I haven’t been writing much here, but I have definitely been writing.
What I’m working on has turned into a fantasy series with (likely?) 4-5 installments. I’ve finished the first book (although… I’m already thinking a prequel to that book would be nice to write later on) and I’m approaching the climax of the second book.
I’ve been slowly chiseling away at this monster of a second book on Saturday and Sunday mornings from 2-7 a.m. (Yeah, you read that right.) I’m not very exciting on Friday and Saturday nights, but the benefit is that I’m rarely, if ever, interrupted early Saturday and Sunday morning. Everyone is asleep. Because everyone else is sane.
I understand this.
It’s a price that I’m willing to pay to bring this story to light. It’s a story that just won’t go away.
Some themes that are central to this series of books:
How humanity understands and interacts with the Divine
The relationship between pain, growth, healing, and death
Healing that causes harm and harm that causes healing
The cyclical nature of creation and destruction: Creation as destruction and destruction as creation
Some questions that the series explores:
Who deserves to be saved or healed? Does everyone deserve a second chance?
When should healers withdraw their healing and leave a person to their pain/fate?
When should the needs of the group take precedence over the needs of the individual?
Where is the line between pain leading to growth and pain crushing someone’s soul?
How do the dead continue to influence the living?
I’ve been inspired by When God was a Woman, a book about the transition in human history from primarily polytheistic worship of a female goddess of creation to a monotheistic worship of a male god of creation. If that sounds interesting, please check out my previous post, “God, the Mother.” I’m also combining bits of history and mythology from Turkey and Serbia.
I’m not going to lie: Writing this second book has been a slog.
In April, I had a few very bad weeks and almost abandoned the book completely. I was in that “murkey middle” part of the book and things were just getting very unwieldy. I struggled to keep in mind what the motivations for my characters were and what they would want to do in certain situations. It’s very hard to write alone, in the dark, sitting on a pile of words that no one else reads, for weeks at a time.
What got me through this part was sharing parts of what I was working with others. Just getting some general feedback of, “I like this character” or “I want to know more about that” gave me the motivation to keep going.
Some people say that quitting is easy.
It has never been easy for me to quit.
Once I start something that I believe is worth the effort of my creativity and persistence, I will nurture whatever I’m doing until it grows into what I think it can become.
So the next time you’re up at 2:00 a.m. on Saturday morning, drink a cup for me.
My son was born four years ago, just a few weeks after Trump’s inauguration. My life turned both inside-out and upside-down. Inside-out, as I struggled once again with bringing the life inside me into the outer world. Upside-down, as events that would once grab headlines for days, if not weeks, were now coming every few hours. The It’s-Not-a-Muslim-Ban Travel Ban. Michael Flynn. Betsy DeVos. I would put my son down for a nap, fall into a half-sleep for an hour, and then wake up to a new horrible reality of Things that Were Now Possible in the U.S..
I knew there was a reason that when I entered my classroom on the day after the 2016 election that I could barely keep from crying in front of my international students. My heart knew what was coming, even if they didn’t know it yet. I felt somewhere deep in my heart that the life that I had built teaching English and fostering intercultural understanding was now dangerously at risk of disappearing altogether.
It turns out my worry was completely founded and warranted. Because two years later, international student enrollment plummeted where I was teaching, just as it was everywhere else in the United States. I grieved the fact that I needed to seriously reconsider my career choice. It was a path that I pursued tirelessly just to be employed full-time.
Now here we are, four years later. I have left teaching, but I have managed to stay in the field of education. There are things that I miss about teaching (advising students, talking with families, joking before class, sharing snippets of American culture) and things I’m wholeheartedly grateful that I never have to do again (grade essays, sit in a faculty meeting that could have been an email, eat like a wolf at my desk while answering emails, just to name a few).
And miracle of miracles, we are saying good-bye to legitimately the Worst President in American History. I don’t feel that those words are too strong to use. And because I believe in supporting my opinions with reasons, here are just a few:
“They’re rapists. They’re murders. And some, I assume, are good people.” On the campaign trail, 2015
“There were fine people on both sides.” About the Charlottesville white supremacist rally, 2017
Separating children from their parents at the border. 2018.
“I would like you to do us a favor.” Asking the Ukrainian president for non-existent incriminating information about Biden, 2019
“No one saw this coming.” About the COVID-19 pandemic, March 2020.
Suggesting that “disinfecting” the lungs by injection may help with treating coronavirus, 2020
There is so, so, so much more.
Before the pandemic, at some point in 2019, I remember talking with friends about how concerned I was about the end of this presidency. I believed that if Trump lost in 2020 and we were following his playbook, he would say the elected was rigged, that voting fraud was rampant, and he would refuse to concede. I really wondered if he would have to be dragged from the White House. We talked about at length about the limitations of what Trump could do to hold onto power. My friends reassured me that the military swears an oath to the Constitution, not to the President.
Some of those words were comforting.
And then January 6th came.
Just. What. The. Fuck.
I’m not exuberant about Biden being sworn into office. I’m hopeful. But honestly, at this point, I’m drained. Not only by the division between Americans that is visible at the national level, but also by the division between Americans in my own community.
One of our neighbors STILL has a yard full of Trump-related campaign signs decorating her lawn. All Lives Matter. Back the Blue. Lock Her Up (a fav from 2016). God Bless America. And then to string the whole mess together in a frightening display of cognitive dissonance, a “patriotic” Christian cross, lit with red, white, and blue lights.
In January, the Trump flags are still flying.
This is deeply unsettling to me.
I drove through a middle-class neighborhood a few weeks ago and everything about it felt familiar and cozy. American flags hung from the porch or next to the mailbox or from the awning of the house.
Then I saw something new.
How can I explain to you how this made me feel? To see this bizarre twist on an American flag, flying as high and next to American flags?
I had a stone in my stomach just looking at it.
I felt disbelief, anger, and frustration.
I felt cold.
What are we? What is the United States when we cannot even agree about which flag deserves to represent what we hold most dear? Are we really so divided that we’re putting aside the flag that brings us together and pledging allegiance to something else?
It’s not just a flag. People fly flags to identify themselves. And if you choose to fly a Blue Lives Matter flag in your front yard–especially when it’s the ONLY flag in your yard–you are making a bold statement about what principles you follow and what values you hold.
That thin blue line on that flag is a clear divider.
The question stands: Who does it divide?
Who is on either side of that line? Is it police on one side? Community on the other? If it is, then I really don’t understand. Because I thought that the jobs of police officers were facilitated by working with the community, not fighting against it.
Or perhaps the flag is finally saying what we’ve all known to be true for a long time. I grew up on Cops. The theme of the show is very hard to miss. Poor people–almost always black–are criminals. Police keep us safe from them. I don’t recall a single episode where a tax evader or embezzler was dragged from his corporate office for defrauding a company for millions. But a coked-out dude running from the police? Every episode.
But we now live in a world where militarizing police departments is common in the U.S., so perhaps I shouldn’t be so shocked that this is where we are, debating on the meaning of flying the Blue Lives Matter flag in your front yard. My reflective self wonders if we are just on a slow slide into a police state. My gloom-and-doom self cries out that we’re already there. But my hopeful self remembers that we are not there. Yet.
Still from 2:00 a.m. to 7:00 a.m. on Saturdays and Sundays.
And there is a theme that I keep circling in different ways through different characters.
It’s this idea that people understand and anticipate things going wrong or falling apart or people failing them. Perhaps we prepare ourselves for this inevitability because we know that people are flawed and the world is imperfect. Whatever it is, we have created rituals and systems to deal with these imperfections. We have all kinds of rituals and systems set up to deal with tiny infractions (being caught in a lie) as well as with huge transgressions (sexual assault, murder).
But we are not prepared for grace.
These things are too much for the mind to accept–because we can be so married to the idea of our own unworthiness. Or perhaps we distrust the ability for others to be altruistic. Perhaps the framework that we’ve created for our world is such a meritocracy that conceiving of grace is impossible.
What I’m saying is that when healing or forgiveness or grace is extended, it’s not uncommon for the recipient to view it with mistrust–all the way to the point of refusing to accept it.
I see parallels in this time of pandemic. This idea that even if there were a vaccine that were 100% effective, today, not everyone would take it–simply because of a lack of trust.
Healing, forgiveness, and grace can be freely given. But they don’t have to be accepted.
Not bragging about that. I know how crazy that is. But, please, do remember that I’m utterly no fun at 7:00 p.m. I am yawning. I am so close to passing out.
Five days a week, Monday-Friday, I get up to exercise before the sun comes up, when I know no one will bother me.
My new addiction is waking up on the weekends to write.
At first, it was the same time frame: 4:00 – 7:00 a.m.
But then… things started to snowball.
I would find myself waking up at 2:00 a.m., 1:00 a.m., and sometimes even midnight, my mind working on overdrive. I would try to go back to sleep, but sometimes, once the train has left the station, it was best just to get on board and let it take me where we needed to go, consequences be damned.
It hasn’t been all bad.
I have written some amazing scenes during this time. I would discover a flaw in my character that would make him more interesting, or a hidden intention in another character that I didn’t originally see.
I have never had a writing experience like this before. There are a few pivotal climactic scenes that I know that I’m working toward, but this series of books is largely being written organically, step by step, following a somewhat planned outline. Still, so much of it seems to be discovered in the moment.
The other thing that makes is super unique is that I feel connected to the story in an almost supernatural way, like the story is fighting to get its way out of me. Like it has been living with me for far too long and wants its own air to breathe, its own space to stretch its wings and fly.
Instead of creating characters that I thought I would like, I’ve let my characters become who they want to be–and I’m finding that its giving them more depth and dimensions than I had planned. Sometimes, my characters irritate me. Sometimes, they downright piss me off. And sometimes, they break my heart with their blindness.
I am thoroughly enjoying this journey of following my characters and seeing where they lead me, even as I know that we are approaching a certain cataclysmic event that will change everything.
It seems ominous–this knowing of the changes that are to come for my characters, anticipating how it will change them and their lives, in devastating ways that will ultimately lead to their greatest growth.
I’m starting to understand how authors can actually grow to love their characters and empathize when they ratchet up the tension and the stakes.
Though it would be so much healthier were I able to do this at a reasonable time of day.
In January 2016, I had a great idea for a novel. I had some momentum and a lot of dynamite scenes that compelled me to sit down for a time and give it space to come to life.
But then I got pregnant. I had a baby. And then the Hamster Wheel of Life spun on ceaselessly for three years.
My inspiration and motivation drained as the questions that I had about the characters and the plot were so overwhelming that I boxed myself into a corner, unable to figure out how to get out of it.
Yes, it was a great idea. But quite frankly, it was not the right time. I worked a job that drained my creativity. My supervisors sucked my joy dry. I had diapers to change. A baby to feed. A kindergartner with a broken elbow. A toddler to follow all weekend long. A preschooler with poop in his underwear. Again.
I said so sorry to the idea and moved on.
But this past January, four years later, the idea floated to the forefront again.
It really was a great idea.
I sat on it more. I asked the questions. I thought of answers. I asked more questions. I wrote ideas down in a notebook. Some of the questions, I left unanswered. But this time, I had more answers. I had been thinking about the story on and off for the last four years, but now, things were starting to make sense.
Fuck it, I thought. Here we go.
I mean, really, what’s the worst that could happen?
Here’s the worst that could happen: I could waste my time writing a book that no one wants to read but that I care deeply about.
I’m fine with that.
I didn’t sell thousands of copies of my last book.
And I’m fine with that. It is a success because I created something out of nothing and it moved people.
That’s success to me.
For me, it really is about the process. The fact that I feel better doing the work. The fact that writing these thoughts teaches me things about myself.
It heals me.
Last month, I took a casual online writing class. One of exercises that we did was creating a voice of our Inner Critic. Then, we were tasked with defacing our Inner Critic in whatever way we wanted. Here’s what I ended up with.
So, what is the book about?
This is not something I’ll be openly talking about online until much further on, especially since I know that it’s not just one book that I’m working on. This will likely be a four to five book series.
So for now, just know that I am filling notebooks with pieces of characters and plots. I am thinking of symbols and themes, lines of dialogue that won’t go away. I’m plotting them in tables and writing summaries. I’m crafting a Shitty First Draft, that is actually isn’t too shitty. And, People of the World, I am actually now nearly to the end of the Shitty First Draft phase and prepare to dig into my favorite part–the Revision Stage.
Creating makes me excited. It energizes me in a way that nothing else does.
Weeks 1-2 were a mix of denial and anger, all set to rhythms of Survival Mode, acquiring food and necessities, making sense of pandemic life, and figuring out how to rearrange the landscape of life in a way that we can all live with in this house.
Weeks 3-4 have been, so far, my low point. Replete with the constant wishing things were different, feelings of helplessness, and depression.
Week 5 was my Saturation Point of News. Since then, I’ve only been able to stomach 20 minutes of NPR while I’m making dinner. It’s just enough for me to think, Yep, things are still awful and No, we still don’t have a handle on this.
By Week 6, the depression started to lift as we were faced with the news that we’d been expecting for weeks: Sorry, no more school for your kids this academic year.
And our President thought it would be a good idea to look into using disinfectant to “clean out the lungs.”
This week, Week 7, I feel mostly resigned to living life like this through the summer and well into fall. In my mind, I overestimate (I hope) that we’ll be doing this same type of life through Christmas.
In Week 7, I was able to see my mom in person, though from six feet away and with masks.
In Week 7, I learned that COVID-19 is not just a respiratory disease–it affects the whole body through blood clotting. And I read this ICU nurse’s account of the inconceivable situations and grief that she and other healthcare workers are facing right now.
In all this darkness, I want to make plenty of room for the things that are still bringing me light.
My partner–My rationality, my burden-bearer, my chef and gardener, accountant and engineer. The person I still love to watch TV with (although we rarely have time to do that anymore).
Running. Sweet, sweet exercise. Early in the morning. Nothing but feet on the pavement and music in my ears.
Watching my kids grow closer together–This is both unexpected and welcome. They (generally) love being around each other. My daughter tucks my son in at night and tells hawks to “Stay away from her little brother.”
Working with co-workers via Zoom. Sharing our little victories in helping faculty teach online.
Attending church services via YouTube. I was surprised by how much my nerves are calmed every week by just hearing familiar songs and the liturgy. When so much is changing, my mind craves the unchanging, the stable.
Re-watching the entire American Pie series. And then all of the Austin Powers movies. (Apparently, this is the extent of problem-solving and just the right level of dumb that I need in my life to balance out all the soul-crushing news.)
It is freeing if we learn to accept that our lives are on loan and we are meant to give our lives over to others. That is the kind of lesson we are taught when we are young, though it often remains on the level of a noble idea that we may opt into or out of depending on our mood. What all the many sufferings of adult life show us is that this idea is actually the high and unbending rule, and it governs our bodies and our relationships and everything else, without exception.
Leonard J. DeLorenzo
There will be no return to “normal” because we are all forced to face our own vulnerabilities now. And so the question put to us now is, How will we react to this vulnerability? What will we do?
9. Listening to Kate Tempest’s “People’s Faces.” But first, grab a box of tissues. You’ll need it.
Her poem hits all the right notes for this moment in time.
The uncertainty, the desperation, the frustration, and the sadness.
I mean, honestly, what bizarre disaster movie are we living in?
From what I recall, even Hollywood couldn’t conceive of the current crisis. In all the apocalyptic movies that I can recall (Deep Impact, Armageddon, 2012, The Day After Tomorrow, Independence Day), the fictionalized president of the United States displayed a measure of calmness and wisdom that the balanced the public frenzy.
We don’t have the opposite of a calm and wise leader.
What we have is actually much worse.
We have a delusional, narcissistic, inattentive compulsive liar. In addition to his irredeemable character flaws, throughout the duration of his time in office, he has managed to drive away all of the last bastions of intelligence and competence from the White House so that he is now solely surrounded by sycophants and butt-kissers that hold onto their jobs by constantly showering him with unearned and exaggerated praise for even the smallest achievement while covering up his most egregious errors, which he makes based on his personal intuition (“That’s my metrics.”) which has always been and will always be directed by his own self-preservation.
Could we ever have imagined that a President would suggest that healthcare workers are either “squandering” or stealing masks? Or who would stand by the statement that the National Stockpile doesn’t belong to the States? Or who would encourage the general public to buy drugs that haven’t been properly vetted for fighting coronavirus? Or who would push conspiracy theories that the media is purposefully overhyping the coronavirus because they want to hurt his chances of re-election?
WHAT ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT?
NOBODY IS THINKING ABOUT THE ELECTION.
At least nobody who’s immediate livelihood is dependent on whether or not they are able to keep their jobs three weeks from now.
Just when you think our President cannot possibly make us feel worse about having him as a leader…
He rises to the challenge.
I just cannot.
This is literally the worst time to have this man in office.
I would take so many other politicians in his place right now.
Mike Pence, whom I despise for his “spiritual” quest to rid the country of birth control and abortion? Yup. Approved.
Mitch McConnell? Put in him.
Lindsey Graham? In this pandemic, I LOVE Lindsey Graham.
Mike DeWine, the governor of my home state of Ohio, whom I didn’t vote for in the last election? I kiss his feet.
I would literally take just about anyone in this entire country who has the ability to apply reason to situations, seek advice from experts, and speak in a calm manner.
My six-year-old is a better choice.
My three-year-old is a better choice.
(Although, admittedly, he’s at his best first thing in the morning or after a nap. Even then… He’d probably be less dangerous to the American people because he would be distracted enough to let others do his job. As long as tiny Oreos are involved.)
So that’s the exasperated part of me, lately.
But I want to clarify that it’s not my only mode right now. Because at the height of my exasperation, when I feel that I cannot possibly take another day’s news, my rational brain kicks in and I remember gratitude.
Despite the madness that continues to swirl around my house, we’ve managed to create a zone of (mostly) peace and normalcy within these walls.
It involves more teleconferences, Zoom meetings, and screen time than I’d like to admit.
But it also involves being in the yard and the garden a lot. And taking walks. And having the kids around as we prepare dinner. And reading books together. And listening to audio books as I fold laundry, do dishes, change sheets, and vacuum.
We took our kids to fly kites. They loved it.
It doesn’t leave much time for us (parents) to be alone.
Being a parent during a pandemic without any tangible social support networks turns out to be hard.
It’s hard if you’re still lucky enough to have a job that you’re trying to do while the kids are awake. It’s hard if you’ve just been laid off and are looking for work when all the jobs that are hiring require you to put your health and safety at risk. It’s hard if you have a job–but you’re wondering for how long.
But who am I kidding? It’s hard for just about everyone in different ways.
We have jobs.
Getting into the field of e-learning last year turned out to be the absolute best decision I could have made at this point in my life. I recently took on a short-term contract as an independent consultant to advise and collaborate with faculty at a small, private university who are moving their traditional face-to-face summer courses into the online format.
We have a home. We have a yard where the kids can play.
We have food. More than enough food, honestly.
We have education. And friendship. And camaraderie (even if only online right now).
We have love. And laughter. And a sense of humor.
And these days, we **do** have something that we didn’t have two months ago.
A reason to look beyond the frustration and stress that we’re experiencing and look for those whom we can help.
For there is always someone who needs more help than you do.
And here’s where the emotional dizziness comes in. Because if I think about it long enough, my mind swings back to the realization that…
Wait… I cannot stop at gratitude.
If all I do is focus on what I’m grateful for and not be concerned about how others are suffering, nothing changes.
The cracks in our systems that are opening and swallowing so many people, they will remain.
Just because I have what I need does not, and SHOULD NOT, make me stop noticing and raising issue that the systems that are supposed to support and protect Americans are broken.
It does make me wonder though…
…will Americans finally put their collective foot down?
Will they push for the urgency of providing health care to all Americans?
Not a stop-gap. But real, actual, tangible access to health care that anyone–working, unemployed, full-time, part-time, retired, disabled, even (gasp!) non-citizens–can receive health care at a low cost?
What about sick leave?
What about family leave?
What about universal child care and preschool?
What about humane systems of incarceration?
What about preserving the human rights of anyone who is in this country, not just those who are citizens?
It’s a strange thing, to be at home in the early afternoon on a Wednesday, walking through the backyard with my kids, flowers blossoming in the bright spring grass. To walk down the street and realize that, Oh, there are kids at that house, too. A dad is pushing his child on a swing, hanging from a tree branch. This dad and I are home in the early afternoon on a Wednesday, playing with our kids.
It’s strange to remind your kids that, Remember, we can’t get too close, okay? Saying, ‘hi’ is okay.
It’s strange to not be thinking about upcoming birthday parties. Or mentally preparing to present at a conference next week. Or coordinating the PTO hospitality lunches for my daughter’s school. Or taking my daughter to first communion classes. I deleted all these events from my Google calendar en masse. Also gone, the reminders: on Wednesdays, pack bathing suit for Felicity, in mid-April, order birthday cake by this day, in the first week of May, deliver Teacher Appreciation lunch.
It’s jarring to see the end of normalcy displayed so clearly in my Google calendar. It’s as if someone I loved had died and I just couldn’t even cope. It has echoes of Grief. But then, when my dad died, I went back to work the next week and the world spun on like nothing had happened. I wanted there to be nothing to do, but there was still everything to do. No one else behaved like there was any reason to change, and so I felt like the odd one.
I also had Choice. I could choose to allow myself to get swept into the rituals and rhythms of Life that no one else had given up and find some reprieve from the pain of my New Reality, however short-lived. It was a quiet suffering that I moved through in my own time. And I made incremental progress toward my acceptance. It was a personal journey and I was in control.
Not this time.
This time, there really is no escape, physical or mental, from this New Reality. I cannot binge-watch Netflix until May. I cannot even do much creative work, like video editing or writing. The kids are home. AND I still need to work. To sit here and write in quiet moments to myself, I get up at 4:00 a.m. and sacrifice a daily workout for the mental clarity that writing gives me.
At a time when I most need a reprieve, there is none to be had.
Being a parent is fun. This is all so fun.
You’d think that with the deletion of all those events and reminders would come a measure of peace and clarity.
Instead, my mind is overflowing with news and charts and numbers and questions and predictions and announcements.
I’m constantly thinking about disinfection and washing hands (all. the. time.) and cleaning up the house over and over and over, and getting the kids outside, and Is Felicity reading enough? She should be writing more. Are we doing enough for Henry?, and Relax. You’re doing the best that you can.
My mind doesn’t have much space left to think about anything else other than this Giant Wave that is approaching all of us.
When will it hit Ohio hard? How many people will die? Will someone I love die? Will their body be stored in one of those refrigerated semi-trucks until we can bury them? Was that cold that I had really COVID-19? I had a low fever and a sore throat. Then I felt okay, like nothing happened. Then my lungs were irritated for a couple of days, and that was weird. But no doctor would order a test for me with the few symptoms that I had.
We are all trudging through physical isolation while also being solely responsible for regulating our consumption of the the deluge of news and social media posts that we consume each day about the surging pandemic.
Limit your social media consumption for your mental health, they say.
I don’t want to read about this all of the time, and yet I do. I don’t want to read about another instance of Trump’s feckless leadership and reckless disregard for the consequences of spreading misinformation during a pandemic.
And yet I do. It’s like my mind is begging for another example of,
See! There he goes again, being the biggest jackass the world has even seen! See everyone! He not only sucks at his job, but he’s actively making it worse!See! He doesn’t deserve to lead us one more day! Get rid of him! SOMEHOW!!!
And yet there are still millions of Americans who stand up for this buffoon. It’s not his fault. We can’t put the economy on hold forever. We have to go back to normal. Let’s get back to normal by Easter.
And so my mind spins on and on.
A few days ago, I woke up at 2:30 a.m. and just couldn’t go back to sleep. I tried. For an hour, I tried. But once the thoughts started, they rode the steep curve of that red line, riding the most terrifying roller coaster ever, clink-clink-clink, rising exponentially in the coming weeks. Up, up, and up. Who in my life would become part of that line? Who will I lose?
And to provide our human sacrifices all in the name of preserving the Great American Economy.
It’s too late for the outcome to be much different than that.
It haunts me. That undoubtedly, months from now, after thousands, if not millions of Americans have died, Trump will talk about how much worse it would have been had they not done whatever they had decided to do. Oh, right, sorry. The federal government isn’t responsible. It’s every State for themselves. Hope the States have enough funds to outbid foreign governments for their bulk purchase of medical masks and ventilators. Unless they use flattery to win Trump over. (Which I find even more maddening. Because if governors resort to falsely flattering Trump on the record in order to secure a federal response, now all the Crazy in America will have “evidence” that Trump is doing a good job.)
But in the event that Trump tries to take credit for whatever federal response the government may take, he can always say, More lives could have been lost, and be right. That’s the same argument that we’ve heard after years and years of increasingly horrific mass shootings. Hard to think that the argument will change much.
It haunts me. That Trump will undoubtedly, through tweets and press conferences, rewrite history over and over again so that it looks like he was never wrong. But, hey, at least he can’t use his rallies to rewrite history right now. I revel in the fact that he cannot hold these mass ego-feeding sessions that simply confirm his far-fetched delusions.
Trump will do everything in his power to be seen as the Winner.
But in 2020, it looks like there’s only going to be Losers. Trump included.
And in any case, we don’t need a Winner.
We need a Hero.
(Fauci for President?)
So after an hour of lying in bed, thinking and thinking, I decided to get up and do something for myself.
I did some yoga.
And then I cleaned the kitchen.
And then this happened.
After years of erosion along the bank of a creek behind our house, a tree fell over into our backyard. Now it lies against the edge of our backyard, at the end of its life, broken and unable to be properly disposed of as it is not considered an “essential service” at this time.
The morning after it happened, I occupied the kids by having them pick up sticks and put them in a bucket. It was cold that morning and my coffee cup warmed my fingers as I watched my kids poke through the safest parts of the fallen tree.
Looking at its dark branches against the pink of the dawning sky, I remembered a dream that I had about a tree falling over in the backyard, at a time in my life when everything seemed to be turning upside down.
Maybe it’s a coincidence.
I don’t think everything like this has to be a sign.
But I’m not closed to the idea either.
But it’s strange.
And then this happened.
While I was in a conference call, I was twisting my rings on my hands and I noticed that they didn’t feel right.
The setting was just gone.
I didn’t hit it on anything.
It was strange.
(Jewelry repair is also not an “essential service” at this time.)
These things don’t need to mean anything. I can be okay with believing that sometimes stuff like this happens all at the same time.
But it’s strange.
The rhythms of our lives are radically different, but we are making it work. I am working from home from the morning to the afternoon and my husband works from afternoon to midnight. There is no one else to help with care-taking. All the social support of friends and church, daycare and after-school care. It’s all gone. The best babysitter now is the TV and a Chrome book, which we use prudently through the week and throw caution to the wind on the weekend.
We are finding the good in being with our kids more. Time that we previously spent simply commuting to work and picking up kids and going to the occasional weeknight event is all now spent at home. We eat dinner together like usual, but our kids now eat with one of us at lunch time. Sometimes, I finish my shift online and find culinary gems like this waiting for me:
(I know. I’m lucky. I married well. I don’t share stuff like this all the time because he’s too good, and no, you can’t have him. I got him first.)
Although it is hard in the immediate moments of taking care of our kids to remember this, it is ultimately good for us to hold our kids close during this time. (Even though 25% of the care-taking still requires the constant vigilance and reminders of No, Hold on, Wait, Put that down!, Where’s your jacket? Away from the road!, No water guns right now, Zip up your jacket, My God! Stay out of the mud!, Too close to the creek!, Stop! No, that’s my coffee, Careful!)
It is good to take them outside to pick up sticks and discover newly blossomed flowers and put on their rainboots to splash in the puddles and watch an earthworm stretch its way across the paving stones for ten minutes and wish him well. Bye-bye worm!
It’s good to give in and read a Five-Minute Paw Patrol story (few girl characters, and they never solve the problems) when I’d totally prefer to read something like the Little Engine that Could (good moral) or even One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish (good rhyming schemes).
In all this time with the kids, moments emerge.
There’s the moment when I hear my daughter reading to my son, as the daylight fades from their rooms. They are having a moment together, apart from me. And it doesn’t tear me apart. It makes my heart soar.
There’s the moment as I’m sleeping that I feel my husband’s hand slip into mine and I wake long enough to squeeze it but not long enough for my mind to start spinning again.
There’s the moment when I hear, for the first time, my son say to my daughter, “I love you, Cici.”
Although my places are restricted, time marches on, leaving behind moments in its wake.
So I’m in the unique position of being able to look at the pandemic through the lens of the exhausted higher education faculty member as well as the eLearning professional.
In the past year, I’ve started working as an eLearning professional at a community college. Before that, I taught for 15 years as an ESL instructor with almost all of that teaching done in the face-to-face modality. I have also taught online and used a flipped learning approach frequently over the past few years.
My Lens as a Teacher
Just last week, a new group on Facebook emerged: Pandemic Pedagogy.
In the first few days, as instructors swarmed to the site, it became clear that there were a few currents of sentiment that went like this:
Just… like… how the hell am I supposed to teach online?
I’m utterly exhausted from teaching already, and now I have to do even more work?
I’m an adjunct instructor and I don’t get paid for this extra work. LET’S REVOLT.
Be kind to your students! Their lives are completely disrupted, just like ours, and they may not have reliable internet access! Figure out how to maintain educational equity!
I’m falling apart because the kids are home and I’m creating all this new content and I’m not keeping up with grading and I keep getting desperate emails from students and I’m worried about my health and the federal government is a mess and I can’t find toilet paper anywhere and my spouse says my job is so easy because it can be done online and I CANNOT DO THIS ANYMORE.
My empathy for teachers everywhere right now is real. This flat-out sucks. Teaching online isn’t “easier.” Having done it, I can say that it is definitely more time-consuming, as you are constantly communicating with students, generating or posting content, and trying to keep up with grading.
Then, multiply all those efforts times THREE, FOUR, or FIVE and you start to understand why some teachers are seriously ready to bail out in the middle of semester and work at Kroger or Amazon (They’re hiring!).
What I want to say is that you have every right to be frustrated and stressed about the situation. I hope you take your moment to blow this whole thing off for a period of time. But when that moment passes, and for most of you I think it will, please know that no one (at least reasonable people) is expecting you to perform miracles.
So when the anxiety keeps you up late at night, you are definitely not alone.
My Lens as an eLearning Professional
As an eLearning professional, I’ve been reviewing hundreds of courses over the past week to check whether the course is ready to go live on March 23rd.
At this point, we are not looking for stellar courses. Quality Matters alignment is out the window. We are simply looking at whether students can access an updated schedule and can find the content that they need for the first week or so of class.
So let this be my first reassurance: If you’ve got an easy to find document/post where students can tell what they should do on which date, you are already ahead of the curve.
As for the rest of it, here are some snippets of advice:
On Getting Oriented
Consider prominently posting an introduction to the second half of the course on your LMS course page. Video is best because it establishes visual instructor presence, but even a nicely worded document can do. Reassure your students that you will get through this course together. Practice kindness with your students and ask them to be kind to you. Go over any FAQs that you want to make sure that all students know before you embark on this journey. Make what works for you. Providing this kind of introduction provides reassurance and stability to your students that they desperately crave right now.
On Teaching Synchronously
Please, please don’t feel that you have to generate all new content for every lesson. Don’t feel that you have to record all of the lectures that you would have given face-to-face. And if you’ve been given different advice from administrators, I implore you to do what is best for your students anyway. This is not the time to listen to bad advice.
Here’s the truth: Students do not want to watch you teach synchronously during the same hours that you had been spending together face-to-face. Their lives have been completely disrupted. Their kids are out of school. Maybe they lost their job or are working a new one. Maybe they have limited connectivity at home.
This doesn’t mean that you don’t teach your content. It means that you find accessible ways to do so. If you used to teach for 50 minutes on a topic, extract the key points and boil it down to 10-15 minutes, followed by a series of exercises, problems, or case studies, whatever works for your field. Make sure your students have access to the answers so they can assess themselves and track their understanding. Remember that your students can re-watch the videos. There is an incredible amount of repetition, re-clarification, and reiteration that happens in in-person teaching that is simply not necessary in online teaching. Say what needs to be said and move on. They can re-watch the videos and ask question in the forums that you provide. (And don’t be afraid to embed instructional videos that others have made. If the videos are on YouTube and allows for you to embed it on your course page, the content creator benefits from the additional views.)
My advice is: Offer an optional synchronous office hours time, maybe just 1 hour per week, where students can drop in and ask questions.
Be prepared: It’s likely that the ones who come won’t even want to talk about the class in the first session. They may just need someone to process the disruptions in their lives. This is how you build rapport, community, and more importantly TRUST. If your students trust you, they are more likely to stay engaged over the long haul and struggle through the challenges of learning in an era of disruption. You don’t have to be specially trained to do this. Just BE KIND and listen. Acknowledge what they are going through. If you feel like it, share how this crisis has affected your life.
I also encourage you, with the permission of your students, to record your office hours and share the recording with the class, to build that sense of community for your students who are not able to attend synchronously. Even simply watching an asynchronous recording of you talking with other students can go a long way toward helping all students feel connected to you in this time of uncertainty when everyone is so isolated.
On Organizing for Student-Centeredness
Give students a course schedule, an updated syllabus, or even a basic pinned announcement or post that is your students’ cornerstone for the course. Tell them what to do on a weekly basis so they can keep track. I recommend labeling modules by weeks or dates and organize content inside of those weeks. Students don’t want to go to 8 different modules to pull together all of their content for one week’s work. (Spoken by a teacher who has organized her class like this! Learn from my mistakes!)
Rest assured: No one is expecting you to do a stellar performance this term.
On Online Quizzes
If you’re going to administer a quiz online, please preview the quiz as a student and consider any tweaks that can make it less stressful for students. Do what works for your situation and remember that some of your students are likely to have spotty connectivity, which can make it stressful for them to do an online quiz between a certain time period, especially when it’s timed.
So if you just seriously can’t anymore, you are definitely not alone.
Both of us are trying to work remotely, tagging each other in as the day allows.
We are creating a New Normal.
We are trying “home schooling” and mandated House Clean-Up times and schedules and nipping bad attitudes in the bud.
We are also just trying to not lose our minds.
I consider it an astounding feat that we have managed to limit TV time to less than 3 hours per day. Winning.
Here’s a real conversation that happened this Tuesday, 3/17.
Henry: “Is it Sunday?”
Henry: “Oh, it’s Saturday.”
Felicity: “No, Henry, it’s Monday.”
Henry: “No, it’s Saint Patri’s Day!”
Aren’t you jealous?
On Thursday, 3/12, the first wave of anxiety hit me with the announcement of the closure of all K-12 schools in Ohio.
On Sunday, 3/15, we learned that all restaurants would be closing to dine-in customers. The second wave of anxiety hit me. Not because we eat out a lot. Not at all. We actually eat a lot at home.
But it felt like the first sign that soon, very soon, public places were not going to be an option for occupying the kid’s time.
Read: No kid’s museum, no indoor parks, no library, no movies, no all-the-typical-places-where-we-might-take-them-to-stay-sane.
I’m not prone to anxiety. I worry, sure, but anxiety? No, not really.
But the thought of losing my go-to methods of occupying the kids, actually, not even really having a break from home life for 2, 3, or 4 months…
Oh, Sweet, Sweet Jesus.
So after driving to at least four stores to find toilet paper (still haven’t found any. Thanks to friend, Cate, for sharing some rolls), my husband decided that we should order take-out from a local Mexican restaurant, while we still can.
But by the time we got home with the food, he had decided to drop us off with the take-out bags and continue his search for needed supplies, as the thought loomed in our heads: When we will be officially told to shelter-in-place? And are we ready for that?
The kids ate the tacos and beans like champs, happily and hungrily. I stared at my food, cold waves of anxiety rising and washing over me again and again. Feelings that I haven’t had since I had my first baby and my mother returned to her home in Minnesota. That feeling of floating alone in the ocean, holding on to a life preserver, not knowing when the circumstances were going to change. Not knowing if a wave was approaching that I couldn’t see. Not knowing if I had the fortitude to hold on. And then all of the guilt because, let’s face it, I am likely to be just fine. A healthy, 30-something in the suburbs.
Before I knew it, the kids were done with their food, and I was still sitting there, thinking of what I needed to do to get ready for a week with my daughter at home.
They abandoned their plates, leaving the mess behind and disappeared somewhere else in the house.
When I realized they didn’t wash their hands before they had gone upstairs, I yelled at them to do so, but remained there, paralyzed, looking at the take-out bags.
But they washed their hands before dinner. Pretty sure they did. Yeah, they did. Or was it just Henry’s hands?
And then the thoughts started.
You can be asymptomatic for up to 24 days. Wash your hands. Cough into your sleeve. Wash your hands to Happy Birthday. You might not even know you have it. Stay home. Don’t go out. Wash your hands. My hands, but also the kids. All the time. Wash three sets of hands, that’s six hands. Every time you enter and exit a room. The virus can live on surfaces for up to two days. It floats in the air. Someone doesn’t need to cough on you–You can just breathe it in. There aren’t enough ventilators and there may not be enough hospital beds. What about my friend who is pregnant? Is she okay? What about Mom? What if she gets it? Can’t think about that. Can’t let the kids see her until this whole thing is over. What happens when the daycares close?
And then, I started eating. One taco. Two tacos. Three tacos. Chips. Beans. More chips. Salsa. More chips. Beans. The second bag of chips. More salsa. Oreos? What the hell. Sugar felt good. Where’s all the chocolate around here? Maybe some ice cream. Oh, there are cones, too. Hm.
Oh my God, I realized. I’m stress eating.
I haven’t stress-eaten in probably 15 years or more.
When my husband got home, we let the kids play alone upstairs while we processed what was happening around us.
“Sweets, people are getting f***ing crazy out there,” he said, eyes wide. “I saw a guy, two older guys actually, at Sam’s with–I swear to God–nothing but Swiss Miss packets in their cart. Just boxes and boxes of Swiss Miss.”
“Shut up,” I said, relieved at having something to laugh about.
“I’m serious. I’m serious,” he assured me.
It felt good to laugh. (Is there anything more attractive, at this moment, than a partner that can genuinely make you laugh? I think not.) And he was more than happy to oblige, with story after story of Ridiculous Carts in Sam’s Club.
“It’s really hitting me,” he said, “just how many people there are that have literally no idea how to cook. They’re like holding these cans of food and saying things like, ‘Could we make this or this?’ ‘What about this?’ There are people walking the aisles of stores with actual faces of fear and panic. I’ve never seen it like this before.”
And welcome to Life in the Time of COVID-19.
A time when we will choose to either battle our internal demons of the fear of scarcity or succumb to them and war with each other. Over toilet paper and Swiss Miss.
Those end-of-the-world disaster and pandemic movies that massaged our basest instincts to flee or fight, it feels like our brains are feeding on them to fuel our daily behaviors.
We didn’t think we would be here.
Disasters on this scale don’t happen to the U.S., right?
They happen in “third world countries.” They happen in places with less technology and fewer resources. They happen in countries without the same number fighter planes, tanks, and missiles.
But for some global perspective, let’s remember that Syrians continue to run for their lives as Russian planes swoop in and bomb the living hell out of Idlib. Meanwhile, we are experiencing a very, very, very mild version of the panic and fear that these refugees face every day of their lives.
But we are not used to this.
More specifically, affluent White America is not used to this.
We are not used to restrictions and limitations and “unavailable” and “2 per person” and postponing elective surgeries and schools closing for months and church services moved on-line for safety reasons and March Madness being cancelled. (Okay, honestly, that last one doesn’t bother me at all.)
This is Land of Freedom and Choice and Individualism, baby.
Actually, not for the next 2-4 months.
Now, we’ve got to learn how to be Collectivist, to behave in a way that benefits the common good, to postpone or abandon plans, to cooperate and be kind, to put competition aside so that we can protect lives and ensure that we don’t end up holding the hands of our 60-, 70-, and 80- year old loved ones as they die without proper treatment because of health care rationing.
Think about that.
Toilet paper is the least of our worries.
I’m concerned that there is not enough emphasis on looking out for each other and supporting each other through this difficult time.
That’s what led to my meltdown on Monday night this week, as our son came home from his last day of daycare.
No more daycare. No more support, was how it felt to me.
Now, it’s just the four of us.
No help from grandparents.
Now, we will have to alternate work with care-taking. Now, we will have even fewer quiet moments together without the kids.
Our village of friends, daycare, school, after-school programs, libraries, and church just collapsed into the space of our home.
I wasn’t prepared for this. None of us were.
So that’s where I’m at with coping. How about you?
If you’ve got a story about Ridiculous Pandemic Carts, I could really use a laugh.