Sunday, January 31, 2021

Running through January

I have run every day this January.  Let me offer my standard qualifications:  my run is very slow, so perhaps I should use the word "jog" or "shuffle."  It takes me about 15 minutes to run a mile--I realize that many people can walk a mile much faster, and if I focus very intently, I can too.  Some days I run slightly faster than a 15 minute mile, but truth be told, even when I was a teenage runner, I wasn't a fast runner.

For my daily January runs, 4 miles was the standard, with occasional 5 or 6 mile days--and 1 day I did 7 miles. Only one day did I do less than 4--it was a 2 mile run the day after after the 7 mile run.  I have run 146 miles in January.  Wow.   I had seven days of a 5 mile run, 2 days of a 6 mile run, 1 seven mile day, and 1 2 mile day.

I have never run this many days without a rest day.  I've been wondering if I'm courting an injury--that's what conventional wisdom would tell me.  But I also know that conventional wisdom thinks that I'm running much faster than I am.  Likewise the conventional wisdom that would tell me that I'm destroying my knees.  I'm not pounding the pavement the way a faster runner would be.

It's the perfect time of year down here to run--cooler mornings, but not too cold.  I don't know if I'll keep going at this pace as the temperatures heat up.

I started doing this as part of a Winter Warrior challenge.  My sister put together a virtual team, and we log our miles.  At first, I was running because I didn't want to let down the team.  But then as I watched the results, I realized that I was near the top of the long run challenge (my other teammates all signed up for different challenges)--I am inspired to run every day so that I stay in the top 5.

By now, the runners who are into seriously long distances have risen to the top--but there's only 2 or 3 of them.  They're the types who go out for a 13-19 mile run on the week-ends.  There are several of us just below them, and we keep trading places, depending on when we've run and when we've logged the results.  It's been amazingly motivational in a way I didn't expect.

My favorite run was my 7 mile run on Monday, when I went back through Holland Park.  At first I was there because I needed a bathroom, and when I saw the gates were open at 7 a.m., I thought I could find it.  I did, and then I explored a bit.  The park is mainly boat ramps, but there's an eco path, which is a boardwalk out over the water.

It was a quiet day on the water--no boats, no partying across the Intracoastal at 7 a.m.  As I ran along the boardwalk, a giant bird of prey swooshed down towards me; if I reached and stretched, I might could have touched it.

As I watched it fly toward me, I felt more curiosity than alarm.  Would it attack me?  If so, would it hurt?  Would I be able to get back to a place where someone might find me sooner rather than later?  But I think that part of me knew that it wasn't likely to attack me, at least as long as I kept moving and didn't lie down and impersonate a dead carcass.  Of course, even if I did that, the birds above me might not have been interested.

In the end, the bird veered off, across the waterway, to the connected wetlands and water paths that are so unexpected this close to the Atlantic.  I watched the birds swoop around the tree tops and reflected that if I hadn't been trying for a really long (for me!) run, I might never have come back into the park and gone exploring.  I did feel a smidge of fear, but I knew that the park had been locked until the few minutes before I entered.  I was more worried that I might fall and break something than that someone was waiting to attack me--and I certainly wasn't worried about birds or other animals.

The boardwalk was so amazing, that I ran up and down it several times--just beautiful.  Running has given me many gifts, but a fairly consistent gift has been the one of exploring places, especially places in nature, and being awed by beauty.

I'll keep running in February.  I'm not sure what to expect--stay tuned!

Saturday, January 30, 2021

One Year Anniversaries

If you're like me, we are fast approaching a time of 1 year anniversaries, and mine will be anniversaries of the last time I did something:  rode in a plane, went to a conference, set out treats for students, got a haircut in a salon, canceled a get together.  A year ago, I wrote this blog post.  I'm almost sure it's the first time I mentioned the new virus which would be named COVID-19 in a blog post.

A year ago today, I wrote, "On the way back home, I heard news reports of the new corona virus that's burning its way through China; we now have more people infected with this new virus than those infected with SARS during the 2002-2003 outbreak. The World Health Organization will meet today. If we were characters in a movie, ominous music would be playing."

Yes indeed, the ominous music was playing; others probably heard it first a week earlier when the Chinese government shut down the town of Wuhan and some other smaller towns in the region.  I remember hearing it on the news and assuming it was because China is a repressive regime, not because it was a disease control measure.  I remember wondering how the citizens in the town would make ends meet if they couldn't go to work or school.  I couldn't imagine.

And now I know--most of us aren't making ends meet very well or at all, unless we have an assortment of resources.

Some days we notice that we're standing on a threshold or passing in/through something significant, and usually, there's no music to cue us.  Yesterday I hauled a literal carload of boxes to Good Will.  My campus has a lease on classrooms on the 3rd and 4th floor of our building which expires tomorrow.  Yesterday, the movers came to take big items like tables, chairs, and large screen televisions back to the Ft. Lauderdale campus.  We still had some little stuff, even after we relocated the office supplies and materials we'll need before the campus closes, which will probably happen later this year.

Seasonal decorations comprised much of what was left.  The Corporate team told us that those items wouldn't go to Ft. Lauderdale, and we should just dispose of it.  I picked through it and saved some of the better stuff:  some autumnal wreathes and garlands, some small Christmas trees, a string of lights.  Because the thought of throwing the rest of the decorations in the trash made me so sad, I loaded the rest in my car (and it occurs to me--that's why my back aches this morning!).

Will people show up at thrift stores looking for these decorations?  Some of them are very bedraggled.  I do realize that the Good Will people may throw them away, and I'm fine with that.  I just want someone else to be the judge of whether or not they still have worth.

Since I was in loading up the car mode yesterday, I loaded some boxes with paper recycling into my car and took them home to put them in my home recycling bin.  I caught sight of one piece of paper written in red marker:  "If we need more hot cocoa packets or peppermint sticks, please see Dr. K."

I tried not to cry, as I remembered a winter festival that I helped organize at school, back in Dec. of 2019, before we knew a new disease was coming for us, before we knew we were losing our campus.




Friday, January 29, 2021

Hospice Chaplain with a Sketchbook

Long ago, when we first set up our COVID check in station, I started making a card each day with the date and a quick sketch.  I thought people would need to know the date, and rather than answer the question multiple times, I'd make the card.  Some days I sketch a scene, while other days it's more abstract.  Some days, it's a scene with abstract elements or a scene, sketched abstractly:



There are days I wonder if I should still do this.  After all, most people have a phone with a date.  But people do look at it, and it does bring a spark of joy into my work day as I do it.

Last week, I didn't have much time to make Friday's sketch, so I created this:



My colleague and friend had been having a tough week with her dog who was in the last stages of life before dying on Friday.  I had dogs on the brain, but truth be told, I was only trying to capture the essence of a dog, not her particular dog.  Still, my friend told me that it meant a lot to her.  Later, she made this picture her Facebook picture:



Since my first sketch meant so much to her, I decided to create a better sketch, based on the photo:



She wants to keep the date card.  She had me sign it:




When I first started this date card with sketch practice, I didn't anticipate all the directions it would take me.  To be honest, the me that I was in May, when I started, would be surprised that we're still doing this as January moves to February of 2021.  Even though I didn't realize I was starting a daily practice, I'm glad that I have.

It's brought me joy, and I'm glad that it's brought joy to others.  And I'm happy that it's brought solace.  When I used to say that I had vague longings of being a hospice chaplain, I wasn't thinking of this approach.  As I look at much of my life in the past few years, I often get the sense of God saying, "You want to be a hospice chaplain?  I have work for you to do, sweetie."

Thursday, January 28, 2021

Historic Wednesdays and the Norm

Even though I took Monday off, this week has felt endless, and I'm not sure why.  Nonetheless, I was relieved to get through a Wednesday in 2021 with nothing historic happened (nothing historic happened, right?).  Think about it:  Jan. 6 was the assault on the Capitol, Jan. 13 was the impeachment decision against Trump (second impeachment--first time a U.S. president has been impeached twice), and Jan. 20 was the Inauguration.

If we feel like we've been living through historic times, we have.  And in January, it's felt both speeded up and endless.  And I feel fretful that the pandemic may yet take a turn for the worse that will leave us thinking back wistfully to the times when we only worried about getting vaccines into arms and speeding up the production of N95 masks (yes, still a year later, and we're still not producing the simple stuff we need).

It's also a strange time for me on a personal level.  I'm at a campus, and we know that the campus will be closing within a year.  We're down to a skeleton crew at the campus, and there's at least several moments each day where I reflect on how well we're working as a team and how much I'll miss these people.

On Tuesday, I made this Facebook post:  

"In the office beside me, one of my Vet Tech colleagues is listening to the soundtrack to "Hamilton" while doing class prep, and I am overcome with love for humanity, a hunger for history, and a longing for live theatre."

---

And last week, I made this Facebook post:  

This morning, we talked about the beautiful coats and clothes worn by various women during yesterday's Inaugural coverage. I looked at my Thursday outfit: black velveteen skirt, pumpkin colored shirt, with olive larger shirt for a finishing garment. I said, "My fashion statement for today seems to be Mossy Autumnal Forest."

I am surprisingly comfortable with that as both fashion statement and mission statement.

---

In fact, I liked that outfit so much that I think I'll wear it again today!

Wednesday, January 27, 2021

Hearing a Call in Haiku

Yesterday as I was working, I got several messages from people asking about seminary and me.  Yes, on the same day.  I realize it's just a coincidence, but it's one of the kinds of coincidences that make me say hmm.  I revisited the various websites of seminaries and programs.  The one that looks most interesting to me is a program focused on theology and creativity at a UCC seminary--but that program doesn't lead to ordination.

Many Lutheran seminaries now offer scholarship programs so that seminarians can graduate with no debt, which is great.  Of course, there would still be bills that need to be paid.

I'm writing to colleagues from the community college in Charleston where we were all faculty members together in the 90's--we're exchanging haikus on a daily basis.  What fun!  Yesterday I wrote this haiku:

Seminary thoughts:
daydream or question or call?
Am I too far gone?

My friend wrote me 2 in response. I loved them so much that I want to record them here:

For daydreams you plan.
Questions and calls you answer.
It’s never too late.

It's a risk we take.
Cool headed logic versus
The pursuit of dreams.

And a different friend wrote this one:

Inevitable,
the call and the discernment.
You will find your way.

I feel so lucky to have friends who have these kinds of supportive responses--and in haiku, no less!

Tuesday, January 26, 2021

Poetry Tuesday: "Cassandra Visits the Fertility Clinic"

In all the Inauguration news of last week, all the various work ups and downs, I forgot to mention a publication.  I was happy to get my copy of Gargoyle, which published one of my Cassandra poems.

Cassandra is one of the figures from Greek myth to whom I return again and again.  As I was thinking about this poem's publication after I got my contributor copy of the journal, I got the idea for another one, Cassandra visiting her spiritual director and trying to use centering prayer--so let me note that, for a day when I feel like I have no more poems to write ever.

I was thinking of this poem, of Cassandra in the modern age, of the idea of the future in a time when the future seems so fraught with peril.  Does the future always seem fraught with peril?  It has in my lifetime, although the nature of the peril has shifted.

Would Cassandra, with her vision of the future, keep her eggs?  This poem attempts to answer that question: 


Cassandra Visits the Fertility Clinic 


Cassandra flies to Minneapolis, her annual 
pilgrimage to visit 
her frozen, fertilized eggs. 

She sees this storage 
facility as an an extravagant luxury 
in an age of rising 
seas and record 
shattering heat. She understands 
the cost of her clenching 
grasp and insistence on open options. 

Still, she cannot release 
these eggs, either to fallow 
wombs or to the sewer. 
Her Catholic upbringing and her guilty 
sense of failed femaleness 
forbid her to sign the forms. 

And so she pays for freezer 
space and back up generators 
and monitoring of all sorts. 
During boring meetings, she designs 
the nursery she will likely never need.


Saturday, January 23, 2021

Notes on a Half Day off (Friday)

I had scheduled a half day of PTO yesterday.  Awhile ago, before the mob tried to take the Capitol on the afternoon of Epiphany (how strange it still is to write that!), one of my best friends and roommates from undergrad years was planning to stay with us on her swing through the East Coast.  First she and her grown daughter would go to D.C. for the inauguration, then they'd come here.

Those plans began to unravel after the events of Epiphany, but still, she thought she could have a good time in D.C., getting food she couldn't find in Butte and spending time with her daughter.  But then AirBnB canceled all reservations in the D.C. area.  She thought she could get a full refund on her plane tickets, so we decided it was better for her to cancel and to try this trip again later in the year.  My hope is that we'll be more widely vaccinated by then.  When she first made the plans in early November, I was thinking about travel and COVID-19 exposure differently, and there weren't the more contagious strains.

I decided to go ahead and take the PTO hours, even though I didn't have friends to pick up at the airport.  My school is in the process of being purchased by another school, and when the transfer happens, our unused PTO will disappear.  That transfer may happen soon, so I am also taking a PTO day on Monday.

Yesterday was delightful.  After an easy morning at work, I arrived home to a spouse with ideas for a pasta lunch.  We did some cooking and then settled in for the next episode of The Handmaid's Tale.  We did some work on the front porch; my spouse needed to get ready for his 6:30 p.m. Philosophy class, and I did some grading for my online class.

I shifted to reading a book when my laptop needed to be plugged in to recharge.  I finished Nick Hornby's Just Like You, a delightful read, filled with nuggets like this one:  "In Lucy's experience, these were the two genders, boys and readers.  She wished there was as much gender fluidity as people seemed to think" (p. 223).

In the late afternoon, I made this Facebook post: 

"A guy on a bicycle rides by with "Start Me Up" playing on some sort of sound system. I'm reading on the front porch, and I look up. Just for a minute, the slant of late afternoon light is the same, and the temperature is the same, as the afternoon I first heard that song, in September, in the 11th grade, in Knoxville, Tennessee, when the future stretched out bright ahead of me.

The future is still bright and ahead of me--there's just not as much of it as there used to be."

My spouse went in to teach his class, and I got settled in the front room at my laptop.  I have decided that I will write 1000 words of my apocalyptic novel each week, and that the most likely time to do that is when my spouse is teaching.  Last night was week 3 of writing over 1000 words on a Friday night.

I find myself longing to redo yesterday--to ignore chores, to ignore the books I need to be reading for my certification program, to ignore grades.  But happily, it's a Saturday.  There will be time to do a bit of all of it.

Friday, January 22, 2021

Finally Watching "The Handmaid's Tale" on Hulu

Last night, I started watching the recent adaptation of Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale on Hulu.  I had planned to watch it when it first came out, but I didn't have Hulu then.  I decided to wait until I could watch the whole season, but by then I knew there would be more seasons, and I just felt overwhelmed.

A few years have gone by, and we now have a smart TV and Hulu.  Most nights, we still can't find much that we want to watch, which makes me sad since we have access to so much.  I've decided that it's time to start delving into quality stuff of the not-too-distant past.

I've been a bit leery of the TV adaptation of The Handmaid's Tale, for fear of the violence and the rapiness of the later seasons.  But I decided I could watch the first few episodes, so last night we watched two of them.  I think we'll watch more.  I'm impressed with how well done it is--and how many episodes of Hell's Kitchen do I really want to waste time on?

Readers of this blog know that I've been a fan of this book since it first came out.  I read it and told everyone that they must read this book.  I read it multiple times, and it holds up well through the decades.   I saw the movie adaptation in the 90's, and I thought it was fine--not wonderful enough to watch it more than once, but fine. I feel the power of the book, even as I admit that there are other Atwood books that feel more compelling to me.

Throughout much of the Trump years, I have been almost afraid to return to the novels that predicted our predicament, novels like The Handmaid's Tale and Parable of the Talents, by Octavia Butler.  But as I did, I realized that the Trump administration was nothing like the governments of most dystopian novels or of the authoritarian regimes of the 20th century, like those of Hitler or Stalin.  

Trump never had enough focus or organization or ability to plan to be able to create the kind of dystopia that Atwood presents.  We were lucky this time.  I continue to be haunted by Atwood's assertion that she didn't include any elements in The Handmaid's Tale that weren't happening in the world in 1984 or didn't have an actual happening in history.

As the Trump administration progressed, there was part of me that didn't want to watch The Handmaid's Tale for fear it would feel too real and out of a sort of weariness of feeling like I was watching something similar each time I watched the news.  There was a moment in the early part of the first episode when the child is ripped out of the arms of the woman where my alarmed brain said, "No!  Too soon, too soon!"

I'm glad I kept watching.  We'll be watching more episodes this week-end.

Thursday, January 21, 2021

Notes on an Inauguration Day

Yesterday was a day of highs and lows, as I expected, although the lows were brief.  As I was about to leave for work, I realized that Trump was about to leave the White House, so I turned on the TV.  Sure enough, there was the helicopter, waiting to take Trump away from D.C., away from the Inauguration, which he had decided not to attend.  I waited, watching, while the helicopter rose.  Some of the camera shots were amazing, including one of the helicopter and the edge of the Capitol building.

Throughout the day, I would feel weepy as I saw footage of D.C.  How I love that city!  Throughout the first 45 years of my life, my path wound back there:  we made annual pilgrimages there for my dad's reserve service week-ends and weeks, we lived near there and made trips there for cultural enrichment and to see family friends, and my parents moved to the Virginia suburbs when I was in college and lived there for the next 25 years.  I spent college summers doing social service work in the less desirable parts of the city, back when the city had the highest murder rate in the country.  We almost always went into the city when I came back as a grown up to visit my parents.

As I drove to work yesterday morning, Trump arrived at Joint Base Andrews and said his final remarks.  I was amazed when he said, "Honey, would you like to say a few words?"  I was stunned--both that he used a term of endearment that I've never heard come from his mouth before, not to his wife, not to anyone, and also because he shared the stage.

I got to my office and did some of the work of the day that had to be done.  I zipped over to Office Depot to pick up the spiral bound self-studies that needed to be in the mail by the end of the day--our Vet Tech program is having a site visit in March, and those documents need to be received by accreditors by Jan. 27.  I answered e-mails and re-set a password so that I could access the fingerprint checks for our incoming students.  I did some troubleshooting with a program chair.

In short, even though it was a momentous day, we still had work to do.  Just before I shifted my attention to the Inauguration, I made this Facebook post:  "As one administration shifts to another administration, we do the work that must be done, no matter who is in power: we shepherd the students, we write the e-mails, we get the accreditation documents ready to go, we donate to the food pantries, we check up on the people who need us, we meet the deadlines, we do the work."

At about 10:30, I got a phone call from a colleague who said, "Where are you, Dr. K?  You're missing it all!"  So I went to her office and realized that people were arriving for the inauguration (capitalize this word?  can't decide).  I watched a bit, thinking I would come back closer to time for swearing in--but I didn't want to miss the swearing in of the first woman to achieve such high office--sure, it's not the presidency, but I'll take this crumb!

At some point, one of us suggested we move to the conference room, and we did--we had a much bigger monitor, and we could spread out, so it was a good call.  Every so often the live feed would fail, which was frustrating, but we coped.  I had thought I might watch the ceremony alone in my office, but it was so much better to cheer and weep with colleagues.

I loved hearing the national anthem--it moved me more deeply, given the assault on the Capitol just 2 weeks earlier.  I am still just astonished that I'm writing these words.  Four years ago, I was expecting armed assaults, but I imagined that Trump would take the path of other dictators and start foreign wars to solidify support and power.

I loved the swearing in--tears again and again.  I loved Biden's speech.  I realize that he trotted out familiar themes for inauguration day, but what a relief to have a president who understands why these themes of unity are important.  What a relief to have a president who wants to inspire us, not divide us.

I loved the music and the musicians.  I loved that Jennifer Lopez sang "This Land Is Your Land"--a Woody Guthrie song so perfect for the day!  At one point, when Garth Brooks was singing "Amazing Grace," he turned to the camera and said, "At home, sing along."  One of my colleagues murmered, "Are we going to sing?"  And we sang softly together.

I loved the poet, although I found her hand motions distracting.  Will her poem become my favorite?  No--but no inaugural poem so far will be my favorite.  I'm always just happy when a poet is invited to be part--it sends a message that is so important to me.

I even liked the closing prayer, although including prayers in these events makes me queasy.  It's so easy to go wrong.  Yesterday's prayer seemed inclusive to me in a way that other prayers don't.

And then it was time to get back to the work of the day:  back and forth to the UPS store, getting mailing supplies, preparing the mailing, getting to the UPS store to realize I had forgotten the zip code on one of the packages, back to the office, back to the UPS store.  I was fairly exhausted by the end of the day.

I ended the day with my online Mepkin journaling group--we are all of like minds, both politically and spiritually, so it was good to be together, even though I journaled more about the events of the day than the material we were scheduled to discuss/journal.

Late in the day, I made this Facebook post:  

"Earlier today I was trying to remember if I had ever seen an inauguration in school when I was a child. Then I remembered that back then, TVs were huge and expensive and one couldn't put them on rolling carts. It was before the age of VCRs, so one wouldn't tape the inauguration so that students could watch it later and analyze it. And we couldn't stream on our computers--a computer took up a whole room, and you communicated with it by way of punch cards.


Wow, I am old. And wise."

I've spent some time this morning reading blog posts from the early days of the Trump presidency, and I was as clear-eyed as I remember, although I wouldn't have anticipated the mob attacking our own Capitol--at least not in the open, post-a-Selfie way it happened.  I am both relieved that we survived, and anxious that the next time we won't be so lucky.  Trump was fairly ineffectual, and thus, anyone paying attention could learn some valuable lessons about what not to do and what might work.

But for now, let me rest and breathe--and assemble the tools that will be needed to mend this tattered country.

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

A Haiku for Inauguration Day: Blessing and Promise and Prayer

I woke up on this inauguration day feeling just exhausted.  It's a different kind of exhaustion, in some ways.  My eyes feel dried out, my feet ache, and I'd like to sleep for a few days.  Actually, that's not true--I'd like to be in a different place where I don't feel the chores calling my name.  I'd like to be in a place where someone else has done the cleaning and will do the cleaning when I leave, and I'd like to know that person is paid a good wage.  I'd like to be in this place with good books, and I'd like the weather gods to know what I prefer from hour to hour and to deliver that.  I want a stack of books and a manuscript that's going well.  And because I know that at some point I'll feel lonely, but I won't know exactly when loneliness will strike, I'd like friends and family nearby with moods coordinated to mine.

In short, I yearn for a magical place that doesn't exist.

I thought I would wake up in a different emotional space.  I imagine that by the end of the day, I will have journeyed to many emotional spaces.  This year, I may make an effort to watch the inauguration.  I don't always, but this year feels historic in more ways than one.

I'm thinking of past inauguration days.  I have a vague memory of watching the first Clinton inauguration in 1993.  He was the first presidential candidate for whom I voted who won, but I also wanted to watch Maya Angelou.  My spouse was recovering from back surgery in 2013, so we watched the second Obama inauguration.  We also watched the first Obama inauguration.

This inauguration seems momentous in that we'll see a woman vice president.   I realize that other countries have actually voted to let women run the show, and maybe we'll get there some day.  For now, I'll take any steps towards equality that I can get, while at the same time, I'll let myself feel sorrow over the slow pace.

I'm also taking delight in Biden's slow pace towards this goal.  I'm collecting stories of late bloomers, and his story certainly demonstrates a very slow blooming.  But he's not just been sitting around, waiting for his chance to come.  This Joe Biden is very different than the Joe Biden who ran for president in 1987.  I'm hoping that he'll finally have a chance to use all his skills and talents.

This morning, I started a poem that I hope to develop as the week goes on.  This line delighted me:  complaint, incantation, or curse.  I thought about using it in a haiku for Inauguration Day.

But as I was running this morning, a different set of lines came to me:

High noon swearing in
Blessing and promise and prayer
Hinge of history

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

Haiku Exchange

The older I get, the more I appreciate the variety of my friends and all the ways we keep in touch.  I've been part of a haiku exchange with some South Carolina Low Country friends.  It began with political e-mails with a group of people, many of whom worked together at Trident Tech, the community college in the Charleston area--for reasons too convoluted to explore here, South Carolina calls all its colleges technical colleges.

I think back to that experience working at that college--one of the gifts of that school was the amazing colleagues that I had.  I have been lucky to have always had wonderful colleagues.  That may be one of the advantages of working at schools that aren't first tier schools with people who understand the stakes, people who put students first for the most part.

The political e-mail exchange turned into a haiku exchange--what a treat!  I love reading the haikus, and I love being inspired.  One woman said that she's also writing in German or Spanish, which has helped her get back to her language studies--what a cool idea!  I imagine that using haiku could help in all kinds of teaching arenas.

Her haiku about tomatoes made me think about our own garden.  We can't seem to grow a tomato of any size, but our milkweed is quite happy.  On Saturday, I wrote this Facebook post:  "When I thought of opening a cafĂ©, I confess that I wasn't thinking about serving caterpillars and ladybugs:"




I included photos of the plants and caterpillars




This morning, I created this haiku:

Tomato wasteland
milkweed blooms, monarchs visit
other species fed

This morning, my brain went back to all the ways these friends have fed me.  Our friendship deepened the year we got together to bake cookies.  The parents of one friend had a restaurant in downtown Charleston; we gathered in the restaurant's kitchen on a Sunday in December and baked cookies together and had such a good time that we did that regularly.

One of the other friends wanted more vegetarian food in her life, and she knew we were inclined the same way, so she organized a food swap.  We'd make a big batch of something and bring containers to school where we'd swap.  I can't remember if just one of us cooked each week or if we all did.

That community college fostered amazing developments.  One of our colleagues had a variety of restaurant connections, and he ran the Culinary department for the school, so he was instrumental in organizing an organic veggie co-op.  Other colleagues kept us up to date with literary and artistic developments in the larger world.

As I'm writing and reflecting this morning, I wonder why I ever left.  It's important for me to remember that the larger Lowcountry South Carolina culture was not as inclusive as it is now--and it's not that inclusive now.  I wanted to be someplace more multicultural, with a thriving arts scene.

I achieved that goal.  I didn't anticipate how the work of earning the money necessary to live here would leave me too exhausted many days to participate in the culture I was seeking.

Let me remember that lesson as I think about the future.

As I did my morning jog, with a sunrise particularly beautiful today, these lines came to me:

Sunrise painted lake
Decomposing Christmas trees
Warm breath of future

If I had to title this one, I might go with this: Inauguration Eve.

Monday, January 18, 2021

Week-end Updates

If you were hoping for an MLK post with poetry, this past blog post is a good one.  If you were hoping for some theology and/or a non-violence/social justice angle, this post on my theology blog may hit the spot.

It's been an up and down (mostly up) week-end.  Let me record a few snippets:

--On Friday, my onground intensive ended with a commissioning service for the class ahead of me that was finishing the program.  It felt strange for the experience to end at 5:45, to turn off the screen and wander around the house.  It should have been a later service that ended with a champagne reception--or a Saturday morning service where we headed out into the world with our talents.  

--Happily, I was able to refocus.  My spouse teaches a Friday evening class all spring term, and I've decided that I'm going to work on my apocalyptic novel while he teaches.  On Friday night, his second night teaching, I worked on my apocalyptic novel.  My goal is to write 1000 words a week, and Friday I wrote 1148 words.  Hurrah.

--Paraclete, one of my favorite religious presses, is creating a fiction imprint, and during my Saturday morning run, I thought about how to pitch my apocalyptic novel to them.

--After my Saturday morning run, I went to the Wal-Mart neighborhood market to stock up.  I like getting there when they first open, even though it disrupts my morning.

--Because I did the shopping, we did some cooking--and then some eating.  

--We watched One Night in Miami--excellent film.  And perfect for a week-end that ends in a commemoration of Martin Luther King's life.  Even though he wasn't a character in the film, much of the film revolves around the best ways to respond to oppression.

--Throughout the week-end, we counted caterpillars on milkweed, which is more compelling than it sounds.

--Our neighborhood friends came over late in the day on Saturday to have a quick catch up on the front porch.

--Sunday morning we went to outdoor church.  It's still tough for me, sitting outside with a mask on, but at least yesterday I didn't sweat through my mask or have my nose run all in my mask--a complicated way of saying we had perfect weather for outdoor church, which is rare.

--Because of the perfect weather, we spent much of yesterday outside on the front porch.  I wrote this Facebook post:  "This chilly South Florida day makes me want to get in the car and go look at the leaves turning color--but of course, that would be a different season in a different part of the country."

--We ended the day watching a show from the first season of Saturday Night Live, back when it was just called Saturday Night.  Paul Simon was the guest, and back then, there was a lot more music.  It ended with Paul Simon singing "American Tune," which is perhaps as perfect a lullaby for these times as is possible:

"We come on the ship they call Mayflower
We come on the ship that sailed the moon
We come in the age's most uncertain hour
And sing an American tune

But it's alright,
It's alright, it's alright, it's alright.

Sunday, January 17, 2021

Commissioning and Anointing

Much of the end of last week revolved around the onground intensive for my certificate in spiritual direction program. Because of the pandemic, we met online instead of onground. While it wasn't a perfect way to be together, it was better than a cancelled intensive, which was the response in June.

On Friday, my onground intensive ended with a commissioning service for the class ahead of me that was finishing the program. It felt strange for the experience to end at 5:45, to turn off the screen and wander around the house. It should have been a later service that ended with a champagne reception--or a Saturday morning service where we headed out into the world with our talents. 

But as we were doing the service, I thought about how it was profoundly moving in unexpected ways. As each person's name was called, we all stretched out our hands to our individual cameras--so the Zoom session was a series of boxes of hands. That approach also made it easier to find the graduate we were blessing.

And in our care packages, each graduate got a vial of consecrating oil. So even though the candidate had to do self-anointing, we were able to hold onto that element of the commissioning service.

As each part of the body was mentioned, the graduate touched the oil to the body part: "The servant of God, (name), is anointed to a ministry of spiritual direction. May your mind always be attentive to God. May your ears be attuned to the words of those whom God sends your way and to the promptings of the Spirit. May your mouth under the guidance of the Spirit speak deep wisdom that is not your own. And may your heart be centered in the love of God. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen."

In the end, it was still a profoundly moving service--just moving in a different way.  And a side benefit:  family members and friends could attend, the way they would not have been able to do during regular times for those of us coming to the campus from a distance.

Saturday, January 16, 2021

Onground Intensive, Intensively Online

Yesterday I was aware that if it had been a year ago, I'd have been arriving at the seminary campus for the first onground intensive in my journey to be certified as a spiritual director.  At the end of that intensive, I was in great spirits, ready for where the future was taking me, even as I admitted that I wasn't sure what I envisioned.

Little did I know what was about to fall on our collective heads . . .

I do think that there will be an upsurge in demand for spiritual direction in all its variations once we get past the worst part of this pandemic.  Times of plague often lead to times of change, some of it tumultuous, some of it rewarding.  I'm thinking about the Renaissance that came after the Black Death.  In generalizing hundreds of years of history into a single sentence, and all the risks inherent with that condensation, I could argue that the the 30% death rate during the first outbreaks of the Black Death led people to question religious authorities and to move in directions they would not have if there had been no plague, directions that made them more free.

But I digress.

I have spent the last 3 days, at least part of them, at the second onground intensive, but because of the pandemic, we met online.  This morning I thought, well, at least I don't have a 10 hour car drive today.  But I also don't have that surge of energy and enthusiasm that comes from time away.

I missed the opportunity to have deep conversation with people along the way.  Last year, I stayed with grad school friends before and after the intensive, and during the intensive I had great opportunities to talk with people, even though one purpose of the intensive was to explore the idea of solitude.

This year, I stared into a computer screen, hour after hour after hour.  We had some small group sessions, which were great, but not quite the same.

Also not quite the same:  the worship.  They felt more like sessions than services.  They were well done, with beautiful slides and music.  But it wasn't the same as going to the chapel with its beautiful stained glass.  And we didn't have communion.

What I missed most was the chance to be away--I missed it, even as I realized that it was much easier for me to participate online than onground this year.  Had there been no pandemic, it would have been tough for me to get away.  My request for leave was only granted early this week.

On Wednesday, I needed to be at the office, or at least I thought I did.  My school is being bought by a Brooklyn school, and on Wednesday, the new owners were visiting my campus.  So on Wednesday, I tuned in for the morning prayer and the opening remarks.  I was able to be part of the instruction sessions and one of the 2 small group sessions.  I stayed at the office so that I could tune in for Vespers.  It was strange.

On Thursday and Friday, even though I was taking leave, I went to the campus to help open it.  We only have 3 people with all the keys to open the campus, and one of them was out on unexpected bereavement leave.  Each day, I opened doors, took temperatures, answered questions, did a few tasks, and then headed home.  It was much easier to focus on the intensive at home, but still imperfect.

Throughout I tried to adopt the attitude that it was better to have an online intensive than a canceled intensive.  We were supposed to have this intensive back in June.  But I also wrestled with my feelings of disappointment.  A year ago, I thought I had found a way to be at more peace with my feelings of displacement.  This past year, I've been feeling more displaced than ever.

It's a spiritual displacement.  In literal terms, I'm rooted in South Florida:  I have a house, a job, and friends.  But in the past few years, most of my South Florida friends have moved away, and it's become clear that I can't count on my job the way I once could, and that global warming is moving much faster than I anticipated, which means that my house is in constant danger.

My spirit yearns to live in a different place, and last year, I was thinking that by working towards this certificate, I'd have more chances to get away to places that soothe my soul:  the seminary campus, Lutheridge, time with friends as place.  This year, I have no idea what's coming our way.

In a way, it could be worse.  At least I didn't enter into this program with a rigid idea of my expected trajectory--that might make it harder to make adjustments.

I've continued moving forward.  I've lived long enough to know that sometimes it's best to just keep going, even if one has lost one's nerve/faith/certainty.  I'm reminded of the advice given to those who have lost a spouse to death or divorce--don't make any big decisions leading to big changes for the first year after the traumatic event.

For at least the next year, that's the advice I'm following, even with the knowledge that I may not have the luxury of being the one making the choice.

Friday, January 15, 2021

Unsettling Mystical Experiences and a Special Word from God

I had an unsettling mystical experience yesterday.  That's a sentence I didn't anticipate writing.  I thought I might write many observations about my onground intensive to become certified in spiritual direction, but not that.

Have I had a mystical experience?  Have I ever?  I've had a mystical experience here or there, but I've also been a bit skeptical.  Were they really mystical experiences?  Was it just a tired brain?  Most of my mystical experiences have happened as I did a guided visualization/meditation, so maybe it was God speaking to me or maybe it was my subconscious or maybe it was something innocuous that gets transformed into something that seems important.

Yesterday's later part of the onground intensive revolved around silence, and the leader of the last session offered us an extensive guided meditation.  I tried so hard to follow the directions.  I sat in my desk chair and closed my eyes.  I visualized energy moving through my body.  After what felt like an endless journey from head to toe, we got to a space where God was waiting for us.  We visualized the space.  We visualized God.  Then the leader said, "God has a special word or phrase for you. Let's sit in silence and wait for that word or phrase to emerge."

It didn't take long for my word to emerge:  patient.  Not patience, but patient.  I thought about the difference between the two.  I sat resisting the urge to open my eyes and flip through other online sites.  I was not concentrating on God or my word.

I opened my eyes and reached for my sketchbook.  I decided to write the word across the page, and then I wrote it on other parts of the page in different ways (all capital letters, block print, cursive).  I turned the page around.  I wrote patience instead of patient, but I turned that word back to patient.  I revolved my sketchbook again.




Then I wrote Pain.  I only realized what I wrote when I paused to think, how do I spell patient again?  Then I looked down and realized that I wasn't just a letter or two off.  I looked at the word.




So if I believe that God was sending me a word, is my word patient or patience or pain?  My brain remembered that pain means bread in French, and that seemed relevant too.  I looked up some definitions to see how the words wind/wound their way together.  I tried to figure out if pain had interesting meanings in other languages.  I liked this definition for patient:  "not hasty or impetuous."  I have certainly had impulses, especially in the past 9 months, that have seemed hasty and impetuous, like my yearnings to sell everything we own and move to a place on higher ground that's more affordable and less hurricane prone.

I felt a bit of anxiety--was God trying to warn me that pain was coming my way?  Was God telling me I would be a patient?  Was God telling me to be patient with pain?  My first thoughts had not gone in these dire directions--my first thoughts had been, Yes, I will be patient in the the belief that better days are coming.  I will be patient; I will hold on.

My first exercise in embracing patient/patience was the meditation itself.  I had done as much thinking about the word, sketching, pondering, as I had in my tired brain. I looked at my computer screen again--surely the leader would bring us back soon?  How long could I sustain this meditation?  Were all those people on my Zoom screen meditating or napping?

Finally she brought us back.  We had a question and answer session, and some of us asked about alternate ways to do the exercise, with journaling or sketching or walking.  She replied in language that seemed significant enough to capture:  "Respond in a way that's consistent with who you are."

At least I did that.  At most, I got some interesting information from God or from the Collective Unconscious or from my own subconscious.


Thursday, January 14, 2021

Retreat Exercises in the Middle of a Hectic Life

Yesterday was my first day of the onground intensive for the certificate program in spiritual direction.  This onground intensive being held online.  By now, I've done so much online that I thought I didn't have many discoveries to make about what it means to live chunks of life online.  I've been teaching online since 2013, and I've also been a student here or there.  I've been a part of more online communities than I can count.  In the past year, I've been part of worship services that are online--that was a first for me across the summer, but not now.

Yesterday I thought that I would be distracted by all the other online activities that might beckon to me.  That's often what happens when I'm online, regardless of how fascinating any one individual activity might be.

Yesterday I was at the office, and it was all the other school stuff that was very distracting.  We had some visitors--we are in the process of being bought by another school, and one of their teams came to our campus mainly to look at equipment.  There were issues of students on externship and students who can't go on externship and deadlines.  There was work on an accreditation document in advance of a virtual visit.  I tried to only do this work during breaks for the onground intensive, but the school work bled into the intensive work.

Several times as the group came back together, we did a centering through breathing exercise.  This practice isn't new to me.  I'm deeply aware of the benefits of being aware of one's breath.  Like so many benefits, just because I am aware doesn't mean that I actually do them.

I was surprised yesterday by how calming this practice was.  I felt quite frazzled at certain points, but having someone count breaths for me really helped, although it did take me a few breaths to get into the rhythm.

I had been feeling a bit of sadness for all the ways that this year is not like last year.  I was most sad about all the distractions that come from all directions.  I will be logging on from home today, and while I imagine there will be fewer distractions, it still won't be the same as if I had driven to the campus in South Carolina, far away from all the home and work distractions.  

I'm also feeling sadness about the fact that we're not having a chance to have meals together and to get to know each other in other ways.  I'm sad about the fact that this experience is less like a nourishing and restorative retreat than the experience yesterday.  I'm trying to resist the feeling that it's just one more thing to do in an already busy schedule.

I am glad that I participated yesterday.  In so many ways, participating in the kinds of experiences that I tend to reserve for retreats might turn out to be one of the best benefits.  I usually go to retreats, learn about techniques, come back home and promptly get immersed in all of the hectic life stuff that makes me yearn for a retreat.

Maybe yesterday's experience points me to a different direction/way to learn these things.

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

An Administration Bookended by Marches

 A week ago, I was finishing this sketch and looking forward to a typical Epiphany.  


January 6, 2021 was indeed a day of all sorts of epiphanies.  I've been doing a lot of thinking about the storming of the U.S. Capitol.  At first, I thought it was a march that had gotten out of control.  Now I think we were looking at a more traditional coup attempt, cloaked in the strange fringes of right wing culture--hence the animal skins, the Confederate flags, disturbing iconography of all sorts.

I am grateful that it wasn't uglier.  I am thinking of a generation of school children who grew up to be Congressional aides and pages, who learned how to deal with armed intruders in the nation's public schools.  They knew to barricade the doors with heavy furniture and to stay quiet.

I am thinking of the Trump administration, bookended by 2 very different marches.  There was the huge march in January of 2017, when crowds of women came to D.C., many of them wearing pink hats, many of those pink hats with pink ears.  And then there was the one last week.

If one was writing a novel . . . 

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

When Your Seminary Sends You a Care Package

I have had this lingering sadness mixed with grumpiness mixed with dismay mixed with jolts of pure rage and a tumble back down into despair--but who hasn't?  My pandemic mindset (the negative kind, not the grateful I haven't gotten sick kind) seems to be triggered most by events that either aren't happening or are happening in a different way.  

This past week, as I've started working my way through the modules for my onground intensive for the certificate in spiritual direction, I've felt the negative pandemic mindset struggling to root itself in my brain.  I try to root it out with gratitude for the fact that it's still happening at all--in June, the intensive was simply cancelled, which has added 6 months to the program.

But this is so NOT what was making me thrilled a year ago when I went to the first onground intensive at the seminary last year.  I was so happy to get back to a campus that has a traditional feel, to explore an amazing library, to meet new people and to room with an old Create in Me pastor friend.  The coursework wasn't unfamiliar to me, but I was glad to hear the concepts again and in a new context.

An in-person onground intensive isn't practical in a year when a contagion continues to wreak havoc.  And to be honest, I'm not sure I'd have been given permission to leave my full-time job this week to travel to the seminary if it had been a traditional onground experience, so in some ways, this works out for the best.

But there's a very different energy to sitting in front of my computer working my way through video modules than the energy that comes from being in a classroom.  Not for the first time, I realize how easy it is to be distracted when sitting in front of a screen.

Yesterday a UPS truck pulled up, and I wondered what this could be.  All of our Amazon orders have already arrived.  The delivery person handed me a package.  It was a care package from the seminary.  It contained a variety of treats, many of them made locally in South Carolina, plus some instructions:




I was blown away by this care package, and I continue to think about why.  After all, I could buy these kinds of things myself. I often don't, but I could.

But it's more than that.  It's the fact that the people in charge realize that we could use this kind of boost.  Many of us yearn for the situation to be different--and the care package shows an effort to mark this time as special, as sacred even.  We may need to be separate, but we can drink the same tea and coffee, light similar candles, trace our fingers around a finger labyrinth at the same time.

During the past 9 months, I've seen various teachers create care packages for their students.  I've read the comments of those who go online, looking for suggestions for a box of inspirations sent to creative writing students or poems sent to literature students, art supplies and self-care items and all sorts of other items that can be delivered by a variety of methods. 

If you're a teacher and you wonder whether or not the extra touches have meaning for your students, speaking as a student, I'm here to tell you, yes they do.  Your students may not ever tell you, and you may not know for sure, but I am profoundly moved by this gift.

Sunday, January 10, 2021

Sitting in Silence, Moving in Silence

I am about halfway through a program that will leave me certified to be a spiritual director.  I loved the original design of the program:  4 onground intensives (2 in June, 2 in January), with one book to read a month.  It seemed doable with my life.

Well, here it is, one year later, and how life has changed.  One onground intensive, June 2020, was cancelled, and the one this week will be held online.  We've been given all sorts of resources to explore in advance.  I thought those resources would be written resources, but most of them seem to be videos--with all sorts of ancillary readings, if one is so inclined.

I've just watched my way through a series of videos on silence; the irony is not lost on me.  While the ideas are not new to me, I'm happy to be reminded of them.  But as I was watching, I did wonder if there was an angle we might be missing.

We were told to experiment with silence first by finding a place and time when we could be silent.  For me, that's a stumbling point, and if it's a stumbling point for me, a woman with no children in the household and a supportive spouse and an office door that I can close at will--if I'm having trouble visualizing that, imagine how difficult others would find it.

I thought back to a piece of wisdom that I discovered about meditation.  I have tried meditation through the years, but I have similar issues with meditation.  I can't empty my mind.  I can't sit cross-legged.  My back wants to slump.  If I close my eyes I go to sleep, but if I leave them open, I'm distracted by all the dust.

In one of Julia Cameron's books, she mentioned that Western minds have trouble with the kind of meditation that mandates that we sit in a quiet space and empty our minds and think of nothing.  She recommends writing as a means of meditation.  It gives us something to do, which helps quiet some part of our brains.  And for many of us, writing gives us the space for some inner wisdom to bubble up, wisdom we might not be able to access any other way.

I wonder if the same might be true of silence.  If we write, might we be more successful?

But for me, writing is a kind of noise too.  It's a good kind of noise, but how can I be sure I'm hearing God?

Maybe instead of sitting in silence, we should exercise in silence.  For those of us who want to focus on a single image, we could do that, if we were working out on a machine.  For those of us who need to move through space, we could do that too, by walking or jogging or cycling.

I'm also thinking that knitting or crocheting or making a series of lines on the page could be useful.

This line of thinking has made me wonder how many other spiritual processes we might need to rethink.  How many traditional methods of practice might be opened up to many more people if we widen our approach?


Saturday, January 9, 2021

Week 1 of 2021: Progress Running, Progress Writing

When I look back on the events of the week, I'm sure I'll remember the invasion of the U.S. Capitol building and the election of two Democratic senators from Georgia.  But I also want to remember some more personal developments, specifically in my writing life and my running life.

Running

When I signed up for the Winter Warrior Virtual Challenge, I thought I'd use it as motivation to get back to running and to go slightly longer.  The goal was 20 miles a week, which is more than I've been running in years if not decades.  I thought I might count my walking miles too.  I thought that if I spread my runs across 6 days of the week, it should be doable, but I wasn't sure.

As I started, I decided I would only count the miles I ran--and I use the term "run" rather loosely.  But for me, the slow jog that I do takes more effort than my walks, and that's what I'm counting.

Long ago, in my youthful running days, I would only run 3-4 days at a time before taking a rest day.  I loved my rest days.  In college, I loved a rainy day because it meant I could stay in my dorm room, listen to music, have a mug of tea or General Foods International Coffee, and enjoy an unexpected rest day.

The Winter Warrior Virtual Challenge started on Friday, Jan. 1, and I've run 4 miles or more, each day since then.  It's the longest I've ever gone without a rest day.  Each day I've checked my results, and I'm usually near the top of the pack in terms of total mileage.  If there's one thing that various challenges at the Wellness Center have taught me, a lead that's built early on in the challenge can be tough to beat.

But I'm doing the Long Run Challenge, and some of those runners are logging REALLY long runs, like 10-13 miles.  My lead could evaporate quickly if I take a rest day.

So far, so good.  I've got a great running route, past picturesque houses and vistas of water that are stunning as the sun rises.  Each morning, I'm eager to discover how the sky will be changing as the sun rises.

My usual approach has been to do the morning run and then to check the results as I log the miles.  This morning, I looked at the leaderboard first.  I had planned to do 4 miles, but I thought that if I could cover 6, I'd be doing more to cement my tenuous lead.

So, off I went, and I did it--slowly, oh so slowly, but I did it!  I don't remember the last time I ran 6 miles.  It was probably 2011 or 2012, during the weight loss challenge that I did at the Wellness Center.  Or maybe even longer ago in 2004.  It's been a distance that's been rare for me in this century.  Long ago, during 1996-1998, I would have a 6-10 mile run at least once a week.  Similarly, there were times in college where the 6 mile distance was not unusual.

But today, I did a 6 mile run after running 33 miles since Jan. 1.  I am fairly sure I have never done that.

At this point, my plan is to run 4 miles every day of the challenge, just to see if I can.  Each day delights me--I didn't think I would ever be able to run this way again.  My arthritic feet are not as disabling as I thought.  I realize that fact may change, but for now, I'm enjoying this return to my youth.

Writing 

My writing progress hasn't been as remarkable.  But it's been bringing me joy too.  On January 6, I wrote what will become a good poem.  I like that it works as an Epiphany poem and a political poem and a poem that works if one just enjoys the symbols.  Here's a bit:

We have heard
the crunch of our own boots
glass or gravel or bone.

On Epiphany, I created this Facebook post:

"I am that woman out for her morning jog before 6 a.m., that woman who hollers, "Happy Epiphany!" to a group of tipsy teenagers, toddling home from the beach.

I am a bright, shining star."

Later, I made this post:

"I was brewing a cup of tea when I heard news of protesters breaching the U.S. Capitol building, and now I want to make a pithy statement about true patriots and tea, while at the same time I'm wondering what would happen if a truly skilled army decided to attack, and maybe I shouldn't be so glib."

This week has given me lots of inspiration for blog posts--that's felt good, even if I'm fretful about some of the reasons.

But what's made me happiest is that last night, knowing that my spouse would be busy teaching for several hours, I sat back down to my apocalyptic novel. I made this post just be before 7 p.m.:

"7 p.m. writer's club--all are invited. Let's get back to work on our abandoned projects (or ongoing projects). I'm going to get back to my apocalyptic novel, Octavia Butler meets Graham Greene with some Handmaid's Tale thrown in. Back in July of 2019, I created a plot with a despot for a president, a virulent strain of flu, and an explosion at the U.S. Capitol, and I worried I might be stretching believability. Maybe tonight I should write a scene where my main character wins the lottery."

I got my 1000 words written last night--my goal is to write 1000 words a week.  I feel really good about week 1 of meeting that goal.

Drinking

I am trying total abstinence for the first 3 months of 2021, which I began on Jan. 4.  I haven't had my usual red wine for almost a week, and I have to wonder if that's not part of my running and writing success too.


Friday, January 8, 2021

Committing to Justice, Not Vengeance

I've been reading much analysis of the events on Wednesday. I haven't read much that startled me out of complacency, that made me want to think further and more deeply, but this article on the NPR site did.  Sociologist Alex Vitale says we shouldn't be focused on the police angle but on the larger issue of justice in society.

But he's not talking about justice the way most of us have been talking about justice.  Most of us want people punished, want people put in jail, want officers fired.  Vitale says, "Well, look, Americans are deeply committed to their retributive impulses. The United States has become a gigantic revenge factory. So obviously, people are falling back on these impulses — imagining justice as a question of punishment. Imagining that accountability is going to be measured in years of incarceration."

But then he pivots--he doesn't leave us drowning in our retributive impulses.  He sees that we have a 2 year window to deepen the conversation.  He says that in the past, we've been content to turn a variety of problems over to the police:  homelessness, drug abuse, mental illness.  The police aren't equipped to handle those issues, and as a result, we see the fractured and broken society that we have today.

He also notes that the people in charge along with the people who benefit--white people, to be specific--prize order over justice.  If we commit to justice, we have to tolerate some disorder, some messiness.

I see two issues here, the one of what to do about this specific group of people who rampaged through the U.S. Capitol building and the issue of how to craft workable public policy that works for more of us.  In terms of punishing Wednesday's rampagers, I have a vision of education, not prison.  Let them read the books that were on the smashed bookshelves.  Give them a choice of whether or not they'd like to serve their sentence in prison or in the U.S. Congress, being useful to Senators and Congress people and the Capitol police.  Make them write research essays about the artifacts that they trashed.

The question of public policy is even thornier.

We've had decades of public policy crafted by wealthy white men, mostly for the comfort and benefit of wealthy white men.  What would happen if we started to listen to other groups?  Not just black, brown, and indigenous groups, which would certainly be a good start.  But what if we listened to mothers and fathers?  What if we listened to immigrant groups and those seeking shelter from ruinous policies in other countries?  What if we listened to artists?  What if we listened to members of religious groups that aren't mainstream Christian groups?  What if we listened to mainstream Christian groups?  What if we listened to poor people?

I could continue to list types of groups that haven't been a major voice at the table when public policy has been made.  But what I really want to think about is the kind of public policy that might benefit more of us, the type of public policy that could lead to a society that is more aligned with principles of justice than vengeance.

I have the glimmerings of an amazing vision.  And these kinds of societal transformations start with a vision.  Let's dream it today. 

Thursday, January 7, 2021

A Coup in Wolf's Clothing, the Senate Flipped

Of all the things I thought might happen yesterday, a mob storming the U.S. Capitol and gaining access and ransacking the building was not one of them.  I kept an eye on national news yesterday because I was interested in the outcome of the Senate run-off election in Georgia on Tuesday.  I saw photographs of what was happening, but I didn't see videos until later.

When I thought about possible coup attempts, I wasn't expecting people draped in the skins of wolves and other animals.  I didn't think that an invading army would be made up of fellow citizens, and I didn't think an army that breached the U.S. Capitol would then wander the halls taking selfies, rifling through possessions, taking lecterns.

We may spend days arguing about what we've seen yesterday.  Was it a coup?  Was it insurrection?  Sedition?  A rally/demonstration/protest gone terribly wrong?

We may spend days arguing about who is responsible, and there's plenty of blame to go around.

I spoke to my parents a few days before Christmas, and we agreed to call on Christmas morning.  My dad said, "If we're not all under house arrest by then."  We laughed nervously.  

My dad is the kind of conservative who worries about the national debt, who thinks about the best ways to defend the country and the Constitution.  We've had our disagreements through the years, but we've always agreed on some basics.  We've had much more common ground in the past 4 years, as we've both been shocked/stunned/horrified at Trump's actions.

As I followed the news yesterday afternoon, I wasn't worried at first.  It's been a year of protests, and I thought this was going to be fairly typical--a big group, fairly peaceful with spurts of violence at the margins, while the work of the Congress went on inside.

When news came that the Capitol had been breached, I was confused.  I have always assumed that people who didn't submit to the entry check point would be shot.  I have always assumed that an invading army would be met by military force.

Perhaps it's different when it's an army of citizens.  Perhaps it's different when the President of the U.S. invited his followers to invade.

But I'm guessing that there was chaos and that protectors of the Capitol building didn't want to escalate the encounter.  I am grateful for the quick thinking actions of the ones who grabbed the electoral votes as the members of Congress were moved for their safety.

I am happy the the members of Congress met again when it was safe and affirmed and accepted the electoral votes.  I am relieved that Joe Biden has officially been declared the next president.

I am not sure of how I feel right now--relieved, yes, but shaken.  One of my friends wrote that she was "stunned but not surprised, if that makes any sense," and I responded that I had felt that way for most of the last 4 years.

A coup in wolf's clothing--I am stunned, but not surprised.

The U.S. Senate flipped--I am stunned, but not surprised.


Wednesday, January 6, 2021

Politics, Ancient and Modern, on the Feast Day of the Epiphany

Perhaps I will write about Georgia later.  Perhaps by then, others will have written eloquent pieces about Georgia.  Perhaps by then we'll know for sure who won each race.  Right now, one race has been called by the AP for the Democrat, who happens to be the pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church, Martin Luther King Jr.'s church.  He will be the first black senator to serve Georgia (I think).

Perhaps I will write about what happens in Congress today later, when I know what happens in Congress today, a day when Congress accepts/affirms the certified election results from the Electoral College.  There will be Congress people who object to the results, which is just unfathomable to me.  Did they not take a vow to protect the Constitution?  Do vows mean nothing to people anymore?

Rhetorical questions.

As I've been paying attention to national politics and the pace of the pandemic, I've also had Epiphany on the brain.  The Feast Day of the Epiphany celebrates the ways in which the incarnation of God in the person of Jesus is revealed early in the Christ story.  More specifically, the Feast of the Epiphany celebrates the arrival of the wise men from the East to see and bring gifts to the baby Jesus.

We may or may not remember the rest of the story.  This year, even more than other years, I am thinking of the murderous Herod.  I am thinking of those travelers, those academics who studied the stars but not human behavior, who inadvertently set a crisis into motion.  I am thinking of Herod, unbalanced Herod, so threatened that he killed all those children who might have grown up to be a threat to him.

Literalists may protest that there's no shred of evidence that this massacre actually happened.  Surely history would have recorded this slaughter, this genocide.  The story about Herod's murder of toddlers and babies may not be literally true, but it wouldn't be behavior that would be out of the realm of possibility for Herod.

Like many stories in the Bible, even if it isn't factually true, the story points to a larger truth.

These past years, many of us have had a closer look at the behavior of old white men who have felt threatened, and it's not a pretty sight.  We see many people killed in the crossfire and killed by the fall out.  We see lives diminished and potential stamped out.

We see the truth of that proverb that warns us that without imagination, the people will perish.  

Would old white women have behaved the same way?  Who can say?  Women have never had the kind of power that old white men get to have throughout history.  It is hard for me to imagine this kind of behavior if women did have that kind of power, at least not in the same kind of widespread way.  Maybe after women have had that kind of power for thousands of years, maybe after that kind of power has sapped all empathy.

But even if we don't think that Herod's story speaks to us, it offers a powerful testimony to the corrosive effects of power.  We would be wise to think of our own power, our own feelings of inadequacy, how we attempt to control the elements of our lives or how we don't.

We would be wise to think about all the strangers who show up to tell us of a different way, a different paradigm.

We would be wise to keep our eyes trained to larger vistas.

Tuesday, January 5, 2021

The Mr. Rogers of Painting

I saw an interesting exchange on Facebook the other day, a discussion of the appeal of the PBS artist Bob Ross, especially his appeal to today's youth.  One woman wrote, "He's the Mr. Rogers of painting."  She didn't mean that as a compliment.  Others wrote about how they'd watch him when they needed a nap, and I do understand that his soothing voice is part of his appeal--or part of what drives people crazy.

As one who has written about wanting to be the Bob Ross of theology, if PBS ever decided to branch out in that direction, I've thought about this discussion thread more than it warrants.  I've also wondered why this thread irked me so much.

I did not respond with snotty comments of my own, along the lines of "Some of us want to be gatekeepers who keep the riffraff out and some of us want to be midwives who help people deliver new life where they didn't expect it."

I am the type of artist who wants others to experience the joy of creation.  If it's imperfect creation, so what?  And what do these terms mean?  Imperfect/perfect?  I have an academic background, so I know that artists who have found acclaim in their own time are often not treasured later.  What we see as perfect now, future generations may see as flawed--or may not see them at all.

I'm someone who believed that if we all created every day, we'd have happier citizens and a better society.  And if Bob Ross helps people do that, what's the harm?

If someone like Bob Ross can create a corner of the marketplace doing that, well then, hurrah for him.  There might have been some jealousy in that comment thread, but it sounded like an aesthetics discussion more than a "he's a sell out" discussion.  But there was that tinge of gatekeeper discussion too--the idea that people might think they can actually paint, might call themselves painters if they follow his techniques.  Gasp!  Clutch pearls!

I don't understand this approach.  It's not like many of us will make money or win wide acclaim for our creative offerings.  But that's not the point.

I remember working in a for-profit commercial art school where my view was the minority.  I was surrounded by skilled visual artists who spent hours discussing these issues, both amongst themselves and with their students.  They weren't always interested in helping students find their own vision, but in fairness, in a commercial art school, as opposed to a fine arts program, the students have to learn to create with an eye to the marketplace.

We also spent a lot of time discussing that marketplace--and then there were people like me who argued for art for art's sake, education for the sake of becoming a better human, not a more employable human.

I realize that I'm a bit prickly about the value of visual art because I've always wanted to be a visual artist, and in fact, I've spent the last 5 years stepping up my efforts.  But would my former colleagues recognize what I'm doing as art or would they sneer at me too?

Let me add one last memory of a faculty development day years ago.  I used to play with poem ideas to keep myself from seeming too disrespectful.  I could write on paper and look like I was taking notes.  I didn't need to pay too much attention at the large general meeting, because I had already been part of a management team that had spent weeks and months on the issue.  During one meeting, a fellow writer colleague and I traded prompts, and a poem spilled out of me.

One of the painters sat near by and asked if he could read our poems, and he was a friendly sort, so of course, we said yes.  He looked at me with astonishment and said, "You mean, you just wrote this?"  He was not dismissing it.  He was genuinely impressed with my poem.

There's something to be said for regular practices.

Monday, January 4, 2021

Setting the Stage for 2021

I know of two pieces of folk wisdom that concern New Year's Day.  One involves what to eat to bring good luck in the new year--I was raised in the U.S. South, by a southern mom, and on New Year's Day, we always ate greens and black eyed peas, even though no one in the family liked them.  As a grown up, some years I do this and some years not.  I like greens of all sorts, but black eyed peas are a tougher sale with me.

I have also heard that what we do on New Year's Day sets the stage for the coming year, and as such, we should focus on the activities not the food.  While I didn't set out with that intention for Jan. 1, 2021, I'd be happy if the new year delivers me these activities in abundance:

--I had a lovely jog with beautiful water views and a lovely sunrise.

--I ate good Christmas bread and drank good coffee.

--I got some writing done.

--I made pizza dough with my ever-forgiving sourdough starter.  We ate homemade pizza later.

--I spent much of the day reading a book--a whole book, from start to finish.  Sue Miller's Monogamy is fabulous, even though it sounds like a sad slog through widowhood.

--As New Year's Day became New Year's Night, we sat on our perfect porch and greeted the neighborhood walkers with a cheery "Happy New Year."  Everyone seemed friendly and relaxed.

--As we sat on our perfect porch in the perfect weather, we lit all the remaining candles on our two Advent wreaths.  One man walking by was so struck that he asked us if he could take a picture.  The porch was particularly lovely in all that candle light, framed by pots of jubilant petunias.

--In candle light, you don't see all the repairs that need to be made, the fact that the whole house needs to be repainted and the awnings have seen better days (they're stained but not ripped).   Maybe 2021 should be the year of softer lighting.

The rest of the week-end has been lovely too:

--I had a Saturday Zoom meeting with my quilting group.  We talked about the vaccine and who would be in what order to take it.  One of our friends had left a message with the health department, but she wasn't sure they would ever get to it.  During our actual Zoom meeting, her phone rang, and she held it up so that we could see it was the health department calling.  She made the appointment for Wednesday as we watched.  It was extraordinarily moving.

--My parents will get the first dose of the vaccine on Tuesday.  I am so profoundly grateful.

--On Saturday night we saw the couple who has been our pandemic podmate group through the year.  It was good to catch up.

--We ended the week-end by playing Christmas carols on the porch last night.  My spouse played violin, and I plucked my way through on mandolin.  We chose all the ones written in F major so that we didn't have sharps and flats to keep track of beyond the B flat.  I was surprised by how many were written in F major.  I was surprised by how well I could keep up on the mandolin--I've come a long way from a year or two ago.

--As he drove away, one of our neighbors rolled down his car window to say, "Sounds great."  As he drove away, he called out, "Love you neighbors."  And yes, it did make me wonder if maybe he shouldn't be driving--he's a verbally reclusive sort.

--But in the end, I decided to give credit to the power of Christmas music being made imperfectly by stringed instruments on a perfect porch.

Here's hoping we have set the stage for 2021--may we have many more moments like these all year long!

Sunday, January 3, 2021

Winter Warrior Challenge

My sister invited me to be part of her team for the Winter Warrior Challenge.  I'd been feeling the need for something different, although I wasn't sure what that should be.  My Fitbit died weeks ago, and I had decided not to replace it.  Although I loved it at first, as the months and years went on, I wasn't motivated by it the same way I once was.  For example, it would buzz to remind me each hour if I hadn't gotten 250 steps in.  When I first got it, the buzz would startle me; lately, I didn't feel it.

So when my sister suggested that we put a team together, I said yes.  I've signed up for the long run challenge, even though it's quite a challenge from my starting point:  20 miles a week.  The short run challenge is 10 miles a week, which wouldn't be the same kind of challenge.  I had been close to doing that mileage until early December, when my running fell apart.  Or was it November when my running fell apart?

No matter.  It didn't fall apart because of injury, and I did keep walking.  I could have done more to be prepared, but I'll start where I am.  I've covered 4 miles each day of 2021 so far.

I thought I'd be motivated by not wanting to let my teammates down, and that's happened.  But I'm also surprised by how much I'm wanting to maintain my place.  On Saturday morning, I returned home from my run, logged my miles, and checked the results page--I was #2!  And then, as I watched, someone else logged her miles, so I slipped to 3rd place.  My first impulse was to go out and run some more, even though I had just returned from a run.  Later on Saturday afternoon, when I had slipped to 8th place, I thought about going out for a 3 mile run.

Those of you who have read my blog for any amount of time at all will not be surprised to see my competitive streak rise up this way.  I like to think that I'm not competitive, but in fact, I am.  I can be motivated by a good prize, but even when there's no prize at all, I want to prove myself.  But I'm also motivated by being on a team, by not wanting to let my teammates down.  And I can also be motivated if there's a teacher whom I want not to let down.

I'm looking forward to seeing what I can do with this challenge in the next 3 months.

Friday, January 1, 2021

A Last Look at 2020

I did not stay up to make sure the year ended, to toast to a new year.  I usually don't stay up until midnight, not on New Year's Eve, not on any other day.  I do remember a New Year's Eve here or there where we wanted to stay up to make say "Good Riddance!" to the past year.  Our worst year in terms of personal difficulties was 2005, which began with my mother-in-law in the hospital recovering from the hip replacement which set her on a road to death by medical-industrial complex in April; we finished that year with the worst hurricane season we've ever personally experienced, although 2017 comes close.

If we were superstitious people, we'd be spooked by any year divisible by 5, especially years that end in 5, so perhaps it shouldn't be a surprise that 2020 was a doozy.

I know that most of us looking back over 2020 will focus on the pandemic as the big news of the year, the one with long lasting ramifications.  But I do wonder if we will see stories that turn out to be more major, once we have some distance from them.  After all, the pandemic will fade, with luck and these new vaccines.  

I look back on this year and see a planet saying, "Time's up."  Although we didn't have much storm damage in south Florida this year, it was a hurricane season that broke all sorts of records.  I see category 4 storms in November to be a particularly ominous sign.

And it wasn't just hurricane season--we've had a year of ferocious fires across the globe.  We've had a year of record breaking warmth at the poles.  There are probably other climate stories that floated right by me, but will loom large in later years as we look back.

And so here we sit, at the edge of the continent, hospice chaplains to a house with a quiet determination to sink into the sea.  This past year provoked many conversations about moving--the national conversation focused on people moving to get out of cities and/or to be closer to family members.  Many of my friends in South Florida saw house prices rising along with sea levels and wondered if now might be the time to sell.

I am wondering if we will look back and see 2020 as a time of migration similar to the Great Migration of the 20th century, when so many black people left the rural south for northern cities.  I also see this as a year that could begin a mass migration in terms of jobs.  If one had been contemplating a career in health care, would this past year change one's thinking?  I could see asking similar questions about a number of career fields.

And I see a whole slew of less profound work questions.  Will we travel for business?  Will we return to offices?  How will we take care of children as we move into this new time?

When I look back on this year, I have some things I want to remember:

--I was part of a school that was able to pivot and continue delivering a quality education.  We were able to keep shepherding our students towards their goals.  That's no small thing in any year, but in 2020, it's a huge thing.

--Similarly, my church was able to pivot.  We'd already been doing some experiments with streaming our worship service, so our learning curve was not as steep as it might have been.  Early on in the pandemic, I started a daily morning watch which I broadcast on our Facebook page.  I've really enjoyed leading that, and one of my favorite comments of the year was when one of my faithful viewers said that morning watch was as rewarding as church.

--As part of morning watch, I've been sketching 5-7 minutes every morning.  I am amazed with what I can accomplish with a 5 minute daily practice.

--I will look back and think of this year as one where I was not writing, but that's not true.  I wrote a blog post or two almost every day.  I filled up two legal pads with poem drafts, and some of them were good.  I wrote a bit of fiction.  I wrote all sorts of stuff for work, but that's rarely the writing that feeds my soul. I also continued sending work out for possible publication.  I don't have the kind of success to report that I wish I did, but it's not for lack of trying.