Sunday, August 18, 2019

August Traditions: Blessing Backpacks and Church Picnics

Based on what I'm reading in various Facebook updates, the Blessing of the Backpacks as part of August church services is becoming fairly common across the nation, or at least in the Southeast. I'm all in favor.

One of my Facebook friends who is a minister seems to be having today's worship service at a park, where there will be the annual picnic along with the blessing of the backpacks.  I like that approach too.

My church has a huge space in the back of the church, so we've had a cookout there once or twice, often in conjunction with the close of Vacation Bible School.

And now I'm remembering late August days at my grandmother's church long ago.  There was one Sunday where they'd have church and then everyone would get in cars to spend Sunday afternoon at Lutheridge.  That church camp was over an hour away, so modern me is astonished that people would come to church and then make the drive to Lutheridge.  Of course, there was a wonderful potluck picnic at the end of the drive and time in the mountains and fellowship.  Still, it tells me what a different time it was.

And now I'm suddenly craving deviled eggs and a variety of pasta salads.  I'll never crave those odd mixes of gelatin and add-ins--blhh.  But the dessert table--ah, yes, I'd love a good dessert table today after church.

Instead, I'll count the money after church.  It won't be nearly as much fun/fulfilling as a trip to the mountains with a picnic, but it's an essential task that few can'will do in my congregation.

Saturday, August 17, 2019

Thinking about the Yield Curve on a Lovely Saturday in August

This week, perhaps we've all gotten a mini Economics lesson.  I confess that I didn't really think about the yield curve before this week, and I'm still not sure I understand it enough to explain it.

One fact stands out in this week of reports of our now inverted yield curve:  an inverted yield curve has predicted 6 of the last 6 recessions.

On a recent episode of On Point, I heard economics analyst Rana Foroohar say that she had taken all of her retirement money out of the stock market and invested it in primarily cash and real estate.  Hmm.

You may or may not remember that we haven't had a recession since the big one in 2008.  Here's an interesting fact from an article in yesterday's The Washington Post: "About 40 million U.S. adults haven’t seen a single recession during their working lives. Almost as many, including most millennials, have seen only one since they turned 18. That recession, the devastating Great Recession from December 2007 to June 2009, was (hopefully) not representative."

My earliest memory of economic downturns is the one in the early 70's, around 1973 or so.  I remember asking my dad why so many people didn't have Christmas lights strung on their houses the way they used to do.  He told me that they might not be able to afford it.

Ah, the good ole days of the Arab oil embargo!  I remember the 70's as a time when beef was a luxury.  Now I've had a few shopping days when potatoes cost more than the beef when I made pot roast.  I'm paying far less for chicken these days then my mom did when she bought chicken in the 70's as a budget meat for a middle-class family.

I remember recessions in the 80's; I started undergraduate school in a college town that had had much of its industry decimated during a recent recession where two of the three poultry plants had closed.  I did my first job search during the recession of 92, and I was grateful to get my community college job, even though I went to grad school with a different kind of teaching job in mind.  In the recession of 2002, when my meager portfolio lost almost all its value, I had a moment when I wished I had just given all that money to the poor.  I remember the early days of the Great Recession of 2008, hearing about the stock market stumbling then falling precipitously and feeling a cold stone of fear in my body.

In short, the economy has never felt secure to me.  The words of Jesus have always made sense, the ones where he cautions about storing our treasures where moths can eat it and thieves can steal it.  The economy shows us over and over again the wisdom of Christ's teaching--at least to those of us who aren't part of the uppermost of the uppermost economic echelons.

Friday, August 16, 2019

More Milestones to Mark the Aging Process

I have read books about aging that talk about all the various personal milestones most of us go through when we age:  physical changes of all sorts, mental changes, and perhaps societal changes.  There's less talk about the milestones in the lives of our friends and acquaintances and how they affect us.

I got a Facebook message today from one of my college friends:  "My mom died today."  I have a variety of memories about her mom, although I never spent lots of time with her.

I spent some time scrolling through Facebook.  My high school friend who is moving his parents into an assisted living facility has lots of posts describing both that process and his process of cleaning out the house.  Last week I wrote a post about how strange it is to read about this process.

Here's a post from a friend and a picture of her daughter and a friend who just made the JV volleyball team.  Wait--didn't we just have a baby shower for that child?  How is it possible that she started high school this week?

In some ways it makes me feel old, but it's more complex than that.  I sometimes feel that time is wrinkling.  Some part of me doesn't feel much older than my high school self--and I know that I'm very lucky.  And yet, clearly, I am old enough to have children in high school or college myself.  A new generation emerges.

The various 50 year anniversaries this year are also a reminder of how much time has zipped on.  It seems like just yesterday I found the Woodstock LP in the collection of my college radio station.  I made a cassette tape and listened to it over and over again.  I was listening to music that was already 17 years old.  Now it's much older.  If you want to listen to that concert in real time, as the concert unfolded hour by hour, over the next few days, go here.

Of course I'm not ready to limp off into the sunset yet.  Let me use these reminders of mortality to get moving on projects I want to complete sooner rather than later.

Thursday, August 15, 2019

How to be an Artist: Wisdom from Toni Morrison

Our public school students had their first day of classes yesterday.  By this time next week, my spouse and I will be back to class, which means I need to get some dates typed into course shells and change the settings across the course shells.

The summer is zooming to a close, even though we will still have summery weather for many months.

My college of primary employment is on a strange quarter system, which will end in mid-September.  Here, too, time races by.  We will be done before we know it. 

Yesterday was an interesting change of pace.  I subbed for a teacher, which involved overseeing tests, so I had time to read.  I forgot that I was going to sub, so I didn't bring a book.  Happily, I have plenty of books in the office.

I keep Toni Morrison's The Source of Self-Regard in the office because it's easy to dip in and out of, even though the essays aren't exactly zippy reading.  It's interesting to read her essays which sometimes repeat language word for word--intriguing to know that Morrison reused images in different speeches and public addresses.  It's powerful language, well worth repeating.

As I've been reading through the book, I've wondered how she decided what to preserve in print and what to let go of.  I've had this on the brain in terms of visual artists too.  This article in The New York Times examines artist's studios and archives and asks what should be saved and what will be lost.  It's a fascinating question.

Morrison has much to say about the work of being an artist in this repressive society.  Many of her essays that I've read so far were written in the 1980's, but they still have much to say to us.  She's not as concerned about what we should save, but how we should be creating.

Here's a quote, which seems perfect for this week of back to school pictures and artistic longings of all sorts:

"Art invites us to take the journey beyond price, beyond costs into bearing witness to the world as it is and as it should be. Art invites us to know beauty and to solicit it from even the most tragic of circumstance. Art reminds us that we belong here. And if we serve, we last. My faith in art rivals my admiration for any other discourse" (p. 53).

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Rejection Evening

My Submittable account no longer sends me e-mail updates about my submissions.  I can't figure out how to fix it--all the settings seem correct, and Submittable e-mails aren't going to my Spam file.

And let me take a minute to note what a strange collection of e-mails goes to my Spam file.  I'm always intrigued to see what ends up there--and who/what is sending these e-mails?  How do I get on some of these lists?

I feel the same way about all the ads which jump into motion when I'm reading e-mails or online newspapers.  Yesterday was one of those days when I thought about paying for the ad-free platforms, just to avoid ads.  I used to feel the same way about cable, back when I watched much T.V.

Interesting to think that the Internet is the new T.V.--both distracting and enriching.

But that's not what I came here to explore.  I wanted to write about my evening of rejection.

The last time I went to my Submittable account, in early August, I took heart by how my poetry book manuscript seemed to be in consideration in so many places.  I've been submitting it about once a month.  Last night I saw 3 rejections.  Sigh.

But I want to record that my manuscript was a semifinalist in the 2019 Crab Orchard Series in Poetry First Book Award competition.  There were almost 400 manuscripts, according to the rejection e-mail.

As I was reading the e-mail, I thought about the familiarity of this language of rejection.  The language is so similar to the rejection letters I used to get back when I did my most aggressive job hunting.  It's a version of "it's not you, it's me" that I first heard about in a Seinfeld episode.

In a way, the news is good.  My manuscript does stand out in a field of 400 manuscripts from poets who have yet to publish a first book.  I haven't always gotten that feedback from earlier submission years.

Let me not spend too much time thinking about how many earlier submission years there have been.  Let me keep going with my plan:  to make judicious submissions, to contests where I see a judge who resonates with me or to contests where I'm supporting a press I believe in or to contests which give me a book in exchange for my submission.

Let me keep working on other projects too.  I've put together a new chapbook this year, and that process has made me feel hopeful too.

Next week, I want to put a plan into place that will lead to me work on my apocalyptic novel on a more regular basis.  I need to create that plan.

The weeks are zooming by.  I am astonished at how long I've been at this writing and publishing process.

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

A Quick Time Away

We have been away--just a 4 day vacation, an extended week-end really.  Today I'll do the bread run a day late, so I don't have much time to write here this morning.

Let me just capture a few items:

--We had fairly easy flights, which is saying something for summer.  Jam packed, but that's usual these days.  The Friday trip was easiest--we snagged the exit row seats.  Yesterday the guy behind us had a non-stop talk with his seatmate about the importance of discussion and dialogue--the seatmate could hardly get a word in edgewise.

--Because we were gone for such a short period of time, we left our laptops at home, and we weren't surrounded by screens we could watch either.  What a treat to be away from constant news.

--I got a lot of reading done; it's always worth remembering how much more reading I do when I don't have the lure of the laptop.  I'll say more about the books I read in a later post.

--I love the change of scenery.  We had decent weather for summer:  warm/hot but not humid, glowering clouds but no fierce storms.

--It was good to hear the stories about how others are living their lives.  I heard about the Air Force guy who took his housing allowance and bought a live-aboard sailboat.  I heard about retired people who sold their northern Virginia townhouse and moved to a one story house in Maryland.  I saw all sorts of people in planes and airports who had some interesting stories that they didn't tell me.

--I didn't do any writing or even reach for my travel journal where I take notes on anything interesting.  But I did think about my apocalyptic novel.

--It is good to get away and so good to get completely offline.  And the benefit of a shorter vacation is that I don't dread going back to work as much.

--We played Monopoly for 3 hours one morning.  It was great fun, and a reminder of how quickly the game can turn, both the Monopoly game and the real life housing game.

Monday, August 12, 2019

Lessons from the Butterfly Garden #2

In early July, the caterpillars ate the milkweed plants, leaving nothing but devoured stubs.

But we knew that these plants only looked like they were dead. Now they have not only sprouted new leaves, but flowers—and we have some monarch butterfly visitors!

Let us remember that even when we feel used up, new growth is waiting, along with new discoveries.