day…somewhere bigger than ten but smaller than fifty?

To be honest, I don’t really know why I started numbering the days of my entries when I finally came back to rice and coffee. I have thought about it repeatedly as I carefully count up the current number of calendar days since writing creation in grief. I have several theories on why I did this. Or why the counting continued to matter.

The first was that marking the passage of time somehow felt important. We live in a world where the mountaintops are widely public in a way they weren’t even a decade ago. Spend any time in any digi-verse around and you are only a few scrolls, clicks, or swipes away from “I DID THIS ONE THING AND THEN EVERYTHING WAS AMAZING!” “I TOLD MYSELF TO JUST KEEP GOING AND NOW EVERYTHING IS AMAZING!” In our culture, we don’t make a lot of space for, “You know, I tried really hard. I did my best. But everything is still kind of a mess” and “I did everything as right as I knew how, and still I failed”. We don’t have space for people stuck in The Valley for a season. I think it’s part of what encourages those feelings of intense isolation and abandonment. Who wants to post about still having a broken butt I-don’t-know-how-many-months later? Not me. (Well, okay…me, but it took me a long time to get here, so…).

So if you are in that Valley, in that broken place, time starts to lose meaning in a way. You can’t seem to get out of where you’re stuck. You can’t drop bread crumbs on the trail, because you’ve been walking for weeks in a circle that always has you sleeping in the same spot. And more than that, you don’t even feel like you can share about it, or if you did, no one would want to know. It is a really gray, unhappy place to land. But not all cultures are like ours, and not all people have only memorialized the mountaintops. In the Old Testament, in the Bible, there are tons of times when Israel raises monuments of remembering, when good and bad things happened. Usually, it was a big pile of rocks gathered from wherever they were, using whatever was around. They weren’t the elegant, neo-classical statues you see in any major western capital. They were literal. rocks. Not to impress outsiders, but to serve themselves–a “lest we forget” to the future. In a way, I think that was what numbering the days in these posts became for me–monuments. A pile of rocks. Nobody else may read it, or understand what it meant, but I would. I would know. Time has been spent and it was hard but it is not forgotten. I would remember. I would build my rock piles.

I also think counting days was a subconscious way to prove to myself I hadn’t given up. This year, I’ve had to give up on so many things I’d planned and wanted to do–races that were now training impossibilities, projects and hobbies that now felt overwhelming rather than fun, people I was simply too exhausted to reach out to. I’ve given up on a lot. That’s hard for someone who is not, by nature, a quitter. It rankles. But in this one way–this tiny way–I haven’t given up. Not on day two. Not on day ten. I am still committed to my declaration that I was not going to molder in misery anymore–I would create through it. I would give it voice. Sure, I don’t post every day (my very ambitious initial intention), but I do not forget. I have not given up on me or the process. I am still numbering days.

So it was strange, and frankly a little unsettling, when I started this post and realized I didn’t know the number of this day. I can’t easily add to my last entry in my head. Which begs the question–do I still need to do it? Or am I past that step and I can just keep walking, trusting in progress? I mean, that is the ultimate goal, I think. To just move forward, without the crutch of remembering. It is the mark of wellness. Of wholeness.

I walked away from this for a while to think about that. If I am ready to not know the number. And the answer is, I am on Day 19. For now, I am still making my piles of rocks.


day nine: wandering off

I’ve been out of sorts this week. Not in a “yell-at-everyone-then-hide-in-a-corner-while-I-eat-candy-and-cry” sort of way. More of a constant, low-grade level of discombobulation sort of way. Going from project to project without finishing them is just how I live my life (ask the Vulcan). Like, I may not always know what I am doing, but I’m pretty clear on what I’m thinking. So this whole “start in one direction and be facing a totally different one by the time I finish that mental sentence” is a weird place to be, frankly.

Let me elaborate. Today, I made a gigantic list of things that need to get done in the next week, and the promptly stared at it for a while before dedicating a solid twenty minutes to trying to find a pumpkin shirt to wear at school/for trick-or-treating…literally the only thing I did not need to do today. And even though I know I need to do all these things, and I’m trying hard to motivate myself to get stuff done, I just…can’t. I literally am just at the staring and mental-wandering stage. It’s very strange.

My theory is it’s all the cumulative stress of the past two months. I am no longer so tightly wound that small change will literally bounce off of me, and the hives have gone away (thank goodness), but I think my brain is finally going on strike. I have been demanding a whole lot of it in the last few months, and now that I feel like I’m finally starting to get mentally healthy, it’s decided that we need to do less. Like. Now.

I’m not sure what you do with that, to be honest. Right now, I’m going with listening to my body, to my brain. I am just going to have to be okay with doing less in this recuperation period, I think. In the same way you can’t rush back from a high ankle sprain just because you know what it is and were on crutches for a week, I feel like there’s no rushing this, either. I am pretty passionate about this because I just experienced the last eight months before the last two months. It was the worst. I do not want to go back to that place for the sake of crossing off my to-do list.

I am not the first (nor shall I be the last) to compare recovery to climbing a mountain, but living in whatever you want to call this (gestures vaguely) so soon after climbing up some (very small) real mountains in the Rockies and Cascades, it struck me of how true it is. Sometimes, you’re just hauling up razorback trails that go up, up, up rapidly, but you feel like your legs may fall off and/or your lungs may explode. Then there are other times when the trail is actually pretty nice. Or there are stretches that are way overgrown. Or with a million mosquitos (see: first big hike I did with the Vulcan. It was a true test of our love). But the trail is, very rarely, direct. Sometimes you feel like you’re not making progress…or even like you’re going back down rather than up. Hiking mountains is hard and also winding.

And I reckon this current path I’m on is like that. I’ve spent a lot of months in a deep valley. The mountaintop felt impossibly high, and after stumbling down the first incline enough times, I had to just sit in the valley, in the dark, in the cold for a while. But now, finally, I’m strong enough to start climbing out. Now my trail is only in partial shadow, and light is filtering through the trees. The path isn’t going up as fast as I want, but maybe that is okay. The extra time in the Discombobulation Zone is worth it because it means I can avoid a rockslide. Because the journey isn’t straight. And sometimes your mind wanders off the trail a little…


day seven: hygge day

We’ve had a long and gloriously warm autumn in my neck of the woods, but like all good things, it couldn’t last forever. Yesterday was the gray, rainy, blustery day one expects of autumn in the upper Midwest. The exact manner of day where the best thing to do is stay inside under all the blankets and contemplate the outside and how happy one is to be inside under the blankets.

Today opened in much the same fashion: Rain. Wind. Clouds so midnight blue you had no idea if the sun was actually supposed to be up yet or not. Autumn is here. The days are cooler now, and the nights are downright nippy.

But a good thing is happening inside of me. Finally, after so many months I have lost count, I can feel my soul uncoiling–past my floundering survival instincts and desperate, stress-induced adrenaline binges–reaching out for light and hope. I can feel my desire for beauty returning.

Beauty in the small things, mostly. Right now I am sitting in our wing-back chair, wrapped up in blankets as I write. The smell of my diffuser is mingling with that strangely comforting smell of burning dust as I cranked on our heater to make sure it works before it gets really cold. The house is quiet except for the sounds from the street and the muted patter of my fingers on the keyboard. Our house isn’t really clean yet, but it is better. I cleaned and straightened our kitchen table yesterday, I folded the blankets in the family room, and am doing laundry. And for the first time in forever, the whole process doesn’t make me feel completely overwhelmed. I feel like it will be okay. I will do a couple more things tomorrow. When the football game starts, I will mark my music and fold the basket of laundry I brought up from the basement. I will change the sheets when the Vulcan gets home.

But for now, this is the first hygge moment I have felt in a really long time. Sort of slow and unexceptional, wonderfully cozy in its intimate ordinariness. We will eat leftovers tonight: fried rice and chili and anything else we find in the fridge. I will make myself tea. I will breathe easy and slowly and revel in this moment. I will let my soul find its rest in what God is putting in front of me right now. And I am content.

Life generally...

day five: processing

Today is a much-anticipated day in my world. It’s been on my calendar for over a month, and it’s taken on a level of anticipation which rivals vacations and Christmas. Today, I have no plans. Not a one. Not a baby shower, not a trip, not meeting up with friends, nothing. I have absolutely nothing on my docket.

That’s not true. I do have a plan. That plan is “I am not changing out of my jammies.” This plan I stated over and over so many times that the Vulcan has been prefacing any reference to this weekend with statements like, “You could probably wear your pajamas to do that,” or “I don’t know if you’d want to do that because you’d have to change out of p.j.s” since the beginning of October.

When I first conceived of this plan, in the deep valley of total work chaos and a lot of physical pain, the plan was actually “Stay in my pajamas wrapped up in all the blankets and watch all the football.” (When you can’t move comfortably and your brain has had defcon 5 alarms going off incessantly for almost a month, what you’re really trying to do is lock yourself in a room where no one can talk to you.) I am happy to report that a month on, we’ve downgraded to defcon 3. So. Progress.

Still I have longed for this day. That’s not to say I regret the things I filled my free time with in the weeks leading up to today–the friends I connected with, the stunning concert I sang, the mini-break to explore a state park with the Vulcan–but I. am. tired. I feel worn to a very small, very wispy frazzle. There are so many things I haven’t done because I haven’t had either the physical or mental energy to start (let alone finish) them. That’s what happens when you’re just trying to stay afloat. If there’s one thing this year has taught me, it’s that I have to be okay with the things undone because I’m surviving. (What did I learn from the pandemic? “I’m going to do the best I can. And sometimes, my best isn’t good enough, but that’s okay, too.”)

So this day is very special to me. I don’t want to do nothing. But I don’t want a plan. I want the freedom to do what appeals to me in the moment. Important things and small things in a pleasant, disorganized little jumble. I want to plant the daffodil bulbs I bought at the store. I want to clean the bathroom (I am not admitting here, in a public forum, the last time I did this). I want to just sit around and let my mind wander–think about things as they pop into my head–work things and life things and frivolous things and serious things. Just…things.

I am increasingly convinced that that last one is the major source of my stress. I have been so busy treading water, then so exhausted and trying to do things I think will help me feel rested, that my brain hasn’t really had time to process anything. I have been doing, doing, doing, trying to be so efficient, trying to balance so many things and wear so many hats, I just haven’t thought about any of it. That’s not true. I have thought about it regularly–between the hours of 2 and 4 a.m. while I become increasingly stressed and frantic about why I can’t fall back asleep. And what that means is that all of the things I’ve been doing (and this includes the “fun things,” too, not just the tough things), has compounded these feelings of desperate exhaustion and inner turmoil.

Last weekend, my choir performed The Sacred Veil. You don’t need to like choral music or know anything about the piece (though you should. Choir is kickin’ and the piece is incredible), except to know that it is a work of such emotional investment and grapples with such deeply foundational issues that you have to think about it. And for me, it being finished and not a part of my life anymore prompted me to really start to process the whole experience of the piece and the living with it and singing of it.

And I guess that is what got the ball rolling. All of a sudden, my brain wanted to process my own struggles. My health. The really lousy way things are going down the VWT. It was bubbling at the surface, and my choices were a.) find some organized outlet for this, or b.) just vomit it all over whatever unlucky human was standing closest to me at the time. Because I love the Vulcan, and being emotionally vomited on is never fun, I finally listened to my mother and started writing in rice and coffee again.

I wrote down exactly what I was feeling, exactly where I am. I didn’t soften it, I didn’t sugarcoat it. I just said it. How angry I am. How betrayed I feel. How alone. And writing it gave me the ability to say it out loud, which for me was another step and an important one. Not like yelling and screaming, just saying, “I am angry. I am not ready to forgive,” to another person. It was freeing to have the words out there, not roiling around in the pit of my stomach like they have been for months. (Have you noticed we as a culture don’t acknowledge anger? Like…you shouldn’t ever be angry, and if you are something is wrong with you? Why is this? Is it just a Midwest thing–we’re too nice to ever be mad?). And I’m starting to feel better. I’ve slept through the night every night this week (that’s big news in my world right now). I can start thinking about dealing with other people’s things because I’ve started to process my own. After a week of living and expressing my anger and frustration, I think I may be able to eventually come to the place where I can forgive VTW for what they did and how they did it.

Which leads me back to today. The Day Of No Plans. I woke up around my usual time, and wasn’t mad about it. I just lied in bed and thought about things. Got some good ideas of things I could do at work. Thought about how maybe I should wash clothes this weekend so I don’t run out of underwear. Reflected that I think summer is really gone forever in 2021 and I can put away my warm-weather work clothes (and I wasn’t even mad about it). But most of all, I thought through all of these things, made big to-do lists in my head, and for the first time in literal months, I don’t feel overwhelmed. I feel like I can do it. And what I can’t do, that’s okay, too. I feel light and unfettered. It is a good feeling.

So I guess this means I’m all in. We’re doing it. We’re going to process all this yuck of the last 20 months. (You know, I bet therapists say stuff like this a lot.) I am excited. Even in the un-fun of processing, if it gets me to feel more like this, I’m all in.


“Come to Me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest…for My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” -Matthew 11:28, 30

Goals · Grief · Life generally...

day two: secret bearer

Today was a better day than yesterday. For starters, I wasn’t in nearly as much pain, which was amazing. I really can’t overstate how much of a game changer that is.

(As an aside…how people who suffer with chronic pain issues do it, day after day after day? Going to work. Taking care of families. Having friends and hobbies. I have respect for them in a way I didn’t before all of this. It is so hard to try to be positive or do anything, when walking and sitting feels like knives…and I know my pain is a drop. in. the. bucket.)

I also think my improved mood has to do with this blog. Yesterday, when I hit “publish” on my first blog in over a year, I announced, “Guess what? 2021 is the actual worst, and this is why.” I felt liberated just naming the hurt in black and white and putting it out there, even if it’s never read. For the past ten months, I’ve been keeping this terrible secret about how I feel and why. Trying to ignore the grief of this experience that is not what I wanted. But now, I don’t have to keep the secret anymore. It’s not a burden I have to conceal. It’s out there. It’s named.

I hadn’t really expected that–the release, the relief of no longer being the Secret Bearer. (Though now that I’ve written that sentence, I have an image of some sort of bizarre medical/professional Frodo, which is inexplicably funny to me. A Ring that can make you disappear–even an evil ring–is way cooler than a fistula, by the way). I don’t know what I expected when I clicked that “publish” button…I wasn’t expecting to feel so much lighter, that’s for sure. But the weight that has been lifted, which I guess is one way of figuring out it was there in the first place.

And that is something worth holding onto when all of this is over: there is power in verbalizing and naming the Secret–the diagnosis, the issue with work, the fractured relationship, whatever. Putting it in words and making it public in some way–telling someone, writing it somewhere and passing it on–that’s significant. Life-changing, even.

Naming the Secret is taking back power. Now, my struggle isn’t a Secret. It’s just a plain old fact, like the fact that the days are getting shorter or the sky is blue. My Secret is something real: it’s a fistula and a crappy time at work. That’s it. It’s no longer some giant, amorphous monster or a mist that I was blowing out of proportion. It is strange how something can make you feel like you’ve got a seven ton elephant on your back while at the exact same time make you feel like it’s probably imaginary and you’re being irrational and making it up.

So, I feel like I need to pass this on. If you are a Secret Bearer right now, I’m here to tell you you don’t have to be. Find someone you trust. (Or start a blog people don’t read because you post too infrequently–haha!). But do it. You can do it. Voice the fear. State the fact. Take back the power.

Name the Secret.

Grief · Life generally...

day one: angry

Today was a rough day. I was in a lot of physical pain. I spent a lot of today just trying to talk myself through it–like, literally talking to myself out loud like a crazy person. In the quiet moments, you’d hear me saying things to myself like, “You can do it, Self. Only one more class,” or “You can do this, Body, you’re doing great.” I’m sure that sounds totally ridiculous, but that is where I am at. I am literally trying to coax my physical self to get through the pain to do my job. But good news. I made it through the day. I did it.

Today was also the first day I verbalized to another human being how angry I am with my work situation with VWT. I am too close to the situation to be ready to listen to people who are telling me I need to be compassionate and openminded…that VWT probably has good reasons for vanishing like that, for leaving me high and dry. I’m sure this is true, but I am not ready. I’m still treading water six weeks in and I just don’t have the emotional energy right now. Someday, hopefully, I will be there. But right now, I am just. really. angry. And I don’t want people to try to get me to see the other side. I am barely able to see my own side. I am so exhausted holding things together, trying to be everything to everybody with no thanks and no help…I am not emotionally able to see VWT’s position as anything but abandonment.

We tend to think of anger as bad. But I don’t think it is. Living in anger…well, that can turn into bitterness and that is definitely bad. Sometimes I think we end up at bitter just because we never felt like we had permission to be angry about it–I mean, they say anger is a really early step on the stages of grief, right? When anger is a step, it can be powerful. It can prompt us to change where we otherwise would not have done. It can help us do the scary thing. It can make us brave.

So right now, I’m banking on anger making me strong. If I’m still feeling like this in six months, we may have a problem. But for today, I’ll ride this wave.

But something good happened. I am creative. I am writing this right now. And that is something. I am determined to walk myself through all of these feelings–through the anger, through the sorrow, through the hurt–with my creativity as my God-given sword of hope. I do not have to wallow in the dark forever. I can move forward. Onward. Upward.

Faith · Grief

creation in grief

So. This year has been hard. Like…really hard. I’ve been plagued by health issues which, while not life-threatening, have been debilitating and, frankly embarrassing. (It’s one thing to tell people about your torn ACL or migraines. It’s another thing entirely to have to decide whether or not to tell your boss that you have an anal fistula as a complication of a Bartholyn cyst…).

So I say again: this year has been really hard. I cried a lot more than I had planned. At the end of 2020, with the promise of a COVID-19 vaccine looking like an increasingly likely thing, it seemed like brighter days were ahead. I couldn’t know that on January 6, 2021, I would walk into my gynocologist’s office and learn for the first time what a Bartholyn gland was.

That has been the defining point of my year. My autumn took another huge hit when a colleague (we’ll call them VWT) was suddenly gone without explanation, leaving me to do the jobs of two people with only a sliver of the information that would have made the process easier for me. The slow trickling of information over the past six weeks has left me feeling very abandoned, angry, and betrayed by someone whom I trusted a good deal. At the risk of sounding like a broken record…2021 has not been my scene. I have been barely clinging to a lifeline for the past ten months. It has not been easy. I haven’t been able to do so many of the things I long to do.

So. Fast forward to this weekend. I sing with a choir in my home city, and yesterday we performed a piece called The Sacred Veil–an intensely personal work about the love of a couple before, during, and ultimate surrender to ovarian cancer. And the lyricist, Tony Silvestri ,said something that touched me profoundly, “I think we really underestimate the role of creativity in grief. When you have trauma in your life, I think you need to create something–write a poem. Paint a picture. Bake something. Do something. Create something that you can pour your grief into and then put on a shelf and say, ‘There it is. I can let it go now.'”

And I think that is really A Word to me right now. I am grieving. I am grieving a loss of a year that wasn’t what I wanted. A year of watching people get what I longed for–a baby, a job, recognition, fresh starts–while I struggled just to keep my head above water.

So I guess that brings me here. To this place. To try to create through my grief. Through the anger. Through the disappointment. Through the loneliness. I know that God has been beside me through this journey, but maybe this is how He wants me to speak. To give voice to the pain and the agony and to look up toward the sunrise to a new dawn.

Culture · Pandemic · Teaching

all for want of a puzzle

Well, team, here we are. Two months yesterday I got an email saying, “Pack up your laptop and essentials. You’ll be teaching from home next week.” Two months since life was something I recognized, and two months since Corona was just a crappy beer I didn’t like.

The past two months have been just plain hard, and being trapped on Emily Island has been no picnic, believe you me. Feeling off, being out-of-sorts, muddling along, and being a bit down have been common themes of “the new normal.”

I cried a lot. I was angry a lot. I wandered around aimlessly a lot. And I kept coming full circle, thinking, Why? I have no right to feel this way. So many other folks are so much worse off than I am. How can I possibly be so mad about the fact I am out of parsley? And yes, while this was true, knowing it did nothing to ebb the vague, gnawing sadness that seemed to color everything, or prevent me from feelings of cavernous loss. There are few things worse, I think, than mourning something you can’t quite put your finger on. It was terrible.

Then about two weeks ago, a horrible, cataclysmic thing happened that brought everything to a head:

Two puzzles I ordered on Amazon in the last week in March and which I had been awaiting for a month were delivered to the wrong city.

I know, you’re thinking, “Well, that isn’t so bad. I thought someone lost their job or died or something.” But let me tell you. In that moment, those puzzles were everything. I was so upset, I couldn’t see straight. In the span of about two hours, I found out that you can’t call Amazon right now (there is no one answering their help line), I couldn’t email them because coming from an “independent seller” I had to contact this party myself, and the tracking numbers told me that the puzzles were simultaneously on my doorstep, on their way to Madison, and still somewhere in Indiana (depending on which device I was on at the time). I was basically up a creek without a paddle. And I was furious.

After a rather…hm, shall we say…spirited exchange with the Vulcan in which he got a crash course in a good way not to try to console me (poor man), I was sitting on the sofa, sobbing about these puzzles and feeling really quite silly (which made me even more angry), and I was struck by a sudden epiphany. My meltdown was (shock of shocks) not really about my puzzles.

I was, at my core, upset, because I am terrible at everything my job is currently asking of me. I hate writing and replying to emails. I don’t know how to “digitally connect” with my students to make them engage and do what they need to. I don’t like staring at a screen for hours on end. I dislike not being able to interpret the subtext of what my students are saying in between the lines, because I cannot see their faces. No part of me is excited by the idea of being a part of (much less being in charge of) a virtual choir. I don’t like Adobe. I don’t spend much time on social media. I don’t like being in meetings when people I only know on a professional basis ask me how I am doing. Literally, I am good at no part of my job right now. And do you know what I did about that?

I mourned. I sat around and was sad for two days. I did nothing. I didn’t cook. I did the absolute minimum that everyone expected of me. I did nothing except eat tortilla chips and watch 5 1/2 seasons of M*A*S*H while I put together the giant, 2,000 piece puzzle the Vulcan brought me (the last one in the whole of Target because he is a good, kind, and also a very wise man). And I let myself be really upset. I sat around and thought about how sad I was. I reflected on the relationships I had with students which were just starting to blossom and which now will not be. I mourned the fact that I am not the kind of teacher who turns her house into a magical, virtual classroom, and I mourned that I didn’t feel bad about the fact I didn’t want to be. I. was. sad.

And let me tell you something. Allowing myself to go to the dark place–not to try to “keep moving,” or tell myself that other people were worse off than me, or force myself to be this person I am not–was unspeakably freeing. In acknowledging all of what I am not and cannot, I was able to accept that yes–this is okay. The things I am make my good at my job. And this is not my job. This is a crisis management version of my job. I am just surviving. And that is okay. It is okay that right now, I am doing my best and it isn’t the most amazing.

And after this mourning, this two day period where the Vulcan said he kept waking up in the wee hours with the M*A*S*H theme song in his head, I started to feel better. (I also finished the puzzle, so there was that). I started to want to do my best, even though I know it isn’t nearly as great as people who were born for this. I put away the tortilla chips and signed myself up for Noom (which is awesome, by the way). I made a color-coded calendar in my work planner. I put on my running shoes and went for a run. (It was slow and terrible, but I did it!) I signed up for a half marathon in August. I started baking things. I went and saw my family socially-distantly. And I started to feel like me again. And it is so exciting, I can hardly stand it.

And all of this got me to reflect on the nature of things. I was at a Bible study once, and it was talking about the importance of mourning and lament in the Bible. I didn’t really get it at the time. “Lament” seemed like a very remote word from my 21st century life. But I get it now. Lamenting has helped me move forward.

We are, as a society, not the best at mourning. We’re good at wallowing, at blame, and at anger, but not necessarily mourning. When people are sad, there are a million things to distract you, to fix you, to remind you that you’re better off than some other poor slub. And yes, there are times when we just have to go nose-to-the-grindstone and get things done because we have to. And in this rollercoaster of emotions I’ve been on in the past six weeks, I’ve done all of these things. (I went a bit Amazon crazy that second week of quarantine…) But I didn’t really start to feel myself coming out of the fog until I just took the time and acknowledged the sadness and the loss. I didn’t belittle it for being kind of lame, because it didn’t change how I was feeling.

And I can’t help but think that right now, everyone is mourning something. Some of them are big, “real” things (like death, for instance, or life milestones that have been taken away–weddings postponed, graduations cancelled), but some are little things that nonetheless remind us that we are not now who we once were. Baseball didn’t begin in April. Spring concerts didn’t happen. Wandering around the store without an agenda is now a thing of the past. Hugs you don’t get. Faces you don’t see. There is a whole lot of loss around for a culture of people who don’t do mourning. I think we may have to learn how to do it.

And if you are, might I recommend tortilla chips and M*A*S*H?

Happy or sad, stay well, my friends. I’ll see you tomorrow!


“Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.” –Matthew 5:3

Kitchenware · Pandemic

beautiful, beautiful

You may not know this about me, but I have very strong feelings about coffee mugs. I rail against generic mugs that can be owned by anyone. I am a firm believer in Mug Individuality. A coffee mug is like the sticker collection of every child of the ’90’s (like myself.) It’s a place to show off your chosen weirdness, nerd-dom, and inside joke in a socially acceptable context that still allows you to be cool (’90’s, sticker-collecting me)/recognized as a responsible adult (grown-up me.) I love people rocking all their dorky TV show mugs, the sarcastic witticism mugs, and the weird, unicorn glitter mugs used by macho daddies because they were gifts lovingly chosen by four-year-old-daughters.

Second in the Mug Consideration (and sometimes squeaking into first place, depending on the day), is Holdiness Factor, pronounced HOLD-ee-nehss. (That’s not a word you say? Au contraire. It is. I made it up. You know who else made up words? Shakespeare). Holdiness is an absolute must. Mugs need to be able to cradle cold fingers and make you feel safe and comfortable. All mugs must be tested for Holdiness Factor before being allowed into my kitchen cabinet. (I have finite space, so competition is fierce.)

Then there are a few other, less exciting considerations, such as mug size (I don’t like giant mugs because the coffee gets cold before I can drink it and then I feel cheated), thickness of the ceramic for optimal coffee cooling ratio given the temperature of our house, and finally, day of the week. Yes, I have certain mugs that are designated in my mind as “work day mugs,” and other mugs that are “weekend mugs.” Some even skirt that “it’s a work day but I’m not at work/I’m on vacation” mug line.

I bring this up because tomorrow, my co-teacher and I will have our first digital “coffee hour” with our students–just a time for them to drop in and talk and for us to talk to them. An opportunity for us to do what high school music directors do best–be the emotional supports. We are the de facto grown-up ears and eyes to give advice when it’s uncool to ask your parents, and to tell you that the right thing that you know you should do, even though it’s hard, really is the right thing to do. It’s the nature of music, really. In such an intensely personal discipline, the success of which is fundamentally dependent on your ability to express the wordless places of the human experience, you connect with your students in a really personal place.

So tomorrow, I step back into this part of my job that is more important now than ever. And I’ve given a lot of thought to which mug I’m going to pick for coffee tomorrow. (If I hadn’t just dedicated three paragraphs to the importance of coffee mugs, this may have even come as a surprise to you.) Every time I open my cabinet, I toss around which mug I want to be holding when I talk to my kiddos–what message I will send, even if no one know it but me.

I think I’ve settled on my choice, and it’s kind of surprising to me. If you’d asked me a year ago, “It’s a pandemic. You need to have a coffee cup to represent yourself. What do you choose?” I would not have chosen the one that I’m choosing today. The mug I picked is not an old, thrift store gem. It’s not my hygge favorite. It’s not a pithy Golden Girls homage. It’s a random mug I won in a drawing a college friend did on Facebook that arrived in a USPS box on my doorstep on what turned out to be the last day of Old Normal. At the time, I threw it in my cabinet on probation, because I didn’t think it was going to make the cut to stay in my mug collection.

But then the world fell apart, and I have found myself drawn to its clean white lines and simple message: “Beautiful, Beautiful.” At the risk of being cliché, it’s kind of true. The world is suddenly a really scary, dangerous place for everyone–not just people in the developing world, or people who are poor, or people who are old, or people who are on the fringes–for everyone.

There are lots of stories about terrible things happening–people not listening to sound but unpopular advice, people putting financial gain before what is right–but these people have always and will always exist. The crisis just makes their true colors apparent. But more than that, greater than that, are the stories of the thousands and thousands of people who are stepping up and standing in the gap–crafters taking up their sewing machines and turning their fabric stashes into cloth face masks for hospitals and care centers all over the country. Companies that make vacuums, cars, and jet engines suddenly turning all their research and production power to developing and mass producing ventilators and respirators. Churches and convention centers opening their doors and becoming field hospitals. And then there are the true heroes–doctors, nurses, grocery store workers, truckers, delivery drivers, and mailmen and -women–the people who walk into the storm for us all. It is overwhelming sometimes when you reflect on all the good that is happening in this sea of danger.

As that great philosopher of our time, and my personal hero, Mr. Rogers once said,

“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’ To this day, especially in times of ‘disaster,’ I remember my mother’s words and I am always comforted by realizing that there are so many helpers–so many caring people in the world.”

Because there are. Our present crisis proves it. There are so many helpers. And it is:

See you tomorrow!


Goals · Pandemic

i will try again tomorrow

Today is the last day of my spring break. Tomorrow, I go back “to school,” which is, of course, a completely amorphous term at present, but there it is, nonetheless. Tomorrow, the Vulcan, deemed “essential” by our statewide Safer at Home order, will have to go back to work, which means he can potentially come into contact with all sorts of people who may or may not be sick. Tomorrow, life is supposed to “get back to normal,” even though I think we all agree Normal is pretty conclusively in the rearview.

I’ve been thinking a lot today about how to navigate this Land of New Normal, and how/what my “schedule” should look like/feel like in a world where time (as in Big Hand, Little Hand time) has a vague meaning at best. I have given up using my Old Normal planner because looking at my calendar with all the X’s through events that have been cancelled, and staring at my day-timer and thinking things like, “Well, I could grade from 10-11. Or should I go for a run, and then grade from 1-3? Or maybe spread it out–45 minutes in the morning and 45 in the afternoon?” is downright depressing.

I think the hardest thing about New Normal is that there isn’t a normal yet. In two weeks, we’ve gone from business as usual to statewide “shelter-in-place” orders. Every day is completely different. I’m still grappling with what I actually have control of, if controlling that thing actually matters, and if so, how can it help me or anyone else?

A couple of things that are helping me (today, anyway):

  1. “Look Like You Tried.” For the past two weeks, I think most of America has been on my “I’m not leaving my house, so why bother?” train. I haven’t worn so many sweatshirts in a row since I was in college and, let me tell you, make-up is something other people do. But the last few days, this mindset has been getting me down–I don’t feel great, and the mirror confirms it. So last night, I went through all the steps of my Old Normal skin care regimen. This morning, I pulled out some of my “cute” winter-break style comfy clothes–bulky scarf, fun earrings. Don’t get me wrong–I’m still wearing fleece leggings, but I feel presentable. I would run to the store (I mean, in a world where I could do that) in what I’m wearing and I wouldn’t be ashamed to be recognized. And, even with just myself and the Vulcan at home, I do find I feel better.
  2. “A Plan Doesn’t Have to Be Scheduling Out Every Minute.” Like I said. Time doesn’t mean what it meant two weeks ago. But not having a schedule doesn’t mean not having a plan. This morning, I dug out a planner I tried and gave up on because it was lacking calendar and day-timer features Old Normal required. This planner IS, however, just about perfect for New Normal. Spot for a to-do list, place to list important times (like my one Zoom meeting and my yoga class), ways to track food, water–a place to make notes of plans for exercise and self-care. Basically, everything I need for a day in the life of New Normal. This can be my plan–it has flexibility that New Normal affords as Old Normal didn’t/couldn’t. I feel like I’m accomplishing without drowning in the unrealistic expectations of Pinterest-perfect folks who want to plan out literally every minute of the live-long day. (And if you are intrigued, this is the planner I have. It’s kind of perfect for right now…)
  3. “Things are scary and hard. And I can’t change that.” I’ve written this post about fifteen different times in different ways today. A major feature? Tomorrow is frightening. The numbers of ill are climbing with alarming (though not unexpected) speed. People I love—my husband, my father, my brothers–are all essential workers who will have to go into the world tomorrow with this reality. There is nothing I can do to keep them safe. Except pray. And use my CDC-approved, DIY disinfectant liberally. And stay home myself, to try to protect other people’s parents, spouses, and siblings the way I hope they are protecting mine. When things get scary, it is hard to “Act Normal.” Sometimes, just hanging in there is the best I can do, and that is okay.

So, now I am in the New Normal. I will get up tomorrow and I will get ready. Because I will try. I will do my best. A while back, I wrote down this quote when I was going through a particularly rough patch, but it seems especially appropriate now:

Courage doesn’t always roar. Sometimes, courage is the quiet voice at the end of the day saying, ‘I will try again tomorrow.’

Mary Anne Radmacher

Have courage. I’ll see you tomorrow!