Friday, March 16, 2018

Kurt writes

Sharing a poem from my son.

Death in the digital age
by Kurt Grahnke

Whenever I send emails to myself as I so often do,
Recapitulating articles, which I may never read again,
Shipping docs through e-space to be given physical form
Through a printer I haven’t learned to sync up with yet,
Your name pops up right below mine, with a picture too,
Like email doesn’t know you’re dead.
Not too many G-R-A-H-N-s out there anymore.

Sometimes I think about sending you something,
As if that gesture might symbolize anything important.
It might manifest my lack of comprehension
Of what it means to be erased.
I can’t control Z your absence,
But the computer doesn’t know that,
So if I send you a message,
Do you get it?
Of course not.

But can’t these metaphors
Be strong enough to bring you back into existence?
Is our shared Netflix account, your facebook, our text history
Enough to make an argument for your continued presence in this world?
Are we all immortalized through our gadgets and data we leave behind?
If google suggests an advertisement for me about a baseball game that only came about because of all the things you once sent me,
Are you still talking to me?
It’s hard to say…
I love you so much
That I realize you aren’t.
But I’ll still go to the game
And wish you were there.

Tuesday, March 06, 2018

Broken, scattered, holy

I'm sitting in my aunt's sunroom, reading while regularly looking out at the birds on the bird feeders. A few minutes ago they were everywhere, clustered on the feeders, hanging upside down to get the suet in the netting, on the bench that serves as a rail for the deck. And then I shifted in my seat, ten--maybe twelve--feet behind the glass patio doors, and they all flew away. Shazam.

One of those fellows is now atop a pine tree at the edge of the lawn, a visible sentry, while the flocks of I-don't-know-what-they're-all-called return.

I'm out in the country and there are way more birds than can be found even on an active June morning in my urban back yard. I've seen a bright red, rather regal cardinal, a blue jay, a red-wing blackbird, and a lot of grey-brown winged things of all sizes that I do not have the eyes or expertise to tell apart. Their wings are sometimes fluttering hard to accomplish a landing near the food. I can see the wind they're fighting in the direction of the blowing snow.

Soon the people will be up in this house--with their age-old ways of bumping together, breakfasting, chatting, remembering, some fighting new battles with canes and walkers and hearing aids. Mostly loving one another, but with the occasional sandpapery brush-up.

Gregory Boyle (of Homeboy Industries fame) writes in "Barking to the Choir" (my morning reading), that God/the Holy appears in all kinds of unexpected, small things. He watches for them with the attitude of the Buddhist who held the whole glass and declared it "already broken."

The birds are here. the birds have already scattered. They've done so several times as I type this.

God/the Holy remains.

Saturday, March 03, 2018

Cardinal call

I've been hearing the cardinal again in my neighborhood, though I've heard him far more often than I've seen him. This is probably my fault--he and his mate and their extended family are probably hanging out in backyards with well-stocked bird feeders and sunflower seeds. Nutritional pickings are slim in the tangle of forsythia bushes and grapevines around my house. But that cardinal call is welcome, loud and insistent from the bare trees, up where the blue sky of late-winter sunshiny days offers clear and bracing relief from February's fog.

I went back and re-read some Perverse Lutheran blog posts this morning. I do this from time to time, honestly to assure myself that I can indeed write something that I don't cringe at later.

I often fault my writing for reverting to the "up-twist at the end," as a way to get out of the mess I've written myself into, a way to back away from the computer keyboard that is my shield and my defense. I don't often feel that those "up-twists" are indeed true. ("Is this most certainly true?" remains the guiding question of this pervy Lutheran.)

The odd thing this morning is that I found my blog posts from last summer and fall comforting, even uplifting--to me--after a long stretch of grey February days and things to do that fell well short of being fun. A big part of that was all the recollections of Kris that I read, which came with reminders to pay attention to people and relationships, to strive to do better and to keep moving toward goals, even the ones that stay well in front of you as you reach for them.

That cardinal I'm hearing in the trees these days--was it the one watching the fledgling on the ground last July? Did that little bird, not quite ready to fly up into the mulberry tree by the back fence, much less the tree tops--did he (or she) make it?

"I'll fly away," says the old hymn. "When I die, hallelujah by and by, I'll fly away." There's freedom in those tree tops, up near the blue of sky, above this weary world. There's freedom and grace in leaving this world, but there's also freedom and grace when you stay behind.

That cardinal I'm hearing every morning is not about to leave the neighborhood. The call seeks his mate--the same dull-brown hard-working nest-building female of last summer. The pair will be at it again in the months ahead, doing the good work of this earth.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

I've been sitting in my favorite chair, feet braced against the ottoman, looking at Twitter and Facebook and knitting blogs for the past hour and a half. I just drank the last swallow of hot chocolate from the coffee mug. It was cold and icky sweet, thick with the dark brown syrup in the bottom of the cup made of Swiss Miss that did not quite dissolve in the hot milk an hour ago.

It's 10:29 and I never, ever go to bed before 11. I'm stressed and tired and can't seem to let go. There are remnants of today's work, or the work I hoped to complete today, scattered around my chair. My knitting is on the other side of the room. I can't even hook up with the yarn and cable needle that would help ease me into the end of the day.

Lent starts tomorrow, the forty days of repenting and remembering that life is suffering and none of us gets out alive. People tell me they love Lent, they revel in Lent. Not me. I've never liked Lent. You could go back through all 12 years of this blog and every year, somewhere in February or March, you'll find me sniping at Lent in one post or another—the hymns, the Wednesday night church services, the ashes, the purple, the gloom.

It feels like the dark cloud between me and a better world. A season of dirty snow and winter jackets stiff with four months' steady use, jackets standing up by themselves and begging to be washed and put away in the back of the closet.

And yet.

Lent says what's wrong. Lent seeks forgiveness. Lent waits patiently on the Lord.

So here we go.

Wednesday, February 07, 2018

Still February

Finally got outside to shovel snow last night just after dark, and did a damn fine job of it. Woke up slowly this morning, gradually becoming aware of stiff and tired muscles. Made coffee and looked out the window expecting to see sidewalks and driveway scraped clean.

Nothing but white. A couple inches of white.


Hard, plodding work brightened only by a couple of silly Valentines with their gaudy colors and fake cheer. (Okay, if you're a fan of Valentines--brightened by a few sweet cards, pink and heartfelt in an otherwise grey month.)

I have never been a fan of life's long grey stretches. They're like the sidewalk along the north side of my house that stretches from the driveway and the alley all the way to the street corner. There's a point when you're shoveling that sidewalk where you stop and lean on your shovel and despair of ever finishing.

But you gotta keep going.

Tuesday, February 06, 2018



We're still in the single digits and already it feels like a long month. Six days down, twenty-two to go, and these early days are shrouded in snow.

I used my fingers to count syllables in that last sentence, in the hope that "go" and "snow" were at the end of ten-syllable clauses--making an inadvertent rhyming couplet, ala William Shakespeare. Alas, not. I'm a few syllables short and the da-DAH, da-DAH rhythm of iambic pentameter is not there at all. "Shrouded in snow" waltzes instead of two-steps.

The high and the low of Shakespeare are on my mind this morning. I'm singing in a concert this weekend whose centerpiece is a setting of four Shakespeare sonnets for brass and choir, with an actor thrown in for good measure. All I've heard so far is the choral end, and there are a lot of notes on the page for brass. The first sonnet in the group is "No longer mourn for me," which I am finding incredibly sad. "Let your love even with my life decay," says the speaker of the sonnet--as if that were possible. As if you could protect those who love you from the grief of losing you.

You can't. Mortality's a bitch.

The low end of Shakespeare on my mind this morning is "The Comedy of Errors," an early play full of clowning, physical comedy and word play based on mistaken identity. I've got fifth and sixth graders working on scenes from this play, cut by necessity to the bare bones farcical elements of the plot. Most roles are triple-cast--a new actor in each of three sections of material. Given that all the fun stuff in the play is based on two sets of twins, unknown to each other but being mistaken for one another--well, do the math. In rehearsal yesterday pretty much no one was called by their correct character name -- at least not by the director (me). You truly do need a scorecard to tell the players.

What's fun is how enthusiastically the kids pitch into the work. Acting is fun! Acting frustrated and and angry and put-upon comes naturally. And we can enjoy all that frustration because it is a comedy of errors--we know that all will come right in the end. (In the end--when I've got a dozen kids onstage, plus another twenty in a watching crowd of citizens, each of whom, I hope, gets it.)

February. High tragedy, low comedy. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

My take on #MeToo

As the reports of sexual harassment have multiplied in the news and #MeToo has become a topic of conversation everywhere--because every woman has a story to tell--I've had a nagging sense that something was missing. Or rather, that the focus on unwanted sexual advances is missing the larger point about how women are treated by men.

Not all women are groped or harassed regularly at work (especially as we grow older and less attractive). But all of them are interrupted by men in meetings. Many think carefully before taking credit for a good idea--or reflexively, deflect the credit elsewhere. We guard how we speak, careful to be tactful and indirect--and if we're not doing that consciously, it's because we've been so well socialized that we do it unconsciously.

This morning I read an article that articulates what I've been trying to home in on: "This Moment Isn’t (Just) About Sex. It’s Really About Work" by Rebecca Traister at New York magazine. I hope you'll read it, especially if you're a man who is trying to make sense of the #MeToo movement.

Here's the sentence that made me say,  "Yes. Exactly."
It’s not that we’re horrified like some Victorian damsel; it’s that we’re horrified like a woman in 2017 who briefly believed she was equal to her male peers but has just been reminded that she is not, who has suddenly had her comparative powerlessness revealed to her.

You really should read the whole thing, because Traister lays out the many shades of how sexual harassment demeans women's work as well as their sense of autonomy and power.

Many women I know, when placed in a situation that makes them feel angry and powerless, tear up and cry. And then feel humiliated because they now look even more powerless, when in fact they are righteously angry. There are many ways beside sexual harassment that women are confronted with the realization they whatever their skills and intellect, the men around them see mainly their sexuality and gender and value them for their looks, the way they care for men's feelings, for their gracious manners, or their usefulness as status symbols.

I think back to my days in college and graduate school. There was the conference with the professor I had for Old Testament. I was there to talk about a paper. He believed in using this opportunity to get to know students, so we're chatting, and I say something that identifies me as a feminist. Oh, how he shamed me for that. Don't you want to have a family? Don't your parents have a good marriage? (This last question was especially offensive and prying, since my father was his colleague.) There was also my realization that the young women with easy-going supportive friendships with professors were the women who were flirtatious and attractive. Smart was way down on the list of desirable qualities if you were a girl student.

All of this is not to say that men and women cannot have three-dimensional, mutually respectful relationships. But women have learned that those kind of relationships can never be assumed.

The world shouldn't be this way--and this moment in our culture is an opportunity to become woke to more than just sexual harassment. It's time to understand how far our patriarchal culture still must go before women are valued as full human beings in every dimension.