Wednesday, April 29

generosity and gratitude

basically we have one week left in this quaint little Louisiana town.

no, we haven't managed to sit ourselves down to watch Steel Magnolias yet. should we still try? (part of me does want to.)

one week!

and there is so much to do. food to use up from the fridge. piles of things-we-don't-need-anymore to organize and donate somehow. fragile dishes and art and knickknacks to wrap and stuff into boxes.

if times were even a tiny bit more normal than they are now, we'd have a goodbye party. we'd schedule in plenty of time to visit one last time all the friends we've made here. we'd go out to that Mexican place one last time. have another end-of-semester karaoke thing. 

but times are not very normal. so instead of all that... what will we do?

I'll distantly and carefully turn in my office keys next Monday morning, distantly contrive to drop off  a few spare houseplants and some spare yarn at a few dear colleague's doorsteps, and perhaps write short goodbye notes to leave in everyone's mailboxes on campus. I'll assume, for now, that campus will return to something like normal eventually.

right now, there are thirteen days until grades are due for Spring 2020. not long after that, my contract with NSULA will officially end. the summer will start to uncurl and stretch its scaly paws, and I'll have three months to play and write and daydream before my next job starts in August. will those three months go by as slowly and weirdly as the last eight weeks have gone by?

right now, I am lucky. my contract with the new institution was signed a few weeks before all of this happened. we've been able to find a new apartment and afford all the headachey moving expenses, so far. I can do my job remotely, for as long as I have to, without too much trouble.

we are lucky, so far. 

my students? most of them are hanging in there, keeping up with things despite everything. this semester has been the opposite of ideal in about a thousand ways. it's been seven weeks since normal classes in normal classrooms. some learning opportunities have worked out okay and many others have not worked out very okay at all. but by now we've adjusted our earlier definitions of "okay."

through all this uncertain weirdness, I've tried to be as generous and patient and responsive with all the students as possible, even moreso than usual. I don't know yet how that generosity is going to finally and concretely translate into course grades next week. I hope to still see evidence that learning about professional writing has been attempted by all the students, whatever else is happening. I hope to read some thoughtful and thorough reflection from everyone before the end. learning is more important than grades.

despite all the important considerations reflected in this recent post and this less-recent post, I'm not sure if all my students will pass or not. I'm not sure how far my responsibility to be generous right now extends in relationship to students' responsibilities both pre- and post-pandemic. maybe all of these things need their definitions adjusted, too.

I haven't read Kathleen Fitzpatrick's (who keeps a very nice blog) new book Generous Thinking yet, but I want to. the whole idea-- generosity, open collaborations, re-imagining our institutions so that they serve more people more equitably-- feels so lovely.

despite the loveliness, I can't help but ask questions. who can afford to be generous and in what ways? what are the little hidden costs of personal generosity? it seems so cynical to ask such things.

in terms of my students, I can definitely afford to be outrageously generous about their grades. I hope the students and their brains can afford it too.

in terms of everything else, I can probably afford more than I think I can.

right now, there's just enough time to ponder everything I'll be leaving behind next week. there's time to feel a few puddles of regret and a whole mountain range of gratitude. we haven't been here long, but friends and colleagues and students and neighbors have been very generous to us. lucky. grateful. and hopefully, in my own ways, just as generous.

Sunday, April 12

easter


this is an old sketch that's been sitting in a blogger draft file for a long, long time. 

Easter 11 years ago had the same date as this Easter, somehow. 

and what about Easter might I still find meaningful and lovely now? 

life and flowers.
springtime.

excuses to eat good chocolate. and share it. and be in the sunshine.

 

Sunday, April 5

favourite


Thursday, April 2

family pieces

last month, there was a funeral.

it was the first of my grandparents' funerals that I've been able to actually attend.

I worried for a minute about the cost, the time, how I'd find a substitute for my undergraduates. and after that I worried a little about the risks of traveling by air during what has now become a rather more alarming global pandemic.

but being there last month felt more and more important than any of those worries. I'm glad they didn't stop me.

in the week leading up to this family gathering, my aunts and uncles asked us to write down some of our memories. mine are flickery at first, like an old-school slide projector. the more recent ones are smoother.

my very earliest memories of Grandma and her home and that whole side of the family are of the basement with seemingly endless bedrooms. every corner of that basement was made up to welcome a whole bundle of little grandkids. there was room for all of us, it seemed like. I remember so many bookshelves and books. under the stairs, along the hallways-- books everywhere. on my own bookshelves now I have a book that I must have "borrowed" from Grandma at some point. The Best Known Works of William Shakespeare--pages of Elizabethan drama in double columned layout, in a tattery black cover. I devoured most those plays as a teenager. how grateful and lucky we were to have grandparents that lived right down the street from the Utah Shakespeare Festival.

I remember tagging along with Grandma to a summer writing group on the SUU campus at some point between college semesters. I was trying to write some good short stories. Grandma worked on poems and song lyrics and things. it felt like such an honor to be included in that.

we talked about family history, too. before I went off to study abroad in England in 2003, Grandma gave me a folder of family trees and other history, so I would know what names to look for if I had a chance to explore the areas our family came from. even though I never did make it to any cemeteries or archives or genealogy centers in Kent, I loved having those stories and names anyway-- hints at memories and lives that predate me and everyone I know.

last summer Jeremiah and I were able to visit and spend two or three days with Grandma, playing cards just like always, doing puzzles, singing a few songs, sitting out on the porch in the mornings and late afternoons. she was as welcoming and lovely and serene as ever, though the house was so much quieter and calmer than it was when we are all little grandkids. I'm going to miss those visits. the house.

the idea of Grandma not being there at all in more-- all her things boxed up to be given away, all the space so empty and different-- it's still a little unreal.

 { 1928–2020 }
 
just a few months ago, I wrote Grandma a postcard from Prescott, Arizona. I was out there for a job interview (for a job I was later offered, and accepted). I hope it put a smile on her face when it arrived.

I wish I'd called to share the news about the job-- it meant we'd be moving 16 hours closer! we could've reveled in that prospect, enjoyed the happy thought of seeing her more often. but in between the job offer in mid-February and my official acceptance at the end of the month, she passed on.

as empty as her absence leaves us, there's still plenty of family in sunny southern Utah. it'll still only be a six hour drive from where we're moving this summer. there will still be reunions. and family will always include Grandma.

Sunday, March 29

daffodils for now

Friday, February 21

decades and novelty

there were exactly ten other blogposts on this blog with the word decade in them, before I wrote this one. is that serendipitous and random, or what?

once it is published, this newest post will ruin the nice resonance, but ah well.

just before the year switched from 19 to 20 last month, friend Chris and I swapped book lists in honor of a new decade. ten books published any time at all, but that we'd encountered and loved at some point within the last ten years.

here are mine, with links to any previous mentions/reviews:
A Room of One's Own, Virginia Woolf (2017)
Americanah, Chimamada Adichie (2018)
Pastoralia, George Saunders
the Prospero Lost series, L. Jagi Lamplighter
Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn (2013)
Station Eleven, Emily St. John Mandel (2015)
The Likeness, Tana French
After Method, John Law (2016)
Lines: A Brief History, Tim Ingold (2015)
Syllabus, Lynda Barry (2015)

and I may as well list a few close-ish runners-up too:
The Shape of Design, Frank Chimero (2015)
Spinster: Making a Life of Own's Own, Kate Bolick (2016)
Bats of the Republic, Zachary Thomas Dodson (2016)

all these books stand out against so many other books for usually a similar reason: novelty. 

sometimes, especially with the non-fiction, the novelty comes from an incredibly unique, expansive, and new-to-me set of ideas. more often it's channeled with a vibrant, undeniably rich and present voice--like with the Adichie and Saunders and French. with the Dodson book, it was quirky art and formatting.

if you are in need of good books to read, all these are awesome. (though the Law and Ingold are terribly academic. fair warning.)

sometime soon perhaps I'll blog about my current reading. bell hooks. Sarah Bakewell. the Tournament of Books is coming up soon, too...


in the meantime: may the decades ahead keep us all stocked up on delicious, expansive novelty, with just enough sameness underneath for us to stand on.

{ in the mountains somewhere near Denver; I love how the sky almost looks like a pathway }


Saturday, January 18

affection, safety, and a puppy

I learned just today that the German word halten can mean in English to hold or to stop.

this seems profound for some reason. the sentence in my Duolingo German lesson was "die Eltern halten ihr Babies (the parents are holding their babies)" and when my first instinct was to translate that verb as are stopping, I figured I should check the app's hints for it first. they did show both options, but the context seemed to call for are holding instead. depending on the age of one's baby, there aren't that many things you need to or can stop one from doing, really.

if I stop to think for a moment about the same range of meanings in all the history and senses of to hold in English, does that make the whole thing less profound?

the word's etymology is a long one. some snippets that resonate this afternoon:
"to contain; to grasp; to retain"
"to possess, control, rule; to detain, lock up"
"to foster, cherish, keep watch over"
"to keep back from action"

all this potent potential meaning curled up in to hold. and then there are all these phrasal verbs, too: hold back, hold up, hold out, hold off, hold against, beholden to...

to be held as a parent holds a young baby is to be safe. comfortable. cared for. right?

to be held is also to be restrained. controlled. and to be restrained isn't usually considered comfortable, though... right?

or is it?

maybe it is.

paradoxically.

in a "limits are possibilities" sort of way.


I don't remember when exactly this photo is from. September 2016 when we went to the National Zoo? probably. it's been sitting on hold in a blogpost draft for at least three years or so.

to hold also has a sense of continuation. to hold a note. to hold your position. to uphold a ruling. to have and to hold.

sometimes all of that isn't comfortable either. but sometimes it is.

I've been doing this year's 30 days of yoga. it's wonderful even when I don't think I have the time or energy for it-- alternating movement and holding, centering body and mind and breath so all is balanced. not always easy. but it is enough.

I am enough. now is enough. I hope.

in other news-- last week we added to our household a new puppy.


his name is Hamilton.

or, if you're feeling extra fancy, Hamilton Chidi Chewbacca Chesley Alonzo. he's already learned to come when called and to sit on command. Wesley's still warming up to his rambunctious, half-tamed puppy energy, but they're getting along pretty well so far.

what good pugs.

Friday, December 20

commence contentment

it feels like I used to have so much to say. I was just ambitious enough to be confident enough to recognize all my self-doubt and still ignore it.

is ambition something you grow out of? it does seem easier to have when you're young--when you haven't yet heard so much of what other people have said or thought or done, the world feels so much more ripe and open for everything your little human brain could possibly imagine into it.

and then you grow up, and get tired, and everyone around you and before you is doing so much already. how can you keep up?

I know it's a bit silly to worry about keeping up. I'm in my own lane and it isn't a race anyway. 


today I attended fall commencement at NSU. gymnasium full of chairs, lots of bright purple, congratulatory speeches, cheering, decorated mortarboards, lines and lines of accomplished humans, etc. the music was gorgeous, too--a string quartet and a vocal quartet performed excellently during the processional, the anthem, and the alma mater. I came away from it all thinking about the value of letting yourself appreciate things as fully as possible. that might become my mantra for 2020: appreciation.

I never attended my own college or grad school commencements. I probably didn't miss much, really. it just now so happens to be part of my job to go and sit with the other faculty and applaud on cue. it's nice to feel like a part of something and to pay attention to all these students' achievement.

the speaker this year was Denise Lewis Patrick--prolific writer, Natchitoches local, and 1977 alumna (she has a blog too, such as it is). I appreciated her talk for its down-to-earth encouragement and its brevity. she spoke about all the post-college things she'd learned--about people, organizations, and changing technologies. she promised today's graduates that they would similarly need to learn many new things, no matter how prepared they might feel for their futures.

feeling prepared might be a little overrated, anyway. how much ambition does a person really need in their life, after all? I might be just fine with a little contentment now and then and a decent supply of curiosity.

Saturday, November 30

Thanksgiving retrospective

this week, we are baking and eating and family-ing in Chicagoland. Chicago itself, over to the east of here, has a famously wonderful city flag. the state of Illinois... not so much. its flag is okay, I suppose. it could definitely be uglier.


last Thanksgiving, we stayed down south in our current Louisiana home. its state flag is pretty distinctive, so it would probably win a flag contest against Illinois any day.

how would Louisiana's fare against Indiana? or Texas? (I never did look up Rhode Island's state flag when I spent Thanksgiving there in 2013. it's actually quite well-designed. possibly more beautiful even than the Texas flag.)


anyway.

family-ing in Chicagoland over the last six days has involved late nights playing Rocket League, grocery shopping with grandma, tons of reading (I finished The Subversive Copy Editor and In Watermelon Sugar in the last two days), and endless football games on the television. right this moment, it's the college variety: University of Utah Utes v. the University of Colorado something-or-others. (Buffaloes, the internet tells me.) 

I am more or less ignoring the football and poking at bits of work. budgeting work. emails. edits. to-do lists. the husband is napping on the couch next to me, murmuring nonsense in his sleep. the dogs are lounging (except when they're fussing mildly at each other). we'll eventually have one last dinner of leftovers, re-pack the suitcases, and get ready to drive home tomorrow.

there are two more weeks of the semester. so much to be thankful for. 

I am especially glad for time to rest, for the hospitality and coziness of family, for memories and togetherness, and for all the places (remembered and imagined and inbetween). 

this decade has had a lot of big, wondrous stuff in it. how much I've seen and learned and changed since ten years ago. you too, probably.

now how much more learning and growing and living can we fit into December?

Friday, November 1

time collage duet

these are photos from the past. same season, more or less, but last year.



at least close enough.


autumn. such as autumn in Louisiana exists.


today it was 32° at 7:00 am.

in the eastern half of the backyard sky, way back behind the slatted chainlink and the neighbor's trees and their neighbors' neighbors' trees too, there was a luminous deep pink glow. I know it was there because some of it leaked through the curtains onto the wall across from the bed. such a warm orange-pink color--cotton-candy pink, but not so wispy as cotton candy--imagine if pink cotton candy was as thick and felted as the warmest wool blanket. it almost looked out of place on such a cold morning.

although I'm not used to it anymore, I do kind of relish all this chill in the air. it feels right. it feels energizing.

will the still-green cherry tomatoes out on their vines find it energizing? possibly not. I might need to bring those plants inside for the rest of the year.

or I might not. it may warm back up to 70° over the weekend. we'll see. 
 

these here are photos from several summers ago.



Michigan beaches. blue sky, blue lake, all layered like animated elemental paint swatches.


sun, sand, mist. campfires. ice cream.


this isn't a real collage. you'll have to pretend. clip a few images from now, from last year, from three years ago... see what they look like up next to each other. does the cold of today make those sunny June beaches look less warm than they were? or can the memory of the beach insulate this first day of November against all the risk of frost?