Friday, May 25, 2018

...a cemetery with dogs and spiritualists...

How have I not written on this blog about Congressional Cemetery before now?  
Established in 1807, Congressional Cemetery is one of my all-time favorite cemeteries, and not just because it is overrun with dogs. I have to admit that that helps though. It is one of the liveliest and most-energetic places in the district. The people there are social and friendly, as are their K-9 companions. Before you scoff at the idea of dogs in a cemetery, I invite you to read up on how they pretty much saved the place, along with a group of human volunteers.

Congressional Cemetery offers several self-guided walking tours including one that focuses on their LGBT section. They also have yoga, 10K events, and a movie night. If I lived nearby, I would be there weekly for sure.

I have been thinking about Spiritualists this week because I am teaching a summer course on cemeteries. One of our visits is to Congressional Cemetery in Washington, D.C.

I cannot imagine that one of you reading this has not had some type of desire to establish contact with the spirit world at some point in your life. It is a natural human desire to believe or even hope that there is more after this.
Spiritualism is just that. It is the belief that communication extends beyond this world and into the next. 

In America, it began in the 1840s. Mark Lause argues, in Free Spirits, “[Spiritualism] grew from the boredom of two youngsters who started entertaining each other…” These girls were the Fox Sisters who, learning of stories that their own house was haunted, popped their toes on the wooden floors to make rapping sounds, which they allowed others to believe were spirits communicating with them. The stories of these communications with the spirit world took on a life of itself. The proximity of those seeking religious reform helped create a perfect storm.

While I am fascinated by this, I am also a skeptic. My seeking is more for fun, certainly not to disprove anything. Yet, I have had my share of weird communication from the other side including a “show” in Eureka Springs in 2016 where Juliana Fey connected with the spirit world enough to give me the chills. You can read all about it if you’re interested (just click on the linked text above).

Another reason that I adore Congressional Cemetery is that they have a book club called Tombs and Toms. They also have a blog, which I follow and where I discovered that Spiritualists are buried within the cemetery. In 2015, they wrote about these individuals; and, their walking tour “Women of Arts and Letters” mentions two Spiritualists who visited the White House to conduct seances.  

Now when I visit Congressional Cemetery, I visit a few of the Spiritualists who reside there.

Using the expression “translated” implies a belief in spiritualism while noting one’s position as president explicitly shares one’s belief. 

It is not just the epitaphs in cemeteries that communicate messages. The graves communicate visual messages about the health of the cemetery. While I was there, volunteers were planting annuals. Clearly someone is tending to those markers in danger of being lost to nature. What a difference a year makes! Below, a blue stone was nearly covered when I saw it last year. This year, it has been unearthed. It's a beautiful marker for Warwick Martin.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

...R.L.Stine's MasterClass, HOAs, and whirligigs...

When you scroll down the side of this blog and see the number of posts per year, you will notice that I have not been writing as many blog posts for the last two years. In August 2016, I decided that after ten years in my position as an English professor, it was time for me to go back to graduate school for Public History. Why? Because it sounded terribly fun. I tried to keep up with posts but it was challenging. So here we are, nearly two years later with me having just graduated from the program (Yay Me!) and ready to return to my (newly improved) ol’ spooky life of writing for work and for this blog.

Many aspects of my life have changed but I will get to that slowly. For now, I’m ready to have a little fun (in addition to teaching a summer school course on cemeteries).

In April, I saw an article online about R.L. Stine’s MasterClass for teaching how to write for adolescents. Since I teach Adolescent Literature ( ß this is such a bogus excuse), I figured that I should take the course as a little professional development.

Founded in 2015, MasterClass began with the notion that everyone should have "access to genius." The online education platform provides affordable, if you can afford the $90 fee for one session or $180 annually for all-access, engaging, and inspirational online classes taught by world-renowned instructors, which arguably makes it possible for nearly anyone to learn from the best.

As a little I-graduated-and-won’t-be-throwing-money-at-school-for-the-time-being gift to myself, I enrolled in the online course, which comes with 28 video lessons with R.L. Stine teaching along with a 60+ page workbook including assignments, prompts, and recommended reading.

The first module was a course introduction that basically tells you that all the woo woo “write from the heart” messages is a bunch of hooey. Instead, he advises us to embrace storytelling. Remember when you were a kid at the sleepover and you sat around with your friends telling ghost stories? Yeah, I miss that too. Well, Bob, (that’s what we are to call him) reminds us that we are wired to tell stories and so we should!

The second module, The Idea Store, is the first actual lesson per se. Bob discusses how he became a writer and where he gets his ideas. I think the meat of the lesson is the “idea store” but what really struck a cord with me was his statement about not fitting in. He shares that as a kid he never felt like he belonged no matter how hard he tried. This struck me because one of my recent life changes that I had not planned to mention is that my fella and I are buying a house. Nearly a month ago we were ready to go under contract with a house that we liked but that was in a neighborhood with a Home Owners Association (HOA). For the record, I am against them having lived in a community with one and even being a Board member of one. BUT, I was convinced by my fella and realtor that all HOAs are not evil.

An hour before we were ready to sign all the paperwork, we decided to drop by the sales office to ask some questions about the HOA. The HOA president just happened to be in the office. (whispers “Thank you, universe). From a somewhat brief discussion, he used numerous synonyms for being in power. I asked if I had to fill out paperwork if say I wanted to plant irises. The simple answer he gave was that I “needed to keep [my] neighbors happy”; and, that yes, I would need to fill out a form for such bulbs. Umm, NO. Just no. I want unkept Scotch brooms, elephant ears, and my whirligigs (my Halloween whirligigs that I keep out all year in my current privacy-fenced backyard). There was not a possibility of a privacy fence in the new neighborhood. While we were talking to the president, our realtor called. I took the call while having a panic attack. When my fella and I walked to the car, I burst into tears. There was no way I could live a life that was so constrained. Without a word, my fella called off the contract and we returned to our home search.

I mention this because at this point we had seen several homes that we could see ourselves buying. For one reason or another, something was tragically flawed (aluminum wiring, water damage, etc.). This was the first home that we loved where I cried because as my fella put it, I felt personally attacked. I would not have fit in with our neighbors just like an episode of The Munsters. I want more freedom in my home, not less.

When Bob talked about creating one’s own world. I can relate as I am sure many of you readers can as well. Every October when I sit down to watch Halloweentown, I wonder why the world cannot be more like this. Why do people only appreciate my attire in fall?  

It is so nice to be around other spooky souls because we can breathe and just be ourselves. We do not have to explain why we like what we like or justify our ghoulish interests. We are just trying to live our lives in a way that brings us joy.

When Bob says that we should create a world of our own, our dream reality. Mine will be made up of a spooky neighborhood where everyone has many, many whirligigs. A spooky breeze will develop and my heart will delight in the movement.