Friday, August 1, 2014

The Apocalypse Gal Considers Ebola

Any readers out there following the Ebola outbreak?  I realize that I have an unhealthy fascination with virulent disease.  I like apocalypse scenarios of all kinds, but I'm partial to the disease vector of apocalypse.  I'm fascinated by how our modern artists of all kinds have linked disease and zombies, but disease itself can be plenty scary even if it doesn't transform us into otherworldly creatures.

When I first taught the first half of the British survey class, I did some of my own research into the outbreaks of the plague through the centuries--fascinating!  In such a short time, you could be a survivor of an area that had lost 50% of its residents.  I was captivated by all the changes that took place in the wake of each plague, especially the first outbreak.

Ebola is even more deadly, with it's 90-95% death rate.  And unlike AIDS, it spreads very easily.  Thankfully, thus far it's not like TB--it's not an airborne disease.

Of course, it's the very deadliness of the disease that often stops the outbreak.  Diseases that are most successful keep their hosts alive long enough to facilitate the spread of the disease.  Early Ebola outbreaks were halted when whole villages died.

Earlier this week, I was listening to this NPR On Point show on a book that's set in the year 2393 and looks at climate change.  And throughout the week, there's been the undercurrent of news stories about this latest Ebola outbreak:  highest victim count of any outbreak, Peace Corps workers called out of the countries afflicted, borders being sealed.

My inner apocalypse gal worries about a variety of scenarios.  I know that we're likely to be whacked by a scenario we'd never considered.  When you study how World War I came about, it seems so unlikely.  I imagine our next big disaster will be similar.

I'm also interested in disease as metaphor.  Now I'm no Susan Sontag.  I'm not going to issue any challenges to her definitive work on the subject, at least not this morning.  But I do have a poem!

My question about disease and metaphor is about how outrageous the comparison can be and still hold together.  Ebola kills as the cell walls collapse--thus the huge amount of bleeding.  During a time of many emotional meltdowns, I thought of the disease and the metaphorical possibility.  But I do wonder if the poem works. 

I did check with my epidemiologist brother-in-law to make sure that I understood the disease.  He says that the poem works from that stand point.  But does it work if we don't know the facts of the disease?

And a more important issue:  am I linking the serious and the trivial? 

You decide:

Emotional Ebola

I suffer from emotional ebola.
My cell walls do not hold,
my blood vessels collapse
under the weight of the throbbing
fevers, thrashing feelings.

Contradictory moods meld into each other
leaving me flushed and feverish.
I stagger around the isolation ward
that my house has become.  All visitors
banned, so as not to infect
them with my mad moodiness.

I go through the days in a stupor,
barely able to move,
felled by the deadliest disease,
no vaccine, no cure.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Life Lessons from Romantic Literature and from Church Camp

Yesterday, the idea of Romanticism wound through my day.  I started out writing one blog post, but then I decided to save it for later and write about this blog post Emily Bronte, whose birthday was yesterday.  I spent some time in the morning looking back through Wuthering Heights.  I had forgotten how violent that book is.

Those of you who know me might wonder about that statement.  After all, I wrote my dissertation on domestic violence in the British Gothic, and Wuthering Heights was one of the cornerstones.  I still found it surprising, much as I did when I first read it in grad school.

And then, in the afternoon, I read Luisa Igloria's Facebook post which was actually Dean Young's "Romanticism 101," which you can find here.  I thought about my morning's blog post and wondered if it could be constructed as a kind of poem.

As I cut and pasted, then I thought of a series of Life Lesson poems from Romantic literature.  I thought of a call for submissions for works that revolve around Frankenstein, and I was off and running, and a poem came to me fairly easily.  I titled it "Frankenstein Finishing School."

I pulled Frankenstein off the shelf, just to double check my memory.  I had forgotten that the book is so full of such lonely people, people who are isolated even when they're with others.

I thought about Mary Shelley's life of abandonment:  mother dead in giving birth to her, father preoccupied with new family, husband who will always be fascinated with others before an early death, dead babies, life on the run from creditors, . . . oh, Mary Shelley!

I may have missed the deadline for the call for submissions, but I submitted anyway, as one part of the website said the editors were still looking, but the online submitting mechanism had moved on to future submissions.  Who knows?  Maybe the editors will need a last minute possibility.

And if not, I now have a blog post for Mary Shelley's birthday, which is at the end of August. 

The end of August.  That sounds so far away.  I'm having trouble believing that August starts tomorrow.

My working of blog posts into other types of writing makes me wonder about my blog post that today appears on the Living Lutheran site.  It asks, "Why can't we make church more like camp?"  Does church camp have lessons for other institutions?

When I'm at church camp, I feel like I'm living a more integrated life.  Of course, at church camp, there's less to integrate; I'm not going to work for 40-60 hours a week.  And at church camp, some of the work of integrating has been done for me: there's a schedule and leaders.  And I just show up to the dining hall where food is ready for me.

Still, it's good to remember that church camp consists of many moving parts, and for a time period (a week-end, a week, a summer) those parts stay fairly integrated.  If we can do it at camp, why can't we do it at home?

I suspect that will be my lifelong goal.  I've pondered whether or not the answer has to do with the careers we choose.  Do some careers integrate more easily to the rest of our values and the way we want to spend our time?

I don't have easy answers, but it is a comfort that my questions are not new.  Mary Shelley and the Bronte sisters wrestled with the same questions.  I suspect that we'll still be wrestling with them 200 years from now too.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Life Lessons from "Wuthering Heights"

Today is the birthday of Emily Bronte.  I know people who think of Wuthering Heights as the most romantic book ever.  If they mean this in the traditional, lovey-dovey sense, it tells me that they've seen the movie, not read the book.  The book is one of the most Romantic works ever, but only in the literary history sense of that term.

I was thinking about Wuthering Heights and the life lessons the book contains.  Let me list some of them.

--The man who hangs your puppy does not have your best interests at heart.  If we could all learn no other lesson than this one, that's the most important one.

--But perhaps hanging the puppy isn't a clear enough sign.  If someone warns you that your beloved is dangerous, take a minute to ponder that possibility before dismissing it.

--The servants, although they may be incomprehensible to you, know everything that's happening throughout the house.

--If you come across a house full of mad inhabitants, keep walking.

--If you're sleeping in a room that has a ghost wailing at the window, sleep somewhere else.

--Every personality that comes into the household will change the household in some way.

--If you mistreat the outsider, it will not end well for you.

--Do not underestimate the rage of the lower classes.

--In a house full of angry people, it's not good to be the dog.  Or the child.  Or the servant.  Or the woman.

--Dysfunctional patterns repeat through the generations.  Now we accept this idea as a psychological  fact, but in Emily Bronte's hands, it seems freshly inspired and more fully realized than the work that came before it.

--Nature might provide solace, but it also might be isolating and a curse of sorts.  The weather and the landscape aren't always friendly to humans--seldom, in fact.

--How would this novel be different had there been good medical care?  Or reliable transportation?  Don't underestimate the importance of good medical care and reliable transportation.

--Above all, this book makes me glad to be alive in my century.  I wouldn't want to live in this landscape, this house, this time period.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Missing Margot Adler Already

Margot Adler has died.  Those of us who listen to NPR are familiar with her voice.  Those of us who are feminists of a certain age may remember her book Drawing Down the Moon:  Witches, Druids, Goddess Worshippers, and Other Pagans in America Today.  Very open-minded ecumenical theologians may see the importance of this book.

Starhawk was the feminist whose books first introduced me to the Wiccan tradition, but I loved Adler's book too.  I appreciated the scope of Adler's book.  In the end, I decided that the various Pagan traditions wouldn't be my path, but I liked Adler's calm exploration.  Even as I returned to a Christianity that had been birthed in patriarchal traditions, I liked knowing that there had been other traditions.

Even as historians cast doubts on the possibility of a matriarchal religion, I liked the feminist approach of making an old religion new.  Many of us in other traditions are invigorating our religions in much the same way.

I remember hearing her voice on NPR decades ago and wondering if it could be the same Margot Adler who wrote the book.  I remember my surprise at finding out that indeed, it was the same woman.  At the time, I thought that NPR was brave for hiring a Wiccan.  But of course, she wasn't only a Wiccan, but a Wiccan with great writing and reporting skills.

Much like her book, her stories on NPR always made me stop and appreciate the diversity of this country and the remarkable stories that were there for the telling.  Her voice, and I mean voice in several senses, never seemed to age or change.  I miss it already.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Social Justice Coffee Hour

I've been part of Bread for the World since the 80's.  I like their vision of social justice and the way the group operates.  I like their ecumenical, non-partisan focus on making sure the world gets fed.

A side note:  it's interesting to ponder that during my lifetime thus far, we could actually feed the world; the problem is food distribution, not food production.  And during my lifetime, that could change as climate change wreaks havoc with our planet.

Two weeks ago, I got an e-mail from the southeast coordinator of donor relations for Bread for the World.  He was going to be in town and wondered if we could meet.

I thought about my schedule.  It was one of the busiest weeks, with lots of faculty observations and faculty files needing to be completed by the end of the week.  I just wasn't sure that I could find even the tiniest hole.  My schedule before the busy week was so busy that I didn't even respond to his e-mail.

A week ago, I got home to find a phone message from Bread for the World.  It was only Monday, and already my week felt overwhelming.

But as I slept, I dreamed about my calendar and phone messages and making some time.  I woke up, wondering why my subconscious didn't come up with more inventive dreams, something that involved flying or being able to swim underwater with gills.  But I went back to the e-mail and realized that the Bread for the World coordinator would be in town through Friday.  I did have a window on Friday morning.  My window matched his window.

We met at a Panera.  We had coffee and talked about the work the group has done and about the political situation both in South Florida and across the nation.  We talked about the group's vision for the future, which still revolves around eliminating hunger across the globe.

I had thought about avoiding a face-to-face meeting because I was afraid I'd be asked for money, and I don't have much extra to give.  But the issue of money never came up.

We did talk about time and organizing alongside others.  We talked about my writing and how I might help.  Yes, these things I can do.  I did caution, "I will not be one of those people at a political rally yelling in the back of the room.  But I am willing to ask questions at a microphone."

I got back to my office to find an urgent e-mail from the organization asking me to call my representative, which I did.  I'm lucky, in that she often votes the way I'd like her to, but it never hurts for our senators and representatives to hear from us. 

Our coffee meet-up was only an hour, but it might have been the best hour of my week.  It was great to be reminded of what a group of concerned citizens can do.   I'm glad I said yes to the invitation.

I need to remember to say yes more often.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Creativity: July Progress Report

Good news and less good news on the writing front:  I've been successful with my goal of working on my memoir 3-4 days a week.  I've rediscovered the joy of crafting blog posts into essays, especially blog posts that approach the same topic from different angles.

The bad news?  I haven't been writing poems much during July.  My goal is to write a poem a week, which should be doable.

Of course, it's also been an intense July at work.  Since I've gotten so much of the work of the quarter done in a single week (gasp!), maybe I'll have more time in August.

And of course, July isn't over yet, is it?

And let me give myself credit for other creativity.  I've done a quick quilting project.  I've written numerous blog posts, some of them for pay.  I've sent out some poetry packets and gotten 4 poems accepted.  I've continued to network with other artists.

We were in a group that was coming up with great book titles.  Here's one:  It's Hard to Be a Goddess in the Corporate World.  One of us thought that was too long and voted for Goddess in the Corporate World.

I've been wondering about this as an alternate title for my memoir.  I had been circling around Monk or Marxist.  But the artist friend I was chatting with vetoed that title.  She much preferred Goddess in the Corporate World.  Let me continue to think.

Today I'm going to Michaels.  I have a variety of items to buy.  I'd like a small sketchbook.  I'd like to keep more of a daily log, as Austin Kleon recommends in Steal Like an Artist (see this post for more on that with pictures of his logbook).  The log would track what I actually did in a day, more in terms of creative projects than anything else.  I'd also like to sketch more and do a gratitude list.  And I'd like to get back to keeping track of what books I'm reading.  And my exercise.

What else?  Maybe the weather?  Why not?

I like what he says about the value of keeping a list:  "But more importantly, keeping a simple list of who/what/where means I write down events that seem mundane at the time, but later on help paint a better portrait of the day, or even become more significant over time. By “sticking to the facts” I don’t pre-judge what was important or what wasn’t, I just write it down."

And it's all in one place, unlike the various other places where I'm recording my life.  I worry about what I'm not writing down in my blog, in the My Fitness Pal site.

Let me see what happens.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Modern Food: A Report from the Grocery Store

Yesterday, I went to the grocery store in search of a big watermelon, but I wasn't sure I'd be successful--or that I'd want to pay.  A few years ago, I saw big watermelons for $25.

Yes, $25--that's ridiculous.  I thought of past decades where I could get similar watermelons for less than five dollars.   I thought of the pick up trucks loaded with melons that I used to see on the country roads of South Carolina.  Had there been some kind of watermelon blight?

Happily, yesterday I was more successful.  I got a fairly large melon for $6.95.  Still a bit much, I thought, but I wanted a watermelon that could feed a crowd.

I noticed it was seed-free, so I looked for the regular variety.  Nope, nothing.  I noticed that there were 7 big watermelons and 2 of them looked strangely pale.

My experience makes me want to go to other grocery stores.  Do any of them carry a variety of watermelons?  Or do so  many of us buy the smaller melons that stores have stopped carrying them?  Or is it a situation unique to South Florida?

There were very few melons at all, of any kind--more cut up melons in plastic containers of all sizes than whole melons.  Hmmm. 

I'm not surprised, of course.  When I'm shopping for just my household, I often buy the packaged melons.  I'm just a bit sad that the other options seem to be going away.

I was also shopping for a pasta salad, and I know that at least one person isn't eating gluten.  I thought I'd see if the store carried gluten-free pasta.

Well, not only do they carry gluten-free pasta, but also whole wheat, hidden veggie, multi-grain--and that's in addition to the wide variety of regular pasta.  And the store carries "fresh" pasta too.

We live in amazing times, in so many ways.  I can get a variety of pastas from Italy--but I can't seem to get a watermelon with seeds that I know grow in fields in counties all around me.