Poetry has left me during this pandemic. When the world and others are deemed as not safe, this HSP has become HYPER vigilant, resulting in poor sleep and increasing bad habits.
I know I have so many privileges. I know that, but as the saying goes, nothing is ever truly forgotten.
So I had my spring plants/ flowers daily watch, and it was wonderful. Crocus, scylla, trilium, May apples, Virginia bluebells and more. I took some online classes. I tutor and continue to tutor.
And perhaps poetry will come back. During this pandemic, I cannot say that poetry has saved me, for the trauma is primitive and only after some relief from trauma can I return to art, to poetry. If poetry never returns, there is life, love, nature, beauty. Poetry in their own way.
Twenty years of complicated trauma plus four years of being stalked by a violent “friend” taught about being hyper vigilant–for more than six decades. Have her injured and retired much earlier than planned, and just beginning to find her way during this retirement. Have her proud for not overreacting for news of a novel virus; no, this time she will not stock up or freak out. It’s on the other side of the world, right? Right? Add grief for a lost sister and a state of shock about her new reality.
Add the pandemic.
Click. Knowing she is privileged. Knowing how many are suffering physically and emotionally. Guilt over privilege. I know, she will give up something she loves, make a sacrifice. Bye bye, poetry. She will volunteer more and more, to help others. She finds students who need help and mails lessons, materials, makes phone calls. Tutors.
Click. Husband forced retired early due to pandemic. Lucky, lucky they are and they know it. Able to do this, rather than face the pandemic daily, face first, face to face.
Click. His former employer is no longer paying him since he doesn’t work there anymore. He’s having to deal with sudden retirement.
And they are lucky, and they know it. Yet it is scary to have to be so worried about money once again, after five decades of working hard to get out of debt and be sufficient.
It is, however, a recipe for constriction, a recipe to kill poetry. It is a recipe for clenched jaws that make her jaw muscles so strong, they could snap wire. CLICK, CLICK, CLICK.
See, see what happens that one time you decide not to be hyper vigilant, not to worry and stock up.
The days are okay, for there is sunlight and she forces herself to take nature walks, one thing not denied. It’s healthy to walk. Stay away from others on the path, wear a mask.
But the nights close in and find nightmares returning, ruminations, constrictions. Worries. More rumination. This is not what she had planned for retirement. She knows how lucky she is. She misses people more than she can say. She likes people. She misses her sister. She is with grief and night, grief for the pandemic, for the loss of her sister, for the “so that was my career” thoughts. She uses carbs to calm herself. All the carbs.
I knew somehow this would happen, she thinks. I am getting older by the day. I’ll never be able to enjoy retirement. I miss work. I miss teaching. I am living a meaningless life right now, helping no one and doing nothing, she thinks, even while knowing she would never judge another this harshly.
She walks more during the day, even on the days when the windchill is dangerous. She only stops on the days when the house door is frozen shut. Not trusting the gym during an airborne virus pandemic, she walks the halls at night and frets.
Be hyper vigilant. There is a killer novel virus. Stay away from others. Wash those hands very often. Be hyper vigilant. You should have been hyper vigilant. See? Told you so.
Twenty years of complicated trauma plus four years of being stalked by a violent “friend” taught about being hyper vigilant. For more than six decades. Did you suddenly forget important life lessons?
Before the pandemic, she was writing a lot of poetry and publishing; after the pandemic, the constriction, the clenched jaws and the nightmares prohibit poetry.
More or less. Things are opening up now. She is trying not to over react to words such as variant. She is trying to relax enough to read poetry. She is trying to write again, to write poetry. She has found nature classes online bring joy and looking up and looking down while walking in the woods shows her the unimaginable beauties she never saw before in her work, work, work, work days.
She thinks about a pandemic, privilege, and poetry. She knows deeply how lucky she has been. She knows that her mind and body didn’t seem to care, that she reacted at a primitive level of survival. She knows she should be more relaxed and joyful as the new pandemic rules ease up, as people are able to socialize again, get out more again. She knows it is much safer now than fifteen months ago. She knows it’s her rotten trauma responses keeping her on the edge, hyper vigilant, getting her mind full of stinking thinking. She knows how much she misses her career, teaching, and misses people. She knows she should lighten up.
I am pleased to learn my poem, “Pray with Bones,” will be published in High Shelf Press, online and in print on October 15th. I work shopped this poem in a class this summer, and must thank my colleagues there.
I’ve always liked this poem, but could not find a home for it for a long time. It is weird–but I admit to liking it. Grief and elephants–how could I not like my own poem?
In a fit of gloominess, I was just about the withdraw ALL my submissions everywhere–to match my mood.
Glad I didn’t. And once again, I hid grief in a poem.
Today, the smell of the fresh cut grass reminded me of early spring, when students sit in school and begin to get spring fever. They still have a few months to go before summer break, but they feel the fever deep inside—they need to be outside. What I sometimes would tell them is that we teachers also felt spring fever, and that it is so hard for us to keep teaching adjectives and adverbs, Macbeth and Les Mis, and that we dread the testing season in April because we too need to be outside.
Every head turns to the windows if we hear the roar of that first spring motorcycle, and I have to turn my face away from the students when I hear this, for the gray skirt and muddy boots and salt stained old leather shoes and the puffy coat are just too much to deal with when I need spring as well, but I must say, “Students, settle down. We have to get ready for the big tests coming up.”
This year was the Pandemic spring of 2020, the not-spring. I had planned to write down each day of spring news: what date did the rolled up green open to leaves? What day did the first hint of crepe paper yellow show on the witch hazel? What day did the snow drops bloom? And did the trout lily survive, did the daffodil bulbs make it through the squirrel’s hunt? What’s the earliest date the chipmunks emerge, their metabolisms too fast to survive winter while awake?
On 7-21-1970, I was walking to work (one hour walk there, one hour walk home…to work two hours…) and thinking, oh man, I have to work until I’m 65? I was flipping burgers, cleaning tables, working with the public.
Folks, I am 65 years old today. To say I am stunned would be true, for how did this happen so quickly?
Wait, there were many long days and nights–but so much went so quickly!
I had a business career and then a teaching career. I am still teaching after retirement and loving it. I am tutoring, writing poetry, and living as well as I can.
***As to grief, picking up a bottle of Aleve yesterday had me crying over my sister. I miss having a sister so much. I would send her or bring her Aleve for she was in pain for so many years. I looked at the long list of things I brought to her and ordered for her and could almost chart her decline that way. At first they would just be gifts or nice things for her apartment. And little by little they became necessities to keep her from excruciating pain. How horrible to live for 40 years in excruciating pain. I’m very sorry that happened to her and I miss her a lot.
Looking back now I can see she knew that her end near and that she had made peace with this.
Towards the last half year of her life, my sister wasn’t able to read, drive, walk sleep. She had a series of agonizing painful days. Towards the very end, she forgot how to use the telephone. She kept losing things such as her phone and would be on the floor for days. She wanted to stay living alone on her own and refused living with anyone else. That was her right. That’s how she wanted it. Adamantly. Still, it was very sad seeing her not able to use the phone, remember her phone number, or even remember that if she touched the number on her phone screen she could dial her number. She got very afraid at the end because she knew she couldn’t remember things. We think it was brain cancer or loss of oxygen to the brain.
My sister was not very compliant with hospice wishes. She wanted to live on her terms and then die. And that’s what she did.
Still, she did manage to go out for coffee one last time and flirt with the wait staff. She wanted one more Christmas holiday but that was not to be, so I will make sure to celebrate for the both of us.
And life goes on on my end. I’m retired but still teaching. Tutoring. Writing poetry.
I am now the age she was when she passed away last year and I will soon be older than my older sister ever was.I know it was horrible pain for her at the end especially, but I miss my sister very much.
(Photo taken by me at the Chicago Windows, the Art Institute of Chicago, artist Marc Chagall.)
When and How to Reopen Schools: Some Considerations
Deciding whether or not or HOW to reopen schools in a few weeks is not the same as negotiating a car deal. With the car deal, you might offer to pay some more to get those cool options you want. Win/ win is possible.
Not so with reopening our schools. We need to determine what is best for each school, and that might be different depending on where the school is located, the funding available for needed safety equipment, and the level of risk we are willing to take. How many deaths are acceptable of 6-year-old children? Teenagers? Adults? We need to decide what to do when teachers fall ill and have to quarantine, and we cannot get subs because they are mainly retirees who don’t want to go into the classroom. Do we DOUBLE or “TRIPLE up the students then? We have to decide what to do if the schools must completely close again in an area due to a surge.
This is not a win/ win type negotiation such as asking for a raise. Your boss can retain a great employee with a raise, and a raise can help an employee.
There is no win/ win here except for the virus going away or us getting a surefire and safe vaccine. No amount of wishing can make this happen. Magical thinking, wishful thinking won’t make it so.
It is inconvenient for everyone, this virus. EVERYONE.
However, it is not a “school” problem. it is a nationwide problem, and no matter how inconvenient it is, we cannot put this on schools, or more accurately, on the backs and health of teachers and their loved ones.
It’s not like teachers are asking for a lunch hour (ha!), or a raise. Teachers are asking for a fighting chance of living through this pandemic, based on science, not on their “convenience” factor to those who desperately need help with childcare, computer access, food access, and more. All those needs should be addressed, but not on the backs of teachers, who are overwhelmingly female.
Ask yourself, would we ask business executives to go into crowded conference rooms right now, hour after hour, expect them to clean up after each meeting, and probably expect them to buy their own supplies? No. Would we ask them to work in dangerous conditions so that folks would have childcare? No, we would not.
Sadly, frighteningly, this is not a negotiation. This is a fight for the health and lives of our students, faculty, and staff.
And that should not be negotiable. It is either safe go to back in August, or it isn’t. If it isn’t, there is a lot of work to do to address those MANY societal needs schools try to address.
If so, and we know the pandemic is still going to be around in August, we need to plan for risk reduction and to plan for what we will do if too “many” deaths occur, if a surge happens, and how we will deal with the fact that we opened schools in August during a nationwide/ global pandemic when masks have not been worn often enough because of the mistaken notion that “rights” are being trammeled asking folks to help slow a deadly virus, when people were traveling for pleasure during the lock down, when we have had no single act of positive leadership from the White House to convince us anyone has the best interests of students, faculty, or staff in mind. I know I do not trust anyone in Washington to make these decisions, for they have proven their goal is to win an election at any cost, even the cost of the health of a generation of school children and countless faculty, staff, and other school workers.
I might trust a group of concerned parents, faculty, staff, bus drivers, cafeteria workers, doctors, public health experts to make such a decision for each school, with different decisions made for different schools.
That may even be too chaotic right now, and we may find we need to ALL stay home from school in August, as AWFUL as that would be.
Again, it’s not a car deal, where you get pinstriping if you sign a lease today. The stakes are so very high. Our kids can “catch up” with schooling if and only if they are alive, and our teachers cannot teach if they fall ill or die.
There it is. No win/ win. It’s the awful truth. This situation fits the definition of dilemma, truly no “good” or win/win answer.
Last night I came into bed late, as I often do, and my early- to- bed husband was chuckling, mumbling something to me about dreaming about his best friend Tommy who passed away in 2005. He told me the entire dream from start to finish and I will remember it. My husband was trying to help Tommy get home from the “hospital on the lake in the woods”and his friend kept hiding or getting stuckin a big hollow tree that had fallen down. This friend always had a wry smile on his face and it wasn’t clear to my husband if he was fooling around, being playful like when they were kids, or if Tommy was in some type of danger. Somehow he got stuck in this tree and was all covered with twigs and dirt. My husband was chuckling as he talked about it, for his friend was like a big hairy woodland creature,and I thought of how we process grief in different ways.
My husband is not a talker, and I am. I have talked and written about my grief of losing a number of loved ones, talked about it in therapy grief groups, written about it in my blog, written poems about it. Grief is an ever present companion for me, and I do verbalize it. I sometimes cry, I often talk to my grief.
My husband is very different in that respect. He’s never mentioned his mother, his dear friend, his brother, or any other loved ones who have passed. Not even his father who passed away not too long ago.
Do I dream about any of my loved ones or friends who have left? Rarely. Most of my dreams are still about trying to find a classroom or trying to find my teaching materials or about trying to find time to use the bathroom. (The teaching baggage is left over, even into retirement.). I wonder if other teachers dream about the bathroom!
I’m very touched by my husband’s dream of trying to help his friend in that big log. I’m glad he was able to chuckle about it. His friend did remind me of a big bear in many ways, and I could just see him in a big downed tree covered with leaves and dirt. I can hear his deep voice always making jokes. Tommy was the eldest in a huge family, and was the boss, the elder brother and always had what my husband called a shit-eating grin on his face.
And I wonder how our dreams will be changed by our shelter in place/quarantine of the 2020 pandemic? In the future, will we have many more dreams of hiding, being caught in tight places, of suffocation?
I continue to talk, write, sometimes even cry. My dear husband, the person I love most in this world, dreams about departed friends in big hollow logs covered with leaves, twigs and mud, and chuckling.
Perhaps it was his apology to his children, after all, his gentleness with and joyful love for his grandchildren.
Or perhaps it was the lessening of pressures due to not having a direct responsibility for the lives of little ones.
Whatever the reason, it helped his children and hurt them at the same time to see what might have been, what they longed for but did not have. While they did not want the grandchildren to have a lesser life with their grandfather, they felt openings, more holes in their own lives witnessing what might have been.
Some holes became filled with bad habits and some remained unfilled like Langston’s open sore, weeping then crusting over, and sometimes exploding. A breakdown. A prayer. An addiction. A hesitance. More holes.
And sometimes, poems.
Image in the public domain, The Favorite – Grandfather and Grandson, by Georgios Jakobides (1890)