What Luck!

Do you know that feeling of joy mixed with luck when you drop the lid to something on the floor and it lands messy side up? Photography can produce that response too. Lately, an osprey is the source of those emotions for me. First time I spotted it was a few months back, while on a bike ride, on the beach path. Approaching the pier where I turn around to head back, I noticed a hulk on top of a light pole. It seemed larger than a seagull and piqued my inner birder.

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I approached the pier and stumbled upon a lifeguard talking with a group, who seemed as interested as I, about the bird. In this makeshift class I learned the bird in question was an osprey (also known as a sea hawk by the way). The lifeguard also mentioned seeing it fishing at times from his vantage point of the tower on the pier. The prospect of this natural phenomenon occurring right on these shores, in this city, in front of my eyes was thrilling. I watched it for a while, but it didn’t go fishing that day. I was regretting my decision to leave my DSLR at home but thinking of the mantra I have heard uttered so many times – the best camera is the one you have with you – I pulled out my phone to capture this sighting.

Fast forward a few months, same ride, with my DSLR this time. I see the same sized hulk on the pole again. Could it be? Yes, it is! An osprey!

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Marveling at my luck at finding the osprey while having my bigger camera in tow, I wait and watch the bird as intently as the bird focuses on the water.

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Suddenly it swoops from its perch and dives towards the surf.

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Jackpot! It arose with a fish in its talons. My luck at being on that pier for that exact moment elicits awe and giddiness. If only the osprey could know its impact by simply going about its daily life.

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It flew out of sight, continuing on past oblivious surfers.

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The next week, same ride, carrying DSLR with a bigger zoom lens this time, I spot it. The osprey is back again!

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It is a sunny day this time and the light coupled with the zoom lens provided the opportunity to capture more details in the eyes and feathers. I think it spotted me.

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The osprey’s presence brings people together in unexpected and pleasant ways. Seems as though pointing your camera towards the sky grabs the attention of others. Many have taken to asking questions and we end up swapping stories of our neighborhood birds. This day, it hung around for a bit staring at the water and preening before flying off into the distance swooping towards the water without catching anything.

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Sometimes we get caught up in our routines; returning to the same locations doing the same things, and there is comfort in that, but it can also feel monotonous. If we take time for awareness, we might notice that even the same places are different from day to day: the lighting, the people, the animals are some of the elements that combine and interact to create a freshness. If you keep an eye out, inspiration can strike at any moment. You may be lucky enough to be at the right place at the right time, or maybe you always were and just didn’t notice it.

Sending thoughts and prayers to all impacted by the wildfires in California and gratitude  for the firefighters and first responders.

Stay safe,

Susan

 

This is so meta

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Did you ever walk away from something you truly loved and feel a bit disoriented? After nine and a half years I quit my university teaching gig.

It’s a little soon to say if I regret my decision, but I’ll admit to floundering this fall.

I didn’t leave my job because I didn’t like it. The privilege of standing before a roomful of bright, kind, young people looking at me like I had something valuable to teach them, never ever got old.

And I didn’t lose my job. In fact, my evaluations were always strong and my contract was freely renewed each semester. I have an open invitation to return.

What I tired of was continuing to play a part in the nationwide trend in higher education to shift the role of teaching to part-time faculty who, at least at my university, receive no benefits and no more job security than a 15-week contract. One current study found that from 2003 to 2013, the use of adjunct labor increased from 52% to 60% at private universities and from 45 to 62% at public bachelor’s degree-granting institutions.

At the same time, student loan debt has risen to over 1.5 trillion dollars collectively according to a June, 2018 article in Forbes: Student Loan Debt Statistics in 2018: a $1.5 Trillion Crisis.  “At private nonprofit colleges, average debt in 2012 was $32,300 (15% higher than in 2008, when the average was $28,200).” Where does the money go?

It turns out, according to a recent study, savings which come from using adjunct labor are usually funneled into more student services and administrative expenses. Somehow I felt complicit in a cycle that feels usury.

To put an exact number to this trend, my last contract guaranteed me $4,830.00 for teaching one semester’s class. The university limits the number of courses any adjunct can teach: Two. So, I taught two courses for a total semester paycheck of $9,660.00, or $19,320 annually.

I stood in an elite private university classroom before 36 students for six hours a week, prepped and graded 36 students’ writings, and made myself available for office hours adding another 18 – 20 hours of work a week. Add a week of syllabus writing time. Add another week of finals grading. I was making roughly $28 an hour which is significantly more than minimum wage.

Each of the 36 students would pay the university about $5,000 for my class. Yes, you can do the math. The university earned about $180,000 on my labor each semester. No savings are passed to students.

Can I reiterate how much I loved my job?

I did have the opportunity to voice my concerns directly to the university president over a lovely mushroom soup and salmon lunch. He shrugged and said, in effect, it’s the same everywhere and until there are no more adjuncts to take the work – and in the humanities especially there’s an over-saturation – the situation won’t change. And besides he said, students care more about adding a lazy river to the pool than who teaches them.

So I walked away to decrease the adjunct pool by one whopping body.

I’m faced with tremendous amounts of free time. I feel a little fractured, to be honest.

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Finish poetry book:                 Check.
Send book to publishers:         Check times ten.

I’ve targeted 25 publishers for my recently completed manuscript, each with its own open submission timeframe. I’m on the tenth publisher. Four have rejected the book. Six are still pending responses. Fifteen have approaching deadlines.

In the meantime, every writer will say the best thing to do after you finish one big thing is to start a new project.

Since it’s fall, which has meant school begins for as long as I can remember, I’ve decided to take a class. One of my own: Composing Self. It’s a writing class I’ve taught many times, exploring how and why writers compose a specific identity through careful language selection. If I’m any good at this teaching thing, I should learn quite a bit.

Composing Self is a creative nonfiction course. I’ll write about myself, or write about another real human, within the context of the world, much like this blog post which blends the personal with facts and figures for larger context.

We exist in the real world. We have permission to speak.

Do you want to take this course with me?

If you’re intrigued with the prospect of having someone curate a reading list for you, and create regular writing prompts, check out the details on my new website: Catherine Keefe.

What’s the cost?

What do you think I’m worth? Pay me what seems fair when the class is over.
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~Catherine

ps: This passage written by James Martin, SJ in The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everyone: A Spirituality for Real Life inspired me to include real salary numbers in my post, a move I’m certain I would have shied away from before reading the observation.

Individuals show their status through certain social symbols – job titles, possessions, credentials, and so on. One’s personal worth depends on one’s wealth or job.

That’s why discussing salary is perhaps the biggest taboo in social settings: it’s the quickest way of ranking people and is society’s prime measure of our worth. Finding out someone else’s salary instantly makes you see the person in a certain light…

James Martin, SJ, in summary and comment upon Dean Brackley, S.J.’s concept of “Downward Mobility.”

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This is the same face as the image at the top of the post. Different angle. Different light.

Kalapaki Beach Sand Sculpture 1, 2, and 3
Photos by Catherine Keefe

 

 

 

The Weekend Dish-Christmas Quiz

You know that golden moment we dream each holiday will hold? The one where we’ll pause for one beat, inhale the scent of cinnamon and cloves, look around in candle glow at the family gathered around, listen to laughter and stories, and say this, yes this is what Christmas spirit feels like.
079I know this feeling is something that doesn’t come in a box from the mall and yet, like a hamster on a wheel, at some moment in December I find myself wandering from shop to shop wondering what the people I care most about want or need.

It was after one of these seemingly futile ramblings that I developed the Christmas quiz, a short fill-in-the blank opportunity for the entire family to reflect on gifts of the year while also offering glimpses into what might be treasured under the tree.  I tried to cover multiple topics – learning opportunities, gifts of time, ways to have fun, needed or desired things, ways to make memories and guidance on how to make another feel loved.  These lists guide me, not only as a shopping list, but as a way of discovering how to spend special time together in the coming year.

      The Christmas Quiz

I only wish I could learn to…
I wish I had time to…
A long-term fun goal for me is…
If I had one whole week off I would…
The best Christmas present you ever gave me was…
If I could have one new item of technology it would be…
If I could have one new item of clothing it would be…
If I could have one new toy it would be…
If I could have one new item of self-care it would be…
If I could have one new thing for the house it would be…
My favorite date this year was…
I would feel very loved if you…

My family teased me at first and wondered why we couldn’t just exchange lists like “normal people.” But after the first year, we looked forward to taking a moment to really reflect, not only on the many things that we dream of, but the many ways we do gift each other in ordinary time.

I wish I’d saved these lists from year to year. If I had it to do all over again, I would.  I recently discovered those dated December, 2004 and I’m amused and amazed at how these quizzes offer a snapshot and time capsule.  What was important once, still threads through the things we like best.

When my son was 17, he wrote that he felt very loved when “you keep providing me with food.” My daughter treasured Disneyland trips as her favorite date, and J wished he could “learn to play the piano.” Funny thing is, nine years later, I still show my son love by cooking when he’s home, still know that my daughter’s favorite dates are to the Magic Kingdom, still remember the year I gave J piano lessons because he plays the piano – quite well – all the time now.

You want to know one more funny thing? In 2004 I wrote, “If I could have one new toy it would be an art easel.”

This year, I again asked for an art easel, thinking it was some random new tangent, me wanting a space to create images as well as word play. I’d entirely forgotten my previous desire, but they say if you write something down, set a desire as your intention, that eventually it will work its way into being.

Some times repeat gifts – of time, love, and attention – are perfectly fine. In 2004, my daughter wrote, “I would feel very loved if you do the same things you always do.” So I guess once again I’ll pull out the Christmas quiz. Want to join me this year?

~Catherine

The Weekend Dish

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One of the many things I have learned from my visits to Chicago is that when the weather  warms up the slightest bit, people come outside. They will be out walking, riding bikes, roller skating and running. So in summer, it goes to reason, they are out in droves. This past week, I was one of them enjoying many of the outdoor activities that city has to offer. As my daughters and I sat on the lawn of Millenium Park on a Friday evening relaxing, enjoying a picnic and listening to the sweet sounds of the Grant Park Orchestra and Chorus, it struck me how nice it is to just be outside. When the concert ended, I wasn’t ready for it to be over. So we sat there being entertained by all the other lingerers, not yet ready to move on, until it was almost dark.

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Another night we went to a movie in one of the many parks. Nothing makes it feel like summer, to me, more than getting outside and watching a movie or experiencing a concert. Now that summer is officially here, the opportunities to get out and play are numerous in many, if not most, cities. Chicago has parks galore. Several of them are the sites of events during the summer such as movies in the park. There are festivals, parades and markets and the Chicago tourism website is a wonderful resource for locating an activity.

My hometown of Los Angeles offers many opportunities to enjoy outdoor activities during the summer months as well. Saturday night is movie night throughout summer in Exposition Park. Street Food Cinema, features food trucks, a band and a movie. The Getty museum hosts music on certain Saturday evenings through their Saturdays off the 405 series. Jazz at the LA County Museum of Art  can be found on Friday nights as well. Of course, one can’t forget the quintessential outdoor venue in LA, the Hollywood Bowl. Or, check out the lesser known Ford Theatre, right across the freeway from the Hollywood Bowl, for a smaller venue and eclectic mix of events featuring acts from Los Angeles County based artists. To find many al fresco activities all around LA try the Eye Spy LA website. I bet you can discover outdoor activities in your city too. Let us know maybe we will stop by for a visit.

Now go outside and play! Happy Summer!
~ Sue

Butterfly Days

Butterfly by Susan Greene

I’m rereading The Diving Bell and the Butterfly by Jean-Dominique Bauby because I’ve just introduced it to my students.  You’ve never read it? You must. And no, the film is no substitute because watching a man with Locked-In Syndrome go throw the motions of surviving isn’t the same at all as holding in your hand the book that he transmitted, letter by letter, to his physical therapist by blinking his left eyelid.

“In my head I churn over every sentence ten times, delete a word, add an adjective, and learn my text by heart, paragraph by paragraph.”

Sparse.

Urgent.

Elegant.

It’s everything that good writing is and it never fails to inspire me to write a little more diligently.  Plus its wickedly funny at times.

Prescriptive, favorite chapters, in no particular order:

When I wonder if its worth the time to write a note to a friend, to carefully choose my words, to share the thoughts which well within and rattle my heart, rather than let them lay in the stall of my core, I turn to “The Vegetable.”

When I feel trapped, when I want to write what I dream and when I wonder if life is a dream and does that make dreaming as real as bone and none of this is metaphor, I read and reread “The Dream.”

When I want to be snide and sarcastic, even though I detest those traits but sometimes it seems as essential as breathing to point out stupidity, I remind myself to be more graceful and revisit “The Wax Museum.”

And speaking of museums, The Natural History Museum of Los Angeles, in our own backyard, opened its Butterfly Pavilion this week.  I haven’t gone yet. But maybe if you get a chance to visit you’ll let me know how it is.

Thanks for reading.  It’s alright to keep the back gate open and tell your neighbors to drop on by.
Ciao, Catherine