Flowers in Winter

Aphrodite Amaryllis. 

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Wednesday: The Good, The Bad & The Blah…

The Good

Oh my lovely…
  • Bright orange loafers and green purse arrived in the mail.
  • Creative writing student blog posts.
  • Hot coffee in a big mug.
  • Student submissions to community college lit mag.
  • Fresh fruit cup from the food court.
  • Possibility of teaching a second section of Honors English next term.
  • A good friend and office mate.
  • Wegman’s mushroom masala sauce.
  • Moose Tracks ice cream.
  • A fun weekend on the horizon.

The Bad

  • A 9:00 AM meeting that made me nervous and annoyed.
  • Confusing/inconsistent college policy.
  • A thick gray sky that hung around all day.
  • A freezing cold office. 
  • Absurd emails clogging my inbox.
  • Vague statements on grading rubric.
  • Aching muscles.
  • Deep weariness. 
  • Gray hairs.
  • Alarm clocks.

The Blah

  • January
  • January
  • January
  • Excuses from students.
  • January
  • Bureaucracy
  • January
  • Incompetence 
  • January 
  • January 
I typed in Seasonal Affective Disorder and this is what popped up on Google Images. Courtesy of Sarah Douglas.

    Lovely Things

    This week winter arrived in earnest. The temperatures dropped down to the single digits and the wind blew right down to the bones. It is gray. It is cold. It is January. I’ve always found this time of year challenging no matter where I happened to live. News from Pennsylvania tells of a foot of snow over night. Texas, while somewhat milder, turns a depressing shade of grayish brown and doesn’t have benefit/charm of snow. Kentucky is cold and wet. Indiana? A combination of all three states mixed together with no clear result.

    It is tempting in during these January days to crawl under a blanket with a box of cookies and hibernate until spring. Too specific? I can’t say I haven’t entertained the idea… Thin mints? However, there are still students to teach, poems to write, books to read, and beauty to find even in these relentless days of mid winter. With that in mind, I give you a list of things that allowed me to push through one of many gray days:

    Photo courtesy of Random House.

    Jhumpa Lahiri’s newest novel is to be released September 2013. I have read everything Lahiri is written and I love her. My friend, Natalie, gave me her first novel The Namesake when I was in graduate school and from then on, I was hooked. I use stories from her collection Interpreter of Maladies in my creative writing classes and I recommended her second collection, Unaccustomed Earth, to my mother (she loved it). Her prose is beautiful and lyrical and when I had the opportunity to her her speak at AWP several years ago, I hung on her every word. If you have not read her books, you are missing out on a gem.

    This video comes to courtesy of my sister, Ashley of Apathetic Herbivore and HiFi Hilarity fame. If this doesn’t make you smile, you may not have a heart. Sorry.

     

    Namaste.

    I was feeling kind of “blah” today when I left work but I went to hot yoga anyway. I did the routine. I sweated profusely. I also spent a fair amount of time in child’s pose (see picture to the right). And you know what? I left feeling lighter. I didn’t even mind the freezing air hitting my sweaty skin as I walked out to my car.

    Thanks, Mom!

    This is my Aphrodite Amaryllis that my mother gave me for Christmas. Gorgeous, right? It opened this week and it makes my day to walk in and see beautiful flowers when there is nothing but bare ground outside.

    Fleece blanket courtesy of Janeane Pike.

     Warm blankets and tea? Could there be any better way to battle the cold? I think not.

    The Super Bowl Came to Indy and I Caught a Cold…

    The Super Bowl came to my city this weekend and where was I for the majority of the time? In my house nursing my first (and hopefully my last) cold of the winter. It started on Tuesday and today I am finally beginning to feel semi normal. By semi-normal I mean that I can breath out of both nostrils.

    Anyway.

    I managed to make it downtown on Friday afternoon, so here are some pics from the circle and the Super Bowl Village:

    Bud Light was a major sponsor but I refuse to pay $6 for their beer.

    I live here and I’ve never eaten at St. Elmo’s.

    Lots of fans…

    I took this picture for my dad. Go Giants!

    And here are some pics from around the city that I got off the internet:

    Outside the Children’s Museum. From doingindy.com
    The zip line from the washingtonpost.com
    Crowds at the Super Bowl Village were estimated at 200, 0000. From indystar.com.

    I am watching the game from the comfort of a friend’s house this evening but I hope everyone who is downtown has a great time. Have fun, be safe and GO Giants!

    Why Are Poems About Winter So Grim?

    I like to peruse the websites of The Academy of American Poets & The Poetry Foundation on a semi-regular basis. A lot of the times I just click on random links and read whatever pops up.  Sometimes these are familiar poems but often I stumble upon something new.

    Lately, I’ve been thinking about the impending winter season. Almost all of the leaves are off the trees, Thanksgiving has come and gone and the squirrels are burying their bounty in my backyard, so when I looked at the above mentioned websites this morning, I clicked on poems about winter. After reading several older and contemporary poems, I came to an important realization: winter poems are depressing. Now I know that symbolically speaking at its best winter is associated with sleep/hibernation and at its worst it is about death/decay. Pair these themes with Season Affective Disorder (SAD) and well, I can see why the poets have trouble working up any enthusiasm. I thought if maybe I narrowed my search to “Christmas” or “holiday,” things might perk up. Realization #2, poet’s have a harder time with Christmas than they do with winter in general. The reasons for this seem obvious and understandable, to me at least. Christmas is the land of cliche and materialism. In a sea of Hallmark cards, what self respecting “poet” is going to try and pen a few verses about the joy of evergreen trees or hanging Christmas lights or basting a turkey? Don’t get me wrong. I love Christmas. But write a poem about it? No way in hell.

    Anyway, I did discover a few winter poems I really liked:

    Winter Twilight 

    On a clear winter's evening
    The crescent moon

    And the round squirrels' nest
    In the bare oak

    Are equal planets.
     
    ~Anne Porter 
     
    
    
    Winter Trees
     
    
    
    All the complicated details
    of the attiring and
    the disattiring are completed!
    A liquid moon
    moves gently among
    the long branches.
    Thus having prepared their buds
    against a sure winter
    the wise trees
    stand sleeping in the cold.

    ~William Carlos Williams

    Toward the Winter Solstice

    Although the roof is just a story high,
    It dizzies me a little to look down.
    I lariat-twirl the cord of Christmas lights
    And cast it to the weeping birch’s crown;
    A dowel into which I’ve screwed a hook
    Enables me to reach, lift, drape, and twine
    The cord among the boughs so that the bulbs
    Will accent the tree’s elegant design.

    Friends, passing home from work or shopping, pause
    And call up commendations or critiques.
    I make adjustments. Though a potpourri
    Of Muslims, Christians, Buddhists, Jews, and Sikhs,
    We all are conscious of the time of year;
    We all enjoy its colorful displays
    And keep some festival that mitigates
    The dwindling warmth and compass of the days.

    Some say that L.A. doesn’t suit the Yule,
    But UPS vans now like magi make
    Their present-laden rounds, while fallen leaves
    Are gaily resurrected in their wake;
    The desert lifts a full moon from the east
    And issues a dry Santa Ana breeze,
    And valets at chic restaurants will soon
    Be tending flocks of cars and SUVs.

    And as the neighborhoods sink into dusk
    The fan palms scattered all across town stand
    More calmly prominent, and this place seems
    A vast oasis in the Holy Land.
    This house might be a caravansary,
    The tree a kind of cordial fountainhead
    Of welcome, looped and decked with necklaces
    And ceintures of green, yellow, blue, and red.

    Some wonder if the star of Bethlehem
    Occurred when Jupiter and Saturn crossed;
    It’s comforting to look up from this roof
    And feel that, while all changes, nothing’s lost,
    To recollect that in antiquity
    The winter solstice fell in Capricorn
    And that, in the Orion Nebula,
    From swirling gas, new stars are being born.
     
    ~Timothy Steele 

    Snowflakes (1st stanza)

    Out of the bosom of the Air,
          Out of the cloud-folds of her garments shaken,
    Over the woodlands brown and bare,
          Over the harvest-fields forsaken,
                Silent, and soft, and slow
                Descends the snow. 
    ~Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

    AWP Highlights

    I give you my highlights from AWP, although because AWP also coincided with The Great Ice Storm of 2011, my highlights actually started before I arrived at the airport.

    1. The great ice storm of 2011. Enough said.
    2. Falling off of my deck while attempting to feed the birds (this happened the morning I left).
    3. When RJ and I attempted to leave for the airport, we went out the back to the garage. When we got to our little wooden gate, we were able to get the latch open but there was about an inch and half of ice holding the door shut. See next item on list.
    4. We had to go around the front, so while RJ walked around to get the car, I had to scoot on my butt down our front steps because there was so much ice on the steps that I couldn’t walk in them.
    5. My flight from Indy to D.C. boarded on time. Win!
    6. The jetway was frozen to the ground, so we had to walk across the tarmac to board. This was tricky because everything metal (hand rails & stairs mostly) had about an inch of ice covering it.
    7. Descending into D.C. and seeing the capital, the Washington Monument & The Jefferson Memorial.
    8. My shuttle driver (who had the most beautiful African accent) asking me if it was OK if he got lost going to my hotel. I think he was kidding…
    9. Meeting a fellow writer/conference attendee on the shuttle and having a nice chat that resulted in receiving a business card and having a new blog to follow.
    10. Discovering that the hotel I’m staying at has a great gym and a killer veggie sandwich.
    11. Attending a really interesting first panel sponsored by Writers in the Schools.
    12. Meeting a group of writers from Texas and commiserating about Governor Perry.
    13. Hearing Katrina Vandenberg read at the Fullbright panel. If you have not read her collection, Atlas, do it. It’s an excellent book.
    14. Making my first pass at the book fair and seeing old friends, making new ones and picking up free copies of New Madrid & American Literary Review (publications from Murray and UNT).
    15. Hearing Gary Jackson, Natasha Trethewey, Rita Dove & Yusef Komunyakka read. Wow.
    16. Hearing Marie Howe read. What the Living Do is one of my top 10 favorite poetry collections of all time.
    17. Attending a fascinating panel about writers of color and their role in environmental writing. I usually write down all of the names of books I want to buy after AWP and then add them to my Amazon wish list at the end of each day because if I bought all the books I wanted to while here, I’d be broke. That being said, after this panel, I’m going to buy The Colors of Nature tomorrow.
    18. Listening to Jhumpa Lahiri’s keynote address.
    19. The bookfair. It is amazing.
    20. Going to a table at the bookfair of a journal that I’ve sent poems to in the past and chatting with editor only to find that not only did she remember me, she remembered my poems. Maybe I can do this poet thing for real…
    21. Running into old mentors and friends.
    22. Attending the two year college caucus.
    23. Attending a panel about how to approach disturbing undergraduate writing.
    24. Sharing a cab ride with Khaled Mattawa.
    25. Going for dinner with Natalie & Zach and later meeting up with Michael and other friends.
    26. Driving by the Lincoln Memorial at 6 am. It was all lit up and mystical looking. I think Abe would have liked to see it like this.
    27. Arriving back in Indy in the midst of a snowstorm. I believe the pilot’s exact words were “I just landed in a white out.”
    28. Returning home in one piece after a harrowing ride on the interstate.
    29. Finis.

    Ice Storm 2011

    It started Monday night and at first I thought it was just another example of how the weather forecasters here in the midwest have a tendency to overreact. Unfortunately, this was not the case. The ice started Monday night, went through Tuesday and continued through Tuesday evening/Wednesday morning.

    Our backyard is a skating rink. A deadly skating rink.

    This morning, when I went out to fill the bird feeder, I fell right to my knees. There was no traction and as much as I stomped on the ice, I couldn’t break through the layers of ice and snow and more ice.

    One Tuesday, I went out and took some pictures of our backyard. I thought the ice was beautiful. I mean, I didn’t have to go out in it, so why not enjoy it? Of course, that was Tuesday morning. Tuesday afternoon, I started to worry. By Tuesday night, I was angry. Why? Read below.


    Normally, I could care less about inclement weather. They closed school Tuesday and Wednesday and I would have just snuggled into my couch and worked on grading, submissions or catch up on some reading. However, this weekend happens to be AWP. I’ve been looking forward to this trip for awhile for a few different reasons:

    1. I like AWP (Association of Writers and Writing Programs). It’s fun, interesting and it’s always in a cool place (Chicago, Denver, Austin, etc).

    2. I like getting to see friends at AWP that I don’t normally get to see. I’ve made some plans and I would like to see those plans realized.

    3. I managed to convince my community college that they should cover my trip this year, so it is especially important that I make it to my destination.

    4. I was really looking forward to a change of scene if only for a few days. Winter gets boring.

    I’m sitting in the airport right now. As of now, my flight is still arriving on time. Apparently, the plane is here. The issue is the runways and jetways are covered in ice.

    Hopefully, I’ll still get out today…

    A Trip Back to Erie Would Not Be Complete Without a Snowstorm…

    I left on Wednesday morning (4:30 am is when the alarm went off) to head back to Erie to see my family and to hear Michael Pollan speak at Allegheny College (my old stomping ground) on Thursday night. When I decided to make the trek to hear Michael Pollan, I didn’t realize it would come at such a busy point in the semester. I needed the break more than I even realized at the time, and I was glad to have a change of scene for a few days. An example of how exhaustion can make you stupid came out in full force when my mom called me Tuesday morning to confirm the details of my flight. The conversation went something like this:

    Mom- “I’m going to have your dad pick you up on Wednesday because I have class in the morning. OK?”

    Me- “Sure…Wait. It shouldn’t matter that you have class in the morning. I’m arriving at 6:40 PM.”

    Mom- “No, you’re not. The flight information you sent me says 6:40 AM.”

    Me- “Are you sure? Let me check…”

    Mom-“I’m pretty sure. I wrote it down.”

    Me- “Oh shit…”

    As you can imagine this set me into a whirlwind of panic. I had to find people to cover my classes on Wed and it put preparations for my trip into overdrive. Regardless, I got it all figured out and boarded my flight promptly at 6:25 on Wednesday morning. I arrived in Erie before noon and all was well with the world.
    ____________________________________________________________________

    Michael Pollan’s lecture was very good. My mom and I sat up in the balcony in Shafer Auditorium so we could see his power point presentation. He brought up a lot of points covered in Omnivore’s Dilemma, so I was able to relate and follow his lecture fairly easily. I enjoyed his sense of humor and the way he engaged the audience. He began the lecture pulling out a double quarter pounder with cheese from McDonalds and asking how much energy it took to produce this one burger. He also noted that the first student to ask a question would get the burger. Of course after hearing Michael Pollan speak about food like substances, who wants to eat McDonalds?

    _____________________________________________________________________

    It started snowing Thursday night when we went down to Meadville. By the time we left Allegheny at around 9:00, the roads had deteriorated significantly. I posted some pictures of my parents house after the snow that lasted Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. And I thought I’d dodged a bullet when it didn’t storm over Christmas.

    My mother’s amaryllis were in bloom while I was at home. It’s good to have fresh flowers in the house when the view out of your bedroom window looks like the picture above.

    Sunday Musings

    This Year’s Valentine

    They could
    pump frenzy into air ducts
    and rage into reservoirs,
    dynamite dams
    and drown cities,
    cry fire in theaters
    as the victims are burning,
    but
    I will find my way through blackened streets
    and kneel down at your side.

    They could
    jump the median, head-on,
    and obliterate the future,
    fit .45’s to the hands of kids
    and skate them off to school,
    flip live butts into tinderbox forests
    and hellfire half the heavens,
    but
    in the rubble of smoking cottages
    I will hold you in my arms.

    They could
    send kidnappers to kindergartens
    and pedophiles to playgrounds,
    wrap themselves in Old Glory
    and gut the Bill of Rights,
    pound the door with holy screed
    and put an end to reason,
    but
    I will cut through their curtains of cunning
    and find you somewhere in the moonlight.

    Whatever they do with their anthrax or chainsaws,
    however they strip-search or brainwash or blackmail,
    they cannot prevent me from sending you robins,
    all of them singing: I’ll be there.

    Philip Appleman
    ____________________________________________________________________

    Yesterday RJ and I went to Locally Grown Gardens in Broad Ripple to pick up some fresh produce. Between our CSA ending in December and the closure of most of the farmer’s markets until spring, it’s become somewhat of a challenge to find locally grown food. In addition to produce and baked goods, Locally Grown Gardens also offers open faced BBQ sandwiches and salmon dinners. Yesterday R and I decided on the BBQ for lunch and it was awesome. I didn’t eat anything for the rest of the day. It was sweet and tangy and delicious.

    Here are some pictures I took with my phone while we were there: