These blogs can’t keep up with the bad news. I write them one week in advance. Who knows where we’ll be next week? Tribal warfare? Wolf Blitzer’s head on a pike outside the Whitehouse? These are strange days.
Here’s where we sit as of Saturday the 21st of March. 2020.
I’ve been quarantined with my family for a little over a week. I’ve left the house for groceries and gas. The grocery stores are already tribal warfare. People fight to the death over a can of beans. There’s no yeast to be found anywhere. Pennsylvania has closed all non-essential businesses. Katie and I took the boys for a hike through the mountains (foothills) of Central Pennsylvania. Social distanced in the wilderness. I drove the boys towards Huntingdon one morning because, if I didn’t, Solomon’s head might have been on a pike outside the Tanner family estate. Katie is very patient, but she can only be screamed at so much.
Look, on some level, this quarantine is my introverted fantasy. Stay home all day? Play video games? Write? Attend all my meetings virtually? Work at my computer? Don’t mind if I do! Here’s where that slope becomes slippery. Solomon is 6. Samson is 4. The boys like to scream. They like to emote. That make lots and lots of noise. Exude lots and lots of energy. Play, fight, play. Rinse and repeats. They are, in a word, a lot. Two words, I guess.
Katie is doing the lion’s share of this teacher-parenting. A former Kindergarten teacher, she has them reading, writing, doing math, playing, and being all sorts of productive. Following schedules and whatnot. But she also hasn’t seen another adult (besides me) face-to-face in probably two weeks. Since our friend Natalie left. So she is, understandably, stir crazy. Kid crazy.
Me? I taught two, four-hour classes through Zoom last week. Tuesday and Thursday morning. Eight until noon. Virtual discussion, group work, and literacy education. I’m not a lecturer. That’s not my kind of pedagogy. In my classrooms, people learn things by figuring things out with other people. In social contexts. Not by being talked to. By making stuff. Building stuff. Bored of the quarantine? Read more about the building of stuff in classrooms here. Anyway, my classes last week went surprisingly well. Felt meaningful. But it has been exhausting to make a living and breathing class a virtual class. It will continue to be exhausting. Add on about 10 or 15 other Zoom meetings with colleagues and collaborators (I wish I were exaggerating), and I spent nearly 25 hours last week staring into my screen, talking with people. Not to mention the email, writing, and other tasks I do. In the simplest of words, my introverted fantasy is dead.
I found myself reaching out to people last week. Family and friends. How are you doing? Surviving the end times? I miss you. That sort of thing.
Something very strange happened as I connected with others.
Ben Stasny is my former high school student. He’s a good friend now. In his late twenties. Looking all the worse for wear. I’m kidding. He’s strapping. Anyway, Ben and I always shared a boundless creativity. A mad (and maddening) sense of humor. This was true when Ben was 15 and I was twenty-something. It remains true as I approach 40 and Ben approaches 30. Ben has come to State College and improvised with me. Now that I’m a professional improviser. But he’s also been writing with me for nearly five years. We create these stupid, hilarious, ridiculous scripts together. Google Docs. He writes a scene. I write a scene. It’s improv. We make each other howl with laughter.
We started working on another script last week. A stupid story about pandemics. I found myself doubled over at my desk. Howling with laughter. Ben and I have hundreds of pages of material. I wish I were kidding. Ben is an actor in New York. Needless to say, he filed for unemployment last week. He’s got some time on his hands now. All of us do. Except me. I’m in Zoom meetings. Anyway, Ben and I never figured out a good way to share our work with others. The medium is too strange. These aren’t really dramatic scripts and they’re not really sketches. And we never live in the same city. In other words, we don’t know what the heck to do with all this content.
So Ben and I filmed ourselves reading the first scene of our latest story last week. Very amateurish. Very, very fun. We uploaded it on Youtube and even made some social media accounts. @ben_and_sam_story_hour on instagram. Go check it out. And I warn you, if you aren’t interested in offensive, strange, and nonsensical comedy, please don’t click on the link I’m about to put here. It’s madness. I told Ben that I’m worried my serious academic friends will find this stuff and I’ll be excommunicated from the academy. Oh well. Here’s the link. So dumb.
We’re inviting former improv students of mine to join us as we read through the next scenes. Ben’s actor friends. My improviser friends. The quality is terrible. The material is insane. But it’s lots and lots of fun.
Fun seems important right now. We’re telling strange stories during strange times.
I’m frightened by all of this. You probably should be too. I’ve never lived through a pandemic. A lockdown.
I suspect a few things will happen in the coming week or weeks. I suspect a national lockdown will be declared in the United States. Nobody leaves their house. Like Europe. Like Southeast Asia. I suspect that schools will be cancelled through the rest of the year. I suspect lots of people will get sick. Lots of people will die. I suspect lots of people will create lots of crazy justifications as to why this pandemic isn’t real. Doesn’t fit their worldview. A liberal hoax. Trump’s fault. That kind of thing. All the while, a virus will do what a virus does, regardless of how how humans interpret their work with the stories we tell ourselves. I suspect that I need to stop opening BBC.com or the New York Times every fifteen minutes. Stop scrolling through my Twitter feed. Stop staring at screens. I suspect Solomon and Samson will be a handful. I suspect Katie will continue to be a saint. I suspect I will be moody, antsy, exhausted, overwhelmed, anxious, etc., etc., and etc.
It’s hard to keep up with information. I’ve got a former student who is a doctor in the Twin Cities. A company member of Happy Valley Improv is an RN. These are people I trust. Not corrupted by power. Steeped in the work of trying to help people get healthier. I like those kind of people. The information they share is not optimistic. I’ll take my cues from them, I guess. Anthony Fauci seems pretty smart too. These people are worried. Not about the stock market, either.
So we’ll hunker down. I guess I suggest you do the same. One of the ways I’ll cope is by making and sharing insane, horrifying stories with Ben. Teaching my classes as well as I can. Writing. Trying to love my boys, my wife. Be a good dad. A good husband. It’s not easy. I’m as emotional as Solomon. I just disguise it better. Because I’m 39. But a quarantine pushes us to the edge, I guess. Be prepared to work with what you find there. I will.
Stay safe, friends. Stay healthy. These are strange times. Who knows where we’ll be next week? Hopefully nobody’s head is on a pike. But we’ll see.