Tuesday, March 30, 2021

One Year of Morning Watch

A year ago, many of us went into our houses and wouldn't come out again for weeks--and those of us with underlying health conditions probably still haven't left our houses much, if we have been allowed to stay sheltered.  As we went into lock-down, we experimented with broadcasting a variety of activities, from school to church to fitness classes.

My church had already been doing some live-streaming of Sunday worship service, so making that pivot to broadcasting worship wasn't hard for us.  My pastor added some evening Compline services to the mix.  Those of us who are early risers wanted something on the other side of the day, and I volunteered to be the one to do it.

I thought about choosing texts for the day, but then I wondered why I would do that, since we had common lectionaries.  I took the path of least resistance for me, which was using Phyllis Tickle's The Divine Hours.  I used the Facebook Live feature and used the church's Facebook page, which meant that people could tune in live or they could watch the recording later.

I planned to continue until Easter and maybe a few weeks beyond.  But as the weeks went on, I found that being the one responsible for doing morning watch enriched my day in ways that it didn't when I was alone.  At the end of the time together, after the closing prayer from The Divine Hours, I give a benediction of sorts.  Some days it's more like a reminder of how God is working in and through the world, in and through us.  Some days it's a connection to the church calendar--I'm particularly fond of feast days of saints that most of us have forgotten or never heard of.  Always I stress that God is with us, rooting for us, delighting in us, waiting patiently for us, pointing us in new directions.

My view of God is not the view of God as angry judge or of us as helpless children in need of a parent.  The image I come back to again and again is one of God as a creator in the middle of a big project, and we get to be part of the creative team, if we say yes.  And if we don't say yes, God doesn't go off in a huff.  God is there, each day, inviting us again and again.

In short, I finish morning watch each day by sending us off into our separate lives with words that I need to hear.

Has it made a difference?  I do hear from church members about how much they appreciate my efforts.  There are a few people who tune in every day, day in and day out, while others watch the recording.  There are some I'm sure I know nothing about.

I have not missed a morning except for the one time I didn't have connectivity at Lutheridge.  I have never been that devoted to a practice in my past.  I've usually taken days off, and sometimes, the practice has fallen away altogether.

It's also been good for my sketching.  Each morning, I've spent 5 minutes on a sketch--and it shows in my "realistic" sketching.  There are still plenty of ways I'd like to be better, but I wouldn't have seen the improvements that I have without my daily appointment.

I plan to continue doing morning watch--let's see what year 2 brings!

Monday, March 29, 2021

Paid Holiday for Passover

I have today off for Passover, and then, I have Friday off for Good Friday.  It's very ecumenical, and not at all what has been usual at my school.  But the sale actually happened last week, and now we have new owners who are Jewish.  Now we will get all the Jewish holidays, along with Good Friday and Christmas, and a slate of federal holidays.  This year, in September, we will only have about 12 work days, between Labor Day, Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, and several days for Sukkot.

Let me be clear that I am not complaining.  I would also be happy to celebrate Muslim and Hindu holidays.  

Since I knew that I had the day off, I scheduled my last psych evaluation appointment necessary for the candidacy committee.  Maybe today will be the day when I finally find out which 4 letters I am in the Myers-Briggs universe.  I've done some of that work in the past, but I can never remember the Myers-Briggs.  In fact, I don't think I've ever done the Myers-Briggs because it cost too much money.

The appointment will be by way of Zoom, and I feel a bit of anxiety about the stability of my internet connection.  That anxiety seems to have joined my stable of anxieties.  Ugh.

I will also practice the bass part that I'm playing on 2 songs for the Easter sunrise service.  My friend has loaned me her bass ukulele to practice this week.  I am amazed by what a different kind of music playing experience it is.  I look at the music and the words and the advice to play every other beat--but with words, it's distracting.  I'll do best if I ignore the singing, but can I?

Happily, if I discover that I can't, I won't be wrecking anyone's sunrise service experience.  It's a gift in so many ways to be part of a forgiving and encouraging church.  Not every church music program is this way.

So, onward to my first paid holiday I've ever had--ever--for Passover.

Sunday, March 28, 2021

Learning to Play a New Instrument

One of the high points of last week was having some music jam sessions/rehearsals in our house.  Easter is coming, and it's time to get ready.

We've been trying to be safe, of course.  On Wednesday evening, we began in the back yard, where we could stay spaced out, and when it got dark, we moved inside, where we could still stay spaced out.  Yesterday, we stayed inside for a variety of reasons (sun sensitivity of one of our members, the need to protect some of the instruments, the need to stay cool).

Yes, we are singing during a pandemic, which carries risk.  But we've tried to minimize the risks.  We haven't had very many people come to rehearse--our house is not that big, and neither is the choir at our church.  Everyone has had at least one dose of vaccine.  We've been working together musically throughout the pandemic (a pandemic pod of sorts), and been taking measures to stay safe as we move about in the world.

One of the problems of being a small group is that we can only play so many instruments and sing.  So yesterday, when one of the members realized that the bass line might be easy for me to play, she gave me a quick lesson in her big instrument so that she could play the banjo ukulele.  And that's how I found myself here:

What a cool instrument!  What a cool experience.  I realized that I never thought of the bass as a percussion instrument.  I know about bass and treble clefs, so I never thought of it as carrying the melody line, but yesterday's experience shifted my perspective.

As always, I am surprised by how hard it is to keep the beat.  I see people play the tambourine, which seems like it wouldn't be hard, and I am surprised by how deeply I have to concentrate to do the same thing.

I had a Zoom meeting with my small group for my spiritual direction certificate program.  It was so cool to sit in the front bedroom with the group of 3 rehearsing on the other side of the closed door.  It was cool that my spouse was having a good time while I needed to be away.

It was so great this week to have people over, to feel connected in a deeper way.  We've only done that with our quarantine pod of neighborhood friends.  I've felt myself feeling a bit more detached from most people, more than is usual for me.  These 2 rehearsal sessions have given me hope that the detachment will be necessary.

Saturday, March 27, 2021

Up and Down News and an Acceptance

In the late afternoon, as my spouse got ready to teach his Friday night class, I read about the death of Larry McMurtry.  At one point, McMurtry was my spouse's favorite writer, and we owned all of McMurtry's books.  And then, about an hour later, I learned that Beverly Cleary had died at the age of 104.

I've written about Cleary before, most completely in the first part of this blog post.  And I periodically return to Lonesome Dove--see this blog post for one of my more complete considerations.  Last night I made this Facebook post:  "A tough day in terms of literary losses, with the death of Larry McMurtry and Beverly Cleary. So I was happy to meet the baby of my neighbor's son, the son who had a horrifying motorcycle accident a few years ago, and it's amazing he lived, much less had a baby with his high school sweetheart. In October, just before the baby was born, I made her this quilt, and tonight we met face to face. In a few years, maybe I'll give her a book by Beverly Cleary, after we go around the neighborhood Christmas caroling."

Yesterday was that kind of up and down day all day.  It is strange to be at a campus that is in a slow motion closing, doing the work that keeps the campus going, while at the same time, knowing that work will eventually come to naught--and yes, I get the metaphor.  All of life can be described this way.

During my lunch break, I was writing an e-mail to my family to catch them up on developments--for the most part, I've been in a wait and see period.  I sent the e-mail that said that my application to Wesley Theological Seminary was complete, and I had been waiting impatiently for the mail each day, as if I was a high school senior.

Then I wondered if I would get an old-fashioned letter, so I went to the Wesley website.  The application area has a dashboard once one has applied--that's how I could track whether or not my materials had arrived.  A week ago, they all had (on March 15, one letter still needed to arrive), and the dashboard showed that my application was complete and under consideration.

I wasn't sure how the process worked at that point.  Does Wesley do rolling admissions?  Are there a limited number of seats?  How many of those seats might be reserved for Methodists, for people of color, for people with higher GPAs than mine?  How long before I would know?

Yesterday afternoon, the dashboard showed that there was a decision.  Oh my!  I clicked, and the website launched my acceptance letter.  I made a copy, just in case one never comes by U.S. Mail.  I clicked on the button to let Wesley know that I plan to enter seminary for Fall 2021, and I paid the $125 fee.  I read a bit on the portal that I now have access to as an entering student.

Then it was time to return my attention to work.  Part of me wanted to tell all of my colleagues the good news, while part of me wanted to keep checking to make sure that I had seen news of acceptance.  Had Wesley changed its mind?  I also didn't want to share because I didn't want to answer questions. 

I know that a lot of people might have surprised at how relieved I am to get official acceptance.  Some people have said to me, "Of course you'll be accepted.  How could you not?"  And I resist listing all the reasons.  

I'm so glad that none of those reasons turned out to be a dealbreaker.  I'm so glad for this acceptance letter.

Friday, March 26, 2021

The Poet Gets Dose #1 of the Vaccine

When we talked about getting our vaccines, my spouse and I agreed that we wouldn't post pictures of our vaccine cards, since those pictures often reveal a lot more information (like addresses) than the poster might intend.  But there's another kind of posting that's quickly becoming ubiquitous:

I don't have a smart phone, so I took this shot with my laptop, thus the low-fi quality (meaning:  I don't know why my face photographed with those shiny patches).  I forgot to take it yesterday, but happily, I also forgot to take off the band-aid, so I captured the moment this morning.

Yesterday I got the first dose of the Moderna vaccine.  I made the appointment at Publix, our local grocery store.  My spouse and I also agreed that we didn't want to go to a stadium or a park because we've heard about hours-long waits--we wanted specific appointment times if possible.  

I had heard about crowds, especially at closing times, when people are hoping there will be unclaimed vaccine doses that must be used, so I was a bit wary.  I needn't have been.  When I arrived at 9:30 on Thursday morning, the Publix had very few shoppers.  I went right up to the check in desk, staffed by a friendly Publix worker.

A few minutes later, I was seated in the pharmacy, waiting as the pharmacist got the dose and got the syringe ready.  I felt the kind of upswelling of emotion that others have described:  a rush of gratitude for all the scientists who got us to this point and so quickly, a rush of sadness for all the lives lost, a tingle of fear that the virus will outwit this vaccine.

The shot itself didn't hurt at all.  I was expecting more pain.  My arm got more sore as the day went on.  I felt chills, but that's not unusual.  My office HVAC system seems to only operate on freezer or sauna level.

In an interesting incidence of serendipity, one of my good friends from high school got his vaccine yesterday too, although half a country away.  One year, you're pooling your meager resources, seeing how much pizza you can buy at Pizza Hut on the Hill, you blink, and almost 40 years have gone by, and you're overjoyed at good medical news.

Throughout the afternoon, my thoughts kept coming back to my vaccine, and to where we were a year ago.  Almost to the day, a year ago, the president of my school sent some of us letters that designated us as essential personnel, in case we should be stopped on our way to or from school, letters that would keep us from getting arrested for violating the lockdown orders that the county and local governments had just imposed.  I printed the letter and put it in my purse, along with my school ID, in the same area as my driver's license.

I was never stopped, and over the next few weeks of 2020, there weren't many of us out and about. I couldn't imagine how we would get through this disease, since I knew about the history of vaccine development.  It can take years and years to get an effective vaccine, and it often doesn't happen at all.  I hadn't counted on the collective willpower that comes with a disease of this magnitude.  I would not have foreseen that just one year later, so many of us would be getting vaccinated.

I realize we are not out of the proverbial woods yet, but we are much further along than I thought we would be.

This morning, I feel like I should write Dolly Parton a thank you note, since she helped fund the vaccine that I got.  If I had a magic wand, I'd make sure she got the Nobel Peace Prize this year.  She is an amazing philanthropist, in ways that are much less widely recognized than the white tech guys who so often get lauded.  And she came out of nothing, which to me, makes her philanthropy even more noteworthy.

Maybe the best philanthropists come out of meager backgrounds.  Maybe that's how they get their extraordinary empathy.

But I digress.  I'd love to sit and think about this further, but it's time to head to work.  Another burst of gratitude:  we kept the school going, we kept our students as on track as possible, and a year later, we're still here.

Thursday, March 25, 2021

Sketching the Feast of the Annunciation

Since May, I have been creating a card for the temperature check in station that gives the date and has a sketch.  Some days, the sketch has something to do with the date, while other days, I'm simply sketching the latest thing that appeals.  Some days I'm striving for realism, while others, I'm being fanciful.

When I realized that the feast day of the Annunciation was coming up, I decided to see if I could create something special.  I ended up with this sketch:

I might have been less pleased with it, had I not gone through several rough drafts.  Here's one with a goofy face that turned into a deformed face when I tried to fix it:

And another, where Mary looks too masculine:

As a model, I was using a linoleum block print that Beth Adams created years ago, a process which she describes in a blog post that makes me want to do printmaking:

In the end, I worried that the image was too religious, so I decided to create something more ambiguous:

I love the feather left behind from Gabriel's wings.  I love that the image of the feather gave me a poem that I wrote yesterday.  I love that the Virgin Mary image hearkens back to images I was creating back during Advent (see this blog post for more on the Advent images of the Virgin Mary).  I love that I'm the only one who will see the religious significance.

And let me include my process notes, in case I can't remember later.  One might wonder why I don't use a pencil and make copious corrections.  Part of the reason is because I haven't worked much in pencil, and I don't have good pencils in the office.  Part of it is because I don't want to get too bogged down in a quest for perfection.

Similarly, one might wonder why I'm not using a better quality paper.  When I started, I thought I would be throwing them all away, so I used the backs of paper from the recycling box.  But I found I couldn't bear to throw them away.

I have 3 sets of markers here, so I'm limited to some extent in terms of color.  But that's true at home too.  I'm not as good at blending these markers as others are--and on this kind of paper, it's even more difficult.  But again, I want to be aware that I'm not creating works of art; the goal is to do a quick sketch, to train my hands and my eyes, staying focused on the process, not the end result.

In short, like Mary, I want to say yes to a plan that shimmers with hope.

Wednesday, March 24, 2021

Annunciations and Vaccinations and Signs of All Sorts

What a strange week--and it's only Tuesday.  Yesterday morning, I made this tweet:  "I could write about white men, guns, and mass shootings, but others will do that and with more passion. I will write about Palm Sunday and the path to Good Friday--which brings us back to white men with power and those in the path who are harmed."  Later, I did turn that idea into a post for my theology blog.

Stunning to realize it's the second mass shooting in a week.  It's enough to make me snarky about being out of lockdown, and how maybe we shouldn't let everyone out.

It's also been the kind of week where I think about more ancient ideas of death and the powers of death circling in a malevolent way.  My aunt has gone into hospice care for a newly discovered tumor that is cancer.  The mother of a childhood friend has been fighting esophageal cancer.  I remember running to her house in 7th grade.  I had accidently put a rubber tray in the oven.  Why would I do such a thing?  It looked identical to a cookie sheet and was stored with them.  When I saw the melting pan, I couldn't figure out what to do.  My friend's mother knew what to do.  I hope she wins this current fight, but I know the odds are stacked against her.

I got the news of my friend's mother on Monday morning, and earlier that morning, I heard about the death of poet Adam Zagajewski.  I first discovered him decades ago, when I found his poem "Try to Praise the Mutilated World" in an Intro to Lit anthology.  Sadly, throughout the decades, that poem continues to teach well.  We continue to have the kind of news like we did later on Monday, the news of the shooting with multiple dead in a grocery store in Boulder.  

But Monday was also a day of getting vaccine appointments.

Yesterday I realized that those vaccine appointments are on the feast day of the Annunciation.  I did some sketching, which I may write more about later.  This morning, I woke up with a poem in my brain, about the time just after the Annunciation, and the poem just came out mostly fully formed.  That almost never happens, particularly not these days.

It's also been the kind of week where I have that mental whiplash that comes from being safe and careful, pandemic or no pandemic, but surrounded by people who are not being safe and careful.  As Monday night went into Tuesday, I finally got a good night's sleep, in part because we kept the windows closed.  For several nights before, I had awakened to squealing tires and revving motors.  Has my street become a drag racing gathering spot?  And if so, why?

It's a week of lots and lots of traffic, even on residential streets, as we see all sorts of strange stories of Spring Break in Miami Beach--more occasions to be snarky about lockdowns and how maybe we should have stayed in lockdown. Last year, the South Florida tourist season came to a fast finish as the pandemic closed in.  I do understand how we are a tourist economy, but I was not sorry to see the on season switch to off.

It's been the kind of week where I keep stumbling across reminders of what we've lost.  For example, I opened a paper box in my office and found not paper, not recycling of used paper, but cans of soda.  It took my brain a few seconds to process the bright red, silver, and green of the cans of Coke products where I had been expecting white scraps of paper.

I remember stashing the cans away when we had extra, and I wanted to save them for the next New Student Orientation.  I knew that I needed to hide them, and I had run out of space under my desk.  Why did I need to hide them?  Otherwise, my colleagues would help themselves.

Now our Admissions reps have gone to the Ft. Lauderdale campus, along with most other colleagues, and we're not having the kind of New Student Orientations the result in an abundance of soda.  Our campus is closing, so even if we get the pandemic under control enough to have those kinds of gatherings again, it will probably be too late for my campus.

A slow motion closing of a campus brings a unique kind of grieving, but maybe it's much more similar to the kind of grieving we've all been doing in this past year.  Let me ponder that, while I shift my morning into the high gear of getting ready for the day.

Tuesday, March 23, 2021

The Poet Gets a Vaccine Appointment

I didn't have a chance to post yesterday because I was distracted by the news that I had become eligible to get a vaccine.  In future years, will we remember which disease I'm getting vaccinated against?  Of course it's COVID-19, and I'm hoping we all get vaccinated enough so that the new variant in Brazil doesn't come roaring in to undo all the gains we've made in this year of lock downs and masks and social distancing.

I didn't take as long a walk as I might have because I wanted to be ready to snag an appointment when Publix released the next round of appointments at 7 a.m.--which was also another reason why I didn't write.  The page refreshes every 60 seconds.  At some point, the side of the page with the make an appointment button lights up and stays lit up, but I didn't know that when I first logged on.  I thought I'd have 5 seconds to hit the button before someone else got the appointment.  I thought it was that kind of competition.  So I would switch to a different browser window, but then switch back after 45 seconds.  I did this for about 10 minutes.

It became clear to me that I needed to try to get an appointment later, when I got to work, where I have 2 screens.  I went about getting ready for my day.  When I returned from my shower, I saw that the make an appointment side of the screen had lit up and stayed lit up.  I was taking no chances.  I clicked.

I took the first appointment offered:  9:40 on Thursday, March 25.  I typed in all the information; it couldn't have been much easier, but I do realize it's easy for me because I have a computer and I have familiarity with this way of filling out forms and I have home internet access.

At the end, the form asked if I wanted to make another appointment.  My spouse is also eligible, so I clicked on yes, and made an appointment for him.  The first appointment offered was when he teaches, so I asked for a different time.  I was warned I might lose any and all appointments, but I clicked on the change button anyway.  It gave me 6 time ranges to choose from, so I clicked on noon to 1:00 on March 25--and now my spouse has an appointment for noon on March 25.

I am aware of how many people don't have access to a vaccine appointment yet, but I do believe that in a few weeks, these appointments will open up to more of us, and I have hope that by May, anyone who wants a vaccine appointment will have one.

Now for the hard part:  convincing everyone that they want an appointment. We aren't going to get to herd immunity if just 50% of us are vaccinated.  

And then there's the other hard part, the even harder part:  figuring out how to get the rest of the world vaccinated too.  But here, too, I have hope.  We've done it before.  We can do it again.

Sunday, March 21, 2021

Days that Increase Anxiety and Techniques to Calm It

It has been a difficult week to be a thinking, feeling person--perhaps every week is, if one is aware and reads widely enough.  I won't do a complete catalog, but it was a week that began with the Pope declared that he will not sanction in any way same sex marriage or commitment services and then moved on to the Atlanta shootings that targeted Asian women.  I'm having trouble sleeping because my neighborhood has turned into one big short term rental market, and it's noisy with party people.  I wake up numerous times, and I lay there making sure I'm hearing the noise of good times, not the noise that means the police should be summoned.

All of this on top of the drumbeat of vaccine news and new variants of the virus news, and it's no wonder that many of us are feeling worse, even as spring is upon us and we grow ever closer to enough of us being vaccinated.  And I suspect I am not alone in having interesting job developments on top of it all.

This morning, I will go to get groceries early, before the rest of the world shows up.  I've always done this, even in pre-pandemic times.  I'm listening to today's episode of On Being, which discusses the nervous system and how to work with it during these high stress times.  Christine Runyon has all sorts of great techniques, like uncrossing our legs and putting both feet on the floor when we're sitting and/or taking a long exhale.

I got another anxiety reducing tip from this episode of 1A:  trace the fingers of one hand with one finger of the other hand.  As you move up and down the fingers, you inhale and exhale.  Tracing the fingers is better than just breathing deeply.  It gives the brain a physical focus in a way that just breathing does not.

I predict the days to come will bring us many opportunities to practice these techniques.

Saturday, March 20, 2021

Long Obediences, Same Direction

As I drove home from work yesterday, I thought about how much change I've set into motion this year.  Of course, some of that change, the work related change, was first set into motion by others.  But I am amazed at what I've managed to accomplish.

Those of you who have never applied to seminary while also applying for candidacy may not have an understanding of how huge an undertaking it is.  Applying to seminary required 4 letters of recommendation, for example.  Yesterday I took another psychological profile, the MMPI2, and it's the 3rd or 4th one required, along with pages and pages of paragraph/essay answers to questions in yet another type of psychological testing.  I've also written an essay for the seminary application and a much longer essay for the candidacy committee

In the past, the sheer volume of these tasks overwhelmed me, even before I got to all the logistics of actually attending.  This year, I've made my way through them methodically.  I am lucky in that I like doing this kind of exploratory writing and test taking.

The Wesley application dashboard shows my application is complete and under review. I’m like a high school senior. I want to keep going to the mailbox to see if there’s a letter from the school.  I wonder if schools still send letters.

At one point in the past week, I printed the Fall 2021 and Spring 2022 class schedules, and spent a few minutes feeling giddy at all the possibilities, all the wonderful classes.  From what I can tell, all the classes in the Fall will still be online, and in the spring, it looks like a mix.  I wonder how many students will be living on campus in the spring.  I plan to do online classes in the fall from down here, and be residential in the spring, if my job has ended by then, as I expect that it will.

How strange to be able to type those words without panic, words about job endings and applications that are likely to set me on a very different direction--and yet, I've been headed in that direction for a long, long time.

Friday, March 19, 2021

Friday Fragments: A Week of Completed Applications

What a week this has been!  Let me record some of the moments that I don't want to forget.  Will they cohere into a unified essay?  Probably not.  But I like these kinds of lists when I come across them in old blog posts; it's a great way of capturing stuff that doesn't seem to merit a whole post of its own.  Let me start with my favorite moments:

--Wesley Theological Seminary has a dashboard where one can see the status of the application in terms of what has been received.  Earlier in the week, I was still missing one of the recommendations.  I felt a bit fretful because I knew that the recommender had written and sent it, but I decided to wait a week to see if it came in.  Yesterday, the dashboard showed that everything is complete--hurrah!

--A week ago, I was worrying about the palm tree removal that was going to happen on Saturday.  So much could go wrong.  Happily, nothing went wrong.  We still have one tree that needs to come down, but knowing that the first tree was successfully removed will help my anxiety.

--On Monday, we got an e-mail announcement about people at work who had gotten promotions.  That's the way I found out that the internal opening for which I had applied was filled, and I would not be getting an interview.  "Maybe God Is Trying to Tell You Something" is a song from the movie The Color Purple that often goes through my mind, but never more so than in times like this.

--Much of my writing this week has been e-mails and writing in my offline journal to process the events at work.  I had forgotten how wonderful it is to write in an offline journal.

--I feel odd aches and pains today, and I remembered that I spent part of yesterday tense and clenched in the dentist's chair.  It was a routine cleaning, but I hate those.  But at least that's done.

--I finished the Winter Warrior Challenge.  I had signed up for the Long Run Challenge:  to run 240 miles over 12 weeks, starting Jan. 1.  At the time I signed up, I wasn't really running much at all, so I'm surprised to finish early.  I finished with several 2 mile runs, more of a whimper than a bang, because I didn't realize I was that close.  This morning, I had a great 4 mile run which gives me hope that I might be able to keep doing this through the tougher summer months.

Thursday, March 18, 2021

Work that Touches

This morning, I made this tweet:  "I am thinking of the hate crime in Atlanta, the Vietnamese girl running burned and naked while I got to be safe in 2nd grade, wondering if I can write a poem that weaves these threads without committing the sins of privilege and appropriation."  For future readers who can't remember which hate crime I'm mentioning here, I'm talking about the white man who killed 8 people in 2 different massage parlors and an aromatherapy spa in Atlanta; six of the victims were of Asian descent.

I have been thinking about my profession in academia, where I am not allowed to touch naked bodies, and I'm thinking about those industries that require touching naked bodies:  backs, nails, feet.  And then there are the other industries that require more mingling than just touching.

I came across this article with this quote that will likely haunt me all day:  "To be an Asian woman working in the US South in the massage industry means being an object, not a subject; being neither Black nor White and thus seen to have honorary white status, which in practice conveys a false belief that you aren't subject to White supremacy; being invisible except when you have been killed by a white man who claims it's not his fault -- it's his addiction. It means further disappearing: being one of six women killed in what people aren't even calling a racially motivated crime, although can there be any doubt that it was misogyny and toxic masculinity that killed you?"

I had been thinking about these issues already.  On Sunday, I listened to On Being, which featured an interview with Ocean Vuong, who talked about his Vietnamese mother grandmother and the war in Vietnam and nail salons.  I thought about the photo of the young girl running burned and naked.  I tried to write a poem on Sunday.

Today I returned to that poem and tried to write something else, but so far, I haven't developed anything that makes me happy.  But I have trails and whisps that may coalesce into a poem.  And even if they don't, they've helped me think about important issues in a way that many won't.

Wednesday, March 17, 2021

The Joys of Offline Journaling

I have been up since 1 a.m. when my eyes snapped open.  I got up and listened to the lecture that my Mepkin journaling group will discuss tonight.  After writing in my offline journal for a bit, I laid back down to try to sleep, but no luck.  

In a way I don't mind because I got a lot of writing done--1600 words in my offline journal.  Yesterday I wrote over 1300 words in that journal.  I tend to turn to that offline journal primarily to preserve e-mail chains and when I need to process stuff that I shouldn't process in an online setting, like work stuff or family stuff.

This week, I've been writing about work changes and the journey towards seminary.  In some ways, I could have written about it publicly, but that's often the case.  However, there's something exhilarating about writing stuff that very few people are likely to see--but then again, I'm always editing myself, by which I mean correcting grammar and spelling.  I tend to write fairly openly whether online or offline, but I also realize that I can do that because I'm older with a life that tends to boring instead of drama.

Yesterday I went back through my blogs to read the posts I had tagged with "discernment."  I am astonished at how long I've been thinking about seminary.  And in 2019, I did discover Wesley's Theology and the Arts program, but clearly it didn't move me then.  I am also amazed at how consistent I've been when I've been thinking about career shifts and the future.

This week at work has been so different than what I was visualizing:  it's been a week of announcements of other people's promotions, of the employee handbook for the new company that's buying my school, the stresses that come when a purchase may finally be about to happen.  It feels like we've already had a whole week of work, but it's only Wednesday.

Tuesday, March 16, 2021

Notes on an Interfaith Justice Rally by Way of Zoom

 My focused writing time is short this morning; I spent it writing in my offline journal.  But I want to make some notes on last night's BOLD Justice rally.  It was held by way of Zoom, but in many respects, it was the same as previous years:  local government officials joined us, they listened to our research, and last night, we all committed to moving forward.

Because it was by way of Zoom, we had more participants.  I was able to invite people from near and far, and to my delight, some of them said yes.  It was a treat to trade notes with my grad school friend in South Carolina.  That would not have been possible in past years.

We had bishops from many denominations join us--that, too, has never happened before.

As I watched the display in the Zoom box, I thought about how male they are.  Not one female bishop shepherding the Florida denomination of the Church?  

I thought back to an earlier thought I had, one where my inner critic sneered at the thought of me going to seminary:  "Sure, just what the world needs, one more post-menopausal pastor lady."  Looking at that Zoom display, I thought, yes indeed, more women of all ages are needed.  I'm trying to ignore the voice of despair in my head that says that we've been ordaining women for 50 years now, and maybe what's needed is a better/surer/swifter pipeline to leadership.

When the rally was over, I did not miss the traffic jam that always happens as everyone tries to leave at roughly the same time.  But I did miss the energy that is always in the room.  I didn't feel that energy in my front bedroom staring at the computer screen.

I want to believe it will make a difference.  As my grad school friend said, lots of eyes have been watching and paying attention.  I often think that elected officials only need to know that to know that they have to make some changes.

My grad school friend said that she was relieved to see that Florida people are different than the way the news media portrays them:  more diverse, more concerned with the poor and the outcast.  I am relieved too.

I do realize that the need is huge and that our efforts are so small.  But if I only worked in areas where I can make immediate, sweeping social change, I'd never get out of the chair.  

My hope, of course, is that a steady progression of small changes will lead to those sweeping social changes. 

As Octavia Butler would say:  "So be it.  See to it."

Monday, March 15, 2021

Interfaith Community Justice Organizing in an Age of Pandemic

For over a decade, in Broward county, in South Florida, an ecumenical group has been meeting the past few years to demand justice from our local leaders. Some years we've worked on housing issues, some years dental issues, and so on. We make real changes.  The work has culminated in a Nehemiah action, where we meet with local government officials to show the results of our research and to ask for--and demand, if necessary--changes.

Last year, our Nehemiah action was scheduled for April, shortly after our county went into lockdown.  We canceled that action.  In the year since, we've learned how to do community organizing and justice work from a distance.  As with school and work, we rely on Zoom.

Tonight we will have our first Nehemiah action by way of Zoom.  There will also be a drive-in component, for those who feel safe doing that.  I will be logging in.

Because of the magic of Zoom, you could log in too.  Here's the information that was sent:

We have loved ones living on the streets with mental illness. We are going to push for better access to housing.

Children and adults in Broward County are being saddled with lifetime arrest records for minor mistakes. We are going to push for expanded access to diversion and an end to the criminalization of poverty.

We expect Broward County Commissioners and the Broward County State Attorney to respond at the Action.

Time: Log on 7:15pm, Call to Order 7:30pm
Zoom link: http://bit.ly/bold-nehemiah-action

Meeting ID: 828 4106 4274
Password: 4649
To participate by phone only dial: 312 626 6799

Sunday, March 14, 2021

One Year Later: a Journal of the Plague Year and the Need to Extract Blog Posts

This has been a strange week-end, with schedule disruptions.  Yesterday I decided to save a walk/run until later, since we were expecting our landscaping guy to return to take out our palm trees.  I decided to savor the early morning quiet.  This morning, with Daylight Savings Time starting, I was off schedule.  My spouse and I went for a walk, and now I am writing a few hours later than usual.

The happy news:  the palm tree came down without incident.  Many of us probably think of palm trees as insignificant, and I did too, before I moved into this house that has so many of them in the yard.  The fronds that fall are heavy; we're taking out palm trees because the fronds fell on the neighbor's roof and smashed tiles, before they replaced the roof.

So I sat in the front room, listened to each thud and clink of china inside, and tried not to think about all that could go wrong.  Happily, I was able to get other tasks done too.  Our taxes are done and filed.  I organized the photos I had been taking.  I wrote my report on Julian of Norwich's A Book of Showings, a requirement for my certificate program in spiritual direction; I captured those ideas earlier in this post on my theology blog.

I also came across this article in The Washington Post, an article about the journals and diaries that people had been keeping since the start of the pandemic.  It made me wish that I had done that.

Of course, I did do that, but my entries were part of my blog or to a lesser extent, part of e-mails.  This morning I decided to go back through my blog and collect the entries that discuss the pandemic.  I'm going to put them into a separate document.  I'm not sure what I'll do with that document later, but it feels important to have it as a separate document.  I'd like to have it archived somewhere.

I am part of a generation of girls that grew up reading journals, knowing that journals are so important as a historical document.  When the pandemic started, I always had that idea in my mind as I blogged about it.  A year ago, I only had the barest glimmer of how our lives had changed.  Now that I know, I want a better document.

Saturday, March 13, 2021

Friday One Year Ago and Friday Last Night

A year ago today, it would have been a Friday.  My spouse was teaching in person on Friday nights, and I tried to connect with friends in  person while he taught.  A year ago, I had plans to meet with a group of friends from my AiFL days, my quilt group that didn't quilt as much as we once did.  We were going to have dinner at a McAlister's Deli near the house of one of them.

As news of the new virus broke, one of our friends decided not to meet us for dinner.  I went to her house on my way to dinner, and we watched the president's news conference where he declared a national emergency.  Did we really watch it together?  It seems like we did, but we may have just talked about the fact that he planned to do it.

My friend was more concerned with germs from strangers than germs from me, so we hugged goodbye.  Within the coming months, she and her spouse would decide to move to be closer to their only child in Chicago, and they would sell their house and go.  I didn't see them in person through this process, and even when they packed up the car and left for the last time, we didn't see each other.  I didn't realize that I was hugging her goodbye in a larger sense on that Friday night in March.

I realize that many people hate these "one year ago" type posts, but I've always been drawn to them, so I'll continue to write them.  But I also want to record the events of this year.

Last night I had planned to write while my spouse was teaching.  I had taken a week off from writing my apocalyptic novel; my spouse didn't teach a week ago because it was spring break.  I went to the file where the manuscript lives, and it hadn't been updated since mid-February, but I know that I wrote over 1000 words 2 weeks ago.  Hmm.  When I opened the manuscript, those words had vanished, and I couldn't exactly remember what I had written.

Dinner was ready, so I didn't start reconstructing, and then after dinner, I decided to see if I could find the version of the novel in the recently opened list of documents.  Hurrah--there it was.  And then, after saving a copy in multiple places, I tried to figure out if the computer had stored it elsewhere.  It had.  But why?

It distresses me a bit, makes me wonder what else has vanished.  I read the 1000 words I had written and began to remember, but I couldn't remember where I had thought I would go next.  I wrote a sentence.  I stared at the screen.  I decided that it's time for a new approach.

I started 2021 with a goal to write 1000 words a week, 1000 words of my apocalyptic novel.  I've been writing all of those words on Friday night while my spouse teaches.  In a way, it's been exhilarating.  But now, I'm thinking I will try a different approach.

My new goal will be to return to the novel at least 5 days a week, to write at least one sentence, knowing that I will probably write more sentences.  I am now more comfortable with my cloud storage, so I could work on the manuscript during a wider variety of times, like during my lunch break at work.

There is some part of my brain, the tired part, that wonders why I'm doing this at all.  One of the disadvantages of being on Twitter is that I'm aware of how many people are working on writing projects, people who are younger than I am, people who have agents and mentors.  I'm aware of how many people seem to have stopped reading anything longer than a tweet or an Instagram post.

Long ago, I decided to keep writing even if I knew I would never be published.  The process brings me joy.  And with this current novel, I don't know how it's going to turn out, and some part of me writes out of curiosity to see where the story goes.

I'll be interested to see if it's easier to keep the thread of the novel when I'm returning to it daily instead of once a week.  Will I still have time to percolate scenes in my brain before writing them?  Stay tuned!

Friday, March 12, 2021

Successful End to a Virtual Site Visit

Yesterday was a day of anniversaries:  a year ago, the World Health Organization declared what many of us already knew, that we were facing a pandemic.  A year ago, the NBA cancelled one game and then the whole season--when I think about the early days of the pandemic, I remember hearing this news and thinking that I needed to get more serious about understanding this disease and pretty quick.  Yesterday was also the 10 year anniversary of the Fukishima disaster triggered by the earthquake and tsunami--I remember being awake in the early hours of that morning when I heard about the earthquake and tsunami, and throughout that day, hearing trickles of news about the ensuing disaster.

But yesterday, I was not thinking as much about those anniversaries.  Yesterday was the last day of our virtual site visit from the AVMA team that decides on accreditation for our Vet Tech program.  I had a 7:30 a.m. Zoom meeting, which meant I had to leave the house at 6:30 to get there in time to get the building unlocked and my computer ready to go--or to get to campus, realize that the Internet was down, and race back home. 

For yesterday's Zoom meetings that I was part of, my image was pixelated.  The participants told me that I didn't look pixelated to them, so we proceeded.  That was such a strange experience, not being able to see myself, but knowing that they could see me.  I tried to smile, but not excessively, and I hoped that I didn't look deranged.

We had some items that could be fixed immediately, and we did those, so we didn't have findings.  The findings that we did have are easy to fix--we need to use an updated label on secondary bottles of substances, for example.  We need to create some protocols that will be easy to create.  We need to have the meeting that was postponed when we were all under stay at home orders back in April and May of 2020.

It could have been much worse, but happily, it wasn't.  We got praise for how well we had put materials together.  And more importantly, we got praise for the program itself, for what a good and solid job we're doing training and educating our students.  Hurrah!

I had thought ahead to the moment yesterday when we were done, so I brought out the sparkling (non-alcoholic) cider and the chocolates in boxes that said Thank You or Merci.  We took a moment to toast ourselves and "clink" our plastic cups.  And then it was back to work. 

I did a bit more low-key celebrating last night with wine, cheese, and friends.  I prefer accreditation visits that end on a Friday--it would be nice to move at a much slower pace today.  But it's time to head to work, so off I go.  At least it's not as early as yesterday. 

Thursday, March 11, 2021

Accreditation Virtual Site Visit

Today is the second and last day of our accreditation visit--the AVMA is doing a site visit of our Vet Tech program.  Because of the pandemic, it's a virtual visit.  In some ways, it's like a series of Zoom meetings.  But it's that way because we did so much work beforehand.  I say "we," but others have done far more than I have.

We have a Google Drive where much of the visit has already taken place.  We've uploaded loads and loads of documents--the kinds of documents that would be in big binders for an in-person visit.  We've done video tours of the facilities.  We've made videos of equipment, videos of field trips, videos of drug labels, all sorts of videos.

The Zoom meetings will be familiar to those of us who have done accreditation visits.  The visiting team has met with the Program Director and the faculty, both alone and together.  The visiting team has had a session with students.  Today the team meets with various parts of administration, from Admissions to the Librarian to Financial Aid.

In some ways, it's less stress.  We don't have to get food for the team or figure out where they should meet when they're on campus.  But there's stress nonetheless.  My meeting this morning is at 7:30 a.m.  I am leaving at 6:30, so that if I get to the office to find out that the internet is down, I have time to rush back home.  But I'm hoping that my office location will be online.  My home internet has become increasingly unreliable--or is it my computer that's unreliable?  Insert a heavy sigh here.

The stress is also strange in this way:  I have felt tense all week.  With an in-person visit, everyone on campus would remember that the visit was happening and understand the pressure.  With an online visit, it's easy to forget that the visit is happening, if you're not in the Zoom meeting, and you're not part of the team in charge of the campus logistics (me and the Program Director and the faculty).

I'll be interested to see if we keep online accreditation visits when it's safe to assemble in person again.  In some ways, being online is easier on the visiting team:  no airline travel, no hotels, and perhaps a more leisurely pace.  But I won't be surprised if accrediting bodies go back to in-person visits.  In some ways, it's such a different experience to assess what's happening in a school when one is there, when the accreditation experience is less curated.

Or is it?  Maybe it's more like the online classes that I teach.  It's a very different class, the online class and the in-person class--and yet, the essentials remain in each delivery modality.  Maybe we will determine, in accreditation visits as with classes, that each delivery system has its advantages and its disadvantages.

Wednesday, March 10, 2021

Age of Anxiety

Anxiety has reared its ugly head.  Even as I write this sentence, I think about a different way to write about anxiety.  What if anxiety isn't ugly?  What if anxiety brews a pot of tea and keeps watch and alerts us to dangers we aren't seeing?

And I have known anxiety would be back.  On Sunday, Feb. 28, I wrote this e-mail to a friend:
"I feel like I'm in this strange head space that my head doesn't usually occupy. There are lots of unknowns and several possible timelines, and I am going with the flow, trusting in God. I am usually the person with a plan A, B, and C, a back up plan for each, and a remote back up plan in case of utter disaster. But with this heading to seminary, I'm in a strange laid back place in terms of the time line and the process--and I must say, I like it very much.

That's not to say that I'm not being proactive. It is a process that requires much--which is a bit astonishing to me. But I'm not stressed, the way I might usually be, or overwhelmed. I'm just completing tasks, step by step, trusting in the overall vision. It's that Ignatian concept (maybe it is? it's still fairly new to me) of consolation, not desolation, I think."

I knew at the time that I wrote it that those words would come back to haunt me.  By Monday morning, I woke up feeling awash in anxiety about a variety of outcomes.  Who did I think I was applying to seminary and candidacy?  Surely I'm on a road to bankruptcy.  I will spend my retirement years living in a van, if I'm lucky enough to have a van.  And yes, I did spend part of Sunday watching parts of Nomadland, feeling like I was seeing both a cautionary and aspirational tale.

It wasn't too long before the spiral of too old/too late/too unworthy started to drag me down.  I thought about all the people who have made an effort for me--written me letters and done interviewing and analyzing--now I'll let all those people down when I finally realize that seminary is an impossible dream.

But what if I don't realize it in time?  And then there's the kind of anxiety that wonders if I can still write grad level papers.  But truth be told, I don't worry that I can't write the papers, so much as I fret about the time management aspect of it all.  And there's the distance part of it, on and on my tortured brain goes.

My brain woke up in this anxiety soaked state on both Monday and Tuesday.  I spent part of each of those mornings working on calming myself down--and realizing that part of my anxiety is rooted in the changes coming at work, now that it looks like the changes are finally coming.  The sale of my school to the school in Brooklyn is scheduled for March 24, and this time, it looks like it will actually happen.  

Oh, and we have an accreditation visit this week--and it's virtual, a type of visit I've never experienced before.  We are as prepared as we know how to be, and yet, there will always be anxiety with an accreditation visit.

So, it's no wonder that my anxiety comes to visit here and there.  Let me visualize my anxiety as the kind friend who has a different set of priorities than I do, but someone with my interests at heart.  Let me continue to remember not to undo decisions made in a time of consolation. 

Tuesday, March 9, 2021

Holding Up Half the Sky, and All the Cosmos Too

Yesterday, I realized that I hadn't sent a haiku to my group in a week, while at the same time realizing that I had the 7 syllable line.  In short order, I sent these:

Weary, staying strong,
Women hold up half the sky
all the cosmos too

Or do you like this version better?

Weary, staying strong,
Women hold up half the sky
and the cosmos too

The difference is subtle, but worth noting.  

This morning, while looking at the lines, the idea for a sketch glimmered in my mind.  Let me see what I come up with.


I wasn't having much luck until I did an image search for "stylized sketch Atlas holding up the sky" and came up with some images I could use.  At first, I did these 2, which were getting me closer:

And then I came up with this:

That sketch became the basis for the finished (at least for this version) sketch:

Monday, March 8, 2021

Tulips for International Women's Day

On Saturday, I needed to pick up a few groceries, so I went to the grocery store that has the better floral section.  I was hoping to find a pot of jonquils or daffodils, but I don't usually find them here.  I found cut tulips, but most of them had already opened.  And then I found a pot of tulips that still had their best days ahead of them--and they're purple, one of my favorite colors in tulips.  I added them to my cart.

It was only at the checkout register that I realized I had gotten a pot that was celebrating International Women's Day.  How had that holiday come and gone already with so little fanfare?

Come to find out, it hadn't--it's today, March 8.

The beautiful thing about this pot of tulips is that I can move it around the house with me.  On Saturday, I put it on the TV stand so that I could enjoy them as I watched the Hulu adaptation of The Handmaid's Tale.  I didn't plan it that way, but it seems appropriate viewing for this week in a larger month that celebrates women and their history.

On Sunday morning, I moved them to the front bedroom where I write.  I was struck by the way the shadows played with the actual shapes.

I also noticed the label on the pot.  A women-owned tulip farm--I didn't realize I was supporting such a thing by buying spring flowers, but apparently I did!

The paper that wraps the pot with its words like "feminine" and "sweet" and "solidarity" and "resilient" and "workers"--is that supposed to be saying something about the day?  Who creates such paper, with these words that both do and do not go together?

We might ask ourselves why we still need to set time apart to pay attention to women. Haven't we enacted laws so that women are equal and now we can just go on with our lives?

Sadly, no, that is not the case. If we look at basic statistics, like how much women earn compared to men in the very same jobs, we see that the U.S. has still not achieved equality. If we look at violent crime rates across the past 100 years, we discover that most violent crime rates have fallen--except for rape. If we look at representation in local, state, and federal levels, we see that members of government are still mostly white and male.

And that's in a first world country. The picture for women in developing nations is bleak.

Yes, I realize that buying a pot of tulips is not enough--not nearly enough. So, today, let us get started, let us continue, let us make progress. And let us remember all of those who need us to make progress at a faster rate for their very lives and the lives of their daughters are at stake.

Sunday, March 7, 2021

March: Drawing a Lion, Drawing a Lamb

I have continued to create a sketch to go along with the date for a card that's at our COVID check in station at school.  Some days I'm drawing something abstract, while other days, I have something specific in mind.  Some days I work from a picture, if I'm trying to attain realism, while other days I'm having fun creating something that's in my imagination.

Some days, I try drawing something as I envision it and quickly realize I need to shift gears.  

In the waning days of February, I had a vision for a March 1 card that had both a lion and a lamb to reference the old saying about March coming in like a lion and going out like a lamb.  Of course, down here in South Florida, we seem to be back in swampy summer.  

I tried drawing a lion, and realized I had drawn him too big:

Then I tried to just draw his head.

And then I got lost in self-loathing about how I had no skills at all.  How could I draw lions that looked so much like jack-o-lanterns or strange suns?

I realized that I wasn't sure what a real lion would look like, so I did a search for images.  And then I tried to draw what I saw:

Then I drew a lamb--without looking at images of lambs.  I was less pleased with the lamb, but I had already spent way too much time on the project.  When I googled lamb images, I came up with lamb chops.  I did get a sense of the ears.  

When I look back at these lion images, I'm astounded.  I drew them all, and not across an expanse of time.  I drew them in about 15 minutes.

Here I might end with a meditation on the importance of learning to see, to look at images and copy what I see, not what I expect to see.  But some days, I've sketched solely from imagination, and been delighted with those sketches.  Some days, I see what is there and change it for the better.  Some days, I couldn't draw what I see, not for love, not for money.

I am happy to have a variety of creative practices, particularly ones that can be done when I don't have vast expanses of time.  To throw a pot on a wheel takes more than 15 minutes.  To sketch a lion three times can be done in 15 minutes.

To master the ability to sketch a lion--that will likely take a lifetime.

Saturday, March 6, 2021

Psychological Tests and Pairs of Choices

I'm in the process of doing the tasks that need to be done for seminary and candidacy (the process by which the Lutheran church, the ELCA, will determine if they approve me for ordained ministry).  I've been working on the psychological piece:  the forms and the tests.

This morning, I decided to do the two tests that need to be done on the computer.  The link came with instructions to do this when I had plenty of time, when I had gotten enough rest, when I wasn't frazzled from work (my wording, not the instructions).  The e-mail of instructions told me that each of the two tests could take 30-60 minutes, so I wasn't sure that taking them at the end of a work day made sense.

This morning I had the push-pull reaction that I have almost every morning.  If I take the time to do the writing that I want to do, I don't have time for exercise.  I want to exercise before the sun comes up and before lots of people are out and about--but that's my best writing time.  I am most likely to be able to be focused when I am the only one in the house who is awake and up and about.

This morning, I decided to start a batch of pumpkin bread dough and then do the tests, to forego exercising and writing until later.  And that's what I did.

One test was a vocational/occupational/interest kind of test.  I was given a variety of careers and asked to rate each on a scale of 5 from most interested to most disinterested.  I was told not to think about whether or not I had aptitude or training, just whether or not I would be interested.  Then I worked my way through a similar set, but was asked about how I would want to spend my free time.  I was mildly to very interested in most of them, except for accounting, tech support, and military types of things.

The other test was the Myers-Briggs.  I've taken that type of test before, but I can never remember how I scored.  The test gave me pairs of words and phrases and situations and asked me to mark the ones most like me.  I tried to go quickly and not overthink it all.

And yet . . . and yet:  would I prefer to be at a party where I'm talking with just one person or with lots of people?  It depends.  Several times, the test tried to assess whether or not I want to be on a schedule or more free, and if scheduled, how far in advance?  It depends:  am I on vacation or at work?  How overscheduled have I been feeling?  Who's in charge of the scheduling, me or someone with completely different interests?

So I tried to choose and not to think too much.  I'll be interested to see what the results are.

Friday, March 5, 2021

When Your Poem Becomes Theology

I have spent the morning wrestling with fabric imagery.  I thought that I was working on a poem, but I ended up with a piece of theology.

Last week, I had this line float through my head:  "The future speaks in threads."  I immediately wondered what kind of threads--threads from a larger garment that was coming apart?  If so, who yanked on the thread?  The thread of seams?  Seams holding together or fraying apart?  And I thought of threads that lead us out of mazes, like in that ancient story from the Greeks.  I wrote a few stanzas of a poem, but I'm not sure I like it.

On Sunday, I wrote down this line:  "The future speaks to us in widow's weeds."  I played with that image, but not much came.  I went back to the thread imagery of last week and wrote another stanza.  I remembered using some thread imagery in one of my morning watch broadcasts, so I went back to listen.

I was expecting poetry inspiration, but instead I got theology inspiration.  If you'd like to read that piece of writing, see this post on my theology blog.  It asks how we might behave if we believed we were part of the quilt making team of God, the team that's making a giant quilt of creation.

Maybe I need to do more research about widow's weeds.  Maybe that will give me what I need for the poem.  Maybe the third time will be the charm.

Or maybe it doesn't matter if the poem never takes shape.  I'm really happy with the piece of theology.  It's an unexpected, but delightful, surprise on this first Friday of March.

Thursday, March 4, 2021

Being Well-Read in the Twenty-first Century

This morning, I read a review of Kazuo Ishiguro's latest novel, and it gave me pause, as these book reviews often do.  I always feel a bit abashed at how few of these important novelists I'm reading--he's a Nobel laureate, after all.  And then there's a moment when I do a Google search and read the Wikipedia article--which books am I feeling bad about not reading?

And then there's a moment of further self-castigation:  I haven't even seen the movies of the very important books!

I try to remember the names of other authors whom I haven't read, and I spend a bit more time in Googling and remembering and trying to convince myself that I'm more well-read than I'm giving myself credit for.  I think of my grad school days and trying to figure out how I would ever catch up with 20th century British Lit, one of the fields I studied intensely.  And now I'm further behind.

Oh, let's be honest.  I'm not going to catch up--to say I'm behind implies I will even try.  And I won't.  I wish I could say that I'm not catching up because I'm maintaining my expert status elsewhere, but that's not true either.

These days, I have a serendipitous approach to my reading life.  I just finished a fabulous book about Athens, Georgia in the 1970's and 80's, and how it became so influential in the world of pop and rock music:  Grace Elizabeth Hale's Cool Town: How Athens, Georgia, Launched Alternative Music and Changed American Culture.  I enjoyed it thoroughly.  It was not only a deep dive into one town and into bands I loved once (but don't really listen to these days), but also a meditation on how to be an artist and how to stay true to that calling.

While I don't want to deny myself the treat of serendipitous finds like that one, perhaps it is time to be more intentional.  I remember back in high school when I was worried I would get to college and be unprepared.  I thought my high school wasn't requiring enough of the classic, so I took it upon myself to read more.  For every 2 books I read for pleasure, I required myself to read one of the great books.  They tended to be 19th century classics from England and the U.S., white, and male.  That's how we defined classics in the 1980's. 

Perhaps it's time to try some self-improvement via reading again.

Wednesday, March 3, 2021

The Last In-Person AWP

A year ago today, I'd have been zipping my suitcase and getting ready to go to the airport.  I was headed to San Antonio for the AWP conference.  I had heard rumors of possible cancellation of the whole conference, but by the time I left, there had been an e-mail that said that the conference would proceed.  I knew that I would pay for 2 nights of the hotel whether I was there or not, so I had already decided to go, even if the conference was cancelled.

I remember thinking that cancelling the conference was an absurd response, but by the end of the week, the South by Southwest festival had been cancelled.  Of course, that decision was made weeks before the actual event, unlike the discussion about cancelling AWP.  At the airport, I only saw 6 people with masks, which contributed to my sense of different realities colliding.  Was this virus such a threat that a whole conference should be cancelled?

As it turns out, yes, it was.  As far as I know, the AWP wasn't a super spreader event, like Mardi Gras, but that's just dumb luck.  

I had decided on an early flight, so I got to the hotel by noon and was able to check in early.  I spent the afternoon in a lovely hotel room with a great view of San Antonio.  I was grading papers, but also keeping an eye on social media, and I watched various people I knew decide not to come to the conference.  But I still wasn't worried about my own safety.

As I look back, I'm glad I went to San Antonio.  In fact, if I could tell year ago Kristin anything, it would be to live it up a bit more, but I'm not sure what that would look like, even as I type those words.  More tableside guacamole? Taking a cab down to the mission historic sites instead of walking? More alcohol? Having more than 1 fancy coffee drink each morning?

I decided not to do the virtual AWP this year.  I thought about it, but I know that I'm pretty Zoomed out these days.  I knew that I wouldn't want to take vacation days, so I also knew it was likely that I wouldn't get my money's worth, since I would be balancing AWP and work.

My hope throughout all of this upheaval is that we hold onto some of these more inclusive ways of doing events.  For a long time, AWP was resistant to letting participants Zoom in, if they couldn't attend in person.  Last year, I saw more than one panel with a long distance participant.  And this year, we've got a conference that more people can attend:  it's cheaper, it can be integrated with non-academic work lives, people with family duties can attend.

Yes, I hope we hold onto these developments.

Tuesday, March 2, 2021

The Wisdom of Merrick Garland and the Highest, Best Use of Skills

I was struck by a snippet of Merrick Garland speaking at his confirmation hearing last week.  Senator Cory Booker asked him to conclude by explaining why he wants to be the Attorney General of the United States.

Garland said, “I come from a family where my grandparents fled antisemitism and persecution.”  And then he paused, and then continued, with a choking voice:  "The country took us in and protected us. And I feel an obligation to the country, to pay back.”

I took a moment to say a prayer of thanks that we're once again hearing from people who believe that they have a duty to serve in this way:  a duty to country, a duty to pay back, a duty to pave the way for others. We so often hear from people who are only interested in their own well being, and that approach can be so ruinous.

What he said next intrigued me too:  “This is the highest, best use of my one set of skills.  And so I want very much to be the kind of attorney general you’re saying I could be.”

I love the idea of finding a way to the highest, best use of a skill set.  Now I think that Merrick Garland probably has more than just this one set of skills.  But I'm so happy that he's willing to use them in this way, for the good of the country, for the good of us all.  

After what happened when he was nominated to be a Supreme Court justice and wasn't allowed a hearing by Senate leaders, I would understand if he never wanted to be nominated for anything again.  I'm glad that he didn't take that approach.  I'm glad that he's willing to serve in a variety of ways.

There's a lesson here for all of us.  

Monday, March 1, 2021

Sacraments in Our Hair

Yesterday morning, I made this Facebook post:

"With bread dough in my hair*, I'm headed to church to offer drive through communion. If you're in SE Florida, come on by! (Trinity Lutheran, corner of Pines and 72nd, across from Broward College.

*yes, literal bread dough--I've been baking and the morning has zoomed ahead of me--the sacraments don't need me to take another shower, and I like the symbolism of bread dough in my hair, sacraments in my hand.

I've been baking bread for personal use, not for communion. No one need worry about finding my hair in their sacrament."

I spent the rest of the day thinking about these images--bread dough, sacrament, the way that sacrament becomes flesh, flesh becomes sacrament, sacrament becomes indwelling presence, indwelling presence becomes sacred, sacred becomes word, word becomes flesh, round and round and round.

I was also thinking about a poem by Marina Tsvetaeva, but I couldn't remember the name of it or much about it, except for one line about having stars in our hair.  I first encountered that poem in a workshop at a conference in a South Carolina state park, a conference on bringing international/global elements to first year classes.  I loved this poem, and for about a year, I took it with me everywhere I went.  I wrote poems in response to it.

And now, I might again.

This morning I decided I wanted to read the original, and I did some Google searching.  There are many more Tsvataeva poems than one could once find.  But I couldn't find that one.  One search led me to another search, and I began to remember the other line, about avoiding, evading, or escaping death, and finally, I got to the correct poem.  

Some readers may already know that I was Googling the wrong line and the wrong image, but the correct author name, which led me to some interesting places, and I began to despair of ever finding the poem.

Now that I have found it, let me paste it here.  And let my poet theologian brain keep thinking about stars in our hair and bread dough in our hair and the meaning of sacrament.

We shall not escape Hell

by Marina Tsvetaeva

We shall not escape Hell, my passionate
sisters, we shall drink black resins––
we who sang our praises to the Lord
with every one of our sinews, even the finest,

we did not lean over cradles or
spinning wheels at night, and now we are
carried off by an unsteady boat
under the skirts of a sleeveless cloak,

we dressed every morning in
fine Chinese silk, and we would
sing our paradisal songs at
the fire of the robbers’camp,

slovenly needlewomen, (all
our sewing came apart), dancers,
players upon pipes: we have been
the queens of the whole world!

first scarcely covered by rags,
then with constellations in our hair, in
gaol and at feasts we have
bartered away heaven,

in starry nights, in the apple
orchards of Paradise
––Gentle girls, my beloved sisters,
we shall certainly find ourselves in Hell!