Dear Diary: March 19, 2020. It has been just over 24-hours since the state of Nevada became majority quarantined. We crave pizza, but carryout is an abomination. Also, the internet, which keeps me employed and entertained, has failed. I can live without grading papers, but without my Bon Appetit cooking shows? Six rolls of toilet paper remain. We welcome the giant asteroid prophesied for April.
Okay, maybe that’s a little dramatic. It is eerie seeing Las Vegas so significantly shutdown, though. Some people are taking it seriously and some are still refusing to do so; I wish they would grow up. It’s mostly that American anti-authority “cowboy” mentality that drives these people, and I can’t help but find it tragically juvenile. I’ve nothing positive to say about these people who are risking other’s lives and risking a much lengthier pandemic process because of their ego and arrogance, and ignorance. So, I’ll say nothing more about it. Most of the city seems to be in this together, though, as the cover of today’s Las Vegas Weekly suggests. I also drove by a sign outside one of the larger off-strip casinos today that read, “Closed Doors. Open Hearts. Vegas Stronger.” What a beautiful sentiment. It reminds me of the atmosphere this city built following the 1 October tragedy of 2018. I wrote an essay about that event that was published in Brave Voices Magazine. Las Vegas is much more than outsiders realize or give it credit for.
Recently Read: Green Lantern Legacy: A Graphic Novel by Minh Le and Andie Tong. This is such a delightful story, beautifully illustrated. The traditional Green Lantern tale gets a much-needed update. The treatment of this story from an “own voices” writer and artist is particularly appealing. Essentially, young Tai Pham, the son of Vietnam immigrants, inherits the Green Lantern jade ring from his grandmother. As he comes of age and comes of power simultaneously, he must learn what it is to be not just a superhero, but a good person, and he discovers the real dangers and enticements of power. The story is funny and fresh, though it does sometimes resort to traditional superhero origin tropes that have become a bit tired. Overall, though, this was a beautiful, deep, and human story deserved the rich and delicate treatment Le and Tong provided. I’m so glad DC gave them the platform to do this. It’s a graphic novel I’ll definitely keep in my library and return to at some point.
Currently Reading: I’ve found that I’m always in the process of “currently reading” at least three texts simultaneously: fiction, non-fiction, and poetry. This has been my habit since the start of the new year and I’m quite enjoying it. Somehow, the different genres feed different parts of my soul and my intellectual appetite at once, which is helpful particularly in times like this. They can also inform one another in different and surprising ways. Right now, though, I’m actually reading four books at once. For fiction, I’m reading The Princess Bride and In the Time of the Butterflies. These are two novels I’ve assigned in my literature classes, so I’m reading them along with my students right now. For poetry, I’m reading Leonard Cohen’s Book of Longing. It’s definitely not what I expected. He writes an awful lot about sex and women. I picked it up because he’s Leonard Cohen. “Hallelujah.” Right? I also picked it up because the title stood out to me very much in the moment and because Cohen illustrates the collection himself, and I found the drawings endearing. Some of them are poems themselves. For non-fiction, I’m still reading The Age of Atheists. My reading of this one has slowed a bit as the semester has ramped up, but it’s really quite brilliant and I can’t wait to make more headway with it.
Currently Writing: At the moment, I’m mainly working on poetry. I’ve sent a mini-chap collection in to some publishers for consideration and continue to write poems in a similar theme. I’ll actually be submitting a few poems to another publisher in the next week. I’m not working on my YA novel right now because the manuscript currently sits with three beta readers. I await their feedback, after which I plan to dive into revisions and see what’s what. I might dive into memoir again sometime soon, but I’d like to read Alexander Chee’s How to Write an Autobiographical Novel and Phillip Lopate’s The Art of the Personal Essay. That might be wishful thinking right now, though.
Currently Listening To: Nirvana’s Nevermind (1991). “With the lights out, it’s less dangerous / Here we are now, entertain us / I feel stupid and contagious / Here we are now, entertain us.” How appropriate is that right now? I don’t think I could’ve planned it better. In truth, I just listened to “All Apologies,” which makes me think about Cobain’s issues with gender, illustrated most clearly in In Utero (1993), and his groundbreaking vocal support for LGBTQ+ people before it was “cool.” I really wonder what Cobain would have accomplished had he lived, or what he could have been had he lived today. I’m watching people like Harry Styles, who is championing the destruction of gender constructs regularly, and wonder and wonder.
Teaching Updates: This semester was already a strange one for me because all five of my classes were scheduled online. I’ve never had that situation before. On the plus side, it meant my courses were already designed and prepared for this distance delivery. However, I am now locked out of my campus office, where I did most of my work. I also have a number of students, maybe most of them, who are struggling with all sorts of new issues related to the pandemic and this statewide shut down. Some have lost their jobs already; some now have childcare or sibling care to think of. Some did not have a computer at home and were relying on the public or campus library access. It’s been a “let’s roll with this, come what may” kind of semester, and I think it’s going to be that way all term. I’m relaxing on due dates, though not on overall expectations or outcomes. I’m trying to keep my classes, at least, as consistent as possible so that something stays “normal” in their world. This might mean that a lot of them drop because of the workload. But it might also mean a lot of them find a place of stability and structure that could be desperately needed in a very uncertain time. I’ve also been checking in, though, and providing all sorts of “mental health break” activities; these are fun things they can do from home/online that are free, like virtual museum or zoo tours, concerts and Broadway shows that have been placed online, meditation techniques and interesting podcasts, etc. I got the idea from some of the brilliant online teacher groups (like “Pandemic Pedagogy”) that popped up in the last couple of weeks as teachers all across the country have been working to migrate to an online format. Teachers are amazing, really. I wish we had more teachers in government.
Current Status: As of three hours ago (11:00AM on Thursday, March 19th) the Nevada Department of Health reports 95 cases of COVID-19. What does that mean? Well, not much, considering testing remains nearly impossible. I was at the doctor on Friday 3/13 for a chronic cough, which I’ve been dealing with since November 2019. I have other persistent issues, which I believe are allergy related, so I thought I’d get it all checked at once. I suppose a pandemic brings out the paranoid in a person? To be fair to myself, it’s not paranoia. I’ve been sick for a long time, I just don’t know what the problem is. In any case, they ordered a chest X-ray (completed Monday 3/16), blood-work (completed Friday 3/13) and an allergy test, which I declined because it was going to cost $350 after insurance. I’ve gotten no results from the blood test or x-ray, yet, and feel the same. Coughing, sleepy, foggy head. It’s been this way every day for four months, now.
Positive Thoughts: I’ve seen a lot of posts from teachers who are migrating to online instruction, many of them for the first time every. Naturally, these updates are often about “failures” or “bloopers” the teachers have experienced. I’ve heard from friends about the partner who walked in during a live stream, wearing nothing but boxer shorts; I’ve heard from a colleague about how she accidentally burped just seven short minutes into her first recorded lecture; I’ve seen videos of teacher friends whose cats jump up onto their keyboard mid-lecture or whose kids come screaming into the room. I know a lot of these teachers have felt frustrated, anxious, and embarrassed by these unexpected and typically uncontrollable events. But I’ve never felt such joy as when hearing these stories or seeing the results myself. These simple little mistakes aren’t mistakes. They’re insights into our lives. They’re ways we can continue to connect with one another in genuine ways, while necessarily staying apart physically. They show me the very human side of what it means to be alive and surviving and, eventually I believe, thriving in a difficult, ever-changing, anxious state of affairs. Thank you, teacher friends, for doing what you do for your students. For rolling with the punches. For allowing yourselves to be human so that you can continue to give your best to your students. Guess what? Your best is you.