Friday, September 19, 2014

Season of Binders

--I began the second long, long day by listening to the soundtrack from Rent on my way to work.  I dropped off my mortgage payment into the mailbox on my way.  The irony of belting out my determination not to pay the rent and then mailing my mortgage payment--the irony was not lost on me.

--My administrator colleague friends also listened to Broadway cast albums on their way to work.  One listened to The Book of Mormon, and the other listened to Into the Woods.  I will let you play armchair psychologist and make your judgments.

--I spent the day redoing a few forms and getting signatures.  I spent the day in my office waiting to see if any additional information about my department was needed.  It could have been worse.  Much, much worse.

--I stayed a bit late to help a colleague.  I have spent the whole week saying, "Is there anything I can do to help you with this project?"  Last night was the first time that someone said, "If you don't mind staying, I could really use the help." 

--I did the photocopying, and she pulled materials out of files.  It's not hard work.

--I drove home through flooded streets.  Had it really rained that much?  As my spouse said, "We've had less flooding with more rain."  We moved both cars to the slightly higher ground of the driveway.  We checked the back yard.  The alley usually floods before the streets.  Not last night.  It was strange.

--Today, we may or may not find out the results of weeks and months of work--not hard work, but lots of photocopying, hole punching, and putting into binders.  And that's after the work of compiling information across several forms and getting documentation--in addition to the work of adding language to syllabi here and taking out information there.

--It could have been worse.  Much, much worse. 

--Still, I am ready for this season of binders to come to an end.  It's a cyclical season--I know that the season of binders will come again.  But for now, I am ready for new projects.

--I know that I may look back on those words and shake my head--will it be with a sense of wonder?  With an ironic nod?  With a sense of foreshadowed doom?

--I am ready for a restored sense of wonder. 

Thursday, September 18, 2014

An Administrator Considers the Day after the Feast Day of St. Hildegard of Bingen

--I find it disconcerting that I was so wrapped up in my administrator/teacher duties yesterday that I forgot it was the Feast Day of St. Hildegard of Bingen.  For more on her life, go to this blog post that I wrote for the Living Lutheran site.

--Hildegard is one of those women who did so much, despite the constraints of the medieval age in which she lived, and I wonder why on earth I can't accomplish more.  Or let me be more accurate:  by last night, I was wondering why I seem destined to copy the same files again and again and again.

--At least I have them to copy.  One of the hard lessons I've  learned of administrator life:  don't let anything out of your control before you make a copy.  I make both paper copies and electronic copies.

--I think of Hildegard who must have faced similarly repetitive tasks as she kept her nunnery afloat.  Yet she managed to write so much music, music that has survived.  What's wrong with me?

--Let me stop to remind myself that I have written quite a lot--maybe not this week, but most weeks, I get a poem written and some other creative work too, in addition to blog posts, which for me, take some time to compose.

--Hildegard of Bingen wrote regularly to all the powerful men of the day to encourage them to pursue peace.  Like Hildegard, I've dedicated some of my time and energy to social justice matters.  That work is important, but it does explain why the time for my creative work ebbs and flows.

--I wonder if Hildegard thought that she wasn't writing much.  I wonder if she envisioned larger gardens.  I wonder if she chafed at the duties that kept her away from the creative work or social justice work that she wanted to be doing.

--My theory:  in the day to day, we feel we aren't doing much.  But when we take the full measure of a life, we see how much a life can encompass.

--Here's one of my favorite parts of the blog post that I wrote for Living Lutheran:  "We all face constraints of various kinds, and the life of Hildegard shows what could be accomplished, even during a time when women did not have full rights and agency. She was an abbess, and because being in charge of one cloistered community wasn’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."

--Like Hildegard, we can compose our lives similarly.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Inspired by the MacArthur Grants Awards

Alison Bechdel has won one of the 2014 MacArthur grants!  I have long thought of her as a genius, but how wonderful that she has been recognized this way.

I remember reading her comic strip Dykes to Watch Out For back when you could only find the strips in underground newspapers--the kinds of newspapers that you had to go to Atlanta or D.C. to find.

Can that really be true?  Or am I just trying to sound edgier and cooler than I really was back in the 80's?

I am sure that I read the strips before I read the books.  And I did feel hip and cool for reading them, even if those characters seemed to be living an edgier life than I was living.

Ah, the 80's, when lesbians trying to live a regular life like the rest of the nation was seen as edgy and hip!  Or maybe that says more about the smaller cities in the southern U.S. where I lived and visited in the 1980's than it does about larger history. 

In any case, I am so thrilled for this public recognition of Bechdel's talent!  I have been a fan for many decades, and while she's gotten much more acclaim lately, this award is huge.

There are some poets on the list, which I found here.  Terrance Hayes is a winner, as is Khaled Mattawa.  I have read Hayes, but never heard of Mattawa.

Frankly, the whole list is inspiring--it's amazing to consider all the ways that the human brain works to create something new.

Of all the awards announced throughout the year, the MacArthur Fellowships are the ones that cheer me the most, the one I would most love to win.

Well, that's not true.  I'd most love to win the Nobel, either for peace or for literature.  But to win a MacArthur grant would be a dream come true, and it's one of those grants that seems more likely to be awarded around midlife, unlike the Nobel.

It's good to be inspired this way.  It's time for me to return to my writing.  I've spent too much time immersed in other kinds of writing, e-mails and reports and endless forms.  I'm ready for a poem!

An update:  moments after I wrote this post and moved on to other projects, NPR's Morning Edition ran this story about Amy Clampitt, who "didn't publish her first volume of poetry until she was 63."  I love stories of writers who hit their first achievement when they're older than I am.  I needed this reminder that it's not too late!

And the story itself is wonderful.  Clampitt won a MacArthur Fellowship and bought a house in Lennox, Massachusetts with the money.  And what's become of that house?  The story explains:  "Since 2003, the house Clampitt bought with her MacArthur money has been used to help rising poets by offering six- to 12-month tuition-free residencies."

Yes, the story inspires on all sorts of levels!

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Staving Off a Mushy Brain

Much as I have enjoyed the Ken Burns' documentary on the Roosevelts, the first hour that I could stay awake for each of the past 2 nights, I do not anticipate having time to watch the whole thing.  Happily, this morning, I discovered a different option.

As I graded student rough drafts, I listened to an interview with Ken Burns on the Diane Rehm show, an NPR program.  I found the subject matter interesting, but at times, Burns talks about the process of creating the documentary--who should do which voice, which pictures should be used--which fascinated me too.

Burns says that no other U.S. family has so impacted the course of history.  He makes a strong case. 

While you're at the website for the Diane Rehm show, you could also check out this interview with poet and essayist Diane Ackerman.  She's so optimistic about the future of the planet--it's a wonderful counterpoint to the gloomy news that fills every airwave.

My English major heart was also made glad by this interview on Fresh Air:  Maureen Corrigan talks about her book that's about The Great Gatsby.  I haven't read that book in decades, but the interview was still wonderful--and a great reminder about why that novel is so important.

There are days when I feel sad about how much I am not reading these days.  But in so many ways, these types of NPR shows have taken the place of some of the reading that I used to do.  It's not as good as diving into the subject deeply with a book.  But it's better than a lot of the magazine reading that I used to do--these kinds of interviews are much more in-depth treatment of whatever subject is at hand.

Of course, I have to wonder if I really get all the salient points if I'm listening while doing other things.  I guess it matters what the other things are.  But happily, if I feel I've missed too much, I can go back and listen again.

The larger issue:  is my brain turning to mush?  The one detail from this morning's interview with Ken Burns that stays with me:  Teddy Roosevelt read one book a day, unless he was on vacation, when he read several books on any given day.

I used to read a similar amount, back in my pre-administrator days.  Those were also the days of slower Internet connections, which meant that I had fewer online distractions.  Hmmm.

But I am grateful for the Internet, even with it's potential distractions.  I'm grateful for intellectual stimulation, especially when I don't have reading time.  I think the Internet is doing more to keep my brain from mushifying than causing my brain's decline.

Monday, September 15, 2014

A More Modern Journal of the Plague Year

Yesterday, after a lovely brunch at Bahama Breeze, my dad wanted to read by the pool.  He'd been trying to check out an eBook from his home library, with no luck. 

So we went to our old-fashioned bookshelves, with books made out of paper.  He settled down to read Octavia Butler's Wild Seed.  He's become interested in all sorts of aspects of U.S. Colonial life since moving to Williamsburg, so I thought this book would provide an interesting twist.  I may read it again when he's done.  

I, too, wanted to read by the pool, so I looked at my shelves.  What to read, what to read?  I thought I was in the mood for a good apocalypse, and at first, I gravitated to Margaret Atwood.  But then my eye drifted to Geraldine Brooks' Year of Wonders:  A Novel of the Plague.

I read it when it first came out, back in 2001, a library copy.  I liked it so much that I bought it when I found it remaindered.  But I've never gone back to read it again.

I haven't finished it yet, but I'm here to report that it's every bit as wonderful as I remembered.  It's the kind of book that makes me feel like it's useless for me to try to write, since I will never be as talented as Geraldine Brooks.  But I try to ignore those feelings and appreciate the simple marvels of the book itself.

I love that Brooks makes the book feel both completely historically accurate and yet wonderfully modern too.  I love the main character, the first person, female narrator.  I love the apocalyptic topic, and the fact that it's set in the past, not some distant future--much to learn.

I've been spending time thinking about Ebola and all the possible outcomes, and my mind has come back often to various bubonic plague outbreaks in Europe, the time in disease history that seems most analogous to our own.  As I read this book, my theories seem more and more validated.

I finished the day by watching the new Ken Burns documentary on the Roosevelts--fascinating!  And there, too, there are interesting parallels to modern life--do-nothing legislatures, the frustrations of people who want to see the world evolve into something better.

We may have a repeat of yesterday today:  Mom reading her Kindle, me reading Year of Wonders, Dad reading Wild Seed.  Or will we go to a movie?  Or something I can't even anticipate yet?

It's their last full day here; I'm sure we will have fun.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

A Visit to Vizcaya: The Photo Essay

On Friday, we went to Vizcaya, even though the weather looked threatening:

The View of Biscayne Bay, from the back of Vizcaya


We walked through part of the house; you won't see pictures of the inside of the house, because photography of any sort is not allowed inside the house.  As we watched the clouds build, we decided to go to the gardens.




A woman in a beautiful dress was traipsing from place to place; she was trailed by photographers.  I loved the boat shoes that she wore underneath the dress.



I loved the heels left in a corner of the garden.



But more than that, I loved all the different aspects of the garden, from the neoclassical design to the decaying labyrinth to the statuary.  Actually, I love the statues on the sunken barge the best:

A close-up of the first picture



Below:  what to do with your old shells:  glue them to the ceiling of a grotto!



The house itself, the inside, didn't appeal.  It seemed dark and gloomy:  these antiques do not make me wish they could be mine.  The rococo style of the walls and ceilings just felt oppressive.  I was happy to walk outside.  I did love this terrace; it's the only part of the house that made me say, "I wish I could live here.  I want to have a party here where guests would arrive by boat."



I got great shots of the weather vanes.  How I love the weather vanes of the world.



I don't need a weather vane to know which way the wind blows; down here, I can just orient myself to the ocean and turn my face to the wind.



So, was it worth the $18 admission? 



Let me note that I was the only one who paid full price.  My spouse has a student ID, and my parents got senior admission.  So, yes, for one day, it was worth it.  Would I go back?  Only if it was a week day (no crowds!) with weather perfect for rambling through the gardens--in short, a day much like the one we had on Friday.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

A Visit to Vizcaya

My parents are in town for a long week-end.  What a treat!  I feel fortunate in that they are fairly easy company to host.  We like similar activities, and our food preferences are similar.  When parents are coming--anyone's parents--I do tend to clean more vigorously in advance, but it's good to tend to those tasks.

I've said it before:  one reason I like having out of town guests is that we tend to get out of the house and explore our surroundings.  Ever since we moved down here in 1998, I've had the historic mansion Vizcaya on my list of places to get to, but we haven't yet.

My mom saw it listed in a book of 1000 places to visit before you die, so we decided to go yesterday, on their first full day of the visit.  There's too much that might disrupt the plan if we wait until Monday.  And since we have a week day free, we wanted to avoid the week-end.

Early in the morning, I thought we might need to change plans.  It was raining, and the forecast called for more rain.  But by the time we walked to the beach for breakfast, the sun was shining.  There were still angry clouds in some directions, but we decided to take a chance.

The traffic in Miami is never easy--we had not one but two places on I 95 where lanes were blocked.  I began to worry that we wouldn't have enough time.

But we did have enough time.  And the rain held off so that we could explore the gardens--and since the sky was full of clouds, it wasn't too beastly hot to explore the gardens.

I liked the gardens better than the house.  The house was dimly lit, to protect all the historic elements.  The house has lots of painted surfaces and wallpapers--it felt overwhelming and ominous.

The gardens, on the other hand, were glorious.  There were gardens of many types:  classical designs, a labyrinth of sorts, an orchidarium, statues here and there, all sorts of fountains.  There was a woman in an amazing bridal gown who travelled around the gardens being trailed by photographers.  We assumed that she's part of some magazine spread, not a bride having her formal pictures made.  But who knows?  It's the kind of place where I got the idea that one might stumble across any sort of not everyday activity.

And I also loved the huge terraces that overlooked Biscayne Bay.  About 12 feet out from the steps that go down to the water, there's an amazing statue of a partially sunken barge with mermaids frolicking on it. 

I told my spouse that when I'm a little old lady who is losing my memory, I'll believe that I've been to Venice, but it will have been this house.

In the afternoon, we went to the gift shop--it's the kind of gift shop with scarves that cost $90.  But the cafĂ© wasn't too badly priced.  I had Italian gelato--two scoops, two different flavors, but I couldn't tell much difference between them--they both tasted like sweetened cream.  And I didn't mind at all.

We were so lucky in so many ways:  the rain held off, the crowds stayed away, we didn't slip and fall on any of the uneven surfaces.  And we zipped right back home--no early rush hour disasters, hurrah!

Tomorrow, I'll post some pictures from the trip.