SoCS: High/low

Serendipity is a wonderful thing. When I saw Linda’s prompt for this week, I knew I had to take a few moments to post.

My life has been all about highs and lows lately.

There is this post, “High/low“.

And this post, “Low/high“.

And life is continuing in that vein. Baby ABC is thriving, as Nana becomes more tired and weaker. Nana does have some times that are higher energy than others, though, and it is a huge blessing for all of us to be able to visit often. Of course, ABC steals the show whenever she is there!

Everyone needs a high and spending time with a precious new life is one of the best highs there can be.

It makes the lows more bearable.
*****
Linda’s prompt for Stream of Consciousness Saturday this week is high/low. Join us! Find out how here:  https://lindaghill.com/2017/08/04/the-friday-reminder-and-prompt-for-socs-aug-517/ 

 

The end of reunion and the “after-party”

On Sunday morning, I went to breakfast early and was able to say good-bye to some of my classmates who were heading out before the official end of reunion to beat the Sunday afternoon traffic. Everyone was very appreciative of the events and very happy to have had time together. It is amazing how easily we relate to one another, even if we only see each other in person every five years, or even if we had not known each other well during our student days.

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Helen Hills Hills Chapel Smith College Northampton MA

At nine o’clock, several dozen alumnae gathered at Helen Hills Hills chapel for a service of remembrance. I arrived early and had a few moments to talk to the college organist about changes over the years. His role and the life at chapel are very different than in my years at Smith. When I was a student, there were Catholic, Protestant, and Jewish chaplains and weekly services at chapel for each tradition, along with a network of faculty and community advisors for other traditions. There were three choirs who periodically provided choral music for services, plus a student led gospel choir which sang for some of the ecumenical Christian services and other student volunteers who most often led music at Catholic Mass. (As a Catholic and an organist, I played often at Mass over my four years at Smith, as well as serving for two years as accompanist for one of the choirs and playing almost every organ piece I learned as a prelude or postlude for the Protestant services.)

Now, there are no chaplains and no regularly scheduled religious services on campus. There are advisors available in different spiritual traditions. The chapel still has space for prayer and meditation, but the main body of the chapel is now a multi-use space for concerts, lectures, classes, and the occasional service, such as the one we were gathering for that morning. The chapel was built in the New England Congregational style, but the pews on the main floor have been removed and the floor was changed to wood. It is jarring to me to walk into chapel. I do understand the need to make the space more versatile, but I think it could have been done in a way that was more in keeping with the architecture had the floor been New England hardwood and the chairs less clunky and modern in design. Even more, I lament the loss of service and leadership opportunities in their faith traditions for current students on campus. It was powerful to have services that were planned and attended almost exclusively by women; this basis has been a rock on which I have relied often in the storms that have followed in subsequent decades.

Sorry. End of rant. Back to our service of remembrance…

The prelude and postlude were Bach and we sang three hymns drawn from various traditions and a fellow ’82er sang a solo. There were readings from the Bible, the Qur’an, and from Rumi. Director of Religious and Spiritual Life Matilda Rose Cantwell prepared and led the service very gently and thoughtfully. The most moving part of the service was when Rev. Cantwell invited alumnae to come forward and give a remembrance of someone close to them. People from many different reunion classes spoke about classmates, professors, and family members. Two of my classmates who were from Northampton spoke movingly about their parents’ relationship with the town and the College. My college roommate, who served as one of the deacons of the Ecumencial Christian Church, spoke about two of her fellow deacons who died, Beth, during our senior year, and Amy, who died just weeks before reunion.

After the service, we visited Beth’s memorial tree beside the chapel.

Then, we continued on to our final official reunion activity, Sunday brunch. Our table did express our disappointment that our favorite sour cream coffee cake was not on the buffet.

We went back to our rooms to pack up and make sure that our headquarters was squared away before we left.

Several of us decided to stay in Northampton another night in order to process and decompress, particularly to support our two housemates who had chaired the reunion for our class. We decided to visit the Art Museum, which had a special exhibit on the villas of Oplontis near Pompeii. We then dispersed for hotel check-in and reconvened at Fitzwilly’s in downtown Northampton for dinner, joined by a housemate from the class of ’81 who lives locally. We then went back to one of the hotel rooms and proceeded to talk and talk and talk, with quite a bit of laughter mixed in!

We spent Monday morning doing what we needed to do, in my case, catching up on a bit of shopping, including buying some Massachusetts maple syrup to bring home for us and for Nana and Paco. We met for a final lunch together at Paul and Elizabeth’s, a restaurant at Thorne’s Market that was new when we were students. More eating, talking, and laughing and then a round of good-byes.

Before I left Northampton, I had one more visit to make. Another business that opened in Northampton when we were students is Steve Herrell’s Ice Cream. I always visit when I am in town. They have redecorated since my last visit, giving more area for seating. I splurged and ordered a sampler so I could have four flavors: black raspberry, malted vanilla, peppermint, and apple cider. Yum! I was happy to have the company of my in-town friend. We lingered for a long while, catching up on our lives and marveling at how Smith friends, even when they don’t see each other often, can immediately re-connect on a deep level.

Eventually, though, I had to head for home, although I could not help but feel that reunions are too short and too far apart.

 

 

Smith 35th!

On Thursday afternoon, I arrived in Northampton, Massachusetts for my 35th reunion at Smith College.

Thursday is light on scheduled activities, as many participants can’t arrive until later in the weekend, but it gives those of us who do have the opportunity to get started on heavy-duty reminiscing, as well as catching up on our current lives and loves. We spent hours chatting at our headquarters and over dinner at the Cutter-Ziskind House dining room. We reflected in a special way on the classmates we have lost over the years; our class memorial chairs thoughtfully prepared a compendium of our deceased classmates which brought each of them to mind for us.

Friday presented us with a number of options for presentations and reflections. In the morning, I chose to attend a faculty presentation by Ellen Doré Watson, entitled “How Poems Mean.” It was held at the Poetry Center, of which she is the current director. We filled the room with women (and one spouse of the male persuasion) and read and discussed poems from a thick packet that Ellen had compiled for us, illustrating how poets convey meaning to readers/listeners. After the presentation, I perused the collection of poetry books and journals, spending the most time with the shelves devoted to alumnae poets. I was especially excited to see the books of Anne Harding Woodworth ’65, with whom I have sung with the Smith College Alumnae Chorus. Anne is one of my poetry godmothers, who has always been generous in giving encouragement and advice. I was pleased to have a bit of time to speak with Ellen personally after the gathering had dispersed. I hope to meet her again, perhaps for manuscript review through the Colrain conferences or when I return to campus.

After lunch, a classmate and I walked around campus, enjoying the exercise, our surroundings, and conversation. We were able to visit Haven House, where I lived all four years. It has had extensive renovations since then, so it was interesting to see what had changed – which is nearly everything. I was touched, though, that our wooden mailboxes remain in place, even though students now receive mail through boxes at the Student Center. Even more amazing was that our napkin boxes are still there. In our student days, Haven had its own kitchen and dining room for our residents and those of our sister-house Wesley. We each had our own cloth napkin, which was kept in a labelled cubby near the dining room entrance, taken out and returned there for each meal. The college laundered them every week. Now, dining is concentrated in fewer locations with recycled paper napkins available, but I admit to feeling nostalgic for our student days with homestyle serving most evenings – and candlelight on Thursdays.

Later in the afternoon, I helped to host the Alumnae Chorus reception, along with other Alumnae Chorus members from the class of ’82. We are always on the lookout for other singing alums to join us for events, on campus, in the US, and abroad. We were excited to have Alice Parker ’47 join us, along with a number of her classmates! While we were students, we sang her works, including a commission for the 25th anniversary of Helen Hills Hills chapel. The Alumnae Chorus was honored to sing in a tribute concert for and with her in 2014. Alumnae Chorus will be doing a US event in 2018 and another international tour in 2019, so we have a lot to look forward to!

SCAC reunion reception w/Alice Parker
Alice Parker ’47 with Smith alums

Next was a class dinner, which President Kathleen McCartney visited. This is our first reunion since she became president. I was so impressed with her warmth and Smith-spirit! Smith is lucky to have her at the helm.

After dinner, we returned to our class headquarters for “A Night of Passion” in which classmates shared what they are passionate about. Language, music, nature, quilting and fabric art, writing, and more – each presentation uniquely fascinating.  I participated by reading an excerpt from this blog post about meeting up with Smith friends and two Smith related poems, including “Lessons from Mahler”. I so appreciated the warm reception from my classmates, most of whom remember me, if they do at all, as the organist I was in our campus days. It was so affirming to my current poet-identity to have them react so positively to my poems.

When I fell into my dorm-bed in my room overlooking the lawn where the diploma circle was held after commencement last Sunday, I felt content – and really, really tired. I’m not used to being on the fourth floor…

Waking up in the dark

I am not a fan of Daylight Saving Time, which started today in most of the United States.

It is not an accurate name. The amount of daylight is determined by astronomy, not by clocks. Naming the time of sunrise and sunset differently does not change the time between those two events.

What most annoys me, though, is waking up in the dark again. I had just gotten to the point where I was waking up to the light of dawn, which I find more energizing, and now I am instantly back into mid-winter waking-to-darkness.

This is not helped by the fact that we are having a cold snap and may soon have the most snow we have had in weeks, depending on the track of a developing nor’easter.

I know that many people will argue that having it be light longer in the evening makes up for the dark mornings, but we had already been able to eat dinner in natural light, although I admit that we tend to eat dinner on the early side.

By June, it won’t be fully dark until after 9 PM, which makes our usual 10 PM bedtime feel like we are children, being put to bed as soon as evening falls.

Daylight Saving Time, especially the current US implementation, also causes issues with long-distance communications. E’s daily call time with her employer in Hawai’i will shift. B’s daily 6 AM conference call with colleagues in India (thankfully) stays at 6 AM for him, but his India team has to change the time at which they call. Because the US extended the dates of DST, for the next three weeks, US time will be out of sync with many of the countries that observe DST using the original dates.

It would be so much simpler if we just dropped the whole concept and left our clocks alone.

Daylight doesn’t care, but I do.

How do you feel about Daylight Saving Time? Is it observed where you are?

changes

Since December 26th, E and T, our adult daughters, have been living with us. We weren’t sure how long this would last, but now we know.

Not much longer.

T has been offered a job beginning February first as part of a grasslands research study by the Department of Environmental Conservation – in Missouri.

T has a particular interest in grasses and prairies. She can rhapsodize about sedges. We are very happy for her as this will be great experience for her post-master’s degree resume and allow her to work in a prairie ecosystem, which has long been a dream of hers.

We are shifting into high gear to prepare for her 1,000+ mile move, which needs to happen quite quickly.

Thinking about the move is bittersweet, though. We will miss having T here with us, especially her hugs. Because she will be in a rural area, her internet access will be limited, so there is unlikely to be much videochatting.

We will try to enjoy these last few days with the four of us together, even though they will be busy. And we will have memories of these rare few weeks together to last for years to come.
*****
Join us for Linda’s Just Jot It January! Find out how here:  https://lindaghill.com/2017/01/16/jusjojan-daily-prompt-jan-16th17/

Middle of the night to middle of the night

I started my writing day on  Sunday at 3 AM, drafting the “Meanwhile in Tibet” poem that has been sloshing about in my brain intermittently since last November in my journal, so as not to expose myself to the blue light of my Chromebook. (Point of information, or, perhaps, warning : I am writing this now at quarter of two Monday morning on my Chromebook, hoping that the blue light won’t keep me from catching a few hours of sleep later on. Many “night’s sleep” for me lately resemble a couple of naps, instead of a single expanse of sleep. So, back to the story of yesterday…)

After a few more hours of sleep, I breakfasted on an excellent apple crumb cake that I had bought on Saturday from the Clarksburg Bread Company at the farmers’ market and went to my studio to write. I began a Fall Foliage Parade poem, recollecting my memories of the parade as a child, and I typed in and revised the Tibet poem. By then, lunch was approaching, so I decided to go down early to make some notes for a planned poem on local supporters of the museum.

We lunched and visited and, while the other poets started a workshopping session, I excused myself to attend the parade. I walked over Hadley Overpass and settled myself on the rail only feet away from where we used to watch the parade in front of my grandparents’ home on State Street. The building is no longer there, replaced by greenspace and a path into Heritage Park. The crowds were thin and the parade resembled more Fourth of July or Old Home Days in the small towns than the Fall Foliage Parades of forty-five years ago. It was also strikingly quiet for a parade, to the the extent that a couple of marchers actually asked what I was doing scrawling in my notebook as they passed. Telling a stranger you are making notes for a poem can result in some rather quizzical looks. I definitely have material to contrast the two eras, although the actual writing may have to wait until I am back home. I am acutely aware of how much I still want to do and see here and how little time there is. I have not even visited any of the new MoCA exhibits yet.

With the parade being barely an hour, I arrived back in time to catch the second half of the workshop period. I workshopped my Boiler House poem and received lots of good feedback for revisions. I continue to contend with the issue of how to address writing about art installations in a way that is engaging as poetry and not dependent on having experienced the art on which the poem is based.

We decided to have supper at the Freightyard Pub and to walk there rather than drive. As the local, albeit several decades removed, I was the designated tour guide, so I went for a walk to decide on the best route. It isn’t far but there are both railroad track and river crossings with which to contend and I wanted to check out conditions of walkways and such. I am happy to report that I successfully guided the group to dinner and back with no turned ankles.

Kyle proposed an additional workshopping session, so we headed back to the Studios. I decided to present The Octagon Room draft by just reading it from my google docs, thus saving paper. The basic question is whether it is worth working on as it is basically at the moment a very, very long list poem. The basic answer is “yes, but…” Everyone was helpful with ideas to approach revision. The $64 question is whether or not I have the skill to pull it off. It needs to percolate a bit, so I will set it aside and pick it up later after I am back home.

By the end of the session, I was too tired to work on this post. (I was probably too tired during the session to be as effective as I ought to have been; fortunately, everyone else was more with it than I.) I collapsed into bed and really, Mom, I did sleep for a while before writing this. It’s almost three o’clock now, so back to bed…

My first MOOC

I am a proud alumna of Smith College, one of the oldest women’s colleges in the United States. I am committed to the liberal arts tradition of pursuing education in both breadth and depth and am eager to learn new things.

So, when Smith announced that it was offering its first ever MOOC (Massive Open Online Course), entitled Psychology of Political Activism: Women Changing the World, I jumped at the chance to sign up, ultimately joining over 5,000 participants from 140 countries.

The seven-week course, taught by Professor Lauren Duncan, was scheduled to begin March 21. In the weeks prior, I had carefully planned for the three to five hours a week that the course was projected to take.

Within the first twenty-four hours that the course was available online, my mother-in-law died after suffering a heart attack.

I wasn’t sure whether or not I would still be able to do all the course activities as I had planned. In one of our first assignments, we had to state our learning goals. I honestly said that I didn’t know how well I would be able to keep up, but that I intended to try.

Back in the day, I was a very good student – and hyper-conscientous. Those instincts reasserted themselves and, even though I was exhausted and overwhelmed, I kept up with the coursework, which often took longer than five hours for me to complete, until the last week. We were to write a five to ten page paper and critique another student’s paper – and I just did not have the time/brain power/concentration to do it. It was some comfort that, because I had completed all the other work, I had enough points to pass the course, had I actually been taking it for credit, which I wasn’t…

Despite my less than optimal participation, I was very pleased to have taken this course and learned a lot from it. I have admired many activists and it was interesting to gain insights into their personal makeup and motivations. Given that I have been involved in  activism myself in several different areas, including feminism, social justice, and environmentalism, I was also able to see some of what I learned alive in me.

The course used the lives of eight activists to help teach various theories of the psychology underlying group identity and activism. Our first step was to choose one of the eight women to study in depth by reading her oral history transcript from the Smith College Archives. Our choice divided us into study groups facilitated by Professor Duncan’s on-campus student assistants.

I chose Katsi Cook, who is a member of the Mohawk nation and an activist for feminism and indigenous rights, combining in her work as a midwife/educator utilizing medical knowledge in a culturally appropriate practice, and for environmental justice. Since my New England childhood, where we lived in an area that had once been home to the Mohawk nation, I have been interested in the indigenous peoples of North America, so I loved reading about Katsi’s experiences as a Mohawk, particularly the storytelling aspect. I was also drawn to Katsi as I have a long-standing interest in women’s health issues and in environmental issues.

Even though we each chose one activist to study in depth, we learned about all the others, who were active in racial issues, gender issues, and civil rights, through their timelines and other course references. Each week, we also learned about Smith alum and feminist icon Gloria Steinem. There was even a special discussion board for Gloria Steinem’s segment of the course, which gave us a forum for addressing our own experiences with activism.

After an introductory week in which we chose the activist to study in depth and read her oral history, we used the next five weeks to study a relevant psychological theory, beginning with earlier work and progressing through to more recent developments in the field. We read scholarly articles and viewed Professor Duncan’s lectures on them, along with relevant applications to our group of activists.

I found the earlier weeks, which  involved older theories, to be insufficient to explain Katsi Cook’s or Gloria Steinem’s or my own experiences, although I certainly gained some insights. One of the most important for me was learning about Politicized Racial and Feminist Identity Theory. There is a stage in this theory called immersion in politicized racial identity and embeddedness in feminist identity in which the individual ties themselves so closely to their racial or gender group that they exclude those who don’t belong to their group. In this phase, attitudes toward people outside the group can be very rigid and negative. For the vast majority of people, this phase leads to an emersion/emanation phase, in which the individual develops a more open and nuanced way of relating to people from other identity groups.

Learning about this theory made sense of a situation that bothers me. Many people have a negative connotation of feminism because they think that feminists hate men and feel superior to them, a viewpoint that may be held by women feminists in the embeddedness phase but that is not held by most feminists. Unfortunately, this misunderstanding has led many feminists of all ages and genders to be reluctant to use the word feminist to describe themselves. I appreciate and participate in the current efforts to reclaim the accurate use of the words feminism and feminist, but it can be difficult to educate people. It was helpful for me to be able to apply insights from this theory to this current problem.

In the later weeks of the course, we learned more about some more recent developments in psychological theory. One of the most helpful for me in describing what I saw in Katsi Cook’s life and my own was the concept of intersectionality. The theory takes into account that we each have multiple identities which interact and determine our thoughts and actions. For example, I am a woman, a Catholic, a person with roots in the rural Northeast United States, a parent, a college graduate, and an Irish-Italian-American. Those aspects of my identity, along with others, impact my thoughts, actions, and reactions. Causes in which I am active, such as the movement toward women’s ordination in the Catholic church and the climate justice movement, relate in various ways to several aspects of my identity, not just one.

Another concept that struck me in particular in the later weeks was that of generativity. In examining what personality traits and life experiences lead to activism, we examined the impetus to change things for the better for current and future generations and to pass on knowledge and wisdom. All of the activists we studied showed this trait and it is something that I am acutely aware of in my own life. So much of the work of activism is about making change possible for the future, even when you know you are unlikely to see the final results of your work. Elizabeth Cady Stanton did not live to see women gain the federal right to vote in the United States, but her activism helped to make it possible. Many civil rights activists died before seeing Barack Obama elected president, but their witness was vital in moving the country forward. I myself am aware of the generativity aspect of my own activism. I may not see women ordained in the Catholic church but perhaps my daughters will. I won’t know how much impact my work against fossil fuels and for renewable energy and efficiency will have on the extent of global warming, but I feel obligated to future generations to try.

I truly appreciated this course and all I learned from it. The second offering of this course will begin on September 12, just a few days from now. If you are interested you can register here: https://www.edx.org/course/psychology-political-activism-women-smithx-psy374x-0. Professor Duncan has wisely added an audit option for the course, so people can choose to view the course materials and participate in the discussion boards without having to worry about papers, quizzes, and grades.

When things settle down here, I may be on the lookout for another MOOC. There is always so much more to learn.