“You need to sit still,” Mrs. Nottingham admonished, hair brush in hand. Penelope was the absolute worst when it came to patience. Every day she had to sit through hair, and makeup, and dress fittings, an endless litany of responsibilities out of the spotlight that hopefully would make her more palatable to the public when she finally emerged from her various chairs.

“I’m just so bored,” she told the stylist, shifting in the seat.

“Don’t you want to look your best?” the older woman asked. But it was rhetorical. Her entire life, Penelope had been groomed for that exact moment, or the adjacent exact moments that made up her existence. It was never about her, either, which was the most frustrating part. She belonged to the country, as the country belonged to her, though she had never asked for the responsibility.

“I never asked for this responsibility,” Penelope whined. But even she knew she was wasting her breath. Mrs. Nottingham shook her head, mutely, preferring peace over setting the young girl to rights. It would be a long enough existence for the girl, but telling that to the princess was simply not in her job description.

“None of us ever ask for the things we get,” the older woman opined. “They just fall to us, because they are our due.”

Which, in Penelope’s not-so-humble opinion, was so much hogwash, what adults said when they didn’t have an answer but they wanted to end the subject. She sighed.

“Besides,” Mrs. Nottingham continued. “Lord Rupert will be here soon, so we don’t have time to bemoan our stations in life. It’s courting season, and you can’t be seen as anything but amenable to, how shall we say, certain dispositions.”

“But Lord Rupert has a massive overbite,” Penelope moaned.

“Which is precisely the disposition we must avoid,” replied the governess. “As you know, Lord Rupert is immaculate in all the ways that count. We cannot afford to dismiss him out of hand.”

We cannot afford to be flippant about our decisions,” snapped Penelope. After a few moments’ pause, Mrs. Nottingham shut her mouth, swallowing her words whole. It wasn’t her place to put the princess in her place, and she had already overstepped enough.

“As you wish,” she said instead, forcing a smile onto her generally taciturn face. She could only hope that her charge did not ruin what was best for her, when Lord Rupert did indeed show up to court, to woo, to make exchange of vows.

Because Mrs. Nottingham knew a secret. The king of the neighboring Belgravia had just lost his eldest son to a freakish horse-riding accident, which meant that Lord Rupert was next in line, suddenly, for that throne. But Penelope’s father wanted her to approve of the match, for her sake, not because a kingdom was in the offing. Mrs. Nottingham wondered if she could keep her mouth shut and let nature take its course.

And hope to god that it would take the right one.

That Revelations Feeling

“This is the way the world ends. Not with a bang but a whimper.” ~T.S. Eliot

I used to believe in the Apocalypse.

I thought it was some fantasmic, spectacularly obscene alternate reality that would somehow intersperse with our own sometime in the distant future, in some Buck Rogers timeline that wouldn’t see me in it at all. So I wasn’t worried. This was back before I had kids, so I wasn’t concerned about them either.

It was a far off dream, not favorable, but so far-fetched it couldn’t happen until there was a world gone awry, until perfect circumstances set it up for success. Not unlike most dreams, it had a basis, a grounding in reality, but it would always go off the rails at some point, and I would wake up drenched in sweat. It would take me a while to recover, but when I looked outside I knew I was safe.

I don’t feel so safe anymore. And the Apocalypse doesn’t feel so far fetched anymore either. It’s not something that might happen to others somewhere down the line. I’m still here. I’m still vibrant. I’m still human enough to recognize my fragility in the face of this novel event, in the cresting, crashing, then cresting again wave that is this virus. And I think to myself, will life ever be the same again?

Will I go out again in public sometime and not be worried that it might get me. Will I be in large groups again and not cringe away from others because of this social distancing? Will this be the “new normal,” where I’m wary all the time because no one will be able to tell me I’m okay?

I just don’t know. Which is the scariest part of all. People are saying, “When this thing is over…” but I’m worried it won’t be, not really, that this is just the first of many that will come, that will pillage humanity, that will take its pound of flesh before moving on. I’m worried that I will become such a recluse that I won’t want to open up again, that my wings will be permanently sewn to my back.

I don’t want that. But I’m afraid. That’s it, after all. I’m afraid that once this moves on it won’t have moved on at all, at least not in my soul, not to my fragile self. Maybe that’s the real Apocalypse anyway, the enduring fear of what may come, because of what has been, and what might be again.

I used to believe in the Apocalypse, but now I know that the fear of real life might just be worse.

Waiting to Exhale

The elevator buttons lit up one by one, as if touched by a child’s ghostly index finger, the display sparked like a Christmas tree finally dressed in its finery. Craig and Lindsay stood side by side at the rear of the car. They were headed to the fifth floor for a meeting, but, even though they knew each other, they did not interact. Neither did they react to the sudden illumination, one by one, of the floor numbers.

On four, Allison stepped on without even glancing at the display. She nodded at Craig but completely ignored Lindsay. It was rare for Allison not to speak, though it seemed customary for the other two, but she simply eased herself next to Craig as the doors slid shut once more. She was preoccupied by other things at that moment anyway.

At eight that morning, when she arrived for work, the fountain out front had sometime in the night begun spouting black water. She glanced at the strange color, but it didn’t slow her down. It wasn’t her problem, though she hoped it would be remedied by close of business. Not because she was afraid, of course.

“It’s probably just a prank,” they said around the water cooler on four. Delightful Décor had spread downward two floors from the fifth, which meant five more water coolers, and more chances to hear office gossip. Continue reading “Waiting to Exhale”

Day 14

I jest. But I really don’t. It is Day 14, for what it’s worth. Day 14 since I last saw my students. I didn’t think it would end so soon.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m still going to be having class, once this two-week spring break is done. But once I’m “back” in class it will be in a virtual environment. In fact, that’s what this two-week spring break is all about.

We’re calling it an adjustment period, but I don’t think if any amount of time can be enough to adjust to this new world we are living in, much less to adapt to a new teaching medium.

I teach college students. More specifically, I teach community college students — the ones who largely don’t have the resources they need. The environment of my classroom, and the resources available on our campus, gives them those resources.

And I’m worried. I’m worried that too many will not feel they can succeed in this new world. I’m worried that they won’t take advantage of the resources still available because they feel overwhelmed. I feel overwhelmed thinking about them feeling overwhelmed. I’m not a digital native, but I know that even though most of my students are, it’s in the world of social media, not in taking classes online.

They chose to take classes in person. They chose to show up at a set time every other day, to be present and accounted for, and now they are thrust into something strange and alien to them, for the most part.

I sent out an email earlier this week. It said:

We are in this together.

I meant it. I mean it. We are in this together, even though we are scared, even though this is a seismic shift. We are in this together, even though this isn’t what we chose. This is our world now, and it totally freaks me out too. I told them that. We’ve gotten to this place together because they know they can trust me to be real with them.

I will not stop being real. That’s how we will get through this together. It’s Day 14, three days away from it all beginning again, and I feel like I’ve done all I can to give them the best of me. Let’s hope it’s enough.

Feels Like a Sunday

It’s Saturday, but it feels like a Sunday. Perhaps it’s because of the pseudo-blizzard that hit late Thursday night into Friday that paralyzed a large portion of people who live in the Middle of Nowhere, New York state. I live in the Middle of Nowhere, New York state, if you haven’t guessed yet. While my kids enjoyed a second consecutive snow day (I think maybe there was ice or something on Thursday that kept them out — I had to work) my wife and I got to join in the fun.

Which, of course, means today is our second consecutive day here. But we aren’t just playing board games and listening to Patti Smith. We are also doing a truckload of laundry, helping clean the kitchen, and Maddie could even be found using the Swiffer this morning on the shocking amount of dust that might have been in my private study. Shhh. It’s not the only dust in this place.

And, of course, right now it’s pretty outside, which is the tradeoff of living in the Middle of Nowhere, New York state, a winter wonderland that never fails to amaze me when I part the curtains. It doesn’t seem to matter what part of the year we’re in, by the way, there’s always a chance of finding that winter wonderland outside the glass. I might shovel later, but I’m going to try and stay inside as long as I can. I’ve never been an outdoors person, and wintertime is no exception.

I’ve been grading like a dervish this morning into this afternoon, taking advantage of most of my classes having work they submitted before all this snow came down. I may be crazy, though, because I emailed all of the students who for whatever reason didn’t submit the assignments, letting them know I’m here for them, whatever their reasons were for the oversight. I like to think it means something to them, that I took time out of my day, off from grading their classmates.

So yes, it feels like a Sunday, but not in all aspects. For one, with the Super Bowl over, I don’t have any NFL to watch, either today or tomorrow (don’t get me started about the XFL). I have been steadying myself with the loss by watching the story of the 2019 Eagles on Prime. It’s much more interesting than trying to figure out who won the Iowa caucuses, in my humble opinion.

The coffee is calling my name right now, but I only have one mug clean. Of course, one is always enough. Now, if I could just get rid of this insomnia. Maybe on Sunday.

All the World’s a Stage

I like stages. I always have, though I never wanted to be in a theater production, though I never wanted to be some other character waxing eloquently with another’s words venturing forth from my mouth. But I like stages. The lights, the spotlight particularly, being in front of several hundred people all looking at me, nodding along with me, smiling along with me, like I’m some puppeteer and they’re the marionettes. Just without the strings.

Today I was on a stage. The lights were a little too bright, so I couldn’t see the faces of those out in the audience. I had to guess instead if they were with me, if they were following along or merely looked to be that way. Sometimes I wonder if I look that way to others who are also under the bright lights, squinting out at me through a haze, hoping I’m with them.

I guess in a way I’m on some kind of stage every day. In fact, today I guess I could say I was on five stages — four of the classroom variety, and one that was an actual stage. Of course my teaching style means I’m more of a “guide on the side” than a “sage on the stage,” but I do hold court on occasion. I like initiating the contact, and they give me something back in return. It’s a wonderfully blissful experience, most of the time, when they care to participate, when it’s not 8 AM, when they have their coffee IV’s firmly affixed.

But being on the actual stage reminded me how much I love it. I used to be in those stage productions, by the way, back in elementary school. I used to be the main character, or the town villager, or tree #3, whatever let me see the stage from my favorite side. It didn’t really matter how I got to see it. Somehow, though, as I got older, either my passion died out, or I forgot how much it made me tingle being up there, on display, for everyone to see, and judge, and see again the next time I was up there. I got caught up in life, in doing for others, in achieving a different sort of dream, and I forgot what it was like.

To breathe.

To inhale and let it rush all over me, cleansing me from the outside in, giving me a new lease on life. Maybe I need to spend more time on a stage, to give in to those long ignored feelings, because on some level I feel like I need it. I’m no longer that rangy twelve-year old, no longer the kid with an entire future left to be written. I have only so many more Sundays, and I want to spend them where I’m feeling alive.

And I haven’t done much lately that feeds my soul, outside of my chosen occupation, that is, but it’s different to do what you love and get paid for it. Quite another to have that spare time and do it simply because I love it, getting nothing in return but the satisfaction of having done it, of being absolutely in love with it. The stage calls.

I wonder if I’ll answer.

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