Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Life Continues, in the Midst of Global Pandemic

A week ago, we needed to move the school butterfly garden inside because the parking garage was being pressure washed and repaired.  We moved the plants into the student break room; on Monday, we noticed one caterpillar.

By the end of the week, we had several caterpillars.  Someone asked me if I had brought them in.  I said, "No, they hatched from eggs that some mother Monarch laid."

I've really enjoyed seeing them each day as I filled my tea kettle or rinsed dishes or just made a trip to the break room to see the caterpillars.  But I also kept an eye to the leaves; I didn't want them to run out of food.  I didn't want them to starve in real time, before our eyes.  The skeleton crew of school staff doesn't need that unpleasantness.

Yesterday, I made a trip to my favorite nursery to buy some more milkweed plants.  I knew they were about out of leaves to eat.  And then I decided to take them home.  As they've gotten bigger and bigger, I knew they would be moving to the chrysalis stage soon.  I didn't want them to emerge as butterflies in the building.

I do realize they might be more likely to live in the building.  I know how vulnerable they are to predators at every stage.

I put a few of the plants with caterpillars on them into a box and put the box on the floorboard of the front passenger seat.  Having caterpillars as passengers proved a bit distracting.  I didn't want them to fall/crawl off the plants and into the car.  At least one of them had crawled away earlier in the day.

We put the pots on the porch where I'm hoping the caterpillars will be a bit safer from bird predators.  They will have plenty of places to create their chrysalis, plenty of surfaces from which to hang.

These caterpillars don't understand social distancing!

I also bought 2 hanging baskets of flowers, not for the caterpillars but for me.  Plus, they were on sale!

It's good to remember that even though we're in a time of great challenge, there are still delights to behold.

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Pandemics and What We Lose Beyond Lives

In the past days, I've been thinking about all the things we've lost, either permanently or just for right now:

--I've thought about all the plans I had for students, from Easter egg hunts to library displays to Poem in Your Pocket Day.  We will miss the national Scrabble day.  We have canceled all the speakers and the special development for both faculty and students.  These losses are the least of what we face, and yet occasionally, my breath catches.

--On Sunday, I made this Facebook post:  "Watching Garth Brooks and the Gershwin Prize PBS show, so many excellent musicians, hoping that John Prine does not lie dying."  I know that  we would be losing our elders to some disease, if it wasn't this disease.  But it's sobering.

--And it's not just artists.  I know several research scientists, and I only have the shadowiest outlines of the scientific research that can't move forward in this time.  Perhaps those scientists will only lose a month of two of work.  But the reality is likely to be much more grim.  What cures aren't being discovered because work has ground to a halt or been shifted to other projects?  What discoveries won't be made?

--I talked to my sister on the phone.  She lives close enough to my parents that she can go see them, but she does have to cross state lines.  We find ourselves talking about closing of the borders.  It's very strange.  I always knew that there might come a time when she might have to do more in terms of care of our parents, but I thought it would be because of my work schedule, not because a pandemic was sweeping the country, and I live in a disease hotspot.

Of course, I could make an alternate list of things we've lost:

--rigid ideas about how education must be delivered.  The same is true of many systems:  education, church, social services, entertainment, therapies of all types.

--the idea that we can't help the poor and unemployed.

--the notion that work can only be done in an office chair in an office.

We live in uncertain times, but let me take my own advice:  Take precautions, but don't let this pestilence paralyze you.

Monday, March 30, 2020

March, Stall, Stumble, Red Light, Green Light

The month of March, this past month of March, should be renamed Stall.  Perhaps Stumble.  Perhaps we should rename this past month after the child's game Red Light, Green Light.  Do children still play this game?  One child stands at the end of the driveway, with the others at the top.  When the child turns his/her back to the group and yells "Green Light!," the group runs as fast as they can until the child turns around to yell, "Red Light," which means the runners stop.

It seems unreal that just a few weeks ago I was packing for San Antonio to go to the AWP conference.  It seems even more unreal that a year ago, we'd be doing AWP stuff in Portland.  I am certain that we will remember those events as a before, if we ever get to the land of after.

It's been a month of reversals, in so many ways.  It's been interesting how many things have happened that we once were assured could never happen:  working from home, moving classes online, seeing both houses of Congress act together to pass legislation.  We've had years and decades of being told that there was no money to help people, and now, suddenly, trillions of dollars.

We are seeing field hospitals being installed in outdoor areas and civic centers.  What is about to come is staggering.

A week ago, we had 35,224 cases in the U.S.  Now we have at least 143,055.  I can hardly fathom these numbers.  I am terrified to think about where we're headed.

I am interested in how people have shifted position.  I have colleagues who fled Venezuela--they are expecting something different than I am, more societal collapse.  And then there are people who are thinking about other sorts of takeovers, dark webs and dark governments and currency being seized while the internet goes down.

My spouse spent part of the month saying this would be no worse than flu, even though we both know that flu can be pretty bad.  Now my spouse is looking at our supply of bleach and hand sanitizers and looking up recipes for them.  He spent part of Sunday sanitizing all sorts of surfaces.   I don't remember ever seeing him clean more than 1 surface at a time ever. He sees clutter, but not gunk and grime. I'm just the opposite.

We are all washing our hands more.

I do wonder where we'll be when this is all over.  I've done a lot of reading about plagues and pandemics in history. The bubonic plague that wiped out 1/4 to 1/2 of Europe's population gave serfs all kinds of opportunities in the post-plague world, and many historians see the end of feudalism happening because of the pandemic--in fact, the roots of the Renaissance probably happened because of the pandemic, which led to the loss of lots of beliefs (in the Catholic church, in rulers, in ideas that made no sense post-pandemic).

But before we get to post pandemic times, we have to get through the pandemic, and I think it's going to be very bad. We've waited and waited, and I am expecting lots of death, along with economic upheaval. I hope that post pandemic, we will be a changed humanity, but we could be changed in ways that aren't good--instead of keeping our social connections, we might just become more fearful.

I think that officials aren't giving us the right message. We will likely need to have rolling shutdowns for the rest of the year. Here's what I predict: we will go back to regular life in May, in June and July, we will see an increase in infections, we will go back into shutdown mode in August or September, we will come back to regular life in November and then we'll start to see an increase in infections around Christmas. Until we have a vaccine or some immunity from exposure (and right now, we don't know if exposure gives immunity), we will see all sorts of impacts we can't predict right now.

We aren't planning for rolling shutdowns. I'm glad that we were able to get trillions of dollars in aid to everybody, but it won't be enough.

It is interesting to see that we can get stuff done in a crisis--which makes me wonder why we can't do that when we're not terrified. I do hope that people will be asking these questions about why our health care system is so insufficient, why our preparations have been so inadequate--in my hopeful moments, I do think we might achieve some societal transformation, transformations towards a better society, not the opposite way.

Let me keep focused on that vision, through whatever is about to come.

Sunday, March 29, 2020

Sketching My Way Through a Week of Pandemic

In early March, when I first signed up for an online journaling class offered by Vonda Drees and the Grunewald Guild, I had no idea how much life would change in the next few weeks.  I had no idea how much I would need this class.

I knew it had the potential to be life changing.  I took a journaling class with Vonda at the end of 2018, and it was one of the highlights of my year, perhaps of the decade.

We are reading Cynthia Bourgeault's Mystical Hope:  Trusting in the Mercy of God.  We have 3 markers in shades of gray, and a marker color that brings us joy.  I chose lilac.  Here's the first sketch I made from a quote in the book that talks about life seeming to spiral downward--little did I know how quickly it would spiral downward during the week as pandemic cases spiraled out of control:

The next day, this quote from chapter 1 leapt out at me:  "Must we be whiplashed incessantly between joy and sorrow, expectation and disappointment?"  I have spent must of my life in this kind of whiplash.

As the past week has progressed, I have found it more and more difficult to sleep.  I fall asleep quickly, but my brain usually jolts me awake between 12:30 and 2:00 a.m., and most nights I don't fall back asleep.  I've taken to sketching as a way of leaving the various sites that bring me news and stress, as a way of attending to any activity that might bring me relief--or even joy.

In this quote, I tried to create a sketch that looked like weaving.  I was only partially successful:

On Friday, we had an online session where we talked about our favorite sketch.  I chose this one:

I talked about how I tried to sketch the fingers of God, but I thought they looked like odd fingers.  I liked the negative space, which looks like flames to me.  In the end, I loved the sketch.  I also realized how many of my concerns and anxieties take place in the near or far future, not the now.  I've known that before, but it's sobering to make a list and confront this truth again.

I wasn't as sure about Friday's sketch:

Saturday's sketch might be my favorite thus far.  I started it in the morning and finished it in the afternoon:

I love the mystical hope that swirls across and through the sketch.  I like the dots and dashes that I made with a variety of pens.

I plan to keep trying to sketch each day.  It's become a practice that's even more vitally important in these days of pandemic.

Saturday, March 28, 2020

Spiritual Directing

This morning, I drive down to Miami to have my first real meeting with my spiritual director--our meeting in February was a getting to know you session, so we could both decide whether or not to enter into this spiritual partnership.

We've been in communication, as her county and mine have tightened down on shelter in place orders.  We've decided to go ahead with today's appointment.  We will sit six feet apart.  I'm sure she'll wipe down any surface that I touch once I leave.

Occasionally, I stop to think about how life has changed.  I have to remind myself that I'm still in this certificate program in spiritual direction.  I have the next book to read and report on.  I need to write an e-mail to my small group.

And I need to continue with spiritual direction as long as I can.  Even when we can't meet in person, we can still do spiritual direction by phone or video session.

Every so often, I think back to how excited I was when I got the official acceptance into this program.  I think about that time, a time that now seems like our last days of innocence, back in January when we met for our on-ground intensive.  Part of me wants to wail about all that we've lost.  Will our onground intensive for June be canceled?  Will life be back to normal by then?  Will we ever be back to normal?

No, we won't be back to the pre-pandemic normal.  I have no doubt about that.  We might like the new normal better.  Perhaps we will all care for each other in deeper ways.  Or maybe we will be more fearful, sanitizing every surface and staying 6 feet apart.

When this pandemic is over, perhaps we will see an increased desire for spiritual direction. Wouldn't it be a lovely surprise if I'm actually trained and ready for a career field that's opening up? That will be a first for me. I'm often training for career fields just as they enter the final death throes (of course, we only know that in retrospect).

Whatever the case, the program feeds me in other ways.  So let me eat some breakfast and get ready for my meeting.

Friday, March 27, 2020

Sweating in Place

Our county is now under a shelter in place order--it doesn't seem very different than the earlier order that had a similar name.  The order comes with a list of essential services that are allowed to remain open.  The list is 7 pages long.

I can still go to the office--I'm part of a private college staff who is facilitating online and distance learning.  Of course, I may get to the office today to find one of our bosses has decided to send us all home to work.

For the past several mornings (by which I mean when I wake up, usually around 2 a.m., until when I go for a walk), I've felt unusually sweaty.  In the past, I might not have thought much about it--we have record breaking heat for the month of March, after all, and we keep our AC set at 77 degrees.  But with this new virus, I have felt increasingly uneasy when sweaty.

This morning, I decided to take my temperature.  As I sat with the thermometer under my tongue, I thought about sweats and fevers and what they signify.  I thought of Beth in Little Women, feverish and sweaty.  In the 80's, night sweats would signify AIDS.  These days, I'm often thinking about menopause and hot flashes.

My temperature is 96 degrees.  No other symptoms of a virus or infection of any kind.  So that's good.

I tried to write a poem about it all, but I wasn't successful--or was I?  After a few attempts, I wrote this haiku-like thing:

Night sweats, 3 a.m.
Symptom, seasonal, or worse?
No fever, no calm

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Plague Fugue

Yesterday one of our program chairs shared that she doesn't really have an adequate home computer.  If she doesn't have adequate computer resources, how many of our students will?

Those were the thoughts that woke me up much too early this morning.  Each morning, a different set of panicky thoughts jolts me from sleep around midnight to 2 a.m.  For several weeks, I have rarely fallen back asleep.

This morning, I was rereading chapter 1 of Cynthia Bourgeault's Mystical Hope as I prepared to sketch.  On p. 12, I underlined this text:  "The spiritual life can only be lived in the present moment, in the now.  All the great religious traditions insist upon this simple but difficult truth.  When we go rushing ahead into the future or shrinking back into the past, we miss the hand of God, which can only touch us in the now."

I started making a list to describe "the now," only to realize that much of what was in my head is worry about the near future.  Interesting.

A few weeks ago, I was expecting a full lockdown across the nation.  Then President Trump changed his message and changed it again and changed it again, never heading back towards the more stringent approach.  The governor of my state of Florida doesn't seem inclined to issue a shelter in place order, and under the order from the county, the amount of staff needed to keep a college operating online are allowed to assemble. 

If we are not required to go into complete lockdown mode, we may be able to survive, at least from the perspective of the faculty.  I am unsure what to do to help our students, since they are not allowed on campus. 

This experience has taught me one thing:  I don't want to work remotely all the time.   I don't want to be required to work from home, as all my important stuff to get my job done is at my office and on the school computer network, which I can't access from home. I would like the option to work from home, when it would be easier to work from home.  I would like more flexibility.

Well, I suppose I should get ready for work.  I'm still heading into the office each day.  Each day, I wonder if it will be my last day heading into the office.  Welcome to the plague fugue state.