We become what we behold. We shape our tools, and thereafter our tools shape us.
― Marshall McLuhan
I remember the last day in March 2020 I taught a workshop at NYU in person, a Wednesday, mid-week, the first week of the month. I'd taken the Trailways bus into Port Authority, as usual, and stopped into my favorite café to review my students' manuscripts and the reading I had assigned. This last pre-Zoom class is embedded in me, an iconic memento of "before Covid," though even that last class was disrupted by news of a strange as yet un-named ailment that had afflicted at least one member of the workshop who had traveled overseas on business in the days between one class and another. I felt uneasy, more so when I listened to the news about a strange virus in Wuhan when I got home that night.
I am the child of two doctors and know as much as any lay person of my generation wants to know about viruses. My sister and I were out of the city every polio summer and the first in line to get both the Salk and then the Sabine vaccines. Windows were open in our apartment summer and winter. Anyone who had trained to be a physician before the cause and cure for tuberculosis was discovered—and beyond—understood the importance of ventilation and resisted sealed windows and interior ventilation systems when they became the architectural fashion.
I called the Chair of my department the next morning and said I was feeling uneasy, something was going on. When I asked if I could teach my class online the following week, I was told I'd be terminated—terminated, what a word—if I didn't finish out the term in person. That was interesting. Apparently admin had been getting a lot of similar phone calls and had already decided on their policy—threaten termination.
As an active ACT-UAW union member, the adjuncts union at NYU where more than 75% of the faculty is adjunct, I called the shop steward who, in turn, called the union lawyer. I am sure many adjuncts also put in a call; by Tuesday of the week of March 8, the university had gone remote.
So that was the first chapter of my Zoom classroom experience, which continued to just this past week when I taught my first in-person class since that fateful month of March, 2020. I organized a "new" booster and got to work planning a "new" writing workshop in celebration, something I have never taught before: Haiku.
A haiku is three simple lines. It distills emotion, sharpens the mind, and creates a sensation of mindfulness and serenity. When Covid lockdown began, I returned to Haiku in my morning journaling, adapting the form to suit each day's mood and challenge. When lockdown eased, I continued the practice, as I still do today. So, I thought, why not teach something life-affirming as we re-enter life, not as we once knew it, but as it has become.
Last Tuesday was our first "Haiku Circle" get together, sitting—albeit still distanced—in a community room in a local library. How I'd missed the three dimensional contact, the unexpected gesture, the tone of voice, a bashful smile. Is there any way to tell if a person is sad or bashful on Zoom if we have never met before? I don't think so.