not sleeping ever at all

At first I’m just awake in the bed. The pillow’s too hot. I won’t look at the clock. I roll. Adjust covers. Stick out my toes to feel collisions with the swirly air molecules from the fan.

Next, I’m walking a circle in the dark. Quiet like a mouse. Creeping past the couch and the fridge and the piano. Haunting my home before I’m even dead.

Then I’m on the porch marveling at the moon. Counting on the stars. Hearing night songs. Thinking of birthdays.

In the second hour I find the ice cream and I’m eating it from the carton with a spoon, trying not to eat it all but it is so smooth and sweet and cold.

Soon I’m digging in drawers, looking for a nail file but finding a new toothbrush, somebody’s contact lenses, and an old nail polish. I polish just my left thumb.

Subsequently I’m listening to the second hand on the clock and marveling at the rapid passage of whole hours of night. I’m giving in. I’m making plans and a pile of electronics as I drag a favorite blanket to another bed. I’m downloading library books, watching news, reading blogs, finding bread recipes.

In the fourth hour I’m emptying my mind by sending words out my fingers as my slice of the planet prepares to greet the sun. Morning inches in as I’m finding a soft warm spot for a quick nap before the next headachy coffee-fueled sunshiny day.


This week the numbers fell off the Sharpie line. Good news, bad news–we each have our perspectives. I hoped I was wrong. Maybe I was wrong. Let see what happens next week.

The dreaded purple bar graph of new US COVID-19 cases each week indicates we’ve reached a new plateau this week. Almost 300,000 cases confirmed this week.sep 1 2010 us cases plateau starts

We saw a plateau before, back in May and June, and then case numbers spiked. With Labor Day next week and the school year starting, another spike seems imminent. Lay low.

Speaking of the school year starting…each morning I sit alone and talk about organic chemistry. My voice goes out into the emptiness as I drone on and on and on about hybridization, conjugated dienes, intermolecular forces, Newman projections, pi systems, resonance, dienes, dienophiles, tetrahedral intermediates, cations, anions, radicals. I wear headphones with a microphone, write on an iPad, and watch two screens. The almost complete lack of feedback reminds me that the best part about teaching is being in the room with the kids, reading their expressions and adjusting to their reactions to my lecture. I feel like I am teaching way too slowly because I can only wonder if they are getting it. In person if a kid is afraid to ask for clarification, I can usually read confusion on their faces. Without their faces, they must speak up. I hope they do. Soon.

On the other side of this gigantic COVID wall I see myself in that happy place: back in the room with the kids.

The stoplight

The scissors weren’t sharp enough. The only way to stay on the line and cut perfect circles was to go slow. I bent over the red circle. Red had to be first. Halfway around the circle, my concentration was broken by a boy spilling glue on his pants and the teacher running around to wipe it up. He cried a little. That was the third crier so far. I kept my head down and eyes focused on the blue line around my red crayoned circle. The yellow and green circles waited impatiently. Too bad for them.

I finished the perfect red circle feeling a little winded and realized I’d been holding my breath. I looked up from my work to see the girl beside me with all her circles already cut. What a quick cutter! They weren’t quite circles, though. I started on my yellow circle. Had to do them in order. The yellow goes in the middle. Halfway around the circle, concentration broken by same boy asking for a new yellow crayon. His didn’t have a point. I wondered why his mother didn’t teach him how to peel the paper, but did not look up. Maybe he didn’t have crayons at home. Maybe he spilled everything all the time. I kept on cutting. Slowly. Almost there.

I finished the perfect yellow circle and before I started in on the green one I saw the girl on the other side of me gluing her yellow circle on the top. Wrong. Maybe she couldn’t see out the window in her dad’s car. I resumed my cutting, holding the scissors very tight and turning the paper with my left hand, thumb in the center so the circle turned perfectly to the cutting. Halfway around the circle, concentration broke by a thought. This isn’t even how it’s supposed to look. I kept cutting anyway. I wasn’t the designer. But I sure could follow directions.

When I came up for air triumphant after my third perfect circle, I realized I could have stacked the papers and cut them all at once. Maybe that’s what everyone else did because nobody else was still cutting. Their circles were awful. Most were finished gluing already, too. Three kids were helping pick up cuttings from the floor. The confetti everywhere made me wonder why they cut like that. I picked up the three empty circles of paper on my table and handed them to the already-done-helper-girl who came by with the trash can. I watched the teacher tape up finished creations along the wall and knew that tape wouldn’t last long. But we were supposed to stay quiet and only talk when we raised our hand.

The black rectangle lay ready on my table and I laid out the three circles perfectly centered and evenly spaced in a straight line ready to be glued down. I got up from my chair and went to get a glue from the basket and put back my scissors, carefully holding my scissors by the closed blades the way you’re supposed to. That’s when I saw that nobody had a project on their desk. They were almost all hung up. The kids all sat the way the teacher told us to–feet on the floor, hands folded together on the desk. They all watched me walk across the room and back to my seat. I’d heard about school for my entire fourth year of life from my very slightly older sister. She never told me that school was weird.

The teacher saw me out of my seat and my papers on my desk. She smiled and picked it up and the circles went flying everywhere. She stopped smiling. When I got back with my glue she took it from me. She muttered something about helping me. I tried to take back the glue but she put three dots on the black paper, stuck the circles on and turned to hang it at the end of the long line of stoplights on the wall under the blackboard. My circles were not in a straight line. The glue was soft and my circles slid. She bent the corner of the black rectangle. I decided the line of stoplights looked ridiculous. Real ones never have all three colored lights on at the same time. Having all three colors was wrong. We should have each only put on one circle in the correct position. We could have lined them up: Go! Slow down! Stop! I wondered how color blind people know when to go and when to stop. That’s probably what caused accidents.

The teacher stepped back to appreciate our first project in school. I hoped when Mom came for conferences she didn’t have to see this mess.

Apparently (that’s a word I heard at home and could spell) school projects must be completed rapidly. Jagged cuts and crooked gluing were sufficient. Poor design was excused. The key was to get done fast, help clean up the confetti, and sit with hands folded as quickly and often as possible. I learned so much on the first day of kindergarten, but left disappointed. I’d waited a year for this. I felt a little bad when I stepped on someone’s stoplight as I marched quiet as a mouse in line to recess. It had fallen to the floor with three others when their tape lost its fight with gravity.

When I got home, Mommy asked what I learned at school that day. I didn’t think my real answer would work, since my older sister reported about math and science. Maybe first grade would be better than kindergarten. I would spend the fifth year of my life anticipating the next, surely better one to come. I don’t remember what I told Mom, but I still remember what I learned. And when I got to first grade they tried to unteach me how to add and subtract. But that’s another story for another post in the middle of another sleepless night.

On the event horizon

I perch on the event horizon of a black hole during the first week of a surreal semester, in week 33 of a global pandemic, with a broken car in my garage, frozen milk in my freezer, homemade masks in the laundry, a leaky kitchen sink, no rhubarb for a promised birthday pie, hundreds of miles from family, and a song playing in my mind, stuck on repeat. “You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave.” Everyone knows to tread carefully along an event horizon. One false move and your escape velocity will reach the speed of light. And then time will stop. If time stops here, we should all just leap into the black hole. We can’t go back. We can’t stay here. We must push forward.

There seems no need for sleep here on the precipice of this boundless black hole named 2020. It is 2:41 am. The alarm will ring at sunrise. My mind churns scrambled thoughts that should be making senseless dreams.

I think of happier times when I would have welcomed time to stop. When my babies were tiny and new. The fifteen minutes after a good run on a cool morning, acutely aware as my pulse slows and my temperature drops. Singing the quadratic formula to 25 high school freshmen. Watching Mike waterski the summer after his heart surgery. College football games. Doing crossword puzzles with my dad. Cannoli days. Dancing at my daughters’ weddings. Teaching Judy to drive. Holding each of my grandbabies for the first time. Teaching them the “two arms around me” song. Christmas mornings as a child and as a mom. Broadway shows. Train rides. Throwing the tennis ball for Fudge. Walking on the beach. Watching Kate knead bread. Playing run the bases with my brother and sisters. Rocking my daughter to sleep every night for two years. Drinking coffee on my swing at sunrise. Meeting Linda. Smelling warm bread. Buttering warm bread. Eating warm bread. Trading shoes with Lea in NYC. The launch party for my first novel. Juggling club. Playing horse at sunset. Snow days. Lunches with Muktha. Riding with Xiaoning to the dentist the week she learned to drive. Asking Jing what the hecks was in her tea today. Teaching her when to add s to words. Juggling in the lab. A day in Greenville with Judy. Ear candling. Listening to Jim tell the plot of a movie through a closed door. Floating in the lake with a beer and friends. The smoky smell of Daddy kissing me goodnight when I was little. Concerts. Hugs. Playing rummy with Gram. Riding on the back of a motorcycle. Singing on stage. Reading Watership Down the first time. Teaching stereochemistry with a giant model kit to 150 students in a lecture hall without a mask or plexiglass barrier. Receiving my editor’s notes on my first novel. Shaking hands. Kissing cheeks. Sleeping.

let’s hope I’m wrong

Last week the downward trend in weekly US COVID-19 cases predicted about 300,000 cases during this week, week 32. I just checked and there were 293,000 cases in week 32. Pretty close to prediction. Here is last week’s chart as a reminder.

us decline aug 18 2020

The best fit line including this week’s numbers shows an even earlier drop to zero (0) new cases in a given week: on week 40, which is the third week of October.

us decline aug 25 2020
I’m not buying it. One would expect a plateau–not a nosedive. Remember the WH took control of data collection the week of July 21. Maybe they are getting brave and making bigger slices in the data since nobody seems to be paying attention except me.  They slowed the testing down by delaying the reporting of results. Made the process less efficient. Took control and they are hiding the numbers. It seems Sharpiegate, an idea straight from a stable genius snake-oil salesman, continues unchecked. Watch next Tuesday with Laurie for the predicted ~260,000 cases (week 33) and/or news that I was poisoned. Yeah. Let’s hope I’m wrong.