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Today was the first day of business-back-to-(almost)-usual here at Virginia Tech, and I think it went okay.  I was in our building for about 5 hours, and it was subdued.  We had volunteers - grad students and faculty - sitting at a card table in the lobby wearing ribbon armbands and name tags asking "May I Help?" I did not have an official shift, but spent about two hours sitting at that table, talking to Greg-the-Great and participating in occasional student interactions. 

An obviously stressed person asked us about counseling resources, and got a handout.  One of my students from last year stopped in to talk - she lost a dear friend and is very sad, but trying to navigate the rest of the semester wisely. I was glad to see her, and hug her.  Another student wanted to talk about feeling guilty that students are being encouraged to take their grades-as-of-Monday as semester grades, rather than completing the rest of the semester.  She feels horrible about personally benefiting from this great tragedy, and I can see her point.

Students have been offered the option to base their semester grade on work completed before April 15, on that same work plus some chosen assignments that are left, or on the semester as originally planned.  Very few are planning to complete the originally planned work, and many instructors are not even asking for those assignments.  This makes sense. After all, our students are anxious and sad, grieving, and unsettled.  They are not performing at an optimal level, and we dont want academic pressure to create additional stress.  However, I dont think letting their semesters be done as of the tragedy is the way to go either. In my totally bullshit opinion, it is healthier for most people to continue coming to class (i.e. Being In Community) and have official academic outlets for the energy they may be attempting to manage.  I worry about students who are going home now, with no plan to return this semester. After all, it is only going to get harder to come back as we get further and further from the incident and it gets bigger and bigger in their heads.

I have no better solution to offer - some people have nothing left to give right now and should obviously be excused from the rest of the semester.  Since I am very, very uncomfortable with trying to develop  an objective rating scale for other people's pain (to determine who deserves that consideration), it must be offered to everybody.  I guess my ideal solution would involve no one dying last Monday, but in the absence of that best-possible-alternative, we just have to figure out what flawed, screwed-up compromises work best.
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Last night, after dance class, RHeather, Fantastic Jen, and I went over to NuttyCrunchyHealthFoodStore (which RH manages), dropped beeswax candles into glass jars, set the jars in paper bags, and lit them.  The wind was raging, but we secured our makeshift luminaries as best we could, hugged one another tight, and went home.  When RH went out to clean up the remains today - at 3:30 pm, 17 hour after setting them up - two of the candles were still burning.
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Tonight's dance class was our dress rehearsal for this weekend's (now cancelled) performance.  "Dress rehearsal" in the bellydance community translates, "skirts required, baggy tee-shirts acceptable" since we really just need make sure everyone's skirt behaves, rather than tangling up another dancer. We were awesome, and only had to stop and negotiate the "smacking points" a few times (Q. what do you get when you try to fit two belly dancers through the eye of the same needle at the same time? A. A smacking point). 

My favorite line from the evening: "Work the cute, girls! WORK THE CUTE."  "Work it, habibi" is a close second.

Meeting and dancing felt very healing. We did the Dancer's Prayer, in memory of Reema, at the beginning of class, ended with a group hug (which sounds trite but felt solemn and right), and clustered in the studio to listen to one another.  Another Tech instructor in the class lost one of her students from last semester, and is struggling, which I can relate to.  I hugged everyone tight, and am grateful to have this community of thoughtful, caring, joy-seeking women in my life.
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I am going to dolittleville tomorrow, to stay with an online friend and get away from the madness for a couple of days.  Interestingly, I realized an Alaskan friend is there too, for work, so I may get a hug from home.  I am very ready to get a little respite from the oddness ot post-apocalyptic Blacksburg, and my empty days.  I know canceling school was the right thing to do for many people, but it has left gaping schedules for those of us who dont have family here, and too many empty hours are a not a help right now.
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The hand is feeling better.  The girls thought my gauze-net hand wrap was dorky looking. Apparently I need to hit a Hot Topic for black meshy fingerless gloves, to up the cool quotient. I am hoping to be down to a big bandaid by our show - whenever it occurs, since the gaping hole in my hand looks so much better tonight.
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I clicked over to CNN.com to see if they had the full list of victims yet, and their main screen photo features the killer pointing a Glock (?) at the camera, very aggressively.  Essentially, he is shoving the gun in the viewer's face, and I immediately slapped my hand over the screen - I cannot take that right now. I think it is an obscene photo, and his whole packet should be examined by law enforcement but not released.  He would have loved this attention, and he doesn't deserve it.  Especially at a time like this, we should be focusing on the heroes, the sorrow, and what comes next, rather than acting out the express wishes of the deranged lunatic who wrecked it all.
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On September 11, 2001 I was a junior in college. I had just gotten back to Fairbanks after spending my first summer in the field with Fish and Game.  On that horrible morning, I arrived at work without hearing any news.  Mike called us at the helpdesk - which has no windows or views of the world - at 7:45, urging Thom and I to turn the radio on.  We watched and listened, horrified, as the towers fell and reality shifted. 
I immediatly reached out to family via telephone, and drive six hours south that weekend since what I really needed was to touch my mom and dad and to hug my sister.  I made a conscious choice to screen my media, and never saw footage of the planes hitting the towers and people jumping for their lives.  It was sad and awful, but the reality of the loss felt very far away.  I rationalized that in Fairbanks, Alaska, New York City *was* very far away.  I was sorry to hear the news and felt grief for those who lost dear ones, but it still seemed to be part of some other reality.

This week's tragedy - which I am sure will live in infamy as the April 16 massacre - feels almost as far away.  Anita and I debated yesterday whether this is a function of the medium - i.e. we feel like it is distant since we are seeing it via electonic feeds rather than discovering it ourselves through conversations with people - but I think it is more than that.  Tragedy on this scale is hard to grasp because we are not programmed for it - it isn't supposed to be this way.  I am only a few miles from the center of the bloodbath (hell, I work almost literally next door) and I know at least one of the people killed, but I am still struggling to wrap my mind around what I know occurred.  I dont want to get to a place where this is easy for me to understand - I prefer to live in a world where I can believe I am safe, and that the people I interact with will get to grow up and realize their amazing potential.

It is so strange being here in Blacksburg right now.  A lot of students have left town, and things are way too quiet.  The media is everywhere, which makes authentic human experience hard to come by - I am sure you saw what we were calling "the FOX NEWS CANDLELIGHT VIGIL" on the news last night. The intention of the convocation, the vigil, and the memorials which are springing up is sweet and sad and oh so real.  However, the news crews presence and need to package it all neatly for distribution makes it harder for us to have our own uncanned reactions. 
 
I may go out of town tomorrow for a couple of days, just to get a little space. No one I am very close to was killed, but one of the girls lost was a casual acquaintance, and reality in this town has been shaken for everyone.  Really, it goes beyond this town: our whole nation and world have been reminded that an individual can hurt society as a whole and ruin many lives, if they dont care about the cost to themselves.  I would posit that these killings are terrorism, because they create a state of  "fear and submission" (see dictionary.com definition of "terrorism"), hindering our normal activities and creating nightmares for years to come.

May we be strong and generous with each other, as we grapple with this reality.
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Yesterday an email went around the tribal bellydance list serve, with those of us associated with Tech sounding off that we were still here.  Apparently the cabaret community was not so lucky - Reema Samaha was among the victims of yesterday's tragedy.  She danced at our hafla last month. I remember her looking so very alive - she had the cabaret-coy look down pat and danced with vibrant joy.  We will miss her, and my thoughts are with her family...
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I appreciate all the virtual hugs offered, but I could really use an in-person hug today.
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My lunch date with Dana was cancelled. I went and saw the house I think I am renting next year, it is lovely and I am a lucky duck.

Then I went to the Inn at Virginia Tech, where they have been telling people to go for counseling, family reunions, etc.  The Red Cross representative would have liked to let us in for Kiska to be a therapeutic pet, but the building manager was not in favor.  Instead they sent us to the Squires Student Center.  At Squires, the Operations Manager cleared us to be in the building and sent me up to the room where staff was being sent for counseling.  They were pretty empty, as was the room set aside fo students. 

I got Kiska out of the car and we walked around campus for an hour or so, asking people, "Would you like to pet the dog?" I know we made a difference to at least one guy who had lost a good friend and was sitting on the lawn, head bowed, waiting for some other friends to arrive.  Everyone who petted Kiska seemed to appreciate the distraction, and smile in spite of their terrible sorrow.  We wandered up to the building where the convocation was to be held, but I didn't want to infringe on the space of people trapped in the line, so we then headed back to the car and came home.

I missed a curb and managed to fall down in a parking lot outside the Inn, ripping the left knee out of my best pair of jeans, raising a goose-egg on my right shin, and scraping my left knee and right hand.  It is gross, and painful.

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So now it is Tuesday, and the aftermath of yesterday's tragedy continues to unfold. 

The number of dead is staggering - 33 at last report - and the reality of it continues to feel very, very unreal.

The blaming has begun, and it is making those of us who were here to watch the pain unfold very unhappy.  Yes, the first shooting started at 7:15, but local information suggests that the local police immediately collared the obvious suspect (the dead girl's boyfriend), and decided that - with him in custody - others were safe.  It was a bad call, in retrospect, but it was made with the best information available at the time, and all this blaming isn't helping anyone move towards healthier responses. 

And, even if they had made a different decision about whether to continue classes, the killer had decided to maim and shoot people.  He was armed with multiple weapons and many clips of ammunition.  Canceling classes would have made Norris Hall less of a target, but he would have found other concentrations of people to hurt.  We are a residential school, and when classes are cancelled the thousands of students who live on campus mill around the dining halls, residences, bookstore, library, and other public buildings. 

The 4:30 pm press briefing was ugly.  I listened to a bit of it live, then flipped over to the BBC radio station to be reminded that the rest of the world continues to turn.  Of course during their "World News Roundup," we were the top story.  The line "worst shooting in American history" brought me to tears.  And then, I came home and surfed to the Anchorage Daily News online for distraction, and saw we were their top story as well...

Classes are cancelled today, and an email exchange with my boss clarified that while she believes I am essential personnel, the university does not.  There is a "convocation" at two pm, which I may or may not attend. Wedging the whole community into the coliseum does not quite feel safe, and I wonder what it is they think will help when the wounds are so fresh.

The names of the dead have not yet been released by the university, but Fox News is reporting 14 of them.  The RA killed in the first attack appears to have been a psychology major, which means I probably know him.   There are a few grad students and some faculty on the list as well, which makes it feel even closer to home.  I cant imagine having my class stormed by a gun-wielding maniac - that is not something they prepare you for in Pedagogy 101.  I like to think I would act in a sensible, protective fashion, but you never know until it actually occurs.

I slept from about 8-9 pm, 12 - 4 am, and 4:30- 8:30 am, with two shots of Nyquil (at 8 and 4).  Between 8 and 9 pm, I got three phone calls from my yoga teacher in Fairbanks, my grandmother, and Anna from my writing group.  At 8:30 this morning, I heard from a friend who spent yesterday traveling, but wanted to make sure I was okay.  My first cousin once removed in Oneonta just called, to make sure I survived. It is emotionally exhausting to keep having that conversation - "Yes, I am at Virginia Tech. I'm safe - I was home sick when it started. I dont know much, but it hurts to be part of this community today." - but it helps to know that people care about me and all the others affected by this tragedy.

Falling asleep last night I found myself praying for strength and generosity for all of us, as we help each other move forward.  The loss of life was horrifying, and each of those killed had relationships, futures, and lives which will have to be mourned. It feels like such a waste, and my roommate and I were united in our frustration last night that this killer couldn't find a better way to deal with whatever demons plagued him.  There has been some talk in the blogosphere about whether he was mentally ill, and I think we all want to believe that was true.  Not necessarily true in the official, DSM-IV criteria sense, but because it allows us to label his actions as "other," outside our understanding of humanity.  As we learn more, hopefully things will begin to form a logical narrative, but I doubt it will ever make "sense" - after all, this was by definition "sense-less" violence.

While typing this I received another email from the university... classes are cancelled all week, administrative offices will re-open on Wednesday, and Norris Hall is closed for the rest of the semester.   Our finals week begins on Friday May 4, which means there will be less than two weeks of classes left before exams.  How are we going to negotiate the stressful end of semester requirements, with a campus community rendered fragile by tragedy?  What a world.

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Ugh, we are lobbing emails back and forth trying to account for everybody.  The waiting is hard, when you know 30something members of your community are dead.

G and I have overlapping lists, but one of the girls in the swing dance community sent out a message with the subject "please call" and the text "looking for Ryan and Troy." The core group of swing dancers is really close, so having a couple of the engineering boys missing is scary... I know Ryan and Troy, and really, really hope they are okay.

I am also a little annoyed that the president (of the USA, not of the U) tainted his "the families are in our thoughts" announcement with a reference to the importance of the second amendment.  Yes, that amendment stands, but this is maybe not the day to trot it out.

I still feel sickly, and sick at heart.  I took a hot bath and read a fluffy book, and am wishing 7 pm was a late enough bedtime... I cant handle much more of today.

Also, I am not going away - I decided it is important to stay in my community to be part of the community - keeping my lunch date with Dana, going to dance classes, and just being present for this tragedy. 
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Trevor is okay. He was over by the dorm when it happened and saw all the police cars, but made it home safe. The wind here is horrific, so the phone lines at their house (and thus their DSL) were out, which is why it took so long to hear back from him.

I bought tickets to Mamma Mia for my Broadway field trip in April.

I spent 50 minutes on hold with Delta Airlines to get Kiska a reservation for summer.

My mom is so freaked out that she went home from work, and she keeps asking me if I want to come home right now.

I am touched that so many people remembered I was here and checked in.

The story that is starting to emerge is not pretty, and I am sad.

I think I am going to the post office in the next town over, and maybe dropping in to see my roommate at work. I need to be reminded I am not the only person left in town.
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I am safe, and thus grateful. I am three miles from the tragedies, and - so far as I know- personally untouched.  And yet, it hurts.

I live in small town, rural America.  We dont even lock our doors (well, my roommates dont carry keys so I cant), and that has never been a problem.  We have all the traditional college town problems - date rape, underage drinking, etc., but big crime is foreign to the whole notion of this place.  To know that someone - probably a student - went on a rampage and killed thirty-some people is awful.  So far as I can put together, one person was killed and another injured around 7:15 am.  Then, tennish, gunfire resumed at one of the engineering buildings.  Many, many people were shot there, in a classroom, so it sounds like the shooter opened fire in a class.  I am selfishly hoping that none of my students were injured, but mostly I wish this had never happened.

I have heard from a friend of the friend I was staying with in Beaufort, my cousin in Baltimore, a friend of my mom's who lives outside Fairbanks, and many friends, and I am touched that so many people remembered that I might be affected and wanted to check in.  I just talked to my mom, and she was in tears on the phone.  She wants me to leave town for a few days, which I am considering. 

My friend Trevor has not been in touch - he isn't answering email, or his cell phone.  His wife, who usually sits at the computer all day, is not answering email either, and no one is picking up at their house.  I am scared for him, because I know he works on that side of campus, but logic says he should be fine (there would be no reason for him to be in either the dorm or the engineering building).

I have been feeling sickly and was going into the health center this morning, but that is not a possibility.  Instead I sit at home, drowning in news and unable to concentrate on anything at all...  This tragedy feels senseless and just unfathomable...
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"tragedy of monumental proportions"

"at least 20 fatalities"

17 gunshot victims being treated at the hospital

multiple crime scenes

.

Everything I was supposed to do today has been cancelled, so I am sitting at the computer in my jammies endlessly surfing and trying not to freak out.
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Yes, the gunman-loose-on-college-campus-students-dead news story is my campus.
 
I am okay - I am still at home, and am plannning to stay here.  I really dont have any information other than the email bulletins sent out by the campus police.

CNN.com is reporting on it here.

I dont know much, but here are the emails I have gotten:



In the fall we had an armed killer loose between the hospital (which is next to my house) and campus for two days.  We have had a series of bomb threats lately.  And now, this. 

Dear world, what is wrong?

I am getting tired of making pre-emptive "I am fine" phone calls, and just hope that whatever this mess is gets cleaned up as quickly as possible with as little loss of life as can be managed...

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