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© Tom Gilbert

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April, 2020

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Students Dealing with the Pandemic
April 30, 2020

Everyone is dealing with the global pandemic of COVID-19. It affects us all. But imagine what it is like if you are still a young person dealing with a world of virtual school.

It has its own set of challenges. As a teacher I know it well. It is hard to make the same connections we did when we were meeting in person.

This time of year is typically when high school and college seniors are getting ready to graduate. My heart goes out to them as they are not able to partake in the usual celebrations, at least not in the social gathering way.

Although the article was posted over a month ago on The New York Times, you can find out more about teenagers dealing with the pandemic. Many of them have shared their comments on What Students Are Saying About Living Through a Pandemic.

The Human Touch

April 25, 2020

You might need somethin' to hold on to
When all the answers they don't amount to much
Somebody that you can just talk to
And a little of that human touch
- Bruce Springsteen "Human Touch"

For most of us we are now seven weeks into our stay at home/shelter in place existence. The COVID-19 virus is still out there, still infecting others, and even though precautions are being taken we are a long ways until we are out of the woods. This is our new reality.

If you are fortunate to have a loved one, a partner or family member with whom you can be around and even touch, perhaps you are gaining a new appreciation for that very real human need. We need it.

Human touch doesn't have to be physical, although we mostly experience it that way. But as Bruce Springsteen's lyrics above demonstrate, it can also be "Somebody that you can just talk to."

"Human Touch" is the name of a new writing endeavor by popular author Mitch Albom.  He is writing it now and it is in progress and he admits he doesn't know how it is going to end. This realistic fiction is a story of hope full of vivid, real life-like characters of four families in a small Michigan town dealing with the coronavirus.

Mitch Albom is writing a chapter a week and sharing it online for all of us. I've read the first three chapters and it is riveting. I am anxious for more. It shows how hungry I (and maybe you) are for the sharing of our experiences during this global pandemic.

The power of story - both fiction and from our real life - is universal and undeniable.  We need that sharing of our stories, our personal history. It is one way that we share our unique and yet similar life experiences. We all need that human touch.

Be Still and Know It's Good For Your Brain
50th Earth Day Reflection

April 22, 2020

What should be the message we take in today, April 22, 2020, the 50th anniversary of Earth Day?

Scientists speculate our planet has been around for 4.5 billion years. Humans have been a part of that for a tiny blip in the cosmic timeline. And it has only been relatively recent that people have called in earnest for paying greater attention to how we treat our home planet. It is not disposable, but we often live as if it is.

One of the insights I gained today that helps me better appreciate Mother Earth is an article that doesn't even directly reference the Earth, nature, climate change or planting trees. Yet it makes a wonderful pathway for me to walk. I need to walk this path in a leisurely fashion, taking in the sights, sounds, smells, tastes and sensations that comes with just...being.

The article, Why 'stillness' is crucial for your brain during this pandemic, written by Steph Yin, informs and reminds us that sometimes we need to do nothing. It is not a crime or a sin and apparently there is even evidence that our brains and mental wellness actually require some time to do nothing, even be bored. The prefrontal cortex is the part of our brain where we can develop more awareness and reflection about who we are and what we do. And it is stimulated in the absence of other stimulation. Do you realize what this means? That it is actually good to be bored at times! It allows our brains to fire neurons and make new connections simply because we are not distracted by other thoughts and demands.

This is why daydreaming is powerful. And, contrary to the accepted axiom that we must always be productive, we need resting moments. We are actually more productive when we allow ourselves to stop and do nothing once in a while. And don't get trapped in the belief that the point of those breaks is to be more productive. That's not the end goal. What we really should be living for is a more worthwhile and fulfilling life, one that is done in community and in service of others.

I realize that community is a greater challenge during this pandemic when social distancing, staying at home and sheltering in place are the safe things to do for the benefit of our health and the health of others. Maybe we can use this time as an opportunity to redefine what "community" means for us. You know, we can be alone and still together.

So how does all this tie into Earth Day. Let's take a cue from how plants live. Do they grow best in environments where they are stressed and denied rest and nurturing? Of course not. They thrive in soil steeped in the nutrients they need combined with sufficient sunshine. I think there is an analogy to our lives.

A deeply spiritual prayer is "Be still and know that I am God."  Some contemplatives break that prayer into parts: Be still and know. Be still. Be. Happy Earth Day everyone. I think I will spend some time today just soaking it in.

The Journal and the Journey

April 17, 2020

Every day is a little slice of life. And it is a slice of your personal history.

How we reflect on each day, remember it, honor it, document it and treasure it is up to each of us. For me it is important to do some writing. If I can't get my thoughts down in writing on a regular basis I feel incomplete.

Many people keep a journal of some type. I have for years. Keeping it on my computer works well for me. I do believe in the value of handwriting and illustrating that many paper journals allow you to do. But the efficiency of a "digital diary", a stored record of my ideas, thoughts and feelings helps me. It helps because I can easily document my life journey and I have access to a lot of material from which I can pull for life writing such as a memoir.

The software of choice for me and many others is The Journal. It is far more than a diary. It is powerful and can be used for multiple purposes, like a digital scrapbook (you can easily insert pictures and images), a planner, and as a word processor to store your writing efforts.

It's valuable for students and instructors alike. It can be a great tool for self-improvement. You can make it your daily devotional and store your spiritual insights.

I love The Journal and have used it for years. I proudly promote it and, full disclosure, I do get a percentage of sales as an affiliate. But I tell you about it because is likely to help you, especially  at this historic time when we all should be recording our thoughts and observations during the global coronavirus pandemic.
The Journal and the Journey

The Journal is easy to use. It is also secure and you can make it password protected and frequently back up your contents. You can try it free for a 45 day trial. The product as been around for 20 years and is regularly updated. It's just a terrific product.

Here's a picture of an entry from my own copy, complete with a picture I took with my phone, saved to my computer and then inserted right into today's entry.

Check out more about The Journal here with
an upclose look.

Trust the Process and Rise Up

April 13, 2020

It's the day after Easter. A holiday that celebrates resurrection. Death is not the end - the pattern of life, some call it the circle of life, is that there are many "deaths" that happen. We see it in the cycle of the seasons.  So many of us experience it through various changes in our lives. There is often loss. But there is also renewal. We live, we die.  And many people, myself included, believe there is something else after this life.

I was reading in my journal from a year ago. It was the day after Easter and I wrote, "Trust the process. Process is how we do things and the continuation of doing. We don't do it to be patted on our head for a good job. We do the process to grow."

There it is - ongoing growth resulting from us trusting the process. My thoughts today are that trusting the process and living a day at a time needs to be combined with the hope of renewal. People are incredibly resilient and we can rise up and meet the challenges of life. This is an essential message for us at this time in history.

Perhaps you are familiar with the powerful song, "Rise Up", by Andra Day. Don't give up - rise up!

John Prine and Life in Three Chords

April 9, 2020

John Prine and Life in Three Chords John Prine was a master storyteller. If everybody has a story Prine had a special talent for honing in on the stories of lives full of loss, love and humor. He combined pathos with the sometimes absurdity of the human condition.

He could make you laugh and cry in a single song. Humble and hilarious, those who knew him would be quick to tell you how he was just a regular guy, albeit a genius songwriter.

I fell in love with John Prine's songs as a young man at college. The first time I heard "Hello in There" I was stunned. I laughed out loud at "Dear Abby". I cried at the sad ending to "Sam Stone". I marveled at his description of a hard working, blue collar man in "Grandpa Was a Carpenter".

These weren't just catchy or clever songs. They were evoking something deep inside us, helping us see the human condition, warts and all.

Most of Prine's songs were simple three chord constructions. That meant there were easy to learn. And that has been good for me, a guitar strummer of rudimentary skill. Prine remarked that he liked that the songs were easy for people to learn and play and that it was part of his joy that his listeners could do that.

Although John Prine didn't score hit records on the pop charts he is widely recognized by fans, musicians and critics as one of the greatest songwriters of our time. Bob Dylan remarked that, "Prine's stuff is pure Proustian existentialism." Bonnie Raitt (who recorded the brilliant and signatory version of Prine's "Angel From Montgomery") put it more directly. "He's a true folk singer in the best folk tradition, cutting right to the heart of things, as pure and simple as rain."

John Prine was born on October 10, 1946, in Maywood, Illinois, not far from Chicago. After a short stint in the Army (drafted in 1966 and fortutiously stationed in Germany, instead of Vietnam where many of his buddies were sent), he returned to the Chicago area and had various jobs, including working as a mailman. His acerbic attack on over-zealous patriotism at that time comes through in typical Prine style with "Your Flag Decal Won't Get You Into Heaven Anymore". It was written in response to the flag decals that came free with Reader's Digest during that time. But your flag decal won't get you into Heaven anymore. They're already overcrowed with your dirty little war. Now Jesus don't like killin', no matter what the reasons for. And your flag decal won't get you into Heaven anymore.

Yet another composition with an easy-to-play three chords. John Prine could tell many a tale of a life in three chords. Sadly he passed away from Covid-19, the coronavirus, on Tuesday, April 7, at Vanderbilt Medical Center in Nashville, his beloved wife Fiona at his side. She shared a beautiful statement on social media: “Thank you from the bottom of our hearts for the outpouring of love we have received from family, friends and fans all over the world. John will be so missed but he will continue to comfort us with his words and music and the gifts of kindness, humor and love he left for all of us to share.”

There are many wonderful tributes to John Prine online. A New York Times obituary by William Grimes contains a good insight into the man and his life. Rolling Stone posted John Prine: 25 Essential Songs which will introduce or remind you of his songwriting talent.

Prine may have lost a battle to the coronavirus, but he never lost his sense of humor. Check out his "When I Get to Heaven" on YouTube. I like to think there's a good hoedown happening there right about now.

Living the Memoir Moment

April 6, 2020

"The memoirs of today’s young just might reflect a unique family togetherness where love dominated the home and precious time was shared."  This quote comes from an article by Helene Shalotsky titled, Memoirs & The Pandemic.

What a powerfully hopeful statement! Yes, we are all dealing with a lot of stress, fear, anxiety and uncertainty about our situations and the future. Many people are out of work. Many are sick, or dealing with ill loved ones. But despite all of this brought on by the corona virus pandemic we are also in an historically opportunistic time. 

As a longtime proponent of life story writing I fully recognize that for some of us we currently have the opportunity to get some real work done with our stories. I think a memoir can be a fantastic thing. Have I written one? Uh, no. I've written bits and pieces. But here I am now, homebound for the most part, still with obligations to do remote/online teaching to my elementary students. Yet also with time to do more writing.

Who knows what amazing creative outbursts might result from people quarantined and left with "time on their hands". I was curious about this from an historical perspective and with some online searching I discovered an interesting article, Top 10 Great Accomplishments Made During Quarantine.  In case you are not familiar with history, there have been many epic plagues and pandemics in the past that put people in some kind of social distancing lockdown. And some of these people turned at this time to creative pursuits.

Reportedly, Isaac Newton made some of his most significant discoveries while home from Cambridge in 1665 due to the Great Plague of London. And William Shakespeare had some of his greatest productive output from 1605-1606 when another major plague hit England, penning King Lear, Macbeth and Cleopatra. Impressive.

This is not to guilt anyone into creating your masterpiece. Rather, this could be the time of a personal great awakening and your contribution might have great value for future generations. What we are all experiencing is history in the making and our personal viewpoints can be primary sources for the historical record.
Our writing about what is happening in our lives at this time provide an interesting insight. We are quite literally living the memoir moment.

Another line from Helene Shalotsky's article is, "Our current times are a reminder to try to live our daily life as honorably as we can, everyday, and always: to live with others as kindly, empathically, compassionately, and lovingly as we possibly can." I can hardly envision a greater legacy.

Diaries and Drawings

April 2, 2020

So many people are turning to ways to document their experiences during this historic time. Rarely has there been such a global event that affects us all, at least not in my lifetime. I suppose you have to go back to the world wars or a pandemic like the Spanish Flu of 1918-1920 to find something of this magnitude.
Writing in a diary
One way is to write about what is happening in your life. What are your observations and feelings? This can be part of a your personal history documentation and it will prove valuable to read it in the future. I am a regular journal writer and I have really been stepping up my entries the last few weeks.

Others find it cathartic and helpful to draw. Doodles to more elaborate paintings - it's all good. I loved some examples found in this article, The Quarantine Diaries, by Amelia Nierenberg and posted to the New York Times
(note: it may require a subscription to read, although you can get a few free articles a month without subscribing).

No matter how you chose to record your experiences during this time be sure to include your truth. It is okay to express your anxiety and fears. But even better is to share your strength and hope. We are all in this together and sharing the journey, whether by diaries or drawings, is vital.

Everybody has a story to tell!
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