Hello from the study,
It has been an interesting 5 months. It is, almost to the day, that amount of time we started a Spring Break and the fear of COVID was becoming more of a reality. Since that time, the world has been turned upside down and that is a profound understatement. A CBS news report that was updated on March 14, 2020 noted there were 32 deaths in the United States. Five months later, we are at 162,000 and increasing about a thousand a day. We are at 5.05 million cases, and there is still no vaccine and there is still more we still to not understand than we do. I am not pointing fingers; I am not blaming; and I am certainly not trying to be political in these comments. I am saying that we live in a different world, and yet, I am not sure what that means because I have little ability to understand all the consequences. I am not a medical professional; I am not an economist; I am not a global anthropologist; I am merely a person who, while educated and someone who I believe is thoughtful, is simply trying to find my way in a world that is both implicitly and explicitly changed from when I left for a spring break back in March of this year.
The reality of COVID hit me a bit differently last week when I woke up in the middle of the night with a fever and maintained a fever through the next day. Because of some of my underlying issues, a call to our regional medical center verified I should be tested. So I had an appointment and then had a wait time of 24-48 hours. While I did not feel excruciatingly terrible, the stress of waiting for results was palpable. Fortunately, the news received Sunday evening was my test was negative. I still have some symptoms that show me there is something going on, but I will have to work through it. If the symptoms continue, I would consider a second test. While I intentionally try to stay away from statistics and gloomy, doomsday, predictions, there is little doubt we are living a global version of the tail-wagging-the-dog. Again, I am not blaming anyone; I am not trying to question why something was done or not done; it is merely pretty apparent that this virus has a virility that is different than most anything we have faced before. This morning, while driving to drop off a book, I heard a news item about two women (one in her 30s and the other in her 50s), who both tested negative, eventually tested positive and 4 months later are still struggling significantly with the consequences of being afflicted with COVID. The story was not sensationalized because of where I listened, but it was certainly frightening. There seems to be not specific rhyme nor reason to why some things happen to some and not to others. It will take time and a body of evidence to see what the best course is. As for me, I seem to have my own pattern over the past few days and we will see what happens.
As I have been working on school things, I have made good progress, but there is still so much to do in BOLT, our course management system (CMS) or things I want to manage. I am trying to layer things in a different manner because I have learned clearly there are a number of things necessary to meet as many as possible in the most efficient way possible. One of the things I have noted from the outset is what we will have societally on the other side of this is also something beyond most of our cognitive capabilities. I do believe the realm of higher education will be forever changed. The role of moving toward distance/remote teaching, which is a current push, and something that was being pushed before March, will be in overdrive now. What it will do in terms of residential college life is profound. What it will do in terms of helping a student move from high school to the professional world will be forever altered. Consider this: even if you went to college 40 years ago or 10, part of college is leaving home, living in a new community, learning how to manage your life beyond the walls of your own bedroom or with your parents managing all of your requirements. Part of college is being exposed to new ideas, new options, new possibilities. Part of college is figuring out who you are and what you want to do for the rest of your working years. Everything being required as we return to the new year flies in the face of that. It it antithetical. It honestly turns it all on its head. That is what is happening and we have no idea the consequence. However, I can assure you, there will be consequences, and consequence is not completely pejorative. Certainly, remote learning puts a great deal more responsibility on everyone in the class, and there is something good about that. However, the isolation and change in terms of socialization will be something significant.
This moves me to the initial things I have pondered as I moved toward this blog posting. Again, I have a couple others even started, but life seems to get in the way of those thought processes; emotions seem to push me in a different direction; questions about the why of something haunt me much like the words of the narrator in Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief. At the end of the story, the narrator, who is death, notes they are “haunted by humans.” I think I am more haunted by our human condition and what seems to be a growing lack of societal compassion. I continue to struggle to understand how we can be so callous about the other. Even more than the first time I watched Glee, the tears have streamed down my face as I am working through the series again. I am using some of it in my first year writing class as one of their assignments is to create a memoir in the form of a Google Map they will someday give to a future son or daughter. One of their books, which I am going to allow either as a Kindle or even an audio book, is Naya Rivera’s memoir
Sorry, Not Sorry. It is rather well written and it certainly has the sassiness of Santana Lopez. As I took at the characters a second time and how their identity is developed in the series, as well as the significant societal issues the series deal with over the six year run, it is really a testament to both the creators and the actors how they made their characters come to life. As I noted above, college is a time to begin to understand one’s self. It is a time to move beyond the protection of one’s family, using their experiences as a foundation that supports them in their quest for moving into real adulthood. From where is that foundation most firmly grounded for someone. For me, I realize even more so now that it occurred when I was between the ripe old years of 2 1/2 and 3 (to almost 4). It is the time I wish I could return to somehow, knowing at least some of what I know now (and I realize returning there from a month shy of 65 seems a bit extreme). Why there? A reasonable question. It is the one time in my life I think I was truly happy and I felt safe. That is it.
I do not ever remember living with my biological parents. My sister and I were picked up by my paternal grandparents after being left alone on multiple occasions by our parents, even though I was less than 2 and my sister was probably 6-8 months old. After one particular instance, according to what I was told, my grandparents told my parents they could not have us back. By this time, my mother, who was not yet 19 was pregnant a third time and my father, from what I know, was headed to Huntsville, the well-known Texas State Penitentiary, for some relaxation time. I am not exactly sure what prompted his incarceration, but I do know it would not be the last time he spent time as a ward of a state. While my grandparents owned a bakery, I have vivid memories of living at their house as a toddler. Many aspects of my own home at this point are reminiscent of the acreage my grandparents owned (they had about three to four acres of land) at the edge of an area of Sioux City called Leeds. I have not always made this parallels consciously, but I realize from time to time through observation and even some experiential processes, there is more of them here yet today than I have intended. Perhaps that subconscious parallelism is because it is a time I remember with such appetency. It was the time in my life I felt the most loved and valued. One of the first pictures I remember of me as a small child was sitting on the gargantuan baking table that ran almost the entire length of the humongous main back area of the Scandinavian Bakery. I am sitting in the middle of the table with my own little rolling pin rolling out dough with the biggest smile on my little face. I remember sitting inside the huge mixing bowls of the floor mixers and being pushed around the table like a race track. I remember (even years later) playing with the old-style adding machine, amazed by the sound of the clicking keys and the tape upon which all the printed numbers were. It is a wonder I did not become an accountant.
My grandfather worked both at the bakery and at the Sioux City Stockyards, which was one of the three largest the country in terms of size, but I think was often the largest in terms of receipts. I remember walking the catwalks between stalls with him as he moved cattle around. I remember that he could wrestle a steer if need be and I thought he was the strongest man in the world. He also sat on the back porch steps with me at night, helping me overcome my fear of the great-horned owl that would perch itself on our telephone wire. I was both mesmerized and frightened by the sound and the size of this majestic bird. So many nights he sat with me and would talk to me about the owl. I do not remember anything he said, but I do remember he told me there was no reason to fear this incredible bird. I remember them making homemade ice cream and I remember sitting on laps in the den of their house, which to this day is one of the favorite spaces I was ever blessed to be comforted in. I remember the wonderful couches and the green-shaded lights that were on wooden bases. I remember the small black and white television that sat diagonally on the small corner table, which we would watch. I remember sitting on laps and being read to. What I remember feeling most was that I was loved and safe in this little house. It was not a ostentatious dwelling, but it had a wonderful living room and dining room. It had a country-sized kitchen much like I have now.
The kitchen was a place of amazing food, wonderful smells, and each meal that seemed to be prepared with both thought and care. To this day, by comfort food is two poached eggs, a piece of toast, from fresh baked bread, and a half of grapefruit. My grandmother was a firm believer in a wholesome breakfast. I have the egg poacher; I have a toaster and generally only by pretty stellar bread; and grapefruit, while I am not supposed to eat it with taking a statin, still finds its way from time to time on the acre. I learned to love all vegetables, I learned to not eat sugar, and because my grandfather worked at a stockyards, some kind of protein was always a main course. I remember an outdoor fireplace where they grilled out. Those of you who have visited the acre do not have to think very deeply to see the parallels. I guess in many ways I have worked hard to reinvent my three-year-old safe haven. Love and safety . . . it is those two things that I believe are essential to anyone having hope. It is those two things that offer a sense of possibility, that allow someone to be themselves without fear or trembling. It is those two things that seem to be most lacking in our society at present. I spoke earlier this evening with a former student and now friend and we chatted about the idea that too many are unwilling to hear the other, to offer the other an opportunity to share without judgment. I have a student now whose parents and they have almost diametrically opposing views to me in terms of our political leanings. And yet we can speak, respect, and appreciate the other. We can even rib each other about this upcoming election. I have listened to the student as they have been concerned about being ostracized by others because of their conservative views. Those fears have created tears for this student. That is not okay. It is not the way we want our world, our country, our state, or even our campus to function. I have stood up for their right to believe and vote as they will. Even as I disagree, I respect them. Much to some of the disbelief of those who want to argue I am indoctrinating them with my liberal point of view. I want then to feel the same safety I felt as a three year old. What I realize is the amazing gift my grandparents gave me through their love and bringing me into their house. My grandfather, who smoked Pall Mall straights, would die of lung cancer before I was three. That would eventually create a cascade of events that would lead to an adoption. Regardless of all those changes, those three years at 4547 Harrison Street in Sioux City created a foundation that still shines through me today. I care about people and I want them to feel safe and wanted regardless their ethnicity, their intelligence, their gender, their religion, their preferences, or their politics. I wish sometimes I could relive that time because I felt loved and safe in ways I perhaps never have since.
As I have worked on my class and considered the idea of identity as a foundational principle of my first year writing class, my re-acquaintance with Glee has continued. The tears continue to stream as I watch how that choir room becomes the safe place for the New Direction members. Many songs that demonstrate that care and acceptance, but one I saw again recently reaches out in ways that I think demonstrate acceptance that goes beyond the simple. Enjoy . . .
As always, thank you for reading and to my students for the semester who find this, welcome.