The weird way I am dealing with my back- to-school anxiety

11 Jul

I am not an anxious person, but as the details of my school district’s opening plan evolves, I have an unfamiliar feeling in my chest that I can only call anxiety. I am trying to deal with it by thinking back to times when I have felt this anxious and, despite living in Medellín Colombia from 1991-1994, I have nothing that compares.

What has been helpful, though has been thinking about my years in Colombia. It was the height of the drug war. Pablo Escobar had escaped from prison and there was a nationwide manhunt. FARC rebels were attacking police. Vigilantes were attacking narcotraficantes.  And yet, I only have two recollections of times I felt anxious there.

The first is at the end of my second year, when I had to change houses. I was struggling to find a house in Envigado where I could still employ my maid, Teresita, and have my dog. It ended well and I loved the traditional house that I found. It had thick white stucco walls and a floor with alternating yellow and green tile. The two barred windows at the front had wooden shutters that opened from the inside. There were two interior patios that had openings in the roof. In winter, when it rained, I loved the sound of the rain falling into the patio. My anxiety of looking for this house has been almost erased by my joy at finding it.

The second time I felt anxious, was in my second year. It was a particularly trying time in Colombia. In a country with the highest rate of murders and kidnappings in the world, it was hard to believe things could escalate, but they did, and it impacted us at school. The murder by vigilantes of the father of a girl in the class next to mine was bad enough. But then, on a family evening out for pizza, a boy in my class was affected. As the family car drove past a police roundabout, rebels detonated a bomb in the police station. The family’s car flipped. Lucas, my student, suffered a broken arm. His mother was taken to hospital and was in serious condition. When the principal and counselor came to talk to my class, I got tears in my eyes when a sweet girl named Veronica asked if we could pray. I had to wipe the tears away as each and every student got out of their chair and knelt in prayer for Lucas, his mother, and their family. We all felt like we were part of their family. A few days, when things took a turn for the worse,  we all attended a mass to pray for his mother’s recovery. Fortunately, she recovered and this horrible tragedy helped bring this class together in a deeper way.

So, all of this has me thinking about finding joy. Every day in isolation, I make myself do four things: exercise, read, write, knit. I think I am going to start writing the joyful stories I have from my years in Medellín. I might even post some of them here.

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Going Grey

7 Jul

I noticed my first grey hairs in the 90s, while I was working in Medellin, Colombia. A student named Felipe pointed them out to me and I told him they were all named after him. He thought that was pretty funny and told his mother, who was horrified, but laughed. Felipe was that kind of kid.

The really funny thing is that the conversation with his mother almost certainly took place in Spanish, but I remember it in English.

A few years after leaving Colombia – and more grey had appeared –  I was getting my hair cut and the woman in the chair next to me asked,”Is that your natural color, or are those highlights?”.

I told her it was and she replied,” You are really lucky.”

Since then, I have embraced the grey. That conversation helped me with its acceptance. I have watched family and friends both go grey and fight the grey. My mother spent years in a deep relationship with Lady Grecian Formula, stemming the grey tide, before finally embracing the inevitable. And she wore her grey well. My brother – who, like me, has my mother’s hair – has gone completely grey.

At my last haircut, on March 16th, my stylist cut my hair exceptionally short. I think she was anticipating the closure of salons. I am now at the point where I am thinking about getting my hair cut again. But I am also thinking about how ready I am for my hair to go completely grey.

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Walking with Lucy

30 Jun

The first walk comes early
out the back door
just as the sun is coming up.
It is followed by breakfast
and a nap.

The second walk comes later, still early,
as the street awakens with
cats, dog walkers,
and neighbors beginning
the journey to work.

The third walk comes mid morning
sometimes against her will,
mostly for my benefit.

The fourth walk comes after lunch.
On a sunny day
she might lay down on the sidewalk
taking a sunbath.

The last walk comes after dinner
her tummy full we take
one more turn around the street
before returning to the house
and she puts herself to bed.

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Jinx

23 Jun

In 1982, I went to Denmark as a Rotary exchange student. I knew I was to have three host families before I left. I hadn’t expected though, how much I would love them.

In fact, I loved my first family so much that I wished I didn’t have to move to the second. When the unthinkable happened just before the move – my second host dad was shot in a serious hunting accident – I thought it was my fault. I knew  it wasn’t, but I couldn’t help feel that I was a jinx.

The good news is that he recovered fully and I came to love that family even more than the first. But the feeling of being a jinx has never really gone away.

I was supposed to leave for Chicago on Thursday. I was supposed to attend the ALA Annual Conference and meet the members of YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adults committee, of which I am the chair. Even though I know that I am not the cause if the conference’s cancellation and transformation into a virtual conference, once more, I feel like a jinx.

Even though I know it was COVID-19’s fault, there is a wacky part of my brain that believes I caused it because of a journal I purchased.

I mentioned in an earlier post that I was revisiting bookbinding. In my pursuit, I thought I’d search Etsy for a nice handmade journal for my niece’s graduation from the University of Ottawa. I found a lovely maker who had some with maps on the cover.

You know how shopping sometimes goes – you find the perfect gift for your loved one, and a little something for yourself. Well, I found a journal with  Portland boards which I knew my niece would love.

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And then I saw one with Chicago covers. I had recently started a journal to keep track of my work as committee chair and knew this would help me do a better job. I purchased both. And that is when I jinxed the conference, although I didn’t know that for several more weeks, when the announcement came.

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Our committee met this week using Zoom. Our discussions were fruitful and have moved our work forward. But I can’t help wondering what’s going to happen in January, when we are supposed to meet, face-to-face in Indianapolis to select our winner at the ALA Midwinter meeting. There’s been a lot of what if thinking going on in my head these days as I navigate the ongoing COVID crisis, wondering what school will look like in the Fall, when this will all end. Maybe you have experienced this, too.  The only thing I know for sure is that I will not buy an Indianapolis journal, no matter how beautiful it might be.

 

 

 

 

A visit to the library

16 Jun

School ended for kids on Thursday and for teachers yesterday. That’s big news. But the best news was that I finally went somewhere new.

In normal times, I go to the library at least once a week. My last visit was on March 9th. When it was announced on March 17th that public libraries would close, I regretted not stopping on my way home from my last day at school to pick up my holds.

Two weeks ago, Multnomah County Libraries announced that they would begin offering holds pick ups. The first branches would open on June 8th. My local branch would open on the 15th. I was elated. On Thursday, I called the number they posted and made an appointment for 10 a.m. on the 15th. I can’t tell you how excited I was.

I arrived early, but they were already open. There was only one person ahead of me so I stood on the spot that marked our new norm

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The process was quick and efficient. I walked up to the table that filled the library’s doorway and gave my name. They found it on the 10 a.m. spreadsheet.

“You have quite a few,” the masked librarian told me.

“I know. I brought a bag,” I replied, holding up my library bag.

She walked over to the piles of books in neatly arranged around the lobby and grabbed  my stack. Back at the table, she placed them on a tray and slid them towards me. I stuffed the books in my bag and she slid the tray back.

“Do you need to see my card?” I asked.

“No. They are already checked out,” she replied.

I had already read one of my new books, so I dropped it in the book drop. When I made my appointment, the person on the other end of the line told me that any books I returned would be quarantined for a few days before being checked back in. It seems a reasonable precaution.

As I walked back to the car, I looked through the library windows and saw piles of books stacked atop bookcases in the children’s section. Must be the rest of today’s pickups, I thought.

Through the next window, I saw the books in quarantine. Apparently, I’m not the only one happy to be able t use the library again.

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Frozen in Time

9 Jun

Lucy and I were a little ways down the street when my neighbor came down the front steps of the Normandy Court Condominiums where we both live.

I waved.  She waved. It was that strange moment when, before, we would have moved closer to each other to chat. This day, as we do now,, we chatted from afar.

“Can I ask you a strange favor?” she asked me nervously.

I assumed she’d ask me to water her plants. It’s not a strange request – we’ve watered each other’s plants before, but so many things seem strange these days.

“Sure,” I said. “What do you need?”

She went on to tell me that, despite walking to work instead of taking the bus, she’d gained almost 17 pounds. That led us to a discussion of self-medicating with carbs and the need for second breakfast. Then came The Ask.

“I’ve signed up for Nutrisystem,” she began, “and they are sending me a month’s worth of food. Some of it is frozen and I don’t know if it will all fit in my freezer. If it doesn’t, and if you have room, would you be able to store some for me?”

I smiled. It was a strange request, but I said yes. I went on to tell her how, in the first two weeks of shutdown, when toilet paper had disappeared off the shelves, and we all felt as if time had frozen and every day was the same, I stocked up on food in my freezer. I made batches of soup and chili and stew and packed the freezer. For weeks, I didn’t touch the frozen food, unsure about what was going to happen. Over the last few weeks, I’ve begun eating them. So, I have some freezer space I can share and told her so.

We chatted a little more, then Lucy and I carried on down the street to take care of business.

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On my street

2 Jun

When I first moved to the home where I now live, I noticed a patch of asphalt that had writing carved into it. It was a little hard to read, but it was a memorial  to someone who had been killed.

Yesterday, as I was walking home from Whole Foods, I looked up and noticed that the signcaps on top of the street signs had Amharic writing. I stopped. How had I never noticed this before? Were these signs new?

I was a little surprised to find that the signcap at the top of my street was the same. How is it that I never looked at the sign? I have a vague memory of noticing that signcaps had been installed a few years ago, but I had never bothered to read what they said.  Most of the signcaps in this part of Portland, just say the name of the neighborhood, so I never looked. I just assumed.

Once home,  I did a little research. I learned that the signs were put up on November 13, 2018 to commemorate the 1988 murder of Mulugeta Seraw, an Ethiopian immigrant, by white supremacists. That was a Tuesday, so I would have been at school and missed the ceremony that occurred.  And I put two and two together and realized that the section of asphalt I’d never been able to read must have been about Mulugeta Seraw’s murder. After doing my research, I went back out to read the asphalt.

It had been paved over.

So here I am, putting together a lot of things we’ve all been thinking about these last few days.

What are other things I have seen but never looked at?

What other things are being paved over?

How can I do better?

 

What a difference a year makes

26 May

Last year, on the last Tuesday of May, I wrote about my 2019 Summer plans. This year, I have no plans to make plans. In fact, I have a list of the cancellation of things I’d planned or hoped to do:

  • the ALA Annual Conference in Chicago
  • the Black Sheep Gathering, a fiber festival in Albany, OR
  • the Oregon Basset Hound Games, which I help organize.

I have already heard that one September event I usually attend, the Oregon Flock & Fiber Festival, has been cancelled. I fear that this list might grow.

Things are starting to open up, but I am leery of venturing out. So, I decided to compile a list of things I could do to have a terrific summer staycation 2020.

  • choose a location then read books and watch movies about that place
  • knit a blanket or large sweater when it is hot outside, but cool inside with AC
  • learn something new – a craft, a simple musical instrument

With only three weeks (11 days!) of school left, I am resolved to focus on the positive. I am thinking of other things I can add to the list to make summer staycation 2020 as fun to anticipate as last year’s trip to Montreal.

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Packing up the room

19 May

Two years ago, I was told on the last day of school that I would be moved to a different grade and team. I had anticipated this news and had started packing up weeks ahead.

Last year, on the last day of school, my entire hall was told we would be moving to a different hall. I packed my room in one day, fueled by frustration and anger.

This year. Oh, this year!

This year, we are being given three days to pack up. Only one teacher per team can be there on any given day. A spreadsheet sign-up has been sent out. The school will provide boxes and gloves. It will be a bring your own mask party.

I hope pack up 2021 is less eventful.

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Zoom reality

12 May

I have to admit, I love the informal dress code of this new normal. And yet, despite my love of this informality, I try to “dress up” for meetings. Usually, that means wearing a shirt with a collar.

Last week, I had an important meeting with people I didn’t know well. I wanted to make a good impression so, before putting on the collared shirt, I brushed my teeth. I knew they wouldn’t be able to smell my breath, but that fresh minty flavor makes me feel fresher and more alert than coffee breath does. I returned to my bedroom. Should I wear the red shirt or is that too flashy? I wondered before grabbing  my light green  polo shirt from the drawer. I put it on. I was ready.

The meeting started with intros before rolling into business. As someone was speaking, I reached my hand up to play with the buttons of my polo shirt. But the buttons weren’t there. I focused my eyes more intently on the screen as my attention diverted to my errant buttons. With slow and subtle moves, I felt around. There was clearly something hard and buttony there, but I couldn’t understand why it was covered in cloth. I stifled a groan when the realization hit me:  my shirt was on inside out.

Can anyone tell? I worried. Continuing to divide my attention between the speaker and the screen, I scanned my image. The collar was outside and laying the way a collar should. The buttons were clearly not visible, but neither was the stitching that might have revealed my gaff. Thank goodness I chose the green polo.

At this point, I relaxed and rejoined the meeting with my full attention. There was nothing I could do to fix the situation, and – I hoped – no one could tell.  As the meeting wound up, I vowed that, next time, I’d skip brushing my teeth and be certain I had my shirt on properly.

 

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Randy Ribay

YA author, teacher, nerd

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