Looking Back at the Contagion

I look out my living room window at grey skies, a little slice of the day. I think I can feel Spring coming in, although we’re supposed to get a trace of snow tomorrow.

Three years ago, COVID hadn’t quite started, although I think we were hearing rumors from Europe. Many weren’t concerned because we thought American exceptionalism protected us from contagion. Not that big a deal anyhow, no worse than the flu (as if the flu were a trivial infection). That slice of sun from my window was my world under COVID, emblematic of my isolation, which I spent baking and waiting for the news to change.

Photo by Anna Shvets on Pexels.com

That spring semester changed the way I looked at things. People who disagreed with the government’s masking mandate and, later, vaccination push, took a malevolent cast, while those who complied I saw as more trustworthy. I became more of an introvert, having lost the habit of congregating with co-workers. Talking to people over Zoom became natural. The office became the loveseat with its view of the world.

After summer came fall, and the school year was what we called ‘hybrid’ — classroom plus synchronous distance for people who couldn’t come in because of COVID or other malady. That structure was very convenient for students, and very inconvenient for faculty who were basically teaching two classes. We sprayed disinfectant on student desks and tables after each class and kept masked distance during office hours.

COVID has now become, for people, like the flu — a disease that we get vaccines for, which mutates past the reach of the vaccine occasionally, and gives most unlucky people a respiratory illness which knocks them out, but from which they will recover. There are enough cases of debilitation and death, like with the flu, that many people will always take it seriously, as they do the flu. But we won’t forget the year when the contagion changed our lives, scared us, and perhaps scarred us.

Day 3 of COVID

I guess I’m not all better. I thought heck, day 3 of COVID and I’ll be back to normal. My nose is even less stuffy than it’s been. It’s just a severe cold.

Photo by CDC on Pexels.com

Then I got up to write this blog. Suddenly I’m shaky, tired, and altogether unfit for prime time1.out of it. I needed to get out of bed, though, because my time in bed had starved me of light and life.

So I sit next to a sunny window that’s so perky it’s making me a little grouchy. “It’s bright! It’s sunny!” Look, it’s 29 degrees out and I’m sick. Can you deliver me a hot toddy to help me get through this?

I’m too tired to be bored and too bored to be tired.

Time to write. Or fall asleep. Or something.

  1. Back before there were streaming services, there was this thing called television. Television shows had their own time slots, and you could only watch them during those times. The slots in the evening, from 7 to 9 PM, were known as prime time slots. Obviously, television companies showed their best shows then to get the best audience numbers and make their advertisers (where the money came from) happier. If a show was outside of prime time, they did not expect it to perform well in the prime slots. Therefore, unfit for prime time means “not at my best” with a hint of “not presentable.”

Aaaaaaand I got COVID

It’s strange, but I made it through the pandemic without getting COVID. I managed to not get it despite standing in classrooms with thirty-plus students at a time. I credit this to COVID boosters, diligent masking and good decision-making about avoiding crowds during the worst of it. And not having children. Until today, however, I credited it to my uniquely amazing immune system, and yes, I do in fact have an amazing immune system.

This week my husband came home with some congestion, and we prepped him for a cold with all the usual cold medicines including guifenesin, nose decongestant, and hot chicken broth. I was surprised, then, when he got diagnosed with COVID, as his cold wasn’t that bad. I myself had cold symptoms, but I tested myself thoroughly and daily for COVID, and got negative results. I prided myself on my amazing immune system and fixed our morning oatmeal.

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Yesterday, I masked at work and got a raspy throat and a runny nose. A colleague of mine said “You’re sounding worse. You should get yourself checked for COVID.” I reassured her that I had an (stop me if you’ve heard this before) amazing immune system. She said, “I know, but check yourself anyhow.”

I checked myself this morning, using the state of the art COVID tests we’ve been hoarding (“Fold the card flat on the table. Keep the card flat or else a false negative will result. Hold the dropper straight up and down. Do not hold it at an angle. Drop exactly 6 drops into the well. Dropping more than six drops may result in a false negative.”) I had tested myself for the last couple days and found no double line indicating that I had COVID, Today, however, I saw a bright pink line — in the sample area, to mirror the line in the control area.

So much for my amazing immune system.

I immediately got on email to alert my bosses that I have COVID and therefore will be staying home for the next five days. And then I slept. I didn’t know I was that tired. Then I woke up and checked my email, and then slept again.

I’m doing all right. Suffering a loss of pride about that amazing immune system, but doing all right. I do have symptoms, but they feel a lot like a sinus infection. I hope it doesn’t get worse than this.

Wish me luck.

Making Up Holiday Traditions

Holidays in the age of COVID

This will be the second year that my husband and I will not be going to see my father and sister for Christmas. Even though we’re vaccinated and boosted and wear our masks, we’re cautious, because you can’t unmake COVID happen once it’s been caught. We decided that the threat of the Omicron variant plus the nearness of our destination to Chicago (and with hordes of Chicagoans coming there) make it too risky. Plus my dad is in his 80s, and I don’t want to gift him with any pathogens.

Feeling a loss

Photo by Pavel Danilyuk on Pexels.com

Richard and I feel a loss when we look at past Christmases — staying in a cabin at Starved Rock Lodge, sitting in the Great Hall opening up presents, watching families pose for pictures by the massive fireplace. Wandering around the nearby cities of Ottawa and Utica, splitting a huge pork tenderloin sandwich at Canalport (my hometown area is known for these). Visiting my family and swapping stories. All the rituals around Christmas, lost. We don’t even have snow!

The loss of rituals left Richard grouchy last night when his work dinner was canceled due to COVID. He got to the bottom of his symptoms of stomping and sighing pretty quickly when he realized the cause (it’s always good to know yourself).

The need for new traditions

With 10 days until Christmas, we will devise a set of Christmas activities to make up for what we have lost. We already have traditions of watching Christmas movies and episodes in the weeks leading up to Christmas. We have stockings, and the cats have a stocking too which we will fill with catnip cat toys. We will cook an Italian meal for Christmas dinner (but not the seven fishes of the traditional Italian meal, thank goodness). We will watch A Christmas Story and check to see if there are any good Christmas Day movies at the local theater.

We may play with words, play games, play with our new toys (I know I’m getting a fountain pen for my collection) and eat a feast with leftovers. We’ll cuddle in front of our fake fireplace, look at the Christmas tree, and eat turron (a candy I’ve always wanted to share with Richard; it’s from Spain, and there are several varieties of it. We have four).

We will find new traditions.

First Day of School

Even in college

Even in college, we have a first day of school, although I admit it looks a bit different than K-12. The students are older, and they have their share of adult problems. Some with children struggle to make time for homework; others have to work full-time; still others are fighting health conditions or watching family members die of cancer. Gone are the days when all our students were 18-24, could afford their college, and had parents who footed the bill. My students are at times tired, stressed, and worried. They’re not sure of the reward for going to college, except that it’s necessary to go to college to get a job. Necessary, but not automatically sufficient.

Being the teacher

Photo by Christina Morillo on Pexels.com

Being the teacher to these students means something different than it did when I was a student. I have to be clearer with instructions because they don’t have the leeway to get things wrong. I have to keep them awake in class. I need to listen with empathy, because sometimes they need someone to talk to. I can’t be infallible like professors of old; I have to work harder, stay humble, be on their level (except when it comes to course content and grading).

What this means to me

This means that showing up to class and teaching is not enough. It means that some of my days will be exhausting, and that I will sometimes be frustrated. It means that I will need support on some days. It means I need to get out of this COVID burnout to do my job.

It means that I am doing something worth getting right.

Back from my Break

Upon our return

My husband and I arrived to four cats with varying demeanors: the Little Girl (Chloe) throwing herself at me, Chuckie wandering around in circles, Me-Me appearing and creeping off to sulk again, and Girlie-Girl saying “meh”. Cats don’t take kindly to change, it seems, and these four are no exception.

Then time to unpack and rest. I tend to rest heavily when I get back from a vacation, being one of those people who need a vacation from their vacation. Maybe I’m not much different than the cats.

This morning

What I see at my work station in the living room

The cats are back to normal — as normal as they’ll ever be. It’s a lot like having four space aliens living in the house thinking things that won’t make sense to humans. Unless it’s “food”, “pet me”, or the like.

I’m sitting in my usual place, on the loveseat at a computer desk. This is where I write my blog, do work, surf the internet, etc.

We’re drinking morning coffee listening to Herb Alpert, a staple from my childhood. (Richard lets me control the music because he says I’ve been exposed to more types of music. I would argue that I’m more adventurous — hey, here’s some Icelandic metal music!)

I’m still relaxed. That massage really helped. So did getting out without a face mask (US guidelines: no longer needed if vaccinated). Getting out in general. No longer feeling trapped. Feeling normal.

Now I have to appreciate what’s been given back to me.

Now a word from you:

What is the activity you have done/will do when you are off lockdown, free of COVID, able to travel again? Tell me in the comments.


(or, rather, mini-vacation)

It’s time to take my mini-vacation to The Elms!

I don’t care that this vacation, in effect, will be two days. I have been waiting for this little trip for over a year, holding it in my head as what I would do when it was safe to travel after COVID. It kept me going through the social isolation, the online/zoom classes, the inadvisability of eating in restaurants, and the like.

What I have planned

I have a few things planned — very few. I will get some writing/revising in because this is in part my writing retreat. I will get a massage and spend two hours in the Grotto soaking up hot tubs and steam showers and sitting in a lounge chair with an iced peppermint washcloth over my eyes. I will find time in a cofeehouse. I will try to talk my husband for a road trip on the way home to eat Sichuan food.

Happy cry

I’m about to happy cry, I’ve needed this so badly.

A Maskless Life

The news yesterday

When I read that the CDC had advised that vaccinated Americans need not wear masks in most circumstances, I trusted it. I decided it was time to go maskless . After all, this is the CDC, the same authority that I trusted when they told me to mask.

But at the same time

Photo by Tim Douglas on Pexels.com

After a year of masks, sanitizing surfaces, and staying away from public places, I don’t know what to think. I’ve made a habit of masking up when going out of the house, and when I forget, finding the stockpile of paper masks from the back of the car. I had been told only a month or so before that unmasked, vaccinated people could still transmit the virus. It’s not that I don’t trust the CDC — I trust science even though it doesn’t always seem consistent as it evolves. It’s just that — it’s like building up your defenses against a marauding army only to find that it has vanished in thin air.

And, against the backdrop of the new swarm of cases in India and the shelter-in-place in Canada, it seems unreal that we are demasking in the US.

Those who won’t unmask

Several people I know, serious maskers, won’t take off their masks despite the CDC advisory, even though the risk of contracting COVID is 5% or less, and the risk of dying even less (similar to those vaccinated for flu, I believe). They cite not trusting unmasked persons even though they’re immune because of the vaccine. Ironically, they’re rejecting information from the same government organization they touted previously.

The truth is, fear is stronger than rationality. The Right’s fear of losing liberty and the Left’s fear of taking off their mask are cousins. I hate to say this, because I’m a Social Democrat and tend to align with the left end of the political spectrum, but I see similarity. I also see identity expressed by the choice to wear a mask or not pre-lifting of restrictions. I see differences, too — the anti-maskers tend to operate in an individualistic form and the mask proponents in a more collectivistic vein, as they express concern for unmasked people as part of their rationale. But I see the similarities.

My choice

I will walk into the café today without a mask. I might get stares from my friends who are still masked, but I have to put my faith in the guidance from the CDC, as it’s more grounded in science than anything I could come up with. I will keep a mask in my belt pouch for crowded spaces or for doctors’ offices. I will mask again if the threat level rises, such as a new variant.

But I will choose science over fear.

The Longest School Year Ever

Why has this been the longest school year?

A full year with COVID. Teaching live and on Zoom simultaneously. Being constrained in teaching because I’m tethered to a camera. Students going on quarantine or isolation. Disinfecting all surfaces in the classroom. No Spring Break. Distance. Just so much distance. Constant stress — Am I the next victim? Is my husband? Will we survive COVID?

What are my summer plans?

Interns and writing. And probably some research setup. Hopefully a writing retreat or two. It’s going to be one of the more relaxing summers I’ve had because I won’t be taking a summer class toward my certificate in disaster mental health. I may not know what to do with all my free time. I have a short story collection to finish (not knowing how many more episodes to write) and I may play more with short story ideas. I have too many novels sitting in my lap to write another one for a while. (Gaia’s Hands, Apocalypse, Reclaiming the Balance, Whose Hearts are Mountains, Prodigies, The Kringle Conspiracy, and Kringle in the Night — I guess that’s 7.) Maybe try to get more published.

Photo by Maria Orlova on Pexels.com

What do you think I should do this summer?

I need some ideas — weird or no — of what I should be doing this summer. Please make suggestions in comments!

Is this depression?

I am fighting a down mood that may or may not be depression. The seasons can set people with bipolar up with either mania or depression, and this article suggests that there is definitely a link between manic or depressed state and weather.

I won’t know if it’s a true bipolar state until I’ve held it for two weeks or more. This came on rapidly on Friday, and it’s hard to tell whether it’s an actual mood swing or just me beating myself up over something. I can be negative on myself sometimes. Or it could be a bad few days, which I’ve had. Or it could be burnout, because a lot of us in education are going through it after COVID.

So I’m resting and being patient with myself. I’m accepting that maybe the inner nagging voice is right and I’m a bad teacher these days, but I still have worth as a person. Maybe that will get me through.