Monday Required Reading

Administrivia. Every time I write critically about the President, a humble blog regular and close friend whose opinion I care about, rips me for spreading “hate” and sowing “division”. Given that predicament, I guess I shouldn’t link to any of the numerous articles about our President’s Saturday phone call to Georgia’s Secretary of State which Carl Bernstein called “way worse than Watergate”.  

1. The Plague Year: The mistakes and the struggles behind America’s coronavirus tragedy. Lawrence Wright’s damning deconstruction of “America’s coronavirus tragedy” details the President’s complicity which my friend might think of as hateful and divisive. Not to worry though, it’s WAY too long for him. Everyone writing books about this simultaneously let out an “Ah shit!” upon finishing Wright’s piece. I could excerpt endlessly from it, but there’s other reading to get to.

2. The challenge of chess – learning how to hold complexity in mind and still make good decisions – is also the challenge of life.

3. Walk, run or wheelbarrow: We moved our bodies forward during the pandemic. Our second born walked 153 miles in December!

“. . . my eldest walks. She carries a backpack loaded with her journal, a beanie, whatever book she’s reading. She dons her mask and canvasses our Atlanta neighborhood at New York speed, striding purposefully as if she has somewhere to be. When the sun starts to set, she sits on a patch of grass or a park bench to catch her breath and stares into the sky, tracking the light until it bleeds into darkness.

She does this every evening because, as she explains, it gives her ‘something to look forward to.’

When she comes home, cheeks flush, hair windswept, my daughter does seem happier, lifted. The simple act of walking underscoring her autonomy, reminding her that she is still a human capable of breathing fresh air, of shuttling from point A to B, that she is still a human at all.”

4. Shearing Sheep, and Hewing to Tradition, on an Island in Maine. Love, love, love the pictures. They have the same effect as an engrossing foreign film, they totally transport me across the country to the island. Long live the Wakemans and their way of life. 

Why Do We Social Media?

One of our next-door neighbors doesn’t talk to the GalPal and me. I understand her not talking to me, but the GalPal, come on, she is as friendly as they come.

The couple who sold to us told us that would be the case, which helps not taking it personally. But man, it’s odd. Especially when Ms. NextDoor posts on-line about ordinary, face-to-face stuff. For example, this weekend she broadcasted to the whole neighborhood, plus surrounding ones I think, that her college aged sons were temporarily moving home, as well as other extended family, so she wanted everyone to know more cars will be coming and going. The kind of thing you’d say when bumping into a neighbor on a walk.

But so far, 4.5 years in, I’ve never seen her take a walk. But what do I know, maybe she has a treadmill in her crib and is running 10 miles a day. But I digress.

Alas, I prob have a log in my own eye. I just left a comment on a Facebook Group page called “Saving Guilford College”, the small Quaker liberal arts college in Greensboro, NC where I taught previously. I wrote the following in response to a post from a woman about her deceased husband, my former colleague. She wrote that when he was near death in the hospital he said, “Guilford College killed me.” That got my hackles up. So obviously a delicate sitch. You can decide for yourself how well I balanced respect for her and her family with my frustration at his lack of personal responsibility.

“I was a down-the-hall colleague of Bill’s from 93-98 (Education Studies). He was always super nice and clearly good at what he did. I’m very sorry he didn’t get to enjoy a post-work life with you and the rest of your family. However, respectfully, I don’t understand his contention that Guilford killed him. College professors have lots of autonomy over exactly how hard they work and for how long.”

Was that a wise investment of time? Did I make the world a better place by getting that off my chest? No and no, and yet, I couldn’t help myself. My excuse is I’m supposed to be reading students’ papers today which always gives rise to world class procrastinating. And yes, I’ve already vacuumed. 

Now I’m afraid to open FaceBook to see the probable backlash. What’s keeping me from quitting Facebook? 

How Long Will We Slight The Social-Emotional Costs Of On-Line Learning?

Thursday, First Year Writing, The Morken Building 131, the first in-person class of the academic year. Students take turns summarizing their first papers about whether one needs, as a Stoic philosopher we read argues, a coherent philosophy of life and a “grand goal of living” to avoid squandering one’s life. They’re smart, so they push back at the suggestion one can neatly plan their life. They talk about some things being outside of our control, like viruses.

If not a coherent philosophy of life, what about guiding principles I wonder. And if so, which ones? They’re not quite ready for subtly, nuance, ambiguity, complexity. That’s why college is four years long. For now at least, I keep those thoughts to myself and just listen.

One student says her mother died in February. Not expecting that, I loose track of what follows, wondering how she died and what would it be like to lose your mom at 17 or 18. She says doing well in school doesn’t matter as much as it did previously.

The students, many who say they struggle with anxiety, have never enjoyed going to class more. Not because of the doofus facilitating things, because they’re famished for friendship. Flat out famished. They linger afterwards, partly to disinfect the tables, but mostly to extend our shared sense of normalcy as long as possible.

The student whose mother died walks up to the front to talk to me. Through my mask I thank her for having the courage to share that news and gently inquire about her mother’s passing. She tells me her mother chose “Death With Dignity” after a lifetime of being severely disabled. And she wanted me to know the paper was really challenging to write, but my sense was, not in a bad way, in an important way. I think it caused her to grieve her mother in a way she hadn’t. She ended up writing her mother a letter and using parts of it to begin her paper.

For those few moments, as her classmates slowly filed out of the room in small groups, she and I shared a human connection that superseded our teacher-student identities. I saw her and heard her in a way that’s utterly impossible on-line.

I am all in on the scientific consensus regarding masks, social distancing, maximizing time outdoors, and washing hands. I am comfortable enough returning to the classroom because my university has done an excellent job preparing for as safe as possible a return to in-person classes. I will not help politicize this public health crisis.

What follows is a non-partisan question, my reference point is the social-emotional health of young people.

If we don’t begin implementing “blended” or “hybrid” teaching methods soon, with at least some in-person instruction, what are the social and emotional costs to friendless students who are not being seen or heard in any kind of meaningful way?

Wednesday Required Reading

1. Canceled Races Aren’t Stopping Endurance Athletes From Setting Wild New Records. I’ve been lethargic lately, postponing and/or bagging workouts altogether. Maybe I should try to take one of these records down, but which one? Wonderland in 18 hours? With the help of an electric mtb.

2. Is Your Blood Sugar Undermining Your Workouts? Uh, maybe that’s my problem seeing that I’ve been hitting Costco’s cakes hard all summer.

3. Garmin reportedly paid multimillion-dollar ransom after suffering cyberattack.

4A. Liberty University Poured Millions Into Sports. Now Its Black Athletes Are Leaving. 4B. Photo appears to show Jerry Falwell Jr. with zipper down and arm around a woman. I recommend college presidents, to the best of their abilities, keep their zippers out of the news.

5. Shira Haas of ‘Unorthodox’ on Sharing the Joys of Her First Emmy Nod. I dare you to try to watch Unorthodox’s four episodes over four days.

6. Make Pizza … On Your Grill. Then invite me over.

Best And Worst Countries To Raise A Family

Top 35 according to a Los Angeles based travel website.

Two stories, one related to #5, and the other, #34. A year or so ago, one of my favorite PLU students from the early years reconnected with me via Zuck’s monopoly.* Her family had recently moved from London to Luxembourg. She posted this little Lux missive yesterday.

“Since the late 1300s they (Luxembourgers) have held a Fun Fair called Schuberfour down the road from us, in light of Covid it was cancelled. Instead they put up small carnival rides all over the city for the kids to enjoy for free. The bumper cars happen to be a 7 minute walk from our house. They also set up a drive in movie theatre where we were able to enjoy Back to the Future with the kids.”

Seven hundred year old fair, LOL. And walkable bumper cars is very tough to compete with.

Shifting gears to #34. Our church’s brand new pastor, who is in his early 30’s is leaving after one year. One of the primary reasons. . . his family can’t afford housing on his pastor’s salary. And Olympia is less expensive than Tacoma which is less expensive than Seattle. Reminds me of the personal finance retirement advice I often read when the topic is pre-medicare medical insurance, consider moving to another country.

* Teachers often have fav students. The statue of limitations of admitting SF was one of mine has long passed.

“I Never Told My Father I Was Proud of Him”

Maureen Dowd, “Good Cops, Bad Cops”.

Going against type, Dowd plays it straight. And the result is moving.

“As we rein in and reimagine how a police force should work, we should avoid that word ‘all’.”

If you’re fortunate enough to have a kind and caring dad in your life, avoid Dowd’s mistake of waiting far too long to express your own particular appreciation.