Refrigerator collage

This morning when I turned on NPR, they were discussing the experts named to President-Elect Joe Biden’s COVID-19 task force, including Massachusetts’ own Atul Gawande (excellent choice). There was a story about vaccine trials and word that stock futures were up in response to Biden’s win. And then almost as an afterthought, mention was made to President Trump and how he still hasn’t conceded the election, his Twitter tantrums now pushed well below the fold. Go into the corner and pout, Donny: the grown-ups have work to do.

I won’t miss the news’ daily fixation on Trump’s Twitter feed: he’ll still post his grievances online in ALL CAPS, but nobody except his diehard fans will have to follow him. When the sitting President tweets, it’s front-page news, but when a lame-duck (and soon-to-be-former) President tweets, it’s page two, three, or even four material. How quickly Trump has become almost-irrelevant: still possessing more power than he deserves, for sure, but destined to be a historical footnote as a one-term President.

There are many pressing problems in the world–so many issues that demand complex problem-solving. For the past four years, worrying about the President and his latest abuse of power was at the top of the list. Now that the Resistance is no longer focused on the Bully-in-Chief, there are other, more important problems for us to tackle: climate change, racial injustice, economic inequality. The past four years of heightened political activism have been a training ground for an ongoing fight.

In the meantime, the news cycle, which for so long was focused almost entirely on All Trump, All the Time, has begun to move on. It’s about time.

Concord River from North Bridge

Warm November Sundays are especially sweet when you know the dark days of winter aren’t far behind.

Glass ceiling smashers

When news broke this morning that Joe Biden and Kamala Harris had won the state of Pennsylvania and thus the White House, it was almost anticlimactic: another notification on my phone, but this one with the magic number of 270+ electoral college votes.

“We should go somewhere to celebrate,” I told J, “but there is nowhere to go.” Instead, J took down the Joe Biden flag we’d been flying by our front door and carried it with us as we took our daily walk around our neighborhood, talking to neighbors, waving to strangers, and cheering as folks in passing cars honked and waved.

I’m still settling into the news that Trump will be gone in January: it takes a while to wake up from a four-year nightmare, and my inner realist knows there is much more work to be done. But last night, J and I were comforted as we watched the brief address Biden gave in Delaware, urging patience as ballots continued to be counted and expressing confidence that he and Harris would win.

As Biden expressed sorrow at the more than 220,000+ Americans who have died of COVID-19 and explained that he and Harris are already planning how to tackle the pandemic on day one, I felt a sense of relief that finally we will have someone in the White House who is empathetic, competent, and clear-eyed about science.

“It’s nice to have a President again,” J said after Biden finished speaking, and I couldn’t agree more.

Resting in peace

After another whirlwind week, it’s a relief to reach the respite that is Friday. I teach in-person (and thus wake up early) on Wednesdays and Thursdays, so on Fridays I sleep in and look forward to simple domestic pleasures: the morning dog-walk, a cup of tea at my desk, a half hour spent reading before I turn on my laptop to face another day of email, virtual meetings, and the mundane juggling act that is my work-from-home life.

November parking garage

One of the (many) strange things about teaching a hybrid class during a pandemic is the ghost-town vibe on campus, with few students and even fewer professors, closed meeting rooms and shuttered offices, and plenty of parking.

Walkway to class

I remember teaching in the aftermath of the 2000 presidential election between Al Gore and George W. Bush. I went to bed believing Gore had won, I awoke to news that the race was too close to call, and for weeks thereafter I taught under the Cloud of Unknowing, waiting for the other coup to drop.

In those days I was an adjunct instructor at Saint Anselm College in Manchester, NH. The adjunct in the basement office next to mine was a political science professor who has since earned tenure and moved onto greener pastures. (I, on the other hand, have simply moved on.) For weeks after the election, I overheard Professor Poli Sci talking on the phone with CNN and other news outlets, explaining again and again the intricacies of the electoral college and how it was possible for the loser of the popular vote to nevertheless win the White House.

Ever since 2000, I don’t believe preliminary election projections: it ain’t over until the race is officially called, the loser actually concedes, and all the votes are counted. And ever since 2016, I haven’t believed pre-election polls, either. For all the outspoken Trump and Biden supporters who wear their politics on their sleeves, there are the uncounted unknowns who don’t answer the phone when pollsters call or simply fib when asked directly about their vote.

Whereas in 2016 I felt crushed by a defeat I secretly feared but hadn’t emotionally prepared myself for, last night came as no surprise. Yes, I would have liked for early results to deliver a clear mandate against Donald Trump (or at least the state of Florida or Ohio). But this year I knew two things: Trump would win states with a history of voter suppression, and the result would be decided by a handful of swing states like Pennsylvania that are deeply divided between vocal Trump supporters, enthusiastic Biden supporters, and the untold enigmas who might vote either way.

Twenty years later, the lesson of 2000 still holds: it ain’t over until the race is officially called, the loser actually concedes, and all the votes are counted. In the meantime we wait, hope, and wonder what in the heck 2020 has in store for us next.

Yesterday's news

I’ve been tethered to my laptop for most of the day, commenting on a fat pile of student essay drafts in advance of tomorrow’s in-person classes. Reading student papers is an excellent way to ignore the news: paper-grading requires concentration, and concentration is the antithesis of the obsessive checking of the news and social media I did four years ago on Election Day.

Earlier when I stepped away from my paper piles to pick up our usual Tuesday night Thai takeout, my smartwatch began vibrating at urgent intervals, each buzz an admonition to Check My Phone for the latest predictions, punditry, and speculations. J and I will watch the news later tonight, but for now, I swipe away each urgent buzz and turn back toward that fat paper pile.

Make America America again

It’s the night before the 2020 presidential election, and I’m feeling oddly calm, all things considered. The news and my social media feed alike are full of anxiety-inducing news: rising COVID numbers! The threat of election day unrest and voter intimidation! The possibility of a contested election! Trump might win, Trump might lose: we might not know for weeks or months, and even if Trump loses, he might not ever leave!

My current sense of calm isn’t confidence; it’s more like fatigue. After four years of following every Tweet and headline, I’m resigned to whatever happens tomorrow and the days after.

I’ve already voted, and I’ve done everything I could these past four years to stay engaged, pester my elected officials, rally the troops, and get out the vote. Now, on Election Eve, it’s all over but the waiting. I know who I want to win, and I know what’s at stake if my preferred candidate loses. But right now, on Election Eve, everything comes down to the results in a handful of swing states. I wish that weren’t the way things worked, but I didn’t make the rules.

On Election Night 2016, J and I were so hopeful Hillary Clinton would win, we chilled a bottle of champagne to celebrate. This year, we don’t have any champagne, and we aren’t expecting a clear outcome on Election Night. I hope that Trump loses–the polls suggest he will–but this time around, I won’t be surprised if the polls are wrong. Whoever wins the election, and whatever mayhem might happen afterward, the work of citizenship will continue. For now, I’m resting up for whatever comes next, not knowing exactly what that will be.

Leaf litter

The day after a snowy Halloween, the ground is carpeted with sodden leaves and an occasional candy wrapper.

Kicked to the curb

This morning I’ve already done a ragtag assortment of small tasks. While holding virtual office hours, I checked discussion boards, made a to-do list of teaching tasks, folded laundry, filled out my vote-by-mail ballot, emptied wastebaskets, answered email, and finished one batch of Postcards to Voters before starting another.

Still undone are the committee work and paper-grading I’m currently procrastinating, because the best way to get lots of tiny tasks done is to have several big tasks you’re avoiding.

One of this morning’s emails was from a student who wants to meet with me to devise a strategy for keeping up with his college workload. College is a big jump from high school: most of the work is self-directed with relatively little time spent in class, so many students struggle to manage So Much Free Time without Mom and Dad close by to supervise. The situation is even worse during a pandemic, when hybrid classes mean you spend even less time in class and even more time online, doing (or not doing) work with a more flexible deadline.

One of the most valuable things any student can learn in college–either during a pandemic or not–is how to manage oneself and one’s time. How motivated and self-disciplined are you in accomplishing tasks when there is no one watching except your own Inner Taskmaster?

I am probably a bad person to advise on the matter, given how much I myself procrastinate. And yet, I somehow manage to keep more balls (mostly) in the air than many folks I know, teaching at two colleges while tending a houseful of pets and maintaining some semblance of a civic and creative life.

The question isn’t how I do it but how my student already does. For I’m convinced that even a student who struggles to post to a required online discussion board three times a week has other things in his life that he does without fail at least as regularly. So how did my student establish those habits: how does he remember to show up to his workouts, Facetime sessions with friends, or favorite video games and TV shows?

Truth be told, I wouldn’t get much (if anything) done if it weren’t for Google Calendar reminders buzzing on my wrist, daily Google Keep checklists I update at the start of each week, and countless to-do lists written on memo pads and sticky notes. Even when it comes to enjoyable things that I want to do, they don’t get done if they aren’t On My List.

But that’s what works for me, and even my lists and calendar reminders and best intentions sometimes fail in the face of procrastination, inertia, and seemingly endless supply of Things That Need Doing. Sometimes a ball or two will drop, and you have to clean up the consequences. This too is a valuable lesson to learn in college or beyond.