Tuesday, January 31, 2023
A Quick Review of Queer Theory Classics
Monday, January 30, 2023
Anxiety and the Body and Anniversaries
At some point in the wee, small hours of the morning, I jolted awake, convinced I had forgotten to do the Church History assignment due on Saturday. For a brief moment, I thought it was Sunday morning, or maybe late Saturday night, and I should get right up and do that response that was due. Then I remembered that I don't have anything due in that class until Thursday.
I have yet to settle into a rhythm for my seminary classes, so I spend what feels like a substantial amount of time re-reading syllabi to make sure I haven't missed anything. I do have writing due today, Monday, but I have hours to get it done. I have a short paper on Luther due on Thursday, and I keep reminding myself that I have plenty of time to get that done.
Still, I am feeling anxiety deep in my body. This morning, I reflected that maybe I'm also feeling some anniversary anxieties still left in the deep recesses of my body.
Three years ago today, I made the first post on my blog that mentioned the new virus that was circulating in China. I concluded this way:
"It's the time of year when I'm reminded of the struggles that come from having a body: post-holiday weight gain that isn't magically vanishing, a cold that wants to take over, achy joints.
But it could be worse. I'm always aware of how much worse it could be.
With this new corona virus, I hope we're not all about to find out how much worse it could be."
There are days when I'm still stunned at how much worse it turned out to be. So many people gone. Whenever I hear/read anyone get indignant about the great case of the disappearing U.S. worker and wondering where the work force has gone, I reply, "Many of them have died." I don't know of anyone who said, "I hate working, so now, I'm just not going to work anymore. How will I pay for food and rent? I don't know. I'll figure something out."
No. We've had over 1 million deaths in the past 3 years, just from this disease alone. Some of those people would have died of something else, but many of them needn't have died at all.
This week will mark the one year anniversary of being severed from my job. For the most part, I've made my peace with that event--but then I feel this anxiety, and I wonder if I've really let myself process it all. I know all the reasons why the new owners who bought the school let me go, but what makes it tough was that they let me go just a few months after they led me to think that I had a more secure future at the school than I had been thinking I had. If it had been a long, slow slide to unemployment, the way that it had been for much of 2021, it would have been easier. I would not have thoughts that returned to this question: "What changed? Why was I chosen and then unchosen?" I can supply lots of possible answers, but I just don't know. Most days, I don't care overly much. Some days, it's still a bit painful, like a bruised shin.
Let me also remember that today, this very day, is the two year anniversary of discovering the program in which I am now enrolled at Wesley Theological Seminary. It was a Saturday, and I saw the Facebook ad for the DMin program with Arts and Theology as a focus. I was bummed--the DMin program is for people with different academic credentials who have been employed in a church position for several years. But as I explored, I realized that the MDiv had the Arts and Theology track too.
As I went back to look at past blog posts from this day, I'm a bit comforted to see that I'm often feeling anxiety at the end of January. A year ago, I was worried that I was getting behind in seminary classes, classes that had just begun. Today I am grateful that I have whole days that I can devote to these classes, that I'm not trying to balance class work with online teaching with a full-time administrator job.
Sunday, January 29, 2023
Creating Comfort, Comfort Creating
Followers of this blog may have realized that I'm immersed in two fabric projects. Lately, the one with small scraps has captured most of my sewing attention. This picture is just a small sample of what I've done since Thanksgiving (most of it done after Christmas):
I'm usually creating a small square for the center, and then working my way out with a log cabin pattern. Note the very center, where I'm using VERY small scraps:
But I'm also leaving myself freedom to experiment, as the mood strikes me or as my square turns into a rectangle.
All of this sewing still leaves me some small scraps that I can't use, along with lots of threads. I haven't been sure what to do with them, and then, one day this week, I noticed a bird nest that had scraps of plastic woven into the nest and dangling down.
I thought about leaving my materials out for the birds.
Yesterday I went for a walk and took my baggie of scraps with me. I wanted to find a vacant lot instead of a neighbor's yard where I could scatter the scraps. But as I walked past the seminary's president's house, I had a different idea.
Let me make clear: no one is living at the president's house; in fact, the back windows are boarded up, and the whole building is slated for demolition. I went to the back of the house, where I thought my distributing scraps wouldn't attract attention.
But once I was there, looking down at the stump of a removed tree, I had a different idea:
I put the remaining scraps and threads in other trees on the property.
It delighted me, for reasons that I tried to capture in this Facebook post: "One quilting project uses small scraps, but some scraps are just too thin/narrow for me to use. I have a vision of leaving them out for birds and other creatures to use in their nests. Today, I decided to be artful with the scraps I'm leaving for the creatures. I arranged them on the trunk of a tree that was cut down, and in the holes in the trunks of living trees. It feels sort of like littering, sort of like installation art, sort of like a different kind of comfort creating."
This morning, I'm doing a different kind of comfort creating: homemade bread!
Saturday, January 28, 2023
A Time, and a Psalm, for Lament
Friday, January 27, 2023
Seminary Snippets from Week 1
If you came here hoping for a blog post about International Holocaust Remembrance Day, feel free to migrate to last year's blog post--it even has a poem!
This morning, I want to write about the last week of seminary, a series of snapshots so that I have some impressions recorded.
--Last night, Church History II covered Martin Luther. We ended the class by talking a bit about his theology, which I find a bit baffling. His view of God is so different than mine; his view of God embraces the destructive, angry aspect of a vengeful God, and he claims that this behavior makes way for God's love. Hmmm. It's not hard to see how he comes to have these beliefs, but it disturbs me how many of us continue to embrace this view. Luther's sense of unworthiness pervades so much of his theology. It's not a surprise to me, but some voice in my head does whisper that maybe it dooms me as a future Lutheran pastor.
--But then I reflect on how many people I'll meet (including Lutheran clergy) won't have any understanding of Luther's core theology, and I think I'll be O.K. Like much theology of past centuries (and I include Paul here), it just doesn't mesh well with 21st century life. We don't have to stick with theology that isn't informed by more recent discoveries and ideas.
--For my Women and the Preaching Life class, we had to make an introductory video that talked about times we had either felt our voice was affirmed or silenced, ignored and otherwise disrespected. I talked about how the ELCA has an abundance of female bishops, but when it comes to being a senior pastor, we don't have nearly as much parity. If there's a church with a staff, it's a safe bet that the senior pastor will be male. Here, too, we don't have to stick with theology that isn't informed by recent discoveries and ideas. In my lifetime, we've gone from lifting the prohibition against women's ordination to our current situation--both a reason for hope and sadness.
--In my Chapel Visuals class yesterday, we walked to two worship spaces on campus: the main chapel in the administration building, and the smaller prayer chapel in the basement of the oldest dorm. It was interesting to hear people talk about our senses and the ways we experience worship spaces.
--After class, we walked to the gallery, where the current exhibit, where I have a piece displayed, is leaving. I took my piece back with me, and I also harvested some of the lettuce that has been growing hydroponically. It was so delicious. I had a great salad last night.
--I found out that our Queer Theology class is being taught for only the second time. Wow. There's a pastoral care for LGBTQIA+ people, but that's very different from Queer Theology. I had worried that as the oldest member of the class (and clearly, I am at least 20 years older than my classmates, 17 years older than the professor), that I would be the fuddy-duddy. So far, I think that fear is unfounded, even though I did read a lot of the important Queer Theory texts, like Judith Butler, when they first came out, and I saw some of the taboo-breaking TV, like first same-sex kisses on network shows, in real time. In fact, because I've been thinking about these issues, both from a sociological approach and a theological approach for more years than my classmates have been alive, I may be arriving at a different destination, for both better and worse. In class the other day, as our teacher read a text about desire and the will to create a different life, I raised my hand to ask, "When we say 'desire' here, are we talking about more than just sexual desire?" Ah, to be young and not realize that we might have a fierce yearning for something that doesn't involve other humans at all.
--I am feeling a bit sad because I am finally feeling more like I belong on this campus (people wave to me, for example), and this campus is about to undergo major change, if construction begins this summer. It's not change I'll benefit from, since I'll likely be graduated by the time that construction is complete.
--I have had some nostalgic memories as this semester gets underway, memories of the early days of Fall 2022 semester, getting my apartment set up, learning my way around. Is my nostalgia kicking into high gear because of the possibility of impending demolition? Or is it because the start of one semester reminds me of the beginning of a different one?
--It has been a warmer than usual winter in D.C. That's not to say that it's toasty outside. But we are about to have one of our years with the latest snowfall on record. When there was a steady rain on Wednesday, I kept an eye out--it was almost cold enough to snow, but at 39 degrees, not quite. I have thought that if we had a seriously cold winter, my apartment would be uncomfortably chilly. There are other places on campus where we prop the door open because it's so hot inside. This is no way to keep a campus warm, at least not an energy efficient way.
Let me close now and get a walk in before the winds pick up. Today is likely to be quite chilly, but temps will rise into the 50's this week-end.
Thursday, January 26, 2023
Starting the Morning with Poetry
Once upon a time, I would read and write before I did anything else. In terms of reading, it might have been something inspirational/spiritual. In terms of writing, it was most likely some form of journaling, followed by poetry writing or working on a novel I was writing.
It will not surprise anyone to find out that back then, I wrote more, and I read more works that are longer than a website page. So this year, in this blog post, I created a new plan for myself: "three mornings a week, before I go to the sites that I know are huge consumptions of my time (see above), I will turn my attention to writing poetry first. Not typing poetry into the laptop, but putting pen to paper or pulling lines out of my list of abandoned lines and composing poems on the laptop."
This morning is the first morning that I followed my plan. There have been a few days when I did poetry writing in addition to having tabs open on my computer, so I haven't abandoned my plan. And I gave myself permission to wait until this week to begin, because last week I spent half the week visiting my parents.
This morning, I woke up and thought, well, if I'm going to do this, I need to do it today. So I did. I gave myself permission to read first. I turned to A. E. Stallings' This Afterlife and read some poems from her first collection, Archaic Smile. Then I picked up David Graeber and David Wengrow's The Dawn of Everything: A New History of Humanity, a book that Ann E. Michaels' blog post prompted me to buy. It's a book that purports to look at ancient civilization a different way, less of a forward march towards cities and inequality and more a patchwork of approaches to how to live in community.
I wondered what time it was getting to be. Maybe I wouldn't have time to write before my 5:30 appointment leading a Facebook church group through a brief morning devotion.
My glance fell on the scraps on the side table, and I thought about what we tell ourselves about quilts, the kinds of quilts that end up in museums like the one I went to in Williamsburg last week: made by women! made by thrifty people who cut the useful cloth away from the clothes that are too tattered to wear anymore! I thought about a future historian who might assume I had owned a lot of clothes, judging by the scraps I stitched into a quilt. I thought about my quilting friend who brought me a box of cloth remaining from projects that she had finished. I thought about my own collection, which includes some bits of various quilts made for the babies that have been born in the last 17 years and a scrap from a dress that my grandmother made for me back in the late 1990's.
And voila! A poem. I'd have been happy to capture some ideas, but it was one of those poems that arrived closer to fully formed.
Now, if I can do this two more mornings I'll be on track. For the purpose of my writing goal, each week will start on Monday, so I have 3 more opportunities.
Wednesday, January 25, 2023
Work that Lasts
Another day, another set of classified documents found in someone's house or office. Not just any someone--high ranking officials, world leaders. Did they not have to go through the same training that I did?
In my last full-time job, I was the campus person designated as the one authorized to be in charge of confidential documents and files, documents and files that needed safekeeping. As such, I had to go through an annual training from a government agency, and take tests, and be prepared for the surprise inspections that the training assured us we might face. As a result of that training, I didn't even like to take the confidential stuff out of my office to another spot on campus, much less to my house. I felt nervous transporting them from campus to campus.
These documents weren't classified, in the sense that documents found in the possession of Trump, Biden, and now Pence, were classified. No state secrets were in my possession. I didn't know the identity of spies or special agents. The information entrusted to me revolved around student records, faculty files, personal information from people applying for jobs, and eventually, the HR records of the whole campus. I never left files out on my desk, but I also didn't keep them in a locked cabinet. I should have been sure to lock my office door when I zipped across the hall to the bathroom, but I didn't.
I felt guilty about this lapse of security. I'm also fairly sure that after I left, the same care was not taken with the file cabinet of doom that contained so much information.
Today I'm thinking about yesterday's chapel service and celebratory lunch afterwards, when one of my favorite professors here, the one who taught the Foundations of Preaching class last term, Dr. Veronice Miles was installed as the Mary Elizabeth McGehee Joyce Chair of Preaching. As the luncheon wound down, various people spoke in tribute (pre-arranged, not spontaneous). I felt a strange mix of emotions: so happy to be able to benefit from her teaching and preaching, but also sad that I'm not having the same level of influence.
I write this realizing that she might be sad that she's having a diminishing level of influence. There are far fewer seminary students now than there would have been when she first came here. And I write also realizing that influence is probably not the most useful metric.
The truth, as I see it right now, is that most of us will do our work never knowing what will matter to future generations. Today is the feast day that celebrates the conversion of St. Paul.
I find it helpful to remember that Paul expected that Christ would return within the lifetime of everyone hearing or reading his words. He wasn't writing guidebooks for the centuries. He would be astonished to realize that we're still reading his letters--much the way that I would be if someone from 2000 years in the future told me that future communities treasured my blog posts or e-mails.
But honestly, if someone told me that my blog posts were treasured centuries into the future, I would be thrilled.
Tuesday, January 24, 2023
Cultural Artifacts: the Phone Book and Other Texts
Monday, January 23, 2023
Shades of Winter
Sunday, January 22, 2023
Ancient Mariners and Weather Apps
Gone is the spring-like weather of last week. Today is chilly, perhaps downright cold; my desktop weather app tells me that snow is on the way. Other weather predictors disagree, but regardless of the form that the precipitation takes, it's going to be gray and dreary today.
I am happy on a gray and dreary day, especially when I am living alone. I have plans to make a kind of pot roast/beef stew kind of dish, with the bones and beef I brought back with me from my trip to see my mom and dad. I'll have to strategize, because the beef was already cooked. I don't need to simmer it for hours to achieve tenderness. I have carrots, mushrooms, and potatoes, and those will need to cook longer. I will make as big a pot as possible, with the hopes that the leftovers will last deep into the week.
Before I get started on this project, I'll go for my morning walk. The radar lets me know that unsettled weather is on the way. Once it gets here, I'll get my stew started. I'm happy that yesterday I did the data entry part of getting my online classes ready for tomorrow's start date.
I've got work to do for my classes that I'm taking as a student--I need to get some reading done. Happily that leaves time for quilting. I'm still enjoying this piece work so much. Or maybe I'll work on the quilting that my bigger project requires. It might be a good day to have the project draped over me as I do the actual quilting. It's not as interesting as the piece work, but I'd like to get it done by the time the cold weather leaves for good. Or maybe I'll save it for the quilt retreat in November. I'll see what calls to me this afternoon.
I'm happy to report that the quilting has inspired me to write a poem or two in the past week. I get frustrated easily and worried that I'm just repeating myself. I've been using quilting metaphors for several decades now. The current poem that is still in progress this morning uses the idea of a quilt assembled out of scraps left over from other projects as a map. It references ancient mariner--perhaps I should do more with that.
Let me go and get this walk done, before the rain starts.
Saturday, January 21, 2023
Slow Re-entry Back to Student Life
It's been a strange week, in some ways. Classes started, but they started on a Wednesday. I don't have Wednesday classes, so I went to my two Thursday classes, and then it was Friday, when I also have no classes. In terms of getting back to a "normal" schedule, it was a gentle re-entry.
In terms of weather, it's also been strange. On days when we were supposed to have torrential rain, we did not. On days when we were supposed to have clearing skies, we did not. It's been a week of wooly clouds; it it was colder, we might have snow, except that we wouldn't, because we haven't had much in the way of precipitation.
I've been enjoying the gray skies as I've stayed inside, cutting and stitching small pieces of cloth into larger squares that will some day be a quilt. As I make more squares, I end up with an even larger collection of scraps to make into larger squares. Will I ever run out of cloth? How big a quilt am I creating? Right now, I'm just enjoying the process, being present in the moment in a way that I am so rarely able to do.
I know that soon my free time will dwindle--I will need to be working on seminary projects and getting reading done. Part of me wants to work ahead, and part of me wants to enjoy these last days of more free time.
Yesterday I had a few minutes between talking to my spouse on a video chat and heading over to my sister's house. I decided to go ahead and vacuum. It's amazing how many threads were on the floor. When I got back home last night, I had forgotten that I vacuumed, and when I opened the door, I was struck by how my seminary apartment looked like it had been deep cleaned.
I went to my sister's place earlier in the afternoon than I might have, so that I could avoid rush hour traffic, which begins around 3. While I was there, my sister and her spouse were online doing their jobs, and I did a training session for online teaching job. I did not find the new approach to syllabi to be so complicated that we needed the training session--do most faculty never have to do these kinds of editing on their syllabi?
The darker undercurrent of that training is why we are shifting to this new way of doing syllabi. There's legislation in the state of Florida, all sorts of legislation about what we're allowed to teach/mention and what we're not. As a teacher of composition, I'm not as affected as I would be if I taught History or Sociology. Plus, my course content comes to me created by others, full-time people who need to keep track of this kind of legislative stuff. When I communicate to students, it's along the lines of "Great examples!" or "Can you develop this point further?" I want to believe I'm not likely to be hauled into court over any of this.
After we finished our online work and training, we walked the dog and went to get my nephew from dive practice. Then we made homemade pizza--we ran out of tomato sauce, so we made a white sauce for the last pie. Yummmmmm.
I wish I had some of the leftovers with me now, but I left them all there; in truth, there wasn't that much left. I had an easy drive home, which was a relief; I don't drive much after dark these days. I'm glad to know that I haven't lost that skill.
Hopefully, as I get back to seminary work, I'll find out that I haven't lost those skills either.
Friday, January 20, 2023
Yesterday, when I heard about the death of David Crosby, I thought about my dad and I on Saturday, listening to the Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young album Deja Vu, pulling out the LP as we listened to the music on an old cassette tape, the kind that came in a pack of blank tapes so that a person could record whatever they wanted. My dad used to record music shows on public radio channels, and listening to those again had this charm, perhaps a lo-fidelity charm, perhaps an artifact from the not-so-distant-but-very-gone past charm.
This morning, I thought about a conversation I had with a college friend, long ago, maybe 1985 or so. It was that late night kind of conversation, the kind that seemed so essential then, like we were uncovering the secrets of the universe. We talked about which groups did harmony the best. I stayed solidly committed to Simon and Garfunkle. My friend argued for much older folk groups like the Kingston Trio, and he shocked me by claiming those earlier groups were better than Peter, Paul, and Mary, better in every way.
We didn't discuss any of the music that I now remember as important to me in the 1980's: U2 or the Alarm or Bruce Springsteen. There was interesting harmony in those groups, but it was between singer and instruments, not individuals singing to create a harmonic sound.
This morning, I'm thinking of how rare it is, still, to hear groups that can sing in harmony, to have groups that sing in harmony come to prominence. Lately, when I shop in stores that have music in the background or scan the radio dial, I'm struck by how much modern music seems to be composed/created/collaged with the opposite effect in mind, to have components mash in ways that are not harmonic.
It's easy to have that kind of mashing, but much harder to achieve harmony.
This morning, I am also thinking of the death of Jeff Beck, who did so much to prepare the musical ground for the work I would love. I am thinking of the deaths of Charles Simic and Russell Banks, authors I have not yet read. Well, I tried to read a Russell Banks novel once, after seeing a movie made out of one of his books (which one? can't remember), so I likely won't return to his work--life is short, and my reading time ever more in short supply.
I am wishing I had more conversations like the kind I had in college. That may be one reason why I'm loving seminary so much. We're not talking about the best harmonies of the 1960's, but we are talking about stuff that feels vital, but overlooked by much of the population.
Thursday, January 19, 2023
Calamitous Centuries Past and Present
I am listening to the Throughline episode that explores Omar El Akkad's novel, American War. I read the book in 2017, and I remember it as a searing experience, searing in a good way. It begins with a discussion about the past and the future, about sci-fi and futuristic fiction (will it be hover cars or will it stay rooted in the conflicts of past ages?). It's a great conversation. When I finished it for the first time, I listened again.
As I drove to Williamsburg, I listened to an episode of On the Media about the brave new world of Artificial Intelligence, followed by news of devastating weather crashing into California. I thought about the century we're in, the 21st century, and I thought about the decades that will unfold. I think that if humanity survives, we will use the word "calamitous" to describe the 21st century, much the way we use it with the 14th century (see Barbara Tuchman's A Distant Mirror) or the collapse of the Bronze Age.
Yes, I think there will be spots where we marvel at how humanity solved one problem or another. Maybe it will be the vast fields of solar panels (and we will wonder why humans didn't attempt this sooner, maybe staving off the climate catastrophes that cascaded through the 21st century) or the ways we've learned to vanquish some diseases. Some of us won't perceive the century through a lens of disaster and catastrophe. Many of us won't survive long enough to think about the 21st century at all.
My mom and I spent a lot of time over the week-end returning to the issue of the future of church, both The Church (the institution) and the Sunday service itself. My thoughts have continued to circle around the various developments I learned about in Church History I, the times when the Church could have become something else, could have championed a different set of values and beliefs.
I find myself thinking about the emphasis on personal salvation vs. the salvation of societies. When we face threats that are more existential, does the Church abandon the personal salvation/substitutionary atonement theories? Or does society give up on church altogether, thinking that if there's a hope for salvation, it won't be coming from The Church?
The coming decades may illuminate these questions, if any of us have leisure time to reflect on them.
Wednesday, January 18, 2023
Back to School
Yesterday I got my hair professionally cut for the first time since 2020, cut and highlighted. The hair stylist also blew it completely dry and straight, which is unusual for me. I was surprised by how much lighter and bouncier my hair felt when we were done.
As with all activities that I once did pre-Covid but never resumed, it felt a bit odd to be back. It was a morning appointment, so it wasn't as packed as it could have been. There was plexiglass around the hair washing stations, which I hope they keep. The woman next to me coughed, and it was nice not to worry about that.
While I waited for the highlights to sink into my hair, I read Celeste Ng's latest book. Later, when I finished it, I made this Facebook post: "If you need a novel that reminds you of the power of words and language, that convinces you that you do believe in the power of words and language, I highly recommend Celeste Ng's latest, "Our Missing Hearts"--it also will remind you of the power of love, the power of perseverance, the reasons why librarians may yet save us all, and how poetry can surprise us. And it's an interesting commentary on modern life, even as it reads like a dystopia, in the time honored tradition of Margaret Atwood and Octavia Butler."
It is an amazing book. I read it because my mom had checked it out from the library and saved it for me, knowing I would be here and could finish it. I'm so glad I did. One of the main characters is a poet, the kind of poet that most people are, having one slim volume of poems published by a very small press, not much in the way of sales--until it all blows up in so many unpredictable ways.
Today I head back to my seminary apartment, where I hope things have not blown up in ways either predictable or unpredictable. I'm taking a heavy load of classes, so I will spend this whole semester continuing to hope that I can avoid things blowing up. I want to take these classes while I have the opportunity. Life has taught me that these chances won't always be here: faculty leave, courses are scuttled for a variety of reasons, and my life as a student could change (will I live on campus or near by? Will I have to forgo some classes so that I get requirements done?).
This week has been the one where courses are opening up in Blackboard, and I'm getting the first look at syllabi--I am so thrilled! The course titles and book lists led me to believe I would be thrilled, and I'm happy that the syllabi continue with the promise. Although Wesley Theological Seminary is back in session today, I don't have Wednesday classes. I'll make my way back to my seminary apartment, put things away, get organized, and go for a walk or two.
It is a good life, although it does feel like a sabbatical from "real life," even as it also feels like a preparation time for a different "real life." I know that I am a lucky woman.
Tuesday, January 17, 2023
Folk Art, Decorative Art, Spiritual Art
I am still in Williamsburg visiting my parents. Yesterday, we went to the Williamsburg Art Museum, which is actually 2 museums in one new and magnificent building, the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museum and the DeWitt Wallace Decorative Arts Museum. It was a delightful day.
Of course I loved all the quilts.
I don't know that I ever knew that petticoats were once quilted, that quilted petticoats were a fashion item in past centuries, as well as a way of staying warm--plus, a way of using worn quilts, if one needed to do that.
I also loved all the other objects, like the carousel animals, carved with such attention to details, like this cat with a fish in its mouth.
The museum has an extensive collection of tableware, including more teapots in one display than I've ever seen before--tea pots through the ages.
And this doll house--wow.
And it's decorated for Christmas.
We ate lunch in the Museum Cafe, which has good food, very reasonably priced, and a lovely place to eat the food. What a delight!
In the afternoon, we went to the auditorium, where we saw a presentation by a historic re-enactor, a man channeling Gowan Pamphlet, the first ordained black Baptist minister in Williamsburg (and in the colonies), ordained in 1772 while he was enslaved. It was a fascinating talk. I don't think I knew that John and Charles Wesley came to the U.S.; they came as missionaries to Savannah in 1736.
As Gowan Pamphlet talked to us about his life as a slave in colonial Williamsburg, I thought about the fact that it was a federal holiday to celebrate Martin Luther King. I thought about all the progress that has been made, the long way still to go. It wasn't a traditional approach to MLK day, but it worked for me.
As always, I am struck by how much I still do not know/remember, about religion, about history, about every day (and not so every day) objects. Happily, I still have time and opportunity.
Monday, January 16, 2023
"Evil Is Not the Totality of Who We Are as Persons"
Sunday, January 15, 2023
Music in the Afternoon
Yesterday morning, shortly after I finished my blog post, I put the last load of stuff in the car, and thought, why am I just sitting here, reading various internet sites. So, about 6:40, I got in the car and headed south to Williamsburg, Virginia, where I am spending half a week with my parents.
I have decided that it's impossible for me to know how long it will take for me to cover the distance between my seminary apartment and my parents' house. Yesterday I did it in less than two hours. In the past, it has taken as much as 3.5 hours because there can be construction that brings everything to a slow, slow pace (or no pace).
We spent the morning drinking coffee, chatting, working on tech issues, looking at photos, and then we ate lunch. After lunch, I pulled out my stitching, and my dad worked on one of his projects, sorting through cassette tapes. I wrote this Facebook post: "While Mom is napping, I am stitching a quilt by the fire, and my dad and I are listening to cassette tapes (Three Dog Night, Dan Fogelberg, and now Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young), singing a bit ("Teach Your Children Well"), and it feels like I've fallen through a hole in time, sharing music with my dad this way, and I am so grateful that we are still alive and that my dad has a cassette player that works and that he kept some of his old tapes."
I didn't write about the sound quality of the tape, the strange quality that the music takes on as the tape reaches the end of a side. It's something I had forgotten. I said to my dad, "I once had all this music on vinyl, of all things." My dad said, "I still have them," and then we looked at some of the LPs. What a joy.
We had thought about going to see a movie in the afternoon, but it was a cold, blustery day, so we stayed in. We all wanted to see the movie Tar, and I knew that we could see it on Amazon for $5.99, which was far less than we would have paid if we all went to a movie theatre. We were a bit confused by the credits rolling by at the start of the movie, an aspect of the film I hadn't heard about--at first, we wondered if we had clicked on the wrong button and fast forwarded the movie.
I had read a lot about this movie, enough to make me want to see it, enough to make me wary. I expected the character to be much more monstrous than she turned out to be. Was she monstrous at all? I realize that there's a lot of understated elements, so maybe I'll see the monstrous elements later, as I reflect. Right now, I think of her as a person I wouldn't want for a partner, a teacher, or an employer, but her actions turned out to be less monstrous than I was expecting. There's a protégé who has fallen out of favor and gone on to a disastrous end, but after watching the movie, I can't be sure of who is responsible for that. She treats her assistant both generously and callously, as she does many of the people in her life. To dismiss her as all monster is to diminish the movie--I think.
We may watch the movie again. Because we rented it, we can watch it over and over again for 2 days. We're thinking we may watch it with the closed captioning on--parts of the movie were hard to hear, in a muffled sound kind of way. We wondered if closed captioning would help, and this afternoon, we might see.
Saturday, January 14, 2023
Creative Days, Creative Ways
My Covid test this morning is negative, so I'm heading down to Williamsburg to spend a long holiday week-end with my parents. I don't have any symptoms, but with this new, more transmissible variant of Covid running wild across the planet, it seems wise to test. I haven't been in contact with many people since returning from vacation and doing some grocery shopping, but since the Montgomery county library system has free rapid tests, there's no reason not to test.
I do wonder if we will ever get to a point where I don't feel this need to test, where I'm not aware of disease risks. Of course, I was aware of disease risks even before this latest pandemic. Between disease risks and the risks of violence that come with being female in a patriarchal society, I'm often deciding to stay in.
For the past few days, as I've decided to just stay put and do some quilt piecing, I've wondered if I'm really just lazy. Yesterday there was a steady wind that just cut right through me, so I decided to abandon my plan of going to the MLK site in downtown DC, as it is an outdoor memorial. I thought about a museum, but getting there requires a fair amount of walking on either end of the Metro ride.
Through the magic of technology, my spouse and I watched movies together, and I worked on quilt pieces of various sizes:
I'm going to keep creating these, as they delight me. Eventually, I'll create a quilt out of them all, with long strips between the panels, much like this quilt:
|displayed at October 2020 Quilt Camp at Lutheridge|
At some point, I also need to get back to doing the actual quilting on my other quilt project. Winter is a great time to have that weight draped over me, as I work on doing the quilting.
The nice thing about having projects of varying sizes is that one is more portable. I stashed some of the smaller pieces in my backpack, with my tin that contains a set of small scissors and spools of thread.
It's also nice to have a variety of projects that feed my creativity. I began the day writing a poem, and in the middle of the day, I sent some poems out into the world. Then I finished with stitching. Ah--heaven!
So, it's not laziness keeping me home in these long, cold days of winter--it's the appeal of a creative day, in many creative ways, in my snug seminary apartment.
Friday, January 13, 2023
Enter Lord Byron--oh dear, oh dear, oh dear."
Thursday, January 12, 2023
Yesterday was a much better day than Tuesday. I went on 2 walks, and I didn't feel as tired as I did earlier in the week. I did some sewing that made me happy. My spouse and I had good conversations on our video chats. I had an evening Zoom session where I reconnected with friends from the Create in Me retreat.
One of yesterday's highlights was seeing a Facebook post from the Luce Center for Arts and Religion. The exhibition which includes one of my pieces is up and open to the public! Here's my work in context with nearby pieces:
And here's my work up close:
I will confess that it was not a juried show. One of my instructors is also responsible for these exhibitions in the gallery space, and she asked our class to submit pieces. I thought about creating something new, but it was the end of the term, and I didn't really have time or resources.
I submitted this piece because I have it here with me, and it's one of my favorites. I haven't seen the whole show yet, but I am betting that there will be fewer fiber artists, so I also liked the idea of having this kind of work as part of the exhibition.
If I hadn't been living on campus, I wouldn't have taken the in-person class that gave me this opportunity. I'm grateful for this time here, even as I'm unsure what the future of on-campus housing holds for me.
Wednesday, January 11, 2023
Health Insurance Woes Which Could Be Worse
It has been a long time since I've had a very bad day, the kind of day where morning phone calls and money worries seep across the whole day and poison it. Yesterday was that day--and I'll admit that it could have been much worse. There is a happy-ish ending, which makes the feel of poisoning even more difficult, because I feel like I shouldn't be feeling so bad.
My day started out well. I wrote a poem, and then I wrote a blog post that thought about goals and how I might do more poem writing in 2023. I wrote e-mails to the charitable organizations asking to be removed from the monthly automatic donations that I had set up back when I was fully employed and had more resources.
I went to the online site to check my credit card record to make sure I had contacted all the charitable organizations, and I noticed that my monthly health insurance premium had jumped from $22.20 a month to $752.16 a month. So I spent an hour on the phone trying to get that sorted out.
The good news: because I called before Jan. 15, I had options. I switched us from a gold to a bronze plan. Because of our experience in the past 5 months, with doctor's visits that I thought were covered but we still ended up with a bill, I knew that I didn't want to pay hundreds of dollars more for that plan.
I am still not sure what the bronze plan will and will not cover, but the monthly premium is zero dollars. Later in the morning, I had a video call with my spouse, and we both ended up depressed. I wish I could say that I was happy to have caught the increased premium price and felt lucky to have made the phone calls when there was still time to make changes. I did feel lucky, but I also felt sad and frustrated to be spending so much time on these issues--and money.
In the past year, we've had several different health insurance plans, and even though we've often spent over $1,000 a month on the premium, even though we paid the deductible, we still had thousands of dollars of medical bills last year. And then you add the co-pays, and the cost of health care really begins to mount. When I went to the physical therapist after my wrist surgery, I had to pay $45.00 for each visit. Without health insurance, the physical therapy session would have cost $80.00--it's some savings, but not much.
A few hours later, I had a video call with my spouse, and this topic brought him down. Then he opened some mail, looking for a doctor's bill that had come in. Along the way, he opened some year-end statements for our various investments. Like much of middle class America, our accounts have lost money in the past year.
We ended the call with both of us feeling depressed, like we can't get ahead or even tread water. In some ways, it's ridiculous to feel that way. We have resources, we have a very small house that is paid for even though it needs improvements, we want to think that we will/would have some employment options in the future if/when we decide to go that way.
I tried various ways of self-soothing (a walk, some tea, some candy), but it took the whole afternoon for my funk to lift. By the early evening, I decided I needed some light viewing, so I cued up the latest Sandra Bullock movie, The Lost City. What fun, with some laugh out loud parts and some adventure and a bit of sadness as the main character says a final goodbye to her dead husband.
Today I want to have a better day, with more writing and more quilt creating. I want to take 2 walks. I want to feel better while I'm walking--I've felt SO tired when walking the last few days, and I do wonder if I'm not fighting off some sort of bug. I'm going to start some bread dough. I plan to roast some vegetables. I plan to do the kind of self-care that may keep me from needing to utilize my health insurance.
Tuesday, January 10, 2023
Planning for Morning Writing
It is one of those mornings where I feel like I don't have much to say. Some mornings, I arrive at the blogging desk with multiple possibilities fighting for my attention. Today, I think, well, I already wrote about my days of piecing small scraps into larger squares, which is mostly what I've been doing. I went to the grocery store--blah topic. I haven't done interesting sketching lately or taken interesting photos.
So this morning, let me think about what I want my mornings to look like, once classes start. My mornings will be relatively free, at least at the beginning of the semester. I am aware of my tendency to waste hours (hours!) scrolling through a variety of pages, some with snippets of information, like Twitter and Facebook, and some with more substantial articles, like The Washington Post and The New York Times.
I think back to times when I wrote more and writing was the first thing I did in the morning. Of course, that was back in the 90's, when the internet was a very different experience, and writing was more attractive. Let me think about the current day.
I've done a good job of continuing to blog, regardless of the distractions that come my way. I would like to write more poems. This week, I've done a good job of writing poems--I've written 2. I'd like to do more to get drafts of poems revised and typed into the computer. I've done a decent job at continuing to send poems out to journals, particularly those that don't have submission fees. At $3 a pop to submit, my submission strategies of decades ago would cost me a huge amount.
So here's my proposal to myself: three mornings a week, before I go to the sites that I know are huge consumptions of my time (see above), I will turn my attention to writing poetry first. Not typing poetry into the laptop, but putting pen to paper or pulling lines out of my list of abandoned lines and composing poems on the laptop.
When I realize I'm spending too much time scrolling, I want to take a break and do something else. If I'm listening to podcasts (often what I'm doing when I'm doing mostly mindless scrolling), I want to sew or quilt, sketch, or type poems into the computer, depending on how much brain power I have.
I'll continue to send out poems to journals as I have been doing. As I look back over my submission log since arriving to my seminary apartment, I'm happy with that effort. Several times a month, I send out a few packets. I'm not sure I can do much more without spending a lot more money. And right now, I'd rather do other things with that money.
Monday, January 9, 2023
Straight Seams and Strange Histories
I've been watching a variety of movies with an apocalyptic theme. I've also been doing a lot of thinking about apocalypse in general, and about the early months of 2020, when an apocalypse was bearing down on us and very few of us realized it.
As an NPR news junkie, I heard about the new respiratory disease in China early on, but it took me awhile to realize how bad it would be. I'd been expecting some sort of flu since the early part of the century when the new bird flu swept across Asia. But even those expectations and all my reading about earlier plagues and pandemics didn't really prepare me.
The first time I wrote in this blog about the new virus that would be named COVID-19 was a post on January 30: "On the way back home, I heard news reports of the new corona virus that's burning its way through China; we now have more people infected with this new virus than those infected with SARS during the 2002-2003 outbreak. The World Health Organization will meet today. If we were characters in a movie, ominous music would be playing."
But even earlier, I think I had a glimmer. Here's a bit from my January 4, 2020 post: "There are many events I should write about, perhaps, events with real weight (pun intended). I'm hesitant to write about the split/schism that seems unavoidable for our Methodist friends since I'm not a Methodist. There's the assassination in Iran that seems to be a portent of a ratcheting up of hostilities, a horse or a rider or some other symbol of apocalypse. I suspect there will be many more opportunities to talk about heavier topics in the days to come."
On Friday night, I scrolled through my old blog posts from the first half of 2020, and I'm struck by how I remained calm as I figured out how grim the situation was, as I figured out how to make a way forward, as I went to work, even as much of the rest of the world went into lock-down. I tend to think that I haven't suffered the losses that so many others suffered, but of course, we've all suffered in ways that we'll be sorting out for decades to come. And the suffering isn't finished yet.
I remember returning home from vacation in early 2020. I had bought a jar of yeast, which I added to the two jars in my refrigerator. In early December and on vacation, I had had a vision of lots of bread baking, but I hadn't really done it. I wondered how I would ever use up all that yeast. Little did I know how yeast would soon vanish off the shelves, and I'd be grateful that I had several jars stashed in my fridge.
Last night as I watched World War Z, I thought about how quickly the zombies overtake the world, literally within a day or two. I would have found the movie much more scary with the slow build of the disease, the way Contagion does. In some ways, World War Z is more of a horror movie than the kind of apocalypse I like. But it was compelling enough to have on while I stitched small scraps into larger squares.
This semester break, I am doing more sewing than any other kind of activity, and I am loving it. I know that I won't always be able to do this kind of sewing. Because I'm the only one here, I have fabric draped over almost every surface. I have turned my living room into a kind of studio.
Because I don't have an iron, and because I hate to iron, if I have a very wrinkled piece of fabric, I run it under water and stretch it out on the stainless steel countertop. I love being surrounded by my fabric this way, but it wouldn't be possible if I was living with someone else, because this kind of chaos wouldn't be fair to anyone who would have to share my living space with me.
I know that it's good to make progress on quilting projects while I'm on fire to do it. I don't always have this kind of enthusiasm for this kind of sewing (or this kind of time or space).
It's also soothing, as I process what we've been through both as a society and as individuals: the pandemic, the various political events, the reshaping of our societies as more people move to online work and education and more people leave various professions and housing markets rise (and collapse?).