The weeks have been overwhelming. After Spring Break, when ISU had switched to online learning entirely, and would be online for the rest of the semester, I felt capable of staying on top of my work. I streamlined the curriculum of the classes I teach. My professors were working out their own plans for online learning, and for the most part I was in a kind of holding position. And I still wrote as much as I could.

But then things just slipped through my fingers. When the full gravity of the situation really hit me—the social distancing, the closure of businesses, of campus, the precarity of everyone’s livelihoods—I was distracted. All the time. I did what I could to keep my online classes going, but beyond that? I couldn’t focus. Couldn’t think. I wrote a whole blog post about what I missed about life pre-isolation. I also miss being able to distract myself in ways that felt productive.

Last week was better; I had conferences with my students and commitments on my time. This week is also slightly better than last. I’m a little bit faster on email. I’m actually reading for the classes I’m taking. I know that I can get through the semester. It feels possible to think about the next semesters, too, though even the near future is filled with uncertainty.

And so I’m trying to recommit to what I started this semester. Throwing my whole self into the things that I’m doing, into the classes I’m taking and teaching, into the work that needs to be done. It’s not the same, and I have to adapt, and things very likely won’t be the way they were before.

That’s okay. “Normal” wasn’t working for so many people anyway.

Have you been recommitting to things recently? Let me know in the comments.

Header image from Pixabay.

New poems

Inspiration during a pandemic elicits conflicted feelings. Nonetheless, I try to create mindfully, with good intentions, and share the best of what I can do.

Three new poems in two publications recently. They show you where my mind has been. I’m grateful to these publications that are sharing timely work. I hope that the messages in these poems become part of a timeless lesson to the future.

After this, there is no after.

Two poems up in Verse-Virtual: “Sonnet Staying In” and “Is it nice where you are?”

A poem up in Across the Social Distances: “I have been burying”

Have you been creating and sharing during this time? Feel free to share even further in the comments below.

Header image from March 2018.

What has been getting me through

Re-watching Sailor Moon on the weekends.

Reading: Trick Mirror by Jia Tolentino, A History of the Philippines by Luis H. Francia, Silent Spring by Rachel Carson, Lilith’s Brood by Octavia Butler, and readings for classes.

Re-reading: Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J.K. Rowling, America Is Not The Heart by Elaine Castillo, The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen

Listening to: My Brother, My Brother, and Me; Thirst Aid Kit; Hello Internet; Unsleeping City

Scrolling through: Twitter, Instagram

Stumbling across: New literary magazines and pandemic-themed publications. Recent favorites have been mineral lit mag, Backchannels Journal, Verse-Virtual, Across the Social Distances, Pandemic Publications, Black Coffee Review.

Avoiding: Facebook, except Facebook Messenger

Exercise: Videos from my ballet instructor

What’s been getting you through? Let me know in the comments.

Header image from Pixabay.

#weekendcoffeeshare: Having somewhere to be

If we were having coffee, I would first have to adjust my sound settings because my bluetooth headphones sometimes don’t pick up the mic that well.

But then I’d tell you that this week, I’ve been having conferences with my students. Some of them have been one-on-one, and some have been done asynchronously through comments on a document. Whatever is easiest for them.

And this week, though overwhelming, has felt like one of the more “normal” weeks so far. I woke up each morning and knew that I would have to have these conferences, and that made it easier, a little, to do things during the day. It hasn’t made everything easier; I still have some things to grade, still have some comments to leave on student work, still have to read and keep up the work in my own classes. But this week, knowing that I had “somewhere to be” made it easier to be there. Be here.

What has been helping you through lately? Let me know in the comments.

Header image from Pixabay.

I miss

Libraries. Biking to campus on days when it’s nice out. Listening to music on the bus. Hanging out with friends at a nearby bar. Occasionally solo eating at a cafe, reading a book from the aforementioned library. Going to class. Writing on the board in my classrooms. Getting coffee from the cafes on campus.

Being able to plan for some kind of future and not have it feel like a futile endeavor. Going to the grocery store on a whim to get the one ingredient missing for an elaborate dessert recipe. Playing board games with friends. Writing in the park. Planning travel to different places. Getting tickets to events I think my partner will like. Going to the movies and getting popcorn.

Not having the phrase “if it happens” appended to the end of every thought about some future event I’m looking forward to.

(There are a lot of things I won’t miss about a pre-pandemic world. There are lots of things I do miss that I haven’t thought of yet to list them. What do you miss? What do you not miss? Let me know in the comments.)

Header image from Pixabay.

What is within my control

I’ve talked about drawing circles and writing down what’s within my control before. It’s an exercise I did at the start of the academic year, and I haven’t revisited recently because I feel like I’ve either been caught up in taking steps towards my goals, or I’ve been having to rapidly adapt to the new reality of online teaching for the rest of the semester.

I question whether the goals I set for myself are still worth pursuing. I can tell myself they are, or that at least my perception of their utility matters more than I give it credit for. But I’m also not convinced that that’s actually the case.

I know I need to make new circles. I know that I’ll have to think seriously about what the new reality will be after all this. (There will be no after, only different.) But sometimes that task is so daunting that it only induces anxiety, which isn’t conducive to being productive. (And anyway, what the hell does productive mean, right now?)

What I have been doing lately: grading the work that my students turned in before the switch to online classes; writing poems and short stories because I still feel that impulse, even if none of what I produce is seen by another soul; attending my virtual lectures for classes; thinking about tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow.

For the third time in four years, I bring up this quotation from Molly Crabapple:

Art can’t save you from pain, but the discipline of hard work can drag you through it.

Molly Crabapple, Drawing Blood

There have been so many ways that this idea has come up in my life, in the classes I teach, in the things that I gravitate towards. It’s not the product that matters, but the process. It’s not the commodity, but the creativity that gets expressed. It’s not about having a haven to escape to, but having the ability to create that haven, even if it exists in the mind and not in a material reality. This whole pandemic is pain, and for so many people, art is dragging them through.

What’s been dragging you through this pandemic? I’d love more things to explore.

Header image from Pixabay.

Things will be different

Yesterday was a hard day. I spent a chunk of the evening going into an anxiety spiral. (I’m lucky and grateful to have a partner who helps me out of that.) Today, I spent most of the day doing my best to pick up the pieces from that fallout and continue on. And now, I’m writing this blog post.

In mid-March, during the early days of isolation, I tried to stay consistent. I continued applying for summer residencies, conferences, and the like. I believed that there would be a relatively swift end because, soon, widespread testing would be available and social distancing and isolation would be universally adopted because everyone would take it seriously.

How naive I was. That’s obviously not the case now (WTF, Kim Reynolds, put a shelter-in-place order for Iowa), and so now I have to really think about the fact that even if I do get into a workshop, a residency, something, anything, there is the very real possibility that I won’t be able to go this year. Leaving aside the question of how long it will be before it’s considered safe to return to work, to school, to crowded places, there is also the trauma and changed behavior that we all will have to deal with.

There will be no hard “after.” There will be continued skittishness, six-feet distance, precariousness, face masks in public, disposable disinfecting wipes, and a wish for “business as usual.”

I’ve made my peace with the loss of business as usual. Something about everything has already changed. My sights have been set on a resilient future, one that can withstand shocks like this and support all people. Where there aren’t systemic failures and injustices against vulnerable people. Where we all can live safely and securely. That future does not look like our past, and it definitely does not look like our present.

What do you think the future looks like? Drop a comment and let me know.

Header image from July 2019.

An ENG 101 Instructor’s Plea: Let’s Stop Sharing Our Theses (So Soon!)

Great blog post connecting writing, social media, critical thinking. Give this a read.

BREVITY's Nonfiction Blog

MadrazoBy Christen Madrazo

COVID-19 social media content was all fun and games at first. We shared memes, tweets, and posts about the media hype, the handwashing, the run on toilet paper… Now, though, this is our real lives—not just our virtual ones—and our online tone has grown increasingly somber.

The same folks who, three or four weeks ago, insisted this was all “no big deal” and even shamed others for their “hysteria,” suddenly implored us to “check in on our friends with anxiety.” Those who said “relax—it’s just a flu,” almost overnight began to chastise those not doing their part to #flattenthecurve.

But I’m not writing to call out the hypocrisy here. That our social media content would shift makes sense. As more information surfaces, our opinions change.

I get it. In fact, it’s my job to get it. For 14 years I’ve taught university-level intro to writing and research. My…

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Chasing after an idea

Last night, right before falling asleep, I had a moment when I realized that I was about to lose an idea for a poem. As I was falling asleep, a line came to me so clearly that I tried to repeat it to myself so that I didn’t lose it. But based on past performance, this practice is not actually all that effective: a dream would pass through my brain and eliminate that single line, and it would be gone forever. I knew that I had to write it down.

So I picked up my phone, jotted down a few words in a note, and then put my phone back on my nightstand, falling asleep almost immediately.

This morning, I remember remembering my dream when I woke up, but I don’t remember the dream itself now. I got out of bed, changed into different clothes for the day, started organizing and planning my time, and then looked at the note in my phone, ready to jumpstart a poem.

And I have no idea what the hell I meant. It’s not a funny mashup of words, as I’ve seen so often on Twitter from other writers who have done the same hurried-writing-down-before-bed. It’s just a phrase: “Unglamorous growing pains.”

I thought I could maybe reverse engineer this somehow. I remember, clearly, before falling asleep that I would have been able to retrace my steps. I remember thinking that this idea was borne from a path that my mind has been walking a lot lately. I remember thinking that, even if I didn’t write this down right now, I would have arrived at this idea anyway. But now, in the morning with the endpoint but not the path, I have no idea where I was going, where I was coming from.

Maybe this will come back to me some time during the day.

Has this ever happened to you? Even when you’ve written down your brilliant idea before bed, it’s been snatched from you anyway? Let me know in the comments; I’d love to commiserate.

Header image is from August 2019.

Woke up before the alarm

on my phone went off. In the past, I’ve tried to tell myself to go back to sleep, get the full set of hours allotted for rest. This morning, though, I felt like I needed to get out of bed.

In general, I am a morning person. But so much of that relies on the quiet and stillness of no one else in the world being awake. That was why I was such a night person, too, in high school. (And, always, didn’t get enough sleep.)

On this particular morning, I peeled a kiwi, chopped an apple, and sat at my desk, staring at my notebook trying to write a poem. There are things in my to-do list that need to get done. It feels like it should be summer, but it’s not. There was a moment when staring at the blank page I thought that the words were going to go stale. There is only so much you can write about inside. Maybe my mind, my imagination, will expand. I’ll discover entire rooms behind doors that will startle into existence. Or maybe I’ll be looking at walls and throwing paint on them, see what patterns emerge from haphazardness.

And I wonder if there will be a hard “after” to this pandemic, or if instead it will all be a series of soft disasters. If maybe one state will lift its shelter-in-place too early (in states where there’s even an order in the first place; Iowa WTF). If there won’t be a single moment where we can all reach out and hug one another, if people will ever stop wearing masks and gloves out in public. Will I feel the heat of the summer sun? Or will it all pass by me this year? Golden hour sunsets hard through my apartment’s west-facing windows, but there would be no warmth.

I hope you’re well, all. And I hope you have a good Monday.

Header image is from October 2019.