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? 

Quarantine Log Week 8

Gratitude and love.  These words were on my mind this week. 

Some foundational information to provide a starting point for this log is necessary.  Our university semester was interrupted harshly by the pandemic, and there was a lot of emotional, mental, and academic stress involved with the changes that interruption brought.  For me personally, those stresses were compounded by two other stressors:  being a dad and being an encourager. 

My kids were banished from their school about the same time the rest of us were.  This meant they were home 24 hours each day, and aside from the basic tasks of making sure they don’t hurt each other or jump off the top of the house on any given day, I also had to be very sensitive to their emotional, mental, and academic stresses.  Doing school at home was not easy on them at all.  One child worked ahead, completing every assignment seconds after they were emailed, and the other child needed to be dragged through their assignments, often kicking and screaming.  Both were very upset to not see their friends.  Heck, we’re lucky enough to have kids who love their school, and they were even missing their teachers.  A couple of weeks into our educational banishment, G was furloughed from the hospital. This meant adding another body and mind to the daily home mix.  It’s one thing to be busy at school during the week and go from 7:00 am until 7:00 pm without talking to your wife or kids.  It’s quite another thing to be busy with school during the week but in the same building as your family, and not talk to them.  So, you try to do everything all at once, and you can imagine how that normally turns out.  On the best days everyone was a little on edge.  The worst days were, well, worse. 

It was easy to see how the switch to online learning was impacting my students.  I could see it on their faces when they were kind enough to turn their cameras on during Blackboard meetings.  I could hear it in their voices when they were kind enough to turn their microphones on instead of typing.  I could read it in their emails and text messages.  I had a need to try to help make the transition and the anticlimactic ending to the semester as enjoyable as possible.  When it was time for class, I closed my studio door and flipped the switch on my personality to be the best version of myself.  I posted silly things to Instagram.  I sent goofy messages.  I checked on people. 

Each day I still carved out quiet time for myself.  Some days I selfishly stayed in my studio after a class had ended just so I could think about the next thing I had to do.  Some days I sat up late at night petting Zeke with my brain in neutral.  Every day I ran and tried to have my coffee in silence, but I quickly learned that the things that were bothering everyone else were also bothering me.  People online were talking about being bored and binge-watching all sorts of things, and I was over here wishing I had several more hours in each day to get all this crap done.  I was tired.  I was withdrawing from my mental account faster than I was depositing. 

But then, some messages arrived.   The first message came through social media and caught me totally off guard.  It was a simple message of gratitude from a student.  Sometimes at the end of a semester a student will be thoughtful enough to email a kind word about enjoying a class or something like that.  Those messages are always appreciated, and they carry much more weight than you can imagine.  There were a couple of those this semester but this one was not from a student in one of my spring classes.  It was just a student who noted something and voiced an appreciation for it.  The next one came just a few days later.  One sentence that probably completely changed how I feel about the entire semester as a teacher.  Gratitude is so powerful.  Gratitude is an expression of love.

I don’t have to teach the way I teach.  The basic task of transferring information from one human to another can certainly be done with less effort.  I teach the way I do because I love my students.  I see them as humans instead of numbers.  I can help them get a degree, but I have a deeper desire to help them become better humans; to be kinder, happier, more fulfilled.  I know this may be idealistic and maybe you think it’s a waste of effort, but I’m stubborn so shut up.  So, I do what I do, the way I do it.  There is, of course, a cost.  I give up time with my family and friends to invest in my students.  I sometimes take a lot of crap from people who think I should teach a different way.  Some days it’s just hard because life is hard, so I do the best I can.  And then you get an email of gratitude and you know it was worth the price.  Just one sentence makes the sacrifice worthwhile.  All the sunflower seeds I plant each year do not germinate.  But the ones that do certainly make the planting worthwhile. 

 Saying “thank you” or saying, “I appreciate you” is just another way of saying “I love you”.  I know my students would run screaming if they thought of it this way.  Most of them would pass out if they even knew I believed in love.  But behind the curtain of sarcasm, self-deprecation, and nonsense, love is the common thread in this story.  I teach because I love my students.  Some students offer that love back to me through gratitude, and it keeps cycling through over and over. 

The coolest thing is that you just never know how important it is until you do it.  I’ve had students tell me years after graduation that I said something to them once that changed their life.  Honestly, I was probably clueless.  I was just doing my thing the way I do it and they happened to be there.  I had no idea it would have such an impact on them.  Likewise, a student may decide mid-conversation that they want to say thanks or maybe they’re bored and decide to email. They may have no idea just how close I was to throwing in the towel.  Some of those messages have saved me. 

I wonder how many lives could be made better today if you and I decided to look outside ourselves for a moment and let someone know we see them and appreciate them? 

Monday, May 18, 2020

quarantine log week 7

I read something recently about families or couples having trouble living with each other during quarantine.  The thing I read mentioned how being forced to live in close quarters with the same people for long periods of time puts a magnifying glass on things that may have previously seemed small. 

I bet my family deserves a few trophies.  I’m a pretty ridiculous human being in normal circumstances.  During regular life my wife and kids are insulated from my level of crazy by work and school.  My kids do have to suffer a little more during summers, as we have summer breaks together, but G still gets a break from my nonsense by going to work.  The four of us (6 if you count the dogs) have all been at home together for the last 4 weeks.  The dogs are loving it.  The family?  I’m not sure I want to ask.

These days it’s not uncommon for someone around here to have a tiny fit of rage over the ice trays being left empty or the trashcan being heaped way too high.  One of the siblings is likely to take offense over the smallest infraction and react with the largest emotions.  All of us have had our moments of quietly but intentionally moving away to a room alone and staying for a while.  I would imagine that these are normal responses for people who have been forced to hang out together a little too long.  And while I may complain about the ice or trash situation with good reason, I do realize that my family has to put up with me too, and I am a lot. 

I just heard one of you say “Amen!”

I’m lucky to have a captive audience for my shenanigans.  When I need extras in my art photos, I can call a kid.  When I need someone to take the photo for me while I’m half naked in the front yard, I can ask G.  When I need someone to fan the flames of me wanting to make some absurdly sweet dessert for no reason, Violet is there with a fork.  When I need someone to faithfully empty those ice trays, Blue has been a real-life hero.  And when I need someone to warm my feet or silently judge me for doing something dumb, both dogs are ready to serve.

The quarantine and shelter at home order have been tough.  The uncertainty is the worst part.  I’m really not sure who is in charge of making decisions that affect me.  The president maybe?  I’ve heard the governor declare some things.  The president of my university probably factors in there somewhere.  Apparently, there’s someone at the hospital where G works who has made some choices that affect us directly.  It seems that none of these people are on the same page about how long we will need to avoid contact with people or when we can return to our jobs.  Can we still go on our summer vacation?  Will restaurants be open?  Can I go hiking?  It seems the answers keep changing. 

We are stuck with whatever is decided for us.  Control freaks and rebels hate that sort of thing.  I might have a touch of both of those qualities in me.  I’ve watched people on social media tell me all the things I should and shouldn’t be doing.  I’m not a fan of that either.  Everyone thinks they have the most correct and most up to date information and that anyone who doesn’t agree with them is of an inferior intellect.  I’m pretty smart, and I live with a nurse with 25 years of experience and a graduate degree in her field.  It can be tough to take medical advice and viral protection advice from social media medical amateurs.  You should have read that in your snarkiest voice.  I’ll wait if you want to try it again.

I’ve heard people talk about the “new normal”.  Many have said that our world will never go back to the way it was, that we are forever changed in how we will interact with others and how we will treat people when we are released from our homes.  I understand the hope in those statements, but I’ve been alive long enough to be very skeptical.  I remember in the weeks following the 9/11 terrorist attacks people saying the exact same things.  I was young enough then to still believe they might be right.  I remember hearing a normally serious and guarded news anchor launch into an emotional Ted Talk on air about how these attacks were a wake-up call for all Americans.  The anchor asked viewers to consider what they were doing and how they were living their lives.  They posed the question, “Are you doing exactly what you want to be doing right now?” and then followed that question with another….” Well what are you waiting for?”. 

Some have asked similar questions recently.  Some have suggested that we’ll see a new version of humanity.  That we’ll care more about our planet and the other humans living with us on it.  It’s been suggested that we’ll see an outpouring of love and kindness as we have been separated from our friends and coworkers for so long.  I would like to believe these were possibilities.  My fear is that we are what we are.  I mean, we could be spending our time in captivity trying to make other people smile or laugh.  We could be sending kind notes or drawing things for people.  We could be planning how we will show love to our friends when we see them again.  We could be calling or Zooming to strengthen relationships now.  We could be love to the world around us. 

The reality is that some of us are just binge-watching our lives away.  Some of us are growing bitterness inside our home-sized petri dishes.  Some of us are lashing out at strangers online for not sharing our “medical” opinions on the best way to approach a pandemic.  Some of us are still trolling the comments, hating a political party, looking for flaws in our social groups, and choosing to be very loud about it whenever possible. 

This bitterness may come from real, vulnerable places.  Maybe it comes from past hurts and offenses or current sore spots in our lives.  Or maybe you’re just an a-hole, I don’t know you.  What I do know is that many people around the world are just hanging on by a thread right now.  Parents are struggling, students are dealing with lost semesters, unemployed people are wondering how they’ll pay bills, and kids (and honestly everyone else too) are supremely anxious about “these uncertain times”. 

If you are mentally, emotionally, and physically able, maybe this would be a good time to fight bitterness with love.  If you are ok, maybe send an email or text to someone who may not be.  You don’t have to help them move heavy objects; just tell them you’re thinking about them.  Tell them something you like and appreciate about them.  Maybe you could do this once a week or once a day.  Draw something funny for someone and send them a photo.  Heck, mail the original to them.  Write them a story or send them a favorite recipe.  Email a high school teacher you remember.  Smile at a stranger – or maybe wave since you’re probably wearing a mask.  Do something.  Anything.  The negative voices do not need to be the loudest. 

If you’re reading this, there’s a really good chance I love you.  In some way, great or small, even if you’ve never really thought about it that way, it’s true.  I’d like for you to know that.  I would also like to invite you to let me know if you’re struggling.  Let me know if you need a bit of kindness sprinkled into your quarantine life.  Because I need to stop obsessing over the eternally overfilled trashcan and throw some love out into the world.