Where We Stand Now

Even the most cynical of us thought it would be over by now; didn’t we? And yet, here we are.  I have to think it through: it began in earnest in March of 2020, isn’t that right? This is September 2021. Not only are we still in it, but it seems it’s really bad again.

MASKS

When the state of Texas unmasked, I continued to wear mine in public and still do. It’s annoying. A lot of things that are good for us are annoying. No big deal. It’s a big deal to be sick, to suffer, to find yourself alone in a hospital. I don’t intend for any of that to happen to me or to any of my loved ones. Death does not scare me; pain and suffering terrify me. I wear my mask.

CHANGES

The world has changed so much since the Covid outbreak. There have been big changes on a global scale and also on a personal scale. My life is completely different today than it was a year ago. Oddly, for the better. I am extremely fortunate; for many the changes have been and are catastrophic. If you were already living from one paycheck to the next (or worse), the pandemic pushed you down even farther on the socio-economic scale. I don’t think it’s supposed to work that way, but this pandemic has done many things including exposing our flaws as a society. We have a lot of work to do.

BE SAFE

At our house, we will do our best over the upcoming months. Already, we don’t leave the house much and when we do, we are as careful as we can be; we, of course, are vaccinated, we mask in public, hand sanitizer after filling the car with gas, so much handwashing. I don’t hug as much as I used to.

TRAVEL

A few weeks ago, we flew for the first time since before the lockdown. We were apprehensive about it and wouldn’t be doing it at all if it weren’t for a very important event: my daughter’s wedding, something I would not miss for the world. While traveling we distanced ourselves from others as much as we possibly could. We wore our masks. I always shower and change clothes first thing when I leave an airport. The airports were crowded. The planes were filled to capacity. The airline was not cleaning the planes between flights.

When we got there, we smiled and celebrated and danced for the happy event! It was worth it!

GOD BLESS US ALL

The wedding and the trip are over now, and we are home. We will wait and see. School has started. There doesn’t seem to be anything in place this time around to keep students and teachers safe. Last year, safety protocols were “in name only,” at least where I am, but this year it seems the powers-that-be are just pretending none of this is happening. My heart goes out to all the teachers, students and parents who will be at risk. I am grateful to no longer be a part of the fiasco that is public education right now.

I can’t believe more is not being done. What will it take? How many people will die and suffer? At what percentage of death does empathy set in for a society? For our society?

Lean on Me

These are exceptional times. There is no doubt. The political is personal. Not being able to get to a polling booth to vote is personal. Not enough beds for a hospitalized loved one is personal. Feeling unsafe in public spaces is personal. Losing a job is personal. Protecting vulnerable loved ones from a debilitating, even deadly virus is personal. Watching police officers who we depend on for our safety being attacked during an insurrection at our nation’s capital is personal. Watching climate change occur in fast forward is personal.

WHY AREN’T YOU CRYING?

 Everything on the news seems to land right on our doorsteps. In the old days, it landed in the form of a newspaper; now it arrives as actual events happening to us all. We are not talking about a faraway war or disease and starvation in an unrelatable third world country (which is awful enough). No, gone are the days of first world entitlement. The pandemic is here. Racial strife is here (always has been, but why still?). We actually had an insurrection at the U.S capital; who could’ve imagined? Climate change is happening so fast we can’t keep up. Fires, floods, drought, extreme temperatures, hurricanes, melting polar caps, animals quickly becoming extinct.  If you haven’t cried lately while watching the news, then I have to ask: What is wrong with you?

CALL ME

Today one of my dearest friends, one of my most favorite human beings on the face of the Earth (she knows who she is) called me. As soon as I heard her voice, I sensed stress. Tears. I immediately “got” it. We both acknowledge all the zillions of blessings in our lives. However, the early 21st century is hard. Yes, it is way easier for us than it is for most people on the planet. Neither of us deny that; in fact, the recognition makes it all the more difficult. When did this start? The intensity?

YOU’VE GOT A FRIEND

What’s important here is that she called me. She reached out. I was able to be there for her, but in doing so she did something for me in return. She reminded me that I am worthy, that I am someone who can be depended on. Sometimes it is just as important to know that you can be depended on as it is to know there are people you can depend on. It’s a two-way street. It feels good to be needed. She is a person who has been there for me. I love that I can finally reciprocate no matter how small.

HEY SHITHEAD!

You know a friend is family when you go for a period of time without communicating but when you do get in touch it’s as if no time passed at all. It might be months or years or weeks or days. It doesn’t matter. We are always right where we left off. We can talk about today and refer to decades ago and it all makes sense. That is love. Who else can call you a “shithead” and you know it is a compliment! That’s better than family.

TOUGH TIMES

We are living in a time where we are touched by everything. Everything is connected. The insurrection of January 6, being laid off from a job, climate change, a divorce, a friend becoming widowed, the economy, the pandemic. Every single thing hits so very close to home. It’s knocking on your own effin front door. For this reason, we especially need to be reaching out to one another more than ever. Let’s be there for each other, even if it’s just to provide a smile.

GOOD TIMES

There are all the good things too; an impromptu trip to another state to visit a small-town bookshop, a wedding, college graduations, laughter, a phone call, an early morning run, watching your dog swim in the river, a job you like, a night out with your daughter. I promise, this list is much longer than the bad stuff. That’s the thing. A conversation that starts with tears and ends with laughing so hard you snort! No matter what happens, with some people life is just so beautiful. It’s always beautiful with beautiful human beings.

Hey Shithead, you are one of the most beautiful humans on the planet, and I love you.

The Re-Invention of Self

Every day is a re-invention of the self. It is a chance to start fresh. Every day is an opportunity to evaluate your beliefs about yourself and the world. In so doing, you can set the standards for the relationships in your life.

SETTING STANDARDS

What’s important is that you get to set the standards for those relationships. When others fail to meet those standards, it is not your fault. You are only capable of controlling your own behavior, not that of others. For some reason we so frequently need reminding of that. At least I do.

Set those standards. Leave the door open. If others choose to enter, welcome them with open arms, allow them to know and accept you. If they choose not to enter, accept their choice and know that you are living your own best life. Boundaries help maintain balance.

You get to choose the folks you surround yourself with. Remember the old adage that you are a reflection of those you choose to spend time with. I hope that is true because when I look at my circle, I see some mighty fine people.

I am well aware of the mistakes I make and have made in the past. That’s the cool thing about living; you get to start fresh every time the sun comes up This reminds me of The Four Agreements, a small book I recommend no matter your religious affiliation or lack thereof. It’s good advice.

THE FOUR AGREEMENTS

The four agreements:

Be impeccable with your word.

Don’t take anything personally.

Don’t make assumptions.

Always do your best.

I often fail the four agreements; we all do, but every morning we get to wake up and try again. We get to know that every single day we do our best. The thing is what your “best” is on Tuesday may not be the same as your “best” on Wednesday. As long as you know that on any given day, you did your best, you can strive to make the next day even better. The trick is awareness. Be aware of the words you use, remember that everyone has a story, and we all have burdens to carry. Be aware, evaluate daily, accept what you are offered and breathe.

A PRAYER

Such awareness is a daily prayer of sorts, a meditation. It helps you focus, keeps you centered. Think through the events of the day and take measure of your actions. Write about the days’ events in a journal. Read a poem. Enjoy your quiet time, if only for a moment. Give yourself grace by recognizing progress and remembering that if you trip that’s okay because tomorrow you get to start fresh all over again.

BE KIND TO YOURSELF

This is a mantra of mine: be kind to yourself. When you are kind to yourself, you have more confidence which in turn makes you nicer to others. When you are kind to yourself, you are also kinder to others. It relaxes you, causes you to smile more, makes you friendlier, more likeable. This is true. If you don’t believe me, try it. Stop beating yourself up about every little thing and give yourself some grace.

Re-invent yourself every day and watch how you grow and thrive. Surround yourself with people who love unconditionally. Give yourself a break and say a little prayer.

The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom by Don Miguel Ruiz

Wild Dreams

Amazing quote from my therapist today:

“This world is too big for somebody’s dream to be too wild.”

When I asked if that was something she said often to her patients, she said no, that it just came to her. I said she might just be the next Bren Brown. I asked if I could quote her, and she said, go ahead.

Also, she said that I should not have to compromise my dreams for other peoples’ expectations. Isn’t this the very kind of thing I have been trying to teach myself? Live your own best life. Others can do as they please with theirs.

UGLY VOICE

I have the talent. All I have to do is put in the hard work.

Yet and still, in the back of my head there is that little ugly voice asking, “but do you have the talent?”  To that voice, I say, “fuck you, there is only one way to find out.”

All my life, I have heard “you should” from the people around me, from my family, from the very people who should encourage me, accept me and love me unconditionally. “Hey Regina, you know what you should do? Let me tell you.”

I know what I should do; follow my own heart. Fulfill my own dreams. Be me. I don’t mind a bit if you be you, just let me be me.

BE YOUR OWN MAIN CHARACTER

It is astounding to consider how the role you play in family, in other people’s lives can stick with you. It’s so easy to forget that you are the main character in your own life, that other people don’t get to be the protagonist in your story. It’s astounding how that can last a lifetime—allowing yourself to be second to everyone else. And it’s extremely convenient for others when you acquiesce so easily.

SELF-KINDNESS

As for me, I have no more time to waste. Getting older forces you to finally set things straight with yourself. My therapist is right, this world is oh so big and there is plenty of room for the wildest of dreams. Don’t make yourself small for others. Don’t allow it. Look inside. Do the hard work. Make those dreams reality. Be kind to yourself. Believe in the possibilities of what you hold inside.

Why I Read

“THE MAN WHO DOES NOT READ HAS NO ADVANTAGE OVER THE MAN WHO CANNOT READ.”

–Mark Twain

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.

CHILDHOOD READING

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.

Texas Unmasked

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).

OLD NORMAL

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.”

POLITICS

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!

MY PLEA

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!

Opportunity from Hardship: Making Positive Change During COVID

2020

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.

REMOTE LEARNING

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.

RETIREMENT

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.

OPPORTUNITY

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.

BALANCE

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.

At peace on the river

Return

Perhaps returning to my blog will create a higher level of commitment, some structure and purpose to my writing.  So many ideas and so little time overwhelm me. The thing is, I have much more time than I am willing to admit. I waste it because I simply never know where to begin. I suffer from attention deficit, this I know. Everything interests me, so I constantly become distracted by the proverbial squirrel.

Also, the writing here does not have to be perfect. I must tell myself this or I will never put anything out there at all. So, apologies in advance for imperfections.

My blog, I have decided, can be that place where I write about anything and everything as it flits through my little mind. My list of novels that need to be written, the memoir that I feel a compulsion to write, my opinions and simple observations—all of these can be placed in this junk drawer blog. Weekly or monthly something can be placed here. Eventually, I will reach out to a larger public and see what happens. People will be interested or not. It doesn’t matter a lot if I am writing. Because, if I am writing in this way, I will write what matters to me which is the above-mentioned novels, short stories and memoir. In addition to writing about them, I will write them. One at a time.

Why would any of this matter to anyone else? Well, because I have been through some stuff and I know others suffer in the ways that I have suffered and maybe what I share will be helpful to someone else.

I am going to keep the name. It’s bad luck to change a boat’s name and this is my little ship of life. Besides, My Little Cabin holds a special place in my heart. I lived there during a very important time in my life. That cabin changed me. I am a better for having lived there. I am myself for having spent so much time alone up on that little hill. Place matters. Places are like people; our relationships with them shapes us and the places we love, we love like the way we love the people we love. They fill our hearts. They complete our souls. So, the name stays.

I will write about writing; the importance of reading and books; bookstores; library adventures; dogs; my writing and research journey; drinking; motherhood; running; gardening; kayaking and paddle boarding; nature; kindness; life; book reviews; geography. In other words, anything goes.

My hope is that this will lead to structure, practice and accomplishments.