Wednesday, July 1, 2020

The 6 Month Check-up


So, that 2020 huh?  I guess no one really saw that coming.  I certainly could not have guessed in January that my spring and early summer would look like this.  It’s funny now to recall sitting in a coffee shop on a cold January morning in Greenville typing out the draft that would become my first blog post of the year.  In it, I listed 7 goals for myself for this year and mentioned that I’d try to remember to check in a few times to let you know how it was going.  Well, it’s now mid-June.  I guess we better get to it.

I know you don’t want to scroll back through the posts any more than I did, so I’ll quickly remind you of my 7 goals for 2020:

-Exercise every day
-Practice gratitude
-Sketch/Write in my sketchbook every day
-Eat better
-Get in exhibits
-Read every day
-Choose positivity

I’ve heard that a man’s (or woman’s) character is not tested when things are easy, but rather when they become difficult.  I consider these goals reasonable but I think they would have been challenging in a year when things went smoothly.  And it’s true that even in the early weeks of working towards meeting these goals, I encountered some difficulty.  Maybe that’s a good way to address this check-up, by breaking it down into “before trouble” and “during trouble”. 

Before Trouble

Let’s call January to the first week in March “before trouble”.  I seem to recall the threat of what the social media birds were calling “World War III” during those weeks, but otherwise there was mostly just the normal amount of politics and civil unrest.  My life was moving along with the start of a spring semester and I was working hard at work and at being an artist.  I was actually finding a groove creatively and I was managing to carve out a sizeable chunk of time each week to produce new drawings.  School was also going well.  I was handling the things within my control as well as possible and my students were thriving.  Life was good. 

I was managing to exercise (PIYO) about 4 times per week which was not exactly what I was hoping for in the beginning, but with the school schedule, it was what I could manage.  I was running every day and I was even steadily increasing my distance running in preparation for running a half marathon in March.  Each week I added a mile to my run right up until the half marathon, which I was lucky to complete just before everything started to be canceled.  The gratitude book was in daily use and I was jotting down my thankful thoughts every morning.  I don’t think I missed any days during this “before trouble” period.  I wasn’t doing as great with the sketching/writing in my sketchbook every day.  I would miss a day here and there, but the routine was being established.  I was eating better by watching the amount of sweets I was eating and working to consciously eat less fried foods and more vegetables.  I was also working toward entering some exhibits.  There was a small batch of "calls for art" during the latter part of this time and I was making work to enter.  I was reading every day, either in the Bible, a bedside book, or online and doing very well with that.  And I was choosing positivity with a good deal of success.  I know this because I saw some changes in my immediate world with student interactions and my own emotions were much more positive as a result.  I was letting go of things I couldn’t control and trying to be at peace with them.  I was smiling, encouraging, and swatting high fives anywhere they were available.  I was doing a pretty good job with my goals.

During Trouble

And then there was March.  I think it was somewhere around March 13 that we got booted from campus and we had to completely rethink how we were teaching our semester courses.  You can find my own detailed weekly responses in the series of “Quarantine Logs” by scrolling on down.  If you read any of those, you know that I stayed very busy during this transition and during the final weeks of the semester with working online and helping my kids finish their school year as well. 

The exercise was also working out well.  I was setting an alarm and getting up early most days to run and do PIYO before signing on with students.  The PIYO workouts were up to about 5 per week.  The running distances were mercifully back down to just 3.1 miles each day and my legs were tired following the longer runs of training. 

During these weeks of change, gratitude came pretty easily to me.  I was thankful to have a job that allowed me to work online.  I was thankful for my students’ abilities to learn online.  I was thankful to come up with solutions to very difficult studio teaching problems.  I was, of course, thankful for the good health of everyone I knew.  Thankful for toilet paper and whatever else the stores seemed to stay out of stock on for a while.  I had time each day to write these things down.  I’m even grateful for that time of gratefulness.

The difficult times were good times for sketchbook content.  There was a lot to write and to sketch about.  It was not as easy to find the time for it, though.  Many late nights were spent throwing some thoughts down about the history of the day before dragging myself to bed.  My school sleep schedule was tossed out the window completely.  Instead of trying to be in bed by 11pm, I was lucky to see my pillow before 1am.  Some nights it was these extra hours of wakefulness that allowed me to work in my sketchbook.  But some nights I just couldn’t bring myself to open that little book.  I’d think about it and turn off the light in exhaustion.  I missed some days in the sketchbook.

If you follow me on Instagram you can just skip this paragraph about eating better.  My eating habits “during trouble” probably couldn’t have been worse.  I still got a vegetable in fairly regularly, but the amount of sweets I was putting in my body each week could probably be best measured in tons.  I may have stress-ate.  Stress-eaten?  Either way, I ate way too many sweets.  We stocked up on sweets as the pandemic loomed and as soon as the self-quarantine began, we had to go out and buy more because we were out.  I did several “cooking with McAbee” things on Instagram with insanely decadent food creations.  I ate a lot of waffles.  I drank a lot of coffee.  I don’t normally weigh myself but I’m sure I added some pounds during this time.  I’m ok with calling this one a failing grade.

Getting in exhibits is much easier when there are exhibits to get into.  Write that down.  As I prepared to enter the stack of calls for art on my desk I found that almost all of them had been canceled or rescheduled because of the pandemic.  I was in a very cool exhibit at The Bascom, which, if I haven’t blogged about that, I need to do that soon.  But I wasn’t even allowed to go pick up the work for that show because the town had been closed to non-residents.  The one show I entered before it was canceled just recently canceled their rescheduled date and refunded the entry fees.  I did have a gallery call me to discuss the possibility of doing some sort of exhibit of the goofy stuff I did online during the quarantine, but that hasn’t been scheduled yet.  Looks like I don’t pass this one either.  But I do have a lot of new work ready so if you know a gallery looking for a show…

Some of my friends have zipped through books during the last few months.  I apparently spent most of my extra time on drawings or other creative activities and missed my reading times.  I am proud to say that I’ve done a pretty good job with reading the scheduled Bible passages every day, but I have missed some days.  I’ve also done well with reading at least a page in a bedside book, but again, there have been the late nights where all I did was turn out the light and immediately begin snoring.  Most recently, I bombed all my reading on our vacation.  I took the “read through the Bible in a year” Bible with me along with a brand new book I’ve been looking forward to reading.  I completely forgot the Bible was in my bag all week and after reading Chapter 1 in the other book on the first night, I don’t think I opened that one again all week.  Vacation was intense.  I may get a passing grade for the entire time period but I’m really not proud of that week of reading.

Again, if you read any of the “Quarantine Logs” in this blog, you know that while I may not have had a problem with external positivity, I did struggle with internal positivity.  So much of what I did outwardly since early March was aimed at helping others find a reason to smile and keep going.  Inside my head it was not always so positive.  I was very frustrated with how the pandemic impacted my semester and my students.  I was frustrated with how it impacted my kids’ school year and G’s job.  I realized these were things beyond my control and I tried to minimize their impact on my positivity.  I suppose there were days when I did as well as anyone else.  There were certainly days I didn’t manage well.  I experienced random moments of crankiness and general dismay at the events around me.  However, under the circumstances, I’m not ready to say I did poor job of being positive.  I actually think I did pretty well considering the sky was falling in giant chunks all around me. 


Just as we ended our self-imposed isolation time and began our summer break, the world decided that some civil unrest is what this year needed next.  During our annual family vacation the country erupted into protests and riots.  I’m looking at the coming summer the way my dogs look at me when they see that the fun car ride ended up at the smelly building where they get stuck by needles and someone jabs a cold thermometer in their butt.  Perhaps it’s a good thing that I have my 7 goals to focus on.  If you had goals or resolutions for this year, I’d love to hear how you’re dealing these days.  If you’ve failed a few like me, a fresh start begins tomorrow. 


Saturday, May 30, 2020

quarantine log week 9


This week we eased back into life outside the plantation.  A quick scroll through your social media will confirm that there are as many opinions about how to self-isolate and practice social distancing as there are social media accounts.  You and your family may not feel it’s a good idea to be preparing to end your own “quarantine” and that’s ok.  You should certainly do what you feel is best.  As I respect your right to govern yourself and your family as you see fit, please respect my right to do the same. 

The thing is most of us haven’t really been in quarantine.  As I understand the word technically, a quarantine would not include interacting with take-out restaurants, trips to Walmart, visiting family, leaving the house to exercise, or leaving the house at all really.  So, let’s just own that for a second, can we?  At best we’ve all been social distancing.  At worst we’ve all been hanging out more at home.  Maybe you have been militant about your self-isolation and if so, my hat is off to you.  But whether you’ve had no contact with the world outside your home, little contact, lots of contact, or even if you’ve pretty much ignored all suggestions on social distancing, we’ve still all experienced a very different world for the last few months.  Public places have been closed.  Restaurants have allowed no indoor dining.  Many jobs have been limited to work-from-home tasks.  Schools have been closed and kids have been home.  So even if you’ve had some of your life remain normal, you’ve still had to make some major adjustments.

Last week my kids finished their school year officially by cleaning out their lockers and picking up all their assignments and projects.  We’ve moved into the “summer time” schedule around the house, and the only major difference here now is that G is still home from work every day.  We’re still limited with some of the activities we would normally pursue, but mostly things are starting to feel like they did back in early March. 

We’ve started having family lunches at mom’s again.  More places are opening for business including some restaurant dining rooms.  We’ve tried to support our local restaurants as much as possible over the last several weeks, but we haven’t eaten inside a restaurant since early March.  We got up one day this week and decided we were going to go shopping and eat in a restaurant.  We drove to Greenville and picked up the things on our list.  We also went to Marshall’s and stood in a short line to get inside.  The occupancy rules forced us to wait a bit before going in.  The checkout line in Marshall’s is always long, but with an extra few feet expected between humans, it looped around through the store farther than I’ve ever seen it.  World Market was only open for curbside pickup.  Ross looked like its clothing was practicing social distancing with a couple of feet between each item of clothing on the men’s side.  Apparently there have been some distribution disruptions. 

When we were ready to eat, we decided on BBQ. We drove to one of our favorite BBQ places only to find it was still closed.  Our plan B was a BBQ place we’d never tried before. When we arrived, their indoor dining area was closed. Instead, we sat at an outdoor table in the sun.  It was a beautiful day. We ate beside the big BBQ slow cooker. It smelled amazing.  The food was also good, so no complaints from me.  Still, we failed to eat inside a restaurant.  Maybe next time. 

Many businesses and jobs are preparing to reopen the first week of June.  I’ve noticed some museums and galleries will resume normal hours on June 1.  I’ve heard many voices speaking out against moving back to normal operations too soon.  There’s the warning of a looming rebound of COVID 19 after we all start being normal again.  I suppose this is likely.  Still, I think I may be confused about what people are thinking about this virus.  Maybe our educational videos with the matches lighting one another and the one match moving out of line to stop the spread of the fire has fooled some of us into thinking that social distancing and washing our hands will eradicate this virus from Earth.  Now that this virus is moving among humans, we’re stuck with it.  The flu comes around annually and the strains change.  We wash our hands, avoid the infected and we go about our business.  The flu doesn’t go away, it even has its own season!

So, if you haven’t been exposed, you will be sooner or later.  I understand that our (hopefully) once in a lifetime global shut-down was designed to give our medical friends time to develop strategies to fight the new virus, and to give humans time to build up antibodies.  Maybe we’ve enjoyed the break, and maybe we’ll all be better beings because of it, but the fact remains that we can’t stay shut down forever.  Whatever you think normal will be in the coming months and years, we simply have to start walking in that direction sooner or later. 

I read a couple things recently comparing our self-isolation to a cocoon.  I think that’s a beautiful metaphor for what we’ve been doing.  I’m not saying I buy it, but it’s beautiful, nonetheless.  The thing about a cocoon is that it is a temporary space and time.  The Monarch butterfly is a gloriously beautiful butterfly, but we must remember it did not start out that way.  It entered the cocoon as a wingless, flightless creature. It spent its time inside the cocoon changing.  Wouldn’t it be cool if this time of self-isolation created permanent changes in us that helped us bring more beauty to the world when we emerged?