Greetings! Welcome to this month’s Q&A. It’s never too late to start planning for next month, so don’t forget to submit a question for the February Q&A. Just leave a comment or email me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I have spent most of my life in the southern part of the United States. I did spend 6 months of my military career in New Jersey. And it was the worst 6 months of the year - November to April. They call New Jersey the "Garden State." I don't remember seeing many gardens.
I do remember seeing big piles of black snow. Parking lots would be plowed almost daily. The snow mixed with dirt and slush and made these disgusting black blobs of winter gunk. There wasn't really a place to put the stuff, so the plows just pushed big piles of it into the far corners of the parking lots. There were these big drifts of icy, snowy, slushy mess that never seemed to melt. Even when I left in April, there were still these big drifts of black snow.
There aren't many big piles of black snow in the corners of parking lots in Chapel Hill. It does snow here. Almost every year. Some years quite a bit. But never enough that it doesn't melt. And never so much that we build up big piles of yucky stuff in the parking lot.
Because snow is not something that has to be ... dealt with ... on a constant basis, we are able to enjoy it when it does come. It can be a joy and not a burden. It is a novelty rather than an obligation. Snow angels come. But they don't move in and eat up all the good snacks.
If you got snow this past week, I hope you were able to enjoy it. We sure did.
Now, to this week's update.
It seems increasingly likely that US troops will deploy to Eastern Europe to deter Russian aggression against Ukraine. I would love to say that I didn't see this coming, but it has been feeling inevitable since 2016. The Russian effort to destabilize the US worked beyond Putin's wildest dreams and this was always the end state: a divided, weakened America that would be forced to either cede to his demands in Eastern Europe or respond militarily, further dividing and weakening us. Any buildup of troops, any drumbeat of war, is scary and frustrating. When your kids are involved directly that feeling goes from mild nausea to full on panic.
As we on Earth carry on with pandemics and war and all the things that we do, a million miles above the Earth's surface at Lagrange Point 2, the James Webb Space Telescope has reached its destination and is fully deployed. The next few months will be spent tweaking configurations and running final tests before its mission begins in earnest. JWST will be studying the earliest moments of our universe, just a few thousand years after the Big Bang. There is something special to me about knowing that the universe has existed for billions of years. Our planet has been here for 4.5 billion years. Life appeared some 3.7 billion years ago. Humans have been here for mere seconds of cosmic time. Knowing how little we have mattered in the sweep of cosmic history may make some feel small. But for me, knowing that I am somehow a part of this amazing story that is unspooling over billions and billions of years makes me realize that I am part of something far bigger than anything that may feel big from day to day.
Picture of the Week
We came in from a morning of intense winter shenanigans to have snacks, drink cocoa, and watch Encanto.
A huge thank you to everyone who submitted questions. I really appreciate each of you taking the time to do it. There were some good ones, and it was hard to narrow them down. These are the top 5. If your question wasn't picked this time, or if you weren't able to submit a question, PLEASE consider submitting for February's Q&A.
#1. How's Barb?
This was absolutely the most asked question. And thanks to everyone who asked.
From my perspective, she is doing amazingly well. She has recovered almost all her mobility and energy. She has worked hard and continues to do so. I am very proud of her.
I also know that this is just my perspective. The best person to ask how Barb is doing is, well, Barb. If you are a friend and want to know what's happening, reach out to her directly.
We are frequently the best source of information about ourselves.
#2. When have you felt the most connected to something bigger? When have you felt the smallest?
This (paraphrased) set of questions comes from Barb. And they are good ones.
I think a lot about identity, connection, faith and how these things interconnect with one another. How they feed and shape one another. I think who we are (or at least, who we think we are) is informed, shaped, even directed by the connections that we have, or don't have. I think our faith shapes the ways we connect with one another and the world around us, and the ways we don't.
I feel the most connected to something bigger in moments where I am surrounded by others. Lectures. Book readings. Church. Protests. Even PTA meetings. Anywhere people gather to think big thoughts and do hard things.
I also feel connected in small moments. A touch of Barb's hand. A smile from Justin. Liz's sigh and Alex's laugh. Matthew's jokes and the way Willie leans in to give a hug. The way the pine trees smell when I hike. That quiet moment early in the morning when it feels like I am the only person in the world awake.
I feel the smallest when I am scared. I feel the smallest when I can't fight back the trauma and the anxiety and the depression and they all come in a mad rush and overwhelm me. I just want to ride away and hide. I hate that feeling.
#3. Do you do any creative or crafty things other than writing?
I SO wish I did. I am not even a tiny bit crafty. I can't draw. I did models when I was a little kid, but I haven't done one in years. I don't knit or quilt or needlepoint. I can't play an instrument. I am pretty much useless when it comes to any artistic or creative endeavor that doesn't involve sitting at a keyboard and typing.
I will say that knitting is appealing because knitting needles can double as weapons. Which is probably the worst reason imaginable to take up knitting.
#4. What's your favorite ASMR?
For those of you who are unfamiliar, ASMR stands for autonomous sensory meridian response. It is a fancy way of describing that tingly feeling that starts at your head and drops down through your shoulders and torso and can even make the hair on the back of your neck stand up. In a good way.
ASMR can be triggered by various auditory and physical inputs, most typically sounds like low humming and whispering, as well as tactile sensations like hair brushing and light touches of the face and head. There are literally millions of videos on YouTube designed to provoke ASMR.
I hadn't really thought about this before getting this question. So, I give this answer knowing that it may not be definitive. I will say that I do love getting my hair washed after I get it cut. It used to be something that filled me with dread and anxiety (I am NOT a fan of strangers touching me in a familiar way), but I have someone who cuts my hair who I have been seeing for a while now and trust. And getting my hair washed is now a highlight. The combination of the noise and heat of the water, the scalp massage, the smell and the noise of the soap.... I don't know if it is ASMR, but I know I like it.
#5. Are we doing harm to our children by keeping them enrolled in the NC Public Education system?
This question had me thinking all week.
Public schools everywhere have been put through the wringer the last couple of years. What we have asked teachers, staff members, students and administrators to do has been almost impossible. We asked them to completely shift everything about the way they did their jobs. We put them at the front lines of the public health response to a pandemic. We have asked them to be everything to everyone all the time.
It is enough to break even the best, most dedicated, and most capable people. And it has. And if you don't think teachers are broken, ask one. Ask how the last year or two has been.
And as bad as it has been for everyone, in some places it has been worse. In some places educators and students have been undercut, under resourced, disregarded and disrespected. They have been denied a seat at the table to discuss their own futures. They have been constricted and conscripted. They have been used and abused. North Carolina is ground zero for much of that mistreatment.
The public schools of North Carolina have been starved of the resources they need to fulfill all that us asked of them, then blamed for not doing more with less. It has become the playbook. Say that schools are failing. Withhold resources. Watch them fail. Say that schools are failing. Rinse. Repeat.
At some point you have to question if enough is enough. Do you do damage to your children by sending them to a system so overwhelmed? If you are a teacher, are you harming your own mental health by continuing to work in so dysfunctional a system? There is an enormous temptation to leave.
And. I never will leave.
I won't leave because while leaving may be an option for me, it isn't for many families. And they would be the ones most hurt by my decision to leave. I won't leave because schools need to know that there are parents who care and who will fight for them. I won't leave because that is what the people who don't care about public schools WANT me to do and the day I do what those people WANT me to do will be the day you can put me in a pine box and haul me away.
It's been hard. It IS hard. It will be hard.
And. You keep going. You keep pounding the rock.
As ever, your support means the world to me. I will see you here next week. Don't forget to look for Friday Positivity on the CombatSnuggles Instagram page and share the best part of your week.
Be well y'all.
And. Keep pounding the rock.