I try to imagine how it will go. Let’s say I’ve got 15 or 20 students in the classroom with me. Let’s say I have another 5 to 10 students who are still at home but who would like to partake in the classroom happenings. They call this a simulcast. What it really means, I imagine, is that students at home will be looking at a blank white board on their computer screens. Because my voice might be amplified, they might hear me, disembodied, addressing the students they can’t hear sitting in desks that they can’t see, and even if the audio is swell, what they hear will be decidedly one-sided. If they work really hard they might be able to pick up a full exchange or two. The students at home, every once in a while, might see me move through their screen across the blank white board to get from one side of the room to another. But every now and then, I will probably stop in front of this computer to check in on them, to see if they have questions, to see if they would like to contribute something or share something with the other students in the room. And this explains, in large part, why they don’t want us to deliver new instruction during a simulcast. The students at home would be seriously disadvantaged, even more so than they are in this scenario. I imagine that only the hard core will stick with it and the truth is that right now there’s just no better way outside of hiring a film crew for every teacher. Teachers just have to do more of that miracle stuff they do and that everyone expects, you know, super hero teacher stuff, like being all things to all people and in two places at one time.
Some new habits have already fallen away. For example, I think I went three days in a row without a preamble. Either I found it unnecessary (as it actually should be with poetry), or I just ran out of time or energy or both. But I continue with the continuity of titles or the lack thereof–which is an easy habit to keep up as it requires not a single iota of creativity. Each poem is titled with the day the poem was composed. Easy peasy. Today’s poem does not follow a prompt, but has been coming on for some time. As a teacher, the return to my building, to interact with students in person for the first time this school year, has been ever present in my mind. So here’s this:
Poem on April 13
Students will return to school on April 26 after learning at home exclusively for a full three quarters of a school year. Teachers will return to school on April 26 after teaching at home exclusively for a full three quarters of a school year. Some teachers will return to school on April 26 after teaching alone in their empty classrooms for a full three quarters of a school year. Some students and some teachers will enter a building this spring for the first time, literally, a building they have never stepped foot inside. Everyone will be masked. Everyone will keep at least three feet of distance. Masked teachers, it appears, might be wearing microphones so that the mumbling they do will be more or less comprehensible and that their voices will endure the three hours every afternoon when they are in the presence of live students. In the morning, beginning April 26, all students and teachers will continue learning and teaching in empty classrooms or at home, as they have done for a full three quarters of a school year. Each group of those computer kids will have a chance to join their teachers as real live kids–twice for each class every week in the afternoons in actual true-to-life classrooms. Teachers have to decide, after they have taught their computer kids and then some of those same students show up as real kids, what to do now with the live ones, knowing that they can’t theoretically give the live students something that the computer students didn’t have, in fairness. Although, we know, don’t we, that they will end up giving the live students something that the computer students didn’t have, by necessity and in actuality. Time. Opportunities to explain, to clarify, to demonstrate, to repeat, to unmuddy the botched computer lesson, to observe, to supplement, to look into the eyes of students and to hear their voices for the very first time. For students, time and opportunities to question, to write by hand, to speak, to be heard, to be helped, to be seen. Teachers also have to decide how they will continue to do the things they were already doing for a full three quarters of a school year with the three or four hours they are now dedicating to the live ones in the room. They weren’t sitting on the couch eating bonbons; they weren’t lounging by the pool or taking exhaustive afternoon naps or enjoying early afternoon cocktails. So the most difficult school year of their careers gets a little bit more difficult even as it gets a little more joyful at the same time. We’re banking on that last bit. This school year, almost more than anything else, needs a shot, maybe even two doses, of some serious joy, an infusion of happiness, a strong, exuberant finish.
Be Drunk by Charles Baudelaire You have to be always drunk. That’s all there is to it—it’s the only way. So as not to feel the horrible burden of time that breaks your back and bends you to the earth, you have to be continually drunk.
But on what? Wine, poetry or virtue, as you wish. But be drunk.
And if sometimes, on the steps of a palace or the green grass of a ditch, in the mournful solitude of your room, you wake again, drunkenness already diminishing or gone, ask the wind, the wave, the star, the bird, the clock, everything that is flying, everything that is groaning, everything that is rolling, everything that is singing, everything that is speaking. . .ask what time it is and wind, wave, star, bird, clock will answer you: “It is time to be drunk! So as not to be the martyred slaves of time, be drunk, be continually drunk! On wine, on poetry or on virtue as you wish.”
The dry January turned out to be a dry January and February. As of this writing, 3/08/2021, I have been “sober,” or, I have abstained from alcohol use for 65 days. I have needed to find other ways to, as Baudelaire exhorts, be drunk. Oregon just had one of it’s worst winter storms in memory–at least, in my memory. Two days of heavy snow. Two more days of freezing rain. For my family, 6 days without power. For many of my neighbors, up to 10. So we have been drunk, of late, with powerlessness. When it came back on a few weeks ago, I found myself drunk on electricity. I couldn’t get enough of the stuff.
There has been some sad drunkenness–inexpressible, really–about the massive loss of life from COVID 19 in the United States alone: a half a million people. An inconceivable loss–especially difficult in its abstraction. Be it luck or ignorance, I’m not sure which, I have not known a single one of those half a million. I have known people who were ill and then recovered. So, drunk I am with thanksgiving. The universe has been looking out for my people. I am so stupidly lucky.
I have been drunk on my first dose of Pfizer vaccine, drunk with gratitude, and drunk, at least for about 16 hours after, with a really sore arm. I was drunk at the Oregon Convention Center with pure awe at the proceedings, hundreds upon hundreds of masked individuals, while maintaining 6 feet of distance in front and behind them, snaking their way though a labyrinthian series of lines and ropes, through one door and then another, into one big room and then the next, to this check-in station and another, until finally, the line to get a shot in the arm. I was drunk on the realization that I was, in that moment, taking part in a historic event, an event unlike anything in American history, maybe even in human history. Almost certainly.
I have been drunk on the good news that indicates we will see students in the flesh again by the end of the school year; the last quarter in our academic schedule will be, in some significant way, in-person. I will be able to see animated faces of students that are new to me this year for the first time. And while I am apprehensive about what this new hybrid model will look like, I am so much looking forward to working inside the school house once again.
And finally, I have been drunk on creativity of late–in creating things. You would think I would have been writing like a fiend, but no; I have done very little writing. I wrote a Winter poem. It turned out nicely. And I wrote a whole slew of lesson plans, but that’s not really terribly creative–I mean, it is, but not in the same way as a poem or a blog entry or a piece of fiction. No, mostly my creative drunkenness has had to do with music, first, by going through scads of unreleased, unheard, unperformed recordings from my band and deciding that, yes, these pieces need to see the light of day. And so quickly, from the time of conception to this moment, songs were chosen and sequenced, artwork was commissioned, a mastering engineer was employed, and the process began for a new album, new photos, new website, replication, the arrival on my doorstep today of a short run of compact discs. I’ve also been drunk, possessed rather, with hopes to upgrade the studio for the new project.
Generally speaking, I have been drunk with optimism. Things are looking up. They seem to continue in this trend. And this made me think of the Baudelaire poem, a poem I shared I don’t want to say how many years ago now, with my high school classmates at the 30 year reunion. I was actually drinking quite a bit then and continued almost uninterruptedly until January 2 of 2021. I really and truly don’t know how much of my present happiness is the direct result of cutting out alcohol–and I really am not bragging or making any promises to anyone about how much longer I will abstain. I just think that it’s worth noting. So I make a note of that as I move headlong into an impending Spring Season, finding new and exciting ways to “be drunk.”