I am always willing to be the one to take responsibility for making sure we are properly physically-distanced from anyone else we encounter on our travels. I truly hope we will not need to do so in the near future.
I remember reading something years ago when I worked on elder issues, although I honestly no longer remember who wrote this:
“People really don’t change with age. They just become more of who they always were.”
Today, as I get ready for my last day of Saturday classes after an incredibly challenging semester, that statement seems to ring so true.
Following is the photo of the place where I’ve spent most of my time during the last month – sitting in front of my computer. Sometimes I was grading papers online in the “Review” mode of Microsoft WORD, and sometimes I was meeting on Zoom.
Learning how to teach on Zoom has been a difficult journey. It reminded me of the fist time I saw myself on video. The experience was truly memorable and continues to exert its influence each time I see myself on camera before I begin accepting students who are in the Zoom “waiting room.”
Here’s an excerpt from something I wrote a while ago that has helped me remember both the humor and humility needed to face this daunting but necessary challenge.
October 26, 2020 – Reflections about Zoom: Trying to maintain social connections in an era of physical distancing
I wonder how many people have seen themselves on video. I didn’t see myself on video until I was in my early 30s. It was a shock! All I could see were my imperfections. Mostly, the size of my nose! I remember the aftereffect vividly. As I climbed the stairs from the basement video lab in the social work building after watching my first taped interview, I wondered why my nose wasn’t bouncing off the walls three-feet away as I turned the corners of the winding stairway.
I laughed at the thought later, but it only made it harder for me to face another video-taped interview, or even worse, a public speaking event. And as luck would have it, I had to do a lot of public speaking in the first job I had after completing my master’s degree. Luckily, experiences before and after my first video taught me the power of humility and humor. They also taught me to face my fears head on.
Rather than continue suffering for days before each speech, unable to eat, I enrolled in a public speaking training course. Participants were required to present information on a variety of topics to other enrollees as the camera rolled. Then, we analyzed our own and other’s videos to identify both strengths and suggestions for improvement. I didn’t notice my nose. What I did notice were a few surprising strengths I had never noticed before.
No one would be able to tell that I was scared and nauseous. There were no “tell” signs of anxiety – no stuttering or deadly space fillers of ums or ahs, no red neck or flushed cheeks, and no hands uncontrollably shaking. My presentations were animated by movements, facial expressions, and hand movements, and my voice was pleasant to hear, modulating appropriately with changing topics.
The experience also taught me some techniques to deal with fear.
Research your topic well. Know who your audience is. And choose the best ways to present information.
Take time to breathe and center.
Remember the purpose of your presentation. This is not about you or your ego. It’s about communicating authentically and effectively in order to convey crucial information on some topic that is important to the audience.
Don’t sit or stand behind a podium. Move! Use the extra energy from fear and anxiety to create a sense of presence.
Make eye contact with everyone in the audience.
Don’t take yourself too seriously and be ready to adapt to unforeseen glitches and opportunities with spontaneity and grace.
Fast-forward to four decades later. It’s not the size of my nose that bothers me most these days when I see my image reflected back to me on the Zoom screen. But honestly, I try not to notice the way the camera highlights the two front teeth that were the victims of bad dentists, or how the headphones I need for audio make my scraggly, thinning, graying hair look even more disheveled. Let’s not mentioned the wrinkles or the lenses on my glasses that either reflect light from the window or computer screen or distort the size of my eyes. These are a small price to pay for a long life spent on gaining knowledge and compassion that I hope to pass on to others.
The most difficult part of Zoom, though, is not being able to sense or change the energy in a room. All I have are words that don’t flow as easily when I have to remain stationary and speak to small images of student faces, or blank screens with their names when students turn off their video cameras. I can’t even tell if the Zoom camera ever shows that I am looking at them directly when they’re speaking.
Yet I try to communicate as effectively as possible anyway, because in these times connections matter even more. Although human connections with students are over a distancing medium, it’s the best we can do right now. I try to focus on the things that matter despite the vulnerabilities that are exposed in the process. A sense of humor and humility help…
The most difficult challenge now, though, is the fact that I have so little time to write or keep up with the photos, poetry, stories, and reflections that you all post on lovely blogs. As I face the beginning of a new semester all too soon, I wonder when I will ever find time to blog again. I have a new online platform to learn and courses to significantly modify in order to incorporate what I have learned about online teaching through trial and error.
One of lessons from the past semester is the importance of closing each class with a meaningful message. The PowerPoint slide I often share at the end of my research classes is posted below. (The photo on the slide is the “Beaver Moon,” taken on November 28, 2020.)
I just couldn’t resist sharing a bit of humor in the face of the present tragic times. Normally, I abhor ad hominem attacks. Sometimes, though, there doesn’t seem to be any other way to confront overwhelming destructive power…
“The Liar Tweets Tonight” by Roy Zimmerman and the ReZisters
The chance to work with colleagues who genuinely care about students and teaching
The opportunity to work with students who are eager to learn and think critically
Virtual friends whose creativity, passion, and kindness bring blessings of beauty, laughter, and new knowledge
A long life that has brought me to an old house in the northlands where I can marvel at the beauty of tiny crystals and wonder how many billions it takes to blanket the earth for hundreds of square miles under three feet of snow
And the health and strength to shovel
PS – If you’re curious to know how my car got the name “White Pony,” here are some links to older posts that tell pieces of the story:
Dear Sherri I doubt that you remember Billings Montana in August Air filled with smoke from the fires burning just beyond the ridge But I think of you fondly smiling almost every time I stand by the sink doing dishes
I remember our laughter in a bar after a long day when you were among the few to treat me like a friend even though I carried the heavy isolating distinction of keynote speaker at the BIA human services conference
Others looked at us our tears streaming as we laughed while you recounted stories about your nosy neighbors who reported you for feeding deer a nuisance to their sculpted yard and your creativity and humor watching their response to your latest prank peeking with binoculars through your kitchen window by the sink to watch them watching you through their binoculars to surveil your latest visitors
Life-sized sheep you crafted out of paper maché and placed in your yard as if they were “grazing” repeatedly moving them when you knew the neighbors weren’t watching to add to the illusion
The authorities finally grew weary of your neighbors’ fallacious complaints and left you alone to live as you wished feeding wildlife you loved
I am sorry I lost track of you after so many jobs and moves but I will always be grateful to you for bringing kindness and laughter into my life and forever brightening the mundane task of washing dishes as it did again this sunny morning
Do you ever want change something that annoys you? I don’t mean people, you know. I mean something like a moldy, funky bathroom.
“Ah, no,” you may tell yourself. “I wouldn’t know where to start.” So you make a few superficial changes and learn how to ignore the things that bother you. The things that you know will ultimately create problems.
Then one day you look closely. Who knows why now, but suddenly you can no longer screen out the dirty yellow daisy wallpaper on the ceiling that is sagging ever lower and peeling off. So you pull it off and discover that the glossy green paint underneath is even worse. It’s harder to ignore and you find yourself with a messy project you didn’t plan to tackle at this moment.
It would be easier to simply gut the whole bathroom and start over, but that’s not an option for many reasons. So you reflect on which steps need to be taken first and begin, learning how things are made in the process of deconstructing them, one by one, each in the proper order. You learn to laugh at your limitations and clumsiness.
“I need some kind of tool to pull this glued-on rubber baseboard off,” you think to yourself. “Yeah,” you answer, “like longer, stronger arms.” And you laugh and keep trying until you figure out how to work smarter not harder. You learn patience and tenacity.
You still have other work to do. You’ve lived with this mess since you moved here seven years ago. So chill out, but don’t give up.
Remember things can only be done step by step. Remember to take care of yourself and your other responsibilities as best you can for now. Remember to take pictures next time so you can see where you started not just what you know still needs to be done. Remember to have fun and laugh at yourself as you misplace tools, tip over the paint bucket, put curtains on rods backwards, and spend hours figuring out how to put on fancy bathroom fixtures that your guests can figure out how to deconstruct in an instant.
Remember messes are temporary necessities. Living with the constant mess of books, papers, and now, all the stuff related to remodeling means taking some time just to breathe and escape into fantasy now and then.
But most importantly, remember that nothing lasts forever –except –the legacy of the love, laughter, gratitude, and celebratory joy you breathe into what you do.
I apologize for being so slow replying to comments and visiting your blogs. I do want you to know how deeply I appreciate all of you and the important work you share.
This post describes some of the reasons why I have been absent from the blogosphere. Teaching, spending time with my lovely granddaughter, and of course shoveling snow, have also made it difficult to for me to stay up-to-date blogging.
Meanwhile, the signs of spring are evident this morning.
The snow is gradually melting given warmer days, and come May, the class I am teaching will end. Maybe my repair work will be done by then, too, just in time for yard clean up and gardening. Hopefully, I will even have time and space to return to blogging and editing/ revising my book manuscript. In the interim, I send my best wishes to all of you.
Sometimes, I just feel an irrepressible urge to be silly. It seems as though we are all so weighed down by troubling events in the world right now. After posting a serious poem this morning, I looked out of my window. And laughed. Delighted. And this silly poem ran through my thoughts.
“Should I post it,” I wondered? “Why not,” I replied? “It might lighten another’s day.”
So here it is. Please excuse me if I appear to be a bit irreverent and risque, but too much sorrow is unhealthy.
Oh, please. Tell me it just ain’t so!
As winter winds begin to blow
buffeting the rapidly falling snow
But with my new long-johns on