Parenting, Poetry

Side Way


Tongues in trees, books in the running brooks,
Sermons in stones, and good in everything.

– William Shakespeare, As You Like It, Act ii, Scene 1

In case of paralysis, break glass. Out there
is here. Stairs, a whining thud, fat-bellied
cicada trapped in a breezeway
flings itself from wall to wall
until it surrenders
to defeat, so much like gravity.
Even with its trident of five eyes,
it is blind to the way through.
Corridor becomes vault. Had it been born
a bluebottle butterfly, it might stand a better chance,
its photoreceptors detecting
a million colors
more than those five eyes,
and far beyond what our feeble pair perceive
(and so believe). We are as wary of spectrometers
and their evidence of hidden hues
as we are of quantum wavefunction
and infrared snapshots of the Kuiper belt. Continue reading “Side Way”


Lunar Equinox

It is frost now, still
faltering between
chill blue knife and furred limb.

Moon meets sun in a garden of stars,
all visible in half-night. A red-tailed fox
skies across gunmetal dawn
feet never touching
the ground. Babies begin
in groaning belly
of robin, raccoon. A squirrel
squatting on the wrist of a high vine
scratches at the shell of last year’s seed. The bare end
of provisions before the next harvest means lean times
for a merciless brood.

The yield may suffice.
It may not.
The way to survive is to live as if both are true
at all times.

Remember: the equinox lasts
a single night. Each of us is on one side or the other
even if the lifting foot is only just clearing the line
even if the bottomless blue still saps any recollection
of fertility. By a hair each day, darkness falls away.
The crack in the ellipse
narrows, the coin tilts on its axis and slips
through. The first moon

of spring is a fat dubloon winging
across the frosted miles, casting off
as it turns the full gleam from the sun. It is only when you stand
just so and gaze just there that you can gauge its trajectory
and lift out your shirt
to collect what spills
over, such riches
only last through twilight and by dawn
you will be blind

Growing Up

Happy 100 Days: 15

Dear One,
The mist was thick on the garden this morning. I could barely see the blackbirds except for the occasional crimson flash like a splash of blood on the tall grass. The rabbits have come back this year. They are impossible to miss. Some mama decided to keep her babies here and also to invite all her sisters to move in with their broods. I have seen the small brown one at the foot of the bending oak. I can’t imagine it is very comfortable there on its young feet. The roots are knotting up through the packed soil. The acorn tops are tiny daggers hidden among stone.
I hope you make it for a visit. The house has been quiet since the little ones left. They aren’t so little, I suppose, but I can’t think of them any other way. I have yet to put away the stack of games in the living room or to arrange the sheet music in the piano bench. The clutter is a welcome noise. It makes the transition to their absence less abrupt. After a few hours of writing at my desk, it is a nice thing to come down to traces of the children.
Today, a new soup is simmering on the stove. Those dried field beans the neighbor brought by finally made it into circulation. It was fun to touch them, to soak them, and to know they grew in a little patch of soil right here. I like to think of her hands pulling the from the vines. We may not have acres, but what we have, we use well.
The thyme and rosemary are drying, hung from twine at the ceiling in the kitchen. I gave her some of the herbs last summer and so she brought the beans. Come to think of it, this might be a good winter to come up with a more contained system for the garlic and herbs. Green dust and bits of paper skin perpetually swirl on the kitchen floor. I like the aroma, though. I can’t bear to seal all this in jars just yet even if it would make a clean path. It is so nice just to reach up for a sprig of this or that and to toss it in the pan. I still love (love!) that smell of olive oil when it is heating over the flame and calling for me to begin.
I hope to share some of this with you when you come.
Know I am here and waiting for you, sweet love. You are always welcome.
With my heart,
Your Future Self

Creativity, Happy Days, Parenting

Happy 100 Days: 21

My son is standing at the kitchen counter with a handful of permanent markers and  a stack of recycled paper. The brush in my hands works its way through his golden hair. The tangle in the back tightens like the fist of Christmas lights we threw into the corner after 30 minutes of trying. The smell of spruce clings to the morning.
Bug continues on a picture of a golf ball factory he began last night. His running commentary distracts us both from the small knots yanking at his scalp. “This bin is for one color, and this one for blue. They get sorted into the right boxes, and here is where they go if the wrong color is in the box. Ow!
“I’m sorry, baby. I’ll go slow.”
He fills the page with tiny circles, long funnels, and snaking tubes. He writes the words “picker” and “golf ball tools.”
When we were decorating, I managed to pick apart one fist of lights and unfurl a string to adorn the tree. When I finished, I hooted and cheered. “Perseverance pays off!” I hoped this would make us all forget about me tossing the other strand aside and declaring it hopeless.
Bug leans close to make a thin line on the edge of the page. My hands follow his arc. I separate the twisted locks at the base of his skull one snarl at a time.  The brush barely moves yet its work is relentless.
“I am going to be an engineer,” he tells me. “Not the train kind. The building kind.”
“Yes, you will, baby. You can build anything you see inside your mind.”
“I know, Mom,” he says.
Good. I lean in and kiss him on the damp head. He barely registers me. He is too focused on crafting his vision one perfect circle at a time. Let’s keep it that way.

Career, Purpose

Happy 100 Days: 43

After a conversation with the boss-lady this morning about how to avoid getting sucked into the minutiae of the job, I printed off Stephen Covey’s time management matrix and gave her a copy.
“Oh my God,” she said. “I live in Quadrant 3.”
“Don’t we all,” I sighed.

Adapted from Stephen Covey’s book, “First Things First”

In my personal life, I am much better at staying up in the desired Quadrant 2 where leadership and quality are nourished. I choose to write every night before bed, not because this is pressing (the world will go on if I don’t post on my blog), but because I have decided it matters. The same is true for morning Zumba, the nightly walk, the ongoing tasks associated with the housing search, and immersing myself in human development literature to support my son’s growth. These projects came about not because someone demanded them of me but because I chose to make them priorities. The urgency was not there, so I had to create a sense of urgency. These practices allow meaningful activities to enrich my life. I feel closer to my purpose. Also, new possibilities keep opening up and piquing my curiosity. I feel almost no pull towards the mind-numbing stuff that populates the Quadrant of Waste.
Work looks very little like that. At least, it doesn’t anymore. The first six months at the job, I was focused and directed because I had so much to learn and only 8 hours in which to learn it. Mastery required organization, and so I created it.
Two years later, it is easy to let myself coast. I respond quickly to the immediate but trivial items that fill up a calendar. Like so many of my university’s administrators, I am excellent at managing the little realm of my position and providing a useful service to my 150-ish students and assorted faculty and staff. All of us on this team are resourceful and efficient. We keep things humming.
We live on the left, skipping between 1 and 3, the Quadrants of Necessity and Deception. We feel like we are working hard because we are. Our students, supervisors, and faculty members commend us for doing very well at keeping on top of the complex admistrivia of our programs.
The cost of all this availability is that we fail to cultivate growth and change. When do we craft vision for new ways of operating? When do we turn off the immediacy and dig ourselves down into the deeper projects? We all have those phantom items on our to-do list, those things we know would open up new doors for us in our work and improve the practices in which we engage.
The top 10 items on my wish list include the following:

  1. Writing a monthly post related to PhD student development on the school’s news website
  2. Attending an annual conference of my professional organization
  3. Reaching out to the directors of two other university offices to craft a writing group on our campus for doctoral students (and possibly faculty) to support each other in writing for publication
  4. Calling up the woman who runs the lifelong learning institute to find out about partnership/teaching opportunities for our students
  5. Seeking out folks on the main campus who have similar roles in their units in order to begin building a network of graduate student services professionals
  6. Doing the same as in #5 with folks from the consortium of Washington area colleges and universities
  7. Teaming up with a faculty member to re-establish the teaching methods workshop series we ran in 2011
  8. Kick-starting the monthly lunchtime social hour for PhD students and faculty
  9. Involving myself in the university’s 10-year visioning process
  10. Cobbling together ideas to enhance wellness offerings for grad students on my campus

This is the first time I have ever written these items down in one coherent format. I am only peripherally aware of this list and am only marginally willing to acknowledge it, even here.  It is a little frightening to write into existence the bigness of all we want to create in our professional lives. Considering how much sweat the small items require, who would want to take on more?
Unless that “more” can become both manageable and fun. Having uninterrupted time as an individual or a team to play with some of these projects might even turn them into play. It won’t work unless we know that the other urgent tasks will have our full focus at some pre-determined point later. Then we can relax enough to turn the attention towards grappling with bigger ideas.
It appears that a more systematic approach to the daily schedule is called for.
For me, the first step is tracking — and then letting go of — all the ways I let myself drift into the Quadrant of Waste during a workday.
This afternoon, I gave it a go. I am lucky to have good practices at home to guide me. There, I sit down an hour or so before bed and I simply begin writing. No aimless wandering, no trolling the internet, no pausing to watch a show on TV. Everything else steps aside and I write.
I did the same at the office. I told my boss I was shutting the door.
“Are you calling your realtor?” She asked.
“No! I’m going into Quadrant 2!”
“Oooh,” she grinned. “Good luck!”
And I did it. Two solid hours of reading, research, writing. I left the email for the end of the day when I knew my brain would not be on the bigger tasks anyway. By 4:00, I had completed the following:

  • Read two dense scholarly articles on glucocorticoid responses to stress and their effects on learning
  • Signed up to participate in the university’s Appreciative Inquiry visioning process next month
  • Drafted a post for the department website
  • Became a member of NASPA
  • Navigated the university’s travel authorization system
  • Began the process of registering for a spring conference in Orlando

I’m fired up for all the little seeds now germinating. Tomorrow and after the holiday break, it will be fun to start giving clearer shape to my work day so that I can water and weed as necessary.
Quadrant 2, baby! It’s my new home away from home!

More on Steven Covey’s ideas here.

Love, Poetry

Happy 100 Days: 49

One day the thing you wished and wished for finally flits down from the clouds and comes close enough to grab. So you reach and you see it wasn’t Icarus after all or a shooting star or anything. It was just a gnat, and it really wasn’t so far off, it was just an inch away all along. And now it is your hand, and so what? You let it go. And then what? Maybe stop making shapes from the clouds. Maybe your savior is not going to emerge backwards through the vanishing point on the horizon. You do not need to squint to see what is coming. Let it settle around you like the way the November frost does whether you asked for it or not. Bundle up. Make your own warmth and notice the way your breath stays close for a beat or two before it leaves you forever.

Tear it Down
by Jack Gilbert

We find out the heart only by dismantling what
the heart knows. By redefining the morning,
we find a morning that comes just after darkness.
We can break through marriage into marriage.
By insisting on love we spoil it, get beyond
affection and wade mouth-deep into love.
We must unlearn the constellations to see the stars.
But going back toward childhood will not help.
The village is not better than Pittsburgh.
Only Pittsburgh is more than Pittsburgh.
Rome is better than Rome in the same way the sound
of raccoon tongues licking the inside walls
of the garbage tub is more than the stir
of them in the muck of the garbage. Love is not
enough. We die and are put into the earth forever.
We should insist while there is still time. We must
eat through the wildness of her sweet body already
in our bed to reach the body within the body.

The poet Jack Gilbert passed away earlier this week. Read more of his work here.