An “African” Christmas Party

“Gateway to Africa Tree”

Every year the university at which I teach hosts an elaborate “themed” Christmas party. Faculty, staff, and administrators dress according to theme, compete for prizes in some cases (like the ugliest sweater contest one year and the talent competition another year). Photo booths, craft stations, excellent music, door prizes, food, and “the envelope” that reveals our Christmas bonus are “staples” of the event. This year there was even a massage station and a cash bonus in addition to our regular bonus!

The team that coordinates the event always does an extraordinary job transforming the university’s skating rink into an amazing reflection of the theme, but this year’s theme, “Gateway to Africa” ousted my former favorite, “New York, New York.” I was thoroughly thrilled when I entered the party yesterday because I love African art and textiles.

Take a look at what I managed to capture [click an image for a closer look]:

The tree was decorated with African flags, fabric, masks, and ornaments in the shape of the continent:

The displays featured African clothing, art, baskets, and other items.

Everything was beautiful!

For faculty, the party marks the beginning of the holiday break. We submit grades on Monday, party Tuesday, and then recuperate from Fall Semester and rest up for January.

And so winter vacation begins…

Oops!

I failed.

As a recovering perfectionist, failure can wreak havoc on my psyche. I have to coach myself away from negative feelings that start in the pit of my stomach and that, if left unchecked, work their way into my mind and set up shop.

And here’s the thing. It’s not even a “real” failure. I simply missed posting a microblog yesterday. Not because I forgot. Not because I had nothing to talk about, but simply because I was feeling other feelings and couldn’t shake those feelings enough to pull up my blog and write.

I crawled into bed much too early, thinking I could nap away the feelings. I opened my eyes every now and then to check the time, hoping I’d have enough of some other feeling to post something before Monday became Tuesday. Anything.

I last looked at the clock at 11:20 p.m. and thought…there’s still enough Monday left.  Then, I slipped into a deep, deep sleep.

I chided myself about it all day.

This is my attempt to “get over it” and to stop beating myself for what can’t be undone. I enjoy blogging—it has been a safe space for the last five (plus) years and I don’t want to associate negative feelings with my blog.  So, I’m shaking those feelings by expressing them and by reminding myself—that “if at first I don’t succeed” at blogging every Monday for 52 weeks straight, then I can “try, try again” next year if I choose.

More importantly, I am allowing space for my own “humanness” and acknowledging that reconciling those other feelings was far more important than a blog post at that moment.

The Twilight Zone: 5 AM Thoughts

Recently, after much encouragement, one of my students started a blog. She has a deep inner life that needed expression, and I felt through blogging she could exercise her voice and practice the discipline of writing. I just caught up on the posts that I missed. Many had me “laughing out loud” in my “too quiet” office. I particularly love the “Twilight Zone” post in which she talks about the “weird” realm English majors enter during the final exams period. If I had the energy, I would respond to her post with the “twilight zone” period from the English professor’s experience—days that begin too early and end too late, face buried in papers, and deep sleep falling in the middle of typing comments on students’ papers. We live for the day we hit submit on the final grade for the final course. And then…we sleep. No time to expound on that now, but since we’re all in that zone somewhere, I thought I’d share this piece. Enjoy!

The Yellow Nook

Good early morning all. Thanks to the God above, my eyes are rested well enough to stay open this time around. Hopefully my mind is as well rested as my eyes.

Thought: I and everyone on this campus has entered the twilight zone of finals.

Its absolutely hilarious.

If you dont know what it is, I recommend watching A Different World. They have an episode dedicated to this very thing. It was never my favorite episode, but once I realized that this specific twilight zone was very real, I immediately appreciated it a lot more than I did before.

Yesterday I went to my Descriptive Grammar class, which is taught by the amazing Dr. Prigg. I walked in the classroom, wearing shoes I never wear on the regular school day, with hair that could have passed as “done”, but in reality was actually not. A classmate that rarely ever comes…

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Till the Gossamer Thread Catch: A Short Break with Walt Whitman

I’m in the middle of grading a heap of papers and trying desperately not to lose focus until I reach today’s goal, so I’m dropping in to share a “photo poem” I pulled from my “archives”–the second verse of Walt Whitman’s “A Noiseless Patient Spider” paired with a dandelion I shot some time ago.

You can find the (only a few lines longer) full poem and a little about the poet here: Academy of American Poets: Whitman.

Until next time…

Psalm 23 Celebration Freebie: We Did It Again!

Yesterday, one of my besties, Aleta, sent a morning text filled with encouragement for the day and a beautiful poem, a reworking of Psalm 23 by Japanese poet, Toki Miyashina. She wrote:

The poem speaks perfectly to our need for peace and calmness of mind as we rush through our days of madness. Meditate on it today…

When the seriously involved mom of four-busy lawyer-pastor’s wife who is also taking courses toward yet another degree tells me that something helps her find balance in her days, this woman takes note.

The Lord is my Pace-setter, I shall not rush;
He makes me stop and rest for quiet intervals.
He provides me with images of stillness,
which restore my serenity.
He leads me in ways of efficiency
through calmness of mind,
and His guidance is peace.
Even though I have a great many things
to accomplish each day,
I will not fret, for His presence is here;
His timelessness, His all importance,
will keep me in balance.
He prepares refreshment and renewal
in the midst of my activity
by anointing my mind with His oils of tranquility.
My cup of joyous energy overflows.
Surely harmony and effectiveness
shall be the fruits of my hours;
for I shall walk, in the pace of my Lord
and dwell in His house forever.

The only “solid” information I have on the poem is that it was written in the mid-1960s. But what has been popularized as the “Japanese Translation of Psalm 23” is really a reworking or reinterpretation of the psalm rather than an actual translation of scripture. No matter. Toki Miyashina beautifully captures the essence of the psalm for the busyness of our modern-day lives: God as guide and giver of rest and sustenance and God as pace-setter and balance-keeper, under whose management we produce harmony and effectiveness.

I must see this poem as I’m going through my busy days, so I designed a simple printable for my Arc and Classic planners. And…I’m giving them to you in celebration of my completion of NaBloPoMo for the second year in a row and as a simple “thank you” for enduring my random postings and musings for the last 30 days.

There are two designs and three different sizes: for full-sized planners and notebooks (8.5 x 11–such as the Arc, Levenger, or Tul); for the Classic (5.5 x 8.5–Franklin Covey, DayTimer, DayRunner, etc.); and for A5 planners. The printable was designed with floral elements from Jen Maddocks Designs. Take your pick and download the size you need–or all of them. Click one of the links below:

Be sure to adjust your printer settings for the size you need. Enjoy!

Divided: Photos Caught During Conversation

As I was “flicking” through photos on my phone, I realized that all of the photos I captured with my phone this week were shot while I was in conversation with others…

An abandoned home while chatting with my hubby during our morning drive:

“Abandoned on 53”

An expiring dragonfly while one of my students was sharing a profound spiritual experience:

“Glassine Wings”

My favorite image of the week–wires and lines while chatting with the same student and a colleague after grabbing lunch:

“Angles”

The pretty butterfly, part of the Christmas decor adorning the banister outside my office as a conversation with another student was ending.

“Pearls and Lace”

I was fully tuned in to each conversation when these images literally grabbed my attention, but I imagine it must be (at least) slightly annoying to have a conversation with someone who pauses or slows her step during conversations to take a shot at something that catches her eye. So “thank you” to everyone who accepts me and my camera (or iPhone) and understands that those pauses to consider the little things provide necessary balance for an often too busy life.

A Moment with the Empress and the Lady

When I taught African American literature, blues artists Bessie Smith’s and Billie Holiday’s songs were key in deepening students’ understanding of the continuities of Black experience and literature and arts in America. I haven’t taught the literature since we moved to Northern Alabama, so their music is collecting dust. In fact, I think the collections are still in boxes.

A couple of days ago, I ran across a Billie Holiday postcard that I’ve had for quite some time–a familiar photo of Lady Day, with the signature gardenia in her hair.

Billie Holiday, c. 1936, Photograph by Robin Carson, from the Collection of Ole Brask

The sender’s note referenced listening to Billie Holiday and Bessie Smith days before sending the postcard. Interestingly, the day after rediscovering the postcard–yesterday, in fact–I received a Bessie Smith postcard from my postcard pal Connie F. Talk about coincidence!

Bessie Smith (1895-1937), Photograph courtesy of Michael Ochs Archives, Pomegranate Communications, Inc.

The music goddesses are telling me to take a moment for Bessie and Billie. They are the best medicine for the madness of the days ahead.

Perhaps, you need a moment too.

Here’s a listening guide of the Empress of the Blues, Bessie Smith, singing “Backwater Blues” with James P. Johnson on the piano:

And for your pure listening pleasure, a 30-song compilation of Lady Day’s “top songs.”

Both women’s lives were cut short, but their influence reaches far beyond their years on this earth, and they continue to make a powerful impact on music in America.

Start with Yes…

A few weeks ago, I blogged about the postcards I received for Love Notes 21, Prompt 1, “Start with…” At the time I did not share the card I designed in response to the prompt because they were en route to the recipients and I didn’t want to “spoil” their fun by posting here.  But here it is…

I captured the train tracks while waiting for my hubby and son to finish up at a pet shop that also sells and exhibits art. Cool, right? The photo served as a perfect image for my response to the prompt:

Start with…yes. The road ahead awaits your consent.

We get so many messages telling us how to say “no”–messages that remind us that we shouldn’t let others take advantage of our generosity or take more than we’re willing to give of our time and resources. The problem is that “no” is such a powerful word that it seeps into our consciousness and into our language even when we don’t want it to, especially when we talk to ourselves. “No” spearheads all the negative self-talk at the root of our unplanted dreams. It convinces us that we’re not prepared enough, not smart enough, not beautiful enough, not articulate enough to do one thing or another. We’ve trained ourselves so well in the art of no that we say “no” to everything…even to things that are healthy and beneficial for us.

So my message…”start with  yes,” is about changing the internal dialogue. It’s about dismissing all the reasons why we shouldn’t and embracing the reasons why we should and all the what ifs in a way that exposes the benefits and not the drawbacks of the word “yes.” Clinging to “no” means we’re stuck in this one place. Never venturing. Never gaining and never reaching what is waiting for us just beyond “yes” and further down the road.

I encourage you to start with yes…and participate as a whole new world unfolds before you.

Breathe.

I think all the professors, teachers, and students in the USA groaned collectively this morning. No one wants to face Monday after having five to nine days off. Plus, for many of us, Monday begins the intense madness of final papers, final exams, and final grades.

Ugh! The thought of what this week brings makes many of us want to run for cover. But we can’t. We just have to jump in and keep doing until it’s all done.

So breathe…

My Impressionist “Painting” of the Tennessee River at Ditto Landing, Northern Alabama 🙂

….knowing on the other side of the madness…four glorious weeks of winter break.

Thinking About Ophelia…

…and there is pansies, that’s for thoughts.  –Ophelia (Shakespeare’s Hamlet)

Originals:

Edits [Click an image for a closer look]: