Page from a diary of escape

Escape. In these days of sheltering in place and self isolating, it is so desired it’s become even more of an opiate than usual — and perhaps harder to come by than a drug.

Today, my form of escape was pouring over some doctorate program info I’ve been back burner-ing off and on for a couple years. I’m not sure the work is something I want to put in, or maybe I haven’t found the right program. Or maybe I haven’t nailed down what I want to research for the next half decade. Something with digital activism and writing, but what? None of that mattered today though; wasting time looking at course lists and descriptions was a good escape.

Tonight, after staring my toddler down with the kind of anger-puckered face that comes from being hit by said toddler for the fourth time in five minutes, I blissfully escaped upstairs to my office. Because I’ve been depressed for the last 48 hours and didn’t do any work today, I wasn’t going to do any as I settled into my desk chair. But I didn’t have anywhere else to go. No escape.

I thought about having another good cry, but the emotion wasn’t there.  I swore a bit as I tried to write something, failed to organize my thoughts and thus felt worse. Finally, I opened up a browser and looked for something to read.

What I found was this piece in the Atlantic about feminism and the pandemic.  As I read it, the feeling of existential doom weaving about my feet all day curled up in my lap and made itself deeply at home.  I read that domestic and sexual abuse go up in times like these. Women with children do more work (surprise!!) during health crises like this, and all women don’t recover as quickly or as much as men do after a pandemic. Female  education and careers can be forever stunted by this type of crisis as well.

I read on feeling sad for my sisters around the world, and sad for myself, as a sense of survivor’s guilt joined existential doom on my lap. I still have a job. I don’t need another degree to keep what I have no or find more work in the future. I’m healthy, and so is my family. Even if I DO do more second shift work than the hubs, at least I have a partner to step in when I need him, like tonight. And we can afford to weather this storm for quite a while and have the space to do so.

So what right did I have to feel a sense of dread or sadness or doom, I wondered, reading and kneading tension knots in my neck. Why could I not just focus on the positive? I bounced into a new browser window and tried to find an article about why it’s hard to focus on the positive during moments like this, but there too, I failed. Finally, I quit reading the Atlantic piece. Yet there they were, those triplets of depression. I got away from my naughty child, but this triumvirate was just too much.

For the first time since shit started to get real, I felt like the world awaiting us on the other side of this reality will be so changed that nothing we do now, or are now, will matter.  And so here I am, trying to write it out yet again.  Yeah.

Remember that I said I failed at finding the piece I was looking for, the article that would help me explain why I was having a hard time feeling positive even though I knew I had lots to be positive about? Instead of that one, I found this, a piece from Mental Health America that explores how writing can help people get through tough times.

Yep. Writing. It doesn’t matter that these words aren’t inspiring or profound or even new.  They are all I can do to escape, if even for just a few minutes. This blog is nothing earth-shattering or special or even very well written, but like this post, it’s something I can do to put myself in a different place and a different way. It’s an escape.

What sort of escapes are you turning to?

Finding a flow

Maple trees tapped with hoses to collect sap for makingmaple syrup.

Are you struggling with social distancing or staying put in one place? Is it hard for you to feel connected these days? This might seem crazy, but my life as a work-from-farm educator has taught me one thing, the same thing, about how to get through this.

You need to find your flow. Yep.

As I collected maple sap this morning, I thought about all that has happened in the year since I last did this. My son has started walking, talking and terrorizing the dogs. The farm has gone through its blossom and bust cycle of seeing new green shoots pop from the ground and then months later, explode with seeds. My partner and I added a new home preservation item to our pantry (the maple syrup). My creative writing workshop students have congratulated each other on “finding a better flow” in their papers in every class, in every term.

This all seems like a lot, and not much at all.  But when I think about it all, the metaphors strike me.

Cedar has learned to put one step in front of the other, and now he runs all over. The weeds and flowers and intentional crops came up, lived there lives and then generated new seeds to further their lineage for the following year. Sean and I harvested, consumed and ran out of sap/syrup. And sap is now running, once again. I am working to find my own “flow” as a busy human and a writer.  Even though there has been a lot of chaos and randomness in the last 366 days (heyo, leap year), there have been so many patterns.

It’s not easy to find peace and balance in the midst of a storm because we’re caught up in the swirl of energy. Yet what I sensed while gathering jugs of sap and reflecting on my past year is that any pattern we can create for ourselves right now will be one more tool for getting us through whatever the next 365 days look like.

I’ve seen lots of calendars about  snack patterns,  meal charts, homework or work-from-home setups, and most of them are jokes, memes. I think the humor is great, and it’s another thing that is keeping me smiling. I’m sure I’m late to the game and several articles exist on the importance of establishing a schedule during chaotic times, but I really think that putting together some sort of routine would be helpful for me. It would:

  • provide (at least the illusion of) control over the day
  • create something to look forward to
  • establish clear breaks in the day and clear days
  • lead to a sense of accomplishment

I’ve been working from home for the last three years, and although I miss my friends from the office more than anything else about the office, I’ve recognized in this time that not having a schedule is both freeing and damning. Even though  my schedule now is loose,with a toddler on hand it’s definitely got some structure I can’t avoid.

So no matter what your daily structure might like, shoot for something. If you fail, try again. That could be a way to get through the days.

We can’t control what’s going on with our neighbors or city officials or national government, and we definitely have no control over the virus instilling all this fear. But just like the dandelions or all the babies that will learn to walk over the next few months, we can prepare for the future and look forward to it by following whatever cycles we can in our present lives.

Moving online a bigger shock than COVID-19

neon signage

Photo by Ivan Bertolazzi on Pexels.com

I’m a bit ashamed say it, but as an online educator, I’ve been feeling a little smug this week.

I’m not scrambling to convert classes or learn new software, and I’m not worried about the future of higher education as I know it–well, at least not because of  coronavirus pandemic shifts. I’m not faced with high attrition rates because my students don’t know how to use new software, or don’t have data or space in which to use it.

I’m smug because although people I know are still poo-pooing online education as a “real” means of education, these same people are being forced to give it a shot. Ideally, they’d have a much smoother, more welcoming introduction to teaching online, like I did, eight years ago. It would certainly make them bigger proponents of the method. There will a lot of cracks for them and their students to fall through with this instant setup.

But all that aside, instead of basking too much in my “ease” of academic life, I’ve been trying to learn from this disruption. My newsfeeds are full of articles, tips sheets and suggestions.

This article, from Inside Higher Ed offers “practical advice” for temporarily teaching online. There are good points in it, by my favorite, as a seasoned online instructor, are:

Create a class communication plan so students know where to go and what to expect; address questions like:

  • Where to send questions
  • How quickly will you respond to emails; how quickly will you respond to discussion posts
  • How to reach you with any urgent needs or questions
  • What sort of regular communications you will send out to the class (e.g. weekly reviews and/or updates)

I like these points because students need some stability amid this shift, and telling them what they can expect from their instructor is ALWAYS a good policy. It’s even more important online, where they don’t get to connect physically.

Another piece, this one from The Chronicle of Higher Education, points out that

Shock doctrines make emergencies the new normal — they turn temporary exertions into permanent expectations. American higher education has already endured several slow-moving disasters over the past 40 years: the radical defunding of public institutions, the casualization of academic labor, the militarization of campus security, and the erosion of faculty governance. As a result, the very instructors now tasked with the herculean transition are already working in extreme conditions: Somewhere between two-thirds and three-quarters of college and university teaching is performed by non-tenure-track faculty members or by graduate students, many of whom conduct heavy course loads without health insurance and with suppressed wages, housing insecurity, and stifling debt.

In essence, the problem is that instructors are being asked to turn their classes into virtual classes in a split second (compared to how long it takes to truly prep a class), and they are already overburdened. When asked to do this, and then doing it becomes acceptable, what else will universities ask of these folks?

The answer, in part, lies in this third piece, from Rebecca Barrett-Fox. As a writing coach, teacher and researcher, Barrett-Fox seems to have a lot of irons in the fire. We all do, I get it. I just appreciate that she’s not just in academe.

Her points 2, 3 and 14 are the best balancing act I’ve seen thus far:

2. Do not require synchronous work. Students should not need to show up at a specific time for anything. REFUSE to do any synchronous work.

3. Do not record lectures unless you need to. (This is fundamentally different from designing an online course, where recorded information is, I think, really important.) They will be a low priority for students, and they take up a lot of resources on your end and on theirs. You have already built a rapport with them, and they don’t need to hear your voice to remember that.

14. Don’t do too much. Right now, your students don’t need it. They need time to do the other things they need to do.

Barrett-Fox offer practical advice that is geared toward sanely navigating this moment/semester as an instructor, but she’s put some thought into how that will spill over and help students, too.

After all, anyone who teaches, who puts in the hours, the research and the organization–virtually or in-person–does so because it’s something they enjoy, and they want their students to get something out of it too. This is a key thing to remember as universities fret over what this might mean for their bottom lines. Now is not the time to worry about that. Students, staff and faculty should come first.

I’m continuing to learn from my peers as they/we muddle through what it means to teach in 2020, but right now, I’m also feeling extremely lucky that my creative writing students and I can just hang out and do our thing. This week they’re working on scene and setting, and they’ve read “High in Hell,” which does such a great job of bringing the African country Djibouti to life though scene and setting. I’d like to say everyone should read this piece of literary journalism to understand just how lucky we here in the US are, lucky to have tech disruptions and tech and any resources at all.