Big Yellow Taxi

“Don’t it always seem to go
That you don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone?”

— Joni Mitchell

Late last winter, I came down with a nasty cold that wrecked my vocal cords for months, and I learned not to take my pipes for granted.

A week later, our campus closed because of the coronavirus pandemic, and I learned not to take in-person teaching for granted.

Campus reopened briefly in October, but the state ordered my boss to take all the flexible seating out of my classroom and replace it with traditional desks, and I learned not to take my professional autonomy for granted.

I came down with the coronavirus in November, complete with several weeks of brain fog that screwed up my ability to get words out of my brain and onto the page accurately, and I learned not to take my intellect for granted.

The virus also forced me to quarantine, and I learned not to take my pantry and freezer for granted.

In the middle of all that, one of my oldest and dearest friends died, and I learned not to take people I love for granted.

Last night, a colleague and I realized that our usual regional inservice day — which everybody generally hates — will happen online this year, in a scaled-down form, and I learned not to take free doughnuts and coffee and a day of bitching about consultants behind their backs for granted.

For the past few weeks, I’ve been on doctor’s orders not to run again until I can walk three miles without feeling winded. Ramona the Pest and I walked 3.8 miles today, and I feel better than I have at any point since last spring. I did not take that for granted, and I am looking forward to a gentle run later this week.

After a year of loss, I think a good workout is going to feel a lot like slashing the tires on a big yellow taxi.

Emily

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Looking ahead

I’m tired, but I think I’m finally ready for the new semester.

Last fall was rough. Rather than go into all the details, I’ll sum up the low points:

  1. Thanks to ineptitude on the part of some folks in Santa Fe, I didn’t find out what classes I would be teaching until a week before school started — whereupon I learned I would have seven preps, including two I’d never taught before.
  2. Remote learning was a virtual hellscape of buggy software, lost passwords, and tech access issues that persisted much farther into the semester than they should have.
  3. We returned to in-person learning for about a month, from early October to early November, before somebody in our building caught COVID-19 and managed to share it with me. I realize how fortunate I was to have only a “mild” case, but it was still unpleasant, and the brain fog and fatigue lingered long enough to make the last month of my first semester of grad school unnecessarily difficult. I still managed to pull out a 4.0 GPA, but it was a near thing, and it wouldn’t have been if I’d been healthy.
  4. Being sick and exhausted and busy with grad school meant I didn’t keep up with housework the way I normally would.

By the time I got to the end of the semester, I was exhausted and frustrated and overwhelmed. Last week, I took the bull by the horns and did myself three favors: I cleaned, decluttered, and reorganized my kitchen and office during a three-day period beginning Christmas Eve; I got on the FlyLady website and started re-establishing the habits that I’d learned there 20 years ago and hadn’t needed in several years; and I started a new bullet journal using a cheap dot-grid journal I found at the dollar store last fall but hadn’t had time to set up.

Tonight, I have a shiny sink, a set of lesson plans (and most of the ancillary materials) ready to go in Google Classroom — which I spent several hours taking self-paced classes to learn over break — and a glass of sangria in hand. This is the calm before the storm of another semester, but the point here is that it’s calm, if only for a few more hours. That’s something I haven’t experienced in a while, and I’ll savor it while I can.

Emily

Tears of joy

I watched the Biden-Harris acceptance speeches.

  1. Kamala’s pantsuit made me ugly-cry. Like, I started sniffling the minute I saw it and just got progressively more verklempt as the evening progressed. That was the vice president-elect sending Hillary Rodham Clinton a long-distance hug, and don’t think for a minute that it wasn’t intentional. I don’t even pay attention to fashion like that, but … *Cries in feminist*
  2. Uncle Joe quoted the Pete Seeger passage from Ecclesiastes. Y’all, I sang “Turn, Turn, Turn” for church back in the summer, right after the COVID-19 restrictions relaxed enough for us to have in-person services again. At the time, “A time to embrace; a time to refrain from embracing” felt important. Now, it’s a time to heal. *Cries in folkie*
  3. Uncle Joe quoted THE DISTANCE RUNNER’S VERSE FROM ISAIAH. Granted, he left out the “run and not be weary” bit, but still. That verse got me through two marathons. BRB; gotta go run 26.2 miles again. *Cries in marathoner*
  4. Uncle Joe quoted ROSIE THE RIVETER. At which point I texted a friend who happened to show up to last year’s Fall Festival at school wearing the same costume as yours truly. You already know what we wore. *Cries in feminist again*

But really: KAMALA’S PANTSUIT.

Which resonated even more when I remembered that the ONLY reason I wasn’t among the thousands of women wearing white pantsuits in protest in 2017 was because I had endometriosis, and women with endometriosis don’t have the luxury of wearing white.

I had a hysterectomy a year and a half ago.

Y’all better trust and BELIEVE that as soon as this pandemic is over and getting measured for a nice tailored suit is safe again, yours truly will be buying a white pantsuit to wear on those days when she needs to stare somebody down. They don’t happen often, but when they do? Feminism has a new uniform, and my postmenospausal arse is HERE FOR IT. *Cries in Cailleach*

Highlight of the day: Text from a little girl I know who wanted to make sure I knew Joe and Kamala had won. I texted her this evening after the speech to offer my services as speechwriter when she runs for president in 2044. *Cries in teacher*

I haven’t had a day like this in four years. I had no idea how much I needed it until it happened.

It won’t last, but for one shining, golden moment, my faith in humanity has been restored. Ish.

Emily

P.S.: I moderate comments, so if you’re planning on trolling, save yourself the hassle, because you can’t drag me down tonight, and I will smile and whistle Helen Reddy’s “I Am Woman” while I toss your sorry arse in the spam folder. Have a nice evening.

I’m tired.

I have now made it through my first week of grad school.

Two of my classes met this week; the third will start Monday night. I loathe the textbook for my research-methods class, but I like the professor, who has been very sweet and patient as I ease back into academia after a 23-year hiatus, so there’s that. Sadly, the textbook is a compendium of essays by writers who are, to borrow a phrase from my late eighth-grade lit teacher, “inebriated by [their] own verbosity.”

I’m fluent in several dialects of bullshit, including Late-20th-Century Professoric, High Mansplainish, and Old and Middle Educatorese, but this is the first time I’ve encountered Linguistics Philosopherian, which is basically self-important word salad. I finally figured out that the trick was to take notes on the essays first, then go back through my notebook and take notes on my notes. That second layer of note-taking yielded enough comprehensible material to use as the basis for my reading-response assignment; from there, I just had to translate the notes into Modern Professoric to crank out a decent paper. It’s only worth 20 points, and I managed to work in references to Keith Richards and the Infinite Monkey Theorem, so it’s fine, probably.

Thus far, I’m enjoying my Brit-lit class. The professor’s teaching style reminds me of my own, and the class is a mix of grad students and undergrads, so I basically sat around shooting the bull about King Arthur with a bunch of bright kids. The writing assignment for this week just involved reading something and then getting on the class discussion board and posting a 250-word response to the professor’s question. I was the first one to respond, so I’m not sure whether I hit the tone he was looking for, but hopefully he’ll let me know if I screwed it up so I can try again before Wednesday.

I have a couple of short stories to read before my fiction-writing class meets Monday, but I am otherwise finished with my homework, which is good, because I need to do some serious lesson planning this weekend, and Ramona could use a long walk and a romp around the park.

Emily

Remote nonsense

Can we just talk for a moment about the absolute ridiculousness of online education?

Everything sucks about the software I am required to use to teach my core classes, but I have to use it because we are standardizing everything to make it easier to switch back and forth in case we go back to school and then get sent home again a week later. I am not pleased, but I am less worried about this than my colleagues, because I have already accepted as given that A.) my kids are going to be about a year behind by the time we get back to normal, and B.) it doesn’t matter, because I routinely close much bigger gaps than that. (That’s not bragging; it’s just a function of spending part of the No Child Left Behind era teaching in an overcrowded Title I school in Oklahoma, where teachers were the wingnut politicians’ favorite scapegoats.)

Our mandatory software does not have any automated journalism classes, and my district is all excited about Google Classroom, so I had to set up a new Google account and log into Chrome with it to set up a virtual newsroom. Teachers do not have school-issued laptops, which means I have to do this on my own computer. The problem, of course, is that Chrome is my primary browser, and I use it to research and write my novel. When I am logged into my school Google account, somebody at the regional ed office in Portales can monitor everything I do. On my own computer. At home. Outside of school hours.

I will NOT be offended if somebody starts a betting pool on how long it takes before I am called into the superintendent’s office to be interrogated about my interest in obscene 12th-century grotesques because I forgot to switch accounts before typing “sheela-na-gig” into my search bar. Anybody who thinks it will take more than a week is probably an incurable optimist.

Meanwhile, ENMU has standardized exactly nothing, so two professors are Zooming their classes, while a third is using Microsoft Teams, and while two of them seem content to email information to students, another is communicating almost exclusively through Blackboard.

And people wonder why my retirement plan is to go off the grid and stay there. Yeesh.

Emily

Things I’m Doing

Here are things I am doing at the moment:

1. Getting ready for the first day of school. The jury is still out on whether this will happen from my office or from my classroom, but either way, I have to learn Google Classroom and digitize (read: rebuild from scratch, using the mandatory prefabbed software) my entire curriculum as soon as I find out what I’m teaching. Which I still don’t know, because my boss asked NMPED a question May 20 and didn’t get an answer until Tuesday night, after calling umpteen people and bugging hell out of them until they deigned to respond. I am not surprised; I’ve dealt with our state bureaucracy before. I realize the pandemic creates uncertainty, but our question was unrelated to that, and if they didn’t know the answer and didn’t have time to research it, they should have just said, “We’re not sure; hold off this year, and we’ll send this up the food chain and get you an answer next spring” instead of keeping us in limbo all summer. I really needed enough lead time to do some advance planning this year, because I am also …

2. Taking three grad-level classes. In a moment of weakness last summer, I let my boss talk me into enrolling in grad school. We’ll see how well I can juggle a full-time master’s program and a full-time teaching gig, all while …

3. Fostering a four-legged abuse victim. Shelters aren’t great places to work through PTSD, so Fionn the Chiweenie is now curled up under my desk, giving my feet a wary look. We’re pretty sure somebody kicked him hard enough to break a couple of ribs.* Riggy and Walter politely welcomed him to the pack, Tootsie is ignoring him, and Ramona reallyreallyreallyreallyREALLY wants to make friends and can’t figure out why he keeps snapping at her. (She will win him over. She wins everybody over. She is the consummate Hufflepuff.)

Emily

* Dog abuser, if you’re reading this, please understand that “Fought a descendant of Boudicca” sounds much more impressive than “Kicked a 15-lb. Chiweenie,” and I would be DELIGHTED to help you upgrade that line on your resume. You’re welcome. Happy to help.

I hope to God it’s good.

“Finished this day — and I hope to God it’s good.”
— John Steinbeck, upon completing The Grapes of Wrath

It’s not likely to be as good as Steinbeck, but I have just finished the second draft of my sequel to Greetings from Coldwater. Surprisingly, it bears a closer resemblance to the draft I posted here this spring than Greetings from Coldwater’s second draft bore to its first. This probably has something to do with the fact that I was working from an outline and actually had an idea of where I was going this time.

I’m still not completely happy with the last chapter, but the rest of it feels solid, and a friend from church who very much enjoyed Greetings and the first draft of this still-untitled prequel/sequel has agreed to give it an edit. I’m looking forward to his feedback.

It’s been a ride. I know more about Celtic mythology now than I ever imagined I’d need or want to know four years ago, when Miss Shirley began bugging me in earnest for a prequel, or even seven months ago, when I sat down with a stack of real books and a Kindle full of ebooks and began taking notes. If my interior monologue is worth a damn, I owe Beverly Cleary a beer. If my fantasy elements are worth a damn, I owe J.K. Rowling and the late Rudolfo Anaya a beer. If the dialogue is worth a damn, I owe Quentin Tarantino a beer. And if the book reaches its final form before Oxford University’s COVID-19 vaccine goes into mass production, I probably owe the notorious M.L.G. (New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham) a beer. That shelter-in-place order lit a fire under me and gave me a nice block of time without a lot of distractions to get this project to this point much faster than I would have otherwise.

As the Dead once said: “What a long, strange trip it’s been.”

Emily

Annoyances and updates

Once again, I find myself apologizing for neglecting my blog. This summer has been … a lot. I’ve been working a few mornings a week at the Roadrunner Lodge, adding to my office mural (still not done; I’ll try to post an update soon), making gifts for my free boutique project (46 items so far, not counting stuff I tried that didn’t work), gardening indoors and out, making faux-barkcloth curtains for my kitchen, and working on the second draft of my new novel, which still doesn’t have a title.

Meanwhile, somebody stole my credit-card number in early May and spent three days using it to buy a bunch of stupid crap, including a subscription to some weight-loss scam out of Lithuania. Commerce Bank responded instantly when I called, which is good, but they took four days to get around to dropping my replacement card in the mail, along with a form I was supposed to fill out and return to them to help their investigators. They mailed the card and form June 23. The deadline to return the completed form to them was June 30. Both items arrived in my mailbox July 3.

Ain’t nobody got time for that, so I transferred all my recurring charges over to Ron’s Discover account.

If anybody but AT&T provided reliable service from here to House, I’d switch cellphone providers, too, because I could devote an entire blog post to the runaround AT&T gave me when I tried to update my credit-card information. I finally got that sorted out this afternoon, but if they provoke me again, I’ll cancel my account and not look back. I don’t have to pay for service to be able to call 911 in an emergency. I already downgraded to a ’90s-style Nokia last week after my poor old iPhone’s screen cracked (again), so at this point, I am basically paying $30 a month to accommodate people who can’t be arsed to email me.

Annoy me again, AT&T. I DARE YOU.

Despite those hassles, it has been a productive summer thus far. I’ll try to update here as time allows. With the iPhone out of commission, I’m not on Instagram, and that’s about the only social media I’ve used for the past year, so maybe I’ll have time to blog once in a while.

Emily

Work in Progress

Amid all my other projects, I decided to create a houseplant-themed mural in my office to use up some leftover paint. I’ve been working on it, a few minutes here and an hour there, for about a week and a half. Here’s how it’s been going so far:

The big challenge of painting in the desert is that acrylic dries almost instantly, so you have to work really fast and do really small sections at a time to keep it from drying before you finish blending it. It doesn’t help that my office is hot in the afternoons, and most of the paint is several years old. The latex tends to get thick as it ages, which makes it dry out even faster. Still, it’s been a while since I painted a mural solely for my own enjoyment, and this is a pleasant way to use up some leftover paint I’ve had on hand for upwards of 10 years.

Emily

Sustainability on a shoestring