Saturday, May 23, 2009

MFA Residency – Day 2

It is now Saturday night, May 23rd, nearly 9:00 pm and the end of the first full day of residency here at Spalding University’s brief-residency MFA in Writing Program. The day was, well, in a word: long. And, this is not just according to me. I heard it time and again from students and faculty members alike. It was also: terrific, exciting, exhilarating, and inspirational.

That’s kind of what residency is all about. We are thrust into the company of a number of writers in all sorts of genres with varied interests, lives, talents, and ways of looking at the world. Today was the first day of workshop and the first full day of lectures and readings and sharing meals together. Some are down in the lobby of the Brown Hotel right this moment sharing a beer or a glass of wine or – given that we are in Kentucky, after all – a glass of fine bourbon. (I will join them there soon!)

The final event of this day was the first installment of Spalding’s Festival of Contemporary Writing, featuring six faculty members reading from new and/or recent work. Dianne Aprile, Greg Pape, Jody Lisberger, Ellie Bryant, Philip Deaver, and Mary Waters each read this evening and each was positively delightful in their own particular ways. What a pleasure (and inspiration) to hear such magnificent work from these faculty mentors (many of whom I’ve worked with and/or come to know over the past year).

Tomorrow we’re at it again and I, for one, can hardly wait.


Friday, May 22, 2009

MFA Residency – Early Day 1

I arrived in Louisville, Kentucky a little before 8:00 p.m. last night having left Chicago right around 12:30 yesterday afternoon. This morning I’ve been rereading and revising my comments regarding the writing of five of my fellow MFA students with whom I’ll be in workshop these next ten days.

This afternoon things begin with a meet and greet of sorts followed by dinner and then the Book-in-Common discussion led by Program Director Sena Jeter Naslund and Associate Program Director Kathleen Driskell. This residency’s Book-in-Common is Claudia Emerson’s Pulitzer-Prize winning book of poetry, “Late Wife.” “Book-in-Common” means that all MFA students regardless of genre or term within the program read the book prior to residency for a full group (plenary) discussion. Later in the week, we’ll have the opportunity to meet and speak with Claudia Emerson, which is always a highlight of the residency here at Spalding University’s brief-residency MFA in Writing Program.

Soon, I will meet up with one of my fellow students for lunch at the Bluegrass Brewing Company, a nifty bar and restaurant just across the street from the Brown Hotel. Fellowship with other writers is one of the most enjoyable and gratifying aspects to the 10-day residencies we have twice a year here. Writing is such a solitary vocation most of the time that being able to share notes and work and thoughts and victories and frustrations with other writers is very welcome, indeed.

Spalding is a highly supportive community of writers and I’m enjoying the anticipation of all getting under way, of seeing the many friends I’ve made within this community, and, most especially, of continuing on my journey to try to be a better writer.

More to come… Namaste.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

The Peace of Wild Things

Earlier today while taking a short break from preparing for my upcoming MFA residency in Louisville, I was cleaning up the kitchen – while listening to National Public Radio’s Speaking of Faith – and the announcer mentioned that a Wendell Berry poem would be featured in the next segment. Having been assigned some Wendell Berry prose to read in advance of this month’s residency, I turned up the volume and looked forward to hearing the poem. This is the poem Krista Tippett, the show’s host, read:

The Peace of Wild Things

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children's lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

Wendell Berry, "The Peace of Wild Things" from The Selected Poems of Wendell Berry. Copyright © 1998.

Wow. Indeed. And all that.

This reminds me so much of what I’ve been reading lately, most especially the works of Eckhart Tolle. It also calls to mind the following well known Biblical verse: “Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.” (Matt. 6:28-29)

Berry writes of the “wild things/who do not tax their lives with forethought/of grief.” Isn’t it interesting that he writes “of” grief rather than the more expected (and, I suppose, more pedestrian) “or” grief? And the idea of “not taxing” one’s life is precisely what Tolle is talking about when he counsels that we should live in the present moment in a spirit of acceptance; for, what is is. And there’s really little we can do to change that. What we can control is what action(s) to we take or not take in response to what is.

The “day-blind stars/waiting with their light” that Berry writes about remind me of Tolle’s reminder that even on a cloudy day, the sun is still there. We simply are not able to see it.

Thank you Mr. Berry. Thank you Ms. Tippett for reading this on today’s program. And thank you wild things for demonstrating peace and living in the now and accepting things as they are each and every day.


Tuesday, May 12, 2009

On Smoking Outside…

Lest the title make you think that this will be a rant of one sort or another regarding the burdens of having to light up outside rather than inside, worry not. Quite the contrary…

Yes, I’ll admit that I was not in favor of the laws spreading across the country that ban smoking in restaurants and bars (and, I suppose I’m still not in favor of them on a free-market sort of principle, but let’s not go there), but, honestly, that’s not what this posting is about.

Last week, last Wednesday to be precise, my wife and I decided that we were no longer going to smoke in our home. If we wanted a cigarette, we could go outside to have one. This may not sound like that big a deal, but believe me it’s a major shift – especially for me. Gloria has never smoked as much as I do and she also has a job nine months out of the year where she has to smoke outside, so she’s pretty used to it.

I, on the other hand, work at home almost all the time. I have become very accustomed to smoking at my desk while writing, talking on the phone, reading, you name it. Not anymore.

Here’s the great thing. There have been many moments in the past near week where I’ve had the impulse to light up while working at my desk and then I remember, “Oh, right, we don’t smoke inside anymore.” Sometimes, I’ll take a moment to walk downstairs to where our porch is (my office is in the refinished attic of our house) but more often I’ll just wait. The result has been that I have cut my cigarette consumption in half. I know that this isn’t precisely the same as quitting, which is an ultimate goal, but it is a step onto the glide path towards quitting. And that’s a good thing.

By deciding to ban smoking inside of our home, the decision to light up has been made significantly more conscious. And let’s face it, part of what makes smoking a “habit” is that it can become an unconscious or a barely conscious thing to do for the addicted smoker. The phone rings, you light up. You send some files to upload and see that they will take seven minutes, you light up. You get the picture. That’s unconscious smoking.

You might say, “Well, it’s spring in Chicago now, going outside to smoke is no big deal.” Sure, to a degree, but it also got down to forty degrees last night, spring or not. And, besides, I’m hoping that by the time autumn returns (and morphs into the cold winters for which Chicago is well known) I’ll be ready to kick the habit once and for all. If not, I’ll bundle up tightly.


Friday, May 8, 2009

Renovation Day 2

These guys are good! Amazing, really.

The work began yesterday and by the end of the day all the fixtures had been removed (including getting the bathtub upstairs), the walls were opened, and all of the tile was removed. Early this, the window came out and the new glass block window will be installed later today – that is, if the contractors come back. They left for more parts and tools nearly three hours ago. “We’ll be back in about an hour,” they said. Am I nervous? Just a wee little bit. As you can see in the top two pictures, there’s no window at the moment and it’s looking like rain…

They’ll be back I’m certain. They know their stuff and I have to say that this is really the first time that I’ve ever felt like contractors are performing the work as if they were working in their own house. There’s been a minimum of mess – but, let’s face it: when opening walls, there’s always going to be some dust.


Thursday, May 7, 2009

The 21st Century Shower #2

Okay, so perhaps we aren’t as old fashioned as I asserted in my last posting.

Yes, we are eschewing the thermostat that the lady at the store kept saying we simply MUST have. But, we are installing a pretty snazzy showerhead from Grohe called Freehander®. (Gloria and I have already started referring to it as the freeloader. We’re sometimes silly that way.) If I’ve been able to figure out the technology properly, you should be seeing an image of Freehander® directly to the right.

I have to say that I am very much looking forward to trying this. The two showerheads both pivot and rotate and arm can move up and down. As the promotional material on Grohe’s website exclaims: “Thanks to its ingenious design, GROHE Freehander® shower can simply be turned from an overhead shower to a side shower.” Sold!

Today the work on the bathrooms began. There is not a toilet and a sink sitting in front of the fireplace in our living room. A five-foot cast iron claw foot tub sits about ten feet away from my desk in my office. It’s awaiting its new home up here. The contractors tell us that the new shower might be done as early as next Tuesday and then they’ll move up here and start the demolition of this bathroom.

Fortunately we will never have to do this again.