Sunday, March 29, 2009

My Extraverted Evening

We spent the evening in contact with others, first by going to the 50th birthday celebration of our long-time friend Julie, then stopping by a cozy Irish bar (Merlin's Rest) to visit with Gigi, one of Peter's fellow Philosopher Campers who was just back briefly from Thailand.

Julie, the birthday girl, was looking wonderful in a simple top with a cascade of beads looping over it, and a long flowered skirt. She had asked people to bring "colorful food" for the potluck meal, and they had complied: we brought a red bowl of strawberries (more strawberries arrived later); there was a tall cylindrical bowl of brightly layered Jello; many salads; many platters with sliced veggies, especially sliced peppers; a cake with a crazy-quilt frosting of many colors; and some rice crispy bars with colorful M&Ms. As Peter's North Dakota relatives have been reputed to say, "the feed was good."

But the din when we arrived was like getting hit with a wall of sound. Family and friends filled the modest living room, where a dried branch arrangement glowed with pastel lights in the corner. The kitchen was full, too, of talking, eating people. There were two little girls, one in tiny pigtails remaining in her mother's arms all evening, and one toddling after the cat. A somewhat older (6-year-old?) girl with a foot in a splint played a game with her mother of bouncing balloons back and forth, in the only clear space left, up by the front door.

I parked on a small chair in the background to watch, and waited for opportunities for a couple of conversations, one with Julie about our kids - they had been babies together - and our jobs - she now teaches at a community college, and I blend administrative work in student services with some adjunct teaching. We both agreed that we prefer teaching adult students to the 18-year-olds, because adult students have life experience to draw on, even if their academic preparation is limited.

After the food, the champagne toast, the cake, we left. In the line-up hugging Julie on the way out the door, I explained to a woman admiring my red bowl that it was part of a multicolored set I had gotten at Cosco.

Then the drive to Minneapolis, stopping off at Lunds for some breakfast eggs and some Tums for the dog's anti-kidney-failure diet (a diet I found on the internet, which has given him a new grip on life - my Ancient of Dogs, Rufus).

Gigi was holding court at a long table close to the door in this noisy, friendly, kitsch-filled Irish bar. She was animated and vivacious - but Gigi always is, flashing her wide grin, talking about her experiences and plans. Gigi is entering into the University to do an MFA in film this next fall, and told us excitedly about her experience visiting the program. We chatted about her time in Thailand - she had loved the place, though the job she was there for turned into a disaster. People in Thailand don't cook, she explained, because it's too hot. They all head out to nearby stands to get food. She learned by experience what was safe to eat, though, because sometimes food would be standing out too long. I recounted my lessons in Ghana where I learned to eat food from the market only if I could see it cooking away. The best tactic is to carry your own bowl around. Fruit that can be peeled was safe, too. (Actually, the most danger at that time was the high-cost restaurants serving Western food, because things like lettuce salad could be tainted).

Another of the Philosophy Campers was there, a quiet, self-assured girl whose name escapes me. She is doing an AmeriCorps project housed at the College of St. Catherine, and told us happily about the great program, the great nuns involved, the skills in intentional communal living and leadership she was learning. Next year: off to work with border/immigration issues, largely on her own. We talked about ways she is planning to brush up on her Spanish. Peter urged her to come to church at St. Frances Cabrini sometime (as most of the folks from St. Stevens have sojourned out of there after a conservative priest was appointed).

We headed home up River Road, coming under the 35W bridge, flooded with green light, and through downtown, along the river, past the new Guthrie Theater. I like this route, as it's scenic and has very little traffic. Then, I spent a long swatch of time on my computer scanning through different blogs to see what was out there, looking for those I might want to follow. I recognized (as I stumbled to bed a bit later than I should have) that I was looking for potential on-line friends - but maybe in the wrong way.

My impulse was to look for people a lot like me (or my perception of who I am, which may not be the person that others experience at all). But what can I learn from that?

At the end of my search, I realized I really have enjoyed more finding connections from the serendipity of the blogger world - peeking into the concerns and joys of people from all kinds of corners of the world, by following the threads of one blog to another. So last night I found a blog largely made up of photos (including a trip to Madrid) and short reflections by a nurse in Germany; recently, I found a blog by a young college student "outside London" who reads poetry and graphic novels (he had commented on a word he liked in my last blog, "protoplasmic.") And I especially enjoy the couple of people who found my blog and started following it, right after I began. How did they find it? I can't even imagine. One of them, particularly, has been writing steadily to "improve her English" - sharing her busy life teaching young people in some northern European country.

In my recent random link-to-link walk through Blogville, I've found blogs with pictures of spring flowers, with fashion designs, with poetry that the blogger finds inspiring. And last night I did find some blogs of people who share some of my interests, but with a twist - one, a young Quaker whose main concern in his blog is to reach out to others who, like himself, are ex-gay survivors (have come back out after attempting to be "cured" of their sexual orientation).

Many voices, many lives. I do need to keep this reined in to an extent, in my busy life.

I am a new blogger, and I see others who have long-established friendships in their blogging world. How do I proceed? Can I sustain the effort? What are my intentions in writing? Well - I enjoy it! Welcome to my world, anyone who stumbles on this. Write to me, and I'll write back.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Blink - - and it's late March!

I've been doing my good-old-workaholic thing this last few weeks. Usually, this makes me feel virtuous (useful, worth keeping employed, etc.). But something I was listening to while on the bus - oh yes, it was Marion Woodman's _Crown of Aging_ - gave me a reminder of something I've known for decades, which is that work-sickness is an addiction like any other -- just one that's seen more positively in our Puritan-shadowed culture than drug addictions (that put people out on the streets - so wasteful) or love-addictions (after all, love makes the world go 'round, and all that).

Actually, Woodman was talking about these other sorts of addictions, and I was sitting there feeling pretty virtuous for my clean-'n-sober condition when she mentioned work as an addiction, and it hit home. Yep. That's me - the job junkie. I wake up organizing my quickest possible get-away, mentally jotting down the day's to-do list. Then, when I get there (sometimes carrying in my breakfast to eat while doing e-mail), big chunks of time can melt away as I handle tiny but (seemingly) urgent tasks that pile in - bing! - on my screen, so that at the end of the morning, I haven't gotten much farther down the pile than I was when I started.

Then, I might sneak a peek at Facebook, which I've just joined. I don't much like the pile-up of everybody's business that the new format pops me into, but I look at the tab of my friends (and acquaintances) list and reassure myself that people are still having human stuff happening (eating cheese sandwiches, walking dogs, having a laugh). Then - more of the same, sometimes three or four meetings, sometimes a bit of human contact in the hallway.

When I was doing student academic advising, I had more face-to-face human contact, and I do miss that in my more bureaucratic role. However, I find myself surprised at how much fun some meetings can be, even on dull subjects (like reforming academic policies) - when the people are smart, funny, good-willed - sharing an interest in thoughtful and creative institution-building to improve students' experience at our university. I don't even really mind e-mail requests to solve problems, provide information, clarify puzzles. I enjoy explaining how things work, or clarifying the purpose of some policy or process.

I just need to keep in mind that I'm a protoplasmic being, a mammal in need of some movement, some fresh air, a break for lunch. And time to dream.