My COVID Wall

Two years ago today, I sent away my AP Lang class with a flippant, “If we never come back from spring break, it’s been a pleasure being your teacher.”

Hilarious.

Of course, we didn’t come back from spring break in person, and for many of those students it was, in fact, the last time I saw them. I think a lot of people are thinking back ruefully about our naïveté two years ago (aside from the then-doomsayers who are, I assume, taking morbid victory laps).

I suspect like many of you, I had to find some ways to spend the time that I suddenly had at home. When you have kids, the time more or less fills itself, but we had to do something. I started off trying to engage my students with online work, but no sooner had I emailed them than the District wrote all teachers, saying “DON’T GIVE STUDENTS ONLINE WORK. WE WILL GIVE YOU FURTHER INSTRUCTIONS SOON.” So then I had to figure out what I was going to do with the extra time we had. The increased anxiety about COVID was not conducive to reading or writing for me; I had a hard time focusing on thinking. I needed something active, something constructive, something that would allow me to shut off my brain.

So I started building a wall.

A small section of my COVID Wall, built from Chilton Steppers, which sounds like an old Vaudeville act.

I had planned to do some landscaping since the previous summer. We had torn out an old ramp that wrapped around the corner of our house, and between the sidewalk and where the ramp had been were a million orange tiger lilies, attractive for about one week of the summer and trashy the other fifty-one weeks of the year. So I had ordered a whole bunch of Chilton steppers, wide, flat stones intended not for building a wall but for laying out on, say, a patio. My plan was for the stones to be freestanding, using no mortar or adhesive to keep them in place, so I thought wider was probably better anyway, so they would be less likely to shift over the colder months. The stones had arrived late in the summer of 2019, too late to begin the project. They sat alongside my driveway through the fall and winter.

Then, lockdown. Faced with beautiful weather, unable to communicate with students. This, I decided, was the time.

I would not say I knew what I was doing, but I was fine with that. I’m not a “how hard could it be” kind of guy when it comes to projects like this, but one thing I had learned from my dad was that if you have access to YouTube, along with some humility, patience, and common sense, you can figure these things out. I dug out the flowers and a whole lot of dirt, and laid the first layer of stone about one-third of the length I envisioned it. I started in the middle for some reason, instead of at one end or the other. Stone by stone, I laid them in place, one on top of the other, trying to consider their complementary colors (they were not at all uniform, as you can see above), their shapes, the lines created where one stone ended and the next began, and just kept on laying them. I may write more about the process later, but the point here is that, although I would have eventually gotten this work done, for me the building of it will always be associated with that first spring of COVID, when the world seemed more still than it had been in a long time, and life was paused.

I tried some other things out as well, but I’ll save those for future posts. What did you try during the pandemic? Did any of it continue to be part of your life when things returned to (at least somewhat) normal?

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