Dystopian Worry

These last few days, I have been drowning in worry. I have been enmeshed it in, held down by it, choked by it, pressured by it, swayed by it, distracted by it, addled by it. It has held me by the throat. Everything seems so chaotic and insane, like how could it have all been so fragile that it fell apart in just a few weeks? Just like all the dystopian fiction I have read for all of these years, those stories were exactly right in predicting the pace of the dominoes falling.

But then there is another side to this. The control piece is the other side, and the reality is that there is no control now or any other time. I think, though, that the now feels so out of control it is rather starkly constructed with the relative peace of “before”. Let’s say that, anyway. And add to that a lack of leadership so profound it seems that no one cares, let alone has the skill, to lead. We are all just watching it unfold in real-time. And real-time feels fast sometimes, and sometimes ever…so…slow.

I type this sitting by a cook fire in my garden. I can hear crickets and frogs, birds, and my neighbor’s little girl on her playscape. I can hear the distant sound of trucks on the highway, and sometimes one even drives down our road, past our house. The dog just barked at a toad: I don’t think he’d ever seen one before. The wind plays with my hair, and the almost full moon is caught in wispy clouds over the eastern sky. The sun has almost set, and tomorrow is….Tuesday?

Where do we place worry, or free-floating anxiety when we have nowhere to go, when we are asked to stay at home and do nothing? When we are no longer working, except for maybe an hour or two, here and there. When we are asked to not go out to shops, to wander, to talk with friends on their patios. When we are asked to be at home with our family and our own thoughts for the third week in a row. The mind reels, wobbles, pursues strange rabbit holes of thought and indecision, concern, and worry. But then it passes, again, to another rabbit hole or recipe, project or paranoia.

I have seen more beautiful meals cooked and photographed on Instagram than ever: people are getting crafty out there, My friend Shanarra is making COVID-19 themed quarantine cocktails that just sound lovely and have many snarky, slightly ironic names. People are challenging themselves to create beauty out of what they have, rather than seeking it from someone else, outside of themselves, with a perfectly curated vision of beauty and bliss, Perhaps it is becoming more real.

This experience, while bizarre, does feel like the Maine winter. We have come through the first phase in which we accept it is winter and we will be snowed in quite a bit and have begun to look around for things to do on snow days. Some people are still trying to pretend that nothing has changed. My friend Linda once told me that winter forces you to know the nooks and crannies of your own mind, and you might be surprised as to what you find in there. I wholeheartedly agree with her assessment. I found anxiety and worry and irrational fear, not of the virus, but of society’s lack of security and stability in the face of grave trial. Queen Elizabeth spoke yesterday of the strength of Britons, and I took some solace from her. She is right, and she has been alive a lot longer than me.

Tonight I was staring at the evening star through whispy, humid clouds and wondering what to do, and a little voice in my head said: publish your book. Work on your book. That is something that I can do, and I do have a lot of time.

I am hoping I can take some tools from my toolbox and try to remember that anxiety is fear feeling real, but it’s not real, really. I will try to remember to breathe and bake a yummy cake I have been wanting to try, and roast some veggies and call friends I haven’t chatted with yet this quarantine time. I have to remember that the bees don’t care about COVID-19: they are off to the races, and after all, they are the lynchpin to our food system. The bees’ work is much more important than my worries.

Perspective,  I think, is my takeaway tonight. I hope you out there are doing all right. Stay home, stay safe, be well. Create something beautiful out of weird stuff around your house. You never know what it might end up meaning to you.

Date: 6 April 2020

Cases: 1,346,299

United States: 367,507

Deaths: 74,679

Mortality Rate: 5.547%

Mother Superior Jumped the Gun

Today was better; the sun came out and there seemed to be hope about. I worried all evening last night about losing our jobs and losing our home that we love so much. I worried about friends and loved ones, students and their parents.

I have no control over any of this: I have to remember that. Today we rehomed some bees that had swarmed in an old hackberry tree. We put them in a new box and watched them get busy in their new abode. They plainly stated that they don’t care a whit about the coronavirus.

But all of us humans, do. I had to go to Tractor Supply to get a bee feeder and no one, including cashiers, was wearing a mask. No surprises there. After, at HEB, almost half the customers were wearing masks and I felt better for the cashiers than I had felt in days.

Tomorrow I am tempted to make masks with funny lips on them: smiles, grins, glares, etc. What else is there to do? It seems so odd we will be doing this for at least another month.

Date: 5 April 2020

Cases: 1,273,990

United States: 337,310

Deaths: 69,444

Mortality Rate: 5.450%

Friday Reflection

View at Medium.com

The map is scary and sad, and yet, there are still lots of people who won’t take the virus seriously. No one seems to be talking about the overall mortality rate: all people talk about is social distancing and whether or not to wear a mask.

Today we went on a car parade all around Elgin to see our families and it was great. I have been so sad these last two days, and I couldn’t really tell you why. I realized, last night, that I miss the morning times of school: advisory time, when the kids come in and out to visit and hang out. I miss the bliss of ending 4th period and knowing I have 5th period and lunch off together, and the joy that is 6th period. 6th period was my worst class at one point, but they turned into my best through multiple exercises in vulnerability and that ultimate in teacher skills: parenting. They learned at some point, and then knew, had internalized, that I really really cared about them, and then, all 29 of them, magically, through a force of their own, decided, like a hive of wily honeybees, to behave as a whole. And after them came my bouncy 7th period computer science kids: 30 of the smartest, magic-jumping-beaniest kids in the school who came up with wonderful and realistic apps to address the impacts of the Coronavirus way back before the government even thought of this disease as a concern. Then my 8th period, my smallest class, my island of misfit toys with whom I get to round out each day: each day asking me question after ridiculous question and being mean to me just to be 8th graders. I miss them all so much it is crazy.

Being away from my students has made me think of all the students of years passed. Some are teachers now, some are married, some have kids, some are riding their own melt, and some have disappeared from my frame of vision. One of them sent me a photo of her sewing table last night because she saw I was sewing on my Instagram Stories.

We are shut down, our economy is cratering, so many people are unemployed it is unfathomable to me. Our schools are closed, and everything is weird. It all happened so fast.  I hope our new normal, after this has passed, is more reflective of our individual humanity and our scope for being people with each other. I hope we appreciate nature more. I worry that it will get a lot worse before it gets better. Heavy heart today: I hope tomorrow is better.

Date: 03 April 2020

Cases: 1,099,389

United States: 277,953

Deaths: 58,901

Mortality Rate: 5.358%

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Here are some articles about how to interpret the models that have been discussed over the last few days –

 

  1. https://medium.com/@wpegden/a-call-to-honesty-in-pandemic-modeling-5c156686a64b

2. https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2020/04/01/824744490/5-key-facts-the-white-house-isnt-saying-about-their-covid-19-projections?fbclid=IwAR3wx7NSOwqJ-aFswK2SafUGLvRiUhCwF_H8L7XghgMnGqjti3dZDuUH9Pg

3. https://covid19.healthdata.org/?fbclid=IwAR089L2Ipds3BzCR-jC-obV0hzHgSci2lEywQFOfKDwBE3zVkDIK0QPZvKc

 

 

Tomorrow, A Million

This is just a quickie as it is very late and I am very tired. I am not sure where the day went, but went it went. I think that tomorrow the world will cross the 1,000,000 infection mark. That feels crazy as I remember noting, with my students, when there were 1000 cases, in China, back in January, I think. This is hard to believe.

There are still many people who don’t take this seriously: most of the state of Texas seems to not take it seriously. I wonder who is right? I miss my students and have a strange sense of time right now. I miss my students and wonder if they miss me. I miss my students and miss my structured days a it, even though my ability to walk my dog once a day and spend time in my garden and sew the quilt squares for the Lockdown Patchwork Project makes me happy.

Nicole’s uncle died of COVID-19 and I worry he is just the first person of many who I will be acquainted with. 240,000 people will die, they say, if we do everything right. Texas? Any ideas about that one?

Tomorrow is another day. I wish on the stars each night that it is only the smaller number and that we figure out this crazy virus soon.

Good night.

Date: 01 April 2020

Cases: 937,567

Deaths: 47,235

Mortality Rate: 5.038%

Daily Promise

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It has been several days since I have written, and I now realize that it is a massive oversight. So much is changing, every day, sometimes every hour, that this situation almost requires documentation. So, I heretofore commit to writing at least a little bit, every day.

I post the statistics at the bottom of every post but suffice it to say: living through a pandemic is eerie and off-putting in the strangeness of how everything feels the same, except that you can’t go to work and you are not supposed to see your friends or go shopping for anything non-essential. Today, Drs Birx and Fauci presented some very interesting projection modelsof where we go from here. Without any intervention, 2,000,000 deaths. With interventions, our best-case scenario is about 200,000. Dr. Birx always says we need to do better, and I appreciate that about her. She also has an amazing scarf collection and wears them tied in interesting ways every day. Her scarf affinity reminds me of Madeline Albright’s pins; I love good accessorizing.

I am not trying to be glib. In fact, I am very worried. I mostly worry because I think only a very small percentage of people are taking the pandemic as seriously as they need to; it seems that people think it can’t really happen. But I think something at least will happen, and I am scared about what it will be.

Meanwhile, I have to come up with meaningful online lessons (that is no problem) and hope that most of the students do them (that is more of a problem), and I have to wrap my head around staying home for at least one more month. Two weeks has felt like forever: I wonder what I will be saying come May 5th. School is cancelled till May 4th per government order. Wild times.

I am going to teach lessons around COVID-19 in computer science class and think about meaningful communication and stress management and future-casting in college and career readiness. I am going to plan for next year’s switch to full-time computer science and moving to the high school. I am going to edit my book, which is 1200 pages and is sitting beside me on the table, grinning and glowing in its glory. I am so excited. I am going to sew, and garden, and paint, and organize the scary closet. I am going to write.

I have been listening to lots of podcasts about this pandemic: maybe you have, too. I am fascinated to talk to my friend and mentor, Derry, about the science going on behind the scenes of media frenzy and public panic. He says that they are studying why certain people die and why certain people barely get sick. They are trying to figure out why the immune system over-reacts to it sometimes, killing its own alveoli (lung) cells, and what impact the disease has on the heart. They are looking at using Immuno-suppressant therapy, perhaps, and trying to sequence the genotype of all people with the disease so that they can find the commonalities that cause people to die, and some people to spread the disease without knowing they are sick. Mysteries, right? Living through a pandemic, an event “never seen before in modern medical science” as Derry says, is a crazy, wild rollercoaster of a ride.

The backdrop of this ride is the beauty of Texas spring, with all of its birds and bugs and flowers. My bees don’t care that there is a human pandemic, and the starlings that gather in their murmurs aren’t affected. The rain falls with regularity, the sun sets, and it rises. My love for people grows each day, as before, but perhaps with a bit more purpose, intent and fervour. I worry a lot and try to remember that control is an illusion. I remember this best when I am outside with plants and trees. I remember it, also, when I am reading and sewing, or just sitting on the patio.

When this is over, whenever that will be, I wonder what we will remember? That is why I commit to writing every day. Otherwise, I will forget.

 

Date: 31 March 2020

Cases: 855,007

Deaths: 42,032

Mortality Rate: 4.916%

 

Quiet Afternoons

There are people out riding their bikes and mowing their lawns and it is Thursday afternoon. People are out walking, and making beautiful photos on Instagram, and cooking, and everything else. Everything else but….working.

According to the New York Times, 3 million people have filed for unemployment, the most people ever in one week. I don’t really know what that even means, it just sounds like such a big number. Never before have I been more thankful for my job: I am so lucky to have my job, that Cody has his job, and that we both are able to work from home and still be paid.

I feel that there is some sort of shift happening in peoples’ perceptions in terms of their own lives and livelihoods. So many parents have told me that they are so happy to be at home with their families. So many people are out on the streets walking around instead of inside, glued to screens. So many people are more kind to each other than they were. People seem to be sharing, pitching in, and working together. I am ignoring the government and all the crazy madness that seems to come spewing out of the executive branch each day: I cannot understand a president who places money over people. I do acknowledge that it is not just as plain and simple as that, and that we must of course think of the economy, too, but it seems not to be a choice between but a choice of both. Texas Monthly has a great article about this false choice .

The days are strangely long, but they pass into relaxing evenings and then into beautiful mornings, over and over, on a relaxed sense of repetition. I feel guilty sometimes about my peaceful experience of this pandemic, but I suppose it is just the way it is for me. So I send love out to the rest of you, and hope you are all ok.

Date: 26 March 2020

Cases: 529,591

Deaths: 23,970

Mortality Rate: 4.52%

Today the United States became #1 in infections

Today

Let Me Tell You About My Day

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Today I was given a task: something new and novel after 7 days of nothing, of stewing, of worrying and brooding. Here we were: back to work. I was asked to call every student in my 2nd period and try to talk to them and their parents. I started off the day in my seemingly neverending quest for flour, but that is another story. Flourless, I began the phone calls at about 10am.

I have this theory about education; the theory is that public education, but K-12 education in general, gets a bad rap in the press, but in reality, people love their local schools. I spent hours today talking to kids and their parents. I spent time laughing and listening and commiserating and checking that they were all mostly ok. I listened to moms so worried their kids were going to miss out, to a dad who said his son was very sad to miss school (a revelation since I didn’t know he liked it at all), to a student who told me, in his typically friendly and nonchalant way, that everything was all right and he understood what he needs to do next week.

The calls took hours: much longer than I thought they would. Even though at times I became tired, I was thankful to reach out and talk to each and every one of those people. Sometimes, I took the calls outside on the patio when I needed some sunshine, and sometimes I just sat at my kitchen table and laughed and laughed with fellow moms of teenagers. One mom told me that I am the first teacher who has ever given her child a B and she likes me for it because it taught him to work harder. One mom said she was so worried about her three girls that she felt panicked but would do her best to make sure they walked over to pick up free breakfast and lunch and did their work for school. Her daughter, fellow nervous spirit, is so worried that she doesn’t have enough hours for NJHS (she has 46 out of the required 10) and that we wouldn’t be able to host the fundraiser for the cafeteria manager who has breast cancer.  I asked a dad of a student who wants to be in Early College High School that he talk to his extremely gifted child about the importance of being flexible and open in the face of uncertainty. As I write, another child’s father just called because he received my message earlier and wanted to check about the plans for next week.

I teach in a district with 87% poverty. Let that roll around in your brain a bit. There are all sorts of assumptions about students who come from under-resourced environments. Data says they don’t achieve, that they don’t have the grit of their wealthier peers, and some folks even say that they are un-teachable. With these attitudes come years of classist and racist prejudice that are unfounded; I have done this for 14 years and I have very rarely found a parent who does not want the best for their child. Even those two moms I can remember saying so were only speaking out of their own pain, anxiety, and fear.

I started today by looking at news that said we are facing 30% unemployment. This afternoon, I spoke to a dad who clearly was very worried about getting food for his wife and himself, and was relieved to hear that there are free meals available for his children. When I listen to parts of the daily press briefings, it is abundantly clear to me that the people in government have no idea what a dollar costs. They don’t know the price of a gallon of milk, or the choices parents have to make between eating themselves and getting food for their children. When I think about these things a lot, I become very angry.

I ended today by speaking to so many parents and students; the majority of my students said they missed being in school. The majority of their parents were very carefully listening to exactly what they needed to do to connect their child with the academic expectations of their teachers. All the people I spoke with were kind and said they were doing fine and that it was important that resources went to people who really need them.

In other words, I had a very positive, human experience. No matter how angry our government’s response (or rather, lack of response) makes me, I have to remember that in order to move through this experience, whatever it will be when we get to a place of reflection upon it, will depend on the actions of each other. We will listen and laugh, and cry, and find solutions, together. We will remember that each of us is trying her or his best and that each person cares so much it is incomprehensible and indescribable.

With love and appreciation tonight, I am going to go and eat chicken and rice, and not worry about the fact that I still can’t find flour.

Date: 23 March 2020

Cases – 378,679

Deaths – 16,508

Mortality Rate – 4.359%