Just popping in with a quick note…

This week, I was sent a video to watch for work. I was extremely busy, as I have been for weeks now. I clicked the link, a task in a long list I had in front of me for the day, not knowing what it was going to be about.

Halfway through the opening montage of images–visual clips that triggered memories of all we’ve lived through in the last year (schools closing, hospitals overrun, masks, protests over masks and police violence, wildfires, the election, the insurrections of January 6, the ice storm)–I started shaking. Then I started crying. I cried through the whole video. I cried after the video stopped. I rewatched it just now to see if it would have the same impact, and I’m typing these words with tears running down my face.

I was astonished by my reaction. If you had asked me, in the last few weeks, how I am doing, I would have told you that I am fine. Just fine. Busy, but with lots of good things. I might have told you that the pandemic was feeling strangely like something in the past, even as I know it’s still happening. Sure, I’m still wearing masks when I venture out, but I’m venturing out more and more. I’ve been vaccinated. I’ve been back in school buildings. Next week, I have to get up and get dressed and be at work by a specific time because students will be returning to physical school. The events of the past year have been taking on a dream-like quality. Everything is starting to feel and look “normal” again, and the reality of a year ago, or even four months ago, feels unreal. Was it really that bad? I’ve thought.

Once I calmed down, I did a little Googling about responses to trauma, which got me thinking about numbness and my emotional state the past few weeks. When our governor announced, on the heels of the ice storm that had closed schools again, that all schools in our state would be required to re-open on the governor’s schedule, despite any plans we might have been making/implementing, I first felt overwhelmed with anger and anxiety–my typical responses to loss of control–but that quickly changed to what felt like calm. “It is what it is,” I said, and turned myself to tasks at hand, determined to think only about those things over which I do have control.

I also stopped writing here, which felt like relief. It was relief. I did not think it had anything to do with that last blow following on the heels of a torrent of them in February. I thought it was just about wanting to focus on different things for awhile. I’ve been spending my weekend mornings in practical, necessary tasks. And if not necessary, enjoyable–taking walks, puttering in the yard, planning upcoming happy events. I haven’t missed writing at all. I also stopped most interactions on social media, which I haven’t missed at all, either. I enjoy a quick scroll through Instagram (which I’ve curated to be a happy place), but when I’ve gone on Facebook I’ve felt none of the old pull. I remember a time when I wanted to be there, but lately that’s felt unreal in the way the early days of the pandemic have been feeling unreal: I know I had the feelings I had at one point, but I have none of them now, and it’s hard to understand in any sense but an intellectual one why I ever had them. I took it off my phone and feel no desire to put it back.

It had never occurred to me, until I watched the video and reflected upon its impact, that what I’ve been (not) feeling is another variation on impacts of the past year’s events. I thought I was moving on. Instead, I was just getting through.

What I know of grieving is that we have to feel all the feelings to move through it to some better place. Not back to the old place, but a better place than the one our losses have us currently in. I hated how I felt watching that video. I don’t have the capacity, right now, to feel those feelings. I have a lot of things to get through in the next 7 weeks. The morning I watched the video the first time, I didn’t get as much done as I would have if I hadn’t.

Still, there is this: This morning, for the first time since I wrote my last post, I felt like writing. Not this post; I worked on an essay I abandoned more than a year ago. And it felt good, which made me want to write to you, here.

I might have to think more deeply about what really needs getting done by June. In the meantime, what I want to say today is, I hope you’re all doing OK. It helped me to realize that I haven’t been as OK as I thought, and I wondered if sharing my experience might be helpful to you in some way. I’m understanding in a new way that coming out of this pandemic is going to be a process, and likely a long one. At least for some of us.

Two springs ago I planted a vine in my backyard. Last spring, in the early weeks of the shutdown, I was afraid it hadn’t survived the winter. Weeks after everything else had shown signs of coming back to life, the vine was still a network of bare branches clinging to the fence that supports it. I’ve had the same wonderings this spring. As my willow burst into pink buds and my blousy tulips opened wide, the vine showed not even the signs of buds, and I worried a bit. I reminded myself of what I know to be true: It did this last year, and it was alive, even though it didn’t seem to be. But this week, it gave me this:

That’s enough to go on, for now.

I’m still on haitus (or going back on it), but you can think of me as being like the vine, getting ready to bloom again when I’m good and ready. We’re all on our own timelines, and that’s OK.

13 thoughts on “Just popping in with a quick note…

  1. Ally Bean says:

    I’m finding my moods going up and down lately. I get what you’re saying about the effort it takes to process all that’s happened in this country this last weird year. And I don’t quite know how to write about it in my blog, so I don’t. I use Instagram as my happy place, too. I want to be able to just *be* online sometimes and IG is just the place.

    • Rita says:

      Yes, I think I’ve been in “just be” mode a lot the past little bit. I know the processing will need to happen (and will, one way or another, because I don’t think we get much choice in the matter) and we’ll all be better for it in the long run, but right now I just can’t a whole lot.

  2. Kari Wagner Hoban says:

    Oh, friend, I get it. I am not ready to be “out in it” whatever the hell that means.

    I got my second shot on Thursday, and I thought I would feel relief or happiness or something. Instead, I spent Friday night crying. I am not happy about going forward. I don’t want to get back to normal. I feel alone in feeling these things because everyone seems happy about it.
    This time last year, they locked us up.
    Now, I envy this time last year me.
    It turns out; I like boundaries. I need them. Maybe we all do. But this post resonated with me today. I’ve missed your writing, but I understand if you aren’t able to.
    I’m also sorry that I just vomited my feelings in your comment section.
    Kari Wagner Hoban recently posted…My New Green CartMy Profile

    • Rita says:

      Aw, Kari. No apologies necessary. This is a good place to vomit feelings.

      I completely understand yours, as I share them. When I got vaccinated, I was surprised at how I felt. I remember standing in a long line, in our convention center, and it was such a machine, and the enormity of it all–the change in government that may likely have made it possible, the need for it, the feeling of being a cog in a giant machine, my gratitude, my guilt (for getting it ahead of others)–it all rolled into a big ball of overwhelm. On the inside, anyway. I remember going home and taking a long nap. I felt exhausted.

      I don’t really feel able to return to what was my normal. Well, I won’t be. I have some changes in the works, but nothing I want to write about yet. Still, I know that in some ways I will. I feel it creeping back in. (I’ve been wearing bras more, even though I vowed not to. Kinda regretting getting rid of some of them.) Still, I think we get to make choices. Some things we can’t choose. (I’ll be working on site, like it or not.) But some we can. We can choose to live smaller. We can make our own boundaries. In the midst of so much that’s been terrible, I see one, great gift of this time: We got to see how much of our lives is a construct. We don’t have to accept all of it. Figuring out what to do with that knowledge is going to take me a while, but I’m happy to know it.

      Take care. I know you’re on a path, and you’re going to get to a better place.

      • TD says:

        What does the meaning of “living smaller” is? You have used this phrase before and I’m not savvy enough to comprehend the phrase. I’m sure the phrase isn’t what I think it is. I wish to get better clarity because I appreciate your writing. You enrich my being in my simplicity.

        I agree with both you and Kari. I has my second vaccination last week. Side effects were different the second shot. I’m still not wanting anyone inside my home unless emergency only. I still keep safe distance from neighbors, people while wearing face coverings. I stay home (even though I feel extremely isolated). It’s not a possible to go backwards for me as I has been on a transition for over a year arriving at a completely new location so different than that I transferred from. I’m focusing on where I landed as a result of the aging of life and the pandemic. It’s not adjusting, it’s not accepting, it is creating (is that construct?) my existence with as much simplicity, with fewer belongings, with less maintenance, with less responsibility that is practical to survive. Will what I’m currently creating blossom happiness? I doubt it! What I wish for with whatever time I have left on this place that we call Earth is to spend most of it “just being where I am and who I am observing what is around me, minimizing the pain.

        • Rita says:

          TD, I think what you are doing is what I mean by living smaller. For me, it means fewer activities, fewer things, fewer resources used. More time at home. A smaller circle. Many of the things the pandemic forced on me/mine, but that I want to keep from choice. Some of that is because it is what I’d like now, but some of that is about preparing for the future. I think one thing the pandemic (and all the events of the past few years) has shown me is that things can fall apart, and suddenly. I lived most of my life under the illusion that such things couldn’t happen here, or to me. I know I’m more protected from societal catastrophe than many, but I’m not immune. None of us are. I thought the kinds of things I’d seen in other parts of the world couldn’t happen in the US; I should’ve woken up sooner to what our reality is. The aftermath of Hurricane Katrina should have been my wakeup call, but it was a nice dream I was having. I hit the snooze button on that first alarm. I hope that catastrophe (societal and personal) doesn’t happen, but I think the lighter we can be the easier it can be to pivot.

          I hope that the changes you are making do eventually lead to happiness. I started on this journey three years ago, when I left the big house I had for the little one I’m in now. That move was definitely about minimizing pain. It’s been a process, but I’m in a better place now. Happiness is frequent–more than I once thought possible. I like what you say about creating vs. adjusting and accepting. That feels like such a better place to be. One that’s full of possibility.

          • TD says:

            Yes, I see now with your explanation and that is what I too am doing. Although my foot steps have been a bit different than yours.

            Thank you so much for taking the time/energy to reply with this. I like the word “lighter” more than “smaller”. I do feel moments of happy.

            Yes, I do remember reading your blog journal of the transition three years ago. So glad to know that you are in a better place now. Wishing you a wellness week back on the school grounds.

  3. Kate says:

    Hi Rita. I’m a couple week or so late to the post because April has been the hardest month of this whole thing so far. And also wonderful. But I’ve been neck deep in it and tonight when I sat down and opened up your site and saw this, I realized the universe was saving it for when I could enjoy it.

    I appreciate your words here, Rita. I appreciate that you took the time from your break to share them, to give us an update on you, and to share the all of it with us. I hope this continues to find you doing the things you need or want to do. I’m probably going to skip the video. It’s been a lot. Too much. I don’t think I’m ready to look back it all.

    • Kate says:

      I watched the video and it made me cry too. Maybe because I’ve felt like that every time someone tells me “kids are falling behind”. I realize that schools provide a very important social service safety net (food, child care, etc.) and not just traditional book learning and reopening them is valuable, but as V and A were getting emails about preparing for the important standardized testing this spring, I just felt so frustrated. They felt so anxious because the schools are being graded and so the teachers are pushing (because the district is pushing, because the state is pushing) and it means so much but also so little in terms of what it’s actually measuring. Preaching to the choir, I assume. On a less serious note – I like the “True North” branding? of the school district. A lot.

      • Rita says:

        Hi Kate,
        I’m sorry April roughed you up. T. S. Eliot did say it is the cruelest month. And I’m glad there was some comfort in this post.

        My district (and many of those around us) are not doing the standardized testing this year. As that video said, the tests just aren’t valid this year. There is no way such tests can measure what our students have learned. If this year has shown me nothing else, it is how much that we accept as inevitable is something we’ve constructed. Kids are falling behind some some goal we’ve built and placed. We can build and place different ones. We should, because a lot of the current ones are about things that don’t really serve them (or our larger society) very well. I’m having such a hard time believing in all of it the way I once did. At the same time, I believe in our kids and their need to have experiences that help them grow and learn. It’s discouraging, to say the least. Of course, all of this for me is colored by the cyber attack my district has been dealing with since last Monday. We have NO tech right now, so we are back to packets for our kids who remain in distance learning (which is the majority). We are on some new iteration of “normal,” again, before we’d even gotten solidly into the last one. We don’t even have email, so we’ve been thrown back into very old-school ways of doing everything. Except, without the tools we used to have in the old days. It’s really something. We had no school at all last week, but today students were back. As I watch them get off the bus (I have morning bus duty), they all look either exhausted or dazed or a little confused.

        Just trying to get through this year being as gentle with everyone (myself included) as I can.

        • Kate says:

          It sounds like it’s really something. And I agree with you. I recently read an article in the NYT that humans have a really hard time subtracting when finding solutions to problems – that instead we are more likely to add to existing structures, even when subtracting works as well as better because our brain just doesn’t consider subtraction as quickly. I think about all the things that we could have done this year if we would have considered subtraction to our systems.

          I don’t know that I’d take it as far as subtracting tech. I think that would have to be overwhelming in the least – especially as a lot of the technology that made education function when you and I grew up is no longer in service! Sending resilience and peace vibes your way.

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