What Is the Future?

desksIt’s the end of summer in the academic South, and I’m working on syllabi for my fall courses: Spiritual Autobiographies and Beginning Poetry Writing Workshop. I’m creating the schedule, weeks 1 through 16. I’m filling in the dates, 8/17, 8/19, 8/24…11/23. I’m sequencing the assigned texts: Darling to Dharma Punx; Incarnadine to Night of the Republic.

I’m imagining the writing exercises, the first one an object poem, where the objects are one, five, and ten dollar bills which I’ll hand out in class, and they’ll write, and then we’ll read Howard Nemerov’s ”Monday: An Introductory Lecture,” and I’ll let them keep the money. In Spiritual Autobiographies, the essay based on interviews of parents, grandparents, former teachers, or other adults with whom they interact, about their spiritual lives. In draft form, these essays will be used as another course text. What can we learn about spiritual experience from the lives of those with whom we speak? [Read more...]

The Mystery and Terror of Retirement

3461974640_6abc5773c7_zThe day after I let my wife know that we had enough money to pay for our son’s college education—he was a sophomore at Carolina at the time—, she let me know she had decided to retire in the fall. Our daughter was pregnant. The baby was due in November. After retiring at the end of October, my wife would head to New York to be with our daughter for the final weeks of the pregnancy and the first weeks in the life of our first grandchild.

For a few years, she had been gathering information and planning for her eventual retirement. Still, we hadn’t discussed, after I told her we had college covered, whether this was the time for her to retire. To me it seemed that she left for work one morning, made her decision during the day, and came home and informed me of it. Done deal. [Read more...]

A Cup of Kindness

teaI didn’t think I’d make it through that Tuesday. There I was, sitting in my car as the Fremont Bridge was opening to let a yacht pass through. This was not an occurrence I had planned on, as I’d never known the bridge to open on a winter morning in all the years I’d taught at Seattle Pacific University. And it meant I’d be late to class.

I hate being late, so much that it rarely ever happened. Still, the few times it had, I’d been able to keep my cool. This time, though, was different. I screamed and cursed at the bridge, pummeled my fists on the steering wheel, felt like crying.

I’d become a discombobulated mess.

[Read more...]

Oasis: An Observation from The Way of Saint James

I almost passed it by.

When the offer came in January, I was too busy teaching college writing. Too busy mentoring a student group. Too busy reading for three book clubs. Too busy writing for a blog. Too busy marketing my memoir. Too busy caring for my family, cat, and home.

Maybe I could do it in the summer. More realistically, maybe in the fall.

But the director of the Mental Health Ministry persisted. She described the new program she envisioned at Seattle’s Saint James Cathedral and hoped I’d facilitate: a weekly creative writing workshop for people suffering from painful life events—the death of a loved one, the loss of a job, the effects of abuse, disability, or disease. A workshop where participants could share their stories, order their thoughts, release repressed emotions, begin to heal their grief. A workshop starting February sixth.

To be honest, the prospect was intriguing. For years I’d longed to teach creative writing, something I’d earned a masters degree in, something I’d done when I taught high school. How I’d loved teaching teens to write their stories. Doing so had been more priceless than rubies, more rousing than sunshine, more comfortable than fleece.

[Read more...]

A Baby and a Book Burning

broomI’ve always wanted to have class by the fireplace, she said.

Great, let’s do that. We can burn our books in the fire, I said. We can decorate the room with swastikas, I said.

It was the last day of classes.

It was a week past my stepdaughter’s due date.

The class was droopy. Then I suggested we burn books and adorn the hallowed walls of the Laurel Forum, home of the honors program, with banners bearing swastikas. Surprised, shocked—entertained—they perked up. Was that my Sarah Silverman moment?

You’re Jewish, she said. You can get away with saying that. [Read more...]


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