Thursday, September 30, 2021

A Month of Holidays Comes to an End

Next week my school returns to a normal work schedule of 5 day work weeks.  My school now celebrates Jewish holidays, and because of how the holidays fall this year, we haven't had a full week of work days in all of September; our registrar said, "We're following firefighter work schedules in Sept."  

We had Labor Day off and then 2 days for Rosh Hashanah.  The next week, we had Thursday off for Yom Kippur.  We finished the last 2 weeks of September by celebrating Sukkot 1 and 2 on the Tuesday and Wednesday of each week.  It's been glorious.

It's also been a godsend.  I've needed the extra time for the selling the house project.  I can do much of my seminary work from anywhere, but I've needed time to get the house ready for market, and then to do additional packing and moving, and that's work that must be done at the house itself.

On Tuesday, I wrote this Facebook post:  "I am home because my school has a Sukkot holiday today. I am writing about Rahab in Joshua 2 while listening to Carl teach Descartes in his Philosophy class. In some ways, it feels like we've fallen through a hole in time, and we're back at Newberry College, filling our brains with delightful Liberal Arts stuff. Maybe after lunch, we'll go over to the theatre and work on the latest set designs. Or maybe we'll do layout for the student newspaper. We'll do it the old-fashioned way, with Xacto knives."

Then I added some bits:  "And tonight, we'll go over to the radio station to spin the latest vinyl: Radio Free Newberry!"  and "Likely the only time that the Violent Femmes were played on the airwaves in South Carolina back in the 1980's."

And then I had this idea:  "If I was an entrepreneurial sort, I'd create a retirement community that would model a liberal arts undergraduate campus, so we could spend our golden years reliving our Liberal Arts undergrad years."

I finished this way:  "I would pay big bucks to live in such a place, but I would rather move into an already existing place than create one from scratch."

Yes, if I could sum up my perfect life:  classes in the morning to stimulate my intellect, retreat style offerings of arts and crafts projects in the afternoons to keep my creative self happy, and good food and companionship throughout the day.  Then I could go to sleep satisfied, happy in the knowledge that I got to get up and do it all again the next day.

Wednesday, September 29, 2021

Favorite Seminary Class

Monday night, I went to a church council meeting that was held by way of Zoom.  As we waited for everyone to arrive, my pastor asked me which was my favorite class in seminary.  We just started week 5, so I've had time to make a determination.  I answered honestly that it changes every week.

When I was last in grad school, working on my MA and PhD in English, I would not have answered that way.  By week 5, I knew which class was worthwhile and which was a dud.  My class in James Joyce was fascinating week after week, while I quickly lost interest in a class in Yeats.  The difference may have been in the dynamism of the faculty members.  I came to each class with no background knowledge, no prior experience with either writer.

In my seminary classes, I have lots of background knowledge and experience, and so far, I'm finding lots to love in all of my classes.  I'm pleased with how much I already know about some topics, while I'm learning a lot that is new about others.  My Hebrew Bible teacher is always giving us a new perspective on familiar subjects; for one Zoom meeting, we had a guest Q & A with a scientist who works at the Smithsonian's Museum of Natural History, which gave us a different perspective on the first chapters of Genesis and evolution.  My teacher's interpretation of the Tower of Babel was new to me:  God isn't upset by the height of a tower, but by the exclusivity of humans who want to build fortified cities; having a city destroyed and people scattered is a "grace note."

I expected to get a lot of new information from the Hebrew Bible class.  I haven't read most of those ancient stories in years and haven't studied most of them in depth.  I've been pleasantly surprised to be finding out just as much new information about the Gospel of Mark and the Gospel of Matthew, texts that are much more familiar to me.

Even in my Spiritual Formation class, which covers many of the topics that I've learned in my program to become a certified spiritual director, I've been led in interesting ways.  For example, my teacher gave a video lecture on Galatians 5, and Paul's approach to The Flesh and The Spirit, ideas I'd never considered before; I was so inspired by her lecture that I created this blog post so that I would remember what she had said.

So far, so good.  I'm able to keep up with the reading, the writing, the discussion posts.  But more importantly, I'm able to keep up with the variety of ideas I'm discovering.

Monday, September 27, 2021

Broody Mood

Last night, my sister called to wish my spouse a happy birthday, and we talked about Thanksgiving.  Usually, my Thanksgiving involves far flung family gathering at a ramshackle house at Lutheridge, a Lutheran camp in the North Carolina mountains near Asheville.  Last year, in the time before a vaccine, we cancelled.  This year, we're debating what makes the most sense--not in the argumentative sense of that word, but in the it's hard to know what's best and make a decision sense of that word.

My sister called me back to apologize for being rude about my cancer.  I had no idea what she was talking about.  One of the considerations in who should be part of the gathering is to think about immune suppression, general health, exposure, and such.  My sister noted all the people in our family who have had cancer, and she left me off the list, and then she felt bad--hence the return phone call.

Let me hasten to add that I've only had skin cancer, which does not compare with the serious cancers that other have had.  It didn't feel rude that my sister didn't include me on the list.  It's not one of the conditions that makes any of us hesitate about the holidays.

It's the unvaccinated children who are back in school and that age of some of our family members and the fear of this delta variant--those are the things that are making some of us hesitate.  It's the fact that some of us, like me, live in places where the delta variant is raging with a much higher risk of exposure and bringing the disease in to the reunion.  I have the luxury of good health, so I'm leaning towards taking the risk.  But I will understand and support those of us who can't take that risk.

I've been feeling a bit broody lately.  I've been thinking about the pre-Covid time, and all that I took for granted--not that I didn't appreciate the retreats I took, the reunions I had, the friends who lived in other places that I got to see on a regular basis.  I always knew how lucky I was.  But I had no idea how tenuous those events were.  I thought they would go on forever.  I knew that at some point, death might intervene, but I did not anticipate pandemic disruption that might last for years.  Like many, I foolishly thought we had vanquished infectious disease, that we had containment measures in place, that we had an arsenal of medicines and treatments that would squash diseases in their tracks.

I joke that a nuclear bomb would not have been a surprise, but in truth, that would have been too.  Some part of me, a large part of me, has always imagined that 30 years from now, I'd be a little old lady in a rocking chair somewhere, reflecting on my good fortune, with some aging friends rocking there with me, all of us toasting our dearly departed ones, all of us deeply committed to our communal life.

This pandemic apocalypse, with all of its variants, was not what I signed up for.  But I am the descendent of people who have made a way out of tightly constricted options, so let me be true to my heritage.

Sunday, September 26, 2021

Free Time and Fun

My spouse's father and step-mom have been in town for the past week, and it's been delightful.  They've been staying in a condo over at the beach, which is close enough to zip over and meet for a meal.  We've shared food that we've made, and we've gone out to eat.  We've had good conversation.  It's been a delight.

Friday night, my step-mom-in-law asked, "What do y'all do for fun on a Saturday?"

I tried to remember.  It's been awhile since we felt like we had an empty Saturday that we could fill with fun.  We've been in the process of life changes, as we've been in a downsizing project, downsizing our housing expenses if not our space.  We've spent the summer season sorting and packing and moving to a condo we'll be renting for the next 2 years.  We then pivoted to getting the house ready to go on the market, which it now is.  And now, we've been pivoting to the paperwork phase of the project.

But I have hopes that we'll be in a position to have fun soon.  Will I remember what that looks like?  What is more likely is that about the time the house sale closes, my spouse's additional classes will start, and we won't have huge expanses of time to have fun.  

I am recognizing a pattern.  I am also remembering what many a creativity consultant has advised:  don't wait until you have huge swathes of free time before you do your creative work.  You'll be waiting forever.  Similarly, I should probably plan for fun in smaller units.  We are unlikely to have a fully free Saturday any time soon.

When I think of what would be fun, I think of pumpkin patches and apple orchards, which I can't do easily down here.  I need to adjust my thinking to a smaller scale, both in terms of having fun and in terms of creativity.  I've been feeling like I'm not writing poems regularly enough.  I worry that in gaining seminary, I'm losing poetry.

Let me remember an idea I had for a poem:  Noah's wife sells the house.  I've been using the Bible story of Noah to explore modern ideas of climate change.

And let me remember that I don't need a huge chunk of time to write a poem.  Let me do that more often. 

Friday, September 24, 2021

Different Types of Writing for Seminary Classes

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."

I'm also thinking about the last time I was in grad school, back when I was working on an MA and  PhD in English.  In some ways, I wrote less during that degree.  We usually had one big paper at the end.  But in my seminary classes, I'm writing shorter pieces, and I'm writing at least one shorter piece per week.  I'm counting my own discussion post as a shorter piece, but interestingly not my response, although I often spend just as much time and brain power and revision time on my response.  

What I like most about these shorter pieces is that it keeps me engaged with the material on a weekly basis.  I don't remember feeling that way in my MA and PhD program--it was racing from one big chunk of reading to another.  We had lots of discussions, but not as much short writing.  If I was taking onground seminary classes, I wonder if I would be doing the same amount of weekly writing.

This past week, I've done a type of writing that I've never done before.  Here was the assignment for New Testament class:  "Make 15 good observations about Matthew 5-7 and 26-28." My teacher went on to clarify:

3. What constitutes a substantial observation?
a. Something that strikes you as important, interesting, exciting, or scandalous (but note: you must explain in detail why it is you find it to be such).
b. A word you don’t understand— though you must express your attempts to figure it out yourself. Don’t just write, “What’s a ____?” An observation must be more substantive than that.
c. A key word or idea that is emphasized or repeated, or perhaps a word mentioned in the section assigned that you know to be a key word or idea for the letter or author. Again, spell out the repetition or emphasis by describing how it functions in the verses under consideration.
d. Something you noticed about the formal or rhetorical elements of the passage.
e. A significant difference noted while comparing English translations.
→ Key point: observations should include more than one sentence and must not leave me wondering what it is you’re observing. Think “substantial.”

I found that this assignment led me to much deeper reading of the Gospel than I might usually do, even though the observation was fairly short.  Here's one of the ones I wrote:

 (Matthew 5:42) Jesus also instructs us not to refuse anyone who wants to borrow from us. He doesn’t specify what is being borrowed. Is this evidence of Jesus wanting to create us to be more communal creatures? Is this practice to help us detach from possessions?

Like I said, the exercise made me think about a familiar text in different ways.  It makes me wonder if something similar could be done for students/texts in other settings.

Well onward to the kind of writing I like least:  my administrator writing of accreditation documents.

Thursday, September 23, 2021

The Bright Blaze of an Autumnal Equinox at a Southernmost Tip of North America

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

In the Early Morning Rain

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

Insights at the Beginning of Week 4 of Seminary Classes

 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

Shifting To-do Lists and Other Adventures in Adulting

A year ago, I'd be awaking to the news of the death of Ruth Bader Ginsberg and getting on the road to a different beach, Hilton Head Island in South Carolina.  My mom knows how to work the time share game, and we had a great condo at a lovely resort.  It was the first time that any of us had been in person with anyone outside of our pandemic pod, and it was wonderful. 

This year, my father-in-law and step-mom-in-law are doing something similar.  They will stay at a condo in Hollywood Beach, and I'm not sure how the family get-togethers will circulate through the week.  I'm trying to stay open, while at the same time, not wasting any scrap of time, since I have a lot of projects percolating right now.

Last year, I remember thinking that we were launching ourselves into a wonderful autumn:  I was looking forward to a quilting retreat, extended family at Thanksgiving, and Christmas.  I'm glad that I didn't know that both Thanksgiving and Christmas would be canceled.

This year, I understand our tenuous state, but I'm trying to move forward.  In the past week, we put our house on the market, and we've had 3 offers this week.  We accepted one, and now we wait for the progress to move forward.  Yesterday I thought we would go back to the house and move some of the remaining stuff (we have left it staged, so there's some furniture, some pictures, some books, and various other things to move), but we worked on other projects.

I took the car in to the shop.  It had a slow leak in one tire, and I knew the car was overdue for an oil change.  I always feel like I've achieved some peak level of adultness when I get the car in for car care.  Later in the day, I did sweeping and mopping in the new condo, which also made me feel like I moved up a level in adultness.

In between those basic chores, I did some work for seminary classes, made some leftover veggie stir fry into a pasta dish for lunch, and relaxed with my spouse, watching clips from Norm Macdonald on Conan O'Brien's show.  And then, later in the afternoon, it was time for my monthly meeting with my small group for my spiritual direction certificate program.  It was a good session.

So, as with many days, I got done some of the stuff I wanted to get done, while other stuff will slide to another day's to-do list.  Life can work this way, right? 

Saturday, September 18, 2021

Mild Curses and Wicked Witches Mellowing at Midlife

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

Awards Season

I usually think of autumn as Awards Season--there's the Nobel Prize announcements that come in early October.  Often I look up from my heat-bleary consciousness as the first announcement comes, and I think, oh yeah, it's October.  Then I wait for my favorites, the Nobel in literature, usually announced on a Thursday, and the Nobel Peace Prize, usually announced on a Friday.

There's the National Book Award and the MacArthur fellowship announcements that come in fall.  I scan the MacArthur descriptions, and I'm always happy when I recognize names, and beyond that, I'm always happy to see how many ways people are following their passions and being recognized.  This past week has also seen some awards in poetry world:  the Lilly prize and others.

Often I feel a mix of emotions.  I'm glad that literature is still being recognized as important.  I add books to my ever growing reading list.  More often, it's seemed that these prizes are being given to people in my generation or younger, which is both thrilling and a marker of how old I am getting.  

I have often used these feelings to get on with my own writing and submitting.  In past years, I might have had a stack of envelopes ready to go when literary journals opened in September for their reading seasons.  The stack of envelopes has given way to a list of journals to remember to send electronic submissions.

But not this year.  This year, I am in seminary, and most of my energy goes to seminary classes.  I did write a poem yesterday, about the wicked witch of the enchanted forest who reflects on how she has mellowed in her older years.  I can't decide if it's finished or not.  I feel like I once had more, back a few weeks ago when the idea first came to me during a morning walk.

Let me also remember that I've gotten good feedback on my writing.  Yesterday, one of my professors returned a shorter piece of writing with a note that told me I had done a great job and used words like powerful and poignant when talking about my writing.  Wow!  I am still thrilled.

I know it may seem strange that I am so thrilled. After all, I'm published, and I have advanced degrees. But still, there's always that worry that maybe here is where I find out that I'm not as skilled as I think I am, that I am just hot air and puffery.  I have always had a strong case of imposter syndrome.

I would still be happy to have my poem chosen out of the submission pile.  But I'm just as thrilled to be making good grades in seminary, and it's a thrill that hasn't grown dim with time.

Thursday, September 16, 2021

Atonement and Tech Woes

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."

This morning, as I lay in bed doing my self-assessment, trying to decide if I needed to atone, I reminded myself that I wasn't asking for that much.  At the bare minimum, we need the cords to connect the laptops that we're lugging from home to the flat screens so that faculty can use their teaching materials and show their students the PowerPoints and other resources.

When I lay there, wondering if I was too harsh, I reminded myself of the times I backed away from harshness:  in yesterday's meeting, when a colleague said, "You know, I always answer right away"--I didn't say, "Actually, I sent you a rather urgent message on Friday, and you have yet to answer that e-mail, and it's Wednesday."  I didn't say that.

On Tuesday, we had a 1 hour meeting to update us all on  the launch of our new learning management system. We ended the meeting by hearing about a wonderful platform that we would all soon be able to access. I resisted saying, "All of these platforms, like our  LMS and this new platform that you're telling me about, do sound wonderful, but they require a stable internet source, and if we all try to use the mi fi hotspot, the whole fragile system will crash." I did not say that.

So on this day of atonement, let me remember all the times I was not patient and atone.  Let me also remember all the times I could have responded poorly, and I did not.

Wednesday, September 15, 2021

A Lectionary for Our Current Time

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?

Some of you might be asking a more basic question:  "What's a lectionary?"  It's simply a grouping of religious readings for any given day in the religious year. It's a way to ensure that communities of faith hear a variety of readings, and it's a wonderful feeling of solidarity, knowing that a majority of communities are considering the same texts on any given day.

In an ideal world, having a common lectionary is a way to make sure that religious texts aren't used to wound others.  We know it hasn't always worked that way.

So why switch to this new lectionary?  The introduction to the book says it best:  "What does it look like to tell the Good News through the stories of women who are often on the margins of scripture and often set up to represent bad news?  How would a lectionary centering women's stories, chosen with womanist and feminist commitments in mind, frame the presentation of the scriptures for proclamation and teaching?  How is the story of God told when stories of women's brutalization and marginalization are moved from the margins of canon and lectionary and held in the center in tension with stories of biblical heroines and heroes?"

Here's an example, taken from my seminary class this week.  Most of us grew up hearing the story of Adam and Eve, where Eve was presented in a variety of ways, none of them good.  Eve was stupid or ditzy or conniving.  Eve was the one responsible for bringing sin into the world; Eve was responsible for the fall of all of humankind, and therefore all women must be punished, century after century.

But what if we told the story differently?  What if we saw Adam as the passive one, the one who just did what he was told, while Eve was the one who took an active role in managing the Garden, talking to the animals, considering their arguments.  Let's take it one step further.  What would happen if we saw Eve as being convinced by the serpent, not as being tricked?  Perhaps Eve made a decision to eat the fruit, deciding to risk the possible downside to get more knowledge.  Perhaps Eve decided that a life with more varieties of knowledge would be better than being a manager in God's garden.  Maybe Eve was trying to better herself, to improve her situation--who among us cannot relate.

Of course, that's not usually how the story is told.  And we see the result:  centuries of oppression of women, often brutal oppression.  The world is a worse place because of the version of Eve that we have proclaimed. 

A Women's Lectionary for the Whole Church isn't a hack effort, created by feminists who are trying to hijack the mission of the church.  Wilda C. Gafney, the creator, is a Hebrew biblical scholar--the translations we'll be reading are hers.  Along the way, she's spent time in careful consideration of word choice; I know that she has because I've been part of a Facebook group made to support her and the work.  I loved seeing her progress and being a part when she would ask us which word made the most sense.  I can attest that Dr. Gafney has done this work with love and a fierce loyalty to the larger Christian community.

It will be interesting to see how this work shapes our individual community and the larger world.

Tuesday, September 14, 2021

Writing that Makes Us Feel Hope for the Future

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

The Day Before, and the Day After, Our Open House

It is the day after our Open House.  We did not stay up half the night going over all the offers we received, and I have no idea if that's to be expected or not.  We had hoped for so many offers that we would never even put the house on the market.

The house goes on the market today, and we keep our fingers crossed.  Yesterday morning, we did the final activities:  one last vacuuming, one last pool cleaning, one last walk through.  Of course, they won't be the final activities if the house doesn't sell soon.

As we drove to church, bleary eyed and achy all over, I said, "There have been times in the last 6 weeks when I wasn't sure how we would ever get to this point."  So I am happy to be at this point, even if we don't have 6 offers in hand.

It makes me somewhat sad, of course.  The house has never looked better, at least not while we've owned it, than it looks right now.  We'd get one thing fixed, look up, realize how many other items needed attention, and trudge along, despairing of ever getting it all done.  For example, the kitchen remodel was finally complete, but we didn't have a good way of displaying our books.  My spouse created a plan for floating shelves, which took far longer than anticipated.  And the exterior of the house was ever in need of paint, which my spouse intended to do, at the first opportunity that he got a break from teaching.

Of course, as an adjunct, he has always had a full slate of classes.  No full time pay, of course, but no free time either.

We have hired people to do the work, which comes with its own headaches.  The problem with being married to a do-it-yourselfer is that they want to do it themselves, and they're highly critical of the work of others.  And I just want the work complete.  I am not looking for some Platonic Ideal when it comes to painting the house.  

I am anxious about what comes next in this process.  But I am always anxious about what comes next.  Let me turn my attention back to my seminary studies, one of the reasons why I was hoping that we could have gotten the house on the market earlier this summer.  I wanted to be wrapped up with the housing stuff at this point as the third week of seminary starts for me.

Hopefully, soon we will be.

Sunday, September 12, 2021

Progress of All Sorts

Portrait from a life in progress:  bread dough rising in my biggest bowl on the kitchen counter at the condo we're renting, and soon we will head back to the old house to do the last minute spiffing up for the open house that will be later today.  Tomorrow, the house goes on the market, but we hope it won't be for long, because we hope we will get offers today.

Will I be at the open house?  Oh my heavens, no!  We have a realtor, someone who is professionally trained to do these things.  I would say the wrong things if I was one of the hosts.

I do wonder if I should bring some bread dough over to bake as we do the spiffing up this morning.  Or would that smell class with the other smells that we've tried to infuse into the air?  I think that I will not risk it.  I'll bake the bread later today.

We spent much of yesterday at the same task--tidying, straightening, touch up painting, getting the old house ready for market.  It was a strange way to observe the September 11 anniversary, but in a way it felt appropriate.  Let us clean up our messes in the hopes that someone else can come along and appreciate what we've built/created.

In the middle of the day yesterday, I did a bit of driving, taking stuff back to the condo, getting us lunch from Taco Bell.  I listened to a radio special called Blind Spot, about various events that led up to September 11.  It's a condensation of a nine part podcast.  I thought about listening to the whole thing, but that would be quite a time commitment.  Besides, much of the information was not new to me.

Later in the day yesterday, I watched the livestream of the installation of the first transgender bishop, Rev. Dr. Megan Rohrer, bishop of the Sierra Pacific Synod of the ELCA.  Wow.  What a moving service, and the liturgy nerd in me appreciated how the service was constructed and how the elements worked together.

The beautiful thing about a livestream is that we can still access the service, even after it's over.  I may go back to watch parts of it again; if you'd like to do that too, go here and scroll down.

I was so happy to see Bishop Elizabeth Eaton, the bishop of the whole Lutheran church, presiding.  Lutheran church leadership has not always been leading the way when it comes to issues of inclusivity.  I am hopeful that change is on the way.

I am hopeful that this moment of inclusiveness will lead us all to dream bigger than we've been dreaming, that those who have been outcast and marginalized will have a powerful hope for the future, that we can all move forward to that future that will be welcoming, safer, and full of promise of what can be accomplished for us all.

But now, back to more mundane issues.  There is bread dough to be shaped into loaves, and a final straightening to be done.

Saturday, September 11, 2021

September 11, Twenty Years Later

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

Wine Stewards on the Titanic

Yesterday was the first day of our Fall 2021 term at my very small college campus.  Our campus has contracted so much that I don't have as much to worry about.  I'm not hiring teachers at the last minute, and it's rare to lose a faculty member at the last minute.  Our faculty members don't have a moment to lose, so they pack the first day with lots of content, and they're prepared for the fact that students might not have books.  What else could go wrong?

When I got the first phone call from a student who couldn't get into his online course shell, I didn't think much of it.  There's always a student or two who ignored e-mails or didn't follow the instructions in the e-mail.  I referred the student to the online division.

Imagine my surprise when I got a phone call from a colleague in the online division.  She told me not to send students to her, that she wasn't returning calls or e-mails.  I was baffled at first.  Come to find out, students hadn't been added to the online classes yet (at 9:30 on the first day of classes).  Students didn't have course shells, and teachers didn't have students.  There was no information about when this issue would be fixed.  There wasn't any information about the nature of the problem.

Throughout the morning, as solutions still didn't come, I tried to reassure students that they'd be getting information soon.  By the end of the day, we got a communication that the problem should be solved.  

If we hadn't had a month of tech troubles, I might not have spent much time thinking about the larger significance and whether or not there was a larger significance.  Someone mentioned deck chairs on the Titanic, as we made the required bulletin board to celebrate Constitution Day.

I said that it was more like we're the wine stewards on the Titanic.  We have jobs to do, and we see them as very important to the overall organization.  We're focused on the finer details.  We don't see the icebergs.

At this point, I don't have the distance to know if this metaphor is apt for my particular situation, but it does seem perfect for the larger state of higher education.  And as I spent the day thinking about the metaphor, it seems apt for much of modern life.

Thursday, September 9, 2021

Grad School Kristin, Seminary Kristin

Over the past few weeks, as I've been returning to school, I've been reflecting on the differences between grad school Kristin who was earning an MA and then a PhD in English between 1987 and 1992 and seminary Kristin who is earning an MDiv and already thinking about a DMin after that.  Let me make a record:

--Seminary Kristin is more confident in her writing.  I've been writing a lot longer than grad school Kristin.  Unlike many people, I got the PhD and then spent the next 30 years writing in a variety of genres.  But getting the PhD also gave me confidence in both my writing, my navigating a committee skills, and in myself as a person who could make her ambitious goals come to fruition.

--Seminary Kristin has a lot more on her plate:  I'm teaching more classes in addition to my full-time administrator job and my seminary classes.  But at this point, I'm less stressed than grad school Kristin.

--Perhaps I'm less stressed because I have more money.  In grad school, summers were especially rough because my assistantship was only for the school year.  Last week I was in the Fresh Market, which was one of my favorite stores when I was in grad school.  In grad school, I could hardly afford anything in that store.  A week ago, I thought, I could buy anything I wanted; I wish more would leap out at me.

--Seminary Kristin has computer resources that thrill grad school Kristin.  But we're both using the computer as a fancy typewriter more than anything else.

--Grad school Kristin waited until the last possible minute to turn her work in.  I am now training myself to do the smaller tasks and post them as I finish them.  Yesterday I finished a discussion post for my online class and I thought about waiting until it was closer to the Saturday deadline.  But I had already polished it, and I knew that in the days to come, I wasn't likely to make it significantly better than the draft before me.

--Of course grad school Kristin really only had one large paper per class, usually 20 pages.  In seminary, taking online classes, I have a wide variety of assignments and so far, most of them are much shorter than my usual word count.  Teaching myself to scale back is different than when I was in grad school, where I often had about 7-10 pages of something to say, and I had to learn how to develop those ideas to meet the requirements.  I often added more outside sources instead of developing my own ideas.  I didn't trust my own ideas in grad school thirty years ago.  I worry that Seminary Kristin might trust her own ideas too much and not be open to new ideas.  I'm hopeful that by articulating the danger, I can avoid it.

--Thirty years!  Can it really be 30 years since I got my PhD in 1992?  Wow.

--I'm still with the same partner, but we're not doing fun, cheap stuff like going to the zoo or going to movies.  Maybe that will change when we finish all the work that has to happen before the house goes on the market.

--Grad school Kristin moved to an apartment closer to campus and closer to 5 Points, a cool part of town that had festivals and a Gourmet Shoppe and the Joyful Alternative, a cool store that stocked items like interesting clothes and a variety of tarot decks.  Grad school Kristin had a mixed record of taking advantage of all the interesting stuff happening.  Like grad school Kristin, seminary Kristin has also moved to a condo closer to downtown.  I am hopeful that we'll do more, but I also realize that we have less time, with all the other stuff we're doing.  This week, my spouse just accepted another handful of adjunct classes to teach. 

--Both grad school Kristin and seminary Kristin share the same set of emotions:  happy to see plans coming together, fretful that it's too late, but hopeful that it's not.

Wednesday, September 8, 2021

Great Ways to Start the New Year

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

The Labors of Labor Day

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

Dust, Of History, Of Humans

Most mornings, I would be out for my morning walk.  But most mornings, I would not have spent the day before on my hands and knees trying to restore the luster of hardwood floors.  As I scrubbed and dried the floors, I tried to remember how the house got so grimy.  I last cleaned it deeply in April of 2019, before the visit of my sister and nephew. 

I used to clean more rigorously and more regularly back when we had overnight visitors spread throughout the year.  In between those visits, I'd do the basics to keep toilets and surfaces clean, but I wouldn't get on my hands and knees to dust/scrub the more hard to reach places on the baseboards and furniture.

We haven't had overnight visitors during the pandemic, and I've just let things slide.  Now we're getting the house ready to put on the market, so it's time to get everything cleaned and presentable.  It's exhausting, and we haven't even started on restoring the cottage.

But I'm also not walking because it's been a slow morning in other ways:  a frozen/sloggy computer, a sloggy body, and my wanting to do some reading and writing.  Earlier this morning, I wrote this Facebook post:  "Oh dear. I've discovered an ancient apocalypse I never really took note of before: the end of the bronze age. I was going to write a blog post about my map quiz for seminary class, and I can't stop reading articles about the collapse of the bronze age. Rev. Dr. Joelle Colville-Hanson tweeted this yesterday, and I haven't been the same since: 'Everyone thinks it’s all going to go down like the end of the Roman Empire. But what if it’s more like the collapse of the Bronze Age civilizations?'"

I wanted to sit and read and contemplate.  I wanted to write about my first quiz in seminary.  Instead, I've been zipping around from website to website, wondering why I haven't thought about the collapse of the Bronze Age before and trying to figure out how the history overlays with Bible stories I spent the last week in seminary reading.  I am thinking, but I am not sure, that the collapse of the Bronze Age made it possible for the Maccabees to overthrow their oppressors.  According to one of the lectures I viewed this week for New Testament class, they ruled so badly that the Romans came in and offered to take over, and they just said, "Sure."  I need to find a website that gives good timelines.

It is sobering to me to realize how much I still don't know, especially when it comes to the time before the English literature that I spent so much time in grad school studying.  Actually, my studies became more solidified as I taught the British Literature survey classes early in my teaching career.  But I never taught anything much before Chaucer and Beowulf, so those time periods are much hazier to me.

The maps are hazier too.  I spent this past week looking at a variety of maps to get ready for my first quiz in seminary.  I had blank maps that I filled in as a study guide.  I searched source maps looking for those city names that are familiar to me from Bible stories I'd been hearing from my youth:  Nazareth, Bethlehem, Nineveh.  I thought about the Fertile Crescent and that land between the Tigris and Euphrates.  I looked at ancient names and tried to figure out their current names, just to get my bearings on a map.  I thought about that wide swath of humanity, all dust now.

Yesterday morning I took the map quiz, which was harder than I thought it would be.  Or maybe it's more accurate to say it was hard in different ways.  I knew it would be a multiple choice test, so at least I wouldn't be grading on my map-making skills.  Still, I felt like I prepared for a calculations type of math quiz, but had to think in terms of word problems:  "You are going from this city to this city.  Which route is most direct?"  Happily, I was able to make the adjustment and complete the quiz.  I scored a 95, which made me ecstatic.

This first official week of seminary classes has been a delight, and there's a bit of weird grief-like stuff too--what took me so long to do this?  What all have I forgotten that might be coming in handy?

Let me not get too lost in hindsight.  We're all dust, all too soon.

Saturday, September 4, 2021

Collegial Chaos and the Ways that 1970's TV Schooled Us

I was sad to hear of the death of Ed Asner a few days ago.  But it's a sadness mixed with gratitude for his long life and his fine acting.  I was first aware of him as Lou Grant, the boss of Mary Tyler Moore.  But I also loved his spin off show, where he's part of a newspaper outfit.  Many of my contemporaries wanted to be journalists because of Woodward and Bernstein, but I may have first felt that spark of longing when I watched both The Mary Tyler Moore Show and Lou Grant.  This article gives a wonderful tribute to Ed Asner and the character of Lou Grant that he created and the world of newspaper journalism.

I did not follow Lou Grant into the news business, but instead the college world, which bears some resemblance to those 1970's workplaces.  We've been wrestling with a different kind of work issue each day this week:  mi fi hotspot out, elevator buttons not lighting up, mail gone to a different floor while graduation regalia needs to be returned to a different campus, getting our new LMS less than a week before classes start for Fall 2021 quarter, on and on I could go.  I've been thinking of the great TV shows of my youth that were set in a work place and how we don't see that much these days; work is tangential in most weekly TV shows.  The work place TV shows of my youth prepared me for collegial chaos.

At one point, as my writer friend-colleague and I were trying to solve an issue at school, she suggested that our conversation would make brilliant dialogue for a TV show, like The West Wing, only set in a shrinking school.  I said, "Like The Chair, only it's a realistic look at a campus."  She later created this post on Facebook:

"Have you seen The Chair? Is that us now?"
"You know I have an ongoing Netflix trailer in my head of everything that happens on a daily basis."
"Maybe we could be the other end of the spectrum in Netflix shows. Like here's this Ivy League school and its quirky English department and ALL THE WAY OVER HERE is our little gritty-mostly female-70s-style workplace situation comedy about a tiny struggling college with no internet and a variety of other issues."
"Would part of this trailer be me curled up in front of your desk?"

To which I replied, 

"It's like Barney Miller meets WKRP in Cincinnati meets Taxi--but with better cake and less groovy music and a mostly female staff which means no sexualizing of the one lone woman. As workplaces go, it could be worse . . ."

It was the kind of week where we learned that the mi fi hot spot at the Gainesville campus and at our Hollywood campus were registered to the same phone number, so when they used theirs, ours went out, and vice versa.  I don't know enough about wi fi hot spots to understand that, but at this point in our campus tech crisis, I wasn't surprised.

I also wasn't surprised that the people on our campus reacted with grace and the determination to create a work around so that our students' progress can continue.  The TV shows of my youth schooled us in how to do just that.

Friday, September 3, 2021

Information Economies and Collages

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

concrete terms

Without answers, 

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.

Thursday, September 2, 2021

First Week of Seminary Classes

I have come through my first week of seminary classes--they officially started on Monday, but I've had access to the course shells for over a week.  I've done a lot of reading in books that are very interesting.  I've studied maps to get ready for a map quiz later this week. For the past two nights, I attended the synchronous class meetings, meaning that we all gathered in a Zoom meeting.  In some ways, the classes were similar to other Zoom meetings, particularly religious church meetings.  We began in prayer and moved to the business of the evening.  

I had worried about Zoom burnout, or being distracted by other internet delights, so I closed all the windows that send me beeps:  no Facebook, no e-mail, and I kept the Zoom window on full screen.  In retrospect, I was so focused on showing that I was present and paying attention that I worry that I looked like a grinning idiot.  And yet, it was sincere.  I am so happy to be here in this virtual place.

Last night, I thought about the first online journaling class I took with the artist Vonda Drees, through the Grunewald Guild in November and December of 2018.  We read a book together, and we shared our sketches, and we met once a week in a Zoom session.  It was transformative, and in many ways, it set me on the road to where I am today, sitting in seminary classes.  Attending the first onground intensive for my spiritual direction certificate program was similar.  I walked on the campus of Southern seminary, and I realized how much I missed all the aspects of that traditional educational experience.

I have loved that certificate program, and yet, along the way I've thought, this is interesting, but it's not seminary.  I was able to handle the pace and the readings, and it made me think I could do something more rigorous.  

In the interest of being completely honest, I'm also in a phase of my administrator work life where work has become less demanding as the campus has been shrinking and various programs have been in the final phases.  I feel sad about that fact in some ways.  When I came to this job, the campus was growing so fast that we had trouble finding space for all the classes that we need.  Now, because of decisions above me and because of the pandemic, that process has been reversed.   And it's not just my little campus.  It's become clear that a change is underway in higher education, a change in part because of a declining birth rate that started in 2007 or so, coupled with immigration restrictions.

I still feel somewhat precarious, like my life has become a huge balancing act, and I must not let myself get distracted, lest I fall or drop something precious into the abyss.  I will remember what a wise yoga teacher taught me, to keep my vision focused on a point further away, to not compare myself to others, to slow down.

Wednesday, September 1, 2021

Dreams of Common and Uncommon Languages

I had never heard of the Sealey Challenge before last year.  Even if I had heard of it, I likely wouldn't have taken the challenge; the thought of reading one volume of poems a day was just too daunting.

But last year was a pandemic year, and I thought I might be able to pull it off.  And I did.  Not only did I read a volume of poems a day, but I took a picture of the book in some kind of setting that was meant to evoke some aspect of the book, and I posted the picture to social media.  I had a lot of fun thinking about the photo, and that might have been my favorite part.  My reading goal for 2020 was to read 100 books, and I doubt I would have made that goal without the Sealey Challenge.

So as August 2021 approached, I decided I would try again.  I knew that I didn't have the kind of swaths of time that I had last year:  at the beginning of the month, we would move to our rental condo, and then we'd spend the rest of the month getting the house ready to go on the market, and the month would end with seminary classes starting.  But I knew that if I attempted the Challenge, I'd read more books of poems than I would if I didn't attempt it.

I ended up reading about 25 books.  Unlike last year, this year, my books were unpacked, so I could revisit old favorites.  

Early on in the month, I reread Adrienne Rich's The Dream of a Common Language:  Poems 1974-1977.  I took it with me to the FAPSC conference, and I read a poem here and there as I waited for panels to start or ducked out of boring panels.  There was a moment when I thought I would need to go to the bathroom to weep.  No, not because of the power of the poetry, although the powerful poems do hold up well.  No, I flipped to the front and read the inscription written by my best friend who gave me the book as a birthday present.  The inscription offered the hope of realizing the dream among others, and I felt my chest cave in.  My friend died a terrible death of esophageal cancer in 2015, after a grueling battle through much of 2014.  How can she be gone so soon?

I also read volumes published in the past year, like Diane Suess' Frank:  Sonnets and Natalie Diaz's Post-Colonial Love Poems.  I got them from the public library, which makes me amazed at the quality of our public library.  When I get my property tax report, I always imagine that all that money is going to public libraries and public schools.

I decided to end the month with a special treat for myself.  I read Sarah J. Sloat's Hotel Almighty earlier this year, and I loved the way she created the text:  taking Stephen King's Misery and doing a series of erasures and collages.  As I was packing, I decided to do something similar when I came across John Naisbitt's Megatrends, a book I read in my first year of college shortly after it was released in 1982.  Yesterday I knew we would likely be without technology at work for the first part of the day, so I decided to see what would happen if I brought the book to work with me.  I read Hotel Almighty again, and then I flipped through Megatrends.

I had planned to use the actual book, to--gasp--rip pages out of it, but I just couldn't.  There were my notes, like messages from 18 year old Kristin.  The yellow highlighting has lasted all these decades.  Perhaps I'll write more on that later.  So, I chose a page and photocopied it.  The segment entitled "The Information Economy is Real" had potential.  I also had a tub of old magazines in my office from a vision board station I set up in the student lounge, back when we didn't have a global pandemic, and I could plan these kinds of things.  I chose a December issue of Oprah and found some images that went with the collage/poem.

I'll write more about the whole thing when I'm finished, but here's the work in progress:

So, it's been a good month, full of challenges of both the delightful kind and the frustrating kind, and if I'm being honest, I've been feeling more frustration than delight this month.  I'm grateful for the Sealey Challenge, which brought me delight.  I'm happy to turn the page to this new month of September.