When I put too much on my plate, I become anxious and insecure. The worry of it all overwhelms. I worry that I won’t have enough time to do justice to each task. I worry that something important will be left undone; it’s all important. This is when inertia begins to set in. Deer in the headlights. Panic. Breathe.
I try to control it. I am a big list maker. Lists for everything. There is nothing more satisfying than crossing something off a list. Nothing more disappointing than scratching something off a list because you know it just won’t happen. If it will not get accomplished, it doesn’t get to be listed.
Calendars are the same as lists. And I don’t use the calendar on my phone or my computer. I need, really need, the act of writing it all down. That’s a brain thing. Also, I actually enjoy filling in the spaces. Calendars steady me, allow me to see ahead just a little bit, but not too much.
Much of this has to do with being ADHD, I think; not that I have ever been diagnosed. That wasn’t a thing back in the day. ADHD usually conjures up the idea of little boys who can’t sit still. Now we know that ADHD manifests differently in girls: incessant talking, daydreaming, easily distracted, short attention spans (unless it’s something that impassions her). Hello! The ditzy little girl I just described? That would be me! And you know what? She was a pretty smart little cookie once you got past societal expectations and the dreaminess. Recently, much has been written about girls/women and ADHD; it’s high time. I could cite many sources here, but that would send me down a whole “nother” path so that this post would never get finished.
Which leads me to this: I made a promise to myself that I would post on my blog site weekly. I gave myself Friday as my deadline. This is the first week that I have been late. I have two excuses (my husband says that I am the queen of excuses, but they aren’t excuses, but reasons). My first excuse/reason is that I spent a day resting with mild side effects from my second COVID shot. Fair.
My second excuse is more complicated. I began the week writing what was to be this week’s post about all the dead stuff in our yard that the winter storm caused. However, as I wrote, I began to think about bigger issues. I went from our frozen plants to the depletion of lightening bugs and monarch butterflies and climate change and drought. It was not a post, but four or five posts. I became overwhelmed and put it aside.
BE KIND TO YOURSELF
Please understand, I have lots of pots on my proverbial writing stove. I am excited about them. I want to do them all. Now. And I want to do them well. Blogging, for me, is an exercise in discipline. It helps me focus (believe it or not). I guess that makes a third excuse.
We must pace ourselves. Make those lists. Fill in the calendar. Roll up our sleeves and make these dreams real. Learn to balance those dreams with the hard work that it takes to make them real. That is what we do. Most importantly: be kind to ourselves. Give ourselves a break and enjoy the experience of just being.
I give myself permission to be a day late with this post in the name of learning balance. My hope is that the upcoming week will find me just a little more grounded so that I can fly! There is too much to do to stand still.
The Sun’s warmth does not touch the water at the bottom of the lake, keeping it cold like ice as it passes through the dam and enters our river. That is why our part of the river, a mere two miles or so from the dam, remains cold even on the hottest summer days. That is why we love our river and we are drawn to it when the Texas air hits triple digits. We are water people, summer people. We have a good life and we appreciate it.
The river where we are starts wide and deep, usually slow-moving until it reaches our little wall where rapids form and “toobers” squeal as they float by. We sit on our island, usually beer in hand, and watch. Today, though, we watch the best kind of river life, not people.
Sitting on the wall is a mama duck and her six babies. She teaches them how to hop off the wall, maybe a five-foot drop, and let the river move them to the rocks below. The ducklings are not eager for this adventure, they do not want to learn this lesson. The ducklings prefer the comfort of the nearness of mama duck. Mama duck is patient. They swim above the wall, always returning quickly to mama. One perches on her back. She manages to keep an eye on all her babies even as busy as they are. In duck language, she encourages them. She knows how important this is, she knows they must learn the ways of their small world. Finally, the bravest peaks over the wall, takes one last look at mama, turns and leaps. Brave duckling bobbles on the tiny waves and makes her way to the rocks. Soon a second joins her. Proudly, they both look up at mama. “We did it!”
We watch this tiny drama, cheering for the ducks, wanting to help them but knowing this is a ritual and it must happen in the duck way, without human interference. We hold our breath as each duckling makes their scary leap.
Finally, only one duckling remains on the wall with mama duck. Mama keeps a keen eye on her babies down below while still encouraging the one. The babies below on the rocks skitter about, one falling from a rock and quickly swimming back, then another. After a while, Mama duck jumps from the wall herself, leaving her last baby behind.
Again, we worry, we want so badly to help. Finally, the remaining baby hops down to mama. They are all reunited. Mama duck gathers her six ducklings and they follow her down the river. We sigh with relief and cheer.
“THE MAN WHO DOES NOT READ HAS NO ADVANTAGE OVER THE MAN WHO CANNOT READ.”
There are 26 letters in our alphabet and with them we are able to create worlds! Lives! Experiences! If that doesn’t strike awe in a person, I don’t know what can. Move a letter change the meaning. Rearrange a word and you have made something completely new.
READING AND WRITING
Writers have always been my heroes, my ideal. To be able to do what a writer does is the one thing that inspires me. Really, nothing can compare to creating the perfect phrase, except to string together many amazing sentences in order to tell a story beautifully. I will worship anyone who does that well and I will be happy if I can emulate the same.
The written word has held meaning to me since I can remember. Some of my earliest memories are of my mother reading Alice in Wonderland to me at bedtime. My grandmother had a small alcove just off her living room. One wall was windows with bookshelves beneath, one wall held my great-grandmother’s organ and the opposite wall was floor to ceiling bookshelves. Those shelves overflowed and grew and changed daily. It was organic. Those books were read, not just by my grandmother, but the entire family. Nothing pleased me more than to have a quiet moment alone to explore that little space. That is where I discovered and took for myself books that had been my mother’s when she was a child: The Water Babies; Pollyanna; Lorna Doone among others.
SHARING THE LOVE
When I became a mother, I read the New York Times aloud to my infant along with Pat the Bunny and Goodnight Moon. Therese, her godmother, sent her every Dr. Suess book and later every Harry Potter as they were published. I read these to her at bedtime and later read with her. My proudest mom accomplishment is having raised a reader. We still talk books and share great reads.
I know that reading is not an integral part of everyone’s life, but if you visit our home you will see that it is the main thing. My husband and I read every day. We read a lot. We discuss what we read. We respect one another’s need to read. It’s what we do. Of course, we have other interests.
AN ACCIDENTAL ROLE MODEL
When I was a school librarian, my students thought that’s all I did. It’s good that they thought that. I wanted them to see that reading was as necessary as breathing because to me it is. I hope that, because I was a role model, that many of my former students grew up to live this way too. Reading, after all, teaches us so much. Storytelling is what makes us human. We understand ourselves and the world around us when we read. And it can be awe-invoking. Our world is filled with wonder and books are one way of capturing those amazing wonders. It was never intentional, being a role model, but that’s the best kind there is because it is genuine.
Reading makes me a stronger writer. It can make us all better humans. Spend time reading and, I promise, you will appreciate life a little more.
I went down to Mississippi to see the place; really, I was just passing through. Vanessa was with me and we stayed with my Uncle Pat and Aunt Terri for the night. I would’ve like to stay longer. This was several years ago. She and I were taking a road trip to Atlanta to visit another friend who we hadn’t seen since high school. We were on a schedule. Sort of.
We went down to the beach. We drove over to Suter Place to see the house where my family lived when I was born; it was the same as ever. The wrap around porch with its Victorian lace stood proud. The only difference was the historical plaque posted next to the front door and the chicken wire fence was replaced by white picket circling the small yard. It was lived in; that was nice to see.
We drove across Howard Avenue and the railroad tracks to see my grandparents’ house on Iroquois Street. That’s where things got strange. This was years after Katrina and Iroquois Street was a mud pit and we couldn’t even drive all the way through. It just dead-ended. I couldn’t even recognize the house. Everything was a sad mess. Later the house was torn down; nothing to save.
I showed Vanessa where my paternal grandparents had a house on the beach before Camille and where the Episcopal Church used to be next door.
Growing up, time was defined as “before Camille.” Now it’s “since Katrina.” When you come from a place known for hurricanes you learn to take it all in stride, you make comparisons, you never imagine the next one will be as bad as the last. Hurricanes come and they go. It’s a way of life, I guess. I remember Camille although I was only seven years old. Camille made a hole in the roof of our house when a tree fell. My maternal grandfather’s wharf was destroyed. The house on the beach where my paternal grandparents lived was wiped out. The day after the hurricane, my family piled into the car to check on my grandparents; we didn’t know if they even survived the storm. We found them wandering in a daze amid the debris of their home. We were without water and power for several weeks. You can’t talk about the Mississippi Gulf Coast without talking about hurricanes.
Personally, the land between New Orleans and Mobile fills an odd but vital space for me. Unlike my cousins who never left, I have no right to claim it as my home and yet I do. I have a very strong sense of place because of Mississippi. So many generations on both sides of my family lived and thrived there. My parents could not get away fast enough, but something pulls me back; I have never been able to let go of my connection to that place. I feel that place stronger than any other place I have ever lived. Mud in my blood.
My writing always takes me there. And my dreams. When we moved away, I was about eight years old, but I returned every summer to stay with my grandparents on the bayou. That marked me. Those summers made me who I am today. I am privileged to have spent my summers on the bayou picking blackberries, playing in the woods, sailing, riding my bike to Lovelace Pharmacy for a root beer (Barq’s, of course). I felt a strong sense of belonging when I was there. It’s hard not to when strangers approach recognizing who you are the child or grandchild of just by the shape of your smile or your eyes: “You’re not Scotty and Marguerite’s daughter, are you?” or “You must be an Allen (or a Byrd).” Yes mam, I am.
ALL IN MY MIND
I rarely visit. In many ways, it doesn’t even exist anymore. The Biloxi in my memory is so different from what you would find if you went there now. All places change but Biloxi then and Biloxi now, I think, are entirely different worlds. Casinos line the beach now. It’s no longer the seafood capitol of the world. I cannot imagine that it’s safe for children to roam freely about as we did back then. Maybe what I remember never was at all; maybe it’s colored, fogged by the passing of time.
I am glad Vanessa and I passed through the way we did. I got to see just enough. Someday I’ll return and stay awhile, explore old haunts and discover new gems. Until then, I can return to the gulf coast as it is in my mind.
While I don’t know how common this is among other memoir writers, I have recently begun to question whether what I am writing should be a memoir at all or if I should be writing it as a novel.
Perhaps I can be more honest if I write it as fiction. As fiction, I can elaborate certain ideas in a way I could never as memoir. In fiction, I can tell the truth without the facts getting in the way. I can also make up storylines that better illustrate the purpose of the book.
While fiction is not factual, it does tell the truth. Fiction can shed light in ways that nonfiction cannot. Instead of using factual events to reveal common experiences, made-up stories can make the experience more visible. It also brings distance for the writer to view circumstances from afar, thus able to be more objective. As a novel, I do not have to rely on memory; I can invent situations that might better illustrate the story’s theme or purpose. Fiction might be more freeing in that I don’t have to worry about hurting feelings or offending family members or other key personalities. While they may recognize themselves, it’s still fiction. A novel also frees me to write from multiple viewpoints, lending understanding to other perspectives.
In some ways, fiction can be more believable than fact. So much of real-life falls under the column of “you can’t make this shit up.” Many real events would have to be toned down in order for them to be used in a novel.
On the other hand, through memoir I can connect with and help others; that is a big reason for writing this particular story. Fear of abandonment is all too real and more common than we realize. If we are able to talk, read, write about it, we can overcome it. Nonfiction accentuates the commonplace repetition of abandonment across generations. If I can find and fit the pieces together of family history, the common thread will be clear and obvious. I hope.
Another purpose for writing this particular story, is so that I can explore the things that happened to me and my family and that is the very definition of memoir. Sticking with the facts as I experienced them will reveal the answers I am looking for. Untangling this web of experience, I hope, will prevent another generation from repeating the cycle.
Mary Karr in The Art of Memoir paraphrases Don DeLillo, “a fiction writer starts with meaning and then manufactures events to represent it; a memoirist starts with events, then derives meaning from them.” As I start with events, the meaning becomes clearer. Perhaps this act of questioning my story’s format is just one more manifestation of procrastination. Memoir writing consists of hills and valleys. Many answers to the memoirist’s questions are hard pills to swallow. For me, that’s where procrastination or diversion comes in. When it starts to hurt, I will find other squirrels to chase. At least for a while, because I am determined to face my past head on. Karr describes memoir writing as nothing less than “a major-league shit-eating contest. Anytime you try to collapse the distance between your delusions about the past and what really happened, there’s suffering involved.”
JUST DO IT
I guess what I am trying to say here is that I have a memoir to write and I better stop chasing other squirrels and get to it, no matter how much it might hurt.
Karr, Mary. The Art of Memoir: Harper Collins, 2015.
Earlier this week I began to write about what I dream of doing when it is once again safe to unmask and go out in public. But yesterday the governor of Texas announced an end to the mask mandate and declared that public spaces can return to 100 % occupancy. We aren’t there yet. I wish we were, but this is not a safe measure based on Science. We have not reached herd immunity. Think about it: unmasked at capacity. Sometimes I wonder if people like Greg Abbott want the pandemic to continue. It makes no sense.
As much as I look forward to enjoying many activities outside my home, I will not be comfortable doing so until we get this thing under control. Because of yesterday’s announcement, I will not be going out in public at all unless absolutely necessary and I will be even more diligent about wearing my mask (if that is possible).
While I am pleased that my husband and my parents have received their first shots of the vaccine, I still don’t qualify. Even with the vaccines we know we need to remain cautious. So many pieces need to come together in order for us to resume as before. If the governor thinks this announcement will bring life back to “normal,” he’s wrong. He is only postponing a return to what we once thought of as “normal.”
This makes me especially angry when I think of loved ones working every day in public. So many of my friends are educators who already lacked the appropriate support for staying safe. Now it will be even worse. My sister-in-law is a grocery store cashier where she will still be required to mask but customers will not be made to wear them. The State of Texas is putting its citizens in harm’s way.
Someday, though, I guess it will be later than sooner now, we will get to enjoy the outside world once again. As much as I actually enjoy being at home, there are some things I miss.
AFTER COVID TIMES
After COVID times, I will go to a concert and dance! I will have a big party in our backyard. I will spend hours browsing a good bookshop. I will go to the beach and travel. I will participate in 5K runs and attend writer’s workshops in person. I will sit at a bar with my husband and strike up conversations with strangers. I will go to the movies and order a giant barrel of buttered popcorn. I will hug everyone I see!
Please everyone, keep yourselves safe and healthy and do your part to bring this pandemic to an end. Wearing a mask is an act of kindness. I look forward to seeing smiles again, healthy and bright. Mask up now so we can see your big smile later!
“If you don’t like the road you’re walking, pave another one.”-Dolly Parton
I did what I had to do. My daughter says I have a habit of making short-term decisions; that I lack the ability to see the long view. Perhaps. Throughout my life I have put one foot in front of the other, looking down so as not to trip, rather than watching for what lays ahead. Somehow it has gotten me here. I have a tendency to panic, a fear of falling.
At 19 when my parents sold the house and moved on to their 32-foot sailboat to travel around the world, I panicked and married my prom date. We stuck with it for about ten years when I suddenly found myself alone and pregnant.
After some struggles and job-hopping, I decided I could buy myself some time by returning to school and become a teacher. This gave me more time with my toddler. Being a mom, a good mom, was important to me. If I didn’t have a sitter, she would go to class with me. If she was sick, missing a class was so much easier than missing an entire day of work. After two years, I returned to work but at a school, so our hours were pretty much the same and I had holidays and summers off. Even with a large cut in pay, I always felt this was a good decision for us, her and I.
In spite of me being really bad at managing finances, we got along pretty well. She went to school every day and I went to work as a teacher. On Sundays we attended church. In our free time we went swimming or cuddled on the sofa and watched movies. Sometimes we would spend a long weekend at the beach. She was good company and always made me laugh. We could’ve gone on like that; we were a good little family, her and I.
THE MYTHOLOGY OF THE WHITE PICKET FENCE
The problem is, I bought into the myth that we were not a complete family. To be complete we needed a house, a husband, a father-figure. You know, the white picket fence. As soon as I had the chance I remarried. That was a mistake. From the very beginning, I knew it was a misstep. This was not a slow recognition of miscalculation, rather from the beginning I tried to convince myself of something I knew deep down to be untrue. I tried to tell myself that he would learn to love me and to love my child; that I would learn to love him and his children. I tried. Really, I did. What was not there was not there. Each day became more miserable than the one before. Until one day, I just couldn’t live the lie anymore.
I didn’t know how to leave; I was not the abandoner. He was the one person who needed to leave and he wouldn’t. So, I did it wrong; I left wrong. I left and that was good, but I left in a messy way which was not so good.
That’s when I ran. I ran until I could run no more. Then I spiraled. It was ugly and it nearly ruined me. But the important thing is, I got up and climbed out of the hole. Every day since has been a step toward improvement. That is my story.
Since Sunday, we have experienced the coldest weather in South Central Texas since 1960. Single digit temperatures were nearly unheard of until now. We are experiencing more snow than I have ever seen here. It is truly beautiful.
We are fortunate. Our pantry is full. My husband and I have each other and our dogs. We have a wonderful and cozy home. We have no reason to drive on the icy roads.
However, the electric grid in Texas has had some problems. I don’t pretend to understand fully how the power infrastructure works. Perhaps I should educate myself on the matter. What I do know is that much of what has occurred over the last several days could have been avoided. This weather was predicted.
We lost power on Monday for about 12 hours. Then it was off and on unpredictably until yesterday morning (today is Thursday) when we began to experience pretty regular rolling blackouts. Since 5:30 pm yesterday we have had power consistently, but we had no water. Around 10:30 this morning the water came back on and we scrambled to fill buckets, bowls and the bathtub. We also managed hot showers and a load of laundry. The snow continues to fall heavily, and we have no idea whether we will lose power and/or water again or when. We have water boiled and ready to drink or use for cooking. We are managing just fine, considering.
In fact, we feel extremely fortunate. At this time, I have little to offer others besides moral support. I have been on the phone and texting my sister-in-law who lives in San Antonio; her circumstances are far more dire than ours. She has been without power, heat and water almost the entire time. I think of friends with young children who are going through this. There are people suffering from COVID and other illnesses surviving without heat. Hospitals have had to move patients out of their facilities due to lack of power. Grocery stores are closed with empty shelves and no power.
As ill-prepared as we were for this winter storm, we were far better prepared than others. Next time we will be even more equipped, I hope. We will have bottled water, dry firewood and a working fireplace. The thing is, next time it will not be a frigid winter storm but something altogether different. Something we cannot even imagine. That’s how life works. We did not foresee this fiasco; nor did we foresee the pandemic. Others may have, should have perhaps, but regular people living regular lives don’t often think beyond our immediate needs.
Right now, my hope for myself and others is simply warmth and safety and the ability to appreciate the beauty outside our windows.
For eight years I commuted daily from my home in Canyon Lake to Johnson City where I worked. In the beginning my commute was 40-45 minutes one way. By the time I quit my job several months ago, the commute was sometimes as much as an hour.
Many people have such a commute or much worse. It can take a big chunk out of your day. I cannot complain. I especially cannot complain because my commute never included city traffic. I did not sit at stop lights or suffer with stop and go traffic. My commute took me through the countryside. In fact, with the exception of road repairs, a wreck or a tractor slowing down traffic on two lane roads, it was pretty nice.
Driving time gave me time to think, to anticipate the workday, to decompress at the end of a long day. Often, I would allow my mind to wander but I also listened (and sang loudly and badly along) to music or the news, the occasional audio book or perhaps NPR.
Part of my commute included a view of the lake; in the morning that might mean a sunrise over the lake or a full moon in winter when days are short. In the afternoon I might sight a motorboat whizzing across the water from a distance, reminding me that I am homeward bound to the world of water sports.
I always had to watch carefully for deer, especially in the dark. The fact that I never hit a deer, something that is common out here, is a minor miracle. Over the years, I have spotted, besides deer, hawks, foxes, wild pigs, and the occasional roadrunner. As cautious as I had to be for them, I always marveled at the wildlife along the way and often wished for company to share the experience.
There was also roadkill to carefully swerve from; raccoons, armadillos, deer, and smelly skunks made their way to the path of passing vehicles.
I drove through every kind of weather, of course. Driving rain and lightning storms would sometimes force me to pull over for a while. There was the occasional sleet or snow or hail or tornado warnings too. Central Texas is notorious for flooding and I had several low water crossings along my route, making me anxious to get home before the rain fell too heavily.
Once, I left the house in a driving rain only to make it about a mile and a half before pulling over into the parking lot of a local diner. This put me between low water crossings so that I could not make it to work, nor could I return home. Along with other stranded souls, I waited out the deluge in the café, eating a hearty breakfast and making new friends.
Always in the Spring, I delighted in the abundance of wildflowers. With a big thank you to Lady Bird Johnson, my commute was often absolutely gorgeous. Acres of bluebonnets from the end of February through March or so led to Indian Paintbrush, Winecups (a personal favorite, so fragile but bright), Black-Eyed Susans and Queen Anne’s Lace. Then the yucca blooms and the Mountain Laurels. Well into fall something blooms.
In spite of all the days that I rolled into my driveway tired and world weary, the drive was pretty nice. Still, I am grateful I no longer have to make that commute.
Always, the best part of my commute was turning on to our little street, passing through the gate, driving under the canopy of trees and seeing our river flowing idly by. I was home.
2020 was difficult; everyone says so. A year ago, we were just beginning to hear about a strange virus in China. Only those of us who are avid news junkies had any awareness of it at all. A virus on the other side of the world in a country that is foreign in every sense of the word, held little meaning for most Americans. We had our own problems. Little did we know, our problems were about to snowball in a way we never imagined. We watched as California and Australia burned. American politics were quickly unraveling. Police brutality and race relations brought on protests and violence. We were beginning to see a resurgence of white supremacy movements. We talked of climate change and global warming. We debated immigration issues. We impeached our president (for the first time). As bad as we may have thought things were at the time, in hindsight things were pretty good in comparison. What we had to look forward to was a global pandemic that we as a nation were not prepared for, nor did we handle well at all.
First, it was the quarantined cruise ships. Then there was the nursing home in Washington State that had an outbreak of the COVID-19 virus. It so happens that my daughter lives in Seattle where it all seemed to begin within the United States. She was telling me about the spread there and the need to lockdown. It did not seem real. She kept telling me how serious it was, that it would surely spread across the country and to pay attention.
I had a trip planned to visit my daughter over Spring Break in March. When I canceled my flight at the last minute, friends here in Texas thought I was being overly dramatic. No, I told them, it’s bad and it’s coming our way. Some things you hate to be right about; this was one of those. I was a librarian in a public school, and we did not return after Spring Break.
Instead, we learned how to work and teach from home. Students attended class remotely. This was new for all of us and we figured it out as we went along. We made mistakes. We managed. We learned new and sometimes better ways to do things. We began attending meetings via Zoom and conducting class that way too. We pushed out laptop computers and hot spots to students. The school cafeteria provided curbside meals so students would not go hungry. Students in our district did not return to a brick and mortar school until the fall although teachers came back in May for a few weeks. Many of us believed we should not return to school at all until we could do so safely and confidently.
School districts across Texas, the Texas Education Agency and the governor had different ideas. Get students back in the school buildings at all cost, no matter what. It did not matter that cases were climbing ever higher or that people were dying from the virus. Teachers and students needed to go back. Unrealistic promises were made to do so safely. There was nothing safe about it.
SCHOOL SAFETY DURING COVID
We returned in August. Zoom meetings came to an end. In person staff meetings resumed without following the six -foot separation rule. Mask wearing, although officially compulsory, was in reality, voluntary. A classroom filled with teachers, already weary and the summer not quite over yet, worried together as they tried to figure out the new reality. Just like the nation, the room comprised those who listened to the Science and those who truly believed the virus to be a hoax and those who fell somewhere in between. Some of us in masks sat as far away as possible from the unmasked, yet we still shared the same recirculating air in an old building with an outdated circulation system. We worried. We fumed at the lack of concern our co-workers displayed. We tried to speak up diplomatically. We tried to be firm.
Students quickly learned when they returned, which classes they had to mask up and respect social distancing in and which ones were mask-free. The lack of consistency made any effort toward safety a joke. I became a grumpy librarian, constantly reminding students and teachers both to wear their masks properly, to distance, to use hand sanitizer. The library was no longer a fun, safe space. The anxiety was exhausting.
I lasted one semester in that environment. After much introspection and many conversations with my husband, I decided to take my retirement in December. The day the decision was made, I began to relax.
Understand, I love being a librarian and a teacher. I love sharing my love for reading with students and talking books with them. By the time I made the choice to give it up, so many extra duties were loaded on me that had very little to do with assisting teachers or student interaction and with the dangerous circumstance of a global pandemic on top of it all, the job had lost its purpose. It was time for me to go.
But here’s the thing: when it all started last March, I viewed the pandemic and what was happening particularly in education, to be an opportunity. An opportunity. We were in crisis mode and this was our chance to make an already broken system better. We figured out that while some students struggled with distance learning, others thrived. We were forced to quickly improve much needed technology and other learning tools. Why not create a hybrid system that works where some teachers teach remotely and others in the classroom? Why not take advantage of 21st century technology and teaching methods to enhance learning for all students? Why not improve the quality of life for students, teachers and parents?
Instead, we were told that teachers would have to struggle with simultaneously teaching remote learners with students in the classroom. Nothing was taken off of teachers’ (or students’) plates. There would still be standardized testing that serves little purpose other than lining the pockets of large testing corporations and allowing politicians to pretend they are doing something. Nothing changed. Square pegs are still being forced into round holes.
If my profession would not take advantage of this opportunity for positive change, then I would do so for myself. If the entire world is so dead set on maintaining a mediocre status quo when provided with this gift of a slowed down life, that doesn’t mean I have to follow suit.
I have made changes for myself and it has been oh so good. In the last year I have learned how to live in the moment. I have learned to be at peace. I have learned to truly appreciate the simple things and to spend time with those who really matter.
My lifestyle has transformed into something better. It is becoming more holistic, pure and genuine. Before, I started and ended my day with a nearly one-hour drive. At work, I juggled between librarian, teacher, administrator, bureaucrat and custodian. At home, I crashed in front of the television most days. I struggled to exercise, to write, to spend time with friends and family. I went out to dinner and ran errands. I attended social events with varying degrees of interest. I met obligations to others. I lived the hectic life we all know so well.
When we went into lockdown in March, I stayed home with my husband and dogs. I worked from home. My husband baked sourdough bread (who didn’t?) and I sewed masks (who didn’t?). We stopped dining out or going to beer and wine tastings. We didn’t see friends or family. We slowed down and it was nice! Life became richer. Days were more meaningful. I began to learn how to appreciate the moment. This was a much healthier lifestyle than anything I had ever known, and I wanted to keep it.
MAKING IT WORK
So, I ended my career in education and I have been home almost two months now. While I am looking for some sort of job, my hope is to find something part-time and working remotely from home. In the meantime, I have been afforded the luxury of putting writing first for the first time in my life. I feel whole. I get to be me 100% of the time. I have lost that anxious feeling and I can breathe. My world is smaller. I walk the dogs each morning and then go for a run. I write until lunch. After lunch I work on job hunting chores for a few hours. I do a little housework here and there. I rarely drive anywhere. On the weekends we may socially distance in the backyard with our dearest friends or with my sisters-in-law. Every few weeks or so I make the hour drive to see my parents or take them to a doctors’ appointments. I am in control of my time and my energy for the first time in my life.
I have been able to use this strange time of COVID to improve the way I live. I know how fortunate I am to be able to do this. I am grateful. It’s hard to say if this is permanent, but I like to think so. My heart breaks for those who have suffered hardships during this time, don’t get me wrong. I understand my privilege. At the same time, I see myself as an example of the advantages of a simpler life. COVID isn’t over but I hope for some good to come from it.