Saturday, July 31, 2021

One Week, One Sketch

I spent the last week working on a sketch.  In a way, there's nothing unusual about that.  But in a way, it was different because it reminded me of an important life lesson.  Here's the finished sketch:

On Friday, July 23, I started a sketch.  It was going to be of a woman facing forward with a flappy hat on her head.  But I hated the way I sketched her eyes, so I decided to change it by turning it into a sketch of her back.  I covered the face with marks that I thought would be hair, but it ended up looking like a veil or a shroud.

I don't have a great before picture, because I hated the sketch on the first day and thought I would abandon it.  Here's a not-great screen capture from my morning watch session:

I put the sketch aside thinking I was done with it.  But then I thought about how the hair/veil along with the hat made me think of a beekeeper's headgear.  And so, the next morning, I played with it a bit more.  I added some bees.  I added some beehives in the distance and a jar of honey in the foreground.  On day two, just 24 hours after I was ready to abandon the sketch, I decided that it had potential.

On Sunday, July 25, I added the mountains in the background and started to add some color.  Over the next days, I continued to add color and to think about the area at the bottom of the sketch.  I had thought it would be a fence, but I didn't like my options for fence color.  If I made it a wood fence, I worried that it would blend in with the cat, the jar of honey, and the basket.  So I decided to make it a stone/marble wall.

As I've sketched each morning and as I've spent the rest of the day thinking about what to do next in the sketch, I've thought back to day one when I planned to abandon the sketch.  And as I kept showing up, I found more and more to like, and I had more and more ideas.

Did I execute them all?  No.  Did I perform them perfectly?  No.  But that's not the point.  My skills have improved, but again, not the point.

The sketch has given me delight and made me interested to know what will come next.  And it's reminded me not to give up on a creative endeavor too early.

Friday, July 30, 2021

Of Whiplash and Twisties

It has been another week of whiplash--not literal whiplash, but events that leave me feeling unsettled.  When gymnast Simone Biles explained her decision to withdraw from Olympic events by saying she got "the twisties," I thought that I knew exactly what she means, even though I have never been able to hurl myself through the air the way that she does.

I have been hurling myself through life in other ways, though.  We all have, in so many ways.

This week came the CDC reversal on mask guidance.  Is reversal the word?  Maybe I should say evolving guidance?  In some ways, that didn't feel like whiplash--I've been expecting it since the guidance in May that told us that vaccinated people could take their masks off.  I knew it wouldn't be for long. 

Another thing that has given me a bit of whiplash has been the sorting that I've been doing:  boxes of memorabilia, boxes of rough drafts, shelves of books, closets of clothes.  This sorting has been giving me a case of the twisties, where I go whirling into space and worry about a crash landing.

On the one hand, I'm amazed: look at all the stuff I've written through the years, and here's every card my parents ever sent me and letters from all sorts of friends through the years. On the other hand, it makes me sad. I look at a huge pile of short stories I wrote and old poems, and that mean voice inside says, "Why aren't you a more successful writer?" I look at cards I've kept from people I can no longer tell you who they are, and I feel sad for letting go of people. Then I wonder if they let go of me because I'm such a bad friend, even though I think I'm a good friend. That's a bad spiral.

It's so easy to remember all the times I let people down, but not think about all the times that I've been supportive. At times, as I've sorted through things, I've wondered if my spouse would have been happier with someone else, someone with more similar interests, someone who wasn't as self-contained as I can be. Maybe he would have been happier now, with healthier habits.

Or maybe he'd have felt smothered and left that person and now be living under a bridge. I do realize there are worse outcomes than what he has now and the ideal life that I imagine he could have had with someone else.

I also look at old pictures, and I feel like this woman that once had interests and read books, but now gets home from work and just watches mindless TV. I tell myself that once we get the move done and the house ready for market, I'm likely to have interests again. And getting all the seminary and candidacy stuff done has been a huge project. I do have interests, but they're not the usual ones that people talk about. But then there's that mean voice in my head again.

It's so strange to feel like this boring, washed up person--at the same time, I'm getting my books for seminary and getting really psyched.

It's no wonder I'm feeling a bit of whiplash.

Thursday, July 29, 2021

COVID-19: Once More and With Enthusiasm

Two weeks ago, after a graduation planning meeting, I wrote an e-mail:  "And we’re planning a superspreader contagion event at the time of year when hurricane season shifts into high gear. My inner apocalypse gal has feelings about all of this, but I tried to contain her. I’ve read Greek mythology; I remember what happens to the Cassandras amongst us."

The past two weeks have not lessoned my sense that we should cancel this event.  We are in a hotspot with the numbers going the wrong way.  I want to believe that our graduates and their guests will be vaccinated, but I'm fairly sure that won't be the case.

Yesterday during a meeting we had some COVID notifications come in as we were meeting; two campuses, neither of them mine, have had significant exposure in the past week, and students have not been the epicenter of the outbreaks.  Most people on my campus are still wearing masks, but the two campuses with exposure have moved away from mask wearing, even though they all work in closer proximity with fewer vaccinated colleagues.  


By the end of the day, we had decided that it's time to go back to requiring masks in the library.  Once our library assistant got fully vaccinated, we had been letting users decide about mask use.  No longer.

I don't know if we'll get pushback, but if so, I will stand firm.  People can access most of our library resources from a distance, after all.*

As we move into fall, I feel like every campus in the U.S. is engaging in a huge social experiment.  My seminary will be requiring everyone to be vaccinated if they're coming on campus, and masks will be required indoors.  If there are no outbreaks, perhaps it will feel safer to be a residential student for spring term.

Meanwhile, many other campuses will be letting students make their own choices, and I suspect I know what will happen.  I hope I'm wrong.

In other news of our weird times, I did want to note this.  Yesterday on my drive to work, I heard a newscaster say that the people who were convicted of attacking the U.S. Capitol would have their concealed weapons permits revoked by the state of Florida. And I thought about the strangenesses of that sentence: an attack on the U.S. Capitol, an attack by citizens, the revoking of concealed weapons permits by this wacky state of Florida.

Half the world is on fire (literally) while the other half drowns (literally).  Viruses of both body and mind sweep across the planet.  I think this decade will continue to be rough.

*I got to the office yesterday to find an e-mail from Corporate telling us that masks will be required indoors on campus when we can't do social distancing.  Hurrah!

Wednesday, July 28, 2021

Online Orientation: The Seminary Edition

For months I have known that I would need to do an online orientation before I was allowed to take seminary classes.  The orientation is not set up so that one can do it way far in advance; for fall term, the online orientation opened Monday, five weeks before classes start.

It's a class that's set up in Blackboard, a Learning Management System, which helps us all learn how to use the system.  Even students who are taking face to face classes in person may need to know how to use the system, so it's good to get us all some training.  And what's even more important about doing this orientation through Blackboard is that we can do this orientation on our own timeline.  When I try to think about how this orientation might once have been done, I imagine having to report to campus a few days early or the week before classes started.    This year, I'm glad we don't have to do that.

For the past few days, I have worked my way through part of the modules.  I have spent the last few months exploring the extensive website, so much of the information wasn't new to me.  One of the modules covered the information that was discussed during the Academic Planning Session that I did back in June.  One of the modules talked about ways to be successful in online classes.

As I watched, I thought about how useful these modules would be if I had never had an online class--I find the whole format overwhelming at times, and I have had many years of experience with a variety of online platforms.  I'm impressed with the way the Office of Community Life has thought of all sorts of things I will need to know as a student taking online classes.

I have made my way through the modules on plagiarism and sexual harassment, through modules that gave me a student handbook and the catalogue. I am intrigued by the information given in the Writing for Seminary module--they must have gotten some pushback on expectations here, as they give lots of information about how the seminary is a graduate school and grad school writing is different from undergraduate writing.

Again, if I hadn't spent so many decades in higher ed, maybe this would all seem new to me.  But even if it isn't new, it's pleasant to be exploring these modules.

And I'm impressed by the depth and breadth here.  I remember the orientations that we put together a year ago as we were pivoting from in-person new orientations to ones delivered virtually.  We did not cover nearly as much, but in some ways, we didn't have as much to cover--some of it had been handled during the Admissions process.  We also didn't have a flexible platform, like Blackboard.  And we didn't have a lot of time. 

This online orientation for Wesley Theological Seminary makes me realize how much better it could have been.  And it makes me grateful that so much care has been taken on my behalf as an incoming MDiv student.

Monday, July 26, 2021

The Feast Day of Saint Anne

Today is the feast day of Saint Anne, although in the Eastern Orthodox church, her feast day was yesterday. I'm somewhat amazed to realize that I haven't written about this feast day before I came across it last year.

Saint Anne was the mother of the Virgin Mary, which means she was the grandmother of Jesus. She's not mentioned in the canonical Bible. The apocryphal Gospel of James mentions her. I haven't read that text, but I am sure that the details I want to know are not there--what did daily life look like? How did Mary and Anne get along? What did Anne think of Jesus?

Anne is the patron saint of many types of women: unmarried women, housewives, seamstresses, women in labor or who want to be pregnant, and grandmothers. She's also the patron saint of educators, which are still primarily women.

As I was researching her this morning, I came across this image from a 15th century Book of Hours, and it's quickly become my favorite:

I love that both Saint Anne and Mary have books in their hands. According to many traditions, Saint Anne taught Mary to read, and she's often seen doing this. As I look at those images, I wonder if the artists realized what a subversive image it is: a woman teaching a girl to read.

Anne is sometimes depicted in scenes of Jesus as a baby, but so far, we have no image of her at the cross. I suspect that's because so many of this artwork comes from centuries ago, when it would have been very unusual for grandparents to survive to see their grandchildren in adulthood. Plus, one tradition around Saint Anne has her having Mary when she's very old--another story of the impossible coming out of improbable wombs!

So today, let us celebrate all the miracles which seem so impossible. Let us ask Saint Anne for protection, the way that Martin Luther did in the thunderstorm that terrified him. Let us know that all for which we yearn may yet be delivered to us.

Sunday, July 25, 2021

Bastille Day Writing Fun

Last week, my writerly brain wanted to have fun with Bastille Day, so I made this post early in the morning, once I got my birthday cake in the oven:

"Up before dawn, baking the Bastille Day treats, which I will serve with fresh, hot coffee. Since I am the oldest girl, I will wear a crown of candles on top of my head. I've got the correct holiday, right?"

Some of my Facebook friends didn't get the joke, but some did:  "In your honor, I'm having stale biscotti with marginally fresh warm coffee"

As I drove to work, I came up with another funny mixing:  "So, in 1789, Marie Antoinette said, "Let them eat cake." The people had no cake, so she took over the Bastille and made cake for everyone. The cake was so delicious that people lost their heads over it, and that's why we have cake every July 14, right?"

A different Facebook friend got my joke and wrote:  "So the French people got tired of the queen's cake, formed a French Lives Matter group, staged a July 14 coup d' etat, and stormed the Bastille to free all of the prisoners. Hein?"

I spent the rest of the day wanting to remind people that I was trying to be funny, that I did know my history.  Instead, later in the day, I wrote this:  "J___ if there are truly Bastille Day treats, I don't know about them. I was doing some early morning baking and thought about Linus mixing up holidays (a la The Great Pumpkin), and I came up with the idea of mixing up Bastille Day with Santa Lucia festivals in Dec."

I often forget this kind of everyday creativity that I try to infuse into each day.  That's one of the reasons why I record them here periodically.

Saturday, July 24, 2021

Snapshots from a Week

I've got a collection of odds and ends and scraps--they might make an interesting collage, even if they don't make a full-size quilt.

--This morning, I wrote this Facebook post:  "Lightning to the east, full moon to the west, the honking of tree frogs the only sound: the benefits to being an early riser."  It reminded me of a few weeks ago when the lightning was much more spectacular, not just pulses of light, but jagged bolts of lightning and towering clouds that I could only see as the lightning bounced back and forth.

--What I will remember most about this week:  I have felt a relaxation about the seminary process, the kind of relaxation that made me realize how stressed about the Candidacy Committee I had been without realizing it.  I thought I was stressed about the possibility of the technology failing, but it wasn't just that.  I have heard so many stories of Candidacy Committees who say no or put up lots of obstacles, so it's no wonder I was feeling a bit stressed, even as I thought that they would approve me.

--I want to remember the joy of getting my books for my Fall 2021 seminary classes, at least the ones I don't already own.  I'm happy that they show diversity and open mindedness and intellectual (but not inaccessible) rigor.  Will I still feel happy about these books in early November?  I hope so. 

--I want to remember the Cuban flags I've seen, the message made of small balls pushed into a highway chain link fence overpass that said, "Free Cuba."  It's strange to hear news of Cuba and protests here, but the national news has so little of that sort of news.

--I will also remember this as a week of doing some long overdue sorting:  photo albums and boxes of memorabilia and boxes of rough drafts.  Now on to the packing!

--The sunrises this week have not had their usual beauty.  I wrote this Facebook post:  "Even a beige sunrise has its bronzed charm."

--On Thursday night, we watched Footloose.  I thought we would only watch a bit of it, but I found it oddly compelling.  I say oddly, because I've seen it oodles of times before.  At one point, I turned to my spouse and said, "All of these characters have such big, unresolved father issues."  Even the preacher has father issues--with God as father.  And this time, I saw the whole movie as game after game of chicken--who will blink first?  Who will back off?

--We live in such an age of good viewing, and all I want to do is watch the shows of my youth.  I feel similarly about music.  It's all just too overwhelming.

--And now, onward--there's sorting to do.  What covers will I untreasure today?  Here's one from last week:

 What names did I call my sister?  It's lost to time--I don't remember my parents using this punishment often.  May we go to another concert again soon:

Friday, July 23, 2021

The Metrics that Matter

Some weeks are the kind of week where I get to Friday and say, "Wow, it's Friday already.  The week flew by, and it was full of so many delights that I didn't expect."  That week is not this week.  I woke up in the middle of the night thinking I had made it to Saturday, but of course, I hadn't.  Happily, today should be an easier day, and then, Saturday will arrive.

In this blog post, I've written about the visit from the health inspector.  On Wednesday, I had a workshop/training for ABHES accreditation that lasted all day--and I do mean all day, from 9-5 with very few breaks.  It was virtual, but so draining.  What made it most draining was that it was an exact repeat of the workshop/training that I went to in 2019 in Savannah.  Exactly the same.

In 2019, it wasn't new information to me.  And now, with one more ABHES visit under my belt, it's still not new information.

It was also draining because of the true believer tone of the presenters.  I understand all the ways that assessment could help me improve classes and programs, if I only had time and resources.  As it is, we gather statistics, look for patterns, and if you're me, nothing clear leaps out.  I wish I could say that I see the one course that everyone fails, the one teacher that drives people out of the program, but it's never that clear to me.  This student leaves for one reason, another student leaves for a different reason, and very few of them leave for reasons that I can do anything about.

There's one school of thought that says that students aren't telling the truth about why they are leaving, that there's a deeper, underlying reason.  I have looked and studied, and I still don't see it.  I used to think that's because I'm bad at assessment and accreditation, but I no longer believe that to be true.  I have seen enough improvement drives (we'll change this textbook!  we'll test in this new way!  we'll flip the classroom!  we'll change learning management systems!) to know that there's seldom a one-trick way to solve a school's woes.

I don't believe that there are simple solutions.  I don't believe there are solutions that don't require money.  Being part of a training session that supposes that we all have lots of people to do the work of gathering the data, analyzing the data, and coming up with solutions is more exhausting than I can fully articulate.  Assuming that our solutions will be greeted with plenty of staffing and plenty of money is so heartbreaking to me--that has never been my experience.  I have been the person scrounging for pens and justifying why we need another 10 reams of paper to get us to the end of the term.

I also wonder if my weariness isn't about the metrics that the accreditors have chosen as the way we will assess our programs:  retention, getting a first job, student surveys, employer surveys, externship surveys.

Here's what I'm realizing:  the metrics that matter to me are not the ones that I know how to measure.  Did you add chapters to the content of your character during your time with us in school?  Is your life improved, and not just in terms of better job choices?  Have you learned better ways of solving problems?  Are you going out into the world to make it better?  Will the world be better because of the time you spent with us in school?

Yes, I realize that we can't easily develop assessment rubrics to answer those questions.  Yes, I am aware of the implications of the fact that I can't measure the metrics that matter to me. 

Thursday, July 22, 2021

Staying Behind and Staying Rooted: The Feast Day of Mary Magdalene

On July 22, we celebrate the life of Mary Magdalene. Take a minute with the reading for her feast day: John 20:1-2, 11-18.

There are many approaches to Mary Magdalene. Some people focus on her notorious past, while a variety scholars remind us that she might have been painted with the brush of prostitution to discredit her. Even to this day, she is rarely mentioned outside of the fact of her demon possession. For some, these are the demons that bedevil many woman, both ancient and modern, the demons that come with a patriarchal culture. Others might think that demon possession was how ancient culture understood mental illness.

Why hasn't the Church focused on her healing and subsequent steadfastness, rather than what might disqualify her from worthiness? Whole books have been written on that.

As I've been spending time with female saints, both the kind recognized by popes and the ones far from canonization, I've been thinking about how these centuries of church history might be different if we had treated women differently. Let's begin with Mary Magdalene as an example.

The theologian Cynthia Bourgeault wrote a book about Mary Magdalene, and she notes that Mary's presence at the resurrection is mentioned in all four gospels, either alone or in a group, but always there, always named. Most scholars agree that when a detail is present in more than one Gospel, it demands our attention and deeper consideration.

Mary Magdalene's presence at the resurrection is so important that all four Gospel writers include it. Why do we so rarely consider this in our modern churches?

Bourgeault calls our attention to this passage from Matthew 27:61: “And Mary Magdalene and the other Mary remained standing there in front of the tomb.”

She says, "How would our understanding of the Paschal Mystery change if even that one sentence [from Matthew 27: 61] was routinely included in the Good Friday and Palm Sunday Passion narratives? What if, instead of emphasizing that Jesus died alone and rejected, we reinforced that one stood by him and did not leave?—for surely this other story is as deeply and truly there in the scripture as is the first. How would this change the emotional timbre of the day? How would it affect our feelings about ourselves? About the place of women in the church? About the nature of redemptive love?" (found in this meditation)

As I have settled into midlife, I've had similar thoughts. What if we had celebrated Mary Magdalene as the first witness to the resurrection? What if we celebrated her as the one who was first to
tell of the resurrection?

For that matter, what if instead of celebrating the evangelizing apostles who went out with very little in their pockets, we celebrated the ones who stayed to build up the communities that the apostles created? We rarely celebrate settling deep roots into a community and staying put. We often see those churches as stagnant and out of touch, even if they're the ones supporting the local elementary school and teaching new immigrants and running the food pantry.

Most of us can't be the kind of disciple that leaves family and commitments behind to traipse the country. Many of us have been raised to believe that's what Christ wanted us to do--there's a Great Commission after all that tells us to go to all the lands and make disciples. We don't hear about the families that the apostles left behind. How are they supposed to cope?

The lives of Mary Magdalene and other saints show us that there's more than one way to make disciples. There's more than one way to be missional.

Throughout our lives, we will suffer all sorts of death and loss.  The world will give us many tombs.  Today, let us focus on the ways we can remain steadfast and true to our callings. Today let us remain at the tomb alert for resurrection. 

Wednesday, July 21, 2021

Book Lists, Exercise Logs, and All the Ways We Track Our Days

Let me capture some odds and ends of the past week before I lose these strands completely.

--On Friday morning, I woke up and realized I had spent the night with the song "Oh Happy Day" in my head.  We watched Summer of Soul the night before.  What a great documentary about a series of community concerts in Harlem in 1969.  And not for the first time, I thought about what a different time the 1970's was from our current time.  I thought about the radio stations my mom always had on in the background and the mix of music on those radio stations, which is why so many of those songs are familiar to me.

--It was interesting to watch that documentary on the same day that I read of the re-release of Gloria Naylor's The Women of Brewster Place.  I first read Gloria Naylor's Mama Day, which was a much richer novel, so I forget about how revolutionary that first novel was.  I occasionally forget about how amazing it seemed to live in a world where Alice Walker, Gloria Naylor, Maya Angelou and Toni Morrison were finally getting their due, back in the 1980's--and now enough time has elapsed that it's time for a re-release.

--This week I finished Kim Stanley Robinson's The Ministry for the Future.  It was interesting in terms of the science and the future, less interesting in terms of the characters and the plot.  If you ever wanted a way to envision how humanity might solve various parts of the climate crisis, this book will offer lots of scenarios, some positive and some negative.

--Last night I sorted through a box labeled Exercise Logs, Datebooks, Etc.  At some point in the first decade of this century, I started keeping a list of Books Read as part of my exercise logs.  I've decided that I don't particularly want to keep my exercise logs, although I am keeping my first running log notebook, that little blue spiral bound notebook.

--Should I go back through those notebooks and take out the books read pages?  If I do that, will I ever go back to see what I was reading?  I've been keeping that list electronically since 2016, and I rarely go back.  Should I extract the books read and type them into the computer?

--My habits of recording all sorts of aspects of my life fascinates me.  Why do I feel this need to record weight and emotions and what I'm reading and eating and how I'm exercising?  In part, it's because journals fascinated me when I was a very young reader.  I loved reading the journals of others and had a sense of how some of those, like Anne Frank's, seemed so important, even if those writers didn't realize it.  In my younger years, I went back and looked over my records/journals much more often than I do now.  Is that an age thing or about the way I've stored them?  At this point, I just don't care.  I don't feel the need to go back to see how many miles I ran during the first week of July in 1989.

--Let me be clear--my journals/diaries I will keep.  My exercise logs, no--although there's a pang at throwing that record of existence away.  But I have pulled the logs that have book lists out of the discard pile.  Let me see what it would take to extract those book lists.

--Yesterday, I sorted through a different box, with books that I will keep, at least for the next several years:

--Yep, those are my books for my first 2 seminary classes, my Old Testament class and New Testament, the books that I didn't already have.  If I was reading this blog, I'd zoom in on that first row:

--And then I'd be delighted that the illustration for the New Testament book has people of color as the illustrations on the cover.  And a Women's Bible Commentary!

--I spent some time last night leafing through the books.  I was both excited and relieved.  These won't be too intellectual for me.  Why would I assume they'd be too intellectual?  That's always been my fear, that I just couldn't do the intellectual work.  I have a Ph.D.--why would I think that?

--This morning, though, I'm thinking of one of the book lists I found in my box of memorabilia.  In high school, I got a mimeographed list of books that someone thought that everyone should read before graduating high school.  The list shows check marks of books that I read in the year before I went off to college, because I was so worried that I would not be prepared.

--I don't remember ever needing to be able to refer to any of the books on the list.  Every new adventure comes with a book list after all.

Tuesday, July 20, 2021

Cookies of Commiseration: The Health Inspector Edition

Yesterday, I wrote this Facebook post:

"Some days are good, but others bring stress. It's good to have a colleague and friend who will bring you 2 huge cookies when you need to remember that you're an English major, not a Biology major."

I remembered to get a picture of the cookie before I ate it all.

If you look closely, you can see that the cookie is sitting in the middle of notes that I took when the health inspector was here telling me all the ways that we were not up to par.  As she looked over our Biohazard notebook, telling us all the ways our plan could be better, I felt a mixture of shame and enraged annoyance.  "You're using the old template," she said.

Doing my best to keep my voice even, I asked, "Has it really changed that much?"

She looked at my plan again and started to show me where the same elements were.  I said, "So, do you want me to rewrite it into the new template?"

She said, "That's not really necessary."

Then we went to look at our boxes where we keep the biohazardous waste.  Those of you who don't know about biomedical hazard storage are probably now visualizing items that are infectious or radioactive.  Happily, we don't do much of that kind of storage.  In one lab, it's primarily sterilizing wipes, gloves, and drapes.  In another lab, it's syringes with traces of blood and sterilizing wipes.  Our Vet Tech labs have a variety of items, none of them particularly dangerous, some of them smelly.

I had been worried that she might find we were storing items improperly.  Instead, she focused on the fact that the boxes had the name of our previous biohazardous waste transporter--I had never thought that might be a problem.  We have changed transporters in June, and the old one was supposed to come and get the boxes at the termination of the contract, which did not happen.

So, we failed the health inspection, which was not my fault, but which still made me feel bad for part of the day.  I went back to the materials that the health department sent me in advance of the inspection, and there was no mention of the problem of the names on the boxes.  

As a Humanities person, I've spent a lifetime in higher ed scavenging office supplies and looking for ways to reuse and recycle when there is no funding--and there so often is no funding.  In past years, an Allied Health program chair would have been in charge of all of this, but this year is not those years.  I spent half an hour reminding myself of the realities of our situation as I tried to move on.

The happy news is that the fix is fairly easy, and I don't need to schedule a return visit--I take pictures of the new boxes and the manifest that will show disposal of the old boxes by a licensed company, and then we get cleared.

As I spent time with the health inspector, I thought about last year's lengthy encounters with the fire inspector, about all the types of inspections that my grad school training did not prepare me for.  I am grateful for colleagues with whom I can commiserate and the cookies that they bring me.

Monday, July 19, 2021

The Loops of Time

It has been a strange week-end.  My week-end really began with my interview with the Candidacy Committee on Friday at 3:30 (for more on that experience, see this blog post).  The interview itself only lasted 45 minutes, and then there was the waiting for the results, and the short final session where I got the positive results.  I was on my way home by 5:00 p.m., feeling like the world had shifted a bit, but all those other people in their cars had no idea.

On Saturday, I sorted, sorted, sorted.  For years, I had resisted looking at my boxes of memorabilia, but last week-end, after seeing how many photos I held onto for reasons that are beyond me now, I decided it was time to tackle the memorabilia.  In my younger years, I kept an assortment of notes, cards, receipts, all sorts of memorabilia, in shoe boxes.  

It was interesting to take a quick look through the notes and cards, to think about the people with whom I am still in contact, the people I've lost to the ages, and the ways that Facebook helped some of us find each other again.  It was interesting to come across a stash of letters, agendas, retreat worship services, and publicity from my Lutheran Student Movement days in undergraduate school.

While the shoe boxes were loosely organized by years, I didn't put them in the larger box in any organized way, so I looked through my memorabilia in ways that were out of order:  here's the stuff that 9 year old Kristin wrote and kept, here's the stuff from undergraduate school, here's a bit from early married life, and now we're back to high school; here and there is a random picture, young parents with a baby, and I know that the baby is grown now.  I look up, the sun is setting, and some part of me can't comprehend what year it is, or how the concept of linear time even makes sense at all.

Yesterday at church, the choir sang "Here I am Lord" as Gathering Music.  I have always loved this song, with its lyric of God calling in the night, and being willing to be called.  I first heard/sung it at a Lutheran Student Movement gathering in 1984 or so, and we continued to sing it long before it showed up in our Lutheran hymn books.

That song always makes me think about our ideas of what it means to be called, how we interpret that out in the world (and now, I will always think about answering that question for the Candidacy Committee).  I thought about all the people I have known who have experienced a call from God differently than I have--off they went to seminary, right after undergraduate school, convinced that serving in a parish was what God needed them to do.  I thought of all the people who are finally finding/taking time to go back to school at midlife, and how many of us are headed to seminary, not other types of school.

I thought back to our Lutheran Student Movement days, when some of us were convinced that the churches of our childhood had value, and others of us wished that church could be more like our LSM groups.  I still wish that, and I am glad about the changes that have come to the churches of my childhood.  When my fellow college students were discerning our calls, Lutheran churches had only grudgingly begun to allow women's ordination, but the path to a pastorate was difficult.  One of my female friends went to a Baptist seminary in 1987, only to be told midway through that women would no longer be ordained.

I'm not sure that the situation has changed for Southern Baptists, but for many other Christians, the churches that existed in the mid-1980's are very different now.  It will be even more interesting to see what the coming decades bring, and how we'll answer those calls.

Sunday, July 18, 2021

Memorabilia or Detritus Masquerading as Memorabilia?

Fresh off the success of last week's photo sorting, yesterday I decided to sort through boxes of memorabilia.  Our marriage mythology holds that I am the one who holds onto worthless junk masquerading as memorabilia while my spouse happily releases all of his stuff.  I can count boxes, and I am here to say that although I once believed our marriage mythology, I'd say it's about even.

Here are some other nuggets of insight that I've gleaned from our sorting:

--I seem to have kept every note that anyone ever passed to me in class my senior year of high school.  Most of them were fairly banal:  "I am so tired.  I could put my head down on this desk and fall right asleep.  Do you think it's going to rain?"

--I understand why I kept those notes:  I was so happy to finally have friends who would write notes with me during boring moments in class when we were supposed to be paying attention.  So I kept one or two of the banal notes, along with the ones where we were talking about more important stuff, like which concerts we might go see.  

--Did I keep every card or letter that anyone ever wrote to me in college or does it just seem that way?  I imagine that I kept the ones that seemed important at the time.  Some of them seem trivial now--I can't deduce any nugget of importance, which makes me think I kept every single one.  Some of them still seem important, like a best friend, now deceased, figuring out that she wasn't as heterosexual as she'd been trying to be back in high school.  I kept the ones that still seem important.

--I am staggered by all the notebooks of writing from high school and college, and that's not counting my journals.   I remember writing lots of poetry, much of it prose broken up into lines to resemble poetry on the page.  I always thought I wrote 3 short stories during my senior year of college after taking a fiction class.  That's not true.  I have so many spiral notebooks full of writing--so many years of writing.  I kept a few representative pieces, and the rest can go to the recycling bin.

--When I finished my PhD, I threw myself into novel writing--I had all these ideas, and I'd been waiting to have time to devote to them.  Those manuscripts only exist in paper form; the computers that created them bit the dust long ago, and word processing updates have made the disk files inaccessible.  What to do with a pile of manuscripts that I'm not going to revise, and because of their length and beginner quality, I don't particularly want to read again?  I think I'm ready for them to go to the recycling bin.

--My grad school training taught me about the importance of every draft, that future scholars would want to compare them.  At this point, I'm fairly sure that future scholars won't want to do that with my work.  I am fairly sure that if my work endures, it's not the novels that people will treasure.

--One reason they won't treasure them is that they aren't published and aren't likely to be.  Sigh.  I do feel certain that if a publisher wanted to publish one of my novels, it wouldn't be one of the ones written last century.

--And that voice in my head, the one that is my truest believer in me and my writing, that voice is now saying, "Of course they won't publish those--not if you throw away the last remaining copies!"  But trust me, sweet voice:  that work is not the important work.

--Last night, surrounded by all sorts of detritus, I said, "Once I wrote a lot."  My spouse said, "You still do."  He's right--it's a good reminder.  I don't have spiral notebooks full of everything I'm writing now, but if I printed it all out, I'd fill up those memorabilia boxes again.

Saturday, July 17, 2021

A Meeting with the Candidacy Committee

More than one person has been confused by my seminary journey and the role that a Candidacy Committee plays in it all.  Here's a way to think about it:  Wesley Theological Seminary has determined that I'm a good fit for grad school. The Lutheran church is the one who gives guidance about what one does with that training, for those of us who are Lutheran, and that guidance is done by way of Candidacy Committees that each synod creates.  

In an ideal world, the seminarian is in touch with the Candidacy Committee before seminary begins.  One can go to seminary without approval of the Candidacy Committee, but in the Lutheran church, one won't be a pastor without that approval at some point along the way.

In pre-pandemic years, the Committee would have met in person.  Seminarians-to-be would have driven up for the 2 hour interview, but they wouldn't have stayed for the whole week-end.  From that standpoint, a virtual meeting is much easier.  However, I was surprised by how exhausting it was--and I only had the 1 meeting.  The Committee was meeting with many candidates.

I was feeling less worried about the interview itself than I was about the many moving parts of technology that needed to work--happily, they did work.  I gave some thought to the types of questions that they might ask me.  Would they be questions about belief, about creeds?  Happily, they were not.

We talked a bit about what had brought me to this crossroads.  I talked about how I moved into administration, but I was ready for a change.  I talked about the times I have preached and how much I love it and the good feedback I get.  I talked about the similarities I see with preaching and teaching:  the analysis of a text, the realization that a student/parishioner is really more gifted than the individual may have originally thought about themselves.  I talked about eucharist experiences as being similar to the moment when a student realizes that they know what to do to make a piece of writing work--that world cracking open kind of experience.  I can't quite capture what I said, but I found it very moving.  I felt my voice cracking a bit.

Later in the interview, one of my interviewers said that my face really lit up when I talked about teaching, and I did realize that.  I wouldn't have been surprised if the Committee recommended that I find a teaching job, not a spot in seminary, but that's not what happened.

Some of the other questions were about the challenges facing the church, and I talked about the coming months of the pandemic, and then the larger questions that the pandemic will leave with us will give the church opportunities for ministry.

We talked about logistics, about the fact that the seminary is in DC.  At one point, when I talked about having family in DC and my parents in Williamsburg--one of the Committee members said, "Wait, I'm just putting the pieces together.  Are you Ina Berkey's daughter?"  I said, "I sure am."  We all laughed, and she said, "Well, your Lutheran credentials are solid."  I wanted to say, "You have no idea" but I didn't because I didn't want to talk about my relatives and their positions in the historical Lutheran church.

We talked about what I would need to do as a Lutheran going to a non-Lutheran seminary.  I talked about how none of the Lutheran seminaries had a track in Theology and the Arts, and if one had, I'd be going there.  I talked about my dream of being part of a team that could create such a track at a seminary somewhere.

Along those lines, one of my favorite questions had me thinking 5 years into the future:  what job would make my heart sing?  I talked about being at a retreat center leading opportunities for people to meet the Divine through creative processes.  But I also talked about doing something similar at a local level; after all, not everyone can go to a retreat center, and living in S. Florida, I know it takes a long time to get to a retreat center.  Maybe churches should meet people where they are.

The interview lasted about 45 minutes.  I know that some Candidacy Committees operate as gatekeepers, looking to trip up potential candidates.  Thankfully, that was not the experience I had.  I loved all the topics we talked about, and I felt able to address all the questions.  

After the interview, I went back to a break out room with the chaplain and waited for the results.  They talked for about a half an hour.  I felt so exhausted at that point.  And then I was brought back to the group.

They told me right at the beginning that they had happy news, that they were recommending me for candidacy.  Hurrah!  They gave me feedback on my interview, feedback which they will send to me in writing.  They talked about my passion and about how articulate I am.  The rest I will have to remember when I get their written feedback.

I know that I'm not necessarily home free--there are other points where I'll check in with the Committee.  But even if at some point they withdraw their support, I'll still be glad to have made this journey.

Friday, July 16, 2021

The Morning of a Candidacy Committee Meeting

 Today at 3:30, I meet with the Candidacy Committee of the Florida-Bahamas Synod of the Lutheran Church (ELCA).  We will meet by Zoom.  

I have now had many Zoom meetings, and my main concern is that the technology might fail.  I'll stay at my school office for the Zoom session, since my school's internet connection is more stable than my home connection, but I also got a phone number, just in case I'm having trouble and need to let them know.  My church is nearby, so if it's solely an internet issue, I can zip over there.  If we're having a huge storm and lose power, I'll use my cell phone to call the group to let them know.  Hopefully they won't hold tech stuff against me; hopefully, I won't have issues.

In pre-pandemic days, I would have driven to the center of the state and spent two days with the committee.  I'm not sure what we would have done with the extra time.  I know we'd have eaten together and prayed together.  A Zoom session can't replicate those opportunities to get to know each other.

I'm not sure if we would have all met in conjunction with other synodical business.  It would have been done outside of Synod Assembly.

I have spent the week re-reading the documents that I created back in February as I applied for both candidacy and seminary.  I have been taking moments to remember to breathe deeply.  When I created those documents and sent them in to the various people and institutions, I knew that I might be setting lots of changes into motion.  But I knew that I was ready.

I'm not taking anything for granted today, as I meet with the committee.  I think that I'm a good candidate, but I know that the committee might disagree.  I want to be open to their wisdom.

I also want to be open to the movings of the Holy Spirit--I'm firmly convinced that I've been brought to this point for a reason, a reason that is only slowly being revealed to me.  I have heard God saying, "I have need of you."  I have felt that tugging at my soul.

Let us see what the day brings.

Thursday, July 15, 2021

My Greenish Thumb

A year ago, a colleague brought me this orchid, and another colleague brought in a cake.

They had heard me talking the day before on the phone, when my parents called to wish me a happy birthday.  I hadn't let my work colleagues know it was my birthday, because I didn't want anyone to feel like they had to do anything special for me.

That orchid was in full bloom then, and it has never been without flowers in the year that follows.  I don't know much about orchids, but I do know that's unusual, for orchids or for any plant.

Is it something I'm doing?  I give it some water or some cold tea (when the tea in my mug cools) once or twice a week, and that's it:  no special fertilizer, no orchid food, no compost.  

I have never thought of myself as having a green thumb--in fact, just the opposite.  But perhaps it's time that I change that narrative.  A few months ago, I noticed some almost dead plants on a windowsill that had been abandoned during one of the layoffs in the fall.  I brought them to my office and gave them some water or cold tea once a week.  Now they are flourishing:

I wish I had some before pictures.  Imagine this aloe plant, but about 2/3 less length on the spines.

This plant once had more brown leaves than green.  I trimmed them off, and look at how it's thriving:

Yes, I see the life lessons here--trimming back to facilitate growth, a small bit of care goes a long way, on and on I could go.

But I also see it as an important reminder about the stories we tell ourselves about ourselves.  For years, when people asked me if I had pets or children, I would joke, "Oh please, I can't even keep a houseplant alive."

And I believed that story I told about myself.  I believed that it was a hard thing to do, to keep a plant alive, and I believed that I was not capable.

But it turns out, I have a green thumb, or at least a greenish thumb.  I've met people with amazing abilities to nourish plants and grow things out of the most non-nourishing soil.  I'm not sure that my skills are up to that level.

But I'm not sure that they aren't--both in terms of plants and in terms of many other possibilities.

Wednesday, July 14, 2021

Let Us Eat Cake

This morning, I made this Facebook post: "Up before dawn, baking the Bastille Day treats, which I will serve with fresh, hot coffee. Since I am the oldest girl, I will wear a crown of candles on top of my head. I've got the correct holiday, right?"

Those of you who know me might say, "Wait, isn't today your birthday?  Are you baking your own birthday cake?"

Yes, yes I am.  I know that many people might think it's a sad state of affairs when one must bake one's own birthday cake, but for me, it's a special treat.  I get the joy of planning what cake I will make, the contentment of baking it, and the pleasure of eating it.

Long ago, I would have told you that I prefer bakery cake, but that's no longer true.  Once I loved bakery cake frosting so much that while I was at the grocery store, I would buy a cupcake just to have the frosting. 

Long ago, I would have told you that I didn't want to bake my own cake, that I wanted to have the cared-for feeling that comes from someone else preparing food for me.  One year, my birthday was on the day of our quilt group meeting, and I was touched to my very core that one of those friends made me a delicious cake.  I think it was a date cake that had orange frosting, a cake that was much more delicious than it sounds.  

I've had thousands of pieces of cake by this point in my life, and that cake really stands out in my brain, which tells you something about both the cake itself and how much it meant to me that my friend baked it for me.

I usually say that I don't care about birthdays, particularly my birthday, but that's not true.  I remember feeling mopey in 1998, when we had moved down here, knew very few people, and I declared there was no need to celebrate my birthday, especially since it was a teaching day for me.  But then I felt sad when we didn't celebrate, so my loving spouse got some Dilly bars from Dairy Queen while I was out teaching.

This year, I decided not to kid myself.  I'm going to want something special, and since I've been craving cake, cake it will be.  I can tell myself that I'm celebrating Bastille Day in a whole different way.

Marie Antoinette said, "Let them eat cake"--that's how we came to have cake on this holiday that celebrates French independence.  Or am I remembering wrong?  (I am kidding, of course; I do remember the outlines of recent French history).

Tuesday, July 13, 2021

Twitter and the Art of Paying Attention

I was late to Twitter--I had heard so many horror stories about Twitter trolls and the horrible ways that people treat each other, and I thought, who needs that.  I also worried about adding another social media platform to my life that would take up time and not give much in return.  But in 2020, I decided to join, for a variety of reasons, none of them particularly unique; for more, you can read this blog post.

I thought about that blog post when I read Caitlin Flanagan's article in The Atlantic about quitting Twitter for a month.  Once again, I was struck by how different my Twitter experience is from hers. I can be away from Twitter without feeling any anxiety at all. In fact, there are days when I wonder why I joined at all. 

But I'm wondering if it's not about how we both use Twitter, but about the fact that I don't have a smart phone that I take with me everywhere.  I access Twitter from a computer, which means that there are chunks of hours during the day when it's much harder to access Twitter and the other social media platforms that are designed to be so addictive.

Or maybe it's because I truly do use Twitter differently.  I joke that I follow poets and left wing church folks, so a lot of Twitter ugliness is automatically filtered out of my feed.  I'm impatient with much political stuff, particularly if it can be expressed in less than 241 characters, so I can ignore a lot of the clickbait.

Twitter is different, for me, from Facebook, although I often make the same posts to both platforms.  I use Facebook to keep in touch with all sorts of people I have known or to keep track of them in some sort of way.  If I had to choose between the two, I'd keep Facebook.

I'm not on Instagram, since that platform seems to require a smartphone.  I don't do TikTok or the other types of apps that seem to captivate younger generations these days.  I likely wouldn't have added Twitter if it hadn't seemed important in some way to my future as a writer.

These days, it's hard for me to continue to think I have much future as a writer, at least the kind of writer who would need Twitter.  I feel the same way about my neglected website, but I keep it so that I control the domain name.  After all, who knows what the future will bring?

However I find Twitter valuable in other ways too.  Occasionally I get a nugget or two that's useful advice or life hacks.  But more than that, I like that Twitter trains me to stay alert to my own life.  Some of what I observe goes into longer blog posts.  Some parts of my life are good to distill into a 240 character Tweet.

It may not be the kind of staying present that a zen master would recommend--or maybe it is exactly the kind of staying present that we all should/could be doing.

Monday, July 12, 2021

Modern Administrators and Textbook Buyers

Just before the pandemic set in, I finally got some bookcases at work.  They aren't perfect:  I can't move the shelves to adjust for larger books.  Then I moved all the old textbooks from an adjunct Vet Tech office where we had been storing them back when the space was more a faculty work space than an office.  I knew that some of them aren't worth keeping--like books that teach us how to use older versions of software (Excel 2010 anyone?), but I decided I'd get them onto the shelves in my office and figure out what's valuable later.

And now, here it is, fifteen months later, and the thought of figuring out the value of the books still overwhelms me.  So when a textbook buyer showed up at my office, I decided to let him tell me which books he would give me money for, and then I let him give me the $12 for the 10 books he took away.

I felt all sorts of twinges.  I do worry about the morality of contributing to the vicious cycle that keeps textbooks so expensive; I know that selling instructor copies to the sort of book buyers who showed up in my office helps keep that cycle going.  I also felt a twinge because those books weren't mine; the instructors who might have claimed them are long gone, and I know that we're not likely to offer those classes again, but still, I felt a twinge.

I put the money in an envelope, and I made the announcement to the two colleagues who saw him take away the pile of books:  "I am going to use this money from the books that were in my office to buy granola bars for the students."

One of my colleagues said, "That's nice of you."  The other one asked why I thought I needed to explain myself.

I said, "I just sold books that don't belong to me.  People have been fired for less."

My colleague laughed and said, "You've got so much in your office that nobody knows what's there.  No one will realize that those books are gone."

I said, "I just don't want anyone to think that I'm lining my pockets through thrift and graft."  And then we laughed and laughed.  Clearly if I'm thinking that I'll make my family rich through stealing from my employer, I need to be in a different kind of industry.  I'm at a campus where we have to ask multiple times to get basic office supplies.

After all, I'm in an industry where I'm selling used books to random book buyers so that I can buy granola bars for hungry students.  

And again, my thoughts turn to Flannery O'Connor, about how she would have transformed the textbook buyer and the administrator into a story that's haunting and revelatory.  

Sunday, July 11, 2021

Sorting Photos

Before there were digital cameras, we took pictures and sent film away to have it developed.  I loved getting the prints in the mail, and I saved all the negatives, in case I wanted reprints.  I rarely wanted reprints, but I saved them.

Yesterday, my spouse and I sorted through the photo albums.  We didn't do any digitizing--that's a much more complicated project.  We knew that we had kept all sorts of photos, and yesterday it was time to look at them again.  We haven't looked through most of those albums in decades.

Here are some insights:

--I was worried that the non-archival albums might have bleached the pictures away, but they're still in good shape.

--I use the word "good" rather loosely.  These pictures were never high quality.  It's not like we had parents who gave us quality camera equipment.  We had instamatic kinds of cameras--not Polaroids, not that kind of instant.  The kind of cameras we had took 110 film.  How do I still remember that?  Probably from decades of ordering that film and sending film away.

--Then, as now, I kept every picture.  Consequently, I have pictures of parts of the floor, a window here the side of a car, a strip of floor, all sorts of accidental photos.

--I also kept lots of photos of humans whom I no longer remember.  I dutifully wrote names on the backs of pictures, but those names didn't help.

--I don't have pictures of some of my childhood friends.  I didn't take pictures of daily life, like us playing with our Barbies.  

--I did take pictures of special trips.  I have pictures of Williamsburg taken decades apart, and one is the exact same picture of tools used on the Jefferson plantation.

--We went to a lot of zoos.  We took a lot of pictures.

--We also have pictures, lots and lots of pictures, of trips that family members took without us.  It's not as mean as it sounds--we were young adults and on our own.  We couldn't attend every family function, but we got pictures.  We dutifully kept them.  Now we have thrown them away.

--We did keep a picture here and there, the pictures of our friends when they were very young and sent us pictures of them and their new baby.

--We decided not to keep pictures of every house we've ever owned.  We remember, and no one else will care.

--I look at high school pictures and pictures of me in swimsuits through the years.  I remember when I thought I was fat and when I was dieting.  There are a few years when I was over 200 pounds, but most years, when I felt fat, I was actually quite thin, especially in high school.

--I also look at pictures when I'm at my most fit and athletic looking.  It's important to remember how many hours each day I exercised to achieve and maintain that level of fitness.  If I did that now, I would use up every hour of free time that I have.  Back then, I didn't have to be in an office for 45-55 hours each week. 

--Do people keep photos the same way now?  I realize that most of us aren't printing our photos.  Do we still hang onto them all?  I know that I do--having digital photos makes it even easier to just hang onto everything.

Saturday, July 10, 2021

Thinking Ahead to the Seminary Books I Will Need

Yesterday, I wrote this Facebook post:

"Before ordering the books for my fall seminary classes, I just wrote to the professors to see if there had been any changes. Why does writing a polite e-mail of inquiry to my seminary professors-to-be feel like one of the more daring things I will do this week?

To be clear: I'm delighted about the book list, and I'd happily order the books--but if they've all changed, I want to find out in time to order them and have them shipped to my house."

I've worked in academia for decades, so I know that book lists can change:  the professor for the class might have changed or the registrar might have a standard list of books to attach to the course (I found the book list as part of the registration portal, which seems to be a registrar function at my seminary) or any number of circumstances could result in me ordering a bunch of books that we won't use.

I decided to be big and brave and proactive and write to the two professors with the longest book lists attached to their courses.  And they wrote back the same day!  They both wrote very kind e-mails confirming that the book lists are accurate, and the one professor who has recommended books along with the required books elaborated on the recommendations.

I will order the books in the next day or two.  Another complicating factor is our impending move in August, and I want to make sure I have the books and that I know where they are as I start classes at the end of August.  

It's been the quiet kind of week at work, the kind where I hope that I get a seat in the class that I'm waitlisted for.  I honestly can't decide how much of a load I can handle.  There are moments when I say to myself, "I'm taking how many classes, along with my full-time work and teaching online?"  And then there are weeks like the past one where I see how it may all come together.

Friday, July 9, 2021

Scenes of Abundant Recompense

As I was looking at this week's Facebook posts, I decided to collect some of them in a blog post.  I like the way they work together.  There may be a future time when I won't be able to believe that once I worked so diligently with a Vet Tech program.  I'll want to remember moments like these:

"A colleague said, 'I want you to stay here with me. I'm very lonely.' It took me a minute to realize she wasn't talking to me, but to the little dog that was out of sight behind her desk. Another entry in the life of a school with a Vet Tech program."

I am always struck by the materials we're ordering, the stuff we need to get rid of.  Yesterday I made this Facebook post:

"Yesterday we got an invoice (and a shipment) from Skulls Unlimited. My brain immediately thought, if Flannery O'Connor wrote a short story using this detail, what would that short story look like? And how would we know God's mysteries more intimately because we read that story?

And then, how can I write this story? And then, how mundane that it's a delivery for Vet Tech classes, not some sort of evidence of strange conspiratorial group of psycho killers."

Let me be clear:  we got a canine skull and a feline skull.  We also got an e-mail with instructions for storing them in the freezer, then putting them in the refrigerator to defrost in time for students to use them.  

These are not items I ever thought I'd be ordering, items I ever thought about using in a classroom.  When I was in grad school, I'd have been thinking about fascimiles of manuscripts, copies of pre-Raph paintings.

But that's been the story of my working life thus far--post grad school, strange doors have opened, I've gone through them, and I've discovered abundant recompense (to use the phrase from Wordsworth).

Thursday, July 8, 2021

Immersed in Van Gogh

It might not have occurred to me to go to an immersive Van Gogh exhibit if one of my quilt group friends hadn't moved to Indiana and waxed euphoric about getting tickets.  Then I noticed that the exhibit was in St. Pete, Florida, which is closer to me, and included tickets to the Dali museum, which once I found exorbitantly expensive.  But then, I got word that the exhibit was coming to Miami in the summer, and since we were still in a time of COVID, it seemed wiser to go closer to home.

The remains of my quilt group down here agreed to go and chose a date and paid our money.  Then our Indiana friend actually went to the exhibit, and she was . . . well, let's just say she was underwhelmed.  But since we had already paid our money, off we went.

On Saturday, we drove down to the Olympia Theatre, a historic theatre I'd never heard of before we went.  What an amazing piece of architecture!  I found myself getting distracted by all the detail work on the ceilings and the carvings around the proscenium arch of the theatre space itself.  I found myself wondering what the theatre would look like when it wasn't set up to be an immersive Van Gogh experience.

Before we got to the immersive part of the experience, we had some museum-esque displays to wander through.  I was glad for the reminders of Van Gogh's life and work.  He's never been one of my favorites, but I like his work well enough.  I do understand why he is a rock star artist, but I do worry that people hear his life story and assume that one must be psychotic to be an artist.  Julia Cameron warned about the Edgar Allen Poe theory of creativity, that one must be mad to be a good artist, and it's an idea that's hard to shake out of people.

Some day, let me write a separate blog post about our damaging theories of creativity.  We assume that one must be insane or troubled or drearily depressed to be creative--not true.  We assume that if you're not born with talent already, why bother--not true.  But that's a blog topic for another day.

We wandered through the museum-like displays, museum-like in its information, but far from museum-like in the quality of the art displayed.  There was a cool theatre with a huge, human-height pot (ginger jar shaped) onto which designs that may or may not have come from a Van Gogh painting were projected and that was cool as they melted in and out of each other.  But most of the Van Gogh reproductions were of even less quality than one would find on a poster--more like strange computer-generated screens of painting size.

Then we were let into a big room where people stood, sat on the floor, or got a space on a cushion or one of the benches.  Unlike the pictures of people walking through the projections, we stayed in the same space, looking up and around.  We were lucky to get a bench.  The room was created with screens all around and carpet on the floor, and projections moved around the room.  There were about 8 segments, and I think the idea was to feel like we became part of the painting.  And yet, in places, the painting moved.  Some of the movement was effective, like the starry night swirls moving.  Some was amateurish, like a man behind a cart moving forward.

At first, I liked it--childlike, I moved my head to capture all the images, not realizing that they traveled across the screens, so if one looked at one place, one wouldn't miss a bit.  At first, it felt stunning to be surrounded by all those rich brush strokes.

After awhile, it was boring in places, especially in the paintings without much to stare at.  I could look at dark blue swirls for a lot longer than branches of cherry trees--I do wonder why that is.  Was I just getting a bit bored by that part of the projection?  Or was it something about the image itself?  I'm still not sure.

We exited into a room where people could do some art themselves, but by then, we were ready to go.  If I had a small child with me, we'd have done some drawing and then gone back to watch some more.  Instead, we exited into a gift shop.  Since I'm trying to get rid of stuff, I didn't indulge.  Plus, that stuff is always so pricey.

Later, I returned to this essay in The New York Times, written by an art critic who doesn't understand why we don't just go to see the art work itself.  How nice it must be to have that kind of art in the neighborhood.  In it, I learned that there are at least 2 of the touring shows.  We saw "Van Gogh:  The Immersive Experience."  Our friend in Indiana saw the other one.  She found the music overwhelming.  Ours was not overwhelming, but we didn't have to hear Edith Piaf on an endless loop either.

On the way back, we stopped at Nana's, a place that opened during the pandemic, a place that is primarily take out and warm up back home, along with a few tables.  We each got a shrimp stir-fry that was fairly tasty.  We took it back home to my house to eat, since we're still not quite ready for restaurant dining.  The dish was worth the $10.95 price--we'd have paid more at a restaurant for food of similar quality.

Was Immersive Van Gogh worth $50, plus the $18 to valet park?  Let me first say that I have a very low price point for things.  I think that concert tickets should be about $20, because the first concert tickets I ever bought were $9 each.  I think that a restaurant meal shouldn't be over $15 or $20; if it is, it should be of incredible quality and multiple courses.

So, no, the Immersive Van Gogh was not worth all that money.  But it did mean that I carved out time and motivation to be with friends, so that part was worth the money.  It did give us a focus and a reason for leaving the house, so that we overcame our pandemic wariness.

Like that art critic, I am looking forward to returning to museums and seeing the real art.  And it makes me want to pick up some brushes and paint again.

Tuesday, July 6, 2021

Independence Week-End 2021

When I look back on this past Independence Day holiday week-end, what will I remember?

--It began, as holiday week-ends often do, with me checking the 5 p.m. update from the National Hurricane Center--of course, usually the holiday week-end is Labor Day, not Independence Day.  I began the week-end thinking we might have a storm in the neighborhood by Monday, but we didn't.

--Even without a storm in the neighborhood, we did have a band come through on Monday, when Tropical Storm Elsa was still in Cuba.

--On Monday, I was coming back from a delightful lunch with friends, part of my quarantine pod, now eating out as we have been since vaccination.  I had a martini that tasted more like a less-sweet Kahlua and coffee; it was so delightful, I had another.  The restaurant on Las Olas was so short-staffed that we were forced to have a leisurely lunch, but it was a holiday, and the martinis were half price, so I didn't mind.

--I spent Saturday with a different set of friends.  Part of my old quilting group went down to Miami to 
see the Immersive Van Gogh exhibit.  We haven't seen each other in person since March of 2020.  That event deserves its own blog post, so I'll write about it later this week.

--It was one of the first week-ends in several weeks with sunshine.  We often get good weather ahead of a tropical storm, and this week-end was no exception.  I was in the pool more than I have been on most week-ends.

--I led the worship service on Sunday, and I preached a non-traditional Independence Day sermon.  Detailed sermon notes are in this blog post.

--Did I do anything special for the 4th besides preach a sermon?  No--it was one of the more low-key Independence Days I've had in quite awhile.  In fact, I went to bed early.  Well, at my normal time, which for most adults would be early.  I wasn't sure of which municipalities would have fireworks, and I didn't feel like finding out.  I'm not ready for those kinds of crowds again, not yet, and climbing on the roof as we have done in some past years also didn't seem safe.

--It was good to be with friends, but strange to reflect how many friends have moved in the past several years. 

In short, it was a fairly good week-end, as so many of them are, holiday or not.

Sunday, July 4, 2021

States of the Union

I have been going back over old blog posts for July 4; it's interesting to me how my mood has shifted through the years.  After the election in November, I might have thought I would be writing a 4th of July blog post about how democratic processes and procedures worked as they should.  But I continue to be worried about how these tests may have weakened democratic processes and procedures.

I do hope that now that more of us are paying attention, maybe there will be more protections.  But as with the recent condo collapse, I know that just because we pay attention, we can't always do what's needed.

I think about people across the globe who struggle to achieve the kinds of freedoms that so many of us in industrialized nations take for granted. It's a cliché, to be sure, but it's important to remember.

History reminds us that those liberties can fairly easily be taken away, and most of us will never blink an eye--at least until it's too late. We live in precarious times--perhaps we always live in precarious times, but I'm more aware of it in recent years.  Perhaps I feel even more the precarious times, in light of the January 6 insurrection.

But let me not get bogged down in fears. Instead, let me be inspired by those men who signed the Declaration of Independence on this day in 1776. They pledged their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor, so great was their belief in what they were doing.

I realize that those men were committed to freedom for a much more narrow section of society than many of us would want to believe.   It's good to remember how slowly those freedoms came for the majority of us, a good day to remember how much effort (and money and blood) it took.  It's a good day to think about our commitments, our values, what we hold most true.  

Of course, it's always a good day to do that--let me always be trying to live a life that's in sync with my truest values. Let me always be ready to stake my sacred honor on principles that are that important.

Saturday, July 3, 2021

Ancient--Or Wise Elder in Training?

I have spent some time this morning trying to access various work accounts, just in case I need them during this week-end of storm monitoring.  Our new owners prefer to communicate by way of Slack, which I find a strange name for a communications app that's supposed to make us more productive.  At least I think that's why we're using it.  I don't see that it does much that e-mail doesn't do, but maybe I'm just not wise to its ways.

Yesterday I updated the emergency contact lists.  We don't have that many people left at my campus, and most of the ones left don't have a complete set of keys.

I also decided to send an e-mail to the faculty and staff at my campus, just to make sure everyone has my non-school contact information.  I give it out fairly freely, but people lose track, especially when it's not used often.

Here's what I wrote:

"By phone, my home phone is best—it’s an old-fashioned land line: xxx-xxx-xxxx

My cell phone: xxx-xxx-xxxx (I have an old-fashioned flip phone—I can receive texts, but I can’t send them easily)

My non-work e-mail: xxx@AOL.COM (yes, it’s an ancient account, but it’s never been hacked)

I’m sensing a theme here—yes, I am ancient—or let me reframe this: I am a wise elder-to-be."

So, am I a Luddite? A Wise Elder in training? An Ancient? A woman who knows how to tame the spells cast by communication devices?

Perhaps all of the above.

Friday, July 2, 2021

Walk Me Through This

My brain has spent the last week buzzing back to the condo collapse just to the south of us.  My brain loves all the theories, but I'm still betting that we find that there was something like a sinkhole that opened beneath.  I've read the theories of concrete spalling and rebar rusting, but I am surrounded by buildings that are missing chunks of concrete.  As I've gone about my week, I've been observing rebar poking out from concrete on all sorts of buildings and parking garages, and those structures don't collapse.

I say that last sentence with both hope and fear, especially as I drive my car onto the parking deck at work.  It looks worse than any of the condo pictures, but as I look at the parking deck at work, I've been more worried about the outdoor metal staircase that's rusting into oblivion.

And now my brain has something new to buzz about:  a storm to our south.  I am already tired, and this hurricane season is only getting underway.  Usually I don't have much to monitor until September.  Sigh.

I have hopes that we don't have much to worry about, but I'm not stupid.  I've seen too many storms that look like nothing only to blow up into major hurricanes just before smashing onto shore.

I ended my administrator day yesterday on a call with all 5 campus directors, some key people from our New York office, and one person who had been Corporate in the old structure.  We talked about our past approach to hurricanes and whether or not anything needed to be changed.  We're lucky to have people in New York who can send out messages, should all or some of the Florida campuses lose power.

Earlier yesterday, I was part of a similar call, only it was about graduation.  We spent a good chunk of time talking about what we have done in the past, what worked and what didn't.  We did a bit of planning, but the bulk of the call was spent explaining to our new owners what our past practices have been.

I'm not complaining, but it is interesting to me that my administrator day was book-ended by these kinds of phone calls explaining processes and procedures to our new bosses.  Yesterday's key phrase was "Walk me through this."

Perhaps that's the key phrase more days than I know/realize.

Thursday, July 1, 2021

N. T. Wright on "The Kingdom of Heaven"

I have spent a lot of time thinking about what Jesus means when he uses the language "Kingdom of God" and "Kingdom of Heaven."  I think that they mean the same thing, and I don't think Jesus is referring to a place where we go when we die.

I am reading my way through N.T. Wright's works on the Gospels, and I'm currently on Mark for Everyone.  In his commentary on Mark 1:  9-13, Wright says, "Heaven in the Bible often means God's dimension behind ordinary reality" (p. 5).  He elaborates, "It's more like an invisible curtain, right in front of us, was suddenly pulled back, so that instead of trees and flowers and buildings, or in Jesus' case the river, the sandy desert, and the crowds, we are standing in the presence of a different reality altogether." (p. 5).

And then, of course, we have to live in the tension of knowing about the different reality while living in the ordinary reality too, with people who have never seen the alternate reality.  The gospels are written partly to tell us how to live in this tension.

May we see behind the curtain, today and every day--and then, may we find a way to live into that totality.