rumination, teaching

Teaching/Learning in Progress: Thinking about the “Backchannel”

Was in Zoom webinar conversation yesterday with faculty and staff colleagues about the “chat” function in Zoom being a kind of backchanneling that some folks found great/helpful/fun and others found overwhelming/distracting/not fun. We had a general conversation of different kinds of “backchanneling,” like, for instance, live-tweeting a conference presentation or class or other live/f2f event. We talked about access, distraction, engagement, etc.

We were asked to actually take a VOTE about whether we wanted to continue (in our synchronous/Zoom professional development sessions) to keep the Zoom chat live/open, or to have a separate (on Microsoft Teams) backchannel. We were also, of course, and more importantly, asked to think about this stuff with respect to the university courses we would be teaching in online and hybrid formats in the fall. We ran out of talking time, but were invited to reflect further. So I did.

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In our conversation, I mentioned being reminded of Robert Brooke’s notion of “underlife” in the writing classroom. Here’s a wee summary, and here’s a link to the original scholarship (man, that was a long time ago!).

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Channels are interesting to think about metaphorically. I think of water flowing – how a river might split into smaller channels and then rejoin. The English Channel (swim it! put a chunnel under it!).

A channel can be a (alternative? unplanned? VERY planned?) way of getting somewhere AND a channel can be a barrier. Channeling is also what a medium does, to speak to (and for) the Spirits.

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Backchannel implies front channel. The river is the front channel, and when it hits the delta, it splits into multiple (subsidiary? smaller? less powerful? unnamed? seasonal? unmapped?) “back” (side?) channels.

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Regarding the Zoom backchannels as I have experienced them – I have mixed feelings for sure. I like that the backchannel might “capture” something (a question, an idea) that might otherwise be “lost” (or never…exist?)

BUT

maybe not everything needs to be “captured?” What is the function of the ephemeral? The advantage of forgetting?

I sometimes find the backchannel distracting – I distract myself with it and am distracted by it.

When I am grumpiest about it, the backchannel/backchatter that happens during a presentation makes me think about the times at poetry open mics when a poet gets up to the mic, midway through the reading, and says, “I just wrote this here tonight,” which my internal grump-translator translates into “I am only here for you to listen to me, I am to busy with myself/my own work to bother listening to YOU.”

I occasionally imagine I am better at multi-channeling than I actually am – but mostly I know I am NOT good at focusing on more than one thing/thread/stream at once.

I occasionally use the backchannel to indulge in unnecessary chatter. Sometimes snarky, sometimes not.

BUT

such small talk might be “signs of life” in a class community? (or signs of “underlife?”) Which could be helpful for all to see?

I think the backchannel worked pretty well in the Advanced Poetry Workshop this spring, and has worked well in Zoom poetry readings I’ve attended – it’s a space where folks can emphasize lines/images they liked, during the reading, kind of like at an actual poetry slam (or some readings) – you know, that little sound you or someone might make when you hear a really AFFECTING line? In the poetry workshop, I think students appreciated being able to go back through the chat (alongside the written feedback they received AND the spoken feedback in the live zooming) as part of the overall experience.

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When are the “distractions” worth the reward? Maybe we can’t always anticipate the reward, and therefore can’t plan for it.

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Could the chat be used/function like a “fishbowl” discussion? Like, assign some folks to the chat to describe/comment on the spoken activity/conversation? This sort of….un-backs the backchannel, or, like, brings into alignment with the main channel.

Maybe there’s room for both – moments when the backchannel is (necessarily, unavoidably, helpfully) subsersive/counter/”back”, and other moments when the backchannel is harnessed (?) or serving (??) the main channel.

Or should the backchannel be left entirely to its wild, unbroken, un-harnessable ways? I don’t know! (Maybe the real backchannel is never for me — the teacher — to see?)

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Can backchannel reinforce “clicqueiness?” Battle it?

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Backchanneling can be a way IN and/or a way OUT. And a way…alongside?

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That’s all I wrote. (in my notebook, I mean. Like, my paper notebook. And now here.)

Uncategorized

Undercommons/Exodus/Presence/Institutions: Some Ideas and Language from Fred Moten & Stefano Harney

img_6900
from Jack Halberstam’s introduction to The Undercommons

Honestly, probably don’t even read this post — it’s mostly just notes I took when viewing/listening to the video. And most of it is just transcribing. Spend your time reading THIS (by Moten & Harney) and watching the video below, I say. Then you’ll have the fuller context and your own experience of the interesting stuff I didn’t pluck out to include here. There’s so much to think about. (I am still figuring out most of what I think about all of this, what I might do with it. Honestly, the act of transcribing/typing has been helpful to me.)

The video was hosted HERE — at “FUC” — “a weekly online series that hosts conversations around labor, labor movements, de-commodified knowledge, and the future of the university and higher education. It is facilitated by rent-burdened graduate students at the University of California in solidarity with the COLA movement.”

 

From early in the video, some reflections on The Undercommons (which I am currently reading for the first time) from Harney & Moten–

Moten emphasizes: “The Undercommons is not a book about the university.”

–not meant a disavowal or scolding, but a way of “recognizing that if the dream of the subversive or critical or fugitive intellectual is to rise above their complicity with the institution, there is no individualized path for any such rising above, and so the answer really isn’t to rise above complicity but to try to practice and activate an alternative radical complicity, which is again about shared practice rather than individual roles.” (Moten)

“trying to find more radical form of complicity—where, rather than imagining we can extract ourselves individually from the university, we build up an increasing number of unseen accomplices who are there with us in the university and who undermine any steady ability of the university to characterize, affix us, and to frame us, because somehow it’s not just you. Seen or unseen, others are there. Others are in some sort of conspiracy without a plot inside the university. And then at the same time, we know that we can only leave together, because whatever wealth we have, whatever means of production we have, we only hold those in common.” (Harney)

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“We’re trying to understand the relationship between abolition and exodus.” (Moten)

(maybe also between exodus and presence?)

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A concrete thing that might be done: detach universities from local police departments, abolish university police departments.

But, Moten asks, what if it turns out that faculty and administration do more policing at the university than the campus police or town/city police do?

So let’s not be police in our classrooms. With our “policies,” say.

Harney adds a list of other institutions – the “artist” as institution, the “professor” as institution, “the subject/individual” as institution – that need to be abolished.

Abolishing the individual/subject kind of blows my mind. But I do find myself wondering about the institution of myself lately. What my self (my roles, my subjectivity?) has institutionalized.

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Moten, responding to a question about what practices are possible for folks in the university to enact, towards abolition/exodus.

“I’ll do the wrong thing and answer the question.”

“For those of us who are teaching, we should stop grading, and we should stop giving assignments. Just that, on the most basic level right there. Stop doing the administrative work of the university. Radically detach the credentializing function of the university, which is a front for finance capital, and detach the intellectual and social and aesthetic work that we would like to do with one another in the hope and in the recognition that doing that collective intellectual social and aesthetic work will actually be a practice of exodus, gathering, and presencing against the grain of the already-existing institution.”

“The correct response to the question… is not to answer it – but to say let’s continually ask that question with and of and for one another in every gathering that we are engaged in and let every class be a class on that, let that be the curriculum, let that be the occasion and the content of our gathering, and let the form and practice of our gathering emerge from the continual asking of that question.”

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“Our daily work is the work of reforming a completely unworkable system.”  (Harney)

Got me thinking about this notion that by just showing up and cooperating, we are re-forming, minute by minute, action by action, the institution.

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Moten asks, in re-framing another question, “How do we comport ourselves towards the enemy when the enemy is us?”

(a question meant not to induce paralysis, but rather movement)

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Moten, responding to a questioner in a way that models for me how I’d like to respond to students in the classes I teach — “I hope that you feel that the dissatisfactory nature of our response is actually a tribute to the depth of your question rather than an attempt to avoid it, and if it’s dissatisfactory, it’s just ‘cause we don’t know no better, but we’re thinking about it now along with you.”

and

“Your question messed me up….I appreciate you for that…..I’ve got some thinking to do.”

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Moten is interested in the potential of Zoom classes to potentially buck the credentialing function of classes:

“The university guards access to my class because they’re guarding access to the mechanism which produces the credential. They don’t give a fuck about the “experience.” Right? So what I like about Zoom is I can let anybody up in there, if they want to come. And what’s interesting will be when the university starts to try to take our teaching and turn that into their intellectual property. They’ve already done that with research, particularly with regard to the sciences.”

What use might be made, Moten wonders, if we distinguish between the “credential-buyers” and the folks who “just want to talk about Plato that day.” Momentarily setting aside the fact that he doesn’t really support the credentialing function in any way, Moten wonders if the class should be free for the ones who want to talk about Plato and that the credential-buyers should pay for the credential credits.

This idea of seeing more clearly that credentialing is separate from “the experience” (?) of study/learning together is a big & helpful one for me.

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I am still reading & listening & thinking, so….more to come? Maybe here? Maybe a separate post?

 

rumination, teaching

Teaching/Learning in Progress: Uncomfortable Habits

For the Cluster Pedagogy Learning Community at Plymouth State University, which I’ve committed to participate in this school year, we’ve been asked to do lots of different work so far, and to do it on various channels, publicly if possible/desirable. I have mostly kept my work to the semi-privacy of the Teams site associated with my cohort in this program. I started trying to show/share some of my teaching work in the spring, but my efforts there were stymied by the pandemic.

One of our recent prompts was to “write (and share if you feel comfortable doing so) a self-assessment on your own development of the Habits of Mind and pay particular attention to the signposts on the benchmarks for the level of achievement you believe you have attained. How do you demonstrate that level of achievement? What behaviors do you exhibit for each of the signposts?” (The Habits of Mind are a part of our General Education program.)

I don’t feel particularly comfortable sharing this publicly. But I have seen others in my cohort step out into a wider public with their work, and have been grateful and impressed. I am also interested in spending some more time in that feeling — discomfort (shorthand for fears & anxieties) as I consider what it might mean to teach in the fall, with/in the pandemic (and beyond, if there is a beyond), with a heightened awareness of the trauma that infuses nearly everything right now — the trauma that feels new to some of us, and which is familiar — if perhaps amplified — for others of us, students, faculty, and staff, friends and families.

This discomfort (showing my written reflection, my writing-to-think) is something many of my students experience regularly when I ask them to share their work, which may feel to them similarly unformed, and which may spark fears and anxieties similar to the ones I am feeling just now — around sharing this particular (not very high stakes) reflection, but also more generally, around teaching, the university, trauma, access, (in)humanity, and more. I want to both explore the “early” (?) sharing of thinking-in-process as part of thinking-in-process, AND I want to push back against pressures towards concluding, asserting, completing. Push back against the “process” as some kind of byproduct of product. (This is connected to some of my questions about the “summit,” I think.)

Anyhow, here’s what I shared in that more private space on Tuesday morning, which I’ll share now on Sunday in this less private space. I have resisted the urge to edit it. For now.

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(WARNING — This is a straight-up FREEWRITE. Also, I am surely not doing this prompt correctly. ALSO I am not asserting any truths or conclusions here! I would not normally share this work, but, welp, here we go. I am engaged!)

The question, “How do you demonstrate that level of achievement” is interesting to me because of how it immediately makes me wonder: demonstrate to WHOM? When? How often? And maybe even WHY “demonstrate?” Maybe that verb is giving me pause. How about “enact” or “practice” or “employ?” “Demonstrate” makes me think about showing or “proving” (with evidence!) what I know, what I can do. But also maybe of a teaching-related activity. All of which makes me think of schooling. Also “exhibit” makes me think of evidence — also of a museum, a sideshow, symptoms of disease. “Exhibiting behaviors” also sounds a little clinical, a little pathological. (This is not me critiquing the assignment language, this is me rolling around in it, as I do, to find/make meaning) “Level of achievement.” Are these levels stable? Linear? Is “summit” more aspirational than actual? That’s how it often feels to me. But even if it’s actual, doesn’t our sense of “summit” change over time? Like, anybody else have the experience of being certain you were at a “summit” (for years, maybe) but then you realize (how? through more living/learning, I guess) there is actually more climbing for you than you’d realized. More climbing than you could see (were able/ready to see?) before. Hm.

PURPOSEFUL COMMUNICATION — as a writer, I suppose I’m good enough at this? I will never be at the “summit,” as I believe no “summit” actually exists? I’m certainly beyond basecamp. I’m climbing. Sometimes I write to find/discover/create my writing purpose, though, which is a purposeful activity. 
“To be effective, messages must engage the perspectives of others and foster dialog among individuals and the community.” ALL messages must do all of this all the time? Is drafting a poem sort of communicating with myself?  
Is this, right now, messaging? I have a purpose — to write-to-know, to use writing as a way to create/come to understanding or clarity (or purpose). But, like, is this a message for an audience beyond myself? What purposes might such learning-in-public serve? To document a process? And why do that? It feels very vulnerable to potentially do this work in front of others, before I have arrived at my Purposes. 

PROBLEM-SOLVING
I think poetry writing and much art making is actually problem-solving in some sense. (It is many other things, too.) According to the definition we’re using, problem-solving includes the “ability to think creatively, adapt and extend one’s thinking, acknowledge different contexts and incorporate different perspectives,” — what does it mean to incorporate different perspectives in a piece of art? For how many artists might art making be primarily about discovering/shaping/rendering their PARTICULAR perspective? Owning that? NOT “incorporating” others in the “solving” of the “problem” of the individual painting or song or poem? The language, “embrace flexibility, consider potential implications, determine courses of action, persist and adapt despite failure, and reflect on the results” is all very much in line, I think, with how I teach writing. And how I compose and revise poems. As to other kinds of problems — and a more general assessment — I find I am not as adaptable/creative as one might imagine a poet should be. I get stuck sometimes in old/established ways of thinking — I get in my own way with some stubbornness. I think I am better at spending time sussing out what a problem actually IS — like, describing/comprehending it. I think I resist “solutionism.” I think I privilege experimentation over problem-solving, though experiments are frequently part of a problem-solving process. But….does a poem or painting even need/want to solve anything? Useful, perhaps, to distinguish imaginative writing from expository/more utilitarian (UGH UGH UGH) writing here. Maybe. The composition essay as a problem to be solved? The QUESTION or WONDERING behind the composition essay as a problem (such a negative connotation!) to be solved (must it be? What if we were allowed to remain in the unsolvedness? Can solving ever be the wrong thing to do with/to a problem? Freewriting is fun.

INTEGRATED PERSPECTIVE
“the recognition that individual beliefs, ideas, and values are influenced by personal experience as well as multiple contextual factors—cultural, historical, political, etc.” I think I know this. I achieve this. I think this is partly from growing up a military brat and moving every 2-3 years, living overseas, etc. I think also my discipline (English/literary and cultural studies/creative writing) also relies in large part on these notions — that contexts and subjectivities are FUNDAMENTAL, not just, considerations alongside or after the fact. I think I “demonstrate” good “climbing” here by owning my perspectives AS perspectives, by using tools I’ve accumulated (self-reflection, pausing and listening, stepping outside myself as much as such a thing is remotely possible to imagine empathetically other perspectives, language and theory around words like “other,” etc.) to examine my own assumptions as such. “Students will acknowledge the limitations of singular points of view and recognize the benefits of engaging with and learning from others in order to integrate multiple perspectives for effective communication, problem-solving, and collaboration.” We face interesting challenges these days from those who use this kind of language alongside “just my opinion” and “free speech” to recast, say, SCIENCE as a matter of “perspective,” which, yes, of course it is, and is also multiple/variant/evolving/WRONG sometimes — but — I’ve seen a careless and cruel version of “relativism” in the media/culture lately, a “both-sides-ism” that feels like a crude (mis)casting of “limitations of singular points of view.” BUT THAT’S JUST MY OPINION, MKAY? 

SELF-REGULATED LEARNING
I wish I were less responsive to extrinsic motivators — praise, badges, desire to be connected with others in certain ways. I mean, I read, I am curious, I write, I learn — do I set “goals” for learning? Not always, or if so, I just am not thinking consciously about it. Right now I have some goals — around learning how to build community online, how to act against the racist white-supremacist impulses of an institution I am a part of/complicit with. I feel DESPERATE to learn how to be in higher education while transforming (I mean in much more serious ways, not task forces and mitigation and lawsuit-proofing and placating) higher education. What is UP with that desperation, though? Partly it’s that I no longer trust higher ed (which is partly no longer trusting MYSELF) to see/do the work required. And yet, so much of what I have been reading and thinking about — so many sources — come from or are attached to or are VISIBLE through structures of higher ed. So. Where was I? Self-regulation. I desire to learn, but also must deal with the institution inside me — the institution that is me, that part of me — no small part — that relishes the familiarity and comfort and peace of the status quo in so many ways. UGH. Why would I (or my students or anybody) want to learn about how wrong we were/are about so much, how the strong and embedded and often invisible (to some) forces of status quo (within and without) continue to be. Am I taking intellectual risks? What would the evidence or “demonstration” of such risk be? Is there an “is it worth it” rubric for risk/reward? I think I am decent at metacognition, but also believe it has its limits. There’s only so far “out” of myself I can get, yes?

IN CONCLUSION (lol) I as the student, handing in the homework, am feeling a couple of things: I have been engaged with these concepts. I have not exactly or clearly done the work I was asked to do. I am nervous that I shared too much. I worry what readers will think about me. I hardly know what I think of myself. This is a too-rough draft. I composed it on 750words.com, and work I do there is private/not typically shared. I don’t mean this writing is “disposable,” but, like, with respect to PURPOSEFUL COMMUNICIATION, I worry that this is hardly a “message.” I see how organized and clear Cathie’s is and I compare my work to that and think I should not share it, or I should rewrite before sharing, or I should do it more like Cathie did it. But I’m past 1400 words and have other work I need to get to. Have I spent enough time on this? Does it even make sense? What next? I do not know.

Uncategorized

Last Summer

This time last year, unbelievably, I was back home from a long trip out west — a driving trip, with so many visits and memorable moments & sights, unplanned “adventures,” long stretches of open road, and the slowly evolving landscapes of the (almost) coast-to-coast route — plains, foothills, mountains, forests. The initial “excuse” for the trip was that I was going to be spending a two-week residency working on poems at the Playa Artist Residency Program in Summer Lake, Oregon.

Last week. I received this beautiful annual anthology full of writing and art from 2019 residents and it brought me right back, but also startled me into a sort of hiccup of time and memory. Remembering Playa (this was my third residency) is always sort of like remembering another world — that feeling is amplified now for me. Time and distance sprawl and ripple. Not just the strange and inspiring landscape of the “Oregon Outback” and Summer Lake, but also, the notion of such travel, so many embraces of friends in Chicago, in Nebraska, in Pennsylvania, a world of touch and faces that, too, feels distant and not a little bit unreal to me just now. I was there, I’m sure of it. I hope to make it back again — back to Playa, back to poetry, back to touch and faces. It will not be “back,” exactly, though. Not the old world. Some world trying to be born right now.

Uncategorized

“We Seek Communion as We Read in Solitude”

from “Asterisks for Dead Astronauts,” an extraordinary review/essay/meditation/leviathan from one of my favorite writers and thinkers and humans, Matthew Cheney.

It’s a truly affecting essay about…..everything?

About reading and grieving and language and suffering and love and loss and story and recognition and ecological apocalypse and and —

Here is a part I loved, but it’s not really “representative” of a text I’d say fully resists being “represented” by any fragment of itself, resists that very idea. Just…trust me. Please do yourself a favor and go read the whole thing. I’ll be re-reading it myself, taking some more time with it, gratefully.

“When I was younger, I enjoyed absolute judgments of books and writers: This novel is terrible, that writer is the best in the last fifty years, this book is moral, that story is evil, this writer ought to be trepanned. Though I still occasionally enjoy such judgments, mostly they feel shallow, easy, arrogant. The years have mellowed me, as has being a fiction writer myself. I need something else from evaluations of art than simple judgments of yes or no. What I want from a reader is exegesis, sometimes, yes, but also (always) a chronicle of reading. “How I Read, and What I Read For” is the subtext I desire from essays about fiction and poetry. Value is an inevitable part of that, because we value most what brings us the most passion, but I do not need those values to be transcendent, I do not need the reader to say, “Paul Celan is the greatest poet of the 20th Century.” Rather, I need the reader to say, “Paul Celan is the 20th Century poet whose work has meant the most to me, whose sense of language has most deeply influenced my own, whose nightmares have haunted my dreams.” As I grow older, as my future grows shorter, as the time I have left to read seems (and is) more finite than it was before, what I seek from fellow readers is that story of their reading, that map through their way of making meaning from bits of ink on a page.

We seek communion as we read in solitude. By sharing how we make stories from pages scarred with words, we share how we imagine, how we dream, how we yearn, and how we feel.”

Poems, Uncategorized

Others Carried Milk

(offered in solidarity with Minneapolis protesters in the wake of the murder by police of George Floyd, and in response to this striking image from Andy Mannix on Twitter)

“Within the crowd at least one person was wearing goggles and carrying a stick, others carried milk – a tactic known to be used to decontaminate pepper spray, and medics were on hand.”

–Burlington, VT Police Department press release, offered to characterize a nonviolent crowd of protesters as violent in order to justify the police department’s violent response

“Hope is never silent.”  —Harvey Milk

Others carried signs, a tactic known to enable free speech, written messages, dangerously sharp puns and slogans.

Others carried pocketbooks, a tactic known to keep sunglasses and spare change from spilling its deadly shrapnel out onto the pavement.

Others carried fists full of air.

Others carried pocket copies of the Constitution, a tactic known to be used for creating the U.S. government and enshrining fundamental rights, the sharp corners of which have been known to be used for putting out an eye.

Others carried cell phones, a tactic known to enable talking to other people on other cell phones.

Others carried pockets, a tactic known to enable convenient access to car keys – car keys, a tactic known to enable the driving of cars, the entering of homes and offices.

Others carried ideas, in invisible baskets, a tactic known to incite more ideas.

Others carried paper, a tactic known to enable origami, ass-wiping, face-fanning, petition-drafting, letter-writing, voting, littering.

Others carried tampons, a tactic known to enable convenient and tidy menstruation.

Others carried canvas shopping bags, a tactic known to stop tanks.

Others carried babies, a tactic known to be used to board airplanes early.

Others carried oranges, a tactic known to provide a handy and nutritious snack.

Others carried flags, a tactic known to incite patriotic protest and inspire impossible-to-sing anthems.

Others carried newspapers, a tactic known to incite reading and thinking.

Others carried shirts, a tactic known to be used to modestly cover nipples, known to be used to staunch the bleeding of broken skulls.

Others carried eyes, a tactic known to enable seeing, believing.

Others carried throats, a tactic known to enable swallowing, breathing, drinking milk.

Others carried teeth, a tactic known to enable biting.

Others carried ears, a tactic known to enable hearing the hiss of the gas canister and its clink on the sidewalk.

Others carried fingers, a tactic known to be used for pointing.

Others carried hands, a tactic known to be used for covering the head, the guts, the groin, against the rain of blows.

Others carried hearts, pumping and fluttering, a tactic known to push the blood into use and maintain life.

Others carried legs, a tactic known to be used for attempting to get out of the way of the falling baton.

Others carried Otherness – some easily, some bent beneath it – they could not put it down when ordered to do so.

Others carried away injured bodies, a tactic known to keep bodies from being further injured.

Others carried video cameras – pepper-spray-proof eyes plugged into long memory.

Others carried voices, a tactic known to enable talking, chanting, shouting, singing, testifying.

Others carried question marks, a tactic known to be used to ask questions.

Others breathed, a tactic known to be used to manufacture poisonous carbon dioxide.

Others carried bottles of water, which may not be taken through the TSA checkpoint – water, a tactic known to be used to slake thirst, to wet the voice for one more inconvenient accusation, one more adamant song.

Others carried hope, fiercely and tenderly guarding its necessary ember.

Others carried milk.

Others carried milk – tactical milk defensive milk mother’s milk of human kindness—

And the milk was spilled, all the milk was spilled upon all the scalded eyes, and oh how we cried over it.

And even those milky, non-tactical tears were gathered up. We pressed them into shards, into service. We carried them.

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(first published in If You Can Hear This: Poems in Protest of an American Inauguration, Sibling Rivalry Press, 2017)

Poems, Poetry, Publication

New Anthology: Show Us Your Papers

CvrShowPapers_postcardDiscounted pre-orders are now available for Show Us Your Papers, a poetry anthology due out from Main Street Rag press in Fall of 2020. I’m very happy to have a couple of poems included among those of so many poets I’ve long admired.

PRE-ORDER online here

Order Form (if you prefer to mail a check)

From the Introduction:

“Show Us Your Papers speaks to a crisis of identity and belonging, to an increasing sense of vulnerability amid rapid changes in the USA. While corporations wait to assign us a number, here are 81 poets who demand full identities, richer than those allowed by documents of every sort. Here are poems of immigration and concentration camps, of refugees and wills, marriage and divorce, of lost correspondence and found parents, of identity theft and medical charts. In an era where the databases multiply, where politicians and tech companies sort us into endless categories, identifying documents serve as thumbtacks. They freeze the dancing, lurching, rising and falling experience of our lives. The disconnect between our documents and our identities is inherent, reductive, frustrating, and, too often, dangerous. Yet we cannot live without them. In this anthology 81 poets offer a richer sense of our lives and histories—richer than any “official paper” allows. These lyric and narrative forms demand that readers recognize our full identities: personal, familial, national, and historical.”

You can read the full introduction, as well as some sample poems (including one of mine!), and see a complete list of poets included in the anthology HERE.

 

 

Student writing, teaching

Shifts

MaineVacationJune2007 124When Plymouth State University switched to online learning right after spring break due to the COVID-19 pandemic, my students found themselves thrown into not only the traumatic disruption of their schooling, but into unemployment, extra/new employment, stressful or precarious living situations, housing and food insecurities, stress surrounding seeing (or not being able to see) loved ones, sudden childcare responsibilities, isolation-related mental health struggles, illness or illness of a family member, and/or so many conditions and circumstances that seemed bent on keeping them off-balance, exhausted, pulled in many directions.

When I invited my Composition students to take a pass at writing something about their experiences during the pandemic, if they wanted to, a few took me up on it — “C.S.” not only accepted the prompt, but really ran with it, and kept running. We talked on Zoom a few times in addition to exchanging drafts, talking not only about her writing process, but life at home, the strangeness of physical and social distancing, and what her education was feeling like these days. I share her essay here with her permission, because her voice is important and her story illuminating, one that will resonate with many readers. It’s an essay I’m grateful to read, one I learned from.

SHIFTS

MaineVacationJune2007 124

by C.S.

Spring Break

Being away from home and living on a University campus can sometimes feel like living in a bubble; I say this because my main concerns while living in the bubble are school and social life. The campus bubble is a curious concept, one that both connects and disconnects a person from the world. While I am advancing my studies, making new friends and living on my own, there are a few disconnects as well; for example, I no longer tune into local news on the television or pay too much attention to an ‘outside world’ only what is in the bubble around me.

Spring break was finally here, the second week of March. I was so excited to see friends and family, and it would be a perfect time to pick up a few shifts at the nursing home.  During my junior year of high school, I obtained my Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) license. I have been working as a CNA for almost two years now, so coming home and picking up a few shifts was nothing new to me. Since I no longer watch news broadcasts on the TV, I relied on what I saw on social media, but just a few posts here and there across social media mentioned that Coronavirus was starting to spread and filter around the United States, I did not think it would come to affect the world around me as much as it would.

I decided to pick up a twelve-hour shift on Sunday, March 11th. I can never seem to sleep the night before a long shift. So when my alarm rang at five fifty in the morning, it was not a surprise to me as I was basically already awake. Groggily I put my scrubs on, clipped my badge reel and buckled my watch. I scanned my badge to get into the building and headed up to the assisted living floor. I was the only day shifter to be there on time. The night shift nurses sipped the last of their energy drinks and cold coffee. The halls were still dimmed. I walked over to the nurses’ station and read the staffing clipboard. Call-outs on every floor. Taking my assignment list of residents who I would care for, I read through them and passed by their rooms to see if any of them were starting to wake up.

As the day started to roll and the hallway lights shifted from overnight to daytime bright, all the residents, nurses, and nurses assistants like myself were glancing at the televisions in the halls or listening in as we busily passed by. The virus dubbed Covid-19 was spreading across the United States rapidly. Local, state and federal officials were giving speeches on every news channel. I was assigned to supervise the elders’ breakfast with another nurse. She was the definition of a mom-friend, nurse, and boss lady. I guess one could say I looked up to her. She and I walked around and checked on the residents, but I wasn’t prepared for what the overhead speaker would say next.

The mystery voice announced there would be an emergency supervisors meeting shortly. I looked at her confused. She is a floor supervisor and also one of the nurse educators, so she was required to go. I sat on a rolling stool, watching the news. I collected most of the meal trays and started to help residents pack up, passing back walkers, canes, and pushing those in wheelchairs. I was having a very typical day, nothing was out of the ordinary. Influenza type B was going around the nursing home and that explained a few of the call outs. All and all, it was a very typical day. The overhead speaker came on once again, the disembodied voice said all floors were to host a mini-meeting at the nurses’ station.

This is when things got real. No visitors allowed, No activities for residents, No dining room socials. All residents were to stay in their rooms and were to be limited when visiting each other. All non-essential employees were to be dismissed. We were going into some sort of facility lockdown. The regular seasonal flu itself is enough to knock an Elder down, but this new virus would be fatal.

We talked for fifteen minutes, watched a personal protective equipment donning and doffing example and then reviewed what each level of precaution is and signed inservice papers. Then the conversation we had next scared me and that’s when I realized how real this could be.

The nurse that I trust the most, my mother-like figure at work went on to say that face masks of all sorts would now be limited. Gowns and other personal protective equipment would now be restricted. We were directed to use clear vinyl gloves and leave the blue latex alone. They were cutting and limiting resources to save and store. This left me very uneasy, and I still had seven hours out of my twelve-hour shift left.

After I spent all morning showering, bathing, and assisting my residents to prepare for their day I had to tell them all activities were canceled, and no visitors were allowed at this time. It was very hard to explain to grandmas and grandpas that they were not allowed to have visitors come and on top of that afternoon, coffee social was canceled. Every room on the seventy-bed floor had one news channel on or another. All of us were watching the school closure updates, the social distancing lectures, and being reminded of proper handwashing. Residents became scared and stressed. Family and friends called the nursing station non-stop. I was growing nervous as well. When I went to take my lunch break, I walked by the front lobby and administration offices. Family and friends were arguing with administrators over not being able to see their loved ones. Beautiful bouquets of flowers placed on office desks with well-wishing cards and thinking-of-you notes. My heart started to ache. I went about the rest of my shift as normally as I could.

I will never forget how serious the day turned as things worsened on the news. Being told we had to restrict and minimize personal protective equipment usage to avoid wasting could not be more frightening. Telling residents that their daily activities, like crafting hour or afternoon coffee would be canceled until this is resolved was heartbreaking to me; it was so hard to explain to them what was going on without instilling a panic or fear. Seeing the family members argue with directors and administration, seeing flower bouquets clustered on the secretary desks, seeing the activity ladies pack up and go home without employment; it seemed like something only a movie could portray, yet I just lived through it.

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Second Shift

Originally my scheduler could only give me one twelve-hour shift during my spring break, but once things started to change, so did the staffing plans. I agreed to work the day shift on the Wednesday following that Sunday shift. Two days. Only two days passed in between my last shift and my next one. Two days. Things at my facility have changed drastically. Some staff were so scared they quit, more people than usual called out, residents were sad and fearful. Orange and red signs posted everywhere, No Visitors and No Vendors. Another sign posted, that I wish I never read, said, “No Entry Unless Actively Dying Hospice.” That policy made me wish I never learned to read, something about it shattered my heart and kicked my morale in the teeth. We were required to wear a face mask and gown when providing care to a resident. The gowns make you hot and the mask makes you think that stale hallway air is the purest oxygen you will know. The nurses’ station was clear of coffee and energy drinks. It was the cleanest I’d ever seen. Hallways were empty, any activity or social event for the residents were completely canceled, residents were restricted to what neighbor they could visit and when. Residents were to stay in their rooms.

During this shift, residents asked questions and my answers were hard to give. They wondered why they could not have visitors, they wondered how their friends next door were doing, they asked why I was covered with a blue plastic sheet and had a mask covering my smile.

One resident teared up and said to me, “I am not dirty, I am not infected, please let my husband come in.”

It was very hard to answer these questions or respond to their pleas. Each question and person who asked or pleaded with facility policy is burned into my memory. I will not forget how emotionally charged this shift was.

I thought about my residents who have dementia or memory impairments and needed routine, structure, and visitors to help them get by. It made me think about how having a loved one visit, gathering in the main dining room for coffee hour, sitting in your friend’s room and other daily activities were taken away from these residents. It made me think about how stressful, lonely, and challenging it must be for them all. This shift made me realize more than ever how my residents need me; they need a friend, an ear, a caregiver. The nursing staff was not just their caregivers but their family.  I guess I always take my job as a nursing assistant for granted. I always tell myself it’s just a stepping stone for my nursing career and that I just need to do my time in assisted care, but it is times like these where the elders need us more than ever; even to just sit, listen and care for them.

This shift was very hard on me emotionally to get through, the world was changing and a virus was spreading rapidly. The cutback and supply limits frightened not just me but my co-workers who have been in the healthcare game for a while. I watched my co-workers steal boxes of gloves, shove extra facemasks into their purse, build their own first aid kit in the supply closet; all in fear for themselves and their loved ones.

I was the youngest one working, nurses and aides I looked up to were now panicked and worried.

The whole shift was nothing like one I’ve had before. I will never forget these two days.

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Welcome to Zoom University, an Online Learning Experience

By the last day of spring break, my in-person higher education would be switched to online courses for the upcoming two weeks. At this point, my phone buzzed and dinged with calls and texts from friends, family, and the nursing home. The nursing home was short-staffed on every shift basically each day. I had to respond politely that I was no longer on spring break, I was back to school, making me unavailable for shift pickups. It did not take long for the spring semester to be fully transferred online; it was my next learning journey.

With shifting to online courses,  I was presented with another round of challenges. Some of the main challenges included the lack of in-person learning through gaps in communication with some educators, students also lost on-campus utility access like a printer and courses had to abruptly alter syllabi in which corners were cut in education by removing lab work or skipping chapters. As a nursing student, we have labs to take along with lectures. Since we were no longer on campus and class could not be held in the lab, my fellow students and I missed muscle twitch and stimulation projects.

Another issue that arose with shifting into remote learning and the idea that students are being confined to a home, is that some professors have taken this idea as a way to assign or create a heavier course load to keep students engaged or involved under the assumption that students are doing nothing while at home has freed time to complete a different workload and by becoming unsympathetic to the challenges outside of schooling one might face. Some students are more comfortable or even luckier than another student; one may have returned home to an unsteady income and have to enter a job deemed essential during this time to help their families, or someone who now has to take on another role for their siblings as caretakers or early educators,  or even those who might live in a heavily affected area causing them to have more invisible alterations to their life.

Though this shift is flawed, I have noticed some positives as well.  Even though there were significant communication losses, there were some communication gains; some professors were now being more thorough with directions, more timely with email responses and some even lessened required projects. I think this has also been a good way to measure if online courses could be something a student might consider or not in the future.  A more personal positive that was brought to my attention was my ability to have more control over my personal learning and could implement specific learning needs, such as the advantages of  having access to power points or presentations, or having the ability to rewatch or re-listen to lectures that were not recorded before.

Though my focus shifted back into more studious tasks, my nursing home would call; they needed me to come in. I could not pick up shifts, I had Zoom classes to attend, textbook excerpts to memorize and news reports to watch. Learning from home has been an impactful life shift and challenge, not to mention outside factors that may worsen a student’s capability to focus on or complete work, considering the state of the world right now. This has been a challenging learning curve, one that I had never seen coming.

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Guilty and Fearful

I have thought about working every day. I think of my residents. I think of my co-workers. I think about the stress, the fear, the sickness. I have had my facility message me for shift pick-ups nonstop and coworkers messaging me asking why I am not working and how selfish of me it is to stay home.

I have guilt. I think about it constantly. I don’t want to feel this way, but I do. I am an aide, I am a nursing student; I want to help, I want to provide care. I am still a kid, I am still in school. I am conflicted, I have a fall semester to pay for but I am more afraid of getting sick.

Guilty thoughts fill my mind. My facility sent me a letter in the mail, reminding me of my per-diem duties scheduling me for the end of May without my input. It was a threat and served as a reminder not to abandon my commitment to the facility.

Weighing even heavier on my shoulders was fear, the fear of falling ill under the sickly grasp of Covid-19. Throughout my time being quarantined, I have lived in an anxiety-induced state, like many others, over my chronic illness, Asthma. Asthma has plagued my lungs since the day I entered this world. During Flu season, I caught Influenza B, which took a huge toll on my health. This had required me to visit the Health Service office on campus. These visits were daily, as I was subjected to having my breathing monitored. Seeing as a common cold could hit me hard as it could, I can’t imagine putting myself at risk against this all-new virus. This provided me a fork in the road, should I continue feeling guilty and selfish or play it safe and lock myself at home?

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Concluding Thoughts

Almost two months have passed since that first shift. The world around me has been tested and challenged like never before. My learning has been altered, going to the store to pick up a missing recipe item has now become a second thought, seeing friends and family has been turned virtual. No one could have foreseen such drastic alteration in such a short period of time. Uncertainty, worry and fear are now feelings to be felt more than usual. I harbor guilt, stress for school and often worry of what might happen the next day. This situation is so surreal it almost feels like a sick joke on me and the rest of the world. I still find it hard to believe the world is under lockdown, but I truly believe that if we all work together and stay home, we just might possibly slip through the cracks of Covid-19’s grubby paws.

COVID-19, Poetry, Uncategorized

Ice Out

                  Lake Winnipesaukee, NH, April 2020

They declared “ice out” this morning,
made it official, having observed from the air
mostly clear waters; yesterday’s
waning bergs in Meredith Bay
and Center Harbor broken up overnight
and swallowed back into the dark fathoms.

So now, the M/S Mount Washington
can navigate the massive lake
to all five of her ports –
but pandemic has promised
she’ll stay moored at shore,
her decks and cabin remain
empty, their former life gone
not like the gradual departure
of winter ice, but suddenly –
an abduction, a shock, a rupture –
like when the earliest ice beckons
but is actually still so thin
you could break right through
and into the frigid lake – fall
victim to the shock of exposure –
you and your optimistic bob house,
maybe even your reckless snowmobile.

*

At deepest winter’s turn into this year,
we waited for the other call—ice thick
and sewn up solid enough on Squam
that the harvest could safely commence –
the cutting and hauling and packing
into sawdust of massive frozen slabs,
ice cakes stowed away through spring
to cool the storied lakeside camp’s
July iceboxes. It came in late January
in the nick of time, ice in,
and the saws and pike poles and winches
did their usual work over two days
of frigid glimmer.

*

In March, while ice still held the big lake
in winter’s loosening fist,
our small town campus’ hockey arena
was thawed and drained, swept and scrubbed,
and cots, oxygen, privacy screens, bedding,
brought in to set up for overflow
from the modest 25-bed hospital,
to prepare for the surge, which I visualize
as a flood, remembering how this very arena
has been flooded by the surging, sudden sprawl
of spring’s unbound river, loosed
in the abrupt letting-go of an upstream ice dam.

*

Oh, April. Cruel. Just as the green started
to reveal itself, another wet dump of snow.
We hunker down, and when we creep out
for essentials – toilet paper, food, medicine,
breeze and sunlight – we try to smile
through hand-sewn masks.

The harvested ice waits, stacked
to the rafters of the dark ice houses,
quarantined in layers of sawdust.
The vintage iceboxes wait to be filled
with the particular cold of those
slices of preserved January.
The loyal ghost ship is now able
to cruise her seasonal circuit
across the unlocked lake, but must wait
for now as we must: tied to the dock
but also unmoored by uncertainties.

The empty cots wait on the dry, swept surface
of the transformed hockey arena,
organized in taped-off rows,
simultaneously reassuring and foreboding,
so still and quiet in their competent anticipation
where once my students blazed past,
Andreas and Victor and Mike and Grant and Maddie,
chasing the puck, careening in a blur of joy,
riding that long-gone ice on the keenest blades.

 

 

Uncategorized

The Heads of My Colleagues

are sorted into a
constantly shifting grid,
Brady-bunch style
in the video-conference

we take turns being
Alice in the middle
as our voices
crackle in and out

one broadcasting
from her car
because she needed
to escape her house

another swooping in
late with lunch
and one holds
a grinning dog

and here’s one sweet
baby with lots to say
to her tired,
tender mother

more than half of these
heads wear spectacles
and one sports
a baseball cap

and there I am,
my own head floating
in my own framed
portion of home

just touching and
touching my face
enough to make me
worry about myself—

holding my
chin in my hands,
resting my
cheek on my hand

touching my nose,
my mouth, the corner
of my eye – what
am I looking for?

the heads and shoulders
of my colleagues
float in kitchens,
in living rooms

and I squint into these
temporary windows,
curious about what I might
glimpse of their lives

among those cabinets
and light fixtures,
window treatments
and houseplants

each detail I transform
briefly into a crucial clue
each colleague made
newly mysterious

by my scrutiny, my curiosity –
or is this pandemic
tenderness blooming
across new, strange distance –

a kind of longing, and
inside this longing,
a wandering
would-be koan –

love is curiosity
is love – even if that
is neither true
nor a proper koan

I do believe just now
that I am infused
with something
like love

and I have touched
my face enough
times now that
the tears are coming

they were not
on the agenda
but the sweet baby
understands

and cries
in solidarity
with this fraught,
sad love, this

fierce and tired
and complex
but also simple
love

for the heads
of my colleagues—