Freight trains and fire hoses

I’m not sure what metaphor to use for the last few weeks… whether it’s been a freight train or a fire hose hitting me. 

Personally, professionally, politically…there is just so much. And sometimes it feels like too much. I try to remember that others have lived through times like these – times when the disasters keep coming, one after the other, but that only brings so much comfort when I bury myself in the news and find myself despairing of things ever turning out okay.

If this sounds like I’m not okay – don’t worry, I am. I’m not in the pits of despair (although I may have come close this weekend, with the news of Ruth Bader Ginsberg’s death…). But it is just, well, a lot. 

Things have really taken off with the semester and keeping up with readings, classes, commenting on posts, and grading assignments has taken up a large part of my time. 

Dealing with personal relationship issues and trying not to push them off to the side because, well, I can. (I’m guilty of trying to avoid these issues sometimes…) 

Trying to remain connected to those who support me and give me strength, and recognizing that this is essential to my well-being (vs. just taking time away from everything else). Remembering to email those who have many more challenges than I do. 

And then, well, the national disasters. I said I don’t like to get into politics but at this point in 2020, it’s impossible not to. 

200,000 dead. One of the worst responses to a pandemic in the developed world. Unnecessary death and suffering and difficulties for families across the countries. Fires raging out of control. So many hurricanes and tropical storms that we’re into the Greek alphabet. An illegitimate president (sorry, it’s my stance) doing everything he can to hang on to power to continue his destruction of our democracy, aided and enabled by the worst possible political allies and sycophants. The death of a feminist icon, a Supreme Court justice who stood for women’s rights, voting rights, and well, human rights, likely to be replaced by an ideological opposite who makes me worry for the future we are leaving our children. 

It’s just. so. much. And yet, I know we’re not the first country to go through things like this (I originally wrote “challenges” but that’s much too wishy-washy a term for everything going on). And I try to remember, as the inimitable Leonard Cohen said… “There is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in.” 

Perhaps the cracks in our society, in our world, and in our personal lives that have opened in 2020 are providing the means by which we will move into a more enlightened future. I can only hope – it’s what I have left. 


 Last week was a doozy. I knew that it would be, with the semester starting, classes resuming, and everyone’s anxiety high (including mine, of course…). But oof. I made the huge mistake of working Monday, taking a furlough day on Tuesday, teaching all morning on Wednesday, then having my usual cleaning-and-shopping on Thursday morning (it only takes about an hour and a half for everything). Needless to say, I felt less-than-productive by the time Friday rolled around. 

I’d say that’s a pretty accurate depiction of where my mind was on Friday morning. 

The challenge for me is the idea that I have to be “productive” all day, every day. I need to remember that there will be days when I don’t check tasks off the list, but I will be productive despite that. It was definitely productive to spend four+ hours with my students last Wednesday. They don’t know me (yet) – I don’t know them (yet). Many of them are new to the program. We needed that time to interact (and yes, we were able to, even online… yay…), and learn more about each other, and think about how we want this semester to go. 

Not helping are my annual fears that this is the semester I lose track of everything I need to be doing, working on, etc. Balancing everything is a perennial challenge. It hasn’t happened yet, but my mind (see above) is always reminding me that I might drop all the balls, and then what? 

Times like this, I need to remind myself to just. breathe. Panic isn’t going to get me anywhere (well, it might get me into a worse mental state, but it won’t get me anywhere good…). 

So I’m trying to remember that I need to breathe. That I am one person. That I’ll keep the balls in the air, as I always do. 

Well, here we go

Time to start the semester… in the middle of a pandemic… a social and cultural crisis… a presidential election like none I have ever seen before…

Time to start teaching fully online, when I am used to being in a comfortably-sized conference room with my students, where I can easily see their faces and reactions. Time to meet a new group of students – some of whom I’ve had before, admittedly, and others whose ideas and questions and plans are as yet unknown to me. 

I actually had an anxiety dream last night about this… the uncertainty, not knowing whether people will show up, whether they will do the work. I can only do so much – but I am one of those professors who takes pride in my ability to engage students, to make them want to contribute to the class. Can I translate that to online interactions? I guess we’ll see. 

In the end, my most important role is to encourage their thinking, their growth, their questions. I love seeing how they evolve and grow over the course of 15 weeks. I just have to remember that every year, I have to jump in with both feet. And every year, it works out. And this year will be different, but I hope that part is the same. 

I don’t know from where I got this quote, but it seems appropriate to the day:

“…isn’t that the making of a little scientist? The curiosity; asking questions; not getting the right answer; deciding to find out for yourself; making a mistake; not giving up; learning patience.”

Here’s to the questions. The ones with answers and the ones without.