[I’ve decided this will be my last Coronavirus Journal post, having reached a kind of reverse pandemic nirvana. These journal entries were intended to keep me from getting bored to death. Now, writing them is starting to… bore me to death. I hope I’ve provided some yuks these last seven (!) weeks, as well as a little food for thought along the way. Back next week with a non-disease related topic.]
Sunday, 26 April
My inbox is filling up with “final papers” from students in the two sections of the college course I’ve been teaching online since 23 March. I use ironic quotation marks because all I asked them for was 2-3 pages of personal reflections on what they learned, what they wished they’d learned, and how they did in our nine-session French Revolution simulation game.
The only reason I gave them any assignment with the word final in it was because the university told me I had to. Let me explain. I evaluated these kids until their ears bled. I gave them 19 quizzes, a midterm, two 1,500-word writing assignments, and the aforementioned nine-session simulation which constituted a mega-class participation evaluation that was 20% of their grade. So I really didn’t need some final-thingy grade, but I lost that argument with the Dean.
Alas, the disagreements in academia are so acrimonious because the stakes are so low…
Monday, 27 April
The squirrels are settled down from their food-and-mating frenzy of recent weeks. However, now it’s the turtles in our lake. During breakfast, Kay-Kay and I watch a pair of turtles <ahem> Vigorously Doing It in the water. And they Continue Doing It from near our dock, all the way across the lake (about 100 yds) and then all the way back again. I find myself strangely fixated with growing feelings of… jealousy. Prodigious reptiles, those Eastern Painted Turtles. Remarkable stamina.
To put this in some perspective, our Turtle Love Fest is, when considering comparative size and weight, equivalent to a pair of humans Doing It While Swimming for approximately 8.5 statute miles. That’s basically Doing It While Swimming to the WalMart and back. Again, jealousy. I’m totally in favor of adding this as a competitive doubles event to the Ironman Triathlon. Although I’m not sure how we’d score it.
Tuesday, 28 April
I’ve finished my teaching obligations for… well, forever as it stands now. The University and I could not come to agreement as to the value of my future services. In other words, they want to keep paying me an “adjunct salary” with a benefits package that includes “prestige” and “self-fulfillment.” I’d much prefer a 403(b) and dental.
For those of you not acquainted with the current American University Cost Model, it looks like this. First, they charge you/your kid a boatload of tuition. Second, they hire adjunct faculty to teach (on national average) just over 50% of all courses and sections. Third, they pay said “adjunct faculty” (again on a national average) about $1,000/credit hour. Fourth, they offer “adjunct faculty” no benefits and no security of tenure.
So, if an adjunct professor is teaching the same course load as a tenure-track assistant professor, about 12 credits per semester, they make $24,000 a year without any benefits. The average salary of an assistant professor is $72,000/year, with every imaginable benefit including a paycheck during the summer. Hence my walking away from teaching, which I love dearly, because I’m just not willing to give it away anymore.
And now I have more time to watch the squirrels and turtles…
Wednesday, 29 April
With about 20 hours a week back at my disposal, I’m back to writing fiction today! I had to put all my writing (except this blog) on hold for the last 10 months because of teaching obligations, which included two “new preps”—courses I was teaching for the first time.
I have over a dozen book projects in my notes to choose from, so my first order of business is, like the Three Stooges, to pick two. I always keep two books going at the same time so I have something to work on while one manuscript is being read by outside readers, undergoing edits, or just profoundly writer’s blocking me.
Kay-Kay asks how I’m feeling about picking up the writing again. I tell her, strangely calm. I have three modestly successful and well-reviewed novels on the street, so I know what the process demands and what I can expect from myself. It’s a good place to be, emotionally and mentally—quietly excited and confidently relaxed. This will surely change as I dive deeper into Story World. We writers are a very neurotic bunch, after all.
Thursday, 30 April
I hear a small crash in the garage and go out to take a look. As I step into the garage, I see a squirrel scampering under the Fiat. I find some items pushed off the work bench next to the metal garbage can with a bungeed lid in which we store all our birdseed to keep raccoons—and squirrels—away. We mix cayenne pepper in with the birdseed to keep deer and—we thought—squirrels from eating the birdseed from the feeder. [Fact Checker: Birds don’t have capsicum receptors in their mouths or tongue, so they can’t taste cayenne.]
What I also find on the garage floor is one of the plastic bottles of cheap cayenne with a dime-sized whole chewed in it…
I am proud to announce Kay-Kay and I have successfully bred in our backyard a race of spice-addicted super-squirrels.
Friday, 1 May
Regarding the roiling Tara Reade controversy, Joe Biden finally speaks out personally today in an interview with Mika “Daughter of Zbigniew” Brzezinski on Morning Joe, wherein he vigorously denies the allegations and then does a really excellent imitation of a Deer In The Headlights.
Remember Joe, it’s not the automobile that kills the squirrel, it’s the indecision.
On the brighter side, at least there’s still something to talk about other than COVID-19 testing shortages and People With Guns storming random state capitols. Also, the Russians have to cancel the May Day Parade in Moscow, which I hope mightily ticks off Vlad Putin. Unlike Tara Reade, I really dislike Vladimir Putin.
Saturday, May 2
For the first time since the final year of the Second World War, the Kentucky Derby is canceled. Having been a Triple Crown devotee since my youthful adoration of Secretariat, this saddens me.
Not entirely coincidentally, a friend in Ireland Instagrams some old photos of herself visiting Meadow Farm here in Virginia—where Secretariat was born and bred. I used to drive by the Farm on my many, many roundtrips between Williamsburg and Washington, DC. In summer, I’d get off I-95 to avoid all the beach traffic on I-64 heading to the coast, which put me on the highway running right by Meadow Farm. I’d smile and feel my heart tug a little every time I drove by the signs hanging along the road with the white-and-blue checked racing colors made famous by Secretariat and his Triple Crown jockey, Ron Turcotte. There were always a dozen or more thoroughbreds idling in the pastures.
I recount to my Irish friend how 15 years ago I was doing my usual shortcut one summer day. When I reached Meadow Farm, all the horses were gone and there was heavy-construction machinery everywhere. I pulled to the side of the road and cried for several minutes. The State Fair of Virginia, so the big construction sign said, was turning the Farm into “Meadow Event Park.” It broke my heart.
Sunday, 3 May
This is Day +51 of our self-quarantining and social-distancing. I’ll admit, it’s growing a little tedious. On the other hand, it could be a lot worse for me and Kay-Kay. We have a comfortably sized house for two people. We’re in the woods and on the water, with a non-stop nature show out the back windows. We feel like Marlin Perkins and Jim Fowler, although neither of us has to tranquilizer-dart a rhino or wrestle an alligator before the next commercial break.
Signing off from my Corona Journal, but I’ll see you next week with some new Social Commentary and Ramblings. Stay safe everybody…