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right now.

I’m still working on the yoke portion of the Birch sweater. The pattern is pretty simple, now that I get how half-Fisherman’s rib works, but not a whole lot of knitting has been happening these last couple of weeks. Too much else has been happening, and while knitting is my usual strategy for coping with overwhelm, right now the overwhelm seems to be winning. Be forewarned: I get wordy when I’m trying to process all the things. So I’m sneaking in some pictures I took of one of my cats as eye candy.

Almost to the end of the first ball of yarn.
My dress & shirt color choices are not accidental.

It’s not just one thing, it’s so many things. Obviously, the war in Ukraine is weighing on me; I have the sort of mind that cannot stop thinking through implications and outcomes in a systemic way, and it is very hard for me to see what a positive outcome could be here. Obviously, as the brave Ukrainians themselves say, if Russia stops fighting, there’s no war, but if Ukraine stops fighting, there will be no Ukraine. But I don’t see how Russia stops fighting. No face-saving option remains for Putin to turn back; to be clear, this isn’t to say we should be appeasing Putin, but merely to observe that a cornered autocrat with nukes is a very dangerous situation for the world. We’re either on the brink of WWIII or we’re already in it. And like so many people, I seem to have the mistaken belief that if I just check the news often enough, I will somehow be able to control the outcome. But alas, that is not how reality works, which is especially hard for those of us who struggle with uncertainty, and for those of us who do not cope well with the unexpected and unpredictable.

Stimpy in the sun.
Stimpy in the sun

On top of this, last week, our governor announced that she was removing indoor mask requirements, and in particularly surprising news, that schools were not exempt from this. Within minutes of her announcement, we got an email from our school district announcing that they’d be going mask-optional starting on Wednesday, March 2nd. This announcement came just as the public was learning that vaccine efficacy in the 5-11 age group was not as great as expected, probably because of how low the dose was. I say “the public” here, because it turns out that both the CDC and my state’s health department was aware of those findings before making the decision to move away from requiring indoor masking, even in schools, and astonishingly, even in school BUSSES (not exactly paragons of good ventilation! Or frankly, ANY ventilation). And they did this anyway. How will we ever recover from the distrust in government that this is creating? Now even the people (like me) who were at least somewhat more inclined to trust government institutions are becoming cynical and jaded. And you can say that’s where we all should be, and I’m not going to argue that you’re wrong about how misguided trust in the government can be, but I will just gently point out that a world in which everyone is cynical and no one can trust anyone or any institution is precisely the world Putin would create, and I think it will be very hard to resist and work towards a better world if we celebrate cynicism and mock sincerity and trust. On that note, I’ve always liked Maria Popova’s point: “Critical thinking without hope is cynicism. Hope without critical thinking is naïveté.” (But where is hope to be found so that I do not slip further into cynicism?)

My daughter’s district strings concert, her first actual orchestra concert (since she missed what would’ve been her first concert, back in the fall, due to being in quarantine) was yesterday, one day after the mask mandate was lifted. And despite having been planned as an event under the assumption of universal masking (which was the only way, prior to Wednesday, that a large event was allowed to take place at all), the event went on without required masks, though my daughter and I both wore ours. I was so, so uncomfortable being in such close quarters with so many unmasked parents (if I had to guess, it was probably around 65% masked, 35% unmasked?). It might well have been the riskiest thing I’ve done since the pandemic started. But I was very proud of my kid, who played so well, so focused, such crisp bows!

Stimpy in the sun.
Such a handsome orange kitty!

Unfortunately, it was hard to enjoy the concert, because shortly beforehand (at precisely 4:02pm) my university announced that they, too, were going mask-optional, starting the very next day. There aren’t really adequate words for how deeply enraging it is to given less than 24 hours notice for an enormous change like this, but it’s part of a larger pattern of communication and decision-making at my institution that has been a cause of distress for faculty and students alike all throughout this pandemic. Thankfully, because I’m doing 1×1 meetings today instead of the usual morning class, I’ve been able to work completely online today and haven’t had to deal with the immediate aftermath. What’s especially nonsensical about the timing is that starting tomorrow, we’re on Spring Break; students will be returning to the classroom on Monday, March 14th after having traveled all over, without being required to mask. One of my classrooms in particular is comically small (there’s literally no place for me to put my laptop other than to balance it on a trashcan in the corner; students can’t actually move once they’ve taken a seat because they’re packed in so tightly). The thought of entering that room on Monday with no idea how many students will be masked, nor how many potential breakthrough infections they’ll have brought back from break with them – it’s a lot to process. And what upsets me so much is that I do understand the need for “off-ramps”; we are not in the same place right now as we were a year ago, and we need to be thinking about what “normal” should look like now. But the thing about ramps is that, literally by definition, they’re not abrupt; otherwise, they’d just be a cliff. And that’s what my employer did to us late yesterday: threw us off a cliff with no warning whatsoever.

I am someone who still needs to be careful; I am more likely to experience a bad breakthrough infection than most. So I will keep wearing my KF94 masks, and hoping like hell that I’m getting enough protection via one-way masking. (Given some of the stats in the linked article, and the length of my classes, I’m not confident that I am.) Plenty of other faculty (and students) are in the same position as me, or have people in that position in their care, or are parents of children still too young to be vaccinated, but no thought has been given to us. Instead, what I hear in so many places is that people are just “tired” of masks, and that they’ve “done everything that was asked of them and they’re tired of holding the umbrella up for the world” and things like that, and when I hear that, what I hear is first a framing that says that those of us who have conditions that make us more vulnerable are an imposition, a burden on the rest of the community (which we’re not really viewed as fully part of). And then I feel a mix of sympathy and rage. As someone who’s dealt with limitations of various kinds my entire adult life due to chronic health issues, yes, it IS hard and tiring to live that way. But to hear people who can simply choose to stop living that way complain about how hard it is without any acknowledgement that they’re aware of the impact of their choices on those of us who can’t…that makes me feel rage. The celebratory language I hear feels like a slap in the face. We speak of wanting to get “back to normal”, but for me, the protection provided by universal masking is what made something like normal actually possible, and now it just feels like my world is collapsing inward again.

Stimpy in the sun.
He wants to hold your hand.

And of course, along with all of this, there’s the attacks on gender-affirming care for transgender children in Texas, and all of the efforts to ban books that tell an honest story about America’s past, and the new report that says we’re nearing a point of no return on climate change…it’s just so much. And in the midst of all of this, I need to be preparing for a conference: I’ll be presenting on Wednesday as part of workshop at CCCC 2022, which is online again, and because I’m part of the leadership for two different standing groups, I’ve had a lot of logistical stuff to be dealing with the past few days. Oh, and I almost forgot about yet another thing that’s been hard to process: my first article as a writing studies person finally came out in a special issue on linguistically-informed approaches to writing pedagogy that was put together in honor of William Vande Kopple, a scholar whose work I’ve drawn from ever since starting as a writing instructor. Except last week, when my author copy arrived in the mail, I opened it to find that while my article was mentioned in the preface written by the guest editors, and described as “the second article”, it was not actually printed in the journal. So the one thing I had been sure I could look forward to didn’t end up actually happening. It’s too expensive for the journal to reprint, so they’re going to add my article to the digital version of the special issue and then print it in the next issue. That seems like the best possible outcome of this, but I’m still utterly heartbroken that no one will ever have a print copy of this special issue that has my contribution to it inside.

And now, the last thing that’s weighing heavily on me, which is that all three of our cats are old now (Ren and Stimpy are nearly 17, and Nina is…we don’t actually know, but probably 14), and all are dealing with medical issues that make it clear that we might not have a lot longer with them. Nina’s diabetic, Stimpy’s losing a ton of weight and we don’t know why, Ren is terribly arthritic. And of course I’m going to love them as much as I can while they’re still with us, and maybe they’ll surprise us. But caring for sickly cats is hard (I shouldn’t complain; my spouse takes on pretty much the entire load here) and it’s hard not to feel like it’s all downhill from here. And that’s a grim thought.

Stimpy in the sun.
He’s had such a derpy face ever since he lost a tooth!

Well, that was sure a lot of words. And not very many of them were about knitting. Stay well, everyone, and take good care of yourselves and the people (and creatures) you love.

3 thoughts on “right now.”

  1. I will never understand why seemingly all the school districts in North America decided to drop masks right before March/Spring Break. The logic there is just…

    I get that people are sick of them (Sort of. I hate wearing shoes and often find them uncomfortable, but I still do when I’m out.), but for all the whining, it is just *not* that much of a hardship. I’ve worn them singing, I’ve worn them during high-intensity cardio, and I haven’t died once. For general going about life and not even doing anything especially strenuous? Please.

    I hope you’ve figured out something for at least that tiny room, but I wonder if you could let the students know that you (or “someone” in the room if for whatever reason you don’t want to disclose your own situation) is at higher risk, and you would therefore *really* appreciate it if they wore masks in that room, given the size of it? Even if you can’t make it mandatory, sometimes a personal appeal can help get most people on board, and if you get enough of them, peer pressure can often get the rest.

    In any case, good luck, and I hope you stay healthy.

    1. Alas, I tried that approach (which was what the university recommended to me as a “solution” given that they were absolutely forbidding me to suggest that masks were required in my room): I let my students know I’m higher risk, and would really appreciate if they wore masks, and would even bring some extra masks (on my own dime) for anyone who needed them. Exactly zero of my unmasked students took me up on grabbing a mask. When I let the liaison I’d been talking to at the university know that, they were shocked, but I’ve heard similar reports from several other faculty. It’s so hard not to take that really personally, even though I have good rapport with the students…like, I just cannot fathom knowing that someone in the same space as me would prefer to have everyone masked, and is even providing masks, and just…keeping right on not wearing a mask.

      1. Ugh. I’m sorry to hear that. I also find that mentality unfathomable. Sending you immune-boosty vibes (because that will totally help :/ ).

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