Sunday, October 31, 2021

Scary Stories in a Pandemic Year

Here we are, at the second Halloween in a year of pandemic.  Of course, you might not know anything is out of the ordinary, depending on where you live.  I am not seeing nearly as many masks as I once did, but my county has a vaccination rate of 82% and a low positivity rate of 3%, according the county school board which will stop requiring high school students to wear masks on Monday, All Saints Day.

I wish I trusted their numbers.  I have this vision of an animation of this disease laughing and saying, "Sure, it's a low positivity rate now.  Take those masks off and see what happens."

I am still keeping my mask on in stores and trying to remember to wash my hands whenever I return from someplace outside my home or office.  And I try to go to stores early in the morning, when there are less people there.  Of course, I did that before the pandemic too.

Yesterday I went to the grocery store early.  We live in a new place this year, so I wanted to get some Halloween candy, just in case.  I'm glad I did.  Yesterday at 3, there was a knock on the door--trick or treaters!  I gave them candy.  I wondered if I missed the memo about trick or treating in the building.  I went down to check the mail, just in case a notice was put in our boxes.  Nope.  I admired the ambition of the children and waited for more to follow their lead, but so far, they are our only trick or treaters.

I am trying not to think about past Halloweens, when we would have had different plans.  Today we will go to church, where I will do something different with the altar, because it is Reformation Sunday.  At Trader Joe's on Friday, I bought some mums, which we can use both today and next week, for All Saints.  

And then we'll see if we get more trick or treaters, if they get to us before we finish up all the candy.  I will bake a chocolate cake for work tomorrow, where we'll be celebrating a colleague's birthday.  We won't be carving pumpkins or doing anything seasonal.  We watched It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown last week, so we may not even have much in the way of seasonal viewing; I don't want to fill my brain with the typical Halloween movie fare. 

So, it will be a low-key Halloween, more like a typical Sunday that a holiday.  But that will be O.K. too.

Saturday, October 30, 2021

Notes on a Trauma Conference

I spent much of yesterday "at" a conference on trauma; because it was a virtual conference, I could be on campus, taking care of school business (typically light on Fridays), while hearing interesting presentations on trauma research, on trauma in texts, on how to remake our spaces to make them safer for people who have suffered trauma.

I joined the Zoom meeting prepared to turn off my camera and my microphone, but we were never allowed those controls, which is fine with me.  If we wanted to interact, we wrote in the chat, and people did.  In some ways, it was more interactive than a traditional conference.  At a traditional conference, only a few people get to pose a question at the end of a presentation.  That was not the case yesterday.  From what I could tell, almost every question was answered.

All of the presentations were compelling, although the last presenter did talk a bit fast.  I liked that I could control the volume, because his voice would have been hard to hear in a big conference room.  All attendees will get access to the recording.

The presentations had a nice balance.  For example, the first presenter talked about compassion fatigue, but also compassion satisfaction, the good feelings we get from helping people.  Although the conference was sponsored by Wesley Theological Seminary, the presentations seemed applicable to many professions.

I was even able to use some ideas from the presentation in my writing for seminary.  I had been wrestling with how to end my discussion post on God hardening Pharaoh's heart in the Exodus story, so it was interesting to hear a speaker talk about how some of the aspects of God that I find comforting--like the idea of God holding us in a loving gaze--might be difficult for someone who has been abused by someone who claims to love them.  The presenter talked about how a God who saves some people while destroying the oppressor might be useful for a trauma victim.

It's the kind of conference I wouldn't have been able to attend in my regular life, if it was offered in a face to face way.  I don't know that I would have felt I could justify the time away, the expense.  But a free conference that I could watch from my office?  Perfect.  If it had turned out to be less useful, I could have shifted my attention to something else.  

But how delightful that it turned out to be such a good experience.

Friday, October 29, 2021

Last Days of Daylight Savings Time

I almost always take my morning walk at the same time, around 6 a.m.  These days, there's only a hint of sunrise when I get to the lake; we are far from the blazing sunrise of summer.  In some ways, it means I'm not distracted by those intense colors of the morning.  There's still much to see in the dark:

--Yesterday morning on my walk, I saw a shooting star.  Yes, I know I should be scientifically accurate and call it a meteor.  Frankly, my poet self doesn't think either of those terms accurately describe what I saw.  I saw a slender sliver of a shooting star, a silver thread.  I knew it wasn't a plane because of its descent and disappearance.  Did I make a wish?  

--I saw a solitary bird fly overhead, and if it hadn't made a sound, I wouldn't have looked up..  When I looked back down, I saw a feather on the grass.  It was wet when I picked it up, so it probably wasn't from that bird.  I thought about flight and falling and the Emily Dickinson quote, about hope being a thing with feathers.

--From the distance of several blocks, I saw the neighborhood fox trot across the street, fully lit by the streetlamps.  You might ask, "How do you know it was a fox, not a cat?"  In part because of the confidence of the walk, and in part because the tail was held up--most cats don't hold their tails up in that way when they walk.  You might ask, "How do you know it was a fox and not a coyote?"  I can't be sure, because I couldn't see the shape of the tail.  

I am already feeling a bit sad about the end of daylight savings time, about how light it will be when I walk.  I am feeling sad that all these Halloween lights and decorations will be banished soon.  I am sad about how it is still warm, humid, and windless.

But I am happy about the wonders of nature, about feeling like I'm the only one out and about, about having time to ramble, and having mobility, even with the aches and pains that come with middle age and arthritic feet.

Thursday, October 28, 2021

Fall Festivals, Past and Present

Yesterday, we had a Fall Festival at school.  As with many parts of life (all of life?), I found that if I didn't compare it to past events, the current event was lovely.

My first day at my current job was October 31.  I arrived on campus at 10:30 expecting to meet all the people who would be reporting to me, and for many of them, I thought it would be the first time they knew their old boss was gone.  I went into the conference room, we all introduced ourselves, and then someone knocked, opened the door, and said, "The costume contest is starting.  Can we take a break?"  I nodded, and off we went.

It was an amazing sight to behold, especially since I had just come from a very sad school that was in the process of a very slow motion, very long closing.  I loved the energy and the enthusiasm.  It was a great first day.

Until last year, we had a costume contest each year.  We had treats.  In the weeks leading up to the big day, we had pumpkin decorating.  This year, we just had treats, with costumes optional, since most students are in lab and need to wear scrubs.

I didn't get to choose the treats, so it was an odd assortment of pre-wrapped stuff:  Skinny-Pop popcorn, Lays Potato Chips (the classic kind, nothing interestingly flavored), cotton candy, and very small pieces of candy (Twix, Snickers, and Milky Ways).  We had small bottles of water.  I had found some cookies on sale at Wal-Mart and some mini cupcakes, so I spent $10, and set those treats up in the break room with fresh coffee and hot water and hot cocoa packets.  People squealed with delight about the cocoa, but they didn't drink much of it--but that was fine with me.  We also had a game that someone else chose:  a big block Jenga kind of game.  We set it up, but no one played.

Many students expressed thanks and happiness about the treats, so that was good.  A few students wore costumes, and our library assistant wore a witch hat.  We had decorated the campus earlier, but having treats boosted the happy energy level in a way that surprised me.

I worried, as I always do, that we would run out of treats, but we didn't.  And now, we have snacks for today and probably tomorrow and into next week.  We got more Lays chips than anything else, and it's hard for me to imagine that we can ever eat them all.

I chose Wednesday for our festival because we have more students here on a Wednesday than any other day.  It's sobering to me to realize how many fewer students we have than we did in 2016, when I first saw the campus in festive action.

But again, let me remember this lesson that I will spend the rest of my life learning:  if we don't compare our current circumstances to any other circumstances, we will be far happier.  Let me relish the happiness of a Fall Festival that came together with very little lead time.  Let me be happy that we can do a pandemic-safe, socially distanced festival. 

Wednesday, October 27, 2021

Seminary Studies, Week 9

It has been a week/month/season of frustrations.  Our house sale is progressing, but we hit a snag because inspectors are backed up.  My spouse and I have had such a wide variety of tech issues that I can't begin to list them.  Our condo has a beautiful rooftop pool that is inaccessible because there's a leak somewhere and all the structural engineers who might be able to advise the best way to fix the leak are in high demand with the collapse of the condo in Surfside in June.

I could continue with this list, but you get the idea.  I am trying not to get bogged down in despair, so I've been focusing on what's going right.  In my 9th week of seminary classes, I'm happy to report that I'm still thrilled to be a seminary student.  I've written one purple legal pad full of notes from classes.  

I imagine that years from now, when I look back on this time period, the thrill of seminary classes will be what I remember.  And to help me remember, let me list a few high notes from this point in my progress:

--Last night, in my New Testament class, I heard the BEST analysis of the Mary and Martha story that I've ever heard.  What if Mary is not the purpose of the story, not the role model that so many of us have heard that she is?  If we see Martha as a weary disciple, does the story change?  The story is positioned between the Good Samaritan story and the teaching of the disciples to pray--how does this positioning help us analyze the story?

--In my Hebrew Bible class (what we used to call Old Testament), we've gotten to the Exodus story.  As I read these stories, many of them familiar from childhood, but not recently familiar, it's very strange to reflect and dive deep.  It feels disrespectful to my Jewish friends and colleagues to air my criticisms.  At the same time, my modern sensibilities recoils at some of the capriciousness of this God and at the actions of these ancient people.  I still haven't sorted out my discomfort.

--My Hebrew Bible class is completely online, so I have my professor's lectures on video to watch.  While she doesn't completely allay my discomforts, she helps me imagine that there might be a path if I continue to wrestle.  Wrestling and arguing--these are good verbs for Hebrew Bible class.  My favorite quote from this week's lectures:  "God does not call prophets to be puppets."

--While I imagine I would feel a tighter sense of community if we were all taking classes in person, I am beginning to feel like I'm getting to know some of my classmates.  In my Spiritual Formation class, we were divided into groups that would meet once a week.  Our time availability was how the class was split up.  Each small group has a discussion thread that only they contribute to, along with the discussion thread for the whole class.  In my virtual classes, we break out into small groups every week, which also helps me feel like I'm getting to know people.

--I do feel lucky that all of the tech woes haven't impacted my ability to go to seminary classes or get the work done.  I have the best internet connectivity in our condo that I've ever had in a living space, and I have some back up plans if I need them:  connectivity at school, connectivity at the public library, connectivity at my church.  I can't imagine how people do distance learning if internet coverage is spotty.

I am now closer to the end of my first semester than the beginning.  I'm happy that I'm still excited about these classes, that I'm still learning so much, that I'm still getting so much joy from this experience. 

Tuesday, October 26, 2021

Sorcery and Enchantment in the Modern Setting

Recently, I have made these Facebook posts, which I have made into Tweets once I reduced the word count.  They seem worth preserving in an easier to find format.  I feel a poem brewing out of them:  witchery, enchantment, the modern office, etc.  Or maybe they are just comments on modern life in 2021--still worth preserving.

Ordering supplies for Vet Tech, and it feels very appropriate for Halloween, even though we make these kinds of orders year round: sheep's blood, brains, that kind of thing. All in a day's work! And still I find myself leaving notes that I never expected to make in my professional life: "The sheep's blood won't arrive until Nov. 8." Am I a campus director, a spy, or a witch?

As I walked home from the grocery store, a couple walking their dog said, "It's not raining." I said, "Not yet." Four minutes later, I was at home, and it was pouring rain, and I am thinking of changing careers to meteorologist or witch.

Dark clouds scud across the sky, but it's still close to 90 degrees outside. I will drink hot tea for as long as the dark clouds help me maintain the illusion of fall. And having the office AC set on arctic helps too, as does the pot of mums on my desk and the autumn lights strung across the fairy trees. And pumpkins--pumpkins help too.

My New Testament professor greets us all by name as we enter the classroom space. Of course, it's on Zoom, so she has the benefit of our names being on the screen. But it's so welcoming and so simple to do, and I wanted to remember.

Monday, October 25, 2021

Exegetical Writing

I have spent the last two weeks working on two different exegetical papers, one for my New Testament class and one for Hebrew Bible (what we used to call Old Testament).  An exegesis is a close reading.  It was some of the most intense reading and writing that I've ever done.  You might say, "Wait, didn't you earn a Ph.D. in British Literature?  And you didn't do the same kind of close reading?"

No, we really didn't.  It was a different kind of close reading, and many of us did more close readings of the secondary sources than the primary texts.  I felt that twinge during the past week when I looked at secondary sources that explored the book of Joshua.  I thought, I'll never be able to look at a critical mass of these secondary sources.  Then I reminded myself that a review of secondary sources was not part of this assignment.

Let me describe the process for the exegesis for my New Testament class.  From a choice of 3 passages, I chose Matthew 3:1-17, the passage that describes the appearance of John the Baptist and the baptism of Jesus.  Step 1 was to write about myself and what attracted me to the passage.  

In Step 2, we turned to the text for our first close reading.  We made a list of  “'speed bumps'—details that slow you down, demand your attention, evoke strong feelings, seem out of place or confusing—such as specific words, actions, characters, situations."  I made a list that included items like these:  

--What made John the Baptist so appealing to his contemporaries? It sounds like they would have had to make significant effort to see/hear him. What made the people go out to the wilderness?

--Do others see the dove? Do others hear the voice?

Step 3 was a different kind of close reading of the passage.  We chose three different translations, and we had instructions about the spectrum of translations needed.  One needed to be a word for word translation (I used the NASB), one thought for thought (I used the CEV), and one in the middle (I used the NRSV).  I looked at them side by side, and happily, the Bible Gateway site makes this easy.  I found the word choices fascinating, and I could have spent twenty pages noting and analyzing those choices.  But again, that would not have been the purpose of this exegetical assignment.

We outlined the passage and made a list of key words.

We then did work with the concordance, and again, I felt fortunate to be doing this in a time of so many online tools that are free.  I could lose the rest of my life wandering through Blue Letter Bible.  We chose one word; I chose "wilderness."  We looked to see meanings of the word in Greek and where it shows up elsewhere.

For my New Testament exegetical assignment, we then moved to step 4, which was a comparison of the same story in a different gospel, so I looked at Mark 1:2-11.  We looked at the order of events in each gospel, and at where the story falls in each gospel, what's going on before and after the story.  We looked at the differences in each version.  We thought about why we had each gospel and what the story provides to each gospel.

Then we wrote a conclusion, met as a class, met in small groups, and then wrote another conclusion.  It was intense all along the way, and I learned a lot, not only from my own work, but from having the small group meeting with my classmates who studied the same passage.  It was a passage that I have read and heard proclaimed from pulpits for my whole life, so it's intriguing to me that I can learn so much new from such a familiar text.

I say that I've never had that experience of close reading before, but that's not exactly true.  In my undergraduate English classes, my favorite English teacher would do something similar.  I took a Romantics class, and we spent weeks on one Wordsworth poem.  But she did much of the work, the digging for meaning, the presentation of the background information that helped us understand the poem.

I had forgotten how it makes me feel alive in such a unique way, to be doing this kind of deep dive.  I hope I get to keep experiencing this on a regular basis.

Sunday, October 24, 2021

Registering for Spring Term

 I am at the midway point of my first term at seminary--hard to believe!  Part of what makes it hard to believe is that it is still so warm and humid here that it doesn't seem like late October.  I remember looking at the syllabi in that first week of classes and thinking that November seemed so very far away.  And now, here we are, almost to November.

Another half-time marker is that I registered for Spring semester classes this past week.  There's a J term during the first 2 weeks of January, but I'll need to be in Columbia, SC, finishing up my certificate program to become a spiritual director.  Then I'll continue on with seminary.

I've been enjoying my classes so much this term that I signed up for the second half of each:  Intro to Hebrew Bible 2, Intro to the New Testament:  Epistles, and Spiritual Formation for Ministry 2.  I decided to try adding another class.  Careful readers of this blog may remember that I thought about adding a 4th class, Church History, in the Fall.  I'm glad that I decided not to do that.

But for Spring, I'm going to try a Religion and the Arts class:  Speaking of God in a Secular Age. Here's the course description: "Theological questions are often questions about language. This course explores what it means to speak the language of faith with integrity through complementary readings in modern doctrine and the arts."  While I'll admit that the description is vague, it does give me shivers, the good kind of shivers.

Wesley Theological Seminary is still offering 3/4 of its classes in an online, hybrid, or virtual synchronous format, so I decided to continue the way I have been, in online and virtual synchronous classes.  It gives me options.  But because I already know most of these professors, I also know that the classes will be robust.

And I can start looking forward to them!

Saturday, October 23, 2021

Echoes of Early Adolescence

Several events this week have taken me back to my adolescence:

--I was sad to hear of the death of Peter Scolari.  Like many people, I first saw him act in the TV show Bosom Buddies.  I haven't gone back to rewatch that show, so I have no idea if it holds up well.  It premiered in November 1980, which was 10th grade for me.  We would soon move to a new town, and these kinds of comedies provided refuge during a friendless time.  I remember the show as being warm, not creepy, the way it could have been.  Later I would also love Scolari in the 90's Newhart show.  There, too, I loved the warmth and the community the show depicted.

--This week brought us the latest adaptation of Dune.  At the same time I was watching Bosom Buddies, I was reading Dune.  Do I remember the plot?  No, but I do remember my dad telling me to give it 100 pages before giving up on it.  I did, and I was hooked, and for years, 100 pages before giving up became my rule for reading.  My other Dune memory is 10th grade art class, where we had a teacher who just left us to our own devices with all the art supplies, and I drew a picture based on my reading.  One of my classmates told me it was derivative of Star Wars, although he wouldn't have used the word "derivative."  I can still see the hooded figure (bonus:  no need to draw a face!) and the swirling desert colors and the burnt orange of the sky.  Will I go see the movie?  Doubtful, but it does sound intriguing.

--Another book I read in early adolescence was The Diary of Anne Frank.  On Wednesday, I went out for my early morning walk at 5:50.  Slumped against the concrete column of a downtown building was a man, sleeping in an upright sitting position.  On one side, he had a mostly empty bottle of vodka, on the other a copy of The Diary of Anne Frank. I continue to think of him as a metaphor of the human condition, but I'm not quite sure what the metaphor is saying.

Thursday, October 21, 2021

Simple Gifts

My writing time is short this morning.  One of my colleagues who usually arrives early to unlock is sick today, so I'll be leaving a bit early to get to school to unlock.  So, instead of a long, winding post, let me record last night's success in devotion presentation.

For one of my seminary classes, we sign up for devotion time; each class begins with a brief devotion, and once we were divided into smaller groups, we began to sign up for devotions.  They are brief, which makes it both easy and hard--less than 5 minutes usually.  I volunteered to lead our group in leading last night's devotion.

Last night's class session (and the readings and the discussion threads leading up to last night) focused on both on fasting and on simplicity.  One of my groupmates suggested we do something with the song "Simple Gifts," which appealed to me.  I wasn't sure we could legally show the videos I was finding on YouTube, so I made an alternate plan which involved my spouse playing the violin while I focused the camera on a bowl of fruit.  I liked that video so much that I decided to use it, even though I learned that I could have used something done by professional musicians.

Here's how it went.  My two devotion mates read the lyrics* one stanza at a time, and they did a great job.  Then I played this video for a brief meditation time:

Then I prayed this prayer I wrote:


God of our deepest yearnings:

Help us to understand our true hungers 

and empty places.

Fill our grasping hands

with good gifts


As I was parking the car after work last night, the first two lines came to me, and I decided it was a good idea to write the prayer down, so that I would feel less anxious about the process.

I was anxious about the technology working, but our plan would work, even if I couldn't get the video to play or to screen share the lyrics.  But the technology worked--hurrah.  Yesterday was a tough technology day with a keypad doorlock that didn't work all of a sudden, and I had to restart my laptop several times to get it to work.  Happily, by the end of the day, the technology demons had moved on to torment someone else.

I am so happy with the way the devotion time turned out--what a nice end to my week of seminary classes this week.

*Traditional Lyrics

'Tis the gift to be simple
'Tis the gift to be free
'Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be
And when we find ourselves in the place just right
It will be in the valley of love and delight

When true simplicity is gained
To bow and to bend, we will not be ashamed
To turn, turn, will be our delight
'Til by turning, turning, we come round right

Modernized Lyrics

It’s a gift to be simple
It’s a gift to be free
It’s a gift to come down where we ought to be
And when we find ourselves in the place just right
It will be in the valley of love and delight

When true simplicity is gained
To bow and to bend, we will not be ashamed
To turn, turn, will be our delight
'Til by turning, turning, we come round right

Wednesday, October 20, 2021

Creating Community in Online Classes

Last week was Reading Week at Wesley Theological Seminary, a week when we had no classes and a chance both to catch up and to work on longer projects.  We had a dean visit one of our online virtual classes to remind us that we also needed to rest and to reconnect with those who love us.

It was a great week, but I was happy to return to classes.  My professors offer fascinating lectures, and I'm beginning to feel like I'm getting to know some of my classmates, albeit from a distance.  I'm in a small group that meets once a week via Zoom, and the professors of my virtual synchronous classes have us go into break out sessions each week.  Those are the obvious ways to build community.

There are more subtle ways to build community too.  Two weeks ago, I logged onto the Zoom session for the virtual synchronous class, and the teacher greeted me by name.  I smiled and waved.  As I got settled, I realized that she greeted each student by name.  At midterm, I realized that these names are becoming familiar to me.

I also thought about how welcoming it was to be greeted by name.  Zoom makes that easy, of course.  In real life, I would never be able to welcome over 20 students by name after only 6 weeks together.  Zoom lists our name.  But I was still impressed that our teacher would take the effort to greet us--and in such a larger sense, to be present for us.

In some ways, it's a small thing, to call us by name and to say, "Welcome."  But in some ways, it's a huge thing, in terms of the community the practice helps to create.

Tuesday, October 19, 2021

Autumn Delights: The 2021 Edition

Last night was the first night that we could sit on the balcony without breaking into a sweat.  It wasn't cool by any stretch of the imagination, but it was temperate for the first time.  Yesterday morning, there was a breeze before sunrise, a much more vigorous breeze.  Again, it wasn't a cold breeze, but it was a relief to have any breeze at all.

I spent the past week-end trying to have some autumnal delights, even in the heat.  I walked over to the pumpkin patch of a local church and picked out some pumpkins.  One of the women staffing the patch had a small boy with her, and his delight in the pumpkins was a joy that I wouldn't have had if I hadn't gone to the patch that day.

I needed to buy pumpkins because I wanted to transform the altar at church.  We are using Dr. Wilda Gafney's A Women's Lectionary for the Whole Church, and Sunday's gospel reading was about trees that bear good fruit and how a thorn bush will never bear good fruit.  It was the perfect excuse to buy some apples and pears for this wooden bowl:

And then on Sunday, I created a new vision for the altar, a vision that can take us to Advent, with some changes here and there:

Here's a close up of the right side as you face the altar:

And here is the left side of the altar, the one with the wooden bowl of apples:

I know that I am lucky to be part of a small church that has no altar guild, and so I am free to create these altarscapes.  I am even luckier to be part of a church that appreciates this creative work of mine.  I am sure that there might be a person or two who wishes for an altarscape that is less cluttered, less busy, and if someone wanted to design and create that vision, I would share these opportunities by dividing up the weeks of altar design.

It was a full morning at church, as I was also part of the sermon team.  Our pastor preached on good fruits, and then I took the congregation through a creative exercise.  We have a stash of blank notecards, so we handed each parishioner one as they came in.  I had the congregation write a card to themselves, imagining the voice of God telling them where they are bearing good fruit.  So many of us focus on the ways we are failing, on the thorn bush side of ourselves.  I want people to remember.  I read them the passage from Galatians 5 that explains what good fruit looks like:  But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.  I offered to mail the cards to them later, if they gave them to me--and I did get a stack to mail.  Hurrah!

After a long morning at church, it was good to come home to cook.  On the Smitten Kitchen website, I saw this recipe for a winter squash and spinach pasta bake, and happily, I saw the recipe before I did the grocery shopping I needed to do.  On Sunday afternoon, I made the casserole, and I confess that I had my doubts as I smoothed the gloppy mixture into a 9 x 13 inch pan.  It has to bake for 90 minutes, and it made the house smell delicious.  It tasted as good as it smelled, and it is such an easy preparation:  no sauteeing, no making of separate sauces.  I'll be making this one again, but I'll be making it even easier by using frozen, chopped spinach.  I didn't have fontina cheese, so I used cheddar, which was just fine and cheaper.

We finished the autumnal week-end by working on variations of "Simple Gifts," which I'll be using for devotions for a seminary class this week.  At first, my spouse plucked it on the violin.  Then I suggested that he try playing it with a bow, and it came out in the most amazing way; I'm glad that I was recording.  I decided to go back to the bowl of fruit, so that people would have a visual focus:

It is good to remember that although this autumn has a different set of joys than autumns of the past, there are still joys to be had.  And I have enough perspective to know that in future years, I'll be wistful about these very joys.

Monday, October 18, 2021

Creative Pursuits to Celebrate the Feast Day of Saint Luke

Today is the feast day of St. Luke. You might be saying, "Wait, don't you have a theology blog where you could discuss that?"

Indeed I do, and I have a more theological post over there today. But even if you're not a spiritual sort, you might find all sorts of inspiration from St. Luke.

St. Luke was a writer, after all (he gets credit for the Biblical books of Luke and Acts). He's also given credit as one of the first iconographers. Today would be a great day to write our own Gospel that tells about the Good news that we're seeing in the world. Or we could celebrate this patron saint of artists this way with the visual arts.

We could experiment with a variety visual arts to see how they could enrich our mental and spiritual health. We might choose something historical and traditional, like iconography. Or we might decide that we want to experiment with something that requires less concentration and training. Maybe we want to create a collage of images that remind us of God’s abundance. Maybe we want to meditate on images, like icons, like photographs, that call us to healthy living.

St. Luke is also the patron saint of students. Maybe it's time to plan for a class we want to take in January.

Or maybe we just want to make a beef stew; St. Luke is also the patron saint of butchers. This NPR webpage gives a great beef stew recipe, and a link to an interview between Fresh Air's Terry Gross and the America's Test Kitchen chefs which tells how to maximize flavors in your beef stew along with other culinary chemistry wonders.

So, enjoy the feast day of St. Luke, a saint that should be dear to the heart of creative types.

Sunday, October 17, 2021

The Ghosts of Autumn Past

I've had past Octobers on the brain, and I'm not sure exactly why.  When the local NPR station did it's fundraising at the beginning of the month, I grabbed 2 CDs, which happened to be CDs from Octobers past:  U2's War, which I bought on vinyl in the fall of 1983, and Reggatta de Blanc by the Police, which I bought on vinyl in the fall of 1984.  Listening to that music slammed me right back to those time periods.  While I loved that music, and I loved aspects of those autumns, they were stressful:  first semester in college in 1983, during a time of increased bombings and increased tension with the USSR, and in 1984, my boyfriend (who would become my spouse much later) had to return to Memphis, and we carried on our relationship from a distance.

I've been sorting through boxes of housing stuff; our buyer asked for information/receipts concerning our Hurricane Irma damage and repairs, which meant digging through files and reliving it all a bit again.  That was a September storm, but the repairs dragged through October.  We didn't have our first post-Irma trash collection until October, for example.  That was a subdued season for decorating.  I remember seeing fluttering in the trash pile and thinking of the ghosts.

Thinking about Hurricane Irma took me back to Hurricane Wilma, an October storm that came before we had recovered from Hurricane Katrina, which took out a huge tree, a shed, an above ground pool, and any sense of safety I once had.  That was back when we lived 3 miles inland, and although those storms were a category 1, they did so much damage.  That's when I first started thinking, if a category 1 storm can do all of this, what would we suffer under something stronger?

I still wonder that.  So maybe it's no wonder that although autumn is still my favorite season, I still get anxiety flares, in part because something reminds me of past traumas.

But it's also the time of year when I remember past autumns with fondness, along with some yearning.  I've spent the week-end thinking that if it was a year ago, I'd be enjoying crisp air, apple orchards, and a surprise pumpkin patch.

Yesterday I tried to cheer myself up by going to the pumpkin patch of a church that's near my new condo that we're renting.  I enjoyed walking around the grounds, choosing some smaller pumpkins and gourds, and then I enjoyed arranging them yesterday.  I bought them for something I'm going to do with the altarscape that I'll be making at church today.  More details about that to come, but in the meantime, here's this year's haul from the church pumpkin patch:

Saturday, October 16, 2021

The Uses of Enchantment: the Mid-Life Edition

I've been thinking of enchanted forests.  I've been thinking of a cottage in the woods and what happens to wicked witches who mellow.  I've been thinking about herb gardens and ovens that bake bread, not little boys.

This morning I thought of the Bruno Bettelheim text, once classic now somewhat discredited, The Uses of Enchantment.  I thought of all those children using fairy tales to process the scary, incomprehensible stuff going on in their lives.  Am I doing the same thing for my mid-life fears?

Yesterday I took my daily walk by the tidal lake, as I do each day.  For the past several weeks, the lake has been jumping--or more precisely, the fish have been jumping.  I've seen a dolphin here and there.  I've seen lots of little fish skittering out, as if they were members of a water ballet company.  Yesterday, the word "enchanted" came to mind.

If we grew up hearing stories about enchanted lakes instead of enchanted forests, would our imaginations function differently?  Would we do more to protect bodies of water?  Probably not.

I think of the orchid on my office windowsill, the one that has bloomed continuously since July of 2020 when I got it from colleagues at work.  

Orchids are not supposed to bloom continuously for 15 months, but this one has:

People come into my office and stop at the sight of the orchid.  They ask me my secret.  I say, "Every day I pour the dregs of my cups of tea into it.  Maybe it likes the tannins."  I try to beam my best swamp witch radiance when I say things like this.

I've been trying to transform another corner of my office, not with enchantments, but with a potted mum in an autumnal hue, with pumpkins, with fake trees mingling with the fairy light trees, and lights strung across the trees:

Pumpkins make me so happy.  

I may go buy some more today.  It's cheap therapy, and I can support the local church.  My church has canceled its pumpkin patch because of the pandemic, so I'm happy to support a church in my neighborhood (First Presbyterian, where Hollywood Blvd. comes into the Arts Park Circle.

Thursday, October 14, 2021

Beyond God the Patriarch

In my Hebrew Bible class, we've just finished Genesis (we're reading the Hebrew Bible, but not reading the Bible in the Hebrew language).  Our discussion thread prompt has prompted me to keep thinking.  Here's the prompt:  "What/who was Jacob wrestling with at the Jabbok River? Please make reference to the assigned readings and videos in your post. In your relationship with God, do you tend to wrestle like Jacob or quietly accept? Why?"

As I thought about the question, I realized that I don't see my relationship with God in either of those ways.  I don't feel like I wrestle or quietly accept.  I don't see God that way at all.

I wrote a longer discussion post, but I don't want to paste it here, because my work hasn't been graded yet.  I don't want the anti-plagiarism software to flag my work, which it might, if it finds something similar out there, even if the something similar is my own work.

Yesterday morning, I woke up thinking about how many of our stories in the Bible have the hero, usually male, wrestling with God.  There's Jacob, the obvious choice.  Others come to mind:  Moses, various prophets, Job, Paul.  How many chosen ones quietly accept?  We might list Mary, the mother of Jesus.  The quiet accepters don't command our attention in the same way; it's not the same kind of compelling story.

Yesterday morning I was wishing that I had a friend who was a rabbi who could meet me for coffee and analyze this pattern.  I'd like to get a Jewish take on these stories, from someone who's been trained in theology.  I have a sudden vision of a book club, one with people theologically trained in different traditions.  I would never want to leave that coffee shop!

What if we had a different story about God?  What if we saw God as the best kind of boss, the kind who knows how to bring out our best qualities?  What if we saw God as the best kind of teacher, the one with skills that we didn't even know we needed, until we were taught them?  What if we saw God as the patient, kind, and wise type of animal trainer, the one who knows how to help us move beyond our fears?

I thought about how our societies might have been so different if we had these kinds of different theology.  It's too late to change the past--can we change the future by adopting a different theology?

Wednesday, October 13, 2021

Unseen Sunsets and Unstrung Lights: Progress Past and Present

I had planned to be on my way to Lutheridge this morning.  I had such a great time at quilt camp last year, that I vowed to go again.  But in the spring, I couldn't because my school was in transition, and I wasn't allowed to use my vacation time.  Some day, I'll look back on that sentence and shake my head about how I have allowed capitalism and the workplace to destroy the elements of the life I want to be living and to lay waste to what I truly believe in--but that's a blog post for another day.

This year, I am neck deep in projects that require me to be here or at least, I thought I was when I made the final decision last week not to go.  I have spent the intervening week second guessing myself.

I want to fill this time with some of the activities I might have been doing had I gotten away to the mountains for a camp experience, so last night my spouse and I went to a brewery at the beach--yes, Hollywood, Florida has a brewery at the beach.  Once they called themselves an organic brewery, but they've long since dropped that part from their name, and I wouldn't be surprised if they no longer brew the beer there either.  Still, they have great beer, and good specials:  last night, we each got a burger and fries, and a free beer.  I want my beer to taste like liquid bread, so I always get their stout.

I was surprised by how crowded the beach was for a Tuesday night.  Long ago, in the late 90's when we first moved here, September and October were months when the beach would be fairly empty on week nights.  I looked at the mobs of people last night.  Were they tourists?  Locals?  The beach has more condo buildings so maybe I was seeing people out for an evening stroll.  But it didn't have that kind of vibe.  I couldn't quite place the vibe I was seeing--there was a sexual prowling kind of vibe, along with a vacationing kind of vibe, along with an exhausted parent kind of vibe, along with a let's get this intense workout done kind of vibe, all these vibes swirling around, refusing to be neatly categorized.  I wondered about my own vibe or if I have I finally settled into the invisibility that comes at midlife, the invisibility that allows some safety and detachment, the invisibility that untethers all vibes.

It was a beautiful evening, not too hot, with a bit of breeze.  It was not crowded, so we didn't have to worry about anyone sitting near us, and it was an outdoor eating area, up above the Broadwalk where the hoards of people thronged.  The sun set offstage, to our west, behind the building, but that unseen sunset stained the eastern clouds with pinks and purples.  Unlike past years, the horizon held no cargo ships, no cruise ships, and I decided to ignore the economic implications of that clear vista.

I did think about the other changes, the high rises on this beach, condos in a time of climate collapse.  I thought about years ago when I would drive my car early in the morning to run down the Broadwalk and those mornings when I saw the huge steel vats in the building and wondered, could they be building a brewery?  And indeed, they were.  I think of this brewery as new, but it's been here a long time, especially in beach years, where in the words of Dorothy in Oz, "Things come and go so quickly here."*  

As we drove home, I was on the lookout for Halloween lights, but their absence heralds another change.  These neighborhoods have been shifting from residential to short term rental, and Air BnBers do not string up Halloween decorations.

It was good to get out, good to sit on a patio that's not my own, good to watch the waves and the people, from a safe distance.  It was good to resist the lure of reruns of past programming on TV.  It was good to get away from our screens and to look at each other again.  

*Dorothy actually said that people come and go so quickly here.

Tuesday, October 12, 2021

Evaluations that Stand the Test of Time

I've kept in touch with a few former students and become friends with some of them.  The other day, one of them told me that she always remembered a comment I'd written on one of her papers for the upper level British Victorian Literature class I had taught.

I wasn't too worried, since the class was the best one I've ever taught.  Still, I was delighted when she told me that I had written that if she went on to be a published writer that I would buy every book she ever wrote.  I've continued to read her work, and I stand by that comment, 20 years later.

In that Victorian Lit class, I gave the students lots of freedom in what they wrote.  They could write traditional essays that analyzed one of the works we'd been reading.  But they could also write a creative work of some kind, as long as it was a response to the literature.  So, for example, one student wrote a series of poems about losing her mother to Alzheimer's, and she did it in the style of Tennyson's "In Memoriam."  Their creative works were stunning and proved my point that one can learn as much about the literature by writing a creative piece as by writing an analytical piece.

My friend said that she had kept my comment on her essay, that she cut out the comment and put it above her writing desk, where it has inspired her and kept her going.  Wow.

Our conversation reminded me of a long ago student evaluation of me, back when I was a grad student who had only ever taught a class or two.  I don't remember many of my evaluations in specific detail, but I remember this one.  The student wrote, "I hope this teacher goes on to write a book.  I would love to read it."  How delightful.

I am not the first to observe how our words carry weight, weight that we may or may not perceive.  It's my prayer each day, that my words not be wounding.

Monday, October 11, 2021

Noah's Wife Moves Inland

I've been awake and up for hours.  In part, it's because I went to bed early.  In part, it's because I got an idea for a poem as I tossed and turned, and finally, just before 3 a.m., I decided to get up and write it down.

This morning, I've been writing a poem about Noah's wife who moves into an inland condo on an upper floor and for the first time understands the joy that her husband's god felt in smashing it all and starting over.  In some ways, it's a variation of other poems I've been writing, which does make me wonder if I should try combining all these shorter poems about Noah's wife into one long poem.  

That would be a project for a later day.  Right now, I'm just so glad to have any ideas for a poem.

I also decided that if I was going to be up so early, I'd make bread with the half gallon of milk that had begun to sour in the fridge.  I now have plenty of homemade bread, and I've filled the early morning with the smell of baking bread.

I don't have today off as a holiday, but in many ways, I feel as nourished as if I did.

Sunday, October 10, 2021

Discussion Threads and Classroom Discussions

When it comes to online classes and discussion threads, we often say that a good discussion thread mimics the kind of conversations we would have had in a face to face classroom.  But having experienced online classes as a seminary student, I've begun to think that a good discussion thread is actually better than most face to face class discussions.

I have been part of in person class discussions, both as a teacher and as a student, that were truly glorious:  full of points none of us would have developed on our own, full of eye opening moments, full of wonder.  But I've been part of many more that were not like that.

As a seminary student, I've been enjoying creating my own discussion posts, and those short pieces of writing have helped me engage with various texts far more deeply than if all I had to do was show up to an in person class.  I've enjoyed reading the thoughts of my classmates.  Even more, I've enjoyed virtual class lectures that weren't interrupted by shallow thoughts, as so many were in my graduate studies back when I was earning an MA and a PhD in English.

It's time to start thinking about the classes that I will take next term, and given the huge uncertainties, I'm planning to take the second half of the classes that I'm currently taking, and to take them in their online/virtual formats.  I am surprised to find that I like this delivery system so much.  I also know that much of the success of the classes is because of the professors, so I'm happy to stick with these professors for another term.

Eventually I hope to do at least a year on campus, in a more traditional format.  But this year, Wesley Theological Seminary is offering very few classes in person, in that traditional format.  It will be interesting to see how these years of pandemic instruction have changed education forever.

Saturday, October 9, 2021

Mall Rats

I don't have much writing time this morning.  I have an assignment for a seminary class due by 1:00.  It shouldn't be a huge deal, but I get nervous waiting until the last minute.  In this condo we're renting, we have more reliable internet than I've ever had anywhere, but I still worry.  I only have to write 350 words, but that brings its own challenges.

Still, this morning I wanted to record the experience I had last night:  a trip to a mall.  As I emerged from Macy's into the mall itself, I thought, how long has it been since I've been in this kind of traditional mall?  Not an outlet park, not a Town Centre, but an enclosed mall?  

It may have been over a decade.  When my parents still lived in Northern Virginia, my mom and I would meet my sister at Tyson's Corner and have a coffee outside of Nordstrom--my mom's treat, courtesy of her coffee card.  Then we'd do some shopping, have some lunch, finish up our shopping.  That's my last memory of strolling through a mall.  My parents moved in 2011 or so; I may not have been to a mall since.

Last night was so strange.  I went to the Galleria Mall in Ft. Lauderdale where I was meeting old friends at Cooper's Hawk for happy hour.  When we first moved down here in 1998, the Galleria Mall was a place with upscale stores and a blah food court.  Now, the reverse is true:  lots of fast fashion and cheap junk, plus an Apple store with lines that snaked around the empty small stands in the middle of the mall.  Where once there was a Pottery Barn, there's a place where you can buy cheap imitations of luxury goods.  It was strange.

I made my way to the upscale restaurants, where one could enter without ever coming into the mall itself.  I noticed the shabby carpeting, the dim lighting?  What has happened to this mall?  Was it pandemic related or had it happened earlier?  I know that malls across the country have been facing challenges, but I thought it was more the middle-brow malls.

It was great to be with friends again, great to have bar food, great to catch up.  We went early, so there didn't seem to be much risk from other people.  And my friends that were closer than 6 feet to me are vaccinated, so the risk seemed minimal (fingers crossed!).

I came home feeling a mix of wistful and sad, sad about the world that is gone, wistful about friends both here and not here--but overall happy about the connections that I still have.

Friday, October 8, 2021

Limping and Seeing the Face of God

I have spent the better part of the last hour watching my professor's wonderful lecture on Jacob for one of my seminary classes.  One of her conclusions struck me:  "We all come away limping in our relationship with God both in ways we can see and in ways we can't."  I will continue to think about that idea, since I see limping as a bad thing.

But what if limping isn't bad?  What if limping forces us to slow down in ways that are good?  Maybe limping helps us develop compassion.  I know that it has for me.  I think of days of arthritis flares in my feet.  One day, as I left a building and thought with despair about how far away I had parked, I reflected on all the times I've felt disdain for those who will circle the parking lot, waiting for the closest spots to come available.  As I limped back to my car, I felt new empathy for those people.

My professor finished her lecture by talking about faces throughout the story of Jacob.  Early on, Jacob puts on a persona; he hides behind a face that isn't authentic.  At the end of the story, he is able to be fully present, as he reconciles with his brother Esau.  This ability to be present opens up new possibilities.  Jacob moves from persona to presence to possibility.  The poet in me loves that repetition of the letter p.

My professor also talked about how she approaches this story when she preaches it.  She has the members of the congregation turn to their pewmates, to people who aren't their families.  She has them say to each other what Esau says to Jacob:  "Truly to see your face is to see the face of God."  She talked about how moving it is for people to hear that said to them.

I would love to experiment with varieties of that experience when it's safe to be that close together again.  Maybe in the intervening time, we could do it with mirrors, although I shudder at the cost if the congregation is large.

I am also imagining how the world might change if more of us trained ourselves to see the face of God in everyone, not just hearing that our own face reflects God.

Thursday, October 7, 2021

Jobs: Poet, Pastor, Professor

A few weeks ago, I attended my synchronous New Testament class on my computer in one room, with my spouse in another room.  After it was over, my spouse said, "Your professor reminds me of you.  She sounds very enthusiastic, but not in a bad way."

As I've watched her both in live streaming classes and in the videos she's recorded for us, I've felt this urge to do what she's doing.  What would it take to be a seminary professor?

I've had this urge before.  I majored in English and went on to grad school in no small part because I loved my undergraduate professors and wanted to be like them.  I'm not upset about that; there are worse ways to make life decisions, and I have been happy teaching English to undergrads.  

Along the way, I've yearned for a different type of teaching job.  I thought about that this morning when I saw an ad for a poetry job.  I have to remind myself it's not a poetry job.  It's a tenure track Assistant Professor in an MFA program job at North Carolina State University:  "This hire will enable us to maintain the high quality of our competitive MFA program and our popular, growing creative writing concentration in the English major. The new Assistant Professor will develop and maintain relationships with writers who contribute to our visiting writers program; will attract and recruit candidates into our MFA program; will direct poetry theses and serve on thesis committees; will mentor MFA students in writing and teaching; and will teach classes at the graduate and undergraduate levels. Likely courses include Intermediate and Advanced Poetry Writing, Studies in Poetry, the graduate Workshop in Poetry, and ENG 590, a craft seminar offered to graduate MFA and MA students."

Twenty years ago, I would have applied.  But then I didn't have the credentials, and now, even with the publication of 3 chapbooks, I don't really have the credentials:  We are looking for a candidate with a strong publication record and literary reputation, including at least one published book, and successful university teaching experience. An MFA in creative writing is preferred. Additional publications or teaching expertise in one or more of the following areas would be a plus: creative nonfiction, African American literature, Latinx literature, Native American literature, Asian American literature, environmental writing, and/or hybrid literature and writing.

And then there's this language:  

The candidate should have an established reputation in poetry writing, with the potential for future growth.
Strong commitment to excellence in teaching is expected, as is a willingness to build and support the creative writing program at NC State.

In my younger years, I might have thought my 3 chapbooks would qualify.  Now I know that they will get a flood of applications from people with books with a spine published by a variety of presses.  That salary would attract my attention:  $70,000 - $75,000; dependent upon credentials.  Our local community colleges in S. Florida have a top salary level in the mid-50's for new, full-time teaching hires.  North Carolina State University is not UNC-Chapel Hill.  But again, neither is it a community college.

Long ago, I'd have seen this job ad and applied, even if I realized that I had very little chance.  And then I'd have doubled down on my efforts to get more qualified for jobs like these.

I do hope that I won't look back on this time in seminary, with my dreams of job possibilities beyond, and shake my head at how naive I was.

Wednesday, October 6, 2021

Anxiety Lifting

Yesterday, several of my anxieties lifted.  I had been aware that they were there, so I didn't have that feeling of anxiety lifting and saying, "Oh, that's what I've been feeling," as my shoulders sunk away from my ears.

As I drove away from the dentist, I felt a thousand pounds lighter.  I had postponed this appointment twice already, in part out of dread.  But I don't want to be an old woman without any teeth, so I got myself to the appointment yesterday.

My dental hygienist tried a new technique yesterday; she swabbed some deadener on my gums, and it made a huge difference.  I have sensitive teeth and gums:  hard teeth with gums that are prone to bleeding.  It makes dental visits agony.  But yesterday was OK.

By now, I'm used to surprises at work, and they're not often happy surprises.  But yesterday, one of our old EMS instructors stopped by to take pictures of some of our equipment.  It was great to see him again.  I'm always happy to learn that people who have left us (students who graduated, faculty who find other jobs) have found success or happiness or whatever it is that makes them OK.

It's what I want, to be sure that everyone is OK.  And I am aware that it is not up to me.  But that's what I want.

Mid-afternoon, I got the best news of the day:  our house buyer remains enthusiastic about our house.  She made an offer and signed a contract without seeing the house, and we are in the 15 day period where she could still change her mind without facing the loss of her earnest money.  My anxieties have centered around yesterday when she would arrive in town to see the property for the first time.  I have taken comfort in the knowledge that our realtor's photos give a realistic picture of the property.  But my fears have been flaring.

Yesterday she did not change her mind.  She saw the property and remains enthusiastic--hurrah!  She did not care that my spouse broke the gate when he backed the moving van into it.  I'm glad because in my quest to fix the gate, I've discovered that many fencing companies have gone out of business.  She plans to rip that gate out to expand the parking, so it's great news that I was never able to solve the problem of the broken, custom-made gate.  

I do see the life lesson that presents itself over and over again.  The stuff I worry about often ends up not mattering.  I do realize that very little stuff that I or anyone else worries about ends up mattering.

Tuesday, October 5, 2021

Thirty Years Ago: PhD Comps

This morning I realized that it's been 20 years since I took my PhD Comprehensive Exams.  Then, 10 minutes later, I thought, no, it's been 30 years--I took Comps in 1991.

It was such a different world then, in so many ways.  We arrived on that morning of Oct. 7 (or was it the 8th?) with our blue books and pens in hand.  We were ushered into the better English department conference room, the one with the better chairs and the longer table.  We were given our questions, and we had the full day to write our answers.  We did the same thing on the second day.  Some of the questions would come from the test bank that we had been given early in our grad school enrollment.  Some would be unseen.

We were expected to make reference to critics and scholars, albeit in a general way.  It was a test process that rewarded people like me, people who had been well trained in talking about the scholarly approach to a work in a broad, general sense, people like me who could encapsulate the history of the literary work and our thinking about the work, in just a few sentences.

I remember looking at the questions and thinking that they had been chosen with me in mind--and of course, that was likely true.  Our grad school professors chose the questions, and they knew who was testing.  When I made my way through grad school, I saw the whole system as being set up to admit only a few of us, while the rest of us faced obstacle after obstacle.  In some ways, that was true.  

But in many other ways, my view wasn't true.  I went to the University of South Carolina, a state school, not one of the Ivy Leagues.  It's a shame that my professors weren't better at articulating the process.  Imagine how it would have been different if they had said, "We want to help you become a better scholar, a better teacher, a better writer.  No matter where you start, that is our mission."  I look back now and see that mission statement.  At the time, I thought there were a few slots, and we all had to fight to keep them, a graduate game of musical chairs as it was.

Of course, in terms of replicating our graduate school professors, in the hope of landing a job like the ones our professors had, we were playing a rigged game.  Those jobs, tenured faculty at a flagship state school's English department, have mostly all disappeared.  And even back then, in the 1990's, those jobs had disappeared.  We thought it might have been a temporary blip.  Surely once professors started retiring, we would have jobs open up.

In fact, when I started grad school, that was the expectation shared by so many of us:  all those professors hired in the late 1960's and early 1970's would start to retire, and we would finally be at the right place in the right time in the life of the U.S. economy.  Now we all know that was not to be.

In some ways, I was lucky.  There were still plenty of community college jobs to be had.  The for-profit sector was expanding.  But those jobs didn't leave much time for the reading and writing that had made a teaching job so attractive.

I do realize the irony of it all, the fact that those community college jobs look pretty good right now, even though the pay hasn't gone up significantly since I left the one I had back in the mid 90's.  Sigh.

Monday, October 4, 2021

Notes from a Subdued Week-end

It has been a strange week-end, a subdued week-end, with a spouse who spiraled in and out of feeling sick.  Let me capture some of the highlights:

--On Friday night, I didn't realize we'd be having a subdued week-end.  Off I headed to Studio 18, where 2 musician friends had a gig in front of live people.  I wasn't sure what to expect, but I knew they'd only be playing for an hour, so it seemed manageable.  My spouse stayed home to teach his Friday night class remotely and synchronously.  The music was lovely, and it was an art gallery opening, so it was great to wander through the venue, feeling inspired.

--On Saturday, we had planned to take carloads of stuff from the house to the condo.  But we are still in the 15 day period where the buyer could change her mind with no serious penalty, so we debated over whether or not it was premature to assume the house is off the market.  In the end, we took a few boxes, but left the house set up for showing.

--It was on Saturday that my spouse felt at his worse, so that helped make our decision to abandon our idea of a work Saturday at the house.  We came back to the condo, and my spouse went back to bed.  I did work for seminary classes.

--We had a quiet night on Saturday, sitting on the balcony that we had draped with October lights, drinking some wine, eating some cheese and crackers.

--On Sunday, my spouse was still not quite restored.  We decided not to go to church.  I was feeling fine, but with a sick spouse in these pandemic days, it makes senses not to go to in-person church, not to risk giving our elderly parishioners any of the crud we may be carrying.  My spouse went back to bed, and I did work for seminary classes.

--I thought about the fact that I have chicken stock in the freezer for just such a moment as this.  I  walked to Publix and bought some chicken thighs to add to the chicken stock.  I came back and did more work for seminary classes.

After a quiet afternoon of Yahtzee and old episodes of Shark Tank, we called it a week-end.  Not the worst week-end, I've ever had, especially since my spouse is on the mend.

Saturday, October 2, 2021

First Meeting with Seminary Faculty Advisor

Yesterday I had my first meeting as a seminary student with my faculty advisor.  Before the meeting, I was happy to discover that I had been assigned to the director of the Theology and the Arts track, who is also the director of the Luce Center for Theology and the Arts, which sounds like one of my dream jobs.

Our meeting didn't last long, but it was wonderful.  It was a meeting where we were supposed to talk about my progress and my form that I filled out, the form that mapped out my future semesters and which course I would take.  My advisor and I agreed that it's really tough to make that plan right now.  There are so many questions.  Where will we be in the course of this disease?  Will there be courses on campus?  Will there be on-campus housing?  Will I still be employed?

I said, "Part of me thinks that this may be my last full-time job with health insurance, so maybe I shouldn't give it up."  My advisor told me that his wife is an Episcopalian priest who has just taken a job in Maine, and that's given them a chance to compare health insurance plans.  We talked a bit about what we might all accomplish if we didn't have to consider basic health care/health insurance and how we would provide for it.

My plan for the near future, next semester, is to take the second half of the classes that I'm taking now.  They're basic classes, the building blocks for future classes, and happily, they are ones that work well online.  My advisor finds himself wrestling with that question of which classes really need to be in person and which ones can be adapted.

As we closed, my advisor reminded me that he's there to be an advocate for me, if there's ever anything for which I need that kind of support.  Or that if I'm ever confused about requirements, I should come to him.  I said that I'd keep in touch with him by way of e-mail to let him know that I was making progress.  He smiled and said, "You gotta love mature students.  They understand the benefits of staying in touch."

I also realize how lucky I am, that I've always had advisors who wanted the best for me, without any of the creepiness that can develop.  And I feel lucky now, with my current advisor.  At a later point, I'll have more questions that I'll need help with.

And perhaps I'll continue to have the kinds of questions that are more on me to decide.  How fast should I be progressing?  Do I move to DC full time or think about the hybrid options?  I like the idea of reporting to campus for long week-ends periodically, but my heart really yearns to be part of the seminary community.  Of course, at this point, the seminary community isn't what it was before, with more of us feeling safer about online classes.  

So yes, I have lots of the sorts of questions that cannot be answered right now.  I am learning to live with the mystery, to live with the knowledge that has always been true, but in pre-Covid times, many of us could pretend otherwise.  Our lives will have all sorts of twists and turns, and while we can have long-term plans and goals, they are likely to be upended, and we'll have to pivot.

And for most of us, there are all sorts of ways to pivot, if we remain nimble and open to the possibilities.

Friday, October 1, 2021

"Season of Mists and Mellow Fruitfulness": October Arrives

Let me capture the earliest hours of October 2021 with some snapshots, while at the same time wondering if future generations will understand what a snapshot is.

--This morning the AC cut off, and I wondered if it had sprung some sort of leak.  No--what I was hearing was rain.  I usually don't hear the rain in the well-protected 6th floor condo where we live now.  October is off to a rainy start down here in South Florida. If we can't have leaves scuttling across the pavement, at least the rain will keep the temperature less hot. Can I write a whole blog post about the weather? A poem?  I'm sure that I can, but it seems so tiresome.  Once you've read the autumn poems of Keats and Yeats, why bother?

--Earlier this week, I looked up from writing accreditation documents to see the young man who always finds me when he needs to see his parole officer on the 3rd floor.  I have a key fob that will open the 3rd floor door from the rickety staircase outside, and he was stuck in our elevator once and doesn't want to be again.  He comes periodically, but Monday, he told me this was his last visit.  I was expecting the heartwarming ending, but he told me he was going to prison for leading cops on a high speed car chase through Plantation.  He told me that he wasn't afraid of prison, that he was tired of being on probation where he had an ankle monitor and people could monitor him.  I didn't point out that he was about to go from the frying pan into the fire, in terms of being monitored.  I said a silent prayer for him, and out loud, I said, "I wish you all the best."

--Yesterday I got word that one of our colleagues who works on multiple campuses had been told that yesterday was her last day.  I moved student files out of her office so that if she comes to clean out her office, she can do so without anyone watching her do that.  As I moved student files to my office, I tried to decide if this act makes me compassionate or a stooge of some sort.  Then I wondered if I even knew the definition of stooge.  Then I moved more files.  Then I thought about how long it would take to clean out my own office.

--But let me end on a happier note.  Today I have my first meeting with my seminary faculty advisor.  I wrote to him because I had a form that needs to be filled out before I can register for Spring classes.  He wrote me the kindest e-mail back.  I realize I shouldn't be wowed by professional courtesy, but I am.

--Even more impressive:  my faculty advisor is the head of the Theology and the Arts program at Wesley, the one who wrote me a very helpful e-mail back in Feb. when I had first discovered the program.  The seminary assigned me the advisor who I would have most liked to have guiding me.  Hurrah!  Again, I realize that I shouldn't be so surprised and happy.  But I've been in academia a long time, and I realize how much it takes to perform these miracles and wonders.

And now that the rain seems to have stopped, let me go out and take my first October walk.