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.

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

The Value of Repetition and Memorization

When I was a child, I hated the repetition in church services--everything was the same, week after week.  It was so boring.  Why couldn't we have a change?

My parents pointed out the value in repetition.  We would memorize songs and Bible verses, and therefore, they'd always be available to us.  We might not always have a book to consult (and this was WAY before the age of mobile devices).

I huffed and puffed my way through adolescence, shaking my head over all the lost opportunities.  But in the past week, I've been so grateful for all the various words and music that have lodged in my head and bubbled up when I most needed it.

I've been having some trouble sleeping.  I have trouble falling asleep, and then I have trouble staying asleep.  I've had the words and music of Compline drifting through my head.

If you want to have access to those words, here's a site that has the whole Compline service from the Book of Common Prayer.  I've been singing Compline off and on since my teenage years, but I most associate Compline service with Mepkin Abbey.  It's my favorite service. I love ending the day with the simple, dimly lit service, with the Abbot splashing us each with water from the baptismal font.

The Mepkin service uses part of Psalm 91, and some of those words have been percolating during the past week.  That psalm has lots of language about all that might be stalking us, but as you can imagine, it's the imagery of plague and pestilence that I return to.  Verses 5 and 6 seem particularly relevant this week:  "5 You will not fear the terror of the night, or the arrow that flies by day, 6 or the pestilence that stalks in darkness, or the destruction that wastes at noonday."

Tuesday, March 24, 2020


--Yesterday was a stranger day than usual at work.  I had to go to the Ft. Lauderdale campus for training on our online platform, even though I've taught with that platform before.  When I got there, a member of the Corporate team told me that every campus would close at 5 pm, and we wouldn't be allowed to return.  I sat there for the morning of the training trying not to throb with anxiety.

As the day progressed, the guidance about whether or not we would be vacating the campus changed.  This morning I'll go into the office, but there will be fewer people there.  Admissions is working remotely, and students are not allowed.

In my life in academia, it feels so strange to write "students are not allowed."  Similarly, last week, I wrote an e-mail that concluded this way:  

"Since we are almost done with these documents, S___ wanted us to finish those off so that we could send them to you today, in case we can’t get back to campus. I am not expecting a complete quarantine on Monday, but he’s less sure.

I am now going to take a moment to be astonished at that last sentence that I wrote. Never in all my apocalyptic visions of the future did I think that I would send a work e-mail that would talk about quarantine."

--I am taking the situation much more seriously than our U.S. president.  As I drove home yesterday, he was about to have a press conference to announce what sounds like a reversal of earlier policies which called for social distancing.  Of course, that decision may have changed again.

--No wonder I'm feeling a bit whiplashed.

--Last night, my spouse held a virtual Philosophy class during the time he would have been teaching, had the semester gone on as usual.  He told the class he would be available, if any of them wanted to talk in person using the virtual meeting technology.  He halfway expected that he'd be sitting alone, waiting to be needed.  But about 3/4 of the class showed up, and they talked for hours.

In a way, I was thrilled.  How wonderful that some students want to talk Philosophy.  But I had to keep remembering that he was on the clock; I kept quiet, of course, but as I got tired, I wasn't sure what to do.  Our bed is in view of his broadcasting area; if I went to bed, his students might wonder what was happening in the background.

We can fix this in the future by pinning a curtain to obscure the view of the bed.  But I didn't want to interrupt his class last night.

--Did I sketch last night?  No.  So I decided that I must sketch this morning.  I am part of an online journaling class that's exploring Cynthia Bourgeault's Mystical Hope.  I wanted to hear Pachelbel's Canon in D, the first piece of classical music that I really loved.  I found the first version of it that I loved, the one by George Winston.

--What moved my brain to John Prine's "Angel from Montgomery"?   I don't know, but I did a Google search: "make me an angel that flies from Montgomery." I wanted to see who had covered that John Prine song. I was not surprised by all the versions. I was surprised that this search would yield some porn. I suppose that every search does these days.

--I found a friend's Facebook response to her friend that said she would always be Gen X in her soul.  I made this comment:  "If I wrote songs, I'd write one called Gen X in your soul. It would be a wistful, John Prine kind of song, and it would make an oblique reference to angels that fly from Montgomery."

--I did find it soothing to take a break, to read something that wasn't disease related, to sketch.  Here's what I created this morning:

Here's the quote, in case you can't read it:  "Must we be whiplashed incessantly between joy and sorrow, expectation and disappointment?" (p. 2-3).  The book is a sustained answer to that question.

Monday, March 23, 2020

Last Normalish Week-end?

I began the week-end by watching the governor's press conference.  I turned it off when the governor said, "Well, you know, I don't really like telling people what to do.  And that goes for agencies too."

Excuse me, but you're the governor.  Isn't that your job?

Happily, there are plenty of other governors who will lead.  And our local officials have been out ahead of our state governor and the U.S. president for weeks now.

On Saturday, I watched Contagion.  I don't remember watching it when it came out--if it had made an impression on me, I likely would have blogged about it, and I didn't.  When I watched it, I thought it was a bit overblown.  The disease traveled so quickly, and society broke down so quickly.  Now it looks more like a chilling prediction.

I also watched part of The Day After, another movie that made me fill a chill at the early part.  I wrote this Facebook post:  I am watching "The Day After"--the first part of the film, where life is normal, and we know that a giant, nuclear, mushroom cloud of change is on the way, and I want to just weep for days.

On Sunday, we went to church because we're part of the skeleton crew doing the live streaming (see this post on my theology blog for more details).  On the way home, we drove by Memorial Hospital on Johnson Street, which is usually a sleepy neighborhood hospital on a Sunday morning in Hollywood, FL. At each entrance: a containment area with separate ventilation. It looks like they'll be doing intake there. Smart in terms of containing infectious contagion. Scary in terms of what they expect is coming.

We had a Sunday afternoon and evening that was partly typical and partly strange.  I sent my Sunday e-mail to my online students to tell them what's due this week, but I also let them know that if they needed flexibility, they only needed to reach out to me to let me know.  I did some reading and some sketching.

I'm starting a new online journaling class, so I did my first sketch.  The quote is from the first paragraph of Cynthia Bourgeault's Mystical Hope:

My spouse played violin while I read:

But take a look at what I'm reading:

In some ways, it's standard reading for me.  But I had already read Station Eleven when it first came out.  In the past week, I've felt an increasingly desperate desire to visit it again.  On Thursday when I found out that public libraries would be closing indefinitely, I zipped over to the nearest branch that had a copy--luckily that branch was near my work.

Along the way of my week-end, I had lots of conversations with lots of family and friends:  by phone, by e-mail, by Facebook.  Much of the conversation revolved around the current COVID-19 crisis.  But much of it was reminding each other of how long we'd been preparing for and surviving various crises.

I am one of the few academics that I know who isn't working from home this week, so my week-end had both a normal feel (getting ready for the work week) along with the surreal aspects.  I don't know how much longer I'll be able to say any part of that sentence.

Now it's off to a different campus to be trained in our school's new and improved LMS for online learning.  I'm teaching 2 classes in the online division, the first that I've taught in our online division since 2016. 

Sunday, March 22, 2020

Backbone in a Time of Corona Crisis

In our separate cloisters, we follow the practices developed by ancient monastics:

The monks greet the morning with song.  We, too, sing to distract our attention from rising case numbers.

The monks eat nutritious food at set mealtimes.  We eat an orange when we remember.

The monks balance work, prayer, study, and sleep.  Our work becomes the reading of ever more epidemiology articles and sending them to others on our social media feeds, a blurry liturgy of prayer.

At the end of the day, we need something to soothe us into sleep.

We turn to the words of Psalm 91, the backbone of Compline.

"You will not fear the terror of night,
nor the arrow that flies by day,
nor the pestilence that stalks in the darkness,
nor the plague that destroys at midday."
                 Psalm 91:  5-6 (New International Version)

Saturday, March 21, 2020

Cassandra Coping

As I was driving to do some errands on Thursday (or was it Wednesday?), I thought about the nuclear war movies that used to be my favorite type of apocalypse tale.  I thought about The Day After, the scene where the Jason Robards character is in bed with his wife watching the 11:00 newscast about the East German blockade and the heightening crisis.  They talk about the Cuban missile crisis, and they agree that "people are crazy, but not that crazy."  Of course, people are that crazy, and this moment will be the last one in the movie where we see the wife.

As I drove, I wondered if I would look back on these days and marvel at our innocence.  Each day I have wondered what I would wish I had bought if I had known that the stores would close for months at a time.

Yesterday, I was on a mission to find sketchbooks.  I wrote this Facebook post:  "While others were on a quest for toilet paper, I got enough sketchbooks to last for a month or two--and I got a deal! Buy one get one free at Michaels. So I bought 2 and got 2 free. Usually I might leave some for others, but not now, not when I can't be sure I'll have access to an in-person store again in the near future. When you hear of someone hoarding sketchbooks, that would be me."

I find myself shaking my head at times as I think, wow, I'm in the beginning of a dystopian narrative, the early chapters, where we see what might be coming towards us, but it still doesn't seem real.  I have friends who have gone into total isolation, while I have others who scoff at the closures and the stockpiling.

This morning, in the midst of Internet wandering, I came up with an idea for a poem, and I've even written much of it:  how does Cassandra cope in a world where her prophecies are coming true, but her spouse still does not believe her?

Today a friend and I may go to a friend who owns a wine bar in Miami Shores.  We can't stay there and drink, but we can buy wine and yummies to support her.

Or we may not--by now, there may be restrictions on alcohol sales.

In some ways it's a normal Saturday:  we've got homemade pizza in the oven.  In a way, it's not normal.  I'm going to watch the movie Contagion, but I'm going to watch it early, in case it makes me too scared to fall asleep.

I also need to do some strategizing for the week to come.  This virus crisis is not going to be over in a few weeks.  I need to get into some patterns that can sustain me through this.

Friday, March 20, 2020


My sleep schedule is a bit disrupted, and I'm probably not alone.  My disruption presents as waking up between midnight and 2 a.m. and not falling back asleep.

I try to make the best of my insomnia, which visits me periodically.  This morning, I did manage to write a poem.  I wish I could say that I always turn to writing during my wakefulness, but sadly, I'm often scrolling and scrolling, looking for information.  My corona virus insomnia is similar to impending hurricane anxiety--I can't quit looking for updates.

As I was scrolling, I came across some unexpected resources.  Here's a website that tells us how to sew cloth masks that could be used in case of shortage--it's a fairly simple process.  Many of us have time on our hands right now and nervous energy to burn. Why not put it to use?

I came across this choral arrangement of St. Patrick's Breastplate sung by VOCES8 singing in St Vedast Church in London.  Their voices are gorgeous.  Then I did some internet wandering and found some other videos of the group singing in settings that look like ancient cathedrals.

Ah, to sing in an ancient cathedral!

I had been planning to travel today, but it is not to be.  I had planned a week-end trip to meet up with my sister and help my mom celebrate her 81st birthday.  A few weeks ago, we didn't really take this disease into our plans.  I found really cheap airline tickets, and we saw that as a sign to proceed.

We've had many conversations about whether or not to cancel.  In the end, considerations about the age of my parents and the spread of the virus made us decide to have me stay home; my sister, who hasn't had the level of possible exposure that I've had, will still be there to celebrate.

We live in a time of many disruptions.  I had planned to patronize some local shops, like the wine shop, who could use extra support during this time of crisis.  Yesterday, the wine shop sent an e-mail that said that they would be closing for the next month.  They offered some great deals, and we stocked up.  But that's not the way I envisioned supporting them.

I know that greater disruptions are yet to come.  At some point, we may look back and wonder at how slowly we adapted to the new reality.

Thursday, March 19, 2020

Days of Dwindling (Towards Lock Down?)

At some point, I'd like to start thinking about something else.  I have trouble focusing on anything but this new virus.  I've been checking this COVID 19 dashboard a bit obsessively, watching our numbers get close to France and then, this morning, edge ahead.

I'd like to start thinking about something else, but I may not be successful in that goal until this week-end.  Much of my day at work revolves around getting ready for a situation that's still not exactly clear to us.  Will we be told to stay home, like those people who live in San Francisco?  Will we be able to report to work?

It's been strange reporting to work in a world where so many academic folks are moving their classes online and teaching from home.  I would like to do some stress baking, but my office has no stove.

Our winter quarter ends on Tuesday, so we've been trying to get to the end as we hope we don't go into total lockdown as a society.  Some of our teachers decided to administer exams from a distance, primarily by way of e-mail. Some of our teachers decided that their exams couldn't possibly be administered that way, so their students report for exams, with the knowledge that if a student wanted to maintain physical distance from the others, that faculty must accommodate those wishes--and I asked each faculty member to be thinking about what they would do for a final exam if we were suddenly ordered not to leave our houses. I don't think that will happen between now and next Wednesday, but it might.

For Spring quarter, which starts on April 6, we've moved students to online classes where those classes exist with our online division. Almost all of my GE faculty will be suddenly out of work. Maybe it will only be for a quarter. Our Program classes will be done by way of "synchronous distant learning." What that means: the faculty member will teach class during the specified day and time on the schedule using Go to Meeting software (it's more commonly used for conference calls, not teaching). Students will log in from a distance--like a conference call. The pluses: social distancing, the ability to record classes, the ease of use of the software. I do worry about having no tech support the way we might if we used a more traditional LMS.

I spent the afternoon strategizing in light of these changes.  As I drove home yesterday, I noticed that the traffic was significantly lighter.  It felt like early on a week-end morning--in fact, I checked the clock in the car to make sure that I hadn't left work significantly earlier or later than usual.  Could I have been that absent minded?  

I was not--it was really just after 6 p.m., when there would usually be lots of people headed in the direction opposite of me, headed to western suburbs.  Yesterday there was barely any traffic.

As the days go by, there will be less and less.  I got an e-mail notification from the city of Hollywood yesterday, notifying us that bars and nightclubs would remain closed until April 16.  Restaurants can only offer carry out.  Gyms, bowling alleys, movie theatres, dance studios--basically all entertainment will be halted.

This morning I headed to the Wellness Center for spin class.  I knew this day would come--the wellness center is closed.  There was an e-mail that went out on Tuesday.  Tuesday afternoon was intensely hectic for me, so I missed it.

And this morning, I saw that the public library's last open day will be today.  Do I want to try to get more books?  Let me ponder.   It's not like I'm out of work--far from it.  I don't know if I need to have an unusual stockpile.

Since I didn't get to spin, let me take a quick walk to the lake to watch the sunrise.  

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Portrait of a Week through Facebook Posts and Twitter Feeds

I have moved through the morning thinking I might find some writing time.  It's not been that kind of morning.

The other night, when I couldn't sleep, I assembled this blog post.  It's a look back through the week that just passed as I recorded Facebook posts, which are either exactly the same as my Twitter tweets or slightly longer. 

In some ways, it feels like a post that is cheating.  In other ways, I like the snapshot of life in these kinds of snippets.  The abbreviated format reminds me of certain kinds of poetry, where the short length offers a distillation process.

Monday night, 3/16/2020, 9:30 p.m.

I was thinking about getting ready for bed and found myself with an overwhelming urge to sleep with a night light on--the world seems full of danger, and I want to be like my childhood self who believed that a bit of light could protect me from evil that lurks.

Sunday afternoon, 3/15/2020

My old poetry goal (circa undergraduate school) used to be inclusion in the Norton Anthology. My new poetry goal: writing a poem that people tweet/post as one that helps them through a pandemic or other type of national crisis.

Saturday afternoon, 3/14/2020

Next week I resolve to spend less time scrolling and looking for plague information and more time sending poems out into the world.

Saturday morning, 3/14/2020

I find myself incredibly anxious at the idea that the public library might close indefinitely with no warning, even though I own plenty of books, read and unread, for just this very reason.

and just a bit earlier on 3/14/2020

I have now bought enough brown rice to last for the next 6 months, plus a variety of beans, both canned and dry. No toilet paper to be found at WalMart Neighborhood Market at 6 a.m. EDT South Florida.

Friday, March 13, 2020, 8 p.m.

Coming home tonight, I saw groups of youth sports practicing in city fields and rec areas. I know I should be concerned about public health, but I was glad to see kids, parents, and coaches, under a beautiful evening sky.

Thursday, March 12, 2020 afternoon

I think I've eaten 1000 calories worth of ginger snaps today. I'd like to tell you that I believed that they contained lots of ginger to boost my immune system, but that would be a lie.

Wednesday, March 11, 2020 afternoon

If PBS needs a host for a show that mixes crafts, cooking, gardening, and preparing for the end of the world, I am ready to serve our nation in this way. And I have friends who will come on the show as guests to show us how we can make hand sanitizer out of ordinary household items and cloth wipes that are so much more festive than those sterile kinds that come in plastic tubs from a store. And then we'll bake an amazing cake, which will also soothe a weary nation.

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

When We Knew It Was Bad/Serious

Years from now, I will look back on these days and wonder when I first realized how serious it all was?  I'm purposefully leaving the it as undefined, but today I'm thinking new virus, worst stock market loss since 1987, and other possible woes.

Will it be in terms of numbers?  Will I think back to this Covid 19 dashboard?  This time yesterday, the US # of cases was 3,441 (approx); right now, it's 4,661.  Will I think in terms of stock market numbers?  Will I think about the people losing their jobs?

Maybe I first realized the severity of the crisis when Disney announced plans to close Disney World and Disney Land.  Disney World doesn't even close for hurricanes.  Maybe it was as state governor after state governor made decisions that the federal government should have been out in front of, providing leadership and guidance.  I could say the same about school officials, local officials, parents.

Or maybe I'll remember these days as the last days that civilians were allowed in hospitals without an illness.  Maybe I'll marvel at the fact that I still went to spin classes in the hospital wellness center in the middle of a pandemic.

Last week, I had to enter through the ER entrance for the first time for my 5:45 morning spin class.  The guard who was supposed to ask me screening questions waved me through.  This morning, the door was locked, but the guard helped me open it.  As I walked down the hallway, I saw chairs and folding screens all the way down the hallway, a makeshift isolation intake area.  I wondered if they were just getting prepared or if they already needed the overflow.

Or maybe it was when certain events were canceled.  Last night when I read that the city of Hollywood had closed the beach and the broadwalk beside it, I felt a bit of a chill.  Last night I also found out that my pastor was planning to cancel in-person worship and that my Create in Me retreat would be canceled.  Those decisions felt like a bit of a surprise.

I wasn't surprised by shortages or hoarding, although I am surprised that it's toilet paper that the nation is hoarding.  Are we not hoarding wine for hard times ahead?  There's not a scrap of toilet paper to be found, but I've found other supplies, like beans and rice.

But even the hoarding wasn't when I knew it might be worse than we'd been told.  People hoard all sorts of things, even in non-crisis situations.

It was when I heard President Trump take a serious tone yesterday and discourage groups of more than 10.  That's when I knew it might be much worse than we'd been led to believe.  And I already knew it was pretty bad.

Monday, March 16, 2020

Poetry Monday: "John of Patmos Revises Revelation"

I've been thinking about all the apocalyptic poems I've written through the years.  At first, during my college years, I was likely to use imagery from nuclear apocalypse.  Lately, global warming and sea level rise have made their way into my poems.

This week, I thought, have I never written about a pandemic before?

Of course I have--there are some AIDS poems/references scattered across my decades of writing.  And there have been scares about new flu strains through the years.

In fact, it was during one of those scares that I wrote the following poem, during one of the years when we worried about a bird flu that crossed over to humans.  The line about being felled by flu came to me first, and then I wrote the rest.

As I looked at it yesterday, I wondered if I had the biology wrong--I talk about antibiotics, but a flu would need an antiviral.  I decided to leave the poem as I wrote it and as it was published in Referential.

John of Patmos Revises Revelation

He knows that no one will understand
his visions: long tubes of travelers hurtle
through the skies—and what strange
bird lifts them aloft? This gleaming
creature, like nothing he’s ever seen.

Other birds fly into the center of his dreams,
but these he recognizes, yet he can’t believe
their role in the coming apocalypse.
Avian Avenging Angels:
how can these things be true?

He changes a few details, adds a pale
horse, with a paler rider.
Then for good measure adds three.
How fearsome is the number four.

More believable to have death delivered
on horseback than on feathers.
The end, the same regardless,
the human body no match
for microorganisms he can’t even name,
the sanctuary mistaken for the invader,
microbes laughing at antibiotics
as the two play chess to settle
the score for the soul.

John of Patmos lacks the language
to describe the terrifying elements of his vision.
It will be many hundreds of years before microscopes
allow easy access to this apocalyptic
landscape. In the meantime, we envision
the end, stars falling from the scorched sky
and pounding hooves.

We like the bang better than the whimper.
How mundane to be felled by flu
in an age of spectacular diseases;
how anticlimactic to be destroyed by the common
landmine in a time of geopolitical firestorms.
John of Patmos understands the eschatological
obligations and so sets out upon his revisions.

Sunday, March 15, 2020

Online Journal Group in a Time of Pandemic

Yesterday in the midst of my internet wandering in search of new pandemic information, I saw that one of my favorite online retreat leaders is offering another online journaling group like the kind that was so meaningful to me at the end of 2018.

I'd have signed up regardless of the topic, but it seemed like an additional "Do this" message to discover that we'll be reading Cynthia Bourgeault.  She's a theologian whom I'd never heard of before a few years ago, but now it seems that people far and wide are mentioning her in their blogs, tweets, and Facebook posts.

We'll be sketching using 3 markers in shades of gray and a color that brings us joy.  I chose lilac as my joy color.  I love purple, and I thought a soft purple would bring me more joy than a vivid purple.  I bought more ink to refill them.  I went ahead and ordered the multiliner pens too, even though I have some of them.  I've been expecting the ones I bought earlier to run out of ink at any moment.

We'll have hour long online discussions via Zoom meetings.  These will be at noon Eastern Daylight Time on Friday, another "Do this" message.  I can close my office door and join in, and very few in the office will even notice because Fridays are so slow.

The experience begins March 22, so last night, I went ahead and ordered everything.  It's amazing to me that something like this can come together so quickly--ah, the wonders of our digital age.

This online journaling group is open to us all--and many of us might suddenly have more time than we once would have.  It fits with all the guidelines of social distancing in this time of pandemic, yet it will also help us maintain connectedness.

If it sounds interesting to you, go here.  But it starts March 22, so you don't have much time.

Saturday, March 14, 2020

The Coming Plague*

My blogging and other writing got delayed this morning, even though I was up early.  As I was reading through all sorts of corona virus information and updates, I decided to go to the WalMart Neighborhood Market right when they opened at 6 a.m.  Yesterday I gave away a bottle of cough syrup to a friend who needed it; this morning I was thinking about supplies we might need, if we get sick.  We have plenty of aspirin and ibuprofen, but we don't have much for coughs and other cold symptoms that might come with a Covid 19 infection.

I decided to go this morning because when I went to Trader Joe's last night on my way home, I was startled by the lack of food in some areas.  The store had the usual Friday crowd for 5:45 at night.  What was unusual: the whole freezer section was completely empty, completely wiped out, as was the bread section and the fresh meat section. The cheese section was still full, so I bought my usual cheeses that I buy there. And happily, there was beer and wine, which was the main reason I stopped. I also bought a container of yogurt--there was plenty of yogurt, along with some milk--but the milk's pull date was March 13, which was that day. There were no eggs, and all the potato chips and tortilla chips were gone. The pasta was gone too. Plenty of nuts, but I don't need any nuts. The produce looked well stocked.

As I drove home afterward, I started thinking about supply chains and possible disruptions.  I have enough food for 2-4 weeks, but what if everything is disrupted and once we've eaten all that food, we don't have any more?  I also read  a post from a nurse about what we might need to take care of a Covid 19 infection if we got a mild case that we could treat at home. 

I thought that I should stock up on some over the counter flu medication before everyone else realized we might need it.  Ha!  That section of WalMart was close to wiped out, although I did get a few items.  No cough syrup to be had, but I got cough suppressant tablets, along with multi symptom meds.

I also stocked up on food while I was there.  I have now bought enough brown rice to last for the next 6 months, plus a variety of beans, both canned and dry. No toilet paper to be found--but frankly, I'm not as worried about that.  I bought baking supplies, just in case.  I don't need bread from the store if I have enough flour, and before this morning, I didn't have enough flour for a long quarantine.

What's strangest to me about this crisis so far is the mix of responses.  Coming home last night, I saw groups of youth sports practicing in city fields and rec areas. I knew I should be concerned about public health, but I was glad to see kids, parents, and coaches, under a beautiful evening sky.

The community colleges where my spouse teaches are sending mixed messages.  Classes are moving online, but all the faculty and staff should continue to be on campus. If schools are moving classes online to avoid social contact, why have people continue to come to work?  Some of my friends fume about the schools feeling like faculty and staff are expendable while protecting students, but I think it's just that administrators haven't thought the whole process through.  Or they have lots of motives that are at cross purposes with each other.

The school where I am an administrator only has 7 days left of Winter quarter; Spring quarter starts on April 6.  I imagine that many decisions will need to be made between Monday and April 6, but many of them won't be up to me.  Let me enjoy this tiny time of quiet, the time before the coming plague.

*Today's literature of the plague allusion:  The Coming Plague by Laurie Garrett, an amazing book

Friday, March 13, 2020

Closing Schools, Containing Contagion

Last night at 10 p.m. the phone rang, jangling me out of sleep.  It was the emergency alert system from Miami Dade College, where my spouse teaches Philosophy.  The emergency alert system was activated to tell faculty, staff, and students that classes were transitioning to online, effective immediately.

I'm not criticizing this decision, mind you.  Yesterday was a day when many closings were announced, so a transition to online classes isn't a surprise.

But a 10 p.m. phone call?  An emergency alert?  This decision couldn't have been made during normal business hours?

I realize that I may look back on this post and marvel at my selfishness.  I don't want to be jarred awake in a time that mass death was just around the corner?

That's where my brain is at the moment:  expecting mass death while at the same time wondering if we're not overreacting.

But I also believe what historians and public health people tell us:  closing schools is a way of containing/slowing contagion.  And in a time when we can do so much of our educating online, why not do this?

I'm intrigued by the ways we're adapting, all of the approaches to modern life that we've been told just can't happen or aren't practical.  During a disability panel at the AWP, presenters pointed out that accommodations they've requested and been denied for years were suddenly put into place and rather quickly. 

Will we find out that we can do a lot of work from home?  Will we move more classes online?  Or maybe we could get to a point where classes take the best from both the online and the onground approach.

Most of us alive have no experience dealing with a disease like this new corona virus, and at this point, no one is immune.  I have found comfort in the regular ways; yesterday I ate at least 1000 calories of ginger snaps--yes, 1000 calories, about half a box.

But I am finding comfort in understanding the science.  This disease is not like the early days of AIDS--we have an understanding of this virus that we didn't have of AIDS, and there's a good chance of survival.

I found myself spending lots of time with this episode of the NPR show On Point.  It's got lots of good information about disease in general and viruses specifically, lots of good information about how to protect ourselves.

It also offered an important reminder that viruses are not human.  They don't have motives or evil purposes.  They grow in circumstances that are favorable.  We can make the circumstances less favorable.

We will make the circumstances less favorable.  With every closure, we make the circumstances less favorable.

Thursday, March 12, 2020

A Journal of the Plague Year

How many literary works that revolve around plague and disease can I reference in blog titles?  Today it's Daniel Defoe; yesterday's title was from Katherine Anne Porter's short novel.

This morning I walked outside, and everything seemed so normal.  In South Florida, it's neither warm nor cool, a lovely 71 degrees at 5:15 a.m. when I headed to spin class.  I heard crickets and not much traffic noise.  All of my neighbors were sleeping in their dark houses.

I thought about how it was like the days before a hurricane when we know something is happening, but we don't know how big it will be or how much it will affect us.  And yet, everything seems so normal, so quiet.

Is it my animal sense telling me that something bad is coming our way or residue from reading too much news?  I don't really think I have an internal barometer; I've been notably wrong in my premonitions too many times to think that I have much in the way of a sixth sense.

And yet, suddenly my brain shifts into poetry mode, and I find myself grateful because it's been a few weeks.  I can always reassure myself about why I'm not writing poems (travel, work pace, tiredness), but I'm always glad when I start again.

I wrote a poem before I headed to spin class, and then on the way home, I realized that incantation rhymes with lamentation.  I was thinking about writers during past plague times, like Chaucer and Boccaccio.  My poem contains this line:  "Who will be our Chaucer now?"

As I write these blog posts, I think about historians and scholars hundreds of years from now--will they appreciate the work we all did recording life in these times?  Will they scroll through all of our tweets?

Let me record that we've had several meetings at school to say that we don't know what we're facing, so we don't have a plan, but we should make a plan, but we don't know what's coming at us.  As we've had these meetings, more and more schools across the nation have been moving classes online--but that won't work for all of our classes (and I suspect not for all of the classes at schools moving online).

Yesterday the city of Hollywood, the city where I live, canceled all sorts of gatherings.  Part of me thinks this is wise.  Part of me is sad. 

My spouse thinks we're all overreacting.  I say it's too early to know.  The reports from doctors working in hospitals in Italy make me think we should be doing more.

And now, it's time for me to get ready for my dentist appointment.  Afterwards, I'll go to the grocery store next door to see if I can score some wipes.  I don't need them, but my school needs them to wipe down equipment.  It's been just long enough that I might get lucky.

There are days I shake my head over what my professional life has come to.  There are days I say, "Nothing has prepared me for this."  Then there are other days when I have the eerie feeling we've been here before:   like the early days of AIDS.

We lost too many people to AIDS.  I hope we're not seeing that plague year unfolding again.

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Pale Horse, Pale Rider: Pop Culture in a Time of a New Corona Virus

I am an apocalypse girl from way back.  I love a good dystopia better than almost any utopia.  I have scared myself with end of the world narratives while my peers were watching scary slasher movies.  But has all my reading/watching prepared me for this time?

At this point, it's hard to know.  So let me just record some reflections this morning.

--Yesterday my writer friend (whom I've hired to be a tutor for my school) and I talked about how pop culture has prepared us for this time.  But we were talking about our love of Frontier House and other PBS shows that put people in past time period.  We talked about how we learned that cows are labor and cost intensive and how we would raise chickens or goats.

--We also talked about the first episode of The Walking Dead.  At least nobody seems to be a zombie--but can we be sure?

--I read this article about the movie Contagion, a movie I've wanted to revisit for several weeks.  The library had 27 copies available, so I stopped by and picked up a copy on my way home.  The librarian said, "I wondered if this movie would be popular again.  Mediocre movie, but great cast."  That was my memory too, which is why I didn't want to pay to see it again.

--Have I mentioned lately how much I love the public library?  Of all the ideas that have impacted modern civilization for the better, the public library would make my top 10 list.

--But I digress.  Back to plague preparations.

--I think, too, about the last plague that felt so menacing--the AIDS crisis, before we knew much about that disease, back in the 80's.  But I haven't revisited those texts.  That virus seems so different than the one that menaces us now.

--How menaced should we feel?  Events are being canceled across the nation.  Italy is on lockdown.  And yet, when we try to think about contingency plans, as we did in a meeting yesterday, it still feels like too much is unknown.

--I haven't canceled any travel yet.  In fact, I got a great deal on an airline ticket.

--Perhaps I'll read Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel on that trip.  That book scared me a bit when I read it while home alone one week-end.  Maybe I shouldn't revisit it.

--This article had a unique approach about preparing for the end when one has disability complications.  This morning I'm thinking about the literature of preparing for disaster as a subset of apocalyptic literature.  I'm also thinking of books like the Foxfire series--books that aren't exactly predicting disaster as trying to preserve culture that's disappearing, cultures that might have useful information in a time of societal breakdown.

--I think about my own stalled novel, the one where the repressive government uses a deadly flu outbreak to take away civil liberties and control the population.

--Perhaps I should write a happier tale--see if I do have supernatural powers to change the world by my writing (I'm joking, of course).

--Time to get ready for spin class.  Time to go about my normal life, while I still can.

Tuesday, March 10, 2020

One Last Look Back at AWP

A week ago, I'd be on my way to San Antonio for the AWP convention.  I've spent a week thinking about all the decisions so many of us made.  I don't know why I do this--it's not like we have a time machine and can go back to change anything.  But let me take a moment and capture some of these thoughts.

--Will I look back in horror at what all we risked by gathering as a group?  Or will I wonder what the big fuss was all about?  Will I think about how we thought it was so minor/major, but it was really the opposite?

--I knew that some of the events and panels would be canceled, but I was surprised that it turned out to be about half of them.   In some ways, that was fine. It's the kind of conference that usually offers 30 panels per time slot, so it's impossible to feel like I can do much of it at all.  And yet, as the week went on, and more and more of the panels I would have liked to attend were canceled, I started to feel a bit cheated.

--As I read about some of the places where people went in San Antonio, I've started wishing that I had had more time.  We never made it to the Pearl district.  We didn't go to any of the museums.  There were so many restaurants that we didn't try.

--And I'm filled with some other regrets.  Why didn't I take advantage of a book fair that was less crowded?  Why didn't I make some effort to connect to publishers?  I could go on and on like this.

--And then part of me thinks that if I had known then (the mythical then) what I know now, I might have subtracted a day or two from the trip.  It would have been less expense for one thing.  I'm always a bit aghast when we get the bill for the hotel room.

--The cost of the conference experience (which includes airfare and hotel) is astonishing.  Some years, I feel like it's a good deal.  Years like this one, when so much of the conference was canceled, I'm not so sure.

--In some ways, these feelings are cyclical. I go to conferences for awhile, hoping for opportunities and enrichment, and then I begin to think it's not worth the money. Then I don't go for awhile, and then I go again and love the experience so much--and the cycle begins again.

Monday, March 9, 2020

Some Poetry Prompts from a Week of Travel and Upheaval

Let me record a few poetry ideas, before they slide away.

--A. E. Stallings tweeted: Poetry prompt: Apollo, god of plague and poetry, contemplates attending AWP

I retweeted with a thought: I love this idea! And of course, my brain goes to Jesus, Buddha, Satan (either Milton's version or a different one). They could fly to Texas on Super Tuesday . . .

--As it was clear how badly Elizabeth Warren was getting beaten on Super Tuesday, Wendy tweeted: I just can’t anymore, so I am going to read 19th C British Literature which isn’t all that far from 21st century America, but at the moment is more soothing (and what I’m teaching tomorrow).

I retweeted with a thought: And suddenly, my brain shifts a different direction: how does "Jane Eyre" inform our present moment? And maybe a self-help book: "What would Jane Eyre do?" Let's write it! If we all write a few pages, we could have it done by May 1.

--Tuesday, I made this post:  I've traveled across half a continent. I sit in a different location, grading research papers. Statement of fact, but perhaps the beginning of a poem?

A Wednesday morning post:

--I am here in San Antonio with a Fitbit that's set to Eastern Standard Time and won't communicate with the app on my computer that could change it to Central Standard Time. I also brought a watch, which is set to Eastern Daylight Time, which I can't remember how to change. This situation seems to be a potent metaphor/symbol for something, but what?

A Friday post:

--Early delight of the day: drinking a large peppermint mocha and finding out that it only costs $1 to refill the cup with regular coffee.

Saturday morning posts:

--I'm in the lobby of the Marriott Rivercenter in San Antonio, and again, the question of the morning is, "Must this music be so loud?" I can hear it through my headphones when I'm streaming something else on my computer. It's the kind of singing that has warbling at high registers that is supposed to signify longing and wistfulness (think Sade or Enya, but less talented). To make matters more difficult, there's different music coming from the coffee shop behind me and yet a different music from the upstairs convention area. And it's 6:30 a.m., Central Standard Time. I'm trying to be grateful for small mercies. At least the 6 huge screen TVs are muted.

--Overheard lyrics via coffee shop: "To say we're in love is dangerous, but girl I'm so glad we're acquainted." Barrista tells me the group is The Weeknd (spelling corrected after Google search). I go away saddened at the state of romance in modern music.

Sunday, March 8, 2020

A Mission to Find the Mission

Yesterday, I still had some time to explore San Antonio, especially after discovering that the AWP sessions I wanted to attend had been canceled.  I wanted to see the old missions, which my mom had told me were interesting.  On a map, it looked like I could walk to the one that was closest to downtown--so in the early afternoon, off I went.

I thought I would be walking 2-3 miles to get to Mission Concepcion.  But by the time I got back, 3 hours later,  I had walked 21,000-22,000 steps ,which I think was more like 10-12 miles total.  I did get to Mission Concepcion, but it wasn't the huge national park that I was expecting.

I started off walking down South St. Mary's, a street that would take me through an arts district.  I did see some artsy stuff, but mainly restaurants and a house that said, "Metalworking" on a sign, but no actual metalsmith or goods in sight.  I walked and walked, heading south, through neighborhoods that got shabbier, with one woman who asked me for 50 cents for the bus and a man who was too drunk to ask for anything.

And yes, there were many moments when I wondered if I was risking my safety, although most blocks were fairly deserted.

I got to a place where the road went one way, and I had a chance to get on the River Walk.  I decided to get on the River Walk, since it was clearly marked--just 1.8 miles to Mission Concepcion!  Off I went, by the true San Antonio River, not the artificial waterways in the city. 

Off I went, under Interstate 10 and other major highways.  I've now been on either side of I 10 (in Florida and in California) and now stood underneath the middle.  I walked by sports fields and people fishing and a funeral procession later on, as I hiked through city streets to get to the mission:

And finally, I arrived:

The main church was closed for construction, which I knew would be the case.  So I looked around a bit, took some pictures, and explored the grounds.  I found a small shrine to the edge, which was cool:

And then, I hiked back. 

I had thought I might have a beer at the Lone Star Brewery on my way back, but it was closed--closed as in offered up as a potential development site.

After I got back, my friend and I went to a nearby pizza place, Dough, where I did have a beer.  It wasn't a Lone Star beer, but it was a local porter, and it was cold and delicious.

In a few hours, I'll get on the plane and head back to Florida, home of similar missions, much of which have been obliterated by the pace of development.  I've enjoyed the time to get to a different part of the country, explore a different history.  I look forward to seeing what poems and other creative stuff might emerge.

Saturday, March 7, 2020

AWP: a Brief Summary of Friday

Yesterday was one of the best AWP days--the two panels I wanted to see were not canceled and all/most of the presenters were there to talk.  Today, every panel I wanted to attend has been canceled.  But let me hit some of the highlights of yesterday:

--I went to 2 panels, which I may write about in more depth later.  I went to a panel on disabilities and a panel on how poets should evaluate fame and effectiveness.   I went to each one in part because I knew at least one of the presenters, and I wanted to be supportive.  But what a bonus to have a panel that gave wonderful information and inspiration.

--I had great food.  We've been trying to get to Boudra's for guacamole made tableside since we got here.  Yesterday, after an unsatisfying sandwich, we walked down the River Walk and got in at Boudra's.  The guacamole was AMAZING.  The grilled veggies and corn pudding--also AMAZING.

--I went to the Alamo.  It was the anniversary of the final day of the siege of 1836, the day that the Mexican army slaughtered the Texas rebels.  I made this Facebook post:    "I did go over to the Alamo today--it's the anniversary of the day the Alamo fell to Mexican forces. There were wreaths and historical re-enactors and a street preacher and a man yelling about the British war against Nigeria, along with lots of freshly graduated Air Force cadets and every school child from the state of Texas. I felt more moved than I expected to feel. I hid behind my camera, taking pictures, so no one could see the tears around my eyes. In a time of grievous losses, it's good to remember that one defeat doesn't mean there won't be victories later."

--Later in the day, on our way to a small, off the beaten track Asian restaurant, we walked by the Alamo again, in time for the end of the day ceremonies.  We didn't stop, but I was glad to see how many people turned out for these ceremonies.

--I am intrigued by the street preacher who declared that Jesus didn't come for most of us.  What Sunday school did he attend?

--I was tempted to engage him in conversation, but I know how well that is likely to end.  I made this Facebook post:

"Although I was sorely tempted, I did not engage the street preacher a block away from the Alamo. He was preaching hellfire and Jesus sending us all to eternal damnation. I wanted to yell, 'But what about the concept of grace?' I wanted to preach an opposing message of God loving us so much that God comes to be with us, even though we have to go through all sorts of trials and tribulations, like 7th grade and the heartache of not being able to rescue our loved ones from the things that torment them.

I did not preach on the street corner of San Antonio. I came back to preach on Facebook."

--As always, I am relying on the kindness of people with smartphones to provide selfies.  Here's one of my favorites:  Kelli Russell Agodon and me:

Thanks to Kelli for taking it and for sending it to me.

Friday, March 6, 2020

AWP Report: First Full Day

It is 5:47 a.m., Central Standard Time, and I'm in the lobby of the Marriott Rivercenter in San Antonio, Texas.  There's a woman working at the check in desk, and everyone else is male, all of whom are older.  There's a man in a baseball cap slumped in front of a huge TV.  There's another man in a baseball cap watching the TV from a distance.  There's a man in a coonskin cap, complete with furry tail, hunched over his phone.  There's another man with no headcovering shuffling back and forth between the doors of the place that serves Starbucks but isn't open yet.  There's a member of the cleaning team, polishing the handles on the door.

At least the lobby is quieter this morning, in terms of the piped in music.  The staff turned it down for me yesterday, and I guess that no one ever turned it back up.  Thank goodness.

Yesterday at the AWP was frustrating.  On Wednesday night, I mapped out plan for which panels to attend.  I assumed that all the cancellations were in, and while I was expecting cancellations, I was surprised by how many of them I saw.  Still, I saw plenty that I wanted to attend.

After finding out that one of the sessions that hadn't been canceled when I left the hotel room was canceled, I went to the first session on teaching writing courses online.  While I didn't learn a lot that I didn't already know, I was O.K. with that--glad to know that most of us are experiencing similar outcomes.  I was surprised to realize how many students live more than an hour away from schools that offer a bachelors degree.  I am familiar with all the other reasons why people might choose, might even prefer, online classes:  work schedules, family duties, and the ability to "go to school" at strange hours.  I understood the desire to avoid commuting and traffic, but I hadn't really thought about how far some people are from a campus.

The panel didn't address what to do about those people who are so far away from campus who don't have reliable internet access.

Then I went to a session on university presses and why they might be a good fit for our manuscripts.  Again, I didn't learn a lot that was new to me, but I'm hopeful that the resources (like lists of presses) might be helpful.

Then I went to the session that most excited me, a session about writing nonfiction about apocalypse in an age of apocalypse.  Surprise--it was canceled.  It hadn't been canceled when I left the hotel.  Sigh.

I went back to the hotel and ate a praline.  I made a Facebook and Twitter post about it:  "This is not your grandma's praline: it's as big as my hand and has the amount of pecans my grandmother would have put in the whole batch of pralines, if ever she had made pecan pralines."

My grad school friend had much better luck with her panels--she came back ablaze with inspiration from going to a screenplay writing session.  I was happy that one of us had that kind of luck.  I was feeling a bit of sadness not just because of cancellations but also because of Elizabeth Warren's announcement that she's dropping out of the race.  I was expecting her to do so, because of the Super Tuesday results, but I still felt this heavy despair.

Once again, old white guys remain, white guys who are richer than I will ever be.  Sigh.

Back to our AWP coverage.  It was getting on towards 2 p.m. CST, so my friend and I headed to the River Walk.  We wanted to eat at the place that would make guacomole at our table, but they were very full, so we ate at the Mexican restaurant next door.  We were able to get happy hour prices on drinks, but the margarita was blah.  Happily, the food was yummy.

We relaxed a bit in the room, and then as the sun began to set, we headed out again to walk the less commercial part of the River Walk.  And thus, we discovered a part of historic San Antonio that we hadn't seen yet.  While there, we talked to some poets who wanted to know if we were looking for the place that they would hold their off-site reading.  We said no and chatted a bit.  The poet with cerebral palsy showed us her sketchbook--WOW.  One sketch she made with a ballpoint pen--again, wow.  I may go to their Neurodiversity and Verse session today.

We hiked towards the copper dome that we can see from our hotel room, the one that made me say, "Wait, isn't Austin the capital of Texas?"  Yes, Austin is--I don't know what types of groups are in the tall building with a capital dome on top of it that's here in San Antonio.

From there, we were only a block from the Cathedral, which I wanted to see lit up at night.  So we went over, and I took some pictures.  On our way back, we stopped for hot fudge sundaes at the River Walk.  We ended the day as we began, by strategizing the AWP and which sessions we'll attend and looking at the website to make sure they hadn't been canceled.

So, although the day had its disappointments, some of them severe, overall it was a good day.  I expect today to be similar.

Or maybe it will be slightly different.  I may make my way to the Alamo today--it's the anniversary of the day that the Mexican army defeated the Texas rebels.

Thursday, March 5, 2020

A Day in San Antonio

Interesting to be in the lobby of a downtown hotel very early in the morning (5:15 CST):  the music is wincingly loud; I could hear it even with headphones on. But the kind hotel staff turned it down for me. Every TV is tuned to sports coverage, which is fine, since there's no sound--but why have them on at all? I assume they've been on all night.

I will resist the urge to launch into a lecture on the waste of electricity and other resources.  It's been the kind of trip where I'm aware of every cough and sneeze that I hear.  I'm also aware of all the waste that's around me, even as I, too, drink out of plastic straws.

I am thinking of conferences, as I often have, and how much it takes to bring a group of people together--the airline travel alone must take a huge toll on the planet.  I don't often think of the other types of hard use of the planet.  Let's return to straw use.   Yesterday, I used 4 or 5 straws--most weeks I use no straws.  Multiply that times the 10,000-15,000 who may eventually make their way to this conference, times 3-4 days that we're out here.  Because I almost never use straws, I didn't think to bring my own reusable straws--in fact, I don't even own a steel straw that I could bring with me.

Yesterday we had no trouble getting our registration materials.  It's one of the reasons I wanted to get to the conference site early.  We spent time looking over panels, circling them--and then later finding out they had been cancelled.  Sigh.

Happily, there are still some good panels left.  And in some ways, cancellations make it easier.  I am always astonished at how many panels are offered.  And also, how many of them seem to be covering the same territory--this year there are at least 3 panels on being a fat poet.  But as with previous years, not much on theology or the writing of theology or using the symbols of theology.  There's one on theology and children's lit and one on subverting the symbols used by religions.

Yesterday was also a day to do some exploring of San Antonio.  We walked up to a place that advertised itself as a market square that would take us back to old Mexico; we had heuvos rancheros for breakfast and bought some beautiful pastries for later.  

In the way of beautiful pastries everywhere, they looked more beautiful than they tasted.

I loved the festive decorations of the restaurant more than the food:

We stopped at a cathedral that may have been the first cathedral in Texas.  It held the remains of Bowie and Crockett and other heroes of the Alamo:

We stopped at a place that celebrated the first settlers that came to San Antonio from the Canary Islands.  

Until I came here, I didn't realize/know that there were settlers from the Canary Islands.  And to be honest, I was grateful for a sign that told us that the Canary Islands are off the coast of Spain--my first thought was Indonesia, but I was pretty sure that couldn't be accurate.

We went on a quest for a steakhouse advertised to remind us of an old Texas farmhouse.  The very nice hotel valet parking guys told us that it had been closed, but they recommended another one.  It was on the River Walk, but up off the walk, so we weren't jostled by people walking by.

We ended the day by looking at AWP panels again; were there more cancellations by the end of the day than at the middle when we got our registration packets?  It felt like it.  We watched the sun set over the city and the light of the buildings come on:

It was a good day.