Those of you paying close attention may’ve noticed I’ve had a lot of wonderful content on the blog over the last month but all I’ve written was my loving ode to the Doctor. That’s because I teamed up with a bunch of other marvelous bloggers to celebrate female characters through the month of March and I totally used that as the path to brilliant pieces I didn’t have to write. It was awesome. Those of you paying close attention may’ve also noticed the coronavirus has become a full-blown pandemic, a global crisis unlike anything I’ve ever seen in my lifetime, leading to quarantines and self-isolating and social distancing the world over. That’s, admittedly, far less awesome. However, I thought it’d be nice to celebrate some things I’ve been thankful for while stuck in self-isolation.
Granted, there’s plenty of anxiety here too. As G. Willow Wilson pointed out on Twitter XD.
BUT IT’S TRUE!!! I’ve had allergies for as long as I can remember. And for as long as I can remember, when spring rolls around I cough like I smoke three packs a day. Sooooooo yeah, that’s been fun and not worrying at all.
By and large though, life has been okay. But I won’t lie and say there haven’t been dark moments. At times it’s been rough. While stuck in self-isolation, it’s been an interesting journey to try and navigate the world of teaching online, too. With no choice and very little warning every educator became and online teacher and every student became an online student…but teaching and learning online is an art, just as traditional classroom teaching is. What works in one avenue doesn’t always (or easily) translate to the other.
I have a whole new level of respect for online teachers. I’ve seen lots of articles about teaching online and methods and tools and all that. But the idea that every educator can immediately and seamlessly shift into that method is fallacious. That sort of thinking is the online teaching equivalent of everyone who’s ever said, “Yeah, I think I’d like to teach if I ever get tired of this job.” Um, my chosen profession takes charisma, natural talent, and a shit-ton of practice. It’s not a fallback career, thank you very much. To presume all teachers will just magically become perfect online educators is insulting to everyone who’s worked so hard to refine their online teaching techniques. So, online teachers? GO YOU. Because this shit is hard.
But, I’m being gentle with myself as I go and allowing myself to adapt and evolve, too. The first week was ROUGH. By the end of that week I was in a place that was darker than anything I’ve felt since before I first got into therapy last spring. But, thankfully, I’ve found a far more sustainable balance! Alongside the challenge of teaching, this self-isolation thing in and of itself is hard. I am an extrovert by nature so being alone allllllllllllllllllll the time is very, very difficult. The pervasive sense of loneliness is a far bigger struggle for me than any sort of fear. It’s not easy. However, as I said above, there’s been more bright moments than dark ones. For that, I am thankful to…
1) Everyone I fill my day talking to 🙂.
All phone calls and FaceTime and text messages and emails and WhatsApp conversations and video chats and joint apocalypse grocery shopping trips and social media interactions are beautiful and wonderous blessings. My relationships have always been very important to me and doing my best to maintain those relationships, even over distance, is something I’ve always taken seriously. Now, in the quarantine age, every relationship becomes a long distance one…even if the person lives next door or down the block. So while I’ve always loved to see my phone chime with a new text message or gotten excited to see who was calling when my phone rang or appreciated how FaceTime really does make it feel like the other person’s right there no matter where they really are, all of that has taken on new meaning now. I appreciate it all so much more! Without that, it’s just me in the unbroken silence wondering if, to paraphrase Steven Tyler, the noise in my head bothers the neighbors. The fact that I can do therapy over video chat is also HUGE. Thank God for that! Thank God for all of it, really :).
So I’m thankful not just to have these people I spend my day chatting with over all manner of mediums, but I find myself valuing what they bring to my life in a special way now, too. As the ‘80s hair metal band Cinderella once said, “You don’t know what you’ve got, ‘til it’s gone” (I’m pretty sure they coined that phrase). That being said, I CANNOT WAIT for this to be over and in-person, face-to-face conversations with the people in my life can become a regular thing again!
2) Becky Chambers Wayfarer series.
This three novel series is the most clever, welcoming, and important sci-fi series I’ve read in a long, long time. The second novel in the series – A Closed and Common Orbit – was one of my first quarantine reads. While set in the same universe as the first – The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet – the events are only loosely tied to that novel. Instead Chambers focuses on new characters in another corner of the universe. And OH MY GOSH are her characters amazing!
There are two things I love/respect/enjoy most about the series. First, while there’s a big ol’ galactic war going on (as is the case in most sci-fi stories), that’s all background noise. The story isn’t following soldiers or resistance fighters or anyone trying to stop and invasion or topple an unjust regime. Instead, it gives you a very lived-in universe and looks at what daily life would be like for an “average” person if you lived here. It is so refreshing. Second, it’s an interesting sort of utopian story. There is clearly still war and poverty and systemic injustice – so the whole universe isn’t a utopia. But it certainly has utopian elements. We see a universe where all species generally respect each other. We see a universe where knowledge of others’ customs and comforts is praised. We see a universe where gender fluidity is accepted. We see a universe where beings, if they don’t know, ask whether or not someone is comfortable being touched – hugged, held, comforted, whatever – and seeks to honor everyone’s personal and cultural boundaries. We see a universe where lack of knowledge and, more importantly, lack of a willingness to learn these sorts of things is looked down upon. So while the universe at large is still filled with war and corruption, day-to-day life has become far more peaceful and compassionate in its interactions.
And Becky Chambers delivers all this within stories you can’t put down and characters you think about long after the novel’s finished! The next book in the series – Record of a Spaceborn Few – will soon become a part of my quarantine reading time, too.
3) Tom Perrotta and Damon Lindelof’s The Leftovers.
I’m not an HBO guy. I’ve never had it. I’ve never really wanted it. I’ve never felt I’ve missed out on much. But this came very highly recommended by Lauren, who’s in a small group of people with a perfect record, never suggesting a book or movie or TV show I didn’t enjoy. So I decided to check out The Leftovers. The show ran for three seasons, from 2014-2017, based on the novel of the same name by Tom Perrotta. The story begins with 2% of the world’s population mysteriously and simultaneously disappearing. The story then jumps ahead three years to explore how the world tries to deal with something like that. When I was really struggling with how dark the first season was, Lauren told me the show is “all about the ending…and [in watching it] you are on your way to three act perfection.” And here’s what I’ll say…I have never experienced anything like this. She was absolutely right! Beyond right! You know I’m not a binger. But I watched all of Season Three in one day because I HAD to know how this ended. I watched Season Two in two days. Season One didn’t take much longer.
Watching this, the show made me feel EVERYTHING. Like I think I may’ve felt everything a human being can feel at some point over these twenty-eight episodes. At times I wept so hard I couldn’t see the TV through my tears or hear it over my sobs. What a meditation on brokenness! It examines relationships, faith, connection, trauma, grief, healing, God and humanity and all the questions in infinity we want answers to but our finite minds can’t ever fully fathom. At its heart though, it is a story of navigating brokenness and unbearable pain and trauma. And it says so, so much about all of those things…and about us, too. After only one viewing, I know I’ve barely scratched the surface of what this story holds.
The Leftovers is one of the most captivating and thoughtful stories I’ve ever come across. Watching this is a transformative experience. The first season was so bleak and hopeless, perhaps the darkest and most difficult thing I’ve ever watched, but in the end this was one of the most beautiful stories I’ve ever seen. All that darkness served a purpose. This narrative was so masterfully crafted. I don’t know any show has ever affected me in the way The Leftovers has. I’ve never seen anything like it.
4) Stan Lee and Kat Rosenfield’s A Trick of Light.
As Stan Lee’s last creative endeavor, he was working with Luke Liberman and Ryan Silbert to create the new “Alliances Universe.” Kat Rosenfield was the author who flew point on the first novel in this new world, A Trick of Light. Credit for this find goes to Kalie. She got it for me for Christmas. And are you ready for this? I didn’t even know Stan Lee was part of a new novel. What kind of comic fan am I?? Thankfully, she rectified my egregious oversight. One of the laudatory quotes on the back comes from James Patterson. He says, “Leave it to Stan Lee to save his very best for last. A Trick of Light is as heartfelt and emotional as it is original and exciting.” Do you know what? HE WAS UNDERSELLING THIS.
Seriously! Do you remember the last time a novel was so good you literally couldn’t put it down and read it cover-to-cover all in one day? I do. It was last Saturday when I read A Trick of Light. I don’t even know how to sum it up without giving away plot twists. It follows two teenagers – Nia and Cameron – in a story that has superpowers and aliens and other worlds and technology and Black Ops organizations and family and love and friendship and tragedy and mystery and humor and so much more. You know what? I suck at summarizing this. So just go read it yourself. Trust me, it’ll be worth it. Or try the audio book! That’s supposed to be brilliant, too.
I loved the characters and the story itself was so compelling. But it also offered brilliant social commentary about how we live our lives online, both the good that comes from that and the bad. I’ve found myself thinking of this novel long after I’ve finished it, too. There’s just so much to sit with. Even though Stan Lee is gone, I know he sketched out a whole slew of story ideas in his office with Kat Rosenfield, Luke Liberman, and Ryan Silbert and I so, so, so, so, so, so, so, sooooooooooooo hope they continue. Because I need more of this! I need more of these characters! I want to see where this story goes from here!
5) Doctor Who and the whole Doctor Who-related community.
I love Doctor Who. Nothing, no other show or story, speaks to my heart like Doctor Who does. (If you’re curious, Penny Dreadful and now The Leftovers would round out my Top Three All-Time Favorite Dramas category.) It’s just so incredible. There’s so much love and joy – and so much hope – in its stories. And I really, really need that now. As we are wrapped in an age of uncertainty there are few things as soothing, soul-nourishing, or inspiring as listening to the Doctor reassure me of the brilliance and beauty of humanity, how darkness never prevails, and how hope and love always abide.
But it’s not just the show! I’ve been reading lots of Doctor Who novels while in quarantine, too. And I’ve been remarkably impressed with the Doctor Who community as a whole. Emily Cook has been organizing Doctor Who Lockdown parties on Twitter where everyone who wants to join, watches and chats about the same episode at the same time. Fans all over the world come to play but so do the creatives behind the show! The writers! The showrunners! The actors! They all join in and share memories of making the episodes. It is so much fun :).
But do you know what impresses me the most? They’ve done this three times so far and I’ve a) participated myself, b) looked through the hashtag afterwards, and c) both “a” and “b,” and I haven’t seen a single negative tweet. Not one! Now I know Doctor Who has it’s angry, ranty fans just as all fandoms do. But comic fans can be huge jerks to each other online. And Star Wars fans are THE WORST online. Twitter has made me like Star Wars less :/. But all these different Doctor Who fans or fan accounts or creatives are all just hanging out and geeking out together and being nice to each other on the internet. This happened! And it’s continuing! I love it.
The creatives are also coming together to put out new content for fans during our quarantined days, which I appreciate. Russell T. Davies, who resurrected Doctor Who back in 2005, has released a short prequel to the pilot episode, “Rose.” Chris Chibnall, the current showrunner has also written a “very short story” that looks at the Thirteenth Doctor’s fall from the TARDIS to Earth as her first episode opens. And, of course, there’s Jodie Whittaker :). How do you not love her and her Doctor?? She’s the best!
The self-isolating Doctor tells us, “Here’s what I do in any worrying situation. One, remember, you will get through this and things will be alright. Even if they look uncertain, even if you’re worried, darkness never prevails. Two, tell jokes – even bad ones, especially bad ones. I’m brilliant at bad ones. Three, be kind, even kinder than you were yesterday. And I know you were super kind yesterday! Look out for each other. You won’t be the only one worried. Talking will help. Sharing will help. Look out for your friends, your neighbors, people you hardly know, and family – ‘cause in the end, we’re all family. Four, listen to science and listen to doctors. Right? They’ve got your back. Five, stay strong. Stay positive. You’ve got this.”
The Doctor’s right. We do have this. We’re all family and we need to be kind to each other. Yes, this is a shitty and scary and uncertain situation. Anxiety and depression are rising all over the world. But we’re all in this together. And, even in these dark times, if we look mindfully we see there are still things around us to be thankful for :).
 Brian Silliman, “Stan Lee’s Co-Creators on Alliances: A Trick of Light Hope to Turn Listeners Into Ditkos and Kirbys,” ScyFy Wire, Published June 28, 2019. Accessed March 28, 2020. https://www.syfy.com/syfywire/stan-lee-alliances-trick-of-light-interviews