more than I thought.  I can't do a lot with key signatures and transposing songs, and that's O.K.  I can read music, which means I'm a lot further ahead than I would be otherwise.  I'm intrigued by how much comes back as I practice my rusty muscles, both the physical muscles of my hands, and the metaphorical muscles of my musical training.

Friday, November 27, 2020

Black Friday and a Last Look at Thanksgiving

I have not had the normal Black Friday experience, at least not the one you see in popular media.  A side note:  I had that kind of Black Friday experience exactly once, long ago in the late 90's, when I went to a mall with my sister and cousins in Asheville, NC.  They were going to go regardless, so I tagged along.  I want nothing that money can buy to make that kind of effort, but someone else was driving, and my cousins are burly/tall guys, so I felt we wouldn't be trampled.

In the years since, we often went to the Frugal Backpacker and got AMAZING deals--but sadly, that store relocated from Arden, so going there wasn't easy anymore.  There have been a few trips to Wal-Mart with my mom and sister where I snagged a deal or two, but again, not worth the hassle to do it on my own.

This morning's experience was very different.  This morning, my spouse told me that we had at least 17 caterpillars on our milkweed--our milkweed which only had a few leaves left.  This happens periodically, and usually we let the caterpillars fend for themselves.  But this year, we needed a lot of items that I could pick up from a garden store:  herbs, tomato plants, potting soil.  So off I went to Flamingo Road Nursery, out in the western part of the county--sadly, one must go way west to find a place that sells milkweed.

It was a beautiful morning to be out in a garden center, and Flamingo Road Nursery is a soul-soothing garden center.  I stocked up on some healthy milkweed and then I wandered amongst the herbs--oh bliss!  I picked up some tomato plants and a pepper plant.  I picked up more herbs.  I dallied in the Christmas area--I had promised my spouse that I wouldn't buy a tree, and I wondered if a potted tree would violate my promise.  I moved my mask for one brief moment to inhale a pine branch.

I thought about poinsettias, but in the end I bought some striped petunias.  They sort of have a candy cane effect, although I'm aware that they may have looked more like that in the holiday display with other white and red flowers.  I really wanted a rosemary bush that had been pruned to look like a Christmas tree, but they didn't have those.  Of course, they had plenty of other things.  I tried to be mindful of my small car as I made my selections:

I could have bought more--the whole back seat was empty.  But of course, there was also the household budget to consider.  Still, I was sorely tempted to go back and get more herbs and garden plants and several more bags of potting soil:

I came home happy.  I thought about when I was young and would save my money to go to B. Dalton Bookseller with the idea that I would buy all the books I wanted.  I thought about how lucky I am that my spouse will not be angry that I spent so much money on dirt and plants.  I thought about how many people are out on the road.

I also thought back to Thanksgiving, which I enjoyed thoroughly, even though it was different from Thanksgivings of the past.  I made this Facebook Post:    "I don't really need to pull out this recipe; I've memorized it. But I love seeing my mom's handwriting, and remembering the other women in the family who have made this dish through the years, as I will be making it today."

We had a lovely end of Thanksgiving with our quarantine pod, the friends we've seen throughout this pandemic; most of us are fairly isolated, and we've let each other know when we've done any activities (like out of state travel) that leaves us at risk.

We ate outside, as we always do when we're together, but instead of our usual cheese to go with our wine, last night we had a whole meal.  My spouse made a brisket, and our friends made a turkey.  We had a sweet potato souffle (recipe pictured above) and a pumpkin pie.  My friend made mashed potatoes, turkey gravy, and a carrot salad from her childhood.  We were so full that we didn't eat pie, although my spouse and I had a slice when we got home.

I thought it would take days to get everything repotted and placed, but my industrious spouse got it all done in a morning.  

I am a lucky woman.

As I thought, my striped petunias don't look as much like candy canes when they're not with white and red flowers.  But I love them anyway.  And I love this transition from autumn to petunia season.

I wish I had snapped a picture of this pumpkin a few days ago.  It really did have an enchanted house kind of look.  It also reminded me of those Easter eggs where you look inside and see a world.

And now it's time to decorate the inside of the house--for Christmas!

Thursday, November 26, 2020

Thanksgiving Gratitude

Yesterday before the Internet went down at work again, I enjoyed seeing people's holiday preparations.  I even copied an old family recipe for "Mother's Dressing" (what Southerners call stuffing when it's not in a bird).

Did I go home last night and bake a small skillet of cornbread along with some biscuits that the recipe would need?  No I did not.  We're having a meal with plenty of carbs:  sweet potato casserole, mashed potatoes, gravy (I count gravy as a carb, but it could also be a fat), pumpkin pie--we don't really need a pan of dressing.  If I decide I'm wrong, I still have time to make a version.

I have a pumpkin pie baking and cranberries and in the same oven, apples stewing down to become a cranberry relish. We got up extra early to put a brisket on the grill.  I've thought of smells of brisket wafting through the neighborhood and wondered if our neighbors wondered what we were doing.  But we were probably the only ones awake and cooking at 4:30 a.m.

We are taking these delicious items, along with a sweet potato souffle/casserole with praline topping, to our neighborhood friends where we will have an outdoor dinner with a turkey my friend is cooking, along with mashed potatoes and green beans.  They are the friends who gave us the piano.

We've been seeing these friends every 2 weeks, as we have been doing for years, for outdoors wine, cheese, and crackers--we've done our happy hour outdoors, even in the years when it hasn't been crucial, through rain and heat and chill and perfect weather. 

We decided early on in the pandemic that it was likely safe to continue seeing each other--I'm the only one working outside the home, and their child is in the early teen years where she doesn't want to participate in group activities. We decided to be a quarantine pod, and when we've ventured outside our pod (like the few times we've traveled in the last 9 months), we've let each other know.

These days, just leaving the house feels like a risk with a contagious disease running rampant.  But joining our local friends feels like less of a risk than others are taking.  Sigh.

I'm glad we decided not to have a family gathering in North Carolina, even as I have spent time this week feeling wistful, nostalgic, sad, and wimpery.  We've had Zoom family meetings in the evening, which has been fun.  We've sent each other stuff in the mail.

I've had a nontraditional Thanksgiving breakfast:  I made a small custard cup of leftover pumpkin pie filling.  Delicious!  This past week-end, I tried to make oatmeal sandwich cookies that my uncle always brings from a baker in his area.  That cookie would be my traditional Thanksgiving breakfast, but I couldn't get the cookies just right.  I decided not to spend the week trying.

With luck, I'll be able to see my family next year.  This year, I'm trying to focus not on what is lost right now, but what I do have:  good food, a loving spouse, friends who have been keeping safe, a roof over my head, a job.  

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

For the Love of Pie

For years, my cousin and I have agreed that the Wednesday before Thanksgiving is our favorite day of the year.  It's early in the Thanksgiving holiday week-end, which stretches out before us with so much happiness still to come.  In my family, there's no pressure to get cooking done, although there's often a trip or two to the grocery store--but because we're doing it together, it's not the drudgery that the grocery store can be in regular life.  There might be a hike on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving; a hike means a walk outdoors, nothing too strenuous, because for the past 15 years, we'd have had a pregnant family member or very small children.  In later years, there might be some kind of group game, whether outdoors (a variant of soccer that's not recognized by any league) or indoors (Chess or something more complicated).

For a few years, on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, we went to a local restaurant, an old-fashioned cafeteria with a name that combined two letter and the & sign (S & K?  K & W?), that had the whole front part of the restaurant set up to sell pies for $8 to $12 a pie.  You could place your order early and come pick it up, but even if you didn't have the foresight to do that, you still had plenty to choose from.  They offered at least 20 varieties, from standard pumpkin, apple, and cherry to more complex pies like some sort of tropical coconut custard with bits of summery fruit or pies with rum flavors or mincemeat.  They offered not only blueberry, but also blackberry and raspberry.

It was too good for this world.  

We went last year, and the whole cafeteria had closed.  So we went to a local boutique bakery which would sell us a pie for $40, and they were doing a brisk business.  I don't begrudge small businesses the profits they can make, and yet, I know how much the ingredients cost in that pumpkin pie.  So we went to the grocery store and picked up some much cheaper, less glamorous pies.

If we had been in a place with a different kitchen we might have baked our own pies, but the house we have rented for decades has a very small oven with an unreliable heating element.  We can create an asparagus green pea casserole out of canned items or baked sweet potatoes, but we can't do all of that and bake pies too.  Hence the need for pies made by others.

My maternal grandmother made several pies a week, every week, for much of her life.  My grandfather didn't feel like he'd had a meal if there wasn't a dessert, so my grandmother made a variety of desserts for each day of the week.  Pies were his favorite.  I'm old enough to remember when my grandmother used lard for her pie crusts, and lard really does produce an amazingly flaky crust. 

After my grandfather died, when I still lived in South Carolina, I tried to go see her at least once a month.  I remember a time that she made sweet potato pie.  I thought it was pumpkin pie, and I didn't hide my surprise well.  She interpreted my surprise to mean that I didn't like her pie, and nothing I could say would convince her that it was a perfectly fine pie.  

Sadly, she was the type to remember those things.  Everything she served me a pumpkin pie, she'd remind me of the time that I didn't like her sweet potato pie.  If I could go back in time and redo my actions, I'd have a long list of time travel to do, but one of the stops would be at my grandmother's table with an untasted piece of sweet potato pie in front of me.

This morning, I've been thinking about that pie as a different kind of metaphor.  Some days we get sweet potato pie when we thought we'd get pumpkin pie.  It's fairly close to what we wanted:  same spices, same nutritional profile, same structure.  And maybe, if we give it a chance, we'll discover that we like it just as well or better.

Yes, it's probably a metaphor that's been done to death.

This morning, I was also thinking about God as the deity who brings us sweet potato pie.  We might be wishing for pumpkin or apple, but there is God, with sweet potato pie, an earthier cousin to the other pies.  There is God with fresh whipped cream.  There is God with a handmade crust that's flakier than anything we've ever tasted.

We might protest and worry about those 5-10 pandemic pounds we've picked up.  We may think about past Thanksgivings when we had a more athletic physique.  We may think that we can't afford the calories.

I think of God and God's sweet potato pie, all the nourishment that we refuse, all the love in the form of a pie that we think we can't absorb.   

I think of all the ways we make God sad.

Now, of course, I have a craving for pie.  I'd like to stay home and bake, but I'll be headed off to work.  It's been over two decades since I went to work on the Wednesdays before Thanksgiving.

Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Not Driving on Thanksgiving Tuesday

I had not planned to be at my desk, writing a blog post.  I had planned to be on the road already.  I had planned to get my spouse up at an ungodly hour to make our way to the family gathering in the North Carolina mountains.  We had planned to have a normal Thanksgiving, in a ramshackle house, multiple generations from across the southeast, gathering at Lutheridge, the church camp that has meant so much to so many members of my family.

For most of the past 2 decades, the Tuesday before Thanksgiving has been a travel day.  A few years, we flew, but most years, we drove.  We drove the kind of twelve hour long drive that I won't really miss, but Saturday will be the grueling travel day that I'll really not miss.  Tuesday's travel was leavened with the knowledge of a wonderful Thanksgiving ahead. 

I'll miss the opportunity for heart to heart conversations with my spouse--long car trips have often been a reconnecting point for us.  I'll miss the change in scenery as it whizzes by the window. I'll miss the inspirations I've often gotten for new writing projects.

I won't miss the feeling of exhaustion that comes from hours and hours on the highway when one is starting from a point of tiredness.  I won't miss the getting behind that happens when one leaves for a chunk of time so close to the end of the academic term.

I made this Facebook post at the Create in Me page:  "Many of us won't be travelling to see family or friends. Many of us will be creating a scaled down Thanksgiving. Maybe we can use the time we won't be travelling, the time we won't be cooking and cleaning, to claim some creative time that we wouldn't have had in a normal year. Let's make lemonade out of lemons that 2020 has given us."

It's good advice for us all.

Monday, November 23, 2020

Southeast Synod (ELCA) Advent Craft Day

 I realize that I haven't ever created a post about the Advent craft day I participated in on Sunday, November 15.  One of my Create in Me friends was asked to create a Synod-wide Zoom meeting where we would do crafts together.  They were simple crafts, the type you could do with small children.  We had a supply list, and the supplies were fairly cheap.

By now, most people in the industrialized world have a sense of what a Zoom meeting is like, so imagine that, along with breakout sessions where we actually created together.  

My breakout session group included 2 women with small children, so we didn't make use of the discussion questions provided to us; the mothers had enough to do corralling the wandering attention of the pre-schoolers.

The first thing we made was a prayer jar; we tore tissue paper and glued it onto jars.  I found it much messier than I anticipated.

We were also encouraged to take our popsicle sticks and put activities on there for Advent.  Then we could pull one out of the jar each day and do the activity.  We could do the same thing with prayers, with people/processes to pray for, or Bible readings for each day of Advent (the supply list has Bible verses and possible activities).

Then we did a Zentangling exercise.  I have tried Zentangling before at Create in Me retreats, and I don't find them as soothing and meditative as some do.  Still, I was able to create a zentangle:

Then we did Nativity story stones.  Here's the picture that was sent out to inspire us:

It quickly became apparent that I hadn't chosen stones that were large enough, but I did create one that I really liked:

You might ask what we would do with Nativity Story Stones.  You could carry one with you and meditate on its meaning.  You could tell the story and use the stones as story prompts.  One of my small group members talked about how wonderful it will be to have a Nativity set that children are encouraged to touch; they have an antique set that her children long to touch, but the mom doesn't want to risk the destruction.

You could do something similar with popsicle sticks and markers.  I created one of the 3 kings:

We spent two hours together, in virtual space, creating together while still staying distanced.  In fact, we were very distanced, as we had people Zooming in even outside of the southeastern states of the U.S.  It was a cool experience.  And because it was a Zoom meeting, it was recorded.  Go here to see the recording.

It was good to be reminded of how we can use technology to enhance our lives, our spiritual development, our fellowship opportunities, our creativity.  I hope we remember once we are no longer as constrained by the pandemic.

Sunday, November 22, 2020

Metaphors in Cancellations

Before the pandemic, we were making Christmas plans--my mom had a great deal on a villa in Ft. Lauderdale, so she grabbed it.  She had hopes that she would be able to find a great deal on an additional villa before Christmas.  Earlier this week, she found one and grabbed it.

That was before the CDC offered their guidelines on canceling travel for Thanksgiving.  I think all of my family members wondered if there would be a similar guideline/warning just before Christmas, when it would be too late to cancel many of our travel plans (by which I mean too late to cancel and get any money back).

We've all been doing lots of reading about this disease, and we have a high degree of science literacy in my family.  We are not the kind of family who has been in denial about who is at risk and who's not.  By the end of the week, we were talking about whether or not we should cancel our Christmas plans.

We decided to cancel.  

When I think about yesterday, a Saturday in late November in 2020, I will remember that phone conversation.  It wasn't particularly traumatic.  I think we all knew we were headed to that decision.  But it does feel significant.

It was a bit surreal to have that conversation and then to watch several hours of Thanksgiving cooking shows on the PBS Create channel.  I took a long nap and woke up and wondered if we'd really had that conversation.  Had we really canceled our Christmas get together?

It's a shame that we didn't have this epiphany a week ago, before my mom snagged the extra villa.  It's interesting to track these epiphanies.  On Tuesday, my mom had called to tell me the good news of the extra villa.  By Saturday, we were canceling.

It seems like a metaphor for the entire year.

Saturday, November 21, 2020

Welcome New Piano!

Yesterday afternoon, we welcomed a new instrument into our household of many instruments:  a piano!  Our friends were moving and needed to find it a new home.  They had gotten the piano from another mutual friend who was moving across the U.S. and couldn't take it with him.

I have wanted a piano for a long time.  When my grandmother moved into an assisted living facility, I wanted to bring her upright piano down to me, but it didn't work out that time.  When my mother-in-law lay dying, I got a Casio keyboard, but that wasn't exactly what I wanted--I could never get it to sound like a piano.  I never found a stand for it, so to practice on it, often I leaned over a coffee table.

I like a piano for many reasons--it stays set up, so practicing here and there should be easy.  It's not like they keyboard where I'd need to pull it down, dust it off, plug it in.  I'm hoping that I'll practice the piano even if I only have 10 minutes.

It's a smallish piano, an upright that's not as tall as most uprights.  It doesn't take up nearly as much room as I expected that it would.  I need to talk to my musician friends to get a reference for a piano tuner, but even out of tune, it's got a good tone.

I hope that having a piano that's in tune will make it easier to tune our other instruments, particularly the mandolin.  My spouse has several digital tuners, but I don't find them very easy.

But most of all, I want to play again.  I took several years of lessons as a child, so I can read music.  I can play the right hand easily, less so the left, and putting both hands together is a challenge--but a fun challenge.

I love the idea that I'll be challenging my brain in a way that's more fun for me than Sudoko or learning a foreign language (although I do want to learn a foreign language).  I love the idea that I'm getting in touch with something my younger self knew how to do.

It's a bit battered, but I find that to be part of its charm.  Much of our furniture has history, so it fits right in.

Welcome new piano!  I am so glad you've found your way to us.

Friday, November 20, 2020

Mepkin Abbey Reopening

 This week, I got an e-mail that let me know that Mepkin Abbey is open to retreatants during the month of December.  I'm assuming that they're trying this approach in December, and if it works well, they'll continue to offer private retreats into 2021.

But it's going to be a very different experience.  Meals will be brought to retreatants, which will be eaten in each retreatant's room.  I could adapt to that part fairly easily, although I did like the feeling of being part of the monastery community when I ate in the refectory back in the pre-pandemic days.

The monastery chapel is still closed to all but the monks.  Eucharist, Lauds, and Vespers will be streamed to the library conference room. The actual elements for the sacrament of eucharist will be brought to the library entrance.  I've been in the conference room before, and worshipping there would be very different from being in the chapel.  I would REALLY miss the Compline service.

One set of rules that I read said that masks must be worn at all times on the grounds except when eating.  The thought of wearing a mask as I walked around the grounds--well, it would be December, so it wouldn't be as miserable as during the warmer months. 

Clearly, it will be a very different retreat experience.  I think back on all the reasons why I've loved going to Mepkin Abbey on retreat, and some of those reasons would still be there.  I have loved having time to focus on writing and reading, and that aspect would still be there.  I've loved having time to ramble around the beautiful grounds, and for the most part, that opportunity would still be there, although I do wonder if the experience would be different while masked.

But one of the aspects I have always treasured is the opportunity to be part of every worship service, all 7-9 of them.  I love the way the rhythm of the Psalms sinks into my brain because I spend so much of every retreat chanting them with the monks.  That aspect will be reduced and perhaps eliminated.

When I went to quilt camp, I knew that one of the advantages I would have is that I hadn't been to quilt camp before.  It was going to be a different quilt camp regardless.  Previous quilt camps had been offered during the same time that Asheville hosted an enormous quilt show, so there were trips to the convention center.  This year, the quilt show was cancelled.

I wouldn't have that advantage of not having expectations if I returned to Mepkin.  But I have wondered if Mepkin would ever reopen, under any circumstance, so I am grateful to see that they seem to be on that road.  I am also grateful that they are still protecting the health of the monks, many of whom are quite elderly.  

We need those monks praying for us.  We may not all realize it, but we do.

Thursday, November 19, 2020

Technology Triumphs and Failures

 --On Tuesday, I posted a link to my Hilda of Whitby post on both Twitter and Facebook.  I was so pleased when the Whitby Civic Society like my tweet.  It's a small thing, I know, but it delighted me.

--Yesterday, I got to work to find that we had no internet.  It's becoming quite usual.  I have work that I consciously save for days when we have no internet.  Since our internet was not restored until just after noon, I made a lot of progress on action plans and faculty forms that must be filled out annually and that must match (which is why I do it--it's easier and takes less time than sending forms back to faculty to be done and redone).  I spent the afternoon feeling discombobulated, as the day wasn't what I had anticipated.

--I got so much done, though, without the distractions of the internet.  Plus, I hadn't brought a book with me.  If we continue to have weeks where the internet goes down regularly, I'll need to remember to bring a book.  I'll have all the forms done, all the reports and action plans written, all the drawers holding old paperwork sorted.

--I thought I might get some framing done this week; I had a great JoAnns coupon.  But not every JoAnns has a framing department.  When I called the one that does, the person on the phone said, "Our store is closed, and we don't know when we'll reopen."  Her voice cracked, and I said, "You mean like closed closed?"  She told me that they might open again after January, but she just didn't know.  I apologized, and later I wondered why they didn't just change the message that greets phone callers.  Was the information that new?

--We hit a grim corona virus milestone:  We've had 250,000 die in the U.S., and this new disease is now the 3rd leading cause of death, if we lump all cancers together (which would make cancer the 2nd leading cause of death, and I'm fairly sure that heart disease is the first leading cause of death).  It's sobering, however, to realize how many people have died in such a short time, just 9 months.

--This morning, I heard this statistic on NPR, that no other event of the past 100 years (except perhaps for the 1918 flu) that has created more carnage in the U.S.  We could argue that it depends on how we define carnage--we're not quite at the number of U.S. dead in World War II.  But that was only 290,000 dead, so we'll be there soon.

  --And of course, also heavy on my mind is that a week from now will be Thanksgiving.  What a strange time.

Wednesday, November 18, 2020

COVID Diary: Month 8

Eight months ago, in March, it was becoming clear that we were headed towards some kind of lockdown.  By way of Twitter and Facebook postings, I was hearing of shortages, particularly flour and yeast.  I was reading about the over the counter medications we might want to have on hand, just in case.  Early one Saturday morning, I went to the Wal-Mart Neighborhood Market and stocked up on as much as I could.  Some of that food we still have, dried beans primarily.

Perhaps it's good that I still have those supplies.  Here it is, eight months later, and there are rumors of more lockdowns to come.  Unlike 8 months ago, I don't expect National Guard troops keeping us in our houses.  However, I'm still buying in bulk, just so that I don't have to go to stores as often.

Those who know me know that I always bought in bulk--I've never wanted to go to the grocery store more often.  I've always been expecting an apocalypse.

I confess that this apocalypse was not the one I planned for.  In terms of disease apocalypse narratives, I'd have been expecting something more lethal.  But in terms of plot, this one is a doozy:  something so contagious and experienced in such different ways.

As I think about where we are now and where we were in March, I think about the supply of sketchbooks that I bought; I've sketched my way through them all.  I think about my trip to the library on the last day the public libraries would be open.  They have only just re-opened.

But I also think about our academic call last week.  As we were talking about Student Appreciation week and the ways we might think about those activities differently, I saw several e-mails come through, each one talking about a student who had possible exposure to COVID-19.  So far, thankfully, each student has either tested negative or hadn't been to school because we've still been operating remotely, as much as we can.

Still it was that surreal milestone:  3 students, from 3 different programs, all in danger.  And to be fair, the exposure didn't come from school.  We are all moving out in the world a bit more, and the exposure came from a work situation or an infected family member.

My skin has been breaking out in itchy bumps, which might be allergies or stress or heat rash.  Just one more strange milestone of these COVID times.

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

The Inspirations of Saint Hilda on Her Feast Day

Today is the feast day of Saint Hilda of Whitby (614-680).  For a more factual essay on her and why we should remember her, see this post on my theology blog. 

For those of us who are English majors, we might be most grateful to Saint Hilda for her encouragement of Caedmon, one of the earliest English poets who makes it into anthologies; some call him the first British poet. Many give her credit for encouraging the stories from the Bible put into song and spoken stories in ordinary language of the people who would hear it.

But Caedmon is only the most famous artist she encouraged.  There were surely more that we have never heard of.  She created institutions in the form of monasteries that were centers of education and the arts.  She had keen administrative skills.

And she also had the ability to reconcile groups that were not in a mood to be reconciled.  It's a vitally important skill to have if one wants to run a monastery.  But she was also able to use those skills in the larger culture, as England transitioned from pagan beliefs to Christian ones, as Christians tried to decide which traditions to keep and which to cast away.

As with so many of the ancient saints who found monasteries, abbeys, and other types of communities, I'm in awe of her--she did so much, in a harsh landscape (both literal and metaphorical), and her resources were more limited than mine.

Last night, some whisps of a poem came to me as I slept, but I don't have time to do much with them today.  But let me record them for later.  They had to do with being in a tropical climate, thinking about an ancient saint on a faraway shore.  Was I also thinking about the skills of reconciliation being so important to us both?  I look at ancient church disagreements--Roman vs. Celtic, Roman vs. Orthodox--and I can't fathom why people are fighting.  Surely our descendants will feel the same way.

In many ways, Hilda was far from the important power structures of her day.  As I write, I realize how little I know about this time period.  After looking at some Internet sites, I realize I knew even less than I thought.  

Hilda was born about 140 years after the collapse of the Roman empire--did she feel the threat from the Vikings across the sea?  It's likely because of those invaders that we know so little about her, as they destroyed all that she had built.  She lived during a time of Muslim expansion, although she wouldn't have known about that.  

So yes, she was far from power structures, although it seemed to have been a time of crumbling power structures--that concept is not foreign to many of us.

Let me let these ideas percolate and see what bubbles up.  Poetry Goddess, I am ready to receive!


Monday, November 16, 2020

The Joys of Last Week

In  Saturday's post, I talked about the week's gloominess and my weariness.  But I also want to remember that the past week had some good points too.

I was able to create a video sermon, the kind I've been creating since Pentecost.  I love creating short videos that I string together.  I love the ways that I'm inspired as I take my early morning walk.  This week's sermon had some videos where it was hard to hear my voice because it was so windy.  I'm pleased with how I worked around that. 

The video is too long to insert here, but you can view my sermon on Elizabeth at my YouTube channel.

This morning, I also want to remember that I've gotten positive feedback for the morning watch sessions I've been leading each morning at 5:30 a.m. through my church's Facebook page. I have trouble figuring out how to interpret the statistics that Facebook gives me as the administrator of my church's Facebook page. What exactly is an engagement? When it says that x amount of people have been reached, what does that mean? I'm guessing that an engagement means a certain amount of time that people have lingered--or does it mean that people have clicked to make the video play?

I always go back to check the comments that people post to morning watch. From the comments and from the people who I can see watching as I do the live broadcast, I know that at least 4 people tune in regularly.

At the end of Friday's morning watch, I talked about thinking about what we want more of and what we want less of--I talked about the delights of my sketch book and the value of doing a sketch every morning for five minutes, often the only time I'm sketching. I talked about what delights us also delighting God, that God put us on earth not to finish our chore list. Does it bring us delight? That's a good barometer--what brings us true joy? I talked about treasuring the time to do morning watch and the time to sketch each day.

One of my constant viewers said, "I also treasure Morning Watch." Another one wrote, "For me as rewarding as Church."

I wanted to record this feedback here, because finding past material on Facebook isn't always easy. I want to remember that what I'm doing is worthwhile.



Saturday, November 14, 2020

Credit for Shoes that Match

I often experience tiredness as the time changes--right after that fall back each year, I want to go to bed at 7 or 7:30, toddler hours.  This year, my tiredness waited a week.  This past week has been the one where I could hardly keep my eyes open once the sun set and darkness came.

It's been a gloomy week.  I thought that once we had an answer about the presidential election, I'd feel buoyed.  But instead I just feel worn out.

It's been gloomy in terms of our weather too.  We've had a tropical storm in the metaphorical neighborhood all week, and it's been a mix of rain and clouds.  Ordinarily I'd like this kind of weather, but when one has flooding worries, it's a different experience.

There's been gloomy news about the pandemic as cases increase, and we reach grim milestone after grim milestone.

On top of it all, we had our air conditioner quit working.  Yes, in November, we had the AC running full time, so at least we knew when it conked out.  And it wasn't a cheap fix, but we run the AC most of the year, so we went forward with the repair.

This morning, as I was fixing coffee, I thought back to our grad school years when we couldn't afford good coffee as our daily coffee.  Those were pre-Starbucks days, when good coffee meant the flavored coffees that we got at The Gourmet Shoppe in Five Points in Columbia, SC, or at the Fresh Market.  Now I have a sudden longing to go to the Fresh Market.  I should resist that urge.

I've also spent the week feeling a fierce nostalgia for past times--some of them not very long ago, like our trip to Hilton Head in September or my quilting retreat in October.  I'm fighting off depression each day because I had expected to be looking forward to a family Thanksgiving, but this year, we're taking the wiser course of action and not gathering in person.

In short, it's been a week where I've felt that progress that I've made has been slipping.  I've been trying to treat myself gently, trying to convince myself that doing the tasks that need to be done each day is enough.  These are the days when I feel like I should be congratulated for wearing shoes that match my outfit--or for wearing shoes that match.

It seems that the whole world may be feeling the same way.  So I say, congratulations--you've got shoes that match, and that's good enough for days like these.

Friday, November 13, 2020

Particles and Waves, Galaxies and Cells

 I've been in another online journaling class offered by the Grunewald Guild.  It follows a similar pattern as the others:  we're reading a common book, we're sketching and putting our sketches online in a private Facebook group, and we meet periodically in a Zoom session to talk about it all.  This class is making our way through Barbara A. Holmes' Race and the Cosmos.  We're using the second edition, which Holmes tells us (in a foreward) that she's completely redone in the wake of revelations/discoveries in the 20 years since the first edition was published.

Some of us immediately started doing watercolor galaxies--a quick "how to" search will show you that creating watercolor galaxies is quite a thing right now.  I watched one of the videos that had inspired one of our group members, and I wasn't inspired to do my own watercolor galaxy.  However, as you will see, I'm doing an approach to galaxies of my own.

On pages 80-82 of the book, there's some interesting theology that mixes cosmic dust, communion, and the cosmos.  There's this quote by David Toolan on p. 82 that gives you a taste of the larger material:  "Swallow this, Jesus effectively declares, I am God's promise for the elements, the exemplary inside of nature, its secret wish fulfilled.  Assume my role.  Swallow me and you will have taken in what God imagines for matter--that it be spirited and at peace."

So to the sketch above, which I thought of as a moon or a planet, I added the cross in the middle that made me think of the eucharist host, the disc of bread, the wafer.

I really liked the effect of the white acrylic ink mixed with the colored markers, so I continued to experiment with the next sketch:

I also wanted to do something to illuminate this quote from Barbara Brown Taylor:  "God is the web, the energy, the space, the light--not captured in them . . . but revealed in that singular vast net of relationship that animates everything that is" (quoted on p. 81, original quote from Taylor's work, The Luminous Web:  Essays on Science and Religion).  I added the thin, black lines thinking I was creating a web, but I also liked the stained glass effect:

For my next sketch, I wanted a smaller, white circle.  I was still thinking about communion and the wafer, but also the cell, also an embryo:

I added the dots because I was also thinking about this quote from David Toolan:  "the everlasting desire of cosmic dust to mean something great and God's promise that it shall be so" (p. 82).  I also wrote a haiku-like thing:

Desire of dust
God gathers the scraps of stars
Secret wish fulfilled

I liked the small, white blob, so I wanted to do something with a larger circle in my next sketch.  By this point, the book was talking about particles and waves, so my brain went in that direction.  I love the overall sketch, but I really love seeing what each black marker can do:

It's been a fun series, and I don't think I'm done yet.  I love when sketches speak to each other, when the work of others in a journaling class start talking to each other, of how we can respond to a book in this way.

As Barbara A. Holmes says, "When we are fully alert in spirit, mind, and body, we are more than we imagine and can accomplish more than we suppose" (p. 45).

Thursday, November 12, 2020

November Gratitudes, in an Attempt not to Feel Irritated

I have been awake since about 2 a.m.  I got up around midnight to turn the AC down.  It was 78 degrees, and the thermostat was set at 77.  I thought it was odd, but I hoped that the AC would kick on soon, because I had turned the thermostat down to 74 degrees.

Two hours later, and nothing had happened.  I fiddled with the thermostat some more, but with no expectation that the AC would kick on.  The AC has not kicked on.

Wait, that's not true.  Strangely, around 4:45, the system did kick on, but no cool air (or air of any temperature) came through the vents.  And then, 5 minutes later, the system shut off, as if it had done its job and could rest.

And yes, I see the metaphor here.  How often am I resting, thinking I've done my job, but having moved no air through the vents? 

Of course, it's hard for me to rest, as the house gets more humid, so I just went ahead and got up.  I knew I had lots of grading to catch up on, and so, I did.  I also did some laundry.  I played with an idea for a poem--I started with a negation of a line, "The heart is not a lonely hunter."  I can't decide if the poem has potential, so I'll put it aside.

Am I being the AC right now, thinking the work is done, but needing to do a bit more?  Have I not even done the work at all?

It is November.  I am trying not to think about the fact that it is November, and I am still having to think about the AC.  But at least tropical storm Eta didn't circle back around and hit us again.

It is November, and I am feeling gratitude about a tropical storm.  And it is November.


Wednesday, November 11, 2020

Veterans Day, Armistice Day, and Grace Extended

It is Veterans Day, and chunks of the nation fight over election results.  I envision election officials who continue counting, as they surely must be, because all the votes must be counted, even when they won't change the results of the election.  I worry about the long-term implications of all of this, but at the same time, the country has suffered many an assault and survived.  It's not as orderly as I would like, but the older I get, the more I find myself muttering such things.

It is Armistice Day, and I think of everyone who survived World War I, the veterans, those left behind, the grieving, the landscape itself.  I think of the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month.  I think of all the scorched earth that we must repair.  I have loaded the towels in the washing machine, the towels that I put in the sills of all the windows that leak, the towels that were necessary because of a tropical storm in November.  I wish that we could sign an armistice with the climate, but here, too, it's probably too late.  The planet will survive, but will we recognize it in a few decades?

Today I am thinking about a different November 11, a week-end that feels very long ago now, when I was at Mepkin Abbey.  On the Sunday of that 3 day week-end, the Abbey buried its former abbot, Abbot Francis Kline, who had been taken early by leukemia, a tough blow. Part of one of the services was out in the monks' cemetery, and all the retreatants were invited out with the monks.  It was access to the private area that retreatants almost never get.

The cemetery was simple, as befits a monastery.  I was struck by the way that the simple crosses reminded me of the French World War I cemeteries:

I took the above picture from the visitor side of the grounds, but it gives you a sense of the burial area.

Later that Sunday, there was a concert and a reception for donors who keep the monastery going.  It was a bit jarring, to see the shift from a monastery that's silent so much of the time to a party atmosphere.

This year, when it seems like so much of what we could count on has crumbled into dust, it's good to remember the monastic traditions.  It's good to remember that institutions can survive despite long odds.  It's good to remember that institutions that seem out of step can actually be important in securing what has been important to civilization.

Of course, we may not fully understand the implications at the time.  We may not know what's being saved.  We may not see who is doing the saving.  But we can rest in the knowledge that the important work is being done.

Do I really believe this?  Most days.

I'm a person who believes in the idea of grace, the idea of salvation that's freely offered, even before we think to ask for it.  Most days, I interpret that concept through a theological lens, a narrow, theological lens.  These days, I'm hoping it also has wider implications.

Tuesday, November 10, 2020

Record Setting Storm Season

And now we have set a new record--there's a new storm, Theta, which now means that 2020 has had more storms than 2005, the year that set the last record.

We had a very stormy week-end, particularly Sunday, as tropical storm Eta churned our way.  We were 130 miles away from the center of the storm at one point, and we had already seen over a foot of rain.

We didn't close the campus although all of our Monday classes were held virtually.  I was able to get to campus yesterday to find that there had been water intrusion in some rooms (where we usually have water intrusion) and no internet.  I stayed for a bit, in case there were students who hadn't gotten the message.  But no one else came to campus--or to the building at all.  So I locked the few doors that were open, reset the alarm, and came home, where I had internet and electricity.

This post will be brief, as I must now head to work.  I am grateful to have come out of Eta relatively unscathed.  Others in the area were not as lucky.  It was an astonishing amount of rain from a system that wasn't really close to us.

Sunday, November 8, 2020

When Dreams Come True

I didn't think the vote counting in the U.S. presidential election would be done yesterday; in fact, the counting still continues, but now we know that Biden has won both the electoral college and the popular contests.

Careful readers of this blog know that I'm happy about this election, happy tempered with much concern.  I understand that many people voted for Trump in 2016 because they wanted a change.  In 2020, my question remains, "Is this the change you wanted?"

As I think about my voting life, I almost always vote for change.  This morning, let me celebrate the changes that we're witnessing:

--First female vice president

--First female of color vice president 

--First child of immigrants elected as VP

--First Jewish spouse of VP

--Oldest candidate elected

--Community college professor first lady--an English teacher!  She's also taught high school and special needs children.

That last entry keeps bubbling up in my mind.  We've had educated people at the top levels of government before, but we've had very few career educators there, and even fewer who worked in non-elite institutions.

I don't imagine the anti-education mood of the nation will vanish, but it's a relief to know that there are people headed to the White House who take education seriously--and not seriously in a gate keeping, only the worthy deserve education kind of way.

I'm also intrigued by Joe Biden's decades long attempts to be president.  His first attempt came when I was starting grad school, back in 1987.  Then it was a plagiarism charge that undid his campaign.  I would never have dreamed that he could recover from that.

As someone who has for decades been dreaming of publication for one of my book length manuscripts, I am heartened by the narrative that sometimes, those dreams can come true.

This morning, I'm heartened by the larger dreams that have come true:  the U.S. people have voted for a woman of color for their V.P.  The dreams of many an ancestor have come true.

Let us keep dreaming.

Saturday, November 7, 2020

First Week of November: Fear and Gratitude

Here we are, Saturday of election week, vote counting continuing.  There are still chores to be done, so sheets are in the washer and the sourdough starter is warming up on the counter.  We are under a tropical storm watch, the latest in a hurricane season that I remember being under watch conditions in years, if not decades, if not ever.

Yesterday our internet at school went out at 11:45, and it hadn't come back on by the time I left.  It was strange to spend the whole afternoon unable to check on much--I am one of the last people in the U.S. who hasn't bought a smart phone, so I couldn't check that way.

In a way it was peaceful.  I had work that didn't need the Internet, so I did some of that--updating the faculty forms that we update once a year.  This year, I'm doing it for my faculty members because I have their forms stored electronically, and in many ways, it's easier for me to just do it so that all the forms match in the ways that pass muster.  I'd rather faculty members focus on teaching and helping students than to spend hours on these forms.

It's been a strange week with grief and fear zapping me in strange ways.  I feel this deep sorrow that our Thanksgiving plans with extended family members have been scuttled.  I know it's the right thing to do, but I still feel this grief.  I was expecting different election results, and even though I knew we might not have results for days, it's still strange to me.

My larger fear isn't about this election and this set of possible leaders, but further down the road.  Trump has shown us some of the weaknesses of our political system, some of the ways we could be vulnerable to someone who wanted to grab more power than the office is supposed to allow.  I've been grateful that Trump has been an ineffective dictator.  But with that gratitude comes the fear that the next person who decides to move from president to dictator will have learned some important lessons.  This article at The Atlantic website does this analysis in a much more researched way than I have.

But let me focus on a more happy gratitude.  My quilt group that cannot meet in person will have a Zoom meeting this morning.  Let me get ready.

Friday, November 6, 2020

Days of Binder Clip Repairs

On Tuesday, I made this Facebook post:  "Even with an election distracting me, there are still college administrator tasks that must be done. I fixed the toilet chain with a binder clip when I discovered that the metal part that attaches the chain to the handle was corroded so much that there was no longer a hole that would hold the chain in place. Another one for the 'things I never learned in grad school to prepare me for my academic job' file."

I am happy to report that the binder clip fix is still working.  I am weary with the realization that we will likely have the binder clip holding the chain until the building crumbles into dust.  My campus rents space from an owner who fixes the landscaping but leaves the gaping cracks in the edifice for all to see.

As we've been waiting for election results, and as I've been using that toilet throughout the week, I've been thinking about that binder clip as a metaphor for our election process.  Or maybe it's the whole flushing apparatus that's the metaphor.  It's old and rusted through in parts, but we still make it work.

Or maybe I'm comforted by a different metaphor.  We could wait for someone to come along and fix the rusted mechanisms of the nation--or we could do it ourselves.  We may not have the right tools.  We may not be able to get to the store to buy a new mechanism and do a replacement.  But we can look around, see what we have, and repurpose it to make a fix that lasts.

And so another day of waiting.  There are moments when I think we all may be safer in this liminal time when each side thinks they may still have a chance of winning, and therefore are less likely to take up arms.

Thursday, November 5, 2020

"Midlife Spells" for the Day after the Day after Election Day

I found it hard to concentrate yesterday; I suspect I was not alone.  But I did get to our new faculty member's class; our accrediting agency requires that new faculty hires be observed in their first 30 days.  And while I was there, I got an idea for a poem, which I will start this morning.

It's not the first time that I've been observing a class and gotten an inspiration.  

For today, let me post a poem that got its birth in a different way.  On January 6, 2019, I made this sketch:

Careful readers may have already noted that January 6 is the Feast Day of the Epiphany.  Other readers will note the houses made of gingerbread and either think of Christmas cookies or Hansel and Gretel.

I went on a hunt to figure out which came first, the poem or the sketch.  I was surprised to see how many baked goods are in my poetry drafts at the end of 2018 and the beginning of 2019, all kinds of baked goods and crumbs of baked goods.  I still haven't found the original poem.

I almost always write my first drafts on purple legal pads.  I make revisions and then I make additional revisions as I type the poem into the computer.  I did type this poem into the computer on January 7, 2019, so it's probably older than I thought.  I almost never write a first draft and type the next day.

Still on my quest for the origins of the poem, I went to blog posts and found this one.  Now I have the glimmering of a memory.  I think I wrote the poem on scrap paper at church.

And now the poem has found a home in the literary journal Adanna.  I'm always happy when that journal accepts my work.

It seems a good poem for this day when so much remains uncertain.  And lately, every day feels like a day when so much remains uncertain.

Midlife Spells

Some see the new star as they study
the skies each night. Some find
a trail of crumbs made from inedible
heels and crusts, or larger meanings in the detritus
of daily consumption. Angel choirs
will sing to a few, but most of us
will hear no message.

Study the texts, the ancient
ones and those composed
by your compatriots.
Pray the words in your ancestors’
book, a litany in words both strange
and familiar. Write the codes
on the soles of your most rugged shoes.

Collect your treasures, the buttons
from your grandmother’s blouse, her ring
that fits on your slimmest finger.
Keep the best recipes and the best photos.
Cast away the clothes that never fit.
You can have one shelf of books.

Winnow your possessions down
to your favorites and your constants.
Avoid the houses made of gingerbread
and all the traps the world will set.
Make your way through the forest
of enchantments with the protections
only you can carry.

Wednesday, November 4, 2020

The Day After the 2020 Election, with the Winner Yet to be Determined

Well, this is not the morning after the election that I was expecting.  I truly expected a Biden landslide, and while I knew that we might have to wait a few days for ballots to be counted, I thought there was a good chance that we'd know a Biden landslide was coming early on election night.

Right now, the race for president is still not settled and may not be for days.  It's a much closer race than most of us expected (or at least, most of the people whom I know personally and whom I read).  Why does it always surprise me to discover how deeply divided the U.S. is?

I also did not expect to wake up to find myself in the cone of a possible storm.  I made this Facebook post this morning:   "Well, obsessively following this election has been interesting, but I must now turn my attention to Hurricane Eta. South Florida is now directly in the cone of a hurricane that's already set records for strength and landfalls late in the season. Woe comes in so many flavors this year."

And so here we are, all of us who have gambled by continuing to live near a coastline.  Here we are, all of us who voted and who wait.   Trump has declared himself a winner, as he said he would do. But the counting continues, and I have no idea who is likely to be a winner at the end. Right now, it feels like we're all losers on the cusp of losing something even more essential--like gamblers who have lost more than they could afford to who then decide to make one last huge gamble, to bet all the remaining money one last time.

But let me talk myself back from the edge of this abyss.  Let me remind myself of the record number of people who turned out to vote.  Let me remind myself of all the kindnesses that I've seen people show to each other in past weeks and months and years.

Let me also remind myself that repressive regimes do come to an end, sooner or later.  But let me also acknowledge how easy it is to become the thing we've been fighting against.

Let me take a larger view and remember that neither party offered a deeply compelling view of the future.  If they had, they would have won.  Let me not get bogged down.  Let me dream new dreams and visions.

Tuesday, November 3, 2020

Election Day 2020 with Gale Force Winds and a Halloween Golf Cart

It is very early on election morning; it's been a night of gale warnings and wind and things going bump in the night.  The winds have ushered the cold front to our area.  You folks in the further northern states hear the words "cold front" and think of snow on the pumpkins, but our autumn cold fronts aren't like that.  Yesterday evening as I walked from my office building to the car, I didn't sweat the way I did in the morning--that's how I knew the weather had changed.

The wind crashing through the palm trees, rattling the windows in their frames, making it impossible to tell if  the noises mean a serious threat in the dark or a harmless plastic flower pot--this wind seems like a good metaphor for election day, at least for this election day.

Many of the essayists I'm reading and the tweets I'm seeing are treating this election as if it's the last word that will plunge us into apocalypse or pull us out of the abyss.  I know that we have challenges ahead, challenges that we already know and those that we can't possibly anticipate.

I have been watching and listening to this version of Woody Guthrie's "All You Fascists Bound to Lose."  The song reminds me that humanity has survived tough times before.  We'll survive this too, although we may not be able to hang onto all the things we loved before.  I'm hoping that this time of winnowing makes us appreciate what we do still have.  I'm hoping that good art comes out of it.  I'm hoping that we love more fiercely.

I'm heartened by signs that although it may seem like the apocalypse is here, we are on a path to voter turnout like we haven't seen since 1908.  Yes, over a century.  Because of the pandemic, we have made it easier to vote.  And thus, people have voted.  For politics nerds like me, who always argued that we'd have more voter turnout if we actually encouraged voting instead of putting up blocks to voting, it's been fascinating to see this situation play out.

Here's one thing making me happy this week, another sign that the end may not be as close as we think.  At some point over the past week-end, I noticed a golf cart in my neighbor's driveway.  It had a tarp over it, but I didn't think much about it, since our forecast called for rain.  On Sunday afternoon (Nov. 1), I noticed that it had been decorated for Halloween:

But wait, it gets better.  At night, the lights glow and twinkle: 

I need a better picture, but you get the idea.  

Last night, I watched the father of the neighborhood take his children for a ride.  I thought about the world we live in, the world where we can't take our children to have the same trick-or-treating experiences that we had as children.  But if we persevere, if we apply our creative skills, we can create a new world which might be better or it might just be different.  

As long as parents decorate golf carts for their children, I'll take it as a sign that the world isn't ending. 

Monday, November 2, 2020

Plague Cancellations

Last night my immediate family had a Zoom meeting; we needed to decide what to do about Thanksgiving.  Since 1994, we've gathered once a year, either at Christmas or Thanksgiving.  For the past twenty some odd years, it's been Thanksgiving, always at Lutheridge, usually at the biggest house on the camp property.  It feels like coming home, whether I'm arriving with a car load or by plane. 

This year, we'll all be staying in our primary homes.  I am not surprised we made this decision, although I did wake up several times in the night wondering if it was the right one, even though I know that it is the right one.

In an ideal world, if we wanted to be together, we'd arrive 10-14 days early and quarantine before we'd report to the house at Lutheridge where we could be together.  Most of my family members don't have lives where we can do that.

And then, some of us would need to quarantine for 14 days after we gathered--that would mean working from home, if it could be done, and some of us don't have those kinds of jobs.

We thought about ways to gather safely without quarantine--with masks, without masks, sleeping in other places so that we weren't sharing the same air for as many hours, keeping 6 feet between us always.  But in the end, the risks outweighed the benefits, at least this year of rising COVID-19 rates, no vaccine, no cure, very little in the way of alleviating symptoms if one isn't the leader of a wealthy country.

I feel a mix of emotions, most of them in the sad-resigned-sadder spectrum.  I know it's wise.  I know we'll likely be able to gather next year.  I do worry that other events will intervene.  I do worry that people will die or become disabled in the coming year and that we'll never be able to gather again.

I also know that if one of us went home infected this year, I'd kick myself for the rest of my life.  And if some of us can't come, it made sense this year for none of us to come.  Would I have been able to have a good time knowing about other members of my family who yearned to be with us but couldn't?  No.  I'd rather have a year where we don't gather.

I know that my losses are small, compared to those that so many others have suffered.  My loved ones are still with me on this side of the grave.  My academic programs (those I take, those where I teach, those where I'm the chief administrator) are still intact--different, but intact.  I still have employment and a house, as do those I love.

Today is the Feast Day of All Souls, the last of our three day festival cycle (Halloween, All Saints, and All Souls) that reminds us of the cyclical nature of life and that the cycle ends in one type of death.  Some years these feast days seem to come to us from an ancient time, and they do.  I think of them as more medieval, and in many years, they've felt a bit irrelevant.

But in many ways, this past year has made medievalists of all of us--after the events of 2020, most of us are much more conscious of death and the fragility of life than we have been, although probably not as much as we would be if we lived in the medieval age.  Perhaps we are more aware of life's precarious nature--more aware now than we might have been in 1996, say, and more than your average medieval person.  Most of us have experienced a much wider range of options than your average medieval person, and we might have once believed that the precarious nature of our options was a feature of an earlier time, not ours.

This year, I suspect that not many of us have managed to maintain our illusion of control.  And I predict, with sadness, that there are more lessons yet to come.