6 Days In to Quarantine

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This map is cited below, in the last paragraph

I read somewhere, yesterday, that it is important to journal during times like these. We are ankle-deep in a pandemic, on our way to being knee-deep. For the first time in my life, my parents’ life, and even my grandparents’ life (who are all dead), there is a virus ravaging many corners of the globe. As it ebbs and flows, retreats here and expands there, the most common feeling of it all is a simmering panic based in uncertainty. It seems not even our leaders know what to do or what to say, so they talk about the stock market a lot, and we all feel lost.

This morning, I went to the grocery store because I have been unable to get sugar for a few days, and my two new beehives still need to be fed as there aren’t quite enough flowers to sustain all those little, buzzing creatures. I waited in line for an hour with a garbageman on my left and a pastor on my right; we discussed the state of affairs, laughing to keep from crying. When I finally made it inside the store, all looked mostly normal except there are still no potatoes or onions. It is a mystery.

I found a 25-pound bag of sugar, grabbed dinner for tomorrow and Monday (as I aim not to go to the store for a few days), and went through the line with my 4 items, being blessed by the manager along the way for only buying what I needed. The boys running the check-out are in high school and looked a bit winded and rough-trod. I asked them if today was another day of adventure and they whinged at me a bit, then talked to each other about the line around the building and the one person who tried to jump the line (I saw her; I am going to assume she just didn’t see all the people standing in the great big, huge line).

When I am home, on my property, it is almost possible to forget all of the madness that is happening, especially in the cities, around the Western world. Around me, as I walk with the dog, are the singing sounds of birds just returned, the breeze caught in spindly branches with, as yet, no leaves, the snort of the horse next door, the strange cry of the neighbor’s guinea fowl, or the incessant barking of Chomps, the next door neighbor’s pit bull who spends her life in the backyard, alone.

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Student-created coding art 

But the reality is that on Monday, I will wake up at a normal time and call all of my students in my 2nd period class on the phone, try to reach them, see how they are doing, and ask how ready they are to learn remotely for a while. They say now that we will go back to school on April 6, but I am highly in doubt of that. We start on March 30. Why would we do all of this work for a week? I miss my students and am thankful that my 2nd period is one of my favorite classes, and the one in which we have studied the Coronavirus since we first started hearing about it, back in the fall. My 2nd period class has learned about the virus, about epidemiology, and has designed proof of concept apps to help people or HHS workers with an outbreak. Little did we know that we would be here now. This year, we have also spent a lot of time comparing and contrasting Chinese and American cultures and our different approaches to authority, privacy and liberty. In other words, that class (and its 7th period counterpart) are well-versed in where we are at this exact moment.

I looked at the Times this morning and there is a video about how New York City is shut down and 100% of its workforce (except essential workers) have been ordered home. My friend Kevin texted from Altadena the other day that California, too, is in lockdown. The garbageman in line this morning had a card in his wallet that his employer had given him because the City of Elgin is worried that it will be soon illegal to drive and leave your home: the card is to show policemen that he is an essential worker.

How did we get here and so fast? How were we so woefully unprepared? How is our economy so supposedly powerful but yet is crippled by debt? Do businesses not keep cash on hand anymore? Why are so many people losing their jobs in an instant? Why are so many people buying so much food at the grocery store and where has all the toilet paper gone? Why is this only impacting the western world? We hear almost nothing from Latin America, South America, Africa, Russia, and now it seems that the Asian cases are almost finished.

I have been thinking about how to teach students in times like this. What do we focus on? Can we focus? What are the most important messages that need to be communicated? I wonder if the most important things for students to do are creative, real-world and involve them being able to choose what they want to do, or how, at least, to express their learning.

I feel like I am rambling and don’t have a “flow” today to my writing. I had something brilliant the other day, but of course didn’t write it down. So, for today, I am going to go. But I will be back, maybe later today! I wonder what people thought 100 years ago when the Spanish Flu began to creep in around society’s edges. I was just looking at my favorite COVID-19 map and remembering when we were talking in CS class about how the cases had risen to 1,000.

Date – 21 March 2020

Cases – 287,239

Deaths – 11,921

Mortality Rate – 4.15%

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Student-created coding art – focusing on the meaning of loops – Apple Keynote

Being Guided

Clouds may block the moon
Covering your reflection
Still I see your face

I experienced a lot of wending and winding in the month of October, and as we slip into November, it seems much the same. With October came the loss of my jewelry studio of 10 years: a wonderful place that I shared with like-minded spirits and its beautiful owner and wrangler of souls: Bob. I miss that place, and hope we find a new venue soon. I am experiencing a lot of friction at school with teachers whose ethos don’t match mine, and my great, ever-expanding heart is more than a bit bewildered at what seems like powering the Shame Train in the direction of 7th grade little girls rather than thinking about them as the delicate little fledglings that they are. 7th graders…so special. Then, an agreement and a plan to take over a friend’s farm, a process that has involved a huge amount of time and energy over the last year fell through at the last minute, due to differences in expectations.

I am endlessly fascinated by humans, and by our ability to change our lives so fundamentally, so quickly. The friend who owns the farm is about to have her own baby, but can’t seem to see that the reality that we have a 13 year-old would make us want to live on the farm, as originally agreed, by ourselves. It is strange to be a step-parent who is now fully-oriented in the direction of this kid’s success. I have all these little girls who I work with every day, and while I think of him slightly differently because he lives in my house, I care about each of them just the same: I think about the power of their self-determination, and my own determination to give them access to knowledge without limit, with laughter and love.

Nevertheless, I am disappointed, a bit worried, and a bit sad. But, the clock of time and life keeps turning, and I found myself on Saturday afternoon touring the UT Austin Art Building as part of the MFA Open House. I learned that the program is fully-funded, that all grad students teach, and that, as a grad student, I would have access to all the studios, all day- and night- long. It seems like an amazing opportunity. As I was walking back to my car along San Jacinto street, I was reminded of being a student there over ten years ago: wandering around under tree branches and in the shadow of buildings. There are many new buildings now, and I am older. I think that if I am afforded this chance, I will spend every day, in the morning, drinking coffee under this one very crinkled Live Oak that grows between the Art Building and the Texas Memorial Museum, just thanking my lucky stars that led me to this.

So, I digress. But, all is not lost, or bad. The theme for this month is, indeed, “Turning the Soil”, and it would seem that is what is happening. Stirring the pot a bit, turning over new and old leaves, exploring ideas and options, focusing on the fact that the right thing will happen, even if I can’t see it right now. We went and looked at a property in Elgin yesterday: an old house that needs work and sits on 5 acres. I immediately thought of learning how to use a chainsaw and hacking down some trees to create a campground back in the property somewhere. I thought of creating spaces for birds to eat yummy birdseed and live in the old trees. I thought of the old building on the property that we think is an abandoned brick house with trees growing out of it: very Secret Garden. Neither of us ever thought of living in Elgin til we drove out there yesterday and saw all the old Victorian houses, the horses in paddocks, the Cottonseed Oil Mill, the old depot, the downtown of Southwest-style brick buildings and tiny shops: a place for a farmer’s market, a co-op, and a thrift shop. I thought: good enough for me! Life is full of surprises: if you don’t watch it, it will change on you in a blink, as my grandma would say.

I think it’s time to wait this out, finish the art projects that need to be added to the portfolio, stand tall, and look inward.

Maintain an open heart in your stillness;
This cycle of obstruction shall pass
Walk with peace in every step.
#12
Above      Qian/Gan        Heaven, energy, spirit power
Below       Kun        Center of the Earth, responsiveness

Snippets from Steepletop

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First Fig 

MY candle burns at both ends;
It will not last the night;
But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends–
It gives a lovely light!

Second Fig

SAFE upon the solid rock the ugly houses stand:
Come and see my shining palace built upon the sand!

The Singing Woman from the Woods-Edge

WHAT should I be but a prophet and a liar,
Whose mother was a leprechaun, whose father was a friar?
Teethed on a crucifix and cradled under water,
What should I be but the fiend’s god-daughter?

And who should be my playmates but the adder and the frog,
That was got beneath a furze-bush and born in a bog?
And what should be my singing, that was christened at an altar,
But Aves and Credos and Psalms out of the Psalter?

You will see such webs on the wet grass, maybe,
As a pixie-mother weaves for her baby,
You will find such flame at the wave’s weedy ebb
As flashes in the meshes of a mer-mother’s web,

But there comes to birth no common spawn
From the love of a priest for a leprechaun,
And you never have seen and you never will see
Such things as the things that swaddled me!

After all’s said and after all’s done,
What should I be but a harlot and a nun?

In through the bushes, on any foggy day,
My Da would come a-swishing of the drops away,
With a prayer for my death and a groan for my birth,
A-mumbling of his beads for all that he was worth.

And there sit my Ma, her knees beneath her chin,
A-looking in his face and a-drinking of it in,
And a-marking in the moss some funny little saying
That would mean just the opposite of all that he was praying!

He taught me the holy-talk of Vesper and of Matin,
He heard me my Greek and he heard me my Latin,
He blessed me and crossed me to keep my soul from evil,
And we watched him out of sight, and we conjured up the devil!

Oh, the things I haven’t seen and the things I haven’t known,
What with hedges and ditches till after I was grown,
And yanked both ways by my mother and my father,
With a “Which would you better?” and a “Which would you rather?”

With him for a sire and her for a dam,
What should I be but just what I am?

The Prisoner

ALL right,
Go ahead!
What’s in a name?
I guess I’ll be locked into
As much as I’m locked out of!

The Edna St. Vincent Millay Society

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Gloriousness & Wretchedness

Fear

“Once there was a young warrior. Her teacher told her that she had to do battle with fear. She didn’t want to do that. It seemed too aggressive; it was scary; it seemed unfriendly. But the teacher said she had to do it and gave her the instructions for the battle. The day arrived. The student warrior stood on one side, and fear stood on the other. The warrior was feeling very small, and fear was looking big and wrathful. They both had their weapons. The young warrior roused herself and went toward fear, prostrated three times, and asked, “May I have permission to go into battle with you?” Fear said, “Thank you for showing me so much respect that you ask permission.” Then the young warrior said, “How can I defeat you?” Fear replied, “My weapons are that I talk fast, and I get very close to your face. Then you get completely unnerved, and you do whatever I say. If you don’t do what I tell you, I have no power. You can listen to me, and you can have respect for me. You can even be convinced by me. But if you don’t do what I say, I have no power.” In that way, the student warrior learned how to defeat fear. ” 

Pema Chodron

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Fear sat behind us on a beige couch as we ate dinner together at a short table. Fear sat and watched, and waited for us to notice its presence as we talked and laughed and touched.

Into the kitchen, it followed us as if it knew that one of us would look up and see it staring us in the face. It had been a glorious afternoon and evening. Fear stepped in and overtook a simple request, twisting it into something with a meaning it didn’t really have. Fear caused silence and a lack of joy: it caused confusion and awkwardness and a smidge of sorrow. Later, in bed, it caused us to turn away, and later still, to miss each other somehow, and to drift away.

What happens when fear drives the bus? What happens when it overtakes simple affections and communication and steers us away from each other? All too easily can this happen, and sometimes, only a couple of hours or days of clarity can help shed light on something so murky as those feelings of: Will s/he listen to me in the future? What is happening here? Is this meaningless, or meaningful?

I think the answer lies somewhere in the area of deep breaths and clear thoughts, of truly listening to the other and attempting to meet their needs even if it inconveniences our own momentary desires. There can be such anxiety in moments, as if the whole world hinges on a singular passing segment of time, when, with perspective, we of course can see and realize that we are all, after all, only living and acting out of our own beliefs and our own minds in that selfsame moment. It is so difficult not to ascribe deep meaning to things like the sweet words lovers speak to one another late on a fall afternoon, or to a feeling of uncertainty very early in the morning.

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Time, in its passing, teaches us that although we may notice the moments and feel them intensely, that perhaps instead of acting based on reactive decisions made in those moments, that we should see the experience as a whole, and take a deep breath, a step back, and realize that…the only thing to fear, is Fear itself. And keep moving: understanding that the value of the whole outweighs momentary confusion or inconvenience or uncertainty or that dirtiest of dirty words, insecurity.

“The only reason we don’t open our hearts and minds to other people is that they trigger confusion in us that we don’t feel brave enough or sane enough to deal with. To the degree that we look clearly and compassionately at ourselves, we feel confident and fearless about looking into someone else’s eyes. ”

~ Pema Chodron

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