As are many of us struggling with the COVID blues (actually, for me it’s more like the mean reds), I’ve been in a holding pattern in most areas in my life. Yesterday, frustrated by yet another plan gone awry, I wailed at my husband, “2020 was supposed to be the year of Becky!” There were/are two big milestones for me this year—I turned 50, and my husband and I will celebrate our 30th wedding anniversary soon. I was going to go on a grand zip line adventure for my 50th because one of my greatest childhood memories was riding the rickety (and, now that I think about it, pretty dangerous) zip line in the playground at Titchie Swot at RVA.
I remember climbing up the planks nailed into the tree and stepping onto the wooden platform, my knees shaking a little, my hands sweaty. Titchie Swot zip line protocol demanded that the last person to have zipped would wait and hold the trolley wheel until the next person was ready to go. I accepted the handle, watched the other person disappear back down the tree, and turned to face the line. Gripping the handles on either side of the wheel that was balanced on the cable, I took a little hop up and jumped out. As I zoomed over the playground towards the big tree on the other side of the line, I whooped and hollered, giddy with the freedom of flight.
Thirty-nine years later, I still remember the danger, the excitement, the exhilaration vividly. So when I started planning a daring do for my 50th, all I could think of was that zip line. I found a place that had several zip lines interconnected, a three-hour “tour” of the tree-tops, and booked two tickets for me and my husband, along with a nice bed-and-breakfast stay. Then COVID struck, the zip line shut down for a couple of months, and I ended up having a very nice, but not very exciting, supper with my family for my birthday.
For our 30th anniversary, Casey and I were in the thick of planning a two-week trip to Croatia. (Yes, Croatia. It’s gorgeous. Don’t you judge me.) We’d planned the itinerary and were almost ready to finalize booking with our travel agent, and then COVID hit. So no trip overseas for us this year—maybe, if the city and state don’t shut down again, we can do what I planned for my 50th on our 30th. Or we may just have a nice supper.
And then there’s the effect of COVID on my writing. After a bit of a dry spell, I finally had an idea for my next novel that excited me. I started researching and planning, even going so far as to learn how to tell fortunes with some gypsy cards from the 1940s. I muttered possible dialogues as I watered the garden or went for a walk around town. (If you’ve seen me doing that, friends in Siloam, relax. I’m only a little bit mad.) I wrote three beginnings, trying to figure out which way I’d like to go, and then the mandates from the university where I adjunct started appearing in my inbox, like so many goat-head burrs on my socks.
Exhortations to be ready to teach face-to-face while staying far, far away from my students poured over me and made my head and my heart hurt—one of my classes is a writing class for students who aren’t quite ready for English I. They generally need a LOT of interactive coaching (read: me looking over their shoulders and asking questions or making suggestions) and cheerleading, as I try to convince them that they are NOT terrible at English; they simply need to learn the tricks, and I’m just the old gal who can teach them. Standing in a duct-tape-on-the-carpet “box” at the front of class, a mask over my face as I try to teach, unable to show my smile of encouragement, is frankly a nightmare. So is making sure all the assignments in and out of class are online accessible—no longer can I, on the spur-of-the-moment, say, “Get out a piece of paper and let’s create some sentences.” No, I have to plan ahead and create a discussion board post for every interaction. Normally I spend an extraordinary amount of time trying to convince my students NOT to look at their laptops or phones in class and instead engage face to face, because research has shown empathy has gone down with the advent of screens and the technology that runs them. Now I’m supposed to instead encourage my students to stare at a screen all day, every day. So much for building empathy by looking at and responding to a human being’s expression. I’m telling you—the effects of social distancing and mask wearing are going to be catastrophic psychologically in the long run, especially for our young people. Humans aren’t meant to live this way.
In short, we’re doomed.
So, hello hours spent on Blackboard, goodbye, great new idea for a novel. It’s sitting on the shelf dimming as I work to create folders, links to assignments, narrations for PowerPoints. I do hope it will brighten when I pick it up again, but I’m afraid that like so many of my dreams this year, it’s already slipping away from me.
Getting a contract of publication for my current novel has been the only thing that’s been really splendid this year. My novel is now in the hands of my editor, who says it should be ready for me by the end of August. I am looking forward to seeing her suggestions and spending some time on the rewrites, but I gotta be honest—I’m a little afraid to hope. 2020 has taught me not to make plans.
Five more months until 2021. Until then, I’ll be circling the runway (or the drain) with the rest of the world.