…during COVID-19? This was the title of a graphic embedded in Dean Laura Mosqueda’s fifteen minute presentation presented to the Area Heads and Program Directors of my school on Friday morning at 9:00AM. I popped into the room a few seconds late for the start of the meeting (from a previous meeting) – Friday’s are jammed full of meeting opportunities, especially as all the faculty and staff grapple with the current online teaching arena and as we come to the end of the spring semester.
I’ve always learned best by typing or taking exhaustive notes. Somehow it helps stick the information into my brain because of my learning style. But if not, it gives one a place to go to jog my poor memory, information seeming particularly ephemeral these days. And recently my habit has become more pronounced. Perhaps it coincided with my decision to accept a nomination to run for the Academic Senate Executive Board as Secretary General, or hmmm…something earlier. Being secretary for the student council while I was a freshman at St. Paul’s School, 14. Or maybe it’s a substitution for all the behaviors in the dark blue circle of the graph, but I’ve appointed myself the note taker for every meeting I’ve gone to recently.
I remember as a twelve-year-old, the fascination of teaching myself how to type by touch. I had a Corolla typewriter, and the little clothbound red typing manual and I’d squirrel away and practice for hours. My mom didn’t work – she’d been a stay at home mom, so I think it was my little effort to distance myself and find a career -what, become a secretary? Little did I know at that time that post-divorce, my Mom would go on to attend Columbia and become a journalist. She showed me the true value of being able to type. To get your valuable ideas down on paper. But my recent stenographic efforts come more from the desire to be useful.
Friday, while searching for myself in the blue blob, I was trying to keep up with the Dean’s well-paced presentation. She spoke clearly about the complexities of testing, those which determine if a person with symptoms has the virus, and once they have recovered, tests to determine if they have the antibodies necessary to be immune. My head was swimming; appropriately, the diagram was in the section of her talk called “Giving your brain a holiday.” She shared some helpful tips to do that: turn off the news, give yourself a “timed wallow.” And some other positive suggestions. I was still metaphorically doggy paddling in that sea of blue. I was busy admiring the graphic design that encouraged me to paddle toward the lighter color, away from the depths of fear and unhealthy behaviors, toward the shallows where people climb out of the water, towel off and stride into the future, the promising but unclear “new normal.”
I assigned our students in THTR 130 a paper about “What will theatre be after COVID-19?” Not surprisingly, they are skeptical about the speed with which we will return to our packed theatres, but most of them are curious about the directions which this new trajectory will take their budding career aspirations. They bring a flexibility of thinking, and their young minds are firing with the…well, with the energy of young minds.
Back to the graph – it is such a helpful framework for the kind of personal introspection I’ve been doing, both about behaviors in this time, and in the baby steps I take for the first time in my adult life in finding and creating purpose unrelated to someone else’s needs. Having been married at twenty four, my purpose and goals have been willing, enthusiastically intertwined with my partner’s for the past thirty-five years. I join the ranks of the single, who decide the course of their future lives.
Last night, I participated in a two hour conversation with eight of my school mates from the graduating class of 1978. We shared with each other how we’d arrived at St. Paul’s School in Concord, New Hampshire in the fall of 1974, the fourth class of young women at the school. We talked about what had brought us there, a myriad of stories which were shared frankly and with the distance that thirty-seven years can provide, rendered quivering in that intimate virtual space with honesty and the shared recognition that those experiences remain in our adult DNA.
We blurted out freely what our experiences had been while there, again, a mixture of exemplary to miserable. I’m not alone to be surprised by some of the stories shared and how unconscious of others’ pain I’d been. We were fourteen through seventeen, and we remarked about how woefully unequipped we’d been to even know the questions to ask of each other to help those of us through the mire of teenage angst. Meanwhile, we were together in the crucible of coming of age, witness to each others’ intellectual and emotional development.
More importantly for the purposes of this post, our host asked us each to share why were we there in that zoom room together at this moment in our lives.
Boom. There it is. The question of the month/year. What’s brilliant about being this side of 60 is that we know the questions to ask now. We know how to tease out the the fourteen year old experience from the mix and to revel in the way that in spite of that temporal wart of misery, each of us has come away from the experience of St. Paul’s with resilience, and a world-facing talent. Many of us are artists, writers, academics, environmental activists and scientists, caring contributors to our communities. We are a fierce group of strong, confident women in the world. We came of age together, and can see the kernels of who we were then in the full grown stalks of the women we are today.
Does that mean we’re all completely satisfied with where our lives have gone? No. Does that mean we don’t each have a new chapter ahead in our lives to complete or explore? Of course not. I was so moved by the comfortable and kind way they probed into my loss of my husband. It is the perfect example of knowing how to ask the tough questions we had no way of knowing how to ask when we were teens. It came from a deep pool of caring, and also from a natural curiosity about trying on the idea of how they would master under similar circumstances. We don’t talk about serious loss of our partners in the world I live in, anyway. I felt their questions in the loving way they were intended. I felt buoyed by them to share briefly what that trajectory has been. What I wish I had told them was how our friend Nora demonstrated her love for me and support during that difficult time, by flying out to Los Angeles in March, 2019 to help be my Tension Tamer. That’s who Nora has become. It’s a prime example of the strength of our early DNA in forming who we have become.
Their questions last night allowed me to share the deep swim from the dark blue of that graph of Fear, through Learning and now how I’m on the shores of Growth. I am in the place where I am defining who I want to be in the world. For the first time since I was that young woman they all knew. In a funny way, I am that young woman clad in white eyelet, processing onto the back lawn behind the chapel, pondering the unlimited prospects ahead of me. What do I want to do (or perhaps now, continue to do) with my life? And we’re all in the same procession, ladies.
During our zoom mini reunion last night, I floated the idea of creating a story board or portal for sharing stories of resilience with young women who are currently in the crucible of teenage years, specifically at SPS. Perhaps the form it takes is sharing what we know about the right questions to ask so that those fourteen through seventeen year olds can find the comfort that we now know was right there had we known how to ask.
There is much to be said for the reconnecting this damn pandemic has allowed us to do. I’m so grateful to our friend Nora for organizing this lovely and loving group of women to journey forward out of this crisis with. I also can’t wait to be on the shore to hand out the towels.