Don’t be a sponge

loki couch

Loki the dog is great at getting stuck in couch potato mode.

In my work as a freelance writer and editor, I’m currently engaged in a project designed to help unpaid caregivers find more time for themselves and make it easier to do the extra work they do in caring for a loved one. Free time is valuable and hard to come by for so many of us, but for working caregivers who deal with concerns for their loved ones while at work and then again when the return home,  it’s an even more fleeting thing.

As I recently reviewed caregiver news online, I stumbled across this article in Stria, “a media platform for the longevity market.” The piece explores data that shows how interdependence develops between older married/partnered couples. It was interesting to me from a working perspective; maybe it’s something I can do some more research on and write about later, I thought. But as I read, the findings struck me as something that’s applicable to me, now.

“We all know couples that are joined-at-the-hip couch potatoes, enjoying nothing more than streaming a hit show while sharing a loaded pizza,” writes author Kevyn Burger. “Equally familiar are the couples who regularly hit the gym together, then treat themselves by splitting a post-workout protein shake.”

I cringed a bit when I read that.

My TV-loving partner is not responsible for my decisions to sit with him and get sucked onto something terrible like Younger or 9-1-1, and yet…I find myself doing this more often than I’d like over the winter. I could be reading, working out or visiting a friend. Instead… I’m couch-potatoing it. I’ve been mad at myself for doing this in the past, but when I read this article and gained confirmation that negative behaviors like this can have a particular bad psychological effect  as one ages (not to mention the extra physical effects of weight gain, in my case) I felt called to action.

The article notes that researchers are finding that this sponge-like tendency can lead to chronic issues in the future, and cites Courtney Polenick, assistant professor of psychiatry and faculty associate at the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research.

“We need to look at the broader picture and gather information about what each person is managing and also what couples jointly manage,” she is quoted as saying. “This study looks at the impact of chronic conditions across a long time frame. We need additional research about how spouses interact to help one another and how couples jointly manage multiple chronic conditions at a daily level.”

Winter is almost over, I hope, and at the very least we have longer days now. When the dogs, the couch, the blankets and the TV beckon, I’ve been working hard to remind myself that there are other things I could be doing to more purposefully engage my brain and my body.  I have yet to use that time for the treadmill, but I am making my way though a few physical books — and I’ve been writing more!

What are you doing to stay healthy, independent and still connected to your partner?

 

Could this disruption be a win?

Earlier this week, Southern New Hampshire University published an article by Dr. Gregory Fowler,  global campus president for SNHU. I always admire Dr. Fowler’s thoughts on disruption, innovation and education, and this piece stood out to me not just as an educator but as a freelance writer as well.

I see that higher education has changed in the 20 years (yikes, really?!) since I took my first college class, and I see that it has changed even more in the nearly 10 years that I’ve been on the other side of the classroom. Technology, the game changer here, has also become a game changer in the work that my BA prepared me for: journalism.

We see newspapers crumbling, TV news roaring ahead at insane and harmful paces, and we even see sites like Reddit becoming sources and guides for journos working on story ideas. Technology has changed how the world works, or at least how the developed world works, and these times (#Coronavirus) are giving everyone a chance to see how tech can help them do their jobs — like it or not.

A few days ago, I said I felt a bit smug about the security of my professional world being a digital one. That was probably a crappy way to word things, but it was true. I felt good about my work life amid the instant changes others were dealing with. Yet at the same time, I know that even the online world is in for a series of real disruptions over the next few months. It’s not just the education sector that is feeling rattled; offices that can are now put in the position of granting work-from-home status to employees despite years of saying no to such things. I’m happy to see this happen; in fact, I left my last desk job because I could not work from home, although my job required that I sit at a computer all day…which I could do at home.

As the world around us shifts in a new way during what is for many the first week of working from home, I’m curious to see just how much it will impact the ways business as usual moves forward. Will the meme I saw last week prove true? I don’t remember the image, but the caption said something like “Working from home/Time to see just how many of those meetings could have been emails.”

I don’t want to wish cabin fever and the confines of social distancing on anyone in a bad way, but what if this disruption could ultimately get more people IN school, as more schools put in place eLearning structures? What if it could get more people OUT of the office while still working?

 

Moving online a bigger shock than COVID-19

neon signage

Photo by Ivan Bertolazzi on Pexels.com

I’m a bit ashamed say it, but as an online educator, I’ve been feeling a little smug this week.

I’m not scrambling to convert classes or learn new software, and I’m not worried about the future of higher education as I know it–well, at least not because of  coronavirus pandemic shifts. I’m not faced with high attrition rates because my students don’t know how to use new software, or don’t have data or space in which to use it.

I’m smug because although people I know are still poo-pooing online education as a “real” means of education, these same people are being forced to give it a shot. Ideally, they’d have a much smoother, more welcoming introduction to teaching online, like I did, eight years ago. It would certainly make them bigger proponents of the method. There will a lot of cracks for them and their students to fall through with this instant setup.

But all that aside, instead of basking too much in my “ease” of academic life, I’ve been trying to learn from this disruption. My newsfeeds are full of articles, tips sheets and suggestions.

This article, from Inside Higher Ed offers “practical advice” for temporarily teaching online. There are good points in it, by my favorite, as a seasoned online instructor, are:

Create a class communication plan so students know where to go and what to expect; address questions like:

  • Where to send questions
  • How quickly will you respond to emails; how quickly will you respond to discussion posts
  • How to reach you with any urgent needs or questions
  • What sort of regular communications you will send out to the class (e.g. weekly reviews and/or updates)

I like these points because students need some stability amid this shift, and telling them what they can expect from their instructor is ALWAYS a good policy. It’s even more important online, where they don’t get to connect physically.

Another piece, this one from The Chronicle of Higher Education, points out that

Shock doctrines make emergencies the new normal — they turn temporary exertions into permanent expectations. American higher education has already endured several slow-moving disasters over the past 40 years: the radical defunding of public institutions, the casualization of academic labor, the militarization of campus security, and the erosion of faculty governance. As a result, the very instructors now tasked with the herculean transition are already working in extreme conditions: Somewhere between two-thirds and three-quarters of college and university teaching is performed by non-tenure-track faculty members or by graduate students, many of whom conduct heavy course loads without health insurance and with suppressed wages, housing insecurity, and stifling debt.

In essence, the problem is that instructors are being asked to turn their classes into virtual classes in a split second (compared to how long it takes to truly prep a class), and they are already overburdened. When asked to do this, and then doing it becomes acceptable, what else will universities ask of these folks?

The answer, in part, lies in this third piece, from Rebecca Barrett-Fox. As a writing coach, teacher and researcher, Barrett-Fox seems to have a lot of irons in the fire. We all do, I get it. I just appreciate that she’s not just in academe.

Her points 2, 3 and 14 are the best balancing act I’ve seen thus far:

2. Do not require synchronous work. Students should not need to show up at a specific time for anything. REFUSE to do any synchronous work.

3. Do not record lectures unless you need to. (This is fundamentally different from designing an online course, where recorded information is, I think, really important.) They will be a low priority for students, and they take up a lot of resources on your end and on theirs. You have already built a rapport with them, and they don’t need to hear your voice to remember that.

14. Don’t do too much. Right now, your students don’t need it. They need time to do the other things they need to do.

Barrett-Fox offer practical advice that is geared toward sanely navigating this moment/semester as an instructor, but she’s put some thought into how that will spill over and help students, too.

After all, anyone who teaches, who puts in the hours, the research and the organization–virtually or in-person–does so because it’s something they enjoy, and they want their students to get something out of it too. This is a key thing to remember as universities fret over what this might mean for their bottom lines. Now is not the time to worry about that. Students, staff and faculty should come first.

I’m continuing to learn from my peers as they/we muddle through what it means to teach in 2020, but right now, I’m also feeling extremely lucky that my creative writing students and I can just hang out and do our thing. This week they’re working on scene and setting, and they’ve read “High in Hell,” which does such a great job of bringing the African country Djibouti to life though scene and setting. I’d like to say everyone should read this piece of literary journalism to understand just how lucky we here in the US are, lucky to have tech disruptions and tech and any resources at all.

Hungry, hungry hoboes

photo of railway track

Photo by Zhanzat Mamytova on Pexels.com

The floor and my laptop meet in a crushing embrace a few weeks ago, so I’ve been pulling old stuff off of it. It’s Thursday, and I thought, “what the hell, I’ll do a #ThrowbackThursday post. This piece is from 2008.

***

The kids talk to me before I talk to them.

“Her name is Jazz,” says the one in a faded purple shirt, right after the white puppy trots after me. She’s got a bandana around her neck and a brown spot over her left eye, and when she hears her name, her forehead wrinkles into a story of puppy love and recognition.

The boy who speaks her name is slouched against an old building in Uptown, the one right around the corner from the Lawrence ‘L’ stop. Without shoes, his feet are cut and dirty, blackened like tar on the bottom. I saw them as I came around the corner onto Broadway, noticing the sign before the sprawl of legs and cardboard cushions.

“Hungry, Hungry Hobos,” crawls across the back of a notebook, black sharpie on creased yellow paper.

I pause, look at it, but without cash or snacks, I walk on. What can I do?

“She just loves people,” the boy adds as I walk away, and that’s all it takes for me to turn around.

***

 Matt tells me his story as I sit, folding my legs underneath me. He’s a carpenter, he and his woman split a while back, and he misses his tools, god how he misses coming home from work and working the rough grain of knotty wood into the curved lines of chairs  and other art.

At 25, Matt is the oldest of the group, but he has the boyish good looks of Huck Finn, a real-life story in front of me. Hair curled and messy from a week on the road, he is cute, but looks so young, especially when pairing the curls with the rolled up jean bottoms and bare feet.

I talk with Matt about his travels, warming the sidewalk opposite the Green Mill, and for a couple of hours, I watch the world pass by with these dirty children of the road.

They are going to California, going to work in “the fields” and take part in the grand pot harvest that approaches.

“We’re going to make 20 bucks an hour, make some money, man,” says the other boy around a mouthful of bottle.

At 22, Chris has already been out to California for the harvest once before, and this adventure isn’t the first one taking him cross-country on the free ticket found in the back of a freight train.

“I don’t have any work lined up, not yet,” he tells me, pulling thoughtfully on the cigarette his girlfriend   rolled moments before. “But I’ve been out there in the past, and I hope to get some carpentry work too, get in with the locals, you know.”

Jillian nods her head at this idea, nubby brown pigtails bouncing in agreement. She has been silent, plucking absently at a ukulele, but once she joins the conversation, her quick chirp clips along with youthful enthusiasm.

“Have you been out there before?” she asks me, eager to hear my take on it. “I hear it’s supposed to be really great.”

I tell her that I haven’t, but yes, I, too, have heard good things. At 20, Jill is the youngest member on this adventure, and I can see why she’s drawn to Chris.

He wears his scruff in a way that becomes him: a shadow of the road spreading across his face whether he intends it to or not.  He’s tall and lanky, and as she leans into him, his arms wrap around her, white and bare against the gray fabric of her sweater.  I know exactly how she feels, a short little girl taken care of by her tall hippie boy, but I can’t say that I really miss that feeling. Not tonight, not anymore.

But it’s more than this outward physical thing that draws her to him. This too, I know. It’s his life.

Chris has lived. He’s hopped trains before, he’s harvested illegal crops and stories with others in Cali, and because he is all the things that a career in dental hygiene is not, she is enamored and brought to life by this.

I can see it in her face as she calls a friend on her phone and squeals out the story of the day in Chicago. She is young and in love, and I remember what that feels like, at 20.  I remember how my own tall lanky boy made me feel back then, and I remember my most recent “Chris.” I like Jill because her sense of adventure runs deep, and I imagine that’s what Chris likes about her too. He’s teaching her about the world, his world, and she’s eager to hear it all.

When I tell her about my recent trip to Thailand, her eyes open as wide as her mouth, perfect circles of awe and excitement, and I hope that she is as eager to embrace calamity as she sounds, should it befall her on this trip. She has considered at least one possibility—that any of them could be arrested— but she is most afraid of what will happen if the cops take Chris away from her. They almost did that at Union Station today, but when I ask her if they’ve discussed a strategy for that, I see disbelief and fear color her face more than the streetlight illumination from above.

“God, what would I do? We haven’t even talked about it, no.”

She stares down at Jazz for a minute, and then snuggles into Chris’ side, feeling the emptiness of a life on the road without her man.

What would she do?

I would like to think she’d figure it out, maybe late, but better then than never. That’s what I did.

***

Up until Monday, I had planned on going to California, too. Not so much to take part in the harvest, exactly, but to be part of that culture of people who pass the seasons waiting for it like my family waits for the first spring-time sprout of life to color the fields.

A mess since my return to the states from Thailand, three months ago, I had been unhappy in Chicago, ill-at-ease among the skyscrapers and dull sheen of life in the US. Thailand had been too much, too much fun, too much happiness, too much… everything, and life in Chicago had been boring and flat, a watercolor wash of grey day after grey day.

So when I hooked up with a friend in California and he suggested I move out there, first I thought “no, what a terrible idea.” And then as the weeks passed each other with the slow monotony of spring in the Midwest, it sounded better and better, almost perfect. Not because I anticipated any sort of real life out there, but because it wasn’t Chicago, which wasn’t Thailand.

I looked at apartments here, evaded the real world and sought refuge from it in my books and my writing. The night before I found the perfect artists’ loft building, my friend assured me yes, if I went to California, everything would work out. For a few days I even believed it, and then, after posting my few possessions on Craigslist, the reality of the situation came to pass, taking with it the charm and illusion of sandy shores and a life of stoned simplicity in the sun. I put a deposit on a new studio apartment and vowed to work on my craft among the other poor, dirty and disillusioned writers, painters and musicianssharing the building. But my body ached for something else. Something different.

***

What is it about going West that reaches for the American spirit like stalks to the sky? How was this story started, and who perpetuates it to this day, that the American Dream lives in the West? These kids grew up together, friends in Baltimore, East Coast elites gone organic, escaping the hum of existence by hopping trains and sleeping on sidewalks. I wanted to do that once, around the same time I thought living like a broke writer would move me to be the next Nin or Hemingway.

How very ‘beat’ I’d be, I cleverly thought to myself, imagining all of the scenes from a Ginsberg or Kerouac epic in my own bedroom. How very perfect for the storyteller in me, all of those bodies and lives and sorrows crashing against the stable shoreline of my being. It would be the life to end all lives, the adventure and chaos of a life lived to its fullest that I’ve always sought.

And then as quickly and randomly as the idea of attempting a life in California was proposed, the allure of it rubbed off like some dollar-store trinket gone brassy in the setting sun. The dream, or the illusion of the dream imagined by someone else, someone I’m not, fell from the sky.

***

By 1 am Jill, was fighting sleep, and I could see a fight in her shoulders, if the crew didn’t get to going where ever it was that they could sleep safely until morning.

“If my doorman isn’t around, you can stay at my place,” I offered, sparking a flame in Jill’s eyes and a glance upward from Matt, who was buried in his journal, Sharpie in hand. Chris smiled, busy chatting with the homeless and probably schizophrenic man laughing crazily at our feet.

“But with Jazz, the lobby has to be completely empty or else it won’t work,” I continued, hoping the man would go away before we headed to my place. The idea of showers and food had garnered their attention, and I felt bad for bringing it up, knowing that the doorman was probably around.

“I’ll go home and check, then call you if it’ll work.”

My block came up quickly, lit up and alive, even at 1 am. The neighborhood has gentrified, and instead of my own neighborhood schizophrenic, it is my maintenance man, his wife and their baby, I run into at this late hour. We wave, cross paths, and I enter the lobby.

How different our lives are, all of them. That small family of three, neat and tidy at 1 am; me, sweaty and dirty in running gear and puppy tracks offering my home to another family of sorts. Am I crazier than the man laughing outside?

I think of the kids I’ve just met as I pack crackers and fruit and granola bars into a plastic bag. I can’t get them in, not tonight, but if I make it back there before they seek shelter, maybe I can feed them. Maybe I can take care of them in the only way I can at this hour.

***

My train rattles along the track, past Argyle, past Berwyn, back into Bryn Mawr. I get off slowly, letting the drunks stagger warm, boozy circles around me. The night has cooled down, and I wonder where the hobos will sleep tonight, how far their train will take them tomorrow. I wonder if Chris will get caught and separated from his “mamma,” and what Jill will do if he does.

“I didn’t get much sleep last night,” Jill says as we part ways. “So I’ve got to get some tonight. Sleeping on the train is hard, and with Jazz, if I have to hold her… my arms…oh, it’s just so hard.”

I nod my head in agreement, imagining that it is indeed, a challenge. But what do I know of hopping trains and holding sleeping puppies and chasing someone across the country because “that’s what you do for love”?

What do I know of trains and harvests and feet as black as the midnight tar on the street outside?

What I know is Chicago, and my own sense of adventure, my own heart and the things that I love: words and stories, not people, or at least, not just one person. I know the way the right ones seem to find me—words and humans — and that stories make whole my life in a way that  the living of it never does.

What I know is that in another lifetime, I might have hopped a train and rattled off to California to chase some dream and some adventure. But not now. Not tonight. Not anymore.

Instead, I will return to my apartment, sit on my couch, legs once again folded and firm beneath me, and capture the essence of this night, to live on forever in my words.

And yet here I am

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In this blog, I stay away from writing about the farm I live on because I want my writing life to be my writing life. I want my blog to be about education, writing, news, culture…things that interest me.

Yes, the farm interests me, but not in the same way these other things do. Until tonight I hadn’t really put much thought into why I want the farm to be and occupy a separate space. But as I overheard my husband talking with a former hemp colleague, I understood why I want this distance.

The farm is a shared place for us, and a shared interest. I like my multiple gardens, the space we have and the joy our son experiences when he’s outside. But the isolation of farm life, the struggle and uncertainty…these things I don’t like. And although things didn’t feel uncertain on the farm I grew up on, the isolation is one thing I wanted to leave when I left the farm of my childhood at 18. And yet here I am again, living on a farm. 

For those of you finding this blog for the first time, as strangers, the farm I live on is spectacular. Huge 3-story turn-of-the-century house (as pictured above)a Quartz foundation, with frogs and rats and water in the spring.  Eleven acres of fruit trees. A greenhouse. Strawberry, raspberry, rhubarb, currant and asparagus patches. A history that goes back to my husband’s grandfather, making our son the fourth generation to live here. It’s a lovely place to live, and when we moved here, we had huge ambitions.

But last year we grew industrial hemp, and we encountered many issues that prevented us from making any money on it. In fact, we lost money. We lost investor money. We lost partner money. And worse yet, we’re now in litigation over the crop. I’ll write more about that as I’m able; with a court case in the works I’m censoring myself.

That bit of backstory brings me to tonight
A hemp partner on the East Coast told my husband that he’s selling his farm. He went all in on hemp in 2019, and like so many other hemp farmers, it broke him. He has a family to support, and bills to pay, and he has his land.  So he’s going to sell it. I was heartbroken for him for a split second, and angry, too. Angry at hemp, and ag and my own situation. And as I dealt with the twin pains of anger and sorrow, I thought about this farm and how much it takes to just LIVE HERE. I thought about dreams and aspirations and what it means to sacrifice for your dreams. And then I remembered that it was never my dream to return to a farm after I left the one in Nebraska, where I grew up. And yet here I am.

My husband wants me to sell the house I own in town, but I haven’t been willing to do that in the three years we’ve been here, and lately, there’s nothing even remotely inspiring about that idea. What if we too, must sell this farm? Or, what if I simply want off of it, away from the stress and the expense and the isolation? We pushed through two challenging years of getting the land around here cleaned up after years  of neglect, and each winter I feel the bite of wind cut through non-insulated walls, windows and doorjambs. I feel thefarmer depression that some news organizations report on from time to time. And I wonder, is there a better way o do this? What if we just returned this land to land. I don’t mean move off of it; I mean, what if we just lived here, in this house, on this yard, with these trees? What if we didn’t farm at all?

The idea comforts me and gives me something to look forward to. I don’t want to take my husband’s dream away from him, so for now I don’t need to drag him off the farm. But holding on to my dreams of writing and experiencing the culture of a city need to be part of what it means to be out here. I knew this when we moved, but I didn’t think it would be THIS hard.

And so, here I am, writing about the farm.

It keeps the fire going

In 2018, I attended a local writing conference and heard one of the speakers say she had set a goal of submitting 100 pieces of writing a year. With that many submissions out there, she said, she was bound to score some publications.

I was floored. Here was this amazing poet, someone with books published, telling me that she aims for this large number and is happy if a small part of it is fulfilled. But it was a good nudge, and later that year, after a few years of not submitting much creative work, I dusted off the Submittable account and got busy submitting poetry and hybrid pieces. I did not hit the 100 subs mark (nor had I set mine that high), and I got more rejection notices than acceptance letters. But I landed three pubs, and the momentum pushed me into 2019.

Last year was such a blur that when, over Christmas, I got an acceptance letter from Lethe, an international journal in Istanbul, I didn’t remember submitting work! But a hybrid piece flash piece about my mixed heritage is out in print and will be online soon.

And just last week, another acceptance letter came in, this one from Graphite Interdisciplinary Journal of the Arts, a journal sponsored by UCLA/ TheHammer Museum. 

I don’t typically submit to themed calls for submission, but this one put forth by Graphite, on the topic of “fruit,” inspired me. I was teaching 100 Year of Solitude when I read the call for subs, and we had just entered the banana massacre timeline. Bananas are fruit, I thought, and my research for class led me to some interesting telegrams between the U.S. and Colombian government. So I spun them into a poem. It was one that got accepted, and I’m excited to share it with the world.

Writing is hard work. Finding time to write is hard. And then writing something that’s good enough one wants to submit it? Also difficult. These small pubs are not Poetry Magazine or The New Yorker.  But they still reach people. And because my poetry is almost exclusively about social justice, the publication of my work makes me feel like perhaps some distant reader might be spurred to find a cause of their own, make time for it, and run with it.

Separation

Each morning this week I’ve peered out the window to see a world pricked white with ice and wrapped in heavy fog. Frozen shards of moisture cover the trees, the buildings, the tractors and everything else in my view. Suspended in air, not-quite-frozen moisture thickens the spaces between things.

It’s beautiful, this tinsel and wrap, but I can tell it is heavy.

***

Yesterday, I went snowshoeing through the orchard,  following the small confetti trail of rabbit tracks. I often head out into the world randomly, so having this path to follow is a way to stay grounded. This farm does that for me, sometimes; it provides an anchor, a true north. Lately thought, I’ve been questioning this particular compass.

***

On my way back through the trees, I noticed a few of them had begin to splinter, limbs bending off from body. The weight of all this beauty, the fine, natural form of all those wet molecules has become too much for them after a week — or a lifetime of such weeks. This splitting open of wood and membrane is beautiful in its own way, but painful to observe. This kind of split grows with weight and time and pressure, and soon the limb will pull from the trunk, be torn in two.

***

Life on the farm, for its beauties and wonders, is heavy this time of year. The rabbits are slow and skinny; sometimes ripped apart by predators more assertive than them.

There are apple trees standing dead and brown from last year’s hard winter. The whole world seems to reflect a frozen pond reality of earthy and sky, high and low, beauty and horror.

***

I’ve been thinking about separation a lot lately, and what it means to be close, to share a bond. Two years ago I grafted some of the trees in our nursery with my partner. After a second winter, many are dead. The graft was too weak, or the force of nature too strong. In some cases, the root stock lived, firmly planted in its new home. All grafts have this potential; all transfers run the risk of not taking to their new home.

***

Trampling through the snow,  through powder and across drifts hard with midnight cold, I am a my own world of paradox. I am molecules and atoms swirling in a void of separation and disconnect. And I sometimes want to pull apart, freely, away from this center of gravity and drift on. This is as natural as existence, as harsh and beautiful and cold.

The creative process

One of my biggest struggles as a writer is sitting down to do the work. These days, it seems like I need a reason to write, a reason that goes beyond just scribbling some ideas to play around with. I think this is because having a kid and a farm and a husband means my time for just “playing around” with words feels harder to come by and maybe more selfish than it used to.

But I can get going if I have a reason to write and a deadline. And this month, because South Dakota Poet Laureate Christine Stewart has put forth a call for submissions for a new collection of poetry, I have both.

Stewart’s anthology seeks to highlight life in South Dakota, and I’ve decided to cobble together three poems prior to the March 1 deadline. I’m hoping to highlight life in what South Dakotans call West River, or the area of the state that’s west of the Missouri River. I grew up just south of the South Dakota border out in West River, spent a lot of time fishing on the Missouri River around Pierre, and then moved to Sioux Falls for college. So although I know both ends of the state, and I love Sioux Falls, I’m working on material that highlights the quieter side of the state.

Notes, and a rough poem

I’ve been playing around with some ideas in a Word doc, and others in a notebook. The handwritten stuff is better and more focused. But I’m leading a workshop in revision in a couple of weeks, so today I’m also thinking about what it means to be able to write and revise and save a record of it.  Below, a record of my ideas:

There’s lots going on there. Ideas from an essay I wrote in grad school about dust, and how it differs in rural areas and the city; a quote about rain and maybe physics; the idea that we return to dust; a jotting of words and images. I like this idea of returning to dust not just because its something many are familiar with but because I’ve come back to the country, from the city. I’ve returned to the dust…and if you’ve ever been in my house you know I mean this in a real way.

Despite the vision and the ideas that are sort of swirling around here, I haven’t quite figured out what I want to say in the poem I’m trying to put together. Usually my poetry is driven by social justice issues, and writing about the dust isn’t that.

So for now, I put the idea away. I’ll come back to it tomorrow or the next day, or both. I’ve got that deadline, after all, and now that I’ve adopted it, I’ll have to come up with something.

Yikes!

Oh, dear, reader! Today I updated my list of publications, and I realized it’s been months since I last updated my blog. Surely you don’t care (clearly I don’t either), but oh, my! What a crazy few months it has been since May, when I last made an effort to write. The submission I wrote about then, to Yoko Ono’s project, got accepted, and as far as I know, it is traveling around with the rest of the installation. I had hoped to make it to Chicago to see it at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, but that just didn’t happen.

My son turned one in May, which means he’s 20 months now, and all atoms and molecules whizzing around at uncontrollable rates! He’s a jabberbox as well, and I expect nothing short of a complete collection of written insights and fragments by age 5.

My partner and I grew hemp, joined the Minnesota Department of Ag. for a task force on hemp in the state, learned a lot and have been planning for next year’s crop already. Will it be hemp, or won’t it? I make no promises regarding the crop, nor that I’ll be back soon with an update.

I digress, but it’s been so long since I took a moment to update this dusty old space that it seems only proper to catch one up fully with this note!

Back to writerly news, I attended the 33rd annual Summer Writing Festival at the University of Iowa in July. I submitted my stroke manuscript to be considered for a two-week revisions workshop, and I got in! Along with 9 other writers, I spent two weeks workshopping and revising with Sandra Scofield. It was fantastic, but I’ve only just now started working in earnest on my revisions.

When I came back from Iowa, I put in order a class on “The Literature of Revolution” for my alma mater, Augustana University. We touched on literature from/about Russia, Iran, South Africa, Greece, Mexico, the US and Colombia. I enjoyed being back among my former professors, but teaching face-to-face was a lot of work! Perhaps it’s because at the same time that the fall semester started, a freelance gig I had interest in came through. More on that when I can share!

In the nine months I’ve been away from this blog, I certainly feel like I birthed a child, and perhaps I’ll do no better at writing regularly now than in the year (years) past. What is different now, however, is that I don’t really feel all that bad about neglecting my blog. I’d love to have the free time to write, daily, but if I am too busy to do so, I’ll keep my fingers crossed that it’s simply because I’ve got other writing calling my name.

Seeing each other

Photo cred to my honey, Sean.

May 1. Finally.

After a tough semester, wherein I started out with 122 students in four composition I and II classes, I am finally done grading. I am done with submitting grades. I am done with students…at least until May 6, when my next term starts. It is a small break, but a good one, and it will allow me to send out some submissions I’d neglected in April.

I had hoped to do more writing last month but had to put my goals aside to focus on my students. One of the things I DID accomplish for myself last month was submitting a poem and a picture of my eyes to a project put together by Yoko Ono.

The exhibition is part of a project called “Growing Freedom, the art of John and Yoko.” It features music, written word, images, and I think even more interactive events like yoga and talks. It’s been featured in Iceland and Germany so far, and went up in Montreal on April 25. According to Yoko’s call for submissions, it will continue to make its way around the world.


THE INSTALLATION ARISING WILL CONTINUE TO GROW
AND WILL BE EXHIBITED IN MANY COUNTRIES.

I VERY MUCH HOPE FOR YOUR PARTICIPATION.

– Yoko Ono


Focused on giving women a chance to share “a testament of harm done to you for being a woman,” it sounds like such an interesting way to draw audience participation and raise awareness about a current topic in a new way.

My understanding is that anyone who submits material will have their writing and photo added to the installation. Today I received an email confirming they’d received my work and thanking me for “participating” in the exhibition. I think that means I’m in, but I replied and asked if they could confirm that my submission had been added and maybe even take a picture for me.

If you’d like to submit to the exhibition, you’ll find instructions in the link I shared to the exhibition.

If I hear back, I’ll post an update with the picture. If not, I’ll post an update about the project. Or, if you’d like to learn more, check it out!