Thursday, September 30, 2021
Wednesday, September 29, 2021
Monday, September 27, 2021
Sunday, September 26, 2021
Friday, September 24, 2021
Along with the seminary classes I'm taking as a student and my administrator work, I'm teaching some English classes online for our local community college. It's interesting to read the essays written by my students while thinking about my own writing.
I find myself saving every scrap of seminary writing, even as I'm wondering what I plan to do with all this writing. Some of it makes sense to keep, like the spiritual autobiography I had to write for one class. But I've also been keeping my Discussion Post responses.
Those of you who teach or take online classes, you already know that the Discussion thread is designed to mimic what happens (ideally) in classroom discussions. I've been pleased to find out that I have been learning from them. My own students have a mix when it comes to creating meaningful discussion threads.
At first I saved my responses in case I needed to prove that I did them. But as the courses have progressed, I've wanted to preserve my insights. For example, I responded to a classmate this way in a recent thread for my Spiritual Formation class:"B___, you used the term 'a seasonal faster' which made me think about disciplines in a different way. I tend to go with the all or nothing approach that several have mentioned in their responses. I wonder if I might have a different experience if I adopted a practice for a season. It would be long enough to see how the discipline meshed or didn't mesh with my personality/life. If it didn't work, I might not beat myself up over it--after all, it was only for a season that I committed."
Thursday, September 23, 2021
Yesterday, on the day of the autumnal equinox, I woke up feeling slightly off, slightly ill, slightly tired. I wasn't full out nauseated, but I was aware of my digestive system in a way that I'm usually not. I usually wake up with 5 writing projects calling to me, but yesterday, I heard nothing: no birds chirping, no bleat of the tree frogs, nothing.
I took care of some documents needed as the house selling process moves towards closing. For years, we had a printer that would scan or copy or print, and we rarely needed it to do anything. Now we have a more basic printer, and twice in a week, we've needed it to do more. Yesterday, I went in search of a printer that can scan. Along the way, I stopped at a post office so deserted that I briefly wondered if there was a federal holiday I had neglected.
I had also stopped at a grocery store, and my spouse and I took lunch over to the beach, where his dad and stepmom are staying while they are in town. It was delightful to see their timeshare and have a simple lunch of turkey and cheese sandwiches, chips, carrots, and hummus.
I had been wanting ice cream for days, so after lunch, we decided to walk down the Hollywood Broadwalk to get some ice cream. It was astonishingly hot, even for South Florida, even though it's still September.
Since we were the first and only customers in the ice cream shop, we stayed inside, so that our ice cream didn't melt immediately. And then we made our way back in the blazing, bright heat.
I had read the morning news stories about the weather system that will bring autumnal weather to much of the nation, but will stall out somewhere to our north on this peninsula. By later in the afternoon, I left my computer where I had been doing work for my seminary classes, I wondered if I had completely lost track of time and worked through until sunset. I had not. Clouds had rolled in, and the autumnal equinox ended in steamy rain.
After my virtual synchronous seminary class, we watched network TV, a change from what we usually do. We wanted to catch the first episode of the reboot of The Wonder Years, and we were happy to watch the season premiere episode of The Goldbergs before it and The Conners after it and then Home Economics, a show I had seen once or twice. It felt strange to watch TV, commercials and all--we've been doing mostly streaming for the past year or so. It also felt like coming home, with characters we've known for a long time, and a writing arc that was both escapist and dealing with important stuff, like death and relationships--and dealing with that stuff skillfully.
On this morning's walk, I thought back to this time of year, 1998. We were renting one unit of a tri-plex, and our landlady lived on the other end. I came out to do my morning run, and she was sitting on the stoop with her morning cigarette. She said, "The seasons are changing--can you feel it?"
I looked at her in disbelief. She said, "When you've lived here awhile, you'll be able to tell."
Our morning temps are slightly cooler, 78 degrees instead of the 86 degrees of high summer pre-dawn. That's partly seasonal shift and partly rain-cooled air. But I will take what I can get, especially in late September when I'm yearning for, as Keats put it in "To Autumn," a "season of mists and mellow fruitfulness."
Tuesday, September 21, 2021
I've been distracted by the rain this morning, but in a good way. We've had a gentle, soft rain, so different than the tropical downpours we so often get. I went for a morning walk, thinking that the rain was over, and it started to pitter patter down again. I kept going because it was so pleasant.
I have the day off for Sukkot, so I could take a longer walk. I went over to Holland Park, where there's a boardwalk over the water.
Here and there, I had a glimpse of the full moon as it slipped to the west. Here and there, the clouds shifted to show a little slip of sunrise.
I needed a long walk today. I spent 5 hours--literally 5 hours--yesterday trying to get a student enrolled into her clinical rotation, and that's with working technology on the hospital end. At one point, we had 2 personal laptops and 2 personal cell phones involved, because our campus still doesn't have computers or phones. In a delightful surprise, the mi fi hotspot was able to keep up with our internet needs.
It took over an hour on the phone with the tech support people before we got the answer that we would need to create a new course rotation, that we couldn't simply extend the one that had ended Sunday, the way we would have if we had realized we needed to extend it before Sunday. It took another hour on the phone to help the Program Chair set up her access, once we figured out that she didn't have the access we thought she did.
I was able to clone a previous rotation with just a click or two, but getting the student's documents where they needed to be was a whole different challenge. They were the same documents we've used twice before, and I don't understand why it's such a onerous undertaking to import those.
As I worked, I was able to listen to the student and the Program Chair talk about the wonders they had seen inside the blood vessels and hearts they had scanned. At one point, the Program Chair murmured, "It's so beautiful, isn't it?" And hearing the student's enthusiasm kept my spirits from sinking on more than one occasion.
As I walked this morning, I tried to let the rain rinse the tech frustrations away from me. I thought about how the gentle, soft rains are getting rarer in this world of global warming. I wondered if there will come a day when category 3 hurricanes will seem minor, as we see more and more category 4 and 5 storms smashing into our coasts. I've been thinking about Hurricane Hugo, which was near the coast of South Carolina on this day back in 1989, which seemed so ferocious at the time, but which has been dwarfed by subsequent hurricanes. Sigh.
Happily, this year, right now, no hurricanes threaten us, and I can spend my holiday catching up on some writing for my seminary classes. Right now, I can watch the rain from my 6th floor balcony as it sweeps across the skyline to the south. It's similar to watching rain across a mountain range, and yet it is so different.
Monday, September 20, 2021
Today begins week 4 of seminary classes. I told my spiritual director that seminary classes are my greatest joy in my life right now. For so long, I've dreamed of doing this, and now I am--and it's not a disappointment! Through the years, as I've thought about seminary, I've worried that I couldn't manage it from a time standpoint, but I was also worried that I was also worried that I might be idealizing seminary classes. But so far, they're exactly what I had hoped.
Let me write down some insights from this time, so that I remember years from now:
--I am taking online classes this term, with the hope that I'll be on campus at some point in the future. For years, I said that I didn't want to take online classes for seminary, but I didn't anticipate this time of disease and distancing which makes online classes make sense right now.
--I've taught a variety of online classes, and I've seen good ones and bad ones (I'm rarely the one who created the curriculum that I'm using when I teach online classes). My seminary classes impress me even more, because I understand all the work that goes into making classes as robust as these.
--I worried that I might find the reading too hard, but so far, that's not the case. And unlike the work for my MA and PhD in English, I don't have hundreds of pages to read in a week per class. Right now, theology is easier for me to read than Chaucer in middle English. That statement would probably have been true back in 1990 when I took that Chaucer course. And frankly, theology is easier to read than many of those 19th century novels that I slogged through.
--What's hard? Finding time to watch all the videos. I'm taking virtual synchronous classes, which have lectures at scheduled times, along with videos to supplement. The videos are created by the professors. It's easy for me to "go" to my class meetings. I am not clear why it's so hard for me to find time to watch all the videos. So far, each class of the 3 that I'm taking has 2-3 additional videos and each of those are 12-45 minutes long. I am getting my money's worth.
--Our class meetings are done by way of Zoom, and I'm loving those sessions. So far, I'm not feeling Zoom burnout. In fact, as the class ends, I feel a pang of regret--I'm enjoying the class so much, and there seems to still be so much to cover.
--We've done some breakout sessions to have small group discussions. I've been in a variety of settings with small groups, both in person and virtual, and I tend to hate small group time. But I don't hate it in my seminary classes.
--I know that I'm very lucky in that I have several sources of reliable internet. I can think of times in my life when I haven't had that, and it would make these classes much more stressful.
--As I began this term, I knew that I would have to make use of every scrap of time, and so far, I've been fairly good at that. Before I started these classes, I have been aware of how much time I waste in internet wandering, and I've wondered why I haven't made better use of my time. I could have been reading books or writing poems or sending work out to potential publishers, but for some reason, I haven't always done that. I'm glad that I'm putting my time to better use.
--I am glad that I decided not to take the 4th class, the church history class. I am aware that I am stretched a bit thin right now. I am hoping that nothing falls apart. I've left myself not much wiggle room for a crisis, like an illness or a hurricane that disrupts power.
Sunday, September 19, 2021
Saturday, September 18, 2021
I arrived to campus yesterday to find that we had no phones and that there was water seeping up from between the wall and the floor in one part of the hallway. It had made quite a puddle overnight, but it seemed to taper off in the morning as we kept an eye on it. I can't figure out what caused it--there's no plumbing nearby, but I don't know what may be running down the wall in terms of plumbing or ductwork. The office on the other side of the wall was dry.
There are days I feel our campus is cursed. It's not an old-school kind of curse: no one's first born must be sacrificed, there's nothing that will haunt future generations. But every day it seems that there is some kind of new challenge.
Yesterday I wrote a poem that's been in my head for a few weeks, a poem about a wicked witch in an enchanted forest who realizes that she's mellowed at midlife. Once she would have brewed a potion to turn a snooty prince into a toad, but these days, she's brewing tea to soothe the weary soul. Once she would have constructed cottages of gingerbread to lure children to their doom, and now, she tips the Amazon driver who brings her the exotic ingredients she can order online, so she has no need of children to bake in her oven.
I still need to work on it--that last bit doesn't work as well as the first. But I like the general idea.
I thought of that witch late yesterday afternoon, when the UPS person arrived at my office door. He had a big box. We weren't expecting any packages, so I did double check to make sure that it was ours. It was addressed to our IT guy.
Could it finally be the HDMI cables we'd been waiting on? Some sort of device that would make our printer able to talk to our laptops? We've been bringing our laptops from home, but that means that to print anything, we have to turn it into a PDF file, save it to a USB drive, and walk the USB drive to the printer. It's fine for a document here or there, but it's extraordinarily cumbersome for the kinds of printing we used to do daily.
I pulled out one of the boxes that was packed inside a box to discover this:
I don't want to sound ungrateful. I'm sure that these headphones are lovely, especially at one of our sister campuses, where everyone is working in a conference room to be able to access the mi fi hotspot device that gives us internet connectivity. But at my campus, we are able to continue working in our individual offices, even if we have to close the door.
In terms of what the campus really needs, headphones would be very far down the list.
I said to one of my colleagues, "If this was a scene in a movie, it would strain belief." Campus requests laptops, HDMI cables, bluetooth devices to enhance connectivity--and we get headphones for people who are working in individual offices who have no need of headphones. Maybe one of the other campuses got our cables and connectivity devices.
What makes me think that we aren't cursed--or what breaks the curse each day--is the patience and good humor of colleagues. When one of us slumps in despair, the rest spring into action. When one of us can't figure out how to rig together one more set of connections, someone else spots a solution.
I don't know how long we can limp along like this. Part of me fully expects to be saying that week after week, year after year. But we'll figure out a way to keep making a way. We're educators, after all, low on the priority list, with non-existent budgets for supplies, creating magic out of curses.
Friday, September 17, 2021
Thursday, September 16, 2021
It's Yom Kippur morning, so maybe it's appropriate that I woke up wondering if I had been too harsh, too insistent, too pushy in my recent interchanges at work when I made inquiries about timelines and our tech crisis. We've been trying to make do the best we can, but I've also felt it's important for people above us and in the tech department to realize what it looks like on the ground. I ended a recent message this way, after saying that I realize that IT has a lot of issues to deal with these days:"But [I was told] that getting internet and computers for the classroom would happen by Sept. 3, and that hasn't happened yet. So we are building platforms out of boxes on tables so that the faculty member's daughter's laptop that she brought from home sits high enough to connect to the flat screen that we can barely move out from the wall to be able to use it with the HDMI cables that I brought from home. These are the mornings that I wonder if we're being filmed for some strange reality show."
Wednesday, September 15, 2021
For the next several months, our church will be using the newly published A Women's Lectionary for the Whole Church. Why switch to a new lectionary? Hasn't the Revised Common Lectionary been good enough for all these years? What can the new one do that old ones haven't?
Tuesday, September 14, 2021
We are in the 3rd week of seminary classes, and it's been 4 weeks of technology hell at work. For years, I assumed that the technology set up at work was the most solid and secure, so it's been strange to find myself in the new condo where the internet connection is so solid. I'm grateful and realizing I'm lucky. I'm tired of lugging my laptop everywhere, while also realizing that I'm lucky to have one to lug, and I know that if anything happens to it, I can replace it fairly easily. It has not always been this way for me, and I do understand how I am speaking from a place of privilege.
I don't want to rant about work, at least not today. I spend much of every work day these days letting others rant to me about these tech issues I can't solve.
Today I want to talk about a comment that my professor made in one of my seminary classes last night. We were wrapping up the Zoom session, and the professor was talking about the assignments we've turned in, and her grading process. She said she'd been feeling down lately, but then she started reading our assignments, and she felt so inspired and so hopeful about the future of the church.
For those of you who have lost track of the progress of my life, a quick digression. I'm in my first semester of classes at Wesley Theological Seminary, where I'm working towards an MDiv degree, which is the degree required by my Lutheran denomination (ELCA) to be a pastor. Almost every student is headed towards some sort of career in the Church, which I'm using as shorthand for Protestant Christian organized/institutional religion space.
Back to my seminary professor, who is feeling hopeful about the future of that institution because she's reading our writing. I watched her tell us this and watched her get a bit choked up as she told us how much we had made her feel better.
I confess that I did go back to the course shell to scroll through our Discussion posts. I had a different, though related, response--I feel relief, like I have found my people. Last night, as our professor was instructing us about how she wanted us to approach the Bible, I felt a similar relief. She mentioned that she'd had students in the past who approach the Bible as inerrant, unchanging and dictated from God, and she always advises those students to find a different seminary, because Wesley is not that seminary. Again, I felt relief, because I would not do well if Wesley was that kind of seminary.
When I looked at the various specialty tracks that Wesley offers, tracks like my chosen one of Theology and the Arts and but also Public Theology, Urban Ministry, and the African American church, I couldn't imagine that Wesley would be a conservative place, and so far, the theology I've found has matched what I could see myself proclaiming.
I think about what my professor told us last night, and I, too, feel hope for the future. And I also want to remember this moment as one of the better pieces of writing feedback that I've gotten so far--if I can write anything that makes people feel hope, that's a piece of writing that has fulfilled one of my writing goals.
Monday, September 13, 2021
Sunday, September 12, 2021
Saturday, September 11, 2021
And here we are, twenty years since September 11, 2001, with the horrific events that catapulted us into this twenty-first century. I've been reading all sorts of essays and articles that take a look back, some with an analytical eye, some simply observing, all tinged with loss and hauntedness.
All week, I've thought about the kind of post I might write today. But on this morning, I find that I don't really want to write about the event in terms of my own personal recollections. And the kinds of larger implications I might want to explore, well, I'm not ready/equipped to do that right now.
But let me collect some scraps, which may or may not be useful later.
--I remember driving down to the University of Miami while events were unfolding. I remember all the apocalyptic books and movies I had read and seen and wondering if we were at the beginning of a war. Should I be scanning the horizon for mushroom clouds? Should I turn around and head home?
--I did continue on and conducted my first class as if nothing had happened. It seemed important to preserve normalcy. I look at that sentence and wonder what I was thinking. I look at that sentence and wish I had cherished that normalcy that was even then vanishing.
--At the time, it seemed like a one time apocalyptic event, a day blazed in our memories. As the pandemic has unfolded, I've reflected on the difference with a slow motion apocalypse, compared to a September 11 kind of event.
--But as I've reflected, Sept. 11 has also triggered its own slow motion apocalypse: wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the war on terror and all the ways it transformed individual countries and the world, on and on I could go. I feel like I had a bigger list at some point, but I can't pull it up now.
--As we look back, I'm struck by all the opportunities lost along the way, all sorts of opportunities.
--And of course, I wonder what we're missing now. When the next apocalypse roars, we will look back and see what? Will it be the apocalypse we're expecting (then, mushroom clouds and nuclear war, now all sorts of climate change triggered awfulness)? History tells us that the answer will be both yes and no.
Friday, September 10, 2021
Thursday, September 9, 2021
Wednesday, September 8, 2021
Yesterday was one of those nourishing days. Did I get a lot of cleaning done at the old house? No, I did not. But that's O.K., even though it may mean a very long day later as we get closer to Sunday's open house.
Let me list the delights of the day:
--I had the day off for Rosh Hashanah. Our school's previous owner didn't even give workers most of the federal holidays off, let alone any religious holiday except Christmas. It's a nice change, especially this September, when we have days off each week for Jewish holidays.
--I went to the library and got the book I need for a seminary class, the book that sounds enough like books I already have on spiritual practices that I wanted to look at it first. While I was there, I found the newest book by Julia Cameron. How I love the public library.
--I had some cheese and crackers for early lunch, one of my favorite meals. I read a chunk of the Cameron book, and once again, I'm grateful for the public library. I've read so many of Cameron's books that while it's great to have a new book, I'm always glad that I didn't spend a chunk of money on a book that says what Cameron has said before.
--I made this Facebook post and hoped that it didn't sound like cultural appropriation: "I have today off for Rosh Hashanah, which means I can tune in for the Opening Convocation for Wesley Seminary, which I'm watching now. I'm wishing I had apples and honey and a cake to complete my ecumenical adventure, but instead, I'll eat cheese (Stilton with blueberries) and crackers and enjoy a new year celebration with my seminary."
--Unfortunately, the sound quality for the opening convocation went in and out, so that I only got every 7th word or so. Eventually, I gave up on hoping that the tech wrinkle would work itself out and went on to other activities.
--I had the most amazing nap, the kind where I sleep deeply and wake up slightly panicked at not being sure where I am or what day/hour it is.
--We have been waiting on a plumber to come and fix the kitchen sink in our rental condo. Every other faucet has great water volume and pressure, but the kitchen faucet has dwindled to a trickle. We thought we would have to wait until Friday for the plumber, but he appeared yesterday, and we were home--that would not have always been the case.
--The plumber said we need a new faucet, so we'll be waiting a bit longer for the landlady to choose one and have it shipped to us. But in a way, that's good news. If it was a supply line issue, it would likely be a much less easy fix, but we have plenty of water and pressure in the line. And I'm glad to have the plumber confirm that we do have a problem. Why I would doubt the evidence of dwindling water that my own 2 eyes can see--that's a topic for a different day. Hopefully a new faucet will be the cure, for our kitchen water issues, if not for my self-doubt issues.
--We made a great dinner, one of our basic go-tos: salmon, brown rice, broccoli, butternut squash souffle (an easy side dish in the freezer case). And I have left overs for lunch tomorrow when I return to work for my 2 day work week this week.
--I "went" to week 2 of my virtual synchronous seminary class on the New Testament Gospels. For the second week, I was very happy. I love the instructor, I love the subject, I'm learning new stuff but not being overwhelmed with all I don't know.
--I finished my day off by looking at the flier my realtor made for the open house and feeling happy about it. Hurrah!
I did have trouble sleeping last night, perhaps because of my amazing nap. But I feel pretty good today, ready to see what this second day of Rosh Hashanah vacation brings.
Tuesday, September 7, 2021
I did not have the Labor Day I expected, but it was a pretty decent holiday. What makes it extra great is that I have an additional 2 days off this week. My college is now owned by Orthodox Jews, so we have today and tomorrow off for Rosh Hashanah.
I expected to spend Labor Day at the old house, cleaning like a madwoman to get it ready for the open house that we have planned for Sunday. Because of the work that I've done in the past 2 weeks, the house is fairly ready, and because of the work that my spouse has done, the outside of the house is fairly ready, but the cottage still needs a lot of work, the exhausting kind of work, the kind that neither of us wants to do.
We've been getting low on food, so I planned to go for provisions, and because we're still in the middle of a never-ending COVID-19 spike, I wanted to go early to avoid people. I was able to do that--hurrah! By the time I got home, my spouse discovered that his department had changed his Philosophy class yet again, and since Sept. 8 is the first day of the term of that class, he settled into getting some work done on that class. I, too, have a class that needed attention, so I was able to enter all the dates into the syllabus and to set up the rest of the course shell. Today I'll go back to make sure I didn't miss anything.
By late morning, we returned to the question of what kind of work we wanted to get done, and we decided that he should keep working on his class, while he was feeling energized that way. I did some work for my seminary class; I watched two video lectures on the first creation story in Genesis. I learned that the noun for the breath of God is feminine and singular in the Hebrew language. It's a thought that has brought me much cheer, and I'm not sure why.
I had bought some plug in air fresheners for the house, and I wanted to take them over, plus I wanted to clean the fridge, so mid-afternoon, I headed over. I am trying to be gentle with myself, as I come face to face with evidence of how bad a housekeeper I am--how bad we both have been. I'm not sure what all I scrubbed away as I restored order to the fridge. But at least now, someone can look at it and not say, "I am no longer interested in buying this house. Clearly the people selling this house can't be trusted if they let the refrigerator get to this state."
By evening I felt exhausted, and I'm not sure why. My Labor Day work had not been that grueling. But exhausted I was, and I tumbled into bed just after 8 p.m. But in many ways, that's not all that unusual for me.
My day was full, but in different ways than I expected it to be. I got work done, but different work than I expected. Now to see what this Rosh Hashanah day off brings.
Sunday, September 5, 2021
Saturday, September 4, 2021
Friday, September 3, 2021
I have experimented with erasure poetry before, and I'm in awe of poets who can make that work. In the past, I haven't created an erasure poem that I like, but the process has sometimes sparked a more traditional poem for me.
Until I saw the work of Sarah J. Sloat, I hadn't thought of combining erasure poems and collage. I loved her book Hotel Almighty, the erasure poems with collage that Sloat created from pages of Stephen King's Misery, and it made me want to do something similar. But this past summer hasn't been a great time to do that, what with getting ready to move, then moving, then having art supplies in various places.
And there's the issue of intentionally destroying a book. I don't have that many books I don't care about. I thought I might use John Naisbitt's Megatrends, once I glanced through it again to see if it had been correct about its predictions. But when I saw my notes from so many years ago, I just couldn't damage the book.
So, I made a photocopy of a page that had potential. I blocked out some words that seemed to go together. And then I clipped some pictures from a December copy of Oprah magazine. I arranged and glued:
I love that I was able to find an image of a fountain pen for a page that deals with information and how we distribute it. I love a beautiful pie for a page that talks about economy and how we sell things. And the watch symbolizes so many things--same for the glasses and the jewel.
The second day, I started the blacking out. I had thought about using different colors of markers, but in the end, I started with black ink, and I found it very soothing to keep using the marker. The two lane road around the margins I added last:
I also made a PDF by scanning the image, which I can't figure out how to include here. I still don't have the right camera for capturing my sketches and collages. Sigh.
Here are the words:
Megatrends: The Information Economy Is Real
Documenting is difficult.
part of a job
I will return to Megatrends again--I'm interested to see if I keep finding delight in erasing and collaging. Even if I don't end up with something as satisfying as this first creation from the book, the process is really satisfying.