Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Cozy, Not Scruffy, Hospitality

It's the time in my administrator/teacher life when tasks loom large:  the last revisions to get ready for the accreditation team, the start of a new semester of online tasks, the yearly performance reviews that will be due just after the accreditation team leaves. 

So, of course my brain wants to start thinking about new creativity projects, new books to write!

This blog serves many purposes to me, one of which is to store ideas to which I might return at a later, less busy time.  So let me record my idea that came from a "conversation" on Facebook after I posted yesterday's post with pictures from Saturday's gathering. 

One of my friends said, "I would call it COZY!"

I replied, "Cozy Hospitality does sound much better than Scruffy Hospitality--writing that down in my list of possible book titles--now for time to write those books!"

It may be one of those ideas that's only good for a shorter project.  I see far too many books with an idea that would have made a great article, but for some reason, gets stretched to something longer.

Still, I love the idea of Cozy Hospitality.  I have 10 minutes.  Let me think about the possible chapters.

--What's the minimum amount of cleaning that needs to be done?

--What to do when you can't seat everyone around the same table.

--The Progressive Dinner!  Let's bring this idea back.

--10 easy menus that you can whip up in an hour.  10 prepare ahead dishes.  10 menus that require pitching in.

--Questions to ask to keep the conversation lively but not divisive.

--What to do when everyone's dietary restrictions clash.

--Take the cozy hospitality outside.

--Creativity and Cozy Hospitality--can we all gather for a  craft project and a meal?

And now it's off to get a spin/strength class in before my day of many meetings and revisions.  It sounds sort of Prufrockian, doesn't it?  A modern way of measuring our life with coffee spoons?

But I shall dream of other projects and the kinds of experiences, like gathering with friends, that make all of this worthwhile.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Scruffy Hospitality: the Photo Shoot

I had planned to take pictures all Saturday, but I only took pictures before everyone arrived.  Yesterday's post which described both the event and my approach to scruffy hospitality got to be long, so I decided to save the pictures for a later post.

As I paged through them, I thought about the Martha Stewart publication and how my house is hardly the location for a photo shoot.  And then I thought, hey, it's time for a magazine that shows how we really live!  Here, without further ado, is Kristin Berkey-Abbott's Scruffy Hospitality:

And a close up of the table:

Moving the dining room table into the living room meant we could transform the dining room into a little sitting room nook.

We don't have a lot of flat surfaces, so I improvised serving space:

If you could see under the sarongs, you'd see work tables with lots of splashed paint and ugly plastic with nicks from saws.

I thought that people might decide to swim, so my spouse put a variety of beach towels on top of the old gas grill that we might some day turn into a charcoal or wood grill.

I told my spouse that I couldn't imagine many ways that the gathering could have gone better, at least not in our current reality.  For example, I'd love to add several feet of width to each room so that people could have circulated more easily.  But I can't make that happen.  I'd like to have giant misters so that it didn't feel quite as hot outside.  But that's cost prohibitive.

No, I will remember the baby drawing on the tablecloth quilt with a gazpacho coated spoon and smile.  I will say a prayer of thanks for the stain remover which took that gazpacho right out of the machine washable quilt.  I will feel deep gratitude for the fact that although I somehow detached the thermostat from the wall, my spouse got it reattached, and I got it re-programmed and the house eventually cooled down to where it needed to be.

And most of all, I'm thankful for friends who are good sports and such good company!

Sunday, August 24, 2014

What Would Martha Stewart Do? (hint: Not What Kristin Would Do)

We have a dining room table that comfortably seats 6 when expanded with the extra leaf--although, usually the extra leaf means we've got 8 coming for dinner.  And in our current dining room, we really can't expand the table.  We can't even move the table out from the wall and still have room for everyone to maneuver around it.

That hasn't stopped me from having people over, of course.  But last night looked to be a challenge.  We had 10 adults coming over, plus 3 children and a baby.  Hmm.

I thought about the movie I saw a few weeks ago, the movie that made my friend say, "This movie makes me want to move to the South of France."  I replied, "This movie makes me want to move my dining room table outside." 

I thought about doing that, but we've had brutal heat this week.  And it's been a bad summer in terms of mosquitoes.

So, we moved some living room furniture out of the way, and we moved the dining room table into the living room.  I still had to put out a call for extra chairs, but my guests had some.  I do miss the days of having a house big enough to store folding chairs for just such an occasion.  But we made do.

I don't have a tablecloth big enough to stretch across the dining room table that I rarely expand.  I no longer have a length of cloth that I could use.  But I do have a quilt that was given to me by the women's group at my mom's church when I went to be a retreat leader.  It's a simple quilt, made of squares, machine stitched together, knotted instead of quilted. 

I stretched it across the table.  It had barely enough width, but not quite enough length.  I decided it would do.

As I set the table, I thought, "What would Martha Stewart do?"  Certainly not what I would do.  She would never buy a house that couldn't comfortably accommodate her dining room table.  She probably has a whole house full of tablecloths that fit that table.

But it was a fun evening nonetheless.  I'm glad I didn't let my lack of Martha Stewartness keep me from having people over.

It put me in mind of this blog post on scruffy hospitality, which encourages us not only to come as we are, but to host as we are.  The writer, an Anglican priest, shares his sermon, which has this nugget of wisdom:  "Scruffy hospitality means you’re not waiting for everything in your house to be in order before you host and serve friends in your home. Scruffy hospitality means you hunger more for good conversation and serving a simple meal of what you have, not what you don’t have. Scruffy hospitality means you’re more interested in quality conversation than the impression your home or lawn makes. If we only share meals with friends when we’re excellent, we aren’t truly sharing life together."

I've been making more of an effort to have people over, even if I won't have a chance to deep clean or dust.  My toilet and sink will be clean, but we may eat off paper plates, like we did last night, because we still don't have a working dishwasher.

I know people who never have people over for dinner, and part of me understands.  It might be easier to go out to dinner together.  But that will prevent a lot of us from socializing.

I much prefer to say, "Come on over.  We'll be serving ________.  Feel free to bring a dish, or just bring yourselves."  I don't know about you, but it seems that any gathering of friends these days includes a vegetarian/vegan, a diabetic, and someone who's avoiding gluten.  My theory is that if everyone makes sure to bring something that they can eat, then we'll all be fed.  And if someone comes who hasn't had time to shop, we can feed them too.

Scruffy hospitality!  It probably wouldn't make for a compelling TV show, but it's more of a livable lifestyle than the one that Martha Stewart promotes.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Beautiful Bad Dreams

Happily, I don't have many bad dreams anymore.  Strange dreams, yes.  But true nightmares?  No.

The past 3 nights, just before I woke up, I've had bad dreams.  But unlike my bad dreams of past years, they've been very beautiful.

On Thursday morning, I dreamed I was outside of a mountain cabin with my spouse and someone on the front porch.  It was autumnal with sun streaming through the trees.  I was at the side of the house and got trapped in a strange swirl of ice crystals, teeny tiny, sun-sparkly ice crystals.  I couldn't move, and I couldn't call out.  I knew I would freeze to death in a beautiful storm.

On Friday morning, I dreamed about a small house in a swamp.  I was following a female friend (she doesn't exist in my waking life).  For some reason, I needed to follow her into the house, but I realized we were surrounded by snakes in the trees, silver green snakes.  I knew they were very dangerous.  I couldn't go forward, couldn't turn around, was scared to stay in place.

And this morning, I dreamed that I needed to get to the airport, and I was relying on my mom and dad to get there.  But we were in a lovely seaside setting, and we couldn't seem to get focused on getting to the airport.

I can certainly play psychologist and figure out what these dreams mean, what my not-so-subconscious frets about, but that's less interesting to me than the cinematic nature of these bad dreams.  I don't usually dream in such beautiful colors and certainly not in my bad dreams, which tend to be dark and badly lit.  My bad dreams don't usually shimmer so much.  For that matter, neither do my good dreams.

And 3 nights in a row?  I don't usually have bad dreams so regularly.  I don't usually have dreams that looked like they were filmed by the same cinematographer.  What's happening in my brain?

Wouldn't it be wonderful if it was a function of aging?  If, in addition to aching joints, we had more beautiful dreams as we got older?

I'd prefer to have beautiful good dreams than beautiful bad dreams.  I'd like for this morning's dream to be the last for awhile.  I'd even go back to my boring dreams of office work if it meant my beautiful bad dreams came to an end.

I know some artists who would get poetry mileage out of these dreams, but I probably won't.  I'd love to be able to replicate the colors and shimmer of these dreams in paintings or film, but my skill set isn't up to that.

Now it is time to turn my attention to daytime tasks.  I have 2 online classes to prepare.  Luckily, I don't have curriculum to develop.  But I do have to go through the course shell to enter dates, a task which takes more time than you might think.

But the day will not be totally tedious.  I'll go to spin class and swim in the pool, when I need breaks from class prep.  We are grilling a brisket (and all afternoon task) and some rose snappers, a fish I've never heard of, but it looked like a beautiful variety of snapper.  Friends who live in the neighborhood, the ones who inspired us to get serious about moving to a better neighborhood, will join us.  It will be a lovely, late summer Saturday, beautifully lighted with colors of all shades, with no nightmares hovering near.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Questions to Answer about Your Manuscript

Two years ago today, I'd be getting the news of the restructuring of my school and my job.  I was told of the lay-offs of members of my department, including my own lay off.  Unlike my department members, there was a full-time job in the new structure for which I could apply.  Even though I did apply, and I did get the job, it was still unsettling.  It continues to be unsettling.

I've already written extensively about this day, most lengthily in this post, so let me not rehash it all here.

This week at work we got one of those e-mails from one of the people at the top of our company, the kind of e-mail that raises more questions than it answers.  The fact that the e-mail comes two years almost to the day after the last company restructuring does not help allay fears of the workers.

Today I will try not to focus on any of these issues.  I just found out that one of my favorite small publishers, Phoenicia Publishing, has an open submission period that closes at the end of this month.  The press is looking for proposals for nonfiction and fiction manuscripts.  I'm most familiar with the work that the press does with poetry.  But when I saw the call for manuscripts, I thought of not only my memoir/collection of essays, but also my collection of linked short stories.

So today, instead of letting my brain think about the possible meanings of the nebulous e-mail from the executive, I'll work on answering these questions for my submission:

"Your query should include a concise description of your book, a few sentences describing how it fits within Phoenicia's publishing focus, a short bio, and a description of the existing and potential market for your book."

I will let my brain think about whether to submit a query about my collection of linked short stories or my memoir project.  Hmmm.

I'll think of the questions that Sandra Beasley is answering for her upcoming book.  She gives us all a glimpse of this process in this post.  She says, "I know so many folks who--after jumping the hoops to editorial acceptance--are ambushed by the additional hoops it takes to sell the book. The Author's Questionnaire is meant to help itemize your contacts, expand your market awareness, and rehearse answers to likely questions."

She posts the entire set of questions, and it's eye-opening.  For those of us who look them over and have a default response of having failed miserably at making contacts, she reminds us, "I suspect many writers see the heavy emphasis on contacts in the media and freeze up. But you know more people than you realize. Consider all 360 degrees of your life: your identities as a teacher, a community member, a volunteer, a parent, an alumna. Don't fixate on promoting your writing exclusively to other writers. If anything, those other audiences will be more excited at the novelty of you writing a book."

Those are the words I'll return to for inspiration.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Frazzle Dazzle Day

Yesterday was a day of ups and downs, a real frazzle dazzle of a day.

It began oddly.  I went to my gym which is part of a hospital.  As I walked down the hallway, the alarm lights went off and a voice over the P.A. said, "Code red in the mechanical building."  Over and over the voice said that, and the lights flashed.

Code red--fire, right?

But no one seemed alarmed, so I went on up to the 8th floor.  There was limited electricity, meaning no fans and no music for the spin class room.  But we decided to go ahead anyway.

Halfway through, we were plunged into darkness.  Still, we continued to spin.  By the time we were done, still no power.  So, I made my way down the steps and went back home to shower.

Oddly, the whole experience restored my good humor.  I had woken up in quite a funk, thinking about how I had accomplished nothing in my life, I would never be published again, I would never achieve my full potential.  How I hate that kind of funk!  Luckily, I've read enough biographies of creative people to know that these funks are normal.  Luckily, I've been through them enough times to recognize the lie in the hissing voice that rears up in my head occasionally--and I know that if I sit tight, and continue to do the creative work, I'll be O.K.

By late morning, I was rewarded.  Kathleen Kirk sent me an e-mail to let me know that my poems were up at Escape Into Life.  You can see them here.

I have long admired Kathleen's work, both her own creative work and the editing that she does.  I've loved the way she paired poems and art.  I've often wondered what she'd do with my work.  What a treat to find out.

Through the years, I thought about sending her some poems.  But I worried that there might be some reason why she had never suggested that I submit my work.  I didn't want to put her in a difficult position by reaching out.

So, when she asked me to submit poems, I was thrilled.  And yesterday, when I went to the site, I was thrilled again.

I love that the Internet makes this kind of pairing--poems and art--possible.  In the days of print journals, it would be prohibitively expensive to create this kind of feature.

And then it was off to the mock accreditation meeting.  It was a long meeting, full of good information, but it left me feeling frazzled.  I spent the rest of the afternoon copying every field trip permission slip from the past year, e-mailing the copies to myself so I had a PDF file to keep electronically, hole punching and putting the paper copies into a binder.  Today I'll do the same for every syllabus for every course that I oversee that's in the catalogue.

It's work that's necessary, but not exactly inspiring.

I ended the day by going to an artist's studio.  The artist is doing amazing things with bird cages.  Picture a bird cage with paper dolls from the 1950's hanging inside.  Picture a birdcage with rusty objects hanging from perches--or with sparkly bits dangling. 

The artist had invited a select group, and I felt immensely honored to be part of it.  We ate and discussed school stuff and art stuff and happily we stayed away from politics and the world situation.  I drove home with my frazzle mood dispersed and my dazzle mood restored.

Notice a theme?  Throughout the day, it was the endorphins produced by exercise and art that got rid of the frazzles and restored me to dazzle.  Hurrah for endorphins!  Hurrah for exercise!  Hurrah for art!

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Environments, Large and Small

--When people ask me why I don't have pets, I say, "I can't even keep houseplants alive."

--But that's not exactly true.  On Memorial Day, I bought plants that found their way into 4 pots that have spent the summer on my front porch:

--Some of the flower plants in the 2 big pots have died, but overall, those 2 pots have thrived.  I lost a batch of mint, part of the basil, and a batch of dill, but the other herbs (mint, basil, and rosemary) are hanging on.

--However, I must confess that the big pots are not nearly as bushy as they were the first week-end that I brought them home from the Home Depot.

--When I was scrolling through my Feb. entries, looking for posts about my latest revision of my book-length poetry manuscript, I came across this post and the line "be the asteroid":  "I heard a scientist say that an asteroid killed the dinosaurs; this time, we're the asteroid.  What does it mean to be the asteroid?" 

--The planet doesn't need us.  The human species may die off, but other species will survive.  Still, I continue to water the plants on the porch, plants who rely on me for water.

--I've also been thinking about the environment on a bodily scale.  Earlier this year, I had two colleagues and my best friend from high school diagnosed with cancer, 3 different kinds.  I thought about God, who loves all of creation, even the cancer cell.

--I've felt moments of shaken faith many times in my life, but that realization, that God loves all parts of creation equally, from me to the cancer cells that may kill those whom I love, that realization shook me for a few minutes.

--I've been intrigued by disease for many decades.  I'm lucky enough to be able to be fascinated by Ebola from a distance.  For a look at what it means close up, don't miss this postcard in The New Yorker.  It's a description that hearkens back to medieval days and the black death:  "The hospitals of Monrovia, the capital of Liberia, are full of Ebola patients and are turning away new patients, including women in childbirth. American Ebola experts in Monrovia are hearing reports that infected bodies are being left in the streets: the outbreak is beginning to assume a medieval character. People sick with Ebola are leaving Monrovia and going into the countryside to search for village faith healers, or to stay with relatives."

--Civilizations have collapsed before.  This blog post talks about why one Bronze Age, interconnected civilization disappeared, and it makes disconcerting comparisons between that civilization and our own. 

--We can try to comfort ourselves by saying that the seas won't swallow our front porches until we're dead and gone, that our U.S. health care system could handle Ebola when it comes to our shores.  But it doesn't take much to tip the balance away from civilization and back towards a life less attractive.