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Together apart: A record of resilience in the face of a global pandemic
The entries below come from faculty, students and staff of the Department of English beginning in March of 2020. In this month, Colorado State University joined the state, the country, and the world by moving all classes online and shutting its doors to observe social distancing — a response to the rapidly spreading, novel coronavirus and its resulting disease, COVID-19. This page aims to record stories of the human spirit, experience and the ways in which we come together during times of crisis. The submissions below document the state of being, observations, and human responses to uncertain times.
From Professor Matthew Cooperman
Of course it was a bad idea––grilling a port/shallot/rosemary marinated pork tenderloin at 3:23am––but I did it anyway. Tuesday clarity, or what day is it? So much like love and learning, we ate heartily. Or fought mightily, “what in the world makes you think it would be a good idea to grill anything at 3:23am?”––aposiopesis, marriage, the virus.
Later, we reclined, or earlier, I’m truly not sure, the cavalcade of days eating salty snacks and pickled foods, trying to recover from our Zoom sessions, or Team sessions, trying to navigate our respective spheres of attention. Like a Venn diagram heading toward a wormhole, our positions began to slide. Which platform? Where’s the link? Is this my coffee, your Emergen-C, and who locked the dogs in the bathroom? There’s so much business to do and nowhere to go. Aby has Teams meeting with her occupational therapy team, pretty much every day, and because of HIPPA, they have to be private. I try to be clothed in the background. Or I go to the basement and zooma zoom, lecturing with my mini-white board, hoping my slim cache of dry erase pens holds. During peak hours––for us, or for Maya and her awesome 8th grade Boltz teachers, and amazing music therapists––you can almost hear the internet wobble.
Paradoxically, Maya is maybe doing the best through this. Being autistic has its advantages, and one of them is pure joy. Dancing in the living room, passing the shaker, the tambourine, it’s a riotous mess. And we go out each afternoon, to the carwash, where the lonely attendants have been waiting for us.
“Great to see you today, we were getting worried you wouldn’t make it.” Then, it’s to the top of the Pitkin St parking garage, solitarily pushing the elevator buttons, throwing the ball for the dogs. Or, most excitingly, looking for the train. When it does come we hoot for joy and call it a red letter day.
Later, at home, Aby plays piano––Avett Brothers, Ben Folds, Josh Ritter––while I murmur in the basement playing saxophone. Overcome with an unfortunate nostalgia, I become enamored with the melodies of The Carpenters––“We’ve Only Just Begun,” “Rainy Days and Mondays”––while in his room upstairs, Elias becomes an actual guitar player. It’s a fragile fragile egg, but we have enough soup, bacon and bread.
The truth is, we’ve had C-19 since early February. It seems clear now, at this end of the telescope, despite Aby’s negative test, that it was largely in the country about then. That bad flu with respiratory symptoms you had in February? Push the calendar back. Aby holds the world record for covid symptoms at 15, including orbital socket skin irritation, a weird tintinnabulation and––just found out about this one last week––covid toe, a weird purple discoloration caused by hypoxia. Indeed, as reports of reinfection, or a resurge in symptoms after a period of recovery, come out, it seems clear we had in February and then again in late March. But I think it’s going to be alright, the worm hole takes a million years. I’m reading Louise Erdrich’s spookily prescient 2017 novel Future Home of the Living God, and Aby’s only got sixteen hours of The Grapes of Wrath left on tape to listen to. In the meantime, there’s this uncanny valley, from SNL. Don’t ruin “the Zoom!”
Looking for hope
From senior teaching faculty member Debra Walker
APRIL 30, 2020 — A week or so ago, I was scrolling through the news--the wrong place, really, to look for hope--when I saw that an Irish news channel had closed its broadcast with this poem by Derek Mahon. Written in 1979, it nonetheless seems to fit the situation at hand:
Everything Is Going To Be All Right, by Derek Mahon
How should I not be glad to contemplate
the clouds clearing beyond the dormer window
and a high tide reflected on the ceiling?
There will be dying, there will be dying,
but there is no need to go into that.
The poems flow from the hand unbidden
and the hidden source is the watchful heart.
The sun rises in spite of everything
and the far cities are beautiful and bright.
I lie here in a riot of sunlight
watching the day break and the clouds flying.
Everything is going to be all right.
April 2020: Sheltering in place during National Poetry Month
Shelter-in-place mandates extending through spring 2020 at CSU kept English students, faculty and staff at home during all of April — National Poetry Month in the U.S. Throughout the month, those connected to the English department submitted readings from home, featuring their own poetry and that of the poets who inspire us.
English Instructor Nancy Henke reads a Nosty Fright
APRIL 9, 2020 — Nancy Henke, CSU English instructor reads a Nosty Fright by May Swenson.
Creative Writing MFA Student Daniel Schonning shares an original poem
APRIL 8, 2020 — Daniel Schonning, Master of Fine Arts creative writing student in the Department of English reads his original poem, Monad: A Sestina. Read the poem online here.
Professor Ryan Claycomb reads Abstract by Paul Otremba
APRIL 7, 2020 — CSU English Professor Ryan Claycomb remembers his friend, the late poet and fellow professor Paul Otremba, with a reading of Otremba's poem Abstract from his book The Currency.
A joke (sort of) from Professor Gerry Delahunty
APRIL 2, 2020 — Cliffs of Moher, son, and father (sort of).
Musings, a book recommendation and a poem from senior instructor Nancy Wright
APRIL 2, 2020 — We are on Day 10. My college kid came home from NYC on 3/23, and we are waiting our 14 days to see what came home in the suitcase -- hopefully just dirty clothes! So far so good, but this whole experience is a reminder to live in the moment-- to try to let go of that feeling of waiting for something to happen. Instead just trying to find now. I have been reading a lot of one of my favorite poets, William Stafford. The quiet of his voice is particularly comforting right now. I am sharing a poem I have posted in my kitchen as a reminder to be present-- "You Reading This, Be Ready." I am also recommending a book I am rereading -- The Excellent Lombards by Jane Hamilton.
You Reading This, Be Ready
By William Stafford
Starting here, what do you want to remember?
How sunlight creeps across a shining floor?
What scent of old wood hovers, what softened
sound from outside fills the air?
Will you ever bring a better gift for the world
than the breathing respect that you carry
wherever you go right now? Are you waiting
for time to show you some better thoughts?
When you turn around, starting here, lift this
new glimpse that you found; carry into evening
all that you want from this day. This interval you spent
reading or hearing this, keep it for life—
What can anyone give you greater than now,
starting here, right in this room, when you turn around?
English Professor Tobi Jacobi reflects on the day-to-day of sheltering in place and recommends a few books
APRIL 2, 2020 — Like so many of us, I find myself tucked into an underused room of the house, searching for the best angle on Zoom meetings, pounding out, erasing, pounding out again remote teaching directives for students, and recovering from my shift as geometrylogicEnglishsciencemusicworldhistorySpanishartchoir teacher for kids with the audacity to range from third to ninth grade. Most days we are happy to get by. Some days offer laughter. The promise of spring seems near. The grief of giving up so many things at once is nearer still. When the invitation to recommend books came through, I looked up at the bookshelf to my right and these three caught my eye, seemed quite apt as roadmaps for navigating the coming days. Then again, I also have these young beauties waiting for me in the garage, and I like the map they present as well.
Thinking of you all, missing you all.
English Instructor Devon Fulford recommends national bestseller Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood
by Senior English Instructor Airica Parker
MARCH 29, 2020
When the news came from the other side of the world,
it felt distant but near. Since, my story has been one
woven with others caught for breath - one more breath,
one more, one. One, it's the word I keep hearing remade,
interconnection that sees the unique need first and well
within its long tides of sand making sand. My tiny grain -
a prayer held quietly, as I try to stay still, out of the way,
deepen my roots to the yin of rest, to new fresh water
in Venice. My images are seeds, soil, bears in windows,
Lorraine Hansberry asking me to look again, look here,
315 chalk squares make a hopscotch path, cat purring,
worn shelves of local food bank, video conferencing,
cookbooks stained with butter, empty roads, laptop,
listening for sounds that make dogs bark, listening
like krill to rhythms of ice feeding whales, snow falling,
birds singing in the cold, Yo-Yo Ma's Songs of Comfort,
sage's enduring green, girl on sidewalk shouting Hello,
tablespoon of baking soda, calligraphy of Tao and OM.
Text messages from a hospital in Houston feel distant
but near, and my small story wants what it always wants -
a love big enough to hold it all, a poem extending here.
Sheltering in place? Assistant Professor Ricki Ginsberg recommends NotYourPrincess: Voices of Native American Women
A note from Beth Lechleitner, senior English instructor
MARCH 26, 2020 — I just taught my first ever online class, with a few days’ preparation and lots of fantastic department support. I must admit that I feel a bit like this:
But let me tell you, when that first student joined my Zoom meeting, I was so happy to see her—because it had worked and I was glad to be back in touch with, and seeing, students. I am learning so much, although the circumstances driving that are so unfortunate. I am feeling hopeful for the outcome of my classes this semester if nothing else. Signing off on Day 1 —Beth Lechleitner
An email message and video attachment from Creative Writing Professor Leslee Becker to English department colleagues
MARCH 26, 2020 — It's a very short video, and it does not require mastery of anything related to Canvas and school work. It can be done whilst wearing comfy bedclothes, and it doesn't ask for a pass or fail rating.
L. Becker has been receiving terrific work from students, and messages from students and colleagues that spark tears of wonder and joy. And yesterday, at Safeway, a woman offered to give me 6 rolls of toilet paper. I thanked her, and declined, but she insisted that I take at least one roll. Although I'd worn stylish attire for this rare and dangerous outing, she must've seen me as a recent escapee from the Detention Home for the Vulnerable and Bewildered.
I miss seeing you, and worry that our department has lacked a hall monitor for weeks.
Reflections from Dan Beachy-Quick, professor and assistant department chair
MARCH 26, 2020 — This is the view from my new office—a blue spruce so large I can’t see the top, rabbits curled into themselves in the cold mornings, sparrows gathering the dry grass for nests. It keeps me calmer to look up and see the world is just the same in more ways than it has changed; and now, teaching virtually, when a student’s face fills the computer screen, it looks as if the pine tree grows right out the student’s head—which somehow feels right, like what education could be, the forest rooted in thought.
In the afternoon I’m a personal gym teacher for Iris. On our tree-climbing bike ride expedition 2 days ago we saw a river otter on the far bank of the Poudre. Nice to know in dangerous times the endangered can thrive.
& here’s a poem a friend sent me, which I think is a sweet balm these days.
“Salute,” by James Schuyler:
Past is past, and if one
remembers what one meant
to do and never did, is
not to have thought to do
enough? Like that gather-
ing of one each I
planned, to gather one
of each kind of clover,
daisy, paintbrush that
grew in that field
the cabin stood in and
study them one afternoon
before they wilted. Past
is past. I salute
that various field.
A digital glimpse of the outside world: Live webcam links from Geneva McCarthy
MARCH 25, 2020 — There's a number of live cams of varying scape and scope (from cityscapes to marine vistas to the aurora borealis and, of course, animal and avian interests) that sometimes can bring more of the ongoing and outside into enclosed spaces. I tend to like those which include sound and/or a night camera as it offers a somewhat more immersive feel.
As it happens, I'd already started my herb garden (herbs offer nutrients especially helpful for mental health, and as a bonus growing has an inherent forward-looking energy), and put up bird feeders, which bring increasing visitors -- birds and/or squirrels, depending on the food selected.
I've also revisited those recipes that seemed overly complicated or time-consuming in the past (especially those that infuse the house with comforting scents) and might be worth reconsidering.
The geek in me has also found that it's a good time to explore interests I don't always have the time to attend, be that documentaries on whatever strikes one's fancy, articles on Academia.com, learning to sculpt, play an instrument, etc.
It goes without saying (if you know me), that playing music is often good medicine; who says you can't dance while cooking or enjoy Verdi while creating a collage?
Small things, but maybe a help to someone.
Thoughts about this webpage and the current environment from Lillian Nugent, assistant to the department chair
MARCH 24, 2020 — What a beautiful commemoration this will be…and so healing…and so necessary in our current condition. I look forward to contributing more thoughtfully, but the first thing that comes to mind is the intensity of the colors emerging and the sweet song of the birds I hear daily. It’s as if the birds are singing louder and stronger and more joyfully than ever, and the grass and plants and trees are coming forth with more fervor than I’ve noticed in year’s past. Taking daily walks, more slowly than my usual fast pace, has opened my eyes and blessed my heart with the beauty our earth has been displaying for each of us to breathe in. 😉
A poem to share, from Professor Cindy O'Donnell-Allen
MARCH 24, 2020 — I wanted to pass along the following poem that I'm sharing with my grad students this week, most of whom are graduate teaching assistants. They're having a lot of anxiety, not just about how their CO150 teaching will go, but about how they're doing personally and professionally with their own work. I think the poem is really appropriate for us as faculty and staff in the department as well.
Some context that's also relevant: An English Dept. alum who's a teacher in Cherry Creek School District passed the poem along to me--ironically, way before all the corona madness began. She found it on the People's Supper website. Here it is:
An Invitation to Brave Space, by Micky ScottBey Jones
Together we will create brave space
Because there is no such thing as a “safe space” —
We exist in the real world
We all carry scars and we have all caused wounds.
In this space
We seek to turn down the volume of the outside world,
We amplify voices that fight to be heard elsewhere,
We call each other to more truth and love
We have the right to start somewhere and continue to
grow. We have the responsibility to examine what we
think we know.
We will not be perfect.
This space will not be perfect.
It will not always be what we wish it to be
It will be our brave space together,
We will work on it side by side.