Saturday, September 30, 2023

A Writing Process to Lead to More Delight

On Tuesday this week, I took an essay written by Ross Gay in The Book of Delights.  It was a four paragraph essay about a flower growing in the space where the curb meets the sidewalk (or was it the street?).  I also copied the preface to the book so that students could have insight to his writing process, as described in this interview:  "For his most recent work, The Book of Delights, the Indiana University professor assigned himself a simple task: He would compose an essay each day about something he found delightful. It didn’t have to be big. It didn’t have to be profound. Just something that caught his fancy."

In that interview, Gay describes the process this way:  

"This last book of essays, I gave myself the task to write a short essay every day for a year about something that delighted me, that’s kind of what the book is. I had a task, and the task was to take 30 minutes to draft the essay. It wasn’t like “20 minutes at night every night,” I would get it in whatever time. That was the most regimented I’ve been for a while. I was usually kind of feeling around for it [the object of delight].

But usually it’s thinking, reading, studying, trying to find something that turns you on and going for a bit. I’ve been lucky to kind of ride it for some days. It might get quiet for a bit, so I’ll think and try to wake it up."

When I brought the essay and the preface to my English 102 class (Composition II), we talked about this process, or rather, I talked.  I talked about how we value what we give our attention to, and if we focus on a lot of negative input, it can affect our mood.  I asked how they thought a person's life or mood might change if they wrote about 1 thing that gave them delight each day, if they adopted that as a practice.

I said that I wasn't going to require that they do this, and this term, I'm not.  But I am thinking of it as an experiment for next semester's classes.  I would do it at the beginning of the term, as a warm up to the class, as a way of getting our writing muscles used to moving again after a long break between terms.  I'm teaching English 101, the standard first year Composition class, so I'll make connections to the rest of the work we will be doing.

It's one of my unexpected delights of this term, finding inspirations for next term.  And it's one of the benefits of having so much control over my own classes.  I can try this idea and see what happens.

Friday, September 29, 2023

Thinking about the Roman Empire

In the future, we may have forgotten how various social platforms spent a significant amount of time analyzing how often men think about the Roman empire, how shocked some of us have been to find out how many men think about the Roman empire daily.

And then there was the question of what kind of men:  what race, what economic class, what nationality?  In a recent episode, the NPR show 1A covered this Roman empire phenomena in a way that was intriguing, funny, and full of insight.

As to the question of how often men think about the Roman empire, over on Twitter, poet Alicia E. Stallings wrote, "Women think about the Iliad about once a day."  

I replied, "Or is it the Odyssey? I think of Penelope, weaving and unweaving, of the men making their way home, of us all, stuck in so many ways, dreaming of something else."

This idea that men think about the Roman empire once a day made me think about what we think about when we're barely conscious of thinking at all.  I thought of James Joyce, trying to capture the elusive nature of our internal monologue, how mundane those monologues can be, how they point us to what we really value.

Thursday, September 28, 2023

A Trip to the Apple Orchard and the Pumpkin Patch

I had many reasons for wanting to go to my favorite apple orchard yesterday, but the main one was the fear that if I didn't go soon, I might miss the season entirely.  I'm also doing something out of the ordinary with my students today, and apples will make the class a bit more festive (more details later).

I went to my favorite apple orchard, Coston's in Hendersonville, NC, where I've gone many times.  My phone took me a different route, through twisty back roads, past farms and fields of flowers (such tall sunflowers!) and late season corn.  I decided to stop at the pumpkin patch that's beside Coston's first--pumpkins first, then apples.

Much to my surprise, the pumpkin I got the other day at the grocery store cost less than the same size pumpkin at the patch.  Happily, there were others, and now I have a pumpkin up at the road by my mailbox.  

The apple orchard has delightful displays, which change from year to year.  This year featured tractors.

While I looked around the store at the pumpkin patch (every patch and orchard has a store now, it seems, a store that sells all kinds of stuff), I saw this box of tomatoes--$12 for the whole box, which is quite a deal, considering that the other tomatoes were $3 a pound and higher.  So in addition to the bushel of apples that I bought later, I also brought home roughly 25 pounds of tomatoes.

I bought a bushel of apples because it was so much cheaper, and apples will keep.  But when I got home, I thought, hmm, maybe I bought too many apples.  So I wrote to some of my neighbors and went out to share my apple bounty with others.  This morning I added a chopped apple to my oatmeal--delightful!

Wednesday, September 27, 2023

Poets on the Pages of Books Then and Now

Last night I woke up in the middle of the night thinking it was early morning.  By the time I realized it wasn't, which happily happened before I started the coffee, I decided to read a bit to try to feel sleepy again--1 a.m. in the morning is too early for getting up for the day, even for me.

I decided to start Brandon Taylor's The Late Americans, a book so good that it didn't lull me back to sleep.  Eventually, I had to force myself to go to bed.  The book so far is about a grad student at Iowa who reveres poetry, but not his fellow grad student poets.  In some ways, it seems to be offering an interesting window into the state of literature in the 2020's, but in others, I suspect that these grad students are going to be very different from most poets I know, poets who are in a very different stage of life.  But it's still an intriguing read.

I just finished Marge Piercy's Braided Lives, also a book about a poet, but a very different poet.  She's from a working class Detroit background, and the book is set in the 1950's.  She's working her way through undergraduate school at the University of Michigan.  I've read it numerous times before, but this time, perhaps I loved it most, and I'm not sure why.

In some ways, it's like revisiting old friends and there's also the ghost of myself across the pages.  I think about these feminist writers who formed me, and I'm so grateful.  It's also poignant to reread the book at this time in the life of our nation.  Much of the book revolves around the issues of bodily autonomy in a time before abortions were legal and birth control was difficult for women to get.  I first read the book in the 1980's, when it seemed to be describing a distant time.  But now . . .

It also made me sad because it describes a time when one could find a cheap apartment in New York City and support one's early attempts at a writing career with part time jobs.  It describes a time when more people thought literature was important, when all learning was important.

As I was reading, I thought about my reading habits when I was an undergraduate.  If I had read different books by different authors, would I have made different life choices?  Like if I had stumbled across books that proclaimed the joys of motherhood, would I have had a gaggle of children?  Probably not.  I read everything, and those books were not the ones that affected me deeply.

Braided Lives makes me want to get back to poetry writing of my own.  I don't know if The Late Americans will have the same effect--it certainly doesn't make me want to go to Iowa to get an MFA.  But these days, I'm happy for books that take creativity seriously.

Tuesday, September 26, 2023

Knotting Our Way through a Children's Sermon and Beyond

I had made a variety of plans for God's Work, Our Hands Sunday on September 10, and they all revolved around quilts.  I decided that the easiest approach would be to bring some quilts from the local church near my Lutheridge house, Lutheran Church of the Nativity, and set them up so that people could work on them.  I decided that it might be easiest for me to do the initial part of the knotting, drawing the thread through, and leaving the strands for people to knot.

I was sick with COVID, a mild case but one which needed me to stay away from church on September 10.  For a different God's Work, Our Hands project, the children made cards, and I was touched when one arrived in my mailbox (after first going across the mountains to Knoxville, and then back across the mountains to my house in Arden).

I had the quilts that needed to be knotted in my car, and when I thought of Sunday's Gospel about workers in the vineyard, I had an idea for how to use them in my children's sermon this past Sunday.  I got to church early, and set the quilts up in the front pew where the children sit for the children's sermon.

When they came up, I told them about knotting quilts and about how Lutheran World Relief collects these quilts and sends them around the world.  I invited them to start knotting, and they did.  I rolled out my version of the parable:  if I offer to pay you $20 to sit here and tie knots through the whole service, and I offered you fair wages to make knots starting at the sermon, and I offer you fair wages to make knots after communion, and you show up right at the end of the service and tie a knot--if I give each one of you $20 for your work, is that fair?

They all agreed it wouldn't be fair, and then we talked about how God is generous, not fair.  I invited them to stay and keep tying knots through the service, although I wouldn't be paying them.   And to my surprise, several of them did, and they got both quilts knotted.

What was even more wonderful was that one of our visitors had been to a hospital in Israel where he saw Lutheran World Relief quilts on the beds, quilts like the ones we had been knotting.  He stood up to tell us this during the announcement time that comes at the end of the service before the last hymn, after I had thanked the children for finishing the quilts.

In some ways, stretching God's Work, Our Hands across the month worked well.  Faith Lutheran does a great job of having various service projects, so it wasn't something alien to them.  I was glad to see that the children really got into a rhythm doing the knots.  And sitting in the front, knotting and listening, may have been better than what usually happens, with the children returning to their seats in the back, fussing and fidgeting.

Monday, September 25, 2023

A Deeper Look at a Family Reunion

If you follow this blog, you know that I have a 9 month appointment as a Synod Appointed Minister (a part-time appointment) at Faith Lutheran Church in Bristol, Tennessee.  Long ago, my grandfather served 5 parishes in Bristol, Tennessee, and they have merged through the years; one of the merged churches is Faith Lutheran.  Here's a picture of one of the older churches that my grandfather served:

The members of my grandfather's generation have died.  Here's a picture of my grandfather (on the left) and my grandmother's youngest brother, Jim Crumley; both men served the Lutheran church in a variety of ways.

Here's a picture of my grandmother Mary 

And here's one of her only sister, Martha (there were 2 other brothers, but I don't have pictures):

Yesterday, the children of that generation came to the front of the church for communion.  As I handed each one the bread, I felt this spookiness.  Their faces looked like the faces of the people in the pictures above, the faces as I knew them when they were older, not in the pictures.  And of course, I am not the young woman that I was when I first met many of them, at a long ago family reunion in 1977 I'm in the lower right corner, to the left of my mom who is wearing a striped shirt, with my little sister sitting between my mom and dad):

Here's a picture of Saturday's family reunion, held just down the road, at the Faith Lutheran's picnic pavilion:

And here's a picture that I snapped of the church at sunset, a sunset made more spectacular by tropical storm Ophelia to our east.

I thought it captured a sense of liminal space, that sense of something passing away even as other things remain.  The family remains, as does the church, as do the mountains that surround the church and the farms, some of which have remained in family hands, some of which have not.  The news delivers a steady drumbeat of reports of challenges ahead--so many challenges.  But that would have been true for the people in those old pictures above, the pictures in this old album of pictures of people who are gone now.  

My grandfather went off to seminary in the early 1930's, even after the seminary sent him a letter encouraging him to stay on the farm where at least he would have food to eat, but if he was determined to come to seminary, he was welcome, even though the church wasn't sure of job prospects at the end.  My mother was born in 1939, a year filled with bad news and worse news to come.  

And yet, the sun rose and set, the lights stayed on, forces of good prevailed, and so did forces of evil.  I try to take a longer view of history, although it doesn't come naturally to me.  Every generation has had struggles, and we are no different.  I hope we continue to gather as humans, in groups large and small, to tell the stories, to be nourished in so many ways.

Sunday, September 24, 2023

Family Reunion

A quick note to say that this is what we did yesterday afternoon and evening:

Hurrah for family reunions held at the old family church, Faith Lutheran!  Yes that's the church where I am currently the Synod Appointed Minister.  The weather was gorgeous despite tropical storm Ophelia to our east.  We were able to gather in the picnic pavilion on the church grounds and walk up to the building to use the kitchen and rest room facilities.

We ate barbecue on buns (the sliced meat kind with a great sauce), amazing watermelon (so sweet and in late September!), other fruits, cut up veggies, and wonderful homemade cookies.  I haven't had a snickerdoodle in years, and these were mighty fine.

Some of us will return to church today for worship.  I'm trying not to feel nervous.  But some of these people (and not just my parents) have known me since I was a little girl.  

Yesterday I created this Facebook post:  

"Happy autumnal equinox! We are headed to Bristol, Tennessee for a family reunion, and then tomorrow, a lot of family will be at Faith Lutheran to worship. I will preach a sermon to people who have known me since I was young and reading Laura Ingalls Wilder and trying to learn those pioneer life skills from my elders--hope they like my sermon! It won't have much to do with little houses on prairies, but it will have to do with life in God's abundant vineyard."

Saturday, September 23, 2023

Autumnal Equinox in the Mountains and in the Wellness Center

Autumn has arrived!  The autumnal equinox came early this year, at 2:50 a.m.  And yes, I was awake, even though I was trying to fall back asleep.  We had the window open, and for weeks now, the trees have been dropping something that makes a loud pop when it hits the tin roofs that are all around us (we have traditional shingles).  You would think I would be used to that noise by now, but I am not.

I lay awake this morning reflecting on how the night noise has changed through the summer.  A month ago, the noise of crickets and cicadas lasted until 3 a.m. or so.  Now that noise is much subdued, but the loud pops have increased.

We are celebrating the equinox in an unusual way.  Later this morning, we'll get in our car and head to Bristol, Tennessee.  My grandmother's side of the family is having a reunion at Faith Lutheran today.  We'll gather at the church, enjoy a picnic in the outdoor pavilion, and be done by 8 p.m.  Tomorrow, some of us will worship at the church where I will be leading worship.  If we all go to church, we'll increase the worship attendance by about 50%.

I think about the older generation, my grandmother's generation, who are no longer with us.  What would they make of this reunion?  I imagine they would be thrilled, at least with the evening meal.  They would be happy that so many of us would be going to church.  By the time that they died, I think that most of them would be O.K. with a woman leading worship. 

The weather looks perfect.  We are far enough away from the coast that tropical storm Ophelia won't affect us.  I am glad that my parents left Williamsburg yesterday.  That area floods even when there isn't a tropical system, so I'm glad they're not dealing with that.

Today I am thinking about past autumnal equinoxes.  One year I was at the Wellness Center in downtown Fort Lauderdale--it was on the 8th floor and had great windows.  I was there for a 6:30 p.m. fitness (not spin) class.  Out to the east we saw the full moon rising and out to the west we could see the sun setting.  It felt magical, like an unusual alignment even though it happens every year (although the moon isn't full every year and doesn't rise at the same time each equinox).

I am so happy to be in a place where autumn means a change in my surroundings:  cooler temperatures, leaves changing, apple orchards operating at full speed.

Friday, September 22, 2023

A Sketch to Welcome Autumn

I've gone from not writing about sketching for several months (or longer) to two blog posts in one week about sketching, which is fine.  Over the last few days, I returned to a practice that I only do occasionally, trying to replicate someone else's work.  Here's the final version of my sketch, which looks more vibrant on my desk than in this photo:

And here's the original, from this web site:

"First Day of Autumn" by Kim Leo

As I was sketching earlier this week, I realized that some of my markers seemed dried up, yet again, some of the important ones, the orange ones, in coloring pumpkins.  I do hate filling the markers, since if there's a way to do that easily and neatly, I haven't discovered it:

But it's much more economical to refill markers, so I do it.  

And I do take some delight in all the blibs and blobs of color on various papers (paper towels, cotton balls, a sheet of sketchbook paper):

Long ago, I needed more constant inspiration when I was doing a daily sketch for a card with a date on it that would greet students as they did the COVID sign in protocol.  I both wanted something special for students and a way to make myself sketch more.  These days, I rarely need that inspiration in that same way, but it was great to feel motivated that way, and to be relatively successful.

Thursday, September 21, 2023

Thursday Snippets: Quilting, Testing, Teaching

My brain feels a bit scattered today, so let me just collect a series of shorter observations.

--Last week I was isolating because of a positive COVID test.  Yesterday both of us finally tested negative, so I was able to go back to Wednesday quilting at the local Arden church near my Lutheridge house.  I did a bit of fabric sorting, and then I decided that I really wanted to do some hand sewing.  It's not practical to do hand sewing every week; we're trying to complete as many quilts as possible for Lutheran World Relief.

But yesterday, we had three sewing machines in operation, and I didn't feel like setting up another one and then getting the more skilled people to help me when the machine was counter intuitive.  It was so soothing to put together some fabrics with pumpkins and to sit and sew long seams.

--We were able to do COVID tests because on Monday, we made a trip to downtown Asheville, to the Public Health Department where they were still giving out free test kits.  I thought about how people of a different generation might have once, long ago, reported to the health department to get tested for an STD.  I remember news stories in the 1990's that predicted the death of public health departments as STDs became more treatable and traceable, and health department officials didn't need to go into neighborhoods doing contact tracing and tracking down exposures.  Little did we know of the challenges coming down the pick in the field of public health.

--I am glad to read that the federal government will be shipping free COVID 19 test kits again.  If I have to pay $8+ dollars for a kit, I'm not going to test any time I have congestion.

--I am creating a different kind of assignment for my English 102 class, an assignment which has two parts.  The first part is a response to the broad prompt of Seasons and Holidays.  It can be a creative response or an analytical response.  The second part requires analysis of the process of creating part one.  I'm interested to see how it works out.

--I'm also pleased with the research project for my English 101 class.  As I usually do these days, I break it into parts:  a pre-research essay, an annotated bibliography, and a research essay.  I'm also having them do at least one interview and write about it.

Let me stop writing now and get ready for those classes.

Wednesday, September 20, 2023

Return to the Land of the Living

It's strange to reflect how easy it was to isolate last week when we were first aware that we had COVID.  I did go to the grocery store each morning; I went early and wore an N95 mask and did self checkout, so I'm hopeful that I didn't spread the disease.  But I did my teaching online and took my seminary classes online, and it was fairly easy to isolate.  

I am grateful that I have a good internet connection.  That was one of my worries about moving to the mountains.  The antenna for the TV doesn't bring us much in the way of options, and I worried it might be the same for internet.  I'm guessing that living close to Asheville helps in terms of technology.  I know that there are nearby parts of Appalachia that have much less in the way of services (phone, TV, internet).

If I had to choose between good TV reception and good internet reception, I'd choose internet every time.

Yesterday I made the trek back down the mountains to teach my in person classes.  My 102 class was missing half the members; they had a paper due, but that's no reason to miss class, since they can have an extension.  Both classes went well, but my voice is still not back to normal.  I didn't feel quite as energized as I did pre-COVID, but that might have nothing to do with recovering from COVID.

I am looking forward to next term, when I won't be creating so much curriculum as I go along.  I like the idea of teaching without a literature text book, but I underestimated the amount of time I would spend deciding which literary works we'll read.  I also know that at some point, I'll miss this part of the teaching life, finding literary works that go together for a class session, a process which is both energizing and draining at the same time.

Next term, I am scheduled to teach only 101 classes, which is fine with me.  In some ways, it's a more straight forward class, which makes it easier.  

Let me shift gears and head to the laundromat.  Hopefully we'll get the laundry room at the house finished in the next few weeks, but between travel and COVID, our home repairs/renovations are a bit behind.  Luckily, the laundromat is close and easy and so far, I've been having luck getting laundry to dry in the sunshine.

Tuesday, September 19, 2023

Virgin Mary, Harriet Tubman, and Haunted Landscapes

It has been awhile since I posted anything about my sketching practice.  I've continued sketching, at least 5 minutes a day; it's part of my morning spiritual discipline, the Morning Watch devotion time that I lead for my Florida church on Facebook.  I've been doing that since late March of 2020.

I've also continued to sketch at other times, but it's often closer to doodling than anything that seems worthy of a blog post.  However, last week I changed my approach and ended up with this sketch:

It began when I read this passage for my seminary Systematic Theology course, a passage from Jurgen Moltmann's The Way of Jesus Christ:  Christology in Messianic Dimensions:

"The Holy Spirit, not Mary, is the source of life, the mother of believers, the divine Wisdom, and the indwelling of the divine essence in creation, from which the face of the earth will be renewed.  . . . It is the Holy Spirit, not Mary herself, who is co-worker with the messianic son of God, and who together with him will redeem the world" (p. 86).

I felt a bit annoyed at the dismissal of Mary as a mere vessel, a womb for hire.  Moltmann's language aligns the Holy Spirit with some feminine aspects, but it still irked me.  I had a vision of the kind of Mary image that I had sketched somewhat obsessively back in December of 2020:

I had a vision of that figure but with trees and a big moon in the sky, a more autumnal Mary.  As I sketched, I also added the star in the left corner, the star that is the Christmas Eve star in my iconography.

As I sketched, I was also thinking of Harriet Tubman and swampy landscapes.  I wasn't surprised when the river emerged, but I didn't anticipate the basket when I was first thinking of the sketch.  Unlike many sketches, I started work on it and completed it in the same sitting.

It's not quite done with me, this sketch.  Earlier this week I started another sketch as part of my morning spiritual discipline.

Monday, September 18, 2023

Ebbs and Flows and Writing Rhythms

My blogging practice fell off a bit last week--but if I'm honest, I think I've been missing a day or two each week for months.  In some ways, I'm OK with that.  In other ways, it makes me feel a bit panicky.  My other writing practices have been in decline too, but I've told myself that as long as I blogged daily, I would be O.K.

I'm not sure how I came to this line of thought.  I used to say the same about my morning pages, 3 pages written longhand, each and every morning.  Blogging fills the same purpose in some ways:  part journaling, part getting out of my own way, part recording of things that will otherwise not be remembered, part inspiration, part duty.

Even in this time period of more flexible schedules, I still have trouble balancing all that I want to do.  Is that true?  Or is it more true to say that some writing I no longer want to do?  I still love the idea of writing novels, but I also realize that my novels are likely to remain unpublished.  I still love writing the novel as a project, as something that keeps me entertained--but these days, with so many schedule disruptions, I'm not likely to see a novel to completion of the rough draft, let alone revision.

Before our Labor Day travel and our COVID infections, I was getting into a poetry rhythm.  I had actually composed a poem or two to completion.  My more usual practice over the past year or two (or more?) has been that I write a few lines, have a few more ideas, write a bit more, run out of time, never return to the draft.  My older process was to think the poem to completion before writing anything--I did wind up with more completed poems, but I lost more ideas too.

Obviously, both approaches have pros and cons, but I do wish the poetry part of my brain was feeling more inspired on a daily basis.  I was going to write that I should try reading more poetry, but I'm actually reading quite a bit of poetry as I prepare for my in-person class each week.  

I tend to be hard on myself for all the scrolling and internet reading and online ways of "wasting" time.  Some that time could be better spent.  Some of it is class prep.  Some of it will come out in poems in interesting ways.

I am grateful that I'm no longer spending time, so much time, getting ready for accreditation visits and doing the documenting that is required of administrators.  I do not miss that kind of writing, although I was skilled at it.

Let me do what I always do:  trust that my processes are at work, while also looking for ways to have more writing in each day.

Sunday, September 17, 2023

Twelfth Century High Water Marks of Female Power

September 17 is the feast day of Hildegard of Bingen, mystic, herbalist, musical composer, naturalist, and Abbess. Her life was full of accomplishments, an amazing feat considering she lived in the twelfth century.

Until recently, I had never thought of the twelfth century as a high water mark of feminism, but female monastics did amazing things during that time period. By studying them, I come away with a new appreciation for the medieval Church, where talented women found a cloistered kind of freedom. In many ways, the cloistered life was the only way for medieval women to have any kind of freedom. Cloistered life offered the only protection available to women who lived at the edges or outside the margins of society: widowed, artistic, not wanting to be married, weird in any way.

But Hildegard's life shows that freedom was constrained, since women monastics answered to men. For years, Hildegard wanted to move her group of nuns to Rupertsburg, but the Abbot who controlled them refused her request.

We all face constraints of various kinds, and the life of Hildegard shows what could be accomplished, even during a time where women did not have full rights and agency. She was an Abbess, and because being in charge of one cloistered community isn't enough, she founded another. She wrote music, and more of her music survives than almost any other medieval composer. She was an early naturalist, writing down her observations about the natural world and her theories about how the natural world heals us. She wrote to kings, emperors and popes to encourage them to pursue peace and justice. She wrote poems and a morality play and along the way, a multitude of theological meditations.

She did all of these things, in addition to keeping her community running smoothly. Yes, I'm thinking about Hildegard as an administrator, a woman who could be efficient and artistic at the same time. It’s no wonder that I find her inspiring.

It's interesting to think about the different types of groups who have claimed her as their own. Feminists claim her importance, even though she didn't openly advocate equality. Musicians note that more of her compositions survive than almost any other medieval composer. Her musical works go in different directions than many of the choral pieces of the day, with their soaring notes. New Age types love her views of the body and the healing properties of plants, animals, and even minerals. Though her theology seems distinctly medieval, and thus not as important to modern Christians, it's hard to dismiss her importance as a figure from church history.

I often say that it's odd I'm drawn to monasticism, as I'm a married, Lutheran female who has all sorts of worldly commitments, and thus cannot fully vow obedience. But as I think about church history, I'm struck time and time again by how often monasticism has offered a safe space to women that no other part of society did. I shouldn't be surprised that it's a tradition that speaks to me still.

It’s a tradition that speaks to many others too: have you listened to the Hildegard of Bingen channel on Pandora?

Maybe today is a good day to tune in that medieval music. We could listen while writing letters to those in charge, letters which demand more work towards social justice. Or we could focus on other writing projects, as Hildegard of Bingen did. We could plant a healing herb garden.

Today, on her feast day, let us say a prayer of thanks for Hildegard of Bingen and other medieval matriarchs of Christianity.

Friday, September 15, 2023

Report from the Sickroom: Good Books, Old TV

My blogging has fallen off because this week, I've gotten up from my sickbed, done a bit, gone back to my sickbed, and on some evenings, attended my seminary classes by way of Zoom.  I am feeling better, but still not back to "normal"; I haven't walked this week because I'm trying to conserve my strength.  Let me collect a few observations while I have a chance.

--I'm remembering last week at the Fletcher, NC post office, where I stood in line and heard cheeping.  Come to find out, a shipment of baby chicks had just arrived.  While I waited, the man who ordered the chicks showed up, not realizing they had arrived.  The woman behind the desk recognized him and told him.  He said, "Let me go rearrange the back of my truck.  I'll be right back."

--I love that I'm living in a place where people at the post office recognize each other and would have called, to save the chicks, if the farmer hadn't arrived.

--It's been the week of the Mountain Fair, like a state fair, but for the counties of western North Carolina.  We've been isolating, so we haven't gone.  Apparently, more people want baby chickens during Fair week, Fair week and Easter.  The man in line ahead of me said that if it's Fair week, we'll be getting more rain.  I did not say, "How can we possibly get more rain?  My trees are growing moss."

--When I went to get more COVID test kits at a less busy county library, I picked up Rebecca Makkai's latest, I Have Some Questions for You.  It was riveting.  I am always thrilled when I find a book that holds my attention the way that one did.  Hurrah!  I can still lose myself in a good book!

--Yesterday I went to the Fletcher branch to pick up Marge Piercy's Braided Lives.  They had a copy of T.C. Boyle's latest, Blue Skies, which is also compelling.  I've really enjoyed going out on the back deck and taking a reading-for-pleasure break.

--We have also been watching a lot of T.V.  I say we, but my spouse has more tolerance for hours of the same show than I do.  Yesterday, it was a Laverne and Shirley channel, free content on one of the antenna channels that airs endless content from a different age.  In season 2, Laverne has a pregnancy scare.  So that would have been in late 1976 or winter of 1977, aired at 8:30, and I would have been watching as an 11 year old.  I have no memory of that episode.  Was it pulled before it aired?  Did I just not understand what I was watching?  But I would have understood--the characters are not married and being pregnant would be a disaster.  Even in the days of easier access to abortion, I would have understood an unwanted pregnancy as a disaster.

--As I watched the shots behind the closing credits, I wondered if future generations would see the snowy scenes and yearn for them.  Or maybe they'd say, "Those were the days!  Two women could get jobs in a factory and support themselves and even have a cute little basement apartment all to themselves."

Wednesday, September 13, 2023

COVID Day Four

I have been saying that our COVID symptoms are fairly mild, that we've had garden variety colds with worse symptoms.  But our symptoms have left us more exhausted, or perhaps the exhaustion is one of the symptoms.  I don't remember ever sleeping as much as I have in the past 72 hours when I had a regular cold.

Of course, in the pre-pandemic days, I was working more hours at places that were less understanding about the need for sick leave.  I'm remembering one school where I worked full-time as an administrator where I had 6 sick days total.  If I took a sick day or two or three for a regular cold, what if I succumbed to something else later?

As I look back, I think that my workplace would have worked with me, if I was in the phase of my worklife where bosses weren't trying to downsize.  In the downsizing phase, all bets would be off, and if one wanted to keep one's job, one powered through, coughing and infecting everyone else.

You might ask why I was so worried about losing a job that sounds pretty crappy, but crappy or not, full-time jobs that could support middle class lifestyles--by which I mean a job that would pay the mortgage plus other essential expenses (food, electricity) and give health insurance coverage--were increasingly hard to come by in South Florida.

I am so grateful to be here, in the mountains of western North Carolina, in a place where our expenses are much lower, working for a school that has an expansive leave policy.  I am grateful for vaccines which have protected us from a more severe form of COVID.

I am ready to be done with this sickness.  I am tired of this cough, and this congestion which comes and goes.

Monday, September 11, 2023

The Mists of This September 11

It is a misty morning here on the mountain.  I'm glad I'm not making any long drives today.  A misty morning seems appropriate for September 11, appropriate for this point in our pandemic lives.

--I have written about the events of September 11, 2001 several times before.  It's strange to me to think I've been blogging for both the 10th anniversary and the 20th.  If you were hoping for that kind of post, go here

--It is the 50th anniversary of the coup in Chile, which also happened on September 11.  NPR has a great piece on how these events shaped both Latin America and U.S. foreign and domestic policy through the next decades. The Washington Post has a great piece that is more pictures than text.

--Or you could watch the Costa-Gavras film Missing.  I revisited it this past summer as part of my Cinema and Social Justice class.  It holds up really well.

--It is day 2 of COVID symptoms for me.  It's still more like a mild cold than anything severe, but I am having times of chills (no fever) and a headache that is always on the edges of my skull, even with aspirin.

--It is strange how I feel oddly guilty about needing to shift classes to an online modality and needing to have someone else lead church.  My church contract specifies 3 paid vacation days, and my in person school would rather we stay home when we're sick rather than infecting everyone.

--I will still be able to attend my seminary classes--they are all online.  Yesterday I did the work that is due today, just in case I woke up this morning more incapacitated.

--I also have a hideous sore on my lip.  Is it a cold sore or sunburn from being so far north in Maine?  I didn't use any lip protection the way I once did; I've gotten out of the habit, just like I had gotten out of the habit of masking. 

--It's clear that it's time to get back in the habit of masking.

Sunday, September 10, 2023

COVID Comes to Our House

Most Sundays, I would be in the car headed across the mountains to preach at Faith Lutheran in Bristol, Tennessee.  This week-end, I expected to head across the mountains after a fun time at the Crafts for Christmas retreat.  My week-end plans were thrown into disarray when my spouse tested positive for COVID on Friday afternoon.

Unfortunately, it was after he had helped me bring the evening meal down to the Crafts for Christmas retreat.  I am hoping that it was such a brief exposure that those participants will be safe.  When we were driving back to the house, my spouse said that his throat felt rough, like he had eaten a whole bag of Doritos without chewing them.  I noticed his congestion, and I suggested that he take a COVID test.  Earlier, I thought he was congested because he's been smoking more heavily later, but with the addition of a sore throat, and knowing that we had been traveling, a COVID test made sense to me.

I was stunned when it came back positive, so stunned that we did another test.  And then, I did one too.  I was negative.

I walked back to the retreat and had two of the retreat leaders join me outside.  I told them what had happened and expressed remorse for not doing the COVID test before we came down.  The nurse among them had hope that the exposure would be so brief that no one would be infected.  I continue to be worried about the mutual friend that he hugged.

Because I'd been exposed, even though I was negative, we decided that it was best for me not to attend the retreat.  I went back to get the car, and they left the food that we'd just brought on the porch.  I had spent the morning buying and preparing food for 17 people to have a make your own Mexican main dish kind of buffet (think tortillas, chips, salsa, shredded chicken, and a pot of beans).  Happily it's the kind of meal that my spouse and I never get tired of, so we've been eating well all afternoon.

Yesterday, although I tested negative again, I strategized about Sunday worship service.  I sent the church leadership an e-mail that listed options, and they decided that I should stay home and send them the sermon for someone else to read.  I don't blame them.  Many of the church members are older.  Perhaps they are in more danger from the 5-8 children who attend every week, but I was clearly a disease vector too.

This morning, I tested positive for COVID, which really isn't a surprise.  I, too, had been travelling, and I've been around my sick spouse.  At this point, I have a bit of stuffiness and a headache, but it doesn't seem worse than non-COVID days.  If my spouse hadn't had symptoms, I wouldn't have taken a COVID test for my symptoms--they are extremely mild, at least this morning.  I might not even have seen them as symptoms.    Hopefully this experience with COVID won't be much worse.

I feel lucky that I'm taking seminary classes from a distance, so I won't need to miss class, the way I would if I was taking classes in person.  I feel lucky that the sick leave policies at Spartanburg Methodist College are reasonable.  My students have essays due in the next week, so it's easy to plan for my absence.  I'll be available to them by way of e-mail.

I know that I am lucky, that this experience could be much worse, and hopefully it won't be.  I am lucky that I am vaccinated, so the disease will be less severe.

Friday, September 8, 2023

A Good Day Teaching

While I have enjoyed my four weeks teaching in person classes again, they haven't all been fabulous classes.  I had forgotten how exhausting it can be to teach in person.  At the end of my three hour teaching stint, my legs ache, and then there's the drive on either end.  There have been days when I've felt like I'm the only one who has any enthusiasm for the work at hand, days that I wish that my students had less expressive faces or better skill at handling their irritation at being asked to put away their phones and concentrate on something else.  But there are days I feel that way about the world at large.

Yesterday was different, so let me document a good teaching day.

In my English Composition II class, we talked about the upcoming paper, and then we looked at Gabriel Garcia Marquez's "A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings."  I had my students do a quick daily writing, having them write a list of the ways the old man was God/Jesus/Vishnu/Allah/other Divine One in Charge.  It became clear that they were baffled, so I shifted gears.  I projected the story on the big screen, and I pointed to elements to guide them.

For example, I pointed to the text and said, "Here the Old Man is put in a chicken coop.  How is that similar to other God stories?"  "Here he is branded with an iron stick . . . Here he grows new feathers and flies away.  Tell me how that's similar to Jesus."  Then I did a quick review of the life of Jesus and had us focus on the Old Man as representing Jesus.  My students did much better when I asked the pointed questions, had them write for a minute or two with each question, and then we had a discussion.  It was more involvement with the text than I've seen so far.

It may be because the text wasn't completely unfamiliar; some of them said they'd read it in high school.  Or maybe they did better because it's a short story which is less overwhelming than a poem.  Or maybe it was just a better day because of something I can't track--maybe they all had something to eat.

Then I went on to my English Composition I class, where we did peer editing.  Instead of having the 9 students sit in a circle or in groups, I was the one moving--distributing essays, having them read and comment, taking them back up and distributing them to new readers.  It worked fairly well, although it was tiring for me.

As I left the classroom, a group of five students stood in the hall, talking about their essays and the feedback they'd gotten, and it sounded like it was a mostly positive experience.  By the time I left my office 10 minutes later, they had moved to one of the lounge areas in the big hallway; they stretched out on sofas and read each other's rough drafts.

I couldn't resist saying, "Y'all know how to warm a teacher's heart."  They smiled, and indeed, my teacher's heart stayed warm the rest of the day.

I have never had students stay after class to continue the peer editing--wow!  Yes, my teacher's heart continues to be happy.

Thursday, September 7, 2023

Seasonal Stealing Away

I have been awake for hours, and I'm inordinately proud of myself for not spending my time scrolling through social media feeds that have minimal value.  I've been preparing poetry submissions, which means various kinds of scrolling:  through my submission log, through websites, across the Submittable platform.  I'm astonished at how much it costs to submit now, and no, I don't think it's a similar cost to paper, ink, envelopes, and stamps.

I've just been to the post office, so I have a sense of how much stamps cost.  My local post office has such a great selection of stamps.  Plus, I love getting mail.  I do love the ease of submitting online, but it's such a huge cost if I tally it up.  I don't know why I don't mind spending 84 cents on postage, but $3 is almost always a deal breaker.

I woke up thinking about upcoming events, both in classes I teach and classes that I'm taking.  You might think I would rise from my bed and get to work on those elements, but I got distracted by poetry submissions, which is better than the social media scrolling which often distracts me.

I don't know why I sprang wide awake at 2 in the morning.  I was able to get some things accomplished yesterday, like quilts for God's Work, Our Hands Sunday for people to knot.  I tried to go to the library, but got caught up in school pick up lines (grr), so I bailed.  As I pumped gas, I thought about the blazing hot sun and how hungry I was and how we didn't have anything in the house that I wanted to eat.  I had left my spouse puzzling over plumbing to go to Quilt Group, and suddenly, I thought, we should go to a brewery.  

My spouse was ready for a break, and we had a gift card from Sierra Nevada Brewing Company that had some money left on it.  Off we went, and it was a great decision.  I made this Facebook post:  "Some days when the newish technology Pex plumbing parts aren't connecting like they should, you just need to go to the local brewery and spend time in gardens that aren't yours. I didn't bring my camera, so you'll just have to imagine us at the Sierra Nevada Brewing Company, enjoying the mid-afternoon heat when very few others were there, listening to a band warm up for later, trying not to droop like the huge sunflowers."

It is a strange season we're in, with summer making a surprise comeback (highs in the 90's even in the mountains), while at the same time needing to blow/sweep leaves off the back deck several times a day.  I haven't gotten essays yet from any of my students, but it feels like we've been in class together for more than just a few weeks. Soon the pace will heat up, so it was good to steal away to enjoy a beer at a beautiful place nearby.

Wednesday, September 6, 2023

A Trip to Maine in Pictures

In many ways, this picture sums up my impression of Maine in late summer, sailboats and trees and the bay visible from every bend of the road.   

Some of the houses were huge:

 Occasionally we came across the ruins of some older building:

The sunflowers grew as tall as people.  Lots of yards had edges of tall flowering plants that I suspect many of us might call weeds (you call the flowering plant goldenrod, I call it the ragweed that aggravates our allergies).

The shops looked quaint, and I have no idea how anyone makes money unless they're selling us something to eat.  It seems like expensive real estate.

We stayed at an inn that might have been called a motor lodge, in a different time and place.  It was comfortable.

On Saturday, we started the festivities with a gathering in a state park.  

We hiked down to the shoreline trail.  

I decided not to take the rocky steps down to the actual shore.

The wedding was at a beautiful place, the 1812 Farm in Bristol, Maine.  

The ceremony took place under trees that stretched overhead, a different sort of chuppah.

The dinner was under a tent, another sort of festive, temporary home.

I loved the long, sloping lawn, with a camper off to the side where the bar was set up.  Every picture I took of the camper bar came out blurry.  Hmm.

We posed for photos in chairs made out of lobster traps.  Honestly, I didn't realize they were lobster traps until friends from Germany told me.

It was a beautiful week-end.  I felt lucky to be part of it.

Tuesday, September 5, 2023

Maine Wedding Week-end in Words

This morning, I'm back from a whirlwind week-end trip to Maine.  I planned to write while I was away, but I had some computer issues or perhaps Blogger issues or perhaps Google issues or perhaps wi fi issues.  Or maybe I just felt lazy.  I did get some grading done and other work for my online classes.  

I was in Camden Maine for the wedding of the oldest son of grad school friends.  Long ago, they left for England, where she was from; they decided to settle there, not here, because she had an extensive family there and because of what England provides citizens (like health care) that the U.S. doesn't.  She was pregnant when she left, and we've seen the whole family through the years.  In 2016, we went to Arizona for the wedding of their younger son, and we met some folks that we saw again this past week-end.

I had never been to Maine before, and I was surprised to find how much it reminded me of the parts of Maryland that are near the Chesapeake Bay.  The buildings look similar, as does the landscape, and the vistas of water that seem to be at every turn of the road.  The weather was perfect, which was fortunate, because the week-end plans were mostly outdoors:  a gathering at a picnic shelter on Saturday and the wedding itself on Sunday afternoon.

We got to Maine on Friday afternoon and made our way to Camden after flying in to Portland.  One of the best meals we had was on our way, at a roadside pizza place.  It may be the most perfect pizza I've ever had.  The crust was perfectly crisp with abundant toppings:  cheeses, onions, bacon, and mushrooms.  We ate at the Sea Dog brewery Friday night after we literally bumped into the friends we had met in Arizona as we passed each other on the street.  That was one of the more perfect settings as we settled into a picnic table on a back covered terrace that overlooked the bay.

It was a week-end of various festivals around town.  In addition to Labor Day, there was a Windjammer celebration, and some other smaller events that had streets blocked off and lots of traffic.  Because we were there for a wedding and to see friends that we don't have a chance to see as often, we didn't do much sightseeing.  I didn't buy anything except for food and drink.  I didn't even really go into the small shops that looked like they had interesting stuff.

The only good cup of coffee I got was from a bookstore, The Owl and the Turtle.  It was a mocha, and the woman in line behind me recommended that I opt for the whipped cream on the top.  It was homemade and worth every calorie.  The food was good, but the company was better.

The wedding was held at a beautiful venue.  It was one of the first times I'd been to a Jewish wedding; the bride is Jewish.  I sat there as we waited for the wedding to start and went back to previous weddings I've attended--could it be possible that I've never been to a Jewish wedding?  Yes, it is possible, but then I remembered that we went to the wedding of the mother of a college friend.  In terms of the ceremony, it seemed similar to every other wedding I've attended:  a celebration of love and a reminder that marriage doesn't keep us safe from hard times.

The wedding event included an open bar and a delicious meal and cake and dancing.  We didn't stay until the very end--we had to be on the road early on Monday to get back to the airport.  We had an easy trip back.  It may have been one of the easiest zips through TSA security that I've ever had.  Returning the rental car was also quick and effortless.  The plane took off five minutes early; I guess one of the advantages of a small airport is that we don't have to wait for the one lone passenger making their way to the concourse.

And now it's back to Fall.  Today I teach, and tonight I don't have class.  Tomorrow, my schedule heats up.  But it's OK, because I'm looking forward to all the events that are coming my way.  It's very different than other times I've returned from vacation where I've dreaded all the work stuff about to fall on my head.

Tomorrow I'll post some pictures from the trip.  Today I need to make sure I'm ready for teaching.

Monday, September 4, 2023

Thinking about Labor on Labor Day

Yesterday afternoon, on our way to a wedding that I'll write more about tomorrow, I asked my friend if she thought I could wear my white skirt with blue embroidered designs into late fall or even winter.  She asked about the fabric, which is cotton.  The skirt looks summery, but with the right top, I could see it looking wintry, like something with a snowflake design.

Then I laughed at myself.  How many decades has it been since we worried about wearing white after Labor Day?  And I'm teaching in a place that will not fire me for a fashion faux pas.  Most of my fellow faculty members seem to be at midlife or older, with a preference towards comfortable clothes with a zing of stylish touch.  My skirt will not be out of place.

Many of us think about Labor Day as the end of summer, and I'm old enough to remember when college classes started the Tuesday after Labor Day.  My mom does too; she said in her generation it was because college students had jobs at country clubs that would close after Labor Day.  In terms of weather, I've always lived in places where summer will stretch on through September and perhaps beyond.

Even though many of us will see today as simply a day off, it's a good day to think about work, both the kind we do for pay and the kind we do out of love. And what about the work we feel compelled to do? I'm thinking of that kind of documenting of family history, of cultural history, of all that might be lost without our efforts.  I'm thinking of our creative work.  There's so many more different kinds of work than just work for pay.

I'm thinking about our attitude towards work too.  I am glad to see that this article, published in 2016, about the theology of work is still online.  Here's my favorite quote from it, with ideas informed by Christian monasticism:  "Taking Benedict’s approach would force us to reconsider how we think about our work. Instead of, 'What work am I called to?' we might ask, 'How does the task before me contribute to or hinder my progress toward holiness?; Not 'How does this work cooperate with material creation?' but 'How does this work contribute to the life of the community and to others’ material and spiritual well-being?' Not 'Am I doing what I love?' but 'What activity is so important that I should, without exception, drop my work in order to do it?'”

And here's a Buddhist thought about work for your Labor Day, found in an interview with Bill Moyers and Jane Hirshfield who explains, "Teahouse practice means that you don't explicitly talk about Zen. It refers to leading your life as if you were an old woman who has a teahouse by the side of the road. Nobody knows why they like to go there, they just feel good drinking her tea. She's not known as a Buddhist teacher, she doesn't say, "This is the Zen teahouse." All she does is simply serve tea--but still, her decades of attentiveness are part of the way she does it. No one knows about her faithful attention to the practice, it's just there, in the serving of the tea, and the way she cleans the counters and washes the cups" (Fooling with Words: A Celebration of Poets and Their Craft, page 112).

Sunday, September 3, 2023

Wasting Away Again

I missed several days of writing--one expected because of very early morning travel, and one because I had to reset passwords after Chrome updated.  Google wanted to do additional identity establishing, and the phone number that I used long ago when I set up my Google account was attached to a land line phone that we no longer have.  Happily, I was able to establish my identity by using my phone to go to the Google site to say, "Hi, it's really me!"  I'm happy that it was a relatively easy fix, but it still consumed my one window of time that I might have spent writing.

I was sad to hear of the death of Bill Richardson, who has done more than most of us will ever know about to free US citizens detained illegally.  I understand all the reasons why people might say that he intervened in areas where he didn't belong, but this article in The Washington Post said it best:  “'There was no person that Governor Richardson would not speak with if it held the promise of returning a person to freedom," Mickey Bergman, vice president of the Richardson Center and Richardson’s longtime collaborator on hostage cases, said in a statement Saturday. 'The world has lost a champion for those held unjustly abroad."”

I was also sad to hear about the death of Jimmy Buffet at age 76 (Richardson was 75; the mid-70's seems a really young age for white men of means to die).  While Buffet's music was not the first choice for me, through the years, I've had lots of family and friends choose his music to play when we gathered together, and his music and lyrics were so vast and varied and skilled.  He also seemed like a decent human, even as he made gobs and gobs of money.  As others have said, I never came across anyone who had a bad word to say about the man.  And that's rare, especially for people with such a public presence across the decades.

I'm not going to write a longer post today.  I'm getting error messages about Blogger being unable to save this writing and then it seems to have success.  I'm worried that I'll write something that will be lost forever.  Let me send some student e-mails about work due this week instead.