Turning oak

Today is one of those Mother Hubbard days: I want to write, but the cupboard is bare. Yesterday I conferenced with my students at Babson College, graded some papers, then came home, exhausted. I took a nap, read, and felt infinitely better for both.

Today I’m teaching at Framingham State, where I have a long break between my morning and afternoon classes. After teaching my morning class, I held office hours, prepped my afternoon classes, checked discussion forums, and graded (and am grading) yet more papers. At this point of the semester, my paper-piles are endless.

My office here at Framingham State overlooks the main street through campus, and I have my window ajar to let in fresh air. Along with the air wafts the incessant sound of leaf blowers. At this point of the season, the work of leaf-clearing is endless.

Windshield

Fallen

It’s been a weird autumn. Right before Halloween, we had a storm that dumped five inches of snow, and this week, we’ve had a string of 70-degree days. The Japanese maple in our front yard went straight from reddish to brown: we won’t have a red-letter day this year when one corner of our yard ignites in fiery red glory. And today, the trees in our backyard cast off their leaves en masse: just like that, there is a crunchy, ankle-deep blanket of oak, cherry, and Norway maple leaves underfoot, many of the latter still partly green.

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.