The Great Rustling

On the OHT

There is a great rustling happening in my household. Maybe it is happening in yours. There is time now. Time to hear it and move toward it. The things we try to bury are unearthing themselves. Moving and bubbling and surfacing. Things we choose not to see are demanding to be seen. Things we choose not to feel are presenting themselves with force. This rustling is a signal of a new birth. The way a woman’s abdomen begins to contract before a new life enters the world. It is a labor. A labor of love and suffering that combines to powerfully usher something new and something beautiful into the world.

We cannot avoid the suffering in this labor. In the midst of the chaos caused by this virus, there is also a great stillness. This stillness allows the rustling to become louder, more visible, more powerful. And just like the birth of a new baby, it is unpredictable, uncontrollable. The forces of nature will not be silenced anymore.

My mantra today is: it’s ok to feel. It’s ok to feel the heartbreak of lost experiences. It’s ok to feel the joy of renewed connection with people you love. It’s ok to feel the worry about the future. It’s ok. Because this rustling is outside of us and inside of us. It is part of the great movement of humanity stretching and growing and evolving. It is part of the great movement of nature healing itself. These movements are in harmony. The rustling brings together these voices and these powers for change. Change, adaptation, and evolution of society and spirit.

My instinct is to resist, like so many people I want to shut it down and RETURN TO NORMAL. But normal doesn’t light the world on fire, normal does not illuminate or lead to new life.

In the calm stillness of the world the beauty of the rustling has the opportunity to emerge. I am ready to embrace it.



I keep seeing posts calling this a strange, weird time. This feeling of unfamiliarity seems to be creating an eerie atmosphere as our communities now look very different than they did before. Such massive change and upheaval to our daily lives, at least for me, has created a cycle of emotional movement that I find difficult to process.

This noun, estrangement, describes for me the condition we find ourselves in. Estranged from our communities, in some cases from our families and even ourselves, compounds the effects of the real political and economic consequences we are facing. How do we deal with the fact that we are no longer able to participate in the anchoring spaces that we have built for ourselves? It could be church, colleagues, neighbors, and other organizations that fuel our need for social connection. Being estranged from these groups even as we are creatively trying to build new ways of continuing them makes for emotional challenges that we don’t really have a good language for yet. Articulating these feelings is a good way to process them but describing feelings that as a collective we have never felt before (at least in America) poses a unique challenge.

I don’t really have a way to do this either but I do think it’s worthwhile to continue talking through it. Writing, discourse, language offer us vehicles for discovering this way of talking about what is unfamiliar.

Perhaps what is most strange is this gift of time. Suddenly Americans are easing back, taking stock, breathing deeper, slowing, slowing. This feeling of not having to GO anywhere feels like a vacation. But it is accompanied with feelings of fear and anxiety. These two feelings, at odds with each other, have to coexist with us as we are in our homes and disconnected from the places we frequent most. I am working at settling into this new sense of time. To enjoy sitting quietly on my back patio and watching the sun rise. To find a rhythm of daily life that beats around love and family and self-care.

Of course, there’s that and then there’s the swirling jumble of other things rising to the surface. The thoughts and feelings that we numb with screens or with food or with doing all the things. In the space of just a week, for our family at least, the noise of the world has quieted and we are facing the voices that have been drowned out all this time. I learned today that a young woman, a substitute teacher at one of our high schools, took her life. For some, this part, this listening to our own heartbeats, is such a new and strange way of being that for some it is too much. It is overwhelming and painful. For me, it is overwhelming and painful. But I am also able to see the immense possibilities in this new sound of my heartbeat. To feel with grace the uncurling of my voice. The uncurling of my expectations, the uncurling of my love–for myself and the people around me. What happens when we are still is that we discover an internal divinity that has always been there. When we listen to it, it can teach us how to love ourselves so that we can love others. The saddest part about this woman’s suicide is that she never found that love and now cannot. The command to love your neighbor as yourself just doesn’t work unless we can be in tune with that self that is wholly our own and that is wholly loved. That is what estrangement can do. It can make us pause. Make us look around without expectation because there are none. No one has a program to follow or a rule book on how to do this. We have a unique opportunity to sit in this strangeness and discover ourselves. That is how I am living with COVID-19.

The Postpandemic Landscape

“I feel it in my bones. Enough to make my systems groan. Welcome to the new age, to the new age.”

“Radioactive” by Imagine Dragons

COVID-19 has upended all of our lives and we move through these uncertain times carrying fear and anxiety. As an invisible agent, this virus wields enormous power. It calls on media to report, neighborhoods to gossip, and agencies to act. If there has ever been a time to think apocalyptically, it is now.

The stories that we tell about the futures we can imagine matter as we move through the uncharted territory of such a landscape. And the story of higher education is no exception. A recent article in USA today (Coronavirus upends college: Students in online classes, no graduation) details the difficulties faced by colleges and universities around the country. What this article describes is an already doomed system falling into obscurity. But isn’t it possible that the major shifts required by the pandemic offer opportunities from flourishing as well?

Post-apocalyptic narratives have a great deal to teach us about imagined futures. We can look to any number of novels for the potential regeneration that we can envision following the collapse of social and cultural institutions. The law of entropy states that systems will distribute and thus dissipate energy until an influx of energy enters the system to renew it. As the world moves toward entropy during this great slow down, we have an opportunity to evaluate where that new energy will come from. I am not an expert on these matters but I do work in the realm of imagination and discourse and I chose, in this moment, to use those powers to rethink and reimagine the map of higher education postpandemic.

First, we face a real opportunity to revalue higher education. In a world where many systems are paralyzed by the pandemic, many who are self- isolated are turning to art, music, and other pursuits–what we call the humanities. The value of these modes of creativity and knowledge production cannot be understated. Apocalyptic futures provide fertile soil for our most innate creative pursuits to blossom. As the Traveling symphony in the novel Station Eleven champions: Survival is insufficient. We need the humanities now more than ever.

Part of what the humanities can do is complement STEM fields by exploring what it means to be human, to create relationships, and to imagine. Many great critics have already written on this powerful mode of thinking but it bears repeating. I cannot even begin to cite these champions of the humanities but a quick search will yield thousands of results on the defense of the humanities. In our current emergency situation, nurses and doctors who are dealing with the sick, government and school officials who are weighing the commitment to education with physical health, small businesses who are working around the clock to stay open and evaluate the services they provide, all must draw deep into their reserves of human consideration and the entanglements we have with the material world. Don’t we want those individuals to have an education in empathy, communication, and institutional structures? Don’t we want those doing the real physical work of keeping the world running to have the ability to be creative, adapt to change, and envision solutions? I speak, of course, an an educator on these matters. I have something at stake in arguing for this focus. However, I have also seen the changes it makes in students’ lives to drink deeply from the wealth of literature and expression that makes the development of these traits more viable.

Second, a renewed emphasis on essential programs, necessary tools, and the power of social contact offer a new vision of what higher education could be. Rather than bloated administrations and wasteful construction projects, isn’t it possible to imagine a landscape where the humans who engage with ideas and creativity matter most? While that sounds awfully utopian, I do believe that there is real potential to renegotiate the budget constraints imposed by nonessential programs and bloat. What would the map of higher ed look like if teachers and students took their place at the top level of the university institution? What would it mean to privilege relationships, smaller class sizes, and fair wages for those on the front lines? If this pandemic has taught us anything so far, it is that universities cannot survive without running courses. Those courses need well educated, flexible instructors who have support from stars like IT and instructional designers. Is it possible that in the face of this shutdown we are also being confronted with top tier hubris? Perhaps stripping the system will reveal the incredible work that has gone unnoticed for decades.

Finally, I want say that there are thousands of diligent and hard working individuals who are navigating these uncharted waters with grace and compassion that give me hope in the possibilities as we move forward. I have seen colleagues and administrators step up to the plate to find creative solutions, resources, and psychological connection. My own university has handled this situation with as much thoughtfulness and compassion as I believe is possible right now. I feel incredibly lucky to be a part of a team that is supporting one another and engaging in practices that serve the students.

Students are a particularly vulnerable population. They lack stability and anchors in their lives that those outside of academia enjoy. These students are also idealistic, creative, and hopeful. They posses an optimism in the apocalyptic future, one that makes space for them to re-envision what our world can be. They deserve our attention for their ability to look forward and to be hopeful about our futures.

In Station Eleven, the survivors of the plague (and their descendents) make conscious choices about rebuilding society. They believe in the power of joy, and art, and music, and stories. Surviving is insufficient. We must also work to survive well and with our relationships intact. The landscape of postpandemic higher education has the potential to change the way that universities and colleges do things. We can redraw the map, examine the relationship between modes of understanding, and rethink the value of each territory in this landscape. Surviving the pandemic is not enough. We must also imagine a better future and prepare for it.

On Practicing Practice

When I was a girl, I hated to practice the piano. I contrived many excuses to get out of playing the same notes over and over. My piano teachers over the years spent many hours working with me to memorize Bach, Mozart, and Beethoven. This idea of repetition and practice made me cringe. I have spent a great deal of energy over the years avoiding practice.

Yet even in this environment of avoiding practice, I was in fact still practicing. Considering what it means to engage in posthuman practice, Casey Boyle claims that “practice makes practice” or rather that practice “emerges from particular situations, distributed across a variety of material relationships, and are temporally contingent” (541). This does not sound like the rote memorization I learned as a child. The variety of possibilities inherent in this definition involves an “ongoing ‘mangle’ of relations that incorporate as a material body” (543). The collective ecologies within the environments in which we practice, the conditions of the bodies that interact in that environment, and even the underlying assumptions and emotions contribute to a continuous emergence even in the face of repetition. Boyle makes the point, drawing on Andrew Pickering and others, that practice functions more like a tuning or a habitus (as opposed to habit) that works in a nonlinear way. When I think back to the times I was most engaged in practicing something, this is the way of being I most enjoyed. Practice, particularly with repetition, does not necessarily require similarity. In fact, practice done well must evolve. The goal of practice is to produce a different outcome in each repetition.

My resistance to practice is that it is boring. I get excited about the prospect, however, of generating an abundance of relations through practice, as Boyle explains in his article (550). The relations that intersect through the writing process, composed and encountered as habits that are “firm but flexible, positioned but persuadable,” seem particularly fitting in the context of this new year and decade. New Year’s resolutions seem to focus on habits and repetitions, on bodies and behaviors, and to consider them as an abundance of relations makes those practices more productive and pleasurable. I’m still pondering what kinds of serial encounters I want to practice. I’m also curious what kinds of serial encounters others have resolved to participate in. What would our resolutions look like if they were framed as serial encounters that lead to an abundance of relations?