I need a Spring Break

I have Spring Break next Friday. Yes, that’s it, one day of Spring Break. I understand the reason — the university doesn’t want the students to go out to Palm Beach and bring back COVID. But, ironically, the city has repealed its mask ordinance, and the students are having unmasked parties every weekend.

That week in the middle of the semester was an opportunity for faculty to recharge. Even with vacation spots still risky, we could sit at home and not do work-related items for hours at a time. Not answer student emails for a week. Not attend meetings. Time to write, sleep in, and occasionally do nothing.

There’s no use in complaining about something that was put in place for the right reasons. But the students are burning out, the faculty are burning out, and between COVID and working, I just want a break

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COVID Vaccine Part 1

Yesterday I got my COVID vaccine. Apparently in Nodaway County, MO, there are more vaccines than people who want to be vaccinated in Tier 1a and 1b right now. So Nodaway County Health opened the queue up to faculty, of which we have many. There’s a loophole, because Phase 1b includes K-12 teachers but not college professors. The loophole is that now, faculty are counted under “government”. (Which is true, as we’re at a state university. That way the vaccines don’t get wasted and the faculty are protected.

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So, the shot. It didn’t hurt a bit — until I left the vaccination station, and then I felt a burning streak across my right arm. Yow! It went away quickly.

I didn’t feel any symptoms at all until I went home, and then all it was was a mild fever and a mild achiness. This morning, I have residual aches in both upper arms and upper back. Nothing bad, not nearly enough to keep me off work. (Ahh for Tiger Balm!)

So it looks like it’s going to be okay. My next vaccination is April 7th.

It feels like Spring. It doesn’t, however, feel like Spring.

In my life, COVID banished Spring. Teaching classes from home, not going out to restaurants and the café, and missing the warm days on campus where people gathered by the pond on campus and lounged in the hammocks — none of that remained under COVID.

I didn’t go out when COVID first hit. My husband made all the trips to the grocery store because that’s his job in the particular division of labor we have. So I didn’t get to see the toilet paper shortages, the people defiantly not wearing masks, or much of the sunshine. My most vivid memory was looking out the window to see a sliver of blue above the houses. COVID, then, was a darkened corner where I sat waiting for the all-clear signal, which never came.

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The restrictions have lightened up, but I still don’t trust Spring. The virus still threatens and we still stand apart from each other. The blue sky seems distant, outside the house, beyond the mask. Clusters of students once again drink and party outside their houses, but their feeling of safety is not shared by those of us who are older.

I may trust Spring again if a torrent of rain, what we called a gullywasher in my childhood, overtook my neighborhood. Sheets of rain cleansing, if not the virus, my tainted memories of Spring.

Restless and Tired = I Need a Break

How can I be restless and tired at the same time?

This would be Spring Break week if we were allowed Spring Break this year. But yesterday was my Spring Break and I had to do two internship observations.

I need a rest. As faculty, I can’t take a vacation, and even sick days consist of doing all our actual work at home (but we don’t have to count it as a sick day unless we’re too sick to work). COVID and Zoom has changed the life of a college professor.

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But there’s nothing that can replace a complete break from work Being able to focus on something that is not homework. I’m not going to say “going places” because we’re all still on COVID restrictions, but the moment I get my second shot and do my two-week immunity wait, I’m going on a writing retreat.

I wish I could sleep all day today. I need to keep an eye on this given that it could be a sign of a depressive episode. I think it’s just lack of break. But I’ll keep an eye on it.

A Year Under COVID

We’re coming up on the anniversary of when COVID changed our lives. Everyone’s anniversary looks a little different because of where they live, how soon they started taking precautions, and the like.

For me, it was the first day of Spring Break, March 9th, when my colleagues and I started hearing about states shutting down through shelter-in-place. The university decided it needed to do something, because we were about to receive 7000 college students freshly back from Spring Break.

By Thursday of Spring Break, we had bought a little time for decision-making with this instruction — “Do not come back for the week after Spring Break; we will let you know what happens from here.” Faculty were assigned to put their classes all online just in case. By Tuesday of that week, the university had decided that all classes would go online. The faculty had a little over a week to go fully online. And then the whole state sheltered in place.

My husband’s job at the library shut down at that time, and we found ourselves living in a changed world defined by the four walls of our home. I became frantic at that time, and my psychiatrist’s nurse assured me that I was far from the only one calling the office in a panic.

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The world quickly adapted around us. Public spaces were disinfected and required masks to enter. Stores distanced their customers to six feet apart and established flow patterns. Many restaurants established carryout. The harder things to adapt to: the loss of family gatherings except over zoom, relinquishing my occasional spa writer’s retreat, not eating at restaurants weekly (although we utilized the patio at A&G, a local steaks and chops place, before the weather got too cold).

Although we quickly adapted, we didn’t adapt happily, and we didn’t adapt without fear. Twenty-three people have died in Nodaway County, Missouri; this is one out of every thousand residents; 2.3% of those who got COVID. That’s a large number for deaths. These are large numbers for a small and relatively isolated county with no big towns.

A year later, the landscape has changed a little. The vaccines have rolled out for the most at-risk people; I still wait for mine. We’re all wearing masks still and some of us have a mask collection. The university is back on line, but with reduced classrooms and Zoom for the students and faculty sick or in quarantine. If I ever get my shots (I’m neither old enough nor fat enough to be among the first wave) I might be able to have that writer’s retreat, although still with a mask.

Life might never get back to normal, or maybe we will balk at having to don protection forever. Maybe the vaccine will reach enough people for us to have herd immunity. I hope one thing that changes is that we are more savvy about the microorganisms around us and their potential to become deadly.

Beyond the end — Some thoughts

Note: I am in good health and in no more danger of dying right now as other people in good health.

 I’m fifty-seven years old. I think of dying.

I’m not morbid; I don’t think of dying all the time, and I am not possessed by those thoughts. But between the other thoughts, it does occur to me, especially in the time of COVID.

I think about the process of dying. I don’t like the thought of being in pain, and many of the ways to die are painful. I’m one of those people who would like to die in old age in my sleep, but that may not be possible. I know that if there’s any chance of being savable, I will be kept alive and in pain. I don’t know what I think of that, but I have a DNR (do not resuscitate) order in my things that needs to go into a safety deposit box.

I think about the afterlife. I’ve written about that before. I don’t know what I believe, but I don’t believe that we’ll be sitting around singing about the heavenly host non-stop. That heaven is supposed to be the reward for good behavior (although I don’t believe this) and we’re singing to The Man? (Again, I don’t believe God was born male). I hope I have some consciousness after death because I damn well am not ready to let go yet. 

I’m afraid and growing more certain that I might experience a glimpse of heaven before I die, but will fade to black. And then nothing. 

How can anyone be ready to die without an afterlife? That’s what I’m trying to find out. The only solution I can come up with is to live as well as I can now.

Post-Trump Stress Disorder

Some writers (see here) express the notion that there is a post-traumatic stress disorder prevalent in the US which has comes from living in the country under Trump. I can believe it, given the daily spew of vitriol and lies, the call to violence and bullying, and the inability to escape. 

Certainly, our citizens are facing the PTSD symptom of arousal — a constant vigilance against future harm. This seems appropriate as a response to the grinding down of our psyches. This will not go away immediately as Biden takes office, because PTSD takes months, if not years, to go away. Biden is taking over a shell-shocked country.

I anticipate a year where Americans are wary of what the government will do, a pessimism about government, a feeling of a heavy weight on our hunched shoulders. 

Doubled by the burden of COVID, we in the US are grouchy and protective of ourselves. We need to find a way to take care of ourselves, by taking time to ourselves, finding an absorbing activity, spending time with our roommates and pets, and thinking outside ourselves. 

We need to be good and merciful to ourselves, and to others. The long nightmare will fade away.

The Frustration of Teaching under COVID.

Here’s a typical class session under COVID:

I get to the class a few minutes early to set up for class. This requires a computer, a USB camera and area microphone that I’ve brought to class. Add in an HDMI cable to the projection unit, and I’m hooked up. My computer screen is now projected onto the screen up front.

I open up Zoom and see my face projected upon the big screen. Urgk. I don’t like looking at myself larger than life. I twiddle with the camera so it’s at the right angle — it’s never at the right angle; due to the camera’s height limitations it will always be looking up my neck.

The whiteboard behind me is useless, because it projects backward to the Zoom students. Moving around while teaching (my favored style) is useless because then I will disappear from sight. Every visual must be from the computer because it must be visible both for the in-class students and the online students. Luckily, Zoom allows for screen-share, although that can get awkward at times with clicking it on and off and on again to see new documents and windows.

I pull up a few windows — the first with the seating chart, which will be visible when students come in. Only half the class meets at a time due to COVID distancing, and we need a static seating chart for COVID contact tracking at the University. Our class still is not distanced enough, so we wear masks at all times. 

Students start trickling in through the door, so I point out the seating chart so they find their right chairs. Some students sit down without consulting the seating chart, so I need to explain to those students we have a seating chart. On the computer, my Zoom students start to fill up in the waiting room. I message them, letting them know that they need to keep their video on during class. If last week’s introductory session is any indication, at least one will not. Then I let them in.

Teaching is a challenge, because two-thirds of my class sit in desks in front of me watching the screen, which is the Zoom display with a shared document as the current focus — a PowerPoint screen, a document, etc. One-third of my class views remotely using Zoom. It’s hard teaching to both these classes, and I spend too much of my time yelling “Can you hear me?” to the Zoom people, who are silent and not sharing in class work. It’s insanely hard for me to pay attention to two different classrooms at the same time. 

After an unsatisfying class period where I feel I have done twice the work with half the results, I wipe down all the seats and tables with disinfectant, and I wait till the next class shows up and do it all over again.

The Death of Snow Days

 Once upon a time, not that long ago (pardon me the cheesy intro, but it’s that kind of topic) there were snow days. Snow days existed so that students, teachers, and staff didn’t have to venture out into a blizzard or major snowstorm to get to classes. However, snow days became a random winter treat to students (and teachers) .

Snow days gathered their own folklore. Everyone believed that their school had fewer snow days than any of the surrounding schools. Winter weather was counted in number of snow days. 

Students treated this as a day apart from routine, to celebrate the novelty, and to watch tv or play indoor games. Teachers as well took it as a welcome release from routine, a day for a late breakfast and time to catch up at home.

COVID, it seems, has killed the snow day.

The same technologies that have brought us synchronous distance learning (i.e. teaching/learning in a classroom remotely using Zoom or other conferencing software) have taken away our snow days. Why? Because the teacher can teach at home, the students can learn at home, and nobody need venture out in the snow. 

This morning, Maryville MO is in blizzard conditions. Only 4-5 inches of snow, but it’s blowing pretty hard. And instead of a snow day, we were instructed to teach from home. And thus the snow day ends, a victim of technology and the perpetual need to be productive, which snow days gave us a welcome break from.

Am I ready? Am I ever?

 Classes are starting in a couple days, and I hope I’m ready for them. I always feel like I’m not quite ready, but I also feel assured that none of my colleagues at the University feel like they’re ready either. It’s the lament of faculty everywhere, I guess. (Just as I started writing, something broke in one of my online course sites and I had to fix it. So much for being ready.)

It will be another semester of social distancing, because vaccines have not been widely available in the US yet. I will meet with half the class at a time again, giving the same activities to each section. Tuesday and Thursday will be my busy days. Office hours will be Zoom or live. Everything live will be with masks on.

I have gotten used to COVID protocols, strangely enough. I’m accustomed to not going places, wearing masks, Zooming. I miss live teaching, but if distance protocols are how I have to teach, I’ll keep doing so. 

So I’ll be as ready as I can on Thursday when I start teaching.